Pain in Marriage: For Your Joy

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Have you ever read Paul’s Letter to the Romans, particularly chapter one?

Because of our fallen nature and natural bent, we have not only rooted our worship wrongly so that now we worship things that are going to lead us into external sin and discontentment, but we often contrarily believe (despite the reality of our lives) that we know what’s going to bring us the most amount of joy, the most amount of pleasure, and the deepest amount of life. We tend to feel like we know what’s best, that we know better than anyone else, and so we make decision, after decision, after decision for our own pleasure and our own joy. Even when we seek advice, we take what feels best to us.

We don’t find contentment for any length or period of time, but we perpetually think that we know how to get there. We only seek help when the illusion of control comes crashing down on the rocks of reality, but even then we aren’t willing to completely give up this sense of control. Instead, we will grab some variation of a self-help book or talk to somebody we think has it a little more together than we do, and we’ll simply try to “do better” or clean ourselves up some, and “try harder” to live our life in such a way that will bring us more happiness and pleasure. But we continue to seek this better life through what we think is best, only taking advice if it fits within our already existing worldview, and only accept something if we think we can still control it.

We don’t really control anything other than how we react to what is beyond our control. And just about everything is beyond our control. God is certainly beyond our control, and no amount of good behavior will control His affection for you, and no amount of distance can separate you from Him. I will contend that every command of God in the Scriptures are not about robbing from you happiness, but rather it’s all about leading you into the fullness of it. Into depth, meaning, and joy that our naturally shallow minds couldn’t imagine without His help. I’m not saying I don’t struggle with living this out myself, or pretending this isn’t written primarily to myself… because it is a truth that I’m constantly reminded of when things don’t go as I want them to.

Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “There is nothing in the law of God that will rob you of happiness; it only denies you that which would cost you sorrow. “

I’ll give you an example out of my own life, a very personal example out of my own life. I grew up in a dysfunctional home, sometimes even a little abusive. It could be a difficult home to grow up in at times, but nothing unheard of as common in this day and age. And praise Christ that He has worked mightily in our family and we’re still one family. However, growing up in a hostile environment like I did, it helped to create and then further develop some baggage. I have some issues. Anyone close to me is aware of many of these issues, my sweet wife more than anyone.

So I’m coming from this, and my beautiful wife is coming from what I would just kind of label a “good girl home.” And what I mean by that is not that everything’s okay there, but at least it all appears that way. Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not making any accusations or have any quarrels with her family; I’m just telling my perspective. Anyway, we got married somewhat young by today’s standards, I mean I know plenty who were younger, but the majority seem to be older. So, what happens when you take a young guy who’s not very self-aware, still maturing on a basic level, has a lot of issues and vices he isn’t even aware of, and you put him in a house with a woman who’s not okay, but who wants to pretend that everything is? Well, you get some very difficult years of marriage. At the very least, that’s what you get.

And I want to be real honest with you, with my wife’s permission. There were nights that I would lay in bed… and talking to myself, start to list out all was wrong with her, what all needs to change, what all I do that deserves to be reciprocated more… but really, the issue was me. I had a selfish, self-centered, lazy heart… and am definitely still working on it. And Kat had some issues too, but she couldn’t even begin to see them because mine were so big. I was asking her to satisfy something that she just couldn’t possibly fulfill. She just couldn’t possibly do it. And so my love was very, very, very conditional, which means I would do what was right as long as I got the reaction I wanted. But when I did something nice, and the reaction wasn’t what I wanted, then I would start to lose the motivation to keep doing what’s right.

Anybody else have that experience? Maybe? Or am I really all by myself in this? I doubt it… at least I cannot imagine I’m the only one. Because there were times when I was lying in bed after a few years of frustration, and I’m like twenty-five years old going, “I can’t do 50 years of this. This is marriage?” And you can’t help but go, “I guarantee you this would be easier with somebody else.” I mean those are just thoughts you have, thoughts I had, the whole time being painfully aware of God’s command on me in Ephesians 5: “You love your wife like I loved the church in that I gave My life for her, initiated it, did not expect the correct response to it. I loved freely, openly, unconditionally. That’s how you love your wife.”

I hated that text. That text haunted me. It still does. Because I wanted to be mean. I wanted to jab. I wanted to retaliate when I felt wronged. I wanted to wound when I felt wounded. I wanted to tell her what she was doing wrong. I wanted to receive grace and understanding, but still expected her always do what I felt was right, never get tired, never make mistakes, and live up to an impossible standard. And that went on for months. Years. We’ve be married six years as of this summer. And while I know some of you may be reading this and thinking, whatever rookie, come back to us when you’ve at least passed that 10-year mark… any amount of this pain is frustrating.

And here’s what has happened in our marriage. Over these past couple years, God has been doing what we would call theologically “progressive sanctification.” Which means that, on the throne of my heart, I sat and ruled ruthlessly. Sometimes with honor, but mainlydisgracefully ruthless. And God had to put “king Samuel” to death. And continually crushing my rebellions. Do you know why? Because He loves me. When “little king Samuel” rules, it goes bad. It goes really bad. I will quickly wreck it all. So ignorant king Samuel has to die for their to be true worship, joy, life, meaning, love, and depth. So I had to die. I have to die to myself, my short-sighted wants, my stupid lusts, my ignorant desires, and my foolish cravings.

But how are you going to show an ignorant, arrogant king the error of his ways? Well, God has already done me a major favor, He gave me a wife. The Scriptures even say, “he who finds a wife finds what is good.” And here’s what I mean. Up until that point of marriage, I could make almost anything work. At least I felt that way and perceived life that way. Up until that point, I believed I could fix it. Up until that point, I could motivate. I could move. I could accomplish. I had nobody to answer to on an intimate level, and was free to succeed. I mean, until this moment, I FELT like most things I touched would work well… except now… I was such a failure… and at home…

It took marriage for God to slap the realization into my mind that to the degree I forget how fully I have been loved by God, I will always forget how to love others in my life. So when I am focused on myself and how to control my behavior with the expectation of getting certain results, I am forgetting how to really love my wife. When I am looking for ways to serve my wife to the purpose of getting things I want in return, or having things go the way I want them to, I’m not really serving or loving her. When I’m self-absorbed and focused solely upon my wants and “needs,” I begin to lose sight of the covenant I made with God; that I didn’t just make a promise to Kat on our wedding day. I made a covenant with our God to love and serve Kathryn until one of us dies, regardless of my feelings or her actions.

Now, nowhere in any of this am I saying marriage doesn’t require a lot of work, and all these issues just went away over night because I read a Bible verse or a marriage book. We sought counseling, older couples to spend time with, and began to work on our own hearts instead of trying to fix one another. I realized the problem was me. And she had the same realization for herself. But don’t assume that I’m saying that every struggle is behind us, and it’s all gonna be easy and painless from here on out. I’m not pretending that every heart issue I have is gone, never to be dealt with again. But I am saying, it’s been a huge relief to let go of some things. It has been extremely liberating to confess my darkest secrets, and to admit where I’m weak and need help. It’s still been pretty painful and scary to be that vulnerable, but in all its difficulties, having a wife is a lot of fun. Marriage really is a lot of fun.

The past year has really been unbelievable in comparison to the years before. I love going home and hate leaving. I love going home. I love walking into my house. When I get home, my sweet bride and cute little man are there waiting for me. I’m get to kiss her and say hello. And be tackled by my son. I love them, and I love going home. The best shot I’ll ever have at deep, sustaining love is not to leave, give up, antagonize her until she changes to what I selfishly want, to start over, look for the non-existent easier/better woman, but instead to stay and fight for my wife, not against her. To understand men should be tired at the end of the day, that the extra effort to do things even when you don’t want to doesn’t make you a super husband, that’s merely living the basic call on your role.
This is what the Scriptures say. That God is leading me into joy, even through pain, sorrow, frustration, and the realization that I’m an idiot, God is leading me, blessing me, correcting and disciplining me for His great glory, and my eventual joy. Because 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. Marriage is a beautiful scalpel in the hand of our great God.

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How to Help Improve Your Marriage in Just a Few Minutes Each Day

  

As husbands and fathers living in 2015, our lives are busy and sometimes even downright hectic. We have careers, family commitments, community and church activities, and a host of other things pulling from our time every day. Finding time can be difficult, perhaps even feeling impossible far too often.

In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. If you you sleep 6-8 hours each day (I wish, right?), that means you are awake roughly 1,000 minutes each day. How many of those minutes are you spending with your wife? How many of those minutes spent are used purposefully to engage, pursue, and woo her? What if I told you that you can drastically improve your marriage in just 15 minutes each day. Yes, spending a mere 1.5% of your waking hours each day can help you have a better marriage. Here’s a few things to consider:

1. Make time for it.

As mentioned, we all have about 1,000 minutes per day while we are awake. The first thing you should do is put 15 minutes into your schedule as designated, purposeful time. Discuss this with your wife, pull out your calendars, and block some time off for the two of you.

2. Guard your time like your life depends on it.

We’ve all seen enough spy movies to know that nothing is safe. But there’s always somebody else trying to make something impenetrable. Treat this 15 minutes the same. Guard it from any and everything that can stop it or steal it. (But know that emergencies happen, and adjustments will need to be made at time… just strive to make this the exception, not the rule.)

3. Start talking.

Initially, don’t have a set agenda. Just talk and listen. Set the phones to silent and put them down. Be sure to give your wife as much, if not more, time to share and talk as she needs. Be attentive to everything she says. Ask more questions than making statements early on. Use this opportunity to truly learn more about your spouse.

4. Fight, if necessary.

It can be easy to avoid or cancel your 15 minutes if there is some conflict brewing. But if you have to fight (disagree), then disagree. Conflict isn’t always bad. In fact, it can be a healthy building block for your marriage. So use that 15 minutes to “fight” if needed.

5. Play and have fun.

Your 15+ minutes each day doesn’t have to just be talking or fighting. Play some games and enjoy one another. When is the last time you’ve played cards, a board game, or even video game with your wife? Use your allotted time to do that sometimes.

Simply pending at least 15 minutes per day focused on one another can change your marriage forever. Make the time, spend the time, enjoy the time, and watch your marriage get better. So when will your 15 minutes per day take place? Get to thinking about it and make it happen. Stop with the excuses, and just do it.*

*I’d also recommend going beyond this, and establishing a regular weekly/bi-weekly date night.

The Galloway Wedding

Recently I had the great privilege of serving as the “best man” in Greg (Aaron) & Autumn Galloway’s wedding. After receiving some requests for a copy of the speech I gave during their reception, I decided to share it publicly and make it available for anyone interested. What follows are the feeble words I offered to the newly wedded couple; they still drastically fall short of conveying my love for them, and infinitely more so the worth of our God.

The script:

Good afternoon, I’d like to thank all of you for being a part of this celebration with us. I have the great honor, the immense privilege of serving as Greg’s best man today. So at this time, I’d like to share some things with everyone. I’ve known Greg (not Aaron, it’ll never be Aaron) since middle school. He actually attempted to trick me into believing he was a set of twins, and since I met Greg first, he will forever be Greg to me. And this twinless guy is truly like a brother to me.

My wife Kat and I still remember the evening Greg first told us about Autumn… [ad lib.] And we’ve gotten to watch their relationship grow into something deep. I remember vividly some long conversations with Greg as he wondered if he would ever see this day, and now it is here. He has found what is good, he has found a wife.

And while this is a very beautiful day in the life of Greg and Autumn, there is a deeper grander to behold. We believe that this day, this ceremony and reception, is not ultimately about celebrating the marriage of Greg and Autumn, but rather us celebrating the love that Christ has displayed for His bride. In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he writes in chapter five about the truth that marriage is not ultimately about sex or social stability or personal fulfillment; rather marriage was created to be a human reflection of the ultimate love relationship with the Lord. It points to the true marriage that our souls need and the true family our hearts want. For me personally, I never even really caught a good glimpse of the fuller meaning of this truth (of what it means for us, the church, being referred to as the bride of Christ) before mine and Kat’s wedding day. When those doors opened, and she walked into the wedding chapel room, looking beyond incredibly amazing, yeah, I’m not ashamed to admit it… I teared up as it all began to hit me.

We, the church, are not called Christ’s wife, but His bride… Think about that for a moment… The groom does not look upon his bride on their wedding day and think about her imperfections, but is rather intensely focused on her precious qualities and beautiful attributes. On the wedding day, the groom is overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude, and devotion. Because this bride, standing adorned before her groom: she is his. He sees only her, and no one can deter his gaze. She alone catches his eye and she alone can hold his attention.

So, in this wedding, in this marriage between Greg and Autumn, we catch a beautiful reflective glimpse of Christ. When marriage seems unfair, we are to be reminded that Jesus never sought out equality, fairness, and happiness. Instead, He humbled Himself, taking the form of a servant, and endured grossly unfair treatment for the joy set before Him, in redeeming the church as His bride. That is our model and our means for authentic marriage.

So Greg, don’t ever forget how beautiful Autumn looks today, and how she is completely dressed up in splendor, having been presented to you as a beautiful, radiant, spotless bride. That is how Christ sees us, His chosen loved ones whom He died for, and He calls us His bride. His pursuit of us is fierce and unwavering, His affection for us is strong and deep, His love for us is abiding and unending. Our hope is that this glorious Gospel is preached through Greg and Autumn’s marriage, as God has chosen the story of their lives to be a shadow of His much greater narrative.

Because when we arrive at eternity’s shore, where death is just a memory and tears are no more, we’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring, Christ’s bride will come together and we’ll sing, You’re beautiful!!! Thank you all for being a part of this wedding, to celebrate not just Greg and Autumn’s marital union, but our great God and King: Jesus.

Love… Without Approval

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It seems that as I attempt to keep my finger on the pulse of America’s cultural heartbeat in regards to the topic of same-sex marriage, most social media posts and the overwhelming majority of news publications seem to agree that if you don’t whole-heartedly embrace, support, approve of, and celebrate public homosexuality and gay marriage, you are nothing more than a closed-minded bigot who probably needs to do the world a favor and be euthanized. (That sound a little harsh? Just read the news and scroll through some social media, and you’ll see that was actually a pretty light rendering of some stuff being said.) Before I even begin writing about this topic again though, I realize that many people won’t understand how homosexuality is seen through the Christian worldview, or care to understand. We will be labeled as intolerant bigots by our current culture, but hopefully we continue to strive to live in such a way as to make those accusations false.

The media spotlight has transitioned from “leave us alone” to “bake us a cake.” The desire of “just get out of our way,” has (for some) become “take our picture.” The same-sex marriage issue has become a judicial juggernaut; currently seventeen states recognize same-sex unions, with citizens in Idaho, Kentucky, and other states strongly petitioning the courts to extend that number. This political climate has prompted legislatures in Kansas, Arizona, and other states to advance unwieldy bills that seek to balance a newly-acquired right to marriage against the rights of others to follow their religious or moral consciences. The big question is no longer whether same-sex couples may marry, but whether a baker may refuse to sell them a wedding cake on the strength of his religious or moral conscience, without risking a lawsuit.

It seemed common sense to many in the past that you wouldn’t seek out a Jewish butcher to provide bacon-wrapped shellfish for your big party, but today the insensitivity of that request appears to be attributed to the Jewish butcher. While everyone is arguing over cake, pictures, flowers, clothing, and buildings, the media distracts us from the core philosophical issue: if we lose the ability to respect that people can only go as far as their consciences will allow them, then we risk becoming caught up in an even worse illusion, imagining hate where none exists, equating compelled behavior with authentic love, and losing sight of the fact that sharing another’s burdens sometimes means that we walk the extra mile on one challenging road, and they walk it on the next. Everyone spares a bit of their time for the sake of another. This is how love travels.

Would we really try to make the claim that Jesus approved of sin, or simply accepted people as they were with no desire to see them grow more in faith? Can we find a single place in Scripture where Jesus says what the tax collectors do to support the Roman army is good and right, and a behavior to be respected and emulated? Did Jesus ever help Zacchaeus shake down a guy for the taxes he owed? (Hint: no, He did not.) In the Gospels, Jesus never tells sinners not to worry about any sin in their lives and just go on about their business as they please because He loves them.

We could jokingly ask ourselves WWJD? And maybe after some speculation we’d even come to the conclusion that while Jesus was a carpenter and might not have been the most affluent wedding decorator, He would have baked the cake, arranged the flowers, snapped the pictures, and then built some lovely cabinets for the newlyweds’ new home. I mean hey, He might have even provided some quality wine for a wedding, it wouldn’t be the first time after all. But could we honestly follow that all the way through to Jesus officiating the wedding? Every time Jesus ever mentioned marriage He talked about a man and a woman; He quoted from the Old Testament and observed it as law. (Quick sidebar: the argument from silence that Jesus never outright stated that homosexuality is wrong, so He wasn’t really against it is more than a bit far-fetched. A proper understanding of both the Son of God and of Scripture should lead us to conclude that it ultimately would not matter if Jesus ever explicitly taught on homosexuality for Him to disagree with it. Second, that though we have no record of Him using the specific words “homosexual” or “homosexuality,” it is dishonest at best to say that He did not teach on the subject itself.) Jesus said that He came to give life and give it to the full. Jesus told people their sins were forgiven, go and sin no more. It seems a lot more like Jesus would say, “It’s ok to not be okay, but it’s not ok to stay there.”

“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:17-18; Matthew 5:43-48, 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-37; Romans 13:8-14; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). I don’t find any commands in Scripture that support the idea of refusing to sell or provide goods and services to people who aren’t Christians. Jesus didn’t tell His disciples, “Listen guys, you all need to love your neighbor, but only if your neighbor believes the same things you believe, has the same color of skin as you, has the ability to repay you for any help you provide, and has a giant ichthus prominently displayed on his camel…”

The parable of the Good Samaritan would be a good place to being to read for some guidance (Luke 10:25-37). However, this particular issue becomes complicated in that the goods and services are so tied to the celebration of what God calls sin. There really isn’t a perfect definitive yes or no answer on this topic. Yet, when considering whether you should help contribute to a same-sex marriage ceremony, let alone attend one, you should probably ask yourself these questions: Have you earnestly spent time in prayer about it? Do you feel the Holy Spirit leading you in a certain direction? Do you believe you can attend the service without compromising your responsibility to be a witness to the Truth of the Gospel? Will attending the ceremony enable you to continue to be a Gospel presence in the life of your friend(s)/family? If so, then perhaps you should go. On the other hand… are you merely afraid of telling the truth about how you view same-sex marriage? Are you nervous about the consequences of certain people knowing what you believe? If so, then this might be a time to respectfully decline the invitation, and explain why out of genuine love.

“Jesus says in the gospel that everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change.” – Tim Keller

Jesus observed the law and fulfilled the law. He did not throw the law away, for the sake of love. For the sake of love, He threw Himself away. That’s another counter-intuitive lesson Christ gave to us, as we all proceed together, slouching toward “tolerance” and carrying our consciences along the way (Romans 13:8-14).

Again, when we try to explain how we view homosexuality, we should focus on the beauty of the gospel and love found in Christ; not stand there listing out rules and regulations in which to live by, while waving a Bible around in the air. The essence of other religions is advice about how to live. The essence of Christianity is news – here is what has been done. We need to do our best to display authentic love to our neighbors; all of them. Because love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us, but it keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information, but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. The more we love any that are not as we are, the less we love as men and the more as God. Sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. When we grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor [are weary] and are heavy laden [burdened], and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus assumes that, left to ourselves, we are weighed down. Life out of sync with God does that to us. But as we come to Jesus we find rest. Not just rest in the sense of a lazy weekend afternoon or a long sleep-in on a day off work. Jesus means something far deeper: rest in a sense of things with God being the way they’re meant to be. Rest in the sense of living along the grain of who we really are and how God wants us to live. Rest in the sense of being able truly to flourish as the people God made us to be.

If we were to ask, well then, is God anti-gay? No, not exactly. But He is against who all of us are by nature, as those living apart from Him and for ourselves (Ephesians 2:1-10). He’s anti-that guy, whatever that guy looks like in each of our lives. But because He is bigger than us, better than us, and able to do things in ways we would struggle to, God loves that guy too. Loves him enough to carry his burden, take his place, clean him up, make him whole, and unite him for ever to Himself.

So, back to the issue of whether or not we should celebrate and champion legislation passed to more easily enable that which we believe to be wrong according to God’s Word. First, we should always remember that you can NEVER legislate morality. Yet, even with that being acknowledged, I’m fairly certain we should not applaud certain liberties, even when congruent with the ideals of our country and constitution. Christians should never celebrate or find pleasure in the destruction of someone’s flesh.

Our LBGTQ brothers and sisters are made in the image of God, and they are all entitled to all of the rights due every other human being. The Jim Crow laws comparison may be an effective talking point, but it has no basis in fact. Racism is obviously a sin. It denies the humanity of human beings; the Gospel elevates their worth. As servants of the Gospel we have no choice but to fight persistently for a culture that enables every human being to experience the abundant life God promises. Racism is a hindrance to that life, as is homosexuality. (Even if society disagrees with these beliefs, Christians are called to be the hands and feet of Christ and His love is not silent.) The tragic irony is that proponents of no-holds-barred sexuality are condemning others to a life of bondage. Our conviction should be that we ought not to have any part in forging the slavers’ chains. We can appreciate the freedom’s our governments afford us, but when those freedom’s make it easier to openly mock God, I don’t believe they should be openly celebrated.

Saint Valentine’s Day

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Today is Valentine’s Day… and after taking a quick look through some social media, it appears that the majority of posts today which reference the holiday are actually negative. Maybe this is actually the most polarizing holiday of our year? For some it can be a very fun and exciting day of expressing your love, for skeptics it is just way too commercialized and insincere (darn you Hallmark, you and your $5+ pieces of folded paper with hearts and cheesy poems), and for some singles it is a lonely reminder of something they feel is missing in their lives…

As for my wife and me, we have chosen not to let the commercialization of this holiday affect our view on the day. (By the way, are there even any holidays left in America that haven’t been tainted to some degree by consumerism?) The viewpoint that it’s just some day where Hallmark, florists, and chocolate makers manipulate the masses to churn some revenue is pessimistic and ignorant at best. To make the case that displays of love, gifts, cards, flowers, affection, etc. should be spontaneous and truly heartfelt, not dictated to be shown on a specific day seems nice until you think about it more. Should we just embrace full spontaneity and toss out birthday celebrations, anniversaries, Christmas, etc?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still spontaneous in showing love to my wife, that should always play a part. And I have never been big on “celebrating” Valentine’s Day or seen it as a mandated holiday to be observed. However, I believe there are some beautiful redeeming qualities in this holiday, and most holidays for that matter. Instead of solely focusing or dwelling on the negative aspects that accompany certain days of the year, Kat and I like to reflect on what elements of the holiday point us to our truest, greatest love: Jesus Christ.

There is plenty to enjoy and savor on Valentine’s Day; and it is a great thing for husbands to bring out the bouquet of roses, the box of chocolates, make a home cooked feast, book a romantic dinner reservation, or whatever romantic gestures that remind your spouse you love them! But alas – maybe the skeptics (and Valentine’s Day haters) will appreciate this part – what about tomorrow?

Life is really lived out in the little moments. Day by day, all the little things are what makes up the overwhelming majority of your life. Today, if celebrated, should be an overflow of deep love present in your relationship and the big moments should be a compacted reflection of the little moments. We should remember why we love, and then love to our fullest. Any time we have an opportunity to go big and show it in a special way (even if it includes using a godforsaken Hallmark card), why not?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” – 1st John 4:7-21 (ESV)

Implications of the Incarnation

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“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” – Isaiah 9:1-7

The dawn of peace, on Christmas Eve, was the final night the world would sleep… fearful of the dark. For the love of the Father, was now in flesh appearing. To really understand the immensely spectacular good news of the Incarnation, we must first understand the immense need we all have for God’s grace. As well as how in order for Him to extend His grace He had to put on flesh. Forgiveness is the act of absorbing the wrath, pain, and consequences of another’s offense out of the motivation of love. According to Scripture all men have sinned, fall short of the glory of God, and are deserving of death. In order for God to save us from the rightful consequences of our rebellion, He had to absorb the penalty Himself. The triune God put on flesh through Jesus Christ. The Son of God was born into humble circumstances; born in the small town of Bethlehem, to a family that did not sit on any throne and had little money to their name. Jesus Christ was born to die. He was born to die as our perfect substitutionary atoning sacrifice, our Advocate, our Savior, and our Mediator.

The point of the Bible is God; it’s not you. Jesus isn’t part of the story; He is the point of the story, from Genesis to Revelation. God is about God. God is for God. When God is working, He is working for God. When God is forgiving you of your sins, that is for the praise of His glorious grace. When He is shepherding you, when He is protecting you, when He is providing for you, He is doing so in order that He might be worshiped, enjoyed, and praised. In fact, the Westminster Catechism says that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” You exist to worship, praise, love, and make much of God. That’s why you’re here, that is the reason for your existence.

Now that jostles us, because that’s not where we live. Everything in our culture goes a different way. Our culture screams “You’re the point. It’s about you. You deserve this. Why shouldn’t you have that?! You’re entitled to this!” And every marketing campaign, even some churches, are built around this philosophy. “It’s all about you. You deserve this or that. We should make way for you. What do you desire? What do you want? You’re the point. God loves you; He’s for you. You’re the point. This is about you and your happiness.” And we all need to realize that we’re not the point. In fact, if we look at it Biblically, you’re not even in second place. So God says He’s uppermost and then that you are to love others better than yourself. You’re bringing home the bronze. You’re down the list. You didn’t even make the cover. You’re a distant third at best.

Now let me tell you why this is strangely the best news in the universe. If God is after the praise of His glorious grace, then He is not after our begrudging submission, but rather He is after our joy. So all the commands in Scripture are about God lining you up with how He designed things to be for your greater joy. Now, some of you reading this may want to pump the brakes and petition God so you can explain how your circumstances trump this reality. You already have hypotheticals ready to be tossed into the discussion on why parts, if not the whole, of Scripture should be ignored. You want to explain to the God of the universe that He doesn’t seem to know your spouse. And if He knew your spouse, there is no way He would tell you that what the Bible says in regards to how you handle your spouse is the right move for you, because they’re crazy, they’re hurtful, they’re selfish, and you can go on and on about how your situation is different. Some of you want to talk to God about what has been done to you, about your inclinations, your orientations, your bents, your weaknesses, your struggles, etc. and how it all just isn’t fair.

Please don’t tune me out just yet. Let us lovingly press forward a little bit more. If we began watching a movie you’ve never seen before and didn’t know anything about, and just for the sake of demonstration let’s say we picked the movie “Cowboys and Aliens.” And as we begin watching the movie, I let you look at the screen for a few minutes and then pause it, and ask you to explain the movie to me. “So what’s that movie about?” You might respond that “It looked like a western.” “Is there anybody from outer space in this movie?” “Probably not. . . because it’s a western. . .” “What about space ships? Are there any space ships flying around in it?” “There couldn’t be. It’s a western. . . with Cowboys and such. I mean, your questions lead me to wonder if there might be something I am missing, but I know what I saw and there are not any aliens in this movie.” You’d have no idea there are aliens from outer space and that it’s a major part of the plot in the movie.

So think then, of how unbelievably arrogant it is of you to say you know better than God when you are here for a second in the scope of eternity and that you know better for you what’s going to lead you into joy than the One who spoke all matter into existence, the One created all things, wired all things, designed this entire universe. You really think your ideas about sex, money, marriage, parenting, and every aspect of life are better than and beyond the One who designed those things. It really is like us reading a sentence in a book and then fiercely claiming, “I’ve got this, I know exactly what this book is about, how everything in it works together, how it’s all related, how all the events are interwoven, and even what all the characters are thinking and doing simultaneously. I’ve figured it all out, don’t try to persuade me otherwise.”

However, if it is true that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him; and that God is all about His glory, the honor and praise of His Name, if God is a God of love, justice, honor, compassion, and grace… then He is not some kind of cosmic police officer. He is not the ultimate joy killer, bent on making sure nobody has any fun by establishing freedom robbing rules to crush the hearts of men. Instead, the God of the Bible put on flesh and became our empathetic Savior. He isn’t just our sympathetic Savior, He doesn’t just sympathize for us, rather, He suffers first hand the pain of the Fall. God’s wrath flows directly from His love. If even we, as imperfect humans, can understand that when you see someone you greatly care about and truly love very deeply, doing something that is self-destructive or acting in a habitual manner that is hurting them, you will get angry; just as when you see someone else hurting the one you love, this angers you. If you were to simply not care about them, do nothing to help them, nothing to intervene, nothing to come to their rescue or shoulder any of the burden of recovery, how loving would that be? That would be hate at its greatest level: indifference. God though, being the God of love and justice that He is, takes our fallen condition and rebellious hearts very seriously. Sin is separation from God. To be truly separated from God is to have your life source cut off; the result of sin and separation is death. The cost of reconciliation must be paid with a life, with blood.

Nothing is truly free and true forgiveness is always the result of costly sacrifice. As humans, we can see this in many examples of life: if your neighbor were to back into your car and cause damage to your car; you simply forgiving them and not requiring them to pay for the damage and loss of the former good condition of your car would not cover the cost of any repairs or fix the car. If your car was totaled and no longer able to be driven, simply telling your neighbor not to worry about it doesn’t cure your transportation issues. You would then have to bare that cost yourself, to repair and restore the car costs something, and someone has to pay the price in order for reconciliation to take place. (Even if you have car insurance, the cost still has to be paid for and the repair cost covered by someone.)

God, in order to restore us back to a relationship with Him, paid the cost Himself. God is not immune to pain, loss, and suffering. Through the Son, Jesus Christ, God put on flesh, became fully human, He became 100% man while remaining 100% God, He lived a perfect blameless life, He walked this earth, He resisted temptation, He ate bread, He drank wine, He loved family members and friends, He was called crazy by His family at one point, He witnessed death and loss, He wept over the condition of this world, He wept over the death of His friend Lazarus, He bled, He felt weakness, hunger, exhaustion, rejection, betrayal, desperation, and loneliness. Jesus Christ lived in a manner undeserving of death. However, His love for us is so great, that He drank the cup of wrath that was rightfully ours to drink, and He took the full penalty of sin upon Himself. He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that He was crushed for our iniquities, He was broken for our transgressions and rebellion. On the cross, Jesus was separated from His eternal loving relationship with the Father and the Spirit. He did all of this so that we may have life and never really be alone; He gave His own body as a ransom for ours.

Jesus was born to die as our Mediator so that we would not have to suffer the end result of our rebellion; He experienced complete separation from the Father so that we would never have to be alone. At the hour of the cross, Jesus knew this was the hour for which He was born. You and I are going to die, but we don’t know when or how. Jesus knew, He knew when and how, and more importantly He knew why. When He was on trial, standing before Pilate, Jesus told him that it was for this purpose and at this time that He chose to come into this world. He told Pilate that no one takes His life, but He gives it willingly. Jesus was the greater Moses in that He was rescuing mankind from slavery to sin and death, not just Egyptians. Jesus was the greater Abraham, the greater David in slaying the giant of death not just a large Philistine man, the greater Joseph, Elijah, Solomon, Job, Samuel; Jesus was the ultimate Passover lamb. What dominated Jesus’ mind throughout His life was not so much the living of His life, but the giving of His life. When Christ was on the cross, He was experiencing what every other human being in history deserves and which He alone does not deserve. And He experienced it alone. He did this so we would never have to experience being fully cut off from God and His love. God’s love for you was so great that He satisfied His righteous wrath with the perfect life and death of the Son, Jesus. God knows loss at a greater depth than we could ever possibly begin to comprehend. The gift of Jesus Christ, the birth, death, resurrection, and future return of the Son is the greatest gift this world could ever receive.

The motivation behind us living in accordance with this gospel of Christ, is grace. The reason Christians are so persistent about the cross and the reason they’re so persistent about how the Bible teaches that your salvation is meritless, that you didn’t have something intrinsically good that God thought He could use for His kingdom, but that He just rescued you out of where you were in your mess, is because when grace finally hits the heart, finally hits the mind, it’s this really beautiful, transformative grace that makes you want to herald it. Because, what did you have to do with being born? Did you work hard to earn the privilege of being born? Did it happen due to your hard work and skillful planning? Not at all. You don’t earn or contribute anything to being born. It is a free gift of life. And so it is with the new birth. Salvation by grace – there are no moral efforts that can earn or merit it. You must be born again.

So, when that truth sets in, you will feel the grace-enabled passion to live life more fully, resting in Christ’s love and sharing that truth with all those around you. The gospel is the good news that God saves. It is the historical narrative of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures from Satan, sin, and its effects to the Father and each other thru the birth, life, death, resurrection, and future return of the substitutionary Son, by the power of the Spirit, for God’s glory and the Church’s joy. The gospel isn’t a “list of rules,” it is the good news that those “rules” were already fulfilled in the life of Another.

If you think about it, all of us have been designed by God to be heralds by nature. Think about it. If there’s a movie you love, a song or album that moved you, a restaurant that you really like, a favorite bottle of wine, a particular brew of beer, a sports team you cheer for, a shirt you really enjoy wearing, a vacation spot you like to revisit, what do you naturally do with it? You herald it! You say to your friends and family, “Oh, have you eaten here?… Oh, have you seen this?… Oh, have you gone here?… Oh, have you heard this song?… Oh, did you see that game?” So, when you experience the grace of Christ, when the right motivation of being saved by grace through faith is realized, when the greatest news available in this world is understood, when it really hits you… you will herald it with joy.

This is why we celebrate the Incarnation. This is why we make a big deal about Christmas. In Jesus Christ, God put on flesh, and became man. In Jesus, the world saw a man who was ferociously humble. A man who was love incarnate. A man who suffered and was tempted, yet did not sin. A man who was steadfastly obedient until death, even death on a cross. A man who while being the very essence, being of the very nature and substance God, did not consider Himself equal to the Father, but submitted to the will of God and gave up His life for people undeserving of His love. In Christ’s death, He paid our debt at infinite cost to Himself. God paid our debt with His own flesh. Jesus paid our ransom to uphold the justice and righteousness of our Father; so that He could justifiably look upon us and lovingly call us son and daughter. This good news is the substance and meaning of the Christmas celebration: that God became man, to save us from ourselves, and give us life. He came just like He promised, and His love will not be silent.

Some “Bible-thumping Bigot” Shared His Backwoods Opinion Again…

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By now most people have heard about the recent debacle with Phil Robertson, who was made famous as the patriarch on the A&E show Duck Dynasty. This kind of media attention is nothing new or earth-shattering, just earlier this year Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A, came under a lot of scrutiny after some comments made during an interview in regards to gay marriage.

As legislature continues to be passed on the legalization of same-sex marriage and the definition of marriage “evolves/progresses” and all of that, if you’re listening to the rhetoric, here is the accusation against Christians in the broad-stroke: they are bigots. We are intolerant. We are the American Taliban. We are right up there with the KKK and the Civil Rights Movement trying to deprive people of rights that are God-given or self-evident. Those are the accusations against us.**

Please don’t close the browser and tune me out just yet. All those accusations leveled against Christians, they had better be false accusations. I don’t pretend that our view will ever be understood by those outside the kingdom of God, but we are a people commanded by God to be marked by love, compassion, patience, mercy, and… even hospitality. Please understand this: You don’t catch sin from sinners. Do you get that?

I know some of us, in the attempt to protect our family and to make sure we all stay purer than we actually are, build walls. You don’t want your kids around those kinds of kids. You don’t want to be around those kinds of people. But you are those kinds of people! It’s God’s grace that rescues from that (Ephesians 2:1-10). We’ve all got to stop that nonsense. We shouldn’t be consumed with building walls. We should open doors. Our home is open, and my neighbors and co-workers can make accusations against me, but they better be false. I want them just to be confused to some degree. I just want my neighbors and co-workers to be so ridiculously confused. “This guy is a bigot, but he keeps inviting me over for dinner. He’s so closed-minded, but he speaks respectfully and kind to me. That guy makes me sick, but he keeps bringing me presents on my birthday and Christmas. That dude is such a jerk, but man he tips really well. That guy is like the American Taliban, but he sure is friendly.” I just want that type of confusion. (I’ll admit I don’t always conduct myself in such a way that would reflect the love of Christ, but it is my hope to do so.)

There has to be wisdom. I’m not telling you to operate in a way that lacks wisdom, but brothers and sisters, God has put us here for the purpose of being the light of the world, and you don’t hide it under a bush. Oh no! You don’t do that… No, we engage. We are to encourage. We are called to open up our home. There is some risk involved in that. Yes, there is always risk. Be wise, but trust God in those things.

I have some friends who would fit the prototype of someone who would probably be infuriated with Christianity and Christians, and sure enough, as we have had conversations, story after story of being judged harshly, of being ostracized, of being made to feel worthless, feeling like their lifestyle or beliefs are belittled… there has been some unfortunate legitimacy to some of the negative experiences they’ve had with those proclaiming to be Christians, but some of the perceived harshness was on them. Sometimes people feel hypocritically condemned even when there is no actual condemnation present. It’s not always on God’s people, it’s not always 100%. Because sometimes unregenerate, unbelieving people don’t know what to do with conviction. They don’t feel it as sweet discipline from God; they see it as harsh judgment.

In fact, some of you reading this today feel judged, and no one has actually judged you. You may be judging yourself right now. We’re not judging you. We should be striving to live in glad submission to Jesus Christ where we laugh a lot, where we enjoy good music, appreciate good movies, where we enjoy good food, where we enjoy good wine, but don’t do it in a way that is outside of the bounds of the Word of God, and then let others see the life that is made available to those who would put their trust in Jesus Christ, and see our imperfections. Because tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.

God loves imperfect people. That’s why dressing up like you’re pretty when you’re not isn’t helpful. The bigot, closed-minded, and intolerant labels will inevitably be put on us at this point. It’s over. This is how we will be labeled. It will get worse. If you can’t handle this label and don’t want to be viewed like this, then you’re going to have to go underground with your faith, which means I don’t think you even have any. In the end though, let us hope that the accusations and the labels are false.

Because, as Christians we believe that God has reconciled us to Himself, not by demanding that we first and foremost adhere to a moral code, but rather by sending the Son of God, by sending Jesus Christ, unlike us, to live a completely perfect life. Jesus Christ was completely obedient to every command God gave Him. He was other than, although He was fully man. Jesus is fully man, but His obedience was perfect. His record was spotless. No accusation could rightly be made against Him.

So even when we are being criticized for quoting Scripture and stating our beliefs, the God of the Bible essentially says in Matthew 5, “Hey, they’re going to falsely label you. Cool, okay, stop worrying so much about that. They did that to Isaiah. You guys have something in common now. Oh, they’re going to falsely misrepresent you. Hey, you and Jeremiah would be good friends. You guys could sit around and talk about what it’s like to be ostracized and be pushed to the margins.” Jesus will also say, “Oh, I’m well acquainted with all that.” Was Jesus not repeatedly misrepresented, repeatedly accused of things that were absurd? There will be nothing you can do about the accusation. Just let it be false accusation, and strive to love your neighbor regardless of their actions or your own feelings.

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