Gospel

Two Reasons We Drift from Community

We have a conflicted relationship with relationships. We lament our lack of community and express a desire to be known, feeling deep pain when we notice its absence, yet our genuine desire for community is unknowingly undermined by our own habits. We drift away from community. We see it. We want it. Yet we drift away from it like an unanchored boat drifting from shore, pulled by the winds and waves of selfishness and shame.

In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve to be in community. God saw Adam's lack of human relationships and said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him (Gen 2:18)." When Adam saw Eve, he sang, declaring the goodness of the companion God made for him. God, existing in perfect relationship within the Trinity, created man to know and be known by another human. We were made for relationship.

In the fall, our relationships were broken. Our relationship with God and our relationship with others. Adam and Eve saw their nakedness and covered themselves with fig leaves. When they heard God walking in the garden, they hid from His presence. We were created for relationship, but because of the fall, we drift from community.

If we want genuine community, it will not happen without initiative and intentionality. We do not drift toward relationship with others, but away from relationship with others and toward isolation. We see it in Adam and Eve's response to the fall, and we see it in our own lives. If we want to fight the drift, we must know why we drift. Here are two reasons:

Selfishness

The selfishness of Adam and Eve is displayed in their first sin and also their response. They selfishly disobeyed the commandment of their loving creator. They pleased themselves and questioned the truth of God. In response, they selfishly passed the blame and took no responsibility.

Selfishness continues to undermine our relationships today. First, we sabotage community when we are selfish with our time and with our lives. Real relationships require us to seek the good of the other. Genuine community requires we consider their needs above our own. We undermine relationships when we fail to adjust our schedules to make it happen. Selfishly, we don't want community if it imposes on our lives. We only want relationships if they fit conveniently into our busy schedule.

Selfishness also causes us to drift from community because we put unfair expectations on relationships. We impose our own needs, desires and ideals on the relationship we want, and fail to see that we have made it all about us. We fail to see that it isn't real community. When we want relationships to fulfill our own needs, without a desire to meet the needs of others, we sabotage community. We drift away because unmet expectations lead us to question whether we want those relationships at all - and we end up blaming the other person, when it was us that created the problems all along.

If you want community, you must fight the selfishness that will make you want it on your own terms. You must fight the selfishness that will only take community if it is convenient. It isn't always convenient. And it won't always go as planned.

Shame

In response to their first sin, shame also led to a breakdown in the relationship between Adam and Eve. They saw their nakedness and felt a need to cover up with fig leaves. They heard God in the garden and felt a need to hide. Shame makes us want to hide. Shame makes us feel unworthy. Shame leads us to drift from community because it makes us afraid someone will see our sin.

Christian community is meant to be a safe place for us to confess sin and be reminded of the gospel. Of all people, our fellow Christians should know what it means to be forgiven, and God calls us to offer forgiveness to others. When we feel shame, that is precisely when we need community the most. When we feel unable to speak the gospel to ourselves, it is then that we need our fellow Christian to speak it to us. The words of our brother or sister remind our weary hearts of the truth of God's word. The words of our fellow Christian are a potent potion for the wound in our heart.

We drift from community because of shame. In our shame, we fear what others might say when we are "found out." If we want genuine community, we must fight our fear and walk in the light with our fellow believers. And we must affirm one another in the gospel, so we know where to find fresh water when our soul is parched. In your shame, if you find yourself drifting from community, do whatever you can to fight your way back.

There is a Person Behind that Question

When we are open with those around us about our love for Jesus, we are bound to end up in conversations about faith. At times we might be responding to antagonistic barbs, other times it might be someone who is genuinely interested or we might find ourselves explaining our commitment to someone who is skeptical about Jesus. Whether the conversation excites us or scares us, whether it is with someone who is impolite or gracious, we need to recognize there is more to their questions than simply the words.

It can be easy to get into a debate, utilizing all the apologetic arguments we have accumulated over the years and forget there is a person behind the question. It's like continually treating the symptoms of recurring stomach pain, but never taking the time to figure out the root cause. When we are only focused on winning the argument, we only treat the symptom. In order to deal with the root, we must get to know the person behind the question. Jesus did not come to simply win apologetic arguments, he came to love and save people - real, living and breathing people.

Answer the question

I am not suggesting you do not need to answer their questions, though. It is not enough to only answer the question but we do still need to give an answer. The first step to answering their question is to make sure you have understood what they are asking. Have you actually listened to their objection? Or do you assume you know what they meant and launch into your reply? Take the time to clarify what they are asking through the use of reflective listening skills, repeating their question back to them, ensuring you have a clear understanding so you can respond to their actual question.

Then provide a coherent and thoughtful answer. There are a ton of great resources out there to help answer objections to faith. I have really enjoyed Timothy Keller's book, The Reason for God, which is a very helpful read. He has also written a newer book that serves as a prequel of sorts to his first book. I have not read the newest book, Making Sense of God, but I have seen some great reviews. Keller's books are only a couple examples and there are more great ways you can learn how to provide quality answers to their questions.

In the end, don't make something up. If you don't know the answer, then admit you don't know, and then do the hard work to find an answer and follow-up later.

Answer the person

As you engage in the conversation, don't forget there is a person behind the question. You are not simply answering an intellectual appeal, you are answering a person. Every question has a context because every person has a context. No question is asked in a vacuum. Each person brings with them different experiences, fears, hopes, dreams, doubts, hurts and more. We must remember that when we are answering a question, we are actually answering a person.

It is not uncommon that the question they asked is not the true question they want to be answered. Their question is like stomach pain, it is felt and it is surfacy, but it is only a symptom. There is a deeper root that is holding them back from following Jesus. Take the time to ask them some questions and drill down into what are their true objections. These are often deeply personal and unknown to the person asking the question, so be gentle and kind. The goal is not to expose them, it is to introduce them to your savior.

As you begin to answer the person and not only the question, you can find ways to show them how Jesus is the true answer to their deepest pain and fear. Consider how you can provide a Christocentric answer that captures their heart and not a stale answer that, while true, is not beautiful in the least. It can be easy to win an argument even while failing to help them see how the gospel answers their deepest needs. You can give a true answer that actually clouds the gospel rather than illuminates. This can happen when we answer a question, but forget that there is a person behind the question.

Jesus must be our Rescuer before he is our Teacher

An accurate view of Jesus?

If you were to ask people how they feel about Jesus, you would get a wide array of answers. I have not done an official study, but my impression is that the overall response would be positive. And if people did not all respond positively, I still think the majority would at least be neutral, with the minority of people having a negative impression of Jesus. It is remarkable that people have maintained such a favorable view of Jesus while the overall impression of Christianity in our culture has become less positive.

Another question is whether those same people have an accurate view of the Jesus we read about in the Scriptures. One of the reasons Jesus has maintained such a positive view, at least in part, is because people like to mold Jesus into whatever form best suites their desires. To some, Jesus is a great teacher or philosopher. To others, Jesus is a social liberator and change agent. And still others, Jesus is our homeboy. But is this the Jesus of the Scriptures? Is this the Jesus that changed the world?

Jesus is certainly a great teacher. The sermon on the mount is one of the single greatest teaching moments in the history of the world.

Jesus is also a social change agent. The Kingdom of God is permeating this world and God's people are called to fight injustice and seek to liberate the oppressed.

Jesus is also our homeboy. He is personal and he is a friend.

But... none of these is the primary characteristic the Bible uses to talk about Jesus. Before any of these other descriptors, Jesus is our rescuer. He is our savior.

The Bible points to Jesus as our Rescuer

When we read Paul's letter to the Colossians, Jesus is described as the one through whom "all things were created (Col 1:16)." He is "before all things, and in him all things hold together (1:17)." He is the head of the church (1:18) and firstborn from the dead (1:18). Through Jesus, all things are reconciled to God and through his blood he has made peace with all things (1:20). We were once "alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (1:21)," and Jesus has reconciled us to God. He has rescued us from our former life. In the lengthy description of Jesus from Colossians One, Jesus is not described as a teacher, social liberator or friend. He is described as God and Savior.

In Galatians, as Paul is giving his introductory words, he describes Jesus as the one who "gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen (Gal 1:4-5)." Paul did not describe Jesus as a teacher, although he was certainly a teacher. Paul did not describe Jesus as a social change agent, although he was that too. Paul described Jesus as a rescuer. Paul described Jesus as a savior.

There are four gospels in the New Testament that recount the life of Jesus. No single gospel tells the complete story of Jesus' life and even when we combine all four gospels, we still do not have enough material to cover the entirety of Jesus' life. The Gospel authors, under the guidance and inspiration of God's Spirit had to pick and choose what material they would include. As the gospels retell the life of Jesus, each one slows down dramatically for the last week of his life and devote far more time to describing these final events. On average, each of the four gospels commits about 40% of its material to the final week of Jesus' life. This points to the importance of those final moments leading up to Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. The cross points to Jesus as rescuer, because it was his death and resurrection that secures our salvation.

The Bible describes Jesus in many ways, but chief among them is Jesus as rescuer and savior.

A swimming manual is no help to a drowning man

If I were drowning in the middle of the ocean, gasping for air and seeing the light of day begin to fade, I would be desperate for someone to save me. As I was assaulted by the waves, sunlight only visible from beneath the water, my condition would be utterly desperate. In the event that I saw a boat approaching, I would muster all the energy I could in order to get my voice above the water and scream, "Help! Help! Over here!" If that boat were to hear me or see me and begin to turn in my direction, what relief it would bring. As it approached, I would be waiting anxiously for the life preserver to be thrown in my direction. In those moments, would I be well served to have someone throw me a manual on how to swim instead of the life preserver? Would expert coaching on how to properly execute a front crawl help me? Absolutely not. What I would need most is for someone to throw me a rope and pull me to safety.

That is our condition. We "were dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked... But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:1; 4-5)."

Before Jesus rescued us we were dead. We were hopeless in our sin and Jesus has brought us life. Jesus is our rescuer and savior. Before we need Jesus as a teacher, social liberator or friend, we need him to rescue us. And the good news of the gospel is that is exactly what he does.

Back to me as a drowning man. If I were tossed a life preserver and dragged onto the boat, I would be filled with deep emotions of gratitude, relief and the hope of a second chance. If my wife were standing on that boat, I would hug her with a passionate embrace. When we got to dry land, I may even kiss the ground. I was sure as dead out in that ocean, but I had been saved.

We sometimes live as though following Jesus is like being thrown a swimming manual. Once we have read it and received proper instruction, we can swim our way to shore and essentially save ourselves. This is simply not the picture the Scriptures paint. In fact, an even more appropriate analogy would not be of a person on top of the water screaming for help, but of someone who is dead at the bottom of the ocean. Jesus reaches through the depths of the sea and revives our dead hearts. He gives us new life.

This reality brings pure joy to the revived soul. It may even cause us to weep at the thought of the life we have been given. Even now, take a moment to worship God because of the new life he brings through Jesus and may it overflow into every crevice of your new life.

How do we Measure a Day's Success?

When we get to the end of our days, we can be prone to question whether it was a "successful" day or not. We may end our day, with a pile of laundry in one corner or a sink full of dishes in the next room, and tell ourselves that it is "good enough." Or maybe an email remains unsent, a phone call not returned or a bill unpaid. The repetition of ending our days and telling ourselves, "it's good enough" can begin to weigh on us. We can begin to feel like failures and question our ability to function adequately in our roles.

My wife and I have been in that stage perpetually over the last few months. We had the privilege of welcoming our third child into the world the end of last December and it has been a joy to see him and our family grow. But the addition of our newest son has meant living with three children under the age of four, and many nights we go to bed with tasks undone. Many nights, we go to bed and have to say "it's good enough."

But as we have reflected on this stage, it has become clear that we need to re-frame the way we measure a day's success. It is not measured in the tasks we complete, or the ones left undone, it is measured in a different way.

The problem with "it's good enough"

One of the reasons we have found our former measurement inadequate is because ending the day consoling ourselves for incomplete tasks with the phrase "it's good enough," does an injustice to the good things God has done though us that day. It creates a false sense that a good day is one in which all the mess is cleaned up at the end and the task list is filled with check-marks.

This is not to say that laziness and apathy in our responsibilities is what God wants. I love to be productive. I read productivity blogs, I use a modified form of David Allen's "Getting Things Done" system and I try to find the best tools to help. I am not saying that working hard, in the right direction, is somehow a bad thing.

What I am saying is that our task lists and daily measurements have a habit of undermining our understanding of what it means to be truly productive in our days. Tim Challies has a great definition of productivity:  "effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God." I like to think of it as exhausting ourselves in the service of God and others. When we have spent our days and used our energy to bring Glory to God and good to others, then it is a day well spent.

When we have spent our day bringing Glory to God and good to others, then it is a day well spent.

A new measurement

Saying "it's good enough" only focuses on what was not complete, and neglects to consider and celebrate what did happen in our days. Exhausting ourselves in the service of others and the glory of God means that we have spent our days changing diapers, folding clothes, counseling friends, doing good and honest work, giving up our preferences for others and investing ourselves into the fabric of our community. If we get to the end of our day, and there is work to be completed, but we can say with confidence that we have worked hard for God and others, then we can rest easy.

And if we get to the end of our day, and it has been a mess of a day, we must always remember that our identity is not in what we did or did not do, it is in Christ. We remain blood-bought children of the King, whether we used our day well or abdicated our responsibilities. God still loves us, and he wants us to rest easy, knowing that we remain in grace. But he calls us to try again tomorrow, to exhaust ourselves for God and others tomorrow.

The example of Christ

When we begin to examine the life of Jesus, we see that he completed all that His father gave him to do. At the end of Jesus' earthly ministry, in what has become known as the High Priestly Prayer, he says to the Father, "I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do (John 17:4)." Jesus went to the cross, confident that he had done the work the Father had given him.

But in Acts, we read a story of Peter and John entering the temple and passing a man who was lame from birth, a man whom others laid at the gate each day. We do not know for sure, but I think it is possible, even likely, that Jesus had passed him at least once while on earth. And if not the lame beggar in Acts three, we know that when Jesus went to the cross, there were many who remained lame, blind or worse.

For Jesus to claim that he completed all that the Father gave him to do, and yet there remained lame beggars outside the temple, we must deduce that healing those lame beggars was not within the scope of Jesus' mission. It wasn't on his "task list." It is helpful for us to also remember that we have a range of priorities and responsibilities in our own life - just as Jesus did during his time on earth. We cannot do everything. We can only steward well, the responsibilities God sees fit to give us.

And that doesn't mean doing everything. Or even having everything done at the end of every day. There will be interruptions. There will be seasons in which we feel less able to finish it all. But if we have spent our energy, our days and our lives in the service of God's glory and the good of others, whatever that means for the range of responsibilities God has given to us, then we can go to bed confident that we lived well. Not telling ourselves, "it's good enough."

Understanding the 3-Layers of Sin

Sin is complicated and it is messy. One of the great challenges to fighting sin is that we don't always understand sin or see how it works. While there is no magic pill that eliminates sin from our lives, I have learned a few things about how it works that might help you in our own battles with sin.

Sin has three layers, and we often fight it at the wrong level, which is part of why we find ourselves failing to see progress. The outermost layer of sin is the behavior level. It is the most noticeable and observable and therefore the level we spend most of our time in battle. The problem is that our behaviors have a deeper root, a sin beneath the sin. This deeper root is the second layer - the layer of heart idols. Jesus says that out of the heart the mouth speaks. And that good trees (heart level) bear good fruit (behavior level), while bad trees (heart level) bear bad fruit (behavior level) (Luke 6:43-45). Over and over again, the Scriptures make it clear that our behavior is a product of what is happening inside our hearts. Finally, an even deeper level exists, which is our Christ-centered identity. Ultimately, all sin flows from a loss of understanding regarding our identity.

 

Why behavior is not where we do battle

The reason that we do not simply fight our sin on the behavior level is because it will not ultimately solve the real problem. Its like drinking a lot of coffee to make up for the fatigue caused by a lack of sleep. Drinking coffee may fix the immediate need, but it is the lack of sleep that needs to be remedied. Our sinful behaviors are merely an expression of the deeper sin issue that exists in our heart. If we deal with the behavior, but never fix the heart issue, then our deeper sin will reappear as a new behavior or just reemerge five years down the road as the same behavior. We must deal with the deeper sin.

For example, if someone is struggling with looking at pornography, then they need to not only eliminate the behavior, but also deal with the underlying issue. Looking at pornography is at the behavior level, and is an expression of a deeper heart idol. The deeper issue might be a need for significance, which they seek in the images on a screen. The deeper heart idol might be a need for control, which they find when they look at pornography. These deeper heart idols need to be analyzed and dealt with, or the behavior will return. Whether in the same way, or a new way, the deeper sin will always express itself in sinful behavior.

Why we still fight against the behavior

Even though we need to ultimately deal with the heart issues, changing our behavior does matter. We still need to create habits and patterns in our life that help us to fight the behavior, so that we are freed up to deal with the heart. If we are constantly expressing our anger by yelling and losing control, we will have a heard time dealing with the underlying issue that drives our anger and loss of control. If we never stop looking at pornography, we will have a hard time dealing with the deeper heart idols that express themselves in those behaviors. Creating safe-guards and fences to help us eliminate behavior, gives us the space to deal with the heart. Like the fences around a yard to keep children safe inside. It isn't restrictive, it is actually freeing. If there was no fence, there would be no playing outside. When there is a fence, there is freedom to play. In the same way, we build fences to keep us safe from our sinful behaviors, so we can deal with the deeper heart idols. I wrote about this principle in a previous post, and you can read it here.

Knowing our identity is central to fighting sin

At the deepest level, our sin is the product of a loss of identity. When we fail to recognize who we are in Christ, and what our new life means, it leads to heart idols. When we forget that we have all the significance we need in Christ, we seek it in other places. When we forget that Christ is in control, and that it is far better for us when he is (Romans 8:28), we try to gain control on our own. So in the battle with sin, we need to constantly remind ourselves of our identity in Christ.

At the deepest level, our sin is the product of a loss of identity.

The way to fight sin is not to degrade the good things God has given us in life, which we have turned into idols, it is to elevate Jesus and remember the goodness of the Gospel. One way to do this is to make a habit of preaching the gospel to yourself, which you can read about here. Another great resource would be read Timothy Keller's book Counterfeit Gods.

Sin is manipulative and deceptive, and therefore it is very difficult to fight. When we have a better understanding of how it works in our lives, we can see progress in the battle.

Response to Rock City (ft. Adam Levine)'s hit single "Locked Away"

A common yearning

You may have heard "Locked Away," the hit single by Rock City (ft. Adam Levine). It rose to the top of Ryan Seacrest's Top 40 multiple weeks and draws in listeners through a compelling melody and lyrics that connect with our deepest longings. It draws upon a common yearning of the human soul, a desire to know how our closest loved ones would respond to the core questions asked in the song.

Questions like, If you knew my flaws, would you still love me the same? Would you stick around if you knew the mess I really am? If you knew the ugly parts of me, would you stand by my side?

Every day, people are wrecked by the feelings of abandonment caused by those whom they care for most. An absent father who is present physically but not emotionally. Or a father who doesn't stick around at all. A husband or wife who gives up on their marriage entirely, or seeks fulfillment with a coworker or website. We see this all around us and wonder if our own loved ones will stay. If they knew our mess, would they stay?

[If you haven't heard the song, I have included the video and lyrics below. The chorus is very catchy, so be warned - it may be in your head the rest of the day.]

Marriage says yes

A covenant-keeping, biblically faithful marriage says yes in answer to those questions. The gift of marriage is that we can show our flaws, and trust that our spouse isn't going to run away. Our consumer driven, me-first mentality has undermined the beauty of that commitment. As a result, romantic relationships are often driven by what we can get, not what we can give. We enter them with a performance mentality, always feeling a need to only show the best version of ourselves. It ends up feeling like a job interview. We are always trying to show our best and hide our flaws, hoping we will make it to the next round, constantly wondering when we are going to be cut loose.

This consumer mentality has crept into our marriages. A fear of divorce and selfish motives continue to fuel a mentality that asks "what can I get?" before asking "what can I give?" We expect our spouse to be asking the same questions, so we hide our worst for fear of them leaving. And we wonder, "If I showed you my flaws, if I couldn't be strong, tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?"

The beauty of marriage is that it says yes! Marriage is not a contract, it is a covenant. It is not at all like a job interview, it is like God's relationship with his people. Love in a marriage invites us to strip off the façade and share our true selves, with confidence our spouse isn't walking away. Love says, "I've seen the ugly and messy, and I love you the same."

Love says, ‘I’ve seen the ugly and messy, and I love you the same.’

Jesus says yes

Our hope in marriage is grounded first in the hope we have in Jesus. God has seen us at our worst and he still pursues us in love. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rm 5:8)." There is nothing you can hide from God. He has seen it all and knows the worst parts of you. There might be things about you that make you say, "If my spouse knew XYZ about me, they would leave me for sure." Whatever that thing is, God knows about it, and he has not left you. In fact, he did the exact opposite. He pursued you, even when you were living in the darkness of your sin. Jesus says yes to you. Even if you have had to endure the difficulty of a spouse saying no, Jesus still says yes.

Jesus also gives us an example of how we are called to respond to our own spouse. When we learn about their dark places, do we offer them the love and grace Jesus has given us? Or do we respond in condemnation? Even at our worst, Jesus has said yes to us, and I believe that he calls us to do the same for our spouse.

So in response to Rock City and Adam Levine - Jesus says yes! And so does a covenant-keeping, Christ-centered marriage.

[Note: I realize that there are certain actions our spouse could make that will require us to walk away, for safety, etc. And you might be in one of those situations. If so, you need the help and support of pastors, family, friends and loved ones to know how to proceed. This post is not intended to be comprehensive for every possible scenario, although it will be applicable for most.]

Music Video and Lyrics

Video

Lyrics

If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?

[Verse 1: R. City]
Right about now
If a judge 'for life' me, would ya stay by my side?
Or is you gonna say goodbye?
Can you tell me right now?

If I couldn't buy you the fancy things in life
Shawty, would it be alright?
Come on show me that you are down

[Pre-Chorus: R. City]
Now tell me would you really ride for me?
Baby tell me would you die for me?
Would you spend your whole life with me?
Would you be there to always hold me down?
Tell me would you really cry for me?
Baby don't lie to me
If I didn't have anything
I wanna know, would you stick around?

[Chorus: Adam Levine]
If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?

[Verse 2: R. City]
Skilidi dong dong dong dang
All I want is somebody real, who don't need much
A gyal I know that I can trust
To be here when money low
If I did not have nothing else to give but love
Would that even be enough?
Gyal me need fi know

[Pre-Chorus: R. City]
Now tell me would you really ride for me?
Baby tell me would you die for me?
Would you spend your whole life with me?
Would you be there to always hold me down?
Tell me would you really cry for me?
Baby don't lie to me
If I didn't have anything
I wanna know, would you stick around?

[Chorus: Adam Levine]
If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?

[Bridge: R. City]
Tell me, tell me, would you want me?
Tell me, tell me, would you call me?
If you knew I wasn't balling
Cause I need a gyal who's always by my side
Tell me, tell me, do you need me?
Tell me, tell me, do you love me?
Or is you just tryna play me?
Cause I need a gyal to hold me down for life

[Chorus: Adam Levine]
If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?
If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn't be strong
Tell me honestly would you still love me the same?
 

You can find the video and lyrics at this link: http://genius.com/R-city-locked-away-lyrics

 

A key element that we often forget about love

Loving well

Loving well is not always easy. It is often quite difficult. We struggle with our own selfishness and prejudice, hindering us from loving others as we ought. Its like canoeing upstream when turning around to move with the momentum of the river would be much easier. Fighting the current of our own flesh often frustrates our more pure desire to love well.

Not to mention that the definition love has been molded and manipulated into many forms. We use the same word to represent how we feel toward our iPhone, our favorite coffee and our spouse. Dictionary.com lists 28 distinct ways that the word love can be used. It isn't necessarily good or bad that we have so many uses for the word love, what is important is that when we use the word love, we do not confuse what meaning is intended.

Even the Bible is not monolithic in its use of the word love. There are three different greek words in the Bible that we often translate as love. They are agape, phileo and storge. There is also a fourth greek word, eros, that is often associated with love.

The key element I want to focus on comes from the greek work agape. This is the love most often associated with the love of God because in 1 John we read that God is love [agape] (1 John 4:7-12). This is the sort of love that is grounded in the very character of God.

God's love as our example

When I consider how I ought to love others, the love of God is what first comes to mind. Jesus gave this instruction to his disciples:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35 ESV)"

Jesus instructs his disciples that they are to love one another. But this doesn't seem like a "new command." What is new about Jesus telling them to love one another? I believe that the new command is that Jesus grounds his command to love one another in the example of Jesus' love. Jesus says, "just as I have loved you..." We are to love one another in the way that Jesus loves.

John took this teaching from Jesus to heart. Elsewhere in the Bible he wrote, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:11)." John appeals to the love of God as a way of pointing his readers to also conduct themselves in love.

Jesus is our example of love.

 Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/0D9713A6E0

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/0D9713A6E0

A key element to loving well - taking the first step

In his love for us, Jesus took the first step. "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10)." We did not love God. He loved us. We did not initiate. He initiated. We did not take the first step. He took the first step. He sent Jesus. God demonstrated his love when he made a way for us through Jesus, even while we were still sinners and enemies of God (Rom 5:8-10). We did not take the first step. We were blind to the ways of God because of our sin. We would not have sought him out if it were not for his desire to seek us out first.

When I consider the initiation of God to love us first, I am compelled to believe that part of loving others well is taking the first step. In his love for us, Jesus took the first step. We are called to do the same with others. This has massive implications for all of life. Here are a few ways that taking the first step in love can impact our lives.

In his love for us, Jesus took the first step. We are called to do the same with others.

Initiating with our spouse

How often have you waited for your spouse to take the first step toward reconciliation after a fight? I am telling you that loving well means you take the first step. Even if you don't think you were in the wrong, take the first step. This is highlighted even more for men in the marriage relationship, because Paul calls the husbands to be like Christ (Eph 5:25). Christ took the first step to reconcile our relationship with him, so we should do the same in our relationship with others, especially with our spouse.

This also means that we are actively pursuing a deeper relationship with our spouse. We are thinking ahead to ask good questions and pursue a deeper relationship. Take responsibility to move toward your spouse today.

Initiating with our neighbors 

Jesus did not wait for us to come to him to begin a relationship. He did all the work to make it possible. If you want your neighbors to see the light of Jesus, do not wait for them to come ask you. You go to them. Do not wait for someone to stumble into your church to build a relationship. Do not wait for your neighbor to knock on your door with cookies. You take the step to meet them first. Initiate in relationship with the people around you. Jesus did. We should as well.

Initiating in reconciliation

I already discussed this in the section about spouses, but the example of Jesus regarding reconciliation is too great to not expand my exhortation. If you have a relationship that requires forgiveness and reconciliation, do something to initiate. Do not sulk to yourself about their lack of initiative while you do little to pursue forgiveness yourself. This will look different in each relationship because of various histories, pains and hurts. There is no one-size fits all, but because of the example of Jesus, I believe you are called to take a step in the direction of reconciliation. Even a very small step in love can bring about a miracle through the work of God.

Initiating to meet a need

Sometimes we observe a need in someone around us. Or maybe someone shares a prayer request in our small group about an area of need they have. One of the ways we can show the love of Christ in our communities is to initiate in seeking to meet a need. This doesn't need to be complicated. The first step can be to simply ask if there is a way that you can help. But don't ask if you are not prepared to follow through on their response. You don't need to wait for someone to ask you specifically. It also isn't always wise to assume you know the best way to meet the need. But you can always ask.

Take the first step with someone today

Here is my call to action for you today.

Pray and ask yourself who you might be called to love more intentionally today. Who is God inviting you to love well today? And then take a step that would be a clear expression of your love. It might be a step toward repairing a relationship. It might be a step toward deepening a relationship. Or it might be a step toward beginning a relationship.

Whoever it is, you take the first step. We would be lost if God had not done the same for us. Shouldn't we do the same with others?

And let us know how it goes in the comments section below.


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Fatally Flawed and Radically Loved

 Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

Terminal Hearts

Earlier this week, Jon Foreman released the Sunlight EP, the first of his four Wonderland EPs that are planned for this year. As the front-man for the band Switchfoot, I have been a fan of Foreman's music for well over a decade. From Switchfoot's first albums to their newest albums, I have been a committed fan. Therefore, I was excited when I had learned that Jon Foreman planned on releasing another set of EPs over the course of the next year. Terminal, the first track on the new EP has led me to consider one of the major paradoxes of what it means to be human. If you want to hear the song, you can stream it through the following youtube video. You can also purchase the album on iTunes through this link. And if you wan to know the lyrics to the songs, here is a link for that as well

One of the things I love about Jon Foreman's songs are how honest they are about the human condition. In this song, he examines the temporary and flawed nature of our existence. Everyone is terminal in some sense of the word. Physically, we will all die one day. He uses powerful imagery to describe our plight.

"Some folks die in offices, one day at a time, they could live a hundred years, but their soul's already died." He references our "terminal hearts" and "terminal parts." He says we are "Flickering like candles, fatally flawed, fatally flawed."

At the end of the song, you can faintly hear someone in the background sharing a short poem that is inspired by passages of Scripture, including Ecclesiastes 12:7, Psalm 103:15-16, Job 1:21 and 1 Timothy 6:7, each of which comments on the brevity of this life.

It is a sobering tune, painting an honest and raw picture of the human life. The final line of the song ends with the phrase, "We're fatally flawed in the image of God."

This got me thinking about the paradox of what it means to be human. We have immense worth and value as men and women who are created in the image of God. Yet, we have a desperate and flawed existence. Even in our flawed condition, God's radical love put Jesus on the cross to redeem our situation. Even in the pain of our lives, there is a beautiful hope in God's love.

Created in the image of God - the Imago Dei

When God created men and women, the Bible says that God created them in His own image.

"Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

- Genesis 1:26-27

This has become known as the Imago Dei. The value of humanity is linked to the reality that we were created in the image of God. Even after the fall, God still cites the image of God as a prohibition for murder (Gen 9:6). Even though we now live under the weight of sin, we still retain the image of God. We are still immensely valuable to God as his image bearers. This is important. It is important for our understanding of our own self-worth. It is important for our understanding of the worth and value of those around us. You and I are not primarily valuable because we have a job, a spouse, a title, a position, an education, a promotion, an accolade, or any other number of things. The foundation of our worth and value is the fact that we are image bearers of the Creator God.

The foundation of our worth and value is the fact that we are image bearers of the Creator God.

The heart is deceitful above all things

If we are in tune with what it means to be human, we also know that something is just not right. We are fatally flawed. There is sickness and disease. There is war, genocide, bullying and many other horrific things that humans do to one another. We also experience famine, earthquakes and tsunamis. Something has gone wrong with the world.

Shortly after God created humanity in his image, we failed to live up to our worth and value. We decided that we didn't just want to bear the image of God, we wanted to be God for ourselves. Adam and Eve ate the fruit and sin entered the world. The Bible has some bleak descriptions of the human condition in light of sin. Here are just a few:

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"

- Jeremiah 17:9

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death." 

- Proverbs 16:25

"They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one." 

- Psalm 14:3

"As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more." 

- Psalm 103:15-16

When we take an honest look at our own lives and the world around us, these descriptions have deep resonance. It is tempting to want to mask our true condition, because it makes us feel better about ourselves. The glorious thing about God's story is that he didn't leave his image bearers to fix up their mess alone.

Radical Love

God, seeing our plight, did something about our desperate condition. With the most radical of love, Jesus came in human form. Jesus took his own perfect image and was bloodied, marred and punished so that our image could be restored. Jesus is on a mission to renew God's creation. The most radical part is that we didn't do anything to deserve the redemption he brings. The Bible says that even though we were still sinners (Rm. 5:8) and enemies of God (Rm 5:10) Jesus died for us. That is radical love!

This is the paradox of the human life. We have immense worth and value as God's image bearers and yet we live in a desperate and flawed condition due to sin in the world. The beautiful message of the Gospel is that Jesus has come to renew what was broken. God's image bearers can be redeemed from their broken condition.

Preaching the Gospel to Myself

A number of years ago, I read a book by author Jerry Bridges called Growing Your Faith. I cannot remember where or how I came by the book, but God used that book in powerful ways during a transformative time in my life. One of the practices I learned from Jerry Bridges in that book is something he calls, Preaching the Gospel to Myself (pg. 133). It was a very brief part of the book, but still impactful. His discussion of preaching the gospel to himself received about half a paragraph, but it stuck with me. I began to put it into practice in my own life as well, and it has had a profound impact.

What does it mean to preach the gospel to myself? How does it work?

The actual practice is quite simple. I pick out five different passages of Scripture that highlight the truths of the gospel message. There are many to choose from (I have included some suggestions below), but I just choose five. When I am having my quiet time, I will recite these five passages to myself as a constant reminder of the gospel. I usually write each of the five passages out into my journal, and then I just turn to the page with the verses and read them to myself. Whenever I start a new journal, I choose five new passages that I will use to "preach the gospel to myself." 

Increases our love for Jesus

One of the reasons I have found this practice helpful is because it reminds me of what Jesus has done, and this increases my love and commitment to him. Our love and appreciation for Jesus is directly impacted by our recognition of the significance of what he has done for us on the cross. Jesus tells a short parable in Luke 7:41-42:

"A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

The answer to that question is that the one who was forgiven the greater debt will love him more. Jesus is suggesting that our love for him is tied to our understanding of the degree to which we have been forgiven. Ultimately, we all suffer an infinite debt before God because of our sin. Jesus offers himself as a sacrifice to satisfy that debt. Therefore, the one who loves Jesus the most may not always be the "worst sinner," but rather the person who most recognizes the great debt that has been paid on their behalf.

When I preach the gospel to myself each morning, it reminds me that Jesus loved me first. It reminds me that the innocent God-man became sin on my behalf, that I might become the righteousness of God in him. It reminds me that I was once a child of darkness, but now I have been called into the light. It reminds me that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. It reminds me that Jesus took upon himself the iniquity of us all. When I preach the gospel to myself, it reminds me of the truly good news that is found in the gospel, and it increases my love for Jesus.

It gets the gospel in our head

The second reason I have found the practice to be helpful is that it gets the gospel in my head so it is there when I need it most. For example, I am thinking about the times when I have repented of a sin, but I still feel a deep sense of shame that goes beyond healthy conviction or remorse. I need the truths of the gospel available and ready, like tools in a tool belt.

Another time when I need these gospel truths is at the end of a long day that just didn't seem to go as I had planned. The days when I wake up late and get angry with my wife and kids. The days I am late to work. The days I don't contribute well in meetings and discover that a project I was working on had failed miserably. At the end of these days, I often feel terrible and I need to be reminded that in the gospel, I am more loved than I ever thought possible.

I also need to remember these gospel truths after my day goes exceptionally well. At the end of those days, I can often find myself trusting in my own "righteousness." I can find myself believing that I have earned something from God, when in reality, even on my best days, I am still desperately in need of the salvation and life that Jesus offers. It is good to remember the gospel at the end of those "good days," when pride can creep into my mind.

We need to get these gospel truths in our head like tools in a tool belt, so they are ready and available when we need them. My brother is a trained electrician and he has collected a significant amount of electrical tools over the years. Many of these tools are not ones that I own, nor will I ever probably own. He often has many of his most important and useful tools with him in his truck, so they are available when he needs to use them. It is not uncommon for him to be at my house, discover that we need something electrical fixed, and run out to his truck to retrieve the tool he needs to fix our problem.

When we preach the gospel to ourselves it is like putting tools in our gospel tool belt. We won't always know when we need to be reminded of the gospel, but we know that the tool will be there when we need it most.

Passages that Preach the Gospel

There are many passages that we can use to preach the gospel to ourselves. Here are a few suggestions that you could begin using right away (all verses are in the ESV):

2 Corinthians 5:21

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

Romans 8:1

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

Isaiah 53:6

"All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all."

Ephesians 2:4-5

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved"

Psalm 103:12

"as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us."

Ephesians 1:7

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses,according to the riches of his grace,"

Isaiah 1:18

“Come now, let us reason[a] together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool."

Here are more passages that you might consider using when you preach the gospel to yourself: Romans 4:7-8; Isaiah 43:25; Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 8:12;

Do you have any suggestions?

If there are other passages that help you remember the gospel, please include them in the comments. I would love to hear from you!

When I feel weak

 Image Cred: www.Pixabay.com

Image Cred: www.Pixabay.com

 Admitting weakness is not always easy. It isn't easy to admit it to myself. It isn't easy to admit it to others. There is something in me that rebels against the notion of weakness. And yet, I think I am at my best when I am willing to own my weaknesses and inadequacies. Not in a self-deprecating and whiny sort of way. I simply mean that I am strongest when I am honest with myself about my weakness. Hiding from weakness is simply lying to myself. It doesn't make it go away, it just ignores it.

This was one of those weeks when I was fully aware of my inadequacies. No single event brought about my acute recognition, but a compilation of things coalesced to remind me. My wife and I spent the past weekend traveling for my sister-in-laws graduation from college. It was a great weekend, but we returned home to a new week already feeling a bit behind, so I stayed home a bit late on Monday morning to help get the house in order and then when I got to the office, I realized I had forgotten my computer at home. This resulted in me feeling behind most of the week at work. My wife works more than normal this week and we have some night and weekend commitments this week as well. I was also reminded through various conversations and personal reflection that the weight and responsibility of pastoral ministry is heavy to carry. No one did anything wrong. No single event derailed my week. All of these various things combined to bring about an increased sensitivity to my own weakness. It didn't feel very good right away. Although, it drove me to my knees before Jesus, which has ultimately produced a joy in me that is supernatural.

Each of you may have different contexts in life right now. Different things may bring about each of our own fears of weakness or inadequacy. Whether it be studying for finals, feeling like a failure of a parent or being overwhelmed at work, at times we will all be confronted with feelings of weakness. We can either be honest with ourselves about those emotions, or we can bury them and ignore them. I want to give you the liberty to be honest with yourself. I also want to give you some hope when you do feel week.

God is with us

When I need confidence in the mighty hand of God, I turn to a passage in Isaiah.

"fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

- Isaiah 41:10

What joy and confidence this brings to my soul. "Fear not," God says. Why? because "I am with you." There is nothing greater in times of fear and weakness than to know that my God is with me. The God who made the sun and the stars, the God whose voice the winds and the waves obey, this is the God who is with me. When I need strength, God promises to strengthen me. When I need help, God promises to give me help. When I feel like I cannot stand, God says that he will uphold me. This may not mean my circumstances change, but I renew my confidence that God is with me. God has done that for me this week. He has reminded me that when I am weak and overwhelmed, even in those moments, God is with me.

Jesus gives us strength

The Apostle Paul was very aware of his own weakness. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he was telling them about a thorn that was given to Paul "in the flesh." Scholars and theologians debate about what the thorn actually was - some say it was an area of sin, others that it was a physical ailment and still others that it could have been from persecution. The list of possible meanings could probably go on. Regardless of exactly what Paul meant by the thorn in his flesh, it was something that he desperately wanted removed. It was an area of weakness that Paul did not want to have hindering him any longer. He tells the Corinthians that Jesus responded with these words,

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

- 2 Corinthians 12:9a

In reflection on Jesus' words, Paul goes on to say,

"Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ my rest upon me. For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

- 2 Corinthians 12:9b-10

When we are weak, then we are strong. This resonates with me. If I am aware of an area of weakness, I can either deny it exists, or I can be honest with myself and rest upon the strength of Jesus. Throughout the Bible, we see God chose some of the least likely people to accomplish His work. It is helpful to remember that admitting my weakness and celebrating Jesus' strength brings glory and honor to Jesus. His grace is sufficient. His power is made perfect in my weakness. I don't have to run or hide, because I can rest in the grace of God through Jesus.

These two passages have brought great joy to my heart this week. If you are in need of some encouragement or strength, maybe you will find it in these passages as well. Or, if you have other verses that remind you of God's strength in times of your own weakness, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Jesus I My Cross Have Taken

I love this song. And I love the way that Indelible Grace sings it here. Enjoy!

Here are the lyrics.

Jesus, I my cross have taken, 
All to leave and follow Thee. 
Destitute, despised, forsaken, 
Thou from hence my all shall be. 
Perish every fond ambition, 
All I’ve sought or hoped or known. 
Yet how rich is my condition! 
God and heaven are still my own.

Let the world despise and leave me, 
They have left my Savior, too. 
Human hearts and looks deceive me; 
Thou art not, like them, untrue. 
O while Thou dost smile upon me, 
God of wisdom, love, and might, 
Foes may hate and friends disown me, 
Show Thy face and all is bright.

Man may trouble and distress me, 
’Twill but drive me to Thy breast. 
Life with trials hard may press me; 
Heaven will bring me sweeter rest. 
Oh, ’tis not in grief to harm me 
While Thy love is left to me; 
Oh, ’twere not in joy to charm me, 
Were that joy unmixed with Thee.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure, 
Come disaster, scorn and pain 
In Thy service, pain is pleasure, 
With Thy favor, loss is gain 
I have called Thee Abba Father, 
I have stayed my heart on Thee 
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather; 
All must work for good to me.

Soul, then know thy full salvation 
Rise o’er sin and fear and care 
Joy to find in every station, 
Something still to do or bear. 
Think what Spirit dwells within thee, 
Think what Father’s smiles are thine, 
Think that Jesus died to win thee, 
Child of heaven, canst thou repine.

Haste thee on from grace to glory, 
Armed by faith, and winged by prayer. 
Heaven’s eternal days before thee, 
God’s own hand shall guide us there. 
Soon shall close thy earthly mission, 
Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days, 
Hope shall change to glad fruition, 
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

 

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Jesus loves to invite people to follow him

Jesus loves to invite people to follow him. Jesus often uses this phrase, "follow me," when he invites people to be his disciples. When he calls Simon and Andrew, a couple of fisherman, he says "follow me... (Mk 1:17). When he invites Levi, a tax collector, he says, "follow me (Mk 2:14)." On numerous occasions within the life of Jesus, he invites people to follow him. This is not merely a physical following, like we might follow someone from one location to another because we don't know the way. It is not merely being starstruck and following him like we would a famous celebrity. It certainly isn't like following someone on Twitter. When Jesus calls someone to follow-him, it is an all-of-life sort of following. It will require all of us. Jesus loves to call people to follow him, no matter their race, ethnicity, culture, sex, age or any other identifying feature. No matter their past sin, or present status in society. Jesus invites every type of person to follow him, but it will require every part of the person who does.

When I talk about being a disciple of Jesus and following Jesus, I use them as synonyms. If we follow Jesus, we are his disciples. If we are his disciples, we follow him.

SO... What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be his disciple?

Three marks of a person who follows Jesus

They love Jesus above all things

First and foremost, a person who follows Jesus must love him above all things. Recognizing that we are imperfect, and therefore cannot perfectly love Jesus, it may be more accurate to say that we are always growing in our love for Jesus, over and above all things. Jesus says that we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him (Mt 16:24). This does not mean that we do not enjoy the good things that God has created, but they must always be secondary to our love for Jesus. Often, the most elusive sins and idols in our lives are those that come from good things - from loving material things too much, from worshiping our spouse or our children, or from pursuing the praise of others as our primary goal and motivation. Loving Jesus above all things means that he is more important to us than the many good things we have the privilege of enjoying in life.

Paul talks about his desire to boast only in the cross of Jesus (Gal 6:14). There is nothing more worthy of our pleasure and joy than Jesus. All things flow from and to our love and commitment for Jesus. If we follow Jesus, then we must be growing in our love for him and incorporating regular rhythms and patterns that help us grow in that love. 

What raises your affections for Jesus? What helps you to grow in your love for him? Pursue those activities, so that you will grow in your love for Jesus.

They live in a way that is consistent with their love for Jesus

The second mark of someone who follows Jesus is that they live their life in a way that is consistent with their love for Jesus. This means that their character flows from their love for Jesus - it is in response to their love for Jesus. They are not trying to live with Godly character so they can earn the love of Jesus, but because Jesus has already loved them. Living consistent with their love for Jesus means obeying God's commands as found in the Bible. This can mean many things. It means that they exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 6:22-23). It means that they love God and love others (Mk 12:28-31). It means that they change from their earthly desires to those more consistent with the heart of God (Col 3:5-17). Living a life that is consistent with our love for Jesus can mean many things and the person who follows Jesus - because of their love for Jesus - seeks to bring their character into alignment with what God says in His Word.

They multiply their faith by actively making new disciples

Jesus calls his followers to be witnesses to his Good News (Acts 1:8). The person who follows Jesus does so because they have experienced the greatest of news. Jesus brings new life to dead souls - that's really good news! At the cost of his own life, he gives life to those who follow him as his disciples. Jesus wants us to share this with others, so that they can also follow him. When he first called those fisherman on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (Mt 4:19)." Jesus' call to follow him means that we will catch men into the net of his Kingdom. Some of his final words to his disciples have become known as the Great Commission - "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19)." The person who follows Jesus multiplies their faith by actively making new disciples. This happens with our friends, our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates and anyone else we come to know. We share the good news of what Jesus has done and invite others into the joy of following Jesus.