Real

Real

Realized fears and
bitter tears
This is real and
this is here

Fading hope, no
strength to cope
This is real and
this is here

Crying out with
growing doubt
This is real and
this is here

Weighted breath and
tasting death
This is real and
this is here

Felt your fears and
cried your tears
He is real and
He is here

Gives His pow’r in
your dark hour
He is real and
He is here

Reaches out to
still your doubt
He is real and
He is here

Conquered death with
Single breath
He is real and
He is here

God Delights in Being Desperately Needed!

Hey, Christian. Guess what? I know you’re ashamed sometimes.

I know because I’m with you. There are moments when you wonder if you’re even saved. You have been raised with Christ. You have been given new life. You have been equipped with power from the Holy Spirit Himself. You have been guaranteed the endless and all-satisfying love of the God who breathed the universe into existence. YOU ARE SO BLESSED. And yet..

You clicked into that website again. You lied for the umpteenth time. You backstabbed your best friend. You harbored that murderous thought toward a brother in Christ. You cheated on the exam. You still fight homosexual desires. You’ve considered ending it all.

Even if I didn’t mention your specific sin, you know it’s there. You don’t like to talk about it; if you don’t, it can almost seem non-existent. But it doesn’t work to play games with sin, and you know that. Another reason you don’t talk about it, though, is that you’re ashamed. You’re baffled that a so-called “child of God” could ever be suicidal or have homosexual desires or lie chronically or feel hatred or ___________, but you can’t shake the struggle, even though you’re redeemed. And since everybody else in the church is too ashamed to admit that they’re in the same boat as you are, you feel like you’re totally alone in this fight against sin. Everyone else is perfect, right?

Let’s just all admit right now in the quietness of our hearts that this is where we’re at. All of us.

You need to hear, Christian, that God knows this. Listen: “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them (excerpts from Psalm 139).”

All of your brokenness and struggle is plain to God, even when you try hiding it. Hear that. Because that’s not all.

My pastor recently said something to the effect that “God delights in being desperately needed.” I’ve been thinking about that sentence ever since, and pondering its implications for my life. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to really believe that about God sometimes. In my sin and brokenness and shame, I fool myself into believing that God must be super ticked off at me. He can’t want me back after I sinned for the millionth time, can He? He can’t be waiting anxiously for my cry for forgiveness and help after I did that dumb thing again, can He? Surely He’s sick and tired of this miserable creature who can’t seem to do anything right.. right???

That’s what Satan says. Here’s what God says in Isaiah 55.1-6: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.”

I think we’re ashamed sometimes because Satan tells us we’re supposed to bring money to God’s marketplace. We’re not supposed to be so broke. We’re not supposed to need so much help. We’re supposed to have a little something to offer back to God. What we forget in those moments is how much God loves being our helper, not just tolerates it. Like a mom who loves making lunch for her two year-old who can’t make lunch for himself, so God loves helping us in our fight towards holiness when we sure as shootin’ can’t get there ourselves.

All over the Bible, God invites us to come to Him in prayer with our brokenness and need so that we can be healed. There are no taboo subjects with Him. No struggle you have that would surprise Him. Remember, He knows the most intimate details of your struggle today.

And I just wanted to remind you that He still loves you. In your brokenness, don’t run from God in shame. Run to God in joyful expectation and hope. He’s the only one who can make you whole again. He delights in being desperately needed.

Comforting People in Trauma

Ever since I heard about the tornadoes that touched down in Oklahoma this past Monday, I’ve been thinking about how to talk to people in trauma. Experience, others’ experiences, and blog posts I’ve read from strangers all confirm that reminding people that God is sovereign over their trial, and has a plan for them in it – especially right after it happens – can perhaps make their pain even worse. Although it is true that God is sovereign, it is not comforting to many people to hear it… at least not right away.

So then, am I saying that it’s not a good idea to comfort suffering people by reminding them about who God is in the immediate wake of terrible tragedy?

That question deserves some attention.

I wholeheartedly believe that the basis of our attempts to comfort people should be, must be, pointing them back to who God is. That said…

…Just because something is true does not necessarily mean it is always good to say it. “Tact” will become an important word in this post. Tact is not lying; it is having the wisdom to know how to say what ought to be said appropriately, and refrain from saying what ought not be said, even if it is true. A tactful person would never go up to an overweight woman in the store and say, “Wow! You’re fat!”…even if it is true.

It seems to me that this principle of tact can be applied to theological truth just as well as any other sort of truth. In other words, I think that there are theological points that may be unhelpful for someone to hear who is deeply hurting. If that is true, then we should try with all our power to minister to hurting people with appropriate truth, and avoid speaking truth that is inappropriate. And I think the truth that “God is sovereign over your trial, and He has a plan for you through it” is a truth that may not be helpful to share with someone who is grieving, at least not right away.

So many grieving people are confused. Some of them, even Christians, are asking questions like, “Why did God let this happen to me?”, “What could have I done to avoid this pain?”, and “How in the world am I going to move past this?” Grieving people are not ready to wrestle deeply with truth that is difficult to wrap their minds around, and let’s face it: the sovereignty of God is a very complex topic. It is extremely difficult to come to terms with how the sovereignty of God works, especially when it comes to suffering, and especially when you are the sufferer. Grieving people need truth to cling to, and it’s challenging to cling to the sovereignty of God in suffering when it’s hard enough just to understand it. They have had their hearts broken, and they need to be pointed to some simple gospel “constants” in the midst of their changing world.

Here are five such truths:

If you are in Christ…”

1. “God is for you.” – “If God is for you, who can be against you? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for you, how will he not also with him graciously give you all things?” (Romans 8.31-32)

2. “God is with you.” – “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed (Deuteronomy 31.8).”

3. “God is your Father, and He will never stop loving you.” – “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in His holy habitation (Psalm 68.5).”

4. God does not condemn you. (This is not a punishment).” “There is therefore now no condemnation for you, because you are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8.1)

5. God will bring you safely through this tragedy. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand (Isaiah 41.10).”

If you’re talking to unbelievers, they need to realize the hope that God offers to them through the gospel, even in their pain.

Also, don’t try to tell that that you understand. You don’t. Even if you’ve gone through a similar experience, you’re not them, and you don’t know exactly what they’re feeling. Grieving people also don’t need you to try to solve their problem; sometimes even just being there for them is the most comforting thing you can do, even if you don’t say anything at all.

Those points are just a few examples of a plethora of concrete truth that may be helpful to suffering people in the immediate wake of their tragedy. It might be months before they come out of “survival mode” and are ready to really process what has happened. When they’re ready, it may be helpful to remind them that God is sovereign over their trial, and He has a plan for them in it (Jeremiah 29.11). Until they’re ready, though, be tactful. It’s good, and loving, to let them get to that place in their own time.

Gosnell and Us: Reframing the Story

The world is finally hearing more about Kermit Gosnell, the man who was recently found guilty of 258 charges – including murder, infanticide, and racketeering, among other crimes – while his Philadelphia “house of horrors” (aka an abortion clinic) was in operation. Many of us have been horrified by the pictures and videos that the news media has released in the last couple of weeks since Gosnell’s conviction. This man was a murderer, a liar, and one of the greediest people who has captured nationwide attention in a long time.

Kermit Gosnell was a sinner, through and through. And why did he do what he did? Why did he kill children? Why did he routinely hide the fact that he had injured a patient while trying to deliver her baby to kill it, in order to avoid a lawsuit? Why did he care more about money than human life? Why?

The Bible has an answer to that question. James says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (James 4.1-2a).”  In a word, Gosnell was driven by his own desires, and it led to all manner of sin.

The Bible has a lot to say about his behavior itself, too… more than I can write in one post. Here’s a sampling, though: About murder, the Bible says, “You shall not murder (Exodus 20.13)”, and “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3.15).” About greed, the Bible says, “For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD (Psalm 10.3).” About caring more for oneself than others, the Bible says, “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 (Philippians 2.3-4).”

And here’s the staggering thing about those verses: if we’re honest, we can see ourselves in these words. We all often find ourselves driven by our own passions, hating our brother, greedy for gain, and prideful, looking only to our own interests. Am I right? This is who Kermit Gosnell is, and this is who we are. Not only that, but we have a holy, holy, holy God who is unspeakably angry because of our sin. He can’t have it in His presence. He is horrified by our sin, infinitely moreso than we are horrified by what Gosnell did. And the Bible says that this holy God will judge us according to our deeds (1 Peter 1.17).

Kermit Gosnell recently stood trial for what he had done, and so, we have a small picture of what it will be like to stand before the judgment seat of our holy God someday.

Picture this: what if, just as the judge was about to slam his gavel and pronounce Gosnell’s sentence for everyone to hear, a man burst into the courtroom and shouted, “Stop! I’ll take his sentence! I’ll take life in prison! I’ll take the chains! I’ll take the guilt, and the pain, and the hopelessness! Give it all to me, and let this man go free!” What an utterly shocking display of love that would have been! One man, who had had nothing to do with the matter, allowing himself to be treated as Kermit Gosnell? Amazing! And yet, that is a picture of what has happened to those of us who were in Christ! “The LORD laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53.6)”, and “gave us the right to become children of God (John 1.12)”! He has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1.3)”! “Through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2.18)”!

You see, the Bible says that Gosnell is really not very different from you and I. But it also says that we, like Gosnell, have a hope, and that hope is found in Jesus Christ alone. We ought not say, when we look at Gosnell, “Look! What a horrible sinner!”, as if we are any better than him. We ought to say, “Look! A sinner like me!”

But we shouldn’t stop there. The real point is this: we, not just Gosnell, need Jesus. Even if we’ve trusted Christ, we are still in need of His grace. And so, Gosnell’s story reminds us again that the only hope we have as sinners is to run to the One who “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7.25).”

A post concerning (but not containing) swearing

Is swearing wrong? If so, why? Some of you are probably reading this with a shocked expression, because I’ve just called into question something that evangelicals have taken for granted for years. That is, that swearing definitely is sinful. I submit, though, that the traditional definition of swearing may not be entirely helpful; in this post, I’ll explain why. I further submit that we need to reconsider the question, “why is swearing sinful?”, if, in fact, we believe that it is.

There is a group of words in America that we call “swear words.” I assume that most, if not every language, has a category of words like that. Some people consider any word in that category to be more sinful than others. My question is, can we find Biblical support for the idea that some words are more sinful than others?

The Bible has a lot to say about words in general. Here are two verses:

Ephesians 4.29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Colossians 3.8: “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”

Jesus said that the reason that corrupting and obscene talk is wrong is because “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12.34).” In other words, if your words are corrupt and obscene, they are, at least to some degree, a reflection of the corruption and obscenity in your heart (which exists in smaller and ever-waning degrees if you’re trusting Christ).

The only words that the Bible says are “more evil” than others are those that take the LORD’s name in vain. One of the Ten Commandments addresses that. That is because the greatest offense is one that directly profanes the name and character of God. Even that can be done in a number of ways, but the commandment refers specifically to our words. Yes, “obscene talk” and “crude joking” and “corrupting talk” are Biblical categories, but the Bible doesn’t put words in those categories for us. I believe that countless words and phrases could be put in those categories, depending on how they were being used.

See, the Biblical word on our words is that what really matters is the heart behind them. In other words, what makes swearing sinful is not the word itself, but its intended meaning by the speaker. That means that words that don’t fit into the traditional category of “swearing” may in fact be just as sinful as those that do.

So, you might ask, is there any reason why I shouldn’t use “swear words”? I think there is, but you should judge for yourself. I’ll just tell you why I don’t use swear words. First, I don’t want to be a stumbling block to anyone. I know what the common definition of swearing is, and the common viewpoint of it, and I don’t want to do it. By swearing, I may give the impression that I think lightly of sin. Secondly, my words are a reflection of my heart, and swearing probably is sinful in almost every case. It’s just not sinful because of the word itself, but because of the heart behind it. If I swear, it is likely because my heart is not in the right place. I want to increasingly desire a pure heart that pours out pure speech.

I wrote this post because I’m concerned that we get so worked up about using specific words, without realizing that the sin is not in the words themselves. Let’s not adopt a “holier than thou” attitude about this. The truth is, each of us speak words every day that we regret, even if we don’t “swear.” Those words remind us that sin remains in our hearts. And they remind us that we need Jesus.

The Bridge

I remember when the I-35 bridge collapsed. Minnesotans, you’ll remember too. It was all over the news.

And I have a confession to make: I was “one of those people” who was hesitant to go over bridges for a while afterwards. Crazy, I know; but I couldn’t shake the thought that even though there was a one-in-a-million chance I’d be on a bridge when it collapsed, it could happen. I had just seen it happen with my own two eyes! Thinking about the possibility of a disaster limited my ability to put all of my faith in the bridge.

While I’m not scared to cross physical bridges anymore, this is analogous for the way I sometimes relate to God.

I struggle with trusting God. A lot. Mainly, I struggle to find assurance of salvation. I think that my walk of faith is a lot like crossing a bridge. If I’m looking around (especially looking down), thinking about how far I would fall if the bridge gave way, or if I tripped off the bridge in a freak accident (ok, now you’re really thinking I’ve lost my marbles :P), I will not be able to cross the bridge with ease. I’ll be tentative and terrified all the way across.

In the same way, the reason I struggle to trust God, and the reason I doubt the genuineness of my faith, is because oftentimes as I’m “crossing the bridge of faith”, I’m trusting in myself. Looking inward and trusting in my own abilities then causes me to look downward, fearing how far I could fall out of the grace of God if I don’t “shape up.” I’m afraid because “I’m not good enough”; thus, I am not confident because “He is enough.” Does that make sense? In the same way that I will not have any fear of crossing bridges if I don’t look around and let my mind wander into fear as I go, trusting completely in the bridge itself, so I will not fear for my eternal security as long as I am not trusting in myself instead of Him as I “walk the bridge of faith.”

So, I ask you: are you feeling inhibited, scared, and vulnerable in your faith? If so, I submit that you’re probably not fully trusting God. Ask Him to give you confidence in His perfect character and promises, and then you can run – perhaps even skip sometimes – across “the bridge”, resting in your Father all the way. He is enough for your every weakness.

Hebrews 6.17-20
When God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Do we over-emphasize our unworthiness?

There is a well-intentioned way to talk about the gospel that may contribute to someone’s incessant unease about whether or not they’re really in Christ. Maybe you’re wondering about that yourself. See, we have often heard about our unworthiness before God… how we don’t deserve His love. That is very true in the sense in which it is usually meant; namely, that you and I don’t bring any righteousness to God on our own. It’s all from Jesus. Left to ourselves, we are unlovable.

True believers become increasingly aware of that. We become increasingly sensitive to our sin and grieving the Holy Spirit. That fear is incredibly important, in its proper place. What people like me have a tendency to do, though, is to stop there, in the midst of that fear. Believers, we need a fresh view of what Jesus did for us, and who we are in Him.

In his book, ‘Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know For Sure You Are Saved’, J.D. Greear makes an insightful observation:

“The basis of God’s forgiveness of [believers] is not mercy, it is justice. Jesus paid the full penalty for our sin; not an ounce of judgment remains. It would be unjust for God to hold the sins of Christians against them any longer, for He would be requiring two penalties for the same sin!”

Did that first sentence make you uncomfortable? Perhaps that’s because you don’t understand (or at least have a tendency to forget) that when Jesus became your propitiation, He gave you all of His righteousness and good standing with God, and did away entirely with your sin. His worthiness now belongs to you.

While it will always remain true that there is no good intrinsically in you and I, it will always remain equally true that God would not be just if He did not love us with the same love with which He loves His own Son, because of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.

That’s why a fear that God will eventually get fed up with us in our sin and withdraw His mercy is unfounded. That fear arises from only looking inside of us. Only when we look to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus can we truly rest in His love for us. We have been shown mercy, yes. And now, because of Jesus, all we get is God’s justice. Tender, loving justice.