On Not Understanding the Scriptures

About a week ago, I entered into a couple of brief discussions about a particular verse.

Does disaster come to a city unless the LORD has done it? – Amos 3:6

I brought it up only because another pastor brought it up in relation to John Piper’s tweets about the devastation in Moore, Oklahoma. I affirmed that I believed this statement. I did not explain it. I did apply it to the tragedy in Moore. I simply said I believe it.

But I don’t understand it.

Now I don’t want to get into a big discussion about this passage and God’s sovereignty over all things. I affirm that too. It’s just that the older I get the more comfortable I am with not understanding parts of the Bible – whole stories, verses, themes, – while still staking my life on it. I’m OK with not understanding and still believing parts of the Bible. Actually, I’m more than OK.

In fact, the more I’ve thought about it, the more sense it makes. I can only assume there is no one outside of God who has understood all the Scriptures in full.

Sometimes, I don’t understand something because I’m dense. Sometimes, I just have have not studied it. And at other times, the tension is too much for me too say, “I understand what God is doing/saying here.”

There are two parts of Matt Redmond. The part that is more sympathetic with the Liberals wants to explain away the tension. The conservative part – the part I grew up with – wants to explain it…to have an answer.

But the more I think about this and read the Scriptures, I like the tension. I have found when the tension happens, it can take me to a place where my heart is tender enough to realize I am not all-knowing. It is at these times when I feel the most like a child in my faith. How many times have I said to my kids, “I know you don’t understand what I am telling you, but I want you to trust me. One day you will understand.”

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t seek understanding in our study of the Bible. I’m saying there are things we are not going to understand and we should not only be comfortable with not understanding but we should we let lack of understanding be a window that enables us to look out in wonder at the One Whose ways are not our ways and Whose thoughts are not our thoughts.

Preaching As A Revolutionary Act Against Myself

This past Sunday I preached for the first time in over 18 months. Many of you prayed for me and for that I am thankful.

It went well. And the act itself has made me put my hands up and say, “OK, you got me.”

Before, preaching felt like something for others. A way to get others to think. Or change. Yes, I included myself in all that. But the content was always the issue. The act itself was only a means.

This time it felt a revolutionary act. A declaration of war.

A declaration of war against myself. My pride. My plans. A declaration of war against all the responses to all the questions over the past year and a half. The final shot in a battle of wills, fought among the principalities, with the shrapnel strewn down here.

Is this why they call it “surrender?” I suppose those who surrender have no idea what is ahead.

And I wonder if this is how Jonah felt.

There Is No Prophetic Voice

There is no prophetic voice.
There is no Phinehas with a spear
No Nathan for our Davids
No Jeremiah amid the rubble

The Silence of the Reformed has been replaced with the statements of politicians.

What we needed was a word that does justice to the holiness of God and the grace of the gospel they espouse. What we got were statements about what was prudent. And that statement was taken down because of the flurry of dissent.

TGC has now weighed in with no comments allowed. And they have either not told the truth or not read the accusations against Mahaney.

There is no prophetic voice. Just the quiet of dust hanging then falling on the rubble of what was once a movement.

Some Thoughts on John Piper’s Tweet

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” 

Just a few weeks ago we buried my Dad. It was hard. It still is hard. Especially for my mom. We said a lot of things to people in the midst of our grief. And a lot of things were spoken to us in our grief. Now if in those moments after he breathed his last, my mom or my brothers or I had said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the name of the Lord,” that would have been fine. But if someone else had said it to her, while possibly meaning well, it would have been insensitive. That’s the difference, who says it.

The great problem with Piper’s tweet is that he said it and not the ones who were hurting. If someone who lost a child or spouse in the tornado had tweeted out Job 1:19 and 20, fine. But it is not our job do anything that looks like making them see something in the immediate aftermath. That was the mistake of Job’s counselors.

I do not disagree with the theology per se. I am Reformed and I am a Calvinist. But in the immediate wake of a tragedy like that, our desire for “presence with” and prayer for the hurting should overwhelm our desire for them to see – even see “what God is doing.” It is a time to weep. Not a time to teach, preach or fix.

Do I believe that if disaster comes to a city, God has done it? Yes.

Do I believe the penalty for sin is death? Yes.

Do I believe we all deserve death because of our sinful rebellion against God? Yes.

But there is a mystery as to how all those things fit together. And I am unwilling to speak into a tragedy like the tornado in Moore, OK or 9/11 or even a person’s death in old age and piece these truths together. Especially so in the immediate aftermath. And it seems to me that if I had all the theological acumen to piece them together, if I did it in the midst of the rubble, it would not be loving. And then, I would be nothing.

Rest for the Restless in America

This Sunday I’m preaching. And I’m finishing up the book of Joshua which our church has been going through for a while now.

I’ve been reading the end of chapter 24 over and over to prepare. The people of God in the land of rest. Joseph being laid to rest. Rest.

Rest.

And my own need for rest.

Rest from my works.

Rest from my worries. Worries about money. Worries about how I look in my work clothes. Worries about tomorrow. Worries about my kids. Worries about what people think. Worries about whether God loves me. Worries about having all the answers. Worries about so much that is out of my control. Worries about tomorrow in the middle of the night.

The need for rest is not mine alone. I am surrounded by the frantic and restless. The worried and troubled.

Just as there was a rest for the wandering people do God, there is a rest for the restless in America.

And I see them going to their inheritance in the words before me. A promised inheritance, one where God consistently showed them he was faithful to take care of them and fulfill his promises and care for them even when they could not see he was doing so.

And of course Joshua and Jesus share a name. And of course these stories are given so we might rest from all the worry and work in the finished work of the Christ. And so we may know he gives rest world without end.

Answering Some Objections I’ve Gotten About the SGM Lawsuit

I want to try and answer a few objections I’ve gotten about the SGM sexual abuse lawsuit

The question I get the most in response to my post, “The Silence of the Reformed” is –

“What do you want the Reformed leadership to do?”

Two things.

Say something and discontinue the invites.

Say something. What I keep hearing is we should wait till the verdict comes in to hear both sides because SGM has totally denied the accusations. Therefore no blog posts and no articles till then. Before the trial of Sandusky, an article “Love Notices Wet Hair” was published on The Gospel Coalition site and distributed widely. That article was posted 7 months before he was found guilty. Either we need an admission of how wrong that was, or we need a similar stance. Really all they would need to do is write a blog post that said, “in light of the accusations against SGM we offer this post.” That would be a start.

I would also like to see a public announcement about the need for any and all named parties to stop speaking at conferences. This would benefit everyone. I want you to imagine what it must be like for a victim of abuse to continually hear about the speaking engagements of those who enabled the abusers or were themselves an abuser. To see them rise in popularity. To see them above criticism. When the Reformed community does not see any problem with CJ Mahaney speaking at conferences because he has denied the charges against him and none have to be proven in the courts, our cult of personality has reached an apex.

These two things would go a long way.

Another question. I’ve been asked, “What if the Defendants are innocent?”

With so many testimonies and so many willing to give horrific details and to do so in their own name, not only should this give everyone reason to take this seriously (although we should have done that anyway), it should make us willing to be wrong. It would certainly be an elaborate hoax if the accusers are lying. But I’m more than willing to be wrong for their sake. Someone is going to be wrong. Either those who have said nothing of comfort to the accusers. Or it will be those of us who have pleaded with the Reformed community to speak up.

Last thing. It has been suggested that I write about these things because it helps increase blog traffic and book sales. Maybe those things have happened. But no one who writes for The Gospel Coalition has reviewed my book or even mentioned it. Now I’m small potatoes compared to most writers they deal with. But I’ve written for them. They know my book exists and they have written and linked to similar ideas. I’m afraid my criticism of SGM, Mars Hill and those who have been silent has hurt sales.

I admit I have worried about this. I can only say it has not felt very strategic, as an author, to criticize my own camp.

May God have mercy on us all.

No Lights or Windows, Part 2: Clarification and Followup to Yesterday’s Post

I suppose it is possible I need to do some clarification on yesterday’s post.

There are a few folks worried about me. I appreciate that but I am not “depressed” in the clinical sense or otherwise. My disposition will not allow it.

I am far too inclined to laugh and laugh at myself. I have too much joy in my wife and children and music and food and friends and enjoy the comfort of the love of God to be in that place. and to be honest, I know people who are there and it would not dignify the intensity of their sufferings to equate mine with theirs.

But I know all those feelings yesterday. They have not all come at once for me. I am thankful for that. It comes in waves. And in fits and starts. Sunday nights are always hard, though….unless Monday is a banking holiday and then the dread, real dread comes on Monday night.

I did not say all this yesterday because those who do not feels things acutely get it. I know I didn’t. I just cruised along. And they hear someone use the word “depressed” and immediately go to the point of it being a medical condition. We need to be able to use the term without that kind of worry. Because sometimes there are seasons when a believer feels like a weight has been put on them and they feel smothered, depressed to the point where the only spiritual air they breathe chokes them.

See, I’m using poetic language that makes it even harder for most folks to understand. Most have not searched for words to crawl into and take refuge in. They cruise along better and will just say “Sunday nights suck.” Whereas some of us are more prone to say something like…

Sunday nights are the darkest nights
No beams of light find their way in
The morning’s dawning darkness begins
Early, casting shadows, barring lights

What’s to come stands fell like a sentry
Between the soul and joy’s full reserve
Every sound a pound upon a tender nerve
Every smile broke upon the weight of plenty

See, you’re worried again. Don’t be. It is the most natural thing in the world to stretch out vocabulary in hopes of capturing what is felt. Sometimes it’s dark. Lets not be afraid of it. have you not read the Psalms of lament? Geez, that stuff is dark.

This is the kind of thing that makes my brothers think I’m adopted.

But yesterday’s post was worth it. It showed me two things. First, there are so many people who have trouble putting into words the turmoil of their inner life. They need someone to write for them in the church. And they need counsel that takes them seriously without just trying to fix their griefs and pains.

Second, it is good to hear we are not alone. And it is good because we need the company on the journey when it is dark the most. And we need perspective. My friends Adam and Howard are battling cancer. I need to remember that. My battle sometimes feels like a death, they are literally fighting for their lives.

One of the things we need to remember is that we follow and have been saved by a man “acquainted with sorrow and familiar with grief.” And in a way, that is good news in itself when I remember that it was for the joy set before him that endured the suffering of the cross.

For Those Who Have Walked Into the Room With No Lights or Windows

(There is a part 2 here)

This morning I awoke to see this on Twitter –

A cool thing to do for your mom would be to stop worshipping your own depression and make strides to improve yourself and your life

I do not know who wrote it and I do not want to know. The only reason I saw it is because someone else retweeted it. And I can understand why someone might. It is painful watching someone hurt and it is easy to think they are wallowing in it. Especially if it looks at all like any kind of depression.

I am not offended at this. I am not mad. But I don’t think they get it.

I can only assume the person who wrote these words has not walked into that room within the soul with no lights or windows and often the memory of those things make it only that much darker.

That person has not looked at something beautiful and not been able to enjoy it because of the dread of the coming work week where shame is the order of the day.

That person has not looked at the bottom of the well and struggled to believe there was anything there of value.

That person does not wake after only a few hours of sleep with a pounding in the chest because his job is waiting on him.

That person has not wondered if God stands like sentry blocking all efforts to improve life or just abandoned him altogether.

That person does not understand that Sunday night is the darkest of nights.

That person does not know how hard it is to keep smiling and joking just so they will not ask.

That person does not know how it is to be at the apex of your emotional pain only to have someone taken from you with the expectation that life will gone and you must “improve” it.

That person does not know the complex weakness of those who want strength but cannot seem to muster it and only want to lie down for days on end.

That person has not had the promise “Blessed are the poor in spirit” on repeat throughout every. single. day.

That person does not know what it means to mine the Psalms for hope amidst the Psalmists’ “dark night of the soul.”

But some of you get it. Some of you understand. And the good news for us is there is another word to hang onto even when we wonder if the words are still true for us.

Thankfully I read another tweet titled “Fighting the Monday Feeling” and all it was was this…

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!”

And then I read this…

Only the gospel frees us to admit our weaknesses, because our worth is not based on our being strong, but in Jesus being strong for us.

And now I must iron a shirt and find a tie.

No Condemnation: A Mother’s Day Sermon

The following is one from a post that dates back to 2011. I was worried about having to preach on Mother’s Day so I thought long and hard about what I would say. Of all my posts this may be my favorite post.  I get emails from moms all the time letting me know how much they needed to hear this. I wrote it because I know my own wife well enough to know what she needs to hear often. I wrote it as a pastor who was also a husband and father.

As much as I love it, I have decided to add to it and edit it a little in hopes it will continue to encourage moms.

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Usually one of three types of sermons is preached on Mother’s Day. The first is one in celebration of Mother’s. You know, “Mothers are awesome! God loves Mothers! Look at Mary!” The second one tells Mother’s how to be better Mothers. “Be like Mary or Hannah or…” “Happy Mother’s Day…now here is how to be awesome as a mother.” The third sermon we sometimes hear on Mother’s Day is one that has nothing to do with Mothers. To be honest this is the one I usually prefer. Honor the Mothers…wait – all the women in the congregation and then preach on whatever you would have preached on if it were not Mother’s Day.

I have never had to preach on Mother’s Day. But I’ve asked the question, “What would I preach?” I would not want to preach either of the first two kinds of Mother’s Day sermons above but I would want to try and preach one of encouragement to Mothers.

So, I’ve thought about it. It should be “practical.” Encouragaing. And rooted in the heart of God for Mothers. And it shouldn’t be the vacuum-cleaner-as-a-gift kind of sermon. This is not a time for bitter medicine. So, after thinking, the following is what I came up with:

Romans 8:1

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Thesis: Mother’s, if you are in Christ Jesus, you ought to have no fear of condemnation. You stand in righteousness and are loved by God as his daughter because of Christ’s work on your behalf on the cross.

Mothers, even though you may feel you are…

You are not condemned by your messy home.

You are not condemned by your lack of desire to homeschool.

You are not condemned by your personal sins.

You are not condemned by the difficulty of caring for your special needs child, a difficulty which wounds down deep.

You are not condemned by the knowledge of how easy it is for you to love one child more than another.

You are not condemned by your miscarriages.

You are not condemned by your lack of desire to have more kids.

You are not condemned because you have no desire to adopt.

You are not condemned – even though you feel it – when you read over and over about other’s perfect parenting moments on facebook.

You are not condemned by your inability to cook.

You are not condemned because your kids are not ‘normal’.

You are not condemned because you are divorced and doing it alone.

You are not condemned by your desire to be alone, away from the kids, for a time every. single. day.

You are not condemned by your body, which may not be what it once was.

You are not condemned by your repeated failures as a mother.

You are not condemned by your rebellious children.

You are not condemned by the frustration of having to scrape mac and cheese off the kitchen floor. Again.

You are not condemned by all the fears and tears which flirt with insanity and take you to the precipice of despair.

You are not condemned by not being able to throw the birthday party of the year for your kids.

You are not condemned for not feeding your kids meals that did not come from Whole Foods.

You are not condemned by your need for a vacation. Away from the kids.

You are not condemned because you cannot take your kids on exciting vacations.

You are not condemned for not living up to the standards of your Mother or Mother-in-law.

You are not condemned by the stares of those who have no kids when yours erupt into volcanic screams in public places.

Mother’s, even though you may feel condemned, if you are in Christ, you are not condemned. This is the real reality.

You are not condemned, because if you are in Christ, your identity as a sinner before a holy God…your righteousness is Christ alone. Therefore, enjoy the unending love and affection and acceptance of being a daughter perfectly loved with an unwavering love that flows from your Father in Heaven.

And to all those who are not mothers…

Do nothing as Pastors, Husbands, Sons, Daughters, Mothers, Fathers, Mother-in-Laws, Father-in-Laws, friends, acquaintances and advice givers to diminish this reality. Nothing.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

Today I went and picked up my lawn mower and the guy who repaired it was telling about some possible adjustments. My first thought was that Dad would explaina all this to me. And then like a rocket across a lonely sky, I realized he could not.

So I’m borrowing this truck and the first request to help someone with it is to haul…flowers. #manly

I’ve learned to be content that I am not the sort to read a lot of scripture. But am the sort that reads scripture a lot.

“Dad, can I get you anything?”
“I want a new body.”

This whole experience with my dad and my family and the grief has made me want more than ever to move towards the grieving and dying and hurting.

Blessed are the leaders, the happy-clappy,and the beautiful, for they shall be the marketing material of the American church.

On the day we buried my dad, Patty Griffin’s new album was made available to stream. She wrote it about her dad. While he was dying. And it’s about as beautiful as I could ever imagine.

Over against clever, in spite of all that is cool, let it be beauty.

With courage, my dad told us he was ready to go on ahead. I fear everything else. Even though the King whispers daily, “I’m here.”

Five Guys bacon cheeseburgers with mayo, BBQ sauce, and grilled onions.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any crazier, my mom called me yesterday to say she heard on the local Christian radio station, “Matt Redman’s father has passed away and we offer our condolences.” Will it ever end?