Feeling a little beat down today?

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How about we just think about now, just right now. Well, today kind of stinks… Maybe it’s still the morning and you already want to just go back to bed. I’ve been there. Today is painful and you don’t really like where you are today. Okay, I’ll admit my day hasn’t been perfect either, but that doesn’t get solved by fantasy. Science is not going to develop a time-machine, you’re not going to find a magic lamp in the desert, you’re not going to find a hidden portal somewhere in the depths of the sea… so you’re not going back and changing anything! That’s why the gospel is so important. You’re not going back and changing anything. Christ has already, in the cross, redeemed whatever is back there! Whatever is going on right now was already known about in God’s perfect divine foreknowledge. But you’re not going back. The decisions you have made, you’ve made. The decisions you have not made, you haven’t made. That’s yesterday. That’s earlier today.

So, please don’t sacrifice today, or even tomorrow because of some fairy tale “what if” land. Please let go of your pride, stop telling yourself that you’re too far gone, your past is just too dark, the pain is too severe, the depression is just too uncontrollable, the anxiety is too crushing, please let it go and find some close brothers and sisters to walk with through whatever you’re going through. And continue to walk with them. Press into the Lord and pray for healing and hope like a stubborn, relentless child begging for a toy, like the persistent a widow (Luke 18:1-8). God loves to answer our prayers and wants us to come to Him for rest, hope, and help. Please, remember there is always hope to be found and enjoyed in Christ Jesus. We find our grace-motivated strength not in our own willpower but rather in the fact that all of our sin (past, present, and future) all of our struggles, all of our shortcomings, and all of our failures were paid for, in full by Jesus Christ in the cross (Colossians 2:13-15).

“We never keep ourselves to the present moment. We look forward to the future as too slow in coming, as if to hasten its arrival, or we remember the past to hold it up as if it happened too quickly. We are so distracting that we stray into times which are not our own and do not think of the only one that is truly ours.” – Blaise Pascal

Jesus never told a living person to depart or get away from Him. Instead, He said we should all be like children, to come to Him like a child (Matthew 18:1-6; John 3:3), and told His disciples to let the children come to Him (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). Jesus never turned away the drunk, poor, prostitute, sick, murderer, liar, thief, tax collector, or any sinner. He went to them, and graciously loved on them. So don’t dwell on false notions of reasons you can’t approach the King. Take strength in your rest in Christ’s already finished work (Matthew 11:28-30; 1st John 5:1-5). He didn’t die so you could worry about your failures, He died willingly to give you life, and life to the full (John 10:10; 11:25-26).

In Jesus Christ, our hearts are marked by grace, grace that exceeds our guilt, abundant grace that is greater than all our sin. Some come all you weary and tired souls, and find the rest that your exhausted heart has been searching for.

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Christians are weak and stupid…

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There was an article published rather recently that went a little viral with other articles explaining the findings of a research project. I’ve read and seen multiple versions of basically the same article (for example: New Meta-Alnalysis Checks the Correlation Between Intelligence and Faith), explaining the same information to various degrees. The gist of many of these articles was the apparent conclusion of a study which essentially found that on average those who would classify themselves as theists are less intelligent than atheists.

Now this reaction does have some empirical justification. Because the recent meta-analysis of studies on religion and intelligence did indeed “find” that yes, overall, people with higher IQs and test scores are less likely to be religious. Researchers analyzed 63 studies on religion and intelligence from the past 80 years with differing results to discover the slightly negative correlation between the two.

This particular article even quotes the Greek playwright Euripides in an interesting manner, and mentions that it was penned 400 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (at least they admit His existence… see the mind-numbingly bad “documentary” Zeitgeist: The Movie for some alternative “theories”). This quote reminds me of some contrasting words also written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ, and even hundreds of years before Euripides too. They are the words of the Jewish king David, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1; cf: Deuteronomy 32:21, Ezekiel 13:3)

The Irony of the Study

Everyone has faith in something or someone. It is an impossibility to be faithless. Even the most ‘secular’ mind, even the most staunch atheist has a tremendous amount of faith. So, before we get offended or give this study more weight and credit than it deserves, we should consider some other knowledge that has been available for much longer. Let’s start by looking at Romans chapter 5, verse 6… “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” I just want to stop there for a second… At the right time… while we were weak…

Some of us were weak, and at the right time, God came and grabbed us; He opened our blind eyes and softened our hard heart. This didn’t just happen in second grade Sunday school or at VBS. He came and grabbed some of us in high school, in college… in our 20s, in our 30s, in our 40s, a few of us even in our late 60s, 80s, etc. God showed up. The common theme for when He showed up is when we were weak. This is one of the things I’ve heard the world say, which is evidenced clearly in the above articles mentioned, many related articles, and the recently published meta-analysis research study: that Christians are more likely to be weak minded or less intelligent. Well, I just want to agree with it… I mean, they’re trying to slam us, but it’s true…

“Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth, and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.” – Tim Keller

“Christianity is a crutch.” We should just be like, “Absolutely! I am weak. Because my legs are broken. My legs are busted. I need that crutch.” “Religion and faith (including Christianity) is for the weak-minded.” Yes. I have a weak mind. Give me a right mind (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). “Weak people need it.” Absolutely, weak people need it. My skeptic brothers and sisters, you just don’t know you’re weak. So ultimately, is Christianity a crutch? Yes. Are we crippled? Absolutely. Because, “… while we were weak, at the right time…”

In fact, as Christians we should be earnestly praying that God would open up our eyes to our weakness, and we would finally lean on the crutch instead of hobbling around on our busted femur and blown-out knees (Hebrews 12:12). Right? Because “… while we were weak…” God loves the weak. He oftentimes saves and uses the weak to shame the strong. Do I even need to cite all those examples here? For the fun of typing some names: Moses, Leah, David, Paul, Timothy, even Jesus Himself on the cross… God even says multiple times, things along the line of “give justice to the weak and fatherless,” and that He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy; that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven you must come as a child (Matthew 18:1-6; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). From oppression and violence He redeems their life, and precious is their blood in His sight (Psalm 72:13, 82:3-4; Acts 20:35; Hebrews 4:15). See, God loves weakness. In our culture, we hate it. That’s a huge problem. Do you understand? It’s a huge problem for us to despise weakness like we do.

We seem to think we should not be seen as weak. No, brothers, be seen as weak. God’s power flows most vividly and most powerfully through the weak vessels (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38; Romans 8:3-11, 26-30). Paul goes on to tell us this more than once, and in more than one epistle:

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 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. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1st Corinthians 1:17-31 (ESV)

“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.” – 1st Corinthians 4:10 (ESV)

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” – 2nd Corinthians 11:30 (ESV)

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

“For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.” – 2nd Corinthians 13:4 (ESV)

“For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.” – 2nd Corinthians 13:9 (ESV)

Paul wants to continually remind us; therefore, God in the Scriptures wants to continually remind us of our weakness and need for Him. It becomes imperative for us to know this. While we were enemies, Christ died for us (Ephesians 2:1-10). While you were an enemy, Christ died for you. When you were weak, at the right time, God saved you; or for some He is working to show you His saving grace. That means God has a plan for you.

God has a plan for those of you in your weakness. That may have been depression, violent anger, illness, severe anxiety, struggles with grades in school, pornography, eating disorders, addiction to drugs and alcohol, stealing from others (be it stores, neighbors, family, or the company you work for), and all sorts of other deviances in that moment and at your weakest, when God saved you. God, by His life, by His resurrected life, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can and will transform your life, and He’s going to use you in magnificent ways. This is the gospel. The gospel, the good news, is that while you were an enemy of God, while you were weak, Christ died for you.

When you were at your weakest, at the appointed time, God rescued you. This is the gospel. This is good news invading dark spaces. Are you in rebellion? Absolutely, me too. God’s response to your rebellion is to rescue you out of that rebellion, to snatch you out of your rebellion against Him. So, here is where it gets even more beautiful, that God came to save that which we might deem weak, unwanted, unintelligent, unloveable, and unworthy.

Don’t be the fool, forgive.

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I was counseling someone recently about forgiveness and seeking reconciliation, and I couldn’t help but start thinking about some of the stupid things I have done in the past, all the horribly immature and petty things done out of pain, heartache, and bitterness. I began to think about how in some instances, I never really apologized to those I hurt or had an opportunity of reconciliation in some of my past relationships…

I have no excuse for any of my past hurtful actions. I am ashamed and embarrassed of the way I have treated some people; even people I loved, because none of how I treated them, was ever a display of that love. Any good memories there once were of some things, well, I tarnished those with spiteful and childish actions.

I’ve had to work through many of my own heart issues and come to the painful realization that in every bit of the bitterness and pain I felt towards some people, well, it was actually me who was the root-cause. The real issue and problem stemmed from my own selfish and prideful heart (Matthew 6:12-15, Luke 17:3-4). I could not continue to blame anyone else for my actions.

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” – Teddy Roosevelt

The line between all that I was and all that I hated has been thinner than I’ve ever wanted to believe or acknowledge. Eventually I realized that I could not stay angry, bitter, or resentful towards someone unless I felt superior to them (2nd Corinthians 2:5-11). Because there is no bitterness without pride. I lied to myself, believing I would never do anything like what others had done to hurt me. But if one struggles with anger and bitterness, it is because pride is at the root of it. My own pride made me the fool and robbed me of more joy than any wrong that had ever been done to me. I’m sorry for those I’ve hurt in the past that it took me treating some people so poorly, hurting them, upsetting friends and family, and causing so many problems as the consequences of my own foolishness. It can be quite embarrassing how long it has taken me sometimes to begin to really be convicted about my pride and figure some things out.

Rather than learning many of these lessons from watching others or reading a book, my stubborn self has had to learn by painful experience that false conviction is a reflex reaction caused by self-disgust, a sorrow over the consequences of sin. True conviction is an abiding sorrow over the offence against God, and while not the natural response, it does demonstrate that God has begun a good work that He will complete (Philippians 1:6). True conviction is followed by true repentance. False conviction is followed by counterfeit repentance that only sees and fears the consequences of sin and the pain it causes others. Often this leads to a temporary change in behavior without a heart change.

“Teach me to feel another’s woe, to hide the fault I see, that mercy I show to others, that mercy show to me.” – Alexander Pope

When we begin to grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others. God has modeled perfect forgiveness for us. Despite the magnitude of our offense against Him, God does not forget in order to forgive. He forgives in spite of our sin.

If we are ever to learn to truly forgive we must learn it from God. This means we must be forgiven first by accepting the forgiveness extended to us in Christ (Ephesians 1:7, 2:4-10, Colossians 1:14, 2:13, 3:13). As forgiven children, we are not required to forget the wrongs against us. Believers can forgive in the midst of pain because we have been forgiven much. We are set free from the bondage of unforgiveness and the slavery of bitterness in order to extend the life-giving freedom of compassion (Hebrews 10:18). We remember the grace shown to us and extend that same grace to others.

“Everyone wants judgement when it’s not their own foolishness being revealed. Praise Christ for grace in foolish moments and mercy for consistent failures.”

Practically, this may take time, and that is okay. We are often wronged in deeply painful ways. So be true and real. When you are hurting, hurt. But in the hurt and suffering, seek to understand that there is coming a day when all suffering will be removed, and you will be made whole. You have refuge in the only truly innocent sufferer, Jesus Christ, who is understanding and sympathetic to your pain. Because, when the Gospel and the cross are viewed correctly and understood, it will lead not to you standing next to the cross and telling others to get right, but we will instead find ourselves kneeling on the ground at the cross telling others there is room.

So forgive, not to the degree to which you forget, but to the degree to which you realize you have been forgiven much. As one made in the image of Christ, extend the same kind of forgiveness you have received. Because God’s grace came into your hands free of charge to you, we are to redistribute it the same way.

“Forgiveness isn’t an end in itself. The point of forgiveness is to remove the barrier that stands between us and God so that He can give us His Spirit and bring us into His everlasting family.” – Darrell Bock

As for any of you reading this that might be thinking, “Alright, I get it, I’ve been able to forgive others who have hurt me, but I’m still really struggling to forgive myself for some of the terrible things I’ve done. We need to realize that when we say, “I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself,” what we really mean is that we have failed an idol, whose approval is more important to us than God’s. We should remember the words of the apostle John in the book 1st John 1:9, as well as the wise words of C.S. Lewis here, in that: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

Old people just don’t understand…

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Do you ever remember telling a friend how your parents just didn’t understand the way things were these days? Have you ever sat down and tried to explain to your parents how they just don’t know what it’s like to be in school, play on a sports team, to work a certain job, have a lame curfew, to date a special someone, listen to a more authentic style of music, to consume a particular substance, or deal with the social pressure of your peers?

Perhaps instead of perpetuating our own sense of entitlement and Twitter/blog/Instagram-fueled obsession with constantly hearing ourselves speak, we could just shut up for a minute and listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before?

So much of what we hear and see today perpetuates this idea of “adapt or die!” Even many churches and parachurch organizations are consumed with figuring out what this generation’s youth want churches, clubs, groups, associations, etc. to be like and then adjusting their organization accordingly… Should we really believe that today’s #hashtagging, YOLO-oriented, chronically-updating, consistently fickle, selfie-obsessed generation of “Millennials” has way more wisdom to offer about a church, club, group, organization, association, business, society, etc. than any of those who have thought about, dreamed of, bled for, and faithfully served in any of those entities decade after decade, amidst all its hiccups, twists, turns, failures, changes, challenges, ups and downs?

A major source of the problem is the ever-growing hubris of every generation, which thinks it has finally discovered, once and for all, the right way of doing things. C.S. Lewis very wisely called it “chronological snobbery,” defining it as “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.”

I remember reading The Wise Old Woman (a Japanese Folk Tale retold by Yoshiko Uchida) when I was in elementary school. The crux of the story was how a ruthless and cruel young king who had declared old people to be useless was later shocked and surprised by the wisdom of an old woman who saved them from potential invasion.

After having his village threatened by an even more ruthless king and being given the chance to save the village only by solving some difficult task-based riddles, the young king slowly realized how much wisdom old people possess and how important that wisdom was to everyone else in the village. After the once cruel young king sees the error of his ways and faults in his thinking, he apologizes to the elderly and seeks the forgiveness of the wise old woman, as well as the entire village. He then proclaims that older people must be treated with the respect and honor they deserve; for they have much wisdom that has been built up over the years to share with the younger generations.

After all, it is said that King Solomon was the wisest man to ever live, and he left us with many words of wisdom in the book of Proverbs calling us to listen to and adhere to the wisdom of our fathers and mothers. Particularly the passages 1:1-9, 2:1-22, 3:1-7, 3:11-12, 4:1-27, 5:1-2, 9:10, 14:27, 15:33, 19:23…. really, pretty much the entirety of the book.

If we’re truly honest with ourselves, what we really need from the church (and every other group of people) is not another “yes-man” entity enabling our excessive pride and self-confidence, and merely giving us what we want. Rather, what we need is something bigger than us, older than us, bound by a truth that transcends us and a story that will outlast us; basically, we desperately need something that doesn’t change to fit ourselves and our whims, but changes us to be the Christ-like person we were created to be. What we need is the gospel.

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The “Necessity” of Pain

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In the Book of Hebrews, chapter 11 and 12, the author does a masterful job explaining how “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Then goes on the unpack how Jesus Christ is the author, founder, and perfecter of our faith. However, for those of us still skeptical after reading the book of Hebrews… think about a time when you went to a doctor.

Seriously, stop and consider a time when you went to a doctor. If you’re like most people, chances are you have gone to a doctor at some point for an issue, and you found out you needed a routine procedure. It was nothing major, in fact it was really quite simple, and could be taken care of at an outpatient office. You were told about what needed to be done by the doctor, and even some close friends had gone through the same thing. You felt confident going in, and you knew what needed to be done and there was nothing at all to worry about. Nobody had ever had any problems or complications with this kind of minor procedure before. However, when you got to the doctor’s office, and walked into the room, you saw the knives, needles, and other tools that were about to be used. All of a sudden you were having doubts, second thoughts, and questioning the very necessity of this whole thing… what the heck happened?

It was sight… that sneaky little thing called sight had done you in. Your very seeing of the medical tools caused you to doubt… until then, you were as calm and cool as a cucumber… you knew when walking into the room everything was going to be okay, and you had a very real rational, cognitive understanding of the whole situation… but now after seeing a knife and needle, you were freaking out a little… (or maybe it was a routine filling at the dentist and the moment he busted out that needle to stick in your gums, you began wondering if you really even needed that tooth after all…)

While our doubt is healthy inquiry, disbelief is a willful choice. So, what if we do believe… we must ask then, why do so many of us who claim that we believe in God, trust Him, and put our faith in Him, start to second guess the very Creator of our life the moment we see a little dry patch in our life, or the second we spot a desert in the horizon?

“You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” – Gandalf to Bilbo, at the end of The Hobbit

When we really consider what has helped us grow and mature most in our life, we will usually see it wasn’t the best or easiest circumstances. Many people have to admit that most of what they really needed for success in life came to them through their most difficult and painful experiences. Some look back on an illness or great setback, and recognize that it was an irreplaceable season of personal and spiritual growth for them.

“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.” – Ecclesiastes 7:1 (ESV)

When God wounds, He wounds like a surgeon. He doesn’t wound like a criminal. He doesn’t bash your whole world with a bat; that is not what He does. But God will lovingly take the scalpel to you. We all, like a cancer patient, have a serious infliction of sin in our hearts, and often times that requires some rough chiseling and intense reshaping of our hearts. Because the heart of the problem with humanity is the problem of the heart.

“The most perplexing theological question is not why there is suffering in this world, but why God tolerates us in our sinfulness.” – R.C. Sproul

Just as Job’s patience in suffering turned him into an example that has helped hundreds of millions of people, and just as Jesus’ temptations prepared Him for His history-changing and world-saving career, so God’s Spirit leads us into our wilderness for our good.

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. . . . [Pain] removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Advice on suffering from one who has never suffered deeply is always shallow, stale, and unconvincing. Wounded healers are needed, and in Christ, we have a great physician who suffered more than we can imagine. When you are in moments of pain or shock, the things that come out of your mind and mouth are the most primal things in your being. And when Jesus was in such moments, out came the words of the Bible.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” – John 16:20-24 (ESV)