September 19: Psalm 119:18; Psalm 139:17–18; Matthew 11:25–26; Matthew 13:11; Luke 24:45; Romans 11:33–34; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 2:12; Judges 15:19; Malachi 3:10; Luke 11:9; Luke 11:13; John 4:10; John 7:37; John 7:39; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6
Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.—“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”—“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”—Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.—How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.— Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”… For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.Psalm 119:18 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 139:17–18 (Listen)
(ESV)Matthew 11:25–26 (Listen) Come to Me, and I Will Give You Rest
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.1Footnotes
 11:26 Or for so it pleased you well
(ESV)Matthew 13:11 (Listen)
(ESV)Luke 24:45 (Listen)
(ESV)Romans 11:33–34 (Listen)
(ESV)Romans 11:36 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Corinthians 2:12 (Listen)
(ESV)Evening: Judges 15:19; Malachi 3:10; Luke 11:9; Luke 11:13; John 4:10; John 7:37; John 7:39; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6
En-hakkore [the spring of him who called].
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”—“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”… Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.
“Thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”—“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”—“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find.”
Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”—You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”Judges 15:19 (Listen)
19 And God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came out from it. And when he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore the name of it was called En-hakkore;1 it is at Lehi to this day.Footnotes
 15:19 En-hakkore means the spring of him who called
(ESV)Malachi 3:10 (Listen)
10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.
(ESV)Luke 11:9 (Listen)
(ESV)Luke 11:13 (Listen)
(ESV)John 4:10 (Listen)
(ESV)John 7:37 (Listen) Rivers of Living Water
(ESV)John 7:39 (Listen)
(ESV)Romans 8:15 (Listen)
(ESV)Galatians 4:6 (Listen)
Why the secular turn in conservatism imperils the very foundation of conservative thought
Does anger actually turn into votes? As midterm elections approach, Democrats look for increased turnout among two different groups
While similar numbers of Americans and Europeans report themselves to be secular, they are not secular in the same way
“By the end, he looks at everything he made and says, ‘It’s really good. This creation is really, really good.’ And what we learn is that when everything and everyone submits to the word of the King, it’s really good.” — Gary McQuinn
Text: Genesis 1:1–25
Preached: January 14, 2018
Location: Park Church, Denver, Colorado
You can listen to this episode of TGC Word of the Week here.
- Keller, Moore, and Duncan on the Non-Negotiable Beliefs About Creation
- Why Genesis 1 Is Pro-Science (Glen Scrivener)
- Were Adam and Eve Really Historical Figures? (Albert Mohler and Bryan Chapell)
- Theological Triage and the Doctrine of Creation (Sam Emadi)
The Story: According to a new study on adult atheists, the less that parents “walk the walk” about religious beliefs, the more likely their children are to walk away from the faith.
The Background: In 2009, psychology professor Joseph Henrich proposed the idea of Credibility Enhancing Displays (CREDs) to signify people that convey one belief but actually believe something else or have a low level of commitment to the belief. For example, researchers have found that past CRED exposure—such as being around people who engage in religious activities—is an important variable for predicting who does and does not become a religious believer
A recently published study in Religion, Brain & Behavior used the concept of CREDs to determine when a person rejects the religious beliefs modeled to them during their upbringing.
The study questioned thousands of atheists to assess the ability of CREDs to predict the age at which an individual became an atheist. In the first analysis, CREDs were positively associated with a delay in the age a person becomes an atheist, with family-level religious variables (religious importance, religious choice, and religious conflict) moderating this relationship. In the second analysis, CREDs remained a stable predictor of the age an individual became an atheist while controlling for demographics, parental quality, religious variables, relational variables, and institutional variables.
The research found that religious importance (i.e., families in which parents acted upon their religious beliefs) predicted a delay in the age which people became atheists, while choice (leaving faith decisions to children) and conflict within the family hastened the process.
What It Means: The conclusions of the study aren’t exactly encouraging, since delaying the age at which a kid becomes an adult atheist is not the goal of any Christian parent. But while limited in application, the study helps to confirm the importance of parental religiosity for children.
Another recent study for the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard found that parents who bring up their children religiously can be reassured that, on average, they are creating important psychological and behavioral health benefits that their children will carry with them into adulthood.
As researcher Tyler J. VanderWeele says, children who were raised in a religious or spiritual environment were subsequently better protected from the “big three” dangers of adolescence: depression, substance abuse, and risk taking. Compared with no attendance, at least weekly attendance of religious services was associated with greater life satisfaction and positive affect, a number of character strengths, lower probabilities of marijuana use and early sexual initiation, and fewer lifetime sexual partners. A religious upbringing also was shown to contribute towards a number of positive outcomes, such as greater happiness, more volunteering in the community, a greater sense of mission and purpose, and higher levels of forgiveness.
As adults, children who attended religious services regularly were 33 percent less likely to use illicit drugs and 30 percent less likely to start having sex at a young age. They were also 87 percent more likely to have high levels of forgiveness and 47 percent more likely to have a high sense of mission and purpose.
The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Pr. 22:6). That’s a proverb, not a promise. But we can help ensure our children gain the benefits of a life of faith by being a real-life example. We must tell our children, as the apostle Paul told his own spiritual children, “Watch me.”
As Paul told the church at Corinth, “for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Cor. 4:15-16). He also told them, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul repeated this admonition several times to the various people and churches to which he served as a spiritual father (Phil. 3:17, Phil 4:9, 2 Thess. 3:7-9, 2 Tim. 3:10-11).
We have an obligation to follow Paul’s example. As TGC president Don Carson says, “Do you ever say to a young Christian, ‘Do you want to know what Christianity is like? Watch me!’ If you never do, you are unbiblical.”
Paul was able to say “follow my example” because he was worthy of imitation. And he was worthy of imitating because he was himself committed to imitating Christ. If we love our children we’ll do the same, lead them to God by showing them what it looks like to follow Jesus.
I never tire of teaching the Aeneid to my honors college students. I’m drawn to Virgil’s epic, not only by its poetic perfection, complex story, and timeless characters, but also by its vast historical scope. Indeed, though it was written two full generations before the New Testament, and though its pagan Roman writer was ignorant of the Old Testament, the Aeneid is undergirded by an eschatological vision almost as grand as that of the Bible.
A poet or prophet or politician who holds an eschatological vision of history believes that history isn’t random or haphazard but has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Both meaningful and meaning-giving, history moves toward its purposeful end: what Aristotle called a telos. Although one can, technically speaking, be an eschatological atheist—Marx believed that history was moving unstoppably toward a utopian state of pure communism—true eschatology requires a higher power and perspective thaht transcends the limits of earthly time and space while yet working through those limits to achieve the longed-for telos.
For the writers of Scripture, history begins with the fall of man and finds its center in the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. But Christ will come again to usher in the telos and to reign over a new heaven and new earth. As Christians, we live between the middle and the end, between the first and second comings of the Jewish Messiah who is also the Messiah of the world.
In light of that eschatological vision, how should we then live? Trevin Wax, Bible and reference publisher for LifeWay Christian Resources and a former missionary to Romania, thinks he has an answer.
In his engaging, highly lucid new book, Eschatological Discipleship: Leading Christians to Understand their Historical and Cultural Context, Wax argues that if we’re to be full disciples of Christ, we must learn to ask one simple question: What time is it? Unless we know where we stand in terms of God’s eschatological plan for human history, we won’t be able to effectively engage the people and the culture around us.Eschatological Dimension
While agreeing with apologists on the importance of knowing and critiquing the worldview of those we’re trying to reach, Wax maintains that our critiques lack an understanding of the eschatological underpinnings of modern and postmodern worldviews that have drawn people away from the gospel. He explains:
Without this eschatological dimension we are unable to comprehend fully the contextual nature of our discipleship task. If the church is a sign and an instrument of the coming kingdom of God, then we cannot see our obedience as a timeless expression of God’s will. We are, instead, witnesses to a God who has done something in history, in this space-time universe, and who is moving all of humanity and the world to the ultimate fulfillment of his purposes. Understanding the times is vital if Christians believe we are witnessing to a God who has a plan for the future. (20)
Yes, Wax writes, discipleship demands wisdom and discernment, but that wisdom must be more than book knowledge of abstract concepts and doctrines. It must be a “lived knowledge” that can flex and shift in sync with the spatial and temporal moment God has given us (37). That doesn’t mean we should accommodate ourselves to the culture—Christ calls us to be in the world but not of it (John 17:15)—but it does mean we need to speak to the moment of God’s grand narrative in which we find ourselves.
Unless we know where we stand in terms of God’s eschatological plan for human history, we won’t be able to effectively engage the people and the culture around us.
In the Gospels, Acts, and the letters of Paul, Wax argues, we’re called to be witnesses “who live with eschatological anticipation” (65). Our actions in the present are to be guided and inspired by our knowledge of the future: not only that Christ will return, but that we’re already citizens of his coming kingdom. Even now, we’re “an eschatological people under the reign of a risen Lord” (87). As such, we are, in our personal moral lives, to be driven less by a set of rules than by a sense that the day is short and judgment is coming. As Wax writes, “Because of the reality of Christ’s second coming and the consummation of the hope of the believer, ethical choices are invested with eternal significance” (85).
Wax offers many such insights into the New Testament’s call to eschatological discipleship, but the heart of his book lies in the contrast he makes between the Christian worldview and three rival worldviews that offer a different eschatology and telos: (1) Enlightenment progress, (2) the sexual revolution, and (3) consumerism.Alternative Eschatologies
In addition to championing reason over revelation and logical thinking over religious devotion, the Enlightenment ushered the West into a world that looks forward not to the promised New Jerusalem, but to a man-made utopia. In order to emphasize the coming light, Enlightenment eschatology demonizes the past as dark, ignorant, and backward. Rather than learn from the past, we’re to reject it and embrace the eventual decay of religious superstition. As we attempt to counter this false (if compelling) narrative, Wax cautions, Christians mustn’t romanticize the past as a golden age of Christianity. The eschatological disciple must seek instead to “overcome the Myth of Progress with the Gospel of Hope” (129).
In keeping with the progressivism of the 18th-century Enlightenment, the 20th-century sexual revolution also heralded the decay of revelation-based religion and the rise of reason-based science. However, in keeping with its 19th-century Romantic roots, the sexual revolution sought a new kind of mysticism that promised to free the disenchanted modern from the materialism and naturalism of the dour Age of Reason. Forsaking both repressive “medieval” moral codes and any form of scientism that would reduce man to a cog in the machine, the sexual revolution sought “transcendence through self-discovery and expression” (140).
Although those who ascribe to the worldview of the sexual revolution may personally gravitate toward a monogamous, heterosexual marriage, their motivation won’t be the same as those who hold to a traditional Christian worldview. For the former, marriage isn’t a divine institution that goes back to creation, but a social construct that enables sexual self-fulfillment and expression. That the (no-fault) divorce rate among believers is similar to that among non-believers testifies to the tragedy that the church has acquiesced to the sexual revolution’s redefinition of the telos of marriage.
Wax does a good job countering this redefinition, but he misses an opportunity to use a proper Christian eschatology to counter the most recent, and dangerous, development in the ongoing sexual revolution: the breakdown of any and all essential differences between the sexes. If only Wax had had the courage to argue that God made us male and female, that our bodies as well as our souls are masculine and feminine, and that even our resurrection bodies will show forth our God-given sexual differences, he could’ve gone a long way toward inoculating believers against the identity-crushing force of transgenderism.
If we as the body of Christ are to resist the idolatries of the marketplace, then we must do more than exhort people to put Christ back in Christmas.
As for the third rival worldview, consumerism, Wax effectively exposes it is as the most subtle and insidious of the three. If, for the architects of the sexual revolution, marriage is merely a vehicle for aiding our search for sexual self-fulfillment and expression, then for the high priests of consumerism, it’s nothing more than a commodity without intrinsic value. Now, it is often the case that consumerist eschatology will call us to make sacrifices to achieve our goal—but that goal, once achieved, won’t bring the kind of eternal telos promised to the believer. Unlike God’s kingdom, the hope that consumerism places in front of the consumer “continues to move forward like a carrot on a stick. As the consumer agrees to more and more discomfort in the present, the possibility of long-lasting joy shrinks” (169–70).
Worse yet for the Christian, consumerism as a worldview replaces the old sacred calendar of the church with a shopping calendar that demands an endless cycle of excessive spending. “When the purpose of life is consumption,” Wax writes with a sardonic grin, “then time is refigured to help people consume more and better” (168). If we as the body of Christ are to resist the idolatries of the marketplace, then we must do more than exhort people to put Christ back in Christmas. We must directly confront the false eschatology of consumerism that would indoctrinate us in the belief that our status as human persons rests on consumption and acquisition.
It was, I believe, Benjamin Franklin who counseled his readers that they should eat to live, not live to eat. In a similar manner, the church must remind its members that we should shop to live, not live to shop.
It’s often the elephant in the room. The pastoral candidate is anxious. He doesn’t want to ask, because he doesn’t want to come off as presumptuous or espousing a subtle prosperity theology.
How much are you willing to pay me?
In my first full-time ministry position, I waited until the church had elected me to even bring up salary. I was relieved when the figure they gave was in the ballpark of what my family needed, but I’ll admit to being squeamish, even fearful, of the whole conversation. As a result of the (unbiblical) notion some churches have—“God will keep our pastor humble, and we’ll keep him poor!”—far too many pastors are grossly underpaid. This creates anxiety that, in turn, can create burnout, and eventually leads some godly men to leave ministry so they can make a living for their families.
Sam Ogles and the ministry he serves, ChurchSalary, want to help fix that problem. We discussed the mission of ChurchSalary, and poked around the assumption that pastors shouldn’t be paid a living wage like others who do “real” work. ChurchSalary is a ministry of Christianity Today.
What was the impetus behind ChurchSalary? In your research on pastors and church staff members, are you finding that most are under-compensated?
A significant portion of ministers are under-compensated, yes. This is especially true in smaller churches, rural churches, and bi-vocational ministries.
The National Association of Evangelicals did a 2015 study of more than 4,000 ministers nationwide and found that half make less than $50,000 per year. More than three in four knew someone who left ministry due to financial stress. I’ve talked to denominational leaders who found that many millennial pastors, a few years into ministry, had significant doubts about continuing due to inadequate pay.
So where are pastors feeling the financial pinch?
Across denominations and geographical regions, the top two stressors are retirement and debt. Pastors may be able to pay their monthly bills, but they struggle to save for retirement or to pay down seminary debt or medical bills.
How will ChurchSalary help?
Pastors generally don’t have investments, so they live or die on their paycheck. To help that paycheck be as fair and generous as possible, we’ve been gathering compensation information from churches for years. Now we’ve put it in a digital tool so both church leaders and church staff can know what’s fair.
When interviewing with a church, it’s often awkward to initiate a conversation about pay and benefits. How would you encourage a pastoral candidate to approach this without coming off as “overly concerned about money,” as I’ve heard some church people accuse?
That stigma certainly exists, and it’s a shame. The Bible tells us “the worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7), so it’s only right to expect fair compensation for one’s work.
My advice is, first, do your research ahead of time. Have some objective data on fair pay for similar roles in churches with a similar attendance or budget. Based on that information and your personal budget, know your target compensation and the minimum you will accept.
Second, wait to bring up the subject of pay until you’ve learned about the job and built rapport with the search committee.
Then, ask a safe question to move the conversation in that direction: “Can you tell me about the cost of living for this area?” Once they answer, you can say, “That’s interesting. In light of that and the ministry expectations you’ve described, what do you think is fair compensation for this role?” I like framing it as “fair compensation.” Bringing a ChurchSalary report can bring an objective standard.
Okay, what about the other side of church salaries—you’re on a search committee. How should you think through compensation when hiring a new pastor?
There can be legal ramifications for things like misclassifying employees, excessive compensation, paying below minimum wage for the hours worked, and so on. Even apart from those serious issues, you’ll want an objective standard. Fair pay in staff compensation—the largest portion of the church budget—is good stewardship.
We built ChurchSalary around some of the most important factors in determining fair pay: the role, the church budget, church size, the candidate’s years of relevant experience, education level, and benefits. On top of that, we include both a cost-of-living tool and also a median household income tool for your specific ZIP code.
Explaining how pay is determined in your church is important. People are less likely to think they’re getting an unfair deal if you can show them how you determined the fairness of their paycheck.
What about non-pastoral church staff members? Are they typically underpaid? Is this project seeking to address that as well?
Yes. ChurchSalary provides data for 18 common church roles—including for part-time staff. As to the question of underpayment, whatever the church’s lead pastor makes sets the level for other staff members’ compensation.
Anecdotally, what are the best and worst-case scenarios you’ve seen with church compensation?
Oh boy! I think the vast majority of churches seek to get compensation right, even if they make mistakes. But two serious issues come to mind:
- Paying hourly staff for X number of hours but expecting them to put in even more hours “off the books.” While this may come from a place of expecting a servant’s heart, it’s illegal.
- Thinking that because a pastor is called, he should do the job no matter how low the pay. It’s short-sighted to underpay staff. People have to have enough to meet their needs. Like sleep, you can go without, but not without a cost.
One of the best examples of handling staff compensation came recently. I spoke with a pastor in a medium-sized church looking to hire a youth pastor. He worried that the salary might be too low; what the church could afford was below the 25th percentile for youth pastors. I suggested the church could get creative to make the overall compensation package more attractive. It turns out they could offer paid vacation, access to professional development, a 1 percent match on a 403(b) plan, and completely paid-for premiums on health insurance for the entire family. Depending on the candidate’s qualifications and the area’s cost of living, that might be not just a fair compensation package; it might be a great one.
When I have lost passion or devotion in my time alone with God, I have simply lost sight of him. I’m still reading and praying, but I’m not seeing him, not as clearly. A fog has blown in slowly over days or weeks, covering his beauty from the eyes of my heart, numbing me to my need for him, and depriving me of a deeper and stronger happiness in him.
Maybe you’ve known the fog. King David did. And he longed for what he would see, and feel, when the clouds finally parted:
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night. (Psalm 63:5–6)
David teaches us to cut through the fog with meditation. And not just meditation on words, but on God himself — “I remember you upon my bed . . . and meditate on you.” Meditation means to linger longer over God in Scripture for the sake of our hearts.
When we steep our souls in the exodus, the Levitical laws, the Psalms, the Minor Prophets, the Gospels, the early church, and Paul’s letters, we are meditating not merely on words on a page but on God. He reveals himself through words. We are seeing him in radiant glory, hearing from him in infinite wisdom, tasting him in his unique ability to satisfy the human soul.
We do not wake up early simply to study God or to exercise discipline. We wake up early to meet God. “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate” (Psalm 145:5). When we sit down to meditate — early in the morning, in the middle of the afternoon, during the watches of the night — we can expect glory, splendor, and majesty. We can expect God.More Important Than Sleep
The watches of the night were stretches when a guard or lookout was posted to watch for enemies. Safety was more important than sleep, so someone went without to keep the rest of the city safe.
Many Christians, especially in the West, are not left wondering if someone will break in to kill us overnight, but something is still more important than sleep. The psalmist says,
I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I hope in your words.
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
that I may meditate on your promise. (Psalm 119:147–148)
As precious as rest is, he knew that meditation was even more satisfying. He would gladly forgo sleep to get a little more of God.
If we consistently skip time with God in his word and prayer because we love sleep, our hearts have fallen out of sync. Sleep is important (Psalm 127:2). But it is not most important. Food is important (1 Timothy 4:4; 6:8). But it is not most important. Marriage and family are important (Proverbs 18:22; Psalm 127:3). But they are not most important. Communion with God — knowing and enjoying him in actual unhurried moments meditating on and praying to him — is more important than anything else we do, no matter how urgent everything else feels.
If God keeps us up late at night, or wakes us before the sun comes up, it may be because something is more important than sleep. He knows when we need to rest, and he knows when we need to meditate and pray. He may graciously open our eyes long before the alarm goes off, to give us another glimpse of his majesty to enjoy or to open his ears wide to the burdens we brought to bed.
We might assume we’re awake because of stress, indigestion, or some other imbalance, but it may simply be grace. God may be beckoning us from bed to something more nourishing and satisfying than sleep.With Focused Affection
However, meditation will not feel like grace if we’ve lost the ability to focus. For the most part, the Internet does not encourage extended meditation. Almost every site we visit is ruthlessly wired to keep us clicking, moving, shifting — relentlessly looking for the next thing, and therefore rarely truly focused on whatever is in front of us. Even when God himself is speaking to us.
Again, the psalmist says, “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways” (Psalm 119:15). When was the last time you gave that kind of attention to anything? When did you fix your eyes on something, and refuse to look away — not for notifications, not for a snack, not for breaking news or sports scores? If all the joy in the Psalms seems unfamiliar or even unattainable in our everyday life, it might be because we have estranged ourselves from meditation — from diligently searching for God. Have we lost our hunger for going hard after him?
Meditation is not just about focused mental attention — reading and thinking without distraction. Passionate desire, not cold compliance, fuels our pursuit of God: “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:48). Meditation is focused, thoughtful, even tenacious affection. Blessed is the man whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1–2).For Hard and Heavy Mornings
Meditation may seem to require quiet, uninterrupted, predictable mornings — “normal” days — but few of us know what quiet, uninterrupted, predictable mornings feel like. We’re much more acquainted with busy and unpredictable ones. Abnormal is our normal. We make plans, buy journals, set our alarms, and then life happens again. We end up with less time than we thought, or seemingly no time at all. Someone needs us unexpectedly. We begin to understand why David chose the watches of the night, when everyone else was asleep.
Some days, and even seasons of life, will be more conducive than others for ideal meditation, but the Psalms show us that we cannot wait for a conducive time to meditate. In fact, meditation becomes even more valuable when the ideal circumstances for meditation crumble around us. In the midst of trials and opposition, the psalmist says, “Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:23). David was also driven from his home, surrounded by enemies, and confronted with danger, but he would not surrender meditation. In psalm after psalm, when he was forced to leave everything else behind, he did not forsake thinking and praying with focused affection for God.You Are Not Alone
If you wake up early tomorrow to meditate on God in his word, he wants to meet you there — not just to be understood and admired, but to help you understand and admire him. Paul says to his disciple Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). True meditation is an exercise in killing self-reliance, because the wisdom of God confounds and offends even the wisest human minds apart from grace.
When you open your Bible, lay down your need to be strong, smart, and independent. Pray with the psalmist, “Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works” (Psalm 119:27). We bring focused affection and prayerful dependence, and he gives the understanding — the comfort and healing for a lingering wound, the breakthrough in fighting sin, the insight for difficult relationships or situations, and most of all, the awe of beholding his beauty again.
When God moves in our meditation, we will say with Robert Murray McCheyne, “Rose early to seek God and found Him whom my soul loveth. Who would not rise early to meet such company?” God is sitting next to us when we read, even within us by his Spirit. When we meditate on God with God, the one our souls love meditates for us and through us, showing us glimpses of himself we never would have seen on our own.
Children don’t need to use the label “Christian Hedonism,” but parents can help them grasp what it means to be happy in God.
Can you improve your relationship with God? People are often unsure how to respond. The promises of grace suggest one answer; the experience of life often suggest another. In the confusion, we often do nothing. We stagnate.
But there is a way forward. Can you improve your relationship with God? Yes. Let’s turn for help to the seventeenth-century Puritan John Owen. In his classic book Communion with God, Owen says,
Our communion with God consists in his communication of himself to us, with our return to him of that which he requires and accepts, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him. (Works, Vol. 2, 8–9, modernized)
Note how Owen makes a distinction between “union” and “communion.” In the gospel, through faith, we have union with God in Christ. From start to finish this union is God’s gracious work toward us. But this union leads to communion with God — a genuine, two-way relationship of give-and-take in which our involvement matters.
This provides us with a great incentive and a great assurance:
The great incentive is this: If we respond to the circumstances of our lives with faith, if we resist the lies of temptation, if we make use of the means of grace, then we will have greater joy in Christ — our communion with God will improve.
The great assurance is this: Whenever we sin and fail, we can fall back on divine grace. If we have true union with God, it is not affected by the ebbs and flows of our battle with sin. The union forms the great foundation of our lives.You Can’t Improve the Union
This simple distinction between union and communion helps us resolve a common problem. When we want to stress God’s grace to us in Christ, we often say that nothing can make our relationship with God stronger or weaker than it is. We cannot make God love us any more than he does already. After all, God first loved us when we were deep in sin (Romans 5:8). He didn’t love us because of any beauty or goodness within us. Can you improve your relationship with God? In this sense — the union sense — the answer must surely be no. For we are loved in the Son (Ephesians 1:4–6), and we cannot be more loved than the Son. God’s love is not contingent on our actions.
One of the tests we sometimes use to check whether a person has really grasped the grace of God is to pose two scenarios.
Scenario One: One day a person has a great morning devotional time in the word. By midday they have shared their faith with three unbelievers. In the evening they go to the church prayer meeting.
Scenario Two: Another day, the same person gets up late and misses their morning devotions. At work they join in ungodly banter and duck opportunities to share their faith along the way. They feel too tired to attend the evening prayer meeting at church, yet manage to summon up the energy to have a blazing argument with their spouse. At night they turn to God in prayer.
Test question: Is God more likely to hear their prayer in scenario one? Is he less likely to receive them and accept them in scenario two?
The correct answer, of course, is, no. For we do not draw near to God in prayer on the basis of our works. We draw near to the throne of grace through the blood of God’s Son. And the blood of Christ does not require our good works in order to work more effectively for us. The person in scenario two has just as much access to God as the person in scenario one. They can come with as much confidence, if they come in Christ’s name.
Can you improve your union with God through Christ? No.You Can Improve Communion
But we know by experience — and the Bible — that what we do does make a difference in our relationship with God. If I spend devotional time with him in the morning, then I typically find I’m less susceptible to temptation and more aware of God’s presence. It’s not an exact correlation, but there seems to be a cause-and-effect connection. In the same kind of way, I know from experience that when I sin, prayer seems harder, church involvement more of a burden, joy in Christ more remote. The apostle Peter does say that what we do and say can hinder our prayers (1 Peter 3:7). Does what I do affect my relationship with God? The answer seems to be yes.
Owen’s distinction between union and communion makes all the difference. Owen says we do have a genuine two-way relationship with God: He spends much of his book Communion with God explaining ways God relates (or “communicates”) to us and how we respond (or “return”) to him. There is a real giving and receiving. There is loving and being loved. There is delighting and being delighted in. God gives real and specific life, hope, freedom, and forgiveness, and we respond with real faith, love, and worship.
Can you improve your communion-based relationship with God? Yes.Saved to Enjoy God
Salvation is not just about having our sins forgiven and escaping God’s judgment. God doesn’t simply save us from sin and death; he saves us for something. Owen says Christ’s “great undertaking in his life, death, resurrection, ascension, being a mediator between God and us . . . [is] to bring us an enjoyment of God” (Works, Vol. 2, 78). Our relationship with God is not simply an objective fact. It is also a subjective experience. Faith in Christ brings us into a real, two-way relationship of joy with the triune God.
What we do makes a real difference in our experience of this relationship. We can enjoy the relationship, or neglect it. We can pursue God, or avoid him. We can find joy in God, or look for joy in the empty treasures of this world. Our actions make a difference.
But as Owen helps us understand, our communion with God flows “from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him.” Our union with God was initiated by the Father in election, secured by the Son at Calvary, and is applied by the Spirit in regeneration. It is all of grace. We don’t create this relationship, we can’t improve it, and we can’t break it. It rests on God’s electing love and the finished work of Christ. We are secure in him.
If today you feel far from God, do not despair. Like a swimmer in the waves of the sea, reach down by faith and feel the solid ground of your union with God beneath your feet. It will always be there. And then redouble your efforts to pursue the joy of communion with God.
Our love for God enflames when we see his beauty, remember his mercy, and feel his love.
September 18: Psalm 51:17; Psalm 147:3; Isaiah 35:4; Isaiah 57:15–16; Ezekiel 34:16; Matthew 12:20; Hebrews 12:12–13; Job 34:3; Psalm 5:11; Psalm 34:8; Song of Solomon 2:3; John 2:9–10; Romans 2:4; Romans 8:32; 2 Corinthians 4:13; 2 Timothy 1:12; 1...
“A bruised reed he will not break.”
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.—He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.—Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life that I made.”
“I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”—Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.—“Behold, your God…. He will come and save you.”Psalm 51:17 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 147:3 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 35:4 (Listen)
(ESV)Isaiah 57:15–16 (Listen)
15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
16 For I will not contend forever,
nor will I always be angry;
for the spirit would grow faint before me,
and the breath of life that I made.
(ESV)Ezekiel 34:16 (Listen)
16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.1 I will feed them in justice.Footnotes
 34:16 Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate I will watch over
(ESV)Matthew 12:20 (Listen)
(ESV)Hebrews 12:12–13 (Listen)
(ESV)Evening: Job 34:3; Psalm 5:11; Psalm 34:8; Song of Solomon 2:3; John 2:9–10; Romans 2:4; Romans 8:32; 2 Corinthians 4:13; 2 Timothy 1:12; 1 Peter 2:2–3
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from,… the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
“The ear tests words as the palate tastes food.”—“I believed, and so I spoke.”—I know whom I have believed.—With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
God's kindness.—He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy.Job 34:3 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 5:11 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 34:8 (Listen)
(ESV)Song of Solomon 2:3 (Listen)
(ESV)John 2:9–10 (Listen)
9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
(ESV)Romans 2:4 (Listen)
(ESV)Romans 8:32 (Listen)
(ESV)2 Corinthians 4:13 (Listen)
(ESV)2 Timothy 1:12 (Listen)
12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.1Footnotes
 1:12 Or what I have entrusted to him; Greek my deposit
(ESV)1 Peter 2:2–3 (Listen)
Political world turned upside down as Kavanaugh, accuser prepare to testify before Senate
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Can we escape the knowledge of God’s judgment? Why Hell is a deeply offensive concept to the modern mind
Not too many years ago, you could assume certain things about a person raised in a Judeo-Christian culture. Of those days, Tim Keller says, “There was so much background we assumed the culture did for us that discipleship was almost like a finishing school. Now you can’t assume that kids coming up have any of the basic intellectual furniture of even believing in an absolute right and wrong.”
TGC Council members Tim Keller, Don Carson, and Stephen Um sat down to talk about what we may not realize is missing from catechesis and discipleship in our day. Carson points out the individualistic perspective in many of our spiritual-formation efforts: “In the Western World, when we do discipleship it tends to be very privatized to build up individual confidence in Christ (which is a good thing) and individual self-examination (which is a good thing), but it’s relatively shallow thinking about the church, about relationships.” Keller sees a need for the church to disciple holistically: “I don’t think you can just have a class anymore. You actually have to think of every single thing you do in the church as formative, everything—your worship service, the preaching—it’s going to take everything.”
All three men agree that Acts 17 provides a good model for the groundwork that must be laid in order to do spiritual formation in our day. We must be prepared for longer processes, more patience, and more deliberateness.
You can listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast here.
- How We Led Our Church through The New City Catechism (T. J. Tims)
- Your Small Group Should Be Making Disciples (Jeremy Linneman)
- Mark Dever on Discipling
Consumerism is not a new phenomenon in the West. It’s so engrained in our lives that confronting it is like rejecting the air we breathe.
As a society, we don’t simply consume to live; we live to consume. There’s a collective void inside us that we attempt to fill with newer, better, more.
But here’s the thing: study after study reveals it’s not working. Most data, in fact, suggest the opposite. The more we consume, the less satisfied and fulfilled we feel.Corporate Consumption
Sadly, it’s so easy for churches to fall into the trap of consumerism. We (the church) provide a good, on-demand product (God, music, message) for the customer (churchgoers).
Worldly metrics for success can make the church appear healthy when, in reality, it’s dying.
In this model, a senior pastor can unintentionally move from shepherd to CEO, managing people instead of lovingly leading them to Jesus. Elders become board members, overseeing corporate interests and making sure the necessary returns on investment are gained, rather than shepherding the flock of God among them (1 Pet. 5:2).
Further, staff become dispensable cogs, used only to implement vision and hit targets. Membership becomes a model for tracking how well we’ve sold the product. Even more glaring is that evangelism, service, and outreach become strategies to strengthen the brand and attract the “target” (often homogenous) audience.
When these things happen, the church shifts from a radically diverse family who follows Jesus together to a transactional corporation, largely filled with consumers. At this point, the church is scarcely different from corporations who have no concern for the glory of Christ or the transformation of sinners.
Worldly metrics for success can make the church appear healthy when, in reality, it’s dying.Healthy Body
Jesus didn’t summon us to consume. He taught us to love God and neighbor, meet each other’s needs, enact justice and mercy, and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom.
This is made evident in the attitude of the early church. They didn’t ask, What am I getting out of this? or Am I being fed? but rather, What gifts and resources can I leverage for this family? and Am I counting my brothers and sisters as more significant than myself?
When you look at the early church, you see service, not consumption; you see a household, not a marketplace.
When you look at the early church, you see service, not consumption; you see a household, not a marketplace.
So how do we resist the pull toward becoming consumer churches? There are many ways, but one clear path is church planting. Church planting confronts consumerism in at least three ways.1. Church planting helps reorient sending churches around the kingdom and mission of God.
Churches that give priority to planting new churches have to ask ask external, kingdom-focused questions: How can we hold loosely to people, money, and resources in order to facilitate and support new churches? How are we developing leaders who will eventually serve and bless a different church? What does partnership in the gospel look like for us?
Churches that give priority to planting new churches have to ask external, kingdom-focused questions.
Such questions shape a church’s mission, vision, and decisions. As a congregation works them out, they demonstrate—to visitors and members alike—that the church exists for the glory of God and the good of others. This undermines consumerism.2. Church planting creates an environment where everyone can serve.
Church plants often start small, without defined ministries. This means a member is both free and forced to ask, How has God gifted me, and how do I leverage that gifting for this church?
I’ve seen this firsthand in our church. One member volunteers to lead worship regularly. When he first volunteered, he told me he’d always been passionate about music but never had a chance to exercise his gift in the church.
Our church meets in a broken, gentrifying city. Because we didn’t have a centralized justice and mercy ministry, members had to take the initiative to pursue it themselves. In doing this, they began to see that their serving was the church serving.
Our people grew in the gospel because they were forced to walk in it, not simply consume some spiritual service.
Our people grew in the gospel because they were forced to walk in it, not simply consume some spiritual service. They grew in the gospel precisely because we didn’t have established staff and ministries.3. Church plants are difficult places to hide and avoid discomfort.
Our church is small. I still have this engrained notion that if more people aren’t coming, I’m doing something wrong. The Lord is working in me, though, and showing me ways that small churches can uniquely foster growth in his people.
It’s impossible to visit our congregation and go unnoticed. This is true even in church plants larger than ours.
Church-planting teams can often engage visitors in ways that larger, established churches can’t. In smaller churches, there’s simply less opportunity to come and leave unnoticed. You can’t just be a consumer. So you’re forced to engage, and that engagement leads to investment.
Church planting alone won’t solve the problem of consumerism in the church. Only a Spirit-led, gospel-shaped, radical reorienting of how we think about Christ’s bride will do that. Still, it’s a good start.
May God give us all grace to contribute more than we consume.
A group of researchers did an experiment where they read the parable of the prodigal son to groups in various places around the world: Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North America. The researchers then asked people to recount the story back to them. There was one detail that people in the developing world always mentioned that those in the developed nations always left out: the famine.
The son, you’ll remember, took his inheritance and went to the far country where he spent and squandered it. He only “came to himself” and came home after “a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need” (Luke 15:14). Those in affluent contexts didn’t remember this part of the story because it seemed to them a minor detail. For those who lived regularly with the threat of famine, this seemed a major part of the story. It is indeed.
When dealing with those wandering away from the faith, we must recognize that sometimes they’ll not start evaluating the deep questions of their lives until they find themselves in a situation where they don’t know what to do. We must be the sort of parents and grandparents and churches who have kept open every possible connection, so that our prodigals will know how to get back home, and know we’ll meet them at the road, already planning a homecoming party.Kindness to Prodigal Children
That requires, though, a death to self. The pain over a wayward child is real, and ought to be present in a life driven by the Spirit. Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:42–44). Paul said he wished he could himself be sent to hell and cut off from Christ “for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3).
This pain shouldn’t be confused, though, with our carnal desire to display to the world around us what “blessed” and “successful” families we have. In many cases, the real tragedy in a family with rebellious children isn’t that their parents hurt for them, but that their parents are embarrassed of them. If “good” children were the result of mere technique, then we could boast of our own righteousness through the lives of our children. They’re not.
In many cases, the real tragedy in a family with rebellious children isn’t that their parents hurt for them, but that their parents are embarrassed of them.
The same is true in the opposite situation. If we think something is deficient or shameful about a family with prodigals, then we must conclude something is deficient or shameful about the family of God.
Families, though, aren’t about us and our presentation to the world. Sometimes what it may take for a child to see the cross in the lives of his parents is to hear those parents say: “No matter what you do. No matter where you go. You’ll always be our child, and we’ll always be glad to say so. We may not like what you are doing, but we’re not ashamed of you.”
This is, after all, the same sort of kindness our Father showed to us, the kindness that brought us to repentance in the first place (Rom. 2:4).Patience for Prodigal Children
Even in such situations with happy endings, rarely is there an obvious, definitive, darkness-to-light transition—no more than for many of us. God forgives immediately upon faith and repentance. He then spends the rest of our lives shaping us and forming us, pulling us away from old habits and affections toward new ones. God is infinitely patient and gentle and kind. We must be as well.
The son or daughter who, for example, has spent time in the far country of substance addiction, might suddenly have no more desire for the drugs he used to do. But this is unlikely. Usually what ensues is a long struggle for holiness, often with some knocks and backslidings along the way. We shouldn’t despair over this, nor should we hold over the head of a repentant child what he did “to us.” If we really believe the gospel of the cross, then all of that is crucified and buried behind us.
We should instead show the patience that God himself has shown to us. “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us,” the psalmist sang of God (Ps. 103:12).
In the first of the Narnia stories, the brother Edmund commits mutiny against Aslan the king and against his siblings, allying himself with the evil White Witch, drawn along by her hypnotizing Turkish Delight. Eventually, of course, Edmund comes back. The other children see the lion walking and talking with the erstwhile rebel, though they can’t hear the conversation. Aslan approaches them, with Edmund. “Here is your brother,” Aslan says. “And there is no need to talk to him about what is past.”
That is all of our story. We’re all Edmund. May we show the same grace to those who’ve disappointed or sinned against us, even—maybe especially—if they’re our own children.
When Cristobal Cerón was 14 years old, his parents got invited to a marriage retreat at an Anglican church near where they lived in Chile.
The Ceróns were Catholic, but only nominally, and so they went. They “got to know what Christianity was,” Cerón said. “The Anglican church served as a bridge for me toward the gospel. . . . The pastor opened the Bible in a way that I could understand it.”
Cerón’s new pastor was enthusiastic about evangelism. “I was very much influenced by him in those days,” Cerón said. “I started leading young guys in evangelism and short-term mission trips to different parts of the country.”
In 2003, Cerón and some friends led about 60 young people through a week of outreach in Santiago. They did Bible lessons together in the morning, then spread out in the afternoon to do street preaching, act out dramatic plays, and pass out tracts to people at train stations and stopped at red lights.
Cerón named it Mobilization Outreach Urbana (MOU). Over the next seven years, it expanded rapidly.MOU missionaries / Courtesy of MOU
“Other churches joined us,” said Alfred Cooper, Cerón’s pastor. “People in other places wanted to do it. It began to take on national proportions.”
The growth was fast, especially in a country where less than 20 percent of the people are Protestant. By 2010, almost 2,200 young missionaries were evangelizing in 21 cities and suburbs.
“It was amazing to us,” Cerón said. “It was a miracle.”
He outfitted his evangelists in conspicuous bright yellow shirts—a nod to the light of Christ—and peppered the cities with them. They’d appear on the streets for a week every July, connecting with as many people as they could.
People started to recognize the shirts and the movement. MOU was catching national, and even a little international, attention.
But the next year, Cerón almost shut it down.
“There was not much theological control,” said Sebastián Altimira, chairman of the Foundation for the Rebirth of the Passion, the organization that now houses MOU.
The theology in Chile is primarily but decreasingly Catholic—in 2014, 77 percent of adults were raised Catholic but only 64 still identified that way—combined with a swelling number of non-religious and Pentecostals. “The Anglican and Presbyterian denominations have diminished in number, and many have also departed from historic confessions of faith,” said Coalición por el Evangelio’s director of operations Steven Morales.
“You’ll find some increasing reformed orthodoxy, particularly among Presbyterians, and some very small pockets of Anglicans and Baptists doing good work,” said Chilean Presbyterian pastor Jonathan Muñoz Vásquez.
So it isn’t surprising that prosperity theology began to creep into MOU.
In fact, more surprising was the leaders’ response. They picked up C. S. Lewis, Tim Keller, and Tom Nelson books. Then they made some significant changes.Reformed
A rising number of the population was religiously unaffiliated (16 percent)—about half had been raised Catholic. Of those who remained Catholic (64 percent), many were nominal. Just 8 percent of Catholics prayed daily, attended services weekly, and considered religion very important in their lives, compared to 37 percent of Protestants.
Of the 17 percent of Chileans who were Protestant, most believed a prosperity gospel. Nearly 60 percent of Chile’s Protestants—and 48 percent of its Catholics—told Pew that God grants wealth and good health to believers who have enough faith.MOU founder Cristobal Cerón / Courtesy of Cristobal Cerón
In this context, MOU “grew explosively,” Altimira said.
It might have gone on growing. But Cerón had spent three years at George Whitefield College in South Africa, and while he was there, “grew in understanding” of the Reformed theology his Anglican preacher had originally taught him.
He can still remember a Tim Keller sermon about “the philosophy of gospel ministry.”
“It made a huge impact on my life,” Cerón said. “It was the first time in which I came to see the gospel as the ground to understand life and ministry in a way that made sense to me.”
He was used to hearing that the gospel is the center of everything, but in a way that implied, “This is our dogma against everyone—the gospel, the gospel, the gospel.”
Keller showed him that “the gospel was not only the power to save someone from hell, but also the power to carry him to heaven.” It isn’t just “the front door to the gospel, but the narrow road to glory as well.”
So when the health-and-wealth language started creeping into MOU, Cerón recognized it.Cutting Back
Cerón remembers a conversation with a pastor, who first alerted him that “the [MOU leaders] in some cities were thinking they were neo-prophets or neo-apostles.” Submit to these people who hear directly from God, the reasoning goes, and you will be richly blessed.
Cerón and his team were alarmed enough to make big changes. “We decided not to keep doing a thing we couldn’t handle properly.”
He didn’t stop MOU entirely, but pared it back—from 2,000 missionaries to 500, and from a dozen cities to two. He asked those involved to sign onto the Lausanne Movement’s Capetown Commitment, and he asked leaders to commit to training.
“Some legalistic evangelical leaders and some prosperity gospel churches got really angry at us, because they thought we were in a heretical movement,” Cerón said. The objectors wrote up a document and sent it to hundreds of evangelical leaders in Chile.
“The accusation was mainly about our ‘Calvinistic’ approach to evangelism and our relation to people like John Stott or Billy Graham, who they thought were heretical leaders,” he said. “It was quite a difficult time. But [the team was] united in saying, ‘If we really want to serve the church and do it properly, we have to work hard on training the next generation and putting down a solid foundation.’”
So they did.Solid Foundation
Looking for more control and stability, Cerón set up the Foundation for the Rebirth of the Passion, and tucked MOU under its umbrella.
He also added Seedbed, which takes young Christians through two years of Bible study and book reading. They discuss Tim Keller’s The Reason for God and Galatians for You, James Sire’s The Universe Next Door, and Tom Nelson’s Work Matters. They also work through Vaughan Roberts’s God’s Big Picture and the book of Mark.
“We are preparing our own Bible studies,” Cerón said. “Those of us writing the material have been influenced by people like Miguel Nunez, John Piper, Tim Keller, Colin Marshall, and Acts 29 guys like SteveTimmis and Tim Chester. They all had a huge impact on my generation.”MOU missionary / Courtesy of MOU
For four weekends each year, the participants meet to discuss their readings and to study the Bible. One weekend focuses on basic tools for evangelism, another lays out how the gospel of Mark can be used as a tool to present the gospel, and a third gives tools for reading and teaching the Bible. Seedbed also includes a weekend on an overview of the Bible, on Galatians, on a Chrsitian worldview, on apologetics, and on faith and work.
“After those two years, we have covered the basics of what it is to be a disciple-making disciple,” Cerón said. “Whether they go on to become a pastor or a lay person very well-trained for gospel ministry in their workplace—either way we win.”
The first class in 2012 had 25 students; the second doubled to around 50 or 60. The third class rose to 85 students in two cities. (Some graduates of that first class are enrolled in Bible college for next year and thinking about church planting.)
Seedbed leaders are careful with the growth. “It has to be done in a way that takes time and builds trust,” Cerón said. “We don’t want to commit the same mistakes we did in the past.”
Seedbed is fixing the error of theological looseness. But Cerón and his team are also repairing another problem.Once-a-Year to Every-Day Evangelism
“At the very beginning of our [MOU] movement, we tracked a lot of numbers and even put a lot of emphasis on how many people got converted each day,” Cerón said. “I remember nights we’d come back to the main gathering place, and I’d ask them to tell their testimonies. If one guy said, ‘I had eight people praying the sinner’s prayer,’ they would all be shocked and joyful. But the guy who only had two or three then wasn’t able to open his mouth.”
That public celebration put a lot of pressure on the young evangelists.
“We pushed many times for [people] to declare with their mouths, ‘Jesus is Lord. I need the Savior. I repent of my sins and I need to be a Christian now,’” said Altimira, who was 17 when he went on his first MOU. “But as the years passed, we realized that the mission is not just the harvest. Many times the mission is to [sow the] seed.”
Now the emphasis is on depth, he said. Instead of asking young people to spend the afternoons of MOU racking up conversions, leaders ask them to find someone they could befriend.Foundation for the Rebirth of the Passion chairman Sebastián Altimira / Courtesy of Cristobal Cerón
“We say, ‘Go out and try to find somebody to be a friend to for the next 40 years of your life,’” Cerón said. “Try looking for a meaningful conversation with somebody provided by God, that you may end up with his phone number or Facebook or Instagram contact.”
That instruction “changes the character of what we were doing in the street,” Cerón said. “You don’t go for numbers. You go for people, to hear their stories and get involved with their life. That old-time anxiety I had at the beginning has vanished.”
That means fewer sinners’ prayers. But it also means more discipleship, and, perhaps, more authentic conversions when they come.
This July, about 400 MOU missionaries hit the streets, talking to people who were anxious about medical tests, worried about their home life, even suicidal. Over and over, they “established challenging friendships.”
That was exactly what Cerón wanted. And it led to another benefit.The Local Church
When you ask young people to hear someone’s story and get involved in that person’s life, you relieve the pressure of performance, Cerón said. At the same time, you’re adding pressure to the local church.
“When you’re offering a 40-year friendship, you can’t offer that by yourself,” Cerón said. “You need a congregation that will help you to be that kind of person for somebody else.”
MOU evangelists often come home “motivated” and “willing to serve their congregations in a committed and enthusiastic way,” the Foundation for the Rebirth of the Passion reported.
Sometimes the change is even more pronounced.
“[Young people come to MOU] to preach the gospel, but they find they are not really saved,” Cerón said. “They end up being converted themselves.”Discover, Delight, Declare
From the beginning, “we had a lot of enthusiasm and passion, but we weren’t really deep,” Cerón said. “Now we are trying to bring the proper Bible teaching into every single day.”
His dream is that “the Chilean church would renew its commitment to the gospel in three areas—discovering the gospel, delighting in the gospel, and declaring the gospel.”
His dream is that ‘the Chilean church would renew its commitment to the gospel in three areas—discovering the gospel, delighting in the gospel, and declaring the gospel.’
That’s what he’s teaching the students at Seedbed, who in turn teach the students at MOU.
Altimira would love to see MOU spread up and down Chile, and out to the rest of South America. He’s dreaming about ways to get into schools—and worrying about how to staff the growing organization.
“There is so much to do,” he said.
“One day I was praying and I said, ‘God, you are the God of the mission. Why am I troubled? I don’t have to be. Go ahead and just grow us, God. This is your movement.’”
That particularly bitter New York winter whipped harsh promises against the front door of my neighbor’s house — promises that remained elusive and unimaginable.
Behind that door, my neighbors, Ken and Floy Smith, and I were talking.
Ken leaned in, a warm mug of weakly percolated decaf coffee in hand, and asked the question that put our opposing worldviews into perspective: “Do you believe that what is true determines what is ethical? Or do you believe that what is ethical determines what is true?”Before It Was Hate Speech
Decades ago, when this question unsettled my God-rejecting-but-otherwise-moral life (as I would have described it then), I believed the latter. I believed that ethics drove truth, and that truth was a cultural creation, born out of the sheer goodness of humanity and the felt needs of people. When my neighbor asked this question, I immediately rejected it as ill-informed and vulgar — somewhat like the weak decaf in my mug. I shot back with years of schooling in situational ethics: Truth is a social construct. Truth takes its shape in the eyes of the beholder.
We were talking, my neighbor and I, about gay rights. This was a topic both personal and political for me. I identified as a lesbian, and lived happily in a committed relationship with another woman. I loved my girlfriend the way it felt best to me. I cared about my queer community. I co-authored the first domestic partnership policy at my university. I was poised to become a “tenured radical” — a university professor with enough job security and hutzpah to take queer theory from the university to the street.
I was standing, so I believed, on the right side of history. But my neighbor, Ken Smith, then-pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church, was also my friend. He, his wife, and I shared weekly meals — sometimes at my house, but mostly at theirs — where we talked about deep and weighty matters of life and faith and worldview. Where we listened and disagreed and came back again the next week to do this again: to break bread and talk.Enter Intersectionality
Twenty-two years ago, it was not considered hate speech for Ken to tell me that he accepted me as a lesbian, but did not approve. I rejected Ken’s worldview, and he rejected mine. We were on even ground. We saw clearly our worldview differences, but those divisions, back then, did not come with the accusatory weight of personal attack. In today’s playbook, that wouldn’t fly.
Why? What is standing in our way of becoming friends with our neighbors who think differently than we do?1. Unbiblical Anthropology
My conversations with Ken and Floy came before the idea of “intersectionality” had moved from the academy to the streets. Intersectionality was, in 1997, still just an academic idea. Its premise was this: personhood and identity, who you really are, is best determined by how many social oppressions you have suffered.
Originally, intersectionality dealt with material, structural oppressions — highlighting how race and class and the glass ceiling of sexism weigh heavy in a society made up of sinners. But when feminism shifted allegiance from Marx to Freud, when it turned from numbers to feelings, sexual orientation and gender identity took on new forms.
When ideas like “dignitary harm” (the harm accrued to your dignity by someone’s refusal to approve of your sin) found its place in civil law, intersectionality unleashed a monster. And with that monster came a message: homosexuality is not a sin; it is an aesthetic, an erotic orientation or way of looking at the world and everything in it. Today, the gospel is on a collision course with this message.2. Compromised Churches
Intersectionality informs the divide between Christians and our neighbors who think differently, but God’s people should never be sucker punched by the current fad in worldview — even if some segments of the evangelical church are smitten by it. The real problem is not what the world thinks, but rather that parts of the evangelical church are allowing the world to preach to it about personhood and identity — about who people really and ontologically are, and what they need to flourish.
Many tragedies occur when the world preaches to the church (and the church listens), and one is that false conversions multiply. We live in an evangelical world whose prophets may be convinced of gospel promises, but who are not necessarily converted under gospel truth. And what is the sermon topic that they preach? They preach sermons of questions, relocating what God calls sin into the category of aesthetics — the observation of beauty amidst the pain. They reject God’s truth as “bumper sticker” logic, and answer questions with more questions, with no answers, always favoring a sinner’s point of view over that of the crucified and risen Christ.
Once leaders in the evangelical church locate something that God calls sin into an aesthetic framework, the great gift that the Lord Jesus holds out to his people, the gift of ransom and repentance, is no longer considered necessary. The blame shifts from a person’s sin to the church’s perceived prejudice.
What to do? Make sure that you are a member of a biblically sound church whose practices embrace the marks of faithfulness: handling rightly the word, the sacraments, and the practice of church discipline. If your church fails to meet these standards, or you refuse membership because it ties you down, or you think that making peace with sin will allow you a place at the table to witness Christ to the world, think again. Your church membership is part of your spiritual discipline for engaging with the world. If you hold membership with a church that practices or endorses sin, you have made yourself corporately guilty of this sin.3. Social Media Infatuation
Social media infatuation has removed distinctions between private and public. Ken and Floy Smith and I had private dinner gatherings. Often other people joined us. But our heartfelt differences were not subjected to the harsh glare of Twitter, Facebook, or blogs.
Instead of mocking or attempting to destroy each other on social media, we pondered our differences, and brought a hot dish to the next Thursday night meal. This response helped us to let some offenses slide and focus instead on the big picture. It encouraged us to regard each other as human beings — not blank slates filled by competing ideologies and power relations.Open Doors
Ken and Floy and I became friends before this current cultural moment. We could see that our humanity was intimately connected to, but not completely absorbed by, our differing worldviews and the sets of ideas, vocabulary, books, and values they represented. We could see each other as human beings even across our differences. And because of this perspective, we could come to the table, break bread, and talk.
So, Christian, how can you begin to constructively engage with your neighbors? Know your culture, take membership vows in a biblically faithful church, and return to a practice of privacy. Yes, intersectionality has found its foothold today, not only in the wider culture, but also in some segments of the evangelical church. It’s a worldview that comes with ultimatums (“love me, love my dog”). It’s a worldview that rests on unbiblical notions of ontology (who people are). It rejects that original sin is really sinful, preferring to regard this sin that registers in our hearts before we take our first breath as merely a form of aesthetic difference.
And the best way for God’s people to say “no” to unbiblical reflections of personhood and intersectionality is to say “yes” to biblical hospitality. When you gather around the table with your perceived cultural enemy, not once, but weekly, you show that culture is not king. Jesus is. Ask good questions and listen to people’s answers. Perhaps you could start with this one: Do you believe that what is true determines what is ethical, or do you believe that what is ethical determines what is true?
Disability is no accident. Inability is no capricious mistake. God shapes and designs every person uniquely for his purposes.
September 17: Numbers 16:5; Psalm 1:6; Psalm 38:9; Psalm 139:23–24; Psalm 142:3; Proverbs 21:2; Matthew 6:4; Romans 8:27; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 4:18; 2 Samuel 23:4; Psalm 17:15; Psalm 30:5; Isaiah 25:8; John 16:33; Romans 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:3–4;...
The Lord weighs the heart.
The Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.—“The Lord will show who is his, and who is holy.”—“Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!—There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.—O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.—When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!—He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”Numbers 16:5 (Listen)
5 and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the LORD will show who is his,1 and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him.Footnotes
 16:5 Septuagint The Lord knows those who are his
(ESV)Psalm 1:6 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 38:9 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 139:23–24 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 142:3 (Listen)
(ESV)Proverbs 21:2 (Listen)
(ESV)Matthew 6:4 (Listen)
(ESV)Romans 8:27 (Listen)
27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because1 the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.Footnotes
 8:27 Or that
(ESV)2 Timothy 2:19 (Listen)
(ESV)1 John 4:18 (Listen)
(ESV)Evening: 2 Samuel 23:4; Psalm 17:15; Psalm 30:5; Isaiah 25:8; John 16:33; Romans 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:3–4; 1 Thessalonians 4:17–18; Revelation 21:4
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
That no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction.—“In me you… have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
When I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.—The night is far gone; the day is at hand.—He dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.
He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.—“Death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”—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. Therefore encourage one another with these words.2 Samuel 23:4 (Listen)
4 he dawns on them like the morning light,
like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,
like rain1 that makes grass to sprout from the earth.
 23:4 Hebrew from rain
(ESV)Psalm 17:15 (Listen)
(ESV)Psalm 30:5 (Listen)
5 For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.1
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
 30:5 Or and in his favor is life
(ESV)Isaiah 25:8 (Listen)
(ESV)John 16:33 (Listen)
(ESV)Romans 13:12 (Listen)
(ESV)1 Thessalonians 3:3–4 (Listen)
3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.
(ESV)1 Thessalonians 4:17–18 (Listen)
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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
(ESV)Revelation 21:4 (Listen)
Few things have destroyed more marriages, stolen more joy, or strangled more souls than lust. Do you know how to fight it?