Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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Murder By Any Other Name: Introducing Fourth-Term Abortion

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 8:02pm

How does one group of people murder another and sleep at night? Answer: they don’t. German soldiers didn’t slaughter humans, Southern whites didn’t lynch humans, and Planned Parenthood isn’t killing humans either.

The infectious pathos, rising from the pit of hell and blackening the darkest periods in human history, is an idea, an idea that a hierarchy of human and subhuman exists. Men who kill men in cold blood lose sleep; men who kill beasts don’t. In Germany, they called the subhuman creatures the Untermenschen. The German propaganda Der Untermensch (thought to be edited by Hitler’s right-hand man, Henrich Himmler), manifested the serpent’s whisper this way:

The subhuman is a biological creature, crafted by nature, which has hands, legs, eyes, and mouth, even the semblance of a brain. Nevertheless, this terrible creature is only a partial human being. Although it has features similar to a human, the subhuman is lower on the spiritual and psychological scale than any animal. . . . Not all of those who appear human are in fact so. Woe to him who forgets it!

Though it may appear to be human, it isn’t. It may look like it is made in the image of God, may look like an actual man, woman, or child — but it isn’t. Its color, disability, or lack of development betrays the fact that the terrible creature is only partially human. And as history repeatedly teaches: when “they” are not fully human, “they” — when their dignity inevitably conflicts with our interests — become not at all human. Our evil, having arrogantly defied God’s law (thou shall not murder, lie, steal), goes on to defy mathematics: rounding three-fifths down to zero.

Fourth-Term Abortions

In the American theater, we have moved from despising dark subhuman creatures we brought into cotton fields to despising creatures hidden in the dark whom God placed in the womb. They appear human, but the parent’s desire for the child often determines whether it is in fact so. Since Roe v. Wade the serpent, conspiring with our Supreme Court and government of appointed representatives, has swallowed millions upon millions upon millions of boys and girls whole. The biggest city in America, the one that terminates more black children than it keeps, has led the way with its recent repeal of the state’s protection for abortion survivors. Adam and Eve’s offspring bite from the (Big) Apple, bringing death to their children.

Now, to the most recent developments. No longer can we call the unseen, unheard, unheld creature in the womb a subhuman — we now rise to such boldness as to include the child staring us dead in the face outside of the womb. Senator Ben Sasse recently called the Senate to vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which sought to protect infants born after a botched abortion.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said the bill was “anti-doctor, anti-woman, and anti-family.” The head of the American Gynecologists named it a “gross interference into the practice of medicine, putting politicians between women and their trusted doctors.” Senator Sasse captured the clarity of the moment, saying, “I’m going to ask all one hundred senators to come to the floor and be against infanticide. This shouldn’t be complicated.” And on the floor, he said, “This isn’t about clumps of cells. This is fourth-trimester abortion.”

The Baby on the Senate Floor

The bill states, as unemotionally as I can impart, that a baby who has survived the abortion should be protected with the same rights as a child who was born otherwise (to parents who wanted him or her to live in the first place). In other words, should the murder get “botched,” the bill prevented the attempted murderer — after seeing the baby regrettably pass through the birth canal alive — from finishing the job. If the abortionist was thwarted by the defenseless child, the lab coat couldn’t have a second go. It sought to establish fair play outside of the American Colosseum.

A similar bill, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, passed unanimously (with full bipartisan support) back in 2002, but did not include criminal penalties for doctors, nor specify what medical care must actually be provided for the survivor. But the new bill states that anyone present would be legally obligated to protect the child and admit it into a hospital. Should anyone leave the baby to die on the table — after previously overseeing its torture — they could be charged with a fine and up to five years in prison. Should they take active means of killing the child, they could be tried for murder.

Schizophrenic Uncle Sam would go, should the bill pass, from funding such hits with taxpayer money, to punishing them, as he did on Kermit Gosnell, who is currently serving several life sentences for three counts of first-degree murder because he cut the spinal cords of three babies who survived botched abortions at his clinic. Jailed, not because he was an assassin, but because he cleaned up after shoddy attempts at assassination.

So, on Monday, the baby lay again on the Senate floor. Friendless. Wombless. Defenseless.

Separated from the “health issues” of his mother. A child with ears, hands, legs, eyes, and mouth — and “even the semblance of a brain.” Staring at this child — no cover of skin hiding it, no plantation boundaries veiling it, no concentration camps concealing it — 44 of 47 Democrat senators voted down the bill and left the child on the table. And there, the baby lies.

Where Will This End?

Have we forgotten how to weep? Oh, how I lament my own hardness of heart — how can I write these words with dry eyes?

After the angel of death executed judgment on the Egyptians, we are told, “There was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Exodus 12:30). As Herod hands the weapon again to the second-rate angel of death and walks away, tweeting to his followers how he stood for women’s rights, do we cry a great cry? Do we share God’s horror at our ability to terminate pregnancy and infancy?

Make no mistake: God hates our child sacrifice at the altar of convenience. “You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:21). Such giving up to Molech was unhesitatingly a capital offense (Leviticus 20:2). And should God’s people “close their eyes” and pretend like they did not see it, scrolling right past it in their news feeds, they too would incur God’s wrath (Leviticus 20:4–5). Child sacrifice is such an abomination before a holy God that it “did not even enter into his mind” (Jeremiah 32:25).

America is in the middle of a holocaust. Can we now, legally and otherwise, look at children out of the womb and kill them? In failing to pass this bill, our representatives have, for the meantime, given their answer. It’s no secret that we’ve been talking about killing babies all along — there it lies. And instead of nursing the child, we dispose of it. Instead of collecting fingerprints, we leave none behind. Lord, have mercy on us.

What Advice Would You Give Newly Married John Piper?

Fri, 03/01/2019 - 3:37am

Many of us marry with little idea of the gifts and hardships ahead. So what would Pastor John tell his newly married self?

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God Set His Sermons on Fire: Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899–1981)

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 8:02pm

In July 1959, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his wife, Bethan, were on vacation in Wales. They attended a little chapel for a Sunday-morning prayer meeting, and Lloyd-Jones asked those present, “Would you like me to give a word this morning?” The people hesitated because it was his vacation, and they didn’t want to presume on his energy. But his wife said, “Let him. Preaching is his life” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 373). It was a true statement. In the preface to his powerful book Preaching and Preachers, he said, “Preaching has been my life’s work . . . to me the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called” (17).

Many called him the last of the Calvinistic Methodist preachers because he combined Calvin’s love for truth and sound Reformed doctrine with the fire and passion of the eighteenth-century Methodist revival (Five Evangelical Leaders, 55). For thirty years he preached from the pulpit at Westminster Chapel in London. Usually that meant three different sermons each weekend: Friday evening and Sunday morning and evening.

At the end of his career, he remarked, “I can say quite honestly that I would not cross the road to listen to myself preaching” (Preaching and Preachers, 14). But that was not the way others felt. When J.I. Packer was a 22-year-old student, he heard Lloyd-Jones preach each Sunday evening during the school year of 1948–1949, and he said that he had “never heard such preaching.” It came to him “with the force of electric shock, bringing to at least one of his listeners more of a sense of God than any other man” (Five Evangelical Leaders, 170).

Physician of Souls

Lloyd-Jones’s path to Westminster was unique. He was born in Cardiff, Wales, on December 20, 1899. He moved to London with his family when he was 14 and went to medical school at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he received his MD in 1921 and became Sir Thomas Horder’s chief clinical assistant. The well-known Horder described Lloyd-Jones as “the most acute thinker that I ever knew” (Five Evangelical Leaders, 56).

Between 1921 and 1923, Lloyd-Jones underwent a profound conversion. It was so life-changing that it brought with it a passion to preach that completely outweighed his call as a physician. He felt a deep yearning to return to his native Wales and preach. His first sermon there was in April of 1925, and the note he sounded was the recurrent theme of his life: Wales did not need more talk about social action; it needed “a great spiritual awakening.” This theme of revival and power and real vitality remained his lifelong passion (Five Evangelical Leaders, 66).

He was called as the pastor of Bethlehem Forward Movement Mission Church in Sandfields, Aberavon, in 1926, and the next year married one of his former fellow medical students, Bethan Phillips. In the course of their life together, they had two daughters, Elizabeth and Ann.

His preaching became known across Britain and in America. It was popular, crystal clear, doctrinally sound, logical, and on fire. In 1937, he preached in Philadelphia and G. Campbell Morgan happened to be there. He was so impressed that he felt compelled to see Lloyd-Jones as his associate at Westminster Chapel in London.

Lloyd-Jones and G. Campbell Morgan were joint ministers until Morgan’s retirement in 1943. Then Lloyd-Jones was the sole preaching pastor for almost 30 years. So many people were drawn to the clarity and power and doctrinal depth of his preaching that in 1947 the Sunday morning attendance was about 1,500 and the Sunday evening attendance 2,000. He wore a somber black Geneva gown and used no gimmicks or jokes. Like Jonathan Edwards two hundred years before, he held audiences by the sheer weight and intensity of his vision of truth.

Lloyd-Jones became ill in 1968 and took it as a sign to retire and devote himself more to writing. He continued this for about twelve years and then died peacefully in his sleep on March 1, 1981.

‘We Need Revival’

From the beginning to the end of his life, Lloyd-Jones’s ministry was a cry for depth in two areas — depth in biblical doctrine and depth in vital spiritual experience. Light and heat. Logic and fire. Word and Spirit. Again and again, he would be fighting on two fronts: on the one hand, against dead, formal, institutional intellectualism, and on the other hand, against superficial, glib, entertainment-oriented, man-centered emotionalism. For Lloyd-Jones, the only hope of a lasting solution was historic, God-centered revival.

When revival happens, it is visible. It is not just a quiet subjective experience in the church. Things happen that make the world sit up and take notice. This is what was so important to Lloyd-Jones. He felt almost overwhelmed by the corruption of the world and the weakness of the church. And believed that the only hope was something stunning.

The Christian church today is failing, and failing lamentably. It is not enough even to be orthodox. You must, of course, be orthodox, otherwise you have not got a message. . . . We need authority and we need authentication. . . . Is it not clear that we are living in an age when we need some special authentication — in other words, we need revival. (The Sovereign Spirit, 25)

Revival, for Lloyd-Jones, was a kind of power demonstration that would authenticate the truth of the gospel to a desperately hardened world. What lay so heavily on Lloyd-Jones’s heart was that the name of God be vindicated and his glory manifested in the world. “We should be anxious,” he says, “to see something happening that will arrest the nations, all the peoples, and cause them to stop and think again” (Revival, 120).

Clean Power

Lloyd-Jones had enough extraordinary experiences of his own to make him know that he had better be open to what the sovereign God might do. For example, Stacy Woods describes the physical effect of one of Lloyd-Jones’s sermons.

In an extraordinary way, the presence of God was in that Church. I personally felt as if a hand were pushing me through the pew. At the end of the sermon for some reason or the other the organ did not play, the Doctor went off into the vestry and everyone sat completely still without moving. It must have been almost ten minutes before people seemed to find the strength to get up and, without speaking to one another, quietly leave the Church. Never have I witnessed or experienced such preaching with such fantastic reaction on the part of the congregation. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 377)

Another illustration comes from his earlier days at Sandfields. A woman who had been a well-known spirit medium attended his church one evening. She later testified after her conversion,

The moment I entered your chapel and sat down on a seat amongst the people, I was conscious of a supernatural power. I was conscious of the same sort of supernatural power I was accustomed to in our spiritist meetings, but there was one big difference; I had the feeling that the power in your chapel was a clean power. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 221)

Lloyd-Jones knew from the Bible and from history and from his own experience that the extraordinary working of the Spirit defied precise categorization. He said, “The ways in which the blessing comes are almost endless. We must be careful lest we restrict them or lest we try to systematize them over much, or, still worse, lest we mechanize them” (Joy Unspeakable, 243).

Better Credulous than Dead

These are remarkable teachings coming from the main spokesman for the Reformed cause in Britain in the last generation. Lest you think Lloyd-Jones was a full-blown charismatic incognito, he was careful to express his disenchantment with Pentecostals and charismatics as he knew them.

Contrary to the many of the charismatics of his day, for example, he insisted that revival have a sound doctrinal basis; that the Holy Spirit is sovereign and comes and goes on his own terms; that people baptized with the Holy Spirit do not necessarily speak in tongues; and that spiritual experiences are never given for their own sake, but are always for empowerment in witness and the glory of Christ. On this last point, Lloyd-Jones wrote, “The supreme test of anything that claims to be the work of the Holy Spirit is John 16:14 — ‘He shall glorify me’” (The Sovereign Spirit, 106).

But having said all that by way of warning and balance, Lloyd-Jones comes back to the strong affirmation of openness to the supernatural demonstration of power that the world needs so badly. Of those who sit back and point their finger at the charismatic excesses of good people, he says, “God have mercy upon them! God have mercy upon them! It is better to be too credulous than to be carnal and to be smug and dead” (The Sovereign Spirit, 83).

Make Your Mighty Hand Known

What is Lloyd-Jones’s counsel to us as we try to navigate between uncritical and unbiblical gullibility on the one side and Spirit-quenching resistance on the other?

His basic counsel is this that we “cannot do anything to produce” true revival and therefore must labor in prayer, be patient, and not set time limits on the Lord (Joy Unspeakable, 139, 231, 247). But it seems that there is more that we can do than only pray. Elsewhere, Lloyd-Jones mentions his appreciation of a prayer from D.L. Moody that asks for “a prepared heart” (Joy Unspeakable, 220). If a prepared heart is important, then there are means of grace besides prayer that cleanse the heart and conform it more and more to Christ. One thinks of meditation on the Scriptures, exhortation from fellow Christians, mortification of sin, and so on.

But not only that, Lloyd-Jones teaches that the Spirit can be quenched by certain forms of barren institutionalization. Concerning the deadness of formal churches, he says,

It is not that God withdrew, it is that the church in her “wisdom” and cleverness became institutionalized, quenched the Spirit, and made the manifestations of the power of the Spirit well-nigh impossible. (The Sovereign Spirit, 50)

Now that is a powerful statement from one who believes in the sovereignty of the Spirit — that certain forms of institutionalization can make the manifestations of the Spirit’s power “well-nigh impossible.” If the Spirit in his sovereignty suffers himself to be hindered and quenched, as Lloyd-Jones (and the apostle Paul!) says, then it is not entirely accurate to say that there is nothing we can do to open the way for his coming. It is only that we cannot constrain him to come. Or to put it another way, while it seems we cannot make the Spirit come in power, we can do things that usually keep him from coming.

Lloyd-Jones sets us down the right path in one of his many beautiful closing exhortations:

Let us together decide to beseech him, to plead with him to do this again. Not that we may have the experience or the excitement, but that his mighty hand may be known and his great name may be glorified and magnified among the people. (Revival, 117)

The Missing Relationship in the Church

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 11:03am

What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)

While most Christian leaders agree that we must revive the practice of discipling (personally helping Christians grow), few seem to be doing it. Numerous cultural factors today make it countercultural for leaders to disciple others in the way we see Jesus and Paul doing in the New Testament (Matthew 4:19; 28:19; 2 Timothy 2:2).

Efficiency and productivity are key values today. People are told that they must push for measurable results, and usually those results are quantified in terms of numbers. In a Christian setting, such an emphasis could result in concentrating on increasing attendance, events, programs, and buildings.

These visible goals can take so much time that there is no time left to give concentrated attention to personal discipling. Granted, the fruit of person-to-person discipleship is not immediately visible. Now a biblical leader should be concerned with numbers, in some sense, because the numbers represent people who have come within the sound of the gospel, and our programs and structures are helpful in maturing new and old Christians. But the focus on numerical growth must not be at the cost of nurturing saints.

The Cost of Other Opportunities

As we grow in leadership, we often need to pass up what looks like wonderful opportunities to serve so that we can have enough time for personal ministry. These days I meet many young pastors and Christian workers for mentoring or counseling. I have been surprised (and saddened) to hear that many of them have never had an unhurried conversation about their personal lives with their leaders in ministry. Most of these pastors serve in churches that are growing numerically.

If the top leaders in our churches do not give time for personal work, it is unlikely that there will be a culture of discipling in the groups they lead. The leaders must demonstrate by example (1 Peter 5:3) that investing in others is a key aspect of Christian ministry.

When I was leader of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, I always tried to disciple a few young staff. This gave rise to an awkward situation, as some people felt I was giving preferential treatment to them. But I felt that this problem was worthwhile because of the high place personal work deserves in the culture of our movement. If the leader finds time to disciple, others also are encouraged to give time for it, despite all the other things calling for their attention.

As the possibility of an imbalance in our priorities is very real, we need to keep revising our list of priorities constantly while growing in leadership. Unhealthy baggage can accumulate in our lives without our realizing it. I need to be careful about accepting too many speaking engagements and serving on too many committees. As leaders grow, they should constantly divest themselves of some responsibilities so that they can concentrate on the most important ones.

The Cost of ‘Wasting Time’

People are very busy today. Besides physical work, they are often “busy” in the cyber world with social media or are watching television. In this environment, people find it a strain to interrupt their activities for long one-on-one conversations, which are an important part of discipling relationships. Such rootless busyness has produced an insecure generation. They are missing the completion and security that come from committed relationships with trusted friends and relatives.

Based on today’s attitude toward time, Christianity could be considered a religion of wasting time. We “waste” a lot of time each day in prayer and Bible reading. We could say the same about discipling appointments. Close relationships do not develop through highly structured and restricted conversations. As we linger with each other, chatting about our lives, ties develop that engender trust.

Once trust is won and the environment created through long conversations, people have the freedom to talk about the deep secrets of their lives. A side benefit of this is that it dispels damaging insecurities of constantly being rushed. Discipling appointments slow us down.

The Cost of Safe Superficiality

People today have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of friends on Facebook (and other platforms) to whom they openly share about themselves. But often these relationships are with people unwilling to pay the price of costly commitment to them. They don’t need to be honest; they can even tell lies about themselves. And if the friendship gets inconvenient, you can simply “unfriend” another person. How sad that “unfriend” has become a popular word today.

When you get used to multiple superficial relationships, you may find it difficult to nurture deeper bonds. You may not make time for such relationships and may find it awkward to share deeply with others. But how important it is for us to nurture deeper friendships. Proverbs has sage advice to our generation with its addiction to social media:

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

In an environment that is unfriendly to such close ties, the discipler has the challenge of winning the trust of the disciple to create these bonds. I do not think we should force people to “submit” to a discipler of our choice. Disciplees should have a say in who disciples them. But sometimes we may have to disciple people who are not fond of us. Some such relationships in my own life have produced some of the most joyful I have had.

The Cost of Trusting Others

Today, with the prevalence of abuse of personal information, people are afraid to trust others with details about their lives. They are afraid of betrayal, so they don’t confide in people enough to entrust themselves to their care. Sometimes they may not personally like the leader who has been assigned to disciple them.

Large congregations fall into a trap when everyone keeps a “safe distance” from others. It is all too easy to remain anonymous and be lost in the crowd. Some prefer this, as they move to larger churches after being hurt in smaller, more personal ones. This problem must be confronted with the persevering commitment of personal discipleship.

I am convinced that everyone needs the kind of accountability, comfort, and trust that a discipling relationship affords. It may be strange culturally and practically inconvenient to many today. But it can be done, and there is an urgent need for all Christian leaders to commit themselves to it.

Four Ways to Fight Sexual Sin

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 8:03pm

Sexual sin goes against who God created humans to be. The Bible teaches us this lesson in Proverbs 5 as the sage warns a young married man against the adulteress.

You may not be young, or married, or a man, but the wisdom of this text applies to you as much as to anyone else. Committing adultery with a woman is not the only form of sexual sin, but it follows a pattern that is common to all. Listening to this passage will help all of us. As the passage unfolds, it presents to us four steps we’ll need to take to avoid sexual sin.

1. Flee from Temptation

The author begins with an exhortation to listen:

My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil. (Proverbs 5:1–3)

Sexual sin is often attractive. It has a certain charm that invites and allures with seductive and smooth speech. It is also addictive: “The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin” (Proverbs 5:22). Like any appetite, the more we feed sexual sin the more it grows. The more we commit it, the more we will feel we need it, the easier it will be to do it, and the harder it will become to stop.

So, we need to flee.

Now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house. (Proverbs 5:7–8)

Fleeing sexual sin means doing all we can to avoid it. For some of us, that will mean restricting what we look at online, or not watching certain TV shows, or being more careful about what social situations we place ourselves in, or breaking up with someone (even if they mean the world to us), or changing our job.

If any of this seems like an overreaction, listen again to how it all ends: “He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray” (Proverbs 5:23). Sexual sin is attractive and addictive, and this is a lethal combination. Any action and sacrifice is worth it.

2. Consider the Future

The writer wants us to see what it all comes to in the end: “At the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed” (Proverbs 5:11). Sexual sin has consequences. We may talk about these things as a “fling” or “one night stand,” but the fact is, such sins are not so easily containable.

Do not go near the door of her house lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner. (Proverbs 5:8–10)

Sexual sin seems so attractive now, but fast-forward to the end and it all looks very different: “You say, ‘How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors’” (Proverbs 5:12–13). The wise consider their end before they get there.

3. Uphold Your Marriage

The young man being addressed needs to see how overwhelmingly positive a thing it is to enjoy sexual fulfillment within marriage.

Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. (Proverbs 5:15–19)

The Bible is not at all embarrassed by the enjoyment of sex in marriage. Some of the imagery here leaves little to the imagination. Cistern and well are both images of female sexuality, as the fountain is of male sexuality. We shouldn’t be surprised to see such imagery in the Bible. God is the one who designed human sexuality, intending for the husband and wife to enjoy their sexual union.

It is a man being addressed in this passage (“be intoxicated always in her love”), and so this is being spoken of from his perspective. But it is equally true of how the wife is to be delighted and intoxicated by the sexual love of her husband. Paul makes this clear in the New Testament:

The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (1 Corinthians 7:3–4)

But there is alternative intoxication offered: “Why would you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” (Proverbs 5:20). It can feel every bit as heady and dizzying as romantic fulfillment within marriage, but we know how devastating the fallout of adultery can be. It can wreck a whole life, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and economically.

So we must work at our sex lives. And, it probably goes without saying, investment in a healthy sex life is not likely to happen without investment in the marriage relationship as a whole, building and deepening the friendship that lies at the heart of it.

What about those of us, like me, who are single? This kind of language can be painful. We hear of the intoxication of sexual satisfaction and it is hard to hear. We must persevere in upholding the Bible’s teaching and honor the marriage bed by living lives of purity. And we need to uphold the marriage we have together with Christ. The language of intoxication that can be so hard to hear is a picture of what we will experience in eternity with him. We are pledged to him and need to honor our relationship with him by remaining faithful to him.

4. Remember God Is Watching

All that we do, and say, and think, takes place in the full view of God: “A man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths” (Proverbs 5:21).

This is a warning to us. We may be able to deceive other people; we will never deceive God. There is simply no thought he hasn’t seen and doesn’t know through and through. God sees every word we type into our search engines.

God sees our sin. But he also sees every striving to be pure and godly. He knows when we are battling; he knows what we are going through. It may well be that no one really seems to understand the kind of struggle you face or really knows the pain you go through as you fight temptation. But Jesus does. He draws near to us, as we draw near to him. Our labors for him are never unnoticed. As we fight for purity, he fights for and with us.

What Kind of Heart Does Christ Deserve? The Call of Christian Hedonism

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 12:00pm

Jesus is worthy to be praised with our every thought and deed. But what about our feelings? The Bible’s clearest answer is also the best of news. John Piper preached this message at the Bethlehem 2019 Conference for Pastors + Church Leaders in Minneapolis.

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How Not to Be Desperate

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 8:02pm

When we begin to despair in life — about marriage, or lost loved ones, or sickness, or work, or ministry — darkness falls like a fog.

Spiritually, we struggle to make sense of our surroundings. The eyes of our heart squint, searching for even a fragment of the light of Christ. In those days (or weeks, or years), we will be tempted to try and dispel the darkness — to alleviate the discomfort of waiting on God — by lighting our life a thousand other ways. Instead of navigating the deeper darkness by patiently following the voice of God, we will look for a torch of our own making.

Isaiah warned a despondent and wandering Israel against walking by theirs: “Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment” (Isaiah 50:11). God’s warning is clear: if we walk by the light of our own torches when darkness falls, we will eventually be burned by them.

Torches We Bear

Years ago, I experienced an especially dark season when I fell back into sexual sin after years of defeating temptation. The fall cost me greatly, and it (graciously) landed me in a desperation I had not known before. The bitterness of those days was a kindness that led me to enduring repentance, vigilance, and purity. But the days were often bitter and dark. I tasted the consequences of my own sinfulness, especially how it hurt the ones I loved. I often had a hard time looking God (or anyone else) in the face.

I was tempted to despair. What if I never win this war? What if these relationships never heal? What if I forfeit future ministry? What if I fall again? In moments like these, Satan interrogates us with all the wrong questions, trying to drown out God’s voice with daunting fears and doubts. Whether the darkness is self-inflicted, like mine was, or falls outside of our control, like it often does, the descent of darkness can simultaneously leave us more desperate than ever and yet deaf to God — the savior, helper, and counselor we need when the lights go out. So, instead of relying on him and his word, we often learn to cope, to crawl through the darkness on our own.

How do you soothe yourself in the throes of the unbearable? Maybe you medicate with distraction, defaulting to simple and superficial pleasures that keep your mind from the darker realities you face. You watch, or eat, or shop, whatever it takes not to feel, even for a few seconds. Maybe you prefer to wallow in self-pity, experiencing comfort only when you obsess over your pain. Instead of building a tower of Babel, you carve out a canyon to try and hide from reality. Maybe you take your despair out on others, turning the broken shards of glass in your heart into weapons. If you see someone else suffer, you don’t feel so alone anymore. It feels like justice — or at least equality.

We’re not proud of the torches we light. They not only expose the quiet idolatries we cultivate, but they also uncover just how unprepared we are for trials. They illumine our besetting sins and our weaknesses. And, as Isaiah warns, they damn us if we depend on them. We’re ashamed of them, but we trust them, at least when we’re desperate.

Bleakness in Life

Why do we abandon God in the darkness? When life does not go the way we expect or want, we can be tempted to become bitter (or at least suspicious) toward God. When life turns for the better, we may run gladly into his sovereign, all-knowing arms. But when life turns for the worse, the same infinite power and wisdom may seem suddenly dangerous, careless, aloof. He is absolutely and completely sovereign, so isn’t he ultimately to blame? The thought can leave us looking for a match to strike.

When God’s people begin to resent how he rules, grumbling, complaining, and falling into despondency, he responds, “Why, when I came, was there no man; why, when I called, was there no one to answer?” (Isaiah 50:2). I warned you, and I was patient with you. Where were you when I called? Their distress is not owing in any way to God’s neglect. No. “For your iniquities you were sold, and for your transgressions your mother was sent away” (Isaiah 50:1). The bleakness of life is owing to the blackness of sin, often our own. Not to any wrong in God.

When life gets hard, God does not want us to begrudge his plan; he wants us to bank on his love. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:1–2). God is able to save us from whatever we face. He wants to carry our anxieties because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:6–7).

His ear is not closed to us. His heart is not dull toward us. Yet we refuse to have him, because the darkness in us and around us has hidden him from us.

Walk (Not) by Sight

As the crowds closed their ears to the Lord’s invitations and warning, lighting up their God-despising torches, Isaiah says a listener arose from among the deaf — a servant strong enough to suffer injustice and compassionate enough to care for and sustain the weak.

While so many, disillusioned by despair, covered their ears and resented their own Lord in their hearts, this servant boldly says, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught” (Isaiah 50:4). While others were striking matches, he followed his ear, through pitch-black darkness, to the words of life. When he could not see the light, he listened for it instead.

Then he says in the next verse, “The Lord God has opened my ear” (Isaiah 50:5). In the darkest hour, God did it for the Lord’s servant. In a far darker hour, he did the same and more for Christ (John 17:8). If you can hear his voice in your dark hours, it’s because he has done it (Matthew 11:15). He has opened the ears of your heart. Do not despise his voice; do not reach for a torch of your own making. No, let this extraordinary hour of darkness teach you how to walk by faith, and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Walk by Another Light

If we walk by the light of our own torches, we will be burned. How, then, do we persevere in our darkness of desperation? Isaiah lights the other path. “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10). Trust him, rely on him, listen to him. Toss aside the torches you’re tempted to trust in, and walk by the light of his voice — the voice we hear only in his word. Repent, believe, and take the next step.

If you can hear his voice, he has awakened your ears to hear. And among all that he says to you, he promises, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2). No matter how dark it gets, I will be with you. “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you” (Isaiah 41:10).

And when we sit in darkness, surrounded by obstacles and enemies, and even our own failures, we can say, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8). When we’re laid low and made desperate, tempted even to despair, he will be all the light we need.

Can a Coin Flip Reveal God’s Will for My Life?

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 8:00pm

Making a decision with a coin flip glorifies chance. But making a decision from a renewed mind glorifies God.

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Put No Confidence in the Flesh

Tue, 02/26/2019 - 8:02am

Paul had an impressive résumé and a lifetime’s worth of accolades—but none of them could save him, and none of them could compete with gaining Christ.

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He Sold All His Pearls for One

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 8:01pm

Jesus told a one-sentence parable about a man who “sold all that he had.” He was a merchant who found something so precious that it far surpassed even the sum of all the other treasures he held dear.

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45–46)

One supremely precious pearl. One single pearl of exceedingly great value. So great, in fact, so precious, that he sold everything, including all his other fine pearls, to buy this one surpassingly great pearl.

Jesus Taught in Twos

Jesus pairs this parable with another one-sentence lesson about treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44). Jesus often does this in his teaching: pairing two illustrations, each with their individual emphases, to make the same general point (Carson, Matthew, 376).

Earlier in Matthew 13, it’s mustard seeds with leaven (Matthew 13:31–33), to show God’s surprising way of bringing to earth the fullness of heaven’s kingdom. In Matthew 13:44–46, Jesus accents the superlative worth of his kingdom. The pairing not only reinforces the point, but fills out the picture, and introduces new contours of meaning.

Treasure and Pearl

In the first parable (Matthew 13:44), the hidden treasure is found “by chance,” it seems, without the man looking intentionally for it. In the surprise of it all, the accent falls on his shocking and happy response: from his joy he goes and sells all he has to buy the field. Joy flooded his heart as he stumbled on such value.

In the second parable (Matthew 13:45–46), we have a merchant. He is looking. He is searching high and low, near and far. Well does he know the value of pearls. In the ancient world, pearls “were regarded as very precious,” says George Knight, “in more demand even than gold” (Pastoral Epistles, 135). And this merchant is not just seeking pearls but “fine pearls” — beautiful pearls, precious pearls. His palate is refined. He has a keen eye.

The merchant’s life has been bound up with pursuing the most precious of earthly objects. Now, he comes across one singular pearl of such beauty, of such great value, one pearl so precious, he goes and sells all he has to have it. The emphasis is not on his accidental find but on the over-the-top fulfillment of an intentional search. Now the accent is not on the subjective response of joy but on the exceedingly precious value of the object.

Worth Every Sacrifice

Together the short parables contribute to one picture, seen in the obvious repetition: the man sells all he has to obtain the newfound treasure. However accidental or intentional the search, the man has come upon something of such value that he is eager (“from his joy”) to count all else loss in view of the surpassing value of the treasure — of the exceeding preciousness of the pearl.

Neither parable minimizes the cost. In fact, both draw attention to it: literally, “all things, as much he has.” There is a cost — a great cost — to this discipleship. But the Discipler, who is himself the Treasure, so far outstrips the cost that we gladly say, “Gain!” This one great pearl is so surpassingly precious that many even say with the great army of missionaries and martyrs, like David Livingstone, “I never made a sacrifice.”

What will it look like for Christ’s kingdom to come to us like this? How do we receive Jesus as an infinitely valuable treasure, or a singularly great pearl, that far surpasses all else? The concept of superlative worth or supreme preciousness in Matthew 13 points us to at least two pictures elsewhere in the New Testament.

Exceedingly Precious

The first is the anointing at Bethany (John 12:3–8; also Mark 14:3–9). Martha served. Lazarus, freshly resurrected, reclined at table. Their sister Mary “took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair” (John 12:3). Here, expensive is the same word used for the one great pearl in Matthew 13 (Greek polutimos, “exceedingly precious”). So manifestly, uncomfortably valuable was the ointment that the disciples, and chiefly Judas, registered their concerns. “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:5).

A denarius was a laborer’s daily wage. This ointment represented a whole year’s earnings for a six-days-a-week worker. Likely this was Mary’s nest egg for the future. And yet, as precious as it was, she saw Jesus as more precious. She saw him as surpassingly valuable. She poured her future on his feet, and in doing so, she demonstrated who was supremely precious to her.

Supremely Valuable

Paul takes up the same search, sacrifice, and joy in Philippians 3. Did he perhaps see himself in the merchant of Jesus’s parable? If so, what were the “fine pearls” he amassed before encountering the supreme preciousness of Christ? He provides a list: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5–6).

As a leader among the strictest sect of his religion, he had an unassailable pedigree (what he couldn’t control, by birth) and performance (what he could, by effort). These were fine pearls indeed. Until he stumbled upon a Treasure who confronted him, knocked him off his horse, and opened his eyes. This was a Treasure that had been hidden from Paul, and yet one he had long been seeking. Now Paul saw Jesus as the one great Pearl of all-surpassing preciousness, and he counted all to be loss — both pedigree and performance — in view of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Jesus became to him both an infinitely priceless Treasure to gain and a supremely precious Pearl to know.

God, in all his divine goodness, took on flesh in this one man Jesus. “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Finding him as your one Precious will not poison and shrink your soul. He is the antidote to what ails us, the catalyst to expand our small hearts, the surprising remedy we’ve long been seeking.

The Whole Creation Groans in Every Grief: Why I Love the Apostle Paul

Sun, 02/24/2019 - 8:02pm

Only rarely do we find a person who is able to speak meaningfully about suffering at the very personal level of pain and loss, and also at the cosmic level of why the whole universe is the way it is. Most people, it seems, are wired either to be a wise counselor who can apply God’s goodness and power to individual need or to think globally about why the entire world is permeated, for all its beauty, with horrifying calamities. Finding both in one person is rare and beautiful. The apostle Paul was such a person.

Paul was not naïve about the vastness of human misery and suffering in the world. And the explanation he gave, as he probed this mystery, was both personal in its application to individual Christians and cosmic in its scope of redemption.

Destined to Suffer

Within weeks after starting a new church and appointing leaders for the church, Paul prepared the new believers to suffer.

When they had preached the gospel . . . they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:21–22)

Paul did not try to soften the claims that Jesus put on his followers. He did not use a bait-and-switch tactic by luring people with the promise of prosperity and then changing his tune when trouble arrived. He said plainly, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

When tribulation began, he reminded the believers that they were not entering something unusual. They were not being singled out because of some sin. They were experiencing what God had ordained for his beloved children. So he urged them not to be “moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3).

Paul’s Personal Empathy

Paul helped people see their suffering through the lens of God’s good purposes for their eternal good:

We ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. (2 Thessalonians 1:4–5)

Paul helped individual Christians not just in the pain of persecution but in all their sufferings, whether disease or accident or loss or the ordinary burdens of life. He explained that the whole creation is groaning under futility caused by the fall (Romans 8:22), and then he added that Christians are not exempt from this groaning:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:22–23)

In other words, Christians endure groans of almost every kind in this world until Christ comes to redeem our bodies. Life in the body — life in this fallen world — means groaning. So take heart, if you are trusting in Christ. Your suffering is not owing to God’s wrath against you. Your condemnation for sin has been taken away by the death of Christ (Romans 8:1). God will not let you be tested beyond what he gives you the grace to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 9:8). Your groaning is limited. Redemption is coming. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

Paul’s Global Vision

Amazingly, Paul is eager not only to help us individually, with our personal suffering in the moment, but also with the big picture of why the whole creation is in such a mess. Here is the key passage from his great letter to the Romans:

The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:20–22)

This subjection of the creation to futility is a reference to God’s act in the garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve turned away from God’s goodness and wisdom and authority. God did what he said he would do (Genesis 2:17): he introduced death into the world and put creation under bondage to corruption and pervasive futility.

In other words, God’s judgment upon the sin of human rebellion was the breakdown of nature’s beautiful functioning. Now things go wrong. Corruption and futility are shot through the created order with every manner of suffering and dying.

A Picture of Sin’s Evil

We can shed some light on God’s purpose in this subjection of creation if we ask, Why would God’s judgment fall on physical creation when the sin was an act of the human heart? My answer is that the physical miseries of the creation are a visible and deeply felt witness to the moral ugliness and outrage of sin.

For most of us, the sins of our hearts (our preference for God’s gifts over God himself) do not cause great agony of soul. We do not feel the real outrage of the universe — namely, that the beautiful Creator and sustainer of the world is disregarded and dishonored. But just let our bodies be touched by pain, and we are full of indignation that this is happening.

In other words, God subjected the physical world to corruption to show us the outrage of sin at the one point where we really feel it. All physical pain and sorrow should scream at us, “This is how horrible sin is.” This is how serious our moral condition is before God. This is why the redemption of the world was not cheap, but cost the infinite price of the Son of God dying for sinners.

For Your Comfort

It is beautiful and rare when a person can offer a global explanation for suffering, and then also make his own very personal suffering a means of our comfort. But Paul has done this for me many times. He wanted it this way:

If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. (2 Corinthians 1:6)

I take this very personally. I love him for the vastness of his global vision. And I love him for turning his own suffering into a means of my comfort.

My Girlfriend Affirms Homosexual Love — Is This a Deal-Breaker?

Sun, 02/24/2019 - 8:02pm

“My girlfriend affirms homosexual love — is this a deal-breaker?” Yes. Pastor John gives five reasons why.

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Unless You Stop Loving Sin: The Heart of Repentance

Sat, 02/23/2019 - 8:03pm

Jesus said some surprising things during his ministry. One of the most surprising is in the Gospel of Luke, just after he receives a report of the massacre of some Galileans. Some concluded that the Galileans suffered because they were particularly sinful people (Luke 13:2). If the Galileans had been more holy (their thinking goes), they could have avoided a grisly end.

Jesus disagrees. He responds, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). He says the problem is that everyone is sinful before God and therefore headed toward God’s eternal judgment (that’s the meaning of “perish” in this context, see Luke 9:24–25). And according to Jesus, the solution to this massive problem of divine judgment isn’t to improve one’s behavior, but to “repent.”

Calling people to repentance is the reason Jesus came (Luke 5:32) and the message he commissions his followers to preach (Luke 24:47). It’s the only way anyone can avoid God’s judgment (Luke 13:3). Given the supremely serious consequences of not repenting, it’s important to understand what repentance is.

Heart of Repentance

To get to the heart of repentance, we need to dig deeper than sorrow for sin, apologies to God and other people, and changes in outward behavior. Repentance certainly leads to these — in fact, that’s the point of Jesus’s parable in Luke 13:6–9, which comes immediately after the teaching on repentance. The point of the parable is that true repentance necessarily results in changed attitudes and behavior. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist calls for people to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Similarly, this means that acts of obedience (“fruits”) flow from (and are therefore not the same thing as) repentance.

So, what is the heart of repentance? Repentance is a change of perception and direction. As John Piper notes, the Greek word for “repent” refers to “a change of the mind’s perceptions and dispositions and purposes. . . . Repenting means experiencing a change of mind that now sees God as true and beautiful and worthy of all our praise and all our obedience.”

As we see God for who he is (great, glorious, desirable), we also see sin for what it is (diminished, ugly, repulsive). This is why repentance is also a commitment to a profound change of direction, an about-face, a reorientation of our lives away from sin and toward God. This change of perception and direction is something we’re commanded to do (Acts 2:38) — and something that requires the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit if we’re to do it. We act the miracle.

Those with whom Jesus speaks in Luke 13 seem to think the problem with the Galileans is not enough holiness. But Jesus says the real problem is that everyone is blind to God’s glory and has turned away from him. What is needed is not a bit more holiness for some, but a total reorientation of life for all. The critical difference between those who are saved and those who aren’t isn’t how relatively good they are — it’s whether they’ve admitted that they’re not good, seen God as supremely glorious, and reversed the entire direction of their lives.

Repentance for All of Life

The evening before I married my wife in Belfast, Northern Ireland, several friends and I drove into the center of the city to celebrate. Somehow, we ended up on the wrong road — the main road to Dublin, it turned out — and because none of us were very familiar with the British road system, we couldn’t figure out how to turn the car around.

The minutes ticked by as we looked for exits, all the while getting further from Belfast and closer to Dublin. The one thing that couldn’t possibly have helped us in that situation was going faster in the same direction. We had to turn around. Jesus’s solution to the problem of God’s judgment is radical. It’s not: “Improve your behavior.” Instead, it’s: “See God for who he really is and change your entire direction.” Obedience will (and must) follow.

Even after conversion, Jesus’s followers all too frequently struggle to see God as glorious and desirable, and to orient our lives fully toward him. We’re tempted every day in a thousand different directions. Therefore, we must constantly reorient ourselves back toward God, seeing him anew and pursuing him afresh. As Martin Luther noted, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”

Repentance for Eternal Life

Trying to do good won’t save us from God’s eternal judgment. Nor will feeling sorry for sin, or saying sorry for sin, or becoming a more moral person. Those are all important to do (and they all flow from true repentance), but, on their own, none go deep enough. We need to hear Jesus say again, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). We need to see the beauty and love and holiness of the Triune God, perceiving him as the Treasure he really is. We need to turn from the false promises of sin and aim our lives toward him. This is repentance — and this is life.

The Christian Life Is Waiting

Sat, 02/23/2019 - 11:02am

A longing for heaven can’t help but eclipse longings for worldly pursuits because a longing for future glory produces in us a pursuit of glory today.

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How to Overlook an Offense

Fri, 02/22/2019 - 8:02pm

“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). In moments of calm, the wise man’s counsel sounds so right, so sane. Overlooking offenses is our glory.

Then the offenses actually come, and we often find them too large to look over. The actual size of the offense often matters little. A spouse’s consistent faultfinding, a boss’s unfair criticism, a stranger’s unaccountable rudeness — given the right circumstances, any of these may rise up in front of us like a son of Anak, its shoulders stretching to heaven (Numbers 13:33). Peripherals blur, tunnel vision ensues, and we have eyes only for The Offense.

Even if sanity swiftly returns, the damage is often already done. We returned tone for tone, passive aggression for passive aggression, jab for jab. Or we restrained ourselves externally, but only as a small volcano erupted inside of us. Or we quietly smoldered, playing the incident on repeat the rest of the day.

Mindful of God

Peter, writing to Christians familiar with offense, comes alongside Proverbs to show us a different way: “This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly” (1 Peter 2:19). In three little words, Peter shares one of the keys to overlooking offenses great and small: we become mindful of God.

In other words, we don’t focus on the offense itself. We don’t stare at something that merely distracts us from what’s really important. We certainly don’t look within ourselves. Rather, we overlook offenses by looking up to God, by becoming mindful of who he is for us in this very moment — in the office, at the dinner table, on the phone call, during the meeting.

To be sure, Peter’s readers were dealing with offenses more severe than the kind Westerners typically face: physical abuse (1 Peter 2:20), ridicule (1 Peter 4:4), fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12). But learning to overlook the biggest offenses usually begins with learning to overlook the smallest. Enduring slander begins with enduring a sarcastic remark. Enduring a beating begins with enduring a cold shoulder. Being mindful of God in everyday offenses trains us to be mindful of him when the worst comes.

What, then, are we mindful of when we are mindful of God?

1. God Sees Every Offense

Offenses have a way of turning us into momentary atheists. In our tunnel vision, we can think and feel and act as if there were no God in the world — much less in the room. Being mindful of God means, first, remembering that God is here, and he sees: “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Peter 2:20).

No offense happens offstage, in some unobserved corner of the universe. Being mindful of God pulls back the curtains, puts us in the spotlight, and reminds us that we live and move and have our being before the eyes of an audience more important than a thousand kings and presidents.

God’s all-seeing eye carries a warning with it, to be sure (Hebrews 4:13). But Peter makes the opposite application: God sees assures us that he whose smile matters most is watching. The world may look on a Christian’s patient endurance and see only weakness. God looks on and sees a precious child, a person for his own possession (1 Peter 2:10), a beautiful imitator of his beloved Son. Offenses are opportunities for the God of the universe to look down on us and say, “This is a gracious thing in my sight.”

2. God Sends Every Offense

God does not, however, observe our offenses as a mere member of the audience, but as the director of the whole drama. In the theater of the universe, every offense — no matter how trifling — is part of the play. Every word, every gesture has been given its act, scene, and line by the one who sends “various trials,” including offenses, so that our faith might be tested, proven, and precious (1 Peter 1:6–7).

On this side of heaven, in fact, offenses are part of our calling as Christians: “To this you have been called,” Peter tells us (1 Peter 2:21). And why? “Because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Following Jesus means imitating Jesus, and imitating the man of sorrows cannot happen apart from trouble, distress, and offense. These are the stages where God calls us to proclaim his excellencies (1 Peter 2:9).

Therefore, as Calvin writes,

When we are unjustly wounded by men, let us overlook their wickedness (which would but worsen our pain and sharpen our minds to revenge), remember to mount up to God, and learn to believe for certain that whatever our enemy has wickedly committed against us was permitted and sent by God’s just dispensation. (Institutes, 1.17.8)

God sends every offense. Therefore, mount up to God — be mindful of God — and know that the daggers others throw your way will become in God’s hand chisels to fashion you into the image of Christ.

3. God Will Judge Every Offense

We can overlook offenses not only because God sees our offenses and sends our offenses, but also because God will judge every offense. Christians follow the pattern of Jesus, who did not exact vengeance when he hung on the cross, though he could have called down twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53). Instead, he handed his handfuls of agony to his Father, and “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

We naturally consider the judgment of God in the context of the greatest of wrongs — as we should. The day is coming when the Son of God will descend to earth with a sword, casting down every proud oppressor and raising up the meek to inherit the earth (Revelation 19:15; Matthew 5:5). “Vengeance is mine” is a well deep enough for even the most mistreated to draw hope (Romans 12:19). But God’s judgment changes how we react to small offenses as well. If God will right even the biggest wrongs, then we do not need to take even the smallest into our own hands.

Whether the offenses against us are titanic or trifling, God’s judgment frees us to exchange bitterness for patience, retribution for mercy. The very word judgment brings to mind our own offenses against God, offenses that cried out for our blood until Jesus shed his own. It reminds us that our offender, if outside of Christ, deserves our pity and, if inside Christ, needs our brotherly love. It removes all self-righteousness from our mouths and replaces it with the Christlike plea of “Lord, forgive them.” It beckons us to release our “right” to get even, and to hand over our cause to him who judges justly.

Where Is God in the Offense?

God sees every offense, God sends every offense, and God will judge every offense. Finally, those who are mindful of God go one step further: they trust that God himself can satisfy them in the midst of offense. Of all the refuges we can run to when offenses come — bitterness, revenge, fantasy, distraction, pleasure, self-justification — only one can fill us with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). Only one can call us back from darkness (1 Peter 2:9). Only one cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). God.

If we repay offense for offense, we will have our reward. But if we learn to overlook offenses, we will lean into fellowship with “the Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls” (1 Peter 2:25). We will hear his whispers of “Well done” here and now. We will find that God is able to invade our tunnel vision, enthrall us with his beauty and worth, and free us to overlook the offense.

We Will Never Outgrow the Gospel

Fri, 02/22/2019 - 8:01am

God’s word and gospel message are like oxygen for our souls. We won’t last long if we try to hold our breath.

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What Does Jesus Mean by ‘I Never Knew You’?

Fri, 02/22/2019 - 7:05am

When Jesus says, “I never knew you,” he means, “I don’t recognize you as my disciple, as my follower. You are a spiritual stranger to me.”

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Cut Off Your Hand: How Far Will You Go to Save Your Soul?

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 8:02pm

Losing a sense of God’s holiness is the first warning sign of entering a spiritually dangerous place.

Externally, everything might look fine: Our families might be well, our ministries might be flourishing, we might be receiving recognition and walking powerfully in our spiritual gifts. But inwardly, we’re wandering.

External phenomena do not reliably indicate our spiritual health. Families and ministries can struggle and go wrong for reasons that have nothing to do with our spiritual states. And history is full of examples of men and women who exercised spiritual gifts with great power for a period of time — even when involved in gross secret sin. Besides that, externals are usually lagging indicators of spiritual decline. By the time our decline starts surfacing, it often has reached a serious state.

What to Watch

The thing to watch is our sense of God’s holiness.

I don’t mean our doctrinal knowledge of God’s holiness. That’s something we might affirm and even teach when secretly we are in a place of decline. The doctrine of God’s holiness is real to us only when we have real fear of God. And one clear evidence of this is our fear of sin. The loss of the sense of God’s holiness always produces the loss of the sense of sin’s sinfulness. When God is not feared, sin is not feared.

A tolerance of habitual indulgence of sin — a lack of fear over what slavery to sin might imply (John 8:34) — is an indictor that the fear of God is not governing us. And when we are in such a state, Jesus tells us what we need to do: cut off our hand.

Absolutely Terrifying Reality

Matthew 18 is a sober read. Jesus gets very serious about the extremely horrible consequences of sin. And he says this:

Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Matthew 18:7–9)

Note the words eternal fire in verse eight. For most of the history of the church, some have asserted either some form of ultimate universal salvation for everyone or ultimate annihilation of the lost. But for the entire history of the church, the vast majority of Christians and the vast majority of the church’s most eminent and reliable theologians have affirmed that what Jesus and the apostles taught about hell is eternal, conscious punishment. Those three words describe an absolutely terrifying reality.

Metaphor, But No Hyperbole

I used the words “extremely horrible” and “absolutely terrifying” very carefully and intentionally. They are among the only fitting words we have to describe hell, the eternal death that is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). No one wants to experience this. And it will be the reality experienced by everyone who is a slave to sin and not set free by the Son (John 8:36).

That is why Jesus uses the extreme metaphor of cutting off our hand and tearing out our eye. Extreme danger calls for extreme measures of escape. Yes, the mutilation imagery is a metaphor, but it is not hyperbole. We know it is a metaphor because the literal loss of a hand or an eye doesn’t get to the root issue of sin. But radical and painful amputation of stumbling blocks out of our lives may be the only way to escape falling headlong into sin’s insidiously deceptive snare.

We may need to “mutilate” — chop off — a habit, a relationship, a career, certain personal freedoms, whatever is causing us to stumble. Because far better that we enter life having lost those things than kept them and lose our souls (Luke 9:25).

Cut Off Every Hand

When we lose the sense of God’s holiness, Jesus’s warnings in Matthew 18 land lightly on us. We reason that such a warning is for someone else. We don’t seriously think it applies to us. Nor do we seriously think it applies to other brothers and sisters who are characterized by worldly concerns and pursuits and are rather numb when it comes to sin.

We might take consolation that our affirmation of orthodox doctrine, external affirmations, and “fruitful” labors demonstrate we’re on the right path. But if in the secret place, we’re tolerating sin, tolerating relative prayerlessness, tolerating a lack of urgency over lost souls, it is an indicator that something is wrong. If we don’t reverence God as holy in our private lives, we are on a perilous path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

Jesus provides us the cure to this deadly infection: cut off every hand that is causing you to stumble. And he really means it. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart” (Hebrews 4:7). Whether we have just ventured on to this road or been on it way too long, the time is now to repent and take the extreme measure to amputate whatever is entangling our feet in sin (Hebrews 12:1). We must plead with the Lord and do whatever it takes to see the fear of the Lord restored in our hearts.

Choose Life

For the Christian, the fear of the Lord does not compete with our joy in the Lord. Rather, it’s a source of our joy in the Lord. Isaiah prophesied this about Jesus: “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:3). Jesus delighted in the fear of his Father, and God wants us to enjoy this delight too. Because “the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:27). And “the friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant” (Psalm 25:14).

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Conversely, losing the fear of the Lord is the beginning of foolishness. The reward of such wisdom is eternal life (John 3:16) and fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). The reward of such foolishness is absolutely terrifying.

When we notice a diminishing of our healthy fear of God, the loss of a sense of his holiness, that is the time to take action. Let us repent by cutting off every foolish hand and, as Deuteronomy 30:19 says, choose life.

When a Child Disobeys: Six Steps for Healthy Correction

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 7:40am

Correcting children can be a matter of babies and bathwater. How do we preserve the phenomenal God-given potential these children possess, without condoning the defiance that boils over from the cauldron of their sinful little hearts? How do we love the baby well and hate the dirty bathwater?

While Christian parents know it is necessary to correct young children (Proverbs 22:15), good and wise parents also earnestly desire to guard themselves against crushing their spirits (Proverbs 15:13). We don’t want to destroy the morale and mettle of these potential heroes who currently happen to be packaged in the appearance of unholy terrors.

Our aim is to redirect them, not squash them. But when little Johnny has done it again — disobeyed, defied your instruction, sassed, thrown a hissy fit — what’s a mother to do? How can she respond to this naughtiness without abandoning tenderhearted love? How can she hate the sin (it is sin) and love the little sinner? And how can she avoid over-reacting? How can she build up a child who disobeys?

Affirm, Then Correct

Before tackling how to do it, recognize the indispensability of understanding why we must first lay down a foundation of affirmation. Why affirm a child who has just mouthed off, blatantly defied your instructions, willfully disobeyed you, or stubbornly stunk up the house with an attitude that reeks of selfishness?

First, because if you don’t make “commendation of the commendable” a way of life, you lose your child. That is, he tunes you out. You don’t mean to push him away, but you do. He eventually doesn’t listen to you anymore, because you’re always on his case. He gets the impression he can’t please you. So, make it clear that he does please you when he obeys promptly, or when he demonstrates the slightest echoes of Christlike character such as kindness, generosity, alertness, or sensitivity to others (Philippians 4:29).

Don’t overlook this tactical advantage: your even-handed kindness and willingness to objectively acknowledge in your child’s behavior and attitude whatever is good, true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8) will gain you a hearing. Children (of all ages) are more willing to listen to those who praise them. So, if it’s worthy of praise, then, well, don’t omit the praise! You gain a hearing.

The interplay between correction and affirmation is like a checking account. Be sure to make ample deposits (affirmations) before drawing on the account (corrections). Corrections bounce when the account is overdrawn.

God Is Doing Something

The second reason to correct in an atmosphere of affirmation is that God is always doing good things everywhere. Some call it “common grace.” Of all the good he is doing, some of the good is in your child, even at the precise moment your child defies you. God gets more glory when we point out what he is doing, and he is always at work, even during the tornadic tempest of a child’s tantrums.

What exactly is God doing? For one thing, God is restraining your child. Even as sinful as a child’s heart is, the tyke does not carry out all the wicked plans that are conceivable. In fact, the child doesn’t even conceive all the wickedness that’s conceivable. God hasn’t let him. God has not allowed your toddler to kill himself, or launch a nuclear strike, or commit the unpardonable sin. Praise God. Seriously, give God explicit honor for the specific good he is doing in the moment. Name it. Tell God you see it, and thank him.

Keep in mind, each sin of your child doesn’t obliterate all the other developmental progress he or she may have made up to that point. Just as one misspelled word doesn’t imply the child has to learn the alphabet all over again, one display of defiance doesn’t mean all is lost.

Six Steps for Healthy Correction

So, what can you do when a child disobeys? When your child defies you, first pray. Ask God to move the heart of your child (Romans 10:1).

Second, focus on the heart. Good and wise parental correction is not a matter of finding the right formula, as though it’s a mere mechanical operation. The right kind of thinking and practicing requires the right kind of heart. Ensure that you love your child with God’s love. This is different from human sentimentality or possessiveness. Our children don’t belong to us, but to God. We are to treat them as God would have us treat them. In order to treat children wisely, to love children (or anyone) well, we need continuously to be filled by the Holy Spirit who produces the fruit of love. Failing to be Spirit-filled jeopardizes the entire enterprise.

Third, precede correction with a diet of affirmation. It should be obvious by now that I commend commending the commendable. Then, correct. The correction is best when it has taken place in a broad context of steady affirmation. “We affirm good things around here” is a good banner to hang over a home. And it makes correction more palatable (Colossians 3:21). But don’t wait too long to correct, when pressure builds to unmanageable proportions and you explode, or so much time has elapsed that the child does not make a tight connection between his misbehavior and your correction.

Fourth, put a pause between the affirmation and the correction. Separate the two. “You told the truth to me about breaking the lamp by throwing the ball, and that honesty is so commendable. I thank God for your integrity. Now (pause) we have to address the clean-up, maybe restitution, and appropriate consequences for this misbehavior when you were clearly told not to throw a ball in the living room.”

Fifth, ask how God affirms us while correcting us. Answer: he receives us as his own children. Hebrews says, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6). Describe for the child how God corrects you. Explain that he does it because he receives you as part of his family. And you correct your children because you receive them in your family: it establishes belongingness, which is so important to healthy development.

Lastly, humbly persevere (Colossians 4:2). Practice consistency in the strength God supplies, and be ready to lovingly correct for the long haul.

Broad Minds and Big Hearts: A Case for Christian Liberal-Arts Education

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 8:02pm

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)

At Bethlehem College & Seminary, where I teach, the primary goal for our students’ education is not technical or professional, is not merely career or skills oriented, but is rather aimed at shaping a certain kind of person for a lifetime. To that end, we teach not only Scripture and theology, but also history, literature, and philosophy.

One way to express the vision for our college, and liberal-arts programs like ours, is this: We aim to educate students who graduate as mature adults rooted in the Scriptures, enriched by the humanities, and passionate for God’s global glory in Christ. Or, to put it another way, the aim of our college is Christian discipleship, the formation of mature Christian adults.

Why emphasize the liberal arts and humanities alongside Scripture? Because a liberal-arts education, received under the lordship of Christ, uniquely prepares students to live as broad-minded, big-hearted Christians in the home, the church, and the world.

Personal Formation

Begin with the individual student. In an age of extended adolescence, a liberal-arts program like ours does not aim to entertain boys and girls but to establish stable men and women in faith through challenge. Generally speaking, most incoming students at Bethlehem College have a good grounding in Christian belief and practice. While they are by no means perfect in either, most of them tend to come from good Christian homes and churches that have done a decent job of grounding them in the faith before they arrive at our doors. Thus, our college students tend to have assumptions about Christian belief and practice that we largely, if not completely, agree with.

What then do they gain from their education? One of the effects of our curriculum on students is to challenge many of their (good and biblical) assumptions. In other words, the aim is to subject the students’ beliefs, assumptions, and practices to stress testing in order to build resiliency. In most universities, such challenges often come with the aim of undermining or overthrowing these beliefs and assumptions. But the goal of a Christian college is to strengthen, solidify, and (sometimes) correct these assumptions, beliefs, and practices. Strengthening a student’s faith requires subjecting them to a process of engagement with authors and texts that articulate beliefs and ideas that differ from theirs.

This process, while often uncomfortable and difficult for the students, is good for them and the solidity of their Christian convictions. A liberal-arts education forces them to think about why they believe what they believe and to explore the deeper reasons for their faith, thereby shaping their overall orientation to the world. While such an education has value in enabling students to commend the faith to others, the first aim of the education is not apologetic or evangelistic, but formative and personal. We want our students to be real Christians, all the way down. To use Walter Hooper’s description of C.S. Lewis, we want them to be “thoroughly converted” (God in the Dock, xiv). The contemporary world poses significant intellectual, moral, and affectional challenges for Christians. Standing firm in the evil day demands deep Christian convictions that have been tested and tried (Ephesians 6:13). Our college delivers that testing and trying through broad exposure to the riches of a liberal-arts education led by wise and faithful professors who care about the outcome of our students’ faith.

But the aim of a liberal-arts education is not merely defensive; it also aims to broaden the mind and enlarge the heart of the student. We want students to lean into reality, to have eyes wide open in wonder at the world that God has made and that man has cultivated and adorned (Psalm 19:1; 104:14¬–15). A liberal-arts education helps students to grow in wisdom, to attune them to reality so that they are able to walk wisely and joyfully in the world.

The Home

The benefits of a Christian liberal-arts education do not stop with the individual; they extend to the home, to marriage and family. Everyone recognizes that we make many of our pivotal life decisions from the ages of 18 to 25. During these years, young men and women will lay foundations, set life trajectories, and settle on vocations, and many will also choose spouses and begin families. A Christian liberal-arts college is not only an ideal place to find a suitable and fitting spouse; it is designed to cultivate habits of imaginative honesty and inquiry that will serve marriages and families over a lifetime.

A Christian liberal-arts education is a humane education — that is, it trains the student in ways of being human, in grasping the tendencies, trajectories, and boundaries of our created nature (Genesis 1:27–28); in making them aware of the distortions, corruptions, and temptations of our fallen nature (Romans 3:10–18); and clarifying for them the gospel-grounded hope of our redeemed nature (2 Corinthians 3:18). And the first place that this understanding of human nature in all of its facets will be applied is in the home.

A liberal-arts education that produces stable, godly men and stable, godly women will inevitably foster stable, godly marriages and stable, godly families, which form the backbone of earthly society. One Christian liberal-arts college with a similar vision to Bethlehem’s uses the longevity of marriages and the low incidence of divorce among its alumni as a key measure of its success. In short, the faculty of Bethlehem College know from personal experience and from the initial results of our educational paradigm that an education in the humanities can be a significant means of strengthening marriages and families.

The Church

But not only marriages and families and the home. A Christian liberal-arts education serves the church. It does so, first, by creating men and women who love the church of Jesus Christ. Our curriculum studies all of history as redemptive history, as God’s works of creation and providence which climax in Christ and which issue forth in God’s mission in the world through Christ’s body (Luke 24:44; Matthew 28:18–20).

As we consider the future of the church in America and beyond, we ask ourselves: Who will be leading small groups in twenty years? Who will be teaching Sunday school? Who will be serving as non-vocational elders, and leading women’s ministries, and counseling the broken and hurting in dark nights? Bethlehem College aims to fill the ranks of lay leadership in churches around the country. And we believe that the best leaders will not only be rooted and grounded in the Scriptures as the ultimate source and standard of truth, but also enriched by the humanities and able to faithfully appropriate and apply wisdom from any area of human knowledge.

Piper-Like Preachers

In addition to cultivating lay leaders in the church, a Christian liberal-arts education also provides an ideal foundation for pastoral ministry. To begin with, a significant portion of the great texts that we study were written by Christians. In reading them, we engage in historical theology and learn to read the Bible with the saints throughout history. But the value of the liberal arts for ministry extends beyond the reading list. One central aim of Bethlehem Seminary is to produce John Piper–like preachers and heralds of the word of God — God-entranced, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, missions-mobilizing, inflamed by passion and joy and zeal for the glory of God. But consider where John Piper himself came from. The humanities are an essential part of Piper’s and therefore Bethlehem’s DNA. One version of his biography reads this way:

At Wheaton College (1964–68), John majored in literature and minored in philosophy. Studying Romantic literature with Clyde Kilby stimulated the poetic side of his nature, and today he regularly writes poems to celebrate special family occasions. As pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, he would also compose story-poems (based on the life of a biblical character) for his congregation during the four weeks of Advent each year.

Without Wheaton and the Christian liberal-arts education offered there, John Piper would not be the preacher that he is. At Wheaton, he met C.S. Lewis (through his books) and learned to love beautiful words and penetrating logic. At Wheaton, Piper’s education in literature and philosophy gave him the habits of heart and mind that prepared him to receive and recognize the value of arcing as a method of representing an author’s flow of thought and analyzing an argument in the Scriptures.

If we want to fill pulpits with Piper-like preachers, it is not enough to have a seminary that equips pastors with the tools of rigorous biblical exegesis and God-besotted theology; we also must produce men who love beauty, who are moved by poetry and the power of words, who are able to carefully and logically construct good arguments and expose bad arguments, and whose imaginations are aflame and ready to be employed in the cause of God and truth.

Renaissance Men in the Pulpit

But the importance of the liberal arts for Christian ministry extends beyond the ministry of John Piper. Almost every model of pastoral ministry that we set before our students was liberally educated. Augustine studied classical literature and rhetoric, especially the works of Virgil and Cicero, and then as a Christian taught us to plunder the Egyptians in order to build the house of God. Luther wrote tracts advocating for the reform of education, since the longevity of a faithful and educated clergy depended upon a faithful and educated people. He commended the establishment of schools that would include training in Latin, music, literature, and philosophy, as well as the Scriptures and theology. Such schools “must be second in importance only to the church, for in them young preachers and pastors are trained, and from them emerge those who replace the ones who die” (“On the Councils and the Churches,” 263). John Calvin was classically trained in law and philosophy; his first book was a commentary on Seneca. Jonathan Edwards received a classical and humane education at Yale. While Charles Spurgeon had no formal education beyond one year at Newmarket Academy, he was widely read in theology, natural history, Latin, and Victorian literature.

Suffice it to say that until the eighteenth century, essentially all pastors were “Renaissance men,” rigorously steeped in history, philosophy, literature, and Latin. That shaped the way they pastored, articulated, and expressed their faith. If we wish to produce preachers and pastors who shape the future of the Christian church, it is essential that we graduate men who are not only deep in the Scriptures, but also broad in the humanities.

The World

Finally, a Christian liberal-arts education is not just good for the church; it’s good for the world. Christendom was built largely on the liberal arts as universities emerged out of the church during the Middle Ages. The Protestant Reformation accelerated and broadened the reach of this education by extending it to the masses. Zacharias Ursinus, a German Reformed theologian, wrote, “The maintenance of schools may be embraced under this part of the honor which is due to the ministry; for unless the arts and sciences be taught, men can neither become properly qualified to teach, nor can the purity of doctrine be preserved and defended against the assaults of heretics” (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, 1007). By schools, Ursinus meant universities and academies that taught both the Scriptures and theology, as well as the arts and sciences.

Time would fail to consider the full impact of the Reformed tradition on education in both Europe and America, but one only needs to consider the education of men and women like John Milton, William Wilberforce, Hannah More, Jane Austen, and Anne Dutton to see that many of the Christians who have had the greatest impact on the world received a robust liberal-arts education. And, of course, how many Great Books did C.S. Lewis have to read in order to be able to write Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Chronicles of Narnia, not to mention the countless other essays, sermons, and books that have enriched the church over the last seventy years?

Listening to the Great Tradition

Aside from the historical precedent in the Reformed tradition, a liberal-arts education is especially useful in a diverse and multicultural society. In fact, a Christian liberal-arts education does what multiculturalism and diversity initiatives attempt to do: it helps us to recognize that our assumptions about what’s normal aren’t always universal, while also helping us to identify what is truly universal and human. In a liberal-arts education, we are brought into conversation with what Chesterton called “the democracy of the dead.” In attending to the Great Tradition, we give voice to our ancestors, and thereby refuse “to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about” (Orthodoxy, 43).

In studying Great Books, we avoid the error of chronological snobbery and the parochialism of the present. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age” (“Learning in War-Time,” 58–59). Or as the novelist L.P. Hartley said, “The past is a foreign country; they do things different there” (The Go-Between, 17). Thus, a Christian liberal-arts education is ideally suited to prepare students to live in a connected and globalized world in which they will regularly encounter the vast differences of culture, custom, and religion.

Lifelong Learners

Additionally, because a liberal-arts education aims to equip students with certain fundamental habits of heart and mind, our graduates are lifelong learners who are able to acquire new skills and serve Christ in a great variety of educations. The rigor of our undergraduate education is ideal preparation for graduate studies and law school. By studying great works of literature, which give us windows into human nature, we prepare students who desire to pursue vocations in psychology and counseling. In forming mature Christian adults who can think critically and creatively as well as communicate clearly and compellingly, we help them to become the kind of people that employers want to hire, and who can rise in the ranks of businesses through their fidelity, stability, and ability to learn.

Broad-Minded Missionaries

Finally, we must not underestimate the value of a Christian liberal-arts education for the cause of global missions. At Bethlehem College, we not only offer a program in cross-cultural ministry, but we see our foundational curriculum in the humanities as aiding the cause of world missions. Just as our rigorous biblical and theological education seeks to stand out among the pragmatic mindset of many missionaries, so also our humane education seeks to stand out amid the narrowness of much missionary training. We want to produce missionaries like William Carey, who was a self-taught “Renaissance man” whose education enable him to engage and benefit the Indian culture from multiple perspectives so that he is still regarded by many Indians today as a pioneering linguist, botanist, and advocate for social justice. The breadth of his education enabled him to serve as mediator of knowledge in two directions, bringing the gospel to the Indian people, as well as helping the English to understand the situation in India.

A robust education in the humanities provides incalculable opportunities for anthropological insight that can serve cross-cultural efforts. Students who learn to understand great authors and great books from the inside out are better able to immerse themselves in other cultures and understand them from the inside out for the sake of gospel witness (1 Corinthians 9:19–23). Students who develop a deep sense of gratitude for their own cultural heritage are better equipped to enjoy and love the cultural heritage of others. Finally, in receiving a liberal-arts education, future missionaries are bringing together a felt sense of the urgency of the missions task with the proper patience to be well equipped to fulfill it.

Wisdom and Wonder

In conclusion, we know that not everyone can receive or should receive a Christian liberal-arts education of the kind that Bethlehem offers. Nevertheless, it is essential for the health of any movement or society that some receive a broad and liberal education. In this respect, Christian Hedonism is no different. The future of Christian Hedonism demands institutions capable of producing leaders who are broad-minded and big-hearted, with firm, Christ-exalting convictions, who are ready to pursue wisdom and wonder for the rest of their lives.

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