20 Quotes from David Platt’s (Vulnerable) New Book on Making Your Life Count

The following quotes caught my attention as I (Matt Smethurst) read David Platt’s challenging new book, Something Needs to Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need (Multnomah, 2019). I’m excited to interview him at the conclusion of tonight’s live simulcast event. Join us!

We talk a lot about the need to know what we believe in our heads, yet I wonder if we have forgotten to feel what we believe in our hearts. How else are we to explain our ability to sit in services where we sing songs and hear sermons celebrating how Jesus is the hope of the world, yet rarely (if ever) fall on our faces weeping for those who don’t have this hope and then take action to make this hope known to them? (2–3)

What we need is not an explanation of the Word and the world that puts more information in our heads; we need an experience with the Word in the world that penetrates the recesses of our hearts. (3–4)

It’s a pretty empty feeling to pray for someone when deep down inside you’re not actually believing it’s going to matter. (31)

As you trek these trails, creation all around you is shouting out the splendor of the Creator. Yet as beautiful as this landscape is, I realize in a deeper way that it’s ultimately insufficient to communicate the depth of the Creator’s love. For more than 2,000 years, these spectacular mountains may have been declaring the glory of God, but not for one second have these majestic peaks ever said a thing about Jesus. God has revealed his greatness to every person in these villages, but hardly any of them have ever heard about his grace. (69)

The purpose of a symbol is to express a reality greater than what can be expressed in words, so it should bring no solace to think that the Bible’s descriptions of hell might be symbolic. (71)

“If there’s no struggle with what you believe about hell, then you really don’t believe in hell.” (72)

[There’s a danger of convincing] myself that somehow I have more compassion than God himself, such that if I were in charge, I would never create a place called hell. In other words, I can quickly convince myself that I know better than God and his Word regarding what is right and good in the world. The more I think about this . . . the more I realize it is the essence of sin. Way back in Genesis, sin entered the world when the created ones thought they knew better than the Creator. Sin entered the world when man and woman convinced themselves they were right about what was good and God was wrong. (75–76)

“Do you see those lights?” he asks. We nod and he tells us, “Those are church members. Remember that grueling hike you climbed today to get up here? That’s the hike they’re making to get to church.” Humbled, I see these tiny lights in the distance slowly making their way up the trail. I think about the stress people in our culture sometimes have over a 15-minute-or-longer drive to church. How about a two-hour hike up a narrow mountainside in the freezing cold, followed by a two-hour hike back down the same mountainside in the pitch-black darkness after the service? (100–01)

This [village] church has so little of the things you and I think about when it comes to church in our culture. They don’t have a nice building. They don’t have a great band. They don’t have a charismatic preacher. They don’t have any programs. They just have each other, God’s Word in front of them, and God’s Spirit among them. And, apparently, that’s enough. . . . As I sit in the middle of this family of brothers and sisters on this remote mountainside, I can’t help but think of how easy it is to get caught up in so much extra stuff in the church that we miss the essence of who God has called us to be and what he has called us to do. (104–05)

“This is not an easy way to live,” I say out loud, not thinking about anyone being around me. “They didn’t move up here because they thought it would be easy,” Nabin hears me and replies. (119)

I can’t help but wonder if God has designed the globalization of today’s marketplace to open up avenues for the spread of the gospel around the world. (125)

[Jesus exhorts disciples] to live for long-term treasure they can never lose, not short-term treasure they can never keep. . . . Jesus is calling his followers to gain as much ultimate treasure as possible. (128, 129)

People and places in the world not reached with the gospel are unreached for a reason. They’re difficult to reach. They’re dangerous to reach. I’m pretty sure all the easy ones are taken. (147)

The life of a Christian is always costly—for those who are actually following Christ. (148)

As he shares his story of one failed attempt after another, Aaron leans over and whispers, “This is why many people who move here don’t make it. This is hard work, and it doesn’t succeed overnight. What’s needed are people who are willing to work hard for 10 or 20 years until a breakthrough happens. But a lot of Christians, and most churches in America who send them, aren’t willing to stick it out that long.” (156)

Why are Bible-believing, Bible-preaching churches in America so focused on what is not in the Bible? As I ask myself this question, I can’t help but think that one of the greatest needs not just in the church in the Himalayas but in the place where I live is for us to open up our Bibles with fresh, unfiltered eyes and ask, “Are we really doing church the way this Book describes it?” (158)

God has a universe to run, galaxies to uphold, governments to rule, and more than 7 billion people to sustain, yet the Bible doesn’t say that heaven rejoices over these cosmic mysteries and universal realities. Instead, something special happens in heaven when one person who was separated from God in sin is restored to God in love. (164)

It’s easier to stomach poverty as long as you just look at numbers on a page. The poor are easier to ignore if they’re a statistic. But everything changes when you know one of them. Everything changes when you spend time with one and then two days later he’s dead. Not only does he die, but he’s dead because he was poor. (167–68)

There’s really only one thing worse than being lost. What’s worse is being lost when no one is trying to find you. (178)

[Lost people] don’t need me, and other Christians, living as if somebody somewhere will do something someday about their urgent spiritual and physical needs. (189)

How would you want a person on the other side of the world to live if you were on a road leading to an eternal hell and no one had ever told you how you could go to heaven? Answer that question, and then live accordingly. (201)

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‘It Doesn’t Make Sense’: When We’re Blindsided by Suicide

“It really doesn’t make sense and feels like it can’t be true.” Another suicide.

The friend that texted me had a good friend, a Christian whose faith by all appearances was authentic and vibrant, who succumbed to an incomprehensible darkness and incommunicable despair — a despair that, at least at the moment of final decision, he didn’t believe he could live with. My friend was reeling, blindsided by a tragedy that defies explanation.

We call it “the problem of evil,” trying to reconcile how evil and suffering exists in a world ruled by an almighty, all-good, all-knowing God. But calling it a “problem” hardly begins to describe our experiences of it in this fallen world.

Hand Back the Fruit

A buoyant friend suddenly ends his life. A beloved child dies of disease. We witness torture. The spouse we trusted with everything abandons us. The plane-ruined towers collapse upon three thousand souls. The horrific abuse we suffered leaves us soiled with shame for decades. Such tragedies and sins almost never make sense to us. And the closer we are to the destruction evil wreaks, the more chaotic and senseless it appears.

In these experiences, we glimpse the real nature of evil — and it’s worse than we had conceived. The evil events themselves, and God’s good providence in choosing not to prevent them (especially when we know he has chosen to deliver others), exceed the bounds of our rational capacities. We’re left with anguished, perplexing questions only God can answer. Most of the time he doesn’t, not specifically. He rarely reveals his specific purposes for allowing our specific tragedies and the resulting wreckage.

What we find is that we simply aren’t suited to bear the weight of the full knowledge of good and evil. It’s knowledge too complex for us to manage. It’s beyond us on both sides. And the merciful truth is that God does not ask us to bear it. He asks us to trust him with it. He asks us to hand him back the fruit.

Merciful Mystery

There are mysteries that are great mercies. Great, great mercies.

The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil contained a secret — one that God said should remain a mystery. God warned the man and woman that it would be better for them not to eat it. It would be the death of them if they did. Rather, he wanted them to trust him with the mystery of this knowledge and his administration of it (Genesis 2:17).

However, Satan told them this fruit would not kill them, but would open their eyes to the heights and depths and lengths and breadths of God’s knowledge, making them wise like God (Genesis 3:4–5). They believed him, and so they ate. Then the eyes of both were indeed opened to good and evil in ways they had not yet known — ways they were not at all equipped to deal with. And we have been languishing under this knowledge ever since.

Beyond Our Understanding

As a result of that first sin, God subjected the world to futility (Romans 8:20), and the evil one was granted a kind of governing power (1 John 5:19). Sin infected us profoundly. Not only were our eyes opened to more knowledge than we have the capacity to comprehend, but we also became very susceptible to evil deception.

Our indwelling sin nature also has adversely affected our ability to comprehend and appreciate good. That’s one reason we need “strength to comprehend . . . the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:18–19). It’s why we must pursue through intentional prayer “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” when we’re anxious (Philippians 4:7). It’s why we need “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation” to enlighten “the eyes of [our] hearts . . . that [we] may know what is the hope to which he has called [us]” (Ephesians 1:17–18). The goodness of God would be far beyond our imagination even if we were sinless, but it is all the more so in our fallenness (1 Corinthians 2:9).

We forfeited a great mercy when we believed we could be wise like God and opened the Pandora’s box of the mystery of the knowledge of good and evil.

Mysteries in Job’s Suffering

Mystery refers to what exists in the dimensions of reality beyond the edges of our perception (things we can’t see) or comprehension (things we can’t grasp). Some things are mysteries because we are unaware of them until God chooses to reveal them to us. Other mysteries we might be aware of, but they just exceed our ability to comprehend them, at least in this age.

The book of Job is the great piece of ancient literature that God inspired to illustrate how we experience these mysteries and how the restoring of our souls begins as we hand God back the fruit. The purposes behind Job’s tragedies were mysterious to him and his friends because of what they could not see and could not know.

Job’s friends thought they had sufficient grasp on the knowledge of good and evil to diagnose Job’s suffering. They were wrong (Job 42:7). And in the end, God did not explain himself to Job, but challenged Job’s assumption that he could comprehend the wisdom of God. Job responded by putting his hand over his mouth and saying, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. . . . Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3, 6), effectively handing the fruit back to God.

The message of the book of Job is not that God hates when people pour out their bewilderment in their pain and tragedies. Indeed, God the Son, when he became flesh and dwelt among us, cried out in the depth of his agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Rather, God’s message — which is a core message of the whole Bible — is “trust me.” Where God does not grant us to see or to know, he has merciful reasons for it.

When you think about it, God has designed the gospel and the Christian life to require us to hand back, and keep handing back, the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil — to render back to God what is God’s, what was never meant to be man’s.

Trust Him in the Darkness

When the realities of good and evil exceed our limited perceptions, overwhelm our limited comprehension, and threaten to override our psychological and emotional circuitry, there is a reason for this. We may be “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), but we are also fearfully finite. There are many things too wonderful for us to know. The peace that surpasses our understanding (Philippians 4:7), which we need so much, is available to us if we are willing to trust in the Lord with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

When I texted my friend back, as he was grieving the tragic suicide of his friend, I sought to capture the essence of these truths in a few sentences. He asked me to write more on it, and I’ve attempted it here. In the face of devastating tragedy, we find that we simply aren’t suited to bear the full weight of the knowledge of good and evil. The merciful truth is that God does not ask us to bear it. He asks us to trust him with it. He asks us to hand him back the fruit.

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Is It Biblical to Say, ‘Bloom Where You’re Planted’?

It wasn’t until high school that I began to notice my mom would repeat a proverbial phrase in response to my anxious musings about the future. “Bloom where you’re planted,” she would quip, as I fretted about what I should do with my life.

I wasn’t a Christian at the time, and I was in the thick of my teenage years, so these sayings—she had a host of others—would, to borrow another idiom, float in one ear and out the other. What hath horticulture to do with a young man’s concern over his future?

When I trusted Christ during my sophomore year of college, my passion for the Scriptures turned insatiable. I desired to know the truth and discuss it with others. My parents were already Christians, so it was natural that our conversations often turned to the Bible. Sometime after my conversion, I was talking with my parents, probably pondering the future, when Mom again unearthed her agricultural wisdom: “Bloom where you’re planted.” But this time she added, “Where is that in the Bible?”

It sounds biblical, doesn’t it? The Bible is replete with agrarian references and illustrations, and there’s something about the prima facie wisdom of the phrase the makes it sound like it fell straight from the lips of Solomon or Jesus.

Catchy Colloquial Phrase

The problem, of course, is that there is no such phrase in your Bible. Pull out your concordance, open your Bible-search program, scour the Proverbs and the Gospels—you won’t find “bloom where you’re planted.” The law and prophets won’t help you; neither will Paul, Peter, James, or Jude. The phrase is simply not there.

Many colloquial phrases get tossed around that are often mistaken as biblical statements. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is one with which you might be familiar. It’s not in the Bible. The famed “Footprints” poem isn’t either. How about “Cleanliness is next to godliness”? Nope. “God moves in mysterious ways”? He does, but that sentence is nowhere in Scripture.

As we grow in our walk with Christ, we should desire to know our Bibles so well that we’re able to spot biblical-sounding statements that aren’t in the Bible. This is a matter of basic discernment and the responsibility of every Christian.

But our task doesn’t stop here.

We should desire to know our Bibles so well that we’re able to spot biblical-sounding statements that aren’t in the Bible.

In the case of “bloom where you are planted,” it’s not enough to object, “That’s not in the Bible!” We should bring the whole teaching of Scripture to bear not only on the words of a phrase, but also on its meaning. This practice honors Paul’s admonition, “Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9; cf. 1 Thess. 5:21–22). In other words, ask what’s true about a statement—and what’s false.

What Does It Mean?

So what does “bloom where you’re planted” mean? While I can’t speak for all believers who use it, the likeliest meaning is, “Be content where God has placed you in life and make the most of your opportunity.” If that’s what we mean, then we’re close to capturing a biblical principle.

Theologically, the doctrine of creation teaches us that God has designed and outfitted his creatures with particular skills, interests, and abilities, and he has sovereignly placed them in their circumstances to exercise dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26–31; Acts 17:26).

Martin Luther and John Calvin rediscovered this biblical doctrine and taught Christians to fulfill their individual callings, whether serving society as a banker, farmer, or homemaker. Giving careful attention to your calling will produce valuable goods for the community and, in the case of mothers, train the next generation. Careful attention to fulfilling your calling will also help keep you out of trouble. Calvin wrote:

The Lord bids each one of us in all life’s actions to look to his calling. For he knows with what great restlessness human nature flames, with what fickleness is borne hither and thither, how its ambition longs to embrace various things at once. Therefore, lest through our stupidity and rashness everything be turned topsy-turvy, he has appointed duties for every man in his particular way of life. And that no one may thoughtlessly transgress his limits, he has named the various kinds of living “callings.” Therefore, each individual has his own kind of living assigned to him by the Lord as a sort of sentry post so he may not heedlessly wander about throughout life.

In other words, constantly daydreaming about a different life, a better line of work, or a new community will lead to instability and lack of productivity. There’s a good chance Calvin would have endorsed my mom’s idiom.

Live the Life God’s Given You

More importantly, it appears that Paul might have approved the parental counsel I received as a young man. In 1 Corinthians 7:17, he tells those anxious over getting married:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. . . . In whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. (1 Cor. 7:17, 24)

Paul doesn’t make this an absolute rule, for he tells the slave to be content with his status in life but to seek freedom if possible (1 Cor. 7:22). Those married must remain so, but the unmarried are free to either marry or stay single (1 Cor. 7:9, 27–28).

Nevertheless, Paul recognized wisdom in burrowing yourself into your God-given calling and seeking contentment and productivity there— rather than constantly looking around and pining for something else (cf. Prov. 17:24). Nor does genuine repentance necessarily require a change in one’s work (Luke 3:10–14). But it might—and that’s where we come to a deficiency in the saying, “Bloom where you are planted.”

When to Uproot

The problem isn’t so much in what the phrase says, but what it doesn’t. Without the larger biblical context, the statement “Bloom where you’re planted” could imply that remaining in your calling is all you need to worry about in life.

But this approach wouldn’t account for stations that are overtly sinful and from which a person must “uproot” if they know Christ. Christians cannot abide in Christ and work in the pornography or abortion industry. In such cases, true repentance would lead to “planting” elsewhere.

Short, but Sweet

Yet we can’t fault a proverbial saying for being proverbial. Solomon’s catchy couplets don’t always give us the whole picture, but we don’t chide him.

Diligence, most of the time, leads to abundance (Prov. 12:27; 13:4; 21:5)—but not when famines ravage the land.

Generally speaking, a slack hand causes poverty (Prov. 10:4)—but it’s possible for a sluggard to inherit a large estate.

Whoever keeps his tongue keeps himself out of trouble (Prov. 21:23)—unless unsolicited trouble finds him.

In other words, a good proverb doesn’t need to say everything in order to be helpful or true. For Christians, sayings like “Bloom where you are planted” can be insightful and encouraging since we understand them within a biblical framework. That’s the blessing of biblical discernment all Christians can enjoy, no matter where we’re planted.

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Bound Together for Good: Lessons for White Christians from the Black Church

ABSTRACT: One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, eight in ten American churches consist of predominantly one ethnic group. In the pursuit of greater ethnic harmony, white Christians can benefit from learning about and learning from the black church, including its history in America. That history reveals the limits of racial-diversity initiatives, the need for sympathetic listening, and the interdependence of white and black Christians. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “We are bound in a single garment of destiny,” and we will not grow up into the fullness of Christ without each other.

One of the pressing issues for American Christians to confront in our day is the racial divide in the church. No less pressing is the complacency many Christians feel toward this divide. According to a report on a 2015 LifeWay Research study, “Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours in American life, with more than 8 in 10 congregations made up of one predominant racial group. And most worshipers like it that way.”1

Racially divided worship may feel comfortable to most people, but this comfort is out of step with our Savior’s heart, who died to tear down such divisions. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:14, Jesus “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” between Jew and Gentile.2 He did this so that “he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (Ephesians 2:15). Christ’s peacemaking mission fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham centuries before to bless all the nations in Abraham’s offspring (Genesis 22:18). We catch a vision of this blessed community in Revelation 7:9, where John describes “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” worshiping God together.

Therefore, when we pray as Jesus taught us, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), we are, among other things, asking God to set his Revelation 7:9 choir in our midst, free us from our cultural silos, and give us an ear for Zion’s praise.3 What can we do, then, to challenge (rather than cater to) our comfort with racially divided worship? How can we pray and work to see God’s multiethnic kingdom become more of a reality in our churches?4

“White and black believers are bound together in a ‘single garment of destiny.’”

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In this article, I want to focus specifically on the black-white divide in the church, and I want to explore how white Christians, in particular, can help bridge this divide.5 Out of the many possibilities that present themselves, I limit myself to the following: I want to encourage many white believers to do more to learn about and learn from the black church. To that end, I will survey the history of the three major streams within black Christianity: Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal. Then I will make three concluding observations about what white believers can learn from this history.

Before beginning this discussion, I want to acknowledge the important work that many white Christians have done and continue to do to bridge the racial divide. Much work remains to be done, but God has been faithful in each generation to raise up a contingent of white and black brothers and sisters who have joined together in the struggle for racial unity. I long for more white believers to join this contingent. But I don’t want to overlook those who already have. For this reason, I take care in this article to avoid making sweeping statements about all white believers without exception.

What Is ‘The Black Church’?

The phrase “the black church” encompasses three types of mainly black congregations: (1) churches affiliated with one of the seven historically black denominations, (2) mainly black churches that are part of mainly white denominations, and (3) mainly black churches unaffiliated with a denomination.6 As we will see below, the black church is the product of the eighteenth-century religious awakening in America as well as this country’s long history of race-based chattel slavery, segregation, and discriminatory treatment of African Americans. The black church was born out of tribulation. It is, historically, America’s own version of the persecuted church.7

The black church is not a uniform institution. It is as dynamic and complex as any other large-scale movement in society. In their extensive study of African-American Christianity, religion scholars Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya explain that black churches differ in the extent of their involvement with social and political concerns, in their support for black consciousness movements, in their organizational structures, and in the degree to which they accommodate or oppose white cultural expectations.8 Black churches also differ from one another in their doctrinal beliefs, emphasis on personal piety, and views on issues such as sexual morality and abortion.9

According to Lincoln and Mamiya, African-American Christians inhabit a “black sacred cosmos,” a way of viewing the world that stresses God’s commitment to deliver his people from oppression; the full humanity of Jesus, especially as seen in his experience of suffering, death, and resurrection; and the equal dignity that all human beings possess as God’s creation.10 Sociologists Jason Shelton and Michael Emerson extend this concept of the black sacred cosmos and present what they call “the five building blocks of black Protestant faith.” They argue that black Protestants (1) prioritize the role of experience in the Christian life, (2) view their faith as an indispensable resource for persevering through the evil and suffering in this world, (3) make room for the perplexities of Christian teaching and practice, (4) highlight God’s regular intervention in the details of life, and (5) are “committed to social justice and equality for all individuals and groups in society.”11

When I speak about the black church in the remainder of this article, I fully acknowledge the diversity and complexity of the institution. I also want to clarify that I do not endorse everything that falls under the category of the black church. Believers should submit any church’s teaching to the authority of Scripture (Acts 17:11). The black church, just like any collection of churches, has its own assortment of wheat and chaff. In asking more white believers to learn from and about the black church, I am not asking for them to romanticize the black church.

Historical Survey of the Black Church Tradition

In conversations about the racial divide in the church, it is not uncommon for some white Christians to misconstrue the nature of the black church tradition, assuming, for example, that black churches exist because “birds of a feather flock together” or that the chief legacy of black Christianity is the gospel choir and soulful preaching. To be sure, each of these claims about the black church contains an element of truth. Cultural similarity affects whom we want to be around.12 And the black church, in part because of its roots in the African diaspora and its experience of slavery and racial segregation, has developed unique worship traditions that emphasize communal experience and emotional expression.13 These popular assumptions about the black church, however, represent only a fraction of its theological, political, and cultural significance.

The First Black Churches

In large measure, the black church tradition arose in response to racist attitudes and actions coming from the white majority.14 It was not only unbelieving whites who were to blame. Many white Christians alienated their black brothers and sisters by accommodating and even promoting their unjust treatment. During the First Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s, increasing numbers of whites and both free and enslaved blacks turned to Christ under the ministry of revivalist preachers like Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), George Whitefield (1714–1770), and Gilbert Tennent (1703–1764). Methodists and Separate Baptists saw particular success in the South in the decades that followed. This success owed, in part, to the work of black preachers, both lay and ordained, who proclaimed the evangelical message to white and black hearers alike. As more free and enslaved blacks converted to Christianity, they began populating churches that had, up to that time, been predominantly or exclusively white. This influx of African Americans made many white congregants uncomfortable. As religion scholar Albert Raboteau observes,

The swarming of black converts into Baptist and Methodist churches led to mixed, though segregated, congregations. Negroes usually sat in galleries or in back pews. It was not unusual for the black membership in a church to far exceed that of the whites. When Negroes became too numerous, separate services were held for them, or sometimes, particularly in cities, white members withdrew, leaving black members to form a separate church.15

The first black churches were the African (or Bluestone) Baptist Church, founded on a southern Virginia plantation in 1758, and Silver Bluff Baptist Church, founded between 1773 and 1775 on a South Carolina plantation just east of Augusta, Georgia.16 Aside from gathering in organized churches, it was also common for enslaved men and women on plantations to meet secretly for Christian worship. These meetings constituted what historians have called the “invisible institution.”17

“The black church was born out of tribulation. It is, historically, America’s own version of the persecuted church.”

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The first black denomination was the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, which Richard Allen (1760–1831) founded in 1816. In 1787, Allen and Absalom Jones (1746–1818), along with other black congregants, had walked out of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in protest. They had chosen to pray in a section of the church reserved — unbeknownst to them — for white attendees. Before congregational prayer was over, a trustee of the church had tried to force Jones up off of his knees, insisting that he not remain in the white section. A second trustee came to remove another man. When prayer concluded, Allen, Jones, and the others in their group left the church.

Reflecting on this humiliating experience some years later, Allen wrote, “They were no more plagued with us in the church. This raised a great excitement and inquiry among the citizens, in so much that I believe they were ashamed of their conduct. But my dear Lord was with us, and we were filled with fresh vigour to get a house erected to worship God in.”18 Two churches resulted from this departure: St. Thomas’s African Episcopal Church, founded in 1794 and pastored by Absalom Jones, and Bethel Church of Philadelphia, also founded in 1794. Bethel would be the birthplace of the AME Church, over which Allen presided as bishop.19

White Supremacy After Slavery

At its inception, the racial divide in the church was both theological and not theological, depending on how we look at it. It was not theological in that black and white believers generally agreed on the basic tenets of the Christian faith.20 They could both trace their spiritual lineage back to the First Great Awakening and, through that, to the Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis on the authority of Scripture and the doctrine of justification by faith alone.21 The divide was theological, however, in that it involved competing understandings of what salvation in Christ entailed. Both sides agreed that the gospel made blacks and whites spiritual equals. It delivered all men and women, regardless of color or station in life, from the power of sin and death. The disagreement lay in whether and how far the equalizing force of the gospel extended into American society.

Of pressing concern at the time was the issue of slavery. On this topic, Raboteau writes about what he calls “the irreducible gap between the slave’s religion and that of his master.” “The slave knew,” he continues, “that no matter how sincerely religious his master might be, his religion did not countenance the freedom of his slave. This was, after all was said and done, the limit to Christian fellowship. The division went deep; it extended as far as the interpretation of the Bible and the understanding of the Gospel.”22

Intertwined with the issue of slavery was the racial hierarchy that slavery had constructed and reinforced — in the South as well as in the North. It was this hierarchy that persisted even after emancipation. It was this hierarchy that the Civil War left largely undisturbed. Historian Mark Noll describes the Civil War as a “theological crisis” because white Christians — on both the abolitionist and pro-slavery sides — were largely unable to see that it was not slavery per se that contradicted Scripture but rather the dehumanizing ideology of white supremacy. “The crisis,” writes Noll, “created by an inability to distinguish the Bible on race from the Bible on slavery meant that when the Civil War was over and slavery was abolished, systemic racism continued unchecked as the great moral anomaly in a supposedly Christian America.”23

“How can we pray and work to see God’s multiethnic kingdom become more of a reality in our churches?”

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Many African Americans saw clearly how the Civil War had failed to address racism, but many white Americans largely ignored their concerns as they pursued their own vision of national prosperity. As Noll writes, “Because African Americans were progressively deprived of a public voice in the decades after the [Civil War], national politics reflected scant influence from the only constituency that thought it was important to understand the Bible for its message on race as well as its implications for American national destiny.”24

A Lasting Color Line

We can see the abiding influence of racism after the Civil War when we consider the birth of modern Pentecostalism in the early twentieth century. William Seymour (1870–1922), an African-American pastor from the Holiness tradition, presided over the famed Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles from 1906 to 1909. Seymour had learned Pentecostal teaching from a white evangelist named Charles Fox Parham (1873–1929), who had opened a Bible school in Houston, Texas. Attending a ten-week training course from the end of 1905 to the beginning of 1906, Seymour was forced to sit outside of Parham’s classroom and listen to his teaching through a partially opened door. According to the state of Texas, Seymour’s skin color disqualified him from participating fully with his white peers in their educational pursuits.

In spite of the racial exclusion he had endured, or perhaps because of it, Seymour went on to lead a movement that eschewed racial segregation from the beginning. From 1906 to 1909, multitudes flocked to an abandoned warehouse on Azusa Street to receive the gift of tongues under Seymour’s preaching. Observers noted the racial diversity of the crowds. In fact, one commentator remarked that, during the revival, “the ‘color line’ was washed away in the blood.”25

This assessment was premature, however, because after the revival drew to a close in 1909, the racial divide resurfaced. The Church of God in Christ, which had begun in 1897 under the leadership of Charles H. Mason (1866–1961), was a black Holiness denomination that became Pentecostal after Mason attended the Azusa Street meetings in 1907. Initially, it was the only Pentecostal denomination that licensed ministers, and so white Pentecostal pastors, out of necessity, had to submit themselves to African-American oversight. This arrangement lasted for seven years. In 1914, white ministers from the Church of God in Christ joined with other white ministers to form the Assemblies of God denomination. Their departure from the Church of God in Christ left it a largely African-American denomination, which it continues to be today. Because of white racial prejudice, modern Pentecostalism — which began, in the words of Lincoln and Mamiya, as “a distinctly interracial movement” — went the way of the earlier Baptists and Methodists by separating along racial lines.26

Lessons from the Black Church Tradition

Even a brief glimpse into the history of the black church tradition raises several important points for us to consider.

Primary Responsibility

First, white Christians, by and large, bear primary responsibility for their broken fellowship with black believers. To say it another way, when looking at the racial divide within the American church, white Christians, for the most part, historically have been the offending party, and black Christians have been the offended party. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed this point powerfully when he wrote, “It is to their everlasting shame that white Christians developed a system of racial segregation within the church, and inflicted so many indignities upon its Negro worshipers that they had to organize their own churches.”27

“White Christians need black Christians, and vice versa. We will not grow up into the fullness of Christ without each other.”

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Some readers may object that a claim like this tries to load the consciences of white Christians with guilt and offers them no hope of redemption. It represents law rather than gospel, some might say. But this objection overlooks how, because of Christ’s death on our behalf, Christians need not run from guilt. Christ was condemned in our place, which means we can face wrongdoing head-on — both our own and that of our forebears — and allow it, by God’s grace, to lead us to repentance. In itself, grief is not dangerous. It is worldly grief that Christians aim to avoid. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”

“But,” some might ask, “how can we repent for the deeds of our ancestors? I did not personally own slaves. I did not drive Richard Allen out of my church or make William Seymour sit in the hallway during class lectures.” This objection is true to a point. God does not hold contemporary white Christians personally responsible for sins they were not alive to commit. As we read in Ezekiel 18:20, “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son.” However, patterns of sin often make their way from father to son, especially if the son fails to recognize and repudiate them. In this sense, a son can share in his father’s guilt if he repeats in his own day the same type of transgression his father committed.

Generally speaking, many white believers have not turned from the sins of their fathers. To understand what I mean, we need to see the common thread running through many white Christians’ repeated failures to confront racial injustice in their generation. The common thread is that, by and large, many white Christians in America have not listened in earnest to the concerns of their black brothers and sisters. If they did, they might be more aware of the significance and extent of racism in American society.

Sometimes, white believers think we can heal the racial divide in the church simply by bringing whites and blacks together to learn from each other’s perspectives. To be clear, interracial relationships are crucial to racial unity. However, it is important for white Christians to understand that, for centuries, African Americans have had to become fluent in the white perspective in order to survive. In fact, it was chiefly the white perspective that created the racial divide in the church in the first place.28 Studying the history of the black church tradition shows that the racial divide in the church is less like the quarrel between Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2) and more like the rift between Joseph and his brothers after they had sold him into slavery (Genesis 37–50). Joseph longed to be reunited with his family. However, before he was willing to reveal himself to Reuben and the others, he needed to see that their hearts had truly changed. Otherwise, he would reenter their lives only to suffer further mistreatment. A hasty reunion would serve neither Joseph nor his brothers, because it would encourage his brothers to continue running from the healing and freedom that only repentance can bring.

Beyond Multiethnic Churches

A second point that the history of the black church raises is that racial diversity initiatives alone likely will not bridge the divide. As we have seen, African Americans have shared the same worship spaces as whites before. The problem is that they have done so as second-class citizens.29 For Christians to pursue biblical diversity, we need to take whatever corrective steps are necessary to ensure that our churches look not only to the interests of ourselves, “but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). Historically, the black church has provided African-American Christians with opportunities to lead and innovate. It has protected and encouraged black cultural achievements. The black church also has provided a safe place for African-American believers to lament injustice and to organize for social progress. If white Christian diversity efforts presume that black Christians will sacrifice what the black church has made possible for them, these efforts may end up doing little to heal the racial divide in the American church.30

When white Christians overlook the advantages they have inherited in American society — willingly or not — because of their racial identity, they risk reproducing in their churches and institutions the very racial hierarchy that has plagued our land for centuries. Sociologist Korie Edwards explains this danger well:

Blacks, by necessity, are aware that whites are culturally and structurally dominant. The implication of color-blindness or ignoring white privilege for multiracial churches is that they, without any specific intent to do so, can reify white supremacy, a belief in the cultural and structural dominance of whites. As a consequence, they can communicate to members that the experiences, preferences, and beliefs of white members are more important and relevant than those of blacks.31

In other words, before proposing multiracial churches as a solution to the racial divide, white Christians might seek to understand how multiracial churches can actually contribute to the problem.

Testing Ourselves

Finally, the history of the black church teaches white Christians to take a sober look at their attitudes toward, and assumptions about, their black brothers and sisters. Do we regard black Christians as more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3)? Or do we act and speak in ways that suggest otherwise? What is our demeanor toward like-minded black churches in our area? Do we care to know about them? Do we pray for them? In our attempts to bridge the racial divide, are we willing to collaborate with and learn from our black brothers and sisters? Do we grieve not only individual acts of racism but also systemic injustices that affect many African Americans? Do we have any black theological heroes? If not, are we willing to search them out? When we think about American church history, do we include the black church in that narrative? How often do we read books or articles by black Christian authors? Do we have any close friendships with African-American believers?

We Need Each Other

In his book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Martin Luther King Jr. reflects on how the fortunes of black and white Americans are inescapably intertwined. “The black man needs the white man,” he writes, “and the white man needs the black man.” To illustrate this mutual dependence, King remarks that “we are bound together in a single garment of destiny.”32

If this is true of Americans in general, regardless of religion, how much more is it true of American Christians? White and black believers are bound together in a single garment of destiny, and this single garment is the crucified and resurrected flesh of Jesus Christ, who died to make one new man out of both Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:15).33 White Christians need black Christians, and vice versa. We will not grow up into the fullness of Christ without each other (Ephesians 3:18–19; 4:15–16).

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Margin notes: 1 Cor. 3, building into people’s lives and a recommendation.

Yesterday, Pastor Jim preached to us out of 1 Cor. 3. In doing so he helped us to see Paul’s diagnosis of the core Corinthian problem, and then Paul’s treatment for it. He gave us a central truth and then 2 implications. One of those implications was how we must be careful in instructing one another in the faith – what we build into other’s lives and our own, in spiritual terms. That what we pass on to others must be ready to stand the test of God’s fire in the last day. How it must accord with the foundation we have in Christ. Part of that is to be careful about what we recommend to others as resources for their souls. This is an issue the Elders at ECF consider all the time in making book and resource recommendations to you all. We want to build into your lives things that will stand the test not only of time, but of eternity.

It is in that spirit that I make a recommendation to you today: a fine little volume titled “365 Days with Calvin.” It is a wonderful little daily devotional where Joel Beeke takes just a snippet from Calvin’s comments on scripture in bite-sized portions that are wonderfully useful. Now some haven’t the foggiest who John Calvin is, or have preconceived negative or positive views of him. But in this volume, Calvin’s usefulness as an expositor of God’s Word comes through with his Pastor’s heart in a wonderfully useful and accessible way. And I submit the following from yesterday’s reading to whet your appetite. Enjoy!

Touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using; after the commandments and doctrines of men. Colossians 2:21–22

Paul points out to what length the waywardness of those who bind consciences by their laws is likely to go. From the very beginning they are unduly severe; hence Paul begins with their prohibitions not simply against eating but even against slightly partaking.

After they have obtained what they wish, they go even further than the command, declaring it unlawful even to taste what they do not wish should be eaten. At length they make it criminal even to touch such food. In short, once leaders have taken upon themselves the right to tyrannize people’s souls, there is no end of daily adding new laws to old ones and starting up new enactments from time to time. Hence Paul admirably admonishes us that human traditions are a labyrinth in which consciences are more and more entangled; nay, more, they are snares, which from the beginning bind people in such a way that in time they are strangled.

In sum, the worship of God, true piety, and the holiness of Christians do not consist of what they drink and eat and wear, for those things are transient, liable to corruption, and perish by abuse.

Second, Paul adds that such observances originate with men and not with God, who, by his thunderbolt prostrates and swallows up all traditions of men. Paul says God does this because “Those who bring consciences into bondage do injury to Christ, and make void his death. For whatever is of human invention does not bind conscience.”

For meditation: In the church today, we create many laws and think that obeying them recommends us to God. We even bind them upon the consciences of others. But some of those laws are simply the creations of men and cannot gain us favor in God’s sight. Such favor can only come through the Son, Jesus Christ. Man-made laws often hinder people in pursuing salvation.


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Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

I am constantly amazed that this question is still being asked, and even more amazed that some Christians respond by saying, Yes.

May I remind you of a few important things that Muslims believe, or conversely, don’t believe?

Muslims deny the truth of the Trinity, that the one eternal God exists in three co-equal persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Muslims also deny the incarnation. We are told in John 1:14 that the eternal Word or Second Person of the Trinity “became flesh,” a notion that is abhorrent to all Muslims. Yet, Muslims also do their best to speak highly of Jesus. He is given a prominent place in the Qur’an. He is called the Messiah, the virgin born Son of Mary, Messenger, Prophet, and Servant. He is revered by Muslims much in the same way as are Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad. But Jesus, so say all faithful Muslims, is not himself God.

As all of you know, the death of Jesus on the cross as a substitute for sinful men and women, followed by his bodily resurrection from the grave, is the very heart and soul of Christianity. There is no gospel, no good news, indeed no Christianity, apart from the sinless life, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. But Muslims deny that Jesus died on the cross. And since he never died physically, he never rose from the dead. Someone disguised as Jesus suffered crucifixion, while Jesus was taken up into heaven by God.

For quite some time there was an interesting billboard on Broadway Extension, just north of Bridgeway Church, here in OKC. On the right side of the sign, in huge letters, is the word ISLAM. On the left side, under the title One Family, are the names of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. No! We are not one family with those who deny that Jesus is God. Abraham and Moses are two of the great saints of the old covenant, but they lived in anticipation of the coming of Jesus. Their words and deeds and prophetic utterances pointed forward to the coming Son of God, the one true Messiah, Jesus. To suggest that Jesus is merely one of a long line of revered prophets that includes Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad, is blasphemous. Worse still, it is damning. To believe this lie is to consign your soul to eternal death.

In John 5, Jesus is making a clear and unmistakable claim not only to being equal with God the Father, but also a claim to being God himself. In fact, he says in John 5:23 that “whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”

Consider how this speaks directly to the question of whether people of other religions worship the same God as do Christians. That question is easily answered: Do they honor Jesus Christ. Do they acknowledge who he is? Do they believe and affirm that he is the Word who became flesh and made a sacrifice for the sins of men and women? Do they know and celebrate Jesus as the true Messiah? Do they honor and praise him for being equal with God the Father in deity, glory, and majesty? If they don’t, then they don’t honor the Father either. Clearly, if you don’t honor the Father you don’t worship him, you don’t know him, you have no relationship with him.

So let me speak to the question that constitutes the title to this article: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? No! Definitively and decisively, No! Muslims do not honor the Son. They deny about Jesus everything he himself claimed to be. They reject his being the Son of God. They reject his atoning sacrificial death on the cross. They repudiate any notion of his bodily resurrection. And any suggestion that only through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ can someone be saved is abhorrent to them. Says John Piper,

“In other words, if you want to know if someone in another religion, or no religion, honors God (has a true worshipful relationship with God), the test that you use to know this is: Do they honor Jesus for who he really is—as the divine Son of God, the Messiah, the crucified and risen Savior of the world, the Lord of the universe and Judge of all human beings? If they don’t, then they don’t honor God” (John Piper).

John the Apostle wrote much the same thing in his first epistle: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22-23). The “liar” par excellence, the one who embodies and gives expression to the spirit of the Antichrist himself, is the person, be it male or female, who denies that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who has come in human flesh (see 1 John 4:1-6).

The reason why I expressed my continual shock that knowledgeable Christians would persist in asking the question, Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? is because of the simple yet profound declaration here in 1 John 2. “No one who denies the Son has the Father.” If you do not “have” the Father, you do not know him, you cannot honor or worship him. End of argument. Case closed.

My prayer is that any who are reading this article, be they Muslim or atheist, who deny the Son, may by the grace of God open their eyes to the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Word who became flesh (John 1:14). He is the one whom we must honor and adore with the same passion and conviction with which we honor and adore his Father.

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When You Want to Stay at Home with Kids But Can’t

My husband doesn’t make enough money to support us alone. I’d love to stay home and care for the children, but I can’t. How can I keep loving and supporting him without growing bitter?

Because you would rather stay home with your children—which is a great desire—your work outside of the home may feel more like a “have to” than a “want to” or a “get to.” And that sort of situation can be the breeding ground for contempt and bitterness, not only toward your husband but also toward your coworkers and your work itself. So, what can you do about it?

I think you have two options. With God’s help, you could either change your situation or change your heart.

Changing Your Situation

The internet abounds with tips on how to transition from being a “working” mom to a stay-at-home mom. One author has even written a book with 100 tips on how to make it happen.

If you want to stay at home, you could ask your husband to seek a better-paying job or take on a second job. My friend’s husband is a pastor and Uber driver. You could work in the evenings. I have known a few superwomen who worked night shifts a few days a week in order to earn income and be with the children during the daytime hours. You could even work part-time from home while caring for your children. My husband often jokes about how I completed my PhD during naptime.

You could revisit your budget to see where cuts can be made. Or you could relocate to an area of the country with a lower cost of living.

But each of these changes comes with a cost. Cutting the budget could spark financial stress. Moving could take you from the vital support of family and friends. Working long or late hours could interfere with sleep and affect moods. And working part-time from home may mean sometimes meeting with clients or fulfilling orders with a toddler on your lap and graham-cracker crumbs falling onto your keyboard.

Changing Your Heart

Even as you consider changing your situation, I recommend cooperating with God’s Spirit to change your heart.

First, actively work to change your heart toward your husband. Heed Paul’s advice: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31). We must actively reject bitterness, replacing it with gratitude. Give thanks for your husband. Give thanks for your job. Give thanks for every minute you get to spend with your precious children. Give thanks for your coworkers.

We have to actively choose against bitterness. Replace it with gratitude.

Second, try to change your heart toward your work through “job crafting.” Two management scholars coined the term based on their research on how people experience their work. In their book Make Your Job a Calling, Bryan Dik and Ryan Duffy describe job crafting as “those things that workers do to elicit a strong sense of purpose, meaning, engagement, resilience, and thriving from their jobs.” Dik and Duffy contend that, through job crafting, people can experience the same psychological effects as those who feel a sense of calling to their work.

You can approach job crafting three ways: task crafting, relational crafting, and cognitive crafting. In task crafting, you work to rearrange your job responsibilities so that your job feels like a better fit. Such task crafting may require a conversation with your supervisor and is not possible in every line of work. In relational crafting, you invest in your work relationships. When you invest in those relationships, you might look forward to going to work in order to spend time with your coworkers. In cognitive crafting, you reframe how you understand the purpose of you work. It’s about more than a paycheck. How can you partner with God in his work through your job?

Trust God

Regardless of which path you choose, I encourage you to trust God. When work is a “have to,” we may place trust in our paycheck when it is ultimately God who provides for us—often through the income and benefits we earn at a job. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encourages us to ask God, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). And he challenges us not to toil anxiously to meet our everyday needs (Matt. 6:25-32).

He encourages us instead: “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). Seek to honor God in your marriage, in your home, and in your work. And trust him to provide what you and your family need.

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How to Suffer Without Grumbling: Why I Love the Apostle Paul

I am drawn to people who suffer without murmuring. Especially when they believe in God but never get angry with him or criticize him. It seems to me that not murmuring is one of the rarest traits in the world. And when it is combined with a deep faith in God — who could alter our painful circumstances, but doesn’t — it has a beautiful, God-trusting, God-honoring quality that makes it all the more attractive. Paul was like that.

Brought to the Brink of Death

Paul tells of the time when his faith was put to the test in a way that brought him to the brink of despair and death:

We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8–10)

Three things are remarkable here. First is the severity of the suffering: “We felt that we had received the sentence of death.” Second, there is purpose or design in this suffering: “That was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” Third, this purpose was God’s purpose. It could not have been Satan’s, since Satan certainly does not want Paul to rely on God.

So, the truth that Paul believed about his suffering — no matter how severe — was that it came ultimately with God’s purpose, and the purpose was that Paul would trust himself less and trust God more, every moment of his life, especially as death approached.

A Key to Not Murmuring

This, it seems, is how Paul could be free from murmuring in his suffering. He knew God was in charge of it, and that God’s purposes were totally for Paul’s good. Paul fleshes this truth out in several other places:

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3–5)

Again, the basis of Paul’s freedom from murmuring — indeed, the presence of his rejoicing — was his confidence that God was at work doing something crucial in Paul: producing endurance and God-saturated hope.

Suffering at the End of Earthly Life

But what about suffering that leads only to death and not to a new chapter of life on earth where reliance on God (2 Corinthians 1:9) and deepened character and hope (Romans 5:4) might be increased? Paul was keenly aware of this question and gave his answer in 2 Corinthians 4:16–18:

We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

The issue here is the gradual wasting away of human life — through affliction and sickness and aging. In other words, the next chapter after this suffering is not a season of greater faith and hope on earth. The next chapter is heaven.

So, is there any point in the increased suffering that comes with the approach of death? How do those of us who have only a few years left not murmur at our aches and pains and the onrush of death? Paul’s answer is that this life’s afflictions — if we endure them by trusting Christ — actually produce greater measures of glory in heaven. “This . . . affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.”

Secret to Contentment

Therefore, even though Paul’s life was one of seemingly unremitting sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23–33), there is scarcely a hint of murmuring, and none against God. He could get angry at destructive error and its teachers (Galatians 1:8–9; 5:12). And he could express his pressures and burdens (2 Corinthians 11:28). Nevertheless, his contentment through it all was unusual.

He said he had learned the secret of contentment:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)

This “secret” seemed to be the all-satisfying presence and worth of Christ (Philippians 3:8), together with the confidence Paul felt in the merciful sovereignty of God that would work all things for his good (Philippians 1:12; Romans 8:28). Watching Paul maintain his humble, God-dependent, Christ-cherishing contentment through all his sufferings causes me to stand in awe of this man.

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Finding God in Life’s Waiting Room

“You have a plan for me.”

Each day I wake to these words, the opening lyrics to a worship song I set as my alarm some rejections ago. If I’m untroubled, I stop the song there and start my day. Other mornings, when my pillow is still damp from the previous night’s cry or my heart worn from waiting—35 years for a spouse, 15 months for a job, indefinitely for the resurrection of friendships lost—I let the whole thing play. Battling waves of envy, frustration, and shame I wait, echoing the psalmist’s heavenward cry: “My eyes fail, looking for your promise” (Ps. 119:82).

Delay can often feel like a burden. I used to squander such seasons, longing in vain for timely answers to tired prayers. I’d launch a countdown to God’s yes—and withhold praise until it arrived. Sadly, I knew nothing of the power that could transform a seemingly fallow, horizonless wait into one of lush, redemptive possibility. My eyes failed, looking not for Christ but for escape.

Waiting isn’t the wasted space around the greatest blessings of our lives; it’s their incubator. It tutors us in the way of faith, that divine vision beyond human sight (2 Cor. 5:7). It forces us to confront our insecurities and cross-examine our doubts. Above all, waiting invites us to retrace the well-worn paths of grace back to a bloody cross and empty tomb.

Weary and impatient, I’ve pelted God with questions: Will I ever be loved? Will unemployment ruin me? When will you reconcile this? However I articulate them, though, I’m convinced my questions sound to his ear more like, Are you really in control here? Are you trustworthy? Are you . . . enough?

Yet with patience, God has accompanied me through valleys of acute need. Along that terrain, he’s revealed his character in three profound and personal ways.

Is He Trustworthy?

For years, I made a lifestyle out of being faithless while hoping God would remain faithful. Although I’d once known the thrill of believing in a kind and able God, I’d begun, conditioned by disappointment, to bow before a god worth second-guessing whenever our timelines clashed.

As I examined my heart, I grieved my lack of faith. I sincerely wanted to trust God through my story’s unfinished middle. One romantic rejection away from breaking, I finally weighed my options: I could choose to see God’s blessing only when his yes aligned with my will, or I could take him at his word and trust the perpetual yes secured for me in Christ.

To trust God as I wait requires practicing the discipline of remembrance. Recalling his wondrous works re-magnetizes my heart Godward. My Bible reminds me I serve a loving and committed Savior. My life reminds me I’ve already experienced deliverance after deliverance by unpredictable grace. Rather than train myself, in disbelief, to be satisfied only with my will, I learn to suck the nectar of faith from disappointment and to find Christ both sufficient and sweet. Oh the fear-defying joy of trusting an almighty and attentive God!

Is He Enough?

I had already been unemployed for eight months when I learned I’d gotten neither job for which I’d been a finalist. But as fresh disappointment enveloped me, God’s Word did too. I told my friends, “It’s a comfort in my sadness that he gives me himself. I don’t know the details of my future, but I don’t need to know them. I need only to know him.” What a sweet place to be—and how different from the past, when I’d treated God like a temporary solution for longing rather than its greatest fulfillment.

I began to pray differently, too. Instead of just requesting provision, I focused on his sufficiency. I didn’t want the magnitude of “I will be your God” (Lev. 26:12) to be lost on me like it was on the Israelites. The more they focused on the perks of the promised land, the more their greatest possession became an afterthought. Instead, I wanted the psalmist’s boasts—“I have no good apart from you. . . . The LORD is my chosen portion. . . . In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:2, 5, 11)—to be my own.

In my wait, I use my lack to plumb God’s plenty. I lamented not being romantically pursued—but God reminded me of the lengths he went to make me his. I had no job to validate my significance—but I relished the worth Christ conferred. Over the years, I had prayed for both the gift and the Giver. I’ve watched with wonder as the Giver has revealed himself to be the gift.

Is He in Control?

I once listened to a group of women list reasons they were single: challenging city dating-scapes, demanding careers, passive men in their churches, unattainable beauty standards, clueless ex-boyfriends, and so on. I too had my list. Even as I worked to change certain circumstances in my life, singleness stubbornly remained. Marriage isn’t a respecter of physique, age, education, or experience.

Underlying the list of reasons for my singleness is the unseen, fundamental one: singleness is God’s will for me right now. Neither geography, statistics, nor some dating pool can thwart God’s plans.

So I wait, trusting Scripture’s insistence that God’s sovereign will prevails (Job 42:2; Ps. 37:23; Prov. 16:1; 19:21; 20:24; 21:1; Isa. 14:27; Jer. 10:23; Eph. 1:11). Though I dream of a thousand elsewheres while I wait, here is where God longs to be found. I cry, “How long, O LORD” (Ps. 13:1), and he answers: not a moment longer than necessary. He knows the agonizing blessing of saying, “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). I neither resign myself to the uncertainty of the wait, nor do I stop praying for my unfulfilled desires. Instead, I surrender it all to God, trusting him to use it for my good.

Waiting Is Holy Work

Hope and joy have come to me through one-moment-at-a-time maintenance: remembering God’s faithfulness, meditating on his sufficiency, and resting in his sovereignty. I rehearse these truths multiple times a day, whether dry-eyed or teary. I ask friends for help. I confess when I struggle. I seek grace to do what I cannot.

Waiting has turned out to be holy work. We don’t learn endurance without it and without endurance, we have no hope. With hope, however, we disarm despair (Rom. 5:3–5).

But when we welcome waiting as heaven’s instrument—when we don’t simply endure it but mine its riches—we become a God-assured, God-satiated, and God-led people, radiant and readied for our King.

He has a plan for us.

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We Yawn Because We Forget: Uncovering the Wonder of Christ

Of all the wonders in the world — the steepest mountains, the grandest canyons, the widest oceans — none compares with the Son sent from heaven. If we think we have seen the full extent of who he is, we are deceived. We cannot fathom just how breathtaking he is. Have we forgotten? When was the last time you were mesmerized by Jesus?

If he does not captivate us anymore, it is not because he lacks anything. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus radiates the beauty and worth of God, embodying infinite wisdom, justice, strength, and love perfectly and forever. He carries every continent, planet, and galaxy with less than a pinky — with just a sound from his mouth.

He orders each wave in the Pacific Ocean to rise and fall as he pleases. He feeds every blue jay and hummingbird every single meal, and decides the height and hue of each blade of grass in every field on earth. Seven billion people will take their next breath because, and only because, he gives it to them (Acts 17:25).

And yet, we often yawn.

When You Could Not See

Sometimes we yawn because we forget what it means to see at all. We were born so blind that even the blazing brightness of his glory could not break through (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan had boarded up every sliver of every window in our hearts. Our retinas saw everything they see now, and yet, nothing. We saw the surface of reality, but missed the source of reality. But then the Author of sight gave us a new prescription and introduced us, for the first time, to true wonder.

“We yawn before Christ because we do not give ourselves time to wonder.”

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“God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). If light has flooded your heart, God put it there. God ended your aching search for happiness, and mended the shattered pieces of your heart. He pulled back the curtains of sin and shame, held up the brilliance of his Son, and sent his Spirit to open your eyes wider and wider to himself.

When you open the Bible looking for Jesus, remember that not everyone can see him like you can. If we knew what we have been given, we would not take it for granted — we would not yawn. We would tremble, and rejoice, and gaze at him in his word.

When Did You See?

We also yawn before Christ because we do not give ourselves time to wonder.

When did you see him for the first time? For every follower of Jesus, there was a time when he went from interesting to stunning, from intriguing to mouth-stopping, from inspiring to everything — from great man to God himself. When we fed on his word those first few weeks, we ate like we had never had a real meal. When we drank the living water from his well, we barely stopped to breathe. Like the man who sold all he had, we had found our pearl of great price, our treasure beyond compare. Wasn’t he marvelous?

We lose that sense of awe when we don’t give ourselves time to gaze. How extravagant could he possibly look if we only ever give him a few minutes here and there? A thousand other things eat away at the precious minutes we used to spend at his feet. If Satan cannot keep us from seeing the light of Christ, he will do everything he can to direct our attention elsewhere — to fix our eyes on anything but Jesus.

If we want to see the wonders in him, if we want him to take our breath away again, we will have to keep Satan (and everyone and everything else) at bay long enough each day to see.

Lovely and Relentless

Give your life to gazing at Jesus in his word, and you will not be bored — and you will not see all of him. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). If we yawn, shame on us.

“When you open the Bible looking for Jesus, remember that not everyone can see him like you can.”

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There is more power in him than in all the waves in all the oceans. There is more wisdom in him than in all the world’s universities. There is more purity in him than in the finest pearl or diamond. There is more courage in him than in the bravest soldiers in the fiercest wars. There is more gentleness in him than in a mother with her newborn. There is more justice in him than any human court or judge. There is more love in him than we have ever known or felt. And that power, that wisdom, that love — that radiance — came to earth and died for you, “making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

He is wonderful and beautiful, righteous and mighty, marvelous and holy. Isn’t he?

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1 Corinthians Ch. 2 – 3 Foundations

Reid A Ferguson

A few weeks ago when we began this study – we were introduced to the 1st Century city of Corinth. A thriving multi-port city that had everything one could wish for – at least in earthly terms.

Wealth, art and culture abounded. It was a city that thrived on intellect, success, fame, self-promotion and sex. It didn’t abide fools, bumpkins, or anyone who wasn’t striving for recognition among the social elites.

The Apostle Paul went there to plant the Church of Jesus Christ. To preach the Cross of Jesus to a people who thought they had it all, and a salvation that stood in stark contrast to everything they held dear.

And it worked!

In a culture smug in its superiority – that loved its sports, its politics, its money and its immorality – within 18 months Paul had established a thriving band of Believers. A Church we saw in the opening to this letter that flourished in “all speech and knowledge” – rich with spiritual gifts.

But it was a Church which was also deeply troubled by a host of issues.

Topping the list of those issues was its fractured membership. Beginning to mirror its culture, it was a church which had divided itself up in cliques. Each group clinging to its identification with various figures like Paul himself, Peter, Apollos and even Jesus. Each vying for some measure of recognition and superiority over the others. And Paul seeks to address this problem head on before he even begins to touch on the other matters he was aware of, and that they themselves had written to him about.

And as Jim so ably unfolded for us last time – the first thing Paul does is take aim at what was threatening to tear them apart and lose the witness for Christ in that city. Thus we saw for ourselves as well how God graciously destroys our self-confidence – so that our confidence is in Christ alone. Confidence in their factions, in their heroes, in their intellect, in their goodness, and in their imagined status over and against each other – all of it needed to be abandoned. NEEDS, to be abandoned. For God receives us only in, and because of Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Church is not rooted in its own perceived wisdom, power, goodness, status or accomplishment. It is founded upon the finished work of Christ to reconcile lost and justly condemned sinners to the Living God through faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus for our sins on the Cross. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.

But Paul’s work in healing these factions has only just begun. In fact, as we turn to chapter 2, we see how he needs to put 3 critical foundation stones in place, before he can tackle the faction problem more directly. That is what brings us to our text this morning.

Now the passage breaks itself up fairly naturally in discussing 3 problems which lurk below the surface. The disease underlying the symptom of division in the Church.

  1. vss. 1-5 The Problem of Losing the Simplicity and Centrality of the Gospel.
  2. vss. 6-12 The Problem of embracing a salvation of Reason apart from Revelation.
  3. vss. 13-16 The Problem of failing to distinguish between the Spiritual and the Natural.
  4. 1-5 The Problem of Losing the Simplicity and Centrality of the Gospel.

Paul had done his homework. He knew what made Corinthian society hum. And he took aim at it in the very way he approached ministry there. So he reminds his readers and us of the 3 things he intentionally avoided in bringing them the Gospel:

  1. 1 Cor. 2:1-2 He made no impressive presentation:

1 Corinthians 2:1–2 ESV / And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Knowing Corinthian culture and how they placed such great value on people sounding smart and “with it” – he intentionally went in the opposite direction.

He wanted nothing to get in the way of their ultimate need, and his ultimate aim – to reconcile them to God through the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

What did that look like? Paul will recount it in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 ESV / For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

Nothing in all the world is more important for anyone to know than these things: Who Jesus is, why He came and what He did. Everything in Biblical Christianity flows out of this incredibly simple declaration.

Paul is a strategist and loves this approach of opposites. On Mars Hill where the culture was all about hearing something new, he stood up and said: “I’m going to tell you about something you already know – but don’t know well enough – your “unknown god.” And here, where high ideas spoken by gifted speakers ruled the day – he started with the simple, unadorned Gospel. He refused to feed into their appetite, but aimed at creating a new one.

He aimed at making no impressive presentation – so as to spotlight the message rather than the medium.

  1. 1 Cor. 2:3 He refused to present himself as an impressive person:

1 Corinthians 2:3 ESV / And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,

When Paul got to Corinth, he was arriving after facing a raft of difficulties. Rabid opposition had turned everything to chaos in Philippi. In Thessalonica, a riot broke out and he had to be secretly dispatched. Things at Berea started out better, but then trouble-makers from Thessalonica arrived and the brothers sent him away again. At Athens, the response is tepid.

Years ago I sort of always thought of the Apostle Paul a bit like Yosemite Sam – coming into town guns blazing and taking no prisoners. But then I read this, or 2 Cor. 10:10 where he admits his detractors say his in-person persona is weak and he is not a great orator.

Trauma leaves its mark. At this point Paul was no doubt a bit gun shy. In 1972 I was mowing a lawn when I slipped on the grass and lost a portion of a toe to the power mower. And to this day I cannot see or hear a power mower without a certain inward twinge.

After a number of beatings, riots, threatenings and narrow escapes, can we imagine Paul unfazed? No. Now it didn’t stop him, but it didn’t make him look like much in human terms either. And He let that weakness be seen.

From the text here we gather that he did not try to pass himself off as a person to be admired, followed or emulated – but as a weak and trembling man simply relying on a great Savior. The message, not the man took precedence.

  1. And 3rd, 1 Cor. 2:4 He made no attempts at making the message more plausible – why in earthly wisdom it should be believed.

1 Corinthians 2:4 ESV / and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,

The message was sufficient on its own – preached within the Biblical framework. As he would remind us in his letter to the Romans – he was not ashamed of the Gospel because IT – THE MESSAGE – is the very power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16)

The demonstration of its power being nothing other than the changed lives it produced. It raised people from spiritual death to new life in Christ. It caused people to be born again.

Now don’t get me wrong, he never tried to obscure the message or detract from it any other way either. He didn’t work to make it objectionable – just clear and not dependent upon anything other than the Holy Spirit creating life in the hearers by it. Clarity was always a concern. So he says in Colossians 4:3–4 ESV / At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

He made no impressive presentation;

Didn’t advance himself as an impressive person;

And refused to try to make the message plausible – more reasonable – to unaided human reason.

All 3 of which had evidently begun to seep into the Church there from the culture – and were contributing to competition and factions in the Church.

And here is a massive warning needed in our own day.

Christian, do not center your own Christian life around ministries that major on slick presentations, magnetic and persuasive personalities or what might sound like high-flying insights: Keep to the Gospel, the simple, unadorned Gospel of Jesus Christ and His saving work to bring to you the Father in due time – robed in His righteousness.

  1. vss. 6-12 The Problem of embracing a salvation of Reason apart from Revelation.

Now Paul had already mentioned in Ch. 1 that the message of the cross is foolishness to most people, and that God Himself ordered this world so that unassisted by the Spirit, people cannot reason themselves to God’s means of salvation.

We read the same thing in Ecclesiastes 8:16-17  / “When I tried to gain wisdom and to observe the activity on earth— even though it prevents anyone from sleeping day or night— then I discerned all that God has done: No one really comprehends what happens on earth. Despite all human efforts to discover it, no one can ever grasp it. Even if a wise person claimed that he understood, he would not really comprehend it.” NET

But when the Church losses its confidence in the message of the Cross, or, as in this case they were laboring in a culture that put an excessively high premium on logic and human persuasiveness, the temptation is to try and strip away anything from the Gospel which seems contrary to a thoughtful, logical, scientifically oriented mind.

And this has remained a problem in every generation.

So some try to downplay the parts of Scripture which others might find troubling. Let’s deny or modify special creation. Make Noah’s flood merely local. Skip the bits about angelic visitations, Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus walking on the water, etc.. Let’s make our message more palatable to the rational mind and get rid of the supernatural bits. So Jesus dies as a great example but not as an actual substitutionary blood sacrifice in our place. And His resurrection is just a spiritual thing, not physical. Let’s make salvation merely a matter of intellectually assenting to a certain set of religious propositions rather than insisting – like Jesus – that one “must be born again” – when that is an act of God after all and we have no control over it. Let’s make the whole thing plausible to an unregenerate mind. Never mind if it is what the Bible teaches, can we make it sound OK? Can we make it acceptable to people who are still enemies of the Living God?

But it can’t be done – no matter how many times it has been tried. Because it isn’t God’s method. His, is to preach this bare message, and leave it to the Holy Spirit to make it reasonable by opening their eyes to the truth of it all. But that WILL exclude us from certain company. It will not gain the Church its highest acceptance in society. And it will create and artificial elite within the ranks of the Church. The intellectual elite who know better than to buy all this supernatural stuff, but let the hoi polloi cling to it if they need to. And these elite then can rub shoulders with the more sophisticated in society having rejected the stuff of the low-brow, slack-jawed Luddites.

That said – Paul goes on to say we DO NOT speak utter nonsense, but true sense – to the awakened soul. 1 Cor. 2:6-7

1 Corinthians 2:6–7 ESV / Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

The word mature here isn’t meant to bring up the issue of age, but one of capacity.

You can discuss the properties of the visible spectrum all day long with a blind person, but they cannot see that light, even though they can understand every single scientific fact and concept. Apart from the faculty of sight, the facts remain true, but simply talk.

So as our text here says, to those who have been born again, the realities surrounding Christ and the cross make perfect sense, they are realities, not mere theories or ideas. This is the hidden or secret wisdom which He alone imparts to us by opening our eyes. And He designed it this way that our glory comes from Him, from His “well done” on the final day and not from men as though the one with the highest intellect is the most spiritual.

So John Flavel would write: “All other knowledge is natural, but this wholly supernatural, Mat. 11:27. “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” The wisest Heathens could never make a discovery of Christ by their deepest searches into nature; the most eagle-eyed philosophers were but children in knowledge, compared with the most illiterate Christians.”

So, 1 Cor. 2:8 goes on

1 Corinthians 2:8 ESV / None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

But men cannot know these things with bare intellect – thus 1 Cor. 2:9-10  ESV / But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

The significance of Paul referring to Isa. 64 here is that it is a passage proclaiming the seeming impossible restoration and salvation of God’s people in light of their sin and captivity. No one would ever imagine God could make a way! But out of the hidden depths of His magnificent mercy and grace – He makes a way. And it is the express domain of the Spirit to make that impossibility known to us.

The glories and benefits of the saving work of Jesus Christ – these are the deepest things in the heart and mind of God – 1 Corinthians 2:10–11 ESV / these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

These are what the Spirit of God alone searches out and knows and what He alone reveals to us. And this is why the Spirit of God is given: 1 Corinthians 2:12 ESV / Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

Did you get that last phrase? We must have the Spirit of God within us, in order to understand the things which are freely given to us by God in Christ.

Seeing Jesus for who He is and what He has done; God as Creator; Mankind as created; Mankind as rebelliously fallen; God’s plan of reconciliation; Jesus Christ the substitute and risen Lord; The gift of The Spirit; The truth of The Word; The reality of coming judgment; Resurrection; Heaven and Hell; The Church of the redeemed – only the Spirit knows all of God’s mind, and only the Spirit can bring that light to ours.

Apart from this quickening, this awakening by the Holy Spirit – they remain words we can understand, but realities we do not possess.

This is why there are so many today who claim Christianity in one form or another, who nevertheless live as though the Spirit of God is not in them leading them to love and live in holiness. And why their Christianity consists not in growing into the image of Christ and seeking to walk intimately with Jesus and arrive at an eternal destiny in the presence of their redeeming God – but who are driven more by social issues, bare morality, and a fixation on how God can simply make my life better, or this world a better place.

This is why so many who claim to be Christians and sit in Christian pews week after week are in fact still dead in their trespasses and sins. Because we have made salvation a matter or mere reason, and abandoned the need for the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in bring men and women to new life in Jesus Christ through the Gospel.

And that brings us to Paul’s 3rd foundation stone:

  1. vss. 1-5 The Problem of Losing the Simplicity and Centrality of the Gospel.
  2. vss. 6-12 The Problem of embracing a salvation of Reason apart from Revelation.
  3. vss. 13-16 The Problem of failing to distinguish between the Spiritual and the Natural.

This obviously is an extension of the previous 2.

Those who have been given the Spirit, have their eyes opened to the truth of all that the Bible teaches – especially in relation to the person and saving work of Jesus Christ – and then we – we instruct one another in THESE things, with the Biblical language and concepts He has given us: 1 Corinthians 2:13 ESV / And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

And here is a most timely word to us. For as it was then, so it is on our own day that people will say “I’m not religious”, or “I don’t subscribe to organized religion”, or “I don’t go to Church”, but: “I’m spiritual.”

But as our text notes we use a Spirit bred vocabulary which the world sometimes tries to borrow, but in fact strips of the meaning God has given to it.

For this is the Biblical reality: No one is “spiritual” unless they have been born again by the Spirit of God, and given new life in Christ – believing on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No one. No matter how nice, how sensitive, how religious sounding, etc.

Once again the lines become blurred and even the Church can become comprised of a largely unregenerate membership when we accept as “spiritual” that which God says is NOT spiritual – but merely natural.

And when this happens, the words, the ideas, the teachings and methods of people who claim this spirituality, are accepted into the Church and the insistence upon the Gospel, upon regeneration, the authority of God’s Word, upon the pursuit of Christ and eternal life with Him – become mixed, muddled, and eventually lost altogether. It ALWAYS results in one of two things – or both: Legalism, because Christianity becomes external moralism rather than Spirit motivated holiness – or Cross-less political correctness bowing to the trends of the culture.

Biblical words and concepts like redemption, regeneration, salvation, justification, righteousness, holiness, penal substitution, resurrection and even faith and God – all get reinterpreted and robbed of their true significance and power.

The truth is: 1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV / The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Evangelism and proselytizing are looked upon askance and as unspiritual because they call people to know they are sinners who need to be redeemed by grace. Biblical truths declare some things are really wrong, some views are really wrong, some lifestyles are really wrong, some religions are really wrong – and people are lost and undone apart from Christ.

But when the Church can no longer differentiate between those who profess Christianity but manifest nothing of His Spirit changing them – bringing the loves into them that the Spirit invariably does for His Word, His people and confidence in the revelation His Word brings – then the Church loses all of its power and authority to preach the Gospel and call men to salvation.

It cannot help but degenerate into a mere social and religious organization – with some priority other than seeing people reconciled to God through the Gospel – and seeking the glory of God in all things through the revelation of Him in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Paul is going to show what this failure looks like as he opens up ch. 3. When spiritual men and women begin to act as though they are still only natural. It brings wicked division.

Now the truth is – the truly spiritual – those supernaturally in Christ, will always be misunderstood by those outside of Christ – no matter what they profess.

1 Corinthians 2:15 ESV / The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.

I saw a movie this week where a little boy of about 10 witnessed a terrible crime. But when he was brought to be questioned by the Police, he was completely uncooperative. At first they chalked it up to shock. But in time they began to suspect he was withholding for some reason – and was being stubborn in not answering a single one of their questions. As exasperation grew and they were about to get really tough on him for his unresponsiveness – one of the Policemen got an idea. And kneeling down before the lad he made a gesture with his hand. And the little boy smiled and gestured back. He wasn’t being stubbornly unresponsive, he was totally deaf, couldn’t read lips, didn’t know sign language. And, he was scared out of his wits. Once they knew his condition, all of his actions made perfect sense. But until then, they were all misinterpreted.

The World, natural men and women, will not understand why we do what we do at times. They cannot. Even though we can fully understand why they do what they do. We were there once too. We know what it was to be blind back then. To be bound in darkness and sin. To think these things of Christ silly and senseless. We get it. They can’t.

So Paul puts a final label on that difference: 1 Corinthians 2:16 ESV / “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

This is the great dividing line in all of humanity – those who have the “mind of Christ” the Spirit of Christ, and those who do not.

As the Church we must be willing to retain the reality that people are not all the same. That there are those who are born again, who have the Spirit and the mind of Christ – those who are spiritual, and those who are not – those who are natural. It does not make the spiritual superior, it only makes them recipients of grace. A grace that moves them to desire the same for the others. It calls us to compassion, understanding, but also to say they cannot be considered as part of the Church so as to have influence in its call, mission or message.

  1. vss. 1-5 The Problem of Losing the Simplicity and Centrality of the Gospel.
  2. vss. 6-12 The Problem of embracing a salvation of Reason apart from Revelation.
  3. vss. 13-16 The Problem of failing to distinguish between the Spiritual and the Natural.

While we’ve made a few applications along the way, let me take a moment to leave us with just a couple of very important takeaways.

  1. Very briefly, do not be taken in by what is so often labeled as “spiritual” out there.

If they will not make a bold profession of saving faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His substitutionary atonement on the Cross – accepting the whole of the Word of God as authoritative and true – and pursuing a life of holiness – they are NOT spiritual, but natural. Fallen man apart from Christ. And their lessons and teachings are to be rejected as not having any true spiritual import. Not when it comes to salvation and life in Christ.

I cannot emphasize this enough beloved. It may be clothed in Bible terms, they may say “Jesus” etc. But everything hinges on the true Gospel and submission to Christ as Lord. Apart from that, do not receive them as spiritual authorities in your life.

There are books, programs, shows, podcasts and articles galore which purport to be Christian, but have nothing to do with leading you to greater trust in Jesus, the fullness of His work on the Cross, His Word and growing in Christ – and everything to do with secrets to success, power, money, happiness and well-being – as though they are legitimate after-market add-ons to give you the REAL Christian life. DON’T BUY IT! If they don’t take you back to Christ and the Cross, they are fakes.

2 – And of absolute supreme importance – Let no one ever make you ashamed of or shy away from the simplicity of the Gospel.

No, it doesn’t sound cool. It cannot be made to sound cool and retain its power.

The message of the Cross is that all humankind has rebelled against God the creator by wanting to be lords over our own lives, and that we are guilty and condemned before Him. That we need a savior to rescue us. That salvation is beyond our power to accomplish. And the only savior God has provided is Jesus Christ, God in human flesh – dying on the cross to take the just punishment due to us for our sins. And that His satisfaction of the Father on our behalf must be received by faith in the power of that work alone to reconcile us to the Father. He alone is the truth, the life and the way, and no man can come to the Father but by Him.

And that salvation rests in being reconciled back to God in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

Never let that simple message be obscured for any reason. It is in fact foolishness to others until the Spirit uses it to open their eyes. But don’t try to escape the raw reality of it.

You don’t have to make some snazzy presentation.

You don’t have to be a great speaker.

You don’t have to pretend to have everything together, know all the answers or defend every objection.

You just have to state the facts as clearly and simply as possible. And look to the Holy Spirit to make it real to their souls.


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Don’t Sell Your Birthright for Sex

I have a friend who grew up in a Christian home with amazing Christian parents. They raised him “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). At a young age, he put his trust in Christ as Lord and Savior, and faith began flourishing in his life. When he was 18 years old, he went off to an evangelical Christian university, where his faith only continued to grow. But as time went on, feelings and attractions toward the same sex became more and more evident in his mind and heart. These feelings alarmed and confused him, since he knew and believed what the Bible says about homosexuality; as his feelings increased, so did his inner turmoil. He was torn between Scripture’s sexual ethic and his same-sex attractions.

He hid his struggle from others, especially from his parents, during his college years. But feeling ashamed and at times hopeless, he sought help, eventually opening up to close friends and even his parents. Reactions were mixed. His parents were initially distraught, but soon became compassionate and understanding. They hoped he would remain faithful to the Word of God and wanted to be there for him in any way they could. Some of his friends rejected him, while others tried to help him through this difficult and confusing period.

After college, he seemed to be in a good place with the Lord. He felt he had a handle on things and was willing to deny himself to follow Christ. But then he met a guy and fell in love. Although he was torn about this new relationship, knowing it was wrong, he had never felt so good and so free. And his boyfriend assured him over and over that their relationship was not sinful. How could love this deep be sinful? Wasn’t the Bible outdated when it came to these matters? He just needed to be true to himself, and everything would work out fine.

My friend ultimately surrendered to his feelings, and to his boyfriend’s pleas, and made a conscious decision to walk away from the Lord and pursue this relationship. He knew deep down that living a homosexual life is incompatible with the teaching of the Bible, but he was tired of fighting his desires.

Like Esau in Genesis 25:29–34, he wanted his stew now.

Heartbreaking Tradeoff

I’ve seen this phenomenon over and over again, and it breaks my heart. I’ve watched many who profess to be followers of Christ give up their birthright for a single meal, choosing their desire to satiate their appetite now over the amazing promises of Christ. When I talk to young people who struggle with same-sex attraction and are about to throw in the towel and give in to that temptation, I try to help them see what a vapor this life is. Funny as it sounds, I try to make them understand that eternity is a very long time. I try to convince them that selling their birthright is not worth it. I always reference these powerful verses:

This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17–18)

These verses are often a salve to the soul when I struggle with temptation. Sometimes I remember the wedding feast of the Lamb, and everything else evaporates. It’s hard to fathom the eternal weight of glory, but I know it’s infinitely more gratifying than any ephemeral pleasure on this earth. As Matthew Henry observed regarding Esau’s tragic decision, “The gratifying of the sensual appetite is that which ruins thousands of precious souls.”

I’ve watched many who profess to be followers of Christ give up their birthright for a single meal, choosing their desire to satiate their appetite now over the amazing promises of Christ.

In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews makes a chilling reference to Esau’s fate:

See to it . . . that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (Heb. 12:15–17)

Only True Meal

There will come a day when we will meet Christ face to face. That day will be either the greatest or the most devastating day imaginable, depending on whether or not your name is written in the Book of Life (Rev. 20:15). What do you want to hear on that day? “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21) or “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matt. 7:23)? The latter are the most terrifying words a human being could ever hear. What would you be willing to give up to avoid that outcome? What would you refuse to do if it meant spending eternity with Christ?

Let us “fight the good fight of the faith” and “take hold of the eternal life to which [we] were called and about which [we] made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12). Let us, “as obedient children, . . . not be conformed to the passions of [our] former ignorance, but as he who called [us] is holy . . . be holy in all [our] conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet.1:14–16). Let us “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Heb. 10: 23).

The only true passion worth living for is passion for Christ. The only true meal is the Bread of Life. The only true drink is the water that will never make us thirsty again—the living water of a loving Savior.


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How Do I Choose a Spouse? Seven Principles for Marrying Well

Besides our children’s decision to follow Jesus, the most important decision they will make is whom to marry.

The multigenerational implications are huge. Despite the importance of this decision, however, some parents are more concerned about their children’s grades or athletic performance. They spend more time talking about how to get into the right college than about how to pick a future spouse. But whom your children marry may affect eternal destinies: their own, their spouses, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren.

Around the Table

As a parent of five grown children, I want to encourage you to discuss this subject with your children. As many mistakes as we made, my wife and I found that the best place to have these discussions was at the dinner table, where we gathered at least four times a week — and preferably six. Effective fathers and mothers (especially fathers) continually teach their children. They don’t teach just by example; they teach with their lips. It is hard to do that if the family does not regularly gather for a meal.

“It is better to remain single than to enter unwisely into marriage.”

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We also found that the best time to teach our children was earlier rather than later. Parents will want to start discussing these matters by the time their children enter puberty, and continue the discussion regularly.

My wife and I regularly discussed about seven marriage principles with our children. There are more, but these are a good starting place.

Prefer singleness to an unwise marriage.

Most couples today (if their marriages survive) live together for fifty to seventy years. That is a long time. When a couple builds their union around Christ, that union has the potential to be sweet and wonderful. When one or both build it around something else, however, the prognosis is not so positive.

Therefore, parents can teach their children to do two key precepts. First, unless God gives you the desire to remain single for kingdom-related reasons, pursue marriage. Marriage is the normal, biblical pattern for adults. But second, pursue marriage carefully and with wisdom. It is better to remain single than to enter unwisely into marriage.

Marry to go deeper with Christ.

Second, teach them to marry to go deeper with Christ. God instructs his children to marry fellow believers only (Deuteronomy 7:3; 1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14). This rule is an absolute — no exceptions. For a Christian to deliberately and knowingly marry an unbeliever is sin. For me, this principle includes Roman Catholics and liberal Protestants, who are not clear on the gospel or biblical authority.

This principle raises a bigger question: “What is a believer? When asked, many people will profess to be Christians because they “asked Jesus into their heart,” even if they are currently unfruitful or uninterested in spiritual things. This makes discernment difficult.

Here are some helpful questions to ask: Can your prospective spouse articulate the gospel? Does he believe it, and delight in it? Does his life revolve around Christ, or does it revolve around something else? Is Christ enthroned in the center of his life? Would marriage to this person manifestly draw me closer to Christ or subtly away from him?

Marry to go deeper with Christ. We want the effect of our union, whether after fifty years together or five, to be more faith, more obedience, more Christlikeness, and more need for and dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Don’t marry anyone who will not help you go there.

Marry a potential best friend.

Third, don’t marry a beautiful face or a young man’s future career success. I am not saying these things don’t matter, but they are very secondary. Marriage means decades together. It is more important to marry someone with whom you enjoy and share common interests, hobbies, and passions. The beautiful body will quickly fade. Career success will mean nothing if at age fifty you don’t share the deepest intimacy around a common commitment to Christ.

Focus on the vows.

Fourth, remind your children, especially your daughters, that the wedding is not about the flowers, the music, the wedding dress, the guest list, and the honeymoon. It is about the vows. Weddings are the recitation of vows in the presence of witnesses. Everything else accompanies the vows. And the most important witness is the holy, omniscient, and almighty Judge — a Judge who hates when people break vows because they have become costly.

Before I perform any marriage, I remind the couple of this truth. I encourage them to read their vows together and count the cost. Weddings are not a time for flippancy but for the joy of Psalm 2:11: “Rejoice with trembling.” Weddings are a time to fear God, to share in a sense of sobriety as the couple takes their vows.

Prepare to burn your bridges.

Fifth, wedding vows mean marriage is for life — “till death do us part.” When Christians marry, they burn their bridges so that there is no going back. Why?

“Besides our children’s decision to follow Jesus, the most important decision they will make is whom to marry.”

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Christ’s love is covenantal. He has promised to “never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:4). Christians marry to live out God’s covenant love in front of their children and the world.

Therefore, there is no getting out of the relationship because “we don’t love each other anymore,” or “we’ve grown apart,” or “he just doesn’t get me.” I am thankful that both my parents and my wife’s parents impressed this upon us in our youth. We approached our wedding deeply sobered.

I often think of my uncle who married his high school sweetheart. Ten years into marriage, she developed a brain tumor. My only memory was of her in a wheelchair, drooling compulsively, unable to communicate with her husband. My father would remind me that his brother took a vow to be faithful to her “in sickness and in health, in good times and bad times, till death do us part.” My uncle kept that vow faithfully. On my wedding day, I knew there was no guarantee this would not happen to me.

Don’t marry someone to change him.

Sixth, my wife’s father raised her with this excellent advice: don’t marry someone to change him. For example, “He doesn’t pick up after himself, but I know he’ll change.” “She talks too much, but I know she will change.” “She wants to devote her life to a career and not have children, but I know I can change her mind.” “He’s not attentive to me, but I know he’ll change after a few years together.”

Why is marrying others to change them a mistake? Because it is very unlikely that they will change, and if they don’t, you are still married for life. Instead, marry with the full knowledge of your future spouse’s weaknesses and failings but determined to love and forgive even if he never changes. If you can’t do that, don’t marry the person.

Expect to be sanctified.

Last, remind your children regularly that marriage is about more than love. It is about sanctification. I would estimate that, since marriage, about eighty percent of my sanctification has come through my relationship with my wife. To paraphrase author Gary Thomas, God is more interested in our holiness than our merely earthly happiness, and he will use our marriage to provoke us to that (happy) holiness.

The two people who say “I do” are always sinners, and that means inevitable conflict. There will be seasons of suffering and painful growth. Learning to serve another sinner will put a spotlight on your own faults and sins. I thank God for the struggles we have experienced.

Our Children’s Earthly Journey

Whom to marry is the second most important life decision your children will make. The ramifications will go on for decades. Therefore, wise parents regularly talk to their children about how to pick a spouse. They understand that this crucial decision could make or break their children’s earthly journey, and they treat it with a gravity that equals that reality.

After all, who is more qualified to teach them about marriage? You will have lived it for at least a decade. Nourish them through your experience.

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The LORD Regretted That He Had Made Man?

The Bible plainly says that God is sovereign over all things. But if this is so, then how are we to understand the Bible verses that say that God was grieved or sorry that He did something?

Genesis 6:6 – And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.