Married to a New Master

I hate movies where a romantic commitment is violated.

For example, The Wedding Planner. It stars Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Lopez in your typical romcom. It’s a perfectly fine romcom except McConaughey’s character starts pursuing Lopez’s character while he’s engaged to someone else. It takes McConaughey’s character to get to his wedding day before he confesses to his fiancée.

I know there are tons of movies like this. The man/woman who leaves someone else is excused because the existing relationship is bad and it’s “true love” they’re seeking after. It’s just not right.

Not that I’m perfect in this area. I can think of a couple times in my life where I accidentally (maybe?) led a girl on and wasn’t forthcoming with her. Perhaps it’s my experience in the pain of that which makes me abhor movies that glorify that.

It’s painful to someone when you’re committed to them and then you abandon them for someone else. However, in the grand scheme of our walks with Christ, there’s a situation where not only is that OK, but it’s desirable, joyful and freeing.

Romans 7:4-6 says —

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

There’s a switch in spouses here that’s beautiful. The prior few verses talk about how a woman is adulterous if she is with another man while her husband is still alive, but if her husband dies, she is not adulterous if she marries another man.

It’s the same way when we come to Christ. Prior to our salvation, we were married to the law, committed to following its ways. Because of that, we would always fall short because we can’t meet the strict requirements of the law.

But when we were saved, we were released from that commitment and to a new commitment to Jesus, to God, to grace. It’s a marriage to a new master, and it’s a healthy, vibrant and live-saving one.

So in this case, ditching a relationship as quick as you can for a new one is perfectly OK. In fact, if you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to do it as soon as possible.

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4 Reasons Christians Suffer (With a Hat Tip to J. Vernon McGee)

My wife’s been reading through Hebrews and using a commentary by J. Vernon McGee. I bought the commentary when I was reading through the book myself.

Yesterday, she brought to me the words discussing Hebrews 12:6-8, which read:

“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

She then explained to me that McGee listed seven reasons why Christians suffer. I thought they were quite accurate, so I decided to share them in a blog post, along with some personal thoughts. I also adapted the list because some points seemed to repeat themselves.

So here are four reasons Christians suffer (with a hat tip to J. Vernon McGee):

ONE: Practical Consequences of Our Own Stupidity and Sin

“The first reason that we suffer as God’s children (and even as his mature sons) is because of our own stupidity and our own sin…The fourth reason we suffer is for our past sins.” – JVM

This affects Christians at every level of maturity. We are always going to be sinful people and will always struggle.

My favorite song right now is called “In the Blood” by John Mayer. Mayer asks about all these things in his life — the influence of his parents, his insecurities, his weaknesses — and wonders if they’ll be “washed out in the water” or “always in the blood.”

The answer to that is yes. When we become Christians, our sins are forgiven, and they’re no longer on our permanent record. But we will still feel the effects of those sins because we’re human.

And that’s not just sins we’ve committed in the immediate past. McGee tells the story of a famous evangelist who used to be a drunkard. While visiting a restaurant for milkshakes and sodas after a service, the evangelist simply got a glass of soda water.

“The others began to kid him about it,” McGee writes, “and he made this statement, ‘When the Lord gave me a new heart, He didn’t give me a new stomach.’ Liquor had ruined his stomach, and he was still suffering because of that.”

TWO: Standing for Christ in a Secular World

“I can guarantee that if you take a stand for truth and righteousness, you are going to suffer. How many men and women could testify to that?…Many people deliberately take a stand for God, and they have suffered for it.” – JVM

Jesus straight up told us that we would suffer for defending His name. Many around the world suffer as the disciples did, facing criminal prosecution, imprisonment and even execution. I hope I never cease from being amazed by those who willingly go through such lengths in the name of Christ.

In America, our suffering is more emotional and social. We might get made fun of or ignored for being Christians and not being afraid to speak the name of Jesus at our school or workplace. That’s OK, that’s part of being a believer.

An interesting note that McGee makes is that sometimes we can go overboard in our “standing for Christ” and feel like we’re suffering, but it’s unnecessary.

“One man came to me and told me that where he worked everybody was his enemy because he had stood up for God,” McGee wrote. “Well, another Christian man who was an official in that same concern told me that this man was trying to lecture everybody — even during work hours! He was making an absolute nuisance of himself by attempting to witness to people while they were busy on their jobs.”

THREE: Some Purpose of God We Don’t Know

“Job suffered because he was demonstrating to Satan and the demon world and to the angels of heaven that he was not a timeserver, that every man does not have his price and that he loved God for Himself alone. I hope I never have to suffer as Job did.” – JVM

This is one where there isn’t a whole lot of explanation. There’s some part of the will of God where suffering is meant for some kind of purpose that we don’t understand and probably won’t fully get until the other side of heaven. This kind of suffering could include an unexpected and seemingly-unwarranted loss of a job, the sudden death of a close friend or family member or a huge house repair or car expense that puts you in financial trouble.

In my experience, it usually leads to spiritual growth and increasing faith in Christ, but there might be something else it’s designed for that we won’t know until later.

FOUR: The Lord’s Discipline

“A judge punishes, but a father chastens and he does it in love. God uses chastening to demonstrate His love for us. And the writer makes it very clear that you are an illegitimate child if you are not chastened by the Lord, my friend.” – JVM

God makes sure we’re in line. When we start wandering away, He might do things or allow things to happen to discipline us. This ties back into the words from Hebrews 12:6-8.

I think sometimes this is another example where God allows us to suffer and we’re not entirely sure why. We feel the chastening of God but may not know that’s what it is. We may know we’ve been disobedient. But that discipline still comes because God loves us and wants what’s best for us.

The commentary my wife’s been reading is from the “Thru the Bible Commentary Series” by J. Vernon McGee, which you can find on Amazon or Christian bookstores.

You Can’t Blame Hef for Where America Is Now

Author’s Note: Discussion of sex that follows may be frank or a little uncomfortable for some. Rated PG-13.

I woke up this morning to find on my Facebook feed a video obituary from CNN of the life of Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy.

He passed away Wednesday at the age of 91. He was, as The New York Times‘ obituary put it, inseparable from the brand he popularized:

Both advertised themselves as emblems of the sexual revolution, an escape from American priggishness and wider social intolerance. Both were derided over the years — as vulgar, as adolescent, as exploitative, and finally as anachronistic. But Mr. Hefner was a stunning success from his emergence in the early 1950s. His timing was perfect.

His timing was perfect because the timing of sin is always perfect.

Hefner, like every other man in history, was a sinner, just as I am. But he made a fortune, a living and a fame off of sexual sin.

Many in the church lament the place sexual sin has in our culture now. It indeed is mainstream, and we are all affected by it in one way or the other, with countless people addicted to pornography and affairs happening left and right among the rich and famous, splashed on our TV screens everyday.

But we can’t blame Hefner for this. We can’t blame one man’s personal choices and business decisions for the sin nature we already possessed. As Russell Moore so eloquently put it on Twitter this morning:

Sin and Satan created the idea that sex should be freely accessible and open outside the confines of marriage. Sin and Satan created the idea that women are to be sexual objects for man’s pleasure. Hef simply exploited it.

You can’t really blame him. He simply picked up on something man was already prone to when he published the first issue of Playboy in 1953.

Thankfully, there is a rescue from a life of sin. That rescue is called grace, and that rescuer is called Jesus. He may not heal us completely of our sinful nature, but He’ll heal us from the consequences of that sinful nature. Praise the Lord for that.

I hope and pray that, in his later days, Hef found the Jesus of the Bible as I and many others have found Him. I’d love to chat with him in heaven about what he learned about the culture of sex and humanity.

 

God Paid for Me. What Am I Doing With That?

I like to buy music. Probably too much. But I like it. I like finding new music to listen to while I drive to work, while I write articles at work, if I’m just lounging around my apartment.

The newest music I bought was the album If I Never Speak Again by Hearts Like Lions. Before I bought the album, I listened through it on Spotify, considered music from their past (like their excellent EP These Hands) and weighed up how much I would listen to it. Considering those considerations, I bought it.

Worth it so far.

The question this leads me to is this: God paid for me. He put a lot of thought into it. Am I responding to that well?

Heavy.

It’s not a question in my mind that God paid the highest price for me. His Son died.

“But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” – Psalm 49:15

“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” – 1 John 2:2

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10

But what am I doing with that payment? God paid His Son to set me free from the eternal bondage of sin. There’s two ways I need to learn how to respond, two ways I need to deal with this better.

First, I need to know that I am loved and forgiven. 

I can’t let myself continue to be burdened with my guilt and sinfulness. I need to recognize it, but not at the expense of remembering God loves me and cares for me. My sin sucks the joy out of me, yes, but it doesn’t take away the fact that He’s saved me from its eternal consequences. That is the most joyful and wonderful part of being paid for.

But that’s not it.

Second, I need to act like I’ve been paid for.

Just like Hearts Like Lions’ album is serving the purpose it’s been bought for right now, I need to serve the purpose I’ve been bought for.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

What am I doing with the body and the life God bought for me, what He bought from the depths of sin and Sheol? Am I making wise decisions? Am I fighting sin with all that I’ve got?

Far too often, the answer to those questions is no.

So asking the question “What does it mean to be that God paid for me?” can be both an encouragement and a challengeIt can remind us of our blessed position before God, but also our call to be more for Him.

Returning to Vomit: We Like to Go Back to That Which is Gross

One of the more graphic proverbs in the Bible is found in Proverbs 22:6. It reads: “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.”

The image is, well, kinda gross. Nobody really enjoys looking at vomit. I thought about putting a picture of vomit at the top of this post, but decided against it because it’s vomit. It’s puke. It’s food and green stuff and grossness.

I remember when I was in school and people would throw up in class. It was gross, but everybody would watch. Everybody would look at it. And then everybody would talk about it afterwards. There was a fascination with it.

It reminds me of the episode of The Office when an unknown person leaves a gross “package” in Michael Scott’s office. It’s nasty, it’s smelly. The carpet has to come be removed because of the smell and the stain left over. But even though it’s gross and unsettling, the people in the office can’t stop talking about it.

I’ve been thinking about that phrase from that Proverbs verse earlier — “like a dog that returns to his vomit” — and applying that to my own life.

Here’s the thing: vomit is a reminder of something bad. It’s something that we ingested or something happening in our body that is so repulsive the body has to forcefully spit it out. Most of us find this action horrendous and unsettling, so we quickly dispose of it.

Dogs don’t do that — they eat their vomit. Some quick research I did shows that dogs do that because their increased smelling capacities lead them to find and eat the food that’s in the vomit.

That might have some nutritional value for dogs, but it doesn’t for us. But we often do the same thing with our sin.

We often return to the same sins over and over again, even after we’ve felt the negative effects of them. We choose to ignore those negative effects and maybe even terrible guilt we felt after sinning, and just come right back. We’re just like the Israelites in the Old Testament, the classic example of this, who sinned, returned to God, then returned back to the same sins they committed before.

I find this to be a common thread in my own life. For whatever reason, I’ll return to the things that are not helpful, not beneficial, not life-giving, and do them.

What’s the solution to this? How do I, and how do we, overcome the sickness of returning to our vomit, returning to the mistakes we’ve made many times over?

Like this: We recognize the vomit for what it is. We don’t see it as having some small value, but as being totally abhorrent and unhelpful for us.

I think one of the gravest mistakes a Christian can make it not accepting how appetizing sin is. We sin because we like it. Sin isn’t something we do in spite of ourselves, at least most of the time. Sin is something we’re attracted to. It’s something that has some sort of benefit to us.

But we have to recognize the short-lived, non-permanent nature of that benefit. That’s the beginning of getting away from that vomit and eating what’s good for us — obedience, doing what’s right, trusting the Lord.

What Role Does God’s Word Play in Our Lives?

I haven’t written in a while, at least on this blog, and I’d like to get back into it.

To be honest with you, ideas have been a little dry. I haven’t really had much to write about lately, at least spiritual things. I’ve been writing about local elections in Sanford — which is plenty enough — but as far as things to do with Jesus and God, it’s been little.

As I evaluate why that is, one thing comes to mind — I haven’t been reading the Bible very much recently. I’ve written about this before in a post. Many times in my life, the motivation to read just hasn’t been there. And that’s OK. God doesn’t condemn us to hell or shun us for not looking at His Word.

But as I sat down a little bit ago to look at Scripture, I realized the point of it, and the role that Scripture should play in our lives.

I’m slowly reading through Deuteronomy. I say slowly because it hasn’t been anywhere near consistent. That’s a whole other conversation in itself. But as I read today’s passage, chapter 6, I learned something about the importance of God’s Word in the life of a Christian. I’ve probably written about this before, but I got a fresh look at it.

In the early part of Deuteronomy, the Israelites are on the brink of entering the Promised Land, and Moses, who will not be entering into that land with them, is giving them final instructions. Much of it has been given before in the Pentateuch — commandments, instructions on sacrifices, etc. As chapter 6 rolls around, we see perhaps one of the most important commandments Moses gives to the Israelites (v. 6-9):

…these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

I did a bit of digging and found that many Jews have applied, and some continue to apply, these verses literally. Some context:

Phylacteries, sometimes called tefillin, are small, square leather boxes containing portions of Scripture worn by Conservative and Orthodox Jews during prayer services. Phylacteries are worn in pairs—one phylactery is strapped on the left arm, and one is strapped to the forehead of Jewish men during weekday morning prayers. The word phylactery comes from a Greek word meaning “safeguard, protection, or amulet.”

The Scripture is literally bound to their arms and foreheads. Whether or not you want to interpret this Scripture literally is up to you — I’m not quite sure what the proper response is here — but the concept is enlightening.

If something is on our heart, it is something we’re passionate about. It’s something we’re driven by. One of my passions, something that’s “on my heart,” is to help educate Christians and the church about mental illnesses like depression and anxiety and help remove the stigma. That’s part of my driving force. That’s what helps guide me in my life. It helps guide what I think, what I say, what I do.

If Scripture is on our heart, as Moses commands the Israelites here, it will be our driving force. It will guide what we think, what we say, what we do. That doesn’t mean there aren’t places for other passions. But Scripture, God’s Word, guides the pursuit of those passions as well.

Moses instructs the Israelites to construct physical reminders of Scripture, and to have conversation wherever we go about it. There’s instruction to pass God’s Word along to children raised in a faithful household.

Scripture, God’s Word, the commandments, the instructions — they’re designed to be everywhere in our lives, whether visible or not, audible or not. They’re designed to be immensely practical and immensely applicable in any and every situation. To say that the Bible isn’t relevant is to miss the point, to miss the purpose of the crafting of God’s Word.

There is no arena — our homes, our bedrooms, our breakfast tables, the places we go everyday — where Scripture is not to have an influence. That means on Facebook, at the coffee house, at the small group meeting, at the football game. Wherever we walk, wherever we go, Scripture is to be our guide. There is no place where Scripture is not influential and relevant.

And we must strive to not let it ever become that way.

We will mess up in this, we’ll forget. We’re humans. We’re flawed. It’s wonderful that there’s a truth in that Scripture that reminds us we’re loved and cared for and forgiven when we don’t do things the way they’re laid out in that Scripture.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

Criminals, Suspected or Convicted, Are Humans Made in the Image of God Too.

As a newspaper reporter, I get to see all sorts of things cross my desk, all sorts of news stories and photos and police reports.

One section I’m responsible for putting together is the “Cops” section, which curates the police reports from the local police department and local sheriff’s offices. You’ll see a wide range of things on there — people charged with failure to appear in court for whatever reason, stealing from Walmart (8 times in a 3-day span last week), and sometimes harder offenses.

Last week, there was one day where there were two men charged with several sex offenses – indecent liberties with a child, statutory rape, things like that. It broke my heart. I literally sat at my desk with my hand over my mouth for a good minute because I didn’t know how else to respond.

Turns out, in both cases, the kids weren’t viciously raped, but likely persuaded to participate in these acts by older people and the kids were too young to give consent. But that doesn’t excuse the actions. Justice must be served. The appropriate punishment must take place, if indeed those men are guilty.

At the paper, we often post these reports on our Facebook page with mugshots. Those posts are shared and commented on more than just about any other. It becomes a platform for people to be judges and juries without all the information. The newspaper simply reports what it knows, and we’re careful to not say definitively whether he or she is innocent or guilty, because we don’t know.

But what I’ve seen on those comments sometimes makes me just as sad. In the comments of posts like the ones involving those men I mentioned before, I saw pictures of nooses. There’s harsh words of condemnation. There’s lots of terrible things being said.

Yes, perhaps, some of those things are deserved. Raping a child, as these men were accused with, is horrendous and awful and terrible. If these men were indeed guilty, they deserve their due punishment. I’m not going to talk about whether they do or not because it’s clear, they do.

But the way the information is handled by the public on those things is nuts.

I saw a shining example of how it should be handled on the Facebook page this morning regarding someone arrested for drug offenses. The page is public, so this is readily available. I’m changing the name mentioned here because it’s not relevant to this post. Here it is:

I had the privilege of teaching TONI when she was in high school. She’s a smart, thoughtful, and caring person. It did not take long for me to identify the potential she had to accomplish great things. I do not condone criminal activity in any way. However, I notice that this post refers only to her arrest. It does not refer to her conviction. There are no details or evidence regarding what may or may not have taken place. I can not speak to TONI’s guilt or innocence. The piece in the (newspaper) does not speak to her guilt or innocence either. Why do so many feel the need to condemn someone based on a brief blurb in the (newspaper)? I have seen such harsh and heartless comments on this post, and other posts, referring to this situation. What is solved by berating and degrading TONI? If TONI was involved in this does this sort of language and abuse help her in any way? Where is our humanity? We as a society love to spout the evils of drug use, but fail to understand the power of addiction that can happen to people from all walks of life. To be clear, I have no knowledge of any crimes TONI may or may not have committed and I have never known her to use drugs. I am speaking only to the accusations thoughtlessly posted on social media. I admit that I know TONI only through a student-teacher relationship as opposed to a social relationship, but I think so much of her as a person that I have made a point to check-in with her as often as I can to see how she’s doing. I have seen the love she has for her two beautiful children. I have seen the loyalty and devotion she has for her family. I also had the privilege of teaching one of her sisters who is working towards a degree as a special education teacher. This family doesn’t deserve this treatment whether or not a crime was committed. There are many, many families out there that don’t deserve the kind of abuse I see splashed across social media. Take a moment before pressing “Post” and ask yourself if this is something you would want written about your loved one. If it isn’t, please press “Delete”.

I love this. I can’t really put it any better.

You can tell it comes from a teacher, by the way, a good one. There’s a reverence for and understanding of due process of law. There’s a care for Toni (again, not her real name) as a person because she is a person.

She is someone who was made in the image of God. She’s someone who, on that basis alone, deserves to be loved and respected. If she was guilty of the supposed crime, then yes, she deserves punishment as well.

But even if she is a criminal, even if those two men charged for horrible things with children are found to be guilty, they deserve our love. They deserve our prayers. They deserve to be cared for, even in our thoughts and especially on our Facebook pages. They deserve it because God made them and cares for them.

If we as Christians call ourselves pro-life and pro-love, we’ll care for those lives and we’ll love those people, even just in how we think about them. I’m not saying we ignore those affected by these supposed crimes. They deserve our prayers too. But we need to love those affected by sin and those who commit the sin.

We should see the cops reports as a prayer list. The report, in most cases, lists those who supposedly committed crimes and those who report them. If you want a head start, check out the Sanford Police Department’s list. It’s updated throughout the day with reports and charges brought.

Pray for those people to find Jesus or return to Him. Pray that they understand the weight of their sin. Pray that someone would be sharing the Gospel with them. Pray that their hearts would be healed. Pray for them like you do a family member who isn’t a Christian, or a brother or sister in Christ who’s dealing with sin in their lives.

These people are like Barabbas. Jesus died in their place. Will we pray for them? Will we love them with our thoughts?

Laziness and Idleness: They Suck

So I don’t like writing the words “suck” or “sucks.”

It has a lot of negative connotations, especially for the older crowd. And I get it. There’s a sexual meaning behind the work that leads to some people viewing it as a bad word in situations where it doesn’t involve a vacuum or a straw.

But when I say that laziness and idleness suck, I really mean it. I’m not just saying it casually.

A few minutes ago, as I was processing what I was going to write in this blog post, I did say it kind of casually. But as I thought about it more, I realized “suck” was the right word in more ways than one.

I’ve been looking for a job for a couple months now, and as such I’ve had a lot of time at home trying to fill up the hours. At first, it was fine because my wife was there and we had things to do to get our apartment set up or figure other things out as a newly-married couple. But now that she’s back working, I’ve been spending a lot more time at home by myself and it’s draining.

You’d think that having nothing to do would be the opposite of draining. Well, not entirely. I’ve been sitting around a lot, watching Netflix, reading and writing, sometimes doing something resembling exercise, some other stuff. I have been looking for a job, I promise, I’m not being completely useless. Sometimes I even see it as “rest” from the last year of working, wedding planning, getting married, all that.

But my days have been marked by idleness and laziness. And I don’t think I need to go too deep into how bad laziness. I’ll just share Proverbs 13:4 – “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”

Pretty straightforward. Laziness is basically ignoring what needs to be done and instead sitting around. Idleness is a little different. It means to do nothing that is beneficial. 

Lazy people can still do things. Lazy people can do meaningless things and still be lazy. But idle people do nothing. I’ve found myself being awful idle for much of these last few weeks.

And today, I realized how it sucks.

Idleness sucks because it’s wasting time.

This usage of the word “sucks” is more of the “this isn’t good” connotation.

Ephesians 5:15-16 say, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” The Bible warns us, encourages us to make the best use of our time. When we’re idle, we’re not utilizing our time the best way we could.

I’m not saying we have to be using all our spare time in serious prayer and Bible reading and meditation. Those things are at the very least definitely good and beneficial time fillers and at the very most absolutely crucial and essential to living life as a believer the right way.

But we need to think, well, I need to think about how to use my time so much better than I have been until I get a job. Until God provides employment for me, I need to be doing things that benefit my mind, heart, body and soul.

Idleness sucks focus and purpose from your life.

This is what idleness does to me. When I’m not putting my mind to good use, it leads to me losing focus on what is important. Temptation to sin becomes stronger, particularly sexual sin.

When the mind wanders, as it what often happens when you’re idle, it will attach to whatever seems most appealing at a base level. Unfortunately, men’s brains are more wired to think about sex. So we as men must be extremely careful to watch our minds, be careful where they wander. We just might end up in a place we don’t want to be.

Christians are called to be people of purpose and direction. And laziness sucks that very purpose and direction from us.

Rest is good. Idleness is not. Find the difference. Choose rest, then get back in the game. Choose purpose.

Because laziness and idleness suck.

The Same Old, Same Old Salvation Story, And How My Cynicism Got Punched in the Gut.

My church-related cynicism took a fresh hit of reality this weekend, one that was well-needed.

At a church event, the people leading it shared their testimonies. They were (separately) dealing with similar issues. They had heard of Jesus-related things when they were young, but they shoved it aside. Instead, they pursued drugs and alcohol, sex and sports, just about anything else to find happiness in life. Traumatic events shook them. Eventually, they found themselves ready to end their lives, sinking in desperate situations.

But God intervened. Maybe it was a Gideon Bible in a cheap motel room. Maybe it was a kind word from a family member or friend. Whatever it was, God intervened, pulled them out of the gutter and brought them to a place where they chose to follow Him for the rest of their lives.

When I heard these testimonies, I shook my head and thought, “Not again. How old and tired is this narrative? Are they just embellishing to make a bigger point? It couldn’t have been that bad.”

I carried that thought with me for an hour or so. See, not every salvation story is that way! I didn’t do drugs and drink alcohol in high school. I never hung with the wrong crowd. Not for as long as they did, at least, maybe for a couple hours at most before I realized they were the wrong crowd. So what does this have to do with me?

Eventually, I got reminded of something that’s amazing about God.

He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. And there’s something about that sameness that is ubiquitous in these kind of salvation stories.

See, humans are, at their core, the same. We’re all looking for the same thing. Happiness, fulfillment, contentment.

And, for the most part, we go to the same thing to find that. Attention from others, substances of some kind (drugs, porn, alcohol), pouring ourselves into our work.

And the same thing happens every time – it doesn’t fulfill it. It doesn’t do the trick. It doesn’t really help us.

So we all often find ourselves in the same basic situation – stuck, lost, hopeless. Maybe it turns to us wondering why we should even live anymore, but we essentially wonder what the point of life is.

And then God reaches us with the same message – “I love you. I care for you. In me, you will find rest for your souls and forgiveness for your sins. I am the same yesterday, today and forever.”

Then we ask God the same thing – to forgive us of our sins, come into our lives, make us whole again.

And the same thing that happened to everybody else who accepted Jesus happens to us: He does it.

I realized something else today as I was writing this: Those testimonies can perhaps be the most powerful because we can all find some way to relate to them. We may not have dabbled in drugs, but we’ve got something that gets us high but ultimately leaves us unfulfilled.

And that’s one of the many beauties of the Gospel. It relates to every single situation that man faces and provides the same answer: Jesus, on the cross, taking on sin, so we could live forgiven and fulfilled. The ultimate answer doesn’t need to adjust based on what we’re going through.

You know how one medicine doesn’t fix everything? You can’t take Advil to cure internal bleeding (at least I don’t think so). You don’t need chemotherapy for a flesh wound. That’s not how it works with Jesus. Every illness, every disease, every problem has the same cure.

That’s something to celebrate every time we hear the same old testimony of death to life. Because really, my testimony isn’t that different. I didn’t do drugs, but I was pursuing things that didn’t bring true fulfillment or joy. Then Jesus intervened, and I began to pursue the thing that did.

Cynicism can be a good thing in the right and proper context (that’s a whole other conversation for another time). But sometimes I’d wish it would just go away and let me rejoice in the beauty of the Gospel.

That’s the same thing I’ll be working on for a while.

So please, people, go on and testify.

(For)Getting All the Feels: Rethinking the Way We Follow Jesus

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve ever learned about following Christ is that you can’t base your relationship with Jesus on emotions. Just because it “feels like” it’s not going right doesn’t mean that it’s not. And vice versa.

But after going to church and being around the Christian culture for 23-plus years now, I’m left to ask this question: Why does it so often seem like we try to get people pumped up emotionally?

Let me explain what I mean.

The Emotional Church Experience

Ever been to a megachurch? You know, the ones with the lights and the full band and the backup singers and so on and so forth. I’ve visited a couple, and in that atmosphere, it’s so easy to get caught up in the emotional side of faith.

That one song comes on and you’re swept up in the butterflies of the piano chords, the melodic harmony of voices, the dimmed lights, the rising choruses. Perhaps it’s a song about how good God is, or maybe how His love is so great.

Or maybe the song is about us, that we’re children of God, and how awesome it is. The hands get raised. Tears start streaming down your face.

Then the preacher comes on. He utilizes the most powerful story of death to life, with all the appropriate pauses and voice-raises he can muster. The band comes on as he closes and those guitar strums as he hammers home his point.

Then one more worship song where you surrender your emotions to the Lord, let Him “lead you” while you sing with all your feels.

But during the week, the emotions get lost. Maybe you don’t listen to Christian radio for whatever reason. So by the time you get to Sunday, you’re emotionally-starved again. So it’s back to church, back to the worship, back to the tear-jerking stories.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Now, two caveats:

  1. I’ve visited a megachurch with the lights and the full band and have had genuine worship with genuine songs that weren’t about making me feel good. The pastor spoke about reality and was honest about himself and his own sin. It wasn’t fluff. It was real worship and real truth.
  2. The worship songs are often all true theologically. Completely accurate. But…

The Loss of the Intellect

I haven’t done a lot of serious research into church culture (I’d really like to someday), but I’ve done a lot of observing. I’ve thought a lot about why churches do what we do, and I’ve come up with a theory. This theory could be disproven by some serious research, but I’ll take a stab.

Humans are emotional creatures. Always have been. Adam and Eve were swayed by the emotional draw of being like God. David’s lustful feelings drove him to pursue Bathsheba. When Stephen’s being stoned to death in Acts 8, Paul “approved” of his execution; there had to be an emotional element to that.

And emotion is not all bad. Sometimes God uses our emotions to help us realize we need Him. Our sadness following a loss of a close friend or family member can lead us to remember that God has them now if they’re a believer, and rejoice in that. My great excitement and happiness on my wedding day pumped me up even more for the beauty of the ceremony and the marriage that I’m now two months into.

But what happens, unfortunately, is that we often shove aside the intellectual part of it and cling to the emotional side when it comes to being a Christian. That’s what happened to me.

When I was younger in the faith – late high school, early college – I really began to dive into the emotional side of following Christ. I would raise my hands during worship, close my eyes and sing, and sometimes I might shed a tear or two.

But when I wasn’t in worship mode, I was wondering where God was. I didn’t feel Him, so was He really there? I didn’t feel saved, so was I really God’s child? I saw my sin and felt like crap. I felt bad, so obviously God wasn’t with me and wasn’t happy with me.

Things started to take a turn during my senior year of college. I’ve written about this before, but I’ll write it again – a guy named Curtis Allen spoke at a college ministry conference I was attending and said the most important thing I’ve ever heard about following Jesus:

The secret to Christianity is not changing how you feel, the secret to Christianity and obedience is changing how you think.

Boom.

I started to (slowly) recognize that I had been living my life with Christ based on how I felt I was doing and that was not at all what it meant to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is first and foremost an exercise of the mind, an exercise of faith in the truth. And faith is not emotional. Faith is something you think, something you believe with your mind.

The Reality

It’s not sexy to present faith in Christ as a mind exercise. It’s not something that, on the surface, will draw in thousands of people to a worship service.

We want to feel good. We want to feel that emotional high.

But like any other kind of high, it won’t last. So we have to go back. And churches love when people return again and again and again.

Church leaders and bloggers and authors wonder why my generation, the college-aged, is leaving the church. I’d wager one of the reasons is this – there’s no substance to their faith. It’s built on that emotional high that they got at camp one time or maybe that one night they had a serious conversation with their youth pastor. Perhaps we were genuine in that moment, but without any serious intellectual foundation or building upon that moment with truth, we lose the drive, the desire.

It’s in the moments when we lose the emotional side of following Jesus that our faith is really tested. And often it’s in those moments where we lose our faith.

If we’re going to follow Christ, it has to be first and foremost about what we think. Belief isn’t about emotions; it’s about truth. To my knowledge, the Bible never speaks about trying to “feel” a certain way, but to think a certain way. A few examples:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… – Philippians 2:4-5

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. – Romans 8:5-8

So What Should We Do Instead?

I’m not an expert. Let’s just go ahead and get that out of the way. But I can’t help but think there need to be changes in how we present church and worship and truth.

I’m not saying we need to get rid of megachurches and that all are bad. As I said before, I’ve been to one where there was genuine worship, genuine preaching that wasn’t just intellectually true but stimulated a real approach to faith. I do believe there are some that are not helpful. And I think that you can go to churches that aren’t mega and find worship and preaching and teaching that stimulates an emotional response.

I also understand there’s another challenge: You can do everything you possibly can to make faith an intellectual thing in your church, but people will still respond primarily with their emotions.

I’m also sure there are plenty of preachers and churches that have the best intentions in the world that are doing this. They’re not trying to lead people into making their faith emotional, but for whatever reason that’s how it’s turned out.

We can’t change how people respond to what we do in church. But we can change what we do.

I wish there was a fix-all, but here’s a couple thoughts:

I wish that we’d be more careful in how we choose our worship songs. Maybe break out the old favorites every once in a while for some emotional worship time, but not lean on them.

Before we sing, explain to us what the lyrics mean. What truth are they presenting? What should we believe? What are we affirming when we sing?

I wish we’d rethink the way we preach, presenting more of the Bible and more of truth rather than concocting the best emotional plea. Prosperity gospel preachers somewhat make their living off of this idea. And some non-prosperity gospel preachers do too. Tell us how we should think, not what we should feel, and base it on the Bible.

That’s just a couple thoughts.

I really hope you don’t walk away from this emotionally-charged.