Posts in Christian Life
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.  ↩

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.

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.

Not everyone who says to Him, "Lord, Lord."

This weekend, hundreds of thousands of people will attend a church service for what will likely be the only time this year. I pray that they will hear the glorious good news: God demonstrated His unfathomable love for us that while we were still His enemies, He sent His beloved Son to die for us (Rom 5:8). But this post is not for them. This post is for the church folk, the week in, week outters. This post is for the people who curse their alarm clocks every Sunday morning, rush to get kids dressed and fed, while silently debating themselves on the benefits of going to church. This post is for the people who spend a majority of the sermon time wondering how many more points the pastor has and what’s for lunch.

My fear is that you go to church every week (and especially this week) thinking, my wife/husband/neighbor/brother/sister really needed to hear this sermon. In your mind, you’re always David and your boss is always Saul. You read the five warning passages of Hebrews (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29) and think, I’m really worried about _____. You are shocked that your friends can’t see the planks that are so obviously protruding from their eyes.

If this is you, hear me now because this is terribly important: You may not be saved.

  • You will say, “But I desire the heavenly things!"  Angels long to peer into the heavenly things that belong to the believer (1 Pet 1:12).
  • “But I desire deliverance!" So did the Legion of demons in the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:7).
  • “But the Scriptures comfort me!” Satan tried to use those same Scriptures to tempt Jesus (Matt 4:1-11).
  • “But I love Jesus!" So did those crying out Hosanna (John 12:13).
  • “But I worship Him!” Pharisees made long prayers and fasted twice a week. Just because you perceive to be worshiping does not mean that God receive it as such (Isaiah 1:15).
  • “But I am passionate about social justice!” That could be mere humanism. Who doesn’t know how to care for their own? (Luke 11:11)
  • "But I fear God!” So do the demons (James 2:19).
  • “But when I heard, I believed in joy!" So did the hearers on the rocky path (Mark 4:16).
  • "But I repented!" So did Saul (1 Sam 15:24).
  • "But I believe in a historical Jesus who was God, and that he died on a cross!" So did the Roman Centurion (Mark 15:39).
  • "But I have confidence that I am saved!" So did the Pharisees; even to the point where they were willing to conclude that the Son of God was the son of Satan (Mark 3:22-26).
  • “But I am thankful to God for saving me!" We all can show natural gratitude to someone when they show affection towards us. In fact, that could just as easily be driven by self-love. Saul was thankful to David for sparing his life (1 Sam 24:16-20). Jesus says in Matthew 5:46 “Sinners love those who love them.” Jonathan Edwards in his Religious Affections writes, "Self-love, through the exercise of mere natural gratitude, may be the foundation of a sort of love to God many ways.” (Works 1:276)
  • “But I love Jesus’ teaching!” Then hear His words: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matt 7:21-23).

Does this worry you? Good! These religious affections (please read Edwards!) on which you place your assurance are not necessarily proofs of your salvation. You may ask, Then how can anyone know that they are truly His? Edward Mote answers: My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.