Friday, April 30, 2021


We worship the Son of God, the maker of all things (John 1:3). He is God over all, blessed forever (Romans 9:5). His becoming Man is something none of us can understand, and I'm sure we never will. How could we understand the fullness of Godhead dwelling in Him bodily (Colossians 2:9)?

When I was growing up, I understood the Gospel very differently than I do now – which is probably a good thing, I should expect our understanding of the Gospel to change with age and experience – I thought of it as a sort of response on God's part, which isn't entirely wrong. But there came a day when I realized that God knew exactly what it would cost Him to declare that it would require blood to make atonement for a soul (Leviticus 17:10–11). God made that declaration knowing full well it would be the blood of Christ that would ultimately be the price.

Watchman Nee points out that the first type of Christ going into death for us in Scripture is presented before the Fall (Genesis 2:21–25; Ephesians 5:28–32). So there's at least one sense in which the Gospel is more than a response to sin. Christ's going into death for us is more than "just" a response to the Fall. 

John's Gospel seems to shine a light on that: it doesn't really present Christ suffering for sins so much as it's the Son of God giving life to those who don't have it. And we see something fascinating when we compare John 5:24–29 and John 6:48–58. In John 5 we learn that the Son of God can give life to the dead "merely" by commanding it: the Son of God can call the dead from the grave. In John 6 we learn that the Son of Man can give life too, but it costs Him: He gives life by giving us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink.

Of course I don't mean that the Son of God and the Son of Man aren't the same Person. Of course they are the same Person (see John 5:25–27). But the point is that the Lord gives the Gospel appropriate to whichever title He is using. So when we think of Him as the Son of God, we see that there's nothing He can't do: He is God. But when we think of Him as Son of Man, then we see that He pays dearly for the life He gives us.

When the Lord discusses giving us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink, He tells us that He is the bread of life that came down from Heaven (John 6:35–51). And He makes the remarkable claim that He came down out of Heaven so that we may it eat and not die (John 6:50). It was to give us His flesh to be our food and His blood to be our drink that He came down from Heaven (John 6:50–51).

And this is, I suppose, the point of my rambling: the Son of God became the Son of Man in order to do the unthinkable and give us life at an incalculable cost to Himself. He knew what it would cost, and He came specifically for that purpose (cf. John 12:27).

Friday, April 23, 2021


By nature I am not very brave.

When I was a teenager, I got my private pilot's license. One of my main motivations was that I was afraid of heights and wanted to confront my fears. It didn't work. I'm still afraid of heights, but now I have a much better idea what can go wrong whenever I travel by plane. So that backfired.

A few years ago I was reading Calvin's Institutes, and I found this:

In this way, and in no other, can the immoderate and superstitious fears, excited by the dangers to which we are exposed, be calmed or subdued. I say superstitious fears. For such they are, as often as the dangers threatened by any created objects inspire us with such terror, that we tremble as if they had in themselves a power to hurt us, or could hurt at random or by chance; or as if we had not in God a sufficient protection against them. (Book 1, Chapter 16).

It struck me that Calvin was saying, every fear – except the fear of God – is superstitious fear. If I am afraid of something, it is because I believe that it can hurt me. Can it? Only if God allows it.

If you haven't time to or inclination to read Darby, please take time to read "Two Warnings and an Example" (Collected Writings, Volume 12, pp. 145–151). It's well worth the time and effort to read. He says this about the Lord Jesus praying in Gethsemane:

being in an agony, He prays the more earnestly; it drives Him to His Father; and that before the trial comes. Then what is the next thing? When the trial actually comes, it is already gone through with God! He presents Himself before them saying, "whom seek ye?" as calmly as if going to work a miracle. Whether before Caiaphas or Pontius Pilate, He makes a good confession; owns Himself Son of God before the Jews, and King before Pilate.

This, according to Darby, is the key to suffering: to go through it with the Lord before it happens, so we can see it as coming from Him. He says it better than Calvin, but it's essentially the same advice: if we see everything as coming from God, then we can accept them as the Father's will for us.

I'm not by any means claiming to be brave. But I am finding myself acting more courageously as I learn to accept things from God's hand. I frequently have to remind myself that if I fear God, then there's no fear left to give whatever thing frightens me.

I recently cut down a big tree. It has been dead a long time, and I figured if I cut it down, then I'll get firewood from it. If I just leave it alone, it'll eventually fall anyway, but it'll be too rotten to be of use to me. Either way the tree comes down, but if I bring it down myself, I can at least keep warm from it.



Cutting down trees is inherently risky. If there's a time when saying "Lord willing" isn't taking the Lord's name in vain, it's when I point to where I want the tree to fall and say, "It'll fall there, Lord willing." But where I once gibbered like an idiot at the thought of doing something so very scary, I now find myself approaching it with a whole lot of prayer, and a willingness to accept the blessing God has for me. Our Heavenly Father isn't going to let a tree kill me, unless He specifically wants the tree to kill me, in which case that's the very best thing that can happen. So I don't act foolishly: I take every precaution, and I work slowly and carefully. But I don't shie away from the task either. I am taking my responsibility seriously to maintain the land He has given me, and I am doing it in fear and dependence on Him.

Friday, April 16, 2021

All Things

I am not claiming any sort of success, but I have been struggling for a couple years now to do "all things" in the name of Christ. There are some things I'd like to mention in connection with that.

First, if there's something I can't do in the name of Christ, I shouldn't be doing it. I think I first read that somewhere in Darby.  I have heard that used as a legalistic bludgeon to pressure people into not doing certain things. That's not at all my intention. My intention is simply to say that there are things I cannot do, and one test is whether I can do it in the name of Christ.

I can feed my chickens in the name of Christ. I can sharpen my chainsaw in the name of Christ. I can repair my truck in the name of Christ. I can even paddle my canoe in the name of Christ. But I can't commit adultery in the name of Christ or lie to a brother or sister in the Lord in the name of Christ. That's an extreme example, but it makes the point plainly: if there's something God hates, I can't do it in the name of Christ.

In one sense, this removes the idea of "grey areas" from our lives. I don't mean that it removes those areas where serious believers disagree. I mean it removes the "neither right nor wrong" places from our lives. If we are doing something in the name of Christ, then it is necessarily right. If we can't, then there's something that needs to go.

Again, I really don't believe in asceticism. I am not espousing a Christianity that doesn't include recreation: quite the opposite! I am espousing a Christianity where even the recreation is done in the name of Christ. Where hunting and fishing and hiking and playing with our children are all spiritual activities, because they're all done in the name of Christ.

Second, Colossians 3:17 goes on to give us the first step in doing "all things" in the name of Christ: it's giving thanks to God the Father through Him. So the first step to doing "all things" is to thank God the Father. This is something we miss very easily. 

I wear hiking boots almost exclusively. I spent several years working in downtown Seattle, and I commuted to work by bus. So I would put a whole lot of miles on my shoes. I eventually decided I would just switch to serious hiking boots, because my feet were starting to complain about my walking habits.

One day my boot laces wore out, so I ordered a new pair from Amazon. Of course I ordered the bright red laces, because I've always thought brown leather hiking boots need bright red laces. I commented to my wife about being grateful that my brown boots had bright red laces, and she told me I was right to be thankful, even for tiny things... and I began to understand giving thanks to God the Father in the context of "all things."

I have so much to be thankful for. Among many, many blessings are bright red laces in my brown leather hiking boots. And this, I have become convinced, is the starting point to doing "all things" in the name of Christ. Can I walk to work in the name of Christ? If I can't, I shouldn't be walking to work. If I can, it starts with "giving thanks to God the Father through Him," and for me, that involves being thankful for my bright red boot laces.

Third, we are to acknowledge God in all things. I was listening to a sermon on Acts 18, and the speaker spent quite a bit of time on "if God wills" in Acts 18:21. Here's what I took from that talk: we're not looking for a superstitious phrase we can tack on to every utterance. I really don't think it honors the Lord for people to say things like, "I'm planning to order a burger when get to the restaurant, if God wills," or "Yes, I'll have coffee, please – Lord willing." Those are silly, irreverent uses of the Lord's name. But at the same time, Paul models for us what it's like to acknowledge the Lord in our daily life (Proverbs 3:5–6; James 4:13–16). There is such a thing as vain repetition, there is also such a thing as acknowledging the Lord in all our ways.

I do this very, very badly. I seem to fluctuate between de facto atheism and mindless superstition. But if I am to live every area of my life under the Lordship of Christ, it seems to me I ought at the very least to be mindful of His Lordship over me in "all things."  So while studiously avoiding tacking on a "God willing" to the end of every statement, I am trying to learn that there is a time and place to say that, as led by the Spirit of God, of course.

Fourth, I am learning that being led of the Spirit isn't just going on autopilot, awaiting some miraculous intervention. There is a very real give-and-take in the Christian life, where there is real, significant human responsibility. 

I have told this story at length to some friends, so I won't go into tremendous detail here, but I think an abridged version is worth relating. Last summer I got a depredation elk tag, so I was all excited to go elk hunting in the early part of August, in depredation season. My hunting partner and I were out there in the woods when the sun came up, carrying rifles and packs, trying to keep quiet as we put so many miles on our boots. The whole time, I was praying that if the Lord had an elk for me, He'd put it right in front of me, with a clear shot, unmistakably from Him. The long and short of it is, He put an elk right in front of me. It wasn't the first elk we saw, but it was the first one I felt like I had a safe shot on. And I knew it was the elk the Lord had for me when she turned to give me a clear broadside shot, then stood there in the middle of the path, 170-ish yards away.

Here's what I learned from my elk hunting adventure: the Lord gave me an elk, but I had to go out and get her. And she wasn't the first elk I saw, but she was the elk who stood right in front of me and gave me the textbook shot. I wore myself out getting that elk: I spent several hours a day walking up and down hills with a pack and a heavy rifle. Did the Lord send me the elk? Absolutely! Did He make me put some miles on my boots to go get her? Yes, yes He did.

I think that's a pretty good analogy for walking in the Spirit. It's being led of God, and trusting Him for the outcome. But it's not just sitting around, waiting for Him to intervene miraculously. It's asking Him to bless, then heading out confident of His blessing. 

I had a friend who used to talk about Genesis 24:27, "I being in the way, the Lord led me." That seems to sum up a whole lot of what I'm trying to say.

My life to this point has very rarely been like that: I've spent many years sitting and waiting for Him to bless, refusing to lift a finger myself. And I've spent many years working hard to produce results for God. Neither one is walking in the Spirit. We look for His results, but we're not afraid to roll up our sleeves when He leads in that direction.

Finally, it is our looking at the glory of the Lord that makes us like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). Someday He'll come physically to get us, and we'll get a really good look, and we'll be like Him immediately (1 John 3:2). We're not called to be something we're not: we're made in God's image, and that's not something we're supposed to leave behind. But at the same time, we're called not to show ourselves, but to show the life of Jesus manifested in mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:6–12). These two truths have been very hard for me to see at the same time, but the longer I go on, the more important it is for me to keep them both in view.


Friday, April 9, 2021

Worlds Colliding

It has been several years since I realized there was a bit of a disconnect in my mind. I read or re-read J. N. Darby's article, "First Resurrection; or, Resurrection of the Just" (Collected Writings, Vol. 2, pp. 301–309), and was struck by the clarity with which he points out that the Lord's coming for us is precisely Resurrection. Somehow, in my mind, the Lord's coming for us and the Resurrection were two distinct events.  There was a moment in my head that went something like this:

NICENE CREED: Our hope is the resurrection

DISPENSATIONALIST BIBLE TEACHER: No, our hope is the Lord coming for us

J. N. DARBY: (Looking confused) What's the difference?

That has proven to be a life-changing moment.

Over the past couple years, I have found myself combating the idea that our faith is (or ought to be) what Francis Schaeffer would call an "upper storey experience." I find myself slipping over and over into the idea that there's a "real world right now" reality where I go to work, pay my bills, keep the woodstove burning, wash dishes, and do all the "mundane" things; and then there's another level of reality where God is, where I am a believer, where the Lord Jesus is coming for me. It's really a very split view of reality... But that's not what Scripture teaches. 

There is a repeated theme when Moses addresses the children of Israel on the plain in Moab, he appeals to them several times on the basis of what they saw, and what they had heard (see Deuteronomy 4:9–13, etc.). The face-value message is that they shouldn't forget the Lord, but there is a deeper message here too: he is reminding them that these things really happened. They weren't to think of them in terms of myth, but in terms of documented, verified, witnessed history.

In Francis Schaeffer's excellent True Spirituality, he talks about how, if we were at the Crucifixion and we were to run our hands over the cross, we'd get splinters. His point is that the events of our faith happened in this world: they're not in some mystical reality. There is a physical place where the Son of God physically died, and people were there who saw it (John 21:24–25).

The appeal to witnesses characterizes both the Old and New Testaments. Moses appeals to the people to remember what they themselves had seen and heard, Paul appeals to over five hundred witnesses of the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1–8), and in what strikes me as the most convincing statement of the entire chapter, he admits that most of them are still alive, but some had since died.

But the point that Moses was making, that Paul was making, that Francis Schaeffer was making, is that our faith isn't in some other. We believe the Lord rose bodily from the dead. We believe God actually spoke to Moses in an audible voice, in human language. We don't believe the Lord will come for us spiritually (whatever that means), we believe He will actually arrive in this physical world at a definite point in time, and take us away.

I've been struggling to understand how to live that reality. The first thing I began to understand is that everything in this life is to be done in the name of Christ (Colossians 3:17). I don't even begin to know all that means, and I'm quite sure I'm not living up to it. But one thing it has to mean is that there's no such thing as a mundane thing. I'm to eat and drink in the name of Christ. I'm to wake and sleep in the name of Christ. I'm to wash dishes and drive to work in the name of Christ. I am to feed my chickens in the name of Christ. And yes, I am to kill and eat those chickens (when the time comes) in the name of Christ.

I think our Reformed friends have a better handle on this than our Dispensationalist friends do.

Something else it means is that asceticism is fundamentally flawed: if I am to do all things in the name of Christ, then there's really no part of this physical life that I am divorced from. I'm not to live in the hope of being rescued from this life, I am to live it in the name of Christ.  

Which is not, of course, to say we're not to be looking for the Son of God to come from Heaven to change our mortal bodies (Philippians 3:20–21). But it is to say that we ought to be living this life – until He comes – in His name.

There's a lot more to be said, but it's time to wrap this one up. Suffice it to say, doing all things in the name of Christ is one of the simplest and hardest things to do. But it's what keeps us from living in a spiritual un-reality. It protects us from asceticism on the one hand and latitudinarianism on the other. But more on that later.

Friday, April 2, 2021

The whole

I had an extremely encouraging conversation with a friend who is both much younger and much smarter than I am. Those conversations can be challenging, but also rewarding. I realized in the conversation that our faith must embrace everything that we are. 

It seems to me that we fall constantly into the trap of denying one truth in order to believe another. And that seems evident in our attempts at spiritual growth: some of us attempt to deny our emotions, others attempt to deny our wills, or our bodies, or our intellects in order to achieve some sort of spirituality. But of course none of those things is actually spiritual. True spirituality is not a denial of any part of what we are, it's being all that we are under the control of the Holy Spirit, under the Lordship of Christ (Colossians 3:17).

So the path to spirituality isn't denying our emotions in order to focus on our intellects, any more than it is denying our intellects in order to focus on our wills. We are made in the image of God, and we have emotions, intellects, wills, physical bodies, and so on. We don't become more spiritual by being less intellectual, any more than we become more spiritual by being less emotional, or by being less physical. The point of Christianity isn't that any part of what we are becomes less, it's that all that we are comes under the Lordship of Christ, under the control of the Spirit of God.


Our faith is to be intellectual, but not merely intellectual. It is to be emotional, but not merely emotional. It is to be intentional, but not merely intentional. It is to be physical, but not merely physical. But all under the Lordship of Christ.


But of course that's not really enough. Our faith is transformational: we who have died with Christ are transformed by it. We die as one thing and are raised another (1 Corinthians 15:40–45).  So please don't misunderstand me to be saying that spirituality is continuing exactly as we were as unregenerate people, that's not at all true. My point is that Christianity doesn't involve becoming less human: Christ is completely Man in His resurrection, just like He was before He died. We, too, will be fully human when we have been raised with Him. Christian perfection is not to be less intellectual, or less emotional, or less physical. We will be all those things in the resurrection.

My point is that denying our wills, or our emotions, or our intellects, or our bodies isn't spirituality. Spirituality is to have a will under God's control. It's to have emotions under God's control. It's to have a body under God's control. It's to have an intellect under God's control. Spirituality is being what God has made us to be, especially being subject to Christ in everything we do, think, and feel.


Many years ago I was reading Watchman Nee, and I was struck by his statement that Romans 6 isn't aspirational: it's not that we aspire to be crucified with Christ. It's a statement of fact: we have died with Christ.

Many of the sermons I listen to go off the rails at precisely this point. When those preachers talk about New Creation, they're not talking about something they believe to be real. If you listen – really listen – to what they say, they believe Romans 6 and Colossians 3 and Galatians 2 are metaphors: they are statements we should all be working hard to live up to.

I absolutely believe this is the leaven of evangelicalism: it's the idea that new birth is an addition, as opposed to a replacement. Nothing could be farther from the truth! 


But having said all that, the Christian life is nothing less than the life of Jesus in our mortal bodies (2 Corinthians 4:6–12). It's not a diminishing of the mortal body, it's not a diminishing of what we are as God's creations. It's a transformation. It's a change. But it's the life of Jesus worked out in mortal bodies. We can't shortcut the Holy Spirit's work in us by denying our intellects (although our intellect gets us into trouble) or by denying our emotions (as messy as they are) or by denying we have wills (as problematic as our wills prove) or by denying our physical bodies (as much as we might long for transcendence). The Spirit of God is working in us to reveal Christ in those things. And we are foolish to think we can help Him out by denying them.