Are You Drifting Off Course?

Posted by on Dec 20, 2014 in Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

Are You Drifting Off Course?

1398074633073 Are You Drifting Off Course?

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Hebrews 2:1

The writer of Hebrews provides four warnings concerning “drifting away,” or leaving the faith, throughout the book. Christians are warned about the reality of becoming a “Demas” (2 Tim. 4:10, “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed…”), someone who has left the faith. The Apostle John, regarding believers who left the faith, states this:

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

Therefore, the admonitions which are provided for us to be aware of drifting away are sincere. In Hebrews, the writer utilizes two sailing terms (in the Greek) in the above verse (2:1). The first word is translated into English as “drift away.” This Greek word is pararreō, which literally has the connotation of a ship drifting from its mooring. Richard Phillips states, “One of the key ideas here is that this drifting away is something that happens largely unnoticed.” [1] The second Greek term is prosechō, which is translated as an imperative verb, to beware. Phillips states, “…it was used to denote holding to a course or securing an anchor.” [2] Later, the writer of Hebrews will conclude, “we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (6:18b-19).

This reminds me of a day at the beach years ago. A woman was on a raft in the Atlantic Ocean. As she tanned, relaxing on vacation, and most likely nodded off, she had no idea that her raft had drifted beyond the breakers. The lifeguards were frantically blowing their whistles, but to no avail, the woman drifted further and further to sea, not being able to hear due to the Ocean’s soothing roar. The lifeguards quickly called on the Coast Guard, who dispatched a rescue helicopter, which was immediately on the scene. However, the woman was still oblivious to her demise and situation, even as many people yelled from the shore, along with constant lifeguard whistles in warning. As the Coast Guard helicopter hovered over her, causing a downdraft of water spray, a voice came over the helicopter’s loud speaker, startling the woman. She quickly shot up on the raft, but was close to ¾ to a mile off of the shore. The good news is, The Coast Guard lowered a rope and pulled her to a vacant area safely down the beach.

My account reminds me of the famous scientist, we all know, who was at one time very orthodox in his faith. He attended Seminary and received his degree and almost set out for a life as a pastor. In his autobiography, he writes:

“Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at…for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality…But I had gradually come by this time, to see that the Old Testament was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos.” [3] Sadly, Charles Darwin drifted slowly away from the faith. It is obvious to see that the rope holding him to the mooring of his faith was broken free, and he unnoticingly, sailed into uncharted waters. Although Darwin had heard whistles and yells of warning, he kept on drifting, to the point of no return.

Therefore, heed the message today about your faith in Christ, are you anchored in Him? Make sure that your faith is tied securely to its mooring. Pay attention to those in the faith around you and take heed of their warnings. If you are drifting in the ocean of this world, it is not too late, wake up and look to the seashore. God always sends His Coast Guard to make sure that you hear His voice.

[1] Richard D. Phillips. Hebrews Expository Commentary. (P& R Publishing, 2006) 47.

[2] Ibid, 49

[3] Dr. John van Whye. 2002. The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online. http://j.mp/8lT2dT [Accessed Jan. 6, 2009]

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They hear you when you’re speaking

Posted by on Dec 19, 2014 in The Gospel and the Christian Life

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Right before I got married, a wise man, married for many years, gave me a piece of advice. He said, “Dan, always talk favorably about your wife when she is not around. She can hear what you say about her even when she is not around.” This is a maxim I have tried to follow in my marriage. We’ve all been around folks who dis their spouses with regularity. It’s cringe-inducing for those of us who have to hear it and it only makes us wonder how good that marriage can be. I also believe, strongly, that spouses can sense when we don’t have their back, when we’re kind of smiling when we are in their presence, but cutting them down when they are gone. Real love doesn’t do this.

I also think this is an important principle when it comes to our children. It’s  easy to criticize our kids when they are not present, especially when parents get together and kind of share “war stories” of whose kid is more difficult. There’s nothing wrong with retelling funny or difficult moments from parenting with trusted friends. But I think we do harm to our kids when we disparage them to other parents. Even when they aren’t physically present, they can hear us. Kids instinctively sense when their parents are disappointed in them, when their parents don’t believe in them. And yet it’s so easy to fall into a trap of kind of always lamenting our kids. My kid is so stubborn. My kid is not really smart. My kid is always doing this or doing that. When we do this, it sets a tone, a tone that no matter what our kids do, they will never measure up to our standards, standards we probably couldn’t reach ourselves. Every kid needs their parent to be proud of them. I’m not talking about over-the-top flattery, but I’m talking the kind of approval every child longs for and needs from their parents. Jesus received this at His baptism, when the Father called down from Heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Dads, your kids especially need this from you. Don’t be stingy with encouragement and praise.

I think we often forget that our children are not just our offspring, but they are our neighbors as well. Do we love them well? And if our children are Christians, they are also brothers and sisters in the Lord. Do we treat them appropriately this way? This doesn’t diminish our roles as fathers and mothers. This doesn’t lessen the need for love and discipline. But we’d do well to remember our kids, like us, also deserve grace. They were created in the image of God and deserve our respect and they are sinners who deserve our forgiveness when they fall short.

Parenting can be exasperating, tiring, and sometimes lonely. Venting, at the end of the along day, is sometimes therapeutic. But let’s make sure we don’t damage our kids by talking about them behind their backs. Because despite what we think, our kids can hear us when we are speaking. Even if they are miles away.

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4 Tips I’ve Learned About Being A Parent

Posted by on Dec 16, 2014 in The Gospel and the Christian Life

The Word of God informs us, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3). As parents, some days it certainly may not feel like having children is very rewarding; probably, if we’re honest, we can look back on our own childhood, remembering the dumb things that we did, too. Unfortunately, part of our human nature is that we are born not knowing everything—meaning, we need to be taught and guided. However, we were created with intellect and reason—some more than others. But this is where the importance of parenting comes to fruition.

The Reward

One of my greatest rewards in life is being a dad, three times, to all girls. I can remember the doctor once saying, “Some guys have the football team, and some have the cheerleading squad; you have the cheerleading squad.” That’s just wonderful to me because I often think that the Lord blessed me with not having a boy like me. All kidding aside, my older daughters are now in college, through the stages of teenage peer pressure, high school, and falling prey to the newest trend and fashion their friend’s parents can buy. But one thing is a reward—their faith.

Setting the Example

Throughout their entire school life, elementary through High School, each day began with breakfast, prayer, and the Bible around the table. We prayed through each other’s problems, and life dilemmas. Most of the time, their prayers were about tests, soccer games, classes, or growing up. But we dove into the Scriptures and tried to apply them to life—even if they were zoned out and thinking of something else. The important part is that parenting takes bold courage, it takes patience, and love. Sometimes being a parent means that I need to allow my children to fail, but (and) when they fail, the boundaries stay the same. As parents, and believers in Christ, our job just became a little more difficult and challenging because now we are raising up the next generation.

Discipline is Love

The challenge is to remain focused in our protection of them and their behavior, but the difficult part is when, as teenagers, they perceive that your every move and decision is based upon hate. More than likely, if you hear the words, “I hate you,” from your teenager, you’re probably doing something right. Love is discipline. Many times I had to take my children to Hebrews 12, and show them that discipline is love, that if I didn’t care I’d let them do whatever they wanted. Once, when the two got into trouble, I explained how they were to live according to godly principles and why we have boundaries. The oldest quipped, “I just want to be a normal teenager!” But the problem is, I stated, is that God won’t allow any of us, who are dedicated to Him, to follow after the world—He wants all of us, He loves us too much.

The understanding of God’s love is that God’s wrath is not punishment upon those living in the world, as a matter of fact it’s the other way around; if God’s wrath is upon you, He has given you up to an abased mind (Rom. 1)—that’s a scary thought. If He loves you then He disciplines you, as children. Kids need structure, they need discipline, and they need to have both of these rooted in love.

Encouragement

Children also must have encouragement. Paul reminds fathers “not to provoke your children lest they become discouraged” (Col 3:21). It’s easy to bruise and damage a child’s psyche by using hurtful words. Telling children they are worthless is sinful—it is labeling them as a fool (Matt 5:22). That is separated from telling them they should steer clear of worthless activities. Young children need to be showered with love, protection, and guidance. Remember, children care and watch more of what you do than what you say. Godly parenting knows how to build up and how to discipline, with love. With those applied, the rewards are reaped later in life.

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How NOT to Read the News

Posted by on Dec 12, 2014 in Contemporary Culture, The Gospel and the Christian Life

We live in a time where we are exposed to more news headlines than at any time in human history. In the ancient days of news, anchors checked the AP newswire for stories and reported on them and people in their homes watched or people in their cars listened to radio. Today, everyone, is essentially checking the wire, all day, through social media. We also live in a time when it’s has never been easier to publicly express an opinion. Before the Internet, if something happened, you might have picked up the phone to call someone or perhaps you might discuss it at work, around the water cooler. But today we are all pundits, all with commentary on what is happening right now.

Quite often this new reality is leveraged for good. If a disaster strikes, more people can be informed than in previous generations. Social networks can be good conduits for raising money for important charity, for networking and communicating with wider groups of people. In many ways, the new paradigm has flattened leadership, forcing organizations to be more transparent and less hierarchical. All this is good.

Still, followers of Christ need to think through how they process the news, particularly how we react to the headlines that come across our screens every day. Here are three tips I think that might help:

1) Don’t react to headlines, get the full story. I think James 1:19 is instructive here. If I could paraphrase, I’d say we should be “swift to hear, slow to tweet, slow to outrage.” We often get it backwards. Two things work against us slowing down and getting the story right: confirmation bias and our need to be the first and most clever to speak. First, because we can tailor our news intake (more on that below) to our specific point of view and bias, we tend to gravitate to news headlines that confirm what we already want to believe about people and personalities we might not favor. Secondly, there is a human instinct to want to be the first to comment and to have the most clever reaction (measured in retweets). There is an inherent danger in being so reactive to headlines. If you have not read the full story and, perhaps, ready other stories about the topic, a quick reaction can make you appear foolish. It also works to divide the body of Christ. There is nothing wrong with principled, sharp engagement with news stories. Christians need thoughtful commentary on cultural events, but we need it to be critiquing things that actually happened, not caricatures of things that happened. There’s a difference here. Before you start a brushfire online, before you email your allies with damning information about someone with whom you disagree, before you forward and post negative things, make sure you are actually getting the full story.

2) Don’t consume news from only one point of view. It’s a good habit to follow, on Twitter and in our other consumption of news, people from other “tribes” (though I hate that word now) and from other ideological perspectives. It’s good to have a mix of people in your twitter feed: advocates, opponents, and straight-up journalists. This gives you a much more nuanced view of what is actually going on. It also keeps you from tin-foil hat conspiracy theorists that seem to dominate on all sides of various issues. You should also have an operating principle of not reacting to a story unless you’ve read two or three versions of it from diverse news outlets. In other words, don’t just take the news story that best confirms what you already believe about something or someone. Get the full picture here. I can think of one story in particular that I thought was newsworthy, even worth commissioning an article for ERLC. But then I asked a few folks, read a few more articles, and realized there was more to it.

3) Try to see the human side of the news. This is especially important when news stories involve personalities, whether politicians or preachers. There’s a lot of tabloid journalism out there, both in the larger culture and in the church world (unfortunately). Remember that the person you are about to destroy online with a clever hashtag probably has a family who can google their name. Do you want to be the one who caused their daughter pain? Followers of Christ should operate by different principles. This should have two effects on our public witness: First, when expressing public disagreement, we are to consider every person, even those with whom we viscerally disagree, as people created in God’s image and worthy of respect (James 3:9; 1 Peter 2:17). We’re also supposed to be especially charitable to fellow Christians (Galatians 6:10). Secondly, to knowingly spread false witness about someone by not getting the facts right says to the world that we don’t value some humans like we value others. It’s also sin. All of us are wise to consider our platforms and how we are influencing those who follow us.

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What Should I Do When Prayer Makes Anxiety Worse?

Posted by on Dec 10, 2014 in Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

What Should I Do When Prayer Makes Anxiety Worse?

This is what it is like in the dark times:

Sorrow is overwhelming me. I find myself like David in Psalm 38, “my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me”.

I’m a filthy disgusting wreck. Worthless to God. And worthless to people. Every breath that I take is offensive to a holy God. My every word and deed is a stench to his nostrils.

And so I pray Psalm 38. It’s my Psalm because I feel just like David: mourning all day, feeble, crushed, and alone. I’ve been rendered mute and deaf. I’m too down-trodden to speak and too raw to hear words of comfort or rebuke. So, Psalm 38 is my prayer.

Ask me to name a specific sin that has made me like David in Psalm 38.

I can name only a few. A couple of vague things. Things that I’m broken over, that I abhor, but that I’m fighting. Nothing that isn’t the type of stuff all mankind struggles with.

Truth be told I don’t really know why the Lord has sunk his arrows in me. I’ve repented. I want holiness. 1 John 1:9 tells me that if I confess my sin he is faithful and just to cleanse me of all unrighteousness. You’d think that would mean that I can’t pray Psalm 38 anymore.

But that is what depression does to my mind and heart.

A recent study shows that prayer is helpful to the anxious only if their view is that God is gracious and loving.

That’s a massive problem because when anxiety and depression rock my soul I never view God as gracious and loving. Psalm 38 becomes my prayer whether I’ve committed the sin of David or not. It’s my prayer because I feel like I’ve committed the unpardonable sin and the Lord has turned his back upon me forever.

Prayer is difficult in these times. It’s difficult because when I approach the Lord I’m not approaching a throne of grace. I’m coming before Him to get yelled at again and reminded of all the terrible things I’ve done—or worse yet—that at the very core of my being I’m deeply unacceptable to the Lord.

So what do I do? Do I just give up praying? If it isn’t helpful unless my view of God is gracious and loving—and if prayer only further distorts my view of God and self—then what in the world am I gaining by praying?

It is here that I disagree with the findings of that study. It is worded as if God only exists in our conception. But God transcends my depressive thoughts.

Sure it stinks when I come before him with a heart that is barely believing, a heart that can’t grab hold of 1 John 1:9 and believe it for myself. But God is bigger than my moments of unbelief. That is why I still come to him. Because in those moments when I’m praying Psalm 38 (even if it doesn’t apply) the Lord on occasion breaks through and makes himself known.

Psalm 103 floored me again the other day. It floored me because God in his grace helped me to see how he really views me and to see Him afresh, as a gracious and merciful God.

Prayer is helpful even when our thoughts of God are jacked up simply because the gospel is true. When we cry out to God—even with hearts tinged with unbelief, depressive thoughts, and the whole lot—he answers. It may not make me feel better in the moment in which I pray. But God hears and God answers.

David says, “But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer”. That is our hope whether we are praying Psalm 38 for actual known sins or we are making Psalm 38 ours because our hearts are believing the lies of depression.

That’s why you keep praying…even if prayer might make anxiety worse.

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When The Devil Preaches the Gospel

Posted by on Dec 8, 2014 in The Gospel and the Christian Life

If you are a believer in Jesus you’ve likely experienced seasons of accusation. Those are the terrible times when it feels as if we are cursed and gone astray. We feel condemned, wrecked, ruined, and that we have no hope of gaining salvation.

I’ve had terrible seasons like this in my own life. This is why one of my favorite songs is Embracing Accusation by Shane and Shane. In this song they take on these seasons of Satanic accusation and invite us to embrace them. The song ends with this great lyric:

Oh the devil’s singing over me
An age old song
That I am cursed and gone astray
Singing the first verse so conveniently
He’s forgotten the refrain
Jesus saves!

The devil is fine preaching the gospel…at least in parts. He’ll sing the first verse but blind our eyes to the refrain that Jesus saves.

When The Devil Preaches The Refrain

But this got me wondering. Would the devil ever preach the refrain but leave off the first verse? Would he ever preach adoption, forgiveness, justification, peace with God, etc. without preaching the Cross?

The Puritan Richard Baxter believed that he often does. As Baxter wrote:

It is a great project of the devil, and successful with many, to draw them to venture on the sin, by showing them first the effectual remedy, the abundant mercy of God, the sufficient satisfaction made by Christ, the full, and free, and universal promise; that these are sufficient to cleanse the soul of any sin, therefore you need not fear. (Baxter, 102)

I believe Baxter is correct. Satan is very good at preaching grace before sin and the law after.

The moment before engaging in the forbidden, you hear the forked-tongue whisper of, “there is no condemnation, you need not fear, you know God will forgive you. He loves you. It’s okay.”

Then, when you’ve done what ought not be done, the father of lies preaches the first verse so conveniently (and loudly) but leaves off the refrain. “You’ll never be loved again. You’ve blown it. God has abandoned you, and there is no way you’ll ever be in his love again.”

Grace before. Law After.

The Remedy

I love the remedy that Shane & Shane prescribe when the devil preaches a truncated gospel; namely, finish the song. When he’s preaching condemnation embrace the accusation—he’s right. You’ve blown it. Your sin is serious. It’s no light thing. You really do deserve hell.

But finish the song. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. Shout the refrain when he loudly sings the first verse.

I believe the same remedy applies when the devil preaches the refrain without the first verse. Finish the song. Yes, the Lord is kind. Yes, the Lord is patient and gracious and merciful. But his kindness is meant to lead us to repentance.

We’d do well to heed the words of Baxter:

There is enough in his grace to save the [repentant]: but if you will sin upon presumption that grace will save you, you have small reason to think that you are penitent, or ever will be, without a very merciful change…it is a terrible thing to sin deliberately and wilfully, because of the greatness of mercy, or the sufficiency of the death of Christ; and this is clean contrary to [repentance] and conversion. (Baxter, 103)

Thankfully, the gospel is true and there is forgiveness and rescue found even for those who have presumed upon His grace. But drop your presumptions and throw yourself at his feet for mercy.

Conclusion

The devil likes to preach grace before sin and the law after. But the gospel preaches Jesus before and Jesus after.

When the devil says, “He’ll forgive you”. We look to our loving Lord and say, “But I don’t want to make him have to. Why would I want to sin against such a sweet Savior? Why would I presume upon his mercy and his kindness? That is the way of the wicked.”

Likewise, when the devil says, “He’ll never forgive you.” We look to our bleeding Savior nailed to a Roman cross and say, “But he already has. There is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. The blood of Jesus Christ has removed the curse of the Law. And in him I have the righteousness of God”.

No matter which part of the gospel the devil is singing, always remember to finish the song.

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