Can I Ever Wear My Adrian Peterson Jersey Again?

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Adrian Peterson

I’ve been a longtime NFL fan.

More specifically, I’m a Minnesota Vikings fan.

My earliest childhood memories include watching games with my parents and hearing grandpa grumble about how much he hated the Dallas Cowboys.

Before the 2014 season began, I printed out a sheet with all the NFL team helmets for my 4 year old son. We talked about each team and whom he wanted to root for and whom he was never allowed to root for (Bears, Packers, and Jets).

A couple days later, we had a Fantasy Football draft at my house. In Kell family style, my two sons and I got decked out in our Vikings jerseys. Football has provided some solid fun in our family.

But things haven’t been quite as fun the past few weeks.

This isn’t because my Vikings are striving for mediocrity once again, but rather it’s because of the stench that surrounds all things NFL. The league has been oozing headlines about domestic violence scandals, concussion cover-ups, and most recently child abuse charges against my favorite player, Adrian Peterson.

My aunt, who is a Patriots fan, wrote me this week and said “what is happening to our beloved game?…I was going to email you before [the Pats and Vikings] game last week but AP took all the fun out of that.”

To add to the nauseating situation, we’ve seen the NFL execs’ lust for money broadcast in high definition. The waffling of the Panthers, Ravens, and Vikings organizations in the handling of their respective scandals has been directly tied to public outcries that threatened to cost them money, lots of money.

All of this has left a bad taste in my mouth toward the NFL and toward some of the players, including Adrian Peterson. Right now his jersey is hanging in my closet, and I’m not sure what to do with it.

To be clear, I never wore my AP jersey because I thought he was the model of morality. I wore his jersey because he’s an electrifying player who helped my team win. Granted, he also seemed to be an upstanding young man, and even professes to be a Christian. I respected his posture off the field, and that made it easier to wear his jersey.

But with everything that has come out about the apparent child abuse, I have been debating whether or not I’ll ever wear it again.

Though this wardrobe decision is pretty low on my priority list, the way I think about the NFL and its players is more important. I’ll keep it brief, but I’d like to share two lessons I’ve taken away from my consideration of all this NFL nastiness.

1. I need to take the log out of my own eye.

Jesus said, “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 7:5).

In those piercing words Jesus warned against pointing out other people’s sins while not first addressing the sins in your own heart. This is where I have found some much needed correction.

Before I point the finger at what I perceive to be money-hungry executives and the Ray Rice and Adrian Petersons of the world, I need to first look at the nastiness in my own heart.

Can you guess what the first thing was that I thought about when the Peterson news broke a few days ago? I thought about how it affected my hopeless Vikings and how it would impact my fantasy football team.

I reduced Peterson to a commodity and the abuse of his child to an obstacle to my sports enjoyment.

How sick is that?

What about the trauma that Adrian’s child has been through? What about his other children? What about the mothers of his children? What about Adrian’s soul before God?

Left to myself, I’m just as greedy and self-interested as the people I was criticizing.

Does that mean I can’t critically think and speak about their wrongs? Of course not. Jesus didn’t tell us not to judge others, He told us not to be hypocrites when we judge others (Matthew 7:1-5). What it does mean is that I must prioritize the examination of my own heart. I must come face to face with the fact that I’m not all that different from the people I was criticizing.

My selfish, consumeristic mindset defaults to using people rather than loving them. My self-righteousness strives to find a reason to condemn people rather than care about their ultimate good. My pride looks at the sin of others and tempts to be less convicted about my own sin. (Adrian abuses his child?  I guess my raised voice or harsh words to my child aren’t so bad after all).

How dangerous is that?

Child abuse and domestic abuse are heinous evils and need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But as I wrestle with all that is happening in our world, I must not avoid examining the evil that remains in my own heart. If I neglect this work, I fear how far I could wander into the darkness of my own sin.

2. Human heroes will always fail me.

Thankfully, I’m not enslaved to sports anymore. My afternoons aren’t ruined when my team loses and my heroes are no longer men in tights running through a field carrying a piece of dead pig. Maybe I’ve just grown calloused because of all the sports heartbreak over the years, but I’m hopeful that it is the Lord changing my affections toward eternal things (Colossians 3:1-3).

Through all of this, I’ve come to realize that while we can admire people for the way they play sports, we should never make them our heroes. Why? Because ultimately, they will fail us.

Sure, not everyone will act in the grievous way Adrian Peterson is accused of acting. But the fact is that all people, even the best of people will fail us.

Does this mean there aren’t any great men and women of character for us to learn from? Of course not. Does this mean we can’t be inspired by phenomenal athletes? Of course not. Does this mean we can’t wear the jerseys of our favorite players? Of course not.

What it does mean is that we must never forget that Jesus is the only One who will never put us to shame when we associate with Him (Psalm 25:3, Romans 10:11). In fact, He is the One who graciously covers the shameful sins of all those who draw close to Him in faith.

Christ is the never-failing One who promises grace and forgiveness to any who believe in Him. This promises is extended to child abusers, greedy executives, and hypocritical self-righteous preachers like me.

That is the beauty of the Gospel. Jesus is the hero who rescues us from the depths of our sin and now promises to never leave those who come to Him (John 6:37). No other person can ever promise that.

Trip Lee’s song about Jesus being the ultimate Hero captures this well, check it out here.

So will I ever wear my Adrian Peterson jersey again? I’m not sure yet.

If I do, it won’t be because I condone his behavior. It would be because of the way he responds to this incident and because I respect him as a player.

If I don’t, it won’t be because I think I’m a better person that he is. It would be because I wouldn’t want to send a confusing message to those who might see me wearing it.

But in the end, what matters isn’t if he or anyone else ever wears a #28 jersey again. What matters is if God will bring healing to his children, reconciliation in his family, and transformation to his life. We should pray and ask God to do that.

I could only hope you would do the same for me if I were the one wearing his jersey.

 

 

 

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Encourage One Another – Giving Grace With Your Words

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“Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13

Yesterday I received a kind note of encouragement from a friend. It was only about three sentences in length but the Lord used it to stir some much-needed strength in my soul.

Receiving the note led me to open up my Bible and dig around to see what the Lord says to us about encouragement. As I read passage after passage, I was struck by how vital this expression of love is for God’s people. In one sense, encouragement is like oxygen in the life of a church. It keeps hearts beating, minds clear, and hands inspired to serve.

Because encouragement is so important to the church, God doesn’t merely recommend it, but He explicitly commands it (1 Thessalonians 4:18, 5:11; Hebrews 3:13).

Why We Need Encouragement

God commanded that His people encourage each other because He knew we would need it. Jesus warned that “in the world you will have tribulation…” which He followed with much needed encouragement, “but take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We live in a broken world where everything calls us toward selfishness and despair. Sin steals joy, our bodies break down, our plans falter, our dreams die, our resolves weaken, our perspective dims. We are promised suffering (1 Peter 4:12), persecution (John 15:20; 2 Timothy 3:12), and trials of all sorts (James 1:2-3).

When encouragement is absent from the life of a church people will feel unloved, unimportant, useless, and forgotten. God knows His people are in need of grace-filled reminders, which is why He calls us to encourage each other every day until His Son returns (Hebrews 3:13).

What Is Encouragement?

Biblical encouragement isn’t focused on complementing someone’s haircut or telling them how good their homemade salsa tastes. That kind of encouragement is important, but the encouragement the Scriptures refer to is explicitly Christian encouragement.

Encouragement is shared with the hopes that it will lift someone’s heart toward the Lord (Colossians 4:8). It points out evidences of grace in another’s life to help them see that God is using them. It points us to God’s promises that assure us that all we face is under His control.

The New Testament reveals that encouragement was a regular part of the early church’s life together (Acts 13:15, 16:40, 18:27, 20:1-2, 27:36). They shared Scripture-saturated words with each other to spur one another on in faith (Acts 14:22), hope (Romans 15:4), unity (Romans 15:5; Colossians 2:2), joy (Acts 15:31), strength (Acts 15:32), fruitfulness (Hebrews 10:24-25), faithfulness (1 Thessalonians 2:12), perseverance (Hebrews 10:25), and the certainty of Christ’s return (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

Encouragement was and is an essential way of extending grace to each other.

How Do I Grow in Being an Encouragement to Others?

There isn’t only one “right way” to encourage each other, but here are a few ideas to help you get started.

  1. Pray for God to make you an encourager. Ask Him to give you a heart that loves others and creativity to know how to show it. Ask Him to help you die to self-centeredness and grow in a desire to build others up. Because God delights in helping His people obey His commands, we can trust that His Spirit will teach us how to bless others for His glory and their spiritual good.
  2. Study Barnabas and ask God to make you like him. Barnabas was nicknamed the “son of encouragement” by the early church (Acts 4:36, cf. Acts ch. 4-15). He was the kind of guy you wanted to have around as you were serving the Lord. He wasn’t just a spiritual cheerleader, but he was a man of great conviction who wanted to see the church flourish and did all he could to make it happen. Ask God to give you and your church a heart like Barnabas.
  3. Make encouragement a daily discipline. For some of us encouragement comes naturally, for others, not so much. I have a reminder in my calendar each day to send someone an encouraging note, email, text, or phone call. I need this reminder to pause, pray, and then intentionally try to spur someone on in Christ.
  4. Pray for God to show you who to encourage. Ask God to bring someone to mind that you should reach out to. One way to do this is by praying through your church’s membership directory. Check out this article to learn more about that.
  5. Use Scripture if you’re able. Nothing encourages us like promises from God’s Word. Make a list of Scriptures that God has used to bless you personally or an excerpt form something your read in your daily devotional. Mine the Psalms, Romans 8, and the Gospels. Find and share riches of God’s grace with others.
  6. Be specific in what you say. The note I received from my friend included two very specific ways he had seen evidences of grace in my life. When I read them, I was humbled and reminded of the fact that God does actually work in and though me. I needed that.
  7. Regularly encourage your pastor. If your pastor says something that God uses, tell him about it. Don’t expect him to write you back, but just send a few lines in a card or an email. Nothing encourages a pastor like hearing specific ways God used a sermon or counseling session to work in your life.
  8. Pray that God would create a culture of encouragement in your church. Ask God to make your church a community that loves each other in specific, tangible ways like encouragement. Ask God to use you to help fan that flame. Don’t get discouraged if people don’t return your encouragement (Matthew 6:3-4; Ephesians 6:3-8) or if you don’t see fruit from it (Galatians 6:9-10). Creating a church culture that glorifies God takes a long time, lots of prayer, and abundant grace. I encourage you to keep at it.
  9. Be wise. If you want to encourage someone of the opposite sex, use discernment in how best to do it. If I’m going to encourage a single sister in the congregation, I will tell my wife and copy her on the email. If I were encouraging a married sister, I would again tell my wife and copy her and the husband of the person I’m encouraging. You can also use that as an opportunity to encourage both the husband and wife.
  10. Get started. Who can you encourage right now? Who has blessed you recently that you can thank? What verse can you share with them? How might God use it?

May the Lord do more than we can imagine through just a little encouragement (Ephesians 3:20-21).

 

1 Thessalonians 4:18 “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

 

 

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A Sobering Reminder from the Ray Rice Situation

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Ray Rice and Wife

On Monday the NFL suspended running back Ray Rice indefinitely and the Baltimore Ravens released him from the team. This came after a video was released by TMZ showing a heart-breaking, stomach-turning domestic violence incident.

The curious thing is that this incident is not new news. Rice was initially suspended by the league for two games back on July 24. They knew at that time that Mr. Rice punched his then fiancee in the face and knocked her out.

Why the change of mind by the NFL and Ravens organization? Joshua DuBois said it better than I ever could:

Ray Rice Tweet 

What was in the dark was brought into the light.

Because the world saw what Mr. Rice did, there was an outcry for justice. In a pretty ironic turn of events, TMZ alerted the consciences of the world that justice needed to be shown.

There is something about seeing the video of the assault that stirs anger in us. I won’t comment on whether the NFL or the Ravens had seen the video before everyone else did. But I will say that once it was released, people were calling for this wrong to be addressed severely.

There are important lessons to be learned here about the horrors of domestic violence, and for those I’d like to point you to these excellent articles.

But there is another, even more weighty lesson we need to take to heart in all this.

Hear these words of Jesus:

Luke 12:2 “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”

Jesus says a Day is coming where there will be no more secrets. No more things hidden. All things done in the dark will be made known in the light.

There are countless deeds of injustice done each day throughout the world, and for the vast majority there are no TMZ videos to alert us that justice needs to be done. But the fact is that God’s Word promises a Day is coming when the all-knowing God of heaven will bring into the light all that is now done in the dark.

This should bring us comfort, because justice is coming.

This should also bring us discomfort, because justice is coming.

The TMZ video release is actually a great act of mercy from God. How? Because it serves as a reminder to Mr. Rice and to all of us that there is a day coming when all that is done in the dark will be brought into the light.

The Bible is very clear that history is moving to a moment that will result in us standing before the holy God of heaven. What will happen there? Here is what the Bible says…

Romans 2:16 the day is coming “when…God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

2 Corinthians 5:10 “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

Revelation 20:11 “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”

I’m not sure what it will look like, but one day the “video tape” of our lives will be played. Every word we said, every thought we had, every thing we thought we got away with—all of it will be exposed before a holy God and we will give an account.

What should this move us to do? It should lead us to step into the light today and seek mercy from God.

This is where good news comes to us from the Lord,

“Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:6-7

The reason God can extend mercy is because His Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth and died on the cross for sinners. There He received the punishment for every one of our deeds done in the darkness. Three days later He rose from the dead and now promises that if anyone will confess their sin (1 John 1:8-9) and turn to Him in faith-filled repentance (Romans 10:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10) they will be saved from the judgment that awaits that day.

The day of exposing our sin is coming soon. Let us not think we can hide. Turn to Jesus and receive forgiveness.

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Can I Pray for God to Judge ISIS Terrorists? Imprecatory Prayers and the Christian

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Imprecatory Storm 2

 

“Pour out Your indignation upon them, and let Your burning anger overtake them…add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from You. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.” Psalm 69:24

“Wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me…they…attack me…let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few…may his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg…let there be none to extend kindness to him…let curses come upon him!” Psalm 109:1-17

 

Passages like these have long been difficult for me. The first time I read one as a new believer I had to check the cover of my book to make sure I was still reading the Bible. Those prayers seemed so unlike the prayers Jesus taught us to pray.

I was comforted when I learned that Charles Spurgeon voiced similar discomfort in his commentary on Psalm 109 “Truly this is one of the hard places of Scripture, a passage which the soul trembles to read; yet as it is a Psalm unto God, and given by inspiration, it is not ours to sit in judgment upon it, but to bow our ear to what God the Lord would speak to us therein.”

Though these passages usually difficult for me to grapple with, they have seemed more reasonable as I have come face to face with the pure evil of the ISIS militants who are ravaging Christians and non-Christians in and around Iraq.

Yesterday I read the account (graphic) of the lone survivor from a June ISIS attack. I wept at the heartless horrors he recounted. These supposed ambassadors of god behead journalists on camera to taunt their families and gain political leverage. They kidnap young girls to rape, torture, and impregnate them for the glory of a false god. They tear young boys from the arms of their parents to brainwash them and force them to join their ranks as merciless killers. These terrorists are wicked and have no intentions of stopping their bloodthirsty conquest until they have conquered the world.

As I hear of this unfathomable violence, I am deeply grieved and moved to prayer.

 

We Must Pray

We must pray for those who are suffering—both Christian and non-Christian. Consider how to here.

We must also pray for God to intervene. “Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end…” (Psalm 7:9).

Few would argue against asking God to stop these violent people. But can we go further in our prayers?

Can we pray the prayer of Asaph in Psalm 74:10–11 “How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile Your name forever? Why do You hold back Your hand, Your right hand? Take it from the fold of Your garment and destroy them!”

Make them stop scoffing? Yes!

Why don’t You do something? Yes.

Pull out Your fist and drive it into their nose? Yes?

Destroy them….?

How far can New Testament Christians go in their prayers against the wicked men who ravage God’s people and their neighbors?

 

Prayers for Punishment

The “Imprecatory Psalms,” as they are called, are prayers in which imprecations (curses) are called down upon uniquely evil men. The most prominent imprecatory psalms are Psalm 35, 58, 59, 69, 109, but the language of calling for punishment on evil people is sprinkled throughout the Old Testament psalms and prophets (cf. Jeremiah 18:19-23).

Though Old Testament theology of the afterlife is a bit murkier than what we find in the New Testament, we must know that this kind of prayer is not just a prayer for God’s enemies to be stopped. This is a prayer for God to kill them. This is very serious because the Bible is clear that if someone dies as God’s unrepentant enemy, they will forever be under the wrath of God in hell (John 3:36; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; Revelation 14:11).

Can Christians pray for this? Can Christians pray imprecatory prayers against evil people in the same way David and Asaph prayed?

Some answer this question with a “no” by saying that these prayers were only permitted in the Old Testament and in their unique historical contexts. We certainly acknowledge that it is dangerous to jump from King David’s divinely inspired prayers to our personal application. We must look to Christ as the fulfillment of these psalms and then seek to apply them. This does not however mean that there is no application.

One relevant passage is Luke 9:51-56 where we find James and John coming from a city that rejected the Gospel and they asked Jesus “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Jesus “turned and rebuked them.” His rebuke certainly wasn’t because He was opposed to bringing judgment on unrepentant sinners (Luke 19:27), but likely because their first impulse was punishment rather than patient hope for repentance.

But I don’t think that means calls for punishment are always unacceptable.

In the New Testament, we see the imprecatory psalms quoted by Jesus (Psalm 69:9 in John 2:17 and Psalm 35:19 / 69:4 in John 15:25), Luke (Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 in Acts 1:20) and Paul (Psalm 69 in Romans 11:9-10, 15:3). Jesus also makes provision in “The Lord’s Prayer” for us to ask God for His kingdom to come, which includes destroying the godless kingdoms of this world (Matthew 6:10).

And most clearly, we see Christian martyrs pleading for justice to fall on those who took their lives in Revelation 6:9-11 “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?11Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”

How amazing is it that slain saints in heaven are not praying for God to give mercy to their killers, but they are calling for justice? This kind of prayer reminds us that God can be trusted to bring justice on the wicked. This is a good thing, and He will be just as glorified in bringing justice against sinners as He will be in extending mercy to them (Romans 9:13-23). Does this mean we should be excited to pray for wrath to fall on terrorists? No, I don’t think so.

 

Prayers for Mercy

Jesus taught us many revolutionary truths, one of them being that we are to “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, bless those who cruse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28). He also commanded us to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) and then modeled it when He prayed “Father, forgive them” while hanging on the cross (Luke 23:34).

This call for followers of Jesus to ask God to give mercy to their enemies is echoed in Romans 12:14 where Paul says “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” This of course doesn’t mean Christians don’t care about evil, but rather we choose to “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19; cf. 2 Timothy 4:14).

Does this mean Christians should only pray prayers of mercy and never prayers for judgment? No, I don’t think so.

 

How Prayers for Punishment and Mercy Meet

How should we pray about extraordinarily violent and wicked people like ISIS terrorists? Should we pray for mercy or for punishment?

1.  Pray first and enduringly for mercy.

Jesus meant what He said when He told us to pray for our enemies. We are to perseveringly ask the Lord to shower mercy on these people. David, who wrote many of the imprecatory prayers, showed mercy to his enemies (Psalm 35:12-14). And Jesus who fulfilled the imprecatory prayers certainly did.

In fact, through His death on the cross, Jesus received the imprecations (curses) that His enemies deserved. As Galatians 3:13 reminds us “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” What a glorious thought! Jesus took on Himself the curse of God’s wrath that sinners deserved so that those who would repent and believe in Him might receive mercy rather than punishment.

This means that as Christians, we must first and foremost pray for violent, evil, brutal barbarians to be awakened from their sin and made alive in Christ. We must plead for savages to know salvation.

Is that difficult for you to ask of the Lord? It is for me. But we must seek grace here. We must plead for God to guard us from falling into the same sin that led Jonah to flee from God when he was asked to proclaim the Gospel to a people just as wicked as modern day ISIS terrorists. Jonah Himself said “O Lord…that is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2).

Let us not despise seeing sinners receive mercy, no matter what they have done. We would do well to remember here that the Apostle Paul was once a terrorist on his way to kill Christians when Jesus intervened and extended him mercy. May He do that to for members of ISIS. May He transform not just one heart, but bring them all to repentance! He is able to do that, just ask ancient Nineveh (Jonah 3).

2.  Be slow to pray prayers for punishment.

While we pray for mercy to come to sinners, we also pray for justice to come. The prayer for punishment should likely be one that is rarely used, and when it is used, used with great caution.

Some of us will be tempted to rush into this prayer without first pleading for mercy for our enemies. I trust Jesus would rebuke us as He did James and John (Luke 9:55). One way to humble our heart is to ask God to help us understand the depths of grace we have received from Christ.

We must remember that we who are in Christ were once blind in our sin. We must remember that the only reason we aren’t ISIS terrorists is because of the mercy of God (cf. Genesis 20:6). Reflect upon God’s mercy to you before you pray for His punishment to fall on others.

Though we should be slow to pray for God to destroy His enemies, there are extreme cases that may call for it. In a brief video titled Should Christians Pray Imprecatory Prayers John Piper said “I think I can imagine circumstances where…some contemporary form of the Gestapo is sweeping through your neighborhood. And is in the most brutal way wiping people out and killing people—I think “God stop them! Do whatever you have to do, stop them!…I want to say there may be a time when you are calling down God’s judgment on someone.”

I feel confident to say that unique events in history, like what we are seeing today in Iraq and Syria, can lead us to say “Lord, save them or stop them…but something has to happen. Convert them or kill them O God.”

I think this kind of prayer is a last resort. We are never to take vengeance into our own hands (Matthew 26:52; Romans 12:19), but plead for mercy (Matthew 5:44) and plead for justice (Revelation 6:9-11) knowing that if they will not repent, they will receive the justice of God’s wrath for eternity in hell. This kind of prayer flows not from a heart of hatred, but from one that knows no other possible way for these warriors to be stopped.

3.  Guard your heart when praying for punishment.

Praying prayers for punishment should never be motivated by vindictiveness. We do not pray as vengeful hatemongers. Rather, we pray as people who need God to move in mercy—or in justice.

If we do pray these prayers, I do not recommend naming names in prayers, though calling for groups, like ISIS to be removed from existence is, I think, acceptable.

To help guard our hearts from a dangerous posture of hate, we should allow our prayers to be guided by truths from God’s Word. Here are some examples:

  • Father, honor your Name that it may no longer be mocked by these evil men. Give them mercy or give them justice, but act for Your Name sake (Psalm 10:11, 74:10, 139:19-22; Micah 7:10).
  • Father, let the world see Your justice and do not allow evil to strut around any longer (Psalm 58:10-11).
  • Father, stop these wicked men that worship of You might be unhindered and uncorrupted (Psalm 69:9; John 2:13-17).
  • Father, convert or crush these men that You might be praised for the way You deliver Your people (Psalm 7:17, 35:18, 28).
  • Father, make Your people know that you are faithful to defend them so they will not lose heart (Psalm 69:6).
  • Father, defeat Your enemies so they may see that You alone are worthy of worship (Psalm 83:16–18).

 

Whether you agree with my conclusions or not, we must all remain vigilant in prayer. We must plead for God to intervene. As we do this, we do not pray hopelessly because we know that one day soon the Lord will return to rescue those who have hoped in Him (2 Timothy 4:8), raise those who have died in faith (1 Corinthians 15:51-55), and crush all those who have opposed Him (Revelation 19:11-21).

 

Come Lord Jesus, come.

 

Other resources for your study:

  • John Piper has an excellent message on Psalm 69. In the end, he counsels us not to pray imprecatory prayers, but has excellent Christ-centered application.
  • J. Carl Laney wrote a helpful scholarly article in Bibliotheca Sacra entitled “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms.”
  • Sam Storms gives straight-forward pastoral counsel about these psalms in his article “Those Troubling Psalms of Imprecation.”
  • Bob Deffinbaugh’s exposition of Psalm 109 gives a thorough consideration of imprecatory psalms and is also worth a look. He concludes that we can pray these kinds of prayers.
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A Year After Dad’s Death – Peace in an Unanswered Prayer

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Here I am snuggled up with dad in his favorite red chair. I miss him much.

Me snuggled up with dad in his favorite red chair. I miss him much.

This post is written by a guest author, my wife, Carrie Kell

“Dad, hey it’s me. I called to see if you know what you were doing 33 years ago today?”

“No, I don’t think I do. “

“You were looking at me for the first time.”

The silence was broken with a tearful voice, “You’d think I would remember that, huh? I guess it is August the 8th. Happy Birthday, Sis (he called me sis or sissy for as long as I can remember).

Dad actually never forgot my birthday. I wasn’t upset though, I knew he hadn’t been himself lately.

I had called him a few days earlier and he’d asked me (for the 3rd time) if I knew what “the baby growing in my belly was yet.” I reminded him it was a boy, and he was just as shocked and excited as he was the other two times I told him. I knew something wasn’t right.

What I didn’t know, however, is that the last time I would ever speak to my dad (perhaps for eternity) was on my 33rd birthday. I am forever thankful that I called and reminded him what day it was. His response was so sweet. He was emotional. I often wonder if he knew he was close to the end.

The Day

We were in Speculator, New York where Garrett was speaking at a family camp. We were there to relax and be reunited with some dear friends from Texas. I would need those friends that week more than I realized. The Lord’s timing always amazes me and encourages my faith.

Two days after we arrived, on August 10th, 2013 my sweet husband came to me in the dining area where I had just shared laughs with my friends. He led me by the hand into the hallway and said those words I’ll never forget, “Carrie, your dad died.”

My eyes widened in disbelief, but deep down I’d known something wasn’t right with him lately. But still, my dad? Mike Church? It just seemed so surreal.

You always know that your parents will die one day, but you can’t really grasp what that means before it happens. In fact, you can’t really grasp what it means after it happens. Losing those you love is very strange.

Mike and Me

My dad wasn’t like the dads my friends had growing up. Nor did he even come close to the kind of dad my children will have. But he was what God gave to me—and for that I am truly thankful.

In the early days of my life I remember curling up with him and falling asleep in his oversized red recliner he loved so much. He coached my sports teams, took us on vacations, and made sure to get us gifts we wanted at Christmas time. He tried to be a good dad, but he could only do that in his own strength for so long.

I was 11 when he left me, my mother, and my brother. He became a man of self-love and basically did as he pleased for the rest of his life. This kind of life with Mike Church wasn’t easy. There were years that he didn’t try to have a relationship with me, nor did he seem to care when I tried to have one with him. We were not his priority anymore. He was his own priority.

He thought this would make him happy. So he ran after it with all his heart, which is so sad, because it ended up being the very thing that made him so miserable and lonely. And it was my father’s misery that God used to soften my heart toward him.

The Changing of the Heart

When I was a freshman in college, the Lord convicted me about the way I felt toward my dad. Now you might think that I was angry at dad for what he had done to our family, but I wasn’t angry—I was apathetic. I seriously didn’t care. He had left us and I had no need to care about him.

The change began one evening after a conversation with a new friend. He wasn’t a Christian and was struggling to find happiness in his life. He’d been through hard things and was at a breaking point.

After my conversation with him, I went back to my dorm room with a heaviness like I had never experienced before. I began praying for him and pleading with God to save him. During that prayer I began to wonder how I could care so much about this person’s salvation, but not for my own father’s?

In many ways my new friend was much like my dad (he even shared his birthday). His self-centeredness didn’t make him easy to be friends with, but as he shared about his desire to find happiness, it softened me towards him. The Lord used that night to melt my heart and teach me not only what it meant to be broken over my friend’s salvation, but to begin to love my dad. Where my heart had once been so indifferent towards him, the Lord gave me a deep love for him. There is no explanation for this love except the grace of God.

A Father to the Fatherless

One of the first things God impressed on my heart was that if I was going to love my father, I was going to have to forgive all his sins against me. I had grown cold to the sting of those sins, but I knew they were there. In His mercy, God reminded me of how much He had forgiven me in Christ.

It was through this that God gave me grace to extend forgiveness to my father for all he had done to me. Jesus loved His enemies, and He called me to do the same (Luke 6:27-33). What I have found is that loving those who are difficult to love is only possible because the Lord does it for you as He works through you. My faith increased so much in those years, because I was certain the deep love I began to develop for my dad wasn’t my own love, it was the love Christ gave me.

The Lord also taught me that to love my father, my expectations would have to change. When I began to love him as a lost person and not a dad, it gave me freedom. I no longer expected Mike to be a real dad to me. He wouldn’t ever be that, unless God changed his heart. But this didn’t mean I would be without a father to care for me.

In Psalm 86:5 God promises that He would be a “Father to the fatherless.” Though my earthly father had abandoned me so many years ago, I have a heavenly Father who will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6). God had promised to supply every need of mine according to the riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19), and making me His daughter is the greatest of those riches.

The good news of the Gospel isn’t only that Jesus forgives my sin through faith in Him (which is amazing), but that He gave me grace to love my dad and gave me assurance that God would forever be my Father.

The Prayer Unanswered

Though God changed my heart toward dad in college, my prayers for his salvation had begun long before that. I knew he was a lost man and desperately needed Christ, just like I did. I wanted him to have freedom from the life he lived and the pain and loneliness I could see so clearly. I also became convinced that I was his daughter for this very purpose (Acts 17:24-30).

Because the Lord had so changed my heart toward my dad, I really believed that eventually he would see his need for a Savior. I believed he would look back over his life, see where he had failed, and find hope and forgiveness in the only place he could—Jesus!

I prayed for this almost daily. I didn’t know when it would happen, but I was certain it would. I struggled to trust the Lord in other areas, but I was sure that the Lord would hear the cry of my heart and let me see my dad come to know Him!

Because of this hope, I shared the gospel with my Father often. A month before he died, I sat in his house in tears as I shared the importance of loving God, knowing Christ, and knowing his need for Christ’s forgiveness. He wasn’t convinced. It broke my heart, but not my faith.

That proved to be the last face-to-face conversation I had with my dad. We only spoke on the phone a handful of times after that day, including the day I reminded him of my birthday.

When dad died I was certainly sad, but even more so, I was confused. Why did I not see God save my dad? Why did God change my heart toward my dad if it weren’t for the purpose of seeing him believe? What did this mean about God’s character if twenty years of prayers for my dad’s soul weren’t answered?

Peace in the Unanswered Prayer

Though I have many unanswered questions, the Lord has given me peace. Though my prayers were not answered in the way I had envisioned, my heavenly Father loves me more than I can imagine and I know that all He does is done in faithfulness (Psalm 33:4).

1. I have no regrets.

By the end, dad knew I loved him, and I knew he loved me as much as he was able. Dad also knew the Gospel. I don’t always do this well with others, but the Lord gave many opportunities for me to share the love of Jesus with him and I truly believe there was nothing left I could have said.

Sure, our conversations weren’t always easy and I often walked away discouraged, but by God’s grace I have no regrets today because I shared the Gospel with him. This has served as a great encouragement for me that I will never regret sharing the Gospel with someone—especially once they are gone.

2. I have hope in God’s mercy.

Because I had shared the Gospel, I can rest in the fact that dad knew where to go for mercy if he wanted it. I don’t know what the last few days of dad’s life were like. I wasn’t there when he died. But I do know that as long as someone has breath, they can cry out to God who delights in saving those who seek Him, even if it is with their final breath (Luke 23:42-43).

This peace did not come quickly for me. There were many days and nights of praying and questioning since his death, but God’s mercy gives me hope, no matter what happens.

3. I have trust in God’s greatness.

Though I don’t know that I will see my dad again, I know that I can trust in the great love and wisdom of my heavenly Father. Once I am in His presence in heaven, I know I will lack nothing. In this I rest and in this I hope. Until that day, I will take my anxious heart to His Word and find comfort in truths like this,

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 2But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” Psalm 131

Losing my dad has been a sorrowful journey and one that will change my life forever. But my sorrow has been put to rest because the Lord has quieted my soul. He will hold me fast. He will hold me fast.

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A Prayer on Behalf of Iraqi Christians

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The past few days have been a living hell for Christians in Iraq. Stories of ISIS systematically killing our brothers and sisters along with other minority groups are heart-wrenching. Nightmarish tales of soldiers raping mothers, hanging fathers, taking the heads of decapitated children and posting them on poles emerge regularly. What can we do?

We can pray.

We must pray.

Hebrews 13:3 says “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

 

Father,

We do not know how to pray for our brothers and sister, but You promise to help us in our weakness, so we come in faith knowing Your Spirit will guide our prayers (Romans 8:26).

Help them to believe that while they are cursed by men, that they are indeed blessed for their sufferings (Matthew 5:10-12).

Help them to believe that when they suffer on earth, that the Lord Jesus is angered and ready to intervene from Heaven (Acts 9:4-5).

Help them to believe that when they cry out for help, that You hear their voices and are near to their crushed spirit (Psalm 34:17-18).

Help them to believe that they can joyfully surrender their property because they know they have a better and lasting possession stored up in heaven with You (Hebrews 10:34; 1 Peter 1:3-5).

Help them to believe that while they may be snatched from their homes, they shall never be snatched from the hand of Your Son (John 10:28).

Help them to believe that when they feel as if no one cares, that You see (Exodus 3:7-8) and You hear (Psalm 18:6) and that their tears do not fall to the ground unnoticed by You (Psalm 42:3, 56:8).

Help them to remember that when they feel forsaken, that Jesus was forsaken for them so they must not fear being abandoned by You (Mark 14:34).

Help them to believe that when they flee, that they can flee to You because You are good and stand as a refuge for them in their day of trouble (Nahum 1:7).

Help them to remain faithful to You when they are called to deny Your Name. Help them to not fear death, but to find courage in the hope of the greater resurrection that awaits them (Matthew 10:28; Hebrews 11:35; Revelation 2:10-11).

Help them have courage to proclaim the Gospel to those who are doing them harm, and may You use their witness to turn terrorists into worshippers of the One true God (Acts 9).

Help them to believe that though their suffering is great, it is not worth comparing to the glory that is soon to be revealed to them (Romans 8:18).

Help them to know that though their persecutors appear to be victorious today, that You will bring a swift judgment upon all those who rebel against Your great Name (Psalm 68:21; 110:6; 143:12; Habakkuk 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

Help them to rest in the promise that one day soon You will take them to that glorious Land where tears and death and mourning and fear shall be no more (Revelation 21:1-5, 22:1-7).

Father, send Your Son soon. Rescue Your people (Psalm 28:9)!

Come Lord Jesus, come (Revelation 22:20).

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What Does the New Testament Teach About the Trinity?

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TrinityWhile I was in seminary, one of the classes that unexpectedly changed my life was Trinitarianism taught by Dr. Scott Horrell. To my shame, I’d long confessed the Trinity, but I’d never really given much thought to the eternally mysterious three-in-one.

During that semester, the Lord opened His Word to me in a way I’d never experienced before. Until then I’d missed the way the Father spoke of the Son and the delight the Son showed toward His Father. I’d glazed over the Spirit’s quiet adoration of the Son and the Father’s gracious giving of His Spirit.

God used the study of that doctrine to turn the Scriptures from black-and-white to color in just a few short months.

What follows are a few basic truths about the doctrine of the Trinity and then a run through the New Testament that highlights all (I think) the places the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are shown together. As  you read through these Scriptures, ask the Lord to warm your heart to delight in our eternally glorious God.

The Trinity 101

1. The word Trinity is not found in the Bible. In this sense, the doctrine isn’t explicitly taught, but it’s implicit instruction is nearly impossible to miss.

  • Tertullian (155-220 AD) was the first to describe the relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit as “Trinity.”

2. The One true God eternally exists as three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.

  • The Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God. But, the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, Spirit not Son. The picture at the top is of the the Shield of the Trinity (sputum fidei) which summarizes this portion of the Athanasian Creed.

3. Our God is the only one true God. (Deuteronomy 6:4–5, Isaiah 44:6–8, 45:5-7, 45:22; John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; James 2:19)

  • Allah, Buddah, Krishna, Zeus, Hermes, and all other supposed gods are idols, imposters, and imitators.

4. Father, Son, and Spirit are presented together in about 117 places in the NT, in 23 of 27 NT books (not Philemon, James; 2 John, 3 John), and by 8 of 9 NT authors.

  • James did not present Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in his epistle, but he was present at “the Jerusalem council” in Acts 15:6-11 where each of the members of the Trinity were discussed. He didn’t oppose the idea of the Trinity at that time.

 

A Few Further Clarifications

1. The Father, Son, and Spirit are not three different gods who work for the same purpose. (as in the polytheism of Mormonism)

2. God is not one person, the Father, with Jesus as a created being and the Holy Spirit as a force. (as in the errant monotheism of Jehovah’s Witness)

3. The Father, Son, and Spirit are not one person who merely appear as three different persons. (as in the mask-wearing god of Modalism)

 

Father, Son, and Spirit – As Revealed In the New Testament

What follows are the places we see Father, Son, and Spirit revealed together. The underlined Scripture is accompanied by a brief explanation.

Matthew – 1:18-32; 3:16-17; 4:1-4; 12:15-18; 12:28-32; 22:41-45; 28:16-20

  • Believers are to baptized in the name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (three distinct persons).

Mark1:9-12; 12:35-37

  • Jesus the Son was anointed by the Holy Spirit to do the work of the Father who affirmed Him.

Luke1:30-35; 1:41-45; 1:67-79; 2:25-32; 3:21-22; 4:1-12; 4:16-19; 10:21-22; 11:13; 12:8-12; 23:46

  • God the Father sent word to Mary that Jesus the Son, who would rule as the king of Israel, would be born to her through the power of the Holy Spirit.

John – 1:32-36; 3:5-6; 3:34-35; 4:21-26; 6:61-66; 14:8-31 (23-26); 15:26; 16:7-15; 20:21-22

  • As Jesus prepared to go to the cross and back to the Father, He promised His disciples He would send the Holy Spirit to give them understanding and peace.

Acts – 1:4-8; 2:14-24, 2:32-38; 4:8-10; 4:24-31; 5:29-32; 7:48-56; 8:14-21; 8:35-39; 9:17-20; 9:27-31; 10:38-48; 11:15-17; 15:7-12; 16:6-10; 20:21-28; 28:23-31

  • The Holy Spirit has appointed leaders to shepherd and protect God’s church which He purchased with the blood of Jesus.

Romans – 1:1-6; 5:1-8; 7:4-6; 8:1-11; 8:14-17; 8:26-30; 8:39-9:5; 14:17-18; 15:12-21; 15:30

  • We have peace with God the Father through Jesus His Son which we know because the Holy Spirit reassures us of His love.

1 Corinthians – 2:1-5; 2:8-16; 3:10-17; 6:10-11; 6:15-20; 12:1-7

  • God purchased His people by the blood of Jesus and united us into His body through the Holy Spirit. This should lead us to flee from sexual immorality because we belong to the Father who keeps us in His Son by the Holy Spirit.

2 Corinthians1:21–22 ; 3:3-5; 3:14-18; 5:1-10; 13:14

  • God gives us assurance and security in Christ by sealing our hearts with the guarantee of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians – 2:21-3:5; 3:10-14; 4:4-6; 5:21-24

  • God the Father fulfilled His plan of salvation by sending Jesus to redeem us and make us His sons which now leads us to cry out “Abba” to Him by the Holy Spirit He has given us.

Ephesians1:3-14; 1:17; 2:11-22; 3:2-5; 3:11-17; 4:3-6; 4:30-32; 5:18-20; 6:10-20

  • Our salvation is completely Trinitarian.  The Father chose us and predestined us in eternity past (v3-6), the Son redeemed us through His blood and grants us forgiveness of sins (v7-12), and the Holy Spirit seals us as a pledge that God will fulfill His promises (v13-14).  All is done for God’s glory (v6, 12, 14).

Philippians2:1-6, 3:3

  • Because of our fellowship in the Holy Spirit, we should imitate Jesus’ humility which He displayed in not clinging to His position of glory with the Father.

Colossians - 1:6-8

  • Epaphras, a minister of Jesus, had shared the Gospel of God the Father’s grace with the Colossians and testified of their love in the Holy Spirit.

1 Thessalonians – 1:1-6; 4:2-8; 5:18-23

  • Believers are called to obey God’s will in Christ Jesus by being thankful and not quenching the Holy Spirit.

2 Thessalonians – 2:13-14

  • God chose His elect to be saved by the truth of the Gospel and the power of the Spirit which results in sharing in the glory of Jesus Christ.

1 Timothy – 3:15-4:1

  • God’s church is called to uphold the truth about Jesus and heed the Spirit’s warnings about false prophets.

2 Timothy – 1:7-14

  • Timothy is encouraged not to be cowardly in his witness of Christ but rather to suffer faithfully in the power of God as he guards the Gospel by the power of the Spirit.

Titus – 3:4-6

  • God acts as our Savior by regenerating us through the Holy Spirit whom He gave us through Jesus Christ.

Hebrews – 2:3-4; 3:4-7; 6:4-6; 9:14; 10:1-18; 10:29-31

  • The Holy Spirit (v15) testifies that Jesus is the fulfillment of God the Father’s New Covenant promises.

1 Peter – 1:2; 3:18; 4:12-16

  • Christians can rejoice in the midst of suffering because God has given us His Spirit as a mark of His glory.

2 Peter – 1:16-21

  • Apostles made known the power of Jesus Christ (v16) through the Scriptures which were inspired by the Holy Spirit spoke from God the Father (v21).

1 John3:21-24; 4:2-3; 4:9-14; 5:5-10

  • We have confidence before God the Father (v21) because we believe in and obey His Son Jesus (v23) and continue to abide in Him by the Holy Spirit (v24).

Jude1:17-25 – Father (7); Son (7); Spirit (2)

  • Believers persevere in the love of God as they wait for Jesus to return by praying in the Holy Spirit.

Revelation – 1:4-8; 2-3; 14:12-13; 21:9-11; 22:16-21

  • We have the great hope of one day seeing the face of God the Father (v4), but until that day the Spirit and the Son call for unbelievers to come and drink of the water of life (v17).

My hope in setting these Scriptures before us is that we will be stirred to draw near to the God who has eternally dwelt in a perfect relationship of love, and now calls us to enter in as well. If a study of the Trinity seems too deep or overwhelming, remember that childlike faith is never turned away by our heavenly Father. Come and delight in God who mercifully calls us to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit to enjoy Him forever. 

Here’s a few helpful books to help your study of our great God.

Delighting in the Trinity – Michael Reeves

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Bruce Ware

Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective – Fred Sanders, Klaus Issler, Scott Horell

Making Sense of the Trinity – Millard Erickson

 

Picture courtesy of Sean Gerety who blogs at godshammer.wordpress.com. 

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The Purpose and Privileges of Marriage

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Steph and Scott Hands

 

1 Corinthians 10:31 “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

 

The Purpose of Marriage

1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us that whether we eat or drink or whatever we do—including getting married and staying married, we are to do it all to glory of God. To glorify God means we do things in such a way that we put His greatness on display for all to see. In marriage, husbands and wives do this by speaking, serving, struggling, and persevering in a way that makes much of God.

That’s the purpose of your marriage, of my marriage, and of every marriage ever since the first marriage in the Garden of Eden.

In the opening chapters of Genesis we discover that God created our world, and called it “good.” It was a wonderful place in which God’s beauty, creativity, and glorious goodness was put on display. Into this world God placed a man (named Adam) and a woman (named Eve) whom He brought together as the first husband and wife (Genesis 2:24).

Their marriage was unique because it was perfect. Adam was the perfect husband and Eve was the perfect wife. They lived together in a perfect world. Sin had not stung in that land yet. Selfishness wasn’t even a possibility. Their hearts produced nothing but love for God and love for each other. There were no barriers between them. They “were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).

In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve enjoyed the perfect marriage. Shame had not scarred them. Fears were nowhere to be found. Insecurities were non-existent. There were no regretful words. No conflicts. No bitterness. No baggage. They knew nothing but perfect love. Complete freedom. Total trust. They were two perfect people in a perfect world.

Obeying God came intuitively, and so did serving each other. Their most routine thought was, “I get to serve you and bring you happiness.” This selfless response fulfilled their purpose of giving God glory in their marriage. And as they loved and enjoyed God, He blessed their marriage with abounding privileges.

 

The Privileges of Marriage

In His goodness, God created life and marriage with countless ways to enjoy each other. These “privileges” of marriage came naturally in the Garden of Eden as they glorified God and served one another.

Conversations flowed effortlessly and encouragement abounded. They always felt understood and affirmed by their spouse. They experienced acceptance and security in their love for each other. They were lovers, best friends, and partners in worship.

They had no reason to distrust the other person. Transparency was instinctive and there were no secrets to hide. They never had snide remarks or hurtful words reverberating in their memories. Sexual intimacy was always fulfilling and was void of disappointment or shame. Adam led Eve in doing God’s will with bold tenderness while Eve submitted to Adam with contentment and joy.

All they knew was perfect, unhindered, untainted love. This is how marriage was supposed to be.

 

The Problem in Marriage

Adam and Eve’s innocent bliss did not last forever. They sinned against God and against one another (Genesis 3:1-12). In response, God sent Adam and Eve out from the Garden of Eden to live in a world marred by the curse of their own sin. And this is where we find ourselves today.

We’re no longer perfect people in a perfect world. We’re sinful people in a fallen world. And while we still enjoy many evidences of God’s love in this life and in marriage, there’s no escaping the effects of sin. Every bit of strife and struggle in marriage can be traced back to that scene where we traded God’s glory for sin’s empty promise of a better life.

While we feel this sin everywhere, we feel it uniquely in marriage. Marriage has been evicted from a sinless home enjoyed by two perfect people, and has settled in a house where two sinners are haunted by their sin. Marriage now bends and threatens to break under the pressures of work, family, ministry, and countless other things.

But the chief way we’re affected by sin is that purpose and privilege get twisted in our hearts. Outside of Eden our natural bent is now to seek the privileges of marriage as its purpose. We take the good things God has designed for us to enjoy and put them in His place. The focus of marriage becomes attaining privileges, rather than enjoying the privilege Giver.

Where did our romance go? Why doesn’t he listen to me any more? What do I have to do to get some honor and respect around here? Shouldn’t she want to spend time with me? Why do I feel so alone? Does sexual intimacy have to be so mechanical? Where’s the passion? Why don’t we have anything to talk about any more? Why are we so distant?

When privileges are wanting, we know it, even if we can’t put our emptiness into words.

And when our spouse doesn’t deliver the privileges as we’ve come to expect, our sinful heart gets hijacked with frustration. We get angry. We say and do things that hurt each other. We become bitter. We get distant. We grow cold.

It’s important to point out here that the swap of purpose and privilege also shows up in “good” marriages. Oftentimes couples that get along more easily can settle into the comfort of enjoying a life of privileges together. They enjoy each other’s companionship in such a way that they coast into a self-sustaining pattern that ultimately leaves them spiritually dry.

The scary thing about “good” marriages that delight supremely in privileges is that their unattended affections for God die a slow, unnoticeable death. This death will show itself in difficult times, or even more terrifyingly, won’t be exposed until the last day when we give account of ourselves before God Almighty.

The problem of purpose swapping is something we all face, in some form or fashion. We’re all tempted to make privileges supreme and exalt them as idols in our hearts.

And what happens to God in all this? He’s often still in the picture, but rather than being enthroned front and center, He becomes part of the supporting cast, a privilege, if you will. The One who can make your marriage better. The One who can fix things so you can enjoy your privileges again. He becomes a servant of our happiness rather than the source of it.

This is why marriages dissolve into divorce or into spiritual wastelands. No marriage fades because God receives too much glory in it. Marriages fade because glory is neglected and redirected to empty cisterns that hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13).

While there is no escape from the presence of sin, there is a promise that gives hope to sinners…

 

The Promise for Marriage

Though we have sinned against God and stand under His condemnation, He still delights in extending mercy to unworthy rebels (Ezekiel 18:32; Micah 7:18). He has graciously provided His Son Jesus to rescue us from sin and to reconcile us to Himself—and to each other (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Jesus did this by living a perfect life of obedience to God (Hebrews 7:26) in which He gave the Father glory in everything He did (John 17:4). Jesus then willingly went to the cross to receive the judgment we deserved for all the times we traded God for idols (2 Corinthians 5:21). After three days, God raised Jesus from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-5) and He now intercedes for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25) until the day He will return to judge the world (Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 17:30-31).

The good news of the Gospel is that all who turn from their sin and trust in Jesus will be forgiven and reconciled to God (Mark 1:15; 1 John 1:8-9).

And what is equally amazing is that God doesn’t stop giving grace once we start following Jesus. That’s good news because Christians never graduate from being weak, broken, sinners in need of His grace. The good news of the Gospel is that in marriage, there is help for us as we struggle to keep purpose and privilege in their proper place (Hebrews 4:14-16).

And it is in this struggle, outside of Eden, that imperfect husbands and imperfect wives fulfill their purpose of bringing God glory. We do this by looking to the heavens and saying “You are our strength” and “You are our hope” (Psalm 18:1-2, 28:7, 39:7, 71:5, 73:26). God is glorified when our weakness is led by the hand of faith to call upon Him to be our strength (2 Corinthians 12:9).

We learn to do this in days when privileges are sparse and when they abound because we believe that one day soon we will be together in that Land where we shall struggle no more. Until then, may God help us look  to Him and trust that He will supply all we need to have marriages that bring Him glory.

 

 

My wife and I host a monthly Honeymooners Group (young marrieds) in our home. This is a summary of the lesson our group discussed for July (you can read June’s here). A special thanks to Paul Polk, the friend and brother who taught us this all important lesson during our pre-marital counseling. Below are a few suggestions to help you consider how to make the most out of this lesson over the next month.  

  • Memorize 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • Discuss ways your marriage brings glory to God. Use this as a time to praise God and encourage each other for His grace in your life.
  • List out many of the privileges you’ve seen God give in your marriage. Thank Him for giving you these gifts to enjoy.
  • Take time to discuss what privileges you find yourself most tempted to make into idols. How have you seen this happen in your own hearts? What can you do to guard each other’s hearts from this temptation?
  • Take time to reflect on how God’s grace in the Gospel encourages you to fight sin and pursue giving Him glory.
  • Look up the Psalms listed above and use them as a guide to pray for God to be your strength and hope in marriage.
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How Christians Can Pray for Muslim Friends During Ramadan

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MALAYSIA-ISLAM-RAMADAN

As Muslims around the world observe Ramadan, Christians should cry out to the true God of heaven on their behalf.

Many of us have Muslim friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers we hope to see trust in Jesus. We know they consider Jesus a prophet, but we long to see them believe in Him as their Lord and Savior. As Ramadan approaches, we are provided with a fresh opportunity to pray for them and hopefully engage with them in spiritual conversation.

What is Ramadan?

On the evening of Saturday, June 28, 2014, billions of Muslims around the world will begin observing Ramadan. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is considered the holiest month of the year for Muslims.

The observance of Ramadan is one of the 5 Pillars of the Islamic faith, which requires all Muslims who are physically able to fast each day of the month, from sunrise to sunset.

This time of fasting from food, drink, and other physical needs is intended to purify the soul, practice self-restraint, and refocus one’s devotion to their god, Allah. This is also a time when many Muslims increase their alms giving to the poor, which is another of the 5 Pillars of their faith.

The evenings are spent enjoying time with family and community meals, engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection, and reading from the Quran. The observance of Ramadan concludes, according to the western calendar, on the evening of Monday, July 28th.

How Can We Pray During Ramadan?

Father, we pray that as they set their hearts to worship their god Allah, that You might make them to “know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Help them see that Jesus is Your eternal Son through whom they can have eternal life.

Father, we pray that as their bodies hunger and their tongues thirst, that You would show them Jesus who promised “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Help them see the insufficiency of their works and lead them to hunger and thirst for the righteousness that only Jesus can give.

Father, we pray that as they practice self-restraint that You would show them Jesus who, before He was crucified for sinners, denied Himself and “prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matthew 26:39). Help them believe that He truly died on the cross and drank fully from the cup of Your wrath.

Father, we pray that as they give alms to the poor that You would show them Jesus who “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Help them see and treasure the eternal glory of Your Son Jesus.

Father, we pray that as they gather together to feast in the evening, that You would show them Jesus who invites sinners of all sorts to abandon their false gods and by faith join “those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 16:9). Show them the resurrected and ascended King of Glory who desires them to draw near to Him in faith.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church love for Muslims across the world. Make us like Jesus who “felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Guard us from self-righteousness that would lead us to having hard hearts toward those who do not know You.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church opportunity and courage to proclaim the Gospel to Muslims throughout the world. Lift our eyes to Jesus who promised to empower us when He said “I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Let us not fear any consequence of faithfully taking the Gospel to those who desperately need Your grace.

 

May this season of Ramadan be marked by the faithful intercession of God’s people who long to see many Muslims come to the saving knowledge of Jesus, the Son of God.

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A Response to Planned Parenthood’s “Pastoral Letter”

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ultrasoundIn a “pastoral letterPlanned Parenthood claims that the Bible says nothing about abortion. Here’s the direct quote from the letter, “many people wrongly assume that all religious leaders disapprove of abortion. The truth is that abortion is not even mentioned in the Scriptures — Jewish or Christian — and there are clergy and people of faith from all denominations who support women making this complex decision.

Abortion is an issue that is near to my heart so I thought I’d take a moment to answer the question, “does the Bible teach abortion is wrong?” As you read these Scriptures and consider my questions, ask God to show you what He says is true—because in the end what He thinks is what matters most.

Though the Bible doesn’t mention the word “abortion,” I believe it clearly teaches that abortion is a terrible sin. These are not all the verses we could consider, but they are a few that best capture what the Bible says about this all important issue.

Exodus 21:22–25 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Does the Bible seem to clearly teach here that what comes out of a woman is a not just a fetus, but is a child? How serious does God say it is to kill an unborn child? If this is true of an accidental injury to a pregnant woman and her child, how much more serious is an intentional act of killing a child in the womb?

Ecclesiastes 11:5 “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.”

If God sends a “spirit” to come into a woman to produce a child, does that not show that what is inside her is living? If God says, I want a child in that womb, do we have the right to tell God “no, You may not do that, I will take that living thing out of me?”

Job 10:10–12 “Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? 11You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. 12You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.”

What happens when sperm and egg unite in what we call conception? Is that not life? If you can detect a heartbeat (5-8 weeks after conception) does that not mean there is something living there? Where do skin, flesh, bone and sinews form? Are they not made in the womb? If we found all of this on another planet, would we not celebrate that we have found life there?

Psalm 139:13–16 “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (cf. Job 31:15; Isaiah 44:2)

What do you think the Bible is implying when David says God “formed” his “inward parts” in his “mother’s womb?” What does it imply when it says he was “wonderfully made” and “intricately woven”? Does this not imply that God is at work in the womb, creating a human being? If God knows “all the days” of that being, even while its substance is “unformed”, does that not imply that God has a plan for that being in the womb? Do we have the right to tell God to stop this marvelous work because we have other plans? 

Isaiah 49:1 “Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.”

If God calls and names someone when they are in the womb, does that not make them a living person?

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (cf. Galatians 1:15)

If God has knowledge of someone as a person before they are even formed in the womb, does that not show that what is in the womb has great value and worth? Does not God forming someone in the womb show His intent to bring a life along to His designed end?

Amos 1:13 “I will not revoke the punishment, because they have ripped open pregnant women.”

Why does God see the ripping open of a pregnant woman’s womb as such a big deal? How is this different than His anger toward someone who would kill a woman who isn’t pregnant? Could it be that they would be killing two people? 

Luke 1:39–44 “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

What does the Bible say was in the womb of Elizabeth? Does it not call John a “baby?” And what does that baby do when it hears the voice of the pregnant Mary? Does it not say the baby leaped for joy? And what does she say about the “fruit” of Mary’s womb (see also Psalm 127:3)? Does this not imply that what is in her is of value and has great worth? From this don’t we have to conclude that what is in her womb is a baby?

After looking a just a few verses, it is overwhelmingly clear that God views what is in the womb of a woman at conception to be a life, a baby, a human being like you and me.

The Bible also teaches that taking the life of another person (murder) is a grievous sin. In Exodus 20:3 God says “you shall not murder” (cf. Genesis 9:5; Matthew 5:21; 19:18; Romans 13:9; 1 John 3:15).

To end a life is to kill it. We may want to phrase it differently, but an “abortion,” a “choice to not keep the baby,” to “terminate a pregnancy,” are all clearly ending a life. This is murder.  The Bible forbids this because it teaches that God alone has the right to give life and take it away (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6; Job 1:21).

God also says that when his people have murdered their children, that it is a great sin in His eyes (Leviticus 20:2; Deuteronomy 12:31; 2 Kings 16:3, 21:6; Jeremiah 7:31, 32:35).

Whether or not one believes the Bible is another matter, but to suggest that the Bible allows abortion is deceptive. One of the earliest Christian documents The Didache (circa A.D. 100) says “You shall not murder a child by abortion.” Christians have always believed that God does not give us permission to take the life of our children. He gives, we may not take away.

If you choose to have an abortion, please don’t do it under the premise that God doesn’t care about what you are doing. God does care. He loves you and He loves the child in your womb. He is the One who made the life happen, look to Him for what He wants you to do with the child.

If you are considering an abortion and feel like you have no other options, please know there are people who can help you think about other options, including connecting you with loving families who would be willing to discuss adoption. If you have nowhere to turn, please reach out to a local church near you or email outreach@assistcpc.org who can connect you to someone in your area.

Please know that God meets us where we are in our journey, and He does this through His Son Jesus. If you find yourself weary, hear this word of promise from the Lord Himself, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Please turn to the Lord in this season of great decision and allow Him to give you the grace we all desperately need.

 

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