Yesterday my article “Ten Lessons From a Decade of Marriage” was featured on The Gospel Coalition Canada website. You can check it out here Enjoy!
Several years ago I was invited to speak at a community Thanksgiving service in Bucyrus, Ohio. My pastor friend John Cory asked me to preach at the service, scheduled for the Sunday before Thanksgiving. As a young pastor, I was excited for the opportunity and wanted to make the most of it. Unfortunately……I botched the date. Somehow I thought the event was scheduled for the Sunday after Thanksgiving instead of the Sunday before Thanksgiving…..oops!
I will never forget the night of the actual service. My wife and I were out that evening and when we came home I noticed there was a message on our answering machine. The message (from John) went something like this. “Uh Dan……where are you? The service is supposed to start in 5 minutes! If you can’t make it, please call me so we can figure something else out.” You can just imagine how I was feeling after hearing that message. I was horrified and I desperately wanted to go back and rectify the situation! By now, however, that was not possible as the service was already over. I had the time right, the location right, I knew what I was going to speak on, but here’s the kicker – I was a week late when it came to the date.
Now, in the whole scheme of things, this mistake was not a huge deal. I felt terrible about it at the time, but I was able to get a hold of John that night and I apologized profusely. He was very gracious and said that one of the other pastors in town came up with a message on the fly and everything turned out just fine. The only reason I share this story is to illustrate the fact that sometimes our timing is off. Even people, like me, who pride themselves on being prompt, reliable, and on-time have those moments where we are late and even no-show. In stark contrast to that, our Lord is always on time. In fact, His timing is perfect!
Recall what the apostle Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-5. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” What this verse tells us is that at the perfect moment in history, God sent Jesus into the world. After centuries of waiting for the promised Messiah, God’s set time had arrived. I remember hearing one teacher say concerning this verse (Gal. 4:4), “the moment was pregnant with anticipation.” God’s due date had arrived, the long wait was finally over and now Jesus, the One who would “save His people from their sins,” would be born of the virgin.
You probably remember that last year something extremely rare occurred – a solar eclipse. Around the time of the eclipse, I remember watching footage of a news clip from the last solar eclipse in North America. It dated all the way back to February, 1979 and it happened to mention that the next one would not be until August 21, 2017. I was struck by the precision of it all. God has made this universe to operate in an extremely ordered and regular fashion. The next solar eclipse visible from North America will be April 8, 2024. This goes to show how everything happens exactly according to the plan of God.
This Christmas season as we celebrate the first Advent of Christ, remember that we serve a God who is never early, never late, but only ever right on time. Scripture also tells us there will be a second Advent when Jesus will return in glory (Acts 1:11). Yet again, this will happen in “the fullness of time,” and according to the sovereign plan of God. May we rejoice and celebrate the wonder of His coming this Christmas season.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
Our sons John (age 6) and Jeremiah (age almost 4) love to play. From the moment they wake up in the morning until the moment we tuck them into bed, they are consumed with play. When they are not actually playing…..they are thinking about play. Of course, this “play” mindset is realized in a number of different ways. They play with their toys, they play with one another, they play outside, they play with other friends, and they even play with their older sisters.
You are probably not surprised by this – they could be classified as typical boys, especially for their age. We might add that this desire for play is healthy and can even stimulate growth and development. Now, I have to qualify this because they are not always able to satisfy their appetite for play (Mom and Dad have something to do with this). But when they have the opportunity to play, it’s always a no-brainer….they play. It’s safe to say that this desire totally dominates their lives.
As I pondered this all-consuming desire in my boys, it got me thinking. What should consume us as Christians? Where should our minds be set? Not surprisingly, Scripture gives us insight into these questions. Consider the following verses:
Colossians 3:1-2:“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Romans 8:5: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”
Philippians 4:8-9: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
In contrast, Paul says that those who are enemies of the cross have their minds set on earthly things (Philippians 3:18-19). One Biblical example is Demas, who is mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:10. Paul explains that he “loved this present world” and ended up deserting the great apostle.
Just to summarize, there is a Christian way to think. We should have our minds set on heaven, the Lord Jesus, the Spirit, and things that are noble and worthy of praise. To set our minds on “earthly things” will only lead us in the wrong direction, and not in the direction of deeper intimacy with Christ.
Another passage that deals with this subject is Mark 7:21-23 where Jesus says, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” This verse well describes the fruit of the unredeemed soul. These “evil thoughts” eventually lead to the catalogue of sins mentioned here and even more. But for the one who is in right relationship with Christ, slowly but surely, their minds and their hearts begin to reflect the heart of God. This is what we should be striving for.
When was the last time you took inventory of your thought life? If you do this honestly and soberly, it will be a painful experience. The number of thoughts and go through our minds each day is staggering. If all those thoughts were somehow broadcast for everyone else to see, I am sure they would embarrass us. But remember, the goal is for our thoughts to increasingly reflect God’s thoughts. We will not reach sinless perfection this side of heaven (Philippians 3:12), but we can grow and mature in our faith. Clearly, we need God’s grace and power in this endeavor (James 4:6) but there is hope. Change is possible!
My counsel is to look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), the One who never had a bad thought in his earthly life. His consuming passion was to bring glory to His Heavenly Father and live in obedience to His will. You will fail as you strive to progress in your sanctification, but look to the One who has never failed, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will give you grace in your time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
It has always been true that as the family goes, so goes the culture. We shouldn’t be surprised then that our culture is in disarray. People don’t value marriage today much less see its significance. And with the decline of marriage, so too has the culture fallen into shambles. In view of this, Christians must continually be reminded of the blessing and purpose of marriage. Marriage was designed by God and is hugely consequential. If we are going to see renewal and revival in the church and in the culture as a whole, it must start with the family. It must start with husband and wife being faithful and obedient to God’s Word.
Here are 10 purposes of marriage. I will let the Scriptures speak for themselves.
- Companionship: “Then the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” (Amos 3:3).
- Enjoyment: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4).
- Completeness: “And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man (Adam) said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:22-24).
- Fruitfulness or Procreation: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28). “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed” (Psalm 112:1-2).
- Protection: The husband is to protect the wife by laying down his life for her. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). The wife is to protect the home. “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3-5).
- Typify Christ and the Church: Marriage is to be a human picture or object lesson of the divine relationship between Christ and believers. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).
- Sanctification: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3) It will be readily acknowledged that living in close proximity with another person has a way of exposing our warts and bumps and bruises (in short, our sin). We see our own pride and selfishness in ways we can’t when isolated. God can and will use this to make us more like Jesus and to give us victory over indwelling sin.
- Support and Trust: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil….a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,12). “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain” (Proverbs 31:10-11).
- Mutual Honor and Respect: “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7). “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).
- The Glory of God: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). This is the goal of everything, including marriage.
“My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” So wrote Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), an influential Scottish pastor of his time. If you were to survey pastors today and ask them this simple question: “what do you think the greatest need of your congregation is?” I suspect you would get a whole host of different answers, and few would have anything to do with personal holiness.
Admittedly, it is tough to write on a subject such as personal holiness. I know my own sins better than anyone else. I often find myself returning to the words of Paul to his young apprentice, Timothy. The pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) are a goldmine of rich instruction, especially for young ministers. The last verse of 1 Timothy 4 is one such example. “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16) Another example is 2 Timothy 2:22, which says, “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart.”
Being a Dad, my kids are quick to point out when they see me teaching something or correcting them for something I don’t actually do myself. In all reality, I am going to be a much better Dad if my life actually aligns with my teaching. Maybe you have heard the saying, “do as I say but not as I do” before. We can chuckle at that, but if that is what we are advocating in our parenting or in our pastoring, then we have a serious problem. When a pastor is humble and striving for holiness, there is a much better chance his people will actually listen to him. On the other hand, when his lifestyle does not match his teaching, there is a good chance his people will tune him out.
Kevin DeYoung is right when he says, “My congregation needs me to be humble before they need me to be smart. They need me to be honest more than they need me to be a dynamic leader. They need me to be teachable more than they need me to teach at conferences.” No doubt pastors face a lot of pressure. There are a number of different expectations that keep pastors busy these days. My recommendation is place one expectation on yourself that trumps all others – a commitment to personal holiness. Before you can effectively “make disciples,” you must be a disciple. If you fail to walk closely with the Lord and “keep in step with the Spirit,” (Galatians 5:25) you will soon lose your ability to minister to others. No pastor wants that, and no church wants that for their pastor.
What a great reminder this is from Mr. M’Cheyne. As Pastors we ought to be committed to preaching the Word, loving the people, being men of prayer, and training and discipling new believers. But if we desire to have a fruitful and effective ministry, then it must start with our own personal holiness. Integrity, godliness, and holiness of life serve as the foundation for all spiritual leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-7). If we get sloppy and try to cut corners and neglect our own walk with the Lord, we are bound for trouble. We may even find ourselves disqualified from leadership. This has happened countless times and it often has a devasting effect on the pastor’s family and his church.
Pastoral ministry is a high calling – a very high calling! We must constantly pray for the grace of God while at the same time keep in mind that our aim is to please the one who enlisted us, the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3). If He has truly called you, He will give you the moral integrity and the grace you need to be about the care of souls. “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). Glory be to God!
I once read the story of a pastor who was invited to debate an atheist. The pastor agreed to debate on one condition – that the atheist would bring 50 people who had been transformed by being atheists. The pastor in turn would bring 50 people who had been transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. As you may have guessed, the atheist admitted he would not be able to find that many people impacted by rejecting Christian theism.
As you seek to give an answer for the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:15), please don’t forget about the power of testimony. A great example of this is the blind man who was healed by Jesus. Like him, we can confidently say, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). It is only Jesus Christ who has the power to transform and heal our sin-sick lives.
As Christians, we must present a rational defense of the Christian faith. But lets also remember that there is a place for testimony in our apologetics. No one has ever been transformed by rejecting the existence of God. But millions upon millions of people have been transformed by the rescuing power of Jesus Christ. As the Scriptures remind us, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). Friend, if you are truly “in Christ” then the world is going to take notice. May we strive to be the kind of people God has called us to be in His Word.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Last month Queen Elizabeth II met with President Trump for the first time. This was the 12th president that she has met with during her remarkably long reign (incidentally, the only president she didn’t meet with was Lyndon Johnson). During her 66 year reign, the Queen has met with countless other Presidents, Prime Ministers, world leaders, and dignitaries, and she will probably meet with many more depending on how much longer she lives.
The name “Queen Elizabeth II” is known and loved all over the world. She will go down in history as a great Queen, but the thing we need to keep in mind is he is just a woman. She is just a human being. It is well known that the Queen has faced family problems down through the years. Those who are closest to the Queen would acknowledge that she has personal struggles, just like you and me. And at the root of it all is the fact that the Queen is a sinner in desperate need of the grace of God.
Down through the ages, there have been men and women like the Queen – not many, but a few. They were great leaders and they had names that were revered and esteemed and praised. But as Christians, we know that there is one name that stands alone. There is One Name that is the name above all names! And that is the name of Jesus. Listen to how the apostle Paul explains in in Philippians 2.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Why do we bow down before Jesus?
We bow down and worship because He is Lord. We bow down and worship because He has the name that is above every name. We bow and down and worship because He is worthy of all our praise, honor, and adoration. We bow down and worship because He is the Savior and Redeemer of all His people.
Jesus, Jesus Jesus, sweetest name I know…….