Fathers: Shaping the Future

Today we honor fathers. I do not consider this a “secular” holiday. Regardless of the origins of the holiday, fathers are God’s design and any holiday to honor them is Christian in my view. Interestingly, the history of the holiday can be traced to a group of pastors and the YMCA (originally a Christian organization). So, today I rejoice that our society has such a God-honoring holiday.

God has designed the family to consist of a father and a mother. The statistics about children raised in fatherless homes are telling (look them up for yourself). The future of our society will be written by the children being raised now. The fathers of these children have a huge influence on the outcome of this generation. With so many non-Christians trying to limit their children or kill them (via abortion), Christian children should be outnumbering non-Christian children. Christian fathers can then train up their children to also raise up godly offspring. Fathers: you have a great task! Embrace your calling to have children and raise them up to transform the society for Christ!

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John Robinson and Taking Offence

I am working on my thesis for the M.A. degree in Literature at Baptist Bible College. As part of my preliminary readings, I have been working through William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. This book is the exciting account of the Pilgrims’ journey and settlement in New England nearly four hundred years ago. When the Pilgrims left England for the New World, they were forced to part ways with many of their dearest friends. In fact, the Pilgrims were members of a church together and the voyage to America caused this church to be fragmented. It was not a negative split—consider the Mayflower contingent a “church plant”—but it was still painful. The pastor, John Robinson, stayed behind in England to minister to the saints that remained.

Pastor Robinson’s leadership and love is evident even in his final correspondence to the Pilgrims prior to their departure. Bradford reproduces the pastor’s final letter in his book Of Plymouth Plantation. I will not quote the entire letter here, but I will quote sections and offer some comments. The letter demonstrates a pastor’s wisdom when it comes to the “messiness” of living in Christian community. Nearly four centuries later, it remains highly relevant to the church.

Robinson opens his letter by affirming his great love for the Pilgrims. He laments the pain caused by their departure, describing himself as “a man divided in himself with great pain.” He then prefaces the bulk of the letter by saying why he is writing:

Though I doubt not that in your godly wisdom, you foresee what is applicable to your present condition, I have thought it but my duty to add some further spur, even to those who run already,—not because you need it, but because I owe it in love and duty.

His words remind me of the Apostle Paul, who was eager to remind his readers of what they already knew: “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have” (2 Peter 1:12). The Christian pastor knows repetition is not a bad thing. We should never think we have heard something “enough times” as a Christian.

Pastor Robinson then shares four main exhortations with the Pilgrims: (1) the need for regular repentance, (2) the need to seek peace with all men, (3) the importance of working for the general good, and (4) the need for godly civil leaders. I will comment on his first two exhortations in this post. (I encourage you to read the entire letter when you are able.)

The Need for Regular Repentance

Pastor Robinson writes that “we ought daily to renew our repentance with our God, especially for our sins known, and generally for our unknown trespasses.” Robinson knew the adventure that awaited the Pilgrims would test them immensely. The last thing he wanted was for unrepentant or hidden sin to work amongst them like a poison. With a journey so potentially perilous, the Pilgrims needed to be constantly on guard against the deceitfulness of sin. However, the Christian life in general must be approached with the same zealousness for holiness and eagerness for repentance. We are told to “keep [our hearts] with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Pastor Robinson knew the greatest problem the Pilgrims would face would be unrepentant sin. The same is true today.

The Need to Seek Peace with All Men

After discussing repentance and “the heavenly peace with God” it brings, Robinson moves on to talk about the need for peace with other people. This section is very powerful. Robinson knew that a group of people forced to live together in trying circumstances can be a recipe for conflict and contention, disagreement and division. However, he gives some of the best advice I have ever read for avoiding the potential pitfalls of living in Christian community. He first relates that we should indeed seek to avoid giving offence when possible, but then spends some time on the all-important necessity of not easily taking offence. He writes,

Nor is it sufficient that we keep ourselves by the grace of God from giving offence, except we be armed also against taking offence when it is given by others. For how imperfect is the work of grace in him who lacks the charity that covers a multitude of offence, as the scripture says…Persons ready to take offence, either lack the charity which should cover offences; or the wisdom  duly to weigh human frailty; or lastly, are gross though close hypocrites , as Christ  our Lord teaches.

Robinson’s point is clear: we need to be very, very slow to take offence. If someone does something we don’t like, if the “infirmities of one another,” as Robinson writes, cause us to squirm, we need to be vigilant to guard our hearts against murmuring or taking offence. Robinson explains that we need to be careful, “lest when unsuspected qualities appear in men and women, you be inordinately affected by them.” The focus here is that no matter what the other person does, I ought to be working hard at not taking offence. This does not mean I cannot approach my brother and share a concern with him, but it does mean that his actions should not cause me to be “inordinately affected.” I should not think to myself, “If he does that one more time (or one hundred), I don’t know if I will be able to put up with him anymore.”

Robinson’s insight on this topic is apparent. He writes, “In my own experience I have found few who are quicker to give offence, than those who easily take it. They who have nourished this touchy humour have never proved sound and profitable members in societies.” It is this “touchy humour” that can so easily create unnecessary division. To put it in the modern vernacular: we need to stop being so sensitive.

Robinson, understanding the nature of their quest, wrote to the Pilgrims, “The plans for your intended civil community will furnish continual occasion of offence, and will be as fuel to the fire, unless you diligently quench it with brotherly forbearance.” The solution is not to try really hard to never disagree—or even try to disagree less—the solution is that we forbear with one another in the midst of our differences. God’s Word affirms the validity of Robinson’s concerns. We are told to bear “with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, [forgive] each other” (Colossians 3:13). We are to “bear with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). This is what will “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

After discussing the other two points (the general good and godly civil leaders), Robinson closes with a lovely benediction and prayer for the Pilgrims, asking that God would “so guide and guard you in your ways, as inwardly by His Spirit, so outwardly by the hand of His power, that both you and we also may praise His name all the days of our lives.”

This letter is just one tiny glimpse of Pastor John Robinson’s passion for the church. Clearly, this pastor inspired the Pilgrims. He labored for years as their spiritual shepherd in Holland, no doubt teaching on the topic of taking offence. His influence is evident in a letter from Robert Cushman to John Carver. Cushman opens his letter to his “loving friend,” by stating, “I have received some letters from you, full of affection and complaints.” It is only in the midst of a godly community that both affection and complaints can be so naturally and openly intermingled. Cushman closed his letter to Carver with words that I will use to close this post: “Think the best of all, and bear with patience what is wanting, and the Lord guide us all.”

The Effect of Righteousness

Peace. It is illusive, yes, but it is not unattainable. The best of human rulers can only give thanks to God if his kingdom or country is characterized by peace. To say a kingdom is characterized by peace is a high commendation. For example, the reign of Israel’s greatest king, David, was characterized by peace (though not before much fighting had to be done; see 1 Chronicles 22:18; 23:25). Peace was even more prominent during Solomon’s days (1 Kings 4:20; 1 Chronicles 22:8). But the peace of King David and King Solomon was short-lived. As great as they were, they were still sinners. Imagine, however, a perfect king, ruling in perfect righteousness. What would be the effect of that? What would result if such a king reigned over us? Would there be peace? Or would there be increasing wickedness and sin? The Bible not only answers that question, it also tells us who that king is.

In Isaiah 32 we are told that “a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice” (v. 1). The ESV Study Bible notes that this verse foreshadows the “triumph of the Messiah.” The Puritan Matthew Henry notes that this passage directed the original readers “to look for the kingdom of Christ, and the times of reformation which that kingdom should introduce.”

Despite the pockets of current resistance to his rule, the Kingdom of Christ has come—Christ is reigning as King now (1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20). The “time of reformation” occurred with the institution of the New Covenant and the ascension of Christ. Yes, the ultimate, final subjugation of all Christ’s enemies will occur when Christ destroys death itself (1 Corinthians 15:26)—but the course of history is one of progress until that point, not decline. The breaking-in of Christ’s kingdom has introduced times of reformation.

When David became king, he had a lot of work to do. In fact, immediately after the people of Israel anointed him as king, he fought against the Jebusites residing in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 11:1-9). The fact that David had work to do did not diminish his kingship. In like manner, the fact that Christ is in the process of bringing all things into subjection does not diminish his kingship at all. He is doing what all good kings do. He is building his kingdom. It is interesting to note as well that David conquered the capital first—he struck a decisive blow right out of the gate. In a far greater way, Jesus Christ has already struck the decisive blow against the enemy. He has defeated (past tense) Satan. He “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [the cross]” (Colossians 2:15). There are those who deride the “triumphalism” of postmillennialism, but I am happy to rejoice in the victory of Christ. The work left to us is significant, but it is mop-up work nonetheless. The great victory has been won. Our enemy has been defeated. Sure, Satan prowls around like a lion seeking someone to devour. But we can resist him. We can be sober-minded and watchful and rely upon Christ. With Christ on our side the enemy is nothing but a declawed kitten (cf. 1 John 4:4).

The righteous rule of Christ over earth does have tangible results. Isaiah said it long ago: “The effect of righteousness will be peace.” The idea is that a king reigning in righteousness (Isaiah 32:1) will certainly cause peace.

As the Kingdom grows, people will be converted. What will be the result of individuals being saved? Well, for one, it will mean that more families will be saved (yes, salvation does come to households, see Luke 19:9). And what happens when more and more families are saved? For one thing, you begin to have communities that seek to serve Christ. And what happens when more and more communities are saved? You get the picture. Nothing in the Bible would lead us to believe that the inauguration of Christ’s kingdom leads to less righteousness in this world. On the contrary, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ and now he is going to use that authority to build his kingdom. Unless Jesus forgot to ask, all the nations of the earth will be given to him by the Father (Psalm 2:8).

Christ, not Satan, is King. If we have a righteous king over us (and you better believe Christ is a righteous king), what will the result be? Will it be ever-increasing wickedness and rebellion that leads to the church being a tiny remnant in the midst of a world of Christ-haters? Or will it be the steady spread of the Kingdom which the Bible speaks of (Matthew 13:31-33)? The effect of righteousness will be peace. The context of Isaiah 32 is that of the rule of a righteous king. That King is reigning now.

As the Kingdom of Christ grows, peace will be enjoyed more not less. One of the biblical promises concerning the Kingdom of Christ is that nations will be at peace with one another: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).

As an aside: What about in our personal lives? As Dr. Bahnsen used to ask, “How are things going in our neighborhood?” What is the effect of righteousness in your life? How are things going in my home? How are things going in my heart?

Does the righteous rule of Christ over all the nations actually produce peace? Yes, it most certainly does.

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:1-4)

“Don’t Call Them Murderers”

Last week I had yet another opportunity to do an outreach at our local murder mill (i.e. Planned Parenthood). It was a sad day. It was abortion day.

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One young man walked out of the building to smoke a cigarette. He came over and spoke with me. His girlfriend was inside, preparing to murder her child. I beseeched this young man to go in there and tell her to stop. I also urged him to repent of fornication; I urged him to turn from his sin and follow Christ. Sadly, it seems, the murder that came out of his girlfriend’s heart resulted in the murder of an innocent child that day; I think she followed through with the abortion. Later that day, a woman pulled over and greeted us. She had murdered her child many, many years ago. She regrets it to this day. Watch the video below to see what she would say to a woman about to abort her baby.

A common response to outreach at abortion mills focuses upon the way to approach this sort of thing. Is it really a good idea to call people who get abortions murderers? (I guess we could have a separate discussion on whether or not we should call people who rape rapists.) Shouldn’t we just “love” these women and not do anything to make them feel any worse than they already do? There is usually some genuine concern behind these queries, but there is also a lot of misunderstanding.

First of all, abortion is murder. It is the taking of an innocent life with malice aforethought. I fear this is often quickly acknowledged and then discussion moves on to the “approach” we should use. However, I do not think we really understand the significance of this. If abortion is cold-blooded murder (it is), then those who secure abortions are cold-blooded murderers (they are). We must not forget this foundational truth as we proceed. “You shall not murder” still applies (Exodus 20:13). So, we start off with the basic truth that abortion is murder and those who secure it (abortion doctors and mothers and fathers) are murderers. From there we can move on to the broader nature of the Gospel call. (For more on the nature of abortion as murder, watch Babies Are Murdered Here.)

As Christians, the Good News we herald includes a message about sin. When the Apostle Peter addressed the crowds at Pentecost, he told them to repent of their sin (Acts 2:38). In fact, he even called them murderers (Acts 2:23)! (So much for not wanting to hurt people’s sensitive feelings.) The Gospel message includes the truth that God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). That includes the liar and the cheat, the thief and the blasphemer, the proud person and the hypocrite. And, yes, it includes the murderer at Planned Parenthood. If I call someone who stole something a thief, that doesn’t make me judgmental. In fact, to not call that person a thief would be disingenuous. The Gospel message includes the truth that God hates sin and will judge it. If this is not a significant part of our message, something is wrong.

Equally important is our demeanor when sharing the truth. Let’s assume for a moment that we agree on the content of the message that needs to be delivered: abortion is murder and those who procure abortions are murderers. When we begin to discuss how we share this message we must be careful not to wander back into debating the content of the message. If abortion is murder then our message must be explicit about that. Many times, I hear people say they agree with this message, but then say things like, “But when you are talking with women at the abortion mill, you should not use the term ‘murderers;’ all you should do is offer help.” This, however, is a different message, not merely a different approach. This is the message of: “We don’t want to call out sin, we just want to help.” Helping is nice, even necessary, but without the biblical call to repentance it is insufficient. (Helping is one of the main reasons I go to Planned Parenthood. One sign I hold states, “Please Don’t Kill Your Baby, We Can Help.” Sadly, the vast majority of Christians will not do outreach to Planned Parenthood. But we do need more women to come and offer help with us.)

Here is an example of what I mean concerning demeanor. Pastor Jeff Durbin, of Tempe, Arizona, shares the biblical message: abortion is murder and those who secure abortions are murderers. His demeanor, however, is not condescending, elitist, or mean. The only way you would draw that conclusion is if you disagreed with his message. Here is a video of him at an abortion mill. If you think his attitude, tone, or demeanor is unbiblical, then I am not sure what Bible you are reading.

Our demeanor must be humble and loving. I have yet to have someone tell me I have a “bad tone” when talking with supporters of Planned Parenthood or would-be murderers at the clinic. (This is at least noteworthy for me, because in other venues I have been challenged as to my tone.) The real issue, behind the façade of a “gentler approach,” is in fact the message we are heralding.

I would now like to briefly address the fact that not all women who go to Planned Parenthood are murderers. This is undoubtedly true. This is why I would never call a person a murderer unless they have aborted a baby. (In like manner, I would never call someone a thief unless they stole something.) However, murderers are present at these mills. The doctors who perform these acts are murderers. The women who do go for abortions are murderers. The men (fathers, husbands, boyfriends) who support abortions are murderers.

The Bible says that “those who rebuke the wicked will have delight” (Proverbs 24:25). Indeed, you may catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but I don’t go to the abortion mill to collect insects. I go to call murderers to repentance and to offer them the Good News of King Jesus. I would love for you to join me and show me how you do it. We need more Christians at these places of death, shining the light of God’s Word in the dark places of society. The loving thing to do is speak the truth. Yes, it hurts to hear that you are a sinner, even a murderer. But it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as an eternity in hell. Nor does it hurt as much as getting your arms and legs ripped off, and being violently pulled out of your mother’s womb. Preach the truth. Don’t fear man.

New Year’s Resolution: Read the Bible

The New Year will soon be upon us. Inevitably, many people will be making New Year’s resolutions. And there is nothing wrong with that. However, according to Forbes.com, only 8% of people will actually keep their resolutions. Will you keep your resolution? Will you even make one?

Two of the ways Forbes recommends keeping your resolution is to keep it simple and make it tangible. Also, I would add, make it worthwhile. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, I can hardly think of one better than committing to read through the entire Bible (or at least half of it—and then you can read the second half in 2016). Never mind if you have already read through the Bible, the true Christian desires to continually feed upon God’s Word.

Nathan Bingham of Ligonier Ministries recently shared a list of 2015 Bible Reading Plans. I recommend picking one of these (there are a plethora of options, including a two-year reading plan) and printing it out and putting it in your Bible (a tangible piece of paper in a Bible with real pages is better than an eBook or iPhone). Now just make it a priority to read your Bible every day. If it is important to you, you will do it. If it is not, you won’t. (Keep in mind: if you have no desire for the Word, you are not a Christian. Of course, extenuating circumstances may cause you to miss a day here and there, but overall, you will feast upon God’s Word in 2015 if you truly desire it.)

Whether you are a Christian or not, I hope you will commit to reading the Bible in 2015. Our nation is in desperate need of biblical knowledge. Revival will start as people (and families) start to read the Bible in their homes. Countless people have been gloriously converted as they read through their Bible.

As you read through your Bible in 2015, keep these three points in mind:

1. Simply reading the Bible does not make you a Christian. God commands you to repent of your sin and trust in Jesus Christ.

2. Reading your Bible is not a substitute for membership in a local, biblical church. For more on the importance of the church, see my post “Why the Church?”

3. All the Bible reading in the world is useless if you don’t apply it to your life! Thomas Boston urges us: “Let your main purpose in reading the Scriptures be practice, and not bare knowledge…Read that you may learn and do.” The Bible likewise commands us to “be…doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).

As a special holiday treat, check out Thomas Watson’s list of twenty-four ways to “Get the Most from Reading your Bible.” Happy New Year!