I want to introduce to you a series of posts that will focus on stories of people of faith. You will be familiar with some of the names, like Noah and Abel and Enoch, while other biblical characters will be less renowned, like the Widow of Zarephath, who still have important stories to tell.
But before we begin, I need to remind you of something important: the purpose of their stories is not to give you heroes to emulate, but rather to point you to a Person in whom your faith should reside.
You see, these men and women aren’t memorable because they had faith; there’s nothing special about the EXISTENCE of their faith. Rather, these individuals are memorable because they found an immoveable and eternal LOCATION for their faith – the God of the universe.
As I’ve written many times before, it’s impossible to exist as a human being and not have faith. Every man, woman and child is born a philosopher and a theologian, organizing their life by a faith-based worldview that determines their thoughts, desires, words and actions. Even if their theology boldly declares, “There is no God!” and their lifestyle is defined by carefree autonomy, they still exist by faith – a belief that there is no God and no eternal consequence for their behavior.
You may have heard me say this before, but it’s worth repeating again: I’m deeply persuaded that many Christians, myself included, have a big gap in the middle of our gospel theology.
Let me break it down and then apply it in a fresh way:
I think we have a strong understanding of the theology of gospel past – meaning, we trust deeply in the historical sacrifice of Jesus which paid the penalty for our sins.
I also think that we have a strong understanding of the theology of gospel future – meaning, we trust eagerly in the eternal promise of heaven that’s coming.
But there’s something missing in the middle. We either don’t understand, or fail to embrace, the theology of the “now-ism” of the gospel. In other words, we don’t take full advantage of all the benefits of the work of Christ today.
In this post, I want to briefly outline 7 gospel promises that are offered to us right here, right now. It’s my hope that you would save this link or print off the post and come back to these promises regularly!
1. The Gospel Promises Forgiveness Today
Even though we believe in the sacrifice of Jesus, we don’t fully embrace his forgiveness today. Many of us carry around our sins in a metaphorical backpack of regret, bruising our spiritual shoulders and breaking the back of our faith.
Two Very Different Approaches to Sin
Since sin is deeper than bad behavior, trying to do better isn’t a solution. Only grace that changes the heart can rescue us.
There is a difference between a person in whom disappointment leads to self-reformation and someone in whom grief leads to heartfelt confession. I think that we often confuse the two.
The first person believes in personal strength and the possibility of self-rescue, while the second has given up on his own righteousness and cries out for the help of another. One gets up in the morning and tells himself that he’ll do better today, but the other starts the day with a plea for grace. One targets a change in behavior, and the other confesses to a wandering heart. One assesses that he has the power for personal change, while the other knows that he needs to be given strength for the battle. One has to hold on to the possibility of personal reformation, but the other has abandoned that hope and therefore runs to God for help.
Self-reliant personal reformation and the penance that follows is the polar opposite of heartfelt confession with the repentance that follows. People who acknowledge that what they’ve done is wrong and then immediately lay out plans to do better unwittingly deny what the gospel of Jesus Christ says about them, how real change takes place, and where help can be found.
Our Children’s Deepest Need
There is so much help in Psalm 51 for understanding the deepest need of your children that I think you could write a whole parenting book from it alone. The implications of what David confesses and cries out for set a whole new agenda for what God has called us to in the lives of our children. As I explore the implications of this psalm for understanding the task of parenting, I want you to notice the focus of David’s confession. He doesn’t say, “I messed up and I’m sorry.” Far from it. David is deeply aware that he has more than a behavior problem. When you read Psalm 51, you are hit with the fact that embedded in David’s confession of specific and concrete sins is a cry for God’s help with an even deeper moral drama. Let me draw six agenda-setting observations from this psalm for your work as a parent.
1. Your Children Need to See Their Sin, So They’ll Cry Out for God’s Mercy
Psalm 51 begins with a cry every human being should make, but sadly billions don’t. You only make this cry when you have come to the point where you acknowledge that the greatest danger in your life lives inside you not outside you, and because of that you are a person in desperate need of God’s help and the helpers he has placed in your life. There is no more important function for a parent than this: to lovingly and patiently bring our children to the point where they too cry out for God’s mercy. Crying out for God’s mercy happens only when you have acknowledged the sin that is inside you from which you are not able to free yourself. Children who begin to humbly and willingly acknowledge their sin not only run to God for his help, but they quit resisting the help, guidance, correction, and instruction of their parents too. How sad would it be if you successfully managed and controlled the behavior of your son or daughter, but they left your home never acknowledging the sin in their hearts and their desperate need for God’s mercy?
For the past two decades, I have grown increasingly uncomfortable. I have grown uncomfortable as I’ve listened to people tell me how they’ve used my book on parenting, Age of Opportunity, or my brother Tedd’s book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart. Something was missing in the way these parents were interpreting and applying the strategies detailed in the pages of our books.
It took me a while to figure out what was off. Then it hit me: the missing piece was the gospel. This sounds obvious, almost cliché, but the significance of remembering or neglecting the gospel in parenting is greater than we often realize.
The Biblical Picture of Parenting
Whenever I travel to speak, I always have someone come up to me afterward asking for an effective strategy for this, a guaranteed formula for that, or a proven approach to some other struggle. I try to impart helpful guidance in the moments we have together, but what they (and I) really need is a big-picture, gospel worldview that can explain, guide, and motivate all the things that God is calling them to do.
Nothing More Important
Nothing is more important in your life than being one of God’s tools to form a human soul.
You’re haunted by regret. You don’t want to be, but you are; not about anything big, but about all those little moments of failure. You remember the little promises you made that you got too busy to keep. The moments when you yelled when you should have been listening. You remember how hard it was to have children and be fair and how often you failed. You remember falling asleep at recitals and hope they never knew. You remember making ridiculous threats and hope they don’t remember as well as you do. You remember that time you stopped the van, made them all get out, and told them that you wouldn’t let them back in until they could get along with one another. You remember that it was easier to announce the law than to give grace. You’d like to be free of regret, but you’re not.
What is everything I just described about? What unifies all these parental scenarios? They are all about a calling—one of the most significant callings that could ever be laid in the lap of a human being. If you would stop and think about its full ramifications, it would make you run away unless it had already made you too weak in the knees. In a way it’s insane for anyone to actually think that they could take this on. You’d have to be delusional to think that you’re actually prepared. It has the quality of standing before a 747 and telling yourself that you could pick it up if you wanted to. It seems that this could possibly be the one mistake of an otherwise perfect God. Is it really true that God asks parents to be his agents-on-hand for the forming of a human soul? Really? Let’s consider the enormity of God’s plan and what it means for you as parents.
Talk Is Cheap
I’m sure you’ve heard this idiom before: “talk is cheap.”
Whoever came up with that saying was onto something, just like the person who came up with the phrase “actions speak louder than words” – it’s much easier to talk about something than it is to actually follow through with it.
While these expressions may hold weight in the real world, I don’t particularly appreciate them, and here’s why: they’re fundamentally unbiblical because they devalue the significance of our words.
Here’s what I mean:
1. Your Tongue Is Powerful
Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (ESV) – talk about a bold statement! The Proverbs claim that there’s no neutrality when it comes to your speech; you’re either building someone up (towards life) or you’re tearing someone down (towards death). Talk, according to the Bible, is not cheap at all.
James writes in his letter that “the tongue stains the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life […] it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6,8). That biblical truth doesn’t align with the phrase “actions speak louder than words”. According to James, words are very loud and active on their own.
I think we want to believe that our talk is cheap and that our actions speak louder than words, because it means that we don’t have to work on taming our tongue. But the Bible tells us to believe that there are significant consequences not only to what we do, but to what we say everyday.
You and I utter thousands and thousands of words each day, communicated in hundreds and hundreds of conversations. Each one of those little moments is an opportunity for you to build up and bring life, but it’s also an opportunity for you to poison and set on fire.
In the next conversation you have with your spouse, are you going to use your tongue to bring life? In the next conversation you have with your child, are you going to encourage? In the next conversation you have with your neighbor or co-worker, are you going to plant seeds for growth?
2. Your Tongue Doesn’t Belong To You
There are two lines at the beginning of the Bible that have radically shaped the way I think about my tongue – Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God…” and Genesis 1:3, “And God said.”
These two truths mean two things for my life: before there was anything, there was God, and the first Person to speak words was God. That means that my tongue doesn’t belong to me, because God created it, nor do my words belong to me, because God invented them.
I don’t own my words, so I don’t have a license to say whatever I want; my words are “on loan” from the Creator, and I need to invest them wisely. So today, when you have an opportunity to speak into a conversation, think about the investment that you’re making with your tongue (life or death), and think about the Creator and Owner of your words – would he approve of their use?
My son came to me carrying the New Testament given to him by a popular men’s ministry. Sandwiched inside the pages were pictures and biographies of “great” Christian men. They were all rough-and-tumble men; Olympic champions and professional athletes. He was in art school. “If this is the definition of a godly man,” he said, “I don’t have a prayer. Where are the artists, the musicians, the authors?”
She was attracted to him because there weren’t many interesting young men in her church. He had a good job and seemed to take his faith seriously. She thought they had agreed to get together on Friday night, but when he hadn’t contacted her by Thursday she gave him a call. He said, “No, you misunderstood. I would never go out on a Friday night. That’s my video game night with my friends. Nothing could ever get in the way of that.”
A local private university spends a couple days of its freshman orientation week on gender and sexuality clarification issues. These exercises are meant to help recent high school graduates discover who they really are, without the constraints of what they’ve been told they are supposed to be.
The US Census Bureau reports that one of every three children in the United States is being raised without a father present. Millions of boys grow up without a dad to pass down what only dads can.
What do all of these stories have in common? They point to an important cultural conversation taking place both outside and inside the church: Is manhood under siege? What does a real man look like? What do we do about the growing cultural dynamic of protracted boyhood? Who will teach our boys to be men? In teaching boys to be men, how do we avoid narrow cultural stereotypes? What does the Bible say about gender distinction? What does it teach about a man being a man? How different are men from women?
These are ongoing debates whose conclusions will shape the lives of thousands of boys who are in the process of becoming men. The “manhood” conversation is something no serious Christian can avoid.
BOOKS ON MANLINESS
The contemporary conversation on manliness is unfolding on a myriad of blogs, websites, and books. Perhaps the most popular and influential work on manhood right now is The Art of Manliness, a website founded by the husband-and-wife team of Brett and Kate McKay. (The McKays have also written a book with the same title, which features similar material as the website.)
The Art of Manliness offers the ultimate one-stop shop for tips on staying in shape, dressing sharply, unleashing your inner handyman, and many other street-level skills that every man supposedly needs. Articles feature step-by-step instructions on how to tie your neck tie with a four-in-hand knot, how to shave like your grandpa, how to give a man-hug, to how to teach your kid to ride a bike, and everything in between.
But reading this work made me sad, and I’ll tell you why: I learned many of these things (at least the more practical ones) from my dad. He taught me how to polish my shoes. He taught me to look in a man’s eyes when I shook his hand. He taught me the value of hard work. He taught me how to grill a good steak. I wonder if the reason The Art of Manliness is so popular is that fathers just aren’t passing these things down to their sons anymore.