What Are Two Things Teenagers Need from a Youth Ministry?

I have been thinking recently about Youth and Family Ministry, and I am thankful for what Austin Duncan has written regarding Youth Ministry in Evangelism: How to Share the Gospel Faithfully.  As I read these paragraphs below I wanted to shout, “Amen!”  Two things (not exhaustive, but certainly primary) that teenagers need from a Youth Ministry are:

1) The Scripture to be taught at a level they will understand.  This includes a great emphasis on the Gospel.  What more important message could we possibly offer them for their lives now as well as for the rest of their lives?  Nothing.

2) To be a part of the church as a whole.  This includes involvement with their parents and the rest of the church.  There is no switch that can be flipped when they leave the Youth Ministry that will make them *now* productive members of the church.  They should be part of the church body now.

Thank you Austin for explaining this so clearly and passionately:

“The Scriptures themselves are the most important tool for the youth pastor.  There is no other way for a person to come to Christ except through the preaching of the gospel, and there is no place where the gospel is presented more clearly than in the Scriptures.  When a youth ministry is built on verse by verse teaching of the Bible, the students learn how to live and what to believe.  As a God-ordained side effect, students also learn how to study and interpret the Bible for themselves as they watch Scripture rightly divided and properly explained … Teenagers in the youth group need this message [the Gospel].  They do not need cultural relevancy, and they certainly do not need a youth leader who really “gets them.”  They need a minister who will explain to them that they will not get to heaven on the coattails of their parents’ Christianity, that God hates sin, and that the most important issue in the universe is not if they are going to make the soccer team, but if they are reconciled to God.  Have they turned from sin to the Savior?  Have they embraced, in faith, God’s perfect sacrifice of His dear Son?  Is Christ’s life theirs?

…It should not be possible for students to faithfully participate in a youth ministry but not participate in the church. … The youth must be involved with adults in serving missionaries, participating in neighborhood outreach, and visiting the elderly.  Above all, they should be a part of the corporate body of the church in worship, fellowship, and service.  One of the reasons that young people withdraw from the church is because they grow out of what it has to offer them.  Eventually, they will tire of games and skits, and look for something more profound.  A key to student ministry–for a lasting student ministry–is to get young people involved in the church because they are in love with the gospel.  Then, if they leave the church, they abandon an integral part of their lives.  Church no longer is a place that serves them, but a place where they belong.

Isolating our teenagers from the rest of the body of the church is bad for everyone involved.  Just as the foot cannot say to the hand that it is not part of the body, so the youth cannot say that he or she is not part of the body of believers (1 Cor. 12:15).  Serving the church is how Christians are called to use their God-given gifts, as this is where believers live out the New Testament command to love one another.  Teenagers must be taught to have affection for the church, to care for its needs, and to devote themselves to its health and growth.”

From Chapter 15, “The Youth Pastor as Evangelist: The Church’s Most Fruitful Evangelism,” in Evangelism: How to Share the Gospel Faithfully, ed. John MacArthur (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 213-215.

The question always comes up when advocating an eternal perspective in Youth Ministry, “Can you still have fun while doing this?”  Of course!  As I know Austin himself lives out (I have known Austin for 9 years), this is all done with grace–and fun.  But although we laugh a lot with teenagers and may do many fun activities with them, we need to have enough vision and love to give them what they need: God’s Word and the Gospel, and to help them be a part of the church, the body of Christ.

10 Things My Dad Taught Me That I am Trying to Teach My Kids

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Fathers inevitably pass on a legacy to their children.  As I reflected on the goodness of God in giving me my Dad who taught me about Christ from the time I was born, I came up with 10 things (not exhaustive) that I learned from him.  These are principles that by God’s grace I am trying to teach my children.  There is a biblical principle behind each one, but it strikes me how many of these were taught by lifestyle more than words.  Of course we use words in training our children, but what are YOU teaching your children by how you live and interact with them?

Thanks Dad for all you have taught me!  I’m not sure if you knew you were teaching me some of these things, but they have all profoundly impacted me and I thank God for you.

1) Know Christ & Serve Him Above All Else
One of the things I thank God for the most in my life is that by His grace and obviously no merit of my own, He placed me in a Christian family that taught me the Gospel from before I can remember.  I remember kneeling by my parent’s bed and praying with my Dad, while my Mom was in the room, to accept Christ as my Savior.  My Dad also taught us that there is nothing more important in the world than knowing and living for Christ (Philippians 3:7-11).

2) Be Involved at Church
My Dad led music at our church (and my Mom played piano), so we were there for almost every service, including morning and evening.  In a day and age where commitment to church involvement is often lacking, I am thankful that my Dad ingrained this into me from the time I was little (Hebrews 10:23-25).  It is a joy to serve the Lord, to be with His people, and to learn from God’s Word.

3)  Be Wise with Who You Marry
My Dad not only made an excellent choice in his wife, but he would often tell us so.  I also remember many conversations about how important the choice of a wife is.  He always made it very clear that she had to be a committed Christian and that this choice would influence the rest of my life (Proverbs 31:10-12).

4) Be Honest
I will never forget the time that my Dad accidentally put a pack of breath mints in his pocket at the grocery store counter.  We shopped in a small town, so the next time we went to that grocery store he was sure to go back to the same clerk, explain to her what had happened, and pay for it.  It had a huge impact on her because she always mentioned it every time she saw him after that.  It had a huge impact on my brothers and I because we were watching (Ephesians 4:25).

5) Work Hard
My Dad taught music in Prescott, Washington for over 30 years, but I remember many summers that he was a wheat truck driver or worked in pea fields to supplement income for the needs of our family.  His example influenced me greatly during seminary as I worked several different jobs in which  it was tempting to think, “I have too much education for this,” etc.  Working around the home was also part of being in the family.  He taught Proverbs 6:6-7 by example, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.  Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

6) Spend Time With Your Family
I have great memories of family vacations, going places like the mountains for a day trip, and fishing.  Fishing was special because it was something that we just did with Dad and even though I hated having to bait my hook with a worm, I cherish those times together (Ephesians 6:4).

7) Have Fun With Your Kids
My Dad not only made time for his family, but he also had fun with us.  My Dad loves to laugh and family dinners were often hilarious (Proverbs 17:22).  When we were little I remember knowing at times that he might be stressed out about something, but that did not mean that he wouldn’t have fun with us.

8) Be There for Your Kids
I can honestly say that my Dad hardly ever missed a sporting event or piano recital.  Other than a few games that were a far away drive, I don’t think he even missed any “away” basketball games.  There were many kids on my team for which this was not the case.  It gave us something in common, and I always knew that he saw it and was proud if I made a shot (which wasn’t that often!).  This is one of the ways that I most often felt my father’s love for me (Colossians 3:21), which is why I did everything I possibly could to get off of work early when my son was a sheep at church this last Christmas.  Thanks for being so consistent on this one, Dad.

9) Treat People With Respect
My parents taught me to treat all people with respect whether they are of a different race, disabled, different socioeconomic background, homeless, etc (Matthew 7:12).  It is amazing how many students at the little school my Dad taught at for 30 years have later come back and shared that they are born again Christians now; I know that God used his consistent lifestyle testimony in their lives as he was different in this respect than other teachers.

10) Never Give Up
I once wanted to quit a sports team halfway through the season because of issues with the coach, but my Dad would not let me.  He explained that even though I would not have to play next season, that I needed to persevere this season even though it would be tough.  I’m glad that he made me stick it out and I want to teach my kids the same lesson (Romans 5:3-4).

Waiting on the LORD

Isaiah 40:28-31 has been a favorite Bible passage of mine since college when I was challenged by a friend to memorize it.  However, I had no idea how instrumental it would be in my life until about a year later, when I broke my leg while studying in Israel.  I couldn’t leave the country yet!  We had methodically been studying the biblical sites and we had not yet been to most of the sites Jesus had been closely associated with.  The Lord used quoting Isaiah 40:28-31 to get me over ancient ruins on crutches that spring: “Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, does not become weary or tired.  His understanding is inscrutable.  He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.  Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

Isaiah wrote these words (in advance, as a prophet of God) to God’s people in captivity in Babylon.  As they were in exile, they began to wonder about the goodness and faithfulness of God and whether or not He would keep His promises.  Isaiah told them to do two things to have strength from God: to meditate on Him (v. 28), and to wait on Him (v. 31).  What does it mean though to wait on the Lord?

The word wait in Hebrew is crucial to understand.  Much like the Spanish word esperanza, it has a dual meaning that we don’t usually associate with the word wait in English.  It means not only our traditional sense of “waiting” as in, “I am waiting for this bus to arrive,” but it also carries the idea of hope.  Context tells which direction the meaning slants towards.  I have been a rider on public transit in the Los Angeles Metro area for almost 3 years now, and let me tell you, when somebody is waiting for the bus here, they are waiting in both senses of the term!  “I am waiting for the bus,” and “I am hoping for the bus to arrive soon.”

What is all-important is what our hope is in.  I have very little hope in the Metro transit system, but I have an infinite hope in the God of the universe!  That is why Isaiah told them to both meditate on God and wait on Him.

Why does God want us to actively wait on Him?  There are many reasons, but here are three:

  • It makes us seek Him.
  • It reminds us the timing is His, not ours.
  • It makes us trust Him.

What are you waiting on the LORD for?  He has given us many sure promises.  I hope that you will wait like the Psalmist: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.  Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.” (Ps. 27:14)

Let the Race Begin!

My Wife Melanie & I
My Son Tobias & I


 

 

 

 

 

 

I graduated from The Master’s Seminary on Sunday night, and it was a thrilling time for my family and I. The last 4 1/2 years have been a time I will always thank God for. Studying at TMS has changed me and will impact how I view ministry and think of God’s Word for the rest of my life. It was also a very trying time as we went through many trials (see my post, My Senior Testimony in Chapel at TMS), and especially tiring as I worked almost 40 hours a week, attended classes, studied, carved out precious family time together, and made time for ministry. This made Sunday night sweet (even though I finished classes in December), as it brought finality and joyous celebration to what God had done in bringing us to TMS and sustaining us.

Even though there was a great solemnity to the Graduation and the realization that I had been equipped and now needed to be a steward of what I had been given, I was smiling almost the whole time thinking of God’s goodness. My heart was overflowing with gratitude for this opportunity, knowing that it was all of God’s grace, and with thanksgiving for my supportive wife and family. What caught me off guard and brought tears to my eyes was when the last Diploma had been handed out and the crowd of over 2,500 was told it could now applaud. The Worship Center erupted into a standing ovation with cheers and shouts of joy. Once our friends and family had sat back down, I heard more than one man around me trying to hold back tears. I immediately thought of Hebrews 12:1-2:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Those witnesses cheering us on Sunday night as we arrived at the finish line were not the faithful martyrs mentioned in Hebrews 11, but they had encouraged us along our “race”. I then thought of how in a very real sense, even though the race of seminary was now over, the race of ministry was just beginning. In fact, each of us, you included, have been running the race of the Christian life (including being active in ministry) since the moment we were saved. We in the Body of Christ are to be cheering each other on and encouraging each other to keep our eyes on Jesus. One of my primary jobs as a pastor will be to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). This means that I want my life to be poured out in ministry, but a large part of that is preparing and encouraging others to fully take hold of the ministries God has given them. If only the pastor was a “minister,” hardly any ministry would happen from any given church. But if every member understands they have a ministry, then that church will have a great impact for Christ.

Is your ministry hosting a Bible Study? Helping in Children’s ministry? Hospital visitation? Leadership? Missions? Worship music? Organizing meals for those who are sick or just had a baby? Planning outreach activities or VBS? Discipling somebody by going through a book with them? Maybe focusing on ministering to your husband and children right now? It could be anything that God has gifted you in which brings glory to Him and furthers His Kingdom. What is your ministry?? I would love to hear from you if you would like to comment below. Let the race begin!

(Although I want this to be primarily a ministry and devotional-related blog, I know that many of you are family and friends and that you would love to see pictures so I am including several pictures from the Graduation.)

My Daughter Gracie & I
John MacArthur & I
We Were So Blessed by Family & Friends at an Amazing Reception

God Crushed His Son for Our Good & His Glory

A few weeks ago my wife and I were in the kitchen when we heard a terrifying sound: a huge crash coming from our son’s room and then screams of fear and pain.  I ran into his room to see the most frightening scene I have witnessed in my life yet: my 4 year old son was crushed under his dresser that had completely fallen on top of him.  He had pulled all of the drawers out as he was putting something away and it toppled onto him.  All I remember in the seconds between seeing what happened and lifting it off of him was his body crushed, and his head sticking out from underneath the top of the dresser with a look of terror and “help” in his eyes as he screamed.  We are so thankful that he was fine. The Doctor said he just needed to take it easy for a few days, and as I write this he is happily playing energetically as he normally does.

Maybe because our pastor is preaching through Isaiah 53, the next day I thought of the verse speaking of Christ that says, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him…” (Is. 53:10). It is no wonder that Christ cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46b). When Christ was bearing sin on the cross and taking the full brunt of God’s wrath against sin, it is not just as if God saw His Son crushed “under the dresser” (sin) and turned away, but rather that it was actually His will for Him to be crushed. This is why some “Christian theologians” have so mistakingly called substitutionary atonement “divine child abuse.” They have a completely unbiblical view of the fact that Christ was both man and God and came into the world for this plan of salvation that had been in the works since before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). In His humanity Christ cried out as He was crushed by sin and His very Father’s wrath as He bore our sins: “But He was wounded for our trangressions; He was crushed for our iniquities…” (Is. 53:5). In His deity, Christ was resolute: “…And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” (John 12:27b-28a).

When we think of Christ’s sin-bearing from the perspective of God pouring out His wrath on His beloved Son, it can be shocking and seem “scandalous.” But when we think of it from the perspective of Christ bearing our sin, we praise the One who did this for our good and His glory. Thank you Lord for this truth: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

The LORD Reigns

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I was on Jury Duty recently and as I was waiting in the Jury Room to be called up or not called up to court, I thought about how at that moment the government had so much sovereignty over my life.  Whether or not they called my name would determine if I would go to work the next day or back to the courthouse.  If I was assigned (I was), it could be a quick 2 day trial or my life could have to revolve around a trial for months (after all, I live in L.A. County).

I think God’s sovereignty is sometimes hard for us to understand as American Christians because we don’t have any clear examples of “absolute” authority such as was so common during the time the Bible was written.  The government’s “power” to make me come in to Jury Duty and to decide what would happen with the next few weeks of my life, or to force me to pay taxes, is about the extent of my personal involvement with the government’s sovereignty.  I used to wrestle quite a bit with God’s sovereignty.  Although I accepted it, as God is clearly displayed and explained as sovereign again and again and again in God’s Word, and although I wanted to understand it, it sometimes made me question my understanding of God.  My understanding of God needed to be questioned and expanded. 

I remember reading a quote by Jonathan Edwards that exclaimed, “…Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God…” (quoted in Desiring God, p. 38, by John Piper).  I could tell by the way Edwards worded it that he rejoiced in this attribute of God.  I had a hard time saying this the same way, much like the struggle that Habakkuk had at the beginning of his prophecy, before he waited on the LORD .  I think it was because I wanted to rejoice in God’s sovereignty, but all of the theological and practical “problems” were getting tangled up in my mind.  Praise God that I can now agree with Jonathan Edwards in the rest of his quote: “And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, in respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense…I have often since had not only a conviction but a delightful conviction.  The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet.  Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.  But my first conviction was not so…” (quoted in Desiring God, p. 38, by John Piper).   

The Lord has been teaching me this doctrine again and again over the last 15 years as I have studied the Bible and constantly been confronted with God’s absolute sovereignty and also as I have seen it lived out in my own life, family, and ministry with others.  I love God’s sovereignty now.  I love to exclaim with the Psalmist, “The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Psalm 97:1)  I am prepared to accept and deal as biblically as I can with any confusion that may cause (more posts on that in the future, in particular regarding “Sickness” and “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God”).  The fact that the LORD reigns is actually the greatest comfort now during times of trial rather than a question mark.  It is a sweet doctrine to be embraced rather than to be feared.  One thing that has helped me in my understanding of and rejoicing in God’s sovereignty is knowing that His sovereignty is always exercised in a way that corresponds with His other attributes, such as His love, mercy, compassion, justice, etc.  A favorite way that I like to express this truth is that “God is both sovereign and good.”

There is a sense in which, when God is seen as sovereign, He is seen more clearly as God than with any other attribute.  Everything else is created, but only God is the ruler of the universe.  That is why so many of the Psalms (the “worship book” of the Bible) call attention to God’s greatness and sovereignty, because reflecting on this aspect of His character inspires worship.  I remember hearing R.C. Sproul teach pastors that if they hide an aspect of God’s character from their people then they are guilty of veiling the glory of God. May we as God’s people never be declared guilty on that count!

My Senior Testimony in Chapel at TMS

My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…as for me, the nearness of God is my good;  I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works.

Psalm 73:26, 28

I was thrilled to give my Senior Testimony in Chapel at The Master’s Seminary on April 3rd, 2012.  I pray that you will be encouraged and I invite you to give glory to the Lord with us for what He has done in our lives.  Great is His faithfulness!

Thank You, Lord, for Your sovereignty and goodness in my life and for how You have blessed our family over the last 4 1/2 years of seminary.  Thank You for Your grace in allowing me to attend The Master’s Seminary.  May You truly receive ALL the glory!!

Thursday Night of “Passion Week”

It is Thursday night of “Passion Week.”  We all know that Christ died on Friday and rose on Sunday, but what happened on Thursday night?  He washed His disciples’ feet.  He taught His disciples in the Upper Room.  He transformed the Passover meal into “The Lord’s Supper” commemorating His death.  He cried out to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane until He sweat drops of blood.  He was betrayed with a kiss.  He was arrested.  And He knocked a large detachment of Roman soldiers to the ground with His word.

The beloved Apostle, moved by the Holy Spirit, remembered that night: “So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.  Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’  They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’  Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’  Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.  When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:3-6)

Judas, along with the religious leaders, had organized a detachment of soldiers to come and arrest Jesus in the garden.  The word translated “band” of soldiers in the ESV is a “cohort” of Roman soldiers that would normally number 600 men.  However, depending on the circumstances it could be up to 1,000 or as little as 200.  Given that there were extra Roman soldiers on duty for the Passover Feast, as well as the fact that the other Gospels indicate that there were others besides the soldiers in the crowd who carried clubs, it is no exaggeration to say that there was a minimum of 300 men there that night if not the full 1,000 given Jesus’ popularity just a few days before on “Palm Sunday.”  This would be at least 15 times more armed men than are in the picture at the top of this post.

Jesus decimated them by simply answering “I am” to their question.  These trained killers fell to the ground at the word of our Savior!

It is mind-boggling how some commentators will try to explain away this profound moment before Jesus was arrested.  It is another display of His authority before He would let them arrest Him, and we are reminded once again that He is the incarnate God before He humbles Himself to the point of death on a cross.  Before His greatest humility, He once again displayed His power.  Yet some will say things such as that they fell down because they expected to find a meek peasant and instead were met in the dim light by a majestic person.  Ludicrous.  Others say that those in the front were startled when Jesus appeared out of the shadows, which in turn knocked down those behind them like dominoes.  Nonsense.  Roman soldiers were highly trained and had taken over much of the world.  They battled against the most powerful armies on earth and often won.  They did not easily spook and fall down like children when somebody emerged from a dark garden that was now lit up with their torches.  But, they did fall down when Jesus said “I am.”  As John MacArthur explains, “All Jesus had to do was speak His name–the name of God–and His enemies were rendered helpless.” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, John 12-21, p. 308)

It is no wonder Peter was emboldened to cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest!  Christ quickly reminded Peter right in front of the soldiers that if He wanted to, He could ask the Father to send 72,000 angels that He could then command (Matt. 26:53).  What was a detachment of Roman soldiers compared to His power?     

This was a foretaste of Christ as sovereign LORD even though the cross was looming on the horizon.  The same Apostle John who wrote the Gospel of John later saw Christ exalted and described Him: “…from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength.  When I saw him, I fell at His feet as though dead.  But He laid His right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.‘” (John 18:16-18)

Just as He laid His hand on John to show His grace, how He loves you and me!  That He would place Himself into the hands of these soldiers to obey the will of the Father, to be crushed on the cross as He paid the awful and incomprehensible price of sin when He could have stopped it all in an instant, with a word, needs to move us!

Even when they fell down at His word, the soldiers in the garden that night didn’t recognize Him as God.  But it may have contributed to God’s work in some of their hearts as later some soldiers would believe in Christ as the Son of God and Savior even at the foot of the cross the next day.  As you celebrate Good Friday and then Resurrection Sunday, remember that our King was not a victim of an evil plan (although it was evil, Acts 2:23), but rather the triumphant Victor of the Plan that had been made before the foundation of the world (Acts 2:23).  Thank You Jesus for Your power, and thank You for Your grace!

What is the Gospel?

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There is way too much confusion about the Gospel.  If we as Christians are basing our entire lives on the truth of the Gospel, should it not be crystal clear in our minds?  I am embarrassed to tell you one of my moments of un-clarity regarding the Gospel:  the Pastor that I worked with in New Mexico asked me one day how I would share the Gospel with somebody that I was sitting next to in an airplane if the plane was going to crash.  I had been in full-time ministry for over 3 years at that point and let me tell you, I was hoping that imaginary airplane was flying high at cruising altitude when the engines failed!  I was able to share it biblically faithfully as I had many times when the Lord gave me opportunities, but not concisely.

How about you?  When you have only a few minutes but a clear opportunity or even someone asking you to share the Gospel, do you know where to start and finish?  What are the non-negotiables that they need to know in order to truly be saved?  Are you teaching the Gospel to your children constantly?  Do you thank God regularly for what He has done for you in Christ because it is often on your mind?  We need the Gospel to be emblazoned upon our hearts and ready on our lips!

When I recently attended the Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church where we are members, I had a list of several kinds of books that I was looking for at the Conference Book Store.  At the top of my list was a book about the Gospel.  I knew that after 4 1/2 years of studying more than I thought possible to be as equipped as I could be for full-time ministry, that I needed to step back and see the big picture.  I also knew that I want to be laser-sharp on what the Gospel is in my ministries now and as I look ahead to full-time ministry.  If I could go back and change only one thing in the almost 6 wonderful years of being a Youth Pastor before seminary, it would be to preach and explain the Gospel more often and more clearly.  Paul the Apostle taught the whole counsel of God, and yet there was a sense in which he could say to the Corinthians, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

I found exactly the book that I was looking for in the little book What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert.  So, what IS the Gospel??  This is the most important question that you will ever ask, as well as the most important question that you will ever answer.  I agree with Gilbert as he shows that Scripture breaks it into 4 basic truths:

1) God.  We are accountable to the God who created us.  He is both Creator, and holy and righteous (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 24:1, Matthew 5:48).

2) Man.  We have sinned against that God and will be judged (Romans 3:10, 6:23; Isaiah 59:2).

3) Christ.  But God has acted in Jesus Christ to save us.  God sent Christ as both fully God and fully man, and as God’s perfect Son He died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin and then rose from the dead (Colossians 2:9, Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Corinthians 15:4).

4) Response.  We take hold of that salvation by repentance from sin and faith in Jesus (Isaiah 55:7, Luke 9:23, Romans 10:9, Acts 17:30).

Look at all 4 principles laid out clearly in Romans 3:23-25a, “…for all have sinned and fall short [man] of the glory of God [God], and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus , whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood [Christ], to be received by faith [response]…”

It was said in many different ways all throughout God’s Word.  Sometimes it was assumed that part of it was already believed, such as that God was Creator and Judge to a Jewish audience.  But these 4 basic principles are always in the background or in the forefront of a complete Gospel presentation.

As Gilbert points out, another way of looking at these 4 truths is how they answer 4 crucial questions that Paul lays out in Romans 1-4:

“1) Who made us, and to whom are we accountable? [God]

2) What is our problem?  In other words, are we in trouble and why? [Man]

3) What is God’s solution to that problem?  How has he acted to save us from it? [Christ]

4) How do I–myself, right here, right now–how do I come to be included in that salvation?  What makes this good news for me and not just for someone else? [Response]”

As I look at the precious and glorious answers to those four questions, I am reminded of the simplicity of the Gospel and yet its’ profundity.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is simple enough for a child to understand, and yet complex enough to write a doctoral dissertation on each of these points and still not plumb the depths!

It is also easy to notice that the Gospel is made up of both bad news AND good news.  In our society of “whatever you believe is true, is true for you” philosophy, and generous tolerance of any belief except for Christianity, I am afraid that we are too ready to soften the parts about us being accountable to God the Creator, the depth of our sin, or the fact that our King was crucified on a wooden Roman instrument of torture over two thousand years ago and then actually rose from the dead.  It is especially hard for people who have been taught all of their lives that man is essentially good to understand what they need to be saved from.  It is equally hard in our day to explain to those who have a “Santa Claus” view of God that He is not only a God of unfathomable love but also unfathomable holiness, and their Judge.  Yet that is exactly what people need to hear.  The whole, simple, profound, true, cutting, crushing, revealing, surprising, loving, saving, and gracious Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Let’s take note of Gilbert’s alarm: “Indeed I believe one of the greatest dangers the body of Christ faces today is the temptation to rethink and rearticulate the gospel in a way that makes its’ center something other than the death of Jesus on the cross in the place of sinners.”

If you teach Sunday School, if you have children, if you preach, if you have neighbors or co-workers or relatives who need to hear the Gospel (we all do), or if you just need to think clearly and deeply about the Gospel (we all do), I encourage you to read this book, and soon!  I know that you will devour it as I did, and that it will result in more praise to Jesus Christ.  As Gilbert explains, “An emaciated gospel leads to emaciated worship.  It lowers our eyes from God to self and cheapens what God has accomplished for us in Christ.  The biblical gospel, by contrast, is like fuel in the furnace of worship.”  I am thankful for this book, because having a precise and lucid understanding of the biblical Gospel “calls us forward to that final day when heaven will be filled with the roaring noise of millions upon millions of forgiven voices hailing him as crucified Savior and risen King.”

Big News!

Psalm 127, below, has quickly become a favorite Psalm for Melanie and I (Scripture in italics, my comments are in brackets):

Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the LORD guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

[This reminds me of God’s good sovereignty and provision, and how He has taken care of our family all throughout Seminary and will continue to watch over us.]

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.

[The LORD gives us children as a great blessing of His undeserved grace. Notice how the Psalmist uses the phrase “fruit of the womb” instead of just “offspring”; he is pointing out how they are a good, sweet gift from God.]

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.

[What are arrows for? To eventually launch out. In this case, the target no matter where the arrow lands is God’s glory.]

I recently took a look at every verse that I could find about children in the Bible because I want to be thinking God’s thoughts on any subject, and I knew in particular that what God’s Word says about children would be in stark contrast to our culture. The era in which we live too often says or acts like they are a burden, an inconvenience, an expense that gets in the way of what I want for myself, etc. But what surprised me as I surveyed God’s Word on children were two things:

1) There is actually more of an emphasis on how parents have the imperative from God to raise their children to live for Him than on the subject of “children.”

2) The verses that do address the subject of “children” are unequivocally positive. Picture Jesus holding the children in his lap and talking with them when the disciples thought he was too busy and told them to go away, and you get the picture of God’s special love for children.

As you can see from this adorable picture below, Melanie and I are thrilled to announce with Big Brother Tobias and Big Sister Gracie that we will be having our 3rd child Lord willing about September 25th!!!

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We are blessed, very blessed, and we give praise to God, that we once again will have the opportunity to love one of His little ones that looks a lot like us, and to point him or her to Jesus.