All posts by Justin

Does What We Say Matter?

It is undeniable, no matter the popular sentiment, that our words mean something to those who hear them. The postmodern philosophy and worldview would have us believe words have no meaning, that it is up to the one reading/hearing them to determine the meaning for themselves. However, a day in the reality of the world teaches very quickly our words do have consequences, and they have meaning to those who hear them. Do our words matter? Does what we say on Facebook, Twitter, in an email, at work, in a moment of frustration, or in a difficult season reveal something about us? So much of the time, when it comes to our speech, we spend more time being concerned about the opinions of others, rather than being mindful of God. The root question in all this is not so much do our words matter, as it is how would God have me speak?

James 3:2-12For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.  (3)  If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.  (4)  Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  (5)  So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  (6)  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.  (7)  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,  (8)  but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  (9)  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  (10)  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.  (11)  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?  (12)  Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

In this passage, James moves from a description of dangers of our tongue in verses 2-8, to a rebuke in verses 9-12, pointing out the dichotomy of the way things are and the way they should be. Notice first, if anyone does not stumble in what he says he is a perfect man (verse 2). This verse illuminates for us that all men fall short in what they say. It sets up the rest of James‘ exhortation in that we see that no one can claim the tongue is not a problem they themselves also have. We see further that the tongue is a world of unrighteousness, setting on fire the entire course of life (verse 6), and no human being can tame the tongue (verse 8). The verses explain the danger in being flippant with our speech. James clearly affirms that the whole of our life can be affected and damaged by what we say. We need to look no further than the media today for examples of this. How many times have prominent figures within our culture had to regrettably apologize for a slip of the tongue that was caught unknowingly on a nearby microphone? These verses mean even more for the Christian who can destroy their witness of Christ without being diligent to control their speech.  We must continually weigh our words before we speak, less we be discredited in the advance of the Gospel. James ends the passage by pointing out the specific sin in speech he is referring too, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” Also, in verse 11, “Does spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” These verses bring into light the main point of the passage in that we should not be “two-faced” with our speech. There is no congruence between singing a praise song one minute and demeaning someone made in the image of God the next. This does not mean we never confront someone by calling them out of their error in a loving way or that we do not deal with wolves who have crept in to the body in a Biblical way. However, it does mean that malicious gossip has no place in the life of a believer. We are all saved by God setting his love and grace on us. We have no other boast. Think of it this way, with the same tool(our mouths) God brings the good news of the Gospel to sinners in need of repentance and faith, yet with the same mouth we also demean the very people God would have us extend the Gospel message to. In the words of James, “things ought not to be so.”

Speaking in a derisive way about unbelievers and/or fellow believers in Christ really shows a deep seated pride within us. We believe in some manner that we know the way things should be, and the way people should act. We forget that we were once slaves to sin (Romans 6:15-18), and God saving us was not through our effort but by His mercy(Ephesians 2:4-5). We have to take the time to see that constant complaining and grumbling only damages the testimony God would build in us(Philippians 2:14). If our brother or sister needs correction, we need to assure we are doing it in a way that encourages repentance rather than defensiveness, and face to face instead of behind their back. If we are talking about people who are not Christians, let us not surprised when their actions show that they are lost and extend love to them by sharing their need for repentance and belief in the gospel.

In conclusion it is obvious from the testimony of Scripture that God does care about what we say and there will be no distinguishing between the means: email, Facebook, a phone call, or a face to face discussion. We have to begin with acknowledging this is a problem. We must pursue holiness in speech with the same grace driven effort we seek to destroy other sin. We as Christians have to be mindful of this as we, through the blood of Jesus, strive to bring everything under submission to God, for he will judge every careless word and for them we will give an account(Matthew 12:33-37).

 

Stirring Our Affections for Evangelism

Stirring Affections for Evangelism

Encouraging Christians to share the gospel can be difficult. To be a person who has the mind to reach their coworkers, community, and family with the gospel of Jesus is what God calls each and every Christian to be ready to do. This does not mean that every person is called into vocational ministry but that every believer has been called into faith and by that has become a new creation and a minister of reconciliation. So how do we become ministers of reconciliation seeking to share with the lost? Even with an abundance of resources outlining the exhortations of the Bible commanding us to be ready to give a defense, and the numerous tracts which seek to simplify the gospel in order to share it concisely and quickly with someone you may know, we still struggle to regularly share our faith with others.

That brings us to a question, how do we as the beloved of God come to a place where sharing our faith becomes not so much a burden, but an outpouring from an overflowing heart? How to do we get to a place where we see unbelieving men and women around us who have sold themselves to every vice and sin, and weep with prayerful hearts for an opportunity to utter the greatest hope of the world which is Jesus Christ crucified for sinners? The answer I believe is much more simple than we think, yet much more profound than we as fallen men and women give it credit: seeing the glory of God through the cross of Jesus Christ, or in more direct terms- the Gospel. Lets take a look at a passage in the OT which is widely preached on but has great implications for what we are talking about:

(Isaiah 6:1-8 ESV) [6:1] In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. [2] Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. [3] And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

[4] And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. [5] And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” [6] Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. [7] And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” [8] And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

The first thing to notice in this passage is that Isaiah “saw the the Lord.” We see the vision taken further by what Isaiah saw, the seraphim flying around God were calling one to another, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Seeing God in his holiness and majesty, as the creator of the universe, as the sovereign and loving God he is, is the first step toward growing a heart for the lost. We must begin here for it brings us to place that Isaiah comes to in verse 4 and 5. Our response as believers in Christ, when we come into the presence of God, is always brokenness in the admittance of our inability to stand in the presence of God due to our sin. In verses 6 and 7 we have a shadow of what God accomplished on the cross of Jesus. Isaiah is made clean through the forgiveness and forbearance of God in Christ. Following this, we see that the response of us as believers when we come into God’s presence, and are broken in our sin, and forgiven- we are obedient to God’s call, “Here am I! Send me.” Again, God does not expect all people to be full-time vocational missionaries, but he does expect us all, as believers in Christ, to be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in us(1 Peter 3:15), being lights and salt in the world(Matthew 5:13-16).

If we are to have a true heart for others that comes from humility, we must remember we are forgiven much and loved by a gracious Father who owed us nothing. Paul’s life illustrates this perfectly for us. As someone who saw himself as the chief of sinners, who put to death the people of God, he was struck that God’s love should be showered on him. He knew the love of God in forgiveness and was humbled by it. We know him as being used by the Spirit to produce the majority of books we have in the New Testament, and as an amazing missionary, yet according to Paul even though he had worked harder than anyone it was not him but grace through him(1 Corinthians 15:10). I hope that we can continue to learn not only justification reconciling us to God is come by through the gospel, but the gospel is also the driving force of our sanctification. If we are day by day reminded of the depth of the love of God in Christ Jesus to know it and savor it, then we can not help but share it with others. There could be no greater motivation.

(Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV) [14] For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, [15] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, [16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. [20] Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, [21] to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.



Trials, Discipline and the Love of God

Guest post by Justin Lyttle.

Philippians 4:10-13 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

While Philippians 4:13 is a coffee mug verse in this culture, I wonder how often we consider the context? Paul’s exhortation in these verses centers not so much around contentment with accomplishment, as many people would apply this verse, but with contentment in circumstances. This is a biblical psychology which states that Jesus, not my circumstances, dictates my contentment. This follows the context of the previous chapter of Philippians as Paul describes all things as rubbish compared with knowing Christ and pursuing him. When considered in this context, these words are countercultural and counterintuitive to our experience and feelings. Many times our circumstances become a point of contention for us moving forward in obedience to the Lord. Think of the last time a difficult circumstance entered your life. How did you handle it? Did you run to and lean into the Lord first, rejoicing that he was using it to make you more like Jesus? It would seem that stressful or difficult circumstances may reveal to a deeper extent how much we trust God.

Learning joy in suffering is not something that comes naturally to us as fallen men and women, even though we are commanded to do so (James 1:2-4). Rather than learning contentment through trust in God, we would have our pain and difficulty numbed so as not to feel anything at all. We would consider any assault on our sense of comfort as something unfair to be put aside immediately. However, God’s word would speak of trials and discipline as an act of love by our Father. Although God created us to bare his image, it has been marred by disobedience. God uses the difficulties we encounter to make us more like Christ, because he ultimately desires our holiness more than he does our comfort. In truth, the fact that God has chosen to make us more like Jesus rather than leave us in the sin we currently live in should be more comforting than how we feel in situations. God’s sovereign rule over our circumstances, us knowing without any doubt that he is in control of everything, and that he has our holiness in mind should trump any feelings of comfort derived by our circumstances. Circumstancial comfort will always be fleeting due to the ambiguity that life brings on a daily basis, but seeing God’s sovereign refining love as the purpose in trials is the greater comfort and hope to all who believe.

This idea fails to be understood by Christians because we associate discipline with punishment. Instead of focusing on the unpleasantness of a circumstance, it would be more biblical as a child of God to see discipline as an act of love by our Creator, who is restoring us into right relation with him. This is what the writer of Hebrews was trying to convey when he wrote these words:

Hebrews 12:3-11 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?      

            “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

                    nor be weary when reproved by him.

            6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

                    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

            7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

How great is God’s love that he wants to redeem every portion of our lives into obedience to him. We as humans could be no more fulfilled, no more at peace, have no more joy than experiencing Christ more deeply each day. The Scriptures tells us specifically that no discipline from the Lord seems pleasant at the time it is happening, but it yeilds righteousness to those who are trained by it. This is ultimately why Paul can say “I can do all things through Christ.” It is not because all circumstances are easy or painless, but that they all have a purpose to teach continual reliance on God through humility. It is not in our power to control every circumstance, but it is in our power to fall down and worship in obedience through the grace of God, knowing that he is merciful and loving in that he works all things for our good to make us more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-30). This truth does not mean that our pain is not real and difficult to bear, more than that it is through these times that our God refines us as his children, loving us through the hurt to a more holy life. May we all learn this truth in a deeper way at every opportunity we are blessed with.