The Joyful, Obedient Family of God

March 3, 2016

In Mark 3, Jesus has become the center of public attention. Thousands are coming to Him, following Him wherever He goes, even to the point that He could find no opportunity to eat (Mark 3:31). Mary and Jesus’ brothers hear of this, and are concerned: Is Jesus out of His mind? How can He not even be taking care of Himself? (Mark 3:32). They go to Him in order to intervene.

When they arrive, they send a message to Jesus while He is teaching the crowd. When word reaches Him, the crowd expects Him to go see His family. But He responds:

“Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)

That is: “Those who are closest to Me are not My blood relatives. Those who are closest to Me are those who follow God, those who obey Him with joy, trusting the heavenly Father to guide them in His good and perfect ways. Such people are my intimate family.”

Yet in our natural state we rebel against the good and loving commands of our God. As Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” So we rightly sing, “Prone to wander – Lord I feel it! – prone to leave the God I love.” Thus God put reminders of His commands into the everyday life of the people of Israel. For example: After the people rebel at the edge of the Promised Land, refusing to enter in for fear of giants (Numbers 14), God tells them to wear tassels on each corner of their garments so that they will remember His commandments “to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after” (Numbers 15:39). And why is obedience important? Because He is their God; He brought them out of Egypt to be their God; they are to be holy, set apart for their God (Numbers 15:40-41).

Just so with us today. God brings us out of rebellion, out of slavery to sin, out of our own Egypts. He rescues us – not so that we, freed from slavery to sin, can be free to follow after our own heart and our own eyes. No. To follow after our own heart is to be enslaved once again to sin. Our desperately sick and deceitful heart makes us believe we are freely pursuing our own good, but that way that seems right to us leads only to death and destruction (Proverbs 14:12).

God plans something much better for those whom He rescues from slavery. He brings us to Himself. He adopts us into His family. He calls us to be set apart for Him. And He tells us what that means in this world by giving us commandments for our good (Deuteronomy 10:13).

So obedience is characteristic of those in God’s family. Loved by Him, chosen by Him, empowered by Him to obey, we respond with loving, joyful obedience to His commands that are for our good.

Yet what happens when we fail? What happens when we disobey? What happens when that desperately sick, deceitful heart leads us again in a wrong direction? If we don’t obey God’s commands, are we kicked out of the family?

Jesus Himself provides the solution. As in good human families, God the Father never leaves or forsakes the children who are His. As the Apostle John writes, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). That is, we’re part of the family. We are to be obedient to our loving Father. To sin is to deny Who He is and what He has done for us. “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2). In His family, the penalty for sin is paid. Jesus took the just punishment on Himself for the sins of those in the family. Yet this is not an excuse to sin: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3).

So Jesus invites us – He invites you! – to be part of the joyful, obedient family of God. To do this, we must recognize our sinful, deceitful hearts, and acknowledge that apart from God’s loving guidance we will go astray, we will rebel, we will wander, to our own harm.  But in the family of God, we are loved; we are cherished; we are forgiven by the blood of Christ. So, set apart for Him, we live lives worthy of our calling, knowing that through us(!) “all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD” (Numbers 14:21).

Reflections on Marriage and Idolatry on our 36th Anniversary

December 31, 2015

On Tuesday, Beth and I completed 36 years of marriage. As stated last week, the love I had for her on our Wedding Day has grown many-fold as we have shared life these decades, as I have come to know her better and better, as God has worked in both of our lives – often through each other – conforming us more and more to His likeness. Our relationship gives me more joy and delight than anything else in this world.

Could that be idolatry? Can I make my wife an idol?

Yes. Idolatry is a danger whenever we delight in things of this world.

And yet we are to rejoice!

Let’s flesh out how we can properly rejoice in God’s good gifts while avoiding idolatry by looking at Scripture’s commands to husbands and examining the nature of idolatry.

  • Husbands and wives are a unity, one flesh (Genesis 2:24). So we are to love our wives as our own bodies (Ephesians 5:28).
  • Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25). And Christ delights in His church! He rejoices over His church (Zephaniah 3:17).
  • Indeed, Scripture commands the husband to “be intoxicated always” in his wife’s love (Proverbs 5:15-19). This passage in Proverbs especially emphasizes joy in the sexual relationship – a central part of both husband and wife that is shared with no other.
  • A husband is to recognize, rejoice in, and honor his wife’s character and accomplishments, acknowledging God’s blessings in her (Proverbs 31:10-31).

So Beth giving me more joy and delight than anything else in this world – and my acknowledging that before others – might be biblical, might be healthy, might be God-honoring.

Yet instead it might be idolatry.

How can we make the distinction?

First, let’s clarify what an idol is. An idol is any person, power, or spirit that you rely on instead of God for satisfaction, security, accomplishment, and honor. Such idols can become the primary source of your identity – how you see yourself, how you define yourself.

So Beth becomes an idol if I find joy and satisfaction in her in and of herself, if I act or think as if I can only be happy if we are together, if I rejoice in her without seeing her as a gift from God, a lovely token of His love.

Instead, I am to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4, emphasis added); I am to give thanks “always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20, emphasis added – note that this is part of the same passage on being filled with the Spirit in which the Apostle gives his teaching on marriage); I am to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17, again in the context of instructions on marriage), that is, to His glory and praise.

Thus, our Lord Jesus says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Surely the statement carries over to husbands and wives. God must be supreme. Jesus must be our treasure. We must see ourselves as lost, without hope, without joy, without even identity unless we have Jesus. We must say with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You” (Psalm 73:25).

But when the Lord is our delight, when we see ourselves as His people, His sheep, His precious possession, when we do all things to His glory and praise, when we see all the good things in this life as tokens of His love and overflow with thankfulness when we receive them, then we are not only free to delight in our wives (and husbands and friends and health and trees and birds and sun and stars . . .), but we are commanded to do so. For that glorifies God.

C.S. Lewis uses the analogy of standing in a dark toolshed, looking at a beam of light shining through the crack above the door. He sees nothing else – the beam of light, shining on dust, is the most glorious thing visible. But then he turns his head to look up the beam, towards the sun itself. That is the source of the beam’s glory, and that is far, far more glorious.

Just so with us and all things in this world, including our spouses. There is glory in this world – and there is a special, personal display of glory for me in Beth. I can and should delight in her. But if she is not to be an idol, I must look up the beam to the source of all glory – to the One Who created her, Who gave her to me, Who made us one, Who redeemed us and sanctified us so that we would build up and not destroy our marriage, Who continues to work in us to our good and His glory. So my great delight in her becomes the prompt for praise and thanksgiving to the One Who is all-glorious.

Husbands, loves your wives. Delight in them. Be intoxicated with their love.

And look up the beam, thanking and praising Jesus. May He be your greatest delight.

Christmas and Missions

December 24, 2015

What does Christmas have to do with missions?

Biblically, missions should never be far from the center of our Christmas celebrations, for two reasons:

  • First, Jesus is the greatest example of a cross-cultural missionary. For missions concerns crossing cultural boundaries. We, the church of Jesus Christ, must send missionaries cross-culturally if we are to fulfill the task our Lord gives us: Bringing worshipers from every tribe and tongue and people and nation to Him. And, think: Who crossed the greatest cultural divide ever? Jesus Himself! He came from the glory of the throne-room of God into the womb of a woman, and then into a feeding trough for cattle. What an example!
  • Second: Jesus is more than an example. Jesus became man in order to purchase for His own possession ONE people made up of all the peoples of the earth. He came so that all will see that NO CULTURAL BARRIER will keep people from God. He came so that God will be praised in EVERY language. He came so that the purpose of the creation of every people group would be fulfilled: To glorify God.

So for a true believer in Jesus – as opposed to someone who is simply a cultural Christian – Christmas should be a time of particular focus on the task that Christ gives His church – the task similar to our Lord’s cross-cultural journey, the task made possible by His incarnation: Crossing cultural barriers, going even to hard, resistant peoples – even when that is uncomfortable and dangerous – for God’s glory, for our joy, for the joy of those peoples.

Thus, one of our primary objectives at Desiring God Church is to lift our eyes! To help us all to see this worldwide vision of God!

So many think that Christianity is about having a place to unwind on Sundays, a place to make friends, a place where you will learn to be a better husband or father or wife or mother; a place that will teach your children to respect you; a place that might make you look more respectable; and/or a place that will provide you with a death insurance policy, so that when you die you won’t go to hell.

I hope if you’ve attended Desiring God Church even one Sunday, you no longer think that way – if you ever did.

I have nothing against making friends, or learning to be a better marriage partner. I have nothing against teaching children the truths of God’s Word, and helping parents to love their children and raise them. We do indeed try to make DGCC a place where all those happen. I don’t even have anything against unwinding – though I don’t think listening to me preach helps anyone unwind.

But we are about something much greater than any of these:

  • Our mission is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.
  • Our mission is to go ourselves and to help others go to make disciples of ALL NATIONS, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey all that Jesus commands us.
  • Our mission is to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Our vision is thus not small and achievable. Rather it is huge and biblical.

How do you respond to such a vision and mission?

Your first response is probably, “I can’t fulfill that personally! And we can’t even fulfill that corporately!”

That’s right. You can’t. We can’t.

But don’t stop with that response and despair!

Ephesians 3:20 says God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”

That is, God is so great, so mighty, so creative, that our best efforts at imagining what He is able to do are far beneath His capabilities.

And, with that in mind, think: He not only COMMANDS us to make disciples of all nations; He guarantees that HE will bring that about THROUGH us. Similarly, He not only COMMANDS us to be the light of the world; He guarantees that He will fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory as the waters cover the sea.

And what else that we can’t imagine might God do?

William Carey was born in 1761 into a poor family in England. He had little schooling, having been apprenticed to a shoemaker from the age of sixteen.

But God called him to Himself during those teen years. From that early age, Carey began to study the Bible voraciously. He then began to preach. For several years he served as pastor in tiny churches, while still supporting himself and his family through shoemaking.

In 1792, the 31 year old Carey – still unknown, still serving in small churches – preached at a meeting of Baptist ministers. His text was Isaiah 54:2-3:

Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.  For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.

Do you see the picture?

Your tent is set up. It seems sufficiently big for those who take shelter in it. But even though it doesn’t look like it now, you’re going to need a much bigger tent! So pull up the stakes, and get stronger ones! Place them much further away! Lengthen the cords that attach the tent to the stakes! Sure, this will be disruptive, difficult, and unpleasant – but do it! Why? “You will spread abroad!” Your offspring will possess the nations! You will multiply greatly!

Carey was preaching to pastors from a few small Baptist churches in an insignificant section of England. They had thought their only task was ministering to their people and evangelizing their villages. Instead, Carey said : Yes, you have a task here. Do it well! But God is also calling you to target all the nations! And he continued: “Expect great things from God! Attempt great things for God!”

So these ministers took up a collection, and a couple of years later sent Carey off to India as a missionary. He experienced many years of frustration and difficulty and tragedy. But in the end he was the translator or publisher of Bible translations into 40 different Asian languages; some of his translations are still used today (even by some of us at DGCC). Carey is rightly called the father of modern missions.

As Ruth Tucker writes, “Carey’s life profoundly illustrates the limitless potential of a very ordinary individual. He was a man who, apart from his unqualified commitment to God, no doubt would have lived a very mediocre existence.”

I don’t want to live a very mediocre existence. You don’t want to live such an existence either.

So we put Carey’s words in the DGCC vision and values statement:

Each person [is] encouraged to expect great things from God and to attempt great things for God, as God develops the gifts He gives to each believer.

Expect great things from God – because even in our weakness, He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all we ask or imagine! We do not have a millionth of the passion for God’s glory that He does! So imagine how God might use us for His glory!

And then, expecting great things from Him, step out! Attempt great things for God, by His power.

William Carey had to leave his beloved congregation, his beloved England; he even had to override the protests of his wife. It was hard. But he trusted God. He stepped out. And God used Him far beyond his greatest dreams.

Just so, we must step out.

But how can you step out – when you’re shackled by the customs of your culture? How can you think outside the box, and expect great things from God, and then attempt great things for God?

That only happens when you move toward fulfilling not only the Great Commission, but also the Great Commandment.

Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength. And we won’t disciple all nations unless we love God; we won’t spread a passion for God unless we experience that passion for God. As John Piper says, “You cannot commend what you do not cherish.”

So how do we go about raising our affections for God?

How do we come to love God more than we love our ease and comfort – more than we love our jobs and salaries and four bedroom houses – more than we love our health insurance and retirement benefits – more than we love our Toyotas and Hondas? Indeed, how do we come to love God more than we love our fathers and mothers, more than we love our sons and daughters (Matthew 10:37)?

If we are to love God, we must KNOW Him. We must know what He is like. And as we come to know him better, we should love Him more.

Beth and I will celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary next week.

When we first married I thought I loved her. And I’m sure, in a sense, I did.

But that love pales in comparison to the love I have for her today.

For in the last decades I have come to know her much more deeply than I knew her before our marriage.

  • I have watched her six times as she gave birth to our children
  • I have seen her discipline and love and raise those children
  • I have seen her faith and steadiness in times of crisis
  • I have partnered with her in teaching and counseling others, and thus seen and heard the wisdom God has forged in her
  • I have been the recipient of her love and care year after year
  • I have seen her hurt, and weeping, and overcome
  • I have seen her support and lift me up, even when I took our family in challenging directions
  • I have seen her deep and solid faith in God in all circumstances.
  • I have seen her sin – and I have heard her confessions
  • I have seen her forgive me, by God’s grace, time and again

I know her now in a way I could not have known her 36 years ago.

And so, I love her today much more profoundly.

In the same way, we deepen our love for God by coming to know Him better and better. Thus, if we are to fulfill the greatest commandment, we must strive to know Him! As the Apostle Paul writes,

I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. . . . I want to know Christ (Philippians 3:8,10)

Hosea is even more explicit: “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD” (Hosea 6:3).

So, my friends: Make that your goal in 2016. Aim to know God – through prayer, through His Word, through others in the church, through loving your neighbor. Aim to love God more as you know Him better. And as you love God more, your passion for His glory will multiply.

Then pray: “Lord God! What does loving you with all my being mean in my life? Open my eyes! Help me to dream God-sized dreams! Use me for your glory!”

In light of that prayer, ask yourself: “What is God calling me to do? As I expect great things from my beloved God, what should I attempt for Him?”

Don’t be satisfied with comfort! Love God above ALL. And dream about how you might glorify His Name

  • Among the nations overseas
  • Among the nations in Charlotte
  • Among the urban poor
  • Among unwed mothers
  • Among needy children
  • Among academic elites
  • Among your neighbors and colleagues and fellow students

Follow the cross-cultural example of the Christ of Christmas!

Spread the news of the salvation bought by the baby in the manger!

Imagine. Dream. And then let’s step out together in 2016 to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

(Much of this is taken and edited from a sermon preached 12/12/2004, “Christmas and the Great Commandment.” Text and audio are available.)


Marriage and Gender

June 27, 2015

In light of the Supreme Court decision this week, I will take a week away from our Romans series and preach Sunday, July 5 on the implications of biblical truth for marriage, identity, and gender. We’ll consider implications for us as families, as a church, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, and as citizens of a secular state.

Note that our Statement of Faith Governing Teaching – which all DGCC elders must agree to without reservation – says explicitly that God appointed the first man and the first woman “different and complementary roles in marriage as a picture of Christ and the church.” From the beginning, God defined marriage as one man married to one woman as long as they both live (see, among others, Mark 10:2-9). That has not changed, and will not change.

So let us respond to these cultural shifts and legal decisions with:

  • prayer, for our country, our children, our witness, our lost friends and family;
  • confidence, that God is in control of all things, and is working all together for the good of His people and the glory of His Name;
  • firmness, knowing that “the grass withers, the flowers fade, but the Word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8);
  • loving witness, for those who differ with us on these issues, together with all our neighbors, co-workers, families, and friends;
  • boldness, knowing that if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31-39);
  • joyful perseverance, knowing that hardship, trials, and even possibly persecution may well come in the future over these very issues  – but if we suffer for His sake, we are blessed (Matthew 5:11-12, Acts 5:40-42, Hebrews 10:32-39).

Do pray also for me as I prepare this sermon.

In the meantime, I recommend you read these posts on this issue:

From John Piper: So-Called Same-Sex Marriage: The New Calamity

From the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, but signed by a wide spectrum of evangelical leaders: Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage



God’s Hand At Work

January 23, 2015

How does God work in our lives? How does He bring us to Himself?

Sometimes He works through a Damascus-road experience: Suddenly, in an instant, an enemy of Jesus becomes His follower (Acts 9).

Other times the work is slow and painful. There are steps forward. Then steps backward.

One such case is Jacob’s first wife, Leah.

Remember the story: Jacob flees from his brother Esau, who wants to kill him for tricking him out of his birthright and his father’s blessing.

Jacob leaves home, using the pretense of going to find a wife from among his relatives in order to get his father’s blessing for the journey. But when he meets his cousin Rachel, he sheds the pretense. This is the girl he must marry!

He agrees with Rachel’s father Laban that he will work seven years for her. When the time is complete, in the dark of the wedding night, Laban sends Rachel’s older sister Leah into Jacob’s tent. In the morning, Laban tells the irate Jacob that he can marry Rachel also the following week – if he will agree to work another seven years.

In this culture, children are vital and sons are especially important. Sons will provide security for their parents in their old age, and will inherit and manage the property. A wife who bears many children – particularly many sons – is highly honored. A wife who does not bear children is in danger of being replaced.

Leah clearly enters this marriage unwanted and unloved. But then, “The Lord opened Leah’s womb” (Genesis 29:31). She bears four sons in short order. Their names tell us what is going on inside Leah’s head.

First, she gives birth to Reuben – meaning, “See? A son!” – saying “Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me” (Genesis 29:32).

What does this tell us about Leah? What does she want more than anything else? She wants her husband to love her!

In the booklet, “Marriage: Whose Dream?” Paul Tripp tells the story of a woman he was counseling:

I once was talking with a lady who had been married many years.

She was married to a person who, very honestly, I would have to say was a bad man. He was angry, controlling, and manipulative. He said and did hurtful things. She had dreamed of the ultimate husband, but she certainly hadn’t gotten him. Now she was so embittered by the blessings other women in her church enjoyed that she said she could no longer go to worship. She felt as if God had forsaken her, so much so that she couldn’t read her Bible or pray.

As I listened, I wanted her to understand her identity in Christ. I wanted her to know the love of the Lord; that God is a refuge and strength, an ever‑present help in trouble. So I started reading her passages that spoke of the amazing, abundant love of God, and in the middle of a verse she said, “Stop! Don’t tell me again that God loves me. I want a husband who loves me!”

And she pounded her fist on her chair as she said it.

That woman is seeking God’s gifts, rather than God Himself.

She doesn’t want God’s love. She wants God to provide her with a husband to love her.

Do you see how that is demeaning to God?

God becomes the genie whose gifts give us delight. His presence is not fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). Rather, His gifts are fullness of joy.

Isn’t this the case with Leah? She acknowledges God’s hand in giving her a son, and that’s good – as far as it goes. But she does not treasure God. In essence, she doesn’t even treasure the son God has given her. She treasures her husband’s withheld love. And so she’s miserable.

Leah bears two more sons and it doesn’t get any better:

She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. (Genesis 29:33-34)

That attachment doesn’t happen. Sons do not produce the love from Jacob Leah so desires

But finally, with her fourth son, we see a different Leah:

And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she called his name Judah. (Genesis 29:35)

Do you see the difference? She does not see this child as a tool by which she will achieve her desires. Instead, she simply praises God for what He has given.

So ask yourself:

  • Are you more like Leah after the birth of Reuben, or Leah after the birth of Judah?
  • Are you excited about what God’s gifts will enable you to enjoy?
  • Or are you first and foremost simply thankful to God for His gracious gifts?

Unfortunately, Leah does not live day by day in a state of praising God. But at least after the birth of Judah, Leah shows us how to respond to God’s gifts. This is one step to becoming a man or woman of God: Acknowledging God as the source of all that is good in our lives, and praising Him for it.

Not pining after what we don’t have, but rejoicing in the God who is working together all things together for our good and His glory.

For God is behind all that happens – in this story and in our lives. He is behind Leah’s pregnancies. He is behind Rachel’s barrenness.

He is in control.

But like us, those in the midst of the story have a hard time seeing His hand at work.

William Cowper wrote these wise words about such times:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will. . . .

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

God moves in His mysterious ways Leah’s life. By God’s grace, she is becoming a woman of God.

The next paragraphs show us Leah still has a long ways to go. Hers is not a Damascus Road experience.

But God in His wisdom is at work, via a long, slow process. Leah has taken an important step.

So consider those you love. Those you have witnessed to – both those who have not come to faith, and those who have professed faith but seem stalled, seem to be floundering.

God moves in mysterious ways. Pray for the sovereign God to continue the process, to guard these loved ones from hardening of heart or making shipwreck of their faith. Trust in His sovereign hand to work all things together for the good of His people – including you! – and the glory of His Name. And then play your role – your role in the sovereign plan of God – so that you yourself might be one of the mysterious ways that God makes your loved one a man or woman of God.

So check, first, your heart: Is God your treasure?

Second, check your faith: Do you trust God is at work?

Third, check your actions: Pray, and consider: What would God have me do in the lives of these I love?

(Parts of this devotion were taken from a sermon, “The Making of a Man of God” on Genesis 29:31-31:55, preached August 29, 2004. Both text and audio of that sermon are available.)

Knitted Together in Your Mother’s Womb

January 22, 2015

Today is the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision, removing virtually all state restrictions on the destruction of the unborn in their mothers’ wombs.

With that in mind, consider these thoughts on David’s Psalm 139, verses11-16:

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:11-12)

David acknowledges that there are times when he wonders: Can I be hidden from God? Can I go voluntarily where He can’t see me? Can I be forced to go anywhere where He won’t watch over me? David realizes the answer is no. No darkness can hide us from God. All is light to Him.

David then explains this further, considering the first dark place we all experience: The womb:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:13-16).

In the womb, absent any light, God knitted you together. You are a remarkably complex being, and God fashioned every aspect of that complexity in the darkness of your mother’s uterus. He saw all, and like a master weaver He intricately and carefully wove the fibers of fabric that make up your being just the way He wanted. More than that: He had planned out your life – every day – even when you were just the merging of two cells.

Can we then take this fabulous creation and rip it apart – in the name of convenience?

We can and must understand and care for women caught up in the trauma of an unexpected and undesired pregnancy. We can and must show compassion and provide help for those who can’t imagine carrying a child and giving birth. (For an example of such understanding and compassion, see this video from the Pregnancy Resource Center of Charlotte).

But every one of the unborn is made in the image of God, knitted together by Him, created for His glory. Who are we to choose which ones shall live, and which ones shall never be born? Who are we to decide which remarkably complex being will become full grown, and which will be tossed out as medical waste?

We cannot hide from God – nor does anything hide us from Him. He sees us. He watches over us. He knows us. Every one – including all the unborn. And their mothers. And their fathers.

He is a just God – He will not let any sin go unpunished. Yet He is a gracious and compassionate God, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving iniquity, rebellion and sin (Exodus 34:6-7) – all through the sacrifice of Jesus, the Son God knit together in Mary’s womb.

So walk in the light as He is in the light. And may God be pleased to grant us as a country both repentance for the tens of millions of unborn who have died these last decades, and compassion for the frightened women facing unplanned pregnancies.

Reflections on the Loss of a Daughter

November 22, 2013

[Dr Fred Zaspel is pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA and Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He posted these thoughts on the October 31 death of his daughter at on November 13. This is an edited version; the entire post is well worth reading. Credo Magazine has many helpful articles. The latest issue focuses on the grand story of the Bible.  – Coty]

For a dozen or so years our daughter, Gina, suffered unspeakably from more maladies and on more levels — physical and otherwise — than I could begin adequately to explain. The infection that ravished her central nervous system, the years of sleeplessness, the constant nausea, the passing out and the many falls and concussions that came as a result, the severe and relentless headache pain, the haunting hallucinations, the struggles with confusion, the blood clots, the systemic infections, and so very much more, all in the extreme, made her life the most severely agonized I have ever witnessed. Amazingly — yet true to form — she found moments of laughter almost daily, and we delighted in her company even while hurting for her. But the suffering became increasingly severe on so many fronts. And as we watched her suffer, how we prayed, often in despair, that God would deliver her from it all.

About three years ago he did. In a dramatic and miraculous moment the disease was gone, and for a short while it seemed her life had been returned to her. But further setbacks were to follow. The suffering again became intense and unspeakable. Until finally, on Thursday, October 31, it was all over. Forever. Gina is now with the Lord.

At several points over the years it seemed she was dying, but then she would rally. And on occasions she and even we could have wished it for her sake — her suffering was so awful, death would have been considered a mercy. We still feel all that, but nothing could have prepared us for the pain we now feel over our loss. She was Daddy’s girl, Mommy’s soul mate, and brother’s very closest friend. We are a very close family, and we loved Gina more than words could ever express — and we told her so many, many times every day, verbally and with countless hugs and kisses. Surely a day will never pass, in this life, without sensing this deep, gaping hole in our hearts. We just cannot imagine life without Gina. How we loved her.

I have often suspected over the years that Christians who romanticize death have likely never experienced the loss of a close loved one. Death remains a dreaded and a devastating enemy, and there is just no way to make it pretty. It still stings, deeply so, and when it comes close like this it leaves us feeling all but completely undone.

Yet for Christians there truly is a difference. And during this past week since Gina passed, agonizing as it has been, we have learned first-hand that we really do not sorrow as those who have no hope. The weighty promises and massive truths that God has revealed to us in his Word truly are life-shaping and soul anchoring, and they provide a sure point of reference for even the most hurting heart.

United to Christ by faith Gina belonged — and belongs — to God. And through the years of her suffering we reminded ourselves often that the God who in grace had rescued her in Christ from sin loves her even more than we do. And so we trust his providence. He is too wise ever to make a mistake, and too good ever to do us wrong. And we acknowledge that just as he was free and sovereign in giving Gina to us 29 years ago, so now he is free and sovereign — and good and just — in taking her. He has not wronged us. Indeed, not only do we affirm this great truth — we rest in it. This God is himself our Father, a Father who knows what is best for his children and faithfully directs our lives accordingly. Moreover, he is the Father who in love one day gave up his own Son to bear our curse in order to redeem us to himself. Yes, of course there are many “Why?” questions that we cannot answer, but we lack no proof of God’s love or his goodness. And we bless him today with deeper passion than ever.

We are so very grateful not only that God gave us our daughter for 29 years, but also that in grace he saved her and made her his own. This is really everything — everything — and we recognize that we are blessed to know that Gina is rejoicing today in the presence of our great Redeemer. How she loved him! How she loved the gospel. Gina was marked by passion in everything she did, but nothing so stirred her like the gospel of Christ. She loved to hear it, she loved to learn it more deeply, she loved to sing it, and she loved to share it with others. Her whole hope was in Christ. Virtually every day, even in much pain, she would sit down at the piano to play and sing and refresh her aching soul with some of her favorite songs about Christ, God’s love in Christ, salvation in Christ, God’s faithful love and providence, and the glory that awaits us. And this same gospel is what assures us still. And we rejoice that neither death nor life nor anything else in all God’s creation could ever separate Gina or us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And we have come better to appreciate that our hope in Christ is not for this life only. We eagerly await the day of Christ’s return when we will rejoice together in his glorious presence and discover for ourselves that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will then be revealed in us. . . .

We are hurting for our loss. The pain is massive, and on one level I’m sure it will never be absent in this life. But deep as this hurt is, we are not left adrift. With minds and hearts shaped by gospel truth, with the love of God marvelously shed abroad in our hearts by his Spirit, with confidence in his unerring providence, and with an unshakable joy and hope in Christ, God has given us more than all we will need. . . .


Be the Smile of God to Your Children

November 8, 2013

From Joe Rigney on the Desiring God blog:

He’s a squirmy one, he is. If I don’t watch him, he’ll wriggle off the bed. But he doesn’t want to. He’s enjoying the tickle fight too much. I can’t blame him. Those giggles make this father’s heart want to leap out of my chest. I wonder how long this laugh will last.

Reflect on the tickle fight with me. See the layers of reality at work. . . .

On the surface: an adult male and a one-year-old of the species, smiles, laughter, darting fingers, kicking legs, squeals, deep breaths, rapid kisses on the neck, raspberries on the belly, and did I mention the laughter?

Beneath the surface: emotional bonding, fatherly affection, wide-eyed childhood delight. A contribution to the child’s sense of safety and security in the world. Perhaps he’ll be “well-adjusted” (or at least better adjusted). This will, no doubt, help him on his standardized tests.

Beneath and in and through it all, Trinitarian fullness is being extended. The Joy that made the mountains is concentrated in my home. Fatherly delight is at the heart of reality. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” It plays on a looping tape in the back of my mind. Thus sayeth the Lord to his Son. Thus sayeth the Lord to all of his sons that are in the Son. . . .

This is the pitch of fatherhood. This is the melody line of motherhood. This ought to be the dominant note in the familial symphony. Delight, Pleasure, Joy. This tickle fight is high theology. . . .

This is our fundamental calling as parents — to be the smile of God to our children. We are charged by God to bring our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. God himself has commanded us to communicate to our children what he is like. And God is fundamentally a Happy Father, a Well-Pleased Parent. And just as the Father communicates his delight in his Son through his words and deeds and demeanor and presence, so also should we.

Read the whole post.

Let the Little Children Come to Me

October 4, 2013

Then children were brought to [Jesus] that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13-15)

In Sunday’s sermon on Matthew 19:13-30, we considered these opening verses primarily for how they help us to answer the question posed by the rich young ruler: “What good deed must I do to inherit eternal life?” If the kingdom of heaven belongs “to such,” to those who approach Jesus like children, then the question is completely wrongheaded.

But this vignette also informs our understanding of the place of children in the life of the church. Consider these five simple implications:

1)     Children need to come to Jesus.

2)     We can hinder them from coming.

Scripture uses children as negative as well as positive examples (see Matthew 11:16 and Ephesians 4:14). So in Matthew 19, Jesus is not saying children are perfectly innocent and pure.

Thus, these first two implications go together. Hindering children from coming to Jesus is serious – serious enough for Jesus to rebuke His disciples. Children need Jesus – and are hurt when we keep them from coming to Him.

How do we do this? Obviously, when we fail to teach them anything about Him and fail to bring them to settings where they can learn about Him. But we also hinder them when we mouth Christian faith and then are, on the one hand, harsh and domineering, or on the other hand, overly permissive, abdicating our responsibility to discipline. We also hinder them when we go to church and proclaim Christ, and then come home and fail to live out those truths.

3)     Instead, we must help them to come to hear about the Kingdom and to come to Him.

In Matthew 19, those bringing the children want Jesus to lay His hands on them and pray for them. They helped the children to come where they might be blessed by Him. That is our responsibility – as parents, certainly, but also as other adults within the church body. We other adults do this both through encouraging and assisting parents, and by ministering to the children ourselves.

4)     Ministry to children is much more than child care.

It is easy for churches to fall into the error of thinking, “This teaching is so important for the adults! We need to get the children somewhere else so their parents can listen without interruption and profit from what they hear.” While parents may at times need help caring for their children, the children also need to hear about Jesus, about Scripture, about God’s plan of redemption: About creation, fall, the cross, the resurrection, and Jesus’ return. We can hinder children from coming to Jesus by treating them as obstacles to their parents’ faith, rather than as those who, like their parents’, need to hear these great truths.

So we put a high value on work with children, formally in nursery and Sunday School, and informally interacting after church and in homes, living out the Gospel, speaking the Gospel, displaying the love of Christ, teaching the love of the Father.

5)     We value having children in our worship services.

In corporate worship, we come together to God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son. Worship is acting and thinking and feeling in a way that brings glory to God, as we value Christ more than all the world has to offer. Our children benefit from participating in such corporate worship, seeing their parents and other adults who love them expressing joy in Christ and deepening their joy in Christ. Indeed, might excluding them from that setting actually hinder their coming to Jesus?

In addition, we communicate an important truth when families in corporate worship sing together, read Scripture together, pray together, and respond to the preached Word together: The Gospel is for everyone. A young child benefits from hearing the Gospel in its simplicity; the most seasoned believer who has read the entire Bible 100 times benefits from hearing the same Gospel in its complexity. A two-year-old can understand the essence of the Gospel; the most brilliant scholar can never plumb the depths of God’s revelation. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33).

So please pray, thanking God for the children of Desiring God Community Church, and ask yourself: How can I spur on these little ones to love and good works? How can I help them to know Jesus and to love Him? Have I done anything, even inadvertently, that hinders their coming to Him?

So may the God of encouragement grant us to live in such harmony with one another as we follow our Savior that all of us together, young and old, with one voice, may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflections on Parenthood and Letting Go

August 23, 2013

On Saturday, Beth and I left Joel at Chapel Hill. We have now sent six children off to college. Our once rarely-quiet home has become mostly-quiet. Years of always being asked to read a book or rub a back or play “Dangerous Criminals” (or Uno or Quiddler or Knockout or Superfluous Ball or Friscup) have ended. We miss all our children – though at this point, we especially miss Joel. Oh, we miss what we would do with him; but we also miss just knowing he is in the house – knowing that at any moment we might smell his coffee or see him reading or hear him walk in the door. Yes, we can always call (and thankfully phone calls and Skype are so much easier than only a few years ago), but what we miss is not only talking, but, in part, just being. Being together.

For those of you who have not yet said goodbye to a child: It doesn’t get any easier. Daughters, perhaps, are harder than sons, but the fifth boy was as hard as the first.

Eleven years on from leaving our eldest at college, we see more clearly than ever the joys of having adult children: The continued partnership in life, the sharing of what we each learn about marriage and jobs and family, and especially the sweetness of a granddaughter asking, “Will you read Piggy in a Puddle to me, Papa?”

So we know that leaving Joel at Chapel Hill is a necessary and important step toward that future, deep relationship.

Nevertheless, no matter how much you tell yourself that this is a step you have been preparing your child for all his life, no matter how much you know that she is the Lord’s not yours, no matter how confident you are in his relative wisdom and solid faith, no matter how happy you are about her choice of college – sending a child off surprisingly feels like Mel Gibson at the end of Braveheart – your abdomen is open and someone is cutting away at your guts.

But as Michael Gerson recently wrote, one of the very best things about life is having “a short stage in another’s story:” The great privilege of watching elbows and feet poke against Mommy’s abdomen; the responsibility of feeding, protecting, and providing for a helpless infant; the joy of watching a toddler take a few steps, stumble and try again; the warmth of a sleepy child cuddling in your arms; the laughter of family gatherings; the mischievous smiles of boys, covered in mud, running toward their mother; the times day after day reading God’s Word, as well as reading One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and The Narnian Chronicles and The Lord of the Rings and The Tempest and David Copperfield. The struggle of disciplining in love; the confessions when discipline is too harsh; the long discussions with a teen struggling with the opening act of adulthood; the look of accomplishment the first time a boy beats his daddy (without handicaps!) in ping pong, or HORSE or running; the sweetness of porch time on a summers evening; the hours and hours over the years spent together in prayer.

We long for such days to continue. To never come to end. To be permanent.

C.S. Lewis suggests that this longing for permanence indicates that we are made for another existence: An existence which, indeed, will last forever and ever – where there will be no more time limits, no rush to go on to the next pressing responsibility.

Perhaps he’s right. But this week I’ve focused on a different possible parallel – a parallel between the parent’s pain of separation and God the Father’s pain. Is there a reflection, at least slight, in the parent’s pain of the pain the Father experienced at the cross? The Apostle John tells us, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.” He loved – and so He gave. He gave up. He lost something.

We sometimes think that, while Jesus experienced pain at the cross, God the Father did not. He planned the event; He knew clearly the outcome of this mission. But as we’ve noted, parents often know that leaving home is the right decision, with all sorts of future joys conditional on that step – and yet we feel great pain. Is God the Father’s pain somewhat similar? Did He feel pain, seeing His Son suffer, seeing His Son take on Himself the wrath appropriate for punishing all the sins of all those who would ever believe in Him, seeing the mysterious separation between the Son and Himself – even though He knew this was His perfect plan to redeem a people for Himself?

I don’t know. But I do know that I am incredibly grateful to God – and to Beth, my superb partner in parenting – for the privilege of 30 years of raising children in our home. It does, at this point, seem a short stage in their lives. We say to them what Paul said to the Ephesian elders when he never expected to see them again: “Now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

I look forward to those brief, future times when we can once again come together as a family. And I long all the more for the Final Day, when all God’s lost and separated children will be brought together to rejoice in Him, to delight in God’s work in one another, and to live out for eternity the joys of life in an intimate family – the true joy that was reflected in our intimate earthly family for a few, short decades.