Have you ever thought about how much you learn from your mother? The lessons are endless, and if you were blessed to have a godly mother, the lessons could be of eternal significance. For my children, I believe they have the best mother they could have ever asked for. I know that I am partial since their mom happens to also be my wife. I love her for so many reasons, but one of the reasons that has found its way to the top of my list is that she is a theologian, and a good one at that. She doesn’t hold the patent on this. Her mother, my mother, and many other godly mothers could have this said of them as well. Every mother is a theologian. The question is, “are you a good one?” My wife, like many other moms who are seeking to please the Lord and help lead their children to the Lord, doesn’t get it right every time. The Lord still has a Niagara Falls-like reservoir of grace, even when she gets it wrong. However, here are a few ways where my wife hits the mark.    

A Theologian in the Mundane:

​My wife is at home with our 4 rowdy kids most all of the day. She has to clean up water bottle spills, PB&J crumbs, and be a nurse when they fall off their bikes and scrape up their knees. This is just normal everyday life for a mom. However, she tries to never pass up an opportunity to interject the gospel when possible during the day in and day out routine of life. Sometimes, she doesn’t realize that I am just around the corner listening to her. I once heard her explaining the importance of a wise choice to my son, based on the Proverbs comparison of the wise and foolish man, after he had done something foolish for the 5th time in an hour. Deuteronomy 6 says, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” This is taking the opportunity to be a theologian, even in the mundane things of life.          

 A Theologian in Her Teaching:

​Not everyone has the opportunity to homeschool their kids. We are blessed with the ability to do so. One of the blessings of doing this is being able to have control over what you teach. Each morning we try to open our day with breakfast as a family, and a quick time of family worship. After I rush off to the office, they start their school day. Subject one is almost always the reading of the Proverbs. She will read a chapter from Proverbs, and the children will listen and color a coloring sheet that corresponds to the chapter. My children love it. What they don’t realize is that they are getting a steady diet of God’s Word while they enjoy coloring their sheet of paper. It is amazing to hear them talk about a verse in the Proverbs that stood out to them. Often my sons like the ones like Proverbs 30:17, “The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures.” That usually lends access to a fun conversation, but when they have eyes that are filled with anger they have often reminded us of this proverb. Why do they know this proverb, and other scripture? It’s because their mother is a theologian in her teaching.

A Theologian in Her Prayers:

If you have children, you know prayer is something that should be done often. How else do you expect to get through the 10th fight of the day over the same toy, or that crayon that was “accidently” drawn all over your new freshly painted wall? Parenting is not easy, but it is a blessing and a work of sanctification. One of the ways our children learn to pray is by example. Hearing the gospel in our prayers is a wonderful way to lead our children to know the gospel. However, it is not just the words that they hear; they also hear the heart behind it. Good theology is of little use if it is only of the mind and is not fleshed out in the heart and life of a person. My children not only hear scripture when their mother prays, but they see it portrayed as well. Often when they have had to be disciplined for something, she will stop and pray with them in a kind and loving way. This shows them that not only does she know about God, but her love for God is shown to them and is heard in her general prayers and petitions for them. She is a theologian in her prayers, and they hear it.      

A Theologian in Her Love:

​Good theology is best shown by the love it exhibits. Does having a proper understanding of grace help you to forgive quickly? Does it allow you to discipline your children when they have done wrong, but yet be followed by a long hug and kiss on the cheek? Does your doctrinal stance on the fall help you to love your unsaved children by pointing them to the gospel instead of just saying “oh, they are just kids, you know”? Does your knowledge of God being our father who loves to give great gifts to his children afford you the opportunity to get on the floor and play with your kids instead of folding that 5th load of laundry because your children just want some attention from you? A good theologian knows that the greatest commandment in scripture is to “love the Lord your God . . . and your neighbor as yourself.” Can you get a closer neighbor than your own child? I have seen it time and time again. My wife is tired, worn out, and still has house work to do, yet takes time to love on the kids. Love . . . that is good theology.

My wife is not perfect. She is born into sin like the rest of us. She struggles with fleshly desires and frustrations just like all other Christians. I do not wish to paint a fanciful picture of our home or my wife that is untrue. She has not “arrived” yet as a mother. She would tell you the same with much humility. However, there is no one else on the planet that I would rather have to be the mother to my kids. I never have to fear if she is leading them astray with some errant wind of doctrine. I know she is striving to live out her faith in the mundane, in the education of our children, in her prayers, and just in her general love for our young ones. It is evident in her walk as I watch as an on-looker. I am blessed, as are my children. If you are a mother, please remember that you are a theologian as well. I pray that you will take this aspect of your job seriously. After all, your children need good theology too. So, don’t just show them the love of God, teach it to them with words and actions as well. “. . . Teach them diligently to your children, . . . when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up . . .”

 Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell          

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have been a part of a church for any length of time, then it is likely true that you have had to endure a song or two for which you didn’t care.  Sometimes these “bad songs” have more to do with style than substance, wording, or simple preference.  If you are a theology lover like me, it often has to do with some small nuance of doctrine rather than drum-beats or some skinny-jean wearing guy firing off some minute-long guitar solo.  The question is, when these songs are inevitably sung at your church or a conference, how are you going to react?  What should your response be?  Many people simply sit down, or even cross their arms with their apparent displeasure.  I have even seen some that simply stand with a sour look on their face.  As Christians however, how should we respond?  If everyone else is standing as a corporate body and singing, how should we respond so as to not draw attention to ourselves, and allow the Lord to still be worshiped by those around us?  How can you still worship, but yet not be coerced into worthless worship because your heart is not right?  Here are a few ideas to consider.

Pray About Your Attitude:

You see in the bulletin that song that you just hate to sing…  Your soul groans. You are thinking to yourself, “I think I am going to need to go to the bathroom about that time during the service.” You simply have a bad disposition about it before it ever starts. Sadly, I must admit that I have been there, and I didn’t mind showing my displeasure. It was written all over my face when the song was sung. However, I finally came to the point when I realized that singing to God should have a lot more to do with Him than my personal desires. I was coming into the service wanting to feel God and feel the music, instead of having Him be the object of my praise; the object of my worship.  I needed an attitude (and a heart) change. When I finally came to this point, it made worshiping God through a song that was not my preference a lot easier. He was the one that I needed to be aiming to please, not myself. So, this is the first place we need to look when that song is going to be sung. We need to check our attitudes. Check and make sure that your heart is right before you seek to cast stones at the music minister or praise team leader.

Find the Biblical Truth in the Song:

            We all have desires and preferences in our musical choices. I love songs with rich and theologically sound words.  However, I work with students and go to a lot of youth conferences.  There, one is more likely to find a loud and more contemporary style of music. At times there is less of an emphasis on biblical orthodoxy in the words and more emphasis on the quality of the music.  Not everyone enjoys the same style of music.  Nevertheless, we need to always look for the biblical truth in the songs that we sing (John 4:24).  Biblical truth is what separates Christian music from every other type of music in the world.  It is part of the formula of true praise or worship. Ultimately, the words must be right and our hearts as well, for our song to be acceptable to the Lord.  While the song might be light (or very heavy) on biblical truth, as long as it is biblical truth, you can still sing.  Even if you don’t like the beat of the drum or the sound of the organ, if the words are right, then put aside your preference and sing not just unto the Lord but also for the benefit of those standing next to you as well (Colossians 3:16).

Change The Words:

            Every once in a while you run across a great song that might have a single line with some troubling lyric. This is common, not just in new songs but some of the old great hymns as well.  This doesn’t mean that you cannot sing the song.  When I have been at a conference or a church and one of these songs are sung, I simply either stop singing during that particular line or I make up a new line that fits the song better and then sing it. We must remember that all Christian songs (unless they are a Psalm from scripture) are man-made and not inspired by God in the same way scripture was inspired (I Timothy 3:16).  There is nothing wrong with changing a word or two.  But you might not choose to belt it out at the top of your lungs. That might be distracting to the person next to you, and that might end up doing more harm than good.  Changing the words so as to make much of Jesus is not wrong, in fact, it is right.

Pray Instead of Singing:

            If an attitude change has not helped, the words that are being sung cannot be found in scripture, and there is no hope to change the words, a final option is to simply stand and pray.  Paul said that we should “pray without ceasing.” If you just cannot sing a song that the church is singing, then another appropriate way to speak to the Lord is through prayer. This allows you to participate with the church body in standing and joining your heart to the Lord, but simply through a different medium. It causes no distraction and it allows you to give glory to God through your personal words instead of someone else’s. I have done this on several occasions and have found it to be very helpful in preparing me to hear from God though the preaching of the Word. It allowed me not to be frustrated over a song choice, but also not to compromise my personal conviction or preferences.

Singing unto the Lord has both a horizontal and a vertical element to it (Colossians 3:16).  It is for the benefit of others, ourselves, and the Lord as well. As you grow as a Christian, you will find that we should want to be with the corporate body and sing songs of praise, adoration, and worship to the Lord. As you do this more, you are bound to run across a song or two that just doesn’t fit in to the “psalms, hymns, spiritual songs being sung in spirit and the truth” model.  When you do, I hope you will think about these things that I have mentioned. We don’t want singing to be about us. We never want to draw attention to ourselves instead of God, and if we sit, cross our arms, and sulk, that is exactly what we are doing. We should always seek unity when possible. My encouragement to you (from a person who has had to learn this) is when you run across one of these songs, check your attitude, and then sing. Look for the words that glorify God, and then sing. Change the words if need be, and then sing. If you exhaust these options, then stand with your brother and sister in Christ and give glory to Him through your prayers.  Join with your fellow brother and give Jesus the honor and praise that He deserves.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

Most of my life I have attended and ministered in churches that were associated with the Southern Baptist denomination.  I have always enjoyed our missionary zeal, the doctrinal clarity in our confession, and the autonomy for individual churches.  Growing up there was a single phrase that most all good Southern Baptist knew.  The phrase was, “once saved, always saved.”  Plus, I could quote John 3:16.  That is all I needed to know on the subject right?  It wasn’t until I got into my early 20’s that the phrase itself became troubling to me.  To be clear, its intention is to promote the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, or eternal security.  To this I whole heatedly applaud and stand in agreement, but I have seen many a person claim “once saved, always saved” and yet live like the devil.  They believe that since they said a prayer, they are good with God.

One of the recurring questions that I get often in the ministry is “How can I be sure that I am saved?”  John Piper recently touched on this subject while preaching at “The Cross Conference” (which I would commend to you) and I was just recently asked this question again by a young lady who seems to exhibit every outward Christian quality you could hope for in a teenager.  It is a genuine question that many have asked and I believe to answer it all we need to do is to take a deep look…

Look to the Word:

The first place a person needs to look for this answer is God’s Word.  You may have been taught a doctrine when you were small, but all doctrines need to be tested by Scripture.  Does the Bible teach that a person can have eternal and everlasting life?  Does Scripture teach that a child of God can have eternal security?  I believe it most certainly does.  John 3:36 says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.” Later in John’s Gospel he writes, “ . . .  the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).  He even illustrates it in John 10 by saying, “and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”  Paul’s letters are filled with such great assurances as well.  We find them in, Ephesians 1:3-13, Ephesians 4:30, Philippians 1:6, and many more places.  However, my favorite is found in Romans 8 where Paul exclaims, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;  and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified . . . who can bring a charge against God’s elect?”  If God calls and God saves, then God also keeps.  To be glorified is something that will not happen until we get to heaven.  If a person who is saved is promised that he will be glorified one day, then it is a promise from God.  It is apparent when we look to the Word, that a true child of God can indeed have eternal life and a security in it by looking at God’s promises from Scripture.

Look to the Witness:

In the same chapter in Romans, Paul makes an astounding statement.  He says in Romans 8:16, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.”  Here we see that the Holy Spirit is our inner witness that we are one of God’s children.  There are two witnesses here, however.  First, the Holy Spirit bears witness that we are children of God, but secondly we also have a role in bearing witness as well, as verse 15 indicates.  We (our human spirits) cry out, “Abba, Father.”  Both we and the Holy Spirit are testifying to God the Father that we are His children. We can see the fruit of this in verse 26, which asserts that when we pray the “Holy Spirit intercedes for us.”  Only one that is a child of God can have the third person in the Trinity bear witness for them.  So, if you are ever struggling with this common question of assurance, one of the best ways to help find comfort is to ask the Comforter and Witness Bearer for help.

Look to the Work:

The third place we should look is at our work.  By this I mean both internally and externally.   Do you hate sin?  Do you repent of your sin when you sin?  Do you love to worship the Lord and to see Him glorified?  If these are true, then these are all signs of the Spirit’s work in you.  An unregenerate person cannot have these qualities (Romans 3:10-11).  Galatians 5 lays out what it looks like for us when Paul lists the fruit of the spirit.  Are these fruits bearing in your life?   These are all works of the Spirit in you.  One of the evidences that He is indeed at work in you is that it flows from the internal into your external life and work as well.  In I John he writes to the believers giving them a test for their assurance.  If these things are true of you as well, then the test of works should help you rest assured that you are a child of God.

1 John 1:5-7 (Walking in the Light)

1 John 1:8-10 (Confession of Sin)

1 John 2:3-4 (Obedience)

1 John 2:9-11 (Love for the Brethren)

1 John 2:15-17 (Hatred for the World)

1 John 2:24-25(Perseverance in Doctrine)

1 John 3:10 (Righteousness)

1 John 4:13 (Spirit’s Testimony)

We must keep in mind that even an unbeliever can live “well” by a legalistic list of rules.  Unbelievers can exhibit self control, longsuffering, and many other fruits.  If they are only external qualities and not internal then it could be easy to have a false sense of security as the Pharisees did.  However, when you have both the internal work (you heart is for God and the Kingdom) and it over flows into external change (Love for your brother, obedient living, transformed life) then this work is evidence of your salvation.

After looking at these three areas you should be able to do as Peter said in II Peter 1:10, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” There is nothing mystical about having assurance.  You don’t have to climb a mountain and camp for a week eating only fruit and drinking water while in a constant state of prayer like a monk.  God’s Word, God’s witness, and godly work are all evidences that you are a child of God.  There may be times in your life when you sin and you ask yourself “How could I really be a believer and continue in this sin?”  This is a good question to ask.  It may be that you never really have believed in the Lord.  It may be that you have outward signs of faith, but no inward witness.  If this is the case, then repent and believe.  The gospel is for you.  However, if you simply need a check because you have been seeing some sin creep up in your life, then I encourage you to repent and look at these three areas.  The Lord is not in the business of hiding Himself from His children.  He has given us the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Guide.  It would be my encouragement that if you seek assurance of your salvation, to seek these areas to help you rest assured that you are in Him, and that He is in you.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

I have been blessed to be in ministry for over 14 years. Most of those years have been working with teens and their parents. Over that amount of time, one of the themes that I have noticed is that many who grew up in the church have a very weak understanding of the gospel.  There are a range of reasons to why this is, but if we are going to take the Deuteronomy 6 mandate seriously to “teach them diligently. . .”, then maybe we need a better and more structured plan. As a parent, there is nothing that I want more than for my children to be counted as one of the redeemed and walk faithfully with Him. This is by no means a promise simply because my wife and I are saved. So, how can we help our kids to really get a grasp of the gospel message that we hope leads them to salvation? Below are 5 ways that, if done regularly, will almost guarantee your child will have a working knowledge of the Gospel.

The Gospel in Your Prayers:

When you pray with your children before bed, or whenever you pray with them, make sure that often you pray the gospel. While it may be cute to say the “now I lay me done to sleep” bedtime prayer, it may be more beneficial to say a more meaningful prayer. Let your children hear you plead with God for their souls. You could pray something like this, “Lord, I pray that you will let my children come to a place where they recognize their sin before you and their need for forgiveness for them. Let them seek forgiveness, dear God. Lord, open their hearts. Give them the faith to believe and call upon your name so that they can know how wonderful you are oh Lord.” Let them hear this kind of prayer regularly. While hearing it often, they will get the concept of God, man, sin, and Jesus. They will hear the gospel message that God is good, man has sinned, and Jesus is the only way to fix their problem. Let them hear the gospel in your prayers.

The Gospel in Your Family Worship:

I have written about family worship on several occasions, so I will not go into great detail about it now, but if (and hopefully when) you gather your family to worship together in your home, make sure you are pointing it all to Christ. Don’t just read Christian books and let that be your family worship. Christian book reading is good, but they do not always point to the gospel. Read the Bible, pray the Bible, sing the Bible together. Let the gospel be the center of it all. If you do not get to the gospel in your family worship time, then can you really call it worship? Make sure that every chapter you read is read and explained through the lens of Christ and Him being crucified. Give your children the gospel when you meet to worship.

The Gospel in Your Church of Choice:

A bible-believing, gospel-shaped, and gospel-sharing church is so essential. If all your kids ever get is a moral and therapeutic Sunday school lesson on how to slay their personal Goliaths in their lives, it is actually going to be counteracting the true gospel. They need to hear not that the story of David and Goliath is their fear of singing or fear of being in front of people, and that all they need to do is pick up some spiritual stone and say “No, I can do this.”  Instead, they need to hear that they are not David, but in reality the scared and unprepared Israelites who were helpless against the mighty Philistine. They need to hear that David in this story actually points to Christ as our substitute and King. He defeated Goliath (Satan, Sin, and Death) because we could not do it. That is the gospel. Children need to hear this message at church. They need to hear it preached. Thus, a Christ-centered church is near essential for them to get a good grasp of the gospel.

The Gospel in Your Daily Walk:

If your children always hear you talk about the gospel, but in turn see you worry, curse, and watch things on TV that are not appropriate, then the gospel may very well fall on deaf ears.  If you are not trying to live it out in front of them as if you truly believe it, in their eyes they may not see the Gospel’s power. Preacher Joel Beeke once said, “other than the Bible, you are the best or worst book your children will ever read.” Let them see you rejoice in the Lord.  But, let them see you ask for forgiveness when it is needed as well. Let them see the gospel not just on pages in a book, but in the life of their mom and dad as well.

The Gospel in Your Music:

Music is good. We have music going on at our house most of the day. Great music is a salve for the soul, while bad music can be damning to it. I love most any song that points to the gospel. What I love even more is to hear my children sing it. This is not because we have a family of musical protégés in our home. They do not even, or often, sing on key. However, what they miss in their pitch, they get in their minds. If you are going to listen to, and learn the lyrics of a song, it should be one with a good theology of the cross and the gospel. This is not to say you cannot listen to and sing “the wheels on the bus” or something else, but a good way to get the gospel into the minds and hearts of your children is by giving them a steady diet of Gospel songs.

In a day and age when our kids have a million things pulling at them and vying for their attention it would be easy to just let the gospel part of their lives be left up to the Sunday School hour. Over the last 14 years, I have seen where this mentality has gotten many in the church . . . and it was not a good place to be. If you are a Christian parent, and you want your children to know, understand, and love the gospel, make sure you are being diligent to give it to them as often as you can. While it will not guarantee them salvation, you can rest knowing that you have done all that you could to point them to the Gospel, and that is what God asks of us, as parents.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

Within the last few weeks there has been a new wave of social media videos that many people are talking about.  In a day and age when smart phones are more abundant than smart decisions it seems it is easy to take a video in hopes of trying to get your 15 minutes of fame.  Recently, these videos have turned from simply surprising someone on their birthday, to torturing a mentally handicap person or live-feeding your own suicide.  What often perpetuates these videos is the fact that even news stations pick up because of their popularity and show these horrific videos.  After this they are spread all over social media.  It is a horrible cycle.  One might think that Christians might be immune from such clickbait, but it seems that many Christians are watching these videos as well.  My questions are: to what end does it bring us as Christians?  Should we be entertained by such graphic scenes?  Should we willfully subject ourselves to watch one of our brothers in Christ have their head decapitated?  Should we be watching the latest high school fight video and laugh with glee when some kid is slammed to the ground whether they deserved it or not?  What should our response be to these videos?  I believe there are a few things to consider before you decide to click on that next graphic video.

Should We Thirst for Violence?

One might say that there is violence in the Bible.  Just look at Samson, or even David who was a man after God’s own heart, after all.  They were men of violence.  There is no doubt that there are violent scenes in scripture.  The Bible clearly says that there is a “Time for war” as Solomon wrote, but let us not forget that the Lord told David that he would not be the one who built God’s temple, because of so much violence (1 Chronicles 28:3).  What was one of the reasons God destroyed the world?  “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth,” said the Lord in Genesis 6.  Finally, Jesus told Peter, “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.”  It is obvious that violence (even if that is violence to one’s own body), is not a Christian virtue.  There are times when it is necessary, but it is never something that we should watch with joy.  Violence should make us long for our conquering King to come and put an end to it all, not get our kicks from it.      

How is this Keeping the Second Greatest Commandment?

In Matthew 22 Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was.  He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  This is indeed a great commandment.  However, he didn’t stop there.  With the same breath he said, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  The question is, when we click on that “Warning! Graphic Video” link, how are we keeping this commandment of God?  By watching a despicable video of some kid getting punched, or someone walking out in front of a train . . . how is that showing love for your neighbor?  These are people who bear the image of our Maker.  Even if we are just watching this video so we can talk to others about it, in a way we are being entertained by it.  You may not laugh, or even feel good about what you are seeing, but we are putting our desire to see the latest news (gossip) first over the dignity of our neighbor.  How is this loving?  We can still be informed about events, and not partake in a worldly way.  Loving our neighbor is a command, and watching their demise is not a good way to show that love.

Is What You are Seeking Pure?   

Paul told the people of Philippi, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things,” (Philippians 4:8).  Most of these clickbait “graphic videos” do not fall into the category of true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or praise worthy, do they?  One of the best ways that I have found to help me discern if I should watch something like this is to ask, “Would I watch this with Jesus?”  If the answer is no, then it is clear that it is not something you should be watching either.  If these videos are not helping you to conform to the image of Christ, it may be that they are helping you conform to the patterns of this world.  That is a step in the wrong direction.   Many of these self-exploiting videos have no purity to them at all, and if this is the case, then we should be very careful not to fill our minds and hearts with images that ultimately were the cause of Jesus’ death upon the cross.  We have enough sin in our own lives that we need forgiveness for.  Do we really need to watch others’?

Violence and graphic content either to oneself or to someone else is not something we should glorify.  In the movie Gladiator (I understand the irony), after swiftly dispatching his opponents, Maximus asks the crowd, “Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?” This is the question that we need to think through today.  Are we entertained by the things that orthodox Christians have been ashamed of for centuries?  Are we entertained by watching things that Jesus had to die for?  The next time you are enticed to keep up with your friends by watching the latest explicit video, please ask yourself these questions.   Be informed yes, but be not conformed to this world.  Remember the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”  It is not just those in these videos that will be judged, but also those getting some type of pleasure from watching them.  Be a good neighbor.  Be diligent.  Be on guard, Christian, as the writer of Proverbs reminds us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

Everyone enjoys a great family vacation.  When I was young, we often went on one vacation a year.  Sometimes we would head south to the beaches of Florida.  Other times we would break out our tomahawk chop and catch an Atlanta Braves games while enjoying the city of Atlanta for a few days.  Most often however, we headed to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, to the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area.  I have memories of driving through Cades Cove looking for bears, ridding go-carts with my dad and brother, and playing putt-putt golf.  This place holds a very special place in my life.  So much so, that I take my family there as well when we want to spend a few days in the mountains.  There is just something special about those mountains and the rivers that run through them.  Monday night the landscape of this great destination drastically changed as wild fires ripped though much of the drought-stricken area.

When I first heard of the events going on in East Tennessee I simply assumed that they would put the fires out, and it wouldn’t approach this much-beloved city.  However, as the night moved on and reports were coming out about parts of this city going up in flames I found my stomach in knots and my prayers coming more rapidly.  I knew the rain was coming, but it simply didn’t seem like it was getting there fast enough.  It was a perfect storm, and if something didn’t change quickly, there would be no more family town to go to . . . at least not the one that I remembered as a child.  I tossed and turned all night thinking about the people that might be stuck in their homes, and thinking of those great landmarks being consumed by the thirsty fires.  Finally, in the early hours of the morning, I was able to go to sleep having nothing more that I could do but simply trust in the Sovereign King of the universe and resting in Isaiah 45:7, which says, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things.”

When I woke up Tuesday morning the first thing I did was check the news outlets to see how things were.  To my delight, God was gracious to this city that I love.  Some may not see His grace among some 2400 of homes and businesses being destroyed, resorts being demolished, and hundreds of acres of land decimated.  However, from an outsider’s perspective, I see the Lord’s gracious hand at work and I would like to share just a few of my thoughts.

The Lord Sent Rain:

The Southeastern part of the United States has been in a major drought.  It has been more than 3 months since much of the south has seen any significant rainfall.  The Lord is in control of this.  Jesus said in Matthew 5, “. . .  For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  If he makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust, the opposite is true as well.  He withholds rain on the just and the unjust, and for His good pleasure and the renown of His name He has withheld rain from this region for months.  However, at just the right time, He sent it as well.  Why He sent it to help protect this city and not others, we may never know, but He did.  Dave Martin, a fire and aviation management with the southern region of the U.S. Forest Service said that the rain forecast “puts the bull’s-eye of the greatest amounts right at the bull’s-eye of where we’ve been having our greatest activity . . .”  This was just a few hours before the rains would come bringing relief, and come they did.  Imagine if this great fire had started even 2 days prior.  There would have been no rain to help stop the blazing inferno.  At just the right time, the Lord sent rain.  He was indeed gracious to orchestrate this at just the right time.

There Were Few Casualties:

All reports are saying that the loss of life is very minimal.  While any loss of life is tragic, the fact there has only been less than 15 confirmed up to this point  is near incredible news compared to what it could have been.  After seeing videos of people being stuck on fiery mountain roads, and hotels that seemed to be engulfed in flames it appeared inevitable last night that there would be many who would have lost their lives.  But, here the Lord was gracious again.  There could have been hundreds dead after such a great disaster, but there are only a few. And while we need to keep these families in our prayers, it is truly a blessing that there are not dozens more.

Limited Commercial Damage:

The Lord didn’t have to save these cities.  He didn’t owe Sevier County salvation, yet He saved much of it.  The main street of Gatlinburg, economically speaking, is Gatlinburg.  The same is true of its neighbor, Pigeon Forge, as well.  If these parts of the city had gone up in flames, so would the livelihood of most of those who live there and call it home, but most of it was saved.  This was a gracious act of God.  Why did the Lord choose to destroy some resorts, and leave others unscathed?  We cannot know, but that He left any businesses there is simply a gift to these cities and to those who love visiting them.

God was gracious to Gatlinburg.  The Smoky Mountains will always hold a very special place in my heart.  I simply see the Lord’s creative handy work with every turn in the road, peak of a mountain, and cascading white water falling over the rocks.  It is a place of peace and rest for me.  My heart is broken for the people there who have lost their homes, businesses, and way of life.  But even in the midst of such a tragedy we can see the Lord’s gracious hand of protection and providence in it.  I hope you will join me in praying for the people of these towns, and all across the Southeast who have been affected by drought, fires, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and all other sorts of natural disasters that have hit our region over the past 6 months.  Pray those things will be restored, but pray even more that all who are affected will see the loving hand of the Lord who is there, full of mercy and full of grace, who desires to bring peace to His afflicted people.  Pray that the church will do the work of being good neighbors and that the Lord’s name is magnified through it all.  To God be the glory . . . even in the midst of fires and storms.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

I was recently asked the question “Is having different theological convictions as Christians a deal breaker when it comes to pursuing a mate for marriage?”  This is not the first time this type of question has come up, and I am sure it won’t be the last.  This is an interesting question that actually has a two part answer.  Here are a few things to think about if you, or someone you love, find yourself in this predicament.

What the Bible Says:

When it comes to marriage, the biblical model is between one man and one woman for life (Matthew 19:3-6).  Not only is it supposed to be between one man and one woman but it is also supposed to be between two people who are not “unequally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14).  There have been a variety of interpretations about this verse in years past.  But one clear implication is that marriage between a believer and an unbeliever is strictly forbidden.  Some have tried to make this verse mean that two people from different ethnicities should not get married based off this command from Paul.  Some have even tried to make it mean (by implication) that two people from different denominational backgrounds should not wed.  However, these interpretations are clearly not what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Corinthian church 2000 years ago.  He vividly makes the distinction between those who know Jesus, and those who do not, and that is it.  He writes in Romans 10:12, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.”  It is pretty plain when he writes “Do not be unequally yoked” that he is making only one command; no interfaith relationships for Christians . . . and that is it here.  Black and White, Presbyterian and Baptist, if they are Christians they can be married.  However, is that the whole story?  As long as the two are Christians, then it is okay to marry?

There are other things to consider (like has a person been divorced before?) for sure, but scripturally speaking, the only requirement is for the two people to be equally yoked together.  If they are not, then the Lord forbids it.  But, before you go and marry the first Christian you come to, there are some areas of wisdom that you need to consider as well.

What Wisdom Says:

The Bible speaks highly of marriage and even encourages Christians to get married (Proverbs 18:22).  Nevertheless, it is important that you think through the process before making a binding marriage covenant.  The question that we are trying to answer is not “Should Christians get married?”, but rather, “Should people of different theological convictions get married?”  Here is where wisdom kicks in with biblical truth.  When two people get married, they bring with them their theology.  If one person wants kids, and the other does not, wisdom would say, you need to work through that before ever giving the other person a ring.  If the woman is a complete egalitarian (women and men are interchangeable when it comes to functional roles in leadership and in the household) and the man a complementarian (men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage) then this could bring all sorts of problems when talking about spiritual leadership and authority in the home.  That could be a recipe for disaster.  If one is Arminian and one a Calvinist, how do they deal with the sin of a young child?  Holding these different views may well play a role in discipline of children of how you share the gospel even.  These are questions that need to be hammered out before any nuptials.  Wisdom would also say, how convicted am I of certain doctrines?  If one is completely convinced of infant baptism, and the other of believer’s baptism, it may be hard to work through this one . . . and it may be best to find someone else with similar convictions if a consensus is not found.  Theology matters and it will order how a home and family is run.

So, should people of different theological convictions get married?  Considering all of this, the main thing that binds a couple together is the Lord.  As long as the basics of the Christian faith are agreed upon (in the minds, hearts, and the lives) then the secondary stuff can be worked through, but do not make the mistake in thinking that they do not matter, because they do.  There may be some theological beliefs that simply do not compute with each other.  There are different denominations because of doctrinal differences.  This does not mean that all true Christians, no matter the church, are not still brothers in Christ.  However, wisdom says that to covenant together in church membership, everyone should hold closely to the same views so as to be able to hold each other accountable (Galatians 6:1-2).  The same is true in marriage; while it could be lawful for two to be married, will it be profitable for the sake of the kingdom?  Will your marriage be able to be a picture of the love between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32)?  If theological convictions run deep and they cannot be agreed up, then maybe it would be best to find another to yoke yourself with.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

I have to admit, this is one of those questions that I have struggled with myself.  I am a strong proponent of Lordship Salvation, but at the same time must balance that with the belief that children can come to the Lord at a young age as well.  Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am not writing this to pit Paedobaptism (the baptism of infants) vs Credobaptism (the baptism of believers only).  I am a Credobaptist and I am coming from that theological vantage point.  The question that I have struggled with really is “At what time should my 7 year old (or any young child) who has professed faith take the next step of baptism?”  In a land filled with easy believism, “just say a sinner’s prayer”, and “take Jesus into your heart” mentality, I believe we must preach and teach true conversion to our children.  That is not to say that they will get it all at once, but sin, faith, repentance, the cross, and counting the cost of following Jesus are all necessary components of the gospel.  If your child has a grasp on these things (both mentally and seemingly spiritually), how do you know when it is time for them to get baptized?  Since the Bible does not give a complete guideline for this situation, I believe these are some helpful questions to ask before we agree to let them take of this holy ordinance.

Why Baptism?

What really saves us any way?  According to Ephesians we are “saved by grace through faith and not that of ourselves. It is a gift from God.”  We are saved by confessing with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10).  So, if we are saved by grace through faith apart from works, what is the big deal about Baptism?  First, we get baptized because we are commanded to (Matthew 28).  Secondly because it is an outward sign of the inward change that Christ has done for us.  Next, we get baptized to make a public profession that we are not ashamed to be called and Christian.  It is a sign that we are a part of the church universal (I Corinthians 12:13).  Baptism does not save us, but it does identify who we are and to whom we belong.  Why be baptized?  Because the Lord said to, and we want to be obedient.

Do they understand the gospel?

By this I mean can they tell you that God is Holy, and that they are not?  That God has every right to condemn them for their sins.  That Jesus came, was born perfect, and lived a perfect and holy life.  That Jesus died on the cross, the Just for the unjust, and that if they truly believe in Him alone for forgiveness and salvation that they can be saved.  That they must repent and turn from their sin, and if they do so, that the Lord will keep them and seal them until the day of redemption.  If they understand their sin, and Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension then you can trust that they know the gospel in the most basic form.

Have you seen fruit?

When the child is young, grows up in a Christian home where the Bible is being taught, and makes a profession of faith, it may be hard to discern genuine fruit from simple “good raising.”  Some of the best advice I have been given is to give this area time.  Ask yourself, can you see your child growing to hate their sin more?  Do they come to you and acknowledge wrong doing before you ever knew of the offense?  Do they seem to be more loving, joyful, acting more kindly to their siblings, and more respectful to you as parent?  These are some good indications that the Holy Spirit is at work in their life, but it takes time to see if this is a genuine pattern of Spirit wrought fruit, or just good behavior modification.  Look for lasting fruit, not just low hanging ones that can make us hopeful but leave us disappointed when we find out it is bad.

Have others seen fruit?

It can be easy to fool Mommy and Daddy sometimes.  If your child has made a profession of faith, tell others that are often around them about it.  Let them observe as well to see if they can see a spiritual change in their lives.  Don‘t overlook the blessing that comes from seeking input from those who are spiritually mature around you.

Are you putting words in their mouths?

It is easy for us as parents to put words in the mouths of our children because we want them to be saved.  This is understandable because all Christian parents want their children to be in the faith, but this can be dangerous.  Let them in their own words tell their grandparents, friends, and other family members, and even church leadership about their profession.  It does no good to feed them the words if they have not truly come to the conviction of them themselves.  Believe in the sovereignty of God.  Believe that if this is not the right time, that the Lord will awaken their spirit when it is.  Pray for their brokenness and their understanding . . . but please do not put words in their mouth just so as to pacify your anxiety about their salvation.

Do your elders/pastors agree it is time?   

Baptism is an important step in a person’s faith.  It should not be taken lightly.  There should be a time of testing by those who are spiritually mature that are in their lives (II Corinthians 13:5).  Let the pastor or elders from your church test them (without you giving them the answers for them).  If all are in agreement, then it may very well be time for the baptismal waters to be stirred.  If all are not, then it is okay to allow some time to marinate and keep looking for sign of regeneration.  While salvation is an individual decision initiated and completed by God, when your child is young, it would be wise to make baptism a group decision.  We want them to be sure of their faith.  Having them baptized is a parent’s, pastor’s, and church’s acknowledgment that they see saving faith in them.  It’s a big deal and pastors should always be involved in the process.

I write this not as someone who has all the answers.  I write this as a parent and a pastor who is in the middle of it himself with 4 young kids.  Ten months ago my oldest made such a wonderful profession.  It has been almost a year since she did . . . and we are still in the “have you seen their fruit” stage.  While we believe her profession was sincere, we are still waiting a little while longer to make sure.  These are 6 questions my wife and I keep asking each other as we seek others to help us in the process.  So, should your child be baptized?  The answer is an astounding yes if they have truly professed faith, but I would caution you not to rush it and rest in the goodness of God to reveal when it is the right time.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

For most, the upcoming weeks signals the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. If you listen carefully, you can hear the sharpening of pencils, the children groaning, and the parents celebrating as D-Day quickly approaches. No matter what school option (private, public, or home) you have chosen for your family, one thing rings true for all Christians. We need to be a people of prayer if we are going to get through this year usefully. Below I have 4 areas that I believe we would all do well to pray for before school ever starts this year. This has been adapted from a prayer guide that Prayer Closet Ministry provided several years ago. There are sample prayers that are given for each area that you can use, if you so choose to us them, but my encouragement to you today is that you take a few minutes to pray over each area before your children start to hit the books for another year.

Prayer for the Students

  1. For the Lost

We want to pray that the Lord will save the lost children in this school.

            Father, I pray that the lost students of __________will surrender to Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of their lives. Show them their lostness and their need of Jesus. Have mercy on them
                        and saved them through Your Son, Jesus Christ ( John 6:44; Matthew 11:28).                     

    2.  For the Saved

We want to pray for a faithful witness and boldness in believing students

            Father, I ask that the Christian students of __________will have a powerful and righteous influence in the school for your glory. Empower them to live holy and obedient lives before their friends and teachers. Sanctify anything in their lives that might hinder their testimony
(Matthew 5:13-16; 1 Peter 2:11-12, 3:15-16).

            Father, have these students of __________be powerful witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ. Fill them with the Holy Spirit so that they can speak boldly about who You and what
You have done (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).

 Prayer for the Administration and Teachers   

  1. For the Lost

We want to pray the Lord will save all lost teachers and administration

            Father, I plead that the unsaved teachers of __________would graciously draw them all into a personal relationship with You through the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that they would turn from their sin to Christ with a genuine faith (John 3:15-18, 6:44; Acts 4:12, 17:30-31).

      2.  For the Saved

We pray for a willingness to share their faith within the authoritative structure that they are under.

            Father, please give the teachers and administration at __________would exercise a righteous influence among the students and other teachers. Empower them to live holy lives and minister to the students and other teachers (Proverbs 28:1; Matthew 5:13-16).

            Father, I pray that grant them the wisdom to know how and when to share their faith with all they are around..  (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8, 4:31).

Prayer for the Parents

  1. For the Lost

We want to pray for parents who do not know the Lord, to come to know Him this year. 

            Father, I pray in the name of Jesus that the unsaved parents of __________would surrender their lives to Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. I ask that the Spirit would convict them and draw them to Jesus by his grace to faith
and repentance for Your name sake (John 3:15-18).

     2.  For the Saved

We want to pray for believing parents to live out their faith in a way that brings glory to God.

            Father, I ask that the believing parents of __________will continue to grow in their relationship to God .That they will take the lead as an example of godly living. Do this so that they can train godly children,  and to be an example to others as well (John 8:31-32; 1 Peter 3:1-2).

             Father, grant the believing parents of __________a spirit of prayer for the administrators, teachers, and students. I pray that they will cover and saturate __________with prayers of supplication and intercession (Colossians 4:2).

      3For all Parents

We want to pray for all parents to be faithful and good parents to their children.

            Father, I ask that you give all parents a burden to be involved in all areas of their children’s lives.  I pray that parents here will be sensitive and wise concerning the needs of their children. Help them to recognize their needs and problems and grant them the wisdom, patience,
and love to deal with these things (Ephesians 6:4).

Prayer for  Protection

  1. For the Students

We want to pray for all students to be safe from all harm while in school.

            Father, protect the students at __________from anything or anyone that would choose to hurt them.  Give them an environment where they can learn and have no fear of being bullied, looked down upon, or injured them from anyone.  Make this school a place where they can be educated safely so as to be able to glorify you in their life with their education (Psalm 11:4-7).

     2.  For Teachers and Administrators

We want to pray that all teachers and administrators will be safe from any possible harm.             

            Father, we ask that you protect all of those who have chosen to help educate the children
at ________________.  Protect them from harm.  Give them the ability to teach each child in a way that they can understand.  Protect their minds so that they can be free to teach.  Protect the sanctity of their marriage as the pour much time and effort into these jobs.  Protect the believing ones from spiritual attack, and those who do not believe from believing
Satanic lies about you (I Timothy 2:1-3.)

            We are told to be a people of prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  We are told to not just think about ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4) but others as well. We are also told to educate our children (Deuteronomy 6:5-7, Proverbs 1:8-9, Proverbs 22:6). If we want to do this in a way that honors the Lord, brings glory to Him, and be a kingdom people, I can think of few better ways than to pray for our children and schools as we start a new year of educating our children for the glory of God.  I hope that you will consider these 4 areas in your own children’s lives, and pray for them diligently.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

For the Christian, Sunday should be the most anticipated day of the week.  It is a day where we gather with people that we love to be encouraged, edified, and engaged, not just with each other, but with our Lord.  It is a place where we get to go before the throne room of God and worship Him.  It is the Lord’s Day.  What a blessing it is that He would give us a whole day just to be with Him apart from our normal labor.  However, for many, it can be the most stressful day of the week.  Besides the spiritual battle that is raged that day, just the plain affairs of the world can weigh heavy on us and rob us of this wonderful blessing of gathering with the corporate body.  We are told to “not forsake the assembling together of the saints.”  It is a command of God, but it is also for our benefit.  So, how can we make sure that it is a blessing to us without all the hustle of the Sunday morning rush and frustrations?   Below are 4 ways to “be” prepared, and I hope can help us be ready to worship.

Be Prayed Up: 

Do you pray for your pastor and elders each week?  What a blessing this can be.  If you really want to help your pastor, be praying for him that the Lord will give him the time to rightly divide the Word of truth.  However, don’t just stop at praying for him.  Be in prayer for yourself as well.  Pray that the Lord will give you a clear conscience.  Pray that the Lord will rid you from all distraction.  Pray that the Lord will give you a yielding Spirit to what He has to say to you through the teaching and preaching of the Word.  Do not neglect this aspect of preparation.  This can start as early as Monday morning the week prior. Prayer is powerful, and it sets your spirit in a posture of submission to the Lord, instead of having yourself on the throne of your desires.

Be Fed Up:

Have you ever been sitting in church and your stomach starts to make all sorts of crazy sounds because you have not fed it enough and it longs for a mile long bar of food?  Hunger pains can be real distracters.  When we are hungry it is hard to focus on almost anything else.  It is hard to be listening to how Jesus is the Bread of Life when all you can think about is getting to the local hamburger joint after services.  You don’t want to be stealing a few extra communion wafers during the Lord’s Supper because you forgot to eat toast that morning.  Make sure that you have eaten a good breakfast that will sustain your hunger so that your spiritual hunger can fully feast on the Word.

Be Slept Up:

Is there anything more embarrassing than falling asleep in church?  I once watched a grown man fall asleep and slowly fall into the lap of the person sitting next to me in the pew.  It is one of the funniest things that I have ever experienced in my life.  However, if he would have had a proper night’s sleep the evening before, it never would have happened.  We have all experienced it.  Our eyes get heavy.  Our head starts to nod.  When this happens, we cannot comprehend anything that anyone is saying.  All of our energy and might is focused on not causing “an incident.”  It can be a miserable feeling.  If you have an important meeting at work, a project at school, or simply a full day ahead of you, do you not try to get to bed early to make sure that your body is prepared and you mind is sharp for the next day?  How much more so should this be true if we are planning on going to visit with the one who died in our stead so that we can worship Him?  Get a good night’s sleep so that you can be awake and not miss the Son the next day.

Be Read Up:

If you have Sunday School or small group materials, or if you know the passage that your pastor will be preaching from on the Lord’s Day, be prepared ahead of time by reading through it prior to the services.  It is amazing the difference it can make when you have a basic understanding of a subject or specific text in the way of comprehension and personal application.  Bible reading and study is not just for the teacher and preacher, but for all of us so that we can KNOW and worship God.  It is a blessing to have God’s Word in a language that we can understand.  Do not neglect this gift that the Lord has given us.  I have never heard anyone ever say, “I really wish that I had not read the Bible before coming to church today.”  On the other hand, I know many who have said the opposite.  So, read before hand and be prepared.

These are 4 helpful and just plain practical ways that I hope will enhance your Lord’s Day worship if you have found yourself struggling with it as of late.  Before you get up Sunday morning, and you’re running late and frustrated with everyone in your house, prepare yourself to “Be.”  Pray before you hit the pew.  Eat before you enter.  Sleep before you sing, and if you want to fully experience what God has for you in the corporate gathering of believers, read before you ride.  Do these things, and see if you do not come away more refreshed and ready to seek His Kingdom for the sake of His glory.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell