It can get much better, and does, with God

Wesley Hill has written an insightful essay at The Gospel Coalition’s blog called “With God, It Gets Much Better” as a response to the new campaign to reach out to LBGTQ kids called “It Gets Better.” The campaign looks to encourage those in this group who have been abused verbally and physically.

Hill, who authored the recently published “Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality,” commends the effort but says that it doesn’t go far enough. He cites his own experience growing up and what he learned from it:

What I ended up discovering instead was a community of Christians who told me the story of the gospel and, energized by its hope, reached out to me in love.

My Christian friends told me that God is a good creator, explaining that he made humanity male and female and designed marriage, a covenant union between one man and one woman, as the place for human sexual desire to flourish (see Genesis 2:20-25 read together with Matthew 19:4-5). But they also described creation’s subsequent fall into sin and death. The biblical narrative of an originally pristine world gone horribly awry on account of human rebellion made sense of the fact that, through no conscious choice of my own, as an inheritor of Adam’s sin, I found myself experiencing desires for what seemed, in Christian terms, to be the wrong objects (see Romans 1:24-27). East of Eden, even our bodies are in need of redemption, my friends pointed out (see Romans 8:23).

Above all, the Christians I got to know pointed me to Jesus. Single, celibate, with no place to lay his head, Jesus understood my feeling of being broken and the loneliness that came with it. More than that, he died and was raised to secure for me eternal life with his Father in their Spirit—a life in which all bullying, sadness, and self-harm have no place. Trusting in him, I could count on God to see me not as a damnable failure but as an adopted son, a fellow heir with Jesus, a justified sinner. And I could look forward to a bodily resurrection patterned after Jesus’ own.

And while the theological “it gets better” message leaves hope, Hill said his friends didn’t just leave it there but demonstrated true love:

The Christians I got to know committed themselves, through the unity secured by the Holy Spirit rather than through biological ties, to being my family if I never experienced marriage firsthand. They invited me into their homes, took me on vacation with them, and encouraged me to consider myself an older sibling to their children. And they recruited me to join them in causes of hospitality, in making room for bullied kids—and bullies—at our dinner tables.

Such a message, surely, is more powerful than an optimistic forecast of a future in which love and acceptance may be found—but also, perhaps, may not. The Christian gospel heralds a God who does not leave us to our sinful desires, our broken selves and sexualities.

 

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Costly forgiveness

“All should be forgiven, and the thoughtless especially.” — Leo Tolstoy, Where Love Is (New York, 1915), page 20.

From Ray Ortlund, at The Gospel Coalition blog:

The Lord taught us to forgive at two levels.

Deep in our hearts, forgiveness is unconditional, since God has forgiven us: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). This forgiveness is absolute, before God.

At the level of our relationships, forgiveness is conditional: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). After all, how can one forgive a sin that hasn’t been confessed? For the relationship to be restored, the sinning brother must repent.

But what if he doesn’t repent? Or doesn’t even realize the harm he has done? Sadly, the relationship remains broken. But deep within, “. . . and the thoughtless especially.” This is the most costly forgiveness, because it is unseen, unthanked.

But God sees. As in everything else, all that ultimately matters is who God is, what God says, how God works.

What makes parenting hard: There are no easy times, but there is hope

The biggest problem we face in this world, John Piper preached this past Sunday, is not politics or culture or choices we make but the power of sin. Because sin entered the world, childbearing and childrearing, for one example, became hard. There are no easy times for parents, Piper said, although some times may be harder than others. “If you think (parenting) is easy, you’re dreaming,” he said. “Or wait a few days.”

His sermon, “Parenting with Hope in the Worst of Times,” looked at the situation the prophet Micah was in around 700 years before Jesus was born. What we see in Micah 7 is parenting in the worst of times, where the situation in his culture and at home is bleak. There is no one he can trust, whether it’s in his community or even his own home. In verse 5: “Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms.” And it goes further in verse 6: “For the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.”

Is this uncommon? No. Many have families that are torn with strife, broken in some way either by corruption or some other problem. Or even something else. Jesus in Matthew 10:34 quotes this very passage where he talks about the way he divides one family member from another because of his calling. He does it. Not because he loves to break up families, but because there is something so radical about what Jesus demands that it causes disruptions in families. You know what this looks like. The family that doesn’t get that call accuses the one called of being “arrogant” or “too good” for them. Jesus wants them all, but the split can happen over Jesus. The point is is that the tear is not always over some evil.

What is the response? What can we learn from what Micah says? Here are his words from Micah 7:7-10:

7 But as for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. 8 Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. 9 I will bear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. 10 Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the LORD your God?” My eyes will look upon her; now she will be trampled down like the mire of the streets.Read More »

A Sweet and Bitter Providence: Piper examines sex, race and God’s sovereignty in his new book

John Piper’s latest book, A Sweet and Bitter Providence: Sex, Race and the Sovereignty of God is now available. In it, he examines the book of Ruth and how it’s themes are relevant in the 21st century. From the publisher:

The sovereignty of God, the sexual nature of humanity, and the gospel of God’s mercy for the undeserving-these massive realities never change. And since God is still sovereign, and we are male or female, and Jesus is alive and powerful, A Sweet and Bitter Providence bears a message for readers from all walks of life. But be warned, Piper tells his audience: This ancient love affair between Boaz and Ruth could be dangerous, inspiring all of us to great risks in the cause of love.

Head over heart: The danger of showing love and why it’s worth it

There is pain all around us, and it is our nature to avoid that pain as much as possible. But, in this season of colds and flus (and flu shots), we know that there is some pain that is unavoidable and, sometimes, necessary. Regarding pain in relationships, we often see that the some of the deepest pain can come from someone or something you love. So that begs the question as to whether it is safer to not love in the first place because your heart can just be broken.

C.S. Lewis provides a wise answer and a strong rebuke in The Four Loves:

Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as “Careful! This might lead you to suffering.”

To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities.…

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

HT: Tyler Kenney

Seven reasons why we need small groups

This was not the main part of the message, but it was nonetheless a great point that John Piper made this past Sunday during his message at Bethlethem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. That is, seven reasons why we as believers and members of the church need small groups:

He has given pastors to the church “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). I believe in what I do. And I believe that it is not enough. Here are the seven reasons I gave the small group leaders.

1. The impulse avoid painful growth by disappearing safely into the crowd in corporate worship is very strong.

2. The tendency toward passivity in listening to a sermon is part of our human weakness.

3. Listeners in a big group can more easily evade redemptive crises. If tears well up in your eyes in a small group, wise friends will gently find out why. But in a large gathering, you can just walk away from it.

4. Listeners in a large group tend to neglect efforts of personal application. The sermon may touch a nerve of conviction, but without someone to press in, it can easily be avoided.

5. Opportunity for questions leading to growth is missing. Sermons are not dialogue. Nor should they be. But asking questions is a key to understanding and growth. Small groups are great occasions for this.

6. Accountability for follow-through on good resolves is missing. But if someone knows what you intended to do, the resolve is stronger.

7. Prayer support for a specific need or conviction or resolve goes wanting. O how many blessings we do not have because we are not surrounded by a band of friends who pray for us.

Don’t be a hater: Get to church

Ted Kluck and Kevin DeYoung, who teamed up to write “Two Guys Who Are Not Emergent” and the just-published “Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion,” recently wrote an article for the On Faith section of the Washington Post. For two young guys, they sound a chord not heard often in this culture. That is, the church is important in our society:

Here’s what Bono, Oprah, and the guru speakers on PBS won’t tell you: Jesus believed in organized religion and he founded an institution. Of course, Jesus had no patience for religious hacks and self-righteous wannabes, but he was still Jewish. And as Jew, he read the Holy Book, worshiped in the synagogue, and kept Torah. He did not start a movement of latte-drinking disciples who excelled in spiritual conversations. He founded the church (Matt. 16:18) and commissioned the apostles to proclaim the good news that Israel’s Messiah had come and the sins of the world could be forgiven through his death on the cross (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:14-36).

Now, these guys are not naive. They know what churches can be like and how they have received a reputation for not being the most loving places in the world:

We’ve been in the church our whole lives and are not blind to its failings. Churches can be boring, hypocritical, hurtful, and inept. The church is full of sinners. Which is kind of the point. Christians are worse than you think. Our Savior is better than you imagine.

But the church is not all about oppression and drudgery. Almost every church we know of visits old people, brings meals to new moms, supports disaster relief, and does something for the poor. We love the local church, in spite of its problems, because it’s where we go to meet God. It’s not a glorified social/country club you attend to be around people who talk and look just you do. It’s a place to hear God’s word spoken, taught and affirmed. It’s a place to sing praises to God, and a place to serve others. It’s a place to be challenged.

Their new book “provides a solid biblical mandate to love and be a part of the body of Christ and counteract the ‘leave church’ books that trumpet rebellion and individual felt needs.” I know that there are many of us who have in the past gone through or currently are going through difficulties with your fellow believers in the church. Don’t despair — and don’t leave the church.

Download the study guide to go with the book.

Humility: Clothes I’m having a hard time wearing

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

I Peter 5:5-7

Here’s the thing. God, I trust. He knows everything. He is all powerful. He is all wise. He is loving. He is holy. But a man, like me, is sinful. I know that I am a wretch. I have loved these verses for almost all my life as a Christian. I understand the need to be humble. I know God will take my anxieties and care for me because he is great. The part where I stumble is the first part, where it says to be subject to my elders and to clothe myself with humility toward another. And it makes me miserable.

I’m miserable because it shows my trust in God is a lie, and I’m not fooling anyone. Well, maybe myself until I see how I cannot trust God to work in a situation with another person. So, I act like I think God is big and I’m small and yet you’re somehow smaller than me. It’s not a good thing, and I see it like cancer in myself and people around me. These are clothes that we don’t want to wear, this humility to one another. Yes, it is so easy to see the sinfulness in those around us. But that is not the point. The point is to be humble to God, who made that person, and trust him to work things for our good and his glory.

A Guy’s Guide to Marrying Well

MarryWellThanks to the folks at Boundless and Focus on the Family for providing A Guy’s Guide To Marrying Well. The 32-page booklet (a free download at the link) is a collection from several really good books and sources. This is what the folks at Focus on the Family  hope the guide will do for young men:

The simple purpose of this booklet is to present a path that is as Biblical as possible in order to help you marry well. But not just so that you can experience all the happiness, health and wealth that guys who marry well enjoy, but so that your marriage can point to God’s glory and His greater purposes.

This guide is based on a few timeless concepts — intentionality, purity, Christian compatibility and community — that we rarely encounter in popular culture but are a proven path to marrying well.

In a world where we get garbage like The Bachelor, it’s good to know that young men can have something more trustworthy when it comes to giving clear, sound advice.