God Sticks with Those Who Feel Stuck. Like Me.

One of the hardest things for me to deal with in my own life is getting stuck in a certain season. I struggle when things aren’t moving forward.

For instance, I’ll be stuck in this intermediary season of life between single and married that’s called “engagement” for the next few months. It’s a weird season, I’ll be honest with you. The Bible doesn’t speak clearly to what this season is supposed to look like, so my fiancée and I are left guessing as to what’s the best way to think, to act, to speak in our relationship.

There are also times when I’m stuck in sin, when a certain sin seems to be like a magnet. I’m stuck on it, and when I try to pry myself off, I just seem to keep coming back. I’m the boomerang, and sin seems to be throwing me around.

I was thinking about that this morning in the shower, thinking about what the heck this all means for me. I’m stuck. I’m a fan of forward motion, I like going forward, I like making progress. But there are so many things in my life that just seem to be at a standstill.

I must remember: God is there in the standstill just as much as He’s there in the forward motion.

The idea that God will never leave us nor forsake us means that we can be thankful for His patience with us in the slow seasons, His faithfulness to us when we’re stuck, and the fact that He never unsticks Himself from me. God sticks with us.

This is encouragement. This is what I need to remember when I feel like I’m struggling with forward motion. I’m feeling like Relient K –

Cause I struggle with forward motion
I struggle with forward motion
We all struggle with forward motion
Cause forward motion is harder than it sounds
Well every time I gain some ground
I gotta turn myself around again
It’s harder than it sounds
Well every time I gain some ground
I gotta turn myself around again

We can get stuck in these kind of cycles in our lives where we find ourselves in the same positions over and over again. God doesn’t leave us in those positions. He sticks with us when we feel stuck, and He’s there with His Word as one of many tools to help us in those times.

Praise Him for that! Otherwise I’d have no reason to try to get unstuck.

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.

Refocused Romance, Pt. 3: It’s About Commitment, Not Feeling.

Perhaps one of my favorite movie romances is between Will Hunting and Skylar in the 1999 film Good Will Hunting. I love the movie, but the romance is quite interesting.

Will hails from the dirty streets of Boston, while Skylar is an English lass who has come to America to get an education at Harvard. They couldn’t be more opposite. Will is a janitor at MIT who has a penchant for getting in fights and hangs out with a group of guys you’d avoid on the street. Skylar is intelligent, beautiful, gives piano lessons and is planning on going to medical school at Stanford.

In one of the movie’s many pivotal scenes, Skylar and Will have an intense argument which ends in them breaking up. Skylar asks Will to move to California with her, and Will says no. Skylar asks him why, asks him what he’s scared of.

“You live in this safe little world where no one challenges you and you’re scared s***less to do anything else because that means you’ll have to change,” Skylar says.

Will emotionally responds and ends the relationship. He’s clearly being led by his feelings. He’s afraid to commit, afraid to devote himself to something. He lives his life on emotion, he makes decision based on emotion. Earlier in the movie, he picks a fight out of nowhere with a guy who bullied him as a kid just because he felt like it.

So often, high schoolers approach relationships that way. Their relationships are based on how they feel. We lament the world of teenage dating because it’s so temporary and so fleeting. Well, look around at adult dating and marriage. How many marriages end in divorce? How many times is it because of “irreconcilable differences” where people are living off their feelings instead of the commitment they made?

It’s not necessarily the high schoolers’ fault that they think relationships work that way. That’s how things are displayed on television and movies and in songs. And often we don’t even take the time to explain it to them.

Here’s the crux of this: commitment, not feeling, is the center of any romantic relationship.

Some people might think that so far in this series I’ve been a little lax on things. Let me toughen up a bit.

Dating is not something to be messed around with. It’s not something you take lightly. It’s not something you flippantly enter without prayer, thought and counsel. It’s not something you do just because you want to. There’s got to be serious reason and foresight and purpose behind you dating someone. It’s a serious deal.

That’s why commitment is important. Feelings come and go. They are strong one day and weak the next. Feelings can be the start of something, it’s what can draw you into a relationship initially, but at the end of the day romantic relationships are all about commitment. There are going to be days you don’t want to pursue romance. There are going to be days you’re overwhelmed with other things that you don’t want to invest in a relationship. There are going to be days you simply don’t feel like it.

You don’t need to wait until you get to college or adulthood to be thinking this way. You can start right now. It’s simply an echo of how Jesus relates to us, a commitment.

Something to think about though: if you’re thinking about a relationship, you don’t need to be ready to make a lifelong commitment before dating someone. All you’re doing is committing to seeing if this is something you might eventually want to make a lifelong commitment.

And that’s why dating is a serious business. It’s a good thing, it’s a great thing. But we shouldn’t take this flippantly. And that’s one reason I’m writing this series. I want to help people take this more seriously, but not so seriously they never try. It’s worth it.

Refocused Romance, Pt. 2: High standards, not impossible ones

Author’s Note: This is the first part in a 5-part series called “Refocused Romance,” in which I explore different aspects of dating that often get little attention, particularly in the high school context. By this, I hope to simply bring up thoughts and questions by which we as a body of Christ can grow in our understanding of one another and of how we can honor God in the dating realm.

This second part is about how high standards are important to have, but not impossible ones when it comes to dating.

One of the most common things you’ll find as part of the discussion of dating in the Christian world is how to handle your “negotiables” and “non-negotiables.” Negotiables are the things that you’d ideally want in a spouse, but aren’t required and can be changed. Non-negotiable are the things that are requirements.

For example: a negotiable for me would be that the person I marry would be a soccer fan, particularly of my favorite team, Arsenal FC. That’s something that I could get over if she wasn’t. Fortunately, my lady is! Well, she became one. One of the reasons I love her.

But there’s really only one non-negotiable for believers, and this gets to my point.

Setting impossible standards for who you’re going to date is a waste of your time because you’ll never find anyone. The only non-negotiable that Scripture commands of believers is that they marry someone who is a Christian. That’s it.

I used to end up in this rut where I would have to evaluate the girl I was interested in by so many categories and so many things that I thought she “had to have” or “had to be.” Is she enough of this? Does she believe exactly this set of doctrines? It was overwhelming and exhausting.

What this kind of thought process often leads to is an impossible set of standards that absolutely no one can stand up to. We begin to expect perfection, and expecting perfection in a relationship is a waste of time.

Why? No one will ever be perfect. No one will ever be able to honestly say, “I am without sin.” 1 John 1:8 precludes that – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” If we expect the person that we date or marry to be perfect, we’re deceiving ourselves, we’re ignoring truth.

So when you’re looking for a date or a mate, don’t look for someone perfect. You won’t find them.

Most posts would end there, but I want to add something: don’t expect yourself to be perfect either.

Like I said earlier, there can be a lot of pressure to feel like you have to fit a mold or be somebody specific before you get married or even start dating. You won’t be perfect either.

Of course, there’s some ideals you’d like to get to. When it comes to dating, it’s ideal that you’re able to afford to drive your date somewhere and you can pay for dinner. But besides that, there’s really no honest biblical restriction. Expecting yourself to reach perfection before you start dating means you won’t date, you won’t marry.

One thing I want to emphasize: dating when your identity is in that person instead of in Jesus is scary and potentially deadly. I’ll talk about that more tomorrow.

As a teenager, there’s a lot of pressure from Christian sources as far as who you “have to be” before you start dating. You don’t have to be anything. You’re going to face a lot the same struggles in teenage dating that you’ll face in adult dating: placing God before that person, physical interaction temptations, arguments and disagreements, etc.

Don’t expect yourself to be perfect or even good at relationships. I hope I never get to a place where I think I’m good at relationships.

But I always want to be learning, striving to know more, be more, grow more. My lady, and my God, deserve more. Just because we won’t ever be perfect doesn’t mean we can’t grow. 

This is the Gospel displayed: God doesn’t ditch us because we’re not perfect. But He desires better for us. And it’s a good idea to bring into the dating world.

On Engagement: The Gospel and Christmas + An Announcement

If marriage is symbolic of the relationship between God and man once justification has happened, what is engagement?

This is the question I was asking myself this morning as I pondered my own engagement, which started around 5:45 p.m. yesterday. I asked my girlfriend if she would marry me, and she said yes. It’s a pretty big deal. Here’s a picture of us below:

IMG_2386

Once it was posted on Facebook a few hours later, the notifications started pouring in: comments on the photo, comments on the “life event” and hundreds and hundreds of likes. I was trying to figure out how I could write about this (typical writer of me), and I had this thought.

Engagement is such an announcement. I’ve had Facebook and Instagram notifications out the wazoo. And I’m so thankful for all of them. I’m thankful for all the people who love and care for me enough to think about Sarah and me.

But of course, I had to think of some spiritual tie-in. And I thought of Christmas.

We often think about Christmas as an announcement that Christ has come and that the forgiveness of sins is at hand. And that’s what I think of when I think about engagement.

Giving Sarah a diamond ring means I’m planning on marrying her. It means I’m planning on making a lifelong commitment. It means I’m committing to be committed. And that’s wild for me, because I’m terrified of commitment, I’m terrified of absolutes.

But when I look at Christmas, I see an announcement. It’s announcing that a wedding is coming, a relationship and a unity is approaching, between God and man. It’s one based on unconditional love, one based not on feeling and emotion but on commitment and faithfulness. It’s God committing to be committed.

2 Timothy 2:13 says this about God: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” God is faithful. He can’t stop being faithful. As Sarah and I prepare for marriage, I’m going to hope that I can be faithful as God is to me. He’s my guide for marriage.

Marriage is designed to reflect the Gospel, first and foremost. And I certainly hope Sarah and I can reflect the grace of God and the relationship between God and man in our relationship.

So whenever you see an engagement posting on Facebook, I encourage you to think about Christmas. Jesus coming is God saying, “Hey, relationship is upon you. Get ready. Prepare yourself. It’s going to be awesome.”


Just for fun, here’s a video I showed to Sarah before I proposed to her:

6 True Statements All Christians Should Be Saying But Most Don’t Say For Some Reason

I’ve seen a number of blog posts in the last few years that are titled something like this: “Things Christians Believe That Aren’t True.” There’s usually some number affixed to the beginning so it becomes a list.

There’s also funny lists of what Christians say. There’s even a really funny video:

I feel like I’ve seen hundreds of things like this. But nowhere have I seen statements that Christians don’t say but should say.

Here’s six for you.

1) “Your political views don’t improve or detract from your status as a Christian.”

For some reason, it becomes imperative that Christians must prove their Christianity by supporting or opposing particular political causes. If I had a quarter for every Christian who posted #DefundPP on their Facebook or Twitter over the past month, I could afford to subsidize the program myself. If I sat here and wrote an article supporting Planned Parenthood or being neutral on the issue, I think some Christians might question what happened to my head. (Yes, I’ve fallen on it a couple times in my life.)

Here’s the truth: you can be a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Green Party, whatever, and still be a Christian. Being a Republican doesn’t make you more of a Christian than being a Democrat. At the end of the day, your political views mean nothing in regards to your salvation, being a Christian. At the most, it might reveal what you view as important or less important, but it doesn’t deny your faith.

For instance, I’m not super all about defunding Planned Parenthood. I believe there are bigger fish to fry, particularly in the abortion game. I wrote a post about it here. But that doesn’t make me less of a Christian just because the majority of Christians might not agree with me, just like tweeting “#DefundPP” doesn’t make you more of a Christian.

2) “Jesus didn’t wait for people to stop sinning before loving them.”

I think this is something that is generally understood, but something that needs to be reiterated. And I think this goes two ways.

How often do you, in your life, think about having to clean yourself up before you pray/read your Bible/lead a group/share the Gospel? Jesus loves you and qualifies you for service in spite of your sin. You’re not thought of less because you sin. You just need Jesus more, and He loves you and wants you even in your sinful state.

And this goes for others and how we treat them as well. If we want to echo Christ in all we do, we’ll love people who are sinful. We’ll love people even the world, but particularly the Church, might consider unloveable. We’ll love the prostitutes, the porn addict, the murderer, the gay person, the rebellious child, all of them, even if they don’t think what they’re doing is sin. Jesus didn’t wait for us to figure out what sin was before offering His love freely to us.

3) “Cussing, drinking alcohol and listening to secular music doesn’t make you less of a Christian.”

Using cuss words is not a sin. There is no word that is naturally sinful. Drinking alcohol is not sinful in and of itself. Alcohol is not naturally sinful. Listening to “secular music” is not sinful in and of itself. Just because the person writing it isn’t a Christian doesn’t make the music sinful or bad.

There are obviously qualifications to each of those. I won’t cuss in certain situations because it won’t be edifying or enlightening to those around me. Drinking alcohol under the age of 21 is sinful because it’s against the law and it’s disregarding the authority God has placed over us. Secular music is like profanity – it depends on the situation.

What’s more important than the actions themselves is the heart behind them. While cuss words may not be sinful in and of themselves, they may be used disrespectfully towards another person or even God, and in those cases the use of them is sinful. Drinking alcohol to get drunk or underage is sinful because the heart behind it is either carelessness of mind or the wrong use of something to escape from issues or rebellion against authority. And listening to secular music to spite parental authority or for some self-seeking purpose that isn’t godly can be a reflection of a discontent or selfish heart.

So you can be a Christian and cuss, drink alcohol and listen to Jay-Z. Yes, it’s possible.

4) “You don’t have to go to church to be in community.”

Justin Bieber made news recently with his comment about church: “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell, that doesn’t make you a taco.” Funny comparison, but entirely true. Not that every Christian responded well. Laura Turner of Religion News Service wrote, “Bieber’s point about the church is important, and it shows us how far we have to go. But I also hope that anyone who calls themselves a Christian will, at some point, see the vitality and beauty of a church congregation, and see what’s missing when they’re not around it.”

The Bible is insistent on believers finding community, finding brothers and sisters in Christ to surround themselves with for encouragement and challenge. But nowhere is there a command that says, “Thou shalt visit a church building once a week for at least two hours.” Going to church is awesome and is an easy place to find community, but it’s not entirely necessary. You can be in community, you can be among believers without going to a church building.

If you’re purposefully avoiding church to avoid community, perhaps there might be an issue. But people who leave the church and are still Christians don’t need to be condemned for their decision. Maybe they’re just looking for real community they’re not finding there.

5) “We don’t condemn you for how you sin differently than we do.”

We have a nasty habit in the Church of judging certain sins to be greater than others. Because of this, we tend to treat people according to where their evident sin fits on the hierarchy. We’re more likely to be dismissive of the gay person than the person who struggles with pornography, more dismissive of the person who cusses than the guy who is a serial dater and cares little for women.

My point is this: we shouldn’t be dismissive of either. We should not condemn those who sin because it is only God who has the license to condemn, and those in Christ should never be condemned. We don’t say this enough. We don’t let people know that, just because they might sin differently than us, they’re loved less or thought of less by God.

6) “We suck at following Jesus. But He loves us anyways. How awesome is that?”

This statement is two-fold.

First, it displays the honesty that we must display as believers. In Scripture we get to see realness from people like David and Paul, a realness and honesty and transparency that encourages and comforts us. But we hesitate from it so often, especially when it comes to how we talk about our walk with Christ. Since we sin every day, it’s hard for us to honestly say we’re doing well following Christ. So admitting that we suck at following Jesus is perhaps the most honest thing we can say.

But the coolest part is this: Jesus loves us when we suck at following Him. He loves us when we’re doing well at following Him. He loves us no matter what. How awesome is that?

This is the crux of the Gospel. And if we’re going to be saying any of these six things more, it’s this one. It’s the one message that will save people from eternity apart from God.

‘I Will Return to My First Husband’ And He Will Take Her In: The Gospel Beauty of Hosea 2

I woke up this morning with the intent to start reading through the minor prophets in Scripture. Honestly, it’s not something I often wake up with the intent to do – read the Bible. Usually in the morning I’m dragging my feet trying to get ready for work.

That’s one of the beauties of Sundays. You just might have enough time that you don’t have to drag your feet.

Anyways, I read Hosea 1-3 and it was a fascinating picture of the Gospel.

The story of Hosea and his prostitute wife Gomer was most recently modernized in the popular novel Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. In summary: Hosea is a prophet of God and he is told to “take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (1:2). So he marries a prostitute in order to be a living example of the faithfulness of God to His faithless people. God then spells out His punishment on Israel and then His mercy. Then Hosea redeems Gomer, who had abandoned him, by buying her back and saying, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whole, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you” (3:3), echoing God’s love for His people.

I had read this before, but when I took the time to digest this, I got something beautiful out of it, mainly in Chapter 2.

Chapter 2 is entirely prophecy and God or Hosea speaking to the people of the nation of Israel. It roughly breaks down into two sections, and they are quite reflective of our everyday lives following Jesus.

Israel’s Unfaithfulness Punished/Our Unfaithfulness Explained (v. 1-13)

God opens by saying some pretty harsh things about Israel:

Plead with your mother, plead – for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband – that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst. Upon her children also I will have no mercy, because they are children of whoredom. (v. 2-3)

The punishment is severe. But we get to learn why she did what she did in v. 5:

For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, “I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.”

The “mother” here played the whore, she went after sources of life other than God. She did this because she thought that her “loves” would give her bread, water, wool, flax, oil and drink. These are things that are necessary for life: bread, water and drink give physical sustenance, wool and flax are good for clothing, and oil lights the house and helps cook the food.

One reason we daily pursue after things other than God is that we feel they will give us life or help us meet our basic needs. And they will. They truly will. To sit here and say that sinful pleasures bring no satisfaction whatsoever would be to tell a straight-up lie.

We lie to others because we’ll avoid awkward or painful conversation. We pursue sexual intimacy outside of marriage because we want to experience the pleasure without the commitment. We boast in ourselves because we want to feel like we’re worth something. We work super hard super late because we want to have money for security or to buy things to feel good.

We do tons more crappy things in order to find that satisfaction. We’re pursuing things that are good. We’re just pursuing them in the wrong source, as the nation of Israel was here in Hosea.

But we see a change in the “mother” here. God hedges her way so she can’t find those “lovers.” “Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now,” v. 7 tells us. God is the “first husband” here because He is our original creator, the one who originally sustained us. “And she did not know,” v. 8 says, “that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.” Here we see that God is the ultimate source of the things we need, but our “lovers” misappropriate those needs.

Over the next few verses, God puts an end to the opportunities for the “mother” to find her satisfaction in following false gods, in playing the whore. There is punishment doled out.

But then we get to the best part.

The LORD’s Mercy on Israel/God’s Mercy on Us (v. 14-23)

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. (v. 14-15)

Think of what Israel found when they were brought out of Egypt. They found freedom, hope, and (eventually) a new homeland in Canaan. God offers that to the wife of whoredom, His people, who abandoned Him. And there is a new establishment of relationship, spelled out in v. 19-20:

And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.

God doesn’t abandon His people forever. He wants them to learn where they’ve fallen short, He wants them to see how they’ve been missing His commands. But then He “allures” them back to Him.

I love that language of “alluring.” To allure is to be attractive. God makes Himself attractive to us, more attractive than the things we pursued before. This is how He shows us grace: He shows us that what we pursued before wasn’t truly satisfying and then shows us that He is truly satisfying. He gives us what we need – the bread, water, wool, flax, oil and drink – just by being Himself.

The best part: we don’t have to do anything to earn this sustenance. It’s given freely in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The biggest difference between this story and our story is that we have available to us the gospel grace of Jesus Christ earned for us on the cross. The people of Israel had to do work to repent of their sins, and then God showed them mercy. All we have to do is repent and believe. We don’t have to do any certain amount of work to earn back God’s favor. We’ve been given the right to no longer be condemned if we are in Christ (Romans 8:1).

But the relationship is the same: we are betrothed to God forever. We enter a relationship with God that is like a marriage: it’s binding, it’s lasting. And while earthly marriages end on earth, a marriage with God in Christ is eternal. Despite our whoredom, despite our disobedience, despite how we constantly fall short of what His command spell out for us, He loves us and commits to us.

That’s a God I can get behind. I hope you can as well.

Christians on Social Media Tell Me I Need to Tell Others How to Behave. Is That Really What I’m Supposed to Do?

Christians often do an awful good job of telling people how to behave or complaining when people don’t behave as they ought. I’m guilty. I keep telling whoever reads these posts to lighten up, to love people no matter what and to stop idolizing virginity as a perfect thing.

So I wrestled with this question this morning. Where does “get the log out of your own eye” fit in with the command to “make disciples of all nations”? How do we balance our calling as ministers of the Gospel with the command to deal with your own sin before trying to nitpick others?

It’s a question I wrestle with often because there are thousands of tweets, blog posts and other forms of media that every day tell us what we’re doing wrong and what we need to change. And I think God has given us these tools to help and encourage one another, to challenge each other in our following of Jesus.

But is there a degree in which we go overboard in telling people how to behave differently?

It’s this kind of question that I think we don’t like asking or answering because we’re afraid that it’s going to make us feel guilty for how we’ve approached other people. It’s also such a nuanced issue, a matter of levels and intensity instead of something black-and-white.

Here’s the black-and-white:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

These things are the words of Jesus, straight from the Bible, so they’re irrefutable. Let’s key in on specifics.

Let’s start with the second passage. We are called to make disciples of all nations. What are the aspects of making disciples of all nations? Two things: baptizing people, and teaching them to observe what Jesus commands. So there is a command to instruct others how to live. And, to be honest, I don’t like it. But there’s a truth to that I can’t deny.

Here’s where I think it goes wrong: we take that command to the highest extreme, which we are prone to do as people. Just ask my friends, I do it all the flippin’ time. We go overboard on telling people what to do so much so that we forget that we’re called to examine ourselves first.

Then Matthew 7 comes into play. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t tell people that they’re screwing up.” What He does say is this: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Jesus sets up the order for how we are to help others see the faults in their lives.

First, He says, we must examine ourselves.

This is probably one of the hardest things to do as a Christian, at least emotionally. Actually looking at your life for the crap strewn throughout it isn’t that hard – all you have to do is look at your last 24 hours and compare it to what the Bible instructs us to do. But wrestling with the fact that, if we look at ourselves honestly, we fall short can be really tough. For some, it can be a huge blow to the ego and to the pride they’ve built up. For others, it can be incredibly discouraging and can make us forget the Gospel, forget what it means to be forgiven and loved by the Creator of the Universe.

But if we are to fairly look at others’ lives and say, “Hey, you’re missing this,” or, “These people are sinning in this way,” Jesus says we must first examine ourselves and deal with the issue in front of us.

Here’s another question: to what degree do we have to deal with our own sin before we can rightly instruct others? I don’t know the exact answer to that. But what I think (and I could be entirely wrong) Jesus is saying is, “Hey, deal with yourself and make sure you’re doing everything possible to kill the sin in your own life before you go nit-picking in others’ lives.”

One last thing: through His excellent forestry analogy, we see Jesus’ ideal hierarchy for sins. No, it’s not one sin is greater than another.

Your sin, your personal individual sin, is a log. That other person’s sin, it’s a speck. For comparison’s sake:

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Compare an individual speck of wood to the log. That’s how others’ sin should look in comparison to ours.

If I see a speck in someone else’s eye, I want to help them out by sharing with them. But I can’t see it properly unless I get rid of the log in my own eye first. This is how we are called tell others about their sin.

But how often do we act differently? And not just in our own minds, but publicly? Do we go to social media to condemn others and their sin, or can we use those tools to also step back and say, “Yeah, I screw up too, and here’s how I do it, and here’s how God is helping me through this and can also help you too!” as well?

I think we could be a lot better witnesses of Christ and follow what the Bible says a lot closer if we took this approach. By sharing our own sin first, we could give God tons more glory and praise than He already gets, and make the Gospel look 10 million times better.

Hyperbole, yes. But the Gospel is worth all the hyperbole we can give it. It’s that awesome. It means the sins we commit – and the sins of others, if they are believers – are forgiven and no longer held against them. I’ll talk about that all day long.

Seven Types of People in Your Church Small Group, and Why You Need All of Them (Even the Annoying Ones)

One of my favorite parts of being a believer is having brothers and sisters in Christ that I can hang with, grow with, discuss things with and just enjoy life with. Being around those people is something Scripture encourages, and implies is incredible necessary for following Jesus:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16)

I love passages like these because they’re reminders to me that I need people. We need each other.

One way that we experience this community, this fellowship, is through small groups. I want to explore what I’ve seen as seven types of people in small groups, who they are and why we need them. Even the annoying ones, the ones that get on my nerves the most, are super important to have in those groups, and I hope to explain why.

(Note: There will be some exaggeration in this, hopefully for humor, but these aren’t to be taken super literally.)


 

The Bible Thumper

The profile: Brings at least two or three Bibles with different translations to small group. Constantly pointing to things in the Bible to back up his statements. Interrupts others with “But the Bible says…” often. First to come up with a verse to relate to the certain situation.

Why they’re needed: This person is important because they bring things back to the source. If God’s Word truly is a sword (1 Timothy 4:12) that is good “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), then it needs to be brought up. Can it get kind of annoying? Perhaps. Can this person make stretches to relate things to a certain verse? Maybe. But this person’s passion for the Word of God is super necessary.

The One Passion Person

The profile: Always finds a way to turn the conversation to whatever they’re most passionate about, whether it be mental health, politics, sexual sin, fatherlessness, racism, etc. Sometimes it’s kind of amazing how they can connect something in the Old Testament to whatever they’re interested in.

Why they’re needed: Maybe you think they go overboard with that one topic. And perhaps they do. But maybe they’re just trying to bring awareness to something you don’t even think about on a daily basis. It’s people like this that can help you be aware of and at least pray for whatever their issue is. We all have our passions. We can encourage and edify one another with our passions.

The America-Is-Going-to-Hell-in-a-Handbasket Stump Speaker

The profile: Attended the Values Voter Summit last weekend. This person is up on all the presidential candidates. This person probably hates Obama. Well, they say they love Obama but hate his politics. They fear for the future of America and say it’s the government’s fault that Planned Parenthood is funded, abortion is legal and gay marriage is allowed.

Why they’re needed: If you know me, you know I’m probably most annoyed by this person. But I need to hear this person out. They make good points. They’re very similar to the One Passion Person in that they want people to be aware of the political issues. And, let’s be fair, what goes on in D.C. is incredibly impactful on our day-to-day lives. I need to learn to give this person a fair shake just like I want to be given a fair shake for thinking the opposite the majority of the time.

The Silent-But-Deadly One (And I’m Not Talking About Farting)

The profile: Doesn’t really say a whole lot. They keep quiet for the majority of the meeting, but when called upon to say something, or perhaps prompted by a thought in their own head, they open their mouth and out comes something deeply profound.

Why they’re needed: Everyone’s opinion matters, even the one who doesn’t have anything to say 95 percent of the time. And this person’s insight, profound or not, is just as valuable as the one who is always talking.

The Counselor

The profile: Has a word of advice for anyone presenting a problem in their own life. Takes the prayer request time to really shine.

Why they’re needed: This person can be really annoying for me because sometimes I just want to be heard, not fixed. But two things to remember about this person. First, they just want to help. They care about other people, so they want to be a part of helping others find the solution(s) to their issues. Second, sometimes this person has really good insight. To write off everything they say as just meddling is unfair, because perhaps they have the answer you’ve been searching for.

The Group Leader

The profile: Last to share their thoughts. Keeps the group on task. Usually spends some time making sure people don’t go No. 2 in the bathroom closest to the living room. Leads by example by going back to the master bathroom to do so him/herself.

Why they’re needed: It’s really easy for people to get distracted by a particular issue in small group conversation. And while those issues can be important, and sometimes need to be expounded upon, keeping a group on task is extremely important, especially when there’s a time limit.

A Group Regular’s Relatively-New Significant Other

The profile: Doesn’t go to the church that the small group is based out of. The group regular is trying to see if he/she will fit in with their group of friends and figures a high-intensity spiritual setting will be a good test. Usually quiet.

Why they’re needed: As someone who has been the “group regular” in this situation, having these people in your group is helpful not just for the group regular but the significant other. In the context of that relationship, a small group setting is incredibly beneficial. For the group, don’t rule this person out. They may be what you need.


1 Corinthians 12:14-26 says:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

We can’t say to one of these people that we have no need of them just because they’re not who we are or they’re not who we think we need. We need each of these people and all the stereotypes that I didn’t list here in our small groups, in our community. In that way, we’ll be well-rounded and the body of Christ we’re called to be.

Jesus Gives Second Chances. All the Time. Ask Peter.

I finally finished reading through the gospels yesterday afternoon.

It was quite a refreshing read. I had never read through them all at once. But I learned so much. Perhaps soon I’ll write a post with my general reflections as well as posts that I’ve written during this time that are directly tied to something I read.

One of the final things in the book of John is the story of Jesus and Peter having their whole “feed my sheep” conversation. It’s in v. 15-19:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

This is a classic passage that I’ve heard about hundreds of times. You could pull out a lot of things from this, but I want to focus on the redemption here.

Back in chapter 18, we saw Peter deny Jesus three times. In this passage, we see Jesus give Peter three opportunities to affirm his love for his Savior. And he does each and every time. Finally, after prophesying the way Peter was going to die, Jesus simply says, “Follow me.”

This hearkens back to the calling of the disciples. In Matthew 4:18-20, we see the calling of Peter and his brother Andrew:

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Strange, isn’t it? The same command that was given at the beginning of Peter’s association with Jesus is given to him after perhaps the most notorious sin he had committed. Peter had straight up denied Jesus to others. He had denied ever knowing Him three times! You’d think by the third time he would have come around. But he didn’t. And then the rooster crowed, and he felt like crap.

Jesus doesn’t let any sin – even something as great as denying Him to others – get in the way of giving grace and allowing second chances. This is a radical thing! If there had been some kind of betrayal or denial like that of me, I’d be super hesitant to give a second chance.

But let’s not forget something. My guess is that Jesus had to make sure of Peter’s readiness for the task He was going to give him – building and leading the early Church on earth. So He asked him three times, “Do you love me?” And Peter said yes each time, and Jesus was ready with the response. “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” But Peter brings up a good point: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

If Jesus knew that Peter loved Him, why did He ask? Perhaps it was towards restoration of Peter’s confidence or of his mission, I’m not sure exactly. But I love it. Jesus knew Peter’s heart, and we even get a glimpse into Peter’s heart when he says to Jesus eight chapters before that he would be willing to die for Him (John 13:37).

Jesus gives second chances of obedience to those who are willing to follow Him. And this is a beautiful and glorious thing! Unless we know we’ve screwed up our first chance, we would have no reason to go after a second chance.

We can learn from Peter and Jesus here: second chances are not very far away. You’ve just got to be willing. That’s all. You don’t have to do any crazy work. Just surrender.