I went to church sporadically growing up. I remember occasionally going to a small Southern Baptist Church about fifteen minutes from my childhood home when I was in elementary school. While I was in middle school, I remember intermittingly going to a larger Southern Baptist Church in West Mobile. And by the time I entered high school, I was rarely going to church at all . . . I only went to church when I was dating a girl that had a family that was going to church (how pathetic is that)!
Needless to say, I didn’t grow up with a relationship to pastors and deacons. Nor did I have any familiarity with AWANA, VBS, youth summer camps, mission trips, or anything along those lines. Really, regarding church life, I didn’t know much of anything.
Growing Familiarity with the Church
By the time I entered college, God began to graciously call me to Himself. Deep into the fall semester of my freshmen year, He mercifully saved me and freely gave me the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ. With a genuine work of God in my heart, I began to become more active in the local church.
This allowed me to get close to pastors and deacons, to become familiar with Vacation Bible Schools, youth summer camps, mission trips, and other church related things. And though I wasn’t knowledgeable of all that was going on in the church that I was attending, I started becoming more familiar with the church.
Much More Familiarity with the Church
After college, my wife and I moved to Wake Forest, North Carolina, in January of 2015. On August 16, 2016, I was hired on full time as the Director of College Ministry at First Baptist Church of Durham (a healthy local church in downtown Durham). This was my first ever ministry position, and I joyfully served in this capacity for three and a half years.
While I was doing college ministry, a friend of mine from Louisiana asked if I would be interested in being his associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Longville. This seemed like a good opportunity to serve the people of God, so in December of 2019, I moved to Longville, Louisiana, to begin serving full time as an associate pastor. I’m still serving in this capacity. This means that, as of August 16, 2021 (today), I’ve been doing full time ministry for five years. And at twenty-nine years old, I’m much more familiar with the church than I was in my childhood and teenage years.
Things I’ve Learned
Though five years isn’t a very long time, I thought it’d be neat to reflect on some things that I’ve learned while serving in full time ministry. Since ministry largely involves ministering to people, most of the things I’ve learned have to do with people. So, here we go:
People Need Christ
Christ is the incarnate Word, the image of the invisible God, the Passover Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, and the light for the nations. He is the only mediator between God and man, and it’s only in Christ that one can find reconciliation and peace with God. Jesus is a never-ending source of other-worldly satisfaction and joy, and it’s Jesus that people need.
After five years of ministry, I’m even more mindful that one of the most important things that I can do is place Christ before people’s eyes. And no, I’m not merely talking about placing Christ before unbelievers’ eyes. I’m also talking about placing Christ before believers’ eyes. I’ve learned that the children of God desperately need to behold and savor Christ afresh every day.
People Love Handwritten Cards
We live in a day and age where our emails are bombarded with advertisements, and where our cell phones are constantly receiving mostly insignificant messages from friends, family members, and acquaintances. And even though communication is remarkably easy, people are rarely receiving well thought out handwritten cards that are expressly written for the purpose of encouraging others.
This means that when people do receive a handwritten card, it is both encouraging and memorable! In all seriousness, I don’t believe I’ve ever had somebody thank me to my face for an encouraging text (though I’ve sent many). But almost everybody that I’ve written a card to goes out of their way to thank me. It’s evident that people love handwritten cards!
People Need to be Encouraged
There are people in the church that sacrifice their time, energy, and money for the cause of Christ. They give up their weeknights and Sundays for the purpose of sacrificially serving others. They diligently study so that they can properly teach the Word of God. They read books and listen to podcasts so that they can better counsel folks that are hurting and suffering. They open their homes to get to know other members of the church. And these people need to be encouraged. They need to know that I, as their pastor, see their ministry, am grateful for their ministry, and that our church is better off because of their ministry.
People are Hurting
Sure, people put on a socially acceptable smile on Sunday mornings, but deep down inside most people are hurting. And they are hurting because of their own sins, someone else’s sins, or because of all that comes with living on a cursed earth. There’s a family unit that has a rebellious child. There’s a marriage that is on the brink of disaster. There’s a youth that’s beginning to indulge in sexual sin that will have consequences for decades to come. Somebody has gone to the doctor and received a life altering diagnosis. A couple is doubting if they will ever be able to get pregnant. A widow is trying to figure out how to go to sleep by herself every night. All over the church, people are hurting, and they need other brothers and sisters in Christ to help them.
People Need Parlor Preachers
We don’t really hear the term “parlor” anymore, but most churches in the old days had them. It was a room in the church that was especially constructed for receiving guests. And a parlor preacher is a Christian that can speak about heavenly things in social settings (not just from the pulpit). Charles Bridges defines it as “the ability to introduce the subject of religion seasonably and acceptably into social discourse.”
It’s important to be able to do this as a pastor, and it’s important to have fellow church members that can do this as well. Reflecting on the importance of this Spurgeon says, “To be a holy talker for Jesus might be almost as fruitful an office as to be a faithful preacher.” In five years, I’ve learned that we vastly overestimate what people learn from their pastor in the pulpit, and that we vastly underestimate what people learn from a spiritual conversation in the parlor.
People Need Church History
The Catholic Church teaches that both Scripture and tradition are equally authoritative. While the Baptist Church has rightly rejected this, most Baptist Churches have made an equally deadly error by flat out rejecting church history and tradition. There are so many people that are ignorant of the early church and its creeds, the Reformation and its confessions, the historical development of Baptist ecclesiology and doctrine, the Great Awakening, and so much more.
This means that, within many Baptist Churches, most people’s concept of church is built around the church that they grew up in rather than the historic church that has existed for thousands of years. This isn’t healthy at all, and it leads to a multitude of problems. People really need church history.
People Need Sound Doctrine
This should not surprise anyone because one cursory reading through the Bible reveals that sound doctrine is important. Nevertheless, when I ministered to college students in North Carolina, and as I’ve ministered to people in Louisiana, it has become clear that many people grow up in Baptist Churches that are indifferent to doctrine. And it seems like most churches promote doctrinal indifferentism for the sake of maintaining unity. It’s as though pastors think to themselves: “If I don’t preach meaty doctrine, then my people won’t divide over anything.”
What these pastors are failing to realize is that keeping people ignorant of doctrine cultivates what J.I. Packer calls “a deceptive appearance of unity.” Just because a church seems to have inter-party peace doesn’t mean they’re unified. Instead, it means that division is right around the corner. . . .as soon as people start talking about doctrine! So, people need sound doctrine, and Baptists Churches would be better off if they made every effort to cultivate doctrinal unity within their congregations rather than a deceptive appearance of unity.
Church Family IS Family
Kahlie and I both have awesome families. As a matter of fact, almost every vacation we take involves going to see our families because we enjoy being around them so much! With that said, one of the things that God has really taught us since we have moved away from our families for the sake of the church is that church family IS family! We knew this mentally before we moved away from home. We understood that other Christians were our brothers and sisters in Christ. We knew that older Christians could become spiritual fathers and mothers to us. We could mentally assent to these truths.
But once we moved away from home, we quickly came to understand this experientially. While we were in North Carolina, Kahlie and I immediately had our hearts joined together with other Christians. We were eating at each other’s houses, celebrating holidays together, serving together, serving each other, praying for one another, learning from one another, taking vacations together, helping each other bear up under trials, and so on and so forth! Older Christians invested in us, discipled us, cooked for us, and counseled us. And sure enough, when we moved eighteen hours from North Carolina to Louisiana, we immediately had our hearts knitted together with other Christians here. As we have moved across the Southeast, it’s become clear that church family is family. Thank God for the church!
Church Friendly Families are Awesome
Most families are looking for family friendly churches. This is completely understandable. It’s good to look for a church that’s going to strategically strive to serve each member of your family in a manner that’s worthy of the Lord. But as a pastor, one of the greatest blessings to the church is a church friendly family—a family that prioritizes healthy involvement in the church over athletics, hobbies, and other extracurriculars. In both churches that I’ve served in, I’m always blessed and encouraged by healthy family units that make healthy involvement in the church a main priority.
Godly Deacons are a Blessing
I’ve had the pleasure of getting close to godly deacons at both churches that I’ve served at. The deacons I’m talking about account their lives of little value, have hearts that go out to the hurting, and see it as their God given role to glorify Christ by fulfilling both menial and significant tasks for the church and the community. About these men, I echo Spurgeon’s words:
“The church owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to those thousands of godly men who study her interests day and night, contribute largely of their substance, care for her poor, cheer her ministers, and in times of trouble as well as prosperity remain faithfully at their posts…Deprive the church of her deacons and she would be bereaved of her most valiant sons; their loss would be the shaking of the pillars of our spiritual house and would cause desolation on every side.”
I could keep going. I’ve learned a great deal about people and ministry over the past five years. But, like I said early, I’m not so naïve to think that five years is a long time. It’s very brief in the grand scheme of things. With this in mind, I’m still learning, and I’m greatly anticipating God to continue educating me.
For our church in Louisiana, we have not been able to gather together for four weeks. It has been even longer for other churches in our area as well as around the country. This means that Christian families have had numerous Sunday mornings where they wake up, try to cultivate some type of normalcy, and then sit down as a family to watch their pastor preach to them from a screen.
Of course we can romanticize this by saying we get our hot cup of coffee, sit down on our cozy couch, offer up some eloquent prayers as a Christian family, and then intently listen to our pastor preach the Word of God while our love for Christ is inflamed anew. But let’s be honest, for families with infants and toddlers, Sunday mornings do not look like this.
Sunday mornings are filled with distractions. An infant or toddler needs to be attended too at many points throughout the sermon. They need milk warmed up, or perhaps they need the regular stipend of goldfish that the childcare workers in church normally gives them. Maybe their sinful flesh begins to oppose authority and they take all the attention in the room. This is what Sunday mornings looks like for many families during this time.
Meanwhile, the pastor’s words continue to be unheard. Those nuggets of spiritual truths that nourish our souls simply slide past us. Those life given exhortations from our pastor go out into the unknown. Those theological truths in worship songs go on being heard but not grasped.
Childcare-An Undesirable Service Opportunity
Let’s be honest, most Christians don’t desire to serve in childcare. I think I can speak on behalf of churches all around the country when I say that the ministry that is always in need of volunteers is the children’s ministry. And I get it, it is hard to serve in a ministry where there is very little affirmation, self-fulfillment, or attention. It is hard to serve in a ministry where you see very little tangible spiritual fruit.
And then there are these other erroneous thoughts that run through our minds. We say to ourselves:
Surely God will not look at the rocking of a toddler on a Sunday morning and give eternal rewards. There is no way God will reward the changing of a diaper on a Sunday morning. Plus, even if God sees these things, not many other people do. Sure, the preacher gets some flack as he serves, but he still gets a ton of affirmation and praise from people too. But just look at the childcare volunteer. People do not praise them. Shoot, I’d be shocked if even God praises them.
These types of thoughts leave our nursery with very few volunteers. They leave the leader of the children’s ministry hastily sending out texts, emails, and Facebook posts trying to find somebody to fill a spot on a Sunday morning.
Childcare-A Missed Ministry During Quarantine
But during these hectic Sunday mornings during quarantine, it is evident that the unglamorous ministry of childcare is deeply missed. People are realizing the sacrifices that childcare volunteers make in rocking other’s people’s children so that members of the church, as well as guests, can be attentive to the Word of God. They are realizing how blessed they are to have vetted childcare volunteers to change their baby’s diaper so that they can join together in corporate prayer during worship. In sum, Christian families are realizing how grateful they ought to be for brothers and sisters in Christ that die to themselves, walk down to the childcare/nursery area, and serve in the unnoticed and often overlooked childcare ministry.
Encouragement to Childcare Volunteers
The church needs you. You are a vital aspect to our Sunday morning gatherings. Because of you, believers and unbelievers have the opportunity to sit through corporate worship, listen to biblical truth, and hear life giving exhortations from the Word of God. With this in mind, know that your labor is not in vain. When you, in faith, volunteer in the children’s ministry, your Heavenly Father sees you, and your sacrificial service pleases Him.
Exhortations to Childcare Avoiders
If you are a member of a local church and have long avoided opportunities to serve in childcare, I hope Sundays during quarantine changes your thinking. When we are once again able to gather together, I hope you seriously consider volunteering in childcare. This is a wonderful and greatly needed way to serve the local church.
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.
While 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.”
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
Within the Christian life, God has ordained that certain disciplines, when done in faith, will further our sanctification and give us ever increasing joy and satisfaction in Christ. Here are some of those disciplines:
Bible Intake (Reading, Meditating, Memorizing, & Listening to the Bible)
Preaching & Teaching
Prayer (Personal Prayer & Corporate Prayer)
Worship (Personal Worship & Corporate Worship)
Fasting (Personal Fasting & Corporate Fasting)
Evangelism & Missions
Giving (To the Ministries of the Church, the Needy, & Missions)
Ordinances (Baptism & the Lord’s Supper)
As we discipline ourselves, in faith, to make use of these disciplines, we will progressively be conformed into the image of Jesus and find satisfaction in Jesus.
COVID-19 Presents Some Problems
With one cursory reading through the New Testament, you will realize that God’s Plan-A for spiritual growth and satisfaction in Christ is the local church. Most of the godly disciplines mentioned above take place in the local church:
Listening to the Word
Preaching & Teaching
This is why, when you see a Christian that is not faithfully involved in the life of a local church, they are spiritually immature and find very little satisfaction in Jesus. They are neglecting God’s Plan-A for spiritual growth and satisfaction in Jesus!
With that said, here is the problem that COVID-19 presents: Most churches, out of love for God and love for neighbor, are canceling services. These cancelations could last a couple weeks or they could possibly last for months. Nobody is really sure in light of the volatility of the situation. This means that most Christians are not going to be able to faithfully participate in the life of the local church. Thus, Christians are not going to be able to participate in God’s Plan-A for christian maturity and satisfaction in Christ.
A Spiritual Care Package
With this in mind, I thought it would be helpful to create a spiritual care package that God might use to nourish our souls. So, rather than languishing spiritually during this time, this care package is meant to sustain your joy, contentment, and satisfaction in Christ. This care package will contain advise as well as specific recommendations.
First, consistently intake the Bible. At a time like this, it is tempting to have your face glued to your phone to catch the latest news article, tweet, or Facebook post about COVID-19. Resist that temptation and seek the Lord. Read through whole books of the Bible. Meditate on comforting truths from the Bible. Memorize sections of the Bible that you can share with others. Bible intake is, without a doubt, the chief means that God uses to both mature and satisfy His people.
Second, pray regularly.Make a weekly prayer guide to strategically pray for the following things:
those at high-risk in your local church body,
those that may feel lonely,
those entrusted to lead the church through this trying time,
those in your community,
those working in medical facilities,
those entrusted to lead our country,
those missionaries all over the world,
As you do this, you will bear the burdens of others. You will be petitioning a great King that has limitless resources to act on behalf of others!
Third, listen to good preaching. I do have one caveat here. Though there are a variety of godly pastors out there that are gifted preachers and teachers, be sure to listen to the specific pastor that God has entrusted to the care of your soul. He knows, loves, and cares for you a great deal. He is thinking about how to specifically shepherd you during this time. So listen to him. With that caveat out the way, here are some good sermons that have made a profound impact on Kahlie (my wife) and I personally:
Fourth, read good books written by good teachers.God has gifted the universal church with many godly men and women throughout the centuries that are gifted with writing. God has given them the ability to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) to pump out helpful literature for the church. Here are some books, none of which are academic, that have been helpful or encouraging in Kahlie and I’s life:
Fifth, listen and sing some hymns that were penned in troubled times throughout history. Matt Merker actually published an article of 25 hymns to sing. Each hymn has a link that takes you to a website where you can read the lyrics as well as listen to the song. Click on this link and find some hymns to joyfully sing to the Lord.
Sixth, serve the local church and the surrounding community. A global pandemic does not just hinder us as individuals. It hinders those around us. It hinders fellow members in our local church as well as fellow individuals in our community. Health care workers get exhausted, small business owners get anxious, and the elderly get concerned. In light of this, we are presented with some opportunities to serve. Here are some opportunities that I have been thinking through:
Offer to go get groceries for the elderly in your church
Offer to go get prescription medicine for the elderly in your church
Adopt a widow in your church and check up on her every 2-3 days
Give generously toward the benevolence fund at your local church
Order carry-out food or gift cards from local businesses in your area
Send encouraging texts or emails to those in your Sunday school class
Thank those who work in health care, the police department, grocery stores, etc.
Joy in Christ in the Midst of COVID-19
I am confident that if you, in faith, make use of this spiritual care package, then you will find joy and satisfaction in Jesus. In the midst of all the turmoil and volatility, you will be a well of living water that benefits and nourishes other people in these dark days.
A sinner is saved by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This is the clear teaching of Scripture. There will not be one individual that will be declared righteous through his obedience. Rather, individuals will only be declared righteous through faith in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. So, those who are in Christ through faith are justified, and those who are apart from Christ are condemned.
That is why there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. If you are a Christian, you will never hear the just judge of all the earth declare you to be guilty of sin and deserving of eternal punishment. That will not happen. Rather, you hear a silent declaration of “Justified!” from the judge of the earth now, and you will one day hear a public declaration of “Justified!” on judgment day. This is our hope and it is incredibly comforting! We are righteous in Christ Jesus. Praise God for this! We are rescued from the wrath of God in Christ Jesus. Glory be to God alone! We are adopted into the family of God in Christ Jesus. Honor be to the name of Jesus!
Justification Does Not Eradicate Evaluation
With that said, there also must be an understanding that those who have been justified (judicially declared righteous) through faith in Christ will be judged according to their works. This is thoroughly biblical. Just because we will not face condemnation on judgment day does not mean that we will escape evaluation. We will most certainly be evaluated. All of our actions, motives, thoughts, and words will be evaluated on judgment day. So, our works will be judged. And, according to Scripture, this doctrine is incredibly important for how we live life now. So, let’s look at some applications that arise from a judgment according to works.
Application of This Doctrine
A judgment according to works can be applied in many ways. Therefore, it will be helpful to see how this understanding of the role of works in the judgment of the righteous can be applied personally and within Christian ministry.
The first application that arises from a knowledge of a judgment according to works is personal holiness. All throughout the New Testament, the biblical writers refer to the day of judgment and then issue appeals for lives of holiness. For example, Peter, in speaking about the importance of being holy because God the Father is holy, says, “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Pet. 1:17). Paul, in a similar line of thought, said that all Christians will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, “so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). It is for this reason that Paul says that Christians are to make it their aim to please the Lord (2 Cor. 5:9).
So, one day, we as individuals, will stand before Christ’s great tribunal and receive what is our due for both the good and the evil that we have done in our earthly bodies. There will be no partiality in Christ’s judgment. Christ will look into the inner recesses of our hearts and expose every motive, secret, intention, careless word, and action in accordance with his infinite wisdom. For the evil that we have done, Christ will withhold his commendation. For the good that we have done, Christ will give his commendation (1 Cor. 4:5). For the evil that we have done, we will not receive a reward. For the good that we have done, we will receive rewards.
This is, without a doubt, a major incentive to live a life of holiness for the Lord. Regarding this Phanton says, “No wise disciple can afford to neglect so great a mass of Scripture, or throw away so mighty an incentive to holiness. Our discovery of this truth at the Judgment Seat will be too late.” Phanton is right in his assertion. We, if we want to live lives of holiness for the Lord, will find all the incentive we need in a thorough contemplation of standing before the judgment seat of Christ on that Great Day.
This also must be applied in the ministry context that God has entrusted with us. Right now I do college ministry on college campuses throughout the triangle area. I am able to interact with numerous students throughout the week. Each of them will have to stand before Christ’s tribunal to give an account of their lives. I ought to labor with relentless zeal in order to do everything that I can so that they will stand holy and blameless before the Lord on that Great Day. It should be my aim to prepare them for judgment day. Thus, I should do everything I can to help them pursue personal holiness.
Labor For The Lord
Secondly, a judgment according to works should lead us to increasingly labor for the Lord. When we do something in faith, to the glory of God, and out of love for neighbor, it is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Rather than being in vain, it will lead to commendation and reward from my blessed Savior. This is a major incentive to gospel labor. It most certainly was for Paul, this truth led him to tell Christians in Corinth, “to be abounding in the works of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
And this idea of rewards should not make us feel uneasy. The Scriptures clearly use this truth to compel Christians to labor. Jesus, in Matthew 6, uses both rewards and loss of rewards, to compel his disciples to give to the needy, pray, and fast in a way that is honoring to the Lord (Mt. 6:1-18). He then goes on to tell his disciples to intentionally lay-up treasure in heaven with how they use their money (Mt. 6:19-24). Also, the parable of the talents teaches that those who are faithful in how they steward their God given gifts will receive rewards when Christ Jesus returns (Mt. 24:14-30).
So, the idea of heavenly rewards compelling us to holy zeal and fervor in going about the work of the Lord is seen in the Scripture. This leads Wayne Grudem to say, “It would be morally and spiritually beneficial for us to have a greater consciousness of this clear New Testament teaching on degrees of heavenly reward.” Grudem is right. We would do well to contemplate eternal rewards often. This will lead us to zealously labor for Christ’s sake. We should be willing to spend and be spent for Christ’s kingdom knowing that nothing we do is in vain.
Also, this idea of rewards should impact the ministry we have been given. It should impact me personally as I labor on college campuses. Each of these students that I am shepherding has the opportunity to labor for the Lord, thus, storing up treasures in heaven. I ought to do everything in my power to keep them from wasting their lives by compelling them to lay up treasures in heaven by doing bold acts of service for Christ’s sake. So, I should be helping them and encouraging them to store up heavenly rewards from a most benevolent God who is eager to bestow them.
Thirdly, a judgment according to works should also lead us to have ever increasing humility. Often times, we have haughty views of ourselves. We simply seem to regard ourselves, as well as our ministry, with greater significance than we ought to. The reality of judgment day should keep us from this.
I say this because this was Paul’s mentality. Paul knew that he was gifted by God to be a steward of the mysteries of the gospel for the sake of the church. However, when it came to examining his faithfulness as a steward, he was not concerned with the judgment of men. He says, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by any human court” (1 Cor. 4:3). Paul then goes even further saying that he does not even trust his own judgment of his ministry, even though, as far as he could tell, he had not been unfaithful (1 Cor. 4:3-4).
The reason for this is because he knew judgment day was coming. Therefore, rather than leaning on his own judgment or the judgment of men, he says, “Therefore, I do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each will receive his commendation from God.” (1 Cor. 4:5).
Thus, judgment day led Paul to refrain from judging his own faithfulness. Rather, he humbly labored for the Lord waiting for judgment day to shed light on his ministry. The same truth mentioned above also led George Whitefield, after laboring for the Lord in an incomprehensibly glorious way, to leave his tomb stone with the words, “Here lies G.W. What sort of man he was the great day will discover.” So, the understanding of judgment day should keep us personally humble in our gospel labor as we patiently wait for that great day to reveal the genuineness of our work.
No Sinful Judging
Fourthly, a judgment according to works should keep us from sinfully casting judgment on weaker Christians. It should also keep us from causing a weaker brother in Christ to sin in how we use our Christian freedom (Rom. 14:5-23). Each Christian is going to have to give an account of their lives to Christ. Therefore, the last thing we should want is to have to give an account to Christ for how we caused a weaker Christian, for whom He died, to sin against him by how we used our Christian freedom (Rom. 14:15).
This Should Permeate Our Teachings
Lastly, a judgment according to work should be within our teachings, our discipleship relationships, and in how we raise our kids. We should not just teach justification, and we should not just teach a judgment according to works. Rather, they should both be taught. Justification by faith alone in Christ alone and a judgment according to works are both clearly in the Bible. Therefore, both of them ought to be taught. To emphasize justification by faith alone in Christ alone to the detriment of judgment according to works produces lawlessness. People will simply live however they want to live all the while claiming Christ as Savior. We see this all throughout the Bible Belt! Also, to emphasize judgment according to works to the detriment of justification by faith alone in Christ alone produces legalism. This also is seen all throughout the Bible Belt! So, we must emphasize both. To emphasize both will produce an affectionate reverence to Christ whereby we yield ourselves in obedience to the will of God. Therefore, this teaching ought to permeate our thoughts, teachings, sermons, discipleship relationships, child rearing, etc.
I have not been in college ministry a very long time (almost 3 years), but I have been in it long enough to know that church attendance begins to dissipate as students begin to inch closer and closer towards the end of the spring semester. (Just as a side note….I do not think this is a problem just for college students. We, by nature, start strong and finish poorly).
My desire in this blog post is to convince you of five reasons why you should maintain faithfully attending church as you see summer on the horizon.
To Behold the Glory of Christ
Christ says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14). Now, it is apparent that Christ is speaking about his crucifixion within this verse. However, what is important to understand is that he is not merely talking about the actual event of his crucifixion. Not many people were looking at Christ’s actual crucifixion and receiving eternal life. Thus, Christ’s statement must go beyond that! It must go beyond the event of his actual crucifixion to something that is happening even today, for today, people are still looking to Christ crucified and receiving eternal life.
And I would argue that Christ is speaking about the ministry of the word of God. It is the preaching and teaching ministry of the word that is revealing Christ crucified. Paul tells the Galatians, who did not see the actual crucifixion of Christ, “Oh foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? It was before your very eyes that Jesus was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1). Also, he tells Titus that the eternal life that is in Christ Jesus was manifested through the preaching of the word (Titus 1:2-3).
There is a revealing of Christ crucified through the faithful teaching and preaching of the word. This is one reason why faithfully and consistently sitting under the word of God is so important. Week in and week out, you are beholding Christ. This serves to strengthen your faith. And, if you want to prove this through a litmus test, simply go ask somebody that has neglected attending church for a while how their faith is holding up. And if they say it is good, then stay around them long enough to see the falsity of their statement be manifested.
To Hear the Word of the Lord
Preaching, if it is done faithfully and in accordance with the biblical text, carries great authority. As the preacher draws out the meaning of the text, he is drawing out the very word of God (1 Thess. 2:13). Thus, to sit under faithful preaching is to sit under the word of the Lord. This is something that every Christian needs to consistently hear. This is the Christian’s food and drink. This is what is going to nourish and strengthen them in their walk with Christ. So, to consistently attend church presents you with the opportunity to consistently hear what the God of heaven and earth has said and is saying through His written Word. However, to neglect church is to willingly separate yourself from hearing the word of the Lord.
To Bear Other’s Burdens
Much of the Christian life is lived out glorifying God by sacrificially bearing the burdens of others. We do this out of love for God and love for neighbor. This is how we actually fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). We are to be a people that see other brothers and sisters in Christ bearing burdens that are so heavy that they cannot bear themselves-such as financial burdens, health burdens, burdens brought about by other’s sins, burdens brought about by our own sin-and then gladly die to ourselves, and place some of their burdens upon our own shoulders for the glory of God and the sake of Christ. This type of burden bearing is nearly impossible when you forsake the local church.
Satan’s Assault is Continuous
Satan is a thief that comes to steal, kill, deceive, accuse, and destroy. He is relentless in his opposition to both God and man. As soon as Adam and Eve were in the garden, Satan is on the scene with his wicked weapons in hand. As soon as Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain, he rears his ugly head. As soon as Israel began to multiply in Egypt, he was present in the wicked Pharaoh. As soon as Christ Jesus was born of a virgin, he was there as a dragon ready to devour Him! He is driven by pride, greed, envy, jealousy, selfish ambition, and hatred. His desire is to utterly destroy you. He wants your physical life and your spiritual life, and he will not rest until he has them!
Church is like an embassy in a foreign land for a citizen of the kingdom of God. When we are faithfully engaging in the life of the church, we are safe from the ancient enemy of our souls! To put it in a little perspective, when Paul tells the Corinthians to exercise church discipline on a brother who has lapsed into heinous sin, he tells them to expel the brother from the church, and to hand him over to Satan! So, to be separated from the local church is to be handed over to Satan. Thus, when you willfully neglect church, you are, in a since, allowing yourself to roam in Satan’s evil lair. Why in the world would anybody want to do that?
You Reap What You Sow
The Bible consistently teaches that you will reap what you sow. So, in an agricultural since, if you sow wheat then you will reap wheat. But the Scripture takes this beyond the simple agricultural meaning to a spiritual meaning. Paul says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8). Proverbs says, “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity” (Proverbs 22:8). This is a general principle that rears its head constantly throughout the Bible and we can be certain that it rears its head today as well. To sow to the Spirit will lead to eternal life, but to sow to the flesh will lead to eternal death. To sow to the Spirit will lead to a harvest of righteousness, but to sow to the flesh will lead to a harvest of unrighteousness. When you willfully forsake assembling with other Christians due to idleness, sluggishness, laziness, unrepentant sin, etc., then you are sowing to the flesh. And before long, if the general principle proves true, you will reap unrighteousness and ungodliness.
So those are five brief reasons why you should persevere in attending church as your spring semester begins to get hectic, you see summer on the horizon, and you are absolutely worn out. With that said, persevere!