Glory and Love

My husband and I have started to teach our two year old the basics about God.  We have catechism questions that we are slowly working through as he begins to understand the world around him.  The first question we worked on was: Who created you?  The second one was: What else did He make?  The next one we will start on is: Why did He create you?  The answer is simple: For his glory.  Isaiah 43:7 says, “Everyone who is called by my name, and whom I have created for my glory…”  This is the purpose of our existence — to glorify God.  Everything we do is to glorify God. I don’t have a problem with Mathias learning this truth this early, but I looked ahead to see when the catechism covered the fact that God loves him.  I felt that knowing that God loves him is paramount to understanding his value as a person.  As I glanced through the next seven questions, I saw this was not explicitly covered.  Now, that does not prevent me from telling my son God loves him, but it did make me wonder: Does knowing that we were created for God’s glory lead us to knowing God’s love?

If we start at the beginning of the Bible, our very first introduction to God is as Creator.  In Genesis 1:26 He declares that He would make male and female in His image.  It is this creation that he makes for His glory as He declares in Isaiah 43:7.  Now if we fail to see God for who He is, we could simply stop here and think that we, humans, are just a means to an end.  We’re just a creation simply created to satisfy the lofty, dare I say, self-serving purpose of a cosmic being.  This would lead us to feeling very detached, isolated and unloved by God.

It seems critical then to understand how God as Creator, the One who created everyone for His glory, is also—in that same action—the unconditional Lover of our souls.  I believe that understanding God’s immense love for us is implied through his creative ability.

God created us for His glory.

That simple sentence has packed in it all the love we would ever need.  It implies relationship, possession, purpose, intentionality, and care.  God intentionally made us for a relationship with Him, one from which we could gain our value, worth, and purpose.  Since He is perfect, right, and the very definition of love, His actions in creating us are not with impure motives.  He is not like a fallen, arrogant human seeking praise from those around him.  He is God.  He is right (Isa. 45:21).

Therefore, we can trust His perfection, then trust His actions, and believe that His purpose will lead to the ultimate fulfillment in our lives.  Simply put, our Creator is complete; by creating us, we (the created) can find unconditional love in His actions.  This is why God loves us.  We are his intentional, thought out, cared for, planned creation.  Our mere existence shows how much He loves us. The Perfect One made us on purpose.  When we realize that all we can say is God is worthy of all praise and devotion because He made us.

The closest I have ever gotten to understanding this truth was when my dad called one night, early on in our reconciliation journey, and said, “I love you because you are mine." His simple declaration of possession and love filled me with such value and worth that I just broke down and cried.  I believe when we read the verse in Isaiah or the creation account in Genesis, we should be hearing the loving voice of our Father say, “I love you because you are my creation.”  That revelation can only lead to a life that then glorifies its Creator.

 

Accidental Pharisee

That's me. Well, a pharisee is what I've been acting like for quite some time now. No sooner than me throwing in the towel, quitting my performance of Christianity, did this reality hit me. One day, visibly frustrated, my friend expressed her displeasure with our constant debates. Of course I defended myself, but I realized in doing so I was only digging a deeper hole. So, for a moment, I stopped thinking of how unfair her sentiments seemed to be, and considered the worst. What if I am prideful? What if I do always think I'm right, so my opinions are really facts I believe other people just haven't been exposed to yet? What if I've come up with my own rules of what holiness looks like? What if I really do look at people who don't have my "convictions" as less righteous than me? What if what I've thought was a pure desire to be holy and honor God has really been a drive to gain righteousness, because I didn't believe righteousness could truly be given to me without my works earning it for me? What if my view of God has been pretty low, especially in the unconditional love department? What if...I'm a pharisee?

As I began thinking through the implications of that discovery and shared it with a wise young woman at our church, who's helping me not go completely crazy lately, she directed me to Galatians 3: 2-3

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by[a] the flesh?

She basically used Scripture to call me a fool! (Yes, I caught that.) But first, I had to answer the initial question. Had my works or faith earned me the Spirit of God, which is evidence of my salvation? Well, of course I'd say I didn't earn salvation. I can't. But, would I say faith granted me salvation? I was suppose to say, "Yes!" Or "Duuuh." But since I'm on a no-pretending fast, I couldn't answer that confidently. Instead, I asked a question that opened up a world of discovery. "Well, I know believing in Jesus is my only hope for salvation, but what about all the commandments? God gave those for a reason, right?" To which my friend replied, "Well, what about before the commandments were given? How were Abram, Noah, Enoch and Job righteous in the eyes of God?" (Come on Caresse, you oughta know this, I thought. I realized in that moment how often I much rather appear knowledgeable than admit I'm not sure or don't understand something if it seems like I should understand it.) "Uhh...God must have given them a special pass as the children of Isr-wait...no...that's wrong because you're saying before Abram had offspring and before Moses was given the commandments. Well...I don't know," I reluctantly mumbled.

Oh the inadequacy to disciple others and be in a position to share Him over the past years I instantly felt. Yet, simultaneously, three words had freed me. I...don't....know. See, when you're performing, you gotta know everything. When you read or hear something, you have to instantly affirm belief in it. The show must go on. When you're pretending, you gotta fake it 'til you make it. But with God, as long as we pretend, we won't make it. He'll never actually know us. So, I admitted that I didn't know the answer.

 Genesis to Galatians and the love in between

Genesis 15:6 -"And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness," she read aloud.

Wait...what? What exactly did Abram believe to be counted as righteous? The previous verses in chapter 15 tell of a covenant God made with Abram to bless him and his offspring. And guess what? What Abram believed was what God said. He believed in God's promise, which stamped his righteousness. And here's what I'd somehow missed the weight of—it was an unconditional covenant. The blessing (which turns out to be ultimately fulfilled in salvation through Christ centuries later) was given to Abram by faith. He had no rules to keep in order to impress God; all He had was God's promise to believe, and that's what he did.

"Well then, why were all those commandments given?" I wondered.

"To govern, but it wasn't about looking at 600+ commandments and trying to figure out how to keep each one in order to be righteous. They were commandments to govern them. What they were and you are supposed to focus on is what God said to the Israelites before He gave the ten commandments," my friend responded.

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." -Exodus 20:2

"Focus on God being your God," she followed. Realize He has graciously, of no merit of my own, brought me from being a stranger to Him and a slave to sin and now calls me His own. Out of that recognition, let Him therefore be Lord over my life.

"Ok. But knowing just how perfect God is, by virtue of all the commandments, makes you feel like you have to obey a bunch of rules," I replied.

"And then you start adding rules on top of those rules to keep you from breaking the original ones," she joked.

"Exactly!" I confessed. "Because I read about Jesus, and He makes it even harder. I realize that I'm still a sinner even if I don't fornicate, because I lust in my heart. So, then, I have to come up with rules to keep me from lusting. And then, of course, I put those rules on other people," I admitted. "But wait- Jesus came to fulfill the law. As in, He came to live out all 600+ to perfection and within His heart remain completely pure as well. So, He was basically telling the Pharisees to keep calm and sit down, because they weren't as righteous as they presumed. He was exposing their hearts. He is exposing my heart. Not for me to go get a heart monitor that I constantly check, but to show me it's impossible to please God...without faith. Oh shoot."

"23Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slaveg nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise." Galatians 3:23-29

Oh. my. world.

So, I don't have to work for my righteousness? I don't have to think through every possible thing that could be sinful about everything and think through for other people too? Seems too easy, if God is as holy as His commandments make Him out to be.

And that's when it clicked.

Yes, God is holy, and His standard is perfection. We ought to tremble at His holiness and flee from sin. But why? Why should we look at the teachings of Jesus and the apostles and pray for the Spirit to empower us to reflect Christ? Why should we keep the commandments in our hearts and minds? For one, to have an accurate picture of God. And secondly, to have an accurate picture of ourselves. The law reveals a need for Jesus. Its goal was to govern an otherwise ungovernable people, but also to make them see just how jacked up they are and how holy God is. But not for us to wallow in our helplessness, and not for us (especially me) to overestimate my righteousness. It was to stir within us—within the children of Israel even—a hope, a craving, for a Savior. As Ray comfort wrote, "Nothing reveals calvary like Mount Sanai." And the Good News for us is that we got that Savior. We have the blessing Abraham believed God for.

But what did we really do to get it? That's what I don't get.

Simple. In case you missed it like I have been, or thought you already had it, or my words were not clear because I tend to ramble, this blog is "for all of us who have a hard time getting it through our brains that all we did was nothing, BUT the love still came," as the song says.

All you and I actually did, as in earned, was NOTHING.

Thank God for giving us faith to believe and receive unearned promise.

Sometimes, we don't have to understand.

"Life becomes utterly free and daring when [you realize] the strongest being is for you."

Just accept His crazy love.

Just Do it.

I once heard a quote from a pretty famous atheist that has forever changed the way that I viewed the idea of talking to other people about my experience with Jesus.  He writes:

...I've always said, you know, that I don't respect people who don't proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward...HOW MUCH DO YOU HAVE TO HATE SOMEBODY to not proselytize? HOW MUCH DO YOU HAVE TO HATE SOMEBODY to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn't believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that...

I’ve been a Christian for quite a while now and I can literally count on one hand the amount of time I’ve had a stranger try to capture my attention with the purpose of talking about Jesus.  If you’re a Christian, your experience has probably been the same.  Why is that?  It’s not rocket science.  You’ve probably never had that happen to you, because people actually doing that type of stuff (cold-call evangelism) is awkward.

Evangelism:Christian::Boogeyman:kids

To be honest, as we cast this vision as a church staff to spend a few hours each work day this week trying to create opportunities with strangers to talk about Jesus, I got nervous.  (If not for the peer pressure—or the people coming to the church expecting me to lead out because I’m a pastor—I probably would have come up with tons of excuses not to participate.) Tons of thoughts began running through my head.  The idea of actually talking to a stranger is something that is very unnatural.  People don’t want to be bothered.  They have more important things to do. And frankly, we don’t want to be seen as Jehovah’s Witnesses—they’re the only ones that talk to strangers about religion, we’re more savvy than that.  That’s a private matter that is better addressed when...

And that’s when I realized that I couldn’t complete that thought.  When is the right time to talk about Jesus?  How much relational capital needs to be built before we make a segue into what is the most important decision anyone will ever make?  That’s when it hit me: my fear of being awkward in striking up a conversation about Jesus with strangers occupied the same space in my heart where, years ago, I had a fear of monsters under my bed.  The thought of looking under my bed was terrifying; however, when I actually looked under my bed and saw there were no monsters, it was liberating and I saw just how unwarranted my fears were.  This past week, I had the same epiphany with the fear of striking up conversation and quickly shifting to Jesus.

Evangelism to strangers is only awkward….in theory

G.K. Chesterson says, “Christianity hasn’t been tried and found difficult, it has been found difficult and left untried.”  This week, I re-learned that evangelism to strangers is more awkward in theory than it actually is in practice.  I was amazed how easy and naturally conversation started when I just asked people to tell me their story and then camped out on a point where they highlighted something spiritual.

Here’s the truth: we live in a world where people look more busy than they actually are.  You’ve seen it in meetings (or you’ve been guilty of it in meetings).  Someone looking so intensely at their phone or their computer screens with beads of sweat dripping down their face.  As you navigate around them to see what they’re doing, you see that they’re not agonizing over spreadsheets or balance statements, they’re agonizing over where they are going to play their “V” in Words with Friends.  We live in a world where people are filling up their time with things to keep them distracted from the loneliness they’ll undoubtedbly feel if they don’t do anything else.  They are longing for meaningful interactions.  This past week, I had the opportunity to have conversations about people’s hopes, dreams, aspirations, hang-ups, backstories, frustrations, etc.  And every last one of the conversations was a welcomed breath of fresh air.

Clarity and comfort for the obedient

There are two types of people. Those who make excuses and those who actually have experiences.  What I’ve come to realize is that both of these groups become a self-fulfilling prophecy to themselves.  In evangelism, there are plenty of excuses that you can use to justify your disobedience to 2 Timothy 4:5 (…do the work of an evangelist).  Quite frankly, this past week, I heard just about all of them (many of them I said to myself and many of them I heard from other people). What’s funny is that people who make excuses and never get over their initial fear of awkwardness soon start to believe that their fears are realities.  Those that never look under their bed will forever be afraid of the boogey man.  Those that never proactively share their faith or direct conversations towards the hope of Jesus will forever be afraid of awkwardness.

Here’s the blessing though: those that actually have the experience of talking to someone else about Jesus finally understand that there was nothing to be afraid of.  The only way that you’ll ever really know if fear is warranted is to embrace that fear head on.  The only way to get over your fear of monsters under your bed is to look under your bed.  The only way to get over your fear of evangelism is to evangelize.  No sermon is going to do it for you.  Clarity and comfort to God’s will comes through obedience.  Nothing less than obedience will reaffirm the things God has called you to do.

The funny thing is, you can agree or disagree with my philosophy as you sit here and read this blog.  You may or may not be right.  However, there is one way to know for certain if I’m right or wrong, and that’s to actually have this experience for yourself.

So, go ahead.  Prove me wrong.

 

 

Why not?

The harvest is plentiful. I get it. But I got it last summer when I was a kounselor at KAA and encountered teenagers in need of the hope of the Gospel. (Yes, we spell kounselor with a 'k' there, among other things.) It gripped me. There's a world full of people who don't know Jesus. They do not have a relationship with the greatest love of all. They are existing, but they are far from living. I even came back home after that epiphany, which followed a trip to Guatemala where the global need for Christ and the vanities of my life in this country were realized, motivated to live an intentionally missional life. I wanted to share with everyone I could, because I'd realized how many people are in need of the Good News.

But then reality sunk in—the kamp experience is not the real world experience. Kids came to a Christian camp, so they knew what they were getting into. Whether they wanted it or not, they knew what we were going to be giving out. But outside those gates, being missional could and would likely mean sharing truth with people who didn't sign up to hear it. Uhh awkward. So, I decided that sharing with strangers was a kamp thing, not something to be emulated in real life. Right? I should just focus on the three or four people in my life who already have some desire for God but need help growing in their relationship with Him. And that may have been exactly where my focus should have been the past couple of months and exactly where yours should be now. I think too often we apply our personal convictions that the Spirit has placed within us onto others and end up creating a culture of performance where people either think they're doing well or performing poorly. (I know I do it to others, unfortunately, quite often.) I'm discipling people, so I'm representing team Jesus well, or I'm condemning myself for being a lazy Christian. Either way the focus is on us.

What if, instead, we looked at Jesus and those in the scripture who identified as His followers not prescribe what fulfilling the Great Commission should look like for every person, but to be challenged, encouraged and inspired by their lives? Sunday, Dhati revealed that for the next 90 days he was going to share his testimony and/or the Gospel at least once a day. That was an act of discipline he chose to enforce in response to going through Acts and seeing that time after time the apostles were out sharing their faith. But his commitment could have landed on your heart as though if you don't do that too, then you're not a devoted Christian. It could have elevated him to some level of piety in your mind that you don't have. But it shouldn't have done that. Man's endeavors are not what we should compare ourselves to in order to determine what Christ thinks of us. So, let's take that weight off and instead ask ourselves what I did when I decided to travel with others to Guatemala last year to build a well and share about the living water. Why not? That's why I went. Why not? Going or staying would not make me more or less righteous in the eyes of God. But if there is a need, why not volunteer to be a part of the crew going to meet that need? Often times if we hear a message repeatedly, it becomes fear mongering and our guilt for not responding to the message leads everywhere but into action.

But what if you didn't have to think you were not doing enough as a Christian in order to start doing something? (That is of course if you are dedicated to loving God and loving people, and love is already an action to you.) What if, instead, you read the words of Jesus and examined His life not to tell yourself to start doing more stuff to look like Him, but to see Him for being all that you never could be and worship Him for that? And as you look at how His life was and is the epitome of loving God and loving people, the Good News of the Gospel just might fill you up to go out and share that with others.  As a staff, we accepted the week-long challenge from Dhati of going out and sharing our faith. And yesterday, after having a three-hour long conversation with two universalists (one who identified as an angel) and an hour-long conversation with a Muslim Monday in Little 5, all I can think is why not?

If there are people right down the street from me who don't know my Lord and Savior or need hope or need prayer, why not take time to talk to some of them every day? What is more important? Maybe I can't do 1pm-4pm every day, but if I encounter at least one person, why not tell them about Jesus or ask them can I pray for them or tell them my testimony? Really, why not? The apostles had seen something they couldn't shut up about. Don't I have the Holy Spirit, a witness to all they saw and heard, living on the inside of me? Should I go out and share my faith every other day this week, the next week, the weeks after? Why not go out and share like the apostles did in Acts?

Well, I know why I changed my mind about doing that last August when I returned home. I lacked the solo initiative to talk to strangers. I was surrounded by kounselors and staff last summer who planned to share Jesus all day, every day and did right beside me. But that wasn't waiting for me when I returned. If my missional community would have said they wanted to go out regularly, I would have gladly joined in. It would have become my way of life. Am I blaming my MC? Absolutely not. While going out with someone else is wise, if I'm honest, I didn't press the issue enough to anyone. It all came down to fear and comfort. And those are two very real struggles, with the latter being something that I believe comes with being an American. (Regardless of how intense our struggles feel, they're still mainly first-world problems.) And fear, well, I couldn't imagine talking to the same people a group of us spoke to these last two days by myself. I just wouldn't have done it. I probably would not have even made it to those difficult conversations. After the first person rejected a request to pray for them (that happened a couple times), I probably would have talked myself out of the whole thing. But I was with two other people who experienced the same rejection on Monday. And yesterday, I wasn't the only one being told that I was not as enlightened as these universalists. I shared those experiences with my brothers and sister and knew that even in the face of opposing beliefs, we were unified in the truth. So, we persisted.

I'm not saying I don't need to pray for courage and boldness to act when it's just me (I do, and I will), but I am saying there is strength in numbers. Think about how many other people walked by us today as we were sharing with just two guys for three hours? If 10 of us were able to talk to a handful of people, imagine how many people could hear the Good News if 20 of us went out. Or 50. Or 100. If you've never shared your faith with anyone, yes, you should examine why you haven't. You might even need to feel convicted about that. But conviction should never lead to condemnation; it should always lead to the cross. And if you don't go out regularly and talk to strangers about Jesus, I'm not proposing the same conviction. I'm also not saying you are any less Christian. I'm just asking you to ask yourself the same question that I will continue asking myself—why not?

Forgive me for asking

For the past few weeks, hmm maybe months, I’ve been wrestling with something inside. My friends can attest to it, because just about once every week I’m venting to one of them about it. I even read some articles that communicated much of what I was dealing with (Anthony Bradley and Jasmine Baucham), but not exactly.  I do feel like an emphasis on discipleship and exposing our comfortable Christianity were necessary books and speeches written and given by David Platt and others, but I don't think we've heard enough of the perhaps less radical messages to give us a healthy tension. So, I feel trapped in the thinking that I have to share Jesus everywhere in everything. I wanted to come to some amazing, John Piper-inspired conclusion about it, but I can’t. I didn’t want to keep questioning God or other people, but I know that God (at least) can handle my questions—even if it means He’ll just respond with even better ones like he did to Job (was that not the finest sarcasm ever?). So, please God, forgive me for asking… But can I just live a normal life?

I love you, I do, but that’s not enough it seems.

Do I have to tell everyone I meet about You, otherwise I’m failing at the mission?

I used to share the truth of Your word freely, but now it feels like a responsibility.

I used to spend time with other believers regularly, because I wanted to and knew I experienced You more fully around them than by myself. But now I feel like I have to.

I can't even genuinely talk and listen to an unbeliever without thinking that I've got to share my faith with them. Soon and very soon. But I can't even remember where they said they were from. Is that okay? Is that loving them?

If I don’t knock on my neighbors’ doors and tell them about Your love, do I not love them either?

If I don’t tell the girl I just met not too long ago that she’s not actually a Christian, am I avoiding conflict?

If I write a blog for a secular site and don’t find a way to mention You in it, am I selling out?

But then again, if nothing is more important than people having a relationship with You, should that be my focus all the time?

Or does that require a calling to ministry?

Is it possible that I could actually be doing what You want me to do despite hearing message after message and reading blog after blog about people not being missional enough?

Where is the encouragement?

But, hmm, is there a way to encourage the congregation and still prevent us from getting comfortable?

Can I read the book of Acts and applaud those brave men, but not think I have to go to Little Five Points and stage a Day of Pentecost?

Then again, why won’t I go? Why don’t we plan to do that one Sunday instead of gathering in a building? (Minus the flaming tongues part.)

Why don’t we just take a day to go evangelize?

Oh, yeah. That’s not discipleship. We have to build relationships first, right?

Have we dissected Your word too much?

What did the disciples daily lives, post-ascension, look like?

Were they always sharing with everybody?

Were you honored the same by the early Christians going to work and working hard?

They didn’t have tv, so did they have less distractions?

Do you give us grace for all the distractions around us?

Then again, where does eat, drink, and be merry fall into the call to make disciples?

Am I the only one that’s only been eating and drinking (peach tea), but not experiencing the merry in the mission?

Sometimes, I wish I could just do what I love and talk about who I love the most as I go and know that I’m on the right path without having to think about it so much. Is that possible?

I know that’s what some of my friends do, but why don’t I feel the freedom to do that?

Why do I even question whether they’re doing enough?

Am I trying to earn a few missionary patches on my heavenly robe that’s up there waiting on me?

Am I confusing Christianity with competition?

Do you actually want more from me, and I can't tell if it's conviction from the Spirit or from man?

Do I love you the way Scripture says I should?

Yes. Some days more than others.

Is Jesus my treasure?

Yes.

Do I love people?

Yes, but sometimes I do love myself more.

Does your Spirit live in me?

Yes. Sorry for acting like it didn’t last week. (And a billion other times.)

Am I surrounded by other people who love Jesus and are wiser than me and can challenge me?

Yes.

Do I talk about You and want to make disciples?

Yes.

Is the spreading of the Gospel solely dependent on me?

No.

Do You expect me to be Paul?

No. You expect me to be me and do what You want me to do. I think.

Does that mean that two believers’ missional lives can look different and one isn’t wrong or better?

Can I just rest in knowing that?

I think You’re screaming, “Yes!”

Will you finish the work you started in me regardless of my confusion?

Yep.

If I'm supposed to go to Nineveh, will you make sure I end up there?

Ha. I bet.

Have I been trying to be the perfect Christian and earn your grace?

Yes.

Does that sound noble but actually dumb since grace is something I don’t deserve?

I think you just laughed.

So, you’re telling me that I’ve been overthinking all of this?

Have I read too many books, articles, and sermon transcripts and not lived enough years to process them all?

Did you just smirk?

Ok, last question.

Did You see that Warriors’ game last night?

Woo! Wait- but you knew they would lose, so could you even enjoy it?

Oh snap! What’s it like to know…

Just kidding.

“Love God. Love people. And do whatever else you want.”- Dhati Lewis

I’m going to try that approach...again.

So, help me God.

Homosexuality and other loaded words

It’s hard to have a fruitful conversation about faith & homosexuality these days unless you’re having them with people that already think like you on the topic.  Hopefully, what follows will lead all of us (whatever side you’re on) to having conversations about these topics that actually lead somewhere.

Homosexuality is such a loaded word.  Because it’s so loaded, it really makes it tough to have a conversation about it.  Two people can use the word 'homosexuality' and have two completely different things in mind.  (It’s kind of like using the word “trunk". It could refer to a part of an elephant, a storage container, the base of a tree, the rear of a car, etc.  There are so many uses of that word that it has to be defined further before any intelligent conversation can be had.)  So, it’s no surprise that when Chris Broussard was baited into a question about homosexuality and Christianity, and he answered with grace and precision, an entire community of people were enraged.

Homosexuality – a word that needs one definition

Homosexuality, in one sense, can refer exclusively to sexual attraction.  Homosexuality literally means that someone is sexually attracted to the same gender.  That’s how the word was intended to be used.  In another sense, (the sense in which our society uses the word) it is a statement of sexual practice.  In our culture, homosexuality also means someone who actually acts out sexually with a member of the same gender.  Here is where the real problem lies.  It’s not about sexuality; it’s really a problem with someone limiting another person's freedom or telling them what they're doing is wrong.  It’s inconceivable for us to think (in our age of freedom) that restrictions should be placed on our sexuality.  If I have an attraction, I should be free to act on that attraction.  If I’m not free to do this without scrutiny (or if it’s not celebrated), then I feel like I’m wronged.  However, with a term that is as loaded as sexuality, it’s hard for us to ever see definition as our real problem.  I should be free to do what I feel, and anyone that tells me that I can’t (or shouldn’t) do what I feel is wrong.

Adultery & Fornication—words that have one definition

There are other terms that relate to sexuality that aren’t as loaded: adultery and fornication. Those who commit these weren’t as upset at Chris Broussard (even though he spent more time addressing them), because these terms aren't as loaded.  Adultery is a word that’s used exclusively of practice and not as a desire.  If adultery was a sexual orientation (the desire to have sex with people you are not married to), then every married man I know would be guilty of it!  But it’s not, it’s a term specifically used to talk about practice.  Fornication/pre-marital sex is the same way.  It’s not an orientation; it’s not about desires. It’s about how those desires are acted out.

Christianity— another word that needs one definition

Here’s another loaded term that I want to unpack: Christian.  This is probably the most loaded term of all.  Let me explain this as best as I can, using sexuality as the backdrop.

 

  1. A Christian is someone that has sexual desires. (They can be heterosexual desires or homosexual desires. I don’t think sexual desires disqualify anyone.)

  2. A Christian is someone who, at some point in their life ,has acted on those desires (or at least has wanted to act on those desires) in a way that (1) they thought was appropriate but (2) the Bible said otherwise.

  3. A Christian is someone who (for whatever reason) has come to the conclusion that their life is a mess (primarily because they’ve called the shots on how to run their own life).  They’ve lived with the guilt, the shame, and the frustration of trying to find meaning by directing their lives the way they thought best.

  4. A Christian is someone who, at one point during their journey, heard about a man named Jesus who was willing to forgive their sins.  The way that this Jesus was able to forgive sins was by taking the punishment that they earned.  He died a death for those of us that were guilty (according to God’s standard). He took our punishment, and He was free to give us the love that He was entitled from God.

  5. A Christian is someone who, now, is so grateful for the work that God has done in their lives that they have decided to submit how they act out sexually to him.  Being a Christian doesn't necessarily mean that we lose all of our sexual desires (heterosexual or homosexual desires), what it means is that we trust God enough to let Him dictate what is appropriate and what is inappropriate in how we act out sexually.  So, for those of us that are married men, we reserve the acting out of our sexual desires for our wives alone because those are the parameters that God lays out for us.

Conclusion

Please understand, you are free to disagree with the Bible.  That’s your call.  Part of God’s great gift to us is that He has given us the ability to choose. He is not forcing everyone to agree with Him. But understand this is as well, while you’re free to disagree with the Bible, you’re not free to rewrite it. The term Christian is clear, and can’t be debated.  Christian = someone who trusts Jesus enough to let Him set the course for how they act out sexually, financially, morally, etc. regardless of how much they don’t quite understand it or desire to comply.  A Christian is someone who understands that when their desires don’t line up with God’s desires, they ask Him to help change them…not vice versa.

If you disagree and don’t trust God to set the course, you’re free to do that.  However, by disagreeing you now have to really take an assessment of what your definition of Christian is.  If you define Christian as someone that follows Jesus but deviates from the pathway in areas when you feel like Jesus has made a mistake in what He’s commanded, then please understand that isn’t following.  You’re going to end up in a very different place than Jesus.  And if you land in different places, then is that really following?  I don’t think so.  But then again you’re free to disagree.

Not Enough

I don’t talk about Jesus enough.  You probably don’t either.  Does that come off harsh?  Judgmental? Insensitive?  It probably does, and those things may be turn-offs to the gospel.  But the truth is that however it came off, it actually came off.  Do you know what perhaps is a bigger turn off to the gospel?  Silence.  And many of us are silent because we are scared of conflict.  We are scared of people thinking the wrong things about us (which is a valid concern).  What’s an even more valid concern is that although our slience ensures that people don’t think the wrong thing about us, it almost definitely ensures that people continue to think the wrong thing about Jesus.

DON'T LET HIM BE MISUNDERSTOOD

Jesus needs to be talked about, because Jesus is misunderstood.  Silence, especially when it comes to the most controversial of things, only ensures that Jesus is continually misunderstood.  And as long as He is misunderstood, people think they are doing the best thing for themselves by trying to stay away from him.

Acts 5 brings this point out the most clearly.  The leaders of the day are adamant about repeatedly telling the disciples to stop teaching people about Jesus.  What’s worse is the reason why they don’t want to hear about Jesus.  They completely misunderstood Him.  When talking to the disciples, they say, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 5:28).  Did you see that?  They didn’t want to hear about Jesus, because when they thought about the intent of the disciples message, all they saw was guilt.  They basically said, "We don’t want to hear what you have to say, because you just want to make us feel guilty."  What better words could be used to describe (1) the worldview of people that aren’t Christians and (2) our biggest fear and reason why we don’t share?

Christianity and Jesus are very loaded terms. When we start to talk about them, or even make a reference to Jesus, people don’t hear what we say.  Often when we say Jesus, they hear their guilt.  And they conclude:

You just want to make me feel guilty about my homosexual lifestyle.

You just want to make me feel guilty about the fact I want to have an abortion.

You just want to make me feel guilty about the music I listen to, the way I spend my money, and the things that I consume on the weekends.

You just want to make me feel guilty about [insert your particular vice here].

We are scared of guilt.  For the most part, especially in the society that we live in, people aren’t concerned with being guilty. They just don’t want to feel guilty.  We are okay with being at fault, just as long as we get away with it.  What we hate the most is the nagging feeling of someone telling us that we didn’t get away with it.  Understand that just because you don’t feel guilty doesn’t mean you’re innocent.

It’s this reason in particular that people reject Jesus—He won’t turn a blind eye to anyone’s guilt.  When face to face with someone’s guilt, Jesus won’t act like it’s not a big deal—nodding his head and using verbal fillers like “yeah” or “I know what you mean” in hopes that the conversation will switch to another topic.  But that’s what people want.  We don’t want to linger on people’s guilt or their sin.  We don’t want to hear that our sins are actually worse than we ever thought. We believe that if our guilt is found and maximized, it would prevent us from receiving God’s grace. Yet, this is the reason why the gospel is such good news. Our guilt doesn't prevent us from receiving God’s grace; it prepares us to receive God’s grace with humility and gratitude.

Tell the whole truth

So, the reason we have to continually talk about Jesus is to remind people that Jesus is trying to ensure that guilt is not the end of the road.  Our guilt can be paralyzing, and it’s easy to think that denial is the best way to deal with it.  But guilt can’t just be denied; it has to be done away with.  Jesus came so that He could deal with guilt.  Here's what the disciples said about their guilt, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree.”  Not only do they reassure the religious leaders they are guilty, but they let them know that their guilt is worse than they think.  It’s never our job to soften the blow of guilt.  IF we minimize guilt, we minimize the grace that’s needed to deal with that guilt.  If we maximize the guilt, however, we maximize the grace that’s needed to deal with that guilt. As sure as the disciples make mention of the guilt, they move to grace. Jesus didn’t die to hold your guilt against you.  Jesus died to “give repentance and forgiveness.”  This is why Christianity is such good news—my guilt makes me a prime candidate for God’s grace.  The bigger my guilt, the bigger His grace.  People see the holiness of Jesus; so, their guilt is apparent, but they don’t understand that His love is just as great.

In our silence, we take part in two great evils (1) minimizing the guilt of the individuals we have relationship with and (2) perpetuating the misconceptions of Jesus.  And we do all of this to make sure that we don’t seem awkward or hurt people’s feelings. Basically, we let people go to hell out of charity to them.  We would rather be in their good graces then hit a nerve that will potentially expose the hurt and pain they’ve been numb to and increase their need for and appreciation of a Savior.

Please, please, please talk about Jesus with someone today.  I’m begging you. Clear up the misconception that He just wants to make people feel guilty.  Help them understand that the only reason He even mentions our guilt is so that we can understand His grace.  Don’t let people go to hell because they misunderstand Jesus.

There may not be a cute or clever way to start this conversation, but don’t let that stand in your way.

 There’s too much at stake.

(Ordinary)Gospel.(Automatic)Family.(Latent)Mission.

Last night, our college ministry had the semester’s first large-scale gathering of students and others in the college-age range at what we call The Brook. I had the opportunity to co-host the event with a dear friend of mine, and we’d spent the past weeks planning, creating and losing sleep. [Pause] Think about the arrangement of that sentence. I said I had the opportunity to co-host. But what about the planning, creating and losing sleep? Were those opportunities too? Considering that when we think about an opportunity, we usually follow it up with some noteworthy action, a platform, some dream come true or some profitable endeavor, I’d say no. The fact that God would let me stand on a stage was the opportunity. Isn’t that what we all want in some arena or another? To be seen and heard.

 Ordinary Gospel

Over the course of the night, I shared God’s story of redemption manifested in my life, as did the other host, and our student pastor had an open dialogue with those in attendance to probe into their hearts and minds.  One student made a confession that was met with many agreeing nods: the Christian life can become predictable and ordinary, mundane even. He was right. We’ve read this, heard that and already told everyone about it via social media. We talk about Jesus and scripture with bullet points and breakdowns to the point that actually falling on our knees, God forbid our face, in awe of Him is beneath us. My friend admitted yesterday that she couldn’t remember the last time the majesty of God moved her to the point of tears, so heavy she couldn’t stand, until just recently. Personally, I didn’t have to go before God to prepare to share my testimony last night. I’ve already been coached on how to communicate it quick enough to someone who I might not have an opportunity to speak with at-length. No, this is not an attack on doctrine, methods and models; we must be students of the one we worship.  But if all our learning and planning makes us forget who we were when God exchanged our death for life and somehow overshadows the filthy-ragged Christians we still are, then I’d agree with the wise woman who told me, “I never want to know that much.”

Salvation is a miracle.  The fact that God sent His son to take my place in death and now I get to walk free is no point made in passing.  We’d be outraged if the prisons just started releasing criminals to roam free, with the hope that they’d make different choices with their newfound freedom.  What have they done to earn such a pardon? They don’t deserve to live freely! They (we) sure don’t.  But it’s been quite a few mornings since “the morning on which death and sin lay prostrate in defeat and new life and salvation were given to mankind.” So, that thought doesn’t wake us up or provide fuel for our days.

Automatic Family.Latent Mission.

 As if the supernatural exchange of redemption isn’t enough, the fact that we are not left wandering this planet alone in our freedom should give us pause. Not only do we have the spirit of our emancipator living inside us, but we also get to journey through this life with other freed souls.  “It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies.” There are countless Christians who don’t know this common unity customary to some of us today. There are people struggling to stay on the narrow road, because there is no one around to remind them of whose they are.  Not to mention those brave souls risking their lives in hostile environments only finding fellowship in the Holy Spirit.  Yet, for those of us who have a contact list full of other believers, the Body is no monumental piece of art. The idea that God arranged for us to “randomly” encounter one another or choose to live in the same state or end up at the same church when we come from totally different worlds is not a phenomenon to ponder. Oh but it is. And if we did, we’d be brought to our knees. God is sovereign. Don’t just say it, sit with it; better yet, go with it.

 He hasn’t privileged us with family merely for comfort in common hues or delight in shared preferences. “Only because the message concerning Christ Jesus must still go forth and find believers, and because our task is not yet perfected, does God in His patience continue to sustain us with His good gifts.” We are united by Him and for Him alone. Growing in the Gospel alongside family while on mission should mean we’re around other people whose lives have been transformed by the Gospel, which compels us to share with those lost souls whose present lives remind us where God stepped in and changed our own. Being on mission not only takes what’s in you and pours it out to others, but it should serve as a constant reminder of how and why you even have anything in you worth sharing.

 That God would let me…

 As I came across an old friend’s profile this morning, the reality of last night showed itself.  Who my friend is now versus who I am by the grace of God struck me. I could still be like them! Living “free” yet so bound. But the power of God unto salvation changed the course of my life; actually, it introduced me to life.  How could that reality not leave me ravished every day? With that in mind, God letting me do ANYTHING should produce gratefulness. For my life to be seen or my voice heard by anyone for His namesake should be humbling, because I know where I was and where I still am—not tall enough to reach His glory. It’s not about being on a stage or leading a group or discipling some person.  Often times, that’s just us wanting to be seen or feel important for our pride’s sake. It is an opportunity just to get to offer my gifts, my time, my thoughts, and myself to the God who gave them to me and redeemed them all from my own tainting. To get to pray for strength and energy for the day that followed a long night of planning and preparation is in fact an opportunity. To get to do anything with and for God is an opportunity I do not deserve.

May I never forget that. May the thought of it be what wakes me up time and time again.

 *All quotes taken from Life Together by Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Different But Equal (Part 2)

2: ROLE of RESPECT: You have the power to breath life or death.

The best way we can help is to breath life into our husbands.

How do you breath life?

God created man with such a uniqueness from women.  I wish someone had TOLD ME SOONER!   As a woman, I don’t need the same things a man does; they don’t need the same things we do.  I see this in my sons and daughters already. Trinity, Jade, and Briaiah need to be protected, pursued, told they are beautiful, affirmed, hugged; their hearts need to be shepherded.  Dhati, Brayden and Nathaniel need to conquer, they need to be the strongest, they need to know that their lives count for something and they naturally protect.

Not too long ago, my oldest son stood up for my oldest daughter on the playground—Dhati-4, Trinity-9.  A little boy was picking on Trinity and Dhati saw it.  He ran, stood in front of her and told the boy not to touch Trinity.  Dhati got knocked to the ground, but stood back up and got back in front of his sister.  His natural instinct was to protect. [pull_quote_left]They need respect.  If they don’t get it, it is like you are taking their very air away from them.  They cannot breathe, they cannot conquer, cannot protect, cannot shepherd, cannot love, cannot pursue.[/pull_quote_left]  When Trinity told me the story, and I asked Dhati about it, he was proud; he didn't need us to say thanks, he was naturally proud of his role.  On another note, a couple weeks after this incident, Dhati got punched in stomach in the lunch line.  He tried to keep it together and, he was fighting his emotions, but when I happened to walk into the lunchroom on this day to have lunch with him, he lost it.  He felt embarrassed and disrespected.  My boys need respect.  I pulled Dhati aside in that cafeteria, told him I was proud of him for being a boy who cares about people and wants to protect.  I told him I was proud of him for being a good boy and not a bully.  His eyes lit up and all that embarrassment, all the self-doubt seemed to melt away immediately.  THIS IS WHAT RESPECT IS.

They—boys, men—need this respect.  If I discipline the boys in front of others, I do not get the same result as if I pull them aside and talk to them; that shows respect.  THEY NEED IT.  It breathes life into them.

Look at 1 peter 3: v.1 won without a word by respectful conduct v.4 precious in sight of the Lord is the gentle and quiet spirit (this does not mean being vocally quiet; it’s a quiet spirit) And Ephesians 5: v.33 See to it that the wife respects her husband.

I have also seen the opposite of this in the adult world. I have had countless opportunities to mentor young ladies in their role as married women.  I would say the number one area that is just ignored is the woman’s understanding that she can breath life by respecting her husband.  I remember talking to one young lady who had only been married a few years. She consistently told her husband what to do, complained all the time about what he did/didn’t do, talked bad about him in public, raised her voice at her husband and then later complain that he did nothing to help around the house or with the kids.  I challenged her one day, “You are breathing death into your marriage.  She looked at me like I just cut her right arm off.  She had no idea she was a major part of the problem; she had no idea she was being disrespectful.  She had the same misconception that many of us have, that men are strong, so we can just say what we are feeling.  They are men; they should be able to take it. Not the case. They need respect.  If they don’t get it, it is like you are taking their very air away from them.  They cannot breathe, they cannot conquer, cannot protect, cannot shepherd, cannot love, cannot pursue.

Another couple that we have known for years shared a story that one day, the wife sat in front of her husband and told him, “I don’t love you or respect you.  I never have.”  Tears streamed down the man’s face—crushed.  Death.

US: What does this look like for us?  We come in with a love deficit as women.  Dad didn’t accept us, friends have rejected us, or we have believed the lies of the enemy and that alone has stolen our love capital. Whatever way, we come to the table with a love deficit.  In the same way, regardless of the upbringing and background, a man comes to the table with a leadership deficit, a respect deficit.  They are secretly waiting for someone to tell them that they are good at what they do.

ME: I assume all the time that Dhati knows that he’s great, but I also tell him. And regardless of how many times I say it, I see life breathed into his soul every time I say something that affirms his leadership over our family.  “Babe, you are such a great leader. I am so excited we have 3 boys that will get to see it modeled well.”  “Babe, that sermon was great, but the best thing about it is that you are able to speak with confidence, because you are a man of integrity. Not everyone can say that about their husbands, thanks for leading in that way.” “Babe, I can follow you wherever you see fit to lead this family, because I trust you at the core.”  You would be amazed at what that does for a man.

Dhati said in one of his manhood sermons, “Imagine if every man in here got this...got what it means to be man." I have the same heart for our ladies.

Imagine what it would look like, how society could be transformed if every wife saw dignity in her role, chose to respect her husband and be a life breather.

Helpmate: means literally ‘a help answering to him’ or ‘one who answers’...Adam needed a helper.

God has called our husbands to work, and we are called to help.  We are a team. If we can play our role as Helper, die to self and embrace the team’s best interest, we can be so much more effective for His glory.

 

Different but Equal

I am a mom of six, and I take this parenting thing very seriously. When I am asked to share about marriage and women’s roles in marriage, I ask myself, “If I could have had only two concepts shared with me or two concepts I could share with my daughters, what would they be?” The other night, I was reading the story of Bathsheba with my girls before going to bed, and I made the comment that Bathsheba’s role as wife to David was one of value, but it was very different from David’s—he was leader.  Trinity’s face soured, “Mom, I don’t like that.  I think I am a pretty good leader,” she told me.  There is something innate in a woman that wants to lead, wants to take over.  In many ways, we can be more competent and better at certain things than men (I’m sure there are statistics to prove it). And the funny thing is that Trinity is right; she is a good leader, and she will probably continue to prove to herself that she is smarter than the boys around her. I didn't have to teach her that; it is real in a woman even at a young age.

Society has dealt with this very issue in a couple of different ways: egalitarianism, chauvinism, and complementarianism.

The Egalitarian view is the idea that men and women are the same and equals.

The Chauvinistic view says that men are more valuable than women.

The Complementarian view describes men and women as equal but distinct. Equal in value but holding different roles and responsibilities.

I ascribe to the last view.

To some women, this view brings comfort, but to some, it brings fear.  Honestly, early in my walk with the Lord, having a different role did not comfort me. Submission = bad word.  You see, I had goals.  I was valedictorian of my high school, and I had scholarships upon scholarships (I even had money left over after I paid for school, books, room and board, etc.). I had my heart set on becoming a pilot, and I scored high on my aptitude tests, so I was on the path to being just that.  I didn't need a man to lead me!  Besides that, my parents and the models I saw made the idea of following someone look gross, belittling.   Being married and submissive meant cooking dinner for a man that just watched tv all day, putting up with someone calling me names because they had the right to do so, and feeling threatened because they were bigger than me.  This idea was not comforting, and I am sure a lot of you have the same discomfort.  But I want to show you the dignity we have with our roles as wives.  Let’s look at the wife, by looking at who the Holy Spirit is.

WHO IS THE HOLY SPIRIT?

The Holy Spirit is a person of the triune Godhead. The Trinity is Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  Each of those is a person within a triune Godhead.  All three are God. The father is God. The son is God. The Spirit is God.  All three are perfect and holy. All three are equally God.  And the Holy Spirit, just like the others, is alive today and lives in the hearts of every believer.

We find in the scriptures that the Holy Spirit is called 'Helper.'  The Greek word Parakletos is used for ‘helper’, which means: advocate, defender, helper, comforter, counselor, representative of Christ, teacher, and one who reminds us of truth.  That is the Holy Spirit.

Now, what does this have to do with being a wife?

If you read Genesis 2:18-19, you will see that God says he will give Adam a helper (parakleto)—someone suitable (or fit) for him.  He created a union between man and wife and He says He wants to give Adam someone that can help him and be suitable for him.

1:  The role of the wife, like the spirit, has tremendous dignity. We are given the same job description as that of the Spirit!

THIS LEADS US TO AN IMPORTANT QUESTION:  Is the Holy Spirit less of a person in the Trinity than the Father or Christ?  And in regard to wives, is our role less than that of our husbands?

Looking at chapters 14-16 in the book of John, we see the importance of the Holy Spirit’s role; He is God-given (14:16), He will bear witness (15:26), and He will teach (16:12).

The role of the wife, therefore, like the Spirit’s role, is not lesser but plays a part of ONENESS.

The Holy Spirit is a part of a Godhead where three persons exist with equal importance but different roles, yet united as ONE.

The husband and wife are also called one.  Genesis 3:24 says, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become ONE flesh.”  A marriage is supposed to be a team designed to accomplish God’s glory.

Application: Ladies, shift your mindset of what it means to be a HELPER. God graciously put us in this position and in this role.  We have to accept it, and I pray that we would be satisfied and energized in it as well.  Seriously ladies, this is where the enemy has kept us in a trap.  We are paralyzed and unable to enjoy our roles in marriage, because many of us have bought into the lie that it is not dignified. Or, we are unwilling to even marry because we have bought into the same lie.  Who wants to ‘just help’ someone else?  But, if we can really own the fact that God gave us our role, and He gave us dignity in it, then, and only then, can we really make a difference!

Let’s transition.

My second point

What I wish was shared with me before marriage, and what I am definitely teaching my daughters now is that our role in marriage is to be respectful.  I had no idea what this meant.  I thought ‘respect me’ meant, “You gonna respect me!” But I’ve since realized that we have the ability to breathe life or death into our husbands...

*Part 2 will be featured on Wednesday.

Why Did I get Married?

I have thought about this often over the past few months as my wife and I have endured extreme highs and lows.  The following list is in no particular order, I just categorized these things as they came to my mind and wanted to answer as honestly as I know how.

1. I had a God-given desire to be married and God providentially bamboozled someone else into thinking it was a good idea.

Desire

Marriage isn’t something that only crossed my mind after I became a believer.  I have wanted to be a husband for as long as I can remember.  While all of the guys back in first grade were punching girls and pulling  their hair saying they never wanted to get married, I hung out with the girls that were already planning weddings.  I thought this would be a cake walk since my friends were no competition.  I would surely be married by fifth grade, easy.

I can remember reading Genesis 2 shortly after becoming a believer, and longing for what I saw: a relationship in which two people could be “naked and unashamed.” I longed for a companion with whom I could be completely open and vulnerable, without any fear that she would exploit me.  I wanted this good thing that the Bible talked about and held in such high regard.  This desire only increased when I saw brothers in the faith get married and talk about experiences that I could only dream of.  I wanted a best friend who would know everything about me.

Providence

God providentially fulfilled this desire by allowing me to marry my wife, Shawndra.  How did I know Shawndra was the one?  In some sense, I didn’t know she was the one until she said “yes” to my proposal, and “I do” at the altar.  I realized then that my speculations were warranted, and she was the woman that God blessed me with.  I’m grateful that God blinded her to enough of my deficiencies to convince her that I was marriage material.

In Genesis 24, as Abraham is giving instructions to his servant on how to choose a wife for Issac, the servant asks Abraham, “What if she says no and doesn't want to come back here?” Abraham, with amazing profundity, replies, “If she says no, then she’s not the one.”  I knew Shawndra was the one and decided to marry her, partly because she said yes.  If she turned me down 15 times, it would be safe to assume that providence wasn’t on my side.

2. I felt like marriage would be a springboard to honoring God further (Eph. 5)

It wasn't until I saw the ultimate purpose of marriage that I was really convinced to pursue marrying Shawndra.  In Ephesians 5, after Paul gives his most extensive discourse on marriage (to both husbands and wives), he ends by saying, “This mystery is profound, but I am referring to Christ and the church.”  What Paul was saying is this, “I know that I’ve been talking about marriage and have spent almost an entire chapter giving you the keys to have a successful one, but here’s what I want you to know—the purpose of marriage goes beyond you, this is really about Christ and the church.”  It was at that point that I realized the nature of marriage.

Marriage is  like a camera in its purpose. A camera takes pictures. The pictures offer a first hand experience of whatever lies captured in the image. That’s why wedding photography is such a huge industry.  The better the camera, the better the picture; the better the picture, the easier it is for people who haven’t had a first-hand encounter with the event to experience it.

This is the purpose of marriage.  To present a lifelike picture of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, endurance, friendship, and pleasure to a hurting and a fractured world that desperately seeks after all of those things.  The better the marriage, the better the picture.  The better the picture, the easier it is for onlookers to see God’s love made real to us through His Son.

My wife and I were blessed to have built a friendship almost entirely on serving the needs of others.  I don’t say that as a precursor for finding “the one,” I say it to show that it really helped me understand the purpose of marriage.  As a result of our relationship, I saw just how much she spurred me on to love others and good deeds (Hebrews 10). I also saw just how much she complemented me and my weaknesses.  Being with her made me more of an effective witness of the truth of Jesus .  So, marriage became a no-brainer when I saw that as a result of being together I could more effectively do the very thing that had been driving my life thus far.

3. Selfish motives – thinking marriage would be my savior

[pull_quote_left]But, I quickly discovered that marriage makes a terrible savior, and a horrible god.[/pull_quote_left]I wanted to fulfill and experience the God ordained purpose for marriage, but I got married for a lot of selfish reasons as well.  (That dispels the myth that God only blesses you with marriage once you have effectively conquered all of your selfish desires. Not encouraging selfishness, just showing God’s grace.)  To be honest, I hated being lonely growing up.  I always wanted to be around people, and I needed people around me constantly to feel loved and valued.  What better way to guarantee that I would never be lonely again than to be married to someone?  Right?  And, yes, I also wanted to have sex without fear of guilt or shame.

But, I quickly discovered that marriage makes a terrible savior, and a horrible god.  What marriage did do, however, was expose the sin that was in my heart.  I saw (and continue to see) that the majority of the unmet expectations and frustrations in my marriage had nothing to do with my spouse and her failures.  They have everything to do with me and my sinful desires to have someone who would feed me grapes and fan me with oversized palm branches every time I had a rough day on the basketball court.

Truth be told, I think there are a lot of people out there who have a better understanding of what marriage is “supposed to be” than I had when I first got married.  God allowing me to get married certainly wasn’t a reward for my faithfulness to him.  Marriage was a gift to me to expose the sin and idolatry in my heart that keeps me from really experiencing intimacy with Him.

In this life, EVERY ONE of us will possess God-given desires that are unmet.

Please read this carefully: Just because a desire is “God-given” doesn’t mean that it’s guaranteed to happen.  Having desires that go unmet is a part of life.  No one has ever received everything he wanted.  If all of our desires were given to us, then this wouldn’t be earth, it would be heaven.

More often than not, we do not get what we deem as important or vital.  I’ll never forget our struggle with infertility. My wife and I have been trying for four years and three months to have kids, with no luck.   My thought had always been, “It is a good desire, of course it will happen for me one day.”  God gives good gifts to his children, he would NEVER keep this from me.  He would never hear my cry to impregnate my wife and say, no.” And I prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed.  It never happened.  And everyone I talked to said, “Don’t worry, it’ll happen one day.”

I remember being in my room one day, reading Let The Nations Be Glad by John Piper.  While reading this book, a thought came to my mind unrelated to the actual content.  EVERYONE IS WRONG! What if it NEVER happened?  What if I NEVER have kids of my own?  What if I never go into a mall and have someone stop me to tell me that my daughter looks just like me? What if I never have a son to compare my baby pictures with?  What if?

This is a God-given desire that I had before many of my friends, and that I prayed for longer and harder than any of my friends.  I wanted to know God as Father by being a father.  I’ve heard so many people talk about how much they’ve grown in their walk and learned about love because of fatherhood, and I want to learn that.  I want to know God like that.

What I heard the Lord say to me was, “John, what if I don’t want you to know me that way?  What if there is a unique way that I want to reveal myself to you and through you?  Some people will know me that way, but other people will know me through another way.  What if I want you to grow in your relationships, your fatherhood, your submission, and companionship, not through natural children of your own, but adopted children?”  Here’s the question that provided the most comfort to me in my struggle and changed my heart.  Lord, what would you have me to do with the time, money, energy and love that you’ve given me NOW, that I would like to use to parent the kids that I desire?  Who in my life have you called me to extend these things to?

It was in this that I realized that EVERY ONE of us will have to learn this same lesson in life one way or another.  If you’re single and you’ve been at Blueprint for the past few weeks, or heard the sermon, then you’re probably thinking about this lesson as it relates to your relationship status.  When we come to the realization that all  of our God-given desires in this life will not be met  we can really begin to live.  This is where life really takes off regardless of your circumstances.  Life takes off when you leverage the life you already have, rather than lamenting the life you wish you had.

A Shared Meal

She did not arrive as I had prepared myself for; [she isthe woman the world tells me to hate and my sisters in Christ warn to love only from a distance. I imagined her arriving airy, fresh, and bright; the face I’d clicked on thousands of times the last year and a half of my knowing. She arrived fearful, unsure, and shaken. We’d spoken on the phone a few times, sent Facebook messages, comments, likes and texts, but this would be the first time our eyes would meet.

We sat on Whiskey Cakes outdoor patio. Texas sun bearing down on us. I wore dark sunglasses and a new-to-me outfit from Goodwill. I didn’t feel the need to show up as “Tony’s beautiful wife” donning manicured exterior. For the first time in my life, I was comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t have to act like something, but rather be who I am—Jennifer, lavishly loved by my Heavenly Father and Tony’s Covenant Love.

Physically shaken, she kindly asked if I minded her ordering a glass of wine to help calm her. With hand extended across to her arm I tried reassuring her that there was no need to be nervous and wine would not offend me.

We chit chatted just as one would expect to meeting someone for the first time. Neither of us sure as to where our conversation would travel. For me, I had no burning questions; no intention on bringing up what connected us (my husband's affair with her). I had from day one seen it as my husband’s responsibility to answer any and all questions formed within me. I thank God daily for his telling.

What brought me to share a meal with her was to truly know if I’d forgiven as proclaimed. I also came having prayed to God that he’d show me so deeply into her that the visions haunting me would be replaced by who she is and not what she had done. To do this would take my offering her the gift of telling her story as only she could, through her lens. I would have to listen.

Face quickly becoming washed in tears of brokenness- a shattering. A life lived knowing loss: father, grandmother, grandfather and in many ways mother. Mother whose first choice was never the one birthed from within her womb, but instead choosing man. A mother whom regularly takes without the asking, never replacing or sowing into the woman-child whose blood is that of her own.

Her words pierce me and I draw closer taking her hand into mine. It would stay this way the rest of time together. Never before have I sat this close to broken, the desire to know and be known. The desire to be seen naked and unashamed; a desire I too am familiar with. Her only knowing of love has been manufactured becoming defective causing confusion.

She shares that all she has ever done has been pure of heart. I believe her yet realize this formed definition of pure isn’t drawn from Love Himself, The Creator. She cannot walk in what has not been shown, not been taught. “Lord, in this moment reveal to her a love that cannot be created; create within her a new definition.”

“You said once that he showed me a bad example of marriage. It was the only example I'd known marriage to be.”

My mind knew she spoke of my husband, the one I now with honor call “Covenant Love” yet there was separation of whom she spoke of then and who he has become. She shared affections for him, even today having not seen him in eight years. His words “You are so deep” captured her mind and heart causing her to feel seen, heard, and gotten for the first time in her life. I believe her. I believe this story told across trembling lips.

I listened hearing her heart’s desire for truthful response, and truth was all I could offer. Truth that would cause heavy tears, but I had to be honest whereas the man who stole her self-worth wasn’t. It was time to take her trembling hand and escort her from the surface out into the deep. The place I'd been shown my own healing. 

“You weren’t special to him. You could have been anyone, but not because you aren’t special. You could never have done or been enough. You could never have been to him what only I was designed to be.” Truth spoken boldly in love from my lips with hope of healing.

The sting on her face could not be hidden even by the cloth napkin brought upwards in drying motion. I knew in that moment all she could hear was that it could have been anyone, that she wasn’t special.

When dealing with the weight of sin and weight of Gods glory ones perception cannot be off. It must be altered and diseased parts cut away. We must be shown what love isn’t in order to truly know love as it was created to be. Not some generic word written upon metal dangling from our necks or nailed upon walls. But rather a treasure that frees. Love does not trap or enslave. There are no grey areas in love.

Truth has a way of taking what was once masked making it exposed, and this moment was no exception. As she cried color melted away from covered face. Manicured hair now ran between fingers, pulled to one side. I wished I have had a pony tail holder to offer, but I had none to give. Finally I could see her, what I couldn’t see when we greeted one another an hour before- shattered yet hopeful.

“I thought it was me he saw as deep, but I was just a manifestation of you. He was hearing you, not me.  His words “You are so deep” caused me believe I was seen by someone for the first time but it was really you who he saw.”

 Her statement stirred me. I didn’t desire to make this about me if it wasn’t, but was this more about me than I imagined? Was it about sex at all or was sex just the offspring of something greater within the heart. A desire to relive that in which can never be made new of again, especially with a stranger. Had I, the love of his youth become invisible?  I needed Tony to walk through this one with me. That would come later, for now I continued listening.

“You have offered me grace and forgiveness that my own mother has never offered or shown me.”

With pointed finger placed upwards I assured her that what she saw was not merely me, Jennifer Upton, because I could not have sat there. I told her that what she saw was Christ whom I live my life to be a reflection of. Such forgiveness could only flow from Love Himself.

“That reflection shows. You give me hope for what I can become.”

 She is well aware of the grace that lay cloaked over me. I extended this grace freely given to me, forgiveness I’d been given without merit after spending time exploring in my own tale of adultery almost one year to the day of Tony’s. We each carried our secrets for years without the other knowing; he for eight and me for seven. I didn’t have the power to transform the heart beating rapidly within her, but I gave what offering I could.

We hugged a long tight hug saying our goodbyes. This embrace seen from a distance by my Covenant Love, the one whom could not imagine such an embrace all those years ago filled with darkness. I’d not hidden him this day, but asked for this to be my process in the midst of my healing ultimately leading to fullness of our own and prayerfully this “Child of God” who’d sat before me.

She asked that in my telling that I share with you the loss of self-worth that manifests itself in the act of adultery. The giving of what you believe is desired, the person of you, only to realize that they never saw you at all. Internal scars formed not easily healed.  I think it is only fair to share with you this truth from the lens of one that carries such hurt. Yes, it takes two and two are responsible, but hurt is hurt whether self-inflicted or not.

This journey into deep dark waters has taught us that sexual relations outside of marriage are merely a shell of God designed Covenant offering only brokenness, when meant to offer glory to the one whom creates. It is only within your marriage bed where glory and fulfillment of desires are found. Giving of sexual relations any other way is merely one that takes rather than giving. It is conditional at best. Christ gave without condition and we are to do the same.

I am unsure where the story of the one whose hand I held and I go from here, where travels will take us nor what this landscape may look like. I do know that I forgive and love her because of whose I am. My and Tony’s prayer is that you see God’s hand in our story and that you don’t forgive only those whom you deem worthy, but forgive all. It truly will set you free.

You can read more about our journey, the layers of who we are at www.spiritualglasses.me

 

 

Let's talk about sex...kids

There is an expression that you hear in Christian circles—”more is caught than taught.” This simply means that in many cases people learn more effectively by personal experience than by being taught or spoken to about a certain subject. What I have learned is that talking about sex to your kids is definitely NOT one of those subjects! I grew up in an ultra conservative home (think Leave it To Beaver) where sex was definitely not discussed. The opportunity to talk about it was there, but it was considered taboo and so it was regularly avoided. I honestly never even heard people speak of having “The Talk” with their kids in our circles. I knew about sex from probably the age of 11 or 12 but not because anyone told me about it. Some basics I learned in school, some I picked up in the boys bathroom, and some from TV or other cultural sources but none from my parents. Unfortunately, for my kids, I repeated this cycle to a certain degree as a parent, particularly about what sex is physiologically. I allowed the awkwardness of the moment to keep me from teaching my kids about how God made men and women differently both physically and emotionally, and how sex can glorify God in the context of marriage. On the other hand, we have been much more open with our kids about what God expects from them in the area of sex (waiting until you are married, giving yourself to your spouse and only your spouse, etc). We have made sure that our kids have been present at any opportunity to hear about sex from a Biblical perspective from Godly men and women, and we have not shielded them from people who didn’t do things God’s way and had to suffer the consequences.

The point is, culture is ready, willing, and able to teach your kids all the wrong things about sex..if you don’t. I believe in my heart that my parents believed that the world I was growing up in was the same world they grew up in in terms of sexual issues. Now that I’m older, I am more aware that the challenges my kids face in this area are exponentially greater than anything my wife and I faced as kids. My exhortation to parents is to be open and honest with your kids. Admit the areas where you failed and allow God to use that to help your kids meet God’s standard and have a healthy view of sex from His perspective. Please don’t allow the awkwardness of the moment to keep you from saying what you should say or allow culture to teach them from a secular perspective. Instead, allow His grace to shine in this area and bless your family with a biblical perspective on sex.