The Power of Words

The way children pick up language is amazing. Over a relatively short period time—something like 18 to 36 months—children go from cooing and babbling to speaking in simple, but complete, sentences. Some of these sentences are sweet and make parenting worth it: “I love you, mommy.” Others are a little hard to deal with: “Go away, daddy. Leave me alone.” Isn’t it amazing how even 2 and 3-year-olds can use their words to lift someone up or tear them down? Words have power, even when they’re wielded by a toddler.

The Bible also reveals the powerful nature of words. We see it in its explanation creation. When God created the world, He exercised His power through speech: “And God said, ‘Let there be light’” (Gen. 1:3). We see it in God’s relationship with humanity. After creating Adam and Eve, “God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (Gen. 1:28). Later, when He called Abram from Ur, “the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your father’s house to the land that I will show you…I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:1–3). Scripture tells us that God’s speech makes him unique, all other gods are like “scarecrows in a cucumber field…they cannot speak” (Jer. 10:5). God alone speaks to His people, giving them His instructions and revealing to them His saving power. The Bible is God’s Word, breathed out by Him and written down for our progress in spiritual maturity (2 Tim. 3:16). God exercises his power over creation and in relationship with His people through speech.

But God’s speech is significant, not just for the he uses it, but for how it reveals to us his nature. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This Word is the Son of God, revealed to us in the person of Jesus, who “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3).

If speech is inherently powerful and closely related to who God is and what God does, it is unsurprising that James would instruct Christians in its proper use. There is power in speech: the power to woo one’s lover, to instruct children in the proper way to live, to express hopes and dreams for the future. There’s also the power to “defile the entire body, and set on fire the course of our life” (James 3:6). Scripture tells us that we must put away unedifying speech (Eph. 4:29), and be diligent to speak as “from God” to the world (1 Jn. 4:5–6). To put it simply, human speech must become more like God’s speech, “always…gracious, as though seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6).

How does your speech compare to God’s speech? In what ways does your speech need to change?
Everything Bagels and Contentment

I like everything bagels. Of all the bagels, they’re the most delicious. They have the perfect combination of seasonings and spices: garlic, onion, sesame and caraway seeds, and salt. They aren’t topped with literally “everything,” but rather, everything you’d ever want on a bagel.[1]

I also think—and I recognize I might be forcing it—they’re a pretty good illustration of contentment. Could we put more things on the everything bagel? Of course. Do we? We do not.

Life is the same way. I don’t have everything I could have in life. I could buy a new car or more books, go on a crazy once-in-a-lifetime vacation, or search for the next ministry position. But I have everything I need. In fact, I have everything my God wants me to have (Matt. 6:25–34; Phil. 4:19). He has placed me in this season of life and given me precious gifts, things for which I should be thankful. Contentment is our constant recognition of His provision and our willingness to accept it with thanksgiving.

However, contentment is a difficult thing to gain because, instead of enjoying God’s gifts, we often use them as motivation to pursue more. We begin prizing the gifts over the giver. We take the delicious everything bagel and ruin it with cream cheese and lox, if you will. But though contentment is difficult to find, it is not impossible.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, says that we can be “content with what we have” and remain “free from from the love of money” by remembering a simple promise: “I will never leave you nor desert you, Nor will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).

The key to contentment is seeing God’s presence and gifts in our life as the perfect, soul-satisfying answer to our hunger for more. He is our daily bread.

The Law is Good

There are times when an activity’s rules keep us from enjoying it like we should. For example, have you ever been to a hotel pool with a “NO DIVING ALLOWED” sign? Without fail someone breaks that rule. Can you really enjoy a swimming pool if you’re not soaking everybody with the waves from your world-class cannonball? On the other hand, there are times when an activity’s parameters actually increase our enjoyment of it. Just think, if you’ve never learned the rules of the piano—the scales, time signatures, or how to read music—your enjoyment of the instrument is severely limited. Maybe you can play “Chopsticks,” but without learning the rules of music, you’ll never know the joy of playing Chopin.

Which one of these examples best explains the function of God’s law in our lives?

  • Does the law keep us from behaviors that make life more enjoyable? or
  • Can it actually enhance our joy?

When we look to Scripture, what we find might surprise you. Paul tells us “the law is good” (1 Tim. 1:18), and James describes it as the “law of liberty” (James 1:25; 2:12). So, though our obedience to it can never earn us a place in heaven (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:15–16), the law should be seen as serving a positive role in our lives. In fact, it reveals to us the lifestyle that God intends for his people to live. Of course, the law functions differently for believers today than it did for the Israelites in the Old Testament, and it has been fundamentally changed through the work and teaching of Jesus who rendered the sacrificial laws obsolete through his once-for-all death on the cross (Heb. 9). Nevertheless, we must strive to view the law positively.

One way to do that is by remembering this simple phrase: “Discipline without direction is drudgery.” [1] If God’s law was simply a set of regulations given by an absent deity, it would feel oppressive—on the order of a “NO DIVING ALLOWED” sign. But since it comes from a loving and compassionate God, it is purposeful. He gives us the law for our good as he remakes us into the image of the One who lived in perfect obedience to him, Jesus. In that way it truly is a law of liberty and something we should strive to live out as we pursue the goal for which we were created.

  1. Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1991), 15.  ↩

In the Blood

I’ve written about the positive influence parents can have on their children, giving them a spiritual “leg up” by raising them to think about the things of God. This is God’s intention for parenting, and it is both commanded and exemplified in Scripture (e.g., Deut 6:7; Ps 44:1). But while it is God’s intended order for the family, it is not our society’s norm. In fact, a certain degree of familial dysfunction is expected, and when it’s not apparent in your family, people assume you’re hiding something.

This dysfunction can have terrible consequences on the children living in it. Parents do, after all, have a foundational role to play in their children’s physical, emotional, and spiritual development. We are biological beings, created in the image of God through the invisible, biological union of our parents’ gametes. We are the product of an elaborate genetic process through which our ancestors exhert incredible influence over the color of our hair and skin, the shape of our eyes and face, and our predisposition to certain health risks. Once we enter into the world, our parents’ influence isn’t over; they begin training us to find our place in the world. They teach us to communicate, to stay clean, to do chores, and, hopefully, to be kind and loving.

But what happens if your parents are dysfunctional? Are you destined to be ruled by your “nature and nurture”? Will you one day wake up to realize you are your controlling mother or aloof father?

That’s what John Mayer wonders in his song, “In the Blood.” He asks painful questions like, “How much of my father am I destined to become?/Will I dim the lights inside me just to satisfy someone?”, and, “Does a broken home become another broken family?/Or will we be there for each other, like nobody ever could?”

What hope do you have when you begin to see yourself doing the things you watched your parents do, but swore you would never do yourself? Do you resign yourself to the cruel determinism of your biology, or can you claw your way out of your circumstances through hard work? Mayer gets to that point and asks a startling pair of questions:

“Could I change it if I wanted, can I rise above the flood?/ Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?”

His questions hold out hope for some kind of salvation: an ark to carry him on the flood that can cleanse him. Perhaps he’s grasping for something that he doesn’t consciously know he wants, or maybe Mayer is exploring Christianity. We don’t know. But what we can say is, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

That’s because the prophet Jeremiah looked to the day when God would make a new covenant with his people (Jeremiah 31). Under the terms of this new covenant each person would be responsible for his own sin:

“In those days they will not say again, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ “But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge. (Jeremiah 31:29–30, NASB)

If we want to break the cycle of sin in our dysfunctional families, there’s really only one way to do it. We need a clean break and fresh start. We need a new identity molded and shaped after the image of Jesus. The good news is that the covenant Jeremiah looked toward has been established through the death of Jesus. By faith in him, we come to claim a share in that covenant and experience all its benefits, including the forgiveness of our sins and the presence of his Spirit who enables us to live humbly before him. We’re no longer slaves to our flesh or the sin that claims a foothold there. It does, in a sense, “wash out in the water” (1 Peter 3:18–22; 1 Corinthians 6:11).

Come on in, John, the water’s fine.

The Hamster Wheel

Hamsters must be the most physically fit rodents on earth. Rather than letting them sit around stuffing their jaws with little pellets of food, their owners supply them with an exercise machine, the hamster wheel. You know what it looks like, and if you’ve ever had a hamster of your own, you know what it sounds like at 3 AM! The hamster runs in the wheel, and if you think about it too long, you can almost start to feel sad for them. They exert so much energy, but never actually get anywhere. Maybe you can relate.

Our hurried lives are often punctuated by setbacks, frustrations, and, to use the apostle James’ word, trials. While you’re in the middle of one of these setbacks, you feel powerless to get out of it. No matter how hard you push or how fast you run, you just can’t get out. As they say online, “The struggle is real.” What’s worse, it’s not always apparent what we did to deserve the trial we’re facing, and it can sometimes feel like God has abandoned us to go it alone. Thankfully, God knew that we would fall into this “Hamster Wheel Perspective,” and in James 1:1–18 we’re told two things that get us out of the hamster wheel and on with our lives. First, there is a purpose to our trials (Jas. 1:2–4), and second, we’ll be rewarded for our perseverance through them (Jas. 1:12).

There seems to be little purpose to the hamster’s ceaseless running. Clearly, he’s going nowhere and fast. Not so for the believer! God has begun a work in us and He promises to complete it (Phil. 1:6). He has stretched a path in front of us, and though it may prove difficult at times, His purpose is for us to reach our goal and to finish our race. Life is not a hamster wheel. Each trial has a purpose as God shapes us and molds us into the image of His Son, Jesus (Rom. 8:29).

In addition to never actually going anywhere, the hamster doesn’t win anything for running in his wheel. It’s a mindless exercise in futility. But, Christian, we are promised a wonderful reward for our perseverance. James refers to it as “the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jas. 1:12), and Paul calls it a competitor’s “prize” (2 Tim. 2:5). Both argue that it is a motivation for our perseverance.

So when you find yourself facing an obstacle, give up the hamster wheel perspective that keeps you from seeing its point. Remember that God is at work to change you and make you more like Jesus, and that He promises a great reward for your faithfulness to Him through it.

Regarding Joy

Confess and Believe

What must we do to be saved? In a way, nothing. Paul explains that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom 10:9). We are not saved by our doing. Salvation is not an outward act of meeting God’s standards (hands and feet) and meriting righteousness. Salvation comes by faith in Christ (heart and mouth cf. Rom 10:10). One should not attempt to put a wedge between “believing” and “confessing” or “justification” and “salvation” for they are parallel realities: heads and tails. There is, however, a nuanced component to believing and confessing. Believing is an internal trust; placing your faith in the person of Christ (inward). Confessing is a public acknowledgment or praise of the truth (outward). These are not two, distinct realities, but one fluid motion that starts internally and manifests itself externally.

We know that the gospel is “good news” (that's what it means). We believe it in our hearts. We believe it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). We are not ashamed of the gospel, per se. But we sometimes struggle to muster the courage to tell our next-door neighbor—whom we discuss sports, taxes, work, and politics with—about the reconciling work of Christ on the cross and his kingdom. I am not trying to promote evangelism through guilt. In fact, I hope to do the opposite. Rather than trying to convince you that if you really loved God, you would share your faith, my aim is to fan into flame your heart for evangelism through joy.

Praise is the Consummation of Joy

The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with this Q & A:

Q. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

While there are two parts to this answer, I have always understood it as one stroke of the pen (the cursive of joy): man’s chief end is to glorify God by and through enjoying him forever. Or as Piper puts it: God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him. “But Dave,” you protest, “I thought you said that belief and confession are inward and outward expressions of faith? Now, you are implying that our only call is to enjoy God, which sounds like a one-way street.” Not exactly.

As we breathe in grace, we breathe out praise. Praise, or the public profession of our faith, is not merely an expression of our faith, but the completion of our joy.

It took me years to learn this lesson (the hard way). And, by God’s grace, he allowed me to learn it through the pen of C.S. Lewis. In his book Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis discusses his difficulty with accepting the ostensible vanity of God in his commands for the people to praise him. He explains:

The most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless . . . shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least….

I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.1

The outward expression of praise is the consummation of our joy. It is the last step in the process. As Lewis says, "It completes the enjoyment." It's the teapot whistling when the water is boiled. Pleasure with your spouse (inwardly) manifests itself externally through smiles, laughter, cards, flowers, dates, sweet words, and even children. The enjoyment experienced watching your team pull off a historic comeback in the Super Bowl is typically followed by outstretched arms, screaming, and dancing. No one told me to throw my hands in the air when Julian Edelman made the catch of a lifetime: I just did it. Paul's point in Romans 10:10 is that the "heart and mouth, inward belief and outward confession, belong essentially together.”2 And maybe, just maybe, the reason you struggle with evangelism isn’t because you don’t believe the gospel, or because you're afraid of men, or a host of other reasons. Perhaps the reason you struggle with confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord is that you haven't experienced the profound, sensible joy that this confession can bring. It is possible that you have been so preoccupied with your duties as a soldier in Christ's army, that you've not allowed yourself the bliss of knowing that “I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 6:3).

What are some steps Christian can take to increase their delight in God?

We can talk to God, rather than about him (1 Jn 5:14). Like David, we can ask him to give us joy: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Ps 51:12). We can read his Word with eyes to see him, and ears to hear his voice believing that he will speak to us and teach us his truth (Ps 119:130). We can seek joy in God by putting to death our sins, which are obstacles to real intimacy with him (Prov 28:13). We can enjoy God by reminding ourselves of his presence with us, even as we pursue “menial” tasks of obedience, whether it is changing diapers, cutting the lawn, waking up early to work out, taking out your neighbor’s trash (1 Cor 10:31). Some may need to cultivate their joy in the Lord by partaking in the common-grace of medicine to fight off depression. We can use our senses to cultivate our joy by enjoying the Giver through his gifts (Ecc 9:7; 1 Tim 4:4). The joy of the Lord is meant to be your strength (Neh 8:10). If your joy in Christ is lacking, your faith is only partial. Seek joy in Christ! Joy will buoy you up (inward) and joy will send you out (outward).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom 15:13).

  1. C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt Books, 1986), 93–5 emphasis added. ↩︎
  2. John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2001), 283. ↩︎
David KakishComment
Spiritual Upward Mobility?

J.D. Vance’s New York Times bestselling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, is a hard-hitting and immensely practical book for those of us in pastoral ministry. Vance identifies major sources of the depression, hopelessness, and substance abuse many of the people we're trying to reach are experiencing. If we can read this book without identifying ways to communicate the gospel so that the person—the whole person: body, mind, and spirit—is changed, we’re not carrying out our mission correctly.

Hillbilly Elegy also raises interesting parallels with raising Christian kids. Throughout his story, Vance notes that his experience wasn’t all that unique. Most kids in his community had families plagued by relational instability, drug and alcohol use, incarceration, and nearly inescapable poverty. Where his experience diverged was the influence of his grandparents. He writes, “despite all of the environmental pressures from my neighborhood and community, I received a different message at home. And that just might have saved me” (60). While most kids drowned under the overwhelming brokenness around them, Mamaw and Papaw Vance taught J.D. the value of hard work and determination, which enabled him to succeed in school and life.


J.D.’s life at home largely inoculated him against the forces at work around him. I wonder if our kids can say the same. The forces at work around them may not be as ominous as those in Middletown, Ohio, (our kids only face pressures toward unbelief, sexual promiscuity and experimentation, or irreverence). But what force is at work in our family? What message are they hearing from us? Do our kids hear about the triumph of the Lord Christ over all his foes, or the defeat of the church by the forces in the world? Is the gospel of Jesus the aroma of the home? Is the Spirit knitting us to them not only with the natural affection appropriate between parent and child, but with the love that only He can produce?

Believe it or not, the message they hear at home largely influences the way our children develop in their faith.1 “Training up a child in the way they should go” generally ensures that “when they are old they won’t depart from it.” They’ll either grow up to be as spiritually impoverished as we are, or building on the spiritual progress they make while at home, grow up to exceed us in their walk with Jesus. Is there such a thing as spiritual upward mobility?

  1. Of course, the uncomfortable reality is that J.D.’s family situation was an exception in his working-class neighborhood. Every kid isn’t born into the ideal spiritual environment either. This is where the men and women of church must become a second family, a home away from home, for children and students in spiritually impoverished homes.  ↩

Affection and Pastoral Ministry

Wendell Berry writes about the way “morality, even religious morality,” is insufficient to motivate our care of the land. Knowing that we should live our lives in such a way that the land, and the people who live and work on it, are conserved and cherished is very different from actually doing it. The gap between what we should do and what we actually do is only bridged, in Berry’s mind, by affection.[1]

I think this equally applies to our concern and care for people.

We will have a hard time caring for those entrusted to us if we’re only relying on our sense of morality. We may visit the sick in the hospital, call someone who missed church, or send a note of encouragement to someone going through a difficult time because we know it’s what a pastor should do. But shouldn’t a pastor do other things too? Isn’t he supposed to preach the Word? And study to show himself approved? Shouldn’t he cast vision and lead people?

If he should do all these things, does he? Probably most of the time, but when he can’t because there aren’t enough hours in a day, what gets dropped? I think it’s the thing for which he has the least affection. Hopefully that’s not caring for people.

How can you determine if you care for people out of obligation or because you love it? Do you have a sense of “informed sorrow” for them? Is your imagination filled with a vision of what God might do in them if you give them focused attention? Do you love them?[2]

  1. Wendell Berry, “It All Turns on Affection,” in It All Turns on Affection: The Jefferson Lecture & Other Essays (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2012), 32–33.
  2. Ibid., 34.  ↩

About Your "Boring" Conversion Story...

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time studying the lives of Christians that God converted through his Spirit, discipleship, and the book of Romans. The testimonies of these men are phenomenal and very moving.

Augustine’s story was colorful and is, perhaps, very familiar to many people. He was skeptical of Christianity, despite being raised by a Christian mother. Instead, he pursued the high life through womanizing and jetting through his career as a rockstar professor in Rome. But God had different plans. In his early thirties, Augustine came to know the Lord and went on to do incredible things for the church. Augustine's is an incredible sinner-to-saint story.

Luther’s story was equally moving. After making a weird deal with God to save his life during a thunderstorm, Luther would spend years in a monastery fasting, working, and beating himself to death. He did so because he felt that he owed God. To Luther, God was an angry, capricious bully; Jesus was nothing more than a “terrible judge.” It wasn't until after an eye-opening trip to Rome—at a time when popes, priests, and prostitutes knew each other, biblically speaking—and steady discipleship did Luther come to know Christ’s righteousness by God’s grace alone. Luther would go on to spark the Protestant Reformation, a time that reemphasized a core gospel truth (salvation by faith alone) and forever reshaped Western civilization. Luther's is an amazing legalist-to-saint story.

But, then, there’s John Wesley. He grew up in a Christian home, went to Oxford, became a missionary, and then later preached in churches. After experiencing a few failures—at least from his perspective—he felt his heart “strangely warmed” while listening to a sermon on the book of Romans in London. “I felt I did trust in Christ,” John later reminisced, “and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins.” John became a Christian after a life of living Christianly. The end.

Compared to Augustine and Luther, John was a choirboy whose worst sin was the time he left a door open after entering the house. By all worldly measures, John’s conversion story is uneventful and boring. Is it even worth mentioning? Wouldn’t it be better to tell an eventful and exciting story to show how amazing God’s work can be?

No, not necessarily…

I’m afraid that sometimes Christians feel that crazy, drug-induced, sex-romping, sinner-turned-saint stories are the only stories worth telling. Think about that one guy’s testimony who, having been born to a drug addict and pimp, was mixed up in drugs, sex, and the gang scene on the southside of Chicago by age sixteen. Also, he was a Nickelback fan. But then, by God’s grace alone, Christ reached into his life and pulled him out by his love. Now, he is a stand-up father, an elder at a local church, and a Bible study leader. Importantly, he is also no longer a fan of Nickelback.

Now that’s a conversion story. Look what God has done!

Then, you look to your own conversion story—you grew up in the church, kept your nose clean, struggled with some sin (ever stole from the cookie jar?), repented, and, one Sunday during a sermon, felt your heart “strangely warmed.” Boring. Bland. Vanilla. Meh. Right?

Wrong. There is no such thing as a “meh” conversion story. Here’s why.

Four Reasons Why Your Conversion Story Matters

First, it’s a miracle that anyone is saved. Sin—the great separator between God and us—touches every aspect of our being. We were born in sin (Psa 51:5), without excuse for our sin (Rom 3:23), and dead in sin (Eph 2:1). Yet, God redeems us anyway. He does not need to, but, out of love, he does. He turns enemies into sons and daughters, and he did so through the sacrifice, death, burial, and resurrection of his Son. It is a miracle that anyone is saved at all.

Second, your conversion story is a sure sign that God is working in your life. We cannot convert ourselves; that’s entirely the job of the Holy Spirit. If you are a believer, then that means God has been working in your life. Think about how Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. That knowledge was not something he came to on his own. Instead, Jesus pointed out, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven (Matt 16:17).” Your conversion means that God revealed himself to you. How beautiful and wonderful is that?

Third, it is a blessing that God spared you from pain. We are all moved by the conversion story that begins in low valleys and ends on high mountaintops, but those stories came with an incredible price to the story-teller. Behind those amazing stories is a massive wake of sin, rebellion, and destruction. It is forgiven sin, but the consequences are still real. Your “bland” conversion story is actually an incredible blessing—God, as a good Father, spared you, his son or daughter, from a ton of pain.

Fourth, your conversion gives hope to new believers. The enemy would love nothing more than to see a new believer revert to his or her old identity. Conversion stories of God’s consistent and steady faithfulness provide new believers with precious assurance. New believers can be plagued by haunting questions: Is God really faithful? What if I sinned too badly? How long will God love me? Your “bland” testimony and life with the Lord is one way that God may use to answer their prayers. "Yes," you can say, "God is longsuffering and faithful. Just look at my life-long journey in his patience and grace!"

Do you believe that you have a “boring” story? Shake that lie. Your conversion story is precious to God, even if Steven Spielberg could not turn it into an award-winning drama. Who cares? Your conversion is, after all, the story of your second birthday. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Share it.

Conversion is God’s story in you. Now, go tell someone about it.

Reading Outside Your Tribe

The Bible is inerrant. Because it is the inspired Word of God, it is incapable of communicating falsity. While being kept from error, the human authors of the Bible were moved by the Holy Spirit so that all they wrote (in their own words) fully encompassed all he desired for them to write. What happens, then, when we read about their misgivings and failures? Does God’s inerrancy suffer at the hands of his people’s errors? My issue is how easily some unintentionally apply this supernatural activity of the Spirit with respect to the doctrines of inerrancy and inspiration beyond the text, and extend it to the authors themselves. 

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2:11–14, ESV)

When these certain men came from James, the brother of Christ and leader of the Jerusalem church, Paul was forced to confront Peter (Cephas). Paul opposed Peter, the rock on whom Christ promised to build his church (Mt 16:18), for acting in a manner that was out of step with the gospel. It’s baffling that two of the “super-apostles” (cf. 2 Cor 11:5) are indicted in these four verses: the former for propagating (enforcing?) ethnic division in the church, the latter for sheepishly cowering to the forces of sinful peer-pressure. The moral of the story: everyone (even the Apostles!) is susceptible to theological blind spots. 

The crusades don't rebuff the wisdom of Aquinas. The burning of Servetus doesn't nullify Calvin's contributions. Whitefield's pension for slavery doesn't overturn his homiletical genius. Again, we are all susceptible to theological blind spots. One way we can remedy this is by reading outside of our tribes. While it would be incredibly convenient, Christendom does not neatly divide along the lines of theological good guys and theological bad guys. We must be Bereans. We are big boys and girls. If there are bones in the fish, pick them out and feast on the meat.  

Barth, Swiss Reformed, was an ostensible universalist; yet he taught me a great deal about Christian ethics and the highest good. Lewis, an Anglican, was an errantist; yet he tutored me in the school of Christian imagination and what it means to have an awakened mind. Mary Prokes, a Roman Catholic, was a Franciscan nun; yet her prose on human embodiment—specifically on the true purpose and meaning of sexuality—was outstandingly illuminating and edifying. R.C. Sproul Jr., a Presbyterian, believes that God created sin; yet he taught me much on trusting in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness in the midst of the storm.

Isaac Newton, arguably the most influential scientific figure of all time, once penned to a friend, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This was Newton’s way of acknowledging that his accomplishments were due in large part to those who went before him. This maxim has been adopted to comment on the invaluable contributions of the Christian tradition. We are recipients of a rich and diverse tradition of theological formulation. This gift is to be received with thanksgiving, as an extension of God's promise to be with us always and to build his church. My only problem with the co-option of this quote is the imagery. If we are standing on the shoulders of giants, then when they fall we all fall. As Protestants, we stand on the Bible. Because the Bible is inerrant, I don’t need Luther to be. And neither do you.