Should I Tell My Spouse About My Struggles With Sexual Sin?

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“Should I tell my wife?”

Daniel leaned back with no interest in the meal before him. He’d looked at racy pictures again and the weight of conviction was inescapable. He had confessed his sin to God and to me, but should he confess it to her?

What would you tell Daniel?

SEVEN PRINCIPLES

Because every couple is different, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Some couples are totally transparent with each other, while others find it best to allow accountability to be handled by trusted friends. Regardless of where you land on the spectrum, it is important for husbands and wives to develop a plan to help each other fight sexual temptation.

What follows are seven principles to help you and your spouse wade through this sensitive area together.

1. Help each other make it to heaven.

“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13

My chief calling as a husband is to help my wife love Jesus more. My wife has the same responsibility toward me. In fact, I would suggest that the most weighty and wonderful responsibilities in marriage is to help our spouse make it to heaven. One of the ways to make this happen is by doing whatever we can to help them fight off temptation, including sexual temptation (Heb. 12:1-2; James 5:19-20). We are to be each other’s greatest allies in the journey toward the heavenly city (Rev. 21-22).

Satan will oppose your efforts with all he’s got, but you must not lose sight of this fact: your greatest responsibility as a couple is to help each other home by leaning upon the strength of your Savior. Let the mantra of our marriages be the same as the psalmist, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3). This will be painful at times, but it is eternally worth it.

2. Cultivate an atmosphere of intimate trust.

“The heart of her husband trusts in her…” Proverbs 31:11

After God brought Adam and Eve together in the first marriage, we are told, “the man and his wife were both naked and unashamed” (Gen. 2:25). They had nothing to cover up in those days. There were no deleted search histories in Eden. There were no shameful compromises or weeping wounds from unfaithfulness.

Intimacy and trust are still possible outside of Eden, but they don’t happen by accident. They must be cultivated. As 1 John 1:7 promises, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” There is no better way to deepen trust in marriage than walking honestly and openly together.

Do you hide things from your spouse?

I believe there should be no secrets in marriage. Surprises? Yes. Secrets? No.

Wisdom and discernment is certainly needed on this point. For instance, it is unwise to share every thought that comes in your head or every conflict you have at work or the details of other people’s lives that have been shared with you. We aren’t talking about those kinds of issues. This is a challenge to not intentionally hide sins from your spouse. Death and deceit breed in the darkness. A husband and wife should always be honest with each other about the condition of their souls.

If our goal is to build trust, it probably seems counter-productive to reveal trust-breaking sins. But the fact is, nothing builds trust like seeing your spouse trying to delight in God more than anything else. Honesty and humble transparency, over time, produce intimate trust in your marriage. Walk in the light together.

3. Consider the Basics of Accountability.

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another…” James 5:16

At some level, husband and wives should be each other’s accountability partners. Confessing sin to each other should be a normal part of your life together. Because each couple is different, you need to have a conversation about what this will look like in your own marriage.

Here are a few basic ideas:

Talk. If you’ve never had a conversation with your spouse about your struggles with sexual sin, you should have one. Your spouse needs to know to whom they are married. I strongly encourage you to allow your pastor to help you think through how to have this difficult initial discussion.

Plan. Husbands and wives should work together to make an accountability plan (see #4 below). Because your body is not your own (Gen. 2:24; 1 Cor. 7:4) they have the right and responsibility to talk through this with you. Husbands should lead by taking the initiative in this discussion (Eph. 5:22-25) and wives should give husbands the much-needed help they require (Gen. 2:18). Regardless of which spouse is struggling, you need to help each other. Again, it may be wise to involve a pastor or other mature Christian friends in this process.

Ask. Part of the plan should be that your spouse reserves the right to ask you at any time how you are doing in your fight against temptation—and expect to get an honest answer from you.

I would also suggest that you should always have at least one other person, of the same sex, to whom you are accountable, not just about sexual sin. Sin thrives in the darkness. Making regular and honest confession to another believer is one of your best defenses against sin’s power. To learn more about confessing sin to others read this.

4. Agree on Your Approach to Accountability.

I have spoken to dozens of people about this subject and every couple does things differently. What follows are two categories on the opposite ends of the accountability spectrum.

Some couples are very open about sexual temptations. Some couples agree it is best to tell each other when they feel tempted, if they find someone else attractive, if they compromise at all on the internet, if they give into self-gratification, and just about everything else. Couples who take this approach say that complete transparency helps both of them to stay honest and vigilant in the battle against sin.

If you lean toward this option,

  • Make sure your motives are good. Sometimes seeing the pain that our sin inflicts on the ones we love can be a deterrent to sin, but don’t use your spouse just to unload your guilt and make you feel better.
  • Don’t expect your spouse to respond well to your sin. Your confession may devastate them. Don’t get all self-righteous because you’re being vulnerable. You’ve sinned against them. Don’t get defensive when they ask questions. Nothing ruins a confession like making excuses. Give them a chance to grieve, process, and go to God. Give them permission to talk to a trusted friend about what has happened if they need to.
  • If you’ve agreed to a plan, honor it. If you’ve sinned in a way your spouse would expect you to tell them, follow through with being honest. It will be tempting to find a way out and rationalize a million excuses why you don’t need to tell them (I won’t do it again, I don’t want to hurt them, and so on).
  • Be willing to switch your plan if it seems wise. Insecurities can flourish in unexpected and unnecessary ways in these conversations. I have godly friends who have tried going with the “total transparency” option and found it to be way too much for their spouses to handle. There is no shame in making changes to the plan if necessary.
  • If your spouse confesses sin to you, you will be tempted to be most worried about how the sin affects you. It is normal to be hurt by sin, but ask God to help you be even more concerned about the way your spouse has strayed from him. None of us can do this perfectly, but plead with God to keep your heart postured in that direction.

Some couples don’t talk about this area in detail unless a certain level of sin occurs. Some couples agree it is best for their spouse to confess struggles with lust to a mutually trusted Christian friend, not to them. They humbly realize they would be too hurt by their spouse’s straying heart or that they feel the struggle is too foreign to them to be able to know how to help them.

If you lean toward this option,

  • Have an agreed-upon type of sin at which you agree to talk to your spouse. Purity is a heart issue (Matt. 5:28, 15:19), but it is fine for couples to set agreed-upon conversational mile markers. This may be habitually looking at porn, giving in to masturbation, or crossing certain lines with someone of the opposite sex. Pray for God to give you wisdom in this discussion.
  • Don’t use this approach as a deceptive cover for your sin. Romans 13:14 says “make no provision for the flesh to gratify its lusts.” The well-trusted accountability partner should know what these mile markers are and be willing to inform the spouse if sin were to ever get out of control.
  • Don’t avoid the discussion just because it hurts. As one wife said to me, “out of love for him, I would want to be a part of the solution, but it would be really difficult.” That’s a good perspective. Growing in holiness and helping others to do the same is hard and painful work. It is humble to know your limitations, but it is also humble to accept your responsibilities. Pray for God to give you wisdom to know the balance.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this subject. Some spouses will be able to hear about your struggle, be hurt by it, but recover in the grace of God. Others will be devastated by the fact that you’d even be tempted, even if you didn’t yield to the temptation. We need to live with our spouses in an understanding way and be willing to humbly and graciously build a plan together (1 Pet. 3:7).

5. Ask Each Other Important Questions

As you begin this process together, here are a few questions to help you begin the conversation.

  • How are we helping each other love God more? How can we do this better?
  • How can I help you fight against temptation? Who else can help you?
  • Do you fear talking to me about these things? How can we make our marriage a safe place to have these talks?
  • Do you have any sins in your life that no one knows about?

For many of us, having this kind of conversation can be terrifying. Some of us don’t want to know what our spouse is struggling with, and some of us don’t want our spouse to know what we’re struggling with. But because God’s glory and the salvation of souls are at stake (Heb. 3:12-14), we must be willing to have tough conversations.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I talked through this article with a couple of close friends. God used that discussion to help them pray and discuss how they could better serve each other in this area. They said the conversation was difficult at times, but in the end God used it to draw them closer than they had been before.

If you want to do this, but don’t know how, I’d encourage you to share this article with your pastor or another mature Christian couple and ask them to help you begin this journey together.

6. Go Make Love

“Do not deprive one another…come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you…” 1 Corinthians 7:5

Much could be said here, but believe this: making love should be a priority in your marriage. God has given sexual intimacy for many reasons, one of which is to help each other fight against sexual sin. Husbands and wives need to be committed to regularly engaging in sexual intimacy.

Some of you may be tempted to feel like a mere outlet for your spouse’s physical desries. Guard your heart from this distortion. As my wife told a friend, “As a wife, you have the great responsibility of protecting your marriage by serving your husband through sex. It’s one of God’s divinely ordained means to help his heart not be as easily tempted by lust. Sex is sometimes a sweet dying to self.” The same truth goes for husbands. Serve your wife through sexual intimacy, through non-sexual affection, and through regular, intentional, attentive conversations. God can use that to help guard her heart from wandering.

For some of you, this encouragement to make love to your spouse brings up a slew of painful emotions. Maybe you have been sinned against gravely by your spouse and the thought of giving yourself to them intimately is almost inconceivable. Maybe you’re facing physiological problems that hinder you from being able to make love. Maybe it’s one of countless other reasons that make sex with your spouse difficult.

If you and your spouse are one of the many who feel this way, please don’t give up. Prayerfully plan and begin working through these issues with your pastor, a gospel-centered counselor, or capable doctor. Be patient with each other in this process and trust that the Lord is able to do more than you can imagine (Eph. 3:20-21).

7. Keep the Gospel Central in Your Marriage.

Husbands and wives sin against each other every day. This is part of marriage in a fallen world. But there is something unique about sexual sin that seems to hurt in a distinctly deep way. And even if they haven’t sinned but are being tempted to do so, the sting of knowing that your beloved’s heart is being tempted to stray can be painful.

So if your spouse comes to you with the weight of sinning against you and the Lord on their back, it will be difficult, but remember that Galatians 6:2 says we are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Lead them to the cross where they, and you, will both be refreshed and restored by the Lord who daily bears our burdens (Ps. 55:22, 68:19). Plead with the Lord to cover your pain with his grace and you do all you can to cover your spouse’s shame with the truths of the gospel.

Remind each other that the Jesus who spoke severely about sexual sin (Matt. 5:28-30) is the same Jesus who died for those sins and rose victorious over them (Rom. 4:25). He is patient with sinners of all sorts, and promises forgiveness for all who turn from their sin and follow after him (Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:8-9). He promises to intercede for us and provide grace in our time of need (Heb. 4:14-16) while also providing power to help us war against our unrelenting foe (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:17).

Moments like these are where the gospel feels most real and most needed. They are also when the power of the gospel can most transform your marriage. God will help you forgive and work through the process of restoration. So don’t lose heart with each other, or with yourself. God’s grace is sufficient, even for what you and your spouse face.

Help each other to heaven. Talk about these things. Cultivate intimate trust. Make a plan. Make love. Cast yourselves upon the grace of God. And do this all with your hope fixed on the glory that is to be revealed. We will be home with Jesus soon, so help each other toward that Day.

For Further Consideration

  • Heath Lambert’s excellent book Finally Free (ch. 5) discusses how spouses should talk about sexual sin.
  • Remember that temptation is not sin. This article by Kevin DeYoung may be helpful to read together.
  • Dr. Russell Moore answers a man who asks if should confess an affair that happened years ago.
  • Considering marrying someone who struggles with porn? Read Heath Lambert’s article and listen to John Piper’s advice first.
  • John Piper also addresses whether your spouse’s struggle with porn is worthy of divorce.
  • What should you do if your spouse confesses that they have committed adultery or is living a secret life of sin? A good article by John MacArthur helps you think through forgiveness, but you must involve the elders of your church in this discussion.

Author’s Note: Thank you to my wife, Zach Schlegel, Jason Seville, Shai Linne, Brian Davis, and the many other brothers and sisters who helped me think through this important topic.

This article was originally published for 9Marks.

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Together 2016 – Encouragement, Confession, and Concern

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On Saturday thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC for Together 2016. This event was billed as a time for Christians from around the country, and around the world, to make a stand for Jesus and “reset” their lives in repentance.

Well-known pastors and musicians marked the gathering. Before the event had to be called off due to excessive heat, there were seven hours of wonderful testimonies, challenging messages, impassioned prayers, and heartfelt singing by all in attendance. The theme of “unity” and standing “one in Jesus” ran throughout the day.

I didn’t see or hear everything during those seven hours, but I saw much of it. And as I watched, I found myself encouraged, convicted, and concerned.

 

An Encouragement 

I wish all those who scoffingly claim that Christianity is dying off could have seen what was happening on the Mall this weekend. This gathering of impassioned believers boldly proclaimed that Jesus is still the most relevant name in the universe.

They came together in prayer, singing, and crying out to God. Together 2016 was a bit nostalgic for me. During the first summer following my conversion, I attended One Day 2000. During that gathering I heard John Piper challenge us not to waste our lives. It was a pivotal day for me, and I suspect Together 2016 will be the same for many others.

There were people from many tribes, languages, nations, and generations. Skin colors were diverse, but the prayers were unified. Themes of justice and righteousness marked the day. The songs, most of the people who spoke, and the regular pauses to pray about loving God, repentance, and our need for Jesus were heartfelt.

As Francis Chan reminded us at the end of the day, following Jesus will not be the popular thing to do, but it will be eternally worth it. I praise God that He is raising up another generation of believers who desire to follow Jesus, regardless of the cost.

 

A Confession 

I must confess, I approached the event with a critical spirit. Over the past ten years, my theological convictions have deepened—and I anticipated that most of them would be grated against during this event. And they were.

Lack of theological precision, careless phrasing of words, and the emotionalism that marks evangelicalism were not difficult to find.

But that’s when the Holy Spirit convicted me with a scene from the Gospels. In Luke 9, we find an account of a few of Jesus’ disciples getting irritated that people were doing ministry in a way they weren’t.

“John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you’” (Luke 9:49-50).

In the opening minutes of the event God convicted me of spiritual pride. I was reminded that Jesus is doing great things in His Name among people who are very different than me. And regardless of who is ministering, Jesus is always working in spite of our feeble efforts. As one of my professors used to say, “The Holy Spirit loves to work in the midst of our mess.”

Praise God for that!

The Body of Christ is diverse and we must all learn from and be encouraged by one another. I have plenty of my own issues and blind spots, as do the people in my theological camp. It is easy to sit back and be critical of others who don’t do things the way I would. But that attitude isn’t pleasing to Jesus.

He would say to people like me, “the one who is not against you is for you.” After a few moments of conviction, the Spirit broke my pride and gave me the freedom to rejoice in the good work God was doing in my brothers and sisters on the Mall.

But that joy didn’t leave me without a concern.

 

A Concern

Calling us to be “together” is a noble thing. There are countless things that divide us unnecessarily. Many of these were addressed wonderfully during the event. But the one thing that actually brings a unity that pleases God was not always clear; and was at times even undermined.

At one point in the first session, a group of men came on stage to pray, including a Roman Catholic. What he said was encouraging and true. But having him on stage to speak and pray (plus promoting the event with a video from Pope Francis) was a tragic decision that may have been overlooked by many in the swirl of all the encouragement.

While it is true that #JesusChangesEverything, this is not the truth that unifies believers. What unifies Christians is that Jesus died and rose and that anyone who repents and believes in Him and His work alone will be saved. The organizers of the event seemed to work so hard to bring down walls of division, that they intentionally neglected to be clear about the Gospel of justification by faith alone.

We must remember that the Protestant Reformation happened for a reason. The theological truth of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is eternally important. And sadly, this was dangerously distorted on Saturday as thousands watched it happen.

In the days since the Protestant Reformation, more people were executed or exiled over the truths that were brushed aside today than the number of people who were in attendance at the event.

Should we work for unity at great cost? Yes.

Should we pursue unity at all costs? Never.

As J.C. Ryle said in Warnings to the Churches, “never let us be guilty of sacrificing any portion of truth upon the altar of peace.”

I believe we should work together with people of all faiths for issues of religious freedom and social justice. But I do not believe that Jesus would have us sacrifice precious truths He shed His blood for in order to have togetherness.

I deeply believe that the organizers of Together 2016 are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Some dear friends of mine participated in the event today. I do think the true Gospel was proclaimed by numerous speakers and performers. I am certain the motivations of the organizers are to get the Gospel to more people. And I trust the LORD will do great things through the event today.

However, muddying the Gospel will not help any of this come to pass. The best way to love those who are in error over the Gospel is not to link arms with them, but to help them see the importance of our differences.

 

Whether this sort of gathering will happen again or not, I do not know. But we who are Christians must remember that before Jesus prayed for us to be “one,” He prayed for us to be “sanctified in truth” (John 17:17-23), because after all it is “the truth that will set you free” (John 8:32).

 

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Can We Weep Together? Bringing Peace to Racial Pain

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I’m the pastor of a medium sized church in Alexandria, Virginia. We are predominately white, but are growing in diversity of all sorts—including ethnic diversity. Our members come from all different backgrounds. But they aren’t just church members; they are people I love.

So when I hear news stories about white police officers shooting black men, it strikes close to home. My mind immediately goes to how some of our black friends will be receiving the news.

How might fear grip them this time?

Will despair pull them toward the pit?

How will their children hear the news?

My heart is pulled toward them, because I love them.

 

But in our church we also have white police offers, and they are people I love deeply as well. So when the news comes in, I wonder how it will affect them.

Will they be angry that they will likely be seen as crooked cops?

Will they become a target of retaliation?

How will this news affect them when they are thrust into a tense situation?

I care about them, so my heart considers them as well.

 

And then, I wonder…

How will those two groups love each other?

How will they perceive each other when they sit next to each other on Sunday?

Will black members be jaded against the white members?

Will white members ignore events in the news that are hurting black members?

Are they talking and listening and praying with each other?

Do they even know God wants them to do this?

How should our elders speak into and shepherd along our congregation?

What are our blind spots on this issue?

 

These are the sorts of things that keep pastors like me up at night. Why? Because the unexplainable love of the church is the way God shows the world that He is their only hope for healing from racial pain.

As our church processes these realities, we try to keep a few things before our eyes.

 

  1. Admit that racial pain is a real issue.

We will not all feel this pain in the same way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Not all blacks will perceive pain in the same way or agree on how to move forward in fixing it. Neither will all whites. But we must admit there is an issue in our country and it didn’t end when slavery was abolished.

For my white friends, if you don’t feel pain about these issues, but your black neighbor does, what does that mean? Do they need to be corrected and told not to feel a certain way? Might you have room to grow? Loving those who are different than you begins with listening and learning from them. I wrote an article “I Don’t See You As a Black Friend” that chronicles my own journey in this area.

The realness of racial pain isn’t just popular opinion; it is God’s opinion. In fact, you could make a case that the entire New Testament is God glorifying Himself by bringing people of different ethnicities / races together in the church through the blood of His Son. The Bible is about reconciliation. Yes, sinners reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20), but also sinners reconciled to one another (Ephesians 2:11-22).

The hard work of reconciliation didn’t stop when Jesus ascended. In one sense, it just got started. The Gospel alone has the power to change hearts, but change will not come until we admit there is a tragic and painful wound festering among us.

 

  1. Pray that we will see people as God sees them.

God created all people in His own image. Every person, light-skinned and dark-skinned, citizen and police officer alike, was knit by God in their mother’s womb as one who would radiate God’s own glory for all to see. That image is corrupted by sin, but it is not erased. That must mean something when we watch videos of people being shot, hear orphaned children wail out the words “I want my daddy”, or learn of police officers being struck down by vengeance seekers.

The LORD instructs His people to “regard no one from a world point of view” or merely “according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16). This means God gives His people eyes to see that people are not just ideas to debunk or problems to fix, they are people. They have mothers and fathers and children. They cry tears and have real hopes and fears. That must matter to us, because it matters to God.

Compassion for one another is essential to healing the pain caused by racially charged sins against one another. This compassion is birthed when we realize that we are in this together, though our experiences along the way are often vastly different. Do you see others as God sees them? Do you tend to categorize people and say “oh those people” are _____?

There are systemic issues to discuss, but who is going to discuss them? People. If change will happen systematically, change must first occur personally, so I’m writing to you as an individual right now. Ask God to help you see people as image-bearers, no matter how different they may be than you.

 

  1. Pray for God to help you weep when others weep.

You don’t need all the facts to weep with another person. As a H.B. Charles has rightly said, “the Bible exhorts us to weep with those who weep. It doesn’t tell us to judge whether they should be weeping.” Love leaves room for unanswered questions, especially when another is brokenhearted.

When news about a police officer killing a black man breaks, what happens in your heart? What comes to mind? Do you find yourself considering how others might be hearing the news or do you automatically make judgments about those involved?

I trust that we all agree there must be investigations into whether police action was warranted in these cases. But can we not understand why many from the black community would be cynical about the process?

White friends, do you ever feel cynicism toward the system when a politician or celebrity gets off the hook?

I trust so.

Can you not then, understand why black brothers and sisters could have cynicism about how trials and charges will be played out in the courts?

And black friends, do you wonder how your white brothers and sisters in Christ who serve as police officers process these situations? Are they in a place of privilege and authority? Yes, maybe so. Should the “bad cops” be outed and punished to the fullest extent of the law? Most certainly.

But 1 Corinthians 13 tells us all that “love believes and hopes all things”—so I’m assuming that you know that all cops are not bad cops, and I hope that you’re fighting to believe that, like my brother Trip Lee is.

Black or white, brothers and sisters, we have to work hard to believe the best of each other. In other words, we can’t assume someone using the phrase “black lives matter” means that person doesn’t believe that “all lives matter.” And we can’t assume that a police officer that says “all cops aren’t evil” means that he doesn’t care about black life.

We each must ask how we are obeying God in the command to have a sympathetic heart that breaks when others break.

One of the best ways to soften a heart toward others is to spend time with them.

Have you ever sat with a weeping black friend? Have you ever seen the deep grief in their eyes when they talk about the fears they have for their life an the life of their children? You may not understand their pain, but have you helped them wipe tears away?

This kind of tear-wiping love is what God will show His people when He welcomes them to heaven (Revelation 21:4) and it ought be the kind of love His people show each other when we exist as the church.

 

  1. The church must be the church.

The church has not loved each other well across racial lines for many decades, but today is a new day. It must be. If there is ever a time that blacks and whites must risk comfort, pain, and misunderstandings for the hope of greater change, it is now. The world is longing for an answer to the deep problem of racial pain.

The church must be a place where members can openly grieve about things that break their heart without being concerned that they will be judged for it. Is that kind of freedom found in your house of worship? Love makes room for weeping with each other, especially when we don’t fully understand why they are weeping.

The church must be the place that says to someone different than you, “I have been praying for you, and I would love to hear how the events in the news are affecting you, would you be willing to get together so I can learn more from you?” Love learns from each other.

The church must be the place where we say I am sorry, will you forgive me. One of my most heart-wrenching moments as a white pastor is when another black pastor shared his pain from the pulpit two weeks in a row and was never asked by a white member to learn more about his pain. That kind of apathy or fear-driven silence is not love. But in the church we can say we have sinned against each other and move toward reconciliation. Jesus died to forgive and heal those sins, so let us go to Him together for help.

Jesus told His people to “let your lights shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). That light is made visible when the power of the Gospel enters into the lives of very different people and brings unity at the feet of the risen Lord Jesus.

Unity among people is so precious that Jesus shed His blood to purchase it. Satan hates unity in the church, which is why working division is the devil’s delight. Racial pain is an easy place for him to attack, but the Lord Jesus delights in stepping on his neck in victory.

Prayer is one very real way we unite together to war against Satan’s aims to divide us. Consider the prayer requests one black brother sent to our elders:

“I encourage you to pray that our black brothers and sisters can be spared from the things we so regularly see in the news…Pray that we not become desensitized to the violence or oppression…Genuinely pray that our hearts are not turned cold towards our white brothers and sisters, particularly those we are in not in close relationship with. When white brothers and sisters in the body remain silent, it doesn’t take much to begin seeing them as the same as those who cause injustices to occur…Pray that as some of your black brothers and sisters grow increasingly distrustful of police and of those in authority, silence can cause us to subconsciously  (or intentionally, depending on the person) think, ‘They think the same way, would react the same way, and simply don’t understand.’ That is a temptation seeded by the enemy, who desires to cause dissension in the body. But pray also that we will pray for those in authority over us, as God commands, so that our hearts will be tender and loving toward them with the hopes that relationships can be built and peace can be known. Pray for us to have an openness to share our hearts, feelings, thoughts and emotions, regardless of how confused, with our Christian family.

 

Jesus is the hope of the world, and the church is the people through whom He displays this hope. If you are a member of a local church, the responsibility falls on you to make changes. Are you willing to trust the Lord to help you? He promised to be with us (Matthew 28:18-20). We must come together in humility and fervency, for His glory and the good of one another.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

 

 

Comments that are constructive will be posted, but I filter as much as I can and won’t be posting any combative or inflammatory comments here. Thank you for adding to the conversation with thoughtful and compassionate insights.

 

 

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What Would Jesus Say To Us After the Orlando Tragedy?

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Orlando

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

 

Early Sunday morning, a man stepped into an Orlando night club and gunned down over a hundred fellow human beings.

To date, forty-nine of them have died.

No matter how many details emerge about the shooter or his motives, we know that they cannot help us cope with this tragedy. The shocking loss of life has ripped open the heart of our country, and left us all reeling with questions.

Why did this happen?

What could have stopped it?

How can friends and family cope with such unbearable loss?

The questions that fill our minds in times like these are natural and reasonable. Yet as we ask them, we ought not do it alone. This is a time for walls to come down and doors to be opened for conversation. Yet, while we speak with one another, it must also be a time for us to look up and ask, “what would Jesus say to us at a time like this?”

Does God see what has happened? Does He care? Where was He while this wicked man murdered so many people who had done him no harm?

What would Jesus say to us after the tragedy in Orlando?

 

1. Jesus says, “I weep with you.”

God was not absent when the gunman went on his rampage. He sees murder in the heart of oppressors (Genesis 4:6-7) and vows to avenge it (Nahum 3:1-6). He hears when the blood of the innocent cries out to Him from the ground (Genesis 4:10).

God is not only aware of murder, but He also weeps over it. God is moved by tender compassion for people when they are struck down by evil people (Exodus 3:7; Psalm 106:44). Jesus showed this sort of compassion throughout His ministry as He wept with friends next to the graves of loved ones (John 11:35).

Jesus created each of the people who died inside that nightclub (John 1:3). He knit them together in the wombs of their now weeping mothers (Psalm 139:13-14). He created them to be image bearers of His glory (Genesis 1:26-28). God has loved and cared for them every day of their lives (Matthew 5:45) and now, He reassures us who remain that we do not weep alone—He weeps with us.

 

2. Jesus says, “I will help you.”

 The sorrow the shooter has laid upon so many is staggering. Tears have run dry and have left behind hearts filled with disbelief, fear, and anger. Many are blessed to have good friends to help them in their dark days, but even those friends will lack ultimate answers.

Yet, the Lord speaks into our pain and says to His people, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). God has ultimately shown this kind of helping love by sending His Son Jesus to rescue us from our sin, and if He has done this, we can trust Him all the more to help us now (Romans 8:32).

So dear family member who prepares to bury your loved one, hear this, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Grieving friend who is left reeling with sorrow, know this, the Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

News watcher who feels your heart breaking with those whom you don’t know, find help in this promise, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8).

Look to Jesus, He offers broken hearts the help they need, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

 

3. Jesus says, “I warn you.”

While some might find it cruel to speak strong words in such a time as this, we see that Jesus does not think so. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus speaks to a crowd after an eerily similar string of tragedies in the city of Galilee.

Pilate (who ended up ordering Jesus’ execution) had murdered Jewish worshippers while they were offering sacrifices to their God. After hearing the news, Jesus said to them, “do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5).

To those who find comfort in pointing out the fact that the victims of this tragedy were gay party-goers who have received the judgment of God, hear what Jesus says to you. Be warned that it is dangerous for you to spend time looking down on others to the detriment of looking at your own perilous position. Jesus promises that unless you repent, you will likewise perish.

To the many more who weep and mourn over those who have fallen, we must hear what Jesus says to us as well. Jesus speaks to people who have witnessed a tragic mass murder at the hands of an evil man and says to them that there is a lesson for their grieving hearts. What is that lesson? We must all realize that one day, it will be us who people weep over. We certainly pray that our end will not be as tragic as the forty-nine fallen in Orlando, yet Jesus says that during such tragedies, we must examine ourselves.

There are many ways that the fallen will be remembered and their lives will echo in meaningful ways. Jesus tells us that one of those ways is that it ought make us pause and examine the brevity of our own lives. They did not suspect that their lives would be so short. They did not know that June 12 would be the day they would leave this earth.

Jesus sees tragic events like Orlando as a time to weep, but also as a time to consider eternal realities and ensure that we are ready to stand before God—because some day we will. Today is the day to consider Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God who died for our sin and rose from the dead to give us life. He calls us all to leave behind our lives of sin and find life in Him (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38, 4:19-20).

Jesus loves us enough to speak into our suffering and warn us to prepare for the day when we too will be laid to rest. Ask Him to help you understand what this means and take time to read through Jesus’ own words about it.

 

4. Jesus says, “I will soon make all things new.”

We are all weary of the tragedies that seem to continually pound upon us like waves on the sea shore. We must know however that these waves of weariness will not roll forever. Jesus promises that one day soon He will shake the world in judgment and bring all evil into the light. There He will expose all injustices done in His world and remove them from His presence forever.

On that day, pain will no longer prevail for God’s people. Death will be done. Evil will be extinct. Terrorists will be terminated. Justice will reign and mercy will fill the skies of heaven.

God lays before His people the promise of a world that will be emptied of evil and filled with joy. In that land “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:4–5).

This promise is laid before us all and it is for you as well, if you will only receive it by faith.

 

In the wake of one of our nation’s most anguishing events, we must know that we are not left alone. This kind of deadly tragedy must move us to listen to one another’s stories and weep with one another. But it must also move us to turn the ear of our heart toward Jesus and hear His life-giving words.

 

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If God is a Good Father, Why Does He Allow Our Pain?

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Holding Finger

My wife recently gave birth to our fifth child. He’s pretty awesome, though I’m a little biased. In a mysterious way, I love him despite having only known him for a short time.

But my love could have been called into question in his first days of life. How so?

I saw my son being hurt, and I did not stop it.

A nurse came into our room to draw his blood for a round of tests. From my chair, I watched as my son laid sleeping more peacefully than most days he’ll ever know in his life. As the nurse approached him, I knew what was about to happen. So I stood up and took his hand as she uncovered his newborn skin. A small needle was readied and I watched as it pricked him.

And there I stood, right next to him, not doing anything to keep it from happening.

My son awoke with a shriek. He shook and screamed and squeezed my finger as tears ran down his peach fuzzed cheeks. I was larger than the nurse, and I could have made her stop; but because I love my son, I let her wound him.

Moments like these can often be overlooked, but for whatever reason, God helped me see that He loves me in a similar way.

 

Good, Good Father

The Bible tells us that God is a heavenly Father for all who have faith in Jesus (John 1:12; 1 John 2:23). Our Father sees all, knows all, and is more powerful than all. Yet we too have experiences in life where someone or something swoops in, uncovers our peaceful rest, and pierces us in terrifying pain. And all this happens before the eyes of a Father who says He is good.

While the problem of suffering and evil cannot be resolved in this brief piece (or in any of the massive volumes that have attempted to do so), I want to share a few truths I was reminded of as I held my son during his introduction to the pain of our world.

 

  1. God is there.

Few things are as isolating as pain. When we suffer, we feel like no one can really understand what we are experiencing. And the fact is, no one does. Proverbs 14:10 is correct in saying that “the heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.” People can weep with us, but no one can really enter into the depths of our sorrow.

Yet, no matter how alone we feel, we are never ultimately alone. Our heavenly Father is there.

King David knew much suffering as many of his Psalms testify (Psalm 13, 27, 38, 40, 61-63). But in His pain, He had peace because He knew that no matter where he went, He could not escape God’s presence.

“Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in the grave, You are there!…If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.’” (Psalm 139:7-12).

Even the darkness is not darkness to God. This means He is present in your pain. No pit of despair is too deep. No sea of sorrow is too vast for Him to find you. He is not far off, though He may feel that way. He is there, not just holding your hand, but your very life (Psalm 54:4).

Do you doubt His presence? It is understandable if you do. I have doubted it before.

Most of us who have walked with God have had moments (or long seasons) of wondering if He has abandoned us when we needed Him most. The path of sorrow has led us all into the dark forest of fear. Yet God gives the light of His Word to help us travel through that place. He tells us that He is with us (Psalm 23:3), that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39) and that He will never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).

So when you feel like He is not there, tell Him (Psalm 13:1-4). Admit when you question His love (Psalm 77:7-9). Cry out to Him knowing that He catches each of our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). Ask Him to prove that He is “near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Pray honest prayers in the darkness. As you do, remember that our peace comes not from us seeing God, but from knowing that God sees us.

 

  1. God could make it stop.

One of the most hopeless feelings we can have is when we recognize that we can do nothing to stop our pain. The clouds are too dark. The storm blows too strong. The valley runs too deep. Suffering stands with its immovable foot on our neck.

But hear this truth: God could make it stop.

God could, at any time, tell whatever is piercing you to cease, and it would. He has that kind of authority (Psalm 115:3). He oversees every falling bird (Matthew 10:29-31) and tells the oceans where to stop (Job 38:8-11). He is the all-powerful and completely-in-control Ruler of all things.

This means that when the storms of suffering surround us, we know that God could say “Peace! Be still!” and the winds would cease (Mark 4:39). God could end your pain at any moment. There is no one or no thing stronger than He is (John 10:28-30).

Though some doubt His power, a day is coming soon when it will be seen. One day soon, He will crush cancer and terrorize terrorists and heal wounds and open graves and sew up sorrows. Yes, on that day, all His tear-catching bottles will be put away for they will be needed no more (Revelation 21:1-5).

Now, it is at this point that some will mock and say, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10). If He is real, then why does He sit back with the power to stop your pain, but not use it now? This is an essential question and one that has an all-important answer.

 

  1. God is doing good to us in our pain. 

If my son could have spoken when he was being pricked, he may have looked at me and said, “Father, why have you forsaken me? Why do you just stand there and say you love me and hold my hand, but not stop the hand that is hurting me?”

I have asked God these kinds of questions before. Have you?

God is not surprised or offended by our questions. Yes, we ought ask them with humility and reverence, but do not doubt that God desires His children to look to Him with their wondering hearts.

But as you look, know to Whom you are looking. Psalm 119:68 says “You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes.” 

Did you hear that? God is good and does good. Good is who God is and good is what God does. These truths are the foundation on which all hope is built. God is not only there with you in your pain, but He is doing good to you through your pain.

This is why I arranged for tests to be done and blood to be draw. This is what kept me from pushing away the nurse and her needle. I love my son and wanted to do good to him, so I allowed him to be hurt.

Listen to how Jesus explains the way our heavenly Father does this perfectly, “which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:9-11)!

God perfectly knows how to give good things to His children.

This means that if it is good for us to have bread or fish, then He will give it. And if it is not good for us to have them, then He will not give them to us. But we can rest in this fact: because He is good, He will never give us what is ultimately bad for us (stone or snake).

This passage (and the whole Bible) teaches us that God knows what is good for us, in a way that is far and above our ability to comprehend. His love is a purifying love that always aims at us knowing His peace and holiness (Hebrews 12:3-11).

God the Father not only sees, but also ordains and arranges and allows and orchestrates and oversees every bit of pain and adversity that come into our lives. He does not merely react to evil or pain. He is not merely a reacting God!

God is the author and orchestrator of all things. He does no evil, but He oversees all evil in such a way that He uses it to bring about ultimate good for His beloved children (Genesis 50:20; Job; Psalm 33:4; Romans 8:28).

How could God use your spouse’s grueling battle with cancer for good?

How could people hurting you for so many years be used for your good?

How could Him not answering your prayers for help or healing be for your good?

I do not know.

There are many mysteries which God claims are His secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29). The gap between my wisdom and God’s is infinitely wider than the gap between my son’s understanding and my knowing that the pain of his pricked heel was ultimately good for him (Isaiah 55:8-9).  I trust that one day we will have insight into His wisdom, but we rarely have it in full in this life.

I realize that many of you who read this have and are facing unspeakable pain. I trust that you know I do not mean to make light of any of it. I too have known much pain in this life. I write this as a fellow sufferer, not an expert on what exactly is happening to you.

Rather, my hope is to help you come to the place where you believe that in Christ, we have a good heavenly Father who is wise enough to ordain our pain and loving enough to use pain for our good and strong enough to stop our pain when it ceases to be good for us.

This kind of assurance helped a man named John Calvin in the days following the death of his own son. Though tears Calvin said, “God is a Father and He knows what is best for His children.” This has been the testimony of many of God’s children.

This kind of assurance flows from a display of love in the midst of suffering that puts all other suffering into perspective. God shows that He is a good Father ultimately by giving His Son to suffer in the place of people like us (Romans 8:32). The cross and empty tomb are the supreme examples that God cares about evil and is able to over come it. In your dark days, look to the One who shines light into our darkness and take courage that One day soon we will be with Him (John 8:12; Revelation 22:1-5).

 

Oh Father, help us to trust You and know that You are good and You do good. Help us to believe that You are present in our pain, strong enough to stop it, and wise enough to use it for our good. Help us to not lose heart, but to give our broken hearts to You to sustain it. Send Your Son soon and end all our anguish. Amen.

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How Christians Can Pray for Muslims During Ramadan

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

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 Sunday, June 5, 2016, 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 Tuesday, July 5th.

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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Is the Transgender Discussion Exposing Our Hypocrisy?

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Transgender Bathroom Kids

 

This article is co-authored with our associate pastor John Henderson, PhD.

According to a recent New York Times article, the Department of Justice is planning to issue the following statement to public schools across the United States:

“A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.”[1]

According to this thinking, chromosomes and biology should not determine the sex, gender, and bathroom assignment of a person. Rather, each person is to lean upon his or her own understanding to make the determination.

Another New York Times article reports that gender binary thinking, which assumes there are only two distinct genders, male and female, is becoming a thing of the past.[2] People can now decide to be whatever they sense they really are. Apparently, when it comes to gender and gender identity, biological determinism is being shown the door.

This should raise questions for all us. For many years now we have been told that biology actually determines a ton of stuff. Alcohol abuse, according to various scientists, has “key biological causes.”[3] Scores of scientific studies claim that Bipolar disorder, Major Depression, and other experiences we call mental illness are in some way caused by our genetic and biochemical makeup.

Most notably, the argument that homosexuality is not a choice or preference, but a genetically and biochemically determined reality, saturates the scientific literature today. Each new study along this vein is simply, “the latest in a growing scientific literature suggesting that sexual preferences may be not simply a matter of personal preference but part of our ingrained biology.”[4]

Am I the only one who finds this confusing? If gender and gender identity is no longer biologically determined, but a matter of choice, then we have some questions to answer.

  1. Do we plan to say the same about sexual identity?

Are we now saying we choose to be heterosexual or homosexual? Previously we accepted a direct link between genes, biological, anatomy, and gender, but now we’re saying that link does not matter when it comes to gender. Perhaps this is fine, but for the sake of consistency, do we plan to say the same about sexual identity, which has no direct genetic or biological link anyway? Are we saying that just as we choose gender preferences, we choose sexual preferences?

  1. Do we plan to say the same about alcohol and drug abuse?

No reasonable person doubts that biology plays a role in alcohol and drug abuse. Biochemistry is involved. But the social sciences have taken this concept much farther. Alcohol and drug abuse, as taught in hundreds of psychology, sociology, and psychiatry programs all over the world, has biological causes. Not merely influences, but determining forces inside the body and somehow connected to genes. Is this no longer true? Again, for the sake of consistency, are we supposed to apply the gender identity rubric to the abuse of substances?

  1. Do we plan to say the same about Bipolar Disorder and Major Depression?

Once more, there are scores of studies and articles placing responsibility for various “mental illnesses” at the doorstep of biology. According to those studies, the experience of mania and depression are not about the conscious thinking of the person or layers of life decisions, but almost solely about underlying biochemical forces. Is this approach to understanding mental illness now wrong and cast aside?

  1. Or do we plan to use biological determinism only when convenient?

In other words, do we apply biological determinism when talking about something for which we do not want to be held responsible and then reject biological determinism when talking about something for which we want full control?

Are we far more interested in moral flexibility and political convenience than fidelity to the truth and consistency?

Among the various things discussed on this page, none is more biologically determined than gender. There are actual chromosomes (XX, XY) that link directly to actual anatomy (ovaries, testes, etc.) that we call “female” and “male.” If we’re saying those links no longer matter, then it only stands to reason the less tenable links in other areas of human experience be severed in the same fashion.

If this is the case, then everything that has no direct link to genetics and biology should be left to preference as well. If a person can go against their genetics and biology when it comes to gender, then how much more able is a person to go against any and all genetic or biological forces when it comes to sexual identity, drug abuse, and mental illness?

  1. Do we just make stuff up so that we can do what we want to do?

I mean, this seems like what is really going on. Is it that we just don’t want someone, anyone, telling us how to live if it goes against what we desire? Do we just want to do what is right in our own eyes? I’m not sure how familiar you are with history, but cultures where everyone did what was right in their own eyes always ended in a pile of rubble. Can we just admit that our desire to do what we want might be driving this brave new world agenda? And is it possible that it is driving it off a cliff?

  1. Do we want our children to be the experimental guinea pigs while we figure out these kinds of questions?

One of the most terrifying things in all this is how flippantly we are treating our children. We are heading down a road of experimentation and using our very own children as lab rats. We have no idea what kinds of affects these measures and others like them will have on young, developing, and perplexed children. Are we really willing to drive political and personal agendas at the expense of a confused child who is trying to figure out their bodies and desires and sexuality? If this open-ended experimentation isn’t child abuse, then I’m not sure what really is.

  1. Can we admit we have no idea what we are doing?

Is it possible that we have reached a point where it is blatantly obvious that we have no idea what we are doing? Can we admit our hypocrisies, even as it has been displayed in our contradicting approaches to biological determinism? Are we really just using science as smoke and mirrors to allow us to justify whatever we feel like doing?

Is it possible that our culture’s mantra of do not judge has caught up with us and led us to the place where we can receive no instruction, even if it would rescue us from the destruction of our own lives and the lives of our families? At the end of the day, is self-determinism really our god?

Might it be time for us to humble ourselves and realize that leaning on our own understanding has taken us down a dangerous road and that we need help? My hope for us is that God might show us mercy and that we will stop being wise in our own eyes and look to Him who made us and loves us and stands ready to rescue us.
Friend, this is the hope God promises in His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is no flip-flopper. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever more (Hebrews 13:8). He came into our world and proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Let us step out of the darkness and into the light. We may not know what we are doing, but He does. Look to Him.

 

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/13/us/politics/obama-administration-to-issue-decree-on-transgender-access-to-school-restrooms.html?_r=1

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/fashion/pronoun-confusion-sexual-fluidity.html

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/1984/08/14/science/scientists-find-key-biological-causes-of-alcoholism.html?pagewanted=all

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/25/opinion/gay-at-birth.html

Picture courtesy of Nick Cimarusti | Daily Trojan

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16 Things to Pray for T4G 2016

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Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 1.22.34 AM

 

During this week, some ten thousand Christians from all over the world will descend upon Louisville, Kentucky. What brings them together? They come together for the Gospel. This bi-annual conference is an interdenominational gathering of Christians who certainly have various differences, but what they have in common is much greater—the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Whether you are at the conference or not, I ask you to pray for what God is doing, and will do, through this gathering of believers. To help give you some ideas of how to pray, here are sixteen suggestions.

 

  1. Pray for pastors to be encouraged.  

Pastors spend most of their lives pouring out for the good of others. This conference provides a unique opportunity for pastors to be poured into. Pray that weary pastors would be encouraged by the fellowship and instruction they receive.

 

  1. Pray for the speakers to have power.

The speakers at T4G are some of the most gifted pastor-teachers in the world. But they are just men. They struggle with the same things everyone else does. So pray that God would give them strength in their weaknesses and that He would speak powerfully through each of them for His glory and the good of all who hear their messages.

 

  1. Pray for Gospel witness in the community.

As these many Christians come into the city, they come in contact with hundreds of cabdrivers, restaurant servers, hotel employees, protestors, and business owners. Pray that Christians would embody the Gospel they come together to celebrate by being good tippers, kind with their words, and not demanding on those who serve them. Pray this kindness would open doors for Gospel conversations and for many to come to know the Lord.

 

  1. Pray for the singing.

 One of the most unique things about this gathering is the singing. Try to imagine ten thousand unified voices singing about the wonders of God’s mercy to us in Jesus. Pray for believers to not only sing with hearts of faith, but also to be encouraged by the chorus of voices proclaiming the glories of our heavenly King.

 

  1. Pray for friendships to be born.

This conference was birthed out of friendship among the speakers. And this is one of the main reasons they put on the conference. Pray that God would kindle relationships among like-minded brothers who would be able to develop life-long friendships in Christ.

 

  1.  Pray for wisdom in partnerships.

This conference affords the opportunity for ministry leaders from all over the world to spend time together to pray, dream, plan, and orchestrate great things for the Kingdom of God. Plead that God would help His people have wisdom about ways they can work together for the spread of His glory among the nations.

 

  1. Pray for sisters to be strengthened

T4G is not a men’s conference, but because it is aimed at pastors, a large percentage of the attendees are men. But there are many sisters in Christ here who are in need of your prayers. Ask that God would build them up through His word so they can go back strengthened to bless their churches, families, and communities.

 

  1. Pray for believers to be protected.

Satan hates Jesus and He hates God’s children. Pray that his sinister schemes to hinder Gospel work would be thwarted. Pray for protection from lust and pride and comparison and envy and discouragement and whatever other fiery darts he will launch at the hearts of those who have come.

 

9.  Pray for the families of attendees. 

Most of the people in attendance leave wives and children behind at home. This can be a strain on many families who covet your prayers. Ask the Lord to give strength to wives and mothers, for children to be obedient and not get sick, and for all other chaos on the home front to be held to a minimum.

 

  1. Pray for the logistics.

To pull off a gathering of ten thousand people, you need a logistics miracle. Pray for disasters and distractions to be at a minimal and that everything from registration, to sound, to security, to book store stocking, to meals and beyond to go smoothly.

 

  1. Pray for the volunteers.

Over three hundred people travel to this conference, not simply to be served by the Word, but to serve those who are coming to hear the Word. Pray for them to serve others with the joy of Christ.

 

  1. Pray for churches to be edified. 

Hundreds upon hundreds of local churches have pastors or members in attendance this week. Pray for these congregations to be edified by those who will return with fresh vigor. Pray for delight in Jesus to spread among these churches and for great revival to occur among God’s people because of what happens here.

 

  1. Pray for unity.

At a conference where there is such a diverse group of believers, there is always opportunity for the evil one to stir up squabbles. Pray for brothers and sisters to humbly hold their convictions and aim to make much of Jesus who is the hope of all believers.

 

  1. Pray for people to love the Word.

This year’s conference focuses on the glory of the Protestant Reformation. This Reformation was birthed when God stirred a fresh understanding of His Word among His people. Pray that as the Word is preached and read and sang, that the Holy Spirit would stoke fresh fires of love for the Scriptures in the hearts of His people.

 

  1. Pray for attendees to long for heaven.

One of my favorite parts about the conference is seeing old friends. I delight in seeing their smiles, hearing their stories, and in sharing meals together. But then, we are forced to say good-bye. Some will leave early because of unplanned tragedies, and others will head home as they had planned. But there is something that saying sad “good-byes” does for us…It makes us long for that Land where we will never say good-bye again. Pray that God would use T4G to cultivate a longing for heaven where we will be gathered together once and for all with our heavenly Father. O Come Lord Jesus! Come!

 

  1. Pray for the Great Commission to be aided.

Between now and that Great Day when faith will be made sight, we have been called to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Pray that God would not allow this to just be another conference where we take home our books and notes and nothing changes. But rather, ask that God would use all the equipping and teaching and singing and planning to produce a movement of Spirit-empowered people who risk everything so that the Good News about Jesus will be taken to those who have never heard.

 

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16

 

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When I was young, we took a family vacation to Maine. My father spent his summers there as a kid and wanted us to experience the beauty of its wooded wonderland. During our stay we did some fishing, went sailing, and ate as much lobster as you can before turning into one.

Near the end of the week, dad told us he had something to show us. So we piled into the car and drove along a dark, windy, pine tree-walled road that led out to an open field. The field was home to a tall, black-ironed fence that enclosed a well-kept acre of tombstones that dated back to the 1800s.

We were confused (and a little concerned) about why dad was taking us to a graveyard near the end of vacation—but we followed as he led us down a well-worn path that steered into the heart of the cemetery.

Gravestone - My Dear Young FriendWe watched as he and my aunt scanned tombstone after tombstone until they found the one they were looking for. As we made our way over to the sunken grave he asked us to gather around as he read from a gravestone that had nothing on it but this inscription:

“My dear young friend as you pass by,

remember you were born to die;

As you are now, so once was I,

As I am now, so you shall be,

prepare to die and follow me.”

On that day, a no-named dead guy delivered a message that has never escaped my memory: you will die.

Of course that wasn’t the first time I’d heard this fact of life, but ever since that afternoon in the graveyard I have remembered the message and a few lessons from it.

Lessons from the Tombstone

1.  Death is coming.

“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Hebrews 9:27

Death is the one appointment that all of us will keep. When it comes, it comes without discrimination. Death comes for the rich and the poor, the weak and the strong, the light-skinned and the dark-skinned. Death takes Democrats and Republicans, men and women, young and old, married and single—death comes for us all.

Our date with death was secured for us long ago in a garden quite unlike that graveyard. It was a perfect Garden, one whose name meant “delight of the Lord.” But it was there in Eden that our first parents turned away from the Giver of Life.

God responded to Adam and Eve’s sin by placing a curse on them, and on all people who have come after them. The LORD told Adam that life would be interrupted and that he would “return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Since that day, life has a black cloud hanging over it reminding us that we were born to die.

2.  Death should stir reflection.

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:2

Despite the fact that we know death is coming, we seem to do all we can to avoid considering it’s impending arrival. We prefer to turn up the volume of distraction and numb ourselves with entertainment. Wisdom however, teaches us to approach our deaths differently.

In what could be seen as morbid counsel, King Solomon prescribes his listeners to fill their time attending funerals instead of fiestas. Why? Because when you sit in a room with a casket and a lifeless body, your soul has an opportunity to be sobered.

In the quietness of that mortuary, you hear sniffles of sorrow similar to the ones that one day will be cried over you. You see flowers that lay on a box similar to one you in which you will be laid to rest. Your mind is given opportunity in those moments to consider that as they are now, so you shall be.

One of the oft-forgotten ministries of Moses was that of a funeral conductor. As he wandered in the wilderness for forty years, he buried an entire generation of people and wrote Psalm 90 as a reflection upon it. After remarking about the brevity of human life, Moses asked God to, “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

Wisdom is birthed out of an awareness that the sands of time are sinking from the hourglass of our lives. Every moment that we have sinks into a unretrievable arena that will one day be evaluated before God Almighty (Hebrews 9:27, Revelation 20:11-15). Our mortality ought move us to be wise with the days we have, which must include preparing for what comes after we die.

3.  Death is not the end.

“An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” John 5:28-29

During a later trip to the graveyard, my uncle found a note attached to the base of our memorable tombstone. The note read like this, “To follow you, I will not yet; Until I know which way you went.”

The witty chap who left this note was on to something. Our fallen friend had invited us to prepare to follow him, but before we follow him in death, it is important to know which way he went. You see, death is not the end—for any of us.

Death does not end our existence, it merely serves as a gateway into our next existence. Death is the doorway that leads to our final, eternal dwelling. While we cannot know which way our fallen anonymous friend went when he died, we can know which way we will go.

How? 

Because there is Another who was born to die, and born to live and give life to others. While He lived on the earth Jesus gave this promise, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me though he die yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

Jesus was the Son of God who came to earth to die on a cross for sinners and then raise from the dead. Jesus calls us, while we have time, to repent of our sins and follow Him in belief. For those who do this, they are promised a future day of resurrection.

One day soon, “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command…and the dead in Christ will rise first…then we who are alive…will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

 

And that is the hope of those who trust in Christ. We know that one day we will escape the grave’s grasp and be taken up to be with our Lord forevermore. This too can be your hope if do not know Jesus.

His message is similar to the one on that gravestone.

As you are now, so once was I,

As I am now, so you shall be,

prepare to die and follow me.”

Jesus came as we were so that we might be as He is. He is coming soon, so let us prepare for our day of death by trusting in the One who died and rose and promises to raise us from the grave to be with Him and like Him forever more (1 John 3:2).

Come soon, O risen Lord Jesus!

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Followed by The God of Grace

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God's pursuing love followed me to Panama City Beach and drew a gracious line in the sand.

God’s pursuing love followed me to Panama City Beach where He drew a gracious line in the sand saying, “You are either for Me or against Me.”

It was early in my junior year at Virginia Tech—and I felt like everywhere I turned, God was following me around.

It all began a few months before, when a friend came to a Halloween party and talked to me about Jesus. And ever since that night, it seemed like I couldn’t escape what he had said. I believed God was real, but I was not ready to surrender my life of drugs, drinking, or dating. Yet at the same time, I couldn’t escape the sneaking suspicion that my friend was telling me the truth.

Several times that semester I found myself smoking a blunt, only to become compelled to flush it and pick up the Bible. One early morning I was reading and became so overwhelmed, I printed out portions of Revelation and nailed it to the apartment door of “the white devil” who had long been my cocaine dealer (yes, that freaked him out). On the weekends, I would party hard, but somehow attend a church on Sunday, regardless of how strung out I was from the night before.

My soul was conflicted. I loved the fleeting pleasures of sin, yet I felt as if I was being pursued by the One I later heard affectionally called “The Hound of Heaven.”

It was in the middle of all this soul searching that my buddy Adam suggested we take a trip to Panama City Beach for Spring Break. I wasn’t sure if I should, but it didn’t take much convincing for me to agree that I was just stressed out and that I needed a little fun in the sun to help clear my mind.

Redemptive Road Trip

As we drove with windows down and music blaring, we talked about life and school and girls—and about what I had been reading in the Bible. I told Adam that I was seeing things in a new light and I was feeling like God was showing Himself to me everywhere I went. Adam was a good friend and he listened, but I’m sure he thought I was going crazy.

As we neared Panama City Beach I noticed a plane flying overhead pulling a banner behind it. As it drew closer I could make out that it read, “Jesus Loves You – John 3:16.”

I pointed my arm out the window and told Adam, “Look, God is following me around.”

Once we arrived at the hotel, we dropped our bags in the room and headed to the beach. We anchored our chairs in the sand and cracked open a pair of cold ones. After a while I noticed what looked like a small herd of students talking to people around us and handing out little booklets. A couple guys came over to where we were sitting, gave me a pamphlet and told me that “God had a wonderful plan for my life.” After we talked for a few minutes, they made their way down the beach and I turned to Adam and said, “See, I told you, God is following me around.”

We laughed it off and headed back to the room. That evening we went to a club until closing time when we made our way out to the curb to call a cab. But no sooner than we got there, three vans pulled up with holy roller graffiti on the side that read “God loves you!”, “Believe the Gospel!” and “Jesus saves!” The drivers got out, offering free rides for anyone who needed it. We declined the ride, but as we walked away I looked over and said, “Adam, I’m not making this stuff up, I think God is following me.”

The next day was a little rainy and we decided to lay low at the hotel. At some point in the night, I found some weed and smoked myself hungry. I found Adam and we made our way to the Waffle House across the street. I told Adam that I felt like God was making me feel bad for the way I was living and I didn’t know what to do. As we scarfed down our waffles he looked at me and said, “bro, I think you need to stop doing the drugs, they’re messing with your mind.”

Within minutes, the door to the Waffle House opened up and a flood of about 30 loud and laughing people carrying Bibles came into the restaurant and took seats all around us. One of the guys walked straight up to our table and said “hey, my name is Shelby, do you go to Virginia Tech?” We said yes, introduced ourselves and then he asked me, “have I ever seen you at a church in Blacksburg?” I told him I had visited a few and that it was possible.

He explained that he was with a group called Campus Crusade for Christ and that he would like to meet up with me when we got back to school to talk about God and the Bible. We exchanged information and he headed off.

After he was gone, Adam turned, stared at me in the eyes and said, “Dude, God is following you around!”

A Line In the Sand

The next day I took a walk on the beach before dusk. As I did, I saw a girl sitting by herself staring at the ocean. I wasn’t sure why but I felt like I was supposed to go over and talk to her. I said hello and asked her how she was and if she had been in the water. She kindly replied and said the water was a little too cold for her.

I said something stupid like, “yeah I’d have to have a case of beer before I got in there.” She looked at me and said, “you know, I don’t know about that, but God has taught me that Jesus is all I need to be happy.” It was a pretty serious Jesus juke, but it didn’t surprise me.  I told her that I had been thinking a lot about God and asked her to pray for me.

As I walked toward the hotel, a lady in a beach wheelchair and another guy my age signaled for me to come over to them. I knew this was another divine set up, but I felt like it would be bad to run from a woman in a wheelchair, so I made my way over to them.

The lady’s name was Stacy James and after a few get to know you questions, she looked at me and said, “Garrett, what do you know about Jesus?” I don’t remember much else that she said except that God wanted me to know that I had to choose to either be for Him or against Him because I could not be both (Matthew 12:30).

That beach trip proved to be a true line in the sand for me.

When I returned to school I began meeting with Shelby and he helped me to understand the basics of what it meant to walk with Jesus. And since that trip, I have been for Jesus. This is not because of something wise or wonderful in me, but rather, for some eternally mysterious reason, God had set His affections on me and chased me down.

I tried to run, tried to hide, tried to explain His pursuit away, but in the end, I found His grace to be irresistible.

I’d like to leave you with two thoughts…

  1. God follows you because He loves you.

If you are reading this and know God has been following you around too, I plead with you to stop your running. God chases you down, not to do you harm, but to rescue you.

One of God’s prophets named Isaiah once described our running this way, “we all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Following our own way seems like it leads to life, but in the end it is quite the opposite. Proverbs 14:12 says “there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Running from God leads only to judgment by God (Revelation 20:11-15).

Yet because God loves running rebels, He sent His Son Jesus to come and rescue us from our wandering toward destruction. Jesus came as the “good shepherd” who “lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11).

What that means is that Jesus came to earth to die on a cross and receive the judgment we deserve for the way we sinned against God. But then Jesus rose from the dead and now calls all people, including you, to turn from their sin and receive forgiveness from Him (Acts 2:38, 17:30-31). God follows you because He loves you. So stop your running and surrender to the One who watches over your soul (1 Peter 2:25).

  1. God uses you to follow those He loves. 

Do not underestimate how important it is to always be throwing Gospel seed wherever you go. Whether we are on a beach, in a Waffle House, flying a plane, driving drunk people home, or doing normal life; remember that God is working to call His people to Himself—and He is using you to do it.

My wife regularly reminds me that “every brief encounter is from the Lord.” It may be a full Gospel conversation on a short-term mission trip or it may be simply asking a cashier how you can pray for them. God uses all sorts of “brief encounters” to awaken Gospel interest in the hearts of His elect.

The question is, are you actively seeking ways to help others hear the good news of the sinner-seeking Savior?

The year after my trip to Panama City Beach, I went back, but this time it wasn’t to party. Instead, I went with the same group whom God used to reach out to me the year before. I share that only to illustrate that God loves to use the most unlikely of people for His purposes.

So if you feel inadequate in sharing the good news about Jesus with others, do not allow that to stop you. Remember that God is the great Evangelist, He is simply allowing you to share in the joy of helping others come to know Him.

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