Gospel Encouragement For Everyday Life

Worth Reading–June 1, 2012

Good stuff from Mark Driscoll.

Maybe Everyone Who Bought A Ticket To “The Avengers” Deep Down Really Wants To Meet Jesus?
By Mark Driscoll

The insatiable appetite for superheroes continues.

The Avengers stormed the box office this weekend, obliterating all domestic opening weekends with a $200 million kickoff.

The plot line is nothing new: a big threat to human life is looming, and a superhero or team of superheroes rises to meet the challenge and save the day. To say it another way, a proverbial hell is looming and people cannot save themselves from this terrible fate. So, a humble savior comes to make a great sacrifice so that evil can be defeated, people can be liberated, and a new kingdom can dawn in which people can live peaceably.

What is curious is that the superhero is usually part human and part something otherworldly. In that way, the hero is like us but simultaneously unlike us. Or, the hero is like us, but better. They have emotional frailty, moments of grief and sadness. But, they somehow overcome all odds to do good and vanquish evil selflessly and tirelessly for the good of others. They also have superhuman powers, insights, and abilities. Sometimes they even die, or seemingly die, only to return to life as if they were invincible.

Some superheroes can walk on water. Some can read people’s thoughts. Some can walk through walls. Some can bring the dead to life. Some live lonely lives without a spouse or children. Some are poor and misunderstood. Some are lonely and not really known by even those closest to them. Some have a secret identity. Some have an archenemy.

No matter how many times this same, tired story is told with some new crisis or savior to meet it, people still line up and pay good money to escape reality for a while. With a bucket of popcorn in one hand and an Icee in the other, I guess it’s our way of not losing all hope and dreaming of a world where a half-man, half-something else superhero was coming to defeat evil liberate the oppressed and usher in a new kingdom of peace and life.

Too bad we then have to leave the theater and enter reality again. If only there were a real Superhero.

Maybe everyone who bought a ticket to The Avengers deep down really wants to meet Jesus?

Worth Reading–May 31, 2012

This is great stuff from Joe Thorn. By the way, we have Joe’s book in our library if you’re ever interested–super helpful.

Fighting Spiritually
By Joe Thorn

I believe the life of a Christian is a life of fighting.

We fight against sin and temptation. We wage a spiritual war against everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. But it wasn’t until I found myself in my weakest condition that I had to fight the most intense battles of my Christian life. It was frightening? I was too weak to fight, but this was when God called me to fight in raging battles.

Feelings of Fear and Failure
My temptations were stronger, and my spirit was weaker. The Devil often accused me as a guilty sinner and one of weak faith. I struggled with crippling doubt concerning my own work, and was I fearful in all ministry contexts. I was anxious before preaching beyond a healthy fear that should be upon all who preach the word of God. I was uncertain after every message and meeting that I had done well.

Most of the time I felt I was a failure, even when everything pointed to success. Even though I was certain of my calling I was equally certain of my frailty, which led me to a level of uncertainty about myself in every other area. I knew I was called, but was I still called to remain where I was? Perhaps I had done all that I could. This was terrifying, for there is no other place I want to be than serving my church.

Small Measures of Comfort
This pressing anxiety was ever-present. It was literally hard to breathe. This drove me deeper into prayer and dependency on Jesus, but I found only small measures of comfort and relief after extended time in prayer. Or, when God’s grace to seemed to calm all storms in my heart, it only lasted for hours.

“I had to fight well, but I was forced to fight in the strength of God and not depend on my own power.

”There was no secret sin. Nothing for which I was unrepentant. I continued to believe, to trust, to fight, to worship, but those days were exceedingly difficult. I revisited classics works related to spiritual warfare like Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, The Bruised Reed, Spiritual Depression, The Christian in Complete Armour, and others. But most rewarding was praying and working through Scripture.

Jesus As Shepherd
During this time I came to know and treasure Jesus as Shepherd, and to see just how important it is for me to hang onto him by faith; to not wander away; to trust what I know to be true even when I am not feeling it. In time my doubts were overcome by the truth of God’s word. My fearful questions were eventually answered in his word and through the testimony of his people and especially my wife. I had to fight well, but I was forced to fight in the strength of God and not depend on my own power.

The year prior to all this I wrote, Note to Self, a short book that models how to “preach to ourselves.” I have long engaged in this discipline, but it was the year of its publication that I had to engage in it, not just for my spiritual health, but for my very survival. The words I had preached to myself previously had more meaning now than ever before:

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

Dear Self,

God does not promise to rid your life of affliction and difficulty, but he does offer to give you the grace needed to suffer well, and through grace to discover the riches and beauty of the gospel. It isn’t wrong to ask God to relieve you of your pain, but it is more important that in the midst of the pain that you rely on the promise of God to work such experiences for his glory and your good—to use these times as a means of perfecting your faith, strengthening your spirit, and transforming your life in such a way that you are becoming more like Jesus.

I know you want relief, but often relief comes, not in the form of the removal of the affliction, but in the strengthening of your faith. And that is what these trials are designed to do—test, prove, and strengthen your faith. In times of ease you have sometimes wondered just how real and robust is your faith. In times of your own weakness you have asked God to sanctify you, grow you, and strengthen you. Well, here is your answer. God accomplishes much of that through your “fiery trial” when you suffer well. To suffer well doesn’t mean you put on a stoic face and muscle through the situation without a word. It means that through your suffering you trust God, bless him, look to him, and point others to him.

When the world strips away your comfort and confidence in things temporal, when friends become enemies and attack you, when in the providence of God suffering enters your life like a flash flood, you are given an opportunity to see very clearly where your ultimate dependence lies and where you find your identity. And it’s not just something that reveals truth about yourself; it is also something God uses to sanctify you.

Do you want to be confident in God’s good purposes for your life? Then you must discover them in times of ease as well as times of difficulty. Do you want to become more like Christ? Then you must suffer, and suffer well.

Note to Self, Ch. 44 (emphasis added)

The Weakest Man I Know
Today the anxiety and doubt are gone. I like to tell people I feel good (normal) for the first time in a year and a half. But get this irony: today I still recognize myself to be the weakest man I know, but I have more confidence than ever. I know I’m not “the man.” I know I am helpless and frail. I used to think of myself as some kind of tough guy, but I now know I am not. I was forced to find all my hope and strength in Jesus, and this has saved me. Again.

There is much more to my getting healthy than what I wrote here. This was just one part of it. Perhaps the central part of it.

Worth Reading–May 30, 2012

Here is a great article from Jonathan Dodson.

What to Do With Prayerlessness
By Jonathan Dodson

Prayer. Often the word triggers guilt. For some, it sparks warmth, and for others, nothing. No warmth, no guilt. Flat. It’s a vaporous word that appears and vanishes without meaning.

Guilty Prayer

Prayer is one of the most prominent themes in Scripture (occurring several hundred times), yet it is one of the most neglected practices in the church. Why the chasm between prominence and practice?

Well, if guilt springs to mind when we think of prayer, why should we let prayer come to mind? Keep the guilt at bay. Fend it off. We respond to guilt in two main ways: Action, to assuage our conscience, or inaction, to deny guilt’s entry into our conscience. Make up for the guilt or try to make off without it.

We might guiltily pray, filling journals and prayers with endless words. Or we might try to ignore it. If we’re prone to making up for failure to pray, our reasoning might go something like: “I’d like to pray (not true), but I’ve got so much to do for the Lord today.” We ignore prayer (inaction), in order to focus on something that doesn’t produce guilt—like work or service (action)—in hope that guilt will go away. I’ve tried both.

I used to feel guilty when I didn’t pray. If I didn’t make it through my prayer list or spend half an hour in solitary prayer, I’d feel guilty for not praying more.

Guilt isn’t from God. Conviction is. Guilt drives us into a corner; conviction drives us to Christ. Somewhere along the way, I was liberated from prayer-by-guilt. Part of this liberty came when I realized that God doesn’t relate to me based on guilt but based on grace. Grace reminds me that when I was guilty of deep distrust in God and his promises, Christ died and kept God’s promises to absorb my guilt, so now I have every reason to trust. Grace reminds me that God relates to me based on what Jesus has done, not on what I have not done.

Why Did Jesus Pray?

Jesus prayed—a lot. This is weird when you consider the fact that he is God, until we begin to understand prayer. When prayer becomes more concrete, we become more prayerful.

Why did Jesus pray? Jesus prayed for God to rescue people: disciples, enemies, and sinners. He taught his disciples to do the same (Luke 6:28; 10:2). Jesus also prayed because he was incredibly dependent on the Father: “The Son can do nothing on his own accord” (John 5:19). “I can do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me” (John 8:28). In the words of Paul Miller, “Jesus was the most dependent human that ever lived.” Jesus prayed because he knew how dependent he was – and how dependent we are – on the grace of our heavenly Father. Why should we pray? Because we are incredibly dependent on the Father and because we want God to rescue people.

Dependence-driven prayer isn’t a sign of weakness, per se, but a sign of love. Jesus prayed because he loved his creation and his Father. When I read Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17, I can feel the warmth licking off the page. Jesus didn’t address him as “God” but as “Father.” Prayer wasn’t an exercise in guilt removal; it was a communication of warmth. If you read John 17, you can feel Jesus’ longing to be with his Father “in glory” once again.

Because Jesus loves the Father, he does God’s will by sharing the words of eternal life with his disciples. Sensing the profound satisfaction that eternal life will bring them, Jesus says: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (11). Jesus prays that we would join in his oneness with the Father, that we would know their love and warmth. He elaborates (was this necessary?): “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (23). Jesus prayed because he loved being with the Father, and he prays for us because he wants us to enjoy being with the Father. Prayer is an expression of love for the Father and for one another.

Drawing Near to God

In the words of James, prayer is “drawing near to God” (4:8). Abraham Kuyper clarifies love for God as drawing near to God when he writes: “To have love for God is a different and a much weaker thing than to be able to say:’ I love God.’” Many of us “have love for God” but have trouble saying, with sincere conviction, “I love God.” We live with what we love. If we love God, we will live with him in prayer. If we love entertainment, we will live with it in prayerlessness. May I be so bold as to say that our mornings and evenings are marked by what we love? If we lay down to Netflix and rise up to Internet, could it be that we love distraction more than we love God? Perhaps, in an unconscious way, we drift to entertainment because it distracts us from guilt. Guilt will drive you into a corner, but it will not drive you to Christ.

Prayer is about love not about lists. It is about drawing near to God, not about impressing God. It is about enjoying his grace not enduring guilt. In fact, our genuine guilt for loving something altogether more than we love the Father is gone in Christ. God so loved us that he sent his only Son to be cut off in death so that we might be wonderfully united with him in life. Prayer is a response to the Father and the Son; it is a warm reaction to what they have together done for us. Prayer is communion with God, a cementing of souls together in a common delight, in this case, a delight in God and his grace towards us in Christ. It begins and continues with honest words about our loveless lives, our guilt-ridden approaches to prayer, and a shameless embrace of God’s reckless love and grace.

Respond to his love, even now. Turn and receive his grace. Don’t let your guilt drive you into a corner but to Christ. As you receive his love and grace, respond by saying: “I love you God.” Then, you have prayed.

Worth Reading–May 29, 2012

Really encouraging stuff from Justin Holcomb!

Grace All the Way
By Justin Holcomb

There is a damaging idea floating around that says, “God saved you, now what are you going to do for him?” This is a recipe for failure. If you come to the Christian life believing you can do anything for God in your own strength or repay him on any level, you fall back to the self-dependent spiritual death from which Jesus saved you.

Ephesians 2 frees us from this lie by showing that the Christian life is completely fueled by God’s grace. The chapter is filled with the high-octane gospel of grace for both our justification and also our sanctification. It begins with how believers were dead in their sins, then moves to how God loved us and rescued us from this death by his grace, bringing salvation to all in Christ, uniting Jews and Gentiles as one people in whom the Spirit of God dwells. The first half of the chapter focuses on God’s rescue operation, which delivered us from our sin and God’s wrath, and ends with the verse 10, which centers on how God’s deliverance means we are created anew for lives of righteousness. As Peter O’Brien notes, Paul has already described salvation as “a resurrection from the dead, a liberation from slavery, and a rescue from condemnation”; he moves now to the idea of a new creation.

Ephesians 2:4-5

Ephesians 2:4-5 proclaims Gods grace clearly: “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace have you been saved.” Regeneration takes place when the spiritual dead come alive in Christ. Dead people do not cooperate with grace. Without regeneration, there is no possibility of faith. Paul got this from Jesus, who told Nicodemus: “Unless a man is born again first, he cannot possibly see or enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Ephesians 2:8-9

The theme of Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear: grace. This theme was already mentioned in Ephesians 2:5, but as Tet-Lim Yee points out, what was then more of an “undercurrent” now becomes the main point. We are saved by grace, not anything we have done. The passage has often been used to support the idea that justification before God is by grace alone, and not anything we do. And for good reason: the verses strike with great emphasis the note of salvation as a complete “gift of God.” We have done nothing to bring it about that could lead us to boast. And yet it is nearly impossible not to boast in the radical love of God when we grasp this reality.

Ephesians 2:10

We now move to Ephesians 2:10 with its focus on “good works.” It is tempting at first glance to think that verses 8-9 are about grace and verse 10 is about works. But this would be to miss something very important that we easily neglect: everything is grace. Or, as commentator Andrew Lincoln says, “It is grace all the way.” But what does that mean exactly?

Ephesians has focused on the work of God from the very beginning in 1:1. Now it all reaches a crescendo. Notice God at the center of Ephesians 2:10. The first word in the original Greek sentence is “his,” an unusual placement that puts the emphasis squarely on God. We are “his workmanship.” We “are created [by God] in Christ Jesus” for good works. These good works were those “that God prepared beforehand.” Clearly works are important to Paul, but his emphasis here is on God bringing them about within us.

Frank Thielman notes that this verse does three important things. First, it gives the reason why Paul can say in verses 8-9 that salvation is a complete gift of God: because we are his workmanship, re-created in Jesus Christ. Second, it points forward to other places the new creation idea can be found in Ephesians (Eph. 2:14-15; 4:24). Third, it completes the section of Ephesians 2:1-10 in a fitting way by using again the idea of “walking,” which contrasts with Ephesians 2:2 where Paul talks about how we used to “walk” in sin, following the “course of the world.” Now we “walk” in good works God has set before us.

God’s Workmanship
The word for “workmanship” here, poiēma, is used elsewhere in the New Testament only in Romans 1:20, though it connects to other words in the Bible used for the idea of “work” or “something created/made.” The word is related to the verb poieō, “I make,” and is often found in creation contexts in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (for example, see Ps. 92:4; 143:5), as Thielman points out. In Romans 1:20, God’s “eternal power and divine nature” are perceived in creation, in the “things that have been made” (poiēmasin, from poiēma). Both in that passage and also here the context is the creation of God.

The theme of the people of God being God’s workmanship runs throughout Scripture. In the beginning, of course, God took some dirt and made a man—a clear image of God as workman. But beyond this we see the idea in reference to God’s people Israel, as well the church in the NT:

Is not [the Lord] your father, who created you, who made you and established you?” (Deut 32:6; see also v. 15).

Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you (Isa 44:2).

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb (Isa 44:24).

Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb (Psalm 71:6).

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations (Jer 1:5).

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6).

For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13).

In Scripture we see both the idea of humans as creatures of God, as well as believers redeemed and re-created in Christ as his workmanship.

Ephesians 2:10 continues by saying that we have been created in Christ Jesus “for good works.” So we are saved for the purpose of walking in good works. Good works are never the ground or cause of our salvation. They can’t be. As O’Brien emphasizes, works are not the cause but the “goal of the new creation.” And God has already prepared them for us ahead of time.

How Do We Then Live?
We must always hold Ephesians 2:10 together with 2:8-9. The Bible paints a holistic picture of the believer as one whose lives in grace that continually bears fruit, which is used by God to bless others.

How do we then live? If our works are “prepared beforehand,” what do we do? Paul says we “walk in them.” We show up. We abide in the vine of Jesus (John 15:4). We walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-25). We do our best not to muck it up. But we will; and when we do, grace picks us up again. It’s like the old Rich Mullins lyric: “If I stand, let me stand on the promise that you will see me through, and if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to you.”

The idea that we can or should try to “repay” God for his grace cuts away the source of power that saved us in the first place—God’s grace. It’s exactly what Paul so vehemently rejected when he cried, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3) It is God who saves, and God who sanctifies—all by grace.

Above all else and before any discussion of what we should do, we must understand deeply in our bones who we are: the workmanship of God. You are his project. So you are invited to be who you are. Your life is not your own; it was bought with a price. Live with the gratitude, humility, joy, and peace that come from knowing it does not all depend on you. You are loved and accepted in Christ, so you don’t have to focus on what you do or don’t do for God. Now you can focus on what Jesus has done for you, and that will cause you to love God more. Then you can’t help but walk in grace, realizing how costly God’s grace was.

Worth Reading–May 25, 2012

Here is a great reminder from Jon Bloom.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear
By Jon Bloom

The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied. (Proverbs 19:23)

Franklin D. Roosevelt coined one of America’s iconic maxims in his first inaugural address: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It’s not true.

Roosevelt was trying to quell the national panic of financial crisis, urging Americans not to succumb to “unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts.” It is true that irrational fear must be resisted. But it’s not true that fear is the only thing we need to fear.

In fact, fear itself is not wrong. God actually designed us to be fearers. Fear is a faith-revealer. What we fear reveals what we trust. It’s a strong response to a perceived threat commanding us to protect our hope. In that way it governs our behaviors.

That means fear really isn’t our problem. If we fear the wrong things it’s because our faith is in the wrong things.

There’s the real issue for you and me. We have a lot of fears because we have a lot of unbelief.

Every time we are sinfully fearful — fearful of something God tells us not to fear — it is a moment of unbelief exposure. It is a place in the kingdom of our souls that has not yet been conquered; not yet fully under the rule of Jesus Christ.

Israel’s conquering the Promised Land is God’s metaphor for us in fighting unbelief. In the face of Canaan’s fortified cities and giants the Israelites were told:

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

They were called to face their fears because it would train them to put their trust in the right Hope. “It is the Lord your God you shall fear” (Deuteronomy 6:13). Learning to fear the One Right Thing would free them from the tyranny of fearing a myriad of wrong things. The same is true for us.

Today, if the Lord has you facing fortified cities and giants of unbelief and you find yourself fearful, hear his words and be encouraged to press on:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
“The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).
“Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack” (Psalm 34:9)!
Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God… He will come and save you” (Isaiah 35:4).
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)?
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
“Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36).
There is only One Thing we have to fear, and it is not fear. It is the Lord. Through fear he will teach us faith.

Worth Reading–May 24, 2012

This incredibly wise and helpful article from David Sunday is well worth taking the time to read.

Embracing the Biblical Tension Between Family and Church Ministry
By David Sunday

“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:6b).

When Jesus spoke those words, he was referring to marriage. But in the wisdom of God, these words also apply to the relationship between our families and our ministries.

As my friend Mike Bullmore says, God has a design for your family and ministry so that faithfulness in the family enhances faithfulness in the church, and faithfulness in the church enhances faithfulness in the family.

These callings can seem to be in tension with one another, but it is a dynamic tension in which we can experience God’s goodness. God never separates the assignments he gives us from his sanctifying process in us. He is at work within your family ministry to sanctify you for your church ministry—and he is at work within your church ministry to sanctify your family.

Eldership Is a Familial Role

We read in 1 Timothy 3 that an elder’s relationship to his family is a prime arena for testing his ministry qualifications. An elder is called to reflect Christ’s love for his Bride in fidelity to his wife. He is to be “the husband of one wife,” or a one-woman man (1 Tim. 3:2). Furthermore, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5).

In short, the home is a training ground for ministry in the church. In our ministries within our families, we gain the experience necessary for shepherding God’s family. A man must have his own house in order if he is to faithfully manage God’s household.

The word “manage” should not be read in a sterile, business-like sense. Rather, it conveys the idea of caring, concerned nurture—the type of care and concern a father has for his children and a husband has for his wife.

I was helped by Phil Ryken’s observation that the word Paul uses to express “care” (epimeleomai) for God’s church is rare in the New Testament. The word is used only one other time, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, where we read:

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him (epimeleomao) (Luke 10:33-34).

So an elder’s management of the church should resemble the care exemplified by the Good Samaritan, as Ryken explains:

The Samaritan is a beautiful example for fathers and elders. Taking care of people always demands sacrifice. It includes pity, healing, and embrace. Doubtless the Samaritan had his own busy schedule with a long list of things he needed to get done. But good neighbors—like good fathers and good elders—are willing to be inconvenienced by other people’s problems.

The familial nature of gospel ministry is beautifully reflected in Paul’s pastoral care for the Thessalonian church. No single metaphor suffices to convey the way he ministered among them—he was both father-like and mother-like in his care.

We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.

Like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and changed you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:7-9, 11-12).

Our families represent God’s work in redeeming us. God takes a Bride for himself. He is a Father who seeks and gathers his rebellious children and adopts us into his family. Thus, those who have been called to lead God’s church need to exemplify the familial nature of the gospel in the way we minister. Your family serves as a living model to God’s people to display something of God’s tender care, strong leadership, and covenant fidelity. Through our work at home we learn to faithfully serve God’s church; and by God’s grace, our faithful service in his church helps to nurture and deepen our care for his “little flock” in our own homes. It’s impossible to separate faithfulness in ministry from faithfulness in the home.

The Wisdom of God in Designing a Dynamic Tension
The biblical teaching on this is clear—but trying to work it out in our lives can get murky. There are two equally perilous pitfalls we need to avoid.

1. Sacrificing family on the altar of ministry.
Eli in the book of 1 Samuel is a sobering illustration. By failing to honor God in the discipline of his sons, Eli lost both his sons and his ministry.

A recent article in The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Towers magazine illustrates that the danger is no less threatening today. But in my own observation, I think a second pitfall is even more tempting in our day. It can appear noble, but it’s just as harmful.

2. Idolizing family to the neglect of ministry.
It’s possible for someone to be so “committed” to his family that he doesn’t labor faithfully and sacrificially in ministry.

If we come to terms with Jesus’ radical call to discipleship, we will have to embrace the fact that ministry requires a life of joyful sacrifice, and our families have been called to share in that sacrifice.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and however loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt. 10:37-39).

Both these pitfalls—sacrificing and idolizing family—spring from a common error: they see ministry and family as taking from one another instead of enhancing one another.

What if, instead of bristling at the inherent tensions between our ministries in our families and ministries in the church, we embraced the fact that this is a healthy tension? Indeed, there are many situations when doing God’s will involves tension. A “balanced” Christian life still involves tension, fatigue, and difficult decisions. If we expect anything else, we will inevitably experience frequent frustration.

A wiser course is to embrace the tension as healthy, and to believe that God’s goodness is at work in the tension. How? By believing that our families belong to God to be freely submitted to him to be used for his purposes, to glorify his name through the advancement of the gospel of his Son. There is a way to walk faithfully in your responsibilities to our families and still “spend and be spent in the service of our bountiful Master.”

Your ministry and family are not designed by God to take from one another, but rather to enhance one another. You do not separate your life as a husband and father from your life as a pastor—in fact, you believe that through your ministry as a husband and father, God is using you to shepherd your church, and through your shepherding of the church God is equipping you to build up your family.

Think of the Old Testament prophet Hosea for a startling example of how a family situation modeled God’s work. Through his painful marriage, Hosea compassionately felt and eloquently articulated the brokenhearted love of God to his unfaithful people. They could see in Hosea’s faithfulness to Gomer a visible illustration of God’s unfailing love toward them. Hosea’s marriage was part of God’s kindness in leading his people to repentance.

Joshua’s statement is more typical: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). Stuart Briscoe helpfully suggests that this statement is a paradigm for we should view the relationship between our ministries in our families and our ministries in our churches. He writes:

This statement assumes that a believing household will embrace “Service” as a dominant life principle. Furthermore, service as a dominating principle will inform the minds, govern the attitudes, and motivate the actions of the whole household. The family then becomes not a self-serving entity primarily concerned with its own well-being—which is not unimportant of course!—but a committed community in which service and sacrifice for a cause even greater than the family becomes cohesive and normative. In this way, ministry ceases to be a threat to the family, and the family no longer sees itself as an alternative to ministry. Rather, the family becomes the arena in which ministry thrives and ministry becomes the environment in which the family matures.

Maturing Family and Thriving Ministry

I’m thankful my marriage to Kate and our parenting of our three children—now 18, 16, and 12—have all taken place in the context of an active ministry in a local church. We’ve learned in the process that our family is not the center of the universe—God is. At times the demands of ministry have pressed upon our family; but rather than taking from us, the ministry has enhanced us by giving us opportunities to count others more significant than ourselves (Phil. 2:3).

I’m also thankful for the many ways fathering has taught me patience and gentleness, which I’m constantly in need of cultivating in my life as a pastor.

I rejoice in the many ways God has used the body of Christ to develop and to train me as a father and a husband. I remember well in the early years of our ministry how one of our elders came to our home regularly and prayed for us. He was the elder assigned to oversee our youth ministry, but instead of demanding an inventory for how the ministry was going, he was always more concerned about how we were doing as a couple, how our children were doing, and what God was doing in us spiritually. Recently I sat down with one of our elders and shared some of my fears and concerns about parenting, and the words of encouragement he shared with me that morning were both instructive and hope-giving.

I’m grateful for how my marriage has taught me to love the bride of Christ. On January 29, 2010, just a month after celebrating my wife’s 40th birthday, we were shocked to discover that she suffered from a rare and advanced form of cancer. My faithful wife and dearest friend was already in an oncological emergency by the time we discovered it, and the following year was spent in an aggressive battle against the disease, including a major surgery to remove her right lung.

I’ll never forget walking into her room in the ICU the evening of her day-long surgery. She was at her absolute weakest physically, but she’s never been lovelier to me. When I saw her, the words of the Song of Solomon described how I felt: “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you” (Song 4:7). That’s how God will view his people, clothed in the spotless robes of righteousness, when we stand before him “guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8).

As my wife suffered, our love for one another flourished. So did our love for Christ’s church. If this love we share as husband and wife even faintly echoes God’s eternal, unchangeable, covenant love for his people, then his love is “vast as an ocean.”

When we discovered Kate’s cancer, we were in the midst of the most significant ministry transition of our lives. Only two weeks earlier, our elders had met with the elders of another church to begin considering whether it was God’s plan for our two churches to unite together to form a new church in our community. I remember my first thoughts as I sat in the emergency room: there’s no way this conversation should go forward now—not with everything we’re going to be facing as a family.

Then our dear friends, Pastor Mike and Bev Bullmore, came to the hospital to visit us. When I shared with Mike my reluctance to continue the conversation about the church merger, Mike looked intently into my eyes and said, “David, what God has joined together, do not separate.” He told me that God had a design for my family and for my ministry so that these two would enhance one another. Our experiences of God’s sustaining grace over the past two years have only served to prove the wisdom of those words.

Worth Reading–May 23, 2012

This is great stuff from Ed Welch!

Jesus Wants to Trade
By Ed Welch

When Jesus touched or was purposefully touched, there was a lot happening. He was showing his solidarity with outcasts. He was identifying with them. Of that, there is no doubt. When you see people purposefully touching, you know they are at least good friends. But if that’s all Jesus did, it would have been a nice but empty gesture. The outcasts would have felt temporary comfort but no real change in status. So there was much more happening. The accumulating references to “power” give it away.

With every intentional touch there was a transaction being made. “Power” goes out from Jesus to the person who was touched. Splice together various Scriptures and you will see that power is a loaded term that includes:

Holiness conferred (consecration)
Forgiveness of sins
Cleansing and purification
Healing
Identification with Jesus’ status

Meanwhile, the unclean person gave something to Jesus, the scapegoat. He or she gave:

Sins
Shameful acts
Victimization and its contamination
Disease

This is the gospel: God touches us.

All the talk about cleanness and uncleanness points to this divine touch. This is what the universe itself was waiting for. It is an unbalanced transaction that displaces our shame and replaces it with holiness. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). With our touch, Jesus becomes our scapegoat. In his touch, Jesus takes our sin and absorbs our shame (Ps. 69:9; Rom. 15:3), and we receive his righteousness. If you prefer symmetry in your relationships, in which you give a gift of similar value to the one you receive, you have not yet touched Jesus.

This is faith: we reach out and touch the holy One.

Faith means we believe that the kingdom of heaven has come to us in Christ. It means we believe there is hope in Jesus and only in him. It means we believe that rescue, healing, covering, acceptance, and cleansing are possible, and possible only in Jesus. Faith—or touching Jesus—means saying, “Jesus, I need you.”

It sounds easy but, like all things spiritual, faith is evidence of supernatural power at work in us. Left to ourselves, we instinctively turn inward rather than put our trust and confidence in Jesus. You know this instinct. We call it self-protection, though it is more accurately called unbelief.

Shame has a natural affinity with self-protection and unbelief. It hides from others, feels undeserving of anything good, and believes it will contaminate whatever comes close. But look at what happened when Jesus came. Unclean people suddenly were filled with hope. Instead of hiding from the world, they became indifferent to the derision of the relatively clean townspeople and boldly went out to see Jesus. When they saw him, they felt compelled to touch him because they understood that their salvation was near. They came alive!

Watch them as they sit in the filth of their daily lives. Watch them as they hear rumors of someone who cares and has power. Watch them stand up when they receive news that Jesus is approaching. Watch their steps quicken when they hear the crowd. Watch them become an unstoppable force when they see him. Don’t get in the way of someone who is both desperate and hopeful when the King is near.

These are the men and women of faith.

Join them. Don’t be one who happens to bump into Jesus in a crowded marketplace. Instead, join those who purposefully touched him.

Please, join them.