3 Reasons Why……You should know George Whitefield.

1. He Was One of the Most Prolific Evangelists of the Church.

In many ways he is the driving force that God used in bringing revival to America in the 18th century. Whitefield was a man on a mission to proclaim the gospel to all who would hear, from town to town, he boldly proclaimed the good news of salvation in the open air. He preached God’s wrath against sin and grace to the repentant throughout the American colonies at a time when such things were not done.

2. He Believed No One was too Far from the Grace and Salvation of God.

One of the driving forces behind Whitefield’s open-air preaching was the need for people to hear the truth of God who did not have churches to gather in. In his early days preaching in England he was rejected from preaching in the churches due to the focus on the gospel as the means of God’s salvific work, thus leaving him first to preach in prisons and then from the prisons to the fields. His first primary location was Kingswood, a people mostly rejected by English society. He firmly believed that all men needed the gospel, and that the gospel was for all mankind.

3. He Gave His Life to the Proclamation of the Gospel.

George Whitefield’s aim in life was to be fully spent for the cause of proclaiming the gospel, and in the end he did just that. He often stated that he wanted to be buried in a crypt under the pulpit of the final church he preached at and in 1770 after arriving in town he proclaimed the gospel one last time at Old South Presbyterian church in Newburyport, Mass. where he died hours later and was buried. Every inch of the man was given to the proclamation of the gospel. He was only 55 when he died but in those years, God used him to proclaim the good news of Christ’s work to many who had never heard its truth and sparked the flames of reformation in the American colonies.

Hypocrisy, Division & Riots at the Capitol

The divide is vast. The hypocrisy is thick. The church of Jesus must rise above. 

Last week, as self-proclaimed Patriots stormed our nations capital in undeniably heinous anarchy, I witnessed progressive Christian friends and left-leaning church leaders point fingers across the aisle not only at Donald Trump but at anyone who had the nerve to  cast a vote for the Republican President last November. Conservatives were painted with one broad brush stroke, consigning all to censure, ridicule, and blame. Like with so many moments over the past year, even in the church, I was saddened but not surprised. It was a glaring reversal of the rhetoric and blame-casting that we saw last summer as BLM protesters rioted, looted, and burned businesses leading many conservative Christians to broad-brush all progressives as violent, freedom-suppressing, America-hating imbeciles. In the summer months liberals – some of them anyway – justified the protests saying that they were “mostly peaceful” with a few dissenters. Those same liberals blasted the assault on the capital last Wednesday. Conversely, conservatives decried the violent riots last summer, while a few sought to justify the attack on Congress as a “mostly peaceful protest.” Four years ago, when Donald Trump took his oath of office, a cry of “not my president” rose from one side much to the angered dismay of the other. Presumably, when Joe Biden lays his hand on the Bible next week, a similar sentiment will rise from that other side, much to the consternation of the first. As I said, the hypocrisy is thick. 

After the events at the capital Lebron James and other athletes, artists, and celebrities stoked the fires of division by appealing to the racial divide once more. Joe Biden and the left, who have undeniably been vicious and unrelenting in their hateful rhetoric, are now calling for peace and unity on their terms. Donald Trump, who undeniably has been brazen, belligerent, and demeaning, is now calling for healing and reconciliation. If it wasn’t so sad it would all be laughable. How can so many do so much to destroy and then with a straight face call for peace, justice, and love? Again, the divide is vast – and our politicians, celebrities, and social media memes/rants are never going to bridge that yawning chasm. 

Enter the church. The blood-purchased bride of Jesus. The people for His own possession. The royal Priesthood. The citizens of the heavenly kingdom. The ministers of reconciliation equipped with the only message that can heal the soul and bridge the divide. We know our mission. It’s rather glaringly clear in the pages of Scripture and in the records of church history. 

We are light. We are the salt of the earth. We are Gospel ambassadors. 

We are to unapologetically declare God’s truth. Yet many Christians instead either spread misinformation, conspiracy theories, and wild speculations; or they shelter the truth, unwilling to welcome the storm of ridicule that may follow. 

We are to seek unity – a unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17 – within the church. Yet many continue to point fingers, spew venom, make accusations, maliciously slander, and almost willingly splinter the church. 

We are to trust in the only King who is truly sovereign, surprised by nothing, and declares the beginning of time to the end of days (which includes the appointment of political rulers [Daniel 2:21; Romans 13:1]). Yet with unrivaled (or so it seems) conviction, we trust in a man, a party, a judicial system, or a personal arsenal. 

We must be people of the Book – reading, believing, being comforted by, and proclaiming the revelation there-in. Yet our eyes and minds are dominated by social platforms, media outlets, radical bloggers, and enslaved to the bias of our own hearts. 

We are people who will be known for our love (those are red-letter words); yet we have become known for almost everything but true, Biblical, compassion-filled love. 

Washington is an easy target and buying cultural lies, standing on political platforms, and worshipping fallen leaders is popular. But (and we know this) we are not called to the easy or the popular. Christian friend, stop with the name-calling, the broad-brushing, the venom-spewing, the hate, the divisiveness, the idolatry, and all the rest. It’s not cute, it’s barely clever, and it’s convincing no one of anything. More importantly, your sin grieves the heart of God, wounds His people, and confirms to the world that we are no different than they. Purpose to live according to your calling. Rise above this tumult to be salt and light. Too much is at stake. 

Foreigners, Exiles, & the Kingdom of God

Christ and Christianity has been politicized, yet again, and Christians must be careful not to fall into that trap (again). The news channels, internet news, and bloggers around the world are full of examples of invoking the name of Christ and His Bride, the Church, to further positions on every, so-called, side. Christians must be discerning and be led by the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, to bring glory to God in these politically-charged environments.

The politicization of Christ and Christianity, however, is nothing new. One need not go any further than the Gospels themselves to find genuinely sincere religious people using the political flavor-of-the-day to further their own agenda.

“Pontius Pilate said, ‘Behold you King!’ [The Jews] cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’” (John 19:14-16)

The ruling political and religious powers used Jesus to further their own agendas. But make no mistake, it was YHWH’s eternal purposes that were being advanced in Jerusalem that day.

Today is no different.

God was not “taken back” in 2016 when Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States of America. Neither was He surprised or in despair when Joseph R. Biden Jr. was elected in 2020. The King of Glory, Jesus Christ, did not sweat while the votes were being counted (righteously or unrighteously). Nor did the Creator of Heaven and Earth despair when the Capitol building was under siege.

And neither should you, Christian.

We would do well, and it would be a superb witness to the world that seems to have lost its mind, to remember and remind the world that Christians are citizens of Heaven before we even think for one second about our citizenry on this planet; especially as it is “thus to be dissolved” (2 Peter 3:11).

Peter reminded the First Century Church in his first epistle that “Once you were not a people…” Keep in mind that all those who were “not a people” were citizens of their various countries. He continues, “…but now you are God’s people…” Can you imagine Peter singing “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…”? Of course not. Neither would he or Paul or any inspired biblical author place their identity in a pagan government or nation; they considered all that they used to be “rubbish” for the sake of knowing Christ and being known by Him.

Read where Peter’s allegiance was place: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep you conduct among the Gentiles honorable…” (1 Peter 3:10-12; emphasis added). Peter rejected his citizenship among “God’s Chosen People” that he might be found in Christ and not as a Jew. Christ was all that mattered.

He still is all that matters.

Don’t get me wrong: I love living in the United States. What a blessing from the Lord that He would, benevolently and providentially, cause me to be born “in the land of the free.” I’m grateful and I pray for our leaders and pray for continued freedom. But I live as a sojourner and an exile in this land. I am a Christian, a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I identify with Christ because, by God’s grace, I am in Christ; safe and secure from all alarm!

That means, I do not belong here. This state of Illinois, this United States of America, even this world is not my home. I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is my King. My allegiance is pledged to Him and I represent Him in word and in deed. And until King Jesus returns, destroys the Enemy, and finally consummates the Kingdom that He inaugurated in His first advent, this world will not be my home and my identity will never be found here.

Your identity isn’t either.

Christian – I urge you as sojourners and exiles, concern yourself and expend your life in the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ among the nations, making disciples of Jesus Christ, longing for the Kingdom of righteousness that will never end, and represent your King.

You’ll effect more change with the Gospel in your sphere of influence than you ever will with the party platform of the Republicans, Democrats, or Independents.

Soli Deo Gloria

“O Tidings of Criticism & Unmet Expectations”: A word from, about, and for Pastors

“Criticisms against pastors have increased significantly. One pastor recently shared with me the number of criticisms he receives are five times greater than the pre-pandemic era. Church members are worried. Church members are weary. And the most convenient target for their angst is their pastor.” This declaration, which – after a bizarre week of ministry – I posted on social media yesterday, is from an article entitled “Six Reasons Your Pastor is About to Quit” by Thom Rainer. In case you are wondering – hopeful or anxious – no, I am not quitting. Not even close. More about why in a second.

As the statement hung in my stories countless friends reached out, including several pastors to either ask for the link to the article or to simply affirm the sad pronouncement. It has been a tough go for many in this year of cynicism, division, doubt, and hate; and pastors are certainly no exception. In chatting with dozens of pastors over the course of this year, it would seem that none are immune to the constant criticisms; and the foremost reason that emerged for this barrage is the inability of pastors to meet the bevy of expectations under which they find themselves.

Pastors sin. Most church-goers know this and as long as the sin is theoretical then all is fine and even humorous. As soon as actual sin is observed – or even accused of – the claws of the faithful Pharisees dig deep. Of course, all Christians are subject to this scourge; but pastors, since placed on such a platform, endure on a heightened level the graceless, unpardonable judgement of debtors who have themselves been forgiven but seemingly have forgotten.

Pastors are finite. The average pastor is a husband, a father (and if he is faithful, considers those roles with extreme care), a friend, a scholar (of one thing or another), an apologist, a counselor, a fan, and (so easy to forget) a human. He too has just 24 hours in each day; seven days in each week. Sermon prep to instruct the people of God (if taken seriously) demands much time. Couple that with other platforms of instruction, oversight, care for family, immediate needs, personal worship, prayer, on and on and on the list rolls…and the hours typically drain from the week. Christians must prioritize their lives. So too must pastors.

Pastors disappoint. Pastors fail to meet a need – most often when they aren’t aware of the need. Pastors miss communication. Pastors make poor decisions.

Pastors are flawed.

I realize that this blog will not resonate with many because they are not pastors – but my hope is that some reading this will endeavor to pray for, to show grace toward, and to support their pastors more ardently; and that my pastor friends reading this will be encouraged.

The criticism of 2020 is not new – it is only heightened. As we endure the verbal lashing into the new year and beyond, the question must be: how do Christians in general and pastors specifically thrive in life and ministry?

There are numerous ways but here is what preserved me in this year:

  1. To remember that I am completely known and irrevocably loved by God. Brennan Manning, in his remarkable book The Ragamuffin Gospel wrote: “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” May that be the deepest awareness for each of us as pastors and lay-Christians. We must be relentlessly proactive in drawing this remembrance to mind and soul. You are known, loved, and kept. If you know yourself at all (which let’s be real, is far worse than what people say about you) then this truth can simply not be unremarkable.
  2. Releasing bitterness and showing grace is not only good for the offender but is necessary for the offended. Each of us has given reason for others to be bitter. Each of us is in need of grace. Bitterness cripples the already damaged soul. Repenting of bitterness and choosing to demonstrate the grace of Christ brings joy and healing to the broken soul.
  3. Remind yourself of all those who do know your faults and see your weakness, yet relentlessly pray for, love, care, and support your family and your ministry. These folks are a gift of grace and I can say wholeheartedly and without reservation, that the Spirit has preserved my ministry because of people like this (if you are one of these folks please know that I am grateful for you in truly inexpressible ways).
  4. Our faithfulness pleases Jesus. While others lambast, accuse, malign, and critique, if we as pastors/Christians walk in humble, legitimate faithfulness in Gospel ministry (not that we always will obviously), the One who matters most looks upon us with a smile of affectioned affirmation. That is soothing to the soul and helps me sleep in peace.

If you are a pastor who is going through it, please feel free to reach out to me. I would love to chat. If you are a Christian, please pray for your pastors, show grace to all, and remind yourself of these truths. Be encouraged this holiday season. The God of grace has got you.

“My Top 5 Books for 2020!”

Is it ever possible to read too many books (or have too many books)? I do not think so! It was a blessing to read some wonderful, stirring, challenging, and invigorating books this past year. Here are the top five books books I read in 2020 that would be my top recommendations for you to pick up and dive into in 2021!

1. “Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation” edited by Michael Horton

Michael Horton, along with a superb group of writers including men such as Robert Godfrey, deals with the late 1980s and early 1990s controversy surrounding “Lordship Salvation” involving men like John MacArthur and Zane Hodges. While the book is a little dated, the substance of the book is desperately needed still. This book provides a balanced treatment of justification, saving faith, repentance, and sanctification showing how much the evangelical church needs retrieval from the Protestant Reformation on these issues. Faithful pastoral ministry must handle the law and the gospel well. This book will equip pastors in that area.

2. “Interpreting the Scripture with the Great Tradition” by Craig A. Carter

This book will challenge your mind in many ways. I will confess that there are parts of it that required me to reread (section on metaphysics). However, keep plodding your way through the book and you will discover some rich treasures. Carter is calling the church back to biblical exegesis that marked men like Augustine, John Calvin, and were at the heart of the Nicene Creed. This is a tremendous resource for thinking about how Christ is present in the Scriptures.

3. “The Whole Christ” by Sinclair Ferguson

Sinclair Ferguson is one of my favorite preachers. Whether listening to him or reading him, I am always blessed by his labors. Our men’s group at NTBC went through this book together. Ferguson’s work is a mixture of historical theology along with a systematic unpacking of the law and the gospel. In this book, he uses the Marrow Controversy and subsequent issues to make a case that the church still wrestles with the issues of faith and repentance. I encourage you to read and discuss this book with someone.

4. “William Carey”  by S. Pearce Carey

Biographies, especially written by family members, can become more of a hagiographic tribute rather than a telling of the real story. S. Pearce Carey, though the great-grandson of William Carey, does a balanced job overall of telling the story of the Baptist cobbler-preacher who left Britain to serve the interests of the kingdom of God in India. This book is written in a way that one feels that they are taking the journey with William Carey and going for an adventure! While S. Pearce Carey downplays theology some in this book, it is a biography that will encourage you.

5. “Green Pastures” by J. Ryan Davidson

I know the author of this work personally and it is out of a pastor’s heart that this book is written. Ryan Davidson explores and unpacks the concept of the ordinary means of grace in the life of a local church. So many of our churches are starving because they are led to entertainment and cotton candy theology but not the green pastures of Christ. Pastors will find great encouragement in this book to know that the ordinary rhythm of ministry is not in vain. Christ is present with His people through the Word and sacraments. This would be an excellent book to read and study with a group of people.

A Reminder of How We May Learn Through Disagreements.

As we come to the close of 2020 I was reflecting back over some of the things I have written over the last several years, and the following article hit me square in the face. It is one I am personally striving to do and at times still easily falling, especially in a year where tribalism seems to be growing and divisions easily erected. We have ceased to listen. I hope it will encourage you and maybe convict you as it did me.

Sometimes it takes a younger you to remind you of these things.

*Originally published Dec, 2018

Over the last few weeks in the office we have been reading the book: Spurgeon on the Christian Life by Michael Reeves. It is a wonderful read and one that will make you think deeply about what it is we love so much about Spurgeon’s preaching and teaching ministry, but it will also at times made us step back and disagree with Spurgeon’s views on several things such as preaching books of the bible, liturgies, the New Birth, and scripted prayer.

Today’s post isn’t a review of the book but rather what the book helped me to see and think more deeply about. I’ve posted on it before, but I think it bears reminding that some of the very people our heroes ranged against and called out as heretics or worse are us. As a Baptist I love the reformation and appreciate all that Luther did and at the same time know he would have considered me as much a heretic as the Pope in Rome. Augustine was the father of much of what we find distasteful in the Catholic church such as baptism for the remission of sins in infants, Purgatory, Limbo, and a host of others, yet he also helped to solidify theologically the truth of Monergism and a full appreciation for the Sovereignty of God. Bavinck and Kuyper in Holland could not reconcile the role of the church and state, especially in the training of ministers, and in the process their partnership as ministers of the gospel was frayed.

Now I say all this for two reasons. First, there is always a chance we are wrong, not about the gospel but at times on its application when scripture is less than clear. Second, there are good and godly brothers and sisters in Christ who we can learn much from, whom we will equally disagree with on these tangential things. Both of these things we need to remember because at the end of the day we live to imitate Christ and become more like him, not necessarily other Christians, they at times point us to Christ and at times are worthy of admiration, but ultimately it is Christ whom we pursue.

 We Might Be Wrong

No one likes to be wrong. Let’s just face it, red marks on a test don’t tend to bring out our most excited moments (though many of us can agree we learned a lot from those red marks). Being corrected for our attitude or unrighteous behavior isn’t a fun day, though necessary. I’ve spent the last 6 years in full time ministry before that I spent 7 years in Bible college and seminary, along the way I read a lot of the Bible and equally a lot of theology texts. My office is filled with commentaries on the Word of God and books discussing how we should live out these truths. In Seminary, I focused my studies on Christian ethics (Or the practical outworking of theology in everyday life).  This time taught me a lot about what it means to be wrong and to be gracious in doing so, but it also showed me areas of my theology that should have been peripheral that had become central, things that being wrong about didn’t change who I was in Christ. Such as how does the Spirit gift individuals and what does that look like, what should the church sing, how do we practice church discipline, in what ways can baptism be performed, how often should we take communion, and what role does Communion, the Word, and singing play in weekly and personal worship?

I could ask these questions to a whole host of pastors and theologians and get a wide variety of answers and in that way, it taught me that it was okay to accept that possibility of being wrong in some areas of the Christian life, but not to settle for being wrong. It is important that we acknowledge that there are mysteries too marvelous for us to full comprehend or articulate. We must accept that there are areas of the outworking of the gospel that take effort to dive deeply into, and we should. The point of accepting that you could be wrong is not to be lazy in the process but to push harder into Christ and to trust in Him, to dive deeply into His Word and allow it to be the guide of who we are and how we then shall live. He gives us His Word to know Him and His family and to live out the truth of who has been revealed.

Now I know there are a lot of traps with what I am saying, and I’ll admit that as well. Hebrews encourages us to continually be on guard against falsehoods and to not be led astray into disobedience but to fight all the more for the faith and to rest in Christ our great High Priest who gave all for us, and for the Glory of His father. So, while it is good to accept, we may be wrong on the peripheral we must not give ground on the reality of who Jesus is, what salvation is, the work of the Holy spirit producing righteousness, the call to repentance, the work of God through all of scripture. These are the areas of the faith first and foremost to be wrong is to be outside of the faith. These are questions while they may be answered with different words will have the same substance, will reflect the same gospel truth, Spurgeon, Luther, Augustine, Bavinck, Kuyper, Piper, MacArthur, R.C., Gurnall, Athanasius, Polycarp, John and Paul would reflect the same gospel reality.

Learning from Others

Now that was a long way to highlight the importance of learning from those who we may, at times, disagree with on peripheral issues. Again, this is not a call to start picking up Osteen and Bell books, no need to take down that old Brian McLaren book on the 19 different Jesus’. No this is more about the importance of getting outside of our tribal instinct and studying the truth of scripture and seeing how other godly people have applied the text and lived it out. When I was in college, I went to an interdenominational school made up of a host of different theological backgrounds all studying the scriptures together and having lively and gracious discussions on the outworking of that faith. I learned a lot about loving my brothers and sisters well in disagreement from brothers whom truly reflected and lived out the gospel. I didn’t agree with everything they thought but I agreed with how they lived, for they lived it out far greater than I. Especially while those in my same camp seemed to move farther and farther way from the actual practice of the faith, while condemning these brothers as legalists or worse.

It is an amazing thought that we read men whom we openly would disagree with if they were around today, but the measure of their lives proved that they ran the race, they kept the faith, and in Christ have been rewarded greatly. In a day and age where we have become more tribal than ever, I fear we have stopped listening to those we disagree with, and in some ways, we have stopped learning.  If you are afraid to pick up a book by John Wesley because of his views on Holiness, you will miss his great care for the preaching of the Word and deep reverence he had for God. There was a reason Whitefield and Wesley were great friends, and they learned a lot form each other even while disagreeing over aspects of doctrine. If Spurgeon’s view of preaching topically drives you to forsake his preaching you will miss his rich exposition on the Psalms or the beautiful encouragement, he gives to suffering saints through the preached word, while simultaneously presenting the hope of the Gospel to the lost.

Ultimately, we need to be people committed to the cause of Christ, learning the truth of Scripture, defending the faith well, and growing in our love and dedication for the Saints.

Top 10 Podcasts of 2020

I like podcasts, a lot. They’re not only a great way to redeem the time whether you find yourself in the car, the gym, or anywhere really, but they’re so many good ones to choose from now! I’m glad they’re becoming more popular these days and that new ones pop up all the time. In a given week I usually listen to more than 10 podcasts regularly. So as this year is winding down I’ve compiled a list of the my favorite podcasts of the year. Be encouraged!

(note: these podcasts weren’t all new in 2020, but they’re the ones I’ve mainly listened to throughout 2020)

10) 5 Minutes in Church History – A brief 5 minute podcast that comes out with a weekly dose of Church history. It’s great, you’ll love it.

9) Ministry Network Podcast – From the folks at Westminster Seminary, looking at ministry from all angles with various guests. Brief, informative, encouraging.

8) Open Book – Brief snapshots of R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur’s favorite books, why they read them, and why they return to them.

7) Pastors Talk – Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman talking over all things current and historic from a pastor’s point of view. Helpful.

6) Simply Put – Doctrine, robust and substantial doctrine, handled in a brief summary form. Hard to do well, but this one does. Excellent listening.

5) The Prancing Pony Podcast – Did you really think there wouldn’t be a Tolkien podcast in this list? This is by far the best Tolkien podcast out there right now. Two regular guys who love the works of Tolkien, where they slowly read and talk through them. Love it.

4) Out of Oz – Hosted by my friends and fellow pastors along with some of their church members, talking through hard/controversial issues. Fun chats, can be quite cheeky at times.

3) Luther in Real Time – Historical reenactments of Martin Luther’s life before, during, and after the reformation. Simply gold!

2) Gospel Bound – A Gospel Coalition podcast hosted by Collin Hansen, covering all things theological, political, and cultural through the lens of the gospel. Hopeful listening.

1) Life and Books and Everything – My favorite podcast find of the year, hosted by Kevin DeYoung and friends, title says it all. This podcast alone has helped me think through the majority of issues that have faced us in 2020. Dive deep into this, you’ll be better for it.

I Will Not Be Celebrating this Year.

“I will not be celebrating Thanksgiving this year. Quite simply, there is nothing in 2020 deserving of my gratitude.” So, honest confession – I haven’t heard anyone utter these exact words; but the myriad of negative denouncements I have heard stirred with more than a spoonful of myopic lament has led me to conclude that this is the soul-sentiment of many a believer. Last weekend I seemingly shocked many in my congregation when I made the almost blasphemous proclamation that the past six months have been the most joyful in my eighteen years of ministry. A few chortled loudly at the declaration, perhaps convinced that I had to be jesting; but the statement was anything but a joke.

Most friends reading this understand that I do not live in a glossy globe of naivety. I am not ignoring reality or pretending that no ill has fallen on my family or our church this year. In fact, outside of 2017, 2020 has been the most grueling, life-altering, and future-clouding year of my life. Never would I have imagined a year of church shuttering; financial uncertainty; bitter infighting over masks, childcare, and – yes – kinds of hand sanitizer; lockdowns; racial divide; political toxicity; and the legitimacy or illegitimacy of a global pandemic. Never would I have imagined former friends on both sides of the aisle labeling me a liberal and a racist in the same week. Never could I have foreseen my refusal to buy into cultural norms and corrupt ideologies publicly decried as sinful and privately used to spread disunity. I certainly could not have projected a scenario where my little girl, at the height of the pandemic, had to be rushed in for emergency heart surgery. On the surface, it’s been a horrendous year. But just under the surface, as I take time to peel away the obvious ugly, I see significant beauty.

I would highly encourage you, Christian, to do the same, but here are twenty realities that I am thankful for that would not be had 2020 gone according to script:

  1. The shutdown and continued societal impacts have enabled me to linger with my family longer. 
    Family has always been an absolute priority for me, but seasons of lockdown and new social norms have enabled me to hang with and invest in Danielle and my kids with increased regularity and purpose.
  2. New rhythms have forced me to slow down and adapt.
    For years I have worked hard to established healthy rhythms and accept necessary changes, but 2020 forced thoughtful reconsideration of many ministry norms.
  3. A reorientation of so many norms has pushed me to consider the things that truly matter.
    Under the bevy of opinions and friendly fire, with pastors dropping from the ranks, Christians fighting over nearly everything, and friends compromising theologically or practically, I have been driven to really seek for that which must be prioritized in my teaching and apologetic, while permitting secondary issues to be passionately held in open-handedness.
  4. Pressing cultural issues, and how they have rocked the church, have helped in expanding my understanding of many critical matters.
    I have, out of necessity, taken an even deeper dive into exploring how eschatology, prophecy, critical theory, intersectionality, cultural marxism, political ideologies, and political corruption directly affect the church and how Christians should respond.
  5. The necessity of a strong online presence and live-stream has gifted us the capacity to reach far more people with the message of the Gospel.
    As a church, we have been able to minister through the vehicle of media to thousands of folks from around the world. Every Sunday hundreds join us from various parts of the country for our live stream and already we have picked up listeners for our podcast from more than a dozen countries.
  6. The countless calamities have actually been used by God to purify His church.
    This always happens in times of crisis. Many fall away but the true church presses on in even greater devotion. That has certainly been the case in 2020.
  7. The reminder of the need for true community among the faithful has deepened the health of the church.
    Many Christians have taken the shutdown as an excuse to opt out of prior commitments, but countless others have felt the stinging need for true community which has increased their ardor to plug into the life of the church local.
  8. The myriad of controversies and viewpoints have birthed numerous robust and profitable conversations. 
    Yes, there have been toxic, unprofitable discussions across this annual timeline, but so many of the conversations I have taken part in, when seeded by all parties in kindness, care, and a desire to actually listen, have been incredibly helpful.
  9. The shutdown gave us the necessary time to create more space for worship and kids’ classrooms.
    Before COVID 19 rocked our country we had outgrown our worship space and our kids classrooms were overflowing. The past eight months have gifted us the time needed to expand our worship room while building out much larger classrooms.
  10. The chaos created an acute awareness and fostered deep conversations around eschatology.
    I have long stated that “eschatology is a gift to the church in times of chaos” and that proved to be the case this year. There was no small amount of fear-mongering that went down related to the supposed rapture, the anti-Christ, and the “One World Order,” but once more, for those who sought to listen and understand there was much Biblical comfort to be found.
  11. The relentless assault from multiple sides has strengthened my resolve to fear the derision and judgment of others far less.
    This might be my biggest take away from 2020. I understand that to go too far in this direction will result in cynicism, but the constant attacks have been used by the Lord to actually help me not to fear the criticism or hear the slander that used to wreck me.
  12. Needed personal repentance and the suffering of friends has instructed my heart to care much more deeply for others.
    I have not always been empathetic or filled with compassion. In fact, for many years these virtues were virtually absent. But God has graciously brought me to repentance again and again, cultivating within me a deeper awareness of and care for those who are truly suffering.
  13. The compromise of Christian leaders and churches has emboldened me to speak against destructive beliefs and policies.
    Much that has been heralded in 2020 is not only brazenly false but is also diabolically destructive to the Christian message. As a church we could have slid in with other believers and congregations who swallowed the cultural falsities; but instead, by God’s preservation, we have been graced to stand against the blatant mistruths.
  14. The constant attacks have presented an opportunity to be courageous.
    I’m learning to value attack for without it we will never actually exhibit courage. As Lewis said: “Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” Thank God for the gift not only to be courageous but to show our kids what bravery looks like.
  15. The diversity of opinions on significant issues has taught me how to graciously disagree.
    “I believe you are wrong.” I have uttered those words almost on repeat this year, and I have heard them leveled from others against me. At times those words have been birthed from toxicity; but as the year has progressed, more often than not, those words have been bathed in grace. Christians must learn how to strongly yet kindly disagree.
  16. The need for community has deepened my friendships.
    We were never meant to walk alone. We were designed for community and friendship. God has gifted me, and hopefully you as well, with deep, abiding friendships that throughout the fray of the past nine months have served me well and strengthened my soul.
  17. The wide-spread exhaustion, frustration, and discouragement for others have provided me endless occasions to lend encouragement to those struggling.
    I’m very grateful for this as well. I am not naturally geared toward encouragement; but God has been rewiring me and cultivating within a true pleasure in bringing hope and joy to the lives of others. Though I still fail, by grace, I grow.
  18. The introduction and normalization of masks in society.
    This one is weird, I admit, and most who know me know that I am not typically a mask-wearer. But COVID 19 and the mask hysteria aside, it would seem that wearing a mask moving forward for anyone struggling with a slight ailment or marginal cold would be beneficial for those they come in contact with. We almost forget that all the other illness that existed before COVID still, in fact, exists.
  19. A deeper love for my church family. 
    Coming into this year I would have acknowledged that the members of BLDG 28 cared for my soul; but the endless tumult has created a backdrop upon which I have seen the true devotion and love that my church has for one another and for my family and this has stirred a deeper and stronger love within.
  20. The Divinely orchestrated beauty from disaster has been a refreshing reminder of how little I actually control.
    I don’t adapt well. I think there is certainly a place for and a benefit in organization and planning. But 2020 did not go according to script which more than almost anything else graciously reminded me that I may plans my path but the Lord directs my steps (Proverbs 16:9).

Throughout this holiday season I hope we will be reminded of all we have from the Lord to be thankful for; and I pray we will actually give thanks. It’s been a good year.

Semper Reformanda.

The Church, The Gospel, & Politics

It’s often been said, “There are two things you shouldn’t talk about in public: religion & politics.” Although many may give a hearty “Amen” to that statement when uttered, I don’t know anyone, really, who lives by that axiom. Just take a stroll through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, & Parler (whatever that is), and the masses are always opining about “The Two Taboos.”

But what about the Church? Should the Church be engaged in the political sphere? Should the Church be discussing politics in Sunday School, small groups, from the pulpit, or from the pastor’s office? Succinctly, absolutely “Yes” is the answer. However, as the Bereans, we should take a stroll through the Scriptures to discover our answer to any, and especially these, questions. What does the Word of God say in precept, principle, or model for us in practice?

God, Adam, Humanity, and Public Policy

From the beginning, God as King of Creation, Law-giver, and Judge (Genesis 1-3) was the clear standard for society; this has not changed. But, by what standard was Adam to “subdue the earth, and have dominion” (Genesis 1:28)? By what standard was Adam to “rule over” Eve (Genesis 3:16)? By what standard was soceity to relate to the first murderer, Cain, when expelled from the community of his family (Genesis 4)? By what standard was Noah to warn humanity of God’s impending judgement unless they repented from their sin and joined him in the ark (Genesis 6-7)? By what standard would future murderers be judged when they took the life of those with whom they lived (Genesis 9:6)?

I could go on, couldn’t I? What was the standard that Moses used to inform Pharaoh of his wicked policies? What was the standard Joshua used when he led the children of Israel into battle conquering the pagan nations that occupied God’s land for Israel? Esther to Xerxes?  Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar or Cyrus?

You may object, “But, what of the New Testament?” Consider, John the Baptist to Herod or Paul to Felix, or perhaps Jesus’ exhortation to His disciples in Matthew 10:16-23 when the Master tells them that they “will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles…”. OT & NT alike, the people of God speak to the governors of man concerning God’s will for humanity.

The Word of God speaks to all humanity, revealing Himself to us, governing us, and guiding our policies. There is no subject or political office that is separated from God or His perfect governance. God, the King of all the Earth, governs all the earth with His Word.

The Church, The Gospel, & Policy (Politics)

By God’s design, the Church as an institution & God’s people as individuals have been the Divine Mechanism by which He guides, even commands, public policy. However, this is not at man’s whim or by man’s best thought. The Church and Her members are the prophetic voice guiding princes and their policies to God’s righteousness from God’s Word. From the Garden into eternity, God governs humanity by His Word.

Paul told the Galatians that the Gospel, the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ, took place at “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), leading his readers then and now to the reality that all of life (personal, familial, ecclesiastical, and political) center around the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul didn’t lead the Galatians to this point for the Church alone but for all of “time” which by necessity would include all that falls within the venue of “time.” Human government is just as much in need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to govern its policies as individual men are.

The Gospel is sufficient. When did the Church relinquish the authority, clarity, sufficiency of the Word of God in the political sphere? And why? Surely, Peter would have lumped politics and policy in with what God has given when he said He gave us “all things that pertain to life & godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). Surely, Paul would have lumped politics and policy into how “All Scripture is…profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The Church has been armed with Truth. In a world that is sinking under the mantra “there is no truth,” the Church must rise with Gospel on her lips and speak the Word of God into this escalating death trap.

Armed for Spiritual Warfare

To quell any fears, doubts, or suspicions that may be arising, I am not a Theonomist. I am, however, a Biblicist. The Lord & His Bride were greatly wounded through the Crusades and other foolish and murderous endeavors to force people into right worship; the first table of the Law is not the government’s to enforce, only encourage. We should never go back down that road.

The road we should travel, however, is the road where the Bride of Christ speaks Truth on political issues, to politicians, and in the public square. Some have accepted the false dichotomy of a “Sacred & Secular” divide. There is no such distinction from the King of Creation. The Church is a “city on a hill” with a Light to shine into the world around us. We do have an obligation to speak on policy, politics, and to people in authority and under authority. Don’t surrender God’s clear design to the wave of public opinion that says “Keep your religion out of the public square” for it is that public square that is in desperate need of the Gospel as well as its implications & imperatives for living.

The Democrats, Republicans, Independents, atheists, and idolaters are not the enemy. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood…[but] against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:10-12). Therefore, fight these spiritual battles with the greatest spiritual weapon ever gifted to mankind, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For “it is the power of God to salvation for those who believe” (Rom. 1:16).

Church, take the Gospel into the political sphere and rejoice in effectual Word of God accomplishing His purposes through its proclamation (Isaiah 55:11).

Paul’s Aim in Ephesus: Preaching, Not Politics

In Acts 19 we read about Paul’s ministry in the city of Ephesus and how the preaching gospel was not only bearing fruit (19:1-20) but also threatening the livelihood of many who made money from the worship of Artemis (19:21-41). Paul and those who belonged to “the Way” were threatening everything these men held dear: their wealth and success, their goddess and their temple, and their pride in their great city, and they were all so enraged that they started a riot.

In the end, the risen Lord Jesus continued to build and protect his church, calming the chaos of the crowds just like he did the raging seas. The rioters stopped out of a fear of being squashed by Rome and the church was once again vindicated and was innocent. But what does all of this mean for us today?

Protests, Politics, or Preaching?

How did the Christians make such a noticeable and massive impact on the city that these men felt their way of life was being threatened? How did seek to abolish idolatry? It was simple: they faithfully proclaimed the gospel of King Jesus. As a result of the word of the Lord prevailing mightily, lives were being changed by his grace and idolatry was on the decline in a city that was world-renowned for it. There were Ephesians who didn’t look or act like normal, magic-practicing, Artemis-worshiping Ephesians.

But don’t miss this: It was not through marches or protests, force or violence, public policy or political involvement, complaining or slandering or insulting, but simply preaching Christ and portraying Christ! In fact, the town clerk himself admits in v.37: “You have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess.” This means that the Christians were not insulting Artemis worshipers, mocking them or their religion, or seeking to desecrate their temple. Paul was solely dedicated to boldly, lovingly, and persuasively preaching the gospel of Jesus.

As was his custom, he announced to the Ephesians that the God who made the world and everything in it is the one, true, and living God. He does not live in temples made by human hands and has all life in himself. Yet despite our sinful rebellion against this God—expressed in all manner of pride, idolatry, and immorality—he himself came into this world in the person of his Son, Jesus. He took on flesh to live among us, to suffer like us, and ultimately to die for us, as a sacrifice for our sin. But God raised him from the dead, proving to all the world that he truly is the Son of God, the King of the universe, and the Savior of the world. And as Paul preached this gospel, many came to repent of their sins and turn to the risen Lord Jesus in faith. Their eyes had been opened to behold the beauty of King Jesus—his excellencies, his supremacy, his glory.

Properly Ordering Your Allegiances

By grace, many Ephesians found in Jesus a majesty greater than that of Artemis (Acts 19:27). It was the very majesty of the true and living God! In fact, the word ‘magnificence’ here is only used in two other places in Scripture: of God’s majesty in Luke 9:43 and of Christ’s majesty in 2 Peter 1:16! As a result, the gospel was bearing fruit in the lives of all who believed. They had been filled with the Spirit of Jesus and were being transformed into his image daily. They had begun to live as those who had died to sin, put off their corrupt old selves, and had been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life (cf. Eph. 4:22-24). I love how one pastor describes the church’s impact on the city:

Unbelievers in Ephesus perceived in the Christian community . . . a way of life that was different and a direction that was diametric to that of the majority. It was a different road than most traveled. It revealed a pattern of self-denial and cross-bearing. It was utterly focused on Jesus Christ. . . . And the worldly despised it. . . . As God’s Word had saturated their lives, day after day, [the church] threatened a way of life held dear, a culture thought to define the nature of Ephesus”

(Derek Thomas, Acts, Reformed Expository Commentary, 553-554).

Don’t misunderstand me. There is certainly a time and place for political engagement and public policy. We are to seek the welfare of our cities and this very often involves politics. But as Christians, our allegiance is first to Jesus Christ and his kingdom. We are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. His purposes are to be our greatest priority. This happens as we, in faith, devote ourselves to prayer, to being immersed in Scripture and fluent in the gospel, and to spiritual formation through Christian worship and fellowship.

This also means, very practically that if for the past few months you have spent more time consuming news or media than God’s Word; if you know more political facts than sound doctrine; if you spend more time persuading people to vote a certain way instead of preaching the gospel; if you’re more upset when someone speaks ill of your party or presidential candidate than when someone speaks ill of Christ; if your greatest hope for America is Trump or a court, your priorities are wrong and your allegiances are not properly ordered.

Preaching and Portraying Christ

When it comes to God’s will for our lives as Christians living in America, as citizens of heaven living as exiles in this world, it’s simple: Be like Jesus. Follow King Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life. Tell others about his saving reign made evident in your life. Rinse and repeat.

The hope that our loved ones need, the peace that our city needs, the reconciliation that our world needs is found only in Christ alone. He alone is our salvation. He is our strength, and our song. His majesty alone—his manifold perfections—will satisfy our restless hearts. The church impacts the world most effectively through lives changed by the gospel we proclaim. As we live like we belong to this King, and tell others about his grace, not only will hearts be changed, but our communities will too, and our city will be impacted by the gospel.


This is an excerpt from the sermon: A City Impacted by the Gospel. It has been lightly edited and modified for this website.

Watch Your Step! (A Step-by-Step Guide)

We’ve all had that miserable experience of stumping your toe on the way to the bathroom in the dark. It is no fun and yet it reveals the importance of watching our step and having the necessary light to see where we’re going. The Christian life in the New Testament is often referred to as our ‘walk.’ Also, early Christians were known as, ‘The Way’ (Acts 9:2). On top of that Jesus referred to Himself as, ‘The Way’ and called us to, “enter by the narrow path” and not the broad one that leads to destruction. He said, “the way is hard that leads to life” (John 14:6; Matthew 7:13ff). This is important. We must remember that true believers are really the only group going against the tide of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are walking on God’s path, and yet how easy it is to stumble and lose our way. Thankfully, we have a Good Shepherd who goes after the one lost sheep and we have fellow believers who help rescue the wandering among us (Matthew 18:12; James 5:19-20). I’ve heard it said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The trouble is, we are often like the wandering Israelites on this journey; stumbling here and there along the way, refusing to go when God says and often foolishly wanting to go back at times. So what are some practical things we can do as God’s redeemed people to, “run with endurance the race that is set before us”? The following is a list of verses predominantly from the wisdom books of the Bible (with other passages mixed in) which I’ve divided into a step-by-step guide for us. This list assumes that we’ve been born again by the Spirit and are on the path of the righteous. It is also implied that we are, “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.” Each of the verses are taken from the English Standard Version of the Bible. It is my prayer that this guide helps you in your Christian walk.

  1. Acknowledge your tendency to slip, wander, and drift
    • “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.” -Psalm 73:2
    • “…their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” -Galatians 2:14
    • “she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it.” -Proverbs 5:6
    • “passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house” -Proverbs 7:8
    • “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”- Hebrews 2:1
  2. Pray for steady steps to walk in God’s way
    • “Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.” -Psalm 119:133
    • “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” -Psalm 86:11
    • “…see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” -Psalm 139:24
    • “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.” -Psalm 25:4
    • “Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”- Jeremiah 6:16
  3. Consider the only two paths available 
    • “The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous.’ -Isaiah 26:7
    • “In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.”- Proverbs 12:28
    • “I will ponder the way that is blameless..” -Psalm 101:2a
    • “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” -Proverbs 4:18-19
    • “the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” -Psalm 1:6
    • “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” -Proverbs 3:6
    • “in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” -Ephesians 2:2-3
    • “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!” -Ephesians 4:17-20
  4. Let His Word be your guide
    • “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” -Psalm 119:105
    • “When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies” -Psalm 119:59
    • “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” -Psalm 119:35
  5. Watch where you’re going
    • “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” -Proverbs 4:25-27
    • “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.” -Proverbs 14:15
    • “Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths,” -Proverbs 7:25
    • “do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths,” -Proverbs 1:15
    • “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.” -Proverbs 4:14-15
    • “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” -Ecclesiastes 5:1a
    • “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!” -Psalm 119:9-10
    • “I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.” -Psalm 119:101
    • “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,” -Ephesians 5:15
  6. Follow in His steps
    • “My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside.” -Job 23:11
    • “My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” -Psalm 17:5
    • “So you will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous.” -Proverbs 2:20
    • “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” -1 Peter 2:21b
    • “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” -Galatians 5:25
    • “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” -Galatians 5:16
    • “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” -Romans 13:13
    • “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” -Ephesians 4:1
    • “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” -Colossians 1:10
    • “…sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away” -Colossians 3:5b-8a

Election 2020: Where Is Our Hope?

“When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” (John 6:14-15)

Election Day is a week away and many of us will be going to the polls to vote for the person we hope will be our next president. This is an important issue that requires much thought and prayer. However, it is not the most important issue.

We can see this in the Gospel of John.

In John 6 (go ahead and read it) Jesus is sitting on a mountain side with His disciples when a large crowd approaches Him. The crowd was following Jesus because of the miracles He had performed for the sick (v2). Much to their delight, Jesus performs another miracle by feeding the crowd. He takes five loaves of bread and two fish and provides enough food to feed five thousand men, in addition to any women and children who were also present (v9-12), and still had plenty left over (v13). Jesus had taken a meager meal and made it into a feast for thousands with plenty to spare. It was a remarkable feat that no mere man could have accomplished. Of course, no mere man had accomplished it, but the God-Man, Jesus Christ, had accomplished it. Then v14-15 tells us, “When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ And “they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king.”

The thousands that Jesus fed rightly perceived that He was the long-awaited Prophet, one like Moses, who had finally come. However, they wrongly perceived why He had come. They were seeking a political ruler, a king, one who could liberate them from the Roman Empire. They saw that Jesus had the power to heal the sick and provide endless amounts of food; certainly He could liberate Israel and reign as their king! They wanted Jesus to help them politically and materially. They were not looking to Him as a Savior from their sin; they were looking to Him as a king for their earthly benefit. But Jesus did not come to be a political ruler. He did not come to be an earthly king. He came to save His people from their sin. He came to seek and save the lost and give His life as a ransom for many. Jesus was not interested in political leadership – He was interested in spiritual transformation. He was not the Bread of the Temporal, He was the Bread of Life (v35).

There are a couple of takeaways for us as we head into Election Day.

First, we need to realize, unlike many of those in John 6, that man’s most essential need is not a government or material needs or a presidential candidate that aligns with all our values and beliefs. Our most essential need is a Savior who can save us from our sin. Don Carson put it this way: “If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, He would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, He would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, He would have sent us a politician. If He had perceived that our greatest need was health, He would have sent us a doctor. But He perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from Him, our profound rebellion, our death; and He sent us a Savior.” 

 We are a people who have offended a holy God by our sin and as a result we deserve infinite punishment. On our own we cannot make this right. No political policy or candidate can make this right. Only Jesus can make this right. Only He can fix our severed relationship with God the Father. He does this through His perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection – not political leadership. Politics are important. We should vote and vote wisely with Biblical principles in mind. However, we should not act as if all is lost if our candidate does not reach office. A president is not our Savior, Jesus is.

Second, we need to look to Jesus as our Savior and our Treasure. The crowds in John 6 looked to Jesus as the means (powerful king) to an end (liberation, provision, power). We too have the tendency to look to Jesus in the same way. We hope Jesus will bring us a better life now here on earth – better America, better career, better finances, and so on. But Jesus did not come to give us a better life now; He came to give us eternal life. We should not look to Him as a means to an end:

He is the end. 

He is everything. 

He is our Treasure.

As we go and vote let’s vote knowing that regardless of the outcome Jesus is our Savior; He is our King, and He is our Treasure. If the election goes how we want or not, we have Jesus, and to have Him is to have everything. Jesus in John 6:35 says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall not thirst.”

This government, this world, may not be what we want it to be, but let’s remember that our hope is not in government or the world around us, our hope is Jesus and He is all we need.

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.