Friday, June 10, 2016

My Sin, Not in Part, But the Whole - Caleb Brasher

“My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought.”
This is a strange phrase. Has it ever caught your attention before? In the third stanza of “It is Well,” the hymnist leads with this curious arrangement of words. It always struck me as odd. How can I consider my sin blissful?
Eventually, I learned to look at things in their proper context. I had never connected those lines with the lines that followed: “My sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”
We find this bliss by doing two things: by being honest with ourselves and seeing the depth of our depravity in our sin, and by looking to the cross and seeing the depth of God’s mercy in Christ.
Seeing Our Sin Clearly
As long as we aren’t that bad of sinners, we won’t need that big of a Savior. As Christians, it’s important that we realize that our problem is worse than we thought. Sin has permeated the depths of who we are. We aren’t as bad as we could be, but every faculty we have has been kissed by this sickness called sin. And when compared to the perfect standard of Christ, we have fallen far short.
Since we know our own thoughts and motives, we can say honestly with Paul, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).
If we want to savor the sweetness of the gospel, we have to be honest with the horror of our sin. Don’t look at part of your sin or confess half-truths; come to the cross with all of your sin in its entirety.
Seeing Our Savior Clearly
Then we will turn to Jesus. He doesn’t come to save us when we have our lives together. Jesus comes and exposes our brokenness. When we are covered in muck and mire, Christ reaches down, picks us up, and calls us his own.
It is here that we recognize our whole sin and that sin is then nailed to the cross. Paul uses this same language in his letter to the church in Colossae,
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13–14)
Christ didn’t come to just forgive our “more respectable” sins. He didn’t absorb the wrath of God on behalf of our “smaller” sins. Instead, he came and has forgiven all of our sins. This is how we are able to be honest with the depth of our sinfulness, because we trust that God will cover us with the depths of his mercy.
In this moment we experience the bliss of sin. The depravity of our sin leads us to our need for a Savior, and the cross shows us our Savior and leads us to worship.
Present Tense Sin
So where is your sin? If you are in Christ, then your entire record of debt has been canceled.
This leads us to a final observation about this classic hymn. The most powerful word in this stanza may be the word “is.” When I sing the song, my natural inclination is to sing it this way: “My sin, not in part but the whole,was nailed to the cross…”
But the hymnist doesn’t say that. Instead he chooses the present tense. This is both purposeful and powerful. By choosing the present tense of the verb, he is drawing out the truth that, while our sin was in fact atoned for in a temporal sense almost 2,000 years ago, in a spiritual sense, the cross is saving us each and every day.
So in a real way, our sin not only was nailed to the cross; our sin is nailed to the cross. This is the confidence we can have no matter what we may have done. For the Christian, our sin has nowhere else to go. It has reached its final destination on the cross.
And this realization leads us to only one conclusion: “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Humility Is Not Always Nice - Jon Bloom

Humble people aren’t always what we think they ought to be. They aren’t always modest, they aren’t always agreeable and submissive, and they aren’t always nice — at least in the ways we proud people think those qualities are supposed to look in humble people.

We do tend to find true humility attractive when we recognize it, but we don’t always recognize it. Sometimes we mistake humility for pride and pride for humility. And truth be told, we don’t always like to be around humble people.

Humble People Don’t Think Much of Themselves

Most of us would agree that humble people don’t think much of themselves. But often what we have in mind is self-deprecation; humble people think of themselves as lowly. And this is true. In view of God’s holiness and their sinfulness, they don’t think more highly of themselves than they ought to think (Romans 12:3). Their healthy, proportionate view of their own depravity causes them to consider others more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3).

But self-deprecation isn’t the primary trait of humility. The primary trait of humble people is that they just don’t think much of themselves — meaning they are not self-preoccupied. They have better, higher, more glorious things to be occupied with.

We can find this trait refreshing because humble people, seeing all things in relation to God, look for and enjoy God’s glory in all that he has made (Romans 1:20). This allows them to most fully enjoy what God has made — including us. When we’re with them they often help us do the same thing. And few things are as wonderfully refreshing as forgetting ourselves for a while because we’re absorbed in something more glorious.

But we can also find this trait convicting because it exposes our self-obsession. We are so used to people (especially ourselves) being self-conscious and self-centered that when we’re with people who aren’t, our own pride stands in stark contrast.

Humble People Prefer Windows to Mirrors

Not thinking much of themselves (in both senses) means that humble people prefer windows to mirrors. Desiring to see the glory of God in everything frees them from needing to see how everything else reflects on them.

Humble people view other people as God’s marvelous image-bearers, windows to God’s glory, not as mirrors that enhance or diminish their own self-image. But this also means they aren’t absorbed by how others view them. So they aren’t worried about reading the “right” books, seeing the “right” movies, listening to the “right” music, living in the “right” home, having the “right” job, being seen with the “right” people, etc. That’s a mirror mindset. They view these things as windows to see and savor God’s glory.

Humble People Are Authentically Counter-Cultural

This makes humble people authentically counter-cultural. A culture comprised of pride-infected people produces a lot of pressure for people to conform to cultural expectations. Even much that poses as non-conformity is really just subcultural conformity — an attempt to fit into some subgroup.

Humble people are unusually unaffected by this pressure to conform. They can be hard to categorize because they often don’t fit neatly into any cultural mold. They tend to eschew using trendy fashions or interests or social media as means of personal branding. They have preferences about those things, but they hold those preferences as ways of enjoying God’s manifold goodness rather than image-enhancers.

And it’s this lack of self-preoccupation that really runs counter to the cultures or subcultures that humble people live in. This deficit of self-importance usually isn’t considered cool by cultural cool-definers. It makes humble people odd.

Humble People Are Offensive

One of the things that can surprise us about truly humble people, which can sometimes be mistaken for pride, is that they can be quite offensive. Humble people, being without guile, say it like it is. And saying it like it is can sting, and even sound condemning.

Jesus could fling some zingers. He called religious leaders a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34) and sons of the devil (John 8:44), and he called the crowd and even his own disciples a “faithless and twisted generation” (Matthew 17:17). Humble Paul publicly rebuked Peter (Galatians 2:11-14) and told the Galatians they were “foolish” (Galatians 3:1). These weren’t “nice” things to say. Humble people don’t always say nice things. They say honest things that can have sharp edges and wound. Because of this they can be accused of pride.

But there is a qualitative difference between the offensiveness of the proud and the offensiveness of the humble. The proud offend to exalt or defend themselves and control or manipulate others. The humble offend in order to advance the truth for the glory of God and ultimate good of others. Humble offensiveness may not be popular, but it’s always loving.

King David knew this, which is why he wrote, “Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head” (Psalm 141:5). His son Solomon also knew this and wrote, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6). Humility can wound and pride can kiss. Kisses may feel better than wounds — at first. But later, the wounds foster health and the kisses corruption.

Walk Humbly

That’s why humble people aren’t always what we think they ought to be. They are disagreeable when truth must be valued over relational harmony. They are un-submissive when conformity mars God’s glory. And their company can be unpleasant, even undesired, when their wounding words are kinder than selfish flattery or silence.

And this is the kind of people God is calling us to be, people who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with him (Micah 6:8). He wants us to be absorbed in things more glorious than ourselves (Philippians 4:8), to prefer windows to mirrors (Philippians 2:3), to live counter to every culture we live in (Hebrews 11:13), and, when love requires it and it would give grace to those who hear, to be humbly offensive (Ephesians 4:29).

To be humble people requires much grace. But the good news is that God is able to make this grace abound to us (2 Corinthians 9:8), and he offers it to us if we will receive it (James 4:6). @ 2016 Desiring God

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Come, All Who Are Weary - Jon Bloom

Deep soul weariness: We all experience it, though in different ways and for different reasons.
Sometimes we can point to a significant factor, but often we can’t. Our weariness results from the cumulative, multilayered intersections of life’s complexities, bodily frailties, emotional heartbreaks, and the consequences of sin. It surpasses understanding.
Because our burdens are not simple, they are not relieved by simplistic platitudes (“Cheer up! Things are bound to turn around!”). But a simple promise can relieve a complex burden, provided we believe that the power behind the promise is complex and strong enough to relieve our heaviness.
And into our weariness steps the most complex power in existence speaking a promise as simple, hopeful, and refreshing as we could possibly want:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)
Come to Me
The simplicity of Jesus’s promise is both striking and refreshing. Jesus doesn’t offer us a four-fold path to peace-giving enlightenment, like the Buddha did. He doesn’t give us five pillars of peace through submission as Islam does. Nor does he give us “10 Ways to Relieve Your Weariness,” which we pragmatic, self-help-oriented 21st century Americans are so drawn to. Unique to anyone else in human history, Jesus simply offers himself as the universal solution to all that burdens us.
And his simple promise is audacious: “Come to me.” The only way that this isn’t megalomaniacal lunacy is if Jesus is who he claims to be: the eternal Word made flesh, our Creator (John 1:1–314John 8:58Hebrews 1:1–3). His simple promise implies a power behind it more than sufficient to lift what weighs us down.
What does coming to Jesus mean? When we read the context of this promise (Matthew 11–12), his meaning becomes clear. In his rebuke of the cities (Matthew 11:20–24) and religious leaders (Matthew 12:1–8) that saw firsthand his miraculous works, so clearly demonstrating who he was (John 5:36), and still refused to believe in him, we know that when Jesus said, “come to me,” he meant, “believe in who I claim to be and therefore what I am able to do for you.”
And here is where our burdened souls are tested. Will we believe in him; will we trust him? We want to rest our souls on the knowledge of how and when our burdensome problems will be addressed. But Jesus does not provide those details. He simply promises us that they will be addressed.
Jesus does not want our souls resting on the how and when, as if we are wise enough to understand and determine them. Rather he wants our souls resting on the surety that he will keep his promise to us in the best way at the best time. “Come to me,” he says, “cast your anxieties on me for I care for you” (see 1 Peter 5:7). “Trust in me with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding” (see Proverbs 3:5), he says, “and you will find rest for your souls.”
Rest for Your Souls
Our souls only find rest in hope. That’s what we’re frantically looking for whenever our souls are burdened and restless: hope. And that’s what most of the marketing of most of the products in the world tries to offer us: hope. But they are false hopes for soul-rest, providing only temporary distraction from or briefly masking the effects of our burdened souls. They don’t truly lighten our loads.
No, our burdened souls only truly find rest in one place:
     For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, 
          for my hope is from him. 
     He only is my rock and my salvation, 
          my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 
     On God rests my salvation and my glory; 
          my mighty rock, my refuge is God. (Psalm 62:5-7
Jesus knows that he only is our salvation, our fortress, our mighty rock, our refuge. He is the one answer to every question, concern, fear, and need we will ever have. And so he simply and comprehensively offers us himself. For our hope is from him. Only in him will we find rest for our souls.
Take My Yoke and Learn from Me
But if what he promises us is rest, why does he tell us to put on his yoke? A yoke is placed on a beast of burden in order to do some work. Is Jesus offering us rest or work?
That is precisely the question Jesus wants us to ask: What work must we do for him that supposedly will give us rest?
Jesus answered this question in John 6:29: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” And he answered it in John 15:4: “Abide in me” (like a branch in a vine). Believe and abide: that really is all the work God requires of us. Faith (believing and abiding) is resting on the hopeful promises of God. That is the yoke Jesus calls us to put on.
And what is happening here is a yoke-exchange. In the cross, Jesus takes our inconceivably and unbearably heavy yoke of sin’s condemnation and penalty, and offers us in exchange the easy yoke and light burden of simply trusting him. He does all the work and gives us all the rest. And his work not only fully addresses our sin problem, but also provides the supply of every other need we will ever have (Philippians 4:19). All we are required to do is trust him!
And if that wasn’t enough, in becoming human and dwelling among us, Jesus makes it possible for us to learn from him how to live by faith. That’s why the author of Hebrews tell us to,
[look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
Believe, abide, and follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21). That’s the light yoke Jesus calls us to put on. It is the only yoke in existence that gives us rest for our souls.
Let’s Come to Jesus Together
Jesus’s great invitation for us to come to him, exchange yokes, and find rest is not intended for us to do in isolation. He intends for us to come to him in community, to come together. That’s one massive reason the church exists.
We all bear burdens and become weary, but in different ways, for different reasons, and often at different times. When we are weary, we are easily discouraged and can be given to cynical unbelief. In those moments we are often not the best preachers for our souls. We need others to speak truth to us and help us believe in Jesus.
That’s why we are not to neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some, but [to keep on] encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:25). We are to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
So if you are weary, for whatever reason, however complex, Jesus invites you to come. Come, take his light yoke of believing in him. And if it’s hard, don’t come alone. Come to Jesus with and through a believing friend. Believe, abide, and follow Jesus’s example. And you will find rest for your soul.

The Power of our Tameless Tongue

James 3:1-12                  May 8, 2016                  Link for audio/video/manuscript

The tongue not only has the power to direct and guide but also destroy because it is deceptively inconsistent, as the tongue also has the power to bless and to curse from the same mouth. Sin has twisted and polluted our speech, but God began his work of a new creation in us when we come to a living faith in Jesus Christ. Even though we still live in a world marred by sin, we can have victory over our tongues when we surrender our tongues to God for His use and yield the control of our tongues to the Holy Spirit – which will then empower us to use our tongues to bless God and to bless one another and to bless those who have yet to know Jesus!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Faith Without Favor

James 2:1-13                   April 17, 2016            Link for audio/video/manuscript 

Favoritism is not compatible with a living faith in Jesus Christ because living faith in Jesus Christ is rooted in the character of God, a God who does not show partiality” towards anyone. How we treat people reveals the motives of our hearts; in all cases of judging the differences between people, the standard we use in measuring them is the standard of ourselves. We will only pass the preference test that our living faith in Jesus Christ is real when we treat all people in light of God’s purposes in that God is to always be exalted in and over and above all things that happen to us in life. May we live out a living faith with no other favor than to show mercy to others!

Monday, April 11, 2016

The True Test of Faith

James 1:1-18            April 3, 2016          Link for audio/video/manuscript

The true test of faith is the test of whether we will joyfully embrace all of the trials, struggles and adversities that God brings/sends/allows into our lives as good gifts from God - a God who is good, unchanging, and sovereign over all things - in order to give stability to our faith and to build up faith so might live out a living faith, through the in-working of God’s Spirit, which is the perfecting work of God within us, which will not only bless us with His power, presence and preeminence as we go through trials, struggles and adversities - but will also reward us with the crown of life in heaven.

Pride Doesn’t Always Parade - Marshall Segal

He forfeited his life for gathering a few sticks.
It’s a stumbling block buried in the book of Numbers. God has saved his people from slavery, and walked them into the wilderness for what will prove to be a forty-year journey to their promised land. And “while the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day” (Numbers 15:32). Doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? Enough of us have picked up sticks after a big storm, probably during the weekend (maybe even on a Sunday). So what happens next?
And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Numbers 15:33–36)
They put him to death over some yardwork?
Why? Because Moses said, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do. Six days work shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire in all your dwelling places on the Sabbath day.” (Exodus 35:1–3, see alsoExodus 20:8–9)
If Moses ended at verse two, it might have been unclear whether picking up sticks fell under “work,” but Moses didn’t stop there. It’s almost as if God had this nameless man in mind when he told them about the Sabbath. Yes, that means even gathering some wood to make a fire. And he was also crystal clear about the appropriate punishment: death.
Sticks and Stones
Someone might say this particular man wasn’t listening well or just didn’t understand exactly what Moses meant by “work.” It seems like a tragedy that he had to die over building a fire. But the previous ten verses bring this fatal incident into high definition for us.
Moses writes,
“But if you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments that the LORD has spoken to Moses, . . . all the congregation shall offer one bull from the herd for a burnt offering, a pleasing aroma to the LORD. . . . And the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the people of Israel, and they shall be forgiven, because it was a mistake.” (Numbers 15:2224–25)
Nobody was meant to die over honest mistakes. But people would be executed over deliberate crimes against God. The men and women who were executed had heard from God, understood what he said, and decided they knew better. When that man grabbed his first stick, he had defiance coursing through his veins, not innocence. It wasn’t a mistake. The man played the part of Adam and Eve in that first mutiny against God.
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)
So what happens to those who intentionally disregard God and his word?
“The person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.” (Numbers 15:30–31)
And the very next verse reads, “While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day” (Numbers 15:32). The Man with the High Hand. Sinning “with a high hand” means you know what you’re doing. You know what God thinks, what he loves, what he says, and you decide you know better than him. The sin — large or small — is a middle finger to the Almighty.
The man wasn’t stoned to death because he misunderstood the commandment, or the punishment. He misjudged God, and put him to the test. He waved those sticks in God’s face, as it were, inviting God to prove him wrong — an ancient pride parade.
Hands Held High
Why does Moses tell this story here? Because he wanted to explain the difference between unintentionally dismissing God and intentionally opposing him. But why teach us about that here? Because at this point in their journey, Israel was a crowd of high hands — like sixty thousand at a U2 concert.
In Numbers 11, the people “complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes” (11:1), specifically about their diet (11:4–6). God brought “a very great plague” against them (11:33). In Numbers 12, Miriam and Aaron oppose God’s messenger Moses (12:1), and so God gave Miriam leprosy (12:10). In Numbers 13, God sends men to spy out the promised land — the promised land — and they came back afraid, insecure, and unwilling to go in (13:31–32). The congregation threatens to stone Moses and Aaron (14:10). In Numbers 14, God condemns this generation to wander in the wilderness for forty years (14:22), and wipes out the terrified spies (14:36–37). And then Israel decides, against God’s will, that they want to go into Canaan now (14:40), and so they are devastated in battle and driven back (14:45). After all of that rebellion, we come to Numbers 15, with Moses’s sermon about unintentional and intentional sins, and then there’s the man with the high hand. And what comes next? In Numbers 16, 250 leaders rise up against Moses (16:1–2), and are utterly destroyed by God (16:32–35).
Moses wanted to make a point about the Sabbath in Numbers 15:32–36, but more than that, he was preaching to future generations about the danger of pride — of disrespecting God, even in the smallest things, with a high hand, of thinking we know better than God. In case we were ever tempted to try and compare ourselves with the rebellious group of complainers responsible for the golden calf, and think better of ourselves for our relatively minor sins, we see the awful offense of pride in every form, even in a man alone with his sticks.
Pride Always Knows Best
The man didn’t grumble out loud to Moses and Aaron (Numbers 14:2), or bring his mistress to church with him (Numbers 25:6), or build a statue to worship (Exodus 32:4). He doesn’t seem to make a scene (“they found a man . . .”). But he quietly exchanged God for his house project. He chose his own work over God’s word. And the offense against God was as real as any golden calf.
That’s how pride works. It rejects God’s wisdom. It refuses to listen, or to wait. It insists on its own terms. It listens to God with one ear while looking around for something else to see or something else to do. It can appear polite, even charming (why we might immediately sympathize with a man like this), but beneath the surface it’s seething and plotting.
Pride may hide itself well, but it shows up in all kinds of places, whether with sticks, or emails, or chores at home. It might gather sticks when God says to rest, and it might leave them on the ground when God says to work. The evil is not in the doing or the not doing, but in the “high hand,” in raising an arrogant hand against God — in deciding we know better than him.
That kind of pride might seem safe in small things, but pride is never safe. Do you feel the need to do a little more on your terms, rather than God’s — to work more hours than he gives, to clean that room more times than needed, to always immediately move on to the next thing — not because you really need to, but because you want to? We love the warmth of being noticed and affirmed for our work. We love being in control. Some of us love getting things done just a little too much. We refuse to listen, to wait, to rest.
Faith works, but not on its own (Philippians 2:13). Not in its own strength (1 Peter 4:11). We work and rest in reliance on God — trusting his wisdom, obeying his word, battling our pride, and surrendering our way. Pride picks up sticks when God says to rest. Faith waits for the Lord, “more than watchmen for the morning” (Psalm 130:6). Faith puts on humility, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Faith trusts in his good, wise, and loving plan, even when it isn’t the plan we would have chosen for ourselves.

A Resurrection Change of Heart

Luke 24:13-35            March 27, 2016          Link for audio/video/manuscript

When Jesus intrudes into our lives and intervenes in our thoughts and sends conviction into our spirits, it is for the purpose of changing us - and in the process He reveals things that are hidden and uncomfortable as He encroaches deeply into our conscience, and invades the private areas of our hearts, souls and lives. Today we know that Jesus has risen from the dead! And he is walking with us, listening to us and, if we are willing to hear his voice and willing to listen to his voice, speaking God’s truth into our lives – so we might know a change of heart and your affections so you might eat of the bread of life and never hunger; and drink of the living water and never thirst; and live with and for the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ forever

A Place of Peace and Power: Welcome to the Hill of Crosses

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19-20

Seeking God Through the Spirit-Filled Life

Galatians 5:16               March 13, 2016             Link for audio/video/manuscript

Being a Christian is living out an authentic walk with Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit-filled life begins when there is real intimacy with God, which then leads to real intimacy with one another, as we live out authentic loving, joy-filled, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, self-controlled relationships with one another. The Spirit-empowered life that draws us into a deeper intimacy with God is a life that seeks the power of God through the Word of God – and humbly dies to self, in order to bear the fruit of God’s Spirit.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Marital Intimacy Is More Than Sex - Josh Squires

“We just don’t feel connected.” Both of them felt the same way. Somewhere in the timeline of their relationship they had begun to drift apart and now they felt as if they were living lives that were running on a parallel track rather than living lives intimately connected. But how do you solve the problem of “connectedness”?
Usually when people begin to feel disconnected from one another, the root issue of the problem is intimacy. There are a number of reasons that intimacy may decline. Some of them are subtle, yet insidious, like the ever-increasing busyness of family life. Other reasons are overt and intentional like trying to use the lack of intimacy as payback. Whatever the reason, once intimacy begins to wane it can become hard to get back on track. One of the keys to reconnecting is understanding that intimacy is a multi-faceted thing. In fact, there are five different types of intimacy and it is when we keep all five functioning can we have marriages that feel profoundly connected.
1. Spiritual Intimacy
The first — and most foundational — type of intimacy is spiritual intimacy. Spiritual intimacy can be seen as the hub from which all other intimacy types protrude. If spiritual intimacy is high, then the other types of intimacy, though they will have seasons of greater or lesser intensity, will have a certain level of natural resiliency. Spiritual intimacy comes from being in the word together, praying for one another, and worshiping together. The Word of God is the nourishment of our souls (Matthew 4:4;Deuteronomy 8:3). When we are on the same spiritual diet, we can expect to grow in similar ways and therefore grow together — not separately.
The old adage that the family that prays together stays together, while not infallible, is generally true. At the same time this doesn’t just mean praying in each other’s presence but actually making each other a central part of your prayers privately (and not just asking the Lord to fix all the things that annoy you about your spouse). Worship is an incredibly intimate act that knits the souls of the Lord’s people closer to each other and himself. There are legitimate reasons that spouses may not be worshiping next to each other (helping out with nurseries or choir, etc.), but if connectedness is an issue, it may be time to put those activities aside for a season while you focus on the spiritual intimacy between you and your spouse.
2. Recreational Intimacy
The second type of intimacy is recreational intimacy. Recreational intimacy is the bond that is created and strengthened by doing activities together. These activities can range vastly from the mild (doing a crossword together) to the extreme (hang-gliding), but it is the mutual enjoyment of them that fuels a couple’s connection. This sort of intimacy tends to be its highest early in the relationship when both partners are willing to do and try things outside of their comfort zone just to have the opportunity to be in each other’s presence. As presence becomes more the norm than the exception, motivation to be engaged in activities that are uninteresting to one partner may dwindle. Furthermore, as life gets more complicated with jobs, kids, house, and much more, the opportunities to engage in recreational activity plummet and the cost can skyrocket. Nonetheless, God has made us to be those who enjoy life’s activities — especially with our spouses (Ecclesiastes 9:9) — and our marriages need the ability to laugh and play together if they are to endure the times of tears and toil.
3. Intellectual Intimacy
The third type of intimacy is intellectual intimacy. Intellectual intimacy is the activity of connecting to one another by discussing certain issues. The topics can be lighthearted (favorite movie) or incredibly serious (politics) but the cord of relationship is reinforced when you go about the business of mentally exercising with your spouse. Similar to recreational intimacy, intellectual intimacy tends to be at its highest at the beginning of a relationship.
Oftentimes it’s because the couple is still getting to know each other and how they think on various topics. As time passes, couples often assume they know how their spouse thinks on nearly every issue and they cease to be explorers of each other’s intellectual worlds. While a spouse can often predict generally what the other will think on a particular issue, it is the details that matter. No matter how many times a couple has discussed an issue, there is almost always some piece that is new and can be explored. And the rewards for doing so are well worth it.
4. Physical Intimacy
The fourth type of intimacy is physical intimacy. Physical intimacy is the domain most people think of when they hear the word “intimate.” This includes but is not limited to sexual activity. There is also non-sexual physical intimacy such as holding hands, cuddling on the couch or a hug. Sometimes non-sexual physical intimacy (cuddling) can lead to something more amorous (sexual activity) but it doesn’t always have to — and in fact, this is one of the biggest complaints for women.
Men often take any physical intimacy as a sign that women want sexual intimacy, when sometimes the truth is they just need to cuddle. Still, of all the types of intimacy, this one pays the biggest dividends for men. When asked to rank how close they feel to their spouse, men typically feel the most connected when physical intimacy (and especially sexual physical intimacy) is highest. This is no surprise to the Christian as God instructs man to delight in these activities with his wife (Proverbs 5:18–19).
5. Emotional Intimacy
The fifth type of intimacy is emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy is the sharing of one’s own experiences with another. Men especially have a hard time with this distinction over and above that of intellectual intimacy; however, one (intellectual intimacy) discusses topics and is usually dominated by thoughts, whereas the other (emotional intimacy) discusses experience and is usually dominated by emotion. Men also generally have a much more limited emotional vocabulary and tend to be less comfortable with emotionally laden speech. Therefore, men often misunderstand their spouses when they speak, thinking that what they want is an exchange of ideas when what she really wants is someone to identify with her feelings.
Regardless of any limitations, men are called to shepherd their wives’ hearts just as much as women are called to shepherd their husband’s sexuality. Just as men feel most connected when physical intimacy is highest, women generally feel most connected when emotional intimacy is highest. There is a reason that the first thing Adam does when he sees Eve is not get her into bed but utters the world’s first love poem (Genesis 2:23).
Cycles of Intimacy vs. Cycles of Isolation
Now here’s the tricky part: When men feel disconnected they often try to get physical intimacy via the route of recreational intimacy (let’s do something fun together and maybe we will end up in bed together); whereas women, when they feel disconnected, often try to get emotional intimacy via the route of intellectual intimacy (let’s talk about something and maybe we will end up sharing our feelings). Both spouses feel the disconnection but are trying to solve the problem in opposite ways. Further complicating the matter, men often do not feel like talking or sharing their emotions if they do not feel physically intimate. And women often do not want physical intimacy if they do not feel emotionally intimate.
Here couples can easily find themselves in cycles of isolation, more and more demanding that their own intimacy needs be met before they are willing to meet their spouse’s. This is where the Christian commitment to love one another, even when it hurts (John 13:34–35Galatians 5:136:2Ephesians 4:2321 Peter 4:8–10), can help the couple move from cycles of isolation to cycles of intimacy as they lovingly put each other’s needs before their own.

Shepherding your spouse in these areas, even when we feel out of touch ourselves, is the key to feeling this sort of genuine robust connection. This type of connection does more than give us warm and fuzzy feelings for a moment. It helps ground us in the intimate love of the one in whom our connection is eternal and unfailing: God himself.

Seeking God Through Sexual Purity

1 Thessalonians 4:3                 March 6, 2016            Link for audio/video/manuscript

God has called us to holiness. He has given us His Holy Spirit so we might pursue spiritual maturity in God, sexual purity in marriage, and relational purity with one another. There can never be intimacy between one human being and another human being unless there is real intimacy with God first. Our desire for physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy is a reflection of our God-created purpose - but our distant fall in the Garden has shamefully poisoned those desires today. But God sent his son Jesus into the world to die in our place for our sin on a cross, so we might be forgiven and set free from the corruption of our desires.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Rest in the Prince of Peace - Jon Bloom

I remember singing this old hymn in church when I was growing up:
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.
As a kid, I didn’t think very much about the words. Now I’m thinking a lot about them. They make a huge claim. And if true, they make a huge claim on us.
But are they true? Or are they just naive, simplistic Christian cliché? Do they hold up under the real world weight of complex pain we suffer in the varied afflictions we endure?
All Because We Do Not
To test its truthfulness, we need to peal back the poetic skin and see if it has a Scriptural skeletal structure. And as it turns out, it does:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7)
God’s amazing promise to us through Paul is the power behind the hymn’s simple poetry.
And the promise really is amazing! We must not let the familiarity of these verses make us dull to their edge. God is promising us peace in everything and freedom from controlling anxiety! Peace is ours for the taking.
So if we don’t have the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds, it’s all because we do not . . . do something God calls us to do.
Carry Everything to God in Prayer
The wonderful thing is that what God calls us to do is easy! His is an easy yoke, a light burden (Matthew 11:30). He’s calling us to pray.
And what is prayer? Prayer is asking our generous heavenly Father for whatever it is we wish (Luke 11:13John 15:7), trusting that he will answer with whatever we need (Luke 11:10;Philippians 4:19). It is casting our anxieties on him, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
But the only problem with bearing this easy yoke of asking God in faith for what we need is that we often find it hard. And what we find hard about praying is believing God — believing that it’s making any real difference.
Prayer is the native language of faith. That’s why a soul full of trust in God finds prayer almost effortless. But a soul full of doubt finds prayer a heavy burden. Prayerlessness is the muteness of unbelief.
An accurate gauge of our level of faith is how and how much we pray. A growing prayerful dependence on God is evidence of our growing spiritual maturity. And the more we pray in faith in everything, the more we experience the peace of God.
The Secret to Prayerful Dependence: Resting on the Faithful One
Why do we find faith so frequently difficult and therefore prayer such a labor? And what is the secret to realizing the promised peace Paul wrote about and experiencing what it means to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)?
Hudson Taylor, the great 19th century missionary to China, struggled with this very issue. Here’s how he described his struggle:
I strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Saviour, my guilt and helplessness seemed to increase. Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at His word, but rather made Him a liar! Unbelief was, I felt, the damning sin of the world; yet I indulged in it. I prayed for faith, but it came not. What was I to do?
Then he experienced a breakthrough that changed his life:
When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from [his missionary colleague, John] McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never know it before. McCarthy, who had been much exercised by the same sense of failure but saw the light before I did, wrote: “But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.” As I read, I saw it all! “If we believe not, he abideth faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, “I will never leave thee.” “Ah, there is rest!” I thought. “I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I’ll strive no more.” (Spiritual Secret, 261)
The key for Taylor was that he stopped focusing on trying to exercise more faith and instead he looked to Jesus, “the Faithful One,” as revealed in the written word. While his focus had been on his lack of faith and trying to work it up, he was miserable. But when his focus turned to the fullness of Jesus, he discovered the peace surpassing understanding.
Faith is not a muscle that we need to pump up in order to be strong enough to trust Jesus. Faith is our response to what we perceive as trustworthy. The more trustworthy, solid, stable, dependable, unfailing, and secure something appears to us, the greater our trust or faith in it will be. When our faith is weak, it’s an indicator that our focus is on the wrong thing.
Taylor’s refocusing transformed him. For the rest of his life he was marked by the peace of God and a remarkable freedom from anxiety. It bore up under the real world weight of his excessive labors, financial stress, frequent dangers, disease, the deaths of his wives and children and colleagues — the sort of difficulties that Paul knew (2 Corinthians 11:23–28).
My Peace I Give to You
Jesus came to give us peace — not only a forensic peace with God through his substitutionary atonement for our sins (Romans 5:1), but also a deep, heart and mind-guarding peace in the midst of tribulations (John 16:33).
He said, “my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). It’s ours for the taking. All we need to do is ask in faith in everything. And the faith-key that unlocks the peace that surpasses understanding is seeing him as the Faithful One and resting in his ability to do what he has promised. It is an easy yoke.
Let us not forfeit this peace and bear needless pain. Let us carry everything to God in prayer and trust him fully to provide everything we need (Philippians 4:19). @ 2016 Desiring God

Seeking God Through Forgiveness

Ephesians 4:31-32                February 28, 2016        Link for audio/video/manuscript

When we forgive we are acting according to God's character. Because of His love for us, He forgave us. When we forgive we act with grace, the grace that we have already received from God through Jesus Christ. Jesus did not lose his life at Calvary; he gave it so that we might know the freedom of forgiveness. The greatest blessing we can ever receive is the blessing of both freeing ourselves and those who have hurt us from the burden of sin. Jesus himself told us we are to forgive as we’ve been forgiven. When we chose Christ we also chose to sacrificially love and forgive and he did for us.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Jesus Paid It All - Jonathan Parnell

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4–5)
There is no question who Isaiah is talking about here. This is the suffering servant, God’s Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. And this is one of the clearest passages in all of Scripture about what he has done for us. It is crystal clear, and it is simple.
There are two central ideas in this passage worth seeing as you prepare your heart to worship this weekend:
  • First, Isaiah shows us what Jesus has done;
  • Second, Isaiah shows us that what Jesus has done has been done for us.
Isaiah tells us that he has borne grief and carried sorrow. He was pierced for transgressions, even crushed. He was punished. He was wounded. To be sure, there is a lot happening here. A lot of terrible things — a true curse — are falling on the Messiah. Jesus really was the suffering servant. He was absolutely afflicted.
But it’s not just that Jesus bore grief, or that he was pierced or crushed or wounded. It’s that he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, that he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds we are healed.
Jesus Paid It All for You
We should beware of distancing ourselves from these words, of assuming that we are far removed from their relevance in our twenty-first-century world. Instead, we are beckoned to draw near, to hear the Savior say to us, again, through the description of his ancient pains,
Child of weakness, watch and pray.
Find in me your all in all.
Your all in all, Jesus might say. Your only hope. Which means, to bring it home a little more, Isaiah 53 is for you. Can you feel the weight of these words? Do you sense the wonder of what Jesus has done for you?
Jesus has borne your grief. Your sorrows are the ones he carried. Your transgressions — all your sins — were the ones that pierced him, the ones for which he paid. For you. He was crushed, viciously slaughtered, for your iniquities. It was a slaughter you deserved — a punishment reserved for you — that he took upon himself, in your place, so that you get peace. By his wounds you have been healed.
Jesus has died, and he has died for you. The stain of sin that marred your life has now been washed white as snow. He has paid your debts. All of them. Jesus has paid it all. He has paid it all.
Praise the One Who Paid Our Debt
And so what do we do?
We trust him. We look forward to that day when we will stand before his throne, repeating the wonder that he died to save our souls. Yes, we will trust him today, and forsake the foolish pursuits that used to consume our lives. We will stop condemning ourselves for past sins. We will relinquish the shame we’ve harbored for so long and we will abandon our self-absorbed efforts to make ourselves worthy. We will turn from our sin, we will trust him, and we will sing. We will sing and,
Praise the One who paid our debt,
And raised our lives up from the dead.
Yes, we will sing, both now and forever. @ 2016 Desiring God