Unseen Beauty

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.   However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.  Ephesians 5:31-33

One flesh…beautiful or not?  Honestly.  Does that idea/ideal for marriage cause you to think how wonderful marriage is to be or does it cause you to give pause to the reality of marriage?

Our culture values individuality and the individual above everything else.  Moral standards are relative and personal.  Rights and freedoms are for the benefit of the individual over good for the community.  Marriage is for happiness not holiness.  Nothing matters more than your happiness.  These are the things people see as beautiful. 

The strange reality of this worldview is that much of what is beautiful loses its beauty because of it.  The beauty of community, rich with love, is lost in a world without absolutes.  Rights and freedoms that are have been honored over and over again through sacrifices of many are often disfigured for personal agendas and personal gain.  Marriages that simply exist for my happiness rise, fall, and split just as quickly as happiness rises, falls, and splits because of life circumstances that cause such happenstance.

Wendy and I have some friends that are reading a book with us titled When Sinners Say I Do.  The Gospel is the core of everything in the book.  The author applies the beauty of the Gospel to us and our marriages.  It is the most Biblical approach to discussing marriage I have ever read.  I am learning much about the Bible and myself, and am both loving and hating it, honestly.  (One caveat on his writing.  He writes, illustrates, and communicates from a very masculine mind.  A female editor would have done him wonders.  Women might have wrestle through his communication style, but truths are worth it.)

The book has caused great thoughts for me about the depth of what God has done for me and what his love for me really means.  Do I love Wendy like that?  I do, but I don’t.  I try, but I don’t try.

I have, however, recently seen a beauty that has been unseen in my marriage.  It is the beauty of servant leadership and submission.  In course of a conversation recently, I asked Wendy what and how did she feel she submitted to me.  I was not accusing of her of not submitting, but acknowledging I am not sure what that even looks like.

She reminded of a conversation we had just a week before.  I thought Wendy was simply struggling to make a decision, but there was more to it than that.  She really wanted my thoughts, my guidance, and my help.  Why?  She values the protection that comes through it.  Do not read protection as my guarding her.  She wanted the protection of unity.  There is protection in shared life.  Often our problem is we want our spouse to share in the responsibilities our solo decisions put upon them, but we do not desire for them to share in the decision itself.   Wendy did.

I told her that I was very careful in that conversation (about her taking a job) because I did not want her to feel she had to or she had to not.  I wanted her to make the decision she felt was right.  In doing that, it meant I had to be willing to serve her and our family with a very different schedule and lifestyle.  I am okay with that.  If she would feel fulfilled in life and in serving the Lord in this position, I want her to do it.  So, I was trying to not lead her strongly.

In this one moment beauty went unseen.  She lived out Scripture in submitting to me in this matter, and I never knew it.  I lived out Scripture by loving her as Christ loved the church and giving her life up for her.  And she never knew it.  And that is what made it beautiful.

It is no longer beautiful the moment it has to be seen.  The moment you need your spouse to see and recognized your service or your submission it loses its beauty.  I realized that this has been a truth in our marriage for years.  Unseen beauty after unseen beauty.  And that alone, makes it more beautiful.

When Jesus is Square One in our lives, when we live acknowledging him as foundation in everything, he makes beautiful what the world would assume is ugly.  We quit leaning into our own understanding.  We begin to acknowledge him in all our ways.  And He makes our paths straight.

Our vision for our marriage is that Wendy and I would be a clear picture of the love of Christ for the Church and the Church for Christ to a lost world and a confused Church.  I realize that the more this is true of us, the more the world and the Church sees this in and through us, the less we see the little things that cause it.  Why do we no longer see those things?  They just are.  It is life and marriage, not service and submission. 

The unseen beauty is exactly what makes it beautiful.

“Too Far Gone”?

12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:12-13 (ESV)

From as early an age as I can remember, I’ve been an avid sports fan.  With the exceptions of bowling, NASCAR (I know, I know…it’s the fastest growing sport in America now.  I’m still not convinced…), and approximately half of everything featured in the recent Sochi Olympics (c’mon Canada…curling, really?), if you name the game, I probably enjoy it, and could offer you a piece or two of random trivia related to it.  That said, there are some events in sports that rise above the rest as undeniably supreme.  On this “short list” is, without question, what has become affectionately known in our nation as March Madness- the annual NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament.

If you’re not familiar with this God graced event, here’s a bit of background- 68 college basketball teams from all over the nation, large and small, well known and virtually unknown, are thrown into a bracket together and compete to win their sport’s ultimate prize, the national championship.  It’s a do-or-die, win-or-go-home format, with no room for error.  This is important, because it means that anyone– no matter how obscure or unheralded- has an opportunity to win it all.  No name schools like Butler, George Mason, and last year’s underdog darling, Florida Gulf Coast, can rise up and take down the “big boys” of college basketball with grit, determination, and fantastic teamwork.  Year after year in March, fans flock to their televisions, computers, and phones to see which “no name” will break through in unlikely victory.  (Maybe after reading this blog, next month you will too!  I do what I can…)

So what does all this have to do with our recent exploration of Square One, and of how the foundational relationship of a Christ follower to Jesus impacts every other relationship in his or her life?  If you believe the Matthew 9 text that heads this post, everything

Using our March Madness language, Jesus absolutely loved to choose the “underdogs” of His day to follow Him.  He routinely took the guys and girls who no one wanted and flipped their lives absolutely upside down for His eternal purpose.  Jesus didn’t accept the label “too far gone.”  He understood well that He had the power to renew and transform anyone from anywhere to do anything that He called them to do.  And over and over again, throughout His earthly ministry, and in the centuries that have followed since, up to today, He has done just that.

Despite knowing this intellectually, we often struggle to see people in the same way; I know I do.  We look at certain people- and if we’re being completely honest, certain categories of people- and say to ourselves, “No way.  God could never…”  We then turn our disbelief into disobedience, and choose not to engage “those people” in relationship, or in Gospel conversation.  From our (deceived) perspective, why would we?  But if, as Christ followers, we take our cues from Jesus, the question we must begin to ask is, instead, why wouldn’t we?  He hasn’t changed; His power to renew and transform hasn’t been diminished over time; and our call to proclaim that power hasn’t and isn’t going away any time soon.

I’m not saying this is anywhere close to easy or comfortable.  I’m simply saying that if we truly believe the Gospel of grace, we will find ways to press through that difficulty and pursue intentional Gospel relationships with people who seem, from a worldly perspective, “too far gone.”  Chances are, you already have these people in your life- at work, at school, in your neighborhood, perhaps even in your own home.  This week, I want to challenge you to suspend your assumptions about what Jesus can’t do and instead ask Him for the ability to believe in what He can do- and, by the way, has done, in you and in me.  Allow the transformed perspective that He brings to give you the courage to engage others as He did- with unrestrained love, grace, and Gospel truth.  If you do, you may just find yourself caught up in an “underdog story” that March Madness could never touch.

Freedom in the Foundation

Recently I challenged students with this scenario:

You are one of the following four people that are the last stranded on a sinking ship.  Unfortunately, there is only one small lifeboat left that holds three people. The one person who doesn’t board the last boat will certainly die.   Decide which three people should board the life boat and live while the other person meets an untimely end.

–          Outgoing student with good grades

–          Woman who thinks she is pregnant

–          Drug dealer that steals to support his habit

–          Shy person you know nothing about

For starters, if you put a bunch of students in paper boats and tell them to decide which one has to get out, it makes for an interesting night.  What is so interesting is to see them wrestle with the dilemma of self and others.  Have you decided yet?  Student, mom, dealer or the quiet one…which one should be sacrificed for others?  Now ask yourself if you were one of the four, would you be willing to get out of the boat and perish for the pregnant woman?  Would you struggle to die for the sake of the drug dealer?

Though an incredibly interesting case study, in the end I am not hoping to teach a lesson in ethical choices or a lesson in selfless living. I want everyone to understand a foundational truth that is explained in Romans 5 

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (NLT)

You see it doesn’t matter who’s in the boat if Jesus is the fourth man; he always chooses to sacrifice himself to save lives.  You and two of your closest friends…Jesus steps out of the boat.  Three of the worst people you can imagine…Jesus willingly rides the ship down while they float with an opportunity for real life.  We must understand this “great love for us” and remind ourselves regularly that “while we were still sinners” Christ died for us.  The foundational truth is that no one has ever earned a spot on the boat; it is simply the gift of a loving God. 

When we miss this truth, we will find ourselves living frustrated on a fragile foundation of self rather than living in the freedom of a life founded on God’s great love for us. 

A Square One Parable from Disney World

After a long time of saving, my wife and I were finally able to have the opportunity to take our 3 boys to Disney World last month. It was an amazing time for making memories for our family.

One memory, and ultimately a constant reminder, comes from my boy Isaac (our 3 year old). My 39″ tall 3 year old rode on EVERY ride he was able to. Let me explain why this is a big deal. I have vivid memories of my childhood going to amusement parks with my dad, and him begging me to ride the rides. I would cry (and he would laugh…in a loving way).  I was probably 13 years old. (Please, no comments).

Back to Isaac. He is THREE! And he rode EVERYTHING he was allowed to.

Ride after ride, he would stay close to me in line. He would stay quiet. Then, right as we were to get on the ride, he would lean up toward me and say “Dad, I have to go potty.”  I’m no fool. I would tell him we would go immediately after the ride. You see, I knew he was making an excuse. He was afraid. He wouldn’t come out and say that, but he was uncertain. He didn’t know what was about to happen. For all he knew, literal pirates with real swords, shooting real cannons would be commandeering our little ship. By all accounts, he knew he was about to be in a hopeless situation.

But he went anyway.

He sat by me on every ride. He didn’t say a word. He’d put one hand in his mouth (nervous habit) and put his other hand on my leg.  When moments were tense, he squeezed. He never changing his gaze. He never showed the fear on his face that was expressed in his hands.

Amazingly after every ride, Isaac would look at me and smile. “Dad, that was my NEW FAVORITE ride!” I think he did it more in relief that he was still alive after it was over. On the last day there, I was so impressed with his courage that I finally asked Isaac why he still insisted on going on the rides even if he was so afraid. Why would he not admit his fear and stay back?

He looked up, full of hope and knocked me back with these words: “Cause you’re with me dad.” When things were uncertain and hopeless, he trusted me.

I was just reminded what childlike faith looks like.

God does some of His best work in hopeless situations. While life is uncertain, Jesus is not. While our power is limited, God is limitless. While we can be shaken, He is the rock. 

When Jesus is the Cornerstone, our response is worship.

For me, worship is not a job or a hobby, it’s not what I do for fun when I could be sleeping in on a Sunday morning. I don’t sing because I like to, I sing because I am compelled to. I am compelled because I am filled with possibility and hope and blessed assurance that this life is not all there is.  And everything I have in this life is His. I have passion for what Christ has done on the cross, and for how he saved me, profoundly and personally.  It isn’t something I do on my off-time; I live to worship – in my mornings, throughout my days, as I go to bed.

Maybe there are moments where I have to tighten the grip of my hands to admit my fear, but my gaze remains constant. My resolve is true. My eyes are constantly fixed on Jesus and I will worship. What about you?

A Firm Foundation

As a dad to two young sons, building blocks are a big deal in our house, undoubtedly occupying the position of favored toy.  Over the past year, we’ve amassed quite an impressive collection of blocks, of various shapes and sizes- the large, seemingly indestructible cardboard builders; the awesomely, appropriately named plastic Mega Blocks; and most recently, the so-small-and-hard-they-double-as-weapons wooden variety.  On most days, all of these varieties are scattered across our boys’ bedroom floor (and usually other floors too!), actively in use.

Without a doubt, almost three year old Jude’s joy in blocks is found in his ability to build the tallest, strongest “castles” he can muster.  (For his part, just turned one year old Asa’s expertise is knocking said towers down repeatedly and relentlessly.  We’ll get there with him…maybe.)  As Jude has grown in this skill, I’ve offered him one piece of essential advice time and again- If you want your “castle” to go high, you have to build on a firm foundation.  A wide, solid base is the single most critical aspect of any successful block building effort.  Of course, the same is true in actual building as well- apart from a firm, sturdy foundation, any hope of structural integrity is absolutely shot.

Life works in much the same way, doesn’t it?  We’re all building our lives on something, and that something determines the strength of our lives.  If we choose to build on something that can’t effectively and appropriately bear that weight, especially amidst the inevitable storms of life, then we’ll quickly find everything we are and everything we have crumbling.  But if, on the other hand, we found our lives on the only firm foundation we have available to us- the Solid Rock, the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ- we will eventually, ultimately find everything in our lives being impacted by that single choice.

Jesus is not only first in our lives, but also foundational to our lives.

Many people mistakenly believe that they have made Jesus the foundation of their lives, when in reality they have merely made Him “first.”  This seems like a subtle difference, but it is anything but.  Placing Jesus just “first” puts Him in a compartmentalized “box,” in which we can (self-deceptively) claim that He is the “most important thing to us” while living the vast majority of our everyday lives effectively disconnected from Him, or from who we are in Him.  We do our “Jesus thing” on Sunday, and maybe even at a few other times scattered throughout the week- and then we live the rest of our lives as we please.  In this arrangement, the way we do relationships, work, money, time, etc is determined and directed not by Him, but by us.  We may think we’re building our lives on His foundation, but practically, we’re just building on ourselves, with a bit of a religious flavor added into the mix.

To make Jesus foundational, however, means that we have no life apart from Him, and who we are in Him; there is no area, no aspect of our lives that is not touched or transformed by His influence.  Every role, every responsibility, every relationship, every decision is determined and directed by Him, by the outworking of the implications of the Gospel in our lives.  The Apostle Paul describes this radically Christ centered life in this way…

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory…Colossians 3:3-4 (ESV)

The bottom line is line- If you are in Christ, then Christ is now your life.  He is not merely “number one” in your life, the “most important thing” in your life, or some other expression of priority; He is your life, period, and there is no life to be found apart from Him.  And if Christ is your life, then there is nowhere that you don’t “bring Him” with you.  To be truly authentic, then, in everyday life, is to allow His transforming work to be seen and shared in everything you are, think, say, and do.  In the specific context of relationships, which we’ll explore in depth in this Square One series, it means actually resembling Jesus in the way you relate with others, and having the courage and authenticity to share why.

There is so much more we could say about this- and over the next four weeks, we will say much more.  But as we start down this road together today, ask yourself this- On what foundation am I building my life?  Have I merely made Jesus “first,” and so attempted to confine Him to the “religious” aspect of my life, or have I rightly opened all that I am and all that I have- including every single relationship- to His transforming work?  This is the first step to an authentically impactful life- to building everything on Jesus, our Solid Rock, our Cornerstone.

Enough To Share

Over the weekend, we turned the calendar from January to February, which means that the single most polarizing “holiday” of the year- Valentine’s Day- is right around the corner.  Regardless of your current thoughts on this day (Single’s Awareness Day, anyone?), if you’re like me, there is some lingering childhood nostalgia surrounding the celebration.

I’m not sure how this worked when and where you went to school, but at my elementary school, each year Valentine’s Day meant one thing, and one thing only- The opportunity to score some free candy.  This candy was typically attached to the little children’s character cards, complete with some bland, generic Valentine’s Day message that I generally ignored in favor of the real loot.  In any case, each year everyone in the class would bring their stash and distribute them to everyone else, resulting in mass amounts of sugar consumption for the remainder of the day.

As glorious as this celebration was, there was always one risk associated with it- What if someone didn’t bring enough to share?  What if someone’s uninformed parent assumed there were 25 students in the class, when in reality there were 27?  And what if you were number 26, and missed out on those rockin’ Ninja Turtles Valentine’s and Jolly Rancher lollipops that were going out to everyone else?  This was a devastating scenario.  Perhaps even worse was when you were the kid coming up short, and thus subject to the scornful glances of your second grade classmates.  It was essential that this situation be avoided at all costs.

But let me know throw another, different scenario at you- What if your parents packed you plenty of cards and candy- the good stuff too!- but instead of distributing them to everyone like a good citizen, you kept them stashed away in your backpack, solely for yourself, and lied to everyone about it?  That’s not regret; it’s outright neglect.  And not only were your classmates deprived in this circumstance of the good gift that you had to give, you also cast doubt as to the character and goodness of your parents, which “didn’t give you enough to share” with anyone else.

As childish as this example might be (literally!), I believe it is a strikingly accurate picture of that which we as Christ followers often do with the “good gift” which God the Father has given to us- namely, the Gospel of Jesus.  God has given it to us by grace, so that we might share it with the world in which He has placed us for His purposes.  Too often, though, we keep it hidden, “stashed away” for ourselves only, and tell the world- whether blatantly or simply by silence- that we don’t have anything to give them.

I’m convinced that we do this for a broad variety of reasons.  Perhaps we devalue the gift or are somehow embarrassed by it, as though our Father is sending us out with the equivalent of Care Bears Valentines and butterscotch.  Perhaps we’re fearful of trying to give it away and somehow “failing,” being rejected and mistreated by others.  Or perhaps, most maliciously, we simply don’t want to give it to anyone else, believing that they aren’t “worthy” of receiving it and that we are somehow better or more deserving of it than they are.  Whatever the reason, the reality is that we’ve been given something of supreme value, with clear instructions to give it away to everyone that we can.  And when we fail to do that, others miss out, and God is seen as less glorious and gracious than He truly is.

What would it look like for this to change in your life, starting today?  I believe the first step is to have your heart and mine recaptured by the wonder of grace, the soul shaking reality that God loves us and accept us in Christ despite the mess of sin that riddles our hearts.  When you begin to see and consider afresh what He has done in you, you’ll find the motivation to share it with others.  No one will have to convince you to give it away; it will simply become the natural overflow of your heart and life.  God has given you and I more than enough to share with the world.  Let’s distribute it this week in joy, in love, and in expectation that God is going to use it to do for others exactly what He has for us.

rePRESENT

God is ABLE to make ALL things NEW, including YOU.

I have enjoyed preaching this truth over the last month.  Faith is trusting in an able God.  We all need renewal.  The questions is, “Do you believe that God can make YOU  new?  And then do you believe he can make your situation NEW?  I hope so.

Check out 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:13.

Those who are renewed in Christ represent Christ.

This is not something you could do or should do if you are “in Christ.”  This is something you are doing if you are a “new creation.”  You represent Christ everywhere you go and with every word you say and with every thing you do.  You ARE an AMBASSADOR of Christ.

This is not a burden; it is a privilege.  God has chosen to make his appeal through you.  You are his ambassador and He has given you a ministry of reconciliation.  This ministry of reconciliation begins with the reality of reconciliation.

First, we must be reconciled to God through Christ.
Second, we must be reconciled to others through Christ.

Reconciliation is an accounting term.  It means to put an account that is in wrong standing in right standing.  God does the reconciling.  (He is reconciling the world to Himself.)  He makes the account right by “not counting our sins against us” because he counted them against His son, Jesus Christ. (God made him who knew no sin to become sin so we might become the righteousness of God.)

We, who are in Christ, have been given a ministry of reconciliation.  Literally the word means a distribution of reconciliation.  We have the privilege of distributing out the truth that God is reconciling the world to Himself.  Todd Blount (our South Ascension Campus Pastor) has written a great blog about this concept of distribution that will post later this week, so please watch for it at blog.fellowshipchurch.cc

We, however, cannot have a ministry of reconciliation without a heart for reconciliation.  God has already paid the price emotionally, physically, and spiritually for reconciliation to exist between he and every person on Earth. Now this transaction will not take place until the debtor (sinner…every person in the world) repents and confesses Jesus as Lord.  But the price is paid and the accounting is ready.

We must live in the same standing toward others. There can be no offer of reconciliation if there does not already exist the ability for reconciliation.  We must live in a spiritual and relational position towards others that forgiveness is available, even before they ask for it.

Paul speaks of his open heart in this passage..  An open heart is one that is vulnerable and given.  We must give all of ourselves to God realizing he might make new in you the very thing you desire to never see change.  Never guard your heart from God.

Our heart for people must be as open as God’s.  The very people you rant about in life, he desires to reconcile their life.  He desires that none should perish but that all would come to repentance.  Not all will, but he is ready for all.  Are you?

People are not in need of your ranting.  They are in need of Christ’s reconciling.

He has already done every work and paid every price necessary so that we might be reconciled.  He is ready.  More than that…he is active…he came to seek and to save what was lost.  Will you join him in that ministry of reconciliation?

Be renewed!