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.

 

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Why You Need to Attend Small Groups

For every Christian, hearing the Word of God read and proclaimed to their hearts each week in worship with the church is absolutely essential. The Bible warns every believer to not neglect meeting together every week, “as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25). But “going to church” is not enough for the Christian. In order to grow and continue in the faith absolutely depends on regular face-to-face meeting with other Christians where we are personally involved in each others lives (1 Peter 4:10). There are things God will only do in a Christian’s life when they are in a small group setting, such as is happening in our Life Groups at Providence Church. The following is an excerpt from a sermon from John Piper that is helpful in explaining some reasons we need small group community in the church:

7 Reasons We Need Small Groups

God has given pastors to the church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–12). I believe in what I do. And I believe that it is not enough. Here are the seven reasons I gave the small group leaders.

  1. The impulse to avoid painful growth by disappearing safely into the crowd in corporate worship is very strong.
  2. The tendency toward passivity in listening to a sermon is part of our human weakness.
  3. Listeners in a big group can more easily evade redemptive crises. If tears well up in your eyes in a small group, wise friends will gently find out why. But in a large gathering, you can just walk away from it.
  4. Listeners in a large group tend to neglect efforts of personal application. The sermon may touch a nerve of conviction, but without someone to press in, it can easily be avoided.
  5. Opportunity for questions leading to growth is missing. Sermons are not dialogue. Nor should they be. But asking questions is a key to understanding and growth. Small groups are great occasions for this.
  6. Accountability for follow-through on good resolves is missing. But if someone knows what you intended to do, the resolve is stronger.
  7. Prayer support for a specific need or conviction or resolve goes wanting. O how many blessings we do not have because we are not surrounded by a band of friends who pray for us.

So please know that when this small-group ministry of our church is lifted up, I don’t think it’s an optional add-on to basic Christian living. I think it is normal, healthy, needed, New Testament Christianity. I pray that you will be part of one of these small groups or that you will get the training and start one. This is the main strategy through which our pastors and elders shepherd the flock at Bethlehem: Elders > small group leaders > members to one another.

Why We Do Missions & Why We Can’t Afford Not To

A popular question for many people has been, “what is my purpose.” Some naturally ask this question of themselves. It is not unusual for someone to wonder, “where did I come from and why am I here?” Others are counseled to ask this question for themselves. I just finished a book that was a New York Times Best Seller and the authors advised that one of the first things in any life stage is to ask, “What is my purpose?”

And still many others have had their interests peeked when the answer to this question is offered. There was a nation craze 10 years ago over the book The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. It seemed like everyone was reading it. If by asking this question you look for the answer from the Bible, which is what Warren’s book sought to do, you’ll find that God did make you with a unique purpose. And one of the first things you discover from the Bible about your purpose is that it is absolutely connected to a bigger question, one I am not sure many ponder enough. The bigger question for us all is, “What is God’s purpose in the world?”

I wonder how many people ask the question, “What is God’s purpose?” Have you ever asked that question? Stop for a minute and think how you would answer that question. I wonder how many people in churches who come to worship God each Sunday are confident they know what God’s purpose is in the world today? What is He doing? What is God after?

What Is God’s Purpose?

The Bible teaches that God’s purpose is to uphold and display His own glory. Many, I would guess, have not thought enough about this. The word “glory” means widespread honor; magnificence; great beauty; something impressive; praise, worship, and thanksgiving offered to God; to take pleasure in (Concise Oxford English dictionary).

God created the world to declare his glory (Ps. 19:1). In fact, He created us for His glory (Is. 43:6-7). Even the animals were made to glorify Him (Is. 43:20). We are chosen to be saved for His glory (Eph 1:4-6). We are commanded to do good works for his glory (Mt 5:16). We are to do everything for His glory (1 Cor. 10:31). Jesus suffered on the cross for His glory (Jn 17:1). Jesus said His ultimate aim for us is to see and enjoy His glory (Jn 17:24).

Throughout the Bible we are commanded to glorify God. We’re told to rejoice and give him the glory (Rev. 19:7); to glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20); to tell of his glory among the nations (1 Chr. 16:24; Ps. 96:3). And if we do not glorify Him through obedience, He will be glorified through our disobedience. He used the hardness of heart of Pharaoh, the Egyptian king, saying multiple times; “I will be honored through Pharaoh” (Ex. 14:4, 17, 18).

To not glorify Him has consequences, and will be punished. Herod did not give God the glory and God killed him (Acts 12:23). And of the unrighteous He said, they did not honor him as God (Rom. 1:21). Therefore God gave them up to their evil desires. King Belshazzar of Babylon literally saw God’s writing on the wall and was killed because, as Daniel explained to him, God in whose hand is your breath you have not glorified (Dan. 5:23).

God Deserves to Be Glorified and Desires to be Enjoyed

There is much more that could be said of God’s glory. It is magnificent. It is impressive. It is beautiful. And because of His glory, God deserves widespread honor. In fact, in the new heavens and new earth, there will be no need of sun or moon in the city, for God’s glory shines on it (Rev. 21:23). He deserves to be worshiped. It is something we certainly should take pleasure in.

Psalm 67 verses 3 and 4 say, “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.” Have you ever thought that God desires for people to be satisfied in Him? To enjoy him? To be glad in him? We should enjoy him so much that we praise Him. In fact, “God is most glorified in us,” says pastor John Piper, “when we are most satisfied in Him.”

People are not satisfied with God, therefore He is not glorified

But that is not the condition of the people in our world, nor in the context of our passage, Luke 24. By the time the reader gets to Luke 24, God has already sent His Son Jesus into the world to rescue sinners. Not one person in history has been able to adequate return glory to God. No one has found their absolute satisfaction in God. There was no hope for humanity.

So God sent Jesus to become our hope. God became a man and lived among us in the world. And this God Man, Jesus, lived a full life in total satisfaction with His Father. Jesus glorified God with His life. Then He died a death only sinners deserved and He glorified God in His death. But He didn’t stay dead, He was raised to life three days later. His death and resurrection gives sinners hope. Sinners are forgiven when they rely on Jesus’ work and not their own for God’s favor.

That’s the context of Luke 24:36-49. Jesus is about to show Himself alive to His disciples the same Sunday evening of His resurrection. And in so doing, Jesus shows that missions is a significant part of God’s purpose.

God is fulfilling His purpose to be glorified by all peoples through missions. Missions is significant because God is serious about fulfilling His purpose. Everything He does should bring Him glory, to show off His amazing beauty. People being satisfied in God would lead them to worshiping Him, which would bring Him glory. A large portion of people in the world are not doing this, therefore missions is important.

Four things we need to understand about Missions…

1. Missions is necessary because humanity is not right with God.

One might ask, why should we do missions? Missions is needed because people are perishing and the gospel is their only hope. There are several keys to this truth found in this passage. Jesus said that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name (47). People needed to hear this because their sin has separated them from God. This is also why the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead (46).

Not to mention, even the closest men on the planet to Jesus were not convinced Jesus was who He said He is (36-43). Jesus knew their hearts were not right with God and asked, Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? (38). They did not recognize the Lord who lived with them for three years. They were troubled in their hearts about Jesus. They needed their minds opened to understand what is written in the Bible

People are going to hell and only Jesus can save them (2 Cor. 4:3-4)

The greatest missionary in the New Testament wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4: And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

People are sinners. They are unable to glorify God. So Paul is explaining, the gospel is not plainly seen by sinners—it is veiled. Therefore, they are perishing. This means, they are going to hell. Hell is real. It is an eternal place for sinners who do not to glorify God. And they cannot glorify God, because they do not understand the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. They need to have their eyes open by God to the person and work of Jesus, just as the disciples needed to have their minds open to the Scriptures.

In Kosovo, God is not Worshiped and Enjoyed

In Let the Nations be Glad, John Piper writes, “Missions exists because worship does not.” He makes the point that we are not to be mission-driven, but God-driven, meaning, “Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.” All over the world there are people and places where God is not worshiped and enjoyed, places where He is not being glorified. Missions is necessary because there are places where God is not glorified, where people are not right with God.

Two weeks ago our church announced that Providence is intentionally partnering with other missionaries on the ground in the nation of Kosovo, where there are few, if any, churches. It is a Muslim country where there are only 20 Christians for every 10,000 people. Our hope in targeting Kosovo is for God to be glorified in that nation by Him reconciling thousands to Himself.

2. Missions is the task of the church to proclaim the Gospel to all nations

What exactly is missions? This passage answers that question. Missions is the cooperative effort of the Christ’s church to proclaim the Gospel. Jesus tells them that what was written about Him in the Old Testament had to be fulfilled. These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you that everything written about me [in the OT] must be fulfilled (44). This shows us that according to Jesus, the Old Testament is not a Jewish book, it is a Christian book.

But that’s not all. Something else in the Old Testament had to be fulfilled: the proclamation of the Gospel to all the world, beginning in Jerusalem. From the beginning of history God saw His people being a blessing to all the nations of the earth. He said this to Abraham in Genesis 18:17-18 and 22:18. He also said it to Isaac (Gen. 26:4).

In Isaiah 66:18-20, God said, For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, 19 and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations…that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. 20 And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord.

So, it also had to be fulfilled what was prophesied in the Old Testament concerning God’s purpose for His people. God’s people were to declare God’s glory among the nations and bring many from all the nations to the Lord. This requires we proclaim the gospel.

It is a simple fact that Jesus could have come to them individually, but instead He waited until they were ALL gathered together (v33). Jesus was about to build His Church with these guys (Mt 16:18-19). You might say, they were the first church and Jesus the first pastor. They were being sent corporately to do the work of missions together by proclaiming the Gospel to all nations.

People must hear about Jesus and His work to be saved.

Belief in the Bible necessitates the work of missions in many ways. And we must not forget that it is necessary for people to hear the gospel in order to be saved. Paul explains this in Romans 10:13-17:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

It is a beautiful thing when people GO

One of my favorite memories in seminary was the International Missions chapel. At the end of the service, the preacher would call out those who God was calling to go overseas as missionaries. Tears would stream down my face as I watched countless people walk to the front. Singles, married couples, some with small babies, older people, younger people, all surrendering their lives to proclaim the gospel to the nations. Some were going to nations where they could lose their lives, willing to go and never come back. It’s a beautiful thing “to go” the Scripture says, How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

3. Missions happens when people become passionate about God’s glory

So when do we start doing missions? Missions happens when people become passionate about God’s glory, and with delight, go as they are commanded to bring the gospel to all nations in hopes that all will find their supreme satisfaction in God.

We begin by glorifying Jesus and proclaim His message…by His Spirit…from where we are. Then we go to places where He is not being glorified and continue to glorify and proclaim Him.

Jesus tells them to wait where they are for the promised power of the Spirit. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high (49). Passages like this, along with the Book of Acts, shows us that the possession of the Spirit is THE decisive mark of being a Christian (cf. Acts 10:44–48; 11:15–18; 15:8; 19:2–7). Therefore, it is correct to say we do missions when we become born again Christians.

This may require training and preparation for some things, but as soon as you have been given enough understanding to believe the Gospel and be saved, you can explain what you know to others in the power of the Spirit.

Where a passion for God exists, a zeal for missions will exist.

God has commissioned the church made up of Spirit-empowered Christians for the task of missions. Where a passion for God exists, a zeal for missions will exist. And the reverse is true. If hearing this does not give you a passion for missions, then you cannot have a passion for God. It amazes me that people can claim they love God if they do not have a desire to cooperate with fellow believers to do the work of missions. When you’re not passionate about God, you cannot be right with Him.

Six months after I became a Christian, my wife Mary, whom I was dating then, asked if there was something between God and me? What motivated her question was my loss of passion for God. When God first saved me, I was on fire for Him. But six-months later my zeal was fading. Shortly after our conversation, God revealed the idol of baseball in my life. I repented to God and got right with God. My passion for God soon returned.

God deserves our praise. Because of this, it is required of all peoples to glorify God. But people are not right with God because they are sinners and therefore cannot adequately glorify God. The truth is, they do not want to glorify God. But even if they did, no matter how hard they would try, they could not. They could not worship Him, and they could not enjoy Him. How can you enjoy someone you are not right with? How could you find joy in someone who has something against you, and vice versa? The reason many do not enjoy the Word of God (reading the Bible, or listening to it being taught) is because there is something between them and God. The reason many do not enjoy being around the church to worship God is because there is something between them and God. When we get right with God, a passion for Him follows. When this happens, missions can happen.

4. Get involved in seeking God’s glory among all peoples

So, how do we get involved in doing missions? Again, you do nothing until you have the gift of the Spirit. But think about what that means. “Even as the Spirit was present in Jesus’ conception (1:35, 41), earliest years (2:25–38), baptism (3:21–22), and ministry (4:1, 14, 18; 5:17), so the Spirit would come upon the disciples. Shortly the ‘baptism of the Spirit’ promised by John the Baptist (3:16; Acts 1:5) would take place as they became ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ (2:4)” (Wiersbe).

When God truly saves us, a passion for God will enter and increase. And an increasing satisfaction in God will come over you. This will glorify God. David said, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act” (Psalm 37:4-5). Out of this passion for God’s glory, do what you desire, as long as it does not violate Scripture.

Pray for the nations and opportunities to impact the nations with the gospel. Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15:16). According to Jesus, missions is necessary, therefore praying is necessary. Prayer was given specifically to accomplish missions.

Cooperate with your church in order to proclaim the gospel to the nations (Luke 24:47). It might be that your church would train you to become a full-time missionary to a people group that is not reached with the gospel yet. Or maybe you can join a short-term mission trip for a couple weeks where you will be given opportunities to share the gospel. And if you are unable to go, you can financially provide or encourage others to go on your behalf. Missions is a cooperative effort.

Nevertheless, my prayer is that we would become a people who have a passion for God’s Glory, and out of this, a passion for missions. God’s mission for His church is to proclaim the gospel to all peoples. If you are a Christian, my hope is that you will be convinced that your God-given passion must be to cooperate with your church in taking the gospel to places where God is not glorified and the gospel is not being proclaimed…for God’s glory.

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. http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/2222.htm (accessed January 18, 2009).

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

[3] Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. The Kind of Revival We Need. http://www.spurgeon.org/revival.htm (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. http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/bio1.htm (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. http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0037.htm (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.”