But I don’t really have a testimony…

Yes you do. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you have a testimonyand it’s one worth sharing.

Sometimes people tell me otherwise. They point to the fact that that they’ve been in church since nine months before they were born, and, to the credit of the Lord, they’ve never really gone through a visibly rebellious streak. Therefore, in their mind, they have no testimony. The problem with that line of logic is what I think is a misunderstanding of sin. The worst kind of rebellion isn’t visible to begin with. Sin doesn’t have to be observable to be heinous.

Recall that Jesus said that from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander (Matt 15:18). Jesus condemned adultery that happens in the heart (Matt 5:28). Jesus lamented against the people who honored him with their lips but whose hearts were far from him (Matt 15:8). And, lifetime church-goers, your heart – that very same one that has been mistakenly called “goody two-shoes” your whole life – is exactly that bad. You are an equal offender, and I with you.

Oftentimes, we who were raised in a Christian home may not have acted on those sinful tendencies when others did, because we were blessed enough to be raised in a cultural context that wouldn’t allow us to do so – meaning that your parents and church community reprimanded you and taught you how to behave in a socially acceptable way as a minimum. But don’t kid yourself; that is not displaying the fruit of the Spirit. That is just acting right because that’s what mom and dad said to do, and because all other roads led to punishment (which, don’t misunderstand, is something to be thankful for). But only after comprehending the weight of the gospel and placing your trust in Christ (at whatever age that may have legitimately happened) were you saved by grace. Only then did you begin to have good works flow out of a gospel-transformed heart. Before that you were only parading, pretending, fooling everybody, perhaps even yourself. Jesus hates that (Matt 6).

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). That would mean that breaking the greatest commandment involves not loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And you can accomplish that monumental sin without ever leaving the church pew. All you have to do is quietly divide your affections and devote the most minuscule fraction of your heart to something that is not ultimately rooted in the joy and glory of the Lord, and you have broken the greatest commandment. No one even looks up, but this renders you an eternal offender and a deserving recipient of an eternity’s worth of the wrath of God. With nauseating consistency, we all do this. The one that the other kids called “Bible thumper” and the one that spent years in addiction and crime have both failed in this way. They are equal heirs of their parents’ nature, meaning Adam and Eve. Just because human observers don’t perceive your sin as “loud” doesn’t mean that your sin isn’t real and your condemnation just.

The story gets better though. For you, Christian, the condemnation never comes. God loved you anyway. He acquitted you anyway. He saved you anyway. At great cost to himself, he desired you and your God-hating heart so much that he sent his Son to die for you by way of bloody execution. He kindly chose you, not because of anything good you had in mind, but in spite of the hate he knew you would harbor. He sought you and bought you, though you loved yourself more than him. While your heart was far away, his love and grace came for you and welcomed you into his loving embrace (Rom 5:8). You broke the greatest commandment, and still he called your name. Now, through faith, you are called a child of God and a fellow heir with Christ (Rom 8:17), rendering you the benefactor of an infinite estate. Now that’s what testimonies are made of. And if you are a Christian, that’s your testimony at the minimum. And it never gets old.

We have to remember that, apart from God, both the church punks and the guys on death row equally share in the same destitute spiritual condition. And when Christ came to die for both kinds of people, the cross was not less painful for the well-behaved. It hurt him. To say you have no testimony, then, is to grossly underestimate your own depravity and also to downplay the miraculous grace of God, who went to great lengths to redeem you. He didn’t do all of that so you could shrink back as if you had no story to tell.

For starters, you were dead and are now alive (Eph 2:1). You were a God-hater who is loved by God (1 Jn 4:10). You have been born more than once (John 3:3). These are all miracles that you’ve experienced firsthand, and there are many other ways to describe them. God didn’t give you these experiences so you can pretend that they’re second-rate compared to someone else’s. If you have a background with a bunch of hell-raising sins, you should absolutely name them in your testimony so that we can all praise God with you for your deliverance. But God doesn’t need you to have that background to make a beautiful story out of you.

The world can’t believe in the Lord’s goodness until it hears about the Lord’s goodness, and they’ll never hear until you open your mouth (Rom 10:14). So just let it fly and let Jesus be the hero, and he’ll take it from there. He always does.

With great boldness and without shame (Rom 1:16),

-Garrett


He Never Went To Seminary

In a city that is known for its love of material pomp and flash, I have to remind myself often that the kingdom of heaven advances in ways that are quite unexpected. God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise (1 Cor 1:27). He does not reveal his glory through the vehicles that we think he should. Rather, he reveals his glory by whatever means that he wishes, and he needs no worldly equipment added to him to make it work.

I know personally that this is true because the greatest sermon I’ve ever heard on the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17 didn’t come from some big name preacher. It didn’t come from a high powered academic. It came last Friday from a formerly homeless man named Sonny, who considers it his calling in ministry to deliver the gospel to the poor and homeless of Houston, Texas.

What does the world say about Sonny? That he is a small, fifty-something African-American man with little to no money, little to no influence, and little to no impact on the world. But what does God say about Sonny? That he is the light of the world and a minister of the gospel waging a cosmic battle against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). I’m going to go with that one.

I met Sonny after he preached at a mid-morning church service for the homeless near downtown Houston. Without looking down, he went through 7 bullet points on John 17 with hardly a stutter. He had no notes, and when he looked at the Bible it was out of courtesy and humility, because he had the chapter memorized. Emotion poured out of him. He yelled over the wind for half an hour with all the rhythm and flow of a spoken-word poet. Like only a black preacher can do, he seemed to be delivering music rather than words as the tone of his voice rose and fell in pattern. I knew I was experiencing something that I would want to relive over and over again, so I pulled out my iPhone and caught a clip of the sermon. Here are two minutes of Sonny’s sermon from Friday, July 26, 2013.

I knew this was more than the rambling of some deranged street preacher. This man knew the Word of God in a deep way. I assumed that somebody who is somebody had to have taught him and trained him in the Word, whether a seminarian or otherwise. I was wrong. I asked him who trained him in the Bible and he said, “My earthly father but mostly the Holy Spirit.” Sonny never went to seminary. He simply trusted God for the knowledge he would need, and then he checked himself against the findings of another trained person (his father, in this case) to make sure that his theological and biblical findings weren’t incorrect. And to make a minister of the Word, that’s all it takes.

I also found out that Sonny had a minor stroke a few weeks ago. His doctor told him he needed to take it easy. And if you watched that video clip, you know that advice went as unheeded as the doctor knew it would.

Sonny preaches every Friday morning at 9:45 a.m. at James Bute Park at the intersection of McKee and Runnels in Houston, Texas. There are no buildings, there are no microphones, and there are no well-dressed people. Good thing none of that is required.

FTH.


My Letter To Macklemore

Mr. Haggerty (a.k.a. Macklemore),

I recently heard your song “Same Love” for the first time. As a Bible-believing, people-loving Christian, your song (and the video for it, in particular) stood out to me, since parts of the song are aimed quite religiously.

Alongside you, I want to express a deep and righteous anger toward those who profess to be Christians with their words, yet with their actions produce nothing but hate toward homosexuals. I am at least as disappointed as you with the way some churches have treated the LGBT community, which in no way reflects the character of the God whom they claim to serve, nor that of his Son, Jesus, whom they claim to follow. Of course, an apology cannot repair whatever damage you or your family may have incurred from this kind of hatred masquerading as Christianity. But I can assure you that we are equal in our distaste for this kind of behavior.

However, having agreed on the widespread failure of those who claim to share my faith, I now am forced to defend that same faith against what I see as unfair and misleading representations of it in your art. Your lyrics say, “The right-wing conservatives think it’s a decision, and you can be cured with some treatment and religion, Manmade re-wiring of a predisposition, playing God…” I would have taken no issue with this, because I care little about what the world thinks of the opinions of “right-wing conservatives,” because I don’t identify as one. However, during this exact line of the song, your video has several shots of the inside of a church, including two crosses and an open Bible. The message comes through clearly enough (especially in light of several other references to God, church, and cross photographs in the video). “Right-wing conservatives,” by way of visual association, are equated with “Christians.” This prompts my disagreement, because I can assure you that neither Jesus nor the Bible will suggest that the “answer” to homosexuality is a strong dose of morality or religious ethics. Rather, the message of the Christian faith is that “Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life,” including gay people and excluding no one (John 3:16). Jesus says to the homosexual the same thing that he says to the heterosexual, the alcoholic, the narcissist, the abuser, and every other kind of sinner: “Follow me” (Matt 9:9). In light of this, your lyrics (when combined with your video) are shown to represent a caricature of the Christian faith, not the real thing.

You continue, “‘God loves all his children’ is somehow forgotten, but we paraphrase a book written 3500 years ago.” I can’t be certain of the exact meaning of this last phrase, but I will point out that the Bible (in parts that are less than 2000 years old) expressly calls homosexuality a sin, no paraphrasing required (Rom 1:27). However, that same New Testament (see 1 Cor 6) explicitly condemns heterosexual sin several times as well. Contrary to the word on the street, the Bible is truly nondiscriminatory. All are sinners. All are loved by God. And all are undeservingly invited to repentance and redemption, sexuality notwithstanding.

In “Same Love,” you find fault with those who misrepresent the Christian faith. Ironically, I charge you with the same error. If Christianity really was what you represented it to be in your song, it would be easy to tear it apart as you did. But it is no great feat to tear apart a straw man whom you built yourself. Taking on a real man is bit harder. And if you are ever able to meaningfully interact with a real, genuine, Bible-believing Christian, you will have a difficult time convincing yourself that they hate gay people…or anyone else.

I do appreciate the honesty and forthrightness of your work. Although we may disagree on the definition and application of what “freedom” truly is, I sense that we labor alongside one another, both burdened by a love for people. As your song quotes, “Love is patient, love is kind.” And, above all imitators, no one is more patient or more kind than Jesus. He does not hate gay people. He died for them that they might live.

Respect and regards,

Garrett Raburn


Queen of the Sciences

Imagine a little Texas girl who grew up sometime in the last 50 years. She goes to a Bible-preaching church twice a week with her family, and a fine public school system five times a week with her friends. Both the school and the church intend to influence her for good. They both aim to teach her what is true, there’s no doubt about that. They both carry a strong sense of responsibility about what they must do for this little girl. But from the girl’s perspective, something is wrong. For some reason, these two institutions that influence her the most (underneath her immediate family) can’t seem to agree on the things that matter most. They teach contradictory “truths.” The nearly constant disagreement is implicit everywhere, but shows up nowhere so explicitly as science class. The church tells her that God is everything, but the school tells her that God is just one thing, a thing that has nothing to do with serious academic inquiry. They don’t have to say it very loudly, their actions say it well enough.

What does the little girl conclude? The same thing that the school has long since concluded – that matters of faith and matters of fact dwell in two different arenas. She decides that learning about the Word of God and learning about the world are two different things entirely, as separate as night and day. At some point she adds a strange new word to her vocabulary…secular. The very acknowledgement of such a term gives away her new assumption that there are some things in life which are not sacred. She would never put it in these terms, but the fact is that her concept of truth has been bifurcated. Science and faith are viewed as incompatible. She wouldn’t say it out loud, but truthfully she fears science, with all its confidences and boasts. She adopts the assumption of the school – that on the one hand there are matters of fact that the public school teaches, and on the other there are matters of faith and value that church teaches. The former (whatever it may claim) cares less for value or morals, the latter (whatever it may claim) cares less for objective fact.  The American way of separating church and state has put God on an island in her mind, isolating him from everything else there is to know or interact with. She’s infected by a false dichotomy that informs everything she sees, and her worldview dwells nearer than a contact lens.

This is the story for so many of us, both little boys and little girls. The very admission of a so-called “secular” world gives away our assumption that there are some things that have nothing to do with God. Unfortunately, the Bible knows nothing of such a separation, because it doesn’t exist. The Word of God is not a science book, fair enough. That is because the world is the world of God, and he has equipped us to write our own books of discovery about it. But rest assured that there is one body of truth, defined simply as “things as God knows them to be.” Those truths discovered through science, while they may be less relevant to salvation, are just as true as those found in Scripture. (Alarmed? Read on.) The things we discover in mathematics may have less nourishment for the soul than, say, the book of Philippians. But 2+2=4 is just as true as the fact that Jesus Christ took the form of a servant (Phil 2:7). Obviously, the two statements have varying degrees of relevance to the human plight. I hold the truth about Jesus more nearly and dearly than the truth about math (a lot more). But they have the same degree of truthfulness – 100%. All truth is God’s truth. And all the truth we will ever apprehend will be apprehended because of God’s grace in revealing it to us. Christians have nothing to fear of science, because the God who reveals things through the study of creation is the same God who reveals things through the study of the Bible, and he will never contradict himself. Should scientific findings disagree with properly interpreted Scripture, science has simply made a human error. Surely charging the creature with making an error is less audacious than charging the Creator with writing one.

To give an example of the integration that will resolve our false conflict, think of biochemicals in a lab. They will behave the same way for Christians and non-Christians, that’s for sure. But while the non-Christian will be content to answer the question “What is there?”, the Christian will strive just as strongly to answer this question and then also to inquire, “Why is it there?” Science cannot answer the question of “why,” and honest scientists will admit as much. That is the task of philosophy, or for the believer in God, theology. Therefore theology is tied to everything, even biochemistry. All those minute chemical details come into better focus when we remember that Jesus “holds all things together.” Integration works like this:  Jesus has declared that e shall equal mc^2.

The Creator and Sustainer of everything that exists is relevant to all things, and they are relevant to him. Christian learning, whether from the Word or the world, seeks to locate that relevance. Christian inquiry is not a side-show to “real” science and learning. It is a rising above and going beyond it. It is looking for the real purpose, already knowing that that purpose is gloriously Personal. Christian learning is realizing that the truths of the Christian church and the truths of the school (insofar as they are actually true and not simply erroneous theories purported to be true, as is often the case) emanate from the same God. A Christian learner is one who goes beyond studying the mere state of things and begins to discern what their true relationship and significance in the universe is. Science cannot lift our eyes to the royalty of God in creation, but theology can. That is why theology is called queen of the sciences.

Imagine the freedom, now, to explore the inerrant Word of God and the fascinating world of God with the goal of integration rather than division. English class is now a Bible reading training class. Biology now reveals the details of the creation account. Anatomy shows the beauty and terror of the cross of Jesus.

And here will our worldview be reassembled, when the idea of “secular” is properly labeled “illusion.” There is nothing in the universe that has nothing to do with God. Positively stated, everything has to do with God. And that gives license to fearlessly study everything.

When the pursuit of truth, in whatever field, becomes the pursuit of God, we are free to explore and arrive at real Truth. And that, as a wise man once said, will set you free.

G


Calvinism vs. Arminianism Chart

Hey hey, it’s the 400-year old debate, back again. For some people this topic is terribly new and exciting, and for others you’d rather watch paint dry. For an elect few though (couldn’t resist), the conversation just doesn’t get old. Anyway, wherever you are and whatever your interest level, here’s a chart I recently made for a friend that summarizes the central points of each school of thought. I did my very best to be fair to both sides, limiting argumentation and giving no supporting Bible verses.

Here’s a link to the chart as a free resource for you.

Calvinism-Arminianism Comparison Chart

If you’re a strong representative from either side and feel like I didn’t throw up your set very well, just pray for my salvation.

FTH.


Degrees of Glory

Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of the certainty of where our story ends. There are ups and there are downs in the Christian life, and some of the highs are really high and some of the lows are really low. Just as your plane of vision changes while riding a roller coaster, sometimes we get confused on where we’ll actually end up, afraid one of those dips may not pull up in time to avoid disaster. How comforting, then, to look to the Word of God and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that every one of us who belong to Jesus will also be made like him in the end. We can know this because sanctification is ultimately his work anyway – work that he has promised to do. Here are a few passages.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). There are some loud theological words in this passage that raise some important questions, like, “What exactly does ‘foreknew’ and ‘predestined’ mean?” But for this writing, these pursuits are not the point. The point is this – if you a believer in Christ, you will ultimately be changed into the likeness of Jesus. It is as sure today as it ever has been, regardless of what your recent or not-so-recent experience has been. It’s up to him, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That is not constraining, it’s comforting.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the Spirit of him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11). Everyone who belongs to Jesus has the Spirit (Rom 8:9). And if you have the Spirit, life is yours. There are no surprise endings.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:17-18). The Holy Spirit is God and brings freedom everywhere he goes, and your person is no exception. We all are becoming more like Jesus, from one degree of glory to the next. Progress may be unsteady from our wavering perspective, but it is as certain as the Word of the Lord. How do we know this? Because “it comes from the Lord.” Who, in case you forgot, is the Spirit.

“And I am confident of this: that he who began a good in work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). You have a role to play in your sanctification. You are to battle the flesh and “let not sin reign in your mortal body” (Rom 6:11). God equips you “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). But in all these things, never forget that it is God who began the work. And it is God who will finish the work.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). The Shepherd takes care of the sheep, and he’s never lost any. Not even one.

“We eagerly await a Savior from [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:20-21). If you trust in Jesus, you are included in that “our.” By his own authority, Christ is going to make your sin-filled body like his sinless, perfect body.

“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification, and its end, eternal life” (Rom 3:22). This is the clearest of all, perhaps. Man I love this verse. Easy and beautiful observations: 1) Sanctification has an end. 2) That end is eternal life.

“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:30). The “Golden Chain” of salvation. This verse is sweet sweet sweet. It means that salvation is an inextricable web, a work of God from start to finish. No one has ever begun who has not finished. There are no exit ramps on the highway of salvation. You will arrive safely at glory.

All this is to encourage you and let you know that even though the struggle hurts, it doesn’t go on forever. If you’re at the top of the spiritual stratosphere right now, take the time to encourage another believer. And if you’re in the midst of the struggle, know that the struggle has an end. And, because of the grace and lovingkindness of God toward you, you will win. Until then, keep seeking that next degree of glory.

FTH.


Thinking, Feeling God

In college I had a tightly-knit group of guys who met weekly for Bible study and accountability. We had a running joke about which guys in the group were “thinkers” and which were “feelers.” Granted, everyone is a thinker and everyone is a feeler to some degree. Nobody is entirely devoid of cognition (believe it or not), and nobody is entirely affection-less either. But some people have a serious tendency toward either intellection or emotion, and they don’t always assess themselves accurately (much to our humor). So my friends and I had more than a few chuckles learning about one another’s personalities in this regard.

I’ve spent a large amount of time pondering the relationship between thinking and feeling, with my main pursuit being an answer to the question, “How am I best to glorify God with my thinking and feeling?” Many questions stem from this when you get down into the mechanics of it all. Do my realizations about God provoke affection toward him (meaning thinking precedes feeling)? I think the answer to this had better be yes. Do my affections for God provoke me to more deeply study God and his Word (meaning feeling precedes thinking)? I think the answer to this had better be yes, too. It can be a puzzling exploration, but pursuing the correct thoughts and feelings about God is the highest pursuit of which one can avail himself. Right?

Enter Jonathan Edwards. The 18th-century pastor is probably the greatest intellectual America has ever produced. Edwards finds his basis for thinking and feeling within God’s very nature – the Trinity itself. He says that we are constructed as head and heart, thinkers and feelers, knowers and lovers, because these two realities are present in God’s being. I’ll be honest, what he writes is not easy to understand. But if you have a few minutes to stare at the computer screen and think it through, you’ll be rewarded. Prepare to be boggled.

This I suppose to be the blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures. The Father is the deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the deity in its direct existence. The Son is the deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct persons.

In other words, the Father has had an eternal idea of himself (thinking) that is so full and profound that it is another Person standing forth – the Son. In turn, the Father and the Son have had an eternal joy between themselves (feeling) that is so full and delightful that it is another Person standing forth – the Spirit. The Son is the thinking of the Father, and the Spirit is the feeling of them both. Carefully note that none of this is chronologically ordered; these are eternal realities. There was never a moment when God did not experience himself in this way.

If I get the chance to meet him sometime (which seems likely), I’ll have to thank Jonathan Edwards for this little gem. Beats the heck out of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

Here’s to thinking the right thoughts and feeling the right feelings for the glory of the thinking, feeling God.

FTH.