Marriage and the Mission of Christ

This Valentine’s Day marks the fifth year my wife and I have been celebrating this holiday together. This year looks a little bit different. With a baby arriving this summer, we’re in a bit of a transition as this is the last time it’ll be just us in our family. As I look ahead at what’s to come, it gives me a good reason to pause and to look back at the wonderful story the Lord has written for us, and to look ahead with joy at what’s to come.

On our first Valentine’s Day, we had only been dating for a couple months. Everything was new to us and we were still getting to know one another. I still remember planning a surprise trip to see her since she was out of town that weekend. When I showed up with flowers and chocolate in hand, the smile on her face reminded me that she would always be the one for me.

The next year was a time of stress and anxiety for us, as we had been engaged for over two months and still hadn’t decided on a wedding date. We didn’t know what was in store for the future. I had no jobs lined up, no place to live, and I would be graduating a year before her. For a while, I thought we’d have to wait another year to get married (honestly, I prayed against it- the Lord hears our prayers!), but God provided. Even in the midst of all this, I knew she would always be the one for me.

For three years now, we’ve celebrated this day. Each year, I think about how my love for her has grown- something I didn’t realize was actually possible when I said “I do.” Marriage is interesting in that way- not filled with the drama of butterflies, but with a love that is quieter and deeper serving as a foundation for a life together can sometimes only be described as “normal”. This isn’t a bad thing, but a beautiful thing. Emotions come and go, but the covenant we made is meant to be for a lifetime.

Naturally, that’s where my mind goes next- to the lifetime in store. I don’t know what God has for us; I’m learning to trust Him more than trying to figure out what’s years down the road. But as I consider these things and think ahead, I want this marriage to be marked by faithfulness. I want to look across the table at my bride in ten years, knowing that she’s the one. Then twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, and even more. One day, I want to look into her eyes, think of all the memories we’ve shared, and be able to say “We did it.”

I know it will be no small accomplishment to remain faithful. In fact, to have a marriage that stands the test of time is one of the most radical and counter-cultural things we can do as Believers in this fallen world. To be faithful is to paint a picture of a Savior who is faithful and has given Himself up for His bride, the church. This is the reminder Paul gives to husbands in Ephesians 5:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself…This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:26-28,

These verses give me hope. These verses remind me that I can be faithful in a world where infidelity is pushed upon us from nearly every angle without ceasing. Paul’s reminder is one that shows where we can find the fullness of all our marriages are to be, but the road there isn’t easy. Christ give Himself up for us, living a perfect life and dying on the cross for us. He won the victory and purified all who would come to Him in saving faith.

Then, He empowers us. This is the beauty; this is the hope. In Christ, I’m empowered with everything I need to reach that day where I can know that we made it. Where we can smile and see how God cultivated our love for one another. He gave us everything we needed to beat the odds.

At times, it can be easy to despair what’s ahead, but if I’m honest, I’m excited. He has been faithful to us before and will be faithful in what’s to come. Our story together is a reminder of this hope.

Why the Object of Our Faith Matters

What is a Christian? It’s a simple question, but the answer is absolutely life changing. The way we answer this question shows what we believe and can even reveal why we may believe it. As I’ve spent time in God’s Word lately, my heart has been heavy with why it’s so important that a Christian is defined as one who has been saved from their sins by faith in Jesus alone. Here are 3 reasons why this definition is so important:

1) It Gets Rid of the Extra Baggage

While the knowledge of God is present in America (and especially in the Southern United States), we have unintentionally added in extra definitions about what it means to be a Christian. The question may be more clearly stated this way: Where do we place our faith? The reality is that some people trust in things other than Jesus for salvation. They may trust in their upbringing, a prayer they prayed as a child, and even the faith of their parents or grandparents. While these things are good, we must be clear that none of these things are enough to save. Only faith in Jesus can save us from our sins.

Look at the example of Abraham. We see his faith in how he trusted God’s promises and God “counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6). Abraham wasn’t saved by the amount of faith he had in those promises; in fact, we hear the story of his failures and wrestling with doubt in the chapters that follow. Instead, Abraham was saved by faith. Faith was the means by which he received righteousness. This means that Abraham was blessed because he trusted in the God behind the promise.

Paul would say it this way in Romans 4:

“But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him, who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

Romans 4:23-25

He then continues,

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 5:1, emphasis added

This is pivotal- those who belong to Jesus are His because of faith alone. Our faith is the means by which we take hold of Christ’s work accomplished on the cross. Paul says the Jesus work is given to us by faith.

We can’t place our trust in a prayer to save us. We can’t place our trust in our parent’s faith. We can’t place our trust in growing up in church for our entire lives. It is only by placing our trust in Jesus as the author and perfecter of our faith that we can be saved.

2) It Guards Us Against Living For This World Alone

All of us long for things to be made right. We see sickness all around us and hear of disasters plaguing nations around the globe. Wars and rumors of wars are given on a daily basis and for most of us, there’s no doubt things are broken. When we understand and believe the gospel, it begins to change our perspective beyond what we see right in front of us. With an eternal focus, we are then freed to live for something more than our lives here on Earth. In doing so, we actually gain access to the fullest life possible.

The reality is that some people have been deceived into thinking faith in Jesus is a means to get whatever they want whenever they want. The prosperity gospel is rooted in this type of thinking. It’s the idea that Jesus plus something will give us ultimate satisfaction. Notice the issue: faith isn’t place in Jesus alone, but Jesus in addition to something else.

A lot of times, the addition is money or health. While there certainly isn’t anything wrong with either of these things, they become deceptive and dangerous when we begin to view them as a means of satisfaction or a sign of enough faith. Some may teach that health or riches is a sign of having enough faith, but one of the issues is how this directs our focus to our own faith as the object by which we are saved (or in this case, blessed) instead of focusing on Christ. God is only a means to get what we think we need to be satisfied.

Again, this is in stark contrast to the writings of the New Testament. Finances aren’t always a sign of God’s blessing. While bad choices can lead to us being poor, sometimes money is tight or hard to come by while we’re being obedient to what God has called us to. Sickness is a symptom of the fallen world and while God still heals people today, and Christ healed people during His ministry on earth, this is a sign of His goodness and mercy more than an indicator that we had enough faith to make it come about.

Having faith in Jesus helps us hold on to hope when times are tough. Having faith in Jesus gives us the reminder that God is doing something in the difficulty and in the pain. I fear that far too many of us see trials as something to be escaped as soon as possible rather than something God is using to shape us into the image of Jesus, thus glorifying Himself and increasing our joy in Him. Does this make those times easier? Not always. But it does remind us that a day is coming when Jesus will make everything right- and no amount of money or health in this life will compare to life with Him in eternity.

3) It Frees Us To Rest

When we believe being a Christian is somehow connected to the things we do or the amount of faith we have, it is absolutely exhausting. When we understand that being a Christian is by faith in Jesus. we are free to rest in His goodness and grace.

I’m reminded of these words from 1 Peter 1:

“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 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

1 Peter 1:3-5

God, in His mercy, gives us His Spirit to empower us and hold onto us as we pursue Him. Instead of the security of salvation rests on His shoulders and not our own. This frees us from placing our faith in our works. Instead, we look to Him who has caused us to be born again. We pursue Jesus not because we need to earn salvation, but because we already have it. When we realize this, we can join with Peter and say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”

What I Value in Student Ministry

For this week’s Student Ministry post, I wanted to share with all of you an article I wrote for the church’s newsletter during my first month of ministry here. You’ll see what I find to be the most valuable in ministry and why I long for the entire church to be involved in the lives of teenagers. Enjoy!

When you think about youth ministry, what’s the first thing that comes into your mind? Is it the high-energy crazy games? Is it memories of your time in a student ministry, learning about what Jesus wants you to do or how to avoid sin? Do you think about an individual who was there for you in a difficult time, pointing you to Jesus and giving you hope when you felt like there was none? Do you think about the potential this “future generation” of the church holds?

Certainly, many ideas and stigmas exist regarding youth ministry in the church today. Many churches are beginning to truly understand the importance of a ministry to teenagers as they see the struggles adolescence presents, which have become all the more apparent with social media on the scene. We know the issues are present, and many of us believe that the church needs to step in and help. The question is: what role does a youth ministry play in reaching those youth?

Youth ministries thrive through community that is built on the Word of God. The beauty of this community is that teenagers don’t just thrive in the community they have with one another, but they need connections to the church as a whole. The reality is that many of these teens are facing adult problems without the adult experiences necessary to properly process these problems. They need adults like you and me to demonstrate how to hold on to the gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of difficult times. They need relationships with trusted leaders in the group, but they also need relationships with the church as a whole. 

I believe teenagers contribute so much to the mission of the church, and my wife and I are looking forward to continuing to shape the youth ministry of Mountain Creek into a place where the Word of God is taught, community with one another and the church is vibrant, and parents are equipped with the tools and resources needed to train their kids up in the knowledge of the Lord. We look forward to getting to know your families, and to partnering with you to train the teenagers of the local body to share the gospel with the lost in the community. Will you join us in praying that Mountain Creek would be a church known for a culture of discipleship and making a difference in today’s teenagers? 

Legalism and the Tower We Build

For a long time, I used to think that God’s delight in me was somehow attached to my performance on any given day. If I spent most of my day wrestling with sin and messing up, I would think God was unhappy (and maybe even angry) with me, but if I read my Bible and did enough good things, I would think He delighted in me. This thought process was rooted deep in my mind and my heart. 

On the surface, some may think it’s beneficial. After all, doesn’t this provide motivation to be a good Christian? And while our lives are to be marked by a healthy desire to please our Heavenly Father, I had let this pattern of thinking get out of control.

The difference was a misunderstanding in my identity. It wasn’t that I was serving God because He already delighted in me. Instead, I was serving trying to earn His delight. Suddenly, I found myself becoming frustrated even on my best days: Why can’t I just do enough to make God happy with me?

This type of thinking is closer to believing in Karma than it is to the gospel. Now, to be clear, it’s still a battle I face each and every day. I need to remind myself of the gospel and my need for Christ. But that’s just it- the answer has already been provided in Jesus. I no longer have to earn God’s favor because Christ earned it for me. Let me give you an example:

Genesis 11 contains the story of the Tower of Babel. The descendants of Noah had spread out on the earth. At this point in history, all humanity spoke one language. Having one language, and having invented a reinforced brick and mortar, they set about seeking to make a name for themselves. They decided to use this incredible new technology to build a tower to Heaven, thus making a name for themselves and proving once and for all that they didn’t need God. 

As the people were striving and trying hard to reach Heaven, God came down in ease to look at what they had created. In loving kindness, and to slow the evil within the people, He confused the languages and dispersed the people. So, why do I share this?

My desire to earn God’s favor with my performance alone was the tower I was trying to build to reach to Heaven. It may not have looked prideful on the surface, but it was an attempt to earn His favor without needing Him. This is dangerous on two levels: first, it’s dangerous because trying to earn Heaven apart from the finished work of Christ is impossible. It’s like trying to make a deal with God in a currency He doesn’t accept. On another level, even if we’ve submitted to Christ as Lord and repented of our sins, this is dangerous because only following the rules isn’t what Christ has called us to. First and foremost, God wants our hearts. 

Living as a Christian Legalist is like trying to build a tower after God has come down to offer life, peace, and rest. In fact, He’s offering us His delight in a way that is far more secure than any favor based on our actions, because it’s based in the finished work of Jesus Christ. This favor now belongs to all who will place their trust in Jesus. I write this as a recovering (and still struggling) legalist: stop building the tower. Rest in the God who came down for you.

Why I Encourage Others to Journal

I rested my pen down beside my notebook. Another year had just come to a close and I finished my last entry for the year. As I went to put the strap around the cover, I found myself looking back over the year’s events. If it wasn’t for my journal, I would have missed daily reminders of God’s faithfulness, recordings of what He was doing in my heart to teach me more about Himself, and so much more.

Journaling has been essential to helping me grow in my walk with Christ. While I understand that journaling isn’t for everyone, I love to encourage my students and those who are seeking to grow in their walk with Christ to record their journey as they go. I’ve found some great benefits to journaling:

1. Journaling gives us an opportunity to see how God has been faithful.

This particular journal covered all of 2019. In the first entry, there was no way I could predict what was going to happen over the course of the year. I had no idea how God would work to create opportunities for me to minister to others and that my family would be growing. I had no idea that God, in his infinite grace, would give me a front-row seat while a student responded to Christ in saving faith.

This journal also included high and low points in my walk with Him. Some days, it felt like the words of Scripture jumped off of the page, ripe with sweet revelation about the Father. Other days, I struggled to connect a passage to Christ or even comprehend what was happening. Still other days, I didn’t journal at all. My entries reflected life and all of its ups and downs. Looking back, my life may have ebbed and flowed, but God’s faithfulness remained. He stayed as an Anchor and constant Truth regardless of what else was happening around me.

2. Journaling helps us to meditate on Scripture.

Psalm 1 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Verses 1 and 2 describe the importance of meditating on the Word of God instead of the counsel of the wicked. The Psalmist says that this man mediates on the law “day and night”. This meditation leads the blessed man to delight in God’s law.

Journaling helps me carefully think about the things I’ve read in Scripture as I seek to stir my affections for the Lord. I can see what God wants to reveal to me each day by working through my thoughts and writing them down immediately after I read a passage. If I didn’t journal, I would be tempted to read the Bible and never think of it again. Journaling forces me to slow down and meditate on God’s Word, often times helping me keep the gospel and God’s promises on my mind throughout the day.

3. Journaling shows us God’s work of sanctification in our lives.

As Believers in Jesus, the Spirit reveals sin and helps us as we seek to be holy as our Father is holy. This process of becoming more like Christ is called sanctification.

I’ve found that it can be easy to get discouraged as I fight my sin. Some days, I’ll look back at old journals and see how God has led me on this battle against my sins to have more consistent victories over them. The Holy Spirit has worked in my life and led me to a place where I have overcome some sins which used to leave me paralyzed. Reading these journals reminds me that God will continue to be faithful and continue to conform me to the image of Christ as Paul describes in Romans 8:29, just as He so patiently has in my life to this point.

Journaling has had a profound impact on my life, and I believe that through this discipline, it can lead us to rejoice in rest in the God who saves us and gave His Son up for us. So I encourage you: take up a pen and a notebook. You’ll be amazed at how clearly you begin to see things when you begin to write them down.