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?

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(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.

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

I Really Want a Ring: Why I’m Gonna Call It a Marriage Ring.

Someone made a joke to me the other day that I was the only adult or one of the few adults in the room without a ring on. It was funny because my wedding is only a few days away, but it also reminded me how desperately I want one.

Good gracious, I want a ring on my left hand. It’s something that I’ve wondered about, something I’ve wished for for a long time. Sometimes I’ve slipped little pieces of string around that finger. Sometimes I’ve wrapped a rubber band around it.

I’ve longed for it. And when I finally got to purchase it a few months ago, I wanted so bad to put it on my finger and just wear it around.

In a few days, I’ll get to wear it. It’s commonly called a “wedding ring,” but I’m insisting to my fiancée on calling it a “marriage ring.”

The ring symbolizes unity, togetherness, permanence. So many things. Men and women wear them when they get married. They get them at their weddings, so they’re referred to as wedding rings. But I want to continually refer to mine as a “marriage ring.”

My ring is not a reminder that I was in a wedding once. It’s a reminder that I’m married. It’s a reminder that there is a girl that I have committed myself to. It’s a reminder that I have sworn before God and man that I’m committed to loving my wife until death do us part.

When I go out in public and wear my ring, I’m saying to all the women out there that I’m taken and that I’m not looking for anything. I’m giving myself an accountability system, to remind myself to not look and to not lust. There’s only one woman for that.

I was trying to find something to compare it to, and eventually I thought of, well, circumcision. OK, before you get a little grossed out, let me explain my point.

It was a symbolic act of identifying yourself with God. All males among God’s people were circumcised eight days after their birth. It as a reminder of the covenant they had with God, that He would be with them and protect them, and that they would devote themselves to Him. (For more, check out Genesis 17.) The idea was that it was a physical sign of commitment.

Now that I’ll never be able to separate circumcision and my marriage ring…

When us men slip on our wedding, er, marriage rings in the morning, or after we shave after work, or when we drive away from our church league softball games, whenever we do it, we’re reminding ourselves of the woman we’ve committed ourselves to. We’re not reminding ourselves of a day; we’re reminding ourselves of a promise we made, a promise we made before God and man for the world to know. And it’s sealed in yellow gold/white gold/platinum/palladium/tungsten/titanium.

And there’s something incredibly symbolic in the way that I will get my ring. My wife (wow, so awesome to say it that way) will give it to me, put it on my finger. In the same way God gives His commitment to me and I respond with my commitment to Him, my wife promises to commit to me as I will commit to her.

As I reflect on what I’ve written, I think of Ephesians 5, and how Paul says the mystery of marriage “refers to Christ and the church” (v. 32). How there’s a double-commitment. How we commit to one another in marriage. How God pledges to do what’s best for us, and we pledge our lives to Him.

So yes, it’s a ring that reminds me of the marriage, of the commitment I’ve made to my wife and the commitment I’ve made to God. So I will call it a marriage ring.

Won’t you too?

Life Is Best Lived Non-Natural, Part II

Over two years ago, I wrote a blog post called “Life Is Best Lived Non-Natural.” I concluded the post like this:

Seek to live life non-naturally. Live it for the truths in the Word of God and for His glory. If you’re a believer, you’ve been changed by the gospel to live differently. Kill those natural desires, and seek after God’s way.

Out of all the posts I’ve written, this is one of the few that has stuck with me in a serious way.

As I approach getting married – a week from today – I’m learning that lesson more and more. We can’t just live by how we feel. We can’t just choose to do what might feel “natural,” mostly because what’s natural to us is often harmful. It’s called sin “nature,” a reflection of what is natural.

The Bible is chock full of stories of men and women who chose to do what came naturally to them and there were dire consequences. And it’s interesting because many of these stories start with something that is not bad, but because of natural inclinations of man, it goes bad:

  • David seeing a naked Bathsheba on her roof (not a bad thing) and calling for her and sleeping with her, impregnating her, then causing her husband to be killed (2 Samuel 11)
  • Peter eating with the Gentiles (not a bad thing), then eating with the Jews when they came around and shunning the Gentiles (Galatians 2)
  • Noah building a vineyard (not a bad thing) and then getting drunk (Genesis 9)
  • King Asa of Judah trying to defend his people (not a bad thing) but doesn’t trust God but man (2 Chronicles 16)

In each of those scenarios, a certain natural inclination of man led the character in question to pursue sinful behavior. For David, his lust over Bathsheba caused him to abandon his commitment to the Lord and eventually set Bathsheba’s husband up to be killed. For Peter, his fear of man’s opinion led to his hypocrisy, which led to many Jews being led astray, even a faithful servant such as Barnabas. For Noah, his apparent carnal desire for drink, plus the access to it, led to drunkenness and shame. For Asa, his lack of faith in God led to a separation between him and God.

In our own lives, we have to be careful about what we naturally desire. Because, as I’ve said on this blog many times, living by your feelings is a dangerous path. Feelings can be good and helpful things sometimes, but we cannot just take them at face value. We need to examine them, dig deep, do surgery on our feelings and inclinations. In the same way someone who is allergic to peanuts investigates foods before eating them, we need to investigate our feelings before we accept them as fact.

This applies to our lives on a regular basis. Just because we feel animosity towards our spouse doesn’t mean we abandon them. Just because we feel a desire for strong drink doesn’t mean we get wasted. Just because we lust after our co-worker doesn’t mean we follow up on that, potentially destroying marriages.

With my fiancée, soon-to-be wife, I can’t just let my feelings of fear or frustration lead to ditching the marriage, ditching the wedding, getting rid of what we’ve built so far. I can’t let a girl walking by distract me from my commitment to her. I can’t let my inkling towards laziness pull me away from serving her as I should.

Oh, so many times I want to, if I’m honest. So many times. But I need to remember my commitment to her. In a week, it’s a commitment before God and man. And that’s the real deal.

In the same way, my commitment to the Lord means I strive to reject the feelings and inclinations that lead me away from God, away from obedience, away from what might make me feel good in the moment but what will harm me for much longer. I am not perfect at this, and never will be. Thanks be to God that He did what is not natural for me, forgiving those who are His enemies and accepting those who reject Him.

It’s not easy. As I wrote in Part 1:

So we should just be able to do this, right? NOPE. It’s hard. It’s really hard. If fighting sin was easy, then it wouldn’t really be fighting; it would be more like walking through a bed of flowers, nothing, no real hindrance or obstacle. But killing the flesh, seeking righteousness, it’s hard.

Let’s walk through it. Let’s fight through it. Give it all we’ve got. Daily give ourselves over to the Lord and kill the flesh.

It’s worth every moment, every drop of sweat, every tear that falls, all the blood that’s shed.

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)