Every Time Every Human Speaks

The times I’ve been charged with “teaching Christianity in a public school” make me laugh a little bit.

It’s as though administrators, principals, parents, and students think that Christians have some sort of other belief system, apart from their own, that is worthy of alienation. Of course, we know this is simply the world loving the darkness more than the light, because their deeds are evil (John 1). And we were once in the darkness, too.

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But the whole “stop talking about religion in public” is nonsense for another reason: every time every human being speaks, we are speaking our own belief system. For one person to tell another, “Don’t talk about your beliefs,” is to act like the speaker has no beliefs. But the truth is that we all speak our beliefs, every moment of every day.

To tell a Christian to drop the Bible is like telling a postmodern to stop speaking about scientism, neo-Marxism, or relativism. The postmodern literally cannot stop. It’s what she believes in.

We can talk about “separation of church and state” nonsense all day long, but it will never happen because it is a false dichotomy. Every time every human speaks, he speaks his worldview. Just be honest with each other, and lay those beliefs on the table.

Each of us has a belief system. None of them, on the basis of our own faith, is more or less true than another. In other words, nothing is absolutely true just because I believe it. Instead, all beliefs, and their systems, stand or fall based on their historical, internal, and supernatural veracity. And the Bible is the only one that passes any of the three (and all three at that!).

Thus, biblical faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only worldview that has full historical, internal, and supernatural truth. It stands beneath no other worldview, but it supreme above them all – because Jesus is supreme.

When we talk to those in the kingdom of the darkness, we must love them enough to care for their very souls. The first step is laying our beliefs on the table, explaining them, and asking the unbeliever to do the same. Only then can we have honest conversation that is out of the darkness and into the light.

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.

Hiding Behind Conservatism

On “Christian” Cowardice, the Lukewarm “Church,” and False Converts

In my state, we’re in the midst of a popular vote on whether or not we should exclusively define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Several professing “Christians” have posted statements like this:

  • “Love is love is love.”
  • “Doesn’t Jesus tell us to love each other?”
  • “Legal marriage and spiritual marriage are two different, unrelated things.”
  • “I’m not sure this law should be in the state constitution.”

What troubles me more than the muddled thought processes behind such statements is the fact that they reveal an ignorance of the whole of Scripture. Such words have yanked passages out of context, used them in ways God never intended, and thrown them aside.

Such issues shine spotlights on our supposedly converted Christians and evangelical churches. If someone has no concern for God’s Word as He wrote it, is that person converted at all? Has he truly been transferred from the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son? Wouldn’t it show in the way he looks at the world?

A converted man would he care more for people’s souls than for the supposed pillars of conservatism. A converted man would stand up against evil, even when everyone else stood against him. A converted man would preach this gospel, live this gospel, and die for this gospel.

“Hold on, that seems harsh.” Is it? When professing Christians cajole, contort, and apologize to get around God’s Word, do they really love God?

The way that Christians respond publicly to abortion and marriage will be one true test of our faith. Do we believe God’s Word or do we care more for other man-centered issues? Do we fear God or man? Indeed, who is our God?

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.

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.

The Strength in the Waiting

Psalm 31:24

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord.

This verse, indeed the Bible, strikes a strange balance. On the one hand: wait for the Lord. On the other: be strong and courageous. How do we do this? How do we wait AND be strong and courageous? That doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

We have a hard time making sense of this because we tend to think of courageous strength as self-built (wrong!) and patient waiting as passivity (wrong!). Psalm 31:24 says that courageous strength comes from waiting on the Lord, implying in turn that such holy halting is the gift of ferocious faith. Effort-laden expectation, we see, comes only from God’s mighty mitts.

While we hold onto Him, He’s truly the one holding onto us, making us strong, courageous, and watchful. So when it’s time to take courage and be strong, or it’s time to wait on the Lord, remember that our lives are always both. We await a Savior, Christ Jesus the Lord, so we can be very bold. All authority is His.

Scared of Nothing, or Bold as a Lion?

The wicked flee when no one is pursuing,
but the righteous are bold as a lion.

Proverbs 28:1

I recently reminded a student that if he felt guilty when no one was looking, he probably was right on one count. He was guilty, and God was the one looking.

Our consciences, fallen as they are, often tell the truth. When we’re worried about someone looking over our shoulder, it’s because we crossed the line into sin. We know we’ve sinned, that’s why we’re looking around for a “pursuer” who is there only in the unseen spiritual realm. But our conscience tell us He’s still there.

Contrary to selfish-shoulder-gazers, the righteous knows his actions are righteous because his heart is righteous. Therefore, he is “bold as a lion.” He needs not look over his shoulder for a pursuer who isn’t there; there are plenty of real enemies! Jesus promises as much, that “if the world hated Me, so it will hate you.” But the righteous are simply that: righteous by faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen on our behalf; so the righteous are afraid of nothing.

Jesus has already won the battle over sin, Satan, death, and condemnation; so we live in the strength and boldness that He supplies, that in everything He may get the glory (1 Peter 4:11).

So are you gazing over behind your own back today, or living boldly for the Lion of Judah?

Chewy or Nothing at All

. . . and I don’t mean Chewbacca. I mean “chewy,” like, “you can chew on it,” “you can dig your teeth into it for a while,” or “it’s thicker than your favorite cracker.”

Chewy is what Jesus must be if we can understand Him at all. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you,” (John 6:53 ESV). “Eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” that’s basically a command.

But it’s also gross, right? Does Jesus want us to become cannibals?

Well, in a manner of speaking, yes. Faith-cannibals, cannibals in a way that’s deeper and truer than any aboriginal man-eating practices. Cosmic cannibalism rather than merely carnal.

Humans need Christ’s “flesh and blood” more than we need a hot meal or a cool drink.We need Him, as the verse says, for “life.” We have no life in ourselves, so we need to ingest Christ to gain life. To wit:

  • Christ’s flesh and blood are life-giving; all other meals are not.
  • Christ’s flesh and blood enliven forever; all other meals only work for a short time (if you’re already breathing).
  • Christ’s flesh and blood awaken and embolden us for God; all other meals have no spiritual power at all.

Several verses are helpful here. Verse 54 says that those who eat and drink Christ’s body and blood will be raised up on the last day, verse 55 says that this blood and flesh are true drink and true food, verse 56 connects the ideas to abiding in Christ (see also chapter 15 with its vine and branches analogy), and verse 63 connects this everlasting life both to Christ’s words and to the Holy Spirit.

So Jesus wants us to chew and gulp on Him by faith. He wants us to imbibe His presence, His person, His passion and life by believing His Word in the power of His Spirit. He wants us to drink deeply on Him, because He is our only true drink.

Because, in terms of salvation, Jesus Christ must be chewy to you, or He’s nothing at all.

Discipline Drives It Out, Fast

Or: The Hard Way, The Easy Way, and Love vs. Death at the Dinner Table

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
If you strike him with the rod,
you will save his soul from Sheol.
Proverbs 23:13-14 ESV

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.
Hebrews 12:5-6, quoted from Proverbs 3:11-12, ESV

My wife and I noticed something the other day. For all of our cultural wranglings about “don’t discipline your children, just let them do whatever they want, blah blah blah, ad infinitum;” discipline poses a much better way: deal with the problem and move on.

As Ted Tripp explains in his excellent, God-centered book on parenting (and parenting yourself) Shepherding a Child’s Heart, parents must both teach constantly and discipline as needed. But when the discipline comes, the parent must deal with it in private by:

  1. making it clear how our child broke the family rule,
  2. repeating the promised consequence,
  3. giving the consequence,
  4. affirming our love for our child with hugs and words,
  5. praying for our child,
  6. and leaving together happily.

This is leaps and bounds easier than doing it the “easy” way! So many lazy parents prefer to coddle their child’s fanciful foolishness while ruining his character, their guests’ good graces, and other parents’ discernment!

Take a (not so?) imaginary dinner, for example, in which a three-year-old begins to disobey her parents at the table. The biblically wise parent will take the child aside, deal with the problem with immediate consequences and love, and return happily. And when discipline is correctly and consistently practiced, both will forget the trouble of five minutes prior.

The foolish parent, however, will continue to tolerate their disobedient preschooler until she becomes a nuisance to the entire table, thus making the “easy way” rather hard on everyone else and making a harder, deadlier way for both parent and child. If one guest was offended at the wise parent’s immediate action, the whole table is astonished at this child’s mutiny and her parents’ cowardice.

Should a king be afraid of an infant? Never. He must love as God does.

So which way is easier? Make a straight way for your child in the short and long run, or turn a blind eye and pave a path to disobedient death? We’ve found the answer to be simpler than counting to three.

Sex is the Inhabiting of Faith

In an interview with Christianity Today about her new book, Making Chastity Sexy, Wheaton professor Christine Gardner contrasts American approaches to teaching abstinence with those in Africa. This quote was particularly helpful:

By daily acting on that commitment [abstinence], young people understand through their bodies what it means to become more like Christ. It’s essentially a call to holiness that the Scriptures give us. It’s just like practicing scales on a piano if you want to become a concert pianist. It’s practicing abstinence that allows young people to inhabit their faith commitments in practical and tangible ways.

Let’s think about that for a moment. How a young man handles his own body (and a young woman’s) speaks volumes about the verity of his faith in Jesus Christ. How a young woman practices holiness in her body (and in how she pictures that body to the young men around her) displays the truth of her discipleship under Jesus Christ.

Examples include:

  • Our thinking about sex, dating, and marriage reveals the depth of our trust in God’s Word to speak clearly into these issues.
  • Our approach to various opposite-sex relationships shows our grasp of the gospel’s application to conversation, non-verbal communication, and idolatry.
  • Our practice of the command to “make no provision for the flesh” testifies to whether or not we have “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).
  • Our honesty about our own relational and/or sexual struggles and failures tells whether we have trusted in Jesus to take our guilt, our shame, and our condemnation.
  • Our departure from those failures, in repentance and faith, exhibits our grip on the gospel’s power to bring new life.

By the Holy Spirit, God calls us to trust Christ fully, in every area of our lives. Sex is simply the inhabiting of this faith. When we fail, repentance is in order, that we might inhabit the steps of Jesus once again, trusting Him for the power to deny selfish lusts.

Believing Christ When Death Makes It Hard

My good friend Eric Sinclair, ruminating on the fact that, while he believes his recently deceased daughter will be in heaven, it would still be a supremely satisfying heaven without his daughter and only Christ to enjoy:

That seems incomprehensible to me on some level, and I don’t think I will ever be able to fully understand it while living in a fallen world. Even so, I trust it to be true. While I have no reason to imagine Heaven without my daughter, it is encouraging to know that it would still be Heaven without her. That’s how big our God is. Christ is so glorious and majestic that His presence alone is enough to fill eternity with unsurpassed joy. That is crazy love.

Herein Eric displays what the Bible calls enduring faith: he trusts God’s Word even when his feelings are slow to agree, admitting that his own fallenness, and not anything inferior in God’s character, is the real problem.

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.

Faith Covers the Reprehensible

Calvin, commenting on Hebrews 11:32-34:

Then the Apostle ascribes all that was praiseworthy in them to faith; though there was not one of them whose faith did not halt. Gideon was slower to take up arms than what he ought to have been; nor did he venture without some hesitation to commit himself to God. Barak at first trembled, so that he was almost forced by the reproofs of Deborah. Samson being overcome by the blandishments of a concubine, inconsiderately betrayed the safety of the whole people. Jephthah, hasty in making a foolish vow, and too obstinate in performing it, marred the finest victory by the cruel death of his own daughter.

Thus, in all the saints, something reprehensible is ever to be found; yet faith, though halting and imperfect, is still approved by God. There is, therefore, no reason why the faults we labor under should break us down, or dishearten us, provided we by faith go on in the race of our calling.

Move Aside, Death

Studying Hebrews 11, I’ve noticed a theme. In verses 28-31, for instance, all of the writer’s examples have death either in the foreground or background:

  • By faith, Moses kept the bloody-sheep Passover, warding off the Destroyer.
  • By faith, the Hebrews escaped the Red Sea drowning that the Egyptians marched into.
  • By faith, the Hebrews felled Jericho’s walls and annihilated the city.
  • Rahab escaped this same Israeli destruction of Jericho because she trusted God when the spies had come.

So God sees a life of faith as one that rejects the world’s threatenings of mortality and lives in this life for the immortality of the next. Faith sees this world as a testing ground, a minefield of faithless possibilities and so a greenhouse for faithful, selfless, Christ-glorifying acts of hope and mercy, courage and love.

Because Jesus is risen, faith looks at death and says, “Move aside; I’ve got God’s things in mind.” It refuses to live on the world’s terms of material wealth, self-help, and self-love. It sees worldliness as the true death and physical death as the entrance into a thrilling eternity with Christ.

Psalm 119: Life from the Word

Psalm 119 gives us the most thoughtfully thorough, devotionally rich, and theologically deep explanations of the supremacy of the Bible in the Christian life. Today, we’ll note a theme in the Psalm: God gives us life according to His Word.

  • v.25 My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!
  • v.28 My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!
  • v.107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!
  • v.114 You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.
  • v.116 Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope!
  • v.124 Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes.

In this psalm, God says over and over again that He not only gives life according to His Word, but that He wants us to pray for life from this Word!

Several applications follow:

  1. Pray these kinds of prayers. God is happy to answer them – that’s why they’re here!
  2. Trust that the Word is for your good. God has in it spoken. He speaks again and again in it, but not against it.
  3. Trust that Jesus is the living Word. Christ is the embodiment, climax, fulfillment, and goal of all of God’s words! He is forever connected to the Book!
  4. Trust that the Bible promotes your faith in God’s Son. It isn’t mainly a list of rules, but a revelation of Christ Jesus, born, crucified, risen, and ruling.

We must not believe the lies that God mainly speaks outside of His Word. He has once spoken in it for our good in the glory of His Son, and He speaks it to us now by the power of His Spirit.

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