Memo: The Regathered Storm – March 2021

The words sent our souls sprawling across the sands of life. Stunned, April and I tried to comprehend what her oncologist had just said: “Her cancer has grown and we need to discuss new treatment options.” As the wave of bad news receded, April and I found ourselves unexpectedly pulled back into the murky waters of breast cancer as we stared at the walls of the 10th floor exam room. The doctor went on to tell us that April’s latest scans revealed the formation of 10 new tumors in her liver. All ten had materialized since her lasts scans on December 23rd. One breast cancer tumor measured a centimeter and a half in diameter. She also developed four new insignificant cancerous spots in her lungs. Though the cancer in her bones and breast remain stable, her new cancer growths revealed that her first line of treatment has failed. The first sea wall of protection composed of hormonal treatments has been breached by this dark storm.

We thank God for the past twenty-three months of success. Still, we had longed for more time. Since the medicine had repulsed more than one fear blown wave, we had begun to believe that April’s health was relatively secure. With the storm clouds fading into the horizon, we had begun to build tiny, happy, little structures in the sands of life, basking in the sun of providence. This past Wednesday morning, the waves of breast cancers washed our little sandcastles away and began pulling us back towards the law of averages, a beacon that often proves more ominous than hopeful.

With regards to what happens next, April and I have more questions than answers at this time. On Friday, March 19, April exited the Promise study at The Mayo Clinic and stopped taking her medications. Though she may continue to seek treatment in Minnesota, she and her doctors no longer know which principles of navigation should guide her journey. In an effort to determine what should be the guiding star for the second phase of her treatment, April underwent multiple blood tests and a liver biopsy while at Mayo. The reports should lay anchor within the next two weeks. At that time, she will work with her medical teams at Mayo and UVA to create a second treatment plan. Once we have charted our next course forward through this uncertain storm, we will share that information with you.

Though some things about our circumstances appear set against us, we know our God is forever for us. At times we cannot help but wonder why our good God would allow April’s cancer to flood back into our lives. Our children are so young; our church ministry is so new; and our marriage is so dear. At first glance, his plan for us seemingly does not align with the course that April and I would chart. But if we have been left to our own plans in years past, April and I would not be married; nor would we have our three little kids or our precious church family. Because God did not consult us and our foolish sentiments when forming his plans for us, April and I have the good gifts we that we hold so dearly as the waters rage today. We are confident that the God who has guided our lives by his love to towards the edge of this storm will be with us as we sail into its breakers.

Contact Info:

Email us at: biblefighter@gmail.com 

snail-mail at : P.O. Box 637/ Amissville, VA 20106

call us at: 540-937-6159.

Support us at: April Witkowski Medical Fund (gofundme.com)

We will posting updates here at witkowskiblog.com

Thank you for your love, prayers, and never-ending support.

Lloyd-Jones, Cultural Problems, and the Power of the Gospel

The following article was published on the Credo Magazine Blog. If you have not visited the Credo website or listened to their podcast, I encourage you explore both!

The explosion of the German V1 rocket shook the spine of the historic Westminster Chapel, jolting the congregation to its feet. Seconds earlier, the rumble of the rocket’s engine had forced the pastor, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, to pause his prayer. But as the plaster dust from the ceiling settled on top of his pulpit and black robe, Lloyd-Jones returned to his conversation with God.

At its conclusion, he allowed Mrs. Marsh to dust off both his robe and the pulpit. He also encouraged those perturbed by the blast to sit underneath the gallery for protection. He then proceeded on with the service with no more regard for the rockets. This brief picture of the Doctor’s preaching ministry encapsulated the Welsh Pastor’s understanding of how ministers should relate to the world of politics and culture. Lloyd-Jones believed God had commissioned pastors within the context of the local church to preach the gospel. It alone could cure sin and deliver men and women from the fear of death.

The Difference Between Sin and Sins

Throughout his career, Lloyd-Jones faced calls to address the political and social concerns of his day which encompassed everything from birth control to nuclear warfare. Though he carried around many firm political opinions within the folds of his black suits, he resolutely refused to share his political perspective on Sunday because he thought the fundamental problem facing humanity was ‘sin’ and not ‘sins.’

Though he carried around many firm political opinions, he resolutely refused to share his political perspective on Sunday because he thought the fundamental problem facing humanity was ‘sin’ and not ‘sins.’

The Doctor understood the term “sin” to encompass the effects of the fall, men and women’s separation from God and the ensuing pollution of their souls. Though restrained somewhat by God’s common grace, unredeemed men and women walked about the world in spiritual ignorance, lacking the ability to understand God and to do good. Because of the fall, men and women committed ‘sins,’ particular expressions of evil in time and space.

In the Doctor’s mind, political and social institutions such as the U.N, the English Parliament, and the trade unions dealt with sins as they sought to end wars, pass just laws, and advocate for fair wages. Though such endeavors were not inherently bad and deserved the support of individual Christians, the Doctor believed they would always prove inadequate. They treated only the symptoms of the sin and not sin itself. Despite the efforts of the philosophers and the politicians, sin remained fully entrenched in the human heart, pumping out sins that would continue to wreck both the individual and the institutions he or she occupied. To make matters worse, the Devil also avidly stirred humans towards sins and blinded them to truth. Humanity faced a spiritual pandemic it could not cure.

The Doctor concluded, “If any man could have saved us, the incarnation would not have taken place.”

Sin’s Antidote: The Gospel of Jesus

To save the world from sins, pastors had to move past sins and deal with the root problem, sin. Thankfully, God had designed the Church to proclaim the gospel specifically for this purpose. The Doctor noted:

That is the business of the gospel, not to be spending its time in treating the symptoms but to tell the world about the one and only remedy that can cure the disease which is the cause of all our local and particular problems.

When men and women responded to the good news of salvation, they gained liberation from sin and could overcome the sins in their hearts through the power of the gospel. The Doctor regularly witnessed transformation as he preached the Word. Drunks abandoned their liquor bottles, young widows found comfort in the midst of tears, and discouraged pastors found the hope needed to reascend their pulpit stairs. Lloyd-Jones believed such responses were normal because every human event from the death of Winston Churchill to the Cold War could be explained through the Bible’s redemptive narrative that chronicled the creation, fall, redemption, and new creation of humanity. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the “unique message of the Church,” transformed the human heart which could in-turn transform political and social institutions.

To change the world, pastors did not have to march in protests or speak at political rallies. In fact, the Doctor disliked the “pastor politician.” Lloyd-Jones believed the pastor politician’s constant denunciation of communism and other groups resulted in the “shutting of the evangelistic door upon that section.” Rather to improve the world, pastors needed only to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and the apostles and preach the gospel. The Word of God changed lives.

A Word of Caution

Despite the efforts of the philosophers and the politicians, sin remained fully entrenched in the human heart, pumping out sins that would continue to wreck both the individual and the institutions he or she occupied.

But even at this juncture, the Doctor’s optimism remained muted. Though he believed in, advocated for, and dreamed of revival, the Welsh pastor did not believe any pastor, denomination, or revivalist could usher in an era of perfect social harmony or world peace. Lloyd-Jones believed humanity would devolve until Christ returned. He wrote, “The Apocalypse alone can cure the world’s ills.” For this reason, even the inspiring movements of faith that came out of the First and Second Great Awakenings proved fleeting. The local church could not Christianize the world. The recreation of the world was the special purview of Jesus.

Until Christ returned to judge the living and the dead, the world would continue to know of divorce, wars, and every other social ill. Christians could expect to be marginalized and to experience persecution. But even in this world of gloom, Christians did not have to fear their neighbors, society, political institutions, or anything else under heaven. Their salvation and eternal destiny remained secure. The Doctor said,

Let your hurricanes come one after the other, and all together it will make no difference. Let men set off all their bombs in the whole universe at the same time, this inheritance remains solid, durable, everlasting, eternal.

Though tomorrow might fail the Christian, eternity would far surpass the believer’s expectations.

Conclusion

Prudence demands that historians, pastors, and the average reader should not attempt to insert Lloyd-Jones into twenty-first century discussions about the Black Lives Matter movement, the Coronavirus pandemic, or the storming of the U.S. Capital by rioters. We have no special insights into what the Doctor would have thought about such things.

But of this we can be sure. The man who preached Christ while bombs fell out of the sky would never abandon the gospel and devote his pulpit to the advancement of social causes. The Scriptures spoke to the needs of every age. As the Doctor noted, the gospel, “alone deals with our fundamental need.” Jesus saves.

Life In Two Kingdoms: A Review

The seas of political and cultural engagement have proved treacherous for the Christian soul. If it sails too close to the shore of faith, it can run aground upon the reefs of non-involvement. But if it sails into the depths of secular thinking, it can drown in a whirlpool of political partisanship. Both a lack of involvement in the world and an over preoccupation with politics can harm both the Christian and his or her witness to this lost and dying world.

In the span of 322 pages, Doctor Martyn Lloyd-Jones charts a path through these dangerous waters that is guided by his exegesis of Romans 13. The passage serves as a compass for his view of limited cultural engagement, a view that both promotes Christian involvement in the secular world and protects the believer from being consumed by political platforms.

Overview

Lloyd-Jones or the Doctor (he was an MD prior to entering the pulpit and happily would look after one’s physical body as well as one’s soul when asked) believed Christians should engage the political and secular world because God had instituted both culture and government and remained involved in the workings of men and women. Since God had ordained the state to promote human flourishing and to restrain evil, Christians could vote, serve in parliament, and overthrow unjust political institutions that used their power to abuse and harm citizens.

But such political and social involvement was never to become the believer’s guiding star. All governments remained concerned with the limitation of sin. The State could not positively legislate the Sermon on the Mount because gospel change flowed through the channel of the church in accordance with the faithful preaching of the gospel. Membership in the Church and the expansion of God’s kingdom depended upon one’s spiritual birth. Rebirth remained untethered to that person’s earthly citizenship and family heritage. After providing a somewhat oversimplified history of how the Church and state have interacted through the ages, the Doctor rightfully concluded that the state should not dominate the doctrines of the Church nor should the Church control the politics of the state. When the separate spheres of the state and the church were foraged into one distorted circle, the witness of the Church would begin to rot.

Because of sin, the Church could never advance through the state, protests, or cultural institutions. Though the Christian was to care for his or her neighbors, he or she was always to remember that only the gospel could overcome sin and bring lasting change. The local pastor was not to tell politicians how to best care for their citizens. The Church had no special insights into how to best regulate speed limits, drainage problems, or international trade. But she did possess the gospel of Jesus Christ which showed men and women their sin, pointed them to salvation, and then laid out the principles by which Christians could live loving and just lives. Instead of organizing marches, Lloyd-Jones called the local church to declare the “principles” that governed life. As the Doctor concluded,

“It is always wrong to talk about Christianizing anything. No such thing is possible.”

Instead of campaigning, preach.

The Doctor spent the second half of the book discussing the second coming of Christ. He showed readers the necessity of Christian suffering, the predictableness of human failure, and the hope of Jesus’s return. The Christian was not to think in terms of political cycles or sports seasons but in terms of eternity. Jesus would one day return to liberate the world from the curse of the fall. All other efforts to establish world peace and to final reform society would fail. Only the gospel could change the soul. And only the return of Christ would bring the gospel to bear on the entire universe. The Christian lived for eternity!   

Conclusion

The Doctor first shared the thoughts that became this book in a series of lectures that ran from November 1966 to May 1967 in his church located in London. Though Lloyd-Jones’s words are more than 50 years old, they prove ever relevant because they direct the reader’s soul back to the gospel. Moreover, like a good bottle of port stashed in a ship’s hull, the Doctor’s words have become sweeter and more poignant with age. Lloyd-Jones’s ideas reside in the realms of principle and cannot be dragged down into the particulars of any modern political debate. Readers do not have to fear that the Doctor has some hidden agenda or favorite candidate to prop up. In an age of rushed opinions and unrelenting political fury, Lloyd-Jones’s books serves as a harbor of refuge where readers may safely consider how to best bring the gospel to bear upon their political and cultural system. Even if you reject the Doctor’s view of limited political engagement, his arguments will undoubtedly help you chart your own voyage through these shifting waters.

If you only read one book this year, I encourage you to make it the The Exposition of Chapter 13: Life in Two Kingdoms.

May we all make it safely to Jordan’s Sunny shores.