“How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights!” -Song of Solomon 7:6
I think all of us are wired to pursue romance.
Romance: “A feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.”
In our culture we frequently hear about how a marriage is broken up when one person finds someone outside of their marriage that “makes them feel alive.” What they mean when they talk about feeling alive is the powerful buzz called romance. I believe that romance is a beautiful gift given to us by God. Of course, most anything good and beautiful can become corrupted because we live in a fallen world. One of the problems is that we turn romance into an idol and when we do that we make ourselves, and most of the people in our life, miserable. How does this happen? We are seeking happiness. We want the buzz. But there is no human on earth that can keep our hearts satisfied through romance.
This song is not new. But I think it helps to redirect our heart towards the One who can meet our deepest needs and desires.
The fullness of Your grace is here with me
The richness of Your beauty’s all I see
The brightness of Your glory has arrived
In Your presence God, I’m completely satisfied
For You I sing I dance
Rejoice in this divine romance
Lift my heart and my hands
To show my love, to show my love
A deep deep flood, an Ocean flows from You
Of deep deep love, yeah it’s filling up the room
Your innocent blood, has washed my guilty life
In Your presence God I’m completely satisfied
After last night’s debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden it seems pretty clear that the polarization, anger, and insults will continue to be with us for the next two months leading up the election on November 4th. As a pastor who loves his church family I don’t tell them (or anyone for that matter) how they should vote. But, it certainly is my responsibility to teach and model how we should live as Christians during a time such as this.
So, how should we respond in a way that honors God over the next few weeks? I have four suggestions:
Over the past few years I have heard people say on social media that we need to stop posting remarks about the fact that we are going to pray. And what they mean, I think, is that there are times when we should do more than pray. That we need to move into action and that saying we are going to pray is just a cop out for not really doing anything. Yes, there are times we need to roll up our sleeves and take some necessary action. No doubt about it. But Scripture is really clear that one of the most powerful things we can do, about any situation, is to pray. Let’s pray and ask God to be a work in a powerful way leading up to the election on November 4th.
Treat people on the other side of the political aisle with love
I am deeply saddened by the way that people who claim to be Christians treat people who have different political views than they do. Consider the words of Jesus for a moment, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus taught us and demonstrated through his life that even our enemies should be treated with love. It does not mean we don’t disagree, but we should do it in such a way that they sense that we care about them and love them.
Make sure politics is not an idol in your life. How would you know if politics have become an idol in your life?
- You watch the news more than you pray and read the bible
- You are fearful
- You are worried
- You put more hope in politicians than you do in God
- You don’t have any friends who think differently than you about politics (which is another way of saying that you live in an echo chamber).
- You think and talk about politics too much
- You lack grace, kindness, and compassion towards those who disagree with you
- You have a really hard time admitting the weaknesses of your own political tribe. On the other side of the coin, you have a hard time admitting the strengths of the other political tribe.
You are active on social media but not your church, neighborhood, and city
I see this trend more and more. People greatly over value the impact they are making by sharing their opinions online. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the church is how God desires to change the world. Are you partnering with others in the church to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20)? Are you building relationships with those who do not yet know Christ in your neighborhood and city?
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them…” Acts 16:25
God has been at work in my life. Lots of pruning (ouch). Lots of prayer. Asking the Spirit to fill me with a holy joy that will sustain me through the ups and downs of everyday life. I love you guys and can’t wait to see you and preach on August 2nd!
One of the most controversial topics in our culture, and in the church, is the issue of homosexuality. I have found lately that many Christians don’t even want to talk about issues like this because of the possible backlash by their family, friends and peers.
Recently I taught on this issue for about 25 minutes. You can find that talk HERE.
Rachel Gilson, I believe, does a good job of speaking biblical truth in a loving and gracious manner. In her book, “Born Again This Way”, Rachel explains in fascinating detail how she was immersed in a gay lifestyle and the changes that occurred because of her coming to know God and the truths in his Word.
In case you were wondering, I strongly recommend this book to you and anyone who wants to learn more regarding what the bible teaches about same-sex attraction.
Here are a few quotes from the book that stand out to me.
The hilarious theft of Mere Christianity
Not long after, I was in the room of an acquaintance. She was grabbing some item, and as I waited for her in her entryway, I spotted her bookshelf. It featured a small volume called Mere Christianity. The author’s name, C.S. Lewis, rang a faint bell, but I hadn’t been raised on The Chronicles of Narnia so I couldn’t place it. Nevertheless, I desperately wanted to read the book. So I stole it.
What is truth?
In this sense, I was obeying before I understood. To my mind, God’s prohibition on same-sex relationships made no sense. My heart fully embraced the “love is love” narrative-the logical move from “God is love” to “People fall in love” seemed to validate all consensual romantic adult relationships. Weren’t they all potential expressions of this higher reality? This seemed elegant and obvious. I wasn’t craving murder or theft, but love, intimacy, and companionship! I didn’t understand; but would I trust him? Would I take as truth my word or God’s?
Sometimes we wonder why we can’t have something we strongly desire (I thought this quote about the garden of Eden was wonderfully insightful!)
So instead of giving those first humans a law that seemed obvious, God chose one that seemed odd. He told them that they could not eat of one particular tree in their richly appointed garden. Think about that: the law was not to eat a fruit. It sounds almost ridiculous-after all, even vegans eat fruit! How could there be anything immoral in it when it didn’t even require an animal to die? What is the motivation to obey a law that seems nonsensical? It can only be deep trust in the one who asks.
(Now we have to ask how this applies to our views regarding sexuality)
Does it make me weird that I have strong contradictory desires?
How could I be caught between such contradictory desires? On the face of it they should have been mutually exclusive of each other. Yet maybe you too know how it feels to be torn between two camps. Your pull towards something forbidden feels as strong as a super-magnet. But it doesn’t extinguish your opposite pull toward Jesus, your real desire to honor him. You feel that you could be ripped down the middle. While the experience is alarming, God’s word assures us that it’s a challenge which is normal for the Christians.
Our desires are not a reliable compass
Perhaps you’ve heard a modern version of this blame shift. Our culture says that all sexual expression and desire is good and right, as long as there is consent. If you feel it, do it! So we conclude, “I feel these desires sincerely. I didn’t ask for them, therefore they must be from God. God doesn’t make mistakes.” This is just a different way of shifting the burden to God. Saying that those desires are from God simply because they exist is a confusion between God’s perfect will-what he desires actively for humanity-and God’s permissive will: that which he allows given the circumstances of redemptive history. He is clear throughout Scripture that our desires are not a compass for goodness because they are broken. He is the compass for goodness, and he tells us plainly what pleases him and what will result in our thriving.
Sometimes those who claim to love God give us really bad advice about sexuality
Our desires whisper lies in our ears. They gather steam from our culture and shout over any objections. For those of us who experience same-sex attraction, the danger is very real. Every piece of our culture is going out of its way to affirm that impulse that exists unchosen in us. Everywhere we turn, someone is telling us that freedom is found in obeying these desires. Sometimes the voice comes from those we trust most in this world: those who claim to love God.
Leaving sin can be agonizing
For those of us with same-sex attraction, denying those desires will feel like death, because it is. When I left Anna, it was agony every day for months. Yet it as completely worth it, just as Jesus had promised that we would gain our lives only by losing them.
Same-sex attracted people have a powerful ministry to offer the church
That grew eventually, like a pearl that takes years of irritation to form, into a realization that same-sex attracted Christians have unique and powerful ministries-that is, we serve the church and the world through our example of obedience. How so? Because we witness powerfully to the beauty of Jesus over romance. Because we embody the necessity of relying on him alone to choose holiness. And because we prophetically call the church to honor God and neighbor by neither taking away from nor adding to God’s word on sexuality.
What would it take to live a life of celibacy?
To choose celibacy, Jesus must be really precious to you. What a chance to testify that he is! What an opportunity to call into question the narrative of salvation-by romance, and to point to what all love dimly reflects. And not just with your words, but, like an Old Testament prophet, with your life. You only give up something awesome for something even better. I could only give up the pleasures of a girlfriend-even someday a wife-for the more pleasurable embrace of Christ.
The power of the beauty of Christ
Without the beauty of Jesus, we won’t leave the safety of our LGBT family.
Turning romance into an idol
I am persuaded that most people in the church have a vision of marriage as the consummation of romance, inseparable from it. This is why so many of us tend to end our marriages when the romance sputters. Too many decisions to marry are not calculated with everything in mind, because romance is present and strong. It reminds me of Jesus’s words in Luke 14:28: “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”
One of the greatest deceptions of the modern West is the idea that you are not truly happy-or even truly alive-until you’ve found your soulmate.
Church must be a safe place to talk about these issues
I’m convinced that for both of us, being able to identify our attractions without shame early on has helped us to process them later in a healthy way in Christ. By contrast, many people who grow up in the church did not find it to be a safe place in which to discuss same-sex attraction, let alone to admit to experiencing it.
Should you call yourself a “gay Christian”?
And what then about the language question? Should you call yourself a “gay Christian”? Or should you use language like “same-sex attracted”?
I worry that calling oneself a gay or queer Christian creates too much opportunity for this part of our lives to shape our identities in ways that are unhelpful-to perhaps close us off from things God may want to do, or allow types of compromise with attraction. It’s all too easy to slide from recognizing something as true about myself to seeing it as the truth about myself. I want us to be sober and watchful in our language choices.
Let’s be kind and gracious to one another
But above all, I want us to be charitable to ourselves and toward each other. The stories of what God is doing may surprise, delight, or alarm us. Let’s listen to each other rather than shutting one another down. Let’s admonish one another in love, rather than firing shots at each other on social media. Let’s warn each other of sin, and point each other to the confounding grace of our Savior, rather than condemning one another as heretics or Pharisees without so much as a trial.
Our mission as a church is to make disciples who make disciples. Our vision is the way in which we go about living out our mission. With that said, our vision as a church is “Deeply Rooted in Six Counties.” We want to be a church that is growing deeper in our relationship with God, with people in the church, and those in the six counties all around us. We asked Pastor and author, Jeff Vanderstelt, to do some teaching about how we can grow more deeply in the glorious truths of the gospel. Jeff is the Teaching Pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. He is asked on a regular basis to write and speak about the gospel and how it applies to everyday life. Recently, Jeff wrote the excellent book, Gospel Fluency. Below is the video of the teaching that Jeff did for us.
HERE are some discussion questions that you or your Life Group could use to deepen your understanding and appreciation of the gospel.
HERE is an interview I did with Jayne, Jeff’s wife, many years ago.
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. -Galatians 3:23-24
Part of successfully learning to drive a car is knowing when to push the brake and the gas pedals (a clutch makes it even more complicated). If we don’t know how to use the pedals in our car it makes for a miserable driving experience. When it comes to the Christian life there are two pedals that we can push down at different times, law and grace. I think that many times we make ourselves miserable as Christians when we use these pedals incorrectly. Allow me to explain.
The pedal called law
The law is the moral standard, given in God’s Word, for how we are to live. The law highlights God’s moral code and at the same time it shows us how we fail to live up to it (Galatians 3:24).
Here is a verse that I am citing as an example as one of God’s laws, And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” -Leviticus 19:1-2
Indicators you are misusing this pedal
- You begin to hate yourself for your lack of spiritual growth
- You quietly wonder if you should just give up on Christianity because you see so little spiritual transformation
- You wish you had more joy and gratitude in your life
- You spend long periods of time after you have sinned doubting if God wants to have anything to do with you
It can shift from not being gracious with ourselves to not being gracious with others…
- You are judgmental and mean-spirited towards others when it comes to their lack of spiritual growth
- You don’t have people opening up to you and talking to you about their struggles because they know you are lacking in grace
- You have never been referred to as a friend of sinners
- You become very prideful because you think (self-deceived) that you are doing a decent job obeying the law and you are not sure why others can’t do the same thing
The pedal called grace
Grace is the amazing fact that because we broke God’s law, Jesus came to this earth, died on a cross, took our sins upon himself, rose again, and if we embrace Jesus by faith we are liberated from sin and death. We also know from Scripture that we are no longer under the law, we are now under grace (Romans 6:12-14).
Here is a verse that I am citing to give you an example of the grace of God, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” -1 John 1:9
Sometimes the abuse of grace is referred to as hyper-grace or antinomianism. Here is how one writer defines hyper-grace, “The term hyper-grace has been used to describe a new wave of teaching that emphasizes the grace of God to the exclusion of other vital teachings such as repentance and confession of sin.”
Indicators you are misusing this pedal
- You are no longer taking personal sin seriously
- You talk about the love of God but not so much about the holiness of God
- You almost never confront someone about their sins
- You talk about a messy life, a broken life. There is a hesitancy to call it what it is, sin
- You are just way too comfortable with where you are at spiritually
- Preachers who misuse this pedal rarely talk to their church about the dangers of sin
Just so you know, I constantly struggle when it comes to using these two pedals in my own life. I talk about the gospel ALL THE TIME, yet I can fail to apply it to my life. I can swing from self-loathing to making excuses for my sin in a split-second.
Here is my suggestion when it comes to how we can stop making ourselves (and others) miserable because we are misusing the pedals of law and grace
In my opinion, here is the key in all of this. The most important thing we need to do is simply become aware of the problem in the first place. Some of us have become worn out and miserable as Christians and the truth of the matter is that we are not even aware of what the root problem is. We are struggling spiritually but we are lacking a diagnosis. It may be a matter of misusing the pedals of law and grace. So, I believe it is incredibly helpful just to be aware of this problem so that we can make some adjustments in our thinking.
Once we have begun to see the problem in our own life we can take it to God in prayer. Ask God to give you a more balanced perspective and not to abuse one pedal or the other. We should allow the laws of God, his moral laws, to convict us and point us to our ongoing need for Jesus. Yet, at the same time we can quickly rejoice that because we are in Christ we are forgiven. We don’t need to walk around with a sense of guilt and shame because of the work of Jesus on the cross.
Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Is this something you struggle with?
Our vision as a church is “Deeply Rooted in Six Counties.” We want to be a church that is growing deeper in our relationship with God, with people in the church, and those in the six counties all around us. With that said, we have asked Pastor and author, Jeff Vanderstelt, to do some teaching about how we can grow more deeply in the glorious truths of the gospel. Jeff is the Teaching Pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. He is asked on a regular basis to write and speak about the gospel and how it applies to everyday life. Recently, Jeff wrote the excellent book, Gospel Fluency. On Sunday, May 17th, 6:00 PM, from the safety and comfort of your own home, you can join us for this unique opportunity.
The teaching can be found at: http://www.newlifeefree.org