Author Archives: garrettk

A Few Thoughts on Steven Furtick’s Pillow & Promise Sermon

I recently tweeted a critique of Steven Furtick’s promo video for his current sermon series Gates of Change. Here’s what I said:

 

Someone asked me if I’d listened to the whole sermon for context. I explained that I’ve listened to enough of his sermons to feel justified in the critique. They challenged me to reconsider, so I decided to watch the entire “Pillow and the Promise” sermon with my wife.

I rarely do this kind of evaluation, but since I publicly critiqued his 30 second promo, I think it is worth sharing my thoughts on the entire sermon.

I plan to offer both encouragement and criticism of his sermon. This is similar to the weekly feedback I receive when our staff and interns meet every Tuesday to pray, plan, and reflect on the previous Sunday’s service and sermon. Each time, I’m helped towards growth as brothers and sisters give positive and challenging feedback to my sermon. I’ll treat this reflection as we’d handle our Tuesday review.

 

General Comments—Personal Preferences

  1. Steven is a compelling communicator.

His speaking gifts are evident and it makes sense that he’d draw a sizeable crowd. His rugged style attracts people who are fed up with traditional church. This could be a useful tool if submitted to the Lord.

  1. He got in the way.

I would have a challenging time sitting under his teaching for several reasons, one of which is the lack of humility I sense from him. This is subjective, but he seems to be very aware of himself when he preaches which is distracting for people who desire to see God.

  1. His theatrical style.

His theatrics will either be endearing or off-putting, depending on your preference. I’ll let you make your own call on that, but he certainly wins the “Most Time a Pastor Spends Preaching While Laying Down” award. I didn’t clock it, but he must have preached at least ¼ of his sermon horizontally.

.

  1. Throw Pillow Rant.

Finally, I’m in total agreement with him that throw pillows are a useless invention. My wife and I have at least a dozen on our bed and I have no idea why.

 

Encouragements—Areas of Agreement

  1. God’s determined purposes give purpose to every moment.

Steven’s point that God’s purposes are determined and that our mistakes can never thwart His purposes was encouraging. This is a wonderful truth. We have a sovereign God who works in the mist of all our messes.

  1. Keep your eyes open.

He taught that God has determined purposes that He is always working out in our lives. Every situation and circumstance serves as an opportunity to see Him as active in teaching us something. This overarching theme was faithful and should serve us to remain attentive at all times to God’s work.

 

Considerations—Areas of Concern or Disagreement

  1. Not an expositional sermon.

He preached from the Bible, even giving some faithful historical context at times. But the point of the passage was not the point of his sermon. Not every sermon must be expositional, but a preacher’s job is to say what God has said in a way that is clear, compelling, applicable, and honoring to His intent.

Steven captured elements of the text well, but missed the main point. His main point seemed to be something like: If we claim the promise that God has a determined purpose in every situation, it opens gateways for us to see God working in our lives. This is not only very me-centric, but just not what the text is about. If you care to, you can hear how I preached the same text a couple years ago.

  1. This was a gospel-less sermon.

This sermon was not even slightly affected by the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus was mentioned, but if a non-Christian were to listen to this message, they would have no idea that they are as sinner, who Jesus is, what He did for sinners, or how they could be forgiven and reconciled to God. They would simply think they need to get in tune with God, whoever that God may be. I think a Muslim or Jewish person could have said “amen” to most of the sermon.

For the Christian, there was no instruction of how to depend upon the grace of God in their failures and struggles with sin. Instead, the believer was charged to be alert and declare situations as being places God is working for their benefit. This too is true, but what happens when we do this poorly? What strength do we do this in? This Gospel-lessness seems to characterize most of the sermons I’ve heard from him. 

  1. Where do I get God’s promises?

There was much talk about resting in God’s promises, but no talk about where to get them. We were not directed to the Scriptures as God’s all-sufficient source of promises. Yes, he grabbed his bible and used it as a pillow, and yes he quoted a few verses, but he was unclear on where we get promises from God.

 

This is important because Steven presented a mystical approach to hearing from God. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed that God speaks promises to us in all sorts of different ways. Steven never cautioned his hearers about the danger of Satan’s deception and counterfeiting tactics. I know you can’t say everything in every sermon, but his handling of this seemed careless at best.

  1. Echoes of Word of Faith foolishness.

I’ll say this sermon had less word of faith theology than some of his other sermons, but you can still hear it come through. At 22:55 he starts the nonsense we saw in the promo video about us having the ability to declare things to be what we want them to be. You can hear more of it at 25:09 and 28:50 among other places.

Now, to be fair, I completely agree that God is always acting and that we need to wake up to it. But his language is very word of faith-like and explains life in a me-centric way. God seems to be on the outside of the situation either crossing His fingers hoping we’ll realize things or being at our beckon call to act when we declare something.

The problem is that Steven is not teaching the church to submit themselves to God’s purposes in their trials, but rather to speak purpose into their situations. There is a great difference. In one theology God is big and glorious and we are to trust Him. In the other we are the determiners of destiny and speak things into existence. In some ways he’s speaking out of both sides of his mouth, but his teaching is confusing at best and downright errant at worst.

 

Conclusion

After watching the whole sermon, I stand by my statement. This sermon was something, but it was not Christian. It was an amalgamation of Christian ideas mixed in with word of faith prosperity Gospel.

I am not in any way saying he is not a Christian. But in my opinion, Steven Furtick is on a dangerous trajectory. He desires to be edgy which is always dangerous because eventually most edgy pastors fall off the cliff.

My hope for Steven is that he will spend time considering the gifts that God has given him and use them to make much of God. He is young, famous, and flourishing, which are all great dangers for pastors.

Pray for him to be humbled and see himself primarily as a servant of the text. Pray also for him to develop good friendships with faithful mentors if he does not already have them. If he does, pray they would have courage to speak truth to him about his dangerous trajectory. Pray also that he would be humble enough to receive them.

And may we all be ever cautious of our own propensities toward error. Lord help us.

 

 

Jesus Did Not Say Lust is the Same as Adultery – Response to Jerry Fallwell Jr.

 

To be clear, this post is about theology, not politics.

In a recent interview on CNN, Dr. Jerry Fallwell Jr. said, “Jesus said ‘if you lust…in your heart, it’s the same as committing adultery.”

We need to be really clear…that is not what Jesus said.

Jesus’ Context

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching that the Law not only addresses external sins, but also sins of the heart.

What He actually says is, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

What Jesus was saying is that lust condemns you, just as adultery does.

Jesus’ Teaching

Lust and adultery are the same family of sins. But they are different degrees of maturity. Lust is the seed, adultery the weed. Lust is the root, adultery the fruit.

But they have differing degrees of severity. It might be helpful to think of them in this way:

Lust and adultery are qualitatively the same—they are the same sort of sin.

Lust and adultery are quantitatively different—their degree of severity is exceedingly different.

These sins are similar, but Jesus did not say they are the same.

Degrees of Sin

While all sins are severe, they are not equally severe. When James 2:10 says “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” we learn that failing to keep one part of the law breaks the whole thing. Concerning our text, lusting breaks the law in the same way adultery does. But that doesn’t mean that these sins are the same to God.

When speaking to Pilate, Jesus clearly indicated there were differing degrees of sin,“he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11; cf. Luke 7:41-43). He also teaches there are differing degrees of judgment “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matthew 10:15; Luke 12:47-48). Elsewhere, God warns Cain to not allow his sinful anger to progress and become the greater sin of murder (Genesis 4:6-7).

As we apply the degrees of sin teaching to our case, we see without doubt that committing adultery is a far worse sin than imagining it in your heart.

1. The act of adultery grieves God far worse.

2. The act of adultery affects a spouse far more.

3. The act of adultery affects the person committing it far more.

To put it in the context of current events, the sexual assault Dr. Nassar committed against many young women is far more serious than someone who once looked at a pornographic image, was grieved, and then quickly turned it off.

Understanding this distinction is important for two reasons:

1. Flattening sins and making them all the same does not encourage us to treat sins appropriately. The way we should respond to the sin of lust in the heart is far different than the way we should respond to adultery. If you don’t believe me, just ask any spouse who has known the pain of adultery’s intimate betrayal.

2. Rendering judgment on people for a lesser sin heaps undue guilt on them. A young man or woman who lusts in their hearts should not be loaded down with the condemnation as an adulterer. People who lust are guilty, but not like the adulterer.

Jesus’ words were intended to expose the heart of self-righteous people who felt satisfied because they had not crossed a certain moral line. We should never feel comfortable with any sin against a holy God. At the same time, the moral relativism that is presented in the opening line of this article unhelpfully blurs lines that dull the sword of God’s Word.

I hope this sheds a little light on what Jesus actually said.

May the Lord help us to honor Him in our hearts, and our actions.

Come, Lord Jesus come.

Sobering Reflections on the Hawaiian Missile Scare

 

Several former members of our church now live in Hawaii. What follows are their reflections from the recent false alert concerning an incoming ballistic missile.

At 08:07AM a text alert flashed on Dee’s phone— that read “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

The two weeks leading up to that moment had been a whirlwind for her. A grueling work schedule coupled by unending church activities left Dee with little margin for much of anything, especially time with God. But when the alert broke through, time stood still.

We now know the alert was a mistake and it will certainly be laughed off in the days ahead. But when the screens of Hawaiian residents lit up that morning, it was no laughing matter. It was widely known from previous reports that if a warning was issued, there would be only 12-14 minutes until impact. Thousands of people thought they were doing to die.

Her mind raced wondering, “Is this really how it’s going to end for me?” She pulled a U-turn on the freeway and called her husband, Antonio, and calmly explained they were under attack. She was in survival mode and told him to shut all windows, blinds, curtains, and start filling the bathtub and sinks with water. She’d be home as quickly as she could.

Antonio hurriedly complied and then dropped to his knees in prayer. He recalls, “I had a sense of Gods sovereignty and peace that God knew our needs before we did. Somehow I had a peaceful assurance that He would use this to bring much glory to Himself. In that moment, I fully believed His promise to make all things, even this, to work together for our good.”

A Moment of Regret

As Dee sped home, she too had peace, but it was mixed with vexation. She recounted the previous weeks of distance from God and how even that morning, she had rushed around for the baby shower, giving little time for God—and now she was going to meet Him!

What would she say?  She knew she was secure in His grace, but at the same time felt ashamed for allowing fleeting things to crowd out her time with Him. She prayerfully asked Him to forgive her shortsightedness.

The Waiting

As soon as Dee returned home, they cleared out an inner closet under the stairs, storing away food, water, and cloths to cover their faces or stuff in the crevice of the closet door to limit nuclear fallout.  They kept their phones plugged in until the last minute.

Grains of sand falling through the hourglass play tricks on you in those moments. On the one hand they seem to move ever slowly. Everything grinds along with intensity that can be felt in the air. Yet at the same time, the moments rush by in a blur. Terror like this is disorienting and reorienting all at the same time.

Antonio said, “Neither of us cried until it was over.” Thirty-eight minutes had passed until the warning was lifted. They held each other and wept. There would be no nuclear fallout this day, but there was an emotional and spiritual one.

Later, they reflected on the events, “We were ready to meet our Maker, or survive and tell others about Him.  This event has strengthened our faith and our enjoyment of each other.  We were quickly reminded how precious life is and how things can change so drastically in a moment.” 

Heavenly Sobriety

Not far away, another couple endured the same nightmare. Patty’s anxiety was stirring as she tried to figure out what to do. Her husband Pete assured her that their missile defense would take out the threat, and if not, there was no need to take cover, because it was most likely nuclear.

Patty tried to smile and said, “I hope you’re right, but if not, I will see you in Heaven.”

Saying those words out loud were sweetly sobering for her. The threat was daunting, but it was eclipsed by hope rooted in God’s certain promises. In a way similar to her fellow believers a few miles away, she had a “sweet inner calm as she thought of the true rest of heaven.”

Yet her peace quickly became mixed with grief as her mind raced to her beloved son who did not believe in Jesus. Her heart turned as she recalled his resistance to and dismissal of the God he was about to stand before.

“Would the Lord save him in the next 12 minutes?” she thought to her self. The thought of losing him for eternity saddened her and provoked fear. As the threat passed, she was not left unmoved. A fresh burden for urgent prayer and bold witnessing was birthed in her.

As she gathered the next day with the saints at Kailua Baptist, her pastor reminded the flock that they were all still alive by God’s grace. The moment they were resting in was nothing but divine mercy. He pointed them to a passage that Patty said, “will forever be the explanation of why I had no fear for own soul that day.”

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows My name.” Psalm 91:14

God holds His people fast as they cling to His Son Jesus through faith. He is our only refuge in the day of trouble.

I’ll leave you with two simple reminders.

  1. Sobriety about eternity is a friend of your soul.

A day is coming when Jesus will return. Some assume this is as much of a false alarm as the one Hawaii recently experienced. But those who love the Lord know it is not.

Would you consider replacing your evening television time with a reading of Revelation or Jesus’ words in Matthew 24-25? Read and plead with God to give you sobriety about eternity. This is not a drill.

 

  1. Sobriety about eternity is motivation for the souls of unbelievers.

The unbelieving world will soon face the judgment of an all-knowing God.[1] He has sent you to warn them.[2] His mercy toward you is intended to provoke you to tell of His grace to others.

There is no time to waste. Our moments are fleeting and their number is uncertain. Pray for God to open doors to speak of Jesus, and ask Him to give you courage to speak. Today could be the Day the Lord returns. This is not a drill.

 

 

 

[1] Matthew 12:36; Revelation 20:11-15

[2] Ezekiel 33:1-11; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

 

When Spurgeon was Invited to Preach at Barnum & Bailey Circus

 

On one occasion P.T. Barnum, head of the great Barnum & Bailey Circus, invited Charles Spurgeon to speak in the large tent at his traveling circus. Spurgeon’s preaching would often draw crowds exceeding 10,000 people and Barnum saw great opportunity to increase his show attendance if Spurgeon would join him.

Barnum’s pitch to Spurgeon was an attractive one. He offered to supply the musical talent, unless Spurgeon wished to provide his own. Any equipment, side show, or manpower would be at his disposal. And Spurgeon had freedom to speak as long or briefly as he desired.

The only catch was that the Barnum Circus Association would keep all profits from the gate tickets and in return compensate Spurgeon with a thousand dollar per sermon honorarium.

This was a generous offer in Spurgeon’s day and likely would have persuaded many preachers to chase the opportunity.

But not Spurgeon.

He saw through Barnum’s offer and sent him this reply…

Dear Mr. Barnum:

Thank you for your kind invitation to lecture in your circus tents in America. You will find my answer in Acts 13:10.

Very sincerely yours,

Charles H. Spurgeon

I am unsure if Mr. Barnum ever looked up Acts 13:10, but if he had, this is what he would have found: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”

Spurgeon would never compromise the purity of the Gospel for some coin. May we be ever careful to be of the same mind.

Source: The Gold Mine, Lee Roberson

Days that Bring Weeping and Rejoicing (Guest Author)

 

This post was written by my wife, Carrie Kell

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

Today is December 21st. Does that mean anything to you?

Is it the day you got engaged? Or when your mom discovered she had cancer? Is it the day you had the surgery that changed your life? Or the day your child was born? Is it the day you lost a child? Is it a day of sadness? A day of joy?

Is it just another day on the calendar?

Every day has some significance for someone in the world. It might not be you, but it might be the person you are talking to in the grocery line. Or the one you just beeped your horn at and gave a “what is wrong with you!?!” look. Perhaps it is the person you just judged because they did something that seemed hateful. Or maybe it is you.

This will be the first December that my sister in law’s mom will be in heaven rather than at home with her family. Her birthday would have been this month as well. It brings a dark cloud over the holidays for my sister in law, and my heart breaks for her.

One of my best friends is celebrating her anniversary with her wonderful husband. God has worked masterfully in their marriage over the past 15 years in ways that are deeply encouraging. God has given them strength and they have been faithful to their vows.

I spoke with another close family friend today. As we talked, she shared how difficult December is for her. It is the month her mom died and also her late father’s birthday. It is also the month her sister stopped speaking with her. I didn’t know any of this was going on for her, and as she shared, I felt my compassion for her grow.

While some weep, others rejoice. And some of us do both at the same time.

A few years ago a friend picked up her phone and called her mother to share that she was pregnant. As she and her mother were celebrating the good news, her mother clicked over to receive an incoming call saying my friend’s father had just had a heart attack.

Rejoicing and weeping at the same time.

December 21st is one of those days.

My best friend from high school’s mother celebrates her birthday on the 21st. God has given her another year of life, and today they rejoice in that gift.

Today was also my father’s birthday. It has been four years since dad died. December 21st brings with it a flood of memories. I think about his life. I reflect on his death. I remember, with fondness the dad I knew when I was younger, and with sadness, the dad he became as I grew older. It’s a weird, heavy day.

My point in all this is that days mark us. Some of those marks are sweet, others are very sour. You can’t forget the dates in your life that have significance. You have to face them head on, because they actually keep coming back every year (except that Leap year situation, but whatever). God uses them as constant reminders of Him working in our lives. Sometimes that work is painful, sometimes enjoyable, but always for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

As John Piper once said, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” This true of us as individuals, but of all of us as people. Does it amaze you that God is always working so intricately in all of us—at the same time!?!

December 21 is always a little sad for me, sometimes more so than others, but there are many other dates on the calendar that are really sweet. I suppose this will continue the rest of the time God gives us on this earth. Next year I may have new dates that mean something.

What are your dates?

Today when you run into someone, just know this might be a really great day filled with sweet memories for them, or it might be a really hard day with sad memories. Ask God to help you be patient with people. Ask Him to help you see them the way He does. Ask God to help you show them love, as Jesus has shown love to you. Rejoice if they are rejoicing and weep if they are weeping.

In all of this, I am thankful for a Sovereign God who cares deeply about all of His people. He knows which dates mean something to each of us and He comforts us during the hard memories. He also knows which days bring us joy and stirs our hearts to praise Him for those.

Psalm 118:24 “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 34:18 “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Every Book of the Bible in One Word

God reveals Himself through His Word. When He speaks, He teaches us what He is like, how He acts, and how He desires us to respond. As a whole, the Bible is about God the Father displaying His glory through His Son Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is one book made up of 66 letters.  Each book has a major theme that emphasizes an aspect of His character or a way He is working to carry out His perfect plan. What follows is an attempt to capture these themes. These themes are certainly reductionistic and required me to make a few tough choices, but I hope you’ll be helped by considering them.

 

Bible: The God of Jesus

Old Testament: Anticipation

Gospels: Manifestation

Acts: Proclamation

Epistles: Explanation

Revelation: Consummation

 

The Law

Genesis: God of Promise

Exodus: God of Power

Leviticus: God of Purity

Numbers: God of Perseverance

Deuteronomy: God of Preparation

 

History

Joshua: God of the Land

Judges: God of the Rebels

Ruth: God of Redemption

1 Samuel: God of the Heart

2 Samuel: God of the Throne

1 & 2 Kings: God of Israel

1 & 2 Chronicles: God of Judah

Ezra: God of the Temple

Esther: God of the Gallows

Nehemiah: God of the Wall

 

Wisdom

Job: God of Pain

Psalms: God of Praise

Proverbs: God of Prudence

Ecclesiastes: God of Purpose

Song of Solomon: God of Passion

 

Major Prophets 

Isaiah: God of Glory

Jeremiah: God of Weeping

Lamentations: God of Faithfulness

Ezekiel: God of Visions

Daniel: God of History

 

Minor Prophets

Hosea: God of the Unfaithful

Joel: God of the Locusts

Amos: God of the Oppressed

Obadiah: God of the Mountain

Jonah: God of Compassion

Micah: God of Justice

Nahum: God of Wrath

Habakkuk: God of Sovereignty

Zephaniah: God of Judgment

Haggai: God of Renewal

Zechariah: God of Restoration

Malachi: God of Worship

 

History

Matthew: God of the Jews

Mark: God of the Romans

Luke: God of the Outcast

John: God of the World

Acts: God of Power

 

Pauline Epistles

Romans: God of Righteousness

1 Corinthians: God of Holiness

2 Corinthians: God of Comfort

Galatians: God of Justification

Ephesians: God of Unity

Philippians: God of Joy

Colossians: God of Preeminence

1 Thessalonians: God of Encouragement

2 Thessalonians: God of Admonishment

1 Timothy: God of Godliness

2 Timothy: God of Endurance

Titus: God of Works

Philemon: God of Reconciliation

 

General Epistles

Hebrews: God of Fulfillment

James: God of Trials

1 Peter: God of the Persecuted

2 Peter: God of Patience

1 John: God of Love

2 John: God of Truth

3 John: God of Discernment

Jude: God of Protection

 

Prophecy

Revelation: God of Eternity

 

I found the process of reflecting on God’s message in each book deeply edifying, and I would enjoy hearing any ways you can improve this list.

8 Ways to Shape Your Family Spiritually

 

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:4-7

 

A parent’s most basic task is to help their children learn how to live in God’s world. This isn’t a once in a while task, but an opportunity that is available nearly every moment.

One of our elders recently shared how he an his wife help their seven children develop spiritually. What follows are my reflections on the principles he shared with us.

 

  1. Family Devotions

Few habits are more important in a home than daily Bible reading. There is no magic formula to the reading, just open the Bible and read it together. Read through chapter by chapter and discuss what you learn about God, about people, and how you should respond. Then ask God to help you. How much you read is less important than the consistency of your reading. A family that feasts on daily manna together is a family that will grow in their love for the Giver of the manna.

  1. Individual Devotions

Children that can read should be encouraged to read the Bible. They should not be forced to do it, but they should be encouraged to do it. One of the most important parts of parenting is teaching your children to listen to the voice of their heavenly Father. Encourage your children to read, write down questions, and talk about what they are reading with you. And make sure you are in the Word as well. Seeing their parents make the Word a priority will only reinforce their need to do the same.

  1. Corporate Prayer

Pray together. When you are short on money, gather together and ask God to provide what you need. When you face bullies at school or problems at work, gather together and pray. When God provides for your family, gather together and celebrate. When there are sorrows or suffering or sickness, gather together and cry out to God. Fill the atmosphere of you home with prayer. There’s not one thing we face in which God is not needed, so gather together often to pray.

  1. Individual Prayer

Encourage your child to pray. At first, they will not know how, but neither did the disciples. Show them how Jesus taught His disciples to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). Show them how the psalmists prayed. Praying as a family is important, but teaching them to pray as an individual is also important. Show them that the Father in heaven hears when they come to Him in secret (Matthew 6:6). I do not think you ought command them to pray, but I cannot think of a better constant encouragement.

  1. Talking About What God Thinks About Everything

We live in God’s world. He made everything in it. That means that every blade of grass, every sip of water, every note of music, and every movie made by an image bearer points to Him. Learn to help your children see with enlightened eyes. This is one of my favorite parts of parenting. We try to not allow an experience we have together go unexamined. What would God think about the movie we just watched? What message is in the song we just listened to? Why did God create an underwater world so few ever see? Why would God give us pets that die? Why does God make us sleep so much of our lives? Questions about God’s creation and our experiences in it are an inexhaustible mine of mind-shaping opportunity. Help your family to examine all things through the lens of God’s Word.

  1. Talking about our sin and the sins of others

Everyone in your house is a sinner—and everyone knows it. Teach your children what to do about it. They ought see their father and mother humbly confessing sins to each other, and to them. Few family trips are more important than the ones to the throne of grace. Has someone used harsh words? Has someone lied? Confess it to God together. Ask one another for forgiveness. Parents need to wisely consider what to confess to their children, but it should happen. A family that learns to confess sins together will know the power of the Gospel in a way that is unattainable any other way.

  1. Consistent Church Life

The life of the family should be oriented around the life of God’s people. Few things teach a child apathy toward God like skipping church for sports or unnecessary weekend getaways. A child should see, from their earliest age that gathering with other Christians to sing, pray, and hear God’s Word is the greatest of privileges one can have. Certainly there are other things families can and ought do together, but faithful service of God’s mission as part of a healthy local church is one of the most essential.

  1. Individual Time with Each Child

Each child is unique. This means each child requires unique care and attention. In families with numerous children, individual time with each child is important. Some will need stern direction where others will require gentler shepherding. Some will respond well to structure while others may be stifled by it. Each child will have unique questions and abiding sin struggles. God the Father relates to each of His children uniquely, we must do the same for our children.

There is no perfect strategy to produce perfect children. But these are a few principles that if followed in faith, can be used by God to help create a spiritual-mindedness in our children that we hope will bear fruit for His glory.

 

 

These eight principles came from a talk one of our elders, Mercury Payton recently shared with our church. 

Highway of the Heart – A Christian’s Hope of Heaven

Ps. 84:5 “Blessed are those whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion!”

A Christian is a traveler whose heart is set on heaven. The psalmist portrays what abides within him—a highway leading to the land of Zion. Though the grass appears green in the valley of Sodom, they have the eye of Abraham who would not venture there because he knew its danger. Rather, they see God’s dwelling place as lovely.

The songs of their soul are of a place far away from this world. A curious joy calls them onward though all around them drains downward. The highway does at times wind through the valleys of tears, yet they do not fear the threatening cloud. For God breaks the cloud to rain down mercy upon their brow. Therefore their heart prays knowing He hears them. Their trust is in the One whose eye is ever upon them.

Honor in this life is received with thankfulness, but it is not their love. To them, the greater honor is to serve in the King’s castle. Even the lowest of task in His service is sweet, for they are near to their Beloved. God is both their warming sun and their protecting shield. Like Israel of old He goes before and behind them. This is their joy.

Their hearts are weaned against discontent. They know their Guide is good and does good. They have desires in this life, but they know He will only give them what is good. If their journey to Zion would be slowed by any perceived blessing, He will not give it. He wisely knows what will aid our way to His heavenly courts.

O weary traveler, do not allow your heart its desired detours. Sin’s empty rest will only slow your step. Set your face toward Zion, let nothing slow your pace. We are almost home.

Reflections on the 2017 Just Gospel Conference

Over the past few days 10 members from our church attended the Just Gospel conference in Atlanta hosted by The Front Porch.

The three-day conference was a compilation of two biblical expositions, several monologues, and 17 panel discussions. The focus of these discussions was on the way biblical justice in the local church intersects issues of race, secular movements, abortion, education, orphans, widows, young men, murder in Chicago, hip-hop, women’s issues, incarceration, and sex trafficking.

Our church has been discussing issues of race, grace, and reconciliation for a number of years, so I was looking forward to attending and processing these important issues together.

Here are a few of my thoughts that have been shaped by the help of others who attended.

  1. Social meetings are better than social media.

Discussions about important issues are always better face-to-face. Social media often cultivates an atmosphere where being heard devours the desire to hear from others. At this conference, people came to be fed, led, and given room to process. In an age where many find safety behind a screen, this conference confirmed afresh how essential it is to move conversations about race and justice from blogs and Tweets to dinner tables and live dialogues.

The conference atmosphere was warm and the format of discussions modeled for the listeners how to dialogue about difficult issues. Our group met for meals several times to talk about what we heard and how it affected us personally and our church corporately. The give and take modeled at the conference helped us lovingly learn from one another.

 

  1. Diverse friendships aid our ability to see injustices we would normally overlook.

Most of my life has been lived in contexts where people look like me, think like I naturally think, and experience life as I do. As a middle-class white man I have never worried where I would sleep, never sold my body for a meal, never been fearful of a police officer, or feared for my life in my neighborhood.

God has graciously brought people into my life that have welcomed me into their weeping and their rejoicing. The topics of the conference were educational, challenging, and at times confusing. But having friends to help me process has been invaluable. One reason is that as I have grown in my love for them I have seen realities I would have otherwise overlooked. Tripp Lee rightly said, “We can’t bear each others burdens if we don’t know what each other’s burdens are.”

What this conference did is further help me understand that many people don’t have the option to not think about issues of injustice. I think about issues of justice most normally if they show up at my doorstep. Many don’t have that privilege. They live in areas where injustice is less like a package dropped on their doorstep and more like a shadow; a constant companion in life.

Privilege is mishandled if it used to perpetuate indifference and insensitivity to the suffering of my neighbor. Everyone in our group was able to point to things they learned about history that gave a fuller picture of how injustice is perpetuated today. The continual realization of this is not a comfortable reality, but is a necessary one if I am to be a Christian who will labor for justice, even or especially if the injustice is not directly aimed at me.

In the end, my black friends and I likely won’t agree on everything and will never experience things exactly the same way. But loving friendships are marked by patient, empathetic, offense-overlooking love. Christian love endures because it is empowered by the Spirit of Christ. He makes us one, and gives us the power to walk as one, until that day when we will struggle no more.

 

  1. White conferences must begin to diversify their speakers. 

This statement is not about affirmative action or being politically correct. This is a conviction that has crystalized for me over the past few days. I was introduced to numerous African American brothers at this conference who are exceptionally gifted in handling the word. This wasn’t a surprise, but sadly not a privilege I have had often enough. Victor Sholar’s message on the Good Samaritan out of Luke 10:25-37 was one of the most powerful sermons I’ve heard in a long time.

When I initially looked at the lineup of contributors for the Just Gospel conference, I was put off because only 2 of the 37 contributors were white. But then I began to wonder how my brothers and sisters of color feel when they attend evangelical conferences where there is very often an all-white or all white + a token minority in the line up.

I come from a tradition where most of my influencers are middle to upper class white men. These men are faithful and love God, but their experiences affect the way they interpret and apply the Scriptures. As Dr. Jarvis Williams explained, we gain different insights from people who are “looking up” at commands about justice than we will from people who are “looking down” on them. The insights and applications brothers were drawing from the Bible were fresh for me and challenged me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be challenged.

The voices of marginalized brothers and sisters are often unheard by people like me. I suspect this may be why I have rarely, if ever, heard a sermon on practical justice that was not a cry for religious freedom or condemning abortion. Both of those injustices matter, but they are not the only justice issues. The body of Christ is made up of people from various ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds. Diverse perspectives bring Gospel implications to light that would otherwise be overlooked. Diverse voices in my life help me be more faithful to God. I want and need that, and especially hope that my brothers in the Southern Baptist Convention will make strides to grow in this in the days ahead.

 

  1. We must have a patient urgency.

People are complex. Issues of justice are complex. Applications of the Gospel in diverse churches are complex. This complexity requires patience with one another as we navigate how we can grow together in Christian unity.

At the same time, there is great urgency. The church does not have the option to walk by on the other side of the road while our fellow man lies bloodied in the road of injustice. The plight of minorities, babies in the womb, orphans, widows, sex slaves, abused women, and refugees must matter to us.

Figuring out how to navigate these two realities is very difficult. Anyone who gives effort to engaging grows weary at some point. I saw this weariness and heard people testify of it. I have felt it often as I try to figure out how I’m not “getting it,” or why others don’t see my perspective. These conversations are hard, but they must happen.

Leonce Crump summed the struggle up well by urging us to have “present urgency with an eternal perspective.” Patience and urgency are not enemies. Christians know this because James 5:9 exhorts us, “be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” We must keep these truths before us as we labor for justice.

 

  1. Self-justification short-circuits conviction. 

 Conversations about the intersection of race, grace, and justice are both edifying and offensive. They are edifying because my heart is stretched to see implications of the Gospel that are unnatural to me. God uses them to show fresh ways I need His help. Through them I have developed deeper relationships with diverse friends.

At the same time they are offensive. Sometimes I am offended because I am wrongly accused, but more often, I am offended because I don’t like being exposed. There are racially-charged sins that abide in me. My heart is home to perspectives that are ignorant at best and murderously sinful at worst. I don’t want to be racist or even tempted to have prejudiced assumptions about people.

When an accusation comes against me, I want to justify myself. I make excuses. I shift blame. I do what Adam and Eve did in the Garden. But this is not the right response of a Christian. Rather than justify ourselves, we must rest in the justification given through faith in Christ. Tony Carter’s closing comments reminded us that we are all sinners, justified alone by faith in Christ which frees us to see one another as equals—equally justified, and equally sinful—and begin the difficult work of meeting one another where we are.

This frees us to allow God’s Word and the insights of others to do work in us. Not every accusation that comes against us will be grounded in truth, but some of them will. Are you open to correction? Do you receive the challenges of others? This conference and the conversations I had because of it brought these questions home afresh for me.

 

  1. The Scriptures must remain central.

One of the best parts of the conference was pastor Bobby Scott who always had his Bible open and reading verses to give guidance to the conversation. I believe more than ever that the best way forward is on our knees with humble hearts before open Bibles.

Allowing the Scriptures to guide our conversations guards God’s glory. As Dr. Kevin Smith said, “We want people to understand we are springing forth from the Scripture.” This gives help to God’s people and hope to the world, a world lacking the power of the Spirit of God to address the challenges we face.

One theme that came up on the first day was the need to render aid to the afflicted in the context of Christ’s call to discipleship. Liberation without Gospel transformation is just another form of worldly incarceration. The Bible tells us that all people’s greatest need is to become and grow as followers of Jesus. The Gospel reconciles us with God and with those made in His image. If you are able to listen to the conversation between Thabiti Anyabwile and Roland Warren about abortion, you will hear an excellent example of this.

The wisdom of the world will call us to compromise convictions about God’s designs in sexuality, roles of men and women, the mission of the church, and racism. Many have wandered from the faith in the name of compassion. But many others have wandered from the faith in the name of safety. Jesus calls us to follow Him on the way that is hard, on a road that is narrow. There are temptations to stray on every side. As we journey together we must walk closely with Jesus, according to His Word, because He knows the way.

 

As with any conference or sensitive discussion I’ve been a part of, I had several concerns, critiques, and areas of needed clarification. These centered around a desire for more clarity on complementarianism, added pastoral wisdom about ways to engage in arenas of difficult ministry, and a desire for even clearer Biblical instruction about issues of justice. I am processing these privately with some of the brothers involved, but I do not want them to overshadow the encouragements and challenges our group received from our time at the conference.

I am thankful to see God moving in our day, and I am hopeful that discussions like this can be used by God to bring unity and maturity to Jesus’ church as we move forward together.

It’s a Wonderful Time to Be A Christian

This article was originally published at DesiringGod.

America is facing turbulent times. Political unrest is unceasing. The racial divide is deepening. Fear and frustration swirl frantically.

This leads to only one logical conclusion: It’s a wonderful time to be a Christian.

Christians are uniquely equipped to thrive in tumultuous times, not because we are great, but because our God is. As we consider the darkness of our days, I’d like to share five reasons I think it is a wonderful time to be a Christian in America.

 

  1. People are intrigued by real Christians.

Whether it be through media stories, political reports, or comedy sets, “evangelical Christians” are characterized as whiny, entitled children. We are perceived as bigoted hate-mongers looking down on others while blinded to our own shortcomings. We are seen as outdated, overrated, and irrelevant.

Yet, when someone meets an actual Christian these days, they often are intrigued.

Our convictions are peculiar, but the gentleness and respect with which we hold them is refreshing (1 Peter 3:15). We don’t demonize those we disagree with, but treat them with charity, as we want them to treat us (Matthew 7:12). We engage with humility because we know that we too are imperfect and need God to change us as well.

“The peace Jesus provides is strong enough to hold back the gates of hell, and weather the storm we face today.”

Our community is also peculiar. When they observe the church, they find a people who are not naturally united. We come from different cultures, vote for different candidates, march for different causes, and often have little in common — except Jesus. When people spend time with us, they perceive a love marked by patience, charity, and heavenly-mindedness.

Now, not everyone will like real Christians when they meet them. But God’s word promises that he will use our love to change people’s opinion of us and (more importantly) of our God:

Keep your conduct among [non-believers], so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12)

If Christians will engage their neighbors with courageous, humble, honest, servant-hearted love, people will be pleasantly surprised.

 

  1. Christians have the answer for racial reconciliation.

The rock of racial unrest has been rolled over in our country. Out from the darkness have crawled sorrowful reminders that our progress is incomplete. The anger and apathy that swirls around our brokenness tempts many to despair.

Yet Christians know Jesus provides a better way. On the one hand, we cannot simply say Jesus is enough and expect peace. The issues are far too complex and wounds too deep for a superficial balm. The hard work of praying, fasting, listening, learning, confessing, repenting, forgiving, and changing is required.

White brothers and sisters ought to show love by learning about the deep roots of social, institutional, and communal injustices that affect many today. Read the Scriptures alongside historical books that recount the black experience in America. Talk about what you are reading with African-American friends and include other minority friends in the discussion. Don’t be defensive or quick to make excuses. Listen. Learn. Repent of sin that is exposed. Empathy is developed when education occurs in the context of relationships.

Black brothers and sisters, I encourage you toward a resilient faith. Many of your forefathers endured oppression, were denied membership in white churches, and grew despite a lack of access to theological education. We need to see that resilience now. Systems of injustice will not be corrected overnight, which means that testing will continue. But as tests come, please ensure that your hearts are being purified and not petrified. White Christians are not your enemy. Jesus says they are family. The Lord calls us to “hope” all things, including the best in fellow believers, even when we hurt, confuse, or disappoint each other.

On the other hand, we must say Jesus is enough, for he himself is our peace.

[Jesus] is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. (Ephesians 2:14)

We have already been reconciled in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16–20). While laboring to apply this reconciliation takes hard work, we must remember that he has made us one — even if we don’t feel like it (Ephesians 4:1–3). The peace Jesus provides is strong enough to hold back the gates of hell and weather the storm we face today.

The world does not have an answer like Jesus. They have no power and no lasting solutions. But we have an opportunity to show them the unity that Jesus prayed for and purchased with his blood (John 17:20–21).

At the cross alone, fear mongering, finger pointing, and apathetic indifference are put to death, and real reconciliation comes to life.

 

  1. God has brought unreached peoples to us.

For centuries, the American church has been praying, raising money, and sending workers to take the good news of Jesus to people who have not heard. This work is important and must continue, but we can’t overlook what God is doing in our own backyard.

God has brought unreached peoples to us.

“What would happen if Christians opened their homes and their lives to the strangers who live next to them?”

Though policies surrounding immigration are debated, the reality of immigration is not. Tens of millions of legal and illegal immigrants have settled in the United States. Many have fled war-torn countries and are seeking a fresh start. Many are seeking hope which cannot be found in Allah or any other supposed god.

Regardless of your political views, if you are a Christian, your theological convictions should spur you to action. What would happen if Christians opened their homes and their lives to the strangers who live next to them? Showing Christlike hospitality to Muslim neighbors is essential for them to understand the true message of Christianity.

I do not say this lightly — we are positioned to fulfill the Great Commission.

Dispersed peoples and advances in technology have opened unparalleled opportunities to advance the gospel. While we are able, we must steward this opportunity and make disciples among the nations, and by his grace, many are in our backyard.

 

  1. Persecution is purifying us.

Jesus promised that following him would be costly. He warned, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Ostracism and affliction have marked the church since its beginnings. Yet, the United States has been largely spared this common experience of believers.

Many minority groups have tragically endured oppression, but as a whole, the church in America has known freedom to worship Jesus. In fact, public worship has not only been allowable, but advantageous. Churchgoing opened doors for business, made one appear trustworthy, and was required for social acceptability.

But the tide is changing. And as it does, Christians are experiencing increasing pressure from the world to conform or be conformed. This pressure will expose some so-called “Christians” as imposters, but for true believers, it will produce maturity.

Pressure from the world pushes Christians deeper into Christ. As this happens, we will be pruned and purified. We are forced to search his word to explain our convictions (1 Peter 3:15). The importance of prayer becomes undeniable. Political power is exposed as a mirage. Sin’s offerings are less desirable. Our affections are reoriented toward heaven.

In his mercy, God uses persecution to purify our profession of faith to the point that we can honestly say, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). Persecution should never be sought, but when it comes, we can trust that God will use it for our good.

 

  1. We are closer to seeing Jesus than ever before.

The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11)

Every generation since Christ’s ascension has clung to this promise. As time has passed, it has only become truer. Whether Christ will return in our day is yet to be seen, but the horizon is brightening as the day is darkening. The believer sees this hope with unveiled eyes and senses the sweetness of approaching glory.

Until now, many of us have gone days or weeks without even giving thought to the Lord’s return. Our love for the world has drowned out the need to hope in the world to come.

“Whether Christ will return in our day is yet to be seen, but the horizon is brightening as the day is darkening.”

Yet, in God’s kindness, today is a new day. As we grow in our love for Christ, our hearts will be oriented toward heaven. We will find the chatter of the world emptier and the promises of heaven fuller.

The Lord’s return cannot leave us unaffected. Let it move you to prayer for perseverance (Mark 14:38). May it press you to risk all to reach the unreached (Matthew 24:14). Ready yourself for your heavenly bridegroom, and let his coming keep you sober, knowing it could interrupt your next breath (Luke 12:40).

It is a wonderful time to be a Christian. God is working among all nations, including ours. Let us not despair or be deceived, but lift our eyes in hope to him who is coming soon.