The Depth of Meaning

edwards

Modern culture is great at a few things which past cultures simply could not do. Communication, for example, is faster, broader, more convenient, and less of a hassle than it was during, let’s say, early colonial America. I mean, let’s face it. In our time, Paul Revere would not have had to expend all the energy to ride through the town and shout “The British are coming!” He could have just tweeted it— though history might not have been quite as faithful to the dramatic nature of the event. Imagine the scope of the first Thanksgiving if the Pilgrims had been able to send out an e-vite. And I suspect the Puritans would have appreciated having access to the Blogosphere, as they sought to extinguish the last bastions of Roman Catholic practices in English and American Christianity.

But, alas, for all the progress in the areas of technology, communication, and more, you and I must admit that we’ve taken a few giant steps back in more than one arena.

Here’s one that irks me. Our culture has hijacked and diluted the meaning of words. Think about it. In 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary formally added the word “selfie” to our lexicon. That’s right. You and I live in a culture that has made “selfie” an official word.

Can you imagine some of the great men and women of years’ past taking a “selfie?” John Hancock—with his iPhone in one hand and his pen in the other as he awkwardly snaps a photo of the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Betsy Ross—with the newly sown American flag draped over her shoulders, the caption simply reading “…’Merica.”

One of the most abused and misunderstood groups of words within our culture is that which revolves around the ideas of feeling, emotion, and affection. For us, the word “feeling” has come to mean a whimsical sensuality, which is wholly based on circumstantial, temporal pleasure. It is immensely subjective and totally contingent upon the prevalent whims of the individual.

And yet, there was a time when the ideas of feeling, emotion, and particularly affection, stood for something much deeper. Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century leader of the Great Awakening, wrote “The will, and the affections of the soul, are not two faculties: the affections are not essentially distinct from the will, nor do that differ from the mere actings of the will, but only in the liveliness and sensibility of exercise.”[1] In other words, according to Edwards, the affections are “the sensed or felt exercises of the will.”[2] Now, that definition certainly runs much deeper than our modern understanding.

Let me give you an illustration. The kind of affection which Edwards described is in fact what drives the Christian pursuit of God. But what kind of pursuit is this?

 It is not the kind of response that a young girl would have at catching the eye of a boy in her class. Her heart would flutter; she might giggle and recount the story to her friends. But almost all young girls (no offense) are fickle. She would eventually become bored or smitten with the new boy in class. That is not the kind of response the gospel of new life elicits.

No, the kind of response the gospel evokes is like that of a bride who sees her husband laboring in the yard, earning at the marketplace, playing with his children, dancing with her at a party, and kissing her goodnight. She watches this faithful man as he pours himself out for his family, and she cannot help but love him for it. He asks for nothing in return, but she cannot hold back her expression of love in light of his sacrifice. She is compelled, by his selfless love, to live out her love for him. This is the love of a Christian for his Savior.[3]

This kind of feeling is driven by a deep, heart-felt gratitude for the redeeming work of Christ. It is sustained by a perpetual sense of one’s neediness before an all-sufficient God. It is a continual confession of a kind of thirst which can only be satisfied by eternal streams of glory.

At least, that’s how David and the other men who penned the Psalms saw it.

 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
(Psalm 42:1)

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
(Psalm 63:1)

 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
(Psalm 63:5-6)

We even see this sort of poetic expression throughout the deeply theological writings of Paul, as if after long stretches of theological reflection, the natural overflow of his heart is joy-filled worship. One can hardly read through Philippians 2 and not feel the depths of Christology stirring the affections of the heart.

And so, I implore you to dig deeper. Look beyond the surface-level meanings of words that have been hijacked by our skin-deep culture. Search the Scriptures and seek the depths of such words. Journey back through the annals of Church History and read the writings of the Patristics, the Reformers, the Puritans, and more. Think deeply, that you may deeply worship a God in whom there is no end of depth.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Jonathan Edwards, Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The previous two paragraphs were taken from my new book, Gospel Regeneration, available now at Amazon and other retailers.

Biblical Counseling for All

therapists-chair

Let me begin this post by confessing that I’m not an expert at anything (which you hopefully already know). But one of the things I’ve seen, particularly pastoring teens, is that there is so much ambiguity around the idea of biblical counseling. And typically, when we hear the words “Biblical Counselor,” our antenna shoots up, as if there’s some major issue that the “regular” community is not equipped to address. In that moment, we can tend to tune out, turn off, and just think “I’ll let the experts do their job.”

And praise God for the experts. In our small town, I’ve heard of several great professionals who counsel from a biblical perspective. My office sits in between two of the best biblical counselors I’ve ever met! So, I’m certainly not downplaying the need for skilled, knowledgeable, godly men and women who are able to use God’s word to skillfully point people to their ultimate need. 

But, Christians, let’s be honest. We know we’re all supposed to be biblical counselors. Let me give you a few simple commands from Scripture that’ll catch all of us.

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13 ESV)

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:15-16 ESV)

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope…

…Therefore encourage one another with these words.

(1 Thessalonians 4:13, 18 ESV)

OK, so now that we’re all under the umbrella of these “one another” commands, let’s dispel some of the false notions about biblical counseling.

What it’s not

1. Biblical counseling is not merely an academic discipline. Hear me, while men and women study and train in this arena (and praise God for that), those who go into the field know that biblical counseling is intensely personal, emotional, and relational. How can you counsel some one you don’t know? How can you exhort some one as a brother or sister if there’s no relationship there? It’s nearly impossible. The best biblical counselors are those who take time to simply get to know people. 

2. Biblical counseling is not “therapy,” at least in the common sense of the word. When you hear some one say, “I’m going to see my therapist,” what kinds of images flood your mind? Are they taking crazy pills? Are they getting hypnotized? Are they dependent on this person to help them get through the week? Once again, I do not seek to demean the profession itself, but rather to expose the common misconceptions. You see, the underlying principle for biblical counseling is the radical notion that only God is in control. We become totally dependent on Him, not on our counselor (as any good biblical counselor will point out).

3. Finally, biblical counseling is not only what happens for an hour after church in the pastor’s office (though this pastoral function is so vital for the church). That begs us to look at what biblical counseling actually is.

What it is

1. First and foremost, biblical counseling is biblical. In Colossians 3, Paul tells the church how it’s supposed to function. He tells them that the Word of God is supposed to dwell in you richly. This isn’t some perfunctory knowledge of the Word which is attained by a 5 minute “Quiet Time” each morning. This is a deep, heart-level, knowledge of and passion for God’s Word. It is an understanding of the overarching story line of the Bible, the gospel. It is a faithful approach to biblical interpretation and a Spirit-wrought understanding of its application to all of life.

And this kind of passion for the Scriptures should be a consistent pursuit for all Christians. We’re all over the spectrum with regard to how deeply we’ve probed the waters of God’s inexhaustible riches found in the Scripture. But there’s one commonality for those whose hearts have been captured by Christ: we’re all swimming in his Word

2. Next, biblical counseling is gospel-centered. As mentioned above, the Christian should have a knowledge of, and a love for, the great story line of the Bible. Creation. Fall. Redemption. Consummation. These are the four big acts. They make sense of the stories within the story. They make sense of all of our stories.

Matt Chandler, in The Explicit Gospel, calls the approach above “the gospel in the air.” But biblical counseling must also consider what he calls “the gospel on the ground.” This is the up-close-and-personal approach to understanding the gospel. Every man is sinful, and this sin causes separation from a holy God. Jesus entered into our reality in order to bring reconciliation. He imputes to us his righteousness, and he took on God’s wrath toward our sin. And because of his glorious resurrection, we are assured that he’ll one day raise and renew our bodies to be like his resurrected body. This gospel-centered approach to counseling is so vital, as the gospel is the only cure for the great sickness of man.

3. Finally, and so often missed, biblical counseling is a community project. As mentioned above, it is not merely what happens in the pastor’s office or on the time clock of a professional. Though both of these professions are necessary, Christians cannot be satisfied with just referring our brothers and sisters to a professional without first entering into their struggles, as Christ entered into ours.

I’m not saying you have to be fully equipped to deal with some of the deepest hurts of the human heart, but I’m also saying that the Bible says you should be somewhat equipped.

Who are the people you live closely with? Do they come to you for advice? If so, you have already been a biblical counselor (whether a good one or a bad one). Unless you’re just too young, you’ve probably already had the opportunity to comfort some one in the face of death, loss, illness, and more. Hear me…what you say (or even don’t say) in those moments is actually biblical counseling.

So, to wrap up, let me give you a few thoughts to hide away for those critical moments.

1. Paul told the Corinthians that something unique happens when you become a part of a church. You become a part of a body. And when one part of your body hurts, your whole body hurts. 

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
(1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV)

So, when your brothers and sisters come to you in confidence with their deepest hurts, you should hurt with them. I’m not saying you feel their hurt as deeply. What I’m saying is that their hurt should hurt you. This only happens in relationship. If you think you can skate through the Christian life without close, intimate relationships with your brothers and sisters, you are missing out on one of the best gifts of God.

Sometimes, in those most profound moments, the best thing you can do is mourn with some one. That’s biblical. 

2. Gospel-centered is really not just a catch-phrase. Every single time you have a chance to counsel or advise some one, ask yourself, “How does the gospel bear weight on this situation?”

Let me give you an example. If you are counseling some one who is dealing with anger at a past abuse, holding a grudge, or feeling like they’ve been unjustly wronged, consider Romans 5. 

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:7-11 ESV)

You see, God is the ultimate example of being unjustly wronged. He is holy, blameless, and perfect. He is the Creator. And yet we, the creation, have blatantly disregarded him. If Christ died for us when we were hostile to him, how much more should we live our lives with a posture of forgiveness toward those who have wronged us?

Clearly, this is just one example, but the point is to think critically about how the gospel applies to every situation. 

3. Finally, when counseling some one facing death, or the loss of a loved-one, consider the eschatological implications. I’m not talking about whether you’re pre-mil, a-mil, post-mil, or any-other-mil. What I’m saying is that death is the separation of the body from the spirit. That’s not how God created things to be, and that’s why death is such a formidable enemy. 

But, we have this promise in Scripture.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21 ESV)

This means that, though creation is now subject to things like cancer, decay, and death, there will be a day in which death will be totally destroyed. And those who believe in Christ will be raised anew, with glorified bodies that are totally sinless and totally able to enjoy fellowship with God, needing nothing else for all eternity. This is all because of the life, death, and glorious resurrection of Christ. 

And I could write so much more about how the grand story of the gospel applies to counseling. But the point is to get you thinking. Who are those people in your life who need to hear you speak these truths? Before you shrug and refer them to a professional, what biblical truths can you convey that will point to the problem (sin) and then to the cure (Christ)? 

After all, biblical counseling is a community project.

 

Soli Deo Gloria.

Book Excerpt: Born Again to a Living Hope

The following is an excerpt from my new book Gospel Regeneration. You can now buy the book on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. Keep in mind that 50% of the profits will go directly to Acts 29 Network to support church planting efforts across the globe. 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused
us to be born again to a living hope through the
resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an
inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and
unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s
power are being guarded through faith for a
salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In
this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if
necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,
so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more
precious than gold that perishes though it is tested
by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory
and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though
you have not seen him, you love him. Though you
do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice
with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation
of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

What a beautiful passage describing the regenerative hope that God grants to His chosen. We are born again (regenerated) to a kind of hope that is alive! How glorious! The new hope which is granted by God in Christ is filled with, well…life. Living hope.

That hope is made possible through the resurrection of Christ. Because He was made alive, our hope is kept alive. And the full realization of that hope will not be revealed to us until “the last time.” This means that, even in the midst of trials, we hold on to the hope, the belief, the reality, that there is a coming light that far outshines the darkness.

And what’s more, the endurance of such trials actually produces a genuine stamp on our regenerate life. In other words, you can take literally everything from a regenerate person, except this: the expectant hope of the future. You can torture him, rob him, ridicule him, and even kill him. None of this will remove his hope in the outcome of his faith, the salvation of his soul! Why is this true? Because of the whole scope of regeneration! If God is the one who does it, God is the one who will complete it. No man can take away a hope that was implanted at regeneration by God. It is a living hope. It will not be killed. It will, by the power of God, be fulfilled upon the return of Jesus Christ.

I think Tolkien may have taken his cues from the Apostle Paul when he wrote of Sam Gamgee’s resolve. Paul, a man who suffered deeply, once wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). He was peering out over the darkness in search of the bright light of God’s glory which would be fully revealed to him at some point in the future. He looked around and saw that even if there was beauty to be had, it was only a shadow. He saw the futility of sin and death manifested throughout all of creation, and he longed for the day all would be set right. So it was in this kind of hope that Paul found the confidence to endure beatings, shipwrecks, prison stays, the loss of his idols, and much more.

Paul lived his life in such a way that the hope of the future sustained him in the midst of present discomfort. He called his intense suffering “light and momentary” compared to the weight of future glory. He eagerly anticipated the moment when his body would no longer be subject to sin and decay.  He was driven by his deepest desire, to be with Christ—to finally be made whole in him. That is a living hope.

Soli Deo Gloria

Preschool and Total Depravity

My wife has the hardest job in the world. Seriously, I have worked in the construction industry, enduring long days working on rooftops through the Texas summer. I’ve worked for a mortgage company, where I had to make phone calls to people who were late on their payments. I worked for a non-profit relief agency and saw children roaming the streets of Mexico City shoe-less and orphaned. And now I work for a church, where I see stories of brokenness due to the effects of sin. But her job is tougher than any of that. What does she do? She’s a preschool teacher.

And what’s crazy about that is…she absolutely loves it. For about a year now, I’ve come home to hear stories about children running wild, peeing their pants, puking in her hair, licking (yes, licking) her leg, and much more! And, on the whole, she loves it. Honestly, I try not to picture it too vividly because I’m fearful I’d begin to have recurring nightmares.

We live in a pretty good town, but one of the sad realities that is indicative of our culture at large is that many of these preschool kids– 3 and 4 year olds– come from broken homes. My wife has met grandparents, aunts, uncles, and all kinds of other guardians who are trying to raise multiple children on their own. When she was planning out her crafts for the week of Father’s Day, she was confronted with the sad reality that about half of her kids did not have their dad at home.

Because her school is open year-round, they promote children to the next grade at the beginning of summer. That means that my wife has just gotten a round of brand new 3 year olds. That’s right…these kids were recently 2. Barely potty trained, and hardly able to communicate, they come into an organized classroom setting for the first time in their lives, and my wife is the one who has to teach them how to behave. Tell me your job is tough…

The beginning of this summer has been pretty tough for our family. Various family members battling cancer and a host of dog problems have kind of left us in a discouraged, beaten-down kind of place. On top of that, my wife has just gotten a new group of preschoolers who are particularly rowdy. And there’s this one kid….

I don’t know his whole story. It’s a broken home type thing. Dad is probably gone, and Mom is not the easiest person to communicate with. Every single day this 3 year old boy soils his pant. No diapers, no pull-ups, just soiled underwear. AND, what’s worse is that the “backup pair” every parent is supposed to leave at the school is also soiled. Gross.

So, every day this kid has the same problem. And every single day, my wife takes him to the restroom, cleans him up, and brings him back to the rest of the class. Sometimes she does this multiple times each day. At the beginning, we kept hoping each morning that she’d have a poop-less day. Now, we’re beginning to lose hope. But my wife persists.

I’m not saying she enjoys it. I’m not saying she doesn’t dread the times he runs full-force toward her and jumps in her lap (who knows what’s in the shorts). But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more consistent and tangible display of selfless love as the one I’ve experienced through watching my wife love this kid over the past few weeks. Every day she is there. Every day, she cleans him up– knowing she will have to do it again tomorrow.

I’m so struck by the gospel implications that are bursting out of this beautiful metaphor. Don’t you see it? You and I are the kid with the soiled pants. Day after day, we mess up. We are untrained, incapable of stopping ourselves from the urge to sin. We are totally depraved, unable to clean ourselves up in order to present ourselves before God unstained.

But Jesus stepped into our mess. He became one of us, identifying with our greatest fears and our futile striving. He left his seat in the throne room of Heaven and came to dwell in this dark, dirty, and idolatrous world.

Not only that, but he took on our mess. He bore our sins on the cross. Though he lived a perfect, sinless life, he was punished as if he lived my messed-up, sin-soaked life. He took on God’s wrath on my behalf, so that he could present me before God as holy, blameless, and clean.

Perhaps the most mind-blowing part of this is that, when Jesus went to the cross, all my sins were in the future. This mean that he knew. He knew that tomorrow, for me, would be largely the same as today. While I can certainly make progress by the Spirit, Jesus knew that I’d never be totally rid of sin until the day he calls me home.

Let that settle in. That means that he knows, even as you solemnly swear this is the last time you will give in to your lust, that you’ll do it tomorrow. Even if it’s not that particular sin. You’ll mess up again. Two times, three times, a hundred times a day. No matter how holy you become, you will still sin, and he knew it.

Set against the backdrop of total depravity, Paul exalts the gospel in 2 Corinthians 5:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

This is good news because it set in opposition to such bad news. Paul does the same thing in his letter to the Ephesians:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved  (Ephesians 2:1-5 ESV)

Cripplingly bad news, followed by blindingly good news. That’s what the gospel is. And that’s why we need it every single day.

Does such news make men lazy? If we are given over to depravity, should we even try? Paul has something to say to that too:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
(Romans 6:1-4 ESV)

How do we walk in newness of life? By reminding ourselves (and each other) every single day that Jesus is enough. And, grace upon grace, when we forget it, God promises that His Spirit will remind us:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God  (Romans 8:16 ESV)

Don’t you see? Total depravity means that you and I cannot take one step on our own. We need God every second of every day. We need Him when we constantly and continually give into the flesh and live as if He is not enough. And the beauty of the gospel is that, even when we struggle to believe it…Jesus is enough.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

Book Update

After three years of writing, editing, asking questions, re-writing chapters, working with the great people at Lucid Books, and more….the time has come!

book

You are looking at the first proof copy of Gospel Regeneration, which means that publication is right around the corner! Within three weeks, the book will be available on Amazon and other online retailers. I will keep you posted on how and when it becomes available.

In the meantime, feel free to help me spread the word! If you plan to read the book, let people know about it! You can use the image below on social media, etc.

3x2 Card

 

 

That’s all for now. Make sure to check back here for updates in the coming weeks!

Soli Deo Gloria

Too Much Gospel?

Gospel-centered, gospel-saturated, gospel-in-life, gospel communities….

You get the point. By God’s grace, there has been a resurgence, and explosion, a tidal wave of gospel-centeredness over the past several years. The gospel is being heralded from pulpits, blogs, websites, conferences, and much more. So many pastors and ministry leaders have weighed in on questions like, “What is the Gospel?” or, “How do we live out the Gospel?” Volumes have been written. And not just in recent years. This obsession with the gospel is historic. It is deeply rooted.

Having said all that, do you ever get tired of hearing the word “gospel?” Do you feel there is nothing new to say? Are you feeling bogged down by all the podcasts, blogs, and gospel-centered tweets?

If so, I get it. I understand. I’m a pastor, so I hear and read the word gospel about 50 times a day. Surely at some point enough is enough.

But it’s interesting what I continue to learn about myself. When I wake up on any given day, I basically have two options:

1) Myself. This is of course the natural option. “I’m going to tackle this day on my own. Bring it on.” This kind of sheer determination, if it is potent, may carry me through on my five-mile commute to the office. But normally, on these kinds of days, no sooner do I sit down in my chair  than I begin to drift. I retreat further into myself and begin to become frighteningly introspective, self-justifying, self-sustaining, and self-sufficient. I think you see the common denominator there. And the gravity of “me” is often stronger than I care to admit.

2) My second option is only the gospel. There are days, by God’s grace, in which I wake up and begin to think, “God, I am nothing without you. Apart from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, I would be lost, dead, and desperately dissatisfied.” That simple posture, those few moments of grace-driven focus will radically transform my day. As I drive to work, I begin to see the world differently. I’ll drive by Southwest Middle School and begin to pray for students and teachers there. I’ll have an expectant anticipation for getting to the office to study, counsel, or meet with my fellow staff. Names and faces of church members will run through my head as I consider them in prayer. I’ll turn off the sports radio (nothing wrong with that), and I’ll jam out to some gospel-centered songs. Do you see an altogether different pattern here? Instead of curving inward on myself, I’m turned outward and upward. And the beauty in that is, the less I consider myself, the more joy I actually have.

So, I don’t know about you, but I just can’t get enough gospel. I need to remember it every second of every day. All the time. How am I doing at that? Admittedly, not as well as I’d like. How are you doing at remembering the gospel? Do you often think about your beginnings? About how God brought you from death to life in Christ?

In my upcoming book, Gospel Regeneration, I talk about some very practical avenues God employs for constantly reminding us of the gospel. Enjoy this excerpt.

That’s why one of the most practical avenues God employs in the hearts of regenerate believers for stirring their affections (desires) for Him is simply the remembrance of their regeneration, or remembrance of the gospel. In remembering our regeneration, our hearts’ affections are stirred to ascribe worship to God for the life- giving work He has done in us. 

This is why Jesus told His disciples that they needed to die to self daily (see Luke 9:23). Our affections are stirred by remembering that our “old man” is dead, crucified with Christ, and we are free to worship joyfully at the stream of unending grace. A daily re-orientation around regeneration is vital in the Christian life. Without a proper perspective on the God-sized nature of our regeneration in our daily lives, we begin to drift away from dependence on Him, back toward self-justification, and this will always lead to the numbing of our affections.

Consider this metaphor. When a man and woman begin a courtship, there is a kind of buzz and excitement which accompanies the discovery of a new affection. They think about each other throughout the day. They are constantly texting or constantly awaiting the receipt of the next text message. There is strong manifestation of affection which will probably not define their entire relationship. Let’s say that during this period of ecstasy, the couple picks out a song, as many couples do, which will remind them of this time for years to come.

Now let’s say the couple hits a rough patch ten years into their relationship. Kids have come, and the busyness of life has made every attempt to strangle and squelch the remainder of those early affections. One day, as the husband is driving to work, the song they had picked long ago begins to reverberate through his car speakers. Will he not be reminded of those early days of courtship? Will his affections not be stirred once again for his bride?

I am not saying that this is a one-for-one illustration. But remember what we said about the Holy Spirit in chapter four: that the Father commissions the Spirit to employ the words of the Son (the gospel) in order to draw men unto Him. And this does not only apply to the unregenerate!

God’s love song for Christians is the cross! When we remember the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, our affections are stirred to recall the early days of our Christian life. Having just been regenerated, everything was new. Our eyes were opened to the reality that God had condescended to make a way for unregenerate flesh to be awakened to behold Him! In that moment of remembrance, the excitement of new birth rushes back, and we are overwhelmed with a deluge of grace. 

This is why observance of the sacraments is an important practice in the Christian life. When a church body observes baptism, are they not rejoicing in new birth? Regeneration is brought to the forefront of the hearts of the regenerate as we celebrate that act in the lives of our new brothers and sisters.

The observance of communion is also themed around celebration and remembrance. We commemorate the life and death of Jesus as we partake of the bread and the cup. All of this serves to bring us back to the humble realization that Christ’s sacrifice procured our regeneration.

So, the sacraments are beautifully gracious gifts from God which are designed to cause remembrance of regeneration through the celebration of the gospel. Do you see how wonderful this gift is? Our good Father gives us practical ways by which to have our affections for Him continually stirred. The institution of such practices by God should serve to prove that we cannot stir up our own affections for Him. That is why we need to be given new affections at the moment of regeneration. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Gospel Regeneration: A story of life, death, and sleeping in a van, will be available this summer. For more information, click here.

Sports: Losing our most conservative god.

baseball

 

 

Two pretty significant uproars have occurred over the past few weeks in the world of sports. And both of these events have roots which run far deeper than the idea of sport itself. They are political, racial, and social. They are hot-button topics which evoke emotional responses. They are divisive. They make people defensive. For some, they are victories, and for others they are concessions. For all, they are visible.

Of course, you probably know that the two events I’m referring to are: 1)Donald Sterling’s racist remarks (and their fallout), and 2) Michael Sam’s draft into the NFL, making him the league’s first openly homosexual player.

My purpose here is not to comment on either of these issues (see my previous article about Racism in our culture). Rather, I hope to help unmask a larger one.

And before I go any farther, let me make clear that I do not lump these two issues together. I think they are two different discussions. My hope hereafter is to help uncover why the platform of sports has become a lightning rod for many such issues.

Let me pose this question: If a leading Hollywood actor were to come out as homosexual tomorrow, would such a visceral reaction be evoked? My guess is probably not.

How about this one: If an oil-refinery worker in southeast Texas were to make racist remarks on tape, would it be broadcast all over the media? Not likely.

Here’s what I am saying. The reactions across America to these two issues over the past few weeks have transcended the world of sports. Their reach has run deep into the fabric of our nation and its values. But their platform must be considered.

Here’s why I think so many conservatives are irate about the Michael Sam draft party broadcast, while they continue to watch television shows on basic cable which promote homosexuality and sexual promiscuity: sports has become our most conservative idol.

Within the world of sports, we expect things to operate as they always have. The playing field should be equal. That’s why we have salary caps, luxury taxes, and the like. Also, particularly in football, we expect star athletes to be wired a certain way. Conservative values line up with the “man’s man” identity we expect from a pro football player. Thus, when that bubble is penetrated, we are shocked!

None of our other idols are quite so “manly.” Homosexuality has become the norm on TV and in movies. Not only that, but sexual promiscuity runs rampant in prime time. We expect to see it in those circles.

Not so in sport. If you are a fan of women’s sports, indulge me. Certainly you understand that men’s sports dominate the mainstream attention (and I am not saying that to take away from women). The truth is, being a “man’s man” has long been one of the deepest values within mainstream professional sporting. That’s why we are OK allowing our sons to idolize men like Lebron, Jeter, and Brady.

Here’s why I think Christians are particularly irate about the whole thing. When our poster child, the fourth member of the Trinity, the “Chosen One” had his chance to speak, he was railed on. I’m of course talking about Tim Tebow. Don’t get me wrong. I love Tim, and I hope he gets another shot. But the point is, we are surprised at the league’s rejection of him, attributing it to their hatred and censorship of Christianity.

What I’d like to ask is this: What did we expect? Jesus said:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

(John 15:18-19 ESV)

My guess is Tim has read those words, and he came to terms with them a long time ago. Why do you think he seems so peaceful?

But not many of the rest of us have truly surrendered to that truth. We exalt our most conservative idols, those things the world has created for us to glorify, while we demonstrate our lack of conviction over blatant sexuality in other arenas.

Might we consider letting go of the notion that sports are the last bastions of purity within our depraved culture? Might we seek to join in the conversations the rest of our nation is having in such a way that we would display the grace and conviction of Christ?

Christians, there are some big conversations going on right now. As I pointed out in my previous article, we have a unique opportunity to join the racism conversation and help to holistically rid our hearts of this sin (by God’s grace).

We now have a similar platform within the conversation about homosexuality. Here’s my question for you. What will your part in the conversation be? Who will hear it? And how will it be heard?

Will you speak with great conviction and grace? Will you show love to the sinner, as Jesus did in John 8 when he encountered a woman caught in adultery? Will you speak intelligently, not viscerally?

Finally, perhaps more important than how you speak, how will you act? Will you behave lovingly toward homosexuals? Will you befriend them? Will you invite your homosexual neighbors to your house for dinner? Will you share the gospel with them in such a way that is faithful to its beauty?

Or, will you shrink back in fear and disgust as you seek to enjoy the final rays of fleeting glory that are oozing out of your most conservative idol?

Soli Deo Gloria