A Life-Changing Sentence in Deuteronomy

When was the last time you started a Bible reading plan with the book of Deuteronomy?

Maybe you should. There’s a life-changing sentence in the first chapter of this historical book that we need more than ever today.

To briefly set the scene, God commanded his people to leave Horeb and enter the Promised Land. The Israelites were understandably afraid of the battle that lay ahead, but instead of bringing their fear before the Lord, they chose to murmur in their tents.

The result of their self-counsel? Their conclusion is shocking: “Because the Lord hated us, he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.” (Deuteronomy 1:27, ESV)

This Old Testament narrative couldn’t make it any clearer: we are always preaching to ourselves.

There’s something else to be said: theology is not just something we study in the academic classrooms of seminary; theology is the lens through which we examine and respond to everyday life. Our understanding of God will inescapably shape our perspective on our circumstances.

But maybe their conclusion shouldn’t be so shocking. I’m deeply persuaded that we, just like the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 1, are always asking five deeply theological questions. The way we answer them will push us toward hope or panic.

1. Is God Good?

You can rest assured that the goodness of God will confuse you. What looks good from God’s perfect eternity-to-destiny perspective doesn’t always seem good to us at street level.

2. Will God Do What He Promised?

Few questions in life are more important than this one. Since we are small and weak, since we never really know what is going to happen next, and since God calls us to do difficult, sacrificial things, we need to know that his promises are reliable.

3. Is God In Control?

In some ways, all the other questions rest on this one. God’s promises are only as trustworthy as to the extent of his control. What good is his goodness if he lacks the authority to exercise it?

4. Does God Have The Needed Power?

You will be motivated to do what you don’t have the natural ability to do when you know that God’s awesome power is with you. Confidence in God’s power produces courage in the face of weakness and enables you to admit your limits while living with courage and hope.

5. Does God Care About Me?

Perhaps this is the question we’re most conscious of, but the Bible never debates God’s care; it assumes and declares it. God’s care is foundational. It lets me know that all that he is, he is for me.

What are you preaching to yourself? What are you saying to you about the goodness, promises, control, power, and care of God?

As you ask these questions, remember that he is so rich in grace that he will never turn a deaf ear to your cries.

God bless,

Paul David Tripp

Reflection Questions

1. Read the first full chapter of Deuteronomy. What additional application can you find in the text? How does it relate to your life right here, right now?

2. Which of the five questions have you asked most recently? What prompted you to ask this question?

3. How did you answer that question? Where did your answer find its inspiration or evidence?

4. Are you murmuring in your tent? What unbiblical thoughts or beliefs are you preaching to yourself? How can you combat these with gospel truths?

5. Who do you know who is discouraged or afraid? How can you help them avoid a Deuteronomy 1:27 response? Be specific.

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Have a Healthy Fear of God

The coexistence of fear with joy and human flourishing seems to be difficult for many people to understand. Yet the psalmist says, “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). Fear and joy not only can exist at the same time, but must.

The combination of fear with joy is not limited to the Old Testament; the New Testament is full of warning passages directed at Christians (or at least those who have every outward indication of being saved) which draw their motivational force from the production of fear. These warning passages exist alongside assurance passages which stress the confidence, hope, security, and joy we have in our faith.

The Fear of Fear

Nonbelievers have long mocked and rejected the role of fear in Christian teaching and proclamation. Bertrand Russell famously focused on fear in his critique of Christianity in the early 20th century. He argued that, “Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. . . . Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion has gone hand-in-hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things.”

Christians likewise seem terribly afraid of fear. We want to stress motivation from positive emotions such as love and gratitude, and tend to be very uncomfortable with any use of fear appeals to motivate conversion or growth in holiness. Such fear of fear, however, comes at a cost, and the warning passages throughout Scripture suffer neglect or interpretive abuse as a result.

Many Christian leaders seem determined to convince their hearers that they should never experience any emotional discomfort when contemplating God’s holiness, justice, and judgment; “the fear of the Lord” is always understood to mean respect or awe and never, we are told, indicates that we should actually be afraid of God.

Divine Threats

This avoidance of fearful exhortation directed towards believers and unbelievers based on the reality of God’s holy and just judgment was not shared by the authors of the Bible. There is no space to explore the many warning passages, but we can briefly consider several direct threats from Jesus through John to his church in the book of Revelation.

Ephesus: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5).

Pergamum: “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:16).

Thyatira: “Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works” (Revelation 2:22).

Sardis: “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you (Revelation 3:3).

Laodicea: “I will spit you out of my mouth. . . . So be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:1619).

John did not follow up on these threats by assuring his hearers that they didn’t really apply, weren’t really severe, or didn’t mean what they seemed to mean. He doesn’t seem worried about potential emotional discomfort; fear producing threats were necessary to wake up and shake up the Christians and motivate them to repentance, perseverance, and faithfulness.

So how do we reconcile the biblical use of fear appeals and threats with our widespread cultural conviction that such rhetoric should be rejected? Recent research by argumentation theorists on the evaluation of threats in argumentation points to several points for evaluation.

Legitimate Threats

The context is key for determining whether a threat is appropriate. For example, if a salesman concludes his sales pitch by threatening to punch you in the face if you don’t buy his vacuum cleaner, the context would suggest the threat is inappropriate. Likewise, you would not want to conclude a marriage proposal with a threat. But threats are appropriate in other contexts. An academic dean can threaten a student with expulsion for plagiarism and a judge can threaten to take away your license for drunk driving. The legitimacy of a threat depends upon the context and whether the threatener has legitimate authority.

The Bible reveals a God who is sovereign and powerful, the ultimate legitimate authority. Since he is our Creator, we belong to him and he has every right to command, threaten, and judge. This reality is, of course, offensive and contrary to ideas of ultimate human autonomy and self-determination. We want to be in charge, and we want to determine for ourselves what we should and shouldn’t do, but such aspirations don’t align with reality or human capacity. We will always fail when trying to play God; our frail human bodies weren’t built for that.

Threatened by Love

A legitimate authority can still be critiqued for the inappropriate, overbearing, or cruel use of threats, but at this point the character and intentions of the threatener become very important. Is the threatener cruel, vindictive, arbitrary, and reckless or loving, caring, and kind? What does the threatener intend by the threat? Does he intend to humiliate, manipulate, and harm or does he intend the threat to lead to well-being, wholeness, and flourishing?

God’s love for us in our brokenness and sin is a major theme throughout the Bible. While we were still weak, unrighteous sinners, God demonstrated his love for us through Jesus’s death on our behalf (Romans 5:8). God’s love for rebellious and broken humanity motivated him to send his Son to rescue us (John 3:16). God intends his warnings and threats to motivate us to repentance, perseverance, and growth in holiness — this is the way to shalom, wholeness, and human flourishing. Rejection of sin and pursuit of holiness leads to a life increasingly free from debilitating addictions and the sin that dehumanizes and destroys.

Living with Fear and Joy

Healthy fear and joy in the God of our salvation not only can go together, but must. We will never find joy in God while willingly and habitually living in unconfessed sin.

I don’t find the motivation to flee temptation and sin by assuring myself that sin isn’t dangerous or that my choices don’t matter; motivation comes, in part, by recognizing the terrible danger that sin poses, even for Christians. This fear, however, is not debilitating or destructive; it motivates us to cling closer to Christ in desperate and persevering faith and trust. Such constant dependence through faith produces an unspeakable and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8).

Alexander Stewart is academic dean and associate professor of New Testament language and literature at Tyndale Theological Seminary in Badhoevedorp, the Netherlands.

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Spurgeon's Top 4 New Year's Resolutions

Article by Brandon Freeman

Charles Spurgeon preached at least 14 sermons about the New Year in his 38 years at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Though many themes arise in his comments, belief is as pervasive as any.

“Oh, to believe from January to December!”

Spurgeon prayed and called for belief in every New Year's sermon—for Christians and non-Christians. He hoped that the New Year would bring forth the new mercy of the new birth.

“I pray God that a new year may not be begun by you in sin, but may God begin with you at the fall of the year, and bring you now to know his power to save.”

“Ere yet the midnight bell proclaims the birth of a new year, may you be born to God: at any rate once more shall the truth by which men are regenerated be lovingly brought under your attention.”  

“If this New Year shall be full of unbelief, it will be sure to be dark and dreary. If it be baptized into faith, it will be saturated with benediction. If we will believe our God as he deserves to be believed, our way will run along the still waters, and our rest will be in green pastures. Trusting in the Lord, we shall be prepared for trials, and shall even welcome them as black ships laden with bright treasures.”

Spurgeon's New Year's Resolutions

On the last evening of 1891 and first morning of 1892, Spurgeon gave two brief addresses. He hadn’t preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in several months because of sickness. He was a month away from death. In reflecting on 1891, he spoke about the God-intended lessons of the year, such as the “instability of earthly joys.” As friends came together again in the morning, he gazed upon the new year journey of 1892.

Spurgeon's New Year's resolutions involved seeing more than being.

“Let me tell you, in a few words, what I see as I look into the new year.”

So what did Spurgeon resolve himself to see? Here are the preacher's top four resolutions:

1. God’s Sovereignty

“I see a highway cast up by the foreknowledge and predestination of God. Nothing of the future is left to chance; nay, not the falling of a sparrow, nor the losing of a hair is left to haphazard; but all the events of life are arranged and appointed. Not only is every turn in the road marked in the divine map, but every stone on the road, and every drop of morning dew or evening mist that falls upon the grass which grows at the roadside. We are not to cross a trackless desert; the Lord has ordained our path in his infallible wisdom and infinite love.”

2. God’s Guidance

“I see, next, a Guide provided, as our companion along the way. To him we gladly say, ‘Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel.’ He is waiting to go with us through every portion of the road. ‘The Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee.’ We are not left to pass through life as though it were a lone wilderness, a place of dragons and owls; for Jesus says, ‘I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.’”

3. God’s Strength

“Beside the way and the Guide, I perceive very clearly, by the eye of faith, strength for the journey provided. Throughout the whole distance of the year, we shall find halting-places, where we may rest and take refreshment, and then go on our way singing, “He restoreth my soul.” We shall have strength enough, but none to spare; and that strength will come when it is needed, and not before…God all-sufficient will not fail those who trust him. When we come to the place for shouldering the burden, we shall reach the place for receiving the strength. If it pleases the Lord to multiply our troubles from one to ten, he will increase our strength in the same proportion….Our lamps shall be trimmed as long as they shall need to burn. Let not our present weakness tempt us to limit the Holy One of Israel. There is a hospice on every pass over the Alps of life, and a bridge across every river of trial which crosses our way to the Celestial City. Holy angels are as numerous to guard us as fallen ones to tempt us. We shall never have a need for which our gracious Father has furnished no supply.”

4. God Glorified

“One thing more, and this is brightness itself: this year we trust we shall see God glorified by us and in us. If we realize our chief end, we reach our highest enjoyment. It is the delight of the renewed heart to think that God can get glory out of such poor creatures as we are….We hope that God has been in some measure glorified in some of us during the past year, but we trust he will be glorified by us far more in the year which now begins….We wish our whole life to be a sacrifice; an altar of incense continually smoking with sweet perfume unto the Most High. Oh, to be borne through the year on the wings of praise to God.”

Only God Knows the Future

On the morning of January 1, 1892, Spurgeon confessed, “We know nothing of the events which lie before us: of life or death to ourselves or to our friends, or of changes of position, or of sickness or health.”

Though Spurgeon didn't see much of 1892, he put his trust in the fact that God knows the future. This truth blessed him and made him dependent on God in all things.

Whatever is before us in 2018, let's rest in God’s sovereignty, lean fully on God’s guidance, rely on God’s strength, and live for God’s glory. As Spurgeon said:

“Throughout this year may the Lord be with you! Amen.”

Originally published at The Spurgeon Center Blog

Brandon Freeman

Brandon Freeman is a member of Liberty Baptist and a Master of Divinity student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biblical Studies from Ouachita Baptist University. He is married to Kaylee Freeman. You can follow Brandon on Twitter at @brandon_free_. 

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A Different Kind of Profanity

Article by David Prince

What would you do if one of your children walked in your house and spoke a string of four-letter words? What would you do if one of your children walked in your house grumbling? I fear that most of us would drop everything and confront their intolerable use of four-letter words (and rightly so) but would say nothing about the grumbling or maybe say something like, "I am sorry you are having a bad day." You may say, "Yes, but the four-letter words are profanities." So is grumbling.

We tend to reason that grumbling is not a big deal because it is not actually doing anything it is simply talk. In contemporary American culture grumbling is often ingrained as a way of life and many treat it as harmless personal therapy. We tend to rename it as something like venting in order to remove the stigma. Grumbling is so habitual that we often miss the irony of our words when we stand in front of closets full of clothes and murmur that we do not have anything to wear. Or when we stand before refrigerators packed with food and say we don't have anything to eat.

In the Bible, grumbling is described as corrosive. A grumbling spirit never stays self-contained but begins to infect all aspects of life and thought with an entitlement worldview. Parents who model grumbling or treat it as acceptable when their children grumble are placing their kids in character quicksand. Grumbling and thankfulness cannot coexist. One always vanquishes the other. A grumbler becomes immune to gratitude because no matter what happens circumstances will always bump up against our personal desires.

In Exodus, the Israelites leave Egypt walking between sovereignly walled up water; then, within one month of that event the awe-inspired gratitude is erased. Why? They are thirsty (Ex 15:22-17:7). The irony that they saw the power of a God who can control the Red Sea and now a bit of thirst has them complaining should not be lost on us. Moses had courageously been used by God to confront Pharoah and lead the nation out of bondage in Egypt but now they get a bit hungry and ask him, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (Ex 16:3).

God had provided them water and he now provides them bread and quail. They are instructed to gather only as much bread as they need for each day, but not everyone obeys (Ex 16:20). When they get thirsty again and say, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" (Ex 17:3). You get the point. Grumbling vanquishes awe-inspired gratitude. Moses rightly asserts, "Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD" (Ex 16:8). The same is still true. Parents who grumble and permit their children to grumble are catechizing them in discontent with the Lord.

In the New Testament, John 6:25-59, Jesus asserts himself as the "bread of life" after his miraculous feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-15). Jesus, like Moses, provides bread and meat for the people. Jesus tells them that they are to believe in him (John 6:29). Ironically, the people who just saw an amazing sign say they require a sign to believe. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst (John 6:35). How do they respond? "So the Jews grumbled about him" (John 6:41, see also, 43, 61). The Greek word for "grumble" is "gonguzō," which actually sounds like murmuring.

Paul tells the church at Corinth not to grumble as Israel did in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:5-11). He says, "these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor 10:11). James admonishes his readers not to "grumble" against each other' (James 5:9). Likewise, Peter tells his readers to "show hospitality to one another without grumbling" (1 Pet 4:9). In Philippians, Paul exhorts the church to have the mind of Christ and reflect his self-sacrificial example on display in his incarnation and crucifixion (Phil 2:5-11). Then, one of the first applications of how to do so is, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing" (Phil 2:14).

There seems to be a vast discrepancy between the way most of us think about grumbling and how the Bible speaks of it. We are wrong, the Bible is right. Parents often fixate on grades, success, and achievement in the lives of their children. However important these things are, they are far less significant than whether or not our children become grumblers with an entitlement worldview. To profane is to treat that which is holy as common. In Christ, our very lives are holy and our words are sacred. That reality is why grumbling in the Bible is profanity.

Grumbling is doing something, something profane and corrosive. Grumbling vanquishes thankfulness and makes us insensibly immune to awe. In other words, when we grumble, we are using our words to preach hellish sermons, not holy ones--sermons for which Satan would gladly say, "Amen." May we see grumbling as profanity against God, and correct it in our lives and in the lives of our children.

About the Author: David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, and Preaching Today.

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Relying on God in Times of Desperation

Article by: Meredith Hodge

His heart pounded, his lips quivered, decay crept into his bones, and his legs trembled (Habakkuk 3:16). He was confused, angry, terrified, and desperate for relief. He cried, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2). Habakkuk, an Old Testament prophet, experienced a season of trials that seemed endless. He was desperate for relief, for change, for God to intervene. Does that sound like something you can relate to? 

I too recently felt like Habakkuk. The weight of grief, depression, and anxiety consumed me to the point where my heart pounded, my lips quivered, my legs trembled, and it felt like decay crept into my bones. My heart and flesh screamed for relief—and in my desperation, I found myself tempted to stray from the truth of God’s Word. I desired comfort above all else, but was called to rely on the Lord in my season of desperation. 

When you and I feel like there is “no hope for a harvest” (Habakkuk 3:17), when desperation distracts us from God’s truth, and when our faith is shaken, what do we do? We can learn from sufferers like Habakkuk to: 

1. Rely on God by faith

Every believer in Jesus Christ is called to a life of faith (Galatians 2:20). Faith beckons us to rejoice in the Lord and be joyful in God our Savior (Hab. 3:18). When we love and are joyful through trials, it is the ultimate demonstration of true faith. Christian faith doesn’t rest on what is seen and what is temporary—it relies on the all-sufficiency of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:18). 

In many seasons of desperation, it’s often challenging to rejoice in faith. When we feel spiritually dry and cannot pray as we ought, we can rely on God through the Holy Spirit. The Father sent us the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name, One who helps us in our weakness by interceding for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26). We can rely on him to convict, guide, help, and comfort us in and out of trials (John 14:26; Isaiah 11:2; John 16:7:15). The Spirit gives us freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17) and enables us to abound in hope (Romans 15:13). 

2. Be Honest with God

Habakkuk was far from denial regarding his situation. Through his knowledge of the Father’s character, he fueled honest prayers. He expressed himself passionately, honestly, asking “Why are you silent?” (1:13) and “Why do you tolerate wrong?” (1:3). Our Savior Jesus modeled this numerous times in his earthly walk, where it’s recorded that he prayed all night to God (Luke 6:12). We also see Christ’s honesty about his circumstances in Matthew 26, where three times he asks the Father to take the cup of suffering away from him (vv. 39, 42, 44).   

We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ and have been justified by faith (Romans 5:1). Therefore, we can freely approach him in honest prayer and with faith-filled hearts. By drawing near to and seeking him in humble prayer, we will receive a heavenly reward (Hebrews 11:6). And because our heavenly Father knows our deepest thoughts (Psalm 139:4), it is to our spiritual benefit to communicate with him honestly. Yet, we must rely on his grace, not his response

3. Rely on God’s grace

We have a warm invitation from the Creator of the universe to approach his throne of grace to find mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). By faith, we acknowledge that God is not obligated to respond to our questions or cries—but we rely on the gift of his justifying grace to us through Christ (Romans 3:24). On this side of heaven, we may never comprehend why God acts or withholds in our lives—but we can rest in the truth that his grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

James exhorts us:

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:6-10)

4. Rely on God’s Power in Christ

When you face trials, remember God’s power and love displayed through his Son Jesus (John 3:16). Christ demonstrated and fulfilled his mission to live a sinless life (1 Peter 2:22), yet we see that he also desired relief (Luke 22:42) and felt the Father’s silence (Matthew 27:46). Through his obedience and painful suffering, Christ canceled our debts through his perfect sacrifice. The marvelous truth is that pain and death were not the end for Jesus Christ—and they are not the end for you. Our all-powerful Messiah defeated death and rose to life and glory, where all who believe in him will be also. 

We can rely on Christ’s power, which has been perfected in our weaknesses and rests upon us (2 Corinthians 12:9). Christ’s power can be more clearly demonstrated through our weaknesses when we submit to his plans. He is willing and able to accomplish even greater things than we could ever do in our own strength. Like Paul, we can say, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). 

Trusting in God’s Perfect Timing

Remember, the Lord was not ignoring Habakkuk’s or Jesus’ prayers, and he does not disregard ours either. His silence is not equal to a lack of care; he works behind the scenes, where together all things work for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). By faith, we must trust in his timing. God responds to Habakkuk’s complaints by promising, “Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (2:3). And in time, we will stand in awe at what he has done (Habakkuk 3:2). 

As you rely on God’s power and grace by faith, I pray that you “stand in awe” (Habakkuk 3:2) and are “utterly amazed” (Habakkuk 1:5) as you confidently proclaim alongside Habakkuk:  

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights. (
Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV)

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Burn Your Boats: A Warning About FOMO

Article by Aimee Joseph

Columba was a sixth-century abbot who left his native Ireland with 12 men to bring the good news to the Picts, a pagan people in Scotland. The missionaries founded an abbey on Iona, which would become a vibrant center of literacy and faith for centuries to come.

But shortly after reaching Scotland in an animal-hide-wrapped wicker boat, Columba did something drastic. He knew he and his companions might be tempted to leave when life became uncomfortable or dangerous. And so, the story goes, Columba burned the boat.

After reading about this single-minded commitment, I’ve began noticing how, by contrast, I like to keep my options open, just in case.

One of the hallmarks of my generation is an aversion to commitment. We suffer perpetual FOMO (fear of missing out) and, more seriously, struggle to commit to a marriage or a career. In a world full of potential paths, we have a hard time picking one and remaining on it.

Let Me First Bury My Dad

But while the fear of commitment is trendy, it’s nothing new. Jesus himself engaged would-be disciples with similar struggles:

He said, “Follow me.” But [the man] said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” . . . Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” (Luke 9:5961).

While these requests may sound understandable, it’s helpful to know that the first man’s father may not have been dead—or even close to dead. In the culture of the day, “Let me bury my father” was often used in an idiomatic way to express, “Let me get my family and personal life in order.” Put in 21st-century terms, it might sound something like, “I’m interested in following Jesus more seriously, but first I want to find a spouse and get some traction in my career.”

One of the most common phrases I hear from would-be disciples on college campuses carries a hint of that first-century hesitation: “When I have children of my own, I’ll make Christianity a bigger part of my life.”

When called to Christ, we sometimes want to hedge our bets, to buy ourselves a little more time. But such responses—even when expressed warmly and kindly—reveal a heart not captured by the wonder that the God of the universe is personally inviting us to himself.

Don’t Look Back

Both men in Luke 9 have a desire to follow but a reluctance to commit. Jesus’s respective responses bear particular poignancy in our FOMO culture:

Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:60)

No one who puts his hands to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62)

Jesus didn’t mince words, nor did he lessen the cost of discipleship. He didn’t lower the bar or paint a rosy picture of a life spent following and proclaiming him. He didn’t alter the truth to expand his audience or make a hard pill more palatable to swallow.

Jesus was in the business of full disclosure. But he also knew the sweetness and rewards of a life centered on him would far exceed the inconvenience and discomfort.

In essence, when we decide to follow Jesus, we must burn—and keep burning!—the boat. Tensions and temptations will meet us on this path. We’ll be tempted to look back, and turn back, to an easier way of life. But from the outset, Jesus summons us to commit to him.

Burn the Boats

Columba and his crew had to burn the vessels that might have tempted them to escape back to the familiarity of kin and country. Likewise, each new disciple of Christ has a boat (or fleet of boats) that might lead back to a life more lucrative, more culturally celebrated, or simply more comfortable.

For some, a former relationship that trumped Christ is the boat that beckons backward. For others, the approval of unbelieving family continually whispers, Don’t be a religious fanatic. Loosen your grip on Christ, just a bit. Often in our money-minded culture, the boats that demand burning would drift us back to a more padded retirement fund or some financial frivolity.

Whatever their shape or style, any boats that lead us away from following Christ must be burned as often as they’re built. While this sounds overwhelming and almost impossible, remember that the One who asks for a commitment to himself, his Word, and his ways has also fully committed himself to us.

Committed to Us

Before we were born, before time was wound, the Son of God was committed. He knew he would leave it all so we could have it all in him. Even now, he gives us his Spirit to work within us, coaching, convicting, and comforting.

When we have Christ, we have not missed out on anything. We have gained everything.

By his grace and his power, may we burn the boats that might take us back to a comfortable and cross-less life. May we fix our eyes on him who has gone before us (Heb. 12:1–2). And may we find courage in his constant commitment to us: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).


Aimee Joseph works alongside her husband, G’Joe, who directs Campus Outreach San Diego. They love watching college students brought from lost to leaders through Christ in the church for the world. Parenting three little boys keeps her busy; writing on her blogand studying the Word keep her sane. She has a passion to see women trained to love God and his Word.

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What is your authority for living?

Article by Kevin Carson

The issue of what stands as your personal authority in terms of every day living is an important one. As you make countless decisions throughout your day, something will rule you. Something or someone will determine what choice you make. That person or thing is your functional authority. It could be literally anything from another person to your own feelings or opinions. For the every Christian, the final authority for our belief and behavior is the Word of God.

The following is a very helpful article from that addresses the issue of the Bible as our final authority.

Question: “What does it mean that the Bible should be our sole authority for faith and practice?”

Answer: The statement “the Bible is our only rule for faith and practice” appears in many doctrinal statements. Sometimes, it takes a similar form, stating that the Bible is “the final authority,” “the only infallible rule,” or “the only certain rule.” This sentiment, whatever the wording, is a way for Bible-believing Christians to declare their commitment to the written Word of God and their independence from other would-be authorities.

The statement that the Bible is the “only rule for faith and practice” is rooted in the sufficiency of Scripture, as revealed in 2 Timothy 3:16–17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Because God is sovereign, His Word is the absolute authority in our lives, and by it God equips us for His service. As A. A. Hodge wrote, “Whatever God teaches or commands is of sovereign authority. . . . The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only organs through which, during the present dispensation, God conveys to us a knowledge of his will about what we are to believe concerning himself, and what duties he requires of us” (Outlines of Theology, chapter 5).

When we say, “The Bible is our only rule for faith and practice,” we mean that we hold the Bible, God’s Holy Word, to be our ultimate guide for what we believe (“faith”) and what we do (“practice”). We mean that the Bible trumps man’s authority, church tradition, and our own opinions. We mean we will allow nothing that opposes God’s Word to dictate our actions or control our thinking. We mean that we agree with the Reformers’ cry of sola scriptura.

When the Bible clearly reveals a truth, we believe it with all our hearts. When the Bible clearly commands us to do something, we make sure we are doing it. For example, the Bible says that Jesus is coming back again (John 14:3Revelation 19:11–16). Since the Bible is our “only rule for faith,” we have no choice but to believe that Jesus is returning some day. Also, the Bible says that we are to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Since the Bible is our “final authority for practice,” we are bound to abstain from immorality (as defined by the Bible).

We believe following the Bible as our only rule of faith and practice is the safest position, theologically. Fidelity to Scripture keeps us from being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Ephesians 4:14). As the noble Bereans taught us (Acts 17:11), all doctrines are to be examined in light of the Bible, and only what conforms to biblical truth should be accepted.

Following the Bible is also the most sensible position, because the Word of God “is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89) and “the law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). | Walking together through life as friends in Christ sharing wisdom along the journey


Help My Unbelief

Article by Zach Barnhart

Have you experienced it before?

The ever-irksome foe named Doubt darkens your door of faith, casting a shadow over everything you have believed for much of your life. Paralyzed by the fear of what this might do to your relationship with God, and to top it off, your reputation with those who have always identified you as “Christian,” this existential crisis brings you to your knees.

You wonder, How did I get here? I didn’t want this to happen. I thought I knew what I believed.

You may not readily admit it, but you’ve probably been there. Maybe you were hurt by someone you loved within the Church and thought following Christ was supposed to look different. Maybe you read some works of Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens and their arguments became compelling to you. Or maybe it was your inability to shake a recurring sin or a lack of feeling the presence of God in your life.

Whatever the case may be, that hideous Doubt has a way about him. He sneaks into your soul to try and woo you away from the everlasting source of hope and strength.

Doubt can be a discouraging and debilitating opponent in the Christian life. We don’t like to talk about it because it feels humiliating. It’s something we’re not proud of. It feels dirty to doubt.


I remember my crisis moment. I was sitting in a stadium seat at a conference, stunned at what John Piper was unpacking in Scripture right before my eyes. That NIV with my name etched on the cover had been in my possession for years, but I had never noticed in it the things this preacher was saying.

I thought I knew who God was, but was he really this? I had professed Christ as my Lord and Savior, but is this what I meant by that? I had to do some serious searching in the days and months that followed to determine how I answered those questions.

This came at a time when I was fresh into college, and as you might have guessed, surrounded by new obstacles to faith: a philosophy professor who assigned me William James to read, and laughed out loud at my theological answers to real-world problems. A speech professor who flunked my speech defending Creationism as a viable explanation of the universe and gave an A to the girl in the class who presented a speech on evolution. Stump preachers setting up on campus to yell at the LGBT students. Varying campus ministries who put “doing life together” at the top of their values but made little room for gospel transformation. A roommate who said he was a Christian but could not have been classified as a “follower of Jesus.” And now this Piper guy wrecking my understanding of righteousness, the glory of God, and the atonement.

I had to answer for myself the question, “Who is this Son of Man?” (Jn. 12:34).

I decided to remove all the outside opinions and instead seek answers in the Word of God. I was determined to be illumined by the Spirit or find it all a ruse. I had to start from square one. “And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight” (Acts 9:18).


There was another man who wrestled with Doubt, a man with a far more gifted mind and compassionate heart than my own. His name was Francis Schaeffer.

In his exploration into the life and thought of Schaeffer, William Edgar, a friend to Schaeffer himself, outlines the crisis moment of Schaeffer’s life. It was early 1951, and during a season of everyday walking and meditation, Francis said he had to rethink “the whole matter of Christianity.”

This was coming from a man who was well-versed in nearly every world religion, every philosophical system. He could tie anyone up in their own logical fallacies like he was tying his shoes. But he was also human like the rest of us.

I imagine Schaeffer going for a walk, crying out with me in my dorm room, and the father of the child in Mark 9, “I believe. Help my unbelief!” I find great comfort in the fact that Schaeffer doubted. If he had to work out his salvation with fear and trembling, what of me? It’s not something that is wrong with me but something that is wrong with us.

As sinful fallen humans we are often tempted to disbelieve the truths about God. We are prone to forget what we know to be true about the Gospel. I share a piece of my own story and of Schaeffer’s story to demonstrate that Doubt pays us all a visit at different times and in different degrees. Even a man as “qualified” and esteemed as Francis Schaeffer faced doubts. The important thing, though, is that he didn’t allow himself to stay in his doubt. He did what was necessary to seek answers and reach a conclusion.

The solution to a struggle with doubt is first to devote yourself to prayer. In the famous “help my unbelief” passage, Jesus seems to imply in Mark 9:29 that finding growth in faith is spearheaded by a commitment to prayer. If we truly believe that Christ is our intercessor and great high priest, and that the Spirit is working to illuminate the Word of God to us, then let’s ask the Lord to reveal himself.


If you find yourself struggling with the lures of Doubt, remember these additional comforts.

Our doubt is not the fault of God, but the fault of sin. In Eden, God was present with humanity. His existence was undeniable. He was so near that it would have been impossible to doubt his presence. But since man was driven out from his presence due to sin (Gen. 3:24), we now see through a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). Sin, ultimately, is a rejection of (to borrow Schaeffer’s famous quip) “the God who is there” (see Rom. 1:19-20). Doubt happens not because God himself is doubtable, but because our minds need to be reminded of the light of the gospel.

Though we see in a mirror dimly now, there will come a day when we will see Christ face to face. Faith says, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Even a faith the size of a mustard seed can bring us hope in his coming (Mt. 17:20). Not only will our doubts be erased one day, but the doubts of all mankind will be as well. “Every knee will bow” is a wonderful refrain in Scripture (Isa. 45:23Rom. 14:11Phil. 2:10). All doubts will cease to exist one day.

Jesus never doubted, but he was tempted to. How did he respond to Satan in those moments? With memorized Scripture. There is something to this practice, especially in waging war against doubt. Remembering and rehearsing Scripture to yourself proves to be a strong weapon in the war against doubt.

When we call upon the Lord to help us in our unbelief, we should not expect “magic 8-ball confirmation.” In other words, it may not be as clear-cut and discernible an “act of God” as we may hope, but this should not drive us into despair. It should only drive us further into communion with God, time spent reading his Word, conversation with other believers, prayer, fasting, journaling, and more. This is the make-up of faith.

Don’t let Doubt isolate you from others, and most of all, from God. Leap into this glorious opportunity to grow your faith on the sword of the Spirit and the truth of Christ. Allow God to mold and shape you like clay as you seek him more through your doubts. Search for the truth in the Scriptures. His Word always has purpose and never returns void, even on you.

Zach Barnhart currently serves as Student Pastor of Northlake Church in Lago Vista, TX. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University and is currently studying at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, seeking a Master of Theological Studies degree. He is married to his wife, Hannah. You can follow Zach on Twitter @zachbarnhart or check out his personal blog, Cultivated.

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