The Politics of Life and Death

Nietzsche said God is dead, but notice how quickly that has become “death is god.”

The legislation and ethos of our day are nothing short of a death cult. We are obsessed with the politics of fruitlessness. In the wake of Neitzsche, we have seen the acceptance of no-fault divorce; the proliferation of any and all forms of birth control and a declining birth rate; the acceptance and celebration of so-called same-sex marriage (which is, by definition, a fruitless union); the acceptance and romanticization of assisted suicide; and now we distribute abortion around the globe as the glad tidings of the false gospel around which we worship.

But the gospel of Jesus is that he has overcome the grave. Jesus beat death. In his death, death has died. The more this truth is worked out in our lives, marriages, homes, and legal systems, the more we will know the joy of worshipping the God who is alive, the God who grants birth and new, spiritual birth; and then we will ultimately taste eternal life in him whose presence is the path of life…fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:11).

God’s Story and Your Story

The world God made is one that has a plot line.  That is to say, all history is going somewhere. We live within that great story – we are characters in God’s narrative.

When we turn to God’s Word we get a glimpse into just how incredible the story is. It starts with Creation, with God standing over and against all that he has made, and yet relating to it intimately, particularly in his relationship with people made in his image. Mankind was to be a co-ruler with God – spreading his presence and glory to the ends of the earth. But man fell from God in Adam’s sins and rebellion, which was our sin and rebellion. In time though, God would slowly put his grace to work and overcome all the rebellion of man with its cursed consequences, like a patient farmer tilling the soil, planting a crop, and tirelessly pruning and weeding the ground before a great harvest. The climax of the plot is the death and resurrection of Jesus, the God-man, who stepped in where we failed, and as the second Adam, became the new representative and leader for the new humanity. The great narrative concludes at a wedding feast in a new paradise on a new earth, where every song, every taste, and every face is a witness to the glorious consummation of God’s earlier promise: “they will be my people, and I will be their God.”

God’s story then is creation-fall-redemption-restoration. It is the story of all stories.

The tragedy for those who reject God, however, is that they need to substitute their own great story. In very generalized terms they might go something like this:

  • For the atheist, the story is something like nothingness-angst-hedonism-nothingness.
  • For the Marxist, the story is resources-inequality-fairness-peace.
  • For the Muslim, the story is power-rebellion-submission-glory.
  • For the environmentalist, the story is matter-pollution-stewardship-harmony.
  • For the Eastern religious thinker, the story is oneness-disintegration-actualization-integration.

Everybody is living out their days along some plotline, some narrative that speaks of some form of salvation from some ultimate crisis or evil.

When we come to terms with this, we have discovered a powerful insight into the human condition. We are all in some story; we are all trying to find deliverance from some original sin; we are all motivated by some form of ultimate hope. Take it a step further: we are all worshipping some deity – some Great Deliverer.

When sharing our faith in Jesus, one of the things we need to try to do then is to graciously but sternly confront the false narratives we find that others hold to. That is because the resurrection of Jesus is ultimate reality and the ultimate climax of history.

In other words, “Our God is alive – and yours is dead.”

But then we need to confront the false salvation narrative at the personal level.

We may have a certain philosophical narrative we are holding to, but it may or may not be what we are personally and experientially holding to. For example, many Christians believe in the resurrection but think that the real deliverer from trouble is money. Likewise, many atheists believe that there is no ultimate saviour, but their functional deliverer is a romantic relationship.

If you are a Christian, God’s grace has gone to work in your life in a different way than it has gone to work in mine. Of course, we all share a common salvation for God has saved us by faith (and is saving us) and has given us the same Spirit and the same baptism. Yet the particular sin and struggle that Jesus is overcoming in your life is different than the particular sin he is overcoming in mine. For this reason, we need to consider our “testimony” at a deeper level. What is God saving you from right now, present tense? Maybe you were a poser now finding your true identity and confidence in Jesus. Maybe you were a womanizer now finding true and lasting beauty and pleasure in Christ. Maybe you were an addict now finding true freedom in Jesus.

Maybe like me, you suffered from a success-motivated, status-driven perfectionism that God is changing into deep joy and contentment in any circumstance.

Consider God’s grand story.

Consider how God’s story is working out in your story.

Consider how that intersects with the stories of others.

That’s the first place to start.

“Win the man, not the argument”

1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (ESV):

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

In this passage, the Apostle Paul reminds us of the absolute importance of having love as your driving motivator in ministry. The same is true, especially, when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus’ victory over sin and death and hell with people in your life. That good news of Jesus’ accomplishment is what makes guilty sinners like us righteous before the Holy God and Creator of the universe. It overcomes our greatest need, which is to be saved from death, and it fulfills our greatest desire, which is to be truly known and fully loved by God. 

This will be the second post, of four, on sharing faith. The big idea in this one is that all our proclamation, argumentation, and conversation needs to be coloured by the love of Jesus.

I heard an old line that originates I believe from Jim Wilson, who said when declaring the gospel the goal is to win the man and not the argument.

Of course, the point is not to downplay the importance of the argument. God’s word indeed tells us to be ready to give a defense for the faith in 1 Peter 3:15: “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (ESV). The word there for “defense” is apolagia – it is the word that we get “apologetics” from. We need to do apologetics. We need to use arguments and we need to seek to persuade. Truth matters.

However, we must remember that the goal is not to win the argument – the goal is to win the man (or the woman). We have already won the argument. The resurrection of Jesus is an event in history – the Christian worldview makes sense rationally and logically but fundamentally we are asserting a historical reality of a God who died and was raised. It’s not primarily a philosophical argument as much as it is a statement of fact that demands a response. Christ is presently reigning at the Father’s right hand whether you agree or disagree, believe or disbelieve. For this reason, even when people reject our arguments, there is no reason to get hot under the collar. You don’t need to try to be right. You already are right. The resurrection has already proven you right – so let God confirm the soundness of your words in the quiet whisper of their heart. Or let him harden them through their continued rejection of the good news.

Genuine love, that is confident and bold, must drive our engagement with people. This means letting  go of a debating spirit; letting go of cheap shots or snide remarks; and, for example, refraining from using words like “pagan” or a “heathen.” Yes – non-Christians are the sons of disobedience and the children of wrath, but how helpful is it to call them pagans? I’ve seen this language a fair bit lately. Sadly, some evangelists so deeply demonize the unbelieving man that even if their arguments are won, the man hasn’t been – he now wants nothing to do with you and even if he comes to saving faith in Jesus, he certainly won’t be coming to your church or home group.

Speak in love, show genuine respect and acknowledge any good or true points they make in the discussion, and then unpack the gracious confrontation of the gospel – there is a way of confronting people with the truth of gospel without being “confrontational.” That is what it means to win the man. We need to remember then that we are ambassadors of Christ and his love and grace (2 Cor 5:20). That doesn’t mean that we won’t deliver hard words, stern rebukes, or bold warnings, but fundamentally we need to get to the point where, in love, we truly want to accept and welcome this unbelieving man into the kingdom.

So win the man, not the argument.

Be Yourself // Forget Yourself

“For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7 NET)

A few years ago I was at a conference by Alistair Begg and he discussed a few of the steps he takes in preparing to deliver a sermon. The final step is simple, and it is something I have to remind myself of often: be yourself and forget yourself. I am not writing about sermon prep, however – I want to share how important this is for sharing Christ in your everyday relationships.

Step 1: Be Yourself

The first thing you notice more broadly in this section of Scripture is that Paul is talking about himself a lot! He is explaining his ministry. He is given a very straightforward defense of who he is as God’s servant. But part of this is that he is very aware of his own weakness and insufficiency for the ministry he is called to. That is because, at a very fundamental level, Paul recognizes that God is the fundamental mover behind the gospel – persuasive and powerful people are unable to achieve any lasting spiritual results in the lives of others. God is the one who must create light out of darkness – just like he did in the beginning.

The wonderful thing in all of this is that Paul can then refer to himself as a jar of clay. He accepts his limitations and weaknesses. He accepts himself.

For anyone interested in sharing their faith, the first step is to be yourself. You are not Billy Graham. You are not Corrie Ten Boom. You are not Paul. But God made you, you. He placed you in this city. He placed you in your family and gave you a personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and a whole set of experiences to shape you to be his servant, and also his son or daughter.

So be yourself. 

God has ordained his strength to work through your weakness and through your personality quirks. That means that effective ministry involves accepting who you are. There is a classic definition of preaching, I think from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who said that preaching is “truth through personality.” God has chosen to use you and your weird personality.

I am a middle child. I am a little goofy at times. I am often insecure about a great number of things. Yet God has made me who I am. When you are you – God’s glory and beauty shine through you. Don’t try to be someone else.

 

Step 2: Forget Yourself

The next thing is so important too. We also need to forget ourselves. It’s not about you. Be you – and now that you are you – stop being so concerned all the time with you!

We need to accept how God has made us. We need to revel in the fact that we are his sons and servants, his daughters and servants. Reveling in this wonderful truth; however, should lead to God-focused humility and not self-focused pride. We need to learn to forget ourselves by increasingly, dumping our pride and self-centeredness when we see it cropping up. And it always crops up.

It comes out in our deep fear of rejection from someone who has already rejected Jesus. It comes up when we are uncomfortable. We will encounter tense moments and opposition and risky situations. We need to expect that. One of the hardest things for me is just finding the energy to push through a tedious task or chore. But in that too we need to cultivate humility – and forget ourselves

To share our faith we need to be ourselves and forget ourselves. We need to accept ourselves, as God accepts us in Christ but also cultivate the humility that it’s not all about us.

Bright and Radiant People; and a Marraige made in Heaven

1.0 –  The Bright and Radiant People of God

Question: How come the good guys always win in movies like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

Ephesians 5:7-21: Therefore do not become partners with them [the sons of disobedience]; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

There is a word you hear every so often and it is the word “antithesis.” An antithesis is when you have two things in direct opposition to each other. Hot is the antithesis of cold. Good is the antithesis of evil. Darth Sidious is the antithesis of Yoda. (As in this Star Wars Clip.)

In this section of his letter, Paul sets up an antithesis between the two ways people live. On one hand there are people in darkness, and then as you read on you see what these people are like: their deeds are unfruitful (v.11); their deeds are shameful (v.12); and their deeds are done in secret (v.12). They are unwise, foolish, and drunk (v.15-18).

Then the antithesis of these people are those who walk in light: their deeds are good and right and true (v.9); they seek to figure out what is pleasing to God in any given situation they might be in (v.10); they bring truth and goodness to bear on dark and evil situations hidden below the surface (v.11); they are wise in their lifestyle and choices (v.15); they are smart and efficient, trying to use their time best for God’s purposes (v.16); instead of being filled with substances they are filled with God’s Holy Spirit (v.19); and the natural outflow of the Spirit is music – they have melodic spirituality (v.19); they are thankful people who, rather than finding something to complain about, find something instead to praise God for in any given situation (v.19); and finally they are people who, for the sake of Jesus, are willing to submit to one another – they defer to the authorities in their lives, and, to use, a modern-day term, they are people with a team-spirit – they know how to co-operate and compromise (v.21).

My younger brother was in the coast guard for a year or two and at one point he and some of his co-workers took a massive ship up to some of the Northern parts of Canada. There are certain areas up in the Arctic where the sun never rises for six months of the year. They have permanent darkness. Can you imagine a life like that? I think I would go crazy.

Many people live a completely dark life. When it comes to joy in Jesus and peace and a close walk with God there is just nothing going on. The lights are off.

We need to wake up to the bright face of Jesus, shining into our hearts in his word. For one day, the sun will totally rise and every dark deed will be exposed. So prepare for that day.


2.0 – A Marriage Made in Heaven

This little piece of scripture ended with the summons to submit to one another. All Christians are to be in submission. Submission to the authorities that God has placed in our lives. Teachers. Police officers. Government. Bosses. Pastors and church leaders. Parents.

But now God’s word is going to show us particularly what this looks like in a marriage. And even though you guys aren’t married, the reality is that most people do get married – and most everybody knows someone who is married! So let’s look at what this says for your future marriages…

Question: When you consider the marriages of other people, do they seem healthy or struggling, or some mix of both? What do you think makes for a good marriage?

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

We are in a new section of the letter and Paul is going to lay out what Christian obedience looks like for different types of people – husbands, children, masters, wives, parents, etc.

So first – the wives:

The charge to the wives is that they need to be subject to their husbands – they need to submit to their husbands. Notice that it says to their “own” husbands – the Bible nowhere teaches that all women are supposed to be subject to all men. But in the home, and the church, and to a certain degree in the rest of society, our differences as men and women get built on for the sake of human flourishing.

Let’s talk about what submission is not.

Submitting to a husband is not blindly following without thought. A good wife is smart and thoughtful and provides insight in the marriage – Paul is talking about an intelligent submission. Nor does submission mean being, in modern terms, a “push-over” or a “doormat” – nobody is helped by weak women – marriages need strong women with strong convictions. But the central idea here is that the actions of the wife need to encourage the husband to take responsibility – and to be the man God wants him to be. She needs to fuel his leadership instead of resisting his leadership. And that happens by showing respect to him and co-operating with his leadership. Not only is that in the interest of the husband, but it is also in the best interest of the wife, the children, and in fact the rest of the community.

The analogy is that the wife submits to her husband in the same way the entire church submits to God. That is a very important point. We are all to submit to God. We are all in submission to an ultimate authority. One of the reasons people don’t like what God has to say here to wives is because people naturally just don’t like to submit to anyone. Bosses. Police. Teachers. And certainly, not to God. But the reality we see here is that all authority is derived from God. If God told you, in the Bible, to live in a tree-house for a year when you turn 16, you would have to do it because God said so. And here we have the same thing – wives are told to submit to their husbands because God says so.

Now if that sounds hard (and it is) – notice what God calls the husbands to do!

God commands the husband to love his wife as Christ loves the church. Let me ask you a question: how did Jesus love the church? He died for her. He had nails pierced through his hands for her. He drank the full fury of the wrath of God as he died naked and bloodied on a cross – for her. That is the kind of love that God, in all his authority, demands that the husbands demonstrate – it’s the authority of the cross. It’s authority that bleeds. Husbands are to model the same love of Jesus – and that is also a love that speaks the word of God – husbands need to guard and guide the marriage in the grace and the truth of the gospel.

When husbands assume this sort of sacrificial responsibility, as the driver in their leadership, that is the sort of thing that nearly every wife finds easier to submit to. You all know this – if you are under the authority of a boss or a parent who you know, deep down, has your best interest in mind – even if you might disagree with some of their decisions – that is a wonderful place to be. That dynamic is what you see in a healthy marriage. Men sacrifice as they govern – yes govern. And women fuel the sacrifice and love from their husbands by their respect and submission. The result is that both are blessed – the blessing of both is multiplied by the investment in one another.

That is where the fundamental point comes out in verse 28 – a man who loves his wife loves himself. He is to love his wife in the same way he cares for his own body. If you are committed to this sort of sacrificial leadership, you can never lose.

In Lord of the Rings, the hobbits follow the leader – Aragorn. He is the kingly, manly, figure in the story because he is the one who takes on, willingly, the plight of the hobbits. He has a role in protecting them and leading them. Now in the part of the story where Aragorn is protecting the hobbits from the Nazgul, he has to sacrifice in order to protect them. It would be completely foolish for the hobbits to get in the way of that leadership – and notice how they act foolishly by lighting a fire.

Yet at another level, Aragorn needs these hobbits. They are the ones who destroy the ring – the line of men fell and Aragorn himself knows that the does not have it in himself to throw the ring into the lava of Mount Doom. The Hobbits are the only ones who can do this.

This is the point for a healthy marriage – men and women are different. They have different abilities and they have different responsibilities given by God. We need to realize that God is the one who has given this charge and He is the one who will hold them accountable, regardless of what our culture teaches on these matters. My prayer is that the voice of God on these issues will drown out the competing voices from our culture that would flatten any difference between men and women under God. On judgment day God isn’t going to ask me if I followed the ever-shifting values of a feminist society – he is going to hold me to account based on his word.

We need each other. And we need to benefit from each other’s differences. And in the loving unity of marriage that emerges when men lay down their lives and women respond joyfully, we see a faint picture of what Jesus did for you on the cross. So follow him.

Old Testament Shape Revisited

A day off, chillin’ contentedly in a clothing store as my wife tries on some clothes, with One Direction “Drag me Down” on the radio (great song) and my mind turns to the Old Testament…like it does so often these days…

One of my particular interests is to consider the original arrangement of the Old Testament and tease out any implications of that arrangement when it comes to “putting your Bible together” as they say. The standard order of books in basically every Christian Bible starts with the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and then moves into the Histories from Joshua to Esther with books like Ruth and Chronicles spliced in chronologically.

However, there is really good evidence, actually overwhelming evidence, that the Old Testament the early church inherited was arranged like this:

  1. Pentateuch
  2. (Former Prophets) Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings and then (Latter Peophets) Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve minor prophets.
  3. Then the collection finished with the Writings, which was something of a catch-all: Psalms, Proverbs, Ruth, Somg of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Job, Daniel, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, and 1-2 Chronicles.

The Hebrew collection (also called the Tanakh) was threefold – Law, Prophets, and Writings – and it was arranged with less of a strict chronology compared to our English order, which follows an order found in Septuagintal codices (compilations of Greek manuscripts). For example, in the Hebrew Bible, Ruth was lumped in with Psalms and Proverbs likely due to its connection to David (Boaz was David’s great grandpa) rather than after the Judges, even though it recounts events in the time period of the Judges. 

The books that made up the Writings probably were written on individual scrolls housed in a chest and so it’s best not to make too much of their specific arrangement within the third section. That said, these books do seem, by and large, to be organized thematically around King David and his son Solomon.

So what?

The first thing to say is that the books themselves are inspired, not their order in the collection. So any considerations of order and arrangement are questions of secondary importance. These matters have some consequence for how we put our Bibles together and how we do biblical theology, but they do not affect significant doctrines of the faith.

With that caveat, the significance of the threefold structure of the collection is that the Pentateuch is the primary foundation of the entire Bible – it is God’s foundational disclosure of himself and his will; the Prophets are an extended commentary on the Law, meant to drive home the implications of that Law in the society and the governance of the nation; finally, the third section – the Writings aka “Hagiographa” – are all an extended meditation about the Messiah and “the good life” – the life of wisdom lived under the Law. This third collection is meant to show us what it means to have a heart that is governed by the good and gracious rule of God.

That is why this arrangement is such a beautiful thing. Sometimes a chronological preoccupation can obscure a rich thematic arrangement. The Law is primary and then it gets driven into politics and then driven into the heart.

Your thoughts? Comment below.

“Nobody nobody – with your love nobody’s gonna drag me down.”

The New Life: Tongue, Hands, and Heart

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Ephesians 4:25-32 (ESV):

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

We have been working through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and today we arrive at end of chapter four. In this section we learn more about what it means to live a Christian lifestyle. Christians are people who live truly alternative lifestyles. We are the ones, today, who are truly counter-cultural. In a day where everyone is embracing the unrestricted expression of self-rule, we are the ones who want to follow God’s rule for the good of others. So we are the new rebels.

The driving principle in the latter part of Ephesians chapter four is to be done with the old way of life and to press on in the new way of life – put off the old, and put on the new.

This principle applies first to your identity as a person – you are no longer outside the people of God and walking in the darkness of the Gentiles, but now you are part of God’s people – the people he loves and has chosen to reconcile to himself.

Our new identity then leads to our new lifestyle – our identity in Jesus now shapes our actions.  Now we have a new way of life, and that way of life is the natural outworking of who we have now become. 

Yet for all of us the pull back towards the old way is so strong.

So the Apostle Paul takes a couple key areas and tells us how we put off the old way and put on the new way. The whole ideas is that of substitution. You know, at McDonald’s you can say – instead of fries I’d like to substitute a garden salad – not that any of us do that – but the idea is you take out one thing and put something else in it’s place.

And that right there – taking of evil habits and substituting them for holy habits – is the key to growing as a follower of Jesus.

There are three key areas of Christian maturity that the Scriptures address here: destructive speech, theft, and anger. Or I suppose you could say, the tongue, the hands, and the heart.

The Tongue

“…having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (25) And, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (29).

These are very important things to consider. Rather than speaking deceptively – and those are words that will always lead to problems, division, and friction between people – we are to speak truth – and the truth is what builds people up. If we are people who constantly lie then we are essentially hiding who we are from people – we never get to relate to each other as we really are.

Notice here that healthy speech is speech that fits the occasion. We are to speak truth – but not every truth needs to be spoken all the time – there is a time for everything and learning wisdom means knowing when to bite your tongue and when to unleash it.

Notice also that good words are words that give grace – what does that mean? It is like I was saying two weeks ago – we need to encourage one another with the grace that is in Jesus. Reassure one another of the goodness of God and his work in our lives. Remind one another of who we are as sons and daughters of God. Essentially, we need to speak the gospel to one another.

A months ago my wife did this. I was feeling so down with sin – my sins – the sins of others – and she spoke to me the most encouraging and gracious words. She reminded me of who I was as a Christian and a man of God. This very thing, I am tempted to say, is the reason the church exists – we need other Christians to speak God’s life-giving truth to us. And we need to do it in return.

Does your speech lead to the benefit of others? Does it make them feel encouraged, blessed, strengthened? Or does your speech lead to corruption – does it create rot and stench like a decaying fish?

The Hands

“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”(28)

Now here is a good verse for young people. When I was a young kid I was a thief. I stole things – little things like candy and coins. But I was a thief and there is no denying that. One of the ways God grabbed a hold of me was to show me that I needed to repent of stealing.

So, following the same principle of taking off the old and putting on the new, then what do you do? Use your hands to work for the good of others. I want you to see that the Bible is a very hands-on book. There is a lot to think about in this book, but ultimately the Christian life comes down to your hands. Use your hands to serve people – like many of you did in the kitchen this past Sunday. Use you hands to work for the common good. And then when you acquire wealth – and generally-speaking everyone who learns the importance of working with their hands will acquire wealth – then you can share that with others and you can give sacrificially to important things, like the ministry of the church for instance.

One of the best things that ever happened to me when I was a teenager is an older lady in the church hired my brother and I on Saturdays to do yard work for her. We did TONS of different things for her. We chopped firewood. We stacked firewood. We weeded. We mowed the lawn over and over and over. We tilled soil. We mulched. We pruned trees. We landscaped and edged her lawn. We turned the compost over in her composting system.

And the thing we did most of all was killed Hogweed.

Her property was on a small river and the river carried this weed that grew fast and spread through the lower, moist ground by the water’s edge. And Hogweed was nasty. It grew up into a big stalk and if you touched it, it would burn your skin. The poison it left on your skin was activated by sunlight and so then it would blister up every time the sun touched it. So we had to wear big coveralls and then go out and chop this stuff down and kill it right at the root. We did this for days and days and days.

The point of me telling you all this is that I hated a lot of this work at the time. But I have come to look back on it with a real thankfulness. It is exactly what I needed. Good, honest work with my hands. I  want to encourage all of you to find some honest work with your hands to do in the summer and in the years ahead. Even people planning to go into acting, or teaching, or writing, need to find some work to do with their hands. Construction, landscaping, tree-care, washing dishes, installing drywall. Whatever. The point is to be able to give to those in need – in both the work itself and in the profits from the work. And also you can save for your future education or training so you can use that training to contribute to others in an even greater way.

What skills might you learn this spring and summer? What will you do with your hands to contribute for the good of others?

Anger

Now look at what the Scripture says about your heart – anger.

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.” (26)

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (31)

What do you think the Bible means here when it tells us to be angry?

Did Jesus ever get angry?

Why did he get angry?

When Jesus was angry in the temple he was angry about what God was angry about – injustice. Jesus was angry along with God. This is what the Bible means here. We are to get angry, not when someone personally offends us, but when we witness things that personally offend God.

Some of you maybe remember last year I told you of a time I got really, really angry. I saw one man punch another man and left him unconscious and bleeding on the side of the road. I was so mad at that guy. I went on a vigilante rampage. My wife and I helped the guy who was injured and then left him with some other people as the ambulance came. Then I followed him in my car, while talking on the phone with the police, for like four blocks until I lost him.

That is an example of godly anger. And many of you probably have righteous anger over things that you see in the world. You are angry about poverty. Or social greed. Or issues around the world here women are taken advantage of. Be angry, the Bible says – but don’t fall asleep dwelling on all of it. Let it go when you go to bed. Don’t let anger continually fester indefinitely because the devil can use that against you and against others.

Anger is like fire – it’s easy to light but very hard to put out. And it does great damage.

But if I am honest – and if you are honest – we are often too quick to get angry about things that personally upset us. So the Bible says get rid of bitterness and slander and malice. Bitterness is when we just get so deeply jaded towards people because they have hurt us – and then eventually we lash out against them in return. Let that go. Be done with that. Slander is when we try to destroy another person’s reputation behind their back because we are so mad at them. Don’t do that – let God take care of people who wrong you and don’t try to beat down their reputation. Malice – malice is when you deliberately and intentionally hurt someone. You make a choice to make them hurt. Be done with that.

Then the general command is given not to grieve the Holy Spirit – and also to be kind, tenderhearted towards one another and forgiving, just as God forgave. That is how this passage ends.

That is the new life – it involves your tongue, your hands, and your heart. And it is the life of joy. It’s not always easy, but it is the good life and it’s the life that Jesus invites us into as we learn to follow him.