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Living in the Light

 

 

The Active and Passive in Salvation

Jessalyn Hutto

Are we active in our salvation or completely passive? Is salvation a work of God or is faith something that we must do in order to be saved? I found this quote from Charle's Spurgeon's sermon, "The Lifting Up of the Bowed Down," a helpful illustration of what happens when a person is saved. This sermon was on Luke 13:10-13 in which Jesus heals a woman who had been disabled and bent over for 18 years:

She was made straight we are told, and that at once. Now, what I want you to notice is this, that she must have lifted herself up – that was her own act and deed. No pressure or force was put upon her, she lifted up herself; and yet she was ‘made straight.’ She was passive in so much as a miracle was wrought upon her, but she was active too, and, being enabled, she lifted up herself. What a wonderful meeting there is here of the active and the passive in the salvation of men. The Arminian says to the sinner, ‘Now, sinner, you are a responsible being; you must do this and that.’ the Calvinist says, ‘truly, sinner you are responsible enough, but you are also unable to do anything of yourself. God must work in you both to will and to do.’ What shall we do with these two teachers? They fell to fighting, a hundred years ago, most frightfully. We will not let them fight now, but what shall we do with them? We will let both speak, and believe what is true in both their testimonies. Is it true what the Arminian says, that there must be effort on the sinner’s part or he will never be saved? Unquestionably it is. As soon as ever the Lord gives spiritual life there is spiritual activiity. Nobody is ever lugged into heaven by his ears, or carried there asleep on a feather bed. God deals with us as with responsible intelligent beings. That is true, and what is the use of denying it? Now what has the Calvinist to say? He says that the sinner is bound by the infirmity of sin, and cannot lift up himself, and when he does so, it is Go that does it all, and the Lord must have all the glory of it. Is not that true too? ‘Oh, says the Arminian, ‘I never denied that the Lord is to have the glory. I will sing a hymn with you to the divine honor; and I will pray the same prayer with you for the divine power.’ All Christians are thorough Calvinists when they come to singing and praying, but it is a pity to doubt as a doctrine what we profess on our knees and in our songs. It is most true that Jesus alone saves the sinner, and equally true that the sinner believes unto salvation. The Holy Ghost never believed on behalf of anybody; a man must believe for himself and repent for himself, or be lost; but yet there never was a grain of true faith or true repentance in this world except it was produced by the Holy Ghost.

My favorite part of this quote:

"All Christians are thorough Calvinists when they come to singing and praying, but it is a pity to doubt as a doctrine what we profess on our knees and in our songs. It is most true that Jesus alone saves the sinner, and equally true that the sinner believes unto salvation. The Holy Ghost never believed on behalf of anybody; a man must believe for himself and repent for himself, or be lost; but yet there never was a grain of true faith or true repentance in this world except it was produced by the Holy Ghost.

The Good Shepherd and the Mom Who Miscarries

Jessalyn Hutto

I awoke from the anesthesia into a different world. The last remnants of my pregnancy—and my baby— had been removed from my body by a surgeon’s skillful hand. The bright future I had envisioned for our family had been replaced by a painful reality. Life had been exchanged for death, and the womb where my baby once grew was now empty. I had known beforehand that my baby was gone, for I had delivered most of the pregnancy in our apartment. Still, this final step put a painful last seal on a horrific chapter of my life. I rode home with my husband and mother oblivious to anything but my deep feelings of loss.

Loss Invisible

Few people understand the pain a woman feels when she learns that her unborn baby has died. The depth of her suffering is understandably intense, but because of the hidden nature of her loss, few people can relate to her grief. In reality, her suffering may go completely unnoticed. After all, most miscarriages occur before a pregnancy is obvious, an invisibility that only multiplies the grieving mother’s pain.

If she shares the tragedy of the miscarriage with family and friends, they often don’t know how to respond helpfully. How do they mourn a life they never experienced and may not even have known about? Even a caring and sensitive husband can find it difficult to understand the intense grief his wife may experience. The mother, on the other hand, has felt the physical effects of her pregnancy and perhaps watched the child’s tiny movements on an ultrasound. It’s possible that she even felt the first miraculous flutters of her baby kicking! Her child may have dominated her thoughts and prayers, making the loss tangible and severely painful. When others forget—often quite quickly—about the life she once carried, her grief only grows heavier.

God Knows and Understands

Women who miscarry often feel isolated in their grief because of the intensely personal loss they’ve experienced. They must seek to remember, or perhaps discover for the rst time, that their Savior is ready and willing to comfort them in their sorrow. Indeed, even the feelings of isolation can be a great blessing, for isolation from all worldly comforts forces us to draw comfort from the Lord himself.

In his anguish, the psalmist David said that God counted his tossings and kept his tears (Psalm 56:8). That is, he believed that God intimately understood his personal grief. We can have the same confidence that God sees our suffering and knows how deeply we mourn. Nothing goes unnoticed: he knows our own hearts and minds even better than we do (1 Chronicles 28:9). He sees our pain, he hears our cries, and he is perfectly suited to help us in our time of need.

No Stranger to Suffering

At the heart of the Bible is the gospel, and at the heart of the gospel is the unswerving, undeserved, and incomprehensible love of God for his people. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, humanity’s history has been characterized by pain and suffering. Blood flows through the storyline of our Bibles as predominately as the ink they are printed with. Just as God decreed, sinful mankind lives under a curse of pain, toil, and death from one generation to the next. Indeed, the apostle Paul tells us that death reigned through Adam and his offspring until Christ came (Romans 5:17). Since that fateful day in the garden when Adam and Eve chose to rebel, the human race has been subjected to the rule of sin and misery.

But our loving God sent his eternal Son to deliver us from the shackles of pain and death. Jesus came to rescue his beloved people from the eternal judgment they deserved for their sin. He did this not by triumphantly bursting into our world with the power and majesty his eternal holiness would suggest, but by humbly taking on the frailty of human flesh and willingly entering into humanity’s suffering. In a startling display of love, the holy God of the universe chose to be conceived within the weak and vulnerable womb of a virgin and develop there for nine months before being born into our sin- soaked world. He then lived an ordinary (though sinless!) and pain-filled life amongst his finite creatures. He felt the frailty of the human body, saw the pain of death all around him, and experienced the ongoing temptation toward sin all the days of his earthly life (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus entered our world and partook of the inheritance we had secured through sin, so that one day we could partake of the glorious inheritance he would secure for us through his sacrificial death on the cross (1 Peter 1:3–4). He did this to defeat humanity’s ancient enemies, sin and death. God promised this very solution to Adam and Eve after they rebelled: though Eve would suffer the curse of painful and difficult childbearing (something starkly illustrated in miscarriage), it would be through childbearing that the rescuer would come. It would be through Adam and Eve’s offspring that Satan, and his reign of death, would finally be defeated (Genesis 3:15).

But before this happened, the “offspring” would suffer personal sacrifice; God decreed that the serpent (Satan) would bruise the offspring’s heel (Genesis 3:15). In other words, the way of Jesus’ victory would be paved by misery as he entered into man’s cursed condition, making him a worthy substitute for his fallen people (Isaiah 53:4).

Man of Sorrows! what a name For the Son of God, who came Ruined sinners to reclaim. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
— Philip P. Bliss

And so, on that spectacular night more than 2,000 years ago, the God of the universe took on human flesh. He was born into our world through blood and water as a tiny, helpless baby. He was a heavenly king, but his people didn’t recognize him as such. Indeed, he had come to rescue them from the very sin that prevented them from doing so. 

The incarnation offers beautiful hope for the woman who has miscarried. The death of a baby within the womb is a painful reminder—if not one of the most fundamental expressions—of death’s curse over humanity. The good news is that Jesus came to reverse exactly that curse. Mankind was created to multiply and to fill the earth, subduing and caring for it as God’s regents, but humanity struggles to fulfill this basic function. Husbands and wives groan under this devastating reality as they watch their precious offspring die even before they are born. Many of our children return to the dust before we do, forcing us to observe helplessly the tragic wages of sin. 

The Savior was born into this broken reality. Our God chose to enter our world through flesh and blood, entering our suffering in order to free us from it. The eternal Son of God became a Son of Man, first by becoming a zygote, and then an embryo, and then a fetus. Finally, he was victoriously born into our world as a fully developed baby. This was necessary so that he could wage war against the very foe that has taken so many precious, pre-born babies:

Since therefore the children share in esh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
— Hebrews 2:14–15
O loving wisdom of our God,
When all was sin and shame
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.

O wisest love, that flesh and blood
That did in Adam fail
Should strive afresh against the foe
Should strive and should prevail.
— John Henry Newman and Maurice Francis Egan

 

Tears of Blood

Entering into humanity’s suffering allowed our holy God to experience the effects of sin as we do. He doesn’t only see our pain from a distance, and he doesn’t only collect our tears in his bottle as a faithful observer. Rather, he himself has shed tears of pain and sorrow—tears of unhindered grief (John 11:35, Hebrews 5:7, Matthew 27:46). His precious tears are now counted among the waves of grief experienced by the human race through- out time. We are told in Hebrews 2:17–18 that Jesus endured suffering and temptation so that he could be a merciful and faithful high priest able to help us in our times of weakness. Doesn’t every woman who has miscarried long for someone to perfectly understand her pain? According to Paul, Jesus can and does comfort all those who share in his suffering (2 Corinthians 1:5).

In the 33 years that Jesus walked this dusty earth, he was subjected to all of the same temptations and trials that we are. His sufferings allow him to identify with his suffering people in many ways, but I want to focus on three specific ways in which Jesus can relate to—and therefore perfectly comfort—the woman who has miscarried. It is my prayer that the pain women have experienced in miscarriage will allow them to see Jesus’ voluntary, sacrifcial suffering with new intensity and gratitude. As we look at these three ways in which Jesus has suffered, may it remind us of his willingness and ability to comfort us during our times of grief. May it increase our love and affection for our marvelous God! For he truly is the “good shepherd [who] lays down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11).

1. Loneliness and Isolation

The trial of miscarriage is unique. Those who have not experienced the pregnancy may find it hard to understand, so the bereaved mother often carries the unseen loss quietly within her heart, leaving her feeling alone. But there is one perfectly suited to sympathize with her pain and feelings of loneliness. When tempted to feel isolated and misunderstood, she must run to Jesus. Though deserving of honor and praise and adoration, Jesus was “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). He never felt at home in this world, saying “foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). The Savior’s life was often characterized by loneliness, injustice, and misunderstanding.

As the perfect substitute for his people, it was essential that Jesus live victoriously in ways that fallen humanity could not. But in many respects, this led to isolation. Consider how Jesus, amid great spiritual torment the night before his murder, asked his closest friends simply to stay awake and pray with him. Of course they could not. He would soon face the greatest trial a man has ever suffered, but not even his friends could understand his agony. How could they? They were the very ones he had come to rescue. And as Jesus walked the road to Calvary, as the nails pierced his esh, as the rough wood of the cross rubbed against his broken skin, his eternal Father turned his face away from him in judgment.

Jesus suffered and died utterly alone, without a single friend to help bear his burden. Indeed many of his friends hid to escape a similar execution. This is the Jesus we can confidently approach with our feelings of loneliness. This is the God who said to his disciples after victoriously rising from the grave and before ascending into heaven: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

2. Fear and Anxiety

A miscarriage is often more of a process than a single event, which means that its pain and fears can last for a long time. You experience cramping or notice a little spotting. Your doctor can’t find a heartbeat at your regular checkup. Without warning, you begin a grueling process of waiting—waiting to see if you will lose your baby and waiting to see if your life is about to be turned upside down with grief. Similarly, after a miscarriage, fear of loss threatens to eclipse the joy of each new pregnancy you are blessed with. Every day is a battle to trust God with the future of your unborn child, no matter what God’s will may be. But take heart in knowing that our Savior acutely understands these battles to trust him—in the waiting and in the process of loss.

Let’s take a closer look at our Savior’s dark night in the garden of Gethsemane. There, while his friends slumbered, the Savior agonized alone. As he spent the night in prayer, preparing for the suffering ahead of him, we see a holy war taking place. In those frightful moments, Jesus was faced with the temptation to reject his Father’s will and refuse to bear the sins of men. Indeed, the weight of mankind’s destiny upon his shoulders was so great that he begged for another way, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). So intense were the emotions coursing through his veins that great drops of bloody sweat rolled down from his brow. Yet, in humble obedience, he finished his prayer with these victorious words: “Nev- ertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). The road before him was far worse than any imaginable nightmare, but Jesus set his mind on his Father and therefore conquered the temptation to let fear overcome him.

The woman who has miscarried desperately needs to fellowship with her Savior in the garden. What woman would not similarly ask the Lord to remove the bitter cup of miscarriage from her? As she begins to feel the cramps signaling the loss of her baby, remembering her suffering Savior can be a precious balm to her soul, for he too was tempted to fear the road set before him. I found this account of Jesus particularly comforting as I experienced new pregnancies after my miscarriages. It was dificult to trust the Lord with the future of each new baby. Knowing that even Jesus had struggled to accept his Father’s will gave me a great peace; he had come through the same temptation victoriously, so he could understand me and comfort me. Jesus faced a horrific reality and still trusted his Father, so he knows the emotions experienced by a woman who miscarries.

3. Intimate Loss

One of the greatest tragedies of miscarriage is the intimate nature of losing a child still within you. The unborn baby, though distinct in its humanity, is still very much a part of the mother; her body physically sustains that life, feeding and protecting the developing baby. Emotionally, she loves and cares for her unborn baby with the intensity only a parent can understand. Then suddenly, through the tragedy of miscarriage, her baby is torn from her body; the child she has loved so dearly is no longer living, the unique soul who resided within her no longer there. The separation seems beyond dreadful.

Once again, however, our Savior is well equipped to minister to us in our time of need. Dan G. McCartney says that Jesus can empathize with us in our grief over broken relationships: “God knows what it is like to suffer, not just because he sees it in far greater clarity than we, but because he has personally suffered in the most severe way possible...the disruption of his own family (the Trinity) by the immensity of his own wrath against sin.”

The Father, Son, and Spirit have lived as one for all eternity past. Though each is unique in personhood, they enjoy perfect, unhindered unity and fellowship as one being. We call this mystery the Trinity, and it is the distinct nature of the God whom Christians worship. Jesus had experienced this beautiful, mysterious relationship of oneness for all of eternity with the Father and Spirit. In John 1:18, Jesus is described as being eternally in the “bosom” of the Father and in John 17:24, Jesus says that the Father, “loved [him] before the foundation of the world.”

No human relationship has ever known this intensity of love or this level of utter satisfaction in the fellowship of another—not even a mother in relation- ship to her child. Yet, what we see at the cross is the Father voluntarily giving up his beloved Son to death and judgment as well as the Son voluntarily giving up his life as a willing sacri ce to redeem his people. We see a disruption in their exquisite relationship with one another—a void where there had once been infinite blessedness.

In that holy moment when God turned his back on his beloved Son and judged him for the sins of men, John Calvin suggests that Jesus was understandably “seized with horror, which would have been sufficient to swallow up a hundred times all the men in the world.”  Thus, the eternal Son of God cried out in misery, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Surely no pain of separation and loss will ever compare to the horror of that moment. This was the judgment he voluntarily took upon himself in order to save the souls of men. And as he cried, “It is finished,” he yielded up his spirit to his Father and died as our perfect substitute. This is the God who offers his fellowship to you. Run to him, and find comfort where it is abounding!

photo-1447798084910-4d1dfb81b657.jpeg

To Know and Be Like Him

Suffering is not unique to Christians, but the way in which we experience it differs greatly from the way the rest of the world does. The Bible says that we have been united to Christ in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:5, 2 Corinthians 4:10, Galatians 2:20) and that we, as his church, are members of his body (1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 5:23). This unity between Jesus and his ransomed people greatly affects the way we suffer because it means that we do not suffer alone. We face loss, pain, and death as those loved and comforted by our holy Savior. Jesus tasted death (Hebrews 2:9) and experienced grief partly for the purpose of personally sympathizing with us. He “nourishes and cherishes” us (Ephesians 5:29) and prays for us even now (Romans 8:34). Indeed, because Christ voluntarily experienced the wrath of God on our behalf, we can experience his perfect and all-sufficient love for all of eternity.

What’s more, as we suffer and experience the unique fellowship of the Son of God in our grief, our lives are being molded to more greatly resemble his, and our affections are being stirred toward greater love for him. In this way, our suffering with Christ makes us more like Christ as we behold him with greater clarity. This is the fountain from which all sanctification flows, and suffering is perfectly suited to drive us to the Good Shepherd who so lovingly suffered on behalf of his lost sheep.


A Prayer for the Suffering Mother

Loving Savior, as this beloved sister walks through the immense suffering of losing her baby, would you help her to see how deeply you love her? Would you remind her that you too have suffered the devastating effects of the fall, but that you did so in order to free her from the curse of death? Use this time of intense grief to draw her into greater fellowship with you, that she may be conformed to your image, for her great good and your great glory.

I pray all these things because of your substitutionary sacrifice, 

Amen.


This is an altered quote from my book Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life When Death Visits the Womb. You can find a copy here.

Book Review: A Heart Set Free

Jessalyn Hutto

Short Summary

As Christians, we look forward to a day when suffering will be wiped away, when sin will be no more, and when death will finally and forever be vanquished from existence. We look forward to the sin-crushing Savior's return and when he will make all things right again. But until that day comes, how are we to biblically respond to the very real, and very painful hardships we face in this life? How do we suffer in a way that shows our dependence on the Lord and brings honor to his name? How are we to handle the pulsing emotions that threaten to overwhelm us in our most desperate days?

Christina Fox's new book, A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament, seeks to answer these questions in a thoughtful, honest, and biblical manner. Fox invites her readers to find real hope in the Psalms of lament where Biblical authors have humbly chronicled their own emotions and struggles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In these laments, fellow sufferers can find solace in the knowledge that they are not alone in their experience of pain while simultaneously finding encouragement in the worshipful trust that the psalmists express in the Lord despite their circumstances.

A Heart Set Free is broken up into four different parts. The first part focuses on the role of emotions in our lives. Must we be held captive by them or can we let Christ reign over them? The second part gives readers an explanation of the nature of the Psalms, how Jesus related to them, and how we can benefit from understanding the structure of the Psalms of lament in particular (Fox breaks the structure of the laments into three helpful stages: crying out to God, asking for help, and responding in trust and worship). The third part of A Heart Set Free reveals other jewels of instruction sufferers can benefit from in the Psalms of lament such as the way the psalmists continually remind themselves of God's faithfulness in the past when they are faced with scary situations, how they preach the truths of God's unfailing character to themselves as they combat doubt, and how they humbly and honestly confessed their sins when it was relevant. The fourth section helps readers to see how they can implement what they've learned about the laments in their own prayer life.

My Impressions

One of the things I find myself continually doing is urging women to be honest about the pain they experience. We seem to have this idea in our heads that "strong" Christians can cope better with trials and hardship, and therefore we should seek to quickly move beyond our sorrows and perplexities. But the problem is, pain is real. It has a real affect on us. It costs something. You can't just gloss over your suffering and expect to heal from it. What's more, you will never experience the beautiful, sanctifying fruit of suffering if you don't allow yourself to be broken by it. We must give ourselves the opportunity to fall upon the mercy and goodness of God. We must come to the end of ourselves and allow God to be everything to us. It is then that we see the treasures that are to be had in our suffering. 

This process starts by being honest about our struggles, or pain, and our sorrow, which is why I have always loved Christina Fox's writings. Every blog post and article I've ever read from her is honest and realistic. She doesn't gloss over the pain of living in a sinful world, but always points to the One who is able to carry the weight of that pain. This book is no different.

By providing the Psalms of lament as a blueprint for biblical suffering, Fox encourages women to bring their suffering before the Lord, to cry out to him for help and healing and to bring glory to him in the process. I'm so glad that she has written A Heart Set Free. This book is going to show women that it is indeed possible to suffer well.

Who's It For?

This book is for anyone who is in the midst of a painful trial or who struggles to control their emotions. While this book assumes some familiarity with the Psalms, I don't think it would be a difficult read for new Christians or even unbelievers. In fact, what better way could there be to introduce someone to our loving and compassionate God, than to reveal to them the way he inspired the Bible to deal honestly with sorrow!

Buy, Borrow, or Burn?

Buy! I'd also encourage you to think about who in your life may benefit from this book. People are suffering all around us, and A Heart Set Free would be a gentle and powerful encouragement to them.

Light in the Darkness

Jessalyn Hutto

It isn't long before a Christian realizes that a life of faith requires that he mentally and spiritually assent to truths that don't always feel or seem true to him in this dark and broken world.

The woman who has just lost her unborn baby to miscarriage is called to believe that her sovereign God is still good.

The man who's received a devastating medical prognosis is asked to believe that his God still loves him.

The family who's experienced bankruptcy is told to trust that their God still has a good and perfect plan for them.

The church whose pastor has resigned due to a moral failure is called to believe the same gospel message he preached from the pulpit every Sunday..

Such realities -though Biblical and true- can feel very foolish when all the physical evidence seems to point in the opposite direction. Indeed, when you are in the midst of life's most difficult trials, the pain you experience can be so thick that you hardly remember the good and holy words of our God, written down for low moments such as these. And when the tears are plentiful and constant, it is hard to see the Savior's loving face through them.

In these dark moments it doesn't feel rational to assent to his goodness, wisdom, and love.

And yet, this type of faith-fueled foolishness is exactly what our Savior asks of us.

For it is in this foolishness that the wisdom of God is revealed to our hearts.

In truth, we do not praise God in the midst of difficulties because it makes sense to, but rather we praise God in the midst of our difficulties in order to make sense of the trials themselves.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
— 1 Corinthians 1:18

I have experienced this reality first hand - this absurd and powerful peace that can steady a Christian in the midst of the unthinkable. I was reminded of one such moment when a song came over my radio a couple days ago. It was Shane and Shane’s version of Our God is Greater. As the words, "And if our God is for us, then what could stand against?,” rang out, I was transported back to a Sunday following one of my miscarriages. I remember singing this song with tears pouring down my cheeks. I was unable to keep them in, hardly able to sing a full line of the song without gasping for breath. And yet, our kind worship pastor kept pounding the line into my broken heart, telling me a story about a God who was for me.

This particular song is quite an encouragement when things are looking up for you - when you are standing on the precipice of the great unknown. But when suffering becomes known to you and you're deep in the trenches of spiritual warfare, being attacked from all sides, experiencing the devastating fruits of the fall, this song can feel like a cruel lie.

When death robs you of your child, and you experience its cold grip within your very womb, it doesn't really feel like God is fighting for you as the song says... it doesn’t feel like he is in any way for you.

Yet the Bible assures us that in the midst of our pain, God is at work for our good:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
— Romans 8:31-32

I love this verse, don't you? It is like a spiritual punch to the gut for my doubting soul. It's as if God is saying: "You think I don't love you, daughter? What more can I do to prove it to you than crucify my eternal Son? I've given  you everything! Believe."

But this beautiful gospel story can stray so far from our minds when we are hurting. Jesus said that if we eat of his body and drink of his blood we will never hunger, nor thirst, yet here we are feeling famished and parched in the midst of despair.

Could it be because we have not seen the gospel for the sustenance it truly is?

Could it be that we have forgotten that it is in Christ that there is fullness of life.

Not in a baby. Not in good health. Not in a steady job. Not in a faithful pastor.

In Christ.

His gospel is light in our darkness because it illuminates eternal realities. It reveals to us the reason for our suffering and the hope for its end. It gives us a cosmic understanding of our pain, and draws us into the healing embrace of the One who holds the galaxies in his hands.

The Word of God may be foolishness to this perishing world, but to those who are being transformed by the Holy Spirit, it is the unveiling of true reality. Within its pages are found the answers to our souls' most vexing anxieties. 

Why pain? Why suffering? Why sorrow? Why regret? Why death? What is the point of life when it is so hard? Will their ever be an end to this darkness? Can happiness be possible? Is there reason to hope? Can I be happy in this world? Why do I long for something that isn't possible? Where are we all headed?

The answers are in a Book given to us by the very breath of God, so that we could know the Story. Our story. His Story. The Story that makes sense of everything.

The gospel story.

And so, when we are crushed by our circumstances and tempted to doubt God, we must redirect our gaze to the unwavering  proof of his love for us - to the only One in whom we find joy and peace. We must run to the gospel.

We must tell ourselves The Story. The one that's been faithfully passed down from generation to generation because it is like a candle in a dark room - banishing our fears and uncertainty.

It is the story of a baby born in a stable - a holy mixture of frail humanity and omnipotent divinity. The story of a sinless man whose dry, callused feet, crusted in mud, faithfully roamed a middle eastern land bringing good news wherever they went. It's the tale of an unattractive, unimpressive man -whom we never would have thought twice about - except that he claimed to be the God of the Universe. Yet this man asked not to be served by his followers, but rather to serve. We must remember how in the moment of his ultimate act of service the sun refused to shine and the earth broke apart in anguish. As the sinless Son of God hung on a cross suffocating to death, experiencing the wrath of God against our sin his creation couldn't help but convulse. 

We look to that cross and we remember love, even in our darkest, earth shattering days, we remember Love.

For Christians must be storytellers. 

We must spend our days retelling the same exact story over and over again of a God made man, sent to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins.

Yes, we tell this story to the world, hoping and praying that God will open the eyes of more blind people in the same way he has opened ours. But we also continue to tell this story to our own hearts, knowing that just as Jesus' frail disciples were swift to sleep while he suffered in the garden alone, so too are we quick grow unaffected by his suffering.

The only antidote to our doubt in these times is to tell ourselves The Story. 

For as Kate DiCamillo so eloquently spoke into one of her characters: 

Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark.
— The Tale of Despereaux

The Dawning of Heaven is in It...

Jessalyn Hutto

Reckon that this beholding of the glory of God in Christ is the greatest privilege which we have in this life. The dawning of heaven is in it and the first fruits of glory; for this is life eternal, to know the Father and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3). Unless you value it, unless you esteem it as such a privilege, you will not enjoy it; and that which is not valued according to its worth is despised. It is not enough to think it a privilege, an advantage; but it is to be valued above other things, according to its greatness and excellency.
The Glory of Christ by John Owen

Blank Slate

Jessalyn Hutto

Have you ever had one of those days when you just wanted to push the reset button? Or have you perhaps had one of those moments where you thought to yourself, oh dear, if I could just rewind a few minutes and take back the words I just said... the face I just made... the bad attitude I just betrayed...? 

I know I have.

In fact, sometimes it can seem like my life is made up of an ever flowing cascade of regrettable moments. Times when I should have been quiet rather than opinionated. Days when I should have slowed down and resisted the agitation of rushing. Moments where I should have chosen peace over pride.

My husband and I have often looked at one another, as tempers begin to rise and the agitation begins to fester, and called an audible, "whoa," to our galloping emotions. "Can we just start this over? Forgive each other and start over? Can we give each other that grace?"

And in those blessed moments when we are able to deny our flesh and seek unity above selfishness, we praise God for the gift of forgiveness.

Because forgiveness -true forgiveness - frees you to live joyfully and abundantly without the guilt of the past failures holding you captive.

It gives the paralytic the ability to walk.

I think that's why we relish the idea of a new year. Realistically, nothing changes between the second that splits December 31st and January 1st, but mentally,  as a culture, we've signed a communal agreement saying that in the click of a clock's minute hand we are all allowed the grace of beginning a new chapter in our lives.

There is a metaphorical turning of the page.

A new door opened.

A previous year's slate wiped clean.

And it is this idea of a fresh, blank slate that is so appealing to us as we set about making our new year's resolutions - this feeling that we can somehow wipe the sins of last year from our memories. There's a joy found in packing up all those sins and mistakes into a little box labeled "past" and exchanging them for a fresh, empty box that shines with the excitement of "endless possibilities."

Who knows what we can accomplish in the new year - what demons we may slay? 

And so, the new year provides a "reset" option for many of us. It gives us the feeling that we can begin again with a blank slate, and that blank slate gives us the motivation necessary to scale the intimidating mountains on the new year's horizon.

It's remarkable.

In a sense, we are offering ourselves absolution for our past failures and the freedom to live unhindered by them in the future.

The problem is, the absolution we grant has no actual meaning.

It isn't real and it isn't lasting.

Poor creatures that we are, no sooner has January faded into the mist of our memories than we find ourselves reverting back to the overeating, the disorganization, the negative attitude, or whatever other vice has plagued us over the years. We come down from our New Year's high and realize that we are still the same sinners who struggle every day to deny our sinful tendencies.

We find that the guilt from our past continues to cripple us and we're forced to stare again and again into mirrors that betray the broken, messed up people we've always been. 

Sadly, after all the hype and optimism of January 1st fades away we are left with little but a renewed sense of our own weakness.

For as long as we seek absolution (and therefore, motivation) from within, we will never find true rest and lasting joy.

Abundant life will continue to allude us.

But this is not to be so for the Christian, because the Christian's absolution is not found within, but rather, it is found in Christ.

It is real; it is concrete; it is eternal. 

In Christ, we are not weak and weary sinners who've been overcome by our iniquities, but rather, we are triumphant, risen saints. We are declared righteous and holy. In Christ's strength we are made strong.

What joy is experienced by those who've been saved by the blood of the cross, whether it is 11:59 p.m. on December 31st or 12 a.m. on  January 1st! What freedom there is for the sinner whose hope is not in what she can accomplish, but instead in what her Savior has already finished! She is not enslaved by her past because the Lord has wiped all of her sins away. Truly, it doesn't matter to her if it is the the crisp, hopeful morning of a new year or a disillusioned  summer afternoon when all of her well-meaning resolutions have gone to pot.

Her hope is not in herself, but in the Lord.

She knows that her Redeemer came so that she might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

Every. day. of the year.

"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin." -Romans 4:7&8

Can we say this enough?

Blessed are we, dear sisters!

Our sins are not tallied against us.

Our slates are clean - forever!

All because the Clean One made himself dirty with our sins. 

Let us not look inward this year, but instead, let us look upward toward our God in Heaven who loves us, cleanses us, and teaches us to walk in his ways by the power of his Spirit.

"For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." -Hebrews 10:14

For by a single offering, we were made free.

Let us live in the joy and the hope of that freedom.

Happy New Year... Happy eternity!

When Sins Go Public

Jessalyn Hutto

There was once a king.

He was admired by all for his wisdom, courage, and devotion to the Lord.

He was an accomplished musician, a brave soldier, and a spiritual leader to his people.

And then one day he found himself caught in a terrible web of sin.

He became infatuated with another man's wife and almost before he knew what had happened, he'd used his power and influence to take this woman as his own. Enjoying the taste of this fruit as much for its forbidden nature as for its beauty.

Fearing that his sin would come to light and that all would know of their king's disgusting fall into sexual immorality, he began to grasp at ways to keep it hidden. When nothing else seemed to work - no lie and no clever scheme - he foolishly multiplied his guilt by doing the only thing he believed would secure the safety of his secret: He used his station as sovereign to secure the death of his mistress' husband.

And so the king became an adulterer who became a murderer.

If not for the grace of his God, he would have continued on this dark path: for leaving it would have meant being found out for what he truly was.

But the Lord was kind to the king and did not allow his sins to remain hidden - rotting away at his soul.

The Lord loved him and reproved him just as an earthly father would his own child.

The king was disciplined severely and forgiven completely

This king continued his rule for many years afterward, his image forever sullied by his sins, his character forever humbled by his fall, and his soul forever cleansed by the mercy and forgiveness of his God.

And we, the children of his King (Psalm 110:1), hold both his sins and his redemption close to our hearts.

We read his story and remember that this king was a man - a man who loved God, but simultaneously loved his sin.

We look to his tremendous fall as a humbling monument to our own fallenness, and we look to his restoration as a brilliant example of our God's abounding grace.

Never has a man's private sins been more public - passed down in the recorded history of mankind from generation to generation - and yet at the same time, never has a man's private sin been more of a blessing to the generations to follow as his. For they serve to warn and humble us. 


Peddling Shame

We live in an age of connectedness. Somehow, as if by magic, the internet takes the entire world and smashes it into one small device, no bigger than a king size Hershey's bar. In this new reality we find that we are able to know details about people and places that we would never have dreamt of knowing just 10 years ago.

Indeed, in our handheld devices, it is as if we are given little windows into the most intimate details of strangers' lives. These are people we wouldn't previously have known about, much less shaken hands with or muttered a "good morning" to as we passed by them in a coffee shop. But now it is not unusual to know their children's names, their political stances, or even the gritty details of their divorces. The internet, has taken the place of the greasy grocery store tabloids. Its unending nature has given us the ability to look into more people's lives in more countries of the world than ever before. 

But not all details are created equal in our consumer-driven economy. We've all heard the phrase, "there's no news like bad news," and at times it truly feels as though news outlets and blogs survive on one thing: revealing the horrendous sins and failings of others. Painful, shocking, and scandalous stories produce more clicks, and more clicks produce more revenue.

If our media is even a slightly accurate barometer, we humans seem bent on destroying ourselves and those we love, while simultaneously paying to be entertained by the ensuing devastation. 

Indeed, at the rate these stories attract digital traffic, we can only surmise that we have an unhealthy obsession with our own brokenness. We can't help but be curious about the horrifying carnage of each train wreck. Perhaps because deep down we have a terrifying hunch that we're all traveling on similarly defective trains.

The digital news media serves its consumers' curiosity like a Chinese buffet serves the bellies of it's guests: with an unending supply of soul-deadening MSG. There is no lack of scandal to be served. On the contrary, the more we consume, the more they dish out. And the more we consume, the more we slumber through the beautiful, good, and honorable things of this world.

Our pallets become unrefined.

We salivate over each new scandal to cross our Facebook feeds.

A famous family values advocate's entire life was built on a disgusting lie.

A mother absentmindedly left her helpless child in a locked car on a hot summer day - how could she forget? 

A "conservative" senator is revealed as a homosexual.

An ordinary parent finds out their son just became the latest mass murderer - was is something they did or didn't do?

Thousands of "normal" husbands are exposed as having sought out affairs through an adultery website. 

A child accidentally kills his sibling because his parents didn't properly store their loaded gun.

A celebrity pastor's marriage and ministry is ransacked by an affair coming to light.

The list goes on and on...

Before the internet and cable news outlets came into being, these people's failures would have been limited in their publicity. Those in your family, your city, or your church, would have been the primary audience for your sin. Your shame - while still severe - would have been limited to those immediately affected by your failings.

But now, when sin comes to light, its ramifications often include national and global attention. When you err in our infinitely connected world, you run the very real risk of suffering the shame of the entire human race.

Scripture warns, "be sure your sin will find you out." In a world where your sins can bring a monetary profit to media outlets, this truth has never carried more immediate ramifications.

In the School of Failure

I've thought about this often as I've seen the headlines of ordinary people who've made grave mistakes. To be sure, I'm absolutely horrified and disgusted by their sins, and yet a part of me can't help but sympathize with them. Their public image has been forever altered; their name forever connected to the scandal. For these people there is no going back to before the incident. More heart wrenching still is the truth that their sin has forever altered the lives of those closest to them. Their spouses, their children, their parents, and their friends are all brought into the gross lime light of a salivating public ready to consume a new scandal.

It sends shivers down my spine.

Their failures serve as ominous danger signs for my soul. They reminding me of the true and often tangible, here-on-this-earth wages of our sin.

Death takes many forms in this life and the sin that brings it should never be underestimated.

I must be vigilant to guard my own heart from impurity - to continually seek to abide in the Savior's purifying embrace. For as John Bradford is credited to have said upon seeing a criminal walk to his execution, "there but for the grace of God [go I]."

Rather than reveling in these people's failures and seeking to fish out the grittiest of details, I must instead encourage my heart to take careful notes as the Holy Spirit faithfully uses their shame to instruct my soul. This moment of their lives is meant to be a parable of warning to me.

Like David's horrendous fall and subsequent restoration, these people's sins provide an opportunity for Christians like myself to rehearse the gospel message. 

Lesson 1: Our Common Shame

As their sins are tantalizingly dished up for hungry consumers, I can't help but be reminded of the utter depravity of God's created beings. We are all so hopelessly lost apart from him. I'm reminded that I am one of those broken people. For "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

Our sin runs deep, to the very core of our being, and affects every aspect of our lives. I can't look at another human's sins and not be reminded of my own, for the same sin sickness that made their great fall possible runs through my own veins. I suffer from the same fallen condition that they do.

We are all capable of sinning greatly, because we are all great sinners. 

Therefore, I must be sober-minded and watchful. For our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) 

Lesson 2: Our Common Shame-Taker

But at the reminder of this horrifying reality, the Spirit also assures me of his unending love and grace. Yes, my sin runs deep, but his grace is more.

He is the forgiving God, and the one who will stick with us when everyone else gives up hope. To those who are currently being destroyed by their choices, he offers salvation. To those who desire purity and holiness, he offers sustaining grace. Though I am affected in every way by my sin, I am simultaneously being affected by something much, much more powerful - the blood of the Shame-taker. 

This Shame-taker took the place of his filthy, scandalous, and corrupt people. He was perfectly pure and holy, but in love, willingly took on our filth so that we could be counted clean.

The blood he poured out on Calvary is full of powerful, healing stuff. It is full of forgiveness and justification. It is full of purity for me and you.

Yes, there is a lion, prowling about, looking for ways to wound and kill the Savior's blood-bought sheep. Yes, my sin-nature makes me vulnerable to his attacks, but the Spirit reminds me of this world-altering reality: there is a faithful Shepherd who holds that devil's leash.

This Shepherd has made a promise: "My sheep will never perish; They will NEVER be snatched from my hand." (John 10:28)

"You, daughter, will never parish. You will never be snatched from my hand."

Can I not trust the one who holds the planets in their orbits with the safety of my soul?

Yes, I can rest in him.

Beauty for Ashes

Somehow, all of these years later, the story of David and Bathsheba is made beautiful by God's inconceivable grace. But in the midst of David's sin, it was anything but.

Consider the disgusting nature of his adultery and of planning out the slaughter of an innocent man. Consider what must have been Bathsheba's experience. Was she complicit? Was she coerced? Was she forced? How devastating were the consequences of their sin! Her husband's death, their baby's death, his nation's military security, David's wives being taken from him, familial unrest...

And yet, ultimately, their is great beauty in God's forgiveness of David, because it reveals the beauty of God himself.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness
— Psalm 86:15

Let us pray for each new scandal that crosses our newsfeed. Let us pray for the repentance of every sinner whose failures are splashed across our television screens. Let us beg the Lord to reveal his grace to them - our fellow fallen brothers and sisters.

May his salvation be sweet in the midst of their bitterness, and may their stories not end in failure, but in beautiful displays of gospel victory.

Let us learn from their mistakes. Let them warn and humble us. Let them drive us to the Savior.

For one day all of our sins will be laid bare before creation. In that moment, when our private sins go public, the only thing that will matter is whether or not they are covered by the Holy One's blood. 

Will yours?

Miscarriage: What Pastors Need to Know

Jessalyn Hutto

This article was published at Credo Magazine on October 14, 2015. You can find the entire article here.

"Until recently, the topic of miscarriage was a bit taboo. Those who experienced such painful losses tended to keep them quiet, entrusting their grief only to their closest family members and friends—if anyone at all. For this reason, miscarriage has historically been treated with kid gloves. It’s something that we know happens, but for most of us, exactly how often it occurs remains a mystery. Most importantly, the depth of grief that bereaved mothers and fathers experience when a miscarriage takes place has been terribly misunderstood.

Thankfully, this confusion has been partially alleviated in recent years as powerful articles have been published on prominent Christian websites like Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition. As women and men have bravely broken their silence, the church has become more aware of the overwhelming devastation experienced by parents whose children die in the womb, and with this awareness has come a greater understanding of the church’s responsibility to care for these grieving parents.

However, many pastors are still unsure how they can practically help women who miscarry their babies. They don’t know what kind of care the fathers of such children need — if any at all. Those who’ve never been personally acquainted with this type of loss often fear saying or doing the wrong thing, and thus find themselves crippled in their ability to minister to their wounded sheep. This needn’t be the case. Pastors can be a pivotal means of grace in the lives of the mourning mothers and fathers in their congregations if armed with some practical, first-hand knowledge about miscarriage.

With this goal in mind, here are five simple things that you need to know about miscarriage in order to minister effectively to those who suffer from them:

1. Know that Miscarriage is Terribly Common

Miscarriages are typically very private experiences. As such, pastors can be deceived into thinking that they a rare occurrence within their congregations. Medical statistics, however, tell us otherwise. In reality, it is estimated that up to 25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage.

This means that it is possible that one in every four pregnancies occurring in your church will end in the pain of death rather than new life.

Does this seem like a startlingly exaggerated statistic? Ask any woman in her child-bearing years if she knows of another woman who has recently miscarried and chances are she will be able to give you multiple names. This is especially true in churches that foster an atmosphere that values children and encourages large families. The sheer amount of pregnancies occurring within these congregations allows for these statistics to be more clearly realized."

Continue reading here.

The Baby Given to Women Who Miscarry

Jessalyn Hutto

This article was published on October 15, 2015 at The Gospel Coalition. You can find the entire article here.

"Her eyes welling over with tears, my friend looked me full in the face and asked an honest question: What does the gospel have to do with my miscarriage?

The question sounded simple, but I knew the answer could be life-changing. I also knew there was nothing simple about her grief—the pain and bewildering loss that flows from having a baby stripped from your womb too soon. And I knew my empathy wouldn’t be nearly enough to mend her broken heart. She needed genuine hope for her future, and a biblical explanation for her pain.

Twice now, I’ve been her. I’ve been the one sitting in a doctor’s office staring at grainy black-and-white images of my dead baby, tears pouring down my cheeks. Twice now, as the cold news of an absent heartbeat met my ears, I’ve been plunged into the deep, wrenching grief reserved for mothers who’ve lost an unborn child. The sting of death is in no way lessened by the invisible nature of such loss. It is real, and it is horrible.

Yet the truth of the gospel has provided immeasurable comfort to me in the midst of such pain. So when my friend posed that question—that crucial questionmy heart leapt at the opportunity to point her wounded soul to the comforting, joy-inducing reality of Jesus Christ. Because his gospel truly is everything to a woman who has miscarried."

Continue reading here.