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Updated: 1 hour 34 min ago

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

7 hours 55 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

Bring Your Doubt to Jesus

18 hours 55 min ago

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

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

19 hours 55 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

At Least as Dangerous as Porn

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

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.

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

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

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.

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The Ordinary Virgin Mary: Hellen Stirke (Died 1543)

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 1:00am

The drama of the Protestant Reformation casts big personalities and major characters, the types of men now etched into myths, legends, and giant stone figures. But the Reformation is also the story of everyday, ordinary followers of Christ, mostly forgotten, who lived out Reformation theology on the ground — and who paid the price for it with their lives. Martyrs like Hellen Stirke.

Mary’s Equal

Hellen was a fairly average Scottish Christian in the city of Perth, dedicated to daily domestic work as a wife and mother. Her life remained unnoticed to history until the birth of her last child in 1544.

When the time arrived for Hellen’s labor and delivery, Catholic tradition called for earnest prayers to the Virgin Mary. Having a good sense of Scripture, Hellen repudiated these petitions. It was a tradition she would not follow. Her baffled midwives pressed her to make such a prayer, but she refused the ritual. The physical risk was real, but the prayers were nothing more than superstitious insurance.

“If I had lived in the days of the Virgin,” Hellen said with poise, “God might have looked likewise to my humility and base estate, as he did the Virgin’s, and might have made me the mother of Christ.” Her childbed sermonette must have triggered gasps. But Hellen was settled and comforted by her theology, knowing her prayers were going directly to God through her Savior Jesus Christ.

“I Will Not Bid You Good Night”

News of Hellen’s refusal to pray to Mary, and her bold claim that she was on equal standing before God, very soon found its way to the ears of the local Catholic clergy and quickly up the chain to the presiding cardinal. His response was swift to snuff out this spark of Protestant theology. Before long, Hellen was arrested and imprisoned, along with her husband and four other outspoken Protestants in the city. The small group was soon found guilty of “heresy” and sentenced to death. The following day, soldiers brought Hellen, her husband, and the condemned Protestants to the gallows.

Hellen asked to die side by side with her husband, James Finlason, but her request was denied. Men were to be hanged, women drowned, and James would go first. Holding her young child in her arms, Hellen approached her husband, kissed him, and gave him these parting words:

“Husband, be glad, for we have lived together many joyful days, and this day, in which we must die, we ought to esteem the most joyful of all, because we shall have joy forever. Therefore I will not bid you good night, for we shall shortly meet in the kingdom of heaven.”

James was hanged before her eyes. His life on earth done, eyes fell to Hellen, who was forced to hand her newborn to a nurse entrusted with the child’s care from this point. The authorities led Hellen to a nearby pond, bound her hands and feet, put her into a large gunnysack along with stones or weights, and threw her into the water like a bag of garbage. All for the crime of “blaspheming the Virgin Mary.”

A Cloud of Ordinary Witnesses

Heaven has all the details, but this is all we know of Hellen’s life. She was a bold woman made strong by Scripture. Her birthbed claim, that she was equally qualified to mother Jesus, was a radical ceremonial insubordination — but at the heart it was an act of faith, rendering the strata of all human superiority irrelevant in the presence of Christ’s supremacy.

Look deeper into the Reformation, and you will see that it’s more than printing presses and theses nailed to doors and theological debates. It’s the story of ordinary believers, husbands and wives and fathers and mothers, poised in the words of Scripture, reclaiming the primacy of Jesus Christ for their lives, their marriages, their families, and their eternal hopes, who stand as a cloud of witnesses calling us to do likewise. They call us to hold our biblical convictions without wavering, to enjoy God’s earthly blessings, and to endure all momentary afflictions now for the great eternal joy set before us.

Where Did the Reformation Really Begin?

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 8:01pm

Queso at Chipotle. What a time to be alive. So reads the new billboard not far from our house.

This October is quite the time to be alive, even if the new menu item at our beloved Mexican grill is not really one of the reasons why.

For those of us who embrace the moniker Protestant, and have some faint sense of the history that made such a wonderful reality necessary and possible, we have the privilege of being alive to mark this 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Right? It may have seemed exciting from a distance, but now that we’re here, will October come and go with us feeling mildly dissatisfied?

As we have been telling the stories of 31 reformers this month through the Here We Stand series, we’ve discovered one insight — one “secret” — one timeless lesson that made this all possible 500 years ago, and makes it real every waking day of our twenty-first-century lives. One powerful thread unites these men and women as much as any other and is at the very heart of the Reformation: a personal encounter with God himself in his word.

Before there could be Reformation in the church, and Reformation in the world, first there had to be reformation in the soul. How did that begin for Martin Luther, and for the many who stood with him? It came, time and time again, through gaining access to his living and active word, and there meeting God himself.

Four-Runners — to a Man

Long before Luther himself came on the scene, the common thread ran through the four pre-Reformation figures. What changed John Wycliffe? He “applied himself rigorously to the study of theology and Scripture. As he did, he realized how much the church had veered off in so many wrong directions.” So also for Peter Waldo. His personal reformation, dramatic as it was, revolved around access to Scripture:

The first thing he resolved was to read the Bible. But since it only existed in the Latin Vulgate, and his Latin was poor, he hired two scholars to translate it into the vernacular so he could study it.  Next, he sought spiritual counsel from a priest, who pointed him to the rich young ruler in the Gospels and quoted Jesus: “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). Jesus’s words pierced Waldo’s heart.

Jan Hus lived a similar story: “As Hus read Scripture and watched the popes of his day abuse their power, he concluded that papal authority was not ultimate. He needed a sturdier foundation than was built from the straw and sticks of men’s opinion — no matter how highly regarded those men were. He built his life and ministry on the word of God.” And for Savonarola, it wasn’t only access to God’s word, but literally taking it to heart: “As a young friar, he soaked deeply in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and in Scripture, quickly demonstrating a capacious mind, which allowed him to commit most of Scripture to memory.”

Priests and Humanists Paved the Way

As we move from the forerunners into Luther’s own day, we find that those who led the Reformation were largely priests and humanists. Why humanists? Ironically, their fresh optimism about the capabilities of humanity not only made them willing to lay aside the weight of tradition and think for themselves, but their learning and study of the classics enabled them to read the Scriptures for themselves. In the sixteenth century, it was the priests and the humanists who had access to God’s word. They were the ones who could experience personal reformation as they came into contact with God’s word, and they, then, were the ones who emerged as leaders in the fledgling movement.

Erasmus, of course, was the paragon of humanism, and many of the reformers admired his learning, or even worked with him. Wolfgang Capito “was trained as a Christian humanist, becoming a student and a close friend of Erasmus. As a humanist, he loved the biblical text and biblical languages . . . .” And John Oecolampadius, as “one of the rising tribe of humanist scholars, thoroughly trained in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew,” even “worked as an assistant to Erasmus — the project being Erasmus’s first edition of the Greek New Testament, for which John wrote the epilogue.”

Luther’s longtime sidekick, Philip Melanchthon, was trained as a humanist, and William Farel, who led reforms in Geneva and famously recruited Calvin to the city, had “encountered the humanist scholar Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, a man whose devotion to Christ inspired Farel.” But what, in particular, catalyzed Farel’s personal reformation? “He studied Scripture over several years.” And so it was with the Italian humanist Peter Martyr Vermigli.

However, Menno Simons — like Luther and the other Martin, Bucer — came into contract with Scripture not in the academy but the priesthood. He had been “a Catholic priest who had never read the Bible.” In fact, he “had never read the Scriptures themselves.” He said, “I had not touched them during my life, for I feared if I should read them they would mislead me.” Then everything changed when he finally took up the Book and “reluctantly began to study the Bible.”

Luther, Calvin, Zwingli

And when we come to what we might call “the big three,” we find the same story: personal contact with God’s word. What changed John Calvin? He “saw and tasted in Scripture the majesty of God.” And for Huldrich Zwingli? He “had been an ardent student of the Greek New Testament recently compiled by Erasmus of Rotterdam. Now in Zurich, Zwingli spent six years preaching straight through the New Testament.”

And finally, brother Martin. “Luther set to work reading, studying, and teaching Scripture from the original languages.” And specifically, in his own words: “At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words.” What effect, then, did it have in his ministry? “The record bears witness to how utterly devoted he was to the preaching of Scripture.” According to John Piper, “Luther had one weapon with which to rescue this gospel from being sold in the markets of Wittenberg — Scripture. He drove out the moneychangers — the indulgence sellers — with the whip of the word of God, the Bible.”

Smell the Word

In 1545, a year before he died, Luther wrote, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.” Yes, this is the legacy of the Reformation. Among other things, yes, but don’t let this one thing be lost. God speaks to his people in the Book. Here is where we know him, here is where we hear his voice, here is where his Spirit works in us internally and subjectively to bring to life his external, objective word in the Scripture. Here is where we hear God — but not just hear. We taste. We see. We feel. And as Hugh Latimer testified about his life-changing personal encounter with God’s own word, we even smell. “I began to smell the Word of God, and forsook the school doctors and such fooleries.”

The one insight and secret I’m taking away from this 500th-anniversary month is the essential gift knowing God personally through his word, and making the most of the many media we have today for accessing God himself in his word. As we peer back at the Reformation through all the layers and legends, through all the dust and debris of history, might this one ray of light catch our eye, pierce through the portals of time, and land with earthshaking significance in our own day?

The secret to reformation in 1517, and still in 2017, is the people of God meeting personally with him through his very words. That simple formula is strong enough today to reform any heart, any church, any neighborhood, and any nation.

To the Glory of God Alone

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 8:00pm

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

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Depend on God — and Do More

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 2:00am

Deep, humble dependence on God gives way to labor, industry, and productivity that can change the world.

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The Accidental Reformer: Hans Gooseflesh (c. 1400–1468)

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 1:00am

Hans Gooseflesh came of age at the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when the prevailing spirit of the age was “God must be angry.” His parents and grandparents were the generation that watched the Black Death eliminate a third of the continent’s population. In some European villages as many as sixty percent of the people perished.

He was born into an upper-class family. Dad was a goldsmith — “Companion of the Mint” they called him — a maker of coins and medallions. As he roamed around his father’s shop as a boy, he no doubt marveled at and probably even assisted in the process of striking coins. Molten metal was poured into molds (imagine tiny cake pans with scripts and images already debossed in the pans). The mold was made from a die strong enough to punch a clean impression of the coin onto it. The die itself was meticulously engraved by hand into tempered steel by craftsmen using sharp jeweler-like tools capable of removing steel from steel as easily as shaving a butter pat from the stick.

Failed Start-Up

Alas, Hans was not to inherit the family business. An uprising of guildsmen against the employers, which included Hans’s father, caused the family to relocate to Eltville. So, Hans needed to seek other job opportunities.

In the wake of the plague’s devastation, Roman Catholicism fostered an extraordinary consumer market in religious goods and services. Beyond the peddling of everyday rosaries, tokens, icons, and crucifixes to supply the faithful and penitent, a booming tourist industry emerged attracting hundreds of thousands of Catholic pilgrims eager to see relics recovered from the Holy Land.

An Ox Eye was a badge with a mirror on it that you could wear when visiting displayed relics. The idea was if the mirror on the badge caught the reflection of a relic, well, how couldn’t you be blessed? The Cathedral of Aachen housed four so-called Great Relics then, and still does: Mary’s cloak, Christ’s swaddling clothes, St. John’s beheading cloth, and Christ’s loincloth.

Hans Gooseflesh formed a start-up aimed at cornering the market for Ox Eyes at the 1439 Aachen pilgrimage, projected to draw more than 100,000 pilgrims. Leveraging his expertise in coin-making, he planned to mass produce 32,000 Ox Eyes and make a 2,500-percent profit on the venture. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bad attendance year. The venture failed. Hans and his investors lost their shirts. But in the process of engineering Ox Eye production they created some significant intellectual property.

Lemons into Books

Knowledge transfer was shifting from oral transmission to inscribed manuals, directories, stories, and histories. People wanted books. Most of the demand was supplied by copyists and scribes who, when working earnestly, might be able to knock out a single — and we do mean single — volume of a Bible commentary once every five years. The innovation of woodblock printing helped the uptake of book supply, but woodblocks were unforgiving to error, easily breakable, and limited to a single use.

Hans Gooseflesh made lemonade from the lemon of his failed Ox Eye start-up. In the process of figuring out how to make souvenirs for the Aachen pilgrims, he conceived of a method of building forms into which a collection of metal characters could be racked to create, if you will, a “metalblock” rather than a woodblock that could be used to print sharp, readable words on a page, and then be un-racked, re-ordered, and reused to create new forms for entirely different projects. It was a variation of the die, mold, and punch-making of his childhood performed in miniature to muster legions of metal mercenaries perpetually ready for redeployment.

History Reset

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg (anglicized here as “Hans Gooseflesh”) was dead fifty years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door. He never preached a sermon. Never authored a theological treatise. Indeed, Hans Gooseflesh, apart from his eponymous Gutenberg Bible, did a banner business in printing papal indulgences. He was a Reformer only by accident — or, better, by common grace. But the printing industry’s quick standardization to Gutenberg’s system of movable type created a production and distribution capability that enabled Luther’s titles to occupy thirty percent of an unheard of seven million–book market in Germany between 1518 and 1525.

The Chinese had invented moveable type seven centuries before, but their writing system was too complex to make use of it. The Muslim world resisted the use of printing for four hundred years after the invention of moveable type. So, in one unique window of human history, God raised up a ne’er-do-well tchotchke-maker to pave the way for a spiritually tortured monk, and his successors, to reclaim the word of God and reset the history of redemption.

For more on Johannes Gutenberg:

The Gutenberg Revolution: How Printing Changed the Course of History by John Man

Johann Gutenberg: The Man and His Invention by Douglas Martin and Albert Kapr

Johannes Gutenberg: Printing Press Innovator by Sue Vander Hook

Let’s (Not) Talk About Sex, Baby

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 8:03pm

We all know boundaries are vital for healthy relationships, and especially for dating relationships. Even if you’ve been prone to cross the lines you’ve drawn in the past, you can admit that lines need to be drawn between the not yet married. We may never be more vulnerable in our lives than when we begin to share ourselves with a new boyfriend or girlfriend — slowly and carefully and intentionally opening our hearts and minds and schedules and dreams to someone else. If we ignore the risks we take, love will end up hurting more than it has to.

Likely you can list the typical Christian boundaries:

What kind of touching is allowed?
Will we spend any time together alone?
How late should we hang out?

Holding hands, basements, curfews, group dates, hugging, kissing — these are the common flashpoints for Christian dating. But far fewer are talking about one major set of boundaries in healthy relationships: talking.

Have you and your significant other spent any time talking about talking? This article is not an attempt to build an additional cell on the prison of Christian dating, but to liberate more of you from an overlooked, but widespread, trap in dating.

Many of us simply find out too late how much of our heartache in relationships can be traced to something we said too soon. After all, our most private part is not something anyone can touch. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Touching too soon will surely put our hearts in unqualified and dangerous hands, but our words can leave us just as vulnerable.

Let’s Talk About Talking

Most of us have never thought of setting conversational boundaries. I wasn’t ready when one girlfriend’s dad asked in the first couple months of our relationship, “Have you mentioned marriage yet?”

[Long, awkward pause.]

“Um, yeah . . . I think we did talk about it once. . . . ”

“I don’t think that was appropriate for you to talk about, and I expect you to care for her better than that.”

I was totally caught off guard. I had never even thought of certain topics of conversation as inappropriate or dangerous. If dating is supposed to be the pursuit of marriage, don’t we have to talk about marriage? Yes, we do, but carefully, and at the right times, and in wise ways. For some, talking about marriage can be as intimate as touching — or even more.

Trust in a marriage isn’t only for the bedroom, but for all of life. We weren’t meant to build a blueprint for life with three or four almost-spouses. It may feel fun and exciting now to talk about what time of year we might get married, or how many kids we might have, or where we might vacation, or what kind of ministry we might take on together, but it can be as spiritually dangerous as sexual immorality. Some may be tempted to talk about sex, to dream out loud about how great lovemaking would be in marriage. It may feel safe — we’re not even touching — but actually it’s just a lightly veiled effort to enjoy the intimacy of sex too soon without crossing physical boundaries.

You’ll have to have certain conversations eventually, but don’t rush into them, and when you do have them, have them with caution and self-control. You will be able to safely enjoy dreaming together for years and years — without a hint of guilt or danger — if you get married.

How Much Do We Talk?

There are at least two categories to think about when it comes to conversations with a boyfriend or girlfriend. First, monitor how much you talk and how much time you spend together. If we’re serious about guarding our hearts and minds, developing healthy independence, and anchoring our hope and joy in Jesus more than in each other, we’ll be careful with how much time we’re focused specifically on one another. It may feel ridiculous and unnecessary to resist the impulse to talk all the time — you’re both curious, and excited, and ready to hang out — but it will serve you so well in the future, whether you get married or not.

My wife and I dated long distance, so our situation will be different than yours. At first, we talked about once a week, typically for thirty to forty minutes, for a couple of months. Then it was a couple times a week. After six months or so, we started talking most days, typically for an hour or less. We never made it a habit of talking for hours every night. We’ve never regretted that in marriage, and we’ve had every opportunity to make up for any lost time.

Our rhythm wasn’t coincidental or accidental; it was intentional. We wanted to honor Jesus and each other even more than we wanted to talk to each other (and we really enjoyed talking to each other). Boundaries were not concessions we made because we were Christians. They were freedoms we exercised and enjoyed, and they reflected what mattered most to us. Boundaries not only reveal what we say we believe; they reveal what we really prize.

I don’t share our experience to write new rules or to try to limit you to an hour per day, but to give you categories for deliberate self-control and patience. Wisdom won’t be a predetermined amount of time for every relationship, so you’ll have to talk about what seems healthy and appropriate for you, and to ask friends and family for their input. I can tell you, from my own failures in this area, that it won’t happen by accident, so don’t be afraid to initiate the conversation about your conversations.

What Do We Talk About?

Second, think about what you talk about when you do talk. Limiting your time will focus your conversations, at least it did for us. Trading three or four hours for forty minutes meant we were more intentional with what we talked about. But it’s still worth talking about which conversations you don’t need to have yet — or even shouldn’t have yet.

You don’t have to figure out your whole future together by the third date. You don’t have to talk about your relationship every time you talk, or even half of the time. You don’t need to remind each other why you like each other every fifteen minutes. You really don’t need to talk much about marriage until it’s reasonable that you might actually get engaged and married relatively soon. Conversations like these easily become places we compromise without realizing it in the moment. We indulge desires for intimacy without touching. If you don’t have anything to talk about now except your relationship and your future, you probably won’t have much to talk about if you do get married.

Have a conversation about how often you should check in about your relationship. Seek out counsel about a good timeline to talk about marriage. Draw in others to decide on a good time to talk through your pasts in relationships. Define the relationship every now and then, and communicate your feelings and intentions clearly, but spend significantly more time talking about what God is teaching you, how you’re growing in grace, and where you’re spending your energy and gifts for the sake of others.

What Are the Best Reformation Biographies?

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 8:00pm

Good biographies expose us to times, people, and thinking outside of our own day. Here are some of the best biographies of Reformation figures.

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Are the Five Solas in the Bible? Part 4: Through Faith Alone

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 11:00am

A sinner is justified by faith alone or he is not justified at all.

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The Swiss Giant: Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531)

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 1:00am

Ulrich Zwingli’s career as a Reformer was relatively brief, but his energetic and multifaceted leadership was crucial in the early days of the Protestant movement.

Born to the chief local magistrate of a small alpine village named Wildhaus in 1484, Zwingli attended the universities of Vienna and Basel before serving as priest in the Swiss town of Glarus from 1506 to 1516. While priest in the town of Einsiedeln the following two years (1517–1518), Zwingli broke with traditional Roman Catholic practice by preaching in clear expository fashion in the German vernacular of his people. Such preaching earned him a post in the free city or “canton” of Zurich by 1519.

In Einsiedeln, Zwingli had been an ardent student of the Greek New Testament recently compiled by Erasmus of Rotterdam. Now in Zurich, Zwingli spent six years preaching straight through the New Testament, mingling with the people of his parish, writing against unscriptural Catholic dogma and practices, and engaging in public debates with Catholic authorities before the town leaders. During that time, the town councils of both Zurich and the nearby canton of Bern voted to adopt Protestantism.

The Sixty-Seven Articles

For his public debates with Catholic authorities in early 1523, Zwingli composed “The Sixty-Seven Articles.” The document’s brief introduction and conclusion reveal Zwingli’s deep respect for the authority of God’s word and his firm belief in the Bible’s unique status as the only revelation of the saving good news of Jesus Christ and of God’s will for Christian people. The introduction reads,

The articles and opinions below, I, Ulrich Zwingli, confess to have preached in the worthy city of Zurich as based upon the Scriptures which are called inspired of God . . . and where I have not now correctly understood said Scriptures I shall allow myself to be taught better, but only from said Scriptures.

Zwingli would expand on these articles in a book-length treatise in 1525 titled “The True and False Religion.” In 1526, he composed “Ten Theses” for Bern, which served as a succinct summary of his Reformed perspective.

Away with the Pomp

Zwingli, the Swiss giant of the Reformation, was particularly indignant about the pomp, hypocrisy, and idolatry of man-made religion. His labors for the reformation of Zurich and other Swiss cantons can be best conceived of, perhaps, as an effort to free people from the burdens imposed by a religious system invented by men that can’t deliver on its promise of eternal life.

Article 7 of “The Sixty-Seven Articles” states that Christ “is an eternal salvation and head of all believers, who are his body, but which is dead and can do nothing without him.” Attending Mass, participating in the so-called sacraments of Roman Catholicism, or even being ordained as a priest did not make someone a spiritually alive member of the true “ecclesia catholica” (universal church). That only happens by the gospel and the Spirit.

Eat a Sausage, Find a Wife

Zwingli was an activist who not only aimed to teach and apply the Bible alone, but who lobbied both church and civil authorities to realign their laws and policies with God’s word. During the Lenten season of 1522, Zwingli gave his tacit assent in the home of a parishioner, the printer Christoph Froschauer, as he and his guests ate sausage, prohibited by the Roman Catholic Church during Lent but a staple local food. Zwingli successfully lobbied the Zurich town authorities to release these men from jail, where they’d been put for breaking the Lenten fast.

Taking advantage of the town council’s leniency, Zwingli and ten other priests wrote to the Bishop of Constance requesting the right of priests to be married, since the blanket requirement of clerical celibacy was unscriptural and unwise. Zwingli himself was already living with a widow, Anna Reinhart, whom he married soon after Zurich became a Protestant canton free from the bishop’s authority.

Zwingli also held a deep respect for women and longed for them to experience authentic Christian discipleship. In 1522, he visited a convent to deliver a series of lectures titled “Of the Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God,” theological lessons on the doctrine of revelation and Bible interpretation.

Twelve Years of Reform

On October 11, 1531, at age 47, Zwingli died unarmed on a battlefield near Kappel, Switzerland, serving as a chaplain to the Protestant troops, carrying only a flag and a Bible.

At the time of his death, Zwingli was only a dozen years removed from his life as a priest in Einsiedeln — a short career compared to Luther’s and Calvin’s decades of reform. But there’s a reason Zwingli is often the third name people mention when remembering the Reformation. By God’s grace, this dynamic Reformer’s dozen years brought countless Swiss men and women away from dead ceremony, and back to Jesus Christ.

Heinrich Bullinger succeeded Zwingli as pastor of Gross Münster church and head of Zurich’s “School of the Prophets,” which trained men in biblical languages, exegesis, and preaching. In the 1560s, Bullinger was the main author of the Second Helvetic Confession, adopted soon after by Reformed churches in Switzerland, Scotland, Hungary, France, and Poland. It remains to this day one of the most influential and beloved doctrinal statements of various Reformed denominations the world over.

For further reading:

Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen J. Nichols

Far Worse Than Being Caught: Fighting Sin with Fear

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 8:03pm

There is something more dreadful in this world than when God makes us miserable because of our sin: when God uses more sin to make us miserable because of our sin.

This is more dreadful because misery may be a wake-up call that leads to repentance. But more sin means deeper bondage and more guilt.

Precious Place of Fear

Therefore, if we are about to walk into sin, we should feel doubly afraid. We should fear the threat of misery. And even more, we should fear the failure of faith that leads to final enslavement and nothing but misery.

And, yes, there is a godly fear by which we fight for faith and life: “You stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear” (Romans 11:20).

I have tasted enough of my own capacities for unbelief and self-deception to know how easily I would be enslaved to sin if God did not awaken fear. Fear and trembling are not pointless words for me, when Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Nor do I flinch when Jesus says to me, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Worth of Warnings

One of God’s merciful warnings is to tell us that there is something more dreadful than when he makes us miserable because of our sin. Namely, when he uses sin to make us miserable for our sin. Oh how precious is the word of God to give us such alarming warnings!

If you are about to sin, ponder which is worse: the mercy of God-appointed misery, or melting in the hands of your iniquity? So, we read the warning: “You have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities” (Isaiah 64:7).

Lust

What would be a worse consequence for dabbling in pornography — getting caught by your spouse, or moving on to adultery? So, we read: “The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit; he with whom the Lord is angry will fall into it” (Proverbs 22:14; see also Ecclesiastes 7:26). In other words, we better hope — with trembling — that the anger of the Lord would gouge out our eye, rather than let us fall into the pit of adultery. One eye is a better price to pay than the depth of that pit.

Stubbornness

And if we fall into a season of dullness and do not listen to the Lord’s voice or submit to his words, which is worse: stumbling into financial ruin, or being surrendered to the pride of a stiff neck? So we read: “My people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” (Psalm 81:11–12). Fiscal misery would be a gift compared to being abandoned to a stubborn heart.

Worldiness

If you are falling in love with the world, and about to exchange the glory of God for the dream of gold, ponder which is worse: waking up with gravel in your mouth, or being handed over to ever deepening perversion? So, we read: “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves. . . . God gave them up to dishonorable passions. . . . God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:24–28).

Doubt

If you are about to surrender to your doubts, and call Christ an illusion, which would be worse: a bullet of truth through the arm of your flesh, or a beautiful song of endless deceit? So, we read: “They refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false” (2 Thessalonians 2:10–11).

Pay Attention to the Alarms

Oh how merciful of God to give us such warnings! How kind to shake us out of glib and playful attitudes about the Christian life! How sweet to make us serious about the greatest things. How patient to offer sorrow instead of slavery, chastisement instead of chains, pain instead of perdition.

All this mercy, kindness, sweetness, and patience awaits you in his word.

Are the Five Solas in the Bible? Part 4: Through Faith Alone

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 8:00pm

A sinner is justified by faith alone or he is not justified at all.

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Idolatry at the Office: Confessions of a Workaholic

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 12:00pm

During my second year of surgical residency, I totaled my car on the way to work at four o’clock in the morning.

Exhaustion from late nights at the hospital weighed down my limbs as I slogged into Boston. I opened the windows to jolt myself awake, but the sting of the icy winter air faded quickly. As I neared the curve of an on-ramp, my tires lost their grip against a glaze of black ice. I flailed at the steering wheel as my car slid across the highway and careened into a barrier. The airbag punched me in the face. The sickening screech of contorted metal against concrete splintered the air before the car finally skidded to a halt.

I sat trembling for several minutes, my chest heaving, blood dripping from my nose. The road was empty. God had spared not only me, but also the dozen or so commuters with whom I usually shared that stretch of highway early in the morning.

Yet in those days, my mind was far from the things of God. Instead of thanking him and retreating home to nurse my concussion, I hitched a ride with the tow-truck driver. With my head throbbing, I trekked through two miles of snow and stumbled into the hospital — not to be evaluated, but to work.

Obsessed

Taking a day off from my residency would have generated grumblings at worst. But my obsession with work so enslaved me that I barreled through catastrophe to feed my fragile sense of self-importance. I risked lives in the process — first on the road, then through my befuddled meanderings in the hospital. My actions that day were reckless, dangerous, and stupid.

But they also solidified my reputation.

After the accident, colleagues and mentors applauded me as altruistic, selfless, and committed. They nicknamed me “Mighty Mouse.” Around corners, I overheard fellow residents remark about my dedication and strength. Overnight, I transformed from an insecure trainee who endlessly fumbled to the one whose allegiance to the job superseded concerns for herself.

To someone scrambling for worth in the dark, the accolades were intoxicating. I soon guarded my professional identity as if it were a crust of bread during famine. I embraced a twisted asceticism that denied worldly comforts in favor of “doing the right thing.” My idolatry climaxed in a night spent crammed under my desk at 37-weeks pregnant, napping after staying overnight to perform an operation the on-call surgeon could have completed. The next day, I spent hours in prodromal labor.

A Respectable Idol

During these years, I worked so feverishly, not to serve God, but to relish the approval it brought me — and because I feared the implications for my identity should the praise fall silent.

Our world, it seems, condones such idolatry, and even trains us in it. Modern professionalism demands an impeccable standard of performance from its adherents. Amid the pressure, many of us depend on labels such as thorough, hardworking, diligent, tireless, and strong to substantiate our worth. While the gospel says that we desperately need Jesus because we can’t earn our own worth, Western professionalism teaches a different ethic — a wholly unattainable one. An ideology that claims we can finely control all variables in life if we only work hard enough. A creed that prizes titles, status, and public opinion over humility and quiet faithfulness.

And when we ascribe to this philosophy and then fail — which we inevitably do — that failure threatens the core of our being.

Empty Praises

Upon first reception, praise seems like a balm for the brokenness that cripples us. When inadequacy burdens our hearts, a complimentary word feels like an embrace; its warmth infuses us with newfound resolve. In the moment, praise seems to renew us.

Yet true renewal only wells forth from the Spirit (John 7:37–39). As with anything artificial, praise loses its potency. The initial bloom withers and dies, and desperation mounts as we scramble for the next affirmation. Chasing after the praises of men leaves us empty, always aching for more (Jeremiah 2:13).

More importantly, our work does not please God when we labor for people’s applause. The trappings of worldly accomplishments may swell our pride, but when we pursue them to inflate our own egos, they are like filthy rags to the one who made heaven and earth (Isaiah 64:6). Only when we abide in Christ do we accomplish anything that honors God, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). However noble our efforts may appear to the world, we labor in vain when we strive apart from God (Psalm 127:1–2).

The momentary euphoria of praise is a measly reward compared to our inheritance in Christ (Colossians 3:23–24). A lust for approval also casts our eyes away from salvation, further miring us in the murk of sin. “How can you believe,” Jesus said, “when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44). When we seek approval from the world, we veer away from God’s grace.

A Deeper Identity

When we receive Christ as our Savior, we assume an identity that transcends all praise from human lips. Christ casts away our sinfulness, our corruption, and our failings, and clothes us with “the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). We become members of God’s household, his beloved children (Ephesians 1:5, 2:19). In Christ, our worth is complete.

If we strive for the meager praises of men after Christ has washed us with living hope, we clamber after nothingness. Our worth derives not from our own merit, our accolades, or our titles, but from our status as God’s own people (1 Peter 2:9–10).

When we embrace that status and rest in God’s everlasting favor, our work achieves new richness. We strive with all our being to serve our great God rather than our flimsy egos. We live according to our new self, and let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts instead of the materialism and paltry approval of the world (Colossians 3:10, 15). We sacrifice for others, not to collect their praise, but to reflect the one who gave his life so that we might live.

The God who gives us life and breath and everything else renews us with his love. He grants us dignity we could never achieve by our own greedy strivings in the early-morning hours. He completes us where we fail, and forges merit that no human hands could achieve. Our identity, our value, our worth, arise from him. To God be all the glory and all the praise.

You Owe Everything to Grace

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 2:00am

Apart from God, we are utterly helpless. But in his great mercy and grace, he rescues even the worst of sinners.

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