A Catechism for Our Day


The Word of God is always relevant.  And our hearts will be healthier when they are brought under it.

A Christian who brings Scripture and the God of Scripture to bear on his thoughts, emotions, choices, philosophy, theology, self-talk, vocation, family dynamic, behaviors, hobbies, and habits will be a Christian whose spiritual muscles and bones and organs are working properly.  This is one of the reasons Christians have historically written catechisms.  We need to know the Word and we also need to know how to apply it.

So with that in mind, let’s bring the Word to answer some questions for our day.

Q:  How should I approach and think about racial strife and protests?

A:  “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

Q:  What if I think our President is a terrible one?

A:  “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Q:  How do I live out my Christian faith at my job?

A:  “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15).

Q:  What does it mean to be a man or to be a woman?

A:  “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God” (1 Corinthians 11:8-12).

Q:  What is marriage?

A:  “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:18-25).

Q:  What is the point of life?”

A:  “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).

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Two Deep Things


I can think of two things deep wounds and deep joy have in common.

One is that they’re both very hard to express. How do you communicate to another person that a single sentence or facial expression can strike you at your core? How a joke about your appearance or a raised eyebrow that reminds you of an abuser can devastate you inside, even though you might retain your composure until you’re alone? Or, on the other side, that the smell of tea or the sound of Christmas music can instantly transport you to the happiest moment of your life? How can you get across to another person the sheer weight of what you’re feeling at the moment that that scar or that joy is tapped into?

The other is that they both, in their own ways, point to eternity. Because nothing purely worldly can honestly bind those deep wounds. And nothing flush with sin (as even the best of this world is) can replicate those deep joys, not even (as C.S. Lewis said) the moments themselves, should we be able to re-live them; after all, it was the longing for some permanence like the grandmother’s embrace or the Christmas morning that made our hearts sing. It was the longing, not the smell or the sensation or the sound itself. These wounds and joys are signposts. 

The pains of my innermost heart, the insecurities I can’t even express and fears that strike me like a hot iron in the middle of the night, can’t be fully resolved by anything but the triune God. And the happinesses I most want to taste, the ones merely echoed in the cleanest, brightest moments of my childhood or most momentous occasions of my adulthood, aren’t going to be completely realized on this side of the eschaton. Pain won’t be fully left behind and joy won’t be fully consummated until the Lamb of Israel and Lion of Judah returns.  

Incommunicability and pointing to eternity: Two qualities our deepest pains and joys share.  

Two notes they both sing well, though on different sides of the shadow.   

Two Deep Things


I can think of two things deep wounds and deep joy have in common.

One is that they’re both very hard to express.  How do you communicate to another person that a single sentence or facial expression can strike you at your core?  How a joke about your appearance or a raised eyebrow that reminds you of an abuser can devastate you inside, even though you might retain your composure until you’re alone?  Or, on the other side, that the smell of tea or the sound of Christmas music can instantly transport you to the happiest moment of your life?  How can you get across to another person the sheer weight of what you’re feeling at the moment that that scar or that joy is tapped into?

The other is that they both, in their own ways, point to eternity.  Because nothing purely worldly can honestly bind those deep wounds.  And nothing flush with sin (as even the best of this world is) can replicate those deep joys, not even (as C.S. Lewis said) the moments themselves, should we be able to re-live them; after all, it was the longing for some permanence like the grandmother’s embrace or the Christmas morning that made our hearts sing.  It was the longing, not the smell or the sensation or the sound itself.  These wounds and joys are signposts. 

The pains of my innermost heart, the insecurities I can’t even express and fears that strike me like a hot iron in the middle of the night, can’t be fully resolved by anything but the triune God.  And the happinesses I most want to taste, the ones merely echoed in the cleanest, brightest moments of my childhood or most momentous occasions of my adulthood, aren’t going to be completely realized on this side of the eschaton.  Pain won’t be fully left behind and joy won’t be fully consummated until the Lamb of Israel and Lion of Judah returns.  

Incommunicability and pointing to eternity:  Two qualities our deepest pains and joys share.  

Two notes the both sing well, though on different sides of the shadow.   


Don’t Be Silly

  

“Why should Christians debate about this?  It’s so silly.”

I’ve heard this sort of sentiment before.  And of course it can be true with certain debates.  It is silly for believers to debate whether acoustic guitars are less spiritual than pianos or which European leader is most likely to be the (or an) antichrist.  And it can be true with certain modes of debate.  It’s silly to insult people, and it’s silly to get overly heated on Facebook or Twitter.  

But it is flat-out inaccurate to say all disagreeing dialogue between professing Christians on matters of faith is wrong.  

Why?

Well…

  • The New Testament does it.  A lot. 

Jesus frequently admonished and theologically redirected His disciples.  The book of Acts shows us repeated examples of the church interchanging over different sides of a theological issue.  And of course Galatians, the sweetest rebuke ever written, contains sentences like this in order to call out serious, soul-threatening theological error:  

As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

So if your position is that people claiming to believe in Jesus should never have vocal disagreements, then your position is that the New Testament has some serious problems.  

  • Christians throughout history have done it.  A lot. 

Obviously the fact that something is prevalent in Christian history doesn’t automatically make it right, but I do have a general rule for myself:  If a lot of the saints who have gone before me have done something, I want to be very thoughtful and sure before I reject it.  And theological debating has gone on in the church since Jesus ascended.  

The seven ecumenical councils that met in the first millennium after Jesus died were all about serious theological disagreements, and about the practical implications of believing one thing or another.  Whether it was the priest Arius claiming that Jesus was created, the debate over whether Jesus had one nature or two, or debating whether the Holy Spirit emanated from both the Father and the Son or just the Father, the Christians of the first 7-10 centuries of the church took faith in God very seriously.  They knew God was real, that how a human thinks about Him matters, and they wanted to be faithful in thought and creed.

And of course during the next millennium, men like Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Charles Spurgeon debated morality, holiness, and (most importantly) the definition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  

So Christians have, for 20 centuries, debated theological matters.  Sometimes their demeanors were less than charitable, and sometimes they got an issue wrong, but to say that no believer should debate spiritual matters is to say that virtually each and every generation of Christians who came before us was doing something it should not have done.

  • The sentiment that theological debate is silly is often just a mask for something else:  Not enjoying God thought. 

I’ve known some people who say that it’s silly to dialogue about the trinity, or whether salvation can be lost, or the nature of the Lord’s Supper, but who have no problem debating about The Walking Dead, politics, or the NFL.  And so I think what this “it’s silly” mindset is sometimes masking is a heart that really doesn’t delight in thinking about God as much as it delights in thinking about entertainment or other interests. 

And news flash:  That’s often true of my heart.  

And the answer isn’t to pretend that thinking hard about God and having deep theological convictions is “silly.”  The answer is to repent of loving other things more than Him and asking Him to help me treasure Him with all my mind, heart, soul, and strength. 

We all have opinions and thoughts on the things we care about.  So what this kind of comment is sometimes indicative of is that the person saying it cares about other things more than God.  

And now can I offer a few closing exhortations?

Thanks for the green light.

-Read a good, old book of Christian theology or doctrine.  Grab a Spurgeon book on prayer, or a John Chrysostom commentary on a New Testament book.  Read and ask God to help you love Him and think about Him as much as you love and think about TV or sports.  Even in my own fickle heart, I’ve experienced the fact that God loves to answer the prayer “Help me love You.”  And if you don’t think you have time (as I often tell myself:  “You’re so busy, Wade…”), ask yourself, “When was the last time I watched TV?”  The truth is, we all make time for what we value.  

Dwell on Him mentally throughout the day.  We all have moments where we’re able to let our minds sift over something or someone.  Why not God?  The habit of meditating on the triune God, His Word, and His Kingdom is well worth cultivating.  After all, most of our lives are lived out the way they are because of what we think about and how we think about it.  

Let’s reason together with our brothers and sisters in Christ about things of great importance.  Truth is as important as worship.  

Let’s be people of both.  

Taking God Seriously: He Can Change What You Think

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This is a good and comforting thing.

It probably doesn’t feel like it to a culture inflamed with a false view of its own authority, but it’s good.

Truth #1: God is absolutely in control of, and has the right to be in control of, every single atom and moment and human in the universe.

When Job, for instance, felt wronged by the evil God had allowed (and of course in a sense caused) to befall him, God rebuked him. Lovingly and patiently, letting Job first lament and complain and then get misled by some relationally manipulative buddies, but rebuked nonetheless. He asked Job where he was when the earth was made, when the beasts of the sea were created, when the universe spun off of His fingertips into existence.

Job repented, in ashes, and God lovingly forgave Him.

God has the right to use our pain and our sins and the sins of others for His glory and the good of those who love Him. The right to use our thoughts, our plans, our schemes to achieve His end instead of ours.

And He will.

Truth #2: God has actively changed people’s minds, decisions, thoughts, hearts and emotions before. He does it still. Every day.

Let me start by saying this: If He didn’t, no one would ever believe in Christ and be forgiven.

The book of Ephesians says, to true Christians, that before we believed in Christ we were dead in our sins and trespasses. Dead. In John 6, when Jesus is talking to people on the fringe who are demanding a sign and saying if He does one that then they’ll believe, He says that no one can come to Him unless the Father draws Him.

I wouldn’t have come to believe in Jesus unless God changed my mind.

Paul had to remind this to a church in a big, cosmopolitan city called Corinth. They were, apparently, trying to be chic and hipster and smart and “wise.” And he told them that the world’s “wise” don’t understand the Gospel. Don’t understand Jesus. If they had, he says in chapter 2, they wouldn’t have killed him.

It’s not a matter of good minds looking at information objectively and coming to logical conclusions. It’s about dead minds and spirits being brought to life by a God who can bring dead things to life.

God changes minds and hearts. And if He didn’t we’d all be damned.

Cyrus

Okay, so this post was inspire by Ezra 1, where God puts it into the mind of the Persian king to let the Jews go back to Jerusalem.

Cyrus the Great did what Isaiah had prophesied he would do well over a century earlier. He did exactly what God wanted him to do. The Lord, in the words of the Bible, “put it into the mind” of Cyrus to send the Covenant people back to their Covenant land.

Jeremiah 10:23 says, “I know, Lord, that a man’s way of life is not his own; no one who walks determines his own steps.

God did what God does: He worked all things according to His purposes. All things, in this case, includes the thought and choice of Cyrus, King of Persia (and pretty much the world at that point).

How does this fit in with our ability to make actual choices? I can’t precisely say. I know Cyrus is responsible for the good and bad choices of his life, as am I, because God’s Word says so.

But God was righteous in making an unbeliever in a position of power think something and do something for the sake of His people. And He was right in orchestrating the crucifixion of His Son Jesus. And He was right in giving me saving faith in that Jesus.

He was wonderfully gracious in granting me, the way the New Testament phrases it, repentance.

We do, God’s Bible says, do things and choose things. And God will judge fairly our sins and our motives and the desires behind our Christian good works, the things Paul said to those Corinthians that God would bring to light.

But it is, ultimately, His will that’ll be done.

What should concern us in this day we’ve been given, this moment we have before us, isn’t the philosophy of all this, but what the apostles said to the unbelievers in Jerusalem after Jesus had ascended: Repent and believe in Jesus.

He is a good and holy God, and He is good and holy when He makes people think and do things.

Cling

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When you’re unsure what to believe about pain, the future, the meaning of your life (or the meaning of your Tuesday), cling to the Bible and the God who wrote it.

When the smart, argumentative unbeliever at work asks you the question you can’t answer very well (“Where was God during the Holocaust?”), when he smirks triumphantly and bruises your brain, cling to the words of Jesus.

When your professor tells you you’re a slightly different version of Homo Erectus or Homo Habilis, just one more collection of living matter walking among dead matter, hang with all your heart on Scripture. Jesus said you are worth many sparrows.

When your uncle dies, your grandmother gets Alzheimer’s, your brothers and sisters fight over the inheritance, wrap your spirit around the only sure lifeline. The only unbreakable thread. The jots and tittles that will outlast Heaven and Earth. Will outlast Jupiter and Alaska.

When you see or hear of something horrible, something evil, an act of torture or calloused murder or the violation of a little child, hope in the Lion of Judah who is coming back. Though the violently unrepentant may not know His voice, rest assured they will someday tremble at His roar (Isaiah 31:4, Revelation 5:5).

When the person who claims Christ but says odd things that don’t sound like Him comes around, when he uses words you don’t understand and sounds far deeper and more brilliant than you, cling to the Gospel that uses the foolish to shame the wise. Cling to the only Good News, and to the God who demands childlike faith in Jesus.

When your sin chokes you, when pornography and jealousy and the worship of financial security start to strangle your faith like weeds, turn from your evil and grab the Bible of the Holy Forgiver. The Unlying Redeemer.

This America around us is awash with new programs and philosophies and diets and faiths and _____ Ways to Improve Your Life.

Naturalism and Postmodernism and Oprah’s “Secret” and “tolerance” and Republianism and liberalism and conservatism.

The Emergent church and Islam and the vague, feel-good, self-serving philosophy of suburban middle class life and the church in California that worships Beyonce.

Did I miss one?

Turn on your TV, read a blog, check out an interview with Jay-Z or Johnny Depp or Stephen Hawking and you will get inundated, drowned by speculations and ideas and opinions on what life is, truth is, meaning is, and good is.

If you’re a follower of Christ, it’ll probably make your head spin and your heart stutter and your spirit cry.

You’ll hear people say a widespread return to the traditions they love can restrain evil, or hear redefinitions of what evil and badness even are, or hear people saying there’s no such thing as evil but everything still needs to be fixed and they know just the political program that can do it.

But in the four Gospels Jesus of Nazareth, God and God’s Son, quoted and taught and prescribed and interpreted and spoke the words and sentences and truths of the Creator of the universe. Jesus proclaimed the Old Testament and He began the New.

He gave us the pattern of a heart after God:

Loving the Word of God is a part of loving God. And believing the Word of God is a part of truly believing in God.

Jesus demonstrated the utmost confidence in His Father’s written, spoken Scripture.

So when the world tosses you, confuses you, harms you, or helps you harm yourself, run to and throw yourself on and cling to the specific, written promises of the God who saves.

“Every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” Proverbs 30:5

Cling.