Nine things we’re glad we’ve learned in our marriage (so far)

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Today is Emily’s and my ninth wedding anniversary. Our road to the altar was a long and complicated one, involving college romance, abandoning a religion/cult, living together, getting “engaged”, buying a house, spiritual attack, and being rescued by Jesus (in that order).

I (Aaron) still remember the day we both became Christians, and our first question to one another was, “Now what?” We knew that being Christians meant our lives were going to be thrown into chaos. We just didn’t expect everything that was thrown at us in the time leading up to our wedding (and beyond). So today, we thought we’d share a few things we are glad we know now that are also glad we found out along the way:

1. What it’s like to be a part of an exclusive club (that no one wants to join). When we lost our second child (a miscarriage between Abigail and Hannah), we were initiated into a club no one really wants to be a part of: couples who’ve experienced a miscarriage. We had no idea how common it is, and how many people grieve in silence. Though we (obviously) love all our children greatly, and we wouldn’t trade the family we do have for anything, there’s a part of us that wonders what it would have been like to meet our little “almost”, instead of only seeing him or her in a blurry ultrasound. Lord willing, we’ll get to do that in the new creation.

2. What it means to be married and Christian. Yeah, I know this is one of those controversial subjects. But learning how to relate to one another as Christians, as an engaged couple, as a married couple, and then again as parents of young children… we were kind of flying by the seat of our pants on all that. We’d not seen examples of a Christian marriage (Emily’s parents aren’t Christians and mine are divorced, so I’d never even really seen a stable family unit until I met them). And there were a lot of things that we had to learn the hard way. This usually involved me saying something stupid, realizing I was wrong, and asking Emily to forgive me.

3. Being on the bleeding edge of parenthood can be kind of lonely. We intentionally left the barn door open when we got married, having the conviction that we wanted to have children right away. And we did. Unfortunately, we also had people doing the math in their heads (or on their fingers) when we told them we were expecting Abigail. “Oh, so you got married in…”

I (Emily) also had two people ask if it was planned. I also had to let some dreams die during our early years as parents. Because so many of our friends got married around the same time, I had this assumption that all of us would be having children on the same timeline, like I saw the people 5-10 years older than us in our church had done. I was looking forward to “doing life together” and having those friendships remain really close. But my friends did not do those things, and are only now having their first or second children (with their oldest being a bit younger than Hudson).

So, I had to go and make my own friends (which I did).

We love being able to spend more time with some of these friends now, and it’s a privilege to share from where we are in our journey as parents, but sometimes it’s easy to get a bit jealous when everyone else is having the shared experience.

4. Nothing good happens after 2 am. This is advice I (Emily) was given by my cousin, and it’s true. After a certain point in the evening, you’ve got nothing positive to say to one another. So just go to sleep.

5. Sex is a good gift, but a lousy god. We heard a lot of sermons (via podcast) and read a lot of books all telling us that Christian marriages should be filled with free, fun and frequent sexual intimacy. More and more, I (Aaron) wonder how many of the pastors writing such things perhaps were revealing a bit too much about what was (or wasn’t) going on in their own lives. There’ve been plenty of seasons over the last nine years where “frequent” would not be the appropriate modifier to use in our relationship, whether due to illness, babies, or exhaustion. I’m glad we don’t define the health of our relationship by this one measure because, honestly, there are much more important things to be concerned about.

6. Set the ground rules before you start. Going into marriage knowing that divorce is off the table is liberating for us. Neither of us have one foot out the door, and so it’s not a threat or a concern. We’ve seen far too much heartache in other people’s lives—particularly with those who have been divorced—and that makes us want to work harder on the things that matter most.

7. Shared convictions matter, but can’t be forced. No question: shared convictions on theological issues really, really matter. A lot. But having shared convictions is not something anyone can mandate. I can’t say to Emily, “You will be in agreement with me on XYZ.” And not just because if I did, I’d be declared the one jerk who rules them all. Instead, what we’ve found is our convictions have aligned, but usually it takes some time.

8. Don’t press. I (Aaron) am still learning this one. And I’m usually pretty awful at it. But I’m trying to learn that if Emily says she’s not ready to talk about something, she’s really not ready to talk about something. So saying, “Well, what’s the issue?” and trying to cajole it out of her is usually a terrible idea.

9. That marriage really is different. Anyone who tells you that living together is no different from being married is either a. Never been married; b. an idiot; or c. a liar. Living together is a distortion of marriage; a cheap imitation that falls apart too easily. Marriage is different. It is harder, but it is better. If I could do it again, I (Aaron) would have gladly waited until we were married for us to live together.

Five phrases Christians should never use again

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We all have certain sayings that we regularly use. In my house, we often remind the kids, “You’ll get what you get and you won’t get upset,” particularly when it’s time for a snack. Another favorite: “We’re gonna have fun whether we like it or not.”

These are well and good, at least to a point—that is, only in as much as we ascribe no more value to them than their due. Christians are no different; we have short hand phrases that are sometimes helpful, but often not. In fact, many we treat as downright biblical, when they’re more likely to be found in 2 Hesitations. Here are five that I’d love to see never ever used again:

God won’t give you more than you can handle. I’m pretty sure Paul, Peter, the rest of the apostles, all the prophets, and Jesus would disagree on this. Although Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is kind, the Christian life is most definitely not. Paul described himself and his co-laborers as “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8). “Beyond our strength,” incidentally, means it was more than he could handle. But the purpose was to cause them to “rely not on ourselves but on God” (2 Cor. 1:9). Jesus described Paul as one who would suffer greatly for the sake of the gospel. Jesus in taking our sin upon himself most definitely carried a burden so great his sweat looked as though it were drops of blood and he pleaded for the burden to be lifted by the Father, were it his will to do so. Instead the Father sent an angel to strengthen him (Luke 22:43). (This is a subject I dealt with in greater detail in this article which appears in my eBook, Everyday Theology).

“Let’s pray for a hedge of protection.” I’ll be honest, I’m not even sure what this means. I get the reference—the only place you see this language used in the Bible at all is in Job. However, there, it’s Satan accusing God of not playing fair with Job, that the only reason Job doesn’t blaspheme him is because God has placed a “hedge around him” (Job 1:10). Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to pray for such a thing, but if the only example we have of something remotely close to it in the Bible is from the lips of the devil maybe it’s not such a great idea.

God helps those who help themselves. To be clear: God does not reward slothfulness, apathy, or laziness in any way, shape or form. We also can see that faithful people are full of ingenuity and a sort of godly ambition that God blesses. But, to be clear, the Bible has nothing close to this sort of admonishment. Instead of encouraging us to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps (which I addressed it in this article some years ago), we are to remember that even as we work, God is working in us (Philippians 2:13).

“Let go and let God.” As you can guess, this one is related to the one I just mentioned. The Keswickian notion that if you just surrender and have faith and if you’re struggling just surrender harder is, well, kind of silly (to say nothing of how it leads to classism among Christians). No matter how hard you look, you’re not going to find anything in the Bible that confirms it. Instead, you’re going to be told constantly to strive, do, go forth, fight, and so on. God commands an active faith, not passivity. So stop saying this! (And for those interested, Andrew Naselli’s got a tome analyzing Keswick theology in great detail. If you’re a Logos user, it’s worth checking out.)

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.” This is a weird one that I’ve never quite understood. The whole “open door” theology thing has always seemed strange to me, though. I can’t find anything that would give any sort of credence to this notion in the Bible. At all. (The only thing we have that’s close is the admonition that God never leaves us without escape from temptation in 1 Corinthians 10:13.) Further, it seems that not every door that is open to us is one we should actually go through. Sometimes opportunities are presented as choices for us to say no to. But maybe I just don’t have enough faith…

There are, no doubt, more that could be added to this list. But for now, maybe it’s enough for us to commit to thinking carefully and biblically about the things we say and how much weight we give those sayings. But just a warning: If we do this, we might find we probably shouldn’t say some of them at all. And may God be glorified because of it.

Long preaching isn’t always good preaching

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Early on in my faith, I was enamored with preachers who would give these 45, 50, 60-plus minute sermons. I would compare what I’d hear in their podcasts to what I was hearing on Sunday mornings, and I always wondered, “Why doesn’t my pastor do what these guys are doing?”

Which, of course, is stupid. But then again, I was kind of an idiot.

(Moving on…)

Over time, I grew less enamored with some of those preachers (or at least their preaching). As I listened, I increasingly realized that the guys that seemed to be able to get up and had little more than a post-it for notes weren’t actually saying much of anything. They were using a great many words to say very little.

When training pastors on the importance of keeping people’s attention, Charles Spurgeon encouraged his hearers to keep their sermons shorter. “Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit,” he said.

We are generally longest when we have least to say. A man with a great deal of well-prepared matter will probably not exceed forty minutes; when he has less to say he will go on for fifty minutes; and when he has absolutely nothing he will need an hour to say it in. (Lectures to my Students, 156)

This is valuable advice (and also helps us understand why TED Talks are so powerful). Sometimes preaching1 “long” isn’t necessary—it’s just long. It’s a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”(1 Corinthians 13:1), revealing a great love of our own pontificating, but little for our hearers. And I really have no interest in that, either as a preacher or the hearer. I’d rather speak five simple words that communicate clearly than 1000 that may be eloquent or funny, but lack substance. What about you?

How much bandwidth can you give controversy?

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Whenever I read news of a church imploding, some sort of scandal arising involving sexual abuse, or any other scandal really, I can’t help but think, “I wonder what it would have been like to live during a time when the entire world wasn’t at my fingertips?”

Now, obviously, I’ve never been one to entirely avoid controversial issues (or people). And when we see a celebrity pastor lose his mind, or when patterns of abuse are revealed that affect anyone, man, woman or child, it is hard to ignore. But at the same time, though we should grieve these things—and if a crime has been committed, we should report them—we can only give so much mental bandwidth to these things. Here are a few reasons why I believe this is so, at least from my perspective:

1. Because I really can’t do much to help. Without (I hope) sounding callous toward those who’ve experienced abuse (sexual, physical, or emotional), there’s not a lot I can do to help in a specific situation happening in Florida, Texas, or, honestly, even in a different town 30 minutes down the road. I can pray and, if the issue warrants, I can say something where I feel compelled to, but that’s about it.

2. Because I have people close by who need my attention more. What I am responsible for is not so much what happens out there, but what happens in my local church and within the various communities I associate with. I am required to love and serve those whom I am closest with differently than those who are far off. So if there is someone in need within my local congregation, or within one of the groups I’m a part of (our homeschool co-op, for example), I have a greater sense of obligation to address that need. If I become aware of a pattern of behavior that is concerning, I need to say something in the appropriate way. If I’m aware of a crime being committed, I am obligated to report it.

3. Because it can lead me to despair. There is no shortage of bad news out there—no shortage of controversies, abuses of authority, violence and all the other evidences of humanity’s desperately wicked state. Knowing about the ugly things that are happening in other congregations, other communities and other nations doesn’t add a sense of urgency to the call to love and serve others, or tell me anything I didn’t already know. It’s just more.

4. Because it tempts me to become even more distrustful. Many who report on abuse issues within the church have been severely harmed by an experience in a local congregation they were once a part of. And my fear is that for some, confusion has found a foothold, and authority exercised by a godly individual is seen as authoritarianism.

I’ve got to be honest: I’m already distrustful of some of the leaders God has placed over me, some with more reason than others. But what I find myself needing to do more and more is praying for those leaders, rather than trying to parse the meaning of every word they use, attempting to find some hidden meaning or a message between the lines. I want to be lead by people that are worth following, and the only way for that to happen is for God to be at work in them. And if I am not praying for them, what does it say about what I think about them?

5. It tempts me to put myself in the place of God. The truth is, none of us know the full story of what goes on in any given scandal. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care, but it does mean we need to be cautious. When I judge too quickly, I often find myself thinking as though I am standing in for God, and therefore capable of rendering a sound and infallible judgment. And a lot of the time, I’m completely and totally wrong. That isn’t to say that wrong isn’t wrong or sin isn’t sin (far from it!)—it’s just that we ought to be very careful about what we put out there in our outrage. There are certain things you say that you can never come back from. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in this regard, and I’m not eager to repeat them.

So getting back to the question at hand: how much mental bandwidth should we give controversy that doesn’t directly affect us? Speaking only for myself, only as much as my conscience allows—and only in so far as it doesn’t become a distraction to loving and serving those with whom I am in relationship. For most, that means almost none. For some, it means a great deal of attention. But for all, it means learning when to say “when” so that I don’t neglect the things that are most important.

You don’t always realize you’re thirsty

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It hit me last weekend as I was doing some (unfortunately) last minute prep for children’s ministry. I read my assigned text (Luke 24:36-49 for those wondering), not so much looking to pull it apart and figure out how to make a message out of it, but just to read it. And I realized something: I’ve been incredibly neglectful about spiritual health of late.

You know how you don’t always realize you’re thirsty until you actually have a glass of water? It’s kind of like that—going through my normal routine, not realizing I’ve been a bit dehydrated. And while it’s great to acknowledge stuff like this—to be real like people from Topeka—it’s not enough to say “this is where I’m at right now.” Instead, I actually need to do something about it. So here’s what I’m doing, starting today:

  • I’m putting my reading plan for the year on-hold in order to focus more intentionally on reading my Bible (sorry Bavinck!).
  • I’m deleting a few time-suck apps from my phone and iPad in order to avoid distractions.
  • I’m starting simple: reading through of John’s gospel, with a notebook handy. No timeline or anything like that. Just read it until this gospel has sufficiently mastered me.

As I’m working through the text, I’ll be sharing a few of my personal reflections here. As you can tell, this is not earth-shattering stuff. It’s pretty entry-level from some people’s standards. Yet, this is kind of basic reorientation is what I sorely need (and I suspect I’m not alone). Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m thirsty. I need a drink of water.


Photo credit: Splashy Glass via photopin (license)

Get grounded! (For the Church)

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My new series at For the Church, “Letters to a New Believer,” continues. The first post addressed the dangers of rushing into leadership roles. The second takes a step back and addresses a foundational issue: getting grounded in the Bible:

When my wife and I first became Christians, we had a lot to figure out. Up until that point, we’d been more or less your typical non-Christian couple: we met in college, moved in together halfway through, got engaged (but didn’t set a date for several years), eventually bought a house… and then we met Jesus.

And it was exactly as awkward as you’re imagining. (But we’ll get to that another time.)

During that time, though, God was very kind to us as we started figuring out what the “now what” of our conversion. We were connected to a local church where there were a lot of very kind people. The pastor worked with us to make the mess of our lives make sense as Christians, though he was kind of flying by the seat of his pants with some of it. But as much as we saw God pouring out grace upon us in this time, we were in danger. I was in danger.

…I read books like Velvet Elvis, Searching for God Knows What, and Blue Like Jazz, many of which were well written but had deep theological problems that I couldn’t recognize. I read memoirs by celebrity pastors that had no business writing memoirs, and did nothing to help me get a clear picture of Christian character. Our friends sat up discussing NOOMA videos, but never saw the hopelessness of their messages. Many young men in our church talked about what it meant to be Christian men, which somehow meant going on spirit quests to kill dragons while building sheds with nothing but duct tape and our own tenacity. We listened to lectures on how we needed to be less concerned with building programs and evangelistic rallies, and more concerned with making sure people had clean water to drink.

But you know what few of us were doing during all that? We weren’t grounding ourselves in the faith. We weren’t reading our Bibles, at least to the degree we ought to have been.

Keep reading at For the Church.

If we’re not communing with God…

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One of the things my father-in-law often says he has little time for is navel-gazing. That is, the incessant paralyzing introspection that is the aim of the modern self-help industry. We get advice from Oprah and her cabal. We run to Dr. Phil. We dig into some Tony Robbins. We do the hokey pokey and we turn ourselves around. And while we might get a little dizzy, we still don’t know what it’s all about.

As much as this sort of hopeless spiral of self-examination is to be rejected, though, we should always be careful to remember that there is such a thing as healthy self-examination. After all, the Bible frequently encourages us to examine ourselves. But the purpose is not to get in touch with our innermost feelings, and discover what our inner child wants us to do and/or eat this afternoon, but to examine the state of our heart before our God. To grow in our knowledge and enjoyment of him as we better recognize where our hearts really are.

This is something, I suspect, many of us don’t do nearly enough. Or, at a minimum, I don’t do nearly enough. And there is really no excuse for it. For when we fail in doing so, we put ourselves at risk for serious backsliding, as J.C. Ryle explained in Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke:

Occasional retirement, self-inquiry, meditation, and secret communion with God, are absolutely essential to spiritual health. The man who neglects them is in great danger of a fall. To be always preaching, teaching, speaking, writing, and working public works, is, unquestionably, a sign of zeal. But it is not always a sign of zeal according to knowledge. It often leads to adverse consequences. We must make time occasionally for sitting down and calmly looking within, and examining how matters stand between our own selves and Christ. The omission of the practice is the true account of many a backsliding which shocks the Church, and gives occasion to the world to blaspheme.

A friend once described a mutual acquaintance as really knowing God. Not that he and I aren’t Christians, but that this man of whom he spoke was actually his friend, if you follow. That’s really what Ryle is getting at in this passage. The sort of healthy self-examination he exhorts us to, the kind we all would do well do actually do, doesn’t just protect us from backsliding: it is what grows us from followers to friends. To not only know of him, but to know him and enjoy him.

But you can’t get there if you’re not communing with him. Friendship only comes through the time invested. How then can we ignore this privilege?

Six ways podcasts may be good (and bad) for your faith

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Podcasts are not your pastor.

I realize this is ridiculously obvious, yet it is so necessary for us to remind ourselves of this fact. We have more podcasts being created by more people than ever before (including one, eventually, by me). Some are completely separate from what happens in the local church on a Sunday morning—their goal is not to replace church, but to enhance, which is a good thing (but I’m getting ahead of myself). Others tend to be limited to the Sunday morning message from a given local church.

None of these are bad, obviously. And to be clear, we should never have to choose between podcasts and our pastors—instead, we should always see podcasts as being a beneficial addition to the teaching we receive in our local churches. Yet, I sometimes I wonder if they’re contributing more to the consumerist mentality that plagues the Christian life in North America.

When podcasts supplant pastors in our hearts and minds, we should be gravely concerned. But what concerns me is not entirely the consumerist mentality, or the continued perpetuation of Christian celebrity. Instead, I want to know why people turn to podcasts and perhaps too frequently looking to them as their source of biblical nourishment? Here are two reasons I’d suggest:

1. An inability of church members to submit to the leaders placed over them. The reasons for this are twofold: First, we lack a proper understanding of that there is even such a thing as objective truth. This is fundamentally a worldview issue—if truth is relative, then I am the arbiter of truth, so I’m ultimately my own authority. At best, everyone else has an opinion, but it’s not something I need to listen to. The current generation’s attitudes toward leadership is fruit of decades of mistrust and skepticism. We expect politicians to lie to us. We assume our bosses are going to throw us under the bus in order to save their own skin. And we have wrongly projected that onto our church leaders. This unhealthy attitude must be countered and corrected.

2. Pastors are failing to preach. To not put too fine a point on it, if pastors are not preaching the Word, they are failing their congregations. As Jared Wilson once put it so succinctly, “Putting some Bible verses in your message is not the same thing as preaching the Scriptures.” Christians who are starving for the nourishment that only comes from the preached Word will inevitably seek it out elsewhere, and if that’s a podcast, so be it. But here’s the thing: if you’re in a church where you truly never hear the Bible preached, you seriously need to leave and join one where it is. Podcasts might be a benefit in the short term, but they shouldn’t replace sitting under the faithful preaching of a pastor who knows and loves you.

So those are my concerns. And yet, as I have already said, podcasts can be (and often are) hugely helpful for many people. After all, that’s what they’re intended for. So here are a few positive benefits:

1. Podcasts can prevent you turning your pastor into an idol. Listening to other pastors offers you different perspectives as well as opportunities for discussion with your pastor and can help keep you from viewing him as your sole source of truth. In other words, it can help prevent you from turning him into an idol. We naturally attempt to put anyone and anything in the place of God. But to put any person in that position is not only unfair, it is evil. Podcasts can help remind you that your pastor is a regular person, just like you. Every pastor, no matter how excellent a student of the Word, is imperfect. He can and will make mistakes. And a good pastor is never afraid of his congregation hearing the Word from other sources, provided those sources hold fast to the truth.

2. Podcasts can help you recognize false teachers and doctrine. This one is a bit touchy as there is a greater possibility of exposure to false teachers and doctrine through podcasts; iTunes doesn’t check for doctrinal fidelity. So when you subscribe you might find yourself listening to something terrible—but that podcast might also help you identify and counter false teaching within your own congregation, whether it’s found in your small group discussions (which happens), or—God forbid!—from the pulpit or platform at your local church.

3. Podcasts can help you redeem your commute. Rather than listening to smutty and/or irrelevant morning-drive shows, a podcast can help you prepare for your day on a positive note, using the time that has been given to you to hear the truth expounded. This is a wonderful and necessary thing. Prior to selling our house and moving, I had a roughly 30 minute commute (round trip) each day, which I used to listen to audiobooks and podcasts such as Ligonier’s Renewing Your Mind. This was hugely beneficial not only to my ability to do my job well, but to prepare myself for the second half of my day—being “dad,” helping my wife and writing.

4. Podcasts can help you become a better preacher. Don Carson has often said that if you listen to one person, you’re going to be a bad copy, if you listen to 10, you’ll be boring, and if you listen to 50, you’ll start to develop your own voice. Podcasts allow preachers to hear how others communicate, learn helpful techniques and grow in the role to which God has called them.

The important thing for us to note (again) is that podcasts can be very valuable to our spiritual health and growth provided they maintain their proper position in our lives—that is serving as a supplement and complement to the instruction we receive within our local churches and in our personal study. So give thanks for their existence, encourage others when you find worthwhile ones to listening to and enjoy.


This post is based on two previously posted articles from 2011.

If you desire shame, be proud

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My father and I had lunch recently and we were talking about a particular situation and I mentioned that it’s sometimes hard for people to accept help (or ask) because of pride. He readily agreed, citing it’s inclusion in the seven deadly sins (which lead to a bit of a rabbit trail on a few things).

Everyone, generally, recognizes pride as a problem. Whether we’re Christians or not, we recognize pride’s ugliness. And we are right to do so. After all, it’s reputed to be the sin that got the devil kicked out of heaven! It’s what caused Adam and Eve to accept the devil’s interpretation of what would happen if they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And it’s something every single one of us deals with every day.

And yet, it never does us any good, does it? Who among us can say that being really proud dramatically improved their life? In fact, it’s more likely that if we really stopped to consider it, we would say, along with Charles Spurgeon, “If you, O man, desire shame, be proud.”

Pride exalts it head, and seeks to honor itself; but it is of all things most despised. It sought to plant crowns upon its brow, and so it hath done, but its head was hot, and it put an ice crown there, and it melted all away. Poor pride has decked itself out finely sometimes; it has put on its most gaudy apparel, and said to others, “how brilliant I appear!” but, ah! pride, like a harlequin, dressed in thy gay colours, thou art all the more fool for that; you are but a gazing stock for fools less foolish than yourself. You have no crown, as you think you have, nothing solid and real, all is empty and vain.… A monarch has waded through slaughter to a throne, and shut the gates of mercy on mankind to win a little glory; but when he has exalted himself, and has been proud, worms have devoured him, like Herod, or have devoured his empire, till it passed away, and with it his pride and glory. Pride wins no crown; men never honor it, not even the menial slaves of earth; for all men look down on the proud man, and think him less than themselves.1

Pride leaves us empty and vain. It has no crowns—no rewards to offer. It is not honored and only brings shame upon those who display it—not just from the reproach of our fellow men, but opposition from God. Fight it with all your might, for the good of all those around you, and for the good of your own soul.

God doesn’t give us do-overs

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Several years ago, I met a Muslim man at our paediatrician’s office. We spoke briefly and when he learned I work for a Christian ministry, he was very excited. He mentioned he’d been looking for Bibles in Arabic and asked if I knew where he might find some. He also suggested my family and I come over to his home sometime. However, being the sort of Canadians who tend to be skeptical of such invitations, we didn’t wind up following through. In fact, I didn’t even contact him until a few weeks later when my conviction about the issue had gotten to the point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore. So, I wrote an apologetic email, sent along a few links to where he might be able to find an Arabic Bible, and gave an open invite to get together if he was ever interested.

I’ve not received a response.

This is still one of those moments I’m kicking myself over. I had an opportunity there to potentially start a new relationship that could have lead to this man coming to know Christ. The opportunity was right in front of me, and I didn’t take it.

Many of us, I suspect, have moments like this, those moments that if we had a do-over, we would absolutely take it. And yet, they never seem to come. At least, not in the way we would expect. We want a do-over, but God doesn’t give us one. Instead, he takes these moments we regret—in fact, he gives us these moments—so we might learn from them. That we might take them as opportunities to grow and change and take action when a new opportunity arises.

If I ever met this man again, I’d probably not recognize him. And likely he wouldn’t recognize me. But if we were to meet again, I hope that I would be more willing to take him up on his offer of hospitality—or, even better, extend such an offer myself. To perhaps begin a friendship, and maybe even be a small part of what God might be doing in his life.

Seeing a gift as a gift leads to greater joy

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I’m very thankful for my wife, who goes above and beyond as a wife and mother every day. With homeschooling, the regular chores, and then added responsibilities when I’m away from home,1 she deserves a lot more than a mere “thanks.” (And yet, this is pretty much what I’ve got for her right now.)

But my wife isn’t some sort of unusual super-star who goes above and beyond. She’s like most of the wives and mothers I know. They work hard—really hard—caring for their families. And more often than not, it’s without complaint, and without a break. It’s easy for the unceasing requests to wipe noses, mouths and other orifices to either supplant their identities or eat away at their spirits; and what is a good gift becomes tiresome toil.

That struggle isn’t exclusive to mothers, though—it’s common to us all. That’s one of the things I really appreciated about this passage from Gloria Furman’s excellent book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full. Gloria writes:

When I view motherhood not as a gift from God to make me holy but rather as a role with tasks that get in my way, I am missing out on one of God’s ordained means of spiritual growth in my life. Not only that, but I am missing out on enjoying God. No amount of mommy angst can compare to the misery that comes from a life devoid of the comforting, encouraging, guarding, providing, satisfying presence of our holy God.…

The gifts that God gives us serve this holy purpose—to direct our praise to the giver of those gifts. If you enjoy the gift of your children and the gift of your motherhood, but your joy terminates in those gifts, then you’ve missed the point of those gifts. (30-31)

Motherhood (and fatherhood, too) is a wonderful gift, as any mother, including my wife, will tell you. If this good gift is given the wrong sort of attention, it makes for a terrible god. But when we give it the right sort of attention–when we see the gift as truly a gift—it is a glorious way to focus our hearts and minds on Jesus.


Photo by Andrea Bartholomew.

Letters to a New Believer (For the Church)

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This year is my tenth as a Christian—in fact, if I remember correctly, the actual date is coming up in about three weeks, which is pretty neat to think about. Over the last 10 years, I’ve learned a LOT—mostly by making a lot of bone-headed mistakes. There’s so much I wish I’d known then, and so many things I wish someone would have told me…

So, that’s what I’m doing in a new series for For the Church, “Letters to a New Believer.” The first part is now up, which focuses on the dangers of rushing into leadership roles:

About a year or so into being a Christian, I did something absolutely, spectacularly dumb: I joined the men’s ministry leadership team at our church. Seriously, on a scale of dumb to really dumb, this was just the worst. It was such a bad idea.

Why did I think this was a good idea? And who on earth approved me for any of this?

Well, here’s the thing… It wasn’t just men’s ministry. As a brand-new baby Christian, I was not only trying to figure out the mess of my own life, I was facilitating in our children’s ministry. And within about a year of coming to faith, I was leading a small group. And…  Here’s the point: when I most needed to be sitting under someone’s leadership—to be learning, growing, and building the foundation of my faith—I was in a place where I was trying to do that for others. And it was bad—so bad. The Lord graciously prevented me from doing any serious damage to the faith of other believers (at least as far as I know), but wow, did I ever do a lot of damage to myself. I developed an extremely prideful attitude. I had a swagger that didn’t befit a Christian. I had delusions of grandeur that were just… wow.

Keep reading at For the Church.

When Christians say “I’m better than you”

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There are some things we can say about those who don’t believe in Jesus that are wholly true and appropriate. There are others, though, that are either just plain silly or impossibly evil. Recently, I found myself considering one of the latter, which goes something like this:

I cannot respect unbelievers—they reek to heaven! It is impossible for me to honor them in any way.

How would you respond to this (and be honest)? If you were teaching a Sunday School class or participating in a small group and someone said this, what would you do?

Most of us, I suspect, would like to say they would patiently ask, “Why not?” That they would investigate the statement and find out what’s behind it. Honestly, though, as much as I’d like to do that, I’d probably be more tempted to say words I’d need to repent of later. Why? Because this is one of the most ungodly things a Christian could say about an unbeliever—because it presumes that we are somehow better than unbelievers. 

And yet, this is not so. For we know that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, as Genesis 1 tells us. Though sin horribly mars it, though our relationship with God is severed and transformed from one of loving friendship to bitter enemies because of it, sin does not eradicate the image of God in us. Our morality, our capacity for love and goodness, our intelligence, our ability to comprehend spiritual realities (though terribly confused and misdirected)… these still exist and still testify of our being “like” God in some limited sense. And despite the strongest words possible being used to describe our sinful state and our rebellion against God, God has not reneged on the original “goodness” of humanity, at least in this sense. So we would be wise to remember that only a fool calls evil what God calls good. And what is saying something like this but foolishness?

But that’s not the only reason. This notion of being unable to respect unbelievers—of putting them solely in the category of sinners whose stench reaches the heavens and stokes the wrath of God—is a rejection of the grace of God in the gospel. Consider how Paul reminds the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 6:9-11:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul is very clear here: Sin is horribly offensive to God. It separates us. It prevents us from entering the kingdom. It damns us to hell. But Paul didn’t stop at writing about how swindlers won’t inherit the kingdom. He turned this judgment back around on his readers:

“And such were some of you.”

All these things that keep people out of the kingdom of God—they were those things! We were those things! We all know this is true, deep down inside. For we know that if anyone could really see into our hearts, they’d be terrified. Heck, if we actually seriously considered the stray thoughts and the darkness that lives inside of us, we’d probably be even more terrified. But Paul, even in rebuking the Corinthians (and us along with them), offers an encouragement.

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (Emphasis mine)

So despite our unholiness; despite our sin and misdeeds; despite our constant rebellion… God in his mercy has washed us of these sins. He has rescued us though we were ungodly and deserving of death. The gospel was more than enough to rescue us from sin—should this not lead to great compassion for those who remain trapped in their sin?

When we say silly nonsense like we can’t respect unbelievers, we are forgetting (again), that we are no different. In fact, as Christians, we should always be developing a more mature understanding of God’s grace to us in the gospel. We see this in Paul’s writings as he progressively changes his definition of himself as he matures. He first goes from being the least of all the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15:9, to the least of all the saints in Ephesians 3:8, to finally the foremost of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:15!

Notice that this isn’t an upward progression—he doesn’t gradually feel better about himself as time goes on. Instead, God’s grace is forcing him to recognize his sin in greater detail. And it does the same to us. The longer we are believers, the longer we are in relationship with Jesus, the more we see how far we fall short. The more we should recognize that we are totally unworthy of God’s love, and yet God has poured out his love on us so lavishly. 

How dare we, then, condemn those who we should be seeking to reach? When we think of unbelievers as being unworthy of respect, we only have one recourse: repent and believe the gospel. For just as they are, so too were we.


Photo credit: Skley via photopin cc

Truth is always timeless (and timely)

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Sometimes I wonder why certain books and authors remain favorites over the course of decades or centuries. But the answer really isn’t that difficult to discern. Certain books are just as relevant today as they were when they were written because, though the trappings may change, the truth contained within hasn’t.

Truth is always timeless. It’s also timely.

This is especially true when we consider our ongoing debates about sexuality. Do conservative or traditional views of marriage, gender and sexuality hinder human flourishing and happiness? Is it repressive to believe that marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman? Is the way to be freed from this feeling of guilt and shame we feel to be more open and expressive?

Consider these words from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

…you and I, for the last twenty years, have been fed all day long on good solid lies about sex. We have been told, till one is sick of hearing it, that sexual desire is in the same state as any of our other natural desires and that if only we abandon the silly Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely. It is not true. The moment you look at the facts, and away from the propaganda, you see that it is not.

They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not…

Modern people are always saying “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of.” They may mean “There is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that the human race reproduces itself in a certain way, nor in the fact that it gives pleasure.” If they mean that, they are right. Christianity says the same… But, of course, when people say, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,” they may mean “the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of.”

If they mean that, I think they are wrong.1

Lewis wrote about the hyper-sexualizing of society in his day with the same terms that are used today.

It’s funny, for all our talk of being sexually repressed as a society, anyone who has gone into a mall or turned on the TV or tried to eat a sandwich would likely say otherwise. Sex is inescapable in our culture. I can’t go to the mall without being exposed to 9 feet wide images of scantily clad ladies. Why?

Because there’s a sale on bras.

I can barely get through an entire movie aimed at my children without finding numerous suggestive jokes peppered into the dialogue. Why? Because we don’t want the adults to get bored.

But has our society gotten any better in the last twenty years of over-stimulation?

We are seeing more marriages and families than ever devastated by pornography, by adultery, by the idols of (temporary) personal happiness and immediate gratification. You can have bus signs advertising phone-sex lines, run billboards for adultery services, and create apps that facilitate it and one even blinks. We’re all well aware of the unprecedented transformation of western values regarding same-sex relationships, the redefinition of marriage, the irrelevancy of biological gender…

So Lewis’ words have never been more relevant. Their message is urgent. And the urgency grows the longer the message goes unheeded. Lewis’ point was that sexuality will continue to be confused the longer we attempt to define and redefine it to fit our current proclivities. We continue to feel ashamed because we are ashamed. This is the image of God within us at work against us.

And the solution is not to continue to lull our conscience into submission. That only leads to a greater sense of despair. Instead, the answer can be found only one way: by recognizing the truth. By heeding the message that Lewis wrote more than 60 years ago. By rediscovering the wisdom of generations past, and maybe even heeding their warnings. By embracing the truth—because truth is always timeless. And it is always timely.


A much earlier version of this post was published in 2009. But don’t read that one, because it’s terrible.