From Rowling to Tolkien to Lewis, how are Christians to interact with fantasy literature? It was a joy contributing to this Out of Oz episode, I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed discussing it.
As we walk through 2020, it can feel at times as though things could not get worse in our society or our world. You may be experiencing this on an external level, depressed by the direction of our culture, the political battles, the pandemic, living in the midst of a partial societal shutdown. You may also be experiencing this internally – affected by grief, by the loss or restriction of interaction with friends and families, the removal of familiar routines and hobbies, the constant temptation and burden of your own sins, etc. It can be quite tempting to curl up into a ball and rock back and forth until such a time as the sun comes out from the clouds, the riots and election are past, and COVID is defanged.
Consider a snapshot from Middle Earth (if Lord of the Rings is not your pint of ale, as it were, feel free to skip this paragraph). One of the things I have most enjoyed about 2020 is reading through Lord of the Rings with my wife once our three little ones are asleep. We have finally made it to The Return of the King, which is one of my favorite books of all time. Early in the book there is a beautiful scene where Pippin, one of the pint-sized hobbits, has just arrived in the stronghold of Minas Tirith. He is gazing across the plains at the mountains of Mordor, wherein dwells the full strength of the evil Sauron. Pippin, overcome by the enormity of the battle before them and their long, long odds of success, cowers in fear. He remains so for some time before eventually regaining composure and encouraging himself with these words: “No, my heart will not yet despair. Gandalf fell and has returned and is with us. We may stand, if only on one leg, or at least be left still upon our knees.” Pippin’s hope rests not upon the strength of their armies, or the courage of their hearts – for he knew such things to not be sufficient – rather he finds hope in a transformed Gandalf, who has come back from the dead.
This scene struck me with regards to our Christian call to respond to the overwhelming circumstances of this life by looking beyond them to the crucified and risen Christ. Tolkien may not have been trying to write a Christian allegory, but in moments like this the Christian reader can no doubt draw important parallels to their own life circumstances. So long as we focus upon the circumstances and struggles of this life, despair is the best outlook, and we will sink like Peter as he noticed the waves (Matthew 14:30). We must draw our gaze away from these things and focus our attention to something even more powerful than the decay of society, the grip of sin, and the schemes of the devil. Pippin finds solace and strength to stand even in the face of evil because of a powerful being come back from the pit; we find solace and strength to stand because of a Savior who has died and rose again.
Here is where the illustration breaks down. We should not simply say “Christ died and is with us therefore let us have hope.” Rather, we rest upon the sure and certain truth that by His death He has defeated our enemies – sin, death, and the Devil. While we may not feel the reality of it yet, the destruction of all these foes is certain. Yet unlike Gandalf, our Lord Jesus is not “with us” in His physical presence, rather He has ascended into Heaven. He left us, in order that He could send us His Spirit, which He declared as being an even better situation than if He were to still be with us physically (John 16:7)! Although absent physically, He is doing greater work on our behalf; He is our Great High Priest representing us to God while preparing for us that new and eternal City and glorious New Creation promised in His Word (John 14:2-3, Revelation 21-22).
How then can we stand firm in the face of despair and amidst the difficult circumstances of this life? I do not write this from an ivory tower. My wife and I are little more than a week removed from a miscarriage, one which left us awash in a greater grief than either of us had ever known. For comfort, I have taken my cues from Scripture. Whatever your struggles may be, I invite you to look with me to Christ, remembering that since we are His disciples, we should expect nothing less than to walk the path that He walked (Matthew 10:24-25). His way was the way of suffering in this life, only then followed by eternal glory (Philippians 2:1-11).
In closing, I take great encouragement from how Paul constantly points to this identification with Christ as he considers the suffering of this life, saying in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Perhaps this perspective is best summed up in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, which after Paul considered the trials he had endured concludes thus: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
So, when you are tempted to despair, when your situation looks bleak and it feels like sin and death have won out, gaze upon the crucified, risen, and triumphant Jesus, in view of whom all the difficulties of our lives are re-cast as transient “light and momentary troubles.” Remember that He is with you by His Spirit as you walk His path of suffering, a path whose end is to be with Christ in glory. This is the only way I know to stand firm in the midst of overwhelming times.
I love to garden.
I love preparing the soil, planting the seed or plant, tending the soil around the the plant to produce healthy growth, pruning, harvesting, preserving the produce for the year to come, and of course eating it fresh off the vine. Believe it or not, I even enjoy weeding. Because no one enjoys weeding, it has become a place of quiet reflection for me. Everyone enjoys the harvest but it’s really gardening that has become a joy for me.
It wasn’t until I was recently engaged in conversation about the Gospel that this metaphor of gardening and harvesting really came to life for me. I was asking questions of the person who was clearly disagreeing with the message of the Gospel when someone asked me if I had been reading “Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions” by Greg Koukl.
I had not been, but upon his recommendation I picked up a copy and began learning how to better engage with people who have a differing opinion than mine; especially in matters of faith. But it’s not so much the “tactics” that have stood out to me up to this point so much as Koukl’s approach to Gospel-conversation as a whole. He likened his approach of sharing his faith to gardening vs. harvesting.
The Harvest is easy to understand. You share the Gospel, God does a supernatural work in that person causing them to be born-again, they confess Christ, turn from their former way of life and follow Jesus. In essence, you’ve just harvested, you’ve picked the ripe fruit, and it seemed easy—some have called it “low hanging fruit” before. If you are a gospel-sharer, more than likely you have picked some low hanging fruit. You didn’t prepare the soil, plant the seed, tend the soil, weed the garder, prune or fertilize, someone else did; you simply plucked the juicy, sun-ripened, vibrantly red tomato from the vine. Rejoice! What a joy!
The Gardening, however easy it is to understand, is not so easy to do. Gardening is hard. Sometimes the soil is hardened by a lack of rain and doesn’t easily work up. Sometimes the soil is soggy due to an oversaturation and is equally difficult to work. Still, someone needs to work the soil, plant the seed, weed out that which hinders growth and steals nutrients, and the labor is long & tiresome. It is necessary work and if there is to be a harvest in the future, often many gardeners have labored over this one “plant.”
In these times, there is still no promise of a harvest at all. Perhaps the rains will drown out the whole garden. Perhaps drought or the neighborhood dog will decimate the well-teneded garden. Perhaps, locusts devour and destroy or plant disease comes through and depletes the health of the plant until all it can do is grow, never producing fruit.
Gardening is hard work. And if we think of gardening and harvesting as a metaphor in evangelism, there is much more time invested in gardening than in harvesting. The harvest happens quickly and often times not by the gardener. Are you content with being God’s gardener? Are you “swinging for the fences” (how’s that for mixing metaphors) every time you talk with someone whether it’s forced & awkward or not?
Koukl’s approach to gardening and harvesting is that most of the gospel conversations he will ever engage in are gardening conversations. After all, it is Jehovah who is “the Lord of the harvest”, is He not? Sometimes in “gardening,” well meaning Christians rush to the thrust of the Gospel hoping to reap a harvest when the “young plant” is still in its germination or even before the soil has been tilled. This is not to say, “You shouldn’t share Christ with people too quickly” but “We should inquisitively discover where this person is in the gardening process so as to have a better understanding of our role in God’s process.”
I know I’m guilty of forcing the meat of the Gospel into a converstation where it doesn’t naturally fit in an effort to “do what I’m supposed to do.” If I’m honest, that’s never resulted in anyone converting or following up with “Hmmm, tell me more.” It almost always (and maybe always) ended the conversation. It’s like harvesting the bloom hoping the little yellow flower tastes like a well-tended, sun-ripened tomato.
God is sovereign over salvation, I’m not suggesting otherwise. I also know that if I were more attentive & inquisitive, I could be of more use to Him as He draws those to Himself from whom He has chosen to reap a harvest.
This past Tuesday our good friend and regular contributor Jake Stone wrote a review of the top ten books he read this past year, and it was grand! But as I was reading it I thought to myself, ‘Man! This is a good list…I’ve read some good books this past year as well, maybe I should post my top ten list.’ So I decided to.
I know some of you might be thinking ‘More books Adam?’ To which I reply, ‘YES!!’ Without further ado, here are the top ten books I enjoyed most in 2019:
10) With One Voice, Reggie M. Kidd
This book doesn’t cover the ins and outs of everything one needs to know to interpret a Psalm and preach it well, no. Rather, Kidd writes to help us understand one thing and one thing alone: Jesus Christ is our Singing Savior and we ought to do all we can to hear His song and be caught up in it ourselves. My oh my, words are hard to come by when explaining how much I enjoyed this read. From the get-go hearing him explain how God intends for us to communicate our deepest emotions, affections, and feelings through songs grabbed hold of me and carried me along to the tune of the Psalter. After initially pleading with us to see our relationship with God as more than a mere contract but a romantic intimate mystery, it goes on chapter after chapter showing us that very thing through looking a certain Psalms. He then ends with a plea to love one another over our preferences for certain kinds of music in a section about Bach, Bubba, and the Blues Brothers. These closing three chapters were a perfect way to end his book as he made the case that each of these has its own unique place among our churches. Great read!
9) The Worship Pastor, Zac Hicks
Leading any part of the worship service, from call to close, ought to be done in a pastoral manner. Hicks gives seventeen attributes in this book to help guide leading in worship, and each we’re great but four of them stood out to me. Worship pastors are to be emotional shepherds, liturgical architects, worship curators, and tour guides. Hicks explains this means worship pastors not only seek to care about the emotions of God’s people but seeking to reorient the emotions of God’s people so as to renovate the soul in worship that is anchored in and saturated with the gospel flow (glory, guilt, gratitude). Building services that retell the gospel story and working hard so that those who come and worship will do just that, worship. We’re to so order and fill the space of the church that people’s interaction with God in worship is an actual experience with God in worship by paying attention to everything, from flow to feel, songs to sermon to the Supper, etc. All in all, we want to do this well so that worship isn’t distracting or merely entertaining but rather greatly edifying to God’s people, and more importantly glorifying to God.
8) Interpreting the Psalms, Mark Futato
Dr. Futato has done a great service to pastors everywhere with this book. It’s deep in its nuance and yet accessible and relatable as well. The book is a complete overview of how rightly handle interpreting and preaching the Psalms. From the ins and outs of structure, line, and strophic divisions, to the new understanding of parallelism, to seeing the whole scope of the Psalter as well as the context of each Psalm, plus two ending sections on preparing exegetical outlines with expositional notes to walk into the pulpit with not only makes this is a book worthy of returning to again and again, it separates it from others easily. Most books on the Psalms I’ve read are either technical or applicable, yet this was both. For this fact alone, each time I pull out a Psalm to preach, I’m sure this book won’t be far away to ensure I’m doing what I ought to be doing to faithfully interpret and preach the Psalms.
7) Contemporary Worship Music: A Defense, John Frame
Frame states that in reformed theology there is an unhealthy trajectory needing to be addressed. Namely, the way the reformed interact and deal with others (regarding contemporary worship) reveals a deep unwillingness to critique our own traditions and even denominational cultures. Frame believes if we don’t face these problems many of our churches will begin to cease presenting the gospel to our present time/culture persuasively. From this point on Frame begins to unveil his argument: God is both transcendent being Lord over all and exalted above everything, as well as immanent being the God who condescended to walk among us and be near us in Christ. God’s transcendence doesn’t contradict His immanence and visa versa. Therefore the worship of God’s people ought to reflect this. In worship we need to feel the inaccessible distance between God and us (transcendence) just as we need to feel the accessible nearness of God in Christ (immanence). Musically, this implies the great need for both high and lofty hymns as well as simple and reflective praise choruses. To lean too heavily on either side is an error in practice. Worship saturated with only inaccessible transcendence as well as worship saturated with only immanent nearness both miss the mark. God isn’t glorified when people do not understand what they sing in worship, just as God isn’t glorified if people are never challenged in worship. This book was a breath of fresh air to my soul. I am further convinced that a balance is needed in the worship of God’s people. I need to be overwhelmed by God’s glory, just as I need to be sorrowful over the gravity of my sin, and amazed at gospel grace. Our worship should reflect these things.
6) Covenantal Worship, R.J. Gore Jr.
Rare. That is the one word I’d use to describe the material in R.J. Gore Jr.’s book Covenantal Worship. Why rare? Because I’ve never heard of anyone else with the guts to do a project on the problems with the Puritan regulative principle regarding worship at Westminster Seminary! But, novelty isn’t alone what makes this book stand out. Gore not only tackles one of the sacred cows of reformed theology, he slays it thoroughly, and might just be leading the way forward into a healthier and more biblical worship. At least, I hope he does. I was greatly encouraged by this read. I have too often seen and felt the deep conviction about the regulative principle of worship, that God alone through His Word governs and commands what ought to be done in worship. Yes and amen! But I’ve also seen how widely and broadly ‘regulative principle’ guys apply this in their own contexts. There is little agreement, and as Gore points out this problem is vast. His answer is compelling. The way forward isn’t by reinstating the glory days of Geneva, or Knox, or puritanism, no. The way forward looks like being willing to follow Scripture more than a tradition so dear to us.
5) Saving the Reformation, W. Robert Godfrey
Over at Ligonier new books are being pumped out left and right these days. This read is evidence that these new books are not only well written but very much worth your time. Between my reading for classes this past year I picked up this book and was reminded of the the glory and robustness of the when – the why – and the what that stands behind the Synod of Dort and the Canons of Dort that came from them. We are a reformed people. What does that mean? What does that entail? When did this begin? Are we as reformed today as they were back then? And what does this mean for us today? Should we still be reformed in our doctrine? All of these questions and more are brilliantly handled by Godfrey in this read, I cannot recommend it enough. 2019 was the 400th anniversary of this Synod, so it’s timely to read up on our history.
4) The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
You didn’t think all of these books would be theology did you? HA! It was a joy to pick this one up again and re-read. It is a hard read the first time through, but while that is true, it gets much easier after that. I think this was my fourth or fifth time reading it (???) and I was glad to find myself able to follow it more closely and enjoy it more deeply this time. Go ahead, give it a go. You’ll enjoy it.
3) Thoughts For Young Men, J.C. Ryle
Goodness gracious! If there ever were a book wrongly titled it’s this one. I don’t mean that in a negative way, it’s a magnificent read. I say it’s wrongly titled because it’s fitting for more than just young men. Indeed, Christians of all ages could (and should!) pick this one up to read. Classic Ryle, challenging, comforting, enlivening, gripping. Few authors are up to the challenge of actually writing a book that pierces deep within us but this one does it. Conclusion? Christians look far too much like the world. We must be holy. We must live holy. We must follow hard after Christ. Ryle’s small book here will aid you in doing this.
2) Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon
I’m personally not a big fan of daily devotionals. Some of them are good, great even, but sadly most of them just miss the mark for being far too light and trivial. And when it comes to daily Bible reading ‘light and trivial’ is the last thing my soul needs and the last thing the Church needs today. This one does not do that. It’s Spurgeon…everyday…twice a day…and I loved it. In fact my wife and I enjoyed it so much we still read it. Get it. You’ll be glad you did.
1) The Bible
Can there really be another number one? Looking back on 2019 I can say as a fact that I grew in my knowledge of Scripture. That it ran after me and grabbed ahold of me in new ways and for this I am thankful. May my testimony be the same of 2020.
Hope you enjoyed looking over my list for the past year. There are many more books that could be added to this list but overall I think it reflects my year of personal and corporate study. Thoughts? What are your favorite reads of last year? May 2020 bring us many new books and old books that open our eyes to the infinite and everlasting glory of our God!
Money is an interesting topic, isn’t it?
We love to sing about it, we love to use it, and we love to have it. Whether it’s Pink Floyd or the O’Jays singing about money in the 70’s, Notorious BIG singing about more money and more problems in the 90s, Bruno Mars singing about how bad he wants to be a billionaire, or Ariana Grande letting us all know how much money she has by the fact that she sees it, likes it, wants it, or got it, throughout the decades we’re familiar with our pop-culture fixation on money and the things that it can buy.
As long as we’re talking about money in an abstract or glamorous way, everyone’s fine with it. But start talking about our specific use of money, start talking about our giving, let alone start preaching on giving, and it’s a taboo topic on par with the “who’d you vote for” question at Thanksgiving Dinner.
Though the topic of our money and giving can often be an uncomfortable and touchy matter, it is one that Scripture speaks clearly and often on. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that 1 out of every 10 verses in the Gospels is Jesus teaching on money, possessions, or giving. As we zoom out and look at the whole Bible, there are around 500 verses on the topic of prayer, less than 500 verses on the topic of faith, and almost 2,500 verses on the topic of money and possessions.
Because of our draw to possessions and our temptation to idolatry, discontentment, and covetousness, God taught often and clearly on this topic. We’re told to avoid the love of money (1 Tim 6:6-10) and to choose God over money (Luke 16:13), so that we can be generous and ready to given (Matthew 6:2-16) and put our trust in God, not riches (1 Tim 6:17-19). We’re also encouraged to plan and save (Prov 21:20) and to look after the news of our families and others (1 Tim 5:8; Heb 13:16), just to name a few of the things God’s says in His Word about this topic.
As I’ve thought on this topic recently, I want to share with you 7 principles for faithful, godly giving that I think we see in God’s Word.
#1 God sees the topic of our money and our giving as a spiritual matter, an issue relating to our heart, and an issue directly relating to our worship of Him.
One of the key passages to look at to see our money and our giving as a spiritual matter and heart issue are Matthew 6:1-4, 19-21, and 24. In these verses we see Jesus teach on the topic of giving and how we are to give, as well as establishing the principle that we cannot love both God and money. It was this very topic of giving and money that led the rich young ruler not to place his faith in Jesus (Matthew 19). And in Matthew 13, we see Jesus give the parable of the sower, After sowing seeds among 4 different soils, with only the last soil representing the heart that truly comes to Christ and bears fruit in keeping with repentance, we see in verse 22 Jesus commenting on what caused the seed thrown among the thorns to wither and die — The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.
The fact is, you simply cannot read the Bible’s teaching on money, giving, and possessions without recognizing that our money and our giving is a spiritual matter relating to our heart.
#2 God expects and commands us to give
There are numerous commands throughout Scripture that command us as God’s children to be faithful and generous givers. In fact, in Matthew 6, it’s interesting how Jesus begins his teaching on giving there. He begins in Matthew 6:2 by saying, “Thus, WHEN you give.” Not “if” you give, but “when” you give. You see, there was an exception as Jesus is teaching his disciples that of course they’re giving. To think of a non-giving disciple wasn’t even on the radar; it was an oxymoron. His intent, then, was to teach them how to give. Throughout God’s Word, he both expects and commands us to be faithful and generous givers.
#3 God wants us to give for the right reasons
There are numerous wrong reasons that people could give. In Matthew 6:1-4 we see Jesus address the wrong reasons of giving for people’s praise and adoration and simply to boost ourselves. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 we see Paul address the wrong reasons of giving reluctantly and under compulsion. We must make sure, as we think about our use of money and our giving, that we are avoiding the wrong reasons for giving and instead give for the right reasons — with a heart focused on worshipping God in glad, faithful obedience and generosity in our giving.
#4 God reminds us that our giving is ultimately to our all-seeing Heavenly Father
Jesus is clear on this in Matthew 6:3-4. As we give to the local church and as we give to our brothers and sisters in need, our aim and goal should be one thing and one thing only — worshipping God through that sacrificial giving. If that is not our goal, we will give ourselves to sounding the trumpet before us and building ourselves up in the eyes of others. But true Christian giving is content with not a single soul ever knowing how much we gave, because our focus is ultimately on God, and we are content that our all-seeing heavenly Father sees our giving — and that is perfectly sufficient for us.
#5 God teaches that our giving should be done in light of the Incarnation
2 Corinthians 8:8-15 is key here. In these verses, Paul ties our giving to the incarnation and what Jesus did for our sake in taking on human flesh and accomplishing the salvation of His people. Just as our humility should be modeled after the incarnation (Phil 2), so our giving should be done in light of the incarnation — in light of the fact that God the Son, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, gave up everything that was highly His, became poor for our sake, so that through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, we might receive the greatest gift of all through faith and repentance — His righteousness and the right to become children of God.
#6 God teaches that our giving should be in accordance with our means
God has called us to care for ourselves and to care for our families. We simply cannot give everything away and neglect those responsibilities. Nor can we give what we do not have. Rather, we give in accordance with our means. Some have been blessed greatly financially and should praise the Lord for that. Others struggle greatly financially. Whether the rich or the poor widow with two coins, we are to give generously and sacrificially according to our means.
#7 God teaches that Christian giving must be done willingly, freely, and cheerfully
2 Corinthians 9:7 is key here. The Christian should not be browbeaten or guilt into giving to the Lord reluctantly or under compulsion. Rather…
…the Lord loves a cheerful giver, which is what we must be.
…the Lord loves a cheerful giver who sees all that God has blessed him or her with and wants to give back to the Lord out of that abundance.
…the Lord loves a cheerful giver that sees the great sacrifice of Christ and wants to honor and emulate that sacrifice in his or her giving.
…the Lord loves a cheerful giver that sees our giving as a heart issue and wants to examine his or her heart and examine his or her checkbook to see if the use of money corresponds to what they know to be true and biblical.
And…the Lord loves a cheerful giver that sees our giving as an act of worship, whereby we please and honor the Lord by gladly, freely, delightfully, and cheerfully giving to the local church and to others because that is what is honoring to the Lord and what He has called us to do.
May we, as men and women of God, strive to be faithful in our giving as an act of worship of our Great God!
We do what is important to us.
In Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24) we read about a man who is hosting a great banquet and invites many to participate. When the time came for the banquet to begin the man hosting the event sent his servant out to gather all those who were invited. But as we read on, we see that all those invited “began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come'” (18-20). One after the other gave an excuse to why they could not make the great banquet. Why? Something more important to them came up and they attended to it.
In this parable the man hosting the banquet is God, those invited are those who have been given the general gospel call, and the great banquet is heaven.
From this parable we can see two things:
First and foremost, there are many unbelievers who have heard the gospel call and the command to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and yet they have put it off choosing instead to follow that which is most important to them – their sin. I remember as a kid my dad was ministering to a family that attended our church and he asked the family if their eldest son was ready to trust in Jesus. The family told my dad that their son was not ready. He did not desire to give up his sinful lifestyle to follow Jesus. He enjoyed those things too much. They were of greater importance to him than a relationship with Jesus. And this is how it is for so many. They would rather davul in their sin then come to faith and repentance in Jesus. As a result, they miss the Great Banquet, they miss eternity in heaven.
Second, believers can also heed this warning in a different way. So often, believers will make excuses for missing church or youth group, for not spending time with God in prayer or Bible study, or for failing to evangelize and make disciples. Something more important or convenient for them came up. What we do with our time will show what we value most. When presented with the option to sleep in or attend church you will do what you value most. If you find yourself watching TV at night instead of reading your Bible, it reveals your hearts true affections, it shows you what you value most.
We do what is most important to us.
We make time.
We find a way.
If prayer, Bible reading, church attendance (small groups/youth group), discipleship, and evangelism, are important to us then we will make it happen. We all have the same amount of time, the issue is this: are these eternal and most important things a priority for us? Our prayer should be that God would give us hearts that value Him, His Word, and His people above all else.
Or allow me to put it like this: we do what we value most, what is most valuable to you? The answer to that question will reveal much about where your heart truly is.
One thing that I’ve noticed about the Reformed crowd that I am a part of is that we often pray safe prayers. Sure, we pray. Sure, we implore God. Sure, we boldly approach the throne of grace in our time of need. But we often end (or begin) our prayers with phrases that let God “off the hook” or make His not answering easier for us to swallow. Phrases like, “If this is your will, please …” Or, “Please do so and so, but I recognize it may not be in your will to do so.” I don’t know if this is you or not, but I know it has been me in recent times. And the Lord has been using His Word to challenge me to stop praying safe prayers.
I was recently reading through the Gospels and came across statement after statement from Jesus that just didn’t quite square up with the safe prayers I was praying.
- Matthew 21:22 – “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
- Mark 11:24 — “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
- Luke 11:9 — “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
- John 14:13 – “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
And it isn’t just Jesus in the Gospels saying things like this. Later in the New Testament Epistles we see things like:
- James 1:5-6 — “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”
- 1 John 5:14 — “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”
Now to be fair, many of us have experienced the gross and outlandish misinterpretation and misapplication of these passages of Scripture, and so our default position is one of caution. We rightly caution that Jesus is not giving us a carte blanche to get whatever we want in life. We rightly caution that we are not to be presumptuous in our prayers, expecting that God is our magic genie in the bottle, there to fulfill our every wish. We rightly caution that it is not the measure of our faith that causes God to act, but His Sovereign will based on His eternal decree. All of these are good and healthy cautions, and ones that we must keep in the back of our minds and warn new believers of as they may be lured away by the false teachings of our day.
But brothers and sisters, even after all of these right cautions, let us not miss out on the incredible promise given to us by Jesus and the other writers of the New Testament, and the amazing privilege afforded to us to commune with and entreat the God of the universe in prayer. Let us not make the cautions our main focus. Those of us who rightly emphasize the meticulous sovereignty of God in all things must be careful not to downplay, or worse disregard, the words of Jesus concerning prayer. As one preacher put it, we are often guilty of putting the back-of-our-mind cautions (“God may not answer this prayer because it may not be His will”) at the forefront of our mind (“God I’m going to ask you to do this, but I know you probably won’t because it probably isn’t your will.”)
With the utmost focus on the sovereignty of God, and careful attention not to presume upon Him, let us be men and women who pray God-sized prayers. Let us implore Him to move and act in a way that only He can, in a way that is only explainable by the fact that the God of the universe has intervened and acted on our behalf. Let us model the bold prayer of John Knox: “Give me Scotland, or I die.” As Burk Parsons says of Knox’s prayer,
“Knox’s prayer was not an arrogant demand, but the passionate plea of a man willing to die for the sake of the pure preaching of the gospel and the salvation of his countrymen. Knox’s greatness lay in his humble dependence on our sovereign God to save His people, revive a nation, and reform His church. As is evident from his preaching and prayer, Knox believed neither in the power of his preaching nor in the power of his prayer, but in the power of the gospel and the power of God, who sovereignly ordains preaching and prayer as secondary means in the salvation of His people.”
As we prepare to enter into the New Year of 2019, what are the mountains in your life waiting to be moved, by God’s sovereign decree, through the means of your faith-filled prayer? What is your Scotland, for which you earnestly implore the Lord to the point that you would rather die than not see that prayer come to pass.
We aren’t talking here about asking the Lord for health, wealth, and prosperity. We are talking about those things that we know, by virtue of His perfect, sufficient, and inerrant Word, are in accordance with His Will and bring Him honor and glory. We are talking about asking Him for wisdom in a decision that we need to make or in a situation we need to handle, wisdom that would result in our good and His glory. We are talking about asking Him to overcome the hardness of heart in the lives of your neighbors and to enable you to have an inroad to faithfully and boldly proclaim the Gospel in a winsome way. We are talking about imploring Him to work in your marriage to enable you to be a sacrificial husband or a loving, honoring wife, to the end that your marriage would be a beacon to the world of the beauty and truth of the Gospel.
As I ponder some things going on my own life, I am speaking to myself as much as, if not more, than anyone reading this. While this is by no means an exhaustive treatment on the topic of prayer, I want to challenge you, as I challenge myself, to enter into the New Year committed to praying God-sized, unsafe prayers — committed to stop saying safe prayers. May we be men and women who come before the throne of grace with bold faith and expectant hearts, asking God to do what only God can do, that He may receive all praise, honor, and glory.
Widely known for it’s licentiousness and loose living Corinth was one of the chief cities especially suited for sowing wild oats. So many oats were sown that Corinth reaped a widespread reputation for being the epicenter of vice in the 1stcentury. But sadly, within Corinth itself the Church had a worse reputation and to this very day whenever one speaks of the Corinthians the sin of chapter 5 quickly rises to the surface.[i]Why? Not solely because of sexual immorality. No, something worse was allowed to exist among them, something so atrocious that the pagans even blushed at it. Listen to Paul describe the specifics in 5:1, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.”
This man’s mother had most likely died and he was now living with his stepmother who may or may not have already divorced his father because of this sinful relationship.[ii]Whatever the details were there is no doubt about what’s happening here. 5:1 implies that this had been going on for sometime and was still going on at the time Paul wrote this letter to them. In such cases Paul is clear. The Church in Corinth must discipline the wayward man. Listen to 5:2-5, “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”
Yes this man’s sin needs rebuking, but see how Paul calls out the Church in Corinth for how they’ve tolerated this man’s sin and allowed it to exist? This sin should’ve humbled them, shamed them, and brought the Church to repentance but v2 says they were arrogant. Perhaps they justified this man’s sin away saying it was a unique circumstance that required some more thought before any action is taken. Perhaps they saw it as a matter of this man’s Christian liberty to do as he pleased. Perhaps because such stout early Church theologians had taught them they thought God would overlook such things. Notice what Paul’s instruction is. Does he say this man’s membership is to be suspended? Or that this man should be enter into a lengthy counseling program? Or even that this man should be sent off to a rehab center where he can heal and grow. No, none of that is in play here. Paul’s instruction is simple and straightforward. “Let him who has done this be removed from among you…you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh…” On this man Paul has already pronounced the judgment the Church wouldn’t. So, he says, the very next time they assemble together in the name of the Lord Jesus, to worship the Lord Jesus, they are to remove the man who refuses to obey the Lord Jesus. Why? For His own good. To destroy the unruly lusts of his sinful flesh for sure, but more “…so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” If he refuses to obey Christ, the Church can no longer affirm his profession of faith in Christ, which means he must be removed from the Church of Christ for the very purpose of rebuking him, humbling him, bringing him to repentance so that he’ll be saved, in the end, on the day of Christ.
Many think this kind of excommunication is arrogant judgment within the Church that’s inconsistent with love, but it’s in fact the opposite. Love cannot be true where there is no discipline. Hebrews 12:6 tells us “Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines…” Remember, as the Father let his prodigal son wander off with his inheritance to allow the bitter consequences of what he’d chosen be experienced, so too this man in Corinth was to be removed so he’d experience the consequences of his sin.[iii]To not obey the Lord in removing this man who’s not obeying the Lord is also sin against the Lord. The Corinthians apparently weren’t willing to do it, so Paul commanded them to do it, for this man’s own good, in effect saying, ‘Love him in this way.’
Paul goes further. He says the wayward man in view shouldn’t only be removed for his own good, but should be removed for the good of the Church as well. We see this in 5:6-13 where Paul warns them of the effects sin can have when left undealt with.
It’s like pickles…follow me here.
Pickles are to some people what make the sandwich or burger complete, providing that last little garnish that elevates the flavors to their highest potential. These people are wrong and they are not to be trusted. Why take a perfectly good cucumber (or anything for that matter) and drop it into vinegar to make it better? I hate pickles. Not only do they taste awful, they leave a residue that is impossible to remove. For example…once at Chick-Fil-A I ordered a spicy chicken sandwich without pickles. Accidently someone put pickles on it, it was brought to the table, I picked it up and opened it to see if pickles were left off or not (as has become my custom)…and to my dismay they were still there! I knew what was going to happen. As quick as I could I reached down and took them off, cleaned my hands off, and looked back at the bun and saw those two little green circles where the pickle juice had soaked into the bun. It was all over. I ate the sandwich, don’t hear me wrong, but the instant I bit near those circles you could taste and smell the green ooze of pickle juice…it had invaded this perfectly good sandwich.
Sin left undealt with is like pickles, it invades everything in a church.
Paul uses another image, one from the Passover. Like leaven that easily and quickly goes through the whole dough, sin left alone in the congregation eventually effects and impacts the whole congregation. Or to say it another way, sin no one deals with eventually becomes sin that everyone deals with.[iv]What can they do to become pure once again? They must remove the old leaven so they would become a new lump. This is, after all, why Christ the true Passover Lamb was sacrificed – to make His people pure and holy. As Israel was set free from Egypt as a result of the Passover and made a clean break from them, so too the Christian from the work of Christ the Passover Lamb has been set free from the world, the flesh, and devil and because of Christ’s work we are now to make a clean break from the sin that entangles us.[v]If the Corinthians continue in their sinful arrogance they show themselves to be soaked through with the leaven of malice and evil, when they were bought and redeemed and filled with the Spirit of God in order to soak them through with the gospel leaven of sincerity and truth.
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature.” (Hebrews 5:11-14a)
Stacey Irvine ate almost nothing but chicken nuggets for 15 years. She never tasted fruits or vegetables. She occasionally supplemented her diet with French fries. One day her tongue started to swell and she couldn’t catch her breath. She was rushed to the hospital, her airway was forced open, and they stuck an IV in her arm to start pumping in the nutrients she needed. After saving her life, the medical staff sent her home, but not before they warned her that she needed to change her diet or prepare herself for an early death (Story by Kenneth Berding).
Here is a woman who had plenty of opportunity to eat the way she needed to be healthy and strong, but she opted to eat primarily chicken nuggets neglecting the very nutrients she so desperately required. When we read this story we may think to ourselves, “How foolish can someone be? Why wouldn’t she simply mix in some fruits and veggies for a well-rounded diet? Why would she neglect her health in that way?” But before we criticize her let’s take a look at our own lives. We may not be guilty of neglecting the physical nutrients we need, but are we guilty of neglecting ourselves of the spiritual nutrients we need?
In the above verses the author of Hebrews is scolding his readers for their spiritual diet. He is telling them that, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.” His readers ought to be growing in their knowledge of God and in their spiritual maturity. But rather they have neglected the Word of God, becoming spiritually unhealthy.
And if we are not careful, the same could happen to us. We have plenty of opportunity to read God’s Word, go to Bible studies, and to hear sermon’s preached, but so often we neglect these things, becoming spiritually weak. And when we do this we hurt ourselves. We need the nourishment found in God’s Word to grow and thrive in the Christian life.
Paul in Colossians 3 tells the Colossian Christians that they are to “let the word of Christ dwell” in them “richly” and the Psalmist, in Psalm 119, declares that he has “stored up God’s Word in his heart.” And we too, need to be a people who regularly soak up the Word of God. It should be on our minds and in our hearts with regularity. God uses His Word to show us Himself and He uses His Word to transform our hearts and minds. Without it we will not grow, but rather we will be weak and immature in the faith.
Let’s not neglect that which is good for us, but rather let us regularly consume God’s Word for greater enjoyment of Him and greater growth in our Christian walk.
In John 12:24 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Think about those who heard this. Perhaps the Greeks who came in v20-22 heard Jesus say the hour of His glorification had come in v23 and thought it meant something else, that Jesus was about to set up His dominion on the earth and crush Israel’s enemies once and for all. To them, v24 would’ve been confusing and disappointing.[i]‘What? The hour of your glorification has come and you’re speaking of dying?’ What Jesus implicitly stated with the donkey in His triumphal entry He now explicitly states here in an agrarian paradox. For Jesus, the way to fruitfulness lies through death, the way to gain lies through loss, the way to glorification lies through humiliation. Or to say it another way, like the seed whose death is the germination of life for a great crop, so too Jesus’ death produces an abundant harvest.[ii]When you hold a kernel of wheat (or an acorn) in your hand you cannot see all that is in it. It looks rather small and unimpressive but it contains a world of life on the inside. How does all that world of life get out? By the kernel being shoved beneath the ground. Then, and only then, life breaks forth out of it for all to see as new plants burst upward out of the ground. By speaking like this in v24 Jesus is saying that by dying He will bear much fruit. He will be plunged beneath the ground in death and put in the tomb. From the appearance of things this will look very unimpressive and disappointing. But this death will cause the life within Him to burst forth from the grave in resurrection power which in turn causes more resurrection fruit to come forth all over the globe.
v24 is about Jesus and what will soon happen to Him. When Jesus goes on further to v25 He applies this same principle to those who follow Him. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Jesus is saying the way to truly love life is by losing it and the way to truly gain eternal life is by hating our life in this world. This is the cost of discipleship, this is the cost of following Jesus, this is self-denial. This principle is the secret of the Christian life. Spiritually speaking, do you want to be rich? You must become poor in spirit. Do you want to be first? You must be willing to be last. Do you want to lead? You must be willing to serve. Do you want to live? You must be willing to die.[iv]Or perhaps think of it like this. Our conversion is a twofold event. On one hand it is as bright as dawn for we have been born again, raised to walk in new life, filled with the Spirit, and are now adopted children of God. On the other hand it is as dark as night for a death has occurred. Not the death of anyone else, no, the tombstone has our own name on it for our old nature has died. This means our will, our agenda, our plans, our desires, our loves, and ultimately our whole life is over. Someone may think, ‘Well geez, isn’t becoming a Christian by free grace?’ Of course it is, salvation is free indeed, but it costs us everything. Until you come to the end of yourself true life in Christ cannot begin. Are you willing to do this? If not, you have no part with Christ. If so, you’ve learned the secret of the Christian life. That by dying to self and dying to sin you have found out who you really are and discovered your true identity, not in yourself but in Christ.
Many these days are now reading blogs like this and attending healthy churches because they want their theology reformed, but how few want their lives reformed as well! We must learn anew. The character of Christ must also be the character of all those in His Kingdom. Like Jesus, our greatest gain comes by loss.
Lady Jane Grey is a mammoth historical figure in the Protestant Reformation. She, only being a teenager, caught wind of Reformation teaching and began teaching it to others. The local catholic priest heard of this and set up a debate with a catholic theologian to squash efforts and embarrass her, but to everyone’s shock she not only held her own, she presented the teachings of Scripture with such accuracy and fervor that she persuaded more than half in attendance that day. For this she was to be executed. And as the day came she gave her Bible to her sister Katherine with a note inside it that said, “If you with good mind read it, and with earnest desire follow it, no doubt it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life…my good sister…deny the world, defy the devil, despise the flesh, and delight yourself only in the Lord…with whom even in death there is life.”[v]
May God make us more and more like Lady Jane Grey.
1 Peter 3:8-12
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
In today’s post I wanted to take a moment and look at how Peter wrapped up His discussion on living life in a broken world, specifically by focusing on how we as a church should live together. In this way Peter instructs us again how we are to be treating each other in the family of God and our overarching motivation found in the blessing of God. To help us see this Peter encourages each of us to have attitudes, actions, and ambitions, that reflect the life we have been called to live.
In regards to our attitudes verse eight lays out five key attitudes, unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind, that should be easily seen and identified in the church. At the center of this list of attitudes lies the call to brotherly love. It is structurally from this point in the middle of the list that we see the other four turn and move together as one. For Peter the act of loving one another in the church is a key way in which we are able to be sustained in a world that may reject us. The church should be a safe haven for believer to be free from the persecution and hostilities that exist in the world around us. It should be a place where that familial love is common and put on display.
From this familial love we are able to have unified and humble minds. The purpose of these two show us that we as believers should be heading in the same direction with the same goals and theological understanding of who God is and what Christ has done. If we are moving in the same direction and are unified in mind then we will be humble in the means. We won’t expect each other to be clones of one another, but rather we will see each other as walking day by day in the grace of God growing in holiness, and we will seek to encourage and help one other along the way. For from the mind we will engage our emotions showing both sympathy and tender heartedness. We won’t just mentally want one another to grow we will emotional invest in that growth. We will invest in each other’s victories and failures. We will open our lives to one another so that we may as one rejoice and mourn. For the attitude of believers towards one another involves our minds and hearts.
After looking deeply at our attitude Peter quickly turns to our actions. Unlike with our attitudes,Where peter focused on the positive encouragements, with our actions he begins with the negative steps that we fall into daily. Peter reminds us that as believers our actions are supposed to be mirrors of Christ (2:22-24), therefore when people turn on us and revile us we do not respond in kind, nor when evil is raised up against us do we fight back an eye for an eye. No, rather according to the Word of God we return evil with a blessing. Those who would speak evil against us we speak forgiveness over them. Those who would wish to bring evil upon us; we will joyfully seek that the good of God be poured out on them. This is because when Christ was reviled, suffered and was killed, He did not seek their destruction; rather He called out for them to be forgiven. We are called to be a blessing to a dying world, not just through our thoughts but by our actions. Those who would seek us ill must be the primary recipients of the blessing we have received from God, for while we were enemies of His He died for us.
So from our attitudes and actions we see the ambition of a Christian is to love life and see good days, not by human means but by divine mercy. Peter closes this encouragement by quoting Psalm 34 which deals with how we may fear the Lord and grow in holiness. For Peter sees in this Psalm the very encouragement the broken and suffering people of God need to be reminded of, that God is with them and loves them. He has given them the means to walk in holiness and the spirit to accomplish the goal. Therefore, let us turn from evil (repent) and do good. Let us be a people who pursue the peace of God through our attitudes and actions and as we do let us rest faithfully in the knowledge that our prayers are heard and the Lord is with us.
“Revival and reformation are rarely, if ever, wrought by God through one individual, contrary to the impression given by some popular church histories. Collegiality is central to times of spiritual blessing.” Dr. Michael Haykin summarizes well a profound truth that too often becomes lost in the studies of church history. Martin Luther and John Calvin epitomize the Protestant Reformation as the two greater reformers of the church. While the spotlight falls upon them most often, neither of these two giants are to be thought of as isolated figures in their day. Fellow brothers, pastors, students, and theologians surround Luther and Calvin in their lives assisting them and helping them.
The point is that for all of the names that have become familiar to the church in studying church history, it is often incomplete if one believes that a Luther or Calvin did it all alone. This brings us to the subject of William Carey, the father of the Modern Missions Movement. Carey’s name immediately comes to our mind in Baptist history and missional history. Yet, William Carey would be the first man to tell you that he was not alone. William Carey’s mission to India is the fruit of a commitment of “a little band of Baptist pastors” to pray together and commit to each other to see the gospel carried to the ends of the earth.
Behind William Carey, a band of pastors stood with him. Andrew Fuller is the most well-known of the group. Fuller is the pastor-theologian who laid the foundations for revival among the Calvinistic Baptists of England and Wales. How important is it to read Andrew Fuller? C.H. Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, describes Fuller as “the great theologian of his century.” Carey is the most famous, followed by Fuller, but they are not alone. Alongside these men were pastor-theologians like John Ryland, Jr., John Sutcliff, and Samuel Pearce. From the friendship of these men would come the means by which a denomination experiences revitalization and the gospel call goes to a pagan land. These men are not the wealthiest in their denomination. Often times, pastors believe that unless they serve at megachurches, they can have little to no affect. Brother pastors, consider these men as a model for what God can do with a few committed men.
As William Carey encourages the Particular Baptists to go to India, he faces scorn and ridicule from some in the denomination. However, this band of brothers comes together. What will they do? What strategy will they employ to reach the heathens? John Ryland, Jr. shares the strategy:
Brethren, Fuller, Sutcliff, Carey, and I, kept this day as a private fast in my study: read the Epistles to Timothy and Titus…and each prayed twice – Carey with singular enlargement and pungency. Our chief design was to implore a revival of the power of godliness in our own souls, in our churches, and in the church at large.
Does this not seem too simple? Brethren, do you desire to see revival in your heart, in your local church, and in the global church? Do you know pastors that you can pray with, read with, and encourage? Beloved, this is what the Lord uses! He uses that which is weak, insignificant, and simple to expand His kingdom! These were ordinary men. Some of them had a formal education while others were the equivalent of bi-vocational pastors. That did not hinder their fellowship. Haykin describes what these men did this way:
These men took time to think and reflect together, as well as to encourage one another and pray together. An aversion to the same errors, a predilection for the same authors, with a concern for the cause of Christ at home and abroad bound these men together in a friendship that was a significant catalyst for both renewal and revival.
From this band of brothers, hundreds of additional Particular Baptist churches arise at home and the gospel witness comes to India leading to the later ministry of Adoniram Judson and many more. Fuller, Carey, Ryland, Pearce, and Sutcliff model how warm, evangelical Calvinism contribute to revival, reformation, and missions.
Consider the testimony of the 18th Century Particular Baptists: The Lord uses ordinary pastors to further His kingdom! There is a reason Paul continually lists the men and women who help, journey, and support him. The great apostle-missionary did not carry the burdens alone. Neither should you and I. When I consider the band of brothers in my life, the dear men I pastor and company of pastor friends, I feel the sentiments of William Carey. Upon hearing the news eight months later that Andrew Fuller died, Carey wrote Ryland from India these words about Fuller: “I loved him. There was scarcely any other man in England to whom I could so completely lay open my heart.” Brothers, let us remember we are partners, not competitors. Let us have such relationships in our lives. May God form many bands of brothers He uses to bring revival and reformation in this day!
 Michael A.G. Haykin, Ardent Love for Jesus: Learning from the Eighteenth-Century Baptist Revival. (Bryntirion, Wales: Bryntirion Press, 2013), 47.
 John Piper, Andrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission. (Wheaton: Crossway, 21.
 Haykin, 23.
 Ibid., 126.
 Ibid., 49.
 S. Pearce Carey, William Carey. (London: Wakeman Trust, 1993), 314.
In Mark chapter 5 we are introduced to a demon-possessed man running wild in a graveyard (read the story here).
The man could not be held captive. He was so strong that he could break chains and shackles to pieces. He would spend night and day crying out and cutting himself. He had become a real concern to the locals (i.e. trying to bind him) and a danger to himself. Mark chapter 5 begins with Jesus meeting this demon-possessed man face to face.
As soon as the demon-possessed man sees Jesus he bows down at His feet and begs Him to be merciful, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (Mark 5:7). After conversing with the demon-possessed man, Jesus casts out the evil spirits from him and finally the man was at rest. No longer would he have to live in the graveyard crying out night and day in agony. He had been delivered. Jesus rescued this man from his hopeless situation and brought him to his right mind.
After being rescued, naturally, the man desired to go with Jesus and to be with Him. He begged that Jesus would let him come along. The passage tells us, “As He [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled” (Mark 5:18-20).
The man in our passage begged Jesus for something and it was a good something – he wanted to be with Jesus.
But Jesus said “no” to his request.
He denied the man’s request to go with Him and rather told the man to stay where he was and to become a missionary in his hometown. And that is exactly what this man did. He went away and began to proclaim how much Jesus had done for him. The man desired to do one thing, but Jesus had another plan for him. And now the area of Decapolis had a Christian evangelist actively sharing the good news of Jesus. In God’s wisdom, this man’s request was denied so that he could do the work Jesus desired Him to do.
Here’s where this meets you and I.
Youand I may cry out to God with our requests, even good, godly requests, and God may say, “no” to those requests. So often our gracious God answers our prayers with a “yes”, but at times He may respond to our prayers with a “no” or “not right now” and we need to know that in those instances it is for the best. God is by no means required to give us anything in prayer as if it were a conversation between equals. God may have other plans for us. Plans that are much better than we ever could’ve dreamed up. He may be sending us in another direction altogether.
Bottom line: He knows what is best for us and we need to trust Him in that.
When we pray we need to pray, “not my will God, but Yours be done” and trust in that knowing that God’s ways are better than ours.
I’ve reposted the whole below, enjoy!
God reveals himself through his Word. When he speaks, he teaches us what he is like, how he acts, and how he desires us to respond. As a whole, the Bible is about God. It’s about God the Father displaying his glory through God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit.
The Bible is one book made up of 66 books. Each book has a major theme that emphasizes an aspect of God’s character or a way he is working to carry out his perfect plan. What follows is an attempt to capture these themes. These themes are certainly reductionistic and required me to make a few tough choices, but I hope you’ll be helped by considering them.
Bible: God of Jesus
Old Testament: Anticipation
Genesis: God of Promise
Exodus: God of Power
Leviticus: God of Purity
Numbers: God of Perseverance
Deuteronomy: God of Preparation
Joshua: God of the Land
Judges: God of the Rebels
Ruth: God of Redemption
1 Samuel: God of the Heart
2 Samuel: God of the Throne
1 and 2 Kings: God of Israel
1 and 2 Chronicles: God of Judah
Ezra: God of the Temple
Esther: God of the Gallows
Nehemiah: God of the Wall
Job: God of Pain
Psalms: God of Praise
Proverbs: God of Prudence
Ecclesiastes: God of Purpose
Song of Solomon: God of Passion
Isaiah: God of Glory
Jeremiah: God of Weeping
Lamentations: God of Faithfulness
Ezekiel: God of Visions
Daniel: God of History
Hosea: God of the Unfaithful
Joel: God of the Locusts
Amos: God of the Oppressed
Obadiah: God of the Mountain
Jonah: God of Compassion
Micah: God of Justice
Nahum: God of Wrath
Habakkuk: God of Sovereignty
Zephaniah: God of Judgment
Haggai: God of Renewal
Zechariah: God of Restoration
Malachi: God of Worship
Matthew: God of the Jews
Mark: God of the Romans
Luke: God of the Outcast
John: God of the World
Acts: God of Power
Romans: God of Righteousness
1 Corinthians: God of Holiness
2 Corinthians: God of Weakness
Galatians: God of Justification
Ephesians: God of Unity
Philippians: God of Joy
Colossians: God of Preeminence
1 Thessalonians: God of Encouragement
2 Thessalonians: God of Admonishment
1 Timothy: God of Godliness
2 Timothy: God of Endurance
Titus: God of Works
Philemon: God of Reconciliation
Hebrews: God of Fulfillment
James: God of Trials
1 Peter: God of the Persecuted
2 Peter: God of Patience
1 John: God of Love
2 John: God of Truth
3 John: God of Discernment
Jude: God of Protection
Revelation: God of Eternity
I found the process of reflecting on God’s message in each book deeply edifying, and I would enjoy hearing any ways you can improve this list.
Garrett Kell is married to Carrie, and together they have five children. He serves as pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia.
Don Whitney, in his Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, reminds every Christian who is seeking maturity in Christ that “there is simply no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.” Oh, how true that is. The Word of God is irreplaceable in the Christian’s pursuit of personal holiness; there simply is no substitute.
God transforms us by the renewing of our minds—Romans 12:2
God cleansed us by the washing of water with His Word—Ephesians 5:26
God pierces our consciences, discerns our thoughts and intentions of our hearts by His Word—Hebrews 4:12
God draws us to Himself and reveals Himself to us through His Word—Romans 10:17
It is no surprise to those who are pursing Christ that His Word plays an intricate role in our sanctification. But, as students of the Word we (and by we I mean “I”) can get lost in the “meat of Scripture,” as Whitney described it and lose sight of the “milk.” Milk feeds, nourishes, and sustains the infant & the mature alike.
As I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) I was moved by the Holy Spirit and reminded that the academic pursuit of God alone is an exercise in futility.
Let me explain: As a preacher, teacher, and theologian I often approach the Scriptures from that position, recording notes in my Bible like “Your reward should motivate you” (from Matthew 6:20-21). When in reality, my notes should read “My reward should motivate me.” For truly, the Holy Spirit is seeking to transform ME, cleanse ME, pierce ME, and draw ME; milk before meat.
The meat of Scripture, the intellectual pursuit of exegesis & exposition, often take priority in my study & pursuit of the knowledge of God which leads to a spiritual dryness, and understandably so.
So, it was in the milk of Matthew 7:24-25 that the Lord reminded me of who I needed to be and caused me to re-think, re-read, and then apply that which he was teaching me. The Holman Christians Standard reads this way: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock” (emphasis added).
In other words, don’t just hear the Word and not act upon it but rather apply to your life that which is being taught (James 1:22-25 as well). Hear, act upon that which you heard, and you will be firmly established upon The Rock (not Dwayne Johnson), Jesus Christ. I want to be that man.
Profound, huh? Not really…just reality. Milk, not meat, is still needed; even greatly needed. As a dear friend of mine often reminds me, “Our orthopraxy must always match our orthodoxy.” For orthodoxy without orthopraxy is worthless!
May God bless you richly as you apply His Word and thereby glorify Him with your life!