How to look like a crazy person this Thanksgiving

Believe it or not, my kids are not perfect. Not even close. Often, they begin fighting, arguing & complaining before I even pop my head off the pillow. How is that even possible? It’s like they wake up with an agenda. Were they sleeping just to upload into their brain things to be belligerent about? I have a hunch that I am not alone. Many of your households are just like mine. If we were to be honest with ourselves though, I think we all start too many days like this.

“This stinks.”
“So and so did this.”
“I wish I had that.”

We just wake up and go to war against our own heart’s contentment and our spirit of gratitude. And that war always leads to a fight against other people, even the people we love the most.

And social media isn’t helping. It’s like the breeding ground for the sin of comparison. For example: You scroll facebook and see a friend out on the town eating steak and living it up. Meanwhile, you’re at home watching reruns of Seinfeld & eating lean cuisine.

The big problem is that we compare our “behind the scenes” with others “highlight reels.” And your discontentment will throw your spirit into chaos. You can pretend that it doesn’t- but your soul cannot and will not be fooled. You lose all peace and immediately grow combative. Listen, there are enough things in this world to fight against for us to be fighting one another.

So I started a new activity with my boys. Every time I catch them in a complaint over something they do not have or every time I hear them argue over something that displeases them-they have to say one thing they love about their brother or share one thing they are thankful that they do have. Needless to say, this exercise is exhausting with the amount of complaining we are trying to overcome. But it is worth it.

Your gratitude and thanksgiving will fuel your contentment. You see, contentment is not found in adding to what you have, but in subtracting from what you desire (Jeremiah Burroughs). A better way to say this may be: If Jesus is all that you have, then you have everything that you need.

So, here it is…

How to look like a crazy person this Thanksgiving:
In every temptation to be discontent- stop and speak OUT LOUD (with full conviction), wherever you are (even at the risk of looking like a lunatic) one thing you are thankful for.

1 Thess 5:18- in a things give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

PS: Another thing you could do to look crazy this Thanksgiving- dress in a giant turkey costume. I don’t suggest this one though.

Adult Fleece Turkey Costume - XL

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

Building a Better Jesus

StJohnsAshfield_StainedGlass_JesusAndChildren

By Stained glass: Alfred Handel, d. 1946[1], photo: Toby Hudson

Jesus was such a good guy. Great with children. Pretty big fan of fishing. Amazing story teller. Fought religious establishment. Wow. Love that guy. But there are some things in Scripture that aren’t quite as easy to swallow. In Matthew 21:44, he is the stone that will crush those who do not produce fruit. Or in John 8:56-59, when Jesus said:

“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

And there we have it. Good teacher Jesus just evoked immortality and equality with God (through use of “I Am”) in one sentence. What can someone do with the supernatural, God-claiming passages about Jesus if they’re shooting for “good teacher” Jesus as a goal?

S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, challenges that Jesus must be placed in one of three categories: liar, lunatic or Lord. A fourth category, legend, has been added over time as people discuss the issue.

  1. Jesus was a liar. He knew he wasn’t God. He knew he couldn’t forgive sin. He lied.
  2. Jesus was a lunatic. He thought he was God. He thought he could forgive sin. He was crazy.

In both of these two option, the reliability and trustworthiness of his teaching are compromised. He’s not a good teacher if he’s crazy or a liar. There is another popular option.

 

  1. Jesus is a legend. He never said he was God. He never said he could forgive sin. His followers came back at a later date an embellished the legend of his life to give his teachings and their careers more authority or appeal.

 

There are a few issues with the legend approach:

  • Jesus had several disciples who recorded the events and vouched for the their veracity. The multiplicity of gospel accounts (even if Matthew, Mark, and Luke are deemed to be from the same source) complicates the level of organization which would be needed to align the embellishments.
  • Jesus’ disciples were still alive when some of the writings were being distributed. If Jesus’ followers were making the stories up, then others would have been able to call them out on the lies (inconsistencies)
  • Discoveries of fragments from the gospel of John date optimistically as early-second century in Egypt. Early Christian writings state the John died at or near 100 AD in Ephesus. This would mean that his gospel account was available within 17-50 years of his life and had time to have been distributed (after being copied by hand) as far as Egypt. With a date as early as 117 AD on this fragment, it is possible that some of the people who knew and followed Jesus (~33-37 AD) would still be alive to dispute the claims of the book of John.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if Jesus was so gentle, kind, and non-threatening, then why did the Jewish and/or Roman authorities kill him? He would have been no threat if all of the supernatural activity and God-claims came at a later date by other parties.

 

So, if Jesus was not a liar, a lunatic, or a legend, then:

  1. Jesus is Lord. He claimed to be one with God the Father. He claimed the ability to forgive sin. He claimed to be the only way to be reconciled with God. He is the highest authority – Lord.

 

We must be careful, as we read Scripture, to not attempt to build a better Jesus. We must not glance over or apologize for the Jesus who reprimanded sinners, tossed the tables of religious profiteers, or promised to come back in judgment of every human soul. If you have, however, trusted in him as Lord, then you have heeded the warning of his harshest words. You have trusted in his most outlandish claims to Deity. You have found your life in his supernatural resurrection and immortal reign. A dismissal of those aspects of the account of his life is a dismissal of his purpose. And his purpose was hope for you and the whole world.

Good Sex

If I’m going to talk about good sex, there are two things I need to say from the start. First, I believe that the God of the Bible is the Creator, Sustainer, and Savior. Does that seem to be a strange thing to clarify before speaking on this topic? The claim, in itself, is not unexpected from a Christian pastor and many of you would agree. For those who do not, I would ask you to work from this understanding while reading this article. If that claim were true, how would it affect your thoughts about some very confusing realities and opinions surrounding the topic of good sex? What would it say about things that are right and wrong or, perhaps, better and best? Would some of the struggles people wrestle with, weep about and hurt each other over make sense if God created good things for a good purpose?

Second, I believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for things such as this discussion. If you are willing to read from these two premises, then you may find this article valuable. You will also need to allow yourself some time for a long read. This topic is not honored in sound bites or clichés.

God designed what God desires

The accounts of creation found in Genesis 1-2 have been debated for many reasons. The point of this article is not to discuss literal or non-literal interpretation. Instead, consider what God revealed about Himself and His creation to human creatures through inspired Scriptures. These passages are unique in Scripture because creation had not yet sinned against their Creator and experienced the rightful consequences of their actions. The Bible tells us that our world is now “moaning” and “groaning” for redemption and has been since that fateful event of Genesis 3, where people, male and female, chose to enjoy the pleasure of creation apart from the Creator’s designed intention for it.

For this reason, a theology of sex (and marriage) from the first two chapters is pure and clear. The instructions concerning male, female and their relationships in those chapters are not oriented toward God’s leading us back from our rebellion to His created intention. Instead, because of the absence of sin, God is speaking directly to the goodness of what He created and His good intentions for His creatures.

God created humanity, both male and female. He created them together, equal in His image and in their worth. He created them of like kind but unique. He created within them the ability to experience His deep and rich purposes because they could experience a deep and rich relationship with the Person of God Himself. In the beginning, they did. They walked in the cool of the garden He created. They were naked and unashamed. They were naked and God was not ashamed. God created these humans, along with all the rest of creation, and it was very good. The relationships that creatures had with God, with each other and with creation were very good.

The word “good” here is not simply conveying “orderly”.  This is not an obsessive compulsive description of creation. The word literally means pleasurable or delightful. God took delight in His creation, man and woman were pleasing to God and each other, and creation was pleasing to man, woman and God in every way. This is what God created.

Everything in God’s design is rooted in God’s desire for delight

God designed creation, and specifically the humans he placed within it, for His delight. He created them not only for His delight, but for their delight in Him, their Creator. He designed delight into His creation so that even necessary tasks like eating, drinking, and procreation were delightful. He designed creation to reflect and declare His glory. God desires delight. He does not desire delight selfishly at the expense of others. Instead, He shares His great glory with others in a way that inspires the creatures’ delight in Him. In His goodness, He designed and desired that humanity would obediently experience deep and rich delight in all of creation and that these delights, coupled with His personal relationship, would prompt a response of delight and worship to Him.  These capabilities, to delight, obey, relate and worship, are endowed through mankind’s creation in God’s image. As Scripture relays in Genesis 3, these capacities also bear the potential of NOT delighting, obeying, relating, and worshiping God.

If humans were to truly experience the delight that is God, they must choose that delight above others.  They must choose Him. They must trust Him. He told them not to eat of the fruit of one tree in the garden and humans chose to disregard that instruction. The forbidden fruit was good to sight and tasty – it was delightful. Why? Why would God not make it ugly and bitter? It wasn’t ugly and bitter because God created it and sin had not yet entered the world. The tree and the fruit were not evil; man’s disobedience of God’s instruction was evil. Thus the birth of all things terrible and awful are literally found in the fallen (or sinful) nature of humanity and the burden man’s sin has placed upon the remainder of creation.

This is true of sex. Before sin, man and woman were naked and were not ashamed. They were instructed to be fruitful and multiply. They were companions. After sin, however, the situation changed. Man and woman recognized their nakedness, felt shame and hid – not from each other, but from God. The openness and nakedness of human sexuality was to be covered – at first by man’s meager efforts (plant leaves) and then through God’s proper solution (animal skin). God graciously provided parameters in which sex could still honor him.

We now live in a world that desires to open and uncover sexuality more and more. This new nakedness is shameless where modesty and restraint should abound. It is tainted, marred, scarred, and grotesque in ways that continue to distort and shape our culture. We live in a world where more money is made through the porn industry each year than all professional sports revenue combined. Rapes are an accepted reality for women in many parts of the world and seen as an almost accepted norm in those cultures. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Tran-sexual orientations and gender identities are now such common topics that most people know the acronym without question. These orientations and identities are so assumed to be good and virtuous by so many people in our culture that those who hold moral beliefs in opposition are considered bigots and hate-mongers. This sexual revolution is not progress and does not delight the God who created with intention.

God created male and female to experience one flesh with one another. God used this physical terminology to convey a relationship between a husband and wife which is much more than physical. We are told to be of one mind and one spirit with others in the church, but the husband and wife are to be one flesh. Biblically, marriage is best described as one man and one woman living as one flesh for one life. God gave them to one another to delight in one another so deeply that their lives would be intertwined in such a way that no man should ever separate them because God united them.

I chose to define marriage as one man and one woman because every description of marriage in every part of Scripture relays this pairing. The words used are gender-specific and descriptively clear. There is no place in Scripture where marriage is ever discussed in any other terms. The use of gender-specific terms are not simply cultural generalities. They are very specific to each gender, beginning with and thereafter reflecting on the description of pre-sin marriage in the creation accounts. From those creation accounts, we see that God created and intended sexual delight in 4 ways:

  1. Physical Delight – Adam’s words describing Eve are physically specific. The sexual act is, and was intended to be, immensely physically pleasurable. Not many will argue this point, but we sometimes miss its significance. God made sex physically delightful so that a man would delight in his wife and a woman would delight in her husband physically. God equipped men and women for delight. In so doing, both may delight in the Creator who gave them such a good and pleasing gift.
  2. Emotional Delight – Adam’s response to Eve is emotional. He may not wax poetic with his words, but he does use words. (Take notes, fellas, as we learn the same lesson in the Song of Solomon – use your words in your sexual relationship with your spouse.) God created men and women to bring emotional delight to one another. Few argue the emotional impact of sexuality. There are many people who devote their lives to help those who have been negatively affected by the emotional damage of negative sexual experiences. Sex was not created to cause emotional damage, but emotional delight.
  3. Relational Delight – Adam and Eve enjoyed a shameless relationship in absolute openness before one another. We see this relational delight when Eve goes and gets Adam to eat the sinful fruit. How does this show relational delight? Because the fruit was physically and emotionally delightful for her and she wanted to share it with her husband. She liked delighting with him. Sin instantly broke that delight. In their next encounter with God, Adam goes from describing his wife as “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” to the “woman you made and gave to me, God.” Relational delight was tarnished by sin but was always a portion of God’s intention in designing sex for marriage.
  4. Spiritual Delight – Adam and Eve never hid from God until they had sinned. God walked in the Garden with them in their nakedness and they enjoyed a beautiful relationship with Him which was open, honest, and unashamed. Sin destroyed that. As God provided a covering for their nakedness, He began to set parameters by which sex could again be a portion of spiritual delight.

We struggle with what the Bible has to say about sexuality because we struggle with why God says certain things are right and wrong. In this way, we are not dissimilar to the distrust of God shown in the biblical account of Adam and Eve. Remember that James tells us that sin is to “know right and not do it.”  Sin is not based on what is wrong as much as it is birthed out of what is right. God designed what He desired because He designed for the best of delight. God, our Creator, knows the greatest delight that we can experience.

God has not restricted us to decrease delight, He has instructed us to increase delight.

That is why the laws, truths, and principles of Scripture are so important. God’s intention is found in them. All sex outside of the prescription of one man and one woman living as one flesh is outside of what God designed for delight and is, therefore, sin. God desires that we would experience his very best for us and He is unwilling to accept anything less as a holy standard.

An issue which seems to confuse many is the truth that His goodness still remains in creation. This general grace, which flows from His innate grace, offers opportunities for temptation, cravings, and sinful desires. Women are beautiful, men are attractive and sex is enjoyable even if you don’t acknowledge God at all. Creation can be delighted in physically, emotionally, and even relationally-thriving sexual relationships while still missing the most important intention in sex – spiritual delight. Sex can be enjoyed physically by someone viewing pornography or engaging in promiscuous sex while proving unhealthy emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. Sex can be enjoyed by a young dating couple physically and emotionally as it wreaks havoc in their lives relationally and spiritually.  A non-married, cohabitating, heterosexual couple or a homosexual couple can enjoy sex physically, emotionally, and even relationally, but they are outside of the spiritual delight that can only be experienced within God’s design. Romans 1 speaks of the reality of living outside of this “natural” design. It is not just natural, meaning the way of nature. It is God-intended.

Christians today seem to have become weak about the issues of sin in our society because we have become weak about salvation. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 teaches us a healthy approach to dealing openly and honestly about sin, including sexual sin. We must, however, remember why we cannot live in approval of sin (Romans 1:32). The person who will not speak of righteousness with integrity cannot speak of repentance with integrity. Again, if you will not speak of sin, how can you speak of salvation? What is the need? The result of offering salvation without addressing condemnation for sin is a redemption without reason, a penalty paid for no offense. But Jesus’ call was one of repentance, which is necessarily dependent on understanding sin, not just for those we consider heinous offenders but even those who simply suffer from greed. You cannot tell people that the things in their life for which Christ died are good and then tell them that the death of Christ is good for them, too. This lacks integrity.

So remember, if we truly believe the Gospel, then we believe that God not only changes what people do, He changes what people desire. We believe, in the Gospel, that God not only changes what people desire, He changes what they delight in. So speak the truth about sin not because God sent you to judge but because He sent Jesus to save. He sent you to testify to that sin and salvation.

Delight deeply in God’s design. Married couples, you will never experience the depth of God’s intention for your marriage emotionally, relationally, and spiritually if you neglect it physically any more than you can experience what He desires physically if you ignore His emotional, relational, or spiritual design. So delight in the spouse of your youth and thank God daily!

Red Cups, a Blue Dress and a Claim to Truth

We love a good controversy. Red cups are apparently the controversy of the day. Remember that time the whole world started talking about a dress? Take a look here if you have no idea what I’m talking about. What made that dress so provocative in the conversations of the internet world was the fight over my truth versuThe_Dresss your truth. Could anyone be right? One article concluded that the dress is no color because color itself is a secondary quality – completely experiential. That same article seemed to lump religion into that category of experiential subjectivity.

My point in writing today is not to convince you of the color of the dress. My perspective is irrelevant in light of the creator’s testimony. J. D. Harrison recognized this and interviewed the designer of the dress, Peter Christodoulou, in this article. What did Christodoulou say about the color of the dress? It’s blue. There is an authority, the creator of the dress, and the authority has testified to the fact that he made the dress from pigmented fragment which is generally and traditionally recognized as blue. To argue otherwise with this information available hints toward boredom, belligerence, pride or a very likely combination of all three.

Eventually people stop caring about the color of a cup or a dress, but they remember how you conveyed your convictions on the issue. One article reported that 16 couples had ended their relationships over the color of the dress. What a ridiculous result considering the relevance of the dissension in the first place. Still, the question remains: Can one stand firm in conviction on a topic much weightier and, perhaps, more complex than the color of a dress without severing relationships in the process?

At this point, you might be thinking of interactions that you’ve had with me as I stood for things that I believed to be true. You might be thinking, “I can’t believe this guy is writing this article.” Ok, I’ll admit – this is a huge area of opportunity for me, which is business speak for failure territory. You see, I have truly believed, and still do in times of weakness, that if I could just rephrase or perhaps double down on an argument that I have found to be convincing, then the other party will tuck tail and admit defeat. Therein lies the problem – it’s not a battle. It’s not a game. Most of the truth claims on which I stand are deeply personal, relational, and socially controversial. I have hurt relationships because of public comments I have made. How can I do better? How can you do better?

It would seem that the answer to these questions for many is that all truth claims are prideful by nature and should be avoided at all costs (which is so convincing an answer for those who have arrived at this point that the answer becomes a truth claim in itself). The answer for others is to share all of your thoughts with everyone at all times as if each is the only reasonable or morally acceptable answer while shunning or publicly humiliating all who disagree. These might say, “I’m only offensive because you’re offended. This sounds like a you problem.” These two answers cover the spectrum that Paul addressed in his letter to the church at Ephesus (4:15) when he promoted “speaking the truth in love.”

If one decides not to speak truth under the guise of love, then he is not truly loving. Imagine a foreign aid worker who has worked first hand with children who are starving. Would you expect her to petition for funds and volunteers in order to alleviate childhood hunger? Is the loving thing to tell no one because others may not believe that this hunger is their problem or because they may not have the funds to help? Conversely, if one decides to speak the truth with no regard for empathy or relationship, then the proclamation is devoid of love. Rather than saying nothing, the newly informed advocate for child nourishment might stand in the steakhouse screaming at customers to abandon their child-starving ways. Is this a better approach than saying nothing?

Truth exists. For Christians to call compassionately for the salvation of others, we must be willing to acknowledge the sins for which salvation is necessary. The creator has spoken through the Bible. There is an authority from which to make claims. Still, the foundation of the conversation must be one of empathetic love. As those who live in grace, cry out with grace. As those who live forgiven, cry out for repentance. As those who have been loved, love. The balance is emotionally difficult and fraught with many instances of failure, but should not be abandoned. We must love enough to speak truth. We must speak truth in love.