Running to Stand Still

Horses Wild

On June 4, 2016 I had the honor of saying “I do” to Anna Christine Ovenell. No longer a widower, I have the tremendous privilege and responsibility of loving Anna as Christ loved the church (Cf., Ephesians 5:25). My marriage to Anna is a merciful example of how God is making all things new, now and forever.

Since our wedding day we’ve had the opportunity to travel to the states of Maine, Washington, and Montana. It’s been a “wedding tour” of sorts with family and friends in each location sharing our joy. One of my favorite spots along the way was Bozeman, Montana. Few places in the world, I imagine, can boast such natural beauty. The Gallatin Valley hosts some of the most majestic rivers and lakes. The lush wheat fields blanket the countryside with amber waves of color. The mountains in the distance stand as a fortress keeping watch day and night. And every time I gazed above at the vast expanse I thought to myself, “I see why they call this Big Sky country.”

In a word, Montana is breathtaking.

But as beautiful as Montana is I couldn’t help but think about how even Montana is “groaning” under the curse of sin. The Apostle Paul says as much in Romans 8:18-22:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Along with the rest of creation, Montana longs to be “set free from its bondage to corruption.” Indeed, Bozeman is the wrong city. We seek the city that is to come (Cf., Hebrews 13:14).

The Christian is on a pilgrimage to the City of God, the City the Apostle John had in view when he wrote Revelation 21:1-4:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

We know where this whole thing is headed: the glorious City of God where every tear is wiped away; no more mourning, crying, or pain; death swallowed up in victory; uninterrupted communion with God in fullness of joy forever (Cf., Psalm 16:11).

Therefore, we must view ourselves as sojourners in this life; pilgrims unwaveringly moving toward the heavenly city where our true and lasting citizenship resides. Like “Little Christian” in the wonderful rendition of Pilgrim’s Progress I love to read to Michael, we will not be deterred in our pursuit of the City of God. We must be with our King because this world is not our home.

I love the picture above of Montana horses running with such apparent freedom and determination. I want to run like that toward my heavenly home. And by God’s grace I have a new running partner. My bride was born in Bozeman; Anna is a Montana girl. And so together we’re running to stand still in the presence of our great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious end of our pursuit.


[Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff.]






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Logic on Fire

May the spirit of his ministry permeate the church today!

Logic On Fire: the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones from Media Gratiae on Vimeo.

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Let Us Be About Our Father’s Business

ulysses-grantIn his excellent, brief biography of Ulysses S. Grant, Michael Korda argues that among Grant biographers there has been “a widespread failure to understand Grant’s character, which was admittedly complex and always, to some degree, secretive.” Korda continues by contrasting Grant with General Robert E. Lee: “With Lee what you saw was what you got–he was a proud, patrician officer, a beau sabreur, a born commander who expected to be obeyed. With Grant what you saw was what he wanted you to see–a plain, ordinary man with no pretensions to gentility or military glamour.”

So if “a plain, ordinary man” is what people saw, what were they missing? Korda explains:

“But in truth Grant never saw himself as ‘plain’ or ‘ordinary,’ and was always intensely conscious of his rank, his social position, and his gifts as a commander. Grant’s black slouch hat, his omnipresent cigar, and his muddy boots are not so much a pose, like Ike’s not wearing his medal ribbons on his uniform jacket, or Monty’s affecting a beret, baggy corduroy trousers, and a sweater even as a field marshal, but rather a simple lack of interest in military niceties, a fierce concentration on the business of war–which was winning–rather than the display of war, which seemed to him a waste of time and energy.”

I love this description of Grant and could not help applying it to contemporary evangelicalism. What I see far too much of in American religion today is the “display” of ministry rather than “a fierce concentration on the business of [ministry],” namely, the exaltation of the glory of God. In other words, it seems to me that many a minister today loves being dressed in the finest of fabrics, adorned with glossy reminders of his “rank,” and building ever-bigger command centers for his sprawling empire–all the while forgetting that the display of ministry is not the same as the business of ministry.

Longing (and working) for the show to end and for the church to be about our Father’s business.

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Nothing But the Blood

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

~Isaiah 1:18

Snow_2015In the last 36 hours nearly a foot of snow has fallen on Louisville. “Welcome to your new home,” I said to my four school-age kids as they watched through the windows with excitement. For my kids there are few things better than the neighborhood being blanketed in white powder.

There is something particularly beautiful about this winter storm. It hasn’t come with strong winds or freezing rains, but quiet flakes falling gently to the ground. Our suburban cul-de-sac looks like Narnia with the promise of Spring around the corner.

But more than the physical attributes of this snowfall, I’ve been impressed with the perspective of my 7-year-old Michael. As he looked out through the kitchen windows he held up his arms and said, “He’s washed our sins white as snow.”

In the snow, Michael saw the gospel.

Of course, Michael proceeded to get excited about the other implications of the snowfall: sledding, snowball fights, and, of course, the cancellation of school. But I thank God that Michael has been given the grace to see what the snow ultimately points to: the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Thanks to my Michael there’s a song on my heart this morning — a song that sings of forgiveness and the promise of “all things new”:

What can wash away my sin? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus; 
What can make me whole again? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know, 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

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Marvelous, Infinite, Matchless Grace

[Thankfully I’m more amazed at God’s grace at the close of this year than I was at the beginning of 2014. But in 2015 I want to be increasingly stunned by God’s unmerited favor toward me in Christ. So at the dawn of a New Year, I’m revisiting some of the reasons why I love the grace of God. To help you do the same, here’s my list from a year ago. What reason(s) would you add?]


This time of year is full of year-end lists. Everything from the top 10 or more books of the year, to movies of the year, to memories of the year. Well, not to be left out of the list mania, here’s my list of 10 reasons why I love the grace of God.

  • Reason #10: By God’s grace I believe (Acts 18:27).
  • Reason #9: I’m standing in God’s grace (Rom. 5:2).
  • Reason #8: I daily receive fresh doses of God’s grace (John 1:16).
  • Reason #7: God’s grace is sufficient for all my needs (2 Cor. 12:9).
  • Reason #6: God’s grace frees me from the tyranny of sin (Rom. 6:14).
  • Reason #5: By God’s grace I have spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:6).
  • Reason #4: By God’s grace I can be appropriately bold (Rom. 15:15).
  • Reason #3: I have the daily privilege of growing in God’s grace (2 Pet. 3:18).
  • Reason #2: God’s grace is what builds me up in the faith (Acts 20:32).
  • Reason #1: God’s grace is free (Rom. 3:24).
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What Child is This?

The Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 35-37

Q&A #35

Q. What do you confess when you say: He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary?
A. The eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, [1] took upon Himself true human nature from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, [2] through the working of the Holy Spirit. [3] Thus He is also the true seed of David, [4] and like His brothers in every respect, [5] yet without sin. [6]
[1] John 1:1; 10:30-36; Rom. 1:3; 9:5; Col. 1:15-17; 1 John 5:20. [2] Matt. 1:18-23; John 1:14; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 2:14. [3] Luke 1:35. [4] 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 132:11; Matt. 1:1; Luke 1:32; Rom. 1:3. [5] Phil. 2:7; Heb. 2:17. [6] Heb. 4:15; 7:26, 27.

Q&A #36

Q. What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?
A. He is our Mediator, [1] and with His innocence and perfect holiness covers, in the sight of God, my sin, in which I was conceived and born. [2]
[1] 1 Tim. 2:5, 6; Heb. 9:13-15. [2] Rom. 8:3, 4; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 4:4, 5; I Pet. 1:18, 19.

Q&A #37

Q. What do you confess when you say that He suffered?
A. During all the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end, Christ bore in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race. [1] Thus, by His suffering, as the only atoning sacrifice, [2] He has redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation, [3] and obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life. [4]
[1] Is. 53; 1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18. [2] Rom. 3:25; 1 Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 10:14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10. [3] Rom. 8:1-4; Gal. 3:13; Col. 1:13; Heb. 9:12; 1 Pet 1:18, 19. [4] John 3:16; Rom. 3:24-26; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:15.

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Advent, Life, and Death

Advent is at once about life and death. It’s about life in that we celebrate the first advent of Christ into the world. Indeed, the eternal Word–the One who is the way, and the truth, and the life–took on flesh and dwelled among us (Cf., John 1:14; 14:6).

But the first advent of Christ also implies death–the death of us. This is what Jesus meant when he said in Luke 9:23-24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Jesus says, in effect, that the one who follows him will die to self daily. In other words, our priorities, agendas, calendars, and concerns are to be in accord with Christ’s.

This is how the apostle Paul understood the Christian life: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul’s understanding of what happened to him on that fateful day on the road to Damascus was nothing less than death–death to self and his sinful pattern of existence. And it was a death that needed to be allocated daily which is why Paul declared to the Corinthians, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31).

This death, however, was not an end in itself. Paul died to self so that he might live to God in Christ Jesus. We are called, after all, to be a living sacrifice (Cf., Romans 6:11; 12:1).

All of this could be summed up by the simple yet profound statement made by John the Baptist at the close of his earthly ministry and the dawn of Christ’s, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). And this is my prayer for Immanuel this Advent season: that we would shine brightly as we collectively live for the increase of Christ.

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