If you think you have received grace but have no new power to seek God and kill sin, you may not have received God’s grace.
November 12: Exodus 23:20; Psalm 5:8; Psalm 43:3–4; Psalm 44:3; Psalm 78:53; Proverbs 8:20; Isaiah 63:9; Isaiah 63:14; Psalm 32:1–2; Isaiah 53:5; Romans 8:33; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:25–27; Hebrews 10:22; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 19:8
He led them in safety.
I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice.
“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.”—In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
Not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them.—So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name.
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me.—Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.Exodus 23:20 (Listen) Conquest of Canaan Promised
(ESV)Psalm 5:8 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 43:3–4 (Listen)
3 Send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling!
4 Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.
(ESV)Psalm 44:3 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 78:53 (Listen)
(ESV)Proverbs 8:20 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 63:9 (Listen)
9 In all their affliction he was afflicted,1
and the angel of his presence saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
 63:9 Or he did not afflict
(ESV)Isaiah 63:14 (Listen)
(ESV)Evening: Psalm 32:1–2; Isaiah 53:5; Romans 8:33; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:25–27; Hebrews 10:22; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 19:8
You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.
The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.—Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.—Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.—“It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.—Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.—Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven…. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.Psalm 32:1–2 (Listen) Blessed Are the Forgiven A Maskil1 of David.
 32:1 Probably a musical or liturgical term
(ESV)Isaiah 53:5 (Listen)
(ESV)Romans 8:33 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Corinthians 6:11 (Listen)
(ESV)Ephesians 5:25–27 (Listen)
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.1Footnotes
 5:27 Or holy and blameless
(ESV)Hebrews 10:22 (Listen)
(ESV)1 John 1:7 (Listen)
(ESV)Revelation 19:8 (Listen)
“Church planting is hard work.”
I often heard this before we planted our church. I agreed and prepared for the challenge by reading books and talking with other pastors. But then we planted and I thought, Man, this is hard work. What the heck?
The reality of spiritual warfare, of more work than workers, and of never-ending needs such as money, space, leaders, and equipment make church planting grueling work. But there’s another reason why it’s so challenging. It took me a while to realize this, but my greatest obstacle in church planting is me.
If I’m unwilling to embrace my own need for Christ, I become the hindrance to his work in my local church. It’s easy to blur the line between exalting Christ so he’s seen and known, and exalting him so I’m seen and known.Jesus Provides
In Luke 9:1–17, Jesus launches his disciples into public ministry. He sends them out to proclaim the kingdom, heal the sick, and cast out demons. Surprisingly, Jesus tells them to “take nothing” for their journey—no money, staff, or food. He sends them out, sans resources, and when they return, they marvel at all the work they have done.
Immediately, a hungry crowd surrounds them. Jesus instructs the disciples to feed the crowd, but they can’t. So he feeds them. The people eat and are satisfied. The disciples were busy marveling at what they had done, but Jesus exposes their inability to do anything on their own (John 15:5).
Jesus meets my stubborn hold on my plans with his generous grace, inviting me to trust him.
Like the disciples, our greatest problem isn’t a resource problem. We can be sent out with scant resources and still see spectacular fruit. What if our lack of resources isn’t about problems, but about glory? What if our neediness is about glorifying God through desperate dependence on him to provide?
As we depend on God for spiritual provision, we honor him. Christ’s sufficiency is thereby exalted in our insufficiency.Jesus Changes
On our third Sunday as a new church plant, we grew from 22 to 64 people. I was ecstatic! Then a woman clearly under the influence of heavy narcotics walked into our gathering, and I was confronted with something seminary hadn’t prepared me for. Obviously we desired to love her, and hoped that she would see Christ through us. But she completely disrupted our worship that day.
She was likely using drugs in our bathroom. She banged on a steel door with a hammer and then went into the children’s classroom, prompting someone to shout in the middle of our gathering, “She’s in the children’s ministry; she’s with the kids!” Nothing serious occurred, but the following Sunday, only 23 people showed up.
That Sunday, I went home devastated. Why would God allow this to happen? The whole week’s planning was derailed by her erratic behavior. I sat on my bed and sulked, fearing that our core team might be the only ones returning the following week.
Our unexpected visitor, however, was the best thing that ever happened to our little church. In the midst of my suffering, God comforted me with these truths. Your worth is not found in how great of a church you plant. Your identity is not in being a great teacher. Your value doesn’t come from how successful you are. Your primary purpose is not to be a pastor, but a son.
Your primary purpose is not to be a pastor, but a son.
Through this experience, I learned that God’s plans, however unlikely, are better than mine. His work is done his way. We must release our grip on our expectations and instead embrace his.Jesus Sustains
Despite the many obstacles in church planting, God has blessed us tremendously. I was externally supported our first two and a half years. A church let us meet in their space, for free, the entire first year. Our sending church also provided a generous grant to help us launch. God gave us men and women ready and willing to sacrifice and lead for the sake of his name.
God gives and sustains every gift of grace. Apart from his grace, our church wouldn’t exist today. Again, of the many obstacles we’ve faced, our greatest was, and sometimes still is, me. I’m tempted to gain the church-planting world . . . and lose my soul. Jesus meets my stubborn hold on my plans with his generous grace, inviting me to trust him. And he sustains my trust.
Church planter, remember why you’re planting. Consider what’s at stake. Resist the temptation to rely on yourself. This is about God’s glory, not yours. It’s done through his ways, not yours. All your obstacles are opportunities to deepen your trust in him. And he is faithful to build his church.
When we were preparing to bring our first child into the world, my husband and I scoured books for parenting advice. We imagined a bright future for our child—one filled with joy and accomplishments. But the baby books failed to mention that our child’s life story might include a long, unpredictable battle against depression. This harsh reality blindsided our family, leaving us confused about how to disciple our precious child through such a complicated issue.
I’ve navigated my own seasons of depression as an adult, but I never thought I would have to watch my preteen endure a similar struggle. As my husband and I watched her struggle with constant feelings of self-doubt, grief, and apathy, we had to learn firsthand what 2 Corinthians 1:4 explains: “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (NLT).
During that time, I repeatedly returned to certain truths God had used to comfort me during seasons of sorrow. Together, my daughter and I tried to navigate her fears about the future by faith, recalling those God-given consolations and clinging to them as a life-preserver amid stormy seas. Grounding ourselves—an imperfect mother and a depressed child—in the hope of the gospel was the only comfort I could offer when the despair became too much for her to bear.
Of this we can be sure: depression will not have the last word.
As parents, we can’t take the place of medical professionals, licensed counselors, or pastoral care. A child’s depressed feelings can indicate ordinary sadness or a more serious disorder, and we’ll typically need outside help to identify the nature of our child’s struggle. But parents do have something valuable to offer: love and encouragement.
When you sit together at the dinner table or ride in the car with your depressed child, these five talking points may remind you both of important gospel truth.1. Depression Is Not Abnormal
Your child may feel overwhelming sorrow that they haven’t experienced before. They (and you!) may think the experience is abnormal, further pressing them into hopelessness. Instead, caregivers should affirm that depression isn’t an unusual part of the human experience—let alone the Christian experience. Talk to your child about the lives of Moses, Elijah, Jonah, Job, and King David, and remind them that many of God’s people have felt overwhelming sorrow.2. There Are Sad Seasons in Life
Depression is one of many experiences that can be incredibly, even debilitatingly, difficult. But caregivers should help children to remember that life in a sin-cursed world results in all kinds of seasons—not just the pleasant ones. Ecclesiastes 3:4 cautions that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when the lights go dark for a period. This knowledge doesn’t make the pain of depression vanish, but it does offer us hope. Tears may come, but joy will be restored (Ps. 30:5).3. Sorrow Has a Language
Depression has a way of suffocating our ability to verbalize how we feel. If this is true for adults, who have decades of vocabulary at their disposal, it’s an even greater handicap for our suffering children. But God, in his immense kindness and tender care, has given us a biblical language for sorrow: lament. He knows we struggle to find words when we’re despondent, and he equips us to speak directly to him when we’re burdened.
By reading the psalms of lament (e.g., Psalms 13, 77, and 88) with our children, we can pass along the language God has given in order to grant their depression a voice. Using the words of Scripture, our children can express the anxiety, moaning, weariness, and restlessness they feel in their souls.4. Jesus Goes Before Us and with Us
Being sensitive to the spiritual condition of our kids is imperative, and depression may give us the opportunity to invite them into relationship with Christ. For every child, it’s important to introduce them to the humanity of the Man of Sorrows. Christ experienced immense sorrow and grief, and his righteous endurance through human trials makes him the perfect Savior for those who suffer. Jesus is not only our forerunner, but our fellow traveler, who loves us so much that he vows to always be with us—especially when we are sad (Ps. 34:18).5. We Set Our Eyes on Eternity
Depression is a time when we can long for a country we’ve never seen but know exists. Our children may keenly sense that this world and all its promises are ultimately insufficient. It’s our privilege as caregivers, then, to introduce the hope of heaven in such times—as a tangible reality for the believer in Christ.
Christ’s resurrection guarantees our wrongs will be one day be put right. In eternity, we will no longer experience crying or mourning or death (Rev. 21:3–4). We will live forever in a place where sorrows will be no more. Heaven is a place where the pains we can’t reconcile in this life finally find their recompense. Of this we can be sure: depression will not have the last word.
As caregivers, our encouragements will inevitably be imperfect, our patience will sometimes tire, and, try as we might, we won’t always be able to understand the perspective of our despondent children. But our loving ministry—alongside the medical supervision of licensed practitioners and the care of counseling professionals—is part of Christ’s care for them. And Christ will minister to our children in ways mere humans cannot. By turning to him together, we introduce unshakable hope into sorrowful seasons, leaning fully on divine grace while we wait for the dark clouds to part.
Peace with God is the ultimate aim of Christianity. That much can be deduced from Romans 5:1. It seems, though, that many Christians have shifted their focus away from seeking peace with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They seek instead inner peace, and the aim of faith bends toward ourselves. It turns away from the problem of sin that separates us from God, and away from the commission to love others as we’ve been loved by God. No wonder so many unbelievers misunderstand faith as merely an internal feeling.
More than just means to inner peace, the gospel of Jesus Christ is actually the foundation of a worldview—according to The Gospel Coalition’s Theological Vision for Ministry, “a comprehensive interpretation of reality affecting all that we do.” No doubt that means the gospel affects our thoughts and feelings, and the work we do in and for a church. But our faith can never be confined to church walls. The gospel dictates how we live in the home as well as the workplace, where most of us spend more time than church.
My guest on today’s episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast is Tom Nelson. He’s the senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Leawood, Kansas, the president of Made to Flourish, author of Work Matters and The Economics of Neighborly Love, and a Council member of The Gospel Coalition. He is also the writer and presenter of Gospel Shaped Work, a small-group video and book study published by TGC with The Good Book Company. It’s based on point four—the integration of faith and work—from TGC’s five points of gospel-centered ministry. And I asked him all the toughest questions we get from skeptical pastors and other readers when it comes to this aspect of TGC’s vision for gospel-centered churches.
First Corinthians 14:23–25 indicates that both groups were present in early church services. Most in the congregation were believers gathered for worship. Nevertheless, Paul proposes that the Christians conduct themselves such that nonbelievers aren’t unnecessarily put off (concluding Christians are “out of their minds,” v. 23) and can hear the good news and be convicted by it (saying “God is really among you,” v. 25).
This doesn’t mean all elements in worship have to be perfectly understandable to unbelievers. That would create a concert or a talk show, not a worship service. Songs and hymns praising the Trinity will be challenging to nonbelievers, and the Lord’s Supper will be mysterious as well.
Preaching that assumes the radical nature of sin and the free grace of Jesus will be most difficult of all, since the gospel is always offensive to “the natural man” (1 Cor. 2:14). The nonbeliever will find much of Christian worship foreign no matter how it’s presented. Paul is not, then, asking us to remove the necessarily scandalous aspects of the gospel. Rather, he is calling us to contextualize the worship service so all unnecessary confusion and offensiveness is removed.
Just as Jesus reminds the Pharisees not to elevate tradition to the level of sanctity (Mark 7:8–9), we too should be careful not idolize our favorite worship practices at the cost of excluding those who desperately need to hear the good news. Instead, in the words of Psalm 105 we, “Give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!”
How should we do this? The verse continues, “Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!” In other words, in observing our worship nonbelievers will see who God really is. Edmund Clowney called this “doxological evangelism.”General Practices, Not Rigid Rituals
The Bible does not give us a rigid model for our worship services, but it does give us general practices of praise, lament, confession, conviction, and convocation. We are, therefore, to create worship spaces where these practices can be performed to edify both believers and also nonbelievers.
To do this, we first must build our worship services assuming non-believers will be present. Christian congregants, who will be doing the inviting, can immediately tell if their friend or coworker will be at ease in the service.
Here are five values you should have, and some practices that may follow.Value 1: Our language must be understandable.
This might be the biggest hurdle for churches in a post-Christian context. For too long, Christian subcultures have been able to exist with “tribal language” and dialect without needing to explain their verbiage.
I remember bringing a non-Christian friend to church in college immediately after becoming a Christian myself. As we sat there, the speaker up front said: “The blood of the Lamb has been shed for you for the propitiation of your sins. It is now time to make a decision for Christ.” We looked at each other with bewildered faces. There was no explanation or follow-up.
Practice: Translate. Often when I’m writing my sermons I try to imagine individuals who have never been to church. I try to think of arguments and questions they might have with the passage or concepts being discussed. Avoid unnecessary jargon. If you do use an unfamiliar word, explain it.Value 2: The worship service must be understandable.
If worship is bestowing worth on something, then humans don’t have the option not to worship, for we always bestow worth on something. The concept of a worship service, however, is foreign to many people, so it’s our job to interpret it to a post-Christian culture. This is helpful for both Christians and non-Christians.
Practice: Redeemer Lincoln Square prints short margin notes that explain each item of the service. For instance, when it’s time for confession, there’s a side note that reads: “Confession is when we are honest about ourselves and each other with God. As we admit our misplaced affections, we are called to reorder our lives. Only by being honest about our flaws will the good news of grace be significant.”Value 3: You must be appropriately transparent.
As social media becomes more prevalent, the cultivated self presented online creates distrust. People crave authenticity. Though we know our lives are not all filled with happiness, that’s what we often see presented in church. It’s more important than ever before, then, to show fully authentic, broken-but-hopeful humans in our services.
Practice: Our services should always contain worship elements not just of hope, but also lament and confession. Without becoming too self-referential, I try to regularly reveal my own struggles in order to embody this value.Value 4: Assume nonbeliever participation.
One can do this by articulating their objections to the faith better than they can. The benefit is twofold: Christians have heard the same objections and wonder what the Christian answer is; and the non-Christian feels heard when you intelligently state their concerns.
Practice: Four things here. (1) Print prayers for those not taking communion so they have something to do during this time. (2) Welcome and address nonbelievers at the beginning of the service. (3) During the sermon, insert, “If you’re not a follower of Jesus, you might be thinking. . . .” This lets them and their Christian friends know you’re considering their issues. (4) Consider doing a Q&A time. At our church we call it Q&R—Question and Response time—because we promise to respond! We print a phone number in the bulletin, and we allow anyone to text us questions to be addressed after the service for about 15 to 20 minutes.Value 5: Present Word and deed clearly.
Both the non-Christian and the Christian need to hear the Word of grace embodied and preached clearly. Grace is not just having your record righted in the past; it’s also the assurance of future life with him. Many Christian doctrines are important and need discussing, but all of them are predicated on experiencing grace.
Only if it’s beautiful to you will you endeavor to live as a follower of Christ not out of obligation, but out of love. That motivates us through gratitude, instead of guilt-driven duty. Then the reasons for and power of our deeds become compelling.
Nonbelievers need to see Christian faith lived out, or it won’t seem true. Therefore, there should be times within the worship service to highlight various mercy and deed ministries, with both celebration reports and also opportunities to serve. This lets everyone see how grace drives us out into the world.
Practice: Four things here, too. (1) Consider quarterly prayers of lament that highlight a current ill in the world, asking for God’s wisdom about how we can alleviate needs. (2) Highlight various ministries within the service where congregants can serve and live out their beliefs. (3) Do a prayer walk in your neighborhood to identify potential unmet needs. (4) Ensure every sermon shows the main problem for both the Christian and the non-Christian is unbelief in the real grace offered in Jesus.
This is not an exhaustive list, but perhaps it can help you reimagine ways you can leverage your worship service and congregation into being a space for all peoples.
On the morning of November 12, 1660, a young pastor entered a small meeting house in Lower Samsell, England, preparing to be arrested. He hadn’t noticed the men keeping guard outside the house, but he didn’t need to. A friend had warned him that they were coming. He came anyway. He had agreed to preach.
The constable broke in upon the meeting and began searching the faces until he found the one he came for: a tall man, wearing a reddish mustache and plain clothes, paused in the act of prayer. John Bunyan by name.
“Had I been minded to play the coward, I could have escaped,” Bunyan later remembered. But he had no mind for that now. He spoke what closing exhortation he could as the constable forced him from the house, a man with no weapon but his Bible.
Two months and several court proceedings later, Bunyan was taken from his church, his family, and his job to serve “one of the longest jail terms . . . by a dissenter in England” (On Reading Well, 182). For twelve years, he would sleep on a straw mat in a cold cell. For twelve years, he would wake up away from his wife and four young children. For twelve years, he would wait for release or, if not, exile or execution.
And in those twelve years, he began a book about a pilgrim named Christian — a book that would become, for over two centuries, the best-selling book written in the English language.Tinker Turned Preacher
John Bunyan (1628–1688) was not the most likely Englishman to write The Pilgrim’s Progress, a book that would be translated into two hundred languages, that would capture the imaginations of children and scholars alike, and that would rank, in influence and popularity, just behind the King James Bible in the English-speaking world. “Bunyan is the first major English writer who was neither London-based nor university-educated,” writes Christopher Hill. Rather, “the army had been his school, and prison his university” (The Life, Books, and Influence of John Bunyan, 168).
As Paul said of the Corinthians, so we might say of Bunyan: he had few advantages “according to worldly standards” (1 Corinthians 1:26). In his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, he confesses that his father’s house was “of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families in the land” (7). Thomas Bunyan was a tinker, a traveling mender of pots, pans, and other metal utensils. Thomas sent his son to school only briefly, where John learned to read and write. Later, after a stint in the army, he followed his father into the tinker trade.
Meanwhile, Bunyan recalls, “I had but few equals, especially considering my years, which were tender, being few, both for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the name of God” (Grace Abounding, 8). Sometime in Bunyan’s early twenties, however, God laid his hand on the blasphemous tinker and began to press. For the first time, Bunyan felt the load of sin and guilt on his back, and despair nearly sunk him. He agonized over his soul for years before he was finally able to say, “Great sins do draw out great grace; and where guilt is most terrible and fierce, there the mercy of God in Christ, when showed to the soul, appears most high and mighty” (Grace Abounding, 97).
Bunyan soon carried this travail and triumph of grace into the pulpit of a Bedford church, where he heralded Christ so powerfully that congregations throughout Bedfordshire County began asking for the tinker turned preacher — including a small gathering of believers in Lower Samsell.Trying Days for Dissenters
Not everyone in England responded warmly to Bunyan’s preaching, however. “He lived in more trying days than those in which our lot is fallen,” wrote John Newton a century later (“Preface to The Pilgrim’s Progress,” xxxix). Yes, these were trying days — at least for dissenting pastors like Bunyan, who refused to join the Church of England. Throughout the seventeenth century, dissenters were sometimes honored, sometimes ignored, and sometimes arrested by England’s authorities. Bunyan’s lot fell into the last of these.
Some dissenters did not exactly help the cause. A Puritan sect called the Fifth Monarchy Men, for example, took to arms in 1657 and 1661 in order to claim England’s crown for the (supposedly) soon-to-return Christ. Often, then, “the authorities did not seek to suppress Dissenters as heretics but as disturbers of law and order,” David Calhoun explains (Life, Books, and Influence, 28). Bunyan was no radical — simply a tinker who preached without an official license. Still, the Bedfordshire authorities thought it safer to silence him.
Once arrested, Bunyan was given an ultimatum: If he would agree to cease preaching and remain quiet in his calling as a tinker, he could return to his family at once. If he refused, imprisonment and potential exile awaited him. At one point in the proceedings (which lasted several weeks), Bunyan responded,
If any man can lay anything to my charge, either in doctrine or practice, in this particular, that can be proved error or heresy, I am willing to disown it, even in the very market place; but if it be truth, then to stand to it to the last drop of my blood. (Grace Abounding, 153)
Bunyan was then 32 years old. He would not be a free man again until age 44.Bedford Jail
Despite Bunyan’s boldness before the magistrates, his decision was not an easy one. Most trying of all was his separation from Elizabeth, his wife, and their four young children, one of whom was blind. Years into his jail time, he would write, “The parting with my wife and poor children has oft been to me in this place as the pulling the flesh from my bones” (Grace Abounding, 122). He would make shoelaces over the next twelve years to help support them.
But Bunyan would not ultimately regret his decision. Though parted from the comfort of his family, he was not parted from the comfort of his Master. “Jesus Christ . . . was never more real and apparent than now,” the imprisoned Bunyan wrote. “Here I have seen him and felt him indeed” (Grace Abounding, 119).
With comfort in his soul, then, Bunyan gave himself to whatever ministry he could. He counseled visitors. He and other inmates preached to each other on Sundays. But most of all, Bunyan wrote. In jail, with his Bible and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs close at hand, he penned Grace Abounding. There also, as he was working on another book, an image of a path and a pilgrim flashed upon his mind. “And thus it was,” Bunyan wrote in a poem,
I, writing of the way
And race of saints, in this our gospel day,
Fell suddenly into an allegory,
About their journey, and the way to glory. (Pilgrim’s Progress, 3)
Thus began the book that would soon be read, not only in Bunyan’s Bedford, but in Sheffield, Birmingham, Manchester, London — and eventually far beyond. The Bedford magistrates sought to silence Bunyan in jail. In jail, Bunyan sounded a trumpet that reached the ears of all the West, and even the world.Calvinism in Delightful Colors
The genius of Bunyan’s book, along with its immediate popularity, owes much to the writer’s sudden fall “into an allegory.” As an allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress operates on two levels. On one level, the book is a storehouse of Puritan theology — “the Westminster Confession of Faith with people in it,” as someone once said. On another level, however, it is an enthralling adventure story — a journey of life and death from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge would later write, “I could not have believed beforehand that Calvinism could be painted in such exquisitely delightful colors” (Life, Books, and Influence, 166).
Those who read Pilgrim’s Progress find theology coming to them in dungeons and caves, in sword fights and fairs, in honest friends and two-faced flatterers. Bunyan does not merely tell us we must renounce all for Christ’s sake; he shows us Christian fleeing his neighbors and family, fingers in his ears, crying, “Life! life! eternal life!” (Pilgrim’s Progress, 14). Bunyan does not simply instruct us about our spiritual conflict; he makes us stand in the Valley of Humiliation with a “foul fiend . . . hideous to behold” striding toward us (66). Bunyan does not just warn us of the subtlety of temptation; he gives us sore feet on a rocky path, and then reveals a smooth road “on the other side of the fence” (129) — more comfortable on the feet, but the straightest way to a giant named Despair.
The cast of characters in Pilgrim’s Progress reminds us that the path to the Celestial City is narrow — so narrow that only a few find it, while scores fall by the wayside. Here we meet Timorous, who flees backward at the sight of lions; Mr. Hold-the-world, who falls into Demas’s cave; Talkative, whose religion lives only in his tongue; Ignorance, who seeks entrance to the city by his own merits; and a host of others who, for one reason or another, do not endure to the end.
And herein lies the drama of the story. Bunyan, a staunch believer in the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance, nevertheless refused to take that perseverance for granted. As long as we are on the path, we are “not yet out of the gun-shot of the devil” (101). Between here and our home, many enemies lie along the way. Nevertheless, let every pilgrim take courage: “you have all power in heaven and earth on your side” (101). If grace has brought us to the path, grace will guard our every step.‘All We Do Is Succeed’
Within ten years of its publishing date in 1678, Pilgrim’s Progress had gone through eleven editions and made the Bedford tinker a national phenomenon. According to Calhoun, “Some three thousand people came to hear him one Sunday in London, and twelve hundred turned up for a weekday sermon during the winter” (Life, Books, and Influence, 38).
If the Bedford magistrates had allowed Bunyan to continue preaching, we would still remember him today as the author of several dozen books and as one of the many Puritan luminaries. But in all likelihood, he would not be read today in some two hundred languages besides his own. For Pilgrim’s Progress is a work of prison literature — and it bears the marks of Bunyan’s confinement. Without the prison, we would likely not have the pilgrim.
The story of Bunyan and his book, then, is yet one more illustration that God’s ways are high above our own (Isaiah 55:8–9), and that the best designs of the devil can only serve the progress of God’s pilgrims (Genesis 50:20). John Piper, reflecting on Bunyan’s imprisonment, says, “All we do is succeed — either painfully or pleasantly” (“The Chief Design of My Life”).
Yes, if we have lost our burden at the cross, and now find ourselves on the pilgrims’ path, all we do is succeed. We succeed whether we feast with the saints in Palace Beautiful or wrestle Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation. We succeed whether we fellowship with shepherds in the Delectable Mountains or lie bleeding in Vanity Fair. We succeed even when we walk straight into the last river, our feet reaching for the bottom as the water rises above our heads. For at the end of this path is a prince who “is such a lover of poor pilgrims, that the like is not to be found from the east to the west” (Pilgrim’s Progress, 61).
Among the company of that prince is one John Bunyan, a pilgrim who has now joined the cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). “Though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4) — and urges the rest of us onward.
November 11: John 15:8; John 15:16; Romans 6:19; Romans 12:1–2; Galatians 6:15–16; Colossians 1:10; Psalm 27:14; Psalm 62:1; Psalm 62:5; Song of Solomon 3:1; Lamentations 3:26; Hosea 14:1–2; Luke 18:7; James 1:13–17
Bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to pre-sent your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.—Just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.—Neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them.
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”—“I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”John 15:8 (Listen)
(ESV)John 15:16 (Listen)
(ESV)Romans 6:19 (Listen)
19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
(ESV)Romans 12:1–2 (Listen) A Living Sacrifice
12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers,1 by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.2 2 Do not be conformed to this world,3 but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.4Footnotes
(ESV)Galatians 6:15–16 (Listen)
(ESV)Colossians 1:10 (Listen)
(ESV)Evening: Psalm 27:14; Psalm 62:1; Psalm 62:5; Song of Solomon 3:1; Lamentations 3:26; Hosea 14:1–2; Luke 18:7; James 1:13–17
I sought him, but found him not.
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good.”
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God….” But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire…. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!—It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.—“Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?”
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salva-tion…. For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.Psalm 27:14 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 62:1 (Listen) My Soul Waits for God Alone To the choirmaster: according to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.
(ESV)Psalm 62:5 (Listen)
(ESV)Song of Solomon 3:1 (Listen) The Bride's Dream
(ESV)Lamentations 3:26 (Listen)
(ESV)Hosea 14:1–2 (Listen) A Plea to Return to the Lord
14 Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
2 Take with you words
and return to the LORD;
say to him,
“Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good,
and we will pay with bulls
the vows1 of our lips.
 14:2 Septuagint, Syriac pay the fruit
(ESV)Luke 18:7 (Listen)
(ESV)James 1:13–17 (Listen)
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.1Footnotes
 1:17 Some manuscripts variation due to a shadow of turning
I am a scientist, researcher, politician, and educator. In all these fields, I’m not allowed to talk about my faith in Christ. And sometime it makes me upset. So how can I honor God through my works?
This is such a great question. Scripture summons us to speak about the good news of what God has done in Christ. So where does that leave you and many others who spend much of their waking hours in jobs that don’t allow for that?
In their helpful new book, The Symphony of Mission, Jim Mullins and Mike Goheen explain that God’s mission is like a great symphony with many instruments playing their notes in one accord. They propose three vital ways we join Jesus in his renewing work: through our spoken words (as your question suggests), our stewardship, and our service.1. Spoken Words
Peter’s epistles are full of wisdom for Christians in environments hostile to the gospel. After encouraging his readers to stand firm amid suffering, he adds: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet. 3:15).
Even when we aren’t allowed to speak publicly about Jesus, we can have an answer ready for anyone who asks why our work and life look different. “Always be prepared” implies readiness across different situations to share about our hope. This isn’t a passive process but takes intentional creativity.
Spend time framing the gospel in language specific to your fields. When fellow politicians raise an eyebrow over why you hold two seemingly contrary commitments, describe a vision for restorative justice motivated by Jesus, who rules with righteousness and mercy. Or when your research assistant notices how excited you get over the smallest discoveries, describe your awe and wonder at the intricate order of God’s world.
Service isn’t always doing more; it’s embodying the posture of Jesus.
As you pray for your coworkers and meditate on how the gospel permeates these different spheres, you may notice subtle opportunities to draw a connection between your work and your faith in Christ. For some of your colleagues, it may seem impossible to be both a Christian and also a scientist or educator. Seizing such moments could be powerful in changing that narrative. And through the Holy Spirit you can do this without fear, revering Christ as Lord (1 Pet. 3:15).
While spoken words are an essential way that we participate in God’s mission, they can sometimes eclipse the other two.2. Stewardship
Scripture’s opening scene drips with God’s creativity, wisdom, order, prudence, and love for beauty and goodness. Genesis 1–2 doesn’t list these attributes; it reveals them through the glory displayed in God’s works of creation. In the same way, we reflect his glory in how we rule and subdue in the specific domains he’s called us to (Gen. 1:26–28).
You deeply honor God as you search out his designs for education, politics, and science. He rejoices as your work pulls back the curtain that sin has drawn, revealing a bit of his radiance. As you educate with humility and patience, you reveal something about the God who doesn’t teach abstract principles from afar but came close in Christ to teach explicitly and through example. As you attend to the needs of the marginalized in your political work, you reflect the “God who sees” those who have been cast out and forgotten (Gen. 16:13). And your research embodies a response to the God who designed his creation to “proclaim the work of his hands,” “pour forth speech,” and “reveal knowledge” (Ps. 19:1–2).3. Sacrificial Service
Jesus’s life was marked by humble service, climaxing in the ultimate act of self-giving love on the cross. Our world is desperate for this kind of love, but it’s hard to give. For sin turns us inward. We need the Spirit, then, to bring the love of Christ to life in and through us, dramatizing the gospel.
For you, service may be caring for the needs of a sick colleague, praising someone from a different political party for creative policy, or purposely taking on a hard task to free up a new employee. It could also look like honoring Sabbath rest at the expense of getting ahead or even just “keeping up.” Service isn’t always doing more; it’s embodying the posture of Jesus, who didn’t cling to privilege but came in the form of a servant, considering our lives more significant than his own (Phil. 2:1–11).
Devote time to reimagining how your work already displays the glory of the Father. Ask Jesus to continue growing your love for those you serve and work alongside. And invite the Spirit to give you opportunities to share the good news of Christ’s kingdom.
Just be kind. It’s more than a phrase. It’s a movement. The slogan began with some kids in Central Indiana selling signs, T-shirts, and key chains, and now its influence is spreading throughout the world. The principle is basic, and its supporters insist the maxim would benefit us all.
The supporting phrase is just as pithy: “It’s easy.” In other words, maybe the problems, the stress, the conflict, and the pain in our world actually aren’t an irreducibly complex tangle of divergent opinions, identities, and values. Maybe the solution is easier and closer than you think.
Presumably what’s easy is the idea itself, not the actions required to carry out the solution. Admittedly, it’s hard to dialogue meaningfully with a slogan, but taken at its best, the people who wear those shirts or hoist those signs wouldn’t be so naive to think a lifestyle of perpetual kindness is an easy task with black-and-white applications.
Every civilization has asked, “What is our greatest good?” Philosophers have sought to lay out one concise maxim we can all appropriate and live by. Socrates claimed the pathway to happiness is virtue. Immanuel Kant boiled it down to the categorical imperative: “I ought never to act in such a way that I couldn’t also will that the maxim on which I act should be a universal law.” Kant merely put a fancy philosophical spin on the golden rule: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matt. 7:12).
The problem isn’t with a condensed imperative like “be kind.” The problem—on two levels—is with the word “just.”Philosophical and Practical Problem
The word “just” implies we can scrap the hard work of nuance and context—which are always necessary—to apply kindness to sentencing a criminal or giving someone a failing grade. The word implies we can bypass the need for elaborate constructions of religion and morality because, deep down, we all intuitively know what being kind looks like.
If that’s the case, though, we have a massive self-deception obstacle to overcome. Look at our two political parties in America. They differ strongly on virtually every policy, yet you could get every representative to swear up and down that all they do is in the service of “being kind.” So maybe we need more clarity than “just” be kind. Maybe the application of “just be kind,” even theoretically, is where the hard work comes in.
To borrow some Greek philosophy, we’re born into a culture that preaches a finis without a telos. No one is allowed to give a firm reason to be kind. But most of the time, being kind doesn’t directly help you; often it’s downright inconvenient.
So we need a compelling motive, which Jesus supplies in at least four ways.1. Jesus offers a stronger ‘just.’
Jesus gives us the same underlying principle: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.” The difference is, he doesn’t leave us there. He doesn’t brush off his hands and say: “And there you have it! What are you waiting for? Go and do it. It’s easy!” No, he follows up that command with his own “just,” one that draws our hope toward him: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34–35).
Jesus shows his foundational love and kindness on the cross, which is both the motivation and also the power for us to be kind.2. Jesus helps you be kind even when it doesn’t look like kindness to others.
Being kind comes a lot easier when it looks obvious or fits the right mold—for example, when you put it on your college application, or you work for a company that demarcates a token percentage of their profits to fight animal abuse.
Kindness in his name should never be a self-righteous cover for shaming and finger-pointing.
But Jesus’s kindness toward us took the form of confronting sin, then bearing mockery, rejection, and death. Kindness in his name should never be a self-righteous cover for shaming and finger-pointing; still, when we practice kindness before an audience of One, it will matter less how others perceive it.3. Jesus enables you be kind when it doesn’t help.
When Jesus is your “why” for being kind, you can continue to be gracious to your neighbor, even when you’ve asked them to clean up after their dog and they’re still not doing it. Kindness based on Christ comes without an agenda. After all, he loved and pursued us “while we were still sinners” (Rom. 5:8).
We can be kind to others without insisting they do something for us, because Jesus has already done it all.4. Jesus helps you be kind to those who are ‘what’s wrong with the world.’
We all have that group about whom we think, They’re what’s wrong with this world; they’re the problem. How do you muster the strength to “just be kind” to them? Gazing at the grace of Christ. That alone changes how we look at those people, for it changes what we see as the chief problem.
The best thing we can do is show ‘those people’ the kindness we got, but didn’t deserve, from Jesus.
The ultimate solution to sin is not getting the right people in charge who will finally legislate right values. Nor is the solution getting everyone enough education. The solution is the internal transformation Christ brings about through his Spirit. So the best thing we can do is show “those people” the kindness we got, but didn’t deserve, from Jesus.
Being kind doesn’t just come naturally. That’s why we’re in this fallen mess. A lot of times you and I don’t want to be kind. That’s why we need a solution that starts with God’s undeserved kindness for us in Jesus, and then continues in his changing our hearts to want to be more like him.
Three of my grandchildren recently paid their annual summer visit to the sweltering Southeast. They brought their parents along as chaperones, which was nice enough.
Whenever two or three of my grandkids are gathered near me for more than 24 hours, I take the opportunity to do one of two things: practice and perform a play, or rev up “Dr. Pops’s Summer Bible School.” The oldest of the visiting grandkids turned 5 during her stay; her brothers are 2 and 9 months. They’re a bit young for King Lear, so Dr. Pops’s Summer Bible School it was.
Before they left, they knew the four faces of the cherubim (complete with hand motions), an outline of the creation account, the basic structures of creation, and a summary of the book of Genesis. Next time I’m with them, we’ll move into Exodus, and I’ll teach them how to offer each other as an animal sacrifice.
I’ve been teaching the Bible to small children—mostly my own—for more than 35 years, ever since my oldest son was a toddler. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks. Here are three.1. Tell Bible Stories
God spoke to Israel in many portions and many ways (Heb. 1:1–3). He spoke law from Sinai, wisdom through kings, burning and shattering words through the prophets, and finally spoke himself in his Son, the Word. The order of the canon is the order of Israel’s, and humanity’s, maturation, as we grow up from childhood slavery to adult freedom (cf. Gal. 4), from priest to king to prophet to full stature in Christ.
It’s not an accident that the biblical history of maturation starts with a long book of stories. It’s where we begin. Before we learn to talk or walk or do abstract reasoning, we learned stories. Yahweh is the best parent. Before Israel received Torah, the tabernacle, the complexities of the sacrificial system, a land or a monarchy, they got stories, dramatic family stories.
God gave stories because he wanted us to read, tell and retell, live out of and into the stories themselves. Start there. Tell the stories. They’ll remember.
When my children were young, we had family worship most nights after dinner. I opened my Bible on my lap and retold a story. We started at Genesis and kept going until we got through the end of Acts, then we started over at Genesis and repeated the process. I can’t recall how many cycles we went through, but I repeated myself often because fresh kids kept showing up. As my children got older, we covered the rest of the New Testament, and we read passages together. At the start, though, I tried to get them hooked on the Bible by telling stories.
We’re tempted to skim past the stories to get to the moral kernel. We’re tempted to ignore details to abstract doctrinal content. Scripture teaches moral lessons, and the Bible’s stories have doctrinal import. We should teach all that to our children. But God gave stories because he wanted us to read, tell and retell, live out of and into the stories themselves.
So start there. Tell the stories. They’ll remember.2. Show Them Jesus
During the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus taught the Bible to his disciples (Luke 24). He taught two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and then the remaining 11. Luke tells us he taught the entire Old Testament—Moses, the prophets (former and latter), and the Psalms. He taught “everything concerning himself.” We know it from Jesus himself: the whole Bible is about him.
The Bible is a book of books, a grand story with lots of small stories in the middle. All the small stories are connected to the grand story, because all the small stories are part of the story of Jesus. The stories are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Once we’ve put the pieces together, as Irenaeus said, we discover a portrait of a glorious, beautiful King.
All the small stories are connected to the grand story, because all the small stories are part of the story of Jesus.
What kinds of pieces should we be looking for? Characters, for starters. Show them how Jesus is a better Adam because he resists the Devil in the wilderness, when Adam couldn’t fight the Devil in a garden. Show them that Jesus is attacked by his brothers, as Abel was by Cain and Joseph by his brothers. Show them how Samson conquered in the moment of his death, as Jesus did on the cross. When you look at Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, they’ll be reminded that Jesus wept.
Look for recurring events, too. At the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus flees from a murderous king to the safety of Egypt, returns and grows up, is baptized in the Jordan, enters the wilderness to be tempted, and then teaches about the law on a mountaintop. He’s reliving the history of Israel again: slavery in Egypt, Pharaoh’s assault on Israelite babies, the exodus and wilderness, Sinai and the law. If you’re brave enough to slog through Leviticus, keep reminding them that Jesus offers the final, perfect sacrifice that brings us back to the Father.
The Bible doesn’t just connect everyone and everything to Jesus. It connects everyone and everything to everyone and everything else. Noah is a new Adam as well as a preview of Jesus. David fights like one of the judges, Hezekiah is a new David, and Jeremiah is like Moses.
I often said to my kids, “Wow! This is the first time in the Bible this has happened. This is the first time we’ve seen a character like this!” “Wow, this is the first time anyone has died of massive head trauma,” I said while telling the story of David and Goliath. “This is the first time anybody has drowned.” “This is the first time anyone has nearly died and come back to life.” “This is the first man to meet his wife at a well.” They knew it was a cue that meant the opposite. “No! Other people died from head wounds,” and they would rattle off Sisera and Abimelech, and remember the serpent’s crushed head. “Every man meets his wife at a well!”
Children are natural typologists, and only stop being typologists if we discourage them. They don’t know the word typology, but they know the game. Play it.3. Sing the Bible
Some years ago, while serving as a pastor in Idaho, I led a summer Bible school for the elementary-aged children at church. I wrote a set of songs to help them learn the patterns of biblical theology. I was late in coming to recognize the power of singing, but now I wouldn’t try to teach children any other way. Singing or chanting makes the Bible visceral and rhythmic. It impresses the Bible into a child’s brain and body.
I tried to make the songs fun. I didn’t want to make them cute. I wanted the songs to set the grooves for reading and thinking about the Bible that would guide the children as they grew up. I didn’t want them to dismiss the Bible as a childish thing.
Do not underestimate what a child can learn about Scripture. They can learn more than we realize, and they can have fun doing it.
Let me give an example. The book of Genesis begins with three falls that culminate in the great de-creation of the flood. After the flood and Babel, the story focuses on three patriarchs, who begin to renew the world by reversing the three falls. The whole thing goes like this (bold syllables are emphasized):
Adam, Cain, and the sons of God (the three falls)
WHOOSH! (flood; make a sweeping flood-like hand motion)
Abraham, Jacob, Joseph (the three patriarchs)
Adam sins by disobeying Yahweh, while Abraham obeys even when it will cost him his son. Cain kills Abel; Jacob is an Abel who escapes his murderous brother Esau. The sons of God intermarry and corrupt the world; Joseph resists seduction and feeds the world.
One of the best Bible singers around is the Canadian songwriter Jamie Soles. In his many albums, he’ll get your kids singing the Bible ABCs, odd tales like the Benjamites who need wives, and repetitive passages like Numbers 7, which lists the same items again and again and again. There are others, but few sing the nitty-gritty of Scripture as well as Soles does.Teach the Bible
Maybe this is the most important lesson: I learned early on not to underestimate what children can learn about Scripture. They can learn more than we realize, and they can have fun doing it.
I learned children respond readily to their Father’s voice, so long as I remembered to teach them the Bible instead of using the Bible to teach them something else.
If someone’s sexual desires are low to the point of indifference, should he or she still be open to marriage down the road?
We cannot truly read the Bible without patient and rigorous engagement of our minds. That’s probably obvious to us. But we will not have read it well, not as God intended us to read it, without eager, even relentless, engagement of our hearts. It requires more faith, effort, prayer, humility, vulnerability, and often time to read God’s word with our hearts, but that’s because the heart is precisely where God wants his word to land.
What does it mean to read the Bible with your heart? Before I explain, I’ll point to an example, because a good example is often a great explainer. And the example comes from the Bible itself.With My Whole Heart
Psalm 119 is a (long) song of wholehearted love and desire for God. And if you read it with an engaged mind, you’ll hear the psalmist sing of how and why he received God’s word with a relentlessly, even desperately, engaged heart. It’s worth reading the whole psalm, but here are a few tastes:
“Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart” (Psalm 119:2).
“With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!” (Psalm 119:10).
“Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart” (Psalm 119:34).
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
“Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors” (Psalm 119:24).
“I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:47–48).
When we read Psalm 119, two truths are unmistakable: the word of God is for the heart of man, and the way to the heart is through the mind.Treasure to Be Loved
In Luke 10:27, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5, where Moses says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Any time, however, the Gospels record Jesus quoting this text (see also Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30), Jesus adds the word mind, which Moses didn’t include. Perhaps this is because the Hebrew hearers of Moses’s day understood implicitly that affections included reason, while the Greco-influenced mixed crowds of Jesus’s day needed the clarification.
Whatever Jesus’s reason for adding “mind,” it is clear that both reason and affections are crucial to loving God. But there is a hierarchy. God wants our hearts, because, as Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). God is not merely an idea to be pondered, but a person to be loved — the supreme treasure to be supremely treasured.
God’s way to our affections (heart) is through our understanding (mind). So, when we read the Bible, we read it with our hearts engaged, because God’s word is primarily for our hearts.Read to See Glory
As Christians, we rightly stress the importance of reading the Bible. In stressing this importance, however, we can easily fall into a subtle, deceptive misunderstanding of why it’s important. The subtle misunderstanding goes something like this: if we read the Bible regularly, God will be pleased with us, and therefore we can expect his blessing. As if the act of reading, rather than the purpose of reading, warrants God’s favor.
What’s deceptive about this is that it bears such a close resemblance to the truth. Regular, disciplined reading of the Bible is a means of great blessing from God. But not because performing the act of reading merits his favor. If we read the Bible this way, it’s not much different than the Muslim who practices the disciplines of the Five Pillars to merit Allah’s favor. This is apparently how many leaders in Jesus’s day approached the Scriptures. Listen to Jesus’s rebukes:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27–28).
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40)
God is not interested in our Bible reading as some kind of ritual to perform as proof of our piety. He wants us to read the Bible so that we will see him! God wants us to see his glory, again and again.
The Bible is where the most important glories of the triune God shine brightest and clearest — especially the glory of Jesus Christ (John 1:14), who is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and through whom comes “grace and truth” (John 1:17).
This makes the Bible itself shine with a peculiar glory, worth mining deeply because of the priceless wealth it contains. As John Piper says,
In all the details and particulars of what we find in the Bible — Old Testament and New — the aim of reading is always to see the worth and beauty of God. Notice that I say “in all the details and particulars.” There is no other way to see the glory. God’s greatness does not float over the Bible like a gas. It does not lurk in hidden places separate from the meaning of words and sentences. It is seen in and through the meaning of texts. (Reading the Bible Supernaturally, 96)
God’s glory is seen in and through the meaning of texts. That’s why we pray, “Make me understand the way of your precepts” (Psalm 119:27). Because understanding God’s word is the means of God’s word getting stored up in our hearts (Psalm 119:11).Don’t Read Just to See
God wants our hearts in Bible reading, not just the attention of our minds. As important as seeing God’s glory is, it’s not enough. God wants us to see his glory so that we will savor his glory. And “if there is no true seeing of the glory of God, there can be no true savoring of the glory of God” (96). Charles Spurgeon said it this way:
Certainly, the benefit of reading must come to the soul by the way of the understanding. . . . The mind must have illumination before the affections can properly rise towards their divine object. . . . There must be knowledge of God before there can be love to God: there must be a knowledge of divine things, as they are revealed, before there can be an enjoyment of them. (100)
The “love to God” and “an enjoyment of divine things” are what God most wants us to experience as a result of reading our Bibles, and neither happens without knowledge. Knowledge is for the sake of love and joy.
When I said the word of God is for the heart of man, I meant it is for, to borrow from the hymn, the “joy of every longing heart.” Bible reading “in all the details and particulars” is frequently rigorous work. It can be quite difficult. At times it can even be disturbing. When we deal with the Bible, we’re dealing with the infinite and mysterious mind of God. His thoughts are not our thoughts; his ways not our ways (Isaiah 55:8–9). But ultimately, if we really understand why God has given us a Book, reading his word becomes a hedonistic pursuit. What we’re after is the pleasure our souls are designed to enjoy most: the savoring of God’s glory.Read Until You See and Savor
Those who have known God best, and loved him most, have understood the crucial importance of savoring God deeply through seeing God clearly in his word.
George Müller, when reflecting on his remarkable, demanding life of prayerful dependence on God for the sake of the Bristol orphans, recalled an important moment early in his ministry: “I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord” (100). He was speaking about his daily, disciplined Bible reading and prayer each morning. This was his oasis of refreshment. Time in the word functioned like a ballast keeping his ship upright in a life of significant stress and at times turbulent storms. “Unless some unusual obstacle hindered him, he would not rise from his knees until sight had become savoring” (100).
George Müller read the Bible like the psalmist who wrote Psalm 119: with a rigorously engaged mind and a relentlessly engaged heart. And so must we. We read the Bible with our minds to see the glory of God, and with our hearts to savor the glory of God. We pass the Bible through our minds to store it in our hearts, because our hearts are with our treasure. And if possible, we don’t stop looking until our hearts are “happy in the Lord” — until we feel fresh joy in some aspect of who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.
God designed us to find our highest purpose in praising him. And when we live for his glory, we get unparalleled joy.
November 10: Psalm 89:19; Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 43:11; Acts 4:12; Philippians 2:7–9; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 2:14; Deuteronomy 30:4; Psalm 50:5; Mark 13:27; John 17:24; 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 9:28
“I have granted help to one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people.”
“I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.”—There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.—“There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Mighty God.—[He] made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.—We see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.—Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.Psalm 89:19 (Listen)
19 Of old you spoke in a vision to your godly one,1 and said:
“I have granted help to one who is mighty;
I have exalted one chosen from the people.
 89:19 Some Hebrew manuscripts godly ones
(ESV)Isaiah 9:6 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 43:11 (Listen)
(ESV)Acts 4:12 (Listen)
12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men1 by which we must be saved.”Footnotes
 4:12 The Greek word anthropoi refers here to both men and women
(ESV)Philippians 2:7–9 (Listen)
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,1 being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,Footnotes
(ESV)1 Timothy 2:5 (Listen)
5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man1 Christ Jesus,Footnotes
 2:5 men and man render the same Greek word that is translated people in verses 1 and 4
(ESV)Hebrews 2:9 (Listen)
9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
(ESV)Hebrews 2:14 (Listen)
(ESV)Evening: Deuteronomy 30:4; Psalm 50:5; Mark 13:27; John 17:24; 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 9:28
“Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.—He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am.”—“Then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”—“If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you.”
The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.Deuteronomy 30:4 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 50:5 (Listen)
(ESV)Mark 13:27 (Listen)
(ESV)John 17:24 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 (Listen)
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
(ESV)Hebrews 9:15 (Listen)
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.1Footnotes
 9:15 The Greek word means both covenant and will; also verses 16, 17
(ESV)Hebrews 9:28 (Listen)
“Well done, brother. Well done.”
It was a sultry summer day in the heart of our nation’s capital. Just outside the restaurant, laborers were setting up fences and hanging bunting in preparation for the July 4 celebration.
Inside, we were having a celebration of our own. Some 10 or 12 men had gathered together to celebrate the ministry of one of our own church planters. It was a wonderful occasion.
Dozens of people walked by without interest as the brothers laughed, prayed, and encouraged this precious man. One by one, they spoke words of heartfelt gratitude for how he had inspired and encouraged them in their own ministry.
One documented the brother’s biblical fidelity, another his eagerness for evangelism, still another his coffee snobbery, followed by another who testified to his love for the church. Our hearts were as full as our bellies as we rejoiced in how this man had helped us all.
Had you been in the neighboring booth and listened, I’m sure you would have testified to the success of this planter. And you’d have been right. Only, the occasion of the meal was to say goodbye to this brother and his family as they transitioned out of the city; his church hadn’t made it past the indomitable five-year mark of a church plant.
In the eyes of church-planting gurus, he had failed. But in the eyes of God, he had not.The Four S’s
For far too long in America, we’ve been led to believe a lie. While few will come right out and say it, we’ve been led to believe that church-planting success is defined by the accumulation of what I call the “four S’s:” size, speed, self-sufficiency, and spread.
Get a large size, get it quickly, so you might be financially self-sufficient to spread your plant to other sites of various sorts. If you attain all of these, then you will have “made it.” You get the merit badge of the fifth “S”—success.
As an added bonus, if you can accomplish these S’s in an urban setting, you’re deemed an even more successful church planter. Conferences and publishers will come running to invite you to address the masses on how to duplicate your success.
I’m a 100 percent confident the Lord has used this method for the spread of his infinite worth. I believe God has and will continue to cause people to be born again and discipled within these kinds of environments. I’d argue, however, that these markers for “success” are fatally flawed in the economy of God’s kingdom.Failure and Success
This brother and his co-laborers worked hard in the city. They tabled at festivals, did service projects, prayer walked, handed out materials, invited neighbors for meals, and facilitated services that dripped with gospel grace. Some came, but after five years he needed to move on to make a living for his family and avoid being the infidel Paul speaks of in 1 Timothy 5:8.
Did he fail?
Unequivocally, no. Oh, what joy and freedom there is in that answer! I’d even go so far as to say he succeeded more than some church-planting gurus who stand on high-profile platforms.
Ministry success should never be measured by the machinations of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, or Manhattan. We believe that the Lord in his infinite wisdom used a humble teenage girl from a place like Possumtrot, Kentucky, to bring the Redeemer. We believe Jesus won as the world laughed at his loss.
Successful church planters are like the successful farmer of Mark 4:26–29. He scatters the seed, then he goes to sleep: “The seed sprouts and grows, and he knows not how.”
Surely, if we’d asked, “How do plants grow?” the farmer would’ve known the answer. But Jesus’s point is to highlight the sufficiency of the seed—the Word. As it’s buried into the soil of the world, fruit springs up in the places where it’s preached.God Does It
There are no “proven strategies,” no books, no Enneagram numbers, that if you just plug into a city will produce success. Success is found in the faithful spreading of the seed.
How does it grow? We. Know. Not. How. We planters rest in the sufficiency of Christ and the Word that points to him as we lovingly and liberally scatter the gospel in our cities. Scattering seed and sleeping defines our success, beloved. How about that?
Success is found in the faithful spreading of the seed.
Feel the liberty, then, church planter, of descending on a city with the power of the gospel and the model of success that may result in two, 20, or 200 years. Feel the liberty of “succeeding” with a handful of messed-up people meeting in your home over some chili you threw together after working your part-time job.
Did you love those people in your home? Did you pray for them? Did you preach the gospel to them? Did you call them to respond? Did you offer to walk with them? Did you call them to walk with each other?
Then rest well. Go to sleep with joy in your hearts and hope for tomorrow. No matter what may come when the sun rises, you can rest assured you are succeeding. Come what may, you will see your Savior face to face and hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).
Christians are called to be witnesses of Christ to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In our day, the ends of the earth are moving into our neighborhoods — at least for those of us in America and Europe. Muslims are emigrating to our cities in record numbers. Many of us don’t need to board a plane to take the gospel to the Muslim world. We only need to cross the street to our neighbor’s house.
Unfortunately, many Christians are apprehensive about engaging a relationship or even a conversation with Muslims. Some have a misperception that Muslims will not be friendly. Others are gripped with the fear of potentially offending Muslims by committing a cultural faux pas. Essentially, many are overcome by the fear of the unknown. I want to shed light on some common misconceptions that hinder Christians from reaching out to Muslims with the saving truth of Christ.Misconceptions About Muslims
The most common misconception about Muslims is that they are all radical terrorists filled with hatred for the West — or at least they are headed in that direction. The thought is that all Muslims ultimately want to see our society destroyed and Islamic sharia law instituted throughout the land. Although there are movements of radical Islamic terrorists throughout the world, the vast majority of Muslims are among the more hospitable, gracious, and friendly people you will meet.
Underlying this misunderstanding is the erroneous thinking that the more devout one gets as a Muslim, the more radical one becomes. Some think that the end of Christian devotion is to sell your possessions and give it all to the poor, while the end of Muslim devotion is to become a jihadist.
Although there are terrorist organizations who have deceived their followers into believing this, the vast majority of Muslims fall into another category: the dutiful religious Muslim. The term Islam means “submission to Allah,” and Muslim means “one who submits to Allah.” Islam is primarily a works-based religion, and for most Muslims, to be devout is to give oneself wholly to follow the five pillars of faith and submit to Allah.Misconceptions About Our Calling
Another misconception that we must acknowledge has to do with our calling and purpose as Christians. It might be better stated as a forgotten identity and mission. This came to light during the recent Syrian refugee crisis, when many American Christians primarily were thinking about border protection and safety instead of the opportunity for advancing the kingdom of God. This is not to say that safety and protection should not be on our minds at all. As a husband and father, I desire safety and peace in our country. But as an ambassador for Christ, I cannot let that desire squeeze out or nullify the greater desire to see people from all nations come to saving faith in Jesus.
In Acts 20:24, Paul states that his own life is not more valuable to him than the ministry God gave him to testify to the gospel of grace. For us today, engaging our Muslim neighbors in order to witness to the gospel is not even a matter of life and death. But it may mean sacrificing comfort. I fear that, too often, we don’t even want to get out of our comfort zones. I recently heard about a community where some were upset because an Islamic association wanted to build a cemetery in their town. Some were against the initiative because they felt it would lead to more Muslims moving to their community. Instead of celebrating an open door to engage Muslims with the gospel, they wanted to stop it.
The goal of Christians is not to preserve or extend our temporal comforts, or even our lives, at all costs. The goal of Christians should be instead to spend every day of our lives serving the mission of testifying to all nations.Muslims’ Misconceptions
It is also important to note that Muslims have many misconceptions about Christianity. Most Muslims don’t understand our view of the Trinity, and wrongly assume that Christians worship three Gods. The sonship of Jesus is a stumbling block for them because many mistakenly take it to mean that God had sexual relations with Mary. Muslims also view Christianity primarily through the lens of Western society. In the Muslim world, Islam is woven into every fabric of society so that the religion’s value is reflected in the culture. Therefore, some Muslims have a hard time accepting the claims of Christ because they see the vices in our society and wrongly attribute them to Christianity.
It is important to dispel all these misunderstandings, but I want to highlight one misconception in particular that shows the importance of engaging your Muslim neighbor. Many Muslims think that the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is absurd. They view it as a cheap grace. They think Christianity essentially means saying a prayer to believe in Jesus, and then living however you want because you have been forgiven. They ask, “Then why would you live for God? Why would you do anything for God?” With that question, they admit that they believe the only reason someone would live for God is fear. The motive is to earn God’s favor, or else I’m going to go to hell. But what if there’s a better way?
The Bible is clear that grace does not lead to freedom to sin, but rather to freedom to truly live for God (Romans 6:15–18). A true Christian will produce good works, but his good works will not be a means to earning salvation. Rather, they will be a product of his salvation — or better put, evidence of his salvation. The Scripture teaches in James that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). Christians do not live for God out of fear of going to hell, because we understand that our place in heaven is already secured by the blood of Christ.While We Were Yet Sinners
Now we can see why it is so important to engage, befriend, and love our Muslim neighbors. The greatest misconception in the Muslim mind relates to the unmerited and sacrificial love of the true God. In Islam, you earn God’s favor through a life of good works, submitting to the will of Allah. Islam teaches that there will be a day of judgment when Muslims will face a scale that weighs all their good deeds against their bad deeds. Whichever one outweighs the other will determine whether they go to heaven or hell. But Christianity teaches that God loved us and sent his Son to die for our sins while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8) and before we did anything good to deserve it (Ephesians 2:8–9).
This is the love that Muslims need to experience. And this is where you come in. We love Muslims by inviting them into our homes for dinner. We love Muslims by asking them how we can help them in getting assimilated to our community — for example, by helping them set up a bank account, sign up their kids for school, or whatever else it may be. Before a Muslim cares to know what you believe, he often wants to know that you care. When we love Muslims without seeking anything in return, especially when they expect us to ostracize them, we make Jesus visible to them and put the gospel on full display (1 John 4:7–12).Once a Muslim
My family moved back to the States when I was 6 because of the unrest in Iran due to the revolution. Shortly after coming to America, the Iranian hostage crisis hit. A group of Americans were held hostage in Iran, and it was not easy for my family to live in Houston. Many people persecuted us because they knew my family was from Iran. I’m so thankful for one Christian lady who did not see my family as a threat, but as an opportunity to advance the gospel.
My Christian tutor loved me and met a real need in my life by teaching me the English language. She did this during a time when others threw bricks through the windows of our home or threatened to beat up my brother and me. Had any other American given me the New Testament, I would’ve thrown it away, because I didn’t trust many Americans then. But I’m thankful it came from the one who was showing me the love of Christ in her actions. Since it came from her, I held on to the New Testament that I would read years later and that would lead me to faith in Christ.
I am eternally blessed that I get to know Christ and be a part of making him known. There is no way I would be in this place if it were not for a second-grade tutor who was determined to invest in my life. I believe there are many more Muslims like me in your community. I pray that you will be obedient to Jesus as he calls you to invest in the life of a Muslim in your path for the sake of the gospel.
Those who expect to have spiritual insight without thinking hard do not know how God gives understanding.