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The British Candle: Latimer (c. 1485–1555) and Ridley (c. 1502–1555)

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 1:00am

For those familiar with the English Reformation, the name Latimer sounds incomplete on its own. It demands a Ridley.

Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley are fastened together in history primarily because they were fastened to the same stake on October 16, 1555, on the north side of Oxford. But Latimer and Ridley share more than a martyrdom. The bishops also join each other on the list of England’s most influential Reformers — men and women whose allegiance to Scripture and the glory of Christ transformed England from a Catholic kingdom to a lighthouse of Reformation.

Both Latimer and Ridley lived during the reigns of four English monarchs: Henry VII, Henry VIII (the one with all the wives), Edward VI, and Mary I (aka “Blood Mary”). Both witnessed the Reformation’s tug and pull under Henry VIII’s tentative acceptance, Edward VI’s warm embrace, and Mary I’s violent resistance to Reformed doctrine. But they were anything but casual observers.

Latimer the Preacher

Latimer, born around 1485, spent the first thirty years of his life a zealous Catholic — or, in his words, an “obstinate Papist.” “I was as obstinate a Papist as any was in England,” he wrote, “insomuch that when I should be made bachelor of divinity, my whole oration was against Philip Melanchthon [i.e., Luther’s right-hand man].”

But soon after Latimer’s anti-Reformation oration, a young Cambridge divine named Thomas Bilney approached him with a request. Would Latimer allow Bilney to privately explain his own Reformed faith? Latimer agreed, and from then on he “began to smell the Word of God, and forsook the school doctors and such fooleries.” Latimer gathered up the arrows he had been shooting at the Reformation, and he started pointing the bow in the other direction. Throughout the next couple decades, he distinguished himself as a fervent Reformed preacher, at times enjoying Henry VIII’s favor for it, and at other times fearing his persecution (depending on the king’s mood).

Perhaps the most fruitful years of Latimer’s ministry came under Edward VI’s short reign, from 1547 to 1553. Despite his age, Latimer assisted Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer in reforming the English church, and he also preached like a man who just couldn’t stop. According to J.C. Ryle, “No one of the Reformers probably sowed the seeds of Protestant doctrine so widely and effectually among the middle and lower classes as Latimer.”

Then, in 1553, Queen Mary came to power, and Latimer was sent to a cell in the Tower of London.

Ridley the Scholar

Ridley, nearly twenty years Latimer’s junior, was born around 1502 near the border of Scotland. Throughout the next five decades, he would become one of England’s sharpest intellects, even going so far as to memorize all the New Testament letters — in Greek.

After attending Cambridge’s Pembroke College in his teenage years, Ridley continued his studies in France, where he likely encountered Reformation teachings. Unlike Latimer, Ridley left no clear account of his passage from Catholic priest to Protestant preacher. But we do know that he signed the 1534 decree against the pope’s supremacy, that he accepted the post of chaplain to Archbishop Cranmer three years later, and that he renounced the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation by 1545. When he became the bishop of London in 1550, he replaced the stone altars in London’s churches with plain wooden tables. According to Ridley and the Reformers, communion was a spiritual feast, not a sacrifice.

Ridley’s scholarly abilities launched him from one prestigious post to the next, even under Henry VIII’s capricious reign. From Canterbury to Westminster to Soham to Rochester to London, Ridley studied, preached, and, once Edward VI took the throne, threw himself into Cranmer’s reforms.

But then Queen Mary came to power, and Ridley joined Latimer in the Tower.

England’s Candle

On October 16, 1555, after spending eighteen months in a tower cell, Latimer and Ridley met at an Oxford stake. With Latimer in a frock and cap, and Ridley in his bishop’s gown, the two men talked and prayed together before a smith lashed them to the wood.

Ridley was the first to strengthen his friend. “Be of good heart, brother, for God will either assuage the fury of the flame, or else strengthen us to abide it.” As the bundle of sticks caught fire beneath them, Latimer had his turn. Raising his voice so Ridley could hear, he cried, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

Three years later, Mary I died and passed the kingdom to her half-sister Elizabeth, a Protestant queen. And Latimer and Ridley’s candle burst into a torch.

For further reading:

Five English Reformers by J.C. Ryle

Should Teens Own Smartphones?

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 8:02pm

When Silicon Valley’s 20-something techno-prodigies were awing the world with new, shiny, unveilings of iPods and then iPhones and then iPads, many of the inventors didn’t have kids. Few had teens. Now, most of them have kids, and many have teens — teenagers addicted to gadgets their parents birthed into the world years ago.

This is the story of Tony Fadell, a former Senior VP at Apple, known as the grandfather of the iPod, and a key player on the early design team for the iPhone. On the 10-year anniversary of the iPhone in an interview, he made this admission: “I wake up in cold sweats every so often thinking, what did we bring to the world?”

Fadell, a father of three, has come to see the addictive power of the iPhone, an addiction that cannot be removed. “I know what happens when I take technology away from my kids. They literally feel like you’re tearing a piece of their person away from them — they get emotional about it, very emotional. They go through withdrawal for two to three days.”

“This self-absorbing culture is starting to [really stink],” Fadell said. “Parents didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know this was a thing they needed to teach because we didn’t know for ourselves. We all kind of got absorbed in it.”

Yes — we all got absorbed — techies and teens and parents. All of us. And now we’re trying to figure out how to wisely manage our devices.

Teens, Smartphones, and Depression

Digital absorption has coincided with the fast-changing dynamics of public high school life. Last winter, I asked an assistant principal at a large Twin Cities high school (of more than 2,000 students) how her job has changed over the past two decades.

Much remains the same, she said. “But the one thing that has changed drastically in working with teenagers for over twenty years is the dependency they have now on the instant gratification and feedback from others. How many likes do I have? How many followers? And there’s a compulsion to put something online to see how many likes I can get. And if that wasn’t enough, what does it say about me?”

“There’s a really strong connection to this behavior and the increased mental health issues we’re seeing in the school,” she said. “Over the past three-to-five years I would say my job has changed the most, because we’re now dealing with so much more mental health. I don’t think it’s singularly because of technology, but I genuinely believe digital technology is a major factor. It changes everything from the way people relate with others to the way they see themselves.”

Destroying a Generation?

The cold sweats of Fadell and the eyewitness testimony of this assistant principal are captured in the haunting headline over a recent feature article published in The Atlantic, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

iGen is the new label for those roughly 12-to-22-year-olds, born between 1995 and 2005. Among them, the warning signs are prevalent. “Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011,” wrote author Jean Twenge of the struggles faced by the iGen-ers. “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.

“The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression,” and, “girls have borne the brunt of the rise in depressive symptoms among today’s teens.” Twenge cites sources that show depression is on the rise among both boys and girls. For boys, depressive symptoms rose 21% between 2012–2015. In the same span, rates among girls increased by 50%. The rates of suicide for both increased, too. Male suicides doubled; female suicides increased threefold.

From what I know about these spikes in depression, and what I have discovered about the allure of our devices, what we are addressing here are existential questions about the meaning of life and acceptance from others — massive questions, weighing heavy on a young generation. These are redemptive questions, identity questions, gospel issues.

Digital media force a teen and preteen into the 24-7 pressure cooker of peer approval. But it’s not just teens; all of us feel this addictive draw of our social media. Smartphones seem to influence us all in at least 12 potent ways.

But the question here is pretty straightforward: Given these warning signs, is it possible for a teen to resist the powers of culture and go smartphone-free through the middle school and high school years?

Smartphone-Free Teens

I asked Jaquelle Crowe, the author of the excellent book, This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years, that question. She provides us with a rare example of an iGen teen who postponed the adoption of a smartphone until age 18. I asked her what it was like to wait so long.

Jaquelle, thanks for your time to share your experience. Studies are beginning to suggest that rates of teen depression are on the rise, and there is no single factor to get all the blame. But the pervasiveness of smartphones among iGen teens has to be considered as a significant cause. Would this connection surprise you?

Absolutely not. Smartphones contribute significantly to the 24-7 approval culture we live in. There’s no escaping it. This is something our parents don’t always understand, because when they were teenagers, that culture was largely limited to the 9–3 school day, and then they retreated to the boredom of family life.

But now there’s 24-7 social media. There’s a constant comparison and peer approval game that cannot be escaped. And it’s crippling, exhausting, and undeniably stressful. You can’t get away from the likes, the shares, the texts, the pictures. It’s like the popularity contest never ends. And it works both ways. Your smartphone gives you a front-row seat to watch the popularity contest, too.

That is a powerful dynamic, hard to escape the popularity culture on both fronts (feeding it and watching it play out). You did not get a smartphone until you were 18, but you had friends with smartphones, right?

Yes, I did, and I was well aware that most of my peers had access to something I didn’t. I could name every friend who had a phone, simply because I would see their phone. If Alison got a phone, I knew about it. If Jared got a phone, I knew about it. Not because they flaunted it or shamed me, but because it was always around. Even if we were talking together, it would buzz or ping or they’d be fidgeting with it. If there was a pause, a moment of silence, a break, they’d be on their phones, and I’d be left in the lingering awkwardness and boredom.

It definitely fed my FOMO (fear of missing out). It fed into some insecurity. Even though my friends never made me feel weird for not having a smartphone, it was an expectation, so they were surprised when they discovered I didn’t have one. There were times when I was the outlier. And not only with friends but also with my generation at large. I’d be walking through the mall or waiting in line or stopped on the sidewalk, and I would look around, fully present and disconnected — and stare at a sea of teens glued to smartphones. I was an exception, and that felt uncomfortable.

At times, I felt lonely — even if I was surrounded by people. They were constantly connected and I was isolated. I felt confined by my lack of access. At the same time, those feelings were largely emotional and visceral because I agreed theoretically with my parents — that I didn’t need a phone right then.

I applaud your parents for this foresight and conviction. Most parents, I fear, simply cave to the pressure, as their teen caves to the pressure — a domino effect of pressures, and certainly one I feel as a parent. But it’s worth giving this decision critical thought, because introducing a fully functioning smartphone is a decision that cannot easily be undone. For you, how much trust does this call for on the part of a teen, to wait? It seems like you have to trust your parents more than your peers, and that’s a main struggle of the teen years.

It calls for trust, definitely. And connected to that, a willingness to submit and obey. Ultimately, it requires a recognition that your parents are actually looking out for your best interests — emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically — and that they know you better than your peers do.

The thing is, deep down, most teens know that. They just push back because not owning a smartphone makes them feel ashamed.

I assume you had access to a phone of some sort?

Yes. If I was going out, I’d often borrow my mom’s flip phone for emergencies. I almost never used it.

That’s wise. As for digital media, what did you have access to before the smartphone?

I had a computer, I had email, I had access to some social media. I technically could do everything from home. But in a digital world with an expanding reach, that still somehow seemed limited.

For sure. Speaking as a 20-year-old now, what would you say to parents who are weighing the pros/cons and reading all the news and the testimonies of parents of teens, and who are coming to the conclusion that delaying the smartphone in the life of their teen would be wise? What kind of pushback should they expect to hear from their teen?

To parents, I’d say: It is worth it to have your kids wait. I’ve seen it and heard it and can attest to it since I got my own smartphone — smartphones change you. They give you overwhelming and shocking access. They zap your attention span. They are massively addictive. You can (and should!) put up safeguards, but a smartphone fundamentally changes your heart and mind. If it’s possible for teens to delay that change, I think it is a wise consideration.

Teach your teens discipline and discernment before you entrust them with the dangers of a smartphone. Of course, smartphones are not inherently evil; they have the potential for great good. But they need to be wielded well.

If you’re making your teen wait, don’t delegitimize the painful exclusion they’ll feel but use this time to prepare them to use technology wisely and faithfully. In the hands of unprepared, immature teens, smartphones can be deadly.

As for pushback that a parent is sure to hear, teens will feel left out. That might make them frustrated, confused, lonely, or hurt, and if they lash out, that’s why. They might feel like they’re separated from their friends. They might feel the pain of peer pressure. They might fear missing out. They might even have some legitimate concerns (e.g., having a phone with them when they’re out by themselves).

Parents, in the face of this pushback, be willing to explain your reasoning. When your teens ask you, “Why can’t I have a smartphone?” they really don’t want you to say, “Because I told you so.” Even if they don’t agree with it, they will likely respect your willingness to reason with them and the depth of critical thought you’ve put into this.

Share your research with them. Introduce them to other teens (in person or online) who don’t have smartphones. Instead of treating them like a child (just saying, “No” and moving on), pursue thoughtful, honest dialogue with them. Allow them to keep the conversation going, and be willing to do the hard work of communication for the greater good of your relationship.

Very good. And perhaps we can close with what you would say directly to the teens in this scenario. What should they expect to face by way of internal and peer struggle?

To the teens who take this countercultural move, you are an outlier in your generation. Obedience in life requires avoiding every clingy weight that will trip you up in the Christian life (Hebrews 12:1). I can only encourage you to hold fast. It comes down to this. Hold fast.

Jesus is better than a smartphone. You will rehearse this truth over and over in your heart.

And when you feel burdened by exclusion and isolation, don’t despair. Your identity is not in fitting in or meeting superficial expectations. It’s in Christ alone. And he gives you one task: be faithful. Right now, that looks like obeying your parents and trusting their good intentions for you — and that may mean not having a smartphone for a time.

Don’t run from this reality in shame; embrace it in faith. Your joy is not found in cultural connectivity; it’s found in union with Christ. So hold fast, and be faithful. Your reward is coming and it is far greater than any loss you will feel in this life.

Why the Reformation Remains Relevant After 500 Years

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 8:00pm

Choosing which of the five ‘solas’ is most important is like choosing which wing of an airplane matters most. All the ‘solas’ stand or fall together.

Listen Now

The French Firebrand: Guillaume Farel (1489–1565)

Sun, 10/15/2017 - 1:00am

In a 1791 sermon, Lemuel Haynes remarked, “Nothing is more evident than that men are prejudiced against the gospel. It is from this source that those who are for the defense of it meet with so much contempt” (The Faithful Preacher, 25). The French Reformer Guillaume Farel knew his fair share of contempt.

A fervent gospel minister, Farel spent his days championing the Protestant cause, often in the face of opposition. At times, this opposition arose from true gospel prejudice. At other times, though, Farel’s own foolhardiness was to blame. John Calvin noted that Farel could sometimes get “carried away by the vehemence of his zeal” (Calvin, 152). Blending a headstrong temperament with a deep concern for biblical piety, Farel contended unflinchingly for the faith and was instrumental in the cause of early French reform.

“The Papacy Fell from My Heart”

Born in Gap, France in 1489, Farel grew up in a devout Catholic household. As a twenty-year-old, he enrolled at the University of Paris to study theology. While there, Farel encountered the humanist scholar Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, a man whose devotion to Christ inspired Farel.

After graduating in 1517, Farel began teaching at the Collège du Cardinal Lemoine. Reports of Luther’s reforming efforts in Germany reached him there, bolstering his own growing conviction that Catholic worship and teaching had strayed from their biblical roots. As he studied Scripture over several years, Farel found that “little by little the papacy fell from my heart” (William Farel, 26).

Farel resigned from his teaching position, and in 1521 he began to promote the message of reform wherever he could. He preached in France and in the French-speaking Swiss regions, crossing paths with Johannes Oecolampadius in Basel and Wolfgang Capito and Martin Bucer in Strasbourg. Farel was known for his confrontational style, which prompted the following warning from Oecolampadius: “the more you are prone to violence, the more you must work on being gentle and tone down your lion-like outbursts by the spirit of a dove” (William Farel, 38).

Calvin’s Co-Laborer

In 1533, after an unsuccessful visit the previous year, Farel took up residence in Geneva, intent on leading the city to adopt the Reformation. His hopes were realized in 1536 when the General Council of Geneva officially allied itself with Protestantism.

It was in that same year that Farel famously persuaded Calvin to join him in his work. Calvin was passing through Geneva on his way to Strasbourg, intent on a quiet life of scholarship. Farel learned of Calvin’s presence in the city and tried to convince him to stay. When gentler appeals proved unsuccessful, Farel threatened Calvin with God’s judgment. Farel’s words found their mark. Calvin later wrote, “By this imprecation I was so stricken with terror, that I desisted from the journey which I had undertaken” (William Farel, 69).

The decision to stay in Geneva was pivotal for Calvin, for although he and Farel were driven out of the city in 1538 — the two had clashed with the magistrates over church discipline matters — Calvin returned to Geneva in 1541 and ministered there for the rest of his life. Farel relocated to Neuchâtel, a city where he and Antoine Froment had introduced Reformation teaching in 1530. Like Calvin in Geneva, Farel established himself in Neuchâtel until his own death in 1565.

Calvin and Farel maintained a close relationship after their time together in Geneva, corresponding at least once a month for twenty years. The two men, together with Pierre Viret in Lausanne, formed a crucial partnership that helped advance the cause of French reform. Sadly, Calvin and Farel’s relationship ruptured when, in 1558, Farel announced his betrothal to Marie Thorel, a teenaged woman over fifty years his junior. Though it seems there was no sexual impropriety involved, the marriage created a scandal because of the vast age difference between the two spouses. Calvin’s friendship with Farel never recovered its former luster.

A Lover and a Fighter

As lion-like and controversial as Farel could be, he was committed to the spiritual vitality of the French-speaking people. He produced some of the first Reformation works available in French, writing a commentary on the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer in 1524 and a summary of Reformed teaching in 1529.

In his writings, Farel displayed a particular interest in the topic of prayer. In an article titled “Guillaume Farel’s Spirituality,” Theodore Van Raalte argues that Farel’s emphasis on prayer shows us a side of him that is too often overlooked, a side marked by “profound piety and pastoral love.” Farel was both a lover and a fighter, a pastor and a pugilist. Whatever his faults, this French firebrand loved the gospel and devoted his life to sharing its riches.

For more on Guillaume Farel:

William Farel by Jason Zuidema

The Courage to Be Ordinary: Help for Average Christian Leaders

Sat, 10/14/2017 - 8:03pm

A friend of mine once confessed his secret ministry fantasy to me: Grow his church to place where it no longer required faith to lead it.

I knew exactly what he meant. I’ve struggled with the same fantasy. Get enough money, people, recognition, staff, volunteers, lay leaders, salary, book deals, and speaking gigs that we don’t need to depend on God for anything anymore. But in serving as a pastor and working with fellow pastors for many years, I’ve found two characteristics essential to do ministry in a way that depends on God: courage to be ordinary and comfort with obscurity.

Courage to Be Ordinary

One of my mentors often tells me, “It takes extraordinary courage to be ordinary.” For the longest time, I would nod in agreement but not believe him.

I needed to be extraordinary. When I replanted a church, I often over-functioned in my role as a pastor. I carried the entire weight of the church on my shoulders. I had my own scorecard full of the metrics that mattered to me. And one was becoming a self-supporting church.

I prided myself on how quickly we achieved it, all the while hiding the fact that we became self-supporting because I was secretly functioning as the financial savior. I carried way too much of the financial burden. I was rarely honest about our monetary needs. I didn’t take the full benefits package the church offered me. I rarely turned in my reimbursements. And I did it for respect.

As pastors, we can often trade love for respect. We are afraid people won’t love our true selves, so we keep going, wearing ourselves out doing more than we are made to do to sustain the image of a successful pastor. We quietly say to ourselves, “I can’t stop or the whole thing will fall apart.”

It is exhausting and lonely to keep up that image. Jesus is the one to build his church, rest in being just one piece of his work in the world.

How to Be More Ordinary

Three things help us find the courage to be ordinary: vulnerability, suffering, and prayer.

Vulnerability is necessary to be ordinary because it embraces the limits of being human. You will not meet everyone’s expectation. You don’t have all the gifts the church needs. You need help.

For me, it meant letting my elders know that the church wasn’t really self-supporting, and we couldn’t afford all the ministry we were doing. I know admitting that kind of need sounds simple and silly; for me, it was nearly impossible. I felt exposed and ashamed. I admitted a competency failure, which can be harder to admit than a character failure.

In terms of suffering, it means whatever gain you have, you count as loss for the sake of Christ. You suffer the loss of all things in order to gain Jesus. You admit your limitations and put your resume and reputation at risk.

And finally, as you embrace your limitations, you will cry out to God in “Jesus only” prayers. My pastor, Geoff Bradford, introduced me to the idea of “Jesus only” prayers. A couple of years ago, he started making a list of things he longed to happen that only Jesus could make happen. And he started to pray for those things every day. I hear the massive problems and start looking for quick fixes. He keeps praying Jesus only prayers, and therefore often getting Jesus only answers.

Comfort with Obscurity

A number of years ago, I was at a conference where a friend was speaking. I spent a lot of time with him during a tough season in his ministry. He’s told me he wouldn’t still be pastoring without my help. But nobody knows that. As he started his talk with a litany of thanksgiving I thought, “It would be nice if he thanked me, too.” But he didn’t. I didn’t even get a head nod. I was surprised at how much it bothered me. I had done valuable ministry and I wanted others to know about it.

I remembered a question my friend Paul Miller encouraged me to ask in the midst of struggle and suffering: “How is Jesus inviting you to share in his story?” My mind went to last verse in John: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Jesus did a lot of ministry in obscurity. If everything he did got tweeted, it would break Twitter.

Most ministry is rightly done in obscurity. My best stories are those that few will ever know. As hard as that is, I think that’s very appropriate. For in those cases, my Father sees, understands, appreciates, and affirms. And that’s enough. One day God will say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21), and give me the “unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). Sometimes he gives me a foretaste of that through the affirmation and praise from others, but most of my ministry will be in obscurity.

The cannon is closed. Scripture is sufficient. Our stories don’t need to be recorded for eternity. Maybe a future church historian will use our ministry as a topic for his dissertation. Most of us will — to borrow a phrase — preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.

How to Be Obscure in the Right Way

Jesus increases; we decrease. His work is seen; ours is obscured. We need to fight to be comfortable with that. Again, vulnerability, suffering, and prayer can help.

Vulnerability will come as you lose public reputation in order to gain personal integrity. You will preach ordinary sermons. There will be good ministry you do that you can’t talk about or that won’t make a fundraising pitch. You are working with people; their stories of deliverance are theirs to share, not yours to glory in.

Suffering often comes in the form of contempt you feel from those who seem to get what you want — the church, the family, the lifestyle, the recognition — but do it in a way that seems to have little regard for God and his laws. Maybe they are other pastors. Maybe they are your pagan neighbors. Their lives seem better compared to yours.

I think that’s why Paul encouraged Timothy to do ministry a different way, even if it seemed like he wasn’t as successful as others in Ephesus who experienced success in ministry without a care for God or his word (see 1 Timothy 6:3–11). As we labor in relative obscurity, we pray that God would be pleased with our work and cause much eternal fruit to grow.

The Quiet Man of God

The courage to be ordinary and obscure can leave you in a place of quietness and peace. That’s important because we need to steward our soul long before we try to steward our ministry or influence. As Francis Schaeffer wrote, “The Christian leader should be a quiet man of God who is extruded by God’s grace into some place of leadership.”

Extruded is a good word. It means to be forced, like kids push Play-Doh through a die to get it into the shape they desire. This extrusion is, like all good things in our life, a gift of grace. Calm and quite your soul (Psalm 131:2). Let God force you into the ministry he knows you can sustain.

The Gospel Lobbyist: Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556)

Sat, 10/14/2017 - 1:00am

As King Henry VIII lay dying in his bed, he wanted one man to come and hold his hand. Amazingly, that man was a major proponent of the Protestant Reformation.

Thomas Cranmer helped lead the English Reformation, but he is an unlikely hero alongside Luther, Calvin, and the other Reformers. He did not write any major theological books or pastor any important churches. Indeed, Cranmer did not adopt the central truths of the Reformation until relatively late in his life. But during the years of the Protestant Reformation, he shaped English theology perhaps more than any other person who has ever lived.

The Seed of Separation

Born in 1489, in the small village of Aslockton, Thomas Cranmer grew up near the same Sherwood Forrest where Robin Hood hid out three centuries earlier. He was a slow reader, taking eight years to finish Cambridge’s four-year undergraduate degree. He persevered in his studies, completed a masters degree, was ordained into ministry, and was elected by Cambridge to teach. He built a reputation for pushing his students to study the Bible for themselves.

While Cranmer spent his days peacefully serving on academic committees, England was in turmoil. King Henry VIII wanted to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Through a strange set of circumstances, Cranmer suggested to some of Henry’s advisors that the King of England was not ultimately subject to the pope’s rule (much to the king’s delight). Cranmer’s advice, then, inadvertently planted a seed that separated the English church from Roman Catholicism.

The Reformed Politician

Cranmer traded away Roman Catholicism for Reformed doctrine by the end of his life, a transformation that mirrored the turmoil and split of the English Reformation. While a student at Cambridge, he had read Martin Luther skeptically, but he warmed to Reformed thought after befriending Simon Grynaeus and Andreas Osiander. He eventually rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation after conversations with his friend Nicholas Ridley. Cranmer then clarified his liturgical reforms through conversations with the Italian Reformer Peter Martyr and the German Reformer Martin Bucer.

Cranmer’s theology changed too dramatically for English Roman Catholics and too slowly for Reform-minded evangelicals. To some (even today), Cranmer’s reforms seemed too personally and politically motivated. But he did not have the luxury of working out abstract beliefs among a company of disinterested academia. His theology was formed in a volatile pastoral and political cauldron of crises.

Father of the Anglican Church

Cranmer’s greatest ministry accomplishments came during the rule of Edward VI, when he rewrote the public liturgies, pastoral sermons (or homilies), private prayers, and articles of faith. These writings defined the doctrinal framework and personal piety which later developed into the Anglican Church, for which he is most remembered.

Cranmer wanted everyone in English churches to embrace justification by faith alone. He wrote,

This proposition — that we be justified by faith only, freely, and without works — is spoken in order to take away clearly all merit of our works, as being insufficient to deserve our justification at God’s hands; and thereby most plainly to express the weakness of man and the goodness of God, the imperfectness of our own works and the most abundant grace of our Savior Christ; and thereby wholly to ascribe the merit and deserving of our justification unto Christ only and his most precious blood-shedding. (The Works of Thomas Cranmer, 131)

Double Recantation

When the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I took power, Cranmer’s Reformed convictions cost him his life. During an agonizing three-year period, he was imprisoned, isolated, humiliated, interrogated, and tortured. He was forced to watch his friends, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, burned alive.

Later, at his own execution, Cranmer nearly succumbed and recanted his beliefs, but this usually hesitant and quiet statesman powerfully demonstrated his faith in Christ while being burned at the stake.

The Thief on the Throne

But the moment that best illustrates Cranmer’s enduring legacy was not the day of his own death, but a day nine years earlier, as he stood at the deathbed of King Henry VIII. On January 27, 1547, King Henry was dying. An attendant asked him whom he wished to have at his bedside. The king asked for Thomas.

By the time Cranmer arrived, King Henry was unable to speak. Foxe tells the story.

Then the archbishop, exhorting him to put his trust in Christ, and to call upon his mercy, desired him though he could not speak, yet to give some token with his eyes or with his hand, that he trusted in the Lord. Then the king, holding him with his hand, did wring his hand in his as hard as he could. (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 748)

The scene sweetly punctuates the most important friendship in the English Reformation. Whatever King Henry believed when he squeezed Cranmer’s hand that day, God used the bond between them to break England free from Roman Catholicism and to recover the one true gospel.

For more on Thomas Cranmer:

Thomas Cranmer: A Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love by Ashley Null

How to Train Your Dragons: Killing Pet Sins Before They Kill You

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 8:02pm

“Excuse me, can you repeat what you just said?”

I was certain I heard him wrong.

“ . . . ”

“So you’re saying that if we are struggling consistently with sexual sin, we should wean ourselves off of it by sinning in moderation? If we do said sin six times a week, you’re telling us to limit it to five per week for a time, then to four, three, two, until zero?”

The leader of a highly recommended program for male Christian purity reiterated the sentiment as everyone around me nodded at the sage’s words. After all, we just heard Jimmy’s video testimony about how he went from sinning several times a day to only sinning, well, several times a month. The strategy must work.

The friend who brought me braced himself.

“With all due respect, you can’t be serious. Do you know what sin is?

As he continued to talk, it was evident that he did not.

To him, making provision for the flesh several times a week was, in the end, beneficial to our holiness. To him, a couple of slices of forbidden fruit wasn’t really that bad. To him, sin was manageable, tamable, controllable. To him, cutting off one’s members seemed like an overreaction — just gently wean yourself off of the sin.

To him, sin was not:

  • The glory of God not honored.
  • The holiness of God not reverenced.
  • The greatness of God not admired.
  • The power of God not praised.
  • The truth of God not sought.
  • The wisdom of God not esteemed.
  • The beauty of God not treasured.
  • The goodness of God not savored.
  • The faithfulness of God not trusted.
  • The promises of God not believed.
  • The commandments of God not obeyed.
  • The justice of God not respected.
  • The wrath of God not feared.
  • The grace of God not cherished.
  • The presence of God not prized.
  • The person of God not loved.

Nor was it,

The dare of God’s justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power, and the contempt of his love. (John Bunyan)

To him, sin was like breaking the speed limit — nothing personal.

It was not an injury to our greatest Lover, a betrayal of our truest Friend, a dishonoring of our heavenly Father, an act of war against our mighty King, the creature spitting towards his Almighty Creator.

One of these was enough to curse the entire world. But allowing for several per week was apparently fine. Sin was a pet that we should eventually get rid of, but in the meantime, you could scratch its belly and teach it to play dead.

Sin Is Not a Pet

Sin is not a pet to be walked several times a week. It is a lion, a wolf, a bear. It bites and hunts at will. It attacks as a piranha. It is a restless evil lit ablaze by the fires of hell. Sin cannot be trained, bridled, or domesticated. Cannot be rescued, rehabilitated, or redeemed. Sin will never wear a collar, stick to its kennel, or cease clawing at your throat.

Sin marks us as targets for the great artillery of God’s wrath (Colossians 3:5–6). Sin makes us worthy of death (Romans 1:32). Sin will be found out and hated (Psalm 36:1–2). We never make peace with it, never make provision for it, never mark it in our calendars. Sin must be destroyed by the Spirit if we want to live (Romans 8:13).

Safer to have a pet male tiger than a pet sin.

The Lizard Upon the Shoulder

But many have tried. C.S. Lewis depicts this philosophy pictured above in The Great Divorce. In the book, a Ghost who has been kept out of heaven tries to keep his pet sin, a red lizard. In the scene, the Ghost constantly scolds the pet upon his shoulder. An angel asks the Ghost if he would like the lizard silenced.

“Of course I would,” said the Ghost.

“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.

“Oh — ah — look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost retreating.

“Don’t you want him killed?”

“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”

“It’s the only way,” said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard. “Shall I kill it?”

“ . . . ”

“Well, there’s time to discuss that later.”

“There is no time. May I kill it.”

“Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please — really — don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”

“May I kill it?”

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.”

The gradual process is of no use at all.

More excuses are given, but now we overhear the lizard whispering in his ear,

“Be careful,” it said. “He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams — all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent . . . ”

It is easy to fall into patterns of training our sin rather than killing it.

If your biggest reason to fight sin is that you don’t want to confess it again to an accountability group, you’re training your sin. If you only pray about the sin after you’ve “done it again,” you’re training your sin. If you do not seek Christ’s presence, if you do not commune with him in prayer and his word, if you do not invite believers into your life to stick daggers into your sin, you are training your sin to play dead without killing it.

Go and Sin No More

If you have a pet sin, you must renounce it at once. Your salvation depends on it.

Only those who have a string of sin’s carcasses behind them will enter into heaven. Only those who “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” knowing that God is working in them “to will and to work for his good pleasure” will be saved (Philippians 2:12–13).

But what about being saved by faith alone? You’re not. You’re justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification — both initiated and sustained by God’s grace.

There is a holiness that, if you do not have it, will keep you from seeing the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

Do not be deceived. If you sow to the flesh, you will reap ruin (Galatians 6:8). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Many will say on that day that they knew him, but he will cast them out into darkness because they were “workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21–23). Warnings are active for the Christian, and the Spirit uses them to keep us fearing God and turning from sin.

The Christian doesn’t train his dragons. We do not plan on sinning five times per week, then four, then three, until infrequent times of rebellion. After he pardons the sinner, Jesus does not say go and sin less; he says, go and sin no more. Be killing your pets, or your pets will end up killing you.

The Monastery’s Lost Houselamp: Johannes Oecolampadius (1482–1531)

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 1:00pm

The first thing we should do is get the issue of the name out of the way. Let us not stumble over the name. If he lived among us today in North America, we would call him John Houselamp. His German surname was Hussgen, which John himself worked into the Greek form (as was customary at the time).

In this brief overview of this talented man’s contribution to the great Reformation, perhaps we should just call him John.

“I Have Lost the Monk”

John was born in Germany in 1482, ten years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. As Calvin is associated with Geneva, Bucer with Strasbourg, and Luther with Wittenberg, John Oecolampadius is associated with Basel. He was one of the rising tribe of humanist scholars, thoroughly trained in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. By 1515, John had attained the post of cathedral preacher in Basel.

While in Basel, he worked as an assistant to Erasmus — the project being Erasmus’s first edition of the Greek New Testament, for which John wrote the epilogue. John was a humanist scholar who went over to the Reformation, while Erasmus was a humanist scholar who remained in the Roman communion. This was a time of spiritual turmoil for John, resulting in him becoming a monk. But he soon decided that was not right, saying, “I have lost the monk; I have found the Christian.”

A German Choir

He left Basel for a time, but returned in 1522 when he assumed a post at the University of Basel. He was a scholarly and effective participant in various disputations — which was one of the ways that cities made their decisions — and as a result, the leaders of Basel decided to join forces with the Reformation. The Mass was abandoned in Basel by 1529.

This was a time of genuine spiritual quickening, as was demonstrated by the following incident:

At about this time, God honored Oecolampadius and his church with something spectacular. Normally a choir gave short responses in Latin at various prescribed liturgical moments in the worship service. However, on Easter Sunday, the congregation in St. Martin’s spontaneously broke out in German singing during the service. Nothing like this had happened anywhere. The Council immediately forbade such singing. The congregation responded by continuing to do it. (Reformer of Basel, 19–20)

Marriage and Controversy

One interesting detail relates to John’s decision to marry in 1528. His wife was a widow named Wibrandis, who, after John passed away, married another Reformation leader, Wolfgang Capito. After he passed away, she married another Reformer, Martin Bucer. These things happen of course. But not that often.

On the matter of the Lord’s Supper, the reformational world was divided between the respective views of the Lutherans, the Calvinists, and the Zwinglians. The Lutherans held to a physical presence of Christ in the Supper, the Calvinists held to a spiritual presence, and the Zwinglians held to a memorialist position.

Basel is only 54 miles from Zurich, where Zwingli was ministering. John grew close to Ulrich Zwingli, working together with him, and came to hold Zwingli’s position on the Lord’s Supper. In 1529, John participated in the Marburg Colloquy, together with Zwingli, Luther, Bucer, Melanchthon, and others, in an unsuccessful bid for Protestant unity on the Supper.

When Zwingli was killed in battle, in 1531, John took the shocking news very hard, and died himself shortly after.

For more on Johannes Oecolampadius:

Reformer of Basel: The Life, Thought, and Influence of Johannes Oecolampadius by Diane Poythress

When God Leaves Us Awestruck: Finding Words to Capture Wonder

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 2:00am

We can never fully capture all that God is in words, but we can still marvel at him in our hearts.

Watch Now

The Monastery’s Lost Houselamp: Johannes Oecolampadius (1482–1531)

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 1:00am

The first thing we should do is get the issue of the name out of the way. Let us not stumble over the name. If he lived among us today in North America, we would call him John Houselamp. His German surname was Hussgen, which John himself worked into the Greek form (as was customary at the time).

In this brief overview of this talented man’s contribution to the great Reformation, perhaps we should just call him John.

“I Have Lost the Monk”

John was born in Germany in 1482, ten years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. As Calvin is associated with Geneva, Bucer with Strasbourg, and Luther with Wittenberg, John Oecolampadius is associated with Basel. He was one of the rising tribe of humanist scholars, thoroughly trained in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. By 1515, John had attained the post of cathedral preacher in Basel.

While in Basel, he worked as an assistant to Erasmus — the project being Erasmus’s first edition of the Greek New Testament, for which John wrote the epilogue. John was a humanist scholar who went over to the Reformation, while Erasmus was a humanist scholar who remained in the Roman communion. This was a time of spiritual turmoil for John, resulting in him becoming a monk. But he soon decided that was not right, saying, “I have lost the monk; I have found the Christian.”

A German Choir

He left Basel for a time, but returned in 1522 when he assumed a post at the University of Basel. He was a scholarly and effective participant in various disputations — which was one of the ways that cities made their decisions — and as a result, the leaders of Basel decided to join forces with the Reformation. The Mass was abandoned in Basel by 1529.

This was a time of genuine spiritual quickening, as was demonstrated by the following incident:

At about this time, God honored Oecolampadius and his church with something spectacular. Normally a choir gave short responses in Latin at various prescribed liturgical moments in the worship service. However, on Easter Sunday, the congregation in St. Martin’s spontaneously broke out in German singing during the service. Nothing like this had happened anywhere. The Council immediately forbade such singing. The congregation responded by continuing to do it. (Reformer of Basel, 19–20)

Marriage and Controversy

One interesting detail relates to John’s decision to marry in 1528. His wife was a widow named Wibrandis, who, after John passed away, married another Reformation leader, Wolfgang Capito. After he passed away, she married another Reformer, Martin Bucer. These things happen of course. But not that often.

On the matter of the Lord’s Supper, the reformational world was divided between the respective views of the Lutherans, the Calvinists, and the Zwinglians. The Lutherans held to a physical presence of Christ in the Supper, the Calvinists held to a spiritual presence, and the Zwinglians held to a memorialist position.

Basel is only 54 miles from Zurich, where Zwingli was ministering. John grew close to Ulrich Zwingli, working together with him, and came to hold Zwingli’s position on the Lord’s Supper. In 1529, John participated in the Marburg Colloquy, together with Zwingli, Luther, Bucer, Melanchthon, and others, in an unsuccessful bid for Protestant unity on the Supper.

When Zwingli was killed in battle, in 1531, John took the shocking news very hard, and died himself shortly after.

For more on Johannes Oecolampadius:

Reformer of Basel: The Life, Thought, and Influence of Johannes Oecolampadius by Diane Poythress

Defend the City: A Call to Single Men

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 8:03pm

When Solomon saw a man without sexual self-control, he saw an enemy army and a pillaged city. He saw broken windows and unhinged doors. He saw the stronghold taken and the people defenseless. Or in his words:

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. (Proverbs 25:28)

In the modern West, no city has walls; you don’t need to knock at a gate to enter Boston. But in Israel’s ancient Near East, where nations warred for land and survival, walls could make the difference between a flourishing city and a ravaged one. When Babylon breached Jerusalem’s walls, the city that was once “the joy of all the earth” (Psalm 48:2) became a widow and a slave (Lamentations 1:1).

So it is with us in the war against sexual sin. You are a city under siege. The armies of lust are at the gate, with seething hatred in their hearts and satin lies on their tongues. They seek to steal your contentment by making you grasp for phantom pleasures. They yearn to kill your manhood by rendering you incapable of cherishing a woman who is not airbrushed or imaginary. And they long to destroy your very soul by leaving you more in love with lust than with Jesus (1 Peter 2:11).

None of this happens overnight, of course. But over time, as we consistently throw a rope to these “deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22) and allow them to climb into our city, the walls crumble under their feet.

A City Without Walls

We haven’t yet grasped the nature of the fight against lust if we think only in terms of individual skirmishes. Each act of disobedience certainly has its consequences; we all know the sting of immediate guilt, regret, and self-reproach. But no single battle destroys your city — no one failure robs your contentment, your manhood, and your soul. That only happens in stages, as habitual defeats gradually weaken your defenses and silence the sound of your war cries.

Yesterday’s loss will not subject a man to the tyranny of lust, but weeks and months and years of losses will (Galatians 6:8). That’s because sin has a subtle soul-twisting quality. Each time we follow the phantom of lust into the caves of our imagination, our eyes become more accustomed to the darkness, and we find the light less welcome. This morbid curving of the soul is what C.S. Lewis called “the real evil of masturbation”:

For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. . . . Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. (The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, 758)

If we allow ourselves to habitually conjure up that imaginary harem, we will gradually become men who choose imagination over reality, men who find contentment as elusive as a shadow, men who have lost the ability to love a real woman. Or, to return to our image from Solomon, we will gradually become a city without walls. A city where lust roams at will, a city where no woman feels safe, a city that is flirting with total destruction (Matthew 5:29–30).

I know how tempting it is for single men to seek refuge in the thought that marriage will end this warfare. But marriage, as much as it may bolster a man’s sexual self-control (1 Corinthians 7:8–9), cannot make a persistently lustful man pure. Saying “I do” cannot rebuild the walls he has demolished through a thousand clicks, fantasies, and double takes. Men who have laid down their weapons during singleness should not be surprised when months, weeks, or even days into marriage they find lust inside the city gates.

A City with Barricades

So Satan and the armies of lust are laying siege to your city. The destroyer who turned a garden into a wasteland would smile to see your citadel collapse into ruins.

But the Holy Spirit is on a counter mission to defend your city — to raise the battlements, to post the guards, and to fortify the gates. He burns with zeal to make your city a home of righteousness, where a woman walks safely and where the noise of songs and dancing rumbles through the streets. The Holy Spirit’s presence transforms your city into a temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 6:19), and he is jealous to make it holy.

If habitual sin twists our souls and tears down our walls, habitual righteousness beautifies our souls and builds our walls. Every time you say no to lust by the power of God’s Spirit, you are not simply denying yourself; you’re building. You are not simply beating off the hordes of enemy armies; you’re setting stone on top of stone until the walls become impenetrable.

Every time you lower the sword of God’s promises on the leering head of lust (Ephesians 6:17), you are turning outward toward other people instead of inward toward yourself. You are banishing those shadowy brides and preparing to welcome a flesh-and-blood wife. And most importantly, you are sharpening your sight of God’s beauty — the only sight that will flood you with pleasure upon pleasure forever (Matthew 5:8).

In other words, you’re becoming more like Jesus, the man who faced the rage of enemy armies but never once let a soldier through the gates. Jesus was a walking fortress of a man — a city of contentment and manhood and sexual wholeness. Within his walls lives everything good. And one day soon, he will welcome us in as his bride, and we will revel in the strength of his steadfast love (Revelation 19:6–8).

Until that day, men, let’s fight with everything we have to become more like him.

He Died for This

Maybe you read this and think it’s too late. You’ve already dismantled the walls of your city. Lust has taken up its residence inside you, and you feel beaten, shackled, enslaved. If that’s you, hear Jesus’s word to every sinner, sexual or otherwise: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus died to seek and save people like you — the lost, the sexually defiled, the one who has no self-control, the city without walls.

And Jesus also died so that you might take up a sword and raise the resistance. He died so that you might “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” and live a “self-controlled, upright, and godly [life] in the present age” (Titus 2:12). He died so that, by the power of his Holy Spirit, you might build some walls, raise some barricades, and defend the city.

Is Anyone Born a Racist? Or Is It Learned?

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 8:00pm

Racism, hate, and anger have all erupted in fresh ways this last year. Are we born with these ethnic prejudices, or do we learn them?

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When Should I Start Dating?

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 1:00pm

At what age should Christians begin to date? What I learned while looking for affection, safety, and intimacy from girls instead of from God.

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The First Lady in France: Marie Dentière (c. 1495–1561)

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 1:00am

Born in 1495 to a noble family in Tournai, France, Marie Dentière was well educated, entered an Augustinian convent (which was Luther’s order), and likely served as a prioress in the early 1520s. Captivated by Martin Luther’s breakthrough theology, Marie left the convent by 1525 and moved to Strasbourg to officially join the highly charged Reformation movement. In that same year, she made a second radical move when she married a former priest, Simon Robert.

Renouncing clerical celibacy and extolling the joys of marriage from Scripture became strong themes in Marie’s ministry, especially in her controversial attempts to convert nuns in Geneva. One Reformer writes that Marie and Simon Robert “were the first French married couple to accept a pastoral assignment for the Reformed Church.” The couple had five children, but Robert died in 1533. By 1535, Marie had married Antoine Froment, another Reformed pastor, and the family moved to Geneva.

Live from Geneva

Most of what we know of Dentière, which is not a great deal, is gleaned from three documents attributed to her. The first of the written works recounts the events of 1532–1536 in Geneva from the point of view of the Reformers. Dentière may have been the first Protestant writer to give an eyewitness account of that tumultuous time, and she was among the first women, if not the first, to articulate and defend Reformed theology in French.

But far more than a historian, Marie Dentière was an articulate (if inflammatory) evangelist. She loved and revered the Bible, was distressed that the Catholic Church had withheld so much of it from the people, and preached that every person, including women, should be able to read God’s precious and glorious words for themselves.

A Reformed Female Teacher?

Dentière’s most famous and controversial work was a letter to the Queen of Navarre, entitled “A Most Beneficial Letter.” The letter is a robust biblical defense of Reformed theology and an impassioned attack on the Catholic Church.

It is an energetic and engaging work that demonstrates extraordinary biblical knowledge and theological understanding. The public unrest it caused resulted in the arrest of the printer and the destruction of most of the printed copies of the work. Not only had her letter condemned Roman Catholicism, and not only was her letter written by a woman, but Dentière also defended women’s equal right to be theologians and teachers. She writes,

For what God has given you and revealed to us women, no more than men should we hide it and bury it in the earth. And even though we are not permitted to preach in public congregations and churches, we are not forbidden to write and admonish one another in all charity. (Epistle to Marguerite de Navarre, 53)

Calvin and Marie

Though Marie strongly supported and defended Reformed leaders, including John Calvin, Calvin was clearly annoyed, at least during the early years of her ministry, by her outspoken manner, theological ambitions, and open criticism of male clerical leadership.

However, by 1561, the year Marie died, tension between the two had subsided and Calvin’s respect and appreciation for Marie had manifestly grown. He even asked her to write the preface for his printed sermon on female modesty from 1 Timothy 2:8–12. Perhaps ironically, one could argue that Calvin asked her to teach about a biblical passage that expressly forbade her to do so.

One Woman on the Wall

For Marie Dentière, the astonishing news of saving grace and the powerful message of equality before God were truths that had been suppressed by the Catholic Church and needed to be shouted from the housetops by anyone who had seen them for themselves in God’s word.

There is no question she lacked what those of the time considered appropriate feminine modesty and humility, but because her passion was kindled by the pages of Scripture, her writing stirred and changed hearts not only in her own day, but in ours today, as well. In 2002, Marie Dentière became the only woman to have her name engraved on the famous Wall of Reformers in Geneva.

For more on Marie Dentière:

Epistle to Marguerite de Navarre and Preface to a Sermon by John Calvin edited by Mary B. McKinley

Women and the Reformation by Kirsi Stjerna

How (Other) People Change: Walking with Loved Ones Through Five Stages

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 8:01pm

Am I helping or hurting? Aiding or enabling?

Parents, friends, and church family often find themselves in this precarious position. Someone we know and love is in sin’s grip. We agonize over whether the help we might offer will help them find freedom, or just drive them further away.

We know that love will not allow us to simply ignore the situation. Scripture calls Christians to bear one another’s burdens through the chaos and mess of life, especially the darkest seasons (see Galatians 6:2, Colossians 3:13, 1 Peter 4:10, and others). We are called to do so with caution and care, in such a way that we are not pulled down into temptation ourselves (Galatians 6:1), but also persistently calling others to change (Galatians 6:5).

But what does that mean practically? Can we even tell when our words or actions are likely to help in the fight against sin or unintentionally enable it somehow?

What You Cannot Do

First, some caveats. While you will not find the phrase “Stages of Change” anywhere in Scripture, I want to introduce you to a tested and popular paradigm used among counselors around the world, because it has been helpful to me personally as a pastor, counselor, and Christian. It’s called “Prochaska & DiClemente’s Stages of Change Model (1983).”

Now, it must be said from the outset that the Holy Spirit can and does work how he wills. He can cause hearts and minds to change in an instant. He need not follow a particular pattern, or adopt any set of steps or stages. He is free to change you or someone you love when and how he chooses to. And if he withholds change, nothing you or I might do will make a difference, however many times a counseling strategy has worked before.

It must also be stated up front that you are not responsible for someone else’s change. That’s between them and God (Galatians 6:4–5). However, you are responsible to love them (John 13:34–35) as a brother or sister in Christ, including doing everything in your power to challenge and encourage them to walk in line with the gospel (Galatians 2:14).

With those things in mind, here are five typical stages of change, with counsel for what you can do or pray for someone at each stage.

Stage 1: Pre-contemplation

At this stage, people aren’t even thinking about change yet. Whatever sinful behavior they are engaged in, they are enjoying it enough that the cost of surrender and change seems too high. When someone is in this stage, we should set good, healthy boundaries to protect ourselves and others. We cannot expect them not to sin when they see no reason to change. If they violate these boundaries, we establish and administer consistent consequences.

We see this kind of boundary in 1 Corinthians 5 when the apostle Paul exhorts believers to separate themselves from an unrepentant sexual sinner (1 Corinthians 5:1–5). Paul’s counsel was clear: a boundary (you cannot be a part of the Christian community) and a consequence (you will be given over to the devil) with a purpose (that your soul will be saved in the day of the Lord). The church wanted the man to change and be reconciled, but to accomplish that they had to remove him from fellowship, set a clear boundary, and warn him about the terrible consequences of unrepentant sin.

How can we help at this stage?

Have conversations with them and explain what you are seeing. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes not. Most of the time when they are in this stage, they just don’t care. Nonetheless, honest and open communication about the sin you see is key. How is it negatively impacting them or others? What would you like to see instead? What are the consequences they can expect if they continue down the current path? This stage can be especially difficult for two reasons.

First, if you are the one suggesting change, it’s likely that you are in a different stage than they are in your own battle with sin. The distance between you in maturity and godliness may create unhealthy expectations in you or bitter resentment in them. So we often wear ourselves out trying to force others to change when, frankly, they don’t want it. At this stage people may want your money, or your time, or your pity, or your approval, or something else, but what they don’t want is change. If your friend or loved one isn’t, on their own, beginning to think through why they should make a change in the first place, all your persuasive arguments and valuable resources are likely to be ineffective.

Second, when helpers begin to feel like we are spinning our wheels — when change doesn’t come immediately or quickly — we begin to be punitive. There’s a subtle difference here. We can subtly move from thinking about what is best for the person to trying to make them pay for what they’ve done to us. When we do, we cross the line from consequence to punishment.

How can we pray at this stage?

When someone has not even acknowledged the need for change, we pray down heaven that the Lord through the Holy Spirit will open their eyes and convict their conscience (John 16:8). It’s usually best to keep these prayers confidential. Letting someone know that you are begging God to change them when they see no need for change in the first place is more likely to cement their wayward steps than to change their course.

Stage 2: Contemplation

At this stage, people actually begin to think about change. That is, it is now on their radar that change might be worth the work. They are not yet convinced that change is necessary, but they are willing to consider it. When someone is in this stage, we can help them weigh the proverbial list of pros and cons to move them toward fuller repentance.

How can we help at this stage?

Honesty. Being honest (almost brutally so) in this stage pays dividends later. We get into trouble when we oversell the pros and undersell the cons. If we are not willing to be honest about the cost of change, then we will lose credibility. We begin to look like a “snake oil salesman” — promoting the wonders of a miracle cure, while downplaying any side effects.

Instead we must be like the physician who tells his patient, “This may be painful, but it’s worth all the pain.” Change typically requires pain. Christians understand and embrace this as much as anyone. Our most fundamental change came through excruciating pain and at great cost (Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 10:10; 1 Peter 3:18).

How can we pray at this stage?

At this point, we can pray for God to grow the seeds of conviction in their hearts, and that he would grant us patience and humility while we wait. It’s so hard not to try and seize the reins of control — to restrain ourselves from trying to craft the perfect sales pitch or find “fail-proof” strategies. Whether or not God gives our loved one the ability to change, confessing his sovereignty and our helplessness is a rich blessing in the process. Rest in his power and goodness, for he is the one who is able to save, not us (Isaiah 12:1–2).

Stage 3: Preparation

At this stage, people are persuaded that change is necessary, but have yet to actually achieve it. The length of this stage varies. Sometimes people want to implement change immediately, other times people need more time. Our goal in this stage is to help them make a plan for what change will look like, while not getting bogged down in or overwhelming them with too many details.

How can we help at this stage?

Help them think through what life might look like in the near future and the more distant future. Will they have to go through some sort of treatment? Are there new routines that need to be created? A year from now, when change has settled into habit, what will be the triggers to backslide? How do they avoid them? Try to plan with some detail, yet know that there is no way to forecast everything. Know that things will not end up exactly like you planned them.

The biggest mistakes people make at this stage are to over-prepare and get overwhelmed, or to skip this stage altogether and make no preparations at all. We are not trying to build the perfect plan; we’re simply trying to find a plan that works.

How can we pray at this stage?

At this stage, we ask God for wisdom. We can’t possibly predict every impediment that may hinder the path to change; however, we want God to help us foresee as much as we can. Knowing that our plans come to nothing without the blessings of the Lord (Luke 12:13–21), we want to plead for Spirit-empowered discernment illuminated by God’s word. We need wisdom to help our loved ones make plans and preparations for the road ahead (Proverbs 6:6–11).

Stage 4: Action

At this stage, people begin the actual process of change. In some cases, Stages 2–4 move quickly. There are times where people are convicted about something and simply decide to change, but those instances are more rare. Usually people need to set a point in time when they know new behavior will begin. This is the main reason New Year’s resolutions are so popular. The beginning of another year offers a clear starting point which makes change easier to track.

How can we help at this stage?

We now take on the role of encouragement. Our friend or family member will need hope and comfort and strength when the road is hard. The cost of change is high, so we should not be surprised when people begin to feel discouraged. It helps to come alongside them and say, We knew this was coming and we prepared for it.

This is also the stage where we begin to relax the boundaries we set in Stage 1. Where there were appropriate consequences for bad decisions, now there should be appropriate rewards for positive decisions. As Ligon Duncan says, “It is in the context of covenant obedience that covenant blessings abound.” Even the Lord recognizes that we fragile and frail people need encouragement and rewards for our hard work (Luke 19:11–19).

How can we pray at this stage?

At this stage, we ask God for the gifts of compassion and encouragement. On the one hand, we want to ask for energy to support our loved ones when they are feeling overwhelmed, having the spiritual and emotional strength to listen well and bear their heavier burdens with them. At the same time, we want to consistently remind them of the incredible resources they have in Christ and the need for them to increasingly take responsibility for their own maturity and growth (Philippians 2:12–13), of course in the context of healthy Christian community.

Stage 5: Maintenance

At this stage, people strive to move from a novel act to an engrained habit. This is the longest stage, and the one with the highest likelihood of relapse. It can take anywhere from six weeks to five years depending on a variety of factors.

How can we help at this stage?

Change is not only difficult to achieve, but perhaps even more difficult to maintain. People will need ongoing encouragement. Usually around this time, at the six-week mark or so, we begin to move on with our lives. We assume the change has happened now. This often leaves those struggling to implement change suddenly alone and overwhelmed.

A threshold exists just before change becomes habit where perseverance feels impossible. The amount of effort it takes to continue a new behavior just doesn’t seem as worth it anymore. The economy of change seems bankrupt. That makes plans and celebrations so important. As our loved ones continue to hit predetermined milestones, we need to continue to notice and rejoice. Not every positive day has to be a party, but simple words of recognition and celebration are powerful tools toward long-lasting change.

Giving accolades, however, is of little value without our continued commitment to dedicated prayer. As we remind ourselves daily to be praying for them, more diligent in our checking on them, we will be more gracious in our listening to them, and we will be more exuberant in celebrating God’s grace with them.

How can we pray at this stage?

To that end, our prayers at this stage begin to focus on sustaining grace — the grace needed to overcome the inevitable difficulties that are unforeseen. We recognize that we cannot perfectly predict or plan for the future. If our loved one is to persevere, it is going to take the strength and wisdom and help of an unflappable God (Psalms 55:22).

Change Is Always Hard

Change is hard. For everyone involved. Parents are a wreck watching their children choose sex, drugs, or alcohol over the eternal joy of the gospel. Friends are horribly guilt-ridden watching their friend descend on a path of self-destruction rather than walking the way of life. Churches are confused and distressed as professing believers openly choose deadly sin above their loving Savior.

All of them want to know what it really means — practically in the moment — to help someone else change. Sometimes we bear patiently with a brother or sister, being willing to overlook an offense. Other times, we need to lovingly rebuke them and hold them accountable. Which is it this time? Am I aiding or enabling?

It’s not always easy to tell. But this framework may help you assess when someone is genuinely interested in being different and when they just want you to help them avoid the latest consequences for their bad decisions. It’s not inerrant, but as a pastor and counselor, it has been invaluable.

The good news is that the exhausting, slow, day-to-day effort of seeing someone through difficult change cannot compete with the refreshing moment-by-moment grace of God’s Spirit in the process. With God’s help, we may just find ourselves gifted and in a position to have a positive impact on our loved ones that will last forever.

Are the Five Solas in the Bible? Part 3: In Christ Alone

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 8:00pm

Muhammed will not save you. Buddha will not save you. Mary will not save you. The Pope will not save you. Parents, president, and yoga pose will not save you. Christ alone!

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Before Time Began, Jesus Was

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 1:00pm

Jesus existed with God in the very beginning. Before time, before matter, Jesus was.

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Soli Deo Gloria: Heart and Soul of the Reformation

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 1:00pm

God works every dot on the timeline of history for his glory. Nothing stands outside the scope of his plan to bring fame to his name, for the joy of his people.

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The Protestant Melting Pot: Martin Bucer (1491–1551)

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 1:00am

Martin Bucer may be the most important Reformer you’ve never heard of. He led in the shadow of the other German giants Luther and Melanchthon, but he manned the helm of what became, at least for a time, the capital city of the Protestant world.

Bucer was born near Strasbourg on November 11, 1491. At fifteen, he joined the Dominican cloister, a monastic group of Roman Catholic preachers. Friars like Bucer carried out the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but unlike monks, they did so among the people, serving in community, not in isolation.

Germany’s Most Eligible Friar

Martin Bucer first heard Martin Luther in April of 1518 (Bucer was 26; Luther, 34). He was captivated by Luther, especially his conviction that we are justified by faith alone apart from any contribution or merit of our own. Three years later, he not only left the Dominican order in order to preach the gospel, but he also abandoned his monastic vows and decided to marry, suddenly making him, perhaps, Germany’s most eligible (and radical) friar. He married a nun (no less) named Elizabeth.

While Luther had led Bucer into the Reformation, Bucer did not see eye to eye with his spiritual father on everything, in part because he had already been heavily influenced by Erasmus, whom he appreciated and admired despite their theological differences. Bucer’s generally more inclusive and ecumenical bent providentially positioned him to play a significant role in the wider movement.

Reformation in Moderation

Strasbourg became the hub of Protestantism in large part because Bucer and other leaders remained openhanded on many of the most controversial and divisive issues. For instance, in 1529 Bucer brokered a historic, if hostile, meeting between Luther and Zwingli over the Lord’s Supper. Being himself predictably sympathetic in both directions, he brought the two sides together hoping to achieve the kind of agreement that might catalyze the unification of the two main threads of the Reformation.

While the meeting failed to birth an accord over the Table, it illustrates the kind of role the former friar played — between Luther and Zwingli, between mainstream Protestants and the more radical Anabaptists, even between Reformers and Catholics. Instead of forming and leading a distinct movement of his own — the Bucerans, if you will — he strived to bring movements together under the clear teaching of Scripture into one great Christian melting pot. He realized and prized the precious power of solidarity.

First Small Groups

As the strange spiritual offspring of Luther and Erasmus, Bucer’s Reformation took on a distinct and eclectic flavor. Initially, he simultaneously stressed that justification is by faith alone, while also zealously demanding Spirit-empowered discipline and good works in the Christian life. Good so far. However, later in life he spoke of a kind of “double justification” that was at least confusing, if it did not in effect blur the line of “faith alone.”

One way or the other, Bucer cared about Christian conduct. As a result, he persistently pursued means of church discipline. First, he went to the officials in Strasbourg, pleading for stricter enforcement. When the government refused to impose more rigorous standards for obedience, he formed voluntary groups of believers within local churches for the purpose of regular accountability and church discipline. Thus, Bucer may very well be the unlikely (and reluctant) father of the modern small group.

After being exiled, John Calvin witnessed the kind of church discipline chartered in Strasbourg and built on the same principles when he returned to Geneva. Calvin spent some of his happiest years learning from Bucer in Strasbourg, while pastoring a congregation of fellow French refugees.

German Glue

Bucer’s first wife, of twenty years, died from the plague in 1542. On her deathbed, she encouraged Martin to marry Wibrandis Rosenblatt. Wibrandis, later nicknamed “The Bride of the Reformation,” had already married and buried three leading reforming men: Ludwig Keller, Johannes Oecolampadius, and Wolfgang Capito (also from Strasbourg). Just seven years later, she buried her fourth.

While the former friar helped pioneer the path to marriage for converted monks, he also opened a wider door for divorce, but only as “an absolute last resort and generally rare, rather like the death penalty for adultery” (Reformation, 660). His exceptions became a sharp edge carving out similar openness across Protestant Europe.

In 1549, as the Augsburg Interim forced Protestants in Strasbourg to readopt traditional Catholic beliefs and practices, Bucer accepted Thomas Cranmer’s invitation to take refuge for a time in Cambridge, England, as Regius Professor of Divinity. He died just two years later, in 1551, before he could return to Strasbourg.

Many have overlooked the lesser-known Martin, probably because he lacked the timing of Luther and Zwingli and the nuanced precision of Melanchthon and Calvin, preferring instead to bridge the gap and facilitate unity among the Reformers. And that’s precisely why we should remember him — the German glue of the Protestant Reformation.

God Wounds Us Because He Loves Us

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 8:02pm

Often the love we need most is the love we want least. The love feels so harsh, so blunt, so unpleasant in the moment that we often don’t even recognize it as love.

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:5–6)

Sometimes the Lord’s love for us feels like the opposite of love, but that’s only because we can’t see everything he sees. Behind the real pain he allows is an even more real love for those for whom he sent his Son (John 3:16).

The world would never call any kind of pain “love.” The world simply does not have categories for God doing whatever necessary to draw us to himself — his strength, his righteousness, his help, his peace. But his love for us explodes the world’s small categories and far surpasses its weak expectations.

How God Wounds

We see this kind of unexpected and painful love in Amos. God has done everything reasonable to awaken his people to their sin and to rescue them from their rebellion against him, but they simply will not relent.

He withheld food to make them hungry: “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6). God was willing to watch them hunger if that’s what it took for them to hunger for him, again.

He stopped the rain to make them thirsty: “I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither; so two or three cities would wander to another city to drink water, and would not be satisfied; yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:7–8). God was willing to let them thirst if that’s what it took for them to thirst for righteousness.

He corrupted the fields to ruin their harvest: “I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:9). God was willing to compromise his people’s livelihood if that’s what it took for them to look to him for all they needed.

Most devastating of all, he even killed their loved ones: One last time from Amos: “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me. . . . I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:10–11). God was willing even to see them die if that’s what it took for them to truly live.

Why, Lord?

He withheld food, “yet you did not return to me.” He withheld water, “yet you did not return to me.” He ruined the fields, “yet you did not return to me.” He even killed their loved ones, “yet you did not return to me.” God’s purpose was not destruction, but reconciliation. His motivation was not revenge, but compassion. He wasn’t wielding his power and justice mainly as punishment, but as invitation. In every ounce of suffering, he calls to his people, Come back to me.

We see this kind of love throughout the prophets. God is willing to withhold anything to bring his people home to himself. Again and again, the pain he allows is designed to lead us to comfort and hope and healing, not despair.

He allows us to suffer so that we would turn and receive compassion: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). The pain may feel like God’s fierce anger in the moment, but it actually serves to reveal his warm compassion toward us. Joel writes, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13).

So that we would return and be healed: “The Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them” (Isaiah 19:22). The Lord does take away. The Lord does strike. The Lord will tear. All that he may heal. Hosea sings, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1).

So that we would return and be redeemed: “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22). When we return to the Lord, we don’t meet resistance or reluctance. This Father runs to receive his prodigal (Luke 15:20). We finally find redemption.

So that we would return and find rest: “Thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling” (Isaiah 30:15). When we suffer, enduring disappointment or rejection, wrestling with disease or disability, losing someone we loved, we may want rest more than anything — rest from the pain, from the questions, from the doubt, from the anxieties. Tragically, many of us run away from God to try and find rest, when the suffering is designed to lead us into real rest with him. God hangs the same banner over every trial: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29).

So that we would return and rejoice: “The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10; 51:11). Satan prowls like a lion, waiting to devour the vulnerable. And because he preys on the weak and vulnerable, he often focuses on those who are suffering. The devil wants your life to be all sorrow and no joy, but God means for you to find deeper, more durable joy in your sorrow and suffering (2 Corinthians 6:10). When we begin to see all that God does for us through adversity, we not only learn to tolerate our weaknesses and afflictions, we “boast all the more gladly” in them (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So that we would return and have God: “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7). In the end, the sweetest gift God gives us when he wounds us is that he gives us more of himself. When we return to God, we get God (1 Peter 3:18). He is not some unnamed supernatural postman delivering what we need, and then being forgotten behind his gifts. He is the first and greatest gift he gives to any of us. And he is worth whatever we must lose or suffer to have him.

But If You Will Not Return

God pleads for his people to return — to come home — but the passage in Amos 4 ends ominously. The Lord himself warns Israel,

“Thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth — the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name! (Amos 4:12–13)

Whether we return to God or not when we’re wounded, we will meet him one day. The suffering we experience now is designed to bring us to him as a precious son or daughter. But if we refuse, we will meet him as an enemy, and our suffering will be far worse forever. An eternity apart from him, and against him, will make years of pain and heartache look strangely light and momentary by comparison.

Don’t be afraid to feel the pain in suffering, and to grieve the pain, but let it lead you to God, not away from him. He is wounding you with love, and pleading with you to run to him.

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