Posted in Devotionals

Divine Interruptions

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

Luke 5:1-3

Though the crowds had gathered on the shore to hear a man preaching the word of God, a group of weary fishermen paid no mind. After a long and fruitless night of fishing on the Lake of Genneserat, these men were tired, discouraged, and ready to call it quits. Stepping out of their boats and sloshing to shore, the fishermen began to wash their nets, eager to return home for a hot meal and a sound sleep.

Unexpectedly, the preacher stepped into one of the fishermen’s boats, compelling its owner, a man named Simon, to cease from his work. Simon’s dreams of food and rest were dashed as the preacher asked him to pull away from the shore so that he could address the crowds. Wordlessly, Simon obeyed and he, along with the crowds, sat and listened as Jesus taught.

As I read this passage, it occurred to me that, had Jesus not stepped into Simon’s boat, Simon would have continued on with business as usual. He would have gone home, filled his belly, and slept. He would have missed not only the word of the Lord but also the personal interaction with Jesus that ultimately changed the course of his life forever.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:4-11

In this age where busyness is worn as a badge of honor, I believe that sometimes we, like Simon, need a divine interruption so that we cease from our work and hear the voice of Jesus. With our schools, businesses, government offices and churches closed, I can’t help but think that this COVID-19 pandemic is just that – a divine interruption designed, or at least used, by God to allow us to slow down enough to reevaluate our lives in light of death and eternity. God has indeed set eternity in our hearts, but unfortunately I think that all too often we are too busy and distracted to realize it.

Though COVID-19 has forcibly hit the pause button on all of our lives, our world will again begin to resume its frantic pace. It might be a few weeks, or months, or even a year, before this happens, but it will happen. We need to make the most of this time that we have where our lives are on pause, to wholeheartedly seek God and to reevaluate our lives in light of his word.

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Ephesians 5:15-17
Posted in Devotionals

Quarantine Fellowship

Here are some thoughts I shared with our small quarantine fellowship this week. A short sermon, if you will.

In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has completely turned our lives upside down. Schools, businesses, government offices, and churches are either closed, or struggling to adjust to the new “normal” by changing their time-honored traditions and practices.

It’s important for the church to realize at this time that though the lights may be off and the doors may be locked, you can’t cancel church. The church will not be stopped, for Jesus said that “the gates of Hades will not overpower [the church]” (Mt 19:18).

The church is not a building that can be closed, it’s a people: a people forgiven and freed from their slavery to sin by Christ’s shed blood, a people walking in the newness of life He provides. It’s a people committed to following and obeying their risen Lord and Savior and dedicated to sharing the same message of hope that changed their lives with others.

But, with our regular places of worship closed and our gatherings restricted in size, the church needs to reinvent itself and adapt to the new and changing reality by adjusting the way that it gathers and the way it reaches out.

I feel like we might need to learn from the example of the early church. Though we are accustomed to meeting briefly in a large, corporate setting every Sunday and having a set liturgy, the early church looked quite different. The early church gathered in homes. Their fellowship was personal, intimate, and simple. They did life together and shared their belongings freely with one another, as anyone had need (Acts 2:44-47a). The book of Acts tells us that “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Biblical teaching, Christ-centered gatherings, shared meals, and prayer made up the experience of the early Christian community. Though our buildings are closed, we can still meet together in this way as the church.

But the early church wasn’t just content to simply meet together and encourage one another: they had a mission. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he gave them a charge, saying:

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

As believers, we have also been entrusted with the same commission to make disciples and teach them the commands of Jesus. The need today is just as great as it was in Jesus’ day.

In Matthew 9:36 we read that when Jesus was going through the cities and villages, he saw the people and “felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” With fear, uncertainty, and financial pressure looming large in our world today, people are distressed and dispirited, anxious and afraid. They need to hear that the God of the Universe knows them, cares about them, and will provide for them. They need not only to hear it, but also to experience it in tangible ways.

That’s where the church comes in. That’s where we come in. The Bible calls the church the “body of Christ.” That means that we are the hands and feet of Jesus in our world today, finding practical ways to share the love and compassion of Jesus with our neighbors, co-workers and friends who are hurting and scared. When we show sacrificial, messy, inconvenient love to others in Jesus’ name, they get a taste of the love that God has for them.

It might not be easy to step out of our old, comfortable way of “doing church” and to begin “being the church,” but it’s what God’s calling us to do. And we’re not doing it alone: not only has Jesus promised to empower us and to be with us, but he has also provided us with one another “to spur one another on towards love and good deeds,” as the author of Hebrews puts it (Heb 10:24).

So, with that, I want to encourage you to begin to pray for God to show you how you can “be the church” in this season and how you can begin to show God’s love in practical ways with your neighbors, co-workers and friends.

Posted in Uncategorized

A Season of Unexpected Grief and Blessing

It’s been a couple months since my father-in-law passed away suddenly after a short battle with cancer, ushering our family into a season of unexpected grief and loss. Surprisingly, it’s also been a season of great blessing for our family as we have experienced the loving-kindness, the comfort, and the faithfulness of God and his people in a whole new way.

It was a Friday morning when I got the call from my husband that his father was found unresponsive at home and that he was going to the hospital to be with him. Not wanting to cram unnecessary bodies into the small hospital room, I decided to wait at home with the baby until I had more information. In the mean time, I prayed and contacted our church family to ask for prayer.

One of my friends, a mother of four, responded to my request for prayer not only by praying, but also by volunteering to watch my daughter so that I could go to the hospital. I was deeply touched by her thoughtfulness and I thanked her, hoping I wouldn’t have to take her up on her offer.

It soon became apparent that my presence was needed at the hospital. When my husband called, unable to speak, I knew it was time to go. I dropped off our daughter and met my husband near the entrance of the ER where he told me the news: his dad was on life-support and it was time to say goodbye.

We spent several long hours in that hospital room, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. Anticipating our imminent loss was the hardest part of that day. Once all had gathered, the family tearfully said their goodbyes and my father-in-law peacefully died.

After he passed, our family clung God’s promise in Romans 8:28 that he “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” and we fervently prayed that he would bring good out of our loss.

And he did.

Though the days that followed my father-in-law’s passing were a blur of activity, they were punctuated with moments of comfort as our family and our brothers and sisters in Christ reached out to us in love to offer up their sympathy and support. We received phone calls, cards, text messages, and visits from people near and far who wanted to let us know that they cared about us and were there for us.

Somehow, through the sadness, a sense of thanksgiving permeated our household as God brought to mind our many blessings. We gave thanks for the times that we had to visit Jim while he was sick and for our opportunity to say a final good-bye. We were grateful for old memories and for the knowledge that he was no longer suffering and in pain. By God’s grace, we were able to experience comfort in the midst of a difficult season.

It was at Jim’s memorial service, however, that we most clearly saw God’s hand at work as he poured out his love and comfort through our relatives and our church family. Though we live about forty minutes away from our church, about a dozen of our brothers and sisters in Christ made the drive to offer up their condolences to both us and our family, despite not knowing our father-in-law. This demonstration of love not only profoundly blessed us, but, as we later learned, also touched the hearts of our grieving family.

In their act of love, I saw these words of Christ come to life:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

The sermon that followed was the most touching and Spirit-filled that I have ever sat through. Grounded in Ecclesiastes, it gave the listeners a chance to reflect on not only Jim’s life, but also on their own lives in light of eternity. During the reception that followed, we knew our prayers had been answered as a number of people came up to us and relayed how the meaningful sermon had spoken to their souls. In this we saw God beginning to “work all things together for good.”

This experience, while tragic and heart-wrenching, has only served to deepen my faith in the God whom I serve. Through our difficult season, he sustained us, comforted us, and encouraged us through both his people and his presence. Experiencing God’s faithfulness and comfort in such a personal way has prompted me to leave you with two words of exhortation, one for the person in a season of grief and one for the church.

To the person in a season of grief or darkness: I pray that you will find hope and encouragement in “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” for it is he “who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). If you put your trust in him, he will “work all things together for good” and use this difficult season for his good purposes. Keep walking in faith and obedience, for if we look to Jesus’ example, after the suffering comes glory.

To the church: We are a family through Christ which means we’re all in this together! Scripture calls us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). So if you’ve got a brother or a sister whom you know is struggling, be intentional. Call them, text them, and let them know that you care. Come along side them to share their burdens and meet their needs in love. When you live out your calling and love each other like Christ, God is glorified and the world takes notice.

Have you ever experienced God’s comfort and faithfulness in a difficult season? How can you intentionally show love to those around you who are struggling?

Posted in Christian Culture

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

My husband and I have been married almost three years now. One thing that we’ve enjoyed about being a new family is having the chance to start fresh and create our own unique traditions and special holiday memories. As followers of Christ, we desire to conform ourselves and our family to Christ’s ideals.

Early on in our marriage we discussed the major holidays that we knew our family would celebrate: Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving. But, when our daughter joined the family almost a year and a half ago, we had another day to consider: Halloween.

Both my husband and I participated in Halloween when we were young, dressing up in costume and patrolling the neighborhood for candy. We had fond memories of designing elaborate costumes, spending time with friends, and eating candy until we felt sick. For us, it was a time of innocent fun.

That’s why it was a difficult issue for us to come to agreement on. When we initially discussed the possibility of Halloween for our daughter, we were divided. My husband, remembering the good times that he once had as a child, was comfortable with the idea of our daughter dressing up in costume and stopping at houses for candy. I, on the other hand, was a little more concerned that we would be participating in a holiday that makes light of darkness, mischief, and evil.

Before coming to any sort of conclusion, we decided to take a look at the history of Halloween and the Scriptures. We wanted to make a decision based on the facts, not on our feelings and fond memories.

We found that Halloween, as we suspected, is pagan at its roots. Many scholars believe that the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain is the earliest known root of Halloween. On October 31, the ancient Celts believe that the boundary between the realm of the dead and of the living was at its thinnest, enabling spirits and fairies to pass back and forth between the two.

During the Samhain festival the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes, and those who had died during the year were believed to journey to the otherworld. People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present. It was in those ways that beings such as witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day. The period was also thought to be favourable for divination on matters such as marriage, health, and death.

Halloween, Encyclopedia Britannica

In the 8th century, when Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day from May 13 to November 1 in an effort to sanctify the profane (or assimilate the pagans), the evening of October 31 became a holy, or hallowed, eve. For the church, this evening was a time of vigil with fasting and prayer in preparation for next day when the lives of the faithfully departed saints and martyrs were to be celebrated. Over time, the sacred and the secular blurred as the church began to incorporate the traditions of Samhain into their holy day.

While many of the Halloween customs practiced today have lost their association with pagan beliefs, death and darkness are the prominent themes of this holiday. Yards are transformed with decorations ranging from cute and whimsical to grotesque and frightening. Life-like spiders, monsters, ghosts, witches, zombies, graveyards, skeletons and other symbols of death and darkness are both frequently and prominently displayed in people’s front yards and homes.

For this reason, our family decided against celebrating Halloween. As God’s children, we are called to be people of the life and light and stand as a bright witness for, and against, this decaying culture.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:8-16

In addition to the overall theme of darkness, we felt that Halloween made light of certain practices which God condemns, such as murder, sorcery, divination, and necromancy. For example, if you dress up as a sorcerer or have a giant inflatable witch displayed on your lawn, you’re downplaying the seriousness of a dark practice which God calls “detestable” (Deuteronomy 18:10-14). When Christians participate in Halloween, the distinction between the sacred and the secular is blurred and our witness for Christ is tarnished.

So what should Christians do about Halloween? Should we hunker down in our homes and turn off all the lights so that whole our neighborhood knows we’re Christian and that we don’t celebrate Halloween? That would be one way to stay separate and set apart.

However, I think that we should instead take Paul’s words to heart and go about “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Rather than staying home and “hiding our lamp under a bushel basket” we can choose to find creative ways to shine bright for Christ on a night devoted to darkness.

In our family we decided that we would celebrate All Saints Day this year instead of Halloween. We plan to invite over some Christian brothers and sisters from our area to share a meal, to swap stories and inspirational quotes from famous martyrs and missionaries, and to spend some time praying for the persecuted church around the world. We are eagerly anticipating this sweet time of fellowship with our family in Christ.

Interestingly, this decision to celebrate light on a day devoted to darkness has already afforded us with a couple of opportunities to engage the unchurched. My non-Christian brother, upon hearing about our celebration, was intrigued. I invited him, not expecting him to want to come, but he enthusiastically accepted the invitation and is now eagerly researching his chosen saint!

A couple days later, a friend of mine from the mom’s group at the library asked my husband and I what our plans were for Halloween. We were able to share that while we didn’t celebrate Halloween, we had a different sort of celebration going on to commemorate inspirational martyrs and missionaries. It wasn’t awkward at all because rather than shutting her down with a short (and somewhat arrogant sounding) “We don’t celebrate Halloween because we’re Christian,” we were able to share something positive that we we’re doing!

Other Christian alternatives for Halloween abound, for both churches and individuals alike. Recently a church in our area used the opportunity to meet some of their unchurched neighbors by distributing freshly-made popcorn, offering to pray for people, and handing out invitations to church. Other churches have been known to host fall festivals to generate a sense of community or create imaginative evangelistic events that cause people to think about their mortality and need for a Savior.

For families seeking child-friendly Christian alternatives to Halloween, there are a number of options. Many people suggest hosting a Bible-character themed costume party or having your children dressed up as Bible characters to distribute treats with a scripture verse or a gospel tract attached. You could also choose to celebrate All Saints Day like we are or simply devote the night to family fun. Get creative, have fun, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

What are some creative ways that we can engage the community and “redeem the time” on Halloween? How does your family celebrate in a Christ-centered way?

Posted in Christian Culture, Ministry

Should We Bribe Christians to Give?

Every year, our local listener-supported Christian radio station hosts two two-week pledge drives in which they try to generate the money that they need to cover their operating costs and outreach. During the pledge drives, enthusiastic radio hosts encourage listeners to share their stories about how God changed their lives through the station. Many people call in to say that God saved their lives when they heard him speak to them through a song played on the radio at just the right time. This is one of the ways that they motivate people to give, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad one.

But then there’s the cruises, the trips to Disneyland, and the packages of expensive Apple products that are used to motivate people to give. People are encouraged to call in to the station within a certain amount of time with their monthly pledge or gift, and in return they will receive the chance to win an “Apple bundle of goodness” or some other luxurious prize as the station’s “way of saying thank you.” I don’t know about you, but as a Christ-follower I feel uncomfortable about this for several reasons!

First, I’m concerned that the station is nurturing the materialistic mindset of the American church. We American Christians are already far too distracted, obsessed and consumed by our many possessions. Should an influential Christian music station really be elevating luxuries like an Apple watch or an iPhone 11 as something to strive for and desire?

Seems to me that it’s the opposite of what Jesus taught us:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Matthew 6:24

According to Jesus, our focus should be on heavenly treasures, not on earthly possessions, because a focus on earthly treasures negatively impacts our relationship with God. When the radio station offers a cruise as a potential “thank you gift” for giving, we’re taking away the heavenly focus and placing it instead on an earthly luxury, to the detriment of the listeners.

Fostering a materialistic attitude in the church isn’t the only negative spiritual consequence of enticing listeners to give. When listeners give out of a desire to obtain earthly treasure, they miss out on the chance to grow in Christ by practicing generosity with no strings attached. What could have been a selfless act is tainted with service to oneself and God’s blessing to the giver is forfeited, for as our Lord himself taught, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).

I also fear that this practice of dangling expensive “thank you gifts” before believers tarnishes our witness before unbelievers. If an unbeliever turned on this Christian radio station during their pledge drive, I think that they would be disgusted with the tactics used to generate income because it’s no different than the world. If Christians need to be encouraged to participate in good works, for fear of missing out on a trip to Disneyland, what does that say about their character?

Our charitable giving ought to be selfless, motivated by thankfulness to God and obedience to Christ. We should be more than willing to lay aside our wealth, our health, our reputation and anything else for the sake of the King who laid down his rights and privileges in order to take up our sin and shame and die upon a cross.

I recently read a powerful quote from explorer and missionary to Africa, David Livingstone. When people commented on the great sacrifice that he made in spending so much of his life in a foreign country, he replied:

“Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay?… It is emphatically no sacrifice.

Say rather it is a privilege.

Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger now and then with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us.

I never made a sacrifice.

Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifice which HE made who left his Father’s throne on high to give himself for us.”

The Life and Labors of David Livingstone, J. E. Chambliss

When we give selflessly of ourselves and our possessions, it testifies to a dying world that there is something more to live for. It shows people that the kingdom of God and it’s King are far greater than anything we could ever desire on this earth and that they are worth giving up everything for.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Matthew 13:44

If a Disney cruise motivates us to give more than the Cross of Christ, Christ does not get the glory and our witness is tarnished. When we give with selfish and impure motives, we are acting no different than the rest of the world.

Furthermore, when we resort to the sensational solicitation methods of commercialism it suggests a lack of trust that the Lord will provide what we need. This only serves to blunt the distinction between those who are supposed to be ‘set apart’ and the rest of world even further.

After Jesus’ resurrection, he told his disciples that “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:18-19a). This means that we have all the authority and resources of our Commissioner at our disposal in order to accomplish the work of the kingdom. There’s no need to resort to using fancy marketing techniques: the Lord will provide for his work.

George Mueller, a nineteenth century pastor, understood this well. After walking the streets of England and observing the many poor, fatherless children that wandered the streets, George sensed God calling him to open an orphanage. He did so by prayer.

“George prayed, asking God to provide a building, people to oversee it, furniture, and money for food and clothing. God answered his prayers. The needs of the orphanage were met each day. Sometimes a wealthy person would send a large amount of money, or a child would give a small amount received as a gift or for doing chores. Many times food, supplies or money came at the last minute, but God always provided without George telling anyone about his needs. He just prayed and waited on God.”

George Mueller, Orphanages Built by Prayer,

During Mueller’s lifetime, over 10,000 orphans received care at his children’s home in Bristol, England. His life’s work stands as a testimony, both to the believing and unbelieving world, of the power of prayer and of the faithfulness of God to provide. When we start to do God’s work in God’s way, as Mueller did, it stands as a powerful witness to unbelievers and testifies to the greatness of our God.

I think that we all need to take some time to evaluate our lives and our ministries.

Are we conducting our lives and the works he has entrusted to us in a manner that glorifies him? Or, are we living in a state of compromise with the world, not trusting God to provide?

May we learn to place our trust in God who “will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Philippians 4:19-20).

Posted in Devotionals

More Milk, Please!

It’s funny how some things in the word of God take on a whole new meaning when you become a parent.

Take these verses for example:

Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.  Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

1 Peter 2:1-3

Until you’ve had a newborn, you won’t appreciate the intensity of the yearning that young babies have for their mother’s milk. It’s constant and it’s insatiable, especially in the first few days of life. Even as they grow and their tummies get a little bigger, a newborn’s quest for milk remains regular and intense. Milk is something they crave with a single-minded focus and you can’t distract them from their pursuit.

God says our relationship with the word, the good news about Christ (1 Peter 1:22-25), should be the same. Let’s ask God to make our desire for the enduring word match that of a newborn baby seeking it’s mother’s milk.

Posted in Devotionals

Why Funerals are Better than Parties

It’s better to go to a funeral than to a party. Why? Because it gives us a chance to consider what really matters and how we’re living our lives.

A lot of things don’t matter: how much money we make, how many achievements we heap up, how much wisdom and knowledge we attain. But some things do matter: God. He’s at the beginning and at the end of all things and one day we’re all going to give an account of our lives before him.

“When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commandments, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether evil or good.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

In light of death, what are you going to do differently today?

Posted in Ministry, Nursery

Nursery Workers, You Matter!

It’s been a difficult few days, to say the least. My father-in-law passed away after a painful battle with cancer. Not only has it been a sad time, but it’s been a busy time. I never realized how much work it was to pull a funeral together in a matter of days.

My husband has been away a lot recently, making preparations with family for the upcoming funeral. I have been trying to stay busy and keep the house as clean and as comfortable as possible for my husband when he comes home, a sort of oasis in the midst the chaos.

Since he had to leave again this morning to collaborate on the obituary, I decided to go to my family’s church rather than drive forty minutes to our home church. I wasn’t quite ready to face the questions and condolences of my church family and preferred to go somewhere where I felt less known.

It was a short five minute walk to the church that I went to every Sunday with my family as a child. Many of the same people I knew as a youngster were still there, though they’d aged quite a bit in the ten years or so that I’d been gone. A lot of them still recognized me and all of them were excited to see some fresh faces.

At nearly fourteen months, my daughter was by far the youngest person in the church. Everyone else in the tiny congregation, other than me, was probably in their mid sixties or older. I wasn’t worried so much about the age gap, but rather that there was no good place to let my squirmy daughter run free without being too much of a disruption.

Before the service started, the reverend graciously spared me from public shame by announcing that all of God’s children are welcome, even the tiny and noisy ones. She even gave my little tot the freedom to wander the aisles. I felt welcomed not only by the reverend, but also by the congregation. They clearly enjoyed having my tiny human squiggle her way around the church.

But oh, did I miss the nursery at my home church! Until today, I don’t think I understood what an essential ministry the church nursery really is. And I even work in the nursery! In the past, I’ve found it boring and I’m sure I thought it was unimportant. But now I know that a church nursery is not a thing to be taken for granted, and neither are it’s workers!

The service was a disaster for me. My daughter sat nicely for about two minutes reading the books I brought her and cuddling her stuffed dog. Then sitting became distasteful to her so I let her down to wander around between the pew and the wall. But it wasn’t enough. Though I had a whole pew to myself, it wasn’t enough room for her little body, and eventually we were forced to transition to the back of the church where she could stretch her legs and toddle about.

It was stressful trying to contain her boundless energy in an area completely unsuited for it. I couldn’t focus on the worship, prayers, or teaching because all of my attention was devoted to captivating hers. Though I wanted to leave, I stayed because I knew that the parishioners were tickled to have a baby in their midst. I also didn’t want to be rude. But oh, did I miss our church nursery!

The experience wasn’t entirely unfruitful, however. I now have a greater appreciation for the role that nursery workers play in the church, myself included! I used to think that the hour I spend watching babies toddle around was wasted. But now I know that it frees up tired parents to worship.

So thank you to all you nursery workers who served in your churches today. Even though it might not seem like it because you’re singing silly songs, babbling with babies, and changing dirty diapers, you are doing God’s work and it glorifies him. You’re making a difference. You matter.

Posted in Annihilationism

What is the Meaning of Unquenchable Fire in Matthew 3:12?

“His winnowing fork is in His hand, and he will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12).

Recently I’ve been studying the book of Matthew with a friend of mine who is a new convert to Christianity. Along the way, I’ve been trying to read ahead and do some research on texts that might be considered difficult.

Matthew 3:12 can be hard to understand if you come to the text assuming that the punishment of the wicked is eternal torment, because it simply doesn’t support that.

Let’s start with the phrase “He will burn up.” These words imply total destruction. The Greek verb used here is κατακαίω and according to the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance it means “to burn down (to the ground), i.e. consume wholly — burn (up, utterly).” Since the definition of consume is “to do away completely” or “destroy,” it leaves no room for a doctrine of eternal conscious torment.

John is teaching us here that when Jesus returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, the wicked will not inherit life. Instead, they will be destroyed. His words are consistent with the witness of the Old Testament (see Psalm 37) and Jesus’s own words: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, italics added). In the Bible, the opposite of eternal life is death, not eternal conscious torment (Romans 6:23).

But what of the “unquenchable fire”? Unquenchable simply means that the fire can’t be extinguished prematurely, either because God won’t allow it or because it’s simply too intense to control, like a raging wildfire.

Just because a fire is unquenchable doesn’t mean it will burn forever. Fires have a natural way of dying out. When you throw a log in your fireplace, it burns and then turns into ash. If you don’t add more logs, the fire burns down as the fuel runs out! Once the wicked are consumed by fire, the fire will die out. The effects of the fire are eternal (i.e. the destruction of the wicked is permanent), but the flame is not.

So if the wicked are not eternally tormented, what does this do for our theology?

I think it paints a more accurate picture of who God really is. If you grew up believing that those who reject God suffer for an eternity in hell, you’ve probably secretly wondered how God could be good, loving, and just. It seems incredibly evil and cruel to torture people endlessly for 70 or 80 years worth of sin and we think to ourselves, “The punishment should fit the crime!” It’s much easier to affirm God’s goodness, justice and love when we adopt a biblical understanding of the fate of the wicked.

For more information, including debates and difficult texts, check out and Episode 7 and Episode 8 of the Restitutio podcast.

Posted in Bible Exegesis, Ministry

How to Discipline a Child, According to Proverbs

When it comes to raising children, the subject of discipline will probably never get old. It has been discussed since the ancient times and continues to be a hot topic today: in fact, a brief search on Amazon yields over 40,000 books on the subject of “child discipline” alone! Clearly, there is a desire among parents to understand how to discipline their youngsters in such a way as to maximize their child’s well-being and to minimize the frustrations and turmoil that can occur in the home as a result of an undisciplined or rebellious child. As the number of books would suggest, there are a great many opinions out there about the best way to discipline one’s children. God, through the sages of Proverbs, also has a few things to say about the subject of raising and disciplining children. An examination of the wisdom of the sages found in presents a portrait of discipline that is consistent with the findings of modern research on effective models of discipline, and therefore remains relevant for parents and communities today.

 The Sages’ Model of Discipline

Each culture uses different expressions to communicate their perceptions about the world, and the sages were no different. Central to the sages’ thinking about discipline is the “path” metaphor. The sages use this metaphor as a way of speaking about a person’s “pattern of behavior” or “approach to life.”[1] They describe two main paths that a person can take: the path of life or the path of death.[2] Certain types of people typically traverse one path or the other: “the wise and just take the path of life, while the wicked, foolish, and lazy tread the way of death.”[3] A person’s behavior places them on one path or another, with the result of either untimely death or life.

The sages believed that children are naturally inclined towards folly, and consequently, towards the path of death.[4] They assert that “folly is bound up in the heart of a boy.”[5] The classic verse, Proverbs 22:6, also supports this understanding of human nature: “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.”[6] Though this verse has often been understood to mean that; “If you raise your child correctly, you are guaranteed to get good results,” a number of commentators are arguing otherwise.[7] One reason for this is that they assert that “in the right way” (NRSV) is better translated as “according to his way.”[8] When rendered in this way, the proverb might be paraphrased as “Let a boy do what he wants and he’ll grow up to be a self-willed adult incapable of change!”[9] Or, as Douglas K. Stuart puts it: “Here’s the bad result that may happen if you don’t give a child proper parental guidance, but let him do what he wants.”[10] The sages clearly believed that children are not inherently wise, and, left to their own devices, will stray toward the path of death.[11]

But, as the second half of the Proverbs 22:15 demonstrates, the sages also believed that this inclination towards folly was reversible through discipline: “but the rod of discipline drives it [folly] far away.”[12] Proverbs 19:18a also enforces this idea: “Discipline your children while there is hope.” Michael Fox argues that translating “’while there is hope’ [Toy, NRSV, and many others] is contrary to the syntax of 19:18,” and claims that “there is always hope he will improve.”[13] However, Christine Yoder points out that depending on how the particle in the first line is translated, this phrase could mean “because there is hope” or “while there is hope.”[14] Either way it is read, however, the idea here is that there is potential to change a child’s behavior through discipline, though the latter implies that there is a limited window of opportunity for effective correction.[15]

Since they believed that without correction children naturally incline towards foolishness, the sages understood corrective discipline as an act of love. Proverbs 13:24 demonstrates this powerfully: “Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.”[16] Its strength is found in its application of the concepts of “love” and “hate” to discipline. Ordinarily, a permissive parent wouldn’t consider their neglect of discipline to be in any way “hateful”; perhaps, it would even be considered beneficial for the child. But according to the worldview of the sages, poor or non-existent discipline is tantamount to hate because a child’s unaddressed tendency toward sin will lead them to an untimely death. Thus they emphasize that loving parents are actually those who “diligently seek” to discipline their children, using a word for “diligent” that refers to an eager seeking, sometimes associated with the search for wisdom, the good, and even God.[17]

Contrary to the popular but generic saying, “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” the attentive application of discipline in Proverbs is not a “one-size-fits-all” model and its execution requires wisdom. A cursory reading of Proverbs 10:1-22:16 reveals that discipline is to be carried out through rebuke and corporal punishment, though more detailed studies reveal the complexity of the issue.[18] For example, Paul D. Wegner identifies “multiple layers of discipline” in the book of Proverbs, which range from more gentle to more severe.[19] He notes that

the Hebrew word  מוּסָֽר mûsār, commonly translated as “discipline” in the OT has a wide range of meanings that suggests various levels of discipline, including on the one end of the spectrum, “teaching or instruction” (Prov 1:2, 3, 7; 4:13), then progressing to “exhortation or warning” (Ezek 5:15; Job 20:3), and climaxing with “discipline or chastening” (Prov 13:24; 22:15; 23:13).[20]

He then identifies several types of discipline available to parents, including: encouragement of proper behavior, proactive warnings of improper behavior and the consequences of sin, gentle exhortations and rebukes for sin, and corporal punishment that does not cause physical harm.[21] This diverse “disciplinary toolkit” available to parents requires wisdom to apply properly, because each child and each disciplinary situation is unique: Proverbs reminds readers that one does not respond to a foolish child in the same way that one would respond to a wise one.[22]

Though the sages acknowledged that parents are responsible for disciplining their children, they also recognized that discipline is a two-way street: the child must respond appropriately to the parent’s correction in order for the discipline to have its intended life-giving effect. According to the sages, “love” is the appropriate response to discipline. A love of discipline is marked by willingness to heed correction and attentiveness to counsel.[23] A hatred of discipline on the other hand, is characterized by a refusal to listen to instruction and a tendency to reject reproof.[24] Proverbs labels those who “hate” reproof as straying “fools,” but those who “love” discipline as “sensible” and “wise.”[25] A child’s love of discipline will place them on the path of life, but a hatred of correction will lead to their death.

 Modern Research on Parenting and Discipline

There have been numerous studies conducted in order to discover the best disciplinary practices for children and to protect them from harmful discipline. These studies have yielded conflicting results. Much of the debate in these studies revolves around whether or not one should rely on reasoning or punishment, and if corporal punishment is effective and appropriate. In response to this debates, Wegner cites Robert E. Larzelere, who after examining the conclusions of recent research, points out some of its flaws:

This strange situation is reflected in research questions and methods, which often assume the correctness of the author’s implicit beliefs. For example, few studies investigate the differences between effective and counterproductive used of a particular disciplinary tactic, whether reasoning or punishment. Instead, the preferred disciplinary tactic is assumed to be invariably effective and the other one invariably ineffective, regardless how either one is used.[26]

Wegner quotes the summary of a recent paper by Lazelere which promotes Lazelere’s understanding of optimal discipline as a sequence in which discipline begins with “less severe tactics, such as reasoning” which proceeds to “firmer disciplinary tactics when the initial tactics achieve neither compliance nor acceptable compromise.”[27] He advocates an initial use of nonphysical punishment with “nonabusive physical punishment reserved as a back-up for the nonphysical punishment.”[28] These conclusions, he asserts, are “consistent with many studies showing that a combination of reasoning and punishment is more effective than either one alone and with new evidence that this sequence enhances the effectiveness of milder disciplinary tactics with preschoolers.”[29]

Wegner also cites the work of Diana Baumrind, a researcher of human development, who is well-known for her studies on different parental styles of child care and discipline and their impact a child’s behavior.[30] In her research, she identified three styles of parenting which each yielded different results on a child’s behavior: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative.[31] These styles are summarized below:

Authoritarian parents are controlling, rigid, and cold. They are strict and demand unquestioning obedience from their children…Permissive parents provide lax and inconsistent feedback to their children. They typically are less involved in their children’s lives than other parents. Such parents also may place few limits on their children’s behaviors. The authoritative parents are firm, setting clear limits on their children’s behaviors. Although they seem to be somewhat strict, unlike authoritarian parents, these authoritative people allow interaction and dialogue with their children. Explanations are given for consequences, and compromise or negotiation can occur over some issues.[32]

Baumrind’s study demonstrated that children of authoritative parents, those who communicated well with their children and were “notably firm, loving, demanding, and understanding,” produced the most “competent and mature boys and girls.”[33] These children were well-adjusted regardless of whether or not they had been they had been spanked as preschoolers.[34]

 Concluding Thoughts

The findings of Lazelere and Baumrind as complied by Wegner demonstrate that the wisdom of the sages is consistent with modern research. Wegner summarizes this well: The evidence from Proverbs and recent psychological studies demonstrates that “the area of discipline entails a comprehensive structure of multiple layers that should be framed in a loving, structured family relationship.”[35] Thus it appears that even though the wisdom of the sages was compiled and recorded thousands of years ago, it still has the power and authority to speak to modern families today.

The model of discipline presented in the book of Proverbs has the potential to offer hope and change the world, one life and one family at a time. Its wisdom has the power to impact the lives of parents by providing them with a diverse “disciplinary toolkit” to navigate the difficult waters of child-rearing. This in turn has the potential to decrease parental abuse of children, who would be less likely to suffer harm from frustrated or ill-equipped parents. If more children were to grow up to be healthy, moral adults it would positively impact the trajectory of their communities and future families, ultimately offering hope to individuals, families, and the world. Finally, Proverbs offers hope to parents by teaching them that even though they are responsible for diligently disciplining their children, the outcome of their labors is not solely based on their efforts alone: their children must continually make the right choice to choose the path of life.

Works Consulted

Baumrind, Diana. “Selection 22: Child Care Practices Anteceding Three Patterns of Preschool Behavior.” Human Development Faculty Intranet. Accessed December 9, 2015.

Clifford, Richard J. Proverbs: A Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.

Firmin, Michael W., and Sally L. Castle. “Early Childhood Discipline: A Review of the Literature.” Journal of Research on Christian Education 17, no. 1 (March 2008): 107. Advanced Placement Source, EBSCOhost (accessed December 8, 2015).

Fox, Michael V. Proverbs 10-31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

Naselli, Andrew David. “Training children for their good.” The Journal Of Discipleship & Family Ministry 3, no. 2 (2013 2013): 48-64. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 8, 2015).

Stuart, Douglas K. “‘The cool of the day’ (Gen 3:8) and ‘the way he should go’ (Prov 22:6).” Bibliotheca Sacra 171, no. 683 (July 2014): 259-273. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2015).

Wegner, Paul D. “Discipline in the book of Proverbs: ‘to spank or not to spank?’.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 4 (December 2005): 715-732. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2015)

Yoder, Christine E. Proverbs. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2009

[1] Christine E. Yoder, Proverbs, p 29; [2] Prov 10:17; 12:28; 14:12; 15:24; [3] Yoder, Proverbs, p 29; [4] Prov 5:23; 22:15; [5] Prov 22:15a; [6] Prov 22:6; [7] Douglas K. Stuart, “‘The cool of the day’ (Gen 3:8) and ‘the way he should go’ (Prov 22:6)”, p 270-271; Richard J. Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary, 1999, p 196; [8] Stuart, “‘The cool of the day’ (Gen 3:8) and ‘the way he should go’ (Prov 22:6)”, p  270; [9] Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary, 1999, p 196; [10] Stuart, “‘The cool of the day’ (Gen 3:8) and ‘the way he should go’ (Prov 22:6)”, p  271; [11] Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary, 1999, p 198; [12] Prov 22:15b; [13] Michael V. Fox, Proverbs 10-31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, p 656; [14] Yoder, Proverbs, p 224-225; [15] Prov 19:18b; [16] Prov 13:24; [17] Yoder, Proverbs, p 156; Prov 1:28; 8:17; 11:27; Job 8:5; Ps 78:34; Hos 5:15;[18] Prov 10:13; 15:32; [19] Paul D. Wegner, “Discipline in the book of Proverbs: ‘to spank or not to spank?'”, p 720; [20] Ibid, p 719; [21] Ibid, p 720-723; [22] Prov 17:10;[23] Prov 10:17; 15:5; 19:8, 20; [24] Prov 12:1; 13:1, 18; 15:10, 32; 19:20; [25] Prov 10:17; 12:1; 15:5; 19:20; [26] Wegner, “Discipline in the book of Proverbs: ‘to spank or not to spank?'”, p 730-731; [27] Ibid, p 729; [28] Wegner, “Discipline in the book of Proverbs: ‘to spank or not to spank?'”, p 729; [29] Ibid, p 729; [30] Diana Baumrind, “Selection 22: Child Care Practices Anteceding Three Patterns of Preschool Behavior”, p 132; [31] Michael W. Firmin and Sally L. Castle, “Early Childhood Discipline: A Review of the Literature”, p 119; [32] Firmin and Castle, “Early Childhood Discipline: A Review of the Literature”, p 119; [33] Diana Baumrind, “Selection 22: Child Care Practices Anteceding Three Patterns of Preschool Behavior”, p 132; [34] Wegner, “Discipline in the book of Proverbs: ‘to spank or not to spank?'”, p 731; [35] Ibid, p 731.