We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize . . . but one who in every respect has been tested as we are. (Hebrews 4:15)
Mass murder is why Jesus came into the world the way he did. What kind of Savior do we need when our hearts are shredded by brutal loss?
We need a suffering Savior. We need a Savior who has tasted the cup of horror we are being forced to drink.
And that is how he came. He knew what this world needed. Not a comedian. Not a sports hero. Not a movie star. Not a political genius. Not a doctor. Not even a pastor. The world needed what no mere man could be.
The world needed a suffering Sovereign. Mere suffering would not do. Mere sovereignty would not do. The one is not strong enough to save; the other is not weak enough to sympathize.
So he came as who he was: the compassionate King. The crushed Conqueror. The lamb-like Lion. The suffering Sovereign.
Now he comes to Sutherland Springs, Texas.
- Perfected through suffering. (Hebrews 2:10)
- Hated by the proud. (John 7:7)
- Demonized by the strong. (Matthew 9:34)
- Willingly poor. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
- A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3)
- Planning to be crushed. (Isaiah 53:5)
- Despised and rejected. (Isaiah 53:3)
- Ready to be wounded. (Isaiah 53:5)
- Submissive like a lamb led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7)
- Enduring anguish. (Isaiah 53:11)
- Poured out in death. (Isaiah 53:12)
- Risen to help. (Romans 14:7–9)
The God who draws near to Sutherland Springs is the suffering, sympathetic God-man, Jesus Christ. No one else can feel what he has felt. No one else can love like he can love. No one else can heal like he can heal. No one else can save like he can save.
After the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999, John Piper wrote a response to give some pastoral help for how to care for people who have endured great suffering. In the wake of September 11, 2001, he expanded that response: 21 Ways to Comfort Those Who Are Suffering.
Why you exist is no mystery. God has plainly revealed his purpose for you in the pages of Scripture: you are here to make much of him.
Egalitarianism tends to obscure the deeper differences between manhood and womanhood. This has not served us well in the last fifty years. It has instead confused millions and muted a crucial summons for a distinctly masculine care.Unanswered Question
What average man or woman today could answer a little boy’s question: Daddy, what does it mean to grow up and be a man and not a woman? Or a little girl’s question: Mommy, what does it mean to grow up and be a woman and not a man?
Who could answer these questions without diminishing manhood and womanhood into anatomical structures and biological functions? Who could articulate the profound meanings of manhood and womanhood woven differently into a common personhood created differently and equally in the image of God?
How many articles have been written about the meaning of being a “real woman” or “real man” that leave us saying, “But all of those wonderful things apply just as well to the other sex — maturity, wisdom, courage, sacrifice, humility, patience, kindness, strength, self-control, purity, faith, hope, love, etc”? By all means, these mark true womanhood. And they mark true manhood. So, they do not answer the little boy’s question: What does it mean to grow up and be a man and not a woman? Or the little girl’s question: What does it mean to grow up and be a woman and not a man?
For decades, Christian and non-Christian egalitarians have argued, assumed, and modeled that roles among men and women in the home, in the church, and in the wider culture should emerge solely from competencies rather than deeper realities rooted in how we differ as men and women. This means that, from the side of egalitarianism, very little attention has been given to the questions of our little girl and boy. Apart from physiological and anatomical features, the questions seem to have no answers. And today, even those features are pliable.When Nature Won’t Yield
Way back in 1975, Paul Jewett, who taught me systematic theology at Fuller Seminary, conceded as an egalitarian his uncertainty about “what it means to be a man in distinction to a woman or a woman in distinction to a man” (Man as Male and Female, 178). He did not mean the anatomy was ambiguous. He meant that, whatever deeper differences there are, he didn’t think we could know them.
Egalitarians seem not to have been alarmed by this confession of ignorance. Instead, it seems they have been confirmed and emboldened by it. It fits the half-century-old gender-leveling current of the culture. But current is too weak a word. Torrent or avalanche would be more accurate. One need only sample the movies and TV shows of recent years to see the increasing passion with which women are portrayed as being just as physically strong, harsh, impudent, violent, arrogant, vulgar, two-timing, and sexually aggressive as any macho male hero.
One wonders if this passion for the portrayal of Annie Get Your Gun on steroids is perhaps owing to the rising sense that there is something in nature that won’t adapt to our egalitarian portrayal. The stubbornness of God-given nature, then, creates the need for the egalitarian message to be more forceful, even preternatural (Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Superwoman). Such are the trials of those who try to recreate what God made otherwise.Alarming Sexual Agnosticism
But it really is astonishing that Paul Jewett was unable to identify the deeper meaning of manhood and womanhood. The reason it should astonish us is that he confessed,
Sexuality permeates one’s individual being to its very depth; it conditions every facet of one’s life as a person. As the self is always aware of itself as an ‘I,’ so this ‘I’ is always aware of itself as himself or herself. Our self-knowledge is indissolubly bound up not simply with our human being but with our sexual being. At the human level there is no ‘I and thou’ per se, but only the ‘I’ who is male or female confronting the ‘thou,’ the ‘other,’ who is also male or female. (Man as Male and Female, 172)
He cites Swiss theologian, Emil Brunner (d. 1966), to the same effect,
Our sexuality penetrates to the deepest metaphysical ground of our personality. As a result, the physical differences between the man and the woman are a parable of psychical and spiritual differences of a more ultimate nature. (Man as Male and Female, 173)
After reading these amazing statements concerning how essential manhood and womanhood are to our personhood and how sexuality “conditions every facet of one’s life,” it is all the more stunning to read Jewett’s agnosticism about the meaning of manhood and womanhood,
Some, at least, among contemporary theologians are not so sure that they know what it means to be a man in distinction to a woman or a woman in distinction to a man. It is because the writer [Jewett himself] shares this uncertainty that he has skirted the question of ontology [what actually is] in this study. (Man as Male and Female, 178)
All human activity reflects a qualitative distinction which is sexual in nature. But in my opinion, such an observation offers no clue to the ultimate meaning of that distinction. It may be that we shall never know what that distinction ultimately means. (Man as Male and Female, 187)
Surely this is a great sadness — and an important clue to how we got where we are today. It is not a great leap from Jewett’s agnosticism about what manhood and womanhood are to the belief that those differences (unknowable as they seem to him) have no God-given, normative status in the nature of things, but only a social status chosen by individuals.From Unanswerable to Unaskable
The decades-long disinclination to ask the question (using Brunner’s terms), What are the “psychical and spiritual differences of a more ultimate nature” between manhood and womanhood? has morphed from Jewett’s agnosticism into today’s antagonism. The question is not only unanswerable; it is unaskable.
But not asking the question about the essence of male and female personhood confuses everyone, especially our children. And this confusion hurts people. It is not a small thing. Its effects are vast.
When manhood and womanhood, for example, are confused at home, the consequences are deeper than may show up in a generation. There are dynamics in the home that form the children’s concept of manhood and womanhood, and shape significantly their sexual preferences. Especially powerful in forming sexual identity is a father’s strong and loving affirmation of a son’s masculinity and daughter’s femininity. But how can this kind of strong, fatherly affirmation be cultivated in an atmosphere where deeper differences between masculinity and femininity are constantly denied or diminished for the sake of gender-leveling and sex-blindness?Suppressing a Needed Summons
Under pressure to shun the question about deeper and differing inclinations that may define the God-given natures of manhood and womanhood, mainstream Western culture has suppressed one of the realities that God put in place for the flourishing of both sexes. While affirming the importance of mutual love, respect, honor, and encouragement between men and women, there is in our day a resistance against the biblical summons for men to show a peculiar care for women that’s different than they would for men — and a strong disincentive to women to feel glad about this.
But in Colossians 3:19, the apostle Paul told husbands, “Love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” That is not the same as saying, “Neither of you should be harsh.” We can tell from Ephesians 5:22–33 and 1 Peter 3:7 that this admonition to men is owing to a peculiarly male temptation to be rough — even cruel — and to a peculiarly female vulnerability to that violence, on the one hand, and to a natural female gladness, on the other hand, to be honored with caring protection and strong tenderness.Complementarian Claim
This is where biblical complementarians step in to say that something beautiful and vital is lost, when the only summons to men, in relation to women, is the same as the summons given to women, in relation to men. Calls like: be respectful, be kind, keep the Golden Rule.
No, say complementarians. God requires more of men in relation to women than he does women in relation to men. God requires that men feel a peculiar responsibility for protecting and caring for women. As a complementarian, I do not say that this calling is to the exclusion of women protecting and caring for men in their own way. I am saying that men bear a peculiar burden of responsibility that is laid on them in a way that is not laid on women.Irreversible, Peculiar Responsibility
Modeling the peculiar summons to the man in marriage, Christ dies for his bride to save her, beautify her, nourish her, and cherish her (Ephesians 5:25–30). In Paul’s way of thinking, this peculiar calling of manhood is no more reversible with the calling of womanhood than the work of Christ is reversible with the work of the church.
And since this calling is rooted, not in asexual competencies, but in the nature of manhood itself, its implications for life are not limited to marriage. To be sure, a husband bears unique responsibilities to his wife. But this deeper meaning of manhood does not lose its significance when he walks out of the door of his home. Men, as men, everywhere, all the time, bear a burden, under God, to care for the well-being of women, which is not identical to the care women owe men.
This message, at the heart of complementarianism, has been all but muted in our culture. Many would rather sacrifice this peculiar biblical mandate, given for the good of women, than betray any hint of compromise with egalitarian assumptions. Thus, I am arguing, we have forfeited both a great, God-ordained restraint upon male vice, and a great, God-ordained incentive for male valor.Human Does Not Replace Masculine
We have developed a theology and a cultural bias that continually communicates to men: You bear no different responsibility for women than they bear for you. Or to put it differently, we have created a Bible-contradicting, nature-denying myth that men should feel no different responsibility to protect women than women feel to protect men. Many have put their hope in the myth that the summons to generic human virtue, with no attention to the peculiar virtues required of manhood and womanhood, would be sufficient to create a beautiful society of mutual respect. It isn’t working.
Perhaps the disillusionment of these days will give us pause. Perhaps we will consider that we have lost something very important. Perhaps many will wake up to the possibility that it is not noble, but tragic, when a whole culture refuses to tell men that their manhood includes a peculiar kind of care for women.
What should we do if the thrills of TV, movies, video games, and sports feel more interesting than spending time with God?
Everyone knows what a hangover feels like.
Jim Carrey certainly does. At the Golden Globe Awards last year, the two-time award winner took the stage to introduce the nominees for Best Motion Picture Comedy, and it marked the first spectacle of a change happening in the veteran actor.
He started with a personal introduction that quickly turned into a painfully honest critique on the search for meaning. After he cracked a couple jokes about what it’s like to be a two-time award winner, Carrey remarked,
And when I dream, I don’t just dream any old dream. No sir. I dream about being three-time Golden Globe winning actor Jim Carrey — because then I would be enough. It would finally be true, and I could stop this terrible search for what I know ultimately won’t fulfill me.
Everyone laughed at what Carrey said, and people are still laughing at it — with nearly five million views on YouTube. But what’s hidden in the laughs is that we all know he’s right. Our laughing at his words is really a laughing at ourselves, and it’s a nervous kind of laugh. It’s laughing at the absurdity of trying to find ultimate fulfillment in fleeting things. Carrey and the rest of us are tiptoeing around what has been called the “argument from desire,” and it’s making a comeback.You Know What I Mean
Perhaps you’ve run into the argument from desire before when reading C.S. Lewis. Lewis puts the argument’s conclusion about as straightforward as it gets in Mere Christianity when he writes, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
That sentence alone is worth kicking around in your mind for a while. When it comes to longing and satisfaction, nothing is more ubiquitous to our species and yet so rarely investigated.
Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, explains more about how the argument from desire works. He shows that two vital premises support Lewis’s conclusion.
The first premise is that every natural desire corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire. This is the point Lewis makes when he says, a few sentences before his memorable conclusion,
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex.
This first premise sets up the second premise that, as Lewis says, we find in ourselves a desire which “nothing in this world can satisfy.” Lewis is referring to our common discontentment — that we all know something is missing. There has to be more.
Kreeft says that we establish this second premise mainly by appeal. Although there are countless examples out there, such as Carrey’s Golden Globe bit, or Tom Brady’s memorable “there’s gotta be more than this,” at the end of the day, the argument from desire means that we’re asking people to do some “honest introspection,” as Kreeft puts it. We’re asking them to grapple with the question of whether they’re happy — really happy.Get Woke, and Deep
The average American today doesn’t appear to do introspection with the same gusto that characterized earlier generations. Most of the media we thumb through in our newsfeed is more about decrying the turmoil of our society than delving into the pondering of a man or woman who feels unfulfilled. The greatest need right now, it seems, is to get woke, not deep. And understandably so.
But our desires still exist, and they’re still unfulfilled.
I can’t help but wonder if sometimes our activism doesn’t just double as another form of self-imposed diversion — anything to keep us from asking the questions beneath the questions. What’s the point anyway? Why can’t we find what we’re looking for?
These questions still demand answers, even amid the hurling winds of chaos and destruction in our country. The dust will never settle enough for us to peek into them without distraction. We don’t all get to take “self-discovery” trips to Italy. Instead, most of us must do our searching in the chaos.
That’s part of what makes the recent essay “The Metaphysics of the Hangover” so insanely relevant.Always Hungry
Writing in The Hedgehog Review, Mark Edmundson, professor of English at the University of Virginia, marches through terrain many in his ilk rarely trod. He approaches the experience of a hangover with seriousness and imagination, simultaneously embarrassing the drunkard and claiming that the headaches of regret point to something deeper in the human condition. He writes, “The hangover is not only an aftermath of booze and drugs” — an experience that presumably many of his readers know something about. But also, “The hangover may pertain to failed idealizations of many sorts.” That is, everyone has experienced some kind of hangover.
“Failed idealizations,” he explains, include religion, romance, and all kinds of things. Edmundson says that life is full of those moments when we wake up to the bitter emptiness that we have not received what we bargained for.
We all know the feeling. We expect to find what we’re looking for down one of these roads, and then another, and then another — and so we keep running. We trick ourselves into believing that our payday is just around the corner until one day we realize it’s not — it has already passed. It has come and gone, and we’re left here again, hollow, jaded, burned.
“I can’t be satisfied,” Edmundson quotes the bluesman. “I can’t be satisfied.”
That is, there’s not enough liquor in the world for me and not enough love — surely there isn’t enough sex. Whatever there might be that stokes my spirit is in too short supply, and if there were more and much more, that wouldn’t be enough, because I am hungry all the time.
“Hungry all the time.”
The thing with hunger is that it never goes away until it’s satisfied. “Hungry all the time” means we’re hungry whether we feel it or not, whether we want to be or not. We just need reminders, like roaring stomachs or Edmundson’s essay.The End of the Road
The argument from desire, to be sure, is not a formal presentation of the gospel — it may barely get you down the street of theism. But it absolutely points you there. And even better, it shows you that everything in you, and around you, has already been pointing you there.
And once you start down that way, once you really start investigating, the most probable explanation is that you were made for another world — a world won for you by a God who came down from heaven and became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, who suffered and was buried, who rose again in accordance with the Scriptures, who ascended to heaven and is coming again to judge the living and the dead, and whose kingdom will never end.
I remember the Sunday evening I got a phone call asking if I could come to the hospital. I found my friends snoring in the ICU waiting room. Their teenage daughter had been in an accident, and they had been there for two days with little sleep. The car was totaled, and we weren’t sure yet which way it would go for her. Her hair was buzzed, which exposed surgical seams on her scalp held by staples. While hooked to machines sustaining her life, she missed her high school prom.
Over the next few months, when I would talk with her parents, I could see a question in their eyes. The question is a common one. It’s the same question those who have been affected by the recent hurricanes might ask. It’s the same question I hear in the understandable exasperation of many minorities in our country. And it’s the same question survivors of the Las Vegas shooting are left asking.
The question goes something like this: If tomorrow is as difficult as today, or is even harder than today, how will I go on? Maybe you have felt the weight of that kind of despair.Not by Bread Alone
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo Baggins has a line that gives voice to this feeling. He says to Gandalf, “I feel all thin, sort of stretched . . . like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.”
After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites knew what it meant to feel thin. But before they entered the land of promise, God wanted the people he had redeemed to know why he would allow them to feel so stretched. In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses tells God’s people,
“He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Many people are familiar with the second part of this verse (“man does not live by bread alone”) because Jesus quoted it in the wilderness during his forty days of fasting. But the verse has two parts, and it’s precisely the relationship between them that makes the verse so powerful.When We Have Nothing Left
Part A says, “He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna.” It’s Part A that reveals the way God went about teaching Part B, “man does not live by bread alone.”
At first glance, it could seem that God was actually teaching the complete opposite lesson. One might think that if people had to rely on food every day to survive, then God was simply teaching that people need to rely on food to survive — as if he were saying, “Each day I let you get hungry and then I feed you, so that you might learn that people need food to survive.” But the biological lesson is not the lesson.
To realize how Part A directly relates to Part B, we need to think about how manna functioned in the life of an Israelite. Each day, a person would collect just enough manna for that day. If you collected too much, attempting to hoard the resource, the manna would breed worms and stink (Exodus 16:20). In other words, manna never needed an expiration date because you always knew it expired tomorrow — unless tomorrow was a Sabbath in which case the manna lasted an extra day (Exodus 16:22–24).
To describe this in imagery more familiar to us, consider your fridge. Each night when you go to bed your fridge is empty. Your freezer, empty. Your cupboards, empty. You seek out your neighbors, but their house is also empty. The grocery stores, marketplaces, and gas stations, empty. Not a single McMuffin or Dunkin Donut or box of Wheaties to be found. Each night when you go to bed, all the needed resources for tomorrow are gone. As you lay in bed with your tummy already rumbling, there’s nothing left.
Nothing left except a promise! You’d still have the promise from the mouth of the Lord that tomorrow he would provide for the needs of tomorrow. Every night, you’d have an empty manna jar. But every night, you’d have the promise from the mouth of the Lord. This is the lesson of Deuteronomy 8:3.Feed on Gospel Promises
When we fear tomorrow may be more difficult than today — when we feel like butter scraped over too much bread — God wants us to feed upon his promises.
Feed your soul on the promise that if God clothes the lilies and feeds the birds, he will certainly care for his children (Matthew 6:25–33). Feed on the promise that his grace is sufficient and his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Feed on the promise that God is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28). Feed on the promise that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that those who believe in him can have eternal life (John 3:16).
And if tomorrow does indeed turn out more difficult than today, and the next day is so hard that it kills us, God has promised to raise his children to a life better and brighter than we could even imagine (Revelation 21:1–7).Rock Beneath Us
These promises are ours because we have a Savior who conquered sin and death and evil. When Jesus, the True Israelite, felt the duress of forty days in the wilderness — alone, with no food, and assaulted by the tempter — his faith in his Father’s provision never wavered. Satan mocked him, targeting what he thought could be Jesus’s breaking point, saying, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3). But in that moment, Jesus told the devil, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). Where Adam failed, the Second Adam did not.
Left to ourselves, we are always, only, ever a house of cards. Yet beneath our flimsy hope of self-sufficiency rests the rock-solid promise of a good and gracious God, always strong and sovereign. This promise sustained my friends as they waited in the ICU for their daughter to recover. It sustains me when life is hard. And it can sustain you when you fear what’s ahead.
You don’t need to know Hebrew and Greek to know your Bible. God always meant for his word to enter every nation and be translated into every language.
Whether in this world or beyond, nothing is more precious, permanent, or valuable than God himself.
Where do your thoughts come from?
Our conscious thoughts always come from somewhere. That’s obvious enough, you might think. My guess, though, is that much of the time it’s not obvious to you at all where your thoughts are coming from.
Of course, sensory and information input give you frequent food for thought (like this article is doing right now). But what about the thoughts demanding your attention first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, or the compulsive thoughts that dictate your behaviors?
I’ll give you a personal example. During my morning prayer time, it’s not uncommon for me to suddenly realize I’ve stopped praying and am now engaged in an imaginary conversation with myself or someone else regarding something I’m currently concerned about. When I try to stop and get back to praying, it can be very hard — my thoughts are demanding my attention.
You know what I mean, because you experience this too. Such thoughts often have what feels like a gravitational pull on our attention, almost like we can’t resist going where they want to lead us, even if we don’t want to go there. Where are these coming from?Thoughts, Emotions, Beliefs
If we want to know where our thoughts are coming from, the first thing to examine is our emotions. What specifically are we feeling — fear, anxiety, anger, disappointment, discouragement, grief, sadness, hope, excitement, pride, joy, desire, anticipation? Sometimes powerful emotions like these push us down a certain train of thought. Other times certain thoughts stir up such emotions. It doesn’t really matter which comes first, because our emotions always point to what’s feeding our thoughts.
And what our emotions point to are our underlying beliefs. What we believe is what feeds our thoughts — the thoughts that really matter to us and guide how we live.
We all have official beliefs and functional beliefs, and the beliefs I’m talking about are the latter. Our official beliefs are like a company’s formal mission statement, core values, and policy handbook. Functional beliefs are like how a company actually operates. If we want to know what a company really values, we look at its operations. If we want to know what we really believe at any given moment, we look at our functional beliefs.
And the quickest way to see our functional beliefs is to look underneath our emotions. That’s what’s feeding our dominating, behavior-dictating thoughts.Think About These Things
But is any of this in the Bible? Yes. God, having designed the human psyche, is the supreme Psychologist, and the Bible is an incredible psychology text. Functional belief-fueled emotions and thoughts are all over the Bible. Why did Gideon think to hide his wheat in the winepress (Judges 6:11)? Why did David think sleeping with Bathsheba was a good idea (2 Samuel 11)? Why did Peter think he should deny Jesus to the servant girl (Matthew 26:69–70)? Why did the anguished father think to say to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24)?
But the text I’ve found most helpful recently is Philippians 4:8:
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Note the last four words: “think about these things.” That’s a strong statement. Paul isn’t offering us counsel; he’s giving us a command. This is something we must obey. God is saying something profound to us through Paul: there is a way to change how we think, and we must choose that way. What way?
Look at the list. Have you ever stopped to think how abstract the concepts Paul lists are? The last time you struggled to escape a compulsive train of thought, how much help were concepts like truth, honor, justice, purity, excellence, and the rest? To the degree they remained abstract, probably no help at all.
Paul never intended these concepts to remain abstract. That’s why he wrote “whatever is” before each one. Paul knew that giving rise to our negative, sinful thoughts are specific false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, ugly, disgraceful, and detestable functional beliefs. Wherever these functional sinful beliefs (or unbeliefs) exist in us, manifesting in our demanding sinful thoughts and emotions, they must be confronted and replaced with “whatever is” the appropriate, God-dependent belief.Fight for Joy
When we are struggling with distracting, demanding thoughts and emotions, God wants us to know that we are not victims who must simply endure the miserable ride on the train of our thoughts. He wants us to seize the controls he’s given us, switch tracks, and head in a faithful, joyful direction.
And we do this by remembering that superficial thoughts and emotions are the offspring of our deeper functional beliefs. Those false beliefs are based on false promises — any promise that doesn’t have its origin in God through his word. Therefore, when we unseat specific false promises by trusting true promises, we unseat the false belief giving life to dominating emotions and thoughts. When we do this, it produces spiritual peace and joy, even if nothing has changed in our circumstances.
This is hard work, especially if we’re out of practice or have never really made this a consistent practice. It’s a fight of faith, one we engage numerous times a day. And in habits of sinful thought and feeling we’ve conditioned ourselves to indulge, we should expect it to be particularly difficult.
But difficult doesn’t mean impossible, for “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Yes, learning the habit of not being pushed around by our thoughts and emotions requires us to exercise discipline. But biblical discipline is not in the long run the denial of pleasure, but the pursuit of pleasure (Hebrews 12:10–11).
It is for joy and freedom and love that God is calling us to fight with all our might to “think about these things.”
Dementia may turn God’s people into frail shadows of their former self, but these saints are sitting on the brink of a glory and power we can’t imagine.
Pain comes, suffering invades, and tears fall. But the Christian faith is one of inescapable joy.
Pain comes, suffering invades, and tears fall. But the Christian faith is one of inescapable joy.
Class that day began so peacefully.
My university professor began the Christian Love and Marriage class with a “fun little assignment to get the creative juices flowing.”
The task was simple: Draw what you think of when you envision the love of God.
She went around and handed out crayons and blank sheets of paper for our project. We had fifteen minutes.
The first five I just sat there. How could I, who could barely draw straight lines for stickmen, draw the love of God?
As my peers joyfully scribbled away, I grabbed the black crayon. I still recall those next ten minutes of worship.
The alarm rang — time for show and tell. Each of us went around and shared our drawings, explaining why we drew what we did.
The first student unveiled her picture: a collage of lipstick red hearts, shiny bubbles, and a dozen or so smiley faces.
The second student revealed a unicorn galloping over a rainbow.
The third, a meadow with the sun shining down on laughing butterflies.
The fourth, a worn-out teddy bear.
As each explained their picture, one thing became obvious: despite my previous assumption, none was joking. All artists took their work seriously.
“God’s love makes me feel a kind of warmth inside,” explained one girl.
“Yeah, his love is magical, like the best dream you don’t want to wake up from,” added another.
“I just see a big bouquet of butterflies when I think about how God loves all of us.”
“I just feel a sense of home with God’s love, like I do when I remember my childhood teddy bear.”
I revealed my picture. My classmates were first shocked. Then confused. Then disgusted.
“That’s pretty barbaric of you,” said the first.
“I don’t think such a gory event should depict God’s love,” contributed the second.
“This is why some people don’t want to explore Christianity,” scolded the third.
In my drawing, a hill quaked. Lightning flashed. Darkness enveloped. Two dark crosses backdropped the third. My sore hand held up my nearly torn through artwork depicting my Savior dying on the cross for my sins.
“I believe this to be God’s own picture of his love,” I said.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)Fact or Feeling?
Notice what happened: When prompted to draw what each envisioned as the love of God, each drew what they felt when considering the love of God.
Instead of looking without themselves, they gazed within. The objective reality of God’s love for sinners was evidenced for them — not in the crushing and torture of the Son of God two thousand years ago — but was displayed in the fluttering sensations in their own hearts. How did they know God loved them? Their feelings told them so.
And their inners did not tell them of the fierce love of God demonstrated in the Son of God being brutally executed as he bore the wrath of God on sinners’ behalf. The fallen human heart is too politically correct, too Hallmark, too civilized to mention that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to be brutally murdered for it.
When God showed his love for sinners, it was rated R.He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
If handed a box of crayons and a paper, I would be surprised if many would draw what my nominally Catholic peers did. But I too often share their disposition to look within instead of without to see whether God truly loves me from day to day.
I felt like I counted my family’s interests above my own today: He loves me.
I didn’t experience much joy in the word the past few mornings: He loves me not.
I am happy because I finally shared the gospel with my coworker: He loves me.
I was incredibly angry in my heart towards my spouse last night: He loves me not.
My heart overflowed today in corporate worship: He loves me.
I didn’t feel any warm sensations of his presence during prayer: He loves me not.
This life is utterly exhausting. It may not be legalism, but feelism is just as tyrannical.
Although it is true that if we have absolutely no subjective experience of God’s love ever, we most likely are not a child of God (Romans 5:5; 8:16). But we must not confuse faith’s gaze from the cross to our feelings. The Spirit in Romans 5:5 directs our gaze to the cross in Romans 5:6.Jesus Loves Me, This I Know
The gospel has a far better word for us than our fickle feelings:
The Father sent his only Son into the world so that I might not die in my sins (John 3:16): He loves me.
That Son emptied himself and took on human form to rescue his people (Philippians 2:6–7): He loves me.
Jesus Christ loved his Father and perfectly obeyed on my behalf, even unto death on a cross (Philippians 2:8–11): He loves me.
Jesus stepped forward in Gethsemane (John 18:4), bowing his knee to his Father’s will (Matthew 26:42): He loves me.
He was beaten as to be unrecognizable (Isaiah 52:14). He was whipped, scourged, spit on, mocked, slapped, bloodied, beaten, shamed: He loves me.
The Father crushed his own Son (Isaiah 53:10). He gave him the cup of wrath bearing my name (John 18:11). God did not spare his own Son (Romans 8:32): He loves me.
The Light of the world was snuffed; the Bread of life, broken; the King of kings, executed; the Lamb of God, slain; the Son of Man, tortured; the Son of God, forsaken; the Rock of ages, stricken; the blood of Christ, shed: Oh, how he loves me.
And the Father raised the Son from the dead. The Son reigns over the universe as my great Prophet, Priest, and King. The Spirit has made me new, is sustaining repentance and faith, and has sealed me for the day of Christ. He loves me.
Jesus, our life, is coming back. He will marry us. He will take us into his kingdom to reign with him. The time hastens on. He loves us.
As Christians, we no longer look to the drooping flower of our own love for God, peeling away petal by petal, muttering frantically to ourselves: He loves me, he loves me not.
Instead, we sing,
When Satan tempts us to despair,
Reminding of the lack within,
Upwards we look and see him there,
Who proved his love by conquering sin.
We spend our lives looking outside of ourselves to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1–2), who has proven God’s love once and for all, and will amaze his people afresh with that love forever.
The stakes are high when pastors do not root their points plainly from the text in front of them. Here are six consequences.
In middle school, my parents diagnosed me with a common disorder: selective hearing.
I couldn’t hear my dad telling me to do the dishes or take out the trash, but I could hear him whispering about my upcoming birthday presents. I don’t think I’m the only one with this problem. Selective hearing, also known as disobedience, is banned in the kingdom of Christ. Disciples must always be dialed in to the voice of our Lord.
Listening to Jesus is vital to the Christian life. Discipleship demands non-selective hearing from Jesus. I’ve never heard his voice with my ears, but the risen Christ does speak to me: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). He speaks via the Scriptures.Hear His Voice
Today, we can hear Jesus speak with our eyeballs. In the red letters? Yes — and in all the black ones, too. We hear and behold his glory from Genesis to Revelation by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As puritan John Owen says, “To behold it [the glory of Christ], is not a work of fancy or imagination; it is not conversing with an image framed by the art of men without, or that of our own fancy within, but of faith exercised on divine revelations. This direction he gives us himself, John 5:39, ‘Search the Scriptures; for they are they which testify of me.’”
Genesis to Revelation is filled with the words and glory of Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit, drawing his sheep to follow him. The Scriptures are more than ink printed on a forest of dead tree bark. The Bible is living and active.
Open it up. Listen.
The Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5). The Father’s love for the Son calls us to action. He wants us to listen to Jesus — to obey Jesus, to submit to Jesus, to follow Jesus. The Father invites us to view Jesus like he does — as the beloved Son with whom he is well pleased, and as the voice who is worth hearing.
Your love for the Lord is expressed in how you listen to the Lord (John 14:6). Your view of Jesus is revealed in how you hear him. There is a direct connection between our ears and our hearts. Worship is more than Jesus listening to what we have to say about him; it’s also us listening to what Jesus has to say, what he wants, what he commands, what he promises. And we must listen without selectivity.
Jesus gets our full attention. We can’t say we love Jesus while we tune him out.Don’t Edit While You Hear
Are you listening to Jesus in a non-edited manner? Selective listening is rebellion. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Do you find yourself reading the Bible and thinking, “Well, that’s not what he really meant,” or, “That’s just asking too much,” or, “I can’t do that”? If we find ourselves tweaking and diluting the Bible to fit comfortably around our desires, hunches, sins, and idols, the apostle John warns us — maybe you don’t know Jesus after all.
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3–6)
Hearing Jesus, the Word of God, in the word, is ground-level discipleship. How can we follow Jesus if we don’t hear from Jesus? Every time we crack open the Bible, we are sitting down to hear Jesus, like sheep with the Good Shepherd, we are listening to his direction. Listening is for discipleship, direction, comfort, rebuke, correction, training in righteousness, and encouragement — all of which Jesus speaks to us from the Bible.
There is no more refreshing voice in the universe than Jesus’s. Why not go to him? There’s a lot of voices in this world, but only one that commands our soul, our life, our all. We listen to Jesus, the beloved Son, because we love Jesus — and because he loves us. He has nothing bad to say to us.
Next time you open the Bible, offer a simple prayer: “Speak Lord. My Bible is open, your servant is listening.” He promises, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
You were made to be stunned by God, not just feel good about yourself. You’ll find your truest self when you forget yourself.
If Christian parents could choose to control one thing about our child’s future, we all would choose the same thing, wouldn’t we? Across every nation, every culture, in any generation, one thing rises highest on the prayer list of any Christian parent, dwarfing every other request we might make for our precious son or daughter: we want them to know, obey, and enjoy Jesus.
Of course we want them to live long and healthy lives. Of course we want them to learn and mature through their school years without caving in to peer pressure. Of course we want them to thrive in a career, whether they work in an office or at home. Of course we want them to marry, if God wills, and give us grandbabies. But even more than we want grandchildren — far more than we want grandchildren — we want our children to love our Lord with all their heart, and all their soul, and all their strength, and all their mind (Matthew 22:37).
We would trade in a heartbeat eighty years of cancer-free health, summa cum laude at commencement, financial stability and security, and a whole litter of baby boys and girls, if we knew that’s what it took to see our sons and daughters love Jesus. Wouldn’t we?A Good Father
I’m reading the story of Jotham and his son Ahaz with fresh eyes these days, because now I read it as a father. Ahaz’s grandfather Uzziah reigned for 52 years over God’s people, and for the majority of those years, “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 26:4). But in the end, he failed the nation, embarrassed his family, rejected God, and fell into terrible sin (2 Chronicles 26:16).
Instead of falling into his father’s sin or blaming his own weaknesses and failures on his dad, Ahaz’s father, Jotham, simply “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord according to all that his father Uzziah had done, except he did not enter the temple of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 27:2). Jotham followed his father’s example in godliness, while refusing to repeat many of his father’s failures.
Ahaz’s father was not perfect, but unlike so many kings in the Old Testament, the record we have of his reign is a story of faithfulness, not wickedness. The author of Chronicles says, “Jotham became mighty, because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 27:6).Son of Disobedience
Jotham died young at 41, and the people made his son king. Ahaz was twenty years old. For twenty years Ahaz had watched his father lead by faith. So how did he respond to his father’s good and godly example?
Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. (2 Chronicles 28:1–2)
The “not” does not seem to do this son’s disobedience justice. Ahaz did not grow up fatherless in a single-parent family. His father wasn’t a nominal or apathetic example as a believer. His father had not simply taught what was right in the eyes of the Lord; his father had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord. But Ahaz rejected all of it — a slave to sin, a son of disobedience, a child of wrath (Romans 6:16; Ephesians 2:2–3).
He made metal idols for the false god Baal (2 Chronicles 28:2). He made sacrifices and offerings to foreign gods “on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree” (2 Chronicles 28:4) — all over the land that God had promised and given his people. When God sent waves of enemies against the nation because of her sin, Ahaz ran to Assyria, and not God, for help (2 Chronicles 28:16–18). He even stole from the temple to bribe the Assyrian king (2 Chronicles 28:21). Then he destroyed the vessels for worship, slammed and locked the doors of the temple, and made altars all over Jerusalem where he worshiped the gods of the nation’s conquerors (2 Chronicles 28:22–25).Ceremonial Abortions
This son was so wicked, he even burned his own sons as an offering (2 Chronicles 28:3) — a series of ceremonial abortions after he had held the babies in his arms. Jotham had surely raised him to cherish and protect his children, and to diligently teach them, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5).
But instead of introducing his sons to “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6–7), Ahaz sacrificed his own little ones to a god who could not speak or hear or smell or feel (Psalm 115:5–7), a god who is worth nothing and brings nothing (Isaiah 44:9). He killed Jotham’s grandsons for nothing.
Watching Ahaz run away from the faith has always been difficult for me, but being a father has made it even more devastating. I’m suddenly able to imagine my own son rejecting Jesus and choosing sin after I am gone, refusing to tell my grandchildren about the strength, beauty, wisdom, and worth of our Savior. I could spend every day for the next twenty years sharing, teaching, modeling, inviting, and appealing — 7,300 days — and on the 7,301st day, he may still walk away.
My heart isn’t strong enough to think about it for long.What Can We Do?
So what can a father do? God doesn’t ask fathers (or mothers) to dictate what happens on our child’s 7,301st day — or on their first day, for that matter. Parenting never decisively determines a child’s destiny. Jotham could not be faithful for Ahaz. He could only be faithful in front of Ahaz.
You cannot bear your son’s guilt before the Lord. Only Christ can (Romans 3:23–25). You cannot give your daughter the gift of repentance and faith. Only God can (2 Timothy 2:25). You cannot perform the good works God has planned for your child. Only God can, through your children (Philippians 2:12–13; Ephesians 2:10), as the fruit of their own faith in him (James 2:26). As vulnerable and perilous as it may feel at times, we simply cannot guarantee our child’s godliness.
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow [my son or daughter] will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit [and believe or not believe]’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring” (James 4:13–14). Yet we do not know. Despite what it feels like most days, you and I do not control or dictate any final detail in our children’s lives. We can only faithfully provide, influence, discipline, teach, and train under the sovereign parenting of a far better Father.Successful Parenting
We are not called to execute a complicated series of steps that secures a certain outcome in our child’s heart. As burdensome and impossible as that parenting technique seems, our flesh foolishly prefers it to trusting Someone else with our kids. No, success in parenting is not found in meticulously performing a process. Real success in parenting is taking today’s step in steadfast obedience to God’s word, by prayerful dependence on God’s strength, with open-handed faith in God’s plan — always relinquishing the short-term and long-term (even eternal) results to God’s will.
We all love the idea of open-handed faith in God’s plan — until it means our children might not believe in him. The irony in that tension is subtle, but thick. Do I trust God enough to let him decide what my child believes about God? As a father, if I’m honest, that feels even more intimidating than being tortured or martyred for my faith somewhere in the Middle East.
But if we are willing to trust God with our children’s futures, we can focus on parenting faithfully today, while pleading with him to move in their hearts and lead them to himself.Your Child’s Real Father
The birth certificate may declare that our sons and daughters are legally dependent on us, but they belong, first and foremost, to God. We can’t give our children to him, because they have always been his — dreamed up in his infinite imagination, delicately knit together by his hands (Psalm 139:13–15), placed by him in this part of the world at this point in history (Acts 17:26), every day planned by him before there was even one (Psalm 139:16). We may wake up one day and realize we can trust him with our children, but the reality is he has never stopped parenting them.
Before Jotham could truly be a godly father to Ahaz, he had to surrender Ahaz to God. Like Abraham, walking precious Isaac up the mountain, we must trust that whatever God calls us to do or endure in parenting, he will provide. He may not choose what we would choose for our children, or provide exactly what we ask for, but he will not choose wrongly, and he will give us everything we need.
The stakes are high when pastors do not root their points plainly from the text in front of them. Here are six consequences.
Peter charges us to be ready in season and out of season to give a defense of the hope that is in us. If asked to give a defense tomorrow, would you be ready?
One of the great rediscoveries of the Reformation — especially of Martin Luther — was that the word of God comes to us in the form of a book, the Bible. Luther grasped this powerful fact: God preserves the experience of salvation and holiness from generation to generation by means of a book of revelation, not a bishop in Rome.
The life-giving and life-threatening risk of the Reformation was the rejection of the pope and councils as the infallible, final authority of the church. Luther’s adversary, Sylvester Prierias, wrote, “He who does not accept the doctrine of the Church of Rome and pontiff of Rome as an infallible rule of faith, from which the Holy Scriptures, too, draw their strength and authority, is a heretic” (Luther, 193). It followed that Luther would be excluded from the Roman Catholic Church. “What is new in Luther,” Heiko Oberman says, “is the notion of absolute obedience to the Scriptures against any authorities; be they popes or councils” (Luther, 204).
This rediscovery of the word of God above all earthly powers shaped Luther and the entire Reformation. But Luther’s path to that rediscovery was a tortuous one, beginning with a lightning storm at age 21.Fearful Monk
On July 2, 1505, on the way home from law school, Luther was caught in a thunderstorm and was hurled to the ground by lightning. He cried out, “Help me, St. Anne! I will become a monk.” Fifteen days later, to his father’s dismay, Luther left his legal studies and kept his vow.
He knocked at the gate of the Augustinian hermits in Erfurt and asked the prior to accept him into the order. At 21, he became an Augustinian monk. At his first Mass two years later, Luther was so overwhelmed at the thought of God’s majesty that he almost ran away. The prior persuaded him to continue.
But this incident of fear and trembling would not be an isolated one in Luther’s life. Luther himself would later remember of these years, “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction” (Selections, 12).
Luther would not be married for another twenty years — to Katharina von Bora on June 13, 1525 — which means he lived with sexual temptations as a single man till he was 42. But “in the monastery,” he said, “I did not think about women, money, or possessions; instead my heart trembled and fidgeted about whether God would bestow his grace on me.” His all-consuming longing was to know the happiness of God’s favor. “If I could believe that God was not angry with me,” he said, “I would stand on my head for joy.”Good News: God’s Righteousness
In 1509, Luther’s beloved superior and counselor and friend, Johannes von Staupitz, allowed Luther to begin teaching the Bible. Three years later, on October 19, 1512, at the age of 28, Luther received his doctor’s degree in theology, and von Staupitz turned over to him the chair in biblical theology at the University of Wittenberg, which Luther held the rest of his life.
As Luther set to work reading, studying, and teaching Scripture from the original languages, his troubled conscience seethed beneath the surface — especially as he confronted the phrase “the righteousness of God” in Romans 1:16–17. To Luther, “the righteousness of God” could only mean one thing: God’s righteous punishment of sinners. The phrase was not “gospel” to him; it was a death sentence.
But then, in the work of a moment, all Luther’s hatred for the righteousness of God turned to love. He remembers,
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” . . . And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which [the] merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.”
He concludes, “Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”Standing on the Book
Luther was not the pastor of the town church in Wittenberg, but he did share the preaching with his pastor friend, Johannes Bugenhagen. The record bears witness to how utterly devoted he was to the preaching of Scripture. For example, in 1522 he preached 117 sermons, the next year 137 sermons. In 1528, he preached almost 200 times, and from 1529 we have 121 sermons. So the average in those four years was one sermon every two-and-a-half days.
Over the next 28 years, Luther would preach thousands of sermons, publish hundreds of pamphlets and books, endure scores of controversies, and counsel innumerable German citizens — all to spread the good news of God’s righteousness to a people trapped in a system of their own merit. Through it all, 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.
Luther said with resounding forcefulness in 1545, the year before he died, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.” Here alone, in the pages of the Bible, God speaks with final authority. Here alone, decisive authority rests. From here alone, the gift of God’s righteousness comes to hell-bound sinners.
He lived what he urged. He wrote in 1533, “For a number of years I have now annually read through the Bible twice. If the Bible were a large, mighty tree and all its words were little branches, I have tapped at all the branches, eager to know what was there and what it had to offer” (What Luther Says, Vol. 1, 83). Oberman says Luther kept to that practice for at least ten years (Luther, 173). The Bible had come to mean more to Luther than all the fathers and commentators.
Here Luther stood, and here we stand. Not on the pronouncements of popes, or the decisions of councils, or the winds of popular opinion, but on “that word above all earthly powers” — the living and abiding word of God.
For more on Martin Luther:
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton