Proselytize

July 22, 2013

A few years ago atheist Penn Jillette, of the magician duo, Penn & Teller, expressed indignation at evangelicals who don’t share their faith, asking, “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

Justin Taylor

Children Apologize

July 22, 2013

Parents frequently ask me if it is wrong to require their children to apologize when they are disrespectful or disobedient. Usually, they’re concerned that they might be training their child to lie. Wouldn’t it be better to wait for the child to apologize on his own when he feels genuine remorse, rather than to just repeat an apology he has been taught?

It is definitely commendable to want your child to speak and act only out of right motives. And yes, godly obedience goes beyond just saying the right words; godly obedience is right actions plus right motives, doing the right things for the right reasons.

But how is godly obedience instilled? How is it trained? The answer might surprise you. Unlike adults who typically learn by reasoning, young children learn by doing. Adults must usually be convinced a course of action is the correct one before they will pursue it. Children, on the other hand, learn to perform the correct action before they are developmentally able to assess the reason it is correct. Doing the right thing actually precedes understanding why it should be done.

Parents intuitively understand and employ this “training truth” with young children in many areas:

We train them in the language of courtesy before they desire to be courteous (please/excuse me).

We train them in the language of gratitude before they desire to be grateful (thank you).

We train them in the language of respect before they desire to be respectful (ma’am, sir, Mrs., Mr.).

We train them in the language of prayer before they desire to pray (“God is great, God is good,” the Lord’s Prayer).

In short, we teach our children the language they need to interact with others well before they have any real concept of why such language is necessary and good.

Because of this, I would answer the question “Should I require my child to apologize?” with an emphatic “Yes.” If we faithfully equip our children with the language of courtesy, gratitude, respect, and prayer, why would we not also equip them with the language of forgiveness? Is it not equally important for them to know? How would training them to apologize encourage them to lie any more than training them to say “thank you” before they are truly thankful? Isn’t it unloving to leave them verbally empty-handed when facing a situation where forgiveness needs to be sought?
Liturgical Child

Children are wonderfully liturgical creatures: they love repetition. This accounts for their ability to enjoy the same book or video over and over again, their attachment to a bedtime ritual or a particular pair of socks, their tendency to shout “again, again!” when they ride a carousel. Children are wired for repetition because repetition helps them learn.

A pastor wouldn’t assume his congregation possesses genuine faith because they repeat the Apostles’ Creed each week. And we parents don’t assume our child feels genuine repentance just because she has been trained to say “I’m sorry.” Still, we give them the right words, trusting the right motives will come as they mature.

Just as the congregation needs to witness their pastor live out the truths of the liturgy as he ministers to them, so our children need to witness us live out the truth of the language we teach to them. Children who see their parents genuinely and remorsefully apologize when they have been wronged learn quickly to do the same. Every time we apologize to our children we give them a picture of what mature, God-honoring apologies sound like: “I am so sorry I hurt you with my words. If I were you I would have felt so scared and sad that Mom yelled. It isn’t right for me to speak to you that way. You are precious to me. I love you so much, and I don’t want to do that again. I didn’t honor God, and I didn’t honor you. I’m praying God will help me to stop. Can you forgive me?”
Older Children and Apologies

Should we require older children to apologize? As our children grow, they learn to link right motive to right action. They become capable of seeking forgiveness without prompting or memorized words. An older child who has demonstrated genuine remorse in the past (and has seen it modeled) is probably ready for a different approach when an apology is needed.

“That was a big outburst. What do you think needs to happen next?” [“I need to apologize.”] “Yes. Would you like to do that now, or do you need a few minutes to think about what you want to say?”

“I think you know the right thing to do. I am praying the Holy Spirit will show you your need for forgiveness. We’re ready to talk to you when you’re ready.”

“You should apologize to your mom. Why don’t you take some time to think about what you want to say, and when you’re ready, come tell her how you feel about what happened?”

And then, yes, wait for genuine repentance. If it is slow to appear, you may need additional conversations about how unforgiveness harms relationships, and you may need consequences to drive home the point. But a child who knows the security of having a parent who quickly repents and forgives will typically run to do the same.

So, yes, require an apology from your young child. Don’t let the fear of raising a liar keep you from training your children in the liturgy of repentance. Model what godly repentance looks like for them, train them faithfully in the language of forgiveness, and pray the Lord uses your words and example to bring about genuine repentance in their young hearts.

Jen Wilkin

Called to Preach?

July 21, 2013

Has God called you to ministry? Though all Christians are called to serve the cause of Christ, God calls certain persons to serve the Church as pastors and other ministers. Writing to young Timothy, the Apostle Paul confirmed that if a man aspires to be a pastor, “it is a fine work he aspires to do” (1 Tim 3:1, NASB). Likewise, it is a high honor to be called of God into the ministry of the Church. How do you know if God is calling you?
First, there is an inward call. Through His Spirit, God speaks to those persons He has called to serve as pastors and ministers of His Church. The great Reformer Martin Luther described this inward call as “God’s voice heard by faith.” Those whom God has called know this call by a sense of leading, purpose, and growing commitment.
Charles Spurgeon identified the first sign of God’s call to the ministry as “an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.” Those called by God sense a growing compulsion to preach and teach the Word, and to minister to the people of God.
This sense of compulsion should prompt the believer to consider whether God may be calling him to the ministry. Has God gifted you with the fervent desire to preach? Has He equipped you with the gifts necessary for ministry? Do you love God’s Word and feel called to teach? Spurgeon warned those who sought his counsel not to preach if they could help it. “But,” Spurgeon continued, “if he cannot help it, and he must preach or die, then he is the man.” That sense of urgent commission is one of the central marks of an authentic call.
Second, there is the external call. Baptists believe that God uses the congregation to “call out the called” to ministry. The congregation must evaluate and affirm the calling and gifts of the believer who feels called to the ministry. As a family of faith, the congregation should recognize and celebrate the gifts of ministry given to its members, and take responsibility to encourage those whom God has called to respond to that call with joy and submission.
These days, many persons think of careers rather than callings. The biblical challenge to “consider your call” should be extended from the call to salvation to the call to the ministry.
John Newton, famous for writing “Amazing Grace,” once remarked: “None but He who made the world can make a Minister of the Gospel.” Only God can call a true minister, and only He can grant the minister the gifts necessary for service. But the great promise of Scripture is that God does call ministers, and presents these servants as gifts to the Church.
One key issue here is a common misunderstanding about the will of God. Some models of evangelical piety imply that God’s will is something difficult for us to accept. We sometimes confuse this further by talking about “surrendering” to the will of God. As Paul makes clear in Romans 12:2, the will of God is good, worthy of eager acceptance, and perfect. Those called by God to preach will be given a desire to preach as well as the gift of preaching. Beyond this, the God-called preacher will feel the same compulsion as the great Apostle, who said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16, ESV).
Consider your calling. Do you sense that God is calling you to ministry, whether as a pastor or as another servant of the Church? Do you burn with a compulsion to proclaim the Word, share the Gospel, and care for God’s flock? Has this call been confirmed and encouraged by those Christians who know you best?
God still calls . . . has He called you?

Al Mohler

Media Outlets are Evil

July 15, 2013

The media outlets are evil, and here is a prime example:

Last night’s not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial will enable the neighborhood-watch volunteer to resume his case against NBC News for the mis-editing of his widely distributed call to police. Back in December, Zimmerman sued NBC Universal Media for defamation over the botched editing, which depicted him as a hardened racial profiler.

George Zimmerman (R) talks to defense counsel Don West during his trial on Saturday. (EPA/JOE BURBANK / POOL)

Here’s how NBC News, in a March 27, 2012, broadcast of the “Today” show, abridged the tape of Zimmerman’s comments to a police dispatcher on the evening of Feb. 26, 2012:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.

The full tape went like this:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about. Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.

NBC Universal Media responded to the Zimmerman complaint by noting that other media outlets played up the racial angle of Zimmerman’s deadly encounter with Trayvon Martin.

The company also noted the pivotal nature of the second-degree murder case: “[I]f Zimmerman is convicted, that fact alone will constitute substantial evidence that the destruction of his reputation is the result of his own criminal conduct, and not of the broadcasts at issue which, like countless other news reports disseminated by media entities throughout the country, reported on the underlying events.”

That formulation is now null.

According to Zimmerman attorney James Beasley, the case against NBC News was stayed pending the outcome of the criminal case. Now that’s out of the way, and Beasley is ready to proceed. “We’re going to start in earnest asap, we just have to get the stay lifted which is a ministerial act,” says Beasley, a Philadelphia lawyer, via e-mail.

When asked how the not-guilty verdict affects the civil case against NBC News, Beasley responded, “This verdict of not guilty is just that, and shows that at least this jury didn’t believe that George was a racist, profiling, or anything that the press accused George of being. That probably doesn’t get you that much but it’s simply time for us to start the case and hold accountable anyone who was irresponsible in their journalism.”

Bliss Spillar is assistant to the lead pastor at Portico Church in Charlottesville. He blogs at BlissSpillar.com.

When we think about the book of Acts, we usually think about the beginning of the church, the miracles performed by the Apostles, the work of the Holy Spirit, the conversion of Paul, and so on.

Too often, we overlook a wonderful thread that weaves its way throughout the entire book. The early church was made up of Christians that were dedicated not only to the gospel, to community, to mission but also to prayer (Acts 1:24, 2:42, 4:24-31 6:6, 16:25, 20:36 and many more).

It is easy to neglect praying for our cities I believe for three reasons.

First, if we were to be honest, many of us believe that the “heavy lifting” of ministering to our city comes in the form of our Sunday gatherings, community groups, missional events, etc. While these things are necessary, when it comes to prayer we are often times (as Jeff Vanderstelt puts it) “functional atheists.”

Secondly, we forget how important prayer is to God. In Jeremiah, God instructs the prophet,

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf…” (Jer. 29:7).

Jesus in the Gospels commands the disciples,

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38).

From beginning to end, the call to pray is commanded in scripture and not something to be abandoned.

Finally, we are a prideful people. I am often reminding myself that I am a workman in a field that does not belong to me, using tools that do not belong to me, reaping a harvest that does not belong to me, and working for a glory that does not belong to me (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). By His grace, making prayer for my city a priority has allowed the Spirit to remind me that God alone saves and God alone deserves glory for redemption.

During a sermon on 1 Peter 2:7, Charles Spurgeon made the statement, “Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor.”

A disciple of Christ is a life on mission, one that I believe is marked deeply by prayer for the people God has sent them to. Our states, our cities, our neighborhoods desperately need the life-giving renewal and redemption that flow from Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

Praying for the mission of God in our cities is one of the beautiful ways we join God in His renewal and redemption of our city. Let us be people who are marked not just by lives on mission in the everyday, but people who intercede daily and earnestly on behalf of our cities.

Below I have listed out prayers that we have recently been utilizing to pray for our city. My prayer even now, is that the Lord would use these to glorify Himself in the redemption and renewal of your city.

Sunday – That the Gospel would be boldly and unashamedly proclaimed in our local churches. That our churches would be places for the broken, unwanted and hurting. That Christ will be offered as the only remedy for the very thing we cannot do, make our selves better or save ourselves.

Monday – Pray that Romans 8:35-39 would become a reality. Pray for yourself, for your family, for your pastors, for your church. That our hope would be found in Christ and in Christ alone and that his hope would produce Gospel boldness in our lives.

Tuesday – Pray Matthew 6:10 over your city. Spend this day replacing the word “earth” with the name of your city… for me it is “In Charlottesville as it is in heaven”.

Wednesday – Pray that the Spirit would weed out the sin in your life that has kept you from living a life on mission. That He would open up opportunities for you to be present and intentional with the gospel in your neighborhood. Pray for your neighbors by name.

Thursday – Pray boldly Psalms 33:8 over your city. The the people would stand in awe before Him.

Friday – Pray Habakkuk 3:2 over your city. That the Lord’s love, wrath, justice and mercy would be made known in the City.

Saturday: Pray that the Lord would increase our burden for our city. That our love and growth in the Gospel would produce a desire to see others saved, and grow in their love and understanding of who God is, what He has done and what He is doing.

Trevin Wax

Top 10

July 13, 2013

If you are church shopping [this article was first published in OCTOBER 2011] or looking for a local Christian fellowship a Reformed Baptist Church may not be your cup of tea.

Dr. James White has (honestly) noted that in a Reformed Baptist Church…

1. You don’t get to leave after every sermon feeling good about yourself. You may even desire repentance.
2. You don’t get to hear the sermons in the same way you may be used to. It’s frequently verse by verse, maybe not even relevant to your current situation.
3. You don’t get to be entertained. We don’t want to entertain you.
4. You don’t get to go to church every weeknight for programs. We don’t have ‘em.
5. You don’t get to be ‘lost in the crowd’. We tend to have accountability to one another.
6. You don’t get to hear social commentary. Sermons are mostly biblical and serious.
7. We’re not considered ‘seeker-friendly’. We don’t believe in seekers. Apart from regeneration, they don’t exist.
8. You’re asked to apply the sermons to your life.
9. You’re asked to attend services regularly, to support your elders in prayer and give sacrificially to the advance of the Gospel.
10. You will experience conviction of sin with regularity.

Serve Christ, Find Joy

July 10, 2013

John Hindley is pastor of BroadGrace, Norfolk, UK. He is the author of Serving without Sinking: How to serve Christ and keep your joy, published by The Good Book Company.

I often feel weary, discouraged or bitter in serving Jesus. These are not merely past realities. I’m a pastor, and this is a fair summary of my heart too many days.

I don’t think it’s just me—I see signs of it in my Christian friends, too. We often seem to be a burdened, joyless bunch. It shouldn’t be like this, and it doesn’t need to be—for me or for you.

Jesus promises us that if we come to him, no matter how weary or burdened we are, he will “give you rest” (Matthew 11 v 29). Following him brings rest, takes our burdens, leaves our weariness behind.

I like the sound of that! My heart says: “That’s amazing.” My head says: “That’s not what it’s really like though, is it, John?”

Deep down, I have found myself wondering if Jesus is mistaken, or unrealistic. But in the end, either he got it wrong, or I did—and he is God. Working for him is meant to be a joy. It can be restful. It ought to be wonderful.

And yet for me, it often hasn’t been and often isn’t. Why not?

Why Do You Serve?

It’s 9:30 a.m. at Holy Trinity Church in Genericville. The service won’t start till 10.30am, but there are already some church members in the building. The Smiths are setting up a table for serving drinks. The Sanchez family are folding service sheets. The Smalls are preparing to teach a children’s group.

All are serving. Their hands are busy. But are they serving Christianly? Maybe; or maybe not. When it comes to Christian service, the first place to look is at what is going on in our hearts, not what we are doing with our hands.

Our motives matter. And, when it comes to service, our motives can so easily go wrong. We know this because we see it throughout the Bible. You can “serve God”…

to be good enough for him, like the Pharisee in Luke 18 v 9-14
to get something from him, like the older brother in Luke 15 v 22-32
to pay him back for saving us, rather than loving him for it, like the “imaginary Paul” of 1 Corinthians 13 v 1-3
to impress others, like the Pharisees of Matthew 6
to belong, like Simon Magus in Acts 8 v 15-23
because you think he needs you, like Martha in Luke 10 v 38-42
in a way which assumes you don’t need him, like the disciples trying to drive out an evil spirit in Mark 9 v 14-29
If any of these are what drives your service, then that service will be accompanied by bitterness, worry, pride, exhaustion, discouragement, or envy.

Finding the Joy in Service

So how do we find, or rediscover, joy in service? By shifting our focus away from ourselves: by appreciating that:

“the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus did not come for you to serve him. He came to serve you. He came to make you his friend, part of his bride, a son of his Father.

It’s only as we grasp this that we find ourselves able to serve, but now in freedom and with joy. After all, if you work for a friend, you work hard; if you do something for your spouse, you do it joyfully; if you are in a family business, you freely go the extra mile.

The Next Day

Imagine it’s the day after the younger son returned home in Jesus’ famous parable.

The father asks his two sons to help harvest. The younger son springs up with joy. He is amazed he can enjoy his father’s love, relishes the work of swinging his scythe for the father who loves him so much.

This is Christian service—it makes you smile. It truly is an easy yoke.

What does the older brother do? Maybe he works, too—but bitterly, angrily, joylessly. He serves—but he does not smile.

I face a daily battle to be a younger brother, not an older one; to take my eyes off what I am doing and focus on what Jesus has done and is doing for me. But it’s only in Christ that I find the motivation to serve freely and joyfully.

It’s as we love knowing Jesus that we’ll serve long, serve hard, serve more… and all with a smile.

Trevin Wax

An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Obama’s socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.

The professor then said, “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama’s plan.” All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A…. (substituting grades for dollars – something closer to home and more readily understood by all).

After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little..

The second test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else. To their great surprise, ALL FAILED and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed. It could not be any simpler than that.

Remember, there IS a test coming up. The 2012 elections.

These are possibly the 5 best sentences you’ll ever read and all applicable to this experiment:

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.
3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.
4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!
5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

Outsiders

July 8, 2013

Should We Expect Politicians to Act Like Christians?
Russell Moore

Recently I was asked whether John the Baptist lost his head for expecting a lost politician to act like a Christian. John, you’ll remember, was executed for telling Herod that it was not lawful for the king to have his brother’s wife.

This is an important question, not simply for understanding the background of this particular text. Christians often shrug off questions of public ethics because we say, “Why should we expect lost people to act like Christians?” I once heard a prominent preacher say that it didn’t matter to him if his neighbors went to hell as prostitutes or as policemen; it only mattered that they were going to hell.

In one sense, this is a good impulse. After all, Jesus never acted shocked or appalled by the behavior of the lost people. Jesus spoke with gentleness to the lost sinners around him, but with severity at religious leaders, hiding their sin behind religiosity and using their positions to serve selfish interests.

And the apostle Paul wrote that he didn’t judge “outsiders” but instead that it is those “inside the church whom you are to judge” (1 Cor. 5:12). The gospel didn’t come to achieve a society of morally straight people unreconciled to Christ.

But, if all that’s true, why does John persist in calling out this obviously unregenerate political leader for his sexual behavior? John isn’t incidental to the biblical story. Jesus calls him the greatest of the prophets.
Obligation of a King

This wasn’t really a question of merely personal behavior by an outsider. Herod was clearly a pagan internally, but he held an office instituted by God, an office with obligations for obedience to God. The rulership over Israel, after all, wasn’t the equivalent of the queen of England or the president of the United States. Israel was a covenant nation of priests. The king was to be of the house of David, and he was to model the line of Christ.

In the same chapter of Deuteronomy that the apostle Paul quotes to speak of internal church discipline, the law lays out the qualifications for king. He shouldn’t use the office to serve his appetites for things or for sexual gratification (Deut. 17:17), but ought to meditate on the Word of God and act according to it “that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left” (Deut. 17:20).
Not Merely Private Morality

This was a question of public justice, not merely of private morality. Herod’s sin was multifaceted. Yes, it was a private act of sexual immorality, taking as his own a woman he shouldn’t have. But Herod was acting not just as a man but as a ruler.

Herod, of course, was a puppet king, acting as a client of the Roman Empire. He couldn’t have provided what he offered in his sexually ignited boast of giving Herodias’s daughter “up to half my kingdom” (Mk. 6:23). Herod didn’t have the same power as David, but it was the same principle at work. David’s taking of Bathsheba was more than just an immoral use of his private parts, but an immoral use of his public office.

We can all see what this means, even apart from divine revelation. One of the good things the feminist movement has brought to us is the way we deal publicly now with sexual harassment. An employer who pressures an employee for sexual favors isn’t just an immoral person; he is misusing power. When the CEO sleeps with an intern, his offense isn’t just against God and his wife, but is also an unjust abuse of power.

In line with all the prophets before him, John spoke out against the powerful misusing their privilege to exploit the vulnerable. Think of Daniel telling Belshazzar that the “writing is on the wall” for his prideful kingdom’s fall or Isaiah speaking truth to power to those who “rob the poor” and “make the fatherless their prey” (Isa. 10:2). Think of, after John, Jesus’ brother James denouncing the landowners who exploit workers with unjust wages (Jas. 5:4-6).
Judging Outsiders

John risked his neck to speak on this question not just to Herod as king but also to Herod as a man. Paul doesn’t “judge” the pagan outsiders, that’s true. He means that there is no means of holding those outside the church to the accountability of church discipline. But the church can still discern between good and evil. Even as Paul calls out the sin of the church member in Corinth, he compares it to the moral climate of the “pagans” on the outside (1 Cor. 5:1).

Jesus deals gently with tax collectors and sinners. He doesn’t, as he does with the religious leaders, call them whitewashed tombs or turn over their market tables. But he doesn’t refuse to speak to their sin. When he meets the woman at the well, he isn’t shocked by her serial monogamy, but he doesn’t leave it unquestioned either. He asks her, “Where is your husband?”

Those outside the church aren’t our battlefield but our mission-field, that’s true. We shouldn’t rail against them as though they are somehow different than we are, apart from God’s mercy in Christ. But the gospel is to be pressed on all creatures, on every human conscience. And the gospel is a call not only to faith but also to repentance. God now “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed,” (Acts 17:31), Paul preached at Mars Hill.

We then speak to lost people not only of the historical truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and not only of his grace and mercy in receiving sinners. We also call them to turn from sin, and to agree with God that such sin is worthy of condemnation. Without this, there is no salvation. We speak then, as the apostle did to a pagan ruler, about “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25).
Still Accountable

Our lost neighbors might be “pagan” in the sense that they are not part of the community of God, but they are still accountable before God. Their consciences are embedded with a law. John wasn’t the first to say to Herod that he couldn’t have his brother’s wife; this was hardly new information. Herod’s conscience already told him that much, and pointed him to his accountability on the day of judgment. John’s rebuke was an essential part of gospel preaching.

Christians often ping back and forth between extremes. The church of the last generation was often more concerned with a moral majority than with a gospel priority. In our attempt not to fall into that error, we could fall into an opposite, and just as dangerous, ditch. We could assume that all moral norms speak merely internally to the church, and we could fail to speak to unbelievers about such things. Such would be a refusal to love our neighbors, to warn them of what we will face at the judgment seat. But it would also be a refusal to preach the gospel. Without defining sin and justice, we cannot offer mercy.

Guilty consciences don’t initially like that word. None of us did, at first. But that’s the mission we’ve been given. Some of us may wind up with our heads on silver platters. Jesus knows how to put heads back on.

Truths

July 5, 2013

It has often been said that America was founded upon an idea. The country was not formed mainly for power or privilege but in adherence to a set of principles. Granted, these ideals have been, at various times in our history, less than ideally maintained. But the ideals remain. The idea persists.

If one sentence captures the quintessential idea of America, surely it the famous assertion contained in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Almost every word of this remarkable sentence, 236 years old today, is pregnant with meaning and strikingly relevant.

The United States of America began with the conviction that a nation should be founded upon truth. Not simply values or preferences, but upon truths. Self-evident truths that were true, are true, and will remain true no matter the time, the place, or the culture.

And central among these truths is the belief that all men are created equal. No one possesses more intrinsic worth for being born rich or poor, male or female, artisan or aristocracy. Of course, this truth, as much as any, unmasks our history of hypocrisy, for 3/5 of a person is an eternity from equality. But truth is still true. We all come into the world with the same rights and the same dignity-whether “gated community” in the world’s estimation or “trailer trash.”

These unalienable rights, we must note, are not granted by the Declaration of Independence. Our rights do not depend upon government for their existence. They are not owing to the largesse of the state or the beneficence of any institution. The rights of man are the gifts of God. The Creator endows; the state exists to protect. These unalienable rights can be suppressed or denied. But they cannot be annulled. We possess them-no matter what kings or parliaments say or presidents and congress decree-by virtue of being created in the image of our Creator.

And what are these rights? The Declaration mentions three: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Obviously, these rights are not untethered from all other considerations. Life should not be lived in a way that means death for others. Our pursuit of happiness should not make others miserable. The Declaration is not calling for anarchy. It believes in government, good limited government rightly construed and properly constrained. But the rights enumerated here are still surprisingly radical. No matter how young, how old, how tiny, how in utero, or how ill, every person deserves a chance at life. Every one deserves a chance at self-governing. Everyone has the right to pursue his self-interest. There’s a reason the Founding Fathers did not wax eloquent about safety and security. It’s because they believed freedom and liberty to be better ideals, loftier goals, and more conducive to the common good.

I understand the dangers of an unthinking “God and country” mentality, let alone a gospel-less civil religion. But I also think love of country-like love of family or love of work-is a proximate good. Patriotism is not beneath the Christian, even for citizens of a superpower.

So on this Independence Day I’m thankful most of all for the cross of Christ and the freedom we have from the world, the flesh, and the devil. But I’m also thankful for the United States. I’m thankful for the big drops of biblical truth which seeped into the blood stream of Thomas Jefferson and shaped our Founding Fathers. I’m thankful for our imperfect ideals. I’m thankful for God-given rights and hard-fought liberty. I’m thankful for the idea of America.

Kevin DeYoung