What Being a Dad Has Reminded Me About Discipleship

As a fan of finding illustrations of spiritual truths in everyday life, being a parent is a goldmine. And for me, nothing has so effectively illustrated the concept of discipleship for me than being a daddy, because nothing says “DIE TO YOURSELF” better than interacting with a needy toddler that can’t be reasoned with.


“Because we don’t want you to drown!”

Being a daddy hasn’t really taught me anything new about discipleship. But seeing what I already knew illustrated in a fresh context has really helped me to appreciate what I did know, such as:

#1 – Some things are only learned by constant reinforcement.

There’s some things that Calvin does only because my wife and I taught him. And when I say “taught him”, I mean modeling it for him constantly every day over the period of several months. Sign language, for example. Oy. We probably signed “eat” and “more” a trillion times before he finally started doing them. It took long enough to make me wonder on several occasions if we were just wasting our time. These days it’s me trying to teach him what I never thought I’d have to teach another human being to do, which is spitting after brushing his teeth. Oh, he mimics the sound of spitting, but the only saliva in the sink is mine.

#2 – Lots of things are learned without you trying to teach.

This sank in when I observed Cal taking his giant, colored keys over to our front door and putting a key in-between the door and the frame. How the heck did he know what a key is for?! Oh, because he sees my wife and I using them every single time we leave. Another example was when we started putting our iPhones up to his ear and saying “Hello”. Considering how much we text and how little time we actually spend talking on the phone, I was pretty amazed he picked up on this.

Recently, he began using one of those really long bubble wands as a baseball bat and got me to pitch to him. We rarely have baseball games on in our house, so I have no freaking clue how he knows about how to play baseball. But at some point my genius prodigy of a son saw it and picked it up.

I don’t think about my son picking up on this stuff, because they’re activities I do so routinely that I’m not even aware that I’m doing them. Yet while I’m absent-mindedly answering a call or unlocking a door, he is constantly watching and learning. And this terrifies me.


Always. Watching. Me.

Again, these two observations don’t provide anything new to my understanding of discipleship. But they’re powerful reminders about how discipleship works. For one thing, it’s a reminder that formal instruction in the Christian faith is necessary. By “formal instruction” I’m referring to teaching someone doctrine, how to read their Bible, scripture memory, even just sitting down with someone and reading the Bible together. Our knowledge and understanding of these things takes time to develop but are critical.

The other reminder is that the way I live my life is teaching others far more effectively than my words are. If I’m formally teaching someone about the sovereignty of God yet get uncontrollably anxious every time life takes a turn I didn’t expect, I’m undermining my message. On the other hand, if I rely on the sovereignty I’m teaching in those difficult moments and allow my doctrine to calm my heart, I’ll give serious weight to the reliability and goodness of Scripture. My actions and attitudes are constantly teaching. The only question is what they’re teaching. By God’s grace, they will give weight to what he says in his Word.

Oh, and I’m assuming that the only thing that says “Die to yourself” more than having a kid is having two of them.


Coming this fall: more sanctification!

Staying Christian on Social Media

I tend not to write much about current events. The times I do, I’m more addressing how I see people (Christians typically) responding to events on social media rather than the events themselves. Two passages in Scripture lie behind that concern.

The first one is Mark 7:20-23. In this passage, Jesus makes the point that a person’s words and actions can be traced back to their heart (see also Proverbs 4:23). In the context of social media, this means that your Facebook status and your Twitter feed are a peek into your heart. They reveal your values and priorities and in many cases are a reflection of what you believe is wrong with the world and what you believe is going to fix it.

The second passage is 1 Peter 1:13, where Peter tells Christians to set all their hope on the Second Coming of Jesus. All areas of our lives he says should be affected by an eager expectation of his return. In fact, the affect of this hope on our lives should be so drastic and visible that it catches the attention of the non-believing world around us, causing them to ask us about what makes us different (1 Peter 3:15).

The question for us today as Christians who engage with social is this: what does this window into my heart reveal? What would someone learn about me simply by scrolling through my Twitter account? Do my status updates reflect this other-worldly hope that Peter commands us to have?

I’ve got tons of Christians in my Facebook and Twitter feeds. And if everything I knew about some of them came from what they posted, all I’d know about them is that they are conservatives who think Obama is the worst president in U.S. history and that a vote for Hillary is effectively a vote for Hitler.


How do I add Spock to this meme?

How do I add Spock to this meme?

Obviously I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t have political opinions or that they shouldn’t post those opinions in a loving spirit. I’m also not going to naively pretend that your faith doesn’t affect your political views. But if you’re constantly slamming politicians on Facebook, at a certain point I have to question where you think the real battle lies. What is victory to you: more Republicans in the House or more sinners in Heaven? And how would the non-Christians who see your updates answer that question?

I think we learn an important lesson in this area from Paul. In Romans 1, he offers the following commentary on pagan society: “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”



Sure, Paul sounds pretty harsh here, but we should remember the context. Paul is writing this to Christians in order to make the theological point that all people are sinners so that he can later magnify just how big God’s mercy is. What’s fascinating though is to see is how Paul actually interacts with the kind of people he’s describing here:

“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.” (Acts 17:16-17)

Paul was deeply disturbed by the pagan culture around him. But rather than retreating from them in anger or disgust, he moves toward them in love and preached the gospel to them. Darrell Bock unpacks this:

Despite being aggravated by all the idolatry he sees around him in Athens, Paul manages to share the gospel with a generous but honest spirit. The Paul of Romans 1 who speaks of the sad state of society is still able to love and connect with that society in Acts 17. This also is an important lesson: sometimes we Christians are so angry at the state of our society that all that comes through is the anger and not the love we are to have for our neighbour in need. Those who see this anger and want to represent the faith differently can overact the other way, almost pretending, as if there is no idolatry as long as the religious search is sincerely motivated. Paul avoids both of these extremes. He knows how to confront but does so honestly and graciously. Both message and tone are important in sharing the gospel. Here Paul is an example of both.

Bock’s words carry enormous implications for what we do with social media. In a fallen world with constant media coverage, you can always find things to be angry about. The question is, will you respond with love or anger? With that in mind, here are some diagnostic questions for us as Christians to work through when re-tweeting things other than hilarious Cat Fails:

  • Why am I posting this? Do I think it will accomplish something? If so, what? Am I just venting? Who is the audience I expect/hope to reach? Is this a passive-aggressive post targeted at one person or a particular group of people?
  • What “hope” does this post communicate? What values am I displaying to those who see this? Is the dominant tone of this post anger or love? Am I demonstrating calm trust in a good, sovereign God who is at work in this world? Or the anxiety of one who has forgotten that?
  • Does this honor and reflect the character of the God who has told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? (Matthew 5:43-48) Can you, in good conscience, post that comment or link after spending time in prayer for the people it’s about or for the people you hope will see it?
  • Is this true? This should go without saying, but the World Wide Spider-Web is a big place, and with enough time you can find arguments for anything. This means that as Christians we need to be discerning readers. Since truth is an essential ingredient of biblical love, we can’t be posting things that are misleading or downright false. While we can’t always be certain all of the time that a headline is true, here are a couple of tips:
    1. Snopes.com is your best friend. Check the story there first.
    2. If a judge or policymaker is said to be doing something so egregiously unconstitutional that you can’t possibly believe it’s true, it’s probably not. Or at least there’s more to the story. Give them the benefit of a doubt. Some stories only get published because they’re so out there.
    3. Read the article, not just the headline. As NPR hilariously demonstrated last year, some people share articles based solely on the headline without actually reading it.


The Difference Between a Christian and a Demon

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Psalm 33:1 NIV

What is it that makes someone godly?

Imagine meeting someone at your church who is visiting for the first time. The two of you hit it off and make plans for lunch the following week. As you get to know them, you quickly become impressed. They talk about God and quote Scripture…a lot. They fast. They have outstanding morals. Their doctrine is solid.

At this early stage in your friendship, this person seems exceptionally godly. But what differences, really, are there between this person and a demon? Despite what we may be tempted to think, the above characteristics aren’t enough to qualify a person as godly.

In his book The Godly Man’s Picture, Thomas Watson observes that a godly man is a thankful man. In illustrating this, he writes that praise is a key distinguishing mark between a Christian and demons:

Do you talk of God? So can the devil; he brought Scripture to Christ. Do you profess religion? So can the devil; he transforms himself into an angel of light. Do you fast? He never eats. Do you believe? The devils have a faith of assent; they believe, and tremble (Jas. 2:19).

Watson compares this with the magicians of Egypt who, up to a point, could replicate the miracles Moses was performing. Eventually though God’s power working through Moses left them in the dust. In the same way, thanksgiving “is a work Christians may be doing, which none of the devils can do…”

Knowing Scripture, fasting, and having sound doctrine are all wonderful and necessary components of a healthy Christian life. But if these things don’t draw us closer to God and fuel worship, we need to check ourselves. Thanksgiving is one of the most distinguishing marks of a Christian.

“‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.‘”
Revelation 4:11

A Helpful Way to Read the Laws of the Bible


I’m willing to bet that of all the various sections of the Bible, none is more universally feared and neglected than the Law (Genesis – Deuteronomy). Recently I wrote that when we really believe what 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is saying, it will revolutionize the way we read the Bible. When our mindset shifts from “Is there anything God wants me to see here?” to “What does God want me to see in this passage?”, we will approach all sections of Scripture with expectancy, determination, and patience.

Determination and patience are especially important when reading all the Old Testament laws. Parts of these books are just bewildering. Not only do they not seem in any way relevant to us today, but it’s hard to see what possible purpose they served even in their own time.

And yet, difficult as they may be to understand, all the laws of the Old Testament are meant train us in righteousness and to equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). So how can we read the Law in such a way as to be trained and equipped by it? Here is a question I’d recommend asking when reading the Law that I’ve found very helpful:

What does this law reveal about God’s character and his values?

An important principle: laws are always a reflection of the values of the lawgiver. In America, you can’t steal things that belong to your neighbor, because we value the right to personal property. You can’t drink and get behind the wheel, because we value human life. You can’t prank order a pizza to your buddy’s house because we value having absolutely zero sense of humor.

What this means for us as we read the laws of the Bible is that every law we encounter is a window into God’s heart. And since the goal of our salvation is to know God intimately (John 17:3), books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy have great potential for helping us to draw closer to him. By no means will asking the question above answer all your questions, but it will at least get you headed in a helpful direction. There are two big benefits to asking this question:

Benefit #1 – It helps us to understand and appreciate strange laws.

Let’s apply this question to Deuteronomy 22:8:

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone shall fall from it.

Welcome to your new life verse that absolutely you should get tattooed on your chest in Hebrew.

First off, what’s a parapet? A parapet was essentially a guardrail. In this time, roofs were flat and “were used for various household activities, including sleeping in hot weather.”[1] So there’s an obvious cultural disconnect here. No one I know has a flat roof. And even if they did, they wouldn’t use it to sleep in summer. That’s what air conditioning is for.

But what does this command teach us about God’s values? God is telling his people to take proper safety precautions. Since people were going to be on these roofs, he told them to put up parapets so that they wouldn’t fall off. And since visitors would have been among the people who went up on the roof, he’s also telling them to love their neighbors by having those parapets there. What we learn about God from this single verse in Deuteronomy is that he values human life, cares for us, and is a welcoming God. As Christians, this verse then should comfort us and motivate us to seek ways to reflect those values in our relationships.

Benefit #2 – It expands our understanding of clearer laws.

When we stop to ask what God’s laws tell us about him, we’ll also start to see that they have application that extends way beyond their initial context. Consider Exodus 20:13 – “You shall not murder.” Cut and dry, right? I’m proud to say that I have never broken this commandment. But is “not giving Law and Order a new plot line” all that this verse addresses?

Like Deuteronomy 22:8, the “You shall not murder” command reveals the value God places on human life. Let’s go deeper though. Why does God value human life? He values human life because he created us in his image (Gen. 1:27). God created us to represent him and be a brilliant picture of what he is like.

But when it comes to murder, looking like God means way more than just not doing it (still though…don’t). It means not doing everything that leads up to it. People don’t just wake up one day and decide to kill someone. Murder is the final step in a long line of sins that include bitterness, jealousy, anxiety, and ultimately anger. None of these things reflect God’s character and values. Jesus addresses this very issue about murder in Matthew 5:21-26. His point is that Exodus 20:13 goes beyond just not murdering someone and demands love and reconciliation with others.[2]

Listen to how the Heidelberg Catechism from the 16th century extracts the values of God bound up in Exodus 20:13:

I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor- not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds- and I am not to be party to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge. I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either. Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword.

The catechism keeps going after this to stress that this command goes beyond just “not murdering”. It’s about envy, vindictiveness, hatred, and anger. In light of this, Exodus 20:13 speaks to every single scenario in which you you encounter these sinful attitudes.

Again, this question may take time to answer. But be patient enough to seek an answer to it. It won’t explain everything. But it’s a great starting point when we feel like the Law is irrelevant to our lives today.


[1] ESV Study Bible

[2] This whole idea of getting to the heart of the Law explains a lot of Jesus’ interactions with the religious leaders of his day. These people knew the Law very well but had completely missed the point of it.

Two Verses that Will Change the Way You Read the Bible

I admit it: the title of this entry is unashamed click-bait, piquing your curiosity as to what fresh insight I have to bring to your spiritual life. There’s a lot of click-bait out there on the WWW whose headlines fail to deliver on their promise. And if you’re a Christian, you’re likely to feel a twinge of that disappointment over the verses I’ve chosen. Because rather than showing you two verses you’ve never seen before, or offering you a brilliant new take on an oldie-but-goodie, I’ve chosen a straight-forward reading of an extremely familiar text: 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

disappointed baby

Wah wah.

Admit it, you’re disappointed aren’t you?? You were expecting the next Prayer of Jabez.

Here’s the deal. Yes, this is a familiar text. Maybe you even have it memorized. But the danger is when we allow ourselves to become numb to what is so familiar. In this case, so many Christians know these verses and acknowledge that all Scripture is breathed out for God and is profitable. But when it comes to actual practice, many of translate that verse as “All New Testament Scriptures, Psalms and Proverbs, Genesis and Exodus (first-half only) is profitable.” Those are just what we tend to read most, which is why you can literally buy pocket-sized New Testaments with Psalms and Proverbs. (I’m still waiting on a pocket NT with Haggai and Numbers.)

Ask yourself: do I really believe what 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is saying? When you do, it’ll revolutionize the way you read the rest of the Bible. If you believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable, you will come to all parts of it with the assumption that God wants to use it to encourage you and make you holy. You’ll stop wondering if God is trying to tell you something through Obadiah and start asking what he’s trying to tell you through it.

No, not all sections of Scripture are easy to read. But diamonds aren’t always on the surface. Sometimes you have to dig for them. When you come to all of Scripture with the assumption that treasure is to be found there, it’ll give you patience, determination, and yeah, maybe even excitement when reading those books whose treasures aren’t totally obvious. 1 Chronicles 1-9 is as much the word of God as Romans. Galatians is as much the word of God as Nahum. And we deprive ourselves of so much when we neglect them.

In my own life, when I started to really believe 2 Timothy 3:16-17, it gave me fresh motivation to pursue the parts of Scripture that I was least familiar with. It’s been like finding treasure. It was under my nose the whole time, but I never put forth the effort to go get it. In January I started year 2 of my two-year Bible reading plan, and I’m just finishing up Lamentations. Meaning for 2014, my daily Bible reading didn’t even touch the New Testament. On top of that, I’ve also decided to spend an extended amount of time studying the most dreaded book of the Bible: Leviticus. Why am I doing this to myself, you ask? Because it’s neglected treasure, and I don’t want to miss out on what God wants to teach me through it.

So believe these two verses. Then get digging. Thanks for clicking on my click-bait. Stay tuned for my upcoming articles “22 Reformers Who Look Like Animals” and “25 Pastors That Cannot Even Handle It Right Now.”

A Conviction Which Asks Not For Reasons

A Conviction Which Asks Not For Reasons

It’s sometimes thought that you can’t appeal to the Bible to support the Bible’s claims- i.e., you can’t believe that the Bible is God’s Word simply because it says so. Something else has to validate that claim, otherwise you’re arguing in circles.

In another entry I wrote a while back, I addressed this question. My point there was essentially that ultimate authority is self-attesting. If an authority needs something outside of itself to authenticate it, then it’s not an ultimate authority. Which means that at the end of the day, a person can only come to believe that the Bible is God’s Word by reading it.

John Calvin once called this “a conviction which asks not for reasons.” In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, he argues this point over against the idea prevalent in his day that the Church has authority to declare what is Scripture and what is not. Rather, the Church can only acknowledge Scripture to be God’s Word and give “unhesitating assent” to it (1.6.2.)*.

In our own day, this same struggle exists in different forms. In many circles, people look to reason to give the Bible authority. Anytime some rejects the Bible because it doesn’t seem to align with human reason, they are saying that reason is a higher authority in their eyes than the Bible. Now let’s say you’re a Christian and you use reason to answer every one of that person’s objections to Christianity. Furthermore, in response to your reasonable explanations of the Bible’s credibility, they make a profession of faith. This is good, right?

Well, maybe not. If the basis of their faith is in reason, then reason is still their ultimate authority, not God’s Word, which would be fine except for the small problem that their faith will be extremely unstable. What happens to their faith when something in the Bible doesn’t match up with reason? Ultimately, faith based on anything other than God’s Word itself is going to be futile. Continuing, Calvin says:

If, then, we would consult most effectually for our consciences, and save them from being driven about in a whirl of uncertainty, from wavering, and even stumbling at the smallest obstacle, our conviction of the truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human conjectures, judgments, or reasons…” (1.7.4)

Calvin goes on to say that even if you were to adequately refute every one of a person’s objections to Christianity, you still wouldn’t be “implant[ing] the certainty which faith requires in their hearts.” This isn’t to say that apologetics (the defense of the faith) is useless, only that it has limits. You can’t argue someone into the Kingdom of God. If you win them with reason, their faith will be dependent on reason and falter when obedience to God doesn’t seem reasonable.

The “higher source than human conjectures, judgments, or reasons” that Calvin says our conviction must be based on is God himself, specifically God’s Spirit. A person becomes convinced that the Bible came from God in the same way that “we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, [and] sweet from bitter…” As we read Scripture, the Spirit convinces us that that God is its author, which in turn leads us to obey it in repenting of our sins and putting our faith in Jesus to save us. As many arguments as I could give for why the Bible is God’s Word, at the end of the day I just believe it is. It’s as natural to me as distinguishing between light and darkness.

…the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted. (1.7.4)

And a little further on,

Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. (1.7.5)

And at the risk of sounding uber-Reformed since I’ve already quoted Calvin a ton, I love what the Westminster Confession of Faith says on this: “…our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority [of Scripture], is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.” Scripture is its own evidence because the Spirit, who alone can cause us to believe it, works through Scripture itself.

Getting Practical

Alright let’s get real practical. What does all this mean? What Calvin and the Westminster divines are addressing is something that has huge implications for how we minister to other believers and how we witness to non-believers. As an example, I’ve heard more than a few preachers talk about how, when asked by a skeptic or a seeker what they should read in defense of Christianity, they recommend the Gospel of John.

If I’m really honest, there have been many times when that sounded like a wasted recommendation to me. Why recommend the Bible if they’re not even convinced that it’s the Word of God? Shouldn’t they read More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell first? Or The Reason for God by Tim Keller? Shouldn’t they at least warm up to the possibility of the Bible’s truthfulness before getting anything out of it?

Sure, that might be a good starting point. Books like these are great and helpful. But we have to realize their limits. They can’t do what only the Holy Spirit can, which is convict of sin and point to Jesus (see John 16:7-8). And the Spirit is most known to do this through the very words he inspired in the Bible. You’re more likely to win a convert to Christ by reading the Bible with them than by trying to convince them that the Bible is worth reading in the first place.

John’s Gospel doesn’t address things like the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. But it does present us with a Jesus who demands our submission and love. And only the Holy Spirit can make those demands beautiful in hearts that are disposed to reject them.

So trust the Bible to do more than you or any brilliant Bible scholar could ever hope to accomplish in the hearts of other people. The Spirit is continuing the work that Jesus began even to this day, and the Bible is his chief weapon.


* “1.6.2” = Book 1 (of 4 total), Chapter 6, Paragraph 2

Around the InterWeb (7/30/14)

Here are a couple of non historical Christian romance e-book deals:

Answering Alternatives to the Resurrection – “The possibility of an argument does not necessitate probability.” This is an excellent point that all Christians should remember when engaged in any kind of debate with skeptics.

Wax and Wane – Interesting article on the resurgence of vinyl records.

Who Invented the TULIP? – I literally just learned about Cleland McAfee a few weeks ago, so I thought this was fascinating. This is also a good reminder of the limits and weaknesses of the TULIP acronym in describing Calvinism.