Shout Your Abortion?

  
  

The mantras claiming “my body, my choice” and “my life is more valuable than potential life” are currently being shouted with vigor across social media, and it seems anyone who replies with any disagreement will be trolled, mocked, and shamed in response for their views. (Ironic, considering what the “movement” claims to be about.) In our prevailing American culture where individual freedoms are held sacred above all else, death has become celebrated.

While reading through social media posts and articles online trying to get a better understanding of what is being shouted, it is clear that there is a massive misunderstanding of the pro-life view for starters. The consistent misrepresentation and strawmanning of the “pro-life” view to absurd degrees as to imply the view is nothing more than a horrible war on women meant to oppress them by robbing them of all their freedom or that such proponents of any opposing views do not care about people once they’re born is ridiculous, distracting nonsense. By trying to rebrand anyone’s view that doesn’t celebrate the “choice” of abortion as hateful “anti-choice” is not adding anything helpful to the conversation. I also keep seeing people ask how it could possibly be better for the child to grow up in poverty than just killed in the womb… I don’t know about any of you reading this, but I haven’t come across very many people who would honestly rather have been killed before having a chance in life than to grow up poor.

Sadly, we all too often lose sight of the real issue at hand with the abortion issue though, and begin to view other people as enemies. The true adversary that needs to be addressed here is this prevailing idea of individualism that is rampant in our culture.

“For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. . . At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’ – to their irrational impulses.” — C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man

Before rolling your eyes and closing the browser, please let me try to explain. This society-eroding idea of individualism snuck its was into American thought early on and has only snowballed. It came to us via liberalism. Liberalism (think liberation, liberty, freedom) was born out of an 18th-century revolutionary movement in France and America that stressed individual liberty and rights. It brought together deist and utilitarian philosophies, and while ushering in great, countless positive advancements for civilization, it also led the way for a potentially monstrous society of individualism. If God simply set the world in motion (deism) and left sinful man to follow what gives him pleasure (utilitarianism), then society naturally gets built on individual rights… rights that are to be secured at all cost.

Our need for worth is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially ‘deify.’ We will look to it with all the passion and intensity of worship and devotion, even if we think ourselves as highly irreligious. Because of this inordinate amount of value our culture places on individual freedoms, we distort our lives, and in turn further warp our society.

“True freedom is not being unshackled to create your own truth, but is liberating submission to the Truth. Freedom is not the complete absence of any restrictions, but rather the presence of the right restrictions put in place. For example: a fish out of water. The fish is not more free when released outside of the confines of the water, but instead his ability to enjoy life is drastically hindered and he is sure to die.”

In this broken arrangement, everyone inevitably becomes an intruder. When an individual’s “rights” are ultimate, injustices abound, and citizens make demands of the State. In the case of abortion, both sides claim an enormous injustice.

On one hand, a woman, aware that parenting is life altering, may fear that her ambitions will be aversely affected, that her ability to pursue life, liberty, and happiness might be severely hindered. To someone making the difficult choice of abortion, the innocent child is seen not just as an unwanted presence but as an intruder. The mother feels she has the right to defend her personal interests… after all, she’s an individual with rights first, a mother second.

The fetus, on the other hand, in no way responsible for his or her own “intrusion” and unable to defend against any attack, also claims injustice. The same inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness belongs to the unborn, but they’re unable to speak up. Termination would thus be the ultimate intrusion.

Such a divisive conflict like this will always result in a frustrating stalemate as long as liberalism (from all sides) gives birth to individualism. Individualism is the real enemy.

“What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without restraint. Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves. . . . Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.” – Edmund Burke, 1791 ‘A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly’

It’s been over 40 years since Roe vs. Wade, and we’re still talking about the sanctity of life because the mere mention of it generates a moral friction on our human souls – souls fashioned after the Creator God who makes human beings distinctive among His created order.

It is this imago Dei (image of God) imbued to human beings (Genesis 1:26-27) that makes us human in the first place. This is the genesis of the biblical worldview: that God created and imprinted His image upon each person, giving dignity and value to every single human life despite its stage of development.

James tells us we kill because we “desire and do not have” (James 4:1-4). These impulses are birthed and fueled by our Genesis 3 desire to put ourselves in the place of God where no such warrant exists. We do great evil when we use or destroy lives to suit our whims and warped worldviews. When our society values happiness and feelings over truth, nobody really wins.

“We are free to choose, but we are always a slave to our greatest desire.” – Jonathan Edwards

So when someone stands to pray, defend, and cry out for the unborn and oppressed in the face of this celebration of individual freedom, they are calling for us all to refuse the lie of individualism. Autonomy, being a law unto oneself, is no basis for life together. Community is the only way forward to better change. Society must protect both women and the unborn in a way that doesn’t pit them against each other. The debate cannot center only on individual rights but, instead, must address the duties and responsibilities of, not just the biological parents, but the families, friends, neighbors, churches, and social services that can nurture and support them. The burden of pregnancy, especially pregnancy out of wedlock or for women in crisis, should never disproportionally fall solely on the pregnant mother. She still has a claim on the community, no matter the circumstance of the pregnancy. The community still has (in these cases, often extraordinary) obligations, no matter the circumstance of the pregnancy.

A community that models mutuality and solidarity affirms life in a way that dispels notions of children being intruders to personal pursuits. Life together where families and marriages are valued and where freedom is about stewardship rather than unlimited potential turns fear of intrusion into hospitality. Rather than see a baby as a burden, we see it as a life to be welcomed into community, a responsibility to be shared, a joy to be experienced. Any agenda to end abortion must include a vision for mobilizing community to function as it should.

There’s an old saying that “it takes a village to raise a child.” There is a lot of truth to that, and we should stop expecting women to go through it alone. Every abortion done under the banner of freedom and convenience is a failure of humanity: failing a human being in crisis and a human being in utero. Creating and protecting life is fundamental to human flourishing, but community is equally important. Both of these are indispensable, and individualism is an enemy to both.

Authentic Community: Bearing Life With One Another

Audio Sermon Link

Everyone says they want community and friendship. But simply mention accountability or commitment to people, and they run the other way. So, why should we honestly believe and strive to live like authentic Biblical community really is worth the mess and pain?

The Passage

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” – Galatians 6:1-10 (ESV)

Quote to Consider

“A true understanding and humble estimate of oneself is the highest and most valuable of all lessons. To take no account of oneself, but always think well and highly of others is the highest wisdom and perfection. . . . Should you see another person openly doing evil, or carrying out a wicked purpose, do not on that account consider yourself better than him, for you cannot tell how long you will remain in a state of grace. We are all frail; consider none more frail than yourself.” – Thomas á Kempis

Acknowledging Sin & Seeking Reconciliation

When we become aware of someone else’s sin, conceited inferiority would cause us either to envy the life they are leading, however sinful; or to crave their approval so much that we won’t risk pointing out their failure to live in line with the gospel.

The ultimate goal is restoration. Why do we engage brothers and sisters who are drowning? Why do we engage those who are being overcome by sin? Why do we engage those who are hurting and losing their fight against iniquity? In order to restore; we work, not as detectives, but as friends and coheirs of Christ.

“For love is exultant when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes that which was unequal equal in love.” -Søren Kierkegaard

Further… We should strive to be considerate and empathetic when giving advice. Don’t belittle your friend’s challenges by comparing them to yours. Your race might be a full 26.2 mile marathon, and your friend’s may only be a 5k, but telling them that you’re running a marathon doesn’t exactly make their 5k any easier. The heart of the Christian faith isn’t someone telling others how to eat, it is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.

Abscessed tooth: picture and story.

Abscessed tooth: picture and story.

“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

Authentic Community

We live in a strange time in which it seems the majority of people in our culture say they want community and they desire authentic community, but then they aren’t willing to kneel down and get their hands dirty in a sense. We all seem to understand that community and relationship are important and needed for a healthy life, but at the same time we aren’t quickly willing to make the sacrifices that enable community to happen.

Or on the other hand, we build a sense of community with only friends of roughly the same age, same interests, same ethnicity, same demographic as us so that we are more comfortable and less prone to experience any conflict.

We all constantly forget that sin will take us further than we wanted to go, keep us longer than we wanted to stay, and cost us more than we ever wanted to pay. Everyone wants judgment when it’s not their own foolishness being revealed; but praise Christ for grace in foolish moments and mercy for consistent failures.

“We are far worse than we ever dared to imagine, yet in Christ, we are far more loved than we ever dreamed we could be.”

Takeaway Questions

Is there a habitual sin you need to gently restore a brother or sister from? Are you willing to listen to others who seek to restore you?

What opportunities is God giving you to carry another’s burdens?

How are you sowing and reaping to please the Spirit in your specific set of God-given life circumstances?

Little Things in Life & Basketball

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When I was younger, I remember reading an article about how legendary basketball coach John Wooden used to explain to his players how to put their shoes on correctly, and wear at least two pairs of socks so that they wouldn’t get blisters on their feet. (To this day I actually always wear double socks, with the first pair inside out, no matter what the activity because I became so used to it while playing ball.) The reason he did this was to emphasize just how important the little things are in the game of basketball. Although this might be a little bit much, it just shows you the importance of details. Details and little things can be the difference maker in basketball, in your faith, and in life. Paul Tripp put this well when he said, “Life is really lived in the little moments.”

As a player, a constant volunteer for camps, an avid fan of the game, and someone currently pursuing an opportunity to coach full-time, I have been able to catch a decent glimpse of both sides of the player-coach dynamic. As a player I have been apart of some good teams, as well as some pretty bad teams. The difference between the losing-teams and winning-teams for the most part wasn’t a major talent gap or a significant game-plan strategy issue, it was the little details. It had a lot more to do with all the little things than a single big shot or turnover on a crucial possession.

My life has had some big moments: particular birthdays (like the Space Jam themed party in Independence, KS… or the couple birthdays where Texas Rangers baseball was still being played into October and we gathered around a TV with some good friends, good food, and good drinks, to cheer for a Rangers’ win), certain holidays (like our annual Easter, 4th of July, Neewollah, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve celebrations), trips and vacations (like Disney World, Red Lodge, Montana, and many trips back to Kansas), my proposal to Kat down by the lake after a nice picnic dinner, our wedding day (that whole day is a blur, with some beautiful highlights and moments I’ll never forget), our honeymoon in Montana (that was a blast), anniversaries, great meals at nice restaurants (like the first time we went to a Brazilian steakhouse… oh my goodness), big games and concerts we’ve been blessed to attend (like the Eagles, The Who, Anberlin, Phil Wickham, U2 & Muse, and Jimmy Eat World & Foo Fighters concerts… or the 2007 NBA Finals, or the final KU vs. Mizzou game at Allen Fieldhouse… that was an amazing and unforgettable game), and on and on I could go with big moments in my life that I’ve been truly blessed to experience… but that is the vast minority when compared to the little moments of life. All the daily breakfasts, lunches, dinners, all the time cooking and waiting for something to heat up, grocery shopping, stopping by the gas station to fill up, all those moments right after walking in the door from being somewhere and getting settled in, all that time spent at work (perhaps sitting in a cubicle starring at a computer screen, just mundanely working one account after another), time spent in the gym, time spent loading and unloading the car, those moments spent watching movies or television, time spent doing laundry, time spent playing video games, board games, card games, etc., all those text messages sent each day, time spent cleaning and organizing, time getting ready to go places, time spent reading or studying, time spent in school taking classes, driving to and from work, time spent putting something together, countless hours messing around on Facebook or other social media, time spent getting ready for bed, time spent day dreaming, the moments of laying in bed trying to fall asleep, the third of your life spent sleeping, and heck, even all that time spent in the bathroom…

Similar to life, the little things make up the vast majority of the game of basketball. That’s why there are highlights for games that last only 10 seconds, for a minimum 48-minute game in the pros (still 40-minutes in college). There is a lot more to basketball than just shooting a ball through a hoop. And even more involved in the preparation for playing the sport than simply practicing one’s shot. Being a minute late to practice, shorting a line in sprints, not going over the mechanics of shooting over and over, ball-handling drills ad nauseam, or missing a class assignment may seem minor, but these things are such a big deal if not dealt with the right way. If a player is willing to short a line in a sprint, then who is to say that he won’t be one step out of position on defense at the end of a game, and instead of a charge he gets called for a block. There are just so many little things in basketball that can add up if you don’t focus on them everyday.

For example: closing out with high hands, talking on defense, putting a body on someone during a rebound opportunity, squaring up for a jumpshot, setting a good screen, making an intentionally crisp pass, setting your man up before coming off a screen, etc. are little things or minor details and the list could go on and on. Each thing individually might not be that big of a deal, but put all, or even just some of them together and it can be the difference between a great season with some hardware to take home… or end with some players losing significant time on the floor being cut/traded, or even the Athletic Director looking for a new head basketball coach for the next season.

From the very first day of practice, and every single day after that you must emphasize the little things. Just like someone in the Christian faith never moves on from the basic and fundamental message of the Gospel, a basketball player never moves on from the need to have the basic and fundamental aspects of the game down. A good ball player is constantly going over and refining their basic, fundamental skills of the game. No player, not even guys like Pete Maravich, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, or Lebron James could ever practice too much, improve their ball-handling enough, tweak their footwork, work on their shot too much, go over too much film, or be in the gym too long, to have reached a level that moved on past the need to continue to work on those basic skills.

Every coach needs to sit down and explain to his players what is acceptable and what he is expecting of them. It may take a little while at first but once the players realize what is expected of them, and they buy into the system with the hopes of achieving an end goal, they will earnestly do what is expected of them. Since most players would have never been held accountable like this before, a little grace should always be shown at the beginning. They need to understand the value of doing the little things and and be committed to doing them. Whether a coach has to run his team or repeat a certain drill for days until they get it right, it is the coach’s job to ingrain in his players the details of this great game until it becomes second nature. Coaches also aren’t to show favoritism, whether it is their best player or the 12th man, they strive to make sure that everyone is doing their job correctly and putting forth their best effort.

Just as relationships with spouses, friends, family, parents, children, small groups, etc. serve to expose and uncover deep heart issues in our lives, certain situations in basketball will reveal areas of your game that are lacking. For the sake of maturation and development, coaches should put their team in circumstances that will test them, help them to come up against obstacles in the game that will reveal those who can’t or won’t do the little things. Conditioning is one of the greatest ways to do this. When players get tired or have to do something that is hard you begin to see their true nature. Just as someone who is going through a very hard time, and is extremely stressed out by their current circumstances at home, school, and/or work; how they react to the storms of life will be a greater testament of their character than how well they handle having money in the bank, good health, and they’re at a party having fun.

The players who don’t buckle under a little pressure, the guys who touch the line every time, don’t go down to their knees after every sprint, and who encourage their teammates throughout drills are the players you can trust. These are ones who are going to be able to execute a play the right way at the end of a close game. It is the coach’s job to encourage all his players to do this, to put their heart into it, to give it their all, and to really buy into the team.

During a game or even in practice a coach is not always going to be able to stop play every time a player closes out without high hands, isn’t in the right defensive position, didn’t put a body on someone as a shot went up, didn’t crash the boards, didn’t shoot with proper form, threw a lazy pass, etc. However it is still very important to focus on the details and a great way to do that is film. It is a lot easier for players to correct something if they can see themselves doing it the wrong way. I once heard a commentator say during a review in a big game, “the film doesn’t lie…” And that is exactly true. If a player is continually forgetting to close out with high hands in a game, going right every single time they get the ball, or is always out of position on defense, a coach can use film to sit them down and show them what they are doing wrong.

Similar to how a brother in Christ goes to a friend to help him see something in his life that is harming him in hopes of seeing him repent from that, and then strive together for further sanctification to get more of Christ, to know Him more deeply; a coach pursues the maturation of his players. A coach is to strive to make sure that his players understand their correction and discipline is out of a motivation of love and hope for improvement in their ability to play. A good coach earnestly works hard and puts forth a diligent effort to make sure his players understand this.

It is not easy to do all of the little things in life or in basketball. It takes a lot of effort from the coaching staff to communicate, mentor, and guide the players well in hopes to make sure that every day the players are doing things the right way. It also takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and buying into the team’s plan and strategy from the players. It always takes community and team effort.

Basketball really is like a microcosm to so much of life. The game of basketball can teach us so much about ourselves, as well as us being able to take our strengths in life and apply them towards the game. Something that will help make playing basketball easier is for a coach to sit down with his players and explain to them why the little things are so important. If they understand and really believe in what they are doing then they will work harder to accomplish it. It will always be very difficult at first for everyone, so we must try to remember that and not get frustrated quickly. Because over the years when the team has players return and can have some stability, the returning players will be able to help the new players, and it will be easier on the coach, and the team overall. Similar to life, the little details in basketball are what it takes to be great; it is worth the time and effort.

Golden Monkeys in America

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“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” – Jonah 2:8

“Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made.” – Isaiah 2:8

“They are both stupid and foolish; the instruction of idols is but wood!” – Jeremiah 10:8

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” – Habakkuk 2:18-20

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Just like the cultures and religions that have created golden monkey idols or something else finite that they themselves made, and they put their trust in it, they worship it, they sing to it, chant to it, and have priests who give prophesy on behalf of it… We in our American culture are guilty for much of the same thing. We will create for ourselves an idol that we make, that we create, that we build, and in that we put our trust. If you think that is nonsense and there is no such silliness in our culture, let me point out some of the most popular. The number one by in large is the idol of self. We are uppermost in our own affections. Even if you’ll think about how some people choose a church or religion or group they devote their time and resources to, most of us choose a church, religion, club, group, society, etc. on what it can do for us.

And the reason why so many of us don’t belong to a community of faith, but rather go to or attend several, is because we feel like the church exists to meet our needs, not to be that community of faith that you belong to and give to as well as receive from. So for you, it becomes all about a particular preacher, how long their service is, what time their service is, a style of music, what programs they offer, how extensive is their child-care, etc.

Let us pause and think for a moment how this idol of self works itself out just where I live, here in the DFW area. In the DFW area, there are no mountains, there are no oceans, no great scenery in which to play in. (On a positive note, it makes us appreciate vacations anywhere so much more though.) So what we have done, since there’s not a lot of outdoor culture here, is we have taken physical beauty and we’ve made that a sport. So many of us have taken physical beauty and have said, “We’re going to be attractive and desirable.” So Dallas is a very, very pretty place in that aspect. We are all about external beauty. “I’m going to make myself look lovely. Because if I am better looking than others, if I am stronger than others, if I am more chiseled than others, then I validate myself above, and beyond others.”

Now idolatry is a funny animal because it rarely dwells in morally dark things. It almost always dwells in positive things that are made ultimate. Taking care of yourself is a good thing. Eating well is a good thing. The Bible would call both of those things wise. Even the apostle Paul said physical training is of some value. The Bible is going to talk about how we eat, what is smart, how to avoid eating in excess, and how not to eat for comfort. The Bible has a lot to say. The problem is not those things in and of themselves. The problem is when you take those things, make them ultimate, and they become the thing by which you identify yourself. “I am the strong, buff guy… I am the in shape, toned girl… I am the athletic beast person.” You begin to identify yourself by those things. You see it often and it works itself out a bit differently in males and females. What I’ve seen in males is this real desire to look this specific way and to be stronger than others. Now there is a great competition thing that can play into that that can push you into being all that you can be, but it’s this, “Just let me look good with my shirt off.” It’s almost purely physical, and it’s a primal, “Let me show that I’m the baddest guy on the planet” kind of thing. And it builds, it consumes, and their whole life is built around this external physical beauty.

In women, it plays itself out like that also, but what I haven’t seen among men as much as I’ve seen among women is this ferocious comparison that ends up causing a great deal of drama. Like I married a very beautiful woman. I have walked with my wife at the grocery store or mall, and seen other women checking out my wife. So part of me goes, “What’s wrong with me?” And then another part of it is I’m getting a glimpse of this dark side of the female soul where they’re going, “Do I look like that? Do I need to look like that? Should I look like that? I wish I looked like that…” Or even at times, there’s this horrific judgment that occurs where we’ll be out and about and see women dressed to the hilt in really tight things, and there’s this thing even among modest, kind-hearted women where they’re just like, “Can you believe how she’s dressed?” “Look at her, she must be such a floozy.” “Where is that girl’s mother?” “Hey, it’s the Real Housewives of such and such right there.” But really, what in the heck is happening there? How in the world can you judge soul and character by dress. Even if there is something broken in their soul that has them dressing in such a way that they want external attention? That should grieve our heart. It shouldn’t make you angry, or jealous, or have contempt. It should make you sad that they have not found value in who they are but rather in their ability to catch the eye of the opposite sex, and maybe make other women jealous. So you’ve got this external piece to our idolatry.

And then some of us just don’t have that going for us. That’s just not a temptation for us because it’s just not going to happen. So a lot of us go to the mind, and our mental strength. With linear information at our disposal, we just become smart and we pride ourselves on our brilliance. We don’t buy into anything at the surface level. We’re going to drill down. We’re going to know the truth. We’re going to know how things work. We’re not just buying into anything. And let me be clear about this, we should all be thinkers, we should be seekers, and want to get to the bottom of things. But there is a level of idolatry to that where you’re not going to believe anything that you can’t taste, touch, or see. Only what can be empirically known by the five senses, understood, and controlled by you will receive your time and attention. So then our mind becomes our idol.

And then you’ve got this whole third thing that is still about you, but it works itself out in every domain of your life where you want to throw out a certain vibe, you want to have this certain persona about you. So from the car you drive, to the clothes you wear, to where you live, all of that is carefully thought through and constructed to produce what you want people to see, despite the fact that you don’t even like most of those people. So really, your debt isn’t a money issue. It’s an image issue. Debt is not about money. It’s about image. You spend more than you have, to look a part that you want to look because you believe that, by looking that part, you somehow project to the world that you are worth something, that you are viable, that you are legitimate, that you have it going on and people should like you, and want to be around you. And that is idolatry. So the primary idol here in DFW is basically just “self.”

A secondary idol that we see all over the place is other people, other created beings, and it plays out primarily in two relationships. Relationship number one is a significant other. There is this idea built upon the philosophy of every Romantic Comedy, every sappy love song on the radio, that there is some mythical one out there who is going to complete you. Like if you just find this one right man, if you just find this one right woman, then all that has plagued you, all that has bothered you, all the loneliness that you have walked in, and all the rejection you have experienced will finally vanish. Just so you know… all of us married people make fun of you who buy into that silly lie. Because it’s simply not true. Seriously girls, no man will ever be able to do that for you. When you put that expectation on him, it is a smothering, exhausting expectation. He can’t do it. It doesn’t matter how romantic he is, it doesn’t matter how creative he is, and it doesn’t matter how careful and thoughtful he is, he cannot be that for you. He wasn’t meant to be that for you.

That “hole in your heart,” the book of Ecclesiastes says, that hole is eternal. Only what is eternal can fill the gap of eternity. Your man, as great as he is, isn’t eternal or infinite. He can’t fill that for you. He cannot complete you, Jerry MaGuire. When you have that expectation, when you place that expectation on him, your man will develop more and more hobbies to get out from under the weight of that expectation, because he can’t do it.

And for the guys, that thought of this beautiful, physically flawless being who is going to take care of every one of your physical and emotional needs, and make up for all hugs that your daddy didn’t give you, is going to lead to an unreal amount of conflict in your relationships. Please just stop and think about a couple things: You need to forgive your dad. He did the best he could with where he was, even if he was a schmuck. He did the same that you’re doing now if you’re a father now. And if you’re any better than your old man, then that’s the grace of God, not your awesomeness. And then, if you’re married, you need to learn to love your wife’s soul well beyond her body. She’s not your servant, she’s not your slave, she is not your sex toy and meal-maker. She’s not your, “Where’s my dinner, woman?” She’s not your work horse. She has a soul! So what happens for so many of us is a man comes into a marriage and says, “My woman is supposed to be all of this,” while a woman comes into the marriage and says, “My man is supposed to be all this,” … or singles go, “If I could just find this kind of woman/man,” and all our hope is wrapped up in these people who are going to fail us and let us down because they cannot possibly complete us or fulfill the deep longing in our hearts.

So then, when they do let us down, well it’s definitely not our fault. Of course it’s them! It’s not our expectations that are unreasonable. It’s their multitude of failures and personality flaws. Married people are acutely aware of their partner’s weakness vs. their own strengths. The husband can easily sit there and say, “She doesn’t do this, she doesn’t do that, and she doesn’t do this… but I do this, that, this, AND that…” It’s just strengths vs. weaknesses. You should always win that comparison. But this is what leads to the unraveling of so many different relationships. It’s an expectation that’s unrealistic. And all frustration is birthed out of unmet expectations. So maybe the bar needs to be lowered a little, or be a little more realistic. Maybe we need to find the fullness of life in Jesus Christ, and not in a broken human who is going to betray us, because that’s unfortunately going to happen.

Now, the other relationship we see this stuff playing out massively (and specifically the northern areas where I live here in the DFW area) are the relationships between parents and their children. So many of the parents around here need to accept the reality that their kid is not going to be a professional athlete. Their kid might be a beast at sports, and they may really be excellent. But still, statistically, their boy is more likely to be struck by lightning, while holding a winning lottery ticket, whilst being eaten by a shark than he is to become a stud pro athlete.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sports. I follow sports closely. I think sports are awesome, as long as they’re a game. It’s when it’s no longer a game, but you’re entire life that you’ve gone off the deep end. Do you know how we all know this? Because I used to play t-ball, little league, basketball, track, etc… And even now I can remember fellow five-years-old getting yelled at by their parents. It still happens today. Just go to the nearest ballpark and you can watch dads yell at their five-year olds, six-year-olds, seven-year-olds in t-ball. “What are you doing?! We practiced this! Get your head in the game!” Their kid is five, he just learned how to consistently not wet himself…

It sounds like a complete joke, but so many of these dads are dead serious. I mean they don’t do that with other games, do they? Like when their boy or girl is with their cousins playing freeze tag, they’re not running outside, freaking out, and screaming at them about how to tag properly. They’re not playing hide-and-go-seek upstairs with the parents shouting from downstairs, “Are you serious?! Focus! Hide like I taught you!!!” It’s just a game, guys. It doesn’t matter. But all of a sudden, now that it’s organized, some of us lose our minds. Some parents may have even been legit athletes back in the day, but we shouldn’t put that on our kids. Our children’s extracurricular activities should not govern our home. I mean, some parents spend more for their kid’s traveling select soccer team than my wife and my car are worth… combined. It is a foolish error for several reasons.

One, making your kids your god, turns them into little turds that you then release upon society to have to deal with. So then we’ve got coworkers and neighbors who are unbelievably obnoxious because their parents treated them like little gods. And then second, they’re going to leave the house someday. And as a parent, you should want them to move out someday. Shouldn’t you? I know parents with five, six, seven-years-old might find that harder to comprehend at the moment, but there is going to come a day as a parent where you love them with all the love you have in your heart, but they’re going to have to get out of your house. I don’t live with my parents anymore, that would be weird. (There are some exceptions to this, but it should definitely be a rare exception, not the rule.)

And then do you know what you’re left with as parents? Your spouse. So if the focal point of your existence is your children and then they’re gone, that puts you in this really weird spot with the spouse who you should have been doing life with this entire time. You’re like, “Man it’s so quiet around here now, who are you again?” Biblically a home is to revolve around a husband and wife under the banner of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What we should be imparting to our children is the wonders and glory of a Creator God who loves them, longs to save them, and rescues them from the fallen hurt of this world. And then let’s play some ball, let’s try to play ball well, let’s cheer them on, and let’s root for them, whether they really are excellent or horrible.

As parents, we should want our kids to not think that our affection for them is predicated upon their performance in a game. And don’t lie to yourself, you can have all the conversations you want with your kid about that isn’t what’s happening, but when you explode at their failures and beam at their successes in this arena, how in the world are they not supposed to believe that’s how they win your affection? If you even think that you can simply have a conversation with them, but continue to act that way towards them, I don’t think you have kids. Heck, I don’t even have kids, but just having grown up as a kid and helped serve in children’s ministry, I have observed that. I mean, do parents really think that their kids can’t read their bull? I could definitely pick up on where my parents or any adults said one thing and did another when I was growing up. I think we called it, “Does as I say, not as I do.”

So that’s the other place it plays out in relationships, with kids. Both make crummy, crummy gods. You make a crummy god, a spouse makes a crummy god, and your children make crummy gods. They don’t work as deity. None of them can hold that weight. Because there comes a time in all of our lives where we will desperately need divine intervention. Everyone eventually has that dark night of the soul. And if your god is you, your spouse, your children, your health, your wealth, or your vibe, you will be godless on a day when you need the divine. We need to press hard on a couple of things as we think about what idolatry really is. Idols are normally built around control and fear. So you have this fear, and you don’t want this fear to happen, so you begin to try to control scenarios that you believe will keep your fear from happening. And that’s how idols are built.

In fact, in the Old Testament, God will charge Israel with idolatry twice for signing treaties with Egypt and the Assyrians for their protection. They were afraid, so they made this deal with the neighboring country that if they got in trouble, this other army would bail them out, and God goes, “They have become your idol. You’re not trusting in Me for deliverance. You’re trusting in your own abilities and politics for your deliverance.” So what happens on the day of trouble is your control of things is revealed to be what it really is, an illusion. You simply don’t control what you think you can control. You don’t control your finances like you think you do. Anyone can go bankrupt. You don’t control your health like you think you do. Anyone can get cancer.

As always, there are things that we can do that are wise and smart, there are good and right ways we should steward our time, resources, and our bodies, but ultimately you can’t control it all. Now we can see even in our own U.S. history, it just takes the bottom to fall out if our economy for all of that money you have to become worthless. It just takes an instant. It just takes something that is not even directly related to us, not related to this country. There has been some uprising in the Middle East (there’s always some kind of turmoil going on there). How’s that gasoline bill going for you? Does it slam your wallet and remind you how little control you really have every time you go to the pump like it does for me?

We all work hard at protecting our children, but ultimately you can’t protect them from everything. We weren’t able to stop the recent tragedy in Connecticut. No matter how many guns laws are put in place, men with wicked intent will still find a way to carry out deplorable things. You do what you can, but you have to trust them with God. That’s all you’ve really got. If you do more than that, I think you will hard press them and they are likely to rebel. The other place I think you can see this fear and control thing happening in idolatry is with spouses. You just know they’re going to betray you, you know they’re going to do this certain thing, they’re going to let you down somehow eventually, and so to keep that from happening, you badger, you pester, you question, you dig, and you search where they’ve been. You see, all of that is fear. So instead you move to try to control and then unwittingly actually push your spouse away from you, and then there’s no trust, no grace, no intimacy, but you still have that false sense of control to keep you warm, right?

It’s an idol, and the Bible says there will come a day when you need the divine. And if you have an idol, it won’t be able to speak to you, it won’t be able to fix anything. Just look at the passages listed above, and if you’ll remember the text, God keeps saying, “You’ve made an idol that was speechless… You created an idol that was speechless… If it says anything, it says lies. You have created an idol that is speechless and helpless to heal, fix, mend, or correct anything.” And the last verse of the Habakkuk passage says, “God is in His holy temple; let the earth keep silent.” Habakkuk is not saying, “Don’t talk to God. Leave God alone. He is in His holy temple, so hush your mouth and don’t bother Him.” But rather he is saying, “Since the Creator God of all things is speaking, let us listen to Him, submit to Him and not walk in conjecture of what God must be like or what He would be like.”

So you hear people talk like that all the time. “Well I just don’t believe God would do that. I just don’t believe God works like that.” We, out of ignorance and idolatry, exclude some aspects of God’s character; we’re selfishly buying in on specific aspects, but want to forget any that may contradict what we want. “God is love, so He can’t have any wrath… God is gracious, so He can’t hold anybody accountable… God is merciful, so surely He won’t judge the nations or anyone for doing wrong…” Now, those are things people say all the time that are in stark opposition to God’s revealed character in the Scriptures. So more than anything, that verse in Habakkuk is saying that God is speaking, so maybe we should shut up for a minute and just listen to Him.

So God speaks to us, not like a silent idol. He speaks to us in His Son Jesus, He speaks to us through His Word in the Scriptures, He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. What is He saying? He’s saying that you and I are broken from birth. Sin isn’t just an external action, it isn’t just a minor character defect. It’s a state of our heart that leads to those external actions. There are things that are sinful, but you do sinful things because you are sinful yourself. You aren’t a sinner because you sin, you sin because you’re a sinner. The problem isn’t just the action. The problem is you. There is nothing you and I can do to fix this issue. God is going to have to fix it for us. And He did, He is. He’s fixed it by sending Jesus, God in the flesh, to live a righteous life under the law, breaking no commands. He will then impute that righteousness to those who believe by faith. And on the cross of Jesus Christ, all the wrath meant for you and me in our rebellion will be absorbed by Christ so that we are, by the power of the Holy Spirit, set free to pursue God regardless of where we currently are.

So this is why we must constantly come back to this idea of moralistic deism, and expose it for the lie that it is. So many of us are like, “Let me clean up my life, and then God and I will be cool.” However, the realty is, you and God will never be cool because of your cleaning. You and God will only be okay because of Jesus Christ or you won’t be okay. Our hope is steadfastly rooted in Jesus Christ. It’s also why none of us have anything to boast in. It’s also why there should be no swagger in you, in me, in anyone. There should be a lowliness, a humility, and a gentleness concerning all peoples. Why? Because you were shown mercy and grace. You didn’t earn it. You weren’t saved because you were awesome. Nobody is saved because they had some things that God needed for His kingdom. You were saved because He’s merciful. And that’s where we put our hope.

So how do you identify idols? Here are ten questions to ask yourself: What consumes most of your thoughts and feelings? What motivates the things that you do? What are you most afraid of? What brings the highest amount of frustration or anger into your life? What is one thing that can change your mood in a second? What would your friends say is your favorite topic of conversation? What are some things that you feel you can’t live without? What brings you solace? What do you yearn for? What is one thing that you wish God would do for you? If you begin to answer those questions, you’ll be able to find your idols. Because what you think about, what you yearn for, what you talk about, what you want God to do for you, what drives you, what makes you angry, what satisfies you, what sits on the other side of your “if only,” and what brings you comfort is what you worship.

Now you and I, everyone reading this has idols. Nobody is clean. The good news is that God knows and has made provision in Christ. So may we repent and trust in Him for that. Because again, our only hope is steadfastly rooted in Jesus Christ. God Himself is the gospel.

Finding Your Idols

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Idols are like sneaky little pests. They don’t always show up in the tangible form of a golden calf or monkey. They quietly tip toe past us, make a cozy diminutive residence in our brains, set up a small shop in a dark corner of our heart, and begin to grow and multiply. Most of the time we don’t even realize they are there because we’re completely unaware of their existence… or equally as destructive, we fail to notice them because we’ve fallen in love with the idol – it has become part of what drives us and makes us (momentarily) happy. Either way, we’re blind to our idols and need the intervening love and grace of another to help open our eyes to see the things warring for our affections to be over and above Christ.

Idols are not made from scratch. Idolatry involves the distortion of already present truth. The truth is changed into a lie. The lie depends upon the truth it is distorting for its power, just as the counterfeit depends upon the authentic for its value. Our idols of God contain truths within them, making them all the more seductive to us. To be sure, God is love. To reduce God to love, however, is to change the truth into a lie.

Below is a list of questions meant to help you as you strive for building a culture of transparency and establish the habit of asking deep heart level questions, applying the Gospel to your life, and seeking Christ in community.

Questions:

1. What do I worry about most?

2. What, if I failed or lost it, would cause me to feel that I did not even want to live?

3. What do I use to comfort myself when things go bad or get difficult?

4. What do I usually do to cope with disappointment or unmet expectations? What are my go to sources of release? What do I do to feel better?

5. What preoccupies me? What do I daydream about? What most easily comes to mind when thinking?

6. What makes me feel the most self-worth? Of what am I the proudest? For what do I want to be known?

7. What do I lead with in most conversations?

8. Early on in relationships, what do I want to make sure that people know about me?

9. What prayer, if unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?

10. What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?

11. What is my hope for the future?

Grace-driven effort & Sanctification

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Every truly sane person can agree something has gone wrong with the world. The problem comes from within. It is the self-centeredness of the human heart. The Christian calls this problem sin. The Bible teaches that everyone is a sinner by nature. We are what is wrong with the world. In fact, these evils that come from the heart make us so unclean that Jesus tells His disciples:

“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.'” – Mark 9:43-48 (ESV)

Sinful behavior (the reference to hand and foot) and sinful desires (the reference to the eye) are like a fire that has broken out in your living room. Let’s say a cushion on your couch has ignited. You cannot just sit there and say, “Well, the whole house isn’t burning – it’s just a cushion on the sofa. We’re all safe and sound.” If you don’t do something immediately and decisively about the cushion, the whole house will eventually become engulfed. Fire is never satisfied. It can’t be allowed to smolder; it can’t be confined to a corner. It will overtake you eventually. Sin is the same way: It never stays in its place. It always leads to separation from God, which results in intense suffering, first in this life and then in the next. The Bible calls that hell. That’s why Jesus uses the drastic image of amputation. There can be no compromise. We must do anything we can to avoid it: If our foot causes us to sin, we should cut it off. If it’s our eye, we should cut it out.

“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, genuine care for their neighbor through acts of kindness and generosity, prayer and obedience to Scripture, faith and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith; we cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”

Grace-driven effort is violent. It is rage-filled and violent. And those are not the words that usually accompany Christianity. Now this isn’t violence towards another person; this is violence towards that residual sin inside of us. For those who have been made alive in Christ, our nature is a holy nature, and it hates the residual effects of sin. It wants it to die. It wants to put it to death. It’s not going to give it quarter, it’s not going to give it room, it doesn’t just want to starve and control it, it wants it dead. This is the one situation where the Christian can just channel a little Al Capone; because they want their sin DEAD, they want the motives of their sin DEAD, and they want every thing that leads to sin burned to the GROUND. Grace-driven effort wants to murder (which is this word in the Greek that means to murder) and put to death these things. It wants to murder sin in our heart and will be diligent to put said sin to death until it is dead. It is very serious about mortifying the flesh. It is very serious about putting to death wicked thoughts and wicked ambitions, both seen and unseen. And for the bulk of you, most of what you will wrestle with will be unseen. Most people won’t see it.

What I have found is that the legalist more often than not doesn’t necessarily want to put their sin to death; they just want to control it. They want to train it. They don’t necessarily want it to die. Here is how it shows back up. Because you don’t want to murder it and because you want it to be your pet, when you get tired and frustrated and angry or when you feel entitled and somebody isn’t giving you what you think you are owed, you run to that sin for comfort rather than to the God of the universe for comfort. This is why so many of get stuck in this cycle of sin where you do really well for a season and then you fall back into it. It’s because you haven’t tried to kill it and put it to death. You have simply tried to train it.

So here’s what happens. It’s almost like when the trained animals turn on their trainers in an episode of “When Animals Attack.” We have a little pet sin, and we think we’ve got it controlled. Then it turns on us and destroys us and we are thinking, “This is crazy. Where did this come from? How did this happen?” Well you gave quarter to something that you can’t really control in the end. And for all the bravado, “I’ve taught him to sit. I’ve taught him to roll over. I’ve taught him to beg. I’ve taught him to shake. I’ve taught him to speak.” For all the “I’ve controlled him,” it only takes the right circumstance or the right setting for him to turn and do what he was created to do, which is deceive you and destroy you and kill you and lie to you. You buy in, and you’re right back to square one. So grace-driven effort is violent, because it understands that the lion is out to destroy. The lion is seeking someone to devour. The man of the house understands that if he is devoured, there are other people that are wounded by him being devoured. There is collateral damage to his failure as a man. So he puts the lion down. He doesn’t just starve him; he starves him to death. He doesn’t strike him once; he strikes him and strikes him and strikes him and will not quit hitting until he’s dead. He doesn’t just assume he is dead, he then rips out the heart and cuts off the head. Next he piles on the wood and gasoline, and he burns what is left until nothing remains. He fiercely and mercilessly destroys the lion until there is literally nothing left to kill. This is how we are to address the sin in our lives.

Because again, grace-driven effort is violent. I think some of the reasons that a lot of us have been stuck in frustration for a long time is that we are simply not violent enough towards our sin. We have somehow said that these sins are respectable sins or they will fade away in time. You have said, “These things I can deal with.” But you forget that out of the same heart that would harbor anger, malice, and slander comes murder, wickedness, lust, and deceit. An idolatrous heart leads to idolatrous actions. It explodes like a volcano that’s dormant if you’re not careful.

The Gospel needs to be the foundation for everything we know and believe; one major reason for this, is that the gospel creates a holy people. Because, as we know, people don’t just stumble into godliness; they don’t spontaneously wake up one day knowing Jesus deeply and pursuing the conformity that Jesus commands and the Spirit empowers. However, we should be very weary of giving people checklists and must refuse to lay a weight on people that Jesus didn’t. Paul uses great phrases to describe our growth into holiness and reflecting the Glory of God and His reign and rule over our lives. Paul talks about “training ourselves in righteousness” (1st Timothy 4:7), “laboring in prayer,” “running to win,” “counting it all a loss” (Philippians 3), and “beating his body” (1st Corinthians 9:26-27). This language doesn’t paint the picture of sitting on the couch and “falling” into godliness.

“… heaven isn’t a place for those who fear hell – it’s a place for those who love God…”

One of the biggest problems with most of those who claim to know and love God, and want to see sin lose its power in their lives and walk in greater intimacy with Christ is that they are exhausted and have been trying to mortify sin by promises and threats rather than through the weapons grace provides. By “promises” I mean they believe that they will have life to the “full” and get a great house in heaven if they behave in this manner or that manner. In the DFW area, this plays itself out with church attendance and comparing ourselves to others. If I go to church frequently and am better than I was a couple years ago or if I’m better than other people who attend my church then I must be good. We love to compare our strengths to others’ weaknesses and grow confident in our goodness. By “threats” I mean that many of us try to behave and modify our behavior because we fear hell and God’s wrath, not because we love Christ and desire more of Him. We try to modify our behavior so we can earn our way out of hell. The problem with this is that heaven isn’t a place for those who fear hell – it’s a place for those who love God.

Another very popular sport in the Bible belt is fighting residual sin with our own vows and resolution – these become our defense. In the end, you are simply pitting sin against sin and in that scenario you lose. We fight sin and grow in godliness by using the weapons grace provides. There are at least three:

Weapons of Grace:

1. The Word of God

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” – 2nd Timothy 3:16-17

The Holy Spirit illumines the Scriptures as the storehouse of weaponry in the battle against sin and for godliness; all that we need to stand and fight are found with in its pages. The reason I think so many people stumble about when it comes to residual sin and maturing in Christ is they have no idea what the Scriptures say when it comes to those subjects. The Scriptures are where we find and are trained to do battle in such a way that victory is found.

2. The Blood of Christ

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” – Ephesians 2:13

One of the reasons Paul constantly preaches the gospel to people who already know and believe it is the human tendency to run back to the law instead of trusting in the blood of Christ to cleanse them from all unrighteousness. You see this especially in Galatians 2:20-3:5. When we stumble and fall we run to God not from Him. This is made possible by having God’s wrath removed from us and absorbed by Christ and Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. A mark of Christian maturity and genuine Gospel understanding is not running away from God to clean yourself up and then come back but a broken and contrite spirit that runs to Him asking Him for forgiveness and strength.

3. The Promises of the Covenant

“Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” – Hebrews 9:15

If the 10 Commandments were a quiz or test I easily fail. I’ve been guilty of every one of them. One of the reasons the law was given was to be a diagnostic tool to show me I can’t be perfect, that I’m going to fall short, and that I am in desperate need of a Savior (Romans 1-7). When we stumble and fall the Spirit reminds us of the Scriptures that promise that there has been a death for those failures and that there is a new covenant resting on Christ now and not on my ability to obey the law. This allows me to pursue Christ without fear and by “beholding His glory I am transformed.”

[This blog consists of reflections and content that has been adapted from material and sermons by pastors Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian, and Matt Chandler of The Village Church.]

Related articles:

“Gospel-driven Sanctification” by Justin Holcomb

“Gospel-driven Sanctification” by Jerry Bridges

“Real Hope for Real Change” by Matt Moore

Related Video Discussions:

“John Piper and Tim Keller Wrestle with Sanctification: Part 1” by: Desiring God ministries

“John Piper and Tim Keller Wrestle with Sanctification: Part 2” by: Desiring God ministries

Salt & Light

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“… About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel…” – Acts 19:23-29

The message of the Gospel has the power to transform the world for the glory of God and for the good of all people. We see in history, especially from the record we have in the book of Acts, that because of people who believed in Jesus subversively, over a period of time, the very moral fiber and business practices of a continent were transformed, not by getting the government to legislate it, but rather by the people who believed in the good news of the Gospel being the salt and light of Christ in the world.

One of the things I’ve seen in this weird Christian subculture that is so disturbing and prevalent in the United States today, is the odd characteristic that so few who claim faith in Christ want to share the gospel to everyone, or with anyone, rather they want to gripe about the government’s failure to uphold our values instead. Give me a break, please, give us all a break from that ignorant ideology. It has never worked that way. It never will work that way. It’s as if we as Christians have never studied Roman history… or any history for that matter.

When the Roman Emperor Constantine declared, “We’re a Christian nation now,” he wasn’t legislating faith, but announcing and acknowledging something that had already taken roots in the Roman Empire. His declaration takes place after Christianity has already spread throughout the Roman Empire and become the dominate faith among the people. Christianity wasn’t legislated or forced upon the nation. (Besides, wasn’t it like 100 years later that Rome ceased to exist?) It doesn’t work that way. You cannot legislate Christianity. Nor can you legislate morality. That’s all a pipe dream. We think we can get people behaving better with laws and strict rules that govern a country? Really?! So then we’ll get better behaving people outside the kingdom of God? People following strict rules and obeying rigid legislation, yet not having any relationship with or love for our God? But some argue this would at least create a safer place for our children… No, it’s a rough place out there no matter what the law says. So, what if instead of saying, “When is our government going to do this, do that, pass this law, abolish this law, blah, blah, blah…” What if we just did what the Bible asks us to do and be salt and light, and grace-filled people in a lost and dying world? What if we tried it that way?

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:7

What if we thought through the implications of grace and let that beautiful truth motivate us to engage the world and seek their good? What if we stopped boycotting stuff constantly, and criticizing everyone who lives contrary to how we believe we should live and showed them love and grace instead? What if instead of drawing up signs to stand outside movies like “The DaVinci Code?” What if instead, we actually saw them? What if we actually paid $14.50 or whatever it costs to go to a movie now; went and saw it, but saw it through the lenses of Scripture so we could better discuss things with our neighbors? Why? Because they’re going to see it. Heck, go with them! What if we stopped making Christianity about beer and rated-R movies? What if we did that? What if we didn’t make our measure of faith and devotion about where we get our chicken sandwiches? What if we let the peripherals be the peripherals and concentrated on the gospel? What if we quit being ignorant moralists trying to police everybody and started trusting the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ to be enough? What if we said, “Hey, we are missionaries in our own neighborhoods, we don’t have to go on a special trip overseas to tell people the good news of Christ Jesus.” What if we did that?

What if we created an environment where you’re welcome to come as you are? What if we didn’t expect people to perfectly live a certain way before we’d have them at our house for dinner? What if we didn’t go, “Oh, you believe in Jesus, well then, here’s some soup.” But rather are posture was, “We believe in Christ Jesus and the work He has accomplished for us, so here is some soup, and how else may we serve you?” What if we wouldn’t beat people up with the gospel and just shared the love of Christ? You can’t save anybody. That’s God’s business, but you can be salt and light. What if we did it that way? What if we tried to do it differently, or maybe originally? What if we went underground, one heart at a time, one neighborhood? And I’m not talking about proselytizing, I’m talking about living the gospel of Christ, having people to your house and praying.

I’m not saying we apologize for who we are, or for what we believe, but rather display it like we mean it. What if we prayed for our dinner no matter who was at the table? We’re not trying to convert a guest by our prayer at dinner, like, “Father, we thank You for this pagan. And we thank You that You could save him if he would but listen. In Romans 8, You say…” No, instead: “Thank You for this food, thank You for Your Son, all the beautiful common grace You have given us, and the grace upon grace You show us daily,” because we thank Him for the food and we thank Him for friendships and we eat. What if that’s how we viewed this thing? What if instead of spending all our money on bigger and nicer church buildings… what if our churches didn’t do the “Oh, once we’re at 75% capacity for one service, let’s build a building that gets us into horrific debt so that we can no longer concentrate on doing what’s good and right in the world?”

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before Me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” – Ezekiel 16:49-50 [also reference Isaiah 1:10-31]

What if churches that were growing exponentially just bit the bullet and kept adding services before finally breaking down and using funds that have been saved (and/or pledged) to build a new building that could accommodate the growth. What if churches didn’t go into crazy debt to build an enormous building that sits empty 6 days a week? What if they built a building that didn’t have seat warmers, a rock wall, or a coffee shop in it, have a separate school so our kids didn’t have to rub elbows with a bunch of little heathen hoodlums in public school, along with a series of basketball courts, bookstores, and the nicest amenities money can buy?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having those things in a church building, there’s nothing inherently wrong with atractional-based ministry, but what if there happens to be a Lifetime Fitness, 24-hour Fitness, L.A. Fitness, YMCA, Gold’s Gym, etc. all nearby and they already have accessible basketball courts? Maybe we could go play ball in the public gyms rub elbows with people who don’t know the gospel? What if the public school systems would benefit more from having your kids in them, and you rolling up your sleeves to join in the mess in an effort to help and serve the community?

Maybe instead of going to church to get your six shots of espresso or your triple latte, maybe you should just pick a Starbucks. Seriously, there’s probably at least 20 of them in your immediate area. Maybe you could learn your barrista’s name and begin to pray for them. What if we did that instead of spending fifty grand to have a coffee shop in the church building? Why don’t we go to the same restaurants every week and ask for the same waitresses and waiters? (And tip them well, and quit being cheap!) Why don’t we throw block parties? When did we as Christians become the anti-partiers?! In Leviticus 23, God says, “If you don’t party, I will kill you.” Read it. Why don’t we put up some stuff in the yard, gather some good friends together, set out a bunch of food and drinks, and throw a party for the neighborhood? Why don’t we be those people? And I’m not talking about getting out of control, and throwing wild parties that lead to debauchery. But why aren’t we celebrating life and all the common grace to be enjoyed with some BBQ and a game of corn-hole?

I’m simply talking about instead of going, “This is who we are, and if you want to know more about us, you should come to Sunday School with me at 7:00am on your one day off from work.” What if instead of doing that, we just started to engaged people where they were? What if we did it that way? Well, if you did that, you wouldn’t need so many church programs, would you? What if you went more bare bones with meeting space for the church? This would mean you could save a ton of money and put it towards something else, maybe something a little more constructive. What could one do with a million dollars they saved from not having twenty separate Bible study programs going on every single day of the week and an enormous building with a coffee shop, book store, restaurant, post office, school, and basketball gyms? Maybe start a hospital, or school, or sponsor children over seas through a trusted program, or feed more people that would otherwise go hungry, or supply medicine and medical treatment to those in need, or something like that? What if we tried it that way? And what if it overflowed out of the little area you live in, to the farthest parts of the Earth?

What if we didn’t apologize for what the Bible says or for what we believe, but we were more quick to acknowledge and grieve the church’s historical failure to always operate and serve in Christ-like love and humility? What if we admitted that we’re human too, and we will likely continue to make mistakes? But our hope is in Christ, and His grace is the motivating force that leads us to repentance. What if we yearned more to be salt and light in a decaying world of darkness, to love God and love people because He first loved us? What if we stopped seeing things as “us versus them”? We all come from dust, and to dust we will return. [reference Isaiah 58:1-14]

Okay, so I don’t have all the universal problem-solving answers for these questions, or fail-proof logistics on how to practically accomplish it all. Shouldn’t we, as believers in the greatest news in the world, be striving to operate a little more like this though? Shouldn’t we be engaging the world to push back the darkness? Love is not static, love moves. I mean, hasn’t this kind of thing worked in the past for numerous churches? Some people who have studied history would say yeah. I live in the “Bible Belt” though, which means we have to wade through a whole slew of people who are going to churches on Sunday just to punch their attendance clock, because for some reason down here you just go to church on Sunday. (It seems like a pretty lame hobby if that’s all it is. If it’s just a hobby you’re after, I’d rather get a boat and go out to the lake.) But we’re not after attendance, we’re after transformation. It’s not working if people aren’t being transformed. If you think this post is interesting or funny, but it doesn’t engage your heart and mind at all in any degree of a transforming nature… that’s a lose for me, that’s a loss for all of us.

Because really, what kingdom are we seeking? Are we seeking to enjoy and be a part of the extension of God’s kingdom, or trying to build our own little kingdom in fruitless vanity? Are we seeking the Father with reckless abandon; because we know that Christ doesn’t promise to make our life better, but He promises that He is better than life. Do we love God and want to know Him more? Do we want to play in His grace and work with grace-driven effort to build His great kingdom, not our own finite kingdom? Or are we constantly forgetting that all the Father has given us is not meant to terminate on ourselves? Are we still living with this amnesiac-type faith, forgetting that the Gospel is for our joy, even when we can’t see how in the moment; and our joy is not the purpose of the Gospel, but an inevitable outcome of it. Since the chief end of man is to enjoy God, and enjoy Him forever. Because we are far worse than we ever dared to believe, yet in Christ, we are far more loved than we ever imagined we could be.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:13-16