Put Christ back into Christmas

‘Tis the season for the hysterical fearful to retreat into their separatist caves and worry about the secularization of the Christmas Season.

This isn’t a post about that. Sorry.

(Just one pet peeve – the “X” in Xmas is the Greek letter chi, and is the abbreviation for “Christ.” It has been since the first century. So everyone relax.)

OK. Now I’m done with that particular pet peeve.

So, here is what I would like to advise. Put Christ back into Christmas.

John wrote,

No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1Jo 4:12)

It is God’s will that Christ be seen in the world NOT by images, not in words only, not in traditionalism or icons, but in love.

No one has seen God. Not in a nativity scene, or a living Christmas tree, or in your very thoughtful rebuke of the poor Starbucks barista, but in love.

YOUR love, as a Christian, in particular. We love, because he first loved us.

So put Christ back into Christmas by your love.

Give a smile and an encouraging word. Look into the eyes of that image-bearer of God that is different than you are, and show her respect and dignity and honor, because Christ died for you.

Give a glass of cold water, clothe the naked, feed the hungry. Give a kind word, a timely prayer, a good tip, a thoughtful gift.

Put off your fear, your anger, your contempt. Quit fretting about your neighbor, and love them. Quit ranting about “Happy Holidays” and “Xmas” and trees and lights and malls and commerce, and rejoice.

Be cheerful, be happy – for God now accepts your works. Be at peace, for nothing can take you from his hands.

Look at the beauty of the lights and the joy of the trees and snow. (Or fake snow, for Northern California people).

When you come to a work party or a family dinner, does everyone say, “Ugh. That guy”? Or do they rejoice, because you are coming?

Help people walk a little taller. Bear a burden. Be kind. Be the kind of person that people want to be around. Be generous.

Put Christ back into YOUR Christmas. Love one another fervently, for God is love.

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Out of Egypt I have called my son

There is a very perplexing verse in Matthew’s gospel:

13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
  14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
  15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. (Matt. 2:13-15)

In verse 15, Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that this event in the life of the child Jesus fulfilled a prophecy. He quotes that prophecy as “Out of Egypt, have I called my son.”

One of the best things that you could do when reading the scriptures is look up the passages that the New Testament apostles quote. It is quite enlightening to see how they interpreted the scripture. They didn’t do the modern “proof-texting” – where you take a verse out of context and twist it to apply to some point you want to make.

So here is the interesting bit. Matthew is quoting Hosea 11:1. It is the only passage he COULD be quoting. In Hosea’s context, God is rebuking Israel for rejecting the great privilege that he had given them. He loved them, and redeemed them from Egypt. But even more than that, he gave them the great honor of being called the son of God. Here is how the  passage reads:

When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.
  2 As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.
  3 I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them. (Hos. 11:1-3).

This is quite perplexing until you understand how the apostles viewed the sacred scriptures. What does this passage have to do with the child Jesus fleeing to Egypt from the wrath of Herod? Does Matthew know how to interpret scripture? Could the original readers of Hosea have known that this was a prophecy about the Christ?

Is Matthew’s hermeneutic (the science of the interpretation of scripture) wrong?

This passage always puzzled me. I knew that Matthew was not a modern preacher just picking a verse that reminded him of what he wanted to say. He was a far better expositor than that. More than that, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, inerrant and infallible. We can trust his words.

So here is the question – in what sense did the historical event of Jesus returning from Egypt as a child fulfill Hosea 11:1.

The heart of the gospel is this: God is seeking a people for his name, a people who worship him in spirit and in truth. Adam was created in God’s image, and was called the son of God (Luke 3:38). But Adam failed.

Israel, the descendants of Abraham, were delivered from Egypt to be the peculiar people of God, His own special treasure (see Exodus 19). They also were called the sons of God. But they failed spectacularly, which is what the book of Hosea is about.

Will God’s bride be forever lost? This is the tension in Hosea. How can God be just and loving at the same time? How can God love Israel, when the very nature of Israel is an abomination to the Lord. They are idolaters, oppressors and thieves. They are a nation of adulterers. God cannot abide sin. He cannot pretend to be pleased with their human sacrifices to demons, their calf worship, their adultery and murder. And yet, he loved them.

Since God cannot abide sin, but is angry with the wicked every day; since we are all sinners and come short of the glory of God; since we are all covenant breakers like our father Adam, and like the nation of Israel; how will God fulfill his desire to redeem a people for his name. God desires a nation to call his own special people. My son.

The answer is found in the book of Galatians, primarily in the 3rd and 4th chapters:

4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
  5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
  6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
  7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal. 4:4-7).

Jesus was the son promised to Abraham. Jesus was the seed. Jesus is the Israel of God. He is the one who succeeded where Israel failed.

So it was necessary that he be tempted in all points, like as we were, that we might be saved IN HIM. This included being “redeemed out of Egypt”. He is the reality, and the nation of Israel was the shadow. The whole miraculous event of the Exodus was given to us for one purpose – so that when the Christ came out of Egypt, we would know for certain that “Out of Egypt have I called my Son.”

The exodus was about Christ. Not about the twelve tribes. It was about the people of God.

Jesus is the Israel of God. For this reason, immediately after his baptism, Jesus is taken to the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. He is there 40 days, re-living the 40 years that Israel spent being tested in the wilderness.

The temptations were the same. God is not good. Put him to the test. Force him into your box. And if you just bow to the calves and worship me, I will give you your heart’s desire. Israel fell to each one of these temptations.

Moses rebukes them in Deuteronomy chapters 6-8 and calls them to repentance. They should have remembered who God was, Moses said. They should have known.

Jesus resists each temptation by quoting this exact passage 3 times. He remembered his God. He obeyed perfectly. He was the true and faithful son of God.

We know also from scripture that Jesus is the eternal, natural son of God which we can never share. He is truly divine, of the same essence as the Father, and we will always be human. But that is another post.

Matthew is reminding us that Jesus is the son of God in another sense. He is the one who obeyed and loved perfectly, who was faithful even until death. He was the well-beloved son, succeeded where Israel and Adam and each one of us continually failed.

And the whole point is this – if we believe the words of the apostles, by faith we are also sons of God, and heirs according to the promise. It is Christ who is the Israel of God. And when we believe in him, we are also children of the same promises. Whether we are Jew of Gentile, male or female, bond or free, in Christ we are also “delivered from Egypt”, “obedient in all things” and the “well-beloved sons of God.”

That is the gospel. It is why the book is called the “Good news according to Matthew”.

The nation of Israel is not the true Israel. The Gentiles are not the true Israel. Only Christ is the true Israel. And all who are ingrafted into that tree by faith are also the true Israel of God, and heirs according to the promise. The promise that “all Israel will be saved” is a promise that God will also call Israel to himself by faith in Christ and not forget any one of his elect. He has not cast off the physical Israel, but he will call them also in Christ, when the fulness of the Gentiles are brought in.

And if you believe on the Lord Jesus, you also are children of Abraham, just as scripture says, because He was a child of Abraham. This promise is yours in Christ, the true seed of Abraham. This is why the New Testament begins with a genealogy – Jesus is the true seed of Abraham, the true seed of David. He became flesh for us, that we might become the sons of God – each one of us.

And thus was fulfilled what John the Baptizer said, “He is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”

There is a lot here. Think on these things….

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Stay-at-home mom? Or career woman?

There is an article going around by Dennis Prager. It was sent to me and I was asked to comment on it. Normally, I don’t have time to comment on every hair-brained idea that floats around on the internet, but this one is being shared positively by many Christians. I would suggest that you read it before you continue so that you know what I am talking about. Or not. The gist is the same tired thing that I’ve been hearing since the 60s. “Gals, you won’t find fulfillment from a career. You will only find fulfillment from marriage and children. Get married and have children before it is too late.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love marriage. I love children. My dear wife is an intelligent, strong and industrious woman and she stayed home and took care of the house and children. That is not my beef here. By beef is that the gospel is at stake here. It really is.

For some reason, we as protestant children of the Reformation are very, very clear when it comes to debating with Roman Catholics or Arminians about justification. We are saved by the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to our account by faith alone, and that, not of yourselves. It is a gift of God.

Amen. We believe it. We confess it. We celebrate it. We can quote Edwards and Owen; Calvin and Turretin; Machen and Bavinck. We can construct fool-proof logical arguments about the dangers of a “works-based” system and warn most ominously against it. Put us toe to toe with a modernist, and we’ll go to the mat fighting, without mussing our trendy beard or spilling a drop of our IPA.

And then we talk to our wives and daughters, and all of it goes out the window. And all we can do when it comes to the women in our churches is say, “Do this, and you will live.”

But this is the law; not the gospel. Please read Romans 10 carefully, and you will see what I mean.

The problem with the article is NOT whether women should have a career, or whether they should stay at home and have children. The facts seem pretty clear. If you put every minute into your career in your twenties and thirties, you will have a hard time raising children and getting married. God only gave us a certain amount of time.

But so what? I am a full-time pastor. I could also go to work as a lawyer and become a professor as well. But I wouldn’t do all three of them very well, and I’d probably die trying. This is just wisdom. I won’t ever be infinite. Wisdom dictates that I embrace my finitudevand give God glory, as the only infinite, wise God.

If the caller had merely said, “If you pursue a high-powered career, marriage and children might be difficult. You only have a certain number of years on the earth” I would have no problem. But that isn’t what she said.

Let’s go back to the beginning of time.

27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen 1:27 NKJ)

This is the purpose for human-kind. We were never made to be originals. We were made to reflect God. We either bear the image of God, or we bear the image of the devil. But we cannot be original. In Eden, man and woman walked and talked with God. This was their purpose. In their relationship with God, they were rightly related to one another, to creation, and to their own bodies.

In this relationship with God, they found their identity, their self-worth, their purpose. They found respect and dignity. They were naked and not ashamed. The weren’t objects, but humans in God’s image.

But as you know, man fell and was driven from Eden. The desires that men and women were created with were still there, but now they sought to fulfill those desires with created things, not in relationship with God.

22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man– and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,
25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Rom 1:22-25)

They thought that they could restore dignity and worth, intimacy and significance, through the things under the sun.

And what they found is what Solomon wrote about in the book of Ecclesiastes. “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Everything under the sun – empty, vain, useless. Is it anything?

Nope. Not here. Nothing here.

The fact is, back to our original article, you can be a career woman of the highest degree, you can accomplish everything you set your heart to accomplish – Solomon did. And you will find what he found: One event happens to all. You die. Worms eat you. Everybody forgets you existed.

OR you can stay at home and raise your kids. You can master Classical education and parse sentences in three languages while wiping spaghetti-o’s off of the kitchen counter, balancing a perfectly well-behaved child on your lap the whole time, while picking up LEGOS with your toes.

And your kids will leave the home and go their own way. You will grow older. And then you  will die, they will bury your body in the ground and worms will eat you.

You could even be buried right next to the wealthiest CEO in the world. This is what Hamlet was talking to Yorick about centuries ago. In fact, it is probably what Willis was talking about as well.

It is just wisdom. We forget it, because we have banished death to the back corners of soft organ music and the curtains of the hospital bed. We forget that it is ugly, harsh, cruel, relentless, and without regard to whether you are a CEO or a peasant.

The gospel isn’t about a rosy colored view of the world, about making your mark under the sun or finding your fulfillment in the arms of a man.

It is far more substantial than that. Please do not confuse conservative politics with Christianity. They are not the same thing.

The problem with this woman was NOT that she had a career. It is rather that she thought that a career would give her life. She thought that if she did things right, and climbed the ladder high enough in the corporate world, she could kick her way past the flaming sword and crash her way into Eden.

And then when that failed – when she found that she still was unhappy, unfulfilled, empty – she mourned the loss of children and husband. She wished she had substituted on law – corporate climbing – for another law – married with children.

But whichever way she went, neither way was back into Eden. Career woman? Or married with children? Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. The voice in the back of all of our minds is still shouting, “And then what? What good is it?” This is the knowledge of the wrath of God. It is shame, that voice that tells us that we aren’t enough, we aren’t loved, we aren’t worthy. And it won’t be fixed by mastering a career, or by having a thousand children. Our worth can only come from one place, and that place was lost to us when we were thrown out of the Garden.

There are a lot of ways to move away from Eden. But there is only one way back in.

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,
21 and having a High Priest over the house of God,
22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19-22)

Jesus is the express image of the father. He is the second Adam, who fulfilled what the first Adam failed at. To use the Old Testament imagery, he took the sword of the wrath of God against sin, though he was without sin. And since he is perfect, without blemish and without spot, he now stands before God in our place.

And if we are united to him by faith, we are already there.

Women, I will speak to you directly now, for you probably haven’t heard anyone say this before.

You  will never find fulfillment and purpose by a career. And also, you will never find fulfillment and purpose with a husband and a quiver full of children.

Notice how the writer of this article depends upon the approval or disapproval of a man for her own worth. “Men don’t want competitors. They want a partner.” True. Probably. I don’t know. Who cares?

Your life will not be found in the arms of a man.

Just like all of you men reading this. Ecclesiastes spells it out perfectly. Under the sun, all is vanity. Married, career, pleasure, mirth, wisdom, foolishness…

There is no life there, for the ground is cursed. The relationships are cursed. Bearing children is cursed. Unless God does something to restore Eden, what does it matter if you have 10 children or die childless?

But God has done something. He sent his Son, the perfect image-bearer of the God, so that in him we DO have purpose, meaning, significance.

He took the thorns of the ground on his head, so that work was no longer cursed, but had eternal blessings – the cup of cold water and the meal prepared for the hungry. He was stripped naked, so that we might be clothed and dignified. He was beaten for our iniquities.

In him, we have significance and worth, and we will never, ever find it under the sun. You will never find pleasure in your work, and you will never find peace in your home as long as you continue to think that life will come by doing everything right. Life comes only by faith.

So should a woman in her twenties strive for a career? Or should she strive for a husband and children? Should she somehow do both?

Here’s the answer:

If Christ has died for you, then God already has accepted your work. In him, you have life and love and joy and peace. In him, you are complete. Now live like it.

10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going. (Ecc 9:10)

Or, to put it like Paul does:

31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1Co 10:31)

If you get married, marry in the Lord. Look for worth in the arms of the savior, and be a wife and mom to the glory of God, if that is what you choose to do, and God gives you children.

If you work as a lawyer, a doctor, a police officer, a mail carrier, do it well, reflecting the image of God in your work, to the best of your ability.

And whatever else you do, don’t get caught up in the opinions of men. You have one master, and he is in heaven. His yoke is easy. His burden is light.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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The Leaven of the Pharisees

In the past few months, I have been gently critiquing some of the problems that I see with nouthetic counseling. Nouthetic (or Biblical) counseling was a movement begun by the late Dr. Jay Adams, a professor of pastoral theology at Westminster Seminary. It has spread tremendously in the past few decades among conservative churches. It is beginning to lose favor in the traditional  Reformed Churches, but is prevalent in the neo-calvinist churches. Current champions of biblical counseling are Heath Lambert, John MacArthur, David Powlison, Elise Fitzgerald and many others.

It is not my intention at all to paint these men and women as dangerous heretics. I have greatly benefited from much of their writings. I also was trained in the school of nouthetic counseling, so my critique is towards myself, in the guise of a confession. I was wrong. In my zeal to be a good counselor, to help people with their problems, to be faithful to scripture and to my vows, I believed and taught certain things about counseling that I greatly regret. I’ve written about these things here and here.

So please understand me. If someone that you know subscribes to nouthetic (or Biblical) counseling and does NOT teach or believe these things that I am critiquing, please scroll down and ignore me. I can speak to myself and tell you why I can no longer call myself a nouthetic counselor. I also wish to warn anyone else following my path against some of the pitfalls.

Many nouthetic counselors love the Lord Jesus, teach some very good things, and have been a great benefit to the church. But they are just men and women. They make mistakes. Everything must be judged by the light of the gospel.

There – hopefully that will ease some of the ranting that I am sure to get.

OH! – one more thing. I fully subscribe, without exception, to the Three Forms of Unity, and always have.

Now to my point.

The heart of nouthetic counseling is the idea that every problem a person seeks counseling for is addressed in scripture. The verse that they continually use is this one:

16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2Ti 3:16-17 KJV)

The idea, then, is that everything that we need to be perfect, “thoroughly furnished” as men and women of God, is taught to us in scripture.

I agree with them so far. Everything that we need to be perfect and thoroughly furnished for all good works is found in scripture.

But when you couple this with Adam’s behaviorism, you run into problems. Behaviorism is the belief associated with B.F. Skinner that all problems can be solved by positive reinforcement for good behavior, and negative reinforcement for bad behavior. To be sure, Adams would have rejected all legalism and behaviorism in principle. He taught that Jesus alone can cleanse the heart from sin.

But when it came to our sanctification and our walk with Christ, he was greatly influenced by behaviorism, as anyone who has suffered through nouthetic counseling can attest. Do better things, and everything will work out fine. Adams whole point was the “put off/put on” model of scripture. Quit doing bad things, start doing good things and your problems will be solved.

The nouthetic emphasis on the sufficiency of scripture, coupled with the leanings towards behaviorism created a strange view of scripture and an odd sort of counseling.

Whatever the problem is, find a bible verse to solve it. Do what the verse tells you. Everything will be fine.

  • Depressed? Rejoice always, again I say rejoice!
  • Worry too much? I say unto you, do not worry. Consider the lilies of the field.
  • Anxious? Be anxious for nothing, but in everything let your requests be made known unto God.
  • Husband abusive? Win him over by your meek and quiet spirit.
  • Pornography? Let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn
  • A crazy man like Saul trying to destroy you? Go to him one on one and tell him his faults.
  • What if a group of soldiers are at your door asking where the men went. What do you do? Lie? Misdirect? Refuse to answer? Too bad Rahab didn’t have time to look up what to do in the latest best seller. She just had to wing it.

Many of you have been through this and know what I am talking about. The wreckage of lives is immense.  When you start to feel anxious about being too legalistic, then you can say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” or “by the power of the Holy Spirit, of course” and then maybe you won’t hear the moans of despair and hopelessness in the innermost souls of those over whom God has made you a shepherd.

If they continue being anxious or worried or if their husband is still addicted to porn, you can always excommunicate them for contumacy, not doing what they are told, and get back to your football game in time for supper.

This was me. I found myself looking through scripture for the solution to all of life’s problems. Jay Adams even wrote a counselor’s study bible, and a commentary for counselors on the book of Proverbs. “Here’s what the bible says about it. Now do it, or we will excommunicate you for contumacy. If you have the Holy Spirit, you can put off worry and put on thankfulness; put off sadness and put on rejoicing. Just do it.”

By the power of the Holy Spirit, of course.

And the mire of despair grows thicker and thicker and there is no way out.

So what is the problem? Do we throw away the sufficiency of scripture? Do we then need to add a melting pot of theology and ideas that come from other religions or philosophies?

The way that nouthetic counselors put it, it is as if these are the only two options. I know. It is what I was taught and what I believed. Either you find the solution to schizophrenia, depression, worry, anxiety, abuse, PTSD, addictions in prooftexting the scripture, or you might as well convert to Hinduism or Jungism and be done with it. Going outside of scripture is an act of unbelief and worthy of church discipline. (Yes, I have actually heard that).

But I would suggest that these two options are not the only two. And I believe this is what Jesus was warning us of when he warned us to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed in the sufficiency of scripture. So did Jesus. So what was the problem?

The Pharisees believed that every problem and everything that anyone needed to know could be found by searching the scriptures. Problem? Solution. No matter what the issue is, the solution could be found in the law. With, of course, the centuries of rabbinical tradition. Sound familiar?

They would even thank God for the grace to do it. “I thank God that I am not like other men!”

So what was wrong? Jesus told them:

39 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.
40 “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life (John 5:39-40).

And that was the problem. They viewed all of scripture as a textbook of moral behavior, rather than a testimony of Jesus Christ. If you miss Christ, you miss everything.

Cain and Abel isn’t about love in the heart or selfishness or blood sacrifices versus fruit sacrifices. It isn’t about the best sacrifice versus the cheaper sacrifice. It is about Christ and faith.

Jacob and Esau isn’t about stew and self-centeredness and sharing and hunting or staying home. It is about the promise made to Abraham, which is about Christ.

David and Abigail isn’t about submission or rebellion. She was a wise woman because she sided with David, the anointed of God, the picture of Christ the conquering king. She wasn’t given any other option. It was “kiss the Son and live” or “submit to your husband and die”. When we look at the account as a moral fable, we miss Christ. And when we do that, we miss everything.

Rahab isn’t about which occasions are acceptable for lying and whether or not it was wartime or not. I have read book after book after book trying to either defend Rahab or to judge Rahab. But it isn’t about that at all. It is about faith. And faith is about Christ. Rahab didn’t have the time to read the current best-seller. She had to rely on faith. And that was the whole point. God has placed the salvation of the world in THESE people. I better choose sides carefully.

When you read the scripture as a series of moral stories designed to tell you how to behave, you have sprinkled the bread of life with the leaven of the Pharisees, and you miss everything.

The gospel is not the law. Nouthetic counseling always changes the gospel into the law. Nouthetic counseling tends to start at Ephesians 4 and miss the first three chapters completely. But without the first three chapters, the last three chapters are simply another exercise in good works, B.F. Skinner to the rescue. Do this and live. The expurgated versions of scripture always seem to do that.  I studied systematic theology. Then I studied counseling. And the twain ne’er did meet. In theology 101, I learned Christ alone. In counseling 101, I learned “do this and live”.

But “do this and live” is the law, not the gospel. Life never comes from the law.

When I read what Jesus said to the Pharisees, I was convicted. I was searching the scripture for prooftexts – do this and live. If I can find the life principles then I can overcome depression, anxiety, worry, PTSD and any other problem life can throw at me.

And I counseled that way as well. Do this, and you will live.

Now my counseling is different. “Let me tell you about Jesus.”

What does that have to do with my PTSD? Everything. He bought you, body and soul, from sin and all the power of the devil. He has redeemed you and nothing can take you out of his hand.

God has given him dominion over all principalities and powers, might and dominion. All authority has been given unto him. So he gives his wisdom and his spirit to the children of men. So you can get to someone who can help you with PTSD, because Jesus died for you. You can cry out to him because he died for you and he knows you. And he loves you.

You can go to someone who can help you with your anxiety and can talk to you about fear and worry, because Jesus died for you and loves you.

Job cried out to God for a mediator. And God became flesh, the mediator of the New Covenant.

He didn’t give you a bible verse about whether to take job A or job B. He didn’t give you seven steps to be free from pornography. He didn’t give you a bible verse to give you the marriage of your dreams. He didn’t give you an instruction manual for your kids.

He gave you new birth, and filled you with the Holy Spirit so you can be free to make music, paint pictures, cook a fabulous meal, make the world a little more beautiful and a little more colorful –just because you are a human and he died for you, restoring your humanity. You can sit with your kids and play with them with joy and freedom without worrying if they are being raised right, getting enough spankings, being breast-fed long enough, or any of the other jillion things we all worry about. Because Jesus rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of God making intercession for you AND your kids. He didn’t give you an instruction manual. He gave you a witness of Jesus Christ, and told you to tell your kids about it.

He didn’t call you to bondage to the law, but to freedom in the spirit, and that changes everything. It doesn’t do away with the law, it fulfills the law!

That is what the Bible teaches. It isn’t a series of moral prooftexts. It is a book of life, a testimony to the one who IS life. Jesus didn’t come to show us what do do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus IS life and he came to call us to himself.

And all of scripture bears witness to him. From Abel to Zechariah, from Abraham to Malachi, from Moses to Haggai. The Pharisees, old and new, search the scriptures for the key to a happy life, for the keys to financial health, the proper diet. Our local grocery store sells Ezekiel 4:9 bread, for crying out loud! As if that is what Ezekiel 4:9 is about!

Really? God’s people are in exile. The temple is about to be destroyed. God’s presence is about to leave the temple for good because of the idolatry that is there. His people are about to be divorced, scattered, slaughtered, imprisoned and destroyed – and God says, “Let me tell you how to make really good gluten free bread.”

This is what we’ve come to. You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have life, but they are what is testifying of ME!

When you miss Christ, scripture becomes a gluten free recipe book, a treatise of vegetables and fish, a self-help guide to a fitter YOU. Ugh.

Don’t miss Christ in scripture. He is what it is about. Learn of him. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

And the more we know of Christ, the more we are set free from sin and misery and the power of the devil. And this is how I counsel. Let me tell you about Christ. About freedom, about mercy. Let me tell you about love.

Book after book after book written on how to overcome your problems. Here is a list of bible verses that tell you what to do. Seven steps for this, six steps for that.

The old hymn said it best:

“Tell me the story of Jesus, Write on my heart every word; Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that ever was heard.”

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Hope in the Dark

This is from my daughter about the journey my wife and I have gone through.

Cabbages & Kings

It’s been a year. A year since I left at ten o’clock at night to pick up my parents from the airport. It was a clear cool night. I wore a blue and green striped shirt. I dropped my suburban off at their house and took their sporty crossover. It had the things my mother needed to make simple car rides slightly less agonizing. A heating pad, extra pillows, room for her wheelchair in the back. When I’d spoken to her on the phone, she’d said she didn’t hurt, she was better. It still hadn’t sunk in.

They were returning from a trip to Italy. Business or pleasure? It was neither, really. It was a last resort. A trip planned on faint tendrils of hope. None of us dared hope too much, though, because the agony of this last resort failing would break us. It was too good to be…

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God so loved the world

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John. 3:14-17)

In Numbers 21, there is an account of the children of Israel traveling through the wilderness. As usual, they were rebelling against God, angry with him, and constantly complaining. God sent poisonous serpents among them and many of them were dying.

Moses made intercession for the nation, and God told him to do something rather strange:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” (Num. 21:8 NKJ)

Moses made the serpent, put it on a pole and walked through the camp. Everyone who looked at the serpent lived.

Jesus reminded Nicodemus of this story. Jesus was teaching this highly educated and respected bible scholar something about the kingdom of God that was impossible for Nicodemus – or any of us – to see, unless we are born again by the spirit of God.

It is natural for us as image-bearers of God, to ask the question, “Am I right before God?” We all seek to determine whether we are worthy to enter the kingdom of God – or, to put it in our modern terms, whether we are saved and will enter the new heavens and the new earth when Jesus comes again. Especially those who have been brought up in the church, as Nicodemus was.

Those of you who were raised in the church, who attended Sunday School and sat through sermons, have you asked that question? “Will I be ready to meet the Lord when he comes again?”

Do I belong to him? Or, as Nicodemus would have put it, “Am I worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven?”

Naturally speaking, we look to ourselves to answer that question. Am I holy enough? Have I done enough good things? Do I know the answers to the questions? Have I had a “Christ experience in the heart?”

Early in the history of our country, the Congregationalists of New England focused on regeneration. People were taught to look at the regeneration experience to determine if they were born again. This led to the abuses of the Revivalists and eventually to the heretic Charles Finney – looking for bigger and better experiences. Finney made the excitement of the revival a means of grace, and denied the necessity of atonement.

Nicodemus would have looked to his law-keeping.

But Jesus cuts through all of that. He reminds Nicodemus of the rather strange account in Numbers.

Do you remember Nicodemus? How did our fathers live through that and not die of the poison? They looked outside of themselves to a serpent that God provided. It was put up on a pole.

You could look to your heart, but all that was there was poison and death. Life is outside of yourself.

And Jesus went on. In the same way that God loved his nation Israel, God also loved the world. The same way that God told Moses to lift up the serpent, the Son of Man will also be lifted up.

“That whosoever looks to him would not perish of the poison that is destroying them – sin – but have life without end.”

The point is this: salvation is outside of ourselves. It isn’t in our hearts, in our good intentions, in our good works, in how much we desire God, in how much we love God or love one another –

In fact, it isn’t in ourselves at all. Certainly, new life will affect behavior. But new life isn’t found in how well we behave or how we feel.

Are you cast down and anxious? Look to Christ.

Are you doubting and fearful? Look to Christ.

Are you struggling with sin? Look to Christ.

Do you doubt whether it is possible to be saved if you have done too many horrible things? Look to Christ.

Do you see him with the eyes of faith? He is nailed to the cross and dying. He is bearing your poison and will die from it. Your crimes are nailed above his head in the sight of God. Your doubts and fears, your sins and crimes, your thorns and thistles – all of your poison – is nailed to his cross.

And when he rises from the dead, do you see him? Do you see how he left all your sins in the tomb? All of your fears and doubts are buried with him. The old dying man of greed, hatred, unbelief, is buried with him. And his sacrifice was accepted by God. He rose from the dead! The Holy One of God did not see corruption, so that you might know for certain that in him is life.

Look to him and live. Quit looking to yourself.

Your hope of salvation is not in whether your faith is strong enough, whether your experience was spectacular enough, whether your works are good enough. All you will find there is poison.  Your savior is not found in your heart or in your faith or in your experience, or in your works. Your savior is found in heaven at the right hand of God. He was crucified, dead and buried for us. He rose from the dead for us. He ascended into heaven for us. And will come from there to judge the living and the dead. Look to him where he is, and live.

Believe the record of the apostles, and live. Look to him in the word and sacrament, and live. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved.

Look to Christ and live.

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Before Abraham was, I am

57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. (Jn. 8:57-58 KJV)

When Moses saw the burning bush, God spoke to him. God said that he had heard the groans of Israel in slavery in Egypt, and that he would remember the promise that he made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Moses asked his name.

God said, “I am who I am”. This was the Holy Name of the Holy One of Israel.

The word “god” can refer to many things – even princes or angels. It can refer to false gods or the one, true God. But the name YWWH – which sounds like the Hebrew for I AM – can only refer to the one, true eternal God. To refer that holy name to anyone or anything else was the highest form of blasphemy according to the revelation of God.

And Jesus of Nazareth referred it to himself. If he was not the one true eternal God, then he deserved to be stoned. The Jews would have been right.

But if he was truly the one, true, eternal God then he is to be worshiped and adored and feared.

When he rose from the dead, God declared him to be without sin. The grave could not hold him for he was free from all sin. He then showed himself to truly be the Holy One of Israel, as Peter declared on Pentecost:

27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

28 Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.

29 Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.

30 Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;

31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.

32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.

(Acts 2:27-32 KJV)

Peter, quoting from Psalm 16, shows how the scripture declares that the one who rises from the dead is indeed the one true eternal God, and is therefore to be worshiped. If he is raised from the dead, then he is holy and without sin, for the wages of sin is death. If he is without sin, then he spoke only the truth, including the truth about himself. Which means that the Holy One of Israel is none other than Jehovah himself.

3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: (Rom. 1:3-4 KJV)

This is also confirmed by John’s vision in Revelation:

8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. (Rev. 1:8 KJV)

Only Jehovah can say of himself “which is, which was, and which is to come”. This refers to absolute, unchanging being, not created being. Created being is becoming, changing, moving, contingent. But uncreated being is absolute, eternal, unchanging. The very first verse of the Bible makes the difference between uncreated being and created being – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Before the beginning, there was only God. All things were created by him. All that is not God was created by God. Uncreated being is set in contrast to created being.

In Revelation 1:8, Jesus of Nazareth is given the titles of uncreated being, that is, the name and attributes of Jehovah Himself.

In John 8, referenced above, Jesus refers to himself as above time and space – eternal, uncreated being. The same person who is not yet 50 years old is also the I AM of Abraham.

To use the language of classical Christology, the one person – Jesus Christ – exists in two natures, without division, without separation, without confusion, without change. One person in two natures, true God and true man.

That which can be said of God can be said of Christ. Eternal, which is, and which was and which is to come, the I AM of Abraham, immutable, absolute, the Holy One of Israel.

And that which can be said of man can be said of Christ, except sin. Finite, changing, weak, hungry, human, growing, learning, not knowing, bleeding, hurt and dying, submissive to the Father, learning obedience.

And yet there are not two persons, but one person. One Lord. One Jesus. One Christ.

The One who was laid in a manger and wrapped in swaddling cloths was the same almighty being that appeared to Moses at the burning bush.

The One who learned his alphabet is the same almighty being that spoke the worlds into existence.

The One who spoke to the woman at the well in Samaria was the Commander of the Lord’s Armies, who led Joshua into Canaan and overthrew his enemies.

The One who listened to the widow pour out her complaint was the one who struck Uzzah dead for touching the ark of the covenant.

The One who filled the earth with his glory in the sight of Isaiah was the same almighty being who was bruised for our iniquities, nailed to a Roman Cross and left to die.

The One who thundered at Job’s friends from heaven was the same almighty being that cried out, “I thirst” on the cross.

And this is necessary for our salvation, for only the same human nature which sinned can make satisfaction for sin, and only the infinite, almighty Son of God can bear the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin and redeem others from it.

And this one person is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, born of Mary, crucified, dead and buried. And on the third day he rose from the dead.

And today he is still true man, but glorified, as we will be. The heir to the throne of David ruling over all things according to the scripture, giving us a sure pledge that where he is, we will one day also be.

And he is also true and eternal God. We can cry out to him, for he hears our prayers. We commit our ways to him, for he is able to keep all that we’ve committed unto him against that day. We will never be ashamed, for he does not change, he is almighty, everywhere present, and and no time absent from us.

The same I AM that heard the cries of Israel in Egypt and remembered his covenant with Abraham is the same almighty being that took the form of a slave and submitted himself to the wrath of God for us and for our salvation.

So what do we do?

18 For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest,

19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.

20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.”

21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels,

23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect,

24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven,

(Heb. 12:18-25 NKJ)

God in these last days has spoken to us by his Son. We no longer stand before Sinai fearful of the thunder and fleeing from the voice of God. We have come to Sion, the city of Jesus Christ, the heir of David, the Mediator between God and man, true man and true God. If we refuse the gentle waters of Shiloah, the river of destruction will flow (Isaiah 8 and John 9). God’s patience is not unending. The Day of Judgment will come. Hear the voice of Jesus – “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.”

He is willing to do it, for he knows what it is like to be tired and hungry and weak, being true man. And he is able to do it, being almighty God.

But at the same time, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. The one who came in a manger will appear the second time for judgment.

This is Christianity. This is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the way, the truth and the life.

No one comes to the Father but by him.

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A plea for sobriety

This has been a hard week for a lot of folks I know…men and women who have been assaulted, bullied, ridiculed, and mocked know that pain – the pain of being outcast, unclean, unwanted. Ben Sasse summed up the dynamics of sexual assault perfectly this week. But there have been so many that have suffered.

This past week, I have heard from many, many of these people.

They told me that when they heard the president mock Dr. Ford, they didn’t see him. They saw their classmates, their peers, their abusers.

They told me that when they saw the pastors laughing and joking, they didn’t hear those pastors. They heard their rapists laughing at them and mocking them.

When their Christian friends ridiculed the accuser, mocking her as a liar unheard and rashly, they didn’t hear their friends. They heard their teachers and parents refusing to believe them all over again. They heard their pastors mocking victims from the pulpit all over again…

One survivor told me that when she heard the crowds laughing and cheering the president on, it sounded like the Romans at the arena. She wondered about compassion, sobriety, respect, at such a serious subject.

I wondered if so many of my Christian friends realize what they lost this week.

In our partisan rush to support all things conservative, we told the whole world, “Don’t come to us with your sexual assault stories. We don’t want to hear them. We don’t care.”

We really did. We supported the mockers. We ridiculed a woman that we never met, never spoke to, never had any first hand knowledge about, before a hearing even took place.

It didn’t matter what the truth was. We didn’t say, “Let this play out. If he did it, then he is unfit.” No. We said immediately that she was lying, that he couldn’t do such a thing. And if he did, he was only 17.

We mocked her for being ugly in High School, for being at the wrong place, for drinking too much…We posted the ugly, hateful memes, we rebuked our friends, and unfriended anyone who differed with us – all to support someone we never met and don’t know at all, before any hearing happened.

And what did we gain?

But we told every survivor in our community not to come to us for help. That we don’t care. We won’t listen.

I hope it was worth it. We traded the witness of the gospel for a seat on the Supreme Court. That seems like a lose/lose to me, no matter what happens from here.

By the way, I have never met Kavanaugh, nor have I met Ford. I am not the one doing the job interview, and no one listens to my opinion at all. So my concern is not at all who is or is not on the Supreme Court. I have nothing to do with that.

But I am held accountable for my love, my witness, and how clearly I present the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am judged by God for the ninth commandment, bearing false witness. I am judged for my words and my actions. Am I so absolutely sure of the truth of this situation that I can ridicule, mock and slander the other party, no matter which side they are on or which political views they subscribe to?

I am posting this because I love the church of Jesus Christ, I love my Lord, and I love the truth of the gospel.

I am posting this because calling your own people to account is not an act of disloyalty, hatred, or blasphemy. It is an act of love.

If you have not partaken in these sins against our brothers and sisters, then scroll past. I’m not speaking to you.

But for the rest, I can’t remain silent anymore. I will not by my silence be a partaker of these sins.

If you wish to unfriend me, there is nothing in scripture that says we must be friends on social media. If you love the Lord Jesus Christ then you also are my brother, whether we are friends on Facebook or not.

I am posting this for all of those – men and women – who have been abused, bullied, mocked, and ridiculed and still bear the marks. There are those who care, who are concerned, who will listen.

21 Then they said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.” (Gen. 42:21 NKJ)

13 Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted. (Isa. 49:13 NKJ)

5 He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker; He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished. (Prov. 17:5 NKJ)

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Do you wish to get well?

5 And a certain man was there, who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness.
6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”
7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
8 Jesus said to him, “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk.” (John. 5:5-8 NAS)

I read this account a day or two ago and it has been on my mind since then. I don’t know if you have had that experience, where something that the Lord says grabs you and you mull it through your mind. “Do you wish to get well?”

What a question! He’d been unable to walk his whole life. Why would Jesus ask that question?

“Do you wish to get well?”

One of the tremendous privileges that God gives us as his people is the ability to choose. And yes, I am Reformed. But the question among the Reformed is not “Do you have free will?” The question, properly understood, is “Do you have the ability to choose to do that which is pleasing to God apart from regeneration?”

This we answer, “No. Before the Holy Spirit quickens us, we are dead in trespasses and sins.” We are unable to do that which is pleasing to the Lord – even to seek after him, as Paul teaches in Romans 3.

But this is a different question than “Does a person have the ability to will and to choose, and is that choice free?”

Without free will, a human is not a human. I decide if I want to marry this woman or that woman. I decide to love or to hate and to destroy. I choose to hurt or I choose to heal, choose to smile or choose to frown. No one coerces me.

It is not my nature, nor is it the will of God, that places my will in bondage. It is sin. Luther masterfully discusses this in his classic “The Bondage of the Will” so I will not belabor that point any further.

But it is the devil who hates the image of God in me. Being in God’s image, I have the ability to choose – I am not a horse or a mule that must be led about by bit and bridle. It is the hardness of sin that makes me like that. Regeneration sets me free. (Think about Psalm 32:9).

9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, (Ps. 32:9 NAS)

Jesus did not come to make me a horse and a mule, to drag me like a robot and force me to behave. He came to give life and healing. He came to restore and redeem me as a human being, in the image of God.

A man like this one, unable to walk, has been severely limited in choices. He couldn’t even decide to get into the water, for he had no one to help him. He had no strength, no friends, no resources.

Which means that he had very few choices.

Jesus didn’t come to put him in further bondage. He came to set him free. The curse that is on the world took away his voice – who would care about the opinions of a poor crippled beggar? And it took away his choice. He was at the mercy of forces outside of his control.

Jesus came to restore to this man far more than simply the ability to walk. He came to restore the image of God that the curse had taken away. He came to give him back his voice and give him back his will.

“Do you wish to get well?”

“You don’t understand, Jesus. I’ve been here a long time. I don’t have anyone to put me in the pool. I can’t get to the water fast enough. Whether I want to or not, I don’t have the strength.”

“Get up and pick up your bed.” And he was healed.

After he was healed, his will was set free. He picked up his bed and he walked.

Of course, he immediately got into trouble with the Pharisees. Abusers hate when the “sinner” has the gall to speak, or to choose, or to make decisions. Their power is over when the bed is picked up. When Jesus heals, the Pharisee loses control.

And the devil never gives up his kingdom easily.

From this point on, the Jews sought to kill Jesus – because he healed on the Sabbath day – the very day that the prisoner was to be set free, according to the scripture.

“Do you want to be well?” Do you want your voice back? Do you want to be light and salt in the ugly and dark and hateful world? Do you want to know the Sabbath rest and be at peace with God and with the world?

Do you want to be free of rage and free of the ugliness that has been binding you to the ground for so long? Do you want to get up and walk?

Are you ready to fly? Do you want to soar above the petty kingdoms of this world and see where Christ is, at the right hand of God? Do you want to be free from sin? Do you want to be well, to be free of covetousness and the love of money that keeps our heads in the trough so we can’t see the sky.

Jesus didn’t come to make you a horse or a donkey. He came to set you free.

This world and the devil have assaulted your body long enough. You have been denigrated and rejected, hated and mocked and scorned. You have had your choice taken away like the ground under a plow (Psalm 129). That is the curse on this world.

But Jesus’s question is for you: Do you want to be made well?

Speak to him. Tell him how powerless you are. Speak the truth to him. Tell him about how you have tried to overcome, but cannot. The water is too far away, and you are too weak. You have no resources. Your will is bound. Your strength is gone. You are helpless and without hope.

Tell him how long it has been.

He didn’t come for those who think they see. He didn’t come for those who think they walk. He didn’t come for the rich or the powerful or the entitled. He didn’t come for the ones on the top.

He came for the hungry, the oppressed, the afflicted, the widow, the orphan. Those that don’t have the strength to get to the water.

He came for those who have had their choice and their voice taken away. And he wants to hear you. He wants you to be the beautiful, strong, wise, and righteous one that he created you to be.

So here’s the question for you: “Do you want to be made well?”

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What to do When Hope Seems Non-Existent

Great Monday morning thoughts!

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