Browsing Tag

Jesus

Christian Life, Culture, Evangelism

Jesus and Comfortable Distance

November 28, 2016

 

 

Several years ago I had a somewhat heated discussion with some staff members at a church about whether or not it was reasonable to ask the congregation to take a somewhat significant step of faith in the realm of finances. I pointed to Jesus’ command to not worry about money or clothing but to instead seek the kingdom of God, and the general response was along the lines of “that’s a nice sentiment, but you’re still young and you don’t have kids or anything yet, so you don’t understand that you can’t ask that much from people.”

I left that conversation pretty frustrated and disillusioned. It felt like the church leadership was culling what, to me, seemed a clear and challenging statement from Jesus, making it into something safe and comfortable for the middle class crowd that showed up each week. Doesn’t Jesus’ command override what we feel we can or can’t do based on our life situation? Is our security and comfortability Jesus’ priority, or is he pushing us toward something else?

I’m older now (at least by a little bit), and I have a kid. My wife and I live in a nice three bedroom house that we’re able to afford only because of our landlord’s generosity. Over the last couple months we’ve had multiple conversations about the incredible pressure there is to conform to the comfortable – to co-opt following Christ and make it a means of making us feel good.

It does make us feel good to go to church, to sing worship songs, and to know that we’re going to heaven and our sins have been forgiven. It’s comfortable to go each Sunday and know what to expect, to smile and greet the people you see each week, and to sit in “your spot” in the sanctuary. Because we, pastors and church leaders included, so love comfort that we structure our churches and our lives (often unconsciously) to keep anything that might threaten us at a comfortable distance.

The problem is that when you come to Jesus – the real Jesus – he refuses to leave you any room for comfortable distance from the difficulties of the world.

Jesus’ Uncomfortable Closeness

Jesus went out of his way to get close to people and situations that would make almost anyone uncomfortable. We see him converse with a demonized, severely mentally ill man and bring healing up close rather than praying from a distance (Mark 5:1-17). He touches a man with a debilitating, highly contagious disease (Luke 17:11-19). He converses in public with a religious and political outsider (John 4). His whole life was a stepping in closer than comfort would allow for the sake of comforting those who were afflicted. He spends time with drunkards, the homeless, prostitutes, and all the people that make our conservative, middle-class sensibilities shudder and scrabble for “wise” reasons to keep our distance.

It wouldn’t be wise to give to the person begging for money at the intersection because he might spend it on alcohol, despite the fact that Jesus said “give to the one who asks from you” (Matt 5:42) with no qualifications. The church shouldn’t have to deal with people who are mentally ill or disruptive to the service, despite the fact that Jesus seems to welcome such disruptions and bring restoration to those who are broken. We shouldn’t have to give too much of our time or money or possessions because it wouldn’t be wise to not have boundaries, despite the fact that our lives are supposed to be living sacrifices.

My friends, Jesus is the epitome of wisdom, and his wisdom looks a lot like uncomfortable closeness – stepping into difficult situations in the power of God and bringing change. He most certainly did not stay at a distance.

Our Call for Closeness

Jesus said to his disciples, “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” If we are truly going to follow Jesus we need to get out of our safe spaces and go even into uncomfortable situations. Would you go with Jesus into a village where there was an ebola outbreak? Into the home of a prostitute? To sit with the man who is twitching on the street corner? I certainly hope so.

If you have the Holy Spirit, when you go into those places today you go with Jesus. Christ followers ought to be the first ones to go to the people and places that the world (the religious world especially) avoids. Any form of Christianity that makes us feel good and righteous apart from serving and loving those who make us uncomfortable is false religion. As James wrote in his Epistle, “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). Jesus exemplified it. He stepped out of the security, peace, and comfort of his position in heaven to come into this earth and get close with troubled humanity. the Father’s call for us is to go to those same people.

I don’t want to get 10 years into leading a ministry and be making excuses for why we’re not doing what Jesus said to do. I don’t want the American dream to have more say in my life than the Kingdom-of-God dream that my Lord offers. Let’s take conscious steps out of our comfort zones and into faith, befriending, loving, and serving those who the rest of the world rejects. In Jesus there’s no room for comfortable distance – only the dreadful, beautiful power of grace and love to break down any and all barriers for the sake of saving those who are wounded and wandering. Amen?

 

 

 

Commentary, Spiritual Warfare

Running From Demons

March 30, 2016

 

 

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

Mark 5:1-13

One of Satan’s most effective deceptions is convincing a person that those around them can’t handle their problems; that their issues are too deep, too horrible to ever bring out into the open. In the short eight years I’ve been doing ministry it’s always been those who are the most in need of help that are the most afraid of opening up and asking for it.

In his ministry on earth, Jesus encounters a mind-bending array of needs and issues. He encounters dead people, blind people, diseased people, liars, manipulative mothers, thieving tax collectors, and countless others in unending succession. Perhaps one of the most shocking and needy of those that Jesus encounters is the man known as the Gerasenes demoniac – a man so given over to demonic power that he has supernatural strength, engages in ritual cutting, has no discernable sleep patterns, and has been given up on by his people who apparently couldn’t control him even with iron chains.

We have a lesson to learn from this terribly demonized man. Yes, there is the standard lesson drawn from this text about Jesus’ power over the demonic and Christ’s love for all people, but I believe that we can learn from this man even before his deliverance. Despite the fact that he has the very forces of Satan battling within him, he doesn’t buy into the deception that Jesus is going to be surprised by or unable to handle his problems. That, my friends, is a lesson that we need to learn.

Run to Jesus!

“And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”

Note how this man sees Jesus from afar and runs to him. He doesn’t wait for Jesus to come to him. As soon as Jesus sets foot on the shores, “immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.” He doesn’t wait for permission or the appropriate moment – he simply runs to Jesus.

In Christ God has set foot in your territory. You don’t need to wait for him to come a little closer. Don’t waste time waiting for the appropriate moment. Do you have hidden sin or a desperate need that you’ve hidden for so long that it’s no longer in your control? Run to Jesus! He knows your need and is more than able to meet it.

This demonized man doesn’t ask for freedom, but Jesus gives it. He’s so far gone that he can’t even express his needs, only cry out “do not torment me!” Jesus knows his longings, knows his needs, and gives what he desired but couldn’t request. He casts out the demonic forces and frees the man from his captivity.

Sometimes we’re in so deep that we don’t even know how to ask for freedom. The Apostle Paul writes in one of his epistles that even when we don’t know how or what to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings. Come to Jesus – you needn’t even ask – simply by coming close to him he will give you what is needed.

Jesus is unphased

Perhaps most beautiful to me is the fact that Jesus seems completely unsurprised by this man’s horrible condition. I seem to have this expectation that Jesus will be impressed or perhaps even surprised by the significance of my problems; that in his holiness he will draw back in horror once I finally reveal my deepest issues.

We’re absolutely wrong to think that way. If Jesus was unphased by this man, he won’t be phased by us. He knows full well the depths of your struggle, deception, and hidden sin. He’s already embraced it, absorbed it on the cross. When you finally come to him and confess it all he’ll simply smile, nod, and pull you up from the dirt into a warm embrace. You’ll find yourself free and “in your right mind” (Mark 5:15), seeing the world through new eyes.

Is there a portion of your life that you’ve kept hidden from those around you for fear of their response? Have you hidden among the tombs rather than running to Jesus? Now is the time to come forward! He has set foot on your shores. All you have to do is come to him and he will speak but a word and you will be free. That is good news indeed.

A closing note for Christians here. Be like Jesus. Don’t be surprised by other people’s issues. Don’t shy back from the relationship when someone reveals their addiction, homosexuality, deception, or other secret sin. We of all people should know well the depth and quickness of human brokenness, and therefore know all the better the power of the Gospel of Grace in Christ. As we learn our identity and position in Christ we, like him, will be able to stand before someone like the gerasenes demoniac unphased, gently ministering to them and leading them into the freedom of the children of God.

We Christians ought to be a people who welcome others regardless of how deep their issues are because we KNOW that God will restore them. Jesus is unphased, so we won’t be either.

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Growth

What you care about determines what you hear

March 14, 2016

 

 

When we live for the approval of man, we prevent ourselves from hearing God. If our souls are full of the sound of the voices of the world around us, it becomes incredibly difficult to discern the voice of the Spirit. Jesus’s conversation with the Pharisees in regards to the source of his authority is a perfect illustration of this point. Matthew sets the scene;

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
Matthew 21:23-27

Jesus is in the temple, supposedly the realm of the chief priests and pharisees’ authority. He’s teaching the people, and if Jesus’ recorded teachings throughout the Gospels are any indicator it was probably some thought provoking, controversial stuff that he was saying. Driven by fear of losing face and authority in their own realm, the leaders approach Jesus with a question that’s meant to trap him. Jesus, as is his way, turns their trap on them and reveals what they truly care about and are listening to.

“Who gave you this authority?”

The question the leaders ask seems like a fairly straightforward one. Who gave you the authority to teach in the temple? To heal? Jesus has already answered this question multiple times before in various ways. The problem is, the leaders can’t hear him – they can’t receive what he’s saying because they care more about the opinions of the crowd than they do about the word of God.

“Neither will I tell you”

Seeing their fear of man, Jesus turns a question back to them. The response of the Pharisees and priests to this question is the telltale sign. They apparently don’t really know or care where John’s authority came from. They care about how the crowd will respond to what they say, a thing that prevents them from hearing from Jesus where his authority originates.

I wonder how often we don’t hear an answer from God because we’re more focused on what the crowd, the people around us, will think? How often do we cut ourselves off from powerful encounters with the ever-living God by being more concerned about the opinions of short-lived people?

Proverbs 29:25 declares that “the fear of man is a snare.” Jesus warns earlier in Matthew’s Gospel that those who live for applause from men won’t receive rewards from God (Matt 6:5-6).

I don’t want my love of people’s opinions to deafen me to what Jesus is saying. I want to be a man who cares most about what the Lord is saying. I want to respond with honest answers to Jesus’ challenges and questions, and be able to hear what he says and obey without fear of what people will think.

That’s not an easy path to walk. We’re so wired within our flesh to care most about the most foolish of things, but I intend to work at heart change, by the power of the Spirit, until it becomes a reality. Will you join me?

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Evangelism

When People Get in the Way

November 23, 2015

People are inconvenient. They keep you up late, stay longer than you’d like, talk louder than you want, don’t get what you’ve been trying to communicate, and cause a thousand other problems.  People are also who God loves, who he sent his Son for, and who we’re called to disciple, and it’s in those times of inconvenience that there is the most potential for God to work greatly. The question is, how will we respond in the moments when we’re inconvenienced and our plans have to be trashed?

Several days ago I listened to a great message from Christine Caine given at Bethel church on some lesser-observed pieces of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000. What she said sparked some thoughts that have caused me to reevaluate how I respond when I’m inconvenienced.

Here’s the scene: Jesus’ disciples have just returned from their first solo (and by solo I mean apart from Jesus, not alone) missionary trips. As usual the crowds are surround Jesus, asking for healing, wisdom, and whatever he’ll give. His disciples are working like crazy, so much so that they don’t even have time to eat. Remember, all this is immediately after their first missions trip. They’re wiped. Jesus, knowing his disciples are tired and in need of rest decides to escape away to somewhere that they can chill for awhile.

The people, however, have different ideas. When Jesus and the disciples arrive at their retreat spot all ready for some peace and quiet there are literally thousands of people waiting for them, clamoring for attention. Jesus and his team came expecting dinner and possibly a day or two or rest and peace. What they get is people. Inconvenient, plan-shattering, energy-sucking people.

Here’s where I want us to zoom in and watch closely. How do the disciples respond to this interruption? How does Jesus act? How should we respond when we encounter situations like this, albeit (most likely) on a smaller scale?

Mark writes,

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
Mark 6

The Disciple’s Reactions

We don’t get their initial response in Mark’s writing, but the way the disciples come to Jesus a bit later and drop not-so-subtle hints by saying, “This is a remote place…and it’s already very late. Send the people away so they can get something to eat” speaks volumes.

They came for a retreat and for some rest. People are getting the way of this, so the disciples cunningly use the people’s hunger as an excuse to get what they want. “Jesus, the people are hungry. Send them away.” But who’s really hungry here? We see a few verses earlier that the disciples are the ones who haven’t even had time to eat. It’s probably safe to assume that at least some of the crowd had eaten whatever the last meal was and had thought about food on their way into this “remote place.”

Unlike Jesus the disciples are focused on themselves and their own plans and needs. These lenses only let them see the crowds as a problem that needs a solution – in this case, to be gotten rid of. To them the people are an inconvenience, and when people are seen through the lens of a problem to be solved or an inconvenience to be removed, we’re blinded to the places where God often does his greatest works.

Jesus’ Actions

In contrast, Jesus’ response to this “inconvenience” is compassion. He sees the crowd not through the lens of “what do I want” or “what are my plans,” but through the lens of the love that asks “What do others need?” and the faith which wants to know “What are God’s plans?”. For Jesus, the crowd isn’t a problem to be solved; it’s an opportunity for demonstrating the Father’s character and power.

Because he sees this “inconvenience” as an opportunity rather than a problem, a miracle happens. He submits to God’s changing of his plans and the disciples get see the glory of a God who provides abundantly for thousands.

The question for us is, whose perspective are we living with? The disciples’ or Jesus’? When inconveniences come our way are we living in the self-absorbed world of the disciples, eager to remove any obstacles to our plans and expectations for our lives and ministries? Or are we living in the faith and love of Christ and seeing through God’s eyes, viewing every inconvenience as an opportunity for God’s glory to shine through?

In his essay “On Chasing After One’s Hat,” G.K. Chesterton puts it well when he says,

Most of the inconveniences that make men swear or women cry are really sentimental or imaginative inconveniences–things altogether of the mind. For instance, we often hear grown-up people complaining of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train. Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train? No; for to him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasures. Because to him the red light and the green light on the signal are like a new sun and a new moon. Because to him when the wooden arm of the signal falls down suddenly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a signal and started a shrieking tournament of trains… An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.

People are inconvenient. They’re slow to understand, they don’t follow expectations, want help with the most ridiculous things and don’t seem to grasp the simplest of truths. But people are who our Father has sent us to, and it’s in those inconvenient places that we are given a choice to focus on ourselves or to walk in love and faith.

Let’s be like Jesus, looking over the crowd with compassion. Let’s be the boy at the train station, full with wonder and expectation that God is in every crack just waiting to do something glorious. Next time someone gets in the way of your plans, follow God’s lead. See an adventure rather than an inconvenience. Who knows what will happen. You may end up feeding thousands.

Best Of, Christian Life, Commentary, Spiritual Growth

Search Among the Dead

June 8, 2015

In Luke 24 a few of the women that had been following Jesus, including Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother, go on the morning after the Sabbath to embalm Jesus’ body using spices, as was the Jewish tradition in that time. They arrive to find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. As they stand and wonder what in the world happened (Did someone steal Jesus’ body? Why? Who would do such a thing?) Suddenly two angels show up on the scene and ask a very important but often overlooked question;

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”

– Luke 24:6-7

After the angels ask them this question the women remember Jesus’ words about his resurrection and return to tell the disciples, with no little excitement, that Jesus was alive.

The question that the angels ask the women at Jesus’ tomb is a question God is asking you today. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? Don’t you remember what Jesus told you?”

 

Why do you look for the living among the dead?

On a human level the women there at Jesus’ tomb had good reason to linger, search, and wonder what had happened. The situation made no sense and looked like the work of grave robbers desecrating their friend and son’s corpse. On a human level it was another thing to mourn.

We too often have an abundance of reasons to linger among the graves of our past failures, wounds, and struggles, mourning what we have or haven’t done and what has and hasn’t been done to us. For the man whose father never showed affection, the natural reaction is to let that shape expectations for rejection in the present. For the woman who has gone through failed relationship after failed relationship, it’s natural to look back on those gravestones and feel the overwhelming thought that she is the problem that can never be fixed.

But we serve a God who isn’t confined to a human level. He’s not satisfied with his people operating on a human level either, to the point where he will send two supernatural beings to rebuke the women at Jesus’ tomb for their lingering at the grave. Catch that – God is rebuking the women for lingering at their son, friend, and leader’s grave. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

These woman should have known better. We should know better. They’d been with Jesus for years now, heard him teach, seen him raise people from the dead, heal the deathly ill, walk on water, and so much more. We’ve been with Jesus for years now and have seen him transform lives, heal, restore, and faithfully shepherd us through every trial. Why do we linger among the graves? That’s not where Jesus is! He’s had a plan all along, in every trial and every darkest moment, it’s been according to plan. We just need to remember.

 

Remember how he told you

“He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’”

We, like the women at Jesus’ tomb, need to bring to mind the words that God has spoken to us. Jesus had explicitly told them multiple times that he was going to die and that he was going to rise again. Heck, he’d even given them the timeline (“on the third day…”). They shouldn’t have had to stand around in the graveyard pondering – they should have connected the dots and begun rejoicing!

Just as Jesus made promises to his disciples about his resurrection, God has made promises to each of his people about his plan for their lives. Remember, he said

  • Everything will work out for your good. (Romans 8:28)
  • He will provide for every need you have (Philippians 4:19)
  • We will live eternally (John 10:27-28)
  • He will be with us all the time (Matthew 28:20)

and so much more! Remember what he’s told you. When you find yourself lingering on failures, wounds, and struggles, call to mind what God has promised. We can, like Jesus, go with confidence into situations where we are rejected, abused, and even killed if we will remember.

When we remember what he’s told us it won’t be possible to search among the dead and the gravestones any more. In our excitement we’ll join the women of Luke 24, drop our burdens, and run to tell others the amazing news of what has happened.

Jesus has gone before us and purchased for us the fulfillment of every one of the Father’s promises to us. He’s spoken them over you and speaks them over you every moment of every day. Stop trying to find life among the dead. Leave that graveyard behind. Remember what he told you. Jesus has risen, and we shall indeed have life in him – life to the fullest. Leave the graveyard with joy and proclaim to all the good news of this glorious Gospel!

Best Of, Christian Life, Commentary, Spiritual Growth

Receive the Love

January 16, 2014

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
– John 15:9, ESV

Abide in my love, Jesus says – don’t just acknowledge it or talk about it. Abide in it. Soak in it. Dwell on it. Let it fill you like the sap from the vine fills the branches, so that where you are broken or cut it is His love that spills out.

As the Father has loved me

Jesus sets the stage by telling his disciples the scope of his love. It is “as the Father has loved;” a love like God the Father’s love for God the Son. We begin by going beyond comprehension or expression.

“As the Father has loved” is a love eternal, a delight and affection without beginning or end. It was before all things and will continue after all things. “As the Father has loved” is a powerful love, a love that reaches beyond the grave to restore the loved one to life – not only to life but to the position of Name above every name. “As the Father has loved” is a fearsome love, a love that opposes all who oppose the beloved; “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” (Psalm 110:1) “As The Father has loved” is a perfect love, a love that sees only beauty. Jesus says to his followers, stunningly, that love like that – love like the Father has for me – is the kind of love I have for you.

So I have loved you

What more can Christ do to prove this statement than he has already done? He has lowered himself and taken on the form of man. He became the lowest of men, the servant of all. His days on earth were given to ministering to us. He bore the mountain-weight of our punishment. He died willingly in our place. He resurrected and devotes his ascendant life not to his own pleasure but to interceding on our behalf. He is preparing a place for us. With every motion of his life, earthly and heavenly, he has declared, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”

Abide in my love

But how slow we are to believe, oh brothers and sisters! Caught up in our own hurt, struggle, and inability we have declared ourselves unworthy and unlovable. We confuse pride with humility, thinking that we are called to constantly bemoan our sin and shortcomings so that the Lord will know we’re truly sorry, but this is not what Jesus commanded. He never said, “As the Father has punished me for your sin, so I will punish you” or “abide in your failure”. No, his words were, “Abide in my love.”

It is on the love, the delight that Christ has for us that we are to meditate and dwell.

Any area of our life that we refuse to receive Christ’ love is an area that is kept from the fruitfulness that glorifies him. As Jesus said later in John 15, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” When we deny the love of Christ in any area of ourselves, that area is disconnected from the vine and can bear no fruit.

Is your past full of wounds that are too painful to think about? Christ’s love is the balm that will heal and restore. Do not think that your past is too far gone to be redeemed.

Does your heart seem to hard to change from its sinful ways? Christ’s love is the forge that melts all metals and burns away all dross. Receive his love.

Do you fear the thoughts and opinions of others? Christ’s love is the shield to circle you round and shelter you. Abide in it.

As His love fills the areas you have kept back they will begin to bear fruit. Wasted years will be returned to you as beautiful years of shaping. Sins will be turned to testimony of freedom. Fear will bear the fruit of beautiful boldness.

My friends, do not cut yourself off! If there is any corner of yourself that you have kept hidden hear Jesus’ words; “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” He speaks it over those corners. In his sovereign knowledge he chose to come to us in love while we were in sin. Hear his call and come to him. Abide in his love.

Best Of, Christian Life, Theology

Marriage isn’t for you – it’s for Jesus

November 6, 2013

 

To my knowledge this is the first time I’ve written a post in response to something I’ve read on another blog. Generally I feel that internet debates lack positive fruit, however, several people I know and respect have shared this blog post and said that it was a must-read via various social media outlets. Kelly, my beautiful wife, was reading it on Sunday night and commented her disappointment with what she had expected to be an excellent article, asking my thoughts. I read and was similarly disappointed. Over the last day or so I’ve put some time into thinking through what was wrong with the post “Marriage Isn’t for You,” and figured I would write out some of my thoughts for the benefits of my friends.

First, a disclaimer. From a brief browsing of Seth Adam Smith’s blog I don’t see much evidence for him being a follower of Christ. If that’s the case, then my post here isn’t any judgment of him since, without the Holy Spirit, there’s no way to truly know the ultimate goal of marriage. My goal is to correct what may be an error in our understanding of what marriage is about, which is a critical thing to understand in our increasingly anti-marriage culture.

The point of Seth’s post can be seen in his quotation of his father’s advice on marriage;

You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

The post has obviously struck a cord. Published two days ago, it already has over 3000 comments. I’ve seen it posted approximately 10 times in the last two days on my Facebook feed. Seth has tapped something that we know we need to hear. Marriage isn’t about us. It’s not about what we get out of it. It’s about loving and serving someone else.  Excellent truth, right? No. Not really.

The problem with the post isn’t that it’s totally wrong – it’s that it falls far short of the mark (Rom. 3:23). While statements like, “No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love,” connect with Biblical morals found in places like 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 that emphasize marriage’s other-contentedness, they hang terribly disconnected from their Gospel end goal.

If marriage is indeed “about the person you married,” even if it’s for your family and your future children, then marriage becomes the sin that Paul warns of in Romans 1:23 where we “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man”. Marriage becomes idolatry when its end goal is your spouse’s happiness. When your marriage becomes an idol then it’s on your shoulder to carry it, and the burden of two human souls is not something that we have the strength to bear. It’s a weight that will inevitably crush the structure it sits on, leaving your marriage cracked and crumbling.

According to God, marriage isn’t about you, your spouse, your kids, or your family. It’s not even about being “better together” and serving more people. According to Ephesians 5, marriage is about Jesus. The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, writes, “’a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh [be married].’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” God’s declaration is that marriage is about Christ and the church, not about the person you married. The main reason that our King created marriage was to give the world an image of what his love for his people looks like. It’s not about you. Her. Him. It’s about Jesus and the gospel.

Marriage isn’t about us because it’s about Jesus. In marriage we serve each other because Jesus served us. We sacrifice for each other because Jesus sacrificed for us. We raise children, sacrificing for their sake, loving them, and giving unlimited grace to them because Jesus made the way for us to become children of God and is loving us, raising us up in his image, and being infinitely patient with us. Seth Adam Smith’s blog post isn’t all wrong, but it does fall far short of the full truth, and that’s a terribly dangerous place to be.

Kelly and I have been married just over a year, and we have certainly learned that marriage doesn’t work when we’re thinking of ourselves first. But we’ve also learned that we need our marriage to orbit around something much larger than ourselves for it to work. When our marriage is lived out from the grace of Jesus for the glory of Jesus, everything works. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison in his “Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell,”

Marriage is more than your love for each other. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, and office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man.

Check out a couple of other great resources on Biblical marriage below;

 

Life, Quotations

Stop Worrying!

October 17, 2013

Some Gospel truth that’s been working on my brain for the last day or so. Do we really take Jesus at his word when he says,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

– Matthew 6:25-34 NIV

Leadership, Spiritual Growth

Where to focus

September 2, 2013

 

Over the last couple months the Lord’s been convicting me of how I’ve gotten more caught up in vision casting, strategy, creating culture, and reading the latest book on leadership than I have been in Christ. Somewhere along the way I turned my eyes off of the Gospel truth that it is “not I, but Christ” who lives and ministers. I started taking pound after pound of weight onto my own shoulders. Following Christ got complicated as I started deciding that I needed to inspire more passion in the community around me and find the perfect strategy to reach the over 65,000 young adults in our region that don’t know Jesus. When we put ministry weight on ourselves rather than remembering that Jesus carried it on the cross our love and passion is inevitably turned into bitterness and frustration.

Thankfully the Lord is faithful to turn the crushing experiences into growing experiences.

Near the end of Deuteronomy Moses re-caps the Israelite’s journey from Egypt to the promised land for the new generation that is about to cross into the promise for a second try at following God’s lead. The entire generation that had been there at the Jordan river and refused to move forward in faith because of their fear died in the 40 years of desert wandering, aside from Caleb and Joshua. A new men and women have grown up and Moses is eager for them to not make the same mistakes their parents did. In his lengthy recap of the law Moses makes a statement that I believe is a powerful reminder for Christians, especially those who are in a position of leadership. In Deuteronomy 17 Moses says,

“And when [the king] sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20, ESV)

The Lord knows the pressure of leading people. As Israel became established as a nation and eventually appointed a king God knew that the king could easily get caught up in all the political and technical pieces of running a nation, solving disputes, overseeing wars, managing treasuries, and entertaining foreign dignitaries. Each of those things are essential tasks, but here, years before a king was even in the Israelite’s mind God establishes only two commands; don’t gain too much wealth, write a hand copy of God’s law and read it daily. Rather than giving revelatory advice about how to lead a successful and peaceful nation, God commands the king to abide in His word.

In itself this isn’t exactly good news. Levitical laws were by no means easy or particularly exciting, as anyone who has read Deuteronomy, Numbers, or Leviticus can attest to. Old Testament laws were burdensome, and they were meant to be. Thankfully the story doesn’t stop there. A few thousand years later Jesus came on the scene and fulfilled the law for us. In his fulfilling he pointed to the one core truth of the law; love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Christian, are caught up in the minutiae of your life rather than focusing on the main thing? Turn to God’s word and see its central point! Leader, strategize, read, vision cast. All those things are good, but they pale in comparison to the core of your calling – to set an example of one who fulfills the great commandment. Just as God’s first command to the future kings of his chosen nation was to study his law, so his first command and primary task for you is to receive his love and love him in return. That love, that power to love, is found only in Christ. Stop looking elsewhere.

The Apostles in Acts delegated the authority of details and systems so that they could focus on the Word and Prayer (Acts 6). When we turn our focus away from Jesus and get caught up in planning our discipleship process, strategizing how we will reach our city, and the seven essential principles of transformative leadership we will, like almost all of Israel’s kings, end up watching our authority collapse around us.

As Jesus said of Martha in Luke 10:42, “you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” Life itself is full of plenty of things to trouble us. Discipling others multiplies that list of troubles, but Jesus still says that there is only one thing necessary. It’s not preparation. It’s not even your daily reading of Scripture. The Psalmist makes it clear what the one thing is when he writes,

One thing have I asked of the Lord,that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4, ESV)

That’s the heart of Moses’ words to future kings in Deuteronomy. Delight in the presence of the Lord above anything else, so much so that writing a hand copy of the several hundred pages of his law becomes a joy. When we have that kind of love for our King he becomes the gravity-center of our lives and everything else orbits in its proper place. Focus on the one thing, do not turn aside either to the right or to the left. The way may be narrow, but the end is glorious and wide. May Jesus be to you the gate, the path, and the goal.

Christian Life, Journal, Life

Some thoughts after a year of marriage

July 22, 2013

 

Twelve months ago today Kelly and I were married. I can say with complete honesty that it’s been the best year of my life. The Lord has blessed me hugely with a woman who both puts up with me and loves me, and who is an amazing partner in ministry. Her giftings and strengths fill the spaces where I am lacking in a way that constantly reminds us both that it was the Lord who brought us together.

As I look back over the last year I figured I wanted to make note for myself and for others of a few things that Kelly and I have learned. We both have friends who are getting married in the coming months, and are surrounded by plenty of young singles within Threshingfloor, so hopefully these thoughts help each of you who read them to prepare yourselves for the path that Jesus has before you if it includes marriage. For those of you who feel like marriage is a long way off, take notes. Better to be ready for the journey before you leave than to be miles down the road and realize you forgot something important back at the starting line.

 

Have a common goal outside of yourselves

One of the most fulfilling things that Kelly and I have had has been our ministry in Threshingfloor. We haven’t had time to get caught up in conflict or disagreement within our marriage because we’re both passionate about seeing the young adults in the FM area become passionate disciples of Jesus. Having a common goal that we’re working towards as a couple keeps us from getting to self-focused. Jesus positions himself as a servant of others. The apostle Paul regularly describes himself as a “servant of Christ” (Phil. 1:1). When a marriage is structured for the sake of the service of others, the Lord blesses it. When the success of the marriage becomes your focus, the struggles begin. Be servants of others together and Jesus will keep you together.

 

Praying together is powerful

Ministry together and prayer together are inseparable. Some of the most refreshing, intimate moments Kelly and I have had have been when we came before the Lord together to pray. Whether it’s cuddling together on the couch in the morning after reading Scripture and praying for the upcoming day or on our knees pleading for breakthrough in our lives and the lives of our friends, prayer as a couple is powerful. Want unity in your marriage? Pray together. For those of you who are single, cultivate the discipline and habit of prayer – especially you young men – so that you can lead your wife into the joy of united prayer as a couple when the time comes.

 

Spend time apart, especially with the same gender

Wedding_AisleThrough the past school year and most of the summer Kelly and I have set aside Wednesday nights as the night where we part ways for a few hours to disciple, pray, and get into the Word with other young men and women. In marriage (and in any relationship) there’s a huge temptation to become so caught up in the delights and passions of that relationship that you start drawing away from other friends, especially those of the same gender. Generally the dudes I hang out with don’t have the same interests as my wife. Generally the women she spends time with aren’t interested in what us guys are. Being in love with someone doesn’t negate our need for companionship with people of the same sex. I need time with the guys to talk, joke, and do manly things. Kelly needs time with the ladies to share concerns, pray, and be a woman.

Don’t lose your single friends

Along with the temptation to draw away from friends of the same gender, I find there’s a natural tendency for married couples to pull back from their single friends and shelter in the bubble of couple-life. Double dates are great, but we need to be intentional about having single people in our lives no matter how long we’ve been married for. I love guys like Nate, Andrew, Sanjay, and Erik and the others in our Threshingfloor community. They remind me regularly that there’s more to life than marriage and that God does amazing things in and through people in all stages of life. I benefit greatly from their insights and advice, and I get the honor of fielding questions and giving advice as well. Unless we’re purposeful about it, married couples can easily lose sight of their single friends. Don’t let that happen. They’re too cool to do without.

Make Jesus a bigger deal than your problems

Lastly and most importantly, keep Jesus the biggest thing in your life. He’s a bigger deal than your successes. He’s a bigger deal than your sex life, be it good or bad. He’s a bigger deal than your financial stability. He’s a bigger deal than your tiny apartment or sprawling household. He’s a bigger deal than your passing happiness or drowning despair. He’s a bigger deal than your ministry, and He’s a bigger deal than your marriage.

Married or single, we need to remind ourselves of this. We need to preach it to ourselves because it’s so easily forgotten in the chaos of life. In Revelation Jesus announces himself as “the first and the last, the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev. 1) When Jesus has his rightful place at the center, lifted high in every situation and struggle, your life and marriage will never fail. My prayer for you, married, engaged, or single, and my prayer for the coming year of Kelly and I’s marriage, is that Jesus would be the center. The gravity of his glory will draw everything else into its proper place.