More Than Good Works

The world does not need more mere good works.  

Being a nice man can’t get me eternal life.  Having solid character won’t make me right with my Creator.  It won’t unstain what I’ve stained.  Being a good guy won’t fix me.  

We are in a much deeper hole than common wisdom suggests.  And a much different kind of hole.  Specifically, this hole is a grave.  

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Ephesians 2:1-3

We are born spiritually dead, all of us.  Lovely and human and valuable, but also wicked and spiritually dead.  And so the world needs much more than deeds of kindness.  The Middle Ages had deeds of kindness.  But what they thirsted for was a power that their churches had long obscured, and the Reformation was the rain that fell on that parched ground.  

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’

Romans 1:16-17

The world needs salvation.  It needs regeneration.  It needs people who have been taken as one thing and remade into another.  And since mere good works won’t do, a mere teacher won’t do.  It needs someone who can undo what we have done and who can remake us from the feet up.  

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.  When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Colossians 2:9-14

Only God can remake a man.  Only God can kill the worst in him and bring him back something better, and not only better but something altogether different.  Only God can pay a man’s eternal debt, a debt incurred from breaking the best of laws, willfully and daily.  

The world doesn’t need more mere good works.  The world needs the power of God.  It needs a Messiah, a Χριστός.  It needs someone who will do what we cannot, and who can make us what we should be.

The world needs something it cannot offer itself:  A death and a resurrection.  A divine rescue.  It’s a great need.  Impossible, apart from a miracle.  

But thankfully the only thing that can outpace that need is His grace.  

As deep as our grave is, His grace is deeper still.  

We have the Gospel we need.  

But what does it say?  ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ —that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.  For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Romans 10:8-13


That Our Sons Might Be Good Men

Do something.  Build something.  Improve something.  This bundle of impulses lies at the heart of manhood.  And if you don’t understand that, you don’t yet understand manhood.  

And our culture doesn’t understand manhood.  

It doesn’t understand why it exists, what is good about it, or who possesses it.  I read an article today about the very young son of an influential businessman here in my city.  The entrepreneur and his wife have begun to encourage their son to wear dresses and live as though he were a young girl.  They are also starting a foundation to “help” parents who are in similar situations, a foundation that will apparently work in our public school district.  This sort of thing is welcomed by our culture because it is ignorant on the nature of manhood, the why and the what and the who.  Our men don’t know why they are men (no one has told them), and because they don’t know why they are men they don’t have anything but a superficial understanding of what a man is or who a man is.  

And yet, because you can’t change reality (even by refusing to teach it), they have these impulses.  These longings hum away in their chests, unabated by a culture willfully blind about what manhood is.  There is a thirst in most men’s souls to do and to build and to protect.  Put another way, most men have an unspoken hope to bear something with whatever manly strength they’ve been given.  And there is a desire to bear a burden (the what) and an ability to bear a burden (the who) because they were made to bear a burden (the why).  

It isn’t the thirst itself to build or to protect that make on a man.  A man is someone who is born a biological male.  But these are healthy characteristics of normal manhood.  A tree is a tree regardless of whether it currently has branches, but having branches is a healthy characteristic of being a normal tree.  

Men have been given strength in order to physically and spiritually bear burdens.  But make no mistake, if we don’t teach them that, they will use their strength for something.  Those thicker bones and deeper muscles and mechanical minds were designed to build for others, but they will build for self given the chance.  Sin can’t change the what or the why or the who of manhood (or womanhood), but it has radically twisted the how.  Unredeemed men will often use their strength to abuse rather than protect, to wreck rather than construct.  They will fight for self instead of others, and act as a battering ram when they should be a shield.  A boy might grow to violate and damage women, to use them the way a thief uses money he boosted from a cash register.  Or he might grow to be faithful to one woman, to spend himself bringing out of her all the goodness and loveliness that God has planted in her soul like an early spring seed.  A young man might tick away his hours playing fantasy battles on a screen.  Or he might aim to fight for his wife, his children, or his neighbors.  All men have not been give the same manly strength, but all men spend what they have been given on something.  

Our sons were built to build.  But they will not learn this from our culture.  They’re not going to be taught about the true nature of manhood, of themselves, from television or social media.  It’s our calling to tell them who they are, what it means, and why.  That is our burden to bear.  

And it’s a high calling.  The world needs good men.  My goodness, can there be anything more obvious right now?  Is there anything more plain than that the world needs more self-restrained, constructive, fatherly, loving, sacrificial men?  There is so much damage out there, and one of God’s favorite instruments to repair it is the good man, stumbling and imperfect as he is.  From Noah to Moses to David to Peter to Paul, God has used faithful men to build good things and fix broken ones.  He has given them a uniquely manly strength to do just that.  God made the first man to reflect Him by cultivating His garden, and even after sin scarred all things God still gave to that man the task of cultivation (Genesis 2:15-17, Genesis 3:17-19).  Our sons have a great endeavor before them.  We are cultivators, restorers in a wild world with much to be cultivated and in need of restoration.  There is nothing new under the sun, but there are many old things that must be set right.  Let us raise men who will be up to the task.  

If you are like me, a dad of boys who loves Jesus, be encouraged.  We are a part of a great story, here.  The world was once saved by a Father and a Son, and they made us to image something about them.  Be strong.  Act like men.  This great reclamation project includes ourselves and our boys. 

Our sons will be men.  That die has been cast.  

What is left for us is to raise them to be good ones.  

60 Seconds for Husbands (and Wives, and Anyone Else)

This is just a little counsel for husbands, from one who has borne the scars of doing the opposite.  

Don’t take so much personally.  Don’t take every aggravated comment or slightly less affectionate touch or instance of the family trip not going like you planned as a slight to your worth and your stature.  The less you take personally, the better.  I have never had an evening with my wife made better or Godlier or more fun by taking a small comment or action from her as an insult.  Never.  Not once.  

Your wife doesn’t hug you when you come in the door.  You expected her to.  You hoped she would.  At this point you have a few options.  One of these options is to let it go.  Another is to calmly talk to her about it.  But then there are insulted options.  The personal affront options.  The ones that are poison to the evening.  You can sulk about it only to lash out later.  You can yell at her.  You can say something snarky as you breeze past her.  It goes without saying that each of these are harmful and sinful, but they’re also foolish.  And they don’t do anything to help you, her, or the two of you as a couple.  

Instead, have a sense of humor.  Laugh it off.  Take yourself a tad less seriously.  Find your worth in the love of Jesus, and the fact that He chose you, silly and stupid and stumbling you.  Don’t wrap your identity in the small gestures and words of another frail human being.  Don’t be so thin-skinned and brittle that any mishap verbal slip-up by your wife can offend you.  If you are Christ’s, then you are free to think less of yourself, and to think of yourself less.  And if you are not Christ’s, cast yourself on Him in faith.  He can make you a better man.  He does it for all of His disciples, day by day, slowly and certainly.  

Now let me go home now and put this into practice.  

How Do I Worship From the Sodom and Gomorrah Story?

What do I do with passages in the Bible like this?

The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.  Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.  And He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

Genesis 19:23-25

Or this one?

Who is this who comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, He who is splendid in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength?  ‘It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.’  Why is your apparel red, and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?  ‘I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel.  For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come.  I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold; so my own arm brought me salvation, and my wrath upheld me.  I trampled down the peoples in my anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.’

Isaiah 63:1-6

Well, let me first give the answer I’d give my children:  Believe them.  God says here in the Isaiah one, for instance, that He has vengeance to be poured out on the nations.  He is God, so I am to believe Him.  

But I can lend a hand when it comes to passages that aren’t as plain Jane God-is-talking-and-telling-me-what-He’s-done-or-going-to-do by expanding on that a little.  So, if the questions are like this:

“What do I generally do with passages and stories in the Bible that talk about God’s wrath?  How do I worship from them?  How do I apply them to my heart?  How do I point my kids to Jesus with the Sodom and Gomorrah story when we come to it in family worship?”

Well, I’d start my answer with a question of my own to get to the heart of the matter:

“What is the Bible?”

The Bible is not a self-help book.  The Bible is not a collection of advice.  The Bible is not the best attempts of human beings to understand God.  The Bible is the Word of the only living God, and that Word is also a story that is all about Jesus.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.

Jesus, in John 5:39

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’  But He answered, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

Matthew 4:1-4

So the Bible is God’s Word, His communication to human beings, and it is also a story that is all about Jesus Christ.

Well, if that is what the Bible is, then when we get to parts that are about God’s vengeance and wrath, His good anger towards sin, God must be telling us humans something that is ultimately about Jesus.

Okay, fair enough, Wade.  I’m with you so far.  But what?  What is He telling me about Jesus that I should be applying to my heart or teaching my kids or preaching from my pulpit in the stories and the passages like the ones below?

  • The Flood in Genesis, when He destroys all the land animals and people who have the breath of life, all except those on the Ark, because of sin.
  • The judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, when He destroys two wicked cities because there aren’t any righteous people in them except for one little family.
  • The judgment laid on Israel and Judah when they are conquered and stripped bare and many slaughtered for their idolatry an wickedness, though eventually a remnant get to return home in peace.

Well, there are certainly more than one thing, but I will offer what I think might be the most important one:  God is showing us the unimaginably deep cup of ferocious good anger that Jesus took on Himself.  God is showing us what Jesus bore in order to spare those who would believe in Him.  

And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’  And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him.  And being in agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Luke 22:41-44

Jesus was in agony in the Garden of Gathsemane because He was about to be slain on a Roman Cross for all who would believe in Him.  He was less than 24 hours away from being forsaken by God so that we wouldn’t have to be.  He was about to have the sins of the world laid on His scarred and innocent back.  I believe Jesus experienced more shame, more pain, more wrath than any human being ever has or ever will, and He was totally undeserving of it.  God chose, before the foundation of the world, to put Himself forward and receive His own vengeance so that those who trust in Jesus could be spared.  Like Noah and those on the Ark, we are rescued from the raging sea of God’s judgment.  Like Lot and his daughters, we are plucked from the fire even though we are undeserving.  Like Ezra and Nehemiah and Zerubbabel and Sheshbazzar, we who have believed get to go home to God’s country despite our past sins.  And it is all because Jesus bore the flood of God’s wrath for our evils.  He received the fire that Sodom did.  He was exiled so that we could come home.

So what do I do with the stories and passages about God’s shocking vengeance?

I thank the living and loving God that Jesus bore that vengeance for me on the Cross.  Jesus fulfilled God’s Law so that I can receive His Gospel.  He took my sin’s penalty of death so that I can have His righteousness’ wage of life.

Jesus received the justice so that I can receive the mercy.

The cup my Jesus drank is one I am now spared.  And someday we will both get to share a far different one at a very special banquet table, one that He has been preparing for some time.

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’  And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’  And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Revelation 5:11-14

A Tick On the Clock

If none of the things you want most out of life could be resolved by Jesus coming back, your heart is not calibrated correctly.  

Your heart was designed to commune with God.  It’s in God that you can have the peace and hope and joy that you thirst for.  And when the Son of God returns to make all things right, to judge the still-living and the dead, and to remake all things for His people, those who love Him will get to know Him and be with Him fully, in bodies that will not perish or wear out.  Nothing can be more satisfying than knowing Jesus Christ face to face and forever.  Nothing.  Not retirement.  Not romance.  Not a career.  The greatest prize a human being can have is still to come.  

Much of 21st century American life seems designed to make you forget that there is an eternity, a neverending series of tomorrows that you will either enjoy or endure.  Netflix and soccer practices and Chipotle and heated car seats and Friday nights and Facebook and ESPN all seem to insulate us against the reality that this American life of creature comforts is not the last chapter of anyone’s life.  It is not the way things will always be.  Every human being will either meet Jesus to enjoy Him forever or meet Jesus as judge to face what they deserve for their sins.  The great finish line you should be keeping in your mind is not the date you can withdraw from your 401k but the day you are raised to find Jesus looking back at you.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

Revelation 20:11-21:4

What do you want most out of life?  Creature comforts?  Entertainment?  Peace and quiet?  Financial security?  Sex?  Respect?

Or do you want people to know God?  To see Him glorified?  To enjoy Him?  To see pain and death banished?

We weren’t born into a day and place that make it easy to remember we’ll each die, much less that the world will be destroyed and remade some day.  Ours is a country and culture filled with distractions and amusements.  But despite how satisfying we may find Netflix comedy specials and shopping on Amazon, there is something greater to live for.  The King is coming to fix what is broken and to fill every soul who is His to the brim with joy and peace.  Every moment is a tick on the clock towards the Day when Jesus splits the skies and puts an end to evil and a start to a peace on which the lights will never go out.

Which is why the Bible ends this way.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

Revelation 22:20-21

Amen indeed.

My Worst Enemy

I won’t waste your time:  My worst enemy is my own sin.  

I am always tempted to look at what others have done to me, or are currently doing to me, or how I’m being shortchanged in a certain way as my biggest problem.  It makes sense to a shortsighted, self-centered mind.  

“The thing that’s really screwing up my life is that I’m not getting __________.”  

“Man, if I didn’t have to deal with _________ anymore…”

But the reality that my own sin is far more deadly, and robs me of far more joy and peace, than any other single thing.  My own sin kills far more of my peace, my friendships, my ministry than any single other person or circumstance.  
My idolatry is deadly, as I value pleasure and creature comforts more than communion with God.  “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)

My anger and unforgiveness are deadly, as I hold a grudge in my heart against someone rather than trusting the Lord to deal with it.  “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’  To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:18-21)

My pride is deadly, as I think that such and such a thing would never happen to me, because I don’t make bad choices like so and so.  “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus:  God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner!  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’” (Luke 18:9-14)

These things are far more toxic to me than any gosippy coworker, any politician, any cultural trend, any career threat, any backbiting relative.  The sin in my heart poses a far greater threat to my joy than any external force that might come against me. 

But thankfully my worst enemy is the very thing my Savior and His Spirit offer, day by day, to free me from.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Romans 8:13

60 Seconds On the Nature Of Faithlessness

Faithlessness is a moral problem, not merely an intellectual one.  Put another way:  It is a sin not to trust Jesus Christ.  

When you doubt the Word of God, and specifically when you doubt Jesus Christ, you are sitting in judgment over God.  You are telling Him that He is not to be trusted.  You are replaying the sin of the Garden, where Eve gave into Satan’s question, “Did God really say…?”

To doubt Jesus is to play judge over God.  

And this is why Jesus treats faithlessness as sin, not simply being wrong about a fact, as though one had mistakenly thought that Billings was the capital of Montana instead of Helena.  

And someone from the crowd answered him, ‘Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.  So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.’  And he answered them, ‘O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?  How long am I to bear with you?  Bring him to me.’  And they brought the boy to him.  And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.  And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’  And he said, ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him.’  But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘If you can!’ All things are possible for one who believes.’  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’

Mark 9:17-24

When it comes to believing or not believing in Jesus, there is a moral problem that must be resolved in a man.  He trusts himself more than God, and he does not want to let go of his sin and his (illusion of) control.  When I witness to a man, I am not just trying to get him to choose one religion over another.  I am trying to get him to lay down his arms of doubting rebellion against the only true God. 

And as a Christian, I myself need to understand that the many times my faith in Jesus wavers, it is sin.  I need to confess it, put it to death by the Spirit, and ask others to hold me accountable in not returning to it. 

This is the nature of faithlessness.  It is harmful, poisonous sin.  

Help my unbelief, Lord.  And forgive it.  

Thankfully I believe He is able to do both.