How to Walk Worthy of the Lord

The year 2020 has undoubtedly been the strangest year of my life. Suffering, confusion, hostility, fear, conspiracy, politics, controversy, disasters, injustice, social media, and tribalism are tearing our country apart. In particular, pastors find themselves in uncharted waters, surrounded by a multitude of opinions on every side. And with our presidential elections coming up in November, and no end in sight to the both the pandemic and all the divisive arguments that come with it, the future looks dark.

But this is what you inevitably find within the domain of darkness.

Yet while we are in this world, we are not of it. The Apostle Paul tells us that God the Father “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). We are God’s people, a holy nation, citizens of heaven, called out of darkness into the light of Christ (1 Peter 2:9).

Our allegiance belongs to the risen Savior. We have been redeemed from the power of sin and delivered from the fear of death. We have a new nature, a living hope, and a glorious inheritance. As Paul says in Ephesians 5: “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:8-11).

Walk Worthy of the Gospel You Have Received

For the church of Christ, this means that our words, our actions, our work ethic, our character, our relationships, our lives should reflect the glory of King Jesus. Our whole outlook on life should be drastically different from those around us, who have not experienced the freedom of forgiveness found in the gospel. And so, Paul prays “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Col. 1:9-10).

He asks that the church might be fully acquainted with our God and his glorious purposes for the world. He wants them to have spiritual wisdom. Why? So that they might walk worthy of the gospel they have received, fully pleasing to the risen Lord who rescued them out of darkness into the light. Those who belong to Christ by grace through faith are to continue in that grace and live lives that are fitting for citizens of the light.

But how do we do this? This is what Paul then goes on to pray for, highlighting four ways in which we are to walk worthy of the risen Lord Jesus.

Bearing Fruit in Every Good Work

First, we walk worthy of the Lord by bearing fruit in every good work (Col. 1:10). Good works are anything done in faith for the good of others and the glory of God. It’s serving our neighbors with the humility and love of Christ. It’s treating them with the gentleness of Christ. In fact, this is why we were chosen and appointed by God: to bear much fruit and love one another (Jn. 15:16-17). But if the world around us doesn’t see the gospel we proclaim demonstrated by genuine converted lives and authentic Christian community then how will they know this to be true?

This is why Jesus commands: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16; 1 Peter 2:12). We walk worthy of the name of Jesus as we abound in love and good works towards everyone, especially the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).

Increasing in the Knowledge of God

Second, we walk worthy of the Lord by increasing in the knowledge of God (v.10). We do this by centering our lives on the Word of God—the all-sufficient, life-giving Word that equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The problem is that in times of crisis we often end up centering our lives—our thought, emotions, and affections—on the world rather than the Word. As a result, we find ourselves listening to and following voices of anxiety, fear, doubt, and self.

One author writes: “A church’s worship habits may occupy two hours of a Christian’s week. But podcasts, radio shows, cable news, social media, streaming entertainment, and other forms of media account for upwards of 90 hours of their week.” And the media we consume is shaping us.

Now, more than ever, we need to be devoting ourselves to the preaching, reading, studying, singing, and memorizing of God’s Word. We need to be disciplined when it comes to our media habits and the means of grace. We need to remind one another of who our God is, what he has done in Christ, and recalibrate our minds and affections according to his goodness, truth, and love.

Persevering with Patience and Joy

Third, we walk worthy by being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might (v.11) As we rely upon the Lord, and come to his throne of grace, we will find the mercy and help we need. As we devote ourselves to good works, to the word and prayer, to the fellowship of the church, God will strengthen us by the same power and authority by which he raised Christ from the dead!

For what are we being strengthened? “For all endurance and patience with joy.” This is exactly what we need as sojourners and exiles in this dark world. We need patient, joyful endurance. We need the power to bear up in difficulty, to remain full of peace, hope, and joy as we wait (Rom. 12:12). And praise God his grace is sufficient for our needs!

Giving Thanks to God

And fourth, we walk worthy of the Lord by giving thanks to the Father (v.12). Thanksgiving is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us, in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). And notice the grounds for this command: “who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Knowing the living hope we have through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we can always be grateful.

Paul writes, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Phil. 2:14-16). Grumbling and disputing obscure our identity as children of God, as citizens of heaven, as lights in the world. When we complain and argue, about anything and everything, we look like the world! Christians who grumble and dispute are blatantly taking part in the unfruitful works of darkness.

Friends, think about how often we are guilty of complaining and arguing: about quarantine, guidelines, and politics; about our neighbors, jobs, and kids; and even about our brothers and sisters in Christ in the church! And from the way many Christians use social media, our light is all but blown out. But as we hold fast to the word of life, we see God’s faithfulness, his wisdom, his goodness, his love, and his sovereignty. So, when we are tempted to grumble about our life circumstances, we can give thanks always. We remember his undeserved mercy towards us and remain steadfast in our joy.

So, beloved, let us walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Let us shine as lights in this world as we abound in love and good works; as we devote ourselves to the word and to prayer and to fellowship; and as we give thanks in all circumstances. And may others see our good works and give glory to our risen Savior King.

Worthy

In Reformed circles the emphasis of the worthiness of Christ and the utter unworthiness of man is heavy; rightly so. There is none worthy but the Worthy One, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

However, the Holy Spirit-inspired author of the letter to Christ’s Church at Ephesus had no reservations in calling those “in Christ” (see Ephesians 1-3) to live lives “worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). We may not be worthy but we have been called to live a worthy life. Often, the Holy Spirit commands those under the Headship of Christ, from the apostle’s pen, to this worthy walk:

Philippians 1:27 “…let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ…”

Colossians 1:10 “…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him…”

1 Thessalonians  2:12 “…walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory…”

But how? To know “what” is entirely different than “how.” God, in His grace, through Paul provides us with five “how’s” that are enough to keep us striving until our Gracious God finishes the work He began in us when He justified us by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. You can find the “how’s” in Ephesians 4:2-3, immediately following the call to “walk worthy” in 4:1.

With All Humility

Simply stated, humility is not thinking lowly of oneself but, as Christ demonstrated, the voluntary surrender of that which one is due. The King of Creation, the Son of God, did not count equality with the Father something He would require others to respond appropriately to. Instead, in humility, He served his enemies for their good and for His Father’s glory. Walk worthy, friend, in a voluntary surrendering of that which is due you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

With All Gentleness

Gentleness is the quality of character that walks in humility with the attitude of Christ. Absent the Humble Son of God was the passive-aggressive attitude that often comes with false-humility. One can, in the flesh, set aside what they are owed with an attitude that does not reflect the character of Christ, but gentleness is the character that serves at one’s own expense for the benefit of another lovingly. Jesus never surrendered the Truth but never begrudgingly paraded His humility to invoke a sense of guilt. As a the Great Shepherd, He gently served His Father by serving His sheep. Walk a worthy life of gentle service, in spite of personal expense, in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

With All Patience

Patience is also a quality of character that waits, full of faith, in the process(es) and timing of God’s Sovereign Will. It is easy to fall into thinking that our timing and our methods are clearly the best. However, a life worthy of the Lord is a life that waits on the Lord, the sovereignly Providential One. The Lord is patient with us as He works in and through us to accomplish His will; the one walking worthy of the Lord is reflecting that patience toward those people and circumstances the Lord brings in our paths.

Bearing with One Another

At first glance, this sounds a lot like patience. But this quality of character exemplifies patience in the face of adversity. Bearing with one another is “patience under attack.” Think of the Stephen as he was being stoned to death by those he was evangelizing. Remember, he asked the Lord to forgive them for doing what they did not understand, mirroring the Lord’s request of those who crucified their God. Walking worthy of the Gospel is a loving non-retaliation, in the face of offense, that your attacker might see Christ in you.

Eager Maintenance of the Unity of the Spirit

If ever there was work to be done, it is found here. The worthy life is one that is committed to the long-term, ongoing, upkeep of unity in the Body of Christ. This is no easy task. Put a group of sinful people together, even those redeemed, and what you’ll soon find is sin—shocking, I know. A worthy life is one that is rooted in maintaining peace among brothers and sisters in Christ. Walking worthy is bringing gossip to a halt; speaking highly of others who aren’t around; leading others to thinking highly of  those in the Church; praising others work in the Lord instead of looking for miniscule specks of inconsistency of a poor choice of words theologically. Walk worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ and remind the brothers and sisters of peace of God, in Christ, and in His Church.

Even as I write today, I see much room for growth in my life which means much sin from which I need to repent. But as I see my sin, I cannot but see the extravagant grace of my Lord Jesus Christ. Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more!

Glory! Hallelujah! Jesus is worthy!

May we be found, at His coming, the same; walking worthy.

Worship in Spirit & in Truth via Liturgy (Part 1)

I am a Christian who worships within the Anglican church, a tradition which utilizes liturgy in our worship of God. My family is not from this tradition; I was raised in broadly evangelical churches, where any prayers came straight from the pastor’s heart to his lips, just as God intended! I had the firm conviction from attending a few Roman Catholic services with friends that such cookie-cutter worship resulted in deadly ritualism and idolatry. I would have laughed at you fifteen years ago if you told me that not only would I join a liturgical tradition, but would be a pastor in one. Yet here I am, and my views on the use of liturgy in worship have undergone a seismic shift due to an extensive exposure to liturgy and a helpful education on its benefits.

My aim is to provide a few articles regarding liturgical worship, both highlighting its strengths and providing some helpful cautions. Before you read any further, just know that I am not attempting to convert any of you to Anglicanism. I merely desire to help inform any anti-liturgical attitudes out there while providing some food for thought for those worshipping within liturgical communities.

Let me begin with a positive: the best liturgical traditions bring prayers into the life of the church which are immersed in the words of Scripture. In my experience, this is part of what people within these traditions refer to as the beauty of the liturgy, since at some level they recognize that the words are ones which have been given to the church by the Spirit through the Bible. This featuring of biblical language can be seen by looking through the prayer books in the Anglican tradition.

From the beginnings of the Protestant Church of England in the mid-1500s until the present day, Books of Common Prayer have been ever-present in the life of Anglican worship. Most prayers and elements of the liturgy are either pulled directly from Scripture (and some that are not are so steeped in biblical language that they sound as though they were!) or from the prayers of early Christian worshipping communities. The beauty in the liturgy, at its best, is that it places the words of the Bible onto the lips of believers both gathered and scattered, over time imprinting them upon their hearts and minds. Just consider the following suffrage (a series of intercessory prayers or petitions), taken from the Evening Prayer service of the 2019 ACNA Book of Common Prayer:

 Officiant  O Lord, show your mercy upon us;

   People   And grant us your salvation.

Officiant   O Lord, guide those who govern us;

   People   And lead us in the way of justice and truth.

Officiant   Clothe your ministers with righteousness;

   People   And let your people sing with joy.

Officiant   O Lord, save your people;

   People   And bless your inheritance.

Officiant   Give peace in our time, O Lord;

   People   And defend us by your mighty power.

Officiant   Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;

   People   Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.

Officiant   Create in us clean hearts, O God;

   People   And take not your Holy Spirit from us.

For those who regularly read the Psalms, these intercessions should sound quite familiar. Many are direct quotes from Israel’s songbook, and all are sourced from ideas found therein. For comparison, read through the Psalms below (all taken from the ESV). Then read the suffrage above again. It is undeniable how the Word of God flows through the worship liturgies when viewing examples like these:

Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,

    and grant us your salvation. (Psalm 85:7)

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,

    for you judge the peoples with equity

    and guide the nations upon earth. (Psalm 67:4)

Teach me your way, O Lord,

    that I may walk in your truth;

    unite my heart to fear your name. (Psalm 86:11)

Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,

    and let your saints shout for joy. (Psalm 132:9)

Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!

    Be their shepherd and carry them forever. (Psalm 28:9)

May the Lord give strength to his people!

    May the Lord bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29:11)

Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,

    that he might make known his mighty power. (Psalm 106:8)

For the needy shall not always be forgotten,

    and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever. (Psalm 9:18)

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

    and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence,

    and take not your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51:10-11)

Such liturgical prayers, based in the Scriptures, facilitate corporate prayer in the church at least as well as any extemporaneous prayer from the heart of the pastor. One is (hopefully) guided by the Holy Spirit in the moment, the other sourced by the Spirit ages ago. Both are capable of leading God’s people in prayer.

While it is easy to see how the liturgy is grounded in Scripture, and thus in the truth of God’s Word, this is not the only biblical requirement of worship. When Jesus was discussing with the woman at the well the proper location for God’s people to gather in worship, He brought forth a dual-requirement for worship. In John 4:23-24 He declared that “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Jesus taught that the worship of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, is characterized by both truth and spirit. The engagement of the heart in worship is one of the necessary cautions for those within liturgical traditions. This will be the topic covered in the next article in this series. Until that time, my prayer is that in each of our churches, we would worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

Home Field Advantage

Many of us, if not all of us, have heard the expression, “Home Field advantage”. I have been to several Rays and Red Sox games at Tropicana field in the past, and for a while there, there seemed to be just as many Red Sox fans (if not more) than there were Rays fans.  It was more like little Feneway than it was Tropicana field. The Rays home field advantage seemed to be gone. They were at home, but they were not getting a lot of love.

Well, as we look at our Mark 6:1-6 we will see a similar scene. Jesus is at home, but He is not getting a lot of love:

He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

Notice in these verses that Jesus is in His hometown and He is teaching in the Synagogue. Up to this point in Mark there has been an emphasis on the teaching and preaching of Jesus. Everywhere Jesus goes He is preaching and teaching. If Jesus thought preaching and teaching was important (which He did), certainly we should think it is important also. It is through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word that we are brought to life spiritually and through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word that we grow spiritually. 

We are told in v. 2 that “many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him?'” Those in attendance were impressed by Jesus’ mighty works and the miracles He had performed, yet despite His astonishing words and powerful works; despite the testimony of what He had done up to this point, those in attendance were not convinced of anything. In fact, they began to talk among themselves and say, in v. 3:”Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…?” And the end of v. 3 tells us that “they took offense at him.”

The people were profoundly offended by Jesus. They were essentially saying, “who does this guy think He is? We have seen Him grown up and we know His family and we know what He does for a living. He is no one special. So, who does He think He is that He can come in here with His fancy theology and tell us about God? That’s just Jesus, we’re not listening to this.” Therefore, His teachings were not thought to be credible and no one in his home town took Him seriously; the stuff went in one ear and out the other.

We can see Jesus’ response in v. 6, “he marveled because of their unbelief.” It is as if Jesus were saying, “Wow guys, here I am, God of the Universe, Savior of the world, right in front of you, yet you still do not believe.” The people in this passage were people who grew up with Jesus and were around Him and interacted with Him and yet they did not believe in Him, and in fact, they were offended by Him, and this should come as a warning to all of us. There are two warnings here that I want you to see: 

1. Warning to Submit to Christ and His Word

Sometimes you and I, just like those in this passage, have a tendency to find God offensive, and we choose to ignore Him. Now you might be thinking, “If God were speaking directly to me, I would never ignore Him or take offense.” However, there may be verses in the Bible (God speaking directly to us) that you are ignoring and offended by even now.  

If and when we become offended by God’s Word we may be tempted to ignore what we read and live as if we had never seen those verses. However, rather than finding offense, we should humble and submit ourselves to the truth of Scripture.  I once heard it said, “When Scripture says something that we don’t like, the problem is not with the scripture, the problem is with us.” Pray that you would not take offense to the teaching of Christ, but that you would submit and obey His teaching. 

2. Around Jesus Our Entire Lives Yet Failing to Recognize Him as Lord and Savior

The people in Mark 6 watched Jesus grow up around them.They  heard His teaching and were aware of His miracles and yet they did not believe. We may grow up in Christian homes, go to Christian schools, and go to church our whole lives and yet still not be Christians. Association with Christianity does not make us Christian. Reading our Bible does not make us a Christian. Going to church does not make us a Christian. Having a Christian family does not make us Christian. We are Christians only when we trust in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of our lives. It is only through faith alone in Christ alone that we are saved. As you are reading this you might ask yourself, “Do I truly trust in Christ as my Savior or have I just associated myself with Christianity, thinking I am Christian?”

It is an important question. There are those who have been around Jesus their whole lives and yet fail to recognize Him as Savior – don’t let that be you. Look to Jesus, and Jesus alone, as your only means of salvation. He alone can remove your sin and give you eternal life. 

A Life Worth Remembering

Pretty much everyone born before 2000 remembers the Gatorade commercials with Michael Jordan with the tag, “I wanna be like Mike.” Consisting of scenes of Jordan jumping and dunking, followed by kids and teens playing basketball, and then Jordan drinking Gatorade, the message was, “If you want to be like Mike, just drink gatorade.” This commercial was just one of a decades-long marketing strategy built upon this idea of imitation. For decades we’ve bought into the imitation marketing strategy hook, line, and sinker. I find it in my own life every time I think that buying this brand of golf balls will make me hit it like Tiger, or this brand of tennis racquet will make me play like Nadal. This desire to imitate others is a powerful thing.

The notion of imitation is also a robustly Biblical one. The question becomes, then, “What are we imitating? How are we imitating? Why are we imitating? And what do we expect as a result of our imitation?” We see repeated exhortations throughout the New Testament to imitate leaders of the church (1 Cor 4:16), other members of the community of faith (Phil 3:7), to imitate what is good (3 John 11), as well as to imitate God and Jesus Christ (Eph 5:1).

This idea of imitation has been on my mind recently as I’ve considered another passage of Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10. As I read and pondered this passage, I asked questions like, “What was it about their lives that made them worthy of imitation? What was Paul commending in their lives? And how do we learn from those things so that we, too, would live a life worth imitating?”

As you read that passage, you’ll find 4 things that specifically made their lives worthy of imitation, and 4 things that I believe you and I should pursue as well — They were joyfully persevering, Gospel-spreading, God-serving, and Christ-awaiting.

First, we see that they were joyfully persevering. These Thessalonian believers were imitating their spiritual fathers and their Lord Jesus by joyfully persevering through various trials and tribulations. Their spiritual mentors had been forcefully led out of the city. Presumably they themselves were facing afflictions because of their newfound faith in Jesus. It would be tempting for them to give up and take the easy path. But Paul says that they persevered with the joy of the Holy Spirit, thus becoming an example to all the believers in the surrounding area. As you think about your own life, if your life marked by the same joyful perseverance in the midst of hardships, persecution, or trials?

Second, we see that they were Gospel-spreading. Having received the good news of what Jesus has done to reconcile sinners with the Father, the Thessalonian Christians had no thought of keeping it to themselves. Rather, by word and by life they made it known to others. The same must be true for you and me. As we consider the Gospel and the change that Jesus makes in our lives, we must be willing to verbally share that good news and what that means for sinners and sufferers all around us, and we must also see an active faith in our lives, where those who see our lives see evidence of the change that the Gospel has made. Our decision-making, our parenting, our entertainment, or use of finances, our allocation of time, and much more are indispensable aspects of our evangelism. We must be willing to speak the Gospel with our lips as well as demonstrate the power of the Gospel in our changed lives — to the glory of the Father, in submission to King Jesus, and by the power of the Spirit.

Third, we see that they were God-serving. In verse 9 we see that they took the radical step of abandoning those gods that were part of the worship of their family and their community and they gave their full, whole-hearted allegiance to the Triune God of the Bible. As you consider your life and what others would say as they observe your life, do you have a reputation for being radically converted to God and his ways, forsaking the idols of our generation in clear, resolute, and decisive ways? Do you exhibit to those who know you a clear rejection of worldly values and a deliberate commitment to the service of God?

And finally, we see that they were Christ-awaiting. In v.10 we read that they were known as men and women who “wait for His son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Is it evident to others that you are depending on a power that is not of this earth, but comes from heaven through your faith in Christ? Does your lifestyle give you the reputation as someone whose treasure is most truly in the world to come, so that your thoughts, passions, and longings are directed toward Christ?

For good or bad, each of our lives are an example to others one way or the other. We remind our five year old son of this all the time. Whether good or bad, he as a big brother is always being an example to his little two year old sister. She’s going to repeat what he says. She’s going to act like he acts. She’s going to respond like he responds. You are, we tell him, her big brother, and she’s taking her cues from watching what you do and how you handle things. The challenge and goal is to be a good example rather than a bad one.

The same is true for each and every one of us. If you claim to be a Christian, you are an example to others around you as to what a Christian is and how a Christian should behave. The question for you is, “Are you being a good example? Is your life worthy of imitation?” Can you tell others, “Look at me. But the grace of God, through the work of the Spirit in my life, follow me as I follow Christ?” May God, by His Spirit, work in each of us to be joyfully persevering, Gospel-spreading, God-serving, and Christ awaiting — and thus pursue a life worth imitating!

From the Archives: Keeping Children in the Worship Service

Our church has experienced a wonderful revitalization over the past few years. By God’s grace, we have endeavored to become a more Word-centered, gospel-driven, and Christ-exalting church, seeking to always be reformed according to Scripture. One of the more recent subjects we addressed was concerning our Lord’s Day worship and children’s ministry programming. Formerly, children were dismissed part way through the service for Kids Church. Now, rather than being dismissed along with the toddlers (ages 2-3) and preschoolers (ages 4-5), our elementary students (grades 1-5) continue to participate in the worship service with the rest of the congregation.

There is obviously a tremendous benefit in age-specific education. In fact, our toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary students currently use The Gospel Project curriculum either during the Sunday Classes hour or during the Kids Church portion of our Sunday morning service. We want them to be working through the Scriptures, seeing Jesus on every page, and becoming fluent in the gospel. However, there are several reasons that compelled us to keep our elementary students in the worship gathering for its entirety.

The Pattern and Power of Scripture

First, the pattern of Scripture supports keeping kids in the service. In the Old Testament, it appears that children were included in the corporate worship of the covenant community to hear the word of the Lord (Ex. 12:24-27; Deut. 31:9-13; Josh. 8:30-35; Neh. 8:1-8ff.; 12:43). The reason? Deuteronomy 31:12: “…that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law.”

Second, in the letters written to the Ephesian and Colossian churches, Paul directly addresses wives and husbands, parents and children, bondservants and masters (Eph. 6:1-9; Col. 3:18-4:2). This suggests that children were present in the congregations where these letters were being read (cf. Col. 4:16)!

Third, if we truly believe that God’s Word is living and active, that the gospel is the power of God for salvation, that the Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring illumination, conviction, and repentance, then we must pray that the Word of God will reach the hearts of our children in ways that they may not even recognize. In Acts 2:39 Peter proclaims that the promise of forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. Yes, they may be thinking, reasoning, speaking, and acting like children; but as Albert Mohler reminds us, “the Word of God can reach where we cannot go.”

The Formative Power of the Worship Service

Parents are to be the primary disciple-makers of their children (Deut. 6:4-9; Ps. 78:5-7; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4). The corporate worship service—where God’s word is publicly read, sung, prayed, preached, and seen in the sacraments—is a powerful and formative tool for discipling our children. Part of how kids learn is through observation and imitation. Sitting through a worship service teaches them how to worship by listening to God’s Word read and preached. The content of the prayers, songs, sermon also gives parents an opportunity to teach their children; they can help them follow along, and afterwards ask questions and explain things to them.

 Parents have the great responsibility (and opportunity!) to teach to their children, by their own example, the meaning and value of worship—not just personal but corporate. If we don’t value and prioritize the local church, we shouldn’t be surprised if our kids don’t either.

John Piper explains: “The greatest stumbling block for children in worship is parents who don’t cherish doing that worship, [who] don’t love it. Children can feel the difference between duty and delight. They know if dad [or mom or grandma] loves being here. The aim is that the children catch the passion for worshiping God by watching mom and dad enjoy God week after week.”

Our kids should want to be in church in part because they see that their parents want to be there. Imagine the cumulative effect on a child who sees his parents praying fervently, confessing their sins, singing joyfully, reading the Word reverently, listening to the sermon intently, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper week after week, year after year!

Raising Generations Today

Children also benefit from being in the presence of Christians of various ages because they are able to see that the faith of their parents is not a faith that they own alone; they see a faith that is important to all of these people who are gathered around them on Sunday morning. Keeping kids in the worship service helps cultivate inter-generational discipleship. When our children see this incredible gathering of people reading the Word, praying, confessing, and singing together it reinforces what mom and dad are modeling and teaching at home. It gives them a taste of the eternal—God’s saints celebrating him together.

One pastor writes: “[They] must see, know, and learn that the singing of the great hymns of the faith, the preaching of the Word, reading of confessions, corporate prayers, etc. is anything but boring. It is the gathered life of the community of faith. It is our weekly rhythm—appointed by God, designed by Him, established for the ages—this is what we want them to know, because we want them to know and worship Him.”

If our children grow up totally separated from the church of their parents and grandparents, in their own “church” which constantly caters to their age, desires, and interests, it shouldn’t surprise us to see these children grow up feeling disconnected from church, bored with church, and ill-equipped to become active members of a church when they are on their own. We want our kids to know that church is for them as well.

Parents, Prepare Your Children for Worship

Much of the success of this change depends on the parents. Despite common objections, there are several things a parent can do to help prepare their children for corporate worship on Sunday Morning. Noël Piper and Jeremy Walker have both written excellent practical suggestions for helping your kids sit through “big church.” These include:

  1. Worship with your family throughout the week. Set aside time during the week to sing, pray, read the Scriptures. Family worship not only helps you disciple your children, but it also helps Sunday morning corporate worship to not be such a shock to their systems.
  2. Start preparing Saturday night. Ensure that your family gets plenty of rest the night before in order to have enough time Sunday morning to prepare and arrive on time for church.
  3. Arrive early enough to get drinks, use the bathroom, and accomplish other tasks before the service. This can help to limit the amount of trips in and out of the sanctuary.
  4. Worship with your children. Encourage them to read along, sing along, take notes, listen carefully. Helping them learn at a young age to listen well, sit still, and pay attention will serve them far beyond two hours on a Sunday morning.
  5. If necessary, provide them with “quiet” activities, such as crayons or pencils for drawing or coloring. Our church makes these items available for parents to borrow, along with a kid-friendly paper designed for taking notes throughout the service.

Let the Children Come

The most common objection, of course, is: “They won’t understand the sermon! It’ll be over their heads!” But listen to how Piper excellently responds to this sentiment: “Of course, it is over their head. It is supposed to be over their head! They are beginners. The English language is over their head as soon as they come out of the womb. But we don’t say: Well, let’s put them with other children in their own situations and limitations so they can understand a word or two. No. We immerse them in the English language every day—that they don’t understand 90% of—in the hope and expectation that they grow up into joyful use of the English language. Long before children understand fully what is going on in worship and what is sung and what is said, they are absorbing tremendous amounts of what is valuable.”

This transition hasn’t been an easy one for our families. It has taken much work and patience. But we strongly believe that the long-term benefits outweigh the additional noise and fidgeting. Children are a blessing from God and a gift to the church. Yes, it’s a noisy gift; it’s a squirming and fidgeting gift; it’s a messy gift; but it is a beautiful gift. Children are serve as a visual reminder of those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. Our Lord welcomed them with open arms, and we should do likewise.

Meet the Publicans: Matt Noble

Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Today we chat with one of our long running contributors Matthew Noble.

Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?

Matt: My name is Matt Noble. I was born in Peterborough, New Hampshire, but grew up in Wesley Chapel, FL. Currently I live in Land O’ Lakes, FL with my amazing wife, Rachel, and our awesome son, Levi. I am a huge sports enthusiast, and I enjoy spending time with family and friends. By God’s grace I was born into a Christian family, raised in the church and saved at a young age. In my early 20’s I was called into ministry and I have been serving Christ and His church since.

Andrew: What church do you serve?

Matt:I am an elder at Cornerstone Community Church of Pasco, a Southern Baptist Church in the Reformed tradition. I serve as Pastor of Student Ministry. I have been on staff since 2017 and I am very grateful that God has called me to this community of believers. 


Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?

Matt:I desire that there would be genuine growth both spiritual and numerical in the church for God’s glory. I want to see believers equipped and strengthened and I want to see unbelievers come to a saving faith in Christ. 


Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?

Matt:When you can see the fruit of God’s Word blossoming in someone’s life. Seeing them eager to be at church, eager to read God’s Word, eager to share Jesus with others. That brings joy to my heart. 

Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?

Matt: Time restraints. Being able to properly prioritize family, ministry, and a full-time job.  


Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?

Matt: Being faithful where God has called you. In the little things or in the big things being faithful to serve Christ and His church. 


Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.

Matt:I have dislocated both pinkies on separate occasions while playing football. 


Andrew: Random concluding question: if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would you rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?

Matt: I am not sure I understand the question? Is that Star Wars? But the answer is always John Piper. 

“Turning from Idols”

A few weeks ago, I began a series preaching through 1 Thessalonians. This epistle is so rich and reveals much of the heart of the apostle Paul. This letter also instructs the reader as to what it means for genuine conversion to take place. In 1 Thess. 1:9-10, Paul speaks of how the Thessalonians turned away from idols to serve the true and living God. Consider how profound this statement is from Paul in describing what happened there in Thessalonica.

The turning away from idols brought many sociological implications. Christians were cut off from and by their families because they stopped participating in social events tied to the pagan gods. This was a big deal. Thessalonica was only fifty miles from Mount Olympus, the supposed home of the Greek gods. These idols made up a huge part of the local and family traditions of those in Thessalonica. For those in Thessalonica, not only would they have ceased worship of the Greek deities but they would have stopped participating in the imperial cult which worshiped the Roman emperor as a god. All of these things contributed to Christians being labeled as atheists

Do not miss that being a follower of Christ will invite scorn and anger from society. Do we think that we are exempt from such reproaches even from those who are close to us? In many parts of the world, even in the 21st century, various cultures are wedded to tribal deities and family gods. The gospel calls forth me and women everywhere to turn away from such idols to serve the living God. Why is that the call? As Paul notes in verse 10, Christ delivers us from the wrath to come. God’s wrath is connected numerous times in the OT to idolatry. Man is still addicted to idolatry and God does not change. Apart from Christ, the end for idolaters is the eternal wrath of God in hell.

Some might object saying that they do not bow down to tangible idols that are made of materials that can be handled. While it might be true that there is not physical homage given to a statue in “civilized” parts of the world, we are all naturally addicted to idolatry. Let there be no mistake: we might not have gods carved out of gold and silver, wood or iron, but idols abound more than ever. Timothy Keller provides a needed word that assesses the current situation well:

Each culture is dominated by its own set of idols. Each one has its shrines – whether office towers, spas and gyms, studios or stadiums—where sacrifices must be made in order to procure the blessings of the good life and ward off disaster. What are the gods of beauty, power, money, and achievement but these same things that have assumed mythic proportions in our individual lives and in our society? We may not physically kneel before the statue of Aphrodite, but many young women are driven into depression and eating disorders by an obsessive concern over their body image. We may not actually burn incense to Artemis, but when money and career are raised to cosmic proportions, we perform a kind of child sacrifice, neglecting family and community to achieve a higher place in business and gain more wealth and prestige.[1]

Anything that we cannot do without and that we think is a must or we cannot live has become our idol. Right now, we can easily point to all of the idols that others have but do we recognize the ones that are in our lives. As Christians, we are not immune to idolatry. We can have good desires but they can easily become idolatrous when they reveal that we are not content in Christ. This is why our faith needs to be renewed each day by coming to the truths of the gospel and realizing that there is nothing greater than our communion and covenant relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What areas in your life are you enslaved to idolatrous tendencies and find yourself easily ungrateful in that area? The gospel still possesses freeing power and the Spirit brings us liberation from bondage that can creep in our hearts.

May the words of this hymn by William Cowper be a prayer from our hearts each day:

“The dearest idol I have known, Whate’er that idol be,

Help me to tear it from Thy throne and worship only Thee.”


[1] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (New York: Dutton, 2009), xi-xii.

Meet the Publicans: Matthew Mahan

Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Today we get to know our newest contribute Matthew Mahen.

Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?

Matthew: My name is Matthew Mahan and I hail from the Great Lakes region of NE OH and NW PA. I have been married to my beautiful bride, Liz, for the last eleven years, during which time God has blessed us with three young children (6- and 1-year old boys and a 3-year old girl). We have bounced around the USA throughout our marriage, having lived in PA, TX, AZ, CT, and FL.

As far as where I am from spiritually, I grew up as a denominational mutt – my parents’ litmus test for choosing a church to attend was less denominational-centric, more focused upon which churches had pastors who would preach and teach the Scriptures faithfully. I have inherited that legacy from them; these days I find myself worshipping our triune God as a member of the Anglican Church in North America.

Andrew: What church do you serve?

Matthew: I am just finishing my second year as the Rector (Head Pastor) of All Saints Anglican Church in Pensacola, FL. We are a member church of the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word.

Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?

Matthew: Above all else I hope and pray that through my ministry people are better equipped for discipleship to Jesus Christ.

Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?

Matthew: The biggest joy I have in this calling is seeing how God works through the ministry of the church to grow the faith of parishioners in Christ and the development of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?

Matthew: I have found the biggest obstacle for ministry, outside of my own sinful flesh and weaknesses, has been the stranglehold that local traditions can have in liturgical churches. So quickly can meaningful traditions become ossified and gain near-idol status, all while losing their initial vitality and vibrancy.

Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?

Matthew: I define success in ministry as faithfully handling God’s Word through preaching, teaching, and exhortation, and rightly administering the Sacraments. I think the Biblical picture of success is faithfulness – especially in the midst of a darkling generation – and cannot be defined by numbers.

Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.

Matthew: I love reading good science fiction novels, from Arthur C. Clarke to Michael Crichton, to C.S. Lewis, to Andy Weir.

Andrew: Random concluding question: if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?

Matthew: I would prefer Luther for the first half of the journey – there’s a man who would appreciate second breakfasts and a good pint at the end of a long day’s journey – provided that when we got closer to the goal our paths diverged so that he could serve as a diversion on a separate route! If I had to choose a companion who would stick by my side the whole way through (what a terrific joke! Better put, with whom would I choose to tag along and offer whatever meager service I could), out of the given choices I would go with John Calvin. If I am allowed to choose from other theologians or pastors of the past 500 years, give me C.S. Lewis for the journey any day.

God’s Love for Us

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

– Romans 5:6-8

In 2012, Jaime Rohrs took his girlfriend, Patrcicia Legarreta, and their two children to see the midnight showing of the Dark Knight Rises in theaters. As they were sitting down enjoying the movie a man came storming into the theater and started shooting. Chaos ensued and shortly afterward the couple became separated.  Legarreta, with both children, was left inside the theater, while Rohrs managed to escape, hop into his car, and began driving, leaving his girlfriend and children behind. Legarreta was able to reach her boyfriend by cell phone and he returned to the theater and was eventually reunited with his family.  

The man in this story left his girlfriend and children alone, not knowing if they would live or die, while he drove off to safety. Crazy, isn’t it? A man won’t even risk his own life to save his family. As you can see Paul’s words here, in Romans 5:7, are very true, “one will scarcely die for a righteous person”. That is, hardly ever do people voluntarily give their life for someone else’s life, even if that person is a good person and certainly they are not dying for a bad person. 

But God is so merciful and so loving that He sent His Son Jesus into the world to die for us. And Jesus did not die for good people, but He died for bad people like you and me.  

Ungodly, Weak, Sinner

And you might think, “now wait a minute I am not a bad person.” But notice how you and I are described in these verses. We are described in three ways: weak (5:6), ungodly(5:6), and sinners(5:8). 

The word “ungodly” means a lack of interest in the things of God and behavior that reflects that. So, to be ungodly is to not care about God or care about how He commands us to live. Then in verse 8 we are called “sinners” and the word “sinner” means “to miss the mark”. Think of someone shooting an arrow at a target and missing the bull-eye completely. That is missing the mark. And we have missed the mark that God has called us to. The target is perfect obedience to Christ and all of us have woefully missed that mark. We are sinners. Finally, in verse 6 notice that we are described as “weak”, some Bible translations  might say “without strength”. This weakness or lack of strength, that is described here, is not physical strength, but spiritual strength. What Paul is saying is that we are completely unable to save ourselves. We are weak spiritually. We don’t have the strength. It is impossible for us to save ourselves. 

The picture that Paul paints here for us is a bleak one. We are a people who do not care about the things of God nor are we a people who obey God. The result of our apathy and rebellion toward God is condemnation. All of us, apart from Christ, deserve and will receive the wrath of God. And Romans makes it clear here that on our own there is nothing we can do to fix this. We are weak, unable to make things right with God on our own. This is a troubling situation. 

Good News

Thankfully, in God’s grace, we are not left to ourselves. Look at what Christ does for us: We are told that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Out of His great love for you and me God sent His Son Jesus to die in our place. He took our punishment in our place, so that all of those who, by grace, trust in Jesus as Savior will have eternal life.

 Jesus is our only hope of salvation. Trust Him today. If you have trusted in Christ alone for your salvation what joy and gratitude should fill your heart. Thank Him today for all He has done for you. 

Meet the Publicans: Austin Wynn

Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Throughout the next few weeks, we’d like to introduce them to you. Today we get to know Austin Wynn.

Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?

Austin: In God’s kindness, I’ve been blessed with a very full and abundant life. I grew up in Metro Atlanta (Suwanee to be exact) to a church-going family. God graciously opened my eyes to the Gospel in my junior year of high school. It was in my college years at Valdosta State University that He then graciously opened my eyes to a girl, Emily Ruth Phillips. Emily and I have been married for eleven years and have been blessed with four uniquely gifted kids (Annie Ruth- 8, Everett- 7, Elias- 4, and Lydia- 1).

Andrew: What church do you serve?

Austin: I’m so blessed to be able to serve the great people at Westside Baptist Church in Valdosta, GA (Winnersville, USA). We began serving at Westside in 2017.

Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?

Austin: I couldn’t put it any better than Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13). I long to see people grow deeper in their faith in Christ and their love for Him, His church, and their lost friends and family.

Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?

Austin: I absolutely love seeing glimpses of a growing Gospel awareness in His people. I often see such growth through evangelistic encounters outside the body and discipling relationships inside the body. Seeing the spark of a Spirit-given hunger for God’s Word in new believers is one major reason I do what I do.

Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?

Austin: Satan, the flesh, and this world offer so many myriads of obstacles to the advancement of God’s kingdom. In my current ministry assignment, I’d say one of the biggest obstacles I face is being a solo pastor. I need brothers who can come alongside me and help me in prayer, the ministry of the Word, and leading His people. I know the responsibility falls on me to invest in men and train them up for such a task, but this takes time and patience (2 Timothy 2:2). 

Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?

Austin: As my pastor, Bill Cook, said at my ordination service, success is faithfulness. As much as the world tells me success is nickles and noses or budgets and backsides, I’ve sadly seen that isn’t the case. Therefore, my prayers and efforts are aimed at being faithful to God and His Word, faithful to my wife and children, and faithful to the sheep with which He has entrusted to my care. If I’ve carried out the charges given in 1 Peter 5:1-4 and 2 Timothy 4:1-5, then I will have succeeded as a minister of the Gospel (no matter what people say or don’t say about me once I’m gone).

Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.

Austin: On the light side: I like listening to Bluegrass with my daughter (long story) and eating Moose Tracks ice cream.

On the serious side: That I’m smack dab right in the middle of my own sanctification and need their prayers like crazy. Not that its much of a surprise, but my feet are made of clay and I’m wrestling with principalities and powers as they are (so prayer and encouragement is huge).

Andrew: if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?

Austin: All of the above! Luther would help me punch the devil in the face everyday. Calvin would help me press on for God’s glory. Spurgeon would help me not give into discouragement. R.C. Sproul would help me tremble before God instead of Mordor. John Piper would help me desire God more than the ring of power. If forced to choose only one, I’d say Spurgeon because he has finished his race, is a fellow Baptist, and God gave that man a way with words!

Private Sin Is Never A Private Matter

“What I do in private is between me and the Lord.”

This a thought I’ve heard from several believers. Others, when confronted about ongoing sin in the body retort Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” not realizing that Jesus also said in that same chapter, “You will recognize them by their fruits” and, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (vv. 20, 21).

Scripture clearly teaches us that we are members one of another (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:25) and therefore our private sins are not really a private matter. Such thinking reveals we’ve adopted a little more of the culture’s mindset than we may like to admit. But the Bible says our personal identity is always connected to our corporate identity as members of our local church body and the two cannot be divorced from one another. We may assume that since we’re positionally right with God through faith in Christ, then what we do in the dark affects no one but ourselves. Wrong. If there is one thing we learn from the story of Ananias and Sapphira, it is that unrepentant, secret sin in our lives affects the health and witness of the whole body. Our gossipy whispers and the silent glow of our phones in the dark must not deceive us. Our Lord told His disciples, “…nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” (Matthew 10:26b-27). Paul likewise told Timothy, “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later” (1 Timothy 5:24). In Acts 5, God teaches His young church several important lessons, but one such lesson is that private sins in the life of a church member are a public matter for the church.

Luke provides us with several amazing snapshots of the early church in the first chapters of the book of Acts (1:12-26; 2:42-47; 4:23-31; 4:32-37; 6:1-7). In one such scene, we read this, “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (4:34-37). All was well. This was a church marked by unity, prayer, love, Scripture, holiness, and Gospel witness. Then we notice what happens when some believers give way to personal sin: “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him” (5:1-6). The story continues as Sapphira is also struck dead by the Lord a few hours later.

What they did was wrong (the privacy of the sin doesn’t make it any less sinful)

I remember being confused upon my first reading of the account of Ananias and Sapphira. I thought to myself, “What did they do wrong? Don’t we all keep back a portion for ourselves when we give to the Lord?” But the problem for Ananias and Sapphira isn’t that they kept back some for themselves. Peter tells Ananias in verse 3, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” The problem was that they lied about what they were giving (v. 3). This is why Peter questioned Sapphira about how much the land was sold for compared to what they’d given the apostles (v. 8). We may say something was a “white lie” or that we “stretched the truth,” but God calls a spade a spade: “You have not lied to man but to God…you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord” (vv. 4b, 9b). In the same way, private sins are not somehow less sinful. The sin of Achan was a private sin and yet God called His people to purge the evil from among them (Joshua 7). And many times in Israel’s history, private sins which were otherwise unknown the the whole assembly had to be made known in order to experience the blessing of God upon them.

What God did was right (the public nature of the judgment upholds God’s holiness)

Many in our culture aren’t even aware that they approach the Bible with a lens of superiority and judging. They stand in judgment of it instead of letting it stand in judgment of them. I remember teaching through this scene years ago and a man sharing how he thought God’s judgment here was too severe. He said the punishment didn’t fit the crime. We need to be reminded, however, that God is the only truly just Judge there is. If a judgment seems too severe, the problem isn’t with Him…it is with us. The problem here is that we are looking through the wrong end of the binoculars. There is no such thing as a little sin because there is no such thing as a God who is a little holy. I’ve heard the illustration that if you punched a stranger on the street, you’d get punched in return. If you punched a police officer, you’d get a jail sentence. If you punched the President, you’d get a life sentence or the death penalty. It was the same crime, but the penalty is heightened with the authority of the one we offended. It is the same with God. Every sin is major to God and especially sin in the church. What good could come from such severe discipline on sin? We see it in verses 5 and 11: “Great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” Luke had said that the apostles had great power and great grace was upon them (4:33), and now he says that great fear came upon all. God was upholding the purity of His holiness along with the purity of His people.  And He was doing this before the eyes of a watching world.

What we do in private matters (the church must be a repentant, distinct people)

The church is to be a purified people, but not because we are better than others. Our purity is derived from repentant faith that clings to the Gospel day after day. We must regularly come for cleansing, even though we’ve already been washed from sin’s penalty (John 13:5-10). How do we regularly remain clean and pure as a church? We confess our sins to God and one another and pray for each other (James 5:16), and we discipline the unrepentant among us (1 Corinthians 5; Matthew 18:15-20). As we do these things, we are lovingly preparing each other for the great Judgment to come on each of us. A church that doesn’t discipline sin in its midst will not have this penetrating impact on the culture around them as did the early church. We read, “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (5:13-14). If we wish to be a purified people that pierces the darkness of this world, we must be truly repentant of sins and distinct.

May we never view our private sins as private matters before the Lord.

Meet the Publicans: Don Carpenter

Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Throughout the next few weeks, we’d like to introduce them to you. Today we begin with Don Carpenter.

Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?

Don: First, I am a sinner saved by God’s grace. Through the years, I have learned that my identity begins with Christ and everything flows from there. As a result of God’s grace, I am a husband to Angie, a father to Faith & Cole, a son to parents, a shepherd to His people in EBC, and a friend to far more than I deserve. We are from the St. Louis Metropolitan Area (Illinois side); a small rural community in the heart of corn-country.

Andrew: What church do you serve?

Don: I serve the Lord in Eldred, Illinois at Eldred Baptist Church. We are a New Hampshire Confession church that focuses on living inside the covenant-community of faith while seeking to make disciples through evangelism and relational discipleship.

Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?

Don: I long to see a genuine movement of the Holy Spirit that manifests in (1) a profound love of God that leads to personal holiness in the lives of our covenant members, (2) our covenant members living an Acts 2:42-47 life devoted to Christ & His Church, and (3) the salvation of the lost in our community through the evangelistic efforts and Christ-like lives of our covenant members.

Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?

Don: My biggest joys are always connected to witnessing the salvation and sanctification of those entrusted to me by God. As John wrote, “There is no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). The Lord has proven this true time and time again in my life.

Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?

Don: Without question, my biggest obstacle in ministry is me. Sometimes, my obstacle is pride and self-sufficiency that keeps me from coming to the Throne of Grace where I may find the help I so desperately need. Other times, it is my tendency to be slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry (even if I hide it on the outside). Thank God my Great Shepherd is still guiding & correcting me with His rod & staff; His discipline is a comfort.

Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?

Don: Success in ministry cannot be measured by growth and decline alone, although they can be helpful tools. Jesus is Lord of both and has given both to EBC at various times. Success in ministry is my learning to trust God with the results of the faithful proclamation of His Word. God’s Word always accomplishes His purposes; I need, simply, to trust Him.

Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.

Don: I am far less certain about how to do what I know God’s Word commands me/us to do. The Lord has given me a strong personality and I think that it helps me hide my insecurities. Since coming into a Sr. Pastor’s role, I have learned the significant difference between knowledge & wisdom. God’s Word provides me/us with the knowledge of what to do but it is God’s Spirit that gives me/us the wisdom to apply that knowledge in my/our context. This has humbled me greatly and continues to do so. And for that, I am grateful.

Andrew: Random concluding question, if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?

Don: Luther. He was willing to stand alone, face-to-face, against the most powerful force of evil for the Truth of the Gospel. Not to mention, Luther would certainly have some incredibly hilarious insults to throw at his opponents along the way.

Don, we’re sure thankful to God for you and His work in us through your writing. May God continue to do that more and more, amen!

Taste & See

“Taste and see that YHWH is good” (Psalm 34:8).

The presupposition is clear; YHWH is good. And, indeed, He is.

The psalmist, as well as all those in Christ, experienced the goodness of the One True Living God through deliverance (vs. 1-7) and he invites his reader to test his presupposition. Today, we call this ordinary mean of grace “Meditation.”

Meditate, taste and see, on the goodness of God and you will not leave empty or dissatisfied. Indeed, this is what the saints are doing in Glory today (and everyday) and this is what all those who die, or are alive at His coming, in the Lord will be doing for eternity. Those in Christ will, by sight, fixate upon the Lamb who was slain and glory in His presence in complete satisfaction for all eternity. O, how I long for that Day.

This, I believe, is what makes Lord’s Day worship so sweet for those who are in Christ. We get a small glimpse, even an small taste, of what the Eternal State will be like as we lift our voices to the King, lay our burdens down at His feet, and hear from His lips the words of everlasting life.

John Owen writes in The Glory of Christ, “For if our future blessedness shall consist in being where He is and beholding His glory, what better preparation can there be for it than a constant previous contemplation of that glory as revealed in the gospel, that by a view of it we may be gradually transformed into the same glory?”

But we need not wait until the Lord’s Day nor are we constrained to one particular time of day. Rather, the invitation of the psalmist to “taste and see that YHWH is good” is an open invitation, ongoingly. He is good at 6am and 2:17pm. He is good in sickness and in health. He is good in seasons of plenty and in seasons of want. He is good times of distress and serenity. He is good; taste and see.

I, with the Holy Spirit inspired psalmist, invite you Christian to taste the goodness of the Lord. Meditate on His glory. Remember His deliverance(s). Think upon not only what He has saved you from but what and who He has saved you to. He was good even before He saved you. Taste and see.

Owen encourages his reader to think deeply upon the glory of the Savior now, for that will be our sole occupation in eternity future, when he writes “No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight hereafter who does not in some measure behold it here by faith.”

Set aside your temporal affairs, if only for a moment, today and fixate upon the Glorious One; taste and see that He is good!

“Do You do Well to be Angry?”

No matter how often I read the account of Jonah, I always chuckle to myself when I read Jonah 4. The imagery of the prophet steaming, both physically and emotionally, on a hill overlooking Nineveh and waiting to see it destroyed. A prophet of the Lord broods looking down at this city that had just experienced revival and he is angry about it all. Twice in the final chapter of the book of Jonah, the Lord asks Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” The first time, Jonah is silent to God’s question. The second time, Jonah defiantly states that he has a right to be angry. While the picture might be humorous, it is more real than we might care to admit.

COVID-19 Anger

Let’s face it: a lot of people are angry these days. With social media, most people think they are an expert on everything now. We will form an opinion, find someone who agrees with us (YouTube, podcast, article), and then we see their affirmation as validation for our view. If anyone dares question or push back, we will lash out in anger. The COVID-19 pandemic serves as gasoline on the fire of “self-expertise.” Unfortunately, this serves as a breeding ground for anger. People are angry at the President, their state and local officials, the news media, the health care officials, the school boards, and I could continue to go on. Solutions are not sought. A scapegoat must be found. Someone must pay how our lives have been disrupted.

Jonah Anger

While it was not a health pandemic that “disrupted” Jonah’s life, everything that he would consider “normal” changed in an instant when the Lord summoned him to Nineveh. The call that came to him did not sit well with him. How could he, a Hebrew and an Israelite, go preach and extend a call to Gentile dogs like those in Nineveh? The story of Jonah is one of a continual descent; both physically and spiritually. We all know the story of how Jonah goes in the opposite direction, is swallowed by a large fish, prays and thanks God for deliverance, obeys the call the second time it comes, carries out his duty, and then simmers in the desert heat because God had the audacity to show mercy to Nineveh. The last words we hear from Jonah are him defiantly telling God that he, a mere creature, had a right to be angry with the Creator. Have you ever met someone like Jonah?

Personal Anger

I have. Jonah is the book that I began preaching through on May 24th. This was our first Sunday at NTBC to gather together corporately in over two months. By preaching through this book, I began to see how much of Jonah I found in me. This year has been the hardest for me in ministry. I imagine most, if not all, pastors would acknowledge that. Not only did the time of separation due to health recommendations greatly weigh on me, our church family wrestled with difficult counseling situations. I could hear in the voice of the flock how much the lack of being able to gather together affected them. I knew it was real because it had affected me too. As I arrived in chapter 4 and worked through the text, I began to see that Jonah was not the only one who had been angry with God. In my heart, I had been angry too.

Sure, I felt anger towards the incompetence of federal officials, mixed signals from health officials, and longing for a return to “normalcy” in pastoral ministry. In reality, my anger was really towards the Lord of heaven and earth. As one childhood pastor used to put it, I had allowed my heart to enter a state of the “mulligrubs.” Why was this happening to me? I pastored a confessional Baptist church that sought to honor the Lord’s Day by meeting morning and evening, strove for an ordinary means of grace ministry, enjoyed weekly fellowship around the lunch table as a church, moved to monthly communion, and on and on I could go. I realized that I had allowed myself to succumb to a covenant of works mentality. “God, we are doing these things right especially in comparison to those around us. Why is this happening to us?” In the moments of sermon prep that week, I had to confess my sin and seek forgiveness. How foolish I had been!

Misguided Anger

Sinclair Ferguson’s book “Man Overboard” is a dynamite resource on Jonah, and it will punch you in the spiritual gut a few times too. Several times throughout the book, Ferguson notes the difference between theology we get write on paper and theology we actually believe. Jonah had theology proper and a doctrine of grace in his head but it was not in his heart. The same had happened to me. None of us deserves anything good from the hand of the Lord. In this time of frustration, we must be on guard not to allow ourselves to be trapped by misguided anger.

Before we begin to think that we have gotten a raw deal, let us remember that none of us have been burned at the stake like Hus. When we think of the difficulties we might experience in trying to gather together for worship, consider the Puritans ejected in 1662 and the laws passed subsequently that forced them to hold covert services in England. If we would begin to complain about our lot, reflect on men like John Bunyan, Thomas Grantham, James Marham, and Hercules Collins who were jailed because they were Nonconformists and Baptists in 17th century England. In the present, consider the thousands of believers in places like China, Nigeria, and elsewhere who are being incarcerated and slaughtered for the faith.

Conclusion

In no way am I minimizing the effects this past year have had on the church with respect to the COVID pandemic. However, since we confess the sovereignty of God over all things, should we not be asking what is the Lord teaching us through this? If the answer is simply for us to be angry and view ourselves as some type of Christian revolutionaries fighting against a tyrannical government, I fear we are missing the point. Instead of calls for revolution, we should be hearing the call of Jonah: repent. Instead of mimicking the anger of the prophet, we should be emulating the people of Nineveh who bowed before the Lord. A greater than Jonah stands before us and He is our Savior, Redeemer, and Friend. May COVID-19 produce a greater affection in our hearts for Christ and let us not think it well if we are angry.