Singleness & Spirituality

Singleness & Spirituality

In the 2018 blog posts, I intend to focus on family and relationship matters as they relate to the spiritual life. I plan to share insights by way of both book reviews and devotional thoughts from God’s word. As you seek God in this new year, I hope that you’ll follow along, that you’ll be blessed by the content, and that you’ll receive some direction about where to look further for spiritual wisdom in relational and family matters. Our vision here at West is for Jesus to fill every heart, head, and hand. I pray that these articles may be one way of leaning into that vision.

With Saint Valentine’s Day nearly upon us, love is in the air! I’ve been taking the same beautiful gal out on dates at this time for nearly 13 years now, so for me, the decision of “Who?” has been settled. Now, the decisions are narrowed to “Where?” “When?” and “How do we secure a babysitter before everyone else does?!” However, many of my friends are still asking that first “Who?” question, and they’re not just asking it for February 14th, but they’re asking it about their lifelong partner. “Who?”

Unique Challenges to the Single Life

I want to acknowledge the unique challenges of the single life today, at least the ones I am aware of. I add that disclaimer, because honestly, I don’t know what it’s like to be single today. I was single over fourteen years ago. Things have changed. Yet, some things are timeless for any single person of any era. Single people today wrestle with God about their marital status; some single people may be disappointed. You may feel like you missed your only chance to be happy, and you are still blaming yourself. Others wonder if they’ve waited too long. Impatience short-circuits the spiritual development needed to prepare you for what is next. The single person may find it difficult to find his or her place and voice in the church’s vision, mission, and goals. You may be dating someone right now, and you are looking for guidance. Finally, some of you are boiling angry that the thing that people notice most about you is your singleness, instead of the gazillion other wonderful things about you (Cue: SCREAM!!! Go ahead; let it out.).

In 2011, I performed a cultural assessment on the layers of the world’s voice and message to people, particularly in the areas of romance and singleness. The world has something to say to you, but it is the way of folly. The way of folly always leads to a grave of many kinds of spiritual death. The single, faithful Christian set on purity and pursuing God will receive ridicule from the world. Virginity today is mocked instead of treasured and protected. Unfortunately, single people who seek refuge in the church often encounter an even more perplexing, profound, and painful mockery. I have talked to single adults throughout my years and places of ministry who have experienced blindspots in the church when it comes to singles. For example, the church hurts singles when it carries the unspoken “rule” that marriage is the rite of passage into true adulthood.

Unique Joys in the Single Life

I also want to encourage the unique joys of the single life. It can be a season of unique friendship. The single life may provide a unique opportunity for adventure, education, career advancement, and spiritual maturity. It is a time for your skill in living to develop in areas such as finance, responsibilities, exercise, and trades and crafts that will benefit you and others. It most definitely presents a time of unique Christian ministry—particularly in connecting with and edifying children, tweens, and teens. Don’t worry; I’m going to catch myself here: Single adults also have a unique ministry to the church and its adult ministries. A faithful, single Christian adult is able to write, teach, and minister with a clarity, conviction, and boldness that sometimes escapes married people because the affections of our hearts are divided. Paul—a faithful, single Christian—called married people out on this, remember?

He wrote,

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another . . . I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:6–7, 26–35).

I have had the privilege to serve with an array of solid, single people throughout my pastoral ministry. They don’t simply acquire joy, but they spread their joy to those around them. They are often very self-less with their time, resources, and giftedness. The church is the body of Christ, and single people are significant members of the body—both historically and today.

Harmonizing with God’s Voice

Single friends, keep seeking God. Harmony is a wonderful sound to experience. God’s voice is clear, constant, reliable, and trustworthy. We must find his voice on the matters of the spiritual life. I’d like to share a number of harmonic voices that have helped me explore God’s wisdom on the single life. This list is by no means conclusive; in fact, I would love to hear from single people about what they’re reading these days on Christian spirituality and the single life. I hope that in the end you are able to find your voice and add it to the harmony. Here are a few resources that impacted my life in a way that matured my spirituality as a single person and a couple of newer ones that I recently encountered:

Oldies But Goodies

  1. The Bible — Well, duh Captain Obvious. I know, but seriously; consider all of the single writers and characters of the Bible (e.g., Jesus, Paul, Jeremiah). Still further, consider the characters whom we observe both as single and married (e.g., Joseph, David, Ruth, Naomi, etc.). Clearly, God employs people who are single to advance his purposes on the world stage. God made us, understands us, and cares for us. What kind of theology of the single life might you gain from studying God’s word from this perspective?
  2. He That Is Spiritual — I’ve read this book several times. I’ve gone back to it again and again when teaching on the spiritual life. It was written by Lewis Sperry Chafer in 1918. The book is an exposition on the (1) Natural Person, (2) Spiritual Person, (3) Carnal Person (the Christian who should be mature, but isn’t), and (4) Spiritual Infant (a new Christian). For Chafer, the key to the spiritual life is understanding the ministries of the Holy Spirit available to you in Christ alone. As a single person, this book helped establish me on a path of seeking the filling of the Spirit and of trusting in his works of grace in my life. It helped me put away some childish things and embrace the responsibility for my spiritual life.
  3. Basic Theology — It doesn’t have to be this particular theology for you, but every single person should work though a volume on basic Christian theology. What do you believe? It’s important for you to know, and it’s important for you to be able to share. I went through Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology numerous times. I used it for teaching early on in my ministry.
  4. Wild at Heart — Aimee, my wife, reminded me the other day how important this book was to me when we first met. She’s right. Wild at Heart was written by John Eldridge. This book is for men, but ladies, I hope you can find something that is equivalent. There comes a point in every adult’s life where they have to face their past—things that were in our control and things that were not but affected us nonetheless. This book helped me confess, heal, and advance as a man who wanted to experience God.
  5. I Kissed Dating GoodbyeThere are actually some interesting, current developments going on with this 90s–2000s classic. For me in my own experience, it exposed the sexual and emotional sewage in which I had been swimming. It showed me the lies that I’d believed about love, trust, dating, happiness, purity, and more. It helped me discern what matters at 50. It caused me to be honest about the sickness in my heart. It challenged me in the area of genuine friendship. Joshua Harris had some wise things to say back in 1997 that are still relevant today; however, he may be presently fine-tuning his thoughts on IKDG. As a new Christian in 2001 wondering what on earth Christian spirituality in dating was supposed to look like, this book helped me.
  6. The Book of Romance — Harris’ book deconstructed my non-biblical worldview for dating, but Tommy Nelson’s book helped build something new in its place. Nelson looks at the biblical book of the Song of Songs, and paints a beautiful picture of what romance can be like for the person who loves God.
  7. Passion and Purity — Elisabeth Elliot’s book interwove the spiritual life and the romantic life by means of her own story. As a man, the book gave me insight into a woman’s perspective. A new edition was released in 2002. She’s real about our passions; she’s tenacious about purity. She understands that whatever estate we may find ourselves in, our lives must be brought under Christ’s control and lordship.


  1. Just Do Something — Every Christian at some point has to have a frank conversation about “God’s will” for their lives. If you’re like me, you needed more than one conversation to clear the fog. John MacArthur has a sermon that I have listened to again and again for years. More recently, Kevin DeYoung authored this book. I love the subtitle: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will OR How To Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc.
  2. Gospel Fluency — In the Christian’s spiritual life either at the beginning or at a point of revival or re-commitment, he or she must encounter the reality that the gospel of Jesus Christ is EVERYTHING. When it is replaced by some counterfeit, the whole of Christianity crumbles. Jeff Vanderstelt places the gospel on the throne of the spiritual life.
  3. Exploring Christian Theology — If Ryrie is a little too old school for you, then try this three-volume set. Don’t worry; each volume isn’t too terribly long. The authors are professors whom I spent time with in seminary, and they have really put together a great beginner’s theology that also connects with the devotional life.
  4. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy — And may I add, single guy. Bonhoeffer was engaged, and he has some other books on that particular topic. However, his engagement was cut short. Eric Metaxas’ biography shows how God was at work in Bonhoeffer’s life and how he redeemed the time during evil days.
  5. Your Money Map — This book by Howard Dayton is one in a long line of succession from Larry Burkett’s influence. As a single Christian, one of the most beneficial things I did was to complete a financial workbook that gave me a sense of what God has to say about money. Single or married, a person needs to know how to handle money, or it will handle you!
  6. Living Together — In a world where cohabitation is on the rise and viewed as a smart thing to do, this book offers biblical insight and wisdom on the matter, particularly for those who find themselves in a situation to give advice. It’s written by my former pastor, Jeff VanGoethem. All the research says the same thing—cohabitation lays a poor foundation for marriage as a sacred covenant and as a life-long commitment. Single adults need to wake up about this, and the church needs to know how to approach the trend with grace and truth.

There are many more books that could or should be included. but these are some with which I have become familiar. I hope that you’ll let me know what book or stories God has used in your life as a single person. Face the challenges with courage. Embrace the joys with great delight. Remember that Jesus loves you; he has not lost track of you in the crowd. May the church be blessed by your presence.

Building a People Full of Jesus

Fresh Proclamation of an Ancient Vision

In 2015, we began having conversations about the vision of West Lisbon Church. For the Christian Church, vision is not something that we have to create out of thin air. God has revealed his vision in Jesus Christ. We are charged with a stewardship of that gospel vision—a fresh proclamation—in this culture and among the people of this generation. Awhile ago, I preached a short sermon series on the book of Haggai, whose message is an important one for a historic church seeking God afresh. Haggai wrote to the people of Judah, who had returned from exile. His vision for a fresh experience of the presence of God caused him to challenge the returning exiles to rebuild the house of the Lord.

For West Lisbon Church, we want Jesus in every heart, head, and hand, and the members of WLC commit to moving people who love God into deeper discipleship experiences with God resulting in activities and relationships that glorify God and advance the gospel in our community and world. Haggai’s message of revival can encourage us as we seek to participate in God’s mission.

Consider Your Priorities

Through the decree of Cyrus the Great (538 B.C.E.), which was later confirmed during the reign of Darius I (522–486 B.C.E.), the Jews were permitted by the Persian Empire to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. The Persian emperors did more than simply permit the return and rebuilding; they also provided security and resources for the project (see Ezra 6:1–15) until the completion of the temple in March of 515 B.C.E. Despite the support from the Persian emperors, the rebuilding project ceased around 536 B.C.E. and did not begin again until the prophetic ministries of Haggai and Zechariah in 520 B.C.E.

Like many of the prophets, we do not know much about the prophet Haggai’s personal background. His name means “festal,” which has given scholars fodder for conjecture: (1) perhaps he was born at the time of a festival; (2) perhaps such a name anticipated the timing of the prophet’s ministry—“1:1 on the New Moon’s day, 2:1 on the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and 2:18 on the day when the ‘foundation’ of the temple was laid”; or (3) perhaps “Haggai” is not the prophet’s real name but a name given to the author because of the calendar events associated with the prophet’s ministry.

Further, little is known about Haggai’s “exilic experience.” Some conclude that Haggai was an older man who saw the glory of Solomon’s temple (see 2:3) and that he was either one of those who returned from the Babylonian captivity or one who had remained in the desolate Jerusalem until others returned. Others suggest that Haggai was a younger man who was born in Babylon and traveled to Jerusalem after the decrees of the Persian emperors.

Regardless of his background, the prophet Haggai bursts into the lives of a discouraged population in Jerusalem with a brief but powerful ministry during which he communicated a single-minded message that reoriented the spiritual center of the people and the leadership. To the surprise of the reader of the prophetic literature, the people respond in obedience! Haggai’s message to the leaders and inhabitants of Jerusalem is to “Consider Your Priorities” (1:5, 7; 2:15, 18). The leaders and people had established priorities in their lives that were inconsistent with their covenant responsibility and covenant loyalty to the Lord. For example, 1:4 reveals that the people were busy about building their own homes while the house of Lord remained in a state of ruin. The glory and pleasure of the Lord had taken a backseat to the people’s comfort to which the Lord responded with judgments according to the stipulations of the covenant (1:5–6, 9–11; cf. Deut. 11:13–17). The Lord stirred the hearts of the leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua, and the people to respond with obedience by rebuilding the temple of the Lord (1:12–15) as Haggai encouraged them with the promise of God’s presence (1:13), to be strong in the Lord’s presence and fear not (2:3–5), and to trust in the Lord’s sovereignty (2:7–9). Upon responding to Haggai’s message to “Consider Your Priorities,” the temple was eventually rebuilt—stirring hearts for the return of the Lord’s glory, presence, and blessing upon his people.

A House Made of People Who Are Full of Jesus

Haggai’s implications for the church today are numerous. The western church has largely become inundated with marketing, entertainment, and consumerism. Let’s be honest; it’s the culture we swim in. Sometimes our culture can be harnessed to draw people to Jesus, and other times our culture hinders drawing people to Jesus. Are we building our own houses and our church facilities with “wood paneling, gold, and silver”? Are we really building the house of the Lord? The house or temple being built according to the New Testament revelation is the Church of Jesus Christ—composed of people—living stones—from every nation because of the peace of salvation secured for us by Jesus Christ (see Eph. 2:11–22; cf. 1 Pet. 2:1–5). The message of Haggai to “Consider Your Priorities” could not be more relevant.

Are we willing to truly build the Lord’s house through relationships that involve evangelism and discipleship (Matt. 28:18–20)? Gaining church members from other local churches by means of attractions is not really building the house of the Lord; it’s not real church growth. Instead of reaching people who already know and who already grow in Jesus, let’s reach the lost and broken. Let’s reach the forgotten. Let’s reach those who have wandered away from God’s house. Let’s make it a priority to offer them the life-giving message of Christ crucified and resurrected. Let’s provide a warm and effective fellowship family in which these new believers grow, mature, and make an impact for generations. Conversions and disciple-making build up the house of the Lord. God’s call to us is to consider our priorities knowing that he is with us and that we are desperate for him to set our hearts ablaze for the sake of his house.

What Shall We Give Him? Surrender to the King

At West Lisbon this Advent season, we have been exploring the Miracles of Christmas each Sunday morning. These miracles have caused us to think about gifts that we may give to Christ or to others that are uniquely spiritual in nature. Some of the gifts have included giving Jesus our fellowship and our hope. Last Sunday, we learned how the angels came to announce the presence of the Christ in the first advent. The message challenged us to give the gift of unconditional presence to our own family and friends—no matter what. In this blog post, I want to explore another gift that we can give to the Lord—the gift of surrender.

War Elephants . . . Now That’s a Gift!

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln wrote a cordial letter to the King of Siam to politely reject the offer of a most generous gift. President James Buchanan was the actual addressee of the two letters from the King, which were received on February 14th, 1861—the same year the Civil War began—but President Lincoln was left with the responsibility of responding to the King’s offer. The gifts of the King were fourfold—namely, a sword of costly materials and exquisite workmanship; a photographic likeness of His Majesty and of His Majesty’s beloved daughter; and also two elephants’ tusks of length and magnitude indicating that they could have belonged only to an animal which was a native of Siam . . .

The fourth gift was really something. President Lincoln wrote,

I appreciate most highly Your Majesty’s tender of good offices in forwarding to this Government a stock from which a supply of elephants might be raised on our own soil. This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful in the present condition of the United States. Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.

The President ended the letter: Your Good Friend, ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

It is very interesting to study the gifts given between the leaders of nations and the occasions that prompted their international generosity. The beauty and thoughtfulness are striking at times. As I looked into this a little, I thought to myself,

Yes, a king knows exactly how and what to give to another king. But what do you and I know about giving gifts to a king?

I think we all probably feel a little like Clark W. Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when he delivers his gift to his boss, only to find a mountain of other, unopened, underwhelming gifts that preceded his own. You can see and sense the feelings of both resentment and insecurity that begin to take hold of Clark.

He doesn’t need anything, but I have to give him something . . . I can’t look bad, but, really, what can I give to him?

It’s Christmas time. The King with whom we are concerned during these days is the Lord Jesus. What do you give such a King? The King of Kings. The One who has the name above all names, before whom one day every knee will bow and tongue will confess that he is indeed Lord and Master of all creation. What do you give to God?

Perhaps, and quite honestly, it hasn’t occurred to you that you should give God anything at all. Maybe others of you have wondered about this question. Possibly, you’ve given it some extensive thought — what does God want from me and my life? What should I give him? Maybe others of you are in a place where you feel that you’ve given God quite enough—life has been hard this year. Yet, deep down, you know that Jesus possess the words of life, and you love him even in the midst of difficult days.

If we read the story of the manger scene where the Shepherds flocked to see the baby King or the narrative about the visit from the wise men to the young child Jesus, we can envision quite a reception. Time has passed since the infancy and childhood of the Lord Jesus. The mature King eventually offered his life as an atonement for the sins of the world – the righteous one for the unrighteous ones – and he demonstrated his power and right to rule by defeating death through resurrection, wherein the church places her hope for life eternal.

Shepherds and wise men aside, what now does the modern person have to offer a resurrected and returning King like Jesus? I’d like to suggest to you that Jesus answers this for us himself. He tells us in the Gospel of Mark 12:13–17 just exactly what he wants from us. In a word, he wants you. He wants you to surrender yourself, your life, to him as King.

WDJW or What Does Jesus Want?

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him (Mark 12:13–17).

King Jesus is very clear about what he wants in this passage. God wants those on which he has stamped his own image. He wants boys and girls, and men and women. He wants YOU. The idea of surrender to Jesus as King brings three thoughts to my mind, and they illustrate the internal process we go through as we weigh the meaning of surrender.

First, We Resist Surrender to God’s Ownership.

Maybe we, like the men in this story, try to avoid surrender by means of flattery. We flatter Jesus with our bumper stickers, with our wristbands, with our donations, and even like these men, with our words. But Jesus did not come to be flattered by people. He came to rule. Jesus seeks to rule the heart by his grace and with his power, for the heart, he says, is the place, the source, out of which his image is defaced daily by evil deeds, thoughts, and feelings. God wants to restore his glorious image in you by transforming your heart. The King does not receive flattery from an unyielded heart; he despises it.

Maybe you don’t flatter Jesus, but also like these men, you look at King Jesus with false pretenses—false pretenses about who he is and why he has come and what he will do to cause you to remain unsurrendered to him as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Maybe you don’t believe him and his claim upon you as someone on whom he has stamped his image of ownership.

Sometimes our process of surrender stops there. We resist and that’s it. End of story. But some of us hear the Scriptures and are willing to go a little further, discovering within ourselves a bit more humility toward God about this whole surrender thing. The next step in the process of surrender is a place of insecurity.

Second, We Question the Value of Our Surrender to God’s Ownership.

We come to believe that, yes, indeed Jesus is King, and he has stamped his image on me. He’s not only the King, but he’s MY King.

But then, we look at what we have to offer him, and we grow insecure, which results either in despair of ever bringing anything worthy to offer to God, or in an endless attempt to try to bring him something to earn his favor.

Consider our FEEBLE KNOWLEDGE in light of the all-knowing God.
Measure our FALLIBLE WILL in light of the holy God.
Discern our FICKLE EMOTIONS in light of the God who is perfect in justice and mercy.

There is some truth here about the insecurity of the value of our surrender to God, for even the Scriptures say,

There are none righteous, not even one,” and “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

It is proper to feel insecure before such a God, such a King, no matter the quality of life we may think we have brought to him. Perhaps, we could call this healthy insecurity “the fear of God.”

However, the wrong kind of insecurity can breed anger and bitterness, and these are certainly the wrong gifts to bring the King. Rather, the right response to the insecurity over the life that we have to surrender to God is humility—a crushed and lowly heart, made so by an encounter with the greatness of God.

The realization that not even my life is of great enough value to win the favor of this King—this realization should crush us and bring us low, low enough to bow the knee, the head, and the heart before the King of Kings. And it is here now that our surrender meets grace and favor. For it is written,

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite (Isaiah 57:15 ESV).

At this crushing point of surrender, the heart bows low before God, and we can understand exactly what it is that God has done—why it is that the Holy Child came to earth. He came so that the humble heart may rejoice in the hope of salvation.

Lastly, We Welcome Surrender to God’s Ownership.

As the Holy Spirit opens the heart in surrender, humility leads us into the hope of salvation. When we give to God what belongs to God, as Jesus said, we are ready to experience the hope and treasure given to us in the work of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 8:9 offers the basis for why Christians should be generous to one another by restating the good news about Jesus Christ’s coming into the world. The first part reads,

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .

God’s grace finds the one who has been brought low in surrender. You say, that’s it?! I mean, the King of Siam sent a flawless stock of war elephants to President Lincoln—war elephants! But remember the words of the songwriter,

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

By God’s grace, such a humble offering satisfies him.

The passage goes on,

. . . that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Here the writer speaks to us of the Great Exchange that took place at Christ’s first coming. He become poor, so that you and I could possess all the treasures that are in Christ and his gospel—pardon, forgiveness, freedom from guilt, a new birth, a new life, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, a new talk, a new walk, fellowship with God, justice and creation made right, eternity with God in his glorious presence, forever and ever. God offers these treasures in Christ. When you welcome surrender to God’s ownership of your life, you discover the fullness of the Great Exchange of Jesus Christ, that by his poverty you are made wealthy in him.

Surrender Your Heart to the King

Will you welcome surrender to King Jesus this Advent season? Invite God’s ownership into your life. Will you let his ownership spread, allowing his rule in every nook and cranny? Will you, as the children sing, “give him your heart”? Has God’s Spirit been working in your heart and life leading up to this reading? The Lord Jesus became poor—he died on the cross and was resurrected out of a borrowed grave—so that you could be made rich in him. Are you ready to begin experiencing the treasures that are in Christ Jesus?

The Surrender of Thanksgiving

Grabbed by Gratitude

It stopped me in my tracks. Twice. In the same morning even. What was it? Thankfulness. The first time, a song provoked it, and the second time, a story in an upcoming film about a changed life connected to my heart. I felt genuinely thankful, particularly for my wife and children. Lyrics and stories have a way of moving and stirring our emotions.

Hooray for Word Studies: Εὐχαριστέω

Bible readers find the theme of thankfulness throughout the pages of Scripture. In the New Testament, the verb εὐχαριστέω primarily conveys the act of expressing

. . . appreciation for benefits or blessings, give thanks, express thanks, render/return thanks (BDAG).

It is used 37 times in the New Testament. The occasions for these usages vary: (1) regarding provisions from God (Matt. 15:36), (2) in the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:23; Luke 22:19), (3) in reference to answered prayer (Luke 17:16; John 11:41), (4) obligatory thanksgiving (Luke 18:11; Rom. 16:4), (5) thanksgiving for NOT participating in something (1 Cor. 1:14), but most often, (6) it communicates thankfulness about the fellowship of believers (Eph. 1:16; Phil. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2).

Spontaneous or Deliberate Thankfulness?

However, the Apostle Paul fashioned the word in a unique way in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. He issued it as a command:

. . . give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

This is the one and only use in the New Testament of the imperative form—εὐχαριστεῖτε. “Give thanks; appreciate; surrender thanksgiving.” But isn’t thankfulness better when it’s spontaneous? Is thankfulness genuinely thankfulness when it is commanded? I mean how many “You-should-be-thankful-s” are chronicled in the history of parenthood, right?!?! Our experience of the feeling of thankfulness is often unplanned, which may cause one to ask, “How does one get better at such a command? Do I simply try harder to feel thankful?”

This command is interesting to me, especially in light of the holiday anticipation building as we enter Thanksgiving season. As I experienced a surge of thankfulness this morning about my family, provoked by song and story and genuinely enjoying how I felt, I wondered if there is yet a deeper experience of thankfulness available . . . something more consistent, longer-lasting, sustainable, solid. Is thankfulness something that must come from outside of me; is it out of my control; a dormant emotion only stirred by some kind of external stimulus? Or is it something to which I have constant access, an affection internal and awake, and able to be wielded, controlled, surrendered, and given? If the latter, then where may I find such an endless reservoir of gratitude?

The Surrender of Thanksgiving: Exposition of 1 Thessalonians 5:18

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, God reveals some things to us about giving thanks that cause pause. First, he qualifies the command “Give thanks” with a prepositional phrase that describes the circumstances during which we should obey it—in all circumstances. Wait, what? Literally, the translation is “give thanks in any and every, or in every respect or way.” Most Bible translations have adapted the English to read, “in all circumstances.” We are commanded to give thanks for any one circumstance that may come at us from the sum total of all circumstances. In other words, E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Yikes.

Thanksgiving Commanded by God

Remember, a command implies that God has or is able to supply you with the necessary resources to obey the command. Notice also that the circumstances are not commanded to make people thankful, which would be worded like, “Circumstances, go and cause thankfulness among the people.” Rather, the readers (like you and me) are commanded to give thanks while living under varied circumstances. The command implies that the believer is in possession of thankfulness and then must choose to give it. Now, I think all of us can easily imagine turning over thanks for the joyous moments—straight A’s, making the team, winning the game (Go Lady Norsemen, btw), graduating, getting married, having the baby, going on vacation, church growth, career advancement, and the list could go on and on.

However, are we really to turn over thanks when we fail the class, when we don’t make the team, when we lose the big game, when circumstances delay graduation, when the boyfriend/girlfriend bails, when finances crumble, when the consequences of one bad decision keep piling up, when a child or a parent gets sick or dies, when the marriage fails, when the church splits, when the career tanks, and on and on? Does God really expect me to give him thanks in all circumstances?

Yes. Maybe the surrender of our thanks looks a little broken sometimes, but this is the command. He wants our thanks in any and every circumstance. Biblical thanksgiving seems to be the turning over of something that is both provoked and supplied by God again and again, rather than some uncontrollable emotion that suddenly sweeps over you by positive, external, spontaneous provocation. The giving of thanks is a matter of relationship between you and God. You can choose to give it or not to give it to God.

Thanksgiving in the Fullness of God

Back to the Bible in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. The next sentence offers an explanation for the command to give thanks in all circumstances, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” A similar statement follows Paul’s command to be filled or controlled by the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18–20,

. . . giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In that passage, the giving of thanks is evidenced in the life of the believer who is yielding to the Spirit’s control. There again, as in 1 Thessalonians, the circumstances in which we give thanks are broad—always and for everything. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul explains that this always-giving-thanks-in-all-circumstances is God’s will. Comparing this to Ephesians 5:18, we may say that it is the Spirit’s aim.

I see here both the external motivation and the internal capability—both provided by God. The command to give thanks is the external word that comes from God to us, and that word is met in the believer with the aim of the Spirit, who dwells within and who aims to transform the believer into one who turns over thanks to God in all circumstances—making him or her thankful. In this way, the Christian is prompted both externally and internally to give thanks. The uniqueness of the Christian understanding of thanksgiving is that seemingly random circumstances are not in the driver’s seat, but rather our experience and relationship with God while living under a variety of circumstances.

Thanksgiving Under the Influence of Christ

Finally, the phrase “the will of God” is modified by two prepositional phrases: (1) in Christ Jesus and (2) for you all. What do these mean? Paul commonly employs the phrase “in Christ” or “in Christ Jesus,” and what he seems to mean by it is the idea of “under the control of, under the influence of, or in close association with” (BDAG, 327–28).

Let me expand that a bit. We are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances because this is the will of God for people under the influence of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Something so influential, at the soul-level, has happened in Jesus Christ for believers rendering them capable of fulfilling God’s will and command to give thanks in all circumstances. What happened? His death and resurrection happened. In other words, Christ’s gospel is the key to your ability to obey the will of God by giving thanks in all circumstances—good or bad, hopeful or despairing. You function in every circumstance with death-defeating, eternally-securing, resurrection-powered love.

Thanksgiving Surrendered to God

Now, let’s get real for a minute. The influence of the resurrection of Christ moves the believer to give thanks to God in painful circumstances. It is truly a surrender of thanks. These surrenders surface on the battlefield of the soul against the sinful nature that longs to withhold thanks from God. This is why Romans 8:26 says,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Later on during the same day that I felt thankful for my family, I received a call from a friend that makes a pastor’s heart shudder and ask, “Why God?” And I, of course, don’t have that answer. Yet, I know that the greatest power and love on heaven and earth is available to those who call on the name of Jesus. When you or I see the hurting person give thanks in all circumstances, we witness that power and love on display. We witness firsthand the external command of God and the internal working of the gospel by the Spirit uniting to produce a thankful believer.


Advance the Indispensability of Jesus Together

The Surprising Dispensability of the Leader

The 2014 NCAA Football season for the Ohio State Buckeyes had as many twists and turns as your favorite roller coaster ride. On two occasions, injuries threatened to undo their successful run. As a fan of the Buckeyes, I remember watching the quarterback situation unfold, and after each injury thinking—“That guy is indispensable; the season’s over.” Each time, the next guy who stepped in proved me wrong.

In August, starting quarterback, Braxton Miller, was injured and out for the remainder of the season. Second-string quarterback, J. T. Barrett, replaced Miller, and he continued the Buckeyes success on the field. However, in November of that same season, Barrett was injured and would miss the remaining games, including any Bowl games or Championship attempt.

The weight of the season fell upon third-string, red shirt sophomore Cardale Jones. The first start of his college career took place in the Big Ten Championship against the Wisconsin Badgers. Jones led the Buckeyes to a 59–0 blowout victory. Next, he started in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the number one ranked, the dreaded Alabama Crimson Tide. Jones led the Buckeyes to a Sugar Bowl victory, 42–35. Then, it was onto the National Championship Game against the Oregon Ducks. Jones’ success continued and delivered a 42–20 win against the Ducks and a 2014 National Championship to the Buckeyes.

Over the years, I’ve had similar, personal experiences when I’ve had the privilege to work with young, pastoral interns. I am convinced that most if not all of them will accomplish far more than I ever will for the kingdom if they continue to follow our Lord faithfully. They will soon catch up and surpass me in the things that once made me their superior (i.e., the one leading the internship). Be it education, tech savvy, experience, networking, or ability; I am confident (and hopeful) that they will go far beyond whatever reach I may have in my lifetime for the gospel.

Which means this: I am dispensable.

The Dispensable Steward of the Indispensable Promise

In our study of Genesis, we are finishing up the Abrahamic story. He’s a pivotal figure in the unfolding of the program of God—his calling, his faith, his experience. Yet, he dies. He dies while the promises of God are barely realized. We can’t help but feel that the Patriarch of the patriarchs drew his last breath before his time—even if he was 175 years old.

Concerning Abraham’s death, Allen Ross writes in his commentary on Genesis entitled Creation & Blessing,

The message in this part is straightforward: believers will die, and so they must ensure that the work begun in them by God will continue as God desires. It may be through their children, children in the faith, or by some other means; but no one may personalize the program so that no thought is given to the next generation . . . Even though faithful believers die, the program of God to bless the world continues . . . We’re part of something much bigger than ourselves . . . No one is indispensable in God’s program. Good people die (some when they’re young and some when they’re old), and others take up the task to continue God’s program.

So, the question begs, “If I am dispensable (and I am), then what indispensable thing can I hand off to the next generation?” What thing of lasting, eternal substance and weight can I pass on that will endure — come what may in the world?

Think back to Abraham’s journey of faith. The longer he walked in the light of God’s promise, the more singular and pure his faith and devotion became to that promise. The major turning point happens in chapter 22, when he has to offer up Isaac. The writer of Hebrews gives us divine commentary on the event:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,” and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there (11:17–19).

Whether it was his belief that God could raise Isaac from the dead, his actions to secure a burial site at the Cave of Machpelah in Canaan, or his efforts to select Isaac as his sole heir, all these things reveal that Abraham had finally captured what was truly indispensable — it was the promise. He realized that the promise was much bigger than him. Abraham may have been the initial partner in the bilateral agreement; he didn’t view himself as the sole owner and beneficiary of the blessings. The patriarch came to realize his role as the dispensable steward of the indispensable promise.

Now, don’t misunderstand. By saying that Abraham was dispensable, I’m not implying that he didn’t have worth as a person or that he wasn’t important to God — obviously he was and is. However, as the biblical story demonstrates, even he was replaceable. His own life and position was not superior to the program of God. Think of the links in a chain. Every link is important, and every link has to steward the weight that bears upon it for the whole chain to complete its purpose and job. Yet, we also recognize that a link in a chain can be replaced by the one who created it and gave it purpose.

Stewarding the Indispensable

As Abraham’s faith matured, he understood his stewardship better and his actions aligned accordingly. Here are three ways his mature faith strengthened his stewardship of the promise:

  1. He sacrificially stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God led him to believe in the power of God to raise the dead.
  2. He securely stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God caused him to make decisions that aligned with the details of God’s promise, regarding its location in Canaan.
  3. He selectively stewarded the promise. His faith in the promise of God brought a singular focus on God’s selection of Isaac.

Today, we are charged with being the dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise of God in Jesus Christ. In what way has the story of Abraham challenged you to mature in your faith and stewardship of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The power of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ—I believe—provides us with incredible room and liberty to steward the gospel sacrificially. Having demonstrated that he can raise the dead, what sacrifice is there that should cause us hesitation or doubt? At the end of Paul’s famous chapter on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he writes, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” The reality of the resurrection frees us to sacrificially steward the gospel for the next generation. Here’s the list of sacrifices mentioned in the New Testament, enabled by the power of the resurrection:

  • The Sacrifice of Our Bodily Activities for the Benefit of Others and the Glory of God (Rom. 12:1).
  • The Sacrifice of Selfless Love (Eph. 5:2).
  • The Sacrifice of Pouring Out Your Life for the Community (Phil. 2:17).
  • The Sacrifice of Generosity with Money (Phil. 4:18).
  • The Sacrifice of Praise, Good Deeds, and Sharing/Fellowship (Heb. 13:15–16).
  • The Sacrifice of a Spiritual Life (1 Pet. 2:5 and following).

When Abraham purchased the field and burial plot in Machpelah, he sent a clear message—“I believe the promise, and I’m not turning back.” What decisions do you need to make in order to prepare and position the next generation to receive and pass on the gospel?

I think one of the most important ways we can securely steward the gospel to the next generation is by making clear decisions that allow young people to see the unique value and power of the gospel in our lives. When they look at your bank statement, do they see a clear commitment to the gospel? Do they see the clear priority of the gospel in your family calendar? When they watch your marriage, do they see mom and dad clearly yielding to the Spirit in their dying to sin and raising to a new and better way? Do they see grandma and grandpa’s clear decision not to ever retire from ministry and service, even though they’ve retired from their vocations?

In Abraham’s day, Isaac was God’s clear choice. He was selective—he did not choose Ishmael or the sons of Keturah. The program of blessing selectively continued through Isaac. Today, God’s selection to continue his program of blessing is Jesus Christ, his beloved Son. Therefore, I believe that we selectively steward the gospel by making Christ visible to a watching world. “Throw some paint on the Invisible Man”; through our words and deeds, let’s give shape to Jesus and the announcement of his good news. Convict the world of sin; convince them of God’s love; and call them to the truth.

We learn from the apostles’ example in the book of Acts that the best way to help people “see Jesus” is to get out where they are with our works and message. While this may imply “leaving the building” so to speak, it may also mean employing the building and its programs or ministries to meet people where they are in life. So, if you believe that God has selected to continue his program of blessing through Jesus Christ alone, what are you doing to help paint this picture for people? How are you stewarding God’s selection of Jesus?

Blessing Beyond Our Lifetime

If we steward the gospel of Jesus sacrificially, securely, and selectively, then we will pass on that which is indispensable to the next generation. We’ll build momentum that will last beyond our lifetime. We will effectively be the dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise. 

In the epic story of The Lord of the Rings there is only one truth, one promise that was indispensable — the ring of power had to be destroyed in the fire of Mount Doom. Before they destroyed the ring, everyone believed the fulfillment of the promise depended upon someone bearing the ring to the fire. After the fulfillment, everyone believed it to be the key event that ushered in an era of blessing.

Along the journey the team members who joined the fellowship to destroy the ring proved dispensable stewards of the indispensable promise. They sacrificed for it, secured it, and devoted to this promise with a singular aim. They advanced the cause together and experienced the blessings of the finished work together. By mature faith in the promise, they passed on blessing that would last far beyond their lifetime. Before us today is the opportunity to advance the indispensability of Jesus together. I pray that we’ll steward it well.

REACHing to Serve in Tennessee

By now, I am sure that you’ve heard that our REACH team made it to Crossville, TN, and work is underway on the homes of their neighbors. The journey there wasn’t without a little action, as the trailer blew a tire, but those guys had it up and running again in no time.

By this time, they have put in a good two days’ work on their respective projects. From the pictures, it looks like there’s plenty of painting and some roofing work being done among many other jobs.

After work, the team had some free time yesterday and made it to the Ozone Falls in the Cumberland Mountain State Park.

Kelly Friestad writes,

The team is making connections with their crews and other groups and are working hard. Please pray for us to finish our work and to stay safe on the jobs and on our way home. Many of the homeowners are so thankful and have been around most of the time we’ve been at their homes. We’ve had opportunities to talk with them about the Lord. Today, we went to a 100+ foot waterfall that was awesome! Going to the lake tomorrow for our free time.

So, keep praying for our REACH team as they share the good news of Jesus in word and deed with these homeowners in Crossville, TN. Praise God for all that he is doing in and through our church family this summer.

In Christ,

Pastor Rex

Jesus Is . . .

There are so many ways a person could finish the title of this post. This week at Casa Berea while working with Juventud Para Cristo (Youth for Christ – Spain), we learned that  Jesus is our teacher; he is love; he is our shepherd; our life; and our friend. As we “searched the globe” for Jesus, we met people each day who had encountered Christ in each of these ways. As the children opened up their lives to us and to the Holy Spirit, they encountered Christ and many lives were changed.

Our daily schedule began at 8am with a leaders’ meeting, which involved a time of Bible study and prayer—Nate, Seth, and I led three of the week’s devotions. We focused on a theme—Faithful Faith Foresees Fruit . . . (1) for the Father’s Fame (Life of Abram,), (2) from the Finished (Life of David), and (3) in the Face of Foes (Life of Nehemiah). The Father is faithful to the glory of his reputation, and when we trust him and participate in his plan to bless, he will be faithful to the glory of his name. He will provide all that we need. We experienced so many provisions on this trip: the funding that provided travel, supplies, decorations, and physical resources; the addition of Cole Manschot to the trip who was an excellent American, Spanish-speaker from Wheaton, plenty of beds, plenty of working cars for transportation, the perfect combination of gifted leaders from West Lisbon and on the Spanish team, words to pray over sick, scared, and sorrow-filled kids, fellowship, the Holy Spirit to go beyond our limitations, rest and recovery from sickness when we needed it.

But there’s even more, we could see how God worked in our past — from the things that he has faithfully finished — in order to supply us with what we needed for this past week at camp. I have been amazed for years at how God has used four years of High School Spanish in my life. How could I have known that God used my teacher at Wheelersburg High School to create a love for language, teach me how to learn a language, give me liberty and courage to “Try it,” and a foundation that has served me pastoral ministry and multiple mission projects. God is in the details of our past, planting seeds, creating experiences, that I believe he will use at a later time. Just like David’s experience as a shepherd boy. God used his experience with the sheep, to prepare him as a soldier and as a king.

Whenever a person or team of people set out to participate in God’s mission, there is always opposition. Nehemiah knew this well. Multiple times throughout the book that bears his name, he faced radical rivalry and opposition to his building project. Nehemiah demonstrated a faith that faithfully saw beyond the opposition to the fruit that would eventually come when the building was finished. God helped me to keep my mind and vision on the people of Spain this week, and what he could possibly do in the future in Spain because of one week spent with 5–11 year olds in the name of Jesus. We faced clear spiritual opposition at times, but God helped us to see the potential fruit, and our minds were fixed on the power of the gospel. On the final day at breakfast, the camp director asked for a showing of hands from the kids who had made any kind of spiritual decision with regard to following Jesus during the week. I personally knew of several, but when we watched so many little hands ascend into the air, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. God is so amazingly faithful.

After our leaders’ meeting, we had breakfast; then, we cleaned our rooms. After that, we had praise and worship, which included a theater piece that developed throughout each morning and night as we searched to know Jesus. Nate and the team also provided music that drew the children into desiring God. Next, the schedule would vary day-by-day. We may go to crafts, workshops, games, or pool time. At around 2pm each day, we ate lunch, which was our largest meal of the day, and it was the meal prior to which we decorated. AND WE WENT ALL OUT WITH THE DECORATIONS! It was awesome, and the kids loved it. After lunch, we had devotions and siesta in our rooms until 4pm, which was followed typically by pool time. After pool time, we either had crafts, games, or special team competitions. Some free time was mixed in before dinner, during which we talked with kids, played basketball or soccer, or perhaps started some kind of spontaneous game on the patio. Dinner and showers preceded our final evening event. On the last night of the week, the children dressed in formal clothing and participated in a talent show — very talented and brave kiddos! It seems that most night we made it to bed around 12:30am.

There are three things that I am taking with me back to the States. First, it was confirmed by the Lord again, that no matter what the differences are that are sprinkled throughout his people across the globe, Jesus’ gospel and the presence of the Holy Spirit in us are the things that we share in common. I’ve met Christians all over the world, and you know when you meet someone who has the Spirit and knows the gospel. I am returning home refreshed by experiencing yet again this powerful unity of the fellowship of the Spirit of God. Second, I am coming back with some amazing new relationships—with the Spanish JPC team, with Cole Manschot, who’s just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away in Wheaton, and with the boys from my group.

Lastly, I am returning with a new and bigger vision for partnering with our West Lisbon missionaries. I can’t put into words how impressed I am with Mark and Stephanie Dodrill. The impact of the ministry that the Lord has built through them is immeasurable. For me, this was most obvious in the quality of the 20-something leaders on the Spanish team. The camp, the youth center, the obvious connections, the trust that parents put in Mark and Stephanie – God has truly blessed their work. The Spirit of Christ is so evident in them and in their vision for the youth of Barcelona.

I am so excited at all of the potential, future ways that we can continue to partner with Mark and Stephanie and Juventud Para Cristo. Mark and I talked multiple times about future opportunities in which we (West Lisbon) can continue to deepen our partnership and continue to watch God do amazing things among the youth of Spain. I’m literally bursting with vision! My hope and prayer is that God will lead us into specifics, and continue to allow us to be a part of what he is doing in Barcelona. I can also sense this kind of vision and excitement from our whole team. We all miss our families and are excited for our return; at the same time, we are all coming back sensing that there is more work to do with our friends in Spain.

We can’t wait to tell you more. We’re currently in the air over the Atlantic now, with about 1,500 miles left to fly. Thank you for your prayers, for your amazing generosity, and again for supporting this summer projects over the last three years. God is doing something special among us.

In Christ,

Pastor Rex