Ruling Over Sin

I love this story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. We started it last week and we will finish it on Sunday.  I love that God comes to Cain and gently grabs him by the arm, looks him in the eyes, and says,

Be careful.  The anger you are cradling will destroy you.  Sin is crouching–  just out of sight, but ready to pounce.  If you don’t evade and change course, it will destroy you.

God does not mess around with him.  Sin is never a one and done act.  It changes you.  It gets in you.  It deteriorates you.  We are complete fools if we think we can fondle sin and come out unscathed.  Much stronger and better people than you or I have been destroyed by that conviction.

So God reminds Cain.

You don’t have to do this.  I can see your heart.  I know what you are considering.  You don’t have to do it…

Sin desires to have you.  You must rule over it.  You don’t have to go this direction.

I want to remind you of the way we ‘rule’ over sin:  God has made a way because of the cross, the Spirit, and the Church.  Remember ‘rule’ doesn’t mean sin goes away.  It is there, but we have authority over it.  God is instructing Cain to be in charge of his sin.

If you are a follower of Jesus, this is how we do it:

Jesus has delivered you from the penalty and power of sin.  Romans 6.6-7  We know that  our old self   was crucified with him in order that  the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For  one who has died  has been set free  from sin.  Jesus has made it possible for us to be freed from sin.  It is possible for us to rule over sin.  It is possible for us to NOT sin because of what Jesus did.

The Holy Spirit now lives in you to talk to you.  Romans 8.10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  Not only are you forgiven, God is living inside of you.  Killing sin creates the opportunity to have the Holy Spirit inside you.  God is in you.  He is talking to you.  You can talk about your temptation.  He will show you what sins are hidden and desiring you.  The Lord talked to Cain and told him that he was in danger.  The Holy Spirit will do that for you.  

The Church is around you.  Hebrews 3.13 But  exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by  the deceitfulness of sin.  We rule over sin alongside the people God gives us to walk with us.  You have a small group because you cannot rule over sin on your own.  You need a church because you need good teaching about the crouching sins and you need good strategies for how to rule over them.

Many of us do not take our sin seriously enough.

Most of us don’t embrace what God has done with enough hope.  Sin is dead.  The Holy Spirit is in you.  The church is around you.  His divine power has granted you everything you need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)



DMH Update

Hey folks, a few quick thoughts this week…


On Saturday, I will leave the fall retreat early and fly to Nairobi, Kenya.  A few years ago, in response to the growing crisis within the Anglican Communion, a new fellowship was created of provinces, bishops, and dioceses who hold fast to a common belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is called the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.  Next week, this body will gather in Nairobi for the second Global Anglican Future Conference.  I am privileged to be one of four representatives from the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic.

In Nairobi, I expect to meet faithful men and women who are holding to the Gospel in situations of great challenge.  Most of the attendees will be from Africa–  Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya.  There will also be brothers and sisters from Asia, and Latin America.  I am hoping to connect with the leaders of the Diocese of Singapore who over see Cambodia, where our missionaries Jesse and Sarah Blaine are working.  I am sure I will hear great preaching, inspiring stories or perseverance, and meet people who are courageously walking with Jesus.  Thank you for sending me.  I look forward to giving an update on our blog while I am gone.

The sermon…

On Sunday I preached about the Gospel hope of being naked and not ashamed.  I would like to give a couple reflections on the sermon:

I was trying to do 3 things with the sermon–  

  1. Introduce the consequence of gender as created categories that are good
  2. Critique the narrative that is given us by the wider culture–  a story that is destructive and attractive and working it’s way into every area of our life.
  3. Talk about the goodness of marriage as a covenant relationship where people can get what they most want–  which is not sex or gender exploration–  but being known completely by someone else.

I made the mistake of trying to preach 3 sermons on one day.  It was long and unwieldy.  I feel like I introduced a lot of significant ideas, but I did not have the time to unpack all of them.  This is actually always a problem when you talk about gender, sexuality, or marriage.  You have to frame the issues and then make sure you talk about all the ways the Gospel speaks to them.  It is very difficult to do in 25 minutes.  And this one was closer to 35.

I did not try to caveat the goodness of marriage in order to be sensitive to those who are not married and who really want to be.  This was a function of time and information overload.  But at the end of the message, the strength with which I was talking about the goodness and intentionality of marriage would have made a caveat to singles seem like an insensitive nod.  I didn’t want to be trite with those who are experiencing deep longing and pain about being single.

Our best spouse is Jesus.  Everything else is proximate.  He is my best spouse.  He is my perfect help-meet.  He is the one who submitted His will for my needs.  He is the one who is most perfectly committed to my transformation and wholeness.

There are days when that truth is transformative and there are days when that truth just rings hollow.  I know it.  And I try my very best to not give trite answers.  So for my friends who are married and not experiencing the intimacy they long for.  And for my friends who are not married and long for the opportunity to know and be known by another human on earth…  I know that these topics can be excruciatingly painful.  And I don’t know, I can’t know, the pain of your particular story.  But I do know that Jesus is exceedingly committed and exceedingly able to meet your every relational need.  Sometimes He does that by providing a human spouse.  Sometimes he doesn’t do it through a spouse because your spouse falls short or because you don’t have a spouse.  But He is committed to doing it and He will find a way.


Why do it at all?



We are now 2 weeks in to this 4 part story of how the universe works:  creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.  We have seen that ‘before the beginning’ God was present and fully, relationally satisfied.  He had no needs.  He wasn’t sitting around saying I’m lonely or I’m bored so I guess I’ll create the universe.  He didn’t need us, but He wanted to be with us.

We also saw that God can create something out of nothing.  And he can bring order to chaos.  These are incredible strengths.  They are the kinds of things that get us interested in God.  We look at what feels empty.  We see our chaos.  And we wonder, could anyone do something about this?  This creation story tells us that God can and that He did.  That’s good news.

I got a really thoughtful question by email this week:  Why did God create in the first place when He knew how messed up it would all become?  Why would He put the wheels in motion in the first place?  If God was self-sufficient, complete, & not in need of anything…

It’s a GREAT question.  If God didn’t need anything.  If God is omniscient and knew before He created that it would all become ruined, why would He do it?  It raises these additional questions–  Is God really omniscient?  Maybe He didn’t know that humanity would ruin His good creation.  Is God guilty of malpractice?  If He knew that creation would turn out like this, is God irresponsible for bringing it in to existence.  I would love your thoughts and I would love to hear the other questions that come up for you when you read these questions.

Here’s my take:  The foundational premise is that all of creation was pronounced ‘good’ at Genesis 2.3  Everything was good.  And by Genesis 3:24, when humanity is banned from the garden of Eden, everything has been ruined.  There is a brokenness between people, brokenness between people and God, brokenness with the land, brokenness with our work, brokenness in families.  Everything is ruined.

I don’t believe that God is surprised by the goodness or the fact that it is ruined.  He knew that both would happen.  He ‘put the wheels in motion’ and did it anyway because God wants to be known.  He is relationally complete and satisfied in His companionship and glory between Father, Son, and Spirit.  But He put the universe in place because He wanted the glory and joy that He experiences within Himself to be experienced by humanity.  He created as a gift to the created.

Now here’s the kicker–  God was willing to make something that would become ruined because God knew that when He intervened to fix it, humanity would get to see a part of His character that they would not have seen if everything had not been ruined.  God had to rescue us and we got to see a part of him that wasn’t evident in just His creative power.  Because the goodness of creation was ruined, God got to reveal His grace.  He got to show off His mercy.  Those characteristics are not ‘knowable’ without an event that requires them.  Humanity’s disobedience and destruction of all that was good, provided an opportunity for us to know grace and mercy.  And get this…  and that is good.

Suffering is not outside of God’s good plan.  If we were created to know God first and foremost, the suffering we experience as part of God’s ruined creation is a vehicle for us knowing His grace, mercy, provision, sustaining power, and perseverance.

I still ask–  why did you do it THIS way, God.  Couldn’t there have been an easier way to reveal yourself and to allow us to know you?  I ask it on those days when I see the ways I have ruined His good creation and on those days when I am suffering because of how His good creation was ruined and on those days when I long for my friends, family, and the nations of the world to not have so many painful consequences of God’s good creation being ruined.

Then I am reminded…

Rev. 21:1   Then I saw  a new heaven and a new earth, for  the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…



Realism and Hope

This past Monday, on July 15th, adherents of Judaism marked Tisha B’Av, which is the day to remember the destruction of the two temples in Jerusalem in c. 586 B.C. and 70 A.D., respectively. One tradition on this day is to read and meditate on the book of Lamentations. This caught my attention, and I decided to read through the whole book aloud (it’s not that impressive – it’s only a few chapters!), which was a moving experience.

One thing that I found refreshing is the realism of Lamentations. The Bible never asks us to buy into a religion that papers over the problems of this world. Instead, it calls us to respond to them at a deeply emotional level, and in the case of Lamentations, the emotional response is grief. The writer (most likely Jeremiah) grieves over unspeakable atrocities in the world over which he has no control, and he grieves over the sins of his own people.  But, at the same time, this realism is mixed with an irrepressible sense of hope. Hope for forgiveness. Hope for justice. Hope for a brighter day. And all of this hope is rooted in the character of a God who is merciful, just and good.

Realism, mixed with hope. This is the message of all of Scripture. This is the message of the Gospel, that there are very real problems in the world and in our hearts, but that there is a good God who understands those problems and who promises to make all things new.

I want to invite you to continue to embrace a lifestyle of realism and hope: 

There are cases in which hope has at least begun to be realized. Every week at church we grieve over our sin through confession, but we embrace the hope that every one of our sins was taken away at the cross. And, while Christians should certainly grieve the destruction of the two temples, we believe that God’s dwelling place on earth has now reached a fuller realization in the coming of Christ and through the filling of the Church with God’s own Spirit.

But there are other cases in which hope has yet to be realized. Young men like Trayvon Martin are still gunned down because of fear and misunderstanding. Dozens of helpless kids are poisoned in Dharmasati Gandawa, India because of negligence. Maybe there’s dysfunctionality and brokenness in your home that drags on and on. Maybe you’re gripped by a particular sin and you just can’t seem to gain victory over it.

Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself about the gravity of sin and suffering. Don’t be afraid to grieve. But in the midst of your grief, try stepping into that irrepressible hope that Lamentations offers us, and pray this prayer:

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
(Lam. 3:21-25)

Acknowledging our King

A recent theme at Restoration has been the topic of sharing Christ with others. A few of our sermon texts in Luke have pointed us in this direction, not least Erin’s sermon on Sunday. We’ve been talking about it in APEX, our youth group. And several of us just returned from the Asia Minor trip, which was thought provoking, to say the least. Of course, whenever we bring up this topic, questions arise: how am I supposed to pull this off in the midst of everything else I’m doing? Not only do I not have a lot of extra time, but sharing my faith could jeopardize my career and relationships. Does this even apply to me? What if I don’t feel called to share my faith?

To address this question, I want to return to a reference I made in a sermon a few weeks back. Some of us may have grown up with the idea that kingdom work only involves getting people saved, so if you’re not clergy, the only chance you’ll get to build the Kingdom is to support missionaries or to work in the odd evangelistic conversation with your neighbor. However, recently there’s been a recovery of a broader view of Kingdom work, such that our various vocations contribute to God’s desires for the Kingdom in the here and now.1 This is good news, since it means you can wake up in the morning and throw yourself into whatever it is you do, not hoping to squeeze in some Kingdom work at the end of the day, but building the Kingdom throughout the entire day.

So where does this leave evangelism? Does this mean that evangelism becomes a particular calling for just a few? I would disagree, because of the nature of the Kingdom in which we serve. One of the potential pitfalls of the Kingdom mindset referenced above is to view the Kingdom as being about universal, abstract concepts like justice and mercy. But God’s way is never abstract. It is always personal. All of his precepts are inherently tied to his character, his actions, and our relationship to him. With this in mind, service in the Kingdom becomes virtually meaningless without an acknowledgement of the King.

This understanding of the Kingdom poses a challenge to us, that each of us is called to acknowledge Christ, no matter our individual vocations. But at the same time,  it gives us a natural way to go about doing this. If faith informs the things you do, then there any number of obvious ways to bring up Christ in the context of school, work or family. And pursuing your calling with excellence lends all the more credibility to your claims about Christ. Viewing evangelism this way means that your vocation isn’t a means to the end of sharing your faith, but rather the two go hand in hand.

So, pursue your vocation with everything you’ve got, without feeling like you have to choose between the Kingdom and your career, school or family. But all the while, look for those natural ways that your calling can point you and the people around you to the one who called you.


1.  If you’re interested in exploring this idea further, Next Christians, by Gabe Lyons might be helpful.

Worship and War

Erin Bair and I like to dialogue about cool stuff we are reading, and she sent me this quote by Alexander Schmemann: “If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both ‘posits’ his humanity and fulfills it.”

I look at this man from Damascus, and I ask, “How do I worship God in the midst of this?”  All I can see is my son Roman and this horrific desperation, and it doesn’t make any sense to me (probably due to the freedoms that I take for granted).  If Schmemann says that worship is “the essential act which both ‘posits’ his humanity and fulfills it,” then I struggle with how worship exists in the midst of war with the amount of dehumanization that needs to occur to cope with the violence that is committed.

As I have studied war these past three months, I have felt like less of a man, and I think it’s because I have had such a hard time figuring out how to worship God in the midst of these studies. If our humanity is so intensely tied to worshiping, then war, though I think horrifically necessary at times, can push us into a place of having to surrender our own humanity and that of others.

In his humanity, I so admire Jesus’ instruction for Peter to holster his sword. Jesus engaged deeply in the emotional, physical, and spiritual pain that was his in the Passion. He did not divorce himself from any other part of himself. Somehow in the midst of his commitment and sacrifice, there was worship. In his willingness to be sacrificed, there was beauty. I don’t understand it, yet, as was shared on Sunday, his very response to suffering is incarnation – to be manifest in his entirety.

“By Thy Mercy, O Deliver us, Good Lord.”

For Sunday’s songs:

– Matthew Hoppe


Jesus said a really hard thing about unforgiveness in the parable we studied on Sunday…

You wicked servant!

I’ll admit:  it is hard to hear and hard to say.  Jesus only uses the descriptor 5 times in the Gospels (2 of them are from the same story!).  So it is not a term He throws around loosely.

Jesus uses wicked to describe people who miss a critical characteristic of God. In Matthew 18, the servant missed that being forgiven, frees (and obligates) him to forgive! In the parable of the talents (Luke 19, Matt 25), the wicked are the ones who hide their talent—  who don’t use it for the building of the Kingdom, who don’t take risks.  In Matt 24, the wicked is the one who blows off Jesus’ promise to return and His instruction to be ready. And John 3 describes what we all know to be true–  if we have done bad things, we want to hide in the dark. We don’t want anyone to see them.

How should we respond to these stories about the wicked?

First we should do the opposite–  we should forgive, we should take God-sized risks, we should be ready, and we should bring things into the light.

Second, we should embrace the truth that from time to time we have all held on to unforgiveness and revenge, we have all kept our talent to ourselves, we have all done whatever we want and tried to hide it. We need to embrace that we are all a bit worse than we would ever care to admit, even a bit wicked.

Third, we have got to see that Jesus came for the wicked and the lazy and the vengeful and the fearful and the self-made-moral-arbiter and for you and for me WHILE WE WERE WICKED!!

God showed His love for us in that while we were STILL sinners (wicked), Christ died for us.

We can’t say it too much: God sees you where you are.  God can restore you to Himself.  God loves you more than you could ever hope…

because while we were wicked, before we got it all together, God made it right–  on the cross, out of the tomb, for His great glory.

allow me a little, yee haw!

Naming and Claiming

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about the gifts of the Spirit.  David helpfully defined a spiritual gift as a specific manifestation of the Holy Spirit that is given to an individual for the common good.  As I’ve talked this over with people — in my small group, in staff meeting, in one-on-one conversations — I’ve heard a number of times that a lot of people have a hard time identifying what their spiritual gifts are.

In some ways, this makes sense, especially since the category of “spiritual gifts” is one that many people may not have heard much about before.  On the other hand, though, I find this difficulty in identifying gifts curious.  Anyone who’s ever been through a job interview has probably had to identify his or her strengths.  And in most meaningful relationships — whether with a friend or a family member or a spouse — we have some sense of what we bring to the relationship that’s unique or valuable.  I think most of us, outside of the church context, have at least some notion of what our strengths are, what we’re good at, what brings us joy, what causes us to think, “I was made to do this!”

Yet for some reason, when we bring those ideas into the context of church, or our relationship with God, we tend to balk.  All of a sudden, talking about our strengths and talents starts to sound an awful lot like bragging.  And surely bragging isn’t a very Christian thing to do? So we shy away from naming and claiming our gifts.  Often we even doubt that the Holy Spirit has given us any gift at all.  ‘Who am I to think I would have a gift?’ we think.  ‘I’m nobody special… I’m just me.’

I get it.  I really do.  I’ve spent a lot of time in that thought pattern (ask me about seminary sometime), and I still find myself there from time to time.   But it’s such a shame when any of us gets caught up in that kind of thinking — thinking that leads us to deny the very good spiritual gifts that God has in fact given to each one of us. Because it’s a loss not just for us, but for the church community of which we’re a part.

Recently I’ve been reading (and recommending to anyone who will stop to listen) Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes and How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.  Combining a strong biblical perspective with solid psychology, Cloud and Townsend help us see what we do and don’t have responsibility for and control over in our lives. At one point, they talk about how a young child’s beginning to identify things as me, my, and mine doesn’t necessarily reflect selfishness, but can signal the healthy development of a sense of what we do have responsibility for and stewardship over.  While they’re not talking about spiritual gifts, I think a lot of what they have to say is applicable.  Here’s an excerpt:

As Adam and Eve were given dominion over the earth to subdue and rule it, we are also given stewardship over our time, energy, talents, values, feelings, behavior, money…. Without a ‘mine,’ we have no sense of responsibility to develop, nurture, and protect these resources. Without a ‘mine,’ we have no self to give to God and his kingdom. Children desperately need to know that mine, my, and me aren’t swear words. With correct biblical parenting, they’ll learn sacrifice and develop a giving, loving heart, but not until they have a personality that has been loved enough to give love away: ‘We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19).

Like being able to determine what is “mine,” we need to be able to name and claim our spiritual gifts before we can offer them for the good of the community and the building of God’s kingdom.  And recognizing and celebrating our gifts isn’t bragging or pride. It’s an expression of gratitude to the Giver of the gifts. When we know how much we are loved, and how God is delighted to give the gifts of his Spirit to us, then we can in turn offer those gifts to others, an outflow to others of the love and the delight and giftedness that we know we have from God.

So, let’s keep asking each other: What are your spiritual gifts?  And let’s celebrate and encourage each other as we learn to name and claim the good things God has given us, for his glory and for our good.

Gifted for the Kingdom

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  1Corinthians 12:7

What’s your spiritual gift?

Everybody gets one. When they use it, God is revealed.  They are showing off the power of God living inside them.  We use our gifts not for our aggrandizement, but for the common good.  God gives us gifts to build His Kingdom.  He reveals Himself through us so that folks will be drawn to Him–  His goodness, His power, His love.

Ignorance is not an excuse. If you don’t know your gift, you need to deliberately spend some time in discernment.  The best way to figure out your gift is to get with some people who know you well (your Restoration small group is a great place to start) and ask them.  What do you notice about me?  When do I ‘come alive’?  What do I seem passionate about?  When do you notice Christ in me or at work through me? These answers are great catalysts for prayer.  Pray by yourself.  Pray with others.  Ask your Father in heaven:  how have you gifted me?  How do you manifest yourself through me?

Once you know, you can direct more of your energy towards opportunities to use that gift–  for the common good and the building of God’s Kingdom.

I’m not sure of my gift.  Can you help me get the conversation started?


Read over the various ‘gift lists’ in the New Testament. Remember they aren’t intended to be exhaustive, just illustrative of the myriad ways God can manifest Himself.

  1. 1 Corinthians 12  (especially verses 8-11, 27-31)
  2. Romans 12 (specifically verses 3-8)

For some of you, taking a ‘spiritual gifts inventory’ might help prime the pump. These tests are useful to get you thinking, to give you categories to think about, and to give you data to bring to prayer and conversations with friends. They are only a tool and they are best used in conjunction with community discernment.  Here are a few that are on-line: (Focusing primarily on Romans 12 gifts)

a little bit longer one from the ELCA

I hope the message and the tests inspire lots of prayer and great conversations.  That’s where the gift becomes clear.

A little week-end reading

If you want to read ahead for Sunday and then small group, take a look at these links.

Reviewing a new biography of E. M. Forster

Time to throw out virginity and tactical nukes

Girls, hooking up, Taylor Swift, Glee, and true love

porn, devastation, it’s as bad as you think

And while you’re at it, friend me so you can see the conversation taking place on my facebook page.

Just trying to keep it real.  See you on Sunday.

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