God Is Greater Than Satan. Duh. And We Benefit.

Image courtesy of Calvary Chapel Birmingham

I think sometimes, as Christians, we can overemphasize how much we give up to follow Jesus the way we do.

God asks us to lay down our lives for Him. It’s all over the place in the Bible. Take up your cross and follow me, Jesus says. The woman who gives all she has to the offering is following God’s will, Jesus says.

That is all beautiful and significant, but we must not forget that God has given us so much in return for our faith. We have received and will receive far more than we will ever sacrifice to follow Jesus. I think of two Bible passages in particular that show me that abundantly.

The first I read just now in 1 John 4. He is writing about spirits that come into the world through false prophets, spirits that lead people astray from the true way of Christ. The right spirits, the ones you know are from God, John writes, are those that confess “that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (v. 2). They say that Jesus is God, that He was and is the image of the invisible God. Remember, at this time, Jesus’s physical presence on earth wasn’t that long ago.

John continues to write encouragement to his audience, particularly in verse 4:

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

1 John 4:4

First of all, I love that John calls his readers “little children.” He’s done it before, in 2:28 and 3:7, and I just love it. It’s very fatherly and compassionate and wise-sounding to me.

Secondly, his emphasis is that God is greater than Satan. Duh. This seems obvious, but I don’t know if we always get it.

So often in Christian culture, I feel, we get so worried about the state of “the world” and how it will harm the church and the youth and society. While there are things in “the world” that are harmful and destructive, I think that, in those moments, we forget what God is capable of.

God is greater than Satan. Any move that Satan makes in the world, God is so much greater than Satan that not only can He match Satan’s move, He can one-up them, easily. We may not always see God’s moves the way we see Satan’s moves so often, but they’re there and they’re accessible.

Correct, they’re accessible. John says that his audience has “overcome” those false-prophet spirits because God is greater than Satan. And this leads us to our second passage.

In just one book prior, 2 Peter, the disciple of Jesus starts off his letter by explaining that as believers we have access to something very special because we are God’s children:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

2 Peter 1:3-4

God has made us “partakers of the divine nature” through His promises. What did He promise us? He promised us His Holy Spirit, by which we know how to live and be godly. He gave us His Word, Jesus, so we know how to live and be godly.

Because He’s given us this power, we can fight sin! We can choose right over wrong. We can see who is a false prophet and who is not.

We can be like God in those ways. There are many ways we can’t be like God, and thank Him for it. But we need to remember that we can access that power in moments of weakness, moments of temptation, moments of happiness.

He is there, and He is for us. And He is greater than Satan. Alleluia, amen.

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Don’t Give Up: Even When You’re Depressed and Anxious Like Me

Note: This is the continuation of a series on the idea of not giving up in different scenarios. Previous posts include entries on work and relationships. The previous posts have not had a particular audience, it can be applied generally. But my heart is for the Church, for the body of Christ. So the next two posts will be aimed at a Christian audience.

This post dives into the subject of depression and anxiety, something I’ve written about countless times. Please read my other posts on this subject for more of my thoughts and experiences. Just search “depression” in the search bar and you’ll find them all. This piece gives a brief overview of my story.

I originally wrote this for submission to an online magazine but it was not picked up, so I share it here.

The biggest problem with mental illness in the Church is not that it exists, but that we don’t talk about it.

If we do talk about it, it’s a passing mention, with an emphasis on “read your Bible” and “pray.” Oh, I wish that were true.

I’ve had depression for at least six years, probably more. And it nearly killed my faith.

When we think about depression, we often don’t associate it with the word “Christian.” When we think of “Christian,” the list of words that come to mind don’t usually include “depressed.” In a way, “depressed” often can seem anti-Christian to people who don’t understand it.

Depression implies that someone is down or sad, that it’s a state of mind that is hard to get out of. And that seems to go against what it means to be a Christian. We’re saved, let’s be joyful! We’re forgiven, let’s celebrate! God loves us, let’s be excited! Those are things to get excited about. Those are things to celebrate and be joyful about. However, when you’re depressed, it’s hard to join in that crowd.

The majority of my time as someone who has depression was spent in college at Elon University. I was studying print journalism and participating in a campus ministry. The campus ministry was a good experience and had an emphasis on evangelism and spiritual disciplines, things that were good. However, evangelism and discipline are two of my biggest “weaknesses,” if you can call not being good at those a “weakness.”

Within the context of that ministry, it felt like a weakness. It felt like I was not “good enough” to be a part of the group because I wasn’t as passionate about sharing the Gospel with the lost. I wanted them to know Jesus, but I would rather spend time at the house I shared with a couple guys playing FIFA or doing my homework (I was a bit of an academic when I wanted to be) than building superficial relationships with guys just to try to convert them.

For wanting that, I felt like I was less. And because I felt like I was less, I got depressed. Struggles with sin also depressed me.

I talked about this general feeling of depression every now and then, but it was not a comfortable thing. The guys I talked with, as awesome as they were as brothers in Christ, just didn’t get it. And they seemed to be quite happy with their lives. “What was wrong with me?,” I wondered. “Why didn’t I have the same joy, the same drive?” I chalked it up to that I wasn’t good enough as a Christian, and I had to get better. Then I wouldn’t be depressed anymore and people would think I was an awesome Christian.

That was my driving force in life for a long time, and to today still is to a degree: being the best Christian there is. I wanted people to look at me and see my spiritual life and see perfection. That’s what I thought had to happen. See, everyone around me didn’t act like there was anything wrong with them. Prayer requests usually revolved around sick relatives, hard business presentations and that freshman they had been “pouring into,” hoping to get them saved. I felt like there was no place for me to share the mental anguish I went through on a nearly daily basis. No one talked about their personal struggles in their head, and I wasn’t bold enough yet to share it and start the conversation on my own.

Now I feel a little more comfortable talking about my personal experience with depression, at least online. But bringing it up in person with people is still a struggle. I have a few times in my small group, and it’s been fruitful each time.

The problem comes when we think that being a Christian means you don’t struggle with anything like mental illnesses. Being depressed and being a Christian is not a contradiction. It’s just like being a Christian and being born in the South or being a Christian and being a journalist (I’m both of those things) – it’s just part of who you are. The key difference between those things and depression is that you can be a Southerner and a journalist and that often doesn’t seriously affect how you live as a believer. Depression does.

But I’m writing this to all of you out there who are Christians and have depression: it’s not a losing battle. It’s not a battle that you have to fight alone. You don’t have to be joyful all the time to be a Christian. Being a Christian simply means Jesus saved you. There’s no other prerequisite for being called a son or daughter of God. Don’t let the conversation, or lack thereof, about depression in your church or your local group of Christians make you think you’re all alone.

I’m there with you. I don’t struggle as much anymore, mostly because I take medicine for it and I’m engaged to a beautiful young lady who knows everything about me and loves me anyways. Just like Jesus.

What I’ve found is that the answer to depression is the Gospel. It’s the truth that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), fear of being rejected by God for our feelings, fear of being not good enough for the Father. It’s that God loves us throughout our struggles. The Gospel doesn’t necessarily heal us from depression, but it will help and guide us through it.

So be open about it. Share your story. Don’t be afraid to take medicine. Don’t let people discourage you. Find someone who echoes the love of Christ to you and build a friendship with them. You’re not abnormal. You’re just like me.

Don’t give up. Please don’t give up. It’s not worth it.

Don’t ever give up.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear. But The Church Hasn’t Been a Place Where That Happens.

A Reddit feed on Christianity had a post back in December 2012 that read like this:

Hi there, I recently Felt i have lost touch with my christian faith. I prayed today that God would hear my cry and forgive me of my wrong and help me to live as christ would in this destructive world, but im so scared sometimes that sin would just be too much for me to handle. I want to be holy and pleasing in God’s eyes and celebrate fellowship with other believers, but whenever i went to a bible study they seemed to gossip and talk about other people and how bad they are for sinning. I don’t know whats keeping me from going back to church, but i just want to be accepted by God and my community and become strong in my faith again. I just am worried my pastor will be angry with me.

The post was titled “Afraid to go back to church.” Commenters on the post shared similar struggles and gave some helpful pointers. I’ll get to them later.

How many people are afraid in or of church? I’d willing to bet you that many people sitting in a church pew are afraid of something in the church building. Some of my guesses of fears…

  • The pastor saying something that will make them question their goodness
  • Being rejected/judged because of their struggles
  • Being rejected/judged because they think differently than the majority
  • Going “too much” against the status quo

The first one of these reasons is probably a good reason to get scared. We should all be questioned of our “inherent goodness” as humans and realize that, well, we suck. We fall short of obedience in just about everything we do. Paul David Tripp tweeted today: “Today we’ll be tempted to deny the sin inside us. Denying reality is never a step toward the grace that’s the help for what we’re denying.”

But every other reason on that list is inexcusable in the church. And here’s why.

1 John 4:18 says this:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

I think this verse has two practical applications. One of them is a personal application, and the other applies to the church as a whole.

First, the more we understand the love that God has for us, the less we will fear Him. So often we live in fear of God and His judgement for our sins. But when we realize the depth of His love for us, and the truth that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), the fear seeps away and is replaced by love and gratitude. We fear the punishment, but when we realize the punishment has been taken, we can accept the love and, hopefully, be “perfected in love” as John talks about.

The second is an application of that idea to the interactions with the people around us, particularly in the body of Christ.

Some more comments from the Reddit feed:

“I know the feeling, I’m still too afraid to go to my place of worship even though it’s pretty much throwing a gift from God away. 😦 I’m just worried other people will judge the gringo in the masjid who doesn’t do everything perfectly. Hopefully we’ll both be able to go and perhaps find a group welcoming of us.” – Doctor_Yi

“A big part of the church’s job is to be a hospital where hurting people go to get healed and then gain the ability to help others. The church should also be equipping its members to deal with the challenges of others. If neither of those is happening, you need to find a different church to go to because yours is broken.” – macrobite

“God isn’t going to bed upset. Your pastor isn’t going to be upset – and if s/he is, you really need to find a new church. As for the cackling hens of Bible study, there is no good way for you to deal with them alone. Enlist the help of Church elders, officials or someone in a position of authority to put them back in their place. Cackling hens who are not called out on their behavior are a cancer in the church and one of the reasons I refuse to set foot in or have any contact with one of my local congregations.” – In_The_News

These comments reveal the real fears and real concerns of people in the body of Christ. There’s a fear to go to a church and be yourself because of the judgement or the gossip or the rejection. Fear of rejection is a legitimate thing that goes beyond a girl turning you down for a date. And in the body of Christ, this should not be happening.

Of course, some people’s fear is based on biases and a refusal to accept that there could be any other way. But even that is often founded in a bad experience within a church where a lack of love from the church led to fear.

When the Church doesn’t actually love people as God loves us, an atmosphere is created where fear is cultivated, and we have ourselves to blame. I’ve been on the side of being afraid, and I’m sure I’ve been on the side of creating that fear in others. It’s not God’s fault that people are afraid of church, because God loves. If people are afraid of condemnation from God, they don’t know God because He offers love in place of condemnation. If people are afraid of condemnation from Christians, we don’t know how to love people. Our call is this: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

There is one difficulty: we will never love perfectly. But we can’t solely accuse those who are afraid of church for not giving us grace and not coming. We must also, and perhaps primarily, blame ourselves and seek to grow in our giving of love.

Perhaps my favorite response on that Reddit post was this:

anybody that gives you a hard time for being a prodigal son needs to get kicked right in the butt. then, they need to do the christian thing and turn the other cheek.

but seriously, if you are worried that people will act unchristian towards you (especially the pastor) because you lost your way, then find another damn church, because the one that gives you crap for not being mr. perfect is not teaching the message of christ.

prayers are with you, and god bless you.

I echo this.

What Does ‘Truth in Love’ Really Mean?

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

An idea I’ve been kicking around in my head a lot recently is the idea of “truth in love,” particularly as it pertains to the social issues of today and how the Christian culture responds to them.

The conservative evangelical crowd is very fond of this idea, particularly the “truth” part, I feel. I know that doesn’t necessarily describe everybody in the crowd, but I think there’s a sense where “truth” is often more emphasized than “love.” Making much of this one phrase gives people license to speak truth all the time, sometimes letting the “love” part of it go missing. But as long as we emphasize we’re speaking “truth in love,” we can feel good about ourselves, that we’re obeying God.

Then there’s the other side that’s all about “love” and doesn’t seem to care too much about “truth,” or they’re changing their definition of truth. Certain denominations have ditched biblical truth in an effort to appeal to all. They change doctrine and belief to accommodate everyone, something that is entirely unnecessary and, more importantly, unbiblical. That’s a dangerous path to walk down.

So we face the difficulty of trying to find the middle, trying to discover what it means to include both truth and love in the definition. Here’s how I’m working through it.

Standing on the Truths

Truth is essential to daily life. Without a truth to bank on, we are people of weak or no foundation. And when something doesn’t have a good foundation, it has no staying power, no stability.

Because the Bible is truth, we can bank on it because it will always hold the keys to salvation, to sanctification, to obedience, to holiness, etc. Because God is true, we can bank on Him because He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Truth is something we can’t escape. Truth exists outside of us. If you believe there is such a thing as absolute truth – as Christians do – we can’t get around certain things to be true. God created the world, Jesus died on the cross for our sins, salvation is by grace through faith alone. It is good for us that truth is inescapable. It gives us something t0 stand on, and that is a blessing.

I find that I am most unbalanced when I am not thinking on truth and I’m solely thinking in terms of uncertainties or potential realities. As someone who deals with a fair amount of anxiety, I think in those terms a lot. It’s super helpful for me to have truths I can consistently come back to and bank on. Some of those truths include things like Romans 8:28 (God is working everything together for my good), Psalm 16:11 (true joy is found in following God) and 1 Corinthians 10:31 (my purpose is glorifying God with everything I do).

The difficulty with truth is that it often steps on people’s toes.

Perhaps the most pertinent example of this recently is the rise of discussion over LGBT rights and homosexual behavior in America. The majority of evangelical Christians have spoken out against homosexuality as an “abomination,” as a sin. Using the “truth in love” idea, these Christians use the similar idea of “hate the sin, love the sinner” as a platform to write blog posts and preach sermons against homosexuality as the sin of this generation, against the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage as a dangerous step in America.

I believe that many of these people legitimately do want to love members of the LGBT community. I can’t make a judgement on their hearts just as much as I don’t want them to make a judgement on my heart. But I’m afraid that sometimes we can miss what the true definition of “love” is as we speak truth.

Love Is the Greatest of These

1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Love is something that will last until the end, and then beyond that end. God is love, 1 John 4 tells us, and everything God does is based out of love for Himself, love for His Son or love for us. It is a pure kind of love, a pure affection and attachment to someone or something else. It’s a sacrificial, unselfish love, best displayed by the death of Jesus on the cross for our salvation – “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

In response to God’s love, we love others. I can’t get around this idea that love is the greatest thing that will last forever. If the second greatest commandment after love God is to love your neighbor as yourself, it’s vitally important to living as a believer, living as someone God loves.

What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? I think it’s very much tied into the idea that you want them to treat you as you wish to be treated, the “golden rule.” Love is a verb, right? So it’s super tied-in with our actions. But it’s also a state of our heart. There’s an attitude of love, something that drives how we behave. Love is double-sided: it’s an emotion (a noun) that goes into an action (a verb). But one is not necessary for the other – you can often do the action without the emotion, or have the emotion but do nothing about it.

So love is huge. From my perspective, it’s God’s primary attribute. Everything else that He is derives from His love. And if we’re going to emulate God, which is our goal, everything we must do should derive from love.

So What Really Is Truth in Love?

This is the biggest question.

But it’s a question that often goes unasked. We assume we have the right answer for what “truth in love” really means. That goes for me too. What usually happens is people tend towards one of two extremes, as we talked about earlier. We either focus more on the truth or more on the love.

I often fall into the love camp where I’m more, “Hey, let’s not go so overboard with the truth that we forget to love people.” I’m not saying we need to water down the truth, but let’s give it gradually. Way too much truth at one time easily overwhelms someone.

For example, let’s talk about the LGBT community for a minute. We want to tell them that their lifestyle is sinful. I’m not arguing that. My idea is two things. First, let’s learn to love them as human beings first without approaching that subject. Second, let’s accept and admit that we have lifestyles that are sinful and that we’re no better, no different. Just because people sin the sin of the moment doesn’t mean they’re worse.

That kind of attitude, I think, displays truth in love. There is an acknowledgement of truth and a drive to love. We acknowledge that homosexual behavior is a sin, but we also acknowledge that the choices we make are just as sinful, and therefore we have no high ground to stand on. We then seek to live like Jesus and love them and all sinners – meaning, all people – the same, desiring to love as we would love.

We speak the truth in love, but I think there’s also a sense where we live out truth in love. Are we really living out the truth of the Bible? Are we acknowledging the truth of the Gospel? Are we living out the truth in our love for others? Are we living out love in our standing for the truth?

I must be honest here: I don’t do this well. I’m quick to judge those who sin differently than me. If there are people that struggle with the same sins as me, I’m quicker to emphasize grace and mercy and love because that’s what I would desire for me. But if they sin differently, I’m more likely to point out the truth and skip the love. I’ve got to grow in this immensely.

Truth Is Love. Love Is Truth.

If you’re following Jesus, we’ve got to remember that truth is love and love is truth. This is the lifestyle of a Christian. Let me explain.

Truth is love. God loves us and shows us His love by speaking truth to us. So if we truly love the people around us, we will speak truth. But we can’t forget that love is truth. If we want to live truthfully, we will love. Everything we do will ideally emanate from love for God and love for others.

So being a Christian, living out our faith, is learning how to do that. You could make the point that we’re making a big deal out of one phrase in one verse in Scripture – a point I was about to make – but I think this is a good summary of what it means to live as a Christian. We don’t just speak truth in love, we live out truth in love, we live out love in truth.

Perhaps the most difficult part is that there’s no one way to handle every situation with truth in love, love in truth. It definitely depends on the circumstances. But each and every day, our charge is to figure out what “truth in love” means for where we are right then, who we’re with, what we’re feeling, how we’re living.

And in that, we glorify God the most.

God Is Love. Jesus Is Hope.

1 John 4 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It’s come over the last year or so, and it was huge timing.

I had been struggling with a long time for believing God’s love for me was true. It was that chapter which gave me several assurances of God’s love:

  • “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (v. 9-10)
  • “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (v. 16)
  • “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” (v. 18-19)

That last set of verses was especially pertinent to me. I had a lot of fear of God, fear of people, fear of the unknown. Knowing that God loves me and works all things together for my good (Romans 8:28) has been such a relief when I’m overwhelmed by my sin, when I wonder about the future. God loves me, all will work out in the end. That kills a good bit of that fear.

But recently I’ve been feeling hopeless. I know I am not hopeless, I know there is true hope. But it’s recently been hard for me to believe it.

One passage that really hit me over the head with a truth yesterday was John 16:33-17:3. It’s incredibly powerful:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Some context: Jesus had just finished telling the disciples that “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and believed that I came from God” (16:28). So the disciples were told that God loves them.

In this passage, Jesus gives the disciples, and us, three reasons to have hope, and they all come from Jesus Himself.

Jesus brings us hope of peace here and now.

Jesus says He tells them these things “that in me you may have peace.” Peace can be a feeling. It can be an emotional response to something. But more than anything, peace is a state of being that is not necessarily swayed by emotion.

Jesus says all these things so that they can have peace. There’s a peace that comes from God that is objective. It’s established through the love of God shown through Christ. Jesus earned that peace for us on the Christ. It’s the peace between God and man that could only be won by Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:17-19 describes it as “reconciliation”:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

The peace we have earned is a reconciliation to God that we lost at the fall, that we lost when sin entered the world. Jesus has made the way for us to be reconciled to God and achieve a great peace.

There’s also a sense where there is emotional or mental peace. That truth, that we’ve achieved an objective peace with God, can at times bring us an attitude of peace. We don’t have to worry about our eternal resting place. We don’t have to worry about our salvation. It was earned through Christ.

Because of Him, we can hope.

Jesus brings us hope of overcoming the world.

Jesus tells the disciples that, in the world, they will face difficulties and tribulation. Each and every one of us faces tribulations, difficulties, on a nearly-daily basis, if not a daily basis.

Jesus has overcome all of that. He faced everything the world had to throw at Him and came out on the other side victorious. Granted, He was God and could do that.

But through Christ, we have hope of doing the same thing. We have hope that we can make it to the end because Jesus paved the way for us. He showed us how to live. He gave us the opportunity for grace and mercy through His death on the cross.

One practical example: He can help us defeat sinful temptation in our life when it attacks. Hebrews 4:14-16 explains it perfectly:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus faced every temptation we did. And He beat it! Because of this (that’s what the “let us then” means), we can come near to Christ when tempted, and we can “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We pray. We read what Jesus said in His Word. We observe His behavior in the Word. After all, He is “the Word” (John 1:1).

Because of Him, we can hope.

Jesus brings us hope of life after death with Him.

In His high priestly prayer after speaking with the disciples, Jesus prays and says that God the Father has given Him “authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (17:2).

What God the Father gave God the Son was the ability to grant eternal life to those He calls His own. I’m not going to dive into the Trinitarian aspect of this because honestly I have no idea how that works and I don’t think we fully will until we get to heaven. And then it still might remain a mystery.

But what remains is that, through Christ, we are given the gift of life eternal with God. And this life eternal is beautiful. Revelation 22:1-5 captures just a sliver of it:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Sometimes I get chills thinking about what this might look like. Again, this is just part of what that eternal life will look like. And we have hope that this is our end because of Jesus. If He hadn’t died on the cross, we would have no hope of this. If He didn’t save us, we would have no hope of this.

This is a thing to rejoice over! This is something we get to be pumped about! Our eternal destiny is secured because of the cross of Christ. In a world where our futures can often be everything and anything but secure, our eternal future is completely set in stone, untouchable by anything on or off earth.

Because of Him, we can hope.

And hope is a beautiful thing in a hopeless world.

Why Try to Not Do Something When You Can Intentionally Dive Into the Love of God?

A week or so ago, I wrote a blog post about the “ironic process theory” and how it can apply to how the Church often reacts to issues in the public sphere. An excerpt:

I think we can subconsciously encourage this in Christian culture when we overload on what not to do. We think so much about not doing something that we end up thinking about it and doing it anyways.

Instead, why don’t we focus more on what we could do? We’re losing our minds trying so hard not to sin that we can easily forget what we can do instead. If I’m trying so hard not to look at porn, it would be easy for me to just slip right into it. If instead I focus on what I can do, psychologically I’m more likely to do it. The difficulty is learning to focus on what I can do instead.

Just about every morning I wake up, there’s temptation to sin at my doorstep. Sin knocks, begging to be let in, telling me that things are better if it is in my life in a personal, real way. And there are some days I listen to it, there are some days it wins.

But this morning as I contemplated this, I realized that there is something 10 million times better for me than sin that’s also knocking, that’s also dying (literally) to be heard. It’s the love of God. And I would do a lot better to listen to it than to the temptation to sin.

God Is With Us. Seriously.

It’s totally cliché now for me to tell you that God is with you every moment of every day if you are a Christian. And it’s cliché for a good reason! There are tons of Scripture that talk about how God is with us. Some examples:

  • Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
  • Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
  • For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9a)

Literally, God is with us. Through the Holy Spirit, He lives in our hearts, and He is constantly around us, watching over us. And it’s not just that.

Hebrews 13 says He’ll never leave us. John 14 says He makes a home with us. Isaiah 41, speaking to the children of God, says God will strengthen us and help us and uphold us. 2 Chronicles 16 says God is looking for the opportunity to give us, Christians whose hearts are blameless through the blood of Christ, strong support.

Yet when I sin, I act as if God is not there. Not only am I rejecting that His way is better, I’m rejecting His offering of being there at all times to help me in times of sin.

The times I reject this most are when I’m tired and lazy or I’m depressed. In those moments, I’m looking for what’s going to satisfy me, usually whatever’s easiest. Sometimes it’s food. Sometimes it’s sinful fulfillment. Whatever it is, it’s usually not good.

What I forget most is what God offers me in those moments that practically far outweighs the allure of sin.

Love Is Here. Love is Now.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

God is love, 1 John 4:16 says. When you look at God, you see love perfected, love as it should be, love in the proper place in one’s heart, love in the proper context, love acted out properly. And it was through Christ and His life and death and resurrection that we saw the best example of His love, that we could be forgiven of our sin and made in right relationship with Him.

But that wasn’t the end of God’s love. God’s love is still true and still for us today. I love the lyrics to Tenth Avenue North’s “Love Is Here”:

Come to the waters
You who thirst and you’ll thirst no more
Come to the Father
You who work and you’ll work no more
And all you who labor in vain
And to the broken and shamed
Love is here
Love is now
Love is pouring from His hands, from His brow
Love is near, it satisfies
Streams of mercy flowing from His side
‘Cause Love is here

In moments when I’m tempted and I’m depressed, I need to turn to the love of God first! I need to bring to mind the Scriptures that tell me that God is here and God loves me. Remembering, dwelling on and praising Him for that love is what will truly satisfy me far more than any man-made remedy.

It struck me this morning that, because the love of God is always available, I don’t have to wait for it to be ready, I don’t have to go through any hoops to get to understand it and believe it. I simply have to do it! All I need to do is believe it and rest in it, meditate on it, dwell in it, trust it.

That is the key to defeating sin. It’s not purposely avoiding things, which can be helpful, but it’s not the answer. The answer is clinging to something better, purposefully pursuing something else: God’s love. Moment by moment, I need to turn to God’s love for me before I turn to anything else.

Whether that’s looking at a poster that reminds me of God’s love, bringing to mind Scripture that tells me of God’s love, or stopping and praying and thanking God for His love, it’s something I’ve got to grow in, something I’ve got to do.

Fear Is Easy, Love Is Hard

Fear will leave you hiding in the dark
But love will bring a light into your heart
So do not be afraid, do not be afraid

I’ve got to imagine that Jesus experienced some fear in the garden of Gethsemane. I’ve got to imagine that, along with the sorrow, He experienced fear. But, if I’m going to guess, He knew what He was called to do and loved us enough to go through it. After all, God so loved the world.

The idea of fear being easy and love being hard has been on my mind a lot the last 12-14 hours or so. There’s a Jason Gray song with that title and I feel like it captures the idea very well.

“Fear will leave you hiding in the dark.”

The dictionary definition of fear: “An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” Fear is easy because it usually doesn’t require a lot of thought. All it takes is simply seeing a situation and rushing to a snap decision to be afraid. That’s easy. We do it all the time. And we hide.

Also, there are a lot of things to fear in this world. We can be afraid of God, others, the world, technology, the government, members of the opposite gender, even ourselves. Potential objects of fear stand around every corner, both in the world and in our hearts. There are times I’m afraid of what I think and the sin I commit.

“Love will bring a light into your heart.”

Love: “An intense feeling of deep affection; a great interest and pleasure in something.” Love is hard because it takes work and concentration and effort. There can sometimes be that intense feeling, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes love must exist in the absence of feeling. And that’s the hardest part.

There are very few things that we can confidently love in this world, very few things we are even encouraged to love. Even “loving” a sports team, something so trivial in the bigger picture, can be incredibly difficult when they can’t score to save a life (I’m looking at you sometimes, Arsenal). It can even be hard to love Jesus, who is literally the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

The beautiful thing about fear and love is that we can look at God’s example of those things toward us.

Romans 8 tells us that nothing in all creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39). We can find hope, joy and rest in that outworking of the Gospel. He loves us no matter what kind of mess we are or get ourselves into. Jason Gray again, in the song “Jesus We Are Grateful” – “You are right to judge my sinful heart/but Your glory is Your mercy/for You condescend to make a friend/of an enemy like me.” He does not fear us, but loves us.

And we can learn more about love in 1 John 4:18 – “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” For God, love is nature because He is love. He is so dominated by love that fear never enters the equation at all.

And now we get to us. We can only love others when we begin to understand God’s love for us – “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God’s love for us does two things. First, it makes us equipped to love. He gives us the Holy Spirit out of His love for us. We would be incapable of loving unless God, through the Holy Spirit, working in our hearts to change us. Second, it teaches us what love looks like so we can work it out. God’s love becomes the example for how we should love others. 1 John 4:10 says that love is defined by how God loved us – sending Christ to die for us. So we learn how to love by looking at how God loves us.

Last part. God’s love brings a light to our heart. It kicks out the dark that fear insists on.

God’s love crushes the shame and guilt we carry because of our sin because God’s love put that on Jesus at the cross.

God’s love crushes the fear of the unknown because God’s love says He’ll work all things together for our good.

God’s love crushes the fear of making a mistake because God’s love says that, even if we make a million mistakes, He still loves us.

“So do not be afraid, do not be afraid.”

 

Agree to Disagree: When Christians Argue

I hate disagreements. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. But it sucks.

I feel like a phrase I’ve been uttering a lot recently is “agree to disagree.” It’s a good way to diffuse or end a tough argument. In Christianity though, this is super hard. Christians often disagree over things they very strongly believe.

For instance, I had a disagreement with a friend recently over the legitimacy of some feelings I was having. I almost yelled at this friend. It was difficult because I wanted to avoid an awkward situation, but it was something I had to do, something I had to say.

I think it’s partly human nature, but there’s an aversion most of the time to peaceful disagreements within the body of Christ. We want to stick to our guns and how we feel and think, but we can’t seem to be friendly about it. There’s always frustration, and even bitterness sometimes.

I was thinking about this and wondered how the early church handled disagreements. 1 Corinthians covers this in a few places. Paul writes, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and judgement” (1:10). He was referring to the Corinthian church’s tendency to disagree on who they followed – Paul, Apollos, Peter or Jesus. In this matter, Paul insists that there be agreement, and I’m pretty sure the agreement is over following Christ.

Shouldn’t we be the best at disagreement? Not in an intellectual sense necessarily, but in a loving sense. God loves us in spite of our many daily disagreements with Him. And because He loves us, we love others (1 John 4:19).

I think of myself and how little I love people I disagree with. Even in the moments of disagreement, my love of people turns into contempt or, at worst, disgust. For example, I don’t always agree with everything my pastor says. I can get frustrated when he handles a piece of Scripture differently than I would. How petty is that?

When you talk about anything religious, it’s difficult to agree to disagree because it’s usually a very strongly held belief. Sometimes those convictions are well-founded and sometimes they’re not. If it’s something that the Bible is explicit about, I won’t back down. But if it’s up in the air, there’s not need for me to be so stringent.

Or is there? For instance, I’m on board 100 percent with Christians being honest and transparent in ministry settings. My main reason: why not? When we’re transparent, Christ is made much of and the grace of the Gospel is more practically understood. I struggle in a lot of areas. I feel like being real and authentic about it will be much more beneficial.

But not everybody agrees with that approach. And I suppose that it’s OK to feel that was since the Bible doesn’t explicitly say to be transparent in all ministry settings. We shouldn’t put up a front, but there’s nothing that says it’s OK to sugarcoat things, which happens far too often when it really shouldn’t be happening at all.

See? I get thinking about a deeply held conviction I have and I disregard everything else anyone thinks. We are hesitant to even admit that we could possibly be wrong. I could be wrong. I don’t think I am, but I could be. It takes humility to admit you could be wrong, and I am very often in short supply when it comes to humility. We don’t need to cave and always assume we’re wrong, but we need to be willing to be wrong.

So what’s the solution? The solution is that I need to be transferring more of God’s grace to me towards others and not be so mean and arrogant. There’s a difference between stubbornness and arrogance. Stubbornness is believing what you believe and sticking to it, while arrogance is believing no one else has even a small chance of being right.

We need to agree to disagree, but not in an avoiding or begrudging way. In a loving and gracious way, the same way God treats us when we disagree with him. Like in our relationship with God, we should share our honest thoughts, opinions and feelings on situations. We’re free in Christ to do that.

But let’s be nice about it.

Compassion: A Key to Living Like Jesus

I look back at my life and examine my first reaction to things, whether that’s with a parent, a friend, a girlfriend, a pastor, etc. My first reactions, either in my head or in my words, have not always been fantastic, I must admit. Especially when my expectations of what should have been said or done were not met. Whew, no telling what’s going to happen.

I remember one instance in particular recently when I thought someone was going to do something the way I had understood it, but instead they did something different. I lost it. I didn’t yell at the person, but I definitely got frustrated. It’s almost my natural reaction sometimes. And I hate that it’s that way! It shows my lack of patience and my lack of love for those people.

But it’s funny: oftentimes I do genuinely love the people, but they didn’t do what I wanted. Someone I trust recently told me this: “There’s no one that annoys you more than the person you love the most because you expect so much from them.” I find a lot of truth in that. And that annoyance comes from not getting your way or things not going how you expected them to.

As I’ve been reading Matthew, I’ve learned so much about Jesus and, as a by-product, learned how much I do not imitate Him as I probably should. I guess that’s what happens when you compare yourself to God. One area in particular I noticed today was how Jesus reacted to people who came to Him asking for help. Let’s look at two instances in Matthew 14-15 specifically.

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

After Jesus heard of the execution of John the Baptist by King Herod, He “withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). Clearly He needed some alone time, maybe to grieve or pray. Probably both. But people caught wind of it and, like people who hear a famous actor or athlete is chewing on a chicken sandwich at a local McDonald’s, they flocked to where He was.

So now Jesus, who’s just lost a very important person in His life and is probably still mourning, is surrounded by all these people who know Him because He’s famous. What does Jesus do? Verse 14: “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

What’s His first reaction to seeing the people gathered on the shore? Compassion. He doesn’t want to ignore them because they’re sinful or they’re bothering Him in His time of mourning. He displayed “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others,” as Wikipedia defines compassion. He didn’t feel sorry for them and heal them because He felt bad – He loved them. He didn’t look for their flaws and tell them to change; He showed them compassion.

The rest of the section talks about how Jesus fed five thousand men, which doesn’t include the women and children that were there, with five loaves of bread and two fish. He didn’t send the people away when it got dark, He kept them there and fed them Himself.

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

The lesser known of the two great feedings comes in Matthew 15. Jesus had spent three days on a mountain beside the Sea of Galilee healing people of all kinds of maladies. Verse 32: “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry lest they faint on the way.'”

The disciples asked Jesus what they would feed the people with, since they were in a “desolate place” (v. 33). With seven loaves of bread and a “few small fish,” Jesus fed four thousand men, plus women and children.

With what did Jesus see the crowd? Compassion, yet again. After three days of healing people, probably doing some teaching, but being around people, Jesus wasn’t tired of the people. He had compassion for them. He had “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” He loved them. He didn’t just care for their eternal soul; He cared for their physical needs as well, and spent a lot of time healing and feeding people on earth.

We Are a People Who Receive Compassion

The great tie-in here is that the Gospel is an act of compassion, just like these works of Christ but on a much larger scale. We are a people who, without a relationship with God, are hopeless, lost, without any profitable destiny. We are a people who need compassion. God is gracious to us and, in Christ, shows His compassion, His love.

There is a connection between compassion and love when it comes to God. God’s love is often displayed in acts of compassion, like Christ dying for us. 1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” He saw that we did not have loved for Him, but He still loved us and sent Jesus to be the sacrifice, to be the substitution.

That’s some compassion. Greater love has no man than he who lays his life down for his friends, but even more so for his enemies. And no one has greater enemies than God does of us! That’s compassion!

So why is it so hard for us to show compassion like Christ? Well, we’re sinful. But we also think we’re entitled to certain things and to only interact with certain kinds of people, and only have certain kinds of things happen in our lives, and only do certain things wrong. So when things don’t go our way, we don’t show compassion. We rebel and we get angry and impatient.

But that is not how Jesus reacted to the crowds, and it’s not how God reacted to us who are His people! He loved us enough to provide a way for the relationship to be made new, restored, made whole!

Let us seek to imitate Christ. We will likely fail at this again and again, but it is worth working at, because in showing compassion we get to give glory to God, which is our life’s mission. And when you fail, remember the grace of God that is greater than all your sins. It’s a piece of His compassion you get to know on a daily basis.

Something The Princess Bride Taught Me About the Gospel Yesterday

One of my favorite lines in the classic 80s film The Princess Bride (which is my all-time favorite movie, by the way) comes from Westley, the farm boy-turned-pirate who goes to great lengths to get back to his true love, Buttercup, after a long stretch of separation where she feared him dead. In one of the climactic scenes in the relationship between Westley and Buttercup, he shares a great bit of wisdom about true love. Watch the clip below:

The line: “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.”

Buttercup: “I will never doubt again.”

Westley: “There will never be a need.”

Let’s make this comparison with the disciples and Jesus. They had developed a strong relationship with Him during His time with them. But then He dies on the cross and they’re in hiding, they’re afraid to associate with him. I gotta imagine there were some strong doubts in their minds about whether or not they should have even followed Him in the first place.

In the film, Buttercup seems to move on, even saying to herself, “I will never love again.” She quits. Her true love is gone, so why even bother giving it another shot? She gets engaged to Prince Humperdinck, who she doesn’t love but since he’s the law of the land she doesn’t really have a choice.

Then Westley returns. It kinda sneaks up on her, but she realizes it and they have the exchange you saw in the video above.

In the same way, Jesus returns. It’s three days, not a few years. And the disciples are changed in such a way that they go from despair to ready to commit their lives to spreading the gospel, dying for it.

Jesus died, yes. He went away for a little bit. But not only did death not stop true love, it was the ultimate act of true love. And because death could not stop true love – the love that Jesus has for us – we have no need to ever doubt. We can go from saying, “I will never love again,” to, “I will never need to doubt again.”

That’s true love. A love that, even if it may look or feel like it’s left, never has and never will.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:9-10