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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Advice for Graduates

Congratulations graduates!  Here's some advice I have for high school graduates who will head to college in the Fall from a post written in 2014.

Practical Advice for Graduates

Graduation is here for many high school and college students.  Several students I've had to privilege to know and love are leaving for college in the Fall.  So, here's some practical advice for high school graduates.  This list isn't exhaustive, but in my experience it is very helpful.

1) Don't go home every weekend and especially not the first weekend.

Your parents might not like this advice, but it is good advice.  So much of what you learn at college will not be learned in a classroom.  You will learn from the experience of being around new people.  Weekends are so important for meeting people, especially the first weekend.  Some of those people you meet your first weekend will possibly be life-long friends.

2) Leave your door open.

When you're in your room just hanging out leave your door open.  This will give you an opportunity to bond with those students living on your floor.  Most, if not all, of those students are also scared freshmen and that common experience is a great catalyst for friendship.  People who close their doors all the time often miss this companionship in a shared living space.

3) Don't overlook the weird kids, they're often the nicest.

High school may have been about cliques but college doesn't have to be like that.  Those "weird kids" are often the most friendly people on campus.  If you want college to be cliquey like high school it will be; but if you befriend people of all walks of life you'll learn so much more and have deeper friendships that aren't based solely on your social strata.

4) Don't believe everything your professors say, but think about everything they say.

Newsflash: many professors have an agenda.  A great number of these men and women want to teach you the subject matter and share their opinions with you as if they were facts.  These professors range from the atheist to the extreme liberal to the libertarian to the feminist that will make you sorry if you were born male.  Not everything presented in your class will be strictly factual.  However, don't use that as an excuse to stop thinking.  Some of my best professors were the curmudgeon former Christians and passionate near communists because they forced me to think sharply enough to defend my own opinion.

5) Plug into a church.

This is my most useful and impactful piece of advice for a few reasons.  In college you will be surrounded by 18-22 year-olds who think they know it all; your church will give you a chance to learn from your elders and give you an opportunity to mentor those younger than you.  Your church will keep you rooted in your faith.  For so long you've probably gone to church because your parents did, college will be a chance for you to go to church because you want to.  Don't underestimate the power of this.

9 years ago I plugged myself into a church in my college town, Waverly.  I was a nervous freshman at Wartburg College and I can't say enough how awesome the decision to go to Grace Baptist was for me.  Grace gave me a chance to be my own adult in the congregation.  No longer was I Jack and Kathie's son, I was just Matt.  My faith became even more my own and being plugged into Grace helped that immensely.  I'm still a member of Grace and I can only begin to say what a difference my church has made in my life.

Seniors, congratulations on your graduation.  I'd advise you to consider all the advice I gave above but I implore you to plug into a local church above all the rest of the advice that was given.  You'll be glad you did.  Again, congratulations and consider this advice today.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Law and Love

Sometimes we juxtapose the law and love.  We often wonder whether we should be loving in a given situation or whether we should be obedient to a command.  We see love as something that exists best in freedom from regulation of any kind, something that can only be done with raw, unhinged emotion.  And we see obedience to the law and commands as devoid of the emotion of love, we see it as legalism.

The Bible makes no such juxtaposition.  Love and law are sisters not opposites.

"This is love for God: to obey His commands." 1 John 5:3a

John says that in order to love God we must obey His commands.  In fact, Jesus is recorded as saying a very similar thing in the book of John.  Obedience is love for God.  Obedience is not dry, empty servitude; no, obedience is an act of love and trust.

And obedience isn't only the benchmark for loving God, it also is the benchmark for loving people.

"One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.  Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, 'Of all the commandments, which is the most important?'

The most important one,' answered Jesus, 'is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'  The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  There is no commandment greater than these." Mark 12:28-31

When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment He expertly condensed the whole of the law (613 laws by some historians' count by Jesus' day) into two laws: love God, love people.  The teachers of the law ranked commands so they could know what to do when two principles seemingly conflicted.  In ranking these two commands as greatest Jesus said that love for God and for others is the filter through which the whole of the law is to be run.

Pastor Tim Keller summarizes it well when he said: "Jesus shows us that love actually defines the lawful life, and He shows that us that the law actually defines the loving life."

To be obedient to God is to love and to love God and others is to be obedient to God.  The law is not dry and passionless, rather it is soaked in love.  Love is not wild and without direction, rather it is guided by the law.

Love and law are sisters that help us glorify God and benefit our neighbors. Next time you see a command of Scripture view it as a way to love God and others.  When you seek to love God and/or others well look for Biblical commands and principles to guide your love today.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

God Is Good

As I write this my exhausted wife and newborn son are sleeping.  It is so good to be able to type that sentence for several reasons.  One being that neither did that last night on our first night together at home and secondly because Christine and I have prayed for that little guy for a long time.

In August I wrote a post called "The Glory of Infertility" that was picked up by Relevant Magazine's website, a magazine in Singapore called Trinitarian Magazine and was interviewed about it on a New Zealand radio program called The Forum.  Needless to say I was surprised by the response, but not overly surprised that of all the things I've written about that the topic of infertility struck a cord.

Infertility is something 1 in 8 couples deal with and it is heart-wrenching. So, as I sit in the room with my sleeping wife and little Joshua I am filled with joy.

God is good.

God is good, but He's not good because Christine and I now have a son.  No, God is good because that is what and who He is.  Father, Son and Spirit are just simply good.  They are good all the time.  God is the very definition of good.

The circumstance we were in while waiting for Joshua was hard and the gorgeous circumstance that I'm sitting in today is much more preferable to me, but God is no more good today nor was He any less good then.

God is good.

God's goodness does not hinge on circumstances.  He is immutable and eternal.  His goodness never changes and it will never end.  Often we view the immutable nature of God in the light of His goodness and love never decreasing, but His immutable attribute of goodness means that His goodness and love can never increase.  He is the acme of goodness at all times and always will be.

So, when people come up to us and say, "God is good" in response to seeing Joshua I will agree wholeheartedly.  God is good all the time!  When I hold my son I experience His goodness more tangibly, but His goodness was there when Joshua wasn't.  It was planning Joshua from before the foundations of the earth, it was giving my wife and I strength to wait and trust, it was helping us see the glory in our infertility and it was holding our very fibers together.

In the post I wrote about our infertility I said this:

There must be glory in infertility.

I don't know how but I trust that when I look back on this it will be like flipping a cross stitch over from back to front.  I trust that God not only knows what He's doing but that what He's doing will be glorious.

I trust that if and when Christine gets pregnant it will be with OUR child planned for us from before creation.  I trust that when we adopt we will adopt OUR child planned for us from eternity before eternity. 

Now, I see it, at least in part.  I see the egg and the sperm that God joined together in His perfect timing.  I see the financial stability that He got us to before Joshua came.  And most importantly I see the sanctification of my own faith the He brought about in our waiting on Him.

God is good all the time.  Your experience may be one of great joy or crippling pain and I know there are days when believing in God's goodness is easier than others so I pray you have the faith to trust that God is good, no matter what, today.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Love Initiates

In 1984 Foreigner sang, "I Want to Know What Love Is."  Lou Gramm sang the line, "I want to know what love is, I want you to show me."  Love is a feeling, a concept, an action that poets, songwriters, philosophers and Hallmark card writers have struggled to define for centuries.

In 1 John the Apostle writes, "God is love."  Notice he didn't say, "love is God" but rather "God is love."  This means, in part, that not every feeling or notion that we might label as love is love or is who God is.  What it does mean is that who God is is the very definition of love.  A. W. Tozer explains in The Knowledge of the Holy in the chapter on God's faithfulness that God is perfectly every one of His attributes all the time.  This means that God is love in everything He does, even in judgement.

So, God is love.  This, in part, means in order to love accurately I must discover who He is and what He says love is.  Let's look at part of 1 John chapter 4, a chapter that John could have gotten some high quality tweets out of, to see something that the Scripture says love is.

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us." 1 John 4:7-12

Let's look at one thing love is from this passage.

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 4:10

"But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

Love initiates.

The Apostles John and Paul define love as what God did we He sent Jesus to die for us and Paul says that love is demonstrated in Christ dying for us while we were still sinners.  God didn't wait for us to be receptive to His message in order to love us.  He didn't wait to love until He saw we were ready to love Him.  No, Jesus showed us the greatest love, the love that lays down His life for His friends, while we were God's enemies (Romans 5:10).  God initiated love to those who never would have made the first move.

God is love and love is so much more than an initiator, but this one aspect of love stood out to me this week.

"Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." 1 John 4:11

God loves us so we love God, right?  Well, yes; but all over the New Testament we see that God loves and serves us so we love and serve others.

So, what does this mean for us today?

I think it means that we must be initiators of sacrificial love.  God lives in us and His love is made complete in us when we love, so our love must look a lot like His love.  Who in your life are you waiting to make the first move?  With whom do you need to reconcile?  Who do you see that is in need?  Don't wait for them to make the first move, because love initiates and if Christ lives in you then you are able to love first as He loved first.

How many relationships sour because we wait for them to make the first move?  How many hurting people continue to hurt because we wait for them to ask for help?

Love initiates.

Think of those you can and should initiate love toward today.  Perhaps it's a coworker, neighbor, former friend, or spouse.  Whoever it is, we are called to love because God is love.  Sometimes difficult people are put in our life to give us assurance of faith or to give us an unmistakable warning.

"We love because He first loved us.  If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, who he has not seen.  And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother." 1 John 4:19-21

Love initiates.  Make the first move in demonstrating true love today.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

But We're Engaged

"But we're engaged."

The Bible defines sexual immorality as any sexual acts outside of the covenant of marriage.  But what about those that are engaged?  What difference does it make if you're engaged and already committed?

First, I'm going to assume some things.  I am going to assume that you agree that sex outside of marriage is sin.  I'm going to assume that, so if you want to read something that argues that point you won't find it here.  Second, I'm going to assume that you and your future spouse are Christians.  If those assumptions don't fit you then you can continue reading, but this post may not speak directly to you.

"But we're engaged."

Before my wife and I were married we were committed to saving sex for marriage.  We both were tempted during dating in some fashion in this, but the temptation reached new heights while we were engaged.  While engaged the thought, "but we're engaged" came into our minds often.  What difference did a ring and a ceremony make?  Weren't we already committed to one another?

We didn't have sex before we got married.  We weren't perfect and we wish we could have a few do overs in some compromises we made on boundaries we set, but we didn't have sex before our wedding night.  We know this is difficult.

Engagement is the absolute hardest period for keeping this specific command of God.  If I had to do it again our engagement period would be much shorter.  But here's three thoughts that kept us from this particular sin.

1) "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." Hebrews 13:4

Do I want to honor my marriage?

Marriage is an institution and a covenant that is to be honored and the marriage bed is to be kept pure.  Saving sex for marriage honors my own marriage and the institute of marriage.  As Christians our marriage is to be a pointer to the relationship between Christ and the Church.  This is a sacred metaphor that we get to enact.  How can I honor my marriage if I'm dishonoring it before it begins?  Also, "God will judge the... sexually immoral."  Why would I want to face God's judgement?  If sexual immorality is any sexual acts outside of marriage then pre-marital, even while engaged, sex is subject to judgement.

Also, sexual intercourse is a very important and symbolism filled act that marks the covenant of marriage.  The two literally become one flesh as Genesis and Jesus both quote when talking about the seriousness of the marriage covenant.  Often (possible TMI moment for some) there is blood involved when two virgins, or at least a female virgin, consummate a marriage and that blood is an ancient and Biblical sign of a permanent covenant being made.  These symbols lose their power if done frivolously.

2) "Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

Do I trust God?

Sometimes I just don't get what God's doing.  The "but we're engaged" thought is a time when many of us don't know what God's up to with His commands about sex and marriage.  This is not so much a time to try and figure out what God really means by what He says, though there's nothing wrong with searching for answers.  This is a time to trust in God with all your heart rather than leaning on your own understanding.  This is a time to say with your actions that you believe that God does things for His glory and your good.  Sex is one more way in which we can acknowledge Him and let Him make our paths straight, let Him take care of us through His good commands.

3) "If you love me, you will obey what I command." John 14:15

Do I love Christ?

The greatest command in the Bible is "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5, Luke 10:27, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30)  Jesus said that if you love Him you will obey what He commands and we are to love God with all that we are.  How can we see a command of God and choose to ignore it and still say that we love Him with all that we are?  This should be the greatest motivation to save sex for marriage while engaged.  Yes, you burn with passion for the man or woman that you love, but how is your love for Christ?  This period of engagement is a poignant one when Jesus seemingly often asks us, "Do you love me more than these?" (John 21:15)

Not making love with your fiancĂ© is difficult, very difficult.  You know that you will be with them forever, you've made some promises, you're almost there, but you're not there yet.  I thought that having a definite finish line would make waiting easier.  It didn't. Engagement is hard.  Your passion for your fiancĂ© burns strong, and it should.  It's a period of my life that I don't want to relive, but I want you to know that it can be done.

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." 1 Corinthians 10:13

Engagement is not an inescapable trap for those wanting to save sex for marriage.  We're all tempted and God will not tempt us beyond what we can bear.  But when we are tempted we must look for the way of escape.  Sometimes the closer that marriage gets the more searching for the way of escape is necessary, but honoring your marriage, trusting God and loving Christ is worth it.

Engaged friends, stay strong.  With God's help you can do it.  I pray that God blesses your future marriage and that He does it in part by giving you the ability to wait for marriage today.