Reflections: Sabbatical 2016, Pt 1

IMG_1016.JPGFor years now, I have wanted to blog. Friends have encouraged me to write more regularly, and mentors and colleagues have challenged to blog more frequently. For various reasons, to which I may blog about later, I have simply neglected to follow through. Now, I have written a blog from time to time (once a year it seems), but I have never learned to consistently blog. This I pray will be the beginning of a new era that involves blogging for me.

Yesterday was my first day back from a sabbatical the church I pastor, Providence Church, graciously provided me. I am grateful for a church that provides prolonged hiatuses for rest and study and soul care. I am grateful for a church and elders who recognize the unique difficulties of pastoral ministry and provide the fading habit of offering annual seasons to unplug. Sabbaticals are not always provided to pastors of churches and some people may not be familiar with them. If you are interested in learning more you can read this helpful article.

I have not always been able to take an annual sabbatical. The last was August 2013 when I planned it so that for 9 days I could research and write alongside a friend, Tom Ascol. Tom and I had hoped that that time and work would lead to publishing a book on the church and family. Tom wrote about that time on his blog (here). I ended up being extremely sick the first half of that sabbatical with Ulcerative Colitis and rarely left my home. I only functioned at all on those final 9 days with Tom because I was on heavy doses of prednisone. Eighteen more months of fighting this disease followed before I eventually underwent a total proctocolectomy and ileal pouch anal anastomosis (IPAA) at the Cleveland Clinic in February 2015 (may need to be another blog). Now I sit at my desk on the first day coming off a month-long sabbatical 3 years after that first one. I feel rested, rejuvenated, and thankful for this season of good health.

Sabbaticals, unlike vacations, usually involve goals like research, writing, praying, and reflecting,  as well as reevaluating one’s ministry responsibilities. Because I am a father of three children, and a husband of 18 years, my sabbatical also included IMG_1113spending time and caring for my family. So on the 6th of July the five of us and our Australian Shepherd “Copper” loaded up the truck and headed north. We were graciously offered the use of a friend’s cabin in Eastern Kentucky some 30 miles outside of Moorhead. We spent 8 nights secluded from people, televisions, cell phones, and internet connections. It was incredible. Our family had never experienced anything like that, ever. I am not sure my children thought people could survive under those conditions.

This time provided me the opportunity to read more than usual. One book I read was the recently published biography by Iain Murray about J.C. Ryle called “Prepared to Stand 510HPo8A0zL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Alone.” This is an incredibly well written book that I highly recommend. It was an especially wonderful resource for a pastor recharging on sabbatical. Chapter after chapter I was repeatedly encouraged by the example of this godly 19th Century English pastor and former Bishop of Liverpool. I also read much from Kent Hughes’ “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.” This too is a great book for pastors. In addition to reading, I also spent more time than is normal for me in prayer. Being in the middle of nowhere hearing the birds and observing God’s creation while spending extended time in prayer is an incredible experience.

I found being off social media and away from the television was a blessing. Family worship around an outside fire-pit and long exhausting walks with my children and my wife, well, these are the moments I will be grateful for as long as I live. During one of those walks we turned a 2-hour hike in the mountains viewing incredible waterfalls into a 5-hour hike causing Mary to doubt my navigational skills (I was never in doubt, most of the time). And there was that Sunday we just popped into a small baptist mountain church with the heave-hawing-style preaching. These nine days were a great start to my sabbatical. I’ll save the rest for next week…hopefully.

UPDATE: Read part two here.



What God Thinks of Unborn Children

Yesterday on Sanctity of Life Sunday, I shared at my church how God loves the helpless, especially the unborn. Then, earlier this morning I was inspired by this short video containing the words of our President Barrack Obama.

Here’s the transcripts of yesterdays message. You can also find the audio here.

God Loves the Unborn
Luke 1:39-45
January 13, 2013, Sanctity of Life Sunday


It’s Sunday, January 13, 2013, and do you know what happen forty years ago tomorrow? Larry Csonka, Bob Griese, and the Miami Dolphins completed the first and only perfect season in NFL history (Jan. 14). (In my opinion, that makes them the greatest team of all-time. Yah that’s right, they beat the Patriots twice (52-0 once), the Colts twice (23-0 and 16-0!), the Steelers, and the Redskins!). Elvis also performed on national television from Hawaii that day in front of 1.5 Billion viewers, which for 1973 standards is incredible.

This was the beginning of an incredible two weeks of American history. The very next day (Jan. 15), the war in Vietnam was suspended. Five days later (Jan. 20), President Richard Nixon was inaugurated for his second term. Two days after that (Jan. 22), George Foreman defeated Joe Frazier for the Heavyweight Championship of the world. That same day (Jan. 22), former President Lyndon Johnson died. Five days later (Jan. 27), the Vietnam War was officially ended with the signing of the Paris Peace Accord. And three days after (Jan. 30), bringing an historic month in American history to a close, former Presidential aids James McCord and Gordon Liddy were convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and wiretapping for their roles in the Watergate scandal (dates found on

Somewhat quietly, something else happened this month 40 years ago. And it will be talked about this week, more than any of the other events I mentioned. A week after the Vietnam War officially ended, Newsweek published this in their magazine:

“The end of a war and the death of a President got bigger headlines. But in a quiet way, a third event last week may have as lasting an influence on American life…

In one of the boldest and most sweeping decisions of the Nixon years, the [Supreme] Court ruled 7-2 that the criminal abortion laws of almost every state violate a constitutional ‘right of privacy’ and must therefore be struck down.” – Newsweek, February 5, 1973

On January 22, 1973, quieted by the crowning of a new heavyweight champion and the death of a former president, 7 men changed the course of human history, by wiping away every state law that had previously protected the life of human beings in the wombs of their mothers. “The decision was simple enough in its main point — that a woman had a constitutional right to an abortion for any reason or for no reason within the first trimester of her pregnancy” (Mohler, Losing Ever Since Roe?). And so today, it is legal to abort the life of a baby in the womb in all fifty United States, at any time during the 9-months of pregnancy, for almost any reason at all.

Why Talk About Abortion in Church?

Since that decision, the issue of abortion has been one of the major issues in American life. “In every presidential election since Roe v. Wade, abortion has been a central issue — and never more so than in the 2012 election. The two party platforms of 2012 had diametrically opposed statements on abortion” (Mohler, Losing Ever Since Roe?).

And since that decision, forty years later, nearly 60 Million abortions have been carried out legally in America. That means the lives of unborn babies have been terminated equaling the size of the population of Florida, multiplied by 3, in just forty years.

Our sermon series is called “How He Loves” and today is Sanctity of Life Sunday.

Sanctity of Life Sunday is celebrated in churches across America each year on this Sunday because of the anniversary of a court’s decision forty years ago called “Roe vs. Wade.”

Abortion is a Biblical Issue

Some might say, “Wait a minute! This is a political issue and has no place as a topic on a Sunday morning message at church.” Well, I want to assure you, we are not a politically motivated church. We believe there are Christians who are Democrats and Republicans, and we welcome both in our church. And in the past, we have been openly critical of so-called “Christian Politics” or the aim some might have in establishing a “Christian government.” That’s not the agenda of the New Testament.

My aim this morning is to show that the issue of abortion is first a biblical issue, before it is a political issue. And once a Christian sees what God has to say about the issue of Abortion, they are obligated as a Christian to respond accordingly. And if part of that response requires political action, then we go there.

God Loves the Helpless, and so should the Church

I want to show this morning How God Loves Those Who CAN’T Help Themselves. People like to say God helps those who help themselves. That’s never true in the Bible. God loves the helpless. And as one example of this, we’re going to see How God Loves…the child in the womb. God loves the helpless, and so should His church.

I have a second goal with this message. I want to show How God Loves the mothers and fathers of these aborted children. Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S. says, “Abortions are very common. In fact, 1 out of 3 women in the U.S. have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old.” If that’s true, it could mean that 5-10 ladies here this morning have had (or will have) an abortion.

This could be a difficult message to hear for some. But it’s a message you really need to hear. What I have to say this morning has more power to help you than to hurt you.

My main idea this morning is that God Loves the Child in the Womb and we will see this by answering the question, “What does God think about the unborn?” Which means, since the Bible is the Word of God, what does the Bible say about the unborn? And if we are to be real Christians, then how God in His Bible thinks is how we as a church and as Christians should think.

We’ll end up in Luke 1:39-45. But I want to lay a foundation for this topic by answering three foundational questions. So am taking a little longer than normal to get to my text.

What is a Human Being?

First, lets answer the question, “What is a Human Being?” You go to Genesis 1 and 2 to answer the questions. “…God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen 2:7). Human beings are both male and female and are made by God in His image. We are designed to reflect the image of God.

Isaiah (43:6-7) tells it wasn’t just Adam and Eve who were formed by God. God forms all human beings too. And they too are made for His glory. But Adam and Eve where formed as mature adults. Does that mean the definition of human beings only includes adult persons? The Psalms help us with this question.

King David wrote, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14). So God formed the first two people as adults, but every person after them are formed as a person in their mother’s womb.

And David makes it potently clear that this is in effect at conception. He explains, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). He became a sinner at conception. One cannot become a sinner before they are a human being, and therefore a person. So a human being is a person created by God beginning at conception and each one bears the image of their Creator God. Each person here, starting at conception, is a work of God.

Some of our students tried to be smart-alecs this week when we allowed them to submit questions for the pastor to answer. They pressed me to answer the question, “Where do babies come from?” I told them to come this morning and I would give the answer. So there you go. That’s what the Bible teaches. Babies are a work of God.

What does it Mean to End Someone’s Life?

Second, what does it mean to end a person’s life? Early in Genesis God told Noah, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9:6). God warns of taking the life of another who is made in God’s image. And in Exodus God said, “You shall not murder (unlawfully cause human death)” (Ex 20:13). The life of a human being is a work of God. To unjustly kill a human is to destroy a work of God.

And Exodus 21:22-25 shows what God’s sentence was on those who unlawfully ended an unborn babies life: 22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm,then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye… That’s called capital punishment! God is saying here that an unborn child’s life is of equal value to your life.

What is Abortion?

Third, what is an abortion? I Googled “define abortion” and Google defines it as, “The deliberate termination of a human pregnancy.” Planned Parenthood says, “There are two kinds of abortion in the U.S. — in-clinic abortion and the abortion pill.” So abortion can be as simple just taking a pill. And the cheapest form of an in-clinic abortion “costs about $300–$950 in the first trimester.” It’s actually quite a business in the U.S. to abort babies.

Merriam-Webster defines abortion as “the termination of a pregnancy…resulting in…the death of the embryo or fetus.” The embryo or fetus? Here it is. This gets to the main idea behind this message. It’s clear that abortion is the deliberate killing or termination of a human pregnancy. The question is, “What are we allowing the mother and father to kill by supporting the right for a person to choose abortion?”

What does God think about the unborn? – Luke 1:39-45

The Bible tells us what a human being is and what God thinks about killing one. And we’ve looked at the definition of an Abortion. The debate behind Abortion is the question, “Does a mother’s womb contain a fetus or a human life?” This question is answered in Luke 1.

The context is, Elizabeth and Mary both conceive because God gives them a baby. Two women. One a teenager, a virgin, single, and a small town girl. Another, Mary’s relative, middle-aged, and barren. Both scenarios are looked down upon in society. Both deal with the scrutiny of peers. Many women in these circumstances in our day consider abortion.

No matter the mother or her scenario, God loves the child in the womb. One way we know this is because this passage shows us What God thinks about the Unborn.

I’ll read verses 39-45:

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

1. God sees a Baby in the Womb!

First, when God looks at the unborn, He sees a Baby in the Womb! Notice the word baby in verses 41 and 44. Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes this account and purposefully uses the Greek word for baby (brefos). He does not use a medical or political term for the unborn. The unborn child in Elizabeth’s womb is a baby.

Here is how we can be certain that God meant for us to see what he thinks of the unborn from this. In Luke 2:12, an angel announces to shepherds, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” See what he calls Jesus in the manger? The Son of God is called a baby. The same word for baby (brefos) used for Jesus is used for unborn John in the womb (see also Luke 18:15-16; Acts 7:19).

Consider What Science Says

Mounting scientific evidence supports the Bible. Science confirms that at conception, the baby has a unique DNA, and the baby’s blood type, fingerprint, and sex are already determined. Ultrasounds confirm that long before most women even discover they’re pregnant, the baby’s heart is beating; and has fingers and toes, eyes and ears, a mouth and nose.

And according to the Law of Biogenesis, when life creates life, it always creates after its own kind. Meaning, it’s impossible to create something in a human womb that is at first not human, then becomes human after some time. No, what is created in a mother’s womb at conception is a human being, not an embryo or a fetus. Some object, “But its only tissue!” And so are you. That doesn’t make you a fetus.

2. God sees a Person in the Womb!

But not only does God see a baby, He sees a person in the womb too. Look at verse 41 and 44 again. It says the baby leaped in her womb. Why did little John leap in his mommy’s womb? Elizabeth tells us the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

Joy is an emotion. This little baby showed emotion. And this is not just based on any old interpretation. This is God’s interpretation. In verse 41, we’re told that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when she explained that this was a leap of joy. God told her that John was overjoyed when the newly conceived baby Jesus arrived at his house.

I never thought of this. John’s purpose in life was to announce the arrival of Jesus. John actually began fulfilling his God-given purpose as a pre-born baby boy. What an incredible thought! That little child in his mother’s womb is a person capable of feeling and expression emotions. And each unborn child has a God-given purpose that they begin fulfilling at conception; chiefly, that each baby is formed at conception to glorify God.

God Loves the Child in the Womb and So Should We

So there you have it. Does a mother’s womb contain a fetus or a human life? According to the Bible, a mother’s womb contains a human life. What does God think of the unborn? He thinks of them as precious little babies, and little persons. He loves them, so should we.

Knowing this, our response shows what we think about God. If an expecting mother or father finds himself or herself in an unplanned pregnancy, there’s no difficult circumstance too difficult to support opposing God and unlawfully causing a human death.

When it comes to abortion, the question is, Who are you going to let be God over that human life in the womb? God the Creator or you? When a person chooses abortion, they choose to play god and enforce their will above another person’s will. That’s no different than infanticide or euthanasia. Why do we see these as evil, and not abortion?

You say, what about when doctors predict that the child will not have a good quality of life or will die a premature cruel death? The two babies in Luke 1 both died premature cruel deaths. If these ladies expecting under these circumstances today, someone would take them to the nearest abortion clinic. Under this kind of thinking, the world would never know a John the Baptist or Jesus Christ.

Besides, Planned Parenthood, who advocated abortions, admits that 93% of all abortions are performed on healthy mothers with healthy babies. And less than 1% of all abortions are performed because of rape of incest. These cases are a fraction of the whole. They are usually brought up as tactics to divert from the truth about abortions.

What if They Accuse Us as Against Women’s Rights?

Does being pro-life or anti-abortion make me anti-Women’s Rights? No! In this country, as many baby girls are murdered through abortion as baby boys. What about the rights of the nearly 30 Million baby girls who have been killed while in a helpless state over the past 40 years? Moreover, around the world more baby girls are killed than baby boys, especially in countries where families are only permitted one child.

Maybe some might say this is a political form of Racism? Well, TIME Magazine reports that the abortion rate for African-American women is 3.5 times that of white women (Mohler). The way I see it, a pro-life person who opposes abortion is pro-Racial Unity and pro-Women. All women and all races should be against abortion, not to mention all Christians!

What to Do? [Application]

So, What can we do?

1. Pray…for expectant mothers and those doing abortions.

2. Read and become knowledgeable. Let these facts set in (from The Ethics &Religious Liberty Commission):

  • 22% of all pregnancies end in abortion.
  • Two out of five unplanned pregnancies end in abortion.
  • Half of all abortions are women under-25.
  • The largest category is 20-24 year-olds (33%).
  • Two-thirds of abortions are by unmarried women.
  • And 60% of abortions are from existing mothers.

3. Speak up with patience, compassion, and conviction.

Listen, if we as Christians minimize abortion because we think we are being loving to those who have had abortions, we actually minimize the Gospel. As awful as abortion is, Jesus suffered and died for abortionists and for murders. He paid for the sin of taking the innocent life of another. He forgives this sin. Why minimize that? That’s a great sin too.

4. Volunteer. Get into the lives of those in need.

5. Adopt. Or at least be an advocate and help others to.

6. Dream. Help Providence discover ways to serve Lehigh.

7. Receive forgiveness.

None of us have done all we should regarding abortion. We all need of forgiveness. If you have had an abortion, know that God loves you as He does the unborn. In fact, He sent Jesus as a baby to demonstrate His love for the greatest of sinners.

Some of the greatest men in the Bible were murderers. Arguably the greatest man of the Old Testament, King David, and the greatest man of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul, were both guilty of causing the unlawful death of another human being.

Both men found comfort and experienced the amazing grace and forgiveness in Jesus. If it saddens you beyond comfort that you had an abortion or you encouraged another to have one, acknowledge right now to God your guilt and repent. Turn to God and put your trust in Jesus. He experienced the weight of sin greater than yours while on the cross. He did it so that many like you can be cleansed and restore to Him.

But those who have had abortions are not the only ones in need of forgiveness. Too many are uninformed or ignorant about what God thinks about abortion and share responsibility in allowing this great tragedy to continue in our land.

We are in great need of repentance this morning. We need to repent if we are guilty of being silent when it comes to abortion. Church, silence is not an option. Will they say of us what many of us think of the church generation of the slavery days? Were there any real Christians in the South to stand up for the helpless slaves? How could they claim to be Christians and not see the horror of slavery?

Well, I fear 100 years from now when the truth about abortion is even clearer, many will say of our generation, “Were there not any real Christians in America then? How could they be silent while 60 Million babies were murdered? Why didn’t they do all they could to stop it?” Is that what they will say about you? This church?

God don’t let it be. Church, lets not be silent anymore. Too much is at stake.

Spurgeon and Home-Discipleship—Part 3 of 3

(This is part 3 of Spurgeon and Home-Discipleship. Click here for part one. For part two click here.)

As a pastor Spurgeon would often reference the biblical role of family worship in the home. Preaching from Acts 16:14 on September 20, 1891, Spurgeon addressed “Lydia, the First European Convert,” by saying,

If the gospel does not influence our homes, it is little likely to make headway amongst the community. God has made family piety to be, as it were, a sort of trade-mark on religion in Europe; for the very first convert brings with her all her family…You shall notice in Europe, though I do not mean to say that it is not the same anywhere else, that true godliness has always flourished in proportion as family religion has been observed.[1]

He believed that godliness advanced in a community, whether it is a church or nation, in proportion to the godliness practiced in the homes. Worship practiced, or religion as the term was used in his day, had as much if not more credibility in the home than in the church. The practice of family worship was an expectation on a godly family.

Later in his sermon on Acts 16:14, Spurgeon went on to say,

‘But there is no priest.’ Then there ought to be. Every man should be a priest in his own household; and, in the absence of a godly father, the mother should lead the devotions. Every house should be the house of God, and there should be a church in every house; and when this is the case, it will be the greatest barrier against priestcraft, and the idolatry of holy places. Family prayer and the pulpit are the bulwarks of Protestantism. Depend upon it, when family piety goes down, the life of godliness will become very low. In Europe, at any rate, seeing that the Christian faith began with a converted household, we ought to seek after the conversion of all our families, and to maintain within our houses the good and holy practice of family worship. [2]

This is a radical statement for the 21st Century. Protestantism was still very much a movement in the 19th Century, as it should be today. Spurgeon believed the two greatest positions that influence this movement were the pulpit and the home. According to him, Christianity and the entire continent of Europe depended on whether Christian fathers and mothers would lead their homes in family worship. If the idea of family worship lacking was crucial in Europe 150 years ago, imagine the state of our country today where the practice has been nearly extinct.

In The Kind of Revival We Need, Spurgeon wrote on what he called “Domestic Religion.” Here he called for a revival among the Christian families:

We deeply want a revival of domestic religion. The Christian family was the bulwark of godliness in the days of the puritans, but in these evil times hundreds of families of so-called Christians have no family worship, no restraint upon growing sons, and no wholesome instruction or discipline. How can we hope to see the kingdom of our Lord advance when His own disciples do not teach His gospel to their own children?

Oh, Christian men and women, be thorough in what you do and know and teach! Let your families be trained in the fear of God and be yourselves ‘holiness unto the Lord’; so shall you stand like a rock amid the surging waves of error and ungodliness which rage around us.[3]

There was such a neglect of the practice that Spurgeon calls these families “so-called” Christians. It is clear to see here his understanding of family worship was to teach the gospel. He did not have a mere formal routine or activity in mind. He had the daily instruction in the gospel of a Christian father and mother to the rest of the family. And this quality was missing.

Again Spurgeon reiterated his expectation of Christians to lead their families in worship by almost questioning the sincerity of the faith if they neglect this duty.

I trust there are none here present, who profess to be followers of Christ who do not also practice prayer in their families. We may have no positive commandment for it, but we believe that it is so much in accord with the genius and spirit of the gospel, and that it is so commended by the example of the saints, that the neglect thereof is a strange inconsistency.[4]

It is implied through Scripture, since worship was required regularly, and yet the weekly custom of corporate worship did not happen until after the Babylonian Exile, late into Old Testament history.

Spurgeon feared that if the home did not teach the gospel as required, families and the church would fail in evangelizing the children.

God’s requirements for child evangelism are clear: fathers are commanded to diligently teach their children and care for their souls day by day. The sad reality of father’s lives in modern churches is that they are satisfied with Sunday schools and evangelistic crusades (which are never mentioned or commanded in scripture), but they reject God’s direct and undeniable commands to personally teach their children daily. This is outright rebellion against the Lord.[5]

Father’s are charged to care for their souls day by day, as a pastor to his church. Spurgeon recognized that Sunday schools and evangelism crusades were not mentioned in Scripture, but the duty of Christian parents is in the Bible. To neglect this duty is “outright rebellion.”

The world needs revival in this day. The Church desperately needs revival today. Families must return to the duty of family worship, in its biblical and historical sense, if this generation shall ever see revival.

[1] Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Lydia, The First European Convert. September 20, 1891. (accessed January 18, 2009).

[2] Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Lydia, The First European Convert.

[3] Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. The Kind of Revival We Need. (accessed January 18, 2009).

[4] Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. “Restraining Prayer,”Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 54. London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1908; reprint, Pasedena, TX.: Pilgrim Publications, 1978, 362,362.

[5] Ibid.

Spurgeon and Home-Discipleship—Part 2 of 3

(This is part 2 of Spurgeon and Home-Discipleship. Click here for part one.)

Spurgeon understood the effects of the Law on a sinner, especially applied to a child from under steady training from his parents. The very essence of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Ephesians 6:1-4 were lived out in Spurgeon’s home and he was greatly affected. This kind of training may be the reason Spurgeon struggled with his sin from an early age.

The weight of his guilt before God weighed heavy on him. He would wonder why he never injured himself from the agony of his awareness to sin. He wrote, “I used to say, ‘If God does not send me to hell, He ought to do it.’ I sat in judgment upon myself and pronounced the sentence that I felt would be just. I could not have gone to heaven with my sin unpardoned, even if I had the offer to do it, for I justified God in my own conscience, while I condemned myself.”[1] He intimately understood his need of mercy from God. This because of his intimate knowledge of God’s Law, taught to him daily from infancy.

He understood that the Law was at work in him. His biographer, W. Y. Fullerton even called this the “Law work.” Spurgeon would describe this way, “It was like sitting at the foot of Sinai.”[2] Spurgeon would write,

When I was in the hands of the Holy Spirit, under conviction of sin, I had a clear and sharp sense of the justice of God. Sin, whatever it might be to other people, became to me an intolerable burden. It was not so much that I feared hell as that I feared sin; and all the while I had upon my mind a deep concern for the honour of God’s name and the integrity of His moral government. I felt that it would not satisfy my conscience if I could be forgiven unjustly.[3]

God was about to honor His Word, and the obedience of his parents and grandparents. He knew the Gospel well from his upbringing, but God was about to use an instrument outside of the home to secure the young man’s salvation.

On Sunday, January 6, 1850, at the age of fifteen, Charles Spurgeon woke from an unusual dream.

He rose before the sun, to pray and to read one of his bedside books. But he found no rest. As he says himself, God was plowing his soul, ten black horses in His team—the Ten Commandments—and cross-plowing it with the message of the Gospel, for when he heard it, no comfort came to his soul.[4]

He left his home that very cold day and headed to his church to worship. As he was making his way to his usually place of worship, he met a snowstorm which caused him to enter a nearby Primitive Methodist Church to worship. There he met Jesus.

It was not the place of his choice, but it was the place that God had chosen; not the morning of his hope; but the morning of God’s deliverance; not the preacher appointed for the day, who was probably snowed up, but the messenger entrusted with the key that led into the light the lad who for five weary years had been groping in the shadows.[5]

The place had no more than 15 people in it that morning. The pastor preached from Isaiah 45:22, “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” The preacher, with little credentials and poor pronunciation, simply called his hearers to look upon Christ. The young Spurgeon did and he was saved.

What more he said young Spurgeon never knew, for in a moment he saw the way of salvation, and was possessed by the thought of the freeness and simplicity of it. ‘I had been waiting to do fifty things,’ he said; ‘but when I heard the word ‘look,’ I could have almost looked my eyes away. I could have risen that instant and have sung with the most enthusiastic of them of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith that looks alone to Him. I thought I could dance all the way home. I could understand what John Bunyan meant when he declared he wanted to tell the crows on the plowed land all about his conversion. He was too full to hold. He must tell somebody.’[6]

For fifteen years Charles Spurgeon was taught and demonstrated the gospel before him by his parents and grandparents. And yet, “He thought at first that he had never heard the Gospel before, that the preachers he had listened to had not preached it.”[7] This statement is an amazing testimony to the radical nature of regeneration. He was blind (or deaf) to the gospel, and then he could see (or hear). Later “he came to see the difference between the effectual calling of God and the general proclamation of the Gospel. The word of the Lord came to him expressly that morning, as it did to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:3) and he was nevermore separated from his Saviour.”[8]

For part three of Spurgeon and Home-Discipleship click here.

[1] Fullerton, Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Spurgeon, Autobiography, Vol. I, chaps. 9, 10, and 11, as quoted in Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

Spurgeon and Home-Discipleship—Part 1 of 3

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born on June 19, 1834 in Kelvedon, in Essex, England, just ten days after the death of William Carey in India, the father of the modern mission movement. He was the oldest of seventeen children. Supposedly a study of Spurgeon’s ancestry will show that he followed a direct line of preachers dating back twelve generations.[1]

Spurgeon’s father and grandfather were Congregationalist ministers. Each one had a lasting impact on the young Spurgeon. Within a year after Charles was born, he was sent to live with his grandfather, James Spurgeon, the minister of Stambourne. While under his grandfather’s care, Spurgeon began to gain a lasting understanding of Scripture.[2]

Before returning to his parents care at age 6, it is said that Spurgeon “had learned to love John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress,” a popular resource for family worship even today.[3] He would claim that he read and reread Pilgrim’s Progress over one hundred times in his lifetime.[4] “Back with his parents, he grew up in a home with strong Puritan teachings and faithful, restrained lives to match.”[5]

Family worship is a term Spurgeon used often describing the practice of home-discipleship and worship he experienced under the care of his grandparents and parents. Spurgeon’s family took responsibility on his spiritual formation. This was not thought of as the responsibility of the church. Neither, at least for him, was his education forfeited to the care of someone outside the home.

It is easy to see, in retrospect, that those early Stambourne years gave colour and bent to his whole life. It was well that he had no formal schooling (save only such elementary instruction as he could glean from old Mrs. Burleigh of the village) until he had looked out on life from the comparative solitude of Stambourne. The simplicity of his early surroundings remained with him to the end.[6]

This means that his education, like his spiritual formation, was first the priority of the home, with a view that any outside assistance only assisted what is done in the home.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was much the product of a home that took the responsibility of home-discipleship and worship seriously. The Spurgeon home contained 8 children, 9 others did not live through infancy.[7] His mother’s prayers and devotions, while Charles’s father was away during the week, made a great impact on the boy. “Her prayers, no less than her exhortations, aroused him to concern of soul.”[8] This is a testimony to the many mothers who are home with children with an absence of a Christian husband.

Sunday evenings, especially, Mrs. Spurgeon would sit with her children around their table and read Scripture, explaining it verse by verse. She would then pray prayers, that would be etched in the mind of young Charles for the rest of his life “Once she said, ‘Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance they perish, and my soul must bear swift witness against them at the day of judgment if they lay not hold of Christ.” That was not at all in the modern vein, but it was the arrow that reached the boy’s soul.”[9]

The training received at home from his grandfather, and then his mother and father helped the young Spurgeon mature rapidly as a young man. The impact of his mother’s faithfulness to family worship was very noticeable as Spurgeon grew up. He would often reflect while preaching on the diligence and concern of his parents for his salvation.

In the first sermon he published in London, he said, “There was a boy once—a very sinful child—who hearkened not to the counsel of his parents. But his mother prayed for him, and now he stands to preach to this congregation every Sabbath. And when his mother thinks of her firstborn preaching the Gospel, she reaps a glorious harvest that makes her a glad woman”.[10]

It is noted that his father’s training made quite an impact on him too. His father and grandfathers use of the Ten Commandments in his childhood raising was productive. Spurgeon acknowledges that he most likely was kept from many sins, “But all of a sudden I met Moses,” referring to the moral Law contained in the Ten Commandments.[11]

Then there came to my startled conscience the remembrance of the universality of law. I thought of what was said of the old Roman Empire, under the rule of Caesar: if a man once broke the law of Rome, the whole world was one vast prison to him, for he could never get out of the reach of the imperial power. So did it come to be in my aroused conscience.[12]

Spurgeon once said in a sermon on Romans 5:20 called “Law and Grace” on August 26, 1855, “The law causes the offence to abound by discovering sin to the soul. When once God the Holy Ghost applies the Law to the conscience, secret sins are dragged to light, little sins are magnified to their true size, and things apparently harmless become exceedingly sinful.”[13]

For part two of Spurgeon and Home-Discipleship click here.

[1] Fullerton, W. Y. Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography. 2001. (accessed January 14, 2009).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Spurgeon, Charles Haddon Spurgeon Gold: Pure. Refined. Edited by Ray Comfort. Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos, 2005, 179.

[4] Fullerton, Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography.

[5] Spurgeon, Spurgeon Gold: Pure. Refined.

[6] Fullerton, Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography.

[7] Ibid..

[8] Ibid.

[9] Fullerton, Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit: Law and Grace. August 26, 1855. (accessed January 18, 2009).

John Piper on Christians and Halloween

The following is an edited transcript of the audio from Desiring God.

What are your thoughts on Halloween?

It’s kind of one of those questions of, “Do you see Christ against culture, Christ in culture, or Christ over culture?”

I would guess that at our church there would be people from one end of perspective to the other.

That is, some who say, “We don’t want anything to do with that demonic holiday! Why would you even be involved with that at all?” And others who would have their children dress up as a butterfly and go knocking on doors and say, “Trick or treat!” And then in the middle would be people who do counter events, like a thing at the church where you dress up like biblical characters and have a great time.

I’m totally OK with the middle one and the first one. And sort of OK with the second one. I grew up trick-or-treating. We were pretty serious trick-or-treaters, right into teenage years.

There isn’t much in my neighborhood. We’re kind of an inner-city neighborhood, and it’s not the most lucrative place to go knocking on doors. You’re not going to fill your bag up with the best. You better go to the suburbs if you want to get a good pile.

So I would hope that all Christians would think biblically and carefully about any holiday, any event, and how they might be salt and light in it. And if they feel like this can be of value to the kids in some way, to teach them—if it can be an innocent way of enjoying God’s grace and teaching lessons—so be it.

I’m willing to run the risk of attachment to worldliness in order to be biblically faithful in witness. The same thing with Christmas and birthdays and Easter and worshipping on Sunday. All of these things have pagan connections.

I want to be loose and broad and give freedom to believers to find their way to be most effective. So I respect those who are renouncing it as too connected with evil, and I respect those who say, “No, let’s redeem it and penetrate it and use it.”

When the World Stopped for Jack

This is a touching story of a little boy’s tragic accident, a parent’s worst nightmare, the church worldwide uniting, and God’s mercy and grace to answer the prayers of His people. This is the story of Jack Budensiek’s last four weeks in the word’s of his aunt and uncle, Jon and Jessica Duren:

Sometimes, something happens that is too wonderful to keep quiet.  While I usually do not share personal stories, I feel this one is appropriate to share with you, my newsletter readers.   I asked my wife, Jessica to share with you this story of my sister’s son, my nephew, who is currently at St. Mary’s Intensive Care Unit.  This traumatic event has blessed my life and helped me to better focus on what is most important.   I trust it will encourage you to do the same.  Here is my wife, Jessica, telling you the story that I title: “When the World Stopped for Jack.”  

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