Author Archives: Roger Knowlton

Is Church Membership Biblical?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

First, what is Church Membership?

When people think about membership in a local church, they often confuse it with membership in a local gym. But membership in a gym or country club is usually just a ticket to use the facilities – so, you can pay and never show up – and in fact, many do. The gym owner may have sincere hopes for the health of members, but fitness clubs usually have no problem taking the monthly check of members who never drop by.

On the other hand, church membership is marked by a different word – covenant – meaning a sacred promise before God. Church members promise to live holy lives and play an integral part in their local church. In country club or gym membership, it’s up to the individual member to determine whether he or she participates in events or in the life of the organization, but the Apostle Paul says that members of a church are more like members of the human body – so a non-participating member is an oxymoron, like an eye that refuses to open or a nose that refuses to smell.

Members at Edgewood Community Church (where I’m a pastor) make a sacred covenant or promise to be a part in five ways…

…by coming faithfully to weekly worship services. (Hebrews 10:24, 25)

…by giving generously according to biblical standards (2 Corinthians 9:6 – 8)

…by refraining from gossip and thus confronting sin in a biblical manner (Matthew 18:15)

…by submitting to the elders (Hebrews 13:17)

…by praying for the church faithfully (John 16:24)

But is it in the Bible?

It’s true that the word membership is never found in the Bible, but another important word is – submission. It’s probably wiser to think not so much of joining a church, but of submitting or even committing yourself to a church.

For instance, Hebrews 13:17 calls believers to submit to their leaders.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)

All Christians, therefore, are called to submit to their spiritual leaders and even more, to respect and honor them – 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13 (And yes, as a pastor, I know this certainly sounds self-serving, but it’s what Scripture teaches). On a related note, this is one of the challenges to claiming to be a committed follower of Christ and yet (let alone membership), even refusing to attend and be a part of a local church – who then, are your spiritual leaders? The “Lone Ranger” Christian has none. This truth, along with the many “one-another” passages (“Love one another”, “Forgive one another,” “Bear one another’s burdens”, etc.), make it clear that New Testament writers assumed all Christians would be a part of a local church.

Two practical considerations make the need for church membership clear:

  1. Spiritual leaders like pastors and elders need to know whom they will be responsible for when those leaders one day stand before God.
  2. A congregationally governed local church requires members for decision-making. (See for instance Acts 6:3).

A little thought experiment goes along with the two scenarios above: what is the other option besides membership? Will God hold spiritual leaders responsible for everyone who has dropped by on a Sunday morning? Or everyone who has “dropped by” for the last two months? I hope not! Similarly, who gets to vote? Someone who considers herself a committed Christian and says she loves the church…and who simply has shown up for the first time on the Sunday of the church’s annual meeting?

Finally, church membership is certainly not necessary for salvation, but it is meant to be helpful toward assurance of salvation. This is because local churches have been entrusted with the “keys of the Kingdom” (see Matthew 16:19; 18:18). In giving the keys of the Kingdom to local church leaders, the Lord gives them power to govern and to bind and loose; therefore, when church membership is conferred on an individual, the local church is declaring (to the best of their admittedly fallible spiritual understanding) that the person is a true follower of Christ.

Membership is an important part of Christian discipleship. If you’re not a member of your local church, I hope you’ll give serious thought to becoming one!

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Posted by on July 20, 2022 in Church


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The Kind of Praying that Changes the World

I saw a prayer motto in a church years ago that struck me as right…and WRONG: “Prayer changes me.”

OK…sure. Of course, praying changes me. And for the record, I need to be changed. But the sign seemed to suggest something else – that I shouldn’t expect answers to my prayers – I should just expect to be personally changed. 

Meh. Sounds a bit like eating your vegetables. Of course, I should do it, and of course I need to do it, but will I? If I’m honest, that’s not a motto that will get me on my knees every day.

But then…I read the Bible: Hebrews 13:18, 19 for instance – where we see that prayer does much more than change me. It connects me with God who changes my circumstances:

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

Hebrews 13:18, 19 (ESV)

Do you see it?…The more earnestly they prayed, the sooner he would be restored.

Yes, prayer changes me, but what gets me on my knees is that prayer changes circumstances, at least earnest prayer does. Earnest prayer advances the Kingdom of God in a visible and tangible way. So there’s a cause and effect. That’s what I need to know about prayer. If…then. 

 “You do not have because you do not ask.” James 4:2 (ESV)

There are many important aspects of prayer to understand, but maybe this one is where we should start – it’s the heart of everything: God answers earnest prayer.

When we pray earnestly, He moves. He responds. He does things. The writer of Hebrews asks his readers to pray for him to be restored. Released from prison? From other pressing duties? We are not told the circumstances keeping him, because the circumstances don’t matter. All we need to know is all they needed to know – the motivating part: the more earnestly they pray, the sooner he will be restored. That’s what the Word of God says. 

If they gave themselves to heartfelt prayer regarding this circumstance, they would see an answer.

Whatever it was that kept him from seeing them, if they were to pray in a tepid, unbelieving, “whenever I feel like it” manner, they shouldn’t expect to see him soon. But if they would give themselves to intense and earnest prayer, then they should hang a welcome banner out – he would be coming.

It’s a theme the author of Hebrews also writes about in chapter 11, verse 6: And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (ESV)

If you seek God, he will reward you. But…do you believe it? If you do, it will show in a life of earnest prayer.

Better get the guest room ready.

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Posted by on July 12, 2022 in Prayer, Uncategorized



“That’s Just Your Interpretation!”

We’ve just come to the end of June, nowadays considered in our culture, “Pride month”. Now, suppose that tomorrow at work you get into a conversation on a hot-button cultural topic like LGBTQ+ issues or the recent overturning of Roe vs. Wade. As a Christian, you state your thinking on the subject from Scripture, only to hear what many of us have heard before, “That’s just your interpretation!”

Hmmm…now what do you say?

It’s a common refrain nowadays, because of the influence of postmodernism, the spirit of the age. In fact, those in the church are often so steeped in this thinking that the comment sometimes comes from those who consider themselves Christians. 

No matter who it comes from, it can leave us dumbfounded; and we tend to easily throw up the white flag, with, “Yeah, I guess so.” 

Postmodernism is a way of thinking which leads to doubt about most everything. Terry Eagleton says postmodernism produces a “paralyzing skepticism”, and so we begin to wonder, “Can we know anything?”

For Christians, this gets especially dangerous regarding Scripture; if we can’t know what the Bible says about clear matters like the topics above, how can we know about equally clear topics like…how to get to heaven? 

So…what answer should you give?

Well, first it’s important to know what the person is really saying, and then in fact to point it out to them. As D.A. Carson shows in his excellent little piece, “But That’s Just Your Interpretation!”, what they are claiming in the moment is that you cannot have a sure interpretation because you do not have perfect knowledge, and thus to really know something requires God-like knowledge.

But intuitively, you and I know that’s wrong, because no one has perfect knowledge about anything – only our Creator does. And we don’t need perfect knowledge to know that David is claiming that there was true human life in the womb (Psalm 139:13, 14). 

Nor do we need perfect knowledge to understand what the Apostle Paul was saying about sexuality (Though progressive Christians allege Paul was only talking about same-sex relations outside of “gay marriage”, or that he was only speaking against pederasty, it’s telling that non-Christian Greek scholars don’t agree. Such scholars will likely say they have no personal opposition to an LGBTQ+ lifestyle, but still they know from Paul’s writings that he thought differently. See Romans 1:26, 27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Who’s your mama?

So… next time you hear “That’s just your interpretation!” from someone, suggest that their mother might be a Russian spy. 

Of course, they will laugh and say, “Are you kidding?” 

To which you should reply, “Well, she might be. For instance, do you know what she is doing every morning at 3 a.m.? That’s when she’s probably getting her communiques.” 

An honest response will be along these lines: “No way, I know my mom – and though I tend to be sleeping at 3 a.m., I know she’s a tried and true American, a lover of our country. She’s certainly no spy for Putin!”

In other words, they admittedly do not have perfect knowledge about Mom, but still, they know your interpretation about her…is wrong. 


Postmodernism thinking dominates much of our life in the West, and many are tempted to subconsciously believe they can’t know anything with certainty. But believers should know differently, and we need to articulate this if we are to serve the Lord Jesus well. For He is the One who prayed…

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3 (ESV)

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Posted by on July 5, 2022 in Apologetics, The Bible


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The Important Question Esther Answers

We live in a culture where unbelief seems to be on the rise, and I was interested to read recently of one reason someone rejected the faith. Bryan Gregory relates the story in his book, Inconspicuous Providence, The Gospel According to Esther – it’s the account of a roundtable discussion of four scholars in The Journal of Biblical Archeology Review:

“Of the four participants, two had kept their faith and two had lost their faith. In their discussion, one of the scholars who lost his faith put it rather bluntly: ‘I think that faith has to have substance. But once you start putting some substance onto that, you get into trouble. Faith in the Judeo-Christian tradition has a God who intervenes. That’s what the Exodus event is, that’s what the crucifixion is: it’s a God who intervenes, and when I look around this world, I don’t see a God who intervenes.’”Inconspicuous Providence, The Gospel According to Esther, by Bryan Gregory

If God is really there, then shouldn’t we see him work? I’m not seeing anything, the man is saying, and therefore the conclusion is obvious: He isn’t really there.

Looking for God in All the Wrong Places

The scholar, I discovered in the footnotes, was Bart Ehrman, a self-proclaimed one-time follower of Christ who now writes a book every other year or so to debunk the Bible and thus, among other things, show people that God isn’t really there. And while the process that Ehrman went through to throw in the faith towel was surely more complicated than the quote above, I’m still left wondering if he gave much consideration…to Esther, the Old Testament book which Edgewood will begin studying this weekend.

Esther, if you didn’t know, is one of two books in the Bible that fascinatingly, never mentions God. (The other is Song of Songs)

And, as Gregory writes, 

“The vast majority of people today will see their own experience in Esther, much more than in many other books of the Bible…Most people today live in a world that looks a lot like Esther’s, where events and situations show no obvious or blatant action of God in the midst of them…Events do seem to be driven by historically explainable forces of politics, economics, psychology, and sociology. Life does seem to be governed by human choices and natural processes. By most people’s accounting, that is simply how the world works, and because it is, it is also easy to understand how many Christians end up being more or less functional deists….

“Where is God in all of this? Why does it seem as if he is absent? If he is real and present, then why is he so inconspicuous? When life becomes unbearable, when evil is advancing, when suffering becomes intolerable, why doesn’t he intervene in noticeable and obvious ways?”The Gospel According to Esther by Bryan Gregory.

It Just So Happened…

Why indeed…is God so inconspicuous? The answer in Esther is beautifully subtle, because as Gregory points out, when we walk through the pages of this delightful story (it’s a narrative masterpiece), we encounter a host of events where we are left saying with delightful surprise…“it just so happened”. 

For instance, the misogynistic king deposes his first wife Vashti for not parading herself around at his bequest, and it “just so happens” that the lovely Jew Esther is chosen in her place. Later, her godly cousin Mordecai “just so happens” to overhear a plot against the king. And perhaps in the most famous “coincidence”, one night the king can’t sleep and it “just so happens” that he asks for “the book of memorable deeds” which reminds him of what Mordecai had done in foiling a plot against him. The point is that Esther’s story is full of such “coincidences”, and all these events drive the plot forward until Esther’s mediation before the king ultimately leads to the salvation of God’s people.

If that concluding storyline above sounds familiar…it should, and now that we’ve recognized some familiarity, all the “it just so happened”s of this book, well…let’s just say that they sound familiar too. 

And reading and studying this great Old Testament story, I’m reminded that I’ve got quite a few of those “it just so happened”s in my life too. And if you look with the eyes of faith, maybe you’ll find that you do too.

“(You) could’ve come like a mighty storm

with all the strength of a hurricane

You could’ve come like a forest fire

with the power of heaven in your flame

But you came like a winter snow

quiet and soft and slow

Falling from the sky in the night

to the earth below.”

-Winter Snow, by Chris Tomlin, as performed by Audrey Assad

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Posted by on March 3, 2022 in Bible


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Homecoming for Ken

Ken Fenske

Shortly before Christmas of 1991, I asked him the single most important question I would ever ask anybody: “Will you give me the hand of your daughter in marriage?”

Thankfully, Ken said…yes, he would. And so, with his blessing, I got down on one knee before Diane Therese Fenske on Christmas Eve. (She said yes, too.)

Diane’s dad, Ken Fenske, went home to heaven on Friday of last week.

He was one of the kindest and gentlest men I have ever come to know.  Others-centered, positive, affable…and most importantly, a believer in Jesus. Diane, her mom and her sister Laurie spent a good deal of time writing a most thoughtful obituary. Read it here. And I’ll have more to say on Saturday.

Diane, the Fisher of Men

But one of the things that struck me as Ken was dying…was in fact about Diane. She was the first in her family to come to know Jesus, and eventually the entire Fenske clan (Dad; mom – Barb; sister – Laurie; and brother – Greg) would be Christ-followers.

The story goes that Diane invited her dad to an “Evidence that demands a verdict” conference with Josh McDowell not long after she herself had become a Christian. Ken had always been interested in spiritual things, but had never understood true Christianity. He accepted the invitation to the conference…and there said yes to the free gift of salvation offered in the gospel. Ken was never the same. Because that’s what Jesus does.

Sabbatical update

And by the way, if you’ve seen me around town or in church, in the good providence of God, our sabbatical in Florida turned into Sabbatical, part 1, and after two weeks here in the deep freeze, Sabbatical part 2 begins this coming Sunday as we head south again. The first three weeks were wonderful, FYI, filled with three B’s I love: books, bikes and beaches. But part 1 was missing the D I love even more – Diane, and I’m VERY GLAD she will be coming along for the last 8 weeks!

In all that is happening, we appreciate your prayers. But we have a hope that those outside of Christ can only dream of (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We will see our beloved Ken again.

I’m so thankful he said yes.


Posted by on February 10, 2021 in Uncategorized


20 Quotes from Prayer Changes Things

I love good quotes about prayer. They motivate me, and I’ve put different ones on my prayer lists through the years to help me pray. Last time I put my favorite quotes from a recent book on prayer, Enjoy Your Prayer Life, and I promised I would follow up with a list from another short book on prayer I recently read in quarantine, Prayer Changes Things: Curing Timid Piety. So here goes – feel free to leave a comment below with your favorite. At the end I share my favorite from the last list…and this one. Enjoy!

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On Petitionary Prayer

“Almost all prayer in the Bible is petitionary. By that I mean: in prayer, we ask God to do things in the earth. More importantly, we ask God to change things. Prayer actually is asking God to change the status quo. Things are a certain way — our hearts are cold, or a relative has cancer, or we lack money for our bills, or our children are drifting from the Lord, or we need direction for a decision, whatever — and we ask God to change the way things are…When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told him to utter petitions.”

On Godly Dissatisfaction

“Godly dissatisfaction is when things are out of kilter, displeasing or harming us or impeding the gospel or the kingdom of God, and we ask God to change them. There’s nothing illegitimate about that kind of dissatisfaction. We need more of it, in fact.”

“If we are perfectly willing always to accept the way things are as God’s unchangeable will, we will never be great people of prayer.”

Prayer Changes Things

“Prayer changes people. I don’t mean by that that if we pray, the act of prayer will change us. Of course, that’s true. When we pour out our hearts to God, we get much closer to him, by the very nature of prayer itself. Our minds and hearts are riveted to spiritual things. We gradually lose our worldliness. God changes people who pray. I mean something else. I mean that we should pray for God to change people, and he will change them. Just as God raised this child in answer to Elijah’s prayer, so he can and will raise sinners to eternal life because of our prayer.”

“God says he’s going to do something, and then people pour out their hearts before God, and then he changes his mind. This happens again and again in the Bible, so many times, in fact, that we might want to say that it’s in God’s nature to change his mind when his people, and even sincere, humble sinners, pour out their souls to him. God delights to make himself open to change in the face of the heartfelt prayer.” (If this quote makes you nervous, good, but in the book he refutes the heresy of process theology.)

“God’s stated purposes can be changed if we pour out our hearts in prayer. This is another way of saying that God has made himself vulnerable and susceptible to man’s pleading. Therefore, when something bad has happened, or when someone has committed some terrible sin, don’t just sit and wait for God’s judgment. Get on your knees and beg God to avert his judgment and to lead them to repentance.”

Prayer is Fundamental, Not Supplemental

“Prayer is a basic but powerful part of Christian living. The Bible doesn’t envision that we can live as a Christian without living a life of prayer. The church that does not major on prayer is not acting as a Christian church. The church not routinely getting prayers answered is not a normal Christian church. If you don’t believe this, I simply ask you to read the book of Acts. The primitive church prayed, and that church routinely got answers to prayer. In short: if we’re not praying, and we’re not getting  answers to prayer, there’s something terribly wrong.”

God’s “Vulnerability” to Our Prayers

“God is vulnerable to our appeals to demonstrate his great power and vindicate his great honor in the earth because he desires to be praised and is worthy to be praised.”

“When we pray, let us pray bold, daring prayers, because those prayers honor God. Paltry, unbelieving prayers do not honor God, and it’s therefore no wonder our age is marked by defeat, apostasy, and depravity.”

Praying with a Routine

“The same Spirit who leads prophets to speak spontaneously leads them to spend time in prayer every day at the same time, and in the same way. Godly habits and customs aren’t somehow less spiritual than godly spontaneity.”

“Make a prayer list. There’s nothing whatsoever sub-spiritual about a written prayer list. Unless your memory is superhuman, there’s no way you can remember everyone and everything you need to pray for. It might not be necessary to pray through the entire list every day, but you probably need a list. In fact, if you can remember every person and everything you want to pray for every day, I suspect your prayer life is quite paltry. Your memory is not good enough to recall everyone and everything you need to pray for.”

“Daniel had learned to pray (v. 10c). It was his custom. We’ll never be people of prayer until prayer becomes a custom and habit. If we wait to pray until the exigencies of the moment, we’ll never be people of prayer.”

Pray for Yourself!

“One of the great errors of false prayer piety is the notion that it’s self-centered to cry out to God to help us and give us good things. This idea is both perverse and counterproductive.”

On Persevering Prayer

“If you are praying, and praying for a long time, and your prayers aren’t answered, don’t stop praying. Don’t assume that your prayer isn’t in God’s will. Only rarely in the Bible does God reveal that the prayer of a godly person is not in his will (Jas. 5:16)…persevering prayer is an indispensable component of the Christian worldview.”

“We say too soon, “Thy will be done”; and too ready acceptance of a situation as His will often means feebleness or sloth. It may be His will that we surmount His will. It may be His higher will that we resist His lower…Prayer with us has largely ceased to be wrestling. But is that not the dominant scriptural idea?” (quoted from P.T. Forsyth, The Soul of Prayer)

“If we do not receive…answers, we should persevere in prayer, and we should not warp the Bible to conform to our paltry experiences but ask whether we have not met the conditions God lays down for answering prayer.”

Replacing Prayer with Other Activity?

“(Our 18th and 19th century forebears) prayed frequently and fervently. We pray infrequently and languidly. They called prayer meetings. We call staff meetings. They had revival and reformation. We have apathy and apostasy. A leading reason for these distinctions is that they were inclined to believe what God said about prayer. We are often less confident in God’s word when it comes to his promises about prayer. A blunter way to say this is: we commit the sin of unbelief.”

Praying in Faith

“The default assumption of Christians is that God will answer their prayers. To shy away from this truth is to bear an evil heart of unbelief (Heb. 3:12).”

“This confidence of obtaining what we ask, a confidence which the Lord commands, and all the saints teach by their example, we must therefore hold fast with both hands, if we would pray to any advantage.” (quoted from John Calvin, Institutes)

“We do not really believe the Bible if we do not believe God’s promises to answer prayer.”

– Sandlin, P. Andrew. Prayer Changes Things : Curing Timid Piety . Center for Cultural Leadership. Kindle Edition.

Now, share your favorite below! From the last article, I copied the following quote to have on my quarantine desk: “The Son gives us his name to pray in so that we pray as him.”

From this list, there are a lot of great ones, but here’s one I especially appreciate: “Make a prayer list…Your memory is not good enough to recall everyone and everything you need to pray for.”

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Posted by on April 24, 2020 in Uncategorized


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14 Quotes from Enjoy Your Prayer Life

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I think Christians need to read a book on prayer (or listen to a sermon on prayer) regularly. At least I feel this need – otherwise, it’s easy for me to turn to self-sufficiency, otherwise known as foolishness. And lately, I’ve been encouraged in my prayer life by two short books on prayer, both recommended to me by fellow pastors (Thanks, Matt Hoaglund and Forsell Gappa!) Today I offer 14 quotes for your encouragement from the first of these recommendations, this one from Matt – Enjoy Your Prayer Life, by Michael Reeves, also the author of an absolutely delightful and easy to understand (believe it or not) book on the Trinity. So here goes – feel free to count this as your regular encouragement – and pray!

Prayerlessness always goes hand in hand with a lack of Christian integrity. This is even more so for Christian leaders – to put it bluntly, if they are not enjoying communion with God, then they are selling a product they don’t really believe in.

So what is prayer? It’s never been put better than by John Calvin, who in his excellent little chapter on prayer in the Institutes calls prayer ‘the chief exercise of faith’. In other words, prayer is the primary way true faith expresses itself. This also means that prayerlessness is practical atheism, demonstrating a lack of belief in God.

Your prayer life reveals how much you really want communion with God and how much you really depend on him. I stress it absolutely does not tell you about your security as an unrejectable child of God, but it does tell you, very accurately, how much of a baby you are spiritually, how much of a hypocrite you are, and how much you actually love the Lord.

Naturally we’re rubbish at prayer because we’re sinners. Yet the solution – what will give us the true life of real communion with God – is the gospel of Christ that awakens faith.

…in Luke’s account…the friend doesn’t immediately answer and give the bread, for we are to understand that our heavenly Father and Friend wants us to persevere in our prayers. Of course, God could give to us and bless us without our asking – and how he regularly does that in his grace! But the God of fellowship wants fellowship with us. He wants us to argue his promises and his character with him, for then who he is becomes an ever more conscious reality for us.

You therefore see repeatedly in the Old Testament that when Israel no longer called out to him, he wouldn’t help them. For he wants us to know that blessing comes only from him. Blessing is not natural, and ultimately it can be found nowhere else.

John Calvin said that we pray, as it were, through Jesus’ mouth. The Father has always longed to hear the prayers of his dear Son – and we pray in his name. The Son gives us his name to pray in so that we pray as him.

When you default to thinking of prayer as an abstract activity, a ‘thing to do’, the tendency is to focus on the prayer as an activity – which makes it boring. Instead, focus on the one to whom you’re praying. Reminding yourself who you are coming before is a great help against distraction, and changes the prayer.

If God was a single, independent person, independence would be the godly thing. That would be how to be like him. But as the Son always depends on the Father, that is the nature of Christian godliness. Being a Christian is first and foremost all about receiving, asking and depending. It’s when you don’t feel needy (and so when you don’t pray much) that you lose your grip on reality and think or act in an unchristian manner. In fact, as you grow as a Christian, you should feel not more self-sufficient but ever more needy. If you don’t, I’m not sure you’re growing spiritually.

Prayer, then, is enjoying the care of a powerful Father, instead of being left to a frightening loneliness where everything is all down to you. Prayer is the antithesis of self-dependence.

Instead of chasing the idol of our own productivity, let’s be dependent children – and let the busyness that could keep us from prayer drive us to prayer. Only then – like the Son – can we actually be fruitful.

True intimacy is an acquired thing, something that develops – but it only develops with honesty. So if your prayer life is a bit ropey, I suggest starting again by stammering like a child to a Father. Cry for help. Don’t try to be impressive.

The prayer meeting is such a battle of flesh against Spirit: will you bludgeon your brothers and sisters with your impressive prayers and actually ignore God, or will you truly go to your Father and seek blessing for them? It can be a formality, a chance to compete with each other – or it can wonderfully foster unity.

Do you feel you don’t have the time? That’s revealing of self-dependence, probably. Do you not see the Father as one you actually want to spend time with? That’s revealing, and you’ll need a new sight of the glory of Christ to re-awaken faith. Might it be that, deep down, you struggle to believe this truly is the Lord’s world? Prayerlessness often indicates that mindset.

Lastly – why don’t you share a comment below of your favorite of these quotes? I took a portion of one of these above and wrote it out on a notecard so I can see it on my desk. Tell me your favorite, and when I publish the next set of quotes from the other book…I’ll tell you mine!






Posted by on April 15, 2020 in Uncategorized


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The Immense Importance of Talking to Yourself During these Coronavirus Days

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Walking through these days of Covid-19, we are wise to follow the example of David in Psalm 116:7. He wrote…

Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. (ESV)

In this beautiful moment recorded for all history, the shepherd-King David…is talking to himself. And his message to himself (his soul) is powerful: “God has dealt bountifully with you, soul, in the past, and so you can rest now. You need not be anxious now, soul! Look at God’s record of faithfulness to you. He has taken care of you in the past, and he will do so in the future.”

This verse alone is worthy of our meditation – it’s one I’ve got in my memory verse pack – trying to get it deep into my heart. I hope you will do the same.

But my point here today is broader than the hopeful truth in Psalm 116:7. We often struggle in life because we are our own worst enemy – we don’t talk to ourselves, instead we let “ourselves” talk to us.

It wasn’t just David who practiced the spiritual discipline of talking to himself – the Sons of Korah did as well:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:5, 6 (ESV)

In one of the greatest Christian books ever written (that’s a recommendation if you didn’t notice), Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd Jones wrote this applying the truth in Psalm 42…

“I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us! Do you realize what that means? I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you.”

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures (pp. 20-21). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

I have told the story a few times, but briefly, it was years ago in college that I struggled greatly with anxiety and obsessive thoughts. And it was this biblical truth of talking to myself which God used to transform me.

Many of us are struggling with fear and anxiety in these days. We have the promises of God. We have reason for great hope. Let’s begin to remind ourselves of God’s faithful provision in times past. Let’s begin to talk to ourselves instead of letting ourselves talk to us.

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Posted by on March 19, 2020 in Uncategorized


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Pastoral Prayer During the Pandemic

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I led the pastoral prayer this past weekend at Edgewood, and I have included it below for those who might be inclined to use it once or twice for personal prayer during these challenging times.

There are so many things to pray for these days. Yes, safety and health…of course. But in these unique days, many people are asking about eternity. That makes it a significant time for Kingdom work…and so we plead, “Hallowed be Thy name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…”

Of late, I am enjoying a book of prayers in my own devotional life: Piercing Heaven, Prayers of the Puritans, edited by Robert Elmer. I find it helpful to read (and pray!) the prayers of others from the past. They help me to think outside of the box in my own praying, which if I’m not careful, can fall into ruts. You’ll note that the prayer below is itself based on that particular famous prayer taught by Jesus, along with various verses from around Scripture. Here’s to rut-free praying…

Our Father in heaven, we praise You today as the Sovereign God, Who rules in majesty and glory. You are the One to Whom Job finally said, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?” So we too are of small account, and yet in our smallness, you have adopted us as your children. Oh, glory to your name! We worship You for your might – As Jeremiah said, “Ah Lord God, behold thou hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for thee.” And in Your might, You have worked a great salvation. We confess that You are mighty to save. And You have not only saved us, You have delighted in us, You have quieted us with Your love. You rejoice over us with loud singing. And so…we worship You.

And as we worship, we pray that others would worship You as well, so that Your name would be honored. The recent events in our world are causing billions of people to wonder at who or what they have been worshiping. Oh Lord, in Your wisdom, You have allowed this pandemic, and now, we pray that You would use it to bring multitudes to their knees in worship of You, the One True God. Use this pandemic to stem the rising tide in our culture of secularism and unbelief and apostasy. Many of us have for years been praying that loved ones would turn to you…would trust in You. O God, please, please, use these recent events to that end. Bring the prodigals home.

And cause us to do Your will. Cause us to speak Your Gospel word. Do not let us, Your chosen people, squander this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Good news. Make us wise…and yet in our wisdom make us bold and daring. Your word tells us to be ready to give an answer to those who ask the reason for our hope. So first, Father, fill us with hope…where there is fear among us, push it out by the power of Your Spirit, and would You, the God of Hope, fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of Your Holy Spirit, we would abound in hope. More hope, Father! Where there are those among us struggling with assurance of their salvation, fill them with an assurance from Your Holy Spirit, Father. Spirit, bear witness with their spirit that they are your children. Fill Edgewood Community church with hope so those around us will look to You!

Give us this day our daily bread. We ask of course, for health and protection during this crisis, and we ask in particular for protection for those most vulnerable among us. We ask for your protection of the seniors who call Edgewood home, and for the seniors not a part of our church but who are dearly loved by the people of our church. O God, protect. Keep safe those in our body with compromised immune systems. You have said, “You do not have, because you do not ask”…well, we’re asking. We’re asking. Protect the people of our church, Heavenly Father, and do it so that we can continue to serve and honor you with our lives.

And forgive us our sins. We confess that we are a sinful people. Born in iniquity. Conceived in sin. Purge us with hyssop and we will be clean. Wash us and we will be whiter than snow. Let us hear joy and gladness again. Let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Blot out all our iniquities and create in us, clean hearts…then we will teach transgressors your way, and sinners will return to you.

And lead us not into temptation, but lead us into holiness…and God, protect us from the evil one. He has plans…Thwart them. He has schemes…Frustrate them. Counter them. And protect us from him and his minions.

For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen.


Posted by on March 16, 2020 in Uncategorized


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How to Know You are Going to Heaven

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These are unprecedented times. The deadly virus, COVID-19, is sweeping the globe, leading many to wonder (and fear) where they will spend eternity. Now, thankfully, the percentages of those who get the virus and subsequently die are very low, but even a low probability of death “concentrates (the) mind wonderfully” (Samuel Johnson). Jesus used the examples of natural disasters and brutal killings to teach his disciples to prepare for the inevitable (Luke 13:1-5). Do you know with certainty where you will be after you die? The Bible says you can know.

Life After Death?

To be sure, some people say that when you die, you are just gone. “My candle will go out. Poof. I won’t know it…and therefore it won’t bother me. I’ll just become fertilizer for some future tree. No problem.” But most of us know that such bluster doesn’t pass the smell test – the idea of being separated from everything and everyone you have ever loved is horribly frightening, to say the least. Yet the idea is more than just unpalatable – Christianity says that it is wrong…for one reason: Jesus himself died and came back to life. This was the Apostle Paul’s testimony:

…he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:5 – 8* 

The argument is sweet and simple: if Jesus is alive, then there truly is life after death. Listen to Eugene Peterson’s delightful translation of 1 Corinthians 15:19, 20…If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.

But…How to Know?

Jesus left his cemetery, and Scripture assures us that Christians will one day leave theirs…temporary residents only. Life after death is not pie in the sky, but real. But how can you know that you are truly a Christian?

Well, first, the Bible says we have a problem that must be dealt with called sin. But many people misunderstand sin. Francis Spufford helpfully calls it “the human propensity to (mess) things up.” He writes:

“…what we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident…It’s our active inclination to break stuff…promises, relationships we care about, and our own well-being and other people’s…we are truly cruel as well as truly tender, truly loving and at the same time truly likely to take a quick nasty little pleasure in wasting or breaking love,”– Spufford, Francis. Unapologetic, HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

And when we break things, when we screw up relationships and hurt those we love the most with our creative unkindness, those of us who are honest know we have a problem in our hearts, a darkness deep within, and that somehow or another, we should pay for what we’ve done.

We are right. And what Scripture teaches is that though Jesus Christ himself never sinned, when he died on the cross, he died in our place, taking the punishment for our sins. The Apostle Paul writes: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. Christ died for our sins – that’s the key phrase…and the heart of Christianity. In contrast, most people think Christianity is about trying to be a good person. But how wrong they are!

No One is Good Enough to Go to Heaven

Scripture, after all, tells us that no one is a “good person”: None is righteous, no, not one. No one understands. No one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless. No one does good, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10-12, 23)

With this in mind, listen closely: it is the idea that you can be good enough to go to heaven that you must firmly reject. Even many religious people never understand this, and thus never become true Christians.

Therefore, you must come to see that it is your sin which keeps you from God, and that no amount of goodness on your part will ever be enough to earn God’s favor. (Ephesians 2:8, 9; Titus 3:5) The idea that you can be good enough to go to heaven, either by going to church or by participating in the sacraments, or by giving to charity, or by being kind to those who are unkind, or simply by being a “nice” person…that idea is pride, and is itself a sin. And Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.” (Matthew 23:12)

Confess Your Sins…and Be Once and Forever Totally Cleansed

So what do you do? Well, to go to heaven you must be forgiven, totally cleansed from all unrighteousness, all pride and unkindness, and everything other dark blot. As Jesus put it, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Admittedly, that sounds impossible, but as Jesus said, “With God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

John explains how it is possible: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

The Apostle is not here arguing for a confession after every sin in your life, though there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Instead, here John is talking about a great one-time confession which will make you a true Christian once and forever.

Literally, confession means to agree. So…to become a true Christian, to be cleansed from all unrighteousness, first, tell God that you agree with Him, that you realize that you can never be good enough to spend eternity in his presence.

Then, tell God that you are sorry for all your sin. Agree with Him that you are a sinner, and tell Him that you desire to turn away from your sin in repentance, receiving Jesus as the Savior who has died in your place and rose again having defeated death forever.

What if I Sin Again?

You will indeed struggle against sin until you die. But once you have the Holy Spirit, you are a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), and you will find yourself with a new love for God and thus a desire to obey Him. You will now find yourself wanting to go to church to be with God’s people (Hebrews 10:24, 25), desiring to give to charity (Proverbs 11:25), working to love your enemies (Luke 6:27). But here’s the key, you will do these things because you have been forgiven, not in order to be forgiven. And many times, like me and every other Christian, you will come up short; you will be tempted and fall into sin. And yet because you have been made a new creature, you won’t slip in and out of salvation. You are His…forever.

And now, come what may, COVID-19, or anything else, you will know! YOU WILL KNOW! For…as the Apostle John says,

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:11-13


*Scripture references are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.






Posted by on March 14, 2020 in Uncategorized

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