The Reformation’s 500th Anniversary

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Today marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On this day, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses on the door of the Church in Wittenberg, in an effort to help the Roman Catholic church “reform” its dangerous path deeper into tradition and further from Scripture and the doctrines taught in it. As you might now, Protestantism eventually grew from this Reformation.

Out of respect for this world-changing act, here is a paragraph from Luther’s famous commentary on the book of Romans. Here is Martin Luther on faith.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it 1000 times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures; and this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace; and thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light fires. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God to work faith in you; else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think of do. (Commentary on Romans, xvii)

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9 Bridge Builders for Your Marriage

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If you want to bridge the differences in your marriage, you’ll need a few things to help you along the way.

1) Love and respect

Love and respect shouldn’t be handled like our typical exercise routine—only when we feel like it! It shouldn’t be meted out only when we believe it’s been earned. Love and respect are philosophical positions that we should hold, not because they always feel good or we always feel like doing them, but because, under God and His design, LOVE and RESPECT are RIGHT.

Here are some ideas for what love and respect might look like.

  • consideration
  • appreciation (“The things you see and experience over and over again tend to be the things that at some point you quit noticing.” Paul Tripp)
  • politeness
  • arguments that don’t devolve into name calling
  • the benefit of the doubt
  • positive (not negative) reinforcement

2) Put Jesus first

If you’re a Christian couple, then Jesus comes first—always and forever. If you want your relationship to be healthy and happy, then don’t put yourself first, don’t put the other first, put Jesus first. Any other priority leaks into idolatry.

If you feel like you should come first, you have an idolatry problem and the idol you’re worship is yourself. If you can’t imagine putting Jesus before your spouse or your fiancé or whoever, then you have an idol problem, too, and your idol is your lover.

Listen: no matter what, Jesus comes first! And I don’t mean that theoretically; I mean practically. We can’t put Jesus first in theory but not in practice.

3) Remember grace

As sinners in the hands of an just and holy God, we’re all in dire need of His mercy and grace. That’s Christianity. It isn’t about candles, stained windows, a certain dress code, or a particular denomination. Christianity is about sinners coming to God through faith in His Son and His Son’s work, because there we find mercy and grace where and when we need it. That’s mere Christianity—plain and simple. And therefore to treat people ungraciously is non-Christian. We should be dealing graciously with our spouses and loved ones, because we of all people have a keen awareness of the grace we require from God.

4) Grow and grow together

Paul once said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Listen, if you want to bridge differences, grow and grow together. To say it negatively, if you want to create differences, then grow and grow apart!

I have seen so many relationships begin happy and seemingly healthy but eventually fall apart for the simple reason that one of the two involved continued to grow while other stopped. So, grow…read the Scripture, watch good movies, listen to good podcasts, have deep, meaningful conversations. Physical growth doesn’t happens

5) Listen to understand

This is a principle from Steven Covey’s book The 7 Laws of Highly Effective People. (It’s definitely a book worth reading.) In it, he explains that most people listen so that they can respond to what’s being said, which means that they aren’t fully listening, that is, listening to understand.

Proverbs 18:13 agrees: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
So, many of the communication breakdowns that we experience in relationships can be attributed to nothing more than a failure to listen, and consequently a failure to understand and express compassion.

It’s a fact of nature…if you’re talking, you’re not listening. And if you’re not listening, then you’re not understanding.

6) Speak even if it’s uncomfortable

Recently, I was talking to someone who called me out on something. Let me tell you about being called out…it’s not fun. It means you’re hearing something about yourself, that you would never tell yourself, because it’s negative, it’s something you don’t want to hear, something that you don’t want to receive.

But when I was called out about his thing, it made perfect sense to me the second I was told. I sometimes avoid saying something that I should say, because I prefer to keep the status quo than deal with something that should be addressed. Don’t trust your own silence. Silence is often a disguise… If something should be said, whether or not it’s comfortable, then is should be said sooner than later. (How do you say it? Refer back to #1.)

7) Consider needs

Bridging differences means a willingness to do the work necessary to maintain the relationship once you’ve reached the other side! When you’re in a relationship with someone, God has designed relationship so that you don’t go into it for what you can get but rather for what you can give! Let me say that again: Christians have relationships for what they can give not what they can get.

Matthew 7:12 instructs us, saying, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

8) Determine success

If it’s soccer, it’s goals. If it’s football, it’s touchdowns. If it’s basketball, it’s points. If it’s baseball, it’s runs. That’s the name of the game–do what you must to get more than the other team. In sports, that’s success.

Let me ask you this question: Do you have a definition for success for your family? If I were to ask you, “What’s a win for you and your family?” how would you answer? If I were to ask you, “What puts points on the board for you and your family?” how would you answer? Knowing these answer helps you achieve success, so that you’re not just “getting through the day” but actually achieving goals for the home team!

9) Major on the majors

Finally, major on the majors. In his excellent book What Did You Expect? Paul Tripp writes, “You cannot live with another person and make every difference equally important and equally an issue between you. Some differences are not important at all” (223, italics added).

Let’s face it, how many issues do you and I argue about simply for the sake of pride or oneupmanship? If we major on the majors, we will take ourselves out of the equation and focus on the more important ones (e.g., #2).

Finally, God doesn’t want our lives to reflect a hilarious tragedy, like the media likes to pour downward to the culture. It’s one thing to laugh at the characters portrayed on the tv. It’s another thing to live like them. God wants us to take this gift of life, invest in it, grow it, nurture it, so that in time, when we find someone to love, we actually have something to offer them—because we can’t be something for someone until we are somebody ourselves. Relationships require that we bridge differences and remain committed. These 9 points should help us along the way!

Blessings,

Joe

Think of What to Do, Not What Not to Do

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Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand, you’re aware of the racial tensions that culminated in a recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. (You can read about it here and here.) Granted, there are a number of arguments and angles presenting themselves since the event transpired. Yet, regardless of what is true and false, there is something that we all can be healthily reminded of: We may face intimidation in various ways during our journey on earth, but it’s what we do that proves our convictions. But the important thing is to face intimidation with a focus on obligation. We are obligated to love God (Matthew 22:34-38) and to love our neighbors (Luke 10:25-37). If we are focusing on what we should do (namely, love God and our neighbors), then we won’t be intimidated by what we shouldn’t do.

Blessings,

Joe

A Thought on Proximity

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Proximity–We should all dwell in proximity to what—or who—we believe will keep us the most safe, healthy, and happy. For example, children dwell in PROXIMITY to their parents. Spouses (should) create an environment in which they feel safe to dwell in PROXIMITY to each other.

In like fashion, Christians should dwell in PROXIMITY to the Father—in prayer, in meditation and thought, in the Word, and in fellowship with others who are dwelling in PROXIMITY to Him, too. “Stay close” isn’t only a word our parents used to say when we were children playing in the park. “Stay close” is also a Word from our Heavenly Father while we’re living in the world!

Why is this important? Practically speaking, it’s important because dwelling in PROXIMITY to the Father brings us close to His holiness, His wisdom, His forgiveness, His love and daily grace. We can’t dwell close to God and simultaneously continue to harbor those things that God has redeemed us from. The closer we are to God, the further we are from our past!

Yet, how many people do we know, people who claim to know and love God, dwelling in proximity to jealousy instead of Jesus, greed instead of God, unforgiveness instead of the Father, laziness instead of the Lord? We have too many soldiers in the Kingdom who are living like distracted civilians.

We should all dwell in PROXIMITY to what—or who—we believe will keep us the most safe, healthy, and happy. What are you in proximity to today?

Blessings,

Joe

20 Things Worth Praying For

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Here’s a list of 20 things worth praying for!

  1. God’s fame and glory
  2. Forgiveness of sins
  3. Success in your career
  4. Health to serve Him and others
  5. Happiness and Joy in what matters most
  6. Spiritual maturity
  7. Discernment
  8. Salvation for the lost
  9. Personal maturity
  10. Love
  11. Guidance and Direction
  12. The Holy Spirit’s Power
  13. Wisdom
  14. The confidence to share the faith regularly
  15. Your church leaders
  16. Your church membership
  17. Your country
  18. Your country’s leaders
  19. Widows and Widowers
  20. Children without parents

Care to add to the list?

Blessings,

Joe

Are We Losing Our Convictions?

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Have you sensed a shift in Christian convictions? It seems to be happening widely across the moral scale. On the one hand, we have President Trump supporters who, in their fervor to be pro-American, have accepted language from the president that they themselves would never tolerate if it were being aimed at one of their family members. On the other hand, we have author and The Message’s translator, Eugene Peterson, discussing homosexuality and same-sex marriage, saying that his position (that of Biblical-Traditional Christianity) has shifted, so that now he finds them acceptable. To me, it almost looks as if the tolerance worldview, popularized by secular society, has crept into the Church’s worldview, and basically amounted to Christians who have convictions only on agreeable topics and issues. I’m certain that this isn’t how convictions are supposed to work!

Today, convictions are almost entirely unpopular, inconvenient, and frowned upon. Why? Because we (and when I say we, I’m speaking to those of us who claim the name of Christ) are told to be loving, accepting, receiving, just as Jesus was and is. True, Jesus was all of those things, if by loving you mean that He loved God’s truth (John 17:17); and by accepting you mean that he accepted God’s judgment (John 5:30); and by receiving you mean that He was willing to receive severe punishment for sin that He didn’t own (John 12:24). There is an entire aspect to Christ’s Person that gets ignored sometimes by those who are proponents of convictions that accept everything without distinction. (In truth, they accept everything but those who don’t accept it!) I think that is unwise and unbiblical.


Our preferences should play no part in our convictions.


This sliding moral scale can even be seen in church leadership. It’s honorable and praiseworthy that many pastors and Christians want to reach as many people as possible. Amen! We all should. But what isn’t praiseworthy is how they leave convictions to do it. (Tragically, it may be these leaders Christ is referring to when He says that apparent ministry successful doesn’t imply personal knowledge [Matthew 7:21-23].) Our preferences should play no part in our convictions. When Jesus ministered to people, He never did so by abolishing what the Law taught (Matthew 5:17). Instead, He met people with convictions, convictions that included love. That is what gave Him the ground on which to say, “Go in peace and sin no more” (Luke 7:50; John 8:11). The “go and sin no more” motif has almost entirely lost its place, because what used to be considered sin is, today, considered acceptable with the “understanding” that Jesus’ culture was different from ours. It is, after all, 2017…they say. Today, the great sin, according to those of this position, is that we are unloving and unaccepting, so they say. True, we should love, accept, and receive people for Jesus. But if these words imply a complete disregard for change, growth, and conviction, the discipleship, worship and glory that is due to Him, then we’ve lost what it means to repent, believe, and be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In a word, we’ve lost the identity of Christianity.

At this point, some may argue that these stricter positions are motivated by an absence of love. Let’s be clear: Convictions don’t imply the absence of love. On the contrary, to love ought to be a primary conviction for every Christian (John 13:35; Romans 12:9). But in the oft-quoted 1 Corinthians 13, for example, we don’t read of love being ignorant or accepting or tolerant. On the contrary, love “refuses to rejoice at wrongdoing” and instead “rejoices with the truth.” Yes, we should love and be loving. But love demands convictions, as the boundary in which it finds its meaning and purpose and motivation.


Convictions don’t imply the absence of love…to love ought to be a primary conviction.


To close, I’d like to encourage you to find your convictions in God’s Word, to grow in your understanding and comprehension of them, and to consider how you can respectfully discuss differences with others, without degrading them. Our greatest conviction should be to lovingly communicate the Gospel to the lost and Christians alike.

Blessings,

Joe

 

 

4 Things I’ve Learned About Forgiveness

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Recently, I’ve been working on a project that’s required me to look into forgiveness, not only as a topic, theoretical and aloof, but also as an action, practical and personal. As you might suspect, it hasn’t been a simple task. As I’ve reflected on it, and considered what the Bible teaches (both in theory and in practice), I thought I’d jot a few things down, in the hopes that it’ll help you along your way, too.

Forgiveness is almost unbelievable

When I consider forgiveness, something so tantamount to Christianity, I honestly find it unbelievable. Every world religion has some form of forgiveness, but the weight of perspectives leans on merit. In other words, world religions are founded on a person’s ability to earn for themselves the very thing that Christianity admits no person could ever earn–namely, God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. That’s why the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf is so potent: because He didn’t need to do it for Himself, but voluntarily did it for us, so that we might enjoy a relationship with the Father as He does. In other words, the forgiveness that we could never earn for all of our moral failings is freely available to us in Christ. That, my friends, is almost unbelievable. As the apostle John so famously wrote, “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).

Forgiveness is harder than I thought

I’m sure that when the apostle Peter asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” he thought he was presenting a really sound theological question. As Jesus answered, however, forgiveness isn’t quantifiable. It can’t be measured or gauged, like mileage on the heart and soul.  In other words, you are either forgiving or you aren’t. This makes the issue of forgiveness harder than I thought. When a person has been forgiven, the Bible teaches them to, in turn, be forgiving (e.g., here and here). This is harder than I thought. It’s hard, because 1) we like to hoard the feeling that we’re right, and 2) we like to remind people they’ve been wrong. Forgiveness is, at least in part, a release of these 2 things.

Forgiveness is costly

There are some things that simply cost you…I don’t mean your finances or your time…I mean YOU, as a person, as a soul. Forgiveness is one of those things. It’s costs your soul. It costs your soul, because it’s personal, intimate, and, whether we like it or not, includes our emotions, our pride, and how we feel about something or someone. Forgiveness leaves you, well–to look at Jesus on the cross–wounded. When I think of Jesus on the cross, I understand the costliness of forgiveness. It’s a painful, gut-wrenching, self-swallowing, ego-denying process that should hurt, because in forgiveness we choose to accept God’s grace for a situation rather than the universe’s insistence on a downward spiral (Col. 3:13). And every time we choose God’s way while here, we feel the tension behind, “Thy Kingdom come… They will be done.”

Forgiveness opens possibilities again

In the end, regardless of whether or not forgiveness is believable, harder than we think, or even costly, the truth is, without forgiveness the future is closed to us. Forgiveness opens possibilities. Forgiveness builds bridges. Forgiveness paves routes that otherwise would remain grown over by the weeds of resentment, bitterness, and insincerity. If you want a future, if you want to live a life of joy and peace in Christ, regardless of the outcome here on earth, then you have to forgive. Forgiveness is God’s door to a future of possibilities–with Him, with ourselves, and with others.

Forgiveness is simple to study. It’s difficult to practice. But in view of God’s mercy (Romans 12:1-2), we have been called and commanded to exercise the very graces that have been bestowed upon us, one of which is forgiveness.

Blessings,

Joe