Confessing Sin in the Midst of Suffering

I’ve been on a long, hard journey of suffering. Unlike previous trials which let up over time, the last few years of my life have only had new trials added to the previous ones, culminating in a breast cancer diagnosis in July that was compounded by what we thought was a second abdominal cancer found in October (biopsy results finally showed that it is NOT cancer, thank God). Two surgeries later, I was in a really bad mood. I was angry. I was bitter. I was snarky. I could only see the lack, not the good, in people’s actions toward me. I complained to friends who kindly let me vent. And many encouraged me and prayed for me.

Finally, after a few days of wrestling with very dark emotions, the Holy Spirit broke through and strongly convicted me of my sin of complaining.

There is nothing like trying to parent complaining middle school children to remind one of all the verses against complaining. I talk with my boys regularly about facing hardship with a happy attitude, because I know (when I stop complaining myself and actually think about it) that complaining only makes hard things worse. Years ago, my pastor preached a sermon from Philippians on this subject, and it ministered great grace to me. I’ve never forgotten it.  God’s instructions to not complain are a GIFT OF GRACE from Him for us to endure in hard times.

But I had forgotten that truth.

The Lord reminded me in that way only He can orchestrate. My boys have been reading through The Journey, and as my son walked by me, in the midst of my very negative attitude, I asked him about his reading for that day.

“It was on the Israelites being bitten by snakes because they complained, and Moses making a snake on a cross.”

Oh, the arrow of conviction through my heart. The Spirit wasn’t whispering. He was shouting. Complaining destroys the soul. I’m not suffering because of my sin, but my sin certainly doesn’t help me endure in my suffering.

Now, for some, this may sound like legalistic condemnation. Except it’s not. If you listen to the sermon I referenced above, you’ll hear a compelling case for these instructions from God against complaining being help and grace to His children to navigate a harsh, sinful world. I have found them to be that for myself. The bottom line is that, in the middle of my deep and painful suffering, grumbling and complaining do not help me. They won’t help you either. Grumbling and complaining actually weigh our spirits down even more than whatever circumstances we were already facing.

So I confessed my spirit of complaining to God. I submitted to His instructions. He forgave me, and I immediately felt a release of some of the burden weighing me down.

The Bible talks of sin this way. It’s a weight. It’s a burden.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

I was tempted to ignore my sin, to justify it as if I only needed to confess sin when things were going well for me. But complaining doesn’t start or stop being a sin based on how justified I feel in my complaint. In the midst of very deep suffering, I found that acknowledging my sin didn’t create a new weight for me to carry on top of all my other burdens. Instead, it actually LIFTED some of the burden. And that is the profound beauty of the gospel of Christ.

Did Sovereign Grace Ministries’ Ecclesiology Conflict with U. S. Law?

[edited to note that Maryland began requiring mandatory reporting of abuse by clergy around 2003. Allegations of abuse in SGM span several decades, many preceding mandatory reporting by clergy. Allegations are that SGM elders covered up crimes by pressuring families not to report sexual crimes against minors to civil authorities.]


Conversations with wise friends (including Bekah Mason and Rachael Starke) have given me clarity on the disconnect between Sovereign Grace’s language and understanding of their “cover-up” of sexual abuse versus that of most of the rest of folks (I hope) in evangelical circles. I am not writing THIS POST to either exonerate or condemn Sovereign Grace or CJ Mahaney’s handling of sexual abuse claims. I am writing THIS POST to explore the logical disconnect between what leaders at SGM believe they did in response to allegations of sexual abuse and what others see as a cover-up.

Sovereign Grace Ministry leaders really do not believe they covered anything up because they don’t accept the premise that they were obligated to report sexual abuse in the first place.

SGM leaders interpret or define the phrase “cover-up” as the suppression of facts rooted in malicious intentions. They saw reporting at the time of these events as a choice they had, not something they were obligated to do. The essential problem then is that they put themselves above the law as a direct result of their ecclesiology and hierarchy. SGM leaders issuing these statements truly do not think they did anything wrong. Why? Because they created a hermetically sealed world in their churches and singular denomination where the elders were not submitted to anyone except themselves and CJ – including even the US government.

The key problem isn’t the scandalous details of the abuse–it’s the underlying authority structures and ecclesiology that made these elders think the right thing to do was to keep allegations in house.

CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace elders cannot admit to any wrong doing because they simply don’t have a category for it. They view themselves as apostles, receiving direct word from God Himself through the charismatic gifts. This theology then fed their understanding of their own authority as elders over themselves and others in their congregations. They can not confess anything else until they first recognize and confess failure to submit themselves to secular governing authority. Until they understand that their “apostleship” did not mean that they did not have to obey Romans 13 (which was written by actual apostles), all other reasoning to them is useless. Instead of seeing God’s law commanding their obedience to civil law, they saw themselves as above it.

In the ministry Mahaney built, some of these features were readily apparent. SGM represented a society unto itself, one that functioned parallel to mainstream culture and that distrusted that wider, secular world. “They believe God’s law comes before civil law,” as one former member says.

This is why SGM statements repeatedly use language that there was “no conspiracy.” Mahaney and elders didn’t conspire behind each others’ backs to hide allegations – these allegations weren’t hidden at all. They just weren’t reported to authorities. It was actual policy at SGM to deal with things in house. When they handled it in house, they thought they WERE handling it. Before folks criticize SGM’s ill informed techniques for how they handled abuse in house, the first issue is that they kept it in house at all. This is the stumbling block that keeps SGM from acknowledging their sin (by not obeying Romans 13) that resulted in ongoing abuse that harmed many.

In order for SGM elders to understand their complicity in ongoing abuse, one may need to break down the issue for them:

a. This is the definition of sexual abuse … Did you know sexual abuse occurred?

b. Did you report it to police?

c. If not, then you have actively covered up a crime.

d. This is the statute on mandatory reporters of sexual abuse.

e. Did you train your elders to NOT obey that statute?

f. Then you set up a church system that violated and obstructed the law.

Really, the question for CJ Mahaney and his fellow SGM elders is, “During the period in question, did you believe you needed to submit to the governing authorities concerning the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse in your congregations? Did you teach other leaders that they needed to submit to the governing authorities concerning the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse in your congregations?”

If the answer to either is “no”, that is sin, and SGM elders need to confess and repent.

Romans 13

Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. 4 For it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. 5 Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath but also because of your conscience.


*I found this article a helpful journalistic review of the SGM sexual abuse scandal.

Donald Trump and Margaret Sanger

After his vulgar comments about African nations and their immigrants, one NBC reporter called Donald Trump “racially ignorant.” I’ve heard several label his comments “insensitive.” He’s certainly not politically correct. But for thinking believers submitted to Christ and the Word, hoping to influence our world in Kingdom ways, we need to understand the philosophy behind Trump’s comments beyond the mere fact that he is insensitive.

Last night, it finally dawned on me who Donald Trump most sounded like (minus the vulgarities) on immigration.

Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood.

“In a democratic society where the vote of one is as good as that of another, it is a dangerous procedure to accept a way of life where the poor, ignorant, diseased and mentally and socially unfit maintain the stock of the population.” Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger did some good things that women take for granted today, particularly gaining access through the courts to birth control methods that prevented conception that had been previously outlawed by congress. On the way, she also founded Planned Parenthood, which we all know to do far more than prevent conception, which we rightly lobby against as Christians for the millions of murders of unborn image-bearers.

I read an autographed biography of Sanger for a project in college. It was an old book, written before her death in 1966, though I don’t know the exact date. I always figured her autograph in the front meant she approved the book. Her early work is fascinating to study – the very real issues she grappled with, her compassion toward women dying of back alley abortions, her desire for childbirth to be as much in a woman’s control as it was in a man’s. But these real issues, removed from a Christian understanding of the image-bearing dignity of every human, reinforced her beliefs in eugenics. She didn’t believe, as Hitler did, in eugenics by race. She believed in it more around poverty and lack of education.

Put together a little of Hitler’s and a lot of Sanger’s views on eugenics and throw them toward the White House. Then watch them unfurl like a mirror on Donald Trump.

“… keep the doors of Immigration closed to the entrance of certain aliens whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race, such as feeble-minded, idiots, morons, insane, syphiletic, epileptic, criminal, professional prostitutes, and others in this class … .” Margaret Sanger

Christians in the United States tend to understand uniformly the problems with, say, the murder of millions of unborn babies through Planned Parenthood or the enslavement and murder of millions of Jews by Hitler. What many don’t seem to get is that those actions started with a philosophy.

And that philosophy eventually led to those horrible atrocities.

Christians, mobilize yourselves, because philosophies like this lead to atrocities like this.

The basic philosophy held by Sanger and Hitler is one that is shared by Donald Trump – that some folks are worthy of protections and some folks aren’t, that a nation is stronger when they limit access to it by the weak and vulnerable, that some people groups are better off left to exterminate themselves.

This is eugenics. It defies basic Christian belief, and Donald Trump’s views are incompatible with Christ’s.

The Journey: A New Year’s Resolution for Your Kids

You, readers, are a helpful community to me. When I mentioned that I was writing a Bible study through Scripture for my own kids, I was surprised by how many of you were looking for something similar. After sending out weekly studies to those of you who were interested, I then tried to organize everything in one document. From there, a book emerged, and it went live on Amazon this week.

There are two covers, because my boys and their friends really liked one,

and everyone else I asked like another.

Since my boys and their friends are literally my target audience, I felt I should take their preference seriously.

This study is a 30 week survey of Scripture that subtly but surely builds a Jesus hermeneutic in your kids. In other words, it links the stories throughout Scripture to Jesus in such a way that kids can clearly see by the end what Jesus taught in Luke 24, that all of the Old Testament ultimately points to Him. I didn’t learn that important tool for reading Scripture as a kid. My spiritual life was turned on its head when I finally started seeing Jesus in all of Scripture for myself as an adult. I wanted my boys to get that at an earlier age than I did, and this is the result.

There are a number of devotionals for tweens being released this season. That is probably because a lot of the young, restless, and reformed are getting older, as are our kids. If you are looking for a simple devotional resource geared toward teens and tweens that builds the long story of Jesus throughout Scripture, I am hopeful this book will meet that need.

Happy New Year!

He’s Always been Faithful

I’ve been waiting to update readers on my health because I myself have been in a holding pattern for weeks waiting on test results. After my mastectomy September 25, chemotherapy was scheduled to begin October 27. Then, right before I was to start, a CT found a mass in my stomach that does not appear cancerous, yet may be. That prompted a train of events that included new specialists and lots of new tests, each one taking about a week or so for results, one after another, so that, here I am, seven weeks after finding the mass, finally with a plan.

The waiting for test result and doctors’ appointments nearly drove me batty. Sweet friends sent me passages on waiting that were helpful, and I can give testimony on the back end that God was kind to me in the waiting. But there is a reason that God left us a lot of promises in the Bible about waiting. Waiting is hard! And we desperately need encouragement in the middle of it.

The result of this convoluted chain of events the last few months is that new tests show I am at low risk of recurrence of the breast cancer, and chemotherapy offers negligible statistical benefit for me. In other words, I don’t need chemo after all. This is very, very good news! And, now, the waiting makes sense. I have been humbled before God through it, and I thank Him daily for this kindness to me.

Because I don’t have to complete four to six months chemo, I am now scheduled to have this new mass removed Friday, December 15. This sounds like a more involved surgery than my last one, and that one was a doozy it seemed to me. Or maybe I’m just a weenie.

After that, I’ll have five weeks of radiation, and then, there’s a very good chance that I’ll be cancer free. I’ve had enough unexpected turns in the road to know I may have some more unexpected turns ahead of me. I appreciate your prayers for this next surgery, particularly that recovery isn’t as unpleasant as they say it potentially can be. Again, I’m a weenie.

I’ve found a lot of encouragement to persevere in the stories many of you have shared with me the last few months. There is definitely a fellowship in suffering. A lot of readers have faced much longer and harder journeys than mine so far. Your perseverance has been a gift to me, helping me face something with the hard won wisdom that only comes with experience. Mostly, I appreciate that you guys keep me from running screaming from the room. Your “Buck it up, Buttercup” spirit is actually really helpful. We gotta do what we gotta do, and like it or not, I’ve got to do this. At first, I didn’t appreciate tough love in this journey, but throwing things in frustration only gets you about 15 minutes into a multi month or year journey. “Put your big girl pants on.” “You can do this.” That’s been the advice from many who’ve gone before me. God has equipped me to really believe, through Him, that I can, in fact, do this recovery too, even though the last one was pretty rough, and this one goes further and deeper than the previous one.

Maybe I am growing in strength and perseverance after all.

When I got the results of the tumor test that showed I didn’t need chemo (after waiting two frustrating weeks through Thanksgiving for the result), I felt the Spirit strongly reminding me, “I’ve always been faithful to you.”

He has. He’s always been faithful to me. In this series of convoluted turns of events, and the frustrating time of waiting between each turn, He has been faithful. I haven’t been faithful so much, but He has held me fast to Him anyway. In His covenant with Abraham involving firepots and animal parts, God took both sides of the covenant while Abraham slept. I have felt this truth deeply and personally the last few weeks. And I am thankful anew for it.

I’ve been listening to Sara Groves a lot lately, and she has helped put to words my praise and my anthem. God’s always been faithful. Though the clouds obscure His hand at times, He’s there, and He’s working. Be encouraged, friend. He has not left you an orphan to navigate your own convoluted road any more than He has me. As you get bad news upon bad news, as you wait for some answer that makes sense after a series of ones that don’t, just know that He’s faithful. And He’s good.

Withering Wives

There is a deeply concerning epidemic among Christian marriages. I wrote about this once before, but it’s come to my attention again, a devastating trend among friends and acquaintances in Christian marriages far and near. It’s what I call the Withering Wife.

Psalm 128

1 Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways!
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the Lord.

This epidemic I am witnessing is the opposite of the beautiful vision of Psalm 128. At first, I saw it with one friend, then two, then four, and now it seems daily my attention is drawn to yet another wife in this condition. Instead of being a fruitful, flourishing vine, I watch my friend withering under the hot sun. No water comes her way, and instead there is cracking dry ground at her roots. Her leaves start to curl into themselves, and her vibrant color fades. She goes through the motions. She starts to shut down. She disengages from her husband emotionally. Why stay engaged in her marriage when she receives no encouragement or emotional support?

I note two things that contribute to this withering – active scorn and passive neglect by a husband.

Some husbands freely communicate to their wives their active scorn. They despise their wife, and she knows it. One friend shared with me how in the middle of a conversation in which her husband talked to her with scorn, he picked up the phone and completely changed his tone of voice to one of kindness and respect with the other party on the phone, and even in conflict at work on the phone, she heard a patient tone that he never used with her. She longed to hear him engage with her that way, but he felt free instead to despise and dismiss her with his tone of voice as well as his words. He talked to her in a way he would never use with anyone else.

Equally harmful (but easier to excuse) is passive neglect. This is when a husband simply ignores his wife’s needs. She may share tearfully that she is struggling, and the husband shuts her down with his lack of response. Or he says they will talk about it later, but he never brings it up again. In so doing, he communicates through his passivity that her emotional struggles are not worth him engaging. He sees her struggling with the children, but he doesn’t actively step in. He watches her frustrated work to keep the house in some order, but he treats her like a nag or control freak that she feels the kitchen should be cleaned or the laundry put away. I ache watching loved ones demoralized by being in partnership with someone who sees them struggling day after day, but the only way to get their spouse to engage is to have a near melt down.

Passive neglect and active scorn may start as two different responses. But I have seen them slowly coalesce into one unified, degrading beast in many marriages. This is the degradation of looking your wife in the eye, hearing her request, maybe even agreeing to it, and then never acting on what you said you would do. That isn’t a small problem, and husbands who do it (I believe) know the power such a thing has to demoralize and wound a wife. Husbands who do it do not fear the Lord. They do not honor God’s command to not lie. They sin grievously against their wife and their God with this lie.

We call such a thing “passive-aggressive.” That’s because, though the husband is passively not doing what he said he would do, the result is an active violation of the sanctity of his relationship with his wife. He lied to her. He looked her in the eyes, committed to something, and then conveniently found reasons to not follow through. He knows it will demoralize his wife, and he has added ammunition to use against his wife when she cries out against his lies to her by claiming she is an impatient nag or manipulator. He was always going to do it after the next round of video games, after the next football game was over.

Pastors, I hope you notice these trends in your churches, preach against them, and call husbands to repentance. In my medium size realm of family and friends, it’s a raging epidemic that is destroying many more marriages than adultery.

On the flip side, I also note strong marriages among loved ones. I see particularly in these marriages that husbands NOTICE. They are proactive. Notice what, you may ask? What are they proactive about? Well, that depends on the marriage. That depends on their wife! Peter exhorts husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way. In other words, understand your wife. Not all wives, but YOUR wife. It’s not generic to wives in general. It’s particular to your unique spouse. Know her loves. Know her gifts. Know her needs. Your wife’s needs aren’t necessarily going to be the same as whatever illustration your pastor gives in his sermon about his wife. Know the difference through intentional conversation and relationship with your wife.

None of this can be remedied without the gospel. Because a wife’s needs can quickly feel threatening to a husband’s identity, husbands must know who they are in Christ and be confident in their standing before God that puts Satan’s accusations to rest. A husband can’t find his identity in his wife any more than she can her husband. But if a husband is secure in Christ so that he does not feel threatened by his wife’s concerns, there is great room to know his wife even when her needs and gifts don’t at first fit a husband’s desires or expectations.

If you are at this crossroads, husbands, I wrote before on praying with your wives . This is such an easy, hopeful, helpful first step! Seriously, this is super easy and will minister a lot of grace to a withering wife. Even if it’s just once a week on a Saturday or Sunday morning, ask your wife, “What’s burdening you right now? What can I be praying for you?” Then right there with her, pray about it. That is an incredible ministry of grace to her in that moment. It’s water for her withering vine. If it’s something about you that’s stressing her, well, pray honestly with her about it. If you as a couple have any kind of faith, you must believe that you access supernatural help in that moment.

I don’t have a second step to offer, but I think it’s better if I leave the second step to the Spirit anyway who works after the first step in a couple’s heart according to their needs for their specific relationship. I am hopeful that if you pray with your wife, you will see movement in a good way.

This dynamic of course does not characterize all husbands and wives. Like I said, I know many great husbands of flourishing wives, and it is perhaps that I get to watch those healthy relationships that also helps me see dysfunction in others. And there are wives who likely need to notice their husbands. But today, husbands, I encourage you to look over at your wife and notice her. If she is withering, take the steps you need to stir up your own love and concern for her and then minister grace to her that will revive her. Christ in you equips you to minister this grace to her.

The 500th (and 1 day) Anniversary of the Reformation

I tend to miss bandwagons, and though I read my fair share of Reformation articles over the last few weeks, I didn’t write any. But I did listen yesterday to a sermon preached Sunday by Rev. Howard Brown to our local Lowcountry presbytery. Howard is a PCA pastor in North Carolina who is also originally from the Lowcountry of South Carolina. As an African American, his experience of the rich history of this part of South Carolina is distinctly different than mine. He came back home to preach on the Five Solas, but he did so with an honest assessment of the issues in our culture. He was BRUTALLY HONEST, with no attempts at that good (but unhelpful to long-term, real change) Southern coping mechanism of smoothing over uncomfortable situations.

Rev. Brown was brutally honest. But not without HOPE. Because that’s what the Five Solas give us. Not hope for humanity 500 years ago, but hope for humanity now. The emphasis in this 500th commemoration shouldn’t just be on what Luther did hundreds of years ago, but on what this understanding of the gospel brings us in THIS moment. Because the Five Solas are worthless if they don’t speak into this cultural moment, and Rev. Brown reminded us that they indeed do.

This hope of the gospel reclaimed through the Reformation gets lost unless it is seen in contrast with the fallen nature of mankind. Rev. Brown didn’t let us shy away from the fallen nature of humanity in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, with its parking lots paved over black cemeteries with the bodies still in them, the headstones removed to make pavers in white owned front yards. Personally, I have witnessed the devastation up front of the segregationist private academies that dotted South Carolina after integration, only allowing blacks to enter their schools when forced by the federal government in the mid 80s. And just two years ago, we had 9 black Christians brutally murdered while worshiping at church simply because they were black.

By Scripture alone … we know the truth of God, including the worth of those created in His image.

By grace alone … we are brought back into relationship with the Creator God, and by grace alone we are equipped to obey His commands on loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

By faith alone … we are saved, not by any version of cultural good works.

By Christ alone … are we brought to and sustained in this faith, and by union with Him we are able once more to be imitators of God who love our neighbor and treat them with their inherent dignity as image-bearers of God.

For the glory of God alone … we persevere in a hard cultural work, not looking to set ourselves up as great social justice warriors. For we can not turn men’s hearts to love their neighbor. We can not even turn our own hearts. Only God can do that. We give glory to God alone and humble ourselves in praise to Him for any healing and reconciliation that the gospel brings to our communities.

Jesus likened this gospel to a little leaven. Put a small amount in a lump of dough, and it eventually leavens the whole lump. He also likened it to a tiny mustard seed that grows into a twenty foot mustard bush. The point is that it doesn’t look at first at times like this little gospel seed has the power to change anything, and yet it does. May this season of reflection on the Five Solas of the Reformation give us hope anew that, in this cultural moment, one not so different from Luther’s, we have hope for an even greater reformation, one that includes the dignity of Jew and African image-bearers in a way that Luther’s did not. Because the reformed church is always reforming.

Semper Reformanda