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.

Without Suspicion

“Satan always hates Christian fellowship; it is his policy to keep Christians apart. Anything which can divide saints from one another he delights in.” – Charles Spurgeon

“Ten little soldier boys went out to dine. One choked his little self and then there were nine.”

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie revolves around this poem, and one by one each guest is killed off by the poem. An invitation by U.N. Owen brings each victim to a large house on a secluded island. When what appears to be an accidental death is announced to be murder, the search begins for the killer. However, there is no one on the island, but the ten. After more are murdered, a statement breathes fear into the scene, “Mr. Owen is one of us.” Eyes dart around the room, and suspicion shadows everyone’s thoughts.

Suspicion is a key element in mystery writing. It divides, and creates fear, and distrust between people.

In our churches, suspicion can easily creep in and divide. We need to recognize the situations where suspicion divides and breeds distrust among us as we strive for unity in the church as we make disciples of all nations.

Suspicion of New Believers

Kanye West. Many different thoughts come to mind when we hear his name. But what about his publicly stated conversion to Christianity and his Christian album, “Jesus is King”? When the album first came out, my Facebook page exploded with comments ranging from, “Praise the Lord,” to “We will see how long this lasts,” to “I am sure he is just wanting to make money; he is faking.” The last two comments were the major theme on my newsfeed.

What this reveals is suspicion. People were (and still are) suspicious over the conversion of Kanye West. Is there someone you personally had a hard time believing they trusted Christ as their savior? Was your inner thought, “how long is this going to last?”

Do these thoughts cultivate unity, growth, and trust in the body of Christ? Or are these thoughts ways to push people away and divide the body?

Colossians 1:9-12 instructs us on how to react to the news of new believers. First, Paul says he heard the news of the Colossians’ faith. He probably did not plant the church there, but he wrote to them when he heard of their faith in Jesus. The first thing he did was to not stop praying for them. Did he give them a theology test? Did he wait for obvious fruit? He was excited about their new faith, and he dedicated them to constant prayer.

Paul’s prayer was very specific. It was not just gratitude over their faith. He prayed for their advantage in three specific ways. First, the new believers would be filled with the knowledge of the will of God and with wisdom found in the sphere of God’s Word. Second, Paul prayed the new believers would walk worthy of the Lord. This walk for the new believers is to be seasoned with good works and a growing knowledge of Jesus Christ. Finally, Paul prayed the new believers would be filled with power and strength found in God, in order to live patiently while giving thanks to God.

These three points of Paul’s prayer is to the advantage of the Colossians. He was not waiting for them to mess up, or leave the faith, or have a bet with Timothy on how long the church would last. He heard of their faith, and began praying for their advantage of growth, knowledge, and good works for the glory of God. When was the last time we prayed this for new believers instead of betting how long their decision would last?

Suspicion of Struggling Believers

Sharing our struggles and burdens with each other is a wonderful thing to be done in the church (Galatians 6:1-2). It provides encouragement, accountability, and growth. However, have you heard someone’s struggle and your eyes widened? Was it a new member to your church who just came out of an immoral lifestyle? Was it someone who asked for prayers as they struggle with substance abuse? Was it hearing of the couple that is struggling through their marriage?

What was your first reaction to that confession of a struggle? Did you pull your kids closer? Did you text, “did you hear?” Did you begin putting space between you and that person with the only comment, “Praying for you”? Were you suspicious their struggles might rub off on you?

What do those thoughts do to the body of Christ? In I Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul gives a list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. The list is quite blunt and some of these things if mentioned today in our churches might cause one to blush. “And some of you were like this.” Paul gets to the point. There were people in the church that struggled and most likely continued to struggle with the things mentioned. Did he tell the Corinthians to avoid or be careful lest they catch that sin too? No. Throughout Paul’s epistles, there is a constant theme of fighting with and for each other. The goal is to see people repent, restored, and walking again with Christ together with the church. He knew everyone sinned. In fact, Paul talks bluntly about his struggles in Romans 7. Yet the primary goal is seeing people be reconciled to God and walk worthy of the Lord.

A baby doesn’t begin waltzing after the first steps. Then why do we expect any Christian to have it all together? Why are we suspicious of struggling believers? What makes their sin struggle any different than yours? Wouldn’t you want someone to fight alongside you? Suspicion of struggling believers only isolates them to suffocate in Satan’s silence. Instead of suspicion or gossiping, why not go up to that person and ask, “How can I encourage you? How can I keep you focused on Christ and his Word?”

Suspicion of Other Believers Outside our “Camp”

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorthy, Toto, Scarecrow, and Tin man are walking through the woods. Dorthy turns to the group and asks, “Do you think we will meet any wild animals?” After a quick exchange the group exclaims, “Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!”

Sometimes we say the same about other believers. We look outside our Christian circle or “camp,” and we ask what we might find there. “Calvinists, evangelicals, covenant theologians, and contemporary music, oh my!” While this may be a humorous illustration, it actually happens. When we come across believers who may not be from our background or our circles, we tend to “test” their views. We want to know what they really believe, and then try to correct them. We tend to hold those from another Christian circle in suspicion of do they really believe the Truth. Then, if they do not meet our standards, we tell others to avoid and be suspicious of certain people.

The disciples ran into a similar situation in Mark 9:38-41. John races to Jesus and says, “We met a man trying to cast out demons in your name. So we tried to stop him, because he was not apart of our group.” Jesus looks at the disciples and says, ““Don’t stop him, because there is no one who will perform a miracle in my name who can soon afterward speak evil of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

Have you ever looked at another believer with a different view on an issue and thought, “They do not quite know the truth like I do.” Then, you tend to avoid them or tell others about this person’s faulty views. A lot of the views we fight over do not matter in the long run. Ever heard of the dispensational and covenant theology debate? Guess what? These are both man-made systems for organizing Scripture. Both have their pros and cons. Even in regards to the church music issue. We get suspicious if a church uses drums or traditional music styles. What does that do for the unity of the body of Christ? Are we really going to divide the church because of music?

Paul does divide in Galatians 1:6-10. He states that no other Gospel should be preached. Implicitly he says to avoid it. In Romans 16:17-18, Paul warns the Romans to avoid and separate from those who cause division by their teachings which are contrary to the Gospel. We need to be suspicious when teachings in a church or Christian group goes against the Gospel and what God has revealed. We need to separate from false teaching. But, is using a drum or teaching a certain view contrary to the Gospel? II Timothy 1:13-14 charges Timothy to hold onto the doctrine that was taught. This applies to us by holding onto what is found in Scripture. Let’s not get over dogmatic about man-made books and traditions. What is most important to the church? The Gospel and the faithful teaching and preaching of the Gospel

And, how have we slandered the name of Christ due to suspicion of other believers outside “our camp”?

Leaving Behind our Suspicious Minds

In one of his songs, Elvis sings, “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds, and we can’t build our dreams on suspicious minds.”

When suspicion is apart of our Christian walk towards others there will not be unity. Our churches can go on in unity with this mindset. Most of the time we think of I Corinthians 13 as being an encouragement to couples on their wedding day. But, that is not the context of the passage. Paul is using this to describe the attitude and actions of the church when working together.

“[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” With new believers, we believe and hope for their growth and pray for their advantage. With struggling believers, bear all things and endure with them and alongside them in order to see God glorified through the disciple transformation into the image of Christ. With Christians outside our circles, we believe the best about them, and encourage them to pursue Christ. I Corinthians 13 is first for the church.

How are we doing with suspicion in our own lives and in our churches? Satan will do anything to keep Christian fellowship from happening, and that includes breeding a toxic, suspicious mindset in us and in the halls of our churches. When suspicion reigns as our mindset, we cannot go on together, and we cannot build on the purpose of the church. We need to go on together without suspicion to make disciples of all nations for the glory of God in Christ.

Who do we need to reconcile with because we have tainted our view of them because of suspicion?

Lessons from Ohana

“For the church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities, but the Body of Christ, in which all members, however different, (and He rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.” – C.S Lewis

An alien crash lands on earth (in Hawaii of all places), confused by humans to be a stray dog who got run over, and then adopted into a family of two sisters. Lilo and Stitch, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated Disney movies.

Two sisters have lost their parents in a car accident. Lilo is on the verge of being taken by Child Services unless her sister can prove she is providing a stable home. After wishing for a friend, Lilo adopts Stitch (an alien). The movie then moves on to see how Stitch fits into this family.

However, throughout the film one word is repeated over and over, “Ohana.” Ohana means, “Family. Family means nobody gets left behind, or forgotten.”

As we examine our Christian life and our being in the church, there is are lessons we can learn from Ohana.

Means Family

Many of us look at our Christian walk with God and see where God has worked, and where we have fallen in sin. We see ups and downs. We struggle with knowing God in his Word; our goal would be more consistency. We struggle with resisting temptation; our goal is to listen and obey the Spirit even when it does not seem to make sense.

When the church service begins, we look around and see others testifying to God’s triumphant work in their lives. Our heads fill with how we are missing that, and we smile, but inside we feel like we want to run away. Our spiritual battles seem like a first-person shooter game: it is all of our enemies vs. us. Some how others around us in our churches are advanced leveled-up players; while we feel like we are on level 20, but only being a level 1 character. The end result is never pretty.

The “first-person shooter game” is a lie when it comes to our spiritual battles. Ephesians 6:10-18 describe our spiritual warfare. Paul outlines how we are to succeed in battle. Yet, why do many of us end of as casualties of our battles? We take up the shield of faith, we surround ourselves with truth, we pray… We do it alone.

At first glance at the passage, you see all these commands and references to “you.” It is for you, but it is also not just for you. Looking at the Greek text will help us see something. All commands are in the plural form. When you see “you,” it is in the plural like “y’all.” Therefore, spiritual warfare is not to be done alone. It is a group effort. It is the entire church who is involved. Spiritual warfare is not an individual’s mission and then come back to base. Wars are won by teams, and by groups of people.

Our spiritual warfare losses are because we are not battling together. The church is a family. “Ohana” first means family. It is a group of people brought together by God to do life together. The church does life together. When we forget that and go out on our own, there will always be disaster in our lives.

“Ohana” is another word we could use to describe the church – a family.

Nobody gets Left Behind

When Lilo is kidnapped by aliens, Stitch runs to her rescue. Lilo looks at Stitch and says, “You came back.” Stitch replies, “Nobody gets left behind.”

Have you ever experienced a moment where you felt forgotten or left behind? I am not talking about the “rapture scare” sometimes we have experienced as children. I am talking about a moment where you have sat alone on a couch, on your bed, and your thoughts overwhelm you. Your struggle has beaten you down again. Yet, you think, “When was the last time someone asked you about your life? When was the last time you felt like you could open up without being shamed?” You remember time after time attempting to connect with people to find that discipleship and accountability; only to be reject. So, you feel forgotten and left behind.

The church is to promote an environment of discipleship and accountability. Matthew 28:19 commands us to make disciples of all nations. This means the church is gathering around people to witness the disciple transformation. No one is ever going to achieve sinless perfect on earth, but we can cheer and cry throughout the process. But, do we?

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 declare Christians are all apart of the body of Christ. We are members of each other. Everyone has a purpose. We are to rejoice with each other, and cry with each other. Paul states in verses 24-26 we are to have the same concern for each other: nobody gets left behind.

I have been in a church where the pastor was told to choose a handful of individuals out of a group to disciple. I was not chosen, and I felt not valued in the group as a whole. I knew who was in the inner group doing Bible studies, and I knew my place. In my own mind, it started a journey of believing my spiritual growth did not matter because I was not apart of an accountability group or being mentored. If no one reached out to me, then I believed it was because no one saw any potential in me for God’s work or for me to succeed spiritually. And guess what… I am not the only who had or is still struggling with these thoughts. This is a silent normality.

A church should never be a place where accountability or mentoring is withheld from someone. No one is to be forgotten. Christ did not tell us to make disciples of those whom we see potential. We are to make disciples of all nations (and that means all people). We are to create an environment where everyone’s spiritual discipleship is valued.

Ohana means family… Family means no body gets left behind or forgotten.

Ohana Results in Fighting for Each Other

In the final scene of Lilo and Stitch, Stitch is arrested by the Intergalactic Federation. As Stitch is led away, Lilo remembers she adopted Stitch, and had a license for him. The piece of paper is whipped out and shown to the head alien. “Three days ago, I bought Stitch at the shelter. I paid two dollars for him. If you take him, you’re stealing.” Lilo fought for her Ohana.

Galatians 6:1-2 call us to fight for each other. We are to support one another. We should not allow sin to carry off one of our brothers and sisters. They are owned by Christ. If sin tries to take one, then sin is stealing. We fight to bring them back. The goal of bearing one another’s burden is to see restoration. The goal is not to find out dirt on each other or to kick out “the weeds.” In fact, kicking out the weeds is God’s job (Matthew 13:24-30). Instead, when a brother or sister is being taken by sin, we need to fight to see them restored. We should never just say, “I told you his/her conversion was false” or “I knew he would leave eventually.”

When we cultivate an environment of disciple transformation, we end up fighting for restoration. When we see our Christian lives as a solo act, we judge each other and will not get involved.

Ohana means family… Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten… Family fights for each other.

Who is Our Ohana?

Before you continue reading, please watch this clip.

“This is my family. I found it all own my own. It’s little and broken. But, still good. Yeah, still good.”

This is how Stitch describes his family. He came into a broken family while he himself was quite different. Yet, his family is good.

Our family (the family of God) has been ordained by God (Ephesians 2:16-19). Our “Ohana” is good, because it comes from God. He fought for us to be apart of his household. He brings people in from all walks of life. No one in the church is perfect and fits perfectly. We are all broken people who have been redeemed by Christ’s death and resurrection.

Look around your church. It is broken and made up of people of no significance (little). Yet, it is still good. It is good when we fulfill God’s calling of making disciples. It is good when we see lives transformed into the image of Christ; not transformed into a cultural expression. The power of the Gospel is that it transforms lives.

As a church we are not alone, everyone is valued and apart of the discipleship process, and we fight for each other.

Ohana means family… Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten. This is our Ohana – the church.

A Controversial Movement Benefiting the Church

“Our confidence in Christ does not make us lazy, negligent, or careless, but on the contrary it awakens us, urges us on, and makes us active in living righteous lives and doing good.” – Zwingli

Throughout history, there have always been movements. A movement can be defined as, “a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas.” In our own country of the United States, movements have been apart of our society since its beginning. The American Revolution started with a movement to separate from England. The Abolition Movement sought to end slavery. The Women’s Right Movement, which first started in 1848, sought for various rights for women. Currently, the Climate Change Movement and Black Lives Matter Movement have had significant impact on our culture.

When we step back and analyze these historical movements (and even current movements), we need to see if a movement is beneficial or hazardous to our culture. There are many that fit both the good and the bad. Something that is beneficial, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is defined as “producing good results or helpful effects.” When we see movements like the Hippie Movement, Black Lives Matter, and Abolition we can legitimately discover if that movement has benefited society (Abolition) or not (The Ku Klux Klan Movement).

As a church, we need to do the same with every social movement. As a new movement marches the streets, Christians are responsible to not react to these movements. Christians are to look to Scripture and see if there is any way this movement can help the church.

A movement benefiting the church would need to bring helpful effects. However, to clarify what this looks like, we need some criteria.

The Criteria

As Merriam-Webster defines, a movement that is beneficial needs to produce helpful affects.

Therefore…

A movement beneficial to the church would need to push us in our gospel-focused interactions with people.

A movement beneficial to the church would need to cultivate a deeper Biblical thinking and study of the Word.

A movement beneficial to the church would need to affirm our stance on God’s Word.

A movement beneficial to the church would need to assist us in our gospel proclamation.

We can all agree if a movement came along that fulfilled these criteria, that movement would beneficial to the church. For example, the Abolition Movement fulfills each of these criteria. We learned to study the Word deeper and cultivate a Biblical thinking on the issue of race and slavery. We were forced to push our gospel-focused interactions with people of different races. We were forced to stand on what God’s Word said about slavery and race rather than mans’ misguided teaching. We have been pushed to contextualize the Gospel to other people groups and not white-wash our churches and the Gospel.

Therefore…

The Proposition

The LGBT+ Movement benefits the church.

The LGBT+ Movement is dedicated to gaining rights and normalcy for those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and any other category in this group.

First, we need to remember that we do not bend where God’s Word stands on this issue. What God’s Word says about this lifestyle or this worldview or however we want frame it we do not compromise. What God’s Word says goes.

Second, this means there will be disagreement between Christians and the LGBT+ Movement over what is sin and what is not sin. As Christians, we stick with Scripture. However, it does not mean that the LGBT+ Movement can’t benefit the church. As we will see, the LGBT+ Movement fulfills our criteria; and therefore, is beneficial to the church.

Image of God Interactions

Genesis 1:26-27. God creates all human beings in His image. Men and women are created by God, personally, in His image. God did not make us like the animals. He did not make us like plants. We are the crowning glory of His creation.

Each human bears the image of God. Genesis 9:5-6 states that any murder of a human is heinous in God’s sight, because it is destroying someone who bears God’s image. We would agree that abortion is murder because it is destroying the image of God.

James 3:7-9 takes the destruction of God’s image bearers even further. Not only is murder destroying the image of God, but according to James the slandering and verbal degradation of another person is degrading the image of God.

Not only actions and words, but attitudes that degrade the image of God are condemned in James 2:1-13. We are not to show favoritism. We are all made in the image of God. Therefore, having an attitude that one is inferior than another is still degrading the image of God.

When we look at the LGBT+ Movement, what comes to mind? Do we call them the “alphabet soup”? Do we see them as freaks in society? Do we avoid having friends who identify with this group, because we see them as inferior to us? How do we see the sin of homosexuality? Is it a sin no one can be forgiven of? Is it a sin worst than any other? Or, is it a sin like stealing, lying, and idolatry? When the topic of the LGBT+ Movement came up in your life, how did you respond?

Romans 3:23 clearly states that all have sin (including us), and all have fallen short of the glory of God. I Corinthians 6:9-10 condemns all of us. We are all not without sin.

The LGBT+ Movement benefits the church, because it challenges how we view each other as fallen image bearers of God in need of a Savior. All of us are lost in sin. All are in need of Jesus Christ. We will continue to degrade the image of God in those who identify with the LGBT+ Movement until we see them as God sees us – Fallen image bearers in need of a Savior.

When we do not see them as image bearers, we assume the worst about their motives and interactions with the world around us. The American government did the same thing with Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pear Harbor. People did the same thing during the Red Scare with their trials. Lastly, Christians did the same thing during the Salem Witch Trials.

When we forget to see people as the image bearers of God, we treat them under suspicion. Everyone needs Jesus. The LGBT+ Movement benefits the church by challenging us to continue to see people as made in the image of God who are fallen and need a Savior just like we do.

A Deeper Bible Study

One of the most reoccurring themes in the pulpit today is that of Bible study. Pastors and teachers in the church continually challenge us to read and study our Bibles with depth in order to know God and to know how to live for Him.

Titus 1:9 is a forgotten reason for studying the Bible. We are to study the Bible with such a depth that we are able to answer those who try to contradict what the Bible says.

In recent news, we have seen many instances where the LGBT+ Movement contradicts Scripture. However, we tend to react to those things. We stiff arm and say, “that is wrong.” But, we do not have a reason. We have not studied the Bible in-depth in order to come to a Biblical response to the LGBT+ Movement.

The LGBT+ Movement challenges us to study the Word deeper and to come to a Biblical response to what is happening. This is a benefit to the church. Instead of reacting the this movement, have you seen it as a God-given opportunity to deepen your Scripture study? If we all claim II Timothy 3:16-17 as a promise of what God’s Word does in our lives, then do you not think it is sufficient to answer the questions and concerns of this movement? If you have been pushed to study your Bible deeper for God’s glory, then it is benefiting the church.

A Firmly Founded Stand

Sometimes there are ideas and movements in our culture which make our faith seem to wobble under pressure. We are unsure what to do. We think we know the truth, but we are scared to stand for the truth. The pressure comes, and we feel like cowards towards God’s truth. However, the issues of the LGBT+ Movement forces us and challenges us to stand firm on God’s Word.

Paul’s final exhortation, in I Corinthians 16:13, urges us to stand firm in the faith. He commands us to be courageous and strong. He would not give us this exhortation if it was going to be easy to stand on God’s Word in faith. In fact, throughout the New Testament we are urged to stand firm in our faith and to stand on God’s Word no matter what movement or government is sweeping society (Ephesians 6:10-18; Philippians 4:1; Colossians 4:12; II Thessalonians 2:15; I Peter 5:12)

Any person, movement, government, or anything that forces us to stand firm in our faith in beneficial. The reason is because we live by faith, and not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7).

Contextualizing our Outreach

As missionaries plant themselves in other countries to make disciples, they have to learn to contextualize the Gospel. Contextualizing the Gospel is not changing the message of the Gospel. It is adjusting the presentation of the Gospel in order for a people group to understand it. Paul clearly contextualizes his Gospel presentations throughout the book of Acts. In Acts 13:13-52 Paul preaches to a group of Jews. He uses a lot of Old Testament references in order to reach the Jews. However, in Acts 17:16-34 Paul takes a whole different approach to reaching Gentiles with the Gospel. He uses their own culture to reach them by using the altar to the unknown god as an illustration and expounds on a point using one of their poets.

Have you ever thought how you would share the Gospel with someone in the LGBT+ Movement? How would you share with them how to be reconciled with their Creator through the work of Jesus Christ in faith? The message of forgiveness of sin through Christ will not change, but how we present it will change.

The LGBT+ Movement benefits the church by challenging us to present the Gospel in a contextualized way that will make sense to those who identify with this group. If we all agree we are all created in God’s image who are fallen and in need of Jesus to save us, then we need to know how to present that to everyone so they can understand it and make their faith in Jesus personal.

Conclusion

Movements come and go throughout history. Our country has seen many. Our churches have seen and interacted with many. We have been benefited by many; like the Abolition Movement. However, some movements we react to and forget there might be a benefit in disguise. The LGBT+ Movement is one we tend to react and stiff arm. We forget to Biblically respond.

The LGBT+ Movement does benefit the church. We will disagree on the issue of sin. However, that does not excuse the church to write off this movement. We can learn and grow as Christians from things we Biblically disagree with. God brings things into our lives to grow us. Do you not think the LGBT+ Movement can be used to grow our faith and churches? God uses everything for His glory as He uses the church to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

The next time you come across the LGBT+ Movement or someone who identifies with this group, what are you going to think? How are you going to approach this group? Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). All nations mean all peoples. All people include those in the LGBT+ Movement. This movement does benefit the church as we seek to fulfill the mission of the church to make disciples of all peoples.

“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Communion: In Remembrance of What?

“We ought carefully and with the utmost seriousness and consideration attend the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper: this was appointed for this end, to draw forth longings of our souls toward Jesus Christ.”
– Jonathan Edwards

Preparing for a wedding can be a wonderful, yet a chaotic time. There are many details that go into creating a wedding. However when families find out a wedding is coming, it seems like everyone comes out of the woodwork. Everyone has an opinion about how a wedding should be done. The dress, the music, the vows, the rehearsal dinner, the reception, the invitations, etc. Each element has an opinion.

My wife and I have only been married a year-and-a-half. We remember putting together our wedding. We had ideas. Each family member had ideas. Each friend had ideas. Pinterest had ideas. Yet, one thing kept us going: our wedding was about celebrating us. Our wedding was not ignoring family, but it wasn’t about everyone. The wedding was about us and vowing to be loyal to each other and love each other as Christ has loved us, and be an example of a godly marriage to the world around us.

We did things some felt were “unconventional.” Yet, again, we wanted the wedding to celebrate the main thing: our marriage.

“Keep the main thing the main thing” is a popular phrase thrown around today. It is true that we need to keep a main priority on things that are important; however, sometimes good things tend to rise above and overshadow the main thing.

Communion (or the Lord’s Supper) is a sacrament or ordinance in churches that is celebrated many times throughout the year. Recently, my wife and I took part in our church’s observance of communion. As we were reflecting as the elements were being passed, a thought hit my mind and I began thinking.

“In remembrance of what?”

The Story of Communion

The night of the Passover had arrived. The disciples found an upper room to observe the celebration of the Exodus with Jesus. They gathered together. Reclining at the table, the disciples’ eyes were fixed on Jesus. He talked about suffering and not eating the meal until it was fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus took the bread. He gave thanks and broke it. Yet, His words spoke something unusual, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19).” After they had consumed the bread, Jesus grasped a cup. He gave thanks. Again, His words were unexpected, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22:20).”

“My body… given for you… new covenant… in my blood… poured out for you… in remembrance of me.”

The disciples did not realize that these words were not symbolic. These words became a reality not even twenty-four hours later.

Jesus the Son of Man, the Miracle Worker, the Great Teacher, the Messiah was arrested. He was tried, beaten, and flogged. A leather whip with ends of bone and other sharp objects ripped through his flesh like a lion tearing at prey. His beard was ripped out of his face. A crown of thorns was wedged on his head causing blood to stream down his face. He was unrecognizable. Yet, he did not protest. He freely gave over his body.

The bloodied Christ, burdened with a cross, was led out of the city to be crucified. His muscles were so weak and torn, that another man had to carry Jesus’ cross.

The soldiers arrived with Jesus at a place called “The Place of the Skull.” He was stripped and became vulnerable for all to see. His arms were pulled to each end of the beam while spikes were hammered through his wrists into the wood. His feet suffered the same.

Jesus, the one who healed a woman with the issue of blood, the one who cast out demons and put a man in his right mind, the one who saved a woman about to be stoned, the one who fed hungry souls was lifted on a cross for all to see. The soldiers then dropped the cross into a hole tearing his ligaments and dislocating his shoulders.

In agony, Jesus had to gasp for breath. In pain, he stretched his bloodied form to fill his lungs. After a while, he looked to heaven and said, “It is finished.” No more air entered his lungs. His kind eyes grew dim. Jesus was dead.

“My body… given for you… new covenant… in my blood… poured out for you… in remembrance of me.”

His lifeless body was taken down and buried. Yet, three days later. Jesus rose from the dead. He was not a spirit. He had a physical body and ate in front of his disciples. He lives. His disciples were changed and began to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world.

One thought permeates their message to the world, “My body… given for you… new covenant… in my blood… poured out for you… in remembrance of me.”

In Remembrance of… our Purity

The story of communion is sobering. We come to communion based on this story. However, what is it in remembrance of?

I have sat through many communion services and observed one thing that really sticks out – “Take time to pray and get your heart right before God. Christian, if you are living in sin, you cannot partake until you are restored with God.”

I Corinthians 11:27-32 is the basis for comments like this. Paul commanded the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they were partaking in the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. Why? 11:17-22 gives us the answer. The Corinthians were abusing the Lord’s Supper. They were partying and stuffing themselves like a pagan celebration. There were factions among the rich and poor. The Lord’s Supper looked no different than what happened at the pagan temple. The Corinthians had lost sight of the purpose of communion.

Similarly, the pendulum can swing the other way. Have we forgotten the main purpose of communion? In our churches, we tend to belabor the point of repentance and being right before God that we make communion in remembrance of our purity before God. When we pass the bread and the grape juice (or wine depending on the church’s beliefs), we tend to figure out who took the bread and who has not. Our minds quickly race, “What is going on in his life?” “What is she hiding?” We tend to make communion a memorial of our purity before God.

Sure, we are not celebrating and abusing it like the Corinthians. But, we are making it about us. Communion is not about our purity before God. That is not the main point. When we belabor and focus on our purity and confession before God during the Lord’s Supper, we have missed the purpose of communion.

In Remembrance of Me

In the book of Luke (Luke 22:14-23) and in I Corinthians 11 (I Corinthians 11:17-26), a phrase is repeated: “In Remembrance of Me.” Twice in I Corinthians 11 it is repeated.

The main purpose of the Lord’s Supper is remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is remembering the incarnation, remembering his life, remembering how he redeemed us and signed a new covenant in his blood, and sealed it with his resurrection. The Lord’s Supper is in remembrance of Jesus as we look forward to his coming and restoring everything as he brings about the New Earth where he reigns and we are living like we were originally created to (Revelation 21).

We break the bread with our teeth, we drink the juice and we are to remember Jesus. Our righteous standing has nothing do with our efforts or the number of prayers given. It has all to do with Jesus. As we partake the Lord’s Supper, we are proclaiming the new covenant God initiated in Christ. The temple curtain is torn. His blood is there for us to paint our doorposts with. It is all about him. We eat and drink communion in remembrance of him.

In Remembrance of Him… We Pray

Are we just supposed to throw out making sure our hearts are right before God? No. The Christian life is a lifestyle of repentance. The fruit of salvation is repentance. Too often we come to communion with fear of the judgement that comes if we eat in an unworthy manner (I Corinthians 11:27-34). Have we forgotten that in Christ there is now no condemnation (Romans 8:1-2)?

We are not condemned. We are free from sin. This is why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Yes, we need to examine our live. But, we do not have to fear because we are adopted as heirs and sons of God (Romans 8:15-17).

When we remember Christ, we praise God for his salvation and we bow in humility as we know we do not deserve it. Communion is a reminder of our great Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we come to that realization we cannot help but repent of our lukewarm hearts. It is not out of fear, but out of longing for the satisfaction that Jesus gives. It is a longing to be with Jesus when he comes again. It is a longing to finally see our Savior face to face and touch the body he took on and kept.

So, shake off the spirit of fear. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial celebration of thanksgiving to our God. We repent because we marvel and remember the great work Christ did for us on the cross and in his resurrection.

“My body… given for you… new covenant… in my blood… poured out for you… in remembrance of me.”

I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!
– Martin Luther

Cross-Fit Bodies: A Biblical Perspective on Male Body Image

“The most critical need of the church at this moment is men, bold men, free men. The church must seek, in prayer and much humility, the coming again of men made of the stuff of which prophets and martyrs are made.” – A.W. Tozer

Body Image. This is an issue that is becoming more and more visible for men. For me, it is a personal issue. Having a disability makes the issue of male body image hit close to the heart. Yet, I am not the only one. Men may not speak out about their struggle, but it is real. Even as I write this post, I am overhearing three different conversations where men are discussing body image in relation to working out.

Us men, whether we realize it or not, are constantly barraged with images and ideas of what our bodies should be like. We live in the culture of super heroes and celebrity eye-candy. Images of fit men like Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, John Cena, and Michael Phelps are celebrated as the specimen of good male body image. The cultural phenomenon of the “dad bod” is another way for those who do not want to be in the “fitness camp” to relate to their bodies.

We might not say this is a real issue for Christians to talk about. However, look at culture. Men are more and more seen for their bodies. It might not have been obvious 50 years ago, but it was still there. Look at movies such as Grease. There is a body image for men even back then. When we think about the church, there are plenty of books and conferences for women on the issue of their bodies, yet why is it that nothing is said for men?

Amidst the flashes of models, fitness programs, and celebrities, Christian men need a biblical perspective on how to view their bodies. This post will not cover everything, but I pray this starts a conversation encouraging men to sharpen other men to live a biblical life dedicated to Christ.

Back to Genesis

When talking about men and our bodies, we need to go back to creation. However, we cannot start with God making man. In fact, we cannot start with creation. We need to start with our Creator.

In order to understand a biblical male body image, we need to truly come to an understanding that we have a personable, Creator God. Genesis 1 reveals that our Creator is the Almighty God who can breathe creation into existence. He is in a relationship with humans from the beginning. Even after the fall of man into sin, our Creator promises a destruction of sin as he reconciles our relationship with Him (Genesis 3:15).

God knows us, and not just facts about us. Due to being our Creator, God is able to know us on an intimate level (Psalm 139). We cannot begin talking about our body image unless we realize that our body comes from being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

Created with a Cross-Fit Body

CrossFit. What comes to mind? Do you think of guys straining to flip tires? Men drinking protein shakes? Mirror selfies showing transformation?

What is the purpose of working out? We tend to only see fitness as an aesthetic quality that we must possess in order to be considered attractive. Or, we react against the fitness craze and not care about our looks. But, what is the purpose in that? These two trends boil down to the qualities of aesthetics.

What if our male bodies were created for more?

When we talk about our bodies, we tend to hear sermons on Psalm 139:14. But, have we taken the time to read Psalm 139:13-16? It is not enough to marvel at God creating our bodies, but it is even greater to marvel in the fact God formed our inward parts, fitted together each physical aspect of our bodies for a specific purpose (v. 16).

God creates each man’s body for a specific purpose. Adam was created to work the garden (Genesis 2:15). The prophet Jeremiah was created for the purpose of being a messenger to God’s people (Jeremiah 1:4-5). In fact, Abraham’s body was created to show the glory of God’s miracle to bring about the nation of Israel (Hebrews 11:12).

God designed each part of our body, even the parts we do not like, for a this purpose. Abraham’s infertility was used to bring God glory through a purpose designed from the beginning of the world.

When we claim the name of Christ and live for Him, we have a Cross-Fit body. Our bodies are to be used to for the purpose God called us to. Your body can be used for purposes of teaching, constructing, analyzing, diagnosing, mentoring, writing, speaking, running, socializing, and even sexual intimacy in the context of God’s creation of marriage. Your body is not just a machine. It is the vessel through which we fulfill the calling of God that He created for us in Christ (Ephesians 2:10).

Using our Cross-Fit Body

However, how are we to use our bodies? Where does fitness come in?

Hebrews 12:1 shows us God’s race that is set before us. Usually, we talk about being spiritual fit for God’s calling in our lives. But, does this apply to physical fitness?

In order to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives, we need to be physically fit enough to do what he has called us to do. Our bodies are used as God’s Temple. Can we glorify God with our bodies if we are physically unable to do what God has called us to?

However, there is another side to this issue. We should workout and be fit. Yet, working out and looking fit does not help us use our bodies. When we focus on looking good it is hard to step away from the mirror and begin using our bodies. That is the point of physical fitness. If we are unable to physically spend time with our families, fulfill our vocational responsibilities, or interact with the church due to us neglecting our physical fitness, then we are not honoring God. But if we are only working out to perfect our looks in order promote ourselves, we are still not honoring God.

The reason we have a body is to use our bodies. How are we physically preparing for the purpose God has for us?

Cross-Fit Community

But, all of this will not stop the struggle with body image. Satan is always warring against us. We battle against our flesh. Body image will never go away as a struggle; even if we are silent about it.

Paul tells us the church is to a place where we encourage each other in the faith (Ephesians 4:12). We are also told in Ephesians 6 that our struggles are not isolated from each other. We struggle together. The church is where we need men to open with each other and struggle together over every issue. God created our bodies. Therefore, is it wrong for us to talk about our bodies?

In order to encourage each other, we need openness and we need each other. Why would God create the church if we were meant to face the Christian journey alone? Community helps us refocus our minds on God’s truth – even with issues regarding our bodies.

The church is desperately needing men who are bold enough to open up about our struggles. When we allow the light of God’s Word to shine on every aspect of our lives we can fully live for Christ.

The struggle of body image affects many people. But, with the church’s commitment to the using of God’s Word, we can see men sharpening each other to refocus their thinking biblically, and begin living out God’s Truth.

It starts with a conversation searching the Scriptures and sharpening each other to use our bodies for God’s glory.

Our male body image is found in being created in God’s image for His purpose in order to bring God glory.

The Lost Mentality of the Christian

“There is a core difference between sharing the gospel with the lost and imposing a specific moral standard on the unconverted.”
– Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Violence, raunchy movies, swearing, immodesty, drinking adds, liberal ideas, worldly messages, and worldly people. These are the things we run into on a daily basis. We see these things and our first response is to react, and then to hide. We stay in our churches and throw tracts at people in order for them to come in and be converted.

We see the fallen state and the continue depravity of man like a gathering storm. So we take shelters in our churches and with our Christian friends. We fear the storm. We fear the disaster it will cause on our lives. Self-protection of our spiritual lives and our moral lives become our number one priority when facing the World.

The ideas rage, the sin booms its thunder, and depravity rains down. Yet, we stay inside our shelter in the time of storm. Yet, we need to ask ourselves the question: is this biblical? Is this the way we should be acting towards the world around us?

The Heart of Interaction

When we look at interacting with the World, we must look at what the Scripture says.

John 1:14

Jesus, God himself, took a human body. He interacted with us. He interacted with your world, your sin, and your helpless state.

John 3:16

God loved you (and the world) so much that He came to interact with our world. He saw the storm from the beginning, and He needed to interact with it. He could not let you be damned for your sin. He could not allow you to die in your sin. He interacted with you.

The heart of interacting with the world is the Incarnation. Because God took on a body and kept it to interact with you at your level, He has freed us from the power of the World so you could interact with it. Without the Incarnation, we would have no faith. It is our faith in the Incarnate God which conquers the World (1 John 5:4).

The Forgotten Heart

But… Do we live like this? Do we find empowerment through the Incarnation to engage the World?

No. Instead, we try to save our own lives. We have made a Christ who sits in our churches and calls people to come. Yet, where was Christ found? He was accused of being the friend of sinners, because he ate with sinners. He was found at their tables. What does Jesus say in Mark 2:13-17? He did not come to call the righteous or who were healthy. Jesus wants the sinner and the sick.

This was the heart of Jesus. He came, took on a human body, died, and rose again for sinners. It is the sinner that needs this salvation. It is you that needs this salvation.

Why did we fall in love with Jesus? Was it because of the heart of Jesus? Yet, we have forgotten His heart. We have forgotten our first love: Jesus.

Do you remember when you saw your sin? It was like a storm that was going to kill you. You could not find shelter from the death sentence over your head. You could not find it in a church, or in a translation, or in following a list of obedience. You could only find it in the heart of Jesus who comes to sinners like you and shows you the way to salvation. Have you forgotten this? When we remember what Christ has done for us, we gain His heart and His mindset to engage the world (Philippians 2:1-18).

The Ignored Commission

Christ’s heart gives us a commission. Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).

When we first hear this passage we think of our missionaries across oceans living in weird places and learning languages to give the gospel. Do we ever consider this passage to mean our neighborhood? Our culture?

We tend to ignore this command when thinking about our current situation. We would rather hide in our churches throwing tracts at people and give them a moral standard as our fulfillment of the Great Commission. Sadly, this commission is the greatest omission of our Christian lives and in our churches.

Christ commands us to make disciples of all nations. You can’t make disciples when you are worried about your own life. Making disciples means you are worried about another person’s life. It does not have to be handing out tracts. Daily life evangelism is a better tool than handing out a tract. When the world sees you struggling and clinging to the hope of Christ, then they will be more open to hearing the gospel than off a piece of paper. Tracts can be effective, but only giving a “fire-insurance gospel.” The gospel transforms lives when it is engaged with lives. And, you have been given that gospel to make disciples of all nations. Are you going to continue to ignore Christ’s heartfelt command?

Engaging the World

Now, how do we actually work through the “storm of sin” we see in our culture? It is easy to run for shelter. However, there is a better route: Critical Thinking. It is not being critical and judgmental.

Critical Thinking is about evaluating the messages, ideas, and events around you. It is willing to listen to people you disagree with in order to understand them. Critical Thinking is interacting with what you are hearing, and then responding. A critical thinker does not react. Too often, we as Christians react to the world around us. We see sin dripping like slime off the wall and we decry it. Why are we surprised that sinners are acting like sinners? Did Christ react? Yes, he did. However, it was not just a reaction. It was a response. He knew how to respond to the people around him. Paul knew how to respond. For us, reacting never gives us an opportunity to give the gospel. Responding opens many doors.

Think through what is going on in our world. Seek to understand those around you. Engage in their lives. Be well read. Understand them in order to improve yourself as you seek to make disciples of all nations. Think critically how to respond before you react.

Acts 17:16-34 is an excellent example of critical thinking. Paul sees the culture around him in Athens. He does not go and smash idols. Instead, he looks for a way to respond that will open the minds of the people to hear the gospel. He even quotes one of their own poets. Paul did not react in protecting his moral life or imposing his moral standards on them. He responded. He showed them the heart of Christ.

Heading Out into the World

In the movie The Giver, the community is kept safe by the Elders. All memories are wiped away. All evil is put aside and taken outside the community. Everything is in black and white. Jonas, the main character, sees this as taking away from what makes us truly human. He then goes on a quest to bring back the memories and break the barrier. He is successful. The memories come back. However, they are not all good. It is the good and bad that makes us human. We experience bad and good. Yet, at the very end he comes to a house decorated for Christmas. He says he found the truth. He found where reality is. He finds what makes us real. Watch the clip below. As it comes to the end, identify the song being sung at the house.

The Ending of The Giver

Reality is found in Jesus. The world is living in the shadow and echo of what is real. There is good and there is evil. But, aren’t you grateful for that Silent Night? The birth of the Incarnation gives us the freedom to critically think, enter into our world, and engage with it.

How does this quote strike you?
“The reason why the Christians in this day are at such a loss as to some things is that they are contented with what comes from man’s mouth without searching and kneeling before God to know of Him the truth of things.”

Does it feel like it was written for today? It was written by John Bunyan in the 1600’s. There is a lost mentality of engaging the world through critical thinking. It is not just about listening, it is about understanding, it is about learning, and it is about responding like Christ and making disciples of all nations.

The good and bad makes us human. The Incarnation sets us free from this fallen world in order to bring the gospel to this fallen world. We can engage our world, because Jesus engaged us.