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As a high school student, I went to a two-week worldview experience in the mountains of Colorado Springs called Summit Ministries. I had no idea what I was getting myself in to. Looking back now, over two decades later, I realize that it was one of the most formative faith experiences of my life.
Although there were probably a couple dozen speakers at Summit (who addressed all sorts of worldview issues related to theology, economics, apologetics, science, and more), my favorite was Dr. Jeff Myers. He has since become a good friend of mine, and he is now the president of Summit Ministries, a vital worldview experience for students. Dr. Myers is a popular speaker, the author of many books (including one of my favorites, Handoff), and is one of the most important contemporary voices in the church ...
I don’t like to wait. No, let’s be completely frank: I despise waiting. There is a certain highway in the city where I live that is notorious for snarled traffic, often for a couple of hours on both sides of rush hour. I avoid it like cream of broccoli soup. Every Sunday morning, there are certain members of my family who move at the speed of a glacier in getting ready for worship, and I’m convinced they make less haste on the days I preach. They make me wait, and I don’t like it.
And I am not alone. Fallen humans categorically do not like to wait. We want instant gratification. We want life’s knottiest dilemmas solved in a half hour. Why is it so difficult for sons of Adam to wait? Conventional wisdom says doing absolutely nothing should be easy for us, but it is not.
Over the years, I have learned that waiting on the Lord is one of the most potentially sanctifying (and necessary) aspects of the Christian life. It is one of those glorious “gospel paradoxes” that helps us understand what the LORD told Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Is. 55:8).
We pray in hope, and then we wait on the Lord to answer. A Christian man prays for a job so that he can provide for his family as God has commanded, and then he waits. A mother prays that God will draw her wayward son to himself unto salvation, and then she waits. We pray that God will make our future path clear, and then we wait. We read Matthew 6:34 for a thousandth time for comfort.
We wait, but we don’t surrender to passivity.
The Puritans understood this reality well and developed something of a doctrine of waiting; they referred to it as “God’s school of waiting.” William Carey understood it well. He spent seven years on the mission field before seeing his first convert. Of greater import, the inspired writers understood it well: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:14).
Many seminary students will complete their theological training then do the last thing they anticipated: wait. I snail-mailed or e-mailed more than 200 resumes and suffered through seemingly as many interviews with schools and churches after completing my Ph.D. before leaving Louisville for my first full-time ministry, a pastorate in Alabama. Total wait time: three years. The last year of that period was particularly agonizing as I watched my closest friends take off, one-by-one, like jets off an aircraft carrier, and soar through ministry doors God had opened.
But there I sat, feeling a bit like mold or moss, waiting. But it was for my good.
As difficult as it can be, waiting builds spiritual muscles in a unique manner. My sinful impatience notwithstanding, Isaiah makes this truth clear:
“But they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount with wings as eagles, they shall run and grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.”Lessons from God’s school
What a glorious promise! And yet our discontented hearts find it difficult to wait on God. Still, waiting on the Lord does many good things for us. Waiting:
- Causes us to pray without ceasing. We are needy, and he owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is always faithful, and the outcome of our waiting proves him wholly true.
- Instills in us a clearer understanding that we are creatures absolutely dependent upon our Creator. Though our sinful hearts crave omniscience and omnipotence, we possess neither, and waiting helps us to focus on that reality.
- Increases our faith. After all, does not the writer of Hebrews define faith as “the conviction of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”? (Heb. 11:1). We wait and God works.
- Transfers the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty from the speculative realm to the practical. In waiting, we actually experience God’s lordship in an intimate way.
- Grounds our future in a certain hope. This is Paul’s point in Romans 8:24-25: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” As we wait God instills in us patience, that most elusive of spiritual virtues.
- Reminds us that we live between the times. When Jesus returns, the not yet will collapse into the already, and there will be no more waiting for an answer to desperate prayers. The kingdom will be consummated, and Jesus will set everything right. Until then, we pray and wait and are sanctified by God’s wise process.
- Stamps eternity on our eyeballs. When we bring urgent petitions before the Lord, we wait with expectation, and the city of man in which we live fades in importance as we begin to realize that the city of God is primary. As Jonathan Edwards prayed, “O Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.” Waiting helps to do that. It prioritizes the eternal over the temporal in accord with 2 Corinthians 4:18: “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.”
Though it’s difficult for us to see, waiting, in God’s economy, is for our good. Even our waiting achieves God’s sovereign purposes. And waiting must not paralyze us. It should not delay ministry, even if it’s not what you are presently doing full-time. If you are called to ministry, unleash the gospel where God has planted you, even as you await his providential guidance for the future.
As Paul Tripp puts it, waiting on God is not at all like the meaningless waiting you do at the dentist’s office:
We don’t just wait—we wait in hope. And what does that hope in God look like? It is a confident expectation of a guaranteed result. We wait believing that what God has begun he will complete, so we live with confidence and courage. We get up every morning and act upon what is to come, and because what is to come is sure, we know that our labor in God’s name is never in vain. So we wait and act. We wait and work. We wait and fight. We wait and conquer. We wait and proclaim. We wait and run. We wait and sacrifice. We wait and give. We wait and worship. Waiting on God is an action based in confident assurance of grace to come.
I pray that God will sanctify my impatience. After all, isn’t that the word that really describes our distaste for waiting? Perhaps it really is a sign of God’s love for me that I seem to find the rush hour traffic jam virtually every day.
In our day, wherever it is found, the fruits of intellectual inquiry grow from the conviction that there is such a thing as truth out there to discover. Take an axe to the existence of truth and you no longer have education, you have propaganda. Ideologies that deny the very possibility of truth can be found in many (thankfully, not all) fields of education. In the quip of postmodern philosopher, Richard Rorty, truth is simply a matter of whatever your colleagues will let you get away with saying. With no truth to seek and discover, we are left with only social constructs to endlessly dream up and deconstruct. In the words of one lamenting Harvard graduate, “The freedom of our day is the freedom to devote ourselves to any values we please, on the mere condition that we do not believe them to be true." When the very idea of truth is considered so out-of-fashion, schools gradually turn from the pursuit of knowledge to the business of data transfer, indoctrination, and diploma-printing ...
The world is such an uncertain place. We are awash in political, economic, even religious uncertainty. Currents of circumstances crisscross one another in endless complications. Terra firma is difficult ground to find in these days of turbulent turmoil. It seems the one certainty in every area of life is uncertainty.
It was that way in April 1521, when Luther’s ramshackle cart wobbled its way to Worms, Germany. He had been summoned to appear before the emperor and Catholic prelates to give an account of this new “heresy” he was teaching called “justification by faith alone.” The learned Johann Eck laid out all of Luther’s writings and then asked Luther if he was prepared to recant.
Luther retired to his room that night. His Bible fell open to Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change…. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”
Luther returned the next morning to stand before his Catholic detractors. In response to their call to recant, Luther responded, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
The Reformation was off and running.
Psalm 46 was Martin Luther’s favorite psalm. During the dark and dangerous periods of the Reformation, Luther would turn to his trusted friend Philip Melanchthon and exclaim: “Let’s sing the 46th Psalm, and let the devil do his worst!” It inspired his great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
No psalm in all the psalter expresses the tremendous truth that God’s presence and power are with us in all circumstances more than Psalm 46. We need to know God offers us two kinds of help: a stronghold into which we can flee and a source of strength by which we can face the uncertain future.
Psalm 46 is divided into three stanzas, each ending with the mysterious Hebrew word “Selah.” “Selah” was most likely originally a musical notation indicating a pause in the music for contemplation on what was just sung. You might translate it, “Pause and think of that!” When the mountains quake, the Lord is my refuge and strength … Selah! When nations are in uproar and kingdoms fall, the Lord Almighty is with us … Selah! Be still and know that I am God … the Lord Almighty is with us … Selah!
Every new year brings us 365 days of uncertainty. Every new day brings us 24 hours of uncertainty. But every second of every hour of every day, God’s presence and power in our lives is available to us. What does the future hold? It really doesn’t matter, does it, as long as Psalm 46 is true! HIS KINGDOM IS FOREVER! So every day, reflect on Psalm 46, or any passage of Holy Writ, and Selah—pause and think of that!
... Kids today are surrounded by a secularized society that bombards them with advertising, television, and social media messages. Parents are juggling demanding careers and family life in light of societal pressures to be more, do more, and have more. Our good intentions of helping, protecting, and providing for our kids can quickly turn to enabling or even disabling them.
How do we help our kids grow into mature Christ followers without falling into the trap of enabling or disabling them? ...
Hello Dr. Craig,
Today I stumbled upon a few online articles that reported that the stone the Jesus was laid upon after his burial was found. This stone was released from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. National Geographic reported that they can now uncover more information about Jesus' death and burial. Then I saw a linked article that said that they bible is "wrong" about Jesus' death and burial. How well established are the biblical facts of Jesus' death and burial? ...
A few months ago, our elders preached through a series on the church. The penultimate message addressed the important, often misunderstood topic of church discipline. Expounding on Matthew 18, Jamie McBride, articulated a vision of church discipline that is compassionate, convictional, church-building, and Christ-centered.
Jamie considered five faulty objections that are often used against church discipline. Jamie answered these objections in his sermon. And I will seek to answer them here, drawing on many of his biblical insights.Five common objections to church discipline 1. “It’s none of my business.”
In our hyper-individualistic culture, we are accustomed to passing by the plights of others. In the church, however, we cannot simply ignore the needs of others. We are not a restaurant that gives out biblical teaching and communion wafers. We are a family, a household of God, brothers and sisters committed to Christ and one another. We are not like Cain who mocked, “Am I my brothers keeper?” We are our brother’s keeper.
Therefore, when sin enters the church, we cannot say, “It’s none of my business.” We are called to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:1–2) and to confront sin when we see it appearing in the words and actions our fellow church members. This is the point of Matthew 18:10–14 (the passage preceding Jesus’ directives about church discipline): It is God’s will that none of his little ones should perish. Each step of church discipline brings this desire into action. And thus loving Christians can never say: “It’s none of my business.”2. “I don’t want to cause a problem.”
This objection to church discipline sounds so noble, so humble. It is anything but. A dentist who always gives a clean bill of health— “No cavities. Again.”— is not good; he’s dangerous. A housing inspector who turns a blind eye to termite damage in the rafters is inviting residential collapse. So too, the church or church member who refuses to address sin is not making peace; they are insuring that the Satan’s warfare will succeed.
Addressing sin with gospel truth and loving rebuke is not causing a problem. It is aiming to fix a problem. Sin is the problem and love-driven, Christ-centered, repentance-seeking church discipline is the solution. The church should be a place where weak believers are protected from the lies of Satan and where the poison of sin can be leeched from infected lives. In this way, it is patently unloving and untruthful to avoid church discipline (at any stage) because “it causes a problem.”3. “I’m not supposed to judge others.”
This is the most biblical objection when it comes with a proof text: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). If any verse defines our culture today, it’s this one. And countless Christians have adopted the mentality which says “Who am I to judge? I’m a sinner too.” But this misses Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:1–5, which calls for Christians to examine their own hearts (“remove the log from your own eye”) so that they can perform spiritual surgery on others (“remove the splinter from another’s eye”). In other words, Jesus’ command doesn’t teach heartless passivity, but humble proactivity.
It is not judgmental to confront those who break God’s law. It’s loving. It is judgmental to condemn others by the laws and traditions we make. Church discipline aims to rescue others from judgment; it seeks reconciliation and forgiveness. Matthew records Jesus’ parable about forgiveness right after Jesus’ speaks about church discipline (Matt. 18:21–35), because the goal of discipline is restoration, not condemnation.4. “I can’t address the sins of another.”
Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” This translation follows the later MSS. Earlier manuscripts do not include “against you.” The wrong implication by including “against you” is that if someone has not sinned directly against me, I can let it go.
However, this passivity does not hold up. James 5:19–20 and Jude 22–23 call Christians to “bring back” erring brothers and “save others snatching them out of the fire,” respectively. Therefore, the best manuscript evidence for Matthew 18 and the overarching teaching of the New Testament is that we pursue others—especially members of the church (who have entrusted themselves to the care of the church). It is unloving and unbiblical to say, “I can’t address the sins of another.”5. “I just want to be loving.”
Some object to church discipline because it feels so unloving. And yet, it is just the opposite. As Jonathan Leeman explains in his excellent book The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, church discipline is only perceived as unloving when we have an unbiblical understanding of love. Yet, when we define love by the cross of Christ, the place where God’s wrath was poured out in full, we learn that true love judges (sin), hates (evil), and disciplines.
Scripture couldn’t be more clear. The father disciplines those sons whom he loves (Prov. 3:11–12; Heb. 12:5–11); the children of God obey the one whom they love (1 John 5:1–3). In contrast to the world which says love is free to do as it pleases, biblical love obeys the laws of God (John 14:15, 21).
Love is never set against law; just the opposite. The law commands love (Lev. 19:18; Gal. 5:14), and love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8–10). Moreover, love ceases to be love when it ignores justice: “Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). In this, the most loving thing we can do is point people to Jesus or help them walk in obedience to him. The objection “I just want to be loving” turns out to be one of the most unloving things a Christian can do.Love disciplines
In the end, church discipline is not only biblical, it is loving. Indeed, nothing could be more loving than prayerfully, compassionately correcting an erring brother or sister. God honors such endeavors and has often preserved the souls of his sheep through the vigilant watch-care of a local church. Indeed, this is what the church is for.
We are not a spiritual interest group who enjoys a hearty potluck after a good sermon. We are a people called out of darkness to walk in the light of his love. We have fellowship with God and one another as we abide in him. And when that fellowship is destroyed by sin, love compels us to sacrifice ourselves in order to discipline others. This is what love looks like. And because it is so foreign to us today, we must continue to let Scripture inform our minds and transform our hearts.
May God help us love . . . and when circumstances necessitate, discipline from hearts compelled by Christ’s love to see others love God through repentance and obedient faith.
In recent years, I have been helped in my study of the Bible by employing an informal distinction between “biblical necessities” and “theological explanations.” Of all the classes I teach at Talbot/Biola, this distinction has been most helpful to students taking a class I teach called Pauline Theology: Romans. Since some of my students have benefitted from this distinction, I thought you might appreciate reading about it today.
A biblical necessity is a truth that you find yourself compelled to affirm after a careful reading of Scripture that pays attention to the appropriate literary, historical, and canonical contexts. You may not know how to explain all the what-abouts of the subject, but you cannot get around the fact that this particular teaching seems clearly supported by Scripture. The thing that you must affirm after a careful and contextual reading of Scripture is a biblical necessity ...
This goal of this blog is for me to soak up wisdom from my father and share it with you. I have been blessed to have an incredibly influential father, Josh McDowell. He has written over 150 books and spoken to more young people live than anyone in history. But what I appreciate most about my father is his love for my mom, for his kids, and now for his many grandkids. Enjoy! ...