The Year That I Hated, but Loved.

This is a guest blog.  It was written by my wife Jen, about her thoughts on the things that she and I went through this year.  I often think she is a better writer than I am!


We’ve all seen the posts on Facebook: “It’s been a great year!  Thanks for being a part of it!”  Many of my friends have shared the compilation of photos and statuses that Facebook put together as its end of the year hurrah.  I’ve enjoyed looking through them, and seeing the high points of many of my friends’ years.

But honestly, I couldn’t bring myself to share my own.  Because it hasn’t been a great year.  Not entirely.

As I sat at work on my break today, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across this post from a friend:

2014

I thought about it for a second, and posted this reply: “I’d say, ‘In a few short weeks, you’ll go through pain and heartbreak like you haven’t known before. But, you’ll also see the Father in a way you haven’t before. He will carry you through gently. He will remind you that your heart rests within His hands. He will show you how to wait expectantly, and how to love others in a way you couldn’t before. Buckle up.’ “

Last year, at this time, Josh and I were heading over to our friends’ house to count down to midnight.  We went on a whim, and I was glad we did.  Our whole church family was there (it’s a very small church), we played games, talked, and at midnight, we popped party poppers and toasted with sparkling grape juice.  2014 started out with us gathered around their living room, and we sang Build Your Kingdom Here by Rend Collective Experiment.

New Years 2014

I Instagrammed this picture, with the caption, “Happy New Year from the Mendenhalls! #seeyoulater2013 #2014isgonnabegreat”.

I was convinced that 2014 was going to be the best year ever.  Four days before, we had found out that I was pregnant.  No one knew yet, and we would soon be traveling to visit both of our families to tell them.  I was overflowing with the secret joy.

But a month and a few days later, I miscarried.  I was 11 weeks, and I was devastated.  It really was the most heartbreaking and challenging thing that I have ever been through.  I spent several days in bed, trying to recover physically and emotionally.  The physical healing took weeks, but the emotional healing has taken much longer.

I really don’t know how I would have gotten through without Jesus.  Where my heart was broken and cracked, He filled it.  Where my tears threatened to overflow every time I saw a pregnant woman, He gave me comfort.  And He also reminded me of a promise that He had given me in May of 2013, while sitting on a couch at our ministry in Kampala, Uganda.  You will be a mother. 

As the winter melted away to spring, I held onto that promise.  Josh and I decided that once my body was physically healed and I felt ready, we would try again.  But month after month, it was clear that it was not meant to be yet.

This season of waiting was difficult, but I learned how to see the world through different eyes.

I remember on several of the first truly sunny and warm days of the spring, I spent as much time as I could with my sleeves rolled up, just soaking in the warmth of the sunlight.  Josh and I lived with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, and I loved the time I got to spend with them.  We traveled to Georgia to see two good friends get married, and got to reunite with dozens of other treasured friends.

Johnny and Christin's Wedding

I loved harder.  I grew stronger.  I suddenly had the lenses of experience to relate to and love my friends who had miscarried, had a stillbirth, or lost their child in infancy.  And they loved me back in a way that only shared experience can do.

We moved into our apartment in Northeast Kansas City, and joined our church community in living in and loving this often overlooked and disregarded part of the city.  After traveling overseas for a year, and living with family for 6 months prior to our trip, as well as after, I was so excited and thankful for a place to call our own again.

The summer came, and we celebrated five years of marriage by visiting my grandparents in Texas.  I melted in my car on the way to and from work, and tried to be thankful that at least we have a car, even if the air conditioning is shot.  We hung out with friends by the pool.  We explored our city.

WWI Memorial

And yet, all the while, I was still waiting on that promise.  I won’t even tell you how many pregnancy tests I went through, hopeful that maybe, just maybe, this would be the month.  Partially because I honestly have no idea how many, and partially because if I did, it would be pretty embarrassing.

On the morning of July 27th, I got up and took one, knowing that I should know any day if this month was a yes or a no.  I took the test, and lo and behold, there was an itty bitty faint line.  There’s something there!  There’s something there!  Thank You, Lord!  Thank You!  I knew I wanted to record a video for our YouTube channel, so I grabbed the camera, and recorded my first thoughts.  I went into the room to tell Josh, and recorded his reaction as well.

We called our families and told them that day.  I didn’t want to wait, because I wanted those who had grieved with us to rejoice with us.  A week later, I “celebrated” my 26th birthday.  I had a fun, Christmas-themed party planned, but ended up with a terrible stomach virus.  I spent the day on the couch, trying to keep my fever down without medication, terrified that the baby would not survive if the fever got to high.  My fever broke that night, and the next day, we posted our announcement on Facebook.

IMG_1223

I was ecstatic.  The Lord’s promise to me was finally happening, after so many months of heartbreak.  I was so incredibly joyful, but also anxious and worried.  What if it happens again?  I felt like I had recovered from one miscarriage, but I honestly didn’t know if I could take another.

So I prayed.  We asked others to pray.  And I had faith (although sometimes it faltered) that the baby would be alright.

My due date for Ellie, the baby I miscarried, came and went.  I was sad and heavy that day, but I also asked my friends and family to use that day to reach out to others who had lost a child in any way, and let them know that their pain was seen.  I was determined that some kind of good should, and could come from the pain of losing her.

My second nephew was born in September, and I had the honor of attending his birth and taking his first photos.  I wasn’t sure if my heart could handle loving another nephew as much as I love my first, but as soon as he was born, I knew that it wouldn’t be a problem.

Owen

We ushered in fall, which is my second favorite season (just barely behind Christmas).  I think my spirit really starts to come alive in the fall.  I’m happy all the time, and I can’t stop gushing to others about how amazing everything is.  Josh’s parents came to stay with us in KC over Halloween weekend.  We celebrated Thanksgiving with Josh’s family in Springfield.  I was so incredibly thankful for how the Lord had blessed us with another baby, and how so far, I had had no complications and a fairly easy pregnancy.

22 Weeks

At the beginning of December, we had our anatomy scan ultrasound.  As the tech was checking for gender, we looked away.  We would find out that weekend with our friends and family at our gender reveal party.

Haven Ultrasound Profile

The party was so much fun, and at the end, they sprayed us with colored silly string that my sister and brother-in-law had coordinated beforehand.  When I saw the pink string arching in the air to land on us, I wasn’t surprised, but at the same time, I was.  We were having a little girl!  We decided that her name would be Haven Harper.

We prepared for Christmas, all the while, my excitement building.  I. Love. Christmas.  It is my very favorite time of year.  We spent Christmas Eve and early Christmas morning in Springfield with Josh’s family, and spent the rest of Christmas day and the next several days with my family.  Haven got plenty of gifts from the grandparents, and I expect that will be true for many years to come.

26 Weeks

As the end of the year grew closer, my heart grew a little sadder.  There have been so many wonderful things about this year, but there have also been so many difficult things.  My heart ached for the baby I never got to meet.  This was supposed to be the year that I would meet her.  We would have had a four and a half month old by now.  I had let my dream of writing as a career and ministry slip away, leaving me feeling like a failure in that dream.  I spent so much of the year longing for the things of the future that I often forgot to enjoy the present.

This morning, as I was praying, I said, Lord, I just feel…sad.  I wouldn’t change the journey You’ve taken me on this year, but I’m sad.  I’ve been pondering this all day.  How do I close out this year with joy, in spite of the difficulties?

The difficulties made me who I am, and they are continuing to change and shape me.  I am closer to the Lord today than I was a year ago, and that could only have happened, in my heart, by facing the things that I did this year, with Him.  And for that, I am thankful to the core.

And so, I say to 2014: You were the single hardest, longest, and saddest year that I have experienced.  But, in spite of that, you were good.  Because God is good, and nothing will ever change that.  You were formative, joyful, and deep.  You were adventurous, and yet mundane.  In a way, I am happy to say goodbye to you, but in another, it is hard to let go.  It feels like letting go of Ellie just a little bit more, and that is probably the hardest part.  But I also have Haven, who is not a replacement, but she brings me so much joy.  I will always remember you, 2014, as the year that I loved two daughters.  What joy.

As I write this, when I look back at 2014, I can sum it up with one word: Jesus. He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit have tenderly held my heart the whole way.  He loved me, and He showed me how to love in a deeper way.  And for that, I am thankful.

I’ll leave you with a re-writing of Psalm 23 that I did a few years ago. (Side note, this re-writing was for me, and I understand that this is different from scripture translations that have been studied and handled carefully to preserve integrity.  I wrote it as a prayer of sorts, and as a reminder.  Since I have shared so much of my heart, I feel that it is appropriate to share the re-writing.)

God is my Guide and Protector, and He does such a great job, I have everything I need.

He gives me peaceful rest, and shows me new ways and places to rest in Him.

He fills me up, and He shows me the way to go, wanting the best for me, and all for His glory.

Even when I am going through a hard time, I know that I’m not in it alone and I have nothing to fear.

Your hand in mine comforts me.

You take good care of me, and never stop looking out for and protecting me.

You are always glad to see me and spend time with me, and You always pour into me so I overflow with joy and peace.

Instead of stress, worry, and other bad things, only goodness and love will come from being with You.

I will seek and desire to be with You, and I will always be welcomed, every single day of my life.

Amen.

Why the Virgin Birth is Essential (by John MacArthur)

During this time of year, I feel like we get too caught up in the birth of Christ.  It was a great thing, but the Bible never tells us to celebrate it interestingly enough.  I love celebrating it, and would never discourage celebrating it, but I would also encourage everyone to, along with the birth, celebrate His life, death, resurrection and everything that was accomplished and is being accomplished as a result of those things.

I feel that more important than Jesus’ birth is how it came about.  I’ve struggled to put this into words, but one of my favorite teachers John MacArthur wrote a very great blog about why the virgin birth is essential.  I’ll leave the rest up to him to explain:

Why the Virgin Birth is Essential

“You may be wondering why the virgin birth—of all the miracles in Scripture—is so frequently attacked. After all, if one can believe, say, that Moses parted the Red Sea, what’s the big deal about a virgin birth? It certainly isn’t as spectacular a miracle. And Scripture devotes relatively little space to describing it. Can it really be that important?

Yes. The virgin birth is an underlying assumption in everything the Bible says about Jesus. To throw out the virgin birth is to reject Christ’s deity, the accuracy and authority of Scripture, and a host of other related doctrines central to the Christian faith. No issue is more important than the virgin birth to our understanding of who Jesus is.

If we deny that Jesus is God, we have denied the very essence of Christianity. Everything else the Bible teaches about Christ hinges on the truth we celebrate at Christmas—that Jesus is God in human flesh. If the story of His birth is merely a fabricated or trumped-up legend, then so is the rest of what Scripture tells us about Him. The virgin birth is as crucial as the resurrection in substantiating His deity. It is not an optional truth. Anyone who rejects Christ’s deity rejects Christ absolutely—even if he pretends otherwise (1 John 4:1-3).

Jesus Himself viewed the question of His parentage as a watershed issue. Matthew records one of the last confrontations He had with the Pharisees.

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question. (Matthew 22:41-46)

His sonship was the source of controversy on other occasions. John 8 records another run-in with some leading Pharisees. They told Jesus, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God” (John 8:41). “We were not born of fornication” is a not-so-subtle jab at Jesus. They implied that He was born illegitimately. They twisted the whole point of His miraculous birth to make Him an illegitimate child. They even said later in verse 48, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

The fact is, there is a direct parallel between those Pharisees and modern religious leaders who hint that the virgin birth is unimportant or a fable. Their challenges grow out of unbelief in Jesus Christ. They are the expression of sinful, unregenerate hearts.

Contrast their response with that of Peter. Matthew 16:13-17 records this exchange between Jesus and His disciples. Again, His sonship is the issue.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

Notice that the answers proposed by the populace were human ones. They had concluded Jesus was either John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. They had not yet grasped the truth of His deity. They assumed He was just a man.

Simon Peter’s response was different. He understood that Jesus was more than a human Messiah, more than an anointed prophet, more than a son of David. He was the Son of the living God. Peter knew because God had revealed it to him (Matthew 16:17). Flesh and blood cannot reach that conclusion. Science, philosophy, and human religion cannot explain who Jesus is. Their adherents will inevitably conclude that He is a great teacher, a good moral example, or even a great prophet of God. But they all miss the fact that He is the Son of the living God.

That’s why the virgin birth is so important. For Jesus to be God, He must be born of God. Joseph, a man, and Mary, a woman, cannot produce God. God cannot be born into this world by natural human processes. There’s no way He could be God apart from being conceived by God.

At this time of year, believers shouldn’t merely celebrate the birth of Christ. Christmas is an opportunity to celebrate every aspect of Christ’s life—His humble incarnation, His transformative ministry, His righteous example, and, ultimately, His sacrificial death. But none of that matters if we don’t believe God’s Word is accurate about His Son’s parentage. When it comes to the truth of the virgin birth, compromise is not an option.”

Sometimes, I Don’t Believe the Gospel

I think we all struggle to truly believe the Gospel at points in our lives.  This is most often evidenced when we fail to be “doers of the Word and not hearers only” (James 1:22).  For instance, being fearful of awkward conversation and thus failing to share the Truth of the Gospel with someone, or saying that we love our neighbor and we believe that we should, but failing to help meet their needs.  There are tons of examples of saying we believe something, but failing to allow it to change us and failing to live what we believe, or as my pastor said, “We don’t put feet to our faith.”

Keep Calm Gospel

In order for the Gospel to change us, we have to believe it.  In Titus 3:8, the Apostle Paul has just presented the Gospel in a nutshell in verses 1-7, especially 4-7 and is now letting us know that “The saying is trustworthy” “the saying” of course, being the Gospel, and “trustworthy” literally means, in the Greek, “faithful.”  How do we know that it is trustworthy?  Because as Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” As my friend Matt said, “The Scripture is never wrong, we are.” I believe that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible and authoritative Word of God, because its authority comes from God Himself and it never leads us astray.  If we read it and know it well AND apply it to our lives, and I can testify to this truth, that my life is not the same, and I can speak for many many others that their lives are not the same as a result of believing, knowing and applying Scripture to their lives.

Paul tells Titus to “Declare these things…with all authority,” in 2:15.  So does Paul have authority?  Yes, according to Titus 1:1-3.  He gives a short version of his credentials here summing it up in the statement in verse 3, “…I have been entrusted (with the Gospel) by the command of God our savior.” If you want an extensive list of his credentials see 2 Corinthians 10:1-12:10.

Ultimately, Paul’s authority comes from our God and Savior Jesus Christ who had all authority in heaven and on earth and He commanded all believers to go and preach the Gospel to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20).  The fact that the Gospel is true is a guarantee from God, and as with any fact, it cannot be changed.  He wants us to also guarantee this Gospel and endorse it.  We are charged in Titus 3:8 to insist on the truth of the Gospel “so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.” If we aren’t insisting on the truth of the Gospel and Scripture, we aren’t going to follow it, and we aren’t going to allow it to change us.

Applying the Gospel to our lives is one of the hardest things about being a Christian.  I will be the first to admit, that I love studying and soaking in God’s Word, but have failed to apply it in the past.  I can attest to the fact that when I have begun to apply the things I have learned from the truths of God’s Word to my life, it brings about amazing changes.  I definitely don’t apply it perfectly, otherwise I would be perfect.  Isaiah 58 tells very well how God feels about those who love knowledge but not application and then shows what application looks like.  My pastor summed it up as:  “Yes, you love to learn, but you do not love to obey or apply!”

Gospel sharing

The last section of Titus 3:8 says, “These things (good works) are excellent and profitable for people.” Our good works can look like acts of service to others, which is a benefit to them.  But hopefully in the meantime, we are also sharing the truth of Scripture and the Gospel with them, so that it is beneficial not only to their physical needs, but to their spiritual needs as well.

Sometimes, I don’t believe the Gospel with my actions.  I always believe it in my head.  I love studying the Scriptures and now, I love applying them, even though it’s very hard sometimes.  Like I said, I don’t always apply Scripture perfectly, but it’s something I’ve really been working on in my life and I encourage everyone to do the same!

How is Jesus Greater than Adam if All are not Saved?

Romans 5:18-19 can seem like a tricky passage.  (18 Therefore as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.) When one is reading it, it seems to have contradicting ideas if not read carefully and with context in mind.  As always, context is king.  In this passage Jesus and Adam are contrasted as types of each other and each one’s actions bear a consequence, one good and one bad (this is a major understatement). 🙂

 

AdamandChrist*cheesy photo perhaps, but this is the picture that Scripture seem to paint.

 

The passage from verses 12-21 of chapter 5 (just to gain a bit of context) begins by stating that sin came into the world and therefore death followed, because of one man, Adam.  The entire human race, every single person who would live after Adam is counted as having sinned with him.  The one command God gave was broken, and even though there was no law given, sin and death still reigned because death is the result of sin and everyone dies.  There is no escape from physical death for anyone.  So even though people may not have been disobeying direct commands of God before the law was given, they were still sinning, just not in the sense of disobeying a direct command like Adam did.

 

Then comes Christ.  Christ’s act of a lifetime of perfect obedience and an obedience that led to His death, and of course, His resurrection, brought about not only a reversal of the curse to restore people to their original created state, but to give them God’s righteousness and a share of His eternal glory (Hebrews 2:10-11).  John MacArthur, in his commentary on Romans, makes a good point.  He says, “It might be said that Adam’s sinful act, devastating as it was, had but a one-dimensional effect-it brought death to everyone.  But the effect of Christ’s redemptive act has facets beyond measure, because He not only restores man to spiritual life but gives him the very life of God.”

He also says later, “Jesus Christ broke the power of sin and death, but the converse is not true.  Sin and death cannot break the power of Jesus Christ.  The condemnation of Adam’s sin is reversible, the redemption of Jesus Christ is not.  The effect of Adam’s act is permanent ONLY if not nullified by Christ (emphasis added).  The effect of Christ’s act, however, is permanent for believing individuals and not subject to reversal or nullification.  We have the great assurance that once we are in Jesus Christ, we are in Him forever.”

One last brilliant quote from MacArthur and I’ll move on.  “It was the one sin by the one man at the one time that brought God’s judgment and its resulting condemnation.  But the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ is not like that.  God’s judgment on Adam and his posterity arose from but one transgression.  On the other hand, however, the free gift arose not simply because of that single transgression but from MANY transgressions, and its result is not simply RESTORATION but JUSTIFICATION (capitalized emphases added).

 

Why then are verses 18-19 so tricky?  (18 Therefore as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.)

At first glance, verse 18 seems to be suggesting that all will be saved and verse 19 seems to suggest that not everyone was made a sinner by using the word “many.” But as I said earlier, context is king.  Paul, and the rest of Scripture have already established that all are sinners.  And we know that not all will be saved by the plethora of Scriptures that tell us that those who do not receive the gift of salvation will not inherit the kingdom of God, but will receive everlasting punishment.  I could give an exhaustive list of Scriptures to back that point up, but I feel that that is unnecessary.

Therefore, we must conclude that when verse 18 says “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men,” it means that justification and life are made available to all men, not that all receive that justification and life.  John Calvin explains it quite well.  He says, “He makes this favor common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him.”

 

Book of Romans

 

Verse 19 emphasizes the meaning of verse 18.  In most translations, even in the Young’s Literal Translation, which is a favored translation among those who teach universalism, the article ‘the’ is placed before the word ‘many.’ Most commentators conclude that ‘the many’ in verse 19 (“…the many were made sinners…” v. 19) refers to everyone, while “the many” who are “made righteous” refers only to believers.  While I believe that this is a logical conclusion and don’t disagree, I think that ‘the many’ likely refers to believers only in both instances.  I believe that “the many” refers to those mentioned in verse 17 “…who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness…”

 

It is true is it not, that all believers were made sinners as much as everyone else?  The only difference is, they will be and already have been made righteous by Christ’s act of obedience.  Everyone else is trying to make themselves righteous by relying on their own “goodness,” but we know that no one can make themselves righteous.  Only God can make one righteous through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ by His grace.

 

Many have already died (spiritually, because we already know that everyone dies physically whether they are saved or not), but many have also been made alive (spiritually) by the free gift of God by the grace of Christ (v. 15).  And not only that, but those who are made alive are not merely restored to the way humans were originally created, they are given the righteousness and glory of God!

THAT is how Jesus is greater than Adam, even though not all will be saved!  Salvation is offered to all, but is only effective to those who receive it.

JesusgreaterthanAdam  *This is true for the believer who has put on Christ’s righteousness, but not for those who remain in Adam.

 

I can’t pretend I know all about this.  Salvation seems like a simple concept, but when we look more deeply into it, it is more complicated than we think it is.  We cannot fully understand many things about God.  But as my friend Johnny Mac says, “…when we cannot understand the Lord’s ways, we must avoid the quicksand of human reason and stand in faith on the rock of God’s righteous character.” (I know I said I was done with Johnny Mac quotes, but had to throw this one in; sorry not sorry! 😉 )

Don’t Confuse Prisoners of War with the Enemy

A great reminder from John MacArthur’s daily devotional that I receive by e-mail.

Identifying the Real Enemy

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

Don’t confuse prisoners of war with the enemy.

Sometimes in the heat of battle we might lose perspective on who the real enemy is. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that our struggle isn’t against sinful people, but against the evil system and the supernatural forces that influence their attitudes and actions.

In his assault on the kingdom of God, Satan has assembled a highly organized army of fallen angels. Paul categorized them as “rulers . . . powers . . . world forces of this darkness . . . spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

That isn’t a detailed description of Satan’s hierarchy but simply a general indication of its power and sophistication. Apparently “rulers” and “powers” are high- ranking demons. “World forces of this darkness” are possibly demons who infiltrate various political systems of the world, attempting to direct human leaders to oppose God’s plans. An example is a demon called “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” in Daniel 10:13. He withstood God’s angelic messenger to Daniel until Michael the archangel came to the rescue.

“Spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” perhaps refers to demons involved in the most vile and perverted kinds of sins: gross immorality, occultic practices, Satan worship, and the like.

Those who reject Christ and God are unwitting prisoners of war—captured and mobilized by the enemy to accomplish his purposes. Tragically, when he’s finished with them he’ll abandon them to an eternal hell.

You probably know unbelievers who enjoy ridiculing your faith and making life difficult for you. Although that is hard to take, be patient and don’t become embittered toward them. Ask God to make you an instrument of His love as you reach out to them. Also pray that God will remove their spiritual blindness so they can see beyond Satan’s lies and recognize their need for a Savior.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Praise God for delivering you from the domain of darkness and transferring you into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col. 1:13).
  • Ask Him to use you today to break through Satan’s deception in someone’s life.

2 Corinthians 4:3-7 tells us that people reject the Gospel because it is veiled by the god of this world.  He has “blinded their minds to keep them from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ.” We must remember that our message is not our own, but it is God’s message to the world.  We, as believers have been entrusted with this message “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (v.7).

Faith Cannot Save You…

There are many theories out there about what is required of people to attain salvation.  Some believe that you have to perform religious rites and rituals such as be baptized, take the Lord’s Supper, be a good person, give money to a church or other religious institution, etc, etc.  Others believe that all you have to do is have faith.  Just say you believe certain things, say a prayer, sign a card and you’re good.  These are just a few of many different thoughts on what makes one right with God.  But what if I told you that I don’t think any of these things has any sort of power to save?  No, not even faith.  Not in and of itself anyway.  I’ll explain that in a bit.

First, I want to address the idea that works and religious ceremony can save a person.  The main passage of Scripture that comes to mind for me is Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” I believe this same concept can be found in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:5.  Jesus had just told Nicodemus that he had to be born again to be saved.  Nicodemus asks, “How can anyone be born when they are old?  Can they enter a second time into their mother’s womb and be born?” So Jesus essentially says, “Let me give you another hint.” Then in verse 5, “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water (the washing of regeneration, not physical birth nor baptism) and the Spirit (Renewal of the Holy Spirit obviously), they cannot enter the kingdom of God.'” In other words, Jesus was saying that there is no kind of work you can do to be saved.  Salvation is all the work of God.

 blog Baptism

Some believe that “washing of regeneration” refers to being baptized.  But then that would mean that baptism is a required work before salvation.  These same people use the idea of circumcision to back up their point.  In the Old Testament, God required the Jews to be circumcised as a sign of their separation as His people.  But Paul refuted the idea that circumcision saved people in Romans 4:9-17.  He made the point that Abraham was considered righteous on the basis of his faith before he was circumcised AND before there was even any law to abide by.  The law didn’t come about until Moses’ time which would have been approximately 500 years after Abraham’s time.  Just for fun, and to make my point, I am going to write out the passage below and replace the word “circumcised” with the word “baptized.”  I’ll only use 4:9-13.

Is this blessing upon the baptized, or upon the unbaptized also?  For we say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” How then was it reckoned?  While (after) he was baptized or (before he was) baptized?  Not while (after) baptized, but (before he was) baptized; and he received the sign of baptism, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had before he was baptized, that he might be the father of all who believe without being baptized, that righteousness might be reckoned to them, and the father of baptism to those who not only are of the baptism, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had before he was baptized.  For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.

To sum it all up, I believe that John MacArthur made a great point that is a bit shorter.  He said, “For the Jew, Passover is a collective symbol of deliverance and circumcision is an individual symbol of justification.  For the Christian, communion is the collective corporate symbol of our relationship to Christ; baptism is the individual symbol of it.”  These things are just symbols of, not requirements for, salvation.

Now what about faith?  Faith is great.  By grace alone through faith alone can we be saved.  But did you notice which comes first?  Grace.  Grace is what truly saves, and the only kind of grace that can save is God’s grace.  Grace is what gives us faith.  Grace is a gift of God, but so is faith.  Although the picture may be a bit cheesy, the quote on the picture below is what really grabbed my attention.

Blog Faith

John MacArthur once again made a really great point in his commentary on Romans about Abraham’s faith.  He says, “It was not the greatness of Abraham’s faith that saved him but the greatness of the gracious Lord in whom he placed his faith.  Faith is never the basis or the reason for justification, but only the channel through which God works His redeeming grace.  Faith is simply a convicted heart reaching out to receive God’s free and unmerited gift of salvation.”  He continues, “Although faith is required for salvation, it has no power in itself to save.  It is the power of God’s redemptive grace alone, working through the atoning work of His Son on the cross, that has power to save.  Faith is NOT, as some claim, a type of work.” (emphasis added)  Can I get an AMEN??  😛

I think that some people do have “faith in faith,” in other words they think that if faith is strong enough, it will save.  But what does James say about this?  He says, “You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe-and shudder!  Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’- and he was called a friend of God” (James 2:19-23).

The point James is trying to make is that if your faith does not move you into action, or is not accompanied by works, it is not real faith.  It is dead faith.  Likewise, good works, by themselves are useless.  (See 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 which bears the idea that love is characterized by self-sacrifice, but not all self-sacrifice is an act of love.)  You cannot have one without the other.  If I say that I believe that a chair is going to hold me up if I sit in it, but I refuse to sit in it, I will never be able to prove that my faith is real, because it is likely not real.  The works fulfill the faith, but these works and this faith can only come by the grace of God, which alone can truly save.

I sincerely hope that this was encouraging to some and challenging for some.  But most importantly, I hope that the truth has been spoken in love.  I understand that I don’t always have everything right, and as always, I invite anyone who wishes to add encouragement or ask questions and converse about these things.  Grace, peace and love to all through the Lord Jesus Christ!

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover…or a man by his faults.

As a person who adheres to the Doctrines of Grace, more commonly known as Calvinism, I find it worth my time to read one of the most inspirational, celebrated and yet controversial theologians in history, the man John Calvin himself; namely his Institutes of the Christian religion.

 

A couple of years ago, when I first began to adhere to the Doctrines of Grace and Reformed Theology, I began to realize that I had, for the better part of my life, misjudged greatly these doctrines as cold, hard, depressing and mean.  That is because I did not really know much about them and certainly misunderstood them greatly because I had never felt the need to study or look into what exactly they taught, and more importantly what was at the heart of the doctrines and of those who taught them.

 

John Calvin

Similarly, I have until recently, judged the man John Calvin as a monster for his alleged partaking in the death of the heretic Servetus.  Upon further study, I came to find that he really had no part in it, but in one of his letters, he did say that although he did not advocate for having him burned at the stake, he did agree that he was deserving of death.  I do not agree with Calvin on this point, but I do not think that this makes him a monster.  In Calvin’s time, heresy was punishable by death, so that’s all he knew.  I am not trying to defend him or say that he was justified in his decision, just that he was a flawed human being like the rest of us, and was no more or less a monster than either you or I.

As I have begun to read the Institutes, I have seen that John Calvin was most certainly a humble man who was very well versed in the knowledge of Scripture.  He was a man after God’s own heart.  He had a deep love for people and for the Truth of God’s Word.  He may have had some temper issues with people (who of us doesn’t at times?), but these do not show in his writings.  He most certainly wasn’t perfect, but I find that he is incredibly consistent in all of his doctrine.  There is a great quote from Arminius, who had his differences with Calvin, but nevertheless, recognized Calvin’s great knowledge and interpretation of Scripture.

He wrote:  “Next to the study of the Scriptures which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin’s Commentaries, which I extol in loftier terms than Helmich himself [a Dutch divine, 1551–1608]; for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the library of the fathers; so that I acknowledge him to have possessed above most others, or rather above all other men, what may be called an eminent spirit of prophecy. His Institutes ought to be studied after the [Heidelberg] Catechism, as containing a fuller explanation, but with discrimination, like the writings of all men.”

Many times, someone’s writing reveals their true heart.  This may not always be the case, but I challenge you and myself to read those with whom we disagree or think we disagree to find out where they are coming from.  We may just find out that they aren’t so bad after all, or we may find out that we still do not agree with anything they say.  But in the end, it is always best, as the saying goes, never to judge a book by its cover.  And more importantly, we shouldn’t judge people by their faults, but love them in spite of them.