Understanding the Grieving Process

A depiction of an ancient Egyptian funeral procession

The Apostle Paul calls God “the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3).

One way that we see God as the God of all comfort is the fact that His Word, the Bible, has so many descriptions of grieving people and funerals.

This shows us that God comes alongside us at these times and is with us.

Ultimately, it points us to Jesus who is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:1). He knows what it is to grieve as we we are reminded when He stood before the tomb of Lazarus: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

In the many funerals of the Bible, God teaches us what it means to grieve. He teaches us about the grieving process which is a process that He has created for human beings to recover from loss.

A funeral for a loved one isn’t the only time we enter into the grieving process. We may need the grieving process for all sorts of losses: when loved ones move away, when we lose a job or a dream is shattered, when opportunities are lost, or when we experience trauma. However, funerals represent one of the strongest forms of grief, so they are particularly helpful in teaching us about grieving for all sorts of loss.

One example of a funeral in the Bible is the funeral for Jacob in Genesis 50. There are several important points about this funeral:

  1. They expressed their emotions. “Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him” (Gen. 50:1). Later, they spent a whole week expressing their emotion at the loss (v. 11).
  2. They took time. The Egyptians mourned for Jacob for 70 days (50:3).
  3. They talked about it. They didn’t hide it. They openly shared that they were dealing with struggles, and Joseph even asked Pharaoh for a leave of absence so he could process the grief (50:4–6).
  4. They got support. Joseph and his brothers didn’t do this alone. They took along those who cared about them and were a part of their lives (50:7–8).
  5. They used rituals. This whole section of Scripture involves detailed rituals that the Bible and ancient wisdom recognized as a good means for walking through the grieving process and recovering from loss.

This same pattern can still be used today. The grieving process is what God has created for human beings to recover from loss.

When I say that it is a process, I do not mean that these five points are a checklist such that once you’ve checked off all these things from your list, you are done grieving. No. These five things are just the sorts of things that we must do in order to walk through the grieving process.

We also cannot say for certain how long or how often we will have to walk through these things in order to recover. As Scott Floyd writes: “Grief allows no timetable” (Crisis Counseling: A Guide for Pastors and Professionals [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2008]).

Indeed, there is a sense in which recovery is never complete. There is real and substantial recovery in this life but rarely a perfect one. As C.S. Lewis explained: “I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop” (cited in Floyd, Crisis Counseling, 79). In other words, sorrow becomes part of our lives and is incorporated into it, even when we find substantial healing.

The continuing presence of an element of sorrow in our lives causes us to look forward to the life to come when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4).

Our culture is the culture of the quick fix, but the human soul is not designed for a quick fix. If we follow the Bible’s wisdom, we can help people enter into the grieving process that God has created for recovery from loss and teach people what it means to mourn as those who have hope (1 Thess. 4:12).

Preparing for Suffering and Trials

Trauma can happen to anyone. We should expect suffering. Trials are part of life.

When we read these things, we know they are true.

However, everyone seems to get the belief that somehow they will be exempt. “It won’t happen to me!” we think. Or we don’t think about it all. We just live as if life will go on forever the way it is.

It won’t.

The more we can recognize that this is the case, the more we will be equipped to deal with trials, suffering, and trauma when they occur.

That doesn’t mean that suffering won’t hurt. It just means we’ll be in a better place to process it.

That’s why the Bible constantly tells us to expect suffering. I did a brief survey of passages on suffering. It is truly amazing how often the Bible warns us to expect suffering. Here’s a brief list.

  1. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2–4).
  2. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
  3. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12).
  4. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all (Heb. 12:7–8).
  5. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).
  6. When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future (Ecclesiastes 7:14)
  7. Jesus wept (John 11:35).
  8. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (1 Pet. 2:21).
  9. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said (Acts 14:21–22).
  10. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know (1 Thess. 3:2–4).

Another thing that helps us to process suffering and loss is to learn ahead of time the comfort that can come in the midst of suffering.

Here are a few ways to think about suffering and loss that will help us deal with them when they occur.

  1. You’re not alone. Suffering is the lot of human beings in this fallen world. When you feel intense grief, you may feel like you’re going crazy or strange. This is not true. The grief process is part of processing loss, and everyone who experiences loss has to walk through it in one way or another.
  2. God is shaping us through it. That’s why James says to count it all joy when we experience various trials and temptations. The testing of our faith produces character.
  3. God will be with us. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Is. 43:2–3).
  4. God brings light out of darkness. After a long period of time, Joseph was able to forgive what his brothers had done in large part because he saw how God had used it for good by putting him in a position to save his family and many others (see Gen. 50:20). We shouldn’t rush to conclusions about how God is going to do this, but over time, we will often see it.
  5. God Himself has entered into the suffering of this world. Tim Keller writes in his excellent book The Reason for God that Jesus’ death on the cross may not answer all the questions, but “we now know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he is indifferent or detached from our condition” (31). He has entered into it.
  6. Suffering is generally temporary in this life. The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time and season for everything, a time to weep and a time to laugh. There are times for both in this life, and life goes through its seasons.
  7. Suffering is absolutely temporary for believers in Christ. For believers in Jesus, this is the time of suffering. In the new heavens and new earth, there will be no suffering, for we have this promise: “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

If we keep these things in mind, we will weep but not as those who have no hope. Processing loss will be a process, but the God of all comfort will comfort us so that we can comfort others with the same comfort that we have received (2 Cor. 1:3).

The more we can recognize that this is part of life, the better we will be prepared to process loss when it happens.

Why Do Good Works? 8 Ways Good Works Are Consistent with God’s Free Acceptance

500 years ago next Tuesday, the Reformation began with Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on door of the church at Wittenburg.

Luther had gained crystal clarity on this amazing truth: human beings stand condemned and guilty before a holy God, but God offers acceptance as a free gift based on what Jesus has done. The proclamation of this truth changed the world.

But not everyone agreed with Luther. Many people said, “no” to the Reformation. One of the central objection to the Reformation was and is, “why do good works?”

If we are accepted by God as a free gift, then why should we do good works at all?

Before I answer this question, let’s note that this was the same type of objection the Apostle Paul received. “Do we then nullify the law through faith? Not at all! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31, see also Romans 6:1ff.).

I think it’s right to say, if we never get this objection to our teaching, then we should examine ourselves. Are we really teaching free grace like Paul?

On the other side, if people who get our teaching don’t respond with a “may it never be!” then we probably haven’t taught the necessity of good works very well either.

Luther’s fundamental answer to the objection was that acceptance with God isn’t based on our works, but the God who accepts us also produces good works in us by the same faith that receives the gift of salvation.

He wrote: “Hence it comes that faith alone makes righteous and fulfils the law; for out of Christ’s merit, it brings the Spirit, and the Spirit makes the heart glad and free, as the law requires that it shall be. Thus, good works come out of faith” (Commentary on Romans, [Grand Rapids: Kregel Classics, 1976], xv).

Luther goes on to say in a very memorable passage: “Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises; it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them. He who does not these works is a faithless man” (Ibid., xvii).

Ways Protestants Think of Good Works
I want to suggest 8 different ways that Protestants (those who follow the Reformation) think about good works. These different perspectives all express the same truth: works are necessary as a result of salvation but not to obtain salvation. If one of the 8 ways, helps you, hang onto it. If one of them doesn’t, just keep going to the next one.

1. Root and Fruit: The most common is the idea of faith as the root and good works as the fruit (see Mt. 7:16–20). The Methodist Articles capture this very nicely: “Although good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and spring out of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree is discerned by its fruit” (Article 10).

2. Two Gifts: When we accept Jesus for salvation, we don’t receive merely one gift, forgiveness. We also receive the gift of transformation. Protestants often call these two gifts justification and sanctification. It’s important to note that we can’t accept one without the other. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith says: “the chief actions of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting on Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life” (14.2).

3. Dying to sin: We can think of the life of fallen human beings as a life that is alive to sin. People are committed to themselves and their own way of solving their problems. When we come to Jesus Christ, we die to this way of life. We nail it to the cross, so to speak. That’s how the Apostle answered the question, should we continue in sin? in Romans 6: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom. 6:1–2).

4. Alive to God: The flip side of the previous image is that we are alive to God. We do good works because we are now alive to God. Becoming a Christian is about a new life. The Wesleyan Church describes the way that Protestants think about this new life:

We believe that regeneration, or the new birth, is that work of the Holy Spirit whereby, when one truly repents and believes, one’s moral nature is given a distinctively spiritual life with the capacity for love and obedience. This new life is received by faith in Jesus Christ, it enables the pardoned sinner to serve God with the will and affections of the heart, and by it the regenerate are delivered from the power of sin which reigns over all the unregenerate. (Article 12)

5. Union with Jesus Christ: When we come to Jesus in faith or ask Him into our heart, we are united to Jesus Christ. Jesus compares our relationship to Him as branches to a vine. If we are united to Him, we will bear fruit and do good works. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We will do good works because we are connected to Christ who is the source of good works.

6. Slavery and freedom: The Apostle Paul uses this imagery to explain our lives before and after receiving God’s free acceptance. Before we were connected to Jesus, we were slaves to idols and sin. We let all sorts of things govern our lives. Coming to Christ is about being set free. We are now connected to the only one who can give us true freedom. Good works are simple the free life of living to God: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Rom. 6:22, see vv. 14–23).

7. The Presence of the Holy Spirit: Another way of thinking about good works is that they are the work of the Holy Spirit. Every believer has the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit makes us new. The Southern Baptist Faith and Message puts it this way: “At the moment of regeneration [the Holy Spirit] baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church” (II.C., see 1 Cor. 12:3, 13).

8. A Psychological Connection: Protestants at various times have explained ways in which faith is connected to good works by psychological necessity. One explanation that I have found helpful is that of Reinhold Niebuhr. He says that as long as we are filled with anxiety about our identity, security, and position, we are not freed to love. Faith in the Gospel releases us from this anxiety and thus opens up the way to love. He writes: “Without freedom from anxiety man is so enmeshed in the vicious circle of egocentricity, so concerned about himself, that he cannot release himself for the adventure of love.”

When you understand this multi-faceted way of seeing salvation, it becomes rather obvious why the Protestant answer to, “Then, good works don’t matter,” is, “may it never be!”

Common Questions About This Perspective
Whenever I teach our “root and fruit” theology, people ask several different questions about it. So, I’d like to address these. Maybe you’re thinking of one of them. If you have others, let me know in the comments section.

1. Does that mean that someone who has no fruit is not a Christian?
Yes. You can’t have Christ and not be changed. A good tree will produce good fruit. If we don’t see any change in our lives, any increased love of God, any desire to follow His commands, or any affection for the brothers and sisters in Christ, we should question whether we really believe in Jesus in our hearts.

2. Will we ever be without sin in this life?
No. As James says, “We all stumble in many ways” (3:1).

It’s a realistic goal for believers to be freed form the dominion or domination of sin in our lives. It’s flat out wrong to think that we will ever be free from the presence of sin in this life. There will always be a part of us in this life that will lead us to cry out, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:25).

3. If we continue to sin in this life, then how can we know that we are producing good fruit?
Short answer: progress and growth. If life is present, growth will occur. Don’t look so much at the day to day. Look at the months. How far have you come? Sometime this can be difficult to see.

One Pastor told me a story about his life. He was not converted in college, and, by his own admission, he was a jerk. Time went on, and he lost contact with many people who were in his life during that time. Then, he became a Christian. Years later, he reconnected with many of his old friends on Facebook. They got reacquainted with him, and their big question was: “What happened? You were such a jerk!” He answered, “Jesus.”

As the days go by, believers will see progress in Christ. It’s probably more evident than we think.

4. How should we evaluate other people’s relationship with Jesus?
Cautiously. Some would say not at all, but we are called to help one another and build one another up. In order to serve a person well, you need to know where they are. Jesus warns us against judging and tells us we will know them by their fruits (Mt. 7:1–5, 16–20).

One reason we need to be cautious is that outward behavior can be misleading. Someone who has a natural self-discipline can change a lot of outward behaviors without much inward change. Someone without that personality trait will have a much harder time. It’s remarkably easy to clean the outside of the cup and have the inside of the cup be filthy.

Here’s a lengthy quote from C.S. Lewis when he was asked, “Are there any unmistakable outward signs in a person surrendered to God? Would he be cantankerous? Would he smoke?”

I think of the advertisements for White Smiles Tooth Paste, saying that it is the best on the market. If this is true, it would follow that:

(1) Anyone who starts using it will have better teeth;

(2) Anyone using it has better teeth than he would have if he weren’t using it.

But you can’t test it in the case of one who has naturally bad teeth and uses it, and compare him with [someone] who has never used tooth paste at all.

Take the case of a sour old maid, who is a Christian, but cantankerous. On the other hand, take some pleasant and popular fellow, but who has never been to Church. Who knows how much more cantankerous the old maid might be if she were not a Christian. and how much more likable the nice fellow might be if he were a Christian? You can’t judge Christianity simply by comparing the product in those two people; you would need to know what kind of raw material Christ was working on in both cases.

The best context for helping others is love, relationship, and careful listening. This will enable us to judge righteous judgment and not one according to mere appearance (John 7:24).

5. If growth is an organic process, should we work hard to produce fruit and good works?
Yes. The Bible is filled with images of the Christian life that involve strenuous effort: a worker, a soldier, a runner, a farmer, and so on. Paul says plainly, “Work out your own salvation” (Phil. 2:12).

We always need to remember in working hard, though, that we are totally dependent on God’s power working in us both to will and to do. This calls for prayer, an attitude of dependence, and communion with Him.

In addition, mere hard work is not the most effective way to produce change.

6. So, what is the most effective way to produce change?
If you want to see better fruit, give attention to the roots. We need to strengthen our faith.

Outward behaviors are just part of the equation. Most of the change needs to be with our mindset and emotions. This is something that occurs internally. Most of the Christian life is about replacing a sinful mindset with one that is governed by faith. This is a long process. It involves becoming acquainted with ourselves, confessing our sins, meditating on Scripture, worship, and lots of conversations with faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, all with a strong sense of dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit.

A Final Encouragement
The heart of this message is not to discourage anyone. Good works are attainable for anyone. All we need to do is to be connected to Christ. We don’t need to settle for our old ways of life, the same old patterns that harm ourselves and our families. We will always have something in us that we struggle with, but we can experience substantial change and transformation through the power of Christ.

And that’s the good news of the Reformation. There is grace for forgiveness and grace for change. Jesus is available, as Augustus Toplady, penned as the “double cure”: “Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee. Let the water and the blood, from Thy riven side which flowed, Be of sin the double cure, Save from wrath and make me pure” (from his hymn “Rock of Ages”).

Don’t Judge and Drive

I have to admit. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have. I was on the phone (albeit hands free!).

I was at the corner of the intersection of Parkway and Main Street.

Let me tell you about this intersection. If you want to go south at that intersection, there is only one lane. If you want to turn left to go south, you cannot be out in the intersection at all, or you will make it very difficult for the cars that are turning left coming from the north (going east) to get around you.

This is the single lane heading south

I was in that turn lane coming from the east to turn south where you cannot be out in the intersection.

The white Ethra bus is where I was. Notice that it is several feet behind the line. I was about that far in front of the line.

Earlier, I had noticed that a cop had come by and gone south, but I hadn’t paid that much attention to what he was doing.

The left turn signal turned green, and I was ready to head south. So, I began pulling out into the intersection.

Then, uh-oh. There was a stationary semi that sitting in the only lane going south. I could not turn, but I was already out in the intersection a little ways.

Never mind. I’ll back up. Uh-oh. There’s a truck right on my tail. I’m stuck. I can’t go anywhere.

The light turned yellow then red. Still, I could not move. There was nothing I could do.

Finally, it came time for the cars coming from the north to attempt to turn left and go around me. It was not easy.

I got nasty look after nasty look. Several cars gave a long honk on their horn.

There’s one of two possibilities here. They may have seen the semi blocking my turn, and then they thought I was an idiot for trying to turn; or, they didn’t see it, and they just thought I was an idiot who just wanted to make their lives difficult.

I thought, come on people, it’s either an innocent mistake or an impossible situation.

At that moment, I thought of all the times I had honked my horn at other cars. I wondered, how many times have I honked the horn without realizing all that was going on? Probably quite a few.

A good lesson for me. Don’t judge and drive.

3 Principles for Speaking into Your Child’s Life

There are a large variety of areas in which you need to speak into your child’s life. You need to help them with finances, schooling, jobs, God, ethics, relationships, and so on.

In each of these areas, you need specific wisdom and insight into how to speak well to them. I like to develop little phrases that I can go back to again and again. Some I invent. Others I borrow. In most sports, one of the keys is “keep your eye on the ball,” which is a good life principle as well.

However, there are several ways of relating to our children that apply to any and every situation. Let me suggest three of them.

Value them
First, value your children. Children can be overwhelming. It’s easy to see the things that you could be doing if you didn’t have them.

Children can cause you trouble and pain. They have their own minds and wills. They don’t always follow you or do the things that you like. They sometimes decide to get angry or do crazy things in public. Let’s be honest. It can be wearying at times.

It’s so important that we don’t let the struggles cause us to miss what a blessing they are. The Bible tells us, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Psalm 127:3, 5).

Be Present
Second, be a calm presence in their lives.

This has two parts. First, we need to be a presence in their lives. Quantity of time matters. We can’t just show up when there’s a problem. We need to be developing relationships with them.

The second part is that we need to be a calm presence. We should not let the children bear the brunt of our anxiety. There are ways to resolve anxiety. Dumping on our children is not a good one.

Think of Jesus and the disciples. He had opportunities to speak into the disciples’ lives because He was with them constantly. He was also a calm presence in their lives, even while they were really struggling.

Teach Them
Third, do teach them.

It’s easy to think that we might not have much to offer or that you have no influence. You do. Your children do listen, and you have much to teach. God has put you in the position of parent in large part for the very purpose of helping your child learn how to live.

Whatever other things you do in discipline, let the majority of your shaping of their lives be through conversation, discussion, and instruction.

The Bible tells us, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

The book of Proverbs is a great guide. The book is basically a father teaching his child about the consequences of various actions.

Conclusion
These are rather simple principles. I find, though, that the most important principles are generally the simplest.

What are some general principles that you might offer for speaking into our children’s lives?

God Is Our Ultimate Source of Value, Love, and Provision

I have accomplished many things that give me satisfaction. When I put together a small group program and see people connecting, I feel good. When I am able to help someone get involved in an area of service where they flourish, I am thankful to God. When I finish a paper and hand it in, it gives me a sense of accomplishment, especially if I get a good grade.

God has also blessed me with many friends, an amazing wife, children who value me, parents who care about me, and various mentors, counselors, and advisers. When I think of all the people in my life, I am truly grateful for the love that comes my way.

I am also financially stable. I have money in the bank. I’m putting money toward retirement. My church takes good care of me.

The problem is that sometimes I try to do things and fail. Sometimes people hurt me or are not there for me. Sometimes I get a bill that’s big, and I’m not sure how I’m going to pay for it. If I lean too hard on any of these things for value, love, or provision, they fail me.

And that reminds me that all of these gifts cannot be the ultimate source of my value, love, or provision.

The ultimate source of my value, love, and provision is God Himself and the promises in His Word that He loves me, values me, and will take care of me.

Most of our great sins and pathologies arise from trying to take God’s good gifts and make them the ultimate source of our love, value, and provision.

It is only when we trust in God’s promises that we have an unshakable foundation of value, love, and provision. It is only when we trust in God that we can value His gifts for what they are and not turn them into an idol.

Trust in God is necessary to human functioning and flourishing (for a fuller discussion of this issue, see my article here).

10 Ways the Church Needs to Reform, if the Simple Gospel Is Central

At the heart of the Reformation is justification by faith alone. This means that, though human beings stand guilty and condemned, God offers acceptance as a free gift based on what Jesus has done. Closely related is the fact that God also transforms those who are justified to make them more like Jesus (often called sanctification).

This is the simple Gospel that was emphasized and put back at the center of the church by Martin Luther and the other Reformers.

This is what had first place in the New Testament Church: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3–4).

It’s still easy for us to make other things of secondary, tertiary, or no importance central. I still struggle to keep the simple Gospel central. For a long time in my ministry, I did a terrible job of it. Even when I preached the simple Gospel, my actions often said that other things were just as important or more important.

When I left New Covenant Presbyterian in Spearfish in 2015, I preached from 1 Cor. 15:3–4. I explained ten things that I had tried to do, ten reforms that I had tried to make that were based on making the simple gospel central. I said, whatever else I had done, this was my vision and what I had wanted to do.

A man in the church came over to me afterwards and said, “You need to make that the first sermon you preach at your next church.” I changed what I was preaching on based on his advice.

And this is still my vision. This Sunday, I’m preaching on the Reformation. It’s on justification by faith alone. I’m going to share 10 reforms I think the church needs to make, if the simple gospel is central to her life.

  1. If the simple gospel is central, then it gives us an outward focus. The people outside the church are not that different from us. They are just one act of faith away from being fundamentally where we are.
  2. If the simple gospel is central, then all that is necessary to be a member of the church is to embrace the simple gospel. We can’t make entrance into the church higher than entering into the kingdom of God. This is what captivated me in Presbyterian history. Presbyterians aren’t perfect, but they have historically understood this.
  3. If the simple gospel is central, then we cannot let other preferences or other truths crowd it out. If other doctrines, ethical principles, church principles, or anything else gets talked about more than the simple gospel, people will believe what you talk about is the most central. We should not do that.
  4. If the simple gospel is central, then everything we do must be formatted around it. We cannot say one thing & then show another. We can’t say Christ’s love is free and then not care whether or not people can find our building. We can’t say Christ is hospitable but then be inhospitable.
  5. If the simple gospel is central, there is unity of believers in the local church. We may be at different levels in our spiritual journey or knowledge, but we all sit down around the table and let Jesus wash our feet. That gives us a powerful unity.
  6. If the simple gospel is central, then the church is composed of a variety of people from a variety of different backgrounds at a variety of different levels. Each should be valued as a believer in Christ. Thus, the worship and the sermons should be designed to include everybody and give them all sense of being part of the people of God.
  7. If the simple gospel is central, then we will value children in our church because the simple gospel is simple enough for a child to grasp and embrace.
  8. If the simple gospel is central, there is a unity with all believers. It is no longer just about the believers in our church, it is about believers everywhere because we all believe together that which we value most.
  9. If the simple gospel is central, then we can and should work together with all churches who preach this simple gospel. We share a basic unity that transcends other differences.
  10. If the simple gospel is central, then this is what we need most in order to grow. We must preach the gospel to ourselves when we see our sin, when we need guidance, when we are struggling with our circumstances, and when we are struggling with people. What does Paul write to the churches? The Gospel.

The Reformation was about clarifying the Gospel and bringing it back to the center of the church. This is not a completed act. It is not a pristine period in history. It is a continual call to make Christ and Him crucified the center of our lives, churches, and hearts.

Trust in God Crucial to Proper Human Functioning and Flourishing

[Note: read a shorter version of this article here]On the surface, human beings have many problems: addictions, injustices, abuse, anxiety, and depression.

No doubt these problems have many psychological, physical, and social elements.

Beyond all these is a theological problem. Most theological analyses of our problems are excluded in the modern world. In spite of this, belief in God remains widespread, and so, even if we exclude those who do not believe in God, such analysis may be helpful to a large proportion of modern people.

In this essay, I would like to propose that trusting in God is necessary to proper human functioning and flourishing.[1]

This is merely an application of Saint Augustine’s famous statement in The Confessions: “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

The Human Problem
Human beings were created good.

But human beings are also dependent beings. They can’t survive on their own. They need knowledge, purpose, love, and physical resources from outside of themselves.

Individuals not only lack these resources and need a continual influx of them from outside, they completely lack the ability to secure the continuation of that influx.

Out of this basic problem all anxiety arises. We need things from outside, and we can see the possibility that they would not be provided.[2]

If we had to live in this uncertainty, the human situation would be tragic indeed. Continue reading “Trust in God Crucial to Proper Human Functioning and Flourishing”

Reformation, Part 1: Why Works Won’t Work

The central protest of the Protestant Church is that justification is by faith alone and not by the works of the law.

When it comes to our standing before God, works won’t work.

Why? Because the law says that we’re guilty. When the law speaks, we become aware of our sin and are held guilty before the law (Rom. 3:19 & 20).

Martin Luther, whom God raised up to begin a Reformation of the Church 500 years ago this month, saw this very clearly.

Martin Luther believed that he could be justified by his works. He tried very hard to be declared righteous on the basis of what he did.

He also saw that he had sin, so he would spend two hours confessing his sins, walk away, and realize he had committed more sins that he had forgotten. This led him to adopt very strict practices and even to inflict pain on himself as a way of paying for his sin.

The more he worked, the more he saw the futility of it.

He realized that no one would be justified by the law because all have sinned, and all stand condemned and guilty before God.

Now, most people don’t take that approach. Most people aren’t trying that hard to do what’s right.
Most people get around the weight of their sin by bringing the law down to their level.

We can do this in a variety of ways. Most of the time, we think we’re OK with God because we’re not that bad, perhaps go to church, and don’t do anything society considers really bad.

Sometimes, people avoid the law by focusing on a few moral issues. However, usually that morality does not touch our heart. It’s external things that we can easily avoid and look down on others for. “We don’t smoke, and we don’t chew, and we don’t run with boys who do” (see Mt. 23:23).

Sometimes, we can make religious knowledge or awareness the basis of our standing before God. I know these doctrines, so I’m OK. Those who don’t are not in the club.

Sometimes, even grace can become a sort of club. I’m better than others because I get grace!

Wherever we tend to view ourselves highly and look down on contempt on others is a place where we are tending to rely on as our righteousness before God.

But none of these will work. They’re actually a distraction from the real issue.

They won’t work because God’s holiness demands that we obey His law, all His law, to be declared righteous.

And we haven’t. We’ve all sinned. So, we’re in trouble.

We all stand guilty and condemned before a holy God.

So, where does that lead us? To Luther’s glorious insight. We stand guilty and condemned before God, but God offers us acceptance as a free gift because of what Jesus has done.

“All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

That’s justification by grace alone through faith alone. This is what the Reformation is all about. This is what the Bible is all about.

We all stand guilty before God, but God accepts us a free gift to be received by faith alone because of what Jesus has done.

That’s a rallying point. Think about it. Meditate on it. Live it. Let it transform you. Let it transform your churches. Let it soften your heart.

Works won’t work, but the Gospel will.

4 Verses Christians Turn to After a Mass Shooting

After what occurred Sunday in Las Vegas, whose heart cannot be heavy? As a Pastor, I struggle with what to say and how to respond to these types of tragedies.

Christianity Today posted an article yesterday that cited 4 verses that Christians turn to after mass shootings. I found that these verses were particularly helpful to me, and so I decided to re-post them here for your meditation:

  • John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
  • Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
  • Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
  • Psalm 11:5 “The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.”

To see how they came up with these verses and links to other helpful articles, see CT’s whole article here.

For those questioning how a good God could allow suffering, I offer my summary of Tim Keller’s insights in his book The Reason for God here.