Holy Plodding: Joy and Sacrifice in the Everyday

Below are two excerpts from Reformation Doctrine: Everyday Life. You can listen here.

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So what is the spiritual sacrifice that we’re supposed to make in 1 Peter 2? Is it our fasting? Our quiet time? Long hours of prayer each night? Our Sabbath keeping? Our being inside the church building as often and much as possible?

No. It’s none of those things. It’s you. You’re the sacrifice. It’s me. I’m the sacrifice. Our lives are what we sacrifice to God. So, in that sense, it’s absolutely everything we do. From laundry to supper to office work to bedtime routines and yes, our prayers and gatherings and devotions. We do them all with the hands and heart and mind that belong to God and we pour out our lives as a living sacrifice. It’s not the uber “spiritual” things. It’s everything.

Romans 12:1 says it like this:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (ESV)

This is what the reformation was about. Luther said,

“In the NT there is no sacrifice except the one which is common to all, namely the one described in Romans 12:1 where Paul teaches us to present our bodies as a sacrifice, just as Christ sacrificed his body for us on the cross. In this sacrifice he includes the offering of praise and thanksgiving. Peter likewise commands in 1 Peter 2 that we offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, that is, ourselves, not gold or animals… in the church there is only this sacrifice, namely, our body.”

So rather than retreating from the world as monks and nuns did, and cloistering into a physical building that is considered religious with a physical altar to offer the mass as a means to greater holiness through private uber spiritual activities, we see the opposite thing. Now, we offer our lives, not in order to be made holy, but because they are holy in Christ. They have been consecrated by his blood. They are for him.

The altar that we lay our lives on is the kitchen counter, the weedy garden, the bed that needs made, the car that needs repairs, the neighbor’s leaves that need raked, anywhere that you have an opportunity to serve in life, that’s your altar. And you’re the sacrifice– your hands, your time, your mind, your feet.

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I was trying to figure out how I wrap up all these weeks and all that we’ve learned about the reformation. And there’s one thing I want us to ask ourselves as we end this entire study: how do I interpret the events of my life? And how does that change what I do with my life?

If I go home from here and get in a car accident and face horrible medical problems, what is God telling me? If I face night after night of not enough sleep, what is God communicating? If I leave from here and arrive home in perfect safety with children who obey perfectly and someone has cleaned our house and stocked our pantry. What is God telling me?

How we answer those questions will absolutely direct our lives in profound ways. The reformers discovered, through God’s word, that we interpret everything through the cross. We interpret everything as those who have been united to Christ in his suffering. Sojourners and exiles.

If bad things happen–and they do, all the time–we look to the cross as the irrefutable proof that God loves us in Christ. If good things happen–and they do as well–we look to the cross as the irrefutable proof that we do not earn anything of our own merit.

Unless we are convinced of his love for us and our complete security in him, come disease and death, hell and high water, we will not withstand the torrents of life. And unless we are convinced that his love for us is all of grace, not works, we will not be humble or holy as we ought.

But our assurance of who he is and what he has done for us, our assurance that our names are right now and always have been written in the Lamb’s book of life give us freedom to move about our day, no matter the circumstance. That assurance gives us freedom to pour out in good works done by faith through Christ—whatever form they take.

And more than that, interpreting every event and situation of our life through the cross of Christ is the only way to enjoyment of God. We will not enjoy what we do not believe is ultimately for our good. And the cross of Christ is the proof that God is for us.

How will you have the power to lay down your life, to lay down your living body on the altar of your circumstances as a sacrifice to God if you believe he hates you? How will you do it if you believe all the hardships are coming from his displeasure? But when we know that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him, when we know that the most horrible event in history of suffering was ultimately born of love—a spectacle of grace toward us, we will begin to say,

Romans 8:32–39:

“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. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (ESV)

The shorter westminster catechism was written over 100 years after the reformation, as Reeves and Chester point out in their book, and the first question captures the essence of so much of what the reformers gained in rediscovering the Scriptures. It goes like this:

Question: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

That’s my prayer for us. That in whatever we do, whether eating or drinking or studying or praying or changing diapers or caring for aging parents or suffering or walking in a valley–whatever we do, we would do it to the glory of God. I pray that there would be great delight in that—that as God gets glorified you would be set free in happiness and self-forgetfulness in him even alongside the sorrow. And that the truths we’ve learned over the past ten weeks would cause us to glorify God and to enjoy him every day until he comes again.

What Is the Church? What Does the Church Do?

Below is an excerpt from Reformation Doctrine: The Church and Practice. You can listen here.

I was on a website this morning that exists solely for the pupose of commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It gives a brief history and tracks the development of Christianity in the US and it says this,

“This is the 500th year of the Christian Reformation and Christianity has become a fractured, incomplete and conflicted body of Christians. This half-millennial milestone marks an opportunity to consider where we are, how we have arrived there, and what can be done.”

I found that to be an interesting statement. What tripped me up in that statement, among plenty of other things on the website, were two things: the verb tensing was one. Christianity “has become a fractured, incomplete and conflicted body of Christians…” Has become? I think we’ll see that even when everyone was part of the one institution of the Catholic church things were far from free of conflict and division. The east/west schism is the obvious thing, but also the conflicts over who was pope, and even doctrinal conflicts within the Catholic church that still happen today!

The second problem with that statement was saying that the church is incomplete. That’s true in an eschatological sense. But, also, the church is simply Christ’s body. It is incomplete in as much as people still need to hear the good news and be adopted into the family called the church, but it is not incomplete because we have made clear our doctrinal positions. It’s not incomplete because we’ve held fast to the Gospel, even if it means factions have developed. Quite the opposite.

So, what is the church? Who decides what the church is? Where does authority come from?

These are the questions that get at the heart of why Protestantism exists. Often when we talk about the reformers, we talk about it like they broke with Rome, as though they walked out the door, when in reality, they were kicked out of the Roman Catholic church. Luther’s goal was always to reform the Catholic church from the inside.

But the Catholic church didn’t want to course correct. The problems that were brewing in the Catholic church had been brewing long before Luther came on the scene. One of the most basic problems was around the issue of authority.

Where does authority come from? From the pope? Which pope? There were three popes at one time! From the councils of men governing who becomes pope? Who controls the institution known as the church? Or does authority come from God’s Word? And if it does (as we believe it does), what does God’s word have to say about what the church really is? Is it simply an institution? Or is it something else? Is it God’s people? What kind of authority does God give to his people, the church?

When You’re Walking Through More Than “Just a Season”: Perpetual Living in the Season of Chronic Dying

I love seasons. I love how there is always something to anticipate, always something to look forward to: snowy woolish white, new green buds, lush full life, the brilliancy of death in the leaves of autumn.

And the season motif was first put forward by the wisest of men: Solomon.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ESV)

I’m not sure how I would have survived the “season of motherhood” that included multiple littles with no older kids, little sleep, crazy amounts of diapers, and very little adult conversation without the constant reminder that I was in a season, that there would be an end, that what faithfulness to that job looked like would not be what it looked like forever. In a few short years, faithfulness would be teaching reading, tying shoes, and working on a solution to toothpaste on the walls, cabinets, and floors.

And now, faithfulness has expanded to include in-depth conversations about the Scriptures, help with increasingly difficult homework, maintaining rhythms and schedules, cultivating mentor-like friendships with my own growing kids, and legitimately funny jokes.

But I’ve noticed that there are some areas of life that are perpetual seasons; they aren’t “just a season” as the sages like to say. They are things that won’t relent until we die.

What about the depression that is vastly longer than the season of “post-partum”? What about the hard marriage that lasts fifty or sixty years? What about the unwanted singleness that endures your whole life? Or the diagnosis that doesn’t have a cure? Or the early death of a loved one who you never do get to see again in this life? Or infertility that doesn’t abate? What about seasons that have no transient time-tables?

What about caring for a child with special needs whose needs remain into adulthood? There isn’t a changing of the seasons in the same way that there is with other children, and while many parents are either longing for or dreading the day their children are independent adults, parents of kids with significant special needs do not anticipate that season in the same way. Which isn’t to say that things are stagnant or always look the same for those parents or kids. We all do change. Things can be easier or harder, simpler or more complex. And many people like myself, simply do not know what future stages will look like. I have reason to be very hopeful, but I simply cannot know. I must walk forward with no predictable season in front of me.

I’ve heard parents with “typical” kids say that that’s true for everyone, not just special needs parents and kids: none of us know what the future will hold for our children. And of course they’re right. But there is a legitimate difference of how we anticipate the future with “normal” kids and special needs kids. With my “normal” kids, it’s true I don’t know the future, but there is a template of growth, development, and maturity that is to be expected, not because we’re pretending to be God and predicting the future or presuming on his kindness, but precisely because what Solomon said is true. To everything there is a season.

Anyone who’s observed life knows how things are supposed to go. The reason we grieve special needs or untimely death or terrible illness is because those seasons have been interrupted or the predicted flow of things has been changed. The reason the grief over the death of a fourteen-year old is particularly horrific and different than the grief over a ninety-eight year old is because we have an innate understanding of how this is supposed to work.

Yet, there is great hope in knowing that while you may not be in “just a season” temporally speaking, this whole temporal life is a season. This life is the melting of winter for Christians. For some of us who have been set down in the shadow with little to block the bitter wind, we may weather this life with an ongoing chill in the bones. And for others, the sun may be throwing a bit more warmth as we perceive a centimeter of green on the tips of the trees. So, for some, this thing called life is a season with a certain sort of predictability to it—with one thing leading to another. And for others, this thing called life is a season of ongoing and chronic trial that doesn’t follow a pattern. And for most everyone, it is a combination of both.

But, we must know that winter is doomed, no matter our experience here and now. We wait for the fullness of life to come, but it is coming. Things are changing in unseen places. The seeds are underground, but they are pushing up. We may be in a chronic season of dying—dying to our expectations, our hopes, our good desires even, but we can live through it. We can perpetually live in the season of chronic dying because Christ has died once for all and he has put us in himself. He has put himself in us. Let Christ in you, the hope of glory, keep you renewed in each and every season—especially the one of chronic dying.

He knows a thing or two about how to help you live through that.

No Dieting When It Comes To Sin

Below is an excerpt from Reformation Doctrine: The Spirit. You can listen here.

Romans 8:12 “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. ”

So who are we indebted to? Clearly not the flesh, but Paul says we are debtors. We are indebted to the Spirit, who has given us life and because of that, we put to death the deeds of the body by the power of the Spirit, and live. This doesn’t earn us his Spirit or a place in Christ, this is evidence of his Spirit that’s already been given to us because we belong to him.

This is our sanctification. We must do things. We must put to death the deeds of the body. That’s us. We’re doing it. But we are doing it by the Spirit. We have a Helper–a powerful, powerful Helper–by whom we can put to death the sinful attitudes and actions that linger in us. And we must put to death the deeds of the body every day. It’s not a one and done sort of thing. Christ’s obedience and salvation are one and done. He finished his work. But this battle to kill the flesh is ongoing until he comes again. John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Galatians 5:16-26, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (ESV)

I think what’s most remarkable about the works of the flesh that must be put to death is how unremarkable so many of them are. These are the ones that likely hit home for many of us: “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy…” We may balk at the orgies and sorcery, but if you’re like me, the envy and anger seem like maybe they’re not such a big deal. What’s a little strife? Are dissensions really that big of a thing? But they are. They all are. They’re satanic. And they’re not fitting for a child of God who has his Spirit dwelling in us. And if we make a practice of them, we will not inherit God’s kingdom.

The problem is, as a friend remarked to me recently, we usually want to reduce sin rather than kill it. We put ourselves on a diet from sin, where we still get some on the weekends, but we’re hoping for a few less sin calories. This doesn’t work. Sin has to be killed not reduced or put on a diet—not twenty minutes from now or in an hour or a week, but now. And it has to be killed now again tomorrow, and now the next day and the next—the same sins over and over, always killed now. We kill them by confessing, repenting, turning, and taking drastic practical measures—like getting rid of the internet or cutting up a credit card or exposing it to a friend until it shrivels.

We kill sin by the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. Joe Rigney says this about the fruit of the Spirit of self-control, he says, “God is restoring control of you to you.” That means that we get to look at our hand and say, “Don’t touch that.” And tell our eyes, “Don’t look there.” And tell our thoughts to stop thinking that.

And the sword of God’s Spirit, the word of God, will help us immensely in this. Because you might have an argumentative streak that when you tell yourself to stop doing something, you talk back to yourself and say, “Just once,” or “I think it will be ok this time,” or all kind of crazy things, if your mind is anything like mine. But you can shut that argument down with God’s final word—you can make it quiet when you pierce it with the Spirit sword of the Bible. Stop talking back to yourself with your own words only, and start telling yourself God’s words. He says that sin is death and the Spirit is life and peace. Look to Christ and believe him.

All of Life In Christ; All of Christ For Life

Below are a couple excerpts from today’s Reformation Doctrine: Union With Christ. This is the most glorious reality in the universe. None better. I realized the other day that this reality is what almost all of my writing has been trying to get at the last many years. I also realized that I never want to write about anything else–and happily, this reality incorporates everything, so there are no limits. I actually came up with mission statement for myself: All of life in Christ; all of Christ for life. That’s the truth I want to spend my life seeing and reveling in and causing others to see and revel in. You can listen to the teaching here and if you make it to the end you may even get to hear me blubber a bit–because this truth is too beautiful not to cry over.

“Romans 6:3-4, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

You may have thought of your baptism as simply being cleansed. We often think of being baptized like being washed clean of sin. But Paul is giving us another picture to consider. Our baptism isn’t a bath, it’s a drowning. It’s a burial. We see it visually—in baptism we go under the water, as if buried in a water death.  Paul says, “Do you not know that those who have been baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” I think he expects we DO know and, if not, he’s reminding us of what we ought to know.

He goes on, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” So the point isn’t just that we die in baptism, but that we die with him. If we don’t die with him, we won’t be raised with him. We won’t walk in newness of life, because there is no life apart from Christ. None. If you aren’t killed with Christ and made alive in Christ, then you remain in Adam, in death.

Thought experiment: How can a dead person die?

We found out in Romans 5 that we are dead in Adam. And now we see that an absolutely essential part of being a Christian is: YOU MUST DIE. Here’s how we need to think about it: In Adam we are dead IN sin—in Christ we die TO sin. In Adam we are walking in death, walking in sin—in Christ we die to that deathly way of living. Paul says it like this in verse 5:

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Let’s keep on this thought experiment. Finish this phrase for me, “Jesus died so you could…” (live!). And that is gloriously true. But let’s think about what Paul is saying here. He’s not saying something contrary to that—he’s saying that, he’s just saying more than that. What Paul’s reminding us is that Christ died so that you could die. He lives so you can live. How can a dead person die? Because of Christ, that’s how. They are united to his death.

I have spent many years recovering from the notion that the being a Christian meant going from life to life. What I mean by that is, I thought, “Well—I was alive before I became a Christian, sinful but alive, and my sinfulness could lead to death… eventually.” Becoming a Christian meant avoiding that death and going from earthly life (although sinful) to eternal life. There are elements of truth there. Some of it is gloriously true.

But in this passage Paul is saying  that the Christian life is going from death to death. We were dead in Adam—we bore his name as our family name. We were dead in his sin, which was our nature. And the only way out of Adam is to die. But we don’t die with Adam, we die with Christ, in Christ. And when we do that, Paul says in verse 5, “you shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

One more point on this: When we die with Christ and are freed from Adam, we are immediately brought to life. The death we die remains dead, we leave an old self behind, but the new life that’s been given is the same motion as the death. We don’t die with Christ, wait a while, then get new life. Think of a baptism—it’s one motion: plunged below the water and brought up out of it. Death and resurrection. But not resurrection as the old man with a makeover, resurrection as an entirely new man (woman).

Martin Luther’s favorite analogy for the Christian life was not the courtroom, as glorious as it is to be declared righteous on the basis of another’s perfection, it was marriage. When we are united to Christ all that he has and is becomes ours and all that we have and are belong to him. He takes our sin and ugliness and we take his perfection and loveliness. But even as he becomes a curse for us, he also overcomes the curse for us and kills sin.

Eph. 5:22-33 is the marriage passage. Married people rightly read it to understand how this whole marriage thing works. But try reading it and thinking only of Christ and us.

Here are just a few verses. Ephesians 5:29-32

“For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” Can you hear our union with Christ? “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (ESV)

Friends. Our whole salvation, justification, sanctification and everything else is built on the fact that Christ will hold us fast. We belong to him. When you’re in the grip of the Son of God, when he has apprehended you, you don’t need to worry his grip will fail. He’s holding you and you are his.

We are not standing on one side of the room and he is on another and he hands us a present all wrapped in pretty paper that we open up and discover it’s righteousness. Then he goes back to his side of the room and we to ours. NO! The free gift of righteousness IS CHRIST—it’s through Christ! We get it when we are grafted into his vine—into him.”

 

Origin of Sin, Brene Brown, Grace, and God’s Sovereignty

Here are two excerpts from my manuscript from week 4 of Reformation Doctrine based in Romans 5:12-21. You can listen here.

Why is the doctrine of sin important? Why are we spending all this time trying to understand the problem—why not spend all our time on the solution,  isn’t that more important? It’s because every other system and religion in the world agrees with Aristotle, that we become righteous by doing righteous deeds. This is the root of Buddhism—that happiness is attained by leading a good life. Not all systems agree on what righteousness or goodness is exactly or what constitutes righteous deeds or a good life, but they all are basically self-help programs. If that isn’t true, if we don’t become righteous by doing righteous deeds, if we can’t contribute anything to our justification, but are sinful by nature, that’s important to know. Really important.

Brene Brown is a popular figure in the self-help genre that more and more women are turning to. I once saw a clip of her talking about shame and guilt. She said that guilt is feeling bad for what we do. I did something bad, so I feel guilty, but that shame is feeling bad because we believe we are bad. So, she was trying to help people change how they talk to themselves. Stop the self-talk of “I’m bad,” and start the self-talk of “I’m not bad, I did something bad.” But this is the opposite of the Christian doctrine of original sin. And it matters which is true. It matters whether we are simply good people who do bad things sometimes or if we are actually bad people who can’t do anything good in and of ourselves. Paul has shown us that we don’t just do bad things, we were born in Adam—born in sin—it isn’t so much a choice we make as an inherited family identity.

But, we DO all make the choice to sin on top of it all. And how incredibly sad and depressing to have your hope of getting rid of shame be dependent on your self-talk, your internal messaging to yourself—talking to yourself rightly about it. That’s no hope at all. We need a hope outside of ourselves, we need something deeper than our flawed minds to rely on to get us out of this mess.

Martin Luther, for all his obsessing over seemingly minute sins and constantly running to the priest in confessional with an overactive and tortured conscience, was actually not even close to reckoning with the depth of depravity in all of us. He could confess all that he DID wrong, but where could he go to confess that HE was fundamentally sinful, inside, tainted?

We need the freedom to acknowledge that I don’t just DO bad things, but I am, by nature, a sinner, because look who my father is—Adam, the trangressor. And look at the inclination of my heart—it’s condemning evidence. Freedom doesn’t just start with grace—it starts with the confession of core sinfulness—it’s after we reckon with the fact that every part of us is tainted by sin, in our very nature, that we take our first step toward sanity, our first step toward truth.

Without the doctrine of sin, the grace that flows out of the fount of the crucified and risen Christ is meaningless. Without knowledge and acknowledgment of sin, we make the cross of Christ small, we make his grace an unnecessary and we shove down what we know to be true from our conscience.

Without the doctrine of sin, grace becomes casual, no big deal, cheap, and belonging to me, not Christ. Have you noticed this? We get everything one hundred percent backwards. We believe that sin is outside ourselves, just something we occasionally do and that grace is something we get to dispense from our own fount inside ourselves, rather than Christ’s. So, we say things like, “I just need to give myself some grace.” As if the dispenser of grace is a faucet or well rooted in our own heart that we can turn off and on. What we usually mean is, I need to let myself off the hook for whatever obligation I failed to meet or whatever thing I did that is making me feel bad about myself. But, we don’t get to give ourselves some grace. Grace originates in God, not us.

God gives grace through his Son, Jesus Christ. And when we have Christ, when we’ve trusted him and received him and put ourselves at his mercy, he gives us grace without measure. He gives and gives and gives it to those who need. But it isn’t a cosmic letting off the hook, because Jesus paid the price. Jesus was on the hook. When we talk about grace like a silly little way of getting let off the hook for something and sweeping it under the rug, we forget that the forgiveness that he gave us freely, cost him dearly.

But with the doctrine of sin—which is reality whether we believe it or not, we get is more than just a new way to think about shame or guilt. When we confess our sin and our nature as sinners who rebel against God not in actions merely, but by the bent of our souls that cause us to want to rule over him–when we receive him, we get a new heart, a new man to be born from, a new nature. We really can be called saints, not because we’re perfect, but because we were born of an imperishable, perfect seed in Christ.

When we are in Christ, and Christ in us, the hope of glory, we are free to dispense HIS grace to the people we meet. We do that by telling them the Gospel and introducing and re-introducing them to Jesus. We can look inside to find grace, not because it originates with us, but because Christ is in us, the giver of all grace. Then, yes, we should talk to ourselves and remind ourselves when we sin that that is not who we are anymore.

William Tyndale, “By grace…we are plucked out of Adam the ground of all evil and graphed in Christ, the root of all goodness. In Christ God loved us, his elect and chosen, before the world began and reserved us unto the knowledge of his Son and of his holy gospel: and when the gospel is preached to us it openeth our hearts and giveth us grace to believe, and putteth the spirit of Christ in us: and we know him as our Father most merciful, and consent to the law and love it inwardly in our heart and desire to fulfill it and sorrow because we do not.”

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So, what are we to take away from this very major, very important, very deep, very hard passage [Romans 5:12-21]? What summary statement should we give it?

If I had to give it one, it would be Jesus is MUCH MORE better than Adam! How’s that for grammar? But, I think for our purposes, what we want to first draw from this text is that it shows human kind’s sinful origin in Adam. This passage makes it clear that we are all “in Adam.” We are born in Adam and are partakers of the sin nature.

Here’s a quick run down of everything that came through the one man, Adam:

▪Romans 5:12a: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin”

▪Romans 5:14: “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam”

▪Romans 5:15a: “many died through one man’s trespass”

▪Romans 5:16a: “For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation,”

▪Romans 5:17a: “because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man”

▪Romans 5:18a: “as one trespass led to condemnation for all men”

▪Romans 5:19a: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners,”

That’s a pretty robust doctrine of sin that Paul has given us. It’s different than the descriptions of sin he gives in Romans 1 concerning the Gentiles and Romans 2 concerning the Jews. This is the deeper reason for sin. It’s called Original sin, because it gets at the origins.

I think it might help us to answer one objection that may have arisen in your minds. It’s the obvious one—which is, “If we sin because we were born in Adam, how can we be at fault for it—we didn’t ask to be born in Adam?” We touched on this earlier, but I think it’s worth addressing more fully. Here’s what Luther said in The Bondage of the Will, on God’s freedom to harden Pharoah:

“Why then does He [that is God] not alter those evil wills which He moves (meaning why doesn’t God change Pharaoh for good)? This question touches on the secrets of His Majesty, where “His judgments are past finding out’ (Rom 11:33). It is not for us to inquire into these mysteries, but to adore them. If flesh and blood take offense here, and grumble, well, let them grumble; they will achieve nothing; grumbling will not change God! And however many of the ungodly stumble and depart, the elect will remain (John 6:60).

Luther continues:

The same reply should be given to those who ask: Why did God let Adam fall, and why did He create us all tainted with the same sin, when He might have kept Adam safe, and might have created us of other material, or of seed that had first been cleansed? God is He for Whose will no cause of ground may be laid down as its rule and standard; for nothing is on a level with it or above it, but it is itself the rule for all things. If any rule or standard, or cause or ground, existed for it, it could no longer be the will of God. What God wills is not right because HE ought, or was bound, so to will; on the contrary, what takes place must be right, because He so wills it. Causes and grounds are laid down for the will of the creature, but not for the will of the Creator—unless you set another Creator over him!”

Luther makes a good point–maybe the only point as relates to this objection. When we question why God made things a certain way, it’s like questioning why fish swim or why birds fly or why we all have parents or why we all enter the world needy, dependent infants or why trees loose their leaves in fall or cucumbers are crisp or why roses smell so lovely. We may ask, but it is not to the point. We cannot change God—nor if we could would it be for anyone’s good. This is His world, run by His will for his good pleasure. And he is the kind of God who reveals his glory to sinners in a very unusual way—by saving them through his “MUCH MORE” grace given through his Son, dead on a cross and resurrected three days later.

We dare only say with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Rom 11:33

Woman’s Chit Chat and the Costly Word of God

Here’s an excerpt of the teaching from week three of the Reformation Doctrine Study. Those following along can listen here.

Calvin says:

“Men’s conceptions of God are formed, not according to the representations He gives of Himself, but by the inventions of their own presumptuous imaginations…They worship, not God, but a figment of their own brains in His stead.

And so I ask you, and myself, are we putting our words in God’s mouth? Tim Keller says, “If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.” Does God seem to—most conveniently—always agree with your assessment of things? If that is the case, you must ask yourself whether you are worshiping the God of the Bible or a figment of your own imagination. The Bible is a costly costly book. If it hasn’t yet wrested anything from your clutches, be warned. It will force your hand. It will confront you.

Believing the Bible has cost me close family relationships, it has cost me the assurance I once had over someone else’s salvation, it has cost me the core sense of self that I once had. It has taken all my wisdom and made it a mockery. It has taken all my dearly held feelings and laughed in their face. It has taken my comfort and my hopes and dreams and put them in a shredder. And I have a hard time trusting Christians for whom believing the Bible has cost them nothing—it just seems to fit with their cultural norms already. But believing the Bible is always costly, for everyone. And you want to know the price tag of believing the Book? The price is everything.

But do you want to know what it has given me in return? Jesus Christ—and along with him, ALL THINGS. Unimaginably more than I have ever lost. Can I testify to you? Every loss is worth it. Every loss is gain to be given the opportunity to know God, to know my Savior, in this book. We can say with Paul, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him..” (ESV)

And the women of the reformation knew better than most of us the cost of submitting to the Scriptures. Nuns who joined the reformation had no protection—they left their convents with no husband, no money, no home, no church protection. They were disobeying everyone and everything to obey the only One who matters because they’d met him in his book.

Argula von Grumbach wrote a letter to the University of Ingolstadt in 1523. This university had threatened to kill an 18 yr old student for his Lutheran sympathies. They threatened to burn him alive and threw him in prison for a while. And she, bold woman that she was, took up her pen to write in his defense, an almost unthinkable thing for a woman to do at the time. Here’s part of the preface to her letter,

“What I have written you is no woman’s chit-chat, but the word of God; and (I write) as a member of the Christian Church, against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail… may his grace carry the day.” (The Account”, in AvG/Matheson, 90).

If someone had to evaluate your words, would they say of you, she speaks no woman’s chit chat, but the very word of God? Isn’t that something to aim for? Do you know his word enough that this is even a possibility?

The doctrine of the Scripture and its authority is still very much at the heart of the divide between Catholic and Protestant. Without agreement on the Bible’s words and authority, we can never have agreement on our understanding of justification or other doctrines contained within the Scriptures. As long as Catholic doctrine elevates man’s thoughts to the level of God’s thoughts, in putting their tradition and councils on par with the Bible, there will always be a level of bondage and corruption in the spreading of its message. The Bible, the God behind the Bible, must be free to rule and reign, free from our human tendency to put our words in God’s mouth and that comes when we trust it. We must trust that it can make itself understood, by the power of the Spirit. Our job is to listen to what it says. To do what it says. To confess it, to spread it, to love it.

A french woman, Marie Dentiere, who joined the side of the reformers in Geneva and, like Argula, scandalously took up her pen as a sword in the battle said this,

“For what God has given you and revealed to us women, no more than men should we hide it and bury it in the earth.” Women, we have our part to play in the cosmic scene we find ourselves in. It’s not the same scene as the reformers, it’s many acts later, but it’s no less important. And we can only play our part if we’re tethered to God’s word.

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The Secret Ingredient in Bible Study

Below is an excerpt of what I shared with the women at Bible study yesterday. It’s Luther’s rules for theologians. We’re studying Reformation Doctrine and if you want to follow along with us, you can do so here. Here is what I shared yesterday:

I wanted to take a minute and encourage you as you study your Bibles and seek to grow as theologians—as women who are knowing God better. Some of you may be overwhelmed with life. You’re here, but barely. You may be in the middle of something really hard. Luther has some encouraging words for you and me:

Martin Luther said in his Preface to the Wittenberg Edition, “I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself… Here you will find three rules. They are frequently proposed throughout Psalm 119 and run thus: Oratio, Meditatio, tentatio (prayer, meditation, trial).

Regarding prayer Luther says:

“You should completely despair of your own sense and reason, for by these you will not attain the goal…Rather kneel down in your private little room and with sincere humility and earnestness pray God through his dear Son, graciously to grant you his Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide you and give you understanding.”

Regarding meditation, Luther says:

“Secondly, you should meditate. This means that not only in your heart but also externally you should constantly handle and compare, read and reread the Word as preached and the very words as written in Scripture, diligently noting and meditating on what the Holy Spirit means…Therefore, you observe how in this psalm David always says that he will speak, think, talk, hear, read, day and night and constantly—but about nothing else than God’s Word and Commandments.  For God wants to give you his Spirit only through the external Word.”

Regarding trials he says:

“Thirdly, there is the tentatio, testing (Anfechtung). This is the touchstone.  It teaches you not only to know and understand but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s word is: it is wisdom supreme. This is why you observe that in the psalm indicated David so often complains of all sorts of enemies…For as soon as God’s Word becomes known through you, the devil will afflict you, will make a real [theologian] of you.”

Psalm 119:67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Thy word. 68 Thou art good and doest good; teach me Thy statutes. 71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Thy statutes.

Nothing has put meat on the bones of my study like trials, friends. Our youngest son with special needs has neurological sleep problems, which means 4 years of really bad sleep and lots of throw-up every week because of his problems swallowing. It’s amazing how bad sleep and vomit can open the eyes of our heart to behold wondrous things from God’s Word. Trials give us the gift of desperation. They give us the testing ground for our beliefs and the unmatched joy of knowing and experiencing Christ to be the keeper of every promise. So I encourage you to persevere and let your trials be the hammer that drives you deeper into Christ.

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Milliennial Moms

Here’s an excerpt from my latest from Desiring God called Millennial Motherhood:

“Our children need more than a mom who empathizes and feels with them. They need more than a mom who gets down to their level to convey solidarity and trust — which we tend to be good at. They need to know they have a mom who, because she knows the whole story of God’s word, sees through them, beyond them, above them, and answers to someone other than them.

Our children need moms whose minds direct their feelings, not the other way around. Moms should be a safe place for their kids. Our empathy is a gift that helps us to be that, but empathy with no connection to the solid truth of God’s word is the opposite of safe. It’s crippling to ourselves and our children.

Encourage your children to feel deeply, but not at the expense of thinking deeply — rather, as a result of it. Encourage them to feel strongly, but with the reins of truth in hand, ready to pull back when an emotion has taken the bit in the mouth. Encourage them to feel passionately, but to do so about the things that are fitting to feel passionately about and with an unflappable trust in the God who is over all feelings.

Guilt and confidence are the strange bedfellows of the millennial mom. Pew records that 57 percent of millennial moms say that they are doing a “very good job” at parenting, compared with 48 percent of Gen X moms (born 1965–1979) and 41 percent of baby boomers (born 1946–1965).

Yet it takes only the most cursory glance at any social-media platform to see that millennial moms are awash with guilt. Guilt and the millennial mom are like peanut butter and jelly. They just seem to go together. You know it’s true because if you’re a millennial mom who just read “peanut butter and jelly,” you likely just felt a stab of guilt that you fed that to your kid this week.

Millennial moms are constantly wondering whether they are doing the right thing. It’s like we’ve lost our compass and can’t find north, so we get on social media or Google to try and figure out if other people are feeding their kids PB&J three times a week and if there are any studies that tell us what damage it causes.

In a world where information about everything is at our fingertips, it seems everything has been elevated to the status of “this matters.” So, from laundry to food to sunscreen to screen time to simplified home decor, nothing is no big deal to millennial moms. And because we also are finite women who cannot ride every hobbyhorse at the same time, we are exhausted, burnt out, and often very guilty.

Yet, because we reinvent the wheel on every possible facet of life, researching (or rather Googling) each topic for ourselves and reaching our own conclusions, we tend to be very confident — even haughty — about the conclusions we’ve reached and the job we’re doing, whether it’s about vaccines or vacuums.

The benefit to our guilty confidence is that we do have, in Christ, a constant, never-ending absolution for it. Jesus met all the righteous requirements of the law for us and then died in our place. We also are a part of Christ’s body, with spiritual mothers and fathers who can guide and help us to think Christianly about every part of our lives. Remember, millennial mom, that our guiltiness and haughtiness was nailed to the cross. We are free to live according to Jesus’s ways.

According to a study called Digital Women Influencers, millennial moms spend four more hours per week on social media than other moms. They also have 3.4 social media accounts as compared to the 2.6 accounts of other moms. We are connected, yet dissatisfied. We portray something we don’t have and long for the very thing we project. Every Facebook like and Instagram heart scratches an itch on the soul that is gratified for a moment, only to feel itchier and itchier as the days wear on.

Our motto could easily be “The grass is always greener on the other side of the Clarendon filter.” We make our grass as green as possible via those perfect Instagram filters — it’s our way of quieting the inner suspicion that our lives fall horribly short of everyone else’s. Our generation’s badges of achievement aren’t the new car or boat or vacation home, but the new experience and the new destination — all of which are fully documented — so we long and ache for the next best thing.

Often, the next best thing is whatever we can come up with to share in our social-media feeds. Nothing is sacred, nothing private. Could it be that our sharing isn’t so much an overflow of the fullness of life, but a scraping and grasping to connect and appeal to our viewers? Getting others to sympathize or idolize us with an online picture, a status, or a joke seems to be good enough for us.

But it isn’t enough. All the satisfaction of online approval is really just bloat — it looks and feels like we’re full, but the fullness is actually nothingness, and it’s preventing us from consuming what really would nourish us: God’s word, Jesus Christ, and his blood-bought body, the local church.

We must repent of the sin of trying to be virtuous apart from Christ. We must repent of online pretending and online oversharing. Our longing, our aches for more have a direction; they aren’t pointless. They’re pointing us to someone. Jesus Christ is the person we need. He is the place, the final and best destination that lays a lasting balm on the ache in our heart for something better.”

Read the rest.

The Fog and the Longest View

On vacation this past week, our son Titus had a seizure.

Just writing that, I know that each person reading has a different understanding of what that means. Lots of us think of seizures as fairly benign, because they usually are. Some are freaked out by them. Titus has only had two seizures, both were this kind: status epilepticus. They’re not your typical seizure; they’re long, life threatening, and the mortality stats on them aren’t encouraging.

After the first one, which landed him in a coma in the PICU, we were on high alert for the possibility more would happen. But for over two years, things have been quiet. Until on vacation, when it was the farthest thing from my mind.

It’s hard to describe what Titus’s seizures are like without sounding like a real drama lover. It seems for those of us who really dislike drama, God has this way of inserting it into our lives, and forcing us to own that we don’t control how peaceful things are.

The simple fact is he looks like he’s dying, or even dead. His eyes are fixed, he’s not “with us,” he doesn’t move or have any faculties, and he stops breathing, which turns him the color of purple gray dusk. It’s not something I can put out of my mind by force. It just shows up there, in my waking sight. It’s there when I close my eyes at night, pressing on me.

Now is a good time to remember the all the positive stuff, like how he recovered from the seizure on his own this time, how it didn’t keep on, how he got checked out and was fine and got to come home, how it’s likely his meds have been working really well over the last couple years and an increased dose will help them to keep working well.

Those facts are a real comfort and they are worth giving thanks over. But they’re so superficial in the end. They don’t reach the deep places that need comfort.

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Two days after the seizure, we were hiking along the rocks on the shore of Lake Superior in a thorough fog. The mist and ashy cloud was everywhere, and who could believe in weather as brooding as that, that the sun was out there, above it all, gleaming and oblivious?

There are times when this belief seems as far-fetched as a fairy tale. How can the sun be giving warmth and causing life, when all around is shadow and veil? Shouldn’t I feel it? Isn’t feeling it what makes it real? And that’s when the hot, life-giving rebuke of God sears:

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.

“Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!” Job 38:16-21 (ESV)

I must believe, am commanded to believe, that in our darkest haze, the light is unchanged. Because it is in our darkest haze that we stop straining for the earthly light of better circumstances, as if we understand what that would look like, and start leaning hard on the unseen Light that has already overcome the darkness. This is our only comfort in life and death. It’s that we belong, body and soul, to the Light. I do not wish for foggy days–gifts that they may be to my vision of God. But I do not wish them away either.

Never do I feel more keenly how much an unearned gift faith is, than in the fog, where no long views are offered me. It’s when we’re granted no long view, that we must exercise the faith that depends on the unseen longest view. Oh for the grace to believe when we have not seen–we have not seen healing, we have not seen relief, we have not placed our fingers in the holes in his hands, we have not seen resolution or an unsullied idea of the next twenty or thirty or fifty years. We have not seen it here, in this world. Yet, give us the grace to believe Christ is all and in all and there is a better world to come–this is my daily prayer.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” John 20:29 (ESV)