Broken but Bonded

Not to long ago, I was seriously struggling with the concept of God’s love. It seemed to good to be true.

I would constantly ask (and still do sometimes), “Why on earth would God include me among the redeemed and saved? Surely my sins and rebellious heart disqualify me. I sin constantly! I give lip service to the idea of God’s love, but I consistently fail to honor him. Why would he even notice me, let alone, save me!? He’s certainly given up on me at this point! Hasn’t he?”

Well, no. He hasn’t. Yes, he wants me to honor him, but I’m not necessarily disqualified when I fail to do so.

Sure, it should be the goal of every believer to follow Christ with every fiber of their being. But following has a context that’s rooted in prior commitment– a marriage proposal.

I began unearthing this profound truth when a mentor of mine pointed out the Hebrew word ‘yada.’ A rough translation of this in English is: to know, to be known or to have intimate knowledge of something or someone.

The Old Testament (originally written in Hebrew) uses ‘yada’ to describe sexual intimacy between a husband and wife. God uses ‘yada’ to describe his intensely intimate (or sexual) union with the nation of Israel.

Admittedly, this idea made me a bit uncomfortable at first. Our culture has so twisted a pure and holy meaning of sex that it took me a while to buy into this idea. But, when I went to the Old Testament book of Hosea, I realized that God’s relationship with Israel is understood best as a sexual relationship between a husband and wife.

God bonded himself to Israel! He married them and consummated that relationship over and over again through his faithful acts of redemption and deliverance! (Exodus 20; Isaiah 62:5).

The Bible describes Israel’s relationship with God in this way because sex is the only parallel we have to understand it. Its the only union that comes even close to the capturing the type of intimacy which God desires to have with his people.

In reality, God’s desire for intimacy is much-much deeper than we can ever know!

In other words, Israel and God didn’t just know his each other in the generic sense (like you and I know our friends). No, this is deeper! This is intense! He’s their LOVER!

Guess what folks. If we believe that God never changes (which I do), then this still applies today!

He is still deeply, and I mean DEEPLY, personal. We see this best in the type of language used to describe Christ’s relationship with the Church:

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride [the Church] has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:7

This is marriage language–along with all (and I mean ALL) the joy and anticipation brides and grooms feel on the ‘big day’!

The author of Revelation is rejoicing, because the long expected moment is here! Christ–the groom–is to wed his beautiful bride–the Church!

If you’ve believed in Christ as your savior, and have committed to follow him, then you’re a part of this! You’re part of the most intimate relationship that anyone can ever have!

Admittedly, I’m still thinking through the concept of “yada.” I’m hardly a Hebrew scholar (I only know a few words), but the concept is true enough.

It’s so easy to doubt as I did. We get caught up in sin, shame and fear, wondering with every passing failure, if this was the last straw. Did God finally give up on us?

No! He didn’t.

He loves us SO intensely and SO passionately that he, literally, GAVE HIS BODY over to us (Galatians 2:20)! That is love. That is relationship. He LONGS for us even more than a man longs to be with his wife!

We are betrothed to God through Jesus, and he’s STILL planning to marry us!

So, be faithful to him, not to earn his love, but because of his ‘yada’! He knows you, he loves you and he LONGS to be with you….even now!

 

 

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The Divine Heart

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In light of father’s day this weekend it seems appropriate to meditate on the heavenly Father’s sovereign care. Despite the season or situation you find yourself in, it is always good practice to consider his mercies. So, even if (or more appropriately–especially if) the world seems against you, take a moment to consider the abundance of our Heavenly Father. When we were helpless to care for ourselves he loved us. Nothing has changed. Be reassured by the words of St. Augustine  in his confession on “Infancy”:

I do acknowledge You, Lord of heaven and earth. I do praise You for assembling the pieces of my being for the infancy I do not remember…We can see others and guess much about your work in us. We can learn much about your care by seeing those who cared for us as infants.”

God crafts us, nurtures us, helps us, raises us and sustains us. Praise your Heavenly Father for his abundant love even in the midst of your helplessness!

Beautiful Lies

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This is a great article: “Confessions of a Teenage Bride: Modest is not Hottest” 

I share it with you because I’ve noticed what she’s talking about. Her words correctly identify a long standing lie which targets women. It insists that they ‘must be sexy to be loved and treasured.’

Sisters, if you live under this belief then the only men you’ll ever attract are dirt bags–men who just want your body. Brothers, if you perpetuate this lie by womanizing, brazenly lusting and treating women like objects, instead of people, then all you’ll get is a truly shallow woman.

Now, I’m obviously not a woman, but I can recognize how this lie would be somewhat irresistible and believable. After all, culture screams it at us to the point of hyperventilation. Have you noticed? It’s plastered on billboards, in magazines, TV shows, movies, and all over the internet (just consider the multi-billion dollar porn industry). Countless images of photoshoped beauties calling women ugly and not good enough are everywhere. Consistently, culture gives women the impression that they must stop at no cost to be sexy, otherwise, they’ll never feel loved or have any value. Most women can’t measure up to that standard, and therefore, are driven to eating disorders and some even to suicide. The lie is truly insidious and demonic!

Now, there is nothing wrong with women wanting to be attractive or a man being attracted to a woman. Despite what culture says,  I think that’s the natural way God has wired us. Beauty is an amazing thing to be celebrated! Creation is filled with God’s beauty and Eve is the climax of his masterpiece. Unfortunately, we live in a sinful world in which beauty is now corrupted. Our appreciation for beauty is now forestalled by sinful attempts to worship it, objectify it or use it as a means to an end apart from God.

Ladies, you are worth far more to your creator than just a well ordered arrangement of body parts. Resist the lies of culture that tell you otherwise! Aim for this instead: “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God,” (1 Peter 3:1-7).

Yes, beauty is good, but Godliness makes it truly extravagant!

Our kids, identity and God

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Parents. Alright, what are we doing? No, really! I ask myself that every day because I honestly don’t know most of the time.

As a father I fall somewhere between superhero and villain. I’m not just talking about the times my oldest boy pretends to be a Jedi and comes after me with a light saber. Yes, that happens and usually I’m the villain, but I’m talking on a grander scale. Specifically, my capacity to love these small people God graciously placed in our lives.

Most parents–like myself–tend to measure their parental capacity based on their kids’ reactions.If they seem happy enough or like us enough then all is well, we must be great parents and, therefore, awesome people. Maybe that’s true. Maybe, but I wonder if that type of confidence is misplaced. Don’t get me wrong. It’s awesome when our kids like us. They should, but making that our life’s goal isn’t quite what parenting ought to be.

Seriously, on a more fundamental level I think we should be more concerned with who our kids ‘believe in.’ On some level, yes, I hope they ‘believe’ in me and have some measure of confidence that I’ll come through for them. Let’s face it though, I’ll ultimately fail them. Like I said, I’m a mix of competent and incompetent when it comes to fathering (with a strong bent toward oblivious). In fact, most of us fall in that category.

So, I think the best thing I can do for my children is to root my identity, not in what they think of me, but in what God thinks of me.

We’re raising adults, right? Adults who understand who they are? I think, yes! But sadly, to many adults these days (including myself at times) grasp for identity in all the wrong places: overworking, overspending, sex, addictions and on and on and on (I think we can fill in the blanks).

As parents we should show them where true identity lies—in God. Genesis 1:26 describes the root of who we are as people—God’s image bearers. The creator of the cosmos breathed his very image into our souls. No, we don’t look like him, but we do share characteristics of the divine when we engage in community, help the needy, care for creation and, yes, make our kids breakfast. That is the identity of every person.

More to the point, if we’ve recognized our sinfulness, placed our faith in Christ, and now follow him in obedience, then we have an even more profound identity. Not only are we image bearers of God but we are now his children (John 1:12).

So, if our significance and meaning isn’t wrapped up in what our kids think of us, but in our identity as God’s kids, then lets teach our kids how to embrace that identity.

To do this we have to embrace that identity for ourselves. In other words, instead of striving to get your kids to like you, try showing them your confidence as a beloved child of God. Embrace your identity as his child and let your kids see you do it. Show them mercy and grace. Come down to their level and play with them! Let them see you serve your spouse, be kind to your in-laws and share with your neighbors (even if your neighbors keep borrowing your stuff without returning it). Embody who your heavenly father is: loving, sacrificial, forgiving and humble (John 1:14; Phil. 2:1-11).

I admit, I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to parenting. But one thing I do know is that I’m way to flawed for my children to pin their identity on me. It has to be placed in God because he is their truest father!

Don’t worry. Be content.

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You, like me, probably feel the weight of life’s unending concerns. If you stop and think about it, almost all of these concerns have a dollar sign attached to them—a decent education, a debt-free life, a full tank of gas, a kitchen with food in it and even a weekend get away.

We can’t escape it. Money has the potential to rule our lives.

Interestingly enough, just before addressing worry, Jesus warns his followers against this very thing. He says: “you cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6.24). He points this out because the people of Jesus’ day, like us, understand a basic truth—if we want stuff then we need money.

Now, stuff isn’t necessarily bad until it becomes our source of security.  When we seek security through material things we become entrapped by anxiety, devoted to money, and ultimately forfeit our allegiance to God (Matthew 6.24). Ironically, this turns us into very insecure people.

Christ, however, wants us to be secure. He wants us to find fulfillment in life by trusting in God and prioritizing our relationship with him above all else (Matthew 6.32-33).

The reason we struggle with this, however, is because we wonder if God will really come through.

One of my favorite images that Jesus uses is the flowers of the field in Matthew 6.28-29. He says: “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin…”

This is actually a bit comical. Could you imagine a flower agonizing over its petals growing? Imagine for a moment a flower twisting and spinning to strain out a single leaf from its stem. The simplicity of this is astounding. If God provides adornment for flowers, who don’t budge an inch, then won’t he meet the most essential needs of his people?

Christ’s point? God can be trusted.

You see, our Lord understands the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in our lives. He knows our concerns and he cares deeply for us (1 Peter 5.7). By trusting that God is trustworthy and placing our troubles in his hands we can truly experience a sense of security and peace (Philippians 4.5-7).

Honestly, it’s hard for you and me to imagine a life not dictated by the tyranny of the almighty dollar. So many of life’s most pressing needs are dictated by money. God, however, promises we can trust him, and he asks for our devotion to him above all else (Matthew 6.24, 33-34).

Life is more than the next, better paying, job. Christ calls us to be free of chasing the almighty dollar and to be content with him! (1 Timothy 6:6-11). He’ll work out the rest.

An Honest Look

ImageI think we put undo pressure on ourselves when we try to meet the status-quo and lie to others about who we really are. No, I don’t think we should hang out our dirty laundry. That’s not needed.

We do, however, need to get past the drive to look smart by omission, to spew every bit of intellectual prowess we have at others to impress or demean them, or to compromise on our convictions for sake of our image. We all feel this need to pretend, to look good and to impress others. Jesus, however, isn’t interested in all that. He requires us to drop the bravado and be honest with ourselves, others and God.

As for me, I’m not the smartest guy in seminary. I don’t know the five points of Calvinism by heart, politics still confuse me and I’ve only read the Bible from cover-to-cover once. I’m a struggling father, husband, employee and, more to the point, a struggling Christian. I haven’t got it all together. This is what I bring to life.

God isn’t interested in perfect people,though, but in people who will come to Jesus as “little children,” (Matthew 18:3). That demands honesty, vulnerability and trust. That’s who I want to be–a child. Take it all away. That’s what I want–most of the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discovering the Cross Shaped Life

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“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save their life will lose it but whoever loses their life for me will find it. ” Matthew 16:24-25

Jesus isn’t a ‘get me out of hell free card’ or a get rich quick scheme. He demands something of us. In fact, he turns our formulas for success and self promotion upside down: we gain through loss and we live through death.  To follow Jesus ultimately means that our lives reflect Jesus’ path to the cross, his death and eventual resurrection.

To often, though, we let our life ambitions and goals get in the way thinking they will lead to fulfillment in life. This ultimately frustrates us and leaves us feeling jaded.

Jesus, however, is in the business of redefining where true life is found. Lets be clear, its not in the American dream and upward mobility. Being a Christian has nothing to do with making life more comfortable or convenient. Following Jesus is decidedly inconvenient. True Christianity calls people to lay aside their devotion to any thing that stands between them and Christ, such as: money, power, prestige, careers, loose living and etcetera. In many ways, we must die if we desire a true and meaningful life.

Ultimately, Jesus calls us to  ”cross-shaped living.” This involves daily exerting our efforts and abilities for Christ’s interests–the glory of God and the welfare of others (Phil. 2:1-11)– over our own. To accomplish this we must align ourselves with sacrifice instead of gain, dishonor instead of honor, humility instead of pride and loss now for future reward.

A cross shaped life radically reorients our focus from self-centeredness to other-centeredness and from love for self to love for God.

Anyone who claims to follow Christ needs to hear this–me most of all. We aren’t called to honor, prestige and self-advancement. Life isn’t about what we get–it’s about what we give. We’re called to daily self-sacrifice by laying aside our ideal in favor of Christ’s ideal. Today, ask yourself what that might look like. This is, after all, what following Jesus or ‘being a Christian’ entails.

Insecure? Join the club.

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We all have those moments: a word, an action, a reaction or a thought that sends us spinning into a world of insecurity. In those moments we can feel small, angry or flat out dejected. Often we tell ourselves, “its no big deal,” we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and move on. In our worst moments we turn to addictions, inappropriate relationships or consumerism.

I understand why people react like this. It’s far easier to run from insecurity than to stare it square in the face and deal with the foreboding questions of our existence. The more and more I think about it, though, I wonder if God uses insecurity to draw us closer to him.

Psalm 139 and Philippians 2:1-11 are two passages that convince me of this more than any others in scripture. Together they teach two powerful truths: one, God knows more about us than even we will ever know about ourselves; and two, despite knowing us at our worst he still loves us enough to die for us.

He knows us, he’s entered our existence and suffered with us through Jesus. God (whether you believe in him or not) authored your life, occupies it and experiences it with you. Your insecurities are safe in his hands.

Pain and Presence

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Certain seasons in life are riddled with deep, unbearable, crushing pain. We cry out to God, question his justice, fairness and sovereignty, but often find little to no answer. We can easily begin to think that God isn’t there, or worse–he just doesn’t care.

In the Book of Genesis we learn about Joseph’s pain and disillusionment: he’s betrayed by his own family, left for dead in a pit, sold into slavery in Egypt, falsely accused of assaulting his master’s wife, and left to rot in a rat infested Egyptian jail. He’s wounded deeply and repeatedly for years, and the crazy thing is, God let it happen! If you read Genesis 37-50 you’ll not find God saying much at all. He is silent. Thankfully though, Joseph’s story didn’t stop in prison. He was eventually freed and became second in command to the king of Egypt. But, still, God was not speaking.

Joseph’s story reaches a fever pitch when he stands before the brothers who betrayed him. He possessed all the authority in Egypt to exact his revenge, but instead, he recognized God’s movement in his life and showed mercy to his betrayers: “You intended me harm, but God intended it for good,”(Genesis 50:20).

How powerful! Despite God’s silence, he saw the hand of God in his circumstances, turning the evil of his brothers into something that preserved his entire family and began the nation of Israel. In other words, God worked incredible good out of incredible despair.

Though it may not seem like it, God is working through our pain and disappointment. Even though the pain seems unfair, inexplicable and insurmountable: God is there. Even if he seems silent: God is there. Even if we turn our back on him in bitterness: He is still there.Like Joseph’s, I don’t believe that our story has to end in pain and heartache. Yes, heartache is real and can be so deeply profound! I don’t begrudge anyone the right to grieve. Even Jesus mourned (John 11:35). Nevertheless, in painful seasons, when God’s silence seems deafening and the pain is deep, I urge us all to trust in his abiding presence. Your story is not over. It may not end like Joseph’s, but God hasn’t forgotten about you! He is there.