A few months ago I sat with two men and discussed the ministry over lunch. One was a young pastor, having been ordained and in the ministry for a short time. The other was his intern; a young fellow who was assisting and beginning his preparations for the ministry.
The pastor asked me what advice I would give his intern as he prepares for the ministry. I responded by saying, "If you can do anything else, do it."
This answer encapsulated two things. First, it has in focus the fact that a man must be impelled to preach and pastor. That is to say, he must have that drive that Jeremiah had wherein he had a fire in his bones that could not be put out. It is the heart of the Apostle Paul who was compelled to preach and said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel."
In sum, I mean that there is nothing else he can do. Sales will not fit him. Mechanics is not satisfying, however noble that calling may be for others. There is simply a compulsion that rages within him to the exclusion of everything else.
Secondly, when I say "If you can do anything else, do it," I express something of the pain of the pastorate. Church leadership is difficult and fraught with all kinds of sorrow. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet for good reason. You cannot downgrade in any way the hardships Paul faced either.
The pastorate comes with tears. Over the years I have lost several of my best friends. They were not only parishioners for whom I prayed and labored, neither were they simply endeared colleagues and co-laborers. They were people with whom I spent absurd amounts of time and had a bosom bond. We shared our lives and laughed together. Then, in almost an instant, they were against me and gone.
Such loss was worse than a friend dying because they were very much alive. They were alienated not by death, but by hatred and faction. I readily confess that it would be better to have lost them to death, because we could part in peace and a spirit of unity. But the losses I experienced were deeper and harder.
To be sure, such can be the lot of any Christian. This is not merely indicative of leadership, but it is expressive of it. Leaders will be called to "endure hardship." There is a reason why Paul tells Timothy to be a good soldier. The metaphor of being at war and bombarded with hostility is a threat that should not be overlooked.
So I reiterate: if you can do anything else, do it. The ministry is not for the faint of heart.
I've started a series of articles on Christian parenting in the Hopewell Weekly. As such, I'm pursuing a number of parenting books, including Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Tedd Tripp and Give them Grace, by Elyse Fitzpatrick.
Both books talk about the danger of moralism, that is, training your children with law and not with grace. Our duty as parents is not just to make them good and control behavior, but to help them understand the gospel in the midst of their behavior problems.
I appreciate the lessons in these books. They are extremely valuable. But want to add one more-- one from which only Presbyterians can benefit. Presbyterians have an advantage when it comes to presenting grace to their children. It lies in the fact that our children are sealed with the sign of grace at the very outset of their lives. In other words, our children have been baptized as infants.
Baptism is a testimony of God's grace. It confirms the fact that God is pleased to wash away our sins and welcome us into His fold. It reminds us that salvation is of the Lord and that we are completely powerless and undeserving. This is beautifully testified to in an infant baptism. Grace flows down upon the head of a weak, wretched sinner in his/her diapers.
Here is the key for parenting: this sign and seal continues to be a useful tool as they grow up. Baptism isn't supposed to be something that is forgotten or disposed of with the changing of their baptismal diaper. Children need to be reminded of it continually through their life. It's reality and meaning should be impressed upon them repeatedly as they grow up. Or, as the Westminster Confession says, their baptism should be "improved" over the whole course of their lives.
Here's what I mean: Let's say Johnny is duking it out with his little brother. You come in and peel Johnny off and rescue the younger sibling from being pummelled. Now, of course, Johnny needs disciplined. He needs to be told that his anger is sinful and his actions are wrong. He needs exhorted to love his brother and treat him with respect. But Johnny also needs the gospel.
Johnny needs to be reminded that the Lord is gracious and willing to forgive. He needs to understand that through Christ reformation is possible.
This is where his baptism is useful. Why should Johnny be kind to his brother? "You've been baptized," a parent can say. "Johnny, remember that you've been baptized. The Lord has promised salvation. The Lord washes away sin." "The Lord has put his mark upon you. The Lord has graciously taken you as His own and set you apart unto Him."
Lectures are good. Conversations needed. But verbal communication often fails and your earnest exhortations can fall on deaf ears. This is where the sacraments are so keenly applicable. The eye (or the mind's eye, as the case may be) can see. The image of water, the sign of God's covenant, the visible memorial of Christ' precious blood, can still have the power to humble and induce true service.
In sum, I wish to exhort those of us not to be baptistic in our parenting. We have the advantage of a powerful means of grace. We present children for baptism that they may know grace from the very first moments of their lives. We as parents should then let it echo on down through their days. As long as they are in our household, we should hold forth the promises of their baptism.
A tool for Christian nurture is at our disposal. Let us use it profusely, and let grace of it ring forth loud and clear.
Do not be anxious. Fear not. Let not your heart be troubled. Do not be weighed down with the cares of life.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Easier said than done, right?
The Bible is replete with commands not to worry. The admonitions against it are so clear and repetative that one can easily become worried about becoming worried!
But God's word is clear: We must wage war on worry. We have a duty to not let ourselves be distracted with it or dominated by it.
But how do we do this? How can we experience sanctification in this area?
The first step is to confess it and take responsibility for it. That is to say, when thoughts begin to race around in our minds and we become obsessed with particular situations (real or fantasized), we must own up to the fact that we are in sin. We are disobeying God.
One of the reasons anxiety persists in our lives is because we fail in this, the most simple and basic part of repentance. Instead of turning to God, we will do one of the following:
1. We blame others - I'm worried because my kid is 10 minutes past curfew. My boss was supposed to tell me if I got the promotion last week. It's not my fault I'm strung out, right? Wrong. You may worry about others, but they are not the cause of your worries. Your anxiety is due only to your own sinful proclivity. Don't pass the buck onto them.
2. We minimize it - To many people, worry is not a sin. We don't want to admit that it is a transgression against God and a form of disobedience. We'd rather think of it as "deep concern" or think of ourselves as having a full heart. But we must be true to Scripture and recognize that it is indeed an offense to our Lord.
3. We excuse it - I have a right to be worried, after all I'm his father/mother. I'm a worrier; it's just who I am. Someone has to be concerned around here. We will come up with all kinds of justifications. We will rationalize our sin into perfect reasonableness. But the truth is, we do not have a right or excuse to be all hot and bothered about anything.
4. We think we have no power over it - I can't stop it. I've been this way all my life. It is a disorder. I can only cope and make do. This is the defeatist mentality. Its saying that redemption isn't possible, so why even try repenting? In the words of Churchill, "Never, never, never give up." The Lord has not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.
5. We gloss over it - For many, worry isn't even considered to be a sin. They don't think of it as being a real infraction against God's law. It could be thought of as a problem or struggle that they have, but not a sin. But Scripture is clear: it is a grave error and serious offense to God. It must be confessed and repented of.
If we are ever going to seek victory over worry, we must wage war on it. This means we must first come to terms with it and own up to it before God. As we begin taking responsibility for our sin and acknowledging our failures to God, we will be well on our way to victory in that battle.
Emotions are God’s creation. They are part of who we are as creatures who were made in his image. We see something of emotional joy and excitement in the very first couple, when Adam first set eyes on Eve and exclaimed, “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” etc.
Christ, in his earthly life, demonstrates the beauty and place of human emotion. He wept and was considered the ‘Man of Sorrows.’ He reclined at table and attended festivals, which implies that he laughed and was merry. He delighted to do God’s will and displayed righteous anger as he confronted the irreligious practices of his day.
In the fall our emotions became subject to sin and misery. God’s curse would produce in man sorrow and sin resulted in a new range of feelings: sadness, anger, despair, loneliness, etc.
Part of the corruption is that we begin to follow our emotions, rather than God’s word. Just as Eve found delight in the fruit and ate of it, we can let our feelings be the guide of our behavior instead of God's word.
Part of our redemption is having our emotions conform to Christ and being subject to God’s will. Part of our sanctification is taking control of our emotions and dictating how they operate.
We are not to follow our feelings or let our emotions dictate our actions. Instead, we are commanded to put our hope in God (Psalm 130), rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 4:4), grieve over sin (James 4:9), be righteously angry, and not let our anger cause us to fall into sin (Eph. 4:26), etc.
At the same time we should recognize that emotions can be indications of a deeper problems in our lives; issues of sin and misbehavior.
For instance, a depressed person is one who has excessive sadness or emotionally low. It may be that they lack joy and vibrancy because they have acted (or reacted) wrongly in some situation. They become melancholy because they are not living the way God would have them. Their sullen state, in this case, is evidence that they need deeper change or redemption.
Another example may be anger. Anger is usually an evidence of deeper issues of selfishness or self-centeredness. One becomes enraged because they do not get what they want or they lack control.
To be sure, there can be expressions of righteous anger. But in many cases, the emotion of anger, is representative of a heart that is out of align with God.
Question 4: How and why did God create us?
God created us male and female in his own image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
In a day where we are considered meaningless blobs of plasma that have no purpose in life and don’t know which bathroom to use, this catechism sums up for us a few hallmark truths.
If there was ever a thing we needed in our day, it is a good anthropology (i.e. understanding of man). Who are we? What are we? What in the world are we doing on this planet?
This catechism question helps us to put it straight. It tells us three things about ourselves. It tells us that God has given us dignity, definition, and direction.
I. Gives us dignity in regards to our humanity
Evolution has taught that we are nothing more than random accidents. We came up from the primordial slime and are really no different than grass or the cows that chew it. It means you have no dignity or worth. You cut the grass and eat cows, why not mow down humans and eat them?
Jean Paul Sartre said it doesn’t matter if you help the old lady cross the road, or run her down. What matters is that you choose. If man has no worth, why not abort him?
Self-esteem movement stabs itself in the back. They try to teach you that you are special and should feel good about yourself. But if you are a meaningless bag of goo, there’s not much to feel good about, is there?
This is why Christianity is distinct and needed. According to our original design, we are special. We have immense worth. We are created in the image of God and that means there is something quite unique about us.
There’s not space to go into what exactly this entails right now, but it is enough to say that we reflect something of God’s character and bear something of God’s likeness. We are not divine, of course; we are definitely human. But God’s likeness is displayed in us and that sets us apart from all other things in creation.
II. Gives us definition in regards to our gender
Yes, that’s right. We find out which bathroom we are supposed to use. We understand that God’s word clears up all the confusion when it comes to today’s gender wars. Guys are guys; girls are girls.
Today people are saying that you have to choose which you are (boy or girl, or non-binary, or bi-sexual) and figure out what you feel like. It is almost like pulling up to the drive through at McDonalds and determining which on the menu you prefer.
If you have an evolutionary worldview, that makes sense. It is terrible. It is destructive. It is not in the least bit healthy. But that is a logical conclusion of that worldview.
But that worldview is wrong. The truth is you do not self-identify. It is not up to you or your feelings. God defines the sexes and he sets the boundaries, just as he sets the boundaries of the ocean or makes a difference between the sun and the moon.
In sum, when it comes to one of the most important questions in life: that is who you are, who you are to marry, and where you go to the bathroom, God doesn’t leave us in the dark. The answer is plain because God has given us a definitive answer in his word.
So you see, because of what Scripture tells us, we have dignity and definition. But there's one other thing we have, and that is direction.
III. Gives us direction in regards to our lives
The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what we should be when we grow up. But it does give us some general guidance. It at least points us in the right direction by telling us that we are to glorify God.
God is to be served and our gifts and graces are supposed to be put in service to him. If you are preaching the gospel or inventing transistors or welding metal, this is to be done for God.
It is not to be done for your wife. It is not to be done for your kids or your boss. All that you do, whether you eat or drink, is to be done for God.
How important it is that our lives be lived in subservience to him! Why? Because you can't glorify God if you are not doing what he commands.
One of the things that has been on my mind lately is that young, zealous faith. I want to see people who have that youthful zeal for God. A kind of person who says with vigor, “God is supreme. My life revolves around God. His worship, his honor, his glory is what I seek. And I want nothing else in this world.”
That is the direction we are supposed to be heading. And if you put that first--if the Lord is your pursuit, then you are definitely heading in the right of way.
Almighty God and Heavenly Father,
You are the king of kings, to whom all are accountable and from whom all earthly powers derive their authority.
We beseech you today to grant your favor upon these your servants, that they may be fitly suited to conduct their business and fulfill all righteousness in their actions.
To that end, allow them to behold with great humility the offices they hold. May you set before them the awe of your having set them over a multitude of people and be humbled by the great power with which you have invested them.
May they revere you and regard your Name as set in the heavens. And let them duly esteem the fact that, by your Sovereign will, they have become stewards of the divine scepter. And with this recollection, may you endow them with the graces fit for their service.
Allow them to dutifully carry out justice with all equity. Let them have no partiality, but let them judge with right judgment, allowing men full opportunity to live, work, and worship.
Give them an awareness of their own limitations and sinful propensity. And guard their hearts from temptation.
As they have charge over other people’s money, let them handle it with care, not seeking selfish gain or lacking in integrity.
Grant them divine wisdom that they may keep their eyes ever upon your law. And so let them govern according to your precepts and commands, and not their own devices.
For this we ask in the Name of our High King and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The story is told of some college students who missed an exam. Their professor had scheduled the end of the semester test, but the young men lamented that they were hindered due to a flat tire. The professor, suspicious that they students had merely skipped the test for a joyride, consented to give the exam on one condition: that they all take the test in different rooms.
The students were thrilled and agreed to the professor’s terms. But when they sat down to take their exam, they found the following:
Question 1: Which tire went flat?
I’m not a statistician, but from my calculations the students have a one in 256 chance of guessing the same tire. If they had made up their story, it would no doubt be exposed.
Now imagine a scenario that is wildly larger. Pretend there were 40 students on an 18 wheel semi-truck. The chances of all 40 students getting the question right rises significantly. To say that the odds of perfect unity are virtually impossible at this point is an understatement.
Now let us expand this illustration to biblical proportions. Imagine 40 men writing 66 whole books (each with an average of 18 chapters each). What is the likelihood of every detail in these documents being perfectly aligned?
Were mere men to attempt such a feat (even of a true story), it would never happen. Errors and contradictions would abound and they would be easily observable.
But what is impossible for man is easy for God. In sum, this is just one of the ways the Spirit of God confirms His unique authorship of Scripture to us. The inspiration of Scripture is vividly displayed in the consent in all its parts.
The Bible is the only book in the world that has an unbroken unity. When you read it and study all its most minute details, you will find that that there is not a single part that contradicts. All of its doctrines perfectly cohere and every one of the historical elements has impeccable chronological harmony.
The wonder of the radical agreement of Scripture is vastly surmounted when you consider that many of the Bible’s authors were not ‘men of letters,’ per se. Think about it:
Being that these untrained men produced works that perfectly corresponded with the rest of Scripture points to the fact that there was something much greater superintending their pens.
We might also add to this that these authors were separated by time and distance. In other words, there isn’t any real room for any sort of collusion or collaboration. But yet their writings, which were produced over the course of some 1500 years, faultlessly synchronize. How can this be? There is no other explanation than that the Holy Spirit was the true and ultimate author.
Finally, we might add one more miraculous item to the equation. The Bible has been read, studied, and attacked more than any other book in the world. Yet, despite being so vehemently assailed, not a single fault has been found in it (at least nothing that could not easily be explained).
If we ever needed assurance that it is the Lord's voice that speaks in Scripture, we certainly have it. And we can set our selves to heeding it knowing that God has given us His perfect truth for life.
"The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty."
Psalms 29:4 ESV
There are many creative works that men have produced that may be said to be “inspirational.”
For instance, Michelangelo's paintings are some of the most brilliant of all time. If you watch the old classic “On the Waterfront” or a modern Spielberg film, you will be mesmerized by the quality of cinematography.
In the literary world, Milton’s Paradise Lost displays the mastery that he had over his pen. The oratory power of the ancient Greeks (people like Cicero, Plato, etc) sets them apart and puts them in the lofty category of “classics” because their rhetorical talent is obvious.
All of these present something of the supreme artistry of mankind. These works have a distinct beauty and demonstrate a higher level of creativity than what you normally find on earth.
But one of the distinct proofs for Scripture being the very word of God is that it has a style that is much more profound than all of these. As you read through the pages of Scripture you cannot help but notice that it exudes a heavenly elegance. Or, as theologians have often said, the Spirit of God verifies the divine origin and unique authority of Scripture in the majestic style that we witness in its pages.
The loftiness of the Bible, it should be noted, is not due to any rhetorical embellishment or sophistication. There is no particular cadence, flashy wording, or theatrical technique employed. If the truth be told, the Bible is unabashedly simple. As a matter of fact, it employs such a plain and ordinary style that small children can read and understand it.
Yet, despite having no excessive color or decoration, it is easy to perceive that “the Holy Scriptures breathe out something divine, and surpass all the gifts and graces of human industry.” (Calvin) Or, in the words of the Apostle Paul, Scripture does not possess “enticing words of man’s wisdom,” but it nevertheless is filled with a “demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
One pastor set forth a challenge to anyone to try and create a document that would rival the Bible's unique majesty. Could someone create a fifth gospel? Could another psalm be composed which would trick men to thinking it was penned by the Holy Spirit? The answer is no. For no man can imitate the supernal style of the Spirit.
In effect, imitations has already been attempted. Many other books could have been chosen to be a part of the Bible in the early centuries. They, however, eventually fell by the wayside. Even today, many books put themselves forward as sacred script. But none are recognized to possess the same grandeur that is found in the Bible.
It is not without reason that the Bible has been called the “God of books” and looked at as the most wonderful literary creation of all time. It declares its own uniqueness in every line. And if one wants proof that God speaks in and through His Word, all we must do is read and listen to it.
Envy has many vile manifestations (complaints, theft, vandalism, and cheating to name a few). But it mainly lurks within and goes unnoticed by the average onlooker.
To be sure, the outward expressions may be likened to the tip of an iceberg sticking out of the water. The greater mass of it lies deep beneath the surface where nobody can see.
Envy is that grief one feels at the fortune of others. One theologian summed it up as an internal "disquietude." That's merely a fancy way of saying that you're irked because someone has something you don't.
The point is that your soul is not displaying the "quiet," peaceful happiness that accompanies contentment. Instead, you're agitated and given to all kinds of unhealthy emotions and imaginations. You brood, murmur, and are angry. You curse under your breath and you devise scenarios in your mind that are not charitable towards others.
Think about how this irritation is displayed in your own life. You may be sad because don't have those granite counter-tops. You mope and are angry because someone else got the promotion. You secretly hope your neighbor hits a speed bump too hard in his new sports car.
Your discontent has not only robbed you of personal peace, happiness, and thankfulness, but it has put you in a frame of mind that is altogether uncharitable.
Since he Lord requires holiness in the inward parts, subduing inward sin is paramount to our sanctification. To this end, be mindful of the following ways to subdue envy:
1. Savor what God has given you and strive to be thankful for it.
2. Strive with diligence to serve God with what you have. If you are faithful in little things, the Lord will likely add more blessings. If you serve him diligently and maintain a sweet comportment are typically God's means to increase.
3. Consider that God may take away what you do have if you make no contentment in it. "Even what he has will be taken away." Those where the words that haunted the unfaithful steward in the Parable of the Talents.
4. Remember that you are rich. You own more than you had when you first entered life. You possess more than all those who have died. Even what you have should not be in your possession due to having sinned against God and forfeited the right to these blessings.
5. Remember that getting what you want may not be good. Rachel's desire for a child was blown way out of proportion. In the end, God gave her a child, and she ended up dying as she gave birth to him.
We are often incredulous about what is reported to exist in foreign lands on earth which we have not seen, and a long time is often necessary before we will believe it.
The king of Siam, when told by the Dutch ambassador that water became so hard in his country that people might walk on it, said, “I have often suspected you of falsehood, but now I know that you lie.”
So incredulous might we be, with our weak faith, if we were told what actually exists in heaven. We should not improbably turn away from it as wholly incredible.
-A. Barnes, Commentary on 2 Corinthians, chapter 12 verse 4
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.