Seminary Blog

Bible Reading in the Marriage of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 05/17/2017 - 16:17

On Sunday evening, March 18, 1855, Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892) looked to his Bible and declared in his sermon: “If these words were written by a man, we might reject them; but O let me think the solemn thought, that this book is God’s handwriting — that these words are God’s!”[1] For Spurgeon it was beyond the pale of sound reasoning for anyone to reject God’s words. He was not alone in those convictions; his wife Susannah (1832 – 1903) also believed in the divine authorship of Scripture. Reflecting on John 14:27, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,”[2] Susannah asserted that those “tender words” were words of “Jesus Christ himself, my gracious Lord and Master, who thus speaks, and I shall do well to ponder every weighty sentence as I listen to his loving voice.”[3] For Susannah, the words of Scripture were “the loving voice” of Jesus Christ. Hearing Scripture as the very voice of God formed the foundation of Charles and Susannah’s marriage.

Charles Spurgeon’s views about the Bible and marriage were cultivated in him from childhood by his grandparents and parents. Susannah Thompson was also raised in a Christian home and regularly heard biblical preaching at London’s prominent Baptist congregation, New Park Street Chapel. While attending a special service at the nearby Poultry Chapel, Susannah was converted. She described her conversion as, “the dawning of the true light of my soul.”[4] Following that experience, however, she fell into a season of spiritual decline.

Shortly after Charles began his London ministry in the spring of 1854, he learned of Susannah’s spiritual struggles, and he took a pastoral interest in her. He provided her with a copy of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress as an aid to her spiritual growth.[5] He inscribed the book: “Miss Thompson, with desires for her progress in the blessed pilgrimage.”[6] Charles and Susannah’s friendship deepened and on August 2, 1854, they were engaged. Susannah “knelt before God and praised and thanked Him … for His great mercy in giving me the love of so good a man.”[7] 

As Charles busied himself with ministry, he also facilitated Susannah’s spiritual growth. One example is evident in his enlistment of her to read from the writings of the Puritan Thomas Brooks and to note salient quotes. Susannah’s findings were compiled for Spurgeon’s book, Smooth Stones Taken From Ancient Brooks. Susannah wrote that behind the compilation of Smooth Stones is a “sweet love-story” that “hides between the pages.”[8] 

Spurgeon also recognized the gift of Susannah to his own spiritual development as indicated by his requests for her prayers. He believed that her prayers would promote his “usefulness, and holiness, and happiness.”[9] Charles and Susannah were married on January 8, 1856 in a wedding ceremony that reflected their deepest convictions, rich in Scripture readings and proclamation.

The New Park Street Chapel was inadequate to hold the crowds who flocked to hear Spurgeon preach. Therefore, until larger more permanent facilities were secured, church leaders leased the nearby Surrey Gardens Music Hall for worship services. At the first service, (October 19, 1856) with thousands crowding the hall, seven people were trampled to death as mischief-makers cried “fire, fire.” A deacon rushed to Spurgeon’s home to deliver the tragic news to Susannah. Later, describing the experience, Susannah wrote: “I wanted to be alone, that I might cry to God in this hour of darkness and death.”[10] Charles was deeply shaken by the tragedy. However, his recovery was precipitated while reflecting on Scripture during a walk with Susannah. Turning to his wife he urged, “Oh, Wifey, I see it all now! Praise the Lord with me.”[11] Insightfully, Susannah framed a print of Matthew 5:11 and hung it on their bedroom wall for her husband’s daily reading and encouragement.[12] Susannah’s godliness helped Charles to weather the storm.

Charles Spurgeon’s philosophy of Bible reading provides the reasoning for how he and Susannah employed Scripture intake and prayer in their marriage. Spurgeon believed that the Bible should be read carefully, meditatively, and prayerfully. Though Spurgeon urged his congregation to read the Bible directly he also encouraged the use of study aids to assist in their understanding of Scripture. For Spurgeon, it was of utmost importance to see the relation between every passage and Christ. Spurgeon referred to this as finding the “spiritual meaning of the text.”[13] 

On January 31, 1892, at 11:05 p.m., Charles Spurgeon died in his room at the Hotel Beau Rivage in Mentone, France.[14] Susannah, his wife of thirty-six years, was by his bedside. She bowed her head and “thanked the Lord for the precious treasure so long lent to her, and sought, at the throne of grace, strength and guidance for the future.”[15] 

For Charles and Susannah Spurgeon, Bible intake and prayer characterized the beginning of their marriage and supported them through a lifetime of challenges. Their marriage, grounded in Scripture, faithful in prayer, was, in every way, “a spiritual partnership.”[16] 

ENDNOTES

[1] C.H. Spurgeon. “The Bible.” In The New Park Street Pulpit, Pilgrim ed. reprint Vol. 1. (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1975), 111.

[2] Susannah quoted from The King James Version.

[3] Susannah Spurgeon and Charles Ray. Free Grace and Dying Love: Morning Devotions. (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 64. Included in the Banner of Truth edition is The Life of Susannah Spurgeon by Charles Ray. When citing the second part of the book, it will be noted simply as, Life.

[4] C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography: Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife, and His Private Secretary, Reprint in 2 vols. (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1992), 2:6.

[5] Bunyan lived from 1628 – 1688. He wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress; published in 1678. Spurgeon’s initial reading of The Pilgrim’s Progress was around age six and he continued to read Bunyan’s masterpiece throughout his life, totaling some 100 times before he died.

[6] C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:6-7.

[7] C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:9.

[8] C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:19.

[9] C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:26.

[10] Charles Ray, Life, 164-66.

[11] Charles Ray, Life, 167.

[12] Charles Ray, Life, 168-9.

[13] This paragraph is deduced from Spurgeon’s sermon, “How to Read the Bible” from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim ed. Vol. xxv. (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1980), 625-636.

[14] Spurgeon often retreated to this hotel in Mentone seeking physical recovery and rest.

[15] C. H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, 4:371.

[16] Ernest W. Bacon, Spurgeon: Heir of the Puritans (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1968), 45.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

One Man and One Woman: The Created Order and the Problem of Same-Sex Marriage

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 05/17/2017 - 15:29

The debate and tension over homosexuality has reached new levels in our modern society. After decades of work by activists, the governmental approval of same-sex marriage looks to be in the near future, and many feel will soon become a constitutional right for the homosexual community. Unfortunately, the Church itself has lost some in the winds of cultural change, and appears will lose many more if same-sex marriage becomes a constitutional right. With so much cultural change occurring, it has forced us to ask the hard question: is same-sex marriage wrong?

Same-sex marriage is fallacious based on its inability to fulfill the three main purposes of marriage as revealed in the created order. In looking at a small selection of verses from Genesis 1 and 2, we see that God designed marriage for one man and one woman to join together in a union for the purposes of procreation, complementarity, and reflection of the image of God. Though many on the other side of the debate may be dismissive of any argument constructed mostly from the Bible, Christians should uphold the priority of the biblical witness in this debate. We must also remember that simply because unbelievers discredit our use of the Bible as a foundation for our view, this does not invalidate the foundation of Scripture as a platform for argumentation. As one author puts it, “If Scripture is the norm that is not normed by any other norm, then we cannot set homosexuality aside as an issue of moral indifference.”

MARRIAGE FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROCREATION

From the beginning of Genesis, we see that God had an intended purpose for his creation. He wasn’t like a child playing with Play- Doh, molding the clay based on a creative whim; he was the omnipotent Creator who had very specific reasons and purposes for his Creation, especially for the human race. We see in Genesis 1:27-28, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.” It is evident that one major purpose of marriage is procreation. God made man and woman to join in marriage in order to carry out this goal. Kevin DeYoung rightly asserts, “[Only] two persons of the opposite sex can fulfill the procreative purposes of marriage.” Same-sex couples cannot fulfill this procreative purpose given by God.

Even though procreation is an important purpose of marriage it is not the only purpose. Sam Allberry writes, “Procreation is not the sole purpose of marriage (those unable to have children are no less married because of that), but it is clear that procreation is intended to be rooted in marriage.” Elevating procreation as the sole purpose actually harms marriages, making the validity of marriage based solely on the ability to have children. Stephen F. Noll writes, “It was an error of earlier ‘natural law’ teaching to see procreation as the obvious essence of marriage, thus making the marital relationship and act instrumental to the end of procreation.” While it is important to remember that procreation is not the sole purpose of marriage, it is a core facet. There is no refuting the fact that — biologically speaking — men and women are hard-wired for procreation through heterosexual marriages. However, if evangelicals wield the “procreation argument” as their primary argument, they must practice it in their own marriages.

MARRIAGE FOR THE PURPOSE OF COMPLEMENTARITY

The second purpose of marriage established in the creative order is the complementarity of a man and a woman. Thomas Schmidt asserts, “[Male] and female are necessary counterparts.” In Genesis 2:18 reveals, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” When God created woman, he created another human who would complement the man in many ways. Schmidt writes, “The Genesis narrative affirms that male and female are different in correspondence to one another such that their union constitutes a completion.” This complementarity is not merely physical, but can only be achieved by humbling seeking union with one’s spouse (of the opposite gender).

In a discussion regarding the complementary nature of heterosexual marriage, one must address the reciprocal sexual desire that men have for women and that women have for men. Our sexual desire was created by God — more specifically — it was created to be enjoyed and expressed in a heterosexual relationship. In Genesis 2:23-24, the man saw his wife and desired her because she was different from the animals and different than he; there was a clear desire for a being that was a complement to him. This sexual desire between a man and a woman is what bonds them together and connects them intimately together to form one union. DeYoung calls this is a “reunion.” It is a reunion because the woman was made from man to be his complement. Sexuality and sexual union between a man and a woman is more than just fulfillment of sexual desire, it is something that unites us with our spouse and with God. Kathy Rudy writes, “Undergirding complementarity is the idea that God intends men and women to unite sexually, and that such sexual unions bring the couple into a sense of wholeness and closeness to God.” Rudy goes on to say, “Complementarity also leads to direct criticism of homosexuality. If male and female together signifies relationship with God and salvation, homosexuality becomes a symbol of everything the Christian is not.”

MARRIAGE FOR THE PURPOSE OF REFLECTING THE IMAGE OF GOD

Finally, we can see from the created order that God designed man and woman to be joined together in marriage with the purpose of reflecting His image. Genesis 1:27-28a says, “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them.” Man and woman were created to join together in marriage to mirror the Triune God. Erwin Lutzer writes, “Marriage brings a unity that is unlike anything else on this earth; indeed, it represents a unity found only in heaven — in God Himself !” The Trinitarian God of the Bible, who has revealed Himself as three persons in one being, is the God who created man and woman to bear offspring. This familial unit, created by God, is the only way to express the profundity of the Trinity in a creaturely way. A same-sex marriage does not have the capability to reflect the unity and diversity inherent in the Trinity. A same-sex marriage would simply model a reflection of a unitarian God — a God of unity in similarity. Only in a heterosexual marriage can the purpose of reflecting the image of the Trinitarian God be fulfilled.

CONCLUSION

Same-sex marriage violates the created order intended by God in the creation accounts of Genesis. For that reason, those wishing to affirm the veracity and consistency of Scripture, can only logically affirm marriage defined as between one man and one woman. Various texts from Genesis 1 and 2 indicate that God created marriage as an institution of a man and a woman to fulfill the purposes of procreation, complementarity, and reflecting the image of the Triune God. First, we saw that from a biological standpoint God created marriage for the purpose of procreation. Same-sex marriages are incapable of producing children on their own, which leads us to reject this union between two people of the same sex. Secondly, complementarity should be considered as a primary facet of marriage. The creation account shows that God intended to create Eve as a “suitable helper” for Adam. This simple declaration of God reveals that the animals were not “suitable” and another man was not “suitable” for Adam. Both of these together reveal that there is some sort of fulfillment that belongs to the role of women, not just in the physical sense, but in all senses, and vice versa. The final purpose of marriage, as it was originally created, is to reflect the image of the Triune God. Same-sex marriage cannot reflect the unity in diversity of the Trinity, which means that it cannot properly fulfill its purpose of reflecting the image of God. This can only be done through the creation of the familial unit of a husband, a wife, and their offspring.

Though the winds of culture are drastically tossing about many in the Church, no matter what the courts rule, we must stand firm in our defense of traditional marriage between a man and a woman. This was God’s original design and purpose, and we should humbly reflect that design and purpose in the life of the Church.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 05/17/2017 - 15:21

A declaration from a coalition of evangelical leaders assembled by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, June 26, 2015

As evangelical Christians, we dissent from the court’s ruling that redefines marriage. The state did not create the family, and should not try to recreate the family in its own image. We will not capitulate on marriage because biblical authority requires that we cannot. The outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage represents what seems like the result of a half-century of witnessing marriage’s decline through divorce, cohabitation, and a worldview of almost limitless sexual freedom. The Supreme Court’s actions pose incalculable risks to an already volatile social fabric by alienating those whose beliefs about marriage are motivated by deep biblical convictions and concern for the common good.

The Bible clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman. From Genesis to Revela- tion, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity of man and woman. This truth is not negotiable. The Lord Jesus himself said that marriage is from the beginning (Matt. 19:4-6), so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel, which marriage mysteriously reflects (Eph. 5:32). The Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage demonstrates mistaken judgment by disregarding what history and countless civilizations have passed on to us, but it also represents an aftermath that evangelicals themselves, sadly, are not guiltless in contributing to. Too often, professing evangelicals have failed to model the ideals we so dearly cherish and believe are central to gospel proclamation.

Evangelical churches must be faithful to the biblical witness on marriage regardless of the cultural shift. Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic. This is not new in the history of the church. From its earliest beginnings, whether on the margins of society or in a place of influence, the church is defined by the gospel. We insist that the gospel brings good news to all people, regardless of whether the culture considers the news good or not.

The gospel must inform our approach to public witness. As evangelicals animated by the good news that God offers reconciliation through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, we commit to:

  • Respect and pray for our governing authorities even as we work through the democratic process to rebuild a culture of marriage (Rom. 13:1-7);
  • Teach the truth about biblical marriage in a way that brings healing to a sexually broken culture;
  • Affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including lgbt persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect;
  • Love our neighbors regardless of whatever disagreements arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about marriage;
  • Live respectfully and civilly alongside those who may disagree with us for the sake of the common good;
  • Cultivate a common culture of religious liberty that allows the freedom to live and believe differently to prosper. 

The redefinition of marriage should not entail the erosion of religious liberty. In the coming years, evangelical institutions could be pressed to sacrifice their sacred beliefs about marriage and sexuality in order to accommodate whatever demands the culture and law require. We do not have the option to meet those demands without violating our consciences and surrendering the gospel. We will not allow the government to coerce or infringe upon the rights of institutions to live by the sacred belief that only men and women can enter into marriage.

The gospel of Jesus Christ determines the shape and tone of our ministry. Christian theology considers its teachings about marriage both timeless and unchanging, and therefore we must stand firm in this belief. Outrage and panic are not the responses of those confident in the promises of a reigning Christ Jesus. While we believe the Supreme Court has erred in its ruling, we pledge to stand steadfastly, faithfully witnessing to the biblical teaching that marriage is the chief cornerstone of society, designed to unite men, women, and children. We promise to proclaim and live this truth at all costs, with convictions that are communicated with kindness and love.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Goodness Is Good for Us

Talbot School of Theology - Wed, 05/17/2017 - 12:00

One summer, I drove from my parent’s home in New Jersey to where I was working in Minnesota. Somewhere in Indiana, I saw the all too familiar flashing lights of a state trooper. I was speeding, and I knew it. I was going sixty-eight in a fifty-five zone. I had a pit in my stomach. I hated the fact that I was caught. Not only does the speeding ticket cost money, but my ego took a hit as well. I was resentful. I don’t like being in the wrong. More than that, I hate being held accountable when I am wrong ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Muslim Worldview

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 05/17/2017 - 11:12
The Detroit 10/40 Conference is being held this Thursday and Friday in Hamtramck, MI. I had a chance during the pre-conference this week to give a talk addressing the importance of recognizing and evaluating worldviews when sharing the gospel and offering some thoughts specifically on the Muslim worldview. Often we struggle with communicating the gospel... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

Why So Many Churches Hear So Little of the Bible

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 15:29

“It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out.” That stunningly clear sentence reflects one of the most amazing, tragic, and lamentable characteristics of contemporary Christianity: an impatience with the Word of God.

The sentence above comes from Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today in an essay entitled, “Yawning at the Word.” In just a few hundred words, he captures the tragedy of a church increasingly impatient with and resistant to the reading and preaching of the Bible. We may wince when we read him relate his recent experiences, but we also recognize the ring of truth.

Galli was told to cut down on the biblical references in his sermon. “You’ll lose people,” the staff member warned. In a Bible study session on creation, the teacher was requested to come back the next Sunday prepared to take questions at the expense of reading the relevant scriptural texts on the doctrine. Cutting down on the number of Bible verses “would save time and, it was strongly implied, would better hold people’s interest.”

As Galli reflected, “Anyone who’s been in the preaching and teaching business knows these are not isolated examples but represent the larger reality.”

Indeed, in many churches there is very little reading of the Bible in worship, and sermons are marked by attention to the congregation’s concerns, not by an adequate attention to the biblical text. The exposition of the Bible has given way to the concerns, real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the imposed authority of congregational concerns.

As Mark Galli notes:

It has been said to the point of boredom that we live in a narcissistic age, where we are wont to fixate on our needs, our wants, our wishes, and our hopes—at the expense of others and certainly at the expense of God. We do not like it when a teacher uses up the whole class time presenting her material, even if it is material from the Word of God. We want to be able to ask our questions about our concerns, otherwise we feel talked down to, or we feel the class is not relevant to our lives.

And Galli continues:

It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out. Don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible, we tell our preachers, but be sure to get to personal illustrations, examples from daily life, and most importantly, an application that we can use.

The fixation on our own sense of need and interest looms as the most significant factor in this marginalization and silencing of the Word. Individually, each human being in the room is an amalgam of wants, needs, intuitions, interests, and distractions. Corporately, the congregation is a mass of expectations, desperate hopes, consuming fears, and impatient urges. All of this adds up, unless countered by the authentic reading and preaching of the Word of God, to a form of group therapy, entertainment, and wasted time—if not worse.

Galli has this situation clearly in his sights when he asserts that many congregations expect the preacher to start from some text in the Bible, but then quickly move on “to things that really interest us.” Like . . . ourselves?

One of the earliest examples of what we would call the preaching of the Bible may well be found in Nehemiah 8:1-8 (ESV):

And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

Ezra and his companions stood on a platform before the congregation. They read the scriptural text clearly, and then explained the meaning of the Scripture to the people. The congregation received the Word humbly, while standing. The pattern is profoundly easy to understand: the Bible was read and explained and received.

As Hughes Oliphant Old comments, “This account of the reading of the Law indicates that already at the time of the writing of this text there was a considerable amount of ceremonial framing of the public reading of Scripture. This ceremonial framing is a witness to the authority of the Bible.” The reading and exposition took place in a context of worship as the people listened to the Word of God. The point of the sermon was simple: “to make clear the reading of the Scriptures.”

In many churches, there is almost no public reading of the Word of God. Worship is filled with music, but congregations seem disinterested in listening to the reading of the Bible. We are called to sing in worship, but the congregation cannot live only on the portions of Scripture that are woven into songs and hymns. Christians need the ministry of the Word as the Bible is read before the congregation such that God’s people—young and old, rich and poor, married and unmarried, sick and well—hear it together. The sermon is to consist of the exposition of the Word of God, powerfully and faithfully read, explained, and applied. It is not enough that the sermon take a biblical text as its starting point.

How can so many of today’s churches demonstrate what can only be described as an impatience with the Word of God? The biblical formula is clear: the neglect of the Word can only lead to disaster, disobedience, and death. God rescues his church from error, preserves his church in truth, and propels his church in witness only by his Word—not by congregational self-study.

In the end, an impatience with the Word of God can be explained only by an impatience with God. We all, both individually and congregationally, neglect God’s Word to our own ruin.

As Jesus himself declared, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

 

This article originally appeared at AlbertMohler.com. Used by permission.

Mark Galli, “Yawning at the Word,” Christianity Today [online edition], posted November 5, 2009. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/novemberweb-only/144-41.0.html

Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Volume 1: The Biblical Period (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2007).

 

 

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Bring the Bible Home to Your Heart

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 15:17

We all want to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).

Who wants to feel the failure or share in the shame of being pegged like one “who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror . . . and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23–24)? It would seem like Bible application is an essential spiritual discipline to consciously pursue every time we encounter God’s word — but that depends on how we define “application.”

The key question we need to answer is what effect should regular Bible intake have on our hearts and lives — and how does it happen?

God’s Word Is for You

For starters, we should be clear that aiming to apply God’s words to our lives is grounded in the good instinct that the Bible is for us. Optimism about life application makes good on these amazing claims that all the Scriptures are for Christians:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and 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” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

“Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. . . . [T]hey were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).

“Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

The whole Bible is for the whole church. We have good Scriptural warrant to come to God’s words expecting them to be understandable and applicable. We should make good on Puritan preacher Thomas Watson’s counsel,

Take every word as spoken to yourselves. When the word thunders against sin, think thus: “God means my sins;” when it presseth any duty, “God intends me in this.” Many put off Scripture from themselves, as if it only concerned those who lived in the time when it was written; but if you intend to profit by the word, bring it home to yourselves: a medicine will do no good, unless it be applied. (Spiritual Disciplines, 57)

Yes, take every word as spoken to yourself, with this essential anchor in place: Seek to understand first how God’s words fell on the original hearers, and how it relates to Jesus’s person and work, and then bring them home to yourself. Expect application to your life as God speaks to us today through the Spirit-illumined understanding of what the inspired human author said to his original readers in the biblical text.

Specific Applications for Every Day?

So then, is it right to think of “application” as an everyday means of God’s grace? Is this a spiritual discipline to be pursued with every Bible encounter? The answer is yes and no, depending on what we mean by application.

Some good teachers have claimed that every encounter with God’s word should include at least one specific application to our lives — some particular addition, however small, to our daily to-do list. There is a wise intention in this: pressing ourselves not just to be hearers of God’s word, but doers. But such a simplistic approach to application overlooks the more complex nature of the Christian life — and how true and lasting change happens in a less straightforward way than we may be prone to think.

It helps to acknowledge that the vast majority of our lives are lived spontaneously. More than 99% of our daily decisions about this and that happen without any immediate reflection. We just act. Our lives flow from the kind of person we are — the kind of person we have become — rather than some succession of timeouts for reflection.

And this is precisely the line along which the apostle prays for his converts. He asks not that God give us simple obedience to a clear to-do list of commands, but that he give us wisdom to discern his will as we encounter life’s many choices coming at us without pause. Paul prays

  • that we would be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
  • that our love may “abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent” (Philippians 1:9–10).
  • that we “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, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9–10).

Rather than dictating specific actions, he wants to see us formed into the kind of persons who are able to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10).

God’s Word Is for Seeing

And so, as John Piper says, “A godly life is lived out of an astonished heart — a heart that is astonished at grace. We go to the Bible to be astonished, to be amazed at God and Christ and the cross and grace and the gospel.” The kind of application most important to pursue in encountering God’s word is such astonishment. Press the Scriptures to your soul. Pray for the awakening of your affections. Bring the Bible home to your heart.

As we’re freshly captivated by the grandeur of our God and his gospel, we become what we behold: “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). And so we come away from our Bible intake with a more satisfied soul. Which imparts a flavor and demeanor to our lives and decision-making that affects everything.

Meditating on God’s words shapes our soul. Sometimes it yields immediate and specific points of applications — embrace them when they come. But be careful not to let the drive for specific actions alter the focus of our devotions from astonishment and seeking, as George Mueller did, “to have my soul happy in the Lord.” Coming to the Scriptures to see can make for a drastically different approach than primarily coming to do.

The Bible is gloriously for us, but it is not mainly about us. We come most deeply because of who we will see, not for what we must do. “Become a kind of person,” counsels Piper, “don’t amass a long list.”

The Blessing of Bringing It Home

This is the pathway to flourishing we catch a glimpse of in the old covenant in Joshua 1:8 — meditation, then application, then blessing:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

When Bible reading first aims at astonishment (meditation and worship), it works first on our hearts and changes our person, which then prepares us for application, and application to God’s blessing: “your way [will be] prosperous, and then you will have good success.” So applying God’s words to our lives is not only an effect of his grace to us, but also a means of his ongoing grace.

Jesus says in John 13:17, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” So also James 1:25 promises that someone who is not a hearer only but “a doer who acts . . . will be blessed in his doing.”

When we bring God’s words home to our hearts, and then apply them to our lives through an amazed and changed heart, it is a great means of his grace to us. He loves to bless the true application of his word to our lives.

The post Bring the Bible Home to Your Heart appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Should I Tell My Spouse about Struggles with Sexual Purity?

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 14:51

“Should I tell my wife?”

Daniel leaned back with no interest in the meal before him. He’d looked at racy pictures again and the weight of conviction was inescapable. He had confessed his sin to God and to me, but should he confess it to her?

What would you tell Daniel?

SEVEN PRINCIPLES

Because every couple is different, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Some couples are totally transparent with each other, while others find it best to allow accountability to be handled by trusted friends. Regardless of where you land on the spectrum, it is important for husbands and wives to develop a plan to help each other fight sexual temptation.

What follows are seven principles to help you and your spouse wade through this sensitive area together.

  1. Help each other make it to heaven.

“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13

My chief calling as a husband is to help my wife love Jesus more. My wife has the same responsibility toward me. In fact, I would suggest that the most weighty and wonderful responsibilities in marriage is to help our spouse make it to heaven. One of the ways to make this happen is by doing whatever we can to help them fight off temptation, including sexual temptation (Heb. 12:1-2; James 5:19-20). We are to be each other’s greatest allies in the journey toward the heavenly city (Rev. 21-22).

Satan will oppose your efforts with all he’s got, but you must not lose sight of this fact: your greatest responsibility as a couple is to help each other home by leaning upon the strength of your Savior. Let the mantra of our marriages be the same as the psalmist, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3). This will be painful at times, but it is eternally worth it.

  1. Cultivate an atmosphere of intimate trust.

“The heart of her husband trusts in her…” Proverbs 31:11

After God brought Adam and Eve together in the first marriage, we are told, “the man and his wife were both naked and unashamed” (Gen. 2:25). They had nothing to cover up in those days. There were no deleted search histories in Eden. There were no shameful compromises or weeping wounds from unfaithfulness.

Intimacy and trust are still possible outside of Eden, but they don’t happen by accident. They must be cultivated. As 1 John 1:7 promises, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” There is no better way to deepen trust in marriage than walking honestly and openly together.

Do you hide things from your spouse?

I believe there should be no secrets in marriage. Surprises? Yes. Secrets? No.

Wisdom and discernment is certainly needed on this point. For instance, it is unwise to share every thought that comes in your head or every conflict you have at work or the details of other people’s lives that have been shared with you. We aren’t talking about those kinds of issues. This is a challenge to not intentionally hide sins from your spouse. Death and deceit breed in the darkness. A husband and wife should always be honest with each other about the condition of their souls.

If our goal is to build trust, it probably seems counter-productive to reveal trust-breaking sins. But the fact is, nothing builds trust like seeing your spouse trying to delight in God more than anything else. Honesty and humble transparency, over time, produce intimate trust in your marriage. Walk in the light together.

  1. Consider the Basics of Accountability.

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another…” James 5:16

At some level, husbands and wives should be each other’s accountability partners. Confessing sin to each other should be a normal part of your life together. Because each couple is different, you need to have a conversation about what this will look like in your own marriage.

Here are a few basic ideas:

Talk. If you’ve never had a conversation with your spouse about your struggles with sexual sin, you should have one. Your spouse needs to know to whom they are married. I strongly encourage you to allow your pastor to help you think through how to have this difficult initial discussion.

Plan. Husbands and wives should work together to make an accountability plan (see #4 below). Because your body is not your own (Gen. 2:24; 1 Cor. 7:4) they have the right and responsibility to talk through this with you. Husbands should lead by taking the initiative in this discussion (Eph. 5:22-25) and wives should give husbands the much-needed help they require (Gen. 2:18). Regardless of which spouse is struggling, you need to help each other. Again, it may be wise to involve a pastor or other mature Christian friends in this process.

Ask. Part of the plan should be that your spouse reserves the right to ask you at any time how you are doing in your fight against temptation—and expect to get an honest answer from you.

I would also suggest that you should always have at least one other person, of the same sex, to whom you are accountable, not just about sexual sin. Sin thrives in the darkness. Making regular and honest confession to another believer is one of your best defenses against sin’s power.

  1. Agree on Your Approach to Accountability.

I have spoken to dozens of people about this subject and every couple does things differently. What follows are two categories on the opposite ends of the accountability spectrum.

Some couples are very open about sexual temptations. Some couples agree it is best to tell each other when they feel tempted, if they find someone else attractive, if they compromise at all on the internet, if they give into self-gratification, and just about everything else. Couples who take this approach say that complete transparency helps both of them to stay honest and vigilant in the battle against sin.

If you lean toward this option,

  • Make sure your motives are good. Sometimes seeing the pain that our sin inflicts on the ones we love can be a deterrent to sin, but don’t use your spouse just to unload your guilt and make you feel better.
  • Don’t expect your spouse to respond well to your sin. Your confession may devastate them. Don’t get all self-righteous because you’re being vulnerable. You’ve sinned against them. Don’t get defensive when they ask questions. Nothing ruins a confession like making excuses. Give them a chance to grieve, process, and go to God. Give them permission to talk to a trusted friend about what has happened if they need to.
  • If you’ve agreed to a plan, honor it. If you’ve sinned in a way your spouse would expect you to tell them, follow through with being honest. It will be tempting to find a way out and rationalize a million excuses why you don’t need to tell them (I won’t do it again, I don’t want to hurt them, and so on).
  • Be willing to switch your plan if it seems wise. Insecurities can flourish in unexpected and unnecessary ways in these conversations. I have godly friends who have tried going with the “total transparency” option and found it to be way too much for their spouses to handle. There is no shame in making changes to the plan if necessary.
  • If your spouse confesses sin to you, you will be tempted to be most worried about how the sin affects you. It is normal to be hurt by sin, but ask God to help you be even more concerned about the way your spouse has strayed from him. None of us can do this perfectly, but plead with God to keep your heart postured in that direction.

Some couples don’t talk about this area in detail unless a certain level of sin occurs. Some couples agree it is best for their spouse to confess struggles with lust to a mutually trusted Christian friend, not to them. They humbly realize they would be too hurt by their spouse’s straying heart or that they feel the struggle is too foreign to them to be able to know how to help them.

If you lean toward this option,

  • Have an agreed-upon type of sin at which you agree to talk to your spouse. Purity is a heart issue (Matt. 5:28, 15:19), but it is fine for couples to set agreed-upon conversational mile markers. This may be habitually looking at porn, giving in to masturbation, or crossing certain lines with someone of the opposite sex. Pray for God to give you wisdom in this discussion.
  • Don’t use this approach as a deceptive cover for your sin. Romans 13:14 says “make no provision for the flesh to gratify its lusts.” The well-trusted accountability partner should know what these mile markers are and be willing to inform the spouse if sin were to ever get out of control.
  • Don’t avoid the discussion just because it hurts. As one wife said to me, “out of love for him, I would want to be a part of the solution, but it would be really difficult.” That’s a good perspective. Growing in holiness and helping others to do the same is hard and painful work. It is humble to know your limitations, but it is also humble to accept your responsibilities. Pray for God to give you wisdom to know the balance.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this subject. Some spouses will be able to hear about your struggle, be hurt by it, but recover in the grace of God. Others will be devastated by the fact that you’d even be tempted, even if you didn’t yield to the temptation. We need to live with our spouses in an understanding way and be willing to humbly and graciously build a plan together (1 Pet. 3:7).

  1. Ask Each Other Important Questions

As you begin this process together, here are a few questions to help you begin the conversation.

  • How are we helping each other love God more? How can we do this better?
  • How can I help you fight against temptation? Who else can help you?
  • Do you fear talking to me about these things? How can we make our marriage a safe place to have these talks?
  • Do you have any sins in your life that no one knows about?

For many of us, having this kind of conversation can be terrifying. Some of us don’t want to know what our spouse is struggling with, and some of us don’t want our spouse to know what we’re struggling with. But because God’s glory and the salvation of souls are at stake (Heb. 3:12-14), we must be willing to have tough conversations.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I talked through this article with a couple of close friends. God used that discussion to help them pray and discuss how they could better serve each other in this area. They said the conversation was difficult at times, but in the end God used it to draw them closer than they had been before.

If you want to do this, but don’t know how, I’d encourage you to share this article with your pastor or another mature Christian couple and ask them to help you begin this journey together.

  1. Go Make Love

“Do not deprive one another…come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you…” 1 Corinthians 7:5

Much could be said here, but believe this: making love should be a priority in your marriage. God has given sexual intimacy for many reasons, one of which is to help each other fight against sexual sin. Husbands and wives need to be committed to regularly engaging in sexual intimacy.

Some of you may be tempted to feel like a mere outlet for your spouse’s physical desires. Guard your heart from this distortion. As my wife told a friend, “As a wife, you have the great responsibility of protecting your marriage by serving your husband through sex. It’s one of God’s divinely ordained means to help his heart not be as easily tempted by lust. Sex is sometimes a sweet dying to self.” The same truth goes for husbands. Serve your wife through sexual intimacy, through non-sexual affection, and through regular, intentional, attentive conversations. God can use that to help guard her heart from wandering.

For some of you, this encouragement to make love to your spouse brings up a slew of painful emotions. Maybe you have been sinned against gravely by your spouse and the thought of giving yourself to them intimately is almost inconceivable. Maybe you’re facing physiological problems that hinder you from being able to make love. Maybe it’s one of countless other reasons that make sex with your spouse difficult.

If you and your spouse are one of the many who feel this way, please don’t give up. Prayerfully plan and begin working through these issues with your pastor, a gospel-centered counselor, or capable doctor. Be patient with each other in this process and trust that the Lord is able to do more than you can imagine (Eph. 3:20-21).

  1. Keep the Gospel Central in Your Marriage.

Husbands and wives sin against each other every day. This is part of marriage in a fallen world. But there is something unique about sexual sin that seems to hurt in a distinctly deep way. And even if they haven’t sinned but are being tempted to do so, the sting of knowing that your beloved’s heart is being tempted to stray can be painful.

So if your spouse comes to you with the weight of sinning against you and the Lord on their back, it will be difficult, but remember that Galatians 6:2 says we are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Lead them to the cross where they, and you, will both be refreshed and restored by the Lord who daily bears our burdens (Ps. 55:22, 68:19). Plead with the Lord to cover your pain with his grace and you do all you can to cover your spouse’s shame with the truths of the gospel.

Remind each other that the Jesus who spoke severely about sexual sin (Matt. 5:28-30) is the same Jesus who died for those sins and rose victorious over them (Rom. 4:25). He is patient with sinners of all sorts, and promises forgiveness for all who turn from their sin and follow after him (Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:8-9). He promises to intercede for us and provide grace in our time of need (Heb. 4:14-16) while also providing power to help us war against our unrelenting foe (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:17).

Moments like these are where the gospel feels most real and most needed. They are also when the power of the gospel can most transform your marriage. God will help you forgive and work through the process of restoration. So don’t lose heart with each other, or with yourself. God’s grace is sufficient, even for what you and your spouse face.

Help each other to heaven. Talk about these things. Cultivate intimate trust. Make a plan. Make love. Cast yourselves upon the grace of God. And do this all with your hope fixed on the glory that is to be revealed. We will be home with Jesus soon, so help each other toward that Day.

For Further Consideration
  • Heath Lambert’s excellent book Finally Free (ch. 5) discusses how spouses should talk about sexual sin.
  • Remember that temptation is not sin. This article by Kevin DeYoung may be helpful to read together. (http://bit.ly/1uARUOa)
  • Dr. Russell Moore answers a man who asks if should confess an affair that happened years ago. (http://bit.ly/1rWAeuf)
  • John Piper also addresses whether your spouse’s struggle with porn is worthy of divorce.(http://bit.ly/1sZEgkI)
  • What should you do if your spouse confesses that they have committed adultery or is living a secret life of sin? A good article by John MacArthur helps you think through forgiveness, but you must involve the elders of your church in this discussion. (http://bit.ly/1pPXvuA)

Author’s Note: Thank you to my wife, Zach Schlegel, Jason Seville, Shai Linne, Brian Davis, and the many other brothers and sisters who helped me think through this important topic.

The post Should I Tell My Spouse about Struggles with Sexual Purity? appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

What Works for us (and might work for you) in Family Worship

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 14:31

Are you a parent?

Then you need to know that your kids are going to learn primarily what you teach them.

You might sometimes wish that you could delegate the spiritual training of your kids, but you are the one who is responsible to teach, train, and disciple your kids. This is not something to be outsourced to Sunday School teachers or youth pastors as past generations have sometimes done.

Over my fifteen years of parenting, my wife and I have continuously attempted to teach our kids what is true and call them to live in light of the truth of who God is and what he has done. We have read the Psalms and Proverbs as a family several times. When we do this, we have each of our kids (who is old enough to read) read a verse until we are finished with a chapter. After reading a chapter we have a discussion about what we learn in the chapter about who God is, what He is done, and how He relates to us. Then we finish by praying together.

We have read through The Jesus Storybook Bible several times. We have also had seasons where we felt like complete failures at family worship. But we have never given up. In light of what we have learned over the years, here are four words of advice to help you press forward in family worship:

  1. You are by far the primary spiritual influence in the life of your kids.

Consider how Moses instructs the Israelites in the book of Deuteronomy concerning God’s ways:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, ESV)

The Scriptures make it clear that parents are to teach their kids God’s truths. But what about teenagers?

Recently I read a summary of the writing of researcher, Christian Smith, who asserts that our assumptions about American teenagers are often incorrect. He says:

In U.S. culture, the very ideas of “teenager” and “rebellion” are virtually synonymous…But that impression is fundamentally wrong. What we learned from interviewing hundreds of different kinds of teenagers all around the country is that the vast majority of American teenagers are exceedingly conventional in their religious identity and practices. Very few are restless, alienated, or rebellious; rather the majority of U.S. teenagers seem basically content to follow the faith of their families with little questioning.

Contrary to what many people think, you are the primary spiritual influence in the life of your kids. Wayne Rice, one of the pioneers of American youth ministry, argues this compellingly in his book, Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again). Knowing that we have a large influence on our children’s lives is both comforting and scary.

  1.  Doing something for family worship is far better than doing nothing.

My friend Josh McPherson, pastor of Grace City Church in Wenatchee, Washington recently told me, “A good plan today is far better than a perfect plan next week.” Perfection can be the enemy of progress. Read a verse and talk about it. Pray together. Get a book and go through it. But do something. Perfection has never worked for us. We have never, not even a single time, done family worship 7 nights in a row. Our goal is to pull it off somewhere around 4 nights a week. We have to work around high school basketball games, gymnastics, music lessons, dinner with neighbors, and the like But we keep at it knowing that something is far better than nothing.

  1. Don’t quit when you get discouraged. 

The best way to save money, unless you are super rich, is not normally to make a one time deposit. The best way to save money is to put some away every month. Eventually, in most cases, your consistent savings will amount to a large savings account. This same principle of consistency is true with family worship. There will be times when a fight breaks out during family worship or when you feel like yelling at everyone. Come back to it tomorrow night. Don’t get discouraged and quit when your kids don’t vow to spend their lives on the mission field in Africa. Stay with it for years. Don’t quit.

  1. What we are doing now for family worship.

A few weeks ago I called my friend, Chad Vegas, who pastors Sovereign Grace Church in Bakersfield, CA. I asked him for some insight into what might be effective for us to do in family worship now that we have two teenagers. Chad recommended that we take our family through the New City Catechism (www.newcitycatechism.com). We started this a few weeks ago and love it. Here is how it works for us:

  • We have dinner as a family 4-5 nights per week.
  • Before we get up from the dinner table we have a time of family worship.
  • We focus on one catechism question per week. (There are 52 total)
  • I printed 6 copies of the questions so each person has a copy. We keep them next to the dinner table.
  • There is an iPad and iPhone app for the New City Catechism. I have this open when I am leading.
  • By the end of the week, our kids have the catechism question and answer memorized.
  • There are accompanying Scriptures that go along with the question of the week.
  • Chandra (my wife) and I talk through with our kids the implications of the question and the Scripture that we read.
  • We pray together.

It’s not rocket science.

Here is my final challenge: No matter what, start having family worship this week.

The post What Works for us (and might work for you) in Family Worship appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Two Questions that May Greatly Improve Your Church’s Ministry

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 14:19

I’m no management consultant, leadership expert, or church growth guru. But if you love your church and want to see it as effective as possible–for the sake of evangelism, education, exaltation, and whatever other E’s you may have in your mission statement–try asking these two questions. One is from the pastor for his leaders, and the other is from the leaders for his pastor.

Question #1 – Pastor to Leaders: “How can I improve my preaching?”

Most pastors have no mechanism for regular, thoughtful feedback on their preaching. Those laboring on larger church staffs may have a built-in worship review, but most pastors in the country don’t enjoy such a luxury. And even if they do, it would be wise to solicit feedback from lay leaders in the church–the kind that are mature in the faith, have demonstrated longstanding commitment, but don’t live and breath the details of planning and evaluating worship services. I have my annual evaluation coming up in the next month. I plan on asking our elder vice-president how I can improve my preaching.

If preaching is the most important thing we do in ministry, why not be more deliberate about trying to develop new skills, weed out bad habits, and get some much needed fine tuning? For most of us, the feedback on our preaching consists of “Good job, pastor” or “Nice sermon, pastor” as people file out after the service. And when we get criticism it often comes from cranky church members who aren’t happy with much of anything. I think most church members love their pastor and are normally pleased with the preaching (or they wouldn’t stick around). But I also know that every pastor can get better. If Timothy was told to fan into flames the gift he had, shouldn’t we–I’m talking to my fellow pastors–look for ways to blow fresh wind across faint coals?

Obviously, this first question is not one you ask of just anyone. We aren’t looking to poll-test our latest sermon series. We aren’t trying to scratch itching ears. Parishoners may want more of what isn’t good for them in their weekly preaching diet. And yet, your best leaders should be able to give the pastor honest, thoughtful, affirming, constructive feedback. I know it can be scary to even ask the question. But the spread of the gospel and the good of our people are more important than our sensitive psyches.

Over the years I can think of lots of helpful feedback I’ve gotten on my preaching:

Your introductions are too long. Don’t be afraid to dive right into the text.

Your sermons could be five minutes shorter without losing anything.

You seem rushed when you get to your conclusion. That’s often the best, most important part. Think about trimming back earlier in the sermon so you can slow down at the end.

Your content is great, but it can be too much.

Just be yourself.

Maybe, brother pastor, you need more illustrations, or fewer. Maybe you are going over people’s heads, or leaving the people a bit famished. Maybe you’ve developed a distracting mannerism, gesture, or expression. Maybe you’ve gotten into a rut. Maybe you are trying too hard to be creative. Who knows? Why not ask?

Question #2 – Leaders to Pastor: “How can we better support you and your family?”

Like the first question, this one is dangerous. Pastors can be unrealistic. They can be selfish. They can be lazy. They can be greedy. There is no sin you struggle with that we can’t struggle with too. And yet, just like most churches love their pastor, I believe most pastors love their church. Very likely, your pastor is working hard, doing the best he can, trying to be a faithful preacher, leader, discipler, evangelist, spiritual caregiver, and family man. So why not ask how you can help him?

I can raise this issue because my church cares for me and my family very well. I’m not trying to send subtle hints and suggestions. In fact, it’s because I am treated so well that I’m jealous for my fellow pastors to be cared for equally well. If asked how you can support him and his family, here are some of things you might hear from your pastor.

“My wife feels alone.” Our elders formed “Team Trisha” a few years ago to care for my wife. It’s a few other women in the church who meet with her regularly to hear how she’s doing and find ways to help (especially when I’m busy or out of town).

“I could use more vacation time.” I know most people in the church work hard at their jobs, sometimes for little pay and with little vacation. But your bad experience doesn’t have to be the standard for everyone else. For the life of me I don’t know how some pastors survive on two weeks vacation per year. I recommend three weeks as a minimum, preferably four. In Britain, I’m told, six weeks is quite normal. One of the surest ways to decrease the effectiveness of your church’s ministry is to get a burnt out pastor. When churches are sticklers with their pastor’s vacation, they hurt themselves as much as anyone.

“I don’t have enough money for books.” Even a modest book allowance would be a tremendous blessing, and could pay big dividends.

“I’d like to attend a conference, but it’s far away and kind of expensive.” Find a way to make it happen. There are dozens of good conferences. Your pastors can’t (and shouldn’t) go to all of them, but it would serve his soul and serve your church if he could go to a couple–maybe a smaller local conference each year and one of the big national conferences. These conferences are only partly about the content. They are just as much for the fellowship, the friendships, the road trip, and the time away. Not to mention the free books.

“I could use more study time.” This may mean making adjustments to the weekly grind so your pastor can devote himself more fully to the word of God and prayer. This may mean helping your pastor manage his own time better. This may also mean adding one or two weeks of study time to your already generous vacation package. If the pastor actually uses the time to read, write, and reflect, I can’t imagine a church regretting this sort of allowance.

“We are barely making ends meet.” That’s a tricky one. At least hear him out. Do what you can to make his service a joy and not a burden.

“Pray for me.” Pray for your pastor in private. Pray for him if you have the opportunity to lead in prayer in church. Take time once in awhile to pray for him during your elders’ meeting. See if he’d like a group to regularly meet with him for prayer.

Ministry is hard work. For all of us–pastors, elders, church members, for every Christian. But let’s not make it harder, or less joyful or less effective, than it has to be. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your church is the simplest thing: just ask the right questions. These two are a good place to start.

The post Two Questions that May Greatly Improve Your Church’s Ministry appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Personal Organization for the Sake of Fruitful Ministry

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 14:09

Some people may think it weird or merely the sign of an obsessive personality, but I get butterflies when I walk into an Office Depot.  Even the thought of notebooks, filing cabinets, planners, and binders gets me excited.  Oh for more sticky notes and file-folders with reinforced tabs!  And, for those who think I am stuck in a bygone era of space-devouring paper goods: yes, I love Evernote and Pocket and Dropbox.  I’ve even been known to block out serious chunks of time (like, on the calendar) to organize my MacBook’s files and de-clutter the desktop.

I have a passion for organization.

But not everyone shares my enthusiasm for drawer dividers and label makers.  Through conversation and general observation over the years it has become clear that there are people who find an overly-organized work environment stifling when it comes to their creativity and productivity.  Others have concluded that setting aside time to index their notes, catalog their books, assemble all their files according to appropriate categories, and establish a system of “productivity processes” actually takes away from time in which they can be creative and productive.

While I do not want to quarrel with those whose personality seems to require a certain amount of, shall we say, workspace flexibility, I do want to challenge the assumption that careful attention to organization kills creativity and productivity.

In fact, I would contend that organization is an indispensable key to both.

Ministry and Organization

When it comes to ministry, then, Christians should give some serious thought to organization.  If we are called to be fruitful and rich in good works—a calling that involves both creativity and productivity—then we should gladly embrace any means that enable us to abound in these things.

Take, for example, a well-organized desk.  The effort it takes to plan and maintain an orderly desk may be significant, but the payoff far outweighs the time and energy required to set up your workspace and routinely return everything to its place.  More to the point: an organized desk enables you to do a greater amount good for others than you could do with a disorderly desk.  In his discussion of promoting effective productivity practices, Matt Perman makes this important link between organization and fruitfulness.

First, good productivity practices reduce the friction in doing good, thus making doing good easier and more likely.  For example, I have a series on my blog about how to set up your desk.  I think it’s pretty fun to have your desk set up well.  But what’s the ultimate reason a good desk set up matters to me?  Because setting up your desk effectively helps you be more effective in serving others.  It means that instead of having your stuff all over, getting in your way and creating friction in your life, you can operate in a smooth and efficient way to focus on what you really need to get done” (Matt Perman, What’s Best Next, 87).

So, the cultivation of effective organizational habits is not merely for your own convenience; it is for the good of others.  When we, as Perman observes, “remove the friction in doing good” by maintaining an orderly workspace, we are freed to serve others more effectively.

But it doesn’t stop at your desk.

Consider the other areas of your life in which your ability to readily and intentionally meet needs would be enhanced by giving greater attention to organization.

Your Finances

If you maintain an orderly budget, keep track of your spending, itemize your savings, and intentionally set aside funds for specific uses, you can know exactly how much you are able to give when urgent needs arise.  You will have a keen grasp on how much you take in each month, how much you need to live on, and how much you can give away. In this way, organization does not stifle generosity; it encourages it.  And in the long run, a Christian who maintains an orderly budget will most likely give more than the person who thinks they are being more “spiritual” by giving according to their spontaneous impulses.  It’s counter-intuitive, but a person who only gives “when the Spirit moves” and never gets a handle on their finances usually won’t give very much over a given year.  They might think they are generous, but in terms of actual numbers, they are surprisingly stingy.

Your Possessions

When you maintain an orderly living space, you are able better to provide specific goods to those who are in need.  You need a sleeping bag for a mission trip?  It’s in the garage on the second shelf from the bottom; I’ll have it to you by tomorrow.  Do I have any books on eschatology?  Yes, in the attic, the two boxes on the far left.  I’ll bring you a stack on Sunday.  Clothes for an 18 month old boy?  In a bin near the front of the closet upstairs; you can swing by on Wednesday to pick them up.

On the other hand, when your possessions are unaccounted for and left in disorderly heaps around the house and garage and attic, you are unable to quickly and effectively supply needs.  Moreover, disorganization can lead to a poor stewardship of your finances as you repurchase things you already own—whether for your own needs or for the needs of others.

Your Time

Your time is much like your money: if you want to be generous with it, you must get organized.  Take a given week for example.  If you neglect to plan how you will use your time each day, you will most likely waste a lot of precious minutes (which add up to hours and days and years) that you will not be able to spend serving others.  You will also be unable to determine how much time you can spend on a particular project or with a person to whom you are ministering.

In the latter example, if you are unwilling to organize your schedule, you might find that the time you spend with people is often characterized by several “watch checks” and the inability to really concentrate on others because you are weighed down by the anxiety of not knowing exactly how much time you are able to give to a particular situation.  Knowing how much time you are able to give to a person in need allows you to concentrate fully on and listen carefully to them.  Granted, there are times when God will stretch our schedules and keep us in one place for longer than we planned; but, generally speaking we will find that we enhance our time with others when we keep an orderly schedule.

Your Study

When I ponder the importance of disciplined, orderly study, I am reminded of John “Rabbi” Duncan, a man who, though godly, never reached his potential as a theologian due to his inability to organize his pursuit of knowledge.  In the introduction to Duncan’s brief biography, we learn that despite his great teaching ability, his failure to impose structure and exercise intentionality in his studies significantly limited his contribution to the Christian world.

These [teaching] endowments, however, were counteracted by certain weaknesses which hindered his usefulness.  There was a lack of any plan in his acquisition of knowledge.  He had a fatal tendency to miscellaneous.  He was often carried away intellectually with some engrossing mental problem or absorbed spiritually with some enquiry into the state of his soul.  Furthermore, he was utterly unmethodical in everything but the arrangement of his thoughts.  The greatest defect of his character, however, was, as Dr. Moody Stuart points out, weakness of purpose.  ‘You could not name any living man whom you could so easily turn aside in judgment from what he had approved, or in execution from what he had intended.’  This irregularity in work was fatal to his potential power as a professor and scholar.  In this realm he was rather a great possibility than a great realization.  (‘Just a Talker’: Sayings of John (‘Rabbi’) Duncan, xxix.)

Sadly, Duncan was not as fruitful as he could have been due to a simple lack of organization in his life.  And how many of us, who read much and study much, because we are unwilling to establish an effective note keeping and retrieval system, are limiting our contribution to our families, our churches, and our schools?  How much valuable truth and useful knowledge are you now unable to pass along to others because you never troubled yourself to write it down and file it away?

These are not a questions of personality—whether we consider ourselves a “Duty Fulfiller” or an “Idealist” or a “Doer” or a “Thinker”—these are questions of stewardship and how we are using the resources God has entrusted to us.  Organization may come more naturally to some, but it is needed for anyone who desires to effectively serve others.

So, even if you don’t consider yourself an organized person, I encourage you to consider the ways your ministry to others and your capacity to do good would be enhanced by a little more attention to where you keep your pens and how you track your budget.

The post Personal Organization for the Sake of Fruitful Ministry appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Book Reviews

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 13:46
Before you Hire a Youth Pastor: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding the Right Fit. By Mark DeVries and Jeff Dunn-Ranking. Loveland, CO: Group Publishing, 2011. 124 pp. $7.99.

The search for a youth pastor can be a tedious one. While many churches have a plan in place for replacing their departing youth pastor, often times, those plans are executed ineffectively, and can even lead to the wrong hire. Thankfully, youth ministry experts Mark DeVries and Jeff Dunn-Rankin have put together a book to prevent those unfortunate situations. In Before You Hire a Youth Pastor, the authors put forth extremely practical tools and advice for moving the pastoral search process forward in a way that honors God, empowers laypeople, and guides a church toward the right youth pastor hire.

DeVries and Dunn-Rankin consider all aspects of the youth pastor search process, such as selecting the correct members for a search committee, settling on a theological vision for youth ministry, establishing a search timeline, analyzing resumes, interviewing candidates, asking the proper questions, and everything in between. They provide examples of searches that have gone both well and poorly and provide practical advice that will help the desperate youth pastor search committee. The authors agree that searching for a youth pastor can be a difficult venture, and their hope is that they can enable churches to find the right youth pastor in a manner that is efficient, effective, and ends with the proper person(s) in ministry leadership. Helpfully, the authors make this process step-by-step (38 steps to be exact), and leave no stone unturned. They include numerous appendices of sample job descriptions for both full-time and part-time staff, a candidate tracking sheet, a sample rejection letter, guidelines for interviews, and many others. These appendices comprise almost half of the book, and will no doubt save search committees time and stress. While it may appear that DeVries and Dunn-Rankin advocate a “cookie-cutter” approach to the search process, they understand that not all churches are in the same place theologically, financially, or administratively. They are sensitive to the ministry needs of all churches, and go to great lengths to help committees move the search process along smoothly.

As leaders of Youth Ministry Architects, DeVries and Dunn-Rankin have several years of combined experience in the field of youth ministry. They readily understand the needs of churches and youth pastors alike. DeVries has authored a number of similar works, such as Family-Based Youth Ministry and Sustainable Youth Ministry that come alongside youth ministers in the journey to effective youth ministry practices. The present text is no different, and is an extraordinarily practical, punchy, and quick read. The authors refrain from technical jargon, giving the book an exceptionally readable quality. While its intended audience is lay people who need guidance on moving through the search process, potential youth pastors will benefit from understanding the thought process of those on the other side of the search. It will certainly help search committees avoid the potholes that generally plague the search process. I strongly recommend that every church, even those with thriving youth pastors, add this book to their collection.

Benjamin D. Espinoza Director of Youth and Community Life Covenant Church Bowling Green, Ohio 

 

The Indispensable Youth Pastor: Land, Love, and Lock In Your Youth Ministry Dream Job. By Mark DeVries and Jeff Dunn-Rankin. Loveland, CO: Group, 2011. 173 pp. $15.99.

There is no lacuna of books written about the call to ministry, but books on the call to youth ministry are few and far between. Even more rare are books that discuss the implications of that call to youth ministry; specifically, how to find a ministry position and flourish in one’s work. The Indispensable Youth Pastor is one that fills this gap and more. Mark DeVries and Jeff Dunn-Rankin take the potential youth pastor on a journey from discerning the call to youth ministry, to finding the perfect ministry position, to becoming an indispensable youth pastor.

In the beginning of their book, the authors seek to help service-minded people discern a call to full-time vocational youth ministry. From there, the authors spend considerable time on the process of finding a youth ministry position. DeVries and Dunn-Rankin offer priceless advice about this process: the need for a sturdy résumé, securing good references, nailing interviews, and dealing with search committees. Next, the authors deal with “locking in” your ministry position. Their goal in this section is to “help you keep your job for as long as you and God had in mind were called” (57) and to help a youth pastor become “indispensable.”Again, DeVries and Dunn-Rankin offer wisdom on issues, such as listening to the needs of youth and the congregation as a whole, understanding healthy growth, exceeding expectations, dealing with parents, the art of “woo,” and much more. Finally, the authors explain how to maintain ministry enthusiasm after many years of youth ministry service. The book’s final pages include two appendices related to the youth ministry search process.

The present text serves as a companion text to Before You Hire a Youth Pastor (Group, 2011), which explores the youth pastor search process from the perspective of a church committee. The two should be read together in order to bring a fully-orbed picture to the process of matching the right personnel with the right ministry position.

The Indispensable Youth Pastor covers a lot of ground with regards to life in youth ministry, such as identifying the call to youth ministry, networking, being on the same page as the senior pastor, and much more. While the authors do not depend on scholarly sources or data to strengthen their advice, their leadership in Youth Ministry Architects enables them to speak with quite a bit of authority in matters related to seeking youth ministry positions and thriving in youth ministry. They offer plenty of anecdotes from their own time in youth ministry, as well as stories from those with whom they have interacted over the years. With many years of combined youth ministry experience and working with churches, DeVries and Dunn-Rankin have authored a text that belongs on the shelf of every youth minister, from serious volunteer youth workers to veteran youth pastors.

Benjamin D. Espinoza Director of Youth and Community Life Covenant Church Bowling Green, Ohio

 

Croft, Brian and Cara. The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013. 176 pp. $16.99.

Calvin Miller wrote a book that spoke to the plight of shepherding among evangelicalism: its title, “O Shepherd Where Art Thou?” The Crofts have, in large measure, written the same for the pastor’s family. Shepherding has fallen on hard times—both in the church and in the home. Pastors are shepherds; husbands are shepherds; fathers are shepherds. Pastors with families must be shepherds—thrice over. The church needs books like this; ministerial families pray for books like this.

A number of aspects of this book require praise. First, the correct overarching paradigm for ministry, both to the flock and the family, has been upheld, namely, shepherding. A pastor is fundamentally a shepherd. Against the American proclivity to elevate preaching as the defining duty of a pastor, Croft has rightly held both public and private ministry under the umbrella of shepherding (cf. Acts 20:20 & 20:28). Any pastor discharging less is a hireling (John 10:11-15).

Secondly, Croft has rightly placed the problem within the soul (45, 49). A pastor’s problem is not ultimately the demands external to him. “In the heart of every pastor is an innate wiring, a tendency to fulfill his desires and meet the demands of life in broken, selfish, and sinful ways” (43). It is only that which comes out of the heart that defiles a person (Mark 7:20-23). Even sinful people (or circumstantial suffering) can at best only squeeze out what was already within. Croft refuses to diminish the death of Jesus for anything less than sin (see below). Therefore, he points pastors to the only solution, namely repentance (52). Pastors, like all believers, need a redeemer, not a therapeutic healer (cf. Titus 2:14).

Thirdly, the sections urging pastors to pastor their children are helpful and practical. For example, Croft rightly holds children accountable for their response, while admonishing pastors to not exasperate them (138-39) and then gives five concrete ways to prevent parenting by absentia (141ff.).

One facet of the work remains enigmatic, however—how to respond to Cara’s running commentary. At times, her insertions were insightful, while at others awkward. Assuming the Crofts complementarians, Cara would be writing to the spouses of pastors in a book that is principally addressed to the pastors. Furthermore, in light of Cara’s preference for works of fiction rather than systematic (85), one wonders how to respond to her practical theology. Finally, the Appendix delineating Cara’s depression seemed out of place in a book about pastoral ministry.

Two other limitations also bear mentioning. First, Brian rightly decries sinful desires while failing to eliminate “felt needs” theology (cf. 55). He laments pastors who, “Rather than…believing that God will meet his needs, he tries to meet his own needs for acceptance, significance, approval, and friendship” (45, cf. 74). To permit a “needs mentality” is to ensure slavery—to the very problem Croft bemoans. “‘Needs’ or ‘rights’ lead irresistibly into fear of man. We’ve seen that whatever you think you need, you come to fear” (Ed Welch, When People Are Big and God is Small, 87).

Moreover, one should not go to God to get those inordinate desires unmet by others. Martha tried the same and was rebuffed by Jesus (Luke 10:38-42). Welch again, helps here:

She knew that the answer was not to turn to Christ to meet her felt need. That would have made Jesus her personal talisman or idol. Instead, her answer was to put to death her selfish desires and to learn to fear God alone. As a result, her question began to change. It was no longer “Where can I find my worth?” but “Why am I so concerned about myself?” It was not “How can God fill my needs?” but “How can I see Christ as so glorious that I forget about my perceived needs?” (Welch, 233)

Clarity is desperately needed when countering the wisdom of the world that has crept into the church.

Secondly, real help for the problems astutely identified lies within reach—but untapped. The pitfalls uncovered could be better avoided through a paradigm of ministry more collegial than hierarchical. A hierarchy allows “the counsel of my associate pastor” to be ignored by the senior pastor (140). Associates do not hold seniors accountable. An equal, however, cannot be avoided. If all pastors were generalists, discharging all duties equally (including preaching), then all would be humbled by the calling, not just “senior pastors” (cf. 60) and each pastor could spend time with the church, counseling etc. (79-80) and with family during the worship service (166)—and perhaps even some of the temptations like the “great fear and anxiety” of becoming a senior pastor’s wife, not experienced when merely an associate pastor’s wife, could also be checked (cf. 155).

The church should demand all her pastors read and heed books like this. Books like these are vital—but more is needed. May the Croft’s keep refining and reworking a thoroughly biblical pastoral ministry to glorify The Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.

Jim Fain, Ph.D. Executive Director Rod & Staff Ministries Greenwood, IN

 

Harney, Kevin G. Organic Outreach For Ordinary People: Sharing Good News Naturally. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009. 256 pp. $14.99.

All Christians are called to be salt and light to a dark and dying world, yet many professing believers cringe at the thought of evangelizing. There is no doubt that evangelism is difficult, yet true followers of Christ understand that God has commanded us to evangelize the lost. For those who have been convicted to be obedient to the Word of God, pastor-author, Kevin Harney, has written this book to encourage us to reach out and share the good news of Jesus naturally. His focus is on ordinary people engaging in natural conversation and sharing God’s love and grace (16). Harney has written a practical book to help us grow in our desire and ability to evangelize the lost.

Harney writes in a useful manner using a simple, yet effective outline. The book is divided into three parts. In part one (pre-evangelism), he builds a foundation based on having a heart for God. Because we are image bearers of Christ, our motivation for reaching the broken and lost must be shaped by the love that God has for His people. In part two, Harney “investigates some of the different ways that we can be part of God’s amazing work of scattering and watering the seed of the gospel” (89). In this section he challenges us to reach out and connect with unbelievers regularly. Part three speaks of the ultimate work of salvation through the outreach of God’s people. The author leaves no misunderstanding—salvation is a work of God alone, in the heart of man. He reminds us that the credit is not ours, yet the Holy Spirit works in and through us to accomplish God’s plan of salvation.

This book contains a wealth of information, however, two points stand out. The first is prayer. For outreach to be effective, we must begin with a high view of God and have a total dependence upon Him, and we show this dependence by being prayerful people. Harney has beautifully described the image of prayer by announcing, “We unleash heavenly power when we pray for lost people. When God’s people pray, heaven shakes, strongholds are broken, and power is unleashed” (97, 99). The author leaves no doubt that to make a dramatic change and impact on our evangelistic outreach, the Holy Spirit will have to be intimately involved. We must be engaged in prayer on a consistent basis if we are to be tools that God uses to bring people into His kingdom. Harney teaches us several ways to engage in prayer to experience afresh the grace of God. One method I immediately placed into my own prayer time was ‘Triple-Five Prayers’ (101).

The second point is interaction with the lost.Throughout the book, Harney presents questions to invite us into a deeper spiritual conversation with non-believers. Harney rightly offers warnings to Christians to periodically check their motives to ensure that they are (1) operating from a pure desire to be salt and light in the world, and (2) that they are influencing people with the truths of the gospel, and not allowing themselves to get sucked back into sinful living. The author offers many suggestions for providing a conduit so that unbelievers can come together naturally with followers of Christ and engage in the regular activities of life. Additionally, each chapter ends with a practical section of questions designed to challenge the reader in their own personal growth.

One weakness that I see in this book is that when Harney speaks of the gospel message he leads off with the good news of God’s love, rather than the person’s need to be poor in spirit and thirsting for righteousness because of the sin that separates him from God (Matt. 5:3-6; Isa. 59:2). To be fair, he never disregards these truths; they always flow right behind God’s graciousness and love. However, I am under the conviction that nobody can fully understand the powerful grace that is the gift of God’s love unless they know exactly how bad their need for a Savior is. The gospel message includes, and is predicated on several factors, not just one. (1) A warning about sin and the consequences of sin (John 16:8; 2 Thess. 1:8-9). (2) God’s solution for sin—the good news of the gospel (Rom. 3:21-26; Eph. 2:1-9; 2 Cor. 5:21). (3) Finally, it includes the clear call to repent (Mark 1:15; Luke 13:1-5; Acts 17:29-31; Rom. 1:16). We are not interested in simply satisfying the outward desires of people’s lives. The full gospel message is one that has the power to transform lives from the inside out, and we should never neglect offering the full gospel.

This book was written for the person who is ready to thoughtfully and prayerfully step up his evangelism and be a beacon of God’s grace and love. The author concedes, “Evangelism is not about a magic formula. It is about the power of God and the faithfulness of His people, people like you and me. We scatter the seed, but He brings the growth” (149). If we desire a closer relationship with God, we have to get ourselves out of our comfort zones and engage in the world as salt and light. I highly recommend this book.

Tim Jarvis, MABC Biblical Counselor, Compass Bible Church Aliso Viejo, California

 

James C. Wilhoit and Leland Ryken, Effective Bible Teaching, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 193pp. $21.99.

Would you classify much of the Bible teaching at your church as little more than “poor lay preaching?” If you were honest, how would you describe the teachers under whom your people sit week after week? Is their material full of biblical content, but dry, disjointed and unconnected to real life? Or, is their teaching illustrative and witty but touching upon the Scripture only long enough to glean only the smallest seeds of truth? Perhaps you are a pastor or lay-teacher who feels like you fit into one of these two categories. Whatever the case, whether you are a pastor hoping to cultivate a strong teaching ministry in your church, or a lay-teacher struggling to communicate the truths of God’s Word in a way that is both useful to students and faithful to the text, Wilhoit and Ryken’s Effective Bible Teaching has much to offer you.

The authors, James Wilhoit, professor of Christian Formation at Wheaton College, and Leland Ryken, professor of English at the same institution, are convinced that poor Bible teaching can be remedied. “The premise of this book is that it is possible to diagnose with precision what goes well and what goes poorly in the classroom. It is also possible to prescribe a cure for every ailment” (14). The hope that one’s teaching can transition from dull and lifeless to stimulating and fruitful is a welcome encouragement for many teachers of the Bible, I’m sure.

Wilhoit and Ryken are persuaded, however, that in our attempts to correct instances of unfruitful teaching in our churches we have looked “too much at the teacher and not enough at the educational process and the content” (15). While not ignoring this “human component” completely—Chapter 4 is dedicated to discussing the traits of an excellent teacher—the authors concentrate their efforts on what is taught more than on the one who teaches it. Their aim is to help instructors craft textually grounded, theologically insightful, well-organized Bible studies that not only convey spiritually nourishing truth in a compelling manner, but also motivate students to think, study and learn on their own. Many good teachers may regularly accomplish the former, but only an excellent teacher will find consistent success in the latter. Indeed, the notion that genuine learning is self-motivated learning is a principle that underlies the entire book.

We must never forget that all true education is self-education. No teacher can make students learn, a fact that is ignored in contemporary approaches to education that pamper students and ask teachers to shoulder the entire responsibility for education….Students need to be engaged, not infatuated, and that is why we emphasize learning-centered education. Our focus must be on fostering and promoting deep and significant student learning (31).

In order to promote this kind self-motivated learning, Wilhoit and Ryken find great value in facilitating Inductive Bible Studies where students are encouraged and expected to interact with, ask questions about, and formulate their own judgments about the biblical text at the guidance of the instructor. This approach to Bible teaching is distinguished from Directed Bible Studies. Although the various components of the teacher’s preparation are the same under each approach, what happens in the classroom is notably different. “A directed study replaces group discovery with the leader’s sharing of his or her insights into a passage. Inductive study is radically democratic. It gives every member a vote. Directed study lets the leader do more of the talking” (110). Wilhoit and Ryken do not mean to imply, however, that inductive Bible studies are always advisable. Some groups are too large while others are too unfamiliar with the material to benefit from an inductive approach. In such cases, the teacher should implement a directed study method so that the students will be exposed to educated teaching rather than the collective ignorance of the other students.

Regardless of how you might assess the validity of the inductive method for conducting Bible studies or whether or not you believe it would work in your particular setting, the principles outlined by Wilhoit and Ryken will serve as reliable tools to help you adequately prepare and present faithful and stimulating Bible teaching. I shall mention a few.

Perhaps most important among the principles discussed by the authors is their exhortation to “come to grips with the text” (17). In order to avoid drifting into the comfortable territory of one’s hobbyhorses or to keep from waxing eloquent on theological issues not related to a given passage, teachers must draw their lessons from the text itself. Yet, remaining tethered to the text is not enough. “To teach a passage effectively, a teacher must be able to communicate a sense of its unity” (59). In order to grasp a passage’s unity, one must identify its genre—is it narrative, exposition, poetry?—and locate the “big idea” of the passage. Accurately identifying the genre guards one from wrongly interpreting the passage. Discerning the main idea keeps the teacher from missing the conceptual forest for the exegetical trees. Both practices help “impose a unity” on the passage that will help the teacher and his students better understand the biblical text.

In fact, because Wilhoit and Ryken are convinced that proper interpretation depends upon one’s ability to classify the kind of literature they are studying, they discuss the matter of genre in multiple places throughout the book, dedicating two chapters to specific genres: narrative (Chapter 13) and poetry (Chapter 14). Even in the chapter devoted to helping the teacher recognize and convey the main idea of a passage (Chapter 6), Wilhoit and Ryken give several examples of what this looks like as the teacher comes in contact with the Bible’s various genre.

The authors also outline several indispensable principles for sound biblical interpretation (see Chapter 8). Among these is the reminder to “operate on the premise that the Bible is God’s revealed word, inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore without error” (92). Keeping this foundational premise in its rightful place helps the teacher properly reverence Scripture as he works his interpretation of various texts.

A second principle a teacher must keep clear in his mind is that “the biblical canon…is an organic whole in which the parts fit together harmoniously” (93). Unfortunately, as it relates to the work of interpretation, the authors understand this principle chiefly in precautionary terms: “Accordingly, one should interpret individual passages in an awareness of what is said elsewhere in the Bible. In the case of difficult or obscure passages, the interpreter should give precedence to biblical passages where the doctrine is clear” (93). The canon acts as a set of guardrails to keep the teacher from driving into a doctrinal ditch as he handles tough passages.

There is more, however, that should be drawn from this principle; namely, that Scripture’s nature as an “organic” document implies that much theological and pastoral treasure can be quarried from understanding how various themes, doctrines and types unfold over the canon and find fulfillment and development as God’s plan of redemption is revealed in greater and greater detail. Although Wilhoit and Ryken mention the progressive nature of Scripture on the following page (94), they do so only to offer a general reminder that teaching in the Old Testament is often clarified in the New.

The implication, then, is that, while incredibly helpful, Wilhoit and Ryken’s book should not be the only book that Bible teachers read in their quest to grow in effectiveness. Books other than those that delineate the mechanics of biblical interpretation and the methods of teaching should find their way onto the teacher’s reading list; works of biblical theology in particular. An effective teacher will not only be able to deal rightly with a given passage, he will also be able to place that passage within the grand narrative of the biblical storyline and show his people how the truth of that particular text relates to Christ and unfolds (or has unfolded) over the canon. In short, an effective Bible teacher will be able to show his students how the whole Bible fits together with Christ at the center. And when students really see this, their desire to learn will be insatiable.

Derek Brown, Ph.D. Pastoral Assistant Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley

The post Book Reviews appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

JDFM Forum: An Interview with Mark DeVries About Family-Based Youth Ministry, Twenty Years Later.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 13:18
  1.  Why did you write Family-Based Youth Ministry? Tell us about the process by which this book came into existence.

So many youth workers, including myself, were heartbroken over the disconnect between kids who participated in youth group and those who continued to live out their faith for a lifetime. It set me on a search to discover the key factors that lead to lifelong discipleship. I met for a few days with my dear friend and seminary classmate, Larry Coulter, one of the most creative pastors I know, to sketch out the outline of a book. During that week, we met with a young man named Walt Mueller who was in the early stages of a ministry he was calling “Headfirst,” which after being confused for a birthing center, changed its name to the Center for Youth Ministry Training. What was clear in many, many conversations and studies is that parents played an unparalleled role in the faith formation of teenagers. Like most first time authors, I got my fair share of rejection letters, until a friend who had published with InterVarsity Press made an introduction for me.

  1. What have been the primary changes you’ve observed in youth ministry since the publication of Family-Based Youth Ministry?

I am delighted to see the ways that youth ministry has grown up. Though still true in some places, fewer and fewer churches are looking for the relational savant to lead their ministries. Popularity with kids is important, but I’m grateful that more and more churches are realizing that they can’t build a ministry on “hip.”   I’ve been delighted to see the growing anchoredness of youth pastors who seek out deliberate spiritual direction, who read more than the latest Christian fad book, who are actually integrating research, theology, and discernment.

At the same time, as the noise of marketing has become louder and louder and the options for teachers have multiplied dramatically, it has been easy for families to jettison regular involvement in the life of the church. This has led youth pastors to spend more and more time “marketing” their ministries through texting, email, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. We’ve now got incredible resources, but the sheer volume can be overwhelming to the normal youth pastor.

When I first started out, there were a handful of churches doing mission trips. But over the last decade or so, the “mission-trip industrial complex” has become a multi-million dollar business, raising the obvious question of whether the overwhelming cost of “spiritual tourism” and “service learning” is worth the investment.   I am gladdened to see a deeper conversation around these issues, even though I feel certain it will effect the way we do ministry and missions in my church 10 years from now. 

  1. What do you see as the primary causes of the surge of interest in family ministry over the past decade?

The National Study of Youth and Religion along with the Sticky Faith project have both made the unequivocal (re-)discovery that no one influences the faith of adolescents like their family—for better or for worse. Add to this cocktail the fact that many, many churches are seeing their own extinction on the horizon, and they want to do whatever they can to recalibrate their ministries not only to lead young people to stay in their church but to lead them to lifelong discipleship. Since David Kinnaman’s book UnChristian came out, we have been more and more aware that this generation of young adults is not, by and large, coming back to church as they move into young adulthood as previous generations have.

With the rampant and growing isolation of youth into their own generational ghetto, Family-Based Youth Ministry has stood as a guardrail for churches who feel compelled to simply go along with the culture and isolate and abandon youth within the church in the same way the culture done. One other factor—whenever we see leaders on all sides of the theological spectrum saying the same thing—from Richard Ross at Southwestern Seminary to Kenda Dean at Princeton to Kara Powell and Chap Clark at Fuller, as well as Doug Fields and Mark Yaconelli—it may just be a sign that the Spirit is at work, moving in a wave that is larger than a single ideology.

  1. If you were to write Family-Based Youth Ministry today, what would you say differently?

 The one corrective I would like to bring to most teachers of family-based youth ministry is this: The modern nuclear family, as we know it and often teach it, is a far cry from the biblical family. The biblical family, though not monolithic, was much more of an extended family, with lots of adults pouring into young people, rather than mom and dad feeling the total weight of responsibility (think Jesus’ parents’ journey away from Jerusalem and not even noticing that their 12 year old was missing for an entire day).

If our goal is to create mature Christian adolescents, then maybe we should focus only on moms and dads. But our goal is not adolescent disciples. It is adult disciples. And adult disciples are shaped, as they move into adulthood, not simply by their parents’ faith. When I asked groups of adults, “How many of you had at least one person in your life, outside your mom and dad, who had as much or more influence on your faith than your parents did?,” always more than half the room raises their hands. An exclusive focus on the faith maturity of “teenagers” during their teenage years can be short sighted.

  1. What are the most significant contemporary challenges in youth ministry?

I’m beginning to believe that we are getting better and better at training youth pastors for positions that will, by and large, not exist in 20 or 30 years. The full-time youth pastor (and perhaps even the full-time pastor) may go the way of the dinosaur as the “death tsunami” of those who have historically given so generously to the church die off. I’m concerned that we are now training people for a way of doing ministry that may not be possible. I think it’s possible that we can do things in the next 20 or 30 years to be prepared for this shift, but I’m afraid that most churches will be totally surprised and paralyzed in a few decades when these changes happen. (By the way, I’d be happy to be wrong about this. If I am, and we’re ready for it, all the better. But if I’m right, it’s time to start re-imagining the economics of ministry while we’ve still got time).

  1. What would be your counsel to a young person today who senses a call to youth ministry?

I would praise God to hear of one more kindred spirit in this work. I would remind him or her that Mike Yaconelli was right, that youth ministry is a “suffer-calling.” Don’t get into it if you don’t want your heart broken. I would also plead with them, “above all else,” to invest in and guard their own hearts by finding coaches and counselors who can keep them growing. Sadly most people in ministry, not just pastors, haven’t learned much of anything in the past decade. They may read a book or two each year but nothing changes in them or their ministries. And change seldom happens unless we increase our capacity—not just our skill, but more importantly, our capacity to love, to persevere, to cling to the strength that is only found in the joy of the Lord.

On a practical level, I would encourage them to start a little side business that can eventually support their ministries. My prediction is that if a normal youth pastor spent 5 deliberate hours building a little side business, in ten years, that business would be able to fund his ministry if (and when) the church runs out of money.

  1. What brings you the most joy as you look at the impact of Family-Based Youth Ministry over the past twenty years?

It brings me great delight that the Spirit has used the principles of Family-Based Youth Ministry in all kinds of churches, all kinds of schools, all kinds of families. Though I am a Presbyterian pastor, these principles have rung true among the Mennonites and the Roman Catholics, among the United Methodists and the Southern Baptists, and just about everything in between.

That God would use a goober like me to point to what our God seems to be doing on the horizon is evidence that God’s sense of humor and delight in using his children to do things they cannot do.

But my great delight continues to be having the chance to see young people from our ministry step alongside, no longer as recipients of ministry but as partners in the gospel with those who have been their great cloud of witnesses for so many years.

The post JDFM Forum: An Interview with Mark DeVries About Family-Based Youth Ministry, Twenty Years Later. appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Have You Been Asking the Right Question?

Talbot School of Theology - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 12:00

What is my purpose in life? This is a question that plagues each and every one of us. The Westminster confession puts the question this way: "What is the chief and highest end of man?"

Countless books and blogs have addressed this question. But are we really asking the right question? ...

 

 

Categories: Seminary Blog

Appreciative Reflections on the Impact of “Family- Based Youth Ministry”

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 11:42

I first read Family-Based Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries when I was just a couple of years into ministry.  As a 20-year-old student pastor, that book shaped my thinking in crucial ways.  In those early days, I was well-intentioned, but I had in my immaturity developed a subtle bias against parents.  I saw the problems with the parents, but I had thus far failed to see them as part of the solution.  When I read these words, I was convicted: “There is no such thing as a successful youth ministry that isolates teenagers from the community of faith.”  Twenty years later that message still shapes the way that I approach Next Generation ministry in the church.  I’m grateful for the spark that Mark helped ignite (along with others) that has grown into a movement of churches who take seriously the call to connect the church and home for the glory of God and as conduits of the gospel.

Jay Strother, Contributing Author to Perspectives on Family Ministry and Trained in the Fear of God, Campus & Teaching Pastor, The Church at Station Hill, Thompson’s Station, Tennessee

When you hear the words “Youth Ministry”, one of the first names that one thinks of is Mark Devries.  I can honestly say that for my life and the lives of many other youth ministers, few people have had the impact on us and on youth ministry over  the last 20 years  than Mark. I do not know Mark personally, but his books and his seminars have been a breath of fresh air to me and to my ministries at FBC, Houston, Tx. and Travis Avenue BC, Ft Worth, Tx. and now at Southwestern Seminary as a Professor of Youth  Ministry.  Thanks is not enough to convey my thoughts on Mark.

Johnny L. Derouen, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Student Ministry, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, Texas

In 1986 I co-authored a book called Ministry with Youth and Their Parents. But back then, trying to move youth ministry more in the direction of the family was like shouting on the beach during a hurricane. Then along came Family-Based Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries. That was the match that fell in the gasoline. This seminal book started the broader conversation that continues to grow today. A smartphone seems like a simple idea . . . unless no one has ever thought of a phone that could contain a powerful computer. True visionaries think thoughts others have not had. Some of the nuances of ministry with families came first from Mark. Those thoughts seem almost omnipresent now, but someone had to think them first. And Mark did.

Richard Ross, Professor of Student Ministry, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth Texas

 

The post Appreciative Reflections on the Impact of “Family- Based Youth Ministry” appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Perspectives on Christ- Centered Family Disipleship

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 11:04

In this article I will argue that Jesus has given believers a “key” that promises to help them glorify God in their families. It is a priority that is plainly spoken, but one that is easily missed when well-meaning Christians sinfully put their family above God. Though this “key” may at first seem to be at odds with loving our families in a way that glorifies God, it will be shown that only by loving Christ in a way that looks like hate towards our families can we actually glorify God in loving our families.

From two passages in the Gospels, I will show how Jesus’ call to discipleship, “to hate [one’s] own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters” is the key to glorifying God in family relations. While the Bible does not guarantee that our discipleship will result in the conversion or improvement of our families—sometimes it promises the opposite (Matt 10:34–35)—God’s Word does promise that when Christians abide as true disciples, God will produce fruit in their lives (John 15:5, 7–8), often with positive effects on their family.[1]

The Key

The key to glorifying God in the family is found in two parallel passages.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37-38)

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

For those who care about the family, these words seem shocking. Since the family was God’s idea, we might expect Jesus to say something more like this: “If anyone comes to me and does not love his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters cannot be my disciple.” Or, “Whoever loves father, mother, son or daughter is qualified to serve in the church.”

After all, why would Jesus want disciples who hate their family?  Certainly, the church searching for a family minister would be greatly concerned if they heard an impressive candidate say: “Yes, to answer your question, I hate my parents, my children, and even my wife.”

Context must be taken into consideration, but even then, Jesus’ words are shocking!  They demand an explanation, but not at the expense of missing the force of his hyperbole. Indeed, if we explain away his words too quickly we neuter their power to produce fruit in our lives and Christ’s presence in our homes.

What we need to see is how Jesus esteems family relations, especially with children, and then to see how this call to hate mother and father, child and wife fits into the larger framework of Christian discipleship and family relations. Therefore, in the following section, I will examine Jesus’ positive sentiments towards children. Then, I will show how these two statements from the Gospels clarify the way believers glorify God in their earthly families. Last, I will show how this principle can be applied in life through two personal illustrations.

The Treasure of Children

In the Gospels, it is evident that Jesus placed special importance on receiving children.[2]  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the way Jesus interacted with them.[3] Therefore, before considering the temptation children can create for doting parents, we must consider how Jesus himself loved children.

Matthew 18:1–4

In a section of Matthew’s Gospel that considers “life under kingdom authority,” Jesus confronts the arrogance of his disciples.[4] Matthew records,

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (18:1–4)

In this encounter, Jesus calls a child to himself. He puts him in the middle of the disciples as an example of the kingdom. He does not ostracize or belittle him.[5] Instead, he warmly commends the child as a model of Christian discipleship, saying “unless you turn and become like this child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”[6]

It is important to note that Jesus does not mean citizenship in the kingdom depends on being childish or be uninformed (cf. 1 Cor 14:20).[7] Rather, childlikeness is a matter of humility: “Whoever humbles himself like this child in the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (v. 4). He recognizes the humble, dependent nature of children, and he says that this is the kind of posture we must adopt to enter God’s kingdom. We must forsake self-reliance, self-exaltation, and humbly rest in the arms of our loving father.[8]

Steeped in the traditions of Israel, Jesus’ view of children reflects that of the Old Testament, where on numerous occasions God’s people describe themselves as children before God. For instance, in 1 Kings 3:7 the regal Solomon says, “I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.” God hears this prayer and blesses him with wisdom, wealth, and power. Clearly, Solomon is not a gullible and needy child. He is a mighty king. But before the Lord, he recognizes his child-like dependence. In fact, it was his failure to retain this posture that cost him and his sons the kingdom.

Likewise, Psalm 131 says:

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;

my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things

too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child is my soul within me.

 

O Israel, hope in the LORD

from this time forth and forevermore.

What a beautiful picture of the Christian. No longer crying, wrestling, and fighting their heavenly father, but resting, comforted, suckled and secure. The dependence of an infant on his mother pictures our dependence on God the Father.[9]

With Jesus, it is apparent that he delights in this child as a reflection of humble trust. In his dependent humanity, he displays a beautiful reality that can only be sustained and enjoyed at length in God’s heavenly kingdom.

Matthew 19:13–15

Something similar transpires in Matthew 19:13–15:

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away.

While Jesus’ disciples rebuke the people—presumably parents—who brought their children to Jesus, Jesus rebukes his disciples.[10] He commands his disciples to bring the children to him. Again, he compares the children to those who will inherit the kingdom. To be clear, his comparison does not affirm that all children are saved or citizens of the kingdom. It does indicate that followers of Christ must be absolutely dependent on the Father, just like little children.[11]

More than that, Jesus’ words carry the weight of what he had said earlier in Matthew 18:5–6: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Thus, in these two passages (Matt 18:1–6; 19:13–15), Jesus shows the way he treasures children. He models before us how we should treat children. He doesn’t neglect them, look beyond them, or get upset by their presence. He neither ignores them nor considers them a nuisance. In fact, “Jesus had a great interest in children,” something we should not overlook.[12] Morris highlights the significance of Jesus’ love for children:

It is not easy to think of Muhammad as concerned for little children, or Gautama the Buddha. But the Gospels make it clear that there were often children around Jesus. He observed their games (11:16–17), spoke of them in his teaching, and clearly was genuinely interested in them.[13]

Indeed, being informed by the Old Testament, Jesus considers children a blessing from the Lord (cf. Pss 127, 128). At the same time, with eyes fixed on eternity, he sees in them glimpses of his coming kingdom (cf. Zech 8:5). He esteems their humble dependence on their superiors as a typological model of the citizens of his own kingdom. As Christ-followers, we too should love children like Christ did.

Loving Children Like Christ Loved Children

When we behold the next generation, we must let the gospel inform our love. We must see in them two things at once: They are image-bearers created by God for his glory (Isa 43:6–7), and they are sinners whose nature offends God (Eph 2:3) and whose unbelief invites his wrath (John 3:36). Therefore, to love them like Christ, we must do more than simply express kindness; we must share with them the gospel of the kingdom.[14]

Practically, we must ask ourselves: What can I do to introduce this child to the love of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ? How can I walk before her so that she can see a model of God’s fatherly love or Christ’s sacrificial service? How can I tell him about the Son of God who died for sinners like him? Created by the same maker, we have an onerous privilege to share Christ with the next generation (Ps 78:1–8). In this sense, our love for them must be more than sentimental; it must be Christ-like. While we cannot save them by our actions or even by our faithful disclosure of the gospel, we must believe that God desires that all children would come to a saving knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). We must share the gospel with them in sincere hope that they will one day trust Christ.

In contrast to a world of adults who look to improve their image among their peers or increase their status among superiors, the followers of Christ reach down to the little ones, receiving children, adopting children, having children, and looking for ways to lay down their lives for children. As Jesus loved them, so must we. And still, in all our counter-cultural efforts to prize children, we must beware of an insidious temptation that can poison the very love we have for our children, making an idol of them.

The Temptation of Making Children an Idol

If it is a ubiquitous fact that Jesus loved children, what follows may seem impossible or at least counter-intuitive. The key to loving our children best is loving Christ so much that by comparison our love for them looks like “hate” (Luke 14:26). This kind of language is, of course, hyperbolic, but overstated as it may be, Jesus knew what he was doing with his words when he compared his disciples love for him with their love for their loved ones.

As we have seen, Jesus loved children, and yet, in order to stress the importance of our commitment to God as his disciples, Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. If you do not hate your own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters . . . you cannot be my disciple.”  Why does he say that? Let me suggest two reasons.

First, Jesus is the most central person in the universe.

Ephesians 1:10 says that all heaven and earth are united in Christ, and in his hyperbole found in Matthew 10 and Luke 14 Jesus stresses his own centrality.[15] He is not simply any son; he is the Son.[16] He is the archetypal Son, the one through whom every family derives its name (Eph 3:14), the one who perfectly embodies and reveals the Heavenly Father (Matt 10:27).Therefore, he makes no apologies for his Lordship. In speaking of his mission to the earth in Matthew 10:34–36, he clarifies his purposes:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.

These are the words that precede Jesus’ insistence that his disciples must love him so much that their allegiance to their families looks like hate. Only by prioritizing him, can his disciples enter the kingdom. And only by loving him most can his followers actually learn to love their families. As Peter Schemm has noted, “The Christian household, while important, must never become more important to us than the church or the kingdom of Christ. Such a belief would undermine the primacy of the gospel of Christ and oppose the plain teaching of Jesus.”[17]

This is the key to a life that glorifies God: the triune God must be our greatest love. He must be our greatest possession, our greatest thought, our greatest song, our best friend, our wisest counselor. He must be our all in all, such that in our families Christ retains the position of highest authority and greatest value (cf. Matt 13:44–46). While we cannot guarantee the material or emotional “success” of our families, through unswerving faithfulness to God in Christ we can glorify God in our families. By abiding in Christ and being a faithful witness to him, God can always be glorified in our homes—regardless of the present circumstances we experience.

Second, Jesus tells us not to make family an idol.

When God made the world, he called it good. When he introduced the first family—Adam and Eve—he called it very good (Gen 1:31). It is of this goodness that Jesus warns us. In a world without sin, this command—hating your loved ones—would be unnecessary. It is only necessary in a Genesis 3 world. The fall has taken the “very good” gift of family and turned it into an object for idolatry.[18]

This makes great sense. The greatest idols are the gifts that most closely resemble God and his goodness, and few things possess the potential to take our heart away from God like the relationships intertwined in a family. Pressing the point further, after Christ, godly parents, loving wives, and faithful children make some of the best gifts God can give. And accordingly, they become some of the most enslaving idols.[19]

What makes this teaching so hard is that it is honorable to put family first. Many churches are built on how they care for the family. Paul condemns the man who fails to care for his family (1 Tim 5:8). Yet, such a constant pursuit of family, if it is not watched carefully, can quickly turn Jesus into a family’s servant, instead of their Lord.

As much we want to focus on the family, we must focus on the Father and the Son first. Unless we seek them first and above our own families, we will never be the son or daughter, the mother or father, the brother or sister that God calls us to be.

So here is the counter-intuitive truth Jesus gives to his followers: if you want to love your family, you must hate your family. And by hate, I mean what Jesus means. Your love for and commitment to Christ must be so superlative, that everything else looks like hate.[20]

More importantly, to faithfully shepherd one’s children or bear witness to Christ in the context of the family, a family member (be it a parent, child, sibling, or cousin) must put Christ ahead of their family. As long as a son, a mother, or a brother remains more important—as indicated by one’s schedule, decisions, commitments, and customs—Christ will have no place in the family. But for those who are willing to put Christ ahead of their family, there is great reason to believe that he will impact the family for good.

Putting Christ First: What Does It Look Like?

By itself this teaching is difficult. Even if we can understand it cognitively, the emotional ties we have with family can make it seem unbearable to choose Christ at the expense of family. Moreover, in the matrix of faith and family, it may be difficult to see what it looks like to keep Christ at the center. For that reason we are helped when we can imitate the faith of those who have gone before us (cf. Heb 13:7).

A Son Choosing to Suffer for Christ’s Sake

First, Richard Wurmbrand tells of the terrible and wonderful account of a father and son who suffered together for the sake of Christ. He writes,

A pastor by the name of Florescu was tortured with red-hot iron pokers and with knives. He was beaten very badly. Then starving rats were driven into his cell through a large pipe. He could not sleep because he had to defend himself all the time. If he rested a moment, the rats would attack him.

He was forced to stand for two weeks, day and night. The Communists wished to compel him to betray his brethren, but he resisted steadfastly. Eventually, they brought his fourteen-year-old son to the prison and began to whip the boy in front of his father, saying that they would continue to beat him until the pastor said what they wished him to say. The poor man was half mad. He bore it as long as he could, then he cried to his son,”Alexander, I must say what they want! I can’t bear your beating anymore!” The son answered, ”Father, don’t do me the injustice of having a traitor as a parent. Withstand! If they kill me, I will die with the words, ”Jesus and my fatherland.’” The Communists, enraged, fell upon the child and beat him to death, with blood spattered over the walls of the cell. He died praising God. Our dear brother Florescu was never the same after seeing this.[21]

When I read that in 2001, years before I had sons of my own, tears collected in my eyes. But now with three small children, it takes on greater weight. I can only imagine the father’s horror to see his son beaten for his faith in Jesus. And yet, what tearful joy to know that the son he had raised to know Christ would spend eternity with their Lord.

Wurmbrand’s story reminds us of the murderous activity of the evil one. It should make us pause to pray for Christian parents and their children in places like Syria, Sudan, Iraq, and North Korea. In those countries, violence is done to Christian families that we in the West may never know. But just the same, in experiencing such familial loss in this world, they teach us what real gain is—life in Christ in the family of God.

Father, I pray for our brothers and sisters in the persecuted church and for their leaders. At times is seems as though evil is winning the day. Strengthen these believers, encourage them, and grant miracles of provision and deliverance. Cause the gospel to spread like wildfire. In their homes strengthen fathers and mothers, and grant repentance and faith to their children. Give them so much joy, peace, and love that their persecutors will be convicted and fall down and worship you. In these hard places, let your fatherly love be seen in the parents who tenderly raise their children to love Christ more than life itself. Amen.[22]

When we consider the source Florescu’s son’s courage, we have great reason to believe that he witnessed parents who loved the Lord more than life itself (Ps 63:3). In Communist Romania where the whole civilization was trained to deny God and hate the Bible, this boy had seen his father love Christ first and foremost. Therefore in his father’s moment of weakness, his son stood strong in his faith—faith that was empowered by God’s grace but faith that had also been modeled by his father (cf. 2 Tim 3:14–15).

To most Western Christians such a vision of family seems remote and unwelcome. But in light of eternal glory, this story speaks volumes about genuine faith. To see a child choose Christ in the face of death is to be deeply challenged by this fact: the sufferings of this age are light and momentary compared to the eternal weight of glory. Oh, that more fathers, under God’s gracious hand, would instill in their children such a singular passion for Christ.

A Parent’s Choice to Love the Savior More Than Her Child’s Salvation

Closer to home the command to love Jesus more than one’s own family was reiterated to me earlier this year. A mother and father came to my office broken-hearted about their adult child. They yearned for the salvation of their child and his family, and were grieved by the lifestyle choices they had seen them make. Like any parent who worried about and prayed for the salvation of their children, this couple expressed a deep belief in God, the gospel, heaven and hell.

However, as we talked, it became apparent that in the midst of pleading for God to work in their family, they had put their children’s salvation and their well-being ahead of God himself. Functionally, their children had consumed their thoughts, and even as they prayed for their salvation, their love for God had languished. Bitterness had poisoned their hearts making generous love to their children almost impossible. While doing so much good for their children, they had come to a place where they could do no more because their sole focus had been on their family.

As strange as it sounds, liberation came for them when they realized that they needed to repent of their focus on their children’s salvation and to return to the Savior. Why? Because as Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 and Luke 14 tell us, as long as a man or woman loves their mother and father, husband or wife, sons and daughters more than Jesus, they are not worthy of his companionship. Even more, those who put their families first will be unable to love and serve and witness to their families for Christ. In a word, idolatry becomes impotence when love for family displaces love for God.

The Key to Glorifying God in the Family

The key to glorifying God in our families is loving Christ so much that by comparison everything else is of little importance. Our love for Christ should be in full color, while our love for the world is in black and white. Christ’s love for us should overwhelm us so much that when we are hurt by others, we have resources to love in return. Our amazement with his forgiveness is what enables us to forgive others. And God’s unconditional acceptance of us in Christ is what empowers us to continue to love others, by not abandoning them and continuing to point them to the center of the universe, Jesus Christ.

In summary, the family is not ultimate. God is. Jesus did not come to save your family. He can save your family and we should pray that he would, but he might not. This is the sobering but necessary effect of believing Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:34–39: He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Part of the Christian’s surrender is the liberating process of giving children, spouse, siblings, and parents to the Lord, and trusting him with them.

In loving God and our families, we must come to know and embrace the fact that just as the universe is centered around the Sun, so all life is centered around Jesus Christ. History exists for him. Families exist for him. Therefore, when Jesus came to earth, he came to save his family, not ours. As he says in Mark 3:35, his brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers are any and all who do the will of God. In this sense, Jesus is a family man, but ultimately the gravitational pull of his family aligns itself with the eternal purposes of the triune God.

Sometimes this means he will redeem and restore an entire family. Other times, he will draw his sword down the middle, splitting it wide open. Why? It is hard to know. He has his good and perfect reasons, but this side of glory they are hidden. As with earthly families, children are not always privy to the decisions of their fathers. But that does not mean that the Father cannot be trusted. Just the opposite: God offers to all the chance to be a part of his family—if you are willing to put him first (Matt 6:33) and stop racing around to all your families needs at the expense of Jesus (Luke 10:38–42).

As strange as it may sound: The key to a family that glorifies God is not getting God’s help to prioritize your family; the key is living out your life in the family of God. If you prioritize that family relationship, God will become your trusted Father and Jesus Christ will become your elder brother who will enable you with his Spirit to live and love in a way that resembles the triune God. God will move in your heart and your home to do all he wants to do in your family. This is the good news of the gospel, and it is the key to being a disciple who glorifies God in your family.

 

[1]On the relationship between putting Christ first and its impact on familial strife, see Timothy S. Lane, Family Feuds: How to Respond (Greensboro, NC: New Growth, 2008).

[2]Although not centering his ministry on children (“children per se were not at the heart of Jesus’ priorities”), “Jesus placed special importance on receiving with kindness and hospitality the least important members of society: children” (S. C. Barton, “Child, Children,” in The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992], 101–02).

[3]Ibid., 100–04.

[4]D. A. Carson, Matthew, in vol. 8 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 395.

[5]Leon Morris (The Gospel According to Matthew [PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992], 460) distinguishes the difference between modern feelings about children and society’s sentiments in Jesus’ day: “In modern Western societies children are often seen as very important, but in first-century Judaism they were not . . . In the affairs of men children were unimportant. They could not fight, they could not lead, they had not had time to acquire wisdom, they could not pile up riches, they counted for very little.” Certainly, Jesus’ illustration with the child does not make Jesus the equivalent of a braggadocious suburban father. From first to last, Jesus was kingdom-centered. Nevertheless, by using the child’s humble and dependent nature as a model for heavenly citizenship, he endows the child with inherent worth, something out of step with his ancient culture.

[6]Carson rightly observes, “The child is held up as an ideal, not of innocence, purity, or faith, but of humility and unconcern for social status” (Matthew, 397).

[7]Ibid.

[8]Michael Green, The Message of Matthew, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 190–91.

[9]On the use of feminine imagery for God, see John Frame’s helpful discussion, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2013), 107–115.

[10]In Jesus’ day Hebrew parents would often bring children to rabbis for blessing (Carson, Matthew, 420).

[11]David L. Turner rightly observes, “Jesus does not choose a child out of a sentimental notion of the innocence or subjective humility of children, since children may already exhibit in seed form the traits Jesus speaks against here. The childlike character trait that is foremost in the simile of becoming like a child is [objective] humility.” He then elaborates, “Children are not innocent or selfless, nor do they consistently model humility. Rather, children have no status in society; they are at the mercy of adults. Similarly, repentant disciples admit that they have no status before God and they depend solely on the love of the heavenly Father” (Matthew [BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008], 435–36).

[12]Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 486.

[13]Ibid.

[14]A tremendous example of how to share the gospel with children can be found in J. C. Ryle’s sermons to children (Boys and Girls Playing and Other Addresses to Children, ed. Don Kistler [New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1881; reprint, Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1996]).

[15]Jesus does something similar when he speaks about the poor in John 12:8: “For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

[16]“No mere man has the right to claim a love higher than that for parents or children; it is only because he is who he is that Jesus can look for such love” (Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 268).

[17]Peter R. Schemm, Jr., “Habits of a Gospel-Centered Household,” in Trained in the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective, ed. Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011), 191–92.

[18]Timothy Keller (Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters [New York: Riverhead, 2009], 204) gives a representative list of ten possible idols. One category he lists is “relational idols,” which he defines as “dysfunctional family systems of codependency; ‘fatal attractions’; living your life through your children.” Although importing terminology and concepts from the realm of psychology, this category well-describes the kind of family idolatry outlined here. To change only one of his prepositions, as a pastor I see a great deal of Christian parents idolizing their children by living their lives for their children. Without denying any Christian doctrines or affirming any heresies, parents dedicate years (if not decades) prioritizing their children over God. While such praxis is normal among many parents, it is a sinful form of idolatry.

[19]“We think that idols are bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god [i.e., an idol], especially the very best things in life” (ibid., xix).

[20]Loves [in Matthew 10:37] is a significant word; it points to the warmest affection. Jesus does not bid his followers love their parents or their children (nor, on the other hand, does he forbid warm affection in the family). He simply assumes that family members will love one another. But he is concerned that they must not value their attachment to the members of their families so highly that he is pushed into the background” (Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 267–68).

[21]Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice, 1998), 34.

[22]An adaptation of “A Prayer about God Overriding Our Unbelief,” in Scotty Smith, Everyday Prayers: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 138.

The post Perspectives on Christ- Centered Family Disipleship appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Why doesn’t church discipline ever seem to work?

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 09:54

 

I remember right where I was—leading a Bible study in my living room. The conversation moved into the practice of church discipline. I had previously mentioned that “of course the goal of church discipline is always repentance.” What I meant was that we always want the sinner to be restored into full, healthy communion with God and with the church.

Then someone asked the question: “Why doesn’t church discipline ever seem to work?” By that this person meant, “Why haven’t we seen any of the excommunicated members repent and be restored?” This person had heard my previous statement about the goal being restoration and had assumed that restoration was the only goal, or perhaps even the primary goal. This is not the case. In fact, there are several goals in mind when a church practices discipline.

Numerous goals of church discipline

A goal in church discipline is to be motivated by love.

Whenever a church must discipline someone, they must ensure that love is their motivation. Love is the only proper motivation, as the Lord himself illustrates: “The Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Heb. 12:6). We likewise are called to restore our brothers with a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1), that they might come to repentance (1 Cor. 5:5). A goal of church discipline is to guard the church’s purity.

A goal of church discipline is to guard the church’s purity.

When churches fail to practice church discipline, a subtle moral laxity can creep in. A little leaven, when left to fester instead of being removed, will leaven the whole lump. Conversely, when the church practices discipline, church members will soberly reflect upon their own sins and will take seriously Christ’s call to holiness.

A goal of church discipline is to guard the reputation of Christ.

When churches stop practicing church discipline, they begin to slide. They become worldly. Their light begins to dim and their salt begins to lose its saltiness. Once their salt becomes worthless (Matt. 5:13), their witness to the community goes with it.

Ultimate goal

The ultimate goal of discipline is to obey the Lord, regardless of whether repentance occurs.

Jesus empowered, indeed commanded, local congregations to exercise discipline among their own congregation. In Matthew 16:16–19 and 18:15–20, Jesus gives to local assemblies the keys of the kingdom for loosing and binding on Earth.

Paul likewise speaks about this discipline process in 1 Corinthians 5, Galatians 6:1, Ephesians 5:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, 1 Timothy 5:19–20, Titus 3:9–11, and other places. Regardless of whether the sinner ever repents and restores, believers are to humbly obey Jesus (and Paul) and follow through with discipline. The outcome does not change the obligation for the congregation to faithfully obey.

Resources

Here are some resources on church discipline:

___________

Jon English Lee serves as minister of education and administration at Morningview Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University in Montgomery, a master of divinity from Southern Seminary, and is currently a PhD candidate in systematic and historical theology at Southern. He has served several churches in Kentucky. Jon enjoys reading, scuba diving, and most any other outdoor activity. He and his wife, Rebekah, have three sons: Jonny, Jack, and Graham.

 

The post Why doesn’t church discipline ever seem to work? appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Death at Work in Us

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 09:30

Grief in the Shadows

Recently, I visited my childhood home to attend the funeral of my dear aunt, a quiet and meek servant of Christ. She passed away at 53. You know the questions that come after such a parting, the ones that race in your mind without a checkered flag. Night and day, the soul is in anguish, longing for some relief, some answers, some comfort. The shadow cast by death veils the sun. Those shadows are more noticeable when death claims someone close.

By all appearances, the sun is not even there, but we who believe know better. The fixed attribute of shadows is that they shift. We are not to be deceived by that which is seen, but to trust what God has revealed to be true of the unseen. The comfort of God is that He does not shift like shadows (James 1:17). The light has not moved. He is constant, but the darkness of the shadows of death produce a grief that is real. The grief that accompanies death does not have to be sinful. To grieve is to acknowledge the reality of death, that the relationship lost was deep, and that humanity has a true enemy.

A Real Enemy

Suffering is a normal part of our post-Fall human condition, and chief among those sufferings is death. The skirmishes of human suffering are the drum beats of battle, and death is the enemy’s call to charge. Death invaded the garden paradise to stake claim and pronounce judgment for sin committed. But, this enemy stands opposite the armies of God and has lost the war ever since Christ arose victorious (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

Death reveals our human frailty. Weakness is uncomfortable and is not an enviable state for our flesh. Emotional instability in the form of fear and worry are more pervasive when we are aware of our own mortality. Sadness makes a preemptive bid to take up residence so deep within that numbness seems preferable. Death is a reminder that we are still at war, and combat is always accompanied by agony. Yet, in the gruesome aches of war, we must know that the Lord is using suffering to work in us for our good and His glory.

Death is at work to…

Reveal the nearness of our Lord

Death is one of many contributors to a broken heart. Since death is our enemy, and death breeds brokenness, we falsely identify our despair as an enemy. A broken heart is not our enemy. God does not despise a broken heart (Psalm 51:17, Isaiah 66:2). Rather, He heals the brokenhearted, binding their wounds with the salve of His promises (Psalm 147:3). The Lord is near in death because death crushes. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). He has promised to be with us always, even unto the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He demonstrated His willingness to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death by being obedient to the point of death on the cross. Although death intends to crush our spirit, it works instead to produce a brokenness that beckons the nearness of our Great Shepherd. His nearness is our good, for in Him we find our refuge (Psalm 73:28).

Produce Patience

For me, to die is gain, because death has lost its sting. But when we lose a loved one, the loss still stings. We do not grieve like those who are without hope, but we still grieve. Through that pain, we are more vigilant to pray that the Lord come quickly and rid us of this life filled with pain and suffering. At those intense moments of pain, we cry out with urgency for Jesus to come and make all things new. There is nothing at all wrong with that prayer and desire, but we must wait patiently for the Lord, as the farmer waits for the harvest (James 5:7-8). There is difficulty in waiting, but suffering produces a patient endurance that builds a hope that will not lead us to shame. So we do not lose heart, but we wait with confident expectation for the coming of the Lord (Psalm 27:13-14). We know that in His coming, He will wipe away every tear and make all things broken whole again (Revelation 21:4-5). So death works in us a patient but eager longing for the return of Christ, the victor over our great enemy (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).

Recalibrate

Circumstances can be an enemy of faith or its primary builder. Our fallen human nature yearns to believe by sight. We are continually tempted to believe reality is made of only that which is seen because painful circumstances make a strong and convincing case for reality. When our senses are bound to seen things, we see but do not see, and hear but do not hear. Circumstances are like a puzzle box that is half full. When the pieces are put together, they help to form a picture, but because several key parts are missing, we cannot make sense of the whole.

Our minds tend to contemplate eternal things when death is near. Those temporary pursuits slide a few notches down on the priority list. Thoughts of death’s finality act as a probe searching the soul for any transitory hopes that cannot bear the eternal weight of glory. We lose heart when reminded that our outer man is decaying if our inner man is not being renewed. However, the inner man can only be renewed as we focus on the unseen to make sense of what is seen. Now death is at work to sturdy my heart upon a hope that will not disappoint. These blows to the soul fracture the fragile jars of clay that we are so that light will shine out from the darkness of our inner affliction. We are struck down, but not destroyed by the circumstance. So death is at work in us to make evident the light of Christ through our mortal life.

Death at Work in You

Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately? Or better yet, have you looked at an old photo of yourself from a decade ago? While home for my aunt’s funeral, I was reminded that this summer marks 20 years since I completed high school. The 20-year-old graduation photo on the wall of my parents’ home looked more like my eldest son than me. Our bodies really are decaying. For many of us, that thought is too morbid a territory for our sanitary minds. Since life’s allotment is but a vapor, we must consider the ways that death is at work in us.

There is no need to fear the facts revealed from our old photos. While death remains a consequence of our sin, Christ can bring beauty from the ashes of those who are His (Isaiah 61:3). He has made death His subject to work in us courage, strength, endurance, character, and a patient hope that is more sure than death itself. So we let death work in us to produce steadfastness, that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing, because our trust is firm in His promises. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”

Categories: Seminary Blog

Death at Work in Us

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 05/16/2017 - 09:30

Grief in the Shadows

Recently, I visited my childhood home to attend the funeral of my dear aunt, a quiet and meek servant of Christ. She passed away at 53. You know the questions that come after such a parting, the ones that race in your mind without a checkered flag. Night and day, the soul is in anguish, longing for some relief, some answers, some comfort. The shadow cast by death veils the sun. Those shadows are more noticeable when death claims someone close.

By all appearances, the sun is not even there, but we who believe know better. The fixed attribute of shadows is that they shift. We are not to be deceived by that which is seen, but to trust what God has revealed to be true of the unseen. The comfort of God is that He does not shift like shadows (James 1:17). The light has not moved. He is constant, but the darkness of the shadows of death produce a grief that is real. The grief that accompanies death does not have to be sinful. To grieve is to acknowledge the reality of death, that the relationship lost was deep, and that humanity has a true enemy.

A Real Enemy

Suffering is a normal part of our post-Fall human condition, and chief among those sufferings is death. The skirmishes of human suffering are the drum beats of battle, and death is the enemy’s call to charge. Death invaded the garden paradise to stake claim and pronounce judgment for sin committed. But, this enemy stands opposite the armies of God and has lost the war ever since Christ arose victorious (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

Death reveals our human frailty. Weakness is uncomfortable and is not an enviable state for our flesh. Emotional instability in the form of fear and worry are more pervasive when we are aware of our own mortality. Sadness makes a preemptive bid to take up residence so deep within that numbness seems preferable. Death is a reminder that we are still at war, and combat is always accompanied by agony. Yet, in the gruesome aches of war, we must know that the Lord is using suffering to work in us for our good and His glory.

Death is at work to…

Reveal the nearness of our Lord

Death is one of many contributors to a broken heart. Since death is our enemy, and death breeds brokenness, we falsely identify our despair as an enemy. A broken heart is not our enemy. God does not despise a broken heart (Psalm 51:17, Isaiah 66:2). Rather, He heals the brokenhearted, binding their wounds with the salve of His promises (Psalm 147:3). The Lord is near in death because death crushes. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). He has promised to be with us always, even unto the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He demonstrated His willingness to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death by being obedient to the point of death on the cross. Although death intends to crush our spirit, it works instead to produce a brokenness that beckons the nearness of our Great Shepherd. His nearness is our good, for in Him we find our refuge (Psalm 73:28).

Produce Patience

For me, to die is gain, because death has lost its sting. But when we lose a loved one, the loss still stings. We do not grieve like those who are without hope, but we still grieve. Through that pain, we are more vigilant to pray that the Lord come quickly and rid us of this life filled with pain and suffering. At those intense moments of pain, we cry out with urgency for Jesus to come and make all things new. There is nothing at all wrong with that prayer and desire, but we must wait patiently for the Lord, as the farmer waits for the harvest (James 5:7-8). There is difficulty in waiting, but suffering produces a patient endurance that builds a hope that will not lead us to shame. So we do not lose heart, but we wait with confident expectation for the coming of the Lord (Psalm 27:13-14). We know that in His coming, He will wipe away every tear and make all things broken whole again (Revelation 21:4-5). So death works in us a patient but eager longing for the return of Christ, the victor over our great enemy (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).

Recalibrate

Circumstances can be an enemy of faith or its primary builder. Our fallen human nature yearns to believe by sight. We are continually tempted to believe reality is made of only that which is seen because painful circumstances make a strong and convincing case for reality. When our senses are bound to seen things, we see but do not see, and hear but do not hear. Circumstances are like a puzzle box that is half full. When the pieces are put together, they help to form a picture, but because several key parts are missing, we cannot make sense of the whole.

Our minds tend to contemplate eternal things when death is near. Those temporary pursuits slide a few notches down on the priority list. Thoughts of death’s finality act as a probe searching the soul for any transitory hopes that cannot bear the eternal weight of glory. We lose heart when reminded that our outer man is decaying if our inner man is not being renewed. However, the inner man can only be renewed as we focus on the unseen to make sense of what is seen. Now death is at work to sturdy my heart upon a hope that will not disappoint. These blows to the soul fracture the fragile jars of clay that we are so that light will shine out from the darkness of our inner affliction. We are struck down, but not destroyed by the circumstance. So death is at work in us to make evident the light of Christ through our mortal life.

Death at Work in You

Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately? Or better yet, have you looked at an old photo of yourself from a decade ago? While home for my aunt’s funeral, I was reminded that this summer marks 20 years since I completed high school. The 20-year-old graduation photo on the wall of my parents’ home looked more like my eldest son than me. Our bodies really are decaying. For many of us, that thought is too morbid a territory for our sanitary minds. Since life’s allotment is but a vapor, we must consider the ways that death is at work in us.

There is no need to fear the facts revealed from our old photos. While death remains a consequence of our sin, Christ can bring beauty from the ashes of those who are His (Isaiah 61:3). He has made death His subject to work in us courage, strength, endurance, character, and a patient hope that is more sure than death itself. So we let death work in us to produce steadfastness, that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing, because our trust is firm in His promises. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”

Categories: Seminary Blog

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