From Gardens to Cathedrals

Illustration by fischtaledesigns

Illustration by fischtaledesigns

I love history, especially church history. I have a bucket list of dozen of places I want to visit because of the richness of church history throughout Europe. When I heard the news of the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral I was saddened because a piece of history had been lost that will never be recovered. Hours after the fire people are already talking about rebuilding what was lost, but it will never be the same. Even our culture that has amnesia to history has this sense of something great has been lost and will never be able to be recovered or made right again. One might ask, why does an old building getting burned illicit such a response from our hearts? Let’s take a minute to set the stage before we answer that question.

In Genesis 1-2 we see the beauty of God’s creation without the taint of sin. Adam and Eve are able to be in God’s presence and enjoy Him forever, there is no distance, there is no separation. It is a perfect place where nothing ever made them sad, lonely, sick or afraid. Everything was perfect. Then comes Genesis 3, Adam and Eve trade their relationship with God with their desire to be God and are deceived into heart ache and pain for the rest of their lives and for all of humanity that would follow. This sin would lead to the banishment of Adam and Eve from God’s presence because God is Holy and sin cannot dwell in His presence. It would also usher in death to all. Not only that but all of creation has been longing for the day since then when the Seed that would set all things right would come and crush the head of the Serpent.

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned. In fact, sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression. He is a type of the Coming One.” (Romans‬ ‭5:12-14‬ ‭CSB‬‬)

Here lies the answer to our question above. We mourn over a Cathedral because it is a reminder to us of something else that had been lost and broken and would never be the same again, our relationship with God. Sin has created this separation with us from God. A relationship where humanity once walked with God in the Garden of Eden, now can no longer be in His presence because of our sin that we have inherited from Adam. All throughout the Old Testament there are these rules and regulations for coming into God’s presence and it was only the High Priest that was allowed to after a period of purification and only once a year on the Day of Atonement to cover the sins of the people. If anyone approached God carelessly or in a way that He did not intend, they would die because there was no mediator between God and man, because God is Holy, we are sinners and we needed a Savior. Enter in the Seed that would crush the head of the Serpent and set all things right.

“So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is justification leading to life for everyone. For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. The law came along to multiply the trespass. But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans‬ ‭5:18-21‬ ‭CSB‬‬)

God knew that there was no way for man to come to Him, so He came to man in the person of Jesus Christ. He became the sinless, perfect sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world that lived a life perfect and holy before God that we could never live. He died the death that we should have died because the punishment for our sin is death. Then God raised Him from the dead forever reigning over sin and death for those who put faith in Him.

Yet, we live in the already, but not yet. We live already having experienced the forgiveness and peace we have with God through Jesus Christ, yet we live in the effects of sin on our world still. There are still tragic events that happen every day because sin still exists and corrupts the good things that God created. When an 850 year old Cathedral is burned and destroyed we mourn because something beautiful has been ravaged by the effects of sin. We also look forward in hope knowing that something more beautiful is coming. We look forward to knowing that one day every tear will be wiped away and all the sadness of our world we be undone. As someone who loves church history I am genuinely saddened by the fire and the history and art that has been lost and will never be experienced by so many, including myself. However, it is moments like these that should cause us as Christians to reflect on something so much more beautiful that had been lost, but is now ours in Christ. Not because we earned it or deserved it, but because God graciously made a plan of redemption before the foundations of the world were laid.

Time Away

Guest Post: Laura Martin

Every year the men of our church go away on a retreat. It’s advertised as manly bonding with lots of bacon. But the reality: it’s a meeting with God and fellowship among all campuses.

Being a leader in the youth ministry for so long we were encouraged to pray for upcoming conferences so students would have a transformational moment bringing them in relationship with Jesus. Luckily for me, the power of God met me at one of those conferences and my life hasn’t been the same.

I was reminded recently to be praying for the men of our church as they head off to encounter God together. Praying? I hadn’t been doing that. I had been prepping myself to handle a strong-willed *testing every limit* toddler without my husband here with me for an overnight retreat.

Colossians 1:11 NLT “We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy.”

You see – I want my husband to hurry back home just as much as the rest of you want your husband’s back home. But while he is away I want him to know I can hold down the fort. I can sacrifice a family day for him to meet with our precious Savior. The one who sustains our marriage, our family, and ultimately our lives.

Ephesians 5:25 ESV “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,”

“No man will be a spiritual leader in his home if he is not going deep with God in his own private life.” – John Piper

So as my husband has “time away” to reflect on the goodness of God I’m going to be praying. Praying he comes home refreshed, with new vision and direction for our family.

The message translation says this better than I could:
Ephesians 5:22-24 MSG “Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.”

Of course, this message could be applied to your everyday life. As I stay persistent in prayer for my family, I am reminded how blessed I truly am. I don’t deserve all that I have; but God has been so gracious to us.

Teaching the Gospel Through Broken Snow Globes

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First of all yes it is March and yes we still have remnants of Christmas decorations in our house. A couple of weeks ago we had some snow globes on an end table in our house near the door. My three year old and I were heading out the door and if you have toddlers you can relate with me. Whenever you leave the house you have to pack up every toy you own and bring it wherever you are going. So on this particular day as we are getting ready to leave my toddler packed up an unnecessary amount of toys that she didn't need in a backpack, so much filled that it was bulging at the seems ready to topple her over. So here we are going out the door with her obnoxiously large backpack on and my daughter swings around to say bye to bubba, our dog and commence the sound of broken glass. Snow globe down. This isn't my first rodeo cleaning up broken glass so I instantly go into clean up mode. Pick her up and put her on the couch, lock our dog in a room and get out the vacuum. It was a small snow globe and it was a fast clean up, no sweat. When I finished I turn to see my daughter on the couch crying. Here I thought it was because of the snow globe being broken and losing a toy. However it wasn't because of that, it was because she thought that because she broke the snow globe that she would be on the naughty list. I learned from my wife later I guess that is from Santa Clause 3 or something. So I picked her up and told her that there would never be anything she could ever do to be on the naughty list because I am her daddy and I love her. Then I asked her if she wanted to know why she will never be on my naughty list no matter what she's done. It is because God has loved me in my "naughtiness" and He still loves me because of Jesus. Even when I make mistakes and I sin He still loves me because of what Jesus has done and because of the grace He has shown me when I don't deserve it, it allows me to show you grace when you don't deserve it. Even better, when we trust Jesus we have the promise that we will never be on God's naughty list no matter what and He will love us forever. 

Just like we teach our kids to crawl, walk, count, talk, etc. We also have been tasked with the responsibility of teaching and showing our kid's the Gospel of God's grace. By God's grace He has placed our kid's in a family of faith so that we can model grace to our children. Every moment we have with our kids we should use as opportunities to show our kid's the Gospel. Let me just say this, I don't do it perfectly. By God's grace in this moment I didn't throw my arms up and yell and scream that my daughter has now inconvenienced our leaving of the house as I have done in the past. My prayer is constantly that God would help me to see opportunities to show grace and to teach the Gospel to my daughter because it is the only thing that can change her heart. It is the only thing that matters. Manipulation won't change her heart, threats won't changer her heart, bribing her won't change her heart. All of these things will only lead to behavior modification and won't last. The only thing that can change a heart is the Gospel, that we are more sinful than we can imagine, yet more loved than we can ever hope. 

"God has opened your eyes to his presence and glory so you could help open the eyes of your children. So capture the opportunities around you to point to him. Don’t let a day pass without doing it and don’t feel that it’s weird to talk about God all the time. He is so pictured by his creation that it is positively weird not to be reminded of him and talk about him all the time. No one gives grace better than a parent who humbly admits that he desperately needs it himself." - Paul David Tripp

May this be our prayer, that as parents who have received grace from God that we would extend and teach grace to our kid's so that their eyes would be opened by God's grace to His presence and glory.

KNOW: The Heretics

As M. James Sawyer once said "there is no such thing as new heresies, only recycled ones." Solomon echos this same concept in Ecclesiastes 1:9 when he says "there is nothing new under the sun." As we understand church history and look at the landscape of some of the teachings that are happening around the church universally there are seeds of heresies being taught, most of the time unintentionally. As a children's pastor I see it all the time when it comes to the idea of how do we talk to kid's about the Trinity. This is a question this gets asked a lot in a kid's ministry group I am apart of on Facebook. In attempts to try and help convey this concept to kid's a lot of times the ideas that get offered in comments are not Trinitarian but rather a form of Sabellianism. What do I mean by this? If you try and convey the truths of the Trinity as an apple, an egg, or whatever else the common illustrations are, that is Sabellianism and it is a heresy. I am humbled by God's grace in the fact that I was once one of those people! Not because I was intentionally trying to be a heretic but I just didn't know. I didn't have a biblical understanding of the Trinity and in my attempts to try and make it understandable I distorted it. This is how most heresies were started. It wasn't from a blatant disregard for the Bible, however some of them were. Most started from the basis of a finite human trying to intellectually explain an infinite God. In our modern day the word heresy or calling someone a heretic has morphed into this idea of someone who doesn't agree with you.

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"Heresy is not located in one’s beliefs about baptism, one’s beliefs about the continuation of certain spiritual gifts, or one’s beliefs about a specific view of the atonement. It is a specific and direct denial of any of the central beliefs of the Christian church about the deity and identity of the triune God and about the person and work of Jesus Christ." - Justin S. Holcomb

Do I believe that the Bible talks about those topics mentioned above? Absolutely. To call someone a heretic however because of my difference in opinions about those topics is not accurate however if it does not fall in the bounds of the central beliefs of the Christian church as mentioned in the quote above. The reality that we must face when it comes to our understanding of the central beliefs of the Christian church is that our understanding is all an act of God's grace. I said above I am humbled by the fact that God graciously showed me where I was wrong in my understanding of the Trinity. Most of those growing pains are a natural result in the process of sanctification and the understanding of the Christian beliefs. The difference between a heretic and someone growing in Christ is when God's grace comes to us will we submit our feelings to the Word of God. I mentioned above that most of these heresies started innocently in an attempts to intellectually understand an infinite God. The difference however is when they were confronted with the truth of the Scriptures, there was not a submission to the Word of God. The question we must ask ourselves is will we learn from the councils and the creeds that have been established before us, that God graciously gave us so that we can have an understanding of the central teachings of Christianity that are rooted in Scriptures.

"The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present. History is a hill or high point of vantage, from which alone men see the town in which they live or the age in which they are living." —G. K. Chesterton, “On St. George Revivified”

When Charisma Replaces Truth

As Bruce Shelley said in his Church History in Plain Language book: "Many Christians today suffer from historical amnesia." There has never been a more truer statement when it comes to how Christians today understand and relate to church history. Recently I was reading a book about the heretics throughout church history and I began reading a chapter on Arius. For those who aren't familiar with church history, Arius denied the deity of Christ. He taught that Jesus was not God, rather He was a separate being, not co-eternal but is the supreme creation of God. This clearly is not a Trinitarian view or what the Bible teaches which tells us that Jesus the Son is co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit and are of one substance. However, Arian's teaching gained a lot of ground and a lot of support despite his theological errors. Look what Justin Holcomb says in his book about Arius and his teachings and the influence it had on the culture: 

“The mob got caught up in the passion of the slogans, songs, and Arius’s personality, but they did not necessarily grasp the theological issues.”

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If you are a Christian that is a quote that should sadden you as you read it. Not because of what happened in church history, but because it is prevalent in our church culture today. There are a lot of churches and christians today who follow a person because of their charisma and their personality, just like Arius. Yet their theological teaching is not biblical, it is rooted in their feelings rather than in the Word of God. It is rooted in how creative can I be rather than will this lead the congregation to a place of awe and worship of Christ. Don't get me wrong, I don't take issue with creativity. The issue I take is when we use the creativity that God has given us and instead of using it to glorify God, we glorify ourselves. There was a mega church I visited once where at the end of the sermon the preacher received a standing ovation. Not because they were pointed to Christ, but because the preacher made the first letter of each of his points spell the topic he was preaching on. The congregation was led to worship of the creativity of an individual rather than worship to Christ. The question we must as ourselves is how many times today do we get behind an idea because it is culturally relevant or because it itches our sinful nature yet the theological issues behind it are devastating? I put that picture in this post because this is the rally cry of our hearts when we elevate our feelings over God's Word. It is the lie that humanity has believed since the garden when the serpent deceived Adam and Eve and discredited God's Word and it continues to this day. Our generation needs churches and people like Alexander and Athanasius who will defend orthodoxy in the face of heretical teachings no matter what the cost may be. Athanasius was exiled five different times because of the influence Arius had on the church culture. In his forty-six years as the bishop in Alexandria (because he was never officially removed from being the bishop in his exiles) he was only in Alexandria for seventeen years. When charisma replaces truth we do the very thing that Paul warns us about in Colossians:

"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority" (Colossians 2:8-10).

Look what Paul says is the answer to not getting swept up in the latest philosophy or culturally relevant teaching. He says to be filled with Christ. May your hearts be filled with Christ so that the truth of the Gospel would not be based on the charisma of an individual or a empty philosophy that doesn't bring life. Rather that it would be based in the truth of God's Word as it has been revealed to us by His grace and through His Son, Jesus Christ.

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles

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Let's face it, parenting is one of the hardest things we will do in this lifetime. If you are a parent you just said AMEN! Every year I try to read a couple of parenting books to help me become a better parent and to help me be a better children's pastor. What I love about Paul David Tripp's book that is different from all the other parenting books you will read is he constantly makes you face the reality that you are not in control of the heart change that your kids need. If we are being honest, a lot of times when we are reading parenting books it is because we see a deficiency in our children that we want to fix. We turn to parenting books for easy how to's and try and fix our children's behavior. The reality we have to face though is that we cannot produce a changed heart only God can. We can manipulate behavior modification in the lives of our kids through different tactics, but the reality is they will not be long lasting. The reality that all of us as parents must face is that our kid's are born sinners in need of a savior just like us. Every misbehavior flows out of that sin nature and the only cure is a changed heart through faith in Christ. It is not something we can force, manipulate or control. We need to pray and ask for God's grace to transform our kids hearts and ask that he would help us be ambassadors of His grace. This book has challenged me to parent from a place of grace rather than reactionary to the misbehaviors in the moment. It has challenged me to see the misbehaviors and the moments that my kid throws fits as opportunities to show God's grace and to explain that it is out of a response of the grace that God has shown us. It has challenged me to see that my kid is not my possession that I own but she is God's and I am called to steward the gift of her life and the gift of being her parent being an ambassador of God's grace to show her God's grace in her life. This has been one of the best parenting books I have read and I encourage anyone who is a parent to pick it up and read it asking for God's grace to help you. Our roles as parents in not to be the perfect parent, but to point them to the perfect Savior and pray and pray and pray that He would move on their hearts and draw them to Himself. Lord, we need your grace!

Here are some quotes to reflect on:

”If your eyes ever see and your ears ever hear the sin, weakness, and failure of your children, it is never a hassle, never an interruption, never an accident; it is always grace. God loves your children and has put them in a family of faith, and he will reveal the need of their hearts to you so that you can be his tool of rescue and transformation. It is important to see these moments as opportunities of grace and resist turning a moment of ministry into a moment of anger.”

“Parenting is hard; it will expose your weaknesses and it will challenge your faith. There are times when you won’t feel very good about what you just did or said. There will be days when your work with your children will seem more futile than helpful. But the good news of the gospel is that you don’t have to hide your struggle. You don’t have to act as if you’re doing better than you are. No, you are welcomed by grace to cry out for help, you run to God in your need, and you are assured that not only will you not be turned away, but your heavenly Father will pay careful attention to your cries. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Ps. 34: 18).”

A Practical Guide to Culture

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As parents God has tasked us with the privilege and challenge of raising up the next generation of believers. We do this not in our own efforts but by the grace that God supplies, realizing that we are also broken sinners in need of a savior just like our kids. In a culture that grows more and more hostile to the Gospel we need voices like John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle to help us as parents to navigate the challenges of our culture and to apply a biblical worldview to them. The reality is that our kids are constantly being shaped by culture. The mistake most parents make (myself included) is in our efforts to try and protect our kids from culture, we don't teach them how to navigate the issues that they will eventually face. Either now in the protection of your home where you can help them, or when they go of to college and face them alone. No matter what age your kids are, if you are a parent you should read this book. Even as I was finishing this book my family and I were on vacation and there were no kid friendly shows on the tv so we turned on the show The Voice. We thought, hey its just singing. As we turned to it, there was a man talking about how he is a drag queen, worship leader at his church. Naturally, as inquisitive as three year olds are, my daughter said "why is that boy dressed like a girl, boys don't dress like girls." In that moment the tendency we want to do in parenting is to avoid it and hope to move on from the situation, change the channel quick and have her think about something else. The reality is that there are steps we must take now to protect and prepare our kids for the waves of culture we hope one day they’ll ride on their own by God's grace. So I engaged in the question with my daughter and affirmed her assessment that she was right, boys don't dress like girls. Then we talked briefly and age appropriately about how he needed God's grace just like we do to face the sin in our lives. If you are a parent, get this book, read it and ask for God's grace to help you parent your kids through the waves of culture. The question we must face is not, will my kid face these situations in life, but will I have prepared my kids to the best of my ability to face these situations and trust God, asking for His grace that He would guide them and help them.