Monday, April 28, 2014


Mark Galli in Christian History magazine:

American Christianity has depended on great evangelists with great methods to both get and keep the evangelistic enterprise going.

Billy Graham's crusades are less remarkable for the number of people he converts than for the number of local Christians he involves in the evangelistic task—they pray for conversions, invite friends to the stadium, counsel people down on the field, and so on.

We see a similar phenomenon in his predecessors: George Whitefield, Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, and Billy Sunday. In doing great evangelism for great crowds, these great men motivated the ordinary to spread the faith. This phenomenon is central to the story of American Christianity.

The early church knew no such phenomenon. It didn't have a Graham, a Finney, or a Moody. It didn't have Promise Keepers. It didn't have a Great Awakening or user-friendly churches. 

Furthermore, it had no concise spiritual laws to share, no explosive method for talking to the unconverted.

What it had seems paltry: unspectacular people, with a hodgepodge of methods (so hodgepodge they can hardly be called "methods"), and rarely a gathering of more than a handful of people.

The paltry seems to have been enough, however, to make an emperor or two stop and take notice.

One of those emperors was Constantine, who, when he converted, changed entirely the dynamics of early church growth. So though we bring up his story, and that of his successors (to reveal the larger context), we focus on evangelism before Constantine.

The issue, then, has no central character or unifying narrative. It is a jumble of articles about a hodgepodge of things that normal and (to us) nameless Christians did to bring the name of Jesus Christ to the attention of pagans.

Not a phenomenon that filled stadiums, just enough to begin converting the known world.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Our inner 2nd-grade, grumpy-pants teacher.

Day Two of Mockingbird Blog commenting on and quoting Gerhard Forde:

Bad PR dies hard. Somehow, the word got out that Christianity is about moral reform and our inner 2nd-grade, grumpy-pants teacher has been looking over our shoulders ever since. Despite the insistence of St. Paul, Luther, Calvin and a host of other Reformers, faithful laymen and preachers that we’re free in Christ, we’ve had a 2,000 year battle on our hands. Just think of the many bumper-sticker falsehoods floating around. You know, “Do your best, and God does the rest. “Just follow your heart”. Or America’s favorite (non) verse “God helps those who help themselves.” The sentiment is always the same, that our problem can somehow be remedied by some combination of moral exertion, discipline and devotion. But the human problem isn’t solved by barking at people to get to work climbing a ladder, religious or otherwise. We don’t need to take spiritual vitamins, we need a death and resurrection! Here’s another Gerhard Forde:

Pelagius was a moral reformer and like all moral reformers he didn’t want a theology that allowed people to relax. So he said that man must use his God-given strength to climb the ladder. Sin is not original, it is only a bad habit that humans have gotten into. It is passed on by imitation not by heredity. What we must do is bend every effort to better ourselves and reverse the course of immorality and corruption the world has taken. To arms against evil!
That was Pelagius’ call. But the church from the beginning has resisted this call-at least in the precise form in which Pelagius put it. Why? Because, as St. Augustine–with St. Paul–said, it makes the cross of no effect. It is a call to man’s pride and pride is the deadliest of sins-especially when it thinks itself to be busy with religious affairs. It is a call which completely disregards the fact that it was man’s moral pride and religious fervor that killed God’s Son. It sets men climbing the heavenly ladder indeed, but it has no grace. It only grinds real humanity in the dust. In other words, it does not take the Grace of God as revealed in the cross at it’s word. There is no room left for mercy and love. If the cross is only an example of moral striving. It is a complete misreading both of divine action and the human condition.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dying to Self---Another look.

Mockingbird Blog with an interesting take on “dying to self."  If will not sit well with those who think that Christ died for us so we better get going on paying him back. 

I was thinking this week about how Christians tend to think about “dying to self”. Certainly there’s something to be said for the mortification of the flesh, fighting sin and all that. But what if Jesus’ call to lose your life in order to gain it was less of a call to selling all your possessions in an everything-must-go yard sale and more of a passive…dying. As in, the death is not something we achieve, but something we receive? Ladies and gentlemen, the unsurpassed, late-great Dr. Gerhard Forde (from his “Sermon on the Death of Self”):
“Can you see that this death of self is not, in the final anal­ysis, something you can do? For the point is that God has once and for all reserved for himself the business of your salvation. There is nothing you can do now but, as the words of the old hymn have it, “climb Cal­vary’s mournful mountain” and stand with your helpless arms at your side and tremble before “that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice com­plete! It is finished; hear him cry; learn of Jesus Christ to die!”
Can you see it? Can you see that really the last, bitter death is there? That in that cross God has stormed the last bastion of the self, the last presumption that you really were going to do something for him? Can you see that the death of Jesus Christ is your death? He has died in your place! He has done it. He made it. He created a salvation in the midst of time and his enemies. He is God happening to you. It is all over, fin­ished, between you and God! He died in your place that death which you must die; he has done it in such a way as to save you. He has borne the whole thing! The fact that there is nothing left for you to do is the death of self and new birth of the new creature. He died to make a new crea­ture of you, and as he arose, to raise you up to trust God alone.
If you can see it, perhaps then you can see, or perhaps at least begin to see, what is the power of God’s grace and rejoice. For that is the other side of the coin once you have gotten out of your self-enclosed system. Then perhaps you can turn away from yourself, maybe really for the first time, and look upon your neighbors. Maybe for the first time you can begin to receive creation as a gift, a sheer gift from God’s hands. And who knows what might happen in the power of this grace? All possibilities are open. You might sell your car, or even give it away – for someone else. You might find even that you could swallow your pride and stage a protest march – for your neighbor – or begin to seek to in­fluence the power structures! For in the power of his cross the way is open! The way is open to begin, at least, perhaps in faltering ways, in countless little ways, to realize what it means to die to self. For that, in the final analysis, is his gift to you, the free gift of the new man, the new woman, the one who can live in faith and hope, for whom all possibili­ties are open!”

Sunday, April 20, 2014

5 Quotes on the Resurrection

“And he departed from our sight that we might return to our heart, and there find Him. For He departed, and behold, He is here.” -- St. Augustine

 "Let every man and woman count himself immortal. Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection. Let him say not merely, "Christ is risen," but "I shall rise." -- Phillips Brooks

"Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won't stay there." -- Clarence W. Hall

“The name of the game from now on is resurrection, not bookkeeping.” -Robert Capon

"Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song." - Pope John Paul II

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Father or a Policeman

Bear with me  and trust me on this one.  Read this article written by Ian Frazier in The Atlantic called "Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles, Lamentations of the   Father."  Enjoy the satire.  And then, most importantly, read the words that Steve Brown said in a sermon on Grace.  He read the essay below and then commented on it.  Good words for Easter Sunday.  GOOD NEWS INDEED!

Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea, and of all foods that are acceptable in my sight you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the hoofed animals, broiled or ground into burgers, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cloven-hoofed animal, plain or with cheese, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cereal grains, of the corn and of the wheat and of the oats, and of all the cereals that are of bright color and unknown provenance you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the quiescently frozen dessert and of all frozen after-meal treats you may eat, but absolutely not in the living room. Of the juices and other beverages, yes, even of those in sippy-cups, you may drink, but not in the living room, neither may you carry such therein. Indeed, when you reach the place where the living room carpet begins, of any food or beverage there you may not eat, neither may you drink.

But if you are sick, and are lying down and watching something, then may you eat in the living room.

And if you are seated in your high chair, or in a chair such as a greater person might use, keep your legs and feet below you as they were. Neither raise up your knees, nor place your feet upon the table, for that is an abomination to me. Yes, even when you have an interesting bandage to show, your feet upon the table are an abomination, and worthy of rebuke. Drink your milk as it is given you, neither use on it any utensils, nor fork, nor knife, nor spoon, for that is not what they are for; if you will dip your blocks in the milk, and lick it off, you will be sent away. When you have drunk, let the empty cup then remain upon the table, and do not bite it upon its edge and by your teeth hold it to your face in order to make noises in it sounding like a duck; for you will be sent away.

When you chew your food, keep your mouth closed until you have swallowed, and do not open it to show your brother or your sister what is within; I say to you, do not so, even if your brother or your sister has done the same to you. Eat your food only; do not eat that which is not food; neither seize the table between your jaws, nor use the raiment of the table to wipe your lips. I say again to you, do not touch it, but leave it as it is. And though your stick of carrot does indeed resemble a marker, draw not with it upon the table, even in pretend, for we do not do that, that is why. And though the pieces of broccoli are very like small trees, do not stand them upright to make a forest, because we do not do that, that is why. Sit just as I have told you, and do not lean to one side or the other, nor slide down until you are nearly slid away. Heed me; for if you sit like that, your hair will go into the syrup. And now behold, even as I have said, it has come to pass.
Laws Pertaining to Dessert

For we judge between the plate that is unclean and the plate that is clean, saying first, if the plate is clean, then you shall have dessert. But of the unclean plate, the laws are these: If you have eaten most of your meat, and two bites of your peas with each bite consisting of not less than three peas each, or in total six peas, eaten where I can see, and you have also eaten enough of your potatoes to fill two forks, both forkfuls eaten where I can see, then you shall have dessert. But if you eat a lesser number of peas, and yet you eat the potatoes, still you shall not have dessert; and if you eat the peas, yet leave the potatoes uneaten, you shall not have dessert, no, not even a small portion thereof. And if you try to deceive by moving the potatoes or peas around with a fork, that it may appear you have eaten what you have not, you will fall into iniquity. And I will know, and you shall have no dessert.
On Screaming

Do not scream; for it is as if you scream all the time. If you are given a plate on which two foods you do not wish to touch each other are touching each other, your voice rises up even to the ceiling, while you point to the offense with the finger of your right hand; but I say to you, scream not, only remonstrate gently with the server, that the server may correct the fault. Likewise if you receive a portion of fish from which every piece of herbal seasoning has not been scraped off, and the herbal seasoning is loathsome to you, and steeped in vileness, again I say, refrain from screaming. Though the vileness overwhelm you, and cause you a faint unto death, make not that sound from within your throat, neither cover your face, nor press your fingers to your nose. For even now I have made the fish as it should be; behold, I eat of it myself, yet do not die.
Concerning Face and Hands

Cast your countenance upward to the light, and lift your eyes to the hills, that I may more easily wash you off. For the stains are upon you; even to the very back of your head, there is rice thereon. And in the breast pocket of your garment, and upon the tie of your shoe, rice and other fragments are distributed in a manner wonderful to see. Only hold yourself still; hold still, I say. Give each finger in its turn for my examination thereof, and also each thumb. Lo, how iniquitous they appear. What I do is as it must be; and you shall not go hence until I have done.
Various Other Laws, Statutes, and Ordinances

Bite not, lest you be cast into quiet time. Neither drink of your own bath water, nor of bath water of any kind; nor rub your feet on bread, even if it be in the package; nor rub yourself against cars, nor against any building; nor eat sand.

Leave the cat alone, for what has the cat done, that you should so afflict it with tape? And hum not that humming in your nose as I read, nor stand between the light and the book. Indeed, you will drive me to madness. Nor forget what I said about the tape.
Complaints and Lamentations

O my children, you are disobedient. For when I tell you what you must do, you argue and dispute hotly even to the littlest detail; and when I do not accede, you cry out, and hit and kick. Yes, and even sometimes do you spit, and shout "stupid-head" and other blasphemies, and hit and kick the wall and the molding thereof when you are sent to the corner. And though the law teaches that no one shall be sent to the corner for more minutes than he has years of age, yet I would leave you there all day, so mighty am I in anger. But upon being sent to the corner you ask straightaway, "Can I come out?" and I reply, "No, you may not come out." And again you ask, and again I give the same reply. But when you ask again a third time, then you may come out.

Hear me, O my children, for the bills they kill me. I pay and pay again, even to the twelfth time in a year, and yet again they mount higher than before. For our health, that we may be covered, I give six hundred and twenty talents twelve times in a year; but even this covers not the fifteen hundred deductible for each member of the family within a calendar year. And yet for ordinary visits we still are not covered, nor for many medicines, nor for the teeth within our mouths. Guess not at what rage is in my mind, for surely you cannot know.

For I will come to you at the first of the month and at the fifteenth of the month with the bills and a great whining and moan. And when the month of taxes comes, I will decry the wrong and unfairness of it, and mourn with wine and ashtrays, and rend my receipts. And you shall remember that I am that I am: before, after, and until you are twenty-one. Hear me then, and avoid me in my wrath, O children of me.

Steve Brown replied:  "I tell you when I read that, and I am an adult and I can eat what I want, There is something when I read that piece that wells up in me and makes me angry because that's not a Father, that's a policeman.  And that's the issue.  Once God was our policeman until, because of the blood of Christ, he became our father.  The difference in the Pharisee and the Christian is not in what is done, it is why it's done. One does it for a righteous and wrathful God and one does it for a loving father."

Listen to the whole message at

Friday, April 18, 2014

His Cup of Tea

Trust Him. And when you have done that, you are living the life of grace. No matter what happens to you in the course of that trusting - no matter how many waverings you may have, no matter how many suspicions that you have bought a poke with no pig in it, no matter how much heaviness and sadness your lapses, vices, indispositions, and bratty whining may cause you - you simply believe that Somebody Else, by His death and resurrection, has made it all right, and you just say thank you and shut up.The whole slop closet full of mildewed performances (which is all you have to offer) is simply your death; it is Jesus who is your life. If He refused to condemn you because your works were rotten, He certainly isn't going to flunk you because your faith isn't so hot. You can fail utterly, therefore, and still live the life of grace. You can fold up spiritually, morally, or intellectually and still be safe. Because at the very worst, all you can be is dead - and for Him who is the Resurrection and the Life, that just makes you His cup of tea.

- Robert Capon

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Ticking Bomb

Romans 7:14-25; 8:1-4
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The Epistle to the Romans has sat around in the church since the first century like a bomb ticking away the death of religion; and every time it's been picked up, the ear-splitting freedom in it has gone off with a roar.

The only sad thing is that the church as an institution has spent most of its time playing bomb squad and trying to defuse it. For your comfort, though, it can't be done. Your freedom remains as close to your life as Jesus and as available to your understanding as the nearest copy. Like Augustine, therefore, tolle lege, take and read: tolle the one, lege the other-and then hold onto your hat. Compared to that explosion, the clap of doom sounds like a cap pistol.

 ----Robert Capon

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Mere Repair Job

From Gerhard Forde as quoted at Mockingbird Blog:

I think that most of our talk about [sanctification] represents the bad conscience of the old (moral or immoral!) being who has not really been put to death and so is worried because salvation as a free gift seems too easy and cheap. Since the old being has not died, the law is still in some sense in effect, and so sanctification becomes merely a repair job on the old, a progress according to the law, a transition from vice to virtue for the continuously existing being. To avoid the charge of “cheap grace” we talk very seriously and grandly about sanctification. The result, however, is only that a good deal of cheap talk replaces the cheap grace.

Consequently I watch very closely the way in which we talk about sanctification. To begin with, the problem lies in what we think such talk is supposed to accomplish. There is quite a difference between adequately describing sanctification and actually fostering or producing it. The description may be quite true, nice, accurate or even enticing, but it may be accompanied with an inadequate understanding of how to effect such things evangelically. We can end up preaching a description of the sanctified life but doing little or nothing to bring it about.

Preaching a description is deadly and usually counterproductive. It is like yelling so loudly at your children to go to sleep that you only keep them awake. You have to learn to sing lullabies. Or it is like telling your beloved that “love means thus-and-so, and if you really love me then you would do thus-and-so.” While the description may be true, it’s not likely to work. More often it will have the opposite effect. Instead one has to learn to say, “I love you, no matter what.”

“Faith without works is dead,” we are reminded. Quite true. But then what follows is usually some long and dreary description of works and what we should be about, as though the way to revive a dead faith were by putting up a good-works front. If the faith is dead, it is the faith that must be revived. No amount of works will do it. Whatever may be accomplished by such hollering about works–though it may even be considerable–does not really qualify as sanctification, that is, true holiness.” (pg 77-78)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Does God owe us?

Fred Meuser on Martin Luther's intolerance for righteousness based on a person's works:
Not only indulgences, pilgrimages, alms, repetitious prayers, and other so-called churchly good works felt Luther’s lash, but also every innate human impulse to make God somehow indebted to us. Luther knew not only the Scriptures; he also knew people. From the way in which, year after year, he glorified God’s undeserved grace despite our unworthiness, we can conclude that it was as hard for the Wittenbergers to say “Yes” to God’s judgment on their lives and “No” to the urge to bargain with God as it is for us today. The frequency and clarity of Luther’s words makes one wonder why he needed to say it so often, but they also give us a bit of comfort in our need to speak repeatedly to the perversions of the gospel in our day.

Luther himself said:
If you preach faith [and assurance] people become lax…But if you do not preach faith, hearts become frightened and dejected…Do as you please. Nothing seems to help. Yet faith in Christ should be preached, no matter what happens. I would much rather hear people say of me that I preach too sweetly…than not preach faith in Christ at all, for then there be no help for timid, frightened consciences…Therefore I should like to have the message of faith in Christ not forgotten but generally known. It is so sweet a message, full of sheer joy, comfort, mercy and grace. I must confess that I myself have as yet not fully grasped it. We shall have to let it happen that some turn the message into an occasion for security and presumption; others…slander us…and say [that by preaching so much of Christ] we make people lazy and thus keep them from perfection. Christ himself had to hear that he was a friend of publicans and sinners…We shall not fare any better.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Confirmed Apple Thieves Must Help Each Other

Steve Brown in his book, A Scandalous Freedom repeats a story from Calvin Miller’s book called "An Owner’s Manual for an Unfinished Soul."

Every day on his way to hear morning confessions, a certain priest stopped and stole an apple from the orchard that he passed.  On the orchard wall was a sign that clearly said, “Keep Out, No Pilfering!”  Nonetheless, the priest would steal the fruit and eat it on the way to serve his people.  He always finished the apple just as he entered the confessional throwing the apple core on his side of the curtain.

A young girl named Cora also stopped every morning on her way to confession to steal an apple.  Entering the confessional, she would finish the apple and throw the core on her side of the curtain.

 “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” she would say.
 “How long has it been, my child, since your last confession?”
 “Twenty-four hours.”
 “And is your sin the same today as usual?”
 “It is, Father.  I am still stealing apples on the way to confession.”
 “Te absolvo.  Go, and try to keep away from those apples!”
 “I’ll try, Father, I’ll try.  But they are so good, and I am so weak.”

Every day the ritual was repeated.  Every twenty-four hours the priest stole another, and so did Cora. 

Finally the priest grew exasperated with Cora.  “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned” …: a very ordinary confession on an ordinary morning.
“Today, Cora, I refuse to forgive you.  You keep on stealing, and I’m tired of forgiving you, for we both know you will do it again.  You’ll never change, you wretched girl.  Henceforth, I do not forgive you.”
“Please, Father.  I am so very sorry.”
“No.  Before the cider dries upon your chin, you will have stolen once again.  I counted     365 decaying cores on your side of the confessional.  You are too wicked and apple-ridden to ever receive my forgiveness!”
The girl wept her way from the confessional.  For weeks her guilt grew.  She finally quit coming to confession.
Autumn came.  Winter approached. The fields around the church turned brown.  The swans left the pond.  The early daylight was heavy with frost.  The apples in the orchard were very few and mostly in the top of the trees.  The wretched girl, still unable to leave her addiction, shinnied up the highest frost-tinged boughs.  She was about to pick an apple when she noticed some movements in the branches across from her.  Then she noticed a black cassock.

“Father, what are you doing here?” asked Cora.
“Praying,” said the priest.
“In an apple tree?” asked the girl.
“Yes, my dear to be closer to heaven.”
“Oh, that I came here to pray … I came only to steal apples.”
“Wretch!” screamed the priest.

At that very instant the limb on which he was supported broke, and the priest plummeted to the ground.  Cora scrambled down and ran to see if the priest was dead.

“Girl, I am dying.  You must give me last rites.”
“No, Father.  I am impure, filled with harried and vile and unforgiven apple thieveries.  I am too wicked to grant you the absolution that you need.  May God have mercy on you, Father.”

The priest died and went to Hades and burned in flaming cider for a thousand years—but of course Cora never knew.

A new priest came in a few weeks, and Cora started back to church.  Once again she went to confession.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned I stole an apple this morning on the way to church.”
“You, too?” said the priest.  “Tomorrow morning let’s both steal three, and we shall make a pie together.  Who knows but that our Father in heaven shall provide the cinnamon.”

Even honest thievery had recompenses.  At last the swans came back and the fields turned green.

After Cora and the priest had eaten many a pie, they found they actually were beginning to help each other for support and prayed for each other, and finally both were able to quit stealing apples—at least they did not steal them all that often.  Still, some sins are hard to quit, and confirmed apple thieves must help each other pass the best orchards.

Monday, April 7, 2014

There must be something I can do.

Explosive words from Gerhard Forde about God’s unconditional grace:
The gospel of justification by faith is such a shocker, such an explosion, because it is an absolutely unconditional promise.
It is not an “if-then” kind of statement, but a “because-therefore” pronouncement: because Jesus died and rose, your sins are forgiven and you are righteous in the sight of God!
It bursts in upon our little world all shut up and barricaded behind our accustomed conditional thinking as some strange comet from goodness-knows-where, something we can’t really seem to wrap our minds around, the logic of which appears closed to us.
How can it be entirely unconditional? Isn’t it terribly dangerous? How can anyone say flat out, “You are righteous for Jesus’ sake? Is there not some price to be paid, some-thing (however minuscule) to be done? After all, there can’t be such thing as a free lunch, can there?”
You see, we really are sealed up in the prison of our conditional thinking. It is terribly difficult for us to get out, and even if someone batters down the door and shatters the bars, chances are we will stay in the prison anyway! We seem always to want to hold out for something somehow, that little bit of something, and we do it with a passion and an anxiety that betrays its true source-the Old Adam that just does not want to lose control. (Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life, pg. 24).

God's Will. Does it Scare you?

Good Post by Kevin Thompson:

He made all the right decisions. He dated slowly, chose wisely, did everything I asked of him in pre-marital counseling, and despite all his wise choices, his wife left him just months into the marriage.

She made all the right decisions. Three job offers were on the table. Her knowledge and ability was recognized by everyone. She prayed, sought wise counsel, and made the best decision she knew to make. Within the year the company failed and she was without a job.

There is a common assumption regarding God’s will. It’s the belief that success is the ultimate sign of choosing correctly. It’s the belief that if you make a decision which honors God, God will honor you with success. It’s a dangerous assumption.

I hear it as people are:

debating which job to take. The assumption is that if they chose the right one they will be happy, make money, and experience tremendous success. (See: How Tyler Wilson Made a Good Decision that Cost Him Millions)

choosing a spouse. Choose the right one and the marriage is guaranteed to make it. (See: The Number One Cause of Divorce)

making faith decisions. If they obey God, they assume everything will turn out for the best.

In part, this is true. In the end, God will use everything for our good. Yet the end is a long way off, and between now and then we are not guaranteed health, wealth, and success.

As a matter of fact, it is very possible to make a wise choice and have a bad outcome.

As much as we want to control our lives and guarantee outcomes, they are rarely controllable and never guaranteed.

Of course there is a general principle that good choices lead to good consequences and bad choices lead to bad consequences. Some of life is controllable and some outcomes are guaranteed. Addictions will not end well. Disobeying God rarely benefits in the short-term and will never benefit us in the long-term.

Yet making good choices does not guarantee an outcome we will love. Praying, listening to wise counsel, reading the Bible, and doing everything in our power to make a wise choice does not mean a new job will be easy, that a marriage will be perfect, or that doing what the Bible says will lead to a reconciled friendship or popularity. (See: Karma or Grace)

The best example of this might be a popular verse. For many people, Jeremiah 29.11 is a life verse. The promise of God is that He has a plan for us—a plan to prosper us and not to harm us, a plan to give us a hope and future. It is a tremendous verse.

But do you know the context of Jeremiah 29? It’s in relation to God’s people being in exile. God is reminding His people that even as they suffer, He has not forgotten them. It’s a verse of great hope, but it’s a verse which shows that hope will not come immediately. They would spend 70 years in exile. Entire generations would pass before this verse would be fulfilled. The verse is often the exact opposite of what many people assume about God’s will. (See: How We Respond to Suffering)

Remember, God’s will was for John to be exiled, Paul to be jailed, Jesus to be executed. Why do we assume God’s will for us is to have a great job, a happy wife, and a large bank account?

We have a responsibility to do everything we can to make wise choices and obey God’s commands. However, our obedience will not guarantee immediate success. We are guaranteed that when we obey, a day will come in which we will never regret it.

Obey. And if suffering or failure follows your obedience, don’t be too quick to assume you have chosen wrongly. You obey and leave the outcomes to God.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Rooster Crowed

Elyse Fitzpatrick on Transparency:

How many of you are glad that the story of Peter's denial is in the bible?  Was is a good thing that Peter sinned and denied Christ?  No.  Is it a good thing that we know about it?  Yes, of course, it is.  Why are we not transparent?

This world needs an authentic Christianity. People who struggle just like they do but have found a Savior who forgives. That's what they need.

You see we are children of the light. We are children of the day. And it means that we are not afraid of admitting our sins, and we're longing for complete transformation at the same time. See, I want to thread this needle for you. Because on the one hand, I don't want to cover who I really am. I am a sinner. I struggle with unbelief and when I am struggling with unbelief, I struggle with being cranky. 

Walking in the light means that we stand transparently before God and others. Here's the reality—you are already standing transparently before God. You know that. And I can put on my best "churchiness," but God sees right into my heart. You know what's really shocking about that? He sees right into your heart, and yet He loves you. I mean, get that. He sees your heart. He sees all of the ways you're faking it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Go and Sin No More

One of Rachel Held Evans' most powerful and controversial posts can be found here:

How’s that working out for you? 

The "go and sin no more" thing? 

Because it’s not going so well for me. 

I’ve known Jesus for as long as I’ve known my name, and still I use other people like capital to advance my own interest, still I gossip to make myself feel important, still I curse my brothers and sisters in one breath and sing praise songs in the next, still I sit in church with arms folded and cynicism coursing through my bloodstream, still I talk a big game about caring for the poor without doing much to change my own habits, still I indulge in food I’m not hungry for and jewelry I don’t need, still I obsess over what people say about me on the internet, still I forget my own privilege, still I talk more than I listen and complain more than I thank, still I commit acts of evil, still I make a great commenter on Christianity and a lousy practitioner of it.

But Jesus pours out his mercy, staying the hand of my accusers again and again and again.

I go, stepping over scattered stones, forgiven, grateful, and free.

I go, but I do not sin no more.

Do you? 

They were doing the “biblical,” thing you know—the religious scholars and leaders who surrounded the woman caught in adultery that day. They probably had Leviticus 20:10 at the ready:
“If a man commits adultery with another man's wife--with the wife of his neighbor--both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.”
They wanted to see if this Jesus fellow who ate with tax collectors and prostitutes and who touched the ritually impure, could be tough on sin. So they picked a clear-cut sin with a clear-cut consequence—a biblical slam dunk— and passed around the stones.

“The Bible says we should stone this woman?” they challenged Jesus, “What do you say?” 

Would he be so foolish as to contradict God’s Word? It would be the ruin of this ministry!
I wish we knew what the carpenter scribbled in the sand that day. Lists of names? Lists of sins? Something about how God desires mercy over sacrifice? Inscrutable doodles meant to redirect the crowd’s judgmental gaze?

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” Jesus finally says before crouching to the earth again, the God who formed us out of dust covered in it.

The gospel notes that it was the oldest in the crowd who left first. They knew. 

One by one, the religious elite dropped their stones and walked away. Seems the sinning no more thing wasn’t working so well for them either.

Woman, where are they? Jesus asks after they have gone. “Has no one condemned you?”
“No sir.”

I imagine she was still trembling.

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

It’s one of just two times in his recorded ministry that Jesus said this—“go and sin no more”—and I don’t believe for a second he expected this woman to do such a least not forever, at least not for good.  

He knew she was not so different from the religious leaders who surrounded her, not so different from you and I. He knew that hers would be invisible stones, the kind she’d grip tighter each time she saw the man who once shared her bed but not her public humiliation, each time she heard the whispers of her neighbors or the loud, pretentious prayers of the men who had grabbed her and surrounded her and threatened to kill her, each time she heard rumors that the person who saved her would himself be put to death. 

She would sin, no doubt.

But perhaps she would think twice before casting those stones. Perhaps she would stop for a moment to consider the irony of becoming just like her accusers.

We tend to look down our noses at these ancient people with their purity codes regulating everything from the fibers in their clothes to the people they touched. But we have our own purity codes these days—people we cast out from our communities or surround with Bible-wielding mobs, labels we assign to those who don’t fit, conditions we place on God’s grace, theological and behavioral checklists we hand out before baptism or communion, sins real or imagined we delight in taking seriously because we’d like to think they are much more severe than our own. 

“Let’s not forget that Jesus told that woman to go and sin no more,” Christians like to say when they're afraid this grace thing might get out of hand. 

Lord have mercy.

Of all the people in that story, we’ve gone and decided we’re the most like Jesus.

I think it’s safe to say we’ve missed the point.

We’ve missed the point when we quote the Gospel of John like the Pharisees quoted Leviticus to justify a gathering mob.

We’ve missed the point when we use it to condemn rather than convict.

We’ve missed the point when we turn this story into a stone.



Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Son or a Pig...Your Choice

We forget the gospel when we neglect our adoption and think that we're still just a hired servant. The Father doesn't let us come to him on those terms. We will either come as sons or we will stay with the pigs. He won't let us earn anything from him because there will be no boasting in his sight. It will either be that Jesus and his glorious gospel has the preeminence or we will go it on our own.

---Elyse Fitzpatrick 

Give us Barabbas

The Story of Barabbas is a story of Grace. 
Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
“What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
“Crucify him!” they shouted.
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.  Mark 15:6-15
Frederick Buechner explains:  
"Pilate told the people that they could choose to spare the life of either a murderer named Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth, and they chose Barabbas. Given the same choice, Jesus, of course, would have chosen to spare Barabbas too.

To understand the reason in each case would be to understand much of what the New Testament means by saying that Jesus is the Savior, and much of what it means too by saying that, by and large, people are in bad need of being saved."