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The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Amen: When Heaven Hits Earth (Revelation Listening Guide)

Jul 1st, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
July 1, 2015
Amen: When Heaven Hits Earth
Revelation 8

I. A Collision Course

There are three questions that all believers will undoubtedly be confronted with: 1) Does God hear me? 2) Does God keep his promises? 3) Will God make things right? These questions lie at the heart of what we face on an almost daily basis. When we look around at the world it makes us wonder if this globe is hurdling out of control with all of us trapped onboard. The book of Revelation addresses these questions head-on and gives us God’s definitive answer, the definitive answer of hope and perseverance for God’s people.
Revelation 8 is all about that answer. Revelation 4-5 centers our attention on God’s throne-room leading up to the first cycle of judgments. Chapter six recounts the progression of those judgments as each of the seals are broken by the Lamb, and chapter seven presents a pictorial interlude showing God’s people protected, preserved, and paraded into triumph in, through, and beyond God’s wrath. Then chapter eight begins another cycle back through that same story first presented in chapters 4-7, starting once again in God’s throne-room and progressing through God’s outpoured wrath on sin. Even though chapter eight begins the judgment-cycle again, it does so by both progressing and intensifying its depiction of God’s righteous judgment on rebellion and God’s sealed-people’s perseverance to the very end. And so as this second cycle starts, readers are confronted with the great hope for God’s people and the great horror for God’s enemies in considering the truth that God’s ultimate salvation and his unbound judgment is on a collision course with our world, the world that is fallen and in rebellion against God.

II. And All God’s People Said…

What will that collision look like? John’s depiction of the first four “Trumpet Judgments” shows us what happens when a holy God confronts a world of sin. We are shown the truth about what is really heading our way:

1. The holiness of God’s presence will be rightly hallowed (vv. 1-2).

2. The prayers of God’s people will be faithfully answered (vv. 3-5).

3. The belittling of God’s glory will be righteously avenged (vv. 6-12).

4. The enemies of God’s kingdom will be mercifully warned (v. 13).

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The Meaning of Marriage: A Statement from the Pastors of FBC Henryville

Jun 26th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

WeddingRingEarlier this afternoon the United States Supreme Court issued a sweeping and landmark judicial decision. In its 5-4 ruling the court established the full-legality of “Gay Marriage” throughout the United States. We join together in our own dissent to this decision as pastors and citizens of the United States of America. We also join together in our firm commitment to what we believe is faithful and biblically demanded civil-disobedience in regards to this decision. We reject it outright. Make no mistake, this is no small thing. In light of that decision, and in light of the abundant media coverage that the decision has and will produce, we want to make it clear to the members of First Baptist Church Henryville what our commitments are regarding marriage in light of this recent court decision:

First, we are committed to the biblical truth that marriage is the covenant and lifetime union between one man and one woman.

It is a one-flesh union established by God as a part of the creation’s structure (Genesis 2:23-25) and it was created to intentionally display the union of Christ with his church, his bride (Ephesians 5:25-33). Marriage is God’s idea and God’s design, and as such it is not under the purview of any human authority. We do not recognize the authority of any human power, court, or society to redefine that which God and God alone has created. Our consciences are captive to the Word of God. We fully affirm the historic biblical teaching regarding marriage, and do so unwaveringly.

Second, we are committed to being a faithful witness to the sanctity of God-ordained marriage in our community and around the world.

We reject any authority as binding on our hearts over and above the Word of God. As such we will refuse to participate in, sanction, or celebrate any form of marriage that is a perversion of marriage’s biblical design. We refuse the authority of any human institution to bind our consciences or to demand our allegiances away from our Lord Jesus Christ. Here we stand. We will not be moved. We have added our names to the “Here We Stand” marriage statement through the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and we encourage you to make use of their invaluable resources that are available at http://www.erlc.org.

Third, we are committed to faithfully shepherding the flock that God has given to us to care for, feed, and protect.

In the coming days and weeks we will be having very frank conversations together and with other church leaders about what these new realities (legally and culturally) are, and how they might affect our wedding and marriage policies (both individually and as a church). Rest assured, we are committed to doing everything in our power to protect FBC Henryville and guard the gospel among us.

Fourth, we are as committed as ever to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In some ways a lot has changed in the last twenty-four hours, but what matters most has not changed at all. God is still God. Sin is still sin. Grace is still precious. The cross still saves. We are passionate about truth and love, truth that does not dilute love and love that does not dilute truth. We affirm that the gospel is the good news of salvation to everyone who believes. Because of that we will continue to equip our church to be a gospel people: people who unreservedly love all people regardless of their sins, and people who unreservedly proclaim salvation for sinners by faith in Christ alone.

Things have changed. But the world has not fallen apart. Chaos is not reigning. Satan is not victorious. God is sovereign. Christ is not defeated. The gospel is not deterred. History remains under the authority of history’s Lord, and it is altogether advancing forward to the consummation of all things under the unending reign of King Jesus. The future for Christ’s bride, the church, is bright. The future of marriage is secure. All of time and eternity is building to the event that all creation has been anticipating: the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10), when our Bridegroom Jesus will take his seat with us, his ransomed and redeemed Bride, now clothed in a pure blood-washed-white dress; and we will dine, and laugh, and love, and worship, and live. Forever.

Yours in Christ,

The Pastors of First Baptist Church Henryville

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Dixie and Discipleship: My Problem with the Confederate Battle Flag

Jun 23rd, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog



Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also, The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.– Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”

I’ve always loved history. I’ve always loved studying history. My dream job as a child was to be a history teacher (a dream I fulfilled for several years teaching high school), and my area of utter fascination was the American Civil War. I devoured hundreds and hundreds of books on the subject. I dug into the minutiae of battles, politics, and important figures (some known and others largely forgotten). I pulled my parents to every major battlefield in the country. My senior trip, my graduation gift for graduating from college was an all-expense paid trip to Gettysburg. There isn’t an area of Civil War history (from medicine to the navy to the home-front) that I haven’t lived with for over two decades. In my home study you’ll find busts of Lee and Grant and a painting depicting the Appomattox surrender.

I love history. And I particularly love my history, the good and the bad of it. I love reading about my ancestor’s roles in the history of our country. I’m proud to know I had ancestors who fought alongside Francis Marion in the Carolinas during the Revolutionary War. I’m proud of my great-grandfather who was wounded between the lines in World War I. I’m proud of my uncle who was killed in World War II. I’m proud of my other family members who served their country in military service and lived to tell the tale. And I’m also connected to my family’s and state’s darker history. I’ve read church minutes from the nineteenth century where some of my ancestors were disciplined by their local churches for drunkenness. I own an old plantation desk that dates to the 1840’s where according to family lore papers were once signed to buy and sell slaves. Some of my ancestors were slave-owners and some of my family served in the Confederate Army. And I love them all. They fought in a losing cause and in a wrong cause, but they fought in defense of their homes and families as they genuinely believed they were taking the right course of action.

In junior high I celebrated that heritage by joining our local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. One of my direct ancestors was William B. Campbell who served throughout the war (and was wounded) in Company K of the 33rd Mississippi Infantry. I honor his memory and his service. I honor his memory in my love for history and in my love for place. I even honor his memory in some Civil War framed-prints that I have at home, some of which contain the image of the Confederate Battle Flag. But I don’t think that Confederate Battle Flag should be flown, particularly from public property. My convictions on that point are as a believer. For me it is a gospel issue, not a political one. I genuinely believe that the love of Christ compels me.

Last Wednesday morning Amy and I were in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. We’d come into town for a wedding. We walked past the Emanuel AME Church a few hours before a gunman walked into that congregation’s midweek prayer service. We turned on the news in our hotel room later that night and saw the coverage of the massacre being filmed just yards from where we had stood a few hours before. Now, some might argue that the shooting in South Carolina is all that has given rise to the loud, outspoken cries for the flag’s removal. That may be so, but my views have been changed (and been changing) on the issue for quite some time. In 2001 I voted in a Mississippi state referendum to keep our current state flag featuring the Confederate Battle Flag prominently in its upper left corner. In the nearly fifteen years since I cast that vote I’ve changed my mind. I believe I was wrong, and I want to tell you why.

My love for God and neighbor leads me to desire to remove any unnecessary obstacle to the gospel. The message of the cross is a stumbling block enough. It’s controversial. It’s foolishness to the world. I don’t have to, nor should I want to, add any additional scandal to its proclamation and reception, and I fear that the Confederate Battle Flag is an unnecessary stumbling block that arises when believers loudly lend their support to the flag.

If I am called to love my neighbor as myself, that means I must surrender my own prejudices and prerogatives for the sake of those I love. Speaking for myself, I can’t love people indiscriminately with Christ’s Bible in one hand and a Confederate Battle Flag in the other. I’ve tried to imagine, to put myself in the shoes of my African American friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. In imagining that, I’ve asked myself, “If I were an African American and pulled into a church parking lot where I was visiting on a Sunday morning and found the church proudly flying the American Flag, the Christian Flag, and the Confederate Flag, would I feel welcome to worship with that congregation?” I don’t think I would. I’ve tried to ask myself, “If I were an African American believer in a multi-racial congregation and my pastor flew the Confederate Battle Flag on Flag Day over his home, would I have a problem with that?” I think I would. And that’s a problem. I want to remove any manmade object or symbol that casts dispersions against the cross and that undermines the Christian’s eternity of a united people from every tribe, nation, language, and people worshipping together around the throne. I want the removal of any human symbol that jeopardizes the unbridled love that is called to be ours extended to others in Christ.

Some may say the flag isn’t a symbol of slavery, hatred, or segregation, that it’s simply a symbol of regional heritage, pride, and memory. For some people that’s all it is, for most people however, it is a symbol of death, division, and racial domination. And no good intention can keep that from making it a dispersion on the gospel of Christ. I know the Civil War was about more than slavery. I know there are proud southerners who cherish their heritage signified in the flag and do so without any intentional hatred. But as John Adams once noted, “facts are stubborn things.” It’s still true that the Confederate Battle Flag was co-opted and adopted by the Ku Klux Klan, numerous white-supremacist groups, and Neo-Nazi organizations. It matters little what a symbol may or may not have stood for originally. What matters is what it has come to symbolize. No one in the United States sees a swastika and thinks, “Well, there is an ancient and venerable symbol of many eastern cultures’ understanding of auspiciousness.” People see the swastika and think, “That’s the Nazi symbol. That’s the symbol of the holocaust.” The swastika means more than anti-Semitism, but it shouldn’t be flying from a state capitol. Neither should the Confederate Flag.

Some may say that calling for the flag’s removal is trying to white-wash history, to censor the true memory of our country’s past or revise history. One author recently wrote that to call for the flag’s removal while not calling for the removal of monuments or buildings honoring former slave-owners is ludicrously hypocritical. But such an accusation is ludicrously missing the point. It’s neither right nor possible to expunge the memory of slavery from our national story. We shouldn’t take Washington (a slave owner) off the dollar bill, and we shouldn’t bulldoze the Jefferson Memorial and burn the Declaration of Independence, both of which are connected with Thomas Jefferson who was himself an owner of slaves. The Confederate Battle Flag, however, belongs to another class. It is categorically different. It is not merely an object connected to a tragic era in our history (that we cannot and should not forget). It is instead an active symbol that has relentlessly stood for and been used for propagation of ongoing and unending hatred and suppression of peoples.

Some may say that such outspoken views are merely and cheaply taking advantage of a national tragedy; calling for the flag’s removal is disingenuous coming so closely on the heels of the shooting in Charleston. That may be true, but let’s be honest: there’s no time when calling for the flag’s removal wouldn’t be met with that charge. If the shooting had not occurred and national and denominational leaders called for its removal from public property this week, then such calls would be met with accusations of race-baiting and stirring up unnecessary controversy during a time of peace and unity. Some will say they don’t object to the flag’s removal in theory, but don’t think such actions should be taken at the moment, in the immediate wake of the Charleston shooting. There will be those who will say that now is just not the right time to act. The problem is if we’re waiting for a good time to act, a good time will never come.

Some may say that advocating for the flag’s removal is a red-herring, a distraction from the true and deep cause of national hatred, racism and murder. The flag didn’t cause the Charleston massacre, after all. Flags don’t kill people. Sin kills people. They’re right. Taking the flag down won’t change the human heart, and having the flag up didn’t cause the shooting directly. The Charleston gunman didn’t walk out his door, see the Confederate Flag, and think to himself, “Well, I’ve never thought about it, but I think I’ll go kill somebody.” The horror that happened on Calhoun Street was caused by the depravity of man, not a piece of cloth. But I’m not saying the flag caused the massacre and I’m not saying that taking the flag down will end racism. I’m simply saying that the flag is a symbol of hatred for many of my African American brothers and sisters, and my identity in Christ is more important than a battle standard. I am a white southerner, but I have more in common with black believers in Christ than I will ever have with other white southerners who aren’t believers. When that gunman pulled the trigger he was aiming at my family. If I am a part of their body, and they are a part of mine, then what hurts them must hurt me. I am called to rejoice with those who rejoice and grieve with those who grieve. That means this isn’t an issue of “white-guilt.” It’s an issue of unity in Christ.

Some will say lots of things in support of the Confederate Battle Flag. I understand. I really do. I even sympathize with some of their arguments, but in the end, as a good southerner and a good disciple, “I’ll take my stand.” As for me, I will gladly “live and die” to give up my rights to the Saint Andrews Cross for the sake of taking up the Cross of Christ. Jesus once remarked that if he be lifted up he would draw all men to himself. I’ll always side with taking something down for the sake of raising him up in the message of the cross. My banner is not red, white, or blue. It is blood-stained. It is a banner of sacrificial love for sinners like you, me, and young men who shoot up churches. It is a symbol of scandalous grace that undermines and outlasts every symbol of scandalous hate.

I live in Southern Indiana now. Back home in my parents’ hometown of Vicksburg, Mississippi there is a street where Amy and I once lived called Indiana Avenue. It memorializes the Union soldiers from Indiana who were placed along that line during the 1863 siege of the town. In Mississippi I wasn’t very far away from Indiana, and in Indiana I’m not very far away from Mississippi. I love both states, and regardless of where I’m living I’m always wanting to live as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, a follower whose love for his Lord and for his Lord’s people supersedes any other allegiance. The most important thing about me is that I’m living as a disciple, not that I was born in Dixie. May my epitaph one day be: “Southern by birth. Saved by the grace of God.”

Worshipping Christ with a redeemed rebel yell,

Pastor Cade

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The Coming Hour: A Meditation on Fretting and Faith

Jun 9th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Fog


“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That strut’s and fret’s his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

-William Shakespeare, “Macbeth,” 5.5.19-28

”And now, I’m glad I didn’t know, the way it all would end, the way it all would go…”
-Garth Brooks, “The Dance”

Do you ever worry about the future? Are you ever anxious about tomorrow?

Or am I the only one?

I don’t think I am. Shakespeare, after all, was a pretty good chronicler of common human experience, and what was true at the start of the seventeenth century seems just as true today. We’ve all found that some days seem to “strut and fret,” walking the tightrope between false-confidence and trembling terror. Likewise, we all know that sometimes this anxious worry comes as slowly as a cat stalking its prey. The passage forward into the future “creeps in this petty pace from day to day.”

And we don’t like it. Oftentimes we tell ourselves that our present would be far more secure if we could only get a handle on what tomorrow might bring. I’ve been thinking that over the last twenty-four hours. When I woke up on Monday, I didn’t have any idea that Amy would have a wreck on the interstate just a few minutes after leaving our home on her way to work. I didn’t know my week would start with dealing with insurance deductibles, body-shops, and a wife with a swollen hand and a scared heart.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, Amy’s little accident was a wonderfully small thing. No one was hurt. No one was injured, and the car’s worst damage was due to the air-bag deploying. Things could have been much worse. But, there’s a part of me that would have at least liked to have had some warning! That’s how these things always happen, isn’t it? They hit us from out of nowhere. Have you seen the commercials where men and women get a note as they are eating breakfast telling them the horrible things that are going to happen to them today? Well, for better or worse, life doesn’t work that way. All of our tomorrows lie in a fog-draped realm.

And that’s why we worry. We like to be in control. We like to live with the myth of our own stability, sovereignty, and sufficiency. We think we’re good at micro-managing our lives, but at the end of the day the future won’t allow it.
And that’s a very good thing. Our inability to gaze too far into our own futures is a gift from God that teaches us to trust him. Far from being a prison that confines us to confusion and concern, it is really a key that unlocks the shackles of anxiety, leading us to follow Christ away from the foolishness of fret and onto the firm foundation of faith.

That’s a point that Jesus rather bluntly makes right at the beginning of the church’s long endeavor to fulfill the Great Commission. The book of Acts is all about moving into the future, and it starts with the disciples strangely coming to Jesus and asking him to tell them the future. In a bizarre moment of human frailty, the followers of Jesus are tempted to treat Jesus like a resurrected version of Miss Cleo. In Acts 1:6 we’re told that the disciples “gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’” That sounds like a religious question, but it’s a thinly veiled attempt to treat God like a divine psychic for our own purposes.

The question appears to be about Jesus’ work. It seems to be centered on Jesus’ task of ushering in the kingdom. It’s really a question about the disciples’ mission, about their commission to trust the resurrected Lord’s authority (in all heaven and earth) and be obedient to what he has told them to do. In the guise of eschatology, the disciples begin the book of Acts by trying to assert their own agenda, time-table, and vision-statement into the opening moments of Christ’s church. The book that most vividly displays God’s power to change the world by the proclamation of the gospel throughout the centuries, starts with the small band of proclaimers wringing their hands in a “come to Jesus” worry-session about the next few days.

But Jesus won’t allow it. He isn’t fooled by their sudden fascination with end-time events. He knows they’re not asking about starting a Jerusalem prophecy-conference. They know that the time for his ascension is approaching and they’re starting to freak out about what the future holds without his bodily presence. So, what does Jesus say? He replies, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

Notice what he says, and notice in the process how Jesus’ words liberate us from the arsenic of anxiety:

First, Jesus calls them to be humbled in their submission to God. He says, “It is not for you to know the times or dates…” In other words, he says quite clearly, “That’s none of your business. That’s not your concern. Know your place.” All worry is a weak attempt to exercise our own sovereignty, slyly exercising our own self-inflated views of ourselves. We face the future knowing that it is not for us to know what awaits.

Second, Jesus calls them to see that humility in submission to his own authority. We’re told in Matthew that Jesus had earlier proclaimed that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him. Now, notice how he subtly draws attention to his authority over the disciples. Notice what he says, and what he doesn’t say. He says, “It is not for you to know.” He does not say, “It is not for us to know. Jesus is not included in the community of the uncertain. He is not unaware of the future. It is for him to know, and in following him we’re called to let that be enough for today. We face the future without knowing the future because we are assured that Jesus isn’t blind to what awaits us.

Third, Jesus calls them to rest in the meticulous sovereignty of God. Jesus’ reply is both chastening and encouraging. Balanced with the disciples ignorance about the times and seasons is the assurance that those times and seasons have indeed been set by the Father’s own authority. The future is not open to random chance. It isn’t spinning out of control. It isn’t going off the rails. The Father is the one who has established the future.

Fourth, Jesus calls them to be live in the power of God’s presence. In other words, their power to face the future is a result of God the Spirit being graciously given to his people. They are told “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” Their strength for tomorrow is not in their knowledge of tomorrow. It’s in the Spirit of the Living God who indwells his people. The believer’s life is not to be characterized by materializing his own self-sufficiency. It’s to be characterized by a whole-sale reliance on God to meet every need.

Fifth, Jesus calls them to be busy with the task he has given them, a task to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Notice that Jesus doesn’t allow the disciples anxiety about the future frame the agenda for the disciples’ lives. Their worry about tomorrow doesn’t get to determine what their tomorrow is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about Jesus, making him known, taking the good news about him quite literally to the ends of the earth. When we worry about tomorrow we tend to worry about it through the lenses of how our plans and desires will be impacted. Jesus calls his followers to a reassessment of their very reason for living. They exist for him. He decides what our future will be. We don’t decide what his will be.

Sixth, and finally, Jesus calls them to live all of life in the overflowing joy of the person of God. A life that lives in the freedom from worry is a life that is lived in ongoing relationship with the triune God. Have you noticed how in this verse each Person of the Trinity is mentioned as central to the believers’ lives? They trust the sovereign authority of the Father. They live in the infinite power of the Spirit. And they go into all the world under the command and in the name of Jesus the Son. All of life resounds from God and through God and to God, so that he is all in all. Our worries tend to always minimize the infinitely maximal majesty of his greatness. These verses that begin the book of Acts won’t allow that for a moment.

Five years ago, when Amy and I were just preparing to uproot our lives in Mississippi and move to Henryville, Indiana, Amy posted on Facebook a quote from the great Puritan commentator Matthew Henry. He wrote that, “God has wisely kept us in the dark concerning future events and reserved for himself the knowledge of them, that he may train us up in a dependence upon himself and a continued readiness for every event.”

Matthew Henry was right, and Macbeth and Garth Brooks are wrong. Life isn’t a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. And our lives aren’t better left to chance. Life is a tale told by a Galilean Jew from Nazareth who beat the death out of death and reigns supreme over the universe. Our lives are better left to his wisdom, goodness, mercy, sovereignty, and grace. I don’t know what the future holds. But I do know that tomorrow is held firm in nail-wounded hands that are strong and secure enough to handle anything that the coming hour might bring.

In Christ,

Pastor Cade

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Center-Stage: Cross-Shaped Ministry in a Culture of Celebrities

Jun 5th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Spotlight

Fame is a fickle food
Upon a shifting plate
Whose table once a
Guest but not
The second time is set.

Whose crumbs the crows inspect
And with ironic caw
Flap past it to the Farmer’s Corn –
Men eat of it and die.

– Emily Dickinson

I always liked the Young Guns movies. If you recall, they recount the rise (and supposed) fall of Billy the Kid and his band of regulators in the land wars of New Mexico during the closing decades of the nineteenth century. One of the best lines from the movies is a statement that Billy (played by Emilio Estevez) would always say just before finishing an opponent off with one of his six-shooters. He’d smile and say the guy he was about to kill, “I’m gonna make you famous.” The meaning was clear. He was an outlaw-celebrity and his victims were going to be recorded by history for the simple fact that they had been gunned down by the (in)famous Kid.

I love it. The problem is that far too often as a believer I want to believe that Jesus said those words right after he called me to follow him. I mean, wasn’t that part of the deal? Didn’t Jesus say to “go and make disciples of all nations…and I’m gonna make you famous?”

There really is a nasty little insatiable egotist in all of us. We like to shine. We like the limelight. We like being known. We like being thought well of. We enjoy praise. We hoard compliments. Somewhere deep down in us is the Satanic whisper that suggests that the Trinity would really be improved by being a quartet, with ourselves singing the lead part.

I confess that I’m no different.

In fact, pastors, those who spend their lives publicly preaching and teaching God’s word, are especially vulnerable to the poisoned diet of praise. It’s easy to rationalize after all. We want to be effective communicators. We want people to enjoy, long for, and verbalize their love for hearing God’s word preached and taught. It’s just an added bonus if in the process they particularly enjoy hearing us preach and teach God’s word. When your bread and butter, what you spend your life doing, is proclaiming the kingdom of God, there is always the tendency to pad our own kingdoms (and résumés) as part of the package deal.

And we might want to think that this is a snare only for “celebrity pastors,” and by that I mean well known pastors of very large churches who are well known beyond their immediate sphere of ministry. We might want to sit back and smugly assure ourselves that this is a poison that only church leaders connected to mega churches are threatened by. That’s not the truth though. Our Napoleon Complexes can flex out of control whether our local church has a membership of twenty or twenty thousand. Our names don’t have to be on the cover of a bestselling book for our egos to expand. Having our names on the inside of a worship bulletin will do just fine.

Paul understood how ministry in a local church could destroy us, and he worked with all his might to counteract the hero-worship and preacher-centered addictions that can ensnare believers (whether they are pastors or not). No wonder he warned churches not to appoint elders who were recent converts. He knew that it was still a struggle for mature believers to not become “puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6).

He was especially deliberate to fight this cancer of conceit, the disease of distinction, in the local church at Corinth. It seems that this particular church had a dangerous tendency to dance far too close to emphasizing the messenger in the place of the message. They all had their list of favorite podcasts, their list of preachers that had influenced them the most, and they unabashedly wanted to see “their guy” at the top. If Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, then it may have been truly said that Corinth was not ashamed of gospel preachers. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite clear if that was because they loved the gospel or just the applause. He came out of the gate in 1 Corinthians by beating back the blasphemy of fan-boys who too eagerly celebrated Apollos, or Peter, or Paul, even if they regulated Jesus to an “also-appearing” role (1 Corinthians 1:10-17).

And then he gave the Corinthians a beautiful (but thunderously understated) example to follow. When Paul got around to writing 2 Corinthians, the church was still battling the rank-infestation of a celebrity culture. He again emphasized what gospel ministry demanded when he wrote that “what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants…(2 Corinthians 4:5). Then as he begins to discuss the upcoming fundraiser for the Jerusalem believers he informs the Corinthians that he is sending some of his associates to collect their contributions. And that’s when he gives us the quiet example of gospel-hearted ministry.

In 2 Corinthians 8:16 Paul tells the believers that he is sending Titus to oversee the financial collection from their church. Then in verse 18 he almost offhandedly mentions that he is sending someone else. And notice how he refers to the other man who will be accompanying Titus: “With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel.” Paul is sending someone who is famous. What are we to make of this remark? Well, notice several things:

First, notice that the brother is the recipient of recognition and renown. He has a reputation. He is legitimately famous.

Second, observe that his renown is widespread. It is “among all the churches.” This is not just a local legend. This isn’t just the local-church preacher-parties that had poisoned Corinth. Whoever this brother is, churches all over the Mediterranean world have heard about him.

Third, see that his reputation is all about preaching the gospel. Notice that his reputation isn’t based on his oratory, his apostleship, or his background. He’s well known because of his message.

Fourth, look at what he is doing. He’s “famous” but he’s an errand-runner. He’s one of Paul’s associates. He’s not in charge. He’s not on center-stage. He’s not headlining the preaching conference in Corinth. He’s not even in charge of this offering-envoy. He takes second-place to Titus.

Finally, wonder at what Paul doesn’t say. Does something jump out at you that seems to be missing? There’s a huge flashing sign that screams for our attention: Paul doesn’t name the brother who is famous. You may say, “well he didn’t have to; his fame preceded him.” That may be true, but Paul didn’t shrink back from naming others, or from naming Titus in the verses just before that sentence. The believers certainly knew who Titus was, and he was still named. No, I think Paul was being intentional. He kept the man’s identity anonymous for a reason. The fame that Paul was highlighting was a fame that was gospel-soaked and church-serving. He wanted to make the point: True greatness, greatness in being passionate for the gospel, doesn’t require having your name written down in an inspired book that believers will read for thousands of years.

This unknown brother is presented to us as a model for ministry, for pastors and non-pastors alike. He is complimented. He is commended. But who he is isn’t allowed to overshadow the message he preaches. We know that he preached the gospel, and that’s enough. We don’t have to know his name. All we need to know is that the name of Jesus was almost always on his lips. Later in that same passage we’re told that this unknown brother had been tested in the fires of ministry (v. 22). He isn’t an upstart. He’s a veteran of ministry, and then Paul closes by making the point even clearer. He refers to the brother (among “the brothers”) as “messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ” (v. 23). This “servant in the shadows” was of one mind with Paul. He didn’t preach himself, he preached Jesus and merely presented himself as the church’s servant for the sake of Christ. He was a servant, a servant that knew that the spotlight of God’s glory could only be enjoyed in the shadows, shadows where our egos don’t try to eclipse his excellencies, where our pride doesn’t rob his preeminence.

This famous brother, whose name we’ll never know this side of glory, understood the truth of the gospel. The gospel doesn’t exist to make us famous. Jesus is famous enough. He doesn’t need to be a part of our entourage to improve his status. True greatness is in the service of the gospel, whether anyone ever hears of us or not. Like Count Ludwig Von Zinzendorf, our aim is to “preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.” We can be forgotten and unknown so long as Jesus isn’t. Jesus isn’t Billy the Kid. He isn’t in the business of making sure our name is remembered throughout the centuries. He knows that being united to him forever, enjoying his glory, is more than enough for eternity.

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Like Sand on the Seashore and Stars in the Sky (Revelation Listening Guide #17

Jun 3rd, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
June 3, 2015
Like Sand on the Seashore and Stars in the Sky
Revelation 7

I. Those Who Stand

Do you ever feel like life is just too much to handle? Do you ever feel like you’ve reached you wits end? Do you sometimes get discouraged by the pressures, pains, anxieties, temptations, sin, and suffering that you’re called to endure? I know you do. All of us at times are left confused and jaded, wondering how on earth we’ll ever make it. The assurance of the gospel, however, confronts us with the confidence that all those who belong to Christ will certainly persevere, will endure, will most definitely conquer. In Christ, your future is not in doubt. That’s the hope that sings from every page of Revelation, and that’s the song that is heard piercing the violent background noise of chaos and judgment still reverberating out of chapter six.
In that last chapter the seals of the heavenly scroll were snapped free from their parchment and the judgments of the Lamb on the cursed and fallen creation galloped off the page, culminating in the climactic end-time judgment in which the enemies of God were cut off from any hope of escape. As they seek temporary refuge from the coming torrent of wrath, the objects of God’s judgment cry out a desperate question: “Who can stand?” That’s a good question, and it’s the same question we all ask in some form or another. Considering the world we live in, considering the world that the seven churches of Asia Minor lived in, it’s understandable how we might join in that confused query. God’s pronounced answer shines from the interlude vision of chapter seven, an interlude between the breaking of the sixth and seventh seal that pulls back the curtains for the audience to reveal the truth about the perseverance of believers.

II. A Mighty Host Arrayed to Conquer

In between the breaking of the seals, the Lamb pauses to provide John an important vision, a look into the hope for the church in the midst of a world that is fallen and judged. The one vision that he sees (consisting of two parts) is the culmination of all God’s purposes that the entirety of the Bible’s story has been leading to. The path out of Eden through the promise to Abraham have all been leading to this scene in which the blood-bought legions of God’s beloved are gathered forever into the victory of the Lamb. As this culminating scene of God’s purposes for his people is unveiled to John, he (and we) are shown five truths about the certain perseverance of believers:

1. Believers persevere because they are the protected POSSESSION of God. (vv. 1-3)

2. Believers persevere as the particular PEOPLE of God. (vv. 4-8)

3. Believers persevere for the proclaimed PRAISE of God. (vv. 9-12)

4. Believers persevere through the propitiatory PURCHASE of God. (vv. 13-14)

5. Believers persevere to enjoy the promised PRESENCE of God. (vv. 15-17)

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Signed, Sealed, and Delivered (Revelation Listening Guide #16)

May 27th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
May 27, 2015
Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
Revelation 6

I. History and History’s Lord

Revelation 5 recounts the creation-spanning search for one who is worthy to open the scroll held in the right hand of God the Father, the title-deed of all God’s purposes, promises, and plans for human history. The chapter centers on the Sovereign Lion who is the Slaughtered Lamb, Jesus, who alone is worthy to be given all authority in heaven and earth. He takes the seven-sealed-scroll and all creation busts loose in symphonic worship.

But the chapter ends with the scroll still sealed. All of heaven still awaits the Lamb to unleash the contents of his title-deed. That wait ends in chapter six. The Lamb starts to snap the wax seals off the parchment paper, and the entirety of history begins to pour from the throne-room sanctuary, being viewed from heaven’s perspective, building to the last great eschatological judgment of God at the conclusion of fallen human history. That’s the story the seals and the scroll begin to tell. The narrative builds as the final seal is broken and the scroll is unwound giving way to the more intense cycle of trumpets, which in turn gives way to the ultimately cataclysmic and cosmically climactic cycle of judgment-filled bowls. Through these three judgment-cycles, human history is told three times with increasing intensity. These judgment-cycles are a vivid and apocalyptic soundtrack to Matthew 24 and Mark 13, a soundtrack that sings the story of the Lamb reigning and overseeing all of reality, a story that certainly culminates in the evil dragon’s defeat, the loved Bride’s rescue, and the creation’s life restored…forever.

II. A Vision of Worth and Wrath, Faithfulness and Fury

Revelation 6 begins this vision of the painful tribulation that has been the epoch that believers have been called to persevere through in the past, in the present, and in the future as the painful tremors increase in anticipation of Christ’s imminent return. Believers are called to live faithfully throughout history under heaven’s direction, history that culminates in the final and decisive outpouring of God’s eternity-introducing judgments. These judgments display Christ’s grand glory through his worth and his wrath, his faithfulness and his fury. All of this starts as chapter six unfolds and the broken seals fall to the throne-room’s floor, and Christ’s people are strengthened to endure and conquer through five apocalyptic truths:

1. Believers are strengthened to know the true crisis, consequence, and curse of SIN.

2. Believers are strengthened by trusting in Christ’s minute and massive SOVEREIGNTY over all things.

3. Believers are strengthened for FAITHFULNESS to Christ through their own sufferings and death for the sake of the gospel.

4. Believers are strengthened in considering the hopeless end of life (and history) APART from faith in Christ.

5. Believers are strengthened through resting in the work of Christ as the ONLY source of salvation.

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He Alone is Worthy (Revelation Listening Guide #15)

May 20th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
May 20, 2015
He Alone is Worthy
Revelation 5

I. The Blazing Center

The book of Revelation covers a lot of ground. It sprawls out through the boundaries of the Roman Empire, across the globe, through the centuries, and echoes forward into eternity. It’s really a power-grid of infinite proportions. It is the gospel-fueled electricity that charges all of reality, casting its rays into the shadows of fallen creation and giving believers light to keep walking into what otherwise would be a very uncertain future. Indeed, the apocalypse-visions given to John are of truly cosmic proportions. With that being true, one might wonder how such a vision, how such a power-grid, could possibly be fueled sufficiently.

The resounding answer to that question is found in Revelation 5. It is mission control. It sits at the heart of the book’s message powering everything that flows endlessly from it. Indeed, one might truly suggest that Revelation 5 is the entire book of Revelation in miniature. If you want to get your head around the vast expanse of the last book of the Bible, you can do no better than simply reading and then rereading this one chapter over and over. It is the blazing center, the core of everything else the book is saying. All of the words of this book are merely the booming echoes of this chapter reverberating through the corridors of time.

II. Weep No More

This central and crucial chapter is the textual companion to Revelation 4. It completes the one unified scene that begins to be described in the chapter to just before it. Together Revelation 4 and 5 are John’s own Christ-centered reworking of the grand Old Testament vision of Daniel 7:9-14. In Daniel’s version we see the Ancient of Days seated on his throne in the heavenly courtroom. Books are opened, and “one like a Son of Man” comes before the throne and is given dominion, unbridled authority, and an everlasting kingdom. That’s also what John is describing, and as we move through chapter 5 we find that the center of reality and the anchor of the church’s hope is found in the triumph of Jesus Christ, a triumph that centers on the cross, a blood-bought conquest that displays Jesus as the sovereign ruler of the universe who is also the sufficient and slaughtered sacrifice for his people’s sin. And it is in light of his triumph that suffering and sorrowful Christians have their tears wiped away.

The scene in heaven transitions from the awe-inspiring majesty of the throne-room to the problem of the central crisis of creation: Considering how holy, righteous, and sovereign the one on the throne really is, how can there be any hope for a creation mired in the poisonous treason of sin? How on earth (quite literally) can there be any hope of heaven? Given how infinitely and unapproachably separate the Ancient of Days is from all other things, how can the churches have any confidence that they will indeed conquer in the face of what seems to them like truly unassailable odds? The answer resounds through Revelation 5, and as the scene that John sees in heaven continues to unfold the readers and hearers of this vision are brought face to face with the truth, and are led to respond in three specific ways:

1. We are confronted with the WEIGHT of our tragic hopelessness apart from a savior. (vv. 1-4)

2. We are consoled by the WORTH of the triumphant Lamb in his sovereign sacrifice. (vv. 5-10)

3. We are called to WORSHIP the treasured King by joining creation’s song. (vv. 11-14)

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Before the Throne of God Above (Revelation Listening Guide #14)

May 20th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Overcome: The Hope of the Christian in the Revelation of the Lamb
May 13, 2015
Before the Throne of God Above
Revelation 4


I. The Ancient of Days

We were made for glory. Specifically, we were made to see and delight in the glory of God. Our heart’s truest yearnings are created in such a way that they can never be satisfied apart from seeing and savoring the beauty of God. That’s what the churches of Asia Minor needed and that’s what we need today. It is no accident that the visions of Revelation 4-22 begin and end with the glorious presence of God radiating out to his people as they respond to him in worship. The wondrous worship of God in all his grandeur is the antidote for all the troubles facing a church.

And remember, the churches of Asia Minor had serious problems, problems that weren’t fixed just because John turned the page from Revelation 3 to 4. They were struggling to love one another, to confront false-teachings , threatened by the cultural seductions of immorality, being led into compromise, persecuted and marginalized by an anti-Christian culture, playing games of hypocrisy, and wallowing in the mire of complacency. The church was under attack, and because it was threatened God unveiled Revelation 4-22 to equip them to face their future. And that begins with the vision of God exalted and reigning in his heavenly throne room. Everything, literally everything, in this book flows from this initial vision of God as the sovereign creator and ruler of the universe. What God’s people need(ed) more than anything else is to really know, know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is in control. That’s what God’s people needed in Isaiah 6, in Ezekiel 1, and in Daniel 7, and that’s what God knew was needed then, today and tomorrow to face our future. So what we need is what God graciously provides.

II. The Copernican Revolution

The vision God provides is a divine-defibrillator meant to shock the troubled hearts of the churches back to life. It is a Copernican revolution intended to reorient the hearts and lives of believers back into orbit around the true center of reality, the creator of the universe reigning and worshipped. We are shown into the inner chambers of God’s throne room and the imagery that is described in detail portrays the burning, white-hot center of creation. Everything in this chapter, in this book, and in this world is surrounding, revolving around God, the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9-10). As we stand here gazing upon this scene with John we are reminded that the things we spend so much of our time focusing on and stressing about are small indeed. Our priorities are put into place in the perspective of his preeminence. That’s what this chapter communicates, and as John unveils this royal court we are shown the four truths that radically reorient all of reality:

1. We are shown that the throne of the universe is actually occupied (vv. 1-2).

2. We are shown that the king of the universe is infinitely glorious (vv. 3-6)

3. We are shown that the ruler of the universe is uniquely worthy (vv. 3-11)

4. We are shown that the creator of the universe is rightly worshipped (vv. 6-11).

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The Master and the Mother: The Gospel According to Mother’s Day

May 10th, 2015 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

crumbsShe was relentless. She was tenacious. She was desperate. And we find her in Matthew 15 crying her eyes out on the side of the interstate.

We don’t know her name. She lives in the shadows of anonymity. She’s merely given the designation of a “Canaanite Woman,” and even that title is intentionally anachronistic. Canaan as such didn’t exist. There were no “Canaanites” technically speaking at the beginning of the first century. Specifically she was from the region of Phoenicia, the suburbs of Sidon, and her designation as a “Canaanite Woman” is a shorthand sign telling the reader all they would need to know about her in big bold letters.

She was a Canaanite.

She wasn’t a Jew. She wasn’t a part of the covenant people of God. She wasn’t from the right ethnic group. She was a Gentile. She was a pagan. She’s wasn’t entitled to the mercy of God. She wasn’t an heir to his promises. She had no right to expect the God of Israel to hear her plea. She was, and always had been, on the outside looking in.

She was a woman.

In a male-dominated, patriarchal society she was wholly dependent on others, particularly her husband to provide and represent her best interests. Her place was at home. Chores needed tending to, and so we may be surprised to find her out hitchhiking on the side of the road outside of town. She wasn’t where she was supposed to be.

And she wasn’t where she was supposed to be because the text tells us one other thing about this remarkable lady.

She was a mother.

That fact is sometimes forgotten. Somewhere in the silence between her audacious request and Jesus’ seemingly rude remark, we forget that the woman wasn’t there on her own accord. She wasn’t there for her own healing. She wasn’t asking for a personal miracle. She was there for her daughter. She was there as a mother. She was there because she wanted to take care of her little girl. As Solomon had looked into the eyes of a desperate mother who was willing to sacrifice everything for the life of her child, once again the king of Israel looked into the eyes of a mother whose heart was breaking because her baby needed saving.

Early that morning she finished cooking breakfast, packed her husband’s lunch, sent her sons off to school, finished her housework, and then hurriedly slung her purse over her shoulder and set out down the road in a last ditch effort to find the one man she hoped could make a difference. She had to get to Jesus. She had to get to Jesus before it was too late.

She almost missed him. She saw the disciples surrounding their teacher as they rounded a curve, and as she ran and stumbled after them she began to shout. The disciples heard her first. She was causing a scene. She had thrown caution to the wind and wasn’t behaving in a manner that was usually acceptable in public. She was creating a disturbance. And the disciples were annoyed. “Jesus,” they said, “send this raving woman away. Tell her to go back home where she belongs.”

Jesus didn’t.

But what he does do seems shocking. He looks at her and said, “I was only sent to Israel.” His point seems clear. She had no right to ask anything of him. He wasn’t her Messiah. Jesus seems to turn her away without even hearing her request. But she isn’t going anywhere. Her daughter is at home being tormented by demons, and so she falls to her knees before Jesus and whispers the simple prayer, “Lord, help me.”

Once more Jesus’ reply pours cold water on her hopes. He sees her kneeling before him and whispers, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). Jesus’ words were clear. The miraculous works of the Messiah belonged to the children of Israel, not the mangy mutts scavenging around the backdoor. He wasn’t beholden to her. He wasn’t in her debt. She had absolutely nothing to bargain with.

Jesus’ words are shocking, aren’t they? We’re left wondering what on earth is he up to? What would prompt such a harsh rebuke? Why would Jesus call this heartbroken woman a dog?

Jesus’ words, far from pouring cold water on the woman’s plea, really pours cold water on the disciples’ own deficient understanding of his identity and mission. They don’t understand who the Messiah is meant to be. They think they have a monopoly on his power. They think they have the copyright on the Christ. As they heard Jesus say those words they were probably taking delight in this foreigner being sent away empty handed. She had to be taught a lesson after all. She needed to be put in her place.

They weren’t prepared for the shocking display of grace that came next.

The woman, still not daring to look up into Jesus’ eyes, whispered in reply, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (v. 27). Jesus looks down at the woman, and then back to the disciples. He smiled, and his eyes lit up and practically shouted, “This, my friends, is the right answer!” He picks the woman up and exclaims, “Your faith is great! What you’ve asked for is done.” And the text gives us the concluding understatement, “her daughter was healed instantly.”

As we celebrate Mother’s Day I’ve been thinking a lot about this unnamed, anonymous mother. The story of her surprising and tenacious faith is a lasting display of a godly mother’s heart. This is what gospel-soaked motherhood looks like. It sings to us the gospel according to Mother’s Day. The Canaanite woman’s story displayed three truths of what it means to be a gospel-powered Mom:

1. She longed to take care of her children. She put her own reputation on the line for the sake of her sick daughter. Her desperate love for her daughter drove her to forsake everything to make her daughter well. She cared for her kids. She wanted what was best for them, and she was willing to do what was necessary to make that happen.

2. She understood grace. She knew she had no rights in the presence of Jesus. She didn’t come with a list of demands. She couldn’t earn favor. She couldn’t pay for Jesus’ services. She had nothing to offer in return. She knew she wasn’t good enough. She knew she wasn’t a law-keeper. She knew she wasn’t an Israelite. She knew she had no right to claim the promises of the gospel. She came to Jesus with only empty hands and threw herself wholly on the mercy of Israel’s Messiah. Quite literally everything was dependent on him.

3. She knew that her and her daughter’s only hope was Jesus. This mother knew that what her daughter needed more than anything else could only be found in the person of Jesus Christ. She understood that if her daughter was going to be healed, then it had to be Jesus. Jesus wasn’t merely a nice add-on to an already good mother-daughter relationship. Jesus wasn’t merely a part of their life. If there was to be life at all, it could only be granted by Jesus. Life and death hung in the balance. It was Jesus or nothing.

The mother’s desperate need for Jesus was the heart of her faith-fueled response. She told Jesus, “Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Did you catch the significance of what this Gentile woman said? Do you hear her confession? Do you see how she got the gospel? We often read these words and marvel at the woman’s humility. She lay prostrate on the ground. She said all she wanted were some crumbs! That’s true. Her humility in the presence of Christ was truly amazing, But there was something more to her words.

She longed to have the crumbs that would fall from the master’s table, and her words imply that she understood full-well who that master really was. The woman’s confession assumed that she was the undeserving dog, and Jesus was the master of the house. The request that this mother made wasn’t to a “higher power,” or a generic “god.” No, the woman’s faith was completely Christ-focused. He was the master with the bread, and she was the beggar crying for crumbs.

And that is the gospel according to Mother’s Day. For every mother who feels like everything is resting on her shoulders, who believes everything depends on her being good enough, the Canaanite woman shows us the treasure of grace. For every mother who has ever cried out in prayer on behalf of a son or a daughter, she reminds us the only hope we have (and they have) is Jesus Christ himself. For every mother who longs to take care of her child, she shows us what true love looks like. What a mother believes about Jesus, and how important she believes Jesus is to her children, is the true measure of a mother’s love.

I’m thankful God gave me a mother like her. I’m thankful God gave me a mother who loves me. I’m thankful God gave me a mother who loves the grace of the gospel. I’m thankful God gave me a mother who daily came to Jesus in prayer on my behalf (and still does). I’m thankful for a mother who knew that above and beyond all gifts she might give me, the most important thing in life was getting me to Jesus, because it is only in his presence that true life is given. That is my testimony to my own mother’s love, and that is the testimony of the Canaanite woman who cried out to Jesus all those years ago. That woman’s daughter was never the same because her mother had met Jesus. My life was transformed because my mama met Jesus too. My prayer today is that as we celebrate our mothers, we would be led to celebrate the gospel all the more. “Please give me crumbs,” she cried, and her loving prayer still echoes in the whispered pleas of every mother whose life has been radically changed by the bread of life, bread so generously given from the nail-pierced hands of the master, the master who invites men and women like us not merely to scavenge on the floor for food, but to have an honored place at the table itself.

Happy Mother’s Day,

Cade

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