Red, White, & Due

Before Kahlie and I got married, we did what any smitten couple aspiring to have a godly marriage would do — we both printed and filled out John Piper’s Questions to Ask When Preparing for Marriage. As we worked our way through Piper’s questions, we came to the one about adoption that asked, “Would we consider adoption?”

At twenty-one years old and lacking wisdom I answered, “I desire to have biological kids first, but then, once financially stable, I wouldn’t mind pursuing adoption.” Kahlie’s answer was similar, but much shorter — I have always been the long-winded one! She wrote, “I would love to adopt one day.” We knew that, through faith in Christ, God had adopted us into His family, and we were eager to imitate our heavenly Father by adopting children into our family.

Trying to Grow Our Family

After filling out the questionnaire, we discussed these things, continued pursuing one another, and then tied the knot on November 23, 2013. By February of 2015, we were living in Wake Forest, North Carolina, I was attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and we were actively trying to grow our family. This proved to be much more difficult than we’d originally thought it’d be.

Not as Easy as we Thought

At twenty-one years old (when we filled out the questionnaire), we assumed having biological children and then adopting would be pretty easy. Sure, we knew our Bible clearly taught that the Lord is the one that opens the womb, creates and fashions babies within the womb of their mothers, and fills people’s quivers with children. And we knew that our Bible also taught that the Lord closes the womb. We were well aware of all the times the Lord plunged certain women through the trial of infertility in the Bible. What we didn’t really consider, though, is that the Lord would thrust the trial of infertility upon us. This is the nature of trials, isn’t it? Even though we know certain trials are possible, even likely, they still seem to come upon us unexpectedly.

“But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her” (1 Samuel 1:5-6).

Some Fertility Treatments

By 2017, Kahlie started going to a Duke fertility clinic. Since Kahlie has a hard time regularly ovulating, they prescribed her with certain medicines that would help her. Even though the medicines helped, our gracious God was still closing the womb. 

Shortly after this, in 2018, we found out that Kahlie had a minor case of endometriosis. Even though it was minor, our fertility doctor said that it could be contributing to our infertility. So Kahlie scheduled an appointment, went under the knife, and had the cysts removed. With the cysts gone, we were hopeful that we’d be able to get pregnant. Our infinitely wise God, however, continued to keep us in the furnace of infertility. 

With this, our hope began to fade. The feeling of discouragement kept welling up inside of us. Would we ever be able to have children? Would Kahlie ever experience the joy of holding our newborn baby? Would I ever feel the happiness of cradling my child?

And at times there was a feeling of bitterness. Pregnant women were frequenting the Planned Parenthood in Durham, NC, to have the life of their babies snuffed out every single day. People that were having pre-marital sex were frequently getting pregnant. And here Kahlie and I were, following Christ, serving the church, evangelizing unbelievers, and we couldn’t achieve pregnancy (terribly unbiblical thinking . . . WE KNOW)!

“But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2-3).

As we continued to consult with our doctor, he informed us that the next step would be intrauterine insemination (IUI). An IUI is a medical procedure that basically takes the healthiest of my sperm and places it directly into Kahlie’s uterus around the time that she is ovulating and releasing eggs. The hope is that the healthy sperm will swim into the fallopian tube and fertilize an egg. In 2019, we had three IUIs done. None of these, however, enabled us to get pregnant. Our great God kept this trial on our shoulders, and He faithfully enabled us to have the strength to bear up under it.

“He will put his silver into the fire to purify it; but He sits by the furnace as a refiner, to direct the process, and to secure the end he has in view.” John Newton

We Didn’t Pursue IVF

Shortly after our last IUI, Kahlie and I moved to Longville, Louisiana, for an associate pastor position at First Baptist Church of Longville. As we moved to Longville, growing our family unit was still on our mind. If we wanted to have biological children, our next step would be in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF is when they take mature eggs from the woman, healthy sperm from the man, and then seek to fertilize as many eggs as possible in a test tube.

There are a couple ethical reasons Kahlie and I didn’t want to do IVF. In a typical IVF cycle, they seek to fertilize as many eggs as possible so that they have the greatest chance of getting the most viable embryos (sometimes they end up with twelve to fifteen viable embryos). They then transfer one or two embryos into the uterus. The remaining embryos are then frozen until the couple decides they want to transfer one or two more.

The problem with fertilizing as many eggs as possible, though, is that human life begins at the moment of conception. Those embryos are babies at their earliest stage of development. Therefore, those frozen embryos that may never be transferred to the uterus, and most of them will never be transferred, are babies. And if those embryos are never transferred, they will remain frozen until they are discarded. To discard embryos is abortion. 

Because of this, Kahlie and I had an ethical problem with IVF. The only way we could do IVF in a way that would honor the Lord is if we only sought to have a couple eggs fertilized. Though this was doable, it doesn’t have near the success, and it’s very expensive.

Looking at Adoption

With this in mind, we put a hold on trying to grow our family through fertility treatments (Kahlie did make me use essential oils at one point………I know I know)! Instead, in the tumultuous and chaotic year of 2020, we started looking at adoption. As I noted at the beginning, this is something we had the desire to do ever since our engagement. Now, in 2020, we were finally going to pursue it.

“Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification. . . To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.” J.I. Packer

Domestic Adoption

One of the first options we looked at was domestic adoption. Kahlie and I had two good friends that had just gone down the domestic adoption route, were placed with a beautiful baby girl, and were enjoying the sweet snuggles of a newly born baby! This was enticing, though we knew that it didn’t always work out like this. But as we considered the price of domestic adoption, we decided to look at other options.

Foster to Adopt

The second option we looked at was foster to adopt. Some couples in our church had fostered to adopt, and informed us that it was basically free. With this in mind, Kahlie and I signed up for a foster to adopt class. At this class, the social worker informed us that the primary goal of the foster system was reconciliation with the family. As Kahlie and I reflected on her statement, we began thinking that this may not be the best route for us since our main goal wouldn’t align with their main goal (though the reconciliation and restoration of broken families is a good thing).

Embryo Adoption

At this point, we didn’t really know what to do. However, in God’s mysterious providence, I was scrolling through Facebook one night in March 2020 and saw where some friends of ours from North Carolina were four months pregnant. As I read their announcement, they mentioned an adoption process that I had never heard of —embryo adoption. So, embryo adoption was the third option we began to look at.

Embryo adoption is the process of adopting other people’s embryos. Earlier, I mentioned the ethical problem that comes with IVF. Well, just as domestic adoption is one of the God ordained solutions to abortion, so embryo adoption is one of the God ordained solutions to all these frozen and leftover embryos being discarded (aborted). 

After a couple decides that they are not going to use their remaining viable embryos, they can donate them to fertility clinics. At these fertility clinics, couples like Kahlie and I can adopt them. And what makes embryo adoption unique from other forms of adoption is this: you get to give birth to your adopted baby!

We Pursued Embryo Adoption

As we studied up on embryo adoption, we began to get excited. With God’s guidance, around May 2020, we began the process of embryo adoption with the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. NEDC is a faith based non-profit embryo donation center that came highly recommended.

So we began the process, had home studies done with an awesome social worker that we grew to love, made our first visit to NEDC for consultation, selected embryos, and selected a date to go back to NEDC for transfer day. For us, transfer day was scheduled for December 2020.

Transfer day is the day you go in to have your selected embryos transferred. If the embryos implant in the uterus, then you are pregnant. If the embryos don’t implant in the uterus, then you are not pregnant. However, you don’t really know if the transfer is successful until 10-12 days after your transfer. So we went in on transfer day, had two embryos transferred, and then drove back to Louisiana and waited to see if the transfer was successful.

Our First Attempt Didn’t Work

Sadly, right after News Years Eve, we found out that the transfer wasn’t successful. We lost our two adopted babies. This was grueling. Nevertheless, even in the midst of the loss, Christ was faithful. He drew near to us, comforted us, and reminded us of all His promises. 

On to Our Second Attempt

For couples that didn’t have a successful transfer, NEDC allows them to schedule another transfer day at basically half the price. So Kahlie and I scheduled another transfer day for February 2021. The deacons of our church were led by the Lord to give us three thousand dollars. A friend in our community was led by the Lord to give us a thousand dollars. With this, we had the transfer day scheduled and we had the money we needed to make it happen. GOD IS SO GOOD!

So in early February, Kahlie and I hopped in my truck and made the long drive to Knoxville, Tennessee, again. NEDC transferred three embryos, we got back in the truck, and headed back to Louisiana…and waited, again. After ten days we found out that the transfer was successful. We were pregnant! PRAISE THE LORD!

We are Pregnant!

At our first ultrasound (they do these regularly after you find out that you’re pregnant so that they can monitor everything), they found out that two of the embryos had successfully implanted in the uterus. It was a twin pregnancy. As we continued to get ultrasounds, though, it became increasingly clear that one of the embryos was not developing or growing. It was a non-viable pregnancy. Though this was tough, we were thankful to God that one of the babies was doing really well!

And as I write this, Kahlie is now twenty-one weeks pregnant with our adopted baby girl. We have decided to name this little girl Elizabeth (Eliza) Jane McDuffie. Our hearts are full!

Things We Learned

Our heavenly Father has taught us a lot through all this. He has taught us about His faithfulness, goodness, grace, and mercy in the midst of trials. He has shown us that He is all-sufficient and all-satisfying. He has taught us how to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice regardless of our own life circumstances. He has taught us even more about the value and dignity of human life — even a little frozen embryo! He has revealed to us the importance of being persistent in prayer. And most of all, He has given us a little better knowledge of the great sacrifice He made when He willingly gave His only Son up to death on a cross so that, through faith in Christ, we might become adopted children of God. 

A Blessed Memory

“The memory of the righteous is a blessing, 

but the name of the wicked will rot.”

Proverbs 10:7

The righteous are those who belong to God, have godly wisdom, and live in accordance with God’s ways. Throughout Proverbs, the righteous are those who fear God (1:7), carry out justice (8:20), increase in learning (9:9), speak profitable things (10:11, 21), remain steadfast (10:30), bear fruit like a tree (11:30), care for their neighbor (12:26), hate falsehood (13:50), and walk in integrity (20:7). 

The righteous live eminently godly lives filled with acts of service to King Jesus. They offer up their bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord (Romans 12:1). Their lives are filled with such godly virtues that they become paradigms of some of the virtues that God works in us by the Spirit. In essence, the righteous are those who truly live in this life.

Nonetheless, though the righteous truly live in this life, they still end up dying. Once they are gone, all we have are memories of them. These memories become blessings to the people of God. This is one of the ways that God honors those who honor him (Psalm 112:6). God sees to it that blessed men and women leave behind blessed memories; memories that are so profitable to the people of God that they are regarded as blessings from God.

We are blessed when we remember how Abraham was willing to offer up Isaac because he was confident that God would raise his son from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-20). Our spirits are encouraged when we think about how Moses chose to be mistreated with the people of God rather than enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin in Egypt (Hebrews 11:24-25). Our souls are renewed with zeal when we remember the steadfastness of Job in the midst of an onslaught of fiery trials (James 5:11).

Sweet Memories of William Tyndale

This is also one of the chief reasons so many Christians have benefited from reading biographies of righteous men and women throughout history. Just the other day I was reading about William Tyndale. Throughout the 1520s and 1530s, Tyndale’s main ambition was to translate both the Old and New Testament into English. Though this was illegal and punishable by death during his time, he was filled with a godly resolve to get the Bible into the language of the common man. Before he began this extraordinarily difficult task, Tyndale famously said to a very learned man, “If God spare my life, in a few years I will cause a boy that drives the plough to know more of the Scripture than you do.”

To enable the plough boy to know more Scripture than the learned man proved to be an audacious endeavor. Tyndale had to live as a fugitive on the run, he had to master the Greek and Hebrew language, and he had to find men that would print his translations even though it could cost them their lives. In all of this, Tyndale did not waver. Before long, his English Bible was circulating throughout England. As the Bible was placed into the plough boy’s hands, the plough boy began to know more Scripture than the Pope!

Although this was a remarkable feat, it proved to cost Tyndale his life. Because of his translation work, in 1536 he was tied to a stake, strangled to death by an iron chain, and then burned. William Tyndale gave up his life for the cause of Christ, the Word of God, and the building up of the church. Even though he is gone, we still hear his voice every time we read our English Bible. As you can see, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing” (Proverbs 10:7).

Not so With the Wicked

This is not so with the wicked. For those who do not belong to God, lack godly wisdom, and rebel against God’s good design, their names will rot. When they die, both their body and their names will decay. God will see to it that the wicked are either forgotten (2 Kings 9:30-37; Job 18:5-17; Psalm 9:5), or that they will be remembered with shame and detestation (Romans 9:13; 2 Timothy 3:8-9; Revelation 2:20).

The Stench of Henry Phillips

Take Henry Phillips for example. This is the wicked man who was hired to befriend William Tyndale for the express purpose of betraying him. The same money loving spirit that drove Judas to betray the Son of God fueled Henry Phillips to betray Tyndale, a translator of the Word of God. After Phillips gambled away a large sum of money that his father had entrusted to him, he was willing to do anything to pay off his debt. Knowing this, a wealthy man that abhorred the reformers offered Phillips a sizable amount of money to spy on, befriend, and betray Tyndale. In love with money, Phillips agreed. 

He proved to be remarkably successful in this endeavor. Before long, he lured Tyndale into a trap. Tyndale was then arrested and jailed. As we mentioned earlier, he was then tied to a stake, strangled to death, and then set ablaze. For the church, the memory of Tyndale is a blessing. The memory of Henry Phillips, however, has faded into oblivion. Even when Henry Phillips’ name is mentioned, it is remembered with sense of disgrace.

A Glance at John Bunyan

John Bunyan is a towering figure within church history. Though he was born in the 17th century, his books are still being published, made into movies, and quoted from pulpits. He really did leave us many timeless works. I believe the reason they are timeless is because they are soaked in Scripture. Even the great C.H. Spurgeon said:

Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself. . . He had read it until his whole being was saturated with Scripture, and though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress – that sweetest of all prose poems – without continually making us feel and say, ‘Why, this man is a living Bible!’ Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is bibline . . . for his whole soul is full of the Word of God.

John Bunyan truly was a man of the Bible, and this is evident with every word you read from his works!

Though Bunyan is still being published and quoted from pulpits, most Christians in the 21st century are unaware of who he is. In my own experience, if you mention John Bunyan, people assume they know who you are talking about because they think you are talking about Paul Bunyan! Though this is humorous, it is also sad. My hopes in writing this biographical blog on Bunyan is to introduce him to some folks that are unfamiliar with him. In doing so, I hope and pray that you will be spurred on by looking briefly at Bunyan’s life.

Physical Birth

bunyscot-orig_1_origWhile we do not know a great deal about John Bunyan’s physical birth, we do know that John Bunyan was born in Elstow, England on November 30, 1628. His father was a working mechanic, and Bunyan himself says that they were of the lower class. Writing about his own upbringing, Bunyan said, “My descent was of a low and inconsiderable generation, my father’s house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families in the land.”

Education

During Bunyan’s time, it was common for the poor to receive a basic education in reading and writing. Bunyan received this, but this was all he received. He was not educated in all the classics, nor did he learn Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Bunyan’s education consisted of knowing how to read and write. And though he was educated in reading and writing, he forgot even these upon leaving school at a young age. In reflecting on his education he said, “To my shame, I confess I did soon lose that little I learned, and that almost utterly.”

Unregenerate and Ungodly

There is a reason Scripture says, “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions,” as well as, “So flee youthful passions.” When we are young and unregenerate, we seek to gratify our youthful passions and in doing so transgress our Creator in numerous ways. This was certainly true of Bunyan.

When reflecting on the sins of his youth, Bunyan said:

As for my own natural life, for the time that I was without God in the world, it was indeed according to the course of this world, and the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. It was my delight to be taken captive by the devil at his will: being filled with all unrighteousness; that from a child I had but few equals, both for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God.

He goes on to say, “I was the very ringleader of all the youth that kept me company, in all manner of vice and ungodliness,” and, “I was one of those great sin-breeders; I infected all the youth of the town where I was born.” Bunyan was, on all accounts, a heathen. Within the village of Elstow, he was blot and blemish; a young man that you wouldn’t want your kids hanging around.

When we read stuff like this, it is easy to think that Bunyan is exaggerating. We think to ourselves, “Surely Bunyan was not that sinful as a youth!” But Bunyan was aware that people reading about his youthful passions may think this so he wrote, “In these things, I protest before God, I lie not, neither do I feign this sort of speech; these were really, strongly, and with all my heart, my desires.” Bunyan did not want people to minimize the heinous nature of his sin; he did not want them to believe that he was simply using hyperbole. He wanted them to be aware that he was at enmity with God.

First Marriage and Books

In 1648, when Bunyan was twenty years old, he began his occupation as a brazier (a tinker or metal worker), and started thinking about marriage and starting a family. Though Bunyan was an ungodly wretch, God gave him a godly wife named Mary that had come from a godly family. In reflecting on this he said, “My mercy was to light upon a wife whose father was counted godly. This woman and I came together as poor as poor might be, not having so much household stuff as a dish or spoon betwixt us.”

Though not much is known about Mary, biographers say that Mary seems to have been left in impoverished circumstances. Her father was dead and most people assume her mother was dead as well. They believe that this is the reason she would have married an individual like Bunyan. In all honesty, it is like biographers are trying to figure out how a godly woman like Mary would have married a wretch like Bunyan!

With that aside, this marriage proved to be a providential means that God used to begin softening Bunyan’s hard heart to the reality of his sin. Mary would often reprove and correct Bunyan for his corrupt lifestyle, and would tell him about how godly her father was. She also would force Bunyan to read Christian books that her father had given her.

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Two of the books that Mary brought into her marriage with Bunyan

The reading of these books made an impression on Bunyan. Faith Cook writes, “The first effect of Mary’s concern and books they were reading was to create in John the early awakenings of a desire to improve himself.” Bunyan himself put it this way, “I fell in very eagerly with the religion of the times; to wit, to go to church twice a day and that too with the foremost and there should very devoutly, both say and sing as others did, yet retaining my wicked life.” Bunyan was attending to religious things, but his manner of life had not changed. He mimicked the saints in the church, but lived like the same ole wretch in the community of Elstow. However, his conscience was awakened and his hard heart was being softened.

Unregenerate and Religious

While Bunyan was living an ungodly life, he had an unusual encounter with a very ungodly women that led to a moral reformation. A woman that Bunyan described as a “loose and ungodly wretch” overheard his foul mouth and told him that, “He was the ungodliest fellow for swearing that ever she heard in all her life,” and that, “he was able to spoil all the youth in a whole town, if they came in his company.” This reproof from a vile, wretched, and ungodly woman led Bunyan to leave off his life of outward immorality. As one biographer put it: “Public reproof from such a woman was an arrow that pierced his inmost soul; it effected a reformation marvelous to all his companions, and bordering upon the miraculous.”

However, we must not mistake his moral reformation as regeneration and conversion. His spiritual life did not change. He was still dead in sin. All he did now was act in a civil and religious manner. He simply became, as Scripture says, “A white-washed tomb.” Even Bunyan himself said: “Now I was, as they said, become godly, and their words pleased me well, though as yet I was nothing but a poor painted hypocrite.” Bunyan’s moral reformation made people think that he was godly, but he knew that it was all a facade. He did not know Jesus Christ. He was still unregenerate.

 Regenerate and Religious

As we move closer to John Bunyan’s conversion, it is important to keep in mind that the day and hour of Bunyan’s conversion is difficult to pinpoint. There are numerous accounts in his autobiography that read like conversion moments. His biographers are all in disagreement as well. It is as though both Bunyan and his biographers were unclear about the moment he was born again. With that said, I will deal with the two most significant moments in his life. One of these has to be the moment he was converted.

Bunyan had a wife and a blind daughter, therefore there was extra incentive to go out and make a living. As a tinker would walk through nearby towns and villages he would cry out, “Have you any work for a tinker? Have you any old bellows to mend?” And he would do this until some individual needed a tinker to come over and fix some things.

As Bunyan was doing this in Bedford, a village near Elstow, he came across a group of three to four women. He describes them as “poor women sitting at a door in the sun, and talking about the things of God.” As a “brisk talker” in religion, Bunyan drew near to participate in the conversation. However, this white washed tomb had never ran across Christians that were living and radiating with the joy that comes from being Spirit-filled Christians. As he listened to them, he thought to himself, “I heard, but I understood not; for they were far above, out of my reach.”

These poor ladies were indeed out of Bunyan’s reach. He said:

Their talk was about a new birth, the work of God on their hearts, also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature; they talked how God had visited their souls with his love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported against the temptations of the devil.

Their manner of discourse centered on the new birth, conviction of sin, and a genuine encounter with God through faith in Jesus. Bunyan was ignorant of all of these.

He continues talking about the women saying, “They also discoursed of their own wretchedness of heart, of their unbelief; and did condemn, slight, and abhor their own righteousness, as filthy and insufficient to do them any good.” These ladies were condemning themselves and casting their hope on the Lord Jesus Christ and His righteousness. The self-righteous Bunyan was being made aware of the insufficiency of his own righteousness.

He then said, “Methought they spake as if joy did make them speak; they spake with such pleasantness of Scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said that they were to me as if they had found a new world.” In truth, these ladies had found a new world. They had been transferred from Satan’s domain of darkness into the Kingdom of Christ.

As Bunyan listened to them, his own condition was rising to the top. These poor women were different than him. This led Bunyan to shake and tremble in fear. He said:

At this I felt my own heart began to shake, as mistrusting my condition to be nought; for I saw that in all my thoughts about religion and salvation, the new birth never did enter into my mind, neither knew I the comfort of the Word and promise, nor the deceitfulness and treachery of my own wicked heart.

This conviction led him to earnestly desire to be a godly man. He rid himself of his ungodly companions, and began to soak up the Scriptures. After overhearing these poor ladies conversation he said, “I read as I never did before; and especially the epistles of the apostle Paul were sweet and pleasant to me; and indeed I was then never out of the Bible, either by reading or meditation; still crying out to God that I might know the truth, and way to heaven and glory.” Many biographers mark this as Bunyan’s conversion moment, and there are many reasons that this moment seems to be the moment of his conversion.

Nevertheless, the reason for the difficulty in pointing to this as Bunyan’s conversion moment is because, shortly after this, he went through great bouts of depression that brought a lack of assurance. He simply did not believe himself to be saved. He said this in regard to conversion: “Gold! Could it have been gotten for gold, what could I have given for it! had I had a whole world it had all gone ten thousand times over for this, that my soul might have been in a converted state!” As you can see, there is nothing Bunyan wants more than conversion. He wants to be right with God. Yet, in Bunyan’s opinion, there is nothing that is so distant from him than conversion. He simply does not believe that he has crossed over from spiritual death to spiritual life. This is why pinpointing Bunyan’s conversion is so perplexing.

The second moment that I want to look at in Bunyan’s life is what many other people consider to be Bunyan’s conversion moment. As he was going through bouts of depression, lacking assurance, and crying out to God to have mercy on him, Bunyan had an encounter with God that profoundly impacted him. He said:

As I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience . . . suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, Thy righteousness is in heaven: and methought withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, is my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, he lacks my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, the same yesterday and today for ever (Heb. 13:8).

Bunyan seems to realize for the first time that the very foundation of his right standing with God is Christ’s righteousness; not his good frame of heart or his bad frame of heart. Realizing this, Bunyan said, “Now did my chains fall from my legs indeed.” This led to a time of peace. His conscience was no longer being wounded left and right because his focus was on Christ. He said, “Here, therefore I lived for some time, very sweetly at peace with God through Christ; Oh, methought, Christ! Christ! there was nothing but Christ that was before my eyes.”

It is evident that this is a moment of utmost joy for Bunyan. This is why so many people point to this as the moment of his conversion. I do not have the authority to determine when this wretched tinker passed over from death to life; that prerogative belongs to God and God alone! All I can say is that these two moments are of utmost significance to Bunyan. These providential dealings where instrumental to his salvation. And as we read these accounts, we cannot help but have our affections moved by God’s dealings with this poor tinker.

From Tinker to Preacher

Within the town of Bedford, Bunyan was attending a small independent church that consisted of about 90 members. After the death of the pastor, John Gifford, in 1655, the church was looking for another pastor. In the meantime, Bunyan would fill the pulpit. As he filled the pulpit, the church began to increasingly notice Bunyan’s extraordinary giftedness. They desired Bunyan to become their pastor, and in 1656, they gathered together to vote him in. This call to be the pastor meant that he would regularly preach the word to the church, and that he would also gather the unconverted together within other villages in order to preach to them.

As Bunyan set out to do this, he had a remarkable impact. In his preaching he would do what we call law work. He would impress upon his listeners a sense of their own sin. He said:

In my preaching of the Word, I took special notice of this one thing, namely, that the Lord did lead me to begin where his Word begins with sinners; that is, to condemn all flesh, and to open and allege that the curse of God by the law, doth belong to and lay hold on all men as they come into the world, because of sin.

He would press upon the conscience a deep and terrorizing sense of the coming wrath of God, but then he would bring the good news of the gospel. He said that he “labored to hold forth Jesus Christ in all his offices, relations and benefits.” Heralding the word like this was something that Bunyan treasured. To give you an idea of this, here is how Bunyan reflected on preaching:

My heart hath been so wrapped up in the glory of this excellent work, that I counted myself more blessed and honored of God by this than if he had made me the emperor of the Christian world, or the lord of all the glory of the earth without it.

As you can see, the fact that God had called him to preach the Word was a great honor to him. It was an honor that he most certainly did not take lightly. Also, it was something that he was really good at too.

Just to give you a sense of the greatness of John Bunyan’s preaching, King Charles asked John Owen why he goes to listen to “that tinker” preach. John Owen, arguably one of the greatest puritan theologians, said, “I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.” In other words, John Bunyan may be an uneducated tinker, but the Spirit of God powerfully worked through his preaching ministry in order to bring men to Christ. This was to be a mark of his preaching ministry for the rest of his life.

From Preacher to Prisoner

When Bunyan was around thirty years old, his wife Mary passed away shortly after giving birth to their fourth child. Bunyan was left to raise their four children, one of whom was blind, by himself. This put great strains on him, and gave him great incentive to remarry.

In God’s providence, he was able to marry a woman named Elizabeth. Faith Cook puts it into perspective when she writes: “To take a man like John Bunyan and his four children was also to share his sufferings, but Elizabeth rose to the challenge.” Bunyan, now having a capable woman tending to the needs of his children, relentlessly continued his preaching ministry.

Sadly, after Bunyan had been married to Elizabeth for about a year, he was arrested and thrown into prison in 1660. He was not thrown into prison because he was rebellious. He was thrown into prison because he refused to stop preaching. Within England, Parliament had a growing hostility towards nonconformist (people that refused to conform to the Anglican Church) like Bunyan (Bunyan was an independent Baptist). Parliament implemented a series of acts that placed greater and greater legal pressure on nonconformist that refused to give up preaching to gathered assemblies.

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Elizabeth pleading for Bunyan’s release from prison

Bunyan, in light of the call of God upon his life to preach the gospel, refused to give up the preaching ministry. In Bunyan’s words, “Come, be of good cheer, let us not be daunted; our cause is good, we need not be ashamed of it; to preach God’s word is so good a work that we shall be well rewarded if we suffer for that.” Needless to say, Bunyan continued to preach the Word of God, and it is the preaching of the Word that ultimately got Bunyan thrown into prison.

He would spend the next twelve years of his life, from 1660-1672, in prison. This meant that he was in prison from the age of thirty-two to the age of fourty-four; arguably some of the best years of an individuals life. He was separated from his family, and his wife Elizabeth was forced to raise four kids that were not even biologically hers. This was a time of great suffering. However, great suffering usually produced great spiritual maturity.

Bunyan in Prison

It was no trivial thing to be imprisoned in the 17th century. Prison brought great sufferings. Bunyan said, “I have suffered as much misery as soe dismal a place can be capable to inflict and soe am likely to perish without your Majestie’s further compassion and mercy towards me.” It is evident that Bunyan believed that, apart from God sustaining him within prison, he would not have made it.

And his sufferings were not merely physical. They were also emotional. To be stripped from your wife and four children, one of whom was blind, was devastating. Bunyan gives us a glimpse of this when he writes:

The parting with my Wife and poor children hath often been to me in this place as the pulling of the Flesh from my bones; and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great Mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries and wants that my poor Family was like to meet with should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides; O the thoughts of the hardship I thought my Blind one might go under, would break my heart to pieces.

I don’t think there is a more vivid picture of the inward pain that Bunyan was feeling than when he says that the departing with his wife and children has been to him like “the pulling of the Flesh from my bones.” His suffering meant they were suffering. This truth was almost too much for him to bear!

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Bunyan being visited by his blind daughter Mary while he was in prison

Thankfully, in the midst of all this, God dealt graciously with Bunyan. God began to illuminate Bunyan’s understanding of Scripture. While in prison Bunyan wrote, “Those Scriptures that I saw nothing in before are made in this place and state to shine upon me. Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now; here I have seen him and felt him indeed.” While in the midst of affliction, Bunyan’s faith was strengthening.

While his faith was strengthening and his understanding of Scripture was deepening, Bunyan picked up a pen and wrote. He wrote poems, letters, books, and sermons. Sure, the authorities thought that imprisoning Bunyan might silence him, but they never considered what the Spirit-filled, uneducated tinker might do with his pen!

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Pilgrim’s Progress is claimed to be one of the ten most published books of all time

For example, as George Whitefield reflected on Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan’s most famous writing, he said, “It smells of prison. It was written when the author was confined to
Bedford jail. And ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross: the Spirit of Christ and of Glory rests upon them.” This was the case with many of Bunyan’s works. Bunyan’s imprisonments did a great deal of harm to Satan’s domain of darkness because his imprisonments allowed him to take up a pen and write.

Bunyan in Bedford

Bunyan was well known by the time he was released from prison. Many people knew about his preaching, writings, and sufferings. This could have possibly afforded Bunyan the opportunity to go pastor in a more centralized location; maybe even in London. Bunyan would not do this though. He once again took up his pastorate in Bedford; that little village where he ran across those three to four poor women talking about the things of God when he was in his twenties. It is hard to overstate the love that Bunyan had for the people of Bedford. His life’s mission was to minister to them, and that is what he sought to continue to do when he was released from prison.

Bunyan’s Death

When Bunyan was nearing his sixtieth birthday, he set out to London on horseback in order to take a book manuscript to a publisher. On his trip, he was caught in a storm. Rather than pulling off the muddy road to take shelter, Bunyan continued to ride through the torrential downpour until he reached London. He was cold and shivering. His old and often sick body was failing. Soon a fever set in, and it was evident that Bunyan’s health was deteriorating rapidly.

On August 31, 1688, Bunyan passed away in London. He died apart from his wife Elizabeth, all his children, and his church in Bedford. But his last words were, “I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will, no doubt through the mediation of his blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner; where I hope we ere long shall meet and sing the new song and remain everlastingly happy, world without end.” This saint that was tormented with a lack of assurance early on in life, died with utmost assurance because he never took his eyes off of Christ.

 

 

 

From North Carolina to Louisiana

In January of 2015, Kahlie and I moved from Satsuma, Alabama, to Wake Forest, North Carolina. We had been married for about 13 months, and were desiring to go to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary so that I could get an Master of Divinity. The purpose of the M.Div. was so that I could become better equipped to serve Christ by serving the local church for the rest of my life. And when we moved, we only took what we could pack into our two vehicles. It was an exciting time for us and we were thrilled about how the Lord might use us in North Carolina!

Shortly after this, the Lord provided Kahlie with a job in Occupational Therapy (so she was paying the bills) and me with a job on the SEBTS grounds crew (and I was paying for Chick Fil A)! But, though we had jobs, we were still looking for a healthy church. We went to few a different churches, but we weren’t dead set on any of them.

Now, in the midst of searching for a healthy church that Kahlie and I could join and begin serving, a guy informed me of First Baptist Church of Durham in Durham, North Carolina. Upon attending, Kahlie and I were hooked. We loved everything about the church. The preaching ministry was phenomenal. The multigenerational aspect was appealing. The small group ministry was intentional. And the pastors took a genuine interest in the congregation. Soon after visiting, we decided to join in May of 2015.

After we joined, Kahlie and I got involved in the youth ministry. She was teaching middle school girls and I was teaching high school guys. We also got involved in the children’s ministry (churches are always looking for more volunteers here)! And lastly, we just sought to be healthy church members. Kahlie and I knew that, if we wanted to serve the local church for the rest of our lives, we didn’t need to wait until after seminary to do it. We needed to do it all throughout seminary as well. So that is what we sought to do. And as we did this, I continued pursuing my M.Div, and Kahlie continued helping and aiding me in anyway she could (praise God for a godly wife)!

We did this for about fourteen months, and then something completely unexpected happened. In July of 2016, I received a phone call from Andy Davis (The Senior Pastor at FBC). And when I answered the phone call, Andy asked me if I would be interested in interviewing for the Director of College Ministry position. This was unexpected because I was only twenty-four, I didn’t have a ton of ministry experience, I wasn’t done with my M.Div., and I hadn’t even put in a resume. Needless to say, I was shocked.

Andy Davis had become one of my role models in the faith and he was asking me to serve along side of him in ministry. FBC Durham was the healthiest church I had ever been a part of and it was asking me to come on staff. So I told Andy that he had the wrong number and that he must have meant to call someone else! Just kidding! I told him I would talk to Kahlie about it and then get back to him. When I talked to Kahlie about it she was more shocked than I was (to which I was mildly offended by)!!!!! But we both decided that I should go through the interview process to better understand as to whether this was something God would have me do. Here is the journal I wrote after Andy called me:

Monday afternoon I received a phone call from Andy Davis. He told me that their desire has always been to hire a College Director from within FBC Durham. They have had numerous resumes turned in, and a couple of interviews with men outside of FBC. None of these had worked out. He then told me that they have had their eye on me for a while now. He said that many people have mentioned my name and have said that I may be a good fit for the position. He also told me that the christian growth he has seen in me over the past year has been encouraging. I would never have put a resume in for this position because I know how unqualified I am for such a service. But they have asked me to come in today to speak with them about this position to see if I could possibly fill it. I have no idea what to expect, but I am very thankful to God for such an opportunity. May the Lord’s will be done.

Shortly after the interview process, they offered me the position. Kahlie and I talked about it and we went on to accept the position. It was exciting and overwhelming. Thinking through this, I wrote:

This presents an incredible opportunity for serving the Lord Jesus Christ and also the local church. These are honestly my life long ambitions. However, I did not think that I would be thrust into ministry this quickly. This was not even a thought a couple weeks ago. Now, I officially start August 16th.

As you can tell, this was a big deal in my life. Now, some of you may be reading this and saying, “Good golly, Philip! It was just an opportunity to do college ministry.” But for me, it was so much more. It was the opportunity to labor full time in gospel ministry. It was an opportunity to teach, disciple, and evangelize within the context of the healthiest church I had ever been a part of. It was an opportunity to be under Andy Davis and to watch his way of life, to ask him questions, and to drink in his wisdom. It was my first paid ministry position ever, and I could not believe that God was giving it to me!

Well, after all the interviewing stuff, I started the College Director position on August 16, 2016. Kahlie immediately started serving with me. We moved to Durham, I started taking online classes at SEBTS, and we started learning what it was like to do ministry in a greater capacity than we had ever done ministry. I was leading guys Bible studies, discipling students, evangelizing, leading retreats, and heading up mission trips. Kahlie was discipling ladies, leading Bible studies, helping me lead retreats, and going on mission trips with me. Though some of this was overwhelming, we both loved it! And we have now been serving this way for over 3 years. Kahlie and I can honestly say that it has been one of the greatest joys of our lives.

Now, after doing this for three years, I have received another unexpected phone call. In mid June, I received a phone call from Corey Townsley (a good friend of mine…..he is actually the guy that invited Kahlie and I to attend FBC Durham when we first moved to North Carolina). Corey is now serving as the senior pastor of FBC Longville in Longville, Louisiana. He called me to see if I would be interested in coming down to Louisiana to serve alongside of him as an associate pastor of youth. He told me that my primary responsibility would shepherding middle schoolers and high schoolers, but that he also wanted me to help shepherd the church body as a whole

The more Kahlie and I looked at this opportunity, sought counsel from the pastors that we are under now, and spent time in prayer, the more convinced we became that this was a position that we ought to pursue. Now, after five months, three interviews, and two trips to Louisiana, on November 3, 2019, FBC Longville unanimously voted to have me come be the Associate Pastor of Youth. Upon hearing the vote, Kahlie and I joyfully accepted this opportunity, and are preparing to head down there in December.

This is bittersweet for us. It pains us to leave FBC Durham, all the college students in the ministry, the many friends that we have made, and the city of Durham. But we are excited about serving Christ Jesus by serving the local church in Longville, Louisiana.

Here are ways that you can pray for Kahlie and I as we transition to Longville, LA.

  1. Pray that we would seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness even in the midst of a busy transition.
  2. Pray that we would have good, fruitful good-byes here in Durham!
  3. Pray that we would find housing in Longville that we can leverage for ministry purposes.
  4. Pray that we would make it down there safely.
  5. And pray that the Lord would begin preparing us for the good works that he will have us do at FBC Longville.