Mom and Dad, Thank You

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In a recent post, Tim Challies shared a few practical ways adult children can honor their parents. One of his suggestions was to esteem your parents privately and publicly. So, I’ve shared the following with them in private, and now, with their permission, I share it with you in public. Thank you for taking a moment to read, I pray the lessons bless you as they’ve blessed me.

 

Mom and Dad-

The Bible says to “honor your mother and father” (Exodus 20:12). I know I haven’t always done this well, but I trust you both know how much I love you. As my years increase, I have given more thought to ways God has used you to shape me into the man I am today. I could list many things, but I’d like to share one for each of you and then one for the both of you.

 

Mom, you taught me how to make a house a home. 

From what I can remember, I lived in seven different houses growing up. But no matter where the house was, it was always home. You made sure of that. I don’t remember fancy decorations or eccentric decor. But I do remember a warmth that withstood the winters of life.

Home was a refuge for me. In my early years I was picked on and ostracized quite a bit, but home was always a safe place. I never felt the need to run away. I never feared coming home. I don’t remember there being stress, though I’m sure it was present.

Holidays were fun. I don’t know if we received many gifts, but I know what was given, was done so in love. Meals were faithfully prepared for us. Encouraging words occupied the air. You wanted us to have wonderful memories, and my mind is filled with them.

But our house wasn’t just a home for our family, it was a home for others. Our door revolved so much I’m surprised we didn’t have to replace the hinges. People called you “mom,” because you were one to so many. People loved you because you made them feel like part of the family, even if it was their first visit. You made enough food for visitors and always let people stay over if they were in trouble.

This hospitality marks our family today. Carrie and I have had people live with us nearly every month since we’ve been married. Our dinner table is often graced by friendly faces. The Lord uses your example from my childhood to help our family do this well. I love you mom.

 

Dad, you taught me to work hard and to work with hope. 

Laziness was not permitted in our family. You knew that we only have one life and that if we wanted to get anything out of it, we needed to work hard. Whether you were starting a new business, turning someone else’s around, or dreaming of what might be next—you showed me what it means to work with diligence.

When set backs came, your resilience shined. When others would have quit, you smiled and said, “there must be another way.” You worked hard because you wanted to do well, but also because you wanted to do well for us. You wanted our family to have what we needed. And thanks be to God, we always did.

You challenged me to begin working young and save money. When I was twelve, you loaned me cash to buy a lawnmower. You helped me get jobs and helped me improve when I got fired. You never let me say, “I can’t” without exhausting every conceivable way forward. You never let me quit a team. You weren’t a drill sergeant, but you were a firm and fatherly leader. You encouraged me, and pushed me to be excellent, and never to do things “half-hearted.”

This marks me today. God has taken your example and set it apart for Himself. He often brings your words to mind and I believe He will use your lessons to help me be a more faithful servant with what He has entrusted me.

And though you worked hard, you also worked hard to be present. For as many hours as you labored, I never remember you being absent. I remember fishing trips and walks with the dogs. I remember you being home at night and wrestling with me when I was younger. I remember you and mom being at every single one of my games, no matter what.

This too has marked me, though I often feel I fall far short. Thank you for pushing me to be man who works hard, yet doesn’t forget why he is doing it. You have forever shaped me dad, and I love you for it.

 

Mom and dad, you’ve stayed married through the good days and bad.

In God’s wisdom, He brought you together many moons ago. You were young, in love, and according to your stories, probably still a little stoned. You scrapped together what you needed, but it didn’t matter what you had, because you had each other.

As the days passed, God blessed you with a couple of awesome kids. Your tribe increased, and so did your joy. As I remember, you were wonderful parents. Our house was filled with laughter. We ate most meals together. We always had food, even when times were tough.

I remember dad stealing a kiss from mom any time he could. He always told her how beautiful she was. The affection you guys showed each other taught me how a husband and wife should love one another. Our kids see this today in the way Carrie and I love each other. Thank you for that.

I remember our family going to church together nearly every week (even though I only went for the girls). I remember mom singing the Old Rugged Cross and reciting Psalm 23 and the Lord’s prayer while I snuggled in her lap. I remember our beach trips to the Outer Banks, and road trips to grandma’s house.

You partnered together to encourage me in playing sports and doing my homework. I remember dad doing all he could to provide for our family, and mom steadily working at the hospital. You were a good team together, and I praise God I got to see it.

But not everything was easy. Broken bones, burned homes, car accidents, and nearly empty bank accounts put pressure on your bond that would have caused many others to break. Though you were cracked at times, you did not give way. Only you know the depth of your private pains and disappointments. There are some scars that only heaven will heal.

But as I have watched you persevere, I have learned what love is. You didn’t have a perfect marriage, no one does. But you have had a lasting one. And that’s saying a lot. God has brought to my mind, more times than I can count, the fact that love doesn’t quit.

Mom didn’t quit on dad.

Dad didn’t quit on mom.

You didn’t quit on each other.

Kells don’t quit.

We fight and pray and persevere by the grace of God. And that has marked me. And I have great hope it will mark generations of Kells to come.

You have blessed me more than you know. And I trust someday you will see when Jesus shows you.

I am forever thankful to call you my parents.

I love you both.

With eternal gratitude,

Your Son—Garrett

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What Happens To Our Pet When It Dies?

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This morning, we were awakened by the tears of one of our children. They had found our dog, Nellie, dead on the floor.

Nellie was a cross-eye Chihuahua who was relatively new to our family, but she had already brought us much joy. She was about as good a dog as a Chihuahua can be.

As the tears flowed, the questions began to flow as well.

 

“Why did Nellie have to die?” 

“Why did God take Nellie so soon?”

“Will we see Nellie in heaven?”

 

While some may think these questions are silly, I do not.

The longer we live on this fallen planet, the more sorrow we face. Some suffering is small, and other is great; but it all hurts. Some families experience tragedy early and often. Ours has been spared significant tragedy, but times like these leave their mark.

After a little while, we were able to talk about what we were feeling and what questions we were processing. Here are a few highlights.

 

  1. We know why our pets die.

Death is one of the saddest and most certain realities of this life. There are few things like death to sober us—whether it be a pet or a fellow image bearer. A cold, stiff body that lacks the life it once supported is a heavy reminder that something is wrong with our world.

So why does death happen? The Bible tells us plainly that when Adam and Eve sinned against God, a curse was put not just on humanity, but on all creation (Genesis 3:14, 19). Because of this, death comes for all of us; people and animals alike.

Some may want to shield their children from discussions of death, but we do not.

In Deuteronomy 6, God instructs Israel with His commands and then gives parents this charge, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Discipleship in the home happens as we live life together, and as we bury pets together. We tell our children that death is in the world because of the curse of sin. All of us will die, and days like these remind us that even our beloved pets are not exempt.

 

  1. We don’t know why our pets die when they die. 

Death comes for all of us in a time and in a way that is most normally unexpected. Nellie was, as far as we could tell, a healthy little dog. She seemed to go peacefully in her sleep. I have also lost other pets in much more traumatic ways. When my daughter looked at me and said, “Why did she have to die now?” I simply held her and said, “I don’t know.”

God never tells any of us when our time is up. When we love someone, it always seems like our time with them was too short. I encouraged her that our family loved Nellie well, and she loved us in like measure. I also reminded her that we need not be afraid of losing those we love, but we must love them as well as we are able while they are with us.

 

  1. God is not cruel, He is caring. 

The God of the Bible is not a cruel, distant, absentee father who simply calls His suffering children to “suck it up.” Rather, He gives us precious promises.

One we talked about is from Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

When pets die, it is a fine time to grab a promise from the Lord and allow it to bring you comfort. Again, for some this may seem like a petty thing to bother God with. But I want to assure you it is not. In fact, if your god doesn’t care about the tears of a child who has lost their beloved pet, then your god is too distant. The God of the Bible does not scold us for the kinds of sorrows we have. He meets us in them, whatever they may be, and points us to Himself as our only sure comfort.

 

  1. God doesn’t tell us what happens to our pets when they die, but we can trust Him.

Anyone who has ever had a pet die has asked, “will I see them again?” Some give hearty assurances based merely on what they hope will come to pass. But hope is far too precious to cast it on what we desire to be true. It is safer to base our beliefs on what God says is true. And on this issue, He just doesn’t say.

Animals do not have the same hope humans do, because humans are distinctly differently. We are created in God’s image; animals (and angels) are not (Genesis 1:26-27). People have a unique ability to reason among living beings (Psalm 32:9). Jesus came as a man to save mankind, not animals.

Yet the Bible does speak about the presence of animals in the life to come. Isaiah 11:6-8 and Isaiah 65:25 list numerous animals as they describe the eternal kingdom of God. God’s promises of the world to come portray a world in which animals will know the peace they too have longed for (Romans 8:18-25).

I think this gives us good reason to assume that God will fill the New Heavens and New Earth with redeemed image bearers, elect angels, and all sorts of animals. Beyond this, we do not know much.

Will our animals be in heaven? It is best to be honest and say we do not know. I would not be surprised if God, in His generous wisdom, chose to allow us to enjoy the company of familiar animals in glory. But we can be certain of two things.

First, we can be certain that if it will bring God more glory and it will help us to enjoy Him forever, then God will reunite us with our pets. God knows what good gifts to give us, now and for eternity (Luke 11:13). As Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” God knows what is good for us to have, so we can trust Him.

Second, we must guard our hearts and not allow love for pets or animals to diminish or love and trust in God. No matter how good any gift God gives us, we must remember that He is the One worthy of our devotion, not the gift itself. Pets included.

So how did I answer my children?

I told them that we don’t know exactly what happens to our pets when they die. But we do know God is good, we can trust Him, He will do what is best, and that I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we saw our pets again in glory. If I’m wrong, that’s fine, there is no serious doctrine in danger, nor are my children’s hopes tied to anything other than God’s wisdom in dealing with His children.

 

To read more perspectives on this topic, consider these articles by John Piper, Randy Alcorn, Jim Daly, and Christianity Today.

 

 

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You Can’t Wear Out God’s Promises

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Many beloved things in this life wear out.

Favorite shirts wear thin and tear. 

Comfortable shoes fall apart. 

Financial accounts become depleted. 

Warm friendships can drift over time. 

Even our bodies wear down, break down, at last lie down in death. 

 

But there is one thing that never wears out—the promises of God.

 

Dear friend, you can use one of God’s promises, but you cannot use it up.

You can grab a promise and cling to it wherever you go. You can hold it close through the storm, but when you arrive safely at your destination, you will find it has not dulled one bit. In fact, it likely shines brighter than when you first clung to it.

Neither do God’s promises rust or fade. They are like the fine wine of heaven; stored up for those moments we most need their refreshment. Yet, when we pop their cork and drink them down, we find a miracle. Like the widow whose flour remained full, the bottle never runs dry (1 Kings 17:7-16). Promises harvested from the Lord’s vineyard cannot be depleted.

Nor can His promises be destroyed. An oppressor may steal your Scriptures and burn them before your eyes. But as the smoke rises, the promises remain. They cannot be destroyed because they are stored in the vault of heaven.

God’s promises do not evaporate or dissipate. They grow stronger and more certain with every use. The reason for this is three fold.

 

First, a promise from God remains because God remains. He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). He is not a liar who says one thing and does another (Numbers 23:19). He is not the empty cloud that boasts of rain yet only leaves a shadow of disappointment (Proverbs 25:14). A promise is an extension of His very nature and because He does not change, we are not consumed, and neither are His promises (Lamentations 3:22-23).

 

Secondly, a promise from God can be everlastingly claimed because it was purchased by the blood of Christ. When Jesus died, His blood was the down payment for all of God’s Words to us (2 Corinthians 1:20; Hebrews 9:15). When He rose, He unlocked the vault of assurances for all those who trust in Him. A promise of God cannot wear out because Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25).

 

Finally, a promise solidifies with each use. Promises are not made only to be kept, they are made to be claimed. They are like food that is not meant for looks, but for consumption. And each time we put it to use, we taste and see that the Lord, who gave His promise, is good (Psalm 34:8). We trust Him more. We love Him more. We find strength we did not know. And therefore, the promise grows surer to us. This builds faith in the promises and in the promise Giver.

 

Do you have promises that have proven strong for you?

Have you mined the quarry of God’s gold and brought forth treasures no money can buy?

 

This is the privilege of the child of God. As you walk with Him and you find a bit of treasure, keep it and claim it as your own. Yes, it is for others as well, but all the host of heaven can feast on these promises. They never run dry.

These are a few of my favorite promises. I encourage you to consider them, and to find some others for yourself. Use them. Share them. Hope in them. They will not wear out.

 

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”

 Matthew 11:28 “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”

Revelation 21:4 “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.”

Revelation 22:4 “They will see His face”

 

Here is a final encouragement from a beloved brother who now sees these promises by sight.

“Our God, in whom we trust, is not fickle; He is not thoughtful of us today and forgetful of us tomorrow. If you should live to be as old as Methuselah, the promises of God will never wear out; and if all the troubles that ever fell upon humanity should pounce upon you, God’s strength will be put forth to sustain you, and to bear you to a triumphant close.” – Spurgeon, Sunlight for Cloudy Days

  

Lord Jesus, keep Your promise, and come for us soon.

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The Great Tragedy of the 2016 Election

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A great tragedy occurred on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

The tragedy was not found in the celebrations or concessions of elected officials. It was not colored red or blue, and it wasn’t rooted in the dark cloud that hung over this scandalous political season.

The tragedy I’m speaking of is far more grievous.

You see, in this land of the free and home of the brave, there were many people whose ballots were not cast. Their convictions were silenced. Their opinions were not expressed. Their voices were not heard.

Why not?

Because they were dead.

The great tragedy of the 2016 election is that roughly 31,103,051 million would-be voters are not with us because they were murdered through abortion. That means from 1973-1998 roughly 31 million babies had their right to live taken from them by their own parents. Of those, over one third were African Americans, the very people abortion was designed to extinguish.

This is an unspeakable tragedy.

They didn’t get to cast a vote for the first woman president or the political outsider or write in another candidate. They didn’t get to make a stand against racial injustice or make a stand for integrity. They were robbed of watching results come in with their friends. They weren’t allowed to rest their heads on a pillow in the land of the free.

That is a great tragedy. But the tragedy isn’t over.

Why?

Because over 3,000 babies will be aborted today; and each day leading up to Tuesday November 8th, 2020. In the 3 minutes it takes you to read this post, approximately 7 babies will have been aborted in the United States of America. Their voices will be silenced. Their freedom not experienced. Their opportunity to be brave not known.

 

Close to Home

This is a tragedy that hits close to home for me. When I was 19, I chose to end the life of my first child through an abortion. My friend and I were in a scary place, we didn’t plan to get married, and we felt we had nowhere else to go. So we chose to end the life of our child.

My child would be 20 today. He or she would be off at college or working hard at their craft. They’d be praying for God’s grace on our land and working to make the world a better place.

But, they won’t be doing any of that. I won’t be sitting down with them and explaining how to think about policies and the candidates that represent them. I won’t be able to tell them about freedom and justice for all. I took that freedom away with my injustice.

I cannot undo what I’ve done in the past. None of us can. Only Jesus, who shed His blood for sinners like me can heal those wounds. Jesus gives us great hope in the midst of this tragedy, and all the other tragedies we face in this life.

 

Refuge in Jesus

If you have committed an abortion, I want you to know that there is a refuge in Jesus. He will heal your wounds. There is no sin so great that He cannot forgive and no sin so small that does not need to be forgiven. If you will confess your sins and turn to Him in faith, He will wash away all your guilt and all your shame. Listen to and believe this promise from Him, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 10:28).

If you support abortion, I want you to know that I do not demonize you. I too have felt the fear of an unplanned pregnancy. I too have known the tidal wave of confusion that swirls around. My encouragement to you would be to pray and ask God to show you if abortion is something that pleases Him or not. I know this may seem odd, but the reality is that God cares about everything we think, do, and say in this life.

I realize you have your reasons for supporting abortion; I did too. But I encourage you to take the time to read what God says about life and who has the right to give and take it away. If you’d be open to reading what the Bible says about abortion, you can read this.

 

Difficult Choice

If you are a Christian, be patient with those who view things differently than you. But don’t just be patient; speak truth in love to those who are in need. Find ways to help those who are struggling through unplanned pregnancies. Investigate options for adoption and invest in the lives of those who are facing difficult choices.

Today I looked at a picture of a 6-year-old boy at a football game.  He’s a 6-year-old boy who nearly wasn’t with us today because of the difficult place his mother found herself in. She was unmarried, pregnant, and scared. But my wife met with her and prayed with her and took her to a Christian doctor who showed her the heartbeat of the baby in her womb. That young mother had the courage to keep her child.

That young boy’s smile reminds me that God can save children, one at a time. But God does this by using His people to come alongside those who are struggling and lovingly showing them the Christ who can walk them through any terrifying situation, even an unplanned pregnancy.

 

 

I believe that the only hope to turn the trend of this tragedy around is for people to turn their hearts toward the God who made them through the way paved by His Son Jesus. Jesus changes hearts, and changed hearts change a nation. May God give grace to us as a country, and may God give us courage to stand up in the midst of this tragedy so that, if the Lord tarries, we might see this kind of tragedy come to an end.

 

Lord Jesus, we need your help.

 

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Would God Celebrate Planned Parenthood’s 100 Years?

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On Sunday, October 16, Planned Parenthood celebrated “100 years of healthcare services.” The group’s celebration trended on social media, and was even joined by both President Obama and the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.obama

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For many, the work of Planned Parenthood is truly a reason to rejoice. The group provides assistance to women who exercise their “right” to end the existence of a developing baby in their womb. This service that helps women “determine their own lives” is seen as an ultimate good, and therefore a reason to celebrate.

Last year, an Advocacy Board that advises Planned Parenthood even went so as to say that nation’s largest abortion provider is “doing God’s work” and the group released a “pastoral letter” claiming that the Bible says nothing about abortion.

Here’s the direct quote from that 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.

As many celebrate the existence of Planned Parenthood, it is important for us to consider whether or not heaven would join in the jubilee. The fact that something is popular, and even endorsed by powerful people, does not make it right. What matters most is whether or not God is pleased with it.

Since abortion is an issue that is near to my heart, I thought I’d take a moment to consider whether Planned Parenthood’s 100 years of existence should be celebrated or not. As you read these Scriptures and consider what you see, ask God to show you if it is true—because in the end what He thinks is what matters most.

Abortion in the Bible

Though the Bible doesn’t mention the word “abortion,” it clearly teaches that abortion is a terrible sin against another person. 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.

So does God celebrate with Planned Parenthood? He does not. Rather, He weeps over it. God loves people and He loves the children in mother’s wombs. He is the One who creates life, and He is the One to whom all of us must look when we find ourselves in situations we never planned for.

If you are considering an abortion and feel like you have no other options, please know there are people who can help you. They can connect you with loving families who would be willing to discuss adoption. I know a family who is waiting by the phone right now to adopt a child, even the one in your womb.

If you feel that you have no where to turn, please know that Planned Parenthood isn’t your only option. God has other options that are worth celebrating. I plead with you to reach out to a faithful local church near you, we can help you find one (info@delraybaptist.org) 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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Intentionally Intrusive Questions – Lessons from John Wesley

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Nearly 300 years ago, John and Charles Wesley formed a discipling group on the campus of Oxford University. Fellow students scoffed at the group and called them “The Holy Club” because of their methodical approach to the Christian life.

The Wesley brothers aimed to use every waking moment of their lives to worship God, and this group was the center of their life together. They regularly met to read the Bible, discuss classic writings, serve the poor, fast, pray, and challenge each other with questions.

While all these elements are noteworthy, let’s take a moment to consider their practice of asking questions to each other.

 

What follows are 22 questions they used with one another on almost a daily basis.

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence?
  4. Can I be trusted?
  5. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
  6. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  7. Did the Bible live in me today?
  8. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
  9. Am I enjoying prayer?
  10. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
  11. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  12. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  13. Do I disobey God in anything?
  14. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  15. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  16. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  17. How do I spend my spare time?
  18. Am I proud?
  19. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
  20. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
  21. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  22. Is Christ real to me?

 

Three Considerations from the Holy Club

Accountability. The Wesley Brothers’ model of discipleship is worth emulating on many levels. Their example of committed love for one another is a critical part of the Christian life. In our individualistic age, we would do well to remember that God designed the Christian life to be lived out in the context of committed community.

At our church, we regularly encourage members to develop “intentionally intrusive relationships” with one another. This kind of accountability can make us uncomfortable at times, but we rarely grow in holiness when we are comfortable.

Who are you developing intentionally intrusive relationships with?

Who knows everything about you?

Do you run from soul-exposing relationships?

If so, why? What are you hiding?

What damage will be done to your soul if you keep running?

Who are you helping to follow Jesus in a similar manner?

God uses the intentional love of other brothers and sisters to push us into the light and further along the Highway of Holiness (Isaiah 35:8). You can learn more about what this kind of accountability could look like by reading this.

 

Questions. Well-aimed questions are often used by God to penetrate past the surface and pierce the deepest recesses of our hearts. God asked revealing questions in the Old Testament (Gen. 3:9-11; 1 Kings 19:9; Job 38-41), just as Jesus did during His earthly ministry (Matt. 16:15; John 6:67, 21:15-19). Asking and answering thoughtful questions is a good way to stir up the sinful mud that settles in our hearts.

But simply having and asking questions isn’t the goal.

Did you actually read the 22 questions above?

Did you pause and allow them to do work on your soul?

What are you in such a hurry to go do?

I encourage you to consider going through this list with another brother or sister in Christ. Feel free to sharpen the questions or make additions to the list. I don’t think the Wesley Brothers would mind. All they would ask is that their aim be the same as theirs—holiness.

 

Holiness. This “Holy Club” had one chief goal. They desired to be set apart from the world, and set apart to God. They longed to be free from their worldly ways. They didn’t want their sins coddled in the darkness. No, these men wanted to be holy. And they knew that holiness doesn’t just happen by itself (1 Tim. 4:7-8; 2 Timothy 2:22; 2 Peter 1:5-7).

That is why they pursued each other and questioned each other and encouraged each other and prayed for each other. And this is of course, the very purpose of our lives. “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

One of the most striking things for me in this study was that the Wesley Brothers very well may have not been believers until almost a decade after their Holy Club was formed. This doesn’t mean we should discount the importance of accountability or questions in the life of believers. It should however remind us that merely doing these things does not ensure anyone of a right standing with God. That comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

 

As you pursue devotion to God, seek Him with diligence. But do not do it alone. God’s people are to be intentional in their love for each other, doing all they can to cultivate holiness in one another. My prayer is that God will use these types of intentionally intrusive questions in the context of committed relationships to produce faith and devotion to Christ until we see His face.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

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Was Jesus Liberal or Conservative?

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Was Jesus a Liberal or Conservative?

These are notes from talks given at the U.S. Capitol, Georgetown Law, George Washington University, and most recently Georgetown University.

 

As we begin, I want to say that I’m not a political expert. I am a Christian pastor. This is important because I want to be very clear that my main intent tonight is not to move you to the left or right in your political convictions. My aim is to help all of us grow in our understanding of who Jesus is. In fact, I propose that what we think about Jesus and how we respond to Him is infinitely more important than our political convictions—though they aren’t unrelated.

Also, if I wrongly represent someone’s political views, please know that’s not my intent. None of us like to be pigeonholed and we all know there’s a vast spectrum between the right and the left. My aim is to be fair in this discussion, so I’ll ask you to be gracious as well. This, I hope, is the beginning of a conversation that could last for the rest of our lives. I desire to grow in my understanding of these topics, and I trust you do as well. We’ll have time at the end for Q & A, so please feel free to take notes and we’ll process together after the talk.

 

When it comes to politics, religion, or pop culture, Jesus is the kind of guy people like to be associated with. Whether it’s Justin Beiber giving Jesus a shout out at the VMAs or Duck Dynasty guys quoting Jesus in the woods or politicians doing commercials about their thankfulness for “the evangelicals”—people like to have Jesus on their side.

Some political or social liberals, suggest that if Jesus were on the earth today, He’d be dressed in denim work clothes, teaching and modeling equality, inclusion, and tolerance. After all, He’s the One who said we should “turn the other cheek” (Mt. 5:38) and “judge not lest you be judged” (Mt. 7:1-5). They suggest that because Jesus healed the sick (Mt. 12:15) and taught us to help “the least of these” (Mt. 25:40) that He’ call for free universal healthcare. They say that if He were here today He’d propose higher taxes on the rich so the poor could follow their dreams (Mt.19:21).

At the same time, some political or social conservatives have long claimed to be the ones who really know Jesus. They maintain that if He lived today, He’d be at their rallies giving orders to flip the tables of Planned Parenthood (Mt. 21:12) and calling for the government to quit oppressing people’s morality and pocketbooks. He’d be speaking out about border control (Mt. 10:5) and traditional marriage (Mt. 19:1-6) and the rights of the unborn (Mk. 12:31).

These camps often oppose each other; and both think they are right. A CNN article titled Do you believe in a Red State Jesus or a Blue State Jesus?, rightly said that after the election “somebody somewhere in America will fall on their knees and pray, ‘Thank you Jesus.’ And somebody somewhere else will moan, ‘Help us Jesus.’”

So what do you think? Would Jesus be red or blue? Would He be setting up a soup kitchen or shouting at the religious hypocrites? Was Jesus a liberal or a conservative?

To help us answer this, we’ll spend the rest of our time exploring three topics that Jesus taught about which are relevant in political discussions today. We’ll consider what Jesus taught about taxes, what He taught about the rich and the poor, and what He taught about human flourishing.

#1 – What did Jesus teach about Taxes?

In the Gospel of Matthew 22:15-22, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees (religious conservatives of His day) about whether or not people should pay taxes to Caesar, the Roman emperor. Jesus asked them to bring him a coin and asked, “whose [inscription] is on it?” They said “Caesar,” to which Jesus famously replied “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and render to God the things that are God’s.”

What He meant by that is, because Caesar is King give him what is due him, namely taxes. Now, when Jesus says pay your taxes, He’s not talking about giving money to a government that you might fear will squander it. Rather, He’s talking about giving money to one of the most cruel and perverse government systems in the history of the world. Rome was ruthlessly oppressive to everyone under their authority.

Why would Jesus say to pay taxes to them? Because Jesus recognized government is a God-ordained institution set up to maintain order and uphold justice and righteousness in a fallen world (Gen. 9:6). Every government, good or bad, is part of God’s design, and we are to honor God by paying the taxes they require (Rom 13:1-7).

Would Jesus increase taxes on the rich or decrease taxes on the middle-class? Liberals and conservatives have their opinions, but Jesus doesn’t say. But He does say give to Cesar what is Cesar’s—and give to God what is God’s.

And here we see the masterfulness of Jesus’ teachings. He never avoided relevant social topics, but He used those discussions to point us in a different direction. While He speaks to the crowd about honoring the government, He teaches them about honoring God. God created each of us and we owe Him our love, obedience, and worship. Jesus’ teaching on taxes ultimately points us to our need to give to God the worship and obedience that He deserves from us. Jesus challenged both liberals and conservatives give honor to whom honor is due, supremely God.

#2 – What did Jesus teach about the Rich and the Poor.

Jesus was known for His remarkable compassion toward the poor and oppressed. At the same time, He fearlessly ministered among the wealthy and powerful. And we can learn from His interactions with both groups.

In the Gospel of John ch. 5 we find Jesus making a stop by a pool in Jerusalem. This wasn’t a pool like you’d find at the Marriott, instead, this pool was a hangout for the marginalized who were blind, paralyzed, and poor.

In the story, Jesus walked over to a lame man and asked, “do you want to be healed?” The man replied that he had no one to help him, to which Jesus responded by telling him to take up his mat and walk. And the man, who had been crippled for 38 years, stood up and walked. Jesus healed him. Let’s make three observations about this story.

First, Jesus was aware of this man’s distress. This pool wasn’t in a part of town most of religious or political leaders frequented. But Jesus was there. He sought out this man and used His power to do alleviate this man’s physical distress. This kind of practical, compassionate love for broken people characterized everything Jesus did.

Second, Jesus didn’t heal everyone at the pool. Many left that day no different than when they arrived. Could Jesus have healed them all? Yes. Then why didn’t He? We don’t know. Jesus regularly left places where people needed to be healed to minister elsewhere. Was He being cruel? No, that would miss the point. Jesus’ miracles certainly aimed to help people, but they had a deeper meaning—to prove He was God’s Son who had the authority to forgive sins.

Third, Jesus taught the formerly lame man about his greatest need. “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’” Jesus called this man to rightly consider his needs. His greatest need wasn’t a healed body, but the forgivness of his sin. Unless he repented, the physical relief he received that day would be of little consolation on the Day of Judgment.

Jesus cared about the poor and He calls His followers to do the same (Lk. 14:12-14). But physical help was given along with spiritual help. Jesus cared about relieving people’s physical suffering, but even more so He cared about relieving the eternal suffering they would face apart from His grace. And this lesson wasn’t just for the poor.

In Matthew 19:21, Jesus speaks to a man known as a rich young ruler (this guy is everything we all desire to be. He’s rich, young, powerful.). He said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Jesus knew this man’s heart and was keenly aware that this rich man loved his money more than God. So, Jesus told him that if was going to follow Him, he needed to surrender his love for material things so that he could see gain the things of eternity. In essence, Jesus had the same message for the rich man as He did for the poor man: allow your physical situation to awaken you to the reality that a final day of judgment is coming.

Does Jesus teach that we should help the poor and relieve their suffering? Yes! We should be generous with what we have. But as we see in our second example, Jesus challenged both the rich and the poor to not value physical or financial security at the cost of forgetting that having their sins forgiven by Jesus is our greatest need.

#3 – What did Jesus teach about human flourishing?

Our desire for fullness of life is at the heart of our culture’s conversations about the plight of fleeing refugees, the rights of women and the rights of unborn children in their womb. It is behind the call for marriage equality, and the cries for healing the racial brokenness all around us.

When politicians and educators address this topic, the focus is often on economic development, or opportunity equality, or maybe personal autonomy that gives us the right to do whatever we want without anyone telling us we are wrong. But what would Jesus say about human flourishing?

As with just about everything, Jesus came at the topic in a way we wouldn’t expect. Jesus knows all of these felt needs, but does not see them first as physical issues, but as spiritual ones. Jesus taught that true human flourishing is impossible apart from a relationship with Him. Why? Because each of us, regardless of our political leanings or cultural upbringings, are naturally alienated from God in our sin. But this is what Jesus came to save us from.

Listen to just a few of His words. In John 10:10 He said “the thief [devil] comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Then later in John 15:10–11 He said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love…These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Abundant life. Full joy. It is only through Jesus that we understand true human flourishing.

In Mark 8:34–35 Jesus made this even more clear, “calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

What Jesus is saying is that the quest for human flourishing, and everything else in life, must be understood and submitted to His Lordship. Human flourishing is not “I get to do what I want to do,” but rather that we get to find joy, find life, find abundant life in being freed from our sin and rightly related to God and to other people.

The way we relate to each other does not begin with our own opinions or own desires. Rather, Jesus says that it must be filtered through and submitted to His Lordship. Jesus is King and because of that, all His people surrender their agendas at the door. In our church we have some who will vote for Hillary, some who will vote for Trump, some who will write-in, and some who won’t vote at all. Among them, there are obviously political differences, but they love each other, and show honor toward each other. This was the same among Jesus’ disciples in His day.

It’s safe to assume that Simon (the zealot) and Matthew (the tax collector) had different political views. Both were called to follow Jesus, and both faithfully did so. How does that happen? Because Jesus’ followers know He is greater than our political differences, no matter how important they may be. And it is through relationship with Christ that we can rightly grow to learn from each other, as His teachings guide us.

In fact, I will say on a personal note that years ago, I could never have imagined how a Christian could vote for someone from a particular political party. But through conversations with brothers and sisters in Christ who are different than me, I have grown to see how they seek to honor Jesus with their lives and it has been helpful for me.

 

What is my conclusion about whether Jesus was a liberal or conservative? As you can imagine, trying to answer this question is like nailing Jell-o to the wall…but here’s my attempt. In one sense Jesus was neither liberal nor conservative and in another sense Jesus was both liberal and conservative.

 

Jesus was neither liberal nor conservative in the way that we define them because He came proclaiming a higher reality—the kingdom of God. In John 18:36 Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world…for this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” Jesus came to orient us all, not toward the right or the left, but first and foremost toward heaven.

Jesus didn’t avoid political conversations; but rather, He filtered discussions about politics (and everything else) through His commitment to honoring God the Father. By understanding this, we avoid the dangerous position that Jesus was just a moral teacher like Gandhi, Buddha, or Mother Teresa whose instruction ought be weighed as one opinion among many. We also avoid the dangerous practice of using Jesus as a poster boy for our personal agendas. When we do this, we risk taking His Name in vain and remaking Him into a god after our own image.

Jesus’ teachings exposed the sin in the hearts of everyone He encountered, regardless of which way they leaned politically or where they stood socially. He didn’t care if a free market system said it was ok to have money changers selling marked up animals in the temple, Jesus flipped their tables because it dishonored God.

Jesus came as light, shining into everyone’s darkness, regardless of who they aligned with. In fact, Jesus’ unwillingness to side with the right or the left got Him into a lot of trouble. The two religious powers in Judaism in His day were the Pharisees (ultra-conservatives) and the Sadducees (ultra-liberals). These two groups, hated each other and never find common ground about anything – except that they hated Jesus. The only thing they could agree on was that they opposed Jesus and wanted to dismiss Him, and ultimately kill Him. Liberals and conservatives both opposed Jesus because He didn’t come to further their purposes. He came to call them both to repent, believe in Him and submit to His reign as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And that didn’t sit well with either side.

But Jesus didn’t just come to mess with them, He came to mess with you as well. I wonder, does Jesus make you uncomfortable by the way He calls you to turn away from your idols of comfort and enter into the lives of people who are unlike you? To touch the hand of a forgotten leper. To minister to a paralyzed man who reeks of urine. To sit down for a meal with someone of a different ethnicity or different political conviction than you to learn about their fears and hopes. I wonder how Jesus’ teaching affects you here?

Or maybe you’re made uncomfortable with some of Jesus’ commands? Perhaps you appreciate his sensitivity to the lowly, but some of His teachings make you uncomfortable, so you try to pick and choose. You like that He says “don’t judge” but dislike the whole context that instructs you to repent of your hypocrisy so that proper judgment can occur (Mt. 7:1-6). Or maybe you like how He included people from any and all backgrounds, not to affirm their lifestyles, but rather to alter them according to His will.

Naturally we all have issues with Jesus. My guess is that if Jesus and His teachings haven’t offended you at some point, then you’ve never really listened to what He has to say. Jesus was neither liberal, nor conservative.

 

Jesus was both liberal and conservative. If we were to sift through Jesus’ teachings, we’d certainly see ideals which both conservatives and liberals heartily affirm. While we all have many differences, there are many things we agree upon. We all, regardless of our political affiliation, value mercy. We all want to see an unbiased love of compassion, inclusion and care for the oppressed – though we’d differ on how that should be carried out. Jesus proclaimed and embodied these characteristics of mercy.

In the same way we all, regardless of our differences want to see justice upheld. We want to see the guilty punished, we want to see oppressed defended, we want to see the right thing done for ourselves and for those whom we care about. There is no way we can read the life of Christ and not see justice clearly displayed.

In fact, I would suggest that Jesus is the only person who ever was truly merciful and truly just at the same time. And this fact is at the heart of what Jesus came to teach and to perform. Jesus didn’t come to set up a political system or further partisan cause. He came to deal with ultimate issues. He came to deal with our hearts and our standing with God. He came to teach us about our eternal destiny.

This is the message that Christ proclaimed. He taught that all of us are made in God’s image. That’s why we all desire good things like mercy and justice and love and truth. God made us to reflect Him in that sense. The problem is that while good is reflected in us, we are all completely corrupted by sin. Whether we vote red or blue (or somewhere in between), whether our skin is black or white (or somewhere in between), whether we are rich or poor (or somewhere in between)…all of us have sinned against God and against other people.

When we die, we will be judged for all we have done. All the times we haven’t been just and haven’t been merciful. All the times we hated people who disagreed with us. We are all condemned before God and because He is good, he will bring unfiltered, unreserved wrath on all who have sinned.

But, because God is merciful and He desires none to perish, but for all to know Him and experience His love, He sent Jesus to teach us how to be made right with Him. This is why Jesus came, to seek and save the lost – liberal and conservative alike. The Bible tells us that Jesus willingly became a human being, lived a perfect life w/o sin, and then willingly laid down His life on the cross so that God’s wrath might be poured out on Him. He then rose from the dead, and God now calls all people to turn from their sins and believe in Him so they will be forgiven. That is the message of Jesus and that is the message of Christianity.

 

So was Jesus a liberal or conservative? I’d say He is the foundation for all the good that both those camps affirm. I’d also say that both camps, and everyone in between, should hear the greater message of Christ which is to believe in Him, have their sins forgiven, and live in light of the life that is to come.

America is not the hope of the world. Government is not the hope of the world. Presidents, Kings, and Princes are not the hope of this world. Jesus is the only hope for this world, and the only hope for you and me.

 

 

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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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