Catch the Good Stuff

It’s easy for us to jog past some of the most underestimated statements in Scripture, especially when they are paved inside of well-known stretches of teaching. I plod right by them all the time. When my mental goal is set (three chapters before breakfast), the finish line can become more important than the process itself. This year I decided to change pace by poking through the Gospels and have already noticed phrases that escaped me before.

In the Sermon on the Mount (arguably the most famous discourse in the New Testament), Jesus was smashing legalism brick-by-brick telling people that the Kingdom of God is about a transformed heart, not just about what you do (or don’t do). It’s become one of those familiar passages, but read it again and try not running too fast.

Matthew 5:27-29
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

Besides the fact that He just took the seventh commandment up about a thousand notches, Jesus told us something striking about the Kingdom of God. For the longest time, I got overly focused on the warning. He did, after all, talk about ripping out eyeballs and chopping limbs off. But I missed the point of His message on fighting lust:

FOR IT IS BETTER

And He said it twice! The reason Jesus called people to purity and faithfulness was because His Kingdom made everything infinitely better. Money, clothes, and even sexual thoughts had meaning beyond what we imagined. He wasn’t just restricting people but inviting them to something more. Something better.

And I almost jogged right past it.

When God Seems Distant

Some days God feels more like a dusty, old book than a nearby Father. These moments happen to all of us, and our Christian faith can find itself under interrogation.  When I experience them, a blitzkrieg of questions follows:

  • Do I really believe a Middle Eastern man rose from the dead twenty centuries ago, and his Spirit lives inside me?
  • Do I really believe God loves me and wants the best for my life?
  • Do I really believe the Bible is true?

We cannot simply repress those questions – letting them creep about in our minds – waiting for doubt to strike before popping out again. What, then, should we do in moments when God seems a universe away? How can we avert these little existential, faith crises? There is a skill that, if mastered, will keep you from spiraling into despair:

Learn how to untangle your thoughts.

Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to the church explaining how false and deceitful thinking is a spiritual issue. We often speak of “strongholds” in light of demonic influence (and rightly so – other Scriptures affirm as much), but look carefully at how he explains it:

2 Corinthians 10:4-5
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

God’s divine power gives us the ability to resist Satan as well as destroy arguments raised against the knowledge of God. These opinions attack from every angle:

  • God seems distant because He’s not real.
  • God seems distant because He doesn’t love you.
  • God seems distant because The Bible is fictitious and unreliable.

We must master the ability to untangle such thoughts; demolishing them rather than submitting to their weight (or ignoring them altogether). With practice and time, you will find it becomes easier. After years of trial and error, here are three statements I hang my hat on when days of doubt or distance come:

#1: GOD EXISTS

I have, to the best of my abilities, tried to find a consistent worldview that does not require God. Atheism (or philosophical naturalism) and Buddhism were the closest I discovered and they left me wanting when asked questions like,

“Do people live as if this were actually true?”

“Is epistemology, meaning, and conscious explained in a way that seems consistent with real life?”

Some aspects were more convincing than others but, when viewed holistically, each system fell apart over time. Monotheism (belief in an all-powerful, eternal God) was the most consistent in explaining the human experience; specifically, as it related to ontology (a branch of metaphysics that focuses on being).

For anything to exist, there has to be Something with the power of being. In other words, Something has to be able to exist without having been created. That Being must also be eternal, otherwise it would have to first create Itself before anything could exist (I’ll wait for your brain cramp to subside).

Simply put, there is a reason why His name in Hebrew is Yahweh – I Am.

R.C. Sproul’s arguments on this subject convinced me further of the philosophical necessity for God’s existence. Listen to it here. However, many Jews, Muslims and, to an extent, Hindus would agree with me on this point. It becomes necessary, then, to continue untangling.

#2: THE GOD OF THE BIBLE IS THE ONE, TRUE GOD

Dozens of books helped solidify my confidence in the reliability of the Christian Scriptures. I’ve written about them here and here. Enough ink has been spilled by scholars in this area to spill more now. Instead, I will quote one of them:

If God exists and we are made in His image we can have real meaning, and we can have real knowledge through what He has communicated to us. If this is taken away, we are left only with man and his finite self-expression.

Francis Schaeffer
The God Who Is There

#3: THE GOD OF THE BIBLE IS FAITHFUL

God makes thousands of promises throughout the Bible, and cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Here are a few of them:

Matthew 11:28-29
Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Romans 10:9
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.

Hebrews 13:5
I will never leave you nor forsake you.

What if God still feels distant though? Perhaps you agree with the statements above, but your spiritual life seems stuck. Although He has promised to never leave us, there are various causes that hinder our communion with God. The following ones tend to show up in our lives the most:

#1 UNCONFESSED SIN
(or lack of true repentance)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Sin can hinder our ability to see God, but Christ paved the way for us to see again. “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

For more, see “When I Sin, Then What?”

#2 UNBELIEF IN GOD’S PROMISES

One of the loudest reasons we stumble in our spiritual journey is not a lack of knowing God’s promises, but a lack of believing them.

For more, see “Who Do You Trust?”

#3 UNWILLINGNESS TO RECEIVE FORGIVENESS AND GRACE

We feel unlovable. Our sin is too great. Our pride is too real. Our lust is too strong. We don’t deserve grace. (Of course, grace isn’t grace if you deserve it.) Remember, the Biblical God is faithful even when you are not.

2 Corinthians 5:21
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Does God seem distant right now? Learn to untangle your thoughts while fighting for faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

He’s not as far as you think. 

Four Painless Ways to Build Your Mental Toolbox

A pair of pliers isn’t something you think about much until you need it. When I was 20, I remember going to Home Depot with my soon-to-be wife and buying a basic set of tools (hammer, screwdrivers, etc.).

It’s the most boring story ever.

Shopping for a new TV is way more exciting but, when your sink breaks at 10PM, those pliers become your best friends. Everybody needs some.

Our thoughts are mental tools of sorts, and we would be wise to consider adding a few to our workbench. As Scripture tells us, we should think about the way we think.

Philippians 4:8
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. 

How can we add more mental tools to our life so that we’re ready for when the faucet leaks or it’s time to hang a mirror? Here are four to consider:

1  – Memorize Scripture

Always start with Scripture. “I have hidden Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11. I’m convinced the main reason people struggle with the Bible is not because it’s hard to understand, but because they’ve never tried it (a subject for another day).

Here’s a couple of life hacks that will help:

Download the Fighter Verses app.

Take a screenshot of a passage of Scripture and make it the wallpaper of your phone. Like this one:

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2 – Commit to build your mental toolbox.

This is crucial. If you don’t to go to the hardware store ahead of time, you will regret having to rush out in the middle of a crisis for something you could’ve already had. Decide today to invest in your thinking.

3 – Always be on the lookout for good resources that are on sale.

Amazon knocks down the prices of certain books most weeks, you just have to know where to look. Here are a couple of people I follow on Twitter that help:

Tim Keller Wisdom – @DailyKeller   Here’s an example:
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Barnabas Piper – @BarnabasPiper    Here’s an example:
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Books can be downloaded on a Kindle or Kindle app (eBooks are usually about 40% cheaper than the hardcopy). And, if you’re more of the listening type, try Audible.

4 – Maximize small moments.

Listen to a book or Podcast on your drive to work or in the pick-up line at school. You should build it into your weekly rhythm. (The last two hours of my work week consists of reading a book that will help me lead better).

In any case, don’t wait until your sink breaks. Get some tools ahead of time.

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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CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FOR FREE

Beware the Baby Bird Effect

Babies are trusting little creatures – none more so than the bird. Have you ever watched how they eat? Sometimes they don’t even open their eyes. The sound of fluttering wings makes their creepy little heads pop up and await the pre-chewed worm guts. At least, that’s what they assume. In any case, no questions are asked.  

When I was young in my faith, I was a baby bird.  All it took was a phrase like, “The Bible is…” and my neck craned up to eat whatever was given. Fortunately, many of those phrases ended with, “God’s Word, trustworthy, sufficient, reliable, etc.” Either way, I wasn’t all that worried about my worm guts. Just eat them and move on was my method. 

Then I went to college.

Suddenly, “The Bible is…” was followed by, “mythology, inconsistent, debilitating.” Wait, what?! Teachers could always be trusted. But what they were saying was diametrically opposed to what I was taught growing up.

I just gobbled up whatever I was given. Good or bad.  It was the Baby Bird Effect. This caused a huge crisis of faith. According to these guys, Jesus was just another wise philosopher in history. Some of my classmates bought it. They left the Christian faith all together without batting an eye. 

But they were still baby birds gulping down whatever was spit in their mouths. 

Faith is anything but blind. It beckons you to zoom in and out from every angle. Picking and poking to see if there’s something you missed. That’s what I began to do. 

God isn’t afraid of people who think critically about their beliefs. In fact, He commends it. Look at what Paul said of the Bereans:

“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

‭‭Acts‬ ‭17:11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 They didn’t just devour the grubs and move on. Instead, the people of Berea looked into it for themselves. Was the interpretation Paul was giving of the Law correct? Did this Christ event really happen?

When was the last time you thought critically about your beliefs like this? Don’t wait until crisis hits to ask the hard questions. Start now. Avoid the Baby Bird Effect.  

Here are a few places to start:

Mere Christianity by CS Lewis 

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

The Universe Next Door by James Sire

…and anything by Francis Schaeffer

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

How to Know If You’re Walking with God

The phrase, “Walking with the Lord,” gets thrown around often. But what does it look like to have true intimacy? How do you know if you’re “walking with the Lord”?

Paul gives us a clear picture in Philippians 2. He says,”So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,” then do three things. In other words, if you have intimacy with God, your life should look like this:

#1 Intimacy with God creates HARMONY IN THE CHURCH

“…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). When we have experienced Christ in a life-changing way, there is unity around mission, holiness and ministry.

#2 Intimacy with God creates HUMILITY LIKE CHRIST

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 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 2:3-5).  The Son of God modeled humility for us. He looked to our interests and died for them. In this way, He counted us more significant than Himself. Christ humbled Himself so that we could be redeemed. When we have fellowship with God, our response is the same humility.

#3 Intimacy with God creates HOPE FOR FUTURE GLORY

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).  Jesus is now exalted above all names and reigns as a soon-coming King. Paul reminds us of this for two reasons.

  • God exalts the humble but opposes the proud. 
  • And this world isn’t the end.

A day is coming when the King will be revealed and all who have humbled themselves under His reign will receive eternal life. This brings hope and fuels humility. 

How do you know if you’re walking with God? Ask yourself three questions:

#1 Does my life create harmony in the church through love and ministry?

#2 Is my life marked by Christ-like humility or are most things motivated by selfish-ambition and conceit? 

#3 Do I rest knowing that a faithful God will grant me eternal life through His Son? 

I’m praying these questions help your relationship with God grow sweeter. They have been eye-opening for my life this week.