Daily from 02/24/2017 to 02/26/2017
The Global Impact Conference is a time when we, as a church, focus on Christ's Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations. Our partners from near and far will share ...
For the past few weeks I have been teaching through a series in the High School Ministry class on Sunday mornings called “The Gospel of Movies.” Basically what we do each week is look at a clip from a movie and discuss how it confirms or denies what we know about the gospel. We will then look at a passage of Scripture and compare the two. I have personally enjoyed this series because I really like movies, but I’ve also enjoyed teaching through this series because it helps to remind me how “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). You see, I believe that every story (and by story I mean every book, movie, poem, and play) contains echoes and indications of the true, ultimate, and greatest story of the gospel. Sometimes it happens with intention through people like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who use fiction and fantasy to articulate the message of redemption, but a lot of times we can read the book of a secular author or watch the movie of a director outside of the faith that portrays unconditional love so well or a character’s willingness to sacrifice themselves for the life of another in such a way that we have think: “There it is. That is the gospel.” But it’s not just stories that have the ability to point us to the gospel. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Creation itself speaks out to proclaim the reality of the Lord which means that every sunrise and every sunset and every tree or flower or body of water that makes us stop and say “Wow, that is beautiful and amazing” is the world’s way of praising God.
I recently read a book that talked a lot about this. It was called Awe and the author, Paul David Tripp, talked about the way we as human beings see and experience the world and want nothing more than to be awed. And it’s true. We like being awed and amazed. We want to see cool, funny, awesome, emotion-stirring things. That’s why any time I see a video on YouTube that I really like, I send it out to about 5-10 people. We share these things with people because we want them to share in the awe we’ve experienced. Same goes for a movie or TV show or a restaurant. If we liked it, we want to tell others so they can witness and participate in the same things we did. Similarly, if we did not enjoy something we will be quick to communicate that as well. Don’t watch this movie. Don’t eat at that place. It is not awesome. It is awful. We pursue things that instill awe and we run from things that lack it. Awe has a lot of great stuff on this subject, but here are three of my favorite points:
Tripp says “[People] get up every morning, and without ever being aware of it, they search constantly for awe. They have dissatisfaction in their souls, an emptiness they long to fill, and they are attracted to awesome things. That’s why they go to great museums, stadium concerts, expensive restaurants, and playoff games.”1 Recently, the Clemson Tigers defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide in an exciting National Championship game. I had a friend get half a dozen tickets for about $700 each a few days before the game. On January 11th (the day of the actual game) he had people willing to pay him $1500 per ticket. But he didn’t sell them. He loves Clemson and wanted to be physically present to experience the event. He wanted the potential awe that accompanied the game.
This could be a relationship with a special someone, playing a sport, working towards a goal (like going to a good college) or getting a high-paying job. A good way to figure out where you look for awe is to finish the sentence… “If I just had this_______________ I would be completely happy and my life would be perfect.” On February 5th Tom Brady appeared in his 7th Super Bowl. He is without question one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Personally, he’s at the top of my list. But a few years ago Tom Brady was being interviewed on 60 Minutes and said this: “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings, and still think there's something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, "Hey man, this is what is." I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think: God, it's gotta be more than this. I mean this can't be what it's all cracked up to be. I mean I've done it. I'm 27. And what else is there for me?” The interviewer followed up by asking Brady what he thought the answer was. Brady’s response was simply “I wish I knew.” C.S. Lewis has a great answer. He said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
The two houses I lived in while growing up both had the good fortune to be in cul-de-sacs. I say this was a good thing because it meant I could play outside in the “road” without my parents worrying about cars or anything else potentially hitting us. The cul-de-sac was a dead end. It didn’t lead anywhere. A lot of times that is how we treat awe-inspiring people and things. We delight in the thing or the person or the event without going any further. Instead, these created things are meant to lead us to be in awe of the One who created them. They are supposed to be avenues, not cul-de-sacs. Tripp aptly states, “As it is true of a street sign, so it is true of every jaw-dropping, knee-weakening, silence-producing, wonder-inspiring thing in the universe. The sign is not the thing you are looking for. No, the sign points you to what you are looking for. So you can’t stop at the sign, for it will never deliver what the thing it is pointing to will deliver.”2
My hope in talking about Awe and avenues is to encourage you and strengthen you in your faith. God is infinite, eternal, and unchanging and He created the heavens and the earth and He is bigger and grander and more delightful than we can ever imagine. But, He desires a relationship with each of you. He cares for you on an individual person basis and wants to know you and for you to know Him. And the way the divide between us as sinful, finite, creatures and Him as loving and just and infinite Creator is reconciled, is through the perfect life and sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. God has revealed Himself to us through His Word and His world. I believe that to grow in your relationship with God you have to be in the Word. It is our primary and best way of, as 2 Peter 3:18 describes, “…growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ.” But I also believe we have the opportunity to experience and witness the goodness and majesty of God every day through the world that He has made. So follow the avenues, experience the awe, and take great delight in the One who is before all things and in whom all things hold together.
1Paul David Tripp, Awe (16)
2Paul David Tripp, Awe (21)
I was looking at my retirement account the other night and wondering how to get the greatest return in 2017. I was thinking…“Hmmm. The stock market is at an all-time high. Interest rates are projected to go up. Gold is down and oil is going up. And Trump is shaking things up. So what should I do?” I will admit right now that I didn’t have a clue and I was not even sure who to listen to.
But it did cause me to reflect on the investment advice Jesus gives in Luke 16. (And you can count on his guidance being 100% on the mark!)
In this parable, Jesus tells of a manager who was about to be fired. Worried that he would not be able to provide for himself, the dishonest manager ingratiates himself to those who are indebted to his master so they’ll take care of him when he loses his job. Jesus then tells his disciples what they are to learn from his parable.
“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings…. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?”
(Luke 16:9, 11-12)
Here is my paraphrase. Use worldly wealth to make friends who will greet you when you enter heaven. If you are not faithful in the use of your money, don’t expect heavenly rewards. After all, your money is not really yours. It belongs to God. And if you don’t use his money for his purposes, what makes you think he will reward you?
For years I just paid lip service to these verses. And that’s because I did not truly grasp this foundational truth.
Despite being familiar with these truths for many years, I must admit to failing miserably at living them out. Being more concerned about accumulating wealth than honoring God, I was quick to keep and reluctant to give. Naturally, I earned a well-deserved reputation for being cheap.
But in 2012, Congress passed a law that was going to dramatically increase the cost of flood insurance on our Isle of Palms home. To escape this impact, Ceil and I decided to elevate our house by about eight feet. In making this decision, I had to fight a battle in my heart and mind about spending a lot of money. During this struggle, God impressed this truth on me: My house is not mine and my money is not mine. It belongs to God. So quit worrying about God’s stuff. He will do what’s best with his resources.
This was a truly liberating moment. It freed me from anxiousness over “my stuff” and worrying about tomorrow. For instance, now when I am faced with an unexpected expense like a car repair, I just say to myself, “If this is how God wants to use his money, then so be it.”
Having our grip on money loosened by understanding who it really belongs to allows us to begin living out this next truth.
Most people want to please their boss. When I was in the Navy, I was entrusted with significant resources. And my commanding officer made it very clear that I was to use those resources to accomplish the Navy’s mission. And, if I did it well, I would be rewarded.
Likewise, God gives us his resources which we, his managers, are to invest wisely. This parable teaches that wise and faithful investing of God’s money will yield a specific return: people greeting us when we arrive in heaven. This should not be a surprise to us, for God sent his Son “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). And God has left us on earth to help other people get to heaven, to make disciples of all nations for his glory, honor and praise. Knowing this, it only makes sense that we should use our resources towards that end.
So, the question we should ask ourselves is, “Am I at least as concerned with growing my eternal reward as I am with my growing my bank account?” What is the focus of my investing? Is it primarily focused on increasing my pleasure and security or is it on extending the kingdom of God? As Randy Alcorn says in his book, The Treasure Principle, “You can’t take it with you but you can send it on ahead.”
You love your husband. That is why you married him. However, you have come to realize that you are unequally yoked. Regardless of how you find yourself in this place, at some point, the load can become rather heavy to bear.
One of two things will happen when you are unequally yoked. Either you will be drawn away from the Lord and His people and begin to drift spiritually, or you will live with a constant tension between all that you hold most dear and the man you hold most dear. If you are reading this, I am assuming that you are in the latter place. Where do you go from here?
This is a spiritual battle, fought in the spiritual realm. We must put on the full armor of God Eph 6:9 and stay in prayer every day. Do not give up! Even if you have been praying for years, do not grow weary of doing good! Gal 6:9 Your prayers are effecting things in the heavenly realm in God’s perfect time. Nothing will happen of your own power. Ask your husband how you can pray for him. If he is willing, ask him to pray for specific requests for you.
You must continue to abide in the vine. Your strength is in the Lord alone. Even if you are married to a believer, your strength must never come from your spouse. It must always be rooted in Christ. Look to the cross. Stay in the Word. Continue to do all those things that you would do if you were married to a believing spouse! Enjoy your quiet time! Talk about the Lord and all you are learning about Him. Go to worship, Bible study, community group, prayer and other fellowship opportunities with the saints. Continue to grow and learn.
Obviously, you want to nurture your relationship. You are still called to respect your husband as the leader of your home. Be careful not to overstep in the area of leadership. Your husband cannot lead if you do not let him. You must encourage him in this role. Thank him for the good things he does as a leader. Let him see you appreciate him. You might ask him to say the blessing before meals if he is willing. Affirm him in this.
1 Peter 3:1-2 reminds us: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” Don’t focus on the things you wish were true of your husband, but rather on the good things about him and the reasons that you fell in love in the first place.
Think back to what drew you to Jesus. It was His love and grace, right? His kindness draws us to repentance. Romans 2:4 Not only that, but think again about the believers you knew before you were a believer. Remember seeing their joy and peace? Do you remember wondering what made them tick and wanting that for yourself? Be salt and light in your own home. Right now, your husband is your first mission field!
If your husband is resistant to going to church on Sunday (or for other activities,) don’t argue with him about this. Gently and kindly let him know this is important to you and that you will need to go to church on Sunday. Do not neglect him or other home responsibilities in favor of church instead. When you get home, be especially kind to him and do not show any resentment that he was not there. Remember “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Eph 6:12
If your husband is taking part in sinful activities, I encourage you to do four things:
Such a situation can be complex and painful, so don’t try to face it without the Body to walk with you.
Remember that you are not the Holy Spirit and that salvation belongs to our God. Rev 7:10 Trust that He knows what He is doing. While individual situations can be complex and may require some counsel, remember what your role is: pray, model Christ, love your husband well, share what God is doing in your life and heart, and live out your faith with joy. As John Piper is known to say, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.” Love for the Lord is contagious! In short, pray that the Lord will make you the sweet aroma of Christ in your home. That is your role. It is up to God to make Himself known and to draw your husband to Himself. You can be sure that God loves him even more than you do.
One of my favorite passages of scripture is Hebrews 11:6. It says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” This verse has been a powerful word for me in seasons of doubt and unbelief. Our Father knows faith isn’t always easy and graciously reminds us of what happens when we earnestly seek him; he rewards us. It’s important for us to see here that the scripture isn’t just reminding us about the treat we will get if we believe in and seek God; instead, it is revealing to us something about God’s character. God is a rewarder.
Have you ever wondered why God placed a tree in the garden that Adam and Eve couldn’t eat from. I have. On the surface, it seems so arbitrary to give them a choice to obey or disobey such a simple command. Couldn’t they just live blissfully in God’s presence for all eternity? But that understanding misses the point entirely. If God is by nature a rewarder, then it was necessary for Adam and Eve to be given a choice to obey or disobey. You see this theme over and over again in the Old Testament between God and Israel. The whole narrative of Israel is based on blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Even though Israel ultimately failed to live out God’s commands, like Adam and Eve, you can see the heart of the Father was a desire to bless and bless abundantly: to make them a great nation, give them a land rich with beauty and natural resources, and establish in them an everlasting kingdom. One of the most well-known verses in all of scripture says it outright, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” That is the Father’s heart. God always wanted to bless his people, even if they couldn’t walk in the necessary obedience to receive his blessing. But God would do something about this as well.
So what is this reward and why am I writing about it leading up to a conference dealing with sexuality and identity? I’ll answer the second half of that question first. I’m writing about the rewarding nature of God because I think it is important for us to see that the purpose of walking in obedience isn’t to see how hard we can try and how painful it can get without us giving in to temptation. I’m not someone that struggles or has struggled with same-sex attraction or gender confusion, but I do know that obedience to Christ is costly and painful if you are someone who does. But obedience isn’t meant to be some kind of self-destroying, endurance sport. It’s actually meant to be pleasure-seeking. If God didn’t want us to see obedience in terms of reward, he would have never mentioned the idea. But the opposite is true: he does wants us to see obedience in terms of reward.
But mostly importantly, what is this reward? I believe the reward is two-fold. First, the reward of obedience is complete fulfillment. You see, God made us. He knows us. He knows what we are made for. He knows how we can thrive, and he knows what will destroy us. If we walk in obedience, we will be living the exact way we were created to live. For example, Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount not to worry. Why? Because worry is bad? Well yes. It doubts God’s goodness. But he tells us not to worry mainly because we weren’t made for it! God didn’t make us with the capacity to worry. He made us with the capacity to trust him. The same logic applies with our sexuality and gender identity. If we want to be living a life of complete fulfillment, we have to be walking in obedience earnestly seeking the Lord.
Finally, we get to my main point. The ultimate reward of obedience is God. This is what I realized in my own seasons of doubt and unbelief. If we believe he exists and earnestly seek him, he will reward us with his presence. This was the reward for Adam and Eve in the garden. When they sinned, they were sent out from the presence of God. The reward has always been his presence. What I am not saying is if you are a Christian and you sin, God will remove his presence from you. We have the Holy Spirit and are part of the new covenant in Jesus' blood. But I do strongly believe that in our sin, we miss out on fully experiencing God’s manifest presence in our lives. Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Who wouldn’t want that?
My hope for you in writing this post is not that you would be burdened by the need to do more and try harder. That is the opposite of our gospel. We live knowing that Jesus has done it all on our behalf. He was obedient where Adam, Israel, and we were not. I’m writing this post because I want you to remember your reward. We’re not a people that keep a bunch of rules, so we can feel good about ourselves or use them to judge others. We are a people that have a heart for God and have been transformed by his Spirit to desire him above all things. There is no greater reward than the presence of God in your life. That’s what heaven is about: being in his presence and worshipping him. So be encouraged. Fight the good fight. Finish the race. He’s an inexhaustible resource of goodness for you and is ready to give you a greater measure of himself right now.
Some sins, sufferings, and inclinations to evil just don’t go away, do they? I have found that some of the most discouraging and difficult moments of my life are when I am dealing with something I thought was put to death months ago. Anxiety again, sleeplessness again, youthful arrogance and hardheadedness again, coldness towards my wife again—how come I’m not over these things yet? Sometimes I wonder, “Will I always be like this? Is there hope for me?”
We all need hope for present power and future deliverance from sin, that one day we really will be done with sin; we’ll not just be forgiven but fully and finally healed. And one of the biggest struggles for people dealing with sexual brokenness, unfulfilled sexual desires, and temptations is this: Can this part of me really be changed, and if not, is there any hope for me to live as a Christian?
The great news is that there is hope for all of us—first, to be delivered from the clutches of sin’s power by the Holy Spirit, and then to be delivered fully and finally from sin and to the fulfillment of all our desires in heaven.
Our first hope is the power of the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin, radically change human nature, and progressively overcome sin in the lives of God’s people. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). The word “convict” in this sense means to convince someone their ways are wrong, to rebuke them with the effect that they are convinced and change their ways. So Jesus is saying that the Spirit has the power to take someone who has embraced a life of sin and rebellion against God, who, as Jesus said, even hates him, and convict them in their hearts that their ways are wrong to the point of change.
How does the Holy Spirit do this? He gives God’s people a new nature. He causes them to be born again into a living hope. He gives them a new spiritual nature that responds to God’s Word, embraces God’s goodness in Christ, and has a newfound love for the person of Jesus Christ. This new nature is imparted sovereignly by God’s Spirit and causes people to trust Christ for salvation and turn away from their lives of sin. They have their hearts of stone (hardened against God and his ways) turned into hearts of flesh (softened and receptive to God and his ways).
This new nature does not all at once overcome all sin in the life of a believer but it progressively overcomes sin from the day of new birth until the day of glory with Christ. The Holy Spirit was purchased by Jesus on the cross for his people’s victory over sin. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus’ death didn’t just purchase us forgiveness from sin, but power over sin and power to day-by-day die to it.
It does not matter how entrenched someone’s life is in sin. It doesn’t matter how strong their inclinations towards sin are or, particularly relevant to sexual brokenness, even whether these inclinations have been natural and right-seeming to them from the day of birth. God’s Spirit is able to convict, to give new life, and to give a new nature that responds to God’s Word with humility, brokenness, and repentance. Anyone who comes to Jesus can be enabled to die to their sin and to themselves.
Do you know someone who has embraced the LGBT lifestyle or any lifestyle that the Bible would say is sexually immoral? Are you discouraged by the overall sexual brokenness in American culture? No one is beyond the reach of God’s Spirit. Pray for the Spirit to convict them concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. Pray for the Spirit to give them a new nature, to cause them to be born again. But don’t just pray for these things, share these truths with them. Many people are convinced that they are just the way they are, that there’s no possibility for change. Share God’s ability to change people with them.
If you really need to be convinced of God’s power to radically change human nature, listen to this 20-minute podcast about the radical change God brought into Rosaria Butterfield’s life. She was a former lesbian and tenured professor of queer theory at Syracuse University when God saved her through study of the Bible and a relationship with a Christian pastor and his family. She is now happily married to a reformed pastor and is a mother, speaker, and author.
However, not everyone will have Butterfield’s story. There will be some who follow Jesus out of the LGBT lifestyle or any sexual brokenness into a life of unfulfilled sexual desires. The Spirit’s work in the life of a believer provides power over sin’s stranglehold and power to repent out of a lifestyle of sin, but it does not necessarily mean the taking away of all of one’s desires or inclinations toward sin. No passage says that the Spirit’s work in our lives means the end of temptations, the end of sinful desires, or the fulfillment of all our sexual desires. In fact, the Bible warns believers to beware of the sinful desires that wage war against their souls (1 Peter 2:11). In other words, not everyone who follows Jesus out of sexual sin will end up biblically and healthily married or even be freed from sexual desires or inclinations that the Bible calls sinful. Many may follow Jesus into a life of singleness, frequent and powerful temptation, loneliness, and unfulfilled desires.
So where’s the hope? Is the call of Jesus to the sexually broken one of costly repentance but little hope? No—Jesus calls his people into eternal and abundant life in Him and in heaven. Though our culture has obsessively focused on the fulfillment of sexual and romantic desires as the only way to be happy (in the church this can play out with the obsession to get married), the Bible tells us that true happiness and life is found in the presence of Jesus today and then ultimately in the presence of Jesus forever.
Additionally, the biblical worldview is radically heaven-centered. Though there are blessings and gifts in this life in the Lord, the Bible tells us we must die to our desire to find happiness in this life today if we will find it forever (Mark 8:34-38). Though joy in the Lord is possible and commanded today, believers are called again and again to set their hope for life not on today, but on the day when they will see the Lord face to face in heaven.
First, heaven will be a place of complete healing. Believers will be given new resurrection bodies, finally freed from all sin and all the effects of sin. They will be glorified, fully and forever unable to sin, and freed from all of its inclinations, confusion, and temptation. It will be a place where none of us will ever want something we cannot have, where none of us are tempted to despair for loneliness, where we are forever free from sin and sadness and any kind of brokenness.
Second, in heaven God will satisfy all of his people’s desires with good. “At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) In terms of sexual/relational/romantic desire: Jesus said there will be no marriage (and therefore no sex!) in heaven (Matthew 22:30). This must mean that heaven is a place where all of the desires beneath our sexual desires—the desire for rapture in another, the desire for physical pleasure, the desire to be deeply known, loved, and affirmed, the desire to have both union and pleasure at once—all of those desires will be so immensely fulfilled that marriage and sex will no longer be necessary! As uncomfortable as it may sound to say today, we will one day see that sex on earth has always been intended to point us to the joy, rapture, union, and pleasure of heaven.
So there is a great hope for all of us and for anyone struggling with sexual brokenness, fallout from a previously immoral lifestyle, or the prospect of looking ahead into a single and lonely future. And that hope is the power of God’s Spirit to change us and for heaven to ultimately heal us and satisfy all of our desires with good.
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