Monday, December 31, 2007

A Frightening Warning from C.S. Lewis

In the third book of C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength (Collier, 1986, p. 353), Lewis describes the mindset of the chief villain. It is frighteningly real and shows deep understanding of human nature:
The last scene of Dr. Faustus where the man raves and implores on the edge of Hell is, perhaps, stage fire. The last moments before damnation are not often so dramatic. Often the man knows with perfect clarity that some still possible action of his own will could yet save him. But he cannot make this knowledge real to himself. Some tiny habitual sensuality, some resentment too trivial to waste on a blue-bottle, the indulgence of some fatal lethargy, seems to him at that moment more important than the choice between total joy and total destruction. With eyes wide open, seeing that the endless terror is just about to begin and yet (for the moment) unable to feel terrified, he watches passively, not moving a finger for his own rescue, while the last links with joy and reason are severed, and drowsily sees the trap close upon his soul. So full of sleep are they at the time when they leave the right way.

It should be our prayer that we never succumb to the habitual sensuality, resentment, or fatal lethargy that might keep us from the saving grace of the cross. May we feel the terror of being separated from the One who has the power to cast both body and soul into Hell.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

What Must I Do To Be Saved?

Jason had the pleasure of worshiping with Riverside Church this morning and providing the message. Click to listen to the sermon on Galatians 3:10-14.

Monday, December 24, 2007

For Unto Us a Child is Born

As Christmas approaches, the Bible has struck me in a new way when talking about Jesus. Christmas has always been an amazing time to think about how a baby in a manger is both God and man, and how that baby would grow up to live a sinless life and die a sin-filled death in order to make atonement for people who rejected him. He is most assuredly our savior. But, this Christmas, the Bible brought out another view of Jesus that I had only scarcely seen before.

Mostly because of Hebrew language courses, I have spent more time in the Old Testament this year than I usually do. It is amazing. For instance, in Deuteronomy, the LORD speaks to Moses and says, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deut 18:18). Now, fast forward to the Gospel of John. The priests and Levites were curious about John the baptizer and asked him, “Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:21). The priests and Levites knew their Old Testament. They were waiting for the Prophet the LORD had told Moses would come. At that point it had been 400 years since the last word of the Old Testament had been written, yet the Jews were still wondering who the Prophet might be. Here is the kicker: Jesus said, “I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment” (John 12:49). Jesus claimed to be the Prophet the Jews were waiting for.

When Jacob blessed his twelve sons in the first book of the Bible, he gave Judah a special blessing. He said, “Judah is a lion's cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him” (Gen 49:9). At the end of time, as described in the last book of the Bible, John, the beloved disciple, stood before the great throne and wept because no one was worthy to open the scroll sealed with seven seals. An elder said to him, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Rev 5:5). Jacob’s blessing has been waiting for a long time for consummation.

Isaiah, in his famous chapter about the coming Messiah, wrote, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11). Key in on a few words: he shall see and be satisfied. What does that mean? How will the coming Messiah be satisfied out of the anguish of his soul? Can satisfaction come from anguish? The rest of the verse shows this satisfaction is in the context of bearing their iniquities. I think the writer to the Hebrews picks up on this, when he writes “for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). Somehow, when Jesus looked before him toward the cross there was joy, dare I say satisfaction, in knowing what he would accomplish, namely, bearing our iniquities.

Again, Isaiah writes, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted” (Isa 52:13). Paul declares the fulfillment of this prophesy when he writes, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11).

One final example, I think that good Jews during the day of Jesus knew their Old Testaments well. Therefore when the angel came to Mary his words must have been stunning: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33). Do you see how the angel’s words to Mary echo the prophesies of Jacob, Moses, and Isaiah? These were not throwaway words for Mary. They were jaw dropping words that had an immediate impact, “The Messiah will be my child? How can this be?”

The Abell family prayer for you this Christmas is that you would be in awe of the baby Jesus, for he is the culmination and fulfillment of the Old Testament. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Ephesians 6:5-9

I had the pleasure of preaching to the Bethlehem Career Adults today. The sermon is available here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Four Funerals in Ten Weeks

Between July 14 and September 26, we attended four funerals. The first funeral was for Wendy’s dad, killed by an incredibly rare form of cancer. The second funeral was for the mother of Wendy’s friend Heather who was also killed by cancer. Both of these adults were in their sixties and died entirely too young from a disheartening enemy that relentlessly pursued them. The third funeral was for a young man, 24 years old, who had committed suicide. The fourth funeral was for a full-term infant who died in her mother’s womb two days before the due date, apparently by strangulation from the umbilical cord.

It is no small thing to see this much death in so short a period. These four deaths spanned the spectrum of age, from the very youngest to the gray headed. The forms of death were heartbreaking: cancer, suicide, and unfortunate accident. What can be said to the spouse (of either couple) whose marriage was ended just shy of their fortieth anniversary? What do you say to the mother and father whose brilliant but depressed son completely lost hope? What do you say to the expectant mother whose baby isn’t moving any more, yet still has to give birth? What do you say to the baby’s father as he carries – by himself – the coffin out of the funeral/worship service into the waiting hearse?

This summer God displayed to Wendy and me, in a unique way, that God is the giver of life. And even more distinctly that he is the taker. Job, upon hearing that all ten of his children were killed in a horrendous wind storm worshiped, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:20). Job attributed what to him was a natural disaster to God. God had taken away his children. Not the wind, not bad construction, not fate, but God.

Some of you might be incensed at what I am writing and say that God didn’t kill Job’s kids, Satan did. Yes, but I am still ultimately saying that God killed Job’s children. However, I am only repeating to you what Job said. He said, “The LORD has taken away.” What else could that mean, but that God killed Job’s children? Now, before you throw this newsletter away, read v21, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” That is an astonishing sentence. That sentence should rock your world and change your understanding of God forever. God is not a pansy God who is not in complete control of all things. God, who created all things through Christ and for Christ, will do whatever is necessary to display his glory the brightest and give his children the greatest joy – even unto death.

Do you believe in Job’s God?

I watched Abraham Piper carry his baby down the aisle, after having worshiped with him for the last hour. With tears rolling down my face, I asked myself, what would my reaction be if Wendy or one of the kids or both were in a coffin? Would I be angry with God? Would I walk away from my faith? Would my faith deepen? Would I be able to say, with Abraham Piper, Jesus does all things well?

It is impossible for me to predict how I would answer those questions. I am not facing those situations now. Someday I will face something similar. Right now, I believe God will give me the grace to face whatever situation will someday occur. It will not be easy. It will be brutally hard, and will shake my faith to the core. Lord willing, he will bring me through with faith intact.

When we try to contemplate a God who gives and takes away, we must remember that this very same God gave his only son for a people who had utterly abandoned him. This God willingly sent his son to his death, but more than that, he crushed his own son so that his justice would be fulfilled and we might go free. Isaiah wrote about this very thing:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa 53:4-6).

The rest of this story is contained in the reaction of those closest to the four deceased. All four families worshiped. Wendy’s mom worshiped. Heather and her family worshiped. The parents of Luke worshiped. Abraham and Molly worshiped. They all worshiped the God who gives and who takes away. I know they have questioned and struggled and wept and were angry. So did Job. But none of them faltered. They are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor 6:10).

Job’s God is enough.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Teaching at Living Water Community Church

In February, 2007, Pastor Tom Steller and I had the opportunity to fly to my hometown of Vancouver, WA, and teach a weekend seminar on the Bible study method called "arcing." The following two links are for audio from that session. The first audio is where I taught through the arc for 1 Samuel 12:19-25. I had recently preached on this same passage before a bunch of seminary students, and now had the opportunity to preach through it to a church congregation learning to study their Bibles. I hope you can tell the difference between the two! Click here to listen to the first sermon.

Arcing 1 Samuel 12:19-25

This second audio is from the very last session of the weekend. I was to close out the weekend by teaching through the arc of Romans 11:33-36. It was a sober and wonderful moment. Unfortunately, the last ten minutes of the audio were lost! The whole weekend was supposed to have been videotaped and yet nothing turned out except for about seven hours of poor audio. This is the very last twenty minutes.

Arcing Romans 11:33-36

This passage is so profound and deep; I wish my exposition of Paul's wonder at the depth and riches of God's wisdom and knowledge had survived technology!

My First Sermon...

Clicking on the link below will play the very first sermon that I ever preached to a congregation. I had taught in Sunday school situations for over five years, but had never preached. Various circumstances, including our decision to leave Vancouver, WA for seminary, led to this opportunity. On June 6, 2004, I preached this sermon to a total of about 650 people spread across three services. I believe this audio is from the second service. If you listen to John Piper often, you will recognize much from this sermon.

Quest for Joy

Despite my inexperience, it is my prayer and hope that my passion for the Glory of God is apparent.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What Everyone Needs to Know About Stem Cells

From Chuck Colson's Breakpoint:
In October, surgeons removed 500ccs of bone marrow from Carron’s left hip. The cells were cultivated, and four hours later, 30 million stem cells were injected into the right side of Carron’s heart.

Read the result: "Your Own Stem Cells Work!"

Calvinist Resurgence

Mark Dever (and others!) have noticed a resurgence in the Doctrines of Grace (or Calvinism), especially among younger Evangelicals. In an effort to analyze this movement, Dever posted 10 blog entries detailing where all these Calvinists have come from. The following is a lengthy quote from his tenth post:

My point in this already too-long entry is not how much Arminianism changed, but how incomplete their labors were. They said God hadn’t predestined and elected the way most earlier Protestant theologians understood Scripture to teach, but they didn’t say God couldn’t. In a nominally Christian culture, Arminianism may appear to be a satisfying explanation of the problem of evil—“God’s good; it’s our fault”. But as the acids of modernity have eaten away at more and more of the Bible’s teachings and even presuppositions about God, that answer is proving woefully insufficient to more radical critics. It appears merely like moving the wrinkle in the carpet. A backslidden United Methodist may be satisfied with such teaching, but a Deist, a Buddhist or an atheist would have no reasons to be. A. C. Grayling, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and their like will not for a moment be satisfied with someone saying “Well, God could have made this world without suffering, but in order to be loved with dignity by free beings, He decided He must allow such sin and suffering as we experience.”

Really? Then hang being loved with dignity! Forget the whole experiment! It costs too much! Furthermore, what kind of God NEEDS to be worshipped? What kind of deity is this?!

And it’s this line of questioning that I think has quietly, deeply, perhaps subtly been re-shaping the field into one in which the half-measures of Arminianism are not even beginning to be satisfying. They are attractive to fewer and fewer people. Their adherents average age will grow even as their numbers shrink. They will be recruited mainly from the churched, and perhaps even those who’ve nurtured grievances against God, for allowing this or that to happen.

Reformed theology, on the other hand, teaches about a god who is GOD. The kind of objections that seem to motivate Arminianism are disallowed by the very presuppositions Calvinism understands the Bible to teach about God. This God is sovereign and exercises His sovereignty. This God is centered on Himself. And this God is understood to be morally good in being so Self-centered. In fact, it would be evil, wrong, deceptive for Him to be centered on anything other than His own glory. There is no apology about this.

I highly suggest you read all ten posts. Here are links:

Where'd all these Calvinists come from? 10 of 10

Where'd all these Calvinists come from? 9 of 10
Where'd all these Calvinists come from? 8 of 10
Where'd all these Calvinists come from? 7 of 10
Where'd all these Calvinists come from? 6 of 10
Where'd all these Calvinists come from? 5 of 10
Where'd all these Calvinists come from? 4 of 10
Where'd all these Calvinists come from? 3 of 10
Where'd all these Calvinists come from? 2 of 10
Where'd all these Calvinists come from? 1 of 10

Monday, August 20, 2007

Wayward Children

Every parent's fear is to have a rebellious, wayward child. Sometimes, despite the best effort at raising a child for Christ, they rebel.

Abraham Piper was such a child. By the grace of God he has since returned and wrote this piece of advice for parents with wayward children.

Read 12 Ways to Love your Wayward Child at the DG blog.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My Kids are Bored...

I remember my years in elementary school. All that I longed to do was go outside and play. Once I learned to ride a bike, we went all over the county (literally) and caught frogs and snakes and generally had a great time from sunup to sundown.

My kids, however, would rather stay inside and play. We guard the TV and greatly minimize viewing times. But while kids play Barbies or Star Wars or Legos, we can't seem to get them outside.

Read this article by Jerram Barrs with me and help me see what we can do...

(HT: Between Two Worlds)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Bedtime "Ditty"

For those of you with children, we think you will appreciate this "ditty."

(HT: Between Two Worlds)

Monday, August 06, 2007

For I am Not Ashamed...Wendy's Dad Goes Home

Wendy's father passed away on July 5, and our family life has been dominated by this event for the last three weeks. If you have experienced death before, you know how it brings issues of mortality to the forefront of our minds. It sweeps away the clutter surrounding death and the desensitization that we feel after watching death repeatedly on TV or in movies. Death is no longer something that simply happens on the screen, but it is real and painful and final and has consequences.

About a week before Steve died I had the opportunity to read scripture with him over the phone. He was dying of cancer, and our prayer was that Christ would sustain his faith through this process. My wife had flown out to be with him and her mother. I read to him from Philippians 1:20-21. “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” This was our prayer and Steve’s eager expectation too. He did not want to look at his life and be ashamed. When I read this passage to him, I did so with the intent that his faith be sustained until the end so that Christ would be honored in his body—either in his life or in his death, and that he would not be ashamed by his own actions.

This passage in Philippians reminded me of Romans 1:16-17, which says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Now in light of our Christian commitment to take the gospel to our neighbors and co-workers and family and friends, it is imperative that we, along with Paul, not be ashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ’s sinless life, his death, and his resurrection, opening a way that through faith we might live.

There is something very interesting connecting these two passages. They are connected because of the word “ashamed.” If I am a Christian who wants to share Christ with my neighbors and co-workers I can not be ashamed of the Gospel. Nor do I, at the end of my life, want to be ashamed by the way in which I had lived. Instead, I want to be like Paul and declare that it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that Christ will have been seen as glorious in my life. So there you have it. We should not be ashamed of the Gospel, so that when we are at the end of our life, we will not be ashamed of our conduct.

Do you notice the nuance of difference in the object of our shame in these two verses? In Romans, Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel. In Philippians, he does not want to be ashamed of himself. There is a slightly different Greek word used in the Romans text from the word used in Philippians. The word used in Romans has a meaning of being ashamed of something outside yourself. Hence, Paul is not ashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel is outside himself.
Jesus used this same word in Mark 8:38 when he said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” If we are ashamed of Jesus, who is outside us, he will also be ashamed – same word – of us when he comes in glory.

Here is an example from the life of Steve Geil. He lived a life that was NOT ashamed of the Gospel. Once, Steve and I stood in a fast-food line near a soldier recently returned from Iraq. Within moments Steve was talking Gospel to this man. Steve was not ashamed of the Gospel, even with total strangers in a public place. Here is another example. In the late seventies, early eighties, Steve ran a bus ministry for his church. On Saturdays, he would go to a neighborhood and start knocking on doors. He explained who he was and asked if he could take these people’s children to church the next day. If the people agreed, Steve would pick up their children the next morning in the church bus. Every Sunday he brought a gaggle of kids to church. All because Steve was not ashamed of the Gospel.

The second nuance of the word ashamed in Philippians has to do with being ashamed of something we are or something we do. Paul is sitting in jail and does not know whether he is going to live or die. He is writing to the Philippians and explaining to them in the first chapter how it is a good thing he is in prison because it is serving to advance the gospel. He does not really know whether he will make it out of prison alive. Paul writes, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Here Paul does not want to be ashamed by something he does or something he is. He is concerned that Christ might NOT be honored in his life. But notice what the object of Paul’s potential shame is: it is himself. He does not want to be ashamed of his own behavior in regard to honoring Christ. Instead, he both expects—eagerly—and hopes that Christ will be honored in both his life and his death.

Whereas in Romans, Paul is not ashamed of something external, the gospel, here he does not want to be ashamed of something internal, his behavior. The same Greek word used in Philippians is used by John in 1 John 1:28. “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” John is exhorting his church to abide in Christ, so that they won’t be ashamed for their behavior if they don’t abide in him. Do you see the difference in the object of shame?

Here is another example from the life of my father-in-law. He died in his bed, while his wife gently wiped his faith with a cool cloth. His last words in this life were, “That feels good. Thank you, Jesus.” And then he stopped breathing. His last words in this life honored Christ. His prayer, our prayer was answered in that whether in life or in death, Christ was honored in his body. But there is more. I don’t know how many people attended the funeral, maybe 250? During the time of reflection, when people stood up to say some last words, there was a recurring theme. “I am here because Steve Geil knocked on my door and took my kids to Sunday school.” “I am here because when I told Steve I couldn’t come to church because I had to roof my house, he got out of his car and helped me finish the job so that I would not have an excuse. I came to church.” “I am a Christian because Steve Geil was not ashamed of the gospel.” “I am here because Steve Geil told me about Jesus.”

I believe that when Steve crossed over from this life to the life to come, his eager expectation and hope became a reality. In both his life and his death he was not ashamed, because he had lived a life and died a death that brought glory to Jesus Christ.

Friday, August 03, 2007

God is Sovereign...Down to the Details

On Wednesday afternoon, August 1, 2007, at approximately 6:05 PM, the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi river collapsed. It was also my first day of full-time work at Bethlehem Baptist Church after a 21-year career in civil engineering. I put in a full day, and due to some emails, I left later than I would have normally. I had told Wendy I would be home at 6:00 PM, but noticed the clock in the car was 5:52 PM when I drove out the parking lot. I navigated the downtown traffic and merged onto I-35W. I called Wendy to tell her I would be late as I crossed the bridge. I looked at the clock, 6:00 PM. I drove home, had dinner with my wife and kids, and did not know of the tragedy that happened moments behind me until around 8:30 PM that evening.

How can we not believe in a sovereign God who causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on both the just and the unjust? He knows the numbers of hairs on our heads and a sparrow doesn't fall apart from him. He ordains fish to swallow wayward prophets and worms to eat the roots of shade bearing plants. He stores snow and controls whirlwinds. He keeps bushes from burning and brings empires down with plagues. God is an awesome God.

The number one question that I should ask is why did the bridge not fall while I was on it? I am a sinner just like everyone else on the bridge. This is, as Jesus says in Luke 13:1-5, a warning call for repentance. O my Lord, I repent. Thank you for sparing my life and giving me a few more days. Please, in your sovereignty, cause them to be glorifying to you.

Please read what my pastor wrote about the bridge collapse. It is worth your time. You can read it here.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Schreiner on Galatians

I had the amazing privilege of learning from Dr. Tom Schreiner this past week. I took a modular class on Galatians where we spent 9 months translating, diagramming and arcing our way through the Greek text. Then last week, for four hours a day for five days, Dr. Schreiner walked through the text with us and discussed every detail. It was such a joy.

Dr. Schreiner is currently working on a commentary on Galatians for a new commentary series to be published by Zondervan. The genius of this commentary series is that each commentary will be based on arcing or tracing the argument.

Not only was Dr. Schreiner brilliant, but he exuded Christian character. He was kind and polite, humble and happy. Our whole family picked him up at the airport and he genuinely seemed interested in talking with my kids. He has been a hero of mine since I taught through his Romans commentary at Brush Prairie Baptist Church about seven years ago.

Toward a Fuller Gospel

The most devastating news for a sinner is that Jesus rose from the dead. This news is devastating because it means that Jesus really is God, he really does reign over the universe, and he really will deal with sinners by sending them to hell. People deny this truth in two distinct ways. First, they deny this truth through apathy. They just don’t care. Especially in the opulent West, where our highest values are comfort and security, the idea that Jesus has risen from the dead simply doesn’t matter. It is much easier to lock the doors at night, and go shopping in the morning. There is little time to worry about a man rising from the dead 2,000 years ago, when work needs to get done, lawns need to be mowed, and vacations need to be paid for. Second, the truth about Jesus is denied through outright derision. This can be seen in the current media frenzy over the atheistic elite. Richard Dawkins has published a book on The God Delusion, lashing out at Christianity, and Sam Harris has written an angry Letter to a Christian Nation, sharply stating reasons why religious types are stupid and dangerous. Clearly, for either of these two types of people, coming to the realization that Jesus did, indeed, rise from the dead would be devastating. Frankly, the truth that Jesus is risen from the dead is not—by itself—good news.

There is another man for whom this news would have been devastating. Saul of Tarsus described himself as “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless” (Phil 3:5-6). While Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris would be just as disturbed by Saul as the Christians were, Saul clearly fell into their camp in that he held Christians in derision. For Saul, Christians were a nasty Jewish sect that was twisting the truth of Scripture. They claimed that the Messiah had not only come, but had been crucified by Roman soldiers. The idea that the Messiah could be crucified was ludicrous to Saul. Jesus was not the Messiah, and he did not rise from the dead.

Knowing Paul’s conversion experience, however, begs the question, was Paul devastated when he finally learned that Jesus had risen from the dead? Acts 22:6-8 states, “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’” This news had to be devastating to Paul. For example, the account in Acts 9 says that Paul went into the city “and for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” What was he thinking? Was he crushed? Was his life as a Pharisee flashing before his eyes? Did he fear the wrath of the risen Messiah? Or, was there more to his conversation with Jesus than written here?

The account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 26 gives us a fuller answer. When recounting the story before Agrippa, Paul shared more of Jesus’ words from the light, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

The gospel suddenly has a much fuller meaning. The majority of what Jesus said is the explanation of his purpose for sending Paul to the Gentiles, but the last sentence has particular importance. There are two key points: that they—Gentiles—may receive forgiveness of sins, and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Christ. This is the heart of the gospel. It is not enough to say that Jesus has risen from the dead and is the reigning King of the Universe. That truth, by itself, is not good news. The good news is that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead brings forgiveness from sins and a way for sinners to be sanctified by faith in Christ. This is the good news. The gospel, in its fullest sense is the good news, the great news, that sinners can be forgiven, and moreover, sanctified, or made holy before the King of the Universe. Paul was not devastated on the Damascus Road, he was recreated into a new creation who no longer persecuted Christians but poured out his life for the creation of Christians. Paul clearly got all of Jesus’ message when he wrote to the Galatians, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Carson on the Transformed Life

D. A. Carson writes (Still Sovereign, Baker, 259):
One must not conclude…that new covenant believers are anywhere promised moral and spiritual perfection this side of the new heaven and the new earth. Nevertheless, both the Old Testament prophecies regarding the new covenant and the age of the Spirit, and the New Testament claims regarding their fulfillment, lead us to expect transformed lives. Indeed, it is precisely this unequivocal expectation that authorizes Paul to set up the tension we have already noted: the exhortations to live up to what we are in Christ are predicated on the assumption that what we are in Christ necessarily brings transformation, so that moral failure is theologically shocking, however pragmatically realistic it may be. Indeed, it might be argued that this accounts for some of the tension in 1 John….It is worth recalling John’s insistence that believers do sin, and people who claim they do not are liars, self-deluded, and guilty of charging God with falsehood (1 John 1:6-10). At the same time, he repeatedly insists that sinning is not done among Christians. Various explanations have been advanced, but the most obvious is still the best: although both our experience and our location between the “already” and the “not yet” teach us that we do sin and we will sin, yet every single instance of sin is shocking, inexcusable, forbidden, appalling, out of line with what we are as Christians.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Just Showed Up For My Own Life

Our church hosts what they call “First Friday Films,” which happens (usually) on the first Friday of every month. A documentary film with a global message is typically shown and then discussed from a Christian standpoint. This gives people who attend the opportunity to see things outside their bubble and then discuss global issues within a gospel context.

Tonight (obviously not a first Friday) John Gyovai, president of MediaServe International, a non-profit ministry birthed at Bethlehem, hosted a Nomad Show movie based on Sara Groves trips to Louisiana and Rwanda. "Just Showed Up For My Own Life" documents her trip to Louisiana (for Katrina relief efforts), and her trip to Rwanda. Both of these experiences expanded her learning about the world and to allowed her to be impacted by the horror of the genocide that took place there in 1994. The trip to Rwanda also connected Sara with Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission.

Wendy and I have been fans of Sara Groves for years and own all of her CDs. Sara, who lives in Minneapolis was at the screening and spent time answering questions. Our kids were able to talk with her and get her autograph. Her last album, which found its culmination in these trips was titled, “Add to the Beauty.” Her point is that as Christians, we should be adding to the beauty in this world as we are salt and light.

Our goal tonight was not simply to promote another musician to the kids, but for them to see that whatever we do in life, it should have a gospel purpose. This life is not about us, it is about God, and if that means delivering a tour bus full of diapers to a church in Louisiana or traveling with Gary Haugen of IJM to Rwanda, then to God be the glory. Or, if it means picking up your family and moving to the mid-west to learn the Word of God in order to fulfill a calling to preach, then to God be the glory.

Again, we are thankful for the opportunities that God has given us here in Minneapolis, often through Bethlehem, to open our kids’ eyes to more than the Disneyland of America has to offer.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Affections: How Important Are They?

Have you ever noticed that the Bible commands you to feel something? Here are some texts: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom 12:11). “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul?” (Deut 10:12). “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:4, 5). “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil 4:4).

In addition to commanding affections (an eighteenth century word for emotion), the Bible also expects Christians to have a certain kind of emotion: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet 1:8).

The conclusion that Jonathan Edwards drew from these (and many other) verses is “true religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” Edwards wrote a 377 page book arguing for this conclusion. Well, actually, he spent about 40 pages arguing for this proposition, and then spent 337 pages describing what holy affections are and what they are not. I have spent the last four months immersed in this book and I believe Edwards is right. This book has shattered my paradigms about Christianity, and is causing me to look at my walk and my faith in a new light. Don’t worry, I am not going off the deep end anytime soon, but understanding the role of both the head and the heart in Christianity has become critical in regard to assurance, the fight of faith, and the importance of deep heartfelt worship.

Since I have never been outside the U.S., I can say little about the thinking or mind-set of other cultures, but I am familiar with the culture I am immersed in. Our culture breathes air that says, “men are rational and women are emotional.” Or, worse, that “Christianity is a rational religion only, and we can never trust our feelings. After all, feelings lie, so we must not trust them. We can definitely not trust our feelings when it comes to religion.” Stop for a moment and think about some of the churches you have attended. Have you ever argued or been taught that love is a verb?

Now, love certainly has its verbal aspects; we are to love our neighbor as our self. Nevertheless, when it comes to God, is love only a verb, or is it part verb and part state of being? What about joy? Yes, we are to rejoice, but what do we do when Peter declares we rejoice with joy?

The point of this discussion is that when we examine our faith and our Christian walk, we need to examine the state of our affections. For Christians, affections are not necessarily charismatic outward signs. We don’t have to raise our hands and cry and be overcome during worship. But we must feel something! If we do not feel anything, we are at the best disobedient, and at the worst not even Christian. Peter’s statement is present tense: “though you do not now see him, you [do now presently] love him and you [presently] believe in him and you [presently] rejoice with inexpressible joy.” This is how, in great part, our Christian lives should be.

I beg you to chase this idea down. Summer is a good time to read. Pick up Religious Affections and read it for yourself. Here are some quotes from Edwards: “God has given to mankind affections…. And yet how common is it among mankind, that their affections are much more exercised and engaged in other matters…which concern men’s worldly interest, their outward delights, their honor and reputation, and their natural relations…. How they can sit and hear of the infinite height and depth and length and breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus, of his giving his infinitely dear Son, to be offered up a sacrifice for the sins of men, and of the unparalleled love of the innocent, holy and tender Lamb of God, manifested in his dying agonies, his bloody sweat, his loud and bitter cries, and bleeding heart, and all this for enemies, to redeem them from deserved, eternal burnings, and to bring to unspeakable and everlasting joy and glory; and yet be cold, and heavy and insensible and regardless! Where are the exercises of our affections proper if not here? …. How great cause have we therefore to be humbled to the dust, that we are no more affected!” (Edwards, Religious Affections, Yale, 122-124.)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


"If the affections of the soul are not supremely fixed on God, and if our dominant desire and primary goal is not to possess God's favor and to promote His glory, then we are traitors in revolt against our lawful Sovereign....Whether we are the slaves of avarice, sensuality, amusement, sloth, or the devotees of ambition, taste, or fashion, we alike estrange ourselves from the dominion of our rightful Sovereign."

---William Wilberforce

(HT: Breakpoint)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Dawkins Confusion

Naturalism ad absurdum. Read a rebuttal of Dawkins by Alvin Plantinga.

The God Delusion is an extended diatribe against religion in general and belief in God in particular; Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (whose recent Breaking the Spell is his contribution to this genre) are the touchdown twins of current academic atheism. Dawkins has written his book, he says, partly to encourage timorous atheists to come out of the closet. He and Dennett both appear to think it requires considerable courage to attack religion these days; says Dennett, "I risk a fist to the face or worse. Yet I persist." Apparently atheism has its own heroes of the faith—at any rate its own self-styled heroes. Here it's not easy to take them seriously; religion-bashing in the current Western academy is about as dangerous as endorsing the party's candidate at a Republican rally.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Beholding Beauty

Apparently, this article from the Washington Post has been heavily discussed in the Blogosphere for the past several weeks. The Desiring God blog and my friend Nate have also commented. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for me to be a day late and a dollar short. Nevertheless, I will add my two cents.

For those of you who have not heard of this story, let me give you the gist of what happened. The Washington Post enlisted Joshua Bell, a world renowned violinist, to act as a street musician at the top of some escalators near the subway in downtown Washington D.C. The idea was to see if average, busy people would recognize true skill and beauty if they heard it. In some ways, the actual result is startling; in other ways, it is not remarkable at all. Either way, it says something about us. If we are willing to look in the mirror, we may not like what we see.
“In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.”
From the moment I first heard about this story, I have been strangely moved on an emotional level. The idea that a virtuoso with a $3.5M violin could play music that has stood the test of centuries and have virtually no one notice breaks my heart. What does this say about beauty? What does this say about our ability to recognize beauty? Is there such a thing as beauty, and could we know it if we saw it?

I asked two of my daughters similar questions. Yes, they said, one can know beauty if they see it. The Minneapolis skyline is beautiful. A sunset is beautiful. That building over there is ugly. Classical music is beautiful. Rock music is scraggly.

When I asked my oldest daughter (11) if a magnificent violinist playing on a street corner would be noticed, she immediately and without hesitation said no. Why? Because he is in disguise. No one would know who he is. No one would know his name. But, I replied, wouldn’t they know good music when they heard it? The answer back was that it was in the wrong place. Hmmm. Is this deep perception in a child, or simple pragmatic reality?

Before I start drawing spiritual conclusions, I think we need to ask a more basic question that has only so far been assumed. “Is what Joshua Bell played close enough to true beauty that we can consider what happened to be tragic? The music has transcended centuries. The musician is undeniably gifted. Can the music be rightly defined as beauty?”
“The acoustics proved surprisingly kind. Though the arcade is of utilitarian design, a buffer between the Metro escalator and the outdoors, it somehow caught the sound and bounced it back round and resonant. The violin is an instrument that is said to be much like the human voice, and in this musician's masterly hands, it sobbed and laughed and sang -- ecstatic, sorrowful, importuning, adoring, flirtatious, castigating, playful, romancing, merry, triumphal, sumptuous.”
If we answer no, then this whole discussion is a waste of time and you need to close your browser and go talk to your spouse. If we answer yes, then we must ask the next question, “Why did so many people miss it?” The answer to this last question, of course, is that part we don’t like when we look in the mirror. The answer is painfully obvious. C.S. Lewis gives the answer so much better than I can; so, I will quote him:
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (from The Weight of Glory, Harper, 26).
We have over-indulged on the trivial. We have consumed cheap entertainment. We are saturated with the likes of American Idol, 24, Lost, Cosmo, McDonalds, and one-hit wonder boy bands ad infinitum. We consume whatever makes us feel good; only the affections we feel for a moment leave our souls empty and more shriveled than before. The fact that 1,070 people walked briskly past beauty in a 45 minute span is merely a symptom of a much deeper disease. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil 3:18-19).

Let us take this line of thinking where it ultimately needs to go: what does this have to do with our ability to see God? If you know Lewis, you know that the context of the above quote was specifically in relation to what one sees in the New Testament. Jesus offers “unblushing promises of reward…in the Gospels,” yet we are far too easily pleased. The gospel offers true beauty (Isa 33:17), true blessing (Mt 5:3-11), true forgiveness (Luke 24:46-47), true pleasure (Ps 16:11), and true freedom (John 8:36). Unfortunately, and much to our sorrow, the vast majority of people simply walk on by (Mt 7:13).

What then is our response? Why did those seven people who did notice the beauty of Bell’s music not try to stop everyone around them and awaken them to the wonder and beauty and majesty flowing from his Stradivarius?
“It was the most astonishing thing I've ever seen in Washington,” Furukawa says. “Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him! Quarters! I wouldn't do that to anybody. I was thinking, Omigosh, what kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?
The picture in the mirror takes another turn for the worse. The answer is the same, yet infinitely more deplorable. I am deeply convicted by my answer as shown in the poor way in which I proclaim the good news. May Christ help us.

(HT: Desiring God, The Richochet)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Humility in Ministry, Part 3

Jonathan Edwards writes (Religious Affections, Yale, 312-314):
The essence of evangelical humiliation consists in such humility, as becomes a creature, in itself exceeding sinful, under a dispensation of grace; consisting in a mean esteem of himself, as in himself nothing, and altogether contemptible and odious; attended with a mortification of a disposition to exalt himself, and a free renunciation of his own glory.

This is a great and most essential thing in true religion. The whole frame of the gospel, and everything appertaining to the new Covenant, and all God’s dispensations towards fallen man, are calculated to bring to pass this effect in the hearts of men. They that are destitute of this, have no true religion, whatever profession they make, and how high soever their religious affections may be; “Behold, his soul which is lifted up, is not upright in him; but the just shall life by his faith” (Hab. 2:4): i.e. he shall live by his faith on God’s righteousness and grace, and not his own goodness and excellency.

Humility in Ministry, Part 2

C.H. Spurgeon writes (Lectures to My Students, Zondervan, 331):
Have you not by this time discovered that flattery is as injurious as it is pleasant? It softens the mind and makes you more sensitive to slander. In proportion as praise pleases you censure will pain you. Besides, it is a crime to be taken off from your great object of glorifying the Lord Jesus by petty consideration as to your little self, and, if there were no other reason, this ought to weigh much with you. Pride is a deadly sin, and will grow without your borrowing the parish watercart to quicken it. Forget expressions which feed your vanity, and if you mind yourself relishing the unwholesome morsels confess the sin with deep humiliation. Payson showed that he was strong in the Lord when he wrote to his mother, “You must not, certainly, my dear mother, say one word which even looks like an intimation that you think me advancing in grace. I cannot bear it. All the people here, whether friends or enemies, conspire to ruin me. Satan and my own heart, of course, will lend a hand; and if you join too, I fear all the cold water which Christ can throw upon my pride will not prevent its breaking out into a destructive flame. As certainly as anybody flatters and caresses me my heavenly Father has to whip me: and an unspeakable mercy it is that he condescends to do it. I can, it is true, easily muster a hundred reasons why I should not be proud, but pride will not mind reason, nor anything else but a good drubbing. Even at this moment I feel it tingling in my fingers’ ends, and seeking to guide my pen.” Knowing something myself of those secret whippings which our good Father administers to his servant when he sees them unduly exalted, I heartily add my own solemn warnings against your pampering the flesh by listening to the praises of the kindest friends you have. They are injudicious, and you must beware of them.

Humility in Ministry, Part 1

Sin is sin. Blatant immoral sin certainly leaves behind a mess; simply look at the many prominent Christian ministers who have shipwrecked on the rock of sexual sins. Yet, many other sins are just as heinous, which have found acceptability within many ministries. Pride, for instance, is often tolerated if the minister is good enough. Pride comes in many forms. Some forms we all readily recognize as blatant arrogance. Are there more subtle kinds of pride? The following quote is from Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline, 110, 114, as quoted in Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Navpress, 122).
Self-righteous service requires external rewards. It needs to know that people see and appreciate the effort. It seeks human applause—with proper religious modesty, of course….Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. It eagerly wants to see if the person served will reciprocate in kind….The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition. It will devise subtle, religiously acceptable means to call attention to the service rendered.
Our battle, then, is on multiple fronts. I pray we all fight against the visible, outward, immoral sins, and the hidden, inward, immoral sins.

The Ringing Bell

Derek Webb releases a new album and graphic novel tie-in on May 1. Yes, you read that correctly, "graphic novel tie-in." The album is titled The Ringing Bell.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

1 Samuel 12:19-25

I preached my second of two sermons for preaching class on February 25, 2007. The assignment was to preach on any Old Testament text.

Right click here and choose "Save Link As" to download an mp3 of the sermon.

Any feedback would be welcome.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Social Justice?

When most of us think of social justice we think of Darfur or human trafficking or the right-to-life. However, I wonder if this article shows another form of social justice...

Key quote: "I went to my trailer for about 15 minutes and I thought, there's people dying every day. A lot of worse things are happening in the world."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Vivaldi "Summer"

This is why my kids are learning to play the piano. I would love to see them play like this to the glory of God.

(HT: Nate)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bothered by the Bible

One of the things that keeps me from being in the same stratosphere as many of my classmates is that I am not bothered by the Bible like they are. Let me give an example in order to explain. Nick, who is brilliant to begin with, will get bothered by something, for instance Gal 5:17. Gal 5:17 says, "For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do." This verse bothered him so much that he wrote a 7 page paper on trying to solve what was bothering him.

I don't get bothered by the Bible to the point where I am driven to write 7 page papers. I write papers because of school, and I am assigned to, not because I am bothered by something. What is it that needs to change in me so that I get bothered by the Bible and am consumed trying to figure it out?

In conversing about this with a friend, he reminded me about having four kids and a job and school, etc. "You don't have time to be bothered." But this is somewhat of a cop-out, isn't it? I want to be a minister of the word of God. That is a holy calling that should consume me. At the same time, I am called to love my wife like Christ loved the church. So which is it? To quote a cliche, "it is both/and." I don't have the time to write seven-page papers at the same rate that Nick does. But the word of God should consume me, and as a desire to have right affections for him, I should be bothered when his word doesn't make sense.

My prayer is that God would grant me the inclination of my heart to his word, and the open eyes to see wonder there, and the united heart to fear his name, and the grace to be satisfied by his word.

By the way, do you see what bothered Nick in Gal 5:17?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Faith or Foolishness?

Hello Jason,

This is John Doe from Northwestern College, and I'm in Dr. Jason DeRouchie’s Biblical Worldview: Personal Responsibility class. Dr. DeRouchie has required us to give a presentation on various theological questions that we’ve chosen. My group's questions are "how do I balance 'faith' with 'foolishness' with regard to my future and my finances? How do I know when to take a step into the unknown and when not to do it?" The professor told the class your testimony of how you were an engineer and had a high salary, but you were then were convicted by the Holy Spirit to drop your job and sell your house to come up here in Minnesota to attend school for the ministry that God had planned for you. And so my group was wondering if you would spend some time giving us a little more detail on how you knew that the Holy Spirit was telling you to do a courageous act and come to study for His ministry. We were wondering if you could share with us how you can tell if it was God that turned your heart in the way that you have. I know you are busy with school and a full time job, so don't feel like you have to give us the whole story. I would appreciate it if you would just email me back a short testimony of how you can tell if God was leading you this way. Thank you. God Bless you and your family. And may God be with you as you pursue His will.

John Doe

Dear John,

Thanks for writing. I am sorry that my reply is long in coming. Asking a seminary student for a short written reply is somewhat of an oxymoron. However, I will do my best to be brief. If, after reading what I have written, you still have questions, please feel free to call. It might be easier if we spoke over the phone. You have the gist of our story, so I won’t repeat that. However, where I need to start is probably a review for you, given the nature of your class. The question about what is faith and what is foolishness will be answered differently by people with different worldviews. A distinctly secular-American worldview will consider much of what I consider faith to be foolishness. In the same way, what I would call foolishness, the secular-American mindset will call the American dream, or the wise way to live (house, cars, 401(k), family, etc.). So, in order to answer your first question, “how do I balance ‘faith’ with ‘foolishness’ with regard to my future and finances,” you have to start with a biblical worldview.

God started creating a biblical worldview in us in 1997. Slowly, he taught us that life was not centered around us, but around him. He was the center of the universe and we lived in order to reflect and display his glory—he did not exist to be a cosmic bellhop who was at our beck and call. Instead, Jesus Christ died in order to free us to see God more clearly. God was sovereign over every detail in the universe including the election of those unto salvation. His promises given in the Bible are absolute and trustworthy, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor 1:20). Having God create this worldview in us enabled us to cut through the fog of the American dream and realize that there is more to this life than a career, a house, kids, and two cars. Instead, we are called to seek our greatest joy in God, even if that leads to death in this life. Our bottom line purpose for living (our chief end) became “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” With that being our new worldview, we saw what the world considers foolishness in an entirely new light. Selling our house, giving our money away, and moving across country to enter ministry was no longer foolishness, but obedience. In fact, we had become so convinced of the necessity to do this, that to not do it would have been sin.

So, to answer your first question, in order to balance faith and foolishness with regard to your future and finances, you have to have a radically God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated worldview, or as is often spoken of Jonathan Edwards, you must be God-besotted or God-entranced.

Your second question, “How do I know when to take a step into the unknown and when not to do it?” is much more practical in nature. Given a God-entranced vision of all things, how do you discern what God is leading you to do—especially when the air we breath is totally antithetical to what you think and feel God is asking you to do? Now, we are no more special than the thousands of people (if not millions) who have quietly gone about giving their lives for Christ all over the globe. Read Christian biography. How many of the heroes of faith made decisions that the world would call wise? Is it wise to move your family from affluent America to Africa or New Guinea or Saudi Arabia in order to learn a language and try to reach a tribe with the gospel? What do you say to the missionary dad who was burned alive in his car with his two sons in India in 1998? Was he foolish? What we did pales in comparison to the people who have given their lives for the glory of God.

Obviously, this is a huge question and a very hard one to give a step-by-step guide to determine the answer. I can’t. I can’t say that if you do 1, 2, 3, and 4, you will know when to step into the unknown and when not to. If you knew, then the outcome of your choice wouldn’t be unknown, and it wouldn’t take faith in the God who makes promises. Nevertheless, I will tell you what my wife and I did. We attempted to be consistently in the Word of God. We were on our knees, begging God to NOT let us waste our lives, but to show us how to live for him. We were active. We didn’t sit around waiting for God to send us a telegram with the next step, but we moved forward. We started by serving in our local church and seeking to determine how God had gifted us. For me, I taught an adult Sunday school class for over five years, and found great joy and frustration in it. Over time, the joy outweighed the frustration and the idea that I should seek to teach full-time entered my mind. Then through prayer and fasting (actually not eating for two or three days) in an attempt to humble ourselves before God and seek his guidance, we read his word, looking for texts that would speak to us about what we should do. And the Holy Spirit led us to texts. Matthew 19:27-30 says, “Then Peter said in reply, ‘See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’” This was a key verse for us. God promised us that if we left everything, he would provide everything. Not in a prosperity-gospel sort of way, but we did not have to worry or be anxious about what it was we left behind. Another massive text for me was Matthew 13:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” We were seeking our greater joy by selling everything in order to buy the field.

Outside influences convicted us. When we realized how much we had (money, house, cars) in relation to the rest of the world, we realized that we should live in such a way as to be comfortable and then give everything else away (read Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle and Google “global rich list”). What did we need stuff for? We can’t take it with us to heaven, so we might as well give it away, and by so doing, store up treasure in heaven. Paul wrote to Timothy, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim 6:17-19). We wanted to take hold of “that which is truly life.” Our worldview changed us so that we saw “that which is truly life” NOT to be a big house, a career, cars and an immaculate lawn, but eternal life with Jesus.

My wife and I set aside a week to fast and pray separately and then come together to see how God had spoken to us. Every time we had a major decision to make we would do this, and every time, when we came together again, we both felt led by the Holy Spirit and by Scripture in the same direction. We both agreed to give all the profit from our house sale away. We both agreed to whom to give the money. We both agreed to move to MN and attempt to enter TBI. God confirmed his direction in us, first by his Holy Spirit and the Word, and then by each other. As the early church said in Acts 15:28, “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” to leave everything and enter full-time ministry.

Now, I trust that gives you a picture of what it took for us to do something that the world considered foolish. But I want you also to realize that it wasn’t easy. Faith was essential, because it is not in our sinful nature to trust the promises of God implicitly. It is in our nature to worry, doubt, and think of all the things that might go wrong. We might end up on the street living in a box, or we might be eaten by cannibals (that is a reference to the missionary John Paton). Many a morning I was up before everyone in the house, lying on the living room floor, spread-eagled, in tears, crying out to God that I not be stupid and that what we were doing not be a mistake. And every time, after I cried out to him, he would give me some measure of peace.

Some of our family thought we were foolish. Some at my work thought we were foolish. The people who looked at our house thought we were foolish. The pressure was intense. But our worldview, and our trust in the promises of future grace given by a sovereign God outweighed the pressure of the world, so that we moved forward.

My wife camped on this verse: Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act (Psalm 37:5). We trusted in this glorious promise most specifically. We had committed. We were trusting. And we begged God to act. And he did. He proved himself faithful in every way. He blew our minds with his faithfulness. Our move was costly. It was hard, and it has entailed suffering in ways that we did not imagine. But neither my wife nor me would do it differently. We trusted and God fulfilled his promises.

And, in so doing, God got the glory. Everyone who knew what we did, realized that our God was real and powerful and glorious. This was the whole point in the first place.

May God bless you as you wrestle with these things. How blessed are you to be taking this class and wrestling with these big issues of faith at your stage in life. O how I wish I had seen what you are seeing ten years earlier. O how I wish to see God more now. I still don’t feel faithful enough. I long to pour myself out for him.

For Christ and His kingdom,