Manhood at the Master’s Feet

The Psalms and Matthew 18-19 tell us that manhood is more than bullets, brawn, and beast-killing. Jesus was the manliest man who ever lived, and he bounced children on His knee:

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13-15, ESV)

Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them,” but American men say, “Leave the children to the women, I’ve got hunting to do,” – as though killing animals, even to feed your family’s bodies, is more important than spending time with them to feed their souls.

Jesus says, “Children are a blessing;” American men say, “Children are a burden,” – as though pouring one’s life into someone else’s is not the best use of our relational time on this earth.

Cultural views of manhood reduce children to annoyances, play-toys, or “choices.” Jesus has a better stance: children get blessings, and they give blessings.

Dads and would-be dads out there, maybe instead of listening to Planned Parenthood, mainstream media, or hip-hop artists, we should sit at the Master’s feet.

Grace in the Dark

Micah 7:7-9 is a glorious passage to those in the dark. Let’s look at its broader context, starting with verses 5-10:

5 Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend;
guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms;
6 for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
7 But as for me, I will look to the LORD;
I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.
8 Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me.
9 I will bear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.
10 Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the LORD your God?”
My eyes will look upon her; now she will be trampled down like the mire of the streets.

Notice a few things here:

  1. The destruction of Jerusalem is so thorough that Micah’s hearers cannot trust their friends and family members. This is a deeply unbelieving generation, when members of your household can no longer be dear to us in our worst times.
  2. Micah speaks of an opposite response: waiting on the Lord. Waiting on the Lord is the opposite of hating one’s father and mother.
  3. Micah trusts that God will hear him: “My God will hear me.” God’s ear and response are the content of Micah’s hope.
  4. God’s victory nullifies the enemy’s taunting. In fact, God wins the victory even over the truth in the enemy’s taunts.
  5. God brings Micah out to the light. This is no “look at how far I’ve come” testimony. It is a statement of God’s saving, justifying power. He brings us out of the darkness into the light.

Grace often comes in those in the dark. “When I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me,” (v.8b). It is precisely at this time that the Lord is a light to us, when, like Micah, we sit in the dark.

Often, sitting in the dark, we think God has abandoned us. Our circumstances, if they can be trusted, tell us this and little else. They sound like the enemy of verse 10, “Where is the LORD your God?” But don’t forget the rest of the verse: “My eyes will look upon her; now she will be trampled down like the mire of the streets.” God wins. But how?

Recall that verse 9 says that God is the one who pleads our case. While He is already the offended party and the judge, He now “switches sides,” in a manner of speaking, to plead for us. Despite the fact that we have wronged Him directly, He now argues for our innocence. When Christ appears in our place, God’s judgment can be – and must be! – for us and not against us.

Once God has pleaded our case, there is no truth to the darkness any longer. True darkness only comes from the presence of sin, and upon justification all sin is declared “PAID” in Christ.

From all this darkness, then, God brings us out into the light. When we remember the truth about sin, righteousness, justification, the cross, and God’s grace, the light dawns. Faith, in other words, is the evidence that God has brought about the light of truth in our hearts.

Not long ago, I sat in the dark. When I could carry my sin no more, God reminded me that it was already paid in Christ. He reminded me of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. He brought me out into the light.

Stories Live Out Truth

I’ve been saying for a while, in various conversations with students, teachers, and parents, that Christians (and conservatives in general) have failed to defend the philosophical foundations which once made our country the freedom-loving, capitalism-enjoying, life-defending, worship-freeing nation it was meant to be. Those days, clearly, are gone. Now all parts of the “right” (our country’s term, not mine) are fighting for our philosophical lives.

Here, however, I am not assuming that all Christians are conservative politically or that all conservatives are sympathetic to Christian views. I am only saying that Christians and conservatives share some of the same public values, and that Christians should care about the truth being told in our country.

This is why Rod Dreher’s recent piece, “Story Lines, Not Party Lines,” is so important. In it, he makes the case for the importance of stories and why America needs conservative true stories so badly:

Kirk understood that the world might be won or lost on front porches, in bedrooms at night, around family hearths, in movie theaters and anywhere young people hear, see, or read the stories that fill and illuminate their moral imaginations. If you do not give them good stories, they will seek out bad ones.

“And the consequences will be felt not merely in their failure of taste,” Kirk said, “but in their misapprehension of human nature, lifelong; and eventually, in the whole tone of a nation.”

One direct application for me was this: what stories am I telling my family, my students, my friends and church and world? The world may be won or lost according to stories like mine.

Why? Because, as Dreher explains, “Stories work by indirection: not by telling us what to believe but by helping us to experience emotionally and imaginatively what it is like to embody particular ideas.” Embodiment must come with ideas, and is not optional.

This squares well with the Bible’s tight balance between positive doctrinal literature (epistles, wisdom, prophetic writings), positive and negative narrative accounts (OT history), and those that skillfully intertwine both (Pentateuch, Gospels, Acts, Revelation). God Himself sees truth as not only abstract but very livable. Jesus Christ was and is and always will be truth embodied in flesh.

Our children, husbands and wives, churches, friends, schools, and nation desperately needs stories worth telling – the kind of stories that are worth mimicking, the kind of stories that are worth building our lives on. Are you telling those stories, or are you leaving it up to the televison, internet, or paperback section?

Dear Pastor, Why Not Preach the Word?

One of my favorite radio hosts is always reviewing sermons, and I love it. So it made me wonder: why don’t you, dear pastor, preach the Word?

  1. Do you think that your ideas are wiser than God’s? No? Then preach the Word.
  2. Do you fancy your stories to be more entertaining than God’s Word? No? Then preach the Word.
  3. Do you find your topical sermons to be more directly applicable to people’s lives? Never! It canot be that you are a better exegete than the Holy Spirit! Preach the Word.
  4. Do you think your pop culture references are better connections than those inspired of the Spirit? No? Then preach the Word.
  5. Do you long to see souls saved from sin, death, and hell? God promises only one means, so preach the Word.
  6. Do you want to see Jesus Christ exalted over your own means, methods, and mole-hills? If not, leave the ministry. If so, preach the Word.
  7. Do you want to see Christ’s church upbuilt? Then preach the Word.
  8. Do you want to see your wife and children saved, strengthened, and sustained until the end? Your family vacation stories won’t do it. Preach the Word.
  9. Do you struggle with pride in your ministry? Only one means slays pride, so preach that Word.
  10. Do you care about the gospel ministry more than anything else you could give your life to? You’d better, so preach the Word.

Archives: “Do Stuff” Still Isn’t the Gospel

Talking with a friend tonight, we were both reminded of the great glory of the grace of God in the gospel. God requires not that we “do stuff” to earn His favor or His forgiveness, but commands us to trust Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal favor. The gospel isn’t that we “do stuff,” but that Jesus has already done all we need.

Here’s a rundown:

  1. Jesus Taught Justification by Faith Alone
  2. Did Jesus Teach Justification by Works?
  3. What Preaching the Gospel Is, and Isn’t
  4. Matthew 23: More Reasons “Do Stuff” Isn’t the Gospel
  5. “Do Stuff” Isn’t the Gospel
  6. Drink Deeply of Jesus Christ
  7. Hate at the Bottom of Your Heart
  8. Opinions We Make Into Law
  9. Is Your Church Characterized by Commands or Christ?

My prayer is always that we treasure Jesus Christ more through believing the gospel.

Afflicting the Unconverted

Mike McKinley’s Together for the Gospel 2012 talk about preaching to self-deceived unbelievers in our churches is full of gems. Here’s one:

“[Self-help teaching] only creates high-functioning citizens of hell.”

The whole thing is worth listening to, particularly if you don’t realize the effect of so-called “cultural Christianity.”

As McKinley reminds us, Christianity is a radical thing, not something you slide into because it’s convenient. It is our job, as believers, to help people see their true spiritual state.

T4G Panel #1: Complementarianism

Below are some highlights from the first panel discussion at Together for the Gospel 2012.

John Piper:

  • “[Complementarianism] a vision that steers a path between the nullification or minimization of differences as they are played out in society and the abuse of those differences.”
  • “We want to call women to full personhood and men to initiative and leadership in a Christlike demeanor.”
  • “I fought battle after battle with college students in the late 70’s and early 80’s over these things, but now we have thousands of young men and women who are receiving this [complementarianism] and flourishing.”
  • “The question that egalitarians can never answer for me is, ‘What do you do with a little 8-year-old boy that asks, “Daddy, what does it mean to grow up and be a man, and not a woman?” Or a girl who asks, “Mommy, what does it mean to grow up and be a woman, and not a man?” ‘ “
  • “Carefully walk through Ephesians 5 about marriage. It’s what every woman wants in her marriage.”
  • “Walk through the eight or nine evidences from Genesis 1 and 2 [sic, he included 3 in his explanation] that show that role reversal is what wrecked the world.”

Russell Moore:

  • “I fear that we have many people within evangelicalism who ‘check off’ complementarianism but live functionally egalitarian lives and marriages.”
  • “I recently spoke with a woman who told me her husband wants to get a sex-change operation. He didn’t want to leave her. They were going to stay together. Now, Martin Luther never had to deal with that.”
  • “When a wife submits herself to her own husband, when a young woman submits herself to a future husband she does not yet know, she refuses to submit to other men and the culture’s idea of women being defined by how men see them.”
  • “We as the church need to stop mimicking the outside culture in the way women are portrayed.”
  • “[You have to pay attention to complementarianism because] you have to deal with specifically complementarian texts: Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, 1 Timothy 2, and others. And you have personal sanctification issues to deal with.”
  • “Complementarianism bears the cross.”
  • “When Jesus washes the feet of the Church, she refuses Him. . . When He is going to die for her, Peter tries to stop him.”
  • “Jesus always gently and lovingly, but decisively, leads His bride.”

Greg Gilbert:

  • “We have men who think that complementarianism really has no feet on it until you come to a disagreement, that they have no role in leading in the home, in establishing an environment in the relationship, in taking initiative.”
  • “To get to an egalitarian position, you have to bring in some bad DNA, some bad principles and ideas, into your interpretation of Scripture. And eventually you will bring that to other texts as well.”
  • “As a pastor of a local church, you can’t ‘back-burner’ the issue [gender relations, complementarianism, etc.], because it’s so practical.”
  • “Too often, we let the discussion [about gender roles] be about negatives rather than positives.”
  • “God-given role does not speak to God-given dignity.”
  • “God has every right to give out roles to His created people.”

For more resources, go to CBMW.org . Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and other resources, are available as free pdfs.

A New Creation Like a Loaded Arrow

Another one of the most misquoted/misused passages in the Bible has to be 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; behold, the new has come.” People tend to explain this passage in one of two inadequate ways:

  1. Blank: This way says, “Look, you’re new! Everything has changed! You’re a different person, better, invigorated, alive!” But this way fails to explain what this new creation entails.
  2. Glorified: This way emphasizes the newness of this re-creation, “You won’t suffer any more! You’re a new creation, just like the heavens and the earth!”

Now look at the context. Verse 15 says explicitly, “And [Christ] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Note the purpose statement here: “That those who live might no longer live for themselves for him who for their sake died and was raised.” This purpose of Christ’s death, which re-creates believers, has a negative element and a positive element.

  • Negative: Christ’s death and resurrection accomplish repentance for us to turn from our former way of life. And what was that evil way of life? Living for ourselves.
  • Positive: Christ’s death and resurrection further buy grace for us for the faith to live for Christ, our substituting Savior.

The problem with the common explanations of 2 Cor. 5:17, then, is that these fail to focus the new creation on Jesus Christ. Verse 15 speaks through the ages: “that those who live might no longer live for themselves for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

This is the new creation: not money or health or more energy but an all-encompassing, sin-slaying love for Jesus Christ. We’re not blank creations nor do we yet have glorified bodies; we’re loaded arrows headed for Christ our Treasure.

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.

The Nations Are Always Bigger

Why God Wants Us to Grow a Passion for the Nations

As I longed to move overseas recently (this has been a lifelong desire, recently stoked by a teaching trip), I realized that, even when I get to whatever country foreign country God may send me to, I still won’t be in all the nations. I won’t even be ministering in two. Likely only one.

In other words, even in my desire to go to the nations, I can really only go to one at a time. The nations are always bigger than me.

For all of our evangelical talk about “reaching the nations for Christ,” there tends to be a rather individualistic (yay America!) tone to it all. It seems we’ve forgotten: the nations are always bigger than us.

And this is the way God intends the nations, as a term and as a reality, to be: always bigger. We need to know that we always need God more, need each other more, need other churches and churches from other countries more, than we had realized.

God wants us to grow a passion for “the nations” for two big reasons: to grow in our love for the God of all the nations and to feed that first love with a love for all the nations, even while we toil mainly in a single area of this vast world.

God’s design is that the pursuit of the nations undercut our “look at us!” pride and give us great hope in the God who can answer and save.

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.

No Other Message

Thomas Jones, from a 1976 lecture, “Preaching the Cross of Christ”:

True Christian preaching must center on the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is the central doctrine of the Holy Scriptures. All other revealed truths either find their fulfillment in the cross or are necessarily founded upon it. Therefore, no doctrine of Scripture may faithfully be set before men unless it is displayed in its relationship to the cross. The one who is called to preach, therefore, must preach Christ because there is no other message from God.

[Quoted in Bryan Chappell, Christ-centered Preaching, p.271]

The Proof is in the Preaching

Lots of us (sinfully) enjoy moralistic sermons (“do good,” “be a better person,” “take care of your finances,” etc.), but Bryan Chappell warns that no preacher accidentally omits the gospel:

A message that merely advocates morality and compassion remains sub-Christian even if the preacher can prove that the Bible demands such behaviors.

(From Christ-Centered Preaching, p.268)

So give your favorite works-preacher a close listen, and see if he gives weight to the weighty gospel or to the weak man.

The Redeemer > The Redeemed

In his recent post,”What Does It Mean to be Biblically Balanced?” Tullian Tchividjian explains how the Bible places a premium on the gospel:

The emphasis of the Bible is on the work of the Redeemer, not on the work of the redeemed.

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.

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