March 23: Exodus 3:5–6; Psalm 22:3; Isaiah 40:25; Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 43:11; Amos 3:3; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Peter 1:15–16; Revelation 4:8; Song of Solomon 1:7; Song of Solomon 3:4; Song of Solomon 4:16–5:1; Isaiah 45:19; Matthew 18...
- Morning: Exodus 3:5–6; Psalm 22:3; Isaiah 40:25; Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 43:11; Amos 3:3; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Peter 1:15–16; Revelation 4:8
- Evening: Song of Solomon 1:7; Song of Solomon 3:4; Song of Solomon 4:16–5:1; Isaiah 45:19; Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20; Luke 24:29; John 14:19; Hebrews 13:5; Revelation 3:20
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.—“Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground…. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.—To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.—For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.
But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”—Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.—For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”—“Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?”Exodus 3:5–6 (Listen)
Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
(ESV)Psalm 22:3 (Listen)
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises1 of Israel.
 22:3 Or dwelling in the praises
(ESV)Isaiah 40:25 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 43:3 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 43:11 (Listen)
(ESV)Amos 3:3 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Corinthians 6:19 (Listen)
(ESV)2 Corinthians 6:16 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Peter 1:15–16 (Listen)
(ESV)Revelation 4:8 (Listen)
(ESV)Evening: Song of Solomon 1:7; Song of Solomon 3:4; Song of Solomon 4:16–5:1; Isaiah 45:19; Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20; Luke 24:29; John 14:19; Hebrews 13:5; Revelation 3:20 Song of Solomon 1:7; Song of Solomon 3:4; Song of Solomon 4:16–5:1; Isaiah 45:19; Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20; Luke 24:29; John 14:19; Hebrews 13:5; Revelation 3:20
But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us.”
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”—Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon; for why should I be like one who veils herself beside the flocks of your companions?—I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go.
Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.—I came to my garden.—“I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’”
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”—“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”—“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”—“The world will see me no more, but you will see me.”Song of Solomon 1:7 (Listen)
(ESV)Song of Solomon 3:4 (Listen)
(ESV)Song of Solomon 4:16–5:1 (Listen) Together in the Garden of Love
Let my beloved come to his garden,
and eat its choicest fruits.
He 5 I came to my garden, my sister, my bride,
I gathered my myrrh with my spice,
I ate my honeycomb with my honey,
I drank my wine with my milk.
Others Eat, friends, drink,
and be drunk with love!
(ESV)Isaiah 45:19 (Listen)
I did not speak in secret,
in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
‘Seek me in vain.’1
I the LORD speak the truth;
I declare what is right.
 45:19 Hebrew in emptiness
(ESV)Matthew 18:20 (Listen)
(ESV)Matthew 28:20 (Listen)
(ESV)Luke 24:29 (Listen)
(ESV)John 14:19 (Listen)
(ESV)Hebrews 13:5 (Listen)
(ESV)Revelation 3:20 (Listen)
If observers are right, modern parenthood is in crisis. The titles of some recent books say it all: The Collapse of Parenting, Toxic Childhood, and Spoonfed Generation, to name a few. In spite of our all-consuming desire to give our children the perfect childhood, we seem to be raising a generation that is, in many respects, ill-equipped for life in the real world.
The problem isn’t that we lack information. No, the problem for parents today is that we’ve lost sight of the big picture. We could happily tell you our views on bottle-feeding, childcare, spanking, screen time, or sugar. But few of us could tell you exactly what we’re aiming for or how we plan to get there.
At a time when I was a particularly anxious, aimless parent, I turned to the Bible. Its ancient wisdom turned out to be the perfect antidote to the problems that plague modern parents like me. The Bible contains good news for parents, but it also confronts us with some hard truths. Here are three.1. We’re Responsible for Their Moral Education
In today’s world, parents are taking less and less responsibility for their children’s moral education. In our busy lives, we struggle to commit the time and energy that the task demands. No wonder we expect our children’s schools to pick up the slack.
In the noisy marketplace of parenting advice, it’s easy to get sidetracked.
In a recent study called The Children We Mean to Raise, 80 percent of the young people surveyed said they value personal achievement or happiness over showing concern for others. This came as a complete shock to their parents, who believed the opposite. It’s one thing to hold certain values yourself, but quite another to pass them on to your children.
The Bible describes children as those “who do not yet know good from bad” (Deut. 1:39). Parents bear the primary responsibility for teaching them. Scripture encourages parents to do this by modeling, teaching, encouraging, training, correcting, and disciplining our children, all in the context of a loving and understanding relationship.
But what are the key values we ought to pass on? In the noisy marketplace of parenting advice, it’s easy to get sidetracked.
According to the Bible, the most important thing to teach our children is to love God and neighbor (Matt. 22:37–39). Everything else ought to spring from these foundational values.2. We’re Not Responsible for Their Perpetual Comfort
Modern parenting is often driven by the fear of our children suffering any kind of harm. So we scramble to protect our kids from the slightest difficulty or disappointment. This mentality can result in anxious parents and children who lack resilience and self-confidence.
When we overprescribe the drug of instant comfort, we deny our children the chance to strengthen their immunity to hardship.
By contrast, the Bible prioritizes the development of godly character and values over comfort. The whole project of passing on our values—teaching our children to love God and neighbor—is summarized by the word discipline:
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:10–11)
Hardship can be a powerful tool in our children’s moral education. Our job is not to steer our children around difficulties, but to walk alongside them through it all. When we allow our children to experience small doses of hard things—disappointment, frustration, boredom, delay—we’re helping them develop resilience that will serve them later in life.3. Putting Their Desires First Is Bad for Everyone
Modern parents tend to put their children’s desires before anything else, including their marriage. Unsurprisingly, this results in parents who feel disconnected and taken for granted, and children who always expect to be the center of attention.
Of course, small children have legitimate needs that require attention throughout the day. But as children grow, they need to start seeing themselves as part of a bigger community, in which their needs and desires are balanced with those of the people around them.
Building a strong marriage sometimes means putting our children’s desires second. . . . But putting them second will benefit them in the long run.
The Bible teaches that the surest foundation for family life is a healthy marriage. Researcher Moira Eastman observes:
The parents are the architects of the family system. Their relationship is the foundation stone of the whole family’s wellbeing. In the happiest families, researchers found a unique bond of love between the spouses—a relationship of equals who genuinely respected each other. The marital relationship was the strongest bond in the family. (Quoted in The Making of Love, 141)
Building a strong marriage sometimes means putting our children’s desires second. If we expend all of our time and energy trying to please our children, we’ll have nothing left to give our spouse.
If our marriages are to survive—much less thrive—once we become parents, we must give them the attention they deserve. This means spending quality time together, laboring at communication and conflict resolution, and making sure we are parenting as a team. Though counterintuitive, putting our children second will benefit them in the long run.Don’t Forget the Good News
Parenting is an enormously weighty task. We bear the chief responsibility for our children’s moral education. And this sometimes involves letting them experience difficulties and putting their desires second to our marriage.
We will never do any of this perfectly. But we can always run like little children into the arms of our loving Father, and rest in his inexhaustible forgiveness and strength. And we don’t have to do it alone. We are part of God’s big family of faith—a whole community that longs to see the next generation love others for the love of God.
- Good News for Modern Parents (Harriet Connor)
Sitting in the pews of every church are men and women struggling with the excruciating pain of childlessness. For some, it might be infertility, trying month after month to get pregnant with no success. For others, it might be miscarriage, the death of an anticipated little one that’s left them heartbroken.
Regardless of the particular circumstances, childlessness can be one of the most difficult and devastating trials that somebody can experience.
Living in the nightmare of infertility cuts to the core of the way humanity was designed. One of the first charges the Lord gave Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply. When a couple struggles to bear babies, they can quickly feel guilt and shame over their inability to fulfill that most basic command.
I’m all too familiar with the ache to be a mother, but natural motherhood won’t come. With a tear-stained face, I’ve entered into the greatest wrestling match of my life with the Lord. God, I don’t understand! Why have you placed this longing on my heart, only to leave me with an unfulfilled desire? Over the years, I’ve shared the cries of my heart with close friends and trusted companions in my church, and they’ve helped me walk through my sorrow.
The church should be the safest place on earth for those struggling with infertility.
The church should be the safest place on earth for those struggling with infertility. A place where people feel cared for, heard, understood, and loved. Below are four suggestions for pastors, elders, and church members to ensure that your church is that kind of place for the childless.1. Remind People that Grief Can Be Godly
Those grieving childlessness are grieving a dream deferred. As Proverbs 13:12 says, a hope deferred makes the heart sick.
So come alongside the childless and grieve with them. Remind them it’s okay to feel the hurt, pain, and loss. They don’t have to quickly “get over” their sorrow, for they have a Savior who’s well acquainted with grief and is himself a man of sorrows (Isa. 53:3). Encourage them to press their grief into the arms of the Beloved, who knows their pain.2. Preach Sermons on the Bible’s Childless Characters
Pastors, make it a point to regularly incorporate the childless into sermons. The Bible you’re called to preach is full of women who struggled with the longing to be a mother (e.g., Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth).
So dive into these passages and proclaim gospel-centered sermons that will encourage weary souls going through those same experiences.3. Pray for—and with—the Childless
David was bold in his prayers. He knew where to take his questions, grief, pain, and longings—straight to the heart of his Father. Prayer should be the first thing Christians do with and for the childless, and we should pray like David. He wasn’t afraid of sharing exactly what was on his mind and heart. In Psalm 13, he bluntly asks God how long he’ll have to suffer. David felt forgotten, and he bent the ear of heaven in his sorrow and frustration:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Ps. 13:1–2)
Hannah, a woman who intimately knew the pain of infertility, wasn’t shy to bring her tears before the Lord either. Scripture says she was “deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly.” Hannah’s prayers were so fervent, in fact, that Eli the priest thought she was drunk.
May we take seriously the charge to weep with those who weep, and may we come alongside the suffering with bold, honest prayers to the Lord. Never underestimate the power of prayer.4. Point Their Eyes to the Lord
The most important thing a congregation can do is redirect the gaze of the childless to Christ, but Christians can unintentionally do this in a callous way. Don’t point them to the Lord to make yourself feel more comfortable. Don’t swoop in and slap Bible verses on their suffering. Yes, the Word of God is inerrant and sufficient, but it shouldn’t be wielded as a quick fix.
Don’t swoop in and slap Bible verses on suffering. Yes, the Word of God is inerrant and sufficient, but it shouldn’t be wielded as a quick fix.
Instead, give them room to grieve the loss of their dream or the loss of their baby. Learn to sit with someone in their grief and gently point their eyes to the Lord in the midst of their trial. One of the most comforting verses in the Bible is Revelation 21:4, where the Lord promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes. Until that day, remember that he is present as each tear falls. Suffering is inevitable while we live in a fallen world, but may we strive so that no one suffers alone.
Jared Wilson always seems to get me.
Whenever I read his books, I feel like he’s in the room, responding to my questions and thoughts. His writing is that accessible and enjoyable, and his latest book, Supernatural Power for Everyday People: Experiencing God’s Extraordinary Spirit in Your Ordinary Life, is no exception.Life-Altering Reality
Wilson’s 10-chapter book on the Holy Spirit focuses on the many ways the third person of the Trinity works in believers, changing us and ultimately pointing us to Jesus Christ. Wilson—director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and TGC blogger—begins by introducing us to Bill, a fictional, everyday guy with a normal routine. But Bill’s issue—and ours—is that he feels as though “there must be something more to life, but he’s not sure what that could be” (xiii). His life lacks power.
Wilson returns to Bill as the book progresses, using his fictional life as an illustration for ours. Bill desperately needs supernatural power—the Spirit’s presence, guidance, strength, counsel, and comfort—as do we. Wilson is “firmly convinced that too many Christians spend most of their lives trying to carry out their everyday routines in their own strength” (xv).
I couldn’t agree more. How many of us are trying to live our days—today, even—in our own power? How many of us need “a peek behind the curtain to the reality of [our] inner lives” (xvi)? Wilson draws back the proverbial curtain, revealing our need for the Holy Spirit and exposing our oft-mistaken understanding of what his power looks like in practice.Spiritual Reality Explained
Wilson clears away unnecessary mysticism as he explains spiritual realities. He does this in The Imperfect Disciple with the concept of discipleship, and he does it in Supernatural Power for Everyday People with the person and work of the Holy Spirit:
The bottom line is this: the Holy Spirit can’t be pumped and scooped. He can’t be slung around, gathered up, or dispensed. He’s not pixie dust. There’s no such thing as the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is not a thing at all, but the very presence of the personal God himself—with us, in us, and around us. (29)
The Holy Spirit can’t be pumped and scooped. He can’t be slung around, gathered up, or dispensed. He’s not pixie dust.
I’ve often wondered what it looks like to walk by the Spirit, as God’s Word commands. Does it mean heeding God’s promptings, or a “still, small voice,” as Christians often say? Does it mean recognizing my sin, confessing it, and walking in holiness? Maybe. But Wilson’s explanation was profoundly simple: “‘Walking by the Spirit’ must entail fixation on Christ” (44). To walk by the Spirit is to keep my eyes on Jesus, which can only happen by his supernatural power.
Mysterious? Yes. Mystical? Not at all.
Wilson is also a compelling storyteller, which helps his readers see mysterious, divine realities more clearly. Alongside Bill’s fictional stories, Wilson shares stories from his pastoral years, from a season of intense suffering, and from other pastors and writers to show what the Spirit’s supernatural work looks like in our everyday lives. Through stories and illustrations, Wilson provides fresh takes on ancient truths.Holy Spirit of Prosperity?
I especially appreciated Wilson’s critique of the prosperity gospel. Many who pick up Supernatural Power for Everyday People will believe this false gospel, and they desperately need clarity for the sake of their souls. Wilson passionately provides that clarity when he writes:
We think, If I try hard enough, if I do well enough, if I just accomplished this or achieve that, then I will finally be satisfied. And it never works, does it? It never works because the things we’re trusting in don’t work. But they also never work because the things we’re trying to satisfy usually aren’t our biggest problems. Most of us just want health and security. Meanwhile, God wants to rescue us from corruption and condemnation and reconcile us to himself as beloved children of the King. (22)
In a culture where the gospel has been watered down, distorted, and discarded altogether, Wilson’s emphasis on knowing and guarding the gospel couldn’t be more important. For this reason, his book is an excellent resource for pastors, ministry directors, and lay leaders who need to understand what their congregations may believe about the Holy Spirit—and how to steer them toward truth.Holy Spirit of Hope
For me, the most powerful aspect of Wilson’s book came near the end, when he cites Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” I reflected on how God has sustained me, body and soul, through many hard years of physical suffering. He has filled me with his joy and peace and made me full of hope in Christ. This was no unknowable “magic”; it was a supernatural reality—power from God’s Spirit.
I finished Supernatural Power for Everyday People freshly thankful for the indwelling Spirit of God, who has sustained me, pointed me to truth, and grown my desire to know the Son.
I commend Wilson’s comprehensive, practical treatment of the Spirit to both mature and new Christians alike. May you know the powerful comfort of the One who indwells you.
“I would define art as our finite attempt [to reflect God] by creating something from nothing and saying it is good. We are not able to create something from nothing in a literal sense . . . but we are able to make masterpieces out of what may seem insignificant.” — Jackie Hill Perry.
Date: April 4, 2017
Event: The Gospel Coalition 2017 National Conference
You can listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast here.
- How to Discourage Artists in the Church
- How Art Moved Me Beyond the Cliché
- Jackie Hill Perry on Poetry and Rap (video)
Find more audio and video from TGC17 on the conference media page.
As someone who studies and teaches the Bible for a living, I have never quite figured out what to expect from biblical movies. Some are faithful but abysmally made. Others are less faithful but artistically effective.
Filmmakers who adapt biblical material must be clear on what their purpose is and how to get their point across. They can’t cover it all, nor can they just fling scriptural words on screen and hope they stick. They must cut, rearrange, adapt for effect. It’s a risky endeavor, to be sure, but one that can reap rewards if it moves audiences to discover or rediscover the Bible.
Ultimately we should hold the makers of biblical movies to the same standards we do of other movies. We should ask, Did the filmmakers create an effective movie for their specific purpose, or not?Movie on Paul the Sufferer
This is the question we should ask of Affirm Films (the studio behind Fireproof and Facing the Giants) and their new movie, Paul, Apostle of Christ, directed by Andrew Hyatt.
Surprisingly few movies have been made about the man who carried Christianity to the known world. Besides Jesus, the apostle Paul is the most famous person in both the New Testament and the subsequent history of Christianity.
There are many ways a film could tell Paul’s story, which pulses with drama. In Scripture we have narratives of his conversion, his missionary journeys, and how he dealt with issues in different churches. He traveled thousands of miles to plant churches, and experienced violence, imprisonment, and other hardships along the way. Though strong and resilient, in his letters he frequently highlights his weaknesses and suffering.
Paul, Apostle of Christ focuses on the end of Paul’s life, showcasing his limitations. We see this in the film’s opening images, which don’t illustrate Paul’s vigor but rather his feebleness and pain. He stands in a dark prison with a back bloodied from whippings. A light shines in on his face, showing a full beard and a bald head. He is an old man who can barely stand up straight.
Though the film is set in Paul’s final days, periodic flashbacks illustrate episodes from the apostle’s earlier life—including his persecution of other Christians, which causes him deep regret. He knows he is the worst of sinners and doesn’t deserve the mercy of the Savior.
The movie interweaves three storylines. First, Paul (James Faulkner) is imprisoned in Rome in AD 67 as Nero accuses him and other Christians of burning Rome. Luke (Jim Caviezel) comes to visit the imprisoned apostle, and later recounts Paul’s life in the writing of Acts. The second storyline concerns Luke and Paul’s relationship with Mauritius (Olivier Martinez), the Roman guard over the prison. Finally, the movie pairs Paul’s suffering with the Christian community in Rome (led by Priscilla and Aquila), who are in hiding under threat of persecution.
Unlike other Christian films that tell redemption stories through retribution (God’s Not Dead, for example), this one shows Paul and the Christians refusing to retaliate in the face of persecution.
Paul, Apostle of Christ centers on the hope-filled suffering of early Christians. Unlike other Christian films that tell redemption stories through retribution (God’s Not Dead, for example), this one shows Paul and other Christians refusing to retaliate in the face of persecution. They choose to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors (Matt. 5:44). In many ways, this is the movie’s most powerful message. Christianity (or The Way) is rightly presented as a minority movement under duress. They are burned, beaten, and killed—yet they refuse to take up the sword, opting instead for the way of death and love.Historically Accurate?
Is Paul, Apostle of Christ historically accurate? Though this is not the only question we should ask of the film, it’s an important one.
We should note that any translation to a different medium must take editorial license. Even the Gospel writers don’t use the exact words of Jesus (he spoke in Aramaic), but they capture the heart of his words in Greek.
We should also note that the film focuses on a stage of Paul’s life about which we have little information. Second Timothy is our only source for Paul’s life at this stage, and Paul makes only a few veiled comments about himself.
We do know that Paul was imprisoned in Rome twice: once on house arrest (AD 62) and then likely martyred in his second imprisonment (AD 64–67) under Nero (see Eusebius Church History 2.25; 3:1). We also know that Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome. And Luke was indeed a travel companion of Paul (Col. 4:14; Philem. 24); Paul explicitly says Luke is with him in 2 Timothy 4:11.
It’s likely Luke wrote Acts earlier (AD 62–64), however, since he doesn’t mention Paul’s second Roman imprisonment, nor the Neronian persecution. It’s possible Acts was written later (AD 70), which would line up with the film, but there’s no evidence Luke traveled to Rome to get the story chronicled in Acts. It’s also unlikely Priscilla and Aquila would have been in Rome at the time. They are from Italy (Acts 18:1–2), Paul meets them in Corinth, and he brings them with him to Syria (Acts 18:18). When he writes to Rome he says to greet them (Rom 16:3), but he also says the same in 2 Timothy 4:19. Timothy is in Ephesus; therefore Priscilla and Aquila must be in Ephesus, too.Effective?
Is Paul, Apostle of Christ effective for its purpose? Yes and no.
The film successfully shows the suffering, non-retaliating community of Christians in Rome, including a few powerful scenes that reached heights I did not expect. Artistically the film does not feel like a low-budget Christian film, and the photographic use of light and dark is particularly effective.
But the film struggles at times from a tendency to “overspeak,” a common fault of Christian movies. What should be said subtly or in a whisper is shouted from a rooftop. What should be measured in ounces is weighed by metric tons. What could be cut is added for audience satisfaction.
The film struggles at times from a tendency to ‘overspeak,’ a common fault of Christian movies. What should be said subtly or in a whisper is shouted from a rooftop.
The film contains some cringeworthy moments that detract from its powerful themes. For example, consider this dialogue between Paul and Luke as they’re walking in a Roman garden:
Paul: To live is Christ, to die is gain.
Luke: I like that one.
Paul: Write it down.
Paul: If we live, we live for the Lord. If we live or die, we die for the Lord. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
Luke: That’s brilliant. I now have an ending. “For two whole years . . .”
This highlights the weakest part of the movie: its lack of subtlety.
Films about Paul shouldn’t need to have Paul quoting Scripture and Luke saying he will write it down. They don’t need to highlight the same point again and again. They need to develop their characters and not force them to over-act.
Films like Paul, the Apostle could scale things way back and still manage to communicate the beauty of faith (more powerfully, I think) through silence, facial expressions, even just eyes.Finishing the Race
One scene where the Scripture-as-dialogue motif actually works is at the end. We hear Paul’s words to Timothy (Faulkner’s voice does work great as a Paul figure) in voiceover as he limps to his place of execution: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. The Lord be with your Spirit.” He serenely places his head down and, before the sword comes crashing down, the camera pans up to the sky. “Grace be with you all.”
In a flawed film, this high moment captures its strengths around the themes of suffering and hope. Paul’s departure is an imitation of the sacrifice of Christ, whose glory comes not by bypassing suffering and death, but by bearing it.
My wife and I have five children. Our oldest two have exited childhood and are adventuring into the uncharted territory of young adulthood. Our younger three are navigating the tricky waters of adolescence. As parents, we have the sacred, marvelous, daunting, and sometimes painful privilege of sharing in all these unique life-journeys.
As a rule, I am slow to offer parenting advice. We are still too much in the thick of it to be qualified experts. Most of the time we’re looking to receive, not dispense, counsel.
And one wonderful new source of counsel we’ve discovered is our (now) adult children. Their experiences of childhood and adolescence, and the good and not-so-good ways we parented them, are still fresh. But there’s sufficient distance for them to maturely reflect on their experiences and enough trust between us (thank you, God!) for them to share with us honestly. It’s precious and humbling when your child matures into your counselor.Where It All Begins for Children
Recently, my wife was sharing with one of our adult children some of the spiritual wrestlings and questions of their younger siblings. Our adult child replied, “That’s where it all begins.”
This was the wise reply of one whose wisdom was hard won. They spoke from experience, having endured difficult and sometimes dark seasons of profound spiritual struggles during their own adolescence. And they discovered in these seasons what nearly all saints discover sooner or later: the Light of the world shines brightest in the darkness — in our own darkness (John 1:5). Coming to really see, savor, treasure, and trust Jesus Christ almost always begins in a crisis.
And this has unnerving implications for Christian parents: if our children are going to see the Light, they very likely must endure darkness. Which means we will endure it with them, and experience a powerlessness over the outcome we find hard to bear.
As parents, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to protect our children from the forces of evil and sin in the world, which we should. And we try hard to point them to the gospel so they escape the horrible slavery of their own sin, which we should. We comfort, reassure, and counsel; we admonish, reprove, and rebuke, which we should.
But all the efforts we pour into protecting and teaching our children can make us susceptible to the deception, even if we know better, that if we do our job right, our children will sail from young childhood into adulthood on untroubled seas, arriving with a robust faith in Christ. We forget that this wasn’t even Christ’s own experience in “parenting” his disciples. It was on the troubled sea, not on tranquil waters, where the disciples began to grasp what faith really means (Luke 8:22–25).
Our children may have to ride on a violent sea, one we fear will swallow them, before they really learn to fear and trust Christ. As parents, then, we must prayerfully prepare for when those sea billows roll, because it will be a scary ride for us too.Faithfully Parenting
While I’m reluctant to give parenting advice, my wife and I have ridden enough waves with our children to share some lessons, not as an expert on parenting through a child’s faith crisis, but as a fellow sojourner sharing from my experience — my own faith crises, as well as my children’s.1. Expect your child to experience a faith crisis.
Actually, do more than expect it; pray for it. By “faith crisis,” I don’t mean the loss of faith — a period of apostasy — though for some that may be what a crisis looks like. What I mean is whatever event(s) God knows is needed to call forth real faith in our child — a season or set of circumstances when they are faced with a crisis that forces them to exercise their own faith and experience for themselves that God exists and is the rewarder of those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Praying for our child’s faith crisis sounds strange, I know. But if we want our child’s deepest joy, we will pray for the testing of their faith (James 1:2–4).2. Expect your child’s crisis will be different from yours.
God has taught you to walk by faith, and not by sight, in particular ways. But it’s likely that he will deal differently with your child. They may struggle in ways and over issues and questions you haven’t. The unfamiliar may seem frightening. But it’s not unfamiliar to God.3. Expect to feel somewhat helpless.
There comes a point when God decides to use means quite apart from us to teach our children to trust him. He doesn’t typically inform us in advance when he begins. We just rather suddenly find ourselves on the periphery of our child’s struggles, not allowed the same access or influence we used to have (or thought we had). We’re unsure where this car is going, and it’s not in our power to steer it. We must resist panicking or the urge to try to seize the wheel, both of which only tend to make things worse. Such a moment often becomes a faith crisis for us too, where we must learn to trust God with our children in whole new ways.4. Seek to be a safe place in a crisis.
During one point of crisis, one of my children confided that they didn’t feel safe discussing with me certain theological questions they were wrestling through. Their dad was a ministry co-founder and bi-vocational pastor at our church. It felt like there was only one acceptable place to land.
Since then, I have tried to share with all my children more of my own faith journey, crises and all, that brought me to where I now am. And I’m seeking to be more explicit with my children that, while I hold my theological convictions sincerely, I do not expect them to uncritically adopt them from me, or necessarily arrive quickly in adolescence where it’s taken me years, and plenty of testing, to reach.
We can’t always control whether we are perceived as a safe place to our children, but as much as possible, we must seek to be a safe place for them to discuss hard questions and to be in process without judgment. It’s not easy for an invested parent. But we must strive to be (especially) quick to hear and slow to speak.5. Do not mistake a chapter for the story.
We must try to keep our child’s faith crisis in perspective — no matter how long. We are not God. We do not have foreknowledge. We must not assume we know how the story will end. Most biblical characters had life chapters that looked like their train was going off the rails at some point.6. Aim for faithfulness.
We are not the authors of our children’s story. Neither are they. God is the Author. God does not call us to determine the outcome of our children’s faith. He calls us to “dwell in the land [of parenting] and befriend faithfulness” (Psalm 37:3). Our aim is to follow Jesus faithfully, speak what he gives us to say faithfully, and to love the children God gives us as well as we can, come what may.7. Pray without ceasing.
Part of faithfulness is not to cease praying for our children to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3) and filled with the knowledge of God’s will with all spiritual wisdom and insight (Colossians 1:9).8. Trust God.
This is the beginning and the end of parenting our children, whether on stormy waves or still waters. We want our children to reach maturity in Christ. “For this [we] toil, struggling with all [God’s] energy that he powerfully works within [us]” (Colossians 1:29). But we do not trust ultimately in our toil; we trust ultimately in God’s power. And when our children endure various crises of faith, we “wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).Where It All Begins
So much more can and should be said. I’m very aware that our children’s faith crises, and what has precipitated them, and how long they last, are as varied as people and experiences vary. I know as parents these can be frightening moments because, for some, a crisis results in the rejection rather than the realization of faith. But even then, it’s not the end of the story.
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It’s for the heart of faith, the one for whom God is the strength of their heart (Psalm 73:26). He is the author and perfecter of our faith — and our children’s faith (Hebrews 12:2). As the great cloud of biblical and historical witnesses remind us (Hebrews 12:1), often, when a crisis hits, that’s where it all begins.
Has a husband and father failed in his God-given responsibility if his family is suffering when he could have prevented it?
“If I love God, I must love people. I don’t have the choice to choose when.”
Jackie Hill Perry—writer, speaker, and artist—discusses the urgency of love for the least of these in light of the gospel.
Editors’ note: We invite you to join the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition at a special event, “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” taking place April 3–4, 2018, in Memphis, Tennessee.
Register today: MLK50conference.com.
God is at work in your heart, in your home, and in your church. But he’s also at work across the globe. There is nowhere he is not on the move.
March 22: Genesis 13:10–11; Luke 17:32; 2 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 6:17; Galatians 6:7; Ephesians 5:7–8; Ephesians 5:10–11; 2 Peter 2:7–8; Joshua 14:12; Judges 6:12; Judges 6:14; Psalm 71:16; Isaiah 32:17; Ephesians 6:12–14; Hebrews 13:5–6
- Morning: Genesis 13:10–11; Luke 17:32; 2 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 6:17; Galatians 6:7; Ephesians 5:7–8; Ephesians 5:10–11; 2 Peter 2:7–8
- Evening: Joshua 14:12; Judges 6:12; Judges 6:14; Psalm 71:16; Isaiah 32:17; Ephesians 6:12–14; Hebrews 13:5–6
And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley.
Lot… that righteous man.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.—“Remember Lot's wife.”
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?… “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing.”—Therefore do not associate with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light… and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.Genesis 13:10–11 (Listen)
And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other.
(ESV)Luke 17:32 (Listen)
(ESV)2 Corinthians 6:14 (Listen) The Temple of the Living God
(ESV)2 Corinthians 6:17 (Listen)
(ESV)Galatians 6:7 (Listen)
(ESV)Ephesians 5:7–8 (Listen)
(ESV)Ephesians 5:10–11 (Listen)
(ESV)2 Peter 2:7–8 (Listen)
and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard);
(ESV)Evening: Joshua 14:12; Judges 6:12; Judges 6:14; Psalm 71:16; Isaiah 32:17; Ephesians 6:12–14; Hebrews 13:5–6 Joshua 14:12; Judges 6:12; Judges 6:14; Psalm 71:16; Isaiah 32:17; Ephesians 6:12–14; Hebrews 13:5–6
“It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”
He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”—With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.
And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness…. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.—“The Lord is with you…. Go in this might of yours.”Joshua 14:12 (Listen)
So now give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said.”
(ESV)Judges 6:12 (Listen)
(ESV)Judges 6:14 (Listen)
And the LORD1 turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?”Footnotes
 6:14 Septuagint the angel of the Lord; also verse 16
(ESV)Psalm 71:16 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 32:17 (Listen)
And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust1 forever.
 32:17 Or security
(ESV)Ephesians 6:12–14 (Listen)
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
(ESV)Hebrews 13:5–6 (Listen)
The absurdity of sin: In aftermath of Austin bombings, the search for answers is underway
- New York Times (Manny Fernandez, Jack Healy, and Jess Bidgood) — Austin Bombing Suspect Bought Some Materials at Home Depot
The two-edged sword of technology on display in Facebook’s most recent controversy
Why “the man who knew too little” isn’t as ignorant as he wants you to believe
Doomsday insanity: Prepping goes mainstream with high-end “go bags”
I was tempted to entitle this article “Smartphones are Making Dumb People.” However, “dumb” is not a politically correct word and might distract from the point that smartphones are damaging our cognitive abilities.
In Having Your Smartphone Nearby Takes a Toll on Your Thinking the Harvard Business Review reports on recent University of Chicago research that asked, “Do our smartphones affect us even when we aren’t interacting with them—when they are simply nearby?”
Participants were set various mental challenges, but before completing these tasks, they “asked participants to either place their phones in front of them (face-down on their desks), keep them in their pockets or bags, or leave them in another room. Importantly, all phones had sound alerts and vibration turned off, so the participants couldn’t be interrupted by notifications.”
The results were striking: individuals who completed these tasks while their phones were in another room performed the best, followed by those who left their phones in their pockets. In last place were those whose phones were on their desks. We saw similar results when participants’ phones were turned off: people performed worst when their phones were nearby, and best when they were away in a separate room. Thus, merely having their smartphones out on the desk led to a small but statistically significant impairment of individuals’ cognitive capacity—on par with effects of lacking sleep.
These findings support my argument for creatives, students, pastors, and other knowledge workers scheduling Untouchable Days. But in some ways, it goes even further by demanding that we not only shut off our phones but put them out of sight and mind. As the report says:
The mere presence of our smartphones can adversely affect our ability to think and problem-solve — even when we aren’t using them. Even when we aren’t looking at them. Even when they are face-down. And even when they are powered off altogether.
Why is even the mere presence of a smartphone so damaging to our cognitive abilities?[The research shows that] the mere presence of our smartphones is like the sound of our names – they are constantly calling to us, exerting a gravitational pull on our attention….Attempts to block or resist this pull takes a toll by impairing our cognitive abilities. In a poignant twist, then, this means that when we are successful at resisting the urge to attend to our smartphones, we may actually be undermining our own cognitive performance.
The researchers recommend that “when our smartphones aren’t directly necessary, and when being fully cognitively available is important, setting aside a period of time to put them away—in another room—can be quite valuable.” For maximizing productivity they suggest that we should define windows of time when we are physically distanced from our phones, especially when working on projects requiring deeper thought. They even go to the extreme of calling for phones to be banned from meetings and not just banned from use. Crazy, eh?!
3 Perks Of Being A Christian Business Owner
“Based on my experience in a multi-generational family business, and as the founder of my own business, here are three reasons why I think it’s great to be a Christian business owner.”
15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me
“In 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me, real pastors get honest about the joys and challenges of the first five years of pastoral ministry—and how they bridged the gap between seminary training and life in a local church.”
A Pastor Opens Up About His Struggle with Depression
“I’ve suffered from depression for much of my life and used to wonder what was wrong with me, especially in certain seasons when it just didn’t seem to fit with being a mature Christian. When I was younger, it could get so bad that I couldn’t get out of bed for long stretches at a time and I paid the price. When I look back on a lot of things that went wrong in life, some of the failures I experienced were because of immaturity but much of it was also a result of mental health issues I refused to acknowledge.”
Are You Godly Enough to Watch Smut?
“It’s a distressing time we’ve come to when the ability or desire to watch filthy stuff is considered mature and where the inability or unwillingness to do so is considered infantile. It’s a disappointing time we’ve come to when we long to be godly enough to watch smut.”
Why you should care about World Down Syndrome Day
“As Christians, let’s commit to double our efforts to communicate what it means to be an image bearer of Christ to the outside world. Let’s be sure our actions in other areas aren’t inhibiting this message from being received. And let’s live in such a way that the unbeliever recognizes that we see the inherent dignity in every person regardless of health, status, and color.”
Good and Bad Goals for Studying New Testament Greek
Three goals you should not set, and three goals you should.
If you like audiobooks, Christians Get Depressed Too and Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands are on offer at Christian audiobooks for $4.99.
The First Days of Jesus: The Story of the Incarnation by Andreas J. Köstenberger $3.99.
Connected by Erin Davis $2.99.
Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything by Anonymous $2.99.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes that Adam was “a type of the one who was to come” (Rom. 5:14). Then in 1 Corinthians 15, he calls Jesus “the last Adam.” So what does the first Adam uniquely reveal to us about the last Adam?
I asked Howard Griffith, professor of systematic theology and academic dean of Reformed Theological Seminary, to walk through the key passages—Genesis 1–2, Romans 5, and 1 Corinthians 15—to demonstrate not only how Adam helps us to understand Christ, but also how Christ helps us to understand Adam, revealing things about Adam that are hinted at or implied but aren’t explicit in Genesis 1 and 2.
Books by Howard Griffith:
- Spreading the Feast: Instruction and Meditations for Ministry at the Lord’s Table
- Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline
Other resources on this topic:
- The Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels by Brandon D. Crowe
- The Forgotten Christ: Exploring the Majesty and Mystery of God Incarnate edited by Stephen Clark (includes chapter on “The Last Adam, The Life-Giving Spirit” by Richard B. Gaffin Jr.)
- The Eschatology of the Old Testament by Geerhardus Vos
- Why I Believe in the Covenant of Works Justin Taylor
- Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1–3 with the Christ of Eschatology by J. V. Fesko
You can listen to the episode here.
April 3, 2018, marks the 50th anniversary of x” speech, delivered the night before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. That night, with thunder rumbling in the distance, King carefully reflected on some of the most significant biblical themes of the entire civil-rights movement.
One important yet easily overlooked theme is the interrelatedness of human life. This was the fundamental idea that brought King to Memphis. Despite mounting pressures, including credible threats against his life, King refused to ignore the plight of the 1,300 poor sanitation workers in Memphis. As he often said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” This was King’s way of affirming that as God’s image-bearers, we have a significant responsibility to care for each other and a significant stake in each other’s wellbeing.
Toward the end of his speech, King appealed to interrelatedness in order to shore up ongoing commitment to the sanitation workers’ cause. With television cameras rolling, he urged the crowd:
Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together. Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.
With this, King reminded all Memphians of their personal stake in the fortunes of the sanitation workers, and he called people of all races and socio-political persuasions to stand with them as brothers.Selective Social Ethic
Sin tempts us to deny our fundamental interrelatedness. Biblical texts like the Table of Nations (Gen. 10) reveal something to God’s people that virtually every other ancient society denied—namely, that all humans are related, descended from the same man (Noah), cut from a single cloth. In a world in which every nation and ethnic group claimed its own innate superiority, God’s people uniquely understood that we all have equal value and a real responsibility for one another.
Yet God’s people have often forgotten this truth, and asked with the lawyer of Luke 10, “Who is my neighbor?” The lawyer had no problem with the command to love his own churchgoing kinsfolk. However, he found an especially religious way of sidestepping his responsibility to care for people outside his own nationality, race, class, and gender.
We aren’t so different. Most churches are willing to address certain social issues. If you don’t think so, just ask yourself whether your church addresses the culture’s attitudes around sexuality, money, education, and abortion. Most churches apply the claims of the gospel to social issues, and rightly so. The problem is that we have a highly selective social ethic that recognizes and addresses the sufferings of certain people while conspicuously ignoring the sufferings of others.
We have a highly selective social ethic that recognizes and addresses the sufferings of certain people while conspicuously ignoring the sufferings of others.
Again, in his parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus tells of a man who crossed socio-political, racial, and even religious boundaries to help a suffering neighbor. Despite being outside the bounds of the covenant community, this man had enough decency to recognize his responsibility to his fellow human being. Jesus is challenging us to consider whether we have enough basic decency to do the same. Regardless of how gospel-minded we claim to be, if our theology leads us to ignore suffering people or accommodate injustice (whether through denial, minimization, or support), then it is more secular than sacred.
The great mark of this sinful age has been to ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Meanwhile, Jesus gives us the gospel grace to say with our lives, “I am my brother’s keeper.”Identify with the Oppressed
This is precisely where King’s reminder of human interrelatedness is especially helpful. The sanitation workers were among the poorest and most despised folks in town. Their working conditions were so dehumanizing that their rallying cry became “I am a man.” Most well-to-do Memphians didn’t dare risk their reputation to help a bunch of poor black garbage men. But King explained they weren’t just garbage workers; they were “God’s children” and “your brother.” He was calling on rich white Memphians to intervene on behalf of the poor black sanitation workers just as they would for their own family members.
Whether or not we feel personally responsible for knocking our neighbor down, we’re all responsible for picking our neighbor up, as if our own brother or sister were down.
The doctrine of human interrelatedness stretches our compassion beyond the narrow confines of our own socio-political interests and calls us to address human suffering wherever we find it, because we are brothers. We’re most likely to empathize with and help those we most identify with. So if we don’t identify with poor and marginalized people, we’re not likely to help them. The doctrine of human interrelatedness is powerful, then, because it broadens the scope of whom we identify with to include all people.
The Lord set this pattern in Isaiah 58 when he declared to his hardened people, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? . . . and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” The gospel calls us to identify with oppressed people as “our own flesh.” Whether or not we feel personally responsible for knocking our neighbor down, we’re all responsible for picking our neighbor up, as if our own brother or sister were down.Selfless Love Is Dangerous
When we cross society’s well-established boundaries in order to help pick up our neighbor, the world takes notice, and things can become dangerous for us. In a sinful world marked by greed, oppression, and cultural separatism, cross-cultural unselfishness often comes at a high cost. But King insisted that the cost of inaction is much higher. “Either we go up together or we go down together,” he said. Our gospel witness, our integrity and obedience to Christ, the cause of justice in our land, and a proper perspective of ourselves in relation to our neighbor are all on the line.
If we refuse to see God’s image and our own flesh in all our suffering neighbors—including our undocumented neighbor, unjustly criminalized and incarcerated neighbor, economically crushed neighbor, Muslim neighbor, sexually assaulted neighbor, unborn neighbor—we compromise our witness and risk causing others to stumble. May we hear in King’s words the old commandment to love one another with new and fresh application today.
- Martin Luther King Jr. and the Gospel’s Social Demands (Mika Edmondson)
Here in Italy, the immigration issue dominated our recent national elections. The parties that seemed to garner the most votes were those who had the strongest—and often most negative—responses to the flood of people arriving on our shores. One well-known politician called the refugees a “ticking time bomb” and “promised” to expel the 600,000 newly arrived people. Certain politicians were able to win the populist votes by creating a sense of impending (but imaginary) threat.
The public in Italy has spoken: “These refugees (war-torn or economic) are not human beings to be welcomed. They are a problem to be expelled.”
But into the winds of rising hostility, the gospel advances.Local Context
Years ago, our small missional communities asked the Lord to guide and use us for the expected wave of migrants. We had little idea what that would look like. No one knew how this mass migration would change the face of Italy.
Into the winds of rising hostility, the gospel advances.A brother from Guinea helping in the labs
In early 2016, we were introduced to a tall, young, happy Nigerian man seeking work in our city. He pleaded with us to visit him in the refugee camp, which had been established in a medieval convent on the mountainside. Intrigued, some of our church members visited and found a mix of old dormitories and disaster relief tents housing more than 200 men from a dozen nations. The migration wave had begun.
By God’s grace, our Nigerian friend later became our Nigerian brother. At his baptism, he testified that one of our Italian believers was the first white man to ever hug him. It wasn’t a rescue or social worker who hugged him after his perilous journey, but an Italian believer demonstrating a true welcome, born from the gospel of grace.
As we continued spending time in the refugee camps, we learned of the seemingly endless needs. We now have a team that serves weekly at two different camps of up to 800 refugees. The team’s areas of service include bicycle repair, Italian-language training, counseling, document assistance, job placement, technical skills training, and event planning.
In addition to this training, our church holds two weekly Bible studies in the camps. We offer rides to our church services every Sunday. We’ve provided the migrant men with Bibles, clothes, bed linens, blankets, bicycles, and more.Life Labs Migrant men being trained in welding
Our newest and most exciting project—“Life Labs”—was inaugurated earlier this month. This project—which has been in the works for 17 months—seeks to train men in welding and soldering. Our first mobile laboratory will serve as an industrial classroom inside the refugee camps.
Metalwork is in high demand in our regions, and the majority of the men love to work with their hands. But without the necessary industrial, linguistic, safety, and technical training, they won’t be qualified to be hired by Italian factories.
So, together with certified Italian teachers, the migrant men learn both concepts and practices during their two-year stay in the camp. The level of enthusiasm and morale is incredibly high. And the dignity and sense of worth the training course provides makes it a valuable investment.
As we train people, we’re able to develop deep friendships, which then gives us great opportunities for gospel witness.Our Dual ‘Crisis’
From a humanitarian point of view, the flood of migrants is a crisis. The sheer number of migrants pouring into Italy requires a strong infrastructure, which doesn’t bode well for a nation already under immense pressure. Migrants arrive desperate for food and shelter, but these aren’t their only needs. They also bring deep spiritual and social burdens.
Migrants arrive desperate for food and shelter, but these aren’t their only needs. They also bring deep spiritual and social burdens.
We’ve encountered a variety of problems that only reinforce the refugee stereotype and excuse the general populace from needing to care. Indeed, we regularly see the destructive practices and effects of ancestor worship, mental and physical trauma, war, spiritism, prosperity theology, greed, laziness, distrust, human trafficking, loss/abandonment of family, illiteracy, sexual deviancy, theft, paralyzing fear, and a myriad of other issues.
On top of all this, many of the migrants will be forced to leave the camps in the coming months when their transition time is complete. This means that while they may have short-term legal permission to stay in Italy, they will find themselves woefully unqualified for Italian standards of employment.
Sadly, the plight of migrants only continues to worsen after they’re forced to leave the camps. They’re unable to rent a home, provide for themselves, support their families back home, or bring their families to join them in Italy.
Rather than viewing the refugees as a crisis, we see this as a God-given impetus to plant churches in areas where both Italians and foreigners welcome each other as family and fellow-exiles in Christ.
As Christians, we know that a migrant’s greatest need (as is the case with all of us) is for Christ. That’s why we need healthy, gospel-centered churches proclaiming Christ as they love and welcome these migrants streaming into Italy. We are more than a social relief program; churches ought to be the “spiritual camp” for all “refugees” displaced by sin, no matter their background or color of skin.Wonderful Crisis
Rather than viewing the refugees as a crisis, therefore, we see this as a God-given impetus to plant churches in areas where both Italians and foreigners welcome each other as family and fellow-exiles in Christ. Only the power of the gospel can truly bring nationals and foreigners together. In Christ, the two can become one (Eph. 2:14).
In fact, our church-planting network—“Impatto” (Acts 29 Italy)—is currently training and assessing men who were once immigrants themselves, and are now answering the call to plant churches. These men long to see the church welcoming migrants as they arrive.
May Christ be honored as churches are planted across Italy in the midst of this wonderful crisis.
- The Greatest Gospel Opportunity in a Generation—Lost (James Misner)
“This is a story of someone who took his faith to radical conclusions and did not leave the radicality within the walls of the church. It had implications for everything that he did.”
If it were possible to boil down the story of Larry Norman to two sentences, Gregory Thornbury seems to have done it. Everything about Norman, the universally agreed-upon father of Christian rock music, was radical, and there are lessons to be learned from his life for all who follow Jesus Christ.
“Christians should care about the Larry Norman story because we love talking about cultural engagement,” Thornbury says, sitting in a coffee shop in lower Manhattan. “That’s a buzz term—cultural engagement—and Larry’s the original factory setting for it. He was doing something incredibly unpopular. That’s why I call him a holy fool. The church didn’t like what he was doing, and the secular music industry didn’t know what to do with him, and he kept pressing forward.”
The church didn’t like what [Larry Norman] was doing, and the secular music industry didn’t know what to do with him, and he kept pressing forward.
For Thornbury, who tells the unabridged tale of Norman in his new book, Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock, this is the crux of his story.
“To be honest, I don’t like the term ‘cultural engagement’ because it makes culture sound like something that’s over there in the next county and we’re making forays into it,” he says. “I’m sorry, but culture has already overwhelmed us. It’s winning. So the question is how do you have a legitimate voice and not concede your beliefs? I think that’s the most relevant narrative for young Christians, because none of them likes the ‘holy huddle’ mentality. We all want to be in the arts, we need to be in film, but who’s actually doing it? The Christians we point to as artists who are recognized in those worlds . . . sorry, I’m in the art world, and nobody knows who they are. But Larry Norman? People respected him. Non-Christians respected him more than Christians did.”Rock Star Who Gambled on Jesus
Norman came onto the scene as a solo artist in 1969 with his debut LP, Upon This Rock. The album was released on the legendary Capitol Records—which has, throughout its history, worked with artists like the Beach Boys, Avenged Sevenfold, the Beastie Boys, Mary J. Blige, and countless others—and contained tracks like “You Can’t Take Away the Lord,” “Moses in the Wilderness,” “Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation,” and “The Last Supper.” He was rocking and rolling across the country, all the while spreading the gospel.
“Larry was a Jesus freak and everybody knew it, and yet, there he was,” Thornbury explains. He’s a longtime fan who, after first hearing one of Norman’s records, drove 750 miles to see him in concert. From there his fandom grew and, as he puts it, Norman’s music became part of his mental fabric.
“I met him, I talked to him a little bit. Back then I worked in radio so I got to interview him, and I could sort of observe him backstage,” Thornbury recalls. “Everybody thought he was controversial, but he was really the only person who was real backstage. He hung out with people, he prayed with people. Other people acted like rock stars, but Larry actually was a rock star.”
In 2008, upon hearing of Norman’s death, Thornbury paid his respects while on a trip near Salem, Oregon, Norman’s resting place. It didn’t take long for Thornbury and Norman’s brother, Charles, to strike up a friendship that would eventually lead to Thornbury digging through hundreds of boxes of Norman’s journals and notes that few others even knew existed.
“That was a huge undertaking,” Thornbury says. “I went through everything. It was all unfolding before my eyes in contemporary fashion; it was like going back in time.”
Charles and the family turned everything over to Thornbury and entrusted him to tell the story as he saw it. But more than simply telling the story of a complex rock star, Thornbury crafted a timeless chronicle of an artist who sought to kill complacency in religious folks.
Thornbury [has] crafted a timeless chronicle of an artist who sought to kill complacency in religious folks.
“Inside of everyone is an artist waiting to get out, and the artist is going to take a gamble on something. The question is, is your gamble the right gamble? And you don’t know until you’ve tried and done it,” Thornbury says about the subject of his book. “Larry gambled on Jesus and kept doubling down in an artful way. Most of the faith-and-work stuff that I read today is not very helpful, because there isn’t that much gospel in it. It’s not that forthright. Larry, he was harassed by Christians, not by the world, and you know what? That’s probably the right combination.”We’re of the World. But Are We in It?
C. S. Lewis once said, “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent.”
“There’s a moment in the book,” he says, “where Larry wonders how many non-Christians are going to go to a Christian bookstore and ask for records about salvation or albums about how to be good Christians. Larry knew they would never do that, and they would never listen to music like that, and that was the message he tried to get across to Christian artists.”
Thornbury dislikes the statement Christians love holding to—that they are to be in the world but not of the world.
Christian is the greatest of all nouns and the lamest of all adjectives.
“We love to say that, but the problem is we’re of the world and not actually in it,” Thornbury says. “The only thing I think I’ll ever be remembered for saying is that Christian is the greatest of all nouns and the lamest of all adjectives . . . but Norman, he was way ahead of his time. To talk about sexually transmitted diseases in your most famous song about Jesus was way ahead of its time. He went to those ‘no go’ places. He criticized American passivity—the church’s passivity—toward warmongering. But what do we do today? We try to make nice. We don’t have those kinds of prophets who are willing to be equal-opportunity offenders. They’re either on one side or the other.”
Thornbury believes there are simply not enough people allowing the transcendence of God to enter into their work.
“Today, the Christians in the secular music industry, gosh, you’d be hard pressed to figure out what they believe just by listening to their records,” he says. “I don’t think there are people who know how to do [what Lewis describes]. Back in the day, you could hand someone a Larry Norman record, and it held up. They might not dig the religion stuff, but people would say it’s good, and they understood why you were into it. You could hold your head up high. It didn’t make people cringe.”Bittersweet Story
Though Thornbury praises Norman’s boldness and courage, the rock star’s story is not one of easy success.
“It’s a bittersweet story,” he admits. “I think it’s possible we could have some believers able to rise above the fray, but the difference with Larry was that even though there were moments in his career when he made a lot of money, he didn’t care about money. He never tried to prop up any particular situation . . . but Larry mythologized more than anybody. He was relentless about making sure that he was the Pied Piper.”
Norman believed his message was the one everyone should follow. He wasn’t interested in blocking himself off from the outside world, and he didn’t think other Christians should either. As he released more music and played more live shows—all the while gaining more fans and more critics—Norman saw himself as the expert on what it meant to be spiritual without being religious.
Norman saw himself as the expert on what it meant to be spiritual without being religious.
Thornbury goes on, “You’ve got to be careful when your actual goal is to be the maven. The maven is this sort of prophetic person, like the Oracle of Delphi. I think that’s one of the unique features of Protestant evangelicalism—it’s one of its best things but also its achilles heel. In the Roman Catholic tradition, if you’re the priest, you consecrate the Mass, and it doesn’t matter if you can preach or not. You have the Mass, you have the thing that the people need. But if the main thing is the Word, then people may be coming for you. That is dangerous.”
And that is a significant part of Norman’s bittersweet story, which Thornbury offers to readers as a caution.
“[This story] is most compelling not for his successes but for his dizzying, at times mystifying, lows. Norman’s closest friends disparaged him in interviews, rumor-mongered with concert promoters, and shook their heads at his sinful behavior in backstage conversations with friends.” To put it succinctly, the Christian establishment of Norman’s time found him too perplexing and controversial to support and embrace. Norman died as “a once-in-a-generation musician” who never received the acclaim or success he deserved.
This story, though intriguing and fascinating, doesn’t necessarily provide much immediate hope. If Larry Norman, the father of Christian rock and a prophet of the good news, couldn’t pull it off, what promise is there for Christians today?Let the Scandal of the Gospel Be an Actual Scandal
“This is a story of someone who took his faith to radical conclusions and did not leave the radicality within the walls of the church,” Thornbury says with a hint of optimism in his voice. “It had implications for everything he did. Larry put himself in situations that made people raise eyebrows. When he died in 2008, [the magazine] Spin did a feature story on Larry, and they talked to Black Francis [of The Pixies]. He told this story of bringing Larry to a club and running into a guy who worked in the adult film business, and that guy loved Larry. They got along so well. Larry was there, you know? He was in the world, but he wasn’t of it.”
Thornbury concludes, “He tried, he tried to get Christians to be artists. He thought the music should be art, not propaganda. He let the scandal of the gospel be an actual scandal, and that’s a big risk to run.”
Norman tried to get Christians to be artists. He thought the music should be art, not propaganda.
As quoted in the Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? and elsewhere in Larry Norman folklore, Paul McCartney of the Beatles once told the Christian rocker, “You’d be a huge star if you’d shut up about religion.”
But Norman never shut up about religion, providing a crystal-clear answer to Thornbury’s final question: for Norman, the risk of the scandal of the gospel was definitely worth it, no matter the cost.
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1)
God’s invitation to his great banquet cuts across ethnic and socioeconomic lines — to “everyone who thirsts” — and appeals to two groups: one has money and one does not.
To those who are thirsty and broke (Isaiah 55:1), come to the waters. And to those spending what they have on all the wrong things (Isaiah 55:2), listen to this offer, turn from your folly, and come to the waters. One group is spiritually poor and empty, and acknowledges it. The other is pretending as if human effort and expenditures can secure lasting satisfaction. Maybe even a third group had money, spent it poorly, and now has none.
Whatever the circumstances of the summoned, the good news in this great invitation is that God offers a true banquet to the human soul — and it is provided, remarkably, “without money and without price.”Free of Charge, at Great Cost
God offers his feast free of charge, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Providing such rich fare is costly, and that cost, as Isaiah has foretold, will be borne by God’s Servant (Isaiah 53:4–6, 12). Astoundingly, this banquet, with its promise to truly satisfy, comes without cost to all who are willing to admit their poverty and powerlessness, and come humbly to receive.
Three times God beckons all who will hear, “Come.” Three times he entreats, “Listen.” He pours three promises for the thirsty: an everlasting covenant, a benevolent king, and finally himself (verses 3–5). And he compares this true satisfaction of soul he offers to the substance and sweetness of three beverages: water, milk, and wine.Water for Life
First, God offers water, to quench our soul’s thirst. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” He appeals to those with the most basic of human needs unmet, those dying from dehydration, to come receive the refreshment for which they pant.
For those wasting away of thirst in the desert, all they can think of is water. And so God’s offer begins with the most essential need: life. His water revives the faint. His water restores the weary. The good shepherd “leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:2–3).
When God’s long-awaited Servant arrives on the scene, he will announce that the water he gives is “living water.” Not only will he quench our soul’s thirst in the moment, but “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).Milk for Strength
But this God not only offers life and refreshment, but also nourishment and strength. We feed babies an endless diet of milk to help them grow, to give them the nutrients needed to develop and be healthy and stable.
A hungry newborn may try to latch onto anything close enough to its mouth. In Christ, God offers to gratify the appetite for such growth and goodness. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2–3). This Lord not only gives us life but growth, health, stability, and strength.Wine for Joy
Third, then, is the sparkling offer of wine. Throughout the Scriptures, wine is associated with joy (1 Chronicles 12:40; Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 4:7; Isaiah 16:10; 22:13; 24:11; Jeremiah 48:33; Zechariah 10:7).
God made “wine to gladden the heart of man” (Psalm 104:15). Wine is a powerful image, an exhilarating beverage that is God’s idea — and like others of his best gifts, not without its serious and documented dangers in the hands of sinners. It’s difficult to abuse water. Some abuse milk (and cream). Many abuse wine. And yet God incurs the risk to make his point dazzle.
Wine, in all its perils and pleasantness, has something to tell us about the one who offers this feast. His provision of water, milk, and wine shows us not just the life he gives but the God he is. John Piper writes,
God is not just for emergencies and mountain peaks. He is for health in the long haul. He invites you not only to come alive with water, but also to be stable and strong with milk. . . .
But that is not all we need in life. No matter how stoic, unemotional, phlegmatic, laid-back, or poker-faced we may seem to others, there is a child inside of every one of us that God made for exhilaration — for shouting and singing and dancing and playing and skipping and running and jumping and laughing. . . .
God is willing to revive us from the heat of Death Valley with the miracle of his water; and make us strong and healthy and stable with the miracle of his milk; and then give us endless and ever-fresh exhilaration with the miracle of his wine. (“The Great Invitation”)Alive, Strong, Exhilarated
When the poor and powerless incline their ear to this humbling and wonderful invitation and come, they find that the one who has laid out this banquet is not stingy. He doesn’t cut corners on cost. He is lavishly generous. He offers abundance, and his abundance demonstrates the largeness of his heart. And as he invites us to enjoy his bounty, he woos us to delight in his person.
Even now, in this incomplete age, he offers to refresh your soul. He offers to strengthen your heart in his Son. He offers to thrill your spirit in his Spirit.
Come to this God and his suffering Servant, and taste the joy of thirst quenched, of hunger gratified, and of your deepest longing satisfied. Truly now — and fully at the great banquet to come.
“In that day
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and the hills shall flow with milk,
and all the streambeds of Judah
shall flow with water.” (Joel 3:18)
Thabiti Anyabwile—pastor of Anacostia River Church and TGC Council member—shares how he responds when learning about the failures of the great men and women of church history.
Editors’ note: We invite you to join the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition at a special event, “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” taking place April 3–4, 2018, in Memphis, Tennessee.
Register today: MLK50conference.com.