Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gospel for the Broken

Rod Rosenbladt on Ligonier's blog has an interesting article on why many people leave the church, becoming the "sad alumni." It's partially due to the fact that there is a law-grace-law teaching that consistently discourages them by pointing to their failures as evidence of their lack of maturity which is shameful. Rosenbladt points out that the true gospel takes a very different view on our failures. We will walk into heaven as failures - not as mature, perfect disciples, but failures whose only claim to God's presence will be the perfection of Jesus.

Here is his conclusion:

But is the blood of Christ enough -- all by itself -- to save a still-sinful-Christian? Or isn't it? Is what Luther said about the Christian being simul justus et peccator biblical or not? Can Christ's righteousness imputed save a still-sinful Christian? And can it save him all by itself? Or not? I think the way we answer this question determines whether we have anything at all to say to the "sad alumni" of Christianity.

Has the Law done its killing work on these "sad ones?" Boy, has it ever. They need more of the Law like they need a hole in the head. For them, the gospel often got lost in a whole bunch of "Christian-life preaching." And it "did them in." So they left. And down deep there is a sadness in such people that defies description.

C.F.W. Walther said that as soon as the Law has done its crushing work, the gospel is to be instantly preached or said to such a man or woman. What the "sad alumni" need to hear (perhaps for the first time) is that Christian failures are going to walk into heaven, be welcomed into heaven, leap into heaven like a calf leaping out of its stall, laughing and laughing as if it's all too good to be true. It isn't just that we failures will get in. It's that we will get in like that. "You mean it was just Jesus' death for me, that's why I'm here?" But, of course. That's the point isn't it? As a believer in Jesus you won't be condemned! No believer in Jesus will be. Not a single one!

Holy Darkness

I heard this song this morning on my Pandora station. It's sung by John Michael Talbot and it's called "Holy Darkness." Click here to listen.

Here are the lyrics:
Holy Darkness

by Dan Schutte
Holy darkness, blessed night,
heaven's answer hidden from our sight.
As we await you, O God of silence,
we embrace your holy night.

1. I have tried you in fires of affliction;
I have taught your soul to grieve.
In the barren soil of your loneliness,
there I will plant my seed.

2. I have taught you the price of compassion;
you have stood before the grave.
Though my love can seem
like a raging storm,
this is the love that saves.

3. Were you there
when I raised up the mountains?
Can you guide the morning star?
Does the hawk take flight
when you give command?
Why do you doubt my pow'r?

4. In your deepest hour of darkness
I will give you wealth untold.
When the silence stills your spirit,
will my riches fill your soul.

5. As the watchman waits for morning,
and the bride awaits her groom,
so we wait to hear your footsteps
as we rest beneath your moon.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Traditional Church?

I'm feeling without hope these last few months in the idea of church being anything more than an organizational structure that assaults true intimacy and honest relationships. My experience of church is that it is a perfectionistic machine that must be maintained OR ELSE. It should be a family where everyone has a place, and where the vision that guides it is big enough for multiple levels of process.

Those who are broken always end up paying the highest price of this kind of church, as they easily fall through the cracks (more like gaping holes) or are encouraged to try harder to keep up. If they can't keep up, too bad, they need to find someplace (a more manageable machine).

I have hope in Jesus, but I don't know about the church.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

The Gift of Limits

Peter Scazzero talks about the gift of limits in his excellent book, The Emotionally Healthy Church. Basically his message is that we need to see the circumstances of our lives as God-given limits to be embraced, not chafed against. I've been meditating on this in the past few days because I really need to gain this perspective by faith. I resist and push against the limits God has place on my life.

I was reminded of David and how he embraced his limits with God in Psalm 16:5-6 -

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance (ESV)

For David, the image of God granting plots of "promised" land to different families and tribes in Israel provides him with an exquisite metaphor through which to understand his life and soul. The contours of his life have been lovingly determined by God, and he embraces these limits in faith as pure gift. Reading through Hosea, I am reminded that those who pushed against their limits by moving their boundary stones in Israel were worthy of judgment (Hosea 5:10).

David also says that the Lord is his inheritance, which calls to mind what God said to the Levites in Numbers 18:20, which says that the Levites won't have a portion of land because the Lord Himself will be their inheritance. To David, his circumstances are sweet because they are the gift of God, but God Himself is sweeter.

To put all this together, embracing the gift of providential limits on my life frees me from being bound and defined by those limits, and, more importantly, frees me to experientially know God as my "chosen portion and my cup." For He is our Promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey and rest. This is evident in the bookends to this Psalm, verse 2 and 16:

I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you." (v.2)

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (v.16)

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Father-Son Mentoring: A Letter to my Son

I wrote this for my son Samuel (11.04.09) who just turned 11 regarding whether or not he should continue into Boy Scouts, and the bigger issue of the journey to becoming a man.

John Eldredge (Way of the Wild Heart) tells the story of visiting an island on a cayak trip where there was a meadow/bog where Grizzlies would come regularly to feed. Their guide led them to the centuries old path the great bears had taken through the meadow. There were large lumbering footprints well-worn in the path. He said that the cubs literally step in the pawprints of the older bears to make sure they stay on the path. Eldredge saw this as a profound illustration of the path needed for boys to find their way to becoming men.

When we went to visit the Boy Scout troop the other night I was praying that it would become clear to us whether or not this was the right path for you to go, for the decision would impact your path to manhood.

Boy Scouts is indeed one way to become a man. There would be much value in continuing in Scouts, but I believe, also much danger. Let me explain. Boy Scouts is structured in such a way to develop boys into men by developing their skills in life and self-confidence. These skills are definitely important, but only one part of the picture. The gospel message of Jesus is all about finding grace, forgiveness, strength and power in our weakness and our inability to find our way through life on our own. In the gospel God does what we could never do for ourselves – pay for our sins and reveal himself to us.

Do you see the tension? If you become the type of man who thinks he knows how to handle every situation in life, you will likely think you have no more need for God. This is one of the most dangerous places to be in, one that the Bible calls being “lost.” Plus, continuing in Scouts would mean me, in some sense, stepping back and letting you find your own way and that is something I cannot do. I had many scout-like experiences when I was your age (backpacking, fishing, camping, etc.) but I would trade it all in in a second to have had a daddy that stayed with me to show me how to be a man!

You are heading into the years where it is very important for you to prove yourself in the face of challenges. I believe that there is a way to develop skills in the face of challenges that is in the context of a relationship of faith in God. It means doing what we can but realizing that all that we learn and do can never substitute for God’s presence in our lives. We will never be good enough or strong enough to be loved and forgiven – we must have Jesus. No amount of achievements or activities will ever be enough to fill your heart – that space is reserved for God. Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) and Paul said that he can “do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). To become a real man begins and ends with knowing Jesus, not with developing skills. According to the Bible, real manhood and maturity have to do with knowing God and his will and living with Him at the center of your life (Proverbs 1:1-7).

God is calling me to mentor you toward becoming a man. I don’t think Scouts would allow me the opportunities to do this, so we will develop something together that is different and better. What is a mentor? It is someone who has experience, wisdom and skill that passes on what they know and who they are to someone less experienced. Many people can do this, but God has especially designed it for fathers and sons. Fathers used to “apprentice” their sons in their trade, or job: the sons would live and work with their fathers side-by-side and in doing so learn to be men. A mentor can say like Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

There will be some structure to this mentoring, but the main point is you being by my side while we live life together in God’s presence. You will have greater responsibilities, but greater privileges too!

I see four elements of the structure, and every element will have a component of conversation where you have a voice in deciding how that element will look.

  1. Fun! Doing fun things like going to see a dollar movie together, riding go-karts, playing mini-golf, going out to dinner, taking short trips, etc.
  2. Teaching and instruction - about life, God, girls, money, relationships, Bible study, etc. This could also involve conversations with professionals you would want to learn from (filmmaker, inventor, policeman, etc.)
  3. Service – Learning the value of serving together. We could help Mommy around the house, clean up trash around the co-op, clean up someone’s yard, serve the homeless, etc.
  4. Outdoors – spending time together in God’s creation. Going on hikes, nature walks, exploring caves, going fishing, going to a gun range, having bonfires, etc.

I love you, Sam, and I want God’s best for your life. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, confused, and afraid by all this then it might help you to know that I am too! I’ve never done anything like this before, or even heard of it being done. God is calling me to grow in new ways too through this journey. I look forward to traveling it together.


  1. Physical maturity – eating healthy, exercising; devoting our bodies to God
  2. Spiritual maturity – Bible study, prayer; knowing God
  3. Emotional maturity – developing skill in handling emotions; bringing our emotions to God
  4. Relational maturity – learning to communicate (speak and listen) your heart to others and to care for others’ hearts; learning to relate our heart to God’s.