Why is heaven called “Beulah Land?”

I was an adult before I ever heard the Squire Parson’s song, “Sweet Beulah Land.” It is a pretty song about heaven. Some of the phrases are strikingly beautiful. The first couple of lines are, “I’m kind of homesick for a country, to which I’ve never been before.” What a paradox! How can you be homesick for someplace that you have never been? I’ll tell you how… it is a place that you see with an eye of faith.
 
Abraham was described by the author of Hebrews (11:10) as “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” This phrase indicates that Abraham was not merely looking for Canaan, a promised land located on this earth. He looked forward to a city like no other, whose streets were designed and built by the Almighty. This knowledge that such a city even existed was the tangible evidence of Abraham’s faith. He could not physically perceive heaven with his eyes, but he could see it with the eyes of his heart of faith.
 
In the second verse of Sweet Beulah Land, Squire Parsons sings, “I’m looking now across the river, to where my faith shall end in sight.” This line expresses a confidence and conviction that the place that he sees with eyes of faith in the first verse is the very place he will see with his own physical eyes someday. Abraham had this confidence too. He believed that God did not call Him in vain, but that his faith would “end in sight.” 
 
Abraham’s is a faith and a confidence that we can have as well. When God transforms your heart, He makes you to long for Him and for the place He designed and built. You long for that place so much that you can see it in your heart, and He gives you so much confidence that you can just know that one day you will cross the river of death and see the place He has prepared for you. 
 
There is one question that still has not been answered though. Why does Parson’s call our promised home, Beulah Land? I read a story about how the song was written. Squire, on the way to his job as a high school music teacher, recalled a song that he had heard in church as a teenager entitled “Is Not This the Land of Beulah?” He remembered how he had gotten swept up in the song, and was humming it in his head as he topped a West Virginia mountain and caught a view of the sunrise. By the time he reached the high school, he was singing the chorus of a different song… his own song. He immediately jotted the words down on the first scrap of paper he could find. 
 
It would seem that, while the song’s lyrics might have a biblical grounding in Hebrews 11, the title “Sweet Beulah Land” was born out of nostalgia. That could be true as far as Squire Parson’s is concerned, however, we do find the term “Beulah” in the Bible. The prophet Isaiah wrote: 
 
“You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.”
 
If you read this ESV translation closely, then you will see that “Married” is capitalized. That is because it is a proper noun. The KJV and the NIV render it in the original as “Beulah.” This means that the land that God’s people look forward to is the “Married Land,” or more accurately the “Beulah Land.”
 
If you’re married, you probably remember the first home that you shared with your spouse before children and before life became so complicated. It was just you and the love of your life, and there was no place on earth you would rather be than with them. That is what heaven is like. It is a place of simplicity and happiness, where just being with the Lord takes away every sadness and every care. That is why God calls the place, “Beulah.”

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Powerful Humility

I first got really serious about serving the Lord in 2003. I started singing in the choir at our church. A little later I joined the praise band that led worship for the youth on Wednesday nights. After that, I began teaching the college and career Sunday School class. 
 
I was on fire. The joy of the Lord that comes by serving Him was the fuel for my fire and I could not get enough of it, but when I looked around at my church family, I saw that they were not serving as I was. Sadly, anger was the emotion that my disappointment stirred up in me. 
 
I could not understand how they were reading the same Bible and hearing the same sermons as me, yet they were not moved to action. I foolishly thought that the way to stir them to action was to berate them for their laziness. I thought I held all the answers. If they would just listen to what I had to say, and do what I said to do, then I could fix all that was wrong with the church and the world in general.
 
God was so patient with me during that season. Thankfully, my brothers and sisters were patient as well. I am so thankful because the grace and patience of God and my church family gave me time to grow and mature in my walk with the Lord. 
 
I began my first ministry position in the summer of 2006. On the job, God worked powerfully to soften my heart toward my brothers and sisters in Christ. I began to see them as people, like me, rather than problems that needed to be fixed. I came to the understanding that while I might be farther along in my maturity, I was no better them. I had been where they were… not following and not serving the Lord. In short, what I learned was the power of humility.
 
I learned the power of being obedient to 1 Peter 5:5, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” I got nowhere with my anger. Looking back, I see that when I acted better than everyone else, I was opposed by God. However, when I humbled myself, God gave me the grace to be a leader. When I put on humility, I saw lives changed, wounds healed, marriages saved, and people entering into the service of the Lord. 
 
The Lord has taught me so much about the power of humility in the last 12 years. For example, I learned that the key to being a leader is to have the humility to entertain the possibility that I could be wrong even when I believe that I am right. This way, I do not come across as having all the answers. I learned that I am a human being and prone to make mistakes. When I make a mistake, I own it, and when I own my mistakes, it makes an impact on the people around me. They are moved to humility as well, and they discover the power of humility for themselves. 
 
To lead with humility seems so counter-intuitive, but the same can be said with most biblical principles. Being humble requires that you dial back your confidence in yourself and turn up your confidence in the Lord. Understanding that you are not the be all and end all and the chairman of the universe actually serves to boost your self-esteem because God unleashes His grace upon the humble servant. 
 
Even Paul the Apostle learned the power of humility. “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3). Hear this, not just from an apostle, but also from a man who has experienced the grace of God that comes in response to humility. Strength comes not from thinking too highly of yourself. Instead, strength comes through sober judgment and realizing that you have not yet reached the full measure of faith. You only have the measure of faith that you have received from God, and the same goes for all the other people in your life. 
 
I encourage you to put these principles into practice in your daily life. Humility is powerful!

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A Husband’s Review of Girl Wash Your Face

Rachel Hollis’ Girl Wash Your Face (GWYF) is currently the #1 bestselling book in the country. Over 330,000 print copies have been sold since the book was published in February. It is the #3 best seller on audible and the #2 bestselling nonfiction eBook on Kindle. This book, published by Thomas Nelson, is making a huge impact on the genre of Christian nonfiction.      

GWYF has met with mixed reviews in the Christian conservative community. Some dub the book heretical and satanic and others helpful and inspiring. One thing is for sure, Christian women are flocking to the bookstores, buying GWYF, drinking it in, and recommending it to their girlfriends, mothers, sisters, and daughters.    
 
Before I launch into my own review of GWYF, I should be transparent about a few things that may shape my perspective on the book. In July, my wife (Jennifer) and I set out on a journey to change our lifestyle. We were tired of being overweight and sick, so together we determined to make healthy eating and exercise our new lifestyle. We were not looking for a diet; we were looking for a life change.    
 
About a month into our new life, we had gotten on track and found an eating and exercise regimen that we felt we could live with for the rest of our lives. About that same time, Jen purchased GWYF on Kindle. She liked it so much that she also purchased the audio version, which is read by Hollis, to listen to on her two and a half-mile morning and afternoon walks.    
 
After reading the book, Jen’s passion for our new lifestyle was taken to a whole other level. It made a tremendous impact on her drive and willpower. It also helped her work through some deep-seated baggage that she has been carrying around for years. I’ve no doubt that God used this book to encourage her in her walk with the Lord. She is happier and more positive than she has been in years. Much of this has to do with her getting fit and healthy and much of her becoming fit and healthy has to do with how the Lord spoke to her through Hollis’ work.    
 
Right about the time she finished GWYF, I started seeing some pretty damning reviews being shared on social media by a lot of our Christian friends and church members. And when I say the reviews were “damning,” I mean every sense that is implied by that word. It was breaking Jen’s heart.    
 
The ministry is a pressure cooker for pastor’s wives. They have to be so careful what they say or do because it reflects back on their husbands and affects his ability to effectively fulfill God’s call in leading the church. Here she was having loved and been deeply impacted by the book (she had even posted about it a few times and shared some of Hollis’ videos), while our friends are reading and sharing terrible and damning reviews saying that GWYF is the work of Satan.  
 
She was crushed, so naturally, I did what a husband who loves his wife should do. I read the book in order to offer her my best attempt at an objective opinion, and now I also hope to share it with you. So here goes…  
 
First, let me say that I cannot recommend that ladies read this book. I say that not because I believe GWYF is the work of Satan. I believe Hollis is a genuine Christian who loves and wants to help women, but she could go about it in a better and more Christ-centered way. Though her work comes from a genuine place, it can easily be used by the enemy to lead our weaker sisters astray. (The same, by the way, could be said of many things I have said in sermons throughout my 11 years of preaching.)  
 
Before I get into what is wrong with the book, let me tell you Rachel’s story as she relates it in GWYF. She grew up in the home of a type A, highly driven, well educated, and easily provoked Pentecostal pastor. She hungered for the love of her father, but as the youngest and most independent child in the family, she was often overlooked. Working hard and making the highest grades became the only way for her to gain any affirmation from her dad. As a result, Hollis became just as highly driven as her father, and it was not healthy.    
 
Another event that she says God used to make her into the woman she is today was the death of her older brother when she was 14 years old. She was extremely close with her brother who was diagnosed as borderline schizophrenic. Sadly, his illness got the best of him. She came home from school one day and found him in her room dead, the victim of suicide by means of a firearm.  
 
The only coping mechanism for stress that she ever really learned was to work even harder. She finished high school a year ahead of schedule and had only started college when she figured out it wasn’t the place for her, so she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of making something great of herself.  
 
She worked hard and used the money from her day job as a high-end event planner to build a lifestyle media empire. Subscribers to her website, TheChicSite.com, reached over a million subscribers and is growing more every day. She was named one of Inc. Magazines “Top 30 Entrepreneurs Under 30.”  
 
She met her husband, Dave not long after moving to LA. They were married and had three boys. They felt led by the Lord to adopt a daughter. She and her husband fought a 5-year uphill battle first with international adoption agencies, then with the public “foster to adopt” agencies, but finally through a private agency, they were able to adopt their daughter. It was a brutal rollercoaster process, and she now credits the sovereignty of God with carrying them through.  
 
I tell her story because you have to grasp where she is coming from to understand what is wrong with the book. Do you remember Jillian Michaels on that show The Biggest Loser? Well, Rachel Hollis reminds me of Michaels with how she could push the contestants so hard but also comfort them when they would break down. In the same way, Rachel compels ladies to chase their wildest dreams and work hard to become who they were meant to be while also being there to help and comfort them when they feel ovewhelmed by being real about her own struggles.  
 
This led many reviewers to charge that Hollis as a heretic for not acknowledging the sovereignty of God and the Supremacy of Christ. This charge doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny of the book. We have to remember that the sovereignty of God does not negate our responsibility to pursue Him and who He wants us to be.   God created all of us in His image. He ordained beforehand good works for us to accomplish in our lives (Ephesians 2:10). However, it is up to us to actually walk in those good works. He provides us with the gift of the Holy Spirit, however, it is up to us to actually walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-24).  
 
In her book’s intro, Hollis writes, “As a Christian, I grew up learning that God was in control, that God had a plan for my life, and I believe in the marrow of my bones that this is true… but I don’t think that means we get to squander the gifts and talents he’s given us…” (p. xv). In this statement and throughout the book, Hollis reveals a grasp of the antinomy in scripture; God is sovereign and we are responsible. These truths are meant to be held in tension because that is how they are revealed in scripture (think Romans 9 verses Romans 10).  
 
So here is my objection and the reason why I will not recommend this book to women with whom I have the opportunity to counsel. Hollis, because of her background and her drive to be successful swings too far toward the human responsibility side of the antinomy.  
 
On page 211, she wrote, “Only you have the power to change your life.” This is not true. At. All. If we are the only ones with the power to change our lives, then we are in the deepest trouble imaginable. Put another way, if my righteousness, my professional success, my ability to lose weight and get healthy, or to have a strong and lasting marriage depends solely on me… then I am doomed and I am the most to be pitied.  
 
I think what she wants to get across with “only you have the power to change your life,” is that you cannot just sit on your hands when there is a problem and expect God to intervene. You have to do something. This is truth, but when I am in trouble, I don’t just strike believing that I can overcome the problem by my sheer willpower. When my marriage is struggling, when my health is failing because I lay on the couch eating Little Debbie cakes, or when I am not progressing as I feel I should in my career, then I have a duty to look to the Lord first. I have a duty to pray, to repent, to seek wisdom and guidance from the Lord. Then, I can strike out doing what the Lord in His wisdom leads me to do with confidence knowing that it is in His strength and Spirit with which I go forward. If Hollis had framed the idea she was trying to get across in that way, then I would have no problem at all. The difference is “me-centered” vs “Christ-centered.”  
 
The main reason why I give her the benefit of the doubt regarding her intention in the declaration on p. 211, is because when she tells her story, she affirms her dependence upon the Lord through the most difficult season of her adult life. In the chapter where she deals with the adoption of their daughter, she describes in detail how she sought the Lord. She asked Him all the hard questions. When she had no control over the situation, she held onto the threads of her faith and believed God. In the end, she acknowledged the Lord’s hand and His timing in everything that happened.  
 
In her well-intentioned, Jillian Michael’s styled, effort to rattle her readers into action, though, she actually puts them in danger of harm. What if she had believed, “only you have the power to change your life,” whenever she was struggling through the heartbreak of losing the twins they were hoping to adopt? All the weight of that loss would have fallen on her own shoulders. Instead of being lonely but not alone, she would have been lonely and all alone. Her drinking which she confessed came dangerously close to developing into an addiction around that time would have consumed her. This and her unwillingness to acknowledge sin and the need for repentance is what keeps me from recommending GWYF to my sisters in Christ.
 
I do not have as much problem with some of the things other reviewers have mentioned, namely the chapter on sex and the chapter on the need for diversity in friendships.   In Chapter 7, titled “I’m Bad at Sex,” Rachel contends for the need of married couples to feel free in their marriage beds, to communicate with one another about their needs, and in general just to have more sex. I know this makes many people uncomfortable because for generations the topic has been avoided. I believe the silence has harmed more than it has helped. My greatest disappointment with this chapter is that Rachel Hollis cut short the biblical basis of her arguments. All she offered as a foundation was Hebrews 13:4. She is more right than she gives herself credit for. She could have opened up 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 to her readers and accomplished the same objective, but the shock element would have come from what the Bible says on the topic rather than her use of edgy anecdotes.  
 
Chapter 19, “There’s Only One Right Way to Be,” drew a lot of outrage from reviewers. Aside from the melodramatic nature of the title of this chapter, I think Hollis is spot on. How can we expect to grow if we only engage people who look like us, believe like us, and vote like us? How can we become the people who God created us to be if we are not challenged by the ideas of others? It takes great confidence in what you believe to befriend a person from a different religion, voting bloc, or sexual orientation. If we are going to make disciples, we have to be in the world and not of the world. We have to become all things to all people if we hope to win some.  
 
There is a bigger problem that the Christian community needs to talk about. Why are Christian ladies flocking to GWYF? I believe it is because there are a lot of women out there starving for another woman to affirm their struggles. Hollis’ writing style is powerful. She writes like she is sitting across the table from you at Starbucks. She’s your best friend who will encourage you when you need encouragement, and she’ll shake you till your teeth rattle when you need it too.  
 
Where are the female Christian authors who will write with Rachel Hollis type transparency and encouragement, yet with a Christ-centered perspective? I could name at least a half dozen male authors who write with transparency, encouragement, and Christ-centeredness, Francis Chan, David Platt, Matt Chandler, Paul Tripp, Calvin Miller, J.D. Greear, and many more that I don’t know or can’t think of. Our sisters need older wiser women who will pour into them while being real and transparent at the same time. Many of them are drowning in “mommy guilt,” insecurity, body shame, and emotional baggage that men just can’t fully comprehend. Our sisters need other sisters to give them a hand up and point them to the healing that is found in the cross of Christ. May God raise them up.  
 
My wife was deeply and positively impacted by the book, so I know that God can use it. Like most anything else, Satan can use it too. I will not recommend that other women read it. Many will anyway. Many already have. I hope these will hear my caution. Girl Wash Your Face is strong in encouragement. Hollis’ story is inspiring. But overall the book’s tether to the Bible is weak which leaves room for some of the things she writes to be taken very wrong.

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A Homecoming Story

My cousin, Heath was a few years older than me. I really looked up to him. As an only child, I did a lot of playing by myself. Whenever I was playing alone, I would pretend I was playing with Heath. For example, I would go out in the yard with my plastic bat and ball, lob the ball up in the air, swing and hit it across the yard pretending that Heath was the ace pitcher, Allan Anderson, for the Minnesota Twins and I was Sid Bream of the Atlanta Braves.
 
One spring evening in 1988 (I was 8 years old), Heath and I were together visiting at my grandparents’ home in Pope, MS. That day, Heath had brought a pocketknife. He was infatuated with this knife. He would pull it out, unfold it, shave some hair on his arm, fold it back up, and stick it in his pocket. He and grandpa came to blows over the pocketknife, and he told Heath to put it up or he was going to take it away.
 
Angry at grandpa, Heath decided that we should take a walk. We crossed a rickety bridge over the ditch that ran behind the house. A few yards beyond the ditch was the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad. We placed a quarter on the track and waited for a train to come by and flatten it, but we got bored waiting for the train and decided to go for a walk down the track. 
 
“Hey, look at that bridge up there,” Heath said noticing a pair of rusted trusses about a half a mile in the distance. “Let’s go throw rocks off it!”
 
After reaching the bridge and throwing a few rocks, we quickly got bored again and kept walking in search of more interesting stuff. As we continued farther and farther away from where we started we found railroad spikes, old rusty barrels, nuts and bolts, tools, and glass insulators that we presumed to be from the days of the telegraph. Soon, we spotted a huge bridge in the distance. It was the bridge over the Tallahatchie River. It was too interesting not to check out.
 
By the time we reached the Tallahatchie River, the day was fading into the evening. We suddenly realized how far we had walked. Worse, we heard a train coming. We hit the ditch to avoid getting hit by the train or seen by the conductor. By this time, I was terrified.
 
As we made our way back to the crossing where we first laid the quarter on the track, the sky grew darker and darker. Two more trains came by and two more times we had to hide in the ditch beside the tracks. Directly, we noticed red and blue lights bouncing off the clouds in the direction of the crossing where we had begun our journey. We concluded that it must be another bigger train that was coming for us. 
 
I never felt more relief than when I saw the headlights of my dad’s four-wheeler coming down the tracks. I expected him to be mad. He wasn’t. Dad was so relieved to find us. When we reached the crossing where we started, we discovered the source of the red and blue lights. Our parents had called the fire department, the sheriff, the game wardens, the county rescue team, and the highway patrol to come and search for us. My mom hugged me tighter than she ever had before. 
 
This story serves as a good parable for life and our walk with the Lord. Often times, we wander away. The enemy strings us along with temptation. He puts shiny things in front of us that promise to complete our lives and heal our brokenness. Those shiny things never hold our attention for very long until he shows us the next thing leading us farther and farther away and into a darker and darker place.
 
Once we come to our senses and determine to make our way back to Him, not only do we find that He is ready to receive us back… we find that he has been pursuing us all along. We find that he has pulled out all the stops to find us and win us back to Him. 2 Chronicles 30:9 says, “the Lord is gracious and merciful and will not turn away His face from you if you return to Him.” If you have wandered astray, then you know the way back to Him. He will welcome you with the warmest embrace. You too will have a homecoming story to tell.

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The Theology of Work

Last week I read Ben Sasse’s book The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age-Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self Reliance. It is the Republican senator from Nebraska’s treatise on what he views as a crisis for our American youth and a prescription for how to fix it. I highly recommend this book to parents with children at home. Sasse will open your eyes to a lot of problems that you have been blind to as well as offer some great suggestions for how to correct those problems to ensure that your children are adequately prepared for the future.
 
One of the problems that Sasse points out is the lack of work ethic in our young people. It is not their fault. They are simply imitating what they see in the adults around them. When we lack an accurate theology of work, we teach our kids that work is a thing to be avoided. If, though, we correct our theology of work, then we will learn to rejoice in the work the Lord gives us, and our children will see that there is profit in a good work ethic. 
 
If you want to model a good work ethic for the young people in your life while finding joy in your work, consider these passages:
 
1. Genesis 2:15– “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” God’s very first act after forming the man, was to give him a job. Remember that man was created in the image of God. God creates. God builds. God sends the rain on the earth. God sustains the entire universe. In short, God works. Why shouldn’t the man be expected to work?
 
Many people erroneously believe that work is the punishment for sin. This could not be farther from the truth. Adam was given the job of tending the garden of Eden even before the curse. The curse of sin simply took the joy out of work, however like every other casualty of the curse, the joy of work is restored through faith in Christ and a personal relationship with Him.
 
2. Proverbs 14:23– “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” Whether you are a stay-at-home parent who oversees the management of your household, or a school teacher who invests in the youth of our society, or a doctor who heals diseases, or a nurse who cares for the sick, or a lawyer who keeps our society honest, or the man who picks up my trash every Thursday, there is profit in your toil. Nothing meaningful is attained through any other means than hard work. 
 
“Mere talk tends only to poverty.” Why does talk tend to poverty? Because talk tends toward consumption rather than production. When you mindlessly scroll through social media, passively binge on Netflix, engage in office gossip, put off until tomorrow work that can and should be done today, you consume precious time and energy. Your time and energy are finite. You cannot get back a single second that you waste. While rest and escape are necessary, the goal should never be to work to escape but rather to be refreshed in rest so that you can be more purposeful in your work. 
 
3. 2 Thessalonians 3:10– “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” God in His sovereignty provides for us. He clothes us. He feeds us (See Matthew 6:25-34). However, He involves us in His provision. He gives us the pleasure of working so that we can enjoy His rewards. God’s intention is that we would find joy in work, just as He finds joy in His work. Remember, through Jesus, He makes us into who we were always meant to be before the fall. 
 
Certainly, not all people are able to work. These receive a special measure of grace from their Heavenly Father. In addition, He blesses those who are able to work with the opportunity to be His hands and feet for those who are less fortunate. The point of this passage is that those who are able, have no excuse for not working and should be refused charity so that they learn to work. 
 
Here are some other passages that shape a biblical theology of work:
 

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True or False: All people are children of God?

“If what you say is true, then why have I never heard it. Why are you the first person in all my years to tell me,” Mr. Z said with tears and more than a touch of indignation. I had just shared with him what the Bible says in John 3, that the only way to eternal life is by being born again. My heart was rent to pieces for this man. Mr. Z had spent his whole life believing that we were all children of God, and all that was required for life was to believe that God exists. He had been baptized twice, but no one ever told him that baptism signifies the new birth of a believer.
 
 
I don’t expect to make many friends from what I am about to write, but the Church has committed a terrible evil. It must be exposed and a solution must be offered. There are too many Mr. Z’s out there for us to ignore. They are the harvest of a watered-down gospel that is good for making converts but powerless to make disciples. Mr. Z had a right to be angry because he was sold a counterfeit product, which left him void of hope. Why should he believe me, someone he saw as just another counterfeit salesman?    

 

There are three lies that I want to confront in the false gospel that has been making rounds in the Church for the last 50 years. Then I will propose some solutions.  
 
 
1. All people are not children of God. The willingness to shirk the necessity of the new birth in order to make the gospel message more palatable for the masses is the most grievous evil that I can find in the Church and in Christian people in general today. If we were “all God’s children,” then why does Ephesians 2:3 tell us that apart from Christ we are all “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind?” Why does the Spirit tell us in 1 Timothy 2:5 that there is a need for a mediator between a holy God and sinful man? Children do not need mediators to represent them before their parents. They need a mediator to represent them in a court where they stand accused.  
 
In John 1:11-13 it is written, “He (Jesus) came to his own, and His own people did not receive Him.
But to all who did receive Him, who believed on His name, he gave them the right to be called children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (emphasis mine). We see here that not even all of the Jews were children of God. Only those who “received Him and believed on His name” were given the right to be called children of God. Where do we get off saying, “We’re all God’s children?”  
 
Yes, it is true that we are all created in the image of God and as such we should love all people. We should value human life. More than that, we should treat all people no matter race, creed, political persuasion, sexual preference, or gender with the highest dignity. Every human being has the image of God etched into their DNA, so to mistreat anyone is an offense against the creator. (Cf. Galatians 6:10, Genesis 9:5-6)  
 
It is also true that God loves everyone. Indeed, “He makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good and sends the rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Also, He desires all people to be saved. He rhetorically asks through His prophet Ezekiel, “Have I any pleasure in the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn away from His evil and live” (Ezekiel 18:23)? In 1 Timothy 2:4 we read that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  
 
God’s love for all is not His affirmation that all people are children of God. Quite contrarily, the common grace He shows to all is a kindness that is meant to lead to repentance (Romans 2:4). Romans 2:5 is a warning to those who presume upon the common grace of God– “But because of your hard impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”  
 
Clearly, there is a dichotomy of peoples in the Bible. There are those who have received Him and believed on Him with penitent hearts. These have been given the right to be called children of God. Then there are those who daily drink in His common grace, but because of their hard hearts refuse to submit to Him as their Lord. These are definitely not the children of God. They are children of wrath, who are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of judgment.  
 
 
2. Believing in Jesus is not the same as trusting in Him. We commit another grievous evil when we rush our “converts” through the baptismal waters based on their acknowledgments of a few propositions. Those responsible for the care of souls ask too many “yes” or “no” questions when assessing the readiness of a candidate for baptism. Of course, the candidate is going to say that they believe in Jesus as God’s son. Of course, they are going to say that they believe he died for their sins. Of course, they are going to say that they believe, but the real question is when and how they came to trust in Jesus alone for saving grace?  
 
I can study how a parachute works and come to the conclusion that I believe the concepts, but trusting in the parachute is another matter altogether. Trust cannot be demonstrated with words. Trust requires action– jumping out of the airplane.   Belief begins in the mind. The brain does all the calculations and if the math and logic work out then the person will believe the proposition. Trust, on the other hand, is a matter of the heart. Trust requires an existential demonstration of what one believes in the heart. In the Bible’s conversion stories, this is precisely what we see.  
 
Andrew, Peter, James, and John, when called by Jesus, immediately left their boats and their families behind to follow Him (Matthew 4:18-22). The Ethiopian Eunuch immediately desired to exercise his trust in Jesus by being baptized on the spot (Acts 8:29-36). Paul immediately called the one who struck him down, “Lord,” in acknowledgment of his wholehearted trust in Jesus and spent the rest of his days demonstrating his trust in the Lord (Acts 9:5). In the case of Lydia, the Philippian seller of royal robes, it is written that when Paul spoke to her “The Lord opened her heart (not her mind) to pay attention.” Because of this move of the heart, she was not only baptized but also moved to host the Philippian mission in her home (Acts 16:14-15).  
 
The Greek word for the verb “to believe” (pisteuo) occurs 132 times in the gospels, 37 times in Acts, and 54 times in the letters of Paul. Never is the word used to say that one merely ascribes to a set of propositions. In the gospels, when Jesus called for one to believe, He was calling for a demonstration of trust. He said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” When belief was described by Jesus and by the Holy Spirit through Paul it was not described as a mere acknowledgment of a set of propositions.  
 
Paul was in prison when he wrote, “I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12). He was so convinced of the truth of the gospel that he was willing to be placed in chains, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked to advance the gospel to the known world. This is the kind of trust that is required for salvation. It is the kind of trust demonstrated by jumping out of a plane, getting out of the boat and onto the raging seas, taking up a cross, being willing to die knowing that the One in whom you have believed is able to keep you in that day.  
 
 
3. Discipleship was Jesus’ goal, not baptism. Jesus doesn’t care about how many people your church baptizes. He cares how many disciples are being made. For far too long we have made baptism the goal and discipleship an afterthought. I am not saying that Baptism should be an afterthought, but it should not be the end that we seek.  
 
What would you think about a doctor who after delivering a baby never made an effort to bring the baby back to the parents where it could receive the nourishment needed for life? What if the doctor just set the baby out on the street believing that someone would come along and pick it up? And what if after doing such a horrible thing, he boasted in his advertisements about how many babies he had delivered? This is precisely what the Church is doing by making converts and not discipling them while boasting in their baptism numbers.    
 
When Jesus told us to make disciples, He told us that those disciples were to be baptized and taught. The onus is not on the convert seek discipleship, any more than a baby must fend for itself for nourishment and raising. Jesus calls upon his own disciples and gives them the authority to make more disciples.  
 
Back to Mr. Z: The first worst evil that the Church committed against him was allowing him to trust in a false gospel. The second was that they left him to fend for himself. The Church was eager to affirm his false conversion, but where were they when he needed a guide? Where were they when he was growing up in a violent home and needed comfort? Where were they when he faced temptation and needed to know there was another way out? Where were they when he was in prison? Where were they when he lost everything he was trusting in to save him?  
 
 
Solutions to the Problem:  
 
Solution #1: Trust in Jesus. I’m convinced that the evils listed above stem from generations of false teaching in the Church. There are many in our pews today who preach, serve on committees, serve on deacon bodies, and direct ministries who have never trusted in Jesus alone for salvation. They are the lost seeking the lost and when they make a convert they only make him or her twice as fit for hell (Matthew 23:15). Many church leaders need to get into the Scripture and seek the deep conversion of their own souls. You cannot give away what you have not received.  
 
Solution #2: Preach the word. Stick to the Scripture. There is only one gospel and it is revealed in God’s word. All these other destructive and false gospels do not stand the biblical test. In the Bible, each false gospel is condemned even when preached by an angel from heaven (Galatians 1:7-9). Answer questions using the Bible and not popular wisdom. If you cannot answer a question from Scripture then say so, and seek God’s guidance.  
 
Solution #3: Ask hard questions of your Christian brothers and sisters. Yes or no questions are not hard questions. They can be answered without any search of the heart. Ask questions like, “When did you become a follower of Christ?” Then, listen to the answer and compare it to the conversion narratives in Scripture. Ask, “Who are you going to tell about Jesus?” Then, later follow up “Did you ever get an opportunity to speak with ‘so and so?’” Ask, “how is your prayer life? What are you praying for right now?” and “What can I ask God for on your behalf?” and “Is there any sin that you are hiding?” and “What is your greatest temptation right now?” and “How is God speaking to you in your daily Bible study? What is He doing in your heart?”  
 
Solution #4: Have a plan for discipleship. All followers of Christ are duty bound to preach the gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). But what you do after a person is converted matters just as much. If your church is planning a major outreach event i.e. a revival, VBS, special Easter service, or a harvest festival where you will actively try to reach people with the gospel, the church must also have a plan in place to disciple those who respond. Sunday School classes are great but have specific people assigned to reach out to those who respond. Have someone assigned to invite them to worship and have them sit with their families and maybe even treat their guests to lunch. Build in your church a culture that will serve as a nursery for new baby Christians.  
 
Solution #5: Pray. It’s last on the list but not the least important. We cannot expect God to do what we do not ask of Him (James 4:2). He is sovereign. He does not need for us to ask, but He wants to hear our hearts. He loves it when His children demonstrate that they are depending upon Him in their prayers. If we ask, then we can have confidence that He will do what we ask especially when we know we are asking in accordance with His will (John 15:7-11).  

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A Review of Not Forgotten, By Kenneth Bae

Can you imagine a world where praying would be against the law or a country where bringing in groups of people to pray could be seen as an act of terrorism? That is precisely the situation in North Korea. A missionary and pastor named Kenneth Bae found that out the hard way, and he tells the story in his book Not Forgotten: The True Story of My Imprisonment in North Korea.
 
Years before his arrest, Kenneth felt the Lord calling him to be “a bridge connecting North Korea to the outside world.” He answered that call by setting up a ministry in Dandong China located on the Yolu River that forms the border between China and North Korea. His ministry was disguised as a travel agency that hosted tours inside the dark country. What the North Korean authorities did not know was that the tourists were all believers, and their purpose in the country was to pray for the North Korean people.
 
Bae’s ministry was strictly a ministry of prayer. Sharing the gospel would bring too much attention, so they simply walked the streets silently praying while doing acts of kindness for the North Korean people in order to demonstrate the love of Christ to them. God through Kenneth Bae, built a network of believers in the country that became hosts to Bea’s “tour groups.” The plans were in place to begin an organized and secret prayer meeting for believers at a hotel in Rason. Bae got busted before the plans could be executed.
 
You might wonder what could possibly be threatening about people praying especially in a country that does not believe in God? There are several reasons. First, in North Korea, everyone is suspect. Every American is assumed to be working for the CIA and planning a coupe. Second, it is not true to say that North Koreans, in general, do not believe in God. They do believe in God. At the time of Bae’s missionary activities, God’s name was Kim Jong Il. If people were in the country praying in the name of Jesus and working in the name of Jesus, then that was a threat to the man they believed to be the true God of all.
 
I want you to read the book, so I won’t spoil the story and tell you how he got caught. I will only tell you that Kenneth confessed everything to the authorities. He confessed to being a missionary and pastor. He confessed to bringing people into North Korea for the purpose of praying and loving on the Korean people in the name of Jesus. For these crimes, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison camp. 
 
What is most interesting about the story is that Kenneth Bae worked in North Korea for years. He led hundreds of Christians into the country to do mission work. However, he did not become the missionary that God called him to be until after he was arrested. Once arrested, God freed Kenneth to tell the truth. He truly became a “bridge” to the outside world for many of his guards in the labor camp, his prosecutors, and his wardens.
 
It took a while, but God worked through Kenneth in a powerful and miraculous way once he submitted himself to the Lord and recognized why he’d been caught. He prayed aloud. He sang praise songs while working in the labor camp. He even took some of the songs that the people sang to Kim Jong Il, and replaced the Supreme Leader’s name with the name of Jesus and sang those at night in prison.
 
This made a tremendous impact on his guards and handlers. They softened and started asking questions. He became a pastor to them. He gave them marriage advice from Scripture. He taught them what life was really like outside of North Korea. This might not sound like much, but understand, these people truly know nothing except what their country’s propaganda machine has fed them. It absolutely shocked me, how much the North Korean’s really don’t know about the outside world, especially America. This served to drastically shape and better inform my prayers for North Korea. 
 
I commend to you this book, Not Forgotten, by Kenneth Bae. It is the story of how God can accomplish His mighty purpose in us when we submit ourselves to Him. It will also aid you in praying for the people of North Korea. 

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Inside the Pastor’s Office

Last week, Andrew Stoecklein, Lead Pastor of Inland Hills Church in Chino California committed suicide. He left behind a young wife, Kayla, and three precious children. He, like many pastors, faithfully taught, preached, and demonstrated the grace of God, and like many pastors, his battle with depression blinded him from being able to rest in God’s grace. 
 
I have pastor friends all over the country, and every pastor I know often wrestles to rest in the comfort of the God that they serve. Some commit suicide. Some fall into sexual sin. Some medicate with alcohol. Some leave the ministry. And some, by God’s grace, overcome through the tender love and care they receive from the body of Christ.
 
I have struggled with depression in the past. I went through some dark seasons when it seemed as though Satan had unleashed every weapon in his arsenal against me. I wished I could do anything else in the world besides serve as a pastor. Were it not for my family and church family’s obedience to Christ and their willingness to preach my sermons back to me, I could have fallen to temptation. I could have left ministry for good. Worse, like Bro. Andrew, I could have died.
 
With this in mind, I want to share with you a few reasons why pastoral ministry is so hard on the men who are called to it. I share this to give you an inside look at what it is like to sit at the pastor’s desk, and I share with the hope that you would commit to being the body of Christ to your pastor.
 
1. Recognize that your pastor is a broken human being who serves broken human beings. It is easy for pastors to feel like the whole world is out to get them. We learn from the life of Jesus why it is hard to be a leader. Even when you do the right thing, people hate you. They talk about you behind your back. They lie in wait to try to bring you down. They cannot help it. They are broken.
 
Every pastor has at least a small group of people in his congregation who don’t like him. It is easy for him to get distracted, trying to figure out who those people are so as not to be blindsided when someone pulls a power play or says something hurtful. Because of his brokenness, he can become crippled with anxiety which threatens to consume all of his energy and lead him into darkness.
 
Before I leave the issue of a broken pastor serving broken people, I want to say that some of the pastor’s opponents may have valid concerns. Too often though, the pastor never hears those concerns. His opponents talk to everyone except him. This hurts him deeply. There is no more hopeless feeling than knowing someone has something against you, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it because you don’t even know what the issue is.
 
2. Recognize the uncertainty he and his family have for the future. You cannot imagine the hurt and fear that invades the family of a pastor when a chairman of deacons sits him down and tells him, “your ministry here is done. A group of people is ready to vote you out next Sunday. If you resign now, we will let you stay in the parsonage for the rest of this month, then you have to go.” Many pastors have experienced this first hand. Even the ones who haven’t live in fear of it happening to their family.
 
Put yourself in your pastor’s shoes. He’s given his life and put his family’s future and well-being on the line to serve Christ and His church. One slip up can result in them being homeless and broke. He may never talk about it, but I promise you he at least thinks about that scenario every day. And his wife… she thinks about it even more often.
 
3. Recognize the burden of his calling. Few pastors go into the ministry for money and fame. The ones who do don’t last long. Pastors minister because they are called by God. This calling comes with an unimaginable burden.
 
Hebrews 13:17 says, that he will have to give an account for the souls entrusted to him on the day of judgment. When he looks out from the pulpit and sees the brokenness in the pews, he wonders “am I doing all I can? Maybe I should have prayed harder. Maybe I should have studied more. Am I really being faithful?”
 
When the baptisms are down, when the giving is short, when attendance is low, when families fall apart, and when relationships break down, he blames himself. On top of his own problems, he bears a heavy load for his congregation. All of their problems become his problems, but the heaviest burden he carries is the responsibility of his calling.
 
4. Recognize that most of his work is unseen. You may see him for an hour on Sunday, but what you don’t see is the other 49 hours he works during the rest of the week. That time is consumed with staff meetings, prayer, deacon meetings, committee meetings, home visits, hospital visits, speaking engagements, navigating conflicts, and planning. I did not even mention sermon prep. If your church has Wednesday and a Sunday night service, then recognize that he prepares for and preaches three times a week. A good preacher is able to make it look easy, but don’t be fooled, those sermons do not write themselves.
 
Just to give you an idea of what a full-time pastor’s schedule is like, I’m looking over my calendar. Last month (if you count the partial week at the beginning of the month) there were 25 weekdays. I was home from work before 8 p.m. only 11 of those 25 days. I came home after my children’s bedtimes on 4 days in August. This type of schedule wears on a healthy person. It can destroy an unhealthy person.
 
If your pastor is part-time or bi-vocational, it is even worse. I can at least come home and be home after work. I have a close friend who is a bi-vocational pastor. He is never “off.” These men are the most underappreciated men in the ministry, and they deserve better.
 
5. Consider the financial strain that he is under. I am blessed to serve a church who is able to take care of all the needs of my family. This has not always been the case, and many of my brothers are struggling today. Most pastors and ministerial staff are underpaid and have unmet financial needs.
 
Many times it is no fault of the church leadership. They cannot pay their ministerial staff money that they do not have. Like the priests of the Old Testament (Leviticus 10:14), our salaries are dependent upon the generosity and obedience of the members. I can tell you from past experience, it is tremendously depressing to see your family hurting because of unmet needs and know that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
 
6. Consider the difficulty the pastor’s family has in making friends. Most people do not want to be friends with their pastor. They want to keep him and his family at a distance. They don’t want their pastor to know that they have an occasional drink, or that they went to the Kanye West concert last week. It’s like they think they will catch fire if they come into our holy presence.
 
Add to this, that many times there is a pressure for the pastor and his family to be friends with everyone. Where any normal person is allowed to have a close circle of friends with whom they spend time, the pastor has no such luxury. If he spends more time with one group than another jealousy can raise its ugly head.
 
Some of this pressure may be due to the pastor’s perception, but his perception is formed and framed by hundreds of damaging remarks. Some are said face to face. Some are said behind his back. He hears them, and they suck the hope of close friendship right out of his heart.
 
Here’s another issue with the pastor having friends. He has to be vulnerable and trusting to have friends. Most pastors have been burned too many times by people he thought were his friends. We pastors keep our hearts close to us. We find it hard to trust and be vulnerable. I know that this issue is not exclusive to pastors, but understand that in our position a friend’s stab in the back can result in being homeless, ruined, and broke.
 
CONCLUSION: I have read several blogs and social media posts in the wake of Andrew Stoecklein’s passing that give suggestions for how to encourage your pastor. I commend these to you. (Here is a great one from Tom Rainer.) Encourage your pastor.
 
As difficult as the pastoral ministry can be, your kind, encouraging, and spirit-filled words are powerful to build him up. Your attendance every time the doors are open and you are not providentially hindered say so much about your appreciation for him. The smallest hint that you understand his burdens, goes a tremendously long way to recharge him and keep him going.
 
Encourage and honor your pastor. The Bible says that those who labor well in this calling are worthy of “double honor” (1 Timothy 5:17). Your encouragement may save his ministry, his marriage, and possibly even his life.

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Love That Lasts

I just finished reading Love that Lasts: How We Discovered God’s Better Way for Love, Dating, Marriage, and Sex by Jeff and Alyssa Bethke. I want to recommend it to our young people, especially our high school seniors, and college students. If you are in either of these categories and you are dating someone or looking to date someone, then I DOUBLY recommend this book to you. If you are engaged or newly married, then I TRIPLY (is that even a word?) recommend this book to you.
 
Jeff and Alyssa are a young couple who have been married for around 7 years. They have two small children. They love Jesus and they love one another, and the story of how they came to love Jesus and one another is extremely inspiring.
 
Jeff and Alyssa both had trouble finding a “love that lasts.” Both went on their own prodigal journeys during and after high school. By the grace of God, they learned to walk with Jesus and were rescued.
 
God brought Jeff and Alyssa together at the wedding of a mutual friend. They started dating a short time after that, but it was not happily ever after just yet. Alyssa, still wrestling with who she was in Christ, broke up with Jeff a few months into their relationship. Heartbroken, Jeff gave her space and prayed for her. Alyssa then entered into a dating relationship with someone else, who in turn broke her heart in the same way she did Jeff’s.
 
Through all this, God showed them how beautiful was their love for one another… that they were better together than apart. He revealed His plans for their life together. Alyssa and Jeff submitted to those plans, were married, and found the satisfaction and joy of “a love that lasts.” Oh, and they had a couple of children too.
 
I know what I have written so far sounds like a cheesy rom-com movie, but here is what is great about the story.
 
1. If you are in a season of waiting to meet your future spouse, you will learn how to guard your heart and be patient. From Alyssa, you will learn how to just be in love with Jesus during this season. You will learn how to pray for your future mate.
 
2. If you are haunted by a shameful past, you will learn from Jeff how to be set free from your guilt. You will see how Christ has changed you into a new creature, and how if you will just trust him, He can redeem you. Having failure in your past does not preclude you from having an amazing future or being able to be set free in a wholesome and holy relationship.
 
3. If you are dating someone, you will learn from both Alyssa and Jeff the red flags to watch out for. You will either find the courage to remove yourself from an unhealthy relationship or the courage to go all in and prepare for an amazing life ahead with the person who you are supposed to marry.
 
4. If you have gone through a heartbreaking breakup (or a series of them), you will learn what you have to gain through the breakup. You will be encouraged to know that it is not the end of the world. You will learn how not to let your heart and emotions get prematurely involved in future relationships.
 
5. If you are newly married, then you will learn how to navigate all the baggage that gets brought into the marriage. The first year can be tough, but it is much easier when you know how to encourage one another.
 
6. Finally (and this is a big one), you will learn what the Bible says about sex. This is one area where the church often fails, but Jeff and Alyssa do a great job laying out a theology of sex. They not only teach what’s bad about sex outside of marriage, they teach what is good about sex between a husband and a wife. If you are married, then what they have to say about sex can revolutionize your marriage. If you are not married, then what they have to say will give you something to hope for and enjoy once you are married.
 
So, if you are in the categories mentioned above, or if you love someone who is, give this book a look. Jeff and Alyssa have a lot of good stuff on YouTube too, so check them out.

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Three reasons engaged couples should seek counseling

When I was brand new in the ministry and beginning to officiate weddings, I really wrestled to identify my role as a pastor in the process. The Bible clearly states that God is the one who joins a husband and a wife together, but it contains no instructions for how a pastor should go about his task of officiating weddings. 

After an intense and prayerful struggle. I settled on this answer: My role as a pastor is to prepare the couple for their life together. It as an opportunity to help them prepare. Before I agree to officiate the wedding, I always ask them to submit to at least four hours of pre-marital counseling (at no charge). 
 
I have officiated about two dozen weddings, and I have never had a couple turn down the counseling. Also, I have never had a couple say that those counseling sessions were less than beneficial. Here is why:
 
 
1. Planning for marriage is more important than planning a wedding. Families spend many hours (and $) picking out a dress, selecting a maid of honor, choosing flowers, hiring a photographer, putting up decorations, and reserving a venue. All of this is preparation for one day. 
 
While I acknowledge the importance of memorializing the day of your wedding, it is infinitely more important to prepare for the days that follow. By the time you reach your golden anniversary, you will have spent 18,250 days together. Pre-marital counseling prepares you not just for the one day but for the 18,000+ days… the good ones, the bad ones, the tragic ones, and the glorious ones. 
 
If something goes wrong on the day of the wedding, it will become something that makes the day more memorable. (My wife and I still laugh about her shoe coming off while we walked down the aisle.) However, if things consistently go wrong in the days after the wedding, then it can spell disaster for your relationship and for the lives of your children. Pre-marital counseling helps build a foundation to prevent such a disaster.
 
 
2. You will better understand what you are getting into. My wife and I married young. I was 21 and she was 19. Neither of us really understood what we were getting ourselves into. No one bothered to tell us. If someone had told us, then we would have still gotten married, but we would have at least had some idea of the pitfalls that laid ahead of us. 
 
Only when I became a pastor and had to wrestle through these questions did I come to understand anything about my marriage. What is God’s view of my marriage? What is my role as a husband? What is her role as a wife? Why do couples get divorced? What are some ways to head off potential problems?
 
Many couples think they already know the answers to these questions. I thought I knew the answers. I didn’t. And even if I had been less ignorant, I would have benefited from someone sitting down with me and my bride to be, and showing me how the Bible answers these questions. 
 
Look, marriage is a covenant relationship. Before you enter into a covenant relationship, you need to know what that covenant entails. Romantic love is blinding, but that is no excuse for failing to prepare.
 
 
3. Pre-marital counseling gives you an opportunity to deal with problems while they are still small. All marriages, the ones that last 50 years as well as the ones that last 6 months, begin with two people who are madly in love. The ones that last are the ones that can work through their issues. The time to start dealing with issues is at the very beginning.
 
You’ve heard it said, “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” Well, in marriages, molehills have a way of becoming mountains over time. Couples have a bad habit of not dealing with their issues until they become mountains. By then, it is often too late. There are too many complications, too many emotions, too much heartbreak, to get it all sorted out. This is why it is easier to head off problems in premarital counseling rather than trying to fix them on the back end in marriage counseling.
 
 
Bottom line, pre-marital counseling only helps. If you have a good pastor, then all it will cost you is a little time and effort. If you do not have a pastor, then contact me at (bro.robby@gmail.com) and I will be happy to help you.

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