Gracious Speech -

“Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.”
- Proverbs 4:24

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
- Colossians 4:6

“For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
- James 3:7,8

“It may seem too obvious to say, but Genesis 1 makes it plain that the first words ever spoken were spoken by God. Language is not a human invention to be used in whatever way serves our interests. If God is the first speaker, then language is his creation. This means that our ability to speak was given to us by the Creator and it exists for his glory. Everything we will ever say belongs to him and should be used for his purposes. Words, in short, have a high and holy calling.”
- Tim Lane and Paul Tripp, Relationships, A Mess Worth Making, p. 71

“It is time for many of us to confess that we have not known the way of love. Our words have hindered, not helped, what the Lord is seeking to do. We have been controlled by the passions and desires of the sinful nature and failed to represent Christ’s character. We need to cry out for grace to speak loving words as his ambassadors.”
- Paul Tripp, War of Words, p. 229

“Please forget the words I just blurted out,
It wasn’t me, it was my strange and creeping doubt
It keeps rattling my cage.
And there’s nothing in this world to keep it down.”
- Radiohead, I Can’t

When I think about the things I’ve said over the years my knees get weak. James calls the tongue a restless evil that is full of deadly poison. I can still remember hurtful things I’ve said over forty years ago. A sharp word, a critical judgment conveyed to others, a terse argument, gossip designed to form an opinion – these, and more, are in my collection of spoken sins. My tongue is a restless evil. And there is a sinful satisfaction when the tongue does its work. To refrain from evil speech and to ‘tame’ the tongue is no easy task. It is restless, and the sinful heart is not satisfied until the tongue has its way. When we speak we are simply giving verbal expression to the restless evil already formed in the heart. Our speech reveals our heart and for me this is sobering. By our words we have the power of life and death. When I think about my words I am grateful for the thorough and complete work of Christ’s substitutionary work. Christ’s passive obedience, which is that perfect obedience Jesus rendered to the Father in fulfilling all righteousness, has been credited to my account. His perfect speech, sinless tongue, and unsinning heart have been imputed to me. I no longer bear the just judgment God declares against my sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. And yet, God’s sanctifying work is not yet complete in me. I need reminders to speak graciously. I need my speech, even now, to be redeemed. God, as the first speaker, must redeem my words, and He must do this continually by making my heart new. It will do no good to reform my speech with no change to my heart. I’m praying for God to renew my heart day by day and make it evident by the things I say.

Lord, let the words of my mouth be an evidence of the efficacy of your work taking place in me.



The Promise of Grace in the New Year -

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
-Hebrews 10:23

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
- John Newton, Amazing Grace, verse 4

Q. What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?
A. The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God's love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.
- Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question and Answer 36

“We shall bring our Lord much glory if we get from Him much grace. If we have much faith, so that I can take God at His Word…I shall greatly honor my Lord and King.”
- Charles Spurgeon, quoted in John Piper’s Future Grace, p. 9

“In other words, on the basis of the work of Christ, the power of the redeemed future has been released to act in the present in the person of the Holy Spirit.”
- N. Q. Hamilton, The Holy Spirit and Eschatology in Paul, quoted in Anthony Hoekema’s, The Bible and the Future, p.58

Recurrent cancer, changes in vocation, challenges in relationships, the loss of dear friends…sadly, the list is long.  To say that 2012 was a tumultuous year is a colossal understatement. What can we expect from 2013? Will this next year be more of the same? Will it be better? Or will it be worse? One thing we can be assured of is the faithfulness of our promise-keeping God no matter what this next year holds. For some of us this new year will bring extraordinary trial and for others extraordinary blessing, and for all of us there will be an opportunity to prove God’s faithfulness again and again. The Cross stands as the declaration of God’s intention and commitment to show us His favor. In the brutal death of His Son and the Son’s subsequent resurrection everything that could be used for our harm will only redound to our good. This is not some perverse prosperity theology, but rather because of the sin-bearing satisfaction of Jesus Christ, God has promised good to us. No matter what comes in 2013 we mustn’t waver, because He who promised is faithful. Listen to the God-exalting, Son-crucifying, grace-magnifying love the Father has for us,

“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:32-37)

Whatever may happen…I’m expecting an abundance of undeserved and God-exalting grace in 2013.



Advent Ponderings: Lessons in Speaking Truth to Power and Lessons in Humility -

'But when all seemed most unlikely - comes Christ, and is born of the despised stump, of the poor and lowly maiden! The rod and flower springs from her whom Sir Annas' or Caiphas' daughter would not have deigned to have for her humblest lady's maid.  Thus God's work and His eyes are on the depths...'[1]

‘But the truly humble look not to the result of humility but with a simple heart regard things of low degree, and gladly associate with them.  …True humility, therefore, never knows that it is humble….’[2]

Its Monday, Christmas Eve Day, and I’m attempting to have my thoughts turned toward this Advent season.  This morning I've been reading a letter penned in 1521 to Prince Frederick, the Duke of Saxony, by Martin Luther on the Magnificat (Mary's song of worship in Luke 1:46-55 at hearing the news that she would bear the Messiah) and I have been struck by two things,

1)   Luther's boldness in speaking truth to power.  He pulls no punches whatsoever in appealing to Prince Frederick, even to the point of suggesting to him how he ought to act and pray.  Luther is not ashamed or unaware that the Christian faith must have a voice in the public square.  In my sermon prep for this upcoming Sunday I’m giving consideration to Mark 4 and in the passage Jesus makes a bold declaration about Light coming into the world and the importance of the Light not being hidden.  The Christian faith is declarative.  Our verbal witness to Christ must take all forms, even to the point of speaking truth to power.

2)   It is a wonderful exposition of both humility and worship as Luther describes Mary's response to the news.  God sees Mary in her humble position and she responds in incredible humility.  Her humility is not feigned.  It is the work of the Spirit of God within her.

These two points from Luther’s letter are not contradictory.  For Luther to speak to Prince Frederick was not arrogance, but rather gospel-infused boldness.  Boldness and humility are not adversaries, but rather necessary friends.  To speak truth to power in gospel boldness requires gospel humility.  We’ve all seen or heard arrogant and foolish declarations by Christians, but the voice that will most likely be heard is the voice of humble boldness.  Mary was a picture of humility but in her humility sang and rejoiced and proclaimed the goodness and character of God, but Mary’s words also contained a warning to those in power and those who are arrogant.  In the mystery of the Incarnation God has brought them low. 

In this letter the takeaway for me is fostering a willingness to speak boldly when I’d rather keep quiet, and to ask God for increased grace in humility.  I want to be both a bold and a humble man.  On this Christmas Eve Day and in the mystery of the Incarnation I’m aware of my great need for both, and I’m aware that this is precisely the reason for Mary’s song.


[1] Luther, Martin, Luther’s Works, The Magnificat, vol. 21, p. 302
[2] Ibid, p. 315


Seeing with Clarity for the First Time -

“…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
-John 3:19-20

“…the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned."
-Matthew 4:16b

The gospel is good news for those that have only known darkness. When God gives sight to the blind light dawns where only darkness was known. In the Incarnation God has turned on the light of the gospel for those whose entire world was comprised of inky blackness. All we knew was blindness accorded by a world of deep dark. All we knew and loved was the comfortable envelope of blackness. Several years ago I remember reading a National Geographic article about different creatures that live in the depths of caverns. A picture showed a salamander whose eyes had become completely blind because it’s home was in the depths of darkness. The darkened world was all it knew and its eyes had become useless orbs. Day after day after day no light had broken in to bring functionality to the eye. The salamander knew no difference. Blackness was its home and It’s world was one of devoid of all light. In the gospel God has brought light to us. We did not see, nor could we see, nor would we see. We had become acclimated to darkness, because it is all we had ever known. This was the environment we knew and loved. And when the first rays of gospel light come we squint and rub our eyes straining to see for the first time. Could it be that we’ve been so blind for so long? It is as if we’ve entered a whole new world. In the Incarnation God brings light into our darkness. For once in our lives we begin to see with clarity, and this is because God has brought light into our darkness.



Our Obscure and Exalted King -

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”
- Micah 5:2

“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
- Luke 2:12

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by

Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love

O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.

No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today

We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
- O Little Town of Bethlehem, Phillip Brooks

A while back we received an email from some dear friends in Starbuck, Washington. Starbuck is an obscure little town, barely a spot on the map and located about forty miles east of Walla Walla. There aren’t very many people in Starbuck. In fact you need to know what you are looking if you expect to find it. There is one store and a gas station and even those are closed during the severe winter weather. Most of the folks either work in agriculture, for the government, or they are unemployed. With the weather fronts that move through the Northwest, Spokane and Portland get all the news. No one knows or cares about Starbuck.

Years ago in an obscure agricultural village something amazing happened. The King of Kings was born in an obscure backwater town named Bethlehem. Consider that the Ruler of all became a newborn baby lying in a cattle stall in a non-descript agricultural community. There was no fanfare and no press release. The only witnesses were mom and dad and some farm animals. Eventually some shepherds, some traveling magicians, and some angels came to herald the birth, but in the moment it was only obscurity. As far as the world was concerned it was just another night in an unimportant village.

Many times the glory of the gospel comes to obscure places, and in obscure times, and to obscure people. This is the mystery of the work of the Spirit under the sovereign hand of God. The gospel most often comes without fanfare, press releases, and attention. This gospel often comes to the unlikeliest of people and in the unlikeliest of places. It will not always be this way. The day is coming when the King will be recognized and worshipped by all.

It is a joy for me to look back on this past year. I can see where God has been at work without fanfare and in obscurity. Rejoice, the King has come to obscure and needy sinners like you and me.



Brokenhearted Affections -

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” - Psalm 51:17

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite."
-Isaiah 57:15

“All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
-Isaiah 66:2

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.”
- James 3:13

“All gracious affections, that are a sweet odor to Christ, and that fill the soul of a Christian with a heavenly sweetness and fragrancy, are brokenhearted affections. A truly Christian love, either to God or to men, is a brokenhearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is an humble hope, and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory is a humble brokenhearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to an universal lowliness of behavior.”
- Jonathan Edwards, quoted by Sam Storms in, Signs of the Spirit, p. 117

“Sheep are the most harmless, quiet, inoffensive creatures that God has made. So should it be with Christians: they should be very humble and lowly-minded, as disciples of Him who said, ‘Learn of me for I am meek and lowly in heart.’ They should be known as persons of a very gentle and loving spirit, who desire to good to all around them, who would not injure any one by word or deed; who do not seek the great things of this world, but are content to go straightforward on the path of duty and take whatever it shall please God to send them. They ought to show forth in their lives and outward conversation that the Holy Ghost has given them a new nature, has taken away their old corrupt disposition and planted in them godly thoughts, desires and purposes. When, therefore, we see people biting and devouring one another, saying and doing uncharitable things to their neighbors, and passionate and evil-tempered and angry on the slightest occasion; full of envy and strife and bitter speaking, - surely we are justified in saying, ‘Ye do not belong to Christ’s flock; ye have yet to be born again and made new creatures; there must be a mighty change. Profess what you please, at present we can only see in you the mind of the old man, even Adam the first, but nothing of the second Adam, even Christ Jesus the Lord; we can discern the spirit of the wolf, however fair your clothing, and we want instead to discover in you the spirit of the lamb.”
- J.C. Ryle, The True Christian, p. 112

God draws near to the humble and the contrite. Humility and contrition are indications of the grace of God at work in our hearts. And true humility and contrition cannot be feigned. They are the work of grace given by God to the undeserving. They recognize they cannot change themselves. Jesus Christ was clothed with humility and the Spirit bears the fruit of humility in those that belong to Him. Simply stated, Spirit borne Christians are characterized by humility, and as such, when we interact with one another humility and contrition ought to characterize both our posture and our conversation. God resists the proud and brings them low. He is repelled by the arrogant and the proud, but He draws near to the humble and contrite. As those who love Christ and are called by His name may we be filled with humble, brokenhearted affections for Him and for those around us.

I’m grateful for mercy to those like me that least deserve it, and I’m praying that God would continue to work His brokenhearted affections in my life.



A Hymn Unlikely to be Sung in Most Churches -

The Son of God goes forth to war,
a kingly crown to gain;
his blood red banner streams afar:
who follows in his train?
Who best can drink his cup of woe,
triumphant over pain,
who patient bears his cross below,
he follows in his train.

That martyr first, whose eagle eye
could pierce beyond the grave;
who saw his Master in the sky,
and called on him to save.
Like him, with pardon on his tongue,
in midst of mortal pain,
he prayed for them that did the wrong:
who follows in his train?

A glorious band, the chosen few
on whom the Spirit came;
twelve valiant saints, their hope they knew,
and mocked the cross and flame.
They met the tyrant's brandished steel,
the lion's gory mane;
they bowed their heads the death to feel:
who follows in their train?

A noble army, men and boys,
the matron and the maid,
around the Savior's throne rejoice,
in robes of light arrayed.
They climbed the steep ascent of heaven,
through peril, toil and pain;
O God, to us may grace be given,
to follow in their train.

-Reginald Heber,  The Son of God Goes Forth to War, 1812

The Great Equalizer -

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."
- George Orwell, Animal Farm

"To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:"
-2 Peter 1:1

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..."
-Romans 3:21-23

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise."
- Galatians 3:28-29

At the end of the day you and I are no different from one another. In the Christian faith there are no Christians more equal than others. The gospel speaks to us as the great equalizer. On the one hand it shows us all our desperate need of the gospel as a result of our own incited rebellion against God and in our federal representation in Adam, and on the other hand the gospel calls attention to the all-encompassing sufficiency of Christ's substitutionary death for every sinner. The problem is the same and the remedy is the same. We all have sinned, we have all fallen woefully short. There is no room for arrogance or boasting amongst us. There is no room for looking down our noses on our brothers and sisters. There is no room for condescension. There is much room for humility and preference for one another. We're all in the same predicament and understanding our own great need of Christ and His gracious provision for us will go a long way in how we treat one another and prefer one another. The temptation is to draw lines, make comparisons, point out deficiencies, and excuse our own shortcomings. The gospel speaks to our need and to Christ's satisfaction. What initially appears to be differences in race, gender, social standing, et al, are really unimportant. In our greatest need we are truly no different from one another. Seeing this and believing it will change us. We are no different from one another; we are heirs together of the same promise.



The Primacy of Christ -

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
- 1 Cor. 2:1-2

“The church in America will have to learn what it means to mourn before it can dance. Sticking to the story, fixing our eyes on Christ – even if it means distracting us from what we have diagnosed as our real issues – is the kindest thing a pastor can do for a congregation, the most precious gift we can receive and pass on to our neighbors, and the most relevant mission on earth.”
- Michael Horton, Christless Christianity, p. 259

“We have a God who is capable of self-sacrifice for us. It was although he was in the form of God, that Jesus Christ did not consider his being on an equality with God so precious a possession that he could not lay it aside, but rather made no account of himself. It was our God who so loved us that he gave himself for us. Now, herein is a wonderful thing.
- B.B. Warfield, quoted by Carl Trueman in The Wages of Spin, p. 127

Whatever is said of us may it never be said that we were deficient in being Christ-centered. Of anyone, we have the most incredible story to tell. I fear though at times we live as if the good news found in Christ is a modest proposal, rather than the singular grand message in all of creation. Reconciliation to God through the person of Christ makes all other news anemic, but I’m afraid much of the time we treat it as yesterday’s headlines. This news alone has the power to save. This person alone has the prerogative and authority to forgive. Our many transgressions are against Him and it is He alone that brings forgiveness at great cost to Himself. In Warfield’s words, ‘It was our God who so loved us that he gave himself for us. Now, herein is a wonderful thing.’ Our priority and primacy is Christ. We must keep our eyes fixed upon Him. He must capture our gaze. It is this beatific vision that will change us and in turn provide impetus for sharing that same gospel that will change our family, neighbors, and friends. May we resolve to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.



What Child is This?

'And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
- Luke 1:34

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.
-John Donne (1572-1631), Annunciation

Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
- Charles Wesley, Hark the Herald Angels Sing

'View Jesus in the light of God and against the dark background of sin, view Him as the satisfaction of man's deepest need, as the one who alone can lead into all glory and all truth, and you will come, despite all, to the stupendous conviction that the New Testament is true, that God walked here upon the earth, that the eternal Son, because He loved us, came into this world to die for our sins upon the cross.'
- J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, p. 381

One of the things that distinguishes biblical Christianity from other religions is its pervasive supernaturalism. Christianity is dependent upon the truth and reality of God interposing Himself into human history in ways that contravene normative, non-supernatural ways. Consider these examples: God created the world 'ex nihilo' or out of nothing, by the word of His mouth; God held back the Red Sea for the Israelites' safe passage and closed it again on the Egyptian armies; God's presence led Israel in a cloud by day and flame of fire by night; God provided food to eat for the traveling hordes of Israel; God rained fire on the pagan altars at Carmel at the prophets' request; God filled a starving widow's jar with oil for food.... Oftentimes, these miraculous events were indications of a long-awaited deliverance. We see the very same in the Gospel. It is in the Gospel that we see the apex of redemptive history made manifest in an astounding supernatural event--A virgin will bring forth a son. The Holy Spirit is the active agent in a supernatural conception and bypassing normal human conception God brings forth His Son in the womb of a virgin. This is truly an amazing story of God's supernatural intrusion into human history and this tells us several things…. God is active in the events of history, God is in control of human history, and God has a purpose for human history. Rejoice!, for immensity is cloistered in a virgin's womb. In this tiny child humanity and divinity meet. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!