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.

 

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A Guide to Finding the Joy in Confronting Your Sin

Report card time was always an odd one for me.

I was neither the academic so wrapped up in grades that my happiness depended on making straight As, nor was I the slacker who didn’t care a sliver about my marks. I was right in the middle, caring enough that I wanted to know where I could improve but having a C wouldn’t crush me too hard. Of course, I wanted to get better, wanted to grow academically, but I wasn’t going to die if they didn’t come back exactly how I wanted to.

At times I wish I was a better student. My brother and my wife were wonderful students who made the President’s List at Elon University several times. I’m surrounded by people in my life who were great students because they worked hard and put their studies at a high priority in their lives. It’s something I didn’t do. And I was confronted with it every time that I got those grades back.

Confronting bad grades can be stressful for some people. Doing so can usually lead to one of two things: you work harder to get better grades, or you don’t change anything and the grades get worse or stay the same. They rarely lead you to rejoicing.

But I’ve learned in the last couple years that examining my sinful behavior actually leads me to rejoicing in the great God who loves me.

So go through this process with me as you read this.

First: Think about the most recent sin you committed. Maybe it was lusting after a co-worker, yelling at your spouse, envying the latest tech toy your classmate brought to school. Got it? OK, cool.

Now, and this is the painful part, think about how much it goes against God’s law, what God has laid out for you to do. Either you did something He told you not to do, or you didn’t do something He did tell you to do. You’ve disobeyed God.

This sucks. This feeling right here, when you actually confront your sin, it’s the worst. And it can discourage you from continuing forward in this process when you actually need to. But yes, you need to. Your despair and dismay leaves you needing something more.

Second: Look for the answer to your problem. How do you fix this situation? How do you find relief? How do you find peace? Well, you could try harder, but the truth is, you can always do better. You can always perform better. You can always fight sin better. You can always pursue God better.

Our sinful state limits us in our growth because we’ll never be perfect. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you and to themselves. Yes, we can grow, we can become more obedient, but we will never be perfect. So we can’t find satisfaction and relief in our obedience efforts.

So where can we find peace? In Christ alone, in the Gospel alone, in the grace of God alone.

Third: Bask in the grace God has given you, leading you to rejoice. Trust me, it’s a joy that’s well-earned.

It’s a joy that’s come from seeing that God loves you in the depths, in the midst of your darkest time, in your deepest sin. It’s a joy that reads Romans 8:38-39 and shouts, “Yes! This love is God’s for me!” It’s a joy that reads James 1:2-4 and sees the grace and growth that comes from going through sin and temptation, even when you give in and disobey God.

It’s a joy that 1 Peter 1:3-7 explains and finds the joy discussed in v. 6:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Because of the great inheritance and hope that God has given us, we can rejoice in all trials, including facing temptation over and over again, even giving into them, because what we know what we have, we know what’s there at the end. We have hope to rejoice and be happy in spite of the negative that has gone on.

This post is not meant to make light of sin. In fact, it’s to redeem sin, to make it something that we don’t always have to be so upset about. I write to encourage you to confront the darkest part of yourself.

Surprisingly, it just might be the tunnel where, at the end, you’ll see the brightest light.

If We’re Honest, Sinful Solutions Are Still Solutions. They Just Don’t Really Solve Anything.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing to me about addictions is that what people who are addicted search for is called a “fix.”

Seeing as how the word “fix” usually means a solution to a problem that should, in the long run, require no further serious fixing, you’d think a “fix” for an addiction should satisfy that addiction, no longer needing another one.

But that’s how addictions work. Addictions require fix after fix after fix after fix to be satisfied. Biologically, addictions train our body to need satisfaction after satisfaction. Someone who is addicted to pornography doesn’t just need to look once and then they’re set for a long time. They need another one as soon as the high from the first one wears off. Same goes with alcohol, food, hardcore drugs, even approval from others. Addictions work this way.

Here’s the problem with that: it’s a “fix” that doesn’t satisfy. It doesn’t really fix anything except the symptoms of the addiction. It doesn’t fix the addiction.

Sin works similarly. If we’re feeling lost or depressed or mischievous or whatever condition might lead to sinful behavior, acting out on that sinful behavior will fix the problem. But it’s really a surface-level thing. Just ask Asa.

Yeah, I’m going to approach the story in 2 Chronicles 14-16 once more, this time focusing in chapter 16.

Other than his battle with the Ethiopians we looked at in chapter 14, Asa had reigned in Judah for 35 years without war. If you read the Old Testament, you’ll know that 35 years without war is ridiculous, pretty much unprecedented. That streak gets challenged by Baasha king of Israel in chapter 16.

In the 36th year of Asa’s reign, “Baasha…went up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might permit no one to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah” (v. 1). Baasha built a city to block trade and travel into and out of where Asa was living. Verses 2-6 show the rest:

[2] Then Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the LORD and the king’s house and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria, who lived in Damascus, saying, [3] “There is a covenant between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.” [4] And Ben-hadad listened to King Asa and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and all the store cities of Naphtali. [5] And when Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah and let his work cease. [6] Then King Asa took all Judah, and they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building, and with them he built Geba and Mizpah.

In summation, Asa paid his sworn enemy, Ben-hadad the king of Syria, to stop Baasha and Israel from building Ramah. You can get into the idea that he took from the treasures of the house of the LORD and what that means about Asa’s priorities, but I want to focus on something else.

Instead of relying on the LORD as he had before when faced with an opponent far greater in the Ethiopians, Asa took a different route. He trusted his enemy. But here’s the thing, and the difference in this narrative from most stories like this. Asa didn’t get double-crossed, and it didn’t backfire on him.

It worked. It fixed the problem.

Asa found a solution to his problem. It wasn’t a good one, it wasn’t a God-honoring one. His chosen solution didn’t involve God at all.

And he paid for this. Not in continuing to face Baasha’s blockade against his city, but in confrontation from God. Hanani, a seer, came to speak to Asa and basically told him off, saying that because he didn’t trust God, the army of Syria got away from him. God is someone who wanted to support him (v. 9a), who had supported him before (v. 8), but Asa had rejected him. “You have done foolishly in this,” Hanani said, “for from now on you will have wars” (v. 9b).

Asa got mad and threw Hanani in prison and even “inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time” (v. 10). The rest of his reign didn’t reveal trust in God either. Three years after the Baasha debacle, Asa got a severe foot disease. “Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians,” v. 12b says.

His trust in Ben-hadad fixed his Baasha problem, but it didn’t fix his trust problem. It was a trust Asa had displayed on many occasions prior, but for whatever reason, he didn’t trust God this time.

This post isn’t to criticize physicians or smart military strategy. Both of those things are important in their respective areas. This is simply to make the point that we often find solutions to our problems in things besides God. We trust things that aren’t of God and still find that “fix” to what’s bugging us.

But is that really the solution we need when it comes to lust? To anger? To laziness? To not having a job? To a strained relationship with a spouse, family member or friend? To a money problem?

Here’s the thing: solutions to our issues are everywhere. We can take sinful solutions all day long. But the only solution that will truly fix, the only solution that will really bring satisfaction, is trusting in Jesus, trusting in God’s plan, trusting in His Word. And where that means the most is in our eternal state.

We as humans long for little fixes along the way in life. We try to find purpose and meaning in our work, in our families, in our kids, in our hobbies. And for a time, they might bring about that “fix.” But we’re still bugged by a lack of meaning. We’re still bugged by all the stupid stuff we did when we were younger. We know there’s something else out there.

Trusting Jesus for your salvation, your purpose, your meaning, that’s the eternal fix. That’s the fix that only needs to happen once. That’s the satisfactory ending. That’s, as NEEDTOBREATHE says in their new song “Testify”:

Give me your heart give me your song
Sing it with all your might
Come to the fountain and
You can be satisfied
There is a peace, there is a love
You can get lost inside
Come to the fountain and
Let me hear you testify

The Gospel Flips Worldly Wisdom On Its Head. And The Result Is Amazing.

Wisdom is something most Christians find to be praiseworthy among men, and the Bible supports that.

We look at a man and say, “He is so wise, I’d learn from him all day.” I look at my fiancée and say, “Oh man, she’s so wise, I’d listen to her all day.” We desire more and more wisdom. And this is a great thing! Wisdom is prized over and over again in the book of Proverbs, from chapter 1 to chapter 31. Through some quick Internet research, the word “wisdom” is written between 46 and 54 times in Proverbs, depending on your translation.

That’s why I find a section of 1 Corinthians 1 to be a bit on the confusing side. Verses 18-25:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

God will destroy the wisdom of the wise? God made foolish the wisdom of the world? The foolishness of God is wiser than men?

As I read this, it made sense to me: the cross, the Gospel, is foolishness to people who aren’t believers. But then this idea struck: knowing the Gospel, believing the Gospel and speaking the Gospel is much more important than any other wisdom out there.

The Gospel, as Romans 1:16 says, is the “power of God for salvation to all who believe.” It’s a pretty powerful message – Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life, died, rose again, went back to heaven, all to earn the opportunity for us to be restored to a right relationship with God that humanity lost when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. That’s a message that brings more power than any wisdom of this earth, more powerful than any other spiritual wisdom out there.

This message is so powerful that it’s folly to those the world might consider wise. It doesn’t make sense in how the world sees wisdom in a number of ways. It promises a reward for no work whatsoever; simply accepting the reward is enough. It’s God lowering Himself, not man reaching up to something higher than himself.

That’s not how the world would choose it. It doesn’t make logical sense. But that’s one of the many beauties of the Gospel. Worldly wisdom goes out the window.

That doesn’t mean that worldly wisdom has no place in our lives. It’s crucial to be wise in a worldly sense sometimes. We must be wise in how we conduct business, raise a family, things that are not inherently spiritual, even though being a Christian means Jesus and the Bible penetrates everything we do.

But the Gospel > wisdom, each and every time.

The World Is Crying Out for Authenticity. Let’s Give It to Them.

I watched the first 40 minutes or so of the GOP debate last night and wasn’t surprised by anything. By the time you get to the fifth of these things, there’s not much new to be had.

But as I pondered the debate this morning, I was struck by the fact that I wasn’t surprised. Candidates took shots at each other, at Barack and Hillary, at ISIS, just about everything imaginable. It was like they were reading from a script every time they talked.

I understand that’s kind of what you want in a debate. You prep for weeks before, getting your answers straight and formulated so you don’t embarrass yourself on national television. I totally get it.

But what you’re left wondering with all those scripted answers is this: “What do they really think? Who are they really? What will they really do when they get in office?”

We perceive that they’re missing a certain amount of authenticity. We’re afraid we’re not seeing who they really are. That’s why Donald Trump is doing so well – he’s being himself, saying what he really thinks, not crafting an answer to fit some party line or politically-correct stance. As crazy as some of his thoughts may be, he’s the real deal.

And that authenticity – as his poll numbers show – is what people crave.

Let’s look at two of the most popular musicians of this era – Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber – as examples.

Swift is known for her very personal songwriting, with tracks that seem to match up perfectly with her many public relationships. These tracks hit people hard because they can relate. It’s not a stale retread of the typical break-up song. It’s a fresh perspective, and she never seems to fail. That’s why she has over 67.6 million Twitter followers and each of her five studio albums have sold at least four million copies in the United States. Many musicians have taken to that style of being personal and vulnerable on their records.

If you know me, you know I’m a huge Bieber fan. That fandom took a boost with the release of his most recent album, Purpose. His first few releases were typical, cheesy, stereotypical pop music standards. But with Purpose, he turned a corner, quickly striking platinum with first-week sales of 649,000. And it’s not shocking. Yes, the production is vastly improved, constantly playing on the EDM movement of the current music scene. But his lyricism has grown significantly. He comes across as the real thing instead of some pop puppet with a pretty face. He’s credited as a writer on each of the tracks, and songs like “Purpose” and “Life Is Worth Living” get down deep and dirty into life.

People in my generation especially are tired of the phonies and the fakes and the liars. We’re tired of people who don’t tell the whole truth, who just stick to the status quo, who don’t take any risks. That’s why we love musicians like Swift and Bieber, politicians like Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Authenticity is the character trait that my generation respects and values the most. It says that you’re OK with people knowing who you are, you’re OK with sharing yourself, the real you, with the world.

Oh Christians, we have an amazing opportunity.

We have an amazing opportunity to be ourselves and win hearts for the Gospel. Jesus was Himself. God was Himself. Paul was himself.

Paul is my favorite example. Romans 7:15-19.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Paul shows us exactly how we pursue displaying authenticity. He doesn’t necessarily have to give specifics of everything he does, but he’s honest about the fact that he’s fallen short and does things he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do things he wants to do.

This has always made Paul the most relatable of all the biblical figures to me. He doesn’t hide the fact that, well, he sucks at following God. “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh,” he says. Not only is that theologically-correct, it also takes a serious amount of authenticity to just be straightforward with it.

The ability to be authentic with God is something that attracts me to following Christ. Paul could write and say things like that and knew that it wouldn’t shut him out of being loved and used by God. The grace of God opens us up to be truly authentic with Him, with ourselves and with each other. If the worst response to our authenticity is people not liking us, we’ve still got the love of God.

So Christians, let’s be authentic. Let’s be ourselves. Let’s be honest. Let’s not hide things that don’t need hiding. What you share is up to you, but let’s think about how we can be more authentic and more honest with people.

Who knows how much further the Gospel can go when we’re honest about how much we need it, how much we are lost without it?

True Peace and Strength in a World with Little of Either

I need to get my fiancée to write a blog. Hers would be a million times better than mine.

I was talking to her last night and she was sharing something she had read in a devotional book of hers. It was revolving around the idea that God is our strength and our peace, based on Psalm 29:11 –

May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Pretty simply verse. But it brought to my attention something about my own life and something about this world.

I live in a constant state without peace. A life dealing with depression and anxiety will do that to you. Anyone else like me will echo that sentiment. I also often feel like I have little strength to handle all the things thrown my way.

This world is without peace. How many wars are ongoing right now? Well, according to this Wikipedia list (you can debate the legitimacy, of course), there’s over 50. And we in the United States think we’re pretty strong, but we, like every other country in the world, have many weaknesses and flaws.

The strength and peace Psalm 29:11 refers to, I think, a strength and peace that is not found within ourselves. That’s the key.

We are on a constant search for strength, whether it be physical or mental. I can’t tell you how many CrossFit gyms I’ve seen pop up over the last few years. And people are reading and writing books left and right about working out your mind, being in the right mental state. Both physical and mental strength is good, don’t get me wrong. But if our strength isn’t based in the person and character of God, it will fail us over and over and over again.

We are on a constant search for peace. People meditate, sleep, do crazy things just to find personal peace, a fleeting feeling that always seems to escape us just as we’re about to attain it. The world is searching for peace, but seems to use the least peaceful means to try to achieve it. Both personal and international peace is good, don’t get me wrong. But if our peace isn’t based in the person and character of God, it will fail us over and over and over again.

Yes, true and lasting peace and true and lasting strength are linked because they’re both found in knowing, believing and trusting God. The moment I seek to find those kinds of peace and strength in things outside of God, particularly in myself, is the moment I take a step in the wrong direction.

Now, all this is very abstract. True, but abstract. What does this look like practically?

It starts with a mindset. How do you think about achieving peace in your life? Peace is a state of rest and contentment with the circumstances around you. True peace comes from understanding, I think, God is in control. Isaiah 46:9b-10 says,

for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

Knowing that God is in control of all circumstances, and that He is working all things together for your good if you are His (Romans 8:28), is the key to finding mental and emotional peace in your life. This may not affect circumstantial peace, but it is the beginning to finding peace in your own mind.

What about strength? I think it also starts in understanding God is in control. Knowing that God is in control gives you proper perspective on how to handle situations. It gives you a strength you can’t build in the gym. It handles change with confidence, it approaches difficulties with peace.

One of the most important things to remember here is that we won’t always be truly strong and truly at peace. As weak and anxious human beings, we’ll never get this totally down. Never.

That’s where the peace that we achieve through Christ’s death and resurrection confirms our place as God’s child, our eternity with Him and our salvation from sin.

That, my friends, is true peace. And thankfully, my fiancée has a grasp on that.

With Grace, You Don’t Have to Sit in a Waiting Room

Probably the worst part of going to any doctor’s office – physician, dentist, chiropractor, orthodontist, ER, you name it – is having to wait.

You come in, “check in,” then sit with everyone else who has an issue just like you. You flip through a magazine, scroll through your smartphone, watch the overhanging TV or just look aimlessly around the room. It’s a waiting game.

Then, after what seems to be an interminable period of time, the nurse calls your name and you go back to get your problem looked at.

What if you got to go to the doctor’s office, check in and go straight back? No waiting, no magazines, nothing. You’re accepted for attention right away.

That’s what the Gospel looks like.

As soon as you admit your need for help, you’re accepted. You don’t come to the doctor’s office healthy. You’re not expected to. You come because you need help. You come because something needs to be fixed. You come because there’s an issue you can’t deal with on your own.

With God, there’s no need for you to try home remedy after home remedy to fix your need for grace. 

The Gospel means you can have salvation given to you without you doing anything but simply coming to Jesus.

Sin leaves us broken like a disease. It leaves us in need of a cure. Without the cure, we’re diseased for eternity and miss out on health, true health.

Grace provides the remedy. And there’s no need to wait.

Just check in.

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

As Far As It Depends on You, Just Get Along With People on Social Media

We live in a culture of vehement disagreement. Just take a look at your News Feed.

Every day, I see (and am sometimes involved in) conversations on someone’s Facebook post that revolves around a vehement disagreement on some political or societal issue. Sometimes that disagreement can be over something trivial and the disagreement can be joking and playful. But sometimes it can be bad and vitriolic.

These kinds of interactions have led some people I know to stay out of conversations on Facebook altogether, and I applaud them. Perhaps it would be better for me to take that route. I’ve been in quite a few of those bad conversations and said some things that were out-of-line or had a sinful attitude and approach.

Romans 12 has some words for me. Verses 16-18:

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Live in harmony. Live peaceably. If we look at social media, there’s not a lot of harmony and peace.

There is a place in society for disagreement and people having a conversation in which opposing viewpoints are presented. People are different, so we’ll have different ideas and opinions on how certain things “should” or “ought to be” run or thought about. That’s just part of being human.

But we shoot ourselves in the foot as a society and as the body of Christ when we resort to vehement vitriolic disagreement.

I’m guilty of this. I’ve tried to stay away from being mean in my comments but my attitude has gotten sour over some things said on Facebook. I have done little to create an environment of harmony and peace on social media.

But these verses challenge me, and hopefully challenge you who might read this, to think through how we behave on social media. Are we creating an environment of peace and harmony on social media?

To be fair, there’s only so much we can do, right? We can’t control how other people behave on their Facebooks and Twitters. Romans 12:18 takes care of that, saying that “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” It’s saying that we must do whatever we can to pursue peace in our relationships with everyone. There are going to be times where the other party isn’t as willing to pursue peace, and in those times we can be content knowing that we’re trying to do the right thing. But remember that doesn’t give us license to be spiteful and unfairly critical of the other party.

My fiancée once told me something very wise. We were talking about fighting sin and she said, “You need to do what you need to do to not do what you don’t need to do.” I was like, “Brilliant!” We need to take whatever steps necessary to avoid sinful behavior. Particularly online.

I need to think five times about what I’m about to post. I need to think about something that my dad tells me all the time – “Is this thought helpful?” I need to think about how what I’m about to say can create an environment of peace, even in the midst of disagreement.

It is possible to disagree well.

 

Welcome to the Family of God: A Letter to a New Christian

Author’s note: This is a hypothetical letter to a new Christian who has just accepted Jesus. The focus is specific, but the truths are timeless.

Dear my new brother/sister in Christ,

I was reading Psalm 113 in my Bible this morning and found these verses:

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD! (v. 7-9)

There’s something so unique about these verses. In “Bible times,” the poor, the needy and the barren woman were three examples of people who didn’t belong in society. Look no further than the beggars Jesus encountered. And barren women were not able to give children, something important in a patriarchal society.

These verses reminded me of the love that you have just received in a very personal way for the first time. Get used to it. The greatest thing about being a Christian is that you’re now a recipient of the greatest love anyone will ever experience. It’s a love that looks past your past to you, to who you are now and who you will be forever. Oh my friend, God loved you then, He loves you now and He will always love you. Yes, like Celine Dion, He will always love you.

Forgive the pop culture reference, it’s something I do all the time with my friends, my family. Yes indeed, you are now a member of a big family, and this is the second greatest thing about being a Christian. You are now part of a club of people that have all received the same love you have. We’re not perfect, and we fight all the time. Good gracious, we fight. Sometimes we fight more than people that aren’t part of our family. But we have a perfect example of how to love one another from that love I talked about before, the love of the Father towards us.

Yes, God is your Father now. He’s your protector, your savior, your provider, your sustainer. I think of what Jesus says in Matthew 7:7-11,

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Let’s be real: the benefits of following Jesus are unreal.

But there’s also a price. I hope that you were told of what following Jesus will cost you. It will cost you friends, likely. You’re answering a call to seek to live a life that’s set apart, that’s spent in pursuit of truth and obedience. You will never do it perfectly – that’s what the grace you’re accepting is for. We have a guidebook – the Bible, that thing I hope you’ve read. It will be hard. It will be challenging. You will be stretched.

But it is entirely worth it. The peace and fulfillment that comes from following Jesus is unreal, and you won’t experience it until you get here, until you’ve accepted Him and you’re following Him. It will be an up-and-down journey, but it will be a worthy one.

One last thing: Don’t be afraid. There can be a lot of things to be afraid of around Christians – being judged for your weaknesses, not being “good enough,” not knowing enough, being too sinful. The right people won’t deny you because of those things, they’ll embrace you. In the body of Christ, your weaknesses don’t make you an outcast, they make you part of the family.

Welcome to that family, the family of God.

In Christ,

Zach

When My Words Become My Sword, I’ve Got to Slow Down.

Perhaps one of the worst side effects of the social media epidemic is the incessant need to respond to things right away. You’ve got the platform, might as well do it, right?

Oh I’ve done that. Even on this blog. I’ve attempted to respond to things as quickly as possible, all the while thinking that I’m “thinking deeper” and “being wise” with what I’m doing and saying. I’ve got to defend this, explain that.

And it often turns out to be a mess.

I was reading through John 18 this morning. It starts with Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas Iscariot comes and Jesus prepares to turn Himself in. Verse 10: “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

I was struck with the imagery, and I think it speaks directly to how we speak nowadays, particularly on social media, in response to world events or to what people are saying. I think there’s a direct parallel we can make.

We are Peter. We are just doing our thing, following Jesus, and then somebody does something that goes against Jesus in some way, or they post something that goes against how we believe, what we think, even what we know to be true.

We have a sword. I don’t know exactly why Peter had a sword – perhaps it was a cultural thing. But he had it, and when his way of thinking, his way of life, his Jesus, was threatened, his gut reaction was to use it. So often we get defensive when Christ is mocked or our favorite political candidate is disparaged or somebody says something that seems hypocritical. And we “have to have” a response.

(Also, fun fact: put the “s” in “words” at the beginning of the word, and you have “sword.” Coincidence? Probably. But still…)

So we attack. We cut off their ear. At least, we try. We argue back, we make our point, we have to have the last word. We call it “standing up for Christ” or “defending Jesus.”

But is this really what Jesus would desire for us? Jesus didn’t praise Peter for his “defense” of the Son of God. In fact, He told Him to put his sword away.

I know this isn’t a perfect parallel, but I think we can learn something from Jesus asking Peter to show restraint. I can learn so much too.

So often we like to be quick in our response to things, to make sure we have our two cents in, but how often does that make us look foolish? It sure makes me look foolish. Some of the posts on this blog in the last couple months have probably made me look really silly. We may think through the logical side of what we say, the argument, the debating points, but do we think through how we reflect God or how we love others?

I think there’s a big difference between this and what Peter covered later himself in 1 Peter 3:15-16:

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

We must be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in us, and even then do it with gentleness and respect. Gentleness and respect, I’m afraid, is missing from a lot of my interactions on social media, particularly when it comes to “standing up for Jesus” or “defending my position.” I’ve got to get my word in! And am I truly defending the hope in me, or am I just trying to make a point that probably doesn’t need to be made?

Ask yourself: when you “defend the faith” on social media, is it as Peter directs us to? Is it with a Gospel grace to the person with whom you’re “discussing” things? Are we loving one another? Or are we drawing the sword way too quickly and using it way too rashly?

I don’t know the appropriate way to “defend Jesus” in this. But I’m confident no one will be won over to Christ through our well-thought-out and smart arguments on Facebook. God can make it happen, for sure, He’s done far crazier.

But I can’t help but think I can spend my time doing things so much better than that.