Why They Call It Good Friday

Typically when we tack the word “good” onto something, we are communicating that we have had a positive experience with it. This makes sense when we are giving our opinion on the latest superhero movie or the new restaurant in town. It doesn’t make sense to use the word “good” in reference to a tragic event. You can just imagine the angry looks you’d get if you did so in a public setting. Yet the most tragic event in world history, the murder of God’s only Son, is termed “Good Friday.” Why is that? Before answering that question, we need to remember that one event can be intended by some for evil while simultaneously being intended by God for good. When Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, falsely accused, and imprisoned, he told his brothers, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good” (Gen. 50:20). Had it not been for Joseph’s circumstances, thousands could have died in the famine that struck the land. This is how the early church thought of the cross. They prayed in Acts 4:27, “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” So on one side, we’ve got evil motives from Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the peoples of Israel. While on the other side, God has good motives for the death of His Son.

Let’s take a look at three reasons why the cross was (and is) good…

1. Jesus traded places with us

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas…Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’…‘Barabbas.’ ‘Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said, ‘Let him be crucified!’” -Portions of Matthew 27:15-23

So the option was given: release “the Christ” and punish the “notorious prisoner” or vice versa. The crowds that day, lead by the jealous religious leaders, cried out for Jesus’ crucifixion and the pardon of this convicted criminal. In his account of the Gospel, Mark tells us Barabbas was a murderer and the leader of an insurrection. Jesus, however, was no murderer and actually brought people back from the dead, among other things. Jesus led no insurrections and rather sought to overthrow Satan’s power. The name Barabbas means, “Son of a father” and yet the true Son of the Father was about to be condemned in his place. We see a much deeper story developing behind the story of Barabbas. It is the story of the Gospel, which the whole Bible is telling. The story of how a holy God made a way to dwell with unholy people, and at the very center of this story stands the cross. It is your story and my story. It is what theologians call the Great Exchange. At the cross, Jesus stood in for us to take our deserved punishment and gave us all His perfect righteousness, which we could never have earned.  

So we call it Good Friday because Jesus traded places with us and yet also because…   

2. Jesus granted access to us

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” -Matthew 27:50-51a

Once Jesus had endured six trials, been brutally scourged, mocked and beaten, He was finally crucified. For six grueling hours, Jesus felt not only the nails, but the holy hatred of His Father against sin. Paul says in Galatians 3:13 that Jesus “became a curse” for us and he says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that he “became sin.” The prophet Isaiah foretold that He was, “smitten by God…the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…it was the will of the LORD to crush Him” (Is. 53:4, 6, 10). Every sin every believer would ever commit was fully punished in that one moment…on the head of the sinless Son of God. And the dividing curtain which had separated man from God since the garden was finally removed. The temple’s four inch curtain was torn from top to bottom, signifying this salvation was God’s initiative and accomplishment. Unhindered access to God is now ours through faith in Christ.

Good Friday is good not only because of Jesus traded places with us and gave us access into God’s presence, but also because…

3. Jesus tasted death for us

Joseph…went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.” -Matthew 27:58-60

The body of Jesus that once moved about throughout Judea and Galilee now lay cold, still, and lifeless. It is good for us to stop and consider the weight of this. Jesus became not only a curse for us, but a corpse for us. His life snuffed out. The grave sealed shut. Why? What is the significance of this odd reality? The prophet Ezekiel states, “The soul that sins shall die” and the Apostle Paul writes, “the wages of sin is death…” and it was on the cross that Jesus took our sins. Had Jesus never died, our sin would have never been fully dealt its true punishment. Also, if Jesus had never died, we would still face the uncertainty of the grave. Yet because Jesus died and rose again, the grave has fully and finally been conquered. Death has now been transformed from an end, to a beginning, for all whose hope is Christ.

Good Friday is truly a good day for us because our most “notorious” sins have been placed on Jesus, we have been given eternal access into God’s presence, and our coming death has been transformed into a new beginning in the presence of God. So I think it’s safe to say these are good things and this very, very good news.

Linger at the Cross

Recently my wife and I were blessed to enjoy a four day retreat with Winshape at Berry College in Rome, GA. The whole four days we were served amazing meals, developed some new ministry friends, and had a ton of time to rest and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in the mountains. The best part of all wasn’t the hiking trails, the Filet Mignon, or even the fact that this trip was free (if you’re a senior pastor and spouse, do yourself a favor and sign up). The best part was the fact that we had time to linger over the Gospel individually and as a couple.

I was raised in a church where the Gospel was presented in every message, and for that I am very grateful. My pastor heralded the Gospel message clearly and unapologetically, pleading with sinners to surrender their hearts to Christ. Yet the Gospel that was preached every sermon was targeted at unbelievers and seldom believers. The main message for believers were the Bible’s moral imperatives, but seldom it’s Gospel indicatives. I assumed that the Gospel got me in God’s kingdom and obedience kept me in it.

The New Testament, however, always roots our obedience in the Gospel, so we need the Gospel more than ever as believers. The Gospel is not merely one story among many in Scripture; it is Scripture’s main story, and the constant refrain from Genesis to Revelation is that we linger over it. Tim Keller said it this way: “We never ‘get beyond the gospel’ in our Christian life to something more ‘advanced.’ The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.”

When believers fail to drink deeply from the fountain of the Gospel, they shrivel spiritually. So if we reserve the Gospel to unbelievers in our church’s, we may see increased professions of faith, but we may also see decreased spiritual growth among those who profess faith. On the other hand, A church that preaches the Gospel to believers while unbelievers listen in will have a stronger and more stable family from which to launch this message into the community and world.

The soul that is regularly enjoying and resting in the truths of the Great Exchange will find constant motivation to obey God’s commands. It is there at the cross that we learn about the ugliness of our sin, God’s holiness, Christ’s sinless nature, the Judgment to come, astounding grace, our salvation, and sacrificial love. A cursory glance at the Gospel will not impress these realities upon us, so we must spend time each day lingering in it. Memorizing and meditating and mulling over the wonder of Christ’s substitutionary atoning death is the best fuel for everything in the Christian life, from holiness to missions. Whenever we find ourselves treasuring sin, it always stems from a failure to glory in the Golgotha event. May we rehearse the wonder of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to ourselves and one another until He returns.

 

Ministry Can Be Dangerous

“Did you hear about all the pastors convicted of sexual abuse?”

My wife’s question left me with an ache in the pit of my stomach. As a Gospel minister who struggles daily to love Jesus and kill indwelling sin, I can’t say that I’m surprised. In fact, to be surprised would expose some bad theology on my part. The more I read the Bible, the more I’m reminded that I’m more sinful than I ever imagined and the Gospel is more glorious than I ever imagined. Still, news of sexual abuse must always be received with a heavy heart. The Houston Chronicle reported some 220 Gospel ministers convicted of sexual abuse, leaving about 700 victims affected. Many of the stories are well documented and put a chill in your spine as you read them. I broke down over footage I saw of a police officer questioning a four or five year old boy molested by his “church-man.” Other footage was of jailed pastors sharing how they compromised on their convictions. Each of these were truly disturbing and humbling. Then only a day or two later, Christian news turned to abuse of authority by leaders. I learned famous pastor James MacDonald was fired by his church for serious abuse of authority. Before MacDonald, there was Driscoll, Tchividian, and Mahaney; all men whose sermons have greatly impacted me, and all left with question marks over their character, yet who went on to preach and lead other churches. Not to mention Patterson and Pressler, men who stood on biblical convictions against a tide of liberalism in my demonination, and yet who fell over bad counseling methods and sexist comments and actions. Meanwhile, some Southern Baptist pastors with massive ministries flaunt massive pride in the pulpit and we put up with it.

In light of this, here are five essentials for avoiding moral failure in ministry. There are many others, but these are just a few we would all do well to heed…

Don’t be a glory thief (Jer. 45:5)

The biggest ministry problem out there is theft. By theft I don’t mean stealing possessions, but stealing praise. All of us can be glory thieves from time to time, but stealing God’s glory in ministry is especially dangerous. As one pastor has remarked, we must never intercept the bride’s affection for the Bridegroom. Jeremiah 45 is a short chapter in the book and yet it packs a heavy punch. In it, God uses Jeremiah to challenge his assistant Baruch with this: “And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not…” I remember my first class at Southern Seminary was with Dr. Don Whitney and was called Personal Spiritual Disciplines. Dr. Whitney was about to share with us about Charles Spurgeon and he made a humbling remark to this effect: “If one of you were going to have an impact like Charles Spurgeon, we would all already know by now.” I was guilty of seeking great things for myself and this reminded me how foolish I had been. We must learn to pray with the Psalmist, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory…” (Ps. 115:1). Better to be unknown and faithful than known and unfaithful. As those who love the phrase, Soli Deo Gloria, it would be quite ironic to minister as though it were about us. We must glory in the Gospel we preach, but never in the way we preach it. We are like Moses in with a glow about us from being in God’s presence, but we must always be turning people’s attention off us and onto Christ, the source.

Keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching (1 Tim. 4:16)

It is amazing how our eyes can play tricks on us. Years ago there was a video going around of basketball players dribbling and passing the ball back to each other and the viewer was asked to count the number of times the ball bounced. But when you watch the video and don’t focus on the ball, you notice a man dressed in a gorilla uniform casually walks out right in the middle of the screen and waves, before walking off. Lazer-like focus on one thing will eliminate even the most glaring distractions. Paul told Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). Watching ourselves requires knowing the snares that tend to trip us up and avoiding them and staying in the Word and prayer. Watching our teaching requires caring about our words when communicating God’s Word. A ministry that fails to emphasize what God emphasizes is bound to mislead and fall short.

Be appropriately honest about your weakness (James 5:16)

All sheep are not shepherds, but all shepherds are sheep. Sometimes pastors fall into this weird mindset that they are not really sheep in need of the Chief Shepherd. We begin to live and believe as though we have to attain some standard not given the rest of God’s people. The truth is, however, that we are all weak and easily tempted. We must learn to share regularly with our people of our struggles, while not sharing too detailed of course. James 5:16 reminds us of this: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed…” A church that thinks its pastor has to be above this is only adding to his burden. We need honesty and openness again about pastoral struggles.

Maintain healthy accountability (Prov. 18:1; 27:17)

Proverbs 18:1 always stands out to an introverted guy like me: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” It is very easy to isolate oneself in pastoral ministry. Most pastors are preparing three to five different messages a week, not to mention all the phone calls and visits necessary. Then there’s administration, hospital visitation, counseling, event planning, discipleship groups to lead, and a whole host of others. But pastors who isolate and insulate themselves from people looking into their personal lives are setting themselves up for disaster. We need godly men who will ask us the hard questions and still choose to love us and pray for us. This is why Proverbs 27:17 states, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” We must not let our own spiritual blade or that of our brothers grow dull.

Pray, pray, pray…and did I mention pray? (1 Thess. 5:17)

When your eyes are on Jesus, it is nearly impossible to look for hope elsewhere. Puritan George Swinnock has said it well: “A Christian’s prayer may have an intermission, but never a cessation. There is no duty given to a Christian for his constant attention so much as prayer; pray always, pray continually, pray without ceasing, pray with perseverance, and pray forevermore. To pray without ceasing means: 1)To be in a praying frame all the time….2)No important business is undertaken without prayer…3)Set a regular time aside every day for prayer.” Prayerfulness is dependency and so the opposite of praying is living independently of God, which should terrify us. In his book entitled Prayer, Tim Keller has pointed out, “The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life.”

So may we all study, live, and pray in such a way that we avoid shipwreck and we pursue the safe haven for our souls and those who hear us.

 

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

This week in 1973, an important supreme court decision legalized abortion nationwide. Since then, some sixty million babies have been aborted. While a mother’s womb was once the safest place for a child, it is now one of the most dangerous. But the issue that lies at the root of the abortion debate is whether or not there is life within the womb. Recently in the news, I saw the terrifying report about Chris Watts, the Colorado man who murdered his wife and two daughters. Then there was mention that he was being charged with four counts of murder because his wife was pregnant with their unborn child. Yet what is not explained is how our society can justify the taking of unborn life for millions of others. Since the rise of postmodernism, our culture affirms that each of us can come to our own conclusions in these matters and neither opinion is right or wrong. But the ultimate question that remains is whether or not there is life in the womb.

In Psalm 139, David is basking in the limitless expanse that is God. He marvels at God’s omniscience (perfect knowledge of all), omnipresence (existing fully everywhere), and omnipotence (infinite in power). In verses 13-18, David is particularly humbled by God’s intimate acquaintance with him while in the womb. He shares that God, perfectly knit us together, sovereignly planned our days, and graciously upholds us even now.

God perfectly knit us together

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” -Psalm 139:13-15

Our family has been given quilts and rugs after the birth of a child by sweet church ladies or other friends. These knitted hats and hand-woven quilts or scarves are greatly appreciated because of the amount of detailed work involved by the giver. We know that someone put a lot of thought and energy into these, though we didn’t know they were doing so at the time. They were knitting in secret and we were blessed with the finished product. God’s involvement in the birth of a every human life is not minimal. He is intimately involved in the womb and throughout the days of that child’s life. David uses a Hebrew word here that speaks specifically to the creation of one human life. It is the same word used in Job 10:11 which states, “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.” David speaks of the most secret parts of human anatomy and declares that we are each, “intricately woven” by God. We ought to be humbled to know that there is no part of us that is hidden from the gaze of God. Nothing about us was accidental or haphazard, for it was none other than the Divine Creator who formed us. H. Hammond, a deceased commentator, remarks that our flesh, bones, skin, nerves, and arteries are so weaved together, “that no embroidery or carpet-work in the world can compare with it.” We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. But not only were our days in the womb planned, but everyday of our lives thereafter.

God sovereignly planned our days

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”- Psalm 139:16

Until our generation with the invention of the Ultrasound (sadly after Roe V. Wade), life in the womb was totally unseen and mysterious. It was reserved for God’s eyes only. Now we can see 4D images of babies in the womb, yet it is still a shadowy form we behold. The life in the womb remains for scientists a beautiful mystery that cannot be explained satisfactorily without mention of God. Yet this is merely the earliest stages of that life. God has a book which contains every day each of us will ever live, perfectly planned out to the nanosecond. Our God not only knits us together in the womb, he predetermines every passing moment of our entire lives before any of them even come to be. This is such an encouragement for us in the daily pressures of life. God is never shocked or surprised by our pain. Like a Master storyteller, He is orchestrating all these crazy events by Divine design. Ephesians 1 says God has been doing this from, “before the foundation of the world,” and that He, “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” In Ephesians 2:10 we’re informed that, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This goes for not only everyday we will face, but the very one we call `today.`

God graciously upholds us even now

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” -Psalm 139:17-18

Every time our family goes to the beach, it seems we bring more sand back with us than is possible. David says if we could count God’s thoughts of us it would be more than all the sand on all the beaches in all the world. His thoughts toward us are best exemplified in the Gospel. His care for us led Him to send His only Son into this world as a baby who would bear the curse of our sin and drink God’s judgment for us on the cross. We will never get over the depth of God’s mercy and grace to us in Christ. It doesn’t make sense why God loves us sinners with such breadth and depth and height and length. And so may we spend eternity marveling that such a Creator is also our Redeemer.

Three Benedictions for Christmas

Hectic. Busy. Frantic. Rushed. These are just a few words that describe the Christmas season for most. What we could all use is a little endurance, encouragement, hope, and peace. The good news for us is that our God is all about giving us these very gifts, but not in a detached sort of way. God gives us something far better than hope or peace…He gives us Himself, the God of hope and peace.

The book of Romans is the Bible’s theological tour-de-force. Paul paints for us a picture of God’s impeccable holiness, our utter depravity, and the splendor of the Gospel to save such wretches. But there is a threefold benediction that is easy to miss in the last pages of this epistle. In Romans 15, Paul prays three benedictions over the church and each of these highlight a different aspect of God’s gift of Himself to His people.

Join me as we behold our great God…

The God of Endurance and Encouragement…

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -Romans 15:5-6

Paul had just mentioned these two words in the previous verse. He told the church in Rome that the Old Testament was, “Written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Then Paul turns his focus from God’s revealed Word, to God the Revealer. He literally stops mid-sentence and prays this over them. But Paul doesn’t just pray for us to endure and have encouragement. His prayer hinges upon God, the source of endurance and encouragement for His people. Endurance and encouragement are two things God knows a little something about. Our God alone has endured from the beginning and has always been the source of encouragement to His people. But why does Paul pray this aspect of God’s nature over Christ’s church? It is not for their individual benefit, but their corporate unity and worship as a church. Endurance and encouragement are things that show up in relationships among fellow church members. Even as we celebrate the peace of Christmas together, we can be at odds with each other. We easily give up on one another and get discouraged by these relationships. Spouses in the church throw in the towel on their marriage too quickly. Once strong friendships in the church dissolve over harsh words said in a meeting or outside the worship gathering. This is why we need God’s endurance and encouragement. All that we need to relate well with one another in harmony and love is found in our God Himself. He will empower us to love as we have been loved. After all, God has shown much long-suffering in dealing with our sins, so we should in dealing with the sins of others. Along with endurance and encouragement, we need hope…

The God of Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13

Paul had already said the Old Testament was written so that, “we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Then Paul said of Christ that, “in Him will the Gentiles hope” (Rom. 15:12). Now he once again turns this into a benediction for the church. Our God is not only the enduring One and the source of all encouragement. He is also the source of hope for His people. Verse 13 is packed with significance for us as it mentions hope, joy, and peace; these are realities Christ came to give us. Paul prays for God to fill us with all joy and peace, which comes through believing the truth of God’s Word. He is praying that through faith in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we might abound in joy, peace, and hope. There is no greater hope than that which was accomplished through Christ for the believer. We who once were in a hopeless predicament because of our sin have been given the greatest hope of all. I love how the author of Hebrews describes it: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” (Heb. 6:19). The hope of the Christian is not wishful thinking, but a fixed reality that awaits consummation. People say all the time they hope this or that will happen, but the believer’s hope is as secure as the ground under their feet and as certain as God’s faithfulness. God is the enduring source of encouragement for His people and gives them abounding hope, but these would not help us if there was no peace…

The God of Peace

“May the God of peace be with you all. Amen…the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet…” – Romans 15:33, 16:20

Octavius Caesar or Caesar Augustus was known for his “reign of peace”, but it was more fear than anything. In his commentary on Luke 2, R. Kent Hughes points out, “There was “peace,” but it was a dark peace—a Hitler’s peace—and no man or woman or boy or girl could say a word against it without fearfully looking over their shoulder.” The true reign of peace was announced by the angels at the birth of King Jesus. He was the Prince of Peace Isaiah had foretold who would also rule the nations. Our God is the God of peace because He has never known a rival. His reign is one of endless peace because there is nothing outside of His power and everything is dependent on Him for life. Another instance where Paul refers to “the God of peace” is found in Philippians 4. Paul says, “the peace of God…surpasses all understanding” and “will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Php. 4:7). He also says this peace is granted to us through prayer (Php. 4:6). But you can’t enjoy the peace of God until you are at peace with God. How? Jesus was God’s peace treaty to man. God in Christ was reconciling a world of enemies to Himself and doing so by means of Jesus. Christ endured the wrath of God so that the children of God might be at peace with God for all eternity. This is the peace that was foretold back in Genesis 3:15. God warned the snake that a son born of woman would crush his head even as the serpent bruised his heel. At the cross, God made peace with His people by taking their punishment on the cross and defeating Satan’s power of accusation. Now, we await the day when the enemy of our peace is decisively defeated. But we do so with the certain hope that this peace is ours by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and all to the glory of God alone.

May the God of endurance and encouragement, the God of hope, and the God of peace grant you to enjoy His gifts as you enjoy Him in the person of His Son Jesus.

When We Pray

Prayer. From the outside, it can look like little more than resting one’s eyes. And to the fast-paced, microwave culture in which we live, prayer to the God of the Bible seems like an extravagant waste of time. Yet we know as believers that there is more to prayer than what meets the eye. Prayer is warfare and prayer is worship. Prayer is confession and prayer is communion. Prayer is beholding and prayer is becoming. Prayer is one of the means by which God advances His kingdom in this world and a means by which He advances us spiritually.

We know prayer is more than what meets the eye and yet our behavior doesn’t always align with our belief here. We sleep in that extra 30 minutes we had planned to spend in prayer because, after all, we reassure ourselves, we don’t need to be so legalistic. We turn on Netflix when we had planned to pray with our spouse because, it’s been a long day and we need a break. We run around frantic all day from the house to work to school to our kid’s ball game and crash in bed at night without realizing what perpetual prayerlessness is doing to us and our family. What we need is a good, strong, biblical reminder about how and why to pray when we don’t always see prayer’s immediate fruitfulness for us.

In Colossians 4, the Apostle Paul gives us a small theology of prayer. He concludes his letter to the church at Colossae with commands that we pray and requests that we pray. He even gives us a glimpse of the warfare that is prayer when he highlights one of the first prayer warriors. In these verses, we’ll see six things to keep in mind when we pray…

 

  • Be steadfast in prayer

“Continue steadfastly in prayer…”

One of the hardest things about prayer is this reality that it requires persistence. Our God loves us too much to give us what we want right when we ask. We all know that a child whose every wish is granted the moment he requests it becomes spoiled. But in prayer, God is more concerned with a relationship than a simple request that will come and go. When we expect our prayers to be answered in the way we want every time, we are forgetting God’s sovereignty and treating Him as our servant. Great prayer warrior George Muller once said, “It is not enough to begin to pray…nor is it enough to continue for a time to pray…we must pray patiently, believing, continue in prayer until we attain an answer.” He lived this out himself. Mueller wrote in his diary, “In November 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land, on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day, I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two. These two remained unconverted.” Thirty-six years later he wrote that the other two, sons of one of Mueller’s friends, were still not converted. He wrote, “But I hope in God, I pray on, and look for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be.” Believe it or not, 52 years after he began praying for them, and even after his own death, the final two friends were converted.

 

  • Be watchful in prayer

“…being watchful in [prayer]…”

Spiritual alertness is vital to a faithful prayer life. We must pray with a certain expectation that God is going to answer, even though He may not answer as we would have it. Another side of this watchfulness is the realization that distractions come very easily in praying. We can be distracted from praying for something through a sudden trial or through a random thought in the midst of praying. To help with this, we can actually pray that God help us not get distracted from prayer.

 

  • Be thankful in prayer

“…[pray] with thanksgiving.”

In his book A Praying Life, Paul E. Miller writes, “Thankfulness isn’t a matter of forcing yourself to see the happy side of life. That would be like returning to naive optimism. Thanking God restores the natural order of our dependence on God. It enables us to see life as it really is.” Gratitude is at the heart of prayer itself. The mere fact we sinners can approach God, and at the price of Christ’s blood on the cross should make our every prayer one of gratitude. I’ve been to several countries and heard believers pray in their languages, but the one word I always can identify is their word for thanks. May we never “enter His courts” without thanksgiving in our hearts.

 

  • Be evangelistic in prayer

“…pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, there is a scene where Luke Skywalker is able to teleport his body somewhere else and defeat the enemy while actually being somewhere else. Prayer is actually very similar to Skywalker’s teleportation in that when we pray for the Gospel to advance in another place, we are actually assisting it’s spread while not being there ourselves. We ought to pray for open doors, but also clear words so that the Word will spread effectively. One practice we’ve begun to do is to pray, along with about 1,000 others for an unreached people group of the day using the Joshua Project. We can also pray daily for sister churches in our area and for missionaries we know sharing Christ abroad. Our prayers are what early Baptist Andrew Fuller called “holding the rope” for these missionaries, as he held the rope for William Carey serving in India.  

 

  • Be serious in prayer

“Epaphras [is]…always struggling on your behalf in his prayers…”

This is what I meant by saying prayer is warfare. In prayer, we struggle. We wrestle with God as Jacob did. We must not view prayer as some casual thing and approach it very nonchalant and lackadaisical. We must pray with vigilance. Jesus spoke of those who would enter the kingdom as those who “force their way into it.” Without this element of striving and straining, prayer becomes just another lifeless ritual. We must learn to pray as those who are speaking to a sovereign who is all-powerful over the universe and who has promised to hear us when we pray.

 

  • Be intercessory in prayer

“…on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

Epaphras’ prayer warfare had the purpose of seeing Christ’s church grow to maturity. So often church prayer meetings are nothing more than what one friend called “organ lists” where we ask God to heal this person and that person. But in his book entitled Prayer, Tim Keller points out something remarkable: “In all of his writings, Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances.” Paul and Epaphras give us a model here to pray for the spiritual growth and progress of our church and its members more than merely physical improvement.

These are just a few ways we can pray more effectively and I pray they prove helpful.

Beholding the Glory of Christ

This week in my Bible reading plan, I was struck by the repeated references to beholding the glory of God in Christ. I saw unbelievers like Pilate say, “Behold your King!” as he presented Jesus for crucifixion and I saw scenes where Moses beheld God’s glory on burning Mt. Sinai. I saw Zechariah prophesy of Christ’s coming, “Behold your King…how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!” and I saw David praying, “our eyes look to the Lord our God.” But what stood out the most to me were Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where I read, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” All this language of beholding made me take a step back to see what Scripture teaches on this. I discovered 5 steps in the Bible’s argument on this, which may be helpful to you as well…

We were created to behold the glory of God

God says in Isaiah 43:7 that we were created for His glory. But what does it mean to behold God’s glory? It obviously means more than merely seeing it with our eyes. After all, Scripture says we’ll never fully see God’s glory because he is invisible and, “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16b). Jonathan Edwards says to behold God’s glory is to delight in Him above all else. He says this in his Miscellanies: “God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in…[W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it.” This was the condition Adam and Eve had in the garden. They enjoyed unhindered fellowship with God. Until that dreadful day when they broke fellowship with God and started beholding the glory of lesser things. This brings us to the next step in the argument…

Sin and Satan have blinded us to God’s glory

Jesus says that we are born spiritually blind because of our sin nature (Jn. 9:39-41). Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that Satan compounds this blindness by actively blinding unbelievers from beholding the light of God’s glory in the Gospel. So not only can they not see God’s glory, but Satan is working to ensure they don’t ever see it. Thankfully, this is where the bad news ends and the good news begins…

God by His Spirit gives us eyes to behold His glory on the cross

The only possible way for the blind to see is by the miraculous touch of the Great Physician. They can’t and don’t want to behold God as glorious until then. As a matter of fact, Jesus said, “People loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (Jn. 3:19-20). So then, what needs to happen must be nothing short of Divine intervention. God must impart spiritual eyesight. But how does He do this? Through the preaching of the Gospel. This is precisely what Jesus sent the apostles…and us to do. Paul says Jesus sent him, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). But wait, I thought we already saw how Satan blinds them from seeing the Gospel when it is preached. Yes, but God in His grace, overcomes this blindness through the very Gospel that is preached. Paul says that what God does in the new birth is similar to what He did in creation: He says, “Let there be light” and He shines the Gospel into our darkened hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6). So now that we see Christ’s glory and realize He alone is truly valuable, what do we do from here?

We grow more like Christ as we behold His glory in the Gospel

2 Corinthians 3:18, once again says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Becoming requires beholding. Beholding enables becoming. If we want to be more like Christ, we need to behold Christ more. The reason we sin is because we are beholding something else as glorious and not Christ. Paul David Tripp has pointed out, “If we worship our way into sin, we have to worship our way out.” How do we do this? Bible study, prayer, fellowship, humility, meditating on the Gospel. All the various means of grace are avenues God created for us to better behold His glory in the Gospel. If we seek God’s glory in these we will grow in Christlikeness as we behold Him. So then what is next?

One day, we will eternally behold His glory

John Piper puts it this way in his book, God is the Gospel: “Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. It’s a way of overcoming every obstacle to everlasting joy in God. If we don’t want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel.” God, through the preaching of the Gospel, has broken into your blindness to give you a sight of His glory and He now calls you to to an eternity of beholding Him which begins now. If you now see the crucified and risen Jesus as the most satisfying and glorious One of all, then God has given you this. Keep beholding Him in your daily life and be urged on by the future Day when you will behold Christ fully and finally with new eyes. We’ll end with some words from a Sovereign Grace hymn entitled When We See Your Face. Let these words spur you on as you behold Christ in your daily life:

“We will see, we will know

Like we’ve never known before

We’ll be found, we’ll be home

We’ll be Yours forevermore.”

 

Lifestyle Evangelism?

 

Many professing Christians think godly living is all the evangelism others need from us. They misquote St. Francis of Assisi, saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” In actuality St. Francis never said this. The sad reality is that many are quick to find spiritualized statements like this to justify their disobedience to Christ’s command. St. Francis of Assisi actually did comment on this issue though. His first biographer, Thomas of Celeno, quoted him saying: “The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later pour out in holy sermons; he must first grow hot within before he speaks words that are in themselves cold.”

That seems more in line with God’s Word.

Scripture is clear that salvation is always connected to the preached Word. James says God, “brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). Peter says we are, “born again…through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). In the parable of the four souls, Jesus taught the impossibility of growth apart from sowing the seed of God’s Word (Mark 4). But the clearest Scripture on this is perhaps Paul’s argument in Romans 10. He states, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14-17). Paul’s quadruple “How” question clearly is rhetorical. Paul is saying that without gospel proclamation there can be no justification.”

Godly living is vital, but is insufficient to save a soul from God’s just wrath against sin. Only faith in the message of the Gospel can save. The only hope for the lost is that the saved share the Gospel with them: his sinless life, his substitutionary death, and his victorious resurrection. Those who try to avoid Gospel evangelism are trying to separate the inseparable. The very Greek word euangelion or Gospel is in our word evangelism. Tell people the only message that can save them, and don’t assume people understand it if you don’t share it with them.

Why Must I Grow in Holiness?

Sanctification.

It is a big, five-syllable word that may not be used much, but remains vitally important. Most mornings while our three children are munching down their cereal, we listen to the New City Catechism in song form. This morning, the song was focused on answering the question, “What do justification and sanctification mean?” My six year old daughter said, “Sanctification? What’s that?” Sadly, many adults who have been raised in the church don’t know the answer either. Yet the doctrine of sanctification is so important and so monumentally vital to the Christian life that Scripture says we cannot see the Lord without it (Heb. 12:14).

So what is it? Sanctification refers to that gradual process of upward spiritual growth in the Christian’s life whereby we are conformed more and more to the image of our Savior. The process of sanctification begins at conversion and ends in final glorification when we die or Christ returns. While our justification is all a work of God in grace toward us, our sanctification involves our spiritual effort and the Spirit’s enabling and empowerment. But one question that seems to be on the minds of churchgoers in our generation is this: “Does it really matter if I am growing spiritually? After all, aren’t we saved by faith alone in Christ alone?”

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, the Apostle Paul addresses the importance of spiritual growth to a church in a similar scenario as ours. The believers in Thessalonica had been converted from idolatry and were living in a culture of rampant sexual promiscuity, to say the least. Cult prostitutes were even used in their temple worship. Various forms of sexual perversion were state-sanctioned activities to raise funds for government buildings and such. We may not be facing as much blatant sexual immorality in our society as the Thessalonian believers were in theirs, but I think it’s safe to say it is a big problem. There are now a variety of new snares Satan has devised to trip us up. By means of great technological advancements, nearly 80% of all Americans own a smartphone. These devices have instant access to visual, moving internet pornography and most people have no filter set up in place to guard them from it. Along with smartphones, we have laptops, smart TV’s, tablets, and such. Just recently my family was at my parents’ home while my dad was trying out his new Echo Dot. Within a few minutes, my children learned to call out the title of a song and expect it to play it for them on demand, only that it misunderstood them and played sexually explicit music for the next couple minutes. This is just one example of how pervasive the problem of sexual immorality is in our culture.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, the Apostle Paul answers some crucial questions for us about spiritual growth…

Does it really matter if I am growing spiritually? Yes, it’s God’s will.

Paul says in verse 1 that we, “ought to…please God…more and more.” Spiritual stagnation is not only a waste of our potential, it is flat out dangerous. Obviously this does not mean we should expect to see some dramatic gains in our devotional lives each progressive week. If we could draw a line graph of our own lifelong spiritual progress, it would have a lot of ups and downs, yet there should be an upward slant to the whole thing. There should be a marked spiritual growth from who we were five years ago and who we are today. Not only that, but Paul also says, “This is the will of God: your sanctification.” Every high school students wants to know what God’s will is for their life and they listen for that still, small voice, but it is right here in black and white before us. God’s will for our lives is that we grow in holiness. Spoken negatively, it is not God’s will that our holiness be at a plateau.

What does this spiritual growth look like? At least sexual purity.

Paul uses an appositive statement to connect their sanctification with sexual purity. He says, “your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” In our pornographic society, this sexual purity is at least what it means to grow in Christlikeness and in holiness. One cannot say they are growing in holiness while they are indulging in any form of sexual immorality. Paul uses the word porneas, a broad word referring to any sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage. To be growing at all means we cannot sit complacent in any sin that perverts God’s good design in marriage. Holiness and honor should be words that characterize our sexual purity.

Why is our sexual purity that big of a deal? Because God called us out for this.

There are several answers to this question which Paul gives. One answer Paul gives is that the Gentiles who practice these things don’t know God and we do. Our knowledge of God sets us apart not only spiritually, but also sexually from the worldview of this age. Also, we are told to remember that God punishes all who love sin more than Him.  Finally, our sexual purity is a big deal because of the way God first called us. God did not come to call us to live as we were. You call a person because you want them to turn their attention away from what it is on so that it is then on you. When God calls sinners, He calls us to a whole new way of life. Jesus was known for saying to sinners, “Go and sin no more.”  Paul says to disregard the clear teaching of Scripture here is to disregard the very God who gives the Holy Spirit. None of us can ever hope to be holy without the aid of the Holy Spirit.

May our lives be marked by this growth in holiness as we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit each day. It is only when our world sees Christ’s church as set apart and holy that they will know what a different Christ has made in us.

7 Ways to Stoke the Fire and Avoid Burnout

There are a lot of people burning out these days; some for moral reasons, others because they tried to balance too much for too long. Many who haven’t “burned out” are not exactly following Paul’s charge to, “not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit” (Rom. 12:11a). So what can we do to keep the fire going and avoid burnout? Here are just a few ways we can practically thrive in our walk with Christ…

  • Meditation

“I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11

Steep your heart in the Word everyday. Don’t just read with your eyes. Turn it into a prayer. Pray the Word back to God. Meditate, then memorize, then meditate some more on what you’ve memorized. One way to do this is to carry around a tiny notepad and record what God has spoken in His Word that day to give you something to chew on all day and savor it completely. The late Jerry Bridges made this helpful point, “God’s Word must be so strongly fixed in our minds that it becomes the dominant influence in our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. One of the most effective ways of influencing our minds is through memorizing Scripture.”

  • Perspiration

“…bodily training is of some value…” 1 Timothy 4:8a

I know perspiration doesn’t sound as spiritual as meditation, but it is also important. Many of the problems we face could be solved with a little exercise and some healthy eating. One author has stated, “The cure for anything is salt water…sweat, tears, or the sea.” While that obviously takes things too far, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a good sweat. God created our beating hearts and sweat glands for a reason. As embodied spirits, we often aren’t aware of how connected our bodies and spirits are. Many have seen depression and discontentment lift after a period of regular exercise. Doctors say our hearts should beat at a rapid pace at least 30 minutes each day and we will do wise to heed them.    

  • Recreation

“…much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Ecclesiastes 12:12

While similar to perspiration, recreation focuses more on the creativity God gave us. Hobbies are good for the soul. Whether it’s carpentry, karate, racquetball, or cooking, we all need diversions from the demands on us. Some think the Bible’s call to sober-mindedness condemns this, but this is wrong. The truly sober-minded know that high levels of work and stress often lead to sin, so they insert recreation into life. Ancient watchman were given one watch of the night so they’d be fully alert during that watch. We’ve also got to mention the all important…sleep. God wired us so that we’d need this nightly recharge and for those who won’t humble themselves to get it, God will see to it that they are humbled for lack of it. In his little book Zeal Without Burnout, Christopher Ash writes, “To neglect sleep, Sabbaths, friendships, and inward renewal is not heroism but hubris.”

  • Mortification

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13

There is no sanctification without mortification. The great men of God in the Bible and church history were known for vigilance in this. John Piper calls this, “Holy sweat” and we can’t forget John Owen’s famous line that, “We must be killing sin or sin will be killing us.” There is no more sad creature in all the world than a believer cozying up to sin. Unbelievers live in sin, but they are blind to the glories of Christ. Believers, however, are at odds with their new union to Christ when they sin. They feel what David felt when he said, “My bones wasted away…my strength was dried up.” This is why Jesus said of indwelling sin, “kill it, gouge it out, pluck it out, and tear it from you.” Peter told us indwelling sin, “wage[s] war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Along with killing sin, we’ve also got to learn to say, “No” to extra demands on our time that keep us from what is most important. Even learning to discipline ourselves to put down the smartphone could help us keep a good pace.

  • Association

“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.” Hebrews 10:25

No believer was created to be a lone ranger. We need fellowship with other believers, especially in a local body with which we have covenanted. The church who practices biblical church membership is built upon this deep fellowship in the body of Christ. But sitting in a pew once a week is not sufficient to stir up our souls. We need a one-on-one relationship of accountability in the body and we also need a small group in the church that will keep us lifted in prayer and provide us with the necessary encouragement. All the while, we must not forget that we are there to serve our brothers and sisters and not merely be served by them.

  • Proclamation

“…Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” 1 Corinthians 9:16b

The Dead Sea is a fitting example of the Christian who neglects evangelism. Like the Dead Sea, if we have no outlet of the Gospel into the lives of others, we will grow stagnant and dry. Evangelism always reminds me of the lostness of the world around me and the great wonder of God’s saving grace in my own life. When you rub shoulders with the lost and listen to them share their worldview, it may just remind you how blessed you are to be in Christ, in turn filling you with a passion to share the Gospel with unbelievers.

  • Continuation

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

All of the above will not matter if we fail to persevere. Jesus said it is those, “who endure to the end who will be saved.” While it is true that God preserves His people, it is also true that God’s people persevere. In the same short letter, the Apostle Jude referred to believers as those, “kept for Jesus Christ”, then commanded us: “Keep yourselves in the love of God”, only to conclude, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling…” May we not lose heart and give up, for there is nothing but destruction for those who do. Hebrews 12:2 reminds us to, “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus…”

May we all run this marathon race of life with endurance, focus, and sustainable pace.

Jesus’ Questions for an Anxious Heart

Anxiety is something many of us face on a regular basis. From the womb to the tomb, we encounter a multitude of events that can lead us to doubt God’s good plans for our lives. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus questions our sinful tendency to worry. Jesus was a master of answering questions with deeper questions, thus causing us to consider life from an eternal perspective. In Matthew 6:31, Jesus portrays our anxiety as worrisome questioning and fretful concern which wonders, “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear?” Yet Jesus’ answer to these questions comes in the form of more questions. Aside from commanding us three times, “Do not be anxious,” Jesus leads us to consider the foolishness of our fearful anxiety.

Is not life more…? (v. 25)

The first question Jesus uses to counter our fretfulness zooms out to view the full scope of our lives in light of what is currently worrying us. Ironically, Jesus identifies the most extreme causes of worry, implying that all other less-important causes are covered as well. Our Western mindsets worry primarily about much less significant things like financial stability, social likeability, and that inner feeling of success in life. But life is more than food, clothes, friends, account numbers, titles, and degrees. So when we begin to worry about something, we must learn to ask ourselves, “Isn’t life more than [insert your worry here]?” The rhetorical yes answer will remind us to live not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Are you not of more value than they? (v. 26)

Jesus’ second question turns our attention to what theologians call the imago Dei. As humans, we have been created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27-28 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Jesus had just called the people to consider the birds flying about over their heads there near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This reminds me of when God, “took Job to the zoo” (Mahaney) in Job 38-41, but the focus is different. Here Jesus wants us to consider our heavenly Father’s care for His creation. If God cares for the little animals under Adam’s dominion, then most assuredly He cares for Adam’s race. This side of the cross, we know God’s special love for those made in His image has been proven. Romans 8:32 reminds us, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (v. 27)

Worry and fretfulness not only cannot add time to our earth clock, but has been proven to take away from it. Not only do we waste time when we stress and worry over things, but we put our health in danger. So the next time you find yourself doubting God’s faithfulness in your life circumstances, consider the time you are wasting.

Will God not much more clothe you? (vv. 28-30)

From worries over food to worries over clothing, Jesus encourages us to consider God’s loving concern for His people. Earlier Jesus said to look up at the birds for a reminder of God’s provision and now He calls us to look down at the grass for it. We serve a God who provides the richest of clothing for the most lowly of His creation, so we should take heart. God will give His children what they need to glorify Him.

The remedy: Trust your Father and Make Him Known (vv. 31-34)

Once we have questioned our anxieties through Jesus’ approach, we have no reason for them remaining. We’ve discovered that life is more than what bothers us, God has a special love for those in His image, life is too short to worry, and we will have all we need to serve Him. But now what do we do with our lives? Jesus says we should live by faith in God and live for the fame of God. Those who seek to know God and make Him known will have all they need to further know and make Him known. Instead of filling our lives with doubts and concerns, we must fill them with faith that is active in the world for the glory of God. Faith in God fuels living for God’s fame. Since our heavenly Father loves us enough to send His Son to Calvary’s cross in our stead, we can now spread His kingdom in this world. And the good news is, we don’t even have to worry about His kingdom spreading, for He promised to build His church.

The Pastor’s Wife

Let me begin by saying that what compels me to write this is not personal frustration with church members, but a pure desire to consider this great woman in the life of our church and point us to a more biblical view of the pastor’s wife.

There is perhaps no greater calling in the world than that of the pastor’s wife.

That being said, there is perhaps no more difficult calling in the world than hers. While the pastor gets the accolades, his wife often gets the odd looks and questions. While the church loves a pastor they can call on 24/7, his wife must get accustomed to saying goodbye to him at the drop of a hat. While the pastor is busy sharing the eternal gospel, leading sinners to Christ, and counseling struggling Christians, his wife’s ministry is behind-the-scenes and often considered less important. Some even take the liberty to say things to their pastor’s wife they wouldn’t dare say to the pastor, but for some reason they think she needs to hear it. Because of this, I think it would be helpful for us to consider a few questions together about this woman in our church…

Who is my pastor’s wife?

I must sadly admit that I never gave much attention to my own pastor’s wife growing up. In my mind, she didn’t even exist until the pastor called attention to her. Thankfully, I had a pastor who didn’t call negative attention to his wife as I’ve heard some heavily influential pastors do. Yet my pastor’s wife was never an individual soul, but always scrutinized through the lens of her husband. She wasn’t Ellen in my mind; she was Pastor Larry’s wife. As a matter of fact, I was kind of disappointed when I did see her occasionally (it was a mega church) for some odd reason, and I think it was because she didn’t meet my expectations of a pastor’s wife (and I didn’t even think I had any!). After talking to many church members, pastors, and pastor’s wives, I don’t think I’m alone here. Over the years of my life, I’ve lived in various places for college, seminary, and ministry, and have learned an important lesson: No two pastor’s wives are alike. One may be a type-A personality who is gifted in teaching the Bible to women or hosting events each month for the church; another may be introverted and quiet, more interested in one-on-one discipleship. But who is your pastor’s wife? I think the best thing we can do is first consider her to be another church member before we attach some label to her.

Why do I view her so differently?

I think if we’re all honest, we view the wife of our pastor differently than that of another church member’s wife. There are good and bad reasons we do this. Some expect that the pastor’s wife is to have similar spiritual gifts as her husband, but this is nowhere taught in Scripture. Others view the pastor’s wife as another overseer in the church, but this also is unbiblical. Still others have a biblical understanding of the pastor’s wife and yet still treat her as an employee of the church. Now that I’ve been married and in ministry for the last five years, I’ve seen this weird dynamic of a pastor’s wife from firsthand experience, and even I’ve struggled to understand her role at times. Mostly well-meaning people have told my wife things about how she can do a better job raising her children, how she needs to serve in the church more, on down to how she needs to wear her makeup. All of these statements to my own wife over the years have revealed that people expect their pastor’s wife to be someone more than God calls her to be. From comments like, “Hey, the toilet is overflowing in the women’s restroom!” to, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here last week. I’ll try to do better,” pastor’s wives are often put in awkward positions.

So then what are the biblical expectations of the pastor’s wife?

Are you ready for it? Okay, here it goes:

They are simply the same as that of every other believing wife in the New Testament, and praise the Lord for that.

God places on each of us no greater burden than that of faith in Jesus and the lifestyle that aligns with such faith. In the Pastoral Epistles, the Apostle Paul doesn’t address the pastor’s wife in his qualifications for overseers, and what he says about deacon’s wives is nothing monumental. Paul says deacon’s wives, “must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (1 Timothy 3:11). I think it is safe to say these qualifications are expected of every Christian, not just those serving in church ministry. Why does Paul pinpoint deacon’s wives? Perhaps because he knows the position of their husbands means others will see their lives in a more public way. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t expect anything more from our pastor’s wife than we would from any other godly woman in our church. She is to love and submit to her husband’s leadership in the home (Ephesians 5:22-24), nurture and disciple her children (Titus 2:4-5), love and serve her church family with her unique gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-7), and be a godly example in this lost world (Titus 2:3-5).  

What can I do to be an encouragement to her?

This is perhaps the most important question for us. The pastor’s wife and family live in one is commonly called a “fish-bowl.” Since the wife of your pastor is viewed differently, you and I should make it our priority to be an encouragement to her as much as possible. One seasoned pastor’s wife in a church in our town shared how a church member had greatly encouraged her at the beginning of their ministry with one small statement. This statement was so uplifting that this pastor’s wife held it dear for decades, and it was this: “I want you to know that you are free to be Randy’s wife.” Now that may not sound like much to you, but it meant the world to this pastor’s wife. Have you ever spoken into your pastor’s wife’s life with a word of genuine appreciation like this? It could change her world or even the future direction of your church.

But perhaps the greatest thing you can do for your pastor’s wife is to pray regularly for her. What should you pray? The same thing you would for any other godly woman: to abide in Christ, to love her husband and children, to shine for Christ in this world.

Besides encouraging her and praying for her, you can also consider ways to serve her. I spoke with another pastor friend today who said his wife hasn’t been able to enjoy a church service in weeks because no one volunteers to help her children. This was really sad for me to hear, but sad to say I wasn’t surprised. One woman in our church noticed my wife had to take our toddler-aged children out of the sanctuary one Sunday when children’s church was canceled and she simply offered to watch the children. This is one simple way to truly encourage your pastor’s wife. You could even get her a small gift or write a note to her that expresses how much she means to you and your church. On top of all this, you could simply befriend her. Many pastor’s wives feels isolated from the regular ministry of the church, so you could just get to know her as a friend and sit with her during church services. Who doesn’t want a friend who cares about them like this?

A word to the pastor’s wife…

I know there are pastor’s wives who read these blogs. If you happen to be one, let me encourage you. Don’t let the current spiritual health of the members in your church discourage you. Don’t let your husband’s endless demands on his time discourage you. Don’t let the awkward position that you’re in each week discourage you. When the kids are climbing the walls of your house like chimpanzees and your husband has to leave five minutes after he walked in the door to make a hospital visit and when the only things you hear from other members are ways you can do better, don’t get discouraged. How? Keep drinking from the enriching milk of God’s Word. Keep your soul saturated in the life that is yours in Christ. Keep your eyes fixed on the certain and sure hope of heaven that awaits all God’s suffering saints. Keep finding your life in Christ and Christ alone. Only then will you be the woman God has called you to be instead of trying to be the woman others sinfully expect you to be.

Only One Prophet-Priest-King

Let’s face it. Not every pastor is gifted in the same way. Some pastors are extraordinarily gifted preachers, delivering mainly “home runs” each week. Other pastors will only preach a “home run” sermon once a month, yet may be strong in the area of pastoral care and counseling. Meanwhile, a third category of pastor may not be the best preacher or the most caring and compassionate with his people, but he may excel in leading the body of Christ forward like none other. We can probably see in our own pastors one of these qualities rise above the others.

Every church wants a pastor who excels in all three areas: preaching, pastoral care, and leading. A problem arises, however, when church’s assume their pastor will fill out in these areas equally. The reality is, many churches expect more from their pastors than they would from any other human being in their lives. While pastors are called to be living examples to the flock and set apart from this world, they are still fellow sheep smack dab in the middle of their own sanctification. When churches expect their pastors to be golden-mouthed pulpiteers, Mr. Rogers-like companions, and dynamic vision-casters, they are looking for something in a man that can only be found in the Son of Man. Only Jesus is the perfect preacher (Prophet), shepherd (Priest), and leader (King). We see this in Matthew 12.

In Matthew 12, Jesus highlights the fact that He alone perfectly fulfills each of these roles. In order to tell us who He is and what He came to do, Jesus ties together the three offices which held the entire Old Testament together: that of the prophet, the priest, and the king. Each of these three offices was instituted by God and serves as a representative of God to His people. Yet Jesus explains that he came not to fulfill only one of them, but all three.

“Something greater than the temple is here”- Jesus is the Great High Priest who makes atonement for our sins

Jesus begins in verse 6 by staring down Israel’s flawed religious leadership. When the Scribes and Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for leading His disciples to break the Sabbath, He called Himself the, “Lord of the Sabbath” and even said, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus knew that the temple was the place where God dwelt and the place where blood sacrifices for sin were made. By saying, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus was showing them that a new day in salvation history had come and that God’s people could now approach Him solely on the basis of Christ’s person and work.

This means Jesus and Jesus alone is our Great High Priest who has made atonement for our sins. We have no need to make sacrifices and approach a certain man to enter God’s presence once a year and hope this atones for our sins. The once-for-all time sacrifice of Christ has been offered and we are cleansed of all sin through faith in Him. This frees us up as Christ’s people to rest in His priestly office instead of expecting it’s total fulfillment in our local pastor. Your pastor may not be as personable as you’d like, but that’s okay, as long as he is aiming for more Christ-likeness in that area.

“Something greater than Jonah is here”- Jesus is the Prophet who speaks God’s Word to us

In verse 41, Jesus returns to this theme of His fulfillment of the three Old Testament offices. He moves from a focus on the office of priest to that of prophet. Jesus amazingly connects Jonah’s experience to His upcoming death, burial, and resurrection. Then, Jesus says that a new day has come regarding the office of prophet. Jonah was a prophet with many sins, and Jesus uses Him to point out that this office of prophet had never found a perfect officeholder. But now the perfect Office-holder was here and that means Jesus perfectly delivers God’s Word to His people. Jesus not only is the perfect preacher and, “The prophet who is to come” (Deut. 18:15), but He is also, “The Word made flesh” (John 1:14). Throughout the gospel accounts, people were constantly remarking that Christ taught, “As one who had authority” (Mark 1:22, Matthew 7:29). After appearing to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, the men remarked: “He opened to us the Scriptures” (Lk. 24:32), then in verse 45 we’re told, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

This means that Jesus speaks God’s Word to us clearly and accurately, so we can trust His every word. This also means it should be our ambition to know nothing except, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). When we know Jesus is the, “Word of Life”, we will heed Him when He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24, italics mine). We will then not be discouraged if week after week, our local pastor only delivers a “base hit” with an occasional “home run.” We can be content sitting under our pastor’s preaching so long as this broken mouthpiece delivers the Word of God to us.

“Something greater than Solomon is here”- Jesus is the King who reigns in our hearts forever

Then, in the very next verse, in Matthew 12:42, Jesus mentions Israel’s wisest king, Solomon, and shockingly says, “Something greater than Solomon is here.” It is surprising enough that Jesus claims prominence over the temple as the true Priest, and supremacy over the prophets as the true Prophet; but to say that He is, “greater” than the greatest of Israel’s kings is huge. Jesus is claiming that His rule and reign and His wisdom excel that of every other human to walk the face of the earth. No mere man holds a candle to the perfection that shines forth from Christ.

This means that Jesus and Jesus alone is worthy of our soul’s total allegiance. We are freed up from looking for flawless leadership in our local pastor when we have bowed our hearts to the King of kings. Since Jesus is leading us to the Promised Land of Glory and has “prepared the way” for us by means of His cross and resurrection, we are content when our local pastor does his best to lead us. We don’t need to reject our pastor’s leading when he obviously has sought God’s best for us and is aiming to lead us forward in holiness. We can submit to our pastor’s leadership because we know he is merely trying to get us to follow Christ.

I am not saying pastors should not strive for excellence in preaching, shepherding, and leading. I believe the strongest pastor is the one that humbly repents of his shortcomings and sins and seeks to grow in grace in each of these three areas. My point is, Christ’s sheep should not seek for something in a man when they should find it in the God-Man. When church members find Christ to be their true Prophet, Priest, and King, they don’t get upset when others fail to fill these positions. Rather than finding fault in their flawed leaders, these church members rejoice as they see the light of Christ shining through the “jar of clay” that stands before them each Lord’s Day. Your pastor may never be a C.H. Spurgeon or a John MacArthur, but they are another instrument God has raised from the dust to sound forth for His glory.

May we all as Christ’s sheep follow our Good Shepherd, even as we submit to His flawed under-shepherds. And one day, all sheep and under-shepherds, will bow at the feet of, “The great Shepherd of the sheep”, the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20b).  

Reflections on Billy Graham and Spiritual Heroes

Why did Billy Graham’s life and preaching impact so many thousands of lives? This is a question I have pondered a lot since news broke that he went on to be with the Lord.

The news of Billy Graham’s death came out this week as I was preparing a sermon on Jonah 3. I had been wrestling with the question of why Jonah’s preaching had such a profound impact on the Ninevites when I heard of Billy’s passing. After discovering a few reasons why Jonah’s preaching was “God-timed” for the people of Nineveh, I still knew that only the Spirit of God brings the preached Word of God to bear on sinners. But then I considered other spiritual heroes in recent generations, like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield and John Wesley, and the same question struck me. Why did God choose these men as opposed to others? Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God, had little effect on his home church, but God used it to spark a nation-wide revival when he preached it in Enfield, Connecticut. Why is it that the people in Enfield were grabbing hold of the pillars of the church, moaning, and crying out, “What must I do to be saved?” but the people in Edwards’ congregation were often laying down horizontally on the pews asleep as he preached?

In my research, I discovered no shortage of reasons from the world’s perspective as to why Edwards’ sermon had such profound impact on early America. One scholar, Edwin Cady, says it was the fresh imagery Edwards used. Another, Lee Stuart, says it was the element of comfort after such a long, negative message. Another, Rosemary Hearn, suggests that the logical structure and persuasiveness of Edwards’ sermon made it successful. Yet another says it was Edwards’ references to Newtonian physics and the earth’s gravitational pull that created a feeling of falling among his hearers. Still others say it was Edwards’ use of vivid illustrations which made the listeners feel like they had been transported to hell even as they sat in the church pews. These were all plausible ideas, but something about them rang hollow and didn’t fully explain the monumental response that followed the preaching.

After reading George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, by Dr. Thomas Kidd last year, I discovered something else interesting: Whitefield’s words and concepts in preaching were not particularly unique or novel. One contemporary of Whitefield remarked that Whitefield could move men to tears simply by repeating the word mesopotamia.’ Whitefield also had one lazy eye that one would think would have lessened his fame, but it did not in the least. John Wesley’s ministry is comparable in many ways to Whitefield’s. This reminds me how the Lord used all the heroes in the “hall of the faith” listed in Hebrews 11. God often uses the simplicity of the preaching and the weakness of the servant to bring all the glory to Himself.

As for Billy Graham, is there any spiritual leader that has had such profound, worldwide acclaim and impacted so many vast numbers of people through his life and preaching since these earlier famous preachers? I was recently given Billy Graham’s autobiography by an elderly widow in our church, and one picture in it shows Billy Graham preaching to over a million people at one time in South Korea in 1973. Perhaps some of Billy Graham’s impact is owing to the fact that he lived in the age of television and jet travel. Nevertheless, anyone who has heard Billy Graham’s preaching can tell you his messages were not anything new. Billy Graham preached the same old gospel that countless other lesser-known heralds have preached. Yet as Billy Graham spoke, his words carried clarity, compassion, and spiritual force unlike any for generations.

While it can be argued that some of the droves of people who descended the bleachers at Graham’s preaching crusades were doing so merely in response to the emotional tug of the music and the zeal of the preacher that day (Graham himself said he wouldn’t be surprised of only 2% who came forward were actually converted that night), this still does not sufficiently explain why Billy Graham did not become just another TV preacher out there with his own little following. He was invited to the White House by many presidents in his day and was esteemed by all for his moral purity and faithfulness to what he believed.

Ultimately, God has not chosen to reveal to us why He uses some men to impact thousands and others only hundreds. But Scripture does tell us that He does so according to His sovereign purposes in the world. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, He explains that some are given more talents than others (Matthew 25:14-30). Then, in Jesus’ parable of the soils, He shares that the crops growing from good soil will produce various amounts: some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, and some one hundred-fold (Mark 4:8). But God does not tell us specifically why there is a difference in the growth. Instead of telling us why God uses some more than others, He charges each of us to be good stewards of whatever amount of time, gifts, relationships, and resources with which He has entrusted us.

Billy Graham was faithful with his and may we all be faithful with ours. May Paul’s question to the church at Corinth echo in our minds, “What do we have that we did not receive?”

Tremble at the Word

When is the last time you trembled?

Maybe it was when a semi truck came uncomfortably close to your vehicle on the interstate or when you showed up to class only to discover the term paper was due and you forgot to finish it last night. The last time I trembled was one sunny day (or so I thought) when I was getting the kids ready to go play outside and was startled by a booming thunderclap. The flicker from the corner of my eye was met a second later with such a loud cannon blast that it left the house shaking for a few seconds. Needless to say, we stayed indoors till the storm passed. What makes us tremble in these moments? It is the sudden realization that we are not that powerful after all. In these moments we are brought down to size and reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

In Isaiah 66:2, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah and declares, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” Then a few verses later we read, “Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word.”

The trembling that brings a blessing with it is this soul trembling God calls for in response to His Word. But what does it mean to tremble? We know it cannot mean trembling for fear of punishment, for Jesus bore all God’s wrath for the believer on the cross. What it must mean then is a humble and prayerful listening to the Word from the heart; the opposite of an independent and boastful attitude which thinks we know best apart from the Word.

Then the question arises: “What if I’ve lost this sense of trembling over God’s Word? What if the Word that once seemed so alive is now dry and lifeless to me? How can I recover this trembling at the Word?”

To rekindle this sense of the fear of God as we read His Word we must…

Read Scripture as though God were speaking to us (because He is)

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that, “All Scripture is God-breathed,” so we must read our Bibles as though God were speaking from heaven to us. In his recent book, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, John Piper compares our Bible reading to a conversation over the lunch table with a friend. He says if he finds his mind wandering while reading the Bible, it’s just as rude as letting your mind wander when someone is talking to you over the lunch table. Since you would apologize for not listening to a real person, we should also confess to God when we aren’t listening to Him speak in His Word. We all would love to hear the audible voice of God guiding us in the course of this life like Moses did on Mount Sinai or like Peter did on the Mount of Transfiguration. Ironically, we have the voice of God before us in black and white and often don’t tremble over it. Peter himself tells us, “We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention…” (2 Pet. 1:18-19a). As I’ve heard it said, if we want to hear God speak out loud, all we have to do is read the Bible out loud.  

Pray as though God were listening to us (because He is)

If we wish to tremble at the Word, we can’t just read it though. We’ve got to respond to it in prayer. One practice I’ve always found helpful, which I got from Piper, is to pray before you read that God would show you His glory, pray as you read that God would help you understand, and pray after you read that God would help you respond appropriately. But if we’re not careful we can even feel numb in our prayers to God. We must remember Who it is we’re praying to and what it cost us to even approach Him. At the Together for the Gospel pastor’s conference a few years back, I’ll never forget how David Platt brought this home in his prayer. Before praying, he noticed that the 10,000 pastors in the room were being irreverent in the way they were casually walking around and texting and talking when we were about to pray to our most awesome and holy God. After he rebuked us for our lackadaisical attitude to prayer in such a conference setting, a sudden hush fell over the massive gathering and it felt as though we were all united in prayer with this man. This is how we must bring ourselves to pray every time we do so; with the realization that we’re approaching the Holy of Holies.

Live as though God were watching us (because He is)

If we are faithful to read Scripture with trembling and pray with trembling, but we aren’t faithful to live with trembling, we’re missing the point. At the beginning of our text, we saw how God said, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit.” It should humble us that God is the watcher of all mankind and yet it should even more greatly humble us that He will look with special affection on those who fear Him. Francis Chan has rightly noted, “The fact that a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, fair, and just God loves you is nothing short of astonishing.” Since this holy God looks our way in Christ, we should live daily in the fear of Him. In his book The Joy of Fearing God, the late Jerry Bridges defines the fear of God as reverential awe. Our daily decisions and encounters with temptation should be marked by reverence for who God is and awe before Him. If we wouldn’t say, do, or think something if we knew people around us were fully aware of it, we shouldn’t with such a God fully aware of it. This is why Paul tells the church at Philippi to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). This is also why the author of Hebrews tells us, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28b-29).

My great uncle Clark Harrison was paralyzed by a sniper bullet in World War II. After a period of licking his wounds so to speak, he decided he would not give up on life. He went on to be one of the founders of the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta and even got his pilot’s license. One day while sitting on the wing of his plane as it sat on the tarmac, he noticed the smell of burning flesh and looked down to discover his numb, paralyzed legs had received second and third degree burns from the wing by sitting there and he didn’t even know it.

Like my great Uncle Clark, we must remember that when our hearts grow numb to God, this does not minimize in any degree His blazing holiness. If you find your heart hard and numb and cold, confess it to God and repent. Use all manner of His ordained means to once again tremble at His Word. Pray, read, and live in a way that acknowledges you are nothing without Him and He is worthy of your zealous worship. Then this holy God will once again lead you to tremble at His Word.