Because of Christ . . .

There is something powerful about thinking about, meditating on and rehearsing the truth about what Christ has done for us.  When we proclaim the truth of what God has done for us because of the obedience of our Savior, joy comes. Hope can be realized and experienced.  Chains loosen and fall. Light begins to pierce stubborn darkness. Anticipation rises. So, let me encourage you to let the Word of God wash over your heart and mind today and the truth will set you free. Read these verses slowly and mediate on the truth so that your very thoughts will be transformed.

Because of Christ . . . You are a child of God (John 1:12)

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Because of Christ . . . You have been born again to a new and living hope (I Peter 1:3, 23)

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

Because of Christ . . . Your sins are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7)

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”

Because of Christ . . . You are brand new (II Corinthians 5:7)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Because of Christ . . . You have hope  (Romans 5:2)

“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

Because of Christ . . . You have joy (I Peter 1:8)

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”

Because of Christ . . . You have been saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col 3:16)

The Expectation-Experience Gap

My youngest son, Philip, just got married two weeks ago in the same chapel where Rob and I were married almost 35 years ago. As I anticipated walking down the same aisle that ushered me into my marriage, I inevitably thought back to many fond and joyful memories…and also to the painful lessons of dying to self that brought both of us to our knees countless times in our manifest need for God’s grace. Before Rob and I said our “I do’s”, we had absolutely no idea how much devastating sin was lurking in our hearts. We didn’t even make it through our honeymoon before it became painfully evident that there was more to marriage than romantic moonlit walks and late-into-the-night conversations.

In Aaron’s first message in his new “Kindred” series, he mentioned the necessity of managing our expectations in marriage – a marriage that has wed together two sinners. Like many other young brides, I was disillusioned by the challenges in marriage which seemed to ignite a hidden anger and impatience in my heart at the slightest provocation.

Everyone brings conscious and subconscious expectations into marriage. They may be as simple as a desire for a clutter-free home or as emotion-laden as determining where and how to celebrate holidays. Unless we understand our expectations and the power they can wield in our relationships, the unity and intimacy in our marriages will be undermined and damaged.

In Peacemaking Women, authors Tara Klena Barthel and Judy Dabler warn couples about the danger of unrealistic expectations: “While some expectations are legitimate, many of our expectations are unrealistic because they require far more than anyone can give. We look for people to say, do, or be something specific – and then they fail to meet our expectation. We encounter a ‘gap’ between what we hope for and what we actually experience.”

In the first days of my marriage, I fell headlong into that expectation-experience gap (actually, more like a chasm). I had been so idealistic about marriage – believing that only bad marriages were hard. My disillusionment and disappointment often left me feeling hopelessly discouraged. In those early months, God was so faithful to gently and mercifully teach me life-giving Scriptural truths that would take decades to learn but would build my marriage into one of intimacy and deep friendship that were only possible by His grace.

In Luke 7:36-50 Jesus has an encounter with a sinful woman at the home of Simon, a Pharisee, with whom He is eating dinner. Simon is contemptuous when Jesus accepts the woman’s humble worship. Jesus rebukes Simon, and says, “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

In his 1706 commentary on the Bible, Matthew Henry explains that this verse is better rendered, “…her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, therefore she loved much.” He continues, “It is plain that her loving much was not the cause, but the effect, of her pardon. We love God because He first loved us; He did not forgive us because we first loved Him.” This woman’s love was the direct effect of her acknowledgment of her sin, her true repentance, and the forgiveness that Jesus offered her. She knew well the depth of her sin, and her love reflected that contrition.

The measure of our love for God and others is inextricably linked to the understanding we have of the depth of our own sin (not the sin of our spouse). The sinful woman in Luke 7 was overwhelmed by her sin. She recognized that her offense was before a holy and righteous God. She was sorrowful and penitent. She knew Jesus was her only hope.

Our sin may not be the same as hers, but our response to this passage should be one of deep personal identification with her. Our responses to our spouses when our expectations are unmet (e.g. anger, impatience, resentment, self-pity, etc) are an offense before a holy and righteous God. Like the sinful woman, we cannot hope to “love much” until we acknowledge the depth of our sin, even when we believe it to be insignificant or justifiable.

We so easily blame our spouses, highlight their sins, and build an airtight case against them. One of God’s main intentions for marriage is to expose the undeniable condition of our sinful hearts, so that we understand our desperate need for a Savior. In How People Change, Paul Tripp says, “As much as we are affected by our broken world and the sins of others against us, our greatest problem is the sin that resides in our hearts. That is why the message of the gospel is that God transforms our lives by transforming our hearts.”

Psalm 139:23-24 is so instructive. In these verses, David does not speak of the sin of others. He asks God to examine his heart:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting!

 David does not point his accusing finger at someone else. His heart is the concern of his cry to God. And it is to the extent that we understand our sin and embrace the completeness of our forgiveness that we are truly able to love our spouse with the freedom and fullness that God provides for us in Christ.

When I experience the expectation-experience gap, it is by God’s grace that I choose a response of patience instead of impatience, gracious and respectful communication instead of angry outbursts, forgiveness instead of resentment, compassion instead of contempt.

Marriage pushes us to the cross. It is there that we find hope, motivation, and power to learn how to be a loving spouse. Jesus Paid It All to do for us and in us what we could never do for ourselves:

I hear the Savior say,

‘Thy strength indeed is small!

Child of weakness, watch and pray,

Find in Me thine all in all.’

Home is Where Heroes are Made

I read a book a while ago and came across a quote that struck me to the heart and got me thinking.

The book is Mud, Sweat, and Tears: The Autobiography of Bear Grylls. Bear Grylls is the famous adventurer most known for his hit TV show, Man vs. Wild. It was a family favorite in our house. Bear Grylls is one of those guys I’d put on my list of people I’d most like to meet.

In his book, he was talking about his upbringing and remembering his father, who was a politician in Great Britain. He said of his father, “He worked to make a difference and to better people’s lives, but his ambitions lacked the ruthless drive so common in politics, and our lives were so much richer for it. I guess his career was being a good dad.”

Amen to that.

That quote reminds me that history is filled with great leaders that were not great fathers. Politics, business, and sports are filled with men that have accomplished mighty things at the expense of their own families. Ministry is not immune to this temptation either. Church history is filled with men that did mighty things for the Lord yet left their family to suffer in the wake of their “success”.

I remember seeing a quote from Jullian Lennon, son of the famous Beatle Jon Lennon, that sums up what I am talking about:

He [Jon Lennon] walked out the door and was never around. I’d admire him on TV- listen to his words and opinions. But for someone who was praised for peace and love and  wasn’t able to show that at home… That’s hypocrisy.” While all the world was praising Jon for being a star, Jullian was looking for a dad.

It reminds me of what Paul teaches in I Timothy 3. On discussing the qualifications for an overseer/elder Paul gives Timothy, and the church at large these instructions:

“Therefore, an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” (1 Timothy 3:2-3)

Now at this point, this list looks like any good list an organization, business, or political party might draw up. But then Paul adds another important qualification with an added commentary on its importance. Paul states,

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5)

Paul is saying that those that lead the church, the Bride of Christ, an eternal organization that will forever exist, must first lead their homes well. The home is the petri dish of God’s eternal kingdom. It is the proving ground for leadership in God’s eternal organization. To state it another way, a man’s leadership in the home has more eternal purpose than his leadership of a Fortune 500 company.

Nowhere in the Bible do we find God calling your business or organization a “blessing”, or a “heritage from the Lord”. Nowhere does the Lord call your vocation a “reward” or liken it to “arrows in the hand of a warrior”. But the Lord does speak that way of a man’s children. Your family, the children in your care, not the name plate in your corner office, is His reward to you. Steward that blessing well. It has eternal implications.

We live in a day and age where many are blessed to be able to pursue satisfying vocations. The culture tends to push us towards pursuing careers that try satisfying us for the money it brings, fame it lends, or its power and influence. Pursuing vocations that we are good at or that bring us satisfaction are not wrong, in and of itself. In this, we enjoy something almost unprecedented in the history of the world. An ability to choose one’s vocation is a gift of from God.We should not take that for granted, thank God for that freedom and opportunity. Pursue those opportunities as they arise but realize that they are not of first importance.

Christ is returning for his bride, the Church, not an organization or company, no matter how noble. A church led by men whose qualifications for leadership will not be indicated by the value of their company stock on the New York Stock Exchange, in the hall of fame of some sports organization, or in Silicon Valley. Jesus Christ will be looking for men that laid down their lives for their wives, taught their children the gospel, and showed, in word and deed, the powerful transformation of the grace of God. That will be found in the home of ordinary men, living ordinary lives, with gospel fortified, extra-ordinary families. So dads, take heart. Stay the Course.