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?

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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.

Why Marriage (Really) Isn’t For You

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There is an article currently going around entitled “Marriage Isn’t For You” that rightly explains that marriage should not be a self-centered commitment in which oneself is concerned only with their own happiness. C.S. Lewis actually addressed this in his work Mere Christianity when he stated, “The natural life in each of us is something self-centred, something that wants to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe. . . . [The natural life] knows that if the spiritual life gets hold of it, all its self-centredness and self-will are going to be killed and it is ready to fight tooth and nail to avoid that.”

As I was reading the article though, I kept getting this nagging feeling that something big was missing… while the article makes some very good points, it is overall a bit short-sighted. It claims that marriage is not about yourself, but rather about your spouse, that it’s about family. That it is about making them happy and helping them to realize and actualize “their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams.” I would agree that falling in love in a Christian way is to say to your potential spouse, ‘I am excited about your future and I want to be a part of getting you there. I’m signing up for the journey with you. Would you sign up for the journey to my true self with me? It’s going to be hard, but I want to get there, and get there with you.’ However, there is more beyond that.

While I think this article truly has good intentions and contains some great truths, I don’t believe that it takes its thesis anywhere near far enough. What if marriage is not about who you marry, but why? What if being ‘in love’ isn’t a good enough reason to get married? What if dating isn’t about finding ‘the one,’ but about serving the One who loves you most? What if marriage isn’t about your happiness, but rather your holiness? Yes, marriage is not for you, but ultimately it is not just about or for your spouse either… it’s for God (Ephesians 5:22-33). It’s a shadow of something much greater than us.

The wedding ceremony and marriage between two people is not ultimately about celebrating the two of them, but rather it is celebrating the love that Christ has displayed for His Bride. Ephesians 5 tells us 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 my wife and me, it is our hope to preach the Gospel through our marriage as God has chosen the story of our lives to be a shadow of His much greater narrative.

So, like the author claims, marriage is definitely not about making yourself “happy,” but it’s not always about making your spouse happy either. The marriage relationship between two people will never be unblemished and someday it will end in the death of one, and eventually both people. The only love that won’t disappoint you is one that can’t change, that can’t be lost, that is not based on the ups and downs of life or of how well you live. It is something that not even death can take away from you. God’s love is the only thing like that; God’s triune love is actually the most selfless love there is. True love is focused on God, and that sometimes means making people unhappy in order to draw them closer to God. Marriage is not simply about making your spouse smile or laugh every day. Marriage is not always about being nice, it’s about loving your spouse as God loves them. As C.S. Lewis eloquently explains in his work The Problem of Pain, “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” Marriage isn’t merely about happiness, it’s about holiness.

Truthfully, this means that sometimes you will make your spouse sad, sometimes you will make your spouse angry, and sometimes you will even unfortunately make your spouse cry. However, the beauty of marriage is still displayed in these moments, where you challenge your spouse to better love God even when it makes them unhappy. Jesus even said, “I want you to follow me so fully, so intensely, so enduringly that all other attachments in your life look weak by comparison.” (Matthew 10:34-39; Luke 14:25-35; John 12:25-26)

So, the author did have it right: marriage isn’t for you, but it’s not for your spouse either; it’s also not just about the both of you… Marriage is meant to symbolize the beauty of the human soul espoused to Christ. As Martin Luther stated in The Freedom of a Christian, “Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace? Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all His goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by Him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, ‘Though I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all His is mine and all mine is His.'” And our earthly marriage gets to be a reflection of that beautiful union. Marriage is ultimately for God.

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Related article: Pain in Marriage: For Your Joy

Christians are weak and stupid…

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

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

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

The Irony of the Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t be the fool, forgive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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