" Christian Living "

A Wake-Up Call

It was a bright summer day in the early 1990’s. I was a young teenager learning the ropes of working outside the home. A gentleman in our church had hired me to help him build a fence and do some yard work. I liked the idea of earning some income ($3/hr., I think), but I wasn’t as keen on getting up somewhat early on a Saturday morning to accomplish my tasks. So, instead of respectfully answering my father’s directive to get up and get ready for work, I turned like a door on its hinges and complained aloud that I didn’t want to work for Mr. B that day.

What happened next exemplified my father’s God-enabled wisdom. He calmly responded that he would call Mr. B and let him know that I didn’t want to work that day and wouldn’t be coming. I froze on my bed. Disbelief and shame and regret blanketed me. I recognized the folly of my sluggardly choice, though I briefly protested and didn’t appreciate or even understand all that God was teaching me through my father in that moment. The most glaring lesson I needed to learn was the virtue of hard work. What seem like insignificant, harmless times of relaxation, if a pattern of life, will become self-destructive (Prov. 6:6-11). In retrospect, several other important lessons have emerged, ones that I am endeavoring to teach my own children.

  1. Trustworthiness is developed not granted.

My father taught me to fulfill my obligations faithfully and honestly, as much by his deeds as by his words. He could have assumed or allowed me to assume that his trustworthiness would automatically transfer to me. His genes and his instruction would position me to follow his steps. Yet, I needed to develop trustworthiness myself. I needed to be confronted with my sinful tendency to shirk responsibilities I didn’t enjoy. Studying to earn good grades or practicing jump shots were activities at which I was fairly faithful because I enjoyed them and could see how I reaped the benefits. Driving nails into fence boards wasn’t so obviously advantageous and appealing. But following through on our commitments is critical. I didn’t realize the joy of denying my fleshly inclinations and using this opportunity to subdue the earth. Instead, I looked for a way out. No one, not even my godly father, could hand me faithfulness. If I was to reflect this characteristic of God, I needed to be tested, humbled, and pointed to Christ.

  1. Words are meaningful not empty.

We have all heard of, and perhaps assumed we had verbalized, empty words–patterns of sounds that carry no meaning, like a tractor trailer carrying no cargo. Perhaps your son or daughter has explained that the clear connotation of a statement is not what he or she meant, as I suggested to my father that Saturday morning. In actuality, what we say is meaningful, whether or not we realize it. Sure, there are times when we don’t clearly communicate what we mean or when our audience has difficulty on its end in understanding us. But as we seek to we seek to raise our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), we must emphasize the importance of words.

First, our words are windows into our souls, for “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Mat. 12:34). I wanted to believe and lead my father to believe that in a moment of sleepy weakness I had uttered a verbal accident. The truth, which had become apparent to him in part because he observed my life’s patterns, was that what I said that morning was exposing the needs of my sinful heart.

Second, our words are an extension of us and our trustworthiness. God speaks only the truth and demonstrates His faithfulness by invariably performing what He promises. I had agreed to help Mr. B at his home. We had verbally agreed that I would work for him on Saturdays. When I complained about getting out of bed that morning, I was prioritizing expedience over integrity. My father knew that neither rang true in this particular instance nor bode well for my path ahead. Our eternity hinges on God’s dependability. Therefore, imitating our Father requires fastening around us “the belt of truth” (Eph. 6:14).

  1. Consequences are beneficial not obstructive.

It is a natural tendency (at least of mine) to view consequences as barriers rather than potential blessings. Failure and its fallout seem to stand in the way of growth rather than being part of it. However, as Proverbs 6:23 says, “Reproofs for discipline are the way of life.” One of the worst things we could teach our children is that the spiritual laws by which God personally orders His world can be ignored and avoided. My father could have pled with me to get out of bed. He could have bribed me. He could have threatened to take action but not followed through. Instead, he chose to let me have my way and have the opportunity to acknowledge my sinfulness and repent.

I don’t know for sure, but recognizing that my father is human, I’m sure there was at least a passing temptation for him to be embarrassed. It would have seemed quite natural to persuade me to fulfill my duty and save face with his friend. But he loved me more than he loved his image, and part of that love was following our heavenly Father’s pattern of chastening. Discipline is characteristically not joyous in the moment, but “to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).

God has been very gracious to me. Mr. B kindly forgave me when I spoke with him the next morning after our church’s service. Even more profound is the reality that God my Father gave me an earthly father courageous and compassionate enough to teach me important lessons like the ones above. Oh that you and I and the coming generations may know the blessing of listening to and imparting (F)atherly instruction!

No Popes for You

[This is a guest post by Mark Ward, who received his Ph.D. in New Testament from Bob Jones University Seminary in 2012 and serves as part of the Bible Integration Team at BJU Press. Mark also has a ministry providing churches with beautiful and affordable websites.]

Protestants don’t get to have a pope.

Of course, that sounds backwards; the pope doesn’t get to have us. We don’t want him.

But if you’re honest, there have probably been times in your life when a pope would have come in handy—like when your church split over a particular doctrine, or when your best friend was totally wrong about the identity of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2. It’s tempting sometimes to want another word from God telling us what He really meant with the first Word. And, of course, He’d be on your side—right?

But no popes for you. In good blog form, here’s five reasons why.

  1. As many Protestants have pointed out, having a pope just means you have more authoritative declarations to interpret. Now in addition to 1,189 chapters of divine revelation written in three languages over the course of 1,500 years, you have papal encyclicals and homilies and true ex cathedra pronouncements.* And you have to learn Latin if you really want to get it right.
  2. The existence of a supreme pontiff doesn’t actually create the unity it advertises. Having a holy see certainly hasn’t kept Romanists from disagreeing, even splitting. There are over 200 Roman Catholic denominations, and among those still in the fold there are deep divisions between liberals and conservatives. The Reformers were right to argue that, when it comes to ultimate authority for the local church and the believer, it’s sola scriptura.
  3. Most importantly, of course, the sola scriptura standard won’t allow us to have a pope. We are given men with teaching and ruling authority (Eph 4:11–14; 1 Pet 5:1–5), but their authority is subordinated to the Word, not equal to it and certainly not above it. No one is allowed to add dogma (doctrine you must believe) beyond what the Bible teaches, let alone to pronounce anathemas on the biblical gospel (Gal. 1:8).
  4. Empirically speaking, what has the existence of a mitered man in St. Peter’s done for biblical literacy among his 1.2 billion followers? The 1960s council we call Vatican II has been widely credited with promoting the study of Scripture among Catholic laity, and of course Protestants ought to welcome this reform. The more Bible people get, the better. But—speaking mostly from (multi-national) personal experience but also from some statistical studies I’ve read—it seems clear to me that conservative Protestant groups have done a much better job teaching the actual content of the Bible to their people. We have a long way to go in our work of discipling the nations, but Bible study is one of the most healthy things in Protestant DNA.
  5. Lastly, T.D. Bernard once made a point that I have come back to again and again. It’s dense but excessively rich. Please read the whole thing!

    The writer [of NT epistles] does not announce a succession of revelations, or arrest the inquiries which he encounters in men’s hearts by the unanswerable formula, “Thus saith the Lord.” He arouses, he animates, he goes along with the working of men’s minds, by showing them the working of his own. He utters his own convictions, he pours forth his own experience, he appeals to others to “judge what he says,” and commends his words “to their conscience in the sight of God.” He confutes by argument rather than by authority, deduces his conclusions by processes of reasoning and establishes his points by interpretations and applications of the former Scriptures…. Why all this labor in proving what might have been decided by a simple announcement from one entrusted with the Word of God? Would not this apostolic declaration that such a statement was error, and that another was truth, have sufficed for the settlement of that particular question? Doubtless! But it would not have sufficed to train men’s minds to that thoughtfulness whereby truth becomes their own, or to educate them to the living use of the Scriptures as the constituted guide of inquiry. (The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament, pp. 157-158)

    Protestants don’t get to have a pope because God inspired epistles. And He did it on purpose. The sometimes painful and difficult work of personal biblical and theological study is meant to form us into the kind of people who think like God wants us to—not just who think what God wants us to. A pope can be an unhealthy shortcut. Bible study is a privilege, but it’s also a responsibility. Your God-given pastors and teachers should play an important role in your spiritual life, and they do bear genuine authority (1 Pet. 5:1–5; Heb. 13:7–17), but they won’t stand next to you on judgment day (2 Cor 5:10).

No popes for you.

*Not all statements from a pope are technically considered to be equally authoritative, but adopting the title of “Christ’s vicar,” the Son of God’s representative on earth, is itself a claim to teaching authority.

Misplaced Priorities

Did you hear the one about the hunters?  A dozen guys go deer hunting and, as is common, head out into the woods in pairs. At the end of the day one hunter returns without his partner, but carrying a twelve-point buck on his back.

“Where’s Joe?”

“He passed out about three miles back.”

“You left him, but brought the deer?”

“Well, nobody would steal Joe.”

We all can recognize misplaced priorities—in other people, at least. The problem with misplaced priorities is that it’s hard enough to do what you need to do, without wasting time on things that aren’t going to be important in the long run. You may have a spouse, perhaps children, friends, not to mention professional or academic responsibilities. There are lots of things to do. Some of the more pious among us might deny this, but we all have felt the frustration that Solomon well expresses in the inspired book of Ecclesiastes: “All is vanity and vexation of spirit [or perhaps ‘striving after the wind’].”

That’s OK. God’s providence, even His hard providence that brings pressure into our lives, is good, and He provides what we need in order to do what He has called us to do. But the pressure reinforces the thought that we had better not be wasting our time doing things that don’t matter.

Lots of things are important. But what’s most important? What will you never sacrifice? Are there things more important for the student, for example, than good grades?

On May 21, 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported that under the pressure of performance-based teacher evaluation, some 75 California teachers helped their students cheat in order to get higher grades on standardized tests. Was it worth it?

Suppose that the students actually remembered for a lifetime the answers that their teachers had given them. They learned, didn’t they? Now was it worth it?

What is the most important thing? More than grades? More than efficiency? More than perfect appearances? It’s been summed up in a lot of ways, but it all comes down to godliness. We should want to be what we should be, as well as to do what we should do.

The Scripture identifies three key sources of spiritual growth in every believer. Theologians call them the “means of grace.” More simply, they are avenues through which God gives us the ability to be what we should be and do what we should do:

Scripture

Paul calls the Scripture “the word of His grace” and says that it “is able to build you up” (Acts 20:32). The Book has a power all its own, and we need to stay in it all the time, reading, memorizing, meditating, applying. This is spiritual calisthenics—not always fun, but always profitable. We must not be a generation of Christians who know “what they’ve always been taught” but are spiritually flabby.

Prayer

The Bible calls prayer “the throne of grace,” where we “find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). The American church is largely a prayerless church, and believers routinely demonstrate the weakness to prove it. How real is your prayer life? Paul describes his companion Epaphras as “laboring fervently for you in prayers” (Col. 4:12). The Greek word is agonizomai, from which we get our word agonize. When was the last time you took prayer that seriously? (I speak to my own shame.)

The fellowship of believers

Paul says that our words to one another in the body “minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). We are placed together in the body for the primary purpose of building one another up. We were placed where we are because God has designed us with something that fellow believers need to be more Christ-like. That’s why example is so much more powerful than words. That’s why what the California teachers did was far more damaging than if their students had done it on their own. And that’s why our first priority must be to live godly before our brethren.

Misplaced priorities. Nobody wants to waste his precious time. Even as you do less important things, focus on what matters.

 

This article originally appeared here.