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The Majestic Beard of Zurich: Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575)

Desiring God - 8 hours 9 min ago

In an age when the celibate priesthood set itself apart from the laity, in part, with clean-shaven faces, the Protestant Reformers grew beards to make a statement. They were restoring both maleness and humanity to church leadership, and they weren’t afraid to have it written on their faces.

Word is that Heinrich Bullinger, chief minister in the leading Swiss city of Zurich, had the best beard of all. One historian describes Bullinger’s as “majestically bushy” — and it wasn’t altogether disconnected from the theology he carefully grew, and groomed, in the wake of the Reformation’s first shocking loss.

Protestant and Preacher

Bullinger, son of a Catholic priest, was born in the Swiss town of Bremgarten in 1504. He went off to the University of Cologne in Germany in 1519 to study humanities, not medieval theology. While there he encountered a book-burning of Luther’s works, and it piqued his interest. He then determined to read the Reformer for himself, and as he did, his world turned upside down. He was now eighteen years old, and a Protestant convert.

In 1523, the year after his conversion, Bullinger met Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531), who had been converted in 1519, around the same time as Luther, and quickly became the leader of the Swiss Reformation. Zwingli was twenty years Bullinger’s elder, but the two became allies, and eight years later their lives were forever linked when disaster struck the fledging Reformed movement.

Zurich Successor

Zwingli was not only pastor in Zurich but also army chaplain. On October 11, 1531, the great Reformer joined the Battle of Kappel to defend the city against Catholic forces. He was wounded, then found by the invading army, and executed.

After the Protestant loss, Bullinger’s hometown, where he now was pastoring a Protestant church, came under threat. He fled for Zurich. There he took into his own household the wife and two surviving children of his dead friend, and within weeks he was chosen as his successor as chief minister in Zurich, a post at which Bullinger would stand for 44 years, from age 27 until his death at 71 in 1575.

Early Covenant Theologian

How often history pairs the strengths of great men with attendant weaknesses. One of Bullinger’s signature contributions was his primitive form of “covenant theology.” Here he followed the lead of Zwingli, who organized his theology by the covenant motif, rather than by medieval categories.

Zwingli located his theological center in God’s creation covenant with Adam. Bullinger matured and modified that theology to focus on Abraham, a step in the right direction, but as historian David Steinmetz notes, both located their theological center of gravity in the Old Testament rather than the New. The strengths included reading the whole Bible as one story; the weaknesses included a penchant to minimize (or reject) discontinuities revealed in the New.

In short, Zwingli and Bullinger read the whole Bible but still a flat Bible. What remains unclear is how much such early covenant theology led to the mistreatment of Zurich’s so-called Anabaptists (“re-baptizers”), and how much it developed in response to these “radicals.” In 1525, Zwingli and Bullinger together defended infant baptism at a public disputation against the Anabaptists, which led to the eventual drowning of some.

Bullinger also followed Zwingli in opposing church music because of its danger to become an idol and hinder true worship. Bullinger groomed Zwingli’s instinct into a matter of principle, and church music was not restored in Zurich until almost 25 years after Bullinger’s death.

Peacemaker

Yet his life and enduring legacy would not be as a divider, but as a unifier. Behind his majestic beard was one of the biggest hearts of the Reformation era, and one of its most tireless peacemakers. Though he rarely left Zurich, he engaged in voluminous personal correspondence (some twelve thousand of his letters have survived) to counsel and build coalition with Reformed leaders across Europe.

Even more than his gifted preaching, he was known for his patience, wisdom, and generous spirit. He stabilized the young but influential Zurich church, not only after its shocking tragedy but then for more than forty years. He grew and groomed what Zwingli began. According to Steinmetz, “Without Zwingli there would have been no Reformation in Zurich; without Bullinger it would not have lasted.”

For more on Heinrich Bullinger:

The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Reformers in the Wings by David C. Steinmetz

Do we really need 95 Theses for Biblical Counseling?

Head Heart Hand - 11 hours 57 min ago

I’ve been a bit concerned about some biblical counselors posting “95 Theses For Biblical Counseling,” not least for the (hopefully unintentional) implication that those who might disagree with them are in the same category as Roman Catholics and their indulgences were in Luther’s time.

Having said that, there are saner versions of this approach, a welcome contrast to the attempted return to the medieval times of biblical counseling which is undoing much of the wonderful reformation in biblical counseling that has been going on over the past 10-15 years.

I’ve written before about the mistake of equating the Reformation doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture with what some are arguing for in the biblical counseling movement. I’ve also highlighted how some modern versions of the sufficiency of Scripture are not just contrary to what the Reformers taught but actually end up unintentionally undermining the sufficiency of Scripture (here and here).

I’ve been close to entering this debate, not only to express concern about the damage that the aggressive tone and personal targeting is doing to the biblical counseling movement and its relationship with other Christians, but also to expose the internal confusion and inconsistency of some of the content. However, I discovered that Brad Hambrick, a biblical counselor that I highly respect, has decided to interact with Heath Lambert’s “95 Theses” and I’d commend this series to you. I’ll try to keep you updated as Brad posts subsequent articles.

In the meantime, you might want to have a look at these pages that present the case that Luther and Calvin were more “integrationist” than some would like to admit (see especially Table 1-2d). It looks like some versions of biblical counseling have more in common with Zwingli than with Calvin and Luther.

Check out

Head Heart Hand - 12 hours 27 min ago
Blogs

Fishers of Men
“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” My experience has shown me that the words are familiar to the church, but the actual work perhaps not so much. How might we better understand the words so the work can be more accessible to us?”

In a Distracted World, Solitude Is a Competitive Advantage
“There is no silver bullet to solving the complex problems ushered in by the information age. But there are some good places to start, and one of them is counterintuitive: solitude. Having the discipline to step back from the noise of the world is essential to staying focused.”

3 Ways Pastors and Church Leaders Undermine Themselves on Social Media
“Pastors and church leaders need to be in social media spaces. Here are three basic ways I see pastors and church leaders undermine themselves on social media, and some ideas about how to avoid these missteps:”

Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue
You don’t have to agree with all of Jackson Katz’s views on gender and equality issues to be helpfully challenged by this passionate speech. And, young women, if you want to avoid becoming a victim of an abusive husband, learn the signs to watch out for in Unmasking the Abuser. In fact, pastors and elders would do well to watch this too if they want to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse. If this these videos aren’t helpful examples of common grace wisdom, I don’t know what is.

Kindle Books

Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen Meyer $1.99.

What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman $2.99.

Marriage Matters: Extraordinary Change through Ordinary Moments by Winston Smith $2.39

Video

Why should ordinary Christians read Bible commentaries?
Bill’s commentary on 1 & 2 Peter is available at Reformation Heritage Books.

October 20: Job 23:12; Psalm 19:8; Psalm 19:10; Psalm 40:8; Psalm 119:97; Song of Solomon 2:3; Jeremiah 15:16; John 4:34; Romans 7:22; James 1:22–23; 2 Samuel 24:23; Isaiah 64:6; Micah 6:6–8; Romans 3:10; Romans 3:23–26; Ephesians 1:6; Colossians 2:10

ESV Bible Devotional - 13 hours 9 min ago
  • Morning: Job 23:12; Psalm 19:8; Psalm 19:10; Psalm 40:8; Psalm 119:97; Song of Solomon 2:3; Jeremiah 15:16; John 4:34; Romans 7:22; James 1:22–23
  • Evening: 2 Samuel 24:23; Isaiah 64:6; Micah 6:6–8; Romans 3:10; Romans 3:23–26; Ephesians 1:6; Colossians 2:10
Morning: Job 23:12; Psalm 19:8; Psalm 19:10; Psalm 40:8; Psalm 119:97; Song of Solomon 2:3; Jeremiah 15:16; John 4:34; Romans 7:22; James 1:22–23 Job 23:12; Psalm 19:8; Psalm 19:10; Psalm 40:8; Psalm 119:97; Song of Solomon 2:3; Jeremiah 15:16; John 4:34; Romans 7:22; James 1:22–23

I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.—Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.—With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.—“I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.”

“I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”—“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes…. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.—Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.

Job 23:12

  I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
    I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.

(ESV)

Psalm 19:8

  the precepts of the LORD are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
  the commandment of the LORD is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;

(ESV)

Psalm 19:10

  More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
  sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.

(ESV)

Psalm 40:8

  I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

(ESV)

Psalm 119:97 Mem

  Oh how I love your law!
    It is my meditation all the day.

(ESV)

Song of Solomon 2:3

She   As an apple tree among the trees of the forest,
    so is my beloved among the young men.
  With great delight I sat in his shadow,
    and his fruit was sweet to my taste.

(ESV)

Jeremiah 15:16

  Your words were found, and I ate them,
    and your words became to me a joy
    and the delight of my heart,
  for I am called by your name,
    O LORD, God of hosts.

(ESV)

John 4:34

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.

(ESV)

Romans 7:22

For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,

(ESV)

James 1:22-23

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.

(ESV)

Evening: 2 Samuel 24:23; Isaiah 64:6; Micah 6:6–8; Romans 3:10; Romans 3:23–26; Ephesians 1:6; Colossians 2:10 2 Samuel 24:23; Isaiah 64:6; Micah 6:6–8; Romans 3:10; Romans 3:23–26; Ephesians 1:6; Colossians 2:10

“The Lord your God accept you.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.—“None is righteous, no, not one.”… For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

He has blessed us in the Beloved.—You have been filled in him.

2 Samuel 24:23

All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.”

(ESV)

Isaiah 64:6

  We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
  We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

(ESV)

Micah 6:6-8 What Does the Lord Require?

  “With what shall I come before the LORD,
    and bow myself before God on high?
  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
  Will the LORD be pleased with1 thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
  He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the LORD require of you
  but to do justice, and to love kindness,2
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Footnotes

[1] 6:7 Or Will the Lord accept
[2] 6:8 Or steadfast love

(ESV)

Romans 3:10

as it is written:

  “None is righteous, no, not one;

(ESV)

Romans 3:23-26

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

(ESV)

Ephesians 1:6

to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

(ESV)

Colossians 2:10

and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

(ESV)

The Briefing 10-20-17

Albert Mohler - The Briefing - 16 hours 8 min ago

Who are the real extremists on the issue of abortion?

Should the Supreme Court hire a team of official social scientists?

What the most recent Nobel Prize in Economics tells us about how sin affects our thinking

The post The Briefing 10-20-17 appeared first on AlbertMohler.com.

Bring Your Doubt to Jesus

Desiring God - 19 hours 9 min ago

Our salvation doesn’t depend on the quality of our faith. God’s mercy to us hinges solely on Jesus.

Watch Now

How ‘LBGT Affirming’ is Like King James-Onlyism

Gospel Coalition - 19 hours 46 min ago

Article by: Joe Carter

In the book of Judges, after the warriors of Gilead defeated the tribe of Ephraim, the surviving Ephraimites tried to cross the Jordan River back into their home territory. The Gileadites attempted to cut them off from the fords of the Jordan and needed a way to determine if a person was an Ephraimite refugee. The solution was both simple and clever:

The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time. (Judges 12:5-6)

Since then the term shibboleth has become synonymous with any custom or tradition that distinguishes one group of people (an ingroup) from others (the outgroup). On Wednesday a new website, ChurchClarity.org, was launched to distinguish churches by the shibboleth du jour: LGBT affirming.

In a post examining the problems with the project (which I recommend reading in full), Denny Burk points out that, “The leadership team that runs the website is comprised exclusively of those who affirm homosexual immorality and transgenderism. And they seem to be focused on forcing evangelical megachurch pastors to clarify where their churches stand on the issue.”

When I first heard about the site it immediately sounded familiar, like I had seen this type of thing before. And, in a way, I had. LGBT affirming is the liberal fundamentalist equivalent of the conservative fundamentalist KJV-onlyism.

A Tale of Two Fundamentalisms

If you haven’t spent time around conservative fundamentalist/independent churches, you may be unfamiliar with King James-only views (aka KJV-onlyism). This is a church movement that believes the King James Version of the Bible is not only to be preferred to other English translations but is the only reliable English translation. All others modern translators, they contend, have been corrupted by a conspiracy of Bible translators.

The claim that a group of Christians who believe the KJV is divinely inspired share anything in common with a group of Christians who believe gender identity is so fluid that it can change several times a day may initially seem absurd. But as I’ll show, both fundamentalist groups are strikingly similar in at least seven ways:

1. Both LGBT Affirming and KJV-onlyism believe their issue is the key dividing line between Christians

As Trevin Wax has noted, “Rising to the forefront of the fundamentalist squabbles is the King James Only controversy. Some groups are claiming that this is the hill on which to die, the main issue by which to tell a fundamentalist from a liberal.”

Similarly, on the liberal fundamentalist side, the willingness to embrace homosexuality and transgenderism appears to be the most important dividing line. It’s telling, though not surprising, that a website like ChurchClarity exists not to encourage clarity about what churches believe about Jesus or the gospel but about where they stand on the sexual revolution’s latest shibboleth.

2. Both LGBT Affirming and KJV-onlyism reject church history, tradition, and sound scholarship

To believe that God re-inspired the Bible in 1611 or that Scripture does not clearly and equivocally reject same-sex sexual behavior requires rejecting not only all of church history and tradition but hundreds of years of sound exegesis and Biblical scholarship.

This is why in both camps the “scholars” ushered out to defend these positions tend to be self-taught or have irrelevant qualifications (e.g., gender studies) rather than being experts on theology or Biblical languages.

3. Both LGBT Affirming and KJV-onlyism serve as proxies for cultural preferences

If you visit the website of a church and find it is KJV-only, you are justified in making numerous cultural assumptions about the congregation. While there may be outliers, in the main a KJV-only congregation has a culture that in many ways resembles 1950s America. For example, the men and women will have adopted gender roles that are based on traditional culture as they are on Scripture. The church is also likely to have a “traditional” liturgy. You won’t catch them singing the latest worship songs from Chris Tomlin.

Similarly, if you know a church is LGBT-affirming you know that the people will not look at you disapprovingly if you mention you watched the Fifty Shades of Grey movies or that you think gender-reveal parties are transphobic. Also, they won’t bat an eye when you use the word “transphobic” in referring to other Christians.

4. Both LGBT Affirming and KJV-onlyism serve as proxies for particular doctrines

Just as these beliefs serve as cultural views, they also signal the type of doctrines the church will tolerate. For example, while most KJV-only churches would disapprove of anyone who did not believe in young earth creationism, a LGBT affirming church would disapprove of anyone who believed in complementarianism.

5. Both LGBT Affirming and KJV-onlyism serve as proxies for acceptable behavior

In a KJV-only church, a heterosexual church member may be subjected to church discipline for violating the church covenant by engaging in fornication. In an LGBT-affirming church, a heterosexual church member would not fear facing church discipline for living with their girlfriend because the church probably doesn’t have membership, likely doesn’t require signing a church covenant, and certainly does not practice church discipline. But even if they do, they wouldn’t be disciplined for “fornicating” since they are committed (mostly), in love (definitely), and are likely to get married someday (probably).

6. Both LGBT Affirming and KJV-onlyism are rooted in gnosticism

In the early days of the church, the Gnostics believed they possessed secret knowledge about God and creation, knowledge that made them morally and intellectually superior to those Christians who either didn’t know or who had rejected these special beliefs.

Similarly, the KJV-only and LGBT affirming crowds believe they possess special knowledge—and everyone who disagrees with them is simply unenlightened. To the KJV-onlyist, it’s a refusal to recognize the conspiracy theory. As Trevin Wax says, “The King James Only controversy is essentially a conspiracy theory that claims that all modern translations of Scripture are based on tainted manuscripts and that their translators are driven by a liberal Protestant or Roman Catholic (or even one-world government) agenda.”

To the LGBT affirming crowd, the special knowledge comes from simply knowing or coming into contact with homosexual and transgender people. The implication is that if Christians in previous generations had only been exposed to people who are attracted to the same-sex or who were confused about their gender then they would have recognized that God and his Word must be—and always have been—LGBT affirming.

7. They are mainly just misguided, not intentionally malevolent

For all the reasons above, we can be charitable in assuming that both the KJV-only and LGBT affirming churches are not, in general, being intentionally malevolent.  Most are just sinfully rejecting God’s revelation, whether special or general, and choosing to believe what fits their individual preferences.

How They Differ

Despite their similarities, there are significant differences between KJV-only and LGBT affirming Christians.

The first difference is aesthetic. For some reason the KJV-only crowd tends to have terrible visual taste. Their websites, for instance, tend to look like they were created for Geocities in 1995. In contrast, the LGBT affirmationists at ChurchClarity.org have a superior graphic design.

The second difference is eternal impact. The KJV-only crowd is divisive, sinful, and even a bit cultish. But they aren’t leading a lot of people to hell. In contrast, the LGBT affirming churches are claiming we can love our neighbor while encouraging them to unrepentantly engage in actions that invoke God's wrath (Psalm 5:4-5; Romans 1:18). That is what makes the latter even worse that the former, for a fundamentalism that leads people to hell is always the worst kind of fundamentalism. 

Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He serves as an elder at Grace Hill Church in Herndon, Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter.

A Pastoral Approach to the Transgender Debate

Gospel Coalition - 20 hours 7 min ago

Article by: Todd Miles

The recent gender and sexuality sea change that has played out before our eyes is head-spinning. I’ve taught pastoral ethics at an evangelical seminary for almost 15 years, and when I began teaching, questions about limiting bathroom use to people of the same biological sex weren’t exactly on the radar screen.

Today, no one disputes that transgenderism is a contested issue.

What’s the church to do? Do we take up arms to fight a culture war, even though we have rarely waged such wars in a faithful or loving way? How do we proclaim the gospel of Christ while simultaneously affirming the lordship of Christ over human design and the nature of truth? More to the point, how must we behave in order to welcome sinners of any sort to hear the good news of salvation in Christ? If churches aren’t thinking about such things, they aren’t paying attention to the missional needs of the hour.

To address these questions, Andrew Walker—director of policy studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission—has served the church well with his new book, God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? (See Walker’s recent reflections in “How Writing on Transgenderism Changed Me.”)

God and the Transgender Debate is a book aimed at pastors and congregants. It issues a clear call to be a welcoming, loving, and faithful community of Jesus followers: “A transgender person ought to feel more loved and safe visiting a Bible-believing church than any other place in the world” (122). The church ought to be a safe place for any who struggle with gender dysphoria, the distress experienced by those who sense “a conflict between their gender identity and their biological sex” (32).

Organization and Summary

The book’s trajectory and pastoral tone is established in the first chapter. Walker reminds us how Jesus loved people and, ultimately, that the “transgender debate isn’t about a debate. It’s about people” (14). Chapters 2 to 4 survey the worldview landscape of the post-Christian Western world, explain the use of language in the gender debate, and examine how people make decisions in such a world, arguing that the biblical storyline teaches God is the ultimate authority and his demands are trustworthy (ch. 4).

Most of the biblical heavy lifting is done in chapters 5 to 7. Walking through the creation account of Genesis, Walker argues that being created in the image of God (which includes the physical body) grants a fundamental dignity to all people. The design of humanity as male and female is authoritative and purposeful. Walker raises the stakes by rightfully showing that those who reject God’s blueprint and design are rejecting Jesus Christ’s authority (ch. 5).

Those who reject God’s blueprint and design are rejecting Jesus Christ’s authority.

Essential to the biblical storyline is humanity’s fall, which reminds us that we’re all broken people living in a broken world. Walker is adamant that people aren’t necessarily sinning by experiencing gender dysphoria: such feelings are a result of the fall. Sin does occur, however, when people act on the dysphoria by embracing a transgender identity, which rejects God’s good design (ch. 6). Walker concludes the scriptural survey by working through both the gospel and the consummation of all things in Christ, pointing out that in the new heavens and new earth all feelings of gender dysphoria will be eliminated. Until then, the work of sanctification might be painful and slow (ch. 7).

Returning to the subject of Christian community, Walker reminds us that all discussions and actions must be rooted in love (ch. 8). This love is particularly important since Jesus asks those who struggle with gender dysphoria to take the difficult and arduous path of dying to self (ch. 9). To that end, Walker challenges local churches to make their assemblies welcoming havens for sinners (ch. 10).

The next two chapters are practical: Chapter 11 addresses how to have a conversation with your children about transgenderism. Chapter 12 answers a variety of “tough questions” that range from whether someone can be transgender and Christian to whether hormone therapy to manage gender dysphoria is ever appropriate. God and the Transgender Debate comes full circle at the end by refocusing on the gospel of grace (ch. 13). 

Redemptive History of Trangenderism

Walker’s work in Genesis is lucid. He rejoices in God’s good plan of two sexes that is manifest in biology. A consistent theme through the book is that biology matters and doesn’t change, regardless of what people think about themselves, the amount of hormones they inject into their bodies, or their attempts to reconstruct themselves cosmetically. Biology and DNA both matter because they exist by original divine design. (A look at early reviews of the book demonstrates that readers unconvinced of biblical authority or a literal reading of Genesis will be dissatisfied.)

Walker also consistently reminds us that we don’t live in a merely Genesis 1 and 2 world. We live in a world shattered by the rebellious events of Genesis 3. We ought to expect, then, people to be affected sexually by the ravages of sin and the curse. Helpfully, Walker reminds us that the first manifestation of the fall was the shame Adam and Eve felt over their exposed bodies. To that end, he writes:

Individuals with gender dysphoria experience real feelings of distress about their gender identity. These are authentic experiences, where their heart’s desire is telling them one thing about themselves while their body is saying something else. . . . But experiencing that feeling does not mean that feeding it and acting upon it is best, or right. (66–67)

Of course, we don’t live in a merely Genesis 3 world either. The hope of Jesus’s work grips Walker’s ethics. Sinners can and are being rescued through the Redeemer.

Pastoral Book on a Difficult Topic

This book’s strength is certainly its pastoral touch. Again and again, Walker calls the local church to be like her Lord: all actions and discussions—even the foyer conversations before the worship service—are to be intentionally loving and welcoming of any who would hear the gospel of Christ. We’re all broken people living in a broken world full of other broken people.

This doesn’t mean Walker shies away from difficult questions. He clearly says embracing a transgender identity is sin and incompatible with anchoring one’s identity in Christ. Helpfully, he reminds churches that calling a Christian who struggles with gender dysphoria to a life of discipleship can be a long and difficult journey that may not reach a happy conclusion until Christ returns. Of course, this is true for all who follow Christ, but some paths are tougher than others. It’s the church’s job to provide the fellowship and encouragement that’s necessary so that even the most arduous routes are not trod alone. 

God and the Transgender Debate is not a clinical book, aiming to describe the mechanisms or causes of gender dysphoria (there’s no scientific consensus on this anyway, to my knowledge). Those seeking a more thorough explanation of treatment options and the varied manner in which Western society responds to gender dysphoria would be served by also purchasing Mark Yarhouse’s Understanding Gender Dysphoria [read TGC’s review].

Andrew Walker has done the church a great service. There’s no exception clause that removes transgender people from gospel proclamation, nor is the gospel somehow unable to redeem the sexually broken. Jesus came to seek and save sinners, and we are all sexual sinners who need heaven’s grace. That much is certain. The question is whether the church will be faithful in the mission given by her Lord. All Christians, but especially pastors and elders, must think clearly, faithfully, and lovingly on the transgender issue—and for that reason, should read this book.

Andrew Walker. God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? Purcellville, VA: The Good Book Company, 2017. 144 pp. $14.99.

Todd Miles is professor of theology at Western Seminary and an elder at Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon.

Breaking Racial Barriers in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Gospel Coalition - 20 hours 9 min ago

Article by: Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra

Sam Nkomo was 16, and heading to one of the most important school exams he’d take: the math test that would help determine whether he would go to high school.

But as the South African got off the train at the stop for his high school, dressed in a school uniform and carrying his school bag, he was pulled aside by police.

“I couldn’t understand—why are they stopping me?” he remembered. But now, nearly five decades later, he knows. “They wanted me to produce my pass.”

Nkomo was black in South Africa in 1970, a time when everyone who wasn’t white needed travel papers to be in the city of Johannesburg. But Nkomo was young and a student—he didn’t think he needed one.

He was wrong.

“I was locked up at a police station,” he said. He tried to reason with a white officer, explaining that he needed to get to his exam. He couldn’t retake it.

“He wouldn’t listen to me,” Nkomo said. Eventually, “I was released with the warning [to] make sure I get a reference book as quick as possible, otherwise next time they find me I’m gonna go to jail” or be deported. That would almost be worse—Nkomo was Zulu, and would have 72 hours to leave Johannesburg. He would be sent more than five hours away to the province of Natal, where his ancestors originated, but he knew no one there now.

Nkomo raced to school. He was 45 minutes late for the examination, and shouldn’t have been allowed to take the test until the next year. But his principal smuggled him in, and Nkomo rushed through.

“That was my first taste of apartheid,” Nkomo said.

His first conscious taste, that is, because Nkomo had been choking down apartheid since before he was born.

All of his life, Nkomo had to use separate facilities from whites. He went to black schools, where the education wasn’t just inferior—it was designed to train black students for menial jobs or servitude. He wasn’t allowed to own land, to vote, or to marry a white woman. Any pushback was dangerous—Nkomo’s brother was assassinated in 1991 by a police operative (a civilian with a police-issued revolver) for teaching history “the way it should be taught”—that is, without a positive spin on apartheid.

“I was full of hatred, and I was very bitter at that time,” Nkomo said. “The pain is still there of that incident. It will never go away. . . . [But] I am not bitter now because I have accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior.”

He credits his parents and Sunday school teacher with grounding him in his faith and showing him how to forgive. The lesson took so well that Nkomo is now a member at Christ Church Midrand, a half-black, half-white church in Johannesburg.

Christ Church Midrand was planted in 1994, the same year apartheid was overturned, but didn’t build multiculturalism into its DNA. At the beginning, the church was almost entirely white. But through steady attention to race and an eagerness to embrace all cultures, it’s now 50 percent black.

“It is one of the great joys of my life to be part of this multiracial, multilinguistic church,” said founder and lead pastor Martin Morrison.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to add “miraculous.”

Because not only is Morrison white; his grandfather’s cousin was D. F. Malan, a Dutch Reformed Church minister who led the National Party that legally introduced apartheid in 1948.

Apartheid

The Dutch landed in South Africa in the 1600s, establishing a Dutch East India Company trading post and settlement in 1652 to resupply ships rounding the Cape of Good Hope on their way to and from India. The English came 150 years later, and spent much of their time trying to battle both the native population and the Dutch into submission.

By the mid-1900s, a firm white supremacy was already enforced through a smattering of laws: black voters were on a separate roll, blacks were not allowed to own land, and black-earned pensions were limited to less than one-third of the maximum payable to whites.

In 1948, Malan’s National Party campaigned on its opposition to the country’s participation in World War II. (Malan wasn’t just anti-black; he was also anti-British.) They narrowly edged out their pro-British opponents, and Malan was installed as prime minister.

His administration wasted no time in sorting the population into four categories (whites, blacks, mixed black and white, and Indian/Asian) and implementing laws that forbade marriage or sexual intercourse between the races, required travel papers for all non-whites, and forcibly moved thousands of black people into small, undeveloped “homelands” far away from urban areas. In order to find employment, black men could receive passes to live and work in the city, but they had to leave their families behind.

The results were devastating. The separation of families and enforced poverty meant one-third of black children were malnourished even though South Africa was the continent’s richest nation. (No white children were malnourished.) Without parents, black children ran away to look for them in the cities, lived with overwhelmed grandparents, or raised each other. And they were taught, over and over again, that they were inferior to whites.

By the 1980s, whites—who made up about 20 percent of the population—controlled 80 percent of the land and about 70 percent of the country’s wealth. Just 1 percent of the black population was considered middle class.

That disparity didn’t go unnoticed or unchallenged by the rest of the world. The United Nations’ first declaration opposing apartheid came in 1950; over the next four decades they would create a Special Committee Against Apartheid, mandate a South African arms embargo, encourage an oil and cultural/sports embargo, and declare South Africa’s constitution invalid.

South Africa’s most famous critic was Nelson Mandela, a native son who spent 27 years in jail for his opposition to the government. He was released in 1990 by F. W. de Klerk, Malan’s successor as head of the National Party.

De Klerk was Malan’s polar opposite, working with Mandela to write a brand-new anti-apartheid constitution (for which the duo shared a Nobel Peace Prize). When Mandela was elected president in 1994, de Klerk was his second-in-command.

But South African whites and blacks didn’t meld as quickly or as closely as Mandela and de Klerk. In the past 23 years, black income has gone up, but inequality remains (the top 10 percent of earners take home half the money; the bottom 20 percent get 2.7 percent). Land redistribution has been promised, but the actual practice is slow and controversial.

The imbalance has led to frustration, which sometimes turns to violence. White farmers are facing increasing attacks, perhaps egged on by extremist politicians. Other whites are targets for robbery or rape.

And in the middle, Morrison built a church.

Christ Church Midrand

Morrison’s family came to South Africa from Europe as early as the 1600s; he was born in Johannesburg and went to the University of Cape Town before earning a master of divinity at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. (One of his professors was a pre-New York Tim Keller.)

Like Nkomo, Morrison didn’t even notice apartheid until he was older, though his introduction was gentler—through studying law at the university. He sought out black friends at the largely white school, then spent time working in the black Soweto area of Johannesburg.

Eventually, Morrison and his wife, Jean, ended up in Midrand—a suburb of Johannesburg—to plant a church in the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa denomination. Surrounded by fields and cattle, they started Christ Church Midrand in a hotel in 1994—the same year apartheid ended. Six adults and two children came.

“I hadn’t read any books on church planting, and I think I got it all wrong,” Morrison said.

But he got the basics right—preaching the gospel and starting Bible studies. Twenty-three years later, Christ Church Midrand is home to about 1,200 souls.

Part of that growth is attributable to the neighborhood, which is new, rapidly growing, and middle-class. Right outside both Johannesburg and Pretoria, it’s fairly integrated. Morrison believes a church should reflect its surrounding community, but Christ Church has done even better. While the area is 20 percent black and 80 percent white, the church is 50 percent of each.

They didn’t start that way.

“We were 95 percent white when we started . . . and I was the white minister,” he said. “God in his goodness sent us some wonderful black Christians, and we automatically drew them in because they were part of the neighborhood and that’s what the Bible teaches—that you must love your neighbor.”

Including black people “wasn’t a major kind of cathartic moment for me,” but something that happened gradually.

“Just like anybody else, they were given opportunities for service, and for ministry, so that when other black people came in they saw black people take part in leading the prayers, in running the Bible studies, on staff,” he said.

But the integration was probably more intentional than he realizes. The church addressed race early and often, both in sermons and also in small groups. Morrison carefully chooses the racial mix of those who make the announcements, read, pray, and serve communion. He is also intentional about those who lead Sunday school, youth groups, and Bible studies.

And at least one of the songs each week is in Zulu or Sotho or Xhosa—sometimes youth worker BlaqueNubon even raps.“You are saying to black people, ‘These are some of the songs you sing in black churches. We’re going to sing them because this is your church,’” Morrison said.

Christ Church still has some institutionalized whiteness in its DNA—“I’m white. I’m Western. I’m 60 years old. Some of that is what it is,” Morrison said. “But hopefully I’m listening. Hopefully I can change and we can get even better.”

He addressed race head-on in a two-part series in January 2016, when national tensions were high after a white woman called blacks “monkeys” on social media.

“I was brought up with all the privileges of being white in this country,” Morrison told his congregation. “It’s wrong for me to say I understand. I don’t understand what the ravages of 350 years of apartheid have been to black people in our country. White people like me tend to forget.”

He reminded his congregations of both the specifics—for example, the apartheid government in 1950 spent about $100 each year on a white child’s education and about $6 on a black child’s education—and also the generalities of racism.

“What we are talking about is not unique to South Africa,” he said. “It’s Hitler and the Jews. It’s the Hutus and the Tutsis. It’s apartheid. It’s ISIS and Christians. It’s the Serbs and the Croats. It’s the Poles and the Russians. It’s the Greeks and the Turks.”

It’s also in every human heart. “Part of our sinfulness is that we see ourselves as superior to other people,” he told them. (In fact, he’s a little skeptical of people who say they aren’t racist.)

But there is a cure.

“It’s found in Christ,” Morrison told his church. “It’s found in facing the truth, it’s found in believing the truth, and it’s found in acting the truth.”

That means acknowledging “sometimes I’m a racist,” repenting, and affirming the dignity of every person, he said. In South Africa, that can look like greeting people in their native language, calling people by their given name even if it’s difficult to pronounce, and spending time getting to know one another.

To that end, he announced that Christ Church was setting up meals between people of different ethnicities to encourage that interaction.

It wasn’t all kum-ba-ya and holding hands. Several white people left Christ Church over the sermon series.

“I’m very sad they are leaving,” Morrison told his congregation. “But I’m not sad about what I said. If the Bible and the gospel doesn’t affect every area of life, then we are not getting it right.”

Youth

Blaque Nubon—the rapping youth worker—is a black millennial from Tembisa, a township created in 1957 for blacks who were being kicked out of white spots in Johannesburg. After college, he found himself without a home or a car, and turned to one of Tembisa’s hundreds of prosperity gospel churches for an answer.

“But in that period I was listening to guys like John Piper—and Paul Washer, John MacArthur, Voddie Baucham, and Eric Mason—over the internet,” he said. “I realized there were a lot of discrepancies and things that did not match up. . . . That’s when I gave my life to Jesus and he became realer than anything else I’ve known and experienced.”

Determined to grow in his faith, Nubon planned to save enough to travel to America, track down Piper or Washer or MacArthur, and work at a factory or restaurant while he attended their church.

“I didn’t think we had any solid Bible teaching churches in South Africa,” he said.

Until one day, when “I did what any millennial does, and I Googled Bible-teaching churches in Johannesburg,” Nubon said. “Christ Church Midrand was the first church that popped up.”

From the minute he hit the church entrance, Nubon has never looked back. “I knew this was home, and I heard the sermon that first Sunday, and it was solid stuff.”

Nubon now balances his rap career with leading the Christ Church Midrand youth.

Of the 120 youth that attend regularly, 80 percent are black. That’s high, mainly because the youth group draws children from the multiracial Christian school that Morrison started for his daughter in 1997. Christ Church Preparatory School and College, aimed at providing excellent Christian education for the underresourced, has 700 students. Between 60 percent and 70 percent are black. 

The high percentages don’t bother Morrison.

“If the youth group or church became almost totally black, then it would reflect the population stats of our country,” he said. Whites now make up less than 10 percent of South Africa.

“I would, however, strongly encourage the leaders to work hard at making the group as multiracial as possible,” he said. “There are very practical, concrete ways of doing that—it is doable.”

Adjusting the music is one way; Nubon includes white and African songs. Employing black and white staff—and being open and clear about their friendships—is another. A third way is to use local, urban vernacular, which works for teenagers of any ethnicity.

Among the youth, Nubon fights an unexpected twist in race relations.

“The white kids want to be black, because they think being black is cool. Plus, they want to distance themselves from what their grandparents did in this country,” he said. “The black kids, on the other hand, want to be white, because where they come from, anything white is right.”

He tells them God did not make a mistake when he created them, that God loves all ethnicities, and that they too need to love both their own and other races.

Having a mixed-race youth group makes sharing the gospel that much easier, he said.

“If you think this diversity is amazing—if you think us being together, living together, sharing stuff together, praising the same Lord—if you think that’s amazing,” he tells people, “well, look at Jesus. Look at how he’s doing all of this.”

Journey

When the apartheid laws were tossed out in 1994, “it was freedom not just for black people, but for white people,” Morrison said. “We could be freed from our racism and from our oppression.”

It opened the door for churches like Christ Church Midrand, which Morrison counts “a wonderful joy.”

“I wouldn’t leave this place for a million dollars because of the joy, the richness of being part of this family,” he said.

He cautions against too much satisfaction—“I really don’t want anyone to get any ideas that we have arrived.”

But they’ve sure come a long way.

“We have seen a change in the past 20 years in our country,” said Lutic Mosoane, who also works with youth at Christ Church Midrand. Still, “we would never have seen something like Christ Church Midrand if it wasn’t for the gospel.”

The gospel demands that we love each other, and that can look like sacrificing for the joy of multiculturalism. But Mosoane cautions against letting a gospel issue take the place of the gospel itself.

“The main thing that drives us is not the goal of having a multiracial church,” he said, “but that everyone needs to hear the gospel. The gospel needs to be preached to all nations and all cultural groups.”

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra is senior writer for The Gospel Coalition and contributing editor at Christianity Today. She earned her master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

The Majestic Beard of Zurich: Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575)

Desiring God - 20 hours 9 min ago

In an age when the celibate priesthood set itself apart from the laity, in part, with clean-shaven faces, the Protestant Reformers grew beards to make a statement. They were restoring both maleness and humanity to church leadership, and they weren’t afraid to have it written on their faces.

Word is that Heinrich Bullinger, chief minister in the leading Swiss city of Zurich, had the best beard of all. One historian describes Bullinger’s as “majestically bushy” — and it wasn’t altogether disconnected from the theology he carefully grew, and groomed, in the wake of the Reformation’s first shocking loss.

Protestant and Preacher

Bullinger, son of a Catholic priest, was born in the Swiss town of Bremgarten in 1504. He went off to the University of Cologne in Germany in 1519 to study humanities, not medieval theology. While there he encountered a book-burning of Luther’s works, and it piqued his interest. He then determined to read the Reformer for himself, and as he did, his world turned upside down. He was now eighteen years old, and a Protestant convert.

In 1523, the year after his conversion, Bullinger met Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531), who had been converted in 1519, around the same time as Luther, and quickly became the leader of the Swiss Reformation. Zwingli was twenty years Bullinger’s elder, but the two became allies, and eight years later their lives were forever linked when disaster struck the fledging Reformed movement.

Zurich Successor

Zwingli was not only pastor in Zurich but also army chaplain. On October 11, 1531, the great Reformer joined the Battle of Kappel to defend the city against Catholic forces. He was wounded, then found by the invading army, and executed.

After the Protestant loss, Bullinger’s hometown, where he now was pastoring a Protestant church, came under threat. He fled for Zurich. There he took into his own household the wife and two surviving children of his dead friend, and within weeks he was chosen as his successor as chief minister in Zurich, a post at which Bullinger would stand for 44 years, from age 27 until his death at 71 in 1575.

Early Covenant Theologian

How often history pairs the strengths of great men with attendant weaknesses. One of Bullinger’s signature contributions was his primitive form of “covenant theology.” Here he followed the lead of Zwingli, who organized his theology by the covenant motif, rather than by medieval categories.

Zwingli located his theological center in God’s creation covenant with Adam. Bullinger matured and modified that theology to focus on Abraham, a step in the right direction, but as historian David Steinmetz notes, both located their theological center of gravity in the Old Testament rather than the New. The strengths included reading the whole Bible as one story; the weaknesses included a penchant to minimize (or reject) discontinuities revealed in the New.

In short, Zwingli and Bullinger read the whole Bible but still a flat Bible. What remains unclear is how much such early covenant theology led to the mistreatment of Zurich’s so-called Anabaptists (“re-baptizers”), and how much it developed in response to these “radicals.” In 1525, Zwingli and Bullinger together defended infant baptism at a public disputation against the Anabaptists, which led to the eventual drowning of some.

Bullinger also followed Zwingli in opposing church music because of its danger to become an idol and hinder true worship. Bullinger groomed Zwingli’s instinct into a matter of principle, and church music was not restored in Zurich until almost 25 years after Bullinger’s death.

Peacemaker

Yet his life and enduring legacy would not be as a divider, but as a unifier. Behind his majestic beard was one of the biggest hearts of the Reformation era, and one of its most tireless peacemakers. Though he rarely left Zurich, he engaged in voluminous personal correspondence (some twelve thousand of his letters have survived) to counsel and build coalition with Reformed leaders across Europe.

Even more than his gifted preaching, he was known for his patience, wisdom, and generous spirit. He stabilized the young but influential Zurich church, not only after its shocking tragedy but then for more than forty years. He grew and groomed what Zwingli began. According to Steinmetz, “Without Zwingli there would have been no Reformation in Zurich; without Bullinger it would not have lasted.”

For more on Heinrich Bullinger:

The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Reformers in the Wings by David C. Steinmetz

Realistic Hopes for College Ministry

Gospel Coalition - 20 hours 10 min ago

Article by: Staff

Panelists: Jon Nielson, Kori Porter, Chris Sarver, and Courtney Wisted

Date: April 4, 2017

Event: The Gospel Coalition 2017 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

Have you ever been disappointed in the results of campus ministry? Have you struggled to set the right expectations for what campus ministry can be, or what you should hope it will accomplish in the lives of students? In this podcast, experienced campus ministers talk openly and honestly about discouragement and frustration in campus ministry, while also considering the beauty and strategic nature of Word ministry to students in this “short season” of life.

You can listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast here.

Find more audio and video from TGC17 on the conference media page.

At Least as Dangerous as Porn

Desiring God - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 8:03pm

When you think of the kind of trials that test your faith (James 1:2), do you ever think of material prosperity as one of them? Most of us don’t. We tend to think of suffering, adversity, and loss that put us in places of significant need.

And we try to avoid experiencing such needs if at all possible. If such experiences come, we really want, and therefore pray, for God to deliver us from the needy seasons as soon as possible. For surely a God who loves his children would not want them experiencing need, right? He’d want to bless us, right? Right. Unless need happens to hold greater, richer spiritual blessings than plenty. In that case, needy seasons would be greater gifts to God’s children than plenteous seasons.

Think about the testimonies you’ve heard of people’s powerful encounters with God. Ask yourself how many of those stories of powerful, transformational, life-altering, love-producing, sanctifying encounters with God were the result of being lavished with worldly prosperity. If you’re like me, you come up empty. But if you know any, you can probably count them on one hand with fingers left over.

On the other hand, how many of those stories involve people in some way being, as we say, brought to the end of themselves? Let that sink in for moment: we tend to encounter God more profoundly in our places of need than in our places of prosperity.

At Least as Dangerous as Porn

In fact, if we take the Bible seriously, material prosperity should frighten us, in some sense, because the Bible says frightening things about it:

  • Jesus: “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:24–25)

  • Paul: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.” (1 Timothy 6:10–11)

  • James: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire.” (James 5:1–3)

Not to diminish the dangers of sexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:9–11), but have you ever noticed that the New Testament issues more dire warnings against the spiritual dangers of material prosperity than sexual immorality? Jesus didn’t say it’s harder for a sexually immoral person to get into heaven than a camel to squeeze through a needle’s eye. He said it about rich people. And most people who read this live in one of the richest nations in the history of the world.

Do we tremble? Why is it that prosperous Christians aren’t forming accountability groups like crazy to help us keep our lives free from the love of money (Hebrews 13:5)? We know that desensitization to sexually immoral images or videos is dangerous to our souls, but are we at all in touch with the effects of wealth after many decades of being immersed in a prosperous culture? How has it affected us? How desensitized are we — especially in light of the fact that, according to the Bible, prosperity is at least as spiritually dangerous as pornography?

Trial of “Facing Abundance”

Another thing to notice: listen to how Paul speaks of abundance when writing his thank-you letter to the Philippian Christians for providing for his needs in prison:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)

Does it strike you as strange that Paul speaks of abundance in the same way he speaks of need? He speaks of both as requiring faith, which means both are distinct kinds of faith-trials. Over years of trial and testing, he learned the secret of facing both circumstances.

We know that being materially “brought low” is a trial. But do we think of materially “abounding” as a trial? If we don’t, it may be that we are too accustomed to it, too comfortable with it — desensitized to it. And if this is the case, we’re in a dangerous place.

Abundance easily obscures our vulnerabilities, giving us a misleading sense of security, and often a false sense of independence. The danger lies precisely in the fact that it doesn’t feel dangerous. We tend to like the feeling it gives. Being people whose sinful, self-centered pride is far more pervasive and powerful than we are usually aware of, we love the sense of autonomy and indulgent opportunities wealth affords. We love not feeling needy. We consider that normal.

But according to Jesus, we are completely needy. We need him like branches need the vine (John 15:5). The problem is that prosperity has a tendency to mask that need. And this is why for most people, abundance is spiritually harder to face faithfully than need. In need, we are likely to be more in touch with our true need before God. Need has a way of humbling us. But in abundance, we are less likely to be in touch with our true need and it has a way of fueling our pride.

Strength to Abound

If we live in prosperity, we must take the Bible’s warnings earnestly to heart. For the sake of love, we must help each other keep our lives free from the love of money and what that means for us. We must be as vigilant to be prosperously pure as we seek to be sexually pure. Both money and sex are gifts from God, but both can also destroy us if we are not careful.

It takes tremendous spiritual strength to not be seduced by material wealth, to not transfer our trust in God to the material abundance wealth affords. Stay alert for prosperity’s seduction. It promises happiness and security and independence, but without the grace of God — without a mature, wholehearted faith in God — it will lead to many pangs (1 Timothy 6:10). For money is as seductive as sex, perhaps more so.

Remember Paul’s lament over those whose love of money caused them to wander away from the faith (1 Timothy 6:10). Remember Jesus’s lament over the rich man who could not follow him because he owned many possessions (Mark 10:21–23). And remember Paul’s example:

In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:12–13)

We need strength to abound. We need strength to resist prosperity’s siren song. And therefore, we need as much of God’s strength in abundance as we do in need, and very likely more.

How Martin Luther Built a Brand That Changed the World

Desiring God - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 8:00pm

The Reformation spread when an unknown monk leveraged a rudimentary piece of technology developed by a devout Roman Catholic.

Listen Now

The Red Sea in Front of Me: Reaching for God in Despair

Desiring God - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 10:00am

There is no escaping the painful realities that surround my family. Our own Red Sea looms before us while the relentless enemies of physical and mental illness, financial strain, layered losses, and temptations to lose heart, pursue us from all sides.

While crushing circumstances involving physical and mental health, finances, marital pressures, and loss have been sufficient to defeat us; it’s the inner turmoil and constant temptation to sin against God by doubting his goodness and wisdom that make me plead most for my heavenly home.

In recent suffering, the Lord brought to mind the Israelites, who I imagine felt similarly as they stood before the Red Sea. Not long after the Lord had miraculously delivered them from Egypt they found themselves facing imminent death, walled in by an impassable Sea and enemies closing in behind them. I resonate all too much with their response to Moses:

Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: “Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?” For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness. (Exodus 14:11–12)

Though their response was irrational, portraying a distorted view of the reality of slavery, they spoke out of a very real sense of fear and helplessness. They wondered, Why would God free us from Egypt, only to lead us to our deaths? At that point, even slavery sounded better.

Why Was I Led Here?

Much like the Israelites stood terrified before the Red Sea, I have wrestled with similar thoughts. Why would a God who loved me enough to save me lead me into such awful and seemingly never-ending circumstances? I cannot save myself. I cannot save my family.

And as much as I wish I could say that my response has continually reflected Moses’s words to this complaining people — “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord” — I admit that it often has not. Rather, fearing our pain will never end; I have stumbled, pounded my fists in anguish and wondered if God is still fighting for us.

As followers of Christ, we all must face the reality that we are helpless to save ourselves. Whether it’s merely a traffic jam that makes us late for a job interview, or a life filled with inescapable pain, God mercifully brings us to impassable seas to help us see our need for him.

So how do we respond when we see no way out, no hope this side of heaven? We need to see, stand, and trust.

See God’s Leading

Your circumstances are no cosmic accident. You may have taken a wrong turn. There may be consequences for decisions in our lives. But in many cases there was no wrong turn. And in any case, God has brought you to the place he has us for reasons beyond what you may be able to see at this point. As he was with the Israelites, God is intentional in all that he does (Exodus 13:17–18).

God is with you, leading you.

Though there may have been easier routes that would make more sense in our eyes, God chose this path to accomplish his good purposes in our lives: to show us more of himself, to change our hearts in ways other circumstances wouldn’t have, and to reveal his glory to us and to those around us. Let’s not be so focused on the route we wish we were on, that we miss what God is doing on the one he has chosen for us.

Stand Firm and Wait Expectantly

Scripture explains a threefold redemption for God’s children — past, present, and future. Our God is a God who has saved, who is saving, and who will save again. In his present and future redemptive works in our lives we stand firm when real dangers threaten us.

We actively and constantly fix our eyes on God’s promises — even when we are struggling to believe them. We fight against fear with truth. We resist numbing ourselves with worthless distractions to avoid facing how helpless we feel. We stay in community with God’s people, allowing them to minister truth and the comfort of their presence and prayers. We look the seemingly hopeless circumstances in the face and ask the Lord to anchor us in the truth that he will have the last word — rather than giving way to our emotions and fears.

In this hope we fight against the temptation to jump into the sea and drown ourselves in the emptiness of anger, resentment, bitterness, hopelessness, numbing activities, or sinful indulgences.

Trust in Future Salvation

In Christ we have been saved eternally and in his strength we await future acts of redemption from the Red Sea dead-ends we face in our lives. So, we must choose to trust and rest in the very place that God has us, waiting expectantly to see how he will show himself faithful. When we falter, lose our bearings, and try to fall back on our own strength, we can trust our Savior’s grace to strengthen our weak knees, forgive our wandering hearts, and teach us to rest in his saving arms.

Always, we must view our circumstances through the lens of the gospel and the eternal joy that awaits us. Ultimately, if we are in Christ, we can press on in the firm hope that we will one day be freed from this world and all of its troubles. Eternal salvation for those who believe has already been accomplished on the cross.

Therefore, we must be on guard that we don’t fall victim to the false doctrine that if we just believe, Jesus will save our loved one from cancer, give us the job we are vying for, and provide the financial comfort we have worked so hard for.

Rather, he may choose to part the waters by changing our hardened and self-reliant heart into a softened, joy-filled, Christ-exalting one. He may use our enduring faith to bring many to Christ and encourage other believers. And yes, he may choose (for his purposes and glory) to provide a way out of dire or unwanted circumstances, or miraculously heal us or a loved one.

Plant a Stone of Remembrance

Either way, he promises to provide what we need (though not always what we think we need) and we can trust that he will be faithful to his word. Praise God that salvation will arrive, whether on this earth or in the one to come. But we must be careful that we aren’t so focused on our desired outcome that we miss the ways God is working and providing in our lives right here and now.

Look at what he has done and put a stone of remembrance in the sand — one that will always remind you of his faithfulness in the days that lie ahead.

To the Glory of God Alone

Desiring God - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 10:00am

Tigers exist, butterflies exist, mountains exist, forests exist, music exists, humans exist, the solas exist, everything ultimately exists for the glory of God alone.

Watch Now

October 19: Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 34:4; Psalm 76:10; Psalm 130:5–6; Proverbs 3:26; Proverbs 16:7; Proverbs 21:1; Jeremiah 17:7; Romans 8:31; Job 14:1–2; Psalm 73:26; John 14:16; John 14:26; 2 Corinthians 1:3–4; Philippians 2:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:14;...

ESV Bible Devotional - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 8:00am
  • Morning: Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 34:4; Psalm 76:10; Psalm 130:5–6; Proverbs 3:26; Proverbs 16:7; Proverbs 21:1; Jeremiah 17:7; Romans 8:31
  • Evening: Job 14:1–2; Psalm 73:26; John 14:16; John 14:26; 2 Corinthians 1:3–4; Philippians 2:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:17–18
Morning: Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 34:4; Psalm 76:10; Psalm 130:5–6; Proverbs 3:26; Proverbs 16:7; Proverbs 21:1; Jeremiah 17:7; Romans 8:31 Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 34:4; Psalm 76:10; Psalm 130:5–6; Proverbs 3:26; Proverbs 16:7; Proverbs 21:1; Jeremiah 17:7; Romans 8:31

The Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.

Surely the wrath of man shall praise you; the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt.—The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.—When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.—I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you and said, Destroy.”—“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.”

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Deuteronomy 33:27

  The eternal God is your dwelling place,1
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.2
  And he thrust out the enemy before you
    and said, ‘Destroy.’

Footnotes

[1] 33:27 Or a dwelling place
[2] 33:27 Revocalization of verse 27 yields He subdues the ancient gods, and shatters the forces of old

(ESV)

Psalm 34:4

  I sought the LORD, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.

(ESV)

Psalm 76:10

  Surely the wrath of man shall praise you;
    the remnant1 of wrath you will put on like a belt.

Footnotes

[1] 76:10 Or extremity

(ESV)

Psalm 130:5-6

  I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
  my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.

(ESV)

Proverbs 3:26

  for the LORD will be your confidence
    and will keep your foot from being caught.

(ESV)

Proverbs 16:7

  When a man's ways please the LORD,
    he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.

(ESV)

Proverbs 21:1

21   The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD;
    he turns it wherever he will.

(ESV)

Jeremiah 17:7

  “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
    whose trust is the LORD.

(ESV)

Romans 8:31 God's Everlasting Love

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be1 against us?

Footnotes

[1] 8:31 Or who is

(ESV)

Evening: Job 14:1–2; Psalm 73:26; John 14:16; John 14:26; 2 Corinthians 1:3–4; Philippians 2:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:17–18 Job 14:1–2; Psalm 73:26; John 14:16; John 14:26; 2 Corinthians 1:3–4; Philippians 2:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:17–18

Encouragement in Christ,… comfort from love,… participation in the Spirit.

“Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.”—My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

“The Father… will give you another Helper, to be with you forever…. The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name.”— Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep…. And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Job 14:1-2 Job Continues: Death Comes Soon to All

14   “Man who is born of a woman
    is few of days and full of trouble.
  He comes out like a flower and withers;
    he flees like a shadow and continues not.

(ESV)

Psalm 73:26

  My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength1 of my heart and my portion forever.

Footnotes

[1] 73:26 Hebrew rock

(ESV)

John 14:16

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,1 to be with you forever,

Footnotes

[1] 14:16 Or Advocate, or Counselor; also 14:26; 15:26; 16:7

(ESV)

John 14:26

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

(ESV)

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 God of All Comfort

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

(ESV)

Philippians 2:1 Christ's Example of Humility

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,

(ESV)

1 Thessalonians 4:14

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

(ESV)

1 Thessalonians 4:17-18

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

(ESV)

Two Broken People, One Great Physician

Head Heart Hand - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 2:00am

In this video Shona shares her experiences with depression and I discuss my burnout and blood clots. Two broken people talking about one Great Physician.

Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands (for women) [RHB]

Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (for men) [RHB]

Sola Scriptura Demands Inerrancy

Gospel Coalition - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 1:03am

Article by: Matthew Barrett

“So what if everything in the Bible isn’t true and reliable or from God? That doesn’t really matter. The Bible still remains an authority in my life.”

Though it’s been years now, I remember hearing those words as if it were yesterday. I had no idea what to say in response.

I was shocked because I was hearing these words from a churchgoing, Bible-carrying, evangelical Christian. This person saw no relation between the truthfulness of Scripture and the authority of Scripture, as if one had nothing to do with the other.

In that moment I realized two things: First, the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura is just as important today as it was in the 16th century. I also saw that many Christians in the church have no idea what sola scriptura is or entails.

So what is sola scriptura? It means that only the Bible—because it is God’s inspired Word—is our inerrant, sufficient, and final authority. This definition entails three implications related to authority.

1. Our Only Supreme Authority

First, this means Scripture alone is our final authority. “Authority” is a bad word in our day of rugged individualism. But the Bible is all about authority. In fact, sola scriptura means the Bible is our chief, supreme, and ultimate authority. Notice I didn’t say the Bible is our only authority. Sola scriptura is too easily confused today with nuda scriptura, the view that we should have “no creed but the Bible.”

Those who repeat this misguided mantra believe creeds, confessions, and voices of tradition carry no authority in the church. But this was not the reformers’ position, nor should it be equated with sola scriptura.

Sola scriptura acknowledges there are other important authorities for the Christian, authorities who should be listened to and followed. But Scripture alone is our final authority. It’s the authority that rules over and governs all other authorities; it has the supreme say. While church tradition and church officials play a ministerial role, Scripture alone plays a magisterial role. This means all other authorities are to be followed only inasmuch as they align with Scripture, submit to Scripture, and are seen as subservient to Scripture.

2. Our Only Sufficient Authority

Sola scriptura also means that Scripture alone is our sufficient authority. Not only is the Bible our supreme authority, it is the authority that provides believers with all the truth they need for salvation and following Christ. This notion of the Bible’s sufficiency has been powerfully articulated by Reformed confessions. For example, The Belgic Confession (1561) states: “We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein.”

And the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) says: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”

The Bible is enough for us.

3. Our Only Inerrant Authority

Sola scriptura also implies that only Scripture, because it is God’s inspired Word, is our inerrant authority. The basis of biblical authority is that God is its divine author. The ground for biblical authority is divine inspiration. As the Westminster Confession states,

The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19, 21; 1 John 5:9).

To get a full picture of sola scriptura, we need to go beyond saying the Bible is merely inspired or God-breathed. Inspiration should lead to an understanding that the Bible is perfect and flawless. In other words, inerrancy is the necessary corollary of inspiration. They are two sides of the same coin, and it’s impossible to divorce one from the other.

Because it’s God speaking—and he is a God of truth, not error—his Word must be true and trustworthy in all it addresses. And because inerrancy is a biblical corollary and consequence of divine inspiration—inseparably connected and intertwined—it is a necessary component of sola scriptura.

Some will prefer the word “infallible” instead (which does have historical precedent). I’m fine with using the word as long as one means Scripture is incapable of erring. However, I would reject those who use it to say Scripture is true in its saving message but not in its specifics (e.g., historical details). “Infallible” and “inerrant” are complementary and compatible concepts—“infallible” (Scripture cannot err) being an even stronger word than “inerrant” (Scripture does not err). It’s historically and biblically erroneous, then, to use “infallible” to convey something less than “inerrancy.”

What If We Reject It?

The God of truth has breathed out his Word of truth, and the result is nothing less than a flawless authority for the church. Were we to divorce the truthfulness and trustworthiness of Scripture from its authority, disconnecting the two as if they’re unrelated, we would be left with no doctrine of sola scriptura at all. Should Scripture contain errors, it is unclear why we should trust Scripture as our final authority.

Should Scripture contain errors, it is unclear why we should trust Scripture as our final authority.

And should we limit, modify, or abandon the total inerrancy of Scripture, we set in motion tremendous doubt and uncertainty regarding the Bible’s competence as our final authority. As the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy puts it, “The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded.”

In other words, to reject biblical inerrancy is to undermine confidence in biblical authority, and what could have more relevance to sola scriptura than biblical authority? As Roger Nicole once wrote, “What is supremely at stake in this whole discussion [of inerrancy] is the recognition of the authority of God in the sacred oracles.”

It shouldn’t surprise us to find that in the recent history of evangelicalism, leaders have rallied around statements such as the Cambridge Declaration (1996), affirming inerrancy’s inseparability from sola scriptura: “Scripture alone is the inerrant rule of the church’s life,” and the inerrant Scripture is to be “the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience.”

Luther’s Central Question

What’s often missed in retellings of Luther’s story is the question of why his stance on Scripture was so detested by Rome. After all, Rome also affirmed Scripture’s authority and inspiration. So what made Luther’s stance so different and offensive?

He had the audacity to imply that Scripture is the Christian’s only inerrant authority.

It’s true the reformers never used the term “inerrancy.” But this objection fails to realize that though the term was not used, the concept was affirmed. Though the reformers didn’t flesh out the idea of inerrancy as meticulously as we have today (after all, inerrancy wasn’t their main battle with Rome), the basic concept and its most fundamental components are present in their writings. [See John Woodbridge’s compelling essay “Did Fundamentalists Invent Inerrancy?”]

While popes and councils err, Scripture does not. For Rome, Scripture and tradition were inerrant authorities. For Luther, Scripture alone is inerrant. What distinguished Luther and the rest of the reformers from church leaders in Rome, then, was their claim that as important as tradition is (and they thought it was extremely important), tradition is not without error. That honor goes to Scripture alone. Because Scripture is inspired by God and therefore inerrant, the reformers believed it alone is the church’s final authority, sufficient for faith and practice.

Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Matthew Barrett’s book God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture (Zondervan, 2016) [review]. It is the first volume in The 5 Solas Series

Matthew Barrett is associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author of several books, including Salvation by Grace (P&R, 2013), Owen on the Christian Life (Crossway, 2015), God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture (Zondervan, 2016), and Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2017). Currently, he is the series editor of The 5 Solas Series with Zondervan. You can read more at MatthewMBarrett.com. You can follow him on Twitter

How God Has Upheld Connie Dever

Gospel Coalition - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 1:02am

Article by: Tilly Dillehay

How would you handle physical suffering if it persisted for years? What would you learn? What would happen to your joy? Your prayers? Your faith?

These questions became deeply real to Connie Dever, wife of pastor and TGC Council member Mark Dever, when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in December 2013. That began a years-long journey with God that isn’t over—even now. The journey has taken her through multiple operations, radiation, hormone changes resulting in extreme body temperature and mood swings, back pain, and insomnia. A formerly healthy person able to “troubleshoot” physical problems and maintain control over her body, Connie suddenly found herself amid a trial that exposed a gap between what she believed and how she trusted God.

From 2014 to 2016, Connie kept a digital diary of her daily battle with the spiritual side of physical suffering. She recorded her thanks, over and over again, for God’s purpose. She begged for prayer from friends and readers. She copied excerpts of Scripture, classic hymns, and writers like Charles Spurgeon and C. S. Lewis, reflecting on how they were helping her get through each affliction.

Now these writings have been compiled in an excellent book, He Will Hold Me Fast: A Journey with Grace through Cancer (Christian Focus, 2017). I corresponded with Connie about the book, her first foray into print publishing.

Why did you start blogging about your cancer journey, and who did you have in mind when you were writing?

The answers to these questions are closely related. As I went through the tests, diagnosis, and surgery, it was quickly apparent I was really going to struggle with this trial. As it was my turn to be escorted from the shallow end of the pool (where I could safely touch bottom) to the 16-foot diving wall area, I was panicking. Others looked like synchronized swimmers as they encountered similar waters, calmly and gracefully keeping in step with the Spirit. But I was thrashing my arms and gasping for air. This wasn’t going to be pretty, as much as I would’ve liked it to be. Where was the beautiful “victory in Jesus” in my life?

But God, in great kindness, did give me the grace to trust his purposes were good. He wasn’t going to let me drown, but he definitely was going to give me a swimming lesson—a big one. I got the sense that perhaps there were others out there who might feel like I did. By sharing my honest weakness and failure, perhaps they’d be encouraged to see God’s sure rescue. So off went the “makeup” and online went the posts.

I also hoped others who didn’t yet know Jesus might see God’s goodness and strength and seek after him themselves. There were a number of beloved non-Christians following my posts; people for whom I’ve prayed for years. These posts allowed me to share on a level I rarely could in person. I hope God’s Word will not return void, as concerns them. I hope they respond like the disciples as they watch Jesus help me through my storms: “The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him!’” (Matt. 8:27).

Lastly, I wrote because I needed the help of God’s people. When I asked them for prayer in my posts, people responded generously, and God answered powerfully. What a wonderful thing it is to be part of the body of Christ!

At times, your writing is reminiscent of one of the classic Christian memoirs. It was encouraging to hear you talk honestly about your feelings and then hear you preaching truth to yourself in the next breath. Did you have practice doing this during more ordinary trials?

I suppose I came out of the “spiritual womb” practicing. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” the saying goes. I became a Christian at a summer camp as a child. I went home with my Bible, my camp songbook, and a few other devotional goodies to keep me going. My family, though churchgoing, wasn’t a deliberate Christian family. The church we attended was very liberal; instead of classic lessons on biblical truths and the gospel, I learned concepts in Sunday school like JEPD text criticism. So I read my Bible and prayed on my own; I guess that started me digesting Bible truths and speaking them to myself, as best I could.

When I went to college, there was a fantastic, biblically grounded, passionate group of believers in the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on campus and a good, expositional-preaching church right off campus. Add to that the rich books, like Knowing God, coming out at that time (late ’70s/early ’80s). The combination of godly people in person and godly writers in print helped me watch others speak truth to themselves, and better learn to do so myself.

The parade of faithful witnesses has continued in the decades since those college days: good churches, godly Christians, and great books. God has encouraged me to not take trials at face value, but to keep returning to his Word. I’m reminded of his faithful promises to use every trial for our good and his glory and to find their true, eternal value there. I’m especially indebted to my husband, Mark, and the fellow members here at Capitol Hill Baptist Church for reminding me to view the events of each day through a gospel lens.

How have you seen the Lord working in your husband’s life through your cancer? What about your two adult children?

On your wedding day, you make huge vows to each other before God: “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; until death do us part.” They stand like a great slab of marble, and you carve your life out of that marble together. How you respond to each joy and blessing, each heartache and trial, reveals more of the testament of your lives, joined together, for all to see. It’s hard work, but it can be beautiful work. There will inevitably be slips of the chisel, but no matter how it goes, you’re making it together.

While Mark and I have both had plenty of chisel-slips that put ugly dents in the marble, I’m so blessed to have had such a wonderful partner over the past 35 years. And really, these last few years have been especially rich. I’ve loved watching how God has used them in Mark’s life.

Mark’s tenderness and compassion toward me have been so sweet. I think others would say the fruit of it shows up in his preaching and his counseling, too. His confidence in the Lord’s goodness in trials has only grown stronger these last few years. Mark’s “aggressive contentedness” (as he likes to call it) to be satisfied in God and happy with me as I am—whatever trials may bring or take away—has shone brighter. And his longing for heaven—when we set aside these trials to be with the Lord—is greater than ever.

Mark has lived out well the call to love me like Christ loves the church. He has made this trial so much more bearable than it could’ve been. There have been many aggravating aspects of my illness: dirty dishes yet again in the sink, coming home yet again to an anguished wife, having fewer ministry opportunities together in our home. But Mark has made it all a beautiful gift of his love to me.

As for the kids, they’ve been affected much as you’d expect. They’ve been supportive and concerned, kind and helpful. Sometimes they have secret powwows with Mark about how best to help me. Sometimes I have secret powwows with Mark about how best to help them. It’s never easy to go through something like this, especially when it’s your parent, spouse, or child involved.

We pray God will use this trial for good in our children’s lives. We hope that they’ll be encouraged to seek the Lord and find him trustworthy in their trials, just as he has been faithful to care for me through mine.

How are you doing now, physically? What’s the latest chapter in the cancer journey?

Life is still really rough. Sometimes people have this thyroid surgery and radiation, start taking their little hormone replacement pills, and call it a day. I’ve not been one of those. There have been many permanent changes, both physically and mentally. I still have suspicious growths in my neck that they’re monitoring for more cancer.

And unfortunately, this summer I was diagnosed with a rare disorder that occurs in only 0.5 percent of all people who have thyroid surgery. It’s called hypoparathyroidism. Parathyroids are four rice-grain-sized glands that sit near the thyroid and regulate calcium and phosphate in the body. Many people get temporary damage to these glands after neck surgery. My damage has turned out to be permanent, and it’s getting worse. It takes monitoring throughout the day (and night), sort of like diabetes. 

I’m just beginning to learn how to manage this condition. Doctors say it can take quite a while to get under control. Since so many things affect your calcium levels and my parathyroids are “off duty,” I never know exactly what will trigger the next low-calcium event and how bad it will be. It makes me think twice every time I leave the house, even for a walk around the block or to weed the garden. At this point, even small things can trigger muscle spasms or heart palpitations, if I sweat too much and lose too much calcium. I’m being stretched to trust God even with the adventure of pulling dandelions. Who knew that day would come! Please pray for me! It should get better as I learn more.

You wrote in the introduction of He Will Hold Me Fast that you didn’t want to “waste a speck of this trial,” and that you wanted to “know God so intimately that I could laugh at the days ahead, looking to God’s bountiful resources instead of my puny ones to meet them.” What do you think God has done already through your cancer journey?

I’m so grateful people have been encouraged, both in my weakness and also in God’s faithfulness to carry me. I’m happy to think someone else might be helped by anything they’ve seen in my life. That’s been a wonderful way God has not let these sorrows be wasted.

And—as hard as it’s been for me to carry on through this trial (which is looking to be a lifetime event now)—God has been answering my prayers to not waste these sorrows in my soul, and doing it in his typical “pressed down and overflowing” way. He’s taught me I most assuredly do not have what it takes to cope with my trials on my own, and I was never meant to. He’s taught me to not be so scared when I see huge unknowns ahead. I’m not sure I’m doing much laughing about the days ahead yet, but there’s a growing, quiet confidence that runs deeper than ever. God has planned this journey, and he loves me. He’s doing more than I can know. And he is holding me fast, right in his everlasting arms.

Tilly Dillehay is wife to Justin and mom to Norah and Agnes. She blogs with her husband at While We Wait, and is the editor of Wilson Living Magazine.  

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