Why Did You Do That?


Just yesterday, my youngest son did something stupid.

To tell the truth, his mom and dad often do stupid things, too—daily. But our job is to correct him and help him to be better than we are (which means making him prone to doing fewer stupid things). So we corrected our child.

The main way we corrected him was by asking him a question: Why did you do that?

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

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His reply was, “I don’t know.” When he responded that way, we knew clearly where our real work needed to begin. We needed to help him understand why he does inappropriate things. If we could help him understand why he does these things, we might also be able to lead him to see why he should not do them—and why he should do more positive things instead.

This struggle in our day to day child-rearing turns out to be a struggle that sits at the heart of Christian ethics. Christian ethics is about what we ought to do, what we ought not do, and why we ought to do/ not do certain things. On this last question, the “why” question, there is much debate among Christian thinkers. Why ought we love others and not murder them?

The simplest ethical response is, “Because God says so.” (But why does God say so? How do we know?)

The answer growing more popular these days to the “why” question is something like, “because good people (God’s people) do good things.” This latter answer operates on the idea that our character determines our actions. According to this view, God is intensely concerned to shape our character so that good actions which please him will flow from our good character. A classic example of this approach comes from Jesus in Matthew 12:33-35,

red cherry fruit on brown tree branch

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Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.

Christians obviously want to be good trees bearing good fruits. The kind of person you are determines the kind of actions you will perform. But there’s a  big #Problem!

How does this work? By nature, we aren’t good trees! Scripture tells us that we are by nature dead—children of wrath (Ephesians 2); Scripture says that by nature not a single one of us is righteous (Romans 3); and the Bible teaches that by nature our hearts seek to do evil continually even from a very young age (Genesis 8).

The naturally bad trees will not attempt to do good—that would be working against our own nature (like a peach tree somehow deciding to grow a watermelon). If, on the other hand, we simply confess we are bad trees and thus must do bad works, we fall victim to fatalism and disobey God’s instructions openly. How in the world can a naturally bad tree produce good fruit?

Here is where Christian ethics must begin—with theology! Christian living begins with God supernaturally revealing himself and his gospel to those who are by nature children of wrath. God reveals both himself and the sacrifice Jesus made in order for those who believe to be “converted” into good trees bearing good fruit. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:4-5,

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved!”

God makes His people alive! God reveals himself and his will to his people. His people love and trust him. They trust him to teach them how to live in this world and how to remain safe in his presence forever. Because God is good, everything he commands his people is also good.

The key to Christian ethics is simple: Start with a good and gracious God making his will known; then make disciples (teach people of all backgrounds to obey what Jesus teaches).

Disciples start obeying. From their obedience, disciples grow more and more good fruit. Obeying Jesus leads to better discernment. As the writer of Hebrews says it,

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hb 5:14).

So, Christian ethics, like child-rearing, is a process of asking and answering, “Why did you do that?” –followed by, “Why don’t you simply trust God and do what He says?” #Discernment #Sanctification

The Apostle Paul’s Seemingly Impossible Command


The Apostle Paul gives the following impossible command to the Philippian church:

Bible Complaining Leadership Elders Submit Obedience14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe

First, he does NOT say, do your best to avoid arguments. He doesn’t say try not to complain. He does not say the overall attitude should be compliance, not complaining. No, He says, do everything without complaining or arguing. Everything. No complaints.

Second, the main concern in this command is not your psychological well-being or your need to be protected from spiritually abusive pastors. The issue is squarely one between God and His people. If you belong to God, then do what you are told to do. [note the . ] And when you are told what to do—and thus are doing what you have been told to do—don’t allow your heart to grumble or your mouth to complain. When you are thus characterized by glad obedience, you are acting as blameless and pure children of God.

Third, the sum of such a compliant, obedient heart is a powerful witness to a perverted world. The most natural activity in the world is refusing any authority outside of yourself. All of us are by nature like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, who finds even the smallest thread of binding to be positively unbearable.

This wildness of heart and untamable demand for fleshly autonomy is evident even among Christians who have godly leaders lovingly instructing them.  It has a very long history among God’s people. It was prevalent in the Israelites in the wilderness. (Numbers 14:2-3, NASB),

2 All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”

In the midst of their suffering, they cried, “Why God!” Then they refused to trust the leaders God had given them, demanding instead to return to the past, which wasn’t perfect, mind you, but it was at least familiar. It was manageable. They could navigate the past. They knew they could get along comfortably there, but they had no guarantee of comfort going forward into a future which demanded faith in the place of sight. The past was easier to accommodate. It was doable. So, they grumbled at the man God provided to lead them into a promised future.

Such grumbling and complaining is both natural and wicked. It is severely and consistently condemned throughout Scripture. Jude marvels that the archangel Michael would not dare to condemn the Devil; instead, he said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (See Jude 9.) Yet, mere humans crept into the church and did not hesitate to “revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals….”  “Woe to them!” says Jude, “they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah” (Jude 11).

Paul, likewise, has severe words for those who cannot obey without complaining. In a letter to the church at Corinth (1 Cor 10), Paul speaks of the rebellion of Israel in the wilderness. He has a particular interest in protecting the church from grumbling, so he warns them not to “try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.  Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”  You see the pattern? Grumbling and complaining get you killed. It’s not safe. Not good.

Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians that the stories of Israel’s grumbling in the wilderness were written down so that later generations of God’s people might be instructed—that is, might learn from them how to follow godly leaders.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor 10:12).

Like it or not, we must be humble and obedient people, holding firmly to Christ, keeping His word, and serving His Bride as He completes His redemptive work in this world. We must not be like the rest of the world, acting as unreasoning animals, demanding our own rights, pursuing our own fleshly preferences. We must be humble, obedient, and faithful sheep listening for and responding to the voice of the Good Shepherd Himself.

What does that mean in practical terms? Consider these 4 applications:

Submit to your elders:
 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

Do not entertain charges against your elders:
19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. (1 Tim 5:19)

If you disagree—or think you might disagree—go before the Lord in prayer and dive into the Word in study before ever disparaging the work of your church or its leaders.

Finally, when you feel you must question your pastor or elders, do so with fear and with faith. The issue must not be viewed as your preferences versus the pastor’s. The only issue is the preference of the Good Shepherd Himself. What does Christ command? What does His word teach on the subject? Bring your concern to the man with your Bible in your hand and the hope of reconciliation in your heart.  Then, and only then, can you claim to be doing what is right before God.

This is a grievous subject. More than a few churches have divided and split as a result of grumbling and complaining. Those who grumble and find fault are often followers of their own lusts. They speak arrogantly, flattering some people for the sake of gaining advantage over others (Jude 16). They cause deep divisions in the otherwise unified body of Christ. And this is why the Bible says, “Woe to them!”

This expectation of unity and peace among believers is why Peter asks, “What kind of people ought you to be?” Then answers, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14).  It’s also why Paul lovingly tells the Philippians to do everything without complaining or arguing. Paul does not want any in the church to fall into the condemnation and woe of fleshly grumblers.

We need to think more about what this means in the church. So, what are some questions for a further post?

 

Why God Is Not Impressed with Our Anger

Moses, God’s Leader, Had Trouble With Trust, Too

God Restrains His Wrath, And We Can Restrain Ours

Follow Me: A Simple So Difficult Command


Chaos usually ensues after our worship service concludes. It isn’t the chaos of a charismatic explosion, filled with dancing or laughing or strange verbal utterances. It isn’t chaos of any negative sort. Rather, it’s the delightful chaos of slightly uncontrolled children rushing around in search of candy, suckers, and places to run.

My children are at least as crazy as the others, probably much more so. As is the case with any form of chaos, so it is true with Children-chaos; there is an urgent need for order. I am glad to provide such an ordering for my children. I am their father. Ordering them is part of what I’m called to do.

Christ Command Follow MeSo yesterday after our services ended and the chaotic running routine had run its course, I called my youngest two sons out of the crowded horde of kids.  Kids were scurrying around like ants whose mound had been destroyed.  Out of the mass, I called my two sons and offered a simple, stern, and clear command of two little words: “Follow me.”  What happened next was both illustrative of individual personality and of ordinary Christian practice.

As personality goes, these two little people demonstrated much in the carrying out of my simple command. Both of the boys “sort of” obeyed dad’s directive. The older of the two always wants to be out front. He wants to know everything. He wants to do everything. He is naturally an “in-charge” kind of kid. He “obeyed” by first realizing that I was heading to our van. Then, he summarily stopped following and started leading. He ran out in front of me toward the van, confident of his leadership role, even though he had little knowledge of where the van was actually parked.

The younger is much less concerned to learn or know. He, being three, is concerned about being free and having fun. Little else—including obedience—is of much interest to him. Yet, he, too, “sort of” obeyed the command. He has learned through painful experience that it pays to honor dad’s commands, but he also has retained his strong-willed, free-spirited sense of autonomy. So, he obeyed by moving toward me in large, circular patterns, patterns which would allow him to make runs into his group of friends, take time to swing around a parking lot sign, and find a moment to skip or even climb a few steps. He meandered along a gigantic looping path that, technically, was in the direction I was headed and, thus, technically, followed my command.

My first thought upon seeing these semi-obedient sons was to get frustrated that they are unable to obey even the simplest of my commands. The second thought was to laugh at the fact that this one episode had exposed their personalities so clearly. The third thought was somewhat more profound.

I realized I was observing more than my semi-(dis)obedient sons. I was actually watching my own semi-(dis)obedient life behind my Savior’s simple command: Follow Me.  Repeatedly, our Lord commanded His followers—Follow Me. He said that if we were His sheep, we would hear His voice and obey it (John 10). He said that if we desired to serve Him, we must follow Him. We must leave the dead to bury the dead while we follow the creator and sustainer of life. We must recognize the broad way of destruction, while we follow our king through the narrow way of abundant life. We must follow Jesus as He makes us fishers of men.

And yet, we often follow like my younger son, in broad, meandering circles seeking worldly amusements to accompany faithful service. Countless Luke 9:62 Christ Command Obedience Discipleshipdistractions bend our otherwise obedient walk. When we take our eyes off Jesus, or when our love is not burning hotly toward Him, our circular path of distracted service grows larger with worldly influence and smaller with the clarity and focus of faithful obedience.

Even when our zeal burns hot, we are in danger of running ahead of the Lord, just as my older son ran ahead of me. And like that older son, we run ahead with confidence without content. We run like Paul said the Jews were running (Romans 10:1-3) with zeal, but not in accordance with knowledge. There is a fine line between self-confidence and bold faith. One is obedient; the other is not quite right.

So I realized from my little after-church adventure that I shared the folly I found in my own sons. My hoped-for correction is to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, laying aside more and more of the distractions and encumbrances which dilute my obedience.  My further hope is to keep in step with the Spirit, not running ahead in fleshly arrogance or vain confidence.

May the Lord grant us all to keep both hands on the plow to work the earthly row we’ve been given. Let us not look back, to the left or to the right. But straight ahead, fixed on Christ, the Resurrection and the life. Our Savior has called us from the chaotic crowd. Let us hear His voice and follow Him.

For Your Own Good


So, did your parents ever tell you to do something you didn’t want to do, using the rationale, “This is for your own good”?  Yeah, mine did, too.  We had to go apologize when the rest of our friends did not.  We had to work while they got to play.  We got the spankings… all for our own good.

I am confessing publicly today that my parents were right.  It was (and is) for my own good.  Discipline is good. Order is good.  Having one in authority over us who will tell us what to do is good, even though we will often either not accept such authority, or we will act is thought we do not want it.  Still, it is for our own good.

The Lord, through Moses, teaches this to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 10:13, telling them to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which the Lord has commanded them for their own good. I can imagine that some of the people grumbled inwardly at having to obey.  After all, the other nations got to have temple prostitutes and many wives.  Why obey the rules of God?

Well, we could sit around and slander the silliness of ancient Israel, but it would only serve to act as a salve over the wounds our own open rebellion against God.  How many times have we felt burdened because we have had to withdraw from the gossip sessions?  We have had to depart from the parties?  We don’t get to watch the same movies.  We don’t drink the same drinks or smoke the same smokes.  Don’t, don’t, don’t.  Isn’t it true that we have murmured against our parents—and even against God—because it seems that the message of faith is Don’t?

We aren’t so different from Israel.  We, too, forget that the commandments come in the form of a deep and loving concern for our souls.  DO the commandments for your own good. When we grumble about what we don’t get to do, we demonstrate that we have forgotten the goodness of God.  We think of commands as burdens, oppressive templates imposed on us from above which intend to stifle our freedoms.  But commands are not meant to stifle us.  They are meant to free us to the full flourishing of the children of God.

Obey the commands of God.  They are not burdensome.  They are designed to set you free in a way unlike anything else under the sun (John 8:31-32).  The commands will reveal to you greater truth and greater freedom.  The commands of God will demonstrate His great goodness and perfect love.  Obey the commands of God for your own good.

Trapped


What if you lived like a mink?  In the swamps of Louisiana, there are minks galore.  So, there are traps galore set by trappers looking to make a living off the furry little swamp weasels.  What if you and I had to live constantly in fear of being trapped by some scoundrel who wanted to use us to further his own ambitions?  Actually, we do.

Oh, yes, you and I are in constant danger.  Like the mink, the worse thing we could do is fail to recognize the danger.  Then, we step directly into the trap.  Good trappers know this; so they bury the trap in the water or in a shallow hole.  But they always put the trap directly in the path of the mink, and, in fact, they put up sticks and stones in order to narrow the path, ensuring the mink steps into the trap.

It is the same way for us.  We are trapped by sinners who place traps along the path we already travel.  The path we travel is narrowed so that we—as we always do—take the easiest route.  The easiest route leads directly into the sinner’s trap, and we are hooked before we even know it.  We need not be fooled, the trap is set.

Oddly enough, we are often afraid of being trapped by preachers and preaching.  We are suspicious of those who peddle truth.  In one sense, that suspicion is more than well-earned.  With the Tiltons and Swaggarts and Haggards and Bakkers out there—not to mention the David Koresh types—we have reason to be on our guards, making sure we aren’t trapped by dubious snake-oil, salvation salesmen.

What I am suggesting, however, is that we actually become dubious of things around us—the things that make us most comfortable.  Why?  Well, because we understand what the trappers are up to—make the path comfortable and easy so the mink steps directly into it in the course of his daily rounds.  Here is why Scripture is constantly reminding us to be sober-minded and be on the alert because of the adversary prowling around checking his traps.  Is it not easy to be seduced by sin?  Is it not comfortable to forget about God?  Is it not comfortable to follow one simple, easily accessible link to internet pornography?  Is it not comfortable to blend right in to the conversation in which gossip is slicing up an absent friend?  Oh, how easy indeed!

Getting into traps is easy.  Getting out is impossible.  There are 2 choices, and they could not be further apart.  On the one hand, you can surrender all to the trapper.  Give him your fur.  Enrich his appetite for skins and be done.  On the other hand, you can cry out for freedom from the one who created you.  He can also redeem you.  He has purchased your freedom through shedding his blood on the cross.  He has demonstrated his power through being raised from the dead.

But, you need to know, he sets you free to become his slave.  There is no way to live in this world except to live as a slave.  You may not like hearing this, but it is true.  You can be enslaved to the trapper.  He will promise to make your path easy (to keep you in his trap).  He will promise to make much of you (to fatten you up and skin you for your fur).  But he will not ever let you go.  You become to him what Don Henley became to the mad-man at the Hotel California—a resident who could check out any time he liked, but could never leave.

Your other option is to become a slave to Christ.  Romans 6:16 puts it this way: Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?

You do live in a world in which you are someone’s slave.  You could become a slave to your wife, your kids, your boss.  Or, you might become a slave to your particular sin.  How many people do you know grow up wanting to lose their wives and their jobs to alcohol, gambling, or drugs?  None.  It isn’t an ambition to which people aspire.  And, yet, it happens every day.  I have known attorneys, doctors, and judges who have sold their souls (and their families) for drugs, gambling, and adultery.  They started out “enjoying” their sin, believing they were masters not only of the sinful things but also of their own world.  They were no masters; they were slaves, trapped by the path of ease.

Better that we should choose our master and choose the one who is infinitely wise and good.  Let us choose to obey Christ as master and make ourselves his slaves.  In this way we can listen and obey every command knowing that it will protect us from death; it will preserve us for eternal life; it will keep us walking in love; it will free us to love others without fear; and it will bring us an abundance of peace and joy.

Who is your master today?