Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Hell Yes

Back in college, I had an art appreciation professor who cornered me on my definition of Christianity. When I said that Jesus saves us from Hell, he cut me off with, "Hell is never mentioned in the Bible." His smugness told my 300 classmates that he won the day. My takeaway was that he was an idiot.

About a month ago, Brett was reading the headlines at breakfast when he sat back and announced, "Oh look. The Pope has declared he doesn't believe in Hell."

Now if this had been RC Sproul or John Piper, or my pastor, or one of my close friends who made this declaration, it would have been shocking. But this was Pope Francis. Francis, who announced in a May, 2013, mass that if atheists 'do good, we will meet one another there,' (there being Heaven). This is Francis, who in December of 2015, opened a 'door of mercy' (I am not making this up) in St. Peter's Basilica, granting an indulgence (and you thought they died with the Reformation) to those who passed through the door. Unfortunately, the good Pontiff closed that door in November of 2016. ( If I were Catholic, that would be a chilling click indeed.

So, no. I was not in the least surprised to find that Francis declared he didn't believe in Hell. I just sat back and waited for the dust-up. Sure enough, Vatican spin doctors kicked it into overdrive in the following days, telling us what Francis did or did not mean by his comment. After all, even Catholicism has a doctrine of Hell, albeit a flawed one. But here's one glaringly important detail: Francis did not himself ever offer clarification. What's a poor girl to think?

I just shook my head. Not my pope. Not my problem. But it was quite interesting to then attend Together for the Gospel 2018, where 12,500 gospel Christians gathered to be reminded of this one glorious truth: we are distinct from the world.

Ligon Duncan, chancellor of the Presbyterian Reformed Theological Seminary, and R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, presided over a session to discuss the current theological challenges to the gospel. And those challenges?

My own observation is that these challenges have been going on for many years. I have a friend from a rather liberal denomination who told me about fifteen years ago that her church never talks about the devil. To my friend's credit, she acknowledged that this was probably ill-advised, but she explained that the church's position was that the devil is not a positive topic.  And we all know Rob "Love Wins" Bell, who can't imagine a loving God sending anyone to Hell. So let me say right now that this is hardly a 'Catholic' problem. But let's be crisp. Anyone who denies the existence of sin, wrath, and Hell is an enemy of the gospel. 

Listen up. It is one thing to be an atheist art prof and deny Hell. But denying the existence of sin, wrath, and Hell while simultaneously claiming identity with Christ is like singing the praises of reading while denying the existence of the alphabet.

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 2 Corinthians 2:2

If Paul thought he should know and proclaim not just Jesus Christ but Jesus-Christ-crucified, then there must be something critical about 'crucified' that cannot be separated from Jesus Christ. What in the world would make a compelling need for something as hideous and awful as crucifixion?

I am currently reading through Revelation with my kids. Yesterday, we were reading about the wrath of God being poured out on the peoples of the earth. I asked the kids if they could think of any distinctions between the words "anger" and "wrath," to which my 13 yr old replied, 'Yeah, anger is inside you, but wrath is when you want other people to feel it. It is outward.' Out of the mouths of babes.

Hell exists because it is the consequence of God's wrath. God's wrath exists because of our sin. And sin exists because of our first parents. Hence the need for Jesus-Christ-crucified, who bore our sin, absorbed God's wrath, and saved us from Hell.

Is this really that difficult?

Mamas, teach sin, wrath, and Hell. Teach them to your children with the same intensity and the same commitment with which you teach them the alphabet. When they ask you if sin, wrath, and Hell exist, respond in the Scripture-believing, Gospel-preaching, Christ-exalting, Truth-loving affirmative.

Sin. Yes.
Wrath. Yes.
Hell. Yes.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things but is himself to be judged by no one. "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. 2 Cor. 2:14-16

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

What am I Building?

It's been almost a year since I've given up politics. Not only has it been good for my blood pressure and my relationships, it has also clarified a few things. I can see clearly now that my chief end is not preserving the Republic and enjoying it forever. (To my politically involved friends, I do not say that this is in your heart; I say that this was in my heart.)

I have begun to think more globally than ever before, a trend that has a couple data points over the past couple of years. The first data point my study of the book of Acts last summer. There, in the second chapter, God undoes what He did at Babel. At Babel, He scattered the peoples of the earth, separating them both geographically and linguistically. But at Pentecost, He gathered them back in. Lo and behold, the gospel, as it turns out, is for all nations, tribes, and tongues.  And then, via persecution, this time He scattered His people. And this time, it was not to divide but to unite the Elect from the uttermost parts of the earth. Because where His people went, there went the gospel with them. This was the first and ultimate Church building project.

The second data point has been our school study of the 20th century this year. Do you know how many millions of people died at the hands of patriotic nationalists in the last century? "Our country for our people" thinking has yielded precisely zero benefits.

The third data point was a lunch meeting our pastors had with a couple guys from The Gospel Coalition's Theological Famine Relief Fund. These guys shared an interesting stat. Did you know that, from the countries of Cuba and Sweden, the most requested language for the Famine's gospel materials is Farsi? Farsi. Do you know who speaks Farsi? Iranians speak Farsi. So do Afghans. So do a number of other people in the Middle East.

What is your reaction when you hear that news? Be honest. Does it stress you out that speakers of Arabic are 'this close' to our shores? Or does your heart rejoice that God is once again scattering peoples and bringing the gospel to them? People who have only every known Islam and and Islamic theocracies?

I'm as white-bread middle class as they come. If there is a non-European gene in my ancestry, I am unaware of it. But God is not white-bread middle class, and neither is His good news. So it was with great dismay that I listened last week to my president (I've given up politics, not the news.) insinuate that Dreamers are simply gang members waiting to happen. That's the logical equivalent of saying I'm a Nazi because I'm German.

It's not disturbing--or news--that my president thinks this way. It is disturbing that we think this way. Is it possible that we have categorized these people the wrong way? Is it possible that we should see Dreamers and refugees, not as threats to our 'way of life' but as future brothers and sisters in Christ? How hopeful should we be? How hospitable should we be? How 'righteously compassionate'--to borrow a term from last Sunday's sermon--should we be?

Full disclosure: I do not come at this naturally or easily. There's not much in me that desires to be exposed to other cultures. But I cannot read the Word and be transformed by it without also becoming more hopeful, more hospitable, more compassionate. This is my challenge; I know that.

So go ahead and build your wall if that makes you feel better. But I appeal to you, as you stack those bricks with the zeal of a kid in a nerf gun war, to take an occasional break, place your hand over your heart, and ask yourself:
Does this wall strengthen the Kingdom?
Does this wall further the gospel?
Does this wall glorify God?

As for me, I'd rather build the Church than a wall any day.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" Revelation 7:9-10

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Apology or Doxology?

If there is one thing I've learned in 29 years of marriage, it is to seek clarification. If there is one thing I have learned in the past nine years as a debate mom, it is 'define your terms.' In the current climate of gender/sexuality issues, lots of people who self-identify as Christians use the term 'love' and yet seem to be talking past one another. A few weeks ago, some friends and I began A Beautiful Design by Matt Chandler.* It was a safe place for us to ask hard questions and grapple with concerns we have as friends, families, and moms. It was in that setting that I began to get my aha! moment about doxology.
If you love Him, then you love holiness. What you please shouldn't present a problem. (ND Wilson) 

Two truths:
1. God is love. (I John 4:16)
2. All scripture is inspired by God. (2 Tim 3:16)
If you disagree that these are true, then we've come to the part of the flowchart that says "END." Have a great day. But if you agree with me...

If you agree that God is love and that all scripture is inspired by God, then all scripture must be love because anything that proceeds from a God who is love must necessarily be loving. Or else we negate the proposition, in which case we come again to the part of the flowchart that says "END." Have a great day. But if you agree that all scripture must be love...

Then why doesn't all scripture elicit worship from us, His Church?
Why does a six-day Creation make us squirm?
Why does Leviticus make us squirm?
Why does a bloody cross make us squirm?
Why does the Final Judgment make us squirm?
Why does God's Word, which is love because it proceeds from God who is love, make us squirm?
And, conversely, why don't people who identify as Christians but squirm over scripture make us squirm?
Why is there so much apology and so little doxology?

DOXOLOGY /dahk SOL' uh jee/  [Gr. "δοξα" praise, glory and "λεγω" to speak] (n.): a hymn in praise of the Almighty; a particular form of giving glory to God

A church in our neighborhood has this tag line under its title:
"Where Jesus is the key and people are the point."
Ah. No. As Charles Spurgeon would remind us, there is a difference between 'right' and 'almost right.' That tag line is almost right, but it is not right--which makes it wrong. People are inherently valuable. We are not incidental, but neither are we the point. God is. Loving God is the first and greatest commandment. Loving my neighbor is the second commandment. (Matt 22:37-38; Mark 12:29-30) The first commandment bounds the second, not the other way around.

Almost-Right-People-Are-The-Point is epidemic in the Church and has taken us down the Bunny Trail of Apology. Take the hot topics of our day: gender and sexuality. Who of us has more than two degrees of separation from someone who is confused by these issues? Either we know someone who is confused, or we know someone who knows someone who is. And we were sovereignly placed in such a time as this.
when we think that people are the point, we start to apologize. They're real flesh and blood, after all, not some proposition on a page. (A hearty amen! to that). They're really great folks, too! (Possibly an amen! to that, too).

So down the Bunny Trail we go.
I'm sorry that God created only two genders.
Next comes, I'm sorry for Leviticus.
I'm sorry for the Law.
And pretty soon, we've arrived at:
I'm sorry for the cross. Let's just call it symbolic and call it a day.
I'm sorry that there are certain people who will never inherit the Kingdom.
I'm sorry. I didn't write it. My hands are tied on this one.

We're not quite willing to jettison the Word. But we do want to put some distance between It and us, because, remember, people are the point, so making our people feel badly must be avoided at all costs.  And while we're busy kicking the dirt, avoiding eye contact, and making God the bad guy, what we are really communicating is that if we were God, we would have done things differently. If we were God, we wouldn't be so hard line. If we were God, we would celebrate you.

People are the crowning jewel of God's creation. But we are creations. What makes us feel good on the one hand or guilty on the other is not the weighing mechanism for what is really and truly Love.

God is the point. And if God, who is love and who authored all of scripture, is the point, then His instructions should elicit worship and wonder, not apology. Never apology. And we shouldn't find ourselves affirming anything at all that is contra-God and contra-scripture.

Further, if God is love and all of His Words are love, it must necessarily follow that God's Word is the most loving thing we can share with our people. It must follow that His Words are the best way for our people, who are really great folks--but also under wrath--to reach their full flourishing potential.

Who are the covenant people of God, after all?
For this is the covenant I shall make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Hebrews 8:10
The covenant people of God have God's law on their hearts--because He put it there--and they love it, and they love Him.

The opening quote bears repeating: If you love God, then you love holiness. What you please shouldn't present a problem. 

So, gospel Christian, do we love Genesis 1 and Leviticus 18 and Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6? Do they bring forth doxology from us? If God has written them on my heart, then the answer is yes.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)

*a wonderful series on gender that offers the compassion of Jesus without cratering His Truth

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017 Reading List

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So are books. Here are mine for the year, opinions occasionally included. Because, well, me.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling
Silver Lining by Nancy Wilson. I turned 50 two weeks ago. Time to face facts; I am the older woman. And this is a good book for such a time as this.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
Comraderie of Confidence by John Piper
Madeleine Takes Command* by Ethel Claire Brill
Brave Companions by David McCollough. I'm not big on biographies, but these short sketches were actually very interesting.
A Child's History of the Life of George Washington* by Josephine Pollard. A little dry but more information here than most high schoolers get.
Discipleship by Mark Dever. Dever can be a little...aggressive...about evangelism, so I read with a 'we'll see' attitude. Turns out this was a great book affirming the power and appropriateness of one-on-one discipleship.
Thoughts for Young Men by JC Ryle. Written as a Titus 2 exhortation to young men to be sober-minded.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

Family Life of a Christian Leader by Ajith Fernando. A little elementary.
Peter Pan* by JM Barrie
Mr. Standfast by John Buchan. Richard Hannay is my favorite spy. I would not usually classify a spy novel as literature--except for this one. I love Sam Gamgee and Boo Radley and all unsung heroes. There's one in here, too.
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling. Best book of the series. Juxtaposition of magic vs. legitimate 1 Samuel witchcraft. This is the one that really pulled me into the series.
Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince by JK Rowling
Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson. Second time on this one. Improved upon further acquaintance. Provides what she-who-shall-not-be-name failed to: the emphasis on the need for a fixed point of reference.
The Black Tower by PD James. Meh.
Better Late Than Early by Raymond and Dorothy Moore.
Reb and the Redcoats* by Constance Savery. Thought this would never end.

Ordinary by Michael Horton. If I gave you all the thoughts that impacted me in this book, I'd be violating copyright. Fantastic!
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. Luther did not get everything right, and some things he got very, very wrong. But his grasp of the scriptures and the sovereignty of God, demonstrated here, is what made him one of the greats and one of my favorites.
Fellowship of the Ring* by JRR Tolkien. How many times can one read LOTR? Well, I don't know; how many times are there?
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Amazing! We're still talking about it!
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling. And thus ends the tale of Harry Potter. Great fun! Thoroughly enjoyed!
Echoes of Eden by Jerram Barrs
Fantastic Creatures and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling. Not quite as good.
Vendetta by Lisa Harris

The Two Towers* by JRR Tolkien
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
John Calvin edited by Burk Parsons
Befriend by Scott Sauls. I wanted to like this one more than I did.
Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp. Every pastor and pastor's wife should read this.
Watership Down by Richard Adams. Have wanted to read for a long time. Now I'm not really sure why.
Ten Ways to Destroy Your Child's Imagination by Anthony Esolen. Decent book but not a fan of Esolen. Blogpost forthcoming.
Return of the King* by JRR Tolkien
North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson
Revelation and Reason edited by K. Scott Oliphant and Lane Tipton . Mind-blowing read, really. If everything was corrupted in the Fall, including our ability to reason (and it was), and if we are knowing-but-suppressing (and we are), then we must jettison classical apologetics in favor of the far more scriptural pre-suppositional apologetics. Heady stuff and slow reading but worth it.

Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson
Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson. No secret that I love this series. Not since Narnia has there been such a thematically strong tale for children that adults should also read. Maybe one day I'll read it without crying. Maybe.
The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe. Scathingly humorous review of modern art. Laughed out loud.
Reading Between the Lines by Gene Edward Veith. I should probably have liked this more than I did.
For the Time Being by Annie Dillard. I'm not silly enough to give Dillard another moment of my life.
The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages
The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin. That's some good readin' there.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Now I can say I read it. And I never need to do that again.
The Road Home by David Kherdian
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie--one of her best.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Beautiful, tragic book by a soldier who was there. More convinced than ever that every politician who votes for war, arguing a 'just war,' should put their son on the front line first. Then we'll see how committed to their cause they really are.
Acts: The Church Alive by R. Kent Hughes
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Not a single good guy in the whole book. Ick.
Luther and Katarina by Jody Hedlund. No.
Water From My Heart by Charles Martin. Yes! Martin is one of my faves!
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Really short and really brilliant.
Long Way Home by Louise Penny. This is my favorite new series. But do NOT do what I did, and that was read them out of order. Because of an ongoing plot line, you need to start at the beginning and keep to the order. Caviat: Penny's likely not a believer; hold your fire.
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch* by Jean Lee Lantham. Fourth time through. Really good.
Still Life by Louise Penny. THIS is the first one. Start here.

Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
Steadfast Love by Lauren Chandler. Chandler knows storms. And she knows Who holds us during the storms. Lots of comfort here.
Book of Dragons* by E. Nesbit
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase* by Joan Aiken
Whiter Than Snow by Paul David Tripp. Thoughtful meditations on Psalm 51.
My Father's Daughter by EL Konigsburg
The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

China's Long March by Jean Fritz. I don't know if Fritz is unhinged from history or just unhinged.
Parallel Journeys by Eleanor Ayer. The story of a young Jew and a Hitler youth and their eventual collaboration. Worth reading.
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I didn't quite agree with Bonhoeffer's take on the Sermon on the Mount, but he does prove he's not a red-letter Christian later in the book. Really good nuggets here.
The Little White Horse* by Elizabeth Goudge. One of those genuinely great read-alouds, riveting to both kids and their parents.
Winston Churchill: Soldier, Statesman, Artist by John Severance
The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse by Michael Gungor. Jeff Baldwin of Worldview Academy exhorts young people this way: "If you want to go to MIT to learn to build bridges, go to MIT. If the professor at MIT starts talking about the meaning of life, flip the switch in your brain and turn him off. When he starts to talk about building bridges again, flip the switch and turn him on again." You'll need to read Gungor the same way. When he talks about God, the gospel, or faith, turn him off. When he sticks to what he really knows (art/music/creating), he has some worthwhile things to say about why we create, who we create to please, and how that impacts the outcome.
After the War by Carol Matas
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

That's it, folks. May your new year be filled with a comfy chair, lots of great new books, and the time to read them!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Merry Condescension

It's the most wonderful time of the year. I come down early every morning, light a fire, turn on the tree lights, and have my quiet time before all the children stir. I listen to John Piper's daily advent reading, listen to a song or two from Sovereign Grace's Christmas album (which is this year's best), and pray.

I also ponder our nativity set, the one we've had since early marriage. It's old and scratched and cute and looks a little like a child's first nativity. This year, I noticed there is one piece missing. You'd hope it would be something like one of the kings or a camel. But no. It's the baby. My nativity has an empty manger. Poor baby Jesus probably went out in all the wrapping paper last year.

I had my own grumpy George Bailey moment. Why do we have to have all these nativity characters anyway?  Why do we not set up only a manger with Jesus in it? I confess that my first reaction was to find a baby Jesus and pitch the rest of the figures so as not to detract from the scene. But then...

...that whole cast of characters lends perspective to the sheer magnitude of the event. That whole cast of characters demonstrates what I've been seeing this year as our pastors preach through the book of Luke: the condescension of God.

Condescension has negative overtones, as in "Don't be so condescending," which usually means that we are looking down from our lofty place on all the little people. But when God condescended, He wasn't looking down; He was coming down among us--to be one of us, to feel the weight of our weakness and redeem us from our own evil. When humans condescend, it is arrogance, but when God condescends, it is a gracious and glorious humility.

My scripture reading is currently taking me through the minor prophets and through Revelation. Reading these with my defective nativity in the background has brought the Incarnation into sharper focus. The message of the prophets is consistent. Israel was unfaithful and rebellious. And God came in the flesh anyway. Israel looked just like the neighboring reprobate nations. And God came in the flesh anyway. Israel wasn't even interested in being saved. And God came in the flesh anyway. That's condescension.

Back to my nativity, the shepherds lend context to God's condescension.
The kings lend context to God's condescension.
Even the stable animals lend context, since all of creation groans.

And Mary and Joseph lends context--if we can get it right.

But unfortunately, a weird mythology has grown up around Mary. Mary was just an ordinary sinner in need of a savior. Following the birth of Jesus, she and Joseph raised five other children, the fruit of their marital intimacy. Then she died. If we change Mary's story from the Biblical narrative, we miss God's condescension to her. And that has far reaching implication.

To miss God's condescension in Mary's story is to make Mary bigger than she is and God smaller than He is.  To make Mary bigger and God smaller is to call into question the reliability of the scriptures. To call into question the reliability of scripture is to call into question the reliability of the gospel.

Therefore, we need to be clear about God's condescension to Jesus' family. God condescended to Joseph in tasking this ordinary man to raise His Son. God condescended to Mary in tasking this ordinary woman to bear His Son.

Anyway, I was thinking about Mary this morning as I looking at my defective nativity scene and reading Revelation:  And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood, men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." Revelation 5:9-10

And it just hit me. Mary birthed and Joseph raised Jesus to be both the final High Priest and the final Lamb of God so that we could be a kingdom and priests to our God. Wow! That's condescension to all of us!  Just as God condescended to Mary and Joseph, He condescends to all on whom His favor rests to raise us up to make us a Holy Family of saints and priests.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for He has looked upon the humble estate of His servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever. Luke 1:46-55

Merry Condescension to all my fellow saints and priests!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Identity Crisis: I've Got News For You

A preliminary note: First, ***spoilers ahead***if you've never read The Wingfeather Saga or Harry Potter. Second, speaking of Harry Potter:
We are one of those families, the ones who do not let their children read Harry Potter until a certain age. But that is a recent development. Until I finished the series myself this past spring, we were one of the families who never let their children read Harry Potter. I have no regrets. And if you are one of those families, you have my deepest regard. If you are not one of those families, I respect your house rules, too. But may I ask you to wrestle with your children over what the scriptures say about witchcraft? The Bible takes it seriously, and we should, too.
I've got news for you.
This is not a game.
I've got news for you.
Are you listenin'?
I've got news for you.
We are all to blame.
And when that's understood, we can start to live again.*

We've got an identity crisis on our hands. And I'm not talking about the 'gender/sexuality' shenanigans, either. I'm talking about something much more subtle, much more pervasive, and, therefore, much more dangerous.

I'm almost fifty years old, and I am still impacted by a discussion I had in eighth grade. The headmaster and we students were sitting around a conference table discussing the Iran hostages, who had just been released after 444 days in captivity. Mr. Smith asked us one question.
Are they heroes?
We were incredulous. Of course they were heroes.
What heroic thing did they do? he pressed.
Uhhh... Splutter, splutter. Well, they, uh....
So are they heroes? repeated Mr. Smith.

He had us. There was no way around this. No, the Iran hostages were not heroes. They were victims, but they were not heroes. It was a lesson in both linguistic precision and labels that I have never forgotten.

In the many years since, I have observed that sloppiness in regard to linguistic precision and labels is so common, it's practically part of what it means to be human.
We're really good at filing the people we love, including ourselves, into either of the first two categories. And we're really good at piling the people who hurt us into the last one. Truly, our whole system would be laughable if eternity didn't hang in the balance.

Enter Harry Potter. I thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter series. It's a jolly good tale, full of great characters and plot twists. Granted, I wasn't all in until Book 5, which still remains my favorite of the set. And I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that Harry Potter is the hero. But as a commentary on the human condition, I found it lacking. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he's the Christ Figure. He's the ideal Victim, a lucky escapee from an attempted murder, an orphan despised and rejected by his adoptive family, who also happens to be the chosen one to do the right thing at the right time.
Victim, victim, victim.
Turned hero, hero, hero.
He also doesn't have a particularly strong moral compass. Like I told my older kids after they read it (after I read it), there's lots of World in Harry Potter. There's lots of Devil, too. But there is no Flesh. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Oh, there was lots of evidence of Flesh. He's smart-alecky with authority; he lies; he's passive-aggressive. But there was no internal battle with the Flesh, no sanctification. Rowling gives him a pass, I guess because, poor thing, he's had such a tough go of it. I didn't particularly like the boy Harry Potter because I couldn't particularly relate to him.

Yet victims or heroes are how we tend to plot ourselves in our own stories, aren't they? We see ourselves as victims in the way we give a pass to sin, in us and in others. "Sure, what I (or s/he) did was bad," we practically shrug. "But I (or s/he) was lost and hurting and felt like life offered me (or him/her) no other choice." And we find a certain self-righteous smugness in our compassion (which is no compassion at all). We see ourselves as heroes when we get ourselves past our wounds or establish solidarity: hashtagmetoo. Sadly we even see it in really bad Christian songs:
No matter the bumps, no matter the bruises, no matter the scars, still the truth is the Cross has made you flawless. 
Where do the scriptures teach us that our flaws come from outside of us? What gospel is that?

Now step with me into Aerwiar, (because...'ere we are...) a place where the World and the Devil are as threatening as they are at Hogwarts.  But, unlike Hogwarts, in Aerwiar, our Flesh is our own worst enemy. Follow the heartbreaking/heartwarming story of the Wingfeather family (Artham might be my favorite literary character OF ALL TIME). Take an honest look at just how much harm your Flesh can do. (Hint: so much more than the World or the Devil can do)

Unlike Harry Potter, The Wingfeather Saga is profoundly gospel because it tells the truth about our condition, about consequences, about the Maker. There are no victims in Aerwiar. There are no heroes. There are monsters. And that is as it should be. That is the gospel.

I've got news for you. You may at some point have been someone's victim. You may at some point have been someone's hero. But your victimization is not your problem. And your heroism is not your salvation. As a friend once said, 'When we pray that the Lord will deliver us from evil, we should be thinking about the evil we do to others much more than the evil others do to us.'

So let's apply our own linguistic precision with labels.
Our identity is not Victim.
Our identity is not Hero.
Our identity is Monster.

When that's understood, our identity crisis is over.
And when that's understood, we can start to live again.
*I've Got News For You, Randy Stonehill, 1976

Please, I beg of you not to see the new Wingfeather movie. I adore the Saga, and I refuse to watch. Do you remember that awful animated version of The Lord of the Rings all those years ago? Did that do anything for the story? No. You simply must read The Wingfeather Saga, all four books, to understand the riches of this tale. It is profoundly gospel. But if Peter Jackson ever agreed to make the movie...

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

For My Savior Loves Me So

A while back, we got a frantic call from a very concerned friend. Someone we all knew and loved was thinking of converting to Catholicism, and could Brett and I intervene? Of course we would, I told the caller. But the following twenty-four hours were awful. First, I was in shock. Then anger. Then weeping. By nighttime, I fell into bed in a catatonic slump. In short, I went through all the stages of grief in one terrible day.

My faith in the Lord was not rocked. I was, and still am, confident of His absolute sovereignty over salvation. If this dear one was elect, then this dear one would be saved. But if this dear one chose Catholicism, make no mistake. We would have no choice but to regard this person as apostate.

The conversation got very intense before it ended. "You're not being very respectful," the person said to me.
I nearly shot vertically out of my chair. "I'm not here to respect you; I'm here to warn you!" I retorted.
I am happy to say that it was the Holy Spirit, not Brett and I, who intervened. But that was a close call. And I will never understand why someone would willingly choose the heavy torment of Catholicism for the light, easy yoke of Jesus.

I will also never understand gospel Christians who are grateful for their salvation but dismiss the Reformation as a minor quibble, a thing of the past, and shrug at the Christian gospel of grace and the Catholic gospel of terror as the same gospel.

How can the same gospel rest on:
faith alone and not faith alone
grace alone and not grace alone
Christ alone and not Christ alone?
I'll answer that. It can't.

Gospel Christian, your ecumenical kumbayah has got to stop. You're certainly not representing the gospel well with your mushy imprecision. And if you think you're doing anyone any favors, think again. Gospel Christian, this one's for you.
I love Reformation Day. I love it as much as I love Christmas. And if you were tormented for the first thirty years of your life before you understood the doctrines of grace brought back by the Reformation, you'd probably be the same Reformation geek as I am.

I am the collateral damage of Catholicism. My parents were saved when I was almost three and promptly left Catholicism. They shared the gospel with me and took me to church. We did family devotions, and both my parents model a vibrant, serious walk with the Lord. I stand on their faithful shoulders. Still, I walked in the shadow of Catholicism. My parents often spoke of the constant, pervasive guilt and were careful to guard against that in our home. But the horrific fact is that I was taught that, although I was saved, I could lose my salvation. And I was taught that because they were taught that. (You can take the Catholic out of Catholicism, but it is very difficult to take Catholicism out of the ex-Catholic.)

But mine is not the only story of torment. Here are three more examples. All of them are true; all of them are either friends of mine or of my children. They are merely representative of millions of other stories.

Example One:
An adult daughter of mine is speaking with a friend about how much she is looking forward to heaven. The friend, who is a serious, well-catechized Catholic, responds, "It must be nice to be sure where you are going." Imagine that terror. Imagine going to sleep every night without the confidence of heaven. You want to be there, but you aren't sure you've done enough to actually get there.

Example Two:
A Catholic young lady's father is abandoned by her mother after years of the mother's adulterous relationships. As an officially divorced man, her father is barred from Holy Communion. But according to Catholic doctrine, to remain in right standing with God, one must participate in the Mass. Add to that the additional horror and heartbreak when the young lady is married in a Catholic wedding, and he is not able to fully participate. Imagine the terror. Imagine your understanding is that you must jump through the Mass hoop, and now, through no fault of your own, you are prevented.

Example Three:
A Catholic friend asks for prayers of repose for a deceased loved one. What is a prayer of repose? It is offered in hopes of getting that person to heaven. Sometimes, says the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the prayer must be said many times. Well, which times must they be said many times? And how many times is many times? And when do we know that many times is enough? What does it mean that we do not grieve as others grieve if it does not mean that we have a great amount of assurance about that loved one's salvation? What kind of gospel doesn't take the sting out of death?

If you read these true stories and your heart doesn't hurt, check for a pulse. What ISIS is to the Middle East, Catholicism is to the human soul.  How dare we gospel Christians defend, legitimize, or validate this gospel of terror?

The gospel of Jesus tells me: We stand on Scripture alone, not man's wisdom.
The gospel of terror tells me: Scripture is not enough; I need a sanctioned interpreter.

The gospel of Jesus tells me: We stand through Faith alone, nothing we earn.
The gospel of terror tells me: Faith is not enough; I must add penance.

The gospel of Jesus tells me: We stand by Grace alone, nothing we accomplish.
The gospel of terror tells me: Grace is not enough; I must add my own merit.

The gospel of Jesus tells me: We stand in Christ alone, no other mediator.
The gospel of terror tells me: Christ's righteousness is not enough; I must add my own infused righteousness.

The gospel of Jesus tells me: We stand for God's glory alone, not for our praise.*
The gospel of terror is accessorized with pride. Well, yeah. After I'm done adding my penance, my merit, and my infused righteousness, what do I need a savior for?

The Reformation demonstrates that God is still writing the history of His people, long after the canon of scripture closed.

The Reformation demonstrates Remnant. God has always had and will always have a Remnant of gospel Christians. And He is in the business of preserving us. The Reformation demonstrates Return. When we are faithless, He is faithful. He will always return His covenant people to His Truth. And--my favorite--the Reformation means Rest. He did the work of salvation, and then He pursued me and brought me to repentance. I rest in the finished work of Christ.

When I fear my faith will fail...
When the tempter would prevail...
I could never keep my hold...
For my love is often cold...
Those He saves are His delight...
Precious in His holy sight...
He'll not let my soul be lost...
Bought by Him at such a cost...
He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast,
For my Savior loves me so.
He will hold me fast.**

Why will Jesus keep me when my love is cold, when I give in to tempation, when I am faithless?
Because He loves me. And He will finish what He started.

If you are living under a heavy yoke and are terrorized about your standing with God, if you keep asking, how much merit is enough merit? or how can I rest in my salvation? let's talk.
If you are resting in the Truths of the Reformation and the glorious gospel of grace, then on this 500th anniversary, may you have a wonderful, joyous Reformation Day!

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21
For I am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

*Thanks to Together for the Gospel, 2016 for the 'alone' wording.
**He Will Hold Me Fast, Ada Habershon, Matthew Merker, 2013.