Archive for the ‘Being Real’ Category

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We Are Our Secrets

In Being Real,Perspective on October 8, 2013 by The Spillover

Ray Ortlund:

O. Hobart Mowrer, the psychologist, set himself to understand more deeply our hollowed-out emotional lives.  He noted that, commonly, when we perform a good deed, we advertise it, display it, draw attention to it, at least hint at it, hoping to collect on the emotional credit of it.  But when we do something cheap, evil or stupid, we hide it, deny it, minimize it.  But the emotional discredit from that stays with us and even accumulates with each further hypocrisy.  This is how we make ourselves chronically empty in conscience and heart.  Our lives are required of us, and we are found wanting.  No felt “net worth.”  Lost confidence, pizzazz.  Our positive energies are depleted by fugitive concealing.

Then Mowrer wondered, What if we reversed our strategy?  What if we admitted our weaknesses, owned up to our failures, named our idiot-moments, confessed our follies, errors and debts, and also hid away from everyone’s view our smart ideas, heroic sacrifices, kind deeds, charities and virtues?  What if, instead of throwing back at the other guy his worst failure while trotting out our own best moment, we put up our worst against his best?  What then?  Our hearts might start filling up.

He entitled his essay “You are your secrets.”  It is in his book The New Group Therapy (New York, 1964), pages 65-71.  His insight has a long and honored history:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. . . . Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:14).

Articles

Hard Words, Good Words

In Being Real,Calvary Baptist Church on September 12, 2013 by The Spillover

Perhaps there are lessons for CBC in this story from Joe Thorn of his church’s assessment:

5 years ago I was assessed by a group of pastors for the Acts 29 Network. We had just launched Redeemer Fellowship and wanted to partner with like-minded brothers and churches who share our core theological convictions and approach to ministry. When I received the completed assessment a week later, welcoming us into the network, the brothers were careful to include thoughts on my strengths and weaknesses.

Hearing where you are weak is hard, but necessary. Hard, but good–if you have ears to hear it. One of the things they called me out on was how deficient I was in connecting with those outside of the church. Here is some of what they said to me.

Though you can articulate a missional-church philosophy, you are not effectively leading your church into mission. You can speak of activities and initiatives you want the church to pursue, but you do not talk joyfully and passionately about unbelievers you are engaging with the gospel. If you do not immediately begin developing your elders in the practice of personal evangelism and mission, you risk having a church that preaches the gospel but does not live it. We recommend taking your elder team through Jack Miller’s book “Outgrowing the Ingrown Church” and applying Miller’s grid of a pastor/elder as a “gospel pacesetter” in the local body.

It is easier to articulate a good ecclesiology than to act on it. Anyone can parrot the truth, but practicing the truth is less frequently attempted. I know this from my own heart and life, and by the grace of God I have been learning to not be satisfied with sound doctrine that is not also experienced. Pastors, we should frequently ask ourselves if we doing the work of an evangelist. Are we known among unbelievers in our cities? Are we taking every opportunity (and creating opportunities) to share the message of the cross with outsiders? Tomorrow I’ll talk about the changes I made (repentance) in my life to move from theoretician to practitioner (hearer of the word vs doer of the word).

I am so thankful for these brothers who said this, and even harder words to me though the assessment, for it helped to set me on a better path. The Lord gave me wisdom through these men, and I am better for it. Our church is better for it.

Articles

I Weep for Miley

In Being Real on August 27, 2013 by The Spillover

Trevin Wax:

Picking up a sub sandwich today, I saw a news report on CNN about Miley Cyrus’ performance at last night’s VMA’s. I was shocked, then sickened, then saddened.

For the rest of the day, I wondered:

What kind of people are we?

What kind of culture have we created?

What do we want our children to be?

No more wondering. Tonight, I weep.

I weep for the little girl who gave us Hannah Montana and became a role model to millions of little girls across America.

I weep for the lostness of a girl who doesn’t see herself stumbling around in the dark.

I weep for the news channels that profit from their all-day coverage of a young woman spiraling out of control.

I weep for the American Idol culture that promises glitter and gold to children, then chews them up and spits them out.

I weep for an entertainment culture that celebrates the breaking of every social taboo and the casting off of every restraint, only then to turn and mock the stars that follow suit.

I weep for a tabloid culture that finds celebrity gossip and embarrassing moments titillating.

I weep for women enslaved by a false view of sexual liberation.

I weep for men (myself included) who have failed to say, “Enough is enough.”

I weep for all the times I’ve looked at women as objects and failed to see them as someone’s sisters and daughters.

I weep for the fathers of Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Madonna, and all the family members of all the other women who feel they have to sexualize themselves to achieve success.

I weep for my five-year-old little girl, who twirls around like a princess and hugs me tight at night, when I think of the world she is growing up in, the world I will send her into.

I weep for the broken, messed-up world we live in.

But then I weep at the power of grace.

There’s Jesus, lifting the head of a woman of the night and sending her away into the light. There’s Jesus in a crowd, healing a woman desperately trying to cover the shame. There’s Jesus at the well, transforming a woman tossed aside by multiple men.

Weeping is no longer enough. Now, I pray.

Articles

We Are All Virgins Now

In Being Real,Perspective,Soul Food on July 25, 2013 by The Spillover

Tim Challies:

We Evangelicals are known for our obsession with virginity. Now don’t get me wrong—I affirm that it is good and God-honoring to remain sexually pure before marriage (and within marriage and after marriage). As a pastor I want to teach the people in my care the value of having their first sexual experiences with their spouse in the marriage bed and not with a prom date in the back of a car. I want my children to value sexual purity and to understand that lust is not love, that love expresses itself in self-control. Virginity matters because sexual purity matters because God says it matters. But it is not the highest of virtues. It is not the measure of a godly young man or young woman. It is not the goal and the measure of Christian living.

This Evangelical obsession with virginity manifests itself in youth conferences where a flower is passed around a room, going from hand to hand, until the speaker can hold it up, all bent and twisted, and ask with a knowing grin, “Who would want a rose like this?” The teens look and say, “I would never want a rose like that.” But then there are the few who silently look away and weep because they are that rose. They learn they have been spoiled, that their beauty has been given away. (As Matt Chandler reminds us, Jesus wants the rose!)

The obsession manifests itself in the pre-marriage course where the young man who burned up his teens and early twenties staring at tens of thousands of pornographic images somehow thinks he holds the moral high ground over the young woman who had sex one time with one boyfriend. After all, he is a virgin and she is not. She is the one who ought to seek his forgiveness for giving to someone else what was rightly his.

It manifests itself in young people who ask questions about “technical virginity” like doing these sexual acts, which stop short of full-on sexual intercourse, are somehow less serious or less morally significant than going all the way. “It’s okay, I’m still a virgin!”

This obsession with virginity measures so many of the wrong things, asks so many of the wrong questions, delivers so many of the wrong answers.

Not only that, but this obsession causes such pain. Elevating virginity to the first place among the virtues hurts those who were raised in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, who were genuinely saved, who knew better, and who chose to ignore God’s good command. They may feel they sinned irreversibly, that this was the greatest of all sins, that they have been relegated to a lesser class of Christian, that they can only ever disappoint that future spouse.

It is painful to those who were raised in ignorance of what God commands, who simply acted the way unbelievers will act as they committed sexual sin. They may feel like second-class citizens of the kingdom, those who gave away the most precious thing they could bring to a marriage.

It is particularly painful to those whose virginity was taken from them, who were unwilling participants in abuse or rape. They may feel spoiled, like all they had to offer was brutally, heartlessly taken from them, and they now carry a diminished status into marriage.

God does not look upon his people as non-virgins and virgins, spoiled and unspoiled, defiled and undefiled. He does not see two classes of people: those who have waited to experience sex within marriage and those have not. So why do we? Why do we obsess about those who have experienced sexual intercourse and those who have not, like this remains a matter of the utmost significance? Why is this the one sin in the whole pantheon of sin that forever marks a person, that forever changes their status?

This whole obsession with virginity misses one New Testament key, the gospel key. When Paul writes to the church in Corinth he specifically addresses sexual sin along with a whole litany of other offenses against God. He addresses the sexual immoral, the adulterer, the homosexual, and at the end of it all he says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” A key word in all of that is were. Such were some of you. You were these things, but then God washed you. You were these things, but then he made you holy. You were these things, but then he justified you. And now you are these things no longer. Your sexual immorality was transferred to Christ and he bore its shame, its guilt, its punishment.

Paul tells us that in God’s eyes we are all holy. Through Christ we are all redeemed, all forgiven, all made new, all unspoiled. In Christ we are all virgins.

Articles

Cigar Smoking and Grace For the Accountability-Holder

In Being Real,Perspective on July 23, 2013 by The Spillover

Jared C. Wilson:

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
– Galatians 6:2

I started smoking cigars the summer after I graduated high school. That would’ve been in 1994. I smoked cigars for nearly seventeen years. Smoking cigars was my favorite way to pass the time. It may sound silly to some, but some of my favorite moments in life involved sitting with friends and enjoying some good tobacco together, talking about important things and silly things, sharing and laughing and eating. Some of my favorite moments in life involved just me and a cigar and deep thoughts about the gospel. It’s something probably only serious cigar smokers might understand.

Then I stopped. I didn’t want to, but I did. I transitioned my family’s health care coverage from insurance to a Christian “health-share” program. Incredible insurance costs were the main reason. But one of the stipulations for participation in the new co-op is abstention from all tobacco use. Alcohol in moderation is okay, but there is no consideration for “tobacco in moderation,” which I assume my roughly one cigar a month might have qualified for. I won’t lie; it was tough. Again, this might seem odd for some to understand, but take one of your favorite hobbies, something “unnecessary” but that nevertheless brings you joy and satisfaction and is an exercise of a good gift that you’ve enjoyed for over a decade — ladies, maybe it’s crafting; fellas, maybe it’s golf — and imagine someone said you have to stop. Like, for good.

But I decided it would be worth it. So two years ago I agreed to abstain. It has not been easy. Joe Thorn’s Instagram is one particular sticky thorn in my flesh. :-) When I go visit friends or attend after-hours hangouts at various conferences, I will be among friends who are enjoying fine cigars all around me. They always offer me one, not knowing about my pledge to abstain. I have been tempted to flout the rules. I can come up with all kinds of justifications. For instance, there is no rule against eating junk food or sitting in smoggy traffic all day every day, and surely I’m healthier smoking 13 cigars a year than some folks on the plan eating McDonald’s three times a week. The flesh is great at self-justification. Iam great at self-justification.

So what has kept me from cheating? On the form you fill out every year to renew membership, which includes the pledge to abstain from tobacco, there is a place where a church officer must sign to vouch for the veracity of your statements. My friends Elder Dale and Deacon Neil have been signers of this document. I know that if I cheat on my pledge, it doesn’t just make me a liar, it will make them liars. It will make me a liar to them. So even though they are not asking me (ever, really) if I’m really keeping my promises in that form, they are signing with the assumption that I am, and therefore their vouching for me is my accountability-holder.

When we think of accountability relationships (or accountability “partners”), we often think of all the ways someone might keep a weaker brother responsible for his actions. We rarely talk about how the one being held accountable might live in such a way to not make his accountability-holder look like a jerk. This runs through issues of church discipline and the like, as well. The focus is so much on gentleness and directness and loving rebuke for those sinning — which is a necessary focus, of course — that we sometimes neglect to remind people that walking in repentance and integrity is a good gift to leaders (Hebrews 13:17) because it keeps them from having to enter conflict. Us folks under accountability can take real burdens off those holding us accountable by striving to act right.

Maybe your accountability partner receives your Internet logs each week to hold your online surfing habits under inspection. When you go where you shouldn’t online, you’re not just sinning against God, you’re sinning against your brother by putting him in the difficult, undesirable, burdensome position of figuring out how to confront you, rebuke you, and restore you in ways that bring glory to God and joy to you. He will do that, because he’s committed to do it (and you asked him to). But isn’t it better to work at making sure he’s not having to be in that position?

We are looking for grace from our accountability-holders. But we ought also to be looking to how we might give grace to our accountability-holders. Maybe we ought to strive for holiness and integrity in our lives not simply out of personal religious ambition but out of relational mercy, out of a desire to not make religious cuckolds of our friends.

Outdo one another in showing honor.
– Romans 12:10

Articles

I Still Believe in Marriage

In Being Real,Home and Family on July 8, 2013 by The Spillover

Jeremy Dys:

For two millennia, it has stood at the apex of human relationships. Every culture has witnessed it and added their own cultural significance to how it is conducted. It has been celebrated and lampooned, but it has survived. It has received the blessing of both Church and State. In recent decades, it has staggered. Culturally “enlightening” ideas of radical feminism, the sexual revolution, and even ‘no-fault’ divorce has all but reduced this venerable institution to its knees. Most recently, one judge (with the backing of four others) allowed for its redefinition.

And yet, it stands. It bows to no man, winces from no blow, and walks with head held high as yet the ultimate union of a man and a woman. No matter what happens to it, I still believe in marriage.

I still believe in that union of one man and one woman that has seen my parents weather 46 years together. I believe in their marriage that steadied a wife to her husband when his heart failed and bound the husband to his wife when cancer dared invade their union.

I still believe in the marriage of a grandfather who mourns his wife who has preceded him in death these dozen years. I believe in a marriage that, when one is taken to heaven leaves one of the “Greatest Generation” in tears at her absence when he holds the great-grandson she never saw. I believe in marriage because he has shown that, “’til death us do part” is not a momentary phrase on the lips, but a conviction of the heart.

I still believe in the marriage of a near-perfect woman to this imperfect man. I believe in the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, and the sickness and health that has been shared by a helpmeet so dear. I believe that my marriage, though imperfect, is the best means by which we teach my four sons what makes a husband, what makes a man, what makes a wife, what makes a woman.

I still believe in marriage as told from Genesis 1 through Revelation 21. I take God at his word that He meant for a man and woman to leave father and mother and be bound to one another. I believe that this is good.

I believe in the marriage bed of Solomon’s Song and the celebration Christ witnessed at Cana as the Son of Man and Son of God. I believe in marriage as the human picture of a God that pursues his people and sacrifices himself as a kindly groom for the good of his most precious bride. I believe in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and the foretaste of that grand banquet that my humble kitchen table – amidst its din and crumbs – now prefigures. I believe I will sit at that Grand Banquet. I believe marriage protects against infidelity and is the most honorable of all human relationships.

I still believe in marriage as the best hope for my children. I believe a husband like me ought to be bound lawfully (not just genetically) to the children he fathers. I believe I can wrestle my sons better than any man alive. I believe there is something taught to my sons amidst my wrestling and tickling and horseplay.

I believe that I wrestle them better than my wife, but no man – no matter how compassionate – could rival the tenderness by which she heals a scraped knee with a kiss or patiently prepares an over-tired toddler for much needed rest. I believe no man – no matter how well he might sing – can better hum a lullaby to my child than my wife. I believe that my role as husband teaches my sons to be men. I believe that my wife as a wife pictures in real life what they ought to expect in a woman. I believe that, in their mother – my wife – that my sons first learn to protect women, gently treat them, and tenderly provide for them.

I still believe marriage matters beyond the four walls of my home. I believe that it is the last best hope for a government that is overburdened. I believe marriage is the foundation stone for democracy and when marriage is flattened into redefinition by a human government, it is government – not marriage – that is most harmed.

I still believe marriage is government’s best method of connecting men to the children that they father, protecting women from abuse, and creating personal wealth. No government program could ever hope to attain the efficiency by which marriage cares for children, provides for individual happiness, and increases one’s happiness.

I still believe that marriage increases individual liberty and limits the size and scope of government. I believe marriage allows us to assume the paternity of children born to a marriage, rather than force government to determine the same by DNA and courtroom drama.

I still believe that government cannot redefine what it did not first define. I believe the power of the judicial pen is rendered laughably impotent in the face of the Eternal Judge of the Universe that holds those who govern unjustly in derision. Despite his best efforts, I still believe that it is possible to believe in marriage and hold against its imitations without the slightest feeling of animosity.

I still believe in marriage and that means I don’t have much hope for the idea of divorce. I believe ‘no-fault’ divorce has done more damage to the institution of marriage than any alleged bigot or homophobe could have ever conceived. I believe that ‘baby-boomers’ have shamefully served their self-interest and made meaningless the terms, “vow” and “covenant.” In the process, they have damned the generation below them to distrust marriage and invent ideas like, “starter marriage” and “trash the dress.” But, I do not believe that marriage is beyond recovery – for them or for us.

Vilify me, mock me, and force me to submit under penalty of law, you will not change what I believe. Insult me, mock my faith, and use the supposedly limited power of the government to shout me down, you will not shake my resolve to better the loving and lifelong union of one man and one woman. Cite polls, tell me loud enough, long enough, and often enough that redefinition is inevitable, or come up with more variations to human coupling (or tripling, quadrupling….) than Baskin Robbins, I am resolved to support that which makes my grandfather pine to embrace once more, that has sustained my parents these 46 years, and has changed my life over the last (almost) twelve years.

I still believe in marriage. Do you?

Articles

Love Letter to a Lesbian

In Being Real,Perspective,Soul Food on May 20, 2013 by The Spillover

Jackie Hill:

Dear ______,

I just want you to know that I understand.

I understand how it feels to be in love with a woman. To want nothing more than to be with her forever. Feeling as if the universe has played a cruel joke on your heart by allowing it to fall into the hands of a creature that looks just like you.

I too was a lesbian. I had same-sex attractions as early as five-years old. As I grew up, those feelings never subsided. They only grew. I would find myself having crushes on my female best friends, but I was far too ashamed to admit it to them — let alone to myself.

At the age of 17, I finally made the decision to pursue these desires. I entered into a relationship with a young lady who became my “first.” The first time we kissed, it felt extremely natural, as if this feeling is what I had been missing all along. After her came another woman and then another woman. Both relationships were very serious, each lasting over a year. I enjoyed these relationships and loved these women a lot. And it came to the point that I was willing to forsake all, including my soul, to enjoy their love on earth.

In October 2008, at the age of 19, my superficial reality was shaken up by a deeper love — one from the outside, one that I’d heard of before but never experienced. For the first time, I was convicted of my sin in a way that made me consider everything I loved (idolized), and its consequences. I looked at my life, and saw that I had been in love with everything except God, and these decisions would ultimately be the death of me, eternally. My eyes were opened, and I began to believe everything God says in his word. I began to believe that what he says about sin, death, and hell were completely true.

And amazingly, at the same time that the penalty of my sin became true to me, so did the preciousness of the cross. A vision of God’s Son crucified, bearing the wrath I deserved, and an empty tomb displaying his power over death — all things I had heard before without any interest had become the most glorious revelation of love imaginable.

After realizing all of what I would have to give up, I said to God, “I cannot let these things or people go on my own. I love them too much. But I know you are good and strong enough to help me.”

Now, at the age of 23, I can say with all honesty that God has done just that. He has helped me love him more than anything.

Now why did I just tell you about this? I gave you a glimpse of my story because I want you to understand that I understand. But I also want you to know that I also understand how it feels to be in love with the Creator of the universe. To want nothing more than to be with him forever. To feel his grace, the best news ever announced to mankind. To see his forgiveness, that he would take such a wicked heart into his hands of mercy.

But with that in mind, we’re in a culture where stories like mine either seem impossible or hilarious, depending on the audience. Homosexuality is everywhere — from music, to TV, even sports. If you’d believe all that society had to say about homosexuality, you’d come to the conclusion that it is completely normal, even somewhat admirable. But that is far from the truth. God tells us that homosexuality is sinful, abominable, and unnatural (Leviticus 18:2220:13Romans 1:18–321 Corinthians 6:9–111 Timothy 1:8–10). But if I were to be honest, sometimes homosexual attractions can seem natural to me.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this may be your dilemma as well. You see what God has to say about homosexuality, but your heart doesn’t utter the same sentiments. God’s word says it’s sinful; your heart says it feels right. God’s word says it’s abominable; your heart says it’s delightful. God’s word says it’s unnatural; your heart says it’s totally normal. Do you see that there is a clear divide between what God’s word says and how your heart feels?

So which voice should you believe?

There was a time in my walk with Christ where I experienced a lot of temptation about falling back into lesbianism. These temptations caused me to doubt God’s word. My temptations and desires began to become more real to me than the truth of the Bible. As I was praying and meditating on these things, God put this impression on my heart: “Jackie, you have to believe that my word is true even if it contradicts how you feel.” Wow! This is right. Either I trust in his word or I trust my own feelings. Either I look to him for the pleasure my soul craves or I search for it in lesser things. Either I walk in obedience to what he says or I reject his truth as if it were a lie.

The struggle with homosexuality is a battle of faithIs God my joy? Is he good enough? Or am I still looking to broken cisterns to quench a thirst only he can satisfy? That is the battle. It is for me, and it is for you.

The choice is yours, my friend. I pray you put your faith in Christ and flee from the lies of our society that coincide with the voices of your heart — a heart that Scripture says is wicked and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). Run to Jesus instead.

You were made for him (Romans 11:36). He is ultimately all that you need! He is good and wise (Psalm 145:9). He is the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). He is kind and patient (2 Peter 3:9). He is righteous and faithful (Psalm 33:4). He is holy and just (1 John 1:9). He is our true King (Psalm 47:7). He is our Savior (Jude 1:25). And he is inviting you to be not just his servant, but also his friend. If lasting love is what you’re looking for anywhere else, you are chasing the wind, seeking what you will never find, slowly being destroyed by your pursuit.

But in Jesus, there is fullness of joy. In Jesus, there is a relationship worth everything, because he is everything. Run to him.

Articles

God?

In Being Real,Perspective on February 1, 2013 by The Spillover

Via Ray Ortlund:

old_man_with_the_grey_beard_in_the_dark_2

“Let me introduce you to god.  (Note the lowercase g.)

You might want to lower your voice a little before we go in.  He might be sleeping now.  He’s old, you know, and doesn’t much understand or like this ‘newfangled’ modern world.  His golden days—the ones he talks about when you really get him going—were a long time ago, before most of us were even born.  That was back when people cared what he thought about things, and considered him pretty important to their lives.

Of course all that’s changed now, though, and god—poor fellow—just never adjusted very well.  Life’s moved on and passed him by.  Now, he spends most of his time just hanging in the garden out back.  I go there sometimes to see him, and there we tarry, walking and talking softly and tenderly among the roses. . . .

Anyway, a lot of people still like him, it seems—or at least he manages to keep his poll numbers pretty high.  And you’d be surprised how many people even drop by to visit and ask for things every once in a while.  But of course that’s alright with him.  He’s here to help.

Thank goodness, all the crankiness you read about sometimes in his old books—you know, having the earth swallow people up, raining fire down on cities, that sort of thing—all that seems to have faded in his old age.  Now he’s just a good-natured, low-maintenance friend who’s really easy to talk to—especially since he almost never talks back, and when he does, it’s usually to tell me through some slightly weird “sign” that what I want to do regardless is alright by him.  That really is the best kind of friend, isn’t it?

You know the best thing about him, though?  He doesn’t judge me.  Ever, for anything.  Oh sure, I know that deep down he wishes I’d be better—more loving, less selfish, and all that—but he’s realistic.  He knows I’m human and nobody’s perfect.  And I’m totally sure he’s fine with that.  Besides, forgiving people is his job.  It’s what he does.  After all, he’s love, right?  And I like to think of love as “never judging, only forgiving.”  That’s the god I know.  And I wouldn’t have him any other way.

Alright, hold on a second. . . . Okay, we can go in now.  And don’t worry, we don’t have to stay long.  Really.  He’s grateful for any time he can get.”

-Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel? (Wheaton, 2010), pages 37-38.

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Today is a Day for Hatred

In Being Real,Perspective on December 14, 2012 by The Spillover

Jen Wilkin:

Today is a day for hatred.

As I write this article, the death count stands at 20 children. Twenty. Twenty babies who got on a bus or walked out a door or stepped out of a car at the drop-off curb and are never coming home.

Father in heaven, their lunchboxes still hold uneaten sandwiches, unread love notes scrawled on napkins.

For 20 families, the worst fear a parent can know was waiting at the other end of a phone line today. Eleven days before Christmas, no less. Those children and teachers who survived will carry in their heads sights and sounds that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

And what comfort is there to offer them? What words are there to speak? A parent takes every measure possible to protect a child, though we know full well the world is not safe. But this?

There is no spin to put on a story like this. Yes, we will hear stories of heroism begin to emerge over the next hours, and they are stories we will need to hear. But there is no way to soften the blow.

Nor should we want to.

As a mother watching someone else’s horror play out on a screen, I want to feel this to the core of my being. I want it to inform my thoughts and actions in a way that leaves me changed. Because on days like today we learn just how broken sin has left us, just how bleak is our landscape without a Savior.

Days like today give us no choice but to hate. They leave us only with a choice of where that hatred will land: Will we hate God, or will we hate sin?

I choose to hate sin. On days like today I will reflect again on the ravaging effects of rebellion against God, multiplied across millennia, manifested in a freshly printed headline. The more shocking the headline, the more I must come to grips with my minimized reckoning of the severity of sin. With Nehemiah I will cry out, “I and my fathers have sinned,” freshly grieved over the sins of others—yes—but freshly grieved over my own sin as well. I have not pulled a trigger, but I have harmed my share of victims. The killer lies dead, but I live on to harm again. On days like today I will renew my resolve not to participate in tearing down what God pronounced good at the dawn of human existence. I cannot stop a murderer, but by the grace of God I can stop sinning against those he has given into my care.

I cannot offer a snippet of Scripture or a platitude to comfort those 20 families, or to comfort you, my fellow believers. The day of our comfort is a future one. All I can offer is to hate my sin more deeply than I did yesterday and to cry out to God for a time when the groaning of this creation gives birth to that which is once again good. If hope ever transects hatred, it is here. In a few hours my own children will walk through my front door, God willing. I can be a mother who loves deeply and unselfishly in a world that is not safe. Surely that is the least I can do for 20 precious lives.

Today is a day for hatred. Today is a day for the weight of our sin to be felt in full force. May our hearts break under the blow. May they be shattered to dust.

Articles

“I’m Not Much of a Reader”

In Being Real,Perspective on November 5, 2012 by The Spillover

Jared Wilson:

In pastoring, in discipling, I’ve heard it more than I care to count. When exhorting a fellow spiritual journeyman to “Take up and read” the Bible as part of a regular discipline of growth in the Spirit, I will sometimes get this excuse: “I’m not much of a reader.”

“I don’t read,” these folks are saying. “I don’t really read anything. Nothing personal against the Bible itself; I just don’t learn that way.”

This book, they tend to agree, is the place where God is speaking. The one true living God of the Universe reveals what he wants us to know to be complete for every good work in this book called the Bible. In this day and age, when the Scriptures are available in the West at the click of a link or the touch of an iPod, excuses to remain biblically illiterate aren’t just silly — they are sinful.

Imagine I showed you a tent across the yard. You can see a glow emanating from its zippered door. “Inside that tent,” I said, “is God himself. He has something to say to you. You just have to go inside the tent, and the God of the Universe will reveal the mystery of the ages to you.” And then imagine you were to say, “I’m not much of a walker. I prefer sitting to walking.”

Makes about as much sense.

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Every one of us has a counter-argument to the call of God

In Being Real,Soul Food on October 13, 2012 by The Spillover

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth.’” Jeremiah 1:7

Every one of us has a counter-argument to the call of God. “No, Lord. I am only a _________.” But what God said to Jeremiah he says to you: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5). You don’t define yourself. God does. And he never has a trivial thought. He’s not capable of it.

God also said, “To all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 1:7-8). You have been sent into this world by God. You have a mission. He handmade you for it. He is with you every day to deliver you. Do not be afraid.

To fulfill your destiny, you don’t need to mimic someone else’s identity, someone who seems to matter more than you do. The you that you are by creation and redemption in Christ – that basic you is not fundamentally a problem; that you is fundamentally a strategy.

Being who you are is a privilege from God. Trust him. Rise up and serve him, as only you can.

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That Awkward Moment When…

In Being Real,Evangelism,Perspective on June 14, 2012 by The Spillover

From Ken Currie:

Evangelism is counter-cultural. It’s true everywhere on the planet, but perhaps it’s especially so in our increasingly post-Christian Western society. We live in a polite culture, for the most part. Talk about religion? You just don’t go there. Talk about how many tornadoes have come through, and how the team is doing, and how the city has new recycling bins. But Jesus Christ, crucified for sinners and risen from the dead? You just don’t go there. So they say.

For the time being, it seems the greatest threat to gospel-telling in such a society is not that we will be hauled before the city council, beaten, and have our property taken away. What we are really dealing with is some awkwardness.

Awkwardness is perhaps the biggest threat to evangelism for far too many of us.

Awkwardness Never Killed Anyone

I’ve done a little research and can confirm to you that there is not one documented case of someone dying, or even being severely injured, by awkwardness. Not one.

But when I read my kids’ Twitter, I see nearly half their tweets starting with “That awkward moment when… .” Awkwardness is catastrophic, and maybe especially so among the younger generation.

Awkwardness! It’s as if we imagine fire and asteroids and dragons. As if people are running through the streets yelling, “Run from the awkwardness, it’s going to get you! You might feel awkward. It would be terrible if you felt awkward!”

But a little awkwardness — or even a lot of it — is such a small price to pay for enjoying the power of God’s Spirit using us to be his witnesses.

Joy in Small Suffering

I write this as no super-evangelist. I’m right there with you, naturally fearful that things might be awkward. I sit on the plane thinking, “If the guy next to me doesn’t like my talking about Jesus, it’s going to be awkward.” Oh, no, I’ll have a hard life to deal with sitting next to this guy for two whole hours being awkward.

For the Christian, there is a joy and a privilege to suffer for Jesus, even a tiny little bit. Most of us can agree that when we do step out in faith, the awkwardness really wasn’t that bad in retrospect. Awkwardness seems so horrible when it’s in front of us. But it’s not nearly as bad behind us. All my limbs are together, I’m okay, it’s really not that bad.

You Are Involved

The aim here is not to press any kind of guilt on you. But I think when we look at this issue of gospel witness, we have a tendency to do what they do in big cities when somebody is laying on the ground. Everyone walks past the victim like they didn’t notice anything. Then the cops come around the corner and wonder why nobody responded. It was because nobody wanted to get involved.

Well, if you are a born-again believer, you are involved — really, really involved. The Holy Spirit lives in your heart. You cannot be more involved. You’re in the middle of it. It’s happening right there in you. You are the issue, you are the scene of the crime. You’re involved. We cannot dance out of the way.

Why So Difficult?

Why would God make something that we long to do so difficult to do?

For some Christians, it is isn’t that difficult to evangelize. In fact, these tend to be confused as to why so few Christians are involved in ongoing, bold evangelism. If this is you, I want to tell you, we praise God for your boldness. And you should know, you are a bit weird. For you, awkwardness is just an abstract concept. For the rest of us, awkwardness is like a plague to be avoided at all costs. But this is an example of the different parts in the body of Christ making their specific contribution to God’s glory and the advance of his kingdom. So why is something so important and integral to the Christian life so difficult for so many?

Here’s one answer: God gives most of us this awareness of awkwardness so that we would never, not for a second, trust in or magnify ourselves and drift away from the magnificence of the gospel. This awareness in evangelism makes the gospel tangible. It means I need the gospel right now myself. Not only does my hearer need Jesus at this moment, but so do I!

Jesus died for disciples who do a poor job of witnessing. He died for those of us who have all too often failed to commend him because we feared it might get awkward. But he also died to give us the grace to press through the awkwardness to testify to him.

May God give us the grace to rebound from our many failures and grace not to fold in the face of awkwardness in telling others the most important news in the world.

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Get Uncomfortable

In Adam Ford,Being Real,Soul Food on May 25, 2012 by The Spillover

The surest way to make ourselves apathetic toward spiritual things is to make ourselves as comfortable as possible in this life.

God tells us that as Christians, we’re pilgrims here. Strangers in a foreign land. But do we live like it?

If you knew you would die today, would giving up your life be inconceivable, due to all the people and things you would miss so dearly?

Or if you knew you would die today, would you be relieved and joyous? Can you say with Paul that to die and be with Christ would be much better than what you have going on right now (Phil 1:23) and that your longing to stay in this world is strictly because of the work you have left to do for Christ (Phil 1:24)?

We’re called to have shallow roots, to live as aliens, but there has never been a more comfortable civilization in the history of mankind. Comfort rocks us to sleep, singing us a lullaby of conformity.

My advice — to you and myself as well — is to get uncomfortable, intentionally, that when our final day comes, we might be able to say, “Ah, yes. Finally!”

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Write a Check

In Being Real,Soul Food on May 7, 2012 by The Spillover

From Mark Lauterbach:

Imagine that you have just received a phone call from one of the new billionaires who is giving away his fortune. They have selected you, randomly, to receive 50 million dollars. That amount will be transferred to your account the next day. Sure enough, it happens. You are super rich.

Not only that, but the billionaire said you may spend it freely because he stands ready, with a phone call, and without any questions, to send you more.

What would it look like to honor the gift? Do I just need to buy an app for my phone that sends me regular reminders of the balance? No, that is crazy. If all I do is check the balance in the account a couple times a day, then I have missed the point. I honor the gift by acting upon it. When I write the check for the Masserati and it clears, then I will have a new awareness that I am super rich.

I think, for some, preaching the Gospel to ourselves is checking the account balance of the riches of grace. Period. But that is not enough. I think when we slip from believing the Gospel is true, one of the best antidotes is to write a check on Gospel riches.

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Primary Focus

In Adam Ford,Being Real on March 19, 2012 by The Spillover

I wrote this post on a different blog about two years ago:

Here’s a profound quote by Francis Chan I recently came across:

“Our greatest fear as individuals and as a church should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”

Anyone else wake up one day to realize that something other than God has become the primary recipient of your limited energy and brain-power? (Shhh…don’t say the “I” word…)

When it happens, it’s startling. It happened to me, recently. I woke up one day and realized that I devote a significant amount of time and energy to work and money. And by “significant”, I mean, excessive.

Perhaps it’s because my wife is now a stay-at-home-mom, and I’m a 26 year old with a 1 year old at home and a bit of an anxiety issue. Perhaps it’s the sense of “security” it gives me to acquire money; it makes me feel like I’m protecting my family and “doing my job as a man”. Seriously…I have to ask myself…is that a joke? Am I playing a joke on myself?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to provide security for your family, and to be financially stable. But when it crosses over to the realm of “need”, as in, you “need” to have money to feel secure…well, that’s not OK. Security comes from God, not some stupid little thing like money. God provides and protects. God gives wealth and takes it away. If God trusts you with money, do you think it’s prudent to allow that money to become your focus? No, not for a Christian. Seek FIRST the Kingdom. God will not stand for anything other than Him to be the focus of one of his chosen children.

Some time ago, at my church, the pastor said something to the effect of:

“Your primary focus in life is what you think about when you’re not prompted to do so.”

That stuck with me, and I’m glad it did. If that “primary focus” is not God, something’s off.

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Edwards on True Conversion

In Being Real on January 30, 2012 by The Spillover

From Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections, we’re going to look at 8 signs of true conversion. Let’s be challenged to not glance & move on, but to really look inward as we read over each one. Take a moment. The prevailing wisdom in many religious establishments is to cry “legalist!” at the faintest suggestion of examining one’s own faith. But what we shall do is conform to the scriptures, which tell us:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

–2 Cor 13:5

Take inventory today, with these hallmarks of true conversion:

“It is essential to Christianity:

  • that we repent of our sins,
  • that we be convinced of our own sinfulness,
  • that we are sensible we have justly exposed ourselves to God’s wrath,
  • that our hearts do renounce all sin,
  • that we do with our whole hearts embrace Christ as our only Saviour;
  • that we love him above all, and
  • are willing for his sake to forsake all, and
  • that we do give up ourselves to be entirely and forever his.”

Religious Affections, 334, bullets added.

Adapted from Desiring God’s post.

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Pornography and Wolf-men

In Being Real on January 24, 2012 by The Spillover

Russell Moore responds to a plea from a woman who is engaged and recently found out that her fiance has an ongoing issue with pornography:

Dear Engaged and Confused,

Far too many women are watching “The Notebook” or “Twilight” for indicators on what kind of man they should marry. Instead, you probably should watch “The Wolf Man.”

Have you ever seen any of those old werewolf movies? You know, those in which the terrified man, dripping with sweat, chains himself in the basement and says to his friends, “Whatever you do, no matter what I say or how I beg, don’t let me ought of there.” He sees the full-moon coming and he’s taking action to protect everyone against himself.

In a very real sense, that’s what the Christian life is about. We all have points of vulnerability, areas of susceptibility to sin and self-destruction. There are beings afoot in the universe who watch these points and who know how to collaborate with our biology and our environment to slaughter us.

Wisdom means knowing where those weak points are, recognizing deception for what it is, and warring against ourselves in order to maintain fidelity to Christ and to those God has given us.

What worries me about your situation is not that your potential husband has a weakness for pornography, but that you are just now finding out about it. That tells me he either doesn’t see it as the marriage-engulfing horror that it is, or that he has been too paralyzed with shame.

What you need is not a sinless man. You need a man deeply aware of his sin and of his potential for further sin. You need a man who can see just how capable he is of destroying himself and your family. And you need a man with the wisdom to, as Jesus put it, gouge out whatever is dragging him under to self-destruction.

This means a man who knows how to subvert himself. I’d want to know who in his life knows about the porn and how they, with him, are working to see to it that he can’t transgress without exposure. I’d want to know from him how he plans to see to it that he can’t hide this temptation from you, after the marriage.

It may mean that the nature of his temptation means that you two shouldn’t have computer in the house. It might mean that you have immediate transcription of all his Internet activity. It might be all sorts of obstacles that he’s placing in his way. The point is that, in order to love you, he must fight (Eph. 5:25; Jn. 10), and part of that fight will be against himself.

Pornography is a universal temptation precisely because it does exactly what the satanic powers wish to do. It lashes out at the Trinitarian nature of reality, a loving communion of persons, replacing it with a masturbatory Unitarianism.

And pornography strikes out against the picture of Christ and his church by disrupting the one-flesh union, leaving couples like our prehistoric ancestors, hiding from one another and from God in the darkness of shame.

And pornography rages, as Satan always does, against Incarnation (1 Jn. 4:2-3), replacing flesh-to-flesh intimacy with the illusion of fleshless intimacy.

There’s not a guarantee that you can keep your marriage from infidelity, either digital or carnal, but you can make sure the man you’re following into it knows the stakes, knows how to repent, and knows the meaning of fighting the world, the flesh, and the devil all the way to a cross.

In short, find a man who knows what his “full moon” is, what it is that drives him to vulnerability to his beastly self. Find a man who knows how to subvert himself, and how to ask others to help.

You won’t find a silver bullet for all of this, but you just might find a gospel-clinging wolf man.

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Which is Safe?

In Adam Ford,Being Real,Home and Family,Perspective on January 19, 2012 by The Spillover

In light of the gospel, what’s the Christ-like way to raise our children? This is a question I ponder regularly.

Here’s a gut-check for all of us (myself included):

Are we doing right by our children by raising them to be safe, moral, proper, responsible members of society? When we’re chiefly concerned with their self-esteem, inclusion, fiscal responsibility, and civil productivity? Even if Jesus/church is a part of this equation? Even a big part?

Or…

Would doing right by our children entail teaching them the hard truths of the gospel, training them in holiness, never assuming the gospel but preaching to them like Jesus taught people, showing them how many (even “proper”) people do not have salvation, and, when they’re old enough, strapping them up with the armor of God, praying over them, and sending them off to the worst, most dangerous part of the battle, even if it cost them their life?

Which is really the best for them?

Which is really safe?

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Growing Up in Church vs Your Current Heart State

In Adam Ford,Being Real on January 11, 2012 by The Spillover

Did you grow up in church?
Have you been a Christian as long as you can remember?
Are you the product of a loving Christian home?
Did you go to Christian school?
Have you never indulged in the “hard sins”?
Have you not missed a Sunday service in decades?
Can you quote scripture like a pro?

Cool. Those are all wonderful things. But here are the more important questions:

How’s your heart today?
Is it utterly in love with Jesus the Messiah?
Are you baffled daily that He saved you from condemnation?
Is your heart’s desire to see God glorified?
Will you deny yourself for His sake?
Will you carry your cross daily?
Would you give everything you own for Him?
Can you worship with the Psalmists when all is right?
Can you worship with Paul when beaten and in chains?
Is God your portion and passion?

Answer these for yourselves, by yourselves. Not the churchy answer, but the honest answer.

If the honest answer leaves you worried, then go to God and tell Him that. Plead with Him to make Himself the passion and joy of your heart, and don’t stop asking until He does.

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Missing Mike

In Being Real,Evangelism on January 9, 2012 by The Spillover

Posts like this are why I read Tim Challies‘ blog every day:

I fell asleep last night thinking about Mike. Mike was a friend and colleague, something of a mentor in the first real job I had after graduating from college. I met Mike on the first day at that new job and it didn’t take long for us to click. We were never great friends—we didn’t call one another on the weekends or get our families together (though we sometimes talked about it)—but for several years, as long as the job lasted, we were friends at the office.

We had a lot in common, the two of us, though Mike was a few years older and in management while I was younger and nowhere near management. Mike knew of this great little Italian restaurant not too far from the office and we would often go there for lunch together, devising creative ways of making and losing wagers on who would pay for the meal. A sports nut, he would often make paying contingent on a team that won or lost, whether that team was winning or losing at hockey, football, baseball or pretty much any other game (we drew the line at wrestling). Sometimes we would go to the local driving range at lunch and hit a bucket or two of balls—still another way of determining who would pay for lunch the next time around.

We also had in common our dedication to family. We had gotten married within a couple of years of one another and we had children that were just about the same ages. In an office full of young guys who were still sowing their wild oats, so to speak, Mike and I were more dedicated to family than to fun. When all the other guys went to a local “gentlemen’s club” to celebrate a birthday or promotion, Mike and I would go to the Italian place, eat lasagna, and talk about our kids.

Mike and I sometimes talked about the things that matter most—sin and Saviors and salvation. A lapsed Anglican, Mike was not too interested in talking about faith. It’s not that he was outwardly hostile or combative; he was simply indifferent, polite.

One day our small, privately-owned company was purchased by a giant American corporation. We were promised stock options and insurance plans and all kinds of perks. Instead we were handed pink slips. The whole branch was shut down; the technology was taken south and the staff was laid off. Mike and I went our separate ways. I didn’t see him for the next couple of years. We emailed occasionally, but no more than that.

But after a couple of years had passed I got an email from Mike’s wife. Mike had come down with a cough and then a severe backache with that cough. A trip to the doctor raised the terrifying prospect of cancer; a trip to the specialist revealed the ugly truth of a virulent form of leukemia. The doctors gave him less than a 20% chance of survival. His wife wrote to ask if I would pray. She was desperate and afraid and knew me as the guy who prayed. So I prayed.

I went to visit Mike in the hospital one time, my Bible in my pocket. Because the constant rounds of chemotherapy had destroyed his immune system he was often in isolation, but eventually I was able to visit him. He was a shadow of his former self, an athlete reduced to little more than a living skeleton. I wasn’t allowed to get too close to him, so I sat as far away as I could in the tiny little hospital room and talked about old times. Mike had moved to another company and had been on the fast-track to promotion when he got sick. The boss there was holding the job open for him in the hope that he could return soon. We talked about our kids and marriages, about our jobs and the Toronto Blue Jays. Mike talked all about his illness and prospects and hopes for the future. He was certain that the cancer was about to go into remission and that he would soon be free to get on with life. And then a nurse barged into the room and, with all the authority that comes with her position, told me my time was up. Mike had some kind of a procedure to get to and I had become persona non grata.

I said my good-byes, promised to visit again soon, and walked out of the room, feeling the weight of that Bible in my coat pocket. I hadn’t ever taken it out. I hadn’t steered the conversation to the state of Mike’s soul. The opportunity had been lost. I resolved to go back very soon and to do better this time.

Just a few weeks later I stood at the back of a crowded church, a church where the gospel had not been preached for many, many years, and heard Mike’s family say their farewells. They remembered him as a loving husband, a proud father, a loyal son, a mischievous brother. They laughed and cried, they celebrated his life and mourned his death. His little girls sat there, knowing that daddy was gone, but not yet understanding the finality of death. It was the first funeral I had ever been to for a peer—not an elderly man or woman who died old and full of years, but a friend in the prime of life.

I stood back there silent and ashamed and knowing that death is final and yet not final. I knew what everyone else there denied—that Mike was dead but alive. His body had died and was already returning to the dust. But his soul was alive and well. Or not well. Probably not well. As far as I know, Mike never turned to the Lord. He never saw the depth of his sin and his need for a Savior. And in the fear of my sin, the fear of what one man would think of me, I missed the opportunity to tell him about the One who offered him life even in death.

All these years later I am still ashamed. I know I’ve been forgiven even for this sin, but still I wish that I had done what was right, that in that one great opportunity I had offered hope and offered life. I wish…

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