The God Who Runs Us Down

“Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread Man!”

When my children were younger and encountered this famous nursery rhyme, they requested I read it to them every night. They didn’t realize at the time, but their story choice was an indicator of much more than they knew. There is something in each of us, even from an early age, that longs to run; and we often can’t explain why that desire is there. It is more than what psychologists refer to as our “fight or flight response,” because of what we often run from. We run not only from danger, but also from grace. We run from a God who intends not our harm, but our ultimate good. As Augustine has put it, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” This is one reason the story of Jonah is so appealing to us. Yet in the book of Jonah we meet a God who outruns sinners and graciously overpowers their stubbornness and sin. There are two important lessons we learn from Jonah.

We Run because We’re Deeply Depraved

The minor prophets, or “The book of the twelve” as their referred to, are among the least familiar portions of Scripture. Even the best Bible students among us would be hard-pressed if asked on the fly to summarize Obadiah or Zephaniah. Yet this portion of Scripture gives us a vivid panorama of God’s glory. In the minor prophets, we aren’t merely told that God is gracious or loving or holy or just. We see God in high definition. We encounter the God who roars like a lion, loves like a Husband, consumes like a fire, and sings over His people. But when we come to Jonah, God flips the script a bit. Instead of meeting another prophet ready and willing to relay God’s message, we find one running in the complete opposite direction. Also, instead of God sending His message to Israel/Judah, He sends it to their enemies. And that’s why Jonah started strapping up His sandals and getting ready to run. “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.’ But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD” (1:1-3).

With a population of over 130,000, Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. And Nineveh was a perverse and cruel city. A city that combined rampant sexual immorality with some of the most gruesome war crimes. Not only that, but Nineveh had earned a reputation for being the bitter enemies of God’s people. When called upon to preach coming judgment on this city, you would think Jonah would have leaped at the chance. Yet the reason Jonah didn’t is revealed later in the book. In the prophet’s own words, he says: “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (4:1) Even though God’s message was one of judgment, Jonah knew God’s character better than that. He didn’t want the slightest chance that God might show grace to such an evil city.

Like Jonah, we run from God because we are rebels in our hearts. Ever since our first ancestors ate that fruit in the garden and listened to the snake, we’ve been pursuing our own authority. We have chosen to be our own gods. And when God calls us to share His message with those undeserving, we run because we are unloving. The reason Jonah ran is the same reason we run from sharing God’s message: we are selfish to the core. We may give several reasons for why we don’t share the gospel with others, but the ultimate reason is that we’re selfish. In Jonah, we see just how selfish we are. By the end of the book, Jonah is angry at God and even begs God to kill him rather than redeem the Ninevites. It’s a good thing God didn’t leave Jonah to himself, and it’s a good thing He doesn’t leave us to ourselves. That never turns out too well anyway (read Romans 1:18-32).

God Runs us Down because He is Truly Gracious

It says a lot about us that we run from God. But it also says a lot about God that He runs us down. If Jonah were the only biblical book preserved for us, it would be sufficient to give us a robust theology of man’s depravity, God’s sovereignty, and mission. God sovereignly appoints one thing after another to stop Jonah and get him set on the mission God intended. He hurls a great wind in the direction of Jonah’s ship, then appoints a great fish to swallow him up once he is thrown overboard, then calls the fish to spit Jonah up. While in the fish, Jonah asserts, “salvation belongs to the LORD” (2:9) and it is this truth that leads to God speaking to the fish to spit him up. Since salvation is solely the prerogative of God, then none but God can determine who can and cannot enjoy this salvation. So God has officially run down Jonah, but that wasn’t all God was after. “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.’” (3:1-2). God got to Jonah so he could get to the Ninevites.

In his book Rediscovering Discipleship, Robby Gallaty famously stated, “The Gospel came to you because it was on its way to someone else.” It is truly gracious of God to use weak and often stubborn sinners like us in the grand plan of saving others. When Moses made several excuses why God should use someone else, God ran Him down and used Him. When Gideon doubted and questioned God’s choice of Him, God was determined to use Him. Why is God so determined to use such sinners in His plans of global missions? To better display the glory of His saving grace to those who don’t deserve it. The reluctant prophet finally caves to the omnipresent God of the universe. He goes to Nineveh and preaches his eight word sermon of God’s coming judgment and the people miraculously repent. I was given an audio Bible for Christmas one year and the story of Jonah ended at chapter 3. Listening to the narrator go from reading the end of Jonah 3 to the beginning of Micah seemed like a perfect ending to a great story. But Jonah contains another chapter for a reason. God has more for us to learn about ourselves and God’s mission in this world. Jonah sits a safe distance from the city to watch God perform Sodom and Gomorrah 2.0. It’s as if he’s got his popcorn ready for a fireworks display. He’s perhaps the only prophet who didn’t want his recipients to repent of their sins. Then God appoints a nice and shady plant to grow to protect Jonah from the baking sun. Then a worm to eat the plant and an east wind to leave Jonah hot and miserable.

What is God’s point? Jonah’s love for the plant and the shade and lack of love for the Ninevites reveals just how inwardly bent he is. “And the Lord said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?’” (4:10-11). And with that the book of Jonah ends. No story of Jonah repenting of his poor attitude and rebellion. Just a question from God to Jonah and all the perpetual readers of his book: should not I pity Nineveh? God wants everyone to know that He has a heart for the heartless. He shows mercy to the merciless. For all who repent and believe in Him, God promises full and final salvation. Later Paul would come from the place to which Jonah was running: Tarsus (same area as Tarshish). And Paul would go on God’s mission around the known world to spread the Gospel of His Son. He would write, “No one seeks for God” and yet He would also write, “God demonstrates his love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 3:11; 5:8). So God’s redeeming grace is more stubborn than our rebellion. The opposite of running from God is to abide in Him. This is why Jesus would later say, “Abide in me and I in you” (John 15:4a).

In his book Running from Mercy, pastor Anthony Carter writes, “You cannot hide from God. A better course of action is to hide in God.”

May we all humbly confess our selfish tendency to run from God and seek to live abiding in the light of His relentless grace.

Lewis On the Christian Life: A Review

As we do from time to time, we take a moment and reflect on the importance of Books and in such moments give a recommendation or review of one such book that we have read.  Specifically, this month I want to focus on Joe Rigney’s “Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God.” Now the Lewis Rigney has set out here to unpack before us is non-other than C.S. Lewis, the English giant, scholar, and apologist. The skeptic turned Christian has left behind a plethora of writings and is still one of the most-beloved Christian children’s authors, I would say to this day. Lewis is a man who loved to think of things in two worlds the world of the real and the world of the pretend. Rigney in this work helps us to see that at the core of how Lewis saw and understood the Christian life stood an understanding of the world that was far more complex than most would imagine, and from this view of humanity he applied the teachings of scripture and at times got it right and at other times, created a lot of confusion.

But alas, let’s begin with the good stuff. Rigney is an advent Lewis reader and supporter. He previously wrote a book called Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles in which he unpacked much of Lewis’ beliefs on how to live out the Christian life from the tales told in the Chronicles of Narnia. As such the Chronicles, for the most part, are left out of this book, so if you are a huge Chronicles fan I would suggest reading his first book, however If you enjoy the whole of Lewis works or are familiar with only a few then this book may open some more interesting explorations for you, as Rigney dives deep into some of his letters and writings to help pull out the depth of Lewis ideas. This process is exciting to see as you read how his views intermingle through his work.

Another thing that I appreciated, much like other books in the series, is that Rigney doesn’t shy away from Lewis’ more controversial issues such as the atonement and purgatory. He unpacks Lewis through His writings and walks the reader through how Lewis’ arrived at the places he did. Now I will say Rigney does spend a bit of time apologizing for Lewis but didn’t do it in such a way that he hides any of Lewis’ beliefs. As such, I found this to be a very positive aspect of the book as you are able to see through all of his writings how Lewis struggles with the notion of penal substitutionary atonement, and how through his struggle he clings to the aspects of the atonement that are more easy for him to grasp. If you want to see the outworking of Lewis’ thoughts on these subjects laid out in his own words that is what Rigney gives you and he does it in such a way that you walk away understanding Lewis, not necessarily agreeing with him, but understanding him.

I will say though this book is a journey, it is the longest so far written in the “On the Christian Life” series that crossway has put out and it covers a lot of different topics from practical Christian living to the four loves and thoughts on heaven and hell and all sorts of paths along the way. Now I don’t want it to sound like it is disorganized, it is not, however it covers a lot that at times can slow down the pace and feel out of sorts, so if you have read some of the other books in the series this one is a little more in depth and hefty at times into some of Lewis thoughts, which as I said can be both a great benefit and at times a hindrance.

Therefore, overall it was a thoughtful read, as it gives deeper clarity into the thinking of the apologetical legend C.S. Lewis himself. If you are a fan of Lewis’s body of work, you will enjoy seeing how Rigney dives deep into some of his works to get to the meat of Lewis thinking. If you have only read Narnia or Mere Christianity this will help open your eyes to a fuller spectrum of how Lewis viewed the world and how some of the things you read there are more fully fleshed out in other texts. So as with most Rigney works it is worth the time and effort.

When Waters Rise

I live in the Illinois River Bottoms. Three hundred feet to the East stands a sweeping bluff of timber and steep draws that run for miles and miles North and South. Three miles straight West lies the Illinois River with another bluff face just West of it that reaches the Mississippi River. It really is a beautiful site.

However, if you’ve watched or read the news over the last several weeks you know that the River is not its customary three miles from my home. As a matter of fact, just out my window I can see her wind-tossed waves in my neighbors’ cornfield; only 500 feet away. This flood is second only to the Great Flood of 1993 which reached its crest on August 3. Lord willing, we reached ours on Friday, June 8.

I have worked with locals, people coming in from around the state, prisoners, and the National Guard to build makeshift walls and sandbag walls in an attempt to keep the waters of the Illinois, and her local tributaries, from spilling over into millions (and I mean millions upon millions) of acres of corn and unplanted fields. It really has been incredible; so many moving parts in the flood relief effort and so many people giving their time and money to help their neighbors.

To this very moment, the Lord has prevented mass flooding in our immediate area. Praise the Lord.

It’s not the levies holding, the makeshift walls, the tens of thousands of sandbags, the countless hours spent preparing & delivering hundreds and hundreds of meals out of our Fellowship Hall, or even the innumerable amount of manhours that has gone into the total effort that has been the most memorable. The most memorable moment took place yesterday morning in worship.

One of our farmers, unprompted and unplanned, stood to testify of God’s glory and God’s omnipotence in the flood. He reminded us of Job 38:8-11 where God declares to Job that it was Him who said to the sea “this far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed…” We didn’t stop the water, the Lord did.

This is a man whose immediate and extended family farms a considerable amount of ground in the Bottoms; a family who, if the waters rise any more, a levy fails, or our feeble attempt to hold back what is already higher than the levies bombs, stands to lose more than I can imagine. But he is also a man who knows his Creator and Sustainer, his Protector and his Provider. Unshaken by the potential loss, he was moved by his God’s glory and power in the flood and the opportunities the rising waters have provided for us to share the love of Christ and the Gospel of Christ with those involved in the relief effort.

Indeed, the floods come. Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27 that the rain falls, the floods come, the winds blow and beat against the houses (lives) that we have built. But those who build their lives on the Rock, the Solid Foundation of Jesus Christ, will not fall when waters rise. Why? Because He sustains them. Even amidst the rising waters, those whose Foundation will not sweep away in rushing waters rest…and even praise Him while waters rise.

When “waters rise” in your life, do you cower in fear of what you can lose or stand confidently upon your Foundation and praise Him that nothing comes without His Sovereign declaration or allowance; trusting Him knowing that it can only work out for your good?

I don’t know what the future holds for the waters around us, but I do know who holds that waters back and who releases them when & where He wills. And you know what? He is faithful and immutable; maybe the two attributes of God that give me the greatest comfort. When waters rise, may we “be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Mt. 7:24).

Psalm 61:2b-3a—“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge…”

Reflections on The Banner of Truth Conference

Sometimes, it can seem like there is an overload of pastoral and theological conferences being held. It is true that a person can become to engrossed with conferences using them as a means of replacing being a part of a healthy local church. Conferences though can be immensely helpful and refreshing. Last week, I had the privilege of attending The Banner of Truth’s East Coast Conference in Elizabethtown, PA. I believe that this is the conference you need to attend every year. Here are a few reflections on the conference:

1) An emphasis on the dependence of the pastor upon the Spirit. The theme of the Banner of Truth conference was “I Believe in the Holy Spirit.” The person and work of the Holy Spirit is often overlooked or misunderstood. There can be an overreaction to the excesses of the Charismatic movement which can cause Reformed believers to shy away from understanding the glorious work of the Spirit. Each session of the conference did a marvelous job of exploring different themes related to the Holy Spirit. Even as Reformed pastors, we must guard against and fight the tendency to believe and trust in our flesh. Ordinary means of grace ministry calls our focus to the gradual work of the Holy Spirit. These means are not flashy, but they force us to see how central the work of the Spirit is. The pastor is not a performer but a clay jar bearing the beautiful treasure of the gospel. The preaching, praying, and singing at this conference exhibit all these marks for they were driven by the work of the Holy Spirit.

2) A band of brothers, not a celebrity circuit marks this conference. This was not a conference promoting selfies with the speakers or book signings. It was refreshing to attend a conference and feel like I was at home. The brothers at Banner intentionally design and organize this conference as a place where you can connect with like-minded brothers. There were Presbyterians, Baptists, a few Anglicans, and even a United Methodist brother who attended the conference. Most of the men who spoke were unfamiliar names to myself, but they were all a blessing to my heart. This was not a place about a theological fad, a hip center for the young, restless, and reformed. A place of deep theology, spiritual maturity as well as informality and a familial spirit permeated the conference. How much the heartbeat of the Banner of Truth needs to go forth in many places! The speakers and trustees sit among those who are in attendance. There is no hierarchy, no roped off sections in the auditorium but a testimony to our unity in Jesus Christ and our need for one another.

3) Books, books, and more books! While this should not be the main reason you attend a Banner of Truth conference, it certainly should rank high on the list! The discounts for everyone and the bigger discounts for first-time attendees are amazing! The Banner of Truth Trust truly seeks to provide believers with rich books that are both tested by time and that are being written by faithful brothers. I am glad I drove to the conference so that I could fill my truck up with the books that I purchased! It blessed my heart to see these men so joyful in recommending books to attendees and doing all they could to get good resources into the hands of those there.

4) New Testament Baptist Church loves me tremendously. This reflection is obviously very personal, but I must make it. My church family encouraged me to attend this conference and granted me a two-week sabbatical to enjoy the time at the conference. I am so blessed to pastor a church that is not hesitant to give me a time to recharge my batteries. While the Banner conference filled my heart with great joy, it still does not compare to the sweet joy I know each Lord’s Day when I gather with my family of faith at NTBC. Thank you, my brothers and sisters, for granting me the privilege to journey northward to PA!

If I had to pick one conference I would attend next year (outside of our own Carey-Fuller Conference at NTBC or the annual Publicans Conference), it would be the Banner of Truth Conference. Financially, your registration fee covers lodging and meals. It is economical. However, the spiritual benefits cannot be placed with a price tag. Do yourself a favor and mark May 26-28 on your calendar for PA! Next year’s theme will be on “Communion with God.” Lord willing, I hope to see y’all there!

 

Fearlessly Forward

If you’ve been on this earth long you understand that life includes a struggle against serious opposition. A battle, in fact, that can sometimes seem like a losing one; even for Christians. It is not uncommon for us to feel apprehensive as we walk through life, because it can often seem like every time things begin to go well, the floor unsettles beneath us.

It’s that, “Here we go again!”, feeling. The impression that, no matter what we do, no matter how intentional we go about our lives, no matter how earnestly we exert ourselves, no matter how faithful we are to our family, our employments, or our church, and no matter how much struggle we’ve already come through, things seem to keep ending up in frustration. It’s as if the world around us was actually in opposition to us. And then, of course, we remember from the Bible that it actually is.

I think the Apostle Paul felt something akin to this in Acts 18 when he entered the city of Corinth on his second missionary journey. I think he felt like every time he jumped out of one frying pan he landed in another fire, so to speak. Because from one city to another he felt the painful, steady drip of opposition.

Consider what Paul experienced:

  • His journey began with a terribly sad disagreement between himself and a beloved Christian brother, Barnabas (Acts 15:36-40).
  • He soon faced uncertainty over his direction as he was made to wait upon God’s call (Acts 16:6-10).
  • Though people were saved in Philippi, persecution reared its ugly head towards him (Acts 16:19-24).
  • While some believed in Jesus upon his arrival in Thessalonica, persecution sprang up once again (Acts 17:5).
  • Though the word of the gospel was eagerly received by the Jews of Berea, hard opposition still followed him (Acts 17:13-14).
  • Finally, while in Athens, the response to the resurrected Christ was feeble and he was even mocked (Acts 17:32-34).

So, as you might imagine, when Paul finally arrived in Corinth, he was pretty gun shy. In fact, he later wrote of this fear to the Corinthian believers: “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3).

But while he was in Corinth, God spoke. He interrupted Paul’s “Here we go again!” attitude, with the truth of his word:

“And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”” (Acts 18:9-10)

The Lord gave Paul two commands: don’t be afraid and keep on preaching. And then he gave him three reasons why he should obey these commands when opposition came. And these are the same reasons why followers of Christ today can fearlessly go forward in this life.

First, God is with us.

In v. 10 the Lord says, “for I am with you.” Why should Paul not be afraid? Why should he go on speaking truth? Because God was with him.

The same is true for every believer in the Lord Jesus, for in every place we go we are accompanied by God’s affectionate presence. There is no place Christians can go where the Spirit of Jesus is not by our side. The Lord has always been with his people (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:9; Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 1:23). In fact, his presence is the lifeblood of the church and all our missionary endeavors:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Can you imagine what this would have meant to Paul to hear these words from his Lord? Can you fathom how much they would have lifted his spirits after many hard days? And do you recognize that these words have the same intention for us today?

Fear not. Go on speaking. Don’t be silent. For your God is with you.

Secondly, God is sovereign.

In v. 10, the Lord also told Paul, “no one will attack you to harm you.” What impresses me about this statement is its absoluteness. God does not merely say, “I will protect you.” Though that would have been comforting. Instead, the Lord tells Paul what will absolutely, positively, not happen to him.

While he was in Corinth, Paul would essentially be bulletproof. Nothing would hurt him. God would sovereignly prevent all attacks from getting to him, keeping all harm from coming his way. God is here expressing full mastery over Paul’s situation. He insinuates that he is in complete control over each of Paul’s troubles, fully sovereign over the Apostle’s very life.

The Lord always directs the events of his people, the church, that his gospel might go forward (Acts 18:12-17; 23:10-11; 27:23-24). While it is true that everything happens for a reason, that statement is woefully incomplete. For everything happens for God’s reason. Everything that happens within the church of God, is determined by the Son of God, to bring about the glory of God. Even the hard opposition faced by his people.

Do you see the hand of God over your life? Fear not. Go on speaking. For your God is sovereign.

Third, God is working his plan.

Finally, the Lord says in v. 10, “for I have many in this city who are my people.” When the Lord says, “my people,” he is referring to his chosen people: all those he has “appointed to eternal life” (Acts 13:45-49), who have believed, or will (with certainty) believe, upon the Son of God.

So, think what this would have meant to Paul to hear such words. He had gone from one city to another and, though he’d witnessed a few conversions, he was forced from each location before the gospel could make a larger impact. But now, the Lord comforted Paul by telling him that in Corinth many of “my people” are here.

We can think of Paul as a miner in God’s mine and he’s digging for gold that belongs to God. He hasn’t had much success recently. In fact, it’s been frustrating. He’s dug down deep and he’s bored through much rock. And though he’s found some of the precious metal, the labor has been extremely intensive. But now he’s being told, “Dig over here, for this is where my gold will be found.” After all that Paul had been through, he now learns that he had been brought to this precise day and location for a purpose: to mine for God’s people.

The same is true for us. If God has appointed his people to eternal life than we can be confident in our efforts to reach them. We can be confident that Christ is building his church. We can be certain that his kingdom will advance as he has ordained. And when we don’t see gold immediately, we can patiently wait upon him to break down the right walls.

We do face some hard opposition. But God is not done working. So, let us not fear but keep advancing the good news.

Pray the Bible

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” – Martin Luther

“Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life”. – Jonathan Edwards

“Prayer can never be in excess.” – C. H. Spurgeon

Certainly, prayer is a critical part of the Christian life. However, if you’re like me, you tend to struggle in couple areas of prayer:

First, we often pray only for temporal things rather than eternal ones. We pray for safe travel, food to nourish our bodies, exams to be passed, and for illness to go away. There is nothing wrong with praying for these things. But in addition to these, we should also pray for spiritual matters. We should pray for unbelievers to come to faith, discipleship opportunities, spiritual growth in our lives and in the lives of those around us, These things, and more, should be our primary focus in prayer, but so often we spend more time on temporal prayer requests then we do eternal ones. This should not be.

Second, we get distracted in prayer. We start to pray, we don’t necessarily have a direction that we’re headed, then we lose concentration and begin to think about other things derailing us from quality time with God.

How do we combat these two areas of struggle regarding prayer? One great way to combat these things is to pray the Bible. The Bible is filled with wonderful prayers. We have the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6, we have numerous prayers from the apostle Paul in his epistles, we have Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9, we have Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2, the Psalms are filled with prayers. All throughout the Bible we find prayer. We would do well to use these prayers as a guide for our own prayers.

Praying the Bible is critical. In fact, John Piper put this way. He says:

“Praying the Scriptures is so important in the Christian life. If we don’t form the habit of praying the Scriptures, our prayers will almost certainly degenerate into vain repetitions that eventually revolve entirely around our immediate private concerns, rather than God’s larger purposes.” – John Piper

It is important that we make a regular habit of praying the Bible. It will help us both with the content of our prayers and our focus while praying.

Hosea & The Scandal of the Gospel

Unfaithfulness.

It’s a tragic word in any context, but especially so in the covenant of marriage. As a pastor I’ve had the privilege of performing wedding ceremonies with couples I’ve counseled and seeing their smiling faces as they exchange vows. I’ve also watched marriages fall apart in my office or around our dining room table, because a spouse did not hold up their end of the covenant.

In the book of Hosea, God displays the sheer depth of His covenant faithfulness to unfaithful Israel. Israel broke her covenant with God, but He refused to break His covenant with them. It was the covenant He made and reiterated throughout the Scriptures that He would be there God and they would be His people (Gen. 17:7, Ex. 6:7, Eze. 36:28, Jer. 7:23, etc.). No one forced God to make such a promise, but He made it nonetheless.

The love story God tells in Hosea is unlike any Hollywood romance. Here’s the plotline: man marries woman; they have a child together; woman leaves man and becomes as promiscuous as a dog in heat; man renews his love for the woman despite the increasing children she has with other men and her total lack of faithfulness. As awkward and alarming as this story is, this is the story God considers a fitting illustration of His relationship with Israel. He is the faithful husband and she the unfaithful wife. In his commentary on Hosea, Duane Garrett writes, “Hosea…is a book that jolts the reader; it refuses to be domesticated and made conventional. It does comfort the afflicted, but it most surely afflicts the comfortable. It is as startling in its presentation of sin as it is surprising in its stubborn certainty of grace. It is as blunt as it is enigmatic. It is a book to be experienced, and the experience is with God.”

The events leading up to Hosea are important. After Solomon’s death, the kingdom was divided between Israel/Ephraim in the North and Judah in the South. About 100 years after Elijah and Elisha, Hosea arrives. It was a period of relative peace and prosperity for God’s people under Jeroboam II. Many of us know from personal experience that peace and prosperity are not friends of spiritual growth.

In Hosea’s day, God’s people had forgotten the Lord and began worshiping Baal, the fertility god. The nation of Assyria grew steadily stronger and instead of turning to God for help, Israel turned to other nations, like Egypt. They even paid Assyria to leave them alone. Nothing was helping. For thirty years, they’re kings were assassinated one after another in a saga worse than the Kennedy’s. God was waking up His people. He sent the prophets to warn of coming judgment. Hosea called God’s people to repent of their spiritual adultery and return to Yahweh, their faithful Husband.

The book is full of powerful imagery to convey God’s faithfulness despite Israel’s unfaithfulness. In their book, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart write, “Striking metaphors are Hosea’s specialty. Yahweh is lion, leopard, bear, eagle, trapper, as well as husband, lover, parent, and green pine tree. And Israel in her sins is even more vividly described: adulterous wife, stubborn heifer, snare and net, heated oven, half-baked bread, senseless dove, faulty bow, headless stalk, a baby refusing birth; she will disappear like mist, dew, chaff, and smoke; she will float away like a twig on water; she has sown the wind and will reap the whirlwind. It is hard not to get the picture.”

So what does Hosea teach us?

When we sin we’re committing spiritual adultery

One would think that after all God did for Israel and the miracles He performed to rescue them time and again, they would have learned the lesson to avoid idolatry. But like us, Israel was constantly forgetting the Lord. Throughout Hosea, we are given descriptions of Israel’s sin: “the land commits great whoredom, forsaking the LORD” (1:2); “[she] went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the LORD” (2:13); “they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins” (3:1), “you have forgotten the law of your God” (4:6); “they have forsaken the law to cherish whoredom” (4:10); “they have left their God to play the whore” (4:12).

Sin is more serious than we realize. When we sin against God, there is something much deeper going on than mere thoughts, words, or actions. We are bowing before the idols of our hearts. Idols of comfort, control, pleasure, the praise of men, or something else. Also, because we are acting this way against the backdrop of God’s covenant faithfulness, we’re rebelling against a faithful Husband. To put it bluntly, when we sin we’re jumping in bed with Satan. It made no sense for Gomer to turn her back on godly and faithful Hosea and it makes no sense for us to turn our backs on God. Our response to sin must be in line with what God commands: “acknowledge [our] guilt and seek [his] face…come let us return to the LORD…by the help of your God, return” (5:15; 6:1; 12:6).

God must chastise us when we continue in rebellion

When our children are being watched by a babysitter, they behave because they know that though the babysitter cannot discipline, mom and dad will take care of it when they come home. We love our children too much to let them wander off into reckless rebellion. God is the same with us. The author of Hebrews points out, “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:8). For the people of Israel, this came by means of Assyrian overthrow and eventually exile. He tells them in Hosea 11:5-7, “They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they refused to return to me…My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all” (11:5-7).

We must not take lightly the discipline of the Lord. He is graciously seeking to tear the idols from our grasp.

God’s commitment to His people is unwavering

The most shocking thing about Hosea is the way we see God’s constant promise of restoration after judgment. Even as He rebukes them for idolatry and promises judgment, His heart breaks for them. Just after the promise of judgment in 11:1-7, God says, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?…My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender” (11:8). Then there is the great promise in chapter 1: ““Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God”” (1:10).

All this ultimately points us to the Gospel.

How can God both punish our sin and pardon us sinners? Only by means of the cross. At the cross, God’s bleeding heart for His people was put on full display and His roaring wrath against their sin was poured out…on the head of Jesus. The Gospel is truly scandalous because it tells us of a God who pardons the guilty on the basis of faith in the Innocent being punished.

How could we turn our backs on such a faithful Husband and gracious Redeemer?

Beyond Redemption?

The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.[…] And he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside of the city. He also restored the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 33:10-16)

The story of Manasseh is one of the most interesting one to be found in the book of Chronicles, for in this text we see a more complete picture of the work of God in bringing salvation to sinners. Manasseh is one of the worst and most wicked of kings in the history of Israel. He is known for having murdered his own children, offered sacrifices to pagan deities and removed the true worship of God from Israel. He was a man filled with his own self-worth and truly existed in his own self-importance. He may not have been the worst of sinners in the world or the most tyrannical of rulers, but he is pretty darn close. In the line of David, it is hard to find one as evil ruling in Judah. He is the furthest thing from a man after God’s own heart

Now why do I bring us to this text today. Why focus on this specific man to bring us to see the fullness of the wonder of salvation?

First, because he is a man who we would say is the furthest from God. Unlike Paul who wrapped himself in religiosity and found himself outside of the truth, this King rejected the faith of his fathers and openly pursued wickedness. Manasseh is the proof that with God nothing is impossible, and no man is too far beyond the salvific work of our Lord. Just let it sink in for a moment. This king is far worse than the worst dictators in our current world, and yet the Lord transformed his heart. The Lord transformed a man who wanted nothing to do with Him into a man of repentance and faithfulness. Manasseh doesn’t simply give lip service in repentance, his life is transformed. He undoes the worst of his blasphemies against the Lord and makes every effort to return the people to the worship of God. In this we see the beauty that no one is too beyond the salvation of God.

Second, it shows us that God can uses many different means to bring the lost to Him. In the case of this king in Judah he uses a military defeat and capture. Manasseh finds himself in a distant land defeated and ruined, he is the prisoner of a foreign king with no hope of salvation. However, in the midst of defeat he finds the truly and lasting hope in God. He turns in this pit of destruction and there is the Lord God. God rescues him, transforms him, and brings him back to the land. The text is clear that all these events happened by the hand of God; from ruin to restoration God was at work bringing Manasseh to Himself. Breaking him of his wickedness and self-importance that he might see the true strength of his reign in the hand of God.

For many God has used the darkest days to shine brightly. He has used our sinfulness to show us His grace unending, His mercy that sustains us, and his strong hands which hold us firm. The wonder of this text is that Manasseh was actively running from God, but that never stopped God from working to bring Manasseh to himself. If you are in Christ, you know this reality to be true. God pursued us and won us. He broke down the dividing wall that stood between us and wooed us by his mercy, grace and love. He broke down our sins and gave us life. Through the storm of our sins, He brought life and hope. His divine power overcame us.

When we think of the life of Manasseh, King in Judah, we should be immediately struck by the reality of God’s work in saving sinners, and how that work shapes everything about our lives. While we may not be as bad as Manasseh, we were apart from Christ and as bad off as Manasseh. We didn’t have God, rather we openly accepted the world in whatever form brought us the most pleasure. We found satisfaction and worth in our jobs, religion, social circles, hobbies, lusts, physical pleasure, and material wealth, all of which left us empty and searching for more. We were all as bad off as Manasseh apart from God’s intervening work, and what a marvelous work it was. We must never forget the saving work of Christ, from His work on the cross to His intervention in our lives through the Holy Spirit we have been blessed beyond measure.

Therefore, let us life out the faith in earnestness as Manasseh did, let us reflect the great salvation we have received and call others to receive the same wonderful grace of our God.

A Far Nobler Aim: Newton on Grace in Debate

John Newton’s fame to most evangelicals’ centers around his testimony of transformation from participating in the slave trade to becoming a believer who would write the most popular Christian hymn of all time “Amazing Grace.”

While that hymn captures the essence of Newton’s biography and theology, there is much more to learn from the man. The Banner of Truth publishes a four-volume set of his works that I highly commend (https://banneroftruth.org/us/store/christian-living/works-john-newton/). Volume 1 contains many letters that Newton wrote with one entitled “On Controversy.” In this letter, one might think that John Newton lived in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs when it comes to discussing theology. Especially with the issue of social justice, social media does not resemble a place where grace is shown by brothers and sisters seeking to work through these issues. Newton’s letter is worth the read and can be viewed in its entirety here: https://founders.org/2017/07/08/on-controversy/.

Consider a few thoughts from Newton that captured my attention and caused me to examine my own heart.

In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.

As Newton counsels this fellow minister who prepares to engage in theological debate, he tells him to remember to treat him as a brother in Christ. It should startle us as believers to consider how we speak to one another online when it comes to debating important issues. Would we speak to each other in such a manner if we were face-to-face? Do we show more grace to the pagan we work with or are related to by blood than one who is washed by the blood of the Lamb that we happen to disagree with? This is not encouragement to pursue a squishy love that never calls out errors. Rather, this is brotherly affection that should mark our engagements with those who are a part of the household of faith. The next time that you decide to discuss a point raised by a brother or sister you disagree with, remind yourself that this individual is one you will spend eternity with. Will that shape how you respond to them?

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger.

Suppose you believe the person you are engaging with is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, should you not pity and mourn over the eternal doom of that person? Newton’s advice should be kept close to our hearts. Yes, we should call out false teachers, those who preach another gospel, and declare that their eternal fate is hell lest they repent. However, if we do this with a grin or glee in our hearts, there is repentance and examination that needs to take place in our lives. Anathematizing people on Facebook and Twitter happens frequently. Do we grasp the eternal weightiness that comes along with that view and are we praying for such ones to truly behold Christ if we think they know Him not?

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.

Social media helped me connect with fellow Calvinists, Particular (Reformed Baptists), and like-minded brothers. This has been a great blessing and joy to me in my life and ministry. However, it grieves me to see that the hashtag #1689Twitter became synonymous with men on Twitter who were ungracious, uncaring, and overtly harsh in their interactions with others, specifically regarding issues surrounding social justice. While I think the hashtag was used in an unfair way to avoid critical discussions, it saddened me to see a noble confession expressing the doctrines of grace become connected with ungraciousness. Newton’s words are needed for everyone who claims to believe in the doctrines of grace. If I might be so bold, may the doctrines explained in TULIP not be lodged in our minds intellectually but be imprinted on our hearts experientially. No two words should be further apart: cantankerous and Calvinist. Those of us who hold strongly to the doctrines of grace should heed the instructions given to us by a champion of amazing grace.

If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit.

Believers are called to have a passion and zeal for truth. There are times when a godly anger should be demonstrated by us when we see the gospel distorted and twisted. Yet, this cannot be a 24/7 phenomenon. In fact, though, it is easy for us to tell ourselves we are warriors for the truth when in fact our angry theological tirades are a pious cloak for selfishness and egotism. If we appoint ourselves as commentators on every single issue that arises in the world or evangelicalism, people begin to label us, sigh when they see our posts, and will remark, “There he/she goes again.” Content does matter when it comes to theology. Tone does as well.

What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?

Out of all that Newton says in this letter, perhaps this is the one that cuts the sharpest. Newton asks a pointed question: what advantage is there if you win the debate but dishonor God? In our theological discussions, do we ask ourselves if we are seeking to honor God or display our intellect? Are we seeking to prompt others to glorify God or to stand in awe of our debating skills? What kind of heart does the Lord delight in and accept? There dwells not room for a broken, contrite heart and an exalted, selfish heart. 

John Newton understood the need for addressing theological controversies. Yet, in his wisdom, he accurately noted that controversy should not be something we are always looking to get into. Sadly, the social justice debates are the latest example where a controversy is bemoaned while platforms are being built at the same time. Let the world watch how we engage one another amidst real differences and let them be amazed. How will they be amazed? By seeing that we do not handle our differences like cable TV. Instead, we come together around the Word of God, loving one another as members of Christ’s household, and seeking to honor the God who showed us amazing grace.

How can we, who have been shown such grace, not show it to each other?

Jerusalem and the Sin of Presumption

The city of Jerusalem is a central feature of Luke’s Gospel. His entire narrative is set against the background of godly Jews longing to see the “consolation of Israel” and eagerly waiting for the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25, 38). As the capital of the nation and the site of the temple, this unique city was associated with the presence of the divine Name and the place of true sacrifice; it was central to Israel’s life and hope (Deut. 12:10-11; Ps. 48; Isa. 52:7-10). It comes as no surprise, then, that Jerusalem plays an important part in the life and ministry of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The majority of Luke’s gospel is spent describing Jesus’ long journey towards Jerusalem, having “set his face” to go there (Luke 9:51) in order to accomplish everything that written about the Son of Man by the prophets. But what the prophets had foretold was that the promised Messiah would come to Jerusalem to suffer and die, having been ultimately rejected by his own people (Luke 18:31-33). Therefore, Luke’s overall description of Jerusalem is by no means optimistic.

The City that Rejected her Messiah

Jesus, in his lament over the city, identifies Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Luke 13:33-34; 20:9-18). Jesus, the Great Prophet, would soon suffer and die outside of her walls like all those who had come before and prefigured him. As he approaches and sees the city, amidst shouts of praise and acclamation from his many disciples, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and pronounces its impending judgment and destruction (Luke 19:41-44). Why? Because the city of God had failed to recognize its visitation by the Son of God. The city that was anxiously awaiting her promised Messiah—David’s greater son and anointed king—did not receive him.

He then proceeds to cleanse the temple and later foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple again (Luke 19:45-46; 21:5-36). This tragic portrayal of Jerusalem is made complete when Jesus, the very salvation of God and redemption of Jerusalem, is condemned by his own and handed over to be crucified. God’s very own people, hardened by unbelief, were blind to the fulfillment of God’s promises right in their midst.

The City that Received his Mercy

Yet Luke’s Gospel does not conclude with a totally negative portrait of Jerusalem. It is presented in his final chapter as somewhat of a city of new beginnings. Not only do the resurrection appearances happen in and around the city, but Jesus declares to his disciples that the good news of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47)! And just as Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna blessed God in the temple at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, he concludes with a description of the disciples returning to Jerusalem “with great joy” and being “continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53).

This then sets the stage for the book of Acts and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus and the Scriptures had foretold, the gospel of repentance and forgiveness was first proclaimed in all of its glory in Jerusalem, where 3,000 souls were added to the church (Acts 2:37-41). This number only continued to grow as the word was preached, the Spirit was received, and the church was edified (Acts 4:4; 6:7).  And as the church was scattered by persecution from the temple leadership and also began to send missionaries, the gospel spread like wildfire from Jerusalem unto the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8; 28:30-31).

No longer was Jerusalem needed as the dwelling place of God’s presence on the earth or as the place of sacrifice and worship; Christ, by his indwelling Spirit, was present with his church throughout the world. The hour had come when God would no longer be worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem, but in spirit and truth among the nations (John 4:21-24)!

The Danger of Presumption

This portrait of Jerusalem—the city that rejected her Messiah yet also received his mercy—serves as a warning against the subtle but serious sin of presumption. Paul writes extensively on this in Romans 2:1-11, 17-29, and 11:17-24. The self-righteous Jews and hypocritical temple leadership presumed that just because they were Abraham’s physical offspring, they were in God’s good graces (John 8:39). Since they were committed to the Law and upheld their religious traditions, since they had their temple and had as their capital “the city of our God”, they presumed that God was pleased with them. They presumed upon the riches of God’s kindness and patience, not knowing that his kindness was meant to lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Their hard and impenitent hearts led them to neglect the weightier matters of the law, to boast in their own righteousness, to base their worship upon trite ritual rather than true repentance, and even to reject their very own Messiah. As a result, they incurred the judgment of God (Rom. 2:5)

Paul, speaking to the Gentiles included in the people of God, uses the metaphor of an olive tree to make his point clear: “So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches [i.e., Israel], neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (11:20-22). All, both Jews and Gentiles, can be guilty of this sin of presumption.

So how do we not become proud? The answer is to remember that there is a world of difference between saving faith and presumption. Saving faith wholly trusts in the kindness of God. It leads us daily to confess our sins and bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8). Presumption, on the other hand, takes God’s kindness for granted and blinds us to our need for continual repentance. True, saving faith is persevering faith—a faith that boasts in the work of Christ and God’s preserving grace. Presumption hardens our hearts to the mercy, grace, and holiness of God, and leads us to hypocrisy. Therefore, let us behold the riches of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus, abide in him, and continue in his kindness!

We Do What We Value Most

We do what is important to us.

In Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24) we read about a man who is hosting a great banquet and invites many to participate. When the time came for the banquet to begin the man hosting the event sent his servant out to gather all those who were invited. But as we read on, we see that all those invited “began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come'” (18-20). One after the other gave an excuse to why they could not make the great banquet. Why? Something more important to them came up and they attended to it.

In this parable the man hosting the banquet is God, those invited are those who have been given the general gospel call, and the great banquet is heaven.

From this parable we can see two things:

First and foremost, there are many unbelievers who have heard the gospel call and the command to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and yet they have put it off choosing instead to follow that which is most important to them – their sin. I remember as a kid my dad was ministering to a family that attended our church and he asked the family if their eldest son was ready to trust in Jesus. The family told my dad that their son was not ready. He did not desire to give up his sinful lifestyle to follow Jesus. He enjoyed those things too much. They were of greater importance to him than a relationship with Jesus. And this is how it is for so many. They would rather davul in their sin then come to faith and repentance in Jesus. As a result, they miss the Great Banquet, they miss eternity in heaven.

Second, believers can also heed this warning in a different way. So often, believers will make excuses for missing church or youth group, for not spending time with God in prayer or Bible study, or for failing to evangelize and make disciples. Something more important or convenient for them came up. What we do with our time will show what we value most. When presented with the option to sleep in or attend church you will do what you value most. If you find yourself watching TV at night instead of reading your Bible, it reveals your hearts true affections, it shows you what you value most.

We do what is most important to us.

We make time.

We find a way.

If prayer, Bible reading, church attendance (small groups/youth group), discipleship, and evangelism, are important to us then we will make it happen. We all have the same amount of time, the issue is this: are these eternal and most important things a priority for us? Our prayer should be that God would give us hearts that value Him, His Word, and His people above all else.

Or allow me to put it like this: we do what we value most, what is most valuable to you? The answer to that question will reveal much about where your heart truly is.

Comfort and Encouragement in God’s Providence

Have you ever noticed how God is constantly at work in all things, exercising His providential control in every aspect of our lives, even when (perhaps especially when) we least realize it? John Piper famously captured this truth in a 2012 tweet when he said: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”

We see this throughout Scripture, don’t we? We see it in the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. We see it in the life of Esther. We see it in Pauls’ painful thorn that made the power of Christ more beautiful in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). We see it in virtually every book of the Bible, from beginning to end.

Recently I was reminded of this truth from the book of Philippians. In Philippians 1:12-14, Paul is reminding the Christians to whom he’s writing that his imprisonment is actually accomplishing something good for the sake of the Gospel.

If you remember, the Apostle is sitting in a Roman prison while writing this letter to these Philppian Christians. You have to imagine that these Philippian brothers and sisters are distraught over the current situation of their beloved Apostle. I’m certain that they were praying for his release. I’m confident that many were plagued by fear that a similar fate may come upon them. And perhaps some of them were even tempted to question the faith. But not the Apostle Paul. Not only was he aware of and focused on the providential control of God, but he also wanted to remind and encourage his brothers and sisters in Christ of this glorious truth.

Recognizing the likely range of emotions among these saints, Paul reminds them in verses 12-14: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the imperial guard and to all the rest, that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Paul reminds them that, even in his imprisonment, God is at work. God is at work to spread the Gospel. God is at work to embolden other brothers to “speak the word without fear.” God is at work to point the whole world to the fact that Paul’s imprisonment is for Christ. Even in the unlikeliest and worst of scenarios, humanly speaking, God was powerfully at work for the expansion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only God knows how many men and women were converted, and how many local churches planted, in the years and decades that followed Paul’s imprisonment as a result of the emboldening effect upon men to preach the Word without fear.

What about your life? Is there anything in your life right now that is causing you to question the goodness or faithfulness of God? May our hearts and minds be encouraged by the truth of Scripture that God is powerfully at work in all things. There is not a single thing happening in your life that God is not aware of, that God is not in control of, and that God is not working for your good to make you more life Christ. 

Depending on the circumstance, it can be very hard for us to grasp this truth, can’t it? I am pretty confident that, as Paul received lashes, beatings, stonings, and as he was shipwrecked hungry, thirsty, and exposed to the harsh elements (2 Corinthians 11:24-27), he was confused at times at how exactly God was using these things for his good. But I’m far more confident that Paul trusted, by faith, that God was powerfully at work for His glory and Paul’s good, whether he could understand it or not.

And such is the case for us. Whether it’s sickness or sorrow, pain or persecution, death or disease, no matter what the situation is for us in this life, we can trust with rock-solid assurance that God is in control (Romans 8:28-29). As the Apostle Paul reminded these Philippian brothers and sisters of God’s work through his imprisonment, let us remind ourselves of the truth that God is powerfully at work in and through each of our situations, whether we realize it or not, whether we recognize it or not, and whether we understand it or not.

“God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”

Soli Deo Gloria!

Why They Call It Good Friday

Typically when we tack the word “good” onto something, we are communicating that we have had a positive experience with it. This makes sense when we are giving our opinion on the latest superhero movie or the new restaurant in town. It doesn’t make sense to use the word “good” in reference to a tragic event. You can just imagine the angry looks you’d get if you did so in a public setting. Yet the most tragic event in world history, the murder of God’s only Son, is termed “Good Friday.” Why is that? Before answering that question, we need to remember that one event can be intended by some for evil while simultaneously being intended by God for good. When Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, falsely accused, and imprisoned, he told his brothers, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good” (Gen. 50:20). Had it not been for Joseph’s circumstances, thousands could have died in the famine that struck the land. This is how the early church thought of the cross. They prayed in Acts 4:27, “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” So on one side, we’ve got evil motives from Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the peoples of Israel. While on the other side, God has good motives for the death of His Son.

Let’s take a look at three reasons why the cross was (and is) good…

1. Jesus traded places with us

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas…Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’…‘Barabbas.’ ‘Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said, ‘Let him be crucified!’” -Portions of Matthew 27:15-23

So the option was given: release “the Christ” and punish the “notorious prisoner” or vice versa. The crowds that day, lead by the jealous religious leaders, cried out for Jesus’ crucifixion and the pardon of this convicted criminal. In his account of the Gospel, Mark tells us Barabbas was a murderer and the leader of an insurrection. Jesus, however, was no murderer and actually brought people back from the dead, among other things. Jesus led no insurrections and rather sought to overthrow Satan’s power. The name Barabbas means, “Son of a father” and yet the true Son of the Father was about to be condemned in his place. We see a much deeper story developing behind the story of Barabbas. It is the story of the Gospel, which the whole Bible is telling. The story of how a holy God made a way to dwell with unholy people, and at the very center of this story stands the cross. It is your story and my story. It is what theologians call the Great Exchange. At the cross, Jesus stood in for us to take our deserved punishment and gave us all His perfect righteousness, which we could never have earned.  

So we call it Good Friday because Jesus traded places with us and yet also because…   

2. Jesus granted access to us

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” -Matthew 27:50-51a

Once Jesus had endured six trials, been brutally scourged, mocked and beaten, He was finally crucified. For six grueling hours, Jesus felt not only the nails, but the holy hatred of His Father against sin. Paul says in Galatians 3:13 that Jesus “became a curse” for us and he says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that he “became sin.” The prophet Isaiah foretold that He was, “smitten by God…the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…it was the will of the LORD to crush Him” (Is. 53:4, 6, 10). Every sin every believer would ever commit was fully punished in that one moment…on the head of the sinless Son of God. And the dividing curtain which had separated man from God since the garden was finally removed. The temple’s four inch curtain was torn from top to bottom, signifying this salvation was God’s initiative and accomplishment. Unhindered access to God is now ours through faith in Christ.

Good Friday is good not only because of Jesus traded places with us and gave us access into God’s presence, but also because…

3. Jesus tasted death for us

Joseph…went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.” -Matthew 27:58-60

The body of Jesus that once moved about throughout Judea and Galilee now lay cold, still, and lifeless. It is good for us to stop and consider the weight of this. Jesus became not only a curse for us, but a corpse for us. His life snuffed out. The grave sealed shut. Why? What is the significance of this odd reality? The prophet Ezekiel states, “The soul that sins shall die” and the Apostle Paul writes, “the wages of sin is death…” and it was on the cross that Jesus took our sins. Had Jesus never died, our sin would have never been fully dealt its true punishment. Also, if Jesus had never died, we would still face the uncertainty of the grave. Yet because Jesus died and rose again, the grave has fully and finally been conquered. Death has now been transformed from an end, to a beginning, for all whose hope is Christ.

Good Friday is truly a good day for us because our most “notorious” sins have been placed on Jesus, we have been given eternal access into God’s presence, and our coming death has been transformed into a new beginning in the presence of God. So I think it’s safe to say these are good things and this very, very good news.

Two life altering words.

But God………Two words that can bring live from death. Two words that in the midst of sorrow, weeping, and hurt we may find comfort. Two words that should shock us from our complacency. Two words that put everything into perspective. Just two words that change everything.

Over the course of my walk with God these two words have continually resonated in the back of my head. These words I first fully encountered in Ephesians 2:4 resonated that in the midst of my sinfulness and willfully life of sin, He entered into the picture and transformed me. He did a work I could not accomplish, He, in the midst of my depravity, brought new life, a heart of stone replaced by a heart of flesh. There is beauty in the realization that God is at work and it is He who can change the darkest of nights to the brightest of days. However, as we travel through the scriptures the reality is far greater and the work of God is far more than simply found in taking his own out of the dominion of darkness and bringing us home. There are many places throughout the scriptures that reflect on the But God nature of events. I wanted to explore the two ends of these today Judgment and salvation.

But God…..Will judge the Wicked

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?

The steadfast love of God endures all the day.

Your tongue plots destruction,

like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.

You love evil more than good,

and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah

You love all words that devour,

O deceitful tongue.

But God will break you down forever;

he will snatch and tear you from your tent;

he will uproot you from the land of the living.

Psalm 52:1-5

One of the remarkable things about the Old Testament is its continually reminders that those who choose wickedness and pursue destruction will find God is not to be mocked and the life they have desired will find its completion in destruction. There is a warning here in the Psalter to check our hearts and lives. The steadfast love of God is evident and apparent, but do we respond to this or do we deep down spurn it, do we do as Paul warns us not to do and sin all the more so that grace may abound. God is not mocked. God’s loving kindness is steadfast, but He will judge.

These verses should wake us up when we slumber, not that we should not rest in the grace and love of our God, but that we should not pursue wickedness because of this grace. God is not to be mocked, scorned or presumed upon. Does our walk reflect the reality of our love for God? Is our speech reflective of one transformed by the gospel or is it filled with deceit and evil? But God……Will break you down forever. This is a truly humbling song one that should make us stop in our tracks and reflect back on our God, remember his steadfast love that endures and cling to Him.

But God….Will Save & Preserve

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Rom 5:6-11

From reflecting on the reality that sin deserves punishment from God, and that God is not blind to our facades, we see now the incredible mercy of God. In Romans, we are reminded of the price Christ paid to free us from the bonds of our sinfulness. Our wickedness deserved punishment. We were the ungodly walking in darkness forsaking God, deserving of the judgment stored up for us and our sin, yet the Lord in His steadfast love made a new and better way for His own. We were His enemies and the judgement and wrath was stored up against us because of our sin, yet now those whom Christ has transformed, the wrath has subsided against us for it has all been poured out on Christ. He has absorbed the wrath and in so doing given us new life, that those who are His no longer reflect the spirit found in Ps 52, they have been reconciled with God and no longer live in fear, but rather in repentance.

If the first “but God” causes us to stop, reflect, repent and seek God, the second should lead us to praise and proclaim the goodness of our God. If in hearing the first warning of God’s wrath to come, your heart is hardened and inclined towards sin all the more that should be a warning that the second reality may not have taken place. A heart set free from sin is one that owns its forgiveness. It is broken by its sin, it is grateful for its savior, and awestruck that the one and perfect God would sacrifice himself for a wretched sinner. The second realization doesn’t lead to perfection, but it leads to praise of who God is, a striving after him daily in love for all He has done, and a desire to proclaim that truth to others.

The term “but God” appears throughout scripture showing us and reminding us that what appears on the outside as one thing is not always the true reality. It reminds us that God is the one who is sovereign and in control. It is He who judges, it is He who sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike, it is His design and order that is at work even when we don’t understand, and ultimately it is from that design and order we have experienced newness of life. We live because of the “but God”s of scripture. We have breath because of God’s goodness and mercy, and for those in Him we have reconciliation because of His work and His alone.

Book Review: “Still Protesting: Why the Reformation Matters” by D.G. Hart

Is there still a reason why Roman Catholicism and Protestantism cannot just get along and unite together to create one, unified communion setting aside all previous differences? After all, can an event taking place 500 years ago really continue to bear any type of relevance in the lives of ordinary people in the 21st century? D.G. Hart’s “Still Protesting: Why the Reformation Matters” sounds a clarion call that evangelicals need to hear today. While the church might be removed from the days of Luther and Calvin by a few centuries, the doctrinal chasm between Rome and Protestants still stretches wide. Hart critiques the shallow theological views of Protestants that allows them to conclude that the differences today are not that sharp. Hence, the Reformation of the 16th century no longer matters to the church in the 21st century. Hart’s book walks through key soteriological and ecclesiological differences between Protestants and Rome. In “Still Protesting,” Hart masterfully exhibits the core tenets adopted by Rome in the Counter-Reformation are still binding to this day. The Reformation is not over.

“Still Protesting” begins by dealing with statements made by Protestants who have converted to Roman Catholicism over the last few decades. These individuals’ common refrain upon their leaving Protestantism centers upon a mixture of Rome providing stability, history, and unity. Hart’s book takes on these statements by proving that the historical objections raised by Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others are, for the most part, still valid and legitimate. Further, Rome can claim neither stability and unity in the face of their own history as well as the changes that have happened and continue to happen to this day. Hart equips modern evangelicals to see what are the differences as well as give pause to Protestants contemplating union with Rome.

The first chapter of “Still Protesting” provides an overview of the historical context in which the Reformation arose. Hart briefly walks through the situations that arose prompting men like Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin to become the chief Reformers who laid down the foundational stones of Protestantism. Hart notes that Rome eventually responded with the Council of Trent rejecting all that the Protestants put forward but giving no real adequate response to the issues raised by the Reformers. “The result is that Roman Catholicism, even to the day, has not responded to the Protestant Reformers other than to reject the original tenets of Luther and Calvin” (28). Hart notes that movements in the late 1990s did not really testify to unity theologically between Rome and Protestants. These movements sadly bore witness that many Protestants were so shallow doctrinally that the issues of the 16th century no longer mattered to them regardless of Rome’s failure to change biblically at all.

Hart walks through issues related to “Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)” as well as the gospel. Hart does an excellent job of utilizing the primary sources of men like Luther and Calvin when it came to the role of the Bible in the church, how worship should be oriented, and justification by faith alone due to the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. This book serves as a wonderful, precise exposition of why Protestants opposed the sale of indulgences and how that factored into Rome’s distorted view of the gospel. Hart summarizes the heart of Protestant gospel theology this way: “The only way that believers can stand innocent before God on judgment day is by wearing the garments of Christ’s perfect righteousness. That was the insight and achievement of the Protestant Reformation” (61). Hart presses forward with how the corruption of the gospel with the sale of indulgences tied into the unbiblical hierarchy of Rome centered upon the doctrines of papal succession and papal infallibility. Hart walks the reader through how these views were ironed out over time primarily due to the political scene in Europe. The reader can easily detect how the papacy had little to do with Peter and more to do with political power and luxurious prestige.

The chapter that most intrigued me as well as that I found very beneficial was Hart’s chapter entitled “Vocation: Spirituality for Ordinary Life.” Hart unpacks the Protestant understanding of the priesthood of all believers as well as how our vocational calling is a means to worship God. Drawing from the writings of Luther and Calvin, Hart shows how Protestantism’s advocating of justification by faith alone in Christ alone refers not just to a moment in our conversion and then is to be forgotten. This precious doctrine impacts how ordinary life is carried out. Whether it be the baker, the carpenter, or the mother at home raising her children, for one who is clothed in righteousness of Christ, the ordinary is quite extraordinary in how their vocational calling provides opportunity to honor God. Hart ties in some of these themes in a later chapter dealing with how Rome and Protestants view architecture different when it comes to the corporate worship of God.

Hart finishes the book by examining the false and misleading attacks on Protestantism as being the source of division and modernity as well as being the new kid on the block. Each of these criticisms of Protestantism falls flat when the real history of the church is laid out showing that Rome’s attacks might be neat clichés but fall woefully short of being accurate. Hart gives an overview of the 2nd Vatical Council revealing how this event contradicts much of what Protestants state is their reasoning for converting to Catholicism as well as contradicting what are the supposed pillars of Roman Catholicism: stability and unity. The conclusion is a masterful exposition of how Protestants and Rome view sainthood differently. This is a fitting conclusion that reinforces earlier statements regarding Protestant views on the Bible, the gospel, and the church.

Hart provides an excellent resource for pastors and laymen alike to combat the charge that the Reformation is over. One critique that I would raise is that Hart did not provide a further resources section in this book so that readers could explore these topics in more depth. Hart quotes contemporary Roman Catholic sources but did not cite any Protestant theologians who would be in agreement with him concerning the need to still see the Reformation as ongoing. This would have bolstered his case in some areas. However, those critiques aside, this book is definitely a book you should purchase and read. “Still Protesting” will remind you of why you are a Protestant and why you should remain a Protestant!