If you have a mustard seed of faith and mountains aren’t moving, you may have the wrong kind of faith — or God may have a better plan.
In the summer of 2016, our two-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. From that day until now, we have experienced like never before what it means to be cared for by our church family in the midst of trial.
We can say of our local church what the apostle Paul said of the church in Thessalonica: when it comes to brotherly love, they have no need for further instruction, because they have been taught by God to love others (1 Thessalonians 4:9).
God promises that he will supply grace to us and be with us when the floodwaters of suffering rise (Isaiah 43:2). But we sometimes forget that he often delights to extend his presence, his comfort, and his help through his people.Not Alone
Our daughter’s name is Agatha. We call her Aggie. As she battles cancer, we sometimes call her Aggie the Brave. We drove her to the hospital that summer because her breathing was labored, and she had several swollen lymph nodes on her neck and one on the side of her chest.
When the head of the oncology department sat across from us and told us that our daughter had cancer, the darkness seemed unbearable. Within 48 hours doctors were able to give us the diagnosis of a type of cancer called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). We spent the next three weeks in the hospital with Aggie, as doctors and nurses worked to save her life and we learned more about her cancer.
Moments like that are when we feel the blessings of church membership. James 5:14 says that when we are sick, we should “call for the elders of the church” to come and pray. Too many Christians don’t have any elders to call at a time like that, because they are not joined to a local church.
In our case, elders and close friends in our church family were there. The same people who rejoiced with us in moments of joy were now present to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Their care was extended not simply in dispensing truth, but in being present, in grieving with us, in hugging us, in praying for us and for our girl, and in being a tangible reminder that we were not alone.A Wall of Comfort
The entire church was informed of the sad news that Sunday, and hundreds of brothers and sisters began to pray. Many people have told us they prayed for Aggie every day.
In addition to praying for us, our church family reminded us of the truth of God’s word. In the midst of our tears and fears and sleepless nights, God’s word grounded us in his sovereign purposes and his steadfast love.
As verses were texted or emailed to us, we wrote them down on notecards and taped them to our hospital wall, along with the name of the friend who shared that verse.
- Jace shared Psalm 121:1–2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
- When Bethany visited, she wrote down Psalm 55:22: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”
- David texted Deuteronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
These notecards stood as reminders of God’s truth and his character, but also as reminders of the community that was all around us, who loved us deeply and grieved with us. That was a balm to our hurting hearts.Dearest Place on Earth
In the days following Aggie’s cancer diagnosis, the practical needs of our family were many. How could we possibly care for our older five children and keep up with all the responsibilities of home and work while also spending so much time caring for Aggie? And how could we do any of this when we were overwhelmed with grief at the suffering our precious daughter would go through?
Here too the love of the local church shined brightly. No church is perfect, but the familiar Charles Spurgeon quote regarding the church has proved true in our experience: “Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.”
Offers for childcare and meals started pouring in, so our friend Paula took on the role of coordinating our care. For nearly nine months, church members did our grocery shopping, cleaned our house, brought meals, helped with homeschooling, took care of yard work, and provided transportation and childcare for our kids. Other pastors took on increased responsibilities to ensure I (Jared) was able to care for my family. For many months, members in the church stayed at our house with Aggie on Sunday mornings so both of us could benefit from gathering with the saints and sitting under the preached word.
We have the indescribable blessing of belonging to a church family that lives the call of Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”Messengers of Grace
Our testimony throughout this journey has been that while we have been weak and often fearful, Christ has held us fast. And he has done so through the loving community of believers at Covenant Fellowship Church.
We have often said that without the love and support of our church family, this trial would have taken us under long ago. And that’s not because Christ is insufficient; it’s because he has made us to need one another and to live in community together. God’s grace is always enough, but so often he intends for that grace to come to us through his people — the fellow believers who have committed to walk beside us in the church through the joys and sorrows of life.
All glory belongs to Jesus Christ, because he is the Lord of the church who has determined to care for his suffering saints through the gift of his people. Praise God for the grace that comes through his redeemed people and sustains us in the midst of suffering. In his kindness, the story of our brave girl is also the story of our loving church family.
I hate making phone calls. Sometimes I have to give myself an internal pep talk just to get up the courage to dial. When the phone in my office rings, I often hope it’s an unfamiliar number so that I can let it go to voicemail. Give me the choice between texting and calling, and I’ll choose texting every time. What is wrong with me?
I’m starting to see the same weird phenomenon emerge in counseling sessions. As I listen to a big argument that ruined a couple’s week, five or even ten minutes into their explanation I’ll have to pause the story and ask, “Wait, all of this was said over text?” Obviously, I’m not alone in this. This is happening in marriages, friendships, work relationships, and families everywhere. What is wrong with us?
In his book about smartphones, Tony Reinke points out, “[Our phones] are changing us; there’s no debate on that.” They are changing us; and they are revealing us. How we text can tell us a lot about ourselves.We Text to Escape
We are fearful creatures by nature. Ever since the garden, we have preferred to hide among the bushes rather than boldly step out into the clearing. Every generation fashions its own fig leaves to protect ourselves from guilt and shame. Ours has managed to put an Apple logo on the back — an ironic reminder of that fateful fall.
Try this SMS apology on for size: I was wrong to yell at you at home. I really do love you. I’m sorry. Or this confessional text: I looked at something I shouldn’t have on my phone last week. Pray for me. Unfortunately, our drift towards texting in our relationships is not because all forms of communication are created equal. We text because we are afraid.
Deep down, many of us are cowering behind the safety of a glass screen. Texting helps us hide from so many things: the consequences of our mistakes, the disappointment of others, the uncomfortable feeling of personal conflicts. We can’t bear to imagine the pained expression that might look back at us. We want to avoid seeing the tears. We don’t want to have to hash everything out and further explain our sinful actions. We are afraid they might get angry or might not like what we have to say.
So we text.
Look back through your text log, and have a moment of honesty with yourself. How many of those should have been conversations with real people in real life? Rather than look someone made in the image of God in the eyes and open our mouths, fear tells us that it’s just as good to look at an inanimate rectangle and tap out a few characters, maybe an emoji.
In counseling, we call this the escape response to conflict. Many of us have no idea why our marriages are struggling, why we are drifting apart in our relationships, and why conflicts still don’t feel resolved. But I texted! People are funny. They seem to sense when someone is hiding. Nothing says, “I’m hiding from you,” quite like text messages that should have been real conversations.We Text to Control
While texting can mean flight for some, for others it means fight. We find ourselves texting not when we are hiding, but when we are on the attack. There is something psychological about text messages; they naturally elicit a response. If you are like me, it takes discipline to ignore a text message. It takes even more discipline not to let an unsettling text message bore into my subconscious and unnerve me a whole afternoon. This pesky quality makes texting a pretty nasty tool for manipulation.
Why aren’t you answering me?
I knew you were going to hold this over me.
Why won’t you forgive me?
Buzz after buzz, we can wear others down with texts that demand immediate attention. Often motivated by guilt and shame, we go on the offensive, demanding reconciliation or forgiveness quickly. We try to cajole affection or concession. A recent smartphone commercial depicts a woman messaging her first “I love you” to her boyfriend and expectantly waiting for his return message. Messaging apps have no space for emotions, pain, follow-up questions, or silent contemplation. It demands a response. Now.
We can use texting to technologically twist someone’s arm. Late in the afternoon, you shoot this one off: “Forgot to tell you. Headed to the gym after work. Sound good?” Hoping to avoid the argument, you receive the one-word response from your wife you want: “Fine.” Our smartphones are an arena where we handicap a person’s ability to express their point of view, concern, or hurt. The text notification barrage is meant to force a response that others may not be willing or ready to give.
“Love is patient and kind . . . It does not insist on its own way,” Paul reminds us (1 Corinthians 13:4–5). When we text to manipulate, it is the opposite of love. Andy Crouch reminds us in The Tech-Wise Family that people are “body and soul together.” It is not love when we avoid flesh-and-blood engagement. When we resort to texting, we reduce others to a “brain on a stick.” We refuse to allow them to express their emotions, thoughts, and feelings through body language, eye contact, and vocal quality. We intentionally distance ourselves from their humanity.
Do a mental scroll through your texts over the past week. Are you engaging others in an arena that prevents them from changing your mind? Are your texts meant to manipulate and force others to give you what you want? Love will not grow in relationships where we use our phones to beat others into submission.How Are You Tempted?
The next time you whip out the phone, ask yourself this simple question before you fire off a text: Why?
Why am I choosing to text instead of call? Can this conversation wait until we can speak face-to-face? Loving others means first growing in our ability to discern our own hearts. We have to recognize the reflection of fear staring back at us from the glass screen. We have to realize when we are using the tyranny of the urgent to twist the arms of those we love.
To those of us who tend to hide behind our smartphones, the Scriptures say, “Fear not.” Ken Sande encourages our hearts, “Conflict [is] an opportunity to glorify God, to serve other people, and to grow to be like Christ.” The next time you feel tempted to resolve a conflict, to confront someone, or to confess something via text, do not be afraid. Call. Or better yet, make time to meet with that person.
To those of us who are tempted to weaponize our smartphones, the Scriptures say, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). This is the mind of Jesus Christ himself, who was willing to devote himself to real conversations: the woman at the well, Mary and Martha, Nicodemus, Peter, and hosts of others.
We learn from our Savior that communication is not a tool to get what we want from others, but a means to love and serve people — to commune with them — both body and soul.
Satan tells us that all suffering is a curse and proof that we are not loved by God. But God tells us it is a gift to show us our salvation.
Without the work of the Holy Spirit, we are helpless. Seek him, and he will rest upon you — especially in your hour of greatest need.
Christian, when have you been most free from sin?
When have you been least motivated by selfish ambition and laziness and lust and self-righteousness? When has the fear of man, the general cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches wielded the least influence over you (Matthew 13:22)? When have you felt the most capacity to love others and the most concern for perishing unbelievers, the persecuted church, and the destitute poor?
In other words, when has your life been most characterized by holiness?
I can tell you when. It’s when you’ve been most in love with Jesus. It’s when you’ve been most full of faith in his promises so that you live by them. It’s when his gospel has been most meaningful and his mission has been most compelling, so that they dictate your life’s priorities.
In other words, you’ve been most holy when you’ve been most happy in God.
Holiness is fundamentally an affection issue, not a behavioral issue. It’s not that our behaviors don’t matter — they matter a lot. It’s just that our behaviors are symptomatic. They are the outworking of our affections in the same way that our behaviors are the outworking of our faith (James 2:17).Why Holiness Has a Bad Rap
For many Christians, holiness has largely negative connotations. They know holiness is a good thing — because God is holy — and it’s something they should also be — because God says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16). But they think of holiness primarily in terms of denial, as sort of a sterile existence. In fact, God’s holiness is something they tend to fear more than desire.
This is understandable, especially if the teaching they have received has emphasized behavioral holiness over affectional holiness. The Old Testament has a lot of very serious things to say about holiness. When Yahweh called Moses (Exodus 3:10) and delivered the people of Israel, it is clear his holiness was nothing to be trifled with. It was lethal if it was ignored or neglected (Exodus 19:12–14). Also, eight, arguably nine, of the Ten Commandments are prohibitions: “You shall not . . . ” (Exodus 20:1–17). Reading through the requirements in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the overall emphasis we get is the rigor that was required to maintain holiness before God and the warnings given if it wasn’t.God’s Mercy in All His Prohibitions
But while that impression of holiness is understandable, it is very wrong. Holiness is neither dominantly denial, nor is it sterile purity. We need to remember why God instituted the rigorous moral and ceremonial laws: “in order that sin might be shown to be sin” (Romans 7:13).
[For] if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. (Romans 7:7–8)
All the prohibitions and all the warnings are all mercy, because God wants us to know what our biggest problem is, how deep it goes (Romans 7:15–18), its horrific consequences (Colossians 3:5–6), and how hopeless we are to make ourselves holy (Romans 7:24), in order to point us to the glorious solution he has provided to our biggest problem (Romans 7:25; Romans 5:6–10).
God only emphasizes our unholiness, our sinful state, so that we can escape its grip and its consequences — and know the full joy of living in the abundant, satisfying goodness of God’s holiness. We must understand the nature and seriousness of our disease in order to pursue and receive the right treatment. But, remember, the diagnostic tool’s job is to emphasize the nature of the disease more than the essence of health.What Holiness Is Really Like
If we want to know the essence of the health of holiness, we need to look elsewhere, like Psalm 16:11: “In your [holy] presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” That is what holiness is really like: as much joy and pleasure as we can contain for as long as is possible — which, because God grants it, is forever.
Do you see it? Holiness is not a state of denial, characterized by abstaining from defiling thoughts, motivations, and behaviors. True holiness is a state of delight. And the more true holiness we experience, the fuller our joy and greater our pleasures!
Holiness is fundamentally an affection issue, not a behavioral issue. This is only emphasized by the fact that all the Law and the Prophets — all the prohibitions and warnings pertaining to our behaviors, the height of holiness — are summed up in the greatest commandments to love God with all we are and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37–40). Holiness looks most like the delight of true love. And if we love Jesus, we will keep his commandments — meaning that when our affections are really engaged, our behaviors naturally follow (John 14:15).To Be Holy, Seek Your Greatest Happiness
God is supremely holy. And God is supremely happy (1 Timothy 1:11). God is love (1 John 4:8). And he is all light with no darkness (1 John 1:5). All that is good, all that brings true, lasting joy, and all that is truly, satisfyingly, eternally pleasurable comes from him.
And we are to be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:16). So, to pursue holiness, we must pursue our greatest happiness. Who has delivered us from our bodies of indwelling, sin-induced death? Jesus Christ (Romans 7:24–25)! Our unholy sin disease has been given a cure in the cross. We no longer need to fixate on the diagnostic tool of the law. Now, in pursuit of holiness, we aim primarily at our affections, not primarily at our behaviors. For behaviors are symptomatic of the state of our affections. What is a delight to us ceases to be a duty for us.
So God’s call to move “further up and further in” in holiness is an invitation to joy! Your fullest happiness ends up being the “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Grading on a curve, competing for a job against others, sports-team tryouts — how do we seek the good of others when they are our rivals?
Behavior alone doesn’t tell us whether we have peace with God. We can do and say all the right things, but if we have not love, we are nothing.
Years ago a friend startled me by saying, “Christian radio is of the devil!” Of course, such a statement is meant to be provocative and not the whole picture. He did not intend to disparage missionary broadcasts of the gospel into unreached areas of the world. But he did want to challenge our daily exposure to many forms of Christian media.
Although the Internet did not exist when I first heard his shocking statement, such a sentiment might help provoke us to evaluate how we use Christian media today in its various forms — the Internet, social media, video, and, yes, even radio.Five Questions
Over the years, I have found my friend’s challenge to be an important one because it exposes my un-assessed assumption that if something is “Christian,” then it is of necessity a good thing of God, irrespective of how I’m using it. Might the medium of Christian radio serve purposes in my life which are opposed to the very message it proclaims?
Let me offer five questions for evaluating your own use of Christian media, even as they often carry the greatest message to us and the world.1. Am I learning to worship without community?
I wonder if Christian media may deliver many of the elements of worship, but without offering the full sense of worship that God intends. But you say, “I have worshiped!”
Christian radio, for instance, might give us the impression of a worshiping community in relationship, but does it really engage us as God has designed? For example, we may feel like we have a personal relationship with morning hosts, DJs, and “radio personalities.” This is understandable, because they use language that implies a relationship with the listener. Although no one would want radio hosts to sound diffident or unfriendly, what we experience as “relationship” is not a relationship in any normal sense of the word. They do not know us; we do not know them. We “know” about the persona that is projected through the medium. Not only is it a one-sided relationship, but it is a fantasy posing as a kind of relationship.
In contrast, true Christian community poses significant relational challenges. Perhaps this very reality makes us desire the comfort Christian media can offer. But what if the challenge of relationships in the body of Christ is a true good thing of God? What if God intends to sanctify us through gathering for corporate worship? Throughout the New Testament letters, for example, the writers assume that relationships are not easy, but difficult, essential, and sanctifying — and the challenge is significantly revealed in the drama of corporate worship.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “He who loves his dream of a community more than Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. . . . Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it” (Life Together, 26–27).
Although we often fail at this in the gathered community of church, we also succeed — quite often. And to worship God with the people of God — in real, flesh-and-blood relationships — is what God created us for. Does Christian radio imply something easier — a wish-dream?2. Am I submitting to teaching without accountability?
I wonder if Christian podcast and radio often act against our relational accountability with Christian teachers. But you say, “I can check on the financial integrity of any nonprofit on the Internet!”
Accountability is not merely fact-checking or financial. More importantly, Paul tells Timothy that relationships are an intrinsic part of the message: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men” (2 Timothy 2:2). Here Paul is speaking to his friend whom he personally taught. Indeed, that Timothy was taught in person is the key point for Paul: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14).
Paul links the message with the messenger in a fundamental way. This is his explanation: “You . . . have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness” (2 Timothy 3:10). The person known to Timothy authenticates, validates, and is even a part of the message.
No such relationship exists in the mass media of Christian radio and podcasts. In this day of Facebook, Twitter, email, and texts, we need such intimate knowing; we need to witness, firsthand, who our teachers are in order to know their message. This is true accountability. Do we long for connection to those who teach us?3. Am I experiencing the illusion of intimacy?
I wonder whether our favorite Christian media tend to isolate us from others instead of building intimacy. But you say, “Christian media connect me to my church family!”
Might it be that Christian radio, for instance, cultivates a false sense of community because it does not promote intimate (read: accountable and disciplined) relationships between listeners? That is, not only do we not know the speakers or the musicians, but as listeners, does it isolate us from each other?
Pandora and Spotify use individualism as a part of their business plan — your music delivered to you, individually. I suspect that Christian radio (and other genres of media and other types of private entertainment) typically ends up isolating us from each other. They deliver the ingredients of worship so that we worship — or are entertained — alone. And although there is no biblical injunction against private worship, the tendency of Christian radio is to privatize worship.
Musician Harold Best explains this sense of intimacy: “One of the realities of electronic and fabricated intimacy, in addition to its being artificial, is that it is almost entirely one-dimensional.” He means that it travels one way, from someone to us (not from us to them), and that we cannot know the person speaking or singing. It is as if the singer or speaker is saying, “‘What you see and hear is what we really are. There is no need for more.’ The artists may not want it this way, but that is the way the media work. . . . The whole person is hidden” (Music Through the Eyes of Faith, 167).
If we hunger for human connection, Christian radio and podcasts are not that connection. So, could it be that they feed in us a desire for independence, preference, privatization, and even isolation?4. Am I cultivating a consumer mentality?
I wonder what the effect on the church will be if the elements of worship are delivered to us instead of our making them for ourselves. But you say, “Sometimes I need to just soak in Christian music while I drive!”
Perhaps. But for almost all of history, music was something people made together. And for most of history, we knew our teachers, and they were in the room with us. No longer. Most of our music is now made for us by people we do not know. What will be the outcome of this experiment?
Of course, this same challenge could be made against many of our worship services, not just Christian radio and music. Still, while the tendency to receive, rather than participate, antedates Christian radio and the Internet, I wonder if our modern media reinforce a wrong desire? Could it be a move toward a method which is out of keeping with the way the message is to be experienced?5. Am I developing false standards for the church?
I wonder if Christian media tend to set a false standard for worship that makes us unsatisfied with “real church.” But you say, “I still love my church!”
Good, but I have heard the comparison of “real church” with Christian music and podcasts — and I have felt it. While all the elements of worship through Christian media are not perfect, they are as perfect as the producers want them to be. Those who deliver Christian media to us are able to deliver near perfection, if they choose to do so. But real worship in a real church with real people cannot do that — perhaps should not do that.
Christian media may subtly (or not so subtly) change our expectations for the gathered church. We may begin to wonder, “Why can’t church be as good as I feel it should be?” To what extent is that feeling promoted by our media consumption? Real church, in contrast, may have the great advantage of being imperfect.
What happens if real relationships — painful, challenging, personal, immediate, wonderful, hopeful, and sanctifying — seem less attractive than the pretend, false, and easy offer of Christian media? This concern may warn us of a possible danger. If we are still deeply connected to our church family, it may not be because of Christian media, but in spite of it. What if the glitter and style of modern media become the standard in our minds, even if we do not want it to be so?Consider the Costs
So, is Christian radio “of the devil”? And not just radio, but our various forms of modern Christian media? About now, you should consider charging me with hypocrisy — this article is Christian media! No, the obvious truth is that God does use our modern media — including websites like this one — for which we can and should be grateful. Still, I also am grateful that my friend put the issue in such provocative terms. If he had just said, “Be careful,” I would not have thought so deeply.
Listen to good Christian music and podcasts. Listen in the gaps in your day. Read soul-nourishing substance online. But as you do read articles and blogs, listen to podcasts, worship to great music, and watch videos, please wonder with me about these questions. Consider our media’s subtle, and not so subtle, costs and effects.
Is Christian radio only the good we may assume?
God gives us understanding when we think over what he says. He won’t give without our thinking and we can’t know without his giving.
God calls us to not only resist lustful thoughts, but to fill our minds with the beauties of Christ so that our desires gradually conform to his.
On Sunday morning, August 5, 1855, 21-year-old Charles Haddon Spurgeon stepped behind the pulpit of New Park Street Chapel to challenge his congregation to follow the example of one of the saints who had inspired his ministry, the apostle Paul. “As a preacher of the word,” Spurgeon said of Paul, “he stands out pre-eminently as the prince of preachers and a preacher to kings.”
Young Spurgeon’s description of Paul was prophetic of his own future ministry. Within a few short years of that Sabbath morning, Spurgeon also earned the moniker “the prince of preachers” as he proclaimed God’s word to congregants from every stratum of society. The boy preacher from humble beginnings even became the “preacher to kings” as members of the British royal family filled his pews.Lessons from the Prince of Preachers
I first heard the name “Spurgeon” as a young boy in Scotland. However, when I became a man, and began to read his sermons and writings, he endeared himself to me even more. Today, as a minister, I find in his work and life a wonderful example of what it means to be a preacher of the gospel.1. Preach the Word
As Spurgeon stood before the congregation of New Park Street Chapel that same August Sunday to discuss what it means to preach the word, he pointed his listeners to the veracity and sufficiency of the Scriptures. “Am I to take God’s Bible and sever it and say, ‘This is husk and this is wheat?’” Spurgeon said, “Am I to cast away any one truth and say, ‘I dare not preach it’? No — God forbid!”
Throughout his ministry, Charles Spurgeon maintained an unwavering commitment to the word of God. Over time it became apparent that whether he was preaching in the Crystal Palace, before thousands in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, or with his students, Spurgeon was a man of integrity. His integrity, however, extended beyond his own personal life to encompass his concern for the gospel and theology. His preaching was forever crystal clear and Jesus-centered — qualities that have chased me down through the corridors of time to make me an unabashed fan of Spurgeon.2. Cultivate the Heart of a Shepherd
Following the example of his Good Shepherd, Spurgeon was filled with compassion for sinners and longed to see them safely returned to the fold of God. Spurgeon firmly believed God loved saving the lost. It was a conviction that fueled his ministry. His tremendous longing to see men and women respond to the offer of the gospel was only matched by his intolerance for those who tainted the gospel of grace with the fallacy of good works.
“I find a great many preachers are preaching that kind of doctrine,” Spurgeon said. “They tell a poor convicted sinner, ‘You must go home and pray and read the Scriptures; you must attend the ministry.’ Works, works, works — instead of, ‘By grace are you saved through faith’” (see Ephesians 2:8).
Spurgeon was also committed to tenderly feed his flock. Although he had very little formal education, there was something of genius about him. He read the primary sources of theological works, then took those incredibly complex concepts and distilled them down in a way that ensured the youngest person and the least educated person in the room could understand them. His clear and simple sermons are a shining example for all modern preachers to emulate.3. Seek Godliness over Giftedness
Spurgeon was an absolute sensation in his time, preaching to over ten million people. During each service, stenographers recorded his message. At the end of the evening, the sermon was sent to print to be sold in shops and rail stations the next morning. Yet, for all his gifts and influence, Spurgeon was a humble man.
There was nothing superficial or showy about him. He approached the Bible on his knees. He seemed to have a deep awareness that he had been called by the grace of God, and that it was that same grace which empowered and equipped him for the privilege of ministry. This genuine humility of heart allowed him to realize he could plant and water, but only God could make things grow. “Remember,” Spurgeon admonished the congregation of New Park Street Chapel, “both trowel and mortar must come from him. The life, the voice, the talent, the imagination, the eloquence — all are the gifts of God!”
Spurgeon was convinced that the dangerous sin of pride could find him anywhere, even in the pulpit. Perhaps today’s ministers are even more vulnerable to hubris than in Spurgeon’s day. With the advent of social media in which “likes” and “followers” are the baseline for success, it is all too easy for a pastor to lose sight of the life of sacrifice to which he has been called.
As shepherds of God’s people, we are to give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word, but it is far easier to spend five hours in preparation for a sermon than it is to consecrate five minutes to prayer for our people. We think the congregation needs our giftedness, but the truth is, what they really need is our godliness.
God has called us to be servants, not celebrities. It is important for us to be in the hospital visiting the sick, and at the bedsides of those facing death. When we allow “the weed of pride” to take root in our ministries, we soil the reputation of the gospel by embracing a double standard that allows us to proclaim certain truths without living in the light of the very messages we proclaim. Let’s not kid ourselves. It is not what people say about us or what we say about ourselves that matters, but what God says about us.
Jesus is the chief Shepherd; we are the under shepherds. It was this pattern of ministry that Spurgeon exemplified for me. May I, along with all of God’s servants who endeavor to preach the gospel, hold firmly to the pattern set before us, fulfilling our call to ministry with holy reverence. May we all say with the apostle Paul and with Spurgeon, “Woe unto us if we preach not the gospel!”
God calls us to not only resist lustful thoughts, but to fill our minds with the beauties of Christ so that our desires gradually conform to his.
Our love for one another in the face of persecution warns our opponents of the judgment to come.
Robert Cleaver Chapman tried his best to be forgotten, but God intervened on our behalf.
An unusually humble man, Chapman would have been pleased if you haven’t heard of him — and most Christians haven’t. And he would have likely protested my drawing your attention to him here. But I’m doing it anyway because I know you’ll be the richer for knowing him. And I doubt he minds now, having lived in heaven for nearly 120 years.
You might be surprised to know that he was one of the most influential Christians in 19th-century England. Many prominent English leaders of that era whose names you do know, like Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, Hudson Taylor, George Müller, even Prime Minister Gladstone, knew, loved, and revered Robert Chapman, and sought his counsel. Why?
He became legendary in his own time for his gracious ways, his patience, his kindness, his balanced judgment, his ability to reconcile people in conflict, his absolute fidelity to Scripture, and his loving pastoral care. (Agape Leadership)
In short, it was the beautiful and (sadly) rare way Chapman loved others that made it crystal clear to everyone whose disciple he was (John 13:35). Spurgeon called him “the saintliest man I ever knew.”From Birth to Barnstaple
Robert was born in 1803, to Thomas and Ann Chapman. It was clear early on that he was very bright. At age fifteen, he left home to apprentice as a lawyer in London. He excelled in his apprenticeship and by age twenty became an attorney of the Court of Common Pleas and of the Court of the King’s Bench. A couple years later he started his own law practice. Experienced lawyers saw a promising professional future for Robert.
But during his apprenticeship he also experienced a growing spiritual hunger. An older Christian lawyer befriended Robert and invited him to John Street Chapel, where, under the evangelical preaching of Harington Evans, the twenty-year-old Chapman understood the gospel and was converted.
Over the next few years, Chapman became increasingly involved in the ministry of John Street Chapel and Evans mentored him in preaching. But as his interest in studying the Bible and participating in gospel outreach increased, his interest in law decreased.
Finally, at age twenty-nine, Chapman gave up law altogether and agreed to become the pastor of a little Baptist church called Ebenezer Chapel in Barnstaple, a town of about seven thousand in the southwest of England. He would minister there for the next seventy years.Agape Leader
Before becoming a pastor, Chapman had resolved to not merely preach Christ, but to live Christ. And when he stepped into pastoral leadership at Ebenezer Chapel, he had ample opportunity to exercise his resolve.
Ebenezer had so many internal conflicts that it had burned through three pastors in the eighteen months before Chapman arrived. Not only that, but some of Chapman’s theological convictions differed significantly from the church’s. The situation was ripe for another short pastorate, but that didn’t happen. Why?
Because Chapman really believed in the power of and practiced prevailing prayer. And he had supreme confidence in the power of the word faithfully and prayerfully preached to transform people. And he determined to be doggedly patient and tender with the people. Rather than exacerbate tensions by trying to push through theological and structural changes quickly, even ones he felt strongly about, Chapman committed them to prayer, faithfully preached and taught the Bible, and extended to the people tenacious, persevering love. Eventually, most people in the church embraced what Chapman taught and modeled.Division in the Church
But not everyone did, which provided Chapman a very different opportunity to live Christ in an even more profound way.
Two years into his ministry, despite doing all he could to prevent it, a small group of Ebenezer members split off to form their own church. Not only that, but this group demanded that the rest of the church move out of the building, since they saw themselves as the faithful remnant of the church’s original convictions. In response to this, Chapman did something unusual: he led the rest of the saints at Ebenezer (the majority group) to relinquishing the building to the splinter group. He believed it was better to be wronged than to have Christ’s name put to shame in the town because of infighting over property. The Ebenezer saints made due for a few years until they were able to build what later became known as the Grosvenor Street Chapel.
But this turned out not to be exceptional for Chapman. He practiced this kind of love at all levels, great and small. He frequently gave needy people he met the literal coat off his back. Or he’d give away the last bit of money he had, even if it was his train fare home from some place. This happened with some regularity, and when it did, Chapman would board the train and simply ask the Lord to provide his fare, which he always did. The frequent guests who stayed overnight at his home always found their shoes cleaned and set outside their doors in the morning. And since many of the folks who attended his church were domestic workers who had precise work start times, he sought to always begin and end meetings on time.
As you can imagine, Chapman’s consistent, godly agape leadership over the course of decades fostered a culture of love in the church he led. And its effects lasted beyond his life. A generation later, the church resulting from the small splinter group ended up revering Chapman. And the Grosvenor Church remains a thriving, evangelical witness for Christ in Barnstaple to this day.Blessed Peacemaker
Chapman became renown for the gracious and tender way he treated people. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t tough. He stood firm on his settled biblical convictions, and once said to a friend, “My business is to love others, not to seek that others shall love me.” But, since he was so consistently patient and kind, even in disagreement, others tended to love him.
A man strong in the Scriptures, full of wisdom, and deeply concerned that Jesus’s church not veer into unfaithfulness, Chapman was drawn into numerous theological controversies and conflicts between church leaders. He really did grieve over the damage that leaders’ pride and impatience caused in the body of Christ. He rigorously practiced, and encouraged others to practice, Paul’s admonition that “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24–25).
In cases where people became angry with Chapman and withdrew from him, he always pursued them, doing everything he could to be at peace with them (Romans 12:18). And as long as the tension and distance remained,
Chapman referred to them as “brethren dearly beloved and longed for” (Philippians 4:1). His sorrow was genuine. There was no sense of “good riddance” on his part. He had no sense of relief to be done with those who . . . opposed him and would have no further Christian fellowship with him. These were his “brethren whose consciences lead them to refuse my fellowship and to deprive me of theirs.” (Robert Chapman: Apostle of Love)Apostle of Love
From the time of his arrival in Barnstaple till the end of his life, because of his deep love and concern over people’s souls, Chapman was a relentless evangelist.
He talked with people on the streets and at their houses or rooms. He frequently held gospel meetings in the workhouses and talked individually with the homeless and destitute inmates. . . . He began open-air preaching . . . and became quite good at it. (Robert Chapman: Apostle of Love)
Many came to Christ due to Chapman’s personal witness.
He also carried the unreached nations heavy on his heart, and he interceded daily for them. He had a particular burden for Spain. He taught himself Spanish and took three different extended trips, walking the length and breadth of the country for months at a time to personally evangelize lost Spanish people and to encourage the few Christians there. He also spent time in Ireland doing the same thing.
Chapman developed a friendship with Hudson Taylor and was an enthusiastic intercessor, financial supporter, and U.K. representative for the China Inland Mission. And he loved George Müller and his orphan work in Bristol. Müller considered Chapman one of his most trusted counselors.
Chapman never married. But his home was rarely lonely because he made it into a place of refuge and refreshment for weary and discouraged Christian workers. Many pastors and missionaries were profoundly encouraged by spending time with and receiving counsel from this godly, gentle saint.Example Worth Examining
Robert Chapman had a long and fruitful ministry — he lived to be 99 years old and left no blemish of moral failure. He preached his final sermon at Grosvenor Street Chapel when he was 98 (and went an hour and a quarter!). He was spiritually, mentally, and physically healthy and vigorous right up to the end — evangelizing, visiting, counseling, teaching, and especially interceding. Then on June 2, 1902, he suffered a stroke, which led to his death ten days later, on June 12th.
One of the reasons we haven’t heard more about Robert Chapman is that he sought to remain anonymous. He was disturbed by the phenomenon of Christian celebrity in his day and didn’t want people thinking more highly of him than they ought to think. He discouraged most efforts to publish his sermons and other writings, and even burned most of his personal papers to discourage the tendency he saw for people to turn leaders into posthumous heroes. Because, as he once said, “What is most precious in the sight of God is often least noticed by men” (Agape Leadership).
Robert Chapman didn’t want people to look at him; he wanted them to look at Jesus Christ. He didn’t want to distract others from Christ. And, of course, he was right about this: no one surpasses Jesus as a model of loving leadership. No one has shown greater love (John 15:13). More than anyone else, we need to keep “looking to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).
But I do think Robert Chapman is worth examining, and I wish he hadn’t destroyed his papers. I’m thankful for Robert Peterson and Alexander Strauch, who have compiled most of what is available about Chapman into helpful biographies. For Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). And Chapman took that “if” very seriously. He lived that verse.
We need as many models of such love as possible.
Our love for one another in the face of persecution warns our opponents of the judgment to come.
Jesus didn’t die just to forgive your sins and rescue you from hell. He died to bring you to God.
We don’t get to negotiate the cost of following Christ. But there is no cost you can pay that won’t be made up a thousandfold in the resurrection.
On the most somber of occasions, he sought to comfort the mourning. The cold casket adorned a chilled body as the eyes of family and friends, swollen from grief, gazed up at the speaker. He wanted to bring whatever consolation he could. And so, he did what many well-meaning pastors have done in his situation: he abandoned the truth.
Many can sympathize with the impulse to do so. The woman before him lived as worldly as they come, blaspheming God and his word whenever the opportunity presented itself. With all her friends and family gathered, it hardly felt like the appropriate time to tell them what God actually said. And so, the pastor proclaimed that — deep down — she was a good person and was with the Lord in heaven.
It was at that moment, when all sat pleased at the pastor’s words, that a young woman spoke up:
It’s a lie! Do not believe him! We will not all be in a better place! That hope is false! Only those who believe in Christ, the Son of God, the one who died and was raised, will be saved! Only those who repent and believe and follow him until the end will be in a better place. Wrath awaits all who die in sin! Please believe! He stands ready to forgive you!
People stared, aghast. A funeral usher approached to invite her to leave. One person furiously told her to shut the hell up — and so she was trying. Hell’s mouth gaped open. Souls were at stake. God’s truth was being butchered. She tried, alone, to warn her loved ones off the path to perdition.
My wife was at that funeral home a decade ago. She witnessed the minister’s sentimental words, saw the usher approach, and heard the crude language addressed to her. She was the young woman who, with trembling voice, offered all who would listen grace at the gates of hell.Sinners in Angry Hands
Ever since the fall, hell’s mouth has gaped open. Many will be swallowed up today. More will the next day. And the next. This reality caused even the apostle Paul profound sorrow and unceasing anguish (Romans 9:2). Does it for the rest of us?
This world is a doorway into eternity — a fact that few today consider and fear. Sinners frolic before the Almighty God, daring to provoke him to his face. Although God hates all evildoers (Psalm 5:5), burns with indignation towards the unrepentant every day (Psalm 7:11), and is even now whetting his sword and bending his bow in judgment (Psalms 7:11–13), the unrepentant go about life unmindful of their predicament. They slumber atop an active volcano.
They mistake the God of delayed wrath for the God of no wrath at all. They hear about the nuclear bomb of eternity, but are self-assured that it will never detonate. They approach the God of the Bible like some do those British royal guards: mocking, poking, and testing him to see if he will move — never realizing that the riffle has lowered until it is too late.
And they love the god they’ve created. Their god is never angry with them. Their god, if he even hates their sin, only loves the sinner. Their god is only merciful, only forgiving, only compassionate. Their god does not take sin personally, nor would he require the shedding of blood to forgive it. Their god serves the creature and simply pours forth unconditional love when and how the creature calls for it.
But this god is a pipe dream. This god is a demon. This god is absent from the Old and New Testaments. Even now, the true God holds the unrepentant by the nape of the neck to do them unspeakable injury if they will not bow to his great love and mercy, and take up his terms of peace and eternal joy offered them in the blood of his own Son.Judgment Day Is Coming
As Christians with the book, we know what day is coming. A day when clouds will be rolled back, trumpets will sound, and the Terror of the unrepentant will descend. A day when the wicked will plead with the mountains to crush them so they will not face the fury of the Lamb (Revelation 6:15–17). A dreadful day when the wicked will be torched as Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Peter 2:6). A day when they will not just drift but be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). A day of second death. A day of banishment. A day of wrath, tribulation, and distress (Romans 2:8–9). A day when there will be no escape, no rest, and no reprieve from torment (Revelation 14:9–11).
Better to cut off limbs in this life than to go there forever (Mark 9:43). Better to be cast now into the sea with an anchor around your neck than to go there forever (Mark 9:42). Better to not have been born than to spend eternity in hell (Mark 14:21).Will We Speak Honestly and Pray Fervently?
Love invites us, compels us, demands that we speak. The unbelieving live but breaths away from eternal pleasure or eternal pain — amazing grace or everlasting justice. Are we to say nothing or mumble about it as though it were not true?
Perhaps you’ve heard of Charles Peace, a convicted criminal who, upon hearing of hell spoken coldly of by the prison chaplain who accompanied him to his execution, allegedly responded saying,
Sir, I do not share your faith. But if I did — if I believed what you say you believed — then although England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would crawl the length and breadth of it on hand and knee and think the pain worthwhile, just to save a single soul from this eternal hell of which you speak.
Will we speak honestly about hell? Will we cross the breadth of the street to tell the lost? Will we embrace our great fear of social awkwardness and press through?
Let’s resolve with Charles Spurgeon,
If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.
If our neighbors should perish, if family members should disappear upon the broad road, if co-workers should refuse the Savior, let them do so while leaping over our sober warnings and bursting through our arms of prayer.Jesus in Angry Hands
God so loved the world that he sent his own Son to die for his people’s crimes. Jesus took our place atop the volcano. He willingly traveled through hell’s door and became our Door into heaven. He was pierced by the Father’s glistening sword, struck by his full quiver of arrows. God’s firing squad took aim at him and deafening shots thundered upon Calvary.
He walked into the furnace of God’s judgment. He plunged the depths of the lake of fire. He was tormented. He was crushed. He drank the cup of God’s anger poured out full strength. He did not escape on that Good Friday. Hell’s mouth gaped open to receive us, and he stood alone and shut the hell up for his people.
And on Sunday, he rose in victory. Death, sin, and Satan lay shuddering beneath his feet. It is finished.Sinners in Crucified Arms
So, we do not merely warn them of God’s wrath. We welcome them to embrace Christ and live. We have good news of great joy for every human. We have a gospel that cries, The curse wasn’t strong enough, Satan wasn’t crafty enough, sin wasn’t ultimate enough, judgment wasn’t final enough, hell wasn’t fiery enough, the grave wasn’t deep enough, the lost weren’t distant enough, and the dead weren’t dead enough for the Lamb of God who was slain!
Family members can be adopted. Neighbors can be saved. Wrath can be abated. Eternal life can be received. We can have God as our greatest love, our greatest treasure, and greatest joy forever!
The gospel is the power of God for salvation from the wrath all mankind sits beneath. So we tell them in the streets. We tell them around our dinner tables. We tell them in coffee shops. We tell them while walking around lakes. We tell them in funeral homes. We bang against the gates of hell with words. We of course use discernment, but we err on the side of boldness instead of caution.
Yes, sinners are in the hands of an angry God, but they can rest in the arms of a crucified Savior. Will we tell them?
We don’t get to negotiate the cost of following Christ. But there is no cost you can pay that won’t be made up a thousandfold in the resurrection.