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?

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]

To Live and Die a Son

Bible translator Drew Maust reports that Emily Belz’s story on the battle over Bible translation in Muslim contexts still rages. As one pastor says, “I want to die for the Bible.”

And many will, knowing that – contrary to nonsensical translations – the Word says we are children, not mainly of earthly parents, but of the heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, the Son.

To the Wicked, Grace Doesn’t Come First

[photo by Mr. Stein on flickr]

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a fellow school administrator about how to deal with our lawless students. She firmly believed that we, as educators, ought to give students as much grace as possible before giving them law. This, to her, was exactly how we “show Christ’s love.” I disagreed then, and I still do. Here’s why: this principle is the exact opposite of God’s.

God gives law to the proud and grace to the humble. As Ray Comfort says, “You will never see the Lord Jesus giving grace to a proud, arrogant, self-righteous person. He doesn’t do it.” But, where Ray applies it mainly to evangelism (and we should), I’m applying it to all of our dealings with others, particularly with children.

Thinking Like a Child
When I was a child (I might say with Paul), I thought as a child. I hated law. And as a young adult, I mostly still did. I remembered my angry chaffing at “legalistic” teachers and principals and didn’t want to be like them. But, even as a child, I knew it was worse for teachers to give a pass to a prideful child (sometimes even their own child!) instead of giving them their lawful consequences.

But as time in the classroom went on, I became a father, too. And I learned the truth that, in this fallen world, everything still runs on rules and regulations. It’s just the way things go, because that’s the way God wants the world to operate. He wants us to learn the principle of sowing and reaping. He wants us to learn His economy of sin and consequences. He wants us to know about motives, actions, and just deserts.

False Grace Barricades True Righteousness
Isaiah makes this perfectly clear when he preaches in Isaiah 26:9-10:

    When your judgments are in the earth,
        the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.
    If favor is shown to the wicked,
        he does not learn righteousness;
    in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly
        and does not see the majesty of the LORD.

Here’s the proposition: If grace (“favor” in verse 10) is given to the wicked, then that false showing of grace obscures the wicked man’s ability to “learn righteousness.” In other words, to the arrogant, a lying grace barricades true righteousness. And, since true righteousness is the display of God’s glory, this lying grace further blinds him from “see(ing) the majesty of the LORD,” (verse 10).

Therefore, any insistence on grace to the proud is:

  1. A lie. Grace to the proud is not true grace.
  2. Dishonorable and degrading to the name and character of God. It mangles His majesty and rends His righteousness.
  3. Harmful and dishonest to the proud student. This slithering, mangling “grace” teaches no grace at all, but pictures a cuckhold of a God who winks at our sin.

Law Isn’t Evil
But it feels so “mean” to use the law, right? The law is good, Paul says, when it is used lawfully. It is for the evil, adulterous, dishonest, greedy, sexually immoral, violent, and oppressive people in our midst. We ought to use it. We must use it.

But using the law doesn’t mean that we must use it with a legalistic spirit. The law must be the tutor to bring people to Christ. So use it, teachers, to show your own conscience and that of your students that we have all failed before God’s holiness and stand in need of His mercy. Then, your consequences must be fair, just, quick, and loving, given with an eye toward repentance and restoration.

The Use and Consequences of Law
Consequences should match the crimes. For example, when a student skips class, she should receive a zero for the day and come back after school to make the class up, missing any extracurriculars or other commitments. When a student steals something, he needs to return it, pay it back again, and receive a in-school manual labor suspension. When a student cheats on a test, he has earned the right to get a zero on that test, no opportunity to replace the grade, and a short-term suspension. Anything less than these consequences teach students a lie about God’s character and His economy in the world.

But all of these very fair consequences must also be used redemptively, with the stated goal of repentance (reparations and consequences aren’t necessarily repentance) and restoration. Once the student deals with her consequences and returns, she must be as full a part of the school as her own attitude will allow.

The Economy of God
These things must be so because this is how God has structured our lives in a fallen world. We need the law to teach us right from wrong, we need it to establish boundaries and standards in our lives, and we need it to teach us that we are unable to live up to God’s holiness. Indeed, we must never think that anything but the blood of Jesus can save us.

Proverbs 22:15 says it this way:
    Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
        but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

And all the parents, youth workers, and teachers say, “Amen.” We must discipline and apply the law and its consequences, as is appropriate regarding our calling and relationships, in order to teach people the majesty of God.

When a law-breaker learns to stand before the enthroned King and say, “Woe is me! I am undone!” then he is well-positioned, the Bible says, to cry out for mercy to the Son of David, the King of Israel, the Christ of God, who kept the law in the place of everyone who repents and believes.

So don’t give the wicked in your midst a false grace, give them the very real law and its consequences, that it would train them toward Jesus Christ.

Psalm 10: Do You Pray for Judgment?

Psalm 10:1-2 reads:

Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.

The psalmist spends the next twelve verses outlining the offenses of the wicked against God and His people, then prays in verse 15:

Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.

But, as I read this I wondered, do we pray like this? Do we honestly beg God to bring judgment on the wicked? Or does that seem too “angry” or “hurtful” to us? Have we become too afraid, baptized in the lies of “tolerance,” to have such a zeal for the glory of the Holy One of Israel?

Some teammates of mine in Uganda thought it funny that I spoke of praying the imprecatory (fancy word for “cursing”) psalms. But what else do we do with them? Ignore them, like so many cowardly, feminized churches of the past? Or do we take them, understanding that our enemies, in order, are our personal sin against the holy God, the dark powers scheming against God’s people, and human persons refusing repentance, and pray them with a full heart, begging for their extermination by either repentance (our own or other people’s, not demons’) or active wrath?

Lest we think this is “an Old Testament thing,” remember that the Greek Testament speaks many imprecations upon the enemies of God, notably in Matthew 23 (vs. Pharisees), Galatians (vs. false teachers), 2 Timothy (vs. false teachers), and Revelation (vs. Christian-killers and all manner of evildoers). Or do we think those are exceptions?

In other words, do you pray for judgment, through repentance or wrath? If not, read the Psalms, and may God make it clear that what we are saved from and what we are saved for:

O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Calculated to Thrill

JI Packer writes in Knowing God that, “Knowing God is a relationship that is calculated to thrill a person’s heart.” As I listened to chapter three yesterday, it struck me that most of us (and most of me) don’t think about knowing God as a particularly thrilling undertaking.

But why not?

As Jonathan Edwards would say, is there any characteristic of God that is not infinitely exhilarating? Is there any need in our hearts that He cannot meet and then exceedingly overflow with His glorious nature?

“Knowing God is a relationship that is calculated to thrill a person’s heart.” Do you believe it?

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?

Enstasy vs. Ecstasy

How often have you heard lines like these?

  • Well, I hope you enjoy yourself.
  • You just need to learn to be okay with yourself.
  • I can be happy all by myself.
  • When I look at myself, I’m happy with me.

Sentiments such as these seem to permeate American, me-centered culture. Indeed, they must, since our atheology is built on self. We espouse enstasy, which is the state of standing inside one’s self.

America loves self-esteem, self-confidence, enstasy; therefore, we know nothing of ecstasy. Enstasy robs us of ecstasy, which is literally the standing outside of one’s self. Enstasy and ecstasy cannot coexist.

Isn’t the etymology interesting? “En-” always means “inside, into;” and “ec-/ex-” always means “outside, out from.” These two words give us a window into the dichotomy of desiring delight in ourselves versus pursuing pleasure in another.

One verse (of many) that helps us see this in the Scriptures is 2 Timothy 3:4, where God tells us to avoid such people of the last days (our days) that are “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant . . . not loving good . . . swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”

Notice here that the source of this false appearance of godliness is a love of self and pleasure rather than God. This is different than saying that God is not pleasurable. Paul is speaking here of a selfish pleasure, an enstatic pleasure rather than an ecstatic one found in God. How wildly, maniacally egocentric we are, to believe that loving our ugly selves can produce more pleasure than loving God!

The truth is that there is no real pleasure to be found in loving ourselves, because we are finite, sinful, and not worth gazing at for long. We were made for something more, something for which Jesus redeemed all who will believe: to be happy in God alone. This is true ecstasy.

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.

The Substitute Servant Saves Sinners for Ecstasy

God would substitute the Servant, this servant would gladly die and rise for sinners, and both would be happy with the result.

Expositing Isaiah 53 in chapter 4, “Promise,” in my forthcoming book on the gospel.

The Fact that You Even Ask That Question . . .

It seems that American evangelicalism is afraid to talk about judgment, hell, repentance, and God’s wrath in general. It’s been well-documented recently, but here’s another angle: why is it that we feel we must shrug off the facts of judgment? Why do we always feel the need to say things like, “Well, God could save everyone, but He doesn’t”? What are we saying?

Of course, the question that always follows is, “Well, why doesn’t He?” as though God is somehow bound to our pea-sized (at best) ideas of how sin, wrath, redemption, and glory are meant to work on a cosmic scale. But the fact that we even ask or entertain that question is evil for a number of reasons:

  1. God doesn’t have to save anyone. He is unbound by anything but His own promise to do so. Those who care not for the promise have no right to question the Potter.
  2. God doesn’t accidentally save less than we think. God means to save all whom He wills. This is the message of countless passages, promises, and teachings. God is not a bumbling TV father who can’t remember how many kids He has. He’s God.
  3. God’s wrath is glorious. God intends to exercise wrath, punishment, righteous anger upon sin. He must do it because it glorifies Him and His glory is His ultimate goal.
  4. God’s wrath promotes His grace (Romans 9:22-23). Saddest of all, the fact that we even ask the question means we don’t really understand God’s grace. His grace is a bloody grace, sending and punishing His Lamb-Son in the sheep’s place. His grace is a painful grace, taking on our pain that we might be in His pleasure. His grace is a wrath-built grace; through the cross God builds on and deals with the fact of wrath rather than ignoring it.
  5. Our questions reveal our pride. The fact that we even ask such a question also reveals that we assume lies. We assume that God won’t judge. We assume that we’re entitled to forgiveness. We assume that we’ve earned better than God’s forever-hot wrath. We haven’t.

The next time we think about entertaining the arrogant question, let’s think again and be humbled beneath His mighty hand. God’s glory deserves more.

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