love to wrestle – wrestle to love

People love to wrestle.

They just do. Sure, it doesn’t always involve mud, sumos or fake punches (W.W.F.), but people like to engage one another. Games like arm-wrestling, mercy and tug-of-war show that we like to test our strength against that of an opponent.

Things like talk-shows (with their intentionally explosive topics), newspaper opinion columns, web-site battles, negative book reviews and many more examples show that such wrestling often takes place on the battlefield of ideas. Some, when they hear or read an idea that they disagree with, they are compelled to corrective action, as if driven by an unseen force that motivates them to set the wrong to the right. Even people who don’t like to argue will engage in some passionate sharing from time to time. This testing, trading and exchanging of ideas seems to be ingrained into our very humanity.

I think this ‘wrestling’ is a healthy, beneficial and necessary practice for Christians to embrace. But in our 21st century, western, comfortable church communities, there’s a problem…

We’re horrible at it.

We avoid conflict. We avoid uncomfortable subjects. We avoid wrestling. We let things grow and fester until an issue that would have been merely uncomfortable becomes one that is seen as hopelessly unbearable. Often, issues that need resolving are never dealt with, and if/when we finally do deal with it, our relationships are often never the same or so severed that they seem beyond repair.

I’m convinced that communities that wrestle are much more likely to be communities that can foster lasting unity. Somehow, we seem to all expect unity to happen though avoidance, sugar-coating and/or positivism. I don’t see how it can happen that way.

Unity must be grown, maintained and fought for. Certainly this is evident in the Scriptures. Whether it was Moses disciplining the Israelites, one of the many Hebrew prophets calling the people of God back to true worship, Jesus rebuking the disciples and Pharisees, or Paul exhorting the new covenant communities back to their identity in Christ, the struggle for unity is evident.

I find the Apostle Paul to be a shining example in how he protects the unity of the various communities he addresses. First, we can recognise that Paul was probably not writing to these churches because he had nothing better to do, but because there were existing issues that compelled him to write. Second, we can observe how he responded to the various issues that he was confronted with. In Romans 14, he doesn’t take sides, but points both the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ back to an ethic of sacrifice on the behalf of the other (v.14-21 in particular). Consistently, however, Paul becomes incensed any and every time an additional burden is placed on the churches – particularly the Gentile converts (Gal. 5:1-12 and Phil. 3:1-3). Paul didn’t even hesitate to name names and even challenges his co-Apostles (Gal. 2:11, 13; 2 Tim. 4:14)!

Whether we like it or not, it seems we – all of us, not just pastors, elders or other church leaders – have a responsibility to know our faith and protect the unity of it. To submit to this calling is to be willing to both give and receive correction – to sharpen and be sharpened – to bounce ideas off each other – to allow others to think differently – to challenge and be challenged – indeed, to wrestle.

This powerful, unique, simple and foundational unity is worth the effort it takes to protect it. How we go about this is paramount. Our protection of unity must not be characterised by control. Unity is not unity if it is forced. This means we must allow people to discuss, question and explore ideas other than our own (which are often actually the ideas of others that we’ve embraced or been taught).

One misconception I perceive is that we confuse unity with uniformity. Neither Jesus, nor Paul seem interested in everyone being the same in every way (Mark 9:40; Romans 14:5; 1 Cor. 6:12, 7:6-9), however, both are uncompromisingly steadfast concerning the truth of the Gospel (Matt. 10:32-39; 1 Cor. 15:16-17; Eph. 4:4-6).

For the Church, there are many hard and difficult conversations to be had. Many long-standing and long-questioned doctrines and/or traditions are being reviewed (although some of these doctrines and/or traditions may not be as long-standing as we think). Voices that have been silenced and controlled by church leaders throughout the centuries are finding ways of being heard. The Internet alone has provided instant messaging, chat-rooms, web-logs and post-threads where people can find long-desired wrestling partners, and ask the questions they were either never allowed to ask, or were given short, insufficient, simplistic, careless answers to. This is both liberating and scary.

As we head deeper into the 21st century, many challenges await us. With these challenges comes the need for discernment. A balance between the evil of forcing or assimilating people to accept our ideas (are we not falliable?) and the greater evil of teaching that all ideas are equal. It is my suspicion that the more we force ideas on people, the more they will wriggle out from under our the control we think we have of them. However, the more we let them test and embrace ideas on their own, the more they will commit to (and share) those ideas.

While the future may look bleak, perhaps we should remember that we are not the first generation that has faced such challenges. False teachers, ‘super-apostles’ and ‘other gospels’ were no stranger to Paul and the Apostles, and they seem to have not gone away since.

Jacob (Israel), wrestled with God (Genesis 35:10), and the people that took his name (Israel) also took on his example. In my Judaism class, the rabbi shared how Jewish communities were and still are marked by their culture of ‘wrestling’ with God and each other over their Scriptures, yeilding a beautiful culture of learning and growth.

Finally, I suggest that a culture of wrestling will help us to keep small problems small, help us to maintain a sharpening, strengthening and growing ethic in our communities and help us deal with the challenges that the future has for the Church.

So wrestle well, and wrestle with love.

give suffering a hug

Check out this selection of verses from the Bible…

“Though He (God) slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15a)
“I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth; I suffer Your terrors; I am distraught.” (Psalm 88:15)
“My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tonfue clings to my jaws; You have brought me to the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:15)

(that all of these verses happened to be the 15th in their chapter was not planned!)

God ‘slaying’ Job? Suffering God’s terrors? God bringing David to the ‘dust of death?’ Why the selection of such negative verses?

OK, I admit it. I’ve got an agenda. I’m trying to feature these kinds of passages in the Bible to make a point. What point is that?

I’ve been observing more and more a theme that seems to run right through the entire biblical narrative. I’ve observed that the people of God are marked by the way they embrace and/or accept suffering. Yep. Suffering.

The people of God before Christ suffered under Egyptian control, in the wilderness for 40 years, on the battlefield, during the ongoing and up-and-down cycle of replacement of Judges, as their kingdom was divided, under the oppression of the Babylonians and in the shadow of the Roman Empire (even though they were ‘home’ in Jerusalem). The church also suffered. The apostles and many others suffered beatings, oppression, imprisonment and eventually death for the cause of the advancement of the Gospel. I agree with many others who are convinced that the best thing for both the health and growth of the church is persecution. Indeed, one of the worst things to happen to the church might have been when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire in the 4th century.

I am convinced that the suffering of the people of God is an important characteristic for us to understand and consider in light of our surroundings. Do we embrace suffering like those that have gone before us? Do we (in our comfortable, western, affluent environment) really have the slightest idea what real suffering is?

Guess where the church is growing? Where it is suffering. Guess where the church is arguing about how to do church services, which are the best programmes and what are the right leadership structures? Where it is comfortable. I don’t think that is a coincidence.

In the midst of battle, you don’t need to know the rank, status and position of the person who is watching your back, you just want to know that someone – anyone – is watching your back! As a critically ill patient in a hospital, you don’t care about the color of the wallpaper or the style of the physicians garments, you just want to know that someone will give you the medical attention you desperately need! Tough times certainly have a way of helping us (maybe forcing us?) to have better priorities!

It’s interesting how we pick and choose our favourite Bible verses, and how those verses differ from the verses of those in ‘developing’ countries. As Rich Mullins said, “They underline different parts of their Bibles. We’re all excited about being born again, and they are excited about selling their possessions and giving to the poor.” Maybe instead of assuming we have all the right church-ways, we should ask them about church?

Here’s a startling statistic from Don Fleming’s booklet Catching The Fire, “By 1960 the number of Christians in the non-Western world had reached 32% and by 1970 was about 36%. But throught the seventies and since, the growth has been extraordinary. By 1980 the figure had grown to 50%, by 1990 it was 66% and by 2000 it had reached 75%… Today, possibly 80% of all evangelical believers are in the non-Western world. The sad reality is that most Christians in the West are either unaware of it or have difficulty accepting it.”

Later on, he goes on to discuss how instead of us sending our books, programmes and church-ideas over to them, we should take out our pen and paper and take note of why it’s working over there! “Christians in the West are still buying books, but many of these books have only a tenuous connection with the Bible… What’s more, this dubious material from the West is being pumped into some of the poorer countries, because the Western producers can afford to send it free, knowing that poor people tend to take anything they can get for nothing. The Western church should be learning from the church in the developing world, but instead, it is spreading the West’s disease.”

Coming back to the topic of suffering, Don writes about what he calls our Western exectation of a pain-free life. “We do not know how to deal with suffering – not just illness, but death, war, persecution and poverty – much less how to embrace it in the name of Christ. We know what the Bible teaches about accepting hardship and sharing Christ’s suffering, but in reality most of us secretly feel we have a right to a pain-free life… After the devastating floods of Mozambique in 1999, the response of one local Christian was, ‘We don’t blame God; we trust Him.’ “

I can’t agree more. Our faith seems to only affect what CD’s we buy and which church services we go to. Our comfort and laziness have, as Don suggests, made us “the world’s greatest complainers.”

Where is the Job-like attitude that is reflected in the opening verse, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him.”? Why do we read the Bible looking for verses about ME? History is His story, and it’s primarily not about us! We are not commanded to be successful, efficient or organised. We are commanded to be obedient. Certainly we will grow (and be successful as a by-product) as we reach people – and certainly we don’t need to waste resources (time, money and people) – and certainly dis-order and/or chaos is warned against (1 Cor. 14). But it’s easy to see these things outside the proper perspective, and let them become our goals rather than by-products of our goal.

At any rate, my growing conviction is that it is not the growing, obedient and flourishing church in the developing world that needs our critique or advice, but actually it is the assumptions and traditions of our own comfortable, convenience-infused and selfish churches that need to be fiercely challenged. May we have the integrity to take an honest and humble look at ourselves and even more so may we have the courage to make changes where needed. Corporately and Individually.

creating an honest-ward ethos

‘Dougherty’ was a nice guy.

Aside from chatting about sponsoring a particular charity, our conversation turned to many random things. Campbell clans of Scotland, Life in New Zealand (he was from Ireland), and… human sexuality. He told me about a friend of his that had a pastor who gave him some opinions about sex that were so devoid of coherence that I won’t bother repeating them here. Though I perceived we didn’t see eye-to-eye on human sexuality, I was pleased that our conversation remained peaceful. Talking about human sexuality is controversial enough, but my, how the sparks can fly when you discuss this topic from a faith perspective!

Unfortunately, meaningful dialogue about this issue is nearly impossible. I say it is unfortunate, because I think our understanding, respect, appreciation, and use of sexuality is one of the most important things for us to be talking about. I see a few things that make these needed conversations more difficult:

-Sexuality is often one of the most emotionally charged topics, and therefore one of the most avoided.
-The chasm between opposing viewpoints is not getting any smaller.
-Little or no desire to see the other individuals’ or groups’ perspective is apparent.

Christians are much to blame for this lack of dialogue. Even when motivated by genuine concern, our message can often be received as one of hatred, indifference, self-righteousness, exclusion and arrogance. Indeed, as someone has well said, ‘We are all too often known for what we’re against, than what we’re for.’ We appear to be quite concerned with pointing out flaws in others and not as concerned with being open to such correction from those around us (take a moment to look up the very familiar Matthew 7:1-5 and compare with the less familiar Isaiah 65:5).

If I am to be truly loving, I cannot approve of all behaviour. I do, however, have a growing conviction that so often the way we deal with ‘mis-behaviour’ can actually create a culture which causes people to hide from each other, rather than a culture of honesty, transparency and healing. Another way to say it is to assert that whilst our wounds can’t be dealt with if we ignore them or pretend that we are ‘wound-less’, we also must remember that a ‘wound-hunting’ ethic fosters a ‘wound-hiding’ ethos. In my friendships with others, I am committed to building an ethos of transparency and honesty. If I truly care about my friends, I must not sugar-coat their problems (or put band-aids on their gushing wounds). They must be discussed openly and frankly. This will never happen if my relationships are characterised by formality, pretense and positivism.

I will probably never see Dougherty again, but I hope our conversation can be one step among many in the direction of creating a more honest dialogue between the Church and the world. With God’s help, we can – one person at a time – change the world’s perception of the Church. We can repair the broken and shattered image of grace that is meant to accompany the term ‘Christian.’ We can restore the withered message of love that is meant to be embodied in our lives. We can mend the torn fabric of truth that puts on flesh and loves, heals, comforts, cares-for, mends and restores people. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus – again.

wanted: ‘messy’ relationships

I have a friend who has all but left the church…

The agenda of the churches has has been associated with has left him wanting…

Please read his cry for help written months ago…

life never stops…even if you do. People change, I change….the cycle of death and life doesn’t just pertain to the physical….but also to relationships and friendship and even your own personal being…It’s just strange I guess……I feel as though I’m outside of it all…..I just watch it all go by like telephone poles outside a car window…… gone as quickly as they come…. I’ve met some amazing people lately…. real genuine people that I’d love to get to know…. but somehow I am unable to cross the barrrier that seperates my life from theirs…..to break into their circles, their worlds….I live in a glass box…..people come and watch for a moment, for I am a novelty a new thing to enjoy, but the excitement soon fades and they walk away with those they love and I, I am unable to follow, bound by invisible contrainsts…. I’m sure all of you who are reading this think I’m crazy or could use some help, and perhaps I do….I admit that my life is a mess, and I know that I have made that mess myself…. I admit that I am not living up to my potential, that i could be so much more than I let myself be… But there is something invisible that holds me, something I cannot see…… I need help, perhaps that is the whole reason i write this… I need to know what true Christian love is again…. to know that there are people who won’t just leave a comment that says “I know how you feel, I’m praying for you” which is a well and good….but the help I need is messy help, the kind of help that frodo gave to sam, and sam gave to frodo…. a single person or a group of people who realize the broken state that they are in….that do not sugar coat life and pretend to be better than they are…. I need real people…. I need to look behind the mask and not be repulsed by the ugliness within because I know that they see the ugliness in me since my mask lies shattered on the ground. I need to hold someone as they cry, and be held as my world collapses around me…. Please don’t tell me, “well that’s what Jesus is for…” Because all of you have the potential to be His arms….to be His voice….to be His eyes that weep along with me as we all walk through this thing called life. The answer does not lay within myself….trust me I’ve looked…. the answer lies in people…. all giving, all taking… all needing eachother… all knowing that we are all the same…. This is a bearing of my heart to all of you…. It is not me asking for answers…. It is just me wanting to see the real you…. and knowing that we’ll all make it….broken, weary, worn down, crying and laughing at the same time at the sheer ridiculousness of the pain that we all have felt, but always knowing that there is someone there to pick us up when we fall, or to lay down in the mud right next to us willingly and just crying with us……. I suppose there is more….but this is enough for now….

from a naked heart,
(name removed to protect identity)

Before you try to prescribe the magic cure for my friend, please hear the honesty in his plea.

We certainly do need each other.

Do you know that? Let it sink in. Let it go deeper than just intellectually agreeing with the statement. Dare to think of things you participate in that actually hurt the nature of your relationships. Be honest with yourself. Take some time to do that now…

(really… stop what you’re doing… think about it…)

Loving each other is not systematic. It is not regular, controllable or convenient (or as Derek Webb says, it is not efficient.) It is hopelessly random, uncomfortably personal, terribly schedule-wrecking and more importantly, it must be REAL. There are people in your life that need you. The opposite is also true. There are people in your life that don’t need ‘not‘ you.

Be real for someone.

getting intimate in the garden

There’s more to the Garden of Eden story than just apples, trees and snakes.

Adam and Eve had the most precious thing in existence: unhindered, unbroken and fully realised intimacy and union with God! What more could a human ask for? On top of that, they had a complete and totally healthy relationship between them!

Think of it. The First and Greatest Commandment AND the ‘second’ one – done. But they wanted more. They bought the lie that they could be like God. This brought many consequences, but the one I’d like to highlight here has to do with the loss of intimacy.

Remember what Adam and Eve did right after sinning? Well, not only did they gain an ever-increased concern for their nakedness (resulting in the birth of the clothing industry), but they also did something that (at first) seems ridiculous…

They hid from God. Isn’t that just hilarious? I mean, why would you ever think that you could hide from God? And by the way, didn’t they know they were naked all along? What’s with the random fig-leaf fashion statement? What in the Garden of Eden is going on?

Question. What is the opposite of unbridled intimacy and joy in relationship with God and each other? Hiding. Adam and Eve ‘hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God.’ (Gen. 3:8) Why did they do this? Adam explains for us a few verses later: he was afraid. Sin had put a barrier of fear between him and God. The secure bond of love and intimacy was shattered into the fearful isolation of guilt and shame.

We still experience these shattering effects today. Sin continues to make intimacy unbearable. Some of the hardest things to produce in humans are honesty, vulnerability and transparency. Recently I admitted to some friends that I like to keep people at arms length, so they don’t see my faults. I prefer having a lot of acquaintances rather than having a few really close, honest friends. After all, if I let someone get too close to me, they might love me enough to challenge, correct or sharpen me.

I must not allow this to happen.
I must protect myself from this every happening in my life.
I must keep my relationships shallow.
I must hide.
I must make myself a suit of fig-leaves.

Allow me to assert that in Christ we have no reason whatsoever to hide! The shattering effect of sin has been undone by the Cross of Christ! No guilt! No shame! No fear!

If only we would dare to believe that we are really, totally, wonderfully, perfectly and completely cleansed of our sins (past, present AND future) by the blood of Christ! If only we would dare to be intimate with each other! If only we would be real, honest, vulnerable and transparent!

Intimacy is not neat, organised or systematic. It’s relational.
It’s not expedient, efficient or entertaining. It’s rough ground.
But most of all, intimacy means not hiding.

In Christ, we can have the confidence to know just a little of the freedom that Adam and Eve knew before they sinned;

“And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” – Genesis 2:25

changing our thinking about change

Change.

It has happened.
It is happening.
It will happen.

Spiritually, It has happened…
If your faith is genuinely in Christ, you are not what you once were. There are many passages in the Bible that talk about this. Jesus had a conversation with Nicodemus about being ‘born’ a second time. (John 3) Jude writes about ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.’ (Jude :3) Peter writes to Christians about not forgetting that they have been purged from their old sins. (2 Peter 1:9) John agrees by writing that Christians ‘have passed from death to life.’ (1 John 3:14) A particularly well-known verse is from Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17. ‘Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.’
This transformation is complete in the lives of believers. It is as secure, steadfast, unchanging and solid as God’s nature. You can count on it! The tough thing is that it’s a spiritual change. We can find it hard to trust what God says about us when our circumstances are staring us in the face! That’s why we need to remind ourselves and each other so often!

Mentally, it is happening…
With our spiritual transformation behind us, we are then called to grow in our understanding of who we are in Christ. Peter told the early believers to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ (2 Peter 3:4) Another popular verse about this was again written by Paul to the Roman Christians to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ (Romans 12:2) The tense of this command is continual. A literal translation might be more like ‘be being transformed’ or ‘be continually transformed.’ The entire Bible is filled to the brim with passages talking about growing in our understanding of God’s love and grace.
This is not about just getting more head-knowledge. When you get a chance, read 1 Corinthians 1&2. Paul has some pretty strong words there about relying on knowledge. What God wants is not for us to know lots of things, but rather to know Him! Head knowledge causes our minds to puff up, but heart understanding helps us to grow up!

Physically, it will happen…
We look backwards at our spiritual change, commit ourselves to the current process of mental adjustment, and we also wait and hope for the change which is yet to come, which is physical. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 about the bodily transformation that awaits all believers. Our bodies will be free from disease, pain, or weakness and unhindered by the effects of aging. Paul may well have had this in mind when he said that to live was Christ and to die was gain!

Let us remember our spiritual transformation with gratitude, grow in our mental grasp of that transformation, and yearn for the day of the final physical transformation!

choosing temptation?

The sign read…

Shirts. $15.

It’s safe to say that I’m not obsessed with fashion, but to say that I couldn’t care less about how I look wouldn’t exactly be true either!

At any rate, I like a good deal as I was walking past this particular clothing store, I almost popped in. I didn’t, though. I turned up my nose (in anti-materialism smugness) and strode past. I was quite proud of myself for not visiting the store… until my thoughts took me further.

Sure, I had chosen not to enter the store for some quite good reasons. One of those being that I have enough shirts that are wear-able, so I didn’t really need another one. But as I thought about my actions further, it became clear to me that the most motivating reason for my recent ‘financial carefulness’ was none other than the fact that I had realised my need to save money for my upcoming wedding, honeymoon and receptions!

It turned out that my choice wasn’t driven by the pious, super-spiritual, anti-commercial motivation that had made me feel like I was so much better than everyone else…

This got me thinking about temptation.

A popular church leader has rightly said that we can’t say we are faithful unless we’ve ever been tempted to be unfaithful. We can’t say that we have integrity unless we’ve ever had the opportunity to lie and resisted. We’ve no right to call ourselves patient unless we’ve gone through stressful circumstances, etc.

Don’t worry. I’m not saying that we should go looking for temptation.

I am saying, however, that temptation is a part of God’s plan.

Yep.

God Himself promises never to tempt us (see James 1:13), and we always have a way to ‘escape‘ when we are tempted – which sometimes means not allowing or ‘fleeing’ from even the opportunity to be tempted (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). However, He most certainly allows and uses temptation in our lives (see the entire book of Job). Actually, we are all tempted. So was Jesus (though He didn’t give in… see Hebrews 4:15)

I’ve been reminded that it’s really just prideful of me to be so proud of my little miniature ‘victories.’ Would I be so satisfied with my wardrobe if I had plenty of money in the checking account?
I’ve also been reminded that when we are careless with our choices (where we go, what we do, when we do it, what we view, who we spend time with, etc.), we shouldn’t be amazed that we often find ourselves giving in to temptation!!!

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” – 1 Corinthians 10:12 (emphasis mine)

good will toward us

At the time of Christ’s birth, the angels said to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” (Luke 2:14) Isn’t that an amazing idea that God extended His good will in our direction? He did so in the very act of Christ taking on our flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14). It’s the act of incarnation. Christ gave up the comfort and prestige of heaven and willingly chose to live a life filled with discomfort and mockery. Our Lord went through times of loneliness, being misunderstood, physical exhaustion, hunger, agony, pain and yes, death.

Christ knew from eternity what would come with His incarnation. This Christmas, perhaps we can recognize our calling to be like Christ in this way. We are called to go into the world in the same way Christ did. All too often Christians instead choose to live cozy lives of faithful church service attendance, Bible studies, and friendships with other believers. We are quite comfortable to speak to each other in Christian-ese and continually listen to our favourite style of worship music.

Of course, I’m not trying to devalue the utter importance of Christian fellowship. Quite the contrary. I’m just saying that our calling includes so much more than fellowship. We must go into the world. We must learn the language of the world. To do this we must risk being… uncomfortable. It means we don’t force people to listen to our stories until we’ve listened to theirs. The willingness to do this doesn’t come naturally, but super-naturally. May we have the courage of Christ in us to motivate us to sacrifice our comfort, reputations, productivity, lifestyle or anything else that is keeping us from fully answering our calling to be incarnational.

humble pie inc.

It’s interesting how various Bible verses have their ‘day in the sun.’ A very popular verse recently has been 2 Chronicles 7:14. This verse has made it’s way into many articles, books and songs. It goes like this:

“If my people, called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

I’ve heard lots of talk about what this verse says about prayer, seeking God’s face, and turning from sin, but I’ve not heard a lot about humility. If you look at the verse, humility is listed first.

What is the opposite of humility? Pride. I believe that pride comes from having confidence or assurance in anything other than Christ. Boasting is prideful. Paul said that he would not boast in anything except in the Lord. Paul’s confidence and assurance was not in himself, but in God. This exemplifies the kind of humility alluded to in our featured verse.

Humility means more than boasting only in the Lord. It also means that we must not ignore the way things really are. By this, I mean that we must admit when things are not as they should be. After all, is there really ever a time when we have it all together? Is there ever a time when we don’t need God? Is there ever a time when we can truly depend on ourselves?

In Christian circles, we learn all too quickly how to speak Christian-ese. We are taught to always be happy, positive and enthusiastic. Happiness comes and goes. Joy, however, lasts through even the tough times. Joy admits it when things just aren’t going well, and Joy isn’t shaken because Joy comes from confidence and assurance in Christ.

God uses tough times and allows ‘negative’ circumstances in our lives to cause us to be more dependent on Him! It was at times like this Paul said that when he was weak, then he was very strong! Weakness in yourself = strength in the Lord! Humility about yourself = boasting in the Lord!

According to the featured verse, we can pray, seek God and try to turn from sin, but unless we are humble, it doesn’t matter.

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” – James 4:10

love and firewood

Attention couples!!!

We’re quite educated in the ways of showing affection, aren’t we? Two flawless bodies on a billboard with arms and legs intertwined in new, creative ways… just shocking enough to make you want to buy the clothes they are half-wearing… two people on a park bench rubbing each other up and down as if they were freezing to death… Should we be listening to these suggestions though? Why or why not? Affection is harmless enough, right?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to waste any time trying to discourage any certain forms of affection. I do, however, want to think for a moment about the contrast between physicality and commitment.

The physical stuff is visible, concrete and undeniable. The ideas behind them are invisible, abstract and often cloudy. Also, the two can sometimes be totally separate. Consider people in modeling or acting. The physicality is there, but I doubt there is any commitment or relationship. Conversely, in some marriages gone cold, there may be a certain level of commitment, but no passion or intimacy.

So how in the world can we build strongly committed relationships with healthy physicality? How can such a balance be started and maintained? Is it possible?

I think the answer lies in a helpful analogy I’ve learned from Tommy Nelson in his study on The Song of Solomon.

He relates physical passion to gasoline, and rightly points out that a relationship built on that alone may have large flames for a little while, but has nothing left afterwards. He talks about the need for the ‘firewood’ of commitment and character.

I think it’s interesting to note as well that the more firewood you have, the longer the fire lasts! Are we sometimes guilty of impatiently gathering a few small twigs, drowning them with gasoline and feeling frustrated that the fire doesn’t last? Possibly?

God is more than aware of the pain and hurting that comes with failed relationships. He doesn’t want us to go through the pain! He wants to give us His best!

I’m not a fan of all the charts, graphs or rules that people try to create for successful relationships, but I will say this: For the sake of your heart, keep the gasoline in the can until you’ve gathered the firewood of commitment and character. Then you can enjoy the warmth and security of a committed relationship.