Backstory

Everyone has a backstory, and most of the time it helps to hear it. This blog really isn’t about me; it’s about Christ Jesus and His glory. Yet, I know that as Paul let his churches know him as a “father” and even (amazingly!) a “mother” in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12, so readers want to know who they are hearing from. That desire is a good thing, a gift from God to connect humans made in His image (Genesis 1).

For the most part, the last three years have been the hardest spell of my rather short life. I’ve hinted at it here and there (and I hate to either use this blog for confession or to downplay the importance of serious thought), but for a time blogging has taken a distant backseat to Scripture, prayer, my wife, our children, worshipping with our local church, working hard in my vocation, and building God-centered friendships.

None of that is to say that blogging isn’t important to me; serious thought is commanded for the Christian. Indeed, so many of the benefits of life are lost without serious, faith-filled thought. I shudder to think how much grace I’ve lost, forgotten, or neglected through my own poverty of biblical thought.

And none of this is to say that my readers aren’t important to me. I thank the Lord for each and every person who benefits from this blog and who encourages me, whether through comments, questions, or just seeing that someone liked what I wrote.

I enjoy all of this and count it a privilege to write to you. Now, back to covering topics so much larger than myself . . .

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Good Deeds And/Or Gospel?

I intentionally inverted the order in the title, because Paul gives us the correct connection in Titus 3:4-8:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness,
but according to his own mercy,
by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
so that being justified by his grace
we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things,
so that those who have believed in God
may be careful to devote themselves to good works.
These things are excellent and profitable for people.

As someone who struggles to be devoted to “good works” that are “excellent and profitable for people,” hearing a ton of “do better” from well-meaning advisors, it is refreshing and life-giving that God doesn’t do that here.

Let me repeat: the Lord of the universe, all-wise and powerful, full of zeal for His glory and compassion for His children, doesn’t just tell us to “be devoted to good works” first. Instead, He teaches his leaders to remember the gospel (v.4-7): that God saved us in His goodness, not because of our own, through the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, who justifies us and gives us a sure hope of eternal life. Then, because of this, he wants us to be zealous for good works.

Note the order: gospel, then good works. Gospel then good works. It’s not the other way around.

When people have a “works” problem, they really have a heart problem, and only the gospel addresses the heart. Good works can “adorn” the gospel (Titus 2:10), but never are the gospel.

So, when I fail in good works, remind me of the gospel. Remind me of God’s grace in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit to helpless sinners like me. Remind me that Christ died to redeem me from lawless deeds and purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14).

Then, and only then, there is a place to explain these good deeds. But, please, don’t just tell me to do good works. That’s “do stuff.” That’s legalism. That’s not the gospel.

A Clown Leading a Funeral

Or: American Evangelicalism Cannot Lament

One of my teachers recently reminded me that roughly 70% of the Psalms are lament. That would be astounding if . . . only we knew what lament was.

In the US, we prefer laughing at something terrible rather than weeping. We prefer joking over looking someone in the eye. We would grin a thousand times (a million?) before ever tearing our clothes. In other words, we’re cowards.

In God’s logic, however, these things should not be. To go down to the house of mourning is better than the house of feasting, because death is our end in this life, and we ought to take that to heart.

So why do we act like clowns leading the world’s funeral march? I offer but three reasons:

  1. Laughter is our escape. As well it should be, but only sometimes. Laughter is a gift that teaches us who believe about the world to come, but it doesn’t teach us much about the shortness of our lives. And our world is too filled with glib gaiety to understand the weight of blood-bought joy.
  2. Laughter is our default. It seems that so many of us, when confronted with hard situations like death or disease or divorce, try to laugh it off. Why is that? Surely, we are using laughter to escape, but we’re also using it because we don’t know what else to do. It’s easier to laugh than to look someone in the eye and feel their pain.
  3. Laughter is our drug. Like an escape and an I-don’t-know-what-else-to-do knee-jerk reaction. Laughter is our drug. When we’re tired but refuse to go to bed, we want to watch comedy. When we’ve had too many hard things for one day, we are thrilled to disconnect from the real world by watching more YouTube nonsense.

I ought to pause here to say that, as my friends would smirkingly testify, I am a man who loves to laugh. But these points convict me, too: am I too eager to laugh when I ought to weep? Do I try to escape pain meant to abase me in prayer by escaping in false glee? Do I really believe that my life will skip the cross and all its suffering to go straight to the singing and dancing?

Oh, friend, let us remember that all of our singing and dancing must be tainted with longing, sorrow, and lament until Jesus returns. Hasten the day, Lord Jesus, when faith will be made sight! Until then, keep us real, burning our lamps in sorrowful joy until you bring the fullness of joy in Your kingdom.

Sin’s Rigor Mortis in My Kitchen

or “Why I’m a Bad Husband: How Sin Ruins with a Man’s Communication

One of the things that happened through sin and because of sin in the Garden was that the man and woman started fighting, blaming, and hating each other. (If you read closely, actually, it’s happening while Satan tempts Eve. Adam just stands there! So passive.)

Adam and Eve now will fight over leadership. They will go to war with each other in violent and escapist ways. They will wall each other off with stiff-arms, absent emotions, browbeating, and even extreme physical force. They will hate instead of love.

One of the ways this affects me is that, because of my sin, I often prefer not to communicate very clearly. And, if I’ve learned anything about communication, it’s that, if it doesn’t start most problems, it sure can solve many. But I’d rather not communicate. I’d rather keep to myself. I’d rather leave my family in the kitchen while I do my own thing.

What’s Daddy doing? No one’s sure.

Maybe you’ve seen the same things:

  • A father at the park who’d rather play on his IDrone than with his own children.
  • A husband who passively follows his wife around the store looking like a frightened puppy.
  • A grandfather who sits quietly and lets grandma do all the leading at family events.

What do these men have in common with me? They’d rather not communicate.

We would rather not communicate because communication and leadership require you to give yourself up to be criticized, questioned, ignored, or disobeyed. Every man, woman, and child in the universe has the pride of a thousand actors, crying, “Me! Me! Listen to Me! Look at me” when it comes to speaking out, but men particularly take offense at these negative responses (criticism, questioning, ignoring, disobedience, etc.) to their leadership. We take these things as a slap in the face, a cruel joke, or a cause for physical retaliation.

So our pride keeps us from speaking. We’d rather be silent than slammed, quiet than questioned, reserved than ridiculed. But leadership is precisely as Jesus intended: great sacrifice as great service to others that points to the greatness of God. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:44-45).

As men, we don’t like that. As someone somewhere has said, we want the crown without the cross. We want the acclaim without the agony and pain. We want the adoration without the humiliation.

But Jesus told us: it won’t be so for us. God has charged us men with leading our families and those otherwise in our charge. We’re His. So we must speak, speak clearly, speak love, speak the truth, suffer for it, and by grace through faith be saved in the end.

Sin still shakes its death quakes in my kitchen and in my heart. But sin is dead in me, because Christ lives again.

Guard Your Heart During the Waiting

As one who’s been doing a lot of waiting lately, I found this post from Paul Tripp particularly helpful. He gives five signs that waiting has weakened your faith:

  1. Giving way to doubt.
  2. Giving way to anger.
  3. Giving way to discouragement.
  4. Giving way to envy.
  5. Giving way to inactivity.

All five points (in one post) are worth a read; plus, Tripp gives the God-centered antidote to each. He also makes a subtle, solid argument against prosperity theology.

20 Minutes of Core Non-Boredom

How I Work Out

I make no claims to being a workout guru. There’s plenty of them out there. This post is for those folks who say, “What do you do, and why?” or “How is it that you’re in better shape than last year?” or even “Why are you crawling across the floor like a spider?” Friends, this is for you.

Three Causes
A trifecta of causes birthed my workout regimen:

  1. Family Man: I don’t have much time to work out right now, and I probably won’t for the next 20 years. I had to figure something out.
  2. Bad Back: I can’t just run for an hour in the morning or go play pickup basketball every other night. I have to be thoughtful about doing core exercises.
  3. (Former?) Athlete: This means I like to go hard. Plus, I get bored with the same stuff. Running the same loop day after year? Not for me. I need variety (think P90X without the $70 DVDs).

20 Minutes of Core Non-Boredom
These brought “20 Minutes of Core Circuit” to life. Basically, it rotates through 5-7 core exercises per workout and rotate 3-4 exercises for each component. Each exercise gets 1-2 minutes, then we go straight on to the next, or take a breather and water if injury or blackout feels imminent. We may go for 18-30 minutes, but 20-22 is about right. For example:

Monday
Exercise #1: Bicycle crunches
2: Decline pushups
3: Wall squats
4: Wide-grip pullups
5: Jacknife (combined pushups and lower abs)
6: Side planks (for obliques)

Wednesday
1: Spiderman pushups
2: One-legged squats
3: Mountain climbers
4: Weighted situps
5: Weighted lunges
6: Weighted neutral grip pullups

Friday
1: Balance ball drills
2: Offset-hand pullups
3: Weighted dips
4: Side leg-ups (hanging, knees up to chest)
5: Straight planks
6: Ball-grab pushups

Structure and Variety
This program provides me with structure and variety. The structure is two-fold. Time is structured by weekly frequency (3-4 workouts/week), workout length (18-30 minutes), and component length (1-2 minutes). Exercise components must be within the “core” areas of the body: chest, back, abs, upper legs, obliques.

The variety comes from mixing up the exercises so I don’t get bored. P90X calls this “muscle confusion,” but it really is just  a good workout system. Notice this system never repeats a single exercise in the same week, but it worked each of the core areas at least once (often twice) per workout.

Anywhere, Anytime
The final cool think about 20 Minutes of Core Circuit is that you can do most (not quite all) of these exercises anywhere: a park, your living room, the back parking lot at work, your backyard. You just need a few tools and you’re good to go!

A Year of Results
I’ve been doing this for almost a year without missing more than two in a row. This has usually been due to travel, but, even then, it’s still very do-able. This workout has put me in twice the shape I was in a year ago: I’ve dropped a safe amount of weight while building lean muscle and strengthening my core.

I hope this helps some of you; it sure has helped me! Feel free to write in and tell me what you do.

Like a Turkey in an Ever-Warming Pot

I have a love/hate relationship with a lot of things, but Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to remind me . . . of them all. Some holiday seasons, it seems that every little family vacation moment boils my sinful self-love and my self-directing desires.

At the same time, what could be more enjoyable than being with the people you love for four days of family fun, making memories as wide as the Thanksgiving spread? Yet I find my soul is less nourished by family time than by God’s Word. I badly need the Word of God to rejoice my despairing heart, revive my dead soul, and make my simple mind wise (Psalm 19).

As God revives and wizens my mind, I’m slowly realizing that I’m the worst sinner in the room. I’m the source of all my failures to love others. I’m the source of all my holiday problems.

But praise be to God that He is taking me and killing my evil self-love because I am with Jesus, following on His path of pain, suffering, death, and resurrection. So, this Thanksgiving, God is slowly refining me. Or boiling me, like a turkey in an ever-warming pot.

The Best Remedy to Turn Us Inside Out

A thought on why God ordains faith rather than works as the means of calling, regeneration, justification, adoption, salvation, sanctification, eternal life, and glorification:

In our sin, we are so wildly self-absorbed that faith is God’s only and best remedy to turn our affections inside out. True faith always blinds us to self and opens our eyes to Christ.

I Want to Leave More than Air Force Wings

A weeks ago, I went to my great-great-uncle’s funeral. It was at once touching, epic, and short-sighted. I left pondering not only my own death and legacy, but how we ought to think about life, death, and what we leave behind.

One eulogizer went to great lengths to describe the Air Force awards my distant relative had won during the Korean War. He read his work commendations and told war stories. The military theme was completed with an outdoor flag service and twenty-one-gun salute.

When we visited my uncle’s house, we found on display every piece of military memorabilia the family had discovered. Air Force wings, other medals, pictures, official documents, and various other insignia and mementos lined the dining room table. We inspected several pieces each, wondering how we had been ignorant of his achievements for so long.

As I prepared the next week to preach on Hebrews 11:17-22, I noticed that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph display their great faith by looking beyond their respective deaths to God’s gracious promises. Each of them believed that God’s resurrecting, saving, and promise-keeping power would reach past the grave.

And all of this is written in the famous “Hall of Faith” chapter so that we who believe can read it for our instruction, encouragement, endurance, and hope (Romans 15:4). God chose to encourage our faith with stories, not mainly of military conquests, but of faith. Enduring faith is what calls others to endure in faith.

Then I realized that, when my life is finished, I want to leave my children more than Air Force wings. I want my life to be a song of God’s grace through faith. I want my eulogizers to look over my casket and preach the good news of Jesus Christ crucified to wake the dead in the room.

I may be buried tonight, tomorrow, next year, or in five more decades, but this post is a prayer that my life will matter for more than Air Force wings, because Jesus is coming back.

The Disordered Christian

Puritan Thomas Watson describes him here:

There is one great difference between a child of God and a hypocrite. The hypocrite picks and chooses in religion. He will perform some duties, which are easier and gratify his pride or interest, but other duties he takes no notice of: “You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law – judgment, mercy, and faith,” (Matt. 23:23). To sweat in some duties of religion and freeze in others is the symptom of a disordered Christian. Jehu was zealous in destroying the idolatry of Baal, but let the golden calves of Jeroboam stand (2 Kings 10:29).

[The Godly Man’s Picture, p.167 in Banner of Truth Puritan Paperback edition]

Which reminds us that some duties these days are more popular. Many professing Christians (of various persuasions) burn for:

  • abstinence from certain substances
  • witnessing to unbelievers
  • studying the Bible with others (Amen!)
  • public worship
  • external singing and making music to the Lord
  • engaging the culture
  • social justice

While many have become cold for:

  • fasting
  • secret prayer
  • rebuking the wicked
  • tithing and giving to the church
  • loving the church before and in priority over the world
  • family worship
  • forgiveness
  • private study and prayer

Oh, may we run from bringing hypocrisy on the name of Jesus! Christian, do you burn for all of your duties, or just your favorites? If only for your favorites, who is the true master of your duties?

The Slippery Slope of Success

Reading Hebrews 11:23-26 today, I realized something. I’m not like the Moses of these verses. Here, Moses chose rather to endure ill treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered Christ’s suffering greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking to the reward.

Far too often, we Americans wink at work-related sins in the name of “success.” But that “success” is worldly to the core. It is characterized by the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life.

So I asked myself, “Did taking on Christ’s reproach and loving God’s people characterize my last year at work? Or did I rather work for the wrong reasons – the fleeting pleasures of sin and the treasures of America?”

Here are four handy ways to find out if you’ve slipped off the path of faithful reproach to seek after trophies of sand:

  1. Do you first look for your boss’ approval? You say, “But my boss should know when I do something good. It’s part of my job.” Maybe, but as soon as you did it, did you wish he knew?
  2. Do you love to tell other people about your work successes? When work comes up in a conversation, do you love to be defined by how well you’re doing at your job? If so, you have begun to use your vocation as your savior.
  3. Do you work more for money and gifts than to worship God and love others? Oooh, this one hits home. “But I am supposed to provide for my family!” You sure are, but you’re not supposed to do it mainly for money, or for people, but for God.
  4. Do you often choose work over being with God and His people? “Oh, but I had to be faithful at work.” You should absolutely work hard, for as long as you’re signed up to be there. But did you prefer to stay and work instead of praying and reading your Bible, loving your family, and serving your local church?
  5. Are you afraid to be bold for Christ? I have known very many teachers who were afraid to preach the gospel for fear of losing their jobs. Guess what – they’re losing their faith instead. They counted the treasures of America greater riches than the saliva-soaked hate-speech they’d get for preaching the gospel. They looked at the wrong reward.

So, when you get to work, are you working for the treasures of Egypt, or turning from false treasures to be called a fool for Christ? Too often, I’ve forgotten that Jesus calls us to lay down our lives – yes, even our work lives – for His sake.

Life Isn’t About You

David Brooks’ NY Times piece debunks the “go find yourself” message we preach to college graduates:

Today’s grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, they’ll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.

Psalm 101: The Grace of Faithful Friends

Psalm 101:6 caught my eye the other day:

I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
he who walks in the way that is blameless
shall minister to me.

Following the previous section’s slam on evil and evildoers, notice the emphasis here on “the faithful” and the one who “walks in the way that is blameless.” The psalmist speaks of his friends (“I will look with favor upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me,” v. 6) over against his enemies (“I hate the work of those who fall away,” v. 3).

Often, when we read passages like this, we are tempted to ask, “Why don’t I have friends who help me faithfully?” But this passage isn’t first about us or how others ought to be faithful to us.

The Faithful Friend
First, we must remember that Jesus is the one who displayed His faithfulness, to God, for His friends:

  • “He loved them to the end,” John 13:1.
  • “Whoever comes to Me I will never cast out,” John 6:37.
  • “I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep,” John 10:11.
  • “Greater love has no man than this: that someone lays down his life for his friends . . . but I have called you friends,” John 15:13-15.

Christ’s love for His friends is faithful, eternal, sacrificial, and ultimate. Any time the Bible speaks of those who are “faithful and true” or “holy and blameless,” it points ultimately to Christ Jesus, innocent but executed as a criminal, risen from the dead.

Point It Back to You
Second, once we have seen in the gospel Christ’s perfect, sacrificial friendship, we must point Psalm 101 back on ourselves. Do I, in the power of Jesus’ blood and righteousness, live before God and others as a faithful friend?

  1. Do I live as a husband, father, church member, and friend as someone whose walk with God is worth following? This is the essential element of any godly friendship. “I will sing . . . to you, O LORD,” (Ps. 101:1). Do I have anything of God’s grace in me to offer others?
  2. Do I have a mental thought-life that ponders God’s ways of holiness? The godly friend will spend time “ponder[ing] the way that is blameless,” (Ps. 101:2). Have I thought over God’s word and world enough to help a friend in need?
  3. Do I hate what is evil and cling to what is good? Over and again, the psalmist speaks of his hatred for evil. He promises to keep worthless things from his eyes (v. 3a), hate the work of apostates (v. 3b), keep perversion far from himself (v. 4a), know nothing of evil (v. 4b), destroy the slanderer (v. 5a), walk away from the proud (v. 5b), and cast the deceiver and liar out of his house (v. 7).
  4. Am therefore I a faithful and blameless friend? This goes back to verse 6 – am I the kind of friend who others want to live around be served by? Can I be a blameless minister to them? When someone needs a hand, am I faithful by God’s grace to provide it?

Such are faithful friends, but we will never be those until we know Jesus as Savior-Friend.

Such Friends are God’s Grace
Third, do we have such friends as Christ is and as we want to be? If so, they are a happy gift of God. They are tangible evidence of His grace to us in Christ Jesus.

God could have left us alone in this world (as too many think He does), without friends in a gospel church, but He has not! He has given us the grace of faithful friends through the Faithful Friend. The fact of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection creates holy brothers and sisters in the local church.

  • Do you know Jesus? If so, He is your faithful friend.
  • Do you know Jesus? If so, believe that He can make you such a friend.
  • Do you know Jesus? If so, seek such friends who love Him (the local church) and be thankful when God makes them faithful.

***

Do you see faithfulness in your friends through the love of Jesus? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!

Why God Made Literature

In a response to one of our readings this year, one of my students wrote:

[The character] and I have honestly a lot in common. I am feeling like this book is my life right now.

I wrote the student back:

Amen! That’s how literature works! We should use it under God to connect with the characters and understand our own lives better.

Literature is a gift! Read on, and may God use it to let you know HIs grace more deeply! He has saved many out of deep despair like yours, and He will do it again!

So let us, too, read on, looking on the pages for sinners in need of a Savior and through them delving into the ocean of God’s multi-layered love.

“Christianity is Not First About Our Getting Better”

Tullian Tchividjian on accountability groups, false sanctification, and the Christ-focused pursuit of holiness:

Christianity is not first about our getting better, our obedience, our behavior, and our daily victory over remaining sin–as important as all these are. It’s first about Jesus! It’s about his person and subsitutionary work–his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, session, and promised return. We are justified–and sanctified–by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. So that even now, the banner under which Christians live reads, “It is finished.” 

HT: Ben Barnard

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