“Does someone need the Holy Spirit working in them before they can come to faith?” Of course, I said. “Well how does the Holy Spirit choose who to work in, if not by his own will and pleasure?”
I came to faith in the summer of 2010. While I had been exposed to Christianity by my parents growing up, by high school I had rejected the faith of my parents and was resolved to have nothing to do with organized religion ever again. But just a year after college, God used several events and relationships in my life to bring me to himself.
For two years I hungered after any theology book I could get my hands on: Lewis, Tozer, Fee, and Keller were the four food groups of my theological diet. I devoured apologetics with the intention of “tearing down every stronghold” I encountered. For all of my reading and studying, there was one place – a dark place – I had been told never to go. Stay clear of Calvinism, I was told by church leaders. I was led to believe Calvinism was a cold, stiff, non-evangelistic, and uncompassionate theological system.
But on that night in 2012, talking to a pastor from a small Baptist church about the work of the Holy Spirit, I became a Calvinist. We were on a mission trip together and I had been trying to debate him all week. But everything changed for me that night. With what little understanding I had, I embraced Calvinism, not knowing all that would mean for me and how my understanding of the Bible – and all of life – was about to change.
I went home and immediately ordered the book Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul. I now felt equipped to debate and challenge all of my friends to become Calvinists too. I soon became eager to criticize and debate others about theology whenever I could. I loved to be right. I constantly criticized “the Church” for being too weak in her theology. I rarely believed I was wrong. I had ascended to the heights of an all-knowing Calvinist, and there was nothing that could get in my way.
It was official. I had become young, restless, and reformed. Continue Reading
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)
The last several weeks have been a whirlwind of developments as the Coronavirus continues to spread across the globe. In just recent days, many of us in the United States have been deeply impacted as events are canceled, schools are closed, work is suspended, and stores are emptied of nearly every basic supply. Almost every church or other religious gathering in the DC-Metro area has either shut down or moved entirely online. Those who are most vulnerable: the immunosuppressed, the elderly, and those with other serious medical conditions – have to live in a heightened state of fear and precaution. My wife and I, expecting our newborn any day, can’t help but worry about how these circumstances might impact our stay and care at the hospital.
As these events unfold, I have turned to God’s Word as a source of comfort and strength. God has not left us without his voice and instruction for us during these difficult times. In particular, 2 Timothy 1:7 has been helpful for me in my own meditation and I want to share some reflections that I hope might be of benefit to you as well. Taking a posture of encouragement, we have the power to be his witnesses, the Source of love, and the ability to model self-control. Continue Reading
J.I. Packer famously said in his book Knowing God, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.” The significance of the doctrine of adoption cannot be understated. In fact, the Bible teaches that our spiritual adoption is the height of all our privileges of being in Christ by faith. Our adoption tells us not just that we are loved by God, but what kind of love with which we are loved by him (1 John 3:1). This love is not generic kindness or niceties; it is the love of a heavenly Father richly lavished on his children whom he delights in.
Yet for many of us the experience of adoption is one that remains impractical and ineffectual in our day-to-day lives. We understand the doctrine rightly, yet our relationship with God still feels cold and distant. When we sin, we are prone to an anxious temperament and feelings of shame and condemnation. When we go through seasons of little prayer, we convince ourselves that God probably wouldn’t want to hear our prayers anymore. We are crushed by failure, regularly doubt our own significance, question whether or not anyone could actually love us, and push others away out of fear of exposing our true selves.
Such behavior is common to all of us. While we may still believe that God once did a work in our lives to save us, it is now up to us to remain in his good graces and convince him to keep on loving us. This is very similar to the problem the Christians in Galatians faced in the Apostle Paul’s letter. Having begun their life in Christ by faith, they were now seeking to perfect themselves and remain in God’s favor through their own effort (Galatians 3:3). As a result, they too had a very cold and distant understanding of what it meant to be in Christ.
In the climax of his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul digs deep into the doctrine of salvation to reveal the precious crown jewel of the Christian’s spiritual adoption (Galatians 3:26-4:7). Through a careful study of Paul’s description of adoption, we can discern at least three practical ways for us to deepen our own experience of adoption and God’s fatherly love and care. Continue Reading
One of my favorite prayers in the Psalms says this:
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come. (Psalm 71:18)
The Psalmist is aware of the fatigue that old age brings, so he prays for the strength to mentor and disciple the next generation. This kind of intergenerational discipleship is assumed throughout the Bible (Deuteronomy 32:7, Psalm 78:4-6, 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Titus 2:1-6, etc.). These relationships between older and younger members of Christ’s body are a reflection of the kind of unity which God has won for us in Christ (Acts 2:42-47, 1 Corinthians 12:12ff).
I have a special burden for intergenerational relationships and discipleship in the Church, not only because it has made such an impact on my life but also because I believe it is a biblical model that is often neglected in our churches. While there’s nothing wrong with affinity groups (where we explicitly gather with other saints from common demographics), we are missing out on necessary growth and sanctification when these groups are the only Christian relationships we have.
Over the years I’ve tried to pay attention to the latest in intergenerational research, whether that is in the broader culture or in the church explicitly (sadly, the former often impacts the latter much more than the latter impacts the former). I was delighted when I learned that David Kinnaman (with his friend Mark Matlock) at the Barna Research Group put out a new work for us to learn from. Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon has some really insightful research and applications for ministry today. In particular, this new research sheds light on how intergenerational relationships not only need to be a priority in our churches, but it also shows us how these relationships might need to adapt for the challenges of this new age. Continue Reading