The Israelites, Covid-19, and Our Greatest Battle

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…

These words comforted my soul as we sang them with our church body via live stream this morning. We are studying the book of Daniel and a message on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego reminded me that God is with us in trial. My faith was bolstered, my heart uplifted.

Then I looked at the news.

I’d say you’d have to be living under a rock to not know what’s going on with covid-19, but actually, we are all living under a rock because of covid-19. Every day feels a little bit like groundhog day. Every day we wake up, stay inside, and wonder when this nightmare will end. Then we repeat.

Trying to even just process the state of the world is difficult. It’s hard to even quite wrap our minds around how our lives have been upended in just a matter of weeks. This morning as I cranked up the worship music in an attempt to calm my heart, I began to think about the Israelites in Exodus.

God delivered them from the slavery and oppression of Pharaoh. He passed over them when they hid behind the blood of a lamb. He miraculously divided the sea so they could walk through it. And He assured them that He would lead them into the Promised land.

They knew their past. They knew their promised future. And yet, they hovered in the uncertainty of the in-between, a desert space filled with great enemies and dangers.

We have much in common with them. God has delivered us from the slavery of sin. He has passed over us because we are covered by the blood of the Lamb. He has done amazing things in our lives and never failed to be faithful. He has promised to lead us into the Eternal Promised Land where death will be no more and sorrow and sighing will cease.

We know our past. We know our promised future. And yet, we hover here in the uncertainty of the in-between, a desert space filled with great enemies and dangers.

Like the Israelites, our greatest battle in these days is the battle for faith over fear, the battle for trust over grasping. Like them, we face many temptations. We are tempted to turn to idols when God seems absent and we don’t understand what He’s doing. We are tempted to worry about tomorrow, hoarding “manna” in a vain attempt to make ourselves feel secure. We are tempted to run in fear when we hear reports of giants in the land.

Covid-19 is a giant that looms large and seems unconquerable. The battle for faith as we face this giant is a daily one.

Today, I will not trust in myself, in government, in doctors. Today, I will trust in the Lord

Today, I will not worry about tomorrow or the days after. I will look to the Lord to provide the resources, grace, and strength I need for this day.

Today, I will not give in to fear when I hear reports of growing threats and danger. I will lift my eyes to the One who rules over all. 

I’d be lying if I told you’d I’ve been winning this battle every day of this global crisis. My faith is weak and fickle, just like the Israelites, but God is staunchly faithful to me and all who are called by His name, just like He was to the Israelites.

And thankfully, the battle for faith is never a battle we fight on our own. He knows how we are formed. He remembers that we are dust. He knows we could never win this battle by ourselves. So He fights it with us. When our hearts begin to tremble with fear, His Spirit leads us back to faith just as a good shepherd leads a weary sheep to water. Again and again and again.

I don’t like feeling like my life is out of my control, but actually, it’s always out of my control whether I “feel” it or not. However, it is never out of His. It makes me uncomfortable that I have no idea what the future holds, but it gives me hope that I know the One who holds it. Today, I will fight the battle for faith in Him. Tomorrow, He will help me do it again.

God has delivered us from sin and promised to deliver us to that eternal shore. He will surely lead us through the uncertainty of the in-between. He is in our midst. He will help us when morning dawns. The LORD of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress.

sars-cov-19

 

 

And Yet…We Praise Him. Thanksgiving When Life Is Hard.

2400 years ago, Plato wrote his famous work, The Republic. In it, he addressed a crucial question. Is justice an intrinsic good? Is the just life, the righteous life, really the good life? That is, if you removed all the rewards of righteousness and the penalties of unrighteousness, would it still be worth it to live justly? Plato’s character, Glaucon, claimed that it wouldn’t. Those who live justly, he argued, only do so for its worldly benefits.

Many thousand years ago, Satan made the same argument to God concerning his righteous servant Job. “‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face'” (Job 1:9-11).

And so, God allowed Job to be tested. He was stripped of all his earthly goods including all of his children and yet…He praised Him (Job 1:22).

Two thousand thousand years ago, Paul and Silas were beaten because of their identification with Jesus Christ. They were thrown in jail and placed in shackles and yet…they praised Him (Acts 16:25).

Two weeks ago, my uncle suffered a stroke during his bladder removal surgery. He awoke unable to see. Barring a miracle, He is now permanently blind and yet…he praises Him.

A week ago, my mother, who has suffered from the effects of cerebral palsy her whole life, underwent ankle replacement surgery. Her pain is great and her recovery will be long. There is a possibility she will end her life in a wheel chair and yet…she praises Him.

Today, the Prosperity Gospel tells us what Glaucon told Socrates and what Satan told God. Righteousness is only worth what it produces. God is only worth what He gives. He is not the end to happiness, but only a means. The good life is the life that is full of health and wealth and if God does not give it, He is not worth our time. Our righteousness has been in vain (Psalms 73:13).

This Prosperity Gospel has a childish sort of logic to it, a basic arithmetic.  Be good. Get good. If this is the case, then Job and Paul and Silas and my uncle and my mom and so many more are either fools or they know a greater truth. The Prosperity Gospel cannot account for worshiping prisoners or singing blind men. It has no explanation for joyful suffering.

Like Satan in the garden, it mixes truth with lies. The content of its promise is true, but its timing is wrong. We are promised health and wealth, but not in this life. Its claim that God wants to make us happy is true, but its understanding of that happiness is wrong. God is both the means and the end to our happiness. He is not only the giver of the treasure. He is the treasure.

This is the true heart of the Christian faith and it radically changes its message. Grace confounds the Prosperity Gospel’s basic math. In fact, it reverses it. We have done bad and yet, we receive good. Moreover, the treasure we receive is of such great worth that not only does any earthly treasure pale in comparison, but it is such that we would gladly give it all up in order to obtain it. As Paul said, we would count it all as rubbish that we may gain Christ and be found in Him (Philippians 3:8-9).

Christ is the treasure we could not afford to buy and the treasure we would sell anything to keep. That is how you account for worshiping prisoners and singing blind men. That is the only way to make sense of joyful suffering.

Next week, we will all gather with family and give thanks for our blessings. For those who are suffering, this may be harder to do. It is hard to believe in God’s goodness when it can’t be tasted and seen, but there is a day of prosperity that is unseen, but surely coming. We couldn’t earn it and we can’t lose it. This treasure is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:40).

The good life is not the easy life, but the life lived for Jesus. If we have Him, we have more than sufficient cause for giving thanks. If we know Him, we have known and we will know happiness. While we tarry here, we are not promised easy and comfortable circumstances, but a joy that exists independently of all circumstances. We may have seen great sorrow and we may see greater sorrow still and yet…we praise Him.

thanksgiving.jpg

On Christians and Politics. Remember Who You Are and Whose You Are.

These are strange and disturbing times we’re living in. The tumult of the last few weeks has revealed what a great divide or even chasm exists between the two political parties of this nation. For the Christian, it can be especially strange. There is a great tension in the Christian life. We are first citizens of heaven, but we are also citizens of this one. Our home is with Jesus there and yet we are now living here. We live for eternity and not this world and yet what happens here matters greatly.

Politics matter. We should care deeply about the affairs of this nation. We should fight for truth. We should fight for justice. We should fight for goodness, but we should do so very, very carefully. In all of it, we must never forget who we are and whose we are.

We are sojourners here. We know that empires will rise and empires will fall. Rulers will come and go, but there is a King who is now reigning and will reign for all time. If we are called by His name, we are His ambassadors on this earth. We represent Him and if we forget our allegiance is first to Him and His kingdom, not any political party, we will do a pretty poor job of it.

If we claim to have His Spirit, we must show that we have its fruit. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. Navigating the politics of this world is hard. Figuring how to engage and when to engage with people you disagree with is hard, but if we do it without these qualities, we are no different from the world. At best, our voices will do nothing more than drift off into the futile cacophony of discord and at worst, they will misrepresent Jesus and push people farther from Him.

Christians should be marked by these traits, not because we’re better than other people, but because we are different from other people. Different because we have been transformed by grace and as such, we should be people of peace. I don’t mean that we should be doormats. I don’t mean that we should never contradict or argue. I mean we should be calm, unflappable. Our peace should be our strength amidst political upheaval and disagreement because our identity and our hope lie in something, someone beyond this world. Jesus rose. Jesus reigns. Jesus will return. Therein lies our peace. Therein lies our ability to wade into the political fray with wisdom and grace.

It is worth noting that the epistles of the New Testament know almost nothing of politics. This should surprise us more than it does. If we think today’s political climate is rough I’m sure that the early church had it worse. The government was literally killing them because of their faith and yet never once do you hear Paul or Peter telling them to fight for their rights. Never once does he present a political argument or strategy. Rather, they are told, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:5-6).  “Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry” (James 1:19).  “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:5-6).

The writers of the New Testament were far more concerned with who early church members were becoming than what was being done to them. Its overwhelming narrative is not a political one, but a Gospel one. First, remember who you were: a child of wrath, a citizen of darkness (Ephesians 1:3). Second, remember who you are now: a child of God, a citizen of heaven (Ephesians 2:8). Third, live in this world in such a way that reveals your new identity (Colossians 3:10). I don’t think it would be overstating things to say that all of our affairs here on earth, including political ones, should be governed by these three points.

Since we have been saved by grace, we care about this world, but we live for the next. We may be members of a political party, but we vow allegiance to none but Christ. We are ambassadors of no ideology of this world, but of the Gospel of Jesus. Let us then be careful how we live. Let us be careful how we speak. Let us remember who we are. We are not our own. We are His.

politics

 

 

 

 

What If I’m A One Talent Woman?

In Jesus’s well-known parable in Matthew 25, a master gives talents to his servants while he goes away. To one, he gives five, to another, two, and to the last, one. The first two invest and multiply their talents, earning the praise and commendation of their master upon his return. The last servant, however, hides his talent in the dirt, earning a harsh rebuke. The talents are usually understood to represent the resources God has given us: our time, money, possessions, and abilities.

My sisters and I, all in the throes of raising young children, sometimes joke that we are one talent women. It’s usually funny to laugh about, but…what if it’s true? My adult years thus far have been riddled with many insecurities. There is in my mind, a feminine ideal, of which I fall so short. I picture her making a healthy, gourmet meal while also crocheting a sweater and teaching her rapt children a catechism. Though I know this probably doesn’t really exist, I look around and see many women who seem to embody it better than I. They have better organizational skills, administrative abilities, and domestic know-how.  They seem to have endless energy and resourcefulness and patience. I have often even felt inferior to my own husband, who is ten times the cook I am and knows more about how to remove tough stains. I laugh that he is a better woman than I, but all of this comparison has led me nowhere good. Mostly, just to self-pity.

Our Talents Are Not Our Own

Maybe I am a one talent woman. Maybe you are too. So what? None of the servants in the story did anything to earn their talents. They weren’t even their own. They were the Master’s. Feeling self-pity or shame over your one talent is as silly as another feeling pride over their five. “For who makes you different than anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Pride has no place in the kingdom of grace nor does shame or self-pity. All that we are and all that we have is from God. It is His to give as He wishes. It is not given to make us greater or lesser, but to magnify Him and advance His purposes. Both the first two servants receive the same commendation even though they have different amounts. The last servant is rebuked not for having little, but for doing little with what he had. In the same way, if we sit and compare our one talent with another’s five talents, we are missing the point and wasting what we have been given.

Our Talents Are Not Who We Are

There are many different kinds of people in the body of Christ. Some rich and some poor. Some with brains and beauty and charisma and some without. Some with many gifts and abilities and some with only a few. Yet, all are equal citizens in the kingdom of God and all have the same fundamental identity.

Grace is the great equalizer. While the world places us all in different echelons based on money, power, beauty, the Gospel places us all in one category: condemned. It then offers us a second category: justified. The only means to this transaction is the grace of God. When we receive this grace, we receive a new identity: in Christ. This identity is given to every citizen of heaven without discrimination. It alone is what separates us from the condemned and makes us acceptable to God.

So, every Christian has the same identity, but different gifts. The gifts we are given, be they great or small, do not define who we are. When we sink into comparison or self-pity, we are forgetting this. We are forgetting that our identity is bound up, not in ourselves, not in our gifts, but in Christ.

Our Talents Are Not For Us

We are all products of grace, intended to be means of grace. Whatever we are given, for we are all given something, we are meant to use, not for our own glory, but for God’s. Not to serve ourselves, but to serve others.

The beauty of God’s kingdom is that grace is liberally and indiscriminately given to the weak and strong alike. All are lost. All are brought in. All are justified. All are given something. And all are called to take what they have been given and invest it. We are held accountable not for what we’ve been given, but what we do with it.

So, if you have a home, use it. Manage it the best you are able and make it a place where grace and love abound. If you have children, pour yourself into them. In the strength that you have, care for their daily needs and diligently feed their souls the Gospel. If you have special gifts and abilities, use them to make His name great and not your own. If you have time, money, resources, invest them in kingdom things. Take all that you have that will not last and with it, build what will.

Even if we have one talent, we are meant to take that one talent, every bit of it, and leverage it for our Master. If we have just one gift, we must steward it, develop it, wield it for the One who has given it. Whatever we have received, great or small, is meant to be used in the service of others and the ministry of His all-surpassing grace (1 Peter 4:10).

Is God Anti-Pleasure?

Pleasure and holiness are not things we normally think about in the same category. Pleasure is about doing whatever you want. Holiness is about abstaining and restraining. Pleasure is about freedom from rules. Holiness is about burdensome adherence to the rules.  Pleasure and holiness by definition, must be at odds.

However, I would suggest that these are mistaken understandings of pleasure and holiness that stem from a fundamentally and tragically warped view of God which has pervaded our society and even sometimes, the Church itself. It is the view that God is boring and He wants us to be boring too, that He delights in giving us rules just to keep us from enjoying all the things this world has to offer. To choose a life of holiness is to forego the life of pleasure. The truth I have come to realize and delight in is that this is fundamentally false. In fact, what Scripture teaches us about God is the exact opposite.

Consider the status of man before the Fall. Adam and Eve were brought to life and it was abundant life. They found themselves in a verdant garden, full of all kinds of delicious fruit to taste and beautiful plants and creatures to behold. Above all, they were given each other, companions to love and enjoy for life. And God had equipped them with all the sensory organs they needed to experience all the wonderful things the garden and each other had to offer.

The garden was literally laden with opportunities for pleasure. God called it good and He wanted Adam and Eve to experience just how good it really was and therefore, just how good He really was. Yes, there were rules.Well, really just one rule. Their pleasure was not without its boundaries. There was one tree, just one tree out of many from which they could not eat. What is interesting is that it is after they break this one rule, after they break with holiness, that their desire for pleasure becomes frustrated. Like Adam and Eve, we sin not because the pleasure we seek is itself is wrong, but because, having forsaken holiness, we seek it in perverse ways that God did not intend.  

This shows us that God’s character and attitude towards man is not one of stinginess. God’s delight is not to withhold arbitrarily, but to give bountifully. It is also tells us that, contrary to popular belief, pleasure without bounds is not very pleasant in the end. This in turn shows that our desire for pleasure needs boundaries in orderly to be properly satisfied. Is it not logical that the One who created all the good things in this world would know the best way to experience them? In making this earth, God had a design and His design was perfect and benevolent.

Consider the role of a Father and child.The child has things he naturally and foolishly wants to do. The child has a God-given desire to experience things. Yet, he lacks the knowledge and wisdom to know how the best way to do so. Is it wrong or mean-spirited of the Father to set boundaries and laws for the child? Of course not. A Father does not give his child rules arbitrarily or to withhold good things from him. Rather, he gives the child rules to protect him from harm and to show him the best and most enjoyable way to live.

In the same way, God’s rules (holiness) for the ways in which to live and enjoy His creation (pleasure) are designed for our good. The wondrous truth is that God takes great pleasure in our pleasure. However, our pleasure is most fulfilled when lived within the parameters He has set for us. His holy laws are given to us in love. So we see that contrary to common thought, God is not against our pleasure. His call to holiness is to not a call to dullness. It is a call to life abundant.

It seems then that pleasure and holiness are not mutually exclusive as we might think, but are meant to be united.  For when we experience pleasure through creation, we reflect the character of God who Himself has called it good and desires that we should too. And when we limit our pleasure within the bounds of holiness, we find that our pleasure is not lessened, but rather increased. We find that there is holiness in pleasure and pleasure in holiness.

This knowledge produces in me a renewed awe at the goodness of my God, a God who is overwhelmingly for our pleasure, is also good and wise, delighting to give us good things and to show us the best way to use them.

It also causes me to reflect that ultimately, all the pleasures God has given us here on this earth are meant to point us to Him. They are an overflow of His good character and a mere shadowing of the pleasures we find in Him. He has made known to me the path of life and in His presence, I am filled with joy (Psalm 16:11).

So as I eat, drink, and seek to live a holy and abundant life to the glory of God on this earth, I lift my eyes to Him, thanking Him for all the good things He loves to give and that one day, I will be with Him forever. I resolve to live a life of holiness knowing and rejoicing that “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:60) and that this path of holiness is a path to pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

god

The Prosperity Gospel’s Deadly Whisper

“Find rest, o my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all time O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalms 62:5-8).

That was the verse shared by someone at church about four months ago, a verse I memorized in college. But that Sunday, I just thought, “That’s nice. I like that verse” and moved on with my life. Only later did I realize it was for me, that it was the verse God was giving me as the theme for the season of trial He was about to lead my family through.

A week or so later, my husband lost his job. We had just come off a year of great blessing. Great new job. Great new house. Beautiful new baby. This year could not look any more different. Unemployment. Sickness. Job offers falling through. Maybe we’d put too much stock in these earthly blessings. “Are you punishing us, Lord?” I wondered. Not punishing. Refining. Refining our hope. Refining our rest.

What does it mean when trials come regardless of “good behavior”? This is the great question of the book of Job.

The truth is, we all want a simple calculus. Do good. Get good. Do bad. Get bad. Obey. Reap blessings. Disobey. Reap trials. We want God to operate on our terms. It’s no different, really, from the Old Testament draw to idol worship. Gods made of human hands can be controlled by human hands. They are manipulable. Containable. Predictable. Non-threatening.

A living, breathing, omnipotent, sovereign God on the other hand? That can be a terrifying thing. He cannot be controlled or manipulated. He lives far above us in heaven and does all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3). His judgments are unsearchable and his ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33). If we submit to Him (or not), we are very much at His mercy.

Trials have a way of revealing what we really believe about God and about ourselves. I could give you a point by point run down of the Gospel.  I can scoff at Prosperity Gospel preaching and provide a scriptural rebuttal and yet, its seductive whispers can sneak behind my theologically equipped mind and make their way into my more vulnerable, more wayward heart. It is there that God is sifting.

I must confess that I can want God to behave more like an idol, to be a tool in my hands that I bend into making my life what I think it should be. I can want the Prosperity Gospel to be true.

As we have endured and continue to endure this season, it has forced me to ask myself some questions. Do I really believe that God is sovereign? Is the misfortune that has come our way a product of bad luck or divine providence? What has God promised me? Comfort, ease, and a life free of trouble? Or a hope, a joy, and a peace that remain in spite of trouble? What is the purpose of my life and what role does God play in it? Is my life about me and is God my fairy godmother who makes all my dreams come true? Or is my life about Him and His glory?

The answers to these questions directly determine how we respond in trials and suffering. I cannot pretend that my answers have always been the “right” ones. The verses I’ve been most drawn to are from Psalm 77. “Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion” (v. 8,9)  My soul has refused to be comforted (v. 2), and yet still searched diligently to remember the deeds of the Lord (v. 11). I believe. Help my unbelief.

The lie of the enemy is that God owes us much and yet, withholds much. The truth of the gospel is that God owes us nothing but wrath and yet, gives us nothing but grace. Which will I believe?

I do not serve a god made of clay, fashioned by human hands, but the great and mighty creator and ruler of the universe. He has redeemed my life from the pit and it is His to do with as He pleases. He is not a good luck charm I invoke when trials come. He is my refuge when trials come. He is not making a plan for my life. He is making my life for His plan.

No one cares if we praise God when the sun is shining, but the world will stop and marvel when we praise Him in a storm, when our worship operates completely independently of our circumstances. That is the mark of a faith that is really real, of a heart that loves God for Himself and not for His blessings.

I am weak and weary, but I pray that trials will prove the tested genuineness of my faith, refined like gold in the fire, and resulting in the praise and glory and honor of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7). I have faltered and will no doubt falter again, but I am resolved to say with Job, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away: blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).


Dear Moms, God Doesn’t Need You To Be Perfect


It was one of those days. One of those days that started out like all the rest and then, somewhere in the middle, headed completely south. I’m pretty sure my son whined from sun up until sun down and was bound and determined to steal all of his sister’s toys just to be spiteful. My patience was thin and by thin, I mean nonexistent. If I’m being honest, I may have even dropped a swear word. Throw in some self-pity and a little resentment towards my husband and you’ve got a recipe for a stellar day.

I can relive these moments and cringe at my failures. Some days, okay a lot of days, it can feel like I’m in competition against some kind of motherhood/homemaker ideal. Her house is always spotless. She never loses her temper. She always has fresh baked cookies and she has time to do creative, thrifty things like turn old pillowcases into adorable outfits. Have you met her? I know you have. She lives in your head just like she lives in mine. 

We have this idea that we need to be perfect, even that God expects us to be perfect. The thing is though, my worst days, days like today, often lead to the sweetest moments. As I put my son to bed, crying softly into his freshly cleaned curls as we read about Jesus, he grasped the Gospel just a little bit more. As we talked about how Mommy sins and Daddy sins and Jesus takes all your yucky sin, I could tell it was starting to mean something to him because it was meaning something to me. 

If we’re not careful, we can offer our kids the Gospel, but refuse it for ourselves. We can preach grace, but live out legalism. In the end, it won’t be our efforts or “perfection” that will lead our children to Jesus. If anything, they will only push them further away. What will make God’s grace irresistible to our children is to stop resisting it ourselves, to let it fill all our broken places and spill over onto them.

So, Moms, God doesn’t need you to agonize over your failures. He’s actually pretty good at using screwed up people to do amazing things (see: the Bible). He doesn’t need you to be perfect. He’s pretty much got that on lock. What He needs is for you to get your messy, broken, sleep-deprived, possibly unshowered self to the Cross and He needs you to bring your children with you. 

Yes, Monogamy is ‘Unnatural’

Friday is my husband and I’s five year anniversary. On that day, my husband and I stood before God, family, and friends and took vows of commitment to one another. I’m not here to hand out marriage advice. Five years feels like a big milestone, but I know it’s not much compared to people like my parents and grandparents, who have been going strong for 30, 60 plus years. Like any marriage, we have had and have our difficulties.

I recently read that, after splitting from her second husband, actress Scarlett Johannson called monogamy “unnatural” and “a lot of work.” This is an opinion I’ve heard from other celebrities and many people in general. I’m not here to condemn her for view. Actually, to some extent, I’m here to agree with her.

We feel that there is something unnatural about monogamy because there is. What comes naturally is what comes easily and what comes easily is self-love. Commitment, the promise to love another more than ourselves, to stick with it when things gets hard, flies in the face of all of our natural instincts. But if our only standard for living is what feels natural, we have reduced our lives to virtual meaninglessness. Nearly everything worth attaining takes work and sacrifice. The student spends hours studying despite the fact that he would naturally rather not. The marathon runner trains, pushing himself through pain and straining against every natural instinct which begs him to stop. If we only do what feels natural, we may have comfort and ease, but we have very little actually worth having. 

In our society, we are both idealists and cynics. We want to believe in a love so powerful, so consuming that it is always easy to give, that never demands something we don’t naturally feel like doing. We want the sensation of falling in love, but we don’t ever want to hit the hard ground of reality, where things become mundane and difficult, where feelings dissipate. The problem though is that we inevitably do hit the ground and when we do, we feel that love has failed us somehow, that if it was real love, it wouldn’t be so hard. Falling in love is effortless and only takes a moment, but choosing to love for a lifetime takes a lifetime of work.

Real love is made of weightier stuff than feelings. It finds its form and substance in difficulty. It is refined in pain and trials like silver in the fire. It is not simply felt, but forged. It matters more when it is given in spite of and not because of natural instinct. Loving in moments of ease might make us feel good, but it means very little.  We all love that which makes us feel good and no one needs vows to do what is natural. Real love, however, is very unnatural and costly, but then by definition, it is very precious. If we only strive for that which costs us little, we will only attain that which is not worth very much.

I write this not to hold my own marriage up self-righteously or to condemn anyone who has gone through divorce, but rather to dispel the notion that love should come easily. Five years is very short in the long run and I know that we will yet encounter greater difficulties than we have so far. There may come a time when one or both of us will want to throw in the towel, but like a runner who runs to win a prize, I set my face toward the goal with the expectation of difficulty, a prayer for endurance, and the hope of reward. I am determined to keep my vow, to strive for the essence of love that God has given me, the love which promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Indeed, we find this love perfected in Jesus Himself. Being fully God, there was nothing natural about Him condescending to come to earth and certainly nothing natural about Him dying on a cross. Leaving us in our sin and self-wrought misery would have been natural, easy, and just. Being fully human as well, we know there was nothing easy about Him doing it. Indeed, he sweat with blood and prayed with tears that the cup should pass from Him. Showering us with mercy and grace came with great pain and at a very high cost. And yet, because of His love for His bride, the Church, He laid down His life in order to make her His own. This is real love, love which has supernatural power precisely because it pushes us beyond our nature to imbue our lives with beauty, hope, and purpose. 

396626_4066663952053_763910180_n.jpg

Holiness Made Its Home Among The Cursed

At Easter, it is natural to reflect upon the death and resurrection of Christ. This year, I find myself also thinking upon the broader scope of His life and its meaning for us. What does it mean that He was Emmanuel? What does it mean that God not only forgave our sins, but came to dwell among us, the sinners? It means God was not merely after forgiveness, but restoration. Restoration of the world in its entirety. Restoration of the human condition in its entirety.

You don’t have to look far to see that we live in a broken world. There is pain. There is injustice and evil and grief. We can find that even our greatest joys can be tinged with sadness as if we know things are still not what they should be. We can be haunted by the dauntless specter of death, our one shared and final fate though something tells us it shouldn’t end that way. Why? Why is the world fraught with sorrow? Why does life end in death? Because we are fallen. We bear the curse of our sin and every square inch of creation bears it with us (Romans 8).

Yet in the life of Christ, we see mercy dawning. We see God retracing the steps of the Fall. We see the Holy One enter the cursed womb and set into motion our ransom, our rescue. The first place He sent sin’s curse was the first place He sent sin’s cure. And there is nowhere He has commissioned His curse that He has not also commissioned His grace, no scars of His judgment that He has not also touched with the healing of His redemption.

The incarnation means that Holiness made its home among the Cursed. Yahweh, a name too sacred to be spoken by our tainted lips, became Emmanuel, God With Us. How astounding that the holy, eternal God entered into the wasteland of our transgressions. How astonishing to see Him be born of a sinful woman, labor among the thorns and thistles of our cursed ground, touch and heal the sick and perishing, and finally, die the shameful death of a common sinner.

Christ, the God-man, our lamb and conqueror, subjected Himself to our curse that He might defeat our curse. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Who could but falter under such an unfathomable burden? Yet, He never did. He carried it to completion and finally, cast it off, hurling our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and with them, our condemnation. Now we find the wrath of God is quenched, spent, satisfied like a fire which finds nothing left to burn. Its cup is emptied. Not a drop remains for He drank it all for thee.

What, then, remains for us to fear? What part of our curse shall hold terror for us still? Shall we fear the womb, be it emptied or filled or aching with the pain of loss? No, for our Lord has been there. Shall we live in dread of sickness? Jesus has taken up our infirmities (Isaiah 53:4). Shall we falter under the burdens of loneliness, grief, persecution? He has been well acquainted with them all (Isaiah 53:3). Shall we tremble as we face our final breaths? No, for Christ has breathed them before us.

He has lived and hurt and died, not merely pardoning us from afar, but entering fully into our human experience and leaving grace for all and in all in His wake. Yes, this ground we tread is cursed still, but now Holiness has been here, sowing the seeds of redemption. For now, they may seem to lie dormant as in winter, or barely shooting up, as in the first, fledgling moments of spring, but someday…someday, they will burst into full bloom. They will chase away the curse forever. All will be made new. It will. It will.

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy….” Isaiiah 35:1,2

“But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter into Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Isaiah 35:10

jesus walking

Rob Bell, Jesus Wasn’t “Relevant” and His Church Shouldn’t Be Either

Today, I happened upon an article about Rob Bell and his recent remarks to Oprah that the Church will become irrelevant if it continues to cling to the teachings of the Bible. From what I know about this man, he has renounced the doctrine of hell and obviously, doesn’t see the scriptures as authoritative. Without the Bible, I’m not sure Christianity can be called Christianity, but nonetheless, this is nothing new. The church has always been tempted to give way to the culture in the desperate hope that it can influence the culture.

However, this is completely counter to who Jesus Christ was. Jesus wasn’t “relevant” in His day and He never will be today, not in the sense we want. He wasn’t the Savior anyone hoped for or looked for. He didn’t tell anyone what their itching ears wanted to hear.

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:2-3

A “stumbling block” and “rock of offense,” Jesus came to love, yes, but to love and lead people out of their sin. Never once did he amend His message in order to make it more palatable, more popular, or more “relevant.”

The great irony is, that if he had, He would’ve been irrelevant. 

Can you imagine if He had told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and keep on doing as you please.” Or to the tax collector, “Continue in your greed and thievery.” Or to the Pharisee, “Stay in the comfort of your self-righteousness.” These messages would have been well-received, no doubt, but they would have had no impact. If this had been Jesus’s message, the Cross itself would be not only pointless, but laughable and certainly, irrelevant.

A drop of rain which falls in a stream becomes indistinguishable from it. It has no power or influence over the stream, for it is simply carried along by its tide. It is the rock which stands staunchly immovable against the tide that has the power to influence the course of the stream. The more the Church adjusts its views to appease the culture, the more it will look like the culture. And a Church which looks just like the culture will have nothing notable to say to the culture.

Those who suggest we “update” Christianity’s teachings say they are motivated by love, but love without truth, love which points out no wrongs and accepts all is a love which renders itself meaningless and powerless. Jesus loved people enough to tell them they were wrong. He loved them enough to tell them they needed something they couldn’t obtain on their own. And He loved them enough to die to give it to them.

Yes, Mr. Bell, love has, indeed, won, but without a battle, there is nothing to win.  As Tim Keller said, “We’re far worse than we ever imagined, and far more loved than we could ever dream.”  Through the cross, Jesus both showed us our greatest problem and satisfied our greatest need. This is the the Good News which Jesus came to bring and the most relevant message Christians have to offer the world.