Christmas Questions

December 25, 2017

The Apostle Paul tells us:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)

How can we fulfill this verse this week? That is, how can we celebrate Christmas and New Years to the glory of God?

Christians frequently lament that Christ is not at the center of our Christmas celebrations. While this is indeed lamentable, we often speak as if those celebrations are like the weather, completely out of our control. But by our attitudes, actions, and questions we can move every celebration – whether an office party or a family gathering – more toward Christ-centeredness. The movement may consist of only one conversation, but by our boldness in broaching these subjects we let the light of the Gospel shine through us onto our families and friends.

One way to glorify God in our holiday gatherings is through the questions we ask. Here are some questions, most from Don Whitney (Christmas questions, New Years questions), that you can use around Christmas and New Years to deepen conversations and to move toward a discussion of Christ Himself. Some are baby steps in that direction, others are deeper; some are appropriate for anyone, others only for professed believers. But consider how you might use these this next week:

  • Which past Christmas stands out in your memory? Why?
  • What’s the most meaningful Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
  • What was the most appreciated Christmas gift you’ve ever given?
  • What was your favorite Christmas tradition as a child?
  • Is there a particular Scripture passage you look forward to hearing at Christmas? Why?
  • Do you have a favorite Christmas story other than the biblical accounts? Tell me about it.
  • What do you do to try to keep Christ in Christmas?
  • Why do you think people started celebrating the birth of Jesus?
  • Why do you think Jesus came to earth?
  • Why do you think Jesus was born to a poor family?
  • Do you think the birth of Jesus deserves a big celebration?
  • What’s the relationship between Christmas and Easter? Why do you think Christmas is celebrated so much more than Easter in our country? Do you think this is right?
  • What Christmas carol do you think captures the meaning of Christmas particularly well? What truths does it bring out?
  • What’s the best thing that’s happened to you in 2017?
  • What habits do you want to break or develop during the New Year?
  • What is the biggest time-waster in your life, and what steps will you take to overcome it this year?
  • What single thing do you want to do in 2018 that will matter most in 10 years? In 100 years?
  • For whose salvation will you pray for consistently this year? Can I ask you about that in a few months?
  • What habit would you like to establish this year?
  • In addition to the Bible, what book do you look forward to reading this year?

Consider how you will you respond if your conversation partner turns any of the above questions back to you. “Do all to the glory of God.” How will your answers fulfill that command?

The answers we give to other questions can also help move conversations in ways that magnify our Lord. When we see relatives and friends after a long separation, many will ask, “How have you been?” What will you say? I encourage you to answer by describing one of the ways God has blessed you in Christ this year, or a particularly challenging circumstance that God has brought you through or that you continue to struggle with by God’s grace. Resist the urge to say, “Fine! Good!” or to focus on your job, your possessions, or your physical health.

God created us to glorify Him. This season presents us with unusual opportunities to magnify the grace of God through Jesus Christ in our lives, despite all the distortions of commercialization and secularization. I pray that each of us might take advantage of those opportunities, showing that we savor Jesus above all by the questions we ask and the answers we give, by our listening ears and our willing hands.


Why Do You Say Merry Christmas?

December 14, 2017

Why do you say, “Merry Christmas”?

  • Some celebrate their family;
  • Some celebrate their cultural or family traditions: What they do on Christmas Eve or morning;
  • Some celebrate gift-giving, especially Santa Claus;
  • Some celebrate the winter season: snow and sleighs and Jack Frost nipping at your nose.

Indeed, the song containing that line, modestly entitled “The Christmas Song,” is a good example of all these:

  • “Jack Frost,” celebrating winter;
  • “Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow,” for family;
  • “Yuletide carols being sung by a choir . . . turkey and some mistletoe,” for tradition;
  • ‘They know that Santa’s on his way; he’s bringing lots of toys and goodies,” for gift-giving.

But “The Christmas Song” makes not one mention of Jesus Christ. And although the song ends with the words, “Merry Christmas to you,” it might as well end with “Happy Holidays.”

Celebrating family, traditions, gift-giving, and winter are not bad in and of themselves; on the contrary, all are good.

But for those who know Jesus as Lord and Savior, for those who see Jesus as the greatest Treasure, Christmas should primarily be a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Why? Because He is the One responsible for all the good we receive; He is the One to Whom all those goods point.

  • He gives us our true, eternal, perfect family (Romans 8:15-17).
  • He gives us our deepest traditions, pointing to the most significant underlying realities (Matthew 26:26-29, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
  • He Himself is the greatest gift imaginable: He is the reason we receive any good and perfect gift, the one who sacrificed Himself so that we might have the gift of faith and righteousness and reconciliation with God the Father (2 Corinthians 9:15, James 1:17, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:21-25, Romans 6:23).
  • All things – including seasons – were created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:15-16).

Imagine that today is your birthday. Imagine all sorts of people come to a party on your birthday. And at that party they celebrate their families. They celebrate winter: snow and sleighs and snowmen. They celebrate with birthday cakes and candles and games. Furthermore, they give many gifts to each other. But they ignore you. They don’t look at you. They don’t speak to you. They give no gifts to you. There is no indication that this is your birthday.

What would you think of that?

That’s what many do with Christmas – Jesus becomes at most a minor part of a seasonal celebration, whether we say, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.”

Don’t let that happen this year. Remember who Jesus is.

  • Remember why Immanuel, God with us, had to come as that baby in the manger.
  • Remember how He lived, loving God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, loving each person He encountered as He loved Himself.
  • Remember Him sacrificing Himself on the cross so that you might be reconciled to God the Father through Him.
  • Remember Him risen, reigning, and returning so that the kingdom of this world becomes His Kingdom, and He reigns forever and ever (Revelation 11:15).
  • Remember God the Father wiping every tear from your eyes; remember the coming time when there will be no more sorrow nor crying nor pain, because of His work (Revelation 21:4).

So by all means, shout out, “Merry Christmas!” By all means, celebrate family and traditions and winter; give gracious and thoughtful gifts to one another.

But this year may we clearly show that all these good gifts come to us only because Jesus was born of Mary two thousand years ago. May He be our greatest joy. May we praise Him – and may we thank God with all our heart for His indescribable gift.


An Excellent Wife Who Can Find?

September 29, 2017

Friday September 29 marks 40 years since our first date.  Beth and I were students at Davidson. I had been in Kenya from January to August; Beth had been in Europe spring term, then worked in Shenandoah National Park during the summer. That year she lived in Mt Mourne, off campus. After cross country practice that Thursday, I drove out to her house; we mixed and kneaded bread, leaving it to rise while we went for a walk in the woods nearby (now Lowes corporate headquarters).  Returning, we baked the bread, made a salad, ate the first of thousands of wonderful meals together, and then looked at slides from Kenya and discussed what that trip meant.

When most of my friends asked me about Kenya, they wanted a five minute response. I was frustrated with that – the time in East Africa had affected me profoundly, and I was sorting through how I had changed. Beth, on the other hand, wanted a several hour response. She asked questions. She listened. She talked about how Europe and Shenandoah had affected her.

Five weeks previously my girlfriend of over two years had broken up with me. I had rather enjoyed dating just for fun in the intervening weeks, and was in no way looking for another serious, long-term relationship. But as I drove home that night I knew: Either Beth and I were not going to keep seeing each other, or this would be a serious relationship. And I couldn’t imagine not seeing her.

I just about destroyed the relationship right at the beginning. A few days after our first date, while walking down Main St, I ran into a girl I had dated a few times. We started going the same direction – and she took my hand. I was uncomfortable, but I had not yet said anything to her about Beth, and that didn’t seem the time or place to talk. So we were holding hands, and Beth drove by. I didn’t see her. She did see me – us – but wondered, was that really Coty? Beth decided to forget about it.

Two years and three months after that first date, we were married. That’s how I found an excellent wife.

At the time, I did not even know how to describe an excellent wife biblically. My conception of marriage was quite a mishmash of popular culture, marriages I had seen, and not-well-thought-out ideas about partnership and equality. But in God’s grace, He put the two of us together, made the two of us one on December 29, 1979, and has since washed us with the water of the Word, strengthened us by His Spirit, and nourished us through each other.

“Charm Is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). So let me turn to praise:

Beth, your outer beauty is fleeting only in the sense that everything in this world is passing away. In forty years, there has rarely been a time when I did not think you were the most beautiful woman in the room. Thank you for the attention you pay to your health, to your physical condition – and thank you for the many runs, hikes, and rides we have done together.

But your inner beauty is beyond compare. Even in Davidson days, an older man said of you, “She is so gentle – and yet so strong!” Those words characterize you time and again. You have displayed your strength in six births, after traffic accidents, in emergency room visits, when I have let you down, and when others have hurt us. And you have shown your gentleness to our children and grandchildren, to weeping friends, and to a hurting husband.

Naturally God graced you with these traits. Supernaturally He expanded and extended them, in calling you to Himself, in gracing You with His Spirit, in implanting in you a deep love for Him. He enabled you to be as He is in the world (1 John 4:17), to show not only your natural gentleness and strength, but to point to His gentleness, His strength, His forgiveness, His love, His goodness. And you display Who He is daily, hourly – whether through teaching a refugee woman to sew, helping your parents build a walkway, or laughing with your children about our foibles.

Thank you for helping me to see our unity, and for being my ally in the fight to maintain and deepen it. “They are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, man must not separate” (Mark 10:8-9). As you know, in Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy says of Levin and Kitty (in the middle of a fight!), “He could not now tell where she ended and he began.”  Just so with us. Our lives are intertwined, molded together – not in an unhealthy codependency, but, strengthened by our Lord, complete in Him, together we miraculously picture the unity of Christ and His Church. What a privilege to do that together with you.

Beth, you are far more precious than rubies. I love you with all my heart. Should God grant us another forty years together, I will be blessed above all men.

Your True Home

June 2, 2017

I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (Ephesians 3:14b-15)

Two weeks ago while reflecting on Joel’s graduation and the bike ride to DC, I noted the frequent repetition of the word “home” during the ceremony in Chapel Hill: “Chapel Hill is home. You can always come home. This place is your home forever.”

What is the nature of a good home? In a good family we are loved and accepted. We indeed can always return home. Our family welcomes us and takes us in.  Nothing we do will get us kicked out of a good family.

But a family includes something more which the Apostle Paul brings out in Ephesians – something missed in the picture of “home” painted at the graduation:

In a good family, there is a father, and he has authority.

  • Yes, in a good family there is acceptance. And in a good family there is also loving authority.
  • Yes, we are never kicked out of a good family. But there is also discipline in that good family, for our good and the good of the family.

There cannot be a family, there cannot be a home without authority.

Indeed, the Apostle says that every family in heaven and on earth is “named” after that heavenly family with the heavenly Father. Every family – and especially every father – ideally should picture the love, watchcare, guidance, provision, and discipline of our heavenly family.

Our culture is reluctant to recognize such authority, in part because it has been distorted so often. Too many fathers check out, and just want peace and quiet in the house so they can relax. Others discipline harshly, or verbally and physically abuse their wives and children.

But do you see the Apostle Paul’s point? Such behavior on the part of fathers is evil not only because of the sin against family members; it is also wrong because God created fatherhood to display His character. Checked-out and abusive fathers sin against God by providing others a terrible picture, a distorted picture, of what God the Father is like.

Yet see how God provides for us the perfect picture of acceptance and authority in Jesus Christ. He accepts us: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). His sacrifice enables us to be part of His family – indeed, part of His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-32). He accepts us as we are – but praise God He loves us too much to leave us as we are. He sanctifies us. He cleanses us. He Himself presents us to Himself, “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Ephesians 5:27).

David concludes Psalm 23 with these words: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In Christ, we will be part of God’s loving family forever: Under His authority, loved beyond our imagining, enabled to see Him face to face and to enjoy Him forever. That indeed is our true home.

Reflections on a Graduation and a Bike Ride

May 18, 2017

Last weekend our youngest child, Joel, graduated from UNC Chapel Hill. During those four years of college, Joel and thousands of his classmates worked hard at their academics, spurred each other on to excel, developed deep friendships, and grew to love their university. Indeed, the graduation ceremony emphasized again and again: “Chapel Hill is home. You can always come home. This place is your home forever.”

Speakers exhorted the new graduates to be true to themselves, forging their own path, not allowing others to define them; to continue to practice and develop critical thinking in order to live a good, moral life; and to continue to pursue higher learning, for in that way they will find fulfillment. Indeed, when acting like this, we were told, there is no limit to the good they can do.

Prior to graduation weekend, I participated in the 2017 Law Enforcement Bike Ride to DC, an annual ride from Charlotte covering about 500 miles in four days, to honor law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. During those four days, more than a hundred cyclists worked together, persevering through the long miles and the cold, wet weather. Many placed a picture of a deceased officer they knew personally on the rear of their saddle. A support crew accompanied us and served us faithfully; churches and volunteer fire departments opened their doors to warm us and feed us. Like Joel’s classmates, we all – riders and support crew – developed a strong sense of camaraderie, and rejoiced to accomplish a challenging task together.

I delight in Joel’s hard work and fine education, as well as in the privilege of biking last week with so many dedicated riders. Joel grew and changed in positive ways through his four years at UNC Chapel Hill; those four days of riding had an impact on me. Praise God for such opportunities to stretch ourselves, to step out to accomplish something difficult, and to be able to carry it through to the end.

Both experiences point to eternal realities revealed in Scripture. God made us for something larger than ourselves individually. He created us to accomplish His tasks together. He made us for Himself, so that together we would be His intimate family – so that we would be truly at home with Him forever.

As humans made in the image of God, we long for that home. We long for that sense of belonging, that sense of accomplishment, that sense of camaraderie in working together for a vitally important task. Throughout our lives, we experience pointers to that real home, that real sense of purpose, that real camaraderie. But these pointers are most helpful and valuable to us only if we look through them to see the much greater reality they signify. Our home forever is not our alma mater; our great accomplishment is not persevering through challenges to fulfill an earthly academic or physical goal. Our home is with God, through union with Christ, with all the redeemed from every tribe and tongue and nation. Our great accomplishment is to disciple all these people groups, and then to worship our King with them in word and deed forever and ever, never ceasing to increase our delight in Him.

Along the way, we may need to forge our own path if others are leading us away from God; but we also need to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus. We would do well to develop critical thinking skills and to apply them to help us understand better both Scripture and the world around us;  but critical thinking in service of our fallen desires will lead to the opposite of the good life. Higher learning subject to God’s revealed truth can help many to understand that truth in a deeper way; but when not subject to God, such learning easily puffs us up, and God opposes the proud. We can forge our own paths, think critically, and achieve the highest standard of learning – and yet do great evil in the world.

So pursue tasks you love; word hard together with Christians and non-Christians in education, in sports, in service. Enjoy the sense of common purpose, the joint accomplishment of a difficult task. But remember to look through the sign to the signified reality. God invites us to participate in the greatest accomplishment of all time; He welcomes us into the only eternally, perfectly loving family; He grants us the greatest joy and fulfillment imaginable. Don’t focus on pursuing the sign and then miss out on the reality.


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.)

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