By / Sep 14

“Lord, please protect my children.” From the earliest days of parenting, Christian moms and dads have prayed these words a thousand times—I know I have—prayers for safety through the night, protection at school, and preservation from harm and evil. As a parent in the 21st century, these words are never far from our lips and hearts—and for good reason. Recent statistics have raised the alarm. A 2019 survey by Lifeway said that two-thirds of “American young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager say they also dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.” More teens are not only walking out of church, but are walking away from the Bible’s teaching about gender and sexuality. The currents of today’s culture seem to be more treacherous than ever before.

Yet these dark waters are nothing new. In the New Testament, Jesus prayed for the safeguarding of his own in the world. He said, “I am not praying that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15, CSB). And in the Old Testament, Psalm 78—that justly famous chapter on the next generation—also sounds the alarm over two perilous currents that endanger God’s children. In its 72 verses, Asaph unfolds a cautionary tale in two acts.

Act 1: Psalm 78:9-39 highlights the bad example of the Ephraimites—one of the tribes of Israel. In the day of battle, Ephraimite archers, armed with bows, turned back (Ps. 78:9-10). And this was not a neutral battlefield decision made in the fog of war. This was retreat.

Act 2: Psalm 78:40-66 tells another tale of failure. When the generation whom God had rescued out of the greenhouse of Egypt, encountered an idolatrous culture, they embraced it. “They enraged [God] with their high places and provoked his jealousy with their carved images” (Ps. 78:58). This isn’t retreat. This is surrender.

Constant threats

Together these two cautionary tales are a matched set. They offer side-by-side contrasts of the two undercurrents that threatened God’s people. Both accounts deliberately use the word “bow” (as in bow and arrow) to describe the problem (78:9 & 78:57, the only occurrences in this chapter). The Ephraimites carried bows but did not use them. The Exodus generation were like bows that did not work. Both verses also use the same Hebrew word, which means “twisted” (hphk), a word used only one other time (78:44). The Ephraimites “turned back,” while the Exodus generation “turned away” (twisted) like a warped bow.

The Ephraimites turned from risk in order to save their lives. This is running away out of fear of something bad. In contrast, the Exodus generation turned to idolatry to meet their needs. This is blending in out of hope for something better. And aren’t these the two missteps of every generation?

On the one hand, we are tempted to flee from the enemy—just like the Ephraimites. We are tempted to run from the threats and dangers of our day, of our culture. And on the other hand, we are also tempted to embrace the enemy—just like the Exodus generation. We are tempted to assimilate with the opportunities and benefits of our day, of our culture.

Yet as Jesus prayed, every generation must remain “in the world,” yet they are not “of the world” (John 17:14-15). But, with the riptides of withdrawal on the one hand and capitulation on the other, how do we as parents steer a course between these two perennial threats? 

A countercultural people

Psalm 78’s answer might surprise you. The root problem with both the Ephraimite’s retreat and the Exodus generation’s surrender is the same. In their present moment, they had forgotten the works of God in the past. So Asaph, the author of this psalm, rehearses what each group should have remembered.

Act 1: When the Ephraimite archers went out to battle, they should’ve recalled how God had previously provided for them. They should’ve recalled his provision in opening the Red Sea (78:13), in leading them through the wilderness by day and night (78:14), in giving water in the desert (78:15-16), and in sending bread from heaven and meat to eat (78:17-28). In spite of all this, the Ephraimites did not trust God’s ability to provide (78:17-22; 32-33; 37). Yet God, showing compassion, continued to provide for his people (78:38-39).

Act 2: Similarly, Asaph recounts the works of the Lord which the Exodus generation should have remembered. God sent plagues on Egypt and all their false gods (78:42-51). God delivered his people, but swallowed up their enemy at the Red Sea (78:52-53). He brought his people into the land, but drove out the nations before them and gave their land to his own people (78:54-55). In sum, God wielded supernatural power to deliver his people and defeat their enemies.

Both groups failed because they forgot what the Lord had done. The Ephraimites gave up because they didn’t remember how God had provided what they needed, and the Exodus generation gave in because they didn’t remember how God had defeated their enemies. 

But isn’t that counter-intuitive? It’s not what I would have written. 

A counterintuitive counterculture

On the one hand, if I had sketched out the history lesson for the Ephraimites, who fled from battle, I’d have wanted them to remember that God is a warrior who defeats his enemies. But Asaph puts this truth with the other bad example. 

And, on the other hand, if I were summoning the Exodus generation to remember what God had done, I might say: Don’t look to idols to provide what you need—because God has always provided for you. 

But that is not what Asaph says. Instead, he says, when you face the enemy, remember how God has provided. And when you’re tempted to idolatry, remember how God has triumphed over his enemies.

This is counterintuitive. And this is wisdom. Because, if we face hostility under the banner—“God will defeat you”—we might be overly optimistic of what God will do through us. We’d be tempted to relate to the culture in pride and combativeness: “We will crush you people.” Instead, we can face cultural opposition calmly knowing that “God will provide.” 

Or if we face the promises of idolatry, armed only with—“God will meet my needs”—then we might be overly pessimistic about what God can do around us. We’d be tempted to relate to the culture in fear and doubt: “Is this really the right and better way for everyone?” Instead, we should face the lure of idolatry confidently knowing that our God has routed any supposed rivals and is infinitely superior to them all.

Bringing it home

We must protect ourselves and our children against the lure of an idolatrous culture that is increasingly hostile toward Christianity in a demonstrable way. We must not retreat. We must not give up out of fear of something bad. But we must stand with the calm assurance that no matter what happens, our God will provide. 

Whether we lose the culture war, whether we are marginalized and canceled, whether we are slandered as bigots and hate-mongers, whether they take away our constitutional liberties—despite all these things, our God will still provide.

And we must not surrender. We must not give in out of hope for something better. But we must resist the little compromises, the tiny bargains, the costly silences in confidence that we know how this story will end. We humbly know that it is not the world nor us who sits on the throne of this world, “and though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.”

Recalling this balance—that God will provide and deliver—will help us and the next generation to engage our culture without wavering, and without fear. 

By / Aug 25

Scripture calls Christians to glorify God in all elements of life (1 Cor. 10:31). However, connecting our faith to our vocation can often be a challenge. Furthermore, some Christians work in a nonvocational ministry setting while sensing a call to full-time ministry. What does it look like to glorify God in our workplace? And how can it prepare those going into vocational ministry?

I interviewed Param Yonzon, a seminary student and pastoral intern who works full-time for a corporate insurance firm. Yonzon shared how he lives his faith out in his workplace and why he believes his role at his firm has made him a better minister of the gospel. The lessons he shares are important and applicable whether you plan to enter full-time ministry or not. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your vocation.

I am originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am 24 years old, and I’ve been living in New York for seven years now. I originally came to New York in 2014 for my undergraduate degree at St. John’s University. I studied risk management and insurance, and I ended up getting a job at Marsh McLennan, a global insurance brokerage firm. 

I came to faith when I was 20 years old, in my sophomore year in college. I was raised in a Buddhist household, so I was not raised with a Christian worldview. God got a hold of me through a local church near my college. I sat under Bible/gospel preaching for two years and was discipled by the church’s associate pastor. I eventually came to faith after my father was diagnosed with cancer. 

Ever since coming to faith, I’ve had a heart for evangelism and missions. So I decided to pursue a theological education after getting my undergraduate degree. 

I am currently in seminary and working toward getting my MABS. I’ve been attending Reformed theological seminary in New York City, where I’ve been trained by teachers like Dr. Timothy Keller and Ligon Duncan. 

My aspiration is to eventually become a church planter in the city. 

What are some particular challenges of being a Christian in your area of work?

The biggest challenge I face in my area of work is the idolatry of money. In finance/insurance, there is a culture of an ever-unsatisfying pursuit of wealth. 

Colleagues will move from job to job, team to team, company to company, and city to city to fulfill their desire to make a better paycheck. Most of my subordinates at work always have a lingering feeling that the grass is greener on the other side — that is, there is a better opportunity elsewhere for work. 

Part of the challenge of working in this type of culture is that it is alluring and easy to fall into. I can easily come to a place where I look at my co-workers not as image-bearers, but projects and steps that can help me advance in my career and paycheck. 

How does being a Christian bring purpose and direction to your vocation?

Being a Christian in my workplace has radically changed how I view every person I work with. 

The doctrine of the image of God has helped me process why I should treat every employee, no matter their job, as a person who has infinite value because they are made in the image of God. 

Being a Christian in my workplace has also changed how I view my talents, skillset, and knowledge. God has gifted everyone of us with certain abilities, and it is our duty to cultivate and sculpt those skills for his glory. 

Lastly, being a Christian in my workplace has changed how I view my work in light of God‘s redemptive plan for the world. I know that everything that I do at work plays a part in the long redemptive-historical narrative of Christ, and therefore, everything I do at work matters. 

What advice would you give to a believer who aims to go into your line of work?

The biggest piece of advice I would give to someone aiming to go into my line of work is to learn to cultivate the desire to do the work you are called to do at the present time. 

Most of my anxiety at work occurs when I’m trying to be at two places at once. But, when I make an effort to be present with the work that is before me, I typically end up doing an amazing job. Christ honors even the smallest of attempts to glorify him, especially when we anchor our hope and aim to do every task to the glory of God. 

You mentioned that you are currently a seminary student and aspire to church plant. How do you integrate your call to ministry with working in a full-time, non-ministry position?

Many times in my ministry with youth students, I encounter the same heart problems that young professionals in the workplace have. Often, the heart problems deal with anxiety for the future, relationships not working out, and a works-righteousness mentality (best career, resume, titles, etc.). 

I also know that the Lord has given me a set of spiritual gifts. Things such as preaching, teaching, and hospitality. All of these skills are transferable and applicable to my non-ministry position. Perhaps I’m not preaching, but I can teach certain things I’ve learned to the rest of my co-workers.

One of the things I am more conscious about, as a client advisor, is people do not receive information just by telling them facts. People need illustrations, analogies, and sensory details to understand the full picture of the facts you are presenting to them. I don’t ever want to use my preaching skills in order to advance my career success, but it has led me to become a better persuader and storyteller. 

Working a non-ministry job has also allowed me to learn about the depths of common grace that God has toward all mankind. I have met many talented, smart, and wise people at my work. And most of them are non-Christians. My job has allowed me to see that God loves to glorify himself through their tasks, jobs, and skills because they were created in his image.

How has the gospel shaped the way you view your workplace?

The biggest way the gospel has shaped my view of the workplace is by helping me understand that work is a good thing. Work was created before the fall in Genesis 3. And therefore, work can bring a sort of satisfaction that all mankind can find. However, the gospel has also taught me why work can be hard, daunting, and hurtful because of the Fall. Work can be brutal when left in a toxic environment. A Christian worldview, a gospel-saturated worldview, will leave a person with a sense of the goodness of work in the midst of its brokenness. 

However, ultimately, one day work will be made new. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, all those who repent and trust in him will eventually find a place where there is an infinite amount of ways we can glorify God, in an infinite amount of time, with an infinite amount of grace, and with no sin at all. 

I am looking forward to the day that Jesus redeems the workplace. 

This is the first article in a new series on Vocation. This and future pieces can be found here.

By / May 11

We all have our own combination of personal habits. From morning routines before the day’s work begins to evening habits that help us decompress from each day’s stresses, we even have habits for every waking hour in between, both healthy and unhealthy. In her newest book, A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus, Jen Pollock Michel shows that a life of following Jesus is a life spent cultivating “a habit called faith.” In a world where there is unprecedented competition for our attention and for our habits, Michel shows her reader (and invites them to practice) what it takes to stay on the narrow way with Jesus: the practice of putting one intentional foot in front of the other habitually, day by day. 

Recently, Jen was kind enough to talk with us about the book and about some of her own experiences following Jesus, which you can read below. 

The title of your latest book, A Habit Called Faith, may catch some readers off-guard. Can you describe why you call faith a habit? 

Habit can be a bit of a dirty word, can’t it? We imagine something rote, something perfunctory, even something insincere. But to imagine faith as a habit can do a couple of really important things. First, it can remind us that faith is more than emotion, that it’s something to practice regardless of our feelings. Second, it can remind us that faith is more than a cerebral exercise, that it involves more than the ideas we hold about God. To say that faith is a habit is to grant how active it is, even that it involves a life of training. 

How do our habits contribute to or detract from our faith in Jesus?

When I was a new Christian, someone told me to practice certain habits of faith as a way to “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6). Thirty years later, I’m so grateful that someone gave me practical ways to shore up my faith. Read the Bible. Pray. Share the gospel. Belong to a local church. It’s a real failure when we make Christian growth a matter of mystery or magic. Of course, there’s always the temptation to make the whole point the habits themselves, as if they could ever save us. 

I think the late A.W. Tozer said it best. When he was asked, “What makes a saint a saint?” his answer was, “The lifelong habit of spiritual response.” That language allows us to hold in tension the great paradox Paul outlines in Philippians 2:13, which is that “God works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Spiritual habits can be a way we participate in this mystery.

You say there is a “persistent idea today that we’ve grown out of religion like a child grows out of shoes.” What do you mean by this? What’s the solution?

I live in Toronto, where many people consider the claims of biblical Christianity primitive. They imagine that science has supplanted the need for religion. If we have mapped the genome and discovered quarks, what need do we have for God? I think the only solution is to get people reading the Bible for themselves and making sense of what they find. It’s a kind of come-and-see invitation, which is the approach we see Jesus himself use. I’d love to see churches develop more groups like this, making room for the spiritually curious to read the Bible alongside other Christians. Truthfully, I continue to marvel at the work of the Holy Spirit as people get their noses in God’s book. In the last couple of years, I’ve seen a couple of people come to faith in Jesus doing just this.

Early on, you write that “faith looks a lot like the kind of belief all people practice.” Can you expound on this? 

Again, many people who don’t share any kind of religious commitment often assume that faith acts like “superstition.” They think it’s the stuff of fairy tales and myths. By contrast, they imagine that their agnosticism (or atheism) is decided by objective, rational thought. I think this begs a really important conversation. How “objectively” does any of us decide anything? Research tells us that we’re not the “thinking” beings we imagine ourselves to be, that all of us — religious and irreligious alike — construct our beliefs by way of intuition, reason, gut instinct, and emotion. Of course, the good news about Christianity is that it never requires us to check our brain at the door. The Gospels are reliable documents, bearing witness to historical events. Christian faith is a response to evidence, even if evidence alone will never compel faith.

In trying “to make sense of the habit of faith in the context of contemporary life,” you focus your attention on the books of Deuteronomy and John. Why these books?

At first glance, the Gospel of John seems to make a lot more sense than Deuteronomy! It allows readers to carefully consider Jesus: his claims, the work of the cross. Is he God? What does his death mean? Is he, in fact, “the Way, the Truth, the Life?” But Deuteronomy prepares us for the Gospel of John (and the revelation of Jesus) in a number of important ways. From the very opening phrase of the book, “These are the words,” Deuteronomy tells us something important about the nature of faith: that we must surrender to the words (and later, Word) of God. It exposes the nature of human sin, that for as often as we’d promise to keep the words of God, we can’t. Finally, it leaves us marvelously bewildered at the end of the book, when Moses blesses the unfaithful people of God. How can such grace be? Deuteronomy is the appetizer for John’s Gospel meal.

In describing your conversion to Christianity, you say that “when you took up faith in Jesus . . . you took up its habits too,” having been encouraged by someone to “commit to forming the habits of the Christian life.” What are some of those habits that you developed, and how have they contributed to your development as a Christian? 

I’ve already answered this in one sense, but maybe I can simply add this. In the pandemic year we’ve all lived, it seems obvious that we’ve needed grounding in our spiritual lives. Life has been turned upside down for all of us, and for those of us with established spiritual habits, they have provided a tether in the storm. To look at our circumstances, we might not always feel convinced that God is good. But to have habits of Scripture reading, prayer, worship, body life, service: it gives us a way to keep putting one foot of faith in front of another, even when we don’t know that we can, even when we’re not sure that we want to. We keep the habits — and often, the habits (by God’s grace) keep us.

The format of the book itself, with its 40 daily readings, seems intent on helping readers establish a daily habit of their own, which I assume was intentional. Why did you choose 40 days? What does each reading consist of? 

Forty seems like a biblical number, no? Jesus was 40 days in the wilderness during his temptation; Israel was 40 years in the wilderness after the Exodus. There’s nothing magical about the number, of course, but I do think that if we do something consistently for 40 days, we’re on our way to forming the habit. In this case, I’d love to see people forming the habit of daily Bible reading. The book travels 20 days in Deuteronomy, 20 days in John. Each daily reading focuses on one chapter of the Bible, athough I’ve also suggested a shorter selection of verses (for the time-pressed) as well as a key verse. My own reflections on these passages are meant to probe Scripture as a means of transformation. If I can say it this way, I try to engage the Scripture in a way that “reads” us as readers. Perhaps most importantly, I try to make gospel connections for readers, so that they can see that the Bible is one story, that it’s soaked, from beginning to end, with the good news of God’s grace.

For those, like you, whose lives are filled with work responsibilities and raising children and school and the like, how can we strive to maintain the habits of the Christian life amidst a busy schedule, and why is it vital that we do so?

I have five children, so I suppose I know a little something about this. I do think certain harried seasons of life require creativity and intention. As a young mom, I always thought it counted when I read the Bible, prayed, and worshipped through song with my children. I did try maintaining a morning habit of regular Bible reading, too, but I do remember one long stretch of time, when my twin boys (the youngest) were infants. I gave up that morning time, figuring sleep was also a means to godliness. I copied Psalm 145 on index cards, tucked it into the pocket of my nursing chair, and pulled it out throughout the day. I was meditating on that psalm for a good year! I think there are all kinds of ways to imagine how we might connect to God — but one thing is for sure. It won’t simply happen. We’ll be met with resistance. We’ll be given to distraction. As the late Dallas Willard once wrote, there’s nothing accidental about spiritual life and growth.

What are your hopes for those who read A Habit Called Faith, and how would you encourage them as they seek to “take up the habits of faith in Jesus?” 

I have one hope alone: that readers will discover (or rediscover) that the life of faith in Jesus Christ is just this: life. He’s bread. He’s living water. No amount of money, no professional achievement, no domestic happiness will ever fully satisfy our restless hearts. I hope Christians will read — and I hope they’ll read alongside their spiritually curious friends. We can’t tire of the perpetually good news of the gospel: that we were once estranged, that we’ve been befriended by Jesus, that the world will one day, finally be made new.

By / Jan 28

Mat Alexander, a pastor in Alabama, shares about God’s faithfulness at his church.

By / Dec 31

James Merritt, a pastor in Georgia, shares his own struggles during the pandemic and encourages pastors to focus on Jesus.

By / Dec 2

As a young woman, I felt the call to serve God overseas in a Muslim country. Like many students in a thriving college ministry in the early 2000s, the call to take the gospel to the ends of the earth was heard often and taken seriously. I remember being faced, for the first time, with the reality that God did not exist to bless me and make my life better, but that he blessed me so that his name would be glorified among the nations. 

I signed up to spend six weeks in a Central Asian country where my team and I would teach English at universities and build relationships with students outside of class. Our hopes were that God would allow us to share the gospel with them. Prior to leaving on this trip, I was actually quite terrified. I felt anything but courageous. I was leaving the comfort and safety of my Midwest existence and heading to a country whose religion caused fear in the hearts of many post-9/11 Americans. However, I was not scared of being in a Muslim country or being with Muslims; I was scared of God. 

Learning to rest in the gospel 

During my college years and for several years afterward, I had a poor understanding of the gospel. I thought I needed Jesus to get to the cross, but after I received salvation, it was up to me to be good and perfect and holy. This meant that I pursued the “most holy” thing I could do, which was going overseas for the sake of the gospel. And when I was there and struggling with a lack of desire to do what I’d been sent to do, I became fearful of what God thought of me. Surely, he would not love me unless I committed right then and there to spend the rest of my life living in the Middle East. 

Later on in life, my husband, 8-month-old daughter, and I headed overseas again. This time we were spending two years with the IMB working with a Muslim people group in Europe. I was less fearful this time, but I still held onto a low-level fear that God was somehow inexplicably disappointed in me each day. It wasn’t until I read a parenting book on grace that I finally understood that I was the heathen, not just those I was going to share the gospel with. Once I realized that I was in need of grace and understood that God had already freely given me grace for my sins, I was set free from the fear that had caused me to keep God at arm’s length. 

Today, we are living in time that causes a lot of fear for many Christians. I think many of us have either assumed or been taught, albeit subconsciously, that it’s up to us to be holy and prove our righteousness before men and God. Scripture even tells us to be holy as God is holy. But if we look at the whole Bible, we see how much emphasis is placed on God’s saving work on our behalf. 

Responding to the fears of our day

As we near the end of 2020, you may be feeling that the world has completely turned upside down. You could be fearful of a pandemic or a new government in the United States. You may be worried about job loss and the economic future of our country. Our subconscious Christian culture may have told us that these things should cause us to fight for our rights. But, I would like to suggest a different way to react to these things that, for many, are truly scary. 

As we look to increased COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, while also looking down the barrel of an uncertain political future and economic disruptions, the greatest thing we can do is embrace our fear and take it to God.

When I look back on my time overseas, I remember how scary it felt to share the gospel with a post-modern European who believed that all truth was relative and anyone who believes in a Middle Eastern carpenter who walked the Earth 2000 years ago is crazy. The largest mosque in Europe was just a few blocks from our apartment, and every Friday I saw droves of North Africans fill the neighboring streets so they could attend Friday prayers. At times, the spiritual lostness was so overwhelming I felt paralyzed to even know what to say.

I can even look to my life here in the states and see when fear has crept into my heart. I pray for my neighbors and the friends of my children. But what if God gives me an opportunity to really talk about my faith? Will I freeze up in fear, or will I trust that God can give me words to say?

What I’ve learned most about fear and courage in my 37 years of life is best defined by my friend Lori McDaniel who says there are four ways to deal with fear: 

  1. Pretend I have none: denial
  2. Remain in it: paralyzed
  3. Hand letter it and post on social media: facade
  4. Absorb God’s Word and move forward: trust 

As we look to increased COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, while also looking down the barrel of an uncertain political future and economic disruptions, the greatest thing we can do is embrace our fear and take it to God. Tell God what you are fearful about, not social media. Instead of getting angry and attacking someone on the other aisle of your beliefs, take your anger and frustration to God. He wants to hear what you have to say, and he wants to show you in his Word how he will take care of you. God can and will give us all the courage to be salt and light in this broken world. No matter what happens in the remainder of 2020, 2021, and the rest of our lives, we can be sure that God is on his throne, completely in control of everything happening. Be strong and courageous in the truth that God is God and you are not. 

Russell Moore’s latest book, “Courage to Stand,” is about how courage means embracing your fears. Check out his book here

We encourage you to consider giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. You can help send even more Southern Baptists to the ends of the earth by making a year-end donation to the International Mission Board

By / Dec 1

Jeff Dodge, pastor of Veritas Church in Iowa City, recounts God’s faithfulness during the pandemic.

By / Nov 18

One of the most discouraging things in my walk with Jesus has been seeing Christian leaders fall. At this point in my life, I’ve seen it happen so many times that it is hardly surprising anymore. In fact, at times I feel numb to it. It seems like every year, and sometimes every week, there is news of a different Christian leader, on some level, who has fallen into moral failure. Most recently, it was the lead pastor of Hillsong Church in New York City, who was dismissed from the church earlier this month due to an extramarital affair. Following the news of his firing, social media was filled with a range of responses. Some mocked Lentz for his brand of cool Christianity. Others expressed their disapproval and regret to see another Christian leader fall. But many who had been influenced by Lentz expressed emotions of hurt and confusion. 

Moral failure

Seeing some of those responses, particularly those reflecting pain and doubt in the wake of seeing a spiritual leader fall, made me think again about the issue of moral failure. Moral failure brings about a great deal of fallout. It marks the end of ministries. It marks the end of marriages. It devastates families. As the apostle Paul said it “makes shipwreck” of faith, but not only of the faith of the one who fell (1 Tim. 1:19). 

In the aftermath of a leader’s moral failure, great damage is done to those who looked to that person for guidance. This is because Christian leaders have much more than benign influence. For those under their spiritual care, such leaders are living pictures of Jesus. In their lives, words, and actions, they model what it means to follow Christ. And whether they intend to or not, their lives serve as a sort of validation of the gospel. Seeing some live in a way that demonstrates the authenticity of conversion and new birth verifies that Christianity itself is based upon something real and true.

It’s no wonder seeing a spiritual leader fall is so painful. At the very least, as a result of their fall, many begin to second-guess the things you learned from them. Were those things really true? Or were they simply expedient in some way you didn’t recognize before because you never thought to question them? And sometimes the result is much worse, leading not merely to doubts about the lessons that person taught but the faith he or she represented. Few things are more jarring than seeing someone who has shown Jesus to you fall into sins that repudiate the very things you most admired about them. 

Christian faithfulness

I’ve seen Christian leaders try to hedge against this problem by speaking regularly about their own brokenness. Reminding those under your care about your own humanity and fallenness is, in general, a good practice. A Christian leader who never admits to struggling with sin isn’t doing any favors to those they are leading for a number of reasons. All of us are broken and struggle with sin. And inevitably, even the most faithful among us will still fall short in ways that disappoint and cause pain to those around us. But simply reminding others of our own sinfulness is neither a remedy for our sin nor a bulwark against its effects. 

Faithful Christian leaders recognize two things at the same time. First, they know that Jesus alone is perfect. But second, they know that our fallenness is no excuse for unfaithfulness.

There is a reason the apostle Paul instructed the Corinthians to follow his example (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul was an apostle. He was not a superhero. By instructing those believers to follow him, he was not setting up a precedent that the rest of us are just supposed to ignore. Instead, he was showing us what it looks like to follow the example of Jesus who instructed us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19). A disciple is a follower. And though we are all called to be followers of Jesus, we learn what that looks like through the example of believers who are ahead of us in the faith.

Faithful Christian leaders recognize two things at the same time. First, they know that Jesus alone is perfect. But second, they know that our fallenness is no excuse for unfaithfulness. Christian leadership is a burden. This is the reason that James says that “not many of you should be teachers” (3:1). But those who assume the burden of Christian leadership really are expected to walk in a manner worthy of imitation. Our sinful nature does not lessen that burden. And knowing that, we should commit to memory the words of Hebrews 12, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

Keep watch

If the stories I know of Christian leaders guilty of significant moral failure are any example, none of us should assume that we are safe from future sin because our lives seem to be on track right now. The Scriptures are filled with warnings about the insidious nature of sin. Peter tells us that the devil prowls as a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Paul not only tells us to keep a close watch over our lives and doctrine, but admonishes us that anyone who thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall (1 Tim. 4:16; 1 Cor. 10:12). The point could not be more apparent: we are always in danger of falling into sin.

You might be tempted to explain away the moral failure of others. But what happened to Carl Lentz can just as easily happen to you. It may come in a different form, but temptation is coming for you all the same (Gen. 4:7). Sin is no respecter of persons. And the devil seeks your destruction. I’ve had to remind myself that numbness is not the answer to revelations of moral failure among believers. Nor is judgement. Instead, I have resolved that each time I hear about another leader’s failure, I will pray for them and pray for me. I will not ask how they could do such a thing, but ask that God would protect me from that which most tempts me. 

It is a weighty thing that the lives and faith of many believers are bound up with a leader’s ability to fight against sin. But they are. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christian leaders owe it to Jesus and to his people to fight against sin with all they have.

By / Nov 12

2020 has been a challenging year for almost every person in the world. Like many pastors during the pandemic, I was looking for ways to encourage my congregation during this season. I felt it was my responsibility to be encouraging to them in as many ways as possible.

Something very unique happened in this process, however. As I encouraged our congregation, time and time again, I walked away as the one being encouraged. Let me share with you three ways that the people of Plymouth Park Baptist Church in Irving, Texas, have encouraged me during a global pandemic and strengthened my love for the local church.

1. Authentic support

One of the first things we did as a staff was to divide the membership among us to reach out and call those in our church. We wanted to make sure they knew how to remain connected to the church as we moved primarily online, check that their needs were being met (spiritually and physically), and find out how we could serve them. As I made my phone calls, I was constantly the one receiving the encouragement. Members were thanking me for everything we were doing. 

There are no less than 50 handwritten notes that I have received during the pandemic on my desk at work—simple words of encouragement from the flock that God has entrusted to me. After preaching 63 out of 64 weeks and having two trips canceled due to the pandemic, the church allowed me to take two consecutive weeks off on vacation. One member graciously paid for my family’s gas. My birthday came during the pandemic, and our members led a 50+ car birthday parade through my neighborhood to show their support. Yes, I have been the one who has been greatly encouraged.

2. Extravagant generosity 

Another way my church has encouraged me during this time is in the way they have sacrificially given their resources. Like many churches during the pandemic, we had no idea what giving would look like during this time. We pushed online giving and encouraged those who did not want to do that to mail their offering to the church. The leadership figured out a minimum number we needed to pay people and keep the lights on, and prayed that we would receive it. The people of our church once again encouraged their pastor by their giving.

 I often believe pastors feel like they have to be everywhere for everyone, but sometimes we need to sit back and see that our people are there for us.

May ended being one of the highest giving months that we have had on record in a long time. In fact, to date, we have received 98% of our budget goal through 2020. Because of this, we were able to do more than pay people and bills. We upgraded our cameras in the sanctuary to stream our services, we were able to divert money to help support the local school system in feeding families in our community, and we sent $5,000 to a partner of the gospel in East Asia who has 14 foster children when the father suddenly passed away due to COVID-19.

Our deacons went grocery shopping for older members, they ran meal trains for members who were in quarantine because they contracted COVID-19, and did work around the church building we normally wouldn’t be able to do when meeting in person. Our people used their finances and talents to give back tremendously to our church. It showed me over and over again that they love PPBC, not the building but the people. As a pastor, that left me inspired me and encouraged me during a time where it would be easy to get down.

3. Bleeding for the mission

We desire to have a tangible, transferrable excitement so that everyone interacting with us walks away thinking, “Wow, they really care about us.” Our church’s mission statement is, “To see the people of Irving forever changed by the Gospel of Jesus and holding dear to Him as their source of all joy and worth.” When people have been cautious about meeting other people, our church has found ways to fulfill this and be a light in our community.

Our student ministry team packed over 400 bags of snacks and treats for local middle school students on the first day of classes. Several church members built an outdoor “Free Library” as a resource in our community for kids and adults to have access to free books. Our members flooded the church with books for the library, so it was stocked and ready to go once construction was complete. Other members went door to door, leaving invitations to church and a letter explaining the hope we have in Jesus during these times. Another group wrote handwritten notes to our homebound members who were the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and were driven into isolation. Then, one of our deacons built a prayer-walk map around our campus so members could walk around our property and pray for our church and community.

These are just a few of the things the people of Plymouth Park did, and all of it has encouraged me. I often believe pastors feel like they have to be everywhere for everyone, but sometimes we need to sit back and see that our people are there for us. During a time when ministry has been different and challenging, I have felt the most encouraged and privileged to pastor this church. 

By / Nov 5

Ever since Adam’s rebellion plunged mankind under the curse of sin, humans have sought to answer the question of how to live full and flourishing lives. Historically, individuals known for providing answers to this question have been given the distinction of philosopher. At the thought of this title, most will recall thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, or Kant, but one influential figure typically left out of such a company is Jesus Christ. This exclusion is probably unsurprising to most. After all, both Christians and non-Christians agree that he was primarily a religious figure, one concerned with making humans right with God. This project seems to be in an entirely different category than the philosophical pursuit of happiness in this world. 

In his new book, New Testament scholar Jonathan Pennington (Reading the Gospels Wisely, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing) charges that though this vertical, religious view of the person and work of Jesus is correct, it only tells part of the story. He argues that the Holy Scriptures are concerned with more than simply how to get to heaven when we die—they also present us with an ethic for the Good Life. By walking through the big ideas presented throughout Scripture, the Christian approach to emotions, relationships, and other themes, Pennington’s Jesus the Great Philosopher provides a rich and relevant guide into how the Christian gospel gives a whole-life philosophy that makes possible a flourishing existence in the here-and-now. 


Pennington begins with the observation that modern evangelical Christianity often presents a truncated picture of Jesus’s message that is bereft of his philosophical whole-life wisdom. He argues this has resulted in four key problems:

  1. Our faith has become disconnected from every other “non-religious” aspect of our lives.
  2. We turn to alternative sources for wisdom for the Good Life.
  3. We fail to seek from Scripture its answers of how to live rightly in the world.
  4. Our inability to confront these questions has limited our witness to our neighbors (10).

To address these problems, Pennington builds his case for seeing Jesus as a philosopher, beginning with a survey of whole-life teachings in the Old and New Testaments. He then explores three different issues and presents their Christian solutions. These issues include educating emotions, which involves liturgically shaping (not coldly disregarding) them in accordance with Scripture (104). Next is a discussion on restoring relationships with both individuals and broader society in which the local church is the central “worshiping polis” (168). To conclude, Pennington asserts that the goal of the Holy Scriptures is to return mankind to a life of happiness by “reshaping humanity into the image of Christ” (204). In this manner, he shows that the Christian faith is a philosophy that not only presents answers to the religious questions, but also a whole-life ethic that gives instruction for the Good Life.

A philosophy the world needs

Jesus the Great Philosopher is a welcome and well-reasoned rediscovery of the full scope of biblical teaching. It speaks to a multiplicity of issues that encompass human life, highlighting areas often thought to be separate from that to which the Word speaks. While the breadth of topics Pennington addresses is wide, the reader never gets the sense that he has overstepped his bounds. His insights are broad yet concise, informative yet nourishing.

The recognition of our union with God in Christ as our greatest good does not render our horizontal relationships with our neighbors and the world superfluous. Instead, it equips us with the proper tools to rightly relate to it all and advance his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).

It is also a timely and important work given the tumultuous state of affairs of the past year. For a time in which people are more isolated, angry, and confused than anything in recent memory, Pennington’s book demonstrates that Christianity addresses these issues by offering salvation through faith and the instruction that makes possible a full and abundant life (John 10:10). 

Thy kingdom come

Jesus the Great Philosopher also speaks directly to the belief often implicitly held by modern evangelicals that the redemption offered by Christ merely affects our individual souls rather than creation in its entirety. Its commentary challenges the common American anticipation of an eschatalogical departure from the physical realm to a heavenly existence. Indeed, Pennington’s work helps remind us that the redemption Christ brings isn’t an escape from this world. Rather, “It is the message that God reigns and he is now finally bringing his kingdom from heaven to earth—through Jesus himself” (165)!

This kingdom-focused mindset prompts us to defy a detachment from this world and adopt a God-and-neighbor focus that allows us to embrace and enjoy life to the full. As such, the human experience and its enjoyment are dependent on a right view and ordering of our emotions. While it is important to recognize the necessity for contentment in all things (Phil. 4:10-14) and to model the Lord’s impassibility, to imitate our Savior means to reflect him as he was: “fully emotional, but in a way that was always harmonious, not imbalanced, inappropriate, or disordered” (111). A biblically-informed shaping of our emotions helps us to rightly order the objects of our love such that the Good Life is made possible. 

This right ordering of our desires finally gives us the capacity to delight in this world as God intended. This is not to say that we enjoy such blessings apart from the One who gives them. On the contrary, we delight in them through him. But the recognition of our union with God in Christ as our greatest good does not render our horizontal relationships with our neighbors and the world superfluous. Instead, it equips us with the proper tools to rightly relate to it all and advance his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). Pennington writes that the Christian philosophy emphasizes “an honest assessment of the brokenness of life that is always oriented toward a sure hope for God’s restoration of true flourishing to the world” (218).

Overall, Jesus the Great Philosopher is a clear and enjoyable text that presents an important rediscovery of the broad and robust message of the Holy Scriptures. Pennington effectively addresses a wide range of issues with a skillful yet conversational tone, providing the reader with an active and engaging text. Timely and relevant, this book gives Christians the important reminder that our Lord and Savior is also our Philosopher who gives us not only redemption and salvation, but also the tools necessary for the Good Life.