Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Do You Kiss Your Wife With That Mouth?

"The old ball and chain."

Have you been around a group of guys and listened to how men speak about their wives?

Often men speak about their wives in a dishonoring way.  We speak of our wives as if they were holding back from something... like a ball and chain.  We speak of our wives like they were a task master.  We speak of our wives and all the reasons they may be difficult to love.


Now, I'm sure women talk negatively about their husbands, too, but that's not the point.

Why do we feel the need to speak of marriage in public as if it's a huge burden?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying marriage is an easy thing because it's not.  I'm not saying living with another human being is a piece of cake at all times.  I'm not saying that we shouldn't bear one another's burdens and listen to someone's needs.  I'm not saying that at all.  What I'm wondering is why the default public tone of discussion when talking about marriage is a negative one.

And I'm talking about in Christian circles.

I've been in rooms with people I strongly admire and I hear this tone.  Why is this?  Why does it feel awkward for people to praise their spouse in public?

"Marriage should be honored by all..." Hebrews 13:4a

Marriage is a mysterious and intricate picture of Christ and the Church that married Christians are commanded to put on display.

Does the way you speak about your wife honor the institution of marriage?  Does the way you tell stories about your wife help those around you honor her and therefore honor marriage?  Do you say things that make single men want to pursue marriage?

Men, and I'll speak to men but ladies you can listen, too, do you honor your wife with your lips in groups of men?  When other men start talking about the "old ball and chain" do you join in?  When other men share stories about their wives' poor moments do you add a tale?  Or do you talk about your wife in a way that is noticeably different?  Do you speak about your wife in a way that makes others think highly of her?  Do you speak in a way that demonstrates that you love your wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her?

Don't kiss your wife with the lips you use to dishonor her in public.  Guard her image and promote her loveliness.  Honor your marriage with your words today.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Farewell 20's

The other day I turned 30.

January 3rd as a date wasn't as interesting as I thought it might be.  30 brought with it no fears or epiphanies, it is just another number for me.

See, when my mom turned 30 I remember her being devastated.  The doctors office she worked at had black "Over the Hill" balloons and put her in a wheelchair.  I remember her feeling as if she had left her youth behind when she entered her new decade.  I remember watching the episode of Friends where they were all depressed about turning 30.  So, either I missed something or there was nothing to be missed.

I actually was hoping by turning 30 there might be fewer "Wow, you're so young" comments, although that's likely not going to be true.  In fact, you may be reading this and thinking "Wait till you turn 60."

Turning 30, though, gives me a chance to look back.  Birthdays and other milestones are awesome opportunities to look back and take stock of things.  Perhaps that's where the pain comes in for some.  But for me my 20's was a great decade of growth and connections.  I graduated college, got a job, married a wonderful woman, bought a house and have a baby on the way.  I have nothing to complain about and God has been with me each step of the way teaching me.

As I say farewell to my 20's I want to share three lessons I learned in those ten years.

1) I don't know everything.

In my teenage years and early 20's there was a temptation to believe I knew everything.  Coming to college I was so sure of life and what it meant; I was so sure of what I was going to do with my life.  Then life happened.  John Lennon famously sang, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."  Lennon is right.  While I had detailed plans coming into my 20's my plans were drastically changed and I thank God for that.

When we learn that we don't know everything we learn that questions are often more beautiful and necessary than answers.  Learning to ask good questions has done more for me than regurgitating previously known answers.

2) My parents know more than I thought.

The older I get the more amazing my parents become.  Don't get me wrong, I'm under no delusion that my parents are perfect, but teenaged Matt had no idea how good he had it.  In my 20's I got enough independence to realize how easy my parents made adulting look.  They raised kids like they knew what they were doing meanwhile I'm terrified at the prospect of not knowing what to do with my little boy on the way.  In a few months when my son is born I'll get back to you on my newfound appreciation for my parents level of genius.

3) Who God is is the most important thing to know.

I've not had a lot of suffering, but in my 20's but I had times that demanded I trust God.  From wondering if I'd ever meet my wife to dealing with death and infertility, there have been times that required faith.  Through books and friends and pastors I've learned so much about the character of God.  I've been taught this last decade that when life is chaotic the only thing that isn't is the character of God.  I've learned through experience that the character of God is the only thing worth leaning on in faith.

So, farewell 20's.  I can't say I'll miss you but I can say it was fun.  My life changed for the better in most every way and I can't wait to see what's in store for the next decade.  I don't know what God has for me but I do know that trusting in who He is will steady me no matter what comes my way in the next many years to come or simply today.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Top Posts of 2016

2016 is almost a wrap.  This for me, and many others, has been a crazy year.  I've seen the low of death and the high of new life.  This year, and the experiences in it, has grown me in ways expected and ways unexpected.  Below is an unscientific and likely incorrect list of the top post from this blog month-by-month.  Thank you for reading and I hope you have a great 2017 and enjoy reading these posts today.

January- Let Them Hate a Piece

February- Are You a Bigot?

March- Jesus Loves John

April- My Near Molestation Story

May- The Universe Doesn't Care About You

June- Beauty Wins the Beast

July- See You Later

August- Pray for Your Pastor's Wife

September- The Glory of Infertility

October- Jesus' Answered Prayer

November- An Empty Chair at the Table

December- God on the Inside

Monday, December 26, 2016

Better Than Forgiveness

If I asked you what the salvation Jesus offers is, how would you answer?

Seems like a critical question if this salvation is what our faith is after.

For many, perhaps not you, the answer is "Jesus' salvation is forgiveness from our sins."  And while it is true that Jesus' perfect life, death and resurrection gives us forgiveness from our sins I don't think that is what Jesus' salvation is.  What if forgiveness is part of the means to getting salvation and not the ends?

As I was reading the Christmas story Christmas morning I paid attention to Zechariah's prophesy in Luke chapter 1.  Zechariah's son John the Baptist had just been born and the proud dad was filled with the Holy Spirit as he spoke these words"

"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because He has come and has redeemed His people.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of His servant David
(as He said through His holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us
to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember His holy covenant,
the oath He swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve Him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him,
to give His people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace." Luke 1:68-79 (bold added for emphasis)

Zechariah makes it so clear in his prophecy that Jesus is coming to forgive sins but that is the incredible means of giving His people more.

Zechariah says first that Jesus came to deliver us from our enemies.  Sin and death are the chief enemies of mankind and Jesus won victory over them for us.  We have been rescued from the hand of our enemies and one day we will see the full consummation of that.

Zechariah next says that Jesus came "to enable us to serve Him (God) without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days."  He then goes on to prophesy that his son John would prepare the way for Jesus to "give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins."

The word "through" in the passage above is very important.  Let's put it like this.  I would not say that I'm giving my wife a trip to Europe through a trip to Europe.  I might however say I'm giving my wife a trip to Europe through a plane ticket.  The ticket and the plane ride are indeed a gift but it is not THE gift (anyone who has ridden a plane for an extended period of time knows this); the trip and experience in Europe is the real gift.

So it is with God's forgiveness.  God's salvation is so much more than forgiveness.  The Bible is ripe with promises about what this gift is, but let's look at what Zechariah says it is.  He says that we are saved FROM our enemies and TO His presence, specifically "to enable us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days."

Forgiveness is the means for Zechariah; serving God in His direct presence without fear is the grand goal.  To be able to be in God's direct presence without being consumed and without even the fear of being consumed: this is the salvation Zechariah is excited about.  As a priest Zechariah had gone into the Holy of Holies and come out mute, so I'm sure this salvation was particularly thrilling.

The psalmist put it this way:

"Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked." Psalm 84:10

For Zechariah forgiveness was the mean to entering God's direct presence without fear.  And salvation is this and more.  Salvation is also adoption as sons and daughters.  Zechariah looked with eager expectation to the day when he could receive forgiveness from sins in order to serve God in His presence, and we get that.  But we also receive salvation so that God can come face to face with us and be a good doting father to us.

Forgiveness is great, but it is not the summation of salvation.  Thank God!  If all God offered was forgiveness it would still be the best news ever.  If all He gave was peace with Him we would still gladly pursue it.  But thank God that Jesus' salvation begins with forgiveness and doesn't end there.  Thank God for what Jesus did for you beginning at Christmas and continuing to His resurrection, today.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Favorite Ghosts of Christmas Past

Here are a few of my favorite posts (from my own blog... pretty messed up) about Christmas.  I hope you enjoy these and they enrich your experience of the miracle of Christmas.

God on the Inside

Truth That Sings

5 Christmas Miracles

Mary's Treasure and Our Pain

He Dwelt Amongst Us

Merry Christmas.  Don't let the wonder of Christmas escape you this weekend.  Ponder the wonderful thing God has done for us today.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Favorite Quotes from "The Great Gain of Godliness"

Here are some of my favorite quotes from The Great Gain of Godliness by Thomas Watson.  Watson was a Puritan who wrote the book based on Malachi 3:16-18  "Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon His name."

"To profess religion when the times favour it is no great matter... Dead fish swim down the stream, living fish swim against it." p. 6

"Sin is never the better because it is in fashion." p. 7

"One man's zeal is a burning torch for others to light at." p. 8

"If anyone ask what Christ died of, it may be  answered, He died of love." p. 10

"If a lame man laugh at you for walking upright, will you therefore limp?" p. 11

"God is so great that the Christian is afraid of displeasing Him, and so good that he is afraid of losing Him." p. 13

"There is a difference between fearing God, and being afraid of God; the godly fear God as a child does his father, the wicked are afraid of God as the prisoner is of the judge." p. 14

"Lack of the fear of God is the innate cause of all wickedness." p. 19

"Every sin is founded in ignorance,"  p. 20

"All the moral virtues in their highest elevation do not make a saint, but here is his true character, he is one that fears God." p. 25

"... in respect of God's infinite majesty, there will be some of this blessed fear in heaven.  Not a fear that has torment in it, for perfect love will cast out fear, but a holy, sweet, reverential fear.  Though God has so much beauty in Him as shall cause love, and joy, in heaven, yet this beauty is mixed with so much majesty, as shall cause a veneration in glorified saints." p. 29

"Carnal fear is an enemy to religion.  The fear of God frightens it away; it causes courage." p. 32

"... there is more evil in a drop of sin, than in a sea of affliction." p. 37

"The reason men do not fear God is become they entertain slight thoughts of Him."  p. 61

"What men delight in, they will be speaking of." p. 74

"O my soul, shall I admire the drip and not the ocean?  Shall I think of the workmanship, and not of Him that made it?"  p. 79

"The reason our affections are so chilled and cold in religion is that we do not warm them with the thoughts of God." p. 86

"If God is thinking of us day and night, shall not we think of His Name?" p. 89

"Honey is sweet, but the honeycomb is viscous and bitter, and can hardly be eaten; yet such was Christ's love to His spouse, that He ate of her honeycomb, her services mixed with imperfection, and was pleased to take delight in them.  Oh, the love of God, that He should have respect to our offerings that are interlaced with sin!" p. 100

"What an honour will it be to have the names and worthy deeds of the saints mentioned, and God Himself to be the herald to proclaim their praises." p. 110

"He who brought Isaac out of a dead womb, and the Messiah out of a virgin's womb, what can He not do?" p. 118

"God never entered into covenant with the angels when they fell, but He proclaims Himself God in covenant with believers, 'They shall be mine.'" p. 119

"This has made the saints desire death, as the bride her wedding day." p. 124

"'All men', says Chrysostom, 'are ambitious of honour'; but the true honour comes from God."  p. 127

"All the affections of parents come from God.  They are but a drop of His ocean, a spark of His flame.  God's love is a love that 'passeth knowledge.'  The saints cannot love their own souls so entirely as God loves them." p. 142-143

"Three things may cause boldness in prayer; the saints have a Father to pray to, the Spirit to help them pray, and Jesus Christ as their Advocate to present their prayers." p. 145

"Let us imitate God in this one thing: As God spares us, and passes by many failures, so let us be sparing of our censures of others; let us look upon the weaknesses and indiscretions of our brethren with a more tender compassionate eye." p. 148

"When prosperity makes grace rust, God scours us with affliction." p. 157

"Affliction cannot do the mischief that sin does."  p. 161

"The wicked drink a sea of wrath; the godly sip only of the cup of affliction." p. 164

If this selection of quotes has interested you then you can find the entire book here today.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

December Snow and a New Covenant

As I write this I have my Bible open to Hebrews chapter 8 to my left, a mug of coffee to my right and my chair facing out the big windows at Duos looking out at the snow.

Not everyone is Iowa likes snow, but nearly everyone will admit that new snow is beautiful.  Fresh snow is so amazingly pure.  There is a whiteness and smoothness to a fresh December snow that is unparalleled.

Iowans like myself also know that February or March snow is usually quite ugly.  I'm not talking about the newly fallen snow.  I'm talking about the snow that has been sitting there unmelted for a few weeks or months.  It is grimy and grey, not pure and white.  Given enough time the purity of snow turns ugly and dark grey if not even the infamous yellow.

The story of mankind is somewhat like snow.

Adam and Eve started off so pure.  There was no impurity to be found, like fresh snow in the middle of an empty field.  But as we know this purity would not last long.  God gave them one single command and they rather quickly broke it staining themselves like the snow pushed to the side of the road by a plow.

Humanity has a knack for staining itself and the whole universe with it.  If we're honest while we've created many wonderful things using the raw resources of the world around us, we've probably ruined as much if not more.  There are few places on the planet that are more beautiful because people showed up there (although we were ordained to beautify God's creation).

So, when God made a covenant with us we ruined it.  Read through the Old Testament and you'll see time and again how quickly the people blew it.

What we needed was a covenant not contingent upon us.

"The time is coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
                                                                                         declares the Lord.
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel,
after that time declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more." Hebrews 8:8b-12 (and Jeremiah 31:31-34)

We have so much sin based entropy in us that we naturally ruin things.  So, God made a new covenant with us where He gave us new desires.  He writes His laws on our hearts and in our minds.  He gives us the rebirth necessary to follow Him.  He renews us under the new covenant.  The problem with the old covenant was never God, it was always us; so God solves that problem Himself.

This is why Jesus came to the earth.  We needed Him to initiate a new covenant that we couldn't screw up.  We needed Him to create something purer than December snow that we couldn't soil.  Thank God that He sent His Son to intervene for us.  Give thanks that God forgives our wickedness and remembers our sins no more today.