Category Archives: Gospel

You’re doing it wrong

Several months ago, a friend who is very near to me asked me this question, “Why are unbelievers generally so much kinder and friendlier than Christians?”

And I thought about it. I gave her a pretty standard mumbling about “common grace”, and I do believe that is true.

I also believe that all humans are created in God’s image and have an understanding of kindness and friendship and love. We should be thankful for that.

But I thought about it.

I know this friend. I know that he was raised in the church, quite similar to my own circles and so his concerns echoed with me. I also have found that in general the people who treated me with the most contempt, rage, anger, and dismissal have been fellow professors of Christ. I have never had an unbeliever treat me as badly as one who broke bread with me at the Lord’s Table.

Why is that? If we are to be known by our love, why is it that we are mostly known by our contempt and anger against everyone?

And once again, you can deny it. I have had many believers try to prove that they aren’t bullies by threatening me, slandering me and cutting off all contact with me for saying that they were bullies.

You know what I am talking about. If you don’t, then maybe it would help you to learn to listen to those who have left the church. So many souls have been trampled on and abused by conservative evangelicals!

So I thought about it.

I think that there are two things that are deeply engrained in our evangelical culture.

First, fear is deeply engrained.  We were raised firmly in the belief that coming into contact with the “world” would destroy us. We were taught throughout the 70s and 80s and beyond that “secular humanists” were out to take away all of our rights, persecute us, change our way of life, and destroy churches.  “Left Behind”, Youth Camps, Bill Gothard – all of them painted quite the horrifying apocalypse if the unbelievers ever get power. If “these people” get their way, we will lose everything this country stands for! We will lose our place and our nation.

It actually was for this very reason that the leaders of the Jews delivered Jesus to be crucified. They thought that if he continued, the Romans would destroy their way of life and their positions of power (John 11:47-48).

So we react with the world through fear. We are terrified of everything. Rock music, Hollywood, Disney, ABC, Starbuck coffee, Harry Potter, women getting out of control! We need to be continually steadfast and vigilant!

We act as if God is just waiting for us to let our guards down and then punish us for not being vigilant enough.

(On a side note, this is why the teaching that Adam sinned by not guarding the garden from the invasion of the serpent bothers me so much. Not only is that nowhere in the text, but it puts an impossible standard on people that no one can meet. How could Adam have been everywhere at once? Should he have built a wall? Trained his sons to be armed border patrol?)

But I digress.

God has not called us to fear. We are complete in Christ and safe in him. God is not waiting for us to mess up so he can gleefully punish us. He delights in us as dear children and nothing can ever take us out of his hand.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

So quit being afraid of everything. If your gay neighbors get married, it won’t damage you or your relationship with God at all. Put the pickets down. Learn to delight in people and stop being afraid of them.

So that’s the first thing.

The second problem is this one – we cannot resist the opportunity to inform someone that they are doing something wrong.

Are you grieving loss? You’re doing it wrong.

Are you trying to come to terms with your childhood? You’re doing it wrong.

Are you living in terror? You’re doing it wrong.

Are you ready to report your sexual assault? You’re doing it wrong.

Are you happy about a promotion? You’re doing it wrong.

Are you having a party to celebrate an accomplishment? You’re doing it wrong.

Are you proud of your family? Raising your children? Pregnant? Breastfeeding? Bottle feeding? educating your children? Disciplining your children?

You’re doing it wrong.

I can’t speak for everyone, but in my circles I know where this tendency comes from.

We have a long, long history of being told that only Christians are knowledgeable on every single subject. Only Christians have the TRUTH and so only Christians can rightly teach history, child-rearing, marriage and family, math, economics, healthcare – and we have found bible verses to prove it all.

We are the experts in trauma, depression, anxiety, discipline, raising children, marriage, ADHD, ADD, gender roles, constitutional law, statute law, common law, race, economics – and it is our sworn duty to explain to the whole world that YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!

Don’t you know that “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” (Kuyper). And this, of course, gives me the right as a Christian to explain to you again in all Christian love that YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!!

If we do not explain carefully how everything you are doing is wrong, how on earth can you possibly repent from doing it wrong? And if you don’t repent from doing it wrong, how can you expect God to bless you.

Just quit doing it wrong, do it the other way, and then you will know God’s blessing in your life and all of your problems will disappear.

And then it follows – if you don’t stop doing it wrong, we are going to have to force you somehow.

Whew. And if we miss one opportunity, then the devil gets in the garden, our wife goes out wandering, and next thing you know all hell breaks loose again.

It’s exhausting, isn’t it?

And then we discover that what we thought was right and good wasn’t Christianity at all. In fact, it wasn’t much different than any other autocratic religion.

I wonder what would happen if we just stopped…

What if we just assumed that people who are truly doing it wrong probably already know that and those that don’t are probably just different than you are and that is OK.

Or maybe it’s not OK and they really are doing it wrong.

I’m probably doing it wrong too.

I grieve wrong. I get anxious over things. I forget things. I grumble when I shouldn’t. I don’t love as I ought.

What I am doing is simply trying to make it from one day to the next day the best I can, walking in God’s love and limping along towards the heavenly city.

Or maybe Jesus is carrying me the whole way. Or maybe I’m limping.

What I know for certain is this – he won’t ever let me go, even when I do everything wrong. And he will lead me by his Spirit and gently guide me exactly where I need to go and so I can just stop.

I wonder what would happen if we just sat with the grieving?

I wonder what would happen if we just listened to the one trying to process trauma?

I wonder what would happen if we just rejoiced when our neighbor got married?

I wonder what would happen if we were proud that our friend was proud of their work and cracked a cold one with him in his garage?

I wonder what would happen if we just stopped that impulse to tell everyone that everything that they are doing is wrong?

Maybe then people wouldn’t ask, “Why are unbelievers so much kinder and gentler than believers?”

Maybe we should listen.

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Filed under Encouragement, Gospel, Image of God

Same sex attraction and the forgiveness of sins

Yesterday, the PCA general assembly passed the following resolution:

Overture 15: “Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.”

I know that this is a risky blog, but it had been mulling in my mind for many weeks. I waited to see what the PCA would do with it

Of course, we know that it is directed towards Greg Johnson. And I have read his book “Still Time to Care.” There was nothing in that book at all that was outside of the traditions and teachings of Christianity. I don’t know anything about REVOICE. All I know is how things are worded. I’ve read the book. I’ve read the overture. And it is deadly to the faith. I beg the PCA to reconsider while the candlestick is still there.

Notice the overture. It does not say, “Those who practice homosexuality.” Nor does it say, “Those who claim that homosexuality is not sinful.” In both cases, I would have agreed. Those who live unrepentantly in any sin should not serve in the ministry.

But it doesn’t say that.

I do not pretend to know the discussions going on in the PCA. All I know about the debate is that I read Pastor Johnson’s book. He is exclusively same sex attracted. He confesses that it is part of his “sinful nature with which he has to struggle his whole life long.” He has never acted on his desires.

He has also never been attracted to a woman.

If it is a question of terminology – that instead of just confession a lifelong spiritual struggle, he used the term “homosexuality”, then they got the terminology wrong. Most that I know of use the term “gay”. But it is just a word. It seems like disqualifying a man from ministry over a word is a little harsh.

The problem seems to be that the man confessed his struggle with sin.

So here is why I am sad. The PCA has just declared that THIS particular struggle with sin, even though it is never acted on, disqualifies a man from the ministry.

And at the same time, every Sunday, many of these same churches recite the creed together. “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

Perhaps at this point, they should, for the sake of consistency, add an addendum. “I believe in the forgiveness of sins except for same sex attraction.”

Which other sins will be excluded from the creed?

In Augustine’s day, there was a debate with a certain sect in the church who taught that those who denied Christ to escape persecution could never be forgiven and restored to fellowship.

The church strongly disagreed. This is why “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” was added to the creed.

The reason that this is a sad day is that a cardinal, basic tenet of Christianity was denied – hopefully unwittingly – in the relentless pursuit of “culture war” victory.

They won the battle in the culture war, but lost the battle for the faith doing so.

The only thing left for Christians is to continue to keep silent about their struggles, never ask for help, never confess sin or our struggle with our sinful nature, and remain alone and isolated in the kingdom of God.

But the result will be that everyone will remain silent, especially if they wish to pastor the church. Perhaps THEIR sinful nature will be next on the chopping block.

It makes me sad that this is where the PCA chose to go.

The Heidelberg Catechism states:

56. What dost thou believe concerning the “forgiveness of sins”?

That God, for the sake of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, nor the sinful nature with which I have to struggle all my life long; but graciously imputes to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may nevermore come into condemnation.

The church is to be known as a place for sinners. Jesus was called a “friend of sinners”.

We cannot be a “hospital for sinners” if we say, “Except for you.”

Either the blood of Christ cleanses us from sin or it does not. To deny the blood of Christ to one particular kind of sin is deadly to the church.

I pray that the PCA will reconsider their stance on this.

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Filed under Gospel

Pro-life

Today I saw this:

“The reason people want abortion is because they do not want to submit to God’s moral commands.”

I need to speak about this, for I find it shameful and not Christian at all.

But first, I need to repeat something over and over and over and over.

I am pro-life, and believe that abortion is morally wrong. I believe that Roe v. Wade was the wrong decision.

That being said, lets talk about shame.

Millions of people in this country believe that outlawing abortion will be a blow for women’s rights. I’ve heard those arguments my whole life. I used to brush them off as the arguments of stupid, immoral people who just wanted to do what they wanted to do.

And then I met people. Life is rarely as black and white as we wish it to be. We would love to have our own agency removed and just have someone older and wiser telling us what to do.

But we aren’t in a musical, are we? (So now I need to repeat something:

I am pro-life, and believe that abortion is morally wrong. I believe that Roe v. Wade was the wrong decision.)

Lets move on.

We might argue with our opponents for being wrong on this issue, but it isn’t because they are stupid. We might actually learn something about human nature and something about God if we will stop shouting and actually listen to people.

Why do so many connect abortion rights with women’s dignity? (and yes, I believe they are on the WRONG track – but it isn’t because they are stupid.)

We could ask the question “Why is abortion a thing? What makes a woman so desperate that she will take the life of her own baby?”

And when we seek to honestly answer that question, we may be on the right track to actually be able to put a stop to abortions no matter what the legislatures and courts decide. But waiting for others to pass a law is the easy way out, isn’t it?

We believers don’t actually derive our power from Supreme Courts or any law-makers. We have tremendous power, but it isn’t like any other power in the world. We have the power to be salt and light, if only we had the courage to be. Our power is in taking the lowest place, not learning how to enforce laws.

Why is abortion a thing? NOT because of Roe v. Wade. It was a thing before then, and millions of Americans supported abortion rights – and NOT because they were stupid or any more rebellious than anyone else. They had all sorts of reasons, but I think the real reason is the reality of shame.

It has to do with shame.

I know that this is hard, but try to imagine yourself as a young woman growing up in a typical conservative Christian family.

You were being prepared to submit to your husband. You were being prepared to be a chaste virgin to serve at the feet of the husband God would have for you.

You were NOT encouraged to use any gifts that God gave you, unless they fit into submission to your husband. You were not encouraged to go to school. You were told to keep your body covered at all times or grown men would lust after you, because that is how they were made.

(For documentation on all of this, one only needs to look at Bill Gothard’s manual after manual after manual of “training material.”)

If your uncle leered at you or groped you, you were told that “that is just how men are. We learn to deal with it.”

If you were assaulted, you were asked what you were wearing, what you did to lead him on. Perhaps you were even publicly shamed in front of the church for being a harlot, a crushed rose that no one would want.

In other words, you were created in the image of God with gifts and honor and dignity, but you were repeatedly shamed, dishonored, unheard, and shunned.

“Run along dear. This is men’s work.”

“Not today, honey. Let the men do their work.”

“You get your period because God cursed women after the fall.”

“You don’t need a job, let the men-folk take care of you.”

“You don’t need to buy a house. You don’t need a credit line. You don’t need a bank account.”

And, yes, every one of these things was a “thing” in my lifetime. In most states, a woman couldn’t get a bank account, a credit line, a house, a car, without a man’s signature.

All of what she saw and was taught in church contradicted what she knew in her heart. That she was an image-bearer of God, with dignity and worth and deserving of honor and respect.

And when there is a conflict between how we were created and how we are now, the gap is called “shame”. A longing for Eden. A longing to again belong and use gifts and be honored as a woman.

Because an animal wasn’t suitable to be a fitting helper for Adam, God created a woman – to fit him as in front of his face. To stand upright, look him in the eye, work alongside him, have dominion alongside him, and cultivate the earth along side him.

But you were sidelined by your church and trained for a life of servitude, to be kept barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen.

“Now run along, dear, and fetch my drink.”

Shame is intolerable. It is like water, in that it won’t stay where it is put but it will always burst forth one way or another.

So a boy comes along. He is handsome. He looks at you and treats you like an equal. He makes you feel valued, like you have never felt before. He makes you feel safe and makes you feel like it is OK for you to take up space. He makes you feel like a person, which you have never felt before. And one thing leads to another, and now you find that you are pregnant. Maybe he was sincere. Maybe he was a rake. The effect was the same.

Because you are a sinner; and because you have never been taught how to address your shame. You have only been told how to behave. You didn’t have any of the tools to protect yourself, because you were never taught wisdom. You were only taught shame. (See Proverbs 2-3)

Now what do you do?

Tell your father?

Tell your pastor?

You remember when they made your friend stand up before the whole church and “confess” the sin of fornication.

You remember how your other friend was raped by a deacon and forced to confront him and forgive him but instead she left town and never came back.

Do you remember how the church took up a collection and got a lawyer for the pastor who had been beating his wife and children?

How they shamed the 14 year old for wearing a tank-top, but looked the other way when the deacon’s computer was full of child porn?

You remember how your father told you that if you ever got into trouble he would disown you and have nothing more to do with you.

You remember how they talked about women who were “loose”.

So what do you do?

I am pro-life, and believe that abortion is morally wrong. I believe that Roe v. Wade was the wrong decision.

I am pro-life, and believe that abortion is morally wrong. I believe that Roe v. Wade was the wrong decision.

I am pro-life, and believe that abortion is morally wrong. I believe that Roe v. Wade was the wrong decision.

The reason that Roe v Wade was the wrong decision was that it did nothing to take away shame.

The reason that I am so afraid of it being overturned is that it will do nothing to take away shame. It will only increase the power of the bullies, the hateful, the rapists and pornographers – especially the ones in positions of power in the church. I fear this to be true because I see the character of those who were elected because of the fear of abortion. Thugs, charlatans, conmen, and thieves.

I hear how everyone talks over on Twitter and fear for the future. What are we going to do?

Stand them up in front of the church again?

Call them the stinky rose that no one wants?

Make sure that they are outcasts, constantly reminded that they aren’t really as clean as the others? Make sure that everyone knows that they are “fallen”?

I heard years ago about a young man who was sexually assaulted as a child. The young women were warned away from him. “He will always be broken” they were told.

So now, back in the mind of the young woman. Suppose the “fornication” wasn’t consensual. Suppose it was your youth pastor. Suppose it was a frat boy in an alley.

What will you do?

Report it? Remember what happened when your friend was raped and she was kicked out of school her senior year for violating her purity oath?

Remember how you had to sign a non-disclosure oath and never talk about it?

Remember when your mother and your father didn’t even believe you?

And suppose you got pregnant from that rape.

Do you report it to the police, knowing that the rapist will get custody of the child?

Do you put his name on the birth certificate and be forced to deal with him your whole life?

Did you know that most states allow a rapist to sue for custody?

I assure you that every single scenario here is true. It happens over and over and over. It has been well-documented with more evidence and more unimpeachable testimony than any court would require in any other situation. It has been documented again and again by all of those who have been or are currently being run out of the establishments for being “feminists. Liberals. Socialists.” Only because they dared to speak the truth.

But we don’t want to “ruin a man’s life” over “20 minutes of action, do we?”

We don’t have a problem with ruining HER life, after all, if she weren’t a sinner, she wouldn’t be in trouble now, would she?

I am pro-life, and believe that abortion is morally wrong. I believe that Roe v. Wade was the wrong decision.

I am pro-life, and believe that abortion is morally wrong. I believe that Roe v. Wade was the wrong decision.

But it goes a lot deeper than the “single issue voters” want it to be. Knowing that something is morally reprehensible, and knowing how to stop it are two different things. Is our calling as the church to enforce law? Or is it to proclaim the gospel? We keep getting sidetracked.

The law was given by God himself from Mt. Sinai and enforced with thunder and lighting and fire. The ground opened up at one point and dragged whole families down to hell. The threats and the curses were real.

But that wasn’t the gospel. And that never dealt with the problem of shame. The law on stone could beat someone to death, but it couldn’t bring life. It still can’t. All it can do is increase shame, which increases guilt, which increases sin.

So, if you recognize yourself in this scenario, let me give you the gospel.

Your shame is real, and I am so, so sorry for all of those who sought to control you by heaping more shame on you. Jesus didn’t come to heap shame.

He was stripped naked on the cross in front of the world and hung there to die. He took all of our shame upon himself, so that he might unite himself to you.

And he did this because he wanted YOU. He wants to embrace you and give you life. He wants to wash away all of your sin and misery, and wants to restore you to how He created you to be. With dignity, with honor, with beauty.

And because of his work, you ARE beautiful. If you have gotten pregnant, you are still beautiful and your baby is beautiful. You aren’t ruined, you aren’t second best, you aren’t spoiled. You are His daughter, and he is making you beautiful, without spot and without blemish. You are welcomed at His table and if the organization that calls itself a church doesn’t welcome you to theirs, then they don’t know Him. Flee from there into the arms of the One who loves you and gave himself for you.

For everyone else, who are you to judge another man’s servant? It is so much deeper than “they just don’t want to submit”. We have more work to do that goes deeper than picket lines, protest lines, and single issue voting.

Maybe if you think about this a little bit, you will see what Jesus meant when he said to the woman caught in the act, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”

I am pro-life, and believe that abortion is morally wrong. I believe that Roe v. Wade was the wrong decision.

And that is true. But it isn’t the gospel. The gospel is something far, far more powerful. The gospel goes to the heart and causes men and women to bend the knee, not because they are afraid, but that they have been overwhelmed by the power of love.

That’s a different thing.

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Filed under abortion, Gospel

Give me a drink, continued

See part one here:

As the woman recovers from her astonishment that a Jewish Rabbi is speaking to her at all, Jesus answers her.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is speaking to you, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

She misunderstands him, and apparently thinks he is talking about the spring that is flowing at the very bottom of the well. It would be the freshest, coolest water. But Jesus doesn’t have a rope or a bucket. How will he get to that water?

But Jesus has water that is even greater than that. It is water that satisfies our deepest longings. He intends to draw us back into fellowship with God.

We look to Jesus to fix things for us. We want him to give us things that will solve our earthly problems. We want to be free from anxiety, from care, from trouble, from trials, from death…

And eventually, Jesus will give us all of that and more. But he has an even greater plan. He seeks to solve the original problem that is the core of everything else.

We want the Great Physician to fix the headache and the fever. And he will eventually. But first, the cancer must be removed.

We are in a cursed world because we are unclean. We are unclean because of our sins and because we are in a cursed world. We are miserable, because we were created as image-bearers of God, dwelling with him in eternity, and we are cast out of his presence.

God is holy. Man is sinful. We have a far greater problem than we can possibly imagine.

Jesus came to call his sheep, to gather them into his fold. He came to clean them, to lead them, to feed them, to take away their sins, to call them his own.

So he tells her to ask for living water, and she asks.

She genuinely desires it. She thinks that it would be great if she didn’t have to come to the well every day to get water…

So she asks. And Jesus wasn’t tricking her. He is going to give her exactly what she is asking for.

Jesus is lifting her thoughts higher. But first, a common hindrance must be removed.

And there are two things getting in our way of receiving the living water, depending on what kind of people we are. If things have gone relatively well for us – if we have money and health and reputation and a large, well-behaved family – we tend to settle too easily.

This is pride. We won’t allow anyone to shake us out of our complacency, even if it is to give us the Pearl of Great Price.

The other hindrance is the one that is common among those who are the outcasts, the losers, the people just like this woman. These are the normal people, with their normal anxieties and their normal fears.

And the biggest fear is this – if people found out who I really was, they would want nothing to do with me. If people knew what things were like in my house, if people knew what horrible things I’ve done, if people knew that I’m a fraud, if people knew the things that go through my head, if people knew my sins and my struggles and my shame, they would throw me out and never let me back in.

So you hold people at an arm’s distance. You keep yourself to yourself. You might be social, but there is a part of you that no one gets to see.

And the thought of Jesus inviting you into fellowship is terrifying. What if he finds out who I am?

THIS is what Jesus is giving this woman. He isn’t shaming her. He is saying, “I know who you are. I know your living situation. I know what you’ve been through. I know what your home life is like right now. I know all of your sins, even your most shameful.

“And I still asked you to give me a drink. I still want you in my family. I still want to give you living water.”

So he says, “Go get your husband…”

And he puts his finger right on her thirst.

Its funny how we read current cultural battles into the text. We blame feminism for high divorce rates (rather than abusive men) so we read that into this text as well.

We think that Jesus is confronting a fornicator, when there is no such thing in this text. But she is a divorcee! That is just a step above a prostitute, isn’t it?? But in that day, women didn’t divorce husbands. Husbands divorced them. A husband could throw his wife out for any reason whatsoever. And she had been cast out 5 times.

And now, she has given up and is simply living with a man. She still needs shelter. She still needs to eat.

And she is living with the shame in front of the whole community. She’s “that woman.”

But to Jesus she is “my sister, my spouse, my bride. The one I came to seek and save.”

Jesus is pulling back the curtain. He is doing the same thing he did in Eden when he said, “Adam, where are you? I want to cleanse you. I want to clothe you. But first, you must come out.

“You must first realize that I already know exactly what you did, I know exactly what your most shameful secret is. I already know your home situation. I already know who you are.

“In fact, I am going to take all of it on myself. I will take your shame on myself when I am lifted up naked in front of the world. I will be outcast and driven outside the city and take that from you. And I will take your sin and your misery and your death sentence upon myself – so that you can enter into Eternal Life.”

But again – I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because Jesus is God and his words carry power, the woman does NOT change the subject. She gets the subject. Jesus is talking about fellowship with God, which is what worship is. We get pictures of that on this earth.

So it reminds her of a long dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans. “Since you are talking about cleanliness, can you tell me where I can meet with God? The Jews say Jerusalem. But we have always worshiped here.”

When Jesus begins to gather his sheep together, he awakens in them the longing for worship. Where do I go? How do I act? I understand that you are desiring to gather me into your fold, but how, exactly, do we go about doing that?

The pictures and shadows are beginning to fade away. Jesus told her that in this particular debate, the Jews were right. Jerusalem and the worship there was the only proper form of worship.

But soon all of that would change. Soon, it wouldn’t be Jerusalem OR Gerizim.

God is not satisfied with empty rituals. He doesn’t want our sheep and our goats and our feast days and proper sabbath observance. He wants US.

This doesn’t mean that the rituals are not important. It is important to know what you are worshiping.

But if you just stop there, you have missed the whole point (Isaiah 1).

God wants YOU. He is gathering his sheep together.

He is calling us to put off our pride and our silly little dignities that we like to carry around.

He is calling us also to fully understand that he knows us inside and out, up and down, every word that has come or WILL come off of our tongue.

He knows what men have done to you. He knows what shame you are carrying around. He knows the sins that you are carrying around.

He knows your frailty and your weakness. He knows your greatest fear and your greatest longing.

He knows what you would do if you had the opportunity. He knows what you would do if you never got caught.

He hears the prayers under the fig tree when you don’t even know what to say.

And he STILL says, “Give me a drink.”

YES, he can get it himself. But he wants YOU, his bride, to take your part because you have dignity and worth. Just like Adam named the animals, and displayed his image-bearing, so also this woman is called to take part displaying her image-bearing. So just as Jesus asked for a drink, so now she gives that “drink” to her whole community – she brings them all to Jesus.

Bring the hope and the light and the joy of being forgiven, loved and accepted to the world. Take that water and pass it around.

Drink deeply of the Spirit and let that life flow all around you. LIVE!

It isn’t because he needs you. He is almighty God, and He upholds everything with his power. He doesn’t need his creatures.

But he loves you and you were created to bear his image. Give me a drink – because regardless of who you are and what you have done, you are still an image-bearer of God.

And he will wash you, purify you, take away your sins, clothe you with his perfect righteousness, and bring you into his family. He is preparing a place just for you.

And so you have dignity and worth. You aren’t what everyone says about you. Look deeper. Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. Take that water that he gives you and tell all of your neighbors about it.

This is a little bit different than Jesus simply shaming her for being a sinner and then allowing her to change the subject, isn’t is?

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Give me a drink

15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water so that I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw water.”

16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.”

17 The woman answered and said to Him, “I have no husband.”

Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this which you have said is true.”

19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and yet you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one must worship.”

21 Jesus said to her, “Believe Me, woman, that time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But aa time is coming, and even now has arrived, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:15-24)

I have preached on this passage several times before, but I thought that it might be helpful to put my thoughts down in writing. There are plenty of misunderstandings on this passage, most of them seem to center around our own biases and culture wars, rather than a sober analysis of the words.

It seems to always be a trend. Some guy on Social Media will say something cruel and heartless. Maybe dismiss someone because they are gay, or trans, or divorced, or otherwise not worth our honor and respect as human beings. When someone calls them on it, they contend that by pointing out everyone’s sins they are simply doing what Jesus did. And then they quote this passage. The assumption is that Jesus confronted this woman about her sin of fornication and she tried to change the subject. But is this truly what is happening here?

Jesus is traveling through Samaria. Samaria is in the ancient territory of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. For centuries, the citizens of Israel (NOT Judah, that was the Southern Kingdom) had refused to go to Solomon’s temple to worship. Instead, they built altars and idols at the cities of Dan in the north and Bethel in the south. Eventually, after centuries of warning, God cast them off. The inhabitants had all been taken captive by the Assyrians and scattered, except for a few of the poor that were left. Eventually, the few poor that remained intermarried with Gentiles from all the surrounding kingdoms and adopted those religions on top of the religion of Dan and Bethel (2 Kings 17).

You really can’t understand what is happening in John 4 without some knowledge of these events. If you haven’t read First and Second Chronicles in a while, a brush-up might be in order.

It was THESE people that this woman descended from. The ancient nation of Judah – now known as “Jews” – still despised them. They rejected the proper form of worship. They rejected God’s king. They intermarried with pagans. They didn’t know the law. They were sinners.

This woman has three strikes against her in the mind of a Jew. She was a Samaritan. She was a woman. She was a sinner.

But Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. So he is traveling through Samaria.

He sits down at the well and waits. Soon, the woman comes. She is apparently an outcast even in her own city, for she comes alone.

And then she sees Jesus, dressed in the traditional garb of a Jew and a Rabbi. You can just hear her thought process:

“Oh great.  A Jew. Like I need this today. The toilet backs up,  the goats are breaking through the fence, the kids are totally hyped up and all I need is a little peace and quiet for a minute. And now I have to deal with a Jew!”

A Jew sitting at the well would normally give her a look of absolute contempt and then move away from her. Perhaps you are familiar with that look. Maybe you know what it is to be viewed as something filthy on the bottom of the shoe of life.

This is what she is expecting. She sighs. She has work to do, so might as well get on with it.

And then – something astounding.

“Please give me a drink”.

She might have dropped her pitcher at that one.

He is speaking to her. TO HER! Jews don’t speak to Samaritans and Rabbis don’t speak to women. But he is speaking to her??

After gathering her wits together, it hits her that he has also asked her for something. Wait…I have something this guy wants? I have something of value to offer? Holy Mackerel. What is going on here?

And then it occurs to her that what he is asking her for is something that will require him to put his mouth on something that belongs to her. If she gives him a drink, he would have to drink it out of her bucket. Woah.

The Jews’ rituals of cleanliness were like childhood cooties on steroids. The revulsion that any Jew would have at drinking out of a woman’s pitcher would have been staggering. Much less a Samaritan. Much much less a sinner!

I remember as a child my brothers passing my comb around by the tips of their fingers as if it were the dirtiest thing they had ever seen. It still shames me.

And this woman has been dealing with far, far worse shame her whole life. Can you imagine someone refusing to touch you or even something you touched because the thought of your uncleanness makes them retch?

And here is this Jewish Rabbi saying “Give me a drink”.

What is going on here?

She stammers – how?

What…? Um…

OK – You are a Jew. I’m a Samaritan. Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans.

What is going on here…

Jesus, with one request, has opened up the greatest need and longing of the human heart. Fellowship with God.

This is the problem of mankind. We have been cast out of Eden, unclean, sinners, under God’s wrath and curse.

But God has determined to save a people for himself – to be their God and we will be his people.

Every law and every statute about cleanness and uncleanness pointed to this one thing – God is calling us back to himself, but in order to do so, he must clean us.

The Temple of God, which was at the heart of the debate between Jews and Samaritans, was a picture of God dwelling with his people, just like he did in Eden.

All of the rituals and sacrifices and ceremonies of the law pointed to Jesus who would cleanse us from all sin and uncleanness and defilement so that we might be taken into the embrace of the Father Himself, which is the longing of every human heart.

Another way to describe this longing is to use the word “thirst”. What are we thirsty for?

“As the deer pants after the water-brooks, so my soul pants for YOU, O my God” (Psalm 42).

But the curse that is on us is such that we always seek to quench our thirst with anything BUT fellowship with God. We are prone to hate him and hate our neighbor, and yet the thirst remains. We refuse to see how defiled we are in the sight of perfect holiness, perfect righteousness, perfect purity – so we will not come for dress, for cleansing, for purity.

Instead, we would rather fashion our own aprons out of fig leaves and hide behind the bushes of our own making.

We might be outcast and alone, but at least we did it our way.

So we seek to quench that thirst with money, respect, honor, work, good works, religious rituals, reputation. Or with less dignified idols – drugs, alcohol, sex, putting people in their place, gossip, slander, reviling, violence, abuse…

All of it to satisfy our deep longings for fellowship with God but twisted into an evil thing.

And because God loved the world, and because he desires to enter into fellowship with his fallen and filthy creatures, he sent his only begotten son into the world that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

So Jesus is on a mission. He must go through Samaria, because he has a sheep there that needs to be introduced to her true thirst. The one who can’t fellowship with God because she is unclean, and so she needs a savior.

Jesus opens the conversation by talking about cleanliness.

“Give me a drink.”

And she understands – You think everything about me is unclean. You think that even touching my bucket will make YOU unclean. You think having a conversation with me makes you unclean.

What is going on here?

What is going on is this: Jesus is about to make you clean and give you your hearts desire…

More next time….See part two here:

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Why do I do it?

There are two distinct religions in the country. Both go under the name of Christianity. Both claim to follow Jesus. Both understand the importance of living a righteous life.

But they are two entirely different religions.

One can be summarized by the phrase, “Do these things, and you will live.”

Get married. Obey your husband. Control your wife. Discipline your kids. Homeschool them. Move to a homestead and grow your own food. Learn to shoot a gun and do self-defense. Get proper exercise. Eat right. Make the right choices. Vote the right way. Go to the right church. Attend the right conferences. Be manly men and feminine women. Become the best complementarian the world has ever seen. Go on pilgrimages to all the holy sites – Focus on the Family. The Giant Ark.  Chick Fil-a. Search the scripture and find the formula. Apply it, and your life will be orderly, happy and blessed. You will live.

But things don’t always go to plan. Your husband turns out to be abusive. Your kids rebel and dye their hair green. You get sick anyway. Your body grows weaker by the day. You struggle with chronic pain. Your marriage falls apart. Your kids turn out differently than you expect. Violence still finds you and you are attacked by someone stronger than you are and there is nothing you can do about it. No matter how often you say, “I’m not a victim” you suddenly are a victim.

And you say to yourself: I did everything right, and God didn’t keep up his end.

And so perhaps you try different things.

Leave your husband. Leave your wife. Dye your hair blue with your kids. Exercise harder. Buy a bigger gun. Vote for the other guy this time. Go to another church. Choose different conferences. Quit listening to what others say and do your own thing. Send the kids to another school. Eat at Burger King because quite frankly they taste better than Chick Fil-a.

And you still feel empty inside. Abandoned by God. Lonely.

And worse than all, the same sins that you always struggled with are all still there.

I “did this” and I “didn’t live”. Death is still king. Chaos, war, illness, pain, suffering are all still with me.

So now you turn on the sinners. It has to be their fault you are losing the war. Attack the gay guys next door. Launch campaigns against the LGBTQ agenda. They are destroying the country, you know.

Those effeminate preachers who wear pink and refuse to get their women in line are destroying all of us. The feminist agenda will destroy the church. Preachers who speak to sinners. Guys who listen to women. Same sex attracted people coming to church. Black people getting uppity and not wanting to be shot by the police anymore…They’ll destroy us all.

And you look fondly back to the days when America was great. People knew their place. Men were men and women were women and we were God’s country…

(at least, if you were white, middle class, male and had the right haircut, didn’t grow a beard, like good Christians…now I guess the beard is the mark of righteousness…It’s hard to keep up).

And the result of this religion was death. It always was. And it still is. The legacy of this false religion is the wreckage of innocent lives, abuse, incest, destructive addictions, women and children crushed underfoot, “beta males” incessantly mocked and ridiculed, shame and disgrace…

The problem with “do this and live” is that if you look to ANY list of rules to find your righteousness, then you are on the hook to keep the WHOLE law, not just the parts that you like.

If you strongly denounce the “effeminate” then you also must denounce the revilers. The liars. The heretics. The adulterers.

The point of Romans 1 ISN’T just that men lying with men is a sin against God. Romans one builds to Romans three, and the conclusion is this: ALL have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. There is none righteous.

NO – Not one.

Not the manly hunter that lives next door. Nope. Not him.

Not the mother that has everything together and perfect kids that don’t ever ever wiggle on Sunday? Nope. Not her.

Not the pinnacle of the patriarchy – the guy on the cover of the books with the huge ministry and the well-coifed wife and happy faced children? Nope. Not him.

The homesteader? The liberal? The conservative? The anti-woke preacher? The woke preacher? – nope. Not him either.

The wife who never backtalks or ever has her own ideas? Nope. Not here.

None.

No. Not one.

It is almost as if the Holy Spirit is anticipating our objections….

Not one.

But I’m heterosexual and cisgender!! Nope. Not you either.

This is the problem with the first religion masquerading as Christianity. It isn’t Christianity at all. It is what Paul calls “The law”. It is the reason why the Jews of Paul’s day hated Jesus. They thought that righteousness would come by keeping the law. They thought that they could establish their own righteousness.

Do this, and you will live.

For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
5 For Moses writes of the righteousness that is based on the Law, that the person who performs them will live by them. (Romans 10:3-5)

But there is a big problem with this way of thinking. You don’t have any righteousness of your own. If you want to establish your own righteousness, you have to keep EVERYTHING in the law, not just the parts you want to keep.

It isn’t enough to be against abortion. You have to love your neighbor as yourself, continually, every time, without one failure.

It isn’t enough to be anti-LGBTQ. You also have to never once, not ever, lusted after anyone – same or opposite sex. EVER. The law doesn’t give you a pass because you are heterosexual.

You get the point. It Paul’s day, the ultimate “righteousness” was circumcision. Get circumcised, and live. And he says this.

For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Galatians 5:3.

Then he goes on to warn the Galatians. He tells them that thinking that they will somehow establish their own righteousness is of the flesh. Really, it is the same thing that every human born of Adam tries to do. We inherited it from him.

It is why Cain got so angry. How dare God not keep up his end of the bargain!!

And God told him, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” And that is true. If you do well.

That is the problem with the thinking of the flesh. “If you do well.”

Compare that with the other great truth. There is none righteous.

No. Not one.

And the results of this false religion are always the same thing.

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, indecent behavior, idolatry, witchcraft, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-20)

And doesn’t that pretty much sum up the results of what we are seeing in so many ministries that are rooted in the thinking of the flesh?

It isn’t a disagreement over an interpretation. It is another religion entirely.

Which leads us to the second distinct religion. True Christianity.

True Christianity is this (Go back to Romans 10). In contrast to “do this and live”, Paul shows the righteousness of God. Righteousness comes outside of ourselves, for we have none of our own. We have no righteousness, ever, not even after we are saved, that can stand before God’s righteous judgment.

But God has provided another way. He first announced it in Eden. Then foreshadowed it in the sacrifices and ceremonies of the law. It is the righteousness that is ours by faith. Jesus did it, and it is as if we have never had nor committed any sin, if only we accept it with a believing heart.

As the scripture says “Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

This is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, which is why Paul calls this “the spirit” as opposed to “the flesh”. The flesh is what we inherited from Adam. “Do this, and you will live.”

The Spirit drives us to mourning, true humility, and an overpowering sense that we are in desperate, desperate trouble unless God is merciful to us.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And does this have fruit? It certainly does! But it is a far different kind than the fruit that the flesh brings forth.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

So why do I do what I do? Why do I endure the continuous insults, ridicule, threats and abuse online? Why do I continue to critique the idols of this present age?

Because I hate the flesh in myself and know that I have no hope other than in Jesus Christ.

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

Ask yourself, what is your view of someone who DOESN’T do things the way that you do things, and then you will know somewhat of where your idols are and where your hope is.

As for me, my hope is not in my view of gender roles, my control of my wife, the way I choose to raise my children. It isn’t in submission to your husband, in your ability to homestead and homeschool. It isn’t in your heterosexuality. All of those are the way of death if you are holding on to them as your righteousness before God. All of our sexuality is corrupted by sin. All of our works are corrupted by sin. All of our masculinity and femininity are corrupted by sin. The only one who was not, ever, corrupted by sin was Jesus.

And he took my filthy garments – including my self-righteousness, lusts, pride – and nailed them to the cross. And then he gave me his perfect, spotless righteousness.

If only I accept them with a believing heart.

And now is the time when one hears, “yeah, but also…”

That’s the beauty of Christianity. There is NO “Yeah, but also” in Christ. You add nothing. He already did it all. It is finished. It is yours without any “yeah, but also”, other wise it isn’t good news at all!

So why do I continue to stick my hand in that hornet’s nest?

Because I hope that at least one person will hear me, and come to know true freedom and joy, no matter who they are or where they are from or what they have suffered. No one is beyond the reach of God’s compassion.

But even more importantly than that, it is because God has called me to be a preacher of the gospel. Not a purveyor of the opinions of men. So I will continue to do so and I will continue to call out the false messiahs of this age, because it is what God has called me to do.

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the childless woman and the miracle child

by: anonymous – guest post

I am very thankful for this guest post by a brilliant woman, a Mother in Israel, who wishes to remain anonymous.

And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!”

But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

— Luke 11:27,28

Those tedious bits of the Old Testament, the genealogies, make a final incursion in Matthew and Luke before they disappear from the Bible (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). All the difficult-to-say names, often of obscure children born to obscurer parents, culminate here. They are bewildering, breaking up the narratives — but each name represents two hands gripping a promise. A promise to Eve, and later to Abraham, of a child (Genesis 3 & 15). Miraculous births, beginning with the birth of Isaac, whispered of this miraculous baby to come (Galatians 3:16); but I think Israel’s hope in the coming child is especially poignant in the book of Ruth.

Ruth begins in a time of famine — a woman loses her home and country, then her husband and sons, until finally, past childbearing years, she straggles back to Bethlehem. She has no future — no heir, no one to redeem the land heritage that used to belong to her. She has only a bereaved and childless daughter-in-law, for whom she cannot provide. When women from her hometown come out to greet Naomi, she tells them not to call her by her name, but by a name that means “bitter”: “Mara” — “I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty… the Lord has testified against me” (Ruth 1:21).

But somehow a tale that begins with flat tones of famine and a parched life ends in the rhythms of harvest — and in greetings of blessing from the same women to whom Naomi spoke of the Lord’s curse (4:14). What has taken place between the beginning and the end, that transforms the story? The same thing that took place unobtrusively in the first chapter, in the land of Judah, transforming it into a land of plenty: the Lord has “visited his people” (1:6). The form of the Lord’s visitation (as the tale winds up with a genealogy) is a child.

I can almost trace Naomi’s features through the genealogy in Matthew. The people in that list successively sinned away their blessings until they scattered in exile. They lost the Davidic monarchy, and had no one to redeem their heritage. But the lineage straggles back to Bethlehem, and culminates in a miraculous birth.

Matthew and Luke write the last biblical genealogies because the last name they record is the name of the promised child. The Lord “has visited and redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68 ).

The dilemma of the barren or childless woman disappears with the genealogies. It is associated throughout the Old Testament with the theme of the miraculous birth. Surely there were many childless women in Israel in Jesus’ day, but the gospels contain no record of anyone coming to him to lament their childlessness — though he was the place where God tabernacled with men, the place Hannah went to lament her childlessness. Perhaps women did come to him with this trouble: what else should we do with troubles? And God has a special care for the heartache of being childless (Psalm 113:9). But it has no further episode in the Bible, after Jesus comes.

Because the longing for a child in those Old Testament stories is all mixed up with the longing for this child. The joy of the miracle birth is all mixed up with this joy. Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) is like a voice carrying back through time in a hall of echoes (1 Samuel 2:1-10, Psalm 113).

When Jesus comes, we read about him interacting with women without even being told if many of them have children: we presume the singleness of several. Their lack in this area never arises between him and them. It is not something they are recorded as being disturbed with in his presence. It is a point made as unobtrusively as the visitation of the Lord which changes everything, in the opening verses of Ruth.

Jesus never took a wife, nor did he father children. Not in the Old Testament sense. But the creation mandate takes on new aspects in the second Adam, when Jesus speaks of fruitfulness for those who abide in him. This is not the fruitfulness of natural fertility, per se. Motherhood is the image of fruitfulness in that which is female (the church) to Christ; and one of the forms fruitfulness takes in individual women (1 Timothy 5:10). But the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23).

This may and often does take the arduous and devoted form of bearing and rearing children; and it may and often does take the form of bearing eternal children. So Ann Judson had only two little ones, both of whom died very young; but she helped to share the gospel with unreached people.

Yet the fruitfulness of abiding in Jesus does not necessitate being able to bear children, or traveling to distant lands. It is more immediate and spiritual, more immanently eternal: it is Jesus’ image formed in us. His miraculous life born in us even though we were dead in sins, already erupted into our bodies with a quality of resurrection. The Lord has visited his people.

Childlessness was a reproach because it was a dead end. It was the bitterness of Naomi, cut off from her inheritance in the land; her children buried without issue, without hope of any further part in the promised one. These shadows are swallowed in substance when a child is born to us (Isaiah 9:6), and we inherit God (Psalm 16:5,6).

So even David in the Old Testament can say that the greater blessing than children is to awake in God’s likeness (Psalm 17:14,15). And the reproach in the New Testament is not for the widow who has never given birth, but for the widow who is “dead” while she “lives” — living only for what makes her feel alive in this world (1 Timothy 5:4-6). The true “dead end” is spiritual unfruitfulness: every branch that does not bear fruit is removed (John 15:2).

I have been married a couple decades now, and am unable to have children. It is doubtful if I can adopt, and I won’t credit myself as the agent of anyone’s salvation. Over the years, I have been told in general and even in particular that my childlessness is a reproach in God’s ongoing economy. I’m grateful for my church family: unless I bring it up — my childlessness never arises between them and me. That is one way my brothers and sisters are like Jesus.

After wrestling through some hard years, I have nothing but delight in other women’s joy or in their children that race around me. We all have our fair share of sorrow (it is poignant to think of the sorrow that came to Rachel, Rebekah, to Samson’s mother, to Elisabeth & Mary even after they had children). But the above truths have comforted me. And there is a further wonder, which I would have liked to share with those who told me the childless woman still stands in the church as a symbol of reproach. We no longer overhear her prayers or her praises, but the childless woman doesn’t exactly vanish from the New Testament. She is transfigured. In one of those bewildering reverses of grace, the Old Testament shadow shifts, and she becomes the symbol of a miraculous hope. It is she whose inheritance Jesus redeems. This is the woman Jesus marries (Isaiah 54:5).

—Maybe that’s the thing you stand for in your community, if you are a reader who wonders why God works in other women’s bodies but not in yours; why God hears other women’s prayers, but not yours; why you should stand there year after year overlooked, and whether you will have to die childless (& for many, husbandless). Maybe you are standing there in the midst like a symbol of more staggering hope.

The new creation mandate that Jesus gives to his bride is to go and make disciples of all the nations: it turns out that all along, the childless woman has been Eve, come again. Eve, the mother of all living. The barren one has become the mother of us all (Galatians 4:26,27). She is the church. And all her children are miracle children — born when their mother was desolate, carried to her on the shoulders of kings and queens (Isaiah 49:20-23).

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The problem with riches

21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Mk. 10:21)

There is much that can be said here, but sometimes brevity is the soul of wit. There is just one point that I wish to make.

Think, for a moment, what Jesus is asking this young man to do. It isn’t that there is something wrong with his riches. Wealth comes from God, just as every other gift. And every gift of God is good.

But because of our sin and corruption, there is a corruption that generally comes with wealth which will drive us from Christ, just as it did this young man.

Jesus loved him, and wanted to embrace him, but Jesus desired this young man’s love in return. But like so many others, this man had a love that drove away all other loves. He loved the world and the things of the world and could not bear to let them go.

It wasn’t just that he liked baubles and trinkets. It isn’t the stuff that money buys that captivates the hearts of so many. It is the privilege that comes with money that so many cannot bear to be without.

Think about it. If this young man actually did what Jesus asked him to do, he would be poor.

I mean, really, really poor. “Sell all that you have”.

And not only that, he tells him to “take up the cross.”

A man who takes up his cross is the ultimate outcast. A man who takes up his cross is the outsider, the repugnant other, the criminal, the slave.

Not only does Jesus ask this young man to give up all of his money; He asks him to consider himself and all his position, standing, reputation, power, education, and breeding as dung.

But he is very rich. It sounds so crass, doesn’t it? we say to ourselves, “It is just money. I would have given it away in a second!”

Think more deeply.

To give away EVERYTHING is to be a pauper. You no longer have access to the courts. No longer have a seat at the gates. No longer have an in at the country club. No longer know where your next meal is coming from. No longer have the respect of the community. No longer know where you will live or sleep tonight.

You won’t have the rabbis stand when you enter the synagogue. You won’t have the good families trying to set you up with their daughters. You won’t catch the eyes of the young women (or the young men, for that matter).

You don’t know what or if you will eat. You won’t be able to protect yourself against Roman soldiers who demand that you carry the bag.

You will know what it is to walk through the marketplace and have the vendors give you the side eye to make sure you aren’t stealing.

You will know what it is to be followed by security to make sure you aren’t up to no good.

You will know what it is to be sneered at while you are lying on the sidewalk trying to rest just a little.

You will have absolutely nothing.

Except Jesus.

Is he really able to feed you? Is he really able to give you rest? Is he really able to provide for you all that your heart desires?

I am grieved to see  strength, power, authority and wealth being touted as virtues in evangelical circles. Of course, if we have those things we certainly ought to use them for the advantage and welfare of our neighbor, as Jesus has commanded us to.

But that isn’t what grieves me. What grieves me is that these things are considered Christian virtues.

The demand for authority, power, wealth and respect is the way to death and it will drive us away from Christ. The quest for “masculinity” disguised as a quest for Christ will lead to death.

Every time.

But if we count it all dung that we might know him and the power of the resurrection, we will live and have all that we desire in Him.

That is the point.

Is it good to be a man? If you are held in Jesus’ bosom, yes.

If you are a woman held in Jesus’ bosom, that is also good.

What matters is not “Who is in charge”?

What matters is whose bosom are you leaning on.

You can find your comfort and hope in riches, power and what everyone thinks about you.

Or you can rest in Jesus’ arms, like a lamb in the arms of his shepherd.

But you can’t do both.

Jesus wasn’t being cruel to this young man. He was inviting him to rest in his bosom. But he couldn’t do it, because he had too much at stake.

And so he lost everything.

We don’t know the whole story, though. I like to think that the day came when he lost everything and learned to count it as dung, so that he might know Christ. I just don’t know for sure.

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The Joy of the Lord

10 Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. (Neh. 8:10)

I heard something today that disturbed me. I sat outside and smelled the night air and pondered it. What I heard is that this verse, particularly the last phrase, is used to rebuke those who are downhearted, gloomy or weeping.

I have heard this phrase. It seems to be a frequent guest lodging itself in annoying praise tunes. The idea is this:

Dance, be happy, rejoice, laugh – because God has commanded you to be full of joy in the Lord. Otherwise you will be weak and pitiful.

What bothered me is this – what about all of the times when God’s beloved people wept, or cried out to him? What about God keeping our tears in his bottle?

What about those times when violence and hatred assail our soul and we are trapped?

Or what about those times when we are bowed down by sin, crushed by the knowledge that we have offended a holy God?

That is actually the context of this verse. The people of Israel were mourning over their sins, and Nehemiah was giving them comfort.

Was he comforting by adding another commandment – be joyful!

Knowing that scripture never contradicts itself this is like an itch. I mull. I sit on the porch in quiet and think it over.

And then it occurs to me. It was like a light, a flash of joy and a thought so profound and wonderful that it doesn’t seem quite real!

What if the one with joy isn’t me? But God himself?

The word “of” can mean a variety of things. It can mean here that Israel’s joy in the Lord is their strength. OR it can mean that God’s joy in Israel is their strength.

In the context, there can be only one interpretation that fits. Israel, although convicted by the law, is told to stop weeping, get out the food, eat and drink and give generously to those who have nothing.

Why? Because even though they have sinned before God, God takes great joy in them. The joy is the Lord’s for Israel, not Israel’s for the Lord! And this changes everything.

Rather than being a command to Israel, it is a motive for OUR joy. In Christ, God’s anger is taken away. He rejoices over us. He even sings over us. He delights in us.

THIS is our strength. God’s joy in his people.

If we look within to see our joy in God and try to work some up so that God doesn’t zap us, we will never succeed. How can we rejoice? How can we love, if we view God as a harsh lawgiver ready to stomp us down any moment?

The answer is that we cannot. We can only rejoice when we fully understand that God delights in his people. The joy of the Lord is our strength.

Meditate on that. Think about how God delights in you. You are acceptable, loved, wanted, desired. Yes, your sins are many. But God’s grace is far greater.

Yes, the pain is real and the tears are real. But God isn’t in heaven scoffing at you for weeping at his harsh providence. He is holding your hand; walking with you. He is leading you to quiet pastures because he actually WANTS to. He loves you freely, not from compulsion – but that love means that he actually delights in you.

Do you know those parents that tell their kids, “I love you, but I sure don’t like you very much right now.”

And you see the child just crumple. How painful it is to not be wanted, to not be delighted in. We were created to be delighted in.

And yet in the cursed world, we are very used to the door slams, the unfriending on Social Media, the booting out of the inner circle – Jesus even said that they would throw his people out of the synagogues.

But being an outcast isn’t who you are before God. You are accepted and loved.

The joy that comes from the Lord, freely given to his people, is their strength.

Amen!

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Filed under Gospel, Hope, Love

A Response to TGC on weeping

A couple of days ago, Kevin DeYoung published an article on The Gospel Coalition’s website concerning weeping with those who weep.

I found it quite disturbing, and I want to attempt to explain why.

To set the mood for the blog, he introduces Romans 12:15 and writes,

In recent years, the second half of the verse in particular has been emphasized as a key component in caring for victims, in listening to the stories of the oppressed, and in showing compassion to the hurting.

And then he adds:

These emphases are right and proper. Oftentimes the first thing we must do with sufferers is simply come alongside them, acknowledge their pain, express our condolences, and assure them of our love and prayers.

So far so good.

And then he spends the rest of the blog adding qualifier after qualifier until nothing is left.

The most disturbing sentence is this one:

Surely, the second half of Romans 12:15 does not mean that the only response to grieving people is to grieve with them. Diving into facts, pursuing objectivity, listening to all sides—these are not invalidated by Romans 12:15. “Weep with those who weep” does not dictate that the reasons for our weeping can never be mistaken. In short, the verse must mean something like “weep with those who have good, biblical reason to be weeping.”

I will explain why this disturbs me in a moment. First, to be fair to Rev. DeYoung, I would like to give his reasoning. Arguing from the parallelism of the passage, he writes:

One, almost everyone interprets the first half of Romans 12:15 along the lines just stated above. That is, no one thinks God wants us to rejoice with those who rejoice over the Taliban coming to power. No matter how genuine the rejoicing may be, Christians should not join with those who celebrate abortion or parade their sexual immorality or delight in racial prejudice. Instinctively, we know that the first half of Romans 12:15 means something like, “rejoice with those who have good, biblical reason to be rejoicing.”

His argument, then, is that since we do not indiscriminately rejoice over the Taliban coming into power, but rather we rejoice with those who have good and Biblical reasons for rejoicing, it then follows that weeping also must only be done with those who have good, biblical reasons for weeping.

First of all, this trend among the celebrity neo-“reformed” to view compassion with suspicion is quite disturbing. Why is there such a need in these guys’ minds to add caveat after caveat to compassion and empathy? As soon as we start defining who is and who is not worthy of our compassion, we enter into dangerous territory.

But before I go there, I would first like to critique his exegesis. He adds so many “traditions of men” that the command of God is of no effect, and is therefore committing the same fallacy as the Pharisees of old. Jesus explains this in Mark 7:9ff.

9 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.
  10 “For Moses said,`Honor your father and your mother’; and,`He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’
  11 “But you say,`If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban “– ‘(that is, a gift to God),
  12 “then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother,
  13 “making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
  (Mark. 7:9-13)

In other words, according to the teachers at the time, if they had “good and biblical reasons”, they were not obliged to provide for their parents. What more biblical reason could there be than dedicating all of your goods to God himself?

DeYoung makes the same error, in my view. He takes a simple command…weep with those who weep…and adds so many caveats in order to explain that not EVERY person weeping deserves our tears of sympathy.

There have been so many articles lately about this that it is starting to bother me. What are they trying to prevent? Why are the tears of the abused so threatening to them that they have to find a way to silence them?

But back to DeYoung’s exegesis. His example of the Taliban does not hold up, because according to the text itself, Paul is speaking of the context of our neighbors, our fellow church members, and those that we interact with every day.

DeYoung finds the most extreme example (surely you wouldn’t rejoice with a terrorist) and then seeks to apply that to our neighbors.

He also draws a false contrast – “Diving into facts, pursuing objectivity, listening to all sides” is contrasted with weeping with those who weep. It appears that what he is saying is that you can do one or the other. If you dive into the facts, etc., and then determine that the one weeping has grounds for weeping, then Rom. 12:15 comes into play, but not before.

Wow. It just got complicated, didn’t it? Since sin is in the world, if you follow what he seems to be saying, you will always find a reason not to weep with those who weep. There will always be sin involved, therefore I don’t have to obey God. We nullify the command of God so that we might keep our traditions.

One more note on this, Paul isn’t talking about a judicatory of the church. Why must we all, as private citizens, assume that we are the arbiters of truth and that every complaint brought to us must be decided as if we were judges and jurists? Why can’t we just believe people and weep with them? Paul isn’t talking about adjudicating their case. He is talking about compassion.

But what if this passage means exactly what it says. “Leave vengeance in the hands of God. Love without hypocrisy. Empathize with one another.”

Rejoicing and weeping require some entering into the emotions of others, and this terrifies certain minds of the Reformed persuasion. But what if we let the scripture shape us, rather that us trying to make scripture fit our molds?

What if we learned what made our neighbors weep and wept with them?

Suppose, to use and extreme example, our neighbors are a gay couple. And suppose the state legislature passes a law forbidding gay couples from cohabitating together. They are scared. They don’t know what the future holds. Their whole world has turned upside down. Do they have “good and biblical reasons” for weeping?

It gets tricky, doesn’t it? Now you have to determine if the desire for safety and peace, the longing for acceptance and worth, and the security of a person’s home are biblical desires, and if so, are they trumped by the fact that they are living in sin?

Suppose the Taliban has taken over and has commanded that every gay couple be publicly flogged and then executed? Do we weep with them then?

If we ever get to the point that we are OK watching anyone getting flogged publicly, or executed by stoning, we are in a very scary state indeed.  I fear that we are headed there faster than we think.

Wouldn’t it be easier to simply weep with those who weep, and try to enter into their pain and sit with them?

Example two – a 15 year-old girl is raped. She gets pregnant and she is terrified of her church finding out. So afraid, in fact, that she sees no alternative but to abort her baby.

Is she no longer worthy of our tears? Is she no longer human now? What if it happened while she was at a party that her parents didn’t know she went to? What if she was drinking there? Is she now no longer worthy of our tears? No wonder she is terrified of telling the church, if their response is dictated by people like DeYoung. First, determine if their weeping is good and biblical. THEN weep with them. No wonder we are losing the war against abortion.

One example I read a few months ago was this one, “Surely you wouldn’t weep with a drug dealer who lost his whole stash in a house fire.” Once again, using the most extreme example that you can think of isn’t really the best way to do exegesis.

But let’s look at it. Suppose that this drug dealer is your son. And the drugs that he lost weren’t his. And now the cartel is after him. We can certainly hold to our belief that actions have consequences and at the same time be crushed with grief and tears. Surely every parent knows this grief. Surely the father of the prodigal wept great tears at the state of his son, even though it was his son’s fault he was in that state. Isn’t that the point of our faith?

Don’t we worship a God who plucks us out of the miry pit?

Jesus himself wept over Jerusalem, even though their destruction was just and good.

I would never bare my heart to anyone who says things like this, and it certainly isn’t what Paul means.

Paul means quite simply what he says. If your friends and neighbors are rejoicing, rejoice with them. If they are weeping, weep with them. It simply means to enter into their lives. They are image-bearers of God. It certainly doesn’t mean to approve of their sins. If means to have compassion.

You cannot do this without empathy. I am extremely disturbed that compassion and empathy are viewed with such suspicion in the church in these past few years.

But such is the result when you think that the point of Christianity is winning a culture war rather than loving God and your neighbor. These are two quite different things.

But there is one more thing even more disturbing. It is inexcusable that a pastor of sheep wouldn’t be aware of this. Do you know what this article will do in abusive homes?

Do you know what will happen if we tell abusive and violent men that they must not weep with their wives and children if they do not have biblical reasons to weep?

To me, this is the most disturbing part of the whole thing. It is saying that I must determine if your tears are biblical before I can weep with you. The damage that this will cause will be immense. Wait for it…

Wisdom is justified by her children. So is foolishness.

I am afraid that this teaching will bear some very ugly children.

If we are secure in our righteousness before God, if we truly understand that we are complete in Christ already, then we can weep with those who weep without fear that we will somehow become tainted by their sin.

If Jesus waited until he had good and biblical reasons to weep with us, we would still be lost in our sins.

2 “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations,
3 “and say,`Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: “Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.
4 “As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths.
5 “No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born.
6 “And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood,`Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood,`Live!’
7 “I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare.
8 “When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord GOD.
9 “Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil.
10 “I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk.
11 “I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck.
12 “And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head.
13 “Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty.
14 “Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord GOD. (Ezek. 16:2-14)

Isn’t that beautiful. He doesn’t wait for his people to live before he gives them life. He doesn’t wait for them to be worthy of compassion before he has compassion.

Are we not to be tenderhearted, as God is tenderhearted? It seems we are missing something crucial about our faith.

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Filed under Faith, Gospel, Grief, Hope