A Guide to Finding the Joy in Confronting Your Sin

Report card time was always an odd one for me.

I was neither the academic so wrapped up in grades that my happiness depended on making straight As, nor was I the slacker who didn’t care a sliver about my marks. I was right in the middle, caring enough that I wanted to know where I could improve but having a C wouldn’t crush me too hard. Of course, I wanted to get better, wanted to grow academically, but I wasn’t going to die if they didn’t come back exactly how I wanted to.

At times I wish I was a better student. My brother and my wife were wonderful students who made the President’s List at Elon University several times. I’m surrounded by people in my life who were great students because they worked hard and put their studies at a high priority in their lives. It’s something I didn’t do. And I was confronted with it every time that I got those grades back.

Confronting bad grades can be stressful for some people. Doing so can usually lead to one of two things: you work harder to get better grades, or you don’t change anything and the grades get worse or stay the same. They rarely lead you to rejoicing.

But I’ve learned in the last couple years that examining my sinful behavior actually leads me to rejoicing in the great God who loves me.

So go through this process with me as you read this.

First: Think about the most recent sin you committed. Maybe it was lusting after a co-worker, yelling at your spouse, envying the latest tech toy your classmate brought to school. Got it? OK, cool.

Now, and this is the painful part, think about how much it goes against God’s law, what God has laid out for you to do. Either you did something He told you not to do, or you didn’t do something He did tell you to do. You’ve disobeyed God.

This sucks. This feeling right here, when you actually confront your sin, it’s the worst. And it can discourage you from continuing forward in this process when you actually need to. But yes, you need to. Your despair and dismay leaves you needing something more.

Second: Look for the answer to your problem. How do you fix this situation? How do you find relief? How do you find peace? Well, you could try harder, but the truth is, you can always do better. You can always perform better. You can always fight sin better. You can always pursue God better.

Our sinful state limits us in our growth because we’ll never be perfect. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you and to themselves. Yes, we can grow, we can become more obedient, but we will never be perfect. So we can’t find satisfaction and relief in our obedience efforts.

So where can we find peace? In Christ alone, in the Gospel alone, in the grace of God alone.

Third: Bask in the grace God has given you, leading you to rejoice. Trust me, it’s a joy that’s well-earned.

It’s a joy that’s come from seeing that God loves you in the depths, in the midst of your darkest time, in your deepest sin. It’s a joy that reads Romans 8:38-39 and shouts, “Yes! This love is God’s for me!” It’s a joy that reads James 1:2-4 and sees the grace and growth that comes from going through sin and temptation, even when you give in and disobey God.

It’s a joy that 1 Peter 1:3-7 explains and finds the joy discussed in v. 6:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Because of the great inheritance and hope that God has given us, we can rejoice in all trials, including facing temptation over and over again, even giving into them, because what we know what we have, we know what’s there at the end. We have hope to rejoice and be happy in spite of the negative that has gone on.

This post is not meant to make light of sin. In fact, it’s to redeem sin, to make it something that we don’t always have to be so upset about. I write to encourage you to confront the darkest part of yourself.

Surprisingly, it just might be the tunnel where, at the end, you’ll see the brightest light.

Advertisement

If We’re Honest, Sinful Solutions Are Still Solutions. They Just Don’t Really Solve Anything.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing to me about addictions is that what people who are addicted search for is called a “fix.”

Seeing as how the word “fix” usually means a solution to a problem that should, in the long run, require no further serious fixing, you’d think a “fix” for an addiction should satisfy that addiction, no longer needing another one.

But that’s how addictions work. Addictions require fix after fix after fix after fix to be satisfied. Biologically, addictions train our body to need satisfaction after satisfaction. Someone who is addicted to pornography doesn’t just need to look once and then they’re set for a long time. They need another one as soon as the high from the first one wears off. Same goes with alcohol, food, hardcore drugs, even approval from others. Addictions work this way.

Here’s the problem with that: it’s a “fix” that doesn’t satisfy. It doesn’t really fix anything except the symptoms of the addiction. It doesn’t fix the addiction.

Sin works similarly. If we’re feeling lost or depressed or mischievous or whatever condition might lead to sinful behavior, acting out on that sinful behavior will fix the problem. But it’s really a surface-level thing. Just ask Asa.

Yeah, I’m going to approach the story in 2 Chronicles 14-16 once more, this time focusing in chapter 16.

Other than his battle with the Ethiopians we looked at in chapter 14, Asa had reigned in Judah for 35 years without war. If you read the Old Testament, you’ll know that 35 years without war is ridiculous, pretty much unprecedented. That streak gets challenged by Baasha king of Israel in chapter 16.

In the 36th year of Asa’s reign, “Baasha…went up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might permit no one to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah” (v. 1). Baasha built a city to block trade and travel into and out of where Asa was living. Verses 2-6 show the rest:

[2] Then Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the LORD and the king’s house and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria, who lived in Damascus, saying, [3] “There is a covenant between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.” [4] And Ben-hadad listened to King Asa and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and all the store cities of Naphtali. [5] And when Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah and let his work cease. [6] Then King Asa took all Judah, and they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building, and with them he built Geba and Mizpah.

In summation, Asa paid his sworn enemy, Ben-hadad the king of Syria, to stop Baasha and Israel from building Ramah. You can get into the idea that he took from the treasures of the house of the LORD and what that means about Asa’s priorities, but I want to focus on something else.

Instead of relying on the LORD as he had before when faced with an opponent far greater in the Ethiopians, Asa took a different route. He trusted his enemy. But here’s the thing, and the difference in this narrative from most stories like this. Asa didn’t get double-crossed, and it didn’t backfire on him.

It worked. It fixed the problem.

Asa found a solution to his problem. It wasn’t a good one, it wasn’t a God-honoring one. His chosen solution didn’t involve God at all.

And he paid for this. Not in continuing to face Baasha’s blockade against his city, but in confrontation from God. Hanani, a seer, came to speak to Asa and basically told him off, saying that because he didn’t trust God, the army of Syria got away from him. God is someone who wanted to support him (v. 9a), who had supported him before (v. 8), but Asa had rejected him. “You have done foolishly in this,” Hanani said, “for from now on you will have wars” (v. 9b).

Asa got mad and threw Hanani in prison and even “inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time” (v. 10). The rest of his reign didn’t reveal trust in God either. Three years after the Baasha debacle, Asa got a severe foot disease. “Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians,” v. 12b says.

His trust in Ben-hadad fixed his Baasha problem, but it didn’t fix his trust problem. It was a trust Asa had displayed on many occasions prior, but for whatever reason, he didn’t trust God this time.

This post isn’t to criticize physicians or smart military strategy. Both of those things are important in their respective areas. This is simply to make the point that we often find solutions to our problems in things besides God. We trust things that aren’t of God and still find that “fix” to what’s bugging us.

But is that really the solution we need when it comes to lust? To anger? To laziness? To not having a job? To a strained relationship with a spouse, family member or friend? To a money problem?

Here’s the thing: solutions to our issues are everywhere. We can take sinful solutions all day long. But the only solution that will truly fix, the only solution that will really bring satisfaction, is trusting in Jesus, trusting in God’s plan, trusting in His Word. And where that means the most is in our eternal state.

We as humans long for little fixes along the way in life. We try to find purpose and meaning in our work, in our families, in our kids, in our hobbies. And for a time, they might bring about that “fix.” But we’re still bugged by a lack of meaning. We’re still bugged by all the stupid stuff we did when we were younger. We know there’s something else out there.

Trusting Jesus for your salvation, your purpose, your meaning, that’s the eternal fix. That’s the fix that only needs to happen once. That’s the satisfactory ending. That’s, as NEEDTOBREATHE says in their new song “Testify”:

Give me your heart give me your song
Sing it with all your might
Come to the fountain and
You can be satisfied
There is a peace, there is a love
You can get lost inside
Come to the fountain and
Let me hear you testify

Liquid Courage: Finding Confidence in the Right Kind of Drinking

How many times in movies or TV have you seen a guy polish off a beer or drain a shot glass before approaching a girl? I can’t count the times, but it’s been a lot.

Perhaps the funniest example (except for the drunkenness) is from The Big Bang Theory. There’s a character named Raj who can only talk to women when he’s had a few drinks. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve only seen the first three seasons, so I can’t speak for the whole show. But it’s shocking when he does say something, as evidenced in this clip (whoever uploaded the video uploaded it flipped, so ignore that):

A common phrase for alcohol used to boost self-confidence is “liquid courage.” This kind of courage is one that often leads to shrugging off reason and sometimes moral character, but for whatever reason, it helps one get over fears and insecurities and pursue something wholeheartedly.

Courage is something that is often praised and hard to come by. It’s the latter that often initiates the former there. Shedding fears and insecurities is usually going against our very nature as humans. We’re often defined by what we can’t do or what we’re scared of — people are arachnophobic or afraid of heights, or guys won’t talk to girls without a little help in some way, or we’re scared of getting rejected by a company who has our dream job. In those circumstances, it takes courage to stand up and do something that freaks us out.

We need a well to draw from to find that courage, to get the guts to go through with something that scares us. Some turn to alcohol, which can be incredibly dangerous and, if consumed to the point of drunkenness, sinful. But others have turned to the right liquid courage. Let’s reconnect with our buddy Asa.

After leading his army to a great victory against the Ethiopians in 2 Chronicles 14, the next chapter finds Asa meeting with a prophet named Azariah. Here is what he says to Asa in 2 Chronicles 15:1-7 —

The Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The LORD is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest and without law, but when in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them. In those times there was no peace to him who went out or to him who came in, for great disturbances afflicted all the inhabitants of the lands. They were broken in pieces. Nation was crushed by nation and city by city, for God troubled them with every sort of distress. But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.”

Azariah talks about how the nation of Israel was without God, but when they sought Him, they found Him. God then turned His protection upon Israel. If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll remember that Asa was the king of Judah. If you’re not aware of biblical geography – which is totally OK, by the way, it can be a little complicated – Judah was the neighboring nation to Israel. The two nations were birthed out of the 12 tribes of Jacob. Ten of them made up Israel, and the two others made up Judah.

So Azariah tells Asa about how faithful God was to Israel, but also shares how faithful God will be to Judah if they seek Him as well. The response from Asa is immediate. Verse 8 —

As soon as Asa heard these words, the prophecy of Azariah the son of Oded, he took courage and put away the detestable idols from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities that he had taken in the hill country of Ephraim, and he repaired the altar of the LORD that was in front of the vestibule of the house of the LORD.

Azariah challenged Asa to be courageous, and Asa was courageous, he took courage. But what was it that spawned this confidence in Asa?

It was the the Word of God.

See, Asa had reason to trust God based on God’s faithfulness to the people of Judah. But it was God’s Word continuing to reach him that motivated Asa to continue to be faithful to God and seek Him. By “put(tting) away detestable idols” and “repair(ing) the altar of the LORD,” Asa was sending a signal that God would be made to be preeminent in his land. God would be the one worshipped. There would be no other gods before God in his kingdom. And he took the courage to take that step, to do that, from the Word of God being spoken to him.

Azariah’s prophecy was the starter’s gun. Verse 8 – “As soon as Asa heard these words…he took courage.”

Just like Asa, we can take courage from the Word of God. We don’t have to drum it up out of nowhere. All that is necessary is that we believe that God’s Word is true and apply it to our lives.

We can take courage when we don’t know what’s going to happen next in our lives, because God’s Word says, “And we know that for those who love God all things worth together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

We can take courage when we’re afraid that we don’t have enough or we fear rejection by man, because God’s Word says that He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and we can say back, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5b,6)

We can take courage when we’re stressed and worried about any situation, because God’s Word says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

And we can take courage when we’re afraid that God doesn’t love us and that we’re not enough, because God’s Word says, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:16a, 18a).

The next time you’re afraid, drink from the well of God’s Word. This post is not a critique of alcohol or a condemnation of alcohol. This is simply promoting a different kind of confidence, a confidence that doesn’t fade away when the buzz wears off. This is a well you can go to time and time again that benefits your soul.

Drink it in.

Three Reasons a King Prayed to God

To be honest with you, prayer is something I often gloss over, something I rush through.

I don’t know when it really started, but I think it comes from feeling like I have better things to do sometimes. I’ve got to go to sleep, I’ve got to eat, I’ve got to do this, that, so on and so forth.

As I spent some time reading the Bible this morning, I remembered just who it was we were praying to, and because God is who He is, prayer is something I should take a lot more seriously.


My favorite Bible story, and something I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog, is 2 Chronicles 14-16. I try to read through it two or three times a year.

I haven’t read it yet this year, so I picked it up this morning and decided to read it one chapter at a time. Chapter 14 is about introducing Asa, king of Judah, son of Abijah. Asa is one of my favorite biblical characters because I find so much of myself in him. I think a lot of Christians would if you read the whole passage.

Anyways, after 10 years of peace and rest in his reign, war has come upon him. The Ethiopians, under the direction of Zerah, have come upon him and his nation and have brought an army of a million men and 300 chariots (2 Chr. 14:9). In comparison, Asa’s army has a total of 580,000 men, some with shields and spears and some with shields and bows (v. 8). It’s a complete mismatch by any measurement. Zerah’s army has more men and better positioning for the war.

Faced with these obstacles, Asa prays to God (v.11), the God he’s completely trusted so far in his reign:

O LORD, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O LORD, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.

In this prayer, Asa recognizes three huge characteristics of the God he serves – and the God you and I serve, believers – that compel him, and should compel us, to pray like he did.

There is none like God to help. “O LORD, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak.”

There is no other god like God, there is nothing else in all of creation, both in heaven and on earth, anywhere. As David Crowder Band used to sing, “There is no one like You, there has never ever been anyone like You.”

God, being God, has a unique power and ability to be able to help those who cry out to Him. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, and He has the great ability to do great things for us. Why wouldn’t we pray? Why wouldn’t we seek Him?

God is a God worth relying on“Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude.”

God is one in whom we can place our trust. When faced with difficult circumstances like unemployment or sickness or any other hardship, we can’t fully trust humanity to solve problems. God might use them to offer solutions, but it is really God who is doing the work.

That’s why Asa fights this battle in the name of God. He doesn’t fight in the name of Asa or the name of Judah because he knows that’s not who’s going to give the victory. It’s God who’s going to give the victory. It is God who is worth trusting, always and forever, always more than man.

He is our God. “O LORD, you are our God, let not man prevail against you.”

If you are a Christian, God is a God who has chosen you. He has picked you to be His. Just like He has a claim on our soul, we have a claim on His ear, His attentiveness when we pray. We have a claim on the grace He offers us freely. He is our God, our Creator, our Father in heaven, the one who loves us so much He sent Jesus to die for us.

So we can come to God knowing that He hears us and answers our prayers. In John 16:23, Jesus says, “…Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” All we need is ask, and ask humbly, honestly, in Jesus’ name, for His purposes and glory, and those things will be accomplished. Why? Because He is our God.


Asa’s prayers were heard, and a great victory was won. 2 Chronicles 14:12-15 says:

So the LORD defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. Asa and the people who were with him pursued them as far as Gerar, and the Ethiopians fell until none remained alive, for they were broken before the LORD and his army. The men of Judah carried away very much spoil. And they attacked all the cities around Gerar, for the fear of the LORD was upon them. They plundered all the cities, for there was much plunder in them. And they struck down the tents of those who had livestock and carried away sheep in abundance and camels. Then they returned to Jerusalem.

The LORD defeated the Ethiopians. God gave them the victory. God heard the prayer of Asa, king of Judah, and went before the king and his army and defeated their foe. This is the God we pray to. This is the God who has called us His own. This is a unique God, there is no one like Him. This is a God we can rely on. And this is a God who is ours.

Pray. Trust. There’s no one better to pray to, to rely on. And we know that Asa prayed this from a position of strength spiritually, but we don’t have to be in that place to pray this prayer, to trust God this way. We could be having a crisis of faith and pray this prayer. God is still the same God, and hears us just the same.

And I must remember that very, very, very rarely do I have better things to do than slow down, take a breath, and pray.

What I’ve Learned About Faithfulness in Romantic Relationships from Popular Music

How many popular songs have you heard that talk about avoiding faithfulness in a relationship?

The ones that come to my mind primarily are “Leavin” by Jesse McCartney and “The Call” by the Backstreet Boys. In “Leavin,” Jesse encourages a girl tell her man that she’s “leavin, never to come back again.” The plea is primarily based on his ability to please her better sexually. In “The Call,” the man is making a call to his woman at home about some vague place he’s going. What he doesn’t say is that he’s going to be with an unnamed woman.

Faithfulness in romantic relationships is a foreign concept to half of America these days. True faithfulness is the reason that marriages end in death of one of the spouses. I’ve seen true faithfulness in my parents’ marriage, in the marriages of many others.

I must admit, I often wonder how in the world this happens. How do we get to the place where we can repel those temptations from people other than our spouses? What must we learn?

Surprise of surprises, I’ve learned some pointers from popular music. Here’s three lessons I’ve picked up from three different songs. Two are popular tracks from this past year, and the other is a little harder to come by but definitely worth a listen.

1.Don’t deny the temptations. Recognizing them is the first step to beating them.

Song: “Honey, I’m Good.” by Andy Grammer 

This song, Grammer’s most popular record, revolves around him being in a bar and seeing women around him who are tempting him. He acknowledges that they are good-looking, but he’s got someone much better at home.

“It’s been a long night here, and a long night there, and these long long legs are d*** near everywhere. Hold up now, you look good, I will not lie, but if you ask where I’m staying tonight, I gotta be like oh baby, no baby, you got me all wrong baby, my baby’s already got all of my love.”

Grammer acknowledges the attractiveness of the woman he’s speaking to. He’s not trying to deny it or ignore it. He even says that “better men than me have failed, drinking from that unholy grail,” that people have slipped in this area. He’s also aware of his own weakness, that if he stays he “might not leave alone.”

He uses these reasons to say that he’s gotta get the heck out of there. Grammer told the Miami Herald this about the inspiration behind the song:

Well, you know I’m married now. So when I go out on tour, well, there are always hot girls around. The song’s about staying honest and being like, “Yes, you are smoking hot, but I’m good. I got a lady at home who is incredible. It’s worth staying truthful.”

As with any temptation to sin, recognizing that they exist is the first step. If you recognize that there is a chance you will slip up, you’re more likely to set the safeguards in place to avoid falling to the temptation.

2. Just because you want to do something doesn’t mean you should.

Song: “Wanna” by Christon Gray feat. JGivens

The first verse of this track focuses on Gray spending time in a club or restaurant or bar and seeing a beautiful woman. He shares the thought process he goes through in this time.

“I feel like it don’t matter anymore, getting used to the way the world turns. But I must say it’s spinnin’ really fast when I look at her. I just. If I was just a few years younger, girl I could be your boy wonder, you could be my prima donna, when I’m away from my wife and my daughter.”

He talks about how the wedding ring on his finger feels so heavy, and it would be so easy to slip it off. The chorus repeats, “Shouldn’t but I wanna, shouldn’t but I wanna.”

Just because we want to do something doesn’t meant we should do it. The word “should” can be a dangerous word because it could lead us to legalism or doing things we don’t necessarily need to do. But within marriage, you should not cheat. You say in your vows, “‘Till death do us part.” That doesn’t mean, “‘Till there’s someone else who looks better. ‘Till there’s a time where she doesn’t fulfill me. ‘Till there’s a moment when he doesn’t love me as he should.” There’s nothing wrong with saying “should” here.

There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.

3. Your spouse is your cheerleader, and she should be cherished as such.

Song: “Cheerleader” by Omi

 

“All these other girls are tempting but I’m empty when you’re gone. And they say, ‘Do you need me? Do you think I’m pretty? Do I make you feel like cheating?’ And I’m like, ‘No, not really.’ Cause, oh, I think that I’ve found myself a cheerleader, she’s always right there when I need her.”

If you’ve chosen to settle down with someone for the rest of your life, hopefully you’ve seen something in that person that is worth giving the rest of your life to. What I’ve learned that I need to remember is that my future spouse is the best I’ll ever have, and because of that no one else is worth it. She’s my cheerleader. She’s the one who will support me until I die.

And this is the best reason to not cheat. If you’ve married well, you’ve married someone who will give everything they’ve got to the marriage. Will they be perfect at it? No. But they’re worth not cheating.

The song continues: “She gives me love and affection. Baby, did I mention you’re the only girl for me? No, I don’t need a next one. Mama loves you too, she thinks I made the right selection. Now all that’s left to do is just for me to pop the question.”

The best part about marriage is that you choose the person to spend the rest of your life with. Things will not be perfect, will never be perfect. But the point of marriage isn’t to have a perfect situation. It’s to have a partner to wander through the rest of your life with, together, seeking after the best.


If you’re a Christian, you’re challenged to love and cherish your spouse. They’re your No. 1 priority. You’re called to sacrifice for and serve them. This isn’t an optional thing. This is the real deal. It’s a real deal I’m stepping into pretty soon, and I’m so excited. I can’t think of cheating on my soon-to-be-wife.

But I can’t assume that I’m immune. As Andy Grammer said, “Better men than me have failed.” I’ve got to keep these things in mind so that I can stay true to my lady love.

What Christmastime Has Taught Me About Love and Marriage

One word that is associated very much with Christmas is “give.”

It’s all over the place. We give gifts to one another. We give time towards hanging out with family. God gives Jesus to us for the salvation of our sins.

It’s all indicative of sacrifice, showing giving up something for the better of someone else. We give our money to stores so we can give gifts to others. God gives up His Son so we can find eternal life one day.

One thing that being engaged during this season has taught me is that, within marriage, I need to act like it’s Christmas all year round.

Ephesians 5:25 says: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” That simple idea of a husband loving his wife like Christ loved the church, giving of Himself for her, is what marriage is supposed to look like in a nutshell. There’s a continual attitude of sacrifice and love, echoing the love that God showed for us in Christ on the cross.

And Christmas is a great time to reflect on those things. We can think about the gifts we give to our spouse/finacé(e)/significant other as a reflection of the gift God gives to us. We can think about going with them to the in-laws/future in-laws not as a chore, but as a joyous occasion to celebrate the season and to celebrate the bond of family.

By the way, I love my future in-laws. It’s not a chore for me at all. Just wanted to clear that up.

Christmas is a season of giving. So let’s see how we can echo the giving spirit of Christmas within our own romantic relationships not just in December, but year-round.

The Bible Is Infallible. How We Understand It Is an Entirely Different Story.

I was listening to the Bad Christian Podcast yesterday on my drive back from my fiancée’s work Christmas party. The guest was Dave Bazan, formerly of Pedro the Lion. Bazan was formerly a Christian but left the faith several years ago.

He was talking about the Bible and how Christians view it and said something that struck me (podcast link here, 1:08:28 is the time when it’s said):

In certain forms of Christianity, you believe that you’re drawing from this infallible kind of document. But your relationship with that document is not infallible.

Now, you can write off what he said because you might think that he’s a non-believer and clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about because of that, but I think he hit on a very important point.

Yes, the Bible is infallible. There is nothing in it that is not truth. There may be some parables that may not have actually happened, but the lessons and the spiritual wisdom behind them are truth.

However, we have infallible minds. Our minds are weak and feeble when compared to the great wisdom of Scripture. Put it this way: if we dudes can’t understand the things that women do sometimes, there’s no way we can ever think we’ve got a grasp on life.

Particularly the Bible.

That’s right. We won’t ever have a total grasp or understanding of God’s Word as it was intended to be written.

What. No. That can’t be.

Since the Bible is of God and is spiritual wisdom much higher than earthly wisdom (as I wrote about yesterday), we will never fully get it. We accept it, and we believe it, but we will never fully get it. And we just might be wrong about what we believe it says.

There might be a verse like Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” OK cool. Face-value reading: Love God, and He’ll give you what you want. But if you put a little more thought into it, you might come to this reading: If you find your joy in God and the things of God, He’ll give you what you want. And what you want will be what He wants because you find your joy in Him.

In that first reading, you didn’t get the whole picture. In the second reading, you may have gone a little deeper. Heck, it may be your fifth or sixth thought before you come to that final conclusion.

But you still may be wrong.

In my mind at least, this begs the question: Why even try to understand it? If it’s not completely understandable by our brains, then why give the effort? If we’re going to fail, what’s the point?

We need to put time and effort into understanding the Bible because our spiritual lives, and therefore our whole lives, depend on it. We just need to be reading it with an open hand.

A lot of us come into reading anything with a bias of some kind, some kind of lens with which we examine a text. Prosperity gospel believers might read the Bible with the idea that God is looking to bless us with material things and health here on earth, so they’ll read the text looking for things to support that belief. People like me who think the prosperity gospel is a bunch of baloney will read the text looking for things to refute that. It’s just a simple psychological thing we do.

If our understanding of the Bible was able to be infallible, I don’t think there would be any disagreement on how we interpret it.

Now, since my mind is fallible, I could be completely wrong about this! I could be missing out on something that would prove me wrong. I do believe there is one correct reading of Scripture, I just believe that we’re never going to grasp all of it this side of heaven. We may get to the pearly gates and golden streets and be like, “Dang, I completely misread that.” This is where three things come into play.

We have to read Scripture with an open hand and open mind.

Since we may be wrong about how we read the Bible, we have to be open to being wrong. We’ve got to push that pride aside and be willing to be wrong and be corrected. After all, 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Correction and reproof (criticism) are what the Bible is for, in a way.

We need to trust God with what we believe now and what we don’t understand.

There are definitely things I thought a couple years ago that I disagree with now based on my reading of the Bible. But a little bit down the line, I may be reading something and think, “Man, I hadn’t even considered this before!” In this uncertainty, I’ve got to learn to trust God that what I believe now is right, but also trust that the things I don’t understand are still true. There are certain things in Scripture I think are pretty clear – salvation, Jesus’ life, so on and so forth. But there are other things that I can definitely grow in my understanding of.

We need to trust God that other people are on a journey with the Bible like we are.

Just because we read the Bible differently than we do doesn’t mean we’re smarter or better. Who knows, we may be wrong and the prosperity gospel people may be right! I don’t think that’s the case, but you never know for sure. I think this is part of loving others – trusting God that the people we disagree with will find their way and not beating them over the head with criticisms and such about their views.

This takes a lot of patience, a lot of trust and a lot of faith. But it’s faith worth having.

Even if we’re completely wrong about the Bible, one thing Scripture is clear on is that God loves His children no matter how sinful they are. God so loved the world that He gave Jesus, right? And 1 John 4 says God displays His love through the work of Christ on the cross, the substitutionary atonement of the Son of God.

You can take that to the bank.

The Gospel Flips Worldly Wisdom On Its Head. And The Result Is Amazing.

Wisdom is something most Christians find to be praiseworthy among men, and the Bible supports that.

We look at a man and say, “He is so wise, I’d learn from him all day.” I look at my fiancée and say, “Oh man, she’s so wise, I’d listen to her all day.” We desire more and more wisdom. And this is a great thing! Wisdom is prized over and over again in the book of Proverbs, from chapter 1 to chapter 31. Through some quick Internet research, the word “wisdom” is written between 46 and 54 times in Proverbs, depending on your translation.

That’s why I find a section of 1 Corinthians 1 to be a bit on the confusing side. Verses 18-25:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

God will destroy the wisdom of the wise? God made foolish the wisdom of the world? The foolishness of God is wiser than men?

As I read this, it made sense to me: the cross, the Gospel, is foolishness to people who aren’t believers. But then this idea struck: knowing the Gospel, believing the Gospel and speaking the Gospel is much more important than any other wisdom out there.

The Gospel, as Romans 1:16 says, is the “power of God for salvation to all who believe.” It’s a pretty powerful message – Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life, died, rose again, went back to heaven, all to earn the opportunity for us to be restored to a right relationship with God that humanity lost when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. That’s a message that brings more power than any wisdom of this earth, more powerful than any other spiritual wisdom out there.

This message is so powerful that it’s folly to those the world might consider wise. It doesn’t make sense in how the world sees wisdom in a number of ways. It promises a reward for no work whatsoever; simply accepting the reward is enough. It’s God lowering Himself, not man reaching up to something higher than himself.

That’s not how the world would choose it. It doesn’t make logical sense. But that’s one of the many beauties of the Gospel. Worldly wisdom goes out the window.

That doesn’t mean that worldly wisdom has no place in our lives. It’s crucial to be wise in a worldly sense sometimes. We must be wise in how we conduct business, raise a family, things that are not inherently spiritual, even though being a Christian means Jesus and the Bible penetrates everything we do.

But the Gospel > wisdom, each and every time.

The World Is Crying Out for Authenticity. Let’s Give It to Them.

I watched the first 40 minutes or so of the GOP debate last night and wasn’t surprised by anything. By the time you get to the fifth of these things, there’s not much new to be had.

But as I pondered the debate this morning, I was struck by the fact that I wasn’t surprised. Candidates took shots at each other, at Barack and Hillary, at ISIS, just about everything imaginable. It was like they were reading from a script every time they talked.

I understand that’s kind of what you want in a debate. You prep for weeks before, getting your answers straight and formulated so you don’t embarrass yourself on national television. I totally get it.

But what you’re left wondering with all those scripted answers is this: “What do they really think? Who are they really? What will they really do when they get in office?”

We perceive that they’re missing a certain amount of authenticity. We’re afraid we’re not seeing who they really are. That’s why Donald Trump is doing so well – he’s being himself, saying what he really thinks, not crafting an answer to fit some party line or politically-correct stance. As crazy as some of his thoughts may be, he’s the real deal.

And that authenticity – as his poll numbers show – is what people crave.

Let’s look at two of the most popular musicians of this era – Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber – as examples.

Swift is known for her very personal songwriting, with tracks that seem to match up perfectly with her many public relationships. These tracks hit people hard because they can relate. It’s not a stale retread of the typical break-up song. It’s a fresh perspective, and she never seems to fail. That’s why she has over 67.6 million Twitter followers and each of her five studio albums have sold at least four million copies in the United States. Many musicians have taken to that style of being personal and vulnerable on their records.

If you know me, you know I’m a huge Bieber fan. That fandom took a boost with the release of his most recent album, Purpose. His first few releases were typical, cheesy, stereotypical pop music standards. But with Purpose, he turned a corner, quickly striking platinum with first-week sales of 649,000. And it’s not shocking. Yes, the production is vastly improved, constantly playing on the EDM movement of the current music scene. But his lyricism has grown significantly. He comes across as the real thing instead of some pop puppet with a pretty face. He’s credited as a writer on each of the tracks, and songs like “Purpose” and “Life Is Worth Living” get down deep and dirty into life.

People in my generation especially are tired of the phonies and the fakes and the liars. We’re tired of people who don’t tell the whole truth, who just stick to the status quo, who don’t take any risks. That’s why we love musicians like Swift and Bieber, politicians like Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Authenticity is the character trait that my generation respects and values the most. It says that you’re OK with people knowing who you are, you’re OK with sharing yourself, the real you, with the world.

Oh Christians, we have an amazing opportunity.

We have an amazing opportunity to be ourselves and win hearts for the Gospel. Jesus was Himself. God was Himself. Paul was himself.

Paul is my favorite example. Romans 7:15-19.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Paul shows us exactly how we pursue displaying authenticity. He doesn’t necessarily have to give specifics of everything he does, but he’s honest about the fact that he’s fallen short and does things he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do things he wants to do.

This has always made Paul the most relatable of all the biblical figures to me. He doesn’t hide the fact that, well, he sucks at following God. “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh,” he says. Not only is that theologically-correct, it also takes a serious amount of authenticity to just be straightforward with it.

The ability to be authentic with God is something that attracts me to following Christ. Paul could write and say things like that and knew that it wouldn’t shut him out of being loved and used by God. The grace of God opens us up to be truly authentic with Him, with ourselves and with each other. If the worst response to our authenticity is people not liking us, we’ve still got the love of God.

So Christians, let’s be authentic. Let’s be ourselves. Let’s be honest. Let’s not hide things that don’t need hiding. What you share is up to you, but let’s think about how we can be more authentic and more honest with people.

Who knows how much further the Gospel can go when we’re honest about how much we need it, how much we are lost without it?

God Isn’t the No. 1 Priority for Christians. Priority Is the Wrong Word.

Yes, I admit that title is a bit click-baity, but let me explain.

Back when I was in high school, we talked in youth group about priorities. What did we value in life more than anything else? What did we spend most of our time on?

I remember one time we did this exercise where we listed our priorities. I think I had my girlfriend at the time as No. 1, school as No. 2, food as No. 3 (some things never change) and God as No. 4. I was (sinfully) impressed with my own honesty as well as concerned.

Well, if I can be honest, I don’t know if that’s changed all that much. Of course I’d love to say He’s No. 1. But as I’ve thought about this language, this semantic, this rhetoric, there’s something missing and lacking, in my opinion, by discussing God and religion and relationship this way.

It’s most recently come to my life with my recent engagement. I told my fiancée the other day, “You’re my No. 1 priority.” I paused, thinking, “Wait, isn’t it supposed to be God/Jesus?”

Another thought then crossed my mind: “Isn’t God/Jesus supposed to be the basis for all my life?”

Isn’t it possible that the danger with listing things in priorities – and by no means is this a life-and-death danger, but just something curious and interesting – is that we can begin to compartmentalize our lives? We can say, “OK, God is No. 1. Then my schoolwork or job is No. 2. Then my friendships are No. 3.” Perhaps that’s the level of concern we should apply to those things. And it’s not absolutely terrible to think about life in that way.

But the compartmentalization can lead us to thinking that God doesn’t associate with our jobs, or our friendships don’t associate with our church life, or Jesus has nothing to do with how I eat. And that’s just not true.

In Colossians 1, Paul is writing about the preeminence of Christ. “He is the image of the invisible God,” v. 15 says, “the firstborn of all creation.” Verses 16-17 add this:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

The idea Paul deposits here is that Jesus is the beginning and the end, the basis for everything, the glue for everything. He’s the foundation, the rock. We talk about Jesus as the cornerstone of the Church (Ephesians 2:20). Everything was started through Him. Through Him, for Him. Everything, whether we see it or not, is tied into Jesus.

And the same goes for our lives. Compartmentalizing can become dangerous, especially when other people are involved.

It kinda depends on your life stage what your priorities are, what your attention goes to, but the idea that Jesus is the cornerstone of all your priorities helps keep in focus, I think, why you’re doing what you’re doing. If Jesus is the basis for your priorities instead of just another option on the list, you’re keeping in sight how important He really is and how He affects everything you do.

That doesn’t mean you don’t need to make time in your day specifically for Jesus like you do for your spouse or keeping yourself clean. It’s the springboard for everything else. It’s the foundation. It’s the fuel. You can’t give the proper attention you need to your other priorities without getting something from Jesus first.

Yes, this is semantics and perhaps a bit nit-picky, but semantics are important. Semantics deals with the meanings of words and phrases. And since words and phrases are an everyday part of our lives, in our relationships with others, our relationship with ourself and our relationship with God, they’re important to be aware of.

So what should our priorities be? Family, friends, our jobs, our health, our ministry. Whatever God has put in front of us, whatever sustains us and whatever we care about the most.

And Jesus gives us reason and purpose to faithfully pursue each and every one of those things.