Archives For Life

 

I breathed a sigh of relief when the clock struck midnight to take us from December 31, 2016, to January 1, 2017. 2016 seemed to be an anomaly, a strange year dominated by a contentious, unconventional, and surprising Presidential election. I thought that turning the calendar to a new year would slow down the number of news stories crossing my news feeds and turn down the volume on the discussions around those stories. I was wrong.

It seems as if there is a new passion-enflaming news story out every day. Whether it is the President’s Twitter feed, a heretical movie, another protest, or a denominational scuffle, our days are consumed with stories that either anger or depress us. They divide us into teams and lead us to fight to prove our guys are right.

Followers of Jesus must get off this train. Somehow, we back away from the current tenor of discussions in our culture without sticking our heads in the sand. Recently, I discussed one option– cultivating the discipline of selective ignorance. (A phrase I borrow from Tim Ferriss.) Today I want to share another– reading history. Here are five reasons this would be a great benefit to us.

To turn off the TV, put down the phone, and cut off talk radio

So much of what we expose ourselves to is just noise. Whether it is opinion-based talk radio or our social media feeds, we have numerous people and companies vying for our attention. What is going to grab your attention the fastest? It will be whatever scares you or makes you angry.

One great way to shut off the noise, which you have the power to do, is to read. (If you are going to read on your iPad or tablet, go in and disable the internet so that you aren’t tempted.) When you sit down to read a book, your attention focuses on one thing. There’s not another link to click and there is no comment section. Instead, you can think about one subject with focused attention.

To remember not to panic over every news cycle

Our 24-hour news cycle forces us to think that every controversy and every government decision is life or death. We lock ourselves into daily struggles and fights over the latest brouhaha. We proclaim that we are headed for utopia when our side is winning or that we are plunging toward the depths of hell when the other side prevails.

Recently, historian Jon Meacham tweeted a link about President Trump being angry that his surrogates did not defend his statements about President Obama wiretapping Trump Tower strongly enough. He commented that George H.W. Bush, the subject of his latest biography, could not understand the hand-wringing over what was said on Sunday morning talk shows. “Who the h*** remembers what they said by sundown?”

Our 41st President offers us some important words of wisdom in this case. We get angry about things that we won’t even be thinking about several hours from now. President Bush could say this because he had been observing these events for decades. When we devote ourselves to reading history, we’ll start to notice these things as well. The arc of history is long, therefore we shouldn’t spend much time fretting over day to day news stories.

To learn from past mistakes

Over the past two years, I have been reading biographies of the American Presidents. Often events take place in these biographies that make me cringe. The subject says something that we know to be horrific, wrong, or bigoted or they do something that we now know led to a terrible catastrophe.

We don’t read history just to critique past generations, though. We must actively learn from their mistakes. We should read and ask how we echo their previous folly in our lives today. For example, history is replete with examples of men who neglected their wives and families for the sake of their work. By the end of their biographies, we have the benefit of seeing how their absence at home cost them in the end. We don’t know the end of our stories, but we can see many of the pitfalls that come from ignoring the families God has given us.

To wean ourselves from cultural hubris

In our current culture, we are great at critiquing the mistakes of our ancestors. We can look back with the benefit of time and discern all of their faults. Unfortunately, we don’t possess the same keen insight when we are dealing with our own failures.
When we humble ourselves before the voices of the past, we can learn from many of their convictions and habits. For example, reading the biography of Teddy Roosevelt gives us great insight into the value of physical exercise to give ourselves energy. Abraham Lincoln shows us that we should never blame our circumstances and work hard to improve ourselves. Martin Luther’s devotion to prayer and Jonathan Edwards’ commitment to reading the Scriptures will make us wonder why we can’t squeeze in 20 minutes for devotions.

One area where we benefit from reading history is to see the devotion of early American generations to education and reading. We fancy ourselves to be the most educated generations in American history, and while this may be true from the number of years we spend in school, generations before us possessed a better grasp of the English language, a greater ability to spot flaws in logic, and a superior understanding of the flow of history. Our discussions of political and social issues sound like incoherent babbling compared to the force of reason and eloquence of expression present in the writings and speeches of our forebearers.

To calm down and gain perspective

When we read the Bible, we encounter times infinitely more chaotic than our own. The period of the judges and the Babylonian captivity make a fight over Russian interference look like child’s play. Our own nation has endured through the fires of civil war and two worldwide wars.

God controls human history. He made the world and holds the times and seasons of our lives in his hands. Reading history shows us times of chaos and times of peace, but it mainly testifies to the God who oversees it all. As we reflect on the days gone by and ponder our present and future, one thing always holds true– the sovereign God of the universe never has and never will take one day off. He is working his great plan of redemption at all times and in all places and will one day bring all things to completion with the second advent of his Son. Until that great day, we reflect on the past, live in the present, and look forward to our blessed hope.

Related Posts:
The Blessing of Selective Ignorance

7 Questions to Ask Before Posting about Politics on Social Media

For Further Reading:
The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton

 

A few weeks ago, my social media feeds blew up with discussions about Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech at the Emmys.  Apparently, she used her time to take President Trump to task about his demeanor and policies. Naturally, the people who love President Trump were angry about the speech and those who loathe him thought the speech was heroic. I had no opinion. I had not seen the speech, heard the speech, and chose to ignore the speech. It didn’t affect me in the least, so I benefitted from not having to think about it.

One of the most beneficial practices in my life in recent months has been working on the discipline of selective ignorance. Now, notice this is selective ignorance and not complete ignorance. I keep up with the news through a couple of papers, magazines, and podcasts. Anything that appears to be relevant to my work or interests, I will look into further. I ignore everything else if at all possible.

Two books helped me see how choosing to ignore things everyone was talking about could improve my life, work habits, and sanity. Tim Ferris’s The 4-Hour Work Week introduced me to this concept. (Ferris’s work obviously made a deep impression on me. I thought I came up with the phrase “selective ignorance” on my own. I just flipped back through The 4-Hour Work Week and turns out that it was the title of a chapter in his book.) He says, “It is imperative that you learn to ignore or redirect all information and interruptions that are irrelevant, unimportant, or unactionable. Most are all three.” Before, I thought that I needed to know about as many cultural discussions as possible and have an opinion on them. This usually meant that I had a strong opinion about many issues on which I had incomplete information and which never touched anything that had to do with my normal, everyday life as a follower of Jesus, husband, dad, neighbor, friend, and pastor.

Providentially, I picked up Cal Newport’s book Deep Work the day of President Trump’s inauguration. In it, he extolled the virtues of giving focused concentration to our most important tasks by cutting down on unnecessary distractions. The next day, I read his exhortation to cut down on social media intake, check email less often, and eliminate needless noise and distraction. This happened to be the same day my social media feeds were blowing up with strong opinions about the Women’s March on Washington. Reading this book on that day led me to sit down and do a serious evaluation of the things in my life that were distracting me from the things that matter most.

As I have taken inventory of my life and eliminated or greatly reduced my intake of information that needlessly distracted or frustrated me, I noticed three particular benefits that came from ignoring unimportant things.

Selective Ignorance Saves You From Needless Anger

Every time you pull up Facebook or Twitter, turn on opinion based news or listen to talk radio, you will find yourself getting angry about things that you didn’t even know about two minutes before. Media companies make loads of money from our attention. Your attention brings in advertising dollars and nothing grabs your attention like events or opinions that make you angry.

Remembering that selective ignorance doesn’t mean ignoring the real news events of the day, but you must remember that there are less real news events going on in the world than you think. An actresses opinion about the President, a Facebook “friend’s” opinion about politics, or a ridiculous Facebook comment on a news story from someone that you don’t know aren’t news, don’t matter to you at all, and will only serve to make you angry. Ignore it. Your life will be better for it.

Selective Ignorance Saves You From Needless Anxiety

Not only do websites, radio talk shows, and cable news know how to get your attention by making you angry, they also know how to do it by making you anxious. For example, Americans typically overestimate the amount of violent crime that takes place in our nation. Our constant intake of news and the consistent reporting on violence in our cities has to play a role in our perceptions.

Another example comes from an Ipsos poll conducted in December. When asked to guess the number of Muslims in America, respondents guessed that there were almost seventeen times more than there really are. Because we hear day in and day out about terrorism and refugees, we overestimate the number of Muslims in our nation by 1700%. In an odd turn of events, our obsession with news distorts our understanding of reality and makes us less informed. The result is that we get scared and anxious based on an inaccurate perception of what is happening in our culture.

Selective Ignorance Saves You From Needless Distraction

As I write this post, I am in the downstairs of my home. My phone is upstairs. The reason for this is simple. When I can’t figure out how to word the next sentence, my instinct is to check my email or look at something on my phone to help ease the frustration of not knowing what to say next. Here’s the problem with that, though, if I “check Twitter real quick,” I may see and interesting link and read it. Then I scroll down and see another interesting link to read. All of a sudden, I have spent ten or fifteen minutes staring at my phone and getting focused on what I am doing again takes time. If the phone is not close by, it can’t distract me.

In the time that it takes to check Facebook, you could read several chapters of the Bible. Think about that for a second. Instead of being sucked into a platform where 95% of what you will see is unimportant, you could spend time in the eternal truth of God’s word. Or, if you are at work, instead of being distracted by things that don’t matter, you can give your full time and attention to doing excellent and creative work. If you are at home with your family, you can spend time with them and do something fun instead of ignoring them while you scroll.

How to Grow in Selective Ignorance

If the discipline of selective ignorance will help you eliminate distractions, get less angry, and experience less anxiety, how do you grow in it? The answer is to put systems in place and restrictions on yourself. While the word “restriction” may not sound fun, remember that you are eliminating things in your life that bring worry, anger, and distraction so that you can experience more of the good things life offers. Here are five quick suggestions for cultivating selective ignorance.

Check Two or Three Trusted News Sources a Couple of Times a Day

Instead of getting a constant barrage of news, check the news a few times a day and only get it from sources you trust. Watch the evening news, listen to the NPR hourly update, read a good newspaper, check your RSS feeds, or scroll through the front page of a news site and read stories that interest you. Then, turn it off and don’t check the news for several hours. If something really important happens, I promise you will find out quickly.

Only Check Social Media Two or Three times a Day

The idea of Facebook and Twitter are great. You get to stay in touch with people you wouldn’t have been able to stay in touch before the advent of these platforms. The reality of these services is different. They serve as a constant barrage of opinions and distractions. Check them a few times throughout the day, but avoid the temptation to check them every time you have a free minute or get bored.

Avoid Talk Radio, Discernment Blogs, TV Debate Shows, etc.

Some forms of media make themselves sound like sources of useful information when they really aren’t. Talk radio rarely informs more than it inflames. TV debate shows do little more than reinforcing the positions of the people who already agree or disagree with the panelists. Sports radio is a pleasant distraction but is best consumed in small doses. Discernment blogs typically disturb us and make us angry about people who aren’t in our sphere of influence. (If you don’t know what a discernment blog is, count yourself blessed and move along.)

Watch Less TV

My greatest concern in writing this post is that people will read it and think I am advocating for actual ignorance. Nothing could be further from the truth. My main point is that by avoiding things that masquerade as important information we have the time to focus on the things that really are important.

By watching less TV, we have time to do more things that matter. We can focus on our work, exercise, do something with our families, or read a good book. Have a couple of good shows that you keep up with or watch your favorite team, then turn it off. Enjoying the outdoors, having fun with the people closest to you, inviting a neighbor over for dinner, serving someone who needs help, or immersing yourself in a good book will be so much more enjoyable.

Focus on What Matters Most

In Ephesians 5:15-16, Paul encourages us to, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” We have limited time here on earth, have limited attention and focus to give, and limited energy to expend. Shouldn’t we give our time, attention, and energy to things that really matter while learning to ignore the rest?

Related Posts:
7 Questions to Ask Before Posting about Politics on Social Media

Colin Kaepernick and the Perpetual Outrage Machine

For Further Reading:
Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung

How to Grow in Humilty

February 22, 2017 — 1 Comment

When we think about what it looks like to live as a Christian, we often forget many of the inner heart virtues that lead to the outward behaviors that would make our list. In the Beatitudes, which describe the character of the person who is a citizen of God’s kingdom, Jesus starts with humility. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. While we focus on everything a Christian does, Jesus says that our growth as Christians starts with who we are.

Humility, which is the poverty of spirit Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:3, serves as the root of our growth as believers. We cannot make any spiritual progress until we truly understand who we are in light of who God is. Seeing God in his holiness and ourselves as sinners in need of grace is critical for growing in our relationship with the Lord and growing in how we treat other people.

Humility does not come easily. Our flesh yearns for the self-assurance that comes from pride, the world tells us to assert ourselves and put ourselves first, and the enemy of our souls wants nothing more than for us to be mired in pride and arrogance.

If the world, the flesh, and the devil continually tempt us to pride, and humility is essential for spiritual progress, what are some practical steps that we can take to kill our pride and grow in humility?

Read the Bible

We have a tendency to give lip service to the Bible while not spending time it. We have unparalleled access to the Scriptures and writings to help us understand them, but we often allow this treasure to lie neglected. Instead of ignoring the Bible, we must give primary attention to it.

Reading the Bible reminds us of two truths that help us grow in humility– God is holy and we are not. This is most evident in Isaiah 6 when the prophet sees the Lord in the temple. He gets a glimpse of God’s holiness and his response is to proclaim his own sinfulness. The Lord responds by touching a coal to Isaiah’s lips and telling him that his sins are forgiven. This shows us that the beginning of humility is seeing the Lord for who he is, seeing ourselves for who we are, and seeking the forgiveness that can only be found in him.

Where do we see the holiness of God? Where can we be reminded that we have sinned against him? And, where do we hear the hope that only the Gospel gives? We encounter these wonderful truths most clearly in the pages of Scripture. Therefore, we would do well to read the Bible, study the Bible, memorize the Bible, and meditate on the Bible.

Spend Time in Prayer

In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable for those who think they are righteous in ourselves and treat others that they consider to be less righteous with contempt. He tells the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector who go up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee’s prayer is a textbook case of self-righteousness. He prays about his own goodness and places himself in favorable contrast with other people in general and the tax collector in particular.

What is striking about the prayer of the Pharisee is that he does not ask God for anything. He merely prays about his own righteousness. On the other hand, the tax collector makes one simple request, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Notice the difference between the two prayers. The proud Pharisee prays only about himself and asks for nothing from God. The tax collector in his humility makes a simple and powerful request from God.

You may think that the Pharisee asking for nothing seems noble. However, not presenting requests to God is a sure sign of spiritual pride. It means that we do not know that we are dependent people. In 1 Peter 5:6-7, Peter says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Do you notice the connection he makes here? He commands us to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. We do this while casting our anxieties on him. When we pray, we acknowledge that God is God and we are not. We ask God for that which we do not have on our own and which only he can give.

Get Involved in a Local Church

Too often, we think about our spiritual lives in purely individualistic terms. We hear about spiritual growth and only picture ourselves in our rooms with our Bibles and then working hard on our own to obey what we read. Instead of continuing to run in this direction, we must learn how integral the local church is to our growth as believers, especially when we consider how many biblical commands we cannot obey unless we are engaged in a local body.

Being an active part of a local church helps us grow in humility because we surround ourselves with people who know us well. When we engage in genuine fellowship and develop friendships where we are being honest about our walk with Jesus, the people around us get to know our weaknesses, frailties, and sins. They love us and care for us, but they also know that we have feet of clay. In honest and genuine community, we cannot pretend to be something we are not. This is a good place to be.

In the local church, we also humble ourselves by serving others. Whether we are working in the nursery, helping to feed the needy, or listening to the difficulties a fellow believer is going through, getting outside of ourselves and serving others helps us grow in humility. We get to remember that we are not the center of the universe and that we were not made to live for ourselves.

Humility is the fertile soil in which our Christian lives grow. Pride chokes away our growth and leads us down paths we don’t want to tread. To grow in the vital gift of humility, we would be wise to immerse ourselves in the biblical text, the school of prayer, and the fellowship of the local church.

Related Posts:
How Can I Know that I am a Christian

How to Read the Bible Every Day

For Further Reading:
Momentum: Pursuing God’s Blessings through the Beatitudes by Colin Smith

The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges

Why Silence is Golden

February 15, 2017

Two weeks ago, I wrote, “7 Questions to Ask Before Posting about Politics on Social Media.” It would have been impossible to anticipate the response. More people read it than anything I have ever written and got feedback from more places than I have ever received.

Much of the feedback I received came from people who were thankful for the post and benefited from it as they sorted through how to respond to our unique cultural moment. Some of the responses that came my way were of the not happy variety and warned that following my advice would lead to weak-kneed Christians who said nothing and did nothing. After all, they said, that is how we got to where we are today.

In this post, I don’t necessarily want to respond to any particular piece of negative feedback I received, but I do want to double down on my main point. Christians need to speak less and be more thoughtful when we do speak. This is not the random observation of a timid, peace-keeping pastor in central Alabama, but the witness of Solomon, James, Paul, and Jesus.

There are three reasons we speak less and think more before we speak.

We Often Speak with Incomplete Information

“The fool does not delight in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Solomon cuts to the heart of our foolish speech when he notes our tendency to speak without having all of the facts on a matter. We equate off the cuff remarks with authenticity and interpret carefully construed words as being fake and deceitful.

The Bible doesn’t offer this interpretation of thinking before you speak. Instead, Scripture prizes speaking the truth. So often, when we speak off the cuff, we do not know if our words are true or not. Because of the ubiquity of social media in our culture, we feel the pressure to state strong opinions with incomplete information. This won’t do for the Christian though because we must know that we are speaking the truth before we open our mouths. To do otherwise is to act with foolishness instead of wisdom, run the risk of bearing false witness against our neighbor, and violate the character of our Lord who is the truth.

We Often Speak without Self-Control

“Whoever restrains his words has wisdom, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” In Proverbs 17:24, Solomon connects the words we speak to the disposition of our spirits. A man with a “cool spirit” is contrasted with the person who has a hot temper. The person who keeps a calm spirit thinks through what they are going to say. The person caught in a moment of rage will speak with disastrous results.

We don’t think before we speak when we are in the middle of a temper tantrum. We can only think about how angry we are and lash out without thought to the damage our words may cause. It is imperative that the person who follows Jesus learns to control his temper and to restrain his words when he is angry.

We Often Speak with Poor Intentions

We never speak with perfect intentions, but it does not follow that we should just say whatever we think in the moment. A hospital room will never be completely germ-free, but you wouldn’t want to have surgery in a sewer. In the same way, we cannot let our lack of perfection justify speaking from wrong motives.

If it is true that whatever we do we must do for the glory of God, then we must evaluate our motives before we speak, especially if what we are going to say will provoke people. There’s nothing wrong with provoking people with the truth if we do it for the right reasons, but many times we provoke people for the sake of provoking them or not thinking carefully about the context in which it will be done. Are we speaking out of love or are we speaking out of selfishness? Are we speaking for the good of others or are we speaking only to vent?

When Then, Should We Speak?

I recognize that what I am advocating could be taken as an argument for never saying anything difficult or controversial. After all, how will Christians make a difference in the world if we never speak up?

The problem for Christians in our culture has not been our lack of “speaking out” or “standing up.” In fact, we have done it so much and so harshly that we have cut off the ears of many people who would have listened to us. Also, we have done so in improper contexts. Only under the rarest of circumstances is social media the place to “take a stand.” On social media, we usually end up only reinforcing what people who agree with us already think, anger those who seriously disagree, or drive away those who haven’t made up their minds through our combative tone.

There is a proper time to speak up, though, providing that we meet three criteria.

We Speak When We Know
We only open our mouths to speak about an issue when we know what we are talking about. We speak when we know that we are speaking facts and speaking the truth. We cannot bring glory to God while breaking the ninth commandment.

We Speak When We Think
Since we will give an account for every word we speak, we would do well to think about what we say before it comes out of our mouths. Is it gracious? Is it kind? Is it true? Is it spoken for the glory of God and the good of others? If we think about these things and weigh our words wisely, then we should open our mouths to speak because God does use our words to accomplish his purposes.

We Speak When We Care
The writer of Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of the tongue. Since the tongue carries this tremendous power, we consider the people who will hear what we say. In what ways could this cut or hurt them? In what ways could this encourage them or give them grace? If we love people, we must think about these things.

“With the tongue we bless our Lord and father and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” We should write this warning from James 3 over everything that we say. Our words can do great damage to the cause of the Christ and to the people who hear us. At the same time, God uses our words to get the Gospel to people, to encourage the broken, and to bring glory to himself. Because our words can bring about two very different results, shouldn’t we spend more time thinking about what we say before we say it? Shouldn’t we give more thought to how it will impact people? Shouldn’t we examine our words to make sure they are true? We should, and in giving greater consideration to our words they will bring about greater good to those who hear them.

Related Posts:
Colin Kaepernick and the Perpetual Outrage Machine
Should I Correct a Foolish Person or Stay Silent?

For Further Reading:
Speaking the Truth in Love by David Powlison

2017-post

When I was in middle and high school, CBS aired a show called Rescue 911 that dramatized the events surrounding actual 911 calls. While this never bothered me when I was younger, in adulthood I would see the show in syndication and started noticing that almost every reenactment began with the people walking through an ordinary day. They were going to work, school, or the store and then something terrible and life-altering happened to them.

There’s something about the beginning of a new year that makes us all unbridled optimists. We think the first day of 2018 will greet us with happier relationships, healthier bodies, and fatter bank accounts. We never enter a year thinking, “this could be the year that my life falls apart.” We don’t get a text message letting us know that some catastrophic event is going to hit us this year. The worst things that happen to seemingly come out of nowhere and often change our lives in a moment without warning.

We would all do well to pause at the beginning of 2017 and ask, “what if 2017 is the worst year of my life?” We spent a lot of time thinking about resolutions for improving our lives, but do we spend time thinking about how we will respond if our lives fall apart.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul describes the thorn in the flesh he received because of the incredible visions he had seen. While he doesn’t identify the nature of the thorn, he tells the Corinthian church about his struggle with it and God’s response when he pleaded for him to take it away. In looking at Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12, we see three things we need to remember if this is the year that our lives fall apart.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

God is Sovereign Over Our Trials

We don’t know the precise nature of what Paul saw when he was caught up to the third heaven. He didn’t come back, write a best-selling book, and pawn off the movie rights. Instead, he says that what he saw was so overwhelming and stunning that he received a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited.

Paul doesn’t identify the precise nature of the thorn. Pastors, scholars, and commentators offer a surprising number of options. It could be a physical deformity, false teacher, physical pain, or emotional burden. He leaves enough hints for us to come up with plausible hypotheses, but the vagueness feels purposeful. Our ignorance about the thorn is good news for us because we do not need to be going through exactly what Paul was facing at this moment to receive the grace Paul offers in this passage. Instead, any person who is suffering from any difficulty can hear the good news Paul proclaims here and receive the comfort it gives.

Paul refers to his thorn as “a messenger of Satan” to harass him and keep him humble. What he says here sounds strange initially because you would think that Satan would want Paul to be arrogant. What we should write over Paul’s thorn, and any suffering we may face, the words of Joseph in Genesis 50. “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” That which Satan would bring in our lives to crush and destroy us, God uses to make us more like Jesus. That God works in this way means that Satan, “the universe,” or karma have no ultimate say over the events that come into our lives. God in his absolute sovereignty oversees everything that happens to us, and he intends for it to work in us an eternal weight of glory.

God’s Grace is More Than Enough

That God is sovereign over our trials does not negate our invitation to pray to him about them. God’s sovereignty should not produce a gloom passivity in us. Instead, we should come before the Lord in bold prayer, realizing the answer we hear from him may sound a lot like what he told Paul. Paul asked God to take away the thorn, and the Lord’s answer was that he intended to leave the thorn right where it was.

The Father didn’t keep the thorn in Paul’s flesh as some karmic retribution for something Paul had done wrong. Rather, God used the thorn in Paul’s flesh for him to learn a lesson he could not and would not learn when everything was rosy. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” What the Lord tells Paul here is that he grace is all that Paul needs to get him through his difficulty.

We often think of God’s grace only regarding our justification, forgetting that it is God’s grace that gives us what we need every day to continue following him. It not only saves us, but it also sustains us. This truth reminds us that even as people who have experienced salvation in Christ, we still stand in desperate need of God’s kindness and deliverance in our daily lives. We have to learn to lean on him, depend on him, and rely on him through for each step we take throughout the day. Walking through the darkness reminds of this truth because walking through the sunshine often causes us to forget it.

God’s Strength Becomes Visible in Our Weakness

God further tells Paul that his grace is sufficient because “my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then goes on to say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

We need to wrestle with what Paul has said here. The question is not whether we are weak people or strong people. Every person is weak and unable to handle all of the pressures that life throws at us when we try to face them in our power. This is particularly the case for the Christian, as we cannot live in a way that brings glory to God and overcomes the obstacles the world, the flesh, and the devil throw in our path when we rely on our own strength to do so. Instead, we must embrace the truth that we are weak and need the strength that only God supplies.

Often, the only way we remember this is through trial and difficulty. When the sun is shining, and everything looks grand, we forget how desperately dependent we are. Then suffering or pain arrives, and we remember that we need God. Our trials are God’s way of grabbing us by the lapels and reminding us that we need the strength that only he supplies. When we despair of our own strength and rely on his strength alone, we will know who should receive the glory when we endure and overcome our trials.

If 2017 gets rough, remember that the sovereign God who loves his people so much that he gave his only Son to die for them gives his grace and his strength liberally to those who need it.

Related Posts:
Four Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Live in Fear

Why Christians Need the Gospel Every Day

For Further Reading:
When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper

The Beatitudes by Thomas Watson

Most Popular Posts of 2016

December 30, 2016
2016-posts

Photograph 047 by Lauren Mancke found on minimography.com

 

My great passion for writing here at One Degree to Another is to see people formed into the image of Jesus Christ. This means growing slowly in every area of our lives each day. As I looked back over my most read posts from this year, they reflect what I’m aiming for in life and ministry- that we slowly and continually make progress towards demonstrating the glory and character of Christ in practical ways.

For those who have been reading from the beginning and who just discovered my blog this week, I’m grateful that you take the time to read and share. I took some time this week to plan out what I will be writing on in the first few months of 2017 and look forward to seeing how the Lord uses it to transform us into the image of Christ.

Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

There are some large sections of Scripture whose message is so central to the Bible’s message and how we live the Christian life that we need to know them by heart. This list covers many well-known passages that are at least eight verses long or more.

The First 15 Verses a Christian Needs to Memorize

In response to the post on passages every Christian should memorize, I had a lot of people asking why I didn’t include John 3:16, Romans 3:23, or many other important individual verses. If I were a believer just getting into Scripture memory, I would start with these fifteen verses.

On a related note, I received several comments that argued we shouldn’t memorize Scripture, but should simply live it out. The Psalmist’s comment that he hid God’s word in his heart so he might not sin against him helps us here. We memorize as a way of hiding God’s word deep in our souls so that we can live in a manner that brings glory to him.

48 Scattered Thoughts on Pastoral Ministry and Being a Pastor

Earlier this year, I got a later start on my sermon than I should have. Then, I had to be up later on Saturday night than I should have and woke up later Sunday morning than I needed to. This created extra stress on Sunday morning and the thought crossed my mind, “I know better than this. I learned this my first year of ministry.” It led me to start writing some other things I would say to pastors about pastoral ministry and being a pastor.

How Do I Know if My Child is a Christian?

One of the most sensitive issues parents deal with is discerning when their child has trusted in Christ. We can be very excited that they seem to be converted while at the same time being mindful of the possibility of a false profession of faith. These questions are intended to help discern the marks of true conversion in our children’s lives.

The Joy and Pain of Consistent Parenting

I wrote this reflection on Proverbs 29:17 in the middle of the night after multiple children woke me up. Parenting is hard, yet doing the hard thing in parenting can lead to more joy in the future. Taking the easy way out will ultimately lead to more work and misery in the end.

Why We Need Anonymous, Plodding Church Planters

We need to plant more churches to reach more people with the Gospel. Unfortunately, many men see well-known church planters and think this is the path they will be taking. To plant the churches we need to plant, we need thousands of men who are willing for their names to be known only in their communities. The work is hard and the work is long. We need guys who are willing to stay, work hard, and live in obscurity.

Six Foolish Things I Used to Believe about the Ministry

When I was a young pastor, I said to a friend, “I want the people in my church to understand theology so well that I can just say a word and they know what it means without me having to explain it.” I don’t know why this particularly ridiculous quote stuck with me, but it reminded me of some foolish things I used to believe about the ministry.

How to Remember Someone’s Name

Christians are called to love our neighbors, and knowing a person’s name is a good first step towards loving them well. Unfortunately, we seem to make a lot of excuses for why we cannot remember the names of people we meet. This post has a few of the tools I use to remember someone after I meet them.

The Best Quotes from Hidden Christmas

I loved Tim Keller’s new book, Hidden Christmas. It contains expositions of Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, and the first paragraph of 1 John. This is a list of my twenty favorite quotes.

What to Do When You Are in a Spiritual Dry Spell

We have all be in places where it felt like we were making no progress in our walking with Jesus. This post prescribes some steps we can take to begin experiencing the joy of knowing Jesus again.

photo credit: Maria Eklind The table is set via photopin (license)

photo credit: Maria Eklind The table is set via photopin (license)

This past weekend my sermon in Proverbs focused on what Solomon has to say about marriage. In talking to husbands and wives about marriage, I found myself spending some time in Proverbs 31. I walked into this passage of Scripture with a little bit of trepidation because over the years I have seen how many women find this passage to be overwhelming and intimidating. If you Google “I Hate the Proverbs 31 Woman,” you will find many posts by women who grew frustrated by” the excellent wife” who had deep, godly character, cared for her husband and children with the utmost diligence, and contributed to the well-being of her household through entrepreneurship.

Any time a passage of Scripture becomes a millstone around the neck of Jesus’ followers we have either misunderstood or misapplied it. Jesus said those who follow him would be free indeed, and that his load was easy and his burden light. He does not throw the onerous yoke of the Pharisees on his people, but instead gives them rest as they follow him.

One of our problems we face when we approach passages of Scripture that tell us what to do is that we often misunderstand how to respond to them. Sometimes we come to them with a legalistic mindset. We read them, try our best to do them in our own power, and then feel guilty when we don’t. Other times, we realize we are licked from the start and fall into a kind of license where we say we can never live up to this passage so we never try.

What if there was an alternative to legalistic obedience in our own power or a licentious resignation to failure? What if we explored how the Gospel shaped our approach to these passages before we buckled down to try harder or simply gave up in shame?

We know that every passage of Scripture that tells us to do anything will reveal where we fall short. When we read, “love your neighbor as yourself,” we remember many times we failed to love our neighbor. Hearing “do no lie to one another” conjures up memories of times when we have been deceptive with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The same is true in Proverbs 31. When you see the hardworking, godly woman in this passage you often run into ways in which you have failed to be the things which she exemplifies. So when you see this as a Christian, how do you respond? (What follows is a slight modification of the grid for thinking through the relationship between Law and Gospel used by Bob Thune and Will Walker in their book, The Gospel-Centered Life.)

Look to Jesus’ Death

Often when we are confronted with the reality of our sin we either minimize it or wallow around in shame. Either one of these responses evidences a mindset that is only focused on me and my personal obedience. Instead of looking to ourselves and our performance, we should look to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and see him dying for us. We must remember that Jesus gave his life for our sins. Every way we could sin against God by flagrantly breaking his demands or by failing to do what we should have done has been covered by the Lord Jesus on the cross. For every look we take at ourselves, we should take three looks at him.

Look to Jesus’ Life

In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul tells us that just as our sin was laid on Christ at the cross, so his perfect righteousness is credited to us by faith. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Father in every way. He never broke God’s law either by doing what he should not have done or by failing to do what he should have done. He stands perfectly accepted and approved of by the Father. When we are united with Christ through faith alone in him, God counts us righteous in him. In other words, the Christian stands before God as if we had lived Jesus’ life. Jesus fulfilled the whole law of God so that we stand before God with Christ’s perfect obedience counted to us.

This is great news for the believer who finds herself staring hopelessly at Proverbs 31:10-31. You do not have to summon up the strength to be the Proverbs 31 woman. In Jesus Christ, you already are the Proverbs 31 woman. Through faith in Jesus, you stand before God draped in Christ’s perfect righteousness. You stand before him fully accepted and fully loved. In your position before God, he sees no flaw or defect in you whatsoever.

Look to the Holy Spirit

Our daily practice doesn’t match our position in Christ, though. We often struggle to live in a way that is consistent with our righteous standing before God. We are called to walk obediently before God because of the new life we have in Christ. There is more good news because we do not have to obey God in our own strength and power. Not only do we have a new heart and new desires, but we also have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks in Colossians of laboring for the sake of God’s kingdom in the strength that God supplies. This means that our obedience to God and our faithfulness to his commands is empowered and fueled by the Holy Spirit. Not only are we forgiven by God and counted righteous in Christ before God, we have been given the Spirit to empower us so that we can live the joyous Christian life we have been called to live.

There’s so much more that could be said about the realities to which Proverbs 31 points. (The personification of wisdom as a woman throughout the book, its relationship to Ruth, etc.) However, in this post, the main thing we need to see is this, do not read Proverbs 31 as if Jesus had never lived, died, and been raised from the dead. This overwhelming reality changes how you read these verses. You read and respond to them as someone who has been changed by the grace of God and who through the Holy Spirit have been empowered to obey.

Related Posts:
Why Christians Need the Gospel Every Day

Why You Need to Read the Whole Bible Every Year

For Further Reading:
Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full by Gloria Furman

Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson

photo credit: pougnol sanabis3 via photopin (license)

photo credit: pougnol sanabis3 via photopin (license)

One night when I was in college, I preached in a town not far from my school and spent the night in a church-owned house. I rarely sleep well the first night I stay in a new place and this problem was only compounded by the fact that I was the only person staying in this large and unfamiliar house. Throughout the night I heard a noise that sounded like the front door opening and closing. Rather than getting up to investigate, I spent the entire night lying awake in paralyzing fear because I was certain I was no longer the only person there.

Little did I know that this night spent in a strange place was good preparation for adulthood, as my years as a husband, father, and have provided ample opportunities for me to lie awake at night due to fear, anxiety, or frustration. I doubt that I am alone in this, because between financial issues, work-related tensions, relational strains, problems with our children, and health crises, our lives present many occasions for us to lie awake in fear.
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When fearful, anxious, or difficult times hit, rarely is our first instinct to remember and rest in the goodness of God. Too often, panic mode sets in before we have even thought about thinking through the important truths that will bring peace to our souls. We are not the first people to respond to fear and difficulty in this manner, so Martyn-Lloyd Jones offers us these wise words as he reflects on Psalm 42 in his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures.

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, ‘Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.’”

Those of us who struggle with fear and anxiety need to hear his words here. Instead of listening to our fears, doubts, and worries shout at us, we can begin to experience a real change of perspective when we start talking to ourselves and reminding ourselves of important truths from Scripture. We have good news to preach to ourselves that will change the way we respond to even the most seemingly insurmountable difficulties.

One great passage to turn to when times are hard is Romans 8:28-39. In this foundational passage for understanding how God protects his people through great difficulties, Paul reminds us of four great truths.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God Works All Things for Our Good

The passage begins with the famous declaration that God works all things together for the good of his people. Note that he does not work good things together for our good, but rather he works all things together for our good. Paul reminds us here that nothing which enters our lives can bring us ultimate harm. God may take us through some difficult trials, but through them, he is at work for our ultimate good. Too often we hear this and think this means that God is preparing us for “bigger and better” things, but that is not Paul’s point. Our view of “bigger and better” is too shallow and too centered on receiving great material blessings and success. God’s view of working all things together for our good may be to strip these things from us, but he will do it for a much more glorious purpose.

God Wants Us to Be More Like Jesus

Verses 29-30 contain what many have called the “Golden Chain of Salvation,” showing that God planned our salvation before we were born and will be faithful to bring us to the end.  In the second link of the chain, Paul says those whom God “foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” While our ultimate transformation into the image of Christ does not happen until His return, God works in us in the here and now to transform us into the image of Christ. The person who trusts in Jesus will go through the difficult and necessary process of becoming more like Jesus. The difficult and scary times we go through are often meant to purify us like fire. These times purge us of our worldliness and sin while also molding Christlike character in us.

God Sent His Son to Die for Us

Every time we face trials or fears, we need to dwell deeply in the great declaration of verse 32. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” This great truth reminds us to constantly look to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ where God provided for us at our deepest point of need. We needed redemption more than we needed anything, and God met this need by giving his one and only Son up for us. He met us where we were our most needy, and since he did this we can be confident that he will provide for us at every other point of need as well.

God Promises that He Will Always Be With Us

If you read Romans 8:28-39 out loud, you cannot help but pick up the pace and excitement as you arrive at the last few verses. The glorious announcement that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ is a shout of victory! God has not abandoned us when life gets hard or when we run headfirst into our greatest fear. Through the death and resurrection of his son and the gift of the Holy Spirit, God has promised that he will never leave us and will always be with us. Not one frightful, anxiety-inducing, or terrifying thing we walk through will ever tear us away from him. Instead, it will only drive us down deeper in our understanding of who he is for us in Christ.

When you are tempted to listen to the voices of fear and anxiety, drown them out with the wonderful truth of God’s providential care for you. These voices may seem loud in the moment, but they only sound like a whisper when compared to the thundering declaration of the Gospel message.

Related Posts:
Choosing Courage over Outrage

What to do When You are in a Spiritual Dry Spell

For Further Reading:

The Cross of Christ by John Stott


Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller

photo credit: John Westrock Happenstance via photopin (license)

photo credit: John Westrock Happenstance via photopin (license)

I can’t remember the last time I heard someone tell Christians to, “preach the Gospel to yourself.” This phrase, which was everywhere four or five years ago, seems to be disappearing from the scene. This is unfortunate because Christians need to hear the Gospel every day and consistently remind themselves of it. The good news that Jesus died in our place and was raised from the dead to bring us back to God through faith alone in his name never grows old and never stops giving us constant encouragement.

Here are several reasons we need to hear this news every day.

Every Day We are Tempted by Pride.

Christians often face the twin temptations of pride and despair. The root of pride is our desire to justify ourselves by our own good works. Some days we either are more consistent in our obedience to God or lower his standards in our own minds so that we can feel better about our obedience. Either way, when we are convinced of our own goodness we begin to be puffed up with pride which drives us to a sinful self-sufficiency. Then because of our pride in our performance we mistreat others who don’t obey as well as we think we do.

The good news of Jesus’ death on the cross opens our eyes to our desperate need for God’s grace by reminding us that we were in such a dire situation that Jesus had to die for us to bring us back to God. This undercuts our tendency to trust in our own supposed goodness and causes us to remember that we have no righteousness other than that which comes from Jesus. These twin truths of Jesus’ death for us and the righteousness that we receive only by faith crucifies our pride and causes humility to grow in our lives.

Every Day We are Tempted to Despair

Despair is closely related to pride because they are both rooted in our attempts to earn God’s favor through our own efforts. Pride comes in when we think we are performing well. Despair raises its ugly head when we have failed. It causes us to be frustrated with ourselves because we aren’t living up to the standard that we think we should achieve.

The Gospel encourages us by reminding us that God’s grace covers our every failure. No string of obedient days would bring us closer to God and no streak of bad days is going to condemn us. Jesus gladly gave his life for us because of the love he, the Father, and the Spirit have for us. We can be encouraged out of our despair because we are loved, not on the basis of our good works, but because of the love of God and Jesus’ perfect life and death.

Every Day We are Tempted to Sin

We live in a world where we are at war every day with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Our own sinful flesh tempts us to give in to our passions instead of exercising self-control and walking in holiness. The world throws the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life in our direction at a dizzying pace. It constantly tells us that the path of truth and holiness is the path for suckers and the path of unrestrained self-fulfillment is the way of life. The temptation to believe this lie can be overwhelming. The devil knows our greatest weakness and pokes at them every day. This evil master-strategist tempts us in a myriad of ways, and none of them come at us with flashing lights to warn us of the impending danger.

Basking in the truths of the Gospel every day helps us to fight against our temptations to sin. The death of Jesus reminds us that our sin cost Jesus his life, and we do not want to walk in that which Jesus died for. Furthermore, his death stands as a powerful testimony to the death that our old self died when we came to him. His resurrection shines a light on the new life that we have through him. Just as he was raised from the dead never to die again, we have been raised from the dead to walk in newness of life. We don’t have to walk in slavery to sin anymore because we are new people through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Every Day We are Tempted to Fear

If you live in the U.S., you have seen unprecedented cultural hand-wringing taking place in our culture. At every turn believers in Christ are buying into the narratives of fear being pushed in our direction. We are convinced that impending cultural decay or religious persecution will come flying in with the election of the wrong candidate. Then add to this the fears we face in our own personal lives related to our families, our work, our finances, and our relationships. Fear lies around every corner, waiting to shackle us to its heavy weight.

“Perfect love casts out fear.” The Christian, of all people in the world, has wonderful resources for walking in confidence instead of fear. Because we are justified before God and adopted into his family, we have the confidence to enter into the very presence of God to present our requests to him. We have the knowledge that we have been adopted into God’s family and are his children who will inherit a glorious future in Christ. Because we belong to the Lord and have this incredible future hope, why should we ever be crippled by fear? Jesus died to defeat the devil and liberate us from the fear he uses to keep us in bondage, so let us learn to walk in this glorious freedom we have because through the Gospel.

How We Remind Ourselves of the Gospel Every Day

We need to remember the Gospel so that we are moved away from pride, despair, sin, and fear and instead walk in humility, confidence, holiness and hope, we must bathe ourselves in the word of God each day. This means prioritizing reading Scripture, memorizing Scripture, and meditating on Scripture. As we read the Bible faithfully we will see individual verses or larger sections we need to commit to memory. Then, as we commit these passages to memory we will have the word of God stored up in our hearts so that we can meditate on it throughout the day.

Meditating on Scripture builds a bridge into prayer. As we have seen truths that humble us, comfort us, help us grow in holiness, or that give us hope we can pray through the temptations and struggles we face with each of these issues. If you are tempted to pride, pray that the Lord would humble you under his mighty hand. When you are tempted to despair, ask the Lord to help you realize the great love that he has for you. As you experience the temptation to sin, call upon the Lord and ask him that through his spirit he might give you the strength to withstand temptation and walk in holiness. On the days when you find yourself tempted to live in fear, pray that the Lord would give you a real sense of the great hope that you have in him.

Also, take the time to read good Christian books that shed greater light on what the Scripture teaches us about the Gospel message. Read works like The Cross of Christ, Gospel Wakefulness, Knowing God, or Redemption Accomplished and Applied will help you to see truths in the Scripture you have never seen before or to understand how these truths shape your heart and change your life.

Every Christian needs the Gospel every single day. Do everything you can to get this life changing message drilled down deep into your heart and mind.

Related Posts:
Why You Need to Read the Whole Bible Every Year

Six Ways to Reinvigorate Your Prayer Life

For Further Reading:
Gospel Deeps by Jared Wilson

The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson

photo credit: Arno Meintjes Wildlife DSC_1030 via photopin (license)

photo credit: Arno Meintjes Wildlife DSC_1030 via photopin (license)

You can tell a lot about a culture by what they put in “scare quotes.” This year I have seen “conscience” and “religious liberty” more times than I can count. What’s interesting about these two particular phrases is that I’ve seen my more liberal friends using “religious liberty” and my conservative friends using “conscience.” In both cases, they have seen people marching outside of the mainstream and they use the scare quotes to mock the reasons they give for not falling into line with everyone else.

We don’t admire courage anymore; at least not real courage. In our culture, the quiet, settled resolve to do the right thing in the face of overwhelming opposition has been drowned in a sea of manufactured outrage. Outrage should not be confused with courage, even though it often tries to dress in courage’s clothing. Outrage bullies the courageous into silence. Courage quietly does the right thing and invites others to join in on the journey. Outrage demands that everyone fall in line or face its wrath. Courage points people in the right direction but doesn’t seek to impose its will on them. Outrage costs nothing because it joins a chorus of voices. Courage stands alone and knows that no price can be paid for a clear conscience. Outrage only lasts until the newest controversy comes along. Courage perseveres even when everyone else has moved on to other things.

In Proverbs 28:1, Solomon says that “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” In this short Proverb Solomon contrasts the response of the righteous and the wicked in the face of adversity. The wicked run away from trouble even when no one is pursuing. Following the path of least resistance, they run headlong into the easy way. In our culture, getting outraged with the crowd is the easy way. Running away from facing real problems and joining in the deafening chorus addressing the latest manufactured crisis is the path of least resistance. Sending out a strongly worded tweet and signing online petitions feel like doing something courageous, but they are a cheap alternative.

“The righteous are bold as a lion.” There’s something interesting I’ve noticed about the lions at the zoo. We go several times a year, and I can count on one hand the times I have heard the lion roar. Often they are lying on a rock or quietly prowl around their cage, but I remember the times I have heard the roar because I hear the power behind it. The lion is quiet and majestic, but he means business when he bears his fangs and never backs down from a fight.

In the same way, the truly courageous do not have to make pretensions at courage. They possess it without pomp or circumstance. They have the willingness to take a principled stand without backing down, but they don’t go around picking fights. Courage doesn’t set out to be recognized or win acclaim, but it jumps into action when the right time comes.

The difference between the righteous and the wicked is not that one lives in fear and the other lives without it. They both live with a fear, but they fear different things and their fear has a different source. Solomon closed out the first paragraph of Proverbs by saying, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” The righteous person fears the Lord. He lives in a reverent awe of who God is and recognizes that every single step is lived before his ever-present eye.

Since the righteous person fears God, he has nothing else to fear. Since fearing the Lord is rooted in his sovereignty and power, the wise person knows there is nothing in the world that bless in the way that they Lord blesses or bring judgment in the way he brings judgment. The wise person acts with courage in the face of opposition because he knows whatever man may do to him pales in comparison to the devastating effects that would follow from being unfaithful to the Lord, but he also knows the blessings of obeying the Lord are infinitely more glorious than whatever gain might come from bowing before the wishes of a sinful world.

The wicked has a completely different kind of fear. With no fear of God before his eyes, his is a slave to the opinion of others and his own sinful appetites. He has to live in fear of rejection and want. The desire for the acclaim of man is so strong for him that a principled stand based on the truth alone is the farthest thing from his mind and heart. The truth is for sale, and it can be bought with money, a promotion, a slap on the back, or a retweet. Without the fear of God to guide him, he stays in a constant state of fear as he continually aims at the moving target of man’s praise. When the fear of losing man’s praise comes, he will flee before the real danger has even manifested itself. Unfortunately, he does not know that a far worse fate than what man can do awaits him.

In 2 Corinthians 5:6, Paul says, “So we are always of good courage.” The word he uses here for “courage” connotes a boldness and a confidence. Then he moves into a discussion about the ultimate hope and confidence a Christian has that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Paul risked himself so often for the sake of the Gospel and was willing to put himself at odds with so many people because he had a hope that was secure. Because Jesus offered him an inexpressibly glorious future, Paul risked life, limb, and reputation in this present evil age.

The days in which we live demand real courage. The pressure for Christians to cave on both Christian doctrine and Christian ethics becomes more intense every day as the perpetual outrage machine churns on. We may not be called to risk everything in exactly the way the Apostle Paul did or stand courageously like Martin Luther, but we will have a thousand little tests of courage along the way. Are we willing to have the difficult conversation? Do we hold the rope on historic Christian doctrine even when everyone tells us that we should abandon it? Will we refuse to wrap Christianity in the cheap garb of a hateful nationalism? These pressures and more will face us continually, and only when we remember the only one who should be feared that we will stand in the difficult day.

Related Posts:
Colin Kaepernick and the Perpetual Outrage Machine

For Further Reading:
Onward by Russell Moore