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


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


When Strivings Cease

Legalism is oft-used word and an oft-followed philosophy (although many do not realize they are trapped in its snare). So what is legalism, anyway?

In its more explicit application, legalism refers to the Law of Moses in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) and the belief that by following the Law one can be justified before God (by justified, think “made right” or “saved”). This kind of explicit legalism isn’t the legalism that typically entangles us most of the time, because it’s so easy to spot (and because it is so clearly obliterated by Scripture – see entire book of Galatians). I don’t find many people who are trusting in the Law of Moses for their justification/salvation.

But the principle behind this “Old Testament” legalism still plagues us. What, exactly, accomplishes justification according to legalism? Following the Law. And what is following the Law? An action which I do by my own effort. The legalism of our day has the same ultimate driving force behind it as explicit legalism – the belief that my merit before God comes from me. I trust in myself. I justify myself. We say in our minds, Not me. But our practice of running from God after spiritual failures and yet sprinting toward him proudly after spiritual successes says, Yes, you. Legalism at its core is justification by self-effort. In common usage today, Christians give the word “religion” the same definition.

Jesus gave a truly profound warning against this idea that comes so naturally to us all (John 5:45). Addressing a group of Jews (explicit legalists), he said, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope.” Do you have ears to hear what he is saying? There is no need to accuse or condemn those who trust in the Law, because the Law will do that for itself. The very standard in which the Jews were trusting for deliverance would become the standard that would sentence them. What does that mean for you today? That if you set your hope on your own behavioral merits before God, your own behavioral shortcomings will stand to condemn you before God. Belief in self-propelled reward leads to the reality of self-wrought destruction. Trust in your own good, and your own bad will sentence you. Your penultimate success will not prevent your ultimate failure. Your good will not outweigh your bad – not when the standard is perfection. Do you have ears to hear these things?

What is the solution, then? The estate of humanity looks pretty bleak at this point. Are we helplessly and hopelessly condemned forever? By no means!

By trusting in a substitute, we can be made right with God. The light of Jesus Christ breaks into our darkness, and by faith in him we apprehend a right relationship with God. He prevents our failure. His good outweighs our bad. His merits overcome our shortcomings. His reward becomes ours. The question is not whether we deserve reward from God; that question has been already answered with a resounding no. What we deserve is punishment, because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). But forgiveness and life are offered to us anyway, with the affection of God the Father as the motivator. It’s grace, when you least expect to find it. It’s freedom, when you thought you already had it. Read John 3:16 with new eyes. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

But, sadly, we don’t naturally like grace, do we? When we’re rewarded, we want the credit. We don’t want to depend on anyone or anything else for our lot in life, this one or the next. The legalist from within emerges, threatening to stomp out the hope of the gospel of grace. So the question you must ask yourself becomes, Can I bear to live in the light of a love I did not earn? 

If you can, you will live a very long time, indeed. Forever. And this will be your song:

In Christ alone my hope is found

He is my light, my strength, my song 

This Cornerstone, this solid ground 

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace!

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!

My Comforter, my all in all,

Here in the love of Christ I stand!

FTH.


2013’s Utmost

my-utmost1A 100 year-old compilation of the sermons and writings of Oswald Chambers has been assembled under the title “My Utmost for His Highest” (you may have heard of it). It takes the form of a daily devotional, with one little gold mine of a page to be read per day. And Chambers doesn’t exactly waste any time getting to the convicting stuff. Here’s January 1 from one of the most famous devotionals of all time. Let it pierce you.

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“My eager desire and hope being that I may never feel ashamed, but that now as ever I may do honour to Christ in my own person by fearless courage” (Phil 1:20, Moffat). We shall all feel very much ashamed if we do not yield to Jesus on the point He has asked us to yield to Him. Paul says – “My determination is to be my utmost for His Highest.” To get there is a question of will, not of debate nor of reasoning, but a surrender of will, an absolute and irrevocable surrender on that point. An over-weaning consideration for ourselves is the thing that keeps us from that decision, though we put it that we are considering others. When we consider what it will cost others if we obey the call of Jesus, we tell God He does not know what our obedience will mean. Keep to the point; He does know. Shut out every other consideration and keep yourself before God for this one thing only – My Utmost for His Highest. I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and for Him alone. “Whether that means life or death, no matter!” (Phil 1:21). Paul is determined that nothing shall deter him from doing exactly what God wants. God’s order has to work up to a crisis in our lives because we will not heed the gentler way. He brings us to the place where He asks us to be our utmost for Him, and we begin to debate; then He produces a providential crisis where we have to decide – for or against, and from that point the “Great Divide” begins. If the crisis has come to you on any line, surrender your will to Him absolutely and irrevocably. 

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I keep hearing this little voice…Your kingdom come, Your will be done.

Lord, in 2013, not as I will, but as you will.

FTH.


Children and Diamonds

I always chuckle at the cleverness of those posters that says, “Everything I need to know, I learned in kindergarten.” Under this headline will be several painfully obvious ideas that most adults are painfully bad at applying – things like “I shouldn’t take things that aren’t mine” and “I should treat other people how I want to be treated.” Simple, beautiful (and unmistakably biblical) truths to live by.

And as much as I enjoy seminary and “deep study,” sometimes I think that “everything I need to know about God, I learned in kindergarten.” Don’t mistake my meaning; I know not everyone was in Sunday School as a five year old learning basic things about God. I also don’t mean that we shouldn’t progressively grow in our understanding of God and develop knowledge as time goes on. By no means are we to remain children when it comes to the knowledge of God, as Paul prayed for us in Scripture, “that our love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (Philippians 1:9). So what I mean, precisely, is this: “The most important things that any human being needs to know about God, a small child is capable of understanding.” Even better, they’re both in a single verse.

Psalm 62:11 says, “Once God has spoken, twice I have heard this: That power belongs to God, and that to you, O God, belongs steadfast love.” God has power, and God has love. God is infinitely strong and infinitely loving. He is omnipotent and omnibenevolent. You learned this as a child, but you prayed it like this: “God is great, God is good.” Is this not the gospel? The gospel is unavoidably about a God who is not only inconceivably strong, but a God who is for people. He has the power to do whatever he likes, and what he likes is what is good for people – namely, to save our souls from the destruction we’ve earned for ourselves and bring us back into relationship with himself. God is great and God is good.

God is. And God is for you. And if you leave these things behind for “deeper study,” you will impoverish yourself.

Don’t get me wrong – the beauty of God is the deepest reality that anyone can experience. Delight yourself in knowing him, and lose yourself in finding him. Lose sleep in searching for him. It will take effort to do deep study, and the Bible does not yield its fruit to the lazy. Besides, the payoff of doing deep study is obviously much greater than giving a mere surface-level scratch. Raking is easy, but you only get leaves. Digging is hard, but you may get diamonds. Don’t waste the Bible.

But no matter how deep you go or how many diamonds you’re given, don’t forget that the most valuable diamonds of all are easily found, even for a kindergartner – that God is great. And God is good.

FTH.


Who is John Calvin?

Not sure if you’ve heard or not, but over the last few months and years the word “Calvinism” has been thrown around like dinner rolls in a food fight. There has been an absolute firestorm over the name “John Calvin”, and not all of it helpful, to say the least. Unfortunately most of the people doing the loudest talking don’t have a clue who John Calvin really was, what his contributions really were, or what he really believed because…oh yeah, they’ve never read a single word that the man actually wrote. I’ve seriously never heard (or, regrettably, been a part) of such pointless bickering. People claim Calvinism (or a differing theological school of thought, like Arminianism) and then go to arguing like grade school children in a playground taunt.

Typically people who hold these views hold them very fiercely. “Young, restless, and Reformed” has become something of a uniting banner among young Christians who identify with Calvinist theology (Reformed or Reformation theology is just a general synonym for Calvinist theology these days). And of course, the pastor everyone knows – John Piper – was famously Calvinist when Calvinism wasn’t cool.

With all this chatter, a little clarity will go a long way. I’m no expert, believe me, but I’d like to offer a starting point for Christians to understand a little more about John Calvin and what he taught. If there were a more widespread, accurate knowledge of the man and his bible exposition (teaching), I think there would be less unfruitful division and more biblical unity in the body of Christ. No, I know that.

So let’s jump right into it.

First things first. You’ve probably have heard of “five-point Calvinism”, and the elephant in the room is a little acronym called T.U.L.I.P. It stands for:  total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. If you hear people arguing about Calvinism, they are probably up in arms over these points (or the topic of predestination, which is quite interwoven). But here’s a fun fact – John Calvin never came up with the acronym TULIP. He never preached “five points.” Ever. If you had come across John Calvin in the streets of Geneva one afternoon and walked up and said, “Mr. Calvin, what do I need to know about God?”, he would not have said, “Here are five points.” He did, of course, believe that the concepts that the acronym TULIP seeks to portray are true when rightly understood. But those ideas were not so organized and made into an acronym until after his death. That is an important distinction. (Side note: there are monumental debates and misunderstandings among Christians about each of the five points, what they mean, and whether they are biblical theological concepts or not. For the sake of brevity, I’ll leave these alone for now. Maybe the future holds a five-part blog series, you never know. For now, just know that the acronym exists, and that you should be very picky about who you let explain these things to you.)

Regardless, here is a hugely important fact – Read the rest of this entry »