The Greatest of These Being?

The world does not understand theology or dogma, but it understands love and sympathy.” – D.L. Moody

1517 – The start of the one of the greatest years in Church History: the Reformation. Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses in Wittenberg. The whole course of history changed.

1526 – The year the New Testament was printed in English. It was one of the greatest years for the English speaking world.

These two years alone are considered greatest among other years in church history. Sure, there are some others we could include, but these two especially stand out.

What makes something great? It isn’t the year itself. 1517 is a cool number. 17 is a prime number. But, by itself it isn’t the greatest. What makes something great is what happens or what characterizes that year.

So what makes a Christian great? What out of all the characteristics of being a Christian is the greatest?

“Greatest” in the Bible

There are many places in the Bible that mention the term “Greatest”. From a quick search using the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), I found 31 uses of the word “greatest.” We see arguments on who is the greatest (Luke 9:46). We find “greatest” being used in context of looking at a crowd of people (Acts 8:10). We also discover the questioning of which law is the greatest (Matthew 22:36-38).

But, is there a passage describing what is the greatest characteristic that should be found in a Christian? Yes! It is the passage that we hear at weddings and dating couples memorize as they pursue each other. It is the passage we sometimes make a list of in order to fulfill this one characteristic. It is 1 Corinthians 13.

You probably even guess this passage before I revealed it. In fact we could go through each aspect of what love is. However, I want to skip over that. Look at 1 Corinthians 13:13. Faith, hope, and love are the three Christian characteristics we see listed. But, which one is the greatest one? You know the verse. However, do we practice it? Or have other things usurped its throne?

The Greatest Being… Theological Debate?

As one who has been through seminary, theological debating is a key component in seminary. I remember many debates (some I was involved in) over theological or ministerial issues: dispensational vs. covenant theology, issues in calvinism, Bible translation debates, church music debates, church practice debates, Christian involvement in social issues debates, etc. This list could go on and on and on.

There are so many books written about these debates. We pick a side and spend hours studying up and filling our holsters with our “silver bullets.” When we come across another Christian not from our camp, we take that opportunity to engage in “theological interrogation.” It isn’t about who the person is or what they enjoy doing. Usually we go straight for the jugular, “What do you believe about (fill in the blank)?” Then if that person disagrees with us, we hold them in suspicion and keep “those Christians” at an arm’s distance.

However, is this attitude and debating the greatest characteristic of a Christian? Did Jesus say the world would know us as His disciples by how well we can study theology, debate theology, and hold “the right position”? John 13:35 does not read that way. Even though studying theology and understanding doctrine is a good thing (II Timothy 2:15), it isn’t the greatest characteristic of a Christian.

The Greatest Being… Our Political Fight?

When you turn on the news and check your feed on social media, politics tend to be one of the most trending topics (or could be the most trending topic of today). We get involved in our country’s politics. We get behind a candidate or political party. We have issues we fight to see changed or kept in our country. We protest, write Facebook posts, tweet, wear MAGA hats or other attire of one party or another, and we associate with people depending on political views.

However, is this the greatest characteristic of being a Christian? Understandably, there are good causes to fight for and injustices to right, but is this the defining characteristic of a Christian?

In Romans 13:1-7 we are called to submit to governing authorities and respect them. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 we are urged to pray for our governing authorities. However, Titus 3:9 hold an interesting command. We are commanded to avoid disputes about the law; which in this case is referring to political law due to the context being about Christians relating to those outside the church. Paul tells Titus such disputes are worthless and unprofitable. We may think about Acts 5:29 in regards to Christians and politics. However, that is a much longer discussion and you can read my article on it: Playing the Card.

1 Corinthians 13:13 does not read, “And these three things remain: faith, hope, and politics. The greatest of these being politics.” That would be adding to Scripture.

The Greatest Being… Our Separation?

Could the greatest characteristic of a Christian be our separation? Separation, here, is referring to how Christians distance themselves from the lifestyles and practices of the world. The key verse for this being I John 2:15-17. We are told to not love the world or things in the world. We are to be living sacrifices to God and not conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2).

Again, is this the defining and greatest characteristic of a Christian? Does Jesus say the world will know us as His disciples by what we are separated from? Recheck John 13:35. That is not found in there. In fact, in John 17:15-18 Jesus requests the Father not to take the disciples out of the world, but instead send them into the world. As it comes to our generation of believers, Christ prays we would be known to the world by the love the Father has shown us in Christ (John 17:23). Even in our various practices of living for Christ, according to Romans 14:13-23, we are to live by a law of love.

Forgetting to Love: The Greatest Characteristic

A rose thrown to the ground. It is a symbol of rejection. A man gives his girlfriend a rose. She throws it onto the ground and runs after the man on the motorcycle. This image is common in our romantic genres of books and movies.

A rose given is a symbol of love. When we see it, our hearts melt and we may begin to tear up. Did you know God has given us a rose? He gave us a symbol of love: Jesus – the crimson red of his blood, the nail-pierced hands reaching out to us, the incarnate God living among us to redeem us.

Yet, how have many of us responded? We have cast God’s rose to the ground and ran after theological debates, rule keeping, political agendas, and diligently keeping a separation from the world. This is not a definitive list. Many more things could be added.

It is sad to see many Christians leave the church due to the hurt caused by other Christians. “But don’t leave the church because of some hypocrites,” say many. But, why are we using this statement as an excuse to allow the nasty interactions that happen in churches and Christian institutions?

When will Christians stop body shaming each other? When will Christians stop being suspicious of each other? When will Christians stop making fun of those with disabilities? When will Christians stop grading each other by their own standards? When will Christians stop “one-upping” each other? When will Christians stop… (you fill in the blank)?

When will Christians begin to come along side each other and love each other? When will Christians befriend and support? When will Christians be willing to pick up God’s rose from the ground and give it to another?

There are many of us who secretly guard instances of Christians hurting us. We want to leave because Christians have become known for other things rather than love. The constant stabbing of brothers and sisters in Christ creates compassion-closed calluses. In order to open these calluses, we need to be willing to help the hurt learn to love again.

The greatest characteristic of a Christian is love. It is not just telling the truth in love. It is a love to help the hurting, to hug the crying, to befriend the other, to reach out. It means we do these things without a Gospel tract in the other hand. Our love is showing Christ to others, and letting the Holy Spirit do the convicting and the transforming. Wait for the time to give the Gospel. One act of kindness doesn’t mean they are ready to hear.

The greatest of these is love. Pick up God’s rose. Who do you need to give it to? Who needs that text, call, hug, or gift? Who needs you to love them? Hurt Christians are callused. The lost world is watching. What do we do first? Is it love? Or is it another?

The Offensive Gospel?

“The gospel is open to all; the most respectable sinner has no more claim on it than the worst.”
– Martin Lloyd-Jones

“I’m offended” has become a joke in conversations today. Whether we are speaking about race, religion, or civil rights, we tend to start our dialogue with, “I don’t want this to sound offensive, but…” It is like the word “offensive” has become the buzzword of our culture and social media.

However, there has been a phrase that Christians have been using in our current culture, “the gospel is offensive” or “people will be offended by the Gospel.”

Are these phrases good to use? Is the Gospel supposed to be offensive?

What would Jesus think about calling his work “offensive”?

A Defining Starting Block

Before we jump into this discussion, we need to have a definition of “offensive.” What does this word actually mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Offensive” is defined as:
1.) a. Making attack: aggresive; b. Of, relating to, or designed for attack; c. Of, or relating to, an attempt to score in a game or contest
2.) Giving painful or unpleasant sensation: nauseous; obnoxious
3.) Causing displeasure or resentment
(As a noun it is defined as, “an act of attacking a party.”)

This definition gives a good word picture of something that is offensive. It is something that is meant to attack someone, to give them resentment, or a distaste towards something. Something that is offensive are words or actions meant to cause the displeasure of another.

What is the Gospel?

“The Gospel is offensive.” That is what we hear or say. However, looking at the definition of “offensive,” is the Gospel offensive? First, what is the Gospel?

Has someone ever asked you, “What is the Gospel?”

The Gospel starts with one person: Jesus. The Gospel begins and ends with Jesus. We are the recipients of the Gospel.

In Genesis 3:15, Adam and Eve have disobeyed God, and through their actions sin is brought into the world. They are kicked out of the garden. But, God speaks this incredible verse. He saw that sin is tantalizing to our fallen mind. He knew what sin would do to us. So, God promised Adam and Eve a savior. He promised the crushing of the serpent.

The Gospel is the fulfillment of this promise. Jesus taking our sin on him, crushing the snake, and justifying us before God by clothing us in his righteousness.

The Gospel is how we, who are lost in dark sin, can be made clean from sin. It is the promise of not being under the wrath of God, but being brought into the family of God as sons, daughters, and heirs. It is centered around Jesus. He is the one who works our salvation. He died for us, he rose for us, he justified us, he is sanctifying us, and he will glorify us (Ephesians 2:1-10).

The Gospel is Jesus.

“Offensive” in the Life of Jesus

Since Jesus is the heart of the Gospel, then we need to look at his life to see if the Gospel is offensive. Let’s turn our attention to the Gospels and look into the interactions Jesus had.

Jesus was known as many things: teacher, rabbi, Lord, Son of Man, etc. But one phrase is used of Jesus to describe his interactions: a friend of sinners. He was known to eat and fellowship with sinners. In fact, in many situations, he either put himself in the way of sinners (John 4:1-42) or sinners were drawn to him (Luke 7:36-50). There was something that drew sinners to Jesus. There was something in Jesus that urged him to place himself in the way of sinners. Love was this something (John 3:16; Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:34). Ones who came to Jesus longed to hear the phrase, “Your sins are forgiven (Mark 2:5).”

However, there was a group of people Jesus did offend. In fact he called them many unkind things: Fools, neglecters, unmarked graves, hypocrites, oppressive, approvers of evil (Luke 11:37-54). These people were the religious leaders. This group did not like Jesus. He disrupt their power over people. He disrupted their manipulation of the Law. He disrupted the treatment of people. The religious leaders were offended so much that they falsely accused Jesus and executed him. Ones who knew the Scripture and were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of God’s people, killed the Messiah.

Look at Luke 7:36-54. This story beautifully displays the heart of Jesus. While dining at the home of a pharisee (a religious leader), a woman known as a sinner (someone who is an outcast) comes and stands at the feet of Jesus. Her only possession with her is an expensive alabaster jar of perfume. Jesus looks her in the eyes, and she begins to weep. She anoints his feet with the perfume and wipes them with her hair. She is literally giving herself to Jesus, not in a sexual manner, but in one pleading for mercy.

Look at the reaction of Jesus and the pharisee. The pharisee was shocked. He couldn’t believe that a man of God would allow a woman like that to come even near him. She is a sinner. He stiffed arm her. Jesus, on the other hand, responded (after a quick parable) with, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

By the reactions of the two, who would this woman be more offended by? The pharisee. There was something about Jesus that drew this woman to him. She was not offended by him or his message.

The Offensive Gospel in our Culture

It is interesting to see who was offended by the message of Jesus. Yet, do we follow in Jesus’ example in our interactions as we give the gospel?

When we talk about the “Gospel is offensive,” who or what is being offended? What is being attacked? Is it the person? Or the sinful and fallen nature of the person?

We stand on the street corner yelling at people, we leave tracks at restaurants with no tip, we shove Scripture at people. Does that attract people to the Gospel?

Look at the life of Jesus. He was approached by sinners because of his message. The religious leaders were the ones that chased people away with their rules, traditions, and other actions. They were the ones offended by Jesus.

Sinners should never be offended by the person giving the Gospel. The message should never change, but should never be given in an offensive manner. How did Jesus and the apostles give the Gospel? Did they start with “give up this sin”? Or “you are a sinner”? In certain contexts, yes. The majority of the time they started with God. It is only towards the end of their messages they mention repentance.

How do we present the Gospel? Is the crux of the Gospel Heaven or Hell or the giving up of sin? Or is the heart of the Gospel Jesus? People do not need to “clean themselves up” before coming to Jesus. People should see us as ones who want to know their lives, be their friends, and share with them the living-giving Gospel of Jesus.

Stop Being Offensive

The Gospel should never be offensive. In our definition above, the Gospel should never fall into any of those categories. Yes, we are fighting against sin and Satan in this world. But, it is not by the weapons of the world: sarcasm, yelling, screaming, etc. It is how Jesus did it: one relationship at a time.

The Gospel is about new life. What is offensive about that? Is the reason we think the Gospel is offensive is actually because of the way we have been giving it? Have we traded relational ministry for quick conversions? Have we only wanted people to give us a reaction to our presentation of the Gospel so we can claim persecution?

The Gospel is an affront to our sinful nature. But, how is it packaged? Is it through harsh comments, Bible verse shotgun pellets, and picket signs? No, it is seen the incarnation of Jesus Christ: God born in a manger, the friend of sinners, the Innocent One executed, and the Divine One risen conquering sin and death.

If our Gospel is all about turning from sin, then we have missed its heart: Jesus. He forgave, and people changed. We do not change people in order for Jesus to forgive. In fact the forsaking of sin and walking in repentance is found in discipleship and sanctification.

When we look at giving the Gospel, are we proud of being offensive? Or are we proud we are following the example of Jesus?

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation, I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness, Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished, the end is written
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Who could imagine so great a mercy?
What heart could fathom such boundless grace?
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken, I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior, I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ, my living hope

– “Living Hope” by Phil Wickham

Playing the Card

“I am or would be of no sect or party, civil or religious, but a lover of mankind. It is my part to mourn over sin, and the misery which sin causes, to be humbled for my own sins especially, to pray for peace, and to preach the gospel. Other things I leave to those who have more leisure and ability, and I leave the whole to Him who does all things well.”
– John Newton

Have you ever gotten a good hand while playing Uno? You have many good cards (skip, draw 4, draw 2, wild, etc). In your mind you strategize when to play each card. As you place each card down, your opponents groan and sigh as they slowly lose their chance at winning. Sometimes in card games we may not have many good cards, but we may have one. We do not play it at any time, but we wait and strategize the perfect timing to put that card into play.

We have seen in life people use various “playing cards” or accusing people of “playing certain cards.” Even as Christians, we have cards that we like to play.

However, there is one card that Christians tend to play a lot in society. It isn’t a “draw 4” or “skip” card. Instead, it has another label: “We obey God rather than man.” This card is taken from Acts 5:29. This card takes on many forms, but it is mainly played in our relationship with government and politics.

But, are we using this card as it is meant to be played? Do we use it as an excuse to not obey government, or is there something else behind this card?

The Card in the Context of the Deck

When considering the phrase found in Acts 5:29 and our use of it, we need to remember that every verse has a context in Scripture.

This particular verse falls into a context of events leading to that statement. These events are found in Acts 3-5. In Acts 3, Peter and John heal a lame man and preach Jesus is the Messiah, He was crucified, raised from the dead, and the people should turn from their sins. However, this message gets Peter and John arrested in Acts 4. The religious leaders are not happy with this message, they command the two to cease preaching this message about Jesus. Once released, the apostles pray for boldness as they share Christ with all around them. Now we come to Acts 5 (where our phrase is contained). Skipping over the graves Ananias and Sapphira, we see the apostles are out sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet again, they are arrested and thrown into prison. But, God is a chain breaker (in this case physically), and miraculously opens the prison doors for the apostles to walk out. When the religious leaders discover the missing prisoners (and how they are back to preaching), they arrest them again. After scolding them and commanding them to stop, cease, and desist preaching, the apostles respond with, “We must obey God rather than people. (Acts 5:29).”

Were the apostles resisting a government order? Were the disciples protesting? Was there any political motivation to their message? Was politics even involved in this situation? No. In fact, politics is not found in the context. The message of the apostles was all about Jesus and who He is. Those who opposed their message were the religious leaders of the community. Yes, they did have power in the community, but could the religious leaders be compared to our government leaders?

When the apostles played the “we ought to obey God rather than man” card, it was in relation with the message they were speaking. In fact, throughout the book of Acts when the apostles are imprisoned, it is over their message of the Gospel and the effect it was having on people.. We do not see Paul singing in prison “This little light of mine I’ll burn down the pagan temples.” We do not see Timothy running through the streets with a petition from Paul asking for signatures to ban immoral behavior. We do see Paul, Peter, and the other apostles speaking out against immoral behavior, but it is addressed to Christians in how to live as Christians. We do not see unbelievers being told to turn from their sins before they are told about Christ.

Babies in the Nile and Standing in the Face of Fire

However, we do see two instances that clearly show God’s people in defiance over government orders (Exodus 1:8-22; Daniel 3:1-30)

In these instances, those who feared God rather than man were rewarded, and they are seen as heroes in our Bible stories. But, again, we need to look at the context. In the case of the Fiery Furnace, the three men are having to choose between who to worship: the king or God. There was a government law in who to choose, but they chose to obey God rather than men. Were they protesting about this law? No, in fact they were respectful to the King why they were not obeying the law (Daniel 3:16:-18). They gave their reason and left their fate in God’s hands, because they knew God is sovereign. They did not have signs or write angry opinions on the wall. They peacefully stated their reason, and resigned the rest to their sovereign God.

In the instance of Exodus, the pharaoh ordered the murder of Hebrew male babies. The Hebrew midwives disobeyed the law. But, what kind of law was it? Was it one about freedom of speech? This law was about murdering children. In this instance, the “we ought to obey God rather than man” card was played in a proper way. The midwives, when summoned by the pharaoh, answered the king and let God take care of the rest. The midwives did not paint “Throwing babies into the nile is vile” across the sphinx. They were peaceful about it. (Now the issue of if the midwives lied and was that condoned is a whole other issue for another discussion).

When we consider these two scenarios where the “we ought to obey God rather than man” card was played, we see two things:
1.) The laws being broken were only broken in their individual lives; they did not require the law to be changed for the entire land. They saw the command went against God’s Word, but they did not protest for it to be changed. They left that in God’s hands, because He is sovereign (Proverbs 21:1).
2.) When questioned about their civil disobedience, they answered peacefully. They did not get into a debate, design turbans and robes with political sayings, or hold marches. The answer given was better stated in a peaceful way and seasoned with grace (Colossians 4:6).

Christian Testimony and Constitutional Rights

But, what about my freedom of speech and my right to protest? Now, we need to turn our attention to 21st Century American society. According to our constitution, we have rights to freedom of speech and freedom to protest.

Yet, according to God’s Word our main goal as Christians is to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). There is nothing in Scripture about forcing governments to hold Christian values. In fact, there is nothing in Scripture where we have to make sure culture is redeemed and living exactly how the Bible states. Instead, we are to make disciples one person at a time. Can God use our obedience to the great commission as a way to change a government or nation? Yes, but it is not our goal. We should take jobs where we can be lights for the Gospel (including in government). But, according to Romans 13:1-7, we should be willing to submit to the government. We should strive to live at peace with all men, and to pray for our government (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Yes, we have constitutional rights in our country. We are very grateful for them. But, is our goal to create a Christian nation or make disciples? Are we willing to give up our rights to using free speech and freedom to protest in order to live out a Christian testimony?

Jesus has every freedom imaginable. He has the right to say whatever he wants and to do whatever he wants; he is God. Yet, God chose a different path in the incarnation. He chose to lay aside his “divine constitutional rights” in order to bring redemption to humanity (Philippians 2:5-11). He could have played the “God card” at any moment he chose. Yet, he strategized when he would use it. He knew the best times to play that card were when it would lead people to him. If we are to have the same mind as Christ, are we willing to lay aside our constitutional rights and freedoms in order to be a Christian witness as we make disciples of all people? Are we willing to play the “we out to obey God rather than man” card only when it leads others to Christ?

Strategizing our Card Playing

The New Testament church lived in a world similar to ours. There were laws they did not like, there was behavior condemned by Scripture being lived out in public, there was oppression, there were rulers and emperors the New Testament believers would rather see off the throne than ruling. Yet, we do not see them attempting to make the Roman Empire a “Christian Empire.” We do not see the New Testament church forcing laws to be changed to fit the teachings of Jesus. We do see them actively obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples of all people. We do see them sharing the Gospel before teaching others how to live as new creatures made in the image of Christ. We do see them striving to live peaceably with all men as shining stars in order to give the Gospel.

We can do the same. Instead of seeing government decisions, supreme court decisions, and political agendas as an opportunities to demand our rights, can we take a different approach? Can we see these things as opportunities to lay aside our constitutional rights in order to peaceably give the Gospel?

How is boycotting stores or throwing away items that may or may not be associated with a movement or political agenda help us make disciples of all nations? How does becoming a poster child for our political party give us opportunities to share Christ? How does picketing and protesting share the light God has given us?

Paul says in Ephesians 6:19-20 he wanted to use his imprisonment as an opportunity to give the Gospel. How can we use our current situation and our current political situation to make disciples of all people? Are we willing to lay aside our constitutional rights and stop playing the “we ought to obey God rather than man” card at every chance in order to have opportunities to share the light of God? Are we willing to strategize when we play that card?

The noise of demanding our freedoms can drown out the quiet voice of the Spirit, and the image of our political t-shirts, signs, and hats can blind people to the image of Christ in us.

Broken Body

“You weren’t an accident. You weren’t mass produced. You aren’t an assembly-line product. You were deliberately planned, specifically gifted, and lovingly positioned on the Earth by the Master Craftsman.”
– Max Lucado


What does it mean to be human? What is my purpose on earth? Why do I hit the alarm each morning, shower, and go about my day? What makes me a person?

These are big questions everyone asks themselves and inquire of others to answer. I know I certainly have.

We live our lives as living examples of the answers we come to believe. Is being a human about how we look? Is it about our minds? Are our bodies what makes us human?

Our culture has through many narratives tried to answer these questions: Sci-Fi films, Zombie films, classical literature, children’s books, etc. Our narratives have too many answers to sift through to come to a final answer.

Are we just to pick an answer or come up with our own?

What about me? A 29 year old disabled man who cannot run or walk without a limp, wears leg braces, cannot play sports, possibly cannot have biological children, and who cannot even do the simplest things a normal human should be able to do. What is the answer for me? What makes me human?

Looking Down from the Bell Tower

In the story The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo is hidden away from the world due to his deformity. His deformity became something to be feared, to be mocked, and to be crown at the Feast of Fools. His dream was to be out there, out from Notre Dame, and living among the people of Paris.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Victor Frankenstein creates a human made from the parts of corpses. Yet, when the Creature (yes, that is what he is called) is in the world, all he faces is torment, mocking, and displacement. When he confronts the doctor, not even his own creator wants him.

Those who have a broken body know that these stories (and many others) accurately paint reality. We look down from our bell towers wishing to be out there among the others. We feel like sometimes our own creator does not want us.

Why?

Our broken bodies. Our culture shows us that if you fit a certain standard of body image, then you are considered human. Where does a broken body fit its jigsawed shape into our culture’s mold?

Rejected by Our Primordial Slime

In the scientific teaching of Evolution, each human came from some sort of primordial slime, and over time evolved into the humans we see now. Evolution is supposed to be developing the best, and continuing to that advanced state. The survival of the fittest brings out the best.

So if I’m not the fittest, am I meant to die out? In order to make sure we continue the best of the human race, should we follow the ways Hitler? Should we kill off those who are weak and only contaminate our humanity? In the Holocaust, the Jews were not the first to be executed. The disabled laid the paving stones for the methodology of the worst crime against humanity in history.

Those with broken bodies have been rejected by Evolution. We are not the fittest or the strongest. Our culture’s narratives and stories give many answers that we may choose from to answer what it means to be human. But, is rejection from our own primordial slime the only option for being born with or by an accident having a broken body?

If Evolution is fact, then those with a broken body are those who should be cast aside without purpose, without place, and without being considered a true human.

The Forgotten Answer

Since our culture rejects those with a broken body, and pretty much our primordial slime does as well, then should not all those with a broken body end it? It is logical. But, that line of thinking is missing a piece. It has not considered a forgotten answer.

In the library of answers to the question of “what makes a human?” sits an old book hidden between the other volumes. If you aren’t looking carefully at each book, this one is easy to miss.

On the first page it says, “In the beginning God…”

It does not start with “You are special,” “You have been given a gift,” or even “Look at yourself in the mirror.” Instead this book starts with someone else. This person is credited with forming you (Genesis 1:27; Psalm 139:13). He is known by his character: holy, loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, and compassionate (there are a lot more).

This forgotten answer begins with a forgotten person: God.

The Reason for Creation

We may be thinking, “So it is God’s fault for giving me or this person a broken body. No wonder people do not want to have anything to do with him.” I get it. It’s a logical conclusion. But, it is a logical conclusion from the wrong perspective.

When we see broken bodies from our perspective, we miss what God sees. In Genesis 1:26-28, God does not just create man, and “poof” man exists. Instead, God creates man with a place and a purpose in mind. He places man on earth for a purpose (Genesis 2:15). He writes out each day for each individual for a reason (Psalm 139:16). Yet, we are not pawns in a game of chess, or marionettes in a puppet show. We are like a character specifically drawn up by an author who weaves our stories together to reveal the ultimate story of redemption founded on Jesus Christ.

Brokenness Used

God, our Creator, makes each of our bodies for a purpose. He makes brokenness to be used.

Abraham considered his body (more specifically his sperm) dead, and thought he would never have a son (Hebrews 11:12). Yet, God used the many tears of brokenness when all around Abraham and Sarah people were having children. God brought about a child of promise. Their broken bodies paved the way for a miracle.

Hannah (I Samuel 1) could not bear children. She cried many tears that streamed down her broken body. Yet, even when called out as drunk by the priest, God used the brokenness of a womb to bring another miracle child. This child, Samuel, would be considered one of the greatest men in the Old Testament.

Mephibosheth (a man never healed by God) was crippled from an accident. He was an outcast on two accounts. First, he was crippled and would be displaced from society. Second, he was the grandson of King Saul. When David took over the throne, it was David’s right to kill anyone in the line of Saul. Yet again, God stepped in. David welcomed Mephibosheth into his palace and treated him as one of the family. God uses this man’s life as an example of God’s grace towards us (II Samuel 9; Romans 8:15-17).

In John 9, a man born blind is used to prove the divinity of Jesus. A woman, in Mark 5:25-34, could not stop the bleeding from her menstrual cycle. Her body was broken for 12 years. Yet, Jesus showed that God will use broken bodies to show people their need of Jesus.

A broken body is created to be used. God uses brokenness to points other to himself, and to the love and compassion of the Savior of the world.

Living from Heaven’s Eyes

It is easy to brush this off, and say God is sick for using brokenness for his own glory. But, what is the other choice? Does trying every day to come up with a purpose for your broken body seem like a cycle you want to continue in?

Yet, what about being a part of God’s story? What about not knowing how he is going to use your brokenness, but having the certain hope that he will?

If you notice, one verse has not been mentioned in this post. Other verses in that chapter have been, but not that specific verse. See, when I have struggled with what makes me human with having a broken body, most people quote it. Honestly, hearing that verse over and over as the answer feels like a cop out.

“Yeah, you can praise God for your body because of (fill in the blank). I doubt you would be praising God if you were in my situation.” My own thoughts betray my view of what it means to be human. We get so caught up in the snare of thinking that our humanness is found in our bodies and their physical abilities. If that is the case, then I am no better than a zombie. It clearly means that if I do not have a normal body, then I do not have a place or a purpose for my life. These thoughts put me at the center of my woes, and no more than the weakest of the species that should be wiped out.

Yet, the only way we can properly live out Psalm 139:14 is living from heaven’s eyes. We are not in a bell tower. We are not a creature displaced. We are created by God. We have been given a place. We have been given a purpose, and God has given some a broken body to fulfill that purpose in our place. It might mean we are never able to have children, or have bathroom needs, or walk with a limp, or be wheelchair bound, or suffer from chronic pain, or deal with things no one will understands. But, it is when we are certain of the hope of God using us in his story of redemption we can cry out Psalm 139:14. It is not a verse of grit your teeth and believe it. It is a verse in awe of the truth that God has formed us perfectly for the days he has planned for us written in his story (Psalm 139:13-16).

When we snicker, or laugh, or make fun of someone’s broken body, we are taking our culture’s narratives and forcing them to live as Quasimodo or Frankenstein’s Creature. We take away their God given story. We are telling them that because their body is broken, it is better to be used as a joke or even not exist at all. We have then traded the worship of the Creator for the worship of the creature.

What does it mean to be human?

It means to be one formed by God, placed for a purpose that is written out in God’s book that is to be lived out in the body given to us.

But I Feel Like a Fraud

“If I can easily discuss the shortcomings and the sins of any, then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.” – Amy Carmichael

You close your Bible and thank God for how He spoke through His Word. You open your social media account to share that verse. As you begin typing, a thought hits you, “How can you share this with that struggle?”

You’re preparing a sermon or lesson. However, the passage hits a chord with you. It speaks on the sin you have fallen into time and time again. You know there will be individuals in attendance who have kept you accountable, and have seen you fall, and seen the many times you repented. Then the thought hit you, “What are they going to think of me when I preach this passage?”

At church people are sharing testimonies. It is your turn at the mic. As you step up to share how God is working in your life a thought hits you, “They all know what I did last weekend, and now I’m sharing this? They all must think I’m a fraud.”

I feel like a fraud. It is a thought we all have faced at one time or another. We see our spiritual life, and we see the sin in our life. We can count how many times we have fallen, and how many times we have asked for forgiveness. And when it comes to speaking about Christ, we feel like a fraud. In fact, we may have had some people say to us, “And you call yourself a Christian?”

The Lie of an Image

At the root of feeling like a fraud is the idea that we have not attained a certain image for our Christian life. We see those around us who come across as perfect, as ones not falling into sin, and those who must be mature Christians. We look at passages like I Timothy 3:2, read the phrase “above reproach,” and think we could never attain that with our struggles. We have a desire to be in ministry, but know our image does not include “above reproach.”

However, this is a lie. We would agree that all Christians are not perfect. But, don’t we act and treat others like we believe we should put forth an image of being perfect? Even if we say “above reproach” does not mean being perfect, we qualify it with saying, “It means no one has something to grab onto or something to use against your character.” This is a subtle way of saying, “You need to be perfect.”

Everyone has something that can be thrown at them. I John 1:8 states that if we claim or even act as if we do not have sin in our lives, then the truth is not in us. The idea that unless we conform to an image in order to share Christ is a lie.

I would like to look at two people in the Gospels that show us that God does not want an image. He wants sinners bearing His image.

But Didn’t She Sleep With?

It was a hot day. Jesus sent the disciples into a town for food. As He sat in the blazing sun on the hot bricks of a well, a woman came to the well. Jesus could see her eyes focused on the ground; attempting to not make eye contact with anyone. Her whole body language showed the weight of shame she received from the people in her community.

“Would you please give me a drink?” After some conversation, Jesus revealed to the woman what she knew to be true. She had many men in her life, and was sleeping with a man who was not her husband. She was even probably called whore or slut by people in the town. They knew what she was like, she knew what she was like, and Jesus knew.

But John 4:1-32 does not end with this reveal. Instead, Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah offering living water that would gush into a geyser of living water inside of her. No longer did she have to find satisfaction in dipping into the various wells of sexual encounters. The Messiah gave her a new life.

What happened next? She went into her town telling people to come and see the man who told her all about herself (John 4:28-30). She didn’t care that the people knew her as the woman who passed herself around. She cared that they came to see the Messiah. And what happened because of her testimony? John 4:39-42 gives us the answer. The people believed her testimony, and because of her they were led to meet the savior of the world.

The woman at the well, with her past, became one of the first missionaries showing people the Messiah who would give them living water.

And He Calls Himself a Leader of the Church?

He traveled with Jesus. He sat under his teachings. He witnessed the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, and the dead raised. He even saw Jesus’ glory as Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. Even at the last supper, he promised Jesus he would never abandon him.

Peter was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. Yes, he stuck his foot in his mouth a lot. But, was he above reproach? In Matthew 26:69-75 we see a dark side of Peter. As Jesus was being tried in order to execute him, Peter was in the courtyard wanting to hear what would happen. His promise of not abandoning his Lord and the one he called, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:13-16),” stood firm in his mind.

Yet, a servant girl change everything. “You were with Jesus, weren’t you?” Peter quickly looked around, maybe even tried to silence the girl, but couldn’t. People were already staring. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” Peter denied his association with Jesus. Two more times, others claimed Peter was a follower of Jesus. Each time, Peter denied Jesus in order to prove he was not associated with the man accused. The rooster crowed, and Peter remembered Jesus’ predication, and probably began eating his promise of not abandoning Jesus. Peter ran away weeping.

The story does end there. John 21:15-19 shows us the heart of Jesus. Jesus forgave Peter and restored him. In fact it wasn’t just a forgive and forget moment. Jesus called Peter to feed his sheep or feed the church. Peter, the one who publicly denied Jesus, was called to be a leader in the church. In fact, Peter goes on to write two books of the New Testament highlighting our hope in Christ. Yet, the church would have known about his denial. The book of Matthew was written in the late 50’s AD. The two books Peter wrote are dated to the early 60’s AD. Therefore, he could not hide from the people he ministered to his public denial of their savior.

Being Christ’s Image Bearer

Peter and the woman at the well were not perfect. In fact, the people who knew them could have easily said, “How can he be a pastor? He publicly denied Jesus,” or “How can she be talking about Jesus? Her bed had an open vacancy sign over it.”

How could they talk about Jesus? Because it was not about having their own image. It was about bearing or wearing Christ’s image. II Corinthians 5:21 states that Jesus took our image, our sin, our identity on himself in order that we could bear his righteous image. Ephesians 4:24 says we are to put on the likeness of God or the image of Christ. We are not to put on self-righteousness or an image of perfection. Instead, we are wear the identity of Jesus. Romans 3:23-26 demonstrates that it is not our image of perfection that does anything whether in salvation or progressive sanctification. Our righteousness is only from Jesus. Our image is the image of Jesus. He knows we struggle with sin. He knows we are not perfect. But in our imperfect words and actions, Jesus has freely given to us the ability to wear his image.

Even as I write this post, I can feel the thought, “My readers must think me a fraud. Those who know me know I’m not perfect. How can I be writing this when I know my own struggles?” It is a thought that can be turned into an opportunity. It is not an image I have to put on. Jesus is my perfection. Jesus is my image. Do I show Jesus like I should? No. But, I do not have to worry about what people think or what they say about me. I am just like the woman at the well and Peter. I have sinned, and people know how I’ve sinned. But I have a God who through the riches of his mercy and grace made me alive in Christ in order to do what he has called me to do (Ephesians 2:1-10).

The scars of the past and the scars of the present can be reminders of how much a fraud we can feel when we speak about Jesus. But, let the scars of the past and the present remind you of His scars that forgave you, cleansed you, freed you, justified you, and called you to a new purpose (I Corinthians 6:9-11; II Corinthians 5:17-21).

Others who call you a fraud have a low view of God. They do not see how God has forgiven you, loves you, and is using your story to show Jesus to the world. You do not have to worry about creating an image, because Jesus wants you to bear his image as he transforms your life, your mind, and your heart to be more like him each day, and step by step.

Waking up to a new sunrise
Looking back from the other side
I can see now with open eyes
Darkest water and deepest pain
I wouldn’t trade it for anything
‘Cause my brokenness brought me to You
And these wounds are a story You’ll useSo I’m thankful for the scars
‘Cause without them I wouldn’t know Your heart
And I know they’ll always tell of who You are
So forever I am thankful for the scars

– “Scars” by I am They
(Listen to the song here)

Thriving in Isolation

“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” – Jim Elliot

There is no denying the news of the world. There is a virus that is spreading quickly, and our government is telling people to be in isolation so we can slow down the spread of COVID-19.

Social distancing can be one of the hardest things to experience since we are created to be social beings. God said it was not good for man to be alone, so he created Eve for Adam (Genesis 2:18-25). So “cabin fever” will eventually set in, and we may feel like that scene from Muppet Treasure Island (Watch Here).

However, how are we as Christians supposed to respond, not only to the onset of COVID-19, but also to the the fact that the majority of us will be isolated and stuck at home for the next few weeks? Churches are closed, and people are working at home. How can we look at this from a biblical perspective?

Breathe…

The first thing we need to do is breathe. When we log onto social media, we are are berated with many articles and posts about COVID-19 and a political agenda, the events of Revelation, or some other conspiracy theory. Instead of letting these thoughts over take our mind, we need to breathe. Inhale and exhale. Go ahead, actually inhale and exhale. Just that simple breath shows God is not done with your purpose on earth. He has a plan for each of our lives and has it written down in his book (Psalm 139:16).

But, let us deal with all the articles and headlines which buzz around our heads. We can breathe in the midst of these articles, because God promises he does not give us a spirit of fear (II Timothy 1:7). Instead, it is a spirit of power, love, and sound judgment. The first two items are easy to understand, but what about the last? To have sound judgment means we are able to work through a situation with God’s wisdom. We can look at all the headlines from any site about COVID-19 and ask God for wisdom. In II Timothy 2:15, we are commanded to diligently study the Word and be able to work our way through the Word. Studying the Word can help us breathe. We will see a plethora of promises from God, and we will see how to handle issues of COVID-19 conspiracy theories and the End Times. (Hint: the answer is in Acts 1:4-8 – Where does Christ put our focus when it comes to the matters of the End Times?)

Capture…

The second thing we need to do in order to thrive in isolation is to capture. By this I mean we need to capture our thoughts. Paul commands us in II Corinthians 10:4-5 to capture all our thoughts in order to follow Christ. Believe me, this is hard to do. It is easy for me to stumble in my journey in following Christ. Isolation can bring up thoughts of the past, thoughts of worthlessness, thoughts of my struggle, and I can easily fall spiritually and fall into depression.

Remember, God has given us the victory over sin because of Jesus Christ (Romans 5). Therefore, I have the spirit of power in me because the Holy Spirit lives in me (II Timothy 1:7). I can capture these thoughts, bring them to Christ, and continue walking forward.

Our thoughts do not have to overwhelm us in isolation. We can journal them out, and then search the Scriptures so we know how to answer these thoughts. We can listen to good Christian music to help our minds stay focused. Some songs I listen to keep my mind focused are: This is Amazing Grace by Phil Wickham; Found in You and Lamb of God by Vertical Church; Glorious Day by Passion; No One Like Our God and God of the Impossible by Lincoln Brewster. There are many more I could recommend. Yes these songs do have an upbeat, but it helps keep my mind focused on truth when my emotions and thoughts want to go against God’s truth.

It is easy in this time to let our thoughts run wild, but we have the power to capture them and bring them to Christ. We can conquer our thoughts in isolation only because of Jesus.

Connect…

It has been overly noted that churches are closing. It is advised that we do not physically meet in church in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19. This has many Christians concerned. Yet when God created us, he gave us creativity. We are created in his image, so we can be creative like he is (Genesis 1:26-27).

It is of vital importance to meet together as believers (Hebrews 10:24-25). We need to be encouraging each other in following Christ, in standing strong in the faith, in loving those around us, and in fulfilling God’s calling in our lives. Yet, we still need to be respectful of the governing authorities (Romans 13:1). They have only asked us not to meet in person as a large crowd.

This is where being created in the image of God comes in. We are creative beings, and in being creative we have created technology. We can livestream and record services. We can video chat with many believers around the world. We can text each other. Use the creative minds God has given us to stay connected to the community of believers. This is one thing I am grateful for. My band of brothers in my life want to stay connected, and so we make it a priority.

Since the church is the body of Christ as seen in I Corinthians 12:12-27 we cannot do life alone. Even though we are isolated from each other for face-to-face meetings, we can still connect and encourage each other.

Thrive…

Yes, the times are a bit scary and our anxiety can overtake our thoughts. Yet, we as Christians can to three things: Breathe, Capture, and Connect. God is in control of our lives and he knows all about COVID-19 and its effects. This is no surprise to him. God uses all things for our good and in order to make us like Christ (Romans 8:28-29).

So as we start our period of social distancing, let’s not allow this time to be one where Satan can suffocate us in silence. Let’s thrive because God has given us a spirit of power, love, and sound judgment (II Timothy 1:7). We do not have to fall to the power of “cabin fever.” If we take it one day at a time, giving it over to God, and breathing, capturing, and connecting, we will see this time as a season of growth. People may be panicking. But, we can use this time to show the peace of God which surpassing any human reasoning in order to show that we have a powerful God who loves us, sustains us, and will fulfill his purposes for our lives (Philippians 4:7; Colossians 1:15-20).

Sound of Surviving

“Take your stand on the Rock of Ages. Let death, let the judgment come: the victory is Christ’s and yours through Him.
– D.L. Moody

Feeling broken and barely holding on…

Isn’t that how we feel inside when we think of that one struggle. The one most people would never think we deal with. Depression haunts us and clouds our day as we battle the thoughts as we wear the mask of “I’m fine.”

How in the world are we to make it when the pain is so great that we would rather end it, than take one more step? How can we get from saying, “it is over” to “it isn’t over yet”?

Think about that struggle you keep hidden in your pocket that if the world knew you would feel so humiliated. Think about the one you are keeping secret from your church, your spouse, the small group you lead. What are the chapters you rip out of your life so no one knows?

How are we to survive?

Too Many Bullet Holes

I didn’t ask to struggle with a disability. I didn’t ask to be bullied. I didn’t ask to be molested. I didn’t ask for the emotional abuse from friends and those who were supposed to be closer than friends. I didn’t ask to struggle with same-sex attraction, depression, suicidal thoughts, and the daily pain of my disability.

And you didn’t ask for your past and your struggle. We didn’t go to the “Life’s Supermarket” and pick out our struggles and life story like choosing cereal. Yet, isn’t that how many people treat us? We are told our messy story is not worth telling because too many bullet holes. We are told we aren’t “golden” enough to be an effective testimony. So, we walk away with shame that our stories do not matter, and our lives are too messed up to be be any good to the Church or to God.

Yet, that is man’s opinion. God knew what was going to happen. Psalm 139:16 states for a fact that God has written every one of our days in his books. Nothing slipped his writing of our lives.

He even planned to send His own people into exile. His story of them involved their painful extraction from their homes into the chaotic living of exile. Yet, he gave them a promise: Jeremiah 29:11. He promised them a future. And isn’t that what we want? We want a future. Jeremiah 29:11 is for us as well. He knows that we feel like an outsider in exile, but God promises a future. Our lives are not too full of bullet holes to be outside this promise.

Not Too Far

I thought for the longest time that because I struggle with same-sex attraction that I was too far gone. I felt like God saved me from all the other sins and struggles, but that one. Why? Because of Romans 1:26-27. I had never acted physically on these thoughts, but did these thoughts mean God gave me up?

No. No one is too far gone for God. Ephesians 2:1-5 describes our state of being lost in sin. It describes how we practiced sin in thought and action. Yet, there is no list of sins. However, the tone of the passage changes because the focus in not on us. It is on God.

“But God”

One of the most powerful interjections in all of Scripture. But God, because of his love for me (even though I struggle and fall and want to end it), and because of his great mercy he made me alive in Christ. I Corinthians 6:9-11 promises that all sins are washed and cleansed because of Jesus.

Our struggles and our sins do not make us too far from God. Jesus went to find people who needed His healing (Mark 5:1-20). He knows your pain and struggle. And so He took on your pain and struggle so you and I could be known as righteous before God (II Corinthians 5:21). Christ’s blood takes my thoughts and shameful struggles and covers them, cleanses them, and gives me a whole new life.

Others may say you are too far from the grace of God. Jesus condemns those words (Matthew 23:13). God sent his son because whoever believes may have eternal life. The ones who have been forgiven much will be the ones who love Christ the most. God says you are not too far from Him. He gave up His own life so you could be with Him. The people around you are not God. God says, “Come, be forgiven because of Jesus. You are not too far gone for my love.”

Not Done Fighting

There are good days and there are bad days. There are days where we just want to give up and give in. We feel like we cannot take another step. The pain stabs us. Our struggles suffocate us. Our pasts haunt us. I’ve been there. Days where I thought “If only I was not born.” “If only I could just get out of this life.” The dark thoughts fog our minds and we lose sight of the truth, and of our God. We can’t see, and therefore we fall to our knees and cry. We can’t go on fighting.

Yet, when sight is gone and we feel the clutches of hell dragging us to our hellish fate, there is one word of hope: Faith. II Corinthians 5:7 instructs us to walk by faith. It is when all hope is lost, and all we can do is say, “God, I am walking to you even though I cannot see.” We don’t just have these instructions, God gave us a whole chapter to show us how people without sight walked by faith: Hebrews 11. Pleasing God is not being perfect or having this “golden testimony.” Pleasing God is walking each step of each moment in total blindness by faith.

The world tells me to give in to my desires and thoughts. God’s Word tells me it is wrong. Yet, there are times where I just want to walk out of work, out of my marriage, and out of my life to just give in. But, Romans 5 promises me that I have victory. Christ gives me victory. The fight is not over. Each day we feel battered and bruised, yet we walk by faith. And from that faith grows a hope that is permanent (I Peter 1:3-9).

Don’t give up, because our God has never given up on you. The fight is not over. The fight is by faith, and not by sight.

You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me

Others can say I won’t make it. They can use their words to push me down and crush me because of my struggles. They can say I won’t stay around, and I will just leave the faith. They can say I don’t have the qualifications for ministry. They can say I have no future, because of my struggles.

However, they don’t know my God. My God is the one who gives a new life to those in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). My is God is the one who uses all things for my good (Romans 8:28). My God is the one who interrupted my sinful life to raise me to new life with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). My God is the one who can use my past, my imperfections, and my struggles to bring Him glory and to show off His love for a dark world (Esther 4:14; Exodus 4:11-12).

I am far from over. Why? Because it is not me that gives myself the approval. It is not others who give me the approval. It is God who works in me and will complete his work (Philippians 2:13). You haven’t seen the last of me, because of my God.

This is the sound of surviving: seeing our stories as God sees them, seeing how far his love reaches to us, and fighting each day without sight, but with faith.

You may feel like giving up today. You may feel like you cannot go one more step. You may feel like your struggle hurts too much and is going to crush you. But, it is not over yet. God is in charge, and not the people around you. This is far from over, and you haven’t seen the last of me, because my rock I stand on is Christ.

This is the sound of surviving, and this leads to thriving.

Band of Brothers

“I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.”
– Samwise
(The Return of the King by Tolkien)

They stood at the foot of Mount Doom. Frodo and Sam, two small hobbits, had come to the last part of their journey. Frodo had to take the burden of the One Ring and cast it into the fires of the volcano. The burden was at its heaviest. Frodo could not even remember the past. He could only see darkness and fire. Yet, Sam, his best friend, could not let him fall into the darkness. “Then let’s be rid of it, once and for all… I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.” Lifting Frodo to his shoulders, Sam carried his friend up the mountain.

This scene is very moving to read and watch. The friendship between the two is something we yearn for, and need in our lives. Yet, why do we scorn at the idea of a band of brothers carrying us up the mountain?

The Need for our Brothers

When we come to church, do we see a need for our brothers and sisters? Or, are they just our “Christian friends”? Why is there a body of Christ?

In I Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul gives a description of what the church is like: a human body. Each member of the body needs each other. One cannot say another is unnecessary. A human body cannot fully function without all the parts working together in a healthy manner. Without blood (from the heart) and oxygen (from the lungs), the brain will not function. Without processed nutrition digested through the entire digestive system, the heart cannot pump its blood or have the blood supply needed to send to the whole body. Without the diaphragm, the nose, and the mouth, oxygen cannot enter the lungs and be used to supply the body. Even though we may think one part is independent, the body needs many other parts to function.

It is the same for the Church. Paul did not describe us as a Starbucks. We are not here just for coffee, fellowship, and a relaxing atmosphere to come and go as we please. No! We are in desperate need of each other. Without each other, the body of Christ cannot function in a healthy manner. We will die. Our spiritual lives are not meant to be lived in isolation.

The Need for Battling Brothers

Once we realize that we cannot survive without our Christian brothers and sisters, we can move on to the next part: The Battle.

Each of us knows our individual battles. We struggle with depression, sinful thoughts, words we wish we could take back, burdensome pasts, and the ever present besetting sin digging pitfalls for us at every turn. I Peter 5:8 states that our enemy (the Devil) is as a roaring lion stalking its prey while drooling with hunger as he eyes his next meal. Lions are masters of hiding and springing an ambush. The best way to spot a lion is hearing a warning shouted from a friend. One person may not see the crouched lion, but the other person may.

Spiritual battles are no difference. We cannot face the schemes of Satan and our own sinful desires by ourselves (Ephesians 6:12). Our brothers and sisters are there to encourage us so we are not deceived and hardened (taken captive) by sin (Hebrews 3:13).

Why is this important? We were never meant to battle alone. Every time we hear Ephesians 6 and the whole armor of God, an image of the individual Christian putting on the armor and fighting against evil flashes in our minds. However, this is a false image! Ephesians 6:10-20 is not well translated in English. The words are correct, but the Greek reveals a lot more (another reason to learn New Testament Greek). The verbs used throughout this famous passage are all in the plural! Together and in unity, we take up as a band of brothers and sisters the armor of God and stand against evil.

I remember recently when battling through thoughts of the past and dealing with the pain, I was in a very dark place. The thoughts were dark and gloomy. My seminary training and Bible study were hard to grasp. All the verses I memorized could not cast their lights through the fog of depression. That day I had never felt so alone in my life. However, I texted one of my brothers. Immediately, my phone flooded with texts and calls. I sounded the horn for help, and aid came. My brothers in Christ had to remind me of the truth even though I could not see it. My battle was no longer by myself. The body acted. James 5:16 was in play.

We are each in need of our battling brothers. An army is harder to kill than a lone ranger

Why Do We Lack our Brothers?

But, why does this not happen? A lot of people will say we struggle with pride and wanting to do things our own ways. While that may be true, I want to offer a different (yet overlapping) reason.

We do not open ourselves up. We keep our sins and struggles to ourselves because we fear rejection. We fear what others will think (a sense of pride), and in so doing we suffocate in silence. Satan is able to keep us in the migraine madness of our isolation to run the cycle of sin. The snare is triggered, and we wear a mask as our fear of man drains the life out of us (Proverbs 29:25).

It is only when we follow James 5:16 that the light of Christ shines in and the healing can begin. Spiritual healing goes deeper than physical healing. When we open up our lives and expose it to the body, the body comes and helps us heal through the Word and the working of the Holy Spirit.

When I began healing over my past, I kept everything inside. I thought all I needed was my Bible. While that may be true, it is only a partial truth. I was missing my brothers in Christ. I was miserable trying to fight the lies and thoughts on my own. Yet when I opened up and said, “Yes, I struggle with shame over my body. Yes, I struggle with same sex attraction due to the bullying and abuse I endured. Yes, I struggle with anger and pushing people away, because of how hurt I was” the healing began. They came around me, and in fact many said they knew my pain and had similar struggles, and together we battled. It was not easy at first. I wanted to push them all away and battle on my own. However, it was a lost cause without them. I had to reach out to the means of grace God had given me, and this meant recognizing the power of my band of brothers.

Are You Willing to be Carried?

Why is the spiritual gift of our brothers and sisters in Christ missing in so many churches? We would rather protect an image, our reputation, our movement’s “light,” or even be seen as “qualified” for ministry. We would rather get up the mountain ourselves rather than being carried.

The most freeing thing we can do is be open and see the grace of God being poured out as our brothers and sisters battle with us and carry us. However, we will have to swallow our pride and face reality. We will need to open up, say out loud our struggles, and ask for help. We need to admit that we forget what the body of Christ is all about: doing life and battling together.

I am no longer ashamed of my past and the struggles I have. I realize I cannot battle them alone. Satan will eat me whole if I do not rely on all the means of grace from God (the Word, prayer, the Holy Spirit, and my brothers in Christ). Yes, to some people my reputation is ruined. They may say I have said too much, and I can kiss a future goodbye. However, they are missing out on the far-reaching grace of God and the power of a band of brothers. The church was never meant to be a museum of saints, but a theatre telling the story of God’s grace in each redeemed sinner’s life.

The burdens are heavy. The thoughts do cloud our minds. There are days we cannot see the Truth. The “One Ring” we carry in our pockets weigh us down where we cannot move or even get up in the morning. Yet, let us remember the scene of Frodo and Sam at the base of Mount Doom. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.” (Movie Clip)

We need our brothers and sisters in Christ to remind us of the Truth during the times we cannot see it. We need them to confess our sins to in order to receive healing. We need each other in order to truly be the body of Christ.

However…

Are you willing to be carried?

I’m Not Good Enough

“No child of God sins to that degree as to make himself incapable of forgiveness.”
– John Bunyan

There I sat. It was the first day of seminary. All around me students sat with readied pencils, pens, and laptops anxious for each note. However, I was anxious in another way. The bell rang, and class began. The professor opened class in prayer, and then asked the class, “What is your story of God bringing you here?”

The typical Christian clichés were given: saved at a young age, saved at the Wilds Christian Camp, or the typical saved and then rededicated.

“Stephen?” The echo of my name bounced off the walls of my ear canal. I swallowed hard, knowing the truth, I gave the simplistic answer, “I am saved, called into the ministry, and that is why I am here.” It was true, but not the truth.

The truth is my story is darker than I was able to come forward with. That day I realized I was not good enough. Well, I realized a lie that we all believe…

The Snare of Openness

From that moment on, I silenced my thoughts and let no one know my story. Why? Because of fear. Yet, fear of man brings a snare (Proverbs 29:25). I was stuck in a snare, and that snare was slowly killing me.

Have you felt like that?

God did not give us a spirit of fear (II Timothy 1:7). Yet, we fall into the clutches of a spirit of shame. We do not open up because we do not look right, have a clean story, or have conquered everything. Instead, we have a story that has not reached its happy ending, because we know God is working in us.

We look around us, and notice how everyone else looks and behaves. Deep inside it pains us because we know we will never reach their level. We have a story that involves a scarlet letter.

The fear of openness keeps us trapped.

What is the Truth about Us?

Why do we not open up? It is because we do not see the truth about us We live in Christian cultures that promote an image rather than hearing about God’s grace. Instead, they would rather hear the stories that make their church, institution, or movement look good.

But, is that how God works?

What is the truth about us?

Luke 7:36-50 is the truth. Christ is at the home of a Pharisee. A Pharisee was a religious leader in the Jewish community. Pharisees knew about image. They promoted image.

Yet while at dinner, someone comes to Jesus. A woman who is called out as a sinner comes to the home. She goes to the feet of Jesus, and begins to clean his feet with perfume. Tears fall from her face to his feet. She knows who she is. She has a reputation. Yet, the only person she knows who will forgive her and set her free is Jesus.

“If only Jesus knows what kind of woman she is. If he was a true prophet of God he would know what to do with a sinner like that.” The toxic words pour out the Pharisee’s mouth. However, after telling a story, Jesus looks at the woman, who could not even look at Jesus, and says to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”

The truth is we are that woman. We know our sins. We know who we are inside. We see the depths of our sin, our actions, our words, our thoughts and all we want is the forgiveness of Jesus.

The truth is we have Christ’s forgiveness. II Corinthians 5:17 promises that those who look to Christ for forgiveness have a new life. Our sins have been forgiven, and we can start a new life. We can go in peace, because the feet of the one we cry to has given us peace (Romans 5:1).

But, I am Still Not Good Enough

Yet, we can know the truth. But, that is not how we feel. We look at our story, and we know we “that kind of person.”

I know we do not feel good enough. Why? We have opened our hearts, tears, and wiped our tears at the feet of the wrong person. We have seen the power and status of the Pharisees. We see what they can do to us in our community, and we break open our bottles to them.

We have forgotten there is another man at the table. We have forgotten Jesus. Pharisees only give rules, and fear of consequences. Jesus gives peace, freedom, triumph, and restoration (Romans 5).

At Christ’s feet we find forgiveness and peace. At the feet of the Pharisees we only find comparison, and the measurement of righteousness is “being good enough” according their rules (II Corinthians 10:12).

A Pharisee will never come, and become your sin in order to save you. You have to become like them. But, Jesus does the opposite. He took on human body being full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Jesus, then, became your sin for you. He became “that kind of person” so that you may be known as a person with “that Savior’s righteousness” (II Corinthians 5:21).

We do not see ourselves as good enough because we are washing our tears at the wrong feet.

I am Not Good Enough, but He Is

I did not tell the truth that day in class, because I felt like I would be labeled and fear of what would happen silenced me. Yet because of the promises of Scripture, I do not have a spirit of fear, because it is a spirit of power that transforms me (II Timothy 1:7; Romans 1:16). Also, in Christ there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1).

The truth is hard to face and to speak when we are at the feet of the Pharisees, but it is freeing, and we leave in peace when it is told at the feet of Jesus.

My story begins being born with a disability. It was not until third grade where I truly experienced bullying over my body. I was mocked because I had bathroom needs. This continued through college. In high school, I was sexually taken advantage of because I was an easy target. In church, I would say I was interested in God. But, it was not true. Deep inside I struggled with depression over my body. I thought about suicide multiple times. I struggled inside over who I was, because how many times I was called “gay” by the ones who mocked, teased, and did other terrible things to me. I hated my life, hated people, and wanted to push people away. I built up walls, and found ways to love myself, because God’s love could not be felt. It was not until college where I got saved, and saw who God made me. Yet, healing from the past takes time. It was not until recently I saw that keeping silent, and skipping over the past chapters was only hurting me. Yes, I still fall into past ways of thinking. Yes, I am a seminary student. Yes, I understand that many people see a scarlet letter past as undesirable in ministry. But, this is my story. This is what God has brought me through. However, I am washed, justified, and sanctified because of Jesus and sealed with his Spirt (II Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 1:13-14).

I have cried too many times at the feet of the Pharisees. I need to go to the one who gives forgiveness and peace: Jesus.

Guess what? I am not good enough to be in ministry. I am not good enough to be pursuing ministry. Yet, my goodness only comes from Jesus. When I cry and wipe my tears at Jesus’ feet I join the ranks of this woman, the Madman of Gadara, Peter, Paul, and others who have a past.

“I am not good enough” is a lie. It is a lie of the Pharisees.

“You are my beloved Son or Daughter, in whom I am well pleased,” says the God of Truth. When I trust in his redemption and righteousness, then Jesus is the good enough in me.

Opening up is hard to do only because we have been opening up to the wrong person. Opening up to Jesus brings forgiveness and peace (Luke 7:50).

Aren’t you tired of trying to be good enough for the Pharisees around you? Aren’t you tired of opening up your heart to them only to be rejected?

I am not good enough, but He is. He called me, he chose me, and is equipping me. It is time I walk through the sorrow and the shame, because it is not the Pharisees at the end of life… It is Jesus. Pharisees trip you up. Jesus is our shepherd, and he helps us with every step (Psalm 23).

Loved and Accepted

A love that left people alone in their guilt would not have real people as its object. So, in vicarious responsibility for people, and in His love for real human beings, Jesus becomes the one burdened by guilt.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. The stores are decorated with hearts and other symbols of love. Hearts made out of cheap chocolate are being purchased right and left for a loved one. We show affection to those we love on this special day.

However, whether we like Valentine’s Day or we celebrate Singles Awareness Day, aren’t there times we feel alone in a crowded room? Deep inside and behind the mask of loving another and receiving love resides something in us that says, “In reality, I do not know if I am love and accepted.”

In my own life, I have friends, a beautiful and loving wife… yet, I can feel like I am not loved and accepted. I look at my body shame and the struggles that resulted from those scarring events and deep inside a thought reminds me, “If only others knew, then they would be gone.”

We all have those thoughts. We want to be truly loved and truly accepted. If only people could see…

Yet, we keep our lives tucked away and accept cheap chocolate as a cheap replacement for the Truth.

You Are Loved

The truth is if people did see your true heart, then you may not be loved. The thoughts you think, and the words you have said, and the actions you stuff in the closet of your past would turn many people away. And, we know it. It is the door we hope no one will ever open.

However, when we open that door we feel like the woman caught in adultery. John 8:2-11 recounts the events of the religious leaders throwing before Jesus a woman caught in adultery. The religious leaders forcing her to stand in the center of the crowd in shame. Jesus stops teaching to look at her. She was caught in the act of adultery, and she may not have been fully dressed. She was feeling the weight of her sin. Yet, what does Jesus do? He does not condemn her. He shows her compassion. He shows her love, and tells her “Go, and sin no more.” Jesus had forgiven her, and now she could leave in order to sin no more.

Secretly, we know we are this woman. If people found out about us, then they would force us to stand in shame to receive our punishment. But, that is not the heart of God. Yes, God is holy and cannot be in the presence of sin. God’s true heart is that he does not want one anyone to perish in sin. No. Read II Peter 3:9.

God loves you. He knows what is in your closet. He knows your thoughts. He sees what you want no one else to see and he acted on it (John 3:16). Why would Jesus take on a human body, die, and rise again keeping his body?

God did not show his love with cheap chocolate. He body was broken and blood spilt. It was not a caramel center with a rush of sugar. His blood was spilt for your forgiveness out his love.

You are Accepted

Yet, we may feel love, but have you ever just wanted to be hugged and accepted? You didn’t want to jump through one more hoop. When we have been rejected so many times, we take actions in order to feel accepted. We secretly exchange anything for acceptance. And, if anyone opened our lives they would see a heart where the teeth of false acceptance have feasted.

We may say we believe that God has accepted us, but why do we keep going to buy something, or eat, or go online to find that relationship, or binge watch when we feel alone? It is because we do not feel accepted.

“I am saved. Here is the date in my Bible.” Why do we rely on a date in hope of sensing some acceptance of God?

We need to go to God’s Word. God calls you his beloved. He calls you his child, and that makes you his son or daughter (Romans 8:15). The only other person in the Bible he calls beloved and his son is Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17). To God you are accepted as his child and not a child seen in disappointment. You are his beloved child in whom he is well pleased. You are accepted.

We do not have to work in order to be accepted by God. It has been done through Christ (Romans 3:21-26). The gifts of love and acceptance may change as each Valentine’s Day pass, but God’s acceptance is constant.

But, Why Do I Not Feel Like It?

And, now we come to the real question. The truth can be preached. Verses of God’s love can be tattooed on our bodies, but yet we struggle with it because we do not feel it.

Yes, God has shown his love to us in Christ, and we are accepted because of Christ. But, did you know God has provided a genuine way this love can be felt?
The Church.

The Church is Christ’s body, and according to I Corinthians 12:12-26 this is the place where Christ’s love is felt. In fact, Paul commands the believers in Rome and in Corinth to greet each other with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; I Corinthians 16:20). A kiss is a physical touch of affection, love, and acceptance.

Now in our culture a kiss is reserved. Yet, what about a hug? Too often we dress up, shake hands with others in our churches, and it feels like the coldest action of love ever felt. We dare not show affection. Instead, we allow the pursuit of purity in the church, and having right biblical views over loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have lost the balance. We need both. Our churches are not cold buildings where we make sure people are believing the right things, and following the right rules. The church is to be a home where God’s adopted children gather to love each other and study the Scriptures. It is not an either/or. It is a necessity for it to be a both/and.

How many people in our churches have left because they did not feel loved? How many people in our churches say they are fine, but in reality they are dying inside? In the shadow of our own steeples, we have forgotten to see people, hear people, and love and accept people. It is through us that Christ’s love is felt.

So leave the candy aisle. Don’t get another person cheap chocolate or a card that will be thrown out. Are you willing to listen to a fellow brother’s pain? Are you willing to be called by a fellow sister late at night? Are you willing to hug your brother who just fell again? Are you willing to take a fellow sister to lunch and spend money in order to encourage her? Are you willing to be the person through whom the truth of God’s love and acceptance is felt?

We are loved and accepted by God. But, we are the way he has chosen to show it in the church. Right teaching will continue to feel cold unless we match it with our actions.