He Doesn’t Control Some Things

  
That’s right.  He controls all things.  

Is a trumpet blown in a city,and the people are not afraid?  Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? 

Amos 3:6

Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?  Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? 

Lamentations 3:37-39

For 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.

Acts 4:27-28

And this is very, very Good News.  

The greatest comfort I can give a child of God, and I can only give it to a child of God (meaning someone who has been adopted by God through faith in Jesus Christ), is that God is in total, absolute control of your pain.   And the reason why that’s comforting for the Christian is that God promises to work all things together for the good of His elect.  

This is a God whose hand predestined the worst sin in history for His people’s rescue.  

He does no evil, but neither is He perplexed or surprised by any evil.  And He will work all things together for His good purposes.  

From the other side of Christ’s return, there will not be one moment of history, from Eden’s tree to Calvary’s Cross to Hitler’s Holocaust to Hell’s shut doors, where Satan will be able to say, “Well, at least He didn’t get to work that one out for His purposes.”  When all is said and done, God’s glory and beauty and His people’s good will be pulled from every page of history, even the bloody and awful and scary ones.  And the greatest proof of that is Christ’s bloody and awful Cross.  

Some of you who are born again and in chaos or agony need to internalize this.  

What is frustrating to the unbelieving heart is peace to believing one:  There is no sovereign but God.  

I am telling you to pray to the God who will roll up the sky like a blanket, who set the Milky Way spinning as though it were a top, who fashioned all our souls from His own creative heart.  This is not a God who will win at the last second on a Hail Mary.  I am here to tell you there is a King in the Heavens.  A King.  God is not a powerful figure with good intentions who can only do so much.  This is the King of all creation, and He is taking audiences with all who will call upon Him in faith.  

There is nothing that befalls us that is not ordained by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Keep all your gods, America.  I have met the only One who can save a man like me.  

This God is in control.

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Love and Hate


A Christian should have many loves, because the God He sees and knows as beautiful is the God who made this world.  And, like everybody, all of his hatreds flow from his loves.  But with the healthy  Christian, this principle works out for the benefit of the wider world.

The Christian whose heart is in rhythm with God’s hates lies because they obscure truth. He hates death because it assaults life.  He hates suffering and injustice and idolatry because he loves men and God.  He has holy hatreds.  They are like a good knight defending a sacred castle, or a good husband defending his beloved.

A person who is still living in the flesh will have things, maybe many things, that look like deep loves, but when they’re fully unraveled will be shallower than they might’ve been, because they had something other than the Father and Son and Spirit for their center.  And so when those loves are assaulted, the hatred that defends them is anxious or bitter or self-righteous or joyless.  It’s hollower than the full-throated hatred for death and Hell and false gods that the saint who’s in the grip of the Holy Spirit has.  His are hatreds that say, “Come, join me in fleeing the wrath to come!  God is good, and He will wipe every last scar and tear away!  Come meet Him!”  The carnal man’s hatreds say, “Away from my beloved thing!  I will fight you tooth and nail to protect it!  Because I know, see, deep down, how frail a god it is…”

A Christian should love the sunset and summer and marriage and Gospel songs because the God who spoke light and love and song into being is His adopted Father.  He loves them because he loves Him.  

His loves are deeper, his hatreds are holier, and his heart is open and hopeful.

And so he has a good message to give his neighbor.

Augustine:  Better Hopes

  
I want to share one of the most beautiful descriptions of a conversion I’ve ever read, from Augustine’s Confessions.  It’s his brief account of 2 young men who were born again while reading as visiting guests in the house of a Christian.  

16 centuries between us and these 2 guys.  But there’s a common thread, stretching across that time.  The same Spirit who could breathe eternal life into their sinful souls offers to regenerate us.  

Here’s to better hopes.  

Happy Monday!

He spoke these words, and in anguish during this birth of a new life, he turned his eyes upon those pages.  He read on and was changed within himself, where Your eye could see.  His mind was stripped of this world, as soon became apparent.  For as he read, and turned about on the waves of his heart, he raged at himself for a while, but then discerned better things and determined upon them.  Already belonging to You, he said to his friend, ‘I have broken away from our former hopes, and I have determined to serve God, and from this very hour and in this very place I make my start.  If it is too much for you to imitate me, do not oppose me.’  The other answered that he would join him as a comrade for so great a reward and in so great a service.  Both of them, being now Yours, began to build a tower at that due cost of leaving all that they had and following You.


  

Poisonous Root

  

I have known people who have chronic physical pain, at least one with intense back and hip problems, who still smile and generally speak to neighbors and family with warmth. I know at least two people who have vicious relatives they have to interact with weekly and yet who still treat the offending family member with grace and relative cheer. They help to support and care for people who insult them and condescend them and gossip about them, and they, by and large, still live out their lives and help these family members with a measure of joy and optimism. I know a person who has been through almost constant financial hardships for at least the last fifteen years, and who still talks to strangers at the grocery store and his family at holiday meals about how his life is good and how he’s grateful to the Lord for getting him through some (often very long) difficult times. I knew happy kids at a Christian orphanage in Haiti, a place where no one had jobs or plumbing, and where none of the kids had parents or what we would think of as a home.  

I know other people who start to remove joy from a room after a few sentences of conversation. Who view life as unfair (chiefly as it relates to them), and view themselves as having been subjected to a particularly, uniquely tragic existence.  People who are offended very easily and who forgive with great difficulty.  They overlook almost no wrong that is done to them, but their eyes somehow miss their own poisonous tongues and violent, heart-held grudges.  

What’s the difference between these two groups of people?  Why does the first set remain pleasant and hopeful through pain and the other become bitter or despairing?

Generally speaking, the answer doesn’t lie in the circumstances around them, but the kind of heart and attitude within them.   

Now, I am often in that second group.  I’m repenting of it and seeking Jesus’ grace for change in it, but I still often am.  But I’m blessed in that two of the people closest to me are in the first group, and as I’ve watched them go through every bit the pain I have (and if I’m honest, more), I’ve been forced to acknowledge that the roots of my bitterness and anger are my own sinful motivations and idolatries and sense of entitlement. 

The good part is that healing and forgiveness and change can happen when turning from my sin and believing in Jesus’ grace for me have occurred.  Repentance and faith can lead to the Holy Spirit’s changing the darkest, angriest parts of my heart.  

If you think you might be in that second group, I’ll exhort you with the same words I need to hear:  Resist the temptation to blame your circumstances for your sin.  Their may be legitimately difficult circumstances around you, you may truly be being harmed by others, but the heart is where sin comes from.  

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 

1 John 1:9-10

There is no forgiveness without repentance, and almost as tragic is that there is no change, either.  To continue to lay the blame for your anger, grudge holding, or gossip on the doorstep of your circumstances is chain yourself to that way of life indefinitely.  

Bitterness, like all sin, kills.  Kills relationships, kills the heart, and can even kill the body.  And of course, in the end, after eating your earthly life from the inside out, kills your soul by sending you to Hell.

But praise be to God that Jesus gives life.  Full-throated, self-spending, unimaginable life.  

By grace through faith in Him alone, Jesus can work back the poison of the bitter person’s heart.  Purer blood has never been bled, and it’s offered free of charge to every sinner who asks in faith.  

Trade death for life.  

It hurts, having that poison spilled from your veins, but a lot less than dying.  

Plus the good part lasts forever.  

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.

Hebrews 12:15

For 3:  How I Want to Decide

  

One good thing about this election cycle is that it has forced me to do some soul searching about why I vote a certain way, and even about why I speak or engage issues and public debates the way I do.  This year I honestly had to examine what my motives really are, and from that came the follow-up question:  “How How do I know what the most Christ-exalting angle to come at this public matter is?”

Christians from Tertullian to Augustine to Luther to Spurgeon have had to wrestle with how their devotion to the King of Kings should influence their possible commitments to issues in the still-sin-shaped public square.  King Jesus isn’t back yet, so how do I vote?  How do I take a side, or decide whether this is a case where I should take a side?  How do I spend my time and dollars in the city, state, and/or nation I live in, where Satan still has a measure of (God-ordained) control and people who don’t truly know Jesus all jostle around each other, each with their own interests (some horrible, some neutral, some morally positive)?  

Well, here is a simple rubric I landed on that I think is a faithful outworking of Scripture.  

So thanks, crazy 2016!

When I vote or endorse something in the public square, I want the 3 criteria by which I judge my approach to be:

  1. What will glorify Jesus Christ?
  2. What will honor His church?
  3. What will bless my neighbor?

*Note: “For 3” is a new format, joining “_____ Seconds On…” as a semi-regular series on this blog.

Let me know what you think! Feedback is always appreciated. 

Blood and Borders

  
In the time of Abraham, God took a man who believed Him, and through that man made a people for Himself of lineage.  Abraham’s children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren served as God’s people in a cruel and crooked world.  God then took that family tree out of bondage in Egypt and planted it in Canaan, a real place you could plot out on a real map.  He authored a people for Himself of blood and borders.  

They showed themselves (or were supposed to) to be His possession by circumcision and by being a people of the Law, God’s commandments that He gave to them through the man Moses.  The people among them who were truly His in heart were always saved through faith in God, like their father Abraham, but the whole narrative played out within a panorama of ethnicity and nationhood.  

But then Jesus Christ came.  

In publicly taking the penalty for sins on Himself and proclaiming the Kingdom of God, this Jesus cast light on the good shadows of the Old Testament.  The sacrifices and ordinances of ancient Israel turned out to point to Him.  The Law and circumcision and the nation of Israel itself all turned out to be words in a Gospel vocabulary. 

Two decades or so after Jesus ascended the Apostle Paul wrote this to a group of churches wrestling with Old Testament questions:

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

These disparate people Paul was writing to had all put on the same clean clothes:  The white robes of faith in Jesus Christ.  The guardian was no longer a guardian.  The Law and circumcision never saved people, were never supposed to, and God wasn’t using them as a paidagogos anymore, either.  Where there had been a public people of blood and borders there was now a public people of faith and Spirit.  And so these little local churches, these collections of upper class and lower class, Jew and Greek were made up of individuals who had more fundamentally in common with each other than they did with unbelieving neighbors or family.  

God is ransoming a people for Himself from every tribe and tongue.  And I believe our Savior and His apostles would have our churches, as much as possible, look like that’s what He’s doing.  

This church stretches beyond family trees and state lines.  

My prayer for my church and the churches of my city is that we would be homogenous in Whom we worship, but diverse in who’s doing the worshipping.  

We are one people, now.  Don’t let the skin colors or accents fool you.  

Don’t Be Silly

  

“Why should Christians debate about this?  It’s so silly.”

I’ve heard this sort of sentiment before.  And of course it can be true with certain debates.  It is silly for believers to debate whether acoustic guitars are less spiritual than pianos or which European leader is most likely to be the (or an) antichrist.  And it can be true with certain modes of debate.  It’s silly to insult people, and it’s silly to get overly heated on Facebook or Twitter.  

But it is flat-out inaccurate to say all disagreeing dialogue between professing Christians on matters of faith is wrong.  

Why?

Well…

  • The New Testament does it.  A lot. 

Jesus frequently admonished and theologically redirected His disciples.  The book of Acts shows us repeated examples of the church interchanging over different sides of a theological issue.  And of course Galatians, the sweetest rebuke ever written, contains sentences like this in order to call out serious, soul-threatening theological error:  

As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

So if your position is that people claiming to believe in Jesus should never have vocal disagreements, then your position is that the New Testament has some serious problems.  

  • Christians throughout history have done it.  A lot. 

Obviously the fact that something is prevalent in Christian history doesn’t automatically make it right, but I do have a general rule for myself:  If a lot of the saints who have gone before me have done something, I want to be very thoughtful and sure before I reject it.  And theological debating has gone on in the church since Jesus ascended.  

The seven ecumenical councils that met in the first millennium after Jesus died were all about serious theological disagreements, and about the practical implications of believing one thing or another.  Whether it was the priest Arius claiming that Jesus was created, the debate over whether Jesus had one nature or two, or debating whether the Holy Spirit emanated from both the Father and the Son or just the Father, the Christians of the first 7-10 centuries of the church took faith in God very seriously.  They knew God was real, that how a human thinks about Him matters, and they wanted to be faithful in thought and creed.

And of course during the next millennium, men like Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Charles Spurgeon debated morality, holiness, and (most importantly) the definition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  

So Christians have, for 20 centuries, debated theological matters.  Sometimes their demeanors were less than charitable, and sometimes they got an issue wrong, but to say that no believer should debate spiritual matters is to say that virtually each and every generation of Christians who came before us was doing something it should not have done.

  • The sentiment that theological debate is silly is often just a mask for something else:  Not enjoying God thought. 

I’ve known some people who say that it’s silly to dialogue about the trinity, or whether salvation can be lost, or the nature of the Lord’s Supper, but who have no problem debating about The Walking Dead, politics, or the NFL.  And so I think what this “it’s silly” mindset is sometimes masking is a heart that really doesn’t delight in thinking about God as much as it delights in thinking about entertainment or other interests. 

And news flash:  That’s often true of my heart.  

And the answer isn’t to pretend that thinking hard about God and having deep theological convictions is “silly.”  The answer is to repent of loving other things more than Him and asking Him to help me treasure Him with all my mind, heart, soul, and strength. 

We all have opinions and thoughts on the things we care about.  So what this kind of comment is sometimes indicative of is that the person saying it cares about other things more than God.  

And now can I offer a few closing exhortations?

Thanks for the green light.

-Read a good, old book of Christian theology or doctrine.  Grab a Spurgeon book on prayer, or a John Chrysostom commentary on a New Testament book.  Read and ask God to help you love Him and think about Him as much as you love and think about TV or sports.  Even in my own fickle heart, I’ve experienced the fact that God loves to answer the prayer “Help me love You.”  And if you don’t think you have time (as I often tell myself:  “You’re so busy, Wade…”), ask yourself, “When was the last time I watched TV?”  The truth is, we all make time for what we value.  

Dwell on Him mentally throughout the day.  We all have moments where we’re able to let our minds sift over something or someone.  Why not God?  The habit of meditating on the triune God, His Word, and His Kingdom is well worth cultivating.  After all, most of our lives are lived out the way they are because of what we think about and how we think about it.  

Let’s reason together with our brothers and sisters in Christ about things of great importance.  Truth is as important as worship.  

Let’s be people of both.