Like Father, Like Son: How God Uses Parenting to Teach Us

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Being a father has been a big learning experience for me. Seven years ago when the Lord blessed Steph and I with twin daughters, I never dreamed all that God would teach us. Indeed, children are a wonderful blessing in many ways, but one of the surprises was that I have learned much about God and our relationship with Him just through being a parent. Here are a couple lessons.

 

One of the things I often hear around our home are the words, “Daddy play with me!” It used to just be our older son John, but now that Jeremiah has started to talk, I hear it from both of them. Obviously, I enjoy playing with my kids, but at times is can be a tad overwhelming. For example, in the mornings when I am trying to get off to work and the boys want to play, I often feel torn. I want to play with them, but I know I have responsibilities to attend to. Not long ago, I was reflecting on this and I asked myself, “why do they want to play with me so much? Can’t they just play by themselves?” As I thought about this, it occurred to me that it is only natural for sons to want to be with and play with their father. Families that are healthy naturally want to spend time together – that’s just how it works (see Malachi 4:6). Parents are going to want to spend time with their kids, and kids are going to want to spend time with their parents.

 

The lesson that I learned from this (and continue to learn) is that it is only natural for Christians to desire to spend time with their heavenly Father. It is unfortunate that even as Christians we often we get distracted with other lesser things, and frankly, don’t desire to be with our Father. These distractions can be a huge hindrance to our growing closer to God. Another thing to keep in mind are the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:1-2: “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” In the same way that children are master imitators, so too should we strive to imitate God and His Son Jesus Christ.

 

Let me share with you another lesson. When you look at your kids, you can’t help but see lots of similarities. When I look at all four of our kids, I see things that mirror myself and Steph in them. Of course, there are differences, but there are resemblances and similarities that I marvel at. These include physical, emotional, and personality characteristics that indicate a definite family resemblance. I remember one time when we still lived in New York state and my parents were visiting for the first time. My Dad and I were attending our monthly men’s breakfast and as all the guys saw my Dad and I come in, their faces said it all. It was kind of like, “Wow, they really look alike!” I am sure you are not at all surprised by this. It has always been true that the closer parents and children look, the more similarities they are going to see.

 

In the very first chapter in the Bible, we are told that man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This astounding truth is often glossed over by readers, but think about it for a minute. The Creator God, the One who is Lord of Heaven and Earth…..has made us in His own image! Now, we need to keep in mind that after the Fall of man (Genesis 3), our status as image-bearers has been marred because of sin. That’s not to say it is gone for good, but the Fall had devastating, far-reaching consequences. The good news is that for those who are in Christ, the image of God is being restored and remade in us. Let me quote from Paul once again: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10). Ask yourself, are you growing in grace? Are you growing in godliness? In other words, if you are a Christian, is there a clear family resemblance between you and your Heavenly Father? Scripture tells us that God is working to make his children “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3-4), and conform us more and more to the image of Christ. In this we rejoice.

 

I could share with you more lessons that I have learned or had reinforced just through being a parent. No doubt the lessons will continue. Even though child rearing is tough at times, children are a huge blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3) and God uses this relationship to teach us about Himself. May we be ever more attentive.

 

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)

 

A Review of “The Shepherd’s Treasure”

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Over the past few years, Stephane and I had heard about Elf on the Shelf, mostly through Facebook. It looked like a neat idea, but we chose not to participate. Then in November 2016, Stephane became aware of The Shepherd’s Treasure, which was being branded as an alternative to Elf on the Shelf. We thought, why not give it a try? The package arrived in the mail late in November and our first task was to name our Shepherd – we went with the name David. The kids also got to enjoy the book that came with the package. One highlight for the kids was that each page had a hidden verse on it – they loved trying to spot that hidden verse.

 

Our official journey began on December 1st. We had already briefed the kids that when they woke up in the morning, they would be searching for the shepherd. Each day had a certain theme, and it was always based upon a bible verse. Here is how the website explains how it all works: “Your Shepherd travels in search of Jesus each night while your kids sleep. After bedtime, find creative and fun ways for your Shepherd to continue his journey….On Christmas morning, your Shepherd will find Baby Jesus! Place your Shepherd and Baby Jesus together somewhere extra special. Your children will find their Shepherd kneeling before the greatest Treasure of all time: Jesus!”

 

So…..25 days after it all started, the journey culminates on Christmas morning when the shepherd finds baby Jesus. One of the things we really liked about Shepherds Treasure is that you can make it your own. While the creators of Shepherds Treasure give you instructions and guidance, you put as much into it as you want. Steph and I chose to keep things fairly simple. We never felt like we had the time or energy to go all out, but even in keeping it simple, the kids really enjoyed it.

 

We only ever missed 2 days (sleeping in both times) but you won’t have that problem if you hide your shepherd the night before instead of doing in the morning, before the kids get up like we often did. The best part of Shepherd’s Treasure is that it is focused on Christ and is saturated with Scripture. We tried to use each day’s Scripture verse as an opportunity to talk about Christ. By all means, be creative and make it fun for your kids, but don’t forget the true meaning of Christmas. There is a great need for parents to explain the importance of the gospel and the incarnation of Christ. The Bible verses used in this activity are a good starting point, but they must be reinforced over and over again. Shepherds Treasure was not designed to replace daily times of family worship, but it is a fun activity that your kids will enjoy and it can serve as a supplement to your times of family worship.

 

I would recommend giving The Shepherd’s Treasure a try. If you are interested, it’s a good idea to purchase your kit sooner rather than later, as it seems to go in and out of stock pretty quickly.  

The Battle Against Envy in Ministry

You have probably heard the 10th commandment before. The short version reads: “You shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17). We all know what this means – be content with what you have and don’t envy your neighbor for what God has given him. We know this but I think we would all admit it can be hard to follow through on. My wife and I have four youngsters and we see envy up close and personal every day. One child has a toy and the other child wants it so he steals the toy. This doesn’t surprise us when it comes from a child, but how often do we “mature” Christians struggle with this same sin? Even pastors, if we were honest, would admit that we too struggle with envy at times. As we encounter fellow pastors with larger churches, the sin of envy is always lurking nearby.

 

I sometimes remind our congregation to pray for myself and our elders. We are, after all, fallen sinful men right in the middle of our own sanctification. Just because God has appointed us to lead and shepherd does not mean we don’t still struggle with sin, including envy. As John Brown (1830-1922) said to one of his ministerial pupils who was newly ordained: “I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will be mortified that your congregation is very small in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment seat, you will think you have had enough.” (Cited from Mark Dever’s “The Church”)

 

Small church pastors (like myself) can be prone to this, but I have learned that large church pastors also struggle with envy and covetousness. There is always someone with a bigger, more fruitful church that we can compare ourselves to. Brown’s words are particularly helpful because they remind us that we will all give an account before the Lord. The writer of Hebrews tells us “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). One day, every pastor-shepherd will stand before God and give an account as to how he led, fed, cared for, and protected the flock God entrusted to him. Whether your church is 50, or 500, or 5000, the responsibility is monumental. This is why the “numbers” measuring stick is not always the best (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

 

The business of soul-care has eternal ramifications. This is what makes pastoral ministry so challenging but at the same time so rewarding. Rather than focusing on how big our friend’s church is (and how small your church is), may we commit ourselves to pray for our fellow brethren in the ministry. Rejoice in how God is blessing and working in your friend’s church and remember that he desperately needs your prayers and support, just as you need his. Along with that, renew your commitment to care for the flock of God entrusted to you. This is a stewardship like no other stewardship, and only the deepest commitment to God and His people will do.

64 Years in Ministry and Counting….

I have been privileged to be a pastor for about 9 years. In the first church I served at, my tenure lasted about 4 years. The second tenure lasted about 3.5 years and now I am serving as pastor of a third local church. Surprisingly, my experience as a pastor is not unique. It does seem short, but statistics tell us that the average pastoral tenure lasts about 3.6 years. To state the obvious, that’s not very long and this illustrates the unfortunate state of pastoral longevity today.

 

It was not always this way. One of my hero’s of the faith, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), grew up during a time where long pastorates were the norm. His grandfather Solomon Stoddard pastored the same church for over 55 years. His father Timothy Edwards pastored the same church for over 60 years. And had he not been forced to resign from his church after (only) 23 years, it’s safe to assume Jonathan Edwards would have served till the time of his death, just like his father and grandfather and the majority of pastors in Puritan New England. The relationship between pastor and church was kind of like a marriage – “till death do us part” was the idea. That is not to say there was never conflict, but there was a long-term commitment that was virtually unbreakable. In the three centuries since, the pastoral landscape has changed dramatically.

 

Over the past few months I have gotten to know a man by the name of Dave Lewis. Dave is a kind and humble man who loves to golf and I am told is quite competitive. Dave is a fellow pastor and when we met one morning at a local MacDonald’s I asked Dave, “How long have you served at your church?” I knew he was an older gentleman but his answer still blew me away…. 64 years! Dave started serving at Bald Eagle Alliance Church in Osceola Mills, PA way back in 1953, not long after he had graduated from Bible College. While a lot has changed during that time, and countless pastors (including me) have transitioned to other churches, Dave has stayed put. From what I can tell, he doesn’t have any retirement plans, even though he is now 87 years old.

 

I was curious so I asked Dave what the secret of his longevity was. He answered, “the grace of God and the will of God.” His simple answer hints at a profound truth. It is not God’s will for every pastor to spend his entire ministry at one church. However, in the case of Dave, God ordained that he would have a lifetime ministry at one local church. Such a long ministry was only possible through the sustaining grace of God.

 

As we continued to talk, Dave spoke to the need of every pastor to read good books and even mentioned a few authors by name. “Read Bunyan, Newton, Spurgeon, and above all Tozer” he said. Dave talked about the early days of his ministry when he heard A.W. Tozer preach on several occasions. Ever since Tozer’s death in the 1960’s, he has drunk deeply of Tozer’s works and it was almost as if he knew Tozer like a close friend. Pastor Dave is a voracious reader of Christian classics and he encouraged me in that same direction.

 

There were a few other things that pastor Dave counseled me on that are worth mentioning. Prayer for him is the “power house” of the ministry. Of course, he was simply echoing what Charles Spurgeon and many others have said before him. Having a focus on prayer is absolutely vital when it comes to maintaining a long and fruitful ministry. He also spoke to the need of every pastor to immerse himself in Scripture. While there are plenty of good titles and good authors (such as the above mentioned), there is no substitute for the Word of God.

 

When I asked Dave to tell me about his church, he had nothing but good things to say about his people. “They are the most loving and gracious people a pastor could ever ask for,” he said. Even after all these years, there was still a love affair between the pastor and his people. I have been around long enough to know that this is unique and I found Dave’s words concerning his congregation to be refreshing and encouraging. Perhaps the thing that I found most remarkable about Pastor Dave is that there is still a fire in his belly that drives him. As he shared about what he was preaching and teaching on in the coming week, there was clearly a passion and excitement. It seemed as though he couldn’t wait to share the riches that he had discovered from his study of God’s word. Even after 64 years of preaching the Word and shepherding the flock, the fire has not dimmed.

 

If you tried to look up Dave on the internet, you would find that he does not have a web presence of any sort. His church doesn’t have a website, he does not have a blog, nor does he have a twitter following. Dave is what we would call “old school” but I believe he is a model worth following and one that is all but lost in our day and age. Pease understand I am not here to put Dave on a pedestal. When I asked him about doing a little write-up on him, he was very hesitant to agree, not just because he is a humble man, but because he is aware of his own sin and shortcomings. Dave doesn’t want anyone to look to him or to any other man. Rather he would have us look to Christ (Isaiah 45:22) and His power to save. As the psalmist puts it, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1).

 

Far too many pastors start off wanting to be the next John Piper or Tim Keller or some other famous pastor. It’s fine to have good models in pastoral ministry but it is unhelpful and even detrimental to aim for ministry success from a worldly perspective. This is kingdom building of the wrong kind and it happens all the time. God is simply calling pastors to be faithful (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:1-4, John 21:15-17, 2 Timothy 4:2) and diligent (2 Timothy 1:11-12) and to serve with endurance (2 Timothy 4:6-8) knowing that one day the Lord of glory will reward them for their labors.

 

Few pastors will ever spend the entirety of their ministry at one church. Obviously, Dave Lewis is unique and I praise God for his life and ministry and the example that he has given us. Many others have served well over the years, and perhaps you have heard of them and are aware of their ministries, but it is a safe bet that most are unknown to the world, except for the people and communities they serve. We can praise God for these faithful men, however, if you are looking for the best model to follow, look no further that the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate “good shepherd” (John 10:11) who lays his life down for the sheep. Every pastor should strive to emulate him and serve in the grace and wisdom that only He can give.

 

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The Not So Hidden Treasure That Is Christ

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A couple weeks ago, our family vacationed at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and of course, we had a great time. One morning, Steph and I up were up early doing devotions and enjoying a spectacular sunrise when we saw a funny sight. A guy with a metal detector was walking very slowly and was clearly searching for treasure on the beach. If you are a beach-goer, you will know that seeing that kind of thing on the beach is not out of the ordinary. It’s pretty common actually, but what struck me was that he was headed in the direction of the rising sun. Now, anytime you can see a sunrise, it is amazing (see Psalm 19:4b-6). We often take it for granted, but it is even more amazing when you see it rising over the ocean, like we did that morning. We had a most remarkable backdrop, but it was almost as if he missed it. He was searching for little gadgets and trinkets that might be worth something, but missed something truly priceless.

 

Now, if you are one of those people who like to use your metal detector to find hidden treasure, don’t hear me the wrong way. Don’t give up your hobby. Keep enjoying what you do and maybe you will strike it rich some day….lol. There is obviously nothing wrong with what that guy on the beach was doing. It is just a hobby that he (along with thousands of other people) does and enjoys. But for me this served as an illustration pertaining to our value system. We all have values. There are things that we value greatly while there are other things we don’t value at all. You have heard the saying, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” I’ve said to people before, “why would you spent that much money on that thing?” I’ve had other people say the same to me. In the study of economics, this is called “The Subjective Theory of Value.” That is a fancy title but it has to do with a rather simple concept – values are subjective and not objective. In other words, one person places more value on certain things than another person and vice versa.

 

As Christians, however, we recognize that there values that are beyond the category of subjective. As we study the Scriptures, we come to see that we must align our value system with God’s value system. We must love the things He loves and hate the things He hates. We must treasure what He treasures and forsake what He forsakes. The apostle Paul wrote, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10). What this tells us is that not everything is subjective. There is an objective value system that is beyond question. It’s not about – I like this and you like that. No, it is more like – God values this and therefore, that trumps our subjective opinions. Just like that, we have moved from a subjective value system to an objective value system and that transition happens through Holy Scripture. God’s word shows us what is truly valuable, excellent, praiseworthy, lovely, commendable, etc (see Philippians 4:8).

 

In the gospels, there are a couple of short parables that illustrate what I am saying. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46). In the ancient world, there weren’t banks like we have today. Often people would gather up their treasures and valuables, dig a hole, and leave them there for safekeeping. Eventually, they would go the way of the world and die, with no one knowing where the buried treasure lay. Fast forward a few decades or even centuries later, and perhaps someone would be working in the field, planting their crops when….you guessed it….they stumble upon the buried treasure. That is the basic idea with the first parable and the second is related.

 

Friend, if you knew the secret of hidden treasure what would you do to acquire it? What lengths would you go in order to lay claim to that treasure? I want you to know that the greatest treasure in all the world is the Lord Jesus Christ. To find Him is to find life itself (John 14:6). What is so amazing is that Jesus has not hid himself from us (Romans 10:6-13) but has revealed himself in a most remarkable way. He has made Himself available to all who would call upon His name.

 

Getting back to my opening illustration, the sun serves as a pointer to the Son – the Son of Righteousness. How sad to think that there are scores of people who are searching for treasure in this world when the greatest treasure is right there in front of them – the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

 

We live in a world with a very skewed value system. We value and treasure the things of the world (what the Bible calls transient and passing away), while laying aside that which is of infinite value, namely Christ Himself. Like the sun rising over the ocean, Christ is in no way hiding himself from us. Through His spoken Word and through the created world, God has revealed Himself most clearly and unmistakably. The question is, do we have eyes to see and hearts that are willing to receive the One who is more beautiful, more glorious, more excellent than anyone or anything? Of course, that question remains to be answered.

 

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17).

A Word to Pastors….Read Good Books!

Last week I had the privilege of leading a group of 20-25 pastors and their wives in a time of learning and fellowship. The topic I chose to speak on was that of Reading Good Books. Typically, most pastors have a reputation for reading a lot, as well we should. But more often than not, our busy schedules tend to crowd out time for reading. This should not be. No doubt ministry can be demanding and challenging, but pastors must find time to read good books.

Let me say up front that first and foremost, the pastor is a man of one book – the Bible. There is no substitute for immersing yourself in Scripture and drinking deeply from the fountain of God’s Word. As the Psalmist puts it, “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). Day and night, night and day, the pastor feeds and nourishes his soul with the manna of God’s Word. He does so not simply for his own relationship with the Lord, but also that he might feed the flock of God (John 21:15-17, 1 Peter 5:2) and supply them with the nourishment they so desperately need. Just to reiterate, the pastor is a man of the Book – God’s Book.

Having said that, it is vital for the pastor to surround himself with other books that aid him in better understanding God’s word. I have in mind books like biblical commentaries and books on biblical theology and such. Obviously, those are not the only books you should read, but they should make up an important part of your reading diet. We are all going to gravitate towards different kinds of books, but strive to ensure that the books you read challenge you, point you to Christ and His glory, and broaden your understanding of Scripture.

Reading is perhaps not as difficult as we think. John Piper breaks it down this way: “Suppose you read slowly, say about 250 words a minute (as I do). This means that in twenty minutes you can read about five thousand words. An average book has about four hundred words to a page. So you could read about twelve-and-a-half pages in twenty minutes. Suppose you discipline yourself to read a certain author or topic twenty minutes a day, six days a week, for a year. That would be 312 times 12.5 pages for a total of 3,900 pages. Assume that an average book is 250 pages long. This means you could read fifteen books like that in one year.”Later on Piper quotes John Stott, who suggests a minimum of one hour per day. “Many will achieve more. But the minimum would amount to this: every day at least one hour; every week one morning, afternoon or evening; every month a full day; every year a week. Set out like this, it sounds very little. Indeed, it is too little. Yet everybody who tries it is surprised to discover how much reading can be done within such a disciplined framework. It tots up to nearly six hundred hours in the course of a year.” (both quotations from: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, 2002)

Let me also suggest that is not so much about the quantity that you read, as it is the quality of books that you read. As Piper and Stott tell us, read as much as you can, but strive to read the best of the best – what we would call “the classics.” Strive to read those books that have proven themselves to be of tremendous help to their readers. The logic goes something like this – if we are already short on time (which all pastors seem to be) then why not read what is going to be most edifying and beneficial to yourself and to your people. This approach is admittedly pragmatic, but Scripture calls us to “make the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).

The other day I met a man by the name of Dave Lewis. Pastor Lewis has been a minister of the gospel for several decades now and he noted that he was a ‘friend’ of Tozer. A.W. Tozer died back in the 60’s so at first I was a little confused, but then I quickly realized what he meant. Having read so much of the writings of Tozer, he considered him a friend. As pastors, we should all have those trusted friends, whether dead or alive (often the dead friends are the best), that we often consult. There are a lot of great books out there and we must be disciplined enough to read some of them. Better yet, many of them. As the saying goes…leaders are readers. Truly, reading is an absolute must for the preacher of the gospel and therefore we must endeavor to set aside time every day for this important practice. Happy reading!

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The Same Old Glorious Message

Ever since Christmas, we have been slowly working our way through Matthew’s gospel as a congregation. Let me tell you, this has been a lot of fun for me. After spending much of my early ministry jumping around from passage to passage and doing one mini-series after another, I have greatly enjoyed digging deep into Matthew’s gospel. This past week, while preaching from 4:12-17, I noticed a similarity between Jesus and John the Baptist. Matthew tells us in 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’” This was the exact same message that John preached (see Matthew 3:2).

 

Granted, while this is nothing mind-blowing, it offers us a simple, yet power lesson. Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul and all the apostles, and the great saints of old all preached the same message. Of course, Jesus would expand on this message, but from the beginning of His ministry to the very end, He had one theme – repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! As preachers and Christian leaders, we must let this be our theme too.

 

The apostle Paul puts it this way in Galatians 2:6-7: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” This reminds us that there is only one gospel, and those who are faithful to the truth preach that same message. To distort the gospel is to deny the gospel.

 

There is a push today in our modern world to be innovative and flashy and cutting-edge. I know of one pastor who said that every three years they had a “new church” because he was constantly innovating and trying to appeal to our ever-changing world. I am not going to deny that in some ways, change can be helpful and even necessary (ie: how we use technology), but if the change involves compromising the message, then you have a serious problem. Pastors can be tempted to scratch those “itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3) all around us, but we must always resist that temptation and be true to our Lord and Master.

 

All around the world, the Church of Jesus Christ is vast and varied, and pastors serve in countless ministry contexts. How remarkable to think that in the midst of such diversity we all preach the same message….the gospel. May we be faithful to proclaim that glorious message till our dying breath. Like Paul, may we be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown or righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8

 

“For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 2:17