A Raunchy Confession

I want to be strong. I want to help. I like to see myself as a problem-solver. Words are where I’m strongest. I’m a communicator by nature, and a Bible teacher by trade. I hate finding myself in situations where my logic or rhetoric can’t see someone through a challenge. I tend to think that as long as I’m with someone, consistently, God will eventually change his or her heart. Having the door to a relationship closed is the most gut-wrenching thing I face. As long as I’m with someone, they can be helped. Once I can no longer be with them, I lose hope.

For me, there is no worse feeling on the planet than feeling powerless. When a relationship is cut off, I feel powerless. I know that this is all rooted in sin. The arrogance I vomited in the first paragraph is disgusting. I see that. Some people call it a “Messiah Complex.” That’s probably strong. But, I hate that about myself. I want to help people so badly. I want them to work through their sin. I want to see them transform. I want them to see and experience the grace of God, be full of His peace, find the healing that I know God brings. But most of the time I just don’t trust God enough to make it happen; I think I have to be there.

This is brutally honest. It is really vulnerable. I don’t particularly care. Don’t let yourself off the hook either, because here is the truth of the matter: everyone else’s sin stinks more than our own…or so we think. Every single one of us has a faith that wanes in unique situations.

Maybe it’s money for you. You need security. You check your account daily, saving every last penny. No generosity. No enjoyment of God’s blessings, just stingy, penny-counting faithlessness. Money doesn’t faze me. I’ve never once doubted that God will provide all that I could ever need. I will never starve, I trust God for that.

Maybe it’s health. You workout daily, eat everything organic. You track your calorie count, freak out over one additional pound, and fill your cabinet with vitamins. You don’t have freedom, just slavery to some hijacked version of being “natural.” Health doesn’t faze me. I work out as often as I can. I eat well, probably too much, but nothing too terrible. Regardless, God could send a terminal illness tomorrow and I so fully and whole-heartedly trust in His sovereignty over my life that (I imagine) I would face it head on.

But me…relationships affect me. I don’t like to be rejected. Not because I personally don’t like to be rejected, but because I don’t trust God enough with the people in my life. I see myself as necessary. I see myself as important. So a constant exercise for me is turning the people in my life over to God.

In Psalm 42:5 the psalmist has a wrestling match with his soul.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

This is what I have to do. I have to come to God, yell at my soul, and tell it to trust in Him already! I want to trust Him with the people in my life, but it’s hard. I want to be there for them. I want to help. I want to see them through. And when they cut me out it stings like salt in a wound. But I cling to Him. I feast on Him. I bring the huge burden of their well-being before Him, confess my faulty assumptions, knowing that they are always in His hands. They weren’t in my hands to begin with, and neither is your money or health. I repeat to myself theological platitudes about God’s strength and power over other people’s lives to the point of ad nauseum.  Why? Because I am wrestling with my soul to “put your hope in God!” And when my soul just won’t trust in God, I confess it to Him. I know that I have placed my faith in a Savior who has perfectly trusted God.

Notice what Jesus says in John 17

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.” 

“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

Jesus’ departure had to have been difficult. He had been physically with them. He had to perfectly and wholly trust God (the Trinity) for the well-being His disciples.

None of this is pretty. We all are self-reliant. We all presume ourselves to be more important than we are, more powerful than we are, more necessary than we are. And those are the areas where our faith in God must grow and our faith in self must be killed. But here is the really beautiful truth: God has given us His Spirit. And His Spirit is always doing surgery on you. He is revealing these areas to us, and empowering us to bring them before God. He is granting us the strength to confess, repent, and believe. God, in His grace, does not leave me wallowing in my powerlessness, rather, by His Spirit he transforms my heart to let go of my doubt and cling to Him.

I know where my faith is weak. I know that I need God’s grace to trust Him more. Where is your faith weak? Where do you need to trust God more?

5 Year Anniversary Tribute

5 years.  That’s 1,825 days, or 43,800 hours.  That’s how many hours I will have been married by tomorrow afternoon.  For most of you it is probably easier to just say 5 years.  However, I have to look at it in terms of hours.  The hours actually represent the struggle of marriage.  Hours can fly by.  I can’t believe there have been 43,800 of them.  Hours can also drag on and on forever…and there have been some of those hours also.  The hours represent the day-to-day commitment that it is to stay focused on your spouse.  The hours tick away, one after another.  Some of the hours I have spent frivolously.  Some of them have been hours that I have been a reactive husband narrowly dodging my own selfishness.  And some (read: ‘a couple’) I have actually been proactively seeking ways to serve and honor my wife.

It’s been 5 years of learning, struggling, laughing, crying, planning, eating and exercising, traveling and so forth.  But really, it’s been 5 years of growing.  No one expects you to be a perfect spouse the day you get married, but for some reason I was convinced I had to be.  We got married on May 17th.  It was probably May 19th that I realized it was a long road to destination: perfect husband.

So here’s what I’ve learned.  5 things, for 5 years.

1.    I’m more sinful than I could have ever imagined.

Marriage is a room full of mirrors.  Whether you like it or not you cannot escape constant reminders of your sinfulness.  They are all around you.  Your inability to serve, your scathing tongue, your lack of patience, your arrogance and pride; all are reminders that I am way more sinful than I was 5 years ago.  Well, not really, I’m just aware of it now. Marriage is a scintillating reminder that all human relationships struggle because I’m a sinner.

There is no way that you can enter into a covenant relationship that was created to emulate Christ’s sacrifice for the church and NOT see your sinfulness at every turn. It’s always there.  I can’t escape it.  I want so badly to do what I want and not what she wants.  I want so badly to say exactly what comes to mind. I want so badly to remind her of how awesome I am.  I want, I want, I want, I want.

Sin…bleck…it’s gross.

2.    The cross is more necessary than I ever believed. 

I went to Moody, so I know in what order themes should go.  Sin à Cross.

Seriously though, I need grace.  TONS of it!  I can’t do this thing.  I can’t be a husband.  I can hardly scramble eggs, how can I ever love, honor, cherish, protect, and shepherd another human being?  I’m too selfish to sacrifice, too proud to apologize, too stubborn to give in.  I need a Savior.  I don’t just need an example of humble, sacrificial service, I need the supernatural grace of God that comes rushing into my heart and life to transform my selfish desires and strengthens me to sacrificially and generously love my wife. I don’t need a better plan; I needed to be rescued.

3.    Sacrifice is more difficult than anything else I do. 

I’m a selfish son of a gun, for lack of a better term.  Well, there are better terms, but none of them are appropriate for this blog. I don’t want to go fill her glass with water, I don’t want to give her a back massage, I don’t want to do the dishes…if it isn’t clear yet…I thought this marriage was about me!

Sacrifice is, without a doubt, the most difficult thing that I do.  Every morning I have to plunge the nails of the cross deep into my ego; by the Spirit I have to destroy every lingering selfish motivation lest I still reign on the throne of my heart.  Jesus is my King, and Jenny my queen, but man I ride a real close 3rd. I can’t serve. If I can’t serve, how can I say that I love? –Only by His grace.

4. There’s no greater responsibility that I have.

It’s easy for me to get caught up in the rhythms of ministry. I love the Kingdom of God. I love the gospel, and I want others to love those things too! And sometimes, when I’m proud, I abdicate my greatest responsibility for lesser responsibilities. My greatest responsibility is to display the gospel message by how I love and interact with my wife. Simply, my greatest responsibility is her. She’s my numero uno. She’s at the top of the list. The church, my job, hobbies, sports, fun, friends, and even our kids will ALWAYS take a back seat to her.

Now, I’m pretty terrible at actually showing her that.  And I don’t always live like that. However, I know it.  Deep in my heart, in the quite moments of prayer, sitting in the presence of God, I long for NOTHING more than I long to be a great husband who FIRST loves his wife. 

5. She is more beautiful than I could have dreamed.

When I got married I was pretty pumped.  She’s a good-looking girl. That’s generally a good thing. I had no idea just how rich her beauty was.  She is adorned in good works. I’ve never met anyone who serves like Jenny. She will drop whatever she is doing to help someone. I have never met anyone with humility like Jenny. She considers others more important than herself every moment of every day.  She listens, loves, and laughs with anyone that needs it.

And, for God’s sake, she is leaving her home, her country, and her family, to move with me to another country to make disciples of people in a garbage dump. Her beauty is too grand for words, too melodic for music, too rhythmic for poetry. It can neither be measured, nor painted. Her beauty is nothing less than Christ in her. The very third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, alive, pulsating through her every decision and interaction.

I don’t just lead her; I admire her, I love her. And I will…till death do us part.

Purpose of the Church Part 3: Nourishment

A growing trend among younger evangelicals is to embrace Christ and reject the church. They often do so self-righteously, hailing the quote by Mahatma Ghandi “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” They miss the irony of this position entirely. Christ, who came and established the church, is being embraced; that same Church, which Christ established, is being rejected in the name of Christ. That’s a bit of hard-hitting postmodern logic—par for the course.

John Stott, who just passed away this year, poignantly reminds us of the church’s necessity in the believer’s life.

“We are not only Christian people; we are also church people. We are not only committed to Christ, we are also committed to the body of Christ. At least I hope so. I trust that none of my readers is that grotesque anomaly, an un-churched Christian. The New Testament knows nothing of such a person.” (From The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor)

The second purpose of the church is to nourish the believer. A believer will spiritually emaciate if they are not nourished alongside of other believers. To be nourished means that a believer is receiving the necessary elements to stimulate continued growth.

Of course the church is going to have problems, it is an entire group of people who have built their entire identity on being selfish, arrogant and vice-loving, desperately needing rescue. As a matter of fact, that is the very reason that Christians need church! The natural sinful condition from which Christians are being saved is the very reason they need consistent nourishment from other believers.

There are a variety of ways that believers are nourished when they gather.

1.     God’s Word Proclaimed

God’s Word is nutrition for the believer. It is their food. Their spiritual bones and muscles must digest the nutrients found in the fibers of God’s Word or else they will starve. They are to digest it personally (Psalm 1), and they are to digest it corporately.

1 Timothy 4:13

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.

Paul is writing to Timothy in what is commonly referred to as the “Pastoral Epistles.” These two volumes written to Timothy are his textbooks for pastoral ministry. Paul is writing with strength, they must regard the public proclamation of God’s word as utmost. They must be devoted, dedicated, and downright dogmatic about their need to exegete and proclaim God’s word.

There is no greater service a pastor can offer than a consistently clear proclamation and exposition of the words of scripture.

1 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

God’s Word is his direct revelation to humanity. It is the church’s source and foundation for teaching, reproof, correction, and training. God’s Word is what equips His people for living righteously. If the church is not teaching God’s Word, they will eventually devolve into teaching self-serving pop-psychology, which never fully deals with the human condition. It’s like eating ice cream for breakfast—it may taste really good but it’s terrible for you.

Teaching the Bible keeps Christians honest. If pastors are trained to teach the scriptures properly, they will give their people the food that they need, not the desserts that they want. Sitting under the clear exposition of God’s Word will be nourishing to your personal righteousness.

God’s Word, proclaimed in the public assembly, is necessary nutrition for brittle spiritual bones.

2.     Community

One author wittily quipped, “If it is just me and God in the room, I very quickly become god.”

This statement is not far from the truth. If a Christian lives his life in isolation like an island, his preferences, desires, sinful patterns, personal comfort, all remain unchallenged. His ability to love others never grows beyond the state of having “only-child syndrome.” As a matter of fact, there are whole litanies of commandments in scripture called the “one another’s” that cannot even be practiced by the Christian living in isolation.

The Christian needs community to work out the process of sanctification.

Hebrews 10:24-25

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 

The author of Hebrews sees it as a necessity for believers to not neglect meeting together. They must be consistent in doing so. In the New Testament, believers often met together multiple times a week. In our era we have settled into a rhythm of Sunday mornings with a couple of additional meetings throughout the year. Regardless, the principle is the same: we must meet together. But why?

If we aren’t meeting together it is impossible for us to “stir up one another to love and good works…encouraging one another.” In our techno-saturated world it is easy to assume that we can have relationships that are not face-to-face. You are deceived if you believe this. The church must meet together to encourage and challenge one another.

Being a Christian can be lonely. Being a Christian can be hard. Life is not a series of ecstasy-laden experiences; rather it is hard-hitting, cold, and dark. It is particularly so when your chosen worldview rivals the idols of modern culture. We must have others coming alongside of us.

Equally, sin is deceiving. Any one of us can be captured by some pattern of sin and in our own mind have rationalized and justified it. It is essential that we have other brothers and sisters involved in the details of our life to protect us from the deceitfulness of sin (Galatians 6:1-2, Hebrews 3:13, 1 Corinthians 5). This confrontation will be painful, but as iron sharpens iron, we will be better for it.

3.     Service

Every believer is provided with gifts and abilities to use for the common good. Believe it or not, it is nourishing to your spirituality to serve other Christians. There are two main ways in which it is nourishing.

First, it puts your natural, selfish, old man on the cross. We are called to deny ourselves. We are told that the last will be first. But everything within our vile-sinful-self-loving-old-flesh wants it to be about us. We often come to church wanting things to be according to our preferences.  Instead, we are called to self-sacrificially serve the needs of others.  By serving, we discipline our bodies, minds, and hearts, to conform to the pattern of righteousness and obedience.

But secondly, serving will stimulate your faith.

1 Corinthians 12:7, 12

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ 

Paul compares Christians to a body. Every one of us must be working together for the common good to be of any use. If a part of our body is working opposite to the rest of the body it will destroy the body. All of us are called to serve. All of us are gifted to serve. When you use your gifts to serve, others are blessed and encouraged and your faith is stimulated. If you live your life in isolation, you cannot exercise your spiritual gift.

All this to sum up one simple truth: Christians need the church. It is impossible for a Christian to be nourished apart from it. Without the church, you will be a crippled Christian—a “grotesque anomaly” as Stott says. Don’t be a grotesque anomaly. Be a Christian.  Gather with the church.

Why does the Church Exist Part 2: Worship

Before we go any further, it is important to draw a distinction.  When I’m using the word church there is an understood two-fold meaning.  First, the church is the people of God.  Any individual who has considered the cost and accepted the call to follow Christ belongs to the universal church.  Second, the church does gather together.  In our common vernacular we call that “church” (i.e. I’m going to church) The Bible recognizes both elements as “church”.  Therefore the principles that we are discussing ought to be true of the church when they gather together AND every single day when they are scattered.  Often these two distinctions (church gathered and church scattered) are a better way to distinguish than just calling everything “church”.

That said, worship is the primary effort of the church gathered and the church scattered. Colossians 1:16 says,  “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”  Absolutely everything that has been created was created by God and for God. (Jesus is the subject of this passage…I don’t plan to launch into a defense of the Trinity at this point.)

Worship, in it’s simplest form, is declaring the worth of someone or something.  All of us having been created FOR God means that we were created to declare the ultimate worth of God in all that we do.  Below you will find a list that will further clarify what worship is.

1. Worship is everywhere

It is important to recognize that we were created to worship.  It is impossible for us to not worship.  John Calvin tells us that our heart is an “idol factory,” meaning that when we are not worshiping God we are in a perpetual state of worshiping images that have been created.  These can be anything from materials, to other people, to certain emotions, to work, and so on.  Regardless, within the believers heart there must be a consistent awareness to our propensity for worship.  We long to worship. However, If our worship is not focused on God we become idolaters, consumed with a passion to be filled by something greater left empty and void because the objects of our worship are impotent. The apostle John ends his entire first epistle by saying simply “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”  This is an age-old adage that is of equal importance today.

2. Worship is about God

This might seem redundant, but it’s not.  Because, I, by nature try to worship things other than God.  My life is for God.  My work is for God.  My marriage is for God.  My leisure is for God.  My sleep is for God.  My worship experiences are for God.

When the church is gathered, there is lots of worship that takes place.  However, unbeknownst to us, we commonly end up worshiping  our own preferences or expressions of worship rather than God Himself.  The worship wars of the 90s are an excellent example of this very concept, fighting between “hymns” or “choruses”.  From order of services, to instruments on stage, to what songs are sung, everyone has an opinion and believe that their preferences are necessary and essential for the worship of God.  They are not necessary.  God is worshiped through a dedicated commitment to declare his ultimate worth alone, in hymn, poem, chorus, offering, drums, organ.  Your preferences are largely irrelevant.

3. Worship is communal

At churches we gather and we sing songs of worship.  We will deal with the musical element shortly.  The church gathered must worship, together.  The individualism that repeatedly plagues western culture has created a divide between worshippers.  Our corporate walk with God has devolved into “Jesus and me.”  We do our “personal devotions,” sing a litany of songs that are all about “me and God,” figure out how “I” can apply the message to “my” life, and spend time requesting prayer for “me” and “my” family.  Our understanding of corporate worship has essentially become gathering in a room full of other people on Sunday morning who are all having their quiet time…and then we leave.

The communal aspect of corporate worship reminds us that we all have drunk from the same cup of Christ’s blood.  Singing songs about “us” and “we” remind us that we, together, are God’s people and that He is not my own personal cosmic deity. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that, because worship happens everywhere, we don’t have to be at a gathering of believers worshiping God.  If that’s the case, it’s no problem if soccer happens on Sundays, or “it’s okay that I miss my small group meeting once a month,” or “I don’t really need community, I do my devotions regularly.”  These may be caricatures of what we say, but implicitly, by our actions, they are what we declare.

We fail to remember that God, in His vary nature, is triune; He is community.  This element of community is inseparable from God himself and from the way that He created us.  We are told that the church is a body made up of many parts, some of us forming the joints and ligaments.  The church is commanded to gather and participate in encouraging one another through worship.  Your life was designed to be lived in community, you were designed to worship in community.

4. Worship is musical

Finally, those of you that hate music can get your question answered.  Why does the church gathered do so much music?  Simply put, the Bible commands it.  Now, I firmly believe that there are other, less concrete reasons.  However, the primary reason that we worship through music is because it is commanded all throughout scripture.  Interestingly enough, the longest book in the Bible is a book of songs.  It is a book that, when it was written, declared the ultimate worth of God through song.  Even in the book of Colossians we are commanded to “admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” (Col. 3:16) Musical worship is a precedent set through all of scripture.  You can’t escape it.

If you don’t like music, learn to love worship music.  Music is a gift from God, given to us to artfully express truth in a way different than propositional argumentation.  God is a creative God, and He has given us the ability to express truth about Him creatively.  Music and poetry (broadly the arts) are a necessary element for worship guarding us from becoming dry, affection-less stoics, unable to connect with an entire demographic of society who has a stronger propensity to express themselves artfully.

5. Worship is beneficial

Though the benefit from worship is not our focus, worship is extremely beneficial to the human.  We were initially created for God to be central in all that we do.  Therefore the fullness of pleasure, satisfaction, and joy can only be experienced with God possessing the ultimate worth in your life.  You benefit greatly from declaring the ultimate worth of God in all that you do.  Anytime that something else is of ultimate worth, your pursuit of pleasure, satisfaction, and joy will be frustrated and empty.  God made you to live your life with Him at the center.  Psalm 16:11 says “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  All of the joy and satisfaction that you sense you were made to have, can only be found in God.  You benefit greatly from worshiping God.

6. Worship is not about you

Yes, I’m trying to beat a dead horse.  Because, what I know about humans is that this “horse” is never dead.  We will, with any opportunity, make worship about us.  The people of Israel did it immediately after one of the greatest expressions of God’s power through the plagues.  They made a golden calf, a god they could control and they could see.  It became about them.  If we are not careful, we will turn our daily routines that are to serve as conduits for God-worship, into the objects of our worship.  If we are not careful we will turn our worship with the church gathered, into our own therapeutic, emotional, nostalgic experiences driven to find our preferences rather than declare God’s worth.

Each of these elements enable us to more deeply understand how worship should function.

It is worth asking yourself a series of introspective questions do determine if your worship truly is God-centered.

When you say “worship was good today” after having left a Sunday service, what do you mean?
Have you ever complained about the music?

Have you ever left a church because of the style of music?
Do you prefer attending church for the proclamation of the word, but don’t enjoy responding in musical worship?
Do you find your mind wandering during the musical worship at church?
Is there an element of worship you incorporate into prayer, or do you primarily present requests to God?

The church exists for worship. You exist for worship.  We exist, scattered and gathered, to declare the ultimate worth of God.  Period.