by Pearson Johnson, Director of Student Care and Discipleship
Books, supplies, roommates, COFFEE, snacks, syllabi, and enough cash for a few weeks. Ready to start another semester here at BJU? Not quite. We all realize, whether students, faculty or staff, that we need more than just the material things that supply our needs. We need much more from God, and I want to encourage us to meditate on two resources we have been given and will be given which meet our deepest needs for the coming semester: grace and peace.
Paul begins most of his Epistles with some form of a simple greeting: "Grace to you, and peace" (Eph 1:2, cf. Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2 etc.). What does he mean by greeting us with the words "grace and peace," and how can that affect our outlook on a new semester?
Bryan Chapell defines Grace as "the compassionate and prevailing power of God on behalf of His people," while D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones described grace as God's "beneficent kindness and condescending love." God looks on our weaknesses, our circumstances, our stresses and pressures and He responds with compassionate, loving, undeserved grace. This grace empowers us and enables us to meet the circumstances of life with dependent, diligent determination. What a blessing this is in the face of a daunting semester!
The greeting goes on. Because of the grace we are given, we can be at peace every moment of our lives. Peace is the resulting experience of the believer that understands that everything is right and as it should be under the sovereign, good, and gracious hand of our loving Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. We are at peace with God and we have peace in the middle of the storms of everyday student life.
Grace and peace-- it is what we have been given by our Father through our Savior. It is also what we need in every challenge, in every circumstance, in every opposition, and in every opportunity. May God grant us all the grace and peace that will enable us to glorify Him in this new semester!
by Pearson Johnson, Director of Student Care & Discipleship
We are excited about a new semester here at BJU- new in its timing, new in its content (new classes!), new in its experience of God's mercies (Lam 3:22-23), and new in its expectations of God's work in and through us in our discipleship groups.
Dr. Pettit spoke to us last semester about How to Pray 15 Minutes a Day, his recently reformatted and republished work which has been made available for us for free as a downloadable PDF here.
I am personally thankful for this booklet. After finishing grad school and becoming an Assistant Pastor at Inter-City Baptist Church near Detroit, Michigan, then Evangelist Steve Pettit came to our church for evangelistic meetings. Before the evening services, he did a series of seminars in which he taught through the concepts included in this booklet. He knew then and we know today that effective prayer is necessary for effective work in seeing people evangelized and discipled.
I know this booklet will be a help to you. I would encourage you to make use of it in your discipleship groups as well.
by Krista Daniel, Resident Mentor
Every Christmas I’m always taken in by the magic of the season. I love the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping and the excitement that builds with every passing day. I love the colder weather (which down South could mean its 65 degrees, but hey, we’ll take what we can get) and the traditions that surround the holiday.
But over the past few years, I’ve noticed that most of the things that I look forward to during the season really have nothing to do with Christmas at all.
White elephant gift exchanges, decorating the Christmas tree, and even time with family have nothing to do with December 25th.
The day that God came.
The day that everything changed.
You see, before the coming of Christ, the world was in a constant state of waiting.
In Genesis 3:15, after the despair of man’s shattered relationship with God through the Fall, God offered what only He could give–hope of One to come who would be greater than death, sin, and Satan. One that would end the suffering that now entangled itself with every part of this world–even the start of new life.
Many years later, God would call a man named Abram to follow Him and offer him a promise–that He would make Abram a great nation (Gen 12:1-3) and that through His line all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen 22:18).
And a great nation did come. Incubated in Egypt and then led out by God Himself, the nation of Israel continued to cling to the rest of the promise of God. Although God led His people, there was still an unbridgeable chasm between them.
The never-ending cycle of sin and judgement hung over the people, only to be covered temporarily by the death of an animal in the place of the sinner. The message was clear–total holiness, the standard of a relationship with God, could not be reached. Once a year, on behalf of the people, the High Priest would offer sacrifice and go into the Holy Place to make atonement for the nation (Lev 16).
Year after year, sin after sin, death after death, the people waited.
Many more years passed and God made another promise to David, the king of Israel. One would come through his line to bring hope and set up an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-17). Things will be made right forever under the rule of this King.
So the waiting continued.
For hundreds of years God’s chosen people clung to the hope of this Messiah–the Savior, the One to come.
Often in their waiting, Israel would turn its back on God and pursue idols, resulting in times of judgement and captivity for the nation. But no matter how dark the times would be, or how terribly the nation rebelled against God, He held true to His promises and offered the same Hope.
“Come back to me. He is coming. Hope will come.”
Through sending prophets, God would share His message again and give greater glimpses at this Messiah who would restore the people’s relationship with God.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. -Isaiah 7:14
Born of a virgin? How could this be? What would this Immanuel be like?
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. –Isaiah 9:6-7
God would bring Messiah through a woman and set Him up as Ruler. But from where?
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace. – Micah 5:2-5
He will lead. He will bring peace. But how will they know when He is to come?
Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. -Malachi 3:1
God shares that a messenger will come before the Messiah–that is what His people should look for. But then, with the close of the writings of the prophet Malachi, God fell silent.
For four hundred years, no word came from heaven.
For four hundred years, the world changed.
And for four hundred years, God’s people waited.
But only silence.
Until one day the God sent the angel Gabriel to a man named Zechariah to tell him that he would have a son– a son that God would use to prepare the people for the Messiah.
Around a year later, the cries of an anguished woman in labor broke the silence of a quiet but full night in Bethlehem.
A woman that was a virgin.
The irony of it all–this woman, sentenced at the Fall to have pain in bearing children was giving birth the One who would end the curse. Her pangs of labor pushed the Savior out into the world, and with his first cry, air would fill the tiny lungs of the One who had spoken the universe into existence. Now born, the final Sacrifice was surrounded by the very cattle that had for so long been slain in His absence.
God with us.
And this season, I want to remember that. Although I love the man-made magic that comes with trees and lights and traditions, I don’t want my anticipation to build because of these things.
Because the truth is that the wait is over.
That is why I want to be excited.
God has come.
by Natalie Smith
I attended a play on campus recently, 28 Steps: A Reformation Play, written by Mr. David Schwingle of our Fine Arts faculty. Although based on Luther’s beliefs and the reality of his situation during the reformation, the dialogue between Martin Luther and a nun who was sent to assassinate him was fictional. Watching this play helped me understand that at the foundation of the struggle between Martin Luther and the church- and the real difference between Catholics and Christians today- is accepting God’s grace alone through faith alone. The nun kept insisting she needed grace from God. She knew there was no way she could get into heaven on her own. But she also kept telling Luther that she had to access God’s grace through the means of doing enough good works, purchasing indulgences, confessing her sins to the priest, and by her own efforts living as pure and chaste a life as possible. She agonized and mourned over her sin, truly acknowledging how wicked she was and desperately wanting salvation. She even spoke of being purified by the fires of purgatory so she could enter heaven, calling purgatory a means of God’s grace. In the play Luther pleaded with her to understand that Christ took our punishment and died in our place, and that our acceptance of His free gift of salvation by faith alone gives us access to all the grace we need. He wanted her to understand that even if we could earn grace, God would get no glory in that. Grace is not grace if we are earning it. And God is not God if any of our merit reaches His holy standard of righteousness. So close and yet so far….so complex when it is really so simple. Grace alone through faith alone.
As I watched the play, I realized the nun was still living like Israel in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 9:5, the “congregation drew near and stood before the Lord”. God wanted to reveal His glory to His people and the priests. But at the time of the offering in verses 7 and 8, it is only Aaron the high priest who is told to “draw near to the altar” and offer the offerings to make atonement for himself and the people.
God wanted an audience with His people, but they had to draw near through a priest. And over and over again, blood had to be shed. The steps involved in each sacrifice were multiple and messy. And the people could only access God through the priest. In Hebrews 4, we are reminded of Christ’s sacrifice that paid the price for our sin once and for all. So now we can “draw near with confidence”. We can go to Him directly, not through a priest. And approaching Him is simple and clean. No animals to kill. No blood to pour out and spread on the altar. No handling of animal organs to be burned. The God of heaven-holy and righteous- the creator and sustainer of life has invited you and me to draw near, to approach him. And because of our perfect high priest who paid the price for our sin, we can. He loved us enough to draw near to us, to become flesh and dwell among us on the earth (John 1:14), to be tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin, and then to die in our place to redeem us. By grace alone, through faith alone we can know God and have eternal life. I wanted to tell the nun we do have a priest, a sympathetic one who knows how hard it is to fight against our flesh and the presence of sin. He is so sympathetic that He died in our place to pay a debt we could never pay.
This is a truth I need to rehearse with myself often. I learned about the Reformation and Martin Luther when I was in school, and I was familiar with the Solas before our emphasis on them this semester. But highlighting the reformation has been a wonderful encouragement and conviction for me. Being reminded of how corrupt the church had become and all that Luther and the other reformers were fighting against to make known the truth, has strengthened my faith and renewed by thankfulness for God’s grace. Grace that I, like the nun in the play, need to access every day. I realized that at times I have a tendency to rely on my good works as a means of sanctification. I know my works have not/don’t save me, but sometimes I act as though my works earn me favor with God and that if I try hard enough I can be humble, selfless, patience, kind, etc. all on my own. I know that’s not true, but do I really live that way? Unlike the nun, I know I have direct access to God to “find mercy and grace in my time of need” (Heb. 4:16) every day. The means of grace- His Word, His Ear (prayer), and His people (the church) – are free. And only by His grace can I live righteously before Him. This Thanksgiving I am thankful for the Reformation: God’s Word alone, salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for God’s glory alone.
By Eric Newton
Everyone from Aldi to Dick’s Sporting Goods to the local chess club seems to have a mission statement these days. Someone on a mission focuses on a preeminent goal and sets aside peripheral matters. Think of a runner setting aside all weight that would hinder his progress in the race. Or a soldier who refuses to be entangled with civilian activities so that he can focus on war.
While mission statements are modern, living for an ultimate goal isn’t. The original eleven disciples lived missionally. In Twelve Ordinary Men John MacArthur writes,
“They certainly struggled with pride and arrogance like every fallen human being. But the driving passion of their lives became the glory of Christ. And it was that passion, subjected to the influence of the Holy Spirit—not any innate skill or human talent—that explains why they left such an indelible impact on the world.”
To put it simply, the disciples obeyed the Great Commission. They took Christ at His word.
It’s no different for us. Sometimes we wrestle with a call to missions, but the question isn’t whether or not we should go. The question is whether or not we’re going to obey and honor God. We shouldn’t read the imperative at the end of Matthew conditionally, like a Mission Impossible script: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it . . .” Jesus commands us, “As you go, make disciples.”
This doesn’t mean God calls everyone to move time zones. Perhaps your disciplemaking mission is on the very street where you currently live. But we have to reckon with the reality that the Great Commission is God’s will for all of us.
How do we know this command to a few people on a mountain nearly two thousand years ago applies to us in this zany, contemporary world of ours? Several aspects of these verses clearly indicate that the Great Commission is for us. One of the prominent features of Matthew’s final paragraph are the universal statements.
In other words, as long as Christ has authority and people need discipled and the commands of Christ are in effect and the world hasn’t yet ended, we must obey the Great Commission.
The second feature that confirms the ongoing nature of Christ’s directive is how the paragraph ends. There are five previous sections in Matthew. Each is completed by Jesus’ teaching. The final narrative concerning Jesus’ death and resurrection concludes, not with an extended discourse, but instead with this divine charge to the disciples. The teaching is a call to make disciples.
In fact, Matthew’s gospel concludes in an ironic way. Matthew does not mention Jesus’ ascension into heaven. This does not mean Jesus stayed on earth, of course. But by omitting an actual reference to the ascension, the Holy Spirit reinforces the ongoing necessity of the disciples’ role in carrying out Christ’s mission. Instead of a period, there are ellipses marks. The work of the King to rescue worshipers continues on through the evangelism and discipleship of the church.
Most of us have understandable questions about what we should do with our lives. We have specific decisions to make about next summer and next year, not to mention next month. But in our quest to know God’s will, regardless of the specific situation at the moment, we must keep the Great Commission in full view. It is God’s will for all of us. It is our mission.
By Pearson Johnson
Last week, we had our first fall discipleship seminar. Our goal with the seminars is to, over the course of two years, provide training for our Group Leaders and Assistants Group Leaders. The topics will focus on the seven statements from the Group Leaders Guide that describe discipleship at BJU. Dr. Pettit spoke last week on the first point, "discipling leaders who will boldly declare the gospel in a hopeless world." Our particular goal was to see leaders equipped in sharing the gospel in their discipleship group. Since our students are professing believers, he also shared some very helpful advice on discussing the topic of one's assurance of salvation.
Dr. Pettit initially encouraged our leaders to have the students share their testimonies of salvation during group time. The simple main points to cover are:
If someone in your discipleship group would like to talk more about their salvation or assurance, please do not hesitate to bring them by the Student Care Office or email for an appointment.
Think about how often we communicate with our close friends on campus either in person or through technology. Imagine seeing a friend several times in one day and yet not communicating with them. How would your friend feel if you never talked to them or even acknowledged their presence throughout the day? Yet how often do we go an entire day without acknowledging God’s presence (except to thank Him briefly for our meals) or fellowshipping with Him in prayer? “If we communicated with our friends as infrequently as some of us communicate with the Lord, those friends might soon disappear.” (John MacArthur, Alone with God)
How do you practically “pray without ceasing?” This does involve setting aside specific time to pray. However, let’s think about being in the attitude or spirit of prayer at all times. As John MacArthur puts it, “I think of praying at all times as living in continual God consciousness, where everything we see and experience becomes a kind of prayer, lived in deep awareness of and surrender to our Heavenly Father" (Ibid.). How do we live in this kind of continual fellowship? Foremost, we must have a right view of God. When we see God as our Creator, Heavenly Father, and Best Friend, we desire the close communion that is possible only through prayer.
Let’s consider 3 aspects of praying at all times.
1) Praying at all times is a command. The New Testament contains over 30 commands to pray and many examples of Christ praying. One of our biggest motivations to prayer should be the fact that God commands us to pray. As you may have learned from a catechism, our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Enjoying God can only happen when we fellowship with Him! So prayerlessness is denying our chief end as a believer. Prayerlessness is, in fact, sin.
2) Praying at all times is an expression of our dependence on God. When we pray, we are living in awareness of our omnipresent God. Praying at all times includes asking, interceding, thanking, pleading for help in temptation and much more! These are all expressions of reliance on our Heavenly Father. How can we put on the armor of God expecting victory and not depend on God through prayer? Look at how often the Gospels show Christ praying. If Christ—the very Son of God—prayed as often and as fervently as He did, how much more do we need to be devoted to prayer?
3) Praying at all times is linked with thankfulness. Colossians 4:2 says, "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving" (also Phil 4:6, 1 Thess 5:16-18). How often do we thank God for the little blessings of the day? I can remember multiple occasions when driving that I voiced my thanks to God for a close parking spot when it was raining or an escape from a near-accident. And how often do we thank God for the challenges of the day? I love how one author puts it, “I have learned that in every circumstance that comes my way, I can choose to respond in one of two ways: I can whine or I can worship! And I can't worship without giving thanks" (Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Grattitude).
Here are some practical suggestions for praying at all times that I’ve tried to incorporate in my own life:
Overall, ponder how you can cultivate an intimate relationship with the Lord, so that communicating with Him becomes instinctive.
In response to our Ministry Leaders' Training Survey, we promised to announce a winner of the book by Jeremy Pierre, The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life. We drew a name based on a randomly-generated number from the number of survey responses, and the winner is... someone who will be announced at our next Ministry Leaders' Discipleship Training seminar.
The next seminar is scheduled for Monday, October 9th, at 7:00 PM in Stratton Hall. Dr. Pettit will be speaking to us. Be there!
UPDATE: As announced at our Discipleship Seminar, the winner for this year is ZACH KIRCHNER. Zach is one of our Assistant Group Leaders and is a Business Administration major from Scottdale, PA. Congratulations Zach!
By Eric Newton
In the previous posts we have considered the importance of developing virtuous habits and the role of faithful examples in doing so. This post considers another component, a word that many of us dreaded as kids when our mom connected it with the word piano—practice.
Another aspect of developing virtuous habits is God-dependent practice. Habit is not a word that leaps off the page to fill our souls with splendor. It sounds mundane, perhaps even lethargic or inauthentic. But the problem isn’t the idea of habits. All of us tend to do certain things. We all have routines, even if they amount to a typically chaotic life! The problem is what we love and what habits we develop.
That’s why it’s so important to establish patterns of beliefs, values, and commitments that lead to life. The world recognizes this. Motivated by philanthropy or perhaps the almighty dollar, a lot of contemporary advertising attempts to shape our outlook and influence our choices about diet and exercise. Business leaders read and write books about the habits it takes to be effective. College football coaches implement a system of recruiting, conditioning, practice, and strategy that will hopefully lead to bowl success. In other words, it’s no secret. Habits are crucial.
In order to bring God glory as His children, we not only need to find faithful examples to learn from but also to establish faithful practices. Simply attending a church service isn’t virtuous. Simply opening a Bible, reading a few verses, and checking a box is not sanctification. Doing a service project doesn’t make us righteous. But joyfully submitting to God’s instructions about the primacy of the local church . . . taking God at His Word that success comes by meditating on Scripture day and night . . . building into our weekly schedule opportunities to serve others so that they see God’s light and give Him glory. These are the kinds of rhythms that God uses to form Christ in us. It’s not about meriting His favor or proving our superiority. It’s about intentionality that has His kingdom and righteousness squarely in view (Matt. 6:33). It’s about “giving all diligence [to] add to your faith virtue” (2 Pet. 1:5).
So, our quest this year is to cultivate good patterns of thinking and believing and choosing. May God help us.
By Eric Newton
The previous post considered what a Christian college education is all about. It is a whole-person education aimed to glorify God and help people flourish by developing character, the imprint of virtuous habits.
This leads us to another question. How do we establish these patterns? Or, how do we translate goals into lifelong pursuits? Here is the answer we’ll unpack over the next two posts: Virtuous habits develop through God-glorifying imitation and God-dependent practice.
All of us need inspiration more than occasionally, because success is more than knowledge. We often make strides due in large part to the example of others. For instance, Paul commends Timothy in 2 Timothy 3 not only for believing apostolic doctrine but also for adopting the apostolic pattern of discipleship. Timothy learned how to live from Paul.
This emphasis on imitation can seem contradictory to being Christ-centered. In fact, the pendulum of imitation tends to swing out of balance. Many times in history, both Christian and otherwise, leaders set themselves up as paragons of virtue and dictate that their followers copy their every move. Such a proud, man-centered environment is very unhealthy and often ends in catastrophe. As Proverbs 16:18 says, “. . . an haughty spirit [goes] before a fall.” God never desires one mere human to be the center of anyone else’s universe.
But there is an opposite error, an overreaction to this real and present danger. The other ditch is to dismiss imitation as an illegitimate category. Sometimes with good intention we attempt to step out of the picture, not wanting the scrutiny or pressure of being exemplary. The problem is that God made His image-bearers to affect others by our example. It’s a part of created human nature. To be relational is to have influence. Without blushing Paul wrote these God-breathed words, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
Therefore, we cannot simply take a pass when it comes to God-glorifying imitation. The truth has to be embodied. As Jeremy Pierre says in The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life, “Imitation is an effective means of spiritual formation as people model themselves after others who embody a full-hearted faith. . . . The gospel message for Paul was not merely knowledge content to be transferred, but also a life to be lived in light of that knowledge. People learn what that life looks like by seeing it” (148). We don’t seek to bring glory to the faithful examples we’re following. We follow their footsteps because their gaze is firmly fixed on Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2).
So, our quest this year involves finding faithful examples we can learn from and humbly attempting to set the right example for those whom we will influence.