Category Archives: Gospel

My Mouth Says Yes, My Body Says No

burden

If I were to ask you what my favorite snack is, would you know? Of course not. But there is a way to find out. The solution is to get me in a room full snacks and see which bowl I head toward first. If I claim to love banana cream pie but instead spend all my time at the Doritos bowl you will disregard my previous claim. My actions confirm the trustworthiness of my words. What we do clarifies, and sometimes re-defines, what we say.

Family. Much of our instruction as parents is validated, or invalidated, by the decisions we make around our children. For example, most Christian parents have good intentions to teach their children to love God. But what value are we communicating to our children’s hearts when we neglect corporate worship to attend an event of our own choosing like a music recital, sports event or hunting trip. Our instruction may be, “Love God, no matter what,” but our actions say, “Love God if you don’t have a better offer.”

Marriage. No matter how often we tell our wives we love them, our actions can undo all those words. If you do not believe me, test the hypothesis: try making your wedding anniversary the same as every other day. Do not mention the special nature of the day, no flowers or chocolates, no special date. Instead encourage her to wash your car and fold that special shirt you wear when you go golfing with the guys. Your wife’s response would be both predictable and justified. You may be saying “I love you,” with your words, but by your actions you are saying, “I do not care anything about you whatsoever.”

Church. In the Presbyterian Church in America, membership vows include a promise to support the church in its worship and work. As a pastor, I’ve never met anyone who would take umbrage with this part of their vows. Yet why are churches’ evening services so poorly attended? Our words may say, “I’m committed,” but our actions say, “I’ll come 50% of the time.”

God. Perhaps the primary relationship that sits over all the previously mentioned ones is our relationship with God. As Christians, we profess faith in Christ’s work alone as the securing action of our redemption. Flowing from this redemption is God’s charge to “be holy, for I am holy.” (Cf. 1 Pet. 1:16). God in his word defines what it means to be set apart, dedicated in love to the Lord. The problem, of course, is our sin. Sin says, “I love myself more than I love God.” No matter the transgression, our action confirms love for self. Our only solution is to cry out to the Lord for deliverance. And having been delivered we must begin again learning to match our actions to our words through the power of the God at work it us (Phil. 2:12-13).

Rules, Rules, Rules…

do-not-enter

“The prophet’s scorn for what is false is a generous thing because it springs from a profound love of what is true.”
(J. Gresham Machen, God Transcendent)

We live in a society that is learning to hate rules. “Judge not, that you be not judged” is now one of the most popular verses in all the Bible. We hate prohibitions. We love freedom. We hate the “nos” but love the “yesses”. Biblically speaking, however, both prohibitions and prescriptions are present. Take the Ten Commandments. Eight of the commandments are prohibitions, things we ought not to do. Therefore negative commands, or commands which forbid behavior, are not a problem. Biblical prohibitions are only problematic when they are void of a godly love of biblical prescriptions. What I mean is that our reasons for not doing evil are based on our love for doing good. We do not do certain things because they are wicked, while we do other things because they are righteous. And our God loves righteous deeds (Psalm 11:7).

When it comes to our children, we are God’s agents to help them learn how to serve and fear him. For that reason, the rules of our home should be structured around prohibiting wickedness and promoting righteousness. We teach our children not to hit others, but to be gentle. The former is wicked while the latter is righteous. We teach them not to steal, but to be generous and willing to share. The former is a prohibition, while the latter is a prescription. We teach these rules because of our deep love for the God who saved us. He has charged us to raise up or children in the instruction of his name (Eph. 6:4). His prohibitions and prescriptions give shape to wickedness and righteousness for our children. In our daily worship to God in our parenting, we should not be like the husband who buys power-tools for his wife, or the wife who buys a subscription to Southern Living magazine for her husband. People who do that are offering gifts to themselves. Rather, the spiritual worship we offer to God should honor him and do so in the way he has described in his word. Just to confirm, his word both prohibits and prescribes.

If we concentrate only on what we should not do, we lose sight of the love of virtue. If we neglect what we should do, we lose sight of the hatred of wickedness. In both cases we are loosing sight of the gospel. In sending the Son to be our substitute on the cross, the Father does not only set us free from the guilt of our sin, but also frees us from the dominion of sin. When live apart from sin’s mastery, we learn to say no to wickedness in obeying God’s prohibitions and say yes to righteousness by following his prescriptions.

Marriage: Taking a Foggy Plunge

Marriage Introduction

If parenting is a labor of foggy love, so is marriage. Of course it does not start out that way. When I started dating my wife 24 years ago, our first days were all excitement, sunshine and roses. Nary a cross word was spoken between us, and we had limitless patience for each other, or so it seemed. We were young, foolish and ran into all sorts of trouble. Lisa was eighteen years old when we married, and there was a pressing motivating factor behind our marriage who arrived six months later. For people looking at our start, the most likely outcome would be two (or three) ruined people and one ruined marriage. However, by God’s grace he preserved us, using people and his word to sanctify us and accomplish his purpose in us.

Now I’m no marriage guru, but I think I have learned a couple of things after 22 years. I want to walk through some of what I’ve learned in my own marriage and try and clear the fog a little. However, first there are foundational assumptions to lay out:

  1. Trust the Bible. Christians start with the sufficiency and perspicuity (why just say “clarity” when you can say “perspicuity”?) of the Bible to give stability to every part of life, including marriage. The Bible and the Bible alone is our final authority when it comes to every single minuscule detail of our lives. Sorry Oprah.
  2. Biblical Obedience Presumes Regeneration. It seems one always has to make this disclaimer when teaching the commands of Scripture. As soon as the “thou shalts” of the Bible come out, so do the cries of “legalism!” In the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 16, good works are described as acts done according to God’s command, out of faith in him, as we live empowered by the Holy Spirit, bearing his fruit. That means biblical marriage does not make you acceptable to God. Instead, you are acceptable to God by the work of Christ alone, therefore you should honor him in your marriage.
  3. Command and Principle. Though the Bible will be specific in its commands, there will areas of marriage governed by application of biblical principle. In these there can be variety among faithful Christians. It is my goal to be gracious in teaching application, yet uncompromising in the Bible’s requirements for obedience.
  4. Men and Women Are Different. In some quarters there is a desire to minimize differences between men and women. However, the Bible does not operate that way. For example, the curses given to Adam and Eve after the fall are not the same. God curses Adam with hardship in his work, and curses Eve with hardship in bearing children and submission. If men and women are the same God would not need to make distinctions along gender lines in his curses.

So, no legalistic righteousness through marriage. Instead we will look together at God’s requirements for his people in marriage so we would know how to honor him.

Give Me What I Want: Covetousness

Do Not Covet

The 10th commandment concludes God’s instructions through the Decalogue on how we can properly express our love to God. This commandment does not deal with action so much as it does with attitude, making it stand out from the previous eight ordinances God gave Moses. You do not “do” covetousness in the same way you steal or commit adultery. It is simply present in your motivations and emotions.

Covetousness is seen in many of the accounts of Scripture. Achan coveted the things from Jericho devoted to God. David coveted Bathsheba. Absalom coveted the throne of his father David. Although the objects these three men covet are different, there is one common thread tying these examples together: dissatisfaction. Those who covet are unhappy with that which God, in his goodness, has given to them. They are struggling with contentment.

Jeremiah Burroughs defines contentment as follows: “Contentment is the inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal in every condition.”(1) According to Burroughs, contentment is not a grudging submission to God, but actually taking pleasure in our God-given circumstances. Contentment is learning to delight in all God has planned for us. If you want to pass that lesson on to your children, be assured that giving them everything they want will not help. So what are some ways we can help our children learn contentment?

  1. Teach your children to love God. Many of us have an exaggerated sense of “needs” versus something we would like to have. Needs are actually a fairly small category: food and clothing (1 Tim. 6:8). For the Christian, God is the central desire. When God, through Christ, occupies such an exalted place, toys, free time, hobbies and recreations should not cause us to grumble against our creator.
  2. Encourage your children to rejoice at a sibling’s success. Our children do not need to be the object of everyone’s praise and attention. Let them learn to cheer on siblings at their soccer games and take interest in their piano recital. Help them recognize when brother or sister needs a hug. Encourage them to be happy to participate in someone else’s chosen game.
  3. Teach your children to serve. From a very early age, children can learn to be part of the family. This lesson can easily be learned through participation in family chores. Even little children can learn to bring their plastic plate to the counter after lunch is over. Sincere service is a good instructor toward contentment.

Each of us face difficult circumstances, from a human perspective. However, we are the people of God and are to serve him alone. Nothing else should supplant him as the object of our desires. Yet often by allowing discontentment in our families, we are teaching our children to place their own desires before things God has determined for our good. Do not covet.

(1) Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, (The Banner of Truth Trust, Versa Press Inc.: East Peoria, IL, 1964). 40.

How Do I Worship God in My Family?

prayer

A big challenge Christians have is making God the primary object of their affections and the only God they worship. This struggle has transcended time. Adam and Eve surrendered to this temptation when they fell and mankind has doing the same ever since every time they sin. Therefore, it seems to me teaching children to honor the 1st commandment should be one of those “first order” issues.

Two things must be true for us to be able to truly worship God: 1. we must know and acknowledge God as the only true God; 2. we must worship him accordingly (Westminster Shorter Catechism, #46). In other words, we must believe the right thing about God and do the right thing as a result. I’m assuming the reader believes God to be the only true God. The question I’m trying to answer is, “How do I teach my kids about that?” Three thoughts about that:

  1. Private Study. To be able to show your children your love of God, you must actually love God. Seems trite, I suppose, but it is foundationally true. When you know God as the true God, you know about his holiness and your sinfulness, his Lordship and your rebellion. You also know he takes these kinds of people and makes them his own. A proper understanding of his gift makes one unable to be satisfied with a mumbled prayer and lifeless reading of Psalm 117. When you truly know God, you will love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. You will pray. You will read. You will know and acknowledge him as the only true God.
  2. Family Study. Your love for God will inevitably spill over into relationships. You will want to teach your children from God’s word. To maximize effectiveness, make family devotions a routine. Pick the same time every day and practice family worship then. Help your children understand the Bible in two broad categories: 1. what they need to know about God; 2. what they need to do to worship him. Then you can tell them, “Love God and do not steal,” or “Love God and be kind to your sister.” Worship of God is expressed in action. Give your children the joy of being able to worship God from an early age.
  3. Corporate Worship. It is easy to neglect corporate worship. However there is no better way to teach your children that God is the one true God to be worshiped. Tell your kids: “We’re going to worship the Lord now.” Tell them how you love to worship the Lord. Don’t allow them to speak negatively about the worship of the God who bought you at the cost of the life of his Beloved Son.

Worship of the true God forms the foundation of all that we will do in our homes and with our own lives. Is the Lord your God? Then worship him by yourself, in your family and in your church.

Parenting. What’s the Plan?

Father & Son Fishing

When it comes to talking about what we should do in parenting there are many voices. This truth is evident from the amount of material that has been produced to address parenting questions. amazon.com has 55,614 books on parenting. With this kind of information we should have no more questions. Of course this isn’t the case.

Parenting is never quite so neat as in a book (or blog post). Sin so often interferes with the serene thoughts of an author sitting in his study. However, that does not mean there is no plan. In fact, although I hate to be simplistic (not really), Amazon could list only 1 book in their section on parenting: the Bible. The Bible is sufficient to address every area of our lives. If an explicit command is not given there are sound biblical principles that we can apply. Below are 10 biblical ideas we can apply in parenting that should help our families honor the Lord.

  1. You shall have no other God’s before me. The only way a person has peace is through Christ’s salvation. Do not allow your child’s sports, hobbies, or work take priority over the worship of God and thereby take away their peace.
  2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image. Idolatry is whatever we invent to replace God’s directions for serving him. Set his word before your children and give them the comfort of following the unchanging God.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Your family is called by God’s name. Make sure you are a faithful witness to each other and the watching eyes of others.
  4. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Teach your children that God directs their time. God is not one of many activities to fit in a day, but he gives us our day.
  5. Honor your father and your mother. Your children are not your buddies. They are your children to be trained of up for God’s glory. Lead them and do not allow them to defy you.
  6. You shall not murder. Teach your children to rule their emotions, instead of being ruled by them.
  7. You shall not commit adultery. Proper use of entertainment, the Internet, and clothing are important. Train your children to love truth, honor and purity (Philippians 4:8).
  8. You shall not steal. Teach your children to respect the property of others whether it be material or immaterial.
  9. You shall not bear false witness. Love does not “rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Say no to tattling, lying and deception.
  10. You shall not covet. Do not allow your children to envy the success of others, but teach them to be content with what God has given them.

The Ten Commandments, of course. Each will require its own thoughts, but my contention is that Christians have hidden behind “legalism” and avoided God’s good moral law so long that we do not even recognize its use anymore. Apply his law in your home and lead your children in expressing love for God (1 John 5:3).

Why Should Christians Be Joyful?

Gift

One time my wife and I gave our oldest daughter a doll house. She had waited for what must have seemed like an eternity. Finally on her third birthday we gave her the doll house as a gift. When she took off her blindfold and saw the gift set up on the table for her all she could do is jump for joy, shout “thank yous”, and hug and kiss her mom and me. We could tell it was a precious gift for her.

Transitioning now to the spiritual realm, our response is not often the same when it comes to the gift of eternal life. We know from the Bible the God is the maker of all things. He made all things visible, invisible, spiritual, or material. Everything we see around us is obligated to him. The bad news is that we also know from the Bible that we sin against God every day. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are not faithful to him, neither can they be because of our sinful nature. This condition places us in a position of great guilt before him. Only when we realize the truth both of who God is and who we are will we realize the greatness of his gift to us. If we do not think much of the greatness of God, we will not realize his gracious condescension. If we are not aware of the depth of our sin, we will not grasp our desperate need of salvation. Without this understanding the Bible will be just another fantastical fairy-tale, or some opium for the masses.

However, the Bible is good news for those who receive God’s promises by faith. In fact, the news is so good, our response should be 10,000 times that of my daughter when she received her doll-house. If someone gave you one million dollars, you would do more than buy a canned Hallmark card and no one would have to tell you to do so. Yet we Christians often respond with apathy and indifference toward the things of God. It seems we have missed the preciousness of God’s gift to us.

Spend some time in Genesis 1-3, meditate on the significance of what is recorded there and go out and live with joyful enthusiasm for the God who made you, redeemed you and sustains you.

Why the Fall Matters

gavel

Every time I drive from Augusta to Waynesboro I pass a sign. In big, bold letters it proclaims: “God is not angry with you, no matter what.” That may sound fantastic, but it is not biblical. After God made Adam he commanded him not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen. 2:16-17, ESV). Of course, we know Adam & Eve did eat of this forbidden fruit. Their rebellion against God immediately changed them.

The next time we see Adam & Eve they are hiding in the garden because they hear God approaching. They know their relationship with God has been severed. They know they are deserving of God’s judgment and it won’t be pretty. Of course, judgment is not a popular idea in our day. However unpopularity has never negated truth. The Bible tells us Adam sinned and we all sinned in him (Rom. 5:12). That means God’s wrath rests on us because of our ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). So it seems we are in a heap of trouble.

So What?

A healthy understanding of God’s wrath against our sin teaches us about our condition as people. We are in desperate need of someone to save us. However, if we do not reflect on God’s wrath against sin, why would we want to change anything? Let me illustrate. Recently, I began hearing a rattling sound from the front left side of my car. I just ignored it because the workings of the automobile are a mystery to me. However, I gave one of my fellow elders a ride one day and he pointed out that I had a broken strut. He told me I needed to get it fixed. Without him showing me the condition of my car, I would have happily put up with a little bit of road noise. The same is true when it comes to our need for salvation. God tells us of our sin and guilt so we would know we are in need of salvation. He tells us so we might flee to the cross of Christ.

God hates sin. He is wrathful toward it. We would do well not to minimize the Bible’s teaching on this subject but use it make us see we need to turn us to Christ or face God’s judgment.

Who Cares About Creation?

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Ok. Here we go. First real post. And I chose the topic of…. creation. I’m going to acknowledge up-front that I am not trained in the natural sciences, so you will not get a lot of argumentation from me along those lines. There are people who are much more qualified than I to do that kind of article. That is not even the point of what I want to write. What I want to do is consider the theological implications that surround the issue of creation. I want to ask the question, “Why should I, as a Christian, care about God creating all things out of nothing, in the space of six days, and all very good?”

From a theological perspective, creation is important because the Bible says it is important. The first words of God’s inspired word deal with how the earth was formed: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1). God speaks and the physical universe is formed. Later, in Colossians 1:16 we learn creation is not just physical or material, but also spiritual, including the things we cannot see. The Bible’s teaching could not be clearer: God made everything.

So What?

More than an old stuffy book written by Moses in his spare time as he wandered the wilderness, Genesis lays out a proper order for understanding all that follows in the Bible. If God made us, it would follow that we are obligated to him. If God made all things, it would follow that all things are obligated to him. By contrast, if the world is formed by random chemical mutations (a very generalized and incomplete summary of naturalistic evolution, I know) we are not obligated to anyone. So creation is important because it helps us to see our obligation to God. And when we are obligated it speaks to our theology (how we should think) and our ethics (how we should act). We are not free to set our own agenda, but follow that of the One who made us.

Don’t skip over this truth, don’t allow the world to trivialize it. God made you, he put you together. That means something. You are obligated to him in thought, speech, and behavior.