God Chose This Home for You

Your address is not a coincidence.

Where you live — house, townhome, duplex, apartment, or dorm — is not ultimately a consequence of your budget, your stage of life, or your commute. You live where you live because God has deliberately, sovereignl…

The Strength You Need for Today

The strength you want most may not be the strength you need most, because the weakness you feel may not be the real source of your weakness.

When we begin to feel weak or exhausted, it may be that we’re physically worn out — from work, from relati…

Why Do You Have a Phone?

Why Do You Have a Phone?

You make at least a thousand decisions every single day, most of which you never think about, even for a second. That means if you are awake for sixteen hours each day (on average), you make a decision every minute — what you say or don’t say, and how you say it; where you go or don’t go, and how you get there; what you click or don’t click; what you eat or drink or read or buy or listen to. A decision a minute is a conservative estimate.

Don’t believe me? If you have a smartphone, you’ve logged a lot of the decisions you’ve made in the last 24 hours — messages texted, emails sent, podcasts listened to, calls ignored, apps opened, orders placed, tweets liked, sports scores checked — all decisions made. Our defaults are decisions — just decisions without intentionality. Even when we put off a decision, we’ve made a decision.

We don’t want to think about life as one long series of millions of decisions, because then we’re accountable for those decisions — if not to one another, then at least to God. But whether we acknowledge the decisions or not, we are making them, and we will be held accountable — even for every tiny, idle word (Matthew 12:36).

mePhone

Our phones are not a peripheral part of our life anymore. They have become a personal LED billboard revealing who and what matters most to us. Our phone is a currency — like our money, our words, and our time — that helps us see what we love. And over time, it can help us shape what we love. Or, if we put off making proactive decisions with it, our phone can just as easily decide what we love.

Our smartphones are instruments of mass distraction. They’ve been engineered — decades now of study, testing, and marketing — to distract us. They have the power to derail our lives and undermine our priorities. Instead of taking us where we want to go, they more often hijack our plans and take us somewhere completely different.

It can be like riding a bus to work five days a week for a year, and then one day neglecting to ever get off the bus. We just ride around wherever the bus turns until it’s time to go home again. Tony Reinke describes the process:

In the digital age, we idolize our phones when we lose the ability to ask if they help us (or hurt us) in reaching our spiritual goals. We grow so fascinated with technological glitz that we become captive to the wonderful means of our phones — their speed, organization, and efficiency — and these means themselves become sufficient ends. Our destination remains foggy because we are fixated on the speed of our travel. We mistakenly submit human and spiritual goals to our technological possibilities. This is reverse adaptation. (12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, 115)

Our phones used to be a means to relationship, a means to work, a means to ministry. The iPhone suddenly made the means an end — or perhaps better, a means to me.

Give Your Phone a Mission Statement

Have you ever thought about giving your phone a mission statement?

Like Disney: To be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information.

Or ESPN: To serve sports fans wherever sports are watched, listened to, discussed, debated, read about or played.

Or Chipotle: To ensure that better food is accessible to everyone.

Or Instagram: To capture and share the world’s moments.

The reason most of don’t think about giving our phones a mission statement is that we never think about giving ourselves a mission statement. Unlike Disney, Chipotle, or Instagram, we don’t think about life in those terms. We live and work and play, eat and drink, talk and watch without any definable or discernible sense of direction or purpose.

Without a clear sense of mission, we make decisions based on what we want in the moment — what feels right — not because the decision fulfills a purpose for us. We let our push notifications drive the bus.

Why Did God Make You?

So what will your mission statement be? You don’t need to hire a marketing agency, or spend hours wordsmithing something. You can start with the simplest personal mission statement for all of life in the Bible: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Is your smartphone helping you accomplish that?

It’s not a rhetorical question. Do our phones tangibly help us make more of our one thousand daily decisions in a way that tells the world how much we love our God? Or do our phones eat up hundreds of those decisions with lesser things, distracting us from the amazing and thrilling mission God has given us?

If you are in Christ, God chose you, saved you, and made you his own blood-bought sons and daughters “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6). Paul goes on in the same paragraph to say that the one who works everything in the world according to his will has set aside an infinite and everlasting inheritance for you. Why? “To the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:12). How do you know you’ll make it to heaven and receive your inheritance? “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13–14).

Saved to make God look glorious. Blessed to make God look satisfying. Kept to make God look worthy. Don’t own a smartphone for anything less. Buy and carry a phone to enjoy and demonstrate the value of God. We don’t make God glorious, or satisfying, or worthy, but our lives (and phones) will either say he is all those things, or not.

Put Your Phone on a Leash

Growing up, our phone sat on the kitchen counter. The cord reached five or six feet in any direction. If Mom or Dad needed a little privacy, they stretched the cord around the corner into the living room.

Back then, we only picked up our phone when we really needed it. Now, we almost never put our phones down, not even when we’re talking to someone face to face. Our phones follow us literally everywhere we go — the front yard, the bedroom, the car, even the bathroom — a kind of twisted “upgrade” from the corded phone. Phones were once attached to walls; now we’re attached to them — unless we force them to serve a higher purpose and a higher happiness.

Make your phone a means to relationship again, a means to ministry, a means to glory. Let the bright light on your screen go dim more often, so that you might “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

If we’re willing to put our phones on a leash, we will unleash ourselves to focus more on the relationships and responsibilities that matter most. More of God in us through his word, prayer, and fellowship, and more of God through us in the lives of other people. More joy in us, and more glory for him.

Put a spiritual cord on your phone. Ask God to limit its distracting power over you, and to fill it with potential for the most important things.

You Cannot Guarantee Your Child’s Godliness

You Cannot Guarantee Your Child’s Godliness

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.

Best Friends Make the Worst Enemies

Best Friends Make the Worst Enemies

Our best friends always make the worst enemies. Opposition of any kind can make life miserable, but opposition of a particular kind multiplies the misery.

We rarely give our enemies enough latitude to really hurt us. They can hurl insults, stand in our way, and even inflict pain, but we always have our guard up. But with our friends and family, we let them through the gates, inside locked doors, to the most vulnerable places. And too often, those we let near in love leverage precious trust to serve themselves at our expense — to betray us.

The husband who leaves for another woman.
The wife who gossips about her husband’s weaknesses.
The son who walks away from the faith.
The daughter who keeps making destructive decisions.
The father who over-works to avoid the family.
The mother who relentlessly demands and condemns.
The friend who disappears when we need them most.

Have you been betrayed by the ones you love most? When we have, we can retreat for a season — to process, to recover, to repair, and to prepare to forgive. God has given us a safe place to hide and find the strength and hope we need to press on in love.

Our Worst Enemies

King David knew the bitter flavor of betrayal.

It is not an enemy who taunts me —
     then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me —
     then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
     my companion, my familiar friend. (Psalm 55:12–13)

My companion. My familiar friend. My loved one. The one I trusted. I sailed out into stormy seas with them, filled with hope and affection and confidence, and then suddenly they fled to safety while they watched me drown alone.

We can hide from faraway enemies — from dangerous strangers or foreign armies — but we can’t hide from loved ones. The memories creep in everywhere we might hide, but their sweetness has been poisoned by betrayal.

David had his enemies — by the thousands — but the worst enemies had been his best friends.

The Prodigal Murderer

We don’t know who the familiar friend of Psalm 55 was, but we do know David was betrayed by the ones closest to him. Maybe the most painful betrayal of all was by his son Absalom.

David’s son murdered his other son to avenge his sister’s rape. Read those words again slowly, and think about the awful weight of this father’s heartache. If you have children, think about trying to care for your family in the midst of that kind of relational hurricane, all while your own heart is being beaten up and drowned.

Despite the evil Absalom had done, David brought the prodigal murderer home (2 Samuel 14:21). He established boundaries (2 Samuel 14:24), but he eventually welcomed his son with a kiss (2 Samuel 14:33). How did Absalom respond to his father’s kindness, patience, and forgiveness?

He conspired to overthrow his father’s kingdom (2 Samuel 15:12). He slandered his father’s reputation (2 Samuel 15:3). He lied to his father’s face (2 Samuel 15:7–8). And he forced his father into hiding for fear of his life (2 Samuel 15:14). He not only betrayed his own flesh and blood, but he betrayed the father who had forgiven him for murdering his brother. And his betrayal cost twenty thousand men their lives (2 Samuel 18:7).

When Words Are Swords

David may not have written Psalm 55 about Absalom, but he certainly could have said this about his son: “We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng” (Psalm 55:14). He could have been thinking of his son’s deadly lies in 2 Samuel 15:7–8:

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
     he violated his covenant.
His speech was smooth as butter,
     yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
     yet they were drawn swords. (Psalm 55:20–21)

The soft words of a friend can be drawn swords in disguise — trading precious trust for selfish gain — convincingly promising precisely the affection and loyalty he or she surrenders so eagerly. David knew the most intimate kind of pain and opposition. Do you?

Take Cover

If so, you feel far more alone than you really are. Let the “But” in verse 16 call you out of loneliness and despair into hope again:

But I call to God,
     and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
     I utter my complaint and moan,
     and he hears my voice.
He redeems my soul in safety
     from the battle that I wage,
     for many are arrayed against me.
God will give ear and humble them,
     he who is enthroned from of old, Selah
because they do not change
     and do not fear God. (Psalm 55:16–19)

Take refuge in the friendship of God. When friends or family leave you or fail you, know that he never will. He remains faithful, strong, caring, and close by — evening, morning, and at noon. He is relentless, persistent, unfailing in his love for you, and his love for you is strong enough to overcome any love that has failed you.

You Can Trust Him

Take refuge in the friendship of God, and let God judge the betrayer. As difficult as it might be to run into the arms of God when we’ve been betrayed in love, it may be even more difficult to surrender our desire for vengeance — our innate longing to make the one who hurt us feel something of the pain we felt.

But the same love that holds and heals us in the wake of betrayal also frees us from having to administer justice. God, in unparalleled love, not only promises never to leave or betray us, but he also promises to punish every sin committed against us — either in the horrors of hell or in the death of his Son. As you wait for him to act, remember that your Judge intimately knows your pain. Jesus was not only betrayed to death by one of the worst of his twelve closest friends, he was also denied three times by one of the best — and then abandoned by the rest.

Instead of going after his betrayer, David went hard after God. He trusted him to bring justice.

Cast your burden on the Lord,
     and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
     the righteous to be moved.
But you, O God, will cast them down
     into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery
     shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you. (Psalm 55:22–23)

“But I will trust in you.” Those six words are strong enough to carry you over the massive waves of betrayal. Resist the impulse to take things into your own hands (or words), and rest your heart, the relationship, and the future in his capable hands. You can trust him.

Let’s (Not) Talk About Sex, Baby

Let’s (Not) Talk About Sex, Baby

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

Likely you can list the typical Christian boundaries:

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

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

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

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

Let’s Talk About Talking

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

[Long, awkward pause.]

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

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

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

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

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

How Much Do We Talk?

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

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

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

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

What Do We Talk About?

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

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

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

When Should I Start Dating?

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

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

The Protestant Melting Pot

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.

The Protestant Melting Pot mevyzaow

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

God Wounds Us Because He Loves Us

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.

One Day Never Again: May Heaven Fall on Las Vegas

One Day Never Again

Tens of thousands poured into a Las Vegas music festival totally unprepared for fifteen minutes of hell. But hell is what they saw, and heard, and felt. Hundreds were injured. At least 58 are dead, savagely ripped from this world seemingly at random.

Sunday, October 1, 2017, saw the deadliest mass shooting in American history — a sentence that has become all too common. Orlando last June. Sandy Hook before that. Previously Virginia Tech. Random acts of violence have become terrifyingly familiar.

At this point, we know little about the gunman who opened fire on the crowd from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. We know he was 64, that he was an accountant, that he lived just outside of the city, and that he had no criminal record. Information will be collected and disseminated, but we already know enough from this scene to say that whatever else he was, he was a horrible, violent, and evil man, who now faces a horror far worse than the one he unleashed.

At this point, we also know very little about the 58 he murdered — each life an unexpected and unsearchable tragedy. We haven’t yet met the spouses, the children, the loved ones left behind. We do not know them, and the extent of their heartache, but our hearts break for them as we feel just a faint part of their pain. We pray for God to deliver the comfort, healing, and hope each of them so desperately needs now, most likely in ways they’ve never needed before. We pray that heaven would fall on Las Vegas.

58 Sudden Tragedies

Father, we do grieve. You know each of the 58, and you know every life falling apart because of their loss.

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalms 34:18). Who knows how many of the victims were hidden in Christ while they had nowhere to hide? We do know God was near — all-knowing, sovereign, compassionate — ready to protect his own. And he is close by now, ready to sustain and help the brokenhearted.

He delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalms 72:12–14)

When God looks out on a war zone like the one on Las Vegas Boulevard, he despises the violence, and he prizes the lives of the innocent, especially those who cry out to him in faith. Their blood is precious to the infinitely valuable One.

However much Las Vegas has become an international symbol for iniquity, and however much hell invaded the city for those fifteen minutes, God through the prayers of his people may yet flood the evil with heaven in the coming days and weeks and months — through the hope and love his people show one another and those in need. He loves to reveal his stunning mercy in the wake of sudden tragedy.

May every citizen and guest of Las Vegas, and everyone watching from a distance, not “presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience,” but may we all know that “God’s kindness is meant to lead [us] to repentance” (Romans 2:4). May the lasting legacy of this tragedy be mercy, and not evil.

The End of Violence

Father, execute your perfect justice in your perfect timing. While you reveal your mercy to the hurting, we trust that you will terrorize terror.

God has compassion on the vulnerable and afflicted, and he violently opposes the evil. When terror strikes, we are not helpless. Our God is not caught off guard, and he is never late. He is not responsible for evil (James 1:13), but he will sovereignly see first that it is repaid, and that all its worst horror is forced to serve those that love him.

If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
   he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
   making his arrows fiery shafts.
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
   and is pregnant with mischief
   and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out,
   and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head,
   and on his own skull his violence descends. (Psalm 7:12–16)

The violent always receive the worst of their violence. The evil in Vegas was not repaid through the pitiful, cowardly escape hatch of suicide. No, this man only escaped into hell. He sat in ambush, and now he stands in judgment.

He sits in ambush in the villages;
   in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
   he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
The helpless are crushed, sink down,
   and fall by his might.
He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
   he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” (Psalms 10:8–11).

God has seen, and heard, and felt last night’s terror, and it will not go unpunished. “The Lord hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalms 11:5). When confronted with violent terror like this, we respond in faith, not hate, because God himself will have his vengeance (Romans 12:19).

Terror No More

Father, we wait for the day when you will put a final end to all terror.

As we wait for more information, we pray the weighty promises of Psalms 10:17–18, “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.” Terror had its time last night, and it will strike again — but one day never again.

Mass shootings will not always happen. Those who assault the innocent and remain unrepentant will spend eternity wishing their hell lasted only fifteen minutes. And those who run to Christ will soon enough forget how to fear.