The Forever Part

If you aren’t stubborn in your quest for a life that matters, you’ll waste a lot of it building hype and hope on things that won’t outlast a goldfish. The difference maker seems to lie in one’s understanding of “the Forever Part.”

Ecclesiastes 3:11
 [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. And He has put eternity into the heart of man.

There’s a Forever Part of every human heartbeat. God put it there. Even those who don’t believe He exists still have the Forever Part. It’s just hard for them to hear sometimes.

Jesus came so that we could see that death isn’t the end. He offered eternal life. It’s the life we always knew, in our heart, was the truest life. In the Forever Part. 

But Christians many times forget about it. We can work and think and stress on things that rob our attention from what makes our lives matter. The forever stuff.

I try each day to hear the Forever Part of my own heart. There are dozens of ways it stirs to life. Little reminders help the most. For instance, there’s a clock on my desk. It’s frozen in time at a quarter to 8. Each time I sit down to write she tells me, “Unless this is linked to God’s Word and stirs the Forever Part of someone, you’re wasting your time.”

This blog post will fade and be lost soon, but you won’t. God and His Word won’t either. And if reading these words reminds you of that, then I’m doing something meaningful. Something that will, in a way, last forever.

Find little, everyday things that do this. For me, it includes reading (and writing) fiction. G.K. Chesterton was absolutely right when he said, “[Fictional stories] are more than true. Not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be defeated.” Short stories are a favorite because I can read them in one sitting.

I’ve written a few that were inspired by the Forever Part and included it below. Perhaps they will inspire you as well:

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King Arthur and King Jesus

Both dramas have stood the test of time. Both take place in real periods of history. Both have hero vs. villain storylines and relate moral lessons to their readers.

So, if someone asked the difference between the Legends of Camelot and the Gospel of Luke, what would you say? Are both (or either) to be taken factually? What convinces millions of people that one is a fairy tale and the other is true?

In a society that likes a “turn the other cheek” Jesus but wants to scrub out the “resurrection Sunday” fairy tale parts, it’s important to know how to respond. What separates the tales of King Arthur from the words of King Jesus?

I think a good place to start lies with how such a narrative begins.  There are literary cues to every story – fiction or nonfiction; novel length or 140 characters.

“Knock, knock…” sets up a joke.
“Roses are red…” a poem.
“Once upon a time…” a fairy tale.

The writers in the New Testament, however, start their accounts of Jesus’ life much differently. Here are two examples:

Luke 1:1-4
In as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

1 John 1:1-2
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.

If the Gospels were meant to be moral fairy tales loosely based on a real-life person, then Luke and John are terrible writers.  It would’ve been impossible to follow for 1st century readers because it would’ve been penned in a fictional format that wouldn’t exist for another millennium. Instead, it claims to be a careful, fact-checked, peer-reviewed report of something they actually saw happen.

People 2,000 years ago might not have understood Germ Theory or aerodynamics, but they knew virgins couldn’t get pregnant and dead men don’t join you for lunch. This is precisely why the Biblical writers were so careful with their words. Something entirely different from normal life had happened, and it would change everything.

John concludes his book this way: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

You shouldn’t base your life on fairy tales. Luke and John didn’t.

Flipping the Script on Selflessness

In the If-We-Were-Honest-About-Words Dictionary, “selflessness” seems to be up there with “boring” and “doormat.” It may be a characteristic we hope describes us, yet we seldom think about what selflessness actually is or how to build it into our lives. There seems to be a formula for it in Scripture:

high view of God + high view of self = selflessness

God’s Word is peppered with both sorts of love. Jesus commanded people to love God with all of their heart and to love others as they love themselves. Paul understood the necessity for a high view of self as well. Look how it plays out in marriage:

Ephesians 5:28-29

“Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church…”

It is possible, however, to think too highly of ourselves (Romans 12:13). This formula gets lopsided and breeds arrogance. When this happens, we tend to…

  • Obsesses about our status or reputation
  • Find it difficult to empathize with others
  • Be easily offended
  • Judge others quickly
  • Extend grace slowly
  • See mistakes as the fault of everyone else

It’s just as easy, on the other hand, to slip into a low view of self. This too is pride but in a different sort of way. We still see ourselves as the center of the universe. Only this time we tend to…

  • Have a pessimistic or cynical view of our lives
  • Cling to one discouraging comment over one hundred encouraging ones
  • Believe everything wrong is our fault
  • Try to earn our way back to God
  • Be slow to accept forgiveness and receive grace

Both try to pull our eyes away from the goodness and greatness of God. So, how do we balance a love for God and love for self? I believe it begins with understanding something Tim Keller wrote,

The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time.

The Reason for God

You have infinite value. Not because of your abilities or talents, but because you are stamped in the image of a God who is Infinitely Valuable. If my sense of worth comes from this, I don’t need to be overly concerned with the opinion of others or my own accomplishments. It allows me to think on better things.

“True humility is not thinking less of myself, but thinking of myself less.”
CS Lewis
Mere Christianity

 

That’s What She Said!

If Michael Scott were a real person, he’d giggle through the entire Song of Solomon. There are just so many sexual innuendos.

Those who believe the rumor that Christianity is a sexual straight-jacket haven’t read Scripture very closely. When I was a student pastor, I decided to address the rumor head on.

I walked onto the stage and told a crowded room of high school kids something they had never thought of before. Judging by their reaction, it was certainly not what they expected to come from the mouth of a pastor.

“Tonight, I’m going to tell you how to have the best sex life you could ever possibly imagine.”

It might’ve been the only time in church history where teenagers high-fived each other about a sermon.  Needless to say, I had their attention and began to speak an incredibly freeing and Biblical truth into their hormonally charged confusion.

God wants you to have the best sex life ever.

Think about it. Does it make sense that God – who was able to create the sun, moon, billions of galaxies, the Pacific Ocean, and animals that can fly – designed us with complex organs made specifically for sexual activity then was surprised that we liked to have sex?

Did He frantically say to Himself, “Oh no, you mean they think it’s awesome?! I better do everything I can to stop it!” Of course not. In fact, the power and importance of sex is precisely why He says so much about it.

Believe it or not, sexual intimacy was the first command He ever gave to humans. After creating man and woman in His image, God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28) If you’ve ever taken 7th grade Life Science, you know what He’s talking about.  But His message was much different than the one we hear today. It was simpler. Clearer. More powerful.

There are so many opinions and ideas about sex in our culture that it can become quite confusing. Jesus, however, said something interesting one time about sexual confusion, “In the beginning, it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8)

It is imperative, then, that the church think well about such things.  As Christians, we have been given the message of reconciliation and are called to represent Christ on earth (2 Corinthians 5).  This message claims that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus has completely redeemed all components of our being, including sexuality.

So, sex is not simply a topic for debate, but an avenue through which we see and understand the gospel more clearly. In other words, it is a really big deal.

As a result, Christians must work to cultivate a robust, Biblical theology of sex.  Not only this, but we must be ready to take that theology and engage a sexually confused world with the saving power of the gospel. This will require understanding the truths of Scripture as well as wisdom in how to talk about those truths with our friends and neighbors outside the church.

So, where do we start?

God’s Word

Always begin with Scripture. Here are some passages to study and consider:

Genesis 2:22-24
Ephesians 5:28-31
The Song of Solomon
1 Corinthians 7:8-9
Matthew 5:27-30
Proverbs 7
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Hebrews 13:4

Other Resources

Books

God’s Design for Sex (A book series for children)
by Stan & Brenna Jones – varied lengths:
The Story of Me (Ages 3-5)
Before I was Born (Ages 5-8)
What’s the Big Deal? Why God Cares about Sex (Ages 8-11)
Facing the Facts: The Truth about Sex and You (Ages 11-14)

What’s the Meaning of Sex?
Denny Burk – 272 pages

 This Momentary Marriage
John Piper – 192
Download it for FREE here


Video Messages

“Radically Single: Authentic Christianity as Men and Women.”
David Platt – 17 minutes

“Slow-Motion Sexual Revolutionaries?”
Russell Moore – 47 minutes

“Moral Purity in Your Marriage”
Russell Moore – 66 minutes

“Gospel Ministry to the Same-Sex Attracted”
Sam Allberry – 43 minutes

“Sex and the Supremacy of Christ”
John Piper – 52 minutes

Don’t listen to anything that describes sex as the most important thing in life. Biblical love is never defined in sexual terms, but in sacrificial ones.  The Apostle John told the first century church, “By this we know love, that He (Jesus) laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).

If intimacy found its ultimate grounding in sexual expression, Jesus would never have been able to express love on earth. True love, on the other hand, sacrificially seeks the good of others. It places sex, as John Piper says during his message, in proper “orbit” around the sun.  Our sexuality is at its best when Christ is at its center.  

“He has brought me to the banqueting house, his banner over me is love.”
Song of Solomon 2:4

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Good Reads for The Fall

I’m always on the lookout for a good book. The best ones I’ve come across were recommended by someone. I’ve written before on the importance of reading, and want to throw out a few that I’ve found helpful or interesting. If you’re looking to add to your list this fall, consider…

  1. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Tim Keller (254 pages)
    Keller gives approachable answers to deep philosophical questions about Christianity. If you’re struggling with whether or not the teachings of Jesus are true, this is your book. If you’ve never critically evaluated your own faith in Christ, get it.
    reason-for-god
    “A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life to busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic.”

  2. “Why an Historical Adam Matters for a Biblical Doctrine of Sin” by John W. Mahony (17 pages)
    This scholarly article published in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology was a short, helpful explanation of the importance of a real Adam and Eve. With the rise in popularity for evolutionary theism, understanding the various interpretations of Genesis 1-3 is critical.
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    How essential is it, given what the Bible says about sin, to maintain that Adam was a historical figure? What do we lose if we deny this point? In order to answer these questions I will proceed in three steps: (1) I will survey the biblical view of human sin; (2) I will discuss the various interpretive options proposed by current evangelicals who are questioning the actual historicity of the Genesis account; (3) I will conclude by arguing that the biblical doctrine of sin requires an original image bearing couple, rooted and grounded in history.”

     

  3. The Problem of Pain: How Human Suffering Raises Almost Intolerable Intellectual Problems by CS Lewis (154 pages)
    Although I disagree significantly at points (i.e. Lewis’ Darwinian view of humanity), he lands in orthodox places and forces you to face tough questions gracefully.
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    “Pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that Ultimate Reality is righteous and loving.”
  4. Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (and How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots) by Matt K. Lewis (219 pages)
    I listened to Lewis on a Podcast recently and was interested in his assessment of the current political world. He pushes back on the conservative “echo chamber” and suggests that our society has become polarized in Washington because of it. Read it before November’s election.
    download
    “New technology allows us to avoid coming into contact with opposing viewpoints. There is no common culture or consensus. It’s entirely possible nowadays to go through a day and avoid hearing information that challenges your assumptions.”

     

  5. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore. (224 pages)
    Every Christian should read this. Moore analyzes the Bible Belt South with aggressive clarity and refocuses Americans to the original message of Christianity.
    51viidXMhrL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_
    “We are Americans best when we are not Americans first. Therefore, we cannot build Christian churches on a sub-Christian gospel. People who don’t want Christianity don’t want almost-Christianity.”

  6. Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney (67 pages)
    Whether you have small children at home or are trying to figure out how to start family devotions with teenagers, this little book will be very helpful. Whitney takes away all the typical excuses by replacing them with practical (and realistic) suggestions.
    9781433547805
    “Husbands, fathers- if you have been negligent in this duty and great privilege, repent by starting family worship today. Again, you may feel awkward about what to say to your wife or your children about starting, but simply say that God has convicted you of your responsibility to lead in family worship and you want to start at a given time today.”
     
  7. Werewolf Cop by Andrew Klavin (336 pages)
    Sometimes, you need to read something fun. Klavin’s novel is about a cop who solves top secret crimes. It gets real interesting on nights with a full moon because…you know…he’s also a werewolf. You might find the gore a little much. Either way, find a Werewolf Cop for your reading list.712XqhTMN8L-682x1024

There’s one more that I’m excited about…

8. Dear Frankenstein: Letters of Hope to Pieced Together Families by Blake Hudspeth
I’ve been working for the last few months on a short, free eBook that will be available this month. My aim is to encourage families that need hope. The ones on the brink of collapse, or perhaps are now on the other side of divorce and just want to keep their head above the water. Watch for it on this blog in the coming weeks.
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My family didn’t become functional overnight. Each person made important decisions en route and learned many lessons through tears. You will find them embedded throughout this book. Every chapter is a letter addressed to you- someone who needs hope. They will not teach you how to build a healthy, blended family. But they will give you hope that it’s possible.”

Happy reading!

God Wants You to Be Happy

I’m astonished at how much God desires our happiness. At times, it is even difficult to embrace. Many share this struggle because, like me, they’ve fallen in one of the Two Theological Ditches:

Ditch #1: God only cares about my holiness.
When you pit happiness against holiness, you lose a Biblical understanding of both. Obedience sterilized of joy and love is not pious. It’s pagan. Jesus deals with holiness as a matter of the heart.

Matthew 15:18
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.

John 14:15
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

True holiness comes from a heart that loves God. It’s why Jesus called the Pharisees “hypocrites” earlier in Matthew 15. They made a big show about righteousness, but their hearts were wicked and far from Him. Many times, we see holiness as drudgery rather than the response of a heart freed in Christ. It’s an unhappy place to be.

Ditch #2: God only cares about my happiness.
Usually this statement is made as a way to justify any number of sinful acts. God’s Word ends up playing second chair to our own whims of money, power and sex. Where Ditch #1 glorifies suffering and self-righteousness, Ditch #2 believes the lie that we know what’s best. Some of the unhappiest people are those who live in Ditch #2.

Happy Holiness
Scripture never claims that God is uncaring about your happiness. He does, however, care tremendously about its source. So, the question to ask is not, “Am I happy?” Instead, you must ask:

“Is my relationship with God a means to an end or an end in itself?”

If God is a means to an end, we’ll find ourselves preoccupied with either material blessing (health, wealth, and comfort) or hardship (suffering, persecution, and calamity). Both force our eyes away from the Person who brings comfort and happiness.

In Hebrew, the word “blessed” means “happy.” It’s not only an emotion, but also a sense of deep peace, wholeness and joy.  Happy Holiness. It can only come from being rooted in God. Read Psalm 1 today knowing that “Blessed is the man…” could actually be translated, “Happy is the man…” Then read Matthew 5 – The Sermon on the Mount –  in the same light.

Now, this doesn’t mean we will always feel happy. There will be difficult seasons. We will have days of sorrow, mourning and despair. But we also have a God who brings comfort, and promises to one day wipe away every tear. So, when we pray for His Kingdom to come on Earth as it is in Heaven, we are asking Him to bring a Place of pure, holy happiness. It reminds me of a conversation from The Lord of the Rings.

“Gandalf!” Frodo said, “I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What happened to the world?”

“A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.

– J.R.R. Tolkien
The Return of the King

Life in Christ can turn mourning into dancing and grief into comfort. Happy holiness knows that Laughter is coming, and one day all of the sad things will come untrue. God cares tremendously about it.