Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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Updated: 53 min 40 sec ago

What God Says to Your Tears

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 8:00pm

For centuries, Christians have called this world a “valley of tears.”

Yes, Christ has come. Yes, he is risen. And yes, he will come again. But still we mourn and ache and weep — and walk alongside those who mourn and ache and weep. We plod through the valley with hearts heavy laden, grieving for any one of a thousand reasons: our depressed children, our distant spouses, our dashed hopes, our deceased loved ones, our ruinous sin.

Sometimes, we cry because life’s sorrows have become chronic, filling our life like unwelcome houseguests who just won’t leave. Other times, we cry because some unexpected misery lands like a meteor and carves a crater in our soul. And still other times, we cry and don’t know quite why; the grief evades description and analysis.

To such mourners, the Bible’s message is not to dry up your tears. No, the Bible says weeping is typical of life in the valley, and its message to mourners is much more sympathetic — and much more steadying.

“I See Them”

Not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from God’s notice (Matthew 10:29), and neither does one of your tears.

When Hagar lifted up her voice in the wilderness of Beersheba, God drew near (Genesis 21:17). When Hannah wept bitterly outside the temple of the Lord, God noticed and remembered (1 Samuel 1:10, 17). When David became weary with moaning, God didn’t become weary with listening (Psalm 6:6–9).

The God of all comfort keeps watch over your weeping. He gathers up all your tears and puts them in his bottle (Psalm 56:8). Like a mother sitting beside her child’s sickbed, God marks every sigh of discomfort and pain. No matter how much of your anguish has gone unnoticed by others, not one moment has escaped the attention of the God who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4).

As God says to King Hezekiah, so he could say to each of his children, “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears” (2 Kings 20:5).

“I Care About Them”

Many of us feel ashamed of our tears, especially if others see them. In a culture that prizes strength and grows uncomfortable with prolonged grieving, many of us respond to our own tears with a hasty wipe of the sleeve and a quick “Get over it.”

Not so with God, whose fatherly compassion compels him to draw near to the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds (Psalm 147:3). The God who said, “Blessed are you who weep now” (Luke 6:21) will not reproach you for the tears you shed as you walk through the ruins of our broken world.

When Jesus joined a crowd outside the town of Nain and watched a widow weep over her son’s body, “he had compassion on her” (Luke 7:13). Later, when Mary fell apart at Jesus’s feet over the death of her brother, the man of sorrows went one step further: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Jesus had compassion, and Jesus wept — even though Jesus was about to speak the word to snatch them both back from death (Luke 7:14; John 11:43).

Just because Jesus loves us and knows how to fix our problems doesn’t mean he takes a shortcut through our grief. The same one who raises the dead first stops to linger with us in our sorrow — to climb down into our valley of tears and walk alongside us.

To be sure, not all tears awaken our Lord’s compassion. God has little patience when we weep in misery over the idols he removes from us, as when Israel preferred Egypt’s meat to God’s presence (Numbers 11:4–10). But every tear you shed in faith — shattered but trusting, gutted but believing — has this banner hanging over it: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18).

“I Will Turn Them into Shouts of Joy”

A few hours before Jesus was betrayed, tried, beaten, and crucified, he told his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20). Sorrow and sighing will flee. Tears will dry up. Grief will lose its grip. So it was for Jesus’s disciples, when a resurrection sunrise scattered the shadows from their hearts. And so it is for every child of God.

Every tear you shed is preparing for you “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Every drop of agony and heartache sinks down into the ground like a seed, waiting to sprout up into an oak of laughter.

Maybe that sounds impossible. Maybe you wonder, “How could this sorrow, this heartache, this grief ever give way to joy?” That’s alright if you can’t understand the how right now. God’s ways are often too high and too marvelous for us to grasp. But can you believe — in hope against hope — that what is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27; Romans 4:18)?

Believing that God will turn our tears into shouts of joy does not mean that we no longer grieve. But it does mean that we cling to him through the pain, and let every calamity crash us into his arms. And that we learn to lament to God instead of curse his name.

We’ll keep reading our Bibles, even when we feel dead to God’s word. We’ll keep on crying out to God, even when he feels deaf to us. We’ll keep on gathering with God’s people, even when they don’t understand what we’re going through. We’ll keep on serving others, even while we carry our sorrow wherever we go. And we’ll keep on sowing the seeds of truth and grace into our barren souls, waiting for the day when God takes us home.

“I Will Wipe Them All Away”

As Andrew Peterson sings in “After the Last Tear Falls,”

In the end, . . .
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms of the Giver of love and the Lover of all.
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales.

Our weeping may tarry for a long, long night. As long as we journey through this valley, we will be vulnerable to the assaults of loss and disappointment and death. But joy will come in the morning, when God turns this valley of tears into a city of everlasting joy.

In that day, God himself will stoop down to each of his grieving children and — somehow, someway — he will dry up tears forever. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

And then your cracked and weary voice will swell to a shout as you testify with heaven’s multitudes, “You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 116:8–9).

And in a moment, tears will become the stuff of old tales.

Do You Want to Be Happy Forever?

Wed, 03/07/2018 - 2:00am

Nobody wants to go through life unhappy, but happiness always seems so fleeting. Is there a joy that lasts forever?

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Jesus Is More Than Your Savior

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 8:00pm

“I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ . . .”

If those are the first words out of an athlete’s mouth after a big win, we’re pretty sure we have an evangelical on our hands. As unnatural as those moments feel at times, many of us appreciate the heart behind it. Even if we cringe, we want to simultaneously celebrate that good instinct for a Christian to acknowledge Jesus not only as rescuer but also master.

“Lord and Savior” became a kind of evangelical calling card in the last generation, and for good reason. The phrase comes out of the 1980s battles on “lordship salvation” (even with its roots planted firmly in 2 Peter 1:11; 2:20; 3:2, 18). Could a truly born-again person receive Jesus as Savior, but not as Lord? Can you pray a prayer, walk an aisle, sign a card, and receive Jesus’s saving, but not his lordship?

The most compelling voices in the controversy stood with their feet steadied on the rock of God’s own words, and argued that to receive Jesus savingly is to receive him as all that he is — “Jesus is Lord.” You cannot reject his lordship and still have him as your get-out-of-hell-free Savior. No one knows all that his lordship means when we first believe, but as we learn more about the real Christ, we receive him as all that he is.

Is ‘Lord and Savior’ Enough?

I’m thankful for those who fought for Christ’s lordship a generation ago, and continue to proclaim it today. And in the days and context in which I pastor, I’m finding “Lord and Savior” to be both essential and inadequate. More needs to be said about who Jesus is for us.

When we stand over the Lord’s Table at our church each Sunday morning, and as we teach our children at home and in Sunday School, we don’t stop at identifying Jesus as “Lord and Savior.” We’re finding it’s all the more helpful to add a third title to this well-worn evangelical phrase — to help clarify what kind of Lord, and what kind of Savior, we embrace Jesus to be.

What Kind of Lord?

What kind of Lord is Jesus? The kind who not only deserves our obedience, but wins our admiration. He is the kind of King we not only acknowledge with our taxes and military service, but with our adoration and delight.

He is not a selfish lord, but a self-sacrificing lord. He’s not a mean lord, but a kind one. He is not the insecure, cowardly Prince John who opposed Robin Hood, but the winsome, magnanimous King Richard, a king for whose return his subjects longed. He is not a lord like Scar, but like Mufasa. Not Denethor, but Aragorn. Not the White Witch, but Aslan.

He is the kind of Lord who is also our greatest treasure — a lord so good that we would sell all that we have to be his glad servants giving ourselves to the treasure he is (Matthew 13:44). He is our Pearl of Greatest Price (Matthew 13:45–46). Not only have we seen that he is powerful, but we “have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:3). He is not a lord we disdain, but one we admire. He is a giving lord, not an exacting lord (Matthew 18:27). He is “the Lord Jesus Christ himself . . . who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” (2 Thessalonians 2:16).

He is not just “Lord,” but also “Treasure.” He is the kind of lord in whom we delight.

What Kind of Savior?

And what kind of Savior is Jesus? The kind who not only deserves our gratitude, but wins our love. He is the kind of rescuer who plucks us from fire, and who is himself the waters of life.

He is not like a lifeguard who saves us from the undertow to hand us off to our family, but like our own father who rescues us from the riptide for himself to give us the longest, sweetest, and most memorable hug we ever had. His rescue is not like that of a paramedic, fireman, police officer, or soldier honorably “just doing my job,” but in his rescue he demonstrates his personal, covenantal, eternal love for us. Our salvation doesn’t show his commitment to his work as much as his commitment to his child.

He is not just “Savior,” but also “Treasure.” He is the kind of Savior who is also “a treasure in the heavens that does not fail” (Luke 12:33).

What Kind of Treasure?

And just as Jesus being our “Treasure” flavors what it means to receive him as Lord and Savior, so also his lordship and his deliverance inform and enrich the enjoyment of our Pearl of Great Price. What kind of treasure is he? Not a thing we buy and hide and rule over, but a person we gladly obey and to whom we happily give our allegiance. This is the kind of Lord-Treasure he is.

And Jesus not only stands above us and receives our worship, but he is the one who stooped so low for us and got beneath us to serve us. He is the kind of Treasure who did not regard equality with God to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking our form and being born in our likeness. And as human, he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6–8). This is the kind of Savior-Treasure he is. This is the kind of Savior for whom we would “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

God has highly exalted him and given him the name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9–11). He is the kind of Treasure who gladly saves us and whom we gladly call our Lord. Jesus is our “Lord, Savior, and Treasure.”

Do Christians Carry More Emotional Stress Than Non-Christians?

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 7:00pm

Many believers experience deep emotional stress over the sin and pain in the world. When these emotions become paralyzing, what should we do?

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Guilt Evangelism: A Better Reason to Share Your Faith

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 8:00pm

Maybe evangelism intimidates us not because it is intimidating, but because we’ve made it intimidating.

My neighbor and I used to drive together to a nearby coffee shop every other week. Some weeks we just talked — about life, news, whatever was on our minds. Other weeks we’d look at the next passage in the Gospel of Mark. So much of it was foreign to him. It was his first time reading the Bible and, well, the Bible isn’t always easy to understand.

I listened as he asked really good questions — questions I don’t even think to ask (or remember asking). I’d listen to my neighbor share about his job, his family, his upbringing, and his longing for true meaning. We talked about being dads to our kids, we talked about the pressure of being the main breadwinners in our family, and we talked about tricky relationships at work. And while we sipped and talked, God was working. This was a friend and neighbor, with lots of questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity, who trusted me enough to ask those questions. This was evangelism.

Sitting Ducks

Unfortunately, many Christians tend to think of evangelism as gavage. Let me explain. Foie gras is a French delicacy made of fatty duck or goose liver. The traditional process to make foie gras is called “gavage.” A long metal tube is forcibly inserted into a duck’s mouth to feed it an unnatural amount of grain up to three times a day. This process causes the liver to expand to 600% of its natural size and takes up a large part of the bird’s body cavity. This process creates large, fatty, and buttery liver prized for its taste and texture.

Many Christians share the gospel like grain through a long metal tube. We’re just pouring the gospel down the throat of some unsuspecting stranger, hoping they don’t choke on it on the way down. Author and pastor John S. Leonard writes, “As Christians, we know we should share our faith with others. However, we don’t do it until we feel horribly guilty — then we force ourselves upon some poor, unsuspecting soul” (Get Real, 5). Do we only do it to alleviate our guilt with no consideration of how our message was received?

Deliberate Evangelism

The other danger — on the other end of the spectrum — is that we’re so fearful of coming across forceful that we never get around to sharing anything about our faith. We hover along the surface but never get to the heart of the matter. We labor to build friendships but never share the hope that lies within us. We are content to be nice, friendly people but never tell others that we are sinners saved by grace.

Evangelism is a spiritual discipline. We need to be intentional and deliberate in building relationships with, and testifying to, those who don’t know Jesus. We need to prioritize evangelism and practice it. Just like Bible memorization, fasting, or prayer, it won’t happen unless we’re convinced it is important for our spiritual growth and intimacy with Jesus. Few important things happen naturally. The things that are most important require our attention, intentionality, and practice.

Sometimes we forget that Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). We often live as if the laborers are plentiful, but the harvest is few. The harvest is ripe and ready. Certainly not without building relationships, not without listening ears, not without faithful prayer, not without hospitable homes, and not without speaking, but the harvest is plentiful.

Buried Talents

Evangelism, like other spiritual disciplines, is a means of God’s grace to us. God has given evangelists to the church in order to equip believers for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11–12). But if we took a survey of a typical gathering of Christians, it’s likely that less than one-tenth of one percent would say they have the gift of evangelism. It is inconceivable that God has so ill-equipped his church with evangelists for the spread of the gospel both locally and globally.

Far more of us can become capable and effective evangelists than we realize. Own it up front: you’re not destined to be the next Billy Graham — but you can be used by God to share the good news with a handful of people.

Deliberate practice will develop into a gift. Ask any talented musician how long it took before they became good at whatever they do. They each put in thousands of hours of practice with their instrument. Even young prodigies still practice hours each day to hone and develop their skills. But we assume evangelism should come naturally and immediately. After one bad experience, we give up altogether — burying the talents God has given us in the ground.

“Do you ever wonder if you have a talent that you’re not using?” John Leonard asks. “Maybe you have a gift for music or can paint or write, but because you never work at developing that talent the potential of these gifts go undiscovered and unused. This is equally true when it comes to sharing our faith. Most Christians don’t know if they’re evangelists because they haven’t done it enough or worked at developing that gift to see if they have any potential” (110).

Pursue Your Joy

My personal evangelism, though, isn’t mainly a result of hardwiring it into my life as a begrudged discipline, or even deliberate practice, but because few experiences are so exhilarating, enjoyable, and wonderful. The God of the universe has called every disciple of Jesus to make disciples (Matthew 28:18–20). We get to be the means by which God renews the world, one soul at a time. Furthermore, not only has God called us to this privilege; he himself equips us for it and promises to save some through our efforts.

After a few months of studying Mark, and then Genesis, with my neighbor, I could begin to see the fingerprints of God on his life. He was processing what he was reading in the Bible. I could see the Scriptures coming alive in his heart and mind. I had the privilege of walking with him, answering his questions the best I could, listening to his doubts, and praying for him.

And then the phone call came. He said we had to meet. When I saw him, the first words out of his mouth were, “I’m off the fence! I didn’t even know I was on the fence, but I’m off the fence. I believe in Jesus!”

He went on to share with me the joy that had filled his heart, how the Scriptures were making more and more sense, how things had finally clicked for him. How he suddenly had unusual peace. How he had surrendered himself to God, repented of his sinful patterns of living, and was “all in” following Jesus. My heart soared with gladness. We hugged — a couple grown men in a coffee shop. God saves! My neighbor had become a friend, but now he was a brother — forever. All because of some conversations over coffee.

What Might God Do Through You?

So yes, in Jesus’s name and with his help, pursue evangelism and missional living with intentionality. Make it a discipline. But God will increase your joy as you pursue the lost. The apostle Paul says to those converted under his ministry, “What is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19). Few things are more satisfying in life than being used by God to bring someone new to saving faith.

So, get off the fence, ask your neighbor to coffee, listen carefully as they share about themselves, and look for opportunities to tell them about the hope you have in Jesus.

Philippians 2:3: You Are Never Too High to Serve

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 8:00pm

All whispers of “I deserve” are silenced at the foot of the cross. Go there with your pride and be set free.

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Christians Are Marrying Later — How Do I Wait in Faith?

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 8:02am

Although some singles are delaying marriage for the wrong reasons, many are not. What does God say to those who yearn to marry but have no prospects?

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The Happiest Place on Earth

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 2:00am

Whatever we risk losing doesn’t even compare to the joy we gain when we leave everything and follow Jesus.

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I Will Not Lie with You

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 8:00pm

The battle against sexual temptation isn’t won simply with Internet filters and accountability partners. It is won with Spirit-filled convictions, which over time produce new affections and desires. Filters and friends are precious weapons in the fight, but they cannot win the war for us.

Joseph knew how to win the war, and he only had a fraction of the divine revelation we have. After he was sold into slavery by his own brothers, God brought him to the house of Potiphar, an Egyptian officer. “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man. . . . His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands” (Genesis 39:2–3). So, Potiphar “made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had” (Genesis 39:4).

But someone else in Potiphar’s home also admired Joseph. “Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph” (Genesis 39:6–7). Filled with lust for someone other than her husband, she said, “Lie with me” (Genesis 39:7).

But filled with strength and conviction, Joseph refused.

“Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:8–9)

Five life-giving convictions fueled Joseph’s courage and self-control in the face of temptation. If you’re still losing the battle with sexual sin, perhaps these seeds haven’t yet taken hold in your own heart. Ask God to drive the roots deeper as you pore over his word and walk with him.

1. Trust is priceless and fragile.

Joseph says, “Behold, because of me my master” — her husband — “has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge” (Genesis 39:8).

Sexual sin destroys trust. And in every direction. Joseph’s expressed concern is not mainly that he would ruin his career or lose his money, but that he would betray Potiphar’s hard-earned — and easily lost — trust. This is not the greatest conviction under Joseph’s self-control, but it is the first he mentions, and it’s important for defeating sexual sin. Do you prize the trust you have with your spouse, your children, your boss, your friends, your church, or are you secretly all too happy to risk that trust to try to satisfy your flesh?

Joseph knew to tread lightly with all the trust he had been given, to treat Potiphar’s faith in him as precious — and fragile.

2. Authority is about service, not privilege.

Again, Joseph says, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you” (Genesis 39:8–9). Potiphar had given Joseph unparalleled authority over his home, over his business, over all his possessions, which afforded Joseph unparalleled access and privilege — such that he would even be left alone in Potiphar’s home with his wife.

Our headlines are filled with gifted and powerful men who have abused this kind of authority, leveraging their position and power to take advantage of women under their influence. But Joseph refused to abuse his role, even when Potiphar’s wife seduced him day after day (Genesis 39:10). “I will not lie with you.” And he went to prison for years.

Joseph knew whatever authority he had been given to him by Potiphar (and ultimately by God) was a commission to serve others, and not to use others — to die to himself for others’ joy (2 Corinthians 1:24), not to pursue his own pleasure at others’ expense.

If only more Josephs were leading companies, producing films, and pastoring churches — men who refused to use their power and authority to satisfy their secret sexual cravings, but instead received their power and authority as a commission to serve and protect.

3. Marriage is sacred.

Joseph continues, “He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife” (Genesis 39:9). Potiphar’s wife was willing to trade her marriage — their vows, their covenant, their union — to have a handsome young man for a few minutes. But her marriage was worth far more in Joseph’s eyes than it was to her. Joseph knew God had joined Potiphar to his wife. He knew that just as God Almighty had formed Eve and brought her to Adam, so he had sovereignly brought together this man and this woman.

Jesus says, “‘A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate”” (Mark 10:7–9). “Because you are his wife.” Or, because you are her husband. Or, because I am her husband. Because I am his wife. There are storehouses of purifying power behind rock-solid reasons like these.

Do you want the strength to defy sexual temptation? Meditate on the divine sanctity of marriage. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).

4. Sin is not just wrong, but repulsive.

Trust, authority, and marriage are all massive motivations against adultery, but these last two convictions are the foundation under every other motivation for purity and fidelity. First, we learn to deny temptation by learning to hate sin. Many so-called Christians know that sin is wrong, but the key to killing sin is not simply knowing sin is wrong, but feeling that it is repulsive. As we grow in Christ, sin becomes, over time, more and more offensive, even disgusting.

When other men would be all too happy to jump into bed with an attractive, powerful, and eager woman, Joseph asks, “How could I do this great wickedness?” (Genesis 39:9). Adultery is not just wrong; it is wicked. And it is not wicked; it is a “great wickedness.” When you say “No” to temptation, is it because you know this is wrong, even though everything in you wants to do it anyway? Or do you find yourself increasingly conflicted — feeling the pull of sin’s allure, but also seeing and despising the ugliness behind all the pretty makeup? Sin is wrong, but it is also not worth wanting in the first place. Ask God to make it more offensive in your eyes.

5. God is better than sex.

Sin becomes more and more offensive, even disgusting, as God becomes more beautiful, more precious, more satisfying. Adultery loses its seductive power because its pleasures pale next to the deep and enduring joy he promises (Psalm 16:11).

Joseph talks about how devastating this affair would be to Potiphar, who has trusted him with everything, but he ends by asking, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). David says the same when he confesses to God about his adultery, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalms 51:4). Potiphar’s trust was precious to Joseph, but God was more precious. Potiphar’s judgment was fearful to Joseph, but God’s much more so. Potiphar’s reputation mattered to Joseph, but Joseph lived for the glory of God. How could I do this to God?

Joseph was not mainly worried about losing his job, his money, or some sexual pressure. He refused to lose God. His glory was too beautiful, his friendship too precious, his promises too great for Joseph to lie with her. If you want to stay out of bed with someone else’s wife, make yourself as happy as humanly possible in God.

Strength to Persevere

Potiphar’s wife did not try to seduce Joseph just once. “As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her” (Genesis 39:10). Joseph didn’t just say “No” one time. He refused repeatedly and persistently. She kept trying, and he kept refusing. His convictions didn’t just keep him from one misstep, but strengthened him over and over and over again. He didn’t wear down. Trust was still precious. Authority was still about serving. Marriage was still sacred. Sin was still wicked. God was still better.

If you are just saying “No” — to adultery, to pornography, to sexual immorality of whatever form — because you know it’s wrong, you may soon run out of gas in your war against sin. But if these five truths are taking deeper and deeper roots in your heart, you’ll keep adding cylinders to your engine. The next time sexual temptation comes, remember Joseph and the convictions that kept him out of bed with someone else’s wife.

Christians Are Marrying Later — How Do I Wait in Faith?

Sun, 03/04/2018 - 7:00pm

Although some singles are delaying marriage for the wrong reasons, many are not. What does God say to those who yearn to marry but have no prospects?

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Read the Bible with Someone Else: Four Benefits of Studying in Community

Sat, 03/03/2018 - 8:01pm

God has given us many good ways to read his word. You may have utilized several of them: studiously, devotionally, reflectively, Christologically. But what about communally?

Communal reading is when two or more people gather to read, hear, and discuss a written text. It was a popular practice in the first century, and it is a powerful way to approach God’s word still today. Yet in the age of the printing press, and now the digital revolution, communal reading has become one of the more neglected spiritual practices of our time.

Four Benefits of Communal Reading

Communal reading was not only popular in Jesus’s day; it was essential. With no printing and no smartphones, men and women across the Roman Empire, of all ages, races, and social classes, gathered to hear recitations from many different kinds of literature. Orators would show off their abilities before their admiring fans.

Jesus, Paul, and the earliest Christian communities all read communally (Luke 4:16–30; Acts 17:1–3). Indeed, the New Testament documents were written with the intention of being read in community. Paul explicitly instructed some of his letters to be read aloud (Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27), along with other Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13).

Contemporary Christians might benefit greatly from resuming this practice. Here are four ways that communal reading can edify individual believers and churches, and even help reach into non-Christian communities today.

1. Reading together shapes our faith.

Early Christians read together in order to grow spiritually. They gathered to hear God’s word read aloud so that they could discuss and apply it together (Acts 13:14–15). Their goal, as was the goal of the biblical authors, was not merely to be informed, but to be conformed to the image of Christ (Galatians 4:19). And Jesus tells us through John, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it” (Revelation 1:3).

Reading together counters our individualistic tendencies and fosters humility and gratitude. By reading and discussing Scripture in community, we acknowledge our inability to fully grasp God’s truth on our own, and we learn to appreciate the insights of others. Gifts are shared, weaknesses offset, and personal interpretations exposed to inquiry. When we receive God’s revelation together and interact with one another, our personal biases are exposed, and other opinions are conveyed and considered. This teaches us to listen attentively, think carefully, question kindly, and respond humbly. Our souls are formed when we read together.

2. Reading together aids discipleship and evangelism.

Communal reading can and should occur outside typical worship settings and with non-believers as well as other Christians.

Philip taught from Isaiah in a chariot. Paul read God’s word in synagogues, taught it in lecture halls, and evangelized with it along riverbanks and in marketplaces. Communal reading is a powerful tool for evangelism and discipleship because it aids understanding and promotes interactive discussion of our common confession (Acts 17:2). In fact, believers’ lives were meant to be walking communal-reading events for everyone to examine and read (2 Corinthians 3:2–3), and one way early Christians loved their neighbors was by reading with them.

3. Reading together unites a community.

We are reminded that we are a community when we read communally. Despite our differences, reading with other believers connects us and reminds us that we are one in Christ. Consider the diversity of people hearing Paul’s letter read aloud in Rome (Romans 16:3–16). There are Greek, Latin, and Jewish names listed among the slaves, siblings, and saints, gathered together at multiple house churches.

Reading the Bible alone should certainly be a staple of our devotional life, at least for those of us blessed to live in literate societies. Yet the model of Christ, the missionary efforts of the early church, and the message of the New Testament authors all support including corporate Scripture readings into our spiritual disciplines. As individualistic as we are, and as isolated as we’re becoming, we need to seize upon more occasions and opportunities to come together and grow as communities.

Communal reading can also unite Christians across congregational and denominational lines. It has done so through the centuries and can continue doing so until Christ’s return.

4. Reading together protects the truth.

Communal reading is an effective but neglected safeguard against misquotations, misinterpretations, and misapplications. It’s almost impossible to misquote a movie line or name the wrong player on a sports team without someone noticing and correcting it because so many people are viewing these events. Imagine that same type of thing happening with the Bible in your community.

In the New Testament, there were apostolic endorsements (Colossians 4:16), conciliar decrees (Acts 16:4), textual examinations (Acts 17:11), gospel feedback (Acts 18:26), and public warnings to repeat and receive divine revelation reverently (Revelation 22:18–19). Taken together, there was a sustained focus in the first century on safeguarding the Christian tradition. Communal reading helped preserve the precise passing down of God’s revelation, while also providing additional checks and balances to interpretation (2 Peter 3:16).

Communal reading should still act as a conserving force, protecting an unadulterated gospel, because other so-called testaments of Jesus Christ (like the Book of Mormon) and new translations of the Scriptures (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation) continue to be produced.

All Together Now

Reading God’s word together reveals a more magnificent God, a more beautiful Christ, a more sublime Spirit, and a greater gospel than we can envision alone. It also reminds us of the church’s literary heritage that can help us know, adore, and serve God as a community united in Christ.

Jesus read communally, as did his apostles and their disciples. Will you?

Philippians 2:1–2: Diversity Makes for the Best Unity

Fri, 03/02/2018 - 8:00pm

Christian unity is not Christian uniformity. It is a beautiful painting comprised of various colors.

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To the Next Generation of Church Leaders

Fri, 03/02/2018 - 8:00pm

Dear Future Church Leader,

I began seminary eighteen years ago, with my career path already mapped out. My goal was to become an influential pastor in a big church in a big city.

Perhaps it goes without saying that this plan was fueled, at least in part, by prideful desires for attention and applause. But here’s something less obvious and equally important: it was founded upon a deeply-held belief that bigger is usually better; that the place to go to make a difference is a world-class city; that, for a gifted person, ministry in a small place is somewhat of a waste. It turns out this view was shared by many of my peers and professors.

I would venture to say it is still the view of many aspiring to ministry. Who’s excited about the prospect of moving to a small town to pastor a small church? I wasn’t.

But God surprised me. He called me to be a pastor in a town whose name I had never heard of. You’ve never heard of it, either (for the record, it’s Pepperell, Massachusetts). I’ve been here for a decade and have no plans to leave. What I’ve come to believe, and what I’m passionate to commend to you, is that the equation of “bigger” with “better” is out of step with the very gospel we set ourselves to ponder and proclaim. In fact, the message and values of the gospel itself will send some (not all) of us to small places, and encourage us to stay there.

Please don’t misunderstand me: my goal is not to persuade you to go to a small place. It is to persuade you to be joyfully open to God persuading you to go to a small place if he chooses to do so. For the sake of your own soul, and for the sake of God’s glory in both the small and big places, I long for you to be excited if you receive God’s clear call to Nowheresville.

Pondering the gospel has taught me several things that call into question my previous assumptions. These are the building blocks of a theological vision for small-town and rural ministry that now sustains my ministry.

1. Strategic isn’t always what we think.

A good part of the drive toward urban church planting and city ministry in the past generation has come from a desire to be strategic, to maximize Christian influence in the culture for the sake of spreading the gospel. Cities are full of young, educated, successful people. If we reach them, we will shape the broader culture, preparing the way for the gospel to advance. This view has borne lots of good fruit, and there is much to commend it.

But something important will be lost if this becomes our only way of thinking. As we reflect deeply on the gospel, we see how its message, values, and priorities might lead some of us in a different direction. One of the most precious things about the gospel is that it often appears so unstrategic, so lavish and wasteful, by worldly standards. Think of the shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go after one (Luke 15:3–7). Think of Mary anointing Jesus’s feet with a pound of expensive ointment rather than selling it to raise money for the poor (John 12:1–8). Think of Jesus himself befriending the oppressed and the outsider, or the apostle Paul gathering those who were not wise, powerful, or noble according to worldly standards (1 Corinthians 1:26–31).

The gospel teaches us that strategic isn’t always what we think. The best “strategy” to reach someone you know and love with the gospel is not to influence someone else who will eventually influence them. It’s to spend time together, go deep in friendship, and serve them. And, in fact, the very nature of the gospel gives us permission and encouragement to invest in “unimportant” people — the gospel announces that God crushed his own Son for them.

I believe God does call some people, at some times, to big-picture thinking — to considering how to influence the wider culture and the greatest number of people possible. I’m thankful for those whom he has gifted to do such thinking. But we should be aware that strategizing of that sort can easily play to pride and is often best not done by recent seminary graduates and newly minted pastors.

A call to a small, unstrategic place is in fact the most strategic way of reaching that particular place. It is also a beautiful picture of the extravagant, sacrificial love proclaimed in the gospel itself, which changes people not because of what they can contribute (in leveraging influence with others), but because of what they can’t contribute (in saving themselves). A whole life lived in, and a whole ministry dedicated to, a small, unimportant place will embody and express precious aspects of the gospel that a fast-moving, highly-successful, “influencing the influencers” ministry cannot.

2. Small is probably better than we think.

Our culture generally prefers and privileges big things to small things. This includes the size of the places where we live. Small places are often despised. Think of all those stereotypes of undereducated, gap-toothed, tobacco-spitting, inbred, backroads hillbillies and simpletons.

Sadly, this translates into Christian culture, too, often creating a sense of inferiority among small-place pastors. Rural pastors may observe the well-designed websites, large churches, and active social media platforms of their urban counterparts, and begin to feel dissatisfied with (and even embarrassed by) their own ministry, people, and place. It’s not surprising, therefore, when gifted seminary students feel that the place for them is a big church in a big city.

But we should ask: is the preference for big a cultural value or a gospel value? We need our minds renewed through meditation on the gospel. God never disdains what is small and unimpressive. In fact, he frequently delights in it.

The Son of God came as a baby and gathered just twelve disciples during his brief life and ministry. The remnant theology of the Bible whittles humanity down to just one man, then says salvation is achieved through his one death, and that the end-time general resurrection begins with his one resurrection. The kingdom of God comes like a mustard seed, as a hidden bit of leaven. Each time we receive the Lord’s Supper, we declare our appreciation for what is small: we receive a tiny bit of bread and a tiny cup as the first foretastes of a great future messianic banquet. In gospel logic, small is often very good.

This does not, of course, mean that big is necessarily bad. The baby Jesus grows into a man; the resurrection of one leads to the resurrection of many; and the mustard seed grows into a mighty tree. Nor does it mean that small is always good. If a church is small because poor preaching and leadership is choking the life from it, or because there’s no sense of mission and no evangelism, that’s a bad kind of small. My point is that the nature of the gospel itself shows that small is not always or inevitably bad (as our culture, both secular and Christian, often seems to believe). Small is probably better than we think.

Future church leaders, please hear this: the smallness of a place may (or may not) be a reason to go there, but it should never be a reason not to go there.

3. Slow is often wiser than we think.

Our culture prizes efficiency and speed, and prefers things done fast. And of course, things tend to happen faster in cities. Big urban churches may plan new initiatives and plant new churches with dizzying speed and success. Rural pastors, meanwhile, can feel stuck in first gear as they wait for the building committee to debate the color of the new toolshed.

In fact, many people living in small places actually prefer slow. One sociologist interviewing small-town residents discovered that their favorite part of small-town life was that things didn’t change. They valued trustworthiness and depth of relationship — things that only come slowly.

As you pursue ministry with a desire to impact the world for Christ, the speed of the big places will likely be very appealing. Because of our built-in, culturally-encouraged desire for fast impact, it’s especially important to slow down and study the gospel. The gospel sometimes spreads rapidly through a people group, and sometimes radically changes an individual overnight. But of course, that’s not the only (or even the main) way it works.

Consider how the gospel has impacted your own life. You were saved the moment you first believed, but we can all identify areas of our lives in which progress has come very slowly. My long battle with envy and slow growth in contentment have played out over time, not overnight. The gains have been hard-won — never hasty. The gospel works more often like a steady, soaking rain than a firehose spray.

So, the gospel itself demonstrates that slow is sometimes okay; it is often wiser than we think. Fast is not necessarily bad, and neither is slow. There is great freedom for restless pastors (and ambitious seminary students) in this knowledge.

Think Bigger Than Big

What do I wish I could say to myself eighteen years ago as I entered seminary? Please think very big about things that are truly big: God’s character, God’s gospel, God’s mercy, God’s glory. Know, and firmly believe, and often remind yourself that these truly big things do not depend on the size of your place, your church, your ministry, or your reputation.

Focus on your ministry’s depth. Let God tend to its breadth. Remember that when we think too big in terms of ourselves or our place, we’re limiting how God may be pleased to surprise and use us, which means we’re not thinking big enough. So, think bigger than big. As you consider what comes next after seminary, please don’t limit yourself to big places. Open yourself to the leading of your big God and go joyfully wherever he calls you.

Joy Drives Us

Fri, 03/02/2018 - 2:00am

For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross. For the joy set before us, we press on to bring as many people into fullness of joy in God as we possibly can.

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Enter into the Joy of Your Master: Two Songs Billy Loved to Sing

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 8:01pm

When I received word that Billy Graham died last week, I began to sing the two signature songs of virtually every one of his crusades, “Just as I Am” and “How Great Thou Art.” And as I did, I saw how the seeds of Christian Hedonism had been sown. I sang those songs hundreds of times growing up.

None of us knows all the roots of why we think what we think. I don’t mean to suggest we are mere victims of unknown forces. We are responsible to discern true and false, and to love what is true.

But I do mean to suggest that there are roots to what we think that we do not know. Their influence was too subtle to recognize at the time. Or we were not old enough, or thoughtful enough, to see what was shaping us. That is certainly true of how my view of the world was shaped — the view called Christian Hedonism.

Pursue Your Pleasure — in God

Before I put my finger on the very words of these two signature songs, let me define Christian Hedonism and then tell you how it had roots (unconscious to me) in Billy Graham’s Crusade singing. Christian Hedonism has a vertical expression and a horizontal one. Vertically it relates to glorifying God; horizontally it relates to loving people.

The essence of vertical Christian Hedonism is that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Or, to paraphrase the Westminster Catechism, the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Or, to express it in the way that captured me when I was 22 years old, God’s supreme passion to be glorified, and my unrelenting desire to be happy, are not at odds, but come to pass in the single act of worship. Therefore, since glorifying God is the purpose of the universe, pursuing joy in God is a divine command: “Delight yourself in the Lord!” (Psalm 37:4). “Be glad in the Lord” (Psalm 32:11). “Rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 3:1).

The essence of horizontal Christian Hedonism is that satisfaction in God not only glorifies God; it overflows to meet the needs of others. This overflow is called love (in 2 Corinthians 8:2, 8). To be more precise, the essence of vertical Christian Hedonism is that joy in the God who sent his Son Jesus Christ to die for sinners has in its very nature an impulse to increase by drawing others in to share it. Therefore, since loving our neighbor is the second great commandment (Matthew 22:39), pursuing joy in God is a divine command.

The simplest, and most common, dictionary definition for “hedonism” is “the pursuit of pleasure,” or “a life devoted to the pursuit of pleasure.” That’s the way I am using the word. And by putting the word “Christian” in front of it, I mean that the largest and longest “pleasure” is found only in God through Jesus Christ. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). “We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:11).

If you ask, “Why is the world designed this way?” one answer is that God is this way. From eternity, God has been supremely happy in the fellowship of the Trinity. God could have said at any time (if there had been time), “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). God has always had supreme pleasure in his Son. And the Son has had pleasure in the Father (John 14:31). Therefore, when salvation was designed by God, the aim of it was to bring redeemed human beings into that very pleasure. “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23).

All I Need in Thee I Find

Now to the signature songs and lyrics. Billy ended every service with “Just as I Am.” Millions of people could sing the first verse by heart:

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

In other words, there is no basis, no foundation for me to stand on in God’s presence except that Jesus died in my place. I come to him on that basis alone, not on the basis of my worth or merit or good deeds or heritage or church affiliation or baptism. Christ alone is the ground of my acceptance with God.

But there was another verse that goes right to the heart of Christian Hedonism.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind;
Yes, all I need, in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

I don’t just come to Jesus because I find forgiveness in him but because I find all in him. “Yes, all I need, in Thee to find, I come.” I was poor. I was wretched. I was blind. Then, by God’s grace, my wretchedness was replaced by healing of the mind. My blindness was replaced by sight. My poverty was replaced by riches. What riches? Christ! “All in Thee I find.” Therefore, I come! I come for the healing that you are. I come for the glorious sight that you are. I come for the riches that you are.

Therefore, God was pushing deep into my soul — many souls — the truth that Jesus is not a ticket to heaven. He is heaven. That is, he is what makes heaven to be heaven. We did not sing: “All in heaven I find.” But: “All in Thee I find.” Jesus, you do not give all-satisfying riches. You are all-satisfying riches. And this is why I come. I come! You don’t tell me to suppress my newborn craving to find all my satisfaction in you. No! You say, “Come! Find your all in me. I will be glorified as you are satisfied in me!”

My Burden Gladly Bearing

And in almost every crusade thousands sang, under the vast arm-reach of Cliff Barrows, “How Great Thou Art!” To be sure, it soars in celebration of “the worlds thy hands have made” and the “lofty mountain grandeur.” But the last two verses are the heart and climax. And they show that gladness is both the ground and the goal of our salvation.

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Bearing our sin was not a begrudging obedience to his Father. “For the joy that was set before him [Christ] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). And “How Great Thou Art” is right to infer that this joyful hope surged back into the present horrors to sustain Jesus on the cross. Do not dream that it was impossible for the Lord of all to feel agony and gladness in the same act. This obedience-sustaining, agonized gladness was the ground of our salvation.

What Joy Shall Fill My Heart

Then in the last verse of the song we reach the climax of salvation and history.

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart,
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

Heart-satisfying joy expressed in humble adoration. Because joy in God is the essence of adoration of God. All of history and all of salvation comes to climax in the God-centered happiness of God’s people overflowing in adoration. Because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

Thank you, Billy Graham. Thank you, Cliff Barrows. Thank you, George Beverly Shea. You taught us to sing the greatest truths in the world. And little did I know you were teaching me the precious truth of Christian Hedonism. Thank you.

Will We Be Finally ‘Saved’ by Faith Alone?

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 7:00pm

Protestants have long championed justification by faith alone. But we distort this truth when we confuse justification and final salvation.

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‘Larger Than Life’: Billy Graham (1918–2018)

Thu, 03/01/2018 - 1:00pm

Billy Graham died on Wednesday, February 21 at the age of 99. That morning we asked John Piper to reflect on his ministry and legacy.

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Should We Kiss Solomon’s Dating Advice Goodbye?

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 8:00pm

I once asked a college class to give me the definition of “the perfect woman.” Immediately, one of the girls blurted out, “a cute, chaste, cooking, cleaning, childbearing Christian who is clever (but not too clever).” And then she added, “Not that I’m bitter, of course.”

In their search for love, men suffer from similar frustrations. The whole process can be deeply confusing. In God’s providence, there is a whole book of the Bible, the Song of Songs, which addresses the deep desire and longing in our hearts to love and be loved.

One Thousand Lovers

Many fine commentators see Solomon as the hero of the Song of Songs. In my commentary, however, I disagree, seeing Solomon as part of the problem, not the solution. After all, in 1 Kings 11, the Bible does not depict Solomon as the sort of person to advise you on love and marriage.

Solomon had deep patterns of sin and failure in his life — perhaps especially in the realm of his sexuality. Deuteronomy 17:17 forbade the king from multiplying wives, lest they turn his heart away from the Lord. Yet Solomon acquired no fewer than one thousand wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:3). In the ancient world, polygamy was a way to flaunt your wealth, ensure many offspring, and cement strategic alliances. On a human level, those reasons seemed wise, designed to give security to the royal house. But acquiring one thousand lovers is a sign of a heart determined to be self-sufficient and independent of God.

A Flaming Fire

Solomon paid a heavy price for ignoring what God had said in favor of human wisdom. Like Solomon, we often face the temptation to substitute human wisdom for the apparently restrictive wisdom of God’s word. Human wisdom tells us that our sexuality is just another natural appetite to be fulfilled, like eating or drinking. Who wants to be sexually anorexic? Human wisdom says, “God is against sex and is trying to restrict you from finding true fulfillment.”

God’s word actually tells us that sex is a beautiful and wonderful gift of God within marriage. Yet outside of marriage, sex is destructive and harmful. The Song of Songs explains that sexual love is like flaming fire (Song 8:6): something beautiful and warming in its proper place, but terrifying and destructive if unrestrained.

For us, just as for Solomon, sex is never just about sex. Solomon’s wives were about his search for significance and security. So too, we may use sex to find security: “If I have sex with my boyfriend, then he’ll want to marry me.” Or significance: “If I can find a girl who wants to sleep with me, I will feel attractive.” Or intimacy: “Sex will move our relationship to a whole new level.” Or we seek fake security, significance, or intimacy through solo sex or porn.

Temple Builders

Using sex in a way for which it was not designed leaves us feeling guilty, battling shame and isolation. It doesn’t help that in our churches we often have a conspiracy of silence, in which sex is never mentioned. Or if it is, we make it seem as if you are the only person in the room to struggle with your sexuality while everyone else is as pure as the driven snow.

The truth is that we are all deeply broken people. We are all captivated by false idols for whom we are busy building temples. Because our sexuality is such a deep part of our identity, that false worship is going to appear clearly in our sexual brokenness. That’s why the standard moralistic approach to sexual sin — “Just stop it!” — is so powerless to change us. If our sexual brokenness reflects our idolatry — false worship — then healing in this area will come only as we grow in our love for the gospel — true worship.

Perhaps some reading this are quite sure that none of this applies to you. You are not sexually broken: you have made pledges, formed accountability groups, and sworn to remain pure. It is certainly a wonderful goal to strive for such things. Yet if your trust is in your own strength and determination to be sexually pure until marriage, you’ve simply created a different idol. True purity of heart never boasts in being pure, for it flows out of a deep awareness of our own weakness without the Lord’s protection.

For myself, I know that the fact that I remained a virgin until I was married had absolutely nothing to do with my strength of character and everything to do with God’s kind gift of social ineptness. I also know that for others, God’s sovereignly allowing them to sin in this area was precisely the means by which he began to open their eyes to the true depth of their need of him. We are all broken.

Someone Greater Than Solomon

For broken people, the fact that the biblical song about love and sex is connected to the name of Solomon is paradoxically good news. Unlike many contemporary love songs, the Song of Solomon does not pretend that we live in a world untainted by sin and brokenness. Of course, the Song does celebrate what is good and wholesome in sex. It intends to leave you panting with desire for a true love like this. It invites you not to settle for a boring marriage, but to hold out for someone with whom, with God’s help, you can write a song that really sings.

But by connecting the song with the name of Solomon, with all his sexual brokenness, the writer reminds us that there are many dangers associated with marriage and sex. It is not easy to find the right person, or to be the right person, and faithfully waiting for that person is perhaps the hardest part of all.

Solomon’s story shows us that if you are holding out for a human hero, you are bound to be disappointed. Solomon, the wisest man in the whole world, became obsessed with money, sex, and power. Nor was this a brief struggle in Solomon’s youth, from which he soon emerged victorious: it was a lasting obsession that latterly drew him away from wholehearted worship of the Lord.

Yet God would not relinquish his promises because of Solomon’s sin. Instead, he sent us the true hero for whom all our hearts are waiting. The reason that we all have a deep longing for the kind of love and intimacy that we glimpse in the best of human marriages is that we were made for an even better marriage: the marriage between Christ and his bride, the church. That is why the church has not been wrong to see in the Song of Songs a message about Jesus and his people. A depiction of the best of all loves and the most wonderful of marriages will inevitably turn our hearts toward Christ, who has truly loved us and is the answer for our deep brokenness.

Your Wedding Garment

Jesus came to a world of sexually broken people who were drinking stale water from broken cisterns instead of seeking the fresh, clean, living water that comes from loving and obeying God. In the process, he set aside the security, glory, and intimacy that he had enjoyed with the Father from all eternity, laying himself open to abuse and assault.

Jesus did not experience the joys of earthly marriage, family, and sex that we so easily regard as our rights. Instead, he set aside his rights for the sake of his bride, the church. For her — for you — he went to the cross and laid down his life so that he could clothe his sin-stained bride in beautiful garments of his spotless righteousness. When the Father looks at you, he doesn’t gaze upon your ugly record of sexual sin, nor on your prideful trust in your own strength to maintain purity in your walk through life. Instead, he sees you clothed in Jesus, and he welcomes you in for Jesus’s sake.

Return your eyes to Christ’s beautifully scarred face. See again what he has done for you. Look back in time to Jesus on the cross, his blood shed to atone for your wandering heart. Look upward at Jesus now exalted in heaven, given the name above every name, before whom all nations will bow. And look onward, straining your eyes for his return, on the day when he will come to claim his bride, and our longing will finally be satisfied.

You Need to End That Friendship: Letter to a Would-Be Adulteress

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 11:00am

You tell me that you’re nowhere near the path of adultery. You and he are just friends. You both love the Lord and desire to walk in obedience to his word. In fact, it was your shared commitment to Jesus that connected you.

As you served at the Christian conference, chatting over the course of long days and boxed lunches, your conversation was filled with Christ and a zeal for the faith. A group of you got connected on social media, so once the conference was over, moving your dialogue to the inbox was easy. And from there, text messaging made more sense. Now, months later, you’re in touch every couple weeks, with an occasional phone call.

“But nothing about our conversation is improper,” you added quickly. “We talk about our families and ministries. We might touch on something we read in our devotions that morning. He’ll even listen to thoughts about my upcoming blog posts. If anything, at the end of our calls, I’m encouraged and edified in what God has called me to do.”

“Does your husband listen to your thoughts about upcoming blog posts?” I asked.

“Oh, he’s got so much going on,” you said. “I don’t mind that he doesn’t have time.”

“What about spiritual growth?” I asked. “Do you and your husband share what you’re learning as well?”

“Again, it’s just a time issue,” you said. “His job is demanding.”

Friend, I know you’ve said that the mere thought of adultery is repulsive to you, and that you could never see yourself taking that path. But it is my hope and prayer that you see the truth: you are already on the path.

Sin Makes Our Heart Sick

You think you can determine the boundaries of your heart — “This far I will go and no more.” And you attribute goodwill to your heart — “This is only a friendship, and an edifying one at that.”

But you know I love you, and I need to remind you that sin is deceitful, and your heart is susceptible. Scripture says,

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12–13)

Can we break that down? Sin is deceitful — it leads you to believe things that are not true. Who does it deceive? You. It would have you think that you are in control, that you can set the course of your emotions and even confine them at will. It would have you believe that your intentions are perfectly pure. Sin would tout the “good” in having “godly conversations” with this man, while suppressing the truth — that your heart is being drawn to him. You’re taken with the time and attention he gives you. Wooed by the shared attraction to spiritual things.

Sin can make the heart sick. And not a “slight fever” sick, but desperately sick. It treats nothing as sacred. It would use even your love of Christ to lure you into infidelity. While you insist you’re not on the path to adultery, your feet are mired in emotional infidelity. A man who’s not your husband is the one to whom you turn for support and encouragement. He’s the one with whom you seem to be growing spiritually. Far from “edifying,” your communications with this man are leading you headlong into full-blown unfaithfulness.

You cannot begin to understand all that’s happening in your heart, but God knows. Ask him to search your heart, to expose every evil longing that lurks within. And then, ask for forgiveness and for strength to end this “friendship.”

The Flesh Is Weak

Yes, my friend — you have to end it. We cannot fully understand or control the goings-on in our hearts, but God tells us what we can do — guard it. In his infinite wisdom, he says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NASB).

Every text message heightens your interest. Every conversation engages your affections. Every sighting on social media consumes your mind. You must disentangle yourself. Put a complete end to communication. Block him on your phone and on social media.

“But that’s so extreme,” you say. “Does it really require all that?”

My friend, your measures have to be extreme. The nature of sin and the devices of the enemy require no less. The goal is your destruction. While the gift of eternal life is yours in Christ, you stand to lose your marriage and family, your ministry and witness, and so much more.

Lesser measures leave the door open. You may think it’s enough to decide that you simply won’t reply to his text messages or answer his calls. But Jesus, knowing our makeup intimately, warned, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). This warning was given as he spoke of temptation.

We must recognize not only the weakness of our flesh, but that it bends toward evil (Romans 7:18). “Make no provision” for it (Romans 13:14). Practically speaking, that’s tantamount to telling your flesh, “No, you won’t even get the occasional gander at his Facebook page.”

Cling to the Savior

Being entangled in sin causes you to lose the sweet fellowship of the Savior. I know you don’t want that, my friend. Whatever fellowship you are seeking in this other man, whatever need you think he fills, seek it in Jesus. He is your portion. He is your Friend. He listens and understands, and he is able to minister to your every need — and the needs in your marriage. Cling to him.

Don’t Let Your Heart Deceive You

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 2:00am

Our hearts are deceitful and desperately sick. Don’t let your heart trick you into thinking that you can find greater pleasures anywhere but Jesus.

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