Tomorrow I turn 27. Robert Murray M’Cheyne died at 29. M’Cheyne’s impact has been tremendous on the church though most people touched by his work know it not. M’Cheyne developed the most commonly used through the Bible in a year reading program, continuing in use through avenues such as D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God series and the ESV Study Bible.
As I take a break from work to write this, I’m surrounded by piles of books on inspiration and biblical theology to be used in the slow process of writing curriculum for my new classes. The house is coated with a light covering of dust from a half-sanded 1940s maple coffee table that will be reincarnated as beautiful rather than as the final resting place for leaking glitter bottles. Throughout the halls are boxes full of wedding presents from generous friends, some to be stored and saved and others to be used.
As I think of M’Cheyne’s life and legacy, the temptation arises to grow discouraged about my own. “I must do more for the kingdom,” says the siren voice of the success syndrome. ”If I die at 29, I’ll have done nothing noteworthy and die forgotten.”
But the purpose of faithful service in the kingdom of God isn’t for me to be remembered. It’s that Christ may not be forgotten in this generation and the one to come. The world must pant for justification, not my journals. And so if I were to know that I only had two years left, I’d do exactly what I plan on doing for the next two years: I will teach, that my students might know God. I will love my wife, seeking to bring joy into her life. I will actively serve my church, that I might be a blessing to my fellow believers.
This is what M’Cheyne sought to do. He did not set out to be famous. He was a man who faithfully lived his 29 years. He preached God’s word to God’s people, he wrote letters, he studied theology, he sought to order his life to know God more fully, and then he succumbed to typhus. We do not need men who are consumed by grand visions for the kingdom of God that have themselves as the thumbtack which holds it all together. We need men who will be content to put one foot in front of another day in and day out until they finish the course. May God crucify our ambitions of celebrity.
I haven’t thought about my blog for months. It once was a passion; to be truly honest I must say it was often a consuming passion. The articles written for this site span three major seasons of my life: college, seminary, and now teaching theology at a Christian school. Along the way my ministries have radically changed. My communities have radically changed. My marital status is about to change. (In the good way, not the bad way.)
But through it all, the gospel has stayed the same. I was shot through full of weaknesses seven years ago when I began to write. I still am. But that’s the point of the gospel. I am not perfect. I struggle with sin over and over again. New contexts and new ministries do not change my heart; God does. Slowly but surely he is shaping me into his image. That’s the point of life. More than blogs or ministry footprints or name-dropping, I just want to be faithful. Whatever the context, whoever the people, whatever the mission, I just want to be faithful.
Johnson tried hard to hold back the tears as he hugged his family for the last time before they began the long trip back home without him. His mother wasn’t so wrapped up in appearing tough and independent, so her tears freely carved channels down her face and onto her blouse. The younger siblings each received a rather self-conscious hug and the dad a firm handshake. Johnson turned, grabbed his last suitcase full of college necessities, and thus began his college career.
Johnson knew his Bible. And he knew the reality of what life was going to be like at a state school. Thankfully he’d been able to get himself transferred away from the original dorm he’d been placed in. The whole progressivist co-ed dorm thing declared itself to be “more exciting” than normal dorm life. Johnson would take dorm life as known to humanity since two guys named Cain and Able invented sharing the bedroom 8,000 years ago, thank you very much.
As he arranged his small collection of family pictures and mementoes of high school success, he thought about the life he was entering, and the life he was now stepping beyond. Gone were the fast friends he had made through youth group, as they were cast about by the wind to different colleges throughout the country. You go where the scholarship money leads. Gone was the church that had taught him how a felt board operated, that had heard his testimony before he was buried into the waters of baptism. Gone was the pastor’s office whose walls would speak of special times of counsel and direction, of words of prayer for protection while beginning this new life. And gone was the Christian high school that promised to prepare its students for life beyond its walls. The preparation was done. It’s show time. New church to choose, new friends to make, and new perspectives to dismantle.
Warily Johnson eyed his biology professor from the fourth row. This was the moment that he had been prepared for. As an infant he had grappled with Gerber creamed carrots in his stomach, and complex arguments for the dating of the Noahic flood in his mind. His school books had all dedicated themselves to debunking Darwinists as foolish and misled, parasites who longed to feed their parasitic egos on the souls of the young and the naive. Darwinists were fools, hardly more competent to draw rational conclusions from scientific data than the monkeys they claimed to have descended from.
And then the professor opened his mouth and addressed the class. He welcomed them, warmly, to their first day of class. Nervous laughter greeted his jokes about first-day experiences. He opened the door of his office to anyone who wanted to talk with him. And then he began to teach. And it didn’t sound as crazy as when Johnson’s pastor had described it in his Sunday morning series on Genesis.
Enter the war in Johnson’s heart. Those who love Jesus have told him that everyone who believes in Darwinism is a fool, a chest-beating buffoon who knows nothing of fairness nor decency. Those Darwinists he has encountered have proven to be none of those things. In fact, it’s the pastor who’s beginning to look like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, for his representation of the insanity of Darwinism and the coherent thought that is marched out every Tuesday and Thursday from 12:20 to 1:50 resemble each other as much as his mother and a howler monkey.
Six months later, Johnson’s mother is overcome with tears before her son again. Only this time there is no joy mingled in the cup of sadness. Just fear. Her son has come home from college, riddled with doubts about everything he had been raised to believe. Not just about the age of the earth, but of the reality of the cross and the existence of God. After all, how could there be a God who orders events so that little Japanese children are swept away by tsunamis and their parents are radiated by exploding nuclear power facilities, doomed to the slow surrender of their bodies to cancer.
“How did this happen?” she cries to her husband. “How does everything we taught him for 18 years get swept away by the current of everything he was taught to beware of?”
If we content ourselves with teaching caricature, we’ll accomplish nothing more than to create an army of people who desert what we’ve taught them for what we fear most they’ll believe.
I’m preaching this at the North County Christian School chapel tomorrow, from 1 Corinthians 1:18. Pray that God will cause the students to see that commitment to Christ cannot be halfhearted, and that the cost of following Christ is high but entirely worth it.
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. What’s the word of the cross? The gospel. Who are the perishing? Those who are unbelievers. What do they think of the gospel? They think it’s foolishness.
Nobody respects what they think is foolish. There is no honor or reputation in identifying yourself with something that others think is foolish. I mean, when was the last time you saw someone get all fired up about unicorns?
If I were to come up to you, look you straight in the eye, and then with absolute sincerity, all honesty, and a forthright passion say, “Let me tell you about something. And this is really exciting. This is what my life is all about. There are two different types of unicorns. There are red unicorns and blue unicorns. And we can tell a lot about these different types of unicorns by their color. You see, we know that the blue unicorns live in cool climates because a certain plant that only grows in cold climates turns their skin blue. And the red ones, we know they live in the tropics because their red skin tone protects them from constant exposure to the sun’s rays.”
I mean, what would you think? I don’t care how many times you’ve seen the Charlie the Unicorn Trilogy. You’d think I was nuts.
And according to Paul who says, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” the gospel doesn’t sound any different to those who have not repented of their sins and come to saving faith in Christ. The gospel–the fact that human beings are sinful by nature, that God Himself was crucified on a cross, that our sins were transferred onto Him and His righteousness was transferred to us by that death, that He conquered death through His resurrection–is unicorn talk to those who don’t believe.
If you’re looking for respect, if you’re looking to be cool, if you’re looking to be considered intelligent by men, then the gospel isn’t for you. Because the truth of the gospel is completely foolish to those who are perishing. And they’re going to think you’re nuts for believing it.
One of the joys of my current position in ministry is that I get to go disc golfing (“frisbee golfing” to the terribly unsophisticated) with members of the youth group two or three times a week. I was first introduced to the sport about eight years ago through some members of my church. I would play every couple weeks in high school, the time pressures of college and dorm ministry relegated my faithful JK Champion Valkyrie driver to the furthest reaches of my closet.
During the last few months, frisbee golf has become the main point of contact between me and the members of the youth group outside of our church setting.
Disc golf is played much like “normal” golf, except by throwing frisbees instead of hitting golf balls. Specialty discs are made for frisbee golf, with thicker rims and heavier plastics to increase distance and resistance to wind. There’s a tee box that you throw off of, and a basket that you must throw your disc into (picture below). Professional players can consistently throw discs in excess of 500 feet. We’re not exactly professionals on the Cornerstone Youth Group Disc Golf Circuit. It has been a challenge to transition out of a discipleship-heavy, relationship-driven ministry as an RA at TMC to a position that is driven by teaching and finds me spending long hours behind a desk in a solitary office. And yet, I cannot believe that teaching and relationships cannot be blended together in a church environment. Which, is probably a better situation because the people doing the teaching are also doing the discipleship. My pastor’s sermons mean more because I see the life he lives in the words he speaks. It certainly is harder to get to know people when you don’t live next door to them, but difficulty isn’t supposed to stop the growth of the kingdom of God.
The more of a friend I become to the youth, the more they will hear what I have to teach on Wednesday nights. We rarely talk about anything spiritually-oriented during our disc golf games. There’s far more taunting over bad shots and laughter over the bizarre characters we meet and talk of music and Boy Scouts and pranks I pulled at Masters than anything. And that’s a beautiful thing. Because as we laugh at how the Grim Weeper tree on hole 10 ate my drive, I know that there’s more going on than just a frustrating disc golf shot. It isn’t a waste of my time to disc golf instead of write or read. Because the gospel exists inside of life, and is meant to be experienced in everything under the sun.
1 Thessalonians 2:8 says, “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” That really is the impetus for interpersonal ministry. It’s about the gospel and life, because the gospel is not a stagnant, intellectual belief but a controlling manner of life. Life and words serve to feed off of one another to increase the power of both. The more I see how those who teach me live, the more I pay attention to what they have to say. And the more I hear what they have to say, the more I’m confronted with who I ought to be.
“No Fear” was as cool as it got for much of my early teenage years. No Fear decals and bumper stickers emblazoned the rear windows of large, manly trucks. Scores of people would wear “No Fear” t-shirts. I thought cool people wore No Fear gear. In retrospect, “No Fear” has got to be one of the dumbest pop slogans in recent memory. People without fear get eaten by tigers after hopping over fences in zoos.
Fear is something that can be good or bad. It is good to fear things that can harm you. There is something wrong with a pedestrian who does not have the healthy fear of getting run over that motivates him to look both ways before crossing the street. It is bad to fear things that we ought not fear–things like the dark, small insects that cannot harm you, or mayonnaise. (I asked the youth group what are bad things to fear and that was their first response: mayonnaise. I’m tempted to say it is something that should be feared, but that’s another topic.)
Because fear can be either good or bad, it’s really important to define what we mean by “The fear of the Lord.” The Fear of the Lord is reverence and awe of God fueled by the reality that God is both a righteously angry judge and a tenderly loving Savior. The fear of the Lord is not only negative (fear of wrath), but also wonder at His incredible mercy and grace.
Proverbs is a book based around cause and effect. “If you do (x), you will get (y). Consequently, we need to look elsewhere in Scripture in order to see our motivations for fearing the Lord. First, we’ll look at 3 motivations to fear God, and then we’ll look at 5 results of fearing God.
3 Motivations for Fearing God
1. Fear God because He can destroy both body and soul in Hell (Matt 10:28)
Have you ever wondered why God tells us about heaven and hell? There are many reasons, but a large one is so that we can live with the judgment seat in mind. There exists, right now as you read this, a king on a throne. And every second people like you and me die and appear before Him. And he’s exceedingly angry at most of them. We cannot see this scene, so it’s very easy to forget. But it is absolutely real, and soon it will be you and me before that throne. In Matthew 10:28 God says, ‘Man can do you a lot of harm. They can hurt you and kill you in very painful ways. But I can do worse than that. So fear me.’
2. Fear God Because He is an All-Seeing Judge. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
Every once in a while, a story will flash across CNN about another convicted murderer being proved innocent by new evidence. Why do juries sentence innocent men to death? They do so because they lack perfect information. God is a judge and jury that infallibly remembers every single thing you have ever done. He can recite for you every word you have spoken, every thought you have conceived, every action you have ever done. He can tell you what you had for breakfast on January 19,2002, which grocery store you purchased it from, who the truck driver was that delivered it to the store, the name of the farmer who raised the crops to receive the money to buy his breakfast the same morning. And God can tell you where that farmer bought His breakfast, and which truck driver delivered that food…
God’s omniscience should be a cause of great fear and great hope. God certainly remembers the evil that you do. But He also remembers the good you do in His name. And that comes attached with a promised reward. So fear God that you might not sin, but fear God that you might also be rewarded.
3. Fear God because Christ shed His blood for you.(1 Peter 1:7-19)
The Cross is personal. The blood of Christ is not a mist which sprinkles all of humanity, but rather a fountain directed specifically by the Father to drench only those whom He has specifically called into a relationship with Him. Be amazed that God Himself died for you. And that kind of love and dive to save you should make you a little bit nervous about the Lord. That kind of love is crazy; it’s not something you can control or manipulate. Rather that kind of love is to be obeyed in fear and trembling.
5 Results of Fearing God
1. Fearing God makes you happy! (Proverbs 28:14)
“Blessed” and “happy” are synonyms in Hebrew. To be blessed means to be happy, and to be happy means to be blessed. Now go back and read that sentence and think about Stephen who was stoned to death by a zealous mob of Pharisees. Or maybe the believers in Hebrews 11 who were torn apart by wild beasts.
Happiness and circumstances are not connected in the Scriptures. Paul learned to be content in all circumstances–which means that the circumstances were immaterial to his happiness and contentment. Jeremiah Burroughs wrote in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment,
A gracious heart…is contented not by having his on desires satisfied, but by melting his will and desires into God’s will. So that, in one sense, he cones to have his desires satisfied though he does not obtain the thing that he desired before; still he cones to be satisfied with this, because he makes his will to be at one with God’s will.
2. Fearing God means you’ll understand. (Proverbs 9:10)
This is a repeat from last week. The Bible simply is not generous in its estimation of your ability to figure life out. Since you a broken blend of righteousness and sinfulness, you need something else to measure everything else by. Without the ear f the Lord, you can never be truly wise or understanding because you’ve missed the point of your existence: glorifying God. Wisdom ultimately is a relationship not facts to memorize off a page.
3. Fearing God means you’ll live righteously. (Proverbs 8:13, 14:2)
If you are a Christian, you will turn away from evil. A Christian who lives in an unrepentant pattern of sin is not a Christian. Your hands prove what occupies your heart and mind.
4. Fearing God gives you a refuge. (Proverbs 14:26)
Fearing God and trusting God are inseparable. We do not fear and trust a vengeful God, but rather a God who loves His people. He is a trustworthy God, for He loves us as a father loves his children. Romans 8:28 has sadly been hijacked into becoming some kind of cliche. But this verse isn’t meant to be paired with a low-budget picture of a field of tulips on the front of some greeting card. It’s a tough-as-nails verse to hang onto when nothing else is going to cut it. At the end of the day when nothing else makes sense, we must trust and rest in God’s promises of His sovereignty and His goodness.
5. Fearing God means you won’t fear anything else. (Psalm 56:11, 118:6)
With a sovereign God who has promised that everything is in His control and for your good, what is there to fear? John Paton was a missionary to the New Hebrides. The first two missionaries to land on this island chain were clubbed to death and eaten on the beach within 15 minutes of landing. Paton sailed about twenty years after these two men to evangelize a still-unreached cannibalistic tribe in the chain. He was threatened with death almost every day, spent a night in the top of a tree while every islander combed the earth for him with their machetes, and had dozens of partners killed while he survived. Paton lived his motto: “I am invincible until Christ calls me home.”
If you fear God, not even death can touch you without His permission. And then it is not a messenger of darkness but rather a call from a Father to come home. It’s hard to be afraid when the worst man can do turns out to be the best possible thing for you.
This is the second post in a series on the book of Proverbs based on a message series entitled “Gracious Wreaths of Godly Wisdom.” Here are the links to previous posts:
How to Be a Fool (Part 1) – Proverbs 2:3-19
How to Be a Fool (Part 2) – Proverbs 2:3-19 (cont.)
6. Read the Bible, but don’t study it. (5) What would you think of a gold miner who, upon finding a couple flecks of gold in a stream, declared his journey to be profitable and himself to be content? You’d think him crazy! Where there are a few flecks of gold to be had easily there’s bound to be storehouses of gold underground. Only a sluggard or a fool would be content with a few nuggets when he might have pounds of gold should he dig.
The Bible is an absolute gold mine. And like any other gold mine it’s treasures are not to be had by the lazy. It is certainly true that there is wisdom to be had by reading the Bible. But there are stores of wisdom buried, only to be uncovered by those who work for it. The author of Hebrews chastises his audience for being content with milk and not meat in Hebrews 5:11-14 saying, “You should be teachers! But you don’t know the Word because you haven’t studied!” Oh, let that not be us.
It’s easy to look at men like Piper, MacArthur, and our local pastors and think they are something special. But all the men we respect for their biblical knowledge are just that–men. What they have done is diligently applied themselves to the Word. There is nothing stopping you from becoming like your spiritual heroes if you would work for it.
7. Supplement your knowledge of the Bible with other philosophies and ideas. Scripture’s great and all, but it just doesn’t cover everything you’ll ever face. (6) Across the entire Bible, the Lord alone is pictured as the source of wisdom. Everything apart from His Word is foolishness. If true wisdom is found outside the pages of Scripture, it is because that person or book or anything else has been colored by the wisdom found in the Word. Wise people are those saturated by the Word.
8. Let knowledge flock to your head, but not migrate to your heart. (9-10) Solomon uses the word “for” in v10. This means “because.” Why can you discern truth? Because wisdom has sunk into your heart! It is a terrifying reality that it is possible to spend your life in the church hearing sermons, spending time with godly people, and even teaching the truth and yet still be unconverted. According to Jesus this is not an infrequent occurrence. “Many,” he says in Matthew 7: 13-23, “will say to me in that day ‘Lord, Lord’ did we not perform miracles and cast out demons in your name? And I will reply ‘I never knew you. Depart from me you doers of lawlessness.”
This isn’t a fake picture. How many people in our churches and our Christian colleges and youth groups will die entirely convinced they will hear “well done, good and faithful servant” only to be shocked by the words “Depart. I never knew you.” Hell is full of people who professed Christ to be their Lord. Do not trust the heights of the sacrifices you make for the Lord or the depths to which you have sunk in sin, but rather look at the overall course of your life–do you obey?
9. Don’t be too choosy about who you make friends with. After all, everyone’s good deep down. (12-15) This simply is not true. Everyone is crooked deep down unless an intentional change has taken place in their hearts. Solomon specifically warns us to flee from four kinds of people: those who have left the faith, those who find entertainment in sin, those who hinder the truth, and those who live differently than they talk.
10. Romance the unregenerate. (16-19) Almost every single one of you will face this at some point in your life, whether it be at school now, in college, or in the workplace. I ran into it for the first time at age seventeen while working at Taco Bell. Understanding the bent of an unregenerate person’s heart and their eternal destiny (should God not perform a work) is key to deflecting temptation. No one would marry a corpse. Why would you get involved with a spiritual corpse? The person you’re dating will have a substantial impact on you, and the person you marry even more so. Though they cannot make a genuine believer lose their salvation, they certainly can dull your drive to follow your Savior. Don’t think you’re immune.
Charles Bridges wrote, “Never has apostasy from the faith been connected with a prayerful and diligent study of the Word of God.” The Word of God is the perfect transmission of the Mind of God. Everything God wants us to know about Him and how we ought to live is between the cover of this book. If you want to know God, you will study like a desperate man who understands his unspeakable need, yet has been saved by incomprehensible grace.
This is the second post in a series on the book of Proverbs based on a message series entitled “Gracious Wreaths of Godly Wisdom.” Here are the links to previous posts:
How to Be a Fool (Part 1) – Proverbs 2:3-19