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

A Day Late

July 5, 2013

1. July 4, 1776 is the day that we celebrate Independence Day even though it wasn’t the day the Continental Congress decided to declare independence (they did that on July 2, 1776), the day we started the American Revolution (that had happened back in April 1775), the date on which the Declaration was delivered to Great Britain (that didn’t happen until November 1776), or the date it was signed (that was August 2, 1776).

2. The first Independence Day was celebrated on July 8, 1776 (although the Declaration was approved on July 4, 1776, it was not made public until July 8), but for the first two decades after the Declaration was written, people didn’t celebrate it much on any date. One party, the Democratic-Republicans, admired Jefferson and the Declaration. But the other party, the Federalists, thought the Declaration was too French and too anti-British, which went against their current policies.

3. After the War of 1812, the Federalist party began to come apart and the new parties of the 1820s and 1830s all considered themselves inheritors of Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. Printed copies of the Declaration began to circulate again, all with the date July 4, 1776, listed at the top. Celebrations of the Fourth of July became more common as the years went on and in 1870, almost a hundred years after the Declaration was written, Congress first declared July 4 to be a national holiday as part of a bill to officially recognize several holidays, including Christmas. Further legislation about national holidays, including July 4, was passed in 1938 and 1941

4. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston comprised the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration. Jefferson, regarded as the strongest and most eloquent writer, wrote most of the document. After Jefferson wrote his first draft, the other members of the Declaration committee and the Continental Congress made 86 changes, including shortening the overall length by more than a fourth and removing language condemning the British promotion of the slave trade (which Jefferson had included even though he himself was a slave owner).

5. The signed copy of the Declaration is the official, but not the original, document. The approved Declaration was printed on July 5th and a copy was attached to the “rough journal of the Continental Congress for July 4th.” These printed copies, bearing only the names of John Hancock, President, and Charles Thomson, secretary, were distributed to state assemblies, conventions, committees of safety, and commanding officers of the Continental troops. On July 19th, Congress ordered that the Declaration be engrossed on parchment with a new title, “the unanimous declaration of the thirteen united states of America,” and “that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress.” Engrossing is the process of copying an official document in a large hand.

6. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the only two presidents to sign the document, both died on the Fourth of July in 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration. Adam’s last words have been reported as “Thomas Jefferson survives.” He did not know that Jefferson had died only a few hours before. James Monroe, the last president who was a Founding Father, also died on July 4 in 1831. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President, was born on July 4, 1872, and, so far, is the only President to have been born on Independence Day.

7. John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress at the time, was the first and only person to sign the Declaration on July 4, 1776 (he signed it in the presence of just one man, Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress). According to legend, the founding father signed his name bigger than everyone else’s because he wanted to make sure “fat old King George” could read it without his spectacles. But the truth is that Hancock had a large blank space and didn’t realize the other men would write their names smaller. Today, the term “John Hancock” has become synonymous with a person’s signature.

8. The 56 signers of the Declaration did not sign on July 4, 1776, nor were they in the same room at the same time on the original Independence Day. The official signing event took place on August 2, 1776 when 50 men signed the document. Several months passed before all 56 signatures were in place. The last man to sign, Thomas McKean, did so in January of 1777, seven months after the document was approved by Congress. Robert R. Livingston, one of the five original drafters, never signed it at all since he believed it was too soon to declare independence.

9. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, which makes no reference to God, the Declaration has three references to a deity. The document also makes two references that tie natural law to God. (Although Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, as a young apprentice lawyer he had studied the work of Henry de Bracton, an English jurist and natural law proponent. Bracton has been referred to as the “father of common law” and is said to have “succeeded in formulating a truly Christian philosophy of law”).

Joe Carter

Mum’s Day

May 11, 2013

How about celebrating MD with a birth of a child? I know we did ;0)

“The White House is marking Mother’s Day, which is this Sunday, by celebrating free birth control provided by Obamacare. The White House made the declaration in a tweet today from their official Twitter account.”

He is Risen!

March 31, 2013

Death has no sting. Happy Easter.

“Death is in labour and is unable to hold back its child, the Messiah.”

Resolutions

December 11, 2012

How to Make Your Resolutions Stick

There’s nothing biblical about new year’s resolutions, which is why I’ve always felt a certain freedom about them. Largely, that freedom has been expressed by ignoring them come February 1 or so, as most people tend to do. But in the years that I don’t fail miserably, I’m always grateful for accomplishing them.

The new year is a great time to start fresh. Many of us will make familiar resolutions about diet, exercise, Bible study, prayer, and money. As the clock counts down for the new year, I wanted to offer a few thoughts about making resolutions, helping them stick, and starting them off right.

Find Your Motivation

Real change only happens if we have real motivation. What is the goal of our resolution? Why are we trying to add (or for that matter, subtract) a habit from our lives?

Many Christians begin regimens of prayer and Bible study because they have been told they should. That’s not actually a motivation—it’s a sense of obligation. If we don’t have a vision in our minds for how that habit will transform us, our commitments will fade.

So ask yourself: Why? Why do I want to study the Word this way? How do I hope this changes my life? Here are some potential answers:

I want to read the whole Bible, to get a sense for the whole story of salvation.
I want to immerse myself in Scripture, reading big chunks to help me think more biblically.
I want to focus on smaller passages of Scripture, meditating on them and memorizing them so I always have them with me.
We need to cultivate desires that will sustain our disciplines—a vision of how we want to change that is substantive enough to keep us going when the going gets hard. Last year, I wrote this article about grace-motivated dieting. In it, I argue that diet and exercise should be motivated by the benefits of health, rather than social pressures, vanity, and the idol of youth. In particular, we should think about how our health affects our ability to love and serve others.

The same goes for any other resolution. Are we motivated by guilt? Are we motivated by fear of others? Are we motivated by idolatry? Start by understanding your motivation, and then discerning whether there’s a better way to keep motivated.

Then write down your motivation. Think of it as a vision statement: “I want to be healthy so that . . . ” or “I want to pray more so that . . . ” Keep it in front of you, and return to it whenever your will grows weak, sleeping in sounds appealing, or doughnuts start calling your name.

Make a Plan

Don’t wake up on New Year’s Day and start making resolutions. Change in our lives—whether we’re working on a golf swing or bad habit—usually comes slowly. When learning something like playing guitar, most teachers recommend breaking things down into little, learnable bites rather than trying to swallow whole techniques at once. Similarly, making changes in other areas will be most effective if the process advances in small steps. No one walks out the front door and runs a marathon.

For example, a few years ago, a friend of mine wanted to begin praying for an hour each day. This was a lofty goal, since he struggled to pray daily in the first place. But he made a plan to start simply—five minutes a day—and to extend his daily prayers by five minutes each week. Over the course of the year, a step at a time, he grew his practice. He relied on books like Ken Boa’s Face to Face to help guide his prayers along the way, and by mid-year, he was praying for an hour a day.

Again—it’s a principle that can be applied to any resolution. Start small. Don’t try to run a marathon tomorrow, but take a good long walk. You don’t need to go on a radical, cold-turkey diet (pun intended), but you could make a plan wherein, over four or six weeks, you make changes. Each week, make one change: cut sugars, reduce carbs, eliminate fried food, and so on.

There are lots of apps that help with this. I love the YouVersion Bible app for its reading plans—there are literally dozens of options for plans, in a variety of translations. You sign up for a plan, and it gives you a daily reminder, taking you right to where you need to be. It couldn’t be easier.

Similarly, there are great apps for health and fitness. Couch-to-5K is an app that starts with a very simple alternating walk/jog routine and daily steps it up until you’re running a 5K.

However you do it, make a plan. Write it down (preferably, in the same place you’ve written down your vision statement). Break down the changes that you want to see into small, simple steps, and allow yourself to take one small step at a time.

Start Early

The most effective thing I’ve found in recent years is to start early. Get a running start on your resolutions. Once you know what resolutions you want to make next year, you can begin them a few weeks early, and get ahead on your schedule.

Inevitably, life swallows up our time, we get behind, and that feeling of being behind schedule makes the challenge all the more difficult. If you miss a week of Bible reading because your work schedule went crazy, your kids got sick, or you simply let a few days build up, you feel like you’ve got a mountain of make-up work to do.

By starting early, you give yourself a grace-filled cushion. For instance, three weeks of a head-start on a daily Bible reading plan means 21 days of “grace” for the next year. Miss a day, no big deal. Miss a day or two a month and you’re still essentially on schedule.

So start early—especially if you’re starting from scratch.

Be Accountable

Make your resolutions known to close friends. Tell them your motivations, and recruit their help in keeping you on target. I’m personally not a big fan of using social media for this sort of thing, but you may find it works.

Give your friends permission to ask questions and call you out when you’re drifting from your vision, and keep them in the loop when you reach milestones, so you can celebrate together.

As I said at the beginning, there’s nothing particularly biblical about these kinds of resolutions. Some saints, like Jonathan Edwards, famously lived by resolutions. His were a series of questions and vision statements that guided his life. The missionary Frank Laubach famously resolved to remember the Lord constantly, and played his “Game with Minutes” in order to do so.

We can’t manipulate the way that God sanctifies us. But we can put ourselves in a place where we’re immersed in Scripture, where we’re seeking to be better able to love and serve others, and where we’re putting to death and replacing bad habits. As the new calendar year comes around, it’s a great chance to make a commitment to these ends. So seize the opportunity; take an inventory of how you’d like to see yourself grow this year; and take simple, practical steps to help make it happen.

Mike Cosper is pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He writes on the gospel and the arts for The Gospel Coalition.

Wasteful Thinking

November 23, 2012

Let the wasteful use of electricity commence.

Happy Thanks’taking’

November 22, 2012

Everyone says Happy Thanksgiving. This year, let’s think of it as Happy Thanks’taking’.

We could think of the holiday in either two ways:

One, we could think of it like this…we took the land from the Indians. Or think of something more recently, the gov’t is taking more from us (i.e. our money and our freedoms).

Or two, we could see it from the standpoint as creations from our Creator God, to be thankful for Thanks’taking’ because Jesus took our sin and crucified it on a cross of wood.

Thanks’taking’ is grace, God’s grace, to us.

So, how will you celebrate Thanks’taking’?

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
Say also: “Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise.” 1 Chronicles 16:34,35

Happy Thanks’taking, for God is good-

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses concerning clerical abuses and indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg. This famous event is often considered that launching point for the Protestant Reformation.

The chief concern for Luther and the other reformers was the doctrine of justification. It was, to use Calvin’s language, the “main hinge on which religion turns.” And the doctrine of justification is no less important today than it was 500 years ago.

There are five key concepts every Protestant should grasp if they are to understanding the reformer’s (and the Bible’s) doctrine of justification.

First, the Christian is simul iustus et peccator. This is Martin Luther’s famous Latin phrase which means “At the same time, justified and a sinner.” The Catechism powerfully reminds us that even though we are right with God, we still violate his commands, feel the sting of conscience, and battle against indwelling sin. On this side of the consummation, we will always be sinning saints, righteous wretches, and on occasion even justified jerks. God does not acquit us of our guilt based upon our works, but because we trust “him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).

Second, our right standing with God is based on an alien righteousness. Alien doesn’t refer to an E.T. spirituality. It means we are justified because of a righteousness that is not our own. I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” has been credited to me. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die” wrote August Toplady in the old hymn. We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).

Third, the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation, not by impartation. That is to say, we are not made holy, or infused with goodness as if we possessed it in ourselves, but rather Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account.

Fourth, we are justified by faith alone. The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they wouldn’t allow. In fact, the Council of Trent from the 16th century Catholic counter-reformation declared anathema those who believe in either justification by imputation or justification by faith alone. But evangelical faith has always held that “all I need to do is accept the gift of God with a believing heart.” True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. That’s what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification. We are justified by faith without deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28; Titus 3:5). The gospel is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:30-31), not “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and cooperate with transforming grace and you shall be saved.” There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christ’s, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone.

Finally, with all this talk about the necessity of faith, the Catechism explains that faith is only an instrumental cause in our salvation. In other words, faith is not what God finds acceptable in us. In fact, strictly speaking, faith itself does not justify. Faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, have communion with him, and share in all his benefits. It is the object of our faith that matters. If you venture out on to a frozen pond, it isn’t your faith that keeps you from crashing into the water. True, it takes faith to step onto the pond, but it’s the object of your faith, the twelve inches of ice, that keeps you safe. Believe in Christ with all your heart, but don’t put your faith in your faith. Your experience of trusting Christ will ebb and flow. So be sure to rest in Jesus Christ and not your faith in him. He alone is the one who died for our sakes and was raised for our justification. Believe this, and you too will be saved.

-Kevin DeYoung

Halloween v. Reformation

October 31, 2012

Halloween and Reformation Day, a secular and a religious holiday, exist uncomfortably side-by-side on the calendar. Here are 9 things you should know about the October 31 holidays.

1. The word Halloween was first used in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All Hallows’ Even (‘evening’), the night before All Hallows’ Day.

2. Reformation Day celebrates Martin Luther’s nailing his ninety-five theses to the church door Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517.

3. The Puritans maintained strong opposition to Halloween and it was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that it was brought to North America. (s)

4. While the historical date for the observance of Reformation is October 31st, most churches celebrate it on the last Sunday in October.

5. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans in the mid-1800’s began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition. (s)

6. Luther was not yet a “Protestant” when he posted the ninety-five theses. The theses were not particularly radical, and key Lutheran doctrines, such as justification by grace through faith alone, were not included. (s)

7. There has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger’s Halloween candy. (s)

8. The only country in which Reformation Day is a national holiday is Chile. (Though it is called Día Nacional de las Iglesias Evangélicas y Protestantes — National Day of the Evangelical and Protestant Churches.) (s)

9. Risqué costumes were not pervasive in America until right around Gerald Ford’s presidency, when homosexual communities in the United States adopted Halloween as an occasion for revealing, over-the-top attire. (s)

Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator.

Real Patriotism

July 4, 2012

“A real patriot is one who receives a parking ticket and rejoices in it, knowing that the system works.”