“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
As we scan the horizon of American church history, we would be foolish to pretend that racism or ethnic partiality has not been and is not an issue. We know that the stain of racism has soiled the garments of the Church in this nation. As John Perkins stated in Welcoming Justice, the church allowed the culture to pervade their thinking.
However, the bride of Christ is always being made pure by her Bridegroom. We are a people being sanctified day by day as we behold our glorious Savior. Her sin-stained garment is being made white as snow by the blood of Jesus, and we must never forget that. The gospel is radically powerful no matter what culture or what sin issues may abound.
The Prophetic Work of the Church
Reconciliation starts with us... well, sort of.
Reconciliation starts with God who first extended His electing love to a people who were hell-bound and deserving of eternal death. Yet, after He saved us, He sent us to all nations to proclaim His glorious message of reconciliation. Our ultimate problem is enmity with God, and politics won’t fix that. Only the gospel can.
Since we have been reconciled to and sent out by God, reconciliation in America starts with us—the ambassadors of Christ.
As I have looked at the issues of racism and injustice in this nation, I have shared a similar sentiment with many friends and family: the church needs to be at the forefront of reconciliation efforts. In fact, I believe the church will lead the cause of racial unity and equality in America. The far-left agenda of organizations like Antifa and Black Lives Matter won’t sustain it. The alt-right groups like bro-confederates and the KKK want nothing to do with it. Partisan politics is only fuel for the fire.
This doesn’t mean we don’t need reforms in the justice system. It also doesn’t mean that fighting for the rights of the oppressed is a waste (see Isaiah 1:17). But it does mean we need more than than that. We need the gospel. We need a biblical worldview. Our foundation is Christ, and our strength lies in the power of God.
Christians are called to hate all evil (Psalm 97:10). As we deal with the evil in our own hearts, we will become more Christlike, and that Christlikeness will be put on display for the world to see. The gospel is a powerful message, and those who have new hearts also have the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwelling within us. We are mystically, and yet actually, in union with Christ. He is our power for a change!
This Is Church Work
The work of the Church in reconciling with one another is prophetic. I am not speaking of institutional religiosity and buildings. The church is the universal assembly of grace-filled believers who join together in local assemblies—churches—to worship and work together for the glory of God.
Our message and mission will speak volumes to the culture around us. The church has always been called to love one another and do good to everyone, though we do this imperfectly. Today, I see Christians throughout this nation rising up and listening and loving one another. I see Christians of every ethnicity studying the Bible in order to grow in their knowledge of the truth as well as their application of it.
I am hopeful! Jesus said that nobody can come to the Father except through Him. He has invited the world to come to Him, and He uses the church to do it. As the world sees Christians love one another, they will know we are His. We are living pictures of the reconciling work of the gospel!
What Is Your Part?
We each have a part to play. What is yours?
As we desire and strive to see reconciliation In this nation, it is going to take far more than more policies and diversity training. Those things are indeed helpful, but they don’t change hearts. We have seen that with the Civil Rights movement and laws that followed it. As disciplemakers, we are in the unique position to both teach and model biblical diversity.
Are you a parent? Teach your children the Bible. Share the gospel with your children as often as you can. And as you’re teaching them the gospel, show them what it looks like to be Christlike toward people to all people, even those who don’t look like them. Teach them to respond to racism or ethnocentrism in ways that glorify God.
Do you have a job? Grab lunch with a coworker that you’ve been meaning to connect with. Speak to them about these issues from a biblical worldview, and share the gospel as you speak on these matters. Reach to friends of other ethnicities and get to know them. Even if you don’t have many opportunities for that, speak to people of your own ethnicities about the issues and show them the biblical response. We don’t have to live in diverse areas to make a difference.,
Do you go to church? If you’re in a predominantly black or predominantly white church, you can still make an impact in the discussion of reconciliation. We should be willing to discuss our struggles and point one another to the gospel. Perhaps there are racist tendencies and mindsets within our own hearts. The church is the place to discuss that, because we have the Scriptures and the gospel to change those things. If you are in a diverse church, share your struggles while carrying the burdens of the Saints around you. This is exactly what the church is here for.
Will you buy in?
For some of us, reconciliation has been a way of life already. There may not be much for you to change at all. As a black man with a white wife and mixed children, reconciliation is part of the fabric of my life. I am in predominantly white churches, but I am striving to stay connected with the black culture in my community as well as connecting my church to the people I love and grew up with. Sometimes it is tough to balance because I feel stuck in the middle of two groups of people I love. For years I’ve been praying for God to send me as a laborer in the harvest of my community, and now I’m seeing some of the answers unfold.
For others of us, reconciliation may feel like a foreign task. It may be scary. It may even be offensive to think that you need to pursue diversity in your life. I challenge you with this: if heaven will be multicultural and multi ethnic, don’t you want a taste of that today? I don’t believe that you have to befriend every black person or every white person you meet. I am not saying that pursuing relationships with Latinos or people from other nations should be your only focus. But could it at least be one of them?
As I look at the world around me, reconciliation is bigger than just race. There are people in poverty from all races. There are people who have faced injustice from all walks of life. There are people everywhere looking for the hope of the gospel. The bigger picture of reconciliation is that we desire to see all people as image bearers of God who desperately need to be connected with the Savior—Jesus Christ. Will you grab them by the hand and take them to the foot of the cross?
Reconciliation starts with us.
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I’m tired right now.
I’m tired of having to witness another unarmed—this time subdued—black man killed by some bad police officers.
I’m tired of saying that most black people aren’t “thugs” and that there are “good” blacks everywhere.
I’m tired of saying that not all cops are bad.
I’m tired of people thinking that I’m a “white” black dude who only wants to talk about how bad the looting is and not about the racial tension that caused it.
I’m tired of having to remind people that not every black protestor desires to see riots and destruction of business in their own community.
I’m tired of my white friends having to ask me how I’m doing because it’s happened again.
I’m tired of being told that since it didn’t happen to me, it shouldn’t affect me.
But I’m thankful.
I’m thankful for all the peaceful protestors who are using their freedom to speak out against injustice and evil.
I’m thankful for the black Christian voices that can keep me encouraged and remind me that I need to speak up and use my voice as well.
I’m thankful for the white Christian voices who are truly concerned and desirous to be there for us.
Im thankful for the white pastors who are literally taking action to help their churches be catalysts in reconciliation, even if they’re called social justice warriors or lose credibility with some in their theological camp.
I’m thankful that there are good police officers of all races—including white!—out to serve and protect the people of this country.
I’m thankful that many police officers and government officials have spoken out on the atrocity we witnessed this week.
I’m thankful most of all for the gospel which saves the souls of all who call on the name of Jesus.
I’m hopeful knowing that this will all be over some day.
I’m hopeful that God will use circumstances like these to strengthen and unite Christians all across this country.
I’m hopeful because Christ will come back and God will wipe every tear from the eyes of His children regardless of what their skin looks like.
I’m hopeful because the Holy Spirit is crying out with groanings too deep for words on the behalf of many speechless and hurting Christians.
I’m hopeful because Christ has given me rest and is interceding for me as well as my brothers and sisters in Him.
And I’m hopeful because I’ve read Revelation. I know the end already because God revealed it and promised to make all things new.
If you don’t know Christ. Get to know Him now. It’s not too late to trust in Him and His finished work. It is through the cross that Jesus paid for sin and broke down the dividing wall of hostility between all of His people. He died to make us all one in Him. He rose again so we could have life. If you want to see true change, seek the Lord and watch Him change you first. Then come join us as we fight together for justice.
An Array Of Emotions
We've seen a plethora of responses to COVID-19 and the worldwide fallout over the past several weeks. We've all been impacted and may even feel like we're on a roller coaster, shifting up and down with each new and seemingly contradictory piece of information thrown at us. While there is a lot to be joyful about in times of trial, sometimes we just don't feel the way we should.
Thankfully, God knows that intimately. Jesus took on flesh and felt more suffering than we could ever imagine. He is a brother (Hebrews 2:11) who sympathizes with our weakness and suffering, though He never fell into sin (Hebrews 4:15). The Holy Spirit is in His people and intercedes for us when we are too weak and unable to pray as we ought (Romans 8:26).
Are you angry? You may be angry at the governor or with the church leaders for how the worship service will look this week. Maybe you’re angry at God that He allowed this virus get out of hand. Maybe you’re angry because you feel that we’re being duped in a global conspiracy. Perhaps you're angry because you lost your job or the economy is being crushed. You might even feel angry because we're opening sooner than you think is wise.
Are you fearful? Perhaps you're anxious about your health. Maybe you have an immunocompromised loved one. Maybe you have a newborn or young baby and you fear what this virus could do to them. Perhaps you're nervous because others aren't wearing masks or don't seem to be taking this as seriously as we have been advised.
Are you overwhelmed? You might be caring for several young children. You could be the parent of older children who want to break free from the government restrictions. Perhaps you have an elderly parent or family member to care for. Maybe your job has drastically changed and you're doing difficult and confusing work. Maybe life was already overwhelming and this virus has thrown it completely off kilter.
Whatever the case, let the glory of God minster to your soul today.
God is Worthy of Our Worship
Pray earnestly right now that God would reorient your heart toward Him. Ask Him to open your eyes to His glory in the midst of this frustration. Psalm 33 is a call for His people to worship and praise Him—even in the midst of suffering. Praise "befits" those who have trusted in Christ for righteousness (v. 1-2). For this reason we can "sing to Him a new song" as we take a fresh look at glorious, ancient truths that have blessed us through the years and continue to bring us great joy (v.3).
God Word is upright and faithful (v. 4-5), powerful to create the universe (v. 6-9), powerful to restrain sinners (v. 10), and forever beneficial to those who are His (v.11-12). God's Word is worthy of our adoration and we need to let it draw us to a place of deep worship in our hearts and in our churches.
God is Still Here, Hope in Him
God doesn't stand far off as a distant watchmaker who set things in motion and just let it go. He "looks down from heaven" as He sits on His heavenly throne (v. 13-14). He sees the wicked and their vain trust in themselves and their inventions (v. 15-17). They technology and weaponry won't save them in last day. His caring and watchful eye is "on those who fear Him" and He delivers our souls from death (v. 18-19).
If you're struggling today, tell it to God and wait for Him. Long for the day that He returns and fixes all of this mess. It's coming! Remember, too, that right now "He is our help and our shield" (v. 20). He can help you repent of unrighteous emotions and use your righteous emotions in ways that will do good and not evil. Pray that your heart can be glad in Him because you trust in Him (v. 21).
Ultimately, pray that God's steadfast love could be upon all of His people as we hope in Him (v.22). God is bigger than COVID-19, corrupt governments, potential vaccines, media outlets, social media opinions, and anything else we can find. If we set our minds and souls on Christ and remember that in Him we are righteous and upright (v. 1-2), He will be our help and our hope (v. 20-22).
We all need the gospel right now. We must not take our eyes off Jesus, especially in the most challenging and stressful moments. How are you feeling? Where are you looking?
A Stroll Through the Neighborhood
As I walk down the street this morning, I see an empty neighborhood. There aren't a lot of cars out driving, and there aren’t a lot of people out having fun together. No cookouts, no yard sales, no birthday parties, and not much of anything else. Spring doesn’t normally feel like this, but the COVID-19 lockdown has us all stuck at home and waiting for some relief. It seems that many states are opening things back up, which has many people jumping for joy.
As I think personally about this whole situation, the thing I miss most is fellowship with other Christians. I miss the corporate gatherings each Sunday. I also miss the impromptu get-togethers with brothers and sisters in Christ. Right now I can’t have a bonfire and invite my friends over for scripture reading and discussion. Kim and I can’t invite another family over for dinner after Sunday morning worship. I can't meet with Jeremy on Tuesday at the Hub or pray with Joe on Wednesday morning.
Some have been quick to remind me that, technically, I can do all of these things. They're right. But out of love for others, respect for the government, and our own health, my family has decided to stay in.
Loving My Neighbors
While many people allow their Christian faith to be Sunday and Wednesday only, I hope this lockdown gives us a greater longing to spend time with people. Humans are not meant to be isolated. I think about God speaking that Adam was not meant to be alone (Genesis 2:18). While many of us have a spouse or children, several do not. I feel for our single Christian brothers and sisters out there who have lost many of the avenues of social connection in this tough season.
I've been thinking a lot about the command to love my neighbor, and how radically different that looks right now (Mark 12:31). I guess I could still go visit my neighbors and bring them food, but I could also be introducing them to a virus that I don’t even know if I have. Our church could set up a block party, give away food, hand out tracts, and preach the gospel, but that size gathering could spread the virus without proper social distancing. And who knows when the government will say it is wise to host such a gathering.
The reality is, I haven't visited my neighbors enough in the past few years, and it took being locked down to realize that. It took being locked down to get me to recognize the numerous families in my neighborhood who need to see the love of God. It took a global pandemic to open my eyes to the people I've been ignoring for the past five years while praying for God to send me somewhere with the gospel.
It may sound crazy, but coming out of this Coronavirus in the coming weeks is going to be a bitter time for many. Did I just say that? What could possibly be bitter about local businesses and restaurants opening back up? What could be bitter about getting back to grilling out and watching the kids play in the backyard? What could be bitter about our local churches and small groups gathering again?
Some people will face great anxiety. It is clear from the protests and social media clamor that many people are ready to get back to life as usual. Along with these people, there are plenty of others who feel the need to be cautious about opening things back up. And no, they haven't "bought in" on some government or media conspiracy to keep everyone afraid until the mark of the beast comes in the form of vaccinations. They simply see the nature of a deadly disease that has continued to spread even in the face of global lockdowns.
To think about life as normal in the midst of this pandemic can be terrifying for some people, setting their anxiety on edge. They may not be ready to get back to church as much as they deeply miss it. The immunocompromised and at-risk Christians get to watch everyone else get back to life while they continue to shelter in place. Pray for them. Pray that they wouldn't be overcome with anxious thoughts and fears of contracting the virus. Pray that they don't become angry or bitter about their circumstances. Instead of mocking them for being illogical or speaking as though they don't matter in the grand scheme of things, pray that they would cast their anxieties on the Lord who cares for them (1 Peter 5:7).
Some people will act recklessly. From skepticism to outright anger, some will refuse to wear masks or keep social distance. Others will go out of their way to reject anything that government recommends regarding social distancing. By law, they are totally free to do so in stores and in churches. We are a free nation governed by a constitution for a reason. However, as Christians, we need to remember the principle of Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24:
"'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful,' but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor."
While we may think it's silly to wear a mask to Walmart or to church, we must be cognizant of the needs and desires of our neighbor. It may sound stupid to stand 6 feet away from people or not shake hands at church, but it could be what is good for our neighbor. It might be annoying to not sip that cup of coffee before corporate worship on Sunday, but it could be beneficial to others.
People don't wear signs saying, "cancer patient", "immunocompromised", or "lung issues". Also, seasonal allergies and asthma make some people more prone to coughing, sneezing, and getting respiratory issues during the next 5 months or so. We need to focus less on what's lawful and more on what builds up. In these days, it is especially important to live out Philippians 2 as we seek to live like Christ and count others as more significant than ourselves. Let us pray that Christians would reflect the love and kindness of Christ in the coming days.
In light of the bitter, however, there is so much sweetness.
We get to gather on Sunday mornings again. We will soon get to see many of our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ as we gather to worship with one another. No more Zoom burnout—we hope! No more preaching sermons to an empty room. No more watching the sermon from home and being distracted by the million things going on around us. No more singing into a camera with everyone muted so that we can only hear our own voices at home. No more internet connection issues making us look and sound like pixelated Super Mario using autotune. And no more blacked out screens with silent mics! (We know you're hiding!) Even if behind masks, we get the joys of being physically present.
I hope we don't ever take gathering together for granted again. It has been almost 8 weeks since we last did this, and I hope it has created a longing for more than just mere social interaction. I hope we are excited about more than just getting out of the house. I hope that we are overjoyed about the fact that the we get to be back together doing what the church does—gathering and going. While the going has never stopped, the gathering won't be paused (or Zoomed) anymore!
We get to gather in small groups again. We get to start having meals and get-togethers in our homes again. We get to send up prayers of worship, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication together. We can sip coffee—iced, whipped, or hot—while discussing work, parenting, marriage, and every other aspect of life from a Christian perspective. We get to open our Bible and start dwelling again on how we can reach our communities with the gospel that Jesus has commissioned us to share with the world. We get to be together.
Whether your local church has formal small groups or not, I hope you've missed being among other believers. I hope that you've grown a hunger for more than just consuming a Sunday sermon and a Wednesday night Bible study. I hope we've all developed a zeal to reach the lost in ways that have always been simple but often taken for granted. I hope you're ready to get back to living out the numerous "one another" passages with a renewed joy and vigor.
I know I am.
Are you ready to reopen? What are you most excited about? Are you nervous or fearful about anything? How are you praying in these times?
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God's Glory Revealed in Christ: Essays on Biblical Theology in Honor of Thomas R. Schreiner is not for the faint of heart. I say that jokingly because there is plenty of Greek and Hebrew in this book. However, if you are a pastor or a student of biblical theology, this will be a great addition to your library. The contributors include scholars and pastors like Albert Mohler, Jr., D.A. Carson, James Hamilton, John Piper, Robert Plummer, and more. To say this volume is meaty is an understatement.
God's Glory Revealed in Christ is divided into 4 helpful categories:
1. Whole Bible approaches to biblical theology: This section is packed with helpful information, especially for those considering the various approaches to biblical theology and how they interpret the scripture to form their theology. These chapters provide overviews of the various forms of and systems of biblical theology such progressive dispensationalism, new covenant theology, etc.
2. Major themes and issues in biblical theology: These chapters help understand some of the broader themes in Schreiner’s work. The essays also expand on some of the issues and qualms facing biblical theology today. It was helpful to see how biblical theology helps interpretive challenges in the Bible, especially in the New Testament as it relates to the Old Testament and complex doctrines such as the Trinity. The chapter on pastoral ministry was golden. It definitely changed my perspective on pastoral visitation and the importance of ministering the word beyond just the pulpit.
3. Background issues and biblical theology: This was probably the most technical section of the book. It Is valuable in teaching the importance of background information with regard to biblical theology and New Testament interpretation. For most lay level readers, much of this will be outside of our scope at first. However, it is beneficial to be acquainted with these issues as we read and study theology. Jarvis William’s chapter on second temple Judaism was brilliant (though jam-packed with Greek!). It was great to see some of the connections he made, I certainly look forward to reading that chapter again!
4. Applications: Of course, this section is very practical and accessible even to those who don’t have a strong grasp of previous technical material. This section addressed transgenderism , the great commission, pastors as theologians, academic ministry, and the kingdom in today’s public square. I was further reminded that pastors and church leaders need to be well-equipped to teach the Word in season and out. We must never fail to see how our biblical theology will shape the preaching and practical ministry of our churches.
While all of this valuable information lies in the first 268 pages, my favorite chapter was on Schreiner as a father. His son's word echo those stated by his students and colleagues in previous chapters. Throughout the book, it is made clear that he is a scholar of scholars, and yet he is often described as humble, approachable, loving, and pastoral. Tom Schreiner is a family man who is sinner who has flaws just like everyone else, but he has an admirable life worthy of his work as a pastor theologian.
If biblical theology is your niche (like it is mine!), I heartily recommend this book. I especially recommend it to pastors who are seeking to grow theologically and become pastor theologians. God's Glory Revealed in Christ has given me a strong desire to check out more of Tom Schreiner's writings, especially on biblical theology.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to leave a positive review.
What would life be like if we said phone use was our greatest priority? Let's look at such a day...
What if we planned to use our phones for the first 15 to 30 minutes in the early morning? Instead of sleeping in, what if we set our alarms and resolved to rise early to be alone with our phones? Instead of waking up, though, we keep hitting snooze until the kids get up or it's time to get ready for work. By then, we scramble to make coffee, grab a shower, throw a shirt in the dryer, and hit the door. We're frustrated that we couldn't get up, so we promise ourselves that tomorrow morning will be different! Plus we have time to spend time on our phones later. It's only 7:15 for crying out loud!
What if we decided that since we hadn't used our phones before work that we'll wait til lunch? We'll have a half-hour of quiet time, and we can give full attention to our phones. Instead, we get interrupted by a coworker for 15 minutes and don't want to be rude, so we scarf down our meal and run to the restroom. Now lunch is over. Oh well, we'll just get around to it later when we can get a chance to sit down and be alone with it. It's only noon and there's plenty of the day left. Surely the afternoon will be better than the day has started out.
What if we got home after a busy and exhausting day only to find that our children needed our attention and our responsibilities demanded our focus, time, and energy for the next 4 or 5 hours? We planned family phone time at dinner, but decided last-minute that it would just be easier to eat and get the kids to bed. There was no time to plan it, and we haven't even had phone time alone. We know that our children would greatly benefit from the screen time, and we convince ourselves that they know we care a LOT about our phones, even if we don't really use them very much. Since tomorrow's always more convenient, we'll just wait.
What if we were so tired at bedtime that we decided to veg out and watch the latest episode of TV, hang out with our spouse, or just crash and get an extra bit of shut-eye—we all need more sleep, especially when there are little ones at home! Perhaps we even planned to have phone time together with our spouse, but just weren't feeling it tonight. We reluctantly grab our phone after waiting all day to use it knowing that we'll get drowsy and fall asleep within a few minutes, but we reassure ourselves that some phone time is better than none. Plus, we know that tomorrow will definitely be better than today was.
What if we planned to meet up with a friend tomorrow for coffee to talk about life and our phones? Instead of any real phone conversation, though, we spent most of the time joking around, catching up, and talking about current events. We do talk about phones, but it's mainly about how frustrating American life can be with all the busyness and struggles that keep us from really enjoying our phones like we want to. We're tempted and we struggle with all kinds of distractions that keep us from living the life our phones promise us. By the time we glance at our watches, it's time to go, and we didn't really do much more than shallow chit chat. We'll do a better job next week, for sure!
What if we only planned to be with friends and family once a week for an hour to engage with our phones together? Some of us get to hear a nice Ted Talk that tells us how to do better and think differently based on a blend of the speaker's ideas and some of the information gathered from his phone. Others get a really good message from our phones about how to enjoy more phone time and connect with the maker of the phone. However, rather than enjoying the time together and focusing on our phones, we get sidetracked by the craziness of the morning, our to-do list at home, and the cookout we are going to enjoy afterward. Since we had plenty of phone time in the morning, we'll just put our phones up and enjoy a day off today. This morning's pick-me-up will be just the boost we need for the week.
A Parable Explained
In a culture that spends upwards of 5 hours a day on our phones, this doesn't sound like devotion, does it? In a scenario like this, there are certainly priorities, but it's not phones. From the outside looking in, it wouldn't seem that we even cared much about our phones. Phones would probably end up becoming dusty relics of a bygone era in less than a generation. If nothing else, people would keep buying phones and using them sporadically enough to be familiar with them, but there would be few people whose lives are marked by devotion to a glowing screen.
So it is with our Bibles and our devotional lives. The scenes painted are from my life and the lives of countless people around me. We claim to be devoted to God. We plan and "prioritize" our devotional lives, but it seems that so many things crowd out our priorities. The irony of this parable is that such a “struggle” to prioritize phone use is rarely a struggle for many of us. There are very few people who need to work hard at getting their 5 hours of phone time in. Yet most of us know the struggle to get even 15 minutes of solid Bible time each day.
This isn't meant to guilt you into Bible reading. It occurred to me as I was listening to Jerry Bridges' True Community that my priorities are often out of sync with Scripture. Theoretically, I prioritize communion with God. I've read books on the topic, I write about it often, and I preach about it in my sermons quite a bit. However, this quote from Bridges hit me like a ton of bricks:
"Most of us do not experience this continual communion and corresponding delight in God that the Bible talks about. Worse yet, we do not even long for it. We are content to use God — to seek His help in our jobs, our studies, our marriages, and, yes, even our ministries."
Do we experience communion and delight in God as the Scriptures reveal it? Or do we constantly chase communion with God while being tripped up and distracted from seeking Him? Do we long for time with God in reading, meditating on, and praying through His Word? Are we content to use God like a genie who is sovereign over the universe? These are all questions we need to ask ourselves.
In light of these questions, the answer is not to get up tomorrow and try harder in our own abilities. Rather, we need to strive with all His energy to seek and find Him (Colossians 1:29). The reward of secret communion with and devotion to God is God Himself (Matthew 6:4). Those who seek God with their full heart will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 7:7). Yet we know that none seek after God until they've been born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3; Romans 3:11). Will you give everything in you to seek and find the Lord? There's not a more rewarding life than the one that lives in communion with the triune God.
When you hear the word theologian what comes to mind? When you think about doctrine do you picture scholars in suits and ties studying 2000 page books full of 15-letter -isms and -ologies? Do you picture them solving problems and writing page after page on issues that have no little to no practical bearing on the lives of everyday, average people like us? As much as I hate to admit it, I have often felt that way as I've waded into depths of theological conundrums caused by the translation (or mis-translation) of a single Greek word.
I used to think John Calvin was one of these ivory tower theologians with all head and no heart. However, the more I read what he wrote and not what people say he wrote, I see that he had the heart of a lover of God and pastor. He was a man of strong devotion and zeal for God, and he puts this on display with the numerous prayers and references to seeking God in writings. Contrary to popular belief, he wrote more on other topics than did on election or predestination.
Everyday Prayer with John Calvin is one such example of his passion for God. It isn't a book that Calvin wrote, but it's jam-packed with quotes and excerpts of his writings on dwelling with Christ through prayer. Donald McKim has done an excellent job of pulling excerpts from Calvin's magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion, as well as his numerous commentaries on the Old and New Testaments.
McKim suggests four steps to using this book in your prayer life:
1. Read the passage of Scripture at the top of each page. (Yes, this book is about the Word and the God Calvin wrote about, not Calvin himself!)
2. Meditate on the teaching and instruction from the passage and devotional writings of Calvin.
3. Pray in reflection on the Scripture and the devotional..
4. Act in light of what you've read and prayed about.
In the strange and scary days we are walking in right now, here is an excerpt of how Everyday Prayer with John Calvin and helps us pray in light of God's Word. In his writing on Psalm 18:1-6, Calvin said:
"It was a very evident proof of uncommon faith in David, when, being almost plunged into the gulf of death, he lifted up his heart to heaven by prayer. Let us therefore learn, that such an example is set before our eyes, that no calamities, however great and oppressive, may hinder us from praying, or create an aversion to it." (p. 27; emphasis added)
With prayer points and reflection questions each day, Everyday Prayer with John Calvin is an excellent supplement to your devotional life. Whether you're looking for a quick and simple tool for your quiet times or you're planning to spend time with a friend, spouse, or family member, this is a great option for you!
*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to leave a positive review.
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Unexpected and life-altering changes are the icy cold bucket of water that instantly jars us awake on a cozy morning. It seems that life went from normal to chaos in only a couple of days. Of course, history is full of pandemics and mass hysteria, but it is unprecedented—as the media has often said—for us in the 21st century with our advanced medical technology and interconnected systems of communication and information.
Yet here we are. A tiny band of parasites is threatening to undo us. A microscopic organism is lurking at the grocery store or in the breath of a loved one. These evil minions are rubbing their sheisty hands together as they wait to embed their genetic material into our bodies and try to take us down. Most of the time, they don't win. But that doesn't mean they'll give up without a fight.
Back To The Old Paths
Every generation is faced with some circumstance that can seem to pull the rug right out from beneath their feet. From the Black Death of the 1300s to the Spanish flu of the 1900s to the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020, we all face circumstances that can leave us feeling undone. Yet in these challenging times, we would do well to remember the words of Jeremiah 6 when Jerusalem was facing great destruction:
"...Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls."
While our circumstances are quite different than the Israelites Jeremiah was speaking to, the principle is still very applicable to Christians today. In the face of what appears to be a new reality for us in coming months, we have the choice to either respond in faith a follow the good path or say to God, "we will not walk in it." I hope and pray for myself as well as this generation that we will respond by going back to the ancient paths.
A Side Note
Before we go further, I'm not one of those gloomy Christians who starts every sentence off with, "the modern church has got it wrong because of...". There are many Christians around the world who are striving, with 2000 years of tradition behind them, to live out a biblical faith. It brings me great joy to see Christians around the world rallying to worship God together in these days of global lockdowns and quarantines. Praise God for technology that lets us worship and receive His Word together in these days of "social distancing".
My focus is what we do with the other 167 hours of the week. After my first seven days of social isolation, I was ready to go insane! It wasn't because I have a house full of little kids or even that I'm stuck and can't have the social interaction I desperately desire. Rather, my problem is that my devotional life was so intimately tied to the routines of my life that when things changed, so did my time with the Lord.
I've got to keep focused on the old paths or I'll be led by the media's mirage that solace is found in having more knowledge of the world around me.
What are the old paths?
What are the "ancient paths"? What is "the good way" where we can find rest for our souls? The first and most obvious answer is Christ alone. He calls us to come to Him and find rest (Matthew 11:28). But what are the means He has given us to do this? How do we seek and find Christ in the midst of all the noise and chaos that seems be closing in from all sides?
I'll be forthright. This is not an impressive or exhaustive list. I don't have a secret path or formula that will guarantee instant devotional success. If you have it, please share it early in the COVID-19 social isolation phase so we can master it! In all seriousness, I just want to recommend 3 basic spiritual practices that can help anchor our souls during such a time as this.
Spend Time In God's Word
This may be the most boring and unoriginal tip you've read all week. But in the barrage of free books, free lectures, free courses, and a host other free resources, we can lose sight of the richness of God's Word. While starving our souls on supplements and junk food, we forget that there's an infinite supply of manna right before our eyes. We need God's Word in these times.
Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, says "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Will we be like the Israelites who detested God's food (Numbers 21:5)? Will we frown at the Scriptures like children do a plate Brussels sprouts or will we heartily agree that God's Words are "sweeter than honey" (Psalm 119:103)? Whether it's your physical Bible, an audio Bible, or an app on your phone, it's important that we spend time reading and hearing God's word alone, with our families, and even with friends (get creative!). Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
Meditate on Scripture
I once heard of dieters who put tasty food in their mouths, chewed it up for a few seconds, and then spit it out. This gave them the taste of the food without adding all the calories, sugar, and fat from the foods they loved. While it sounds like something for the birds, we often do this with the Bible as we plow through our reading plans or knock out our chapter for the day.
Just as people who don't actually eat their food would wither away to almost nothing, so our souls will be desperately malnourished without meditation. The 19th century writer, Nathanael Ranew said that, "little meditating makes lean Christians, of little life, little strength, little growth, and of little usefulness to others." This doesn't mean we need to be monks or mystics, but it does mean that we need to commit to slowing down and thinking deeply about God and His Word. If Joshua and David were both men of meditation and great leaders in Israel (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2), then we can "find" the time during our time away from work and social life to meditate. The blessed path of meditation is available for all of us.
Once again, nothing new here! We know we ought to pray, but do we actually pray? Do we delight in our time with God? There used to be a slang phrase called the "Blackberry prayer" before smartphones took over. You've seen it. People have their phones in their lap, looking down in what could either be deep agonizing, solemn prayer, or simple scrolling. I wonder how many hours we will spend in "Android prayer" or "iPhone prayer" during these COVID-19 days with our live news and infinitely scrolling newsfeeds. I get easily sucked in.
It is during these days that we must remember to "continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2). Watchful, thankful prayer, like meditation, is a continual command, but it is especially needful as we are isolated and waiting out this storm. As valuable as it is to connect with people during these socially isolated days, it is infinitely more valuable to connect with God. We must prioritize our time with the Lord.
Spiritual Paths for Spiritual People
These old paths have been blessing believers for millennia, but it's not merely the doing that brings change. Without the Holy Spirit's help, our reading, meditating, and praying will be vain and powerless. We are needy people! Without the blood of Jesus, we can't come boldly to the throne of the gracious Father, nor can we understand the aim of all the Scriptures—Jesus. Without the love of the Father, we would be left to our sin and lost for eternity! Never forget who and whose you are while you're doing these spiritual duties, for that will put you on the path to legalism and burnout. But also don't neglect these important duties which God has given for our good.
The COVID-19 Outbreak of 2020
By now, COVID-19 is probably on your radar no matter where you are in the world. Rather than offer more news--the internet is full of it—I would like to share some ways to pray as we walk through some interesting and uncertain days. While some are saying there isn't much risk with this pandemic, the global economic and medical impact is staggering.
People across the globe are quarantined and major tourist areas look like ghost towns. The NBA, PGA, March Madness, and high school sports are gone indefinitely. Many churches (possibly even your local church) have canceled services or opted to meet virtually to help prevent the spread of this highly contagious coronavirus. The CDC's latest recommendation is to cancel or postpone all gatherings of 50 people or more for the next 8 weeks!
As Christians, we know and trust that God is sovereign over chaotic and scary situations like this coronavirus outbreak. We also know that uncertainty and fear can grip even the strongest of believers in times like these. Psalm 91 reminds us that God is a refuge, shelter, and fortress for those who abide in, dwell with, and trust in Him. One of the greatest ways to exercise our faith is to pray.
10 Ways To Pray During the COVID-19 Outbreak
1. Pray for the lost. There are millions (if not billions) of people around the world who don't know Jesus or the hope we have in Him. We don't lose heart in these perilous times because we know there is more to life than this flesh and blood. We know that He who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Him and bring us into His presence (2 Cor. 4:14). We need to remember these truths and pray for our unsaved friends and family.
"So 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."
-2 Corinthians 4:16-18
2. Pray for the sick. A tiny virus can speed up the process of our bodies wasting away, but God is powerful enough to heal us. We need to pray for both the bodies and souls of those who are sick because bodily health is important, but spiritual life is much more valuable. While our physical health is sure to fade, Christ gives us eternal life that will never decay. We want the sick to be healthy and righteous:
"...the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous."
3. Pray for the Church. Let us not forget about Christians in the places most heavily impacted by COVID-19. Christians in China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, and many other nations are being heavily impacted by this virus. Some of the churches in these nations haven't been able to gather for weeks, some church members may have been killed during this outbreak, and others will be facing tough times in the coming days and weeks. We also need to pray for Christians in our nation as well as believers in our local churches. Scripture commands us to pray for all the saints.
"...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints"
4. Pray for church leaders. Not only are pastors judged with greater strictness for what we teach (James 3:1), but we are also accountable to God for our leadership of the church. As we make decisions about how to navigate these challenging and scary times, pray that God would give us wisdom (James 1:5). Whether or not you agree with every decision we make, pray for us. Pray for God to give you words of gratitude and encouragement over the coming weeks and months.
"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."
5. Pray for government leaders. This COVID-19 situation is highly politicized and fraught with skepticism, conspiracy, and fake news. Rather than drawing strict party lines and spreading false reports about our government leaders, pray for them (Exodus 23:1). In general, we have become too lax with how we speak about and pray for our government leaders. Make no mistake, God is not silent on how we should regard and pray for our government leaders. We need to pray for God to graciously give them wisdom and guide their hearts (Proverbs 21:1). Read and think about Romans 13:1-7. Also heed God's command to pray for government leaders.
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way."
-1 Timothy 2:1-2
6. Pray for wisdom. In situations like this, we all need to exercise wisdom. If you're in isolation and practicing social distancing, perhaps you could devote some extra time to reading Proverbs and consider how to walk in wisdom. If you're healthy, pray for God to help you navigate life in a way that could prevent you from contracting or spreading COVID-19 to others (since it is often spread through people who don't have any symptoms). If you're feeling ill, pray for wisdom as to how to seek treatment or quarantine yourself until your symptoms subside.
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."
7. Pray for first responders and healthcare workers (and their families). It can be easy to forget about the doctors, nurses, EMTs, police officers, firefighters, nursing home workers, and others who keep our healthcare infrastructure up and running. I have friends and family who work both on the front lines and behind the scenes in healthcare. These people are risking their lives and giving the best of their time and energy to help people impacted by COVID-19, as well as people facing other ongoing medical situations and issues. As you're praying, send up some gratitude for these people and all of the others who are spending and being spent on behalf of this virus. Also, don't forget to pray for their families. Spouses, children, and other family members are now having to distance themselves in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving."
8. Pray for the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Early on, I comforted myself with the notion that this new coronavirus really only seriously affects the elderly and the immunocomprised. Perhaps you have done so, too. Rather than comfort ourselves in others' misfortune, we should pray for them. We should empathize with them. Many of the physically vulnerable aren't afraid or worried at all, but some of them are terrified. They hear what we hear and see what we see (and say). We should pray that God would comfort them and protect them, even if it is just like a the flu or a minor case of pneumonia. Now is a great time to remember the mind of Christ.
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
9. Pray for humility. In situations like this COVID-19 crisis, there are at least two ways pride manifests itself. For some of us, we are so self-reliant that we think we can outsmart and out-prep the coronavirus. We put our faith in a 2:1 ratio of alcohol to aloe—hand sanitizer. We put our hope in the food we have stashed away in our root cellars or basements. Others exhibit pride in thinking that they are invincible. They think to themselves, "I'm a young, healthy American, nothing will ever happen to me!". God calls us all to cast our anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7). He also commands that we look humbly toward the future.
"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'"
10. Pray for your heart. In tumultuous seasons like these, our hearts tend to float from one crisis moment to another. We go from fear in one moment to a deep sense of security in God in the next. Then we get gripped by uncertainty as more news floods in. During these frenzied and tumultuous times, we must pray for our hearts. We need to pray that God would graciously help us keep watch over our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). We need to fight the urge to be constantly checking in, reading our feeds, and distracting ourselves from the realities of death and weakness. Rather, we should examine ourselves to see where our trust truly lies and beg God to strengthen our faith.
"Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!"
-2 Corinthians 13:5
Book Snob At The Coffee Shop
For a few years now, I’ve known a guy who is a know-it-all. Every time he meets a friend in a coffee shop, he lets you know that he’s well-read. When someone needs a book recommendation or a Christmas gift, he’s always got an idea. In fact, he’s got a shelf full of them! He reads, reviews, listens to, studies, and summarizes books—and he’ll let you know that too! He considers himself to be ahead of the curve on all the best books, both old and new, so don’t even try to recommend something to him because he has already seen it, ordered it, and read the first chapter on his Kindle.
Have you ever met a guy like this? I usually see him in the coffee shop once or twice a week. In fact, he’s at my house every day. I look at him in the mirror every morning. Sadly, I’ve been faced with the realities of my snobbery as I’ve seen friendships go sour and friends get annoyed with my incessant tendency to reference and recommend the latest books I’m reading. I’m sure they have gotten sick of hearing me go on and on about how the current book I’m reading is one of the best I’ve ever read on the topic.
Don’t Read In Vain
As I write these words, it’s embarrassing to think about how many times I’ve made a fool of myself as a book snob. I’ve read a little more than 200 books, which could seem like a lot until you look at the bibliographies of your shelf. If the average American reads 12 books each year, it may seem amazing to read a lot more than that. It’s humbling to see that guys like Tim Challies read 2 books a week, and Albert Mohler reads several each week as well.
I’m not a big shot at all—though there are times that I think I am. There are times that I vainly plow through a book just so I can add it to my reading list or say that I’ve read it. The vanity in reading this way is summed in Ecclesiastes 12:12: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” This isn’t saying that reading many books is sinful or even something to be avoided. But it can indeed be “vanity of vanities” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
Learning To Read Again
After a couple of years of reading a lot (not all!) in vain, I have deliberately changed the way I read. In fact, I’ve changed the way I look at reading altogether. The Puritan writer, Richard Baxter, said, “It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make a man wise or good, but the well-reading of a few, could he be sure to have the best.” In other words, it’s not important to simply plow through a book just to say I’ve accomplished it. Rather, reading a book well makes all the difference.
Here are some of the changes I’ve made regarding how I read:
1. . When Jesus was waging war with Satan, He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). It is to my shame that there have been years where I’ve read 30 or 40 books but didn’t read through the Bible. While professing to value God’s Word above every other book, my actions proclaimed that “man lives by good books and God’s Word is a supplemental add-on if I get around to it”.
2. I read good books slowly and I mark them up with copious notes. There are some books that I read to simply gather the information or to see what’s in it. Sometimes this happens when a friend asks my opinion of a book I’ve not read or asks me a question on a topic I haven’t looked into. There are other books that warrant diving deeper because they help me behold Christ or draw me to deeper devotion (2 Corinthians 3:18). Books like David Saxton’s God’s Battle Plan for the Mind or Brian Hedges’ Watchfulness have been slow and meditative deep reads for me.
3. Rather than always grabbing the most popular or eye-catching titles, I’ve shifted my reading to fit practical needs in my life. For example, I recently started co-pastoring a church, and I preach twice a month in addition to my full time teaching job. We are preaching through Galatians, so I do the bulk of my reading from commentaries on Galatians. If I’m not reading something on Galatians, I’m listening to a book on parenting, marriage, spiritual disciplines, or pastoral ministry. These are my life priorities right now, and my time is limited, so I’ve given up much of my pleasure reading until summer break. God has been gracious and shown me much through these good books in the past couple of months.
4. I ask other people to talk. Ok, I’m at least trying! I haven’t come close to mastering this, but when a friend tells me they’re reading a great book, I am learning to ask them to describe it, share relevant quotes, or summarize it for me. This not only helps me listen, but it allows me to show that I value my friends—even though I often struggle to display it! It also allows me to glean from good books when I don’t have the time to devote to reading or listening to them myself.
Learn From My Foolishness
Don’t be that know-it-all guy at the coffee shop. Don’t be the “self-professed authority on every topic” lady at Bible study. Even if you read at Mohler pace—some 300 books a year—you don’t have to let everyone know about it. Remember, “A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly” (Proverbs 12:23). This doesn’t mean that you never share what you know. But it means that you share wisely and with humility, knowing when the time is right.
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