Monthly Archives: September 2019

Beyond Authority and Submission

Rachel Green Miller has written a remarkable book. But learning new things is scary.

The Heidelberg Catechism asks concerning God’s law, “Can you keep all this perfectly?” And the answer is, “No. For I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.” (Q&A 5)

We inherited a certain way of looking at the world. It is a way based on hatred, rather than love. It is a way of control and power rather than mutual respect and deference. It sees the world through a lens that taints everything. It always asks, “What’s in it for me?”

It is a mindset that sees in others only potential enemies, or potential tools to be used

It cannot see beauty, for it is trained to see fault.

It cannot see love, for it is trained only in the language of authority and submission. The world is made up of slaves and masters.

We think this way automatically. Husbands, like the Pharisees of old, fear “losing their place and their nation” (John 11:48) if the women aren’t kept under tight control.

Like Ahasueras, Vashti must be taught a lesson or all wives will rebel. Society will collapse.

And the fear of losing “our place and our nation” has taken Christianity and wrapped it in layer after layer of hedges and traditions; an entire movement of added rules and regulations concerning men and women and family and society. And it is all based upon our natural distrust and suspicion of one another.

Is “hatred” too hard of a word to use? I will leave that to the reader to decide, but a quick glance at the twitter-sphere towards anyone who might agree with Miller’s book reveals an ugliness that should never been seen in the church. We’ve been taken over by bullies, boors, and cretins, who will stop at nothing to protect “their place and their nation.” These are the teachers of the law, who know nothing and enforce that nothing through trolling and bullying.

But our natural way of viewing things must be conformed to scripture. We naturally twist the scripture to fit our own views and this must be turned the other way around. We must conform our thoughts to God’s thoughts. Ahasueras must repent and start agreeing with God, “Husbands, love your wives.”

And this change is hard. We change our thinking by the power of the Holy Spirit – from the inside out. And sometimes we do it kicking and screaming, through much fear and trembling. But if we do not learn from Christ, we are none of his. We can either guard our self-delusions and protect our societal biases, or we can follow Christ and conform our thoughts to his. There is no middle ground. There is no treaty we can sign. We surrender our thoughts to his, or we perish.

Miller has undertaken a monstrous task. She writes, “We have ended up with layers of unbiblical and extrabiblical beliefs that obscure and cover up the beauty of what the Bible actually teaches about men and women.” (Miller, Beyond Authority and Submission, pg. 257).

With the meticulous art of a careful scholar, she respectfully and honestly documents layer after layer after layer of these beliefs and teachings, and then she compares each layer to scripture, calling us all to repent of our false beliefs and conform our thoughts to God’s thoughts.

And we will either repent of our false beliefs and know the beautiful, glorious, freedom of the gospel; or we will continue to live in hatred, distrust and anger, continually fearing that we will lose our place and our nation.

I would urge you all to get this book. If you were raised in conservative circles, it will make you very, very uncomfortable. If you were raised in more liberal circles, it will make you very uncomfortable.

Because the truth is this. We are prone by nature to hate God and our neighbor. Even when we become Christians, we have a whole ugly suit of armor that we were born with. We resist the truth, we fight for those things we are comfortable with, and we hate, I mean we REALLY REALLY HATE to examine whether or not what we were taught from youth is actually true.

But if we don’t change, the only alternative is to stay the same, and that we cannot do.

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Filed under Book Notes

When God tests his people…

…That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7)

The idea of God testing his people has been on my mind lately.

I think about it frequently. I wonder why. I know that other Christians struggle with it.

“I’m just going through some testing right now.”

But what does that mean? Does it mean that God is giving you a final test that you had better pass?

Does it mean that God doesn’t know whether your faith is genuine or not and he is testing it to see?

Does it mean that if you can just get over the test with a passing score the difficulty will be taken away and then you can get down with receiving the blessing in your life?

A lot of questions. The answer to all of those questions is, “Certainly not!”

God already knows your heart, even better than you do. He is not surprised at your actions. When he called you and justified you and sanctified you, he already knew all about you. He isn’t going to say, “Wow! But I didn’t know you would do that! That’s it! I’m finished!” Certainly not!

Jesus came to call the sick, the sinner, the poor, the halt, the lame, the foolish, the ignorant, the outcast.

When God sees you, he sees the perfect righteousness of Christ. And he holds you firm with his almighty, infinite hand.

(John 10:27-30)  27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
  28 “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.
  29 “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
  30 “I and My Father are one.”

When you are going through testing, it helps to read those verses again and again. “No one is able to snatch them from My Father’s hand.”

No, God doesn’t test for his own knowledge. His knowledge does not change with circumstances, but he knows all things by one act of divine will. His knowledge, like his being, is unchangeable, simple, undivided, perfect.

So why does he test us? We can only know what he has revealed.

Sometimes he tests us because Satan is slandering us in heaven (Job 1). Satan accuses us of only serving God because God gives us stuff. When everything is taken away, the beauty, majesty and wisdom of God shine through us to the world and Satan’s head is crushed.

Sometimes he tests us for our knowledge – so that WE would know that our faith is genuine. When the sun of tribulation comes up, genuine faith continues to hold to Christ.

But the greatest reason is given in 1 Peter 1:7. Faith is compared to gold. But it is buried under a lot of ore and dross. God tries us, as a goldsmith tries his gold. In the furnace of affliction, the dross is burned away so that the genuine, beautiful, shining gold remains – it is when we look most like our glorious Savior.

If you want to look like Christ, it begins with the cross. This life is a life of testing, the fires of the furnace, the pain of illness, and that is when the dross is burned away and the gold shines.

“The flames shall not hurt thee, my only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine”

If you meet someone and the light of Christ shines from them; when they lift up with words; love without hypocrisy, are kind without an agenda;

If you meet someone who lives 1 Corinthians 13 without even thinking about it;

Someone whose life and words and works are works of purity, beauty, love acceptance, kindness;

Who loves without fear…

You know then that you are in the presence of someone who has suffered much in the furnace of affliction.

It is how the gold of faith is made to shine.

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Filed under Encephalitis journey, Faith, Pastoral ministry

Opening cards

Today is a good day!
Three weeks ago, we didn’t know if she would live or die. All we could do was cry out to God, and most of the time we didn’t even have the words for that.

Today, we’ve been talking all morning. She’s been wandering around her room waiting for her turn in the shower. She put together her bag with all of her clothes and toiletries. She washed her face, she brushed her teeth. We’ve had meaningful conversations.

Yesterday, she wrote her name.

This morning, she got a big envelope with a bunch of handwritten cards from Illinois. She read each one.

She said, “Dad, I don’t know who these people are”
I said, “I know, but they’ve been praying for you each day. In fact, there are hundreds of people all over the world that have been praying for you, sending cards and notes and messages…”

She said, “Why? I’m nothing…”

And we learned a little bit more about the communion of the saints and the fellowship of the Spirit.

It is a matter of perspective. I think that there are those who don’t understand the importance of a simple note, or a simple message – even just a note across the world on Facebook…a card in the mail…

You think to yourself, “What good is that?”
But when you can show one girl who is alive from the dead, who has suffered so many things, who has had so much pain – who knows what it is to struggle with knowing a name, or speaking her thoughts, that she IS NOT NOTHING – that is everything.
You might think you are just sending a note. But to her, you are saying that the body of Christ matters, and that she isn’t nothing.

So here is a thought. When someone on your friends list is suffering, say a prayer, send a note, write a message. They probably won’t be able to respond. They might not have the time or even know what to say…

But you are telling them, “You aren’t nobody. You aren’t nothing. You are a member of the body of Christ and even though we might not have ever met, when one member suffers, all suffer.”

There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism – and one church of God.
We are honored to call you our fellow members, joined together by what each joint supplies.

I told you she shines. She still shines. And everyone that knows her can’t help but shine as well.
It’s what the body of Christ does.

Update… I wrote this three days ago. She continues to improve. We were discharged this morning and are now home.

Continue reading

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Filed under Church, Encephalitis journey

How does one classify a day?

How does one classify a day?

Was this a good day?

Was this a rough day?

It was definitely a challenging day. We are exhausted; at the end of our ropes, it would seem. I staggered into the room this morning discouraged and so very, very tired.

And the morning was a challenge.

Loud family conferences in Spanish across the curtain. The psychiatrist did a psych eval on our roommate, knowing that we were in the same room. It was loud.

And then the jackhammers. Yes, Really. Some sort of construction is going on that involves jackhammers.

it doesn’t seem very conducive to healing and i said as much…

And then the afternoon seemed to calm. I know all of the prayers going up and the Lord blessed us with a few hours of peace.

Her afternoon sessions went well, but she was exhausted. Anxiety, neurological damage, nausea and jackhammers don’t make the greatest mix.

I was eating dinner with my wife and said, “A rough day.”

She said, “Yes. But a different rough than yesterday…”

I prayed with them, and said goodnight. I sleep in an RV down the street. I gathered my things and put on my back-pack.

“Papa?” She said.

“Yes, my sweet one…” I said.

She got tears in her eyes. “I love you so, so, so much,”

Then I got tears.

I stretched out my hands. “This much?”

She said, “Much, much more…”

All in all, I think that makes it a pretty good day.

When the rope is at the end, God delights in giving you more. When you have no more strength, Jesus gives what you need.

When your soul is dry and dusty as a desert, the Holy Spirit refreshes with cool, clean water.

It has something to do with eagles, but that will wait until next time.

I think that makes it a pretty good day.

Thanks for the prayers, friends.

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On being human

Sometimes it is OK to laugh at ourselves.
I am Reformed, as most of you probably know.
When I say that, I don’t mean the pop-reformed, conference going, almost five points, know a little bit about beards and micro-brews and read John Piper once.
I mean actually Reformed – I hold to the historic reformed confessions. I belong to a real Reformed denomination and submit to the authority of fellow elders.

But sometimes we need to laugh a bit at ourselves. Sometimes I feel that a real weakness in our tribe is the struggle to be human beings. It is almost like those who belong to Reformed churches are actually cyborgs trying to access their “human interaction” programming modules.

You can tell whenever you try to engage them in normal human activity. There is a bit of a stare, almost eye to eye but not quite. The beard quivers a bit, and after a split second that is just slightly too long, they say something that is ALMOST appropriate – but not quite – to the situation.

This phenomenon is only observable with normal human behavior. If you start a conversation quoting Owens or Edwards or even RC Sproul, they can almost come across normal.

But anything outside of their programming, they can’t quite seem to click.
Sometimes the human interaction module malfunctions completely. Take these examples.

I visited a Reformed church when I was in my early 20s. I knew one person there. That person came up to me after the service with a group of his friends. They stared just past the top of my head and shuffled their feet awkwardly. I said, “Hi, I’m Sam.”
The leader of the gang said, “Are you Reformed?”
I said, ….”yessss……”
He said, “Do you believe that God ordains the reprobation of the wicked as well as the election of the righteous?”

See? They human interaction module malfunctioned. It is a common error message that flashes in unexpected places.

A few years later, a young man visited the church. He was poor, on his own, on the verge of being homeless. After the service, he asked a group of men where he could go to buy some food.
Conversation stopped. Awkward shuffling. Eyes slightly unfocused. Pending malfunction. Prepare for error message:
“Ummm. We don’t shop on Sundays. It’s the Lord’s day…” And there it is…

I think one of the best things we can do is just be human beings. Jesus became flesh and is not ashamed to call us brothers. He is the express image of God in the flesh and he came to redeem us in the flesh – to restore us as actual human beings with feelings, tastes, emotions, artistry, joy – and hungers.
We long for beauty, for significance, for respect, for intimacy. We long to simply connect.

Let us not be ashamed of just being human. Let’s listen to music. Let’s read CS Lewis and resist the urge to say “Actually, he was wrong on…” Just enjoy it.

We really don’t have to have a life and world view on the music of Dean Lewis or Passenger. Let’s just be human, enjoy it, praise God for the forgiveness of sins and join the human race.

I think this is what Solomon meant when he said,

(Ecc 9:7-10 KJV) 7 Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.
8 Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.
9 Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.
10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

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Filed under Anthropology

The Faith once delivered…

Today was tough. She is becoming more and more awake and alert, which means she is more and more aware of what has happened. That is tough.

She started rehab evaluations today, so we saw the extent of the damage. We don’t know how much will be permanent. No one does. That is tough, seeing the damage, knowing the names of the damage.

And my thoughts fly everywhere. My emotions fly everywhere. I didn’t sleep. I feel weak and foolish. I feel angry and I don’t know who to be angry with. I don’t know if she will laugh like she used to or call me silly names like she used to or giggle hysterically at ridiculous puns like she used to.

I don’t know what will happen – and I cry out in words I can’t form. I scream in exhaustion and somewhere the words I learned as a child come into my mind and in the whirlwind I have a place to put my feet.

“I believe in God the Father Almighty,”

Will the doctors be skilled? Will they know the secrets of the mind and body that they need to know? Will her eyes work right? Will she remember how to read and what words and numbers and colors mean?

“Maker of heaven and earth.”

Why is she suffering? Does anyone care? Is there redemption for her? Is there a plan in all of this? What is the purpose? Who’s in charge that I can cry out to?

“And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our lord…”

I don’t know how this will work out. I don’t know what her future will hold. I don’t know when our breaking point will be. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…

Is anyone walking with her, with me, with us?

“Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate…”

I wake at night with the words of Jacob in my head – “my days of the years of my life have been few and evil…” This cursed world seems brutal, short, ugly, harsh and I weary of life – and then, the words….the words…

“was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell.”

For us and for our salvation. His days were cut off brutally. He was abandoned by God so that she would never, ever be. He was forsaken so that she would never be alone in this cursed world, for he shepherds her and gathers her into his bosom….

And is there an end to this? Who will show us the way?

“The third day, he rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the father almighty.

From thence, he shall come to judge the living and the dead.”

Life is often brutal, hard and short. Some suffer a little, some suffer tremendously. Some, like Lazarus, receive evil on this earth, while others receive good things.

But he is coming to judge the living and the dead. Every enemy will be destroyed. Every tongue stopped. Every virus destroyed, every twisted illness of Satan cast into the lake of fire.

And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.

And what until then? Will we see good in the land of the living? Will God’s presence go with us until the end?

“I believe in the Holy Spirit”

But I so often feel alone and frightened and like there is no one who understand, no one to lift this burden, no one to share this journey…

“The holy catholic church, the communion of saints”

And I see the light of God’s countenance shining through the saints around the world. I know your prayers and your gifts and your encouragements and I again lift my head up and know that God has not left us without a witness, but the unanimous voice of the true church in all the ages joins their tongue with ours crying out “Holy, Holy, Holy!”

“Yet I have reserved for myself 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

And these footsteps through this dark valley are not in vain, and even when I cry out in unbelief and fear, the shepherd does not let me go. He still cleanses; he still gathers. He still finds the lost lamb…

“The forgiveness of sins, the resurrection from the dead, and the life everlasting…”

Complete victory will be ours. We shall see him face to face. Even when we don’t feel like it. Even when he seems to have forgotten. Even when the blackness gets blacker. I remember the words.

And then she hugs me. And then she says, “Heyo, Papa.” And then she smiles.

And the light of Jesus shines again through the faith which was once delivered to the saints, and the smiles of his servants, and the voice of their witness crying out together in the furnace of affliction….”how long, Lord? How long?”

“Amen”

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Filed under Encephalitis journey

My only comfort

For three weeks now, I have been sitting beside my daughter’s bedside in the hospital. I have documented the journey on my facebook page. But, long story short, she was finally diagnosed with herpes Simplex 1 encephalitis. It is rare, brutal, ugly, with a high fatality rate. You can find all of the details on wikipedia so I won’t give them here.

But I would like to document here some of my thoughts, now that I am getting them together.

Yesterday was an awesome day. She’s eating with a full appetite. Pizza, fries, mashed potatoes, ice cream…

This morning, she said, “heyo dad!” when I walked in. It is really fabulous.

But that is the limit of her words. The virus has caused damage in the part of the brain that processes speech – but she is young and the brain is remarkable. We are hopeful.

When you look death right in the face, when your loved ones go through trials like this one, you learn to say things like this:

What is thy only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own but belong to my faithful savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sin and redeemed me from all the power of the devil, and so preserves me that without the will of my father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head….(Heidelberg Catechism, Q1)

We have trivialized Christianity into a political movement, a culture war, a movement of power rather than a cry of helplessness.

We have become a church of moral busybodies, so concerned about what others are doing and so afraid of everything…and we forget that there are real things to actually fear.

And when we forget the real curse that is on the world, we turn Christianity into a weird ethical system that is all about homeschooling, courtship, virginity, tattoos and earrings and power plays and making sure women “know their place” and we forget that it is about redemption.

Because bondage is real, death is real, the curse is real, my sins are real.

I don’t need to win a culture war. I need a savior.

I don’t need an ethical movement. I need a savior.

I don’t need moral busybodies. I need a savior.

When you forget that, then you are no longer a Christian in your thinking.

When you stare death in the face, that is when you remember the power of the resurrection. That is when you know what Paul meant when he said that he counts everything else as dung that he might know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

And thank you, Great Physician, that my little girl is eating and saying “Heyo, Dad!”

Thank you, Shepherd of Israel, that her face lights up when her friends visit.

And thank you, Father of Lights, for the light in her eyes.

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Filed under Encephalitis journey