Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Gospel Marriage Moment

30 days of encouragement for marriages started this week!

If you missed any of the the posts so far, you can find them all here.

You can also click on A Gospel Marriage Moment in the sidebar at anytime to find all recent posts. Below is an introduction to the series. I hope you find encouragement here!

Marriage is beautiful. Marriage is hard. The irony of this relationship is incredibly difficult to understand. How is it that something so pure, lovely and exciting on your wedding day can turn into something so challenging and frustrating days, months and years later? Most couples overlook or forget two fundamental truths.

One, we fail to realize our spouse is a sinner – and so are we.
Two, we fail to realize that God loves us in the midst of it all.

I have hesitated to write on such a weighty topic. Many have provided far better insight. I am not an expert in marriage, that’s not where this comes from. Rather, this comes from a place of failure. Failure to get my marriage “right.” Failure to see my own sin. Failure to admit my weaknesses. Failure to confess I’m not perfect. Failure to own my own struggles. You see, failure is probably the only thing we need to get right.

This series of brief gospel marriage moments is not meant to provide anything other than a gospel perspective on marriage and the struggles we all have. It is not a feel-good light-hearted attempt to make you feel better about the good job you’re doing in your marriage. It is an honest gospel-centered assessment based on the truth that you are a great sinner, but God is a great Savior. It is not comprehensive nor conclusive. These words cannot replace a need for prayer, counseling or intervention. It does not speak to the issue of abuse in marriages. If you and/or your children are in an abusive situation, do not stay. Seek help from a friend, pastor or law enforcement authorities in your area.

Here is the spectacular good news about your marriage. The pressure is off, for both of you. God loves you not because you always get it right, but because Jesus got it right for you. In the midst of your worry, anxiety and fear, God comes for you to free you from being shackled in that prison.

"The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.” Luke 4:18

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Apparently, My Stride Is Screwed Up

What is the one thing you absolutely want to hear when you are giving it all you got, when you are pushing it to your limit and when you feel like you have nothing left to give? How about this one?

She Has The Worst Stride Ever!

said running shoes
That is exactly what I heard last night as I ran past a group of teens standing in their driveway. Let me first say... is probably true

Yes I run. But I'm a newbie. I am reading up on running, I even have the running shoes to prove I'm a runner and I'm following a prescribed running program. However, that does not mean I have good form when I run - it more than likely stinks. I think I'm getting better as I get stronger but I have a long way to go.

As I continued running I thought, he knows nothing about me. He doesn't know I just started running. He doesn't know I'm 55 and just trying to do the best I can. He doesn't know my right knee is sore and I know I'm favoring it with each step. He doesn't know me, my story and where I've been or where I'm headed.

As I pushed through my intervals I kept thinking about that comment.

Isn't that what we do to each other? 

We see how others are running the course and we become sports commentators. "Oh no, look at that - a little slow to the finish." "Wow, just couldn't get the height he needed." "Man, a little short of the green!" "So sad, she just couldn't go the distance."

Only, instead of sporting related comments we analyze their spirituality.

"They're just not in the word as much as they should be." "Their prayer life isn't consistent." "You know, she's not in a Bible study right now." "I'm not sure he's a committed Christian." "She's walked away from the Lord." "They're just not acting in a way that's pleasing to God."

We look at another person's circumstances and quickly make conclusions based on what we see. We sum up their "walk" by connecting it to whatever it is they're going through.

We make the assumption that they are disobedient because, well, everybody knows that obedience brings blessings and if someone is having a rough time of it they must not be obeying God.

I wonder what we would have said about Jesus' "walk." Clearly, if anyone should have had a decent stride it was him. However, one quick peek into the gospels and you're bound to come away thinking, "He got it all wrong."

"His stride was the worst ever." 

Because if you really want to make a run for this King thing and be a winner in everyone's eyes, messing with religious people is probably the wrong step to take.

I mean, lounging at dinner with the super-religious small group while letting a FEMALE PROSTITUTE wash your feet. What?!? How does that translate today? I don't think I have words for the ways we would condemn his "walk."

We would certainly assume that he had not had his quiet time that day.

But more scandalous than that was the way Jesus marched toward the cross. Whoa, wait a second. What kind of stride is that, Jesus? It looks horrible from this vantage point. You're going to hurt yourself walking that way. And, it's certainly no way to win. Like when he entered Jerusalem...on a colt. Or when he ticked off the the temple peeps by damaging their property, or when he ignored the rule keepers who said his disciples had to wash their hands. He really messed with them when one of his disciples cut off a soldier's ear and he put it back on - a soldier who was trying to arrest him! What in the world was he thinking? He may have covered some ground when his disciple defended him but he totally gave away any progress when he jumped to the other side of the block with that move.

Not only did Jesus get it wrong from the perspective of the religious gurus of his day, he got it wrong from our vantage point too.

We want him to walk a little straighter, be a little more polished, a little more religious, a little less in your face and definitely a little bit more predictable. 

We want him to at least be a model for obedience, yet he pretty much went around breaking the rules not keeping them. What kind of example is that?

Jesus, you have the worst stride ever! 

Don't you know it won't get you very far? Don't you know it will hurt you?

Jesus, don't you know you're sprinting toward death?

Thankfully, what this tells me is my stride is just fine. To others it looks wobbly. It looks lopsided - and truth is, it is. But, according to Jesus I'm running well.

Because it's never been about how things look on the outside. 

That's good news. Contrary to what everyone thought, his stride was actually the only perfect stride there's ever been. 

For all the ways we get it wrong, fall down, get up and stumble again, Jesus sprinted toward death. 

For all the ways I call people out, make assumptions and feel superior for my "better than yours" stride, Jesus sprinted toward death. 

For you and for me, Jesus got it right...

...despite what everyone thought.

"For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Sam 16:7).

Thursday, August 14, 2014

One Thing I Want My 18 Year Old To Know

This is the time of year when we say goodbye to our young adult children. It is the time when we forget the "young adult" part and mostly remember the "children" part. Anxieties are high - will they get in with the right group of friends, will they study hard and get good grades? Some moms are hoping their children will at least shower, brush their teeth and do their laundry. Have you spent this final year at home with your teen rehearsing and reminding? Rehearsing all the right things to say in any given situation, and reminding them of all the do's and don'ts you've taught them over the years? 

Here is some good news.

Everything you have taught them from 0 to 18 they still know. You don't need to tell your 18 year old to make it to class on time or to get plenty of sleep. They already know that. This is good news because you can stop with all the reminders and advice. Just love them.

The one thing you want them to know and the one thing you should tell them over and over and over is this:

{source - google}
God loves them so much he sent His son to die - for them. Not because they were "getting it done" and "walking the walk." Because truthfully (I know you think their perfect) they are sinners just like you. Sinners in need of a Savior. 

Remind them of such a great love - one that condescended to them in the midst of their rebellion, their sin and their disobedience. 

For all the ways they have gotten it wrong, Jesus got it right - for them. He lived the perfect life they couldn't and wouldn't - for them. Now his perfect record is theirs. Jesus has done for them what they cannot do for themselves.

Encourage them with the spectacular news that as they go off to college, God loves them. They will make some good decisions and some bad decisions but none of that has any bearing on God's love for them. No good they do can earn more love from God and no bad they do can forfeit love from God.

One thing they need to know - God's love for them is unconditional, one way, forever and ever and ever.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Thoughts On Equipping Our Christian Children

As I sat listening to a mom lament her failures I could not keep quiet!

In those moments when we are drowning in self-condemnation we need others who will pull us out of the quicksand of lies, guilt and regret. It's not always easy for me to do that, especially when I'm dealing with regret myself. However, it is usually in those moments that I end up preaching the gospel to myself because I need to hear it again.

First, I reassured her. She is an amazing mom. Not because she is perfect, but because she loves her kids. Friends, that is enough. Your kids don't need to see perfection. They need to see weakness and dependence on Another. I've said it before but it bears repeating:

Our kids don't need to see us staying strong in the midst of chaos. They need to see us falling apart into the arms of the Strong One who redeems the chaos of our lives.

Second, I corrected her. She has not failed her kids. It is funny how we know we don't have the power to save our kids, but somehow we think we have the power to ruin them! It's just not true. 

How To Be A Good Christian (stay away from these!)
Third, I encouraged her to not be so hard on herself. We can mentally destroy ourselves when we are wrapped up in comparisons or we cave under the expectations of others, the church included. One of the things that prompted her anxious thoughts about child rearing was an article she read on equipping our youth so they don't leave the church when they go off to college. ugh. I hate those articles. Can we all just agree to stop reading the myriad of books and blogs (like this wikihow post How To Be A Good Christian Child) that tell us how to keep our Christian kids Christian after they leave home? 

What this mom needed was a fresh reminder of the gospel, not another list of child rearing tips.

Spitting Out Church Deacons

I pointed out that:

"Defining the Christian walk by church involvement is a narrow interpretation of what it means to be a Christian. The author of that article asked, “How can I spend four years with this kid, helping him become the best church deacon and sixth-grade Sunday school class teacher he can be, ten years down the road?”
We don't need to spit out church deacons and Sunday school teachers - we need to make room for the gospel to do its saving work.
If we define what a "success" is by the fact that a young person is a deacon or leader in the church, that leaves out millions upon millions of Christians who are faithfully serving in their homes, at their workplaces, in the armed forces, in hospitals, in education...etc. So, a better question is, how have we communicated the gospel in a way that impacts their hearts? How do we assure them that no matter what they do God loves them so much he died for them in the midst of their sin. Because truly, the only thing that changes hearts and lives is love - one way love. My son had the benefit of equipping. He knew how to lead a study, how to read his Bible. At 24, he is not a leader in the church. He lives on his own, fully supporting himself. He works hard and so many hours that it is difficult for him to make it to church let alone serve there. Is he a Christian? Or does the church view him as a failure because he is not a deacon or Sunday school teacher?
The author is right when he says there is no formula. I think we take our cues from Jesus. Love unconditionally - on that we don't shilly shally (in the words of Steve Brown)."

Fruit Inspecting vs. Gospel Preaching

Parents, we really can stop wringing our hands over our kids. Do we want them to know Jesus? Yes. More importantly however, is that he knows them. That he is holding on to them despite what "fruit" they bear, what their "walk" looks like, how "trained up" they've been, or "how vibrant their relationship with the Lord is."

Don't shilly shally with them. Tell them the truth that God loves them and will never forsake them. It is finished...for our kids too.

They can be done with trying to measure up and we can be done with trying to measure them. 


Now, that's good news!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dear Jesus, Do We have To Be Dead?

It is unnerving for us to come to grips with dying.

Definitely dying in the physical sense, but I'm talking about dying in the spiritual sense.

The kind of death that needs to happen so that we can be raised to newness of life. That's what the Bible refers to when it talks about the need for a kernel of wheat to fall and die in order to produce a harvest.

We say we get it, but somewhere just beneath our Christianese babbling, we wonder if it's true. Is it the only way?

Is This Any Way To Live?

Do we really have to die?

In other words, isn't it good enough that I admit wrong doing and move on? I mean, I know I was wrong and I'm sorry, but what about all the times I get it right? It's like an alcoholic saying, I know I had a drink, but what about the twelve months I have been sober?

We don't want to die. We don't want to give up. We don't want to wave the white flag. We will do anything but admit defeat and plead for help from another. C'mon, we're self-sufficient.

It's the only responsible way to live, right? I am independent, I don't need anyone...I'm strong. I am willing to give in on some things, but for the most part, I need to flex my muscles. Right? It's all about balance - you just have to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em.

But, is that any way to live? Trying to balance it all out hoping against hope that it will all wash out in the end? Hoping that tomorrow you will even the scorecard and get it all right? The problem with trying to live like that is we never get it right. Think about it, if you could have gotten your life together by now, wouldn't you have done it? If you could have ironed out all your relational troubles, your financial woes and your nasty bad habits, you would have...right?

The Vision of St. Francis - John A. Kohan
Dying Is The Life We Need

Robert Capon comments; "When you think about it, dying is simply the world's worst way of living."

He is referring to the way we grasp at living. We are in a perpetual state of grasping for, not letting go. We literally have a "death grip" on our life and settle for dying because we are too afraid to actually die. We are celebrating this paltry life that looks more like dying, when we should be celebrating death and the new life it brings. Capon continues by stating that "Only death is usable in the new creation. Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to raise the living; and he especially did not come to raise the dying, (John 11:1-16). As long as you and I are just hanging on to life, Jesus cannot do a thing for us." - The Parables of Grace

Interestingly, the cross was not about holding on and letting go. It was not about achieving equilibrium between our way and God's way.

If Jesus had his way, death on that cross would not have been part of the plan. He asked God to take it away.

We Need A Better Strategy

Our life-grasping strategies look like balance-seeking...a perfect card game of holding and folding.

Jesus' strategy looks like death. His death looked first and foremost like letting go, submitting, and trusting.

Grasping on to dying is no way to live. God's strategy to bring life out of death is the key to giving in and giving up on our sorry pursuits of living a life that looks like a balancing act. It's exhausting.

All you have to do is be dead.

Our Hope?

We will be healed by his stripes; death and not living will be the instrument of our salvation."
- Capon

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Confession of Sin, Celebration Of Grace #Messy

I am more than likely a person who, by definition, would be accused of having a skewed view of grace. As I have thought more about what the accusation really means, it has pressed me more and more into grace not more and more away from it.

If you have followed some of my recent struggles you may ask how I can continue to talk about all of this grace stuff. I answer by saying, it is precisely because of my recent struggles that I need to talk about this...about grace. Because, if grace is not what it is by definition - undeserved merit, I am in big trouble.

I am banking on the one way love of God that pursues sinners. 


If you struggle, then we are in the same spot. We need grace.

We can't consider grace just a nice thing to have. We need it.

Having a skewed view of grace is defined as celebrating failure and discounting obedience to God's moral standard. Let me first say that I wholeheartedly do not believe that someone who revels in God's grace discounts obedience to God's law. I would say it is exactly the opposite. In my experience, the one who loves grace recognizes God's high and holy Law as being perfect and good and lovely and...unattainable. Hence, their love for grace.

All my attempts to obey fail because all my attempts to obey fall short of God's holy and right standard of perfection.

Obedience on our part never meets God's standard and in that respect, it fails. Always

Who has ever loved God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength...even for one second?

I don't celebrate my failure, but I do confess it. Sin is never a cause for celebration. God hates sin and so should we. Is it possible that the confessing of failure can sometimes sound like celebrating it? I would argue that the "celebrating" of it is really just vocalizing the realty of sin and weakness. I vocalize my weakness and "celebrate" my inability to keep the Law which leads me to confess the Lawkeeper.

My confession of imperfection is a confession of Perfection.

Jesus calls people to a deeper level of obedience. No more white washed tombs. Instead of looking perfect on just the outside, He calls us to actually be perfect...inside and out. And, sometimes we do obey. 

However, a some of the time obedience is not what the cross was all about. 

A some of the time perfection is not what Jesus referred to when he called his followers to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself”, (Luke 10:27).

God's redeeming work is evidenced by true heart transformation. My desires are different. I begin to love the things God loves and hate the things God hates. But nowhere in the Bible do we see that having a right desire guarantees a right obedience. Some would say that grace leads to a willy-nilly disregard for God's moral standards. I don't believe professing Christians are actually desiring to live any old way with no regard for God's standards. I trust that believers actually want to do God's will. The problem is the actual doing of God's will according to his standard...perfection. It is not possible this side of heaven. That is why the gospel is such good news. In our efforts to love God, realizing that we fall short, we fall on the gracious and merciful love of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ who died for our sins.

The problem is not in thinking we can never obey. 

The problem comes in when we think our some of the time obedience is enough.

At the root of the problem stands not the Law. The root of the problem is and always has been our hearts, "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Although it's true that the gospel is at work in our hearts transforming us from the inside out, we remain sinners until the day Jesus comes back or we go to be with him in glory. It is what we see in the Bible; example after example of people who longed to do the right thing and failed. "People may be pure in their own eyes, but the LORD examines their motives", (Prov 16:2).

Which brings up a good question. Why does God exhort us toward obedience? Is it all a big joke? He calls us to be holy yet we can't be holy. What is going on? Some would say the exhortation towards obedience is to teach us that we can obey, thus giving us hope. It sounds good. However, at some point it breaks down. Is God's desire for us to put hope in our ability to obey? 

Or, is God's desire for us to give up hope in our own obedience so that we might seek the One who perfectly obeyed on our behalf? 

Ultimately, we put our hope in Jesus, not our own obedience.

Any celebrating going on in the life of a Christian is the pure and simple reveling in the finished work of the cross which reminds me I'm not able, but there is One who is.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 
2 Cor 12:9

Friday, July 25, 2014

She Just Showed Up And Played

I was talking with a friend yesterday - she was eagerly recounting to me the details of her escapades from the night before. Don't worry, this is G rated :)

She golfs. She loves it! And she is really good.

Tuesdays are tournament days for her. She heads up a league and is responsible for all the details each week. It is a busy, tiring, but fun day for her.

Tuesdays can end up being an even longer day because she also substitutes for another league in town. She plays when needed, and they needed her last night. Happy to do it, she headed over. Well, kind of happy. She was actually hoping for rain as she drove up. Even though we've had rain literally every night for the past month, this night proved to be the exception.

She relaxed and realized she was enjoying the evening as the game progressed.

She played well. 

So well that she won the tournament - to her delight! Not only did she win the tournament, she won a carry over prize from the week before!

Yes, it was a good evening. As they walked into the clubhouse and grabbed a drink, the club president was making some announcements - my friend tuned in long enough to hear her name!

Another surprise - she had won the drawing that week!

I couldn't help but smile as I thought about the people who faithfully play in that league week after week. Can you hear the whispers? 

"Umph!", "She is not even part of our league!", "Did she have to win everything?!?"

This all but explains grace. In our small minded thinking about God and how he operates, we're always determined to do something to earn it. Even if we "get" grace and have been around the gospel, it's hard to get away from the whole quid pro quo arrangement with God. Don't we have to do something? Aren't there any prerequisites?

What my friend experienced is a tiny sliver of what God's grace looks like. She was there and she played.

I think that's what God wants. Be present and play. It's the good news of the gospel. 

God is not waiting for us to earn prizes.

He gives them.

Eph 2:8

Now, go play!