A theology of the cross

Martin Luther in the Reformation taught that there are two approaches, two ways to view God and the world. You can embrace a theology of glory or a theology of the cross. 

The theology of glory essentially creates a picture of God which reflects our own expectations and desires. We have certain hopes and expectations, and a theology of glory says that God basically lives according to our expectations. For example: we expect that God rewards those who do good things. Those who do well will enter heaven. And this is because they think God’s idea of justice is just like their own.

The theology of the cross does not start with human expectations. It starts with God’s self-disclosure; divine revelation. And according to Luther, God reveal himself most stunningly and most clearly at the cross. This idea has paradigm-shifting implications. 

Carl Trueman writes about this and he asks, what do we see when we see the cross?

What does the theologian of glory see there? Well, based on upon rational, empirical enquiry, one would have to say that the man on the cross is a filthy criminal of some kind. Why else would he be dying such an indescribable death as a punishment? The cross is a disgrace, both by the standards of Roman law and Jewish custom, and thus the one upon whom such punishment is inflicted must be the lowest kind of criminal imaginable. In addition, one would have to say that he is broken, crushed, defeated. As he dies upon the cross, we see no king, no victory over sin, no cause for rejoicing or glorifying the one who hangs there. The eyes of reason, judging on the basis of what we as humans expect, would have to see the scene as one of darkness, pain, and deep personal tragedy…The theologian of the cross, however, approaches the event with the eyes of faith and with the criteria provided by God’s revelation of himself, sees the a very different picture: not a sinner, but the only sinless man; not defeat, but triumph; not wrath, but mercy. What we have on the cross is not the defeat of a criminal, but the triumph of the king of glory; not the victory of the powers of evil, but the victory of good over evil; not the hopeless curse of God, but the blessings of God by which all may be saved.”

Helping a brother find assurance

A brother came up to me after a sermon in which I walked through Jesus’ teaching on the new birth from John 3. Distraught is a word that could describe him— anxious, inquiring. At one point the desperation turned into these words: “Am I just being presumptious? I’ve always presumed I’m saved; I don’t want to presume anymore.”

How you council a brother in that scenario is crucial. Their wound is open, and how you treat the issue at hand could have profound effects. A wrong move could harden. A right move could strengthen a believer, or, perhaps, lead that anxious individual to Christ for the first time.

Recognizing the significance of the situation, I thought back to one of the most helpful tips I’ve ever read on the subject. It was from a book I read last summer, Princeton and Preaching. The book tells the story of Archibald Alexander’s conversion. His was accompanied with many struggles and pains. He wrestled deeply with assurance. Two men in particular were near to counsel him in these times, Dr. Smith and Mr. Mitchell. They both counseled him in different ways. The author writes:

We have here an instructive illustration of the two methods in which even good men and experienced Christians deal with anxious inquirers. Dr Smith undertook to judge of the exercises of the heart, and to decide whether or not they exhibited evidence of regeneration. He led the inquirer to refuse hope in Christ until he was satisfied he had experienced the new birth. He thus drove him to the borders of despair.

Mr. Mitchell pointed the wounded spirit to Christ, and bid him hope for acceptance on the ground of his merit and mediation. This brought peace. Had any one persuaded the bitten Israelites not to look in faith on the brazen serpent until they felt themselves cured, they too would have despaired. Our first duty is to receive Christ, and in receiving him, he brings convictions, repentance, and all the graces and blessings of the Spirit.”

Those two paragraphs have shaped my ministry to these kinds of people immensely. For a struggling inquirer, the worst place you could tell them to look for assurance is in the mirror. Self-examination does one of two things: it leads to despair or to delusion. One either becomes hopeless or self-righteous.

The better way is to point people to Christ.

Back to my friend, standing amid the Sunday morning after-service bustle, questioning his own salvation. I asked, “Is Christ able to save you?” Normally, such a rhetorical question would require no answer. Of course. But this time I let it sink in and re-asked the question signalling I wanted him to answer verbally: “Is Christ able to save you?” “Yes.” He said. “Is Christ willing to save you? Is his death enough to cover your sin? Is his righteousness enough to make you acceptable to God? Is his love strong enough to hold on to you?”

“For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” This is great advice for the one seeking assurance. Point them to Christ. Show them Christ. He is much better at granting assurance than you.

The disruptive Word of God

For fallen humans who are prone to forge their own paths, who love autonomy and hate authority, God’s Word shatters our idea of autonomy and presents us with the objective, concrete reality that there is a Sovereign Other, who really exists outside of us, and who has the right to speak into our lives without our permission.

In this sense, God’s Word is always disruptive. If you want tidy schedules and cozy retirements and comfortable lives and uninterrupted “me” time, avoid God’s Word at all costs. Don’t want to sacrifice anything? Throw away your Bible. Ignore all it says. Your life will be more peaceful. But it is the peace of the quiet cemetery, the calmness of a coffin, the repose of a morgue.

Jesus disrupts comfortable, cozy, safe, lives. Jesus calls us to total commitment, extravagant generosity, self-sacrificing, self-denying, love. As Deitrich Boehnhoffer says, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die!” That’s disruptive. Gloriously disruptive, because the Word that disrupts is the Word of Love and Grace.

If God’s Word never disrupts your life, because it’s indicating that you’ve made God in your own image. You know you’ve invented a new god when his word never contradicts you.

The more diligently you peruse the Scriptures

My own experience convinces me that the oftener and the more diligently you peruse the Scriptures, the more beautiful will they appear and the less relish you will have for light and superficial reading. There is in an intimate, in a daily, conversation with the Scriptures something sanctifying, something ennobling. A satisfaction is felt in perusing them which no human composition can excite. You feel as if you were conversing with God and angels. You breathe a heavenly atmosphere. The soul is bathed in celestial waters. It imbibes a sweetness and composure which shed over it unearthly attractions.”

Archibald Alexander, Princeton and Preaching

A lie that kills assurance

Here’s a lie that kills assurance:

“Jesus loves me, but the Father is against me.”

When God would have destroyed you for your sin, Jesus stepped in and cried, ‘No!’” 

Jesus stood between you and the Father’s wrath to save you.” 

What do you think about those statements?

They are so close to truth, but they miss something. They make it seem like God the Father is against us, and God the Son is for us. They make it seem like your salvation is not a result of the Father and Son working together, but the Father and Son in opposition to one another. The Father’s intent is to damn but Jesus’ intent is to save. 

God’s wrath is against sinners? Yes. Is it true that Jesus entered his creation to take upon himself the wrath of God so it would not fall on his children? Yes. 

But let’s reflect on how the Bible actually teaches us that this happens. Look at Romans 3:23-25for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Who put Christ forward? God the Father. 

Why? Look at Romans 5:8But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Listen, don’t miss the logic here. It doesn’t say that Christ died for us while we were sinners, and then God loved us. It’s the opposite: God loved us, and that’s why Christ died for us. 

Who saw us in our suffering and was moved with compassion? Who loved us so deeply he would buy us for himself with the blood of his own Son? It’s the Father. 

Sinclair Ferguson in his fantastic book The Whole Christ, writes, “The subtle danger here should be obvious: if we speak of the cross of Christ as the cause of the love of the Father, we imply that behind the cross and apart from it he may not actually love us at all…”

He went on a few pages later, and this paragraph stopped in me my tracks: “If this is the atmosphere in which we [understand the gospel], a suspicion of the Father may linger long and prove to be a serious hindrance in the course of the Christian life. While often dormant in our souls, from time to time the thought will erupt that perhaps the Father himself, in himself, does not love us as the Son does. Such a disposition leads to a spirit of suspicion, and even of bondage, not one of freedom and joy.” 

Are you suspicious of the Father’s love for you? Do you, at times, think that the Father does not love you like Jesus does? Dismiss the lie. The Father loves you, and the fountains of salvation spring from his great heart of compassion. Rest in his care!

He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle

“He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold He always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lows ever on His shoulders. If He bids us carry a burden, He carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea, lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in Him.”

Charles Spurgeon, Autobiography: Volume 2: The Full Harvest

Three foundations for assurance

When we’re talking about assurance, we’re talking about our confidence that we are loved by God, accepted by God, and welcomed by God into his presence.

There are two sides to this discussion. One is the side of our own subjective experience of assurance. This deals with the question of whether or not we feel saved, feel loved by God, or feel accepted. It’s possible to not have any of those feelings, even when saved. There are many reasons we might fail to find comfort in God’s promises. They could be doctrinal reasons, circumstantial reasons, or psychological reasons. Fallen human beings are complex, and there are many factors that contribute to our sense of belonging before God. 

But that’s just one side of the discussion. The other side is the objective realities that enable assurance. These are objective reasons why a person can have assurance of salvation, and they are the foundation of the person’s subjective experience of it. For subjective assurance to be enjoyed, the truths about salvation need to be understood. Here’s another reason why sound doctrine is so vital.

Here are three foundations for assurance from Ephesians 1.

The Eternal Plan of the Father

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ,

The reason we are blessed with salvation from God is because God chose us before the foundation of the world to be his holy blameless people. Your salvation is not founded on the fact that you chose God, but on the reality that God chose you. 

Yes, you made a choice to trust in Jesus, but before you ever made a choice God had chosen you. 

This is humbling! It forces us to admit we did not contribute anything to our salvation. We had no hand in it. It wasn’t a 50-50 cooperative effort. It wasn’t even 99% God and 1% us. He determined to do it all before we even existed, so that he would receive praise, honor, and glory. 

What does this have to do with assurance? Everything. Your assurance is only as strong as who you believe caused your salvation. If you think your salvation was caused by your will-power, then your assurance is only as strong as the power of your will. On the other hand, if you think your salvation was caused by God’s infinite power, according to his eternal plan, then your salvation is as secure as God. It’s immoveable, unshakable, unchangeable. 

The Perfect Redemption of the Son

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

What we see in this glorious sentence is that God the Father purposed to redeem his people through his Son. God chose his people, and gave them to his Son to redeem. We have redemption in Christ through his blood.

God the Father in eternity past had chosen a people for salvation, he gave them to Christ and said, “Go redeem them, and lose none.” And Jesus came to redeem them. He promised to accomplish the Father’s plan and will not fail.

John 17:1bFather, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” Verse 6: “I have manifested my name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” 

Could it be more clear? God chose a people in eternity past, he gave those people to his son to redeem, and he came to earth to rescue those people. 

Not only have we been chosen by the Father to be his beloved, adopted children, but we are redeemed by the Son, fully cleansed by the blood of Christ. 

Christian, you are clean. You are washed. You have total and complete access to God. You belong in God’s presence. Your struggles with sin are no match for Christ’s perfect redemption. Your welcome into God’s presence is not based on your performance, but on Christ’s.

God chose to adopt you, and sent Christ to redeem you. But that’s not all.

The Permanent Seal of the Spirit

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

Now I’ve been mentioning the Father and the Son working together to accomplish salvation, but that’s not the whole story. God is Triune, three persons in one God, and the whole Trinity is involved in redemption. Here, we are taught that the moment a person believes the gospel, that is, this good news about Christ’s work of salvation, they are sealed with the Holy Spirit.

What’s that mean? Get this image in your mind: hot wax melted, dripped on an important letter, and then imprinted by the king’s signet ring. The seal represents three things. 1) It shows it’s genuine and true. 2) It shows whose property it is, like a cattle-brand 3) It renders it secure. 

God stamps his seal on every believer the moment they believe in Christ. He gives them the Holy Spirit to dwell within them. This marks them as genuine, it shows that this person is God’s very own precious possession, and that it is therefore perfectly secure. 

God does this. This is his act. It is according to his eternal purpose. It is his unchanging promise. Those whom he chooses, he gives to Christ, those given to Christ are redeemed, those redeemed are sealed forever by the Holy Spirit. 

Look back at verse 14: “who [the Holy Spirit] is our guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

What’s a guarantee? It’s something meant to make sure feel certain. It could be translated as a down payment. It’s a promise. God says, “I’ve given you the Spirit, and you can count that as a promise that you will soon receive the full inheritance of salvation.”

Salvation is Secure

The triune God has orchestrated an unstoppable plan to redeem a people for himself. Salvation belongs to the Lord, and he gives it to his children, and nothing can take it from them. Christians, this is great reason to rejoice! We are secure!

Why a sermon series on the doctrine of assurance?

Luther as Professor, 1529 (oil on panel) by Cranach, Lucas, the Elder (1472-1553)

1527, Martin Luther wrote, “For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell. I trembled in all my members. Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation and blasphemy of God.” 

If you know your Reformation history, you know that 1527 is 10 years after Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Door. This is about a decade after Luther’s glorious discovery of justification by faith alone through the imputed righteousness of Christ.

In other words, Luther’s despair came after he was an established Christian. In that dark season, Luther’s battle was for assurance. Questions about his standing with God haunted his weary conscience. Am I an imposter? Am I really reconciled to God? Is my faith enough?

The questions he wrestled with (or the questions that wrestled him) are questions everyone asks at some point. They are eternal questions with eternal consequences. They are questions one must not answer wrongly. When a person thinks they’re right with God when they’re not it’s an eternal disaster. When a person thinks they’re not right with God, when they are, they miss out on God’s blessed gospel gift of assurance.

The doctrine of assurance is critical for the church. Here are three reasons why we need to spend time thinking about this:

First, false assurance runs rampant.

This is in part because of the reality that we in American swim in an ocean of cultural Christianity. I’ve spoken to many people who associate Christianity will good character, high moral values, and conservative politics. 

These are people who are convinced they are Christians, convinced they will be able to stand before God on the Day of Judgment, and that because of something they’ve done, they will be welcomed into heaven when they die.

Ligonier Ministries does a “State of Theology” survey every two years, surveying masses of professing Christians to see what they believe about crucial doctrines. It’s a good way to take the pulse of the modern evangelical church. I looked through the survey mainly looking to see what it revealed about how much these people understand the gospel. Here’s what I found:

As related to God, 51% of evangelicals believe “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judiasm, and Islam.” Right off the bat we see more than half do not believe in a holy God who determines who can come to him and how. The exclusivity of Christ is discarded and the Holy God we encounter in Scripture is replaced with something more palatable for modern sensibilities .

As related to Christ, 78% of evangelicals think, “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.” Almost 80% of professing Christians have embraced some form of the ancient Arian heresy, and have more in common with modern Jehovah’s Witnesses than actual orthodox Christianity. They don’t think Jesus is divine and therefore adopt a human Christ who cannot save.

52% of evangelicals believe that people are naturally good, even though they may sin a little, representing a radical departure of the Bible’s teaching about man’s sinful condition. 

So we see the majority of professing believers have a God that’s not holy, a Christ that’s not divine, and a humanity that’s not sinful. It’s no wonder so many people are falsely assured of salvation. Salvation is meaningless without a right understanding of God, of sin, and of Christ. 

In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus speaks of people who are being cast out from his presence into judgement who claimed to know him as Lord, to speak on his behalf, to cast out demons in his name, and to do many mighty works for him. Their awakening in hell will be the most surprising moment of their lives. 

I write this in deep sadness. It grieves me to think of the multitudes who are happily embracing a false gospel that cannot save them. But it strengthens my resolve to do all I can to clarify the gospel in my church. 

Second, doubt is an issue for true believers.

It’s crucial to say this out loud: real believers sometimes have doubt. We find doubt in the Psalms and doubt in the gospels, even among people who trust God. It is not God’s desire to keep his children doubting his love for them, but because of our weakness and sin, we are prone to fall into doubt. 

Many of us are like the father of the demon-possessed child in Mark 9, if we’re honest. When Jesus said, “All things are possible for one who believes,” the man replied, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

This is why studying assurance is so practical. Who among us hasn’t said or felt the inner tension of that statement: “I believe; help my unbelief!” As not-yet-glorified Christians, we find ourselves to be wavering between belief and unbelief, faith and doubt, assurance and uncertainty. And much of our disobedience and despair comes from the lack of assurance of God’s love for us. 

The doctrine of assurance is an intersection between abstract theological ideas and street-level, everyday application. It’s intensely practical, because there’s nothing more practical than knowing for sure your status before God. If you have certainty there, it changes everything. You cannot know the height and depth and breadth and width of God’s love for you without it affecting your prayer life, your obedience, your attitude in suffering, your desire for his Word, your zeal in evangelism, your eagerness to serve — and the list goes on. Behind so many of our problems is the poisonous belief that God doesn’t really love us that much.

The presence of doubt and despair is traceable back to a certain view of God, salvation, and Christian living. So speaking of assurance helps us deal with all these realities.

Third, God desires that you know for sure.

Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian, said during the outbreak of the Reformation: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.” 

But listen to the Scriptures: 1 John 5:13I write these things to you who believe in the same of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Hebrews 10:22Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” 

Or think of Paul. Paul knew for sure: 2 Timothy 1:12But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed.”

This is God’s heart for his children. He wants them to be utterly certain of his care. Jesus went to great lengths to make this clear in John 10:

  • Verse 10-11: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” 
  • Verse 14-15I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” 
  • Verse 27-28My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

This is God’s desire for them. That they might know his love and feel secure. We are not to be motivated by the uncertainty of fear, but by the security of love. We are not in a family where the father motivates his children by threatening to abandon them if they fail, but by saying he’ll love and care for them no matter what.

Have you ever been rappelling? You get strapped up, the harness fitting uncomfortably snug all over your body, and there’s that moment when you have to learn backwards off the edge of some sheer cliff. 

That’s the scariest part of rappelling — when you’re not sure if the rope will hold all of your weight. If you’re not confident it will hold you, you won’t lean back. I’ve seen people watch others rappel, get strapped in themselves, go up to the ledge, and absolutely refuse to lean back. They couldn’t trust the rope with all their weight. And so they didn’t move.

If you don’t trust your Savior, fully and completely, there are going to be limits to your obedience. Do you trust Jesus with the full weight of your eternity? Do you trust him with your life? If you do not, there will be certain risks you will not take. You will never lay down your life until you trust that Jesus will raise it up again on the last Day.

God wants you to be sure and his love for you and your perfect security, and then lay your life down in risk-taking, self-sacrificing obedience.

Christ, Our Hope

Luther discovered justification by faith in 1517, but 1527 was one of the darkest years of his life.  It was also the year Martin Luther composed the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” It was his anthem to ward off the devil and remember the greatness of his salvation. 

Think of the words in the 2nd verse: 

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, 

were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing: 

Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus it is he; 

Lord Sabaoth his name, from Age to Age the Same, 

And he must win the battle.

Luther saw that we are weak sinners, who cannot strive to save themselves, but that God has appointed a man — who is also God — to be the Savior of everyone who trusts in him. He is our Mighty Fortress. Here is a great statement to start a series on assurance: at the bottom of it all, the grounds of assurance is Jesus Christ. 


Thank you, Jordan

Eric and Jordan in 2010.

As I come to the end of my time serving Grace Church of Simi Valley, I am profoundly thankful for the grace of God that has been poured out on me, often through the people I’ve been placed around. Particularly, I am grateful for the life and ministry of our pastor, Jordan Bakker. Paul wrote in Galatians that “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” Maybe it’s an under-applied passage in Scripture, but it’s certainly a valuable one. This blog is my way of publicly thanking Jordan him for his faithfulness as well as reminding the church of the blessing of being under his leadership.

  1. Thank you for seeing potential in a young, idealist, college-age student who had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. You zeroed in on me, encouraged me, and gave me a taste for ministry that has fueled much of my life. I still have the email you wrote me in 2007 where you asked if I’d be interested in doing a summer internship. Rereading it reminded me of the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing then, and I particularly remember the joy of thinking, “Hey, he thinks that I might have something to offer!” Even though I had a lot of growing up to do, you focused on my strengths and challenged me to keep it up.
  2. Thank you for giving me John Piper’s book Desiring God. During a time in my life that I was asking big questions, Piper not only satisfied my intellectual appetite but provided a biblical framework that has shaped the way I think about life and ministry.
  3. Thank you for frequently pointing your airsoft gun at me during my summer internship, thus initiating negotiations, and teaching me that sometimes the best way to get you to stop is to not even react.
  4. Thank you for making fun of preachers who used words like “betwixt” and “hitherto,” attempting to sound like a Puritan. I could have become one of those guys.
  5. Thank you for thinking of me when you considered who would be a good fit to serve in the student ministries department at Grace Brethren Church in 2011.
  6. Thank you for demonstrating that a strong leader is never caught off guard, never surprised, and that the ability for such resilience is rooted in a robust belief in the sovereignty of God.
  7. Thank you for repeatedly seeing opportunities in challenges, and communicating them to the people around you. Many obstacles that could have discouraged us were presented as positive opportunities for us to learn, stretch, and grow.
  8. Thank you for checking in on me without micromanaging me.
  9. Thank you for being a shepherd, not a hireling. You can’t turn off being a pastor.
  10. Thank you for loving Erin and your girls well. You are an example to me.
  11. Thank you for making ministry a delight, and teaching me that the best work environments are those where there’s time to laugh and have fun together.
  12. Thank you for showing me that often the best way to shepherd people is to ask good questions and listen well.
  13. Thank you for reminding me never to take myself too seriously.
  14. Thank you for emphasizing the need for good, strategic, communication. I think I’ve known how important what we say is. You taught me the importance of when and how we say it.
  15. Thank you for emphasizing the need for faith-filled mobility while not giving up the need for slow, plodding maturity.
  16. Thank you for showing that discipleship is mostly just intentional friendship, and that the aim of our charge is love. Love can’t be programmed.
  17. Thank you for saying again and again, especially in my early years, that love is inefficient, that ministry is messy, and that people matter more than programs.
  18. Thank you for resisting any program or initiative that potentially undercuts genuine spiritual growth in the lives of your flock.
  19. Thank you for never giving away truth at the expense of love, nor love at the expense of truth.
  20. Thank you for the jokes that pop-up unplanned in your sermons, even the ones that made me cringe. They remind me that preaching ought to be an extension of the personality, and that your style in the pulpit wasn’t much different than your lifestyle outside it.
  21. Thank you for giving a young man like me opportunities to preach, and encouraging me in it.
  22. Thank you for making bets on your favorite sports teams.

    I bet Jordan that the Lakers would win a championship before the Warriors would. I lost.
  23. Thank you for always having your office door unlocked, and telling me in the early days that you made it a point to always welcome whoever might come into your office because you never knew what good you might be able to do for them.
  24. Thank you for how you gently handled some of the mentally handicapped who have come into our church community. The way you have treated them with dignity and honor is exemplary.
  25. Thank you for laughing hard at things, so we know where you are at all times.
  26. Thank you for saying frequently that your greatest fear for the church is that nothing happens, that we would just happily exist without taking any risks.
  27. Thank you for grabbing hold of the church-revitalization idea and running with it, leading in it, and praying for it. You have been its greatest champion, which is a mark of good leadership and God-trusting humility.
  28. Thank you for all the times you’ve asked about my wife and kids.
  29. Thank you for giving me a good example of how to lead men who are my father’s age.
  30. Thank you for inviting me, and others, into your life, including your struggles and difficulties. This is the foundation of all the other things I’ve learned from you. You have embodied Paul’s heart in 2 Timothy 3:10, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness.”

As I step into a new role as a lead pastor in a different church, I am sure that I will find more to be thankful for, like a kid who isn’t thankful for his parents until he becomes one. God, in his wise and gracious providence, used you in my life to place me on a path of service to Jesus Christ. From an earthly perspective, I can confidently say that apart from your influence I would not be in ministry. I thank God for you, and want to encourage you to continue onward and upward, being faithful to our Lord and Savior, waiting for his blessed appearing, eager to spend your life for the advance of the gospel and the glory of God.

The right time to raise your voice

What do you raise your voice for?

Everyone is built with a release valve for the pressures of life. What’s inside must come out. We express– we cry, we laugh, we mumble, we shout. We get perplexed. We get elated. Our inward life is revealed in our expressions: our eyes, our mouths, our voices convey the thoughts and convictions of the heart.

And we raise our voices. What goes on inside you that turns up the volume of your voice?

Is it when you’re angry? Is it when you’ve had enough? Is it during a crucial moment in the game? Is it at your spouse or kids? Is it at a screen? Is it at coworkers or bosses or subordinates?

Most times we should resist a raised voice, especially when it flows from anger or discontentment. But there’s a time for everything, including a time to raise your voice.

Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding…then you will understand the fear of the Lord.” Proverbs 2:3, 5

This passage is about how one gains wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. It’s nicely arranged: three conditional ifs and a then. If you do these three things, you’ll get this result. I love when Scripture makes it so simple and clear.

One of the conditions is that we must learn to raise our voice. The previous statement offers a parallel verb: “Call out.” Urgent. Loud. Eager. Expecting to be heard. Not willing to be ignored. Persistent and audacious. Vying for the attention of the hearer. If we would seek wisdom, there’s some aggression in the seeking.

This is God’s invitation for us to ask for wisdom. Set aside bashfulness. Be humbled by God’s holiness, but be emboldened by his offer. Pray like God really hears you. Pray like God wants to give you want you need. Let your prayers reflect the conviction that God is not only infinitely rich but also indescribably generous. He is able and willing. Go to him and with raised voice and high expectations. Bold, believing prayer is a key to unlock the door of wisdom.