What Constitutes a Biblical Marriage?

As a minister of the gospel one of the joys of my job is being able have a part in so many weddings of my congregants. This weekend I get the special pleasure of officiating my very first wedding.  As I have studied and prepared for this extraordinary day the question popped into my head, “What constitutes a biblical marriage?”  The Bible is clear on the role distinctions in marriage.  It is clear that marriage is meant to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life.  Yet, when does a marriage actually start?  What elements are involved in the beginning stages of a marriage?  What seals the marriage to say, “This is when my covenant and union began”?  The Bible is not silent on the matter, but it doesn’t speak definitively either. Thus, identifying the precise moment a man and woman are married in God’s eyes is a bit difficult. Yet, after much study and meditating I believe the answer lies, at least in principle, with three “C’s.”         

Ceremony

            While a wedding ceremony is not prescribed in the Scriptures, we most definitely see it described and illustrated in several places.  A wedding was very much a community and social event.  In Psalm 45 we find the sons of Korah explaining what a royal wedding ceremony looked like.  It was filled with festivities, beauty, gifts, and feasting.   In John 2 we find Jesus performing his first miracle at the wedding ceremony in Cana, a social event.  In John’s Revelation, chapter 19, we find the marriage supper of the Lamb.  This is the symbolic meal culminating and celebrating the marriage of Christ and the church.  In Matthew 25:1-13 we find Jesus telling the parable of the ten virgins.  In verse 10 He says, “And while they went away to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast . . .” Thus we find here and in all of these verses the idea of some sort of ceremony being part of a Christian wedding.  The point that I am making is that it was a common practice for there to be a celebration or a ceremony for the wedding couple.  We find this all over the Old and New Testament.  For that matter, we find it in every culture throughout history.  The ceremony seems to be part of the expectation of a marriage. The festivities that we find in Scripture would often last for days (Matthew 22) and would ultimately culminate with the vows and the giving of blessings.  Thus, for a marriage to take place it seems fitting that there would first be a ceremony.

Covenant

            Besides the ceremony, the most important aspect of the wedding festivities was and is the exchange of the vows, the promise and covenant.  When we look at the biblical record we find that God established marriage in the beginning.  He instituted it in the garden with our first parents, Adam and Eve. The first marriage was based on a covenant promise (Genesis 2:24). The act of marriage consisted of three things: leaving, cleaving, and becoming one flesh. The Genesis 2:24 commandment was repeated by Jesus in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7-8.  The Apostle Paul also used this covenant format in Ephesians 5.

            We find other references to the marriage covenant all over the scriptures. Yet one of the most prominent is found in Malachi 2:14.  The prophet writes, “But you say, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.’”  Here the prophet explains that a marriage covenant is not just “between you and the wife of your youth” but also with “the LORD” who was a witness of this solemn promise and vow.  While we do not have examples of the exact words that were spoken in a marriage covenant we do find certain promises that are to be made between a man and a woman in their covenant.

For the Men:

  • It is a promise to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25)
  • It is a promise to live sacrificially for his wife (Eph. 5:25)
  • It is to lead his wife spiritually (Ephesians 5:26)
  • It is to leave his parents and cleave alone to his wife (Ephesians 5:31)
  • It is a promise of monogamy (I Corinthians 7, Hebrews 13:4)

For the Woman:

  • It is a promise to joyfully submit to her husband (Ephesians 5:22)
  • It is a promise to respect her husband (Ephesians 5:31)
  • It is a promise of monogamy (I Corinthians 7, Hebrews 13:4)

Therefore, for a marriage to be a marriage in the eyes of God a covenant must be part of the process. 

Consummation

            While this aspect of a Christian marriage and wedding was not public it was expected.  Sexual intimacy between a husband and wife is the ultimate fulfillment of the “one flesh” principle found in Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, and Ephesians 5:31.  This act is the final seal on a marriage covenant.  Paul P. Enns remarks:   

“On the first night, when the marriage was to be consummated, the father escorted his daughter to the bridal chamber (Gen. 29:21–23; cp. Judg. 15:1). The bride’s parents retained the bloodstained bed sheet to prove their daughter’s virginity at marriage in case the husband attempted any recourse by charging that his bride was not a virgin (Deut. 22:13–21).”[i]

While consummation closes the wedding, it also marks the beginning of the marriage.  The “two becoming one” motif does start with the sexual union of the married couple but this “one flesh” union is much more than a simple act of sexual intimacy.  Notice the Matthew 19 progression: the man leaves his parents, the man joins (marries) his wife, the two individuals become one.  The last step is what consummates the marriage, but there is much more to it than this. The two are to be so knit together that they behave as one person.  While they are two separate people, this “one flesh” union makes them one, together.  Consummation marks the end of the old individual life and the start of the “one flesh” union that will continue through marriage for the couple.  Therefore, if the couple is biologically able to consummate the marriage, this should be the final seal of the wedding.   

The question may arise, “what about cultural and governmental expectations in marriage?”  Time would fail me in parsing out all of the nuances that are involved in the question.  But in short, while I believe the government has no place in the marrying business, a Christian should do all that is possible to live within the government guidelines for marriage in its land (Romans 13).  Thus, if possible, a couple should follow whatever cultural practices are required by law for them to be recognized as a legally married couple.               

For this article today, I have sought to answer the question, “What constitutes a biblical marriage?”  I believe the biblical evidence, in principle, points to these three C’s: Ceremony, Covenant, and Consummation.  If these things are present and true, then in the eyes of God I believe this constitutes a genuine marriage before the Lord.


[i] Enns, P. P. (2003). Weddings. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1664). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

“How I trained my little ones to sit still and quiet” (by Jessica Burrell)

This is a follow-up post to my previous post Help, The Church Nursery is Closed! in which I reference training your children at home to be content to sit quietly.  Once you are out in public, it is too late to ask them to behave in some new way that you have never taught them.  This post is an effort to convey how I trained my little ones in the peace and comfort of our home.  The Lord says to train up our children in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6), to train them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4), and to teach them to have a quiet and gentle spirit, which the Scriptures say is “precious in God’s sight” (1 Pet. 3:4).  I have tried to apply these Scriptures in some practical ways at home while teaching my children to sit quietly and respectfully.

So how do you start? Start slowly.  Start with 5 minutes, maybe less.  Sit on the couch with Mommy and children together reading a book or singing a hymn, all engaged in the same activity.  The purpose is to stay in the designated place for the duration of the time.  Most children love this quality time of having Mommy’s attention to themselves, and they rarely have any trouble complying.  The next step is to tell the child that they must read (or look at) their own book while Mommy reads a book separate from the child or works on something independent from the children, while still sitting on the couch right beside them.  In the first step, the child is the central focus.  In this second phase, the child will begin to realize that the point of being on the couch is not for Mommy to cater to their wishes, but rather for them to find contentment on their own.  While you need to be instructing the child in step one, this second step is more where reinforcing and teaching the child your expectations really comes in.  Tell the child “you may not squirm around and climb down to the floor.” And “Mommy has a timer set for 5 minutes. When it beeps, we will be all done.  Then you may get down and play.”  The child may not ask “how much longer” or similar questions.  The child must learn to be content to wait patiently until the time is done and Mommy says that it is time to get down.

I should clarify that “Still and quiet” time in our home meant no talking or moving around.  You stay in your place and entertain yourself with one quiet toy or book.  If this object was used to harass a sibling, it would be taken away, and the remainder of the time would be spent with hands folded neatly in the lap.  I do not exaggerate when I say that I can count on one hand how many times objects had to be taken away from my children in public.  They learned this lesson very well at home!  Consider anything a small child will normally do when they do not want to be still…roll around on the seat, scoot down to the floor, then they end up under the seat, or army-crawling to a nearby location.  Their innate intent is to push the limits and see how far is too far.  You as the mother need to decide what will be acceptable for your children while in public.  Are you okay with them sitting on the floor at the doctor’s office or crawling on the floor down to the end of the pew at church?  If not, be sure that you are firm in your training at home.  For us, no arm waving, clapping, or moving off the seat was permitted.  Depending on age, lying down quietly in one’s spot (not rolling) was permitted.

After the children have gotten the hang of a 5-minute interval of being quiet and occupying themselves with Mommy on the couch, the next step is to have Mommy get off the couch and do something else nearby, while leaving the children on the couch having their “still and quiet” time.  For example, I will tell the children to come and sit. Then, once they have been reminded of the rules of “still and quiet” time, I will step away while warning the children that I will be watching to make sure they do a good job.  I might sit in another area of the same room and make a call to schedule dental cleanings, while maintaining frequent eye contact with the children so they know I am paying attention to their behavior.  If a little one decides they aren’t interested in the training session, their behavior is quickly dealt with and they resume their time on the couch.  Quick and consistent discipline is necessary in this training time.  You will be training your children regardless of how you handle the situation.  While they are in the living room, it might be easy to warn them, “Mommy said get back on the couch… I mean it!”  But consider if this method will be an option in church or in the doctor’s office.  You want to train them to listen the first time, not the second or third.  They must learn to obey immediately and to realize that there will be swift consequences when they do not.  There will be no “easy out” if they disobey.  The training session will continue on after discipline has been handed out.

Once the children are able to sit quietly while you perform other tasks in the same room, the real test comes.  “Still and quiet” while Mommy leaves the room!  This was always our children’s favorite part of the training times.  I would have the children sit (they were permitted one quiet toy) while I left the room to set a timer and then come back in to check on them and see if they were still in the same place and quiet.  I might go put a letter in the mailbox but quickly return and pop in the room to surprise the children.  This can be a very fun activity.  The children never know what corner you might pop out around or what you might be wearing on your head when you return.  The “away” might be anywhere from 5 seconds to 15 seconds to begin with.  You want to help them keep their attention on the task at hand.  Don’t make this sitting session a miserable thing for them.  My children would often forget the toy they had in their lap and prefer to watch out for when I would pop my head back in the room to see how well they were doing.  I would give silent accolades whenever I peeked in and saw that the children were still doing as I had asked.

You may notice a natural progression in this: very small and familiar steps to begin with, then moving up to bigger steps.  This will not happen overnight.  I would recommend having a practice session every day, or a five-minute session in the morning and another one in the afternoon, depending on the age and personality of your child.

After the children can manage a 5-minute segment of time on the couch on their own with Mommy in and out of the room, it is time to add more time to the clock.  I would graduate them to 10-15 minutes on the couch with one quiet activity of their choice, whether it is a toy, a reading book, or a notebook with a pencil or crayon.  If the children are misbehaving or not obeying the way they should, the offending child must be removed and disciplined and brought back to resume their sitting time.  Meanwhile, the other children are expected to continue sitting quietly.  This has helped immensely during the years that my husband has been in a pastoral position and has been unable to assist me in the pew with the children.  I have been able to take the rowdy child out of the service to address behavior while leaving all of the other children (yes, even a two-year-old) sitting quietly in the pew without me in the room, knowing that they would sit still because they dare not be the next one leaving the sanctuary with me.

I have one last comment on praising your little ones for doing well.  Rewarding our children when they do well is not the same as bribery.  Bribery is a parent’s last attempt at getting what they want from their child.  It is a negotiation that puts the child in control of the situation and puts the parent at their mercy.  Rewards and positive affirmation for good behavior are very different than that.  When I ask my child to do something and they do it right away and with a cheerful heart, rewarding them in some way is a great way to help encourage and motivate the child to do it again.  They have honored me, and I want to bless them because of it.  This is a good and wholesome way to encourage good behavior in our children.

In my other post, “Help, The Church Nursery is Closed!” I talk about preparing for Sunday morning by starting on Saturday.  I mention that “less is more” when packing activity bags for kids in church or the doctor’s office, and I give a few other ideas like finding a seat near the exits and arriving early to claim it.

I hope this post has been an encouragement to you!  It is not always easy, and it is never a fast process to train up our little ones in the way they should go.  But, as the Lord commands us to do it, I hope this will be of some small encouragement to you as we strive to please Him!

Jessica E. Burrell

Husbands, Are You Willing To Die For Your Wife?

I know I am going to date myself, but at one point in time I was a young starry-eyed romantic.  At 14, 15, and 16 years old I would stay up listening to the “soft rock” station so as to be able to tape-record the love songs that I liked (Yes, that is the way we once had to record songs . . .  on a blank cassette tape, before there was online file sharing).  One of my favorite songs was by the early 90’s Canadian star, Bryan Adams.  The song’s title was “Everything I do, I do it for you.”  Some of my favorite lyrics, “Yeah, I would fight for you. I’d lie for you. Walk the wire for you. Yeah, I’d die for you. You know it’s true. Everything I do. I do it for you.”  As a teenage boy, there didn’t seem to be anything more romantic than a song like this.  Yet, now as a married man, and having a much more sensible idea of romance I ask myself, and to those reading this, “are you really willing to die for your spouse?”  Now that the feelings of romance are much less than they might have been before.  How about now that life seems to just be routine?  Are you stilling willing to say words like the above mentioned with as much enthusiasm as a young teenage romantic?  If you truly have a Christ-centered marriage, I would hope the answer would be yes . . . though not in the same way as you would have as a freshman in high school.

I have heard it said, “It is harder to live as a martyr than to die as one.” I believe the same is true when we think about our marriages as well. A one time major sacrifice can be easier than a life filled with little ones.  So, my question is, “Are you willing to die for your spouse daily?”

Dying According to the Scriptures

Our daily Christian life is to be one filled with dying to oneself (Matthew 16:24-26).  It is to be one about putting others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3).  It is about doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31).  As we look to Christ, and worship him, this is the task that he assigns us to.  In other words, Christianity is not a self-centered religion.  It is not a religion of romance.  It is to be Christ-centered, which leads us to have a love for others.  Dying to oneself is to be the daily habit of the Christian.  Are you willing to die daily for your wife’s needs?  Are you willing to put her desires before your own?  If we truly desire to keep the Lord’s commands there is no better place to start than with the one you made a covenant with.  Are you dying for your wife according to scripture?

Dying as Christ Died

You are likely aware of Ephesians 5 where Paul speaks of a Christian marriage in terms of the covenant between Christ and the Church.  Husbands are told to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”  We don’t see this sacrificial covenant love through the eyes of a Greco-Roman romanticized understanding of love.  No, we understand and see this sacrifice that was filled with blood and wrath.  It was a love that led to a substitutionary death and Paul says that this is how we as men are to love our wives.  So men I ask you, “Are you willing to die for your wives?” Christ died for his bride when his bride deserved to die.  If this was some Hollywood tale it would have made for a great romantic movie.  However, this is not a Hollywood tale.  This is the truth about a holy God sending his holy son to die for an unholy bride which he in turns makes holy.  Christ didn’t die for her out of a desire to be romantic instead he died for her in order to make her righteous.

Romance is a wonderful thing.  If I am honest, I would say that I still enjoy going back from time to time and listening to some of those sappy romantic songs from my youth.  They are good for nostalgia and date nights with my wife.  However, when I hear that old Canadian pop-star sing “Everything I do, I do it for you” it speaks to me in a much different way today.  After being married for 12 years I hear, “Am I willing to die to my desires to have a little free time in order to be there for her?  Am I willing to free her to go to Bible study on Saturday while I watch our 7 kids?  Am I willing to lose sleep to take care of our sick 2-year-old so she can catch up on some sleep?”  My understanding of dying for her has changed a lot over the past 12 years.  I can safely say that I love my bride more today than I did the day we said our vows.  I really had no clue what being willing to die for her meant back then.  It looks much different now.  Yet, when I look to the Lord and His Word I start to see it a little better as each year passes.

Husbands, were you once a romantic but now that your wedding day is over a decade or a quarter century ago have you lost that loving feeling?  If you were once willing to hang the moon, climb the highest mountain, swim the widest ocean, or even die for your love back then, are you still willing to die for her today?  I would encourage you to look to the scriptures and to Christ to see what this looks like in the mundanity of life for your wife.  Christ died for his bride, and as long as we live we should be willing to die for ours as well.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

Don’t Let Satan Rob You of Your Repentance

Repentance is one of the greatest gifts God has ever given His people.  While repentance is something that is a command (Acts 17:30), we also see that it is a generous gift (Acts 11:18, II Timothy 2:25) as well.  A few years ago, I was reading a book by the late Dr. RC Sproul.  In it, he provided an illustration that has profoundly impacted my way of thinking about repentance.  He wrote about an encounter that he once had with one of his parishioners.  He explained:

 “A man distraught about a guilt problem once came to me saying, ‘I’ve asked God to forgive me of a sin over and over, but I still feel guilty.  What can I do?’ This situation did not involve the multiple repetitions of the same sin, but the multiple confession of a sin committed once.

‘You must pray again and ask God to forgive you,’ I replied.  A look of frustrated impatience came to his eyes. ‘But, I’ve done that!’ he exclaimed.  ‘I’ve asked God over and over again to forgive me.  What good will it do to ask him again?’

In my reply I applied the proverbial firm force of the board to the head of the mule: ‘I’m not suggesting that you ask God to forgive you for that sin.  I’m asking you to seek forgiveness for your arrogance.’

The man was incredulous.  ‘Arrogance? What arrogance?’ the man was assuming that his repeated entireties for a pardon were proof positive of his humility.  He was so contrite over his sin that he felt he had to repent for it forever.  His sin was too great to be pardoned by one dose of repentance.  He was going to suffer for his sin no matter how gracious God was.   Pride had fixed a barrier to this man’s acceptance of forgiveness. When God promised us that He will forgive us, we insult His integrity when we refuse to accept it.  To forgive ourselves after God has forgiven us is a duty as well as a privilege.[1]

I don’t think this man’s experience is unique.  Indeed, I think it is actually very common. However, it is thinking like this that has allowed Satan to rob us of the joy of repentance.  This should never be the case for the believer. There are two ways that Satan can rob a Christian of their repentance, yet we don’t have to let him.

Don’t let him trick you into thinking you don’t need to repent of the “small” sins.

“Little sins” can often go unnoticed by the human eye and heart.  Let’s say that you didn’t pay enough money at the parking meter today, and you ended up getting a ticket.  Truth be told, it kind of frustrated you and Romans 13 doesn’t really feel like it applies here right?  Your husband did something to hurt you, though he didn’t even know it.  You go to bed angry, but by the next morning you just brush it off and go on.  Your child has talked back for the third time today, and that was the last straw.  You discipline them, but you did so in anger.  You justify your over-reaching discipline by saying to yourself, “They were in the wrong.  They didn’t honor me.”  It seems like small stuff to many, but it is not in the eyes of God.  Though it may seem insignificant, it is the local government’s right to put in parking meters on their property.  And as Christians, we are called to “obey the government” and “those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God” (Romans 13:1-2).  Even though your husband may have frustrated you, it was your responsibility to “not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).  While your children needed discipline for their dishonor, we as parents are to discipline them in love, and not out of anger or done so out of control (Ephesians 6:4).  When we let these “little sins” go unrepented, we are robbed of our proper communion with the Lord.  Don’t let Satan convince you that those “small” sins are not worth praying about.

Don’t let him drag you down with guilt from past sins if they are forgiven sins.

Guilt and shame have their place. The Holy Spirit uses them to bring a person to repentance (II Corinthians 7:10). Yet, once a person repents of their sin, then their guilt and shame are removed (Romans 8:1). This is the beauty of repentance.  The psalmist reminds us of a great truth when he wrote, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).  When we sin, we must repent.  When we repent we must realize that God is the one to whom we have offended.   And while there still may be earthly consequences for our sins, we can rest in knowing that our standing with God is righteous.  We do not have to crumble under the weight of guilt and shame the way Dr. Sproul’s parishioner did.  Satan would love to do this to you.  If he can rob you of your joy and freedom in Christ by reminding you of your past sin, he will do so.  Yet in Christ, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).   Let us all remember as Dr. Sproul has said, “When God promised us that He will forgive us, we insult His integrity when we refuse to accept it.  To forgive ourselves after God has forgiven us is a duty as well as a privilege.[2]

When we turn away from our sin, we are to turn to God.  When we do this, he accepts our repentant plea.  When God says that something is good, we must believe it.  Repentance is a gift from God to his people. So, next time you want to forget about that little sin, DON’T.  Repent of it, and be freed from the guilt of it.  The next time you want to fall to your knees under the weight of a past sin that Satan brings to your remembrance, DON’T.  Plead the blood and know that God has forgiven you of that sin, and in that forgiveness, you no longer must bear the weight of guilt and shame.  Jesus took it for you.  You bear it no more.   Don’t let Satan rob you of your repentance.  If you are the Lord’s, you are free in Christ, so matter what Satan may try to make you think.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

[1] Sproul, R.C. Does Prayer Change Things. (Lake Mary: Ligonier Ministries, 2009), 39-40.

[2] Sproul, R.C. Does Prayer Change Things. (Lake Mary: Ligonier Ministries, 2009), 40.

Take Your Bible to Church, Not Just Your Phone

The Bible is the bestselling book of all time.  Year after year, it is always at the top of the list.  We are blessed to live in a day and age when we have more access to the Bible than any other time in history.  If you have a smart phone, you can even download a free app that will allow you to have multiple verses at your fingertips and in the palm or your hand.  For this, I am thankful.  I am thankful that we have so many tools that will allow us to get the Bible into our hearts and heads due to technology.   Technology can be a beautiful thing.  However, such great advancements in technology can also come with a cost.  I am just on the outside of the millennial bubble.  I believe my unofficial title is an “Xennials” since I was born in 1981.  I have been in church for the 36 years.  I have seen all sorts of fads come and go (WWJD bracelets and all).  One that I have noticed an increase of more in the last 6 or 7 years is that of people leaving their old bound copies of their Bibles at home and replacing them with a digital device, which is most often their phone.  I get the allure of having everything so accessible and it all fit in your pocket.  However, I believe we are missing out on something if we dump our leather bound Bibles for a sleek pocket sized digital one.  Here are a few reasons I prefer a hard copy of my Bible over a digital one.

The Distraction:

When I was a child I would often get into trouble for being distracted or being a distraction to others in church.  Now, we hold in our hands the ultimate distraction: the smart phone.  So much of our lives are on the little hand-held computer.  Any information we could ever possibly want to know is there.  When someone likes our Facebook post, we get an alert.  When someone retweets you, there is a notification.  An early morning e-mail finds its way into your inbox, and you get the little shake of you phone.  Most of us are drawn to those notifications like a moth to a flame.  We just have to see what is going on in the world and what someone has said about us.  When you use your phone as your Bible (or any device that is connected to the internet) there is always a great temptation to quickly check that alert.  If you are not disciplined, the next thing you know, you are replying to that e-mail and all of the sudden you don’t even know what the pastor is saying.  You have gotten sucked in by the digital vortex.  This is one of the blessings of using a physical copy of the Bible.  You can set your phone on silent, and never get those distracting buzzes and pop-ups.  You can just enjoy and engage in the Bible, the worship of God, and the sermon.

The Sound:

This may just be me, but one of my favorite sounds in the world is to hear those thin pieces of paper in your Bible flip from one page to the next.  It sends off a sound that people are looking, listening, and engaging.  The sound of screen tapping just simply isn’t the same.  While there is nothing biblical or theological about the rustling of paper over the sound of a finger tapping, it is just a simple pleasure that is missed when we use our little computers over a bound copy of scripture.

The Feel:

Much like the sound of pages turning in the Bible, another simple pleasure that is missed on our smart phones is the feel of the Bible in your hands.  There is just no other book quite like it.  One of the benefits of having that physical copy is the ability to take notes in it.  While there are certainly ways of taking notes digitally, the reality is often we do not get around to looking at them later.  Just like we never print all of those HD photos that we take on our phones and loose when the phone breaks, the same is often true about our notes.    However, any time I flip open my Bible I can see notes that were taken 8 or 10 years ago, and that is an encouragement to me.  I don’t get the same familiarity with “My Bible” when I use a digital version.  It just isn’t the same.  It just feels different.

The History:

Ever since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1439 people have been printing the Bible for public use.  During the time of the Reformation we saw an explosion of different translations.  Primarily before the press was made the Latin Bible of the Catholic Church was virtually the only Bible in use, but after the press was invented it was not long before the Lord used it to start printing modern translations for a modern vernacular for the common people.  For the past 600 years we have had hard copies of the Bible.  Before then, there were scrolls, codex, and a variety of other types of materials used for holy writ.  This is what people like Augustine, Tyndale, Calvin, Zwingli, Spurgeon, and D.L. Moody used.  If a digital copy had been available for them to use, I am sure that they would have taken advantage of it, but the hard copy of scripture has a long history.  It is my hope that we never lose it in place of pixels, glass, and hard plastic.

The invention of the digital Bible has been a marvel and a blessing for this age.  In closed countries, the digital Bible may very well be all a person may own.  For this fact alone, we should give praise for it.  If a computerized version of the Bible allows you to read more, meditate often, and memorize scriptures, by all means . . . use it.  I use it almost on a daily basis.  However, when I walk thought the doors of my local church I prefer the feel of a heavy leather book filled with 1000 pages of God’s holy Word over the smooth and shinny glimmer of high definition pixels on my phone.  Is a person more holy for having their big ESV Study Bible in hand over the person carrying 20 versions with Logos Bible Software in the palm of their hand?  By no means, but I do think there is something special about the old book.  So, next Sunday before you walk out of the house let me encourage you to think about taking that beautiful, sometimes cumbersome, book with you and not just your phone for worship.  You might be surprised how much you enjoy hearing those pages turn, feeling that old familiar book that is filled with such history, and being less distracted all the while.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

Is there still value in being a mentor?

When you hear the word “mentor” what comes to mind?  Maybe it brings to mind a school teacher who stayed after school with you to help you learn your math.  Maybe it is a coach who spent countless hours with you perfecting your curve ball in high school.  Maybe, like me, you think of a man or woman from you church who you simply liked spending time with and watching how they did life.  I think too often we look at a mentoring relationship as some big glorified thing that we wish we had with someone but don’t really know how it works . . . so we never end up doing it.  I had a professor in Bible College one time say that “everyone needs a Timothy, Barnabas, and Paul in their life.”  A Timothy is someone who you are usually older than (for sure more spiritually mature) that you are purposefully investing in.  A Barnabas is someone who is more along the same spiritual maturity level who you walk with, try to encourage, and hold each other accountable (Proverbs 27:17).  A spiritual Paul is someone who is older and wiser than you who is, in essence, mentoring you.  Paul writes about this very type of relationship in his letter to Titus.  He writes in the second chapter that older men are to teach younger men . . . and older women are to teach younger women . . . “in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified,  sound in speech which is beyond reproach . . .

There is so much value in having and being a mentor.  There is no exact science to it.  It is not laid out in scripture like the 10 commandments, but the foundation is there for us to build upon.  If you are already mentoring someone, praise the Lord; maybe this will encourage you to keep on.  If you are not mentoring or being mentored by someone, maybe this will encourage you to consider the great value in it.  Here are four areas to consider as you mentor someone or are being mentored.

Meeting with them:

This may seem obvious, but if you do not plan to meet, you will not.  We are all very busy in life and planning a set time allows for putting it down on a calendar.   Set a time to meet (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly) and make every effort to be there.  This can be in a formal setting where you meet at church or a more informal time where you meet at a coffee shop, or your own home.  The point is this . . . that you are face-to-face.  There is no real substitute for the physical face-to-face meeting.  Plan a time.  Get together.

Read with them:

Before you meet for the first time you should discuss what you would like to study together.  If you mentor someone for more than a year I suggest mixing it up between a book (or theme) of scripture and a good practical book on theology.  It is God’s word (through the power of the Holy Spirit, mind you) that changes people.  Choose a verse to memorize together over a week or month.  Read and discuss a chapter of scripture each week (or when you gather).  Keep this part short (10-20 min).  You can also get a great book that is applicable to where they are.  Read a chapter, hit the highlights, and discuss how it can be applied.  The point is that you are mining the depth of God together, and you are helping them to understand how it works in their daily life.

Pray with them:

D. L. Moody was making a visit to Scotland in the 1800’s and he opened one of his talks at a local grade school with the rhetorical question, “What is prayer?” Hundreds of children raised their hands. He decided to call on one of the young men to answer.  The young boy said, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”  This was the answer to question #98 in the Westminster Catechism.  Moody responded by saying, “Be thankful, son, that you were born in Scotland.”  Prayer is something that is so simple, yet so profound and powerful.  Every time you meet, you should start and end in prayer.  Jesus prayed for and with his disciples.  Paul prayed with the groups of people that he mentored and taught.  Pray through scripture.  Pray for each other.  Make it a priority.  Make it genuine.

Enjoy life with them:

            One of the best, and informal, parts of being a mentor is simply doing life together.  By this I mean just hanging out and/or having fun.  Going fishing together or going on a hike together can bring wonderful bonding time.  There is so much to be taught and learned simply by living life together.  Some of the most important lessons I have learned have come from this type of informal setting.  When a person is a Christian, it should come out in every area of their life.   I am sure that John and the other disciples learned much from Jesus that was never written down (John 21:25).  Part of being a mentor is simply spending time, asking questions, and investing in someone’s daily life.  The formal is needed (Bible study and prayer), but do not neglect the informal.  This is where real life application of scripture is shown and not just the passing of knowledge.

Mentor-ship comes in a variety of different ways.  Young children need mentors.  Teens need mentors.  Your 20-somethings need mentors.  New Christians need mentors.  Newly married couples need mentoring couples.  So, here is the question: where are you on this list?  Are you in need of a mentor?  If so, then pray about finding an older man or woman in your church to walk with you.  Are you retired and looking for a place to invest in the kingdom?  Find a younger man or woman . . . or even young married couple and invest in their lives.  Find your spiritual Timothy, Barnabas, and Paul and get to work for the glory and honor of God.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

“What’s in a name?” Advent Week 1

The word advent literally means “arrival”, and it refers to the arrival of Jesus into the world.  It is this time of the year where people all over the world celebrate Christmas.  For the Christian, it has a particularly special meaning.  This is the time that we get to celebrate our Lord’s birth.  According to what tradition you come from there are different ways to anticipate and celebrate this special day.  Whatever tradition you observe as a Christian, I hope you use it as a time to look to scripture and be filled with the joy that Jesus brings us.

Over the next month I would like to share a weekly thought or devotion to keep us looking forward to that special day.  Today, I would like to help us to remember His name and just who it is that came on that not so silent night.

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on
His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6

He Would Be Called Wonderful Counselor:

During Jesus’ 33 plus years here on earth he did many wonderful things.  He cast out demons.  He made the mute to speak.  He made the lame to walk.  He caused the blind to see.  He feed thousands with just a few fish and a couple loaves of bread.  He was full of mercy and awe.  He would not only instill awe because of his deeds but his teaching as well.  Even those who did not follow him understood his great council.  “The officers answered, ‘Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks’” (John 7:46).  Jesus truly was the Wonderful Counselor.

He Would Be Called Mighty God:   

Jesus is the God-man.  He is both 100% God and 100% man at the same time.  Claiming to be God caused others to want to kill him at times.  But there was no doubt that Jesus understood who he was and who the prophet Isaiah was pointing to when he said that he would be called “Mighty God.”  It was none other than Jesus himself.  There is no way of getting around it when Jesus says, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:40).  What an excellent way of anticipating Jesus this season . . . knowing that He was fully divine.  What joy that should bring us.

He Would Be Called Eternal Father:

Jesus would be the eternal father to his people.  As the king from the line of David, he would care for and discipline his children.  To think of Jesus as our father is a glorious thought. Just as a father was to provide, protect, and instruct his children, Jesus would do the same for his people.

He Would Be Called Prince of Peace:

While there is not complete peace on earth today, we anticipate that one day when there will be peace on earth.  The Prince of Peace will come to make all things new.  He is the one that comes to bring peace within the soul of man.  None could have real peace apart from Him.  Paul said it right when writing to the Colossians, “and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:20).  Jesus would come into this world to be king of it, and though him peace would eventually reign.

This week, let’s remember who it is that we say we worship.  Let’s remember that Jesus was indeed born a baby, but that was just the starting point.  He was born with a purpose.  As we anticipate the celebration of his arrival, let’s remember all of his glorious attributes, and not just the baby in the lowly manger.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

How to Focus on the “Son” during the Solar Eclipse.

On Monday, August 21st many people in North America will get to experience the rare phenomenon of a complete solar eclipse.  They are rare indeed and if you are fortunate enough to be within the path of totality you are sure to be in for an unforgettable experience.  The last time it happened in North America was in 1979.  For many, this is a very big deal.  People from all around the world are flocking to towns all over the U.S. to enjoy these minutes of darkness and everything that surrounds it.  It is sure to be spectacular as long as the clouds cooperate.  However, for the Christian this eclipse can be seen from a much different and much brighter light.  It is not just an event that is seen in light of astronomy, but one that screams the glory of God and His great Gospel.  The psalmist David wrote in Psalm 19:1-6 about how the heavens declare the glories of God.  I believe the king’s psalm perfectly expresses the coming events that will be seen in the eclipse.  As you prepare to watch this great heavenly appearance, I would encourage you watch it in all of its wonder in the light of God’s Word.

The Great Event:

From start to finish there will be something just a little different about your surroundings for roughly 3 hours if you are close to the sun’s path.  It will be noticeable, but subtle to begin with.  Notice what David said, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.  Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge,”(1-3).  During the few minutes of totality something amazing will happen.  The temperature will fall.  The sun will be hidden.  The stars will shine as bright as they do in the dead of night.  For those few minutes, everything will seem as if it was midnight.  After those momentary seconds have passed, the sun will once again begin to shine, and the eclipse will wane.  During this spectacular event, watch and see how God’s glory is pronounced.  Watch and see the sun, the moon, and the stars all in the matter of just a few minutes.  His sky, which the Father spoke into existence, and the Son holds together (Colossians 1:17) will be shouting the glory of His name.  His handiwork will be seen by millions upon millions of on-lookers.  Without words, both the day and the night will scream that this is the work of our mighty Creator.  The event that many are coming to see started in eternity past. . . yet we get to be the beneficiaries of seeing His glory on display in a special way.

The Great Distance:

Around 9:00 AM residents on the coast line of Oregon will be the first to see this great wonder.  Over the next several hours the sun will span the distance of more than 2500 miles to the coastal city of Charleston, South Carolina.  During its travel it will pass through major cities, small towns, and everything in between.  We travel around the sun once every 365 days, but in this Psalm, David reminds us that the message goes beyond the direct path of the Eclipse.  The message of God’s created world extends to every part of the world,  “ . . . their line has gone out through all the earth and their utterances to the end of the world.  In them He has placed a tent for the sun,”(4).  People are traveling from every part of the world great distances to partake in this celestial occurrence.  Although not everyone will be able to see it personally, it will be seen from every part of the world due to modern technology.  While most are focusing on the sun and the rarity of this heavenly event, let us remember the great distance the Lord came to reveal Himself not just through nature, but through the true Son.  Getting to see the sun and moon in all of its glory is a wonderful thing, but the Lord will be using it in every part of the world to ultimately magnify Himself.

The Great Picture: 

The Psalmist writes in verse 5-6, “ . . . which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat.”  Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is often pictured as the bridegroom.  Here, David makes the same illusion to the sun.  It “runs his course” and “its rising is from one end . . . to the other . . . nothing is hidden from its heat.” The same can be seen in the S-O-N.  During the eclipse the earth will go dark.  The sun will be hidden, almost as if it has been defeated and swallowed up by darkness, if only for 3 minutes.  When Jesus came, and died it was indeed a dark moment for the followers of the great Rabbi of Nazareth, but 3 days later the Son broke through.  The Son rose from the darkness of sin and the grave.  With Him, He brought victory for all of His people.  Now, He calls His own out of darkness and into marvelous light (I Peter 2:9).  This is the Gospel, and it will be on full display if we are truly looking on Monday.  It will be a wonderful picture of creation, the fall, redemption, and the consummation.

Monday’s event will surely be something to behold.  It will indeed be a special event to witness.  It’s worthy of pulling your kids out of school, and even taking off work if possible to go and participate in a near once-in-a-lifetime event.  However, if you go and see it just for the wonder of creation, you could miss an opportunity to truly glory in the wonder of the Creator.  God’s glory and His gospel will be on full display for the world to see as the sun and the moon do their dance, but while you’re watching from Anderson, South Carolina or your computer screen, be sure to take a moment and take the Gospel in while listening to the voice of David making melody in your soul.  Take a moment to worship the Lord . . . because if the sun is truly something to marvel at, just imagine what the S-O-N is like.

Soli Deo Gloria

Adam B. Burrell

How to get through a “bad” song during a worship service.

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

Should Your Child Be Baptized?

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