Honoring our imperfect fathers and imitating our perfect Father

imitating-god

I don’t remember wanting to be like my dad growing up. That sounds insulting, but it’s not meant to be. Not really.

See, my parents split up when I was a kid, so beyond our scheduled visits, I really wasn’t around him all that much. I didn’t really know him all that well so I couldn’t know whether or not I wanted to be like him. And what I did know was filtered through my particular biases and bitterness. It hasn’t been until I became an adult—and more specifically, after I became a Christian—that I got to see my dad for who he is and learn more about what he’s really like.

He’s not a perfect man, by any means. Nor would he claim otherwise. He’s committed many sins, and made many mistakes. And yet, what’s been helpful to me has been seeing how he lives in light of them. Here’s what I mean:

When he’s wronged someone, he apologizes. And although he knows he can’t undo the hurts or damage of certain decisions, he does his best to make amends. But he also knows he can’t make someone forgive him. He is not responsible if someone cannot find it in themselves to forgive him—regardless of the amount of effort he could put in, he can’t make it happen.

What’s all the more amazing about this is my dad is not a Christian. At least, not yet (but I hope he will be, someday). Yet, he still models an aspect of repentance that I want to do likewise. There’s no way for me to make someone forgive me. There’s nothing I can do to remove bitterness from someone’s heart. I can make restitution, to the degree to which I am able, but I can’t guarantee that my actions will result in reconciliation. This is a good thing to learn, and to see modelled, and to follow suit in. But I also don’t want to stop there, any more than I want my own son to stop at wanting to be like me.

Whether our fathers are believers or not, whether they’re good men or not, they’re at best a blurry image of the one whom we are called to imitate. And as Thomas Watson reminded us long ago,1 the one we are to imitate is God, our Father in heaven.

“The child not only bears his father’s image, but imitates him in his speech, gesture and behavior,” Watson wrote. “If God be our Father, let us imitate him” (cf. Ephesians 5: 1). So we imitate God in forgiving others, in pardoning offences and sins committed against us. We imitate him in his works of mercy, being rich in good works; being “merciful even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

“He who has God for his Father, will have him for his pattern,” Watson wrote. So we honor our imperfect fathers and we imitate the good we see in them. But we also honor them by not settling for imitating them, but by only being satisfied in imitating our perfect Father in heaven.

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The Cross and the Confederate Flag

Russell Moore:

White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the aftermath of yet another act of white supremacist terrorism against them. The gospel frees us from scrapping for our “heritage” at the expense of others. As those in Christ, this descendant of Confederate veterans has more in common with a Nigerian Christian than I do with a non-Christian white Mississippian who knows the right use of “y’all” and how to make sweet tea.

On a related note, Jon Stewart offered quite a moving statement on the The Daily Show. There are a few bleeped out cuss words (naturally), but it’s worth watching as he gets to the heart of the real issue.

Goodbye

Lore Ferguson:

In seven days we leave Texas, our unexpected home.

The realization of what we’re leaving hits hard these weeks. God has disciplined us here and loved us, taught us and grown us, trained us and now sends us, and I don’t think either of us expected any of this. Five months ago he was a tall bearded near stranger and I was entertaining thoughts of life-long singleness and service to the local church. We were okay, you know? We were content and serving the Lord and our church and how much can change so quickly?

The Most Painful Interview I’ve Ever Watched

David Murray reflects on Brian Williams and the closest he came to saying “I lied.”

When the Wages of Sin Is a Grandbaby

Kim Ransleben:

Her weeping came ahead of her presence, causing my heart to pound. As a mom of three, it wasn’t the first time a crying child had entered our bedroom hours after we thought they’d gone to sleep. My mind went racing through the evening, then over to her to find the trouble, so I could do what I’d done so many times: soothe the hurt, ease the fear, or comfort her in sickness. The familiar words tumbled quickly from me, “Baby, what’s wrong?” But I had absolutely no context for what she’d say next.

She’d just finished her first semester at college, had found a great job, had made sweet friends, and had found a place to serve in a local church she really liked. There wasn’t a mention of a young man yet, though her dad and I had smiled at the thought we could be a few short months or years from meeting him. But no matter where we thought her life was, her tear-filled words came nonetheless: “I’m pregnant.”

Five books Christian dads should read

  
I’m a first generation Christian—meaning I’m the first in my family (as far as I’m aware) to come to faith in Christ. As you can imagine, that means I’m flying by the seat of my pants as a Christian parent. Though, to be fair, that’s probably all parents (at least more than we’d like to admit). As a dad, I’ve tried to read as many helpful books as I can, as well as modelling for my kids what a Christian man looks like (and often having to apologize for not modelling it well).

Thankfully, I’m not alone in this. No matter if we were raised in a legacy of faith or are coming to faith as a parent, we all have a ton of room to grow. Here’s a look at a few of the books I’ve found particularly helpful as I’ve been trying to figure out this whole parenting thing.


The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller

Parenting doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Our marriages are the context in which we raise our children. So we would be wise to do all we can to make sure our marriages are actually healthy. In The Meaning of Marriage, the Kellers reflect on their 30-plus years of marriage to offer a very strong and biblically faithful look at what makes a lasting marriage. Read it carefully and make lots of notes. (For more on this book, read my review.)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


Intentional Parenting by Tad Thompson

Intentional Parenting is among the most practical and insightful guides to family discipleship available. Its “Now Make It Stick” section, a series of questions for personal reflection that allow the reader to take stock of how they’re doing, where they’re strong, where they’re weak and what they can do to change, is probably the most helpful (and challenging element). Dads, you need to read this book. (For more on this book, read my review.)

Buy it at: AmazonWestminster Books | Cruciform Press


Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

The difficulty some might face reading the book is because the focus is on bringing God’s grace into your parenting, it’s not as easy as following steps one, two and three. It’s offering more of the theological framework for parenting instead of drilling down into the nitty gritty details of specific situations, though many practical examples of how grace-filled parenting looks (and doesn’t) are presented. (For more on this book, read my review.)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

This is one of those “gold standard” books among many Christian parents, and for good reason: it’s biblical, compassionate, and extremely practical:

Shepherding a Child’s Heart is about how to speak to the heart of your child. The things your child does and says flow from the heart. Luke 6:45 puts it this way: ‘…out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.’ Written for parents with children of any age, this insightful book provides perspectives and procedures for shepherding your child’s heart into the paths of life.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


The Shepherd Leader at Home by Timothy Z. Witmer

This one has received a ton of acclaim from its readers as it compellingly addresses the important role of dad in the family:

Husbands and dads play a crucial role in the health and survival of the family. That’s why leadership expert Tim Witmer has written this book—to strengthen our efforts to lead well. He applies a biblical framework to the role of leadership in the home, showing how effective shepherding involves “knowing, leading, protecting, and providing for your family”; all the while communicating solid principles with a down-to-earth, relatable tone.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books


Have another book you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments!

 

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3 ways to finish well

Eric Geiger:

A great player on our team finished his time with us this week. Matt Capps, who served as The Gospel Project brand manager, is beginning his new ministry assignment as senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, NC. I told Matt when we hired him from a church staff position that I would give him a high-five when he left our team to go back to the local church. Matt finished his ministry with us very strongly, with great passion and concern even beyond his last official day with us. He finished well.

Many people do not finish their roles well. They don’t end strongly. They mentally check out. They spend time working on their new role instead of finishing their current one well. How you finish your job reveals a lot about your character. Here are three ways to finish well.

Vanity Fair and Worldliness

Derek Thomas:

The Church Is Not a Sanctuary: On the Ground in Charleston

Peter Beck:

While many churches have abandoned Wednesday night prayer meetings or pastors have delegated such duties in order to focus on other areas of ministry, I love Wednesday nights. This week was no different than the Wednesdays before it. Our Charleston church gathered together. We spent 30 minutes in prayer worshiping God and making supplication for those in need. Then we settled in for our study of the book of Acts, the work of the Holy Spirit in the early church, and the power of prayer. We enjoyed a great time of teaching and fellowship, and we went home spiritually satisfied.

Fifteen miles away, another church gathered for the same purpose. Their meeting, however, didn’t end the same way. After nearly an hour in prayer, shots rang out as a visitor assassinated eight members and the beloved pastor of Emanuel AME Church. They’d gone to church to find peace in a turbulent time and they entered their eternal peace instead.

Our Culture of Reading

Matt Anderson:

As someone who began his public career by organizing the first conference for Christian bloggers back in 2004, I know well the triumphalism of the “new media” and the possibilities for improved and expanded dialogue with those we disagreed with inherent in it. Those possibilities may have come to pass in some small corners (like this one!), but more often than not the speed and anonymity of the internet brought out the least charitable and most polarizing aspects of our world. And that was among a body of people whose first movements in this world didn’t have screens in front of them. Those who are children now will struggle even more than we, unless they are fed a steady diet of books.

Jabez and the Soft Prosperity Gospel

David Shrock:

Through poor interpretive practices, any of us can sow seeds of soft prosperity. Though there are insidious false teachers who intentionally espouse health and wealth doctrine, many of us deviate from orthodoxy simply by means of inconsistent or unintentional methods of interpretation. For the sake of preaching the true gospel, this must stop—but not by exiling Jabez.

Christianity is costly (if you’re doing it right)

heart

One of the things that’s most interesting in all the doom and gloom reporting around denominational decline, the rise of the nones and the seeming collapse of Christianity in America is the fact that, as some commentators have said previously, what we’re really seeing is the rise of honesty among Americans.

It is no longer socially advantageous to be considered a Christian, at least not in any meaningful sense. So people who considered themselves Christians (even if in name only) are no longer identifying themselves as such. This is a very good thing for us overall, because it means, as Tim Keller once said, the mushy middle is falling out of evangelicalism, and what we’ll be left with is a stronger visible church as a result. A church that knows that, as J.C. Ryle once said, “it does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standards of the Bible.” He continues:

There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, a race to be run. Conversion is not putting a man in an arm-chair and taking him easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory. Hence arises the unspeakable importance of “counting the cost.” (as published in J.I. Packer, Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J. C. Ryle, p. 174)

Jesus told the crowds, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” He warned them against making a hasty decision to follow him. He wanted people to know that being a Christian would not bring about a life of ease and comfort. And this is what we need to remind ourselves of today, even as we continue to go forward in our mission to make disciples of all nations.

We need to be uncompromisingly honest on this point: Christianity is costly.

At least, if we’re doing it right.

That doesn’t mean we “sell” people a life of doom and gloom, though. Our song probably shouldn’t be a dirge or a fashionably sad pop song from the early 90s.1 But it does mean we embrace the reality of Christianity not being easy. It costs much to win the victory—and we should never be afraid to say so.

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On Preaching and Public Invitations

Jason Allen:

I once sat through a sermon that began, literally, with the invitation. The entirety of the sermon was given to explaining the forthcoming invitation and to encouraging the listeners to come forward during it. There was no preached word; no gospel presentation to which one should respond. I kept thinking, “Come forward in light of what? Come forward for what?” I didn’t have a seminary degree then, but I had a hunch that merely changing one’s geographic location in a room wouldn’t save.

Christians Need to Stop Cussing

Erik Raymond:

But, I’ve noticed that many Christians are still plagued by a foul mouth. They say things that are offensive to God and to others. I suspect that many don’t even realize it either. Like a new convert who remains fluent in the sailor’s tongue the Christian may not realize what they are saying or its theological impact.

So let me give you a couple of 4 letter words that Christians should mortify with quickness: “luck” and “fate”.

4 Ways to Reach a Child’s Heart

Richard Phillips:

I am constantly amazed at the number of people who assure me that their fathers hardly ever praised them, but constantly criticized and berated. I meet people all the time who tell me that their fathers beat into their heads that they were losers who would never succeed. I can scarcely imagine what that is like. There is only so much a pastor can do to remedy such an upbringing, and the best he can do will include pointing such a person to the effective healing love of our heavenly Father, who can do far more than any man. But as fathers we can ensure that our own children are raised with the rich fertilizer of fatherly affection and esteem.

Just Be Hospitable

Mike Leake:

Hospitality is not a means to grow your church. It is fundamental to a churches identity. It is who you are. If we’ve botched hospitality it is because in some way we have botched the gospel.

Is It Possible To Enjoy What God Has Created Without Feeling Guilty?

Stephen Altrogge:

God could have made us tireless, so that we never needed to rest and could always be doing more for God. But instead he created us to work and rest, and to find pleasure in both. To enjoy watching a football game or movie for the glory of God as our body recuperates.

Sometimes I think we can have this weird, dualistic mentality, where spiritual things are good and physical things are second rate at best. In reality, all of life is an opportunity to enjoy God and find out satisfaction in him, not just our devotional times.

God’s plans are good (even when we don’t like them)

god-plan-good

There’s a verse that’s in every Christian household or office space (and not just because it’s in our Bibles). Maybe it’s on a coffee mug or a t-shirt. Perhaps a poster or a greeting card. Or perhaps it’s featured on a decorative throw or a tattoo. It’s the life verse of virtually every women’s ministry leader and children’s ministry director.

Of course, you know I’m referring to Jeremiah 29:11, and it’s assurance that God knows the plans he has for us, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

It’s a wonderful encouragement, isn’t it? We look at it and say, “Wow—God has a plan for me!” That plan, of course, is one we assume to be free from any sort of difficultly, strife or conflict. But to paraphrase the oft-quoted line—this verse you keep using; I do not think it means what you think it means.

When we read this verse, we typically do so through the lens of the western desire for prosperity, safety and security. That God’s plan obviously includes a full bank account, a big house and kids who remember to wash their hands after using the toilet. But as much fun as those things might be—especially the last one for the germaphobes out there—this isn’t really what’s promised by God to the Israelites. And make no mistake: this verse offers a promise to them, first and foremost.

Although we all (should) know this, we can’t forget that Jeremiah 29:11 comes as part of a larger conversation between God and the newly exiled Jewish people. After years of rejecting God, of consistently rebelling against him and his commands, Jerusalem and the nation of Judah was finally overtaken by  Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, and Jeremiah was there to witness the whole thing. As they sat in Babylon, many so-called prophets came to them with messages promising a swift return to Jerusalem and a restoration of their fortunes.

Surely, God wouldn’t leave the people in exile, away from the promised land, for more than a few months. Maybe a couple of years, tops. But any longer than that, come on…

And yet, of these prophets God said, “Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord” (8-9). They were liars, deceivers who preyed on the people’s hopes and dreams. But their promises and prophecies were empty babbling. They were fanciful ideas from their own minds, and nothing more.

Instead of a swift return, God had something else in mind for his wayward people:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer. 29:5-7)

So, rather than telling them not to unpack their belongings, God says get comfortable: Settle in Babylon. Get jobs. Get married. Have children. Be a blessing to this city, because you’re going to be here for a while. For the rest of your lives, in fact.

And it’s in this context that God says to his people, “For I know the plans I have for you.”

Despite this being primarily a promise to the Israelites, there is a principle that is true for us as well. Though, to be honest, I doubt us Christians feel anymore joyful about it than the Israelites of the day. Sometimes we’re in communities and context where we’d rather not be. It’s difficult to imagine trying to be a faithful Christian in an incredibly harsh context—one where you can be killed simply for your beliefs. And yet, for many, that’s the reality they live with. But God is still good, isn’t he?

Even here in North America, there are certainly times when we might prefer to hunker in the bunker or move somewhere far away from all the people who need Jesus because they really don’t like this Jesus we represent. And yet, it’s to them God has sent us. And he has a plan for us here: it is to serve those in need. To proclaim truth of the gospel. To do all we can to encourage all around us to thrive, and to be “a light to those who are in darkness” (Rom. 2:19b). To seek the wellbeing and welfare of our communities because those who are perishing need to see that Christians really do care for them.

In other words, God’s plan for us right now is to be his ambassadors in a foreign land. And God’s plans are always good (even when we don’t like them). We aren’t to sit on our duffs and just wait until Jesus returns. We are to go about the work he has commanded us. Because that is the plan he has for us—and it is the best future any of us could hope for.


Adapted from an earlier post written in October 2009.

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A few classic books for your consideration today:

The Problem of Emeth in The Last Battle

Aaron Earls:

Clearly, we should remember The Chronicles of Narnia is fiction. Lewis is using a fictional world to present pictures and myths that point to real truth. We should not necessarily expect a one-to-one correspondence.

But beyond that, I think three facts from within the Narnian world should be kept in mind when evaluating the issue of Emeth’s admission into Aslan’s country.

What’s up with the Witch of Endor

Stephen Dempster on 1 Samuel 28:

This text raises all kinds of theological questions. Did the witch have the ability to bring the departed spirits of the dead back to predict the future for the living, or was this simply a demonic delusion? Does not only God have the power to predict the future? Or do departed spirits or evil spirits? What about other sources of revelation besides the Word of God? Does this text not prove that such exist?

Forgiveness and the Christian’s Piety

Donny Friederichsen:

What is the danger of withholding forgiveness or failing to ask for forgiveness? Again, Watson is helpful in seeing the necessity of forgiveness as part of the Christian’s piety. He uses a colorful but, I believe, very appropriate metaphor in describing this problem. He describes an unforgiving spirit as an “obstruction in the body” or “bowels which are shut up.” The person who will not forgive is like one whose colon is impacted to such an extent that excrement can no longer exit. Grotesque as that might sound, quite literally, the unforgiving person is full of it!

The Precious Gift of Being Offended

Trevin Wax analyzes Ian McEwan’s commencement address at Dickinson College:

It’s helpful for McEwan to make his case by appealing to the common ground (he hopes) all will agree on, no matter our political or religious persuasion. That’s why it’s instructive that he issues this warning in a way that crosses these lines. It’s in danger from all sides,and therefore it must be protected by all sides.

Why does free speech matter so much? Because “freedom of expression sustains all the other freedoms we enjoy,” he says. “Without free speech, democracy is a sham.” McEwan compares the Western world to free speech in other parts of the globe, or rather, the lack of it. He diagnoses the condition of free expression as “desperate” in many parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East, Asia, and in much of Africa.

How Can Millions of People All Be with Jesus in Heaven and Receive Personal Attention?

Randy Alcorn:

Though it’s possible we may cover vast distances at immense speeds in God’s new universe, I don’t believe we’ll be capable of being two places at once. Why? Because we’ll still be finite. Only God is infinite.

Because the resurrected Christ is both man and God, the issue of whether He can be in more than one place at the same time involves a paradox not only in the future, but also in the present.

Four reasons Christians talk so much about sexual ethics

heart

You’re probably sick to death of this topic. I kind of am, too. Fear not: I’m not writing yet another post on sexual ethics. There are lots of those out there. Some of them are even really great. But many of us feel like we need to remind ourselves, as JD Greear did with SBC pastors at the 2015 convention, that “sexual ethics are not the center of Christianity. The Cross and Christ are.”

This is a given, or it should be one. And yet, if you look at what so many are writing about, you’d think sex was the central issue. Why do we do this? Why is it we tend to focus so much on sexual ethics, seemingly at the expense of Christ and the cross, the center of our faith?

There are undoubtedly more reasons than these, but I have four suggestions I’d like to put forward:

1. It’s easier. Negatively, it’s easier to point to symptoms of a problem than to the bring the real issue to light. The issue with western sexual ethics is not simply that people are behaving in ways contrary to their nature: the true issue is that human beings have rebelled against their Creator and chosen to worship created things—including themselves—rather than the One who made them. Unpacking the latter takes a lot of work and a great deal of patience. It’s much easier to follow that great theologian Bob Newhart and say, “Stop it!”

2. It’s a Freudian slip. While this has been used as a weapon to wrongly dismiss and defame some proponents of traditional sexual ethics, there is, occasionally, some truth to it. Though I suspect they are relatively few, there some who are passionately vocal about issues like adultery or pornography or homosexuality who all the while are are committing adultery, have a computer filled with pornography of the vilest sort, or are secretly engaged in homosexual behavior. If the Ted Haggard scandal of the mid-2000s has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes when people protest a great deal, it may be their way of revealing their own issues.

3. It is compassionate. Positively, some speak about sexual ethics not because they hate people who identify as LGBT, engage in polyamory, or any other activity, but because they have a great deal of compassion. They see people who are lost and confused desperately searching for something to make them feel whole and happy and satisfied, but are always coming up short. Few wake up next to a stranger they met at the club thinking, “Yep, I feel confident that was the right decision,” even when they go and do it again the next week or the next night. And this motivates people to speak—they see people hurting themselves while desperately trying to make themselves happy, and seemingly not recognizing that it’s not working. So even though there are some voices out there who are callous and cruel in clubbing people with their dissenting voice,1 there are others who are compassionately voicing their concern as dying people pleading with dying people.

4. It is a gospel issue. Finally, and again positively, many Christians are speaking about sexual ethics a great deal because it legitimately is a gospel issue, which means it is necessary. The gospel has implications on all of life, from our finances to our sexuality. There is not a square inch of human existence over which Christ does not cry, “Mine,” as Abraham Kuyper once said. Thus, if the Lord Jesus is truly Lord of all, that necessarily includes what we do in our bedrooms, our phones and our computers.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the near-constant talk of sexual ethics, gender identity and all this kind of stuff. But don’t let the noise turn you away from the really good reasons to speak up. There are people who need to hear the truth, and we owe it to them to do so in as compassionate and Christ-honoring a fashion as possible.

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Elisabeth Elliot (1926–2015)

Elisabeth Elliot, wife of evangelist Jim Elliot and celebrated author, died yesterday morning (June 15, 2015). Several Christian leaders paid their respects with some lovely (and informative) posts including:

Yoga, Hospitality, and Cultural Appropriation

I’m glad to see an author wrestling with whether or not yoga should be practiced by Christians (though I suspect we would differ on our conclusions if I’m reading the post correctly).

Reasons Why We Don’t Read Our Bibles

Erik Raymond:

Most people when asked about their Bible reading say: I have been really busy. This may be the truth; people are very busy. However, it is not the reason. I think we can distinguish between realities and reasons. Those same people who are really busy do have the time to eat food and sleep. I know people who have their entire day (and evening) mapped out for them. They are extremely busy; yet they still read their Bibles. There is time for even the busiest of us. However, others who claim busyness also are up to date on the news, watch movies, use social media, exercise, and a host of other things. In pursuit of a true diagnosis here, let’s be honest: none of us are truly too busy to read the Bible. We may be busy but we choose to put the Bible aside for one reason or another.

Let me give you a few reasons why many Christians do not regularly read their Bibles.

Don’t Return To Your Vomit

Geoffrey Kirkland offers some helpful points here in considering our application of Proverbs 26:11.

Why Bloggers Are Calling it Quits

Amy Julia Becker:

Stepping away from the very platforms that shaped them and popularized their careers, these celebrities raise questions about the future of blogging in particular and of social media in general. In announcing their departures, Whedon, Sullivan, and Armstrong all mention wanting to move away from the barrage of “haters” who leave their reckless disagreements and insults in comment sections and replies.

Believing while waiting

Alpages

Just believe in God and your sins will fade away. Doesn’t that make it sound easy? Sure it takes work. Sure it will be a challenge. But over time things will steadily improve. If only.

Christians live in a gap. We give our lives to Christ, and we step into it. On the other side of the gap is glory. “Glory” may sound old-fashioned, like something a TV preacher shouted about or old hymns were sung about. I can still hear my grandfather, a travelling evangelist of the revival and crusade era, saying “glory” with that inimitable southern preacher emphasis—Glaw-ray! But think of glory like you would a stunning sun set, a litter of puppies, the vastness of the Milky Way, the detail on a Monet painting, July fourth fireworks, crashing surf, a crescendoing symphony, or the beauty of fresh fallen snow. Each is glorious in its own way and lifts our minds and fills our hearts with … something. That something is the yearning for the perfection to come. We are not there yet. But one day Christ will bring it with Him. Revelation 21 says:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Belief does not mean sin will go away. As long as the gap exists we cannot have that. What we can have is trajectory. True belief is that which perpetually, magnetically pulls us toward the “not yet” of Revelation 21. It finds hope when things are hard by knowing there is greater happiness, perfect happiness to come. The suffering of right now hurts, without question. Looking to the future does not deny that or shy away from it. It simply offers a way through.

When we sin it is forward-looking belief that leads to repentance because we know that leaving what is wrong and pursuing what is right will bring us closer to real peace and joy. We hear the call of Jesus’ voice and we go toward it, the very nature of repentance. And it is repentance that keeps our trajectory on course, constantly nudging us back on course when we wander and yanking us back on course when we flee.

We will struggle. We will do things we know are wrong. We will battle persistent sins. But it is belief that makes us battle instead of just giving up. That porn addiction is not greater than what is to come; it may feel like it right now, but belief lifts your eyes to “making everything new”. The not yet is a reason to fight your apathy and laziness at work. Your work may seem pointless, but it was given to you by the one who will bring in a new creation. Doesn’t He want you to be part of working in His image and toward that end? You find yourself fighting anger or bitterness? Grace has been poured out on you and one day justice will come, so you can be filled up with grace and look forward to wrongs being righted. And as long as we are fighting, refusing to surrender our lives to sin, we are moving toward the “not yet” and even exemplifying it to the world around us.

Some folks do right things without belief. Some folks claim to believe without doing right. From the outside it can be very hard to tell who believes what. In fact, it can be very hard to tell from the inside too. I spent a long time assuming I “believed” rightly, not fully realizing that my belief was hollow, missing vitality and life. I think many people who grow up Christian are the same way. They can say all the right things, answer all the questions, and do enough good to feel comfortable in their belief. But do they really believe? Did I? Yes and no. I was in the gap. I believed in Christ, but had not believed to the point of giving Him everything in my life.

That is the process toward the not yet. That is the evidence of belief. Are we giving ourselves to Christ in new ways? Are we trusting parts of our life to him we had not previously? A Relationship, a bank account, a secret sin, a secret shame, a secret pride—are we believing his goodness and authority in such a way that we offer them up?


Barnabas Piper blogs at The Blazing Center, is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not The Enemy Of Faith, and co-hosts The Happy Rant podcast. Piper writes for WorldMag.com, contributes to numerous other websites, and speaks frequently at churches and conferences. Barnabas serves as the Brand Manager for the Leadership Development team at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville where he lives with his wife and two daughters.


Photo credit: Alpages via photopin (license)

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s Kindle deals for this week focus on biblical counseling:

Also on sale is a new edition of The Acceptable Sacrifice by John Bunyan for 99¢.

We Long to Belong

Jasmine Holmes:

Last year my fifth-grade students sharpened their number-two pencils, looked down over their scantrons, and raised their hands to ask a million questions before taking the standardized test.

“I’m 1/256 Native American, can I fill in that bubble?”

Tweets Set on Fire By Hell

Nathan Bingham:

The Internet could be a better place if the convictions that govern our speech offline also governed our speech online. Comments could be turned on. There would be freedom to dialogue, not the exchange of potshots. There would be an atmosphere of gratitude, not entitlement. Social media may better serve as an extension of relationships, and not for their destruction. But although these would be good things, if they merely remained an external piety they would only serve as a mask to disguise our disfigured hearts. When Jesus said that it was out of the abundance of our hearts that our mouths speak, He was describing the need for a radical heart change—a change that is only possible by of work of God’s grace. His words also serve as a reminder for the Christian to repent for speaking in ways not in accord with our new nature and to ask God to cleanse us anew (1 John 1:9).

George Yancey on the Rise of Anti-Christian Bias

Daniel Darling interviews George Yancey, author of Hostile Environment

Africa Infested by Health and Wealth Teaching

Jeff Robinson:

The prosperity gospel runs rampant through Sub-Saharan Africa, and Uganda is no exception. Churches don’t call themselves prosperity churches and even churches claiming to oppose the prosperity gospel have

it proclaimed from their pulpits. The prosperity gospel has attached itself to the theological framework that runs through this region. It has spread primarily through television. Preachers such as Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Myles Munroe, and Joel Osteen can be seen on TV around the clock in Christian homes throughout Uganda. Their books are found lining the shelves of Christian bookshops. These preachers have also done a great job of personally visiting this region.

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of the Foundation

Michael Kelley:

You can have the most beautiful paving stone or the most eye-catching paint color, but in the end, they don’t really mean anything if you don’t put the right amount of time into the foundation. In our project, for example, we had to dig down approximately 18 inches in order to build the retaining wall so that not only the wall but the surface of the patio would have the right shape, definition, and strength when we were all done. I’d like to think I didn’t need this experience to know that Jesus’ words were true.

God doesn’t need an invitation

 

calling-god-down

There’s a peculiar thing I’ve noticed in some of the songs in popular Christian praise and/or worship music—typically the ones you hear at the beginning of the “set”1 intended to warm everybody up and get everyone excited. It’s this idea that we are somehow summoning God into our presence. Songs about inviting him into our midst, calling him down, telling him to show up in power, and show us his glory, and all this kind of stuff…

Now, depending your congregation’s proclivities, you’re probably going to sing a song like this today. And I’ve gotta say, to me at least, it’s really weird. It’s not that I’m against being aware of God’s presence, nor am I against praying—or singing for that matter—for true, Spirit-wrought revival. But I’m not sure this is what these songs are talking about. Instead, they seem to be putting us in the drivers’ seat, making us the ones in control during the our time of corporate worship.

In a chapter of The Prodigal Church at least 75 percent of worship leaders will skip, Jared Wilson calls our attention to the heart of this peculiar problem:

The danger we face when we worship is coming into the experience assuming we are summoning God. Assuming worship is our initiative. Assuming we are somehow the ones in control, that we are bringing the best of ourselves and our holy desire to worship. But the reality is, worship does not begin with the worshipper. It begins with God. It is a response to God’s calling upon us. (97)

This is the danger of experientialism. It moves us by inches away from the center, from the reality of who God is, of what the purpose of worship is—of who the object of worship is. And if we’re not careful, and the slide continues, our worship songs may wind up more closely resembling the frantic cries of the Baal-worshippers on the mountain than those of Christ’s disciples.

You’re not calling God down this morning. He doesn’t need an invitation. But I have some better news for you: He is already here. The Holy Spirit dwells within all of his people, every moment of every day. He is the one who empowers our worship, who gives us the desire to sing God’s praises. His power has already shown up—and it resides in us. Should we not rejoice and be glad of this?

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also the last day to take advantage of these deals from Crossway:

Finally, you may also want to check out Amazon’s big deal sale, which features deals on a number of general market titles, as well as few Christian ones.

Where the battle rages

Ray Ortlund shares an encouraging quote from Martin Luther.

When God Interferes With Our Plans

Tim Challies:

God’s providence is the single greatest hindrance to the floods of sin that would otherwise gush out of our sinful hearts. If it were not for God’s care and preservation, even we Christians would be far more sinful than we dare imagine. If it were not for God’s gracious interference, our best efforts in holiness would not be enough to keep us from drowning in sin and heaping contempt on the name of Christ. God takes far better care of us than we do of ourselves. For this reason, every Christian owes unending thanks to God for preserving us from what we would otherwise do and who we would otherwise become. This is roughly what John Flavel teaches in chapter 6 of his work The Mystery of Providence. Here are a few of the ways in which God interferes with our desire and attempts to sin against him.

The Child Preachers of Brazil

This was interesting:

Adauto prepared the crowd to receive his daughter, who is now 11 and has been preaching since she was 3. On Monday nights, Alani lays on hands; on Wednesdays, she has a revelations service, in which she and other preachers make predictions about the future; on Saturdays, she hosts a radio show about the Bible. She also does Skype prayer sessions with followers who live far from her or are too sick to meet her, and preaches at other Pentecostal churches and gatherings.

The pastor offered practical reminders. There would be no need to touch Alani excessively; Jesus’ followers were able to receive miracles after only brief contact with his garments. And everyone needed to turn off cellphones, lest they ring and “interrupt a miracle.”

Argument and Conversion

Mike Leake:

Thomas Scott was an unbelieving minister who labored to see his congregation reform their morals. He was discouraged as the folks seemed to never be able to live rightly no matter how he preached. This is no surprise—moralistic preaching never works.

No matter how wonderfully Scott argued, his people would never be able to truly reform their ways. Contrast this with how John Newton interacted with Thomas Scott. Knowing he was not converted—but that God was working on his soul—Newton lovingly engaged Scott with the gospel.

How Younger Preachers Can Help Their Hearers

Eric Davis:

Young men are often raised up by God to take the baton in various ways to faithfully follow previous generations. One of those ways in the privileged and sacred task of feeding Christ’s flock through biblical preaching.

However, as you read Scripture and spend time ministering to God’s people, one thing becomes clear: it is not always easy for people to readily receive the ministry of a young man. A young preacher’s hearers sometimes need help.