Am I Really Beautiful?

If I didn’t hate the open letter model of blogging and internet communication so deeply, I would have begun this blog post, “Dear women’s ministry, stop telling us we are beautiful”.  The feminism movement and society at large have undertaken the impossible task of convincing every woman that she is truly beautiful in her own skin and the Church has jumped on this bandwagon in the spiritual sense.  Books have been written about how beautiful we are in the eyes of God, women have been empowered by believing the mantra that God has created us just how He wants us, and women’s groups are seeking to convince us that we are all special; we are all beautiful daughters of God.  The frills and the bows and the tea parties are all just as sweet as pie.

Now, I was an outdoorsy tomboy type growing up and while I love to get dressed up and wear my pearls I still prefer cool tones and minimalist decor and have never in my life been accused of being overly girly.  Thus the traditional mother-daughter, pink and lacy events have always been lost on me.  But this new movement of self-realization and self-empowerment for women is extremely dangerous at best – heretical at worst – and it is more than simple preference.  Here’s why:

We, as human beings, are not fundamentally beautiful and perfect “just the way we are”.  In fact, the entire message of the Gospel is that we are sinful, wicked, and damned without a hope “just the way we are”.  We are all born with a sinful nature and can only sin apart from God (Rom 3.23, 1 John 1.8).  This sin – any sin – is condemnable before God because He is perfect and just and therefore cannot overlook it (Rom 6.23, Ex 34.7).

“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good, there is not even one.”

– Rom 3.10-12

In order to understand God, Jesus and our eternal hope we must first and foremost understand this sobering reality about ourselves.  Yes, it is magnificently and beautifully true that God loves us, but He loves us in spite of this terrible reality and we must confess this reality in order to enter into right relationship with Him.  His love for us is not fundamentally based on who we are or what we have done.  His love for us is based on His goodness, His mercy and His glory.  We cannot earn His love, we do not deserve His love and we cannot make ourselves presentable to Him.  He makes us presentable and that is why we can – and must – come to Him “just as we are”.  We are hopeless and helpless without Him.

Thus when we understand the Gospel
we stop looking at ourselves and start looking at God.

It is not God’s primary objective to give us good self esteem.  It is not God’s primary objective to make us feel beautiful and valuable and warm and fuzzy.  It is, in fact, God’s primary objective to help us die to ourselves in order to look to Him and love Him and serve Him and others selflessly.

[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.”

 – John 3.30

The fallacy of focusing on “our identity in Christ” is that we take our eyes off of Jesus and put them back on ourselves.

Now, theologically and practically it is extremely important to understand our role and purpose as Christians and in Christ.  Much of the New Testament is geared towards explaining our roles in the body (the Church), in society and as individuals.  It is right and good to understand and receive God’s love and to therefore walk confidently in the identity of a chosen race and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2.9).  But we must always remember the purpose and end of these truths:  to bring glory to God.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not receive mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 – 1 Peter 2.9-10

Am I beautiful?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It is good and right to take care of ourselves physically.  Asceticism is not what God calls us to, but we as women should adorn ourselves well both inside and outside.  Sometimes we miss the word “merely” in Peter’s exhortation to women and convince ourselves that our physical appearance does not matter:

“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”

 – 1 Peter 3.3-4

The Proverbs 31 woman that we all idolize dresses well and takes care of her body:

“She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.”

“She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.”

 – Prov 31.17, 22

We must also remember that God has given us our physical bodies and we must take care of them and be good stewards of them.  But our goal must not and cannot be pride or finding our value in our appearance.  Our goal must be to bring glory and honor to God by how we are presenting ourselves and caring for our bodies and our souls.

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

1 Cor 10.31

Therefore, ladies, let us stop clinging to and trying to convince ourselves of the fact that God finds us beautiful.  Because we are only beautiful and lovely insomuch that we are in Christ.  When we are covered by the blood and sacrifice of Jesus, we are indeed beautiful before God but it is not because of our physical appearance and it is not because of who we are.  It is because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us.  He does not want us to find our value or self worth in ourselves but in Him.  Let us stop looking at ourselves.  Let us get over ourselves.  Let us decrease so that Christ may increase.  Let us focus on Him.  Let us live to bring glory and honor to Him.

What if I don’t like our president?

At the end of eight years, the general population is almost always ready for a change.  In the history of our country, it has only happened a couple of times that one political party was able to see their candidate take office after eight years.  We see ourselves getting too progressive and long to return to our heritage and then we feel so stuck in our ways that we need some serious change.  New generations rise up and consider their values earth-shattering and they rock the country, only to get bogged down in the mundane and a new generation rises up.

For the next month and a half we are in a unique situation where we still have an acting president but the next one has already been chosen.  This means something profoundly true:  almost everyone very strongly dislikes one of the two men.  The voting world who chose President Elect Donald Trump is sick and tired of Barack Obama, while many others still consider him to be one of the best presidents our country has known and fear that Trump is going to single handedly destroy our nation and “undo all the progress we have seen” these past eight years.  In short, if you are neutral about both men – or possibly even like both men, you are probably very far removed from politics.

One of the attributes that makes our nation unique and great in many people’s eyes is our first amendment:  our freedom of speech.  We can say whatever we darn well feel like saying and no one can harm us for it – or judge us, as the culture now states.  There are some tricky aspects to that as we can still be legally protected from slander and harassment, but none of us lives in fear that our daily conversation, our social media posts or even our blog posts will land us in jail.  We have an inalienable right to our opinions and we will make them known.

God, however, has a different opinion about all of that.  Slander, gossip and disrespect are all sins – which are fundamentally rooted in pride, arrogance and selfishness.

“Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.”

– Ps 101.5

“The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.”

– Prov 10.18

“Speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

– Titus 3.2

God simply and profoundly commands us to speak evil of no one.  Not only that,  he clearly and profoundly commands us to respect our leaders:

“Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

– 1 Peter 2.17

One might object to this commandment because of how wicked our current or upcoming president is.  We simply cannot respect or honor a man who (fill in the blank).  But Peter was writing to the early church who was being persecuted and murdered.  The people were “scattered” across the known world – they were running for their lives.  And Peter’s command was to honor the king:  the king who would murder them for loving and serving Jesus.  Is Obama murdering us?  Is Trump threatening to murder us?  Are we running for our lives?  Even if this were the case we would still be commanded to honor the president.

One may object further and cite our form of government which allows us a voice in choosing our leadership and laws.  “We must speak out and help others make informed decisions.”  “It is our civic duty to have a strong opinion and to play our role.”  Yes, I whole-heartedly agree that we live in a unique and wonderful country whereby we are granted a part (albeit a very small part) of the decision making process.  This is why presidential candidates spend months and millions of dollars campaigning:  they must win our vote!

I would also argue, however, that there is a good and right way to make informed decisions and even to disagree with the values and positions a candidate would take while still respecting and honoring him (or her).  There is even a godly way to recognize a candidate’s moral failures, sin and perceived lack of qualification without slander, gossip and sin.

The reality is simple.  We live in a fallen world.  We are functioning in a fallen and broken system.  Democracy is not God’s form of government!  We are allowing ourselves to be governed by fallen and broken people.  Even if our president were the most mature and godly man to walk the face of the Earth, he would still be a sinner and a man.  He would make mistakes and we would disagree with him on something.  And each of us are fallen and broken people.  Imperfect people will choose imperfect leaders and mistakes will be made.  Period.  And yet we are commanded to respect and honor one another, and we are commanded to respect and honor our leadership.

Scripture does clearly command us to fight sin and pursue holiness.  Thus we see the example of Jesus, the apostles and many others to disobey the leadership when they would have us sin or not follow God (Acts 4.19. 5.29).  We also have the example of some of the greatest forefathers in our faith standing up against political sin, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the abundance of people who fought against the slaughter of the Jews and non-Arians in WWII.  We must never follow blindly, we must always evaluate our own actions and our government by Scripture, and we must refuse to sin even when we would be commanded to by men.  And we are fortunate enough to live in a society where we might be able to make an impact and bring about change!

But this in no way changes God’s expectation of us that we love all men and that we honor the position of king (or president in our nation).

So let me simply ask you this question:  Are your facebook posts and your political conversations Biblically loving, respecting and honoring the president?  Have you slandered Trump, Hillary or Obama?  Sure, you might do a better job.  Sure, you might know better.  But God does not give us a pass to disrespect or not love someone just because we know better.  He sovereignly and intentionally places every king and president in power.  Do you trust Him for that?  Do you follow His leadership when He gives you an opportunity to make a positive change?  Do you obey Him and respect authority?

You do not have to like your leader.  You do not have to agree with him either.  In fact, you are expected to weigh your actions and obedience against Scripture an never sin in the things that you do – therefore you should intensely evaluate your leadership  But you must love him.  And you must respect him.  Otherwise, we bring the condemnation of God upon ourselves:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

– Rom 13.1-2

Slander is still slander when spoken against our leadership.  Gossip is still gossip when spoken against our leadership.  Whether you distrust or dislike our current president or our future one.  Let us examine ourselves and remember our tongues.

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.”

– James 1.26

Let’s get real.

I am a new mom.  My little bundle of joy is now 9 weeks old, and she came three and a half weeks early.  I have two sisters who have both had two children, I am involved in a small group and there have been three babies born in that group in the last 10 months.  I have a mom and a mother in law and a mentor.  And I am from the midwest, so almost all of my friends are married and have a few children.  You would think that with that type of community I would have had all of the support and insight needed to go through pregnancy – on top of my doctor’s input.

But yet, I got sick.  I try to take care of myself as best I can.  I run four to five days a week (I made it up to week 34 running) and I try to eat well.  But yet as I went through pregnancy I was terribly worn out.  I could not understand how I was such a wimp!  Everyone talked about the second trimester energy bump and how fun pregnancy was, but I was just sick and tired all of the time.

As I entered into the third trimester we found out that I had preeclampsia.  The doctor ultimately put me on bedrest and planned induction at 37 weeks, but I ended up delivering at 36 1/2.  My body was shutting down, the placenta was dying and the baby was at risk – she was not getting nutrients and had not grown in a few weeks.  No wonder I was exhausted.  The  closest anyone came to noticing was my parents.  They came into town to visit around 25 weeks and said that I looked bad.  Exactly what every pregnant woman wants to hear!  I told them that I was just pregnant and thought little of it.  I had never been pregnant before, I thought it was normal and that I was the weakest of my friends.

God has given us community for our Spiritual well-being and growth.  He has provided us with the local body of believers known as the Church to reach the world with the Gospel, but also to push one another on to maturity and to work together to glorify God and to fight sin.  We are all given different gifts and strength and they are given specifically to serve God by serving the Church (1 Cor 12).

“But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

– 1 Cor 12.7

We are commanded to look out for one another and to push one another on to holiness.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

And then we are given some really practical, yet strange sounding applications:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children

Titus 2.3-4

Have you not heard that every woman (and man), the moment they lay eyes on their newborn child immediately is overwhelmed by a love they never knew possible?  While this may not be the case for every parent who ever lived, it does seem funny that the blanket instruction for women in the church is that we need to be taught how to love our husbands and children.

Or is it?

Our culture is teaching us that love is essentially spoiling and unconditional affirmation, awarding effort instead of achievement and overall narcissism.  It takes very little mental effort to realize that we do, indeed, need to be taught how to love.  No marriage will survive if two individuals think that the other exists for their pleasure and service.  We must all learn how to put others before ourselves and die to ourselves.  We also must learn how to discipline when we want to spoil, encourage when we want to excuse and truly love our children by teaching them how to love God and love others.

But these things are not natural.  No one naturally dies to himself.  Therefore, the wise among us must know how to ask the right questions and diagnose the heart.  We need to develop Spiritual doctors among us, and we need to become them ourselves.  Only the doctor recognized and diagnosed my preeclampsia because she took my blood pressure, measured the baby, found unhealthy levels of protein in my urine and saw my face.  She knew the signs of the illness, she knew the potential consequences of the illness, and she knew how to give both me and the baby the best chance for survival.  My parents knew that I looked unwell but were unable to recognize the source of the problem and those who were closest to me who saw me get sicker little by little every day never noticed the problem.  Why?  Because it was gradual and they did not know the signs to look for or the questions to ask.  They are not doctors.  We actually do have one doctor in our small group Bible study, but he is not an ob-gyn and and he is not my doctor, so he never ran any tests on me, he never diagnosed the problem.

If we have never learned how to recognize, identify and fight sin in our own lives we are completely unable to help others fight sin.  If we have never learned how to die to ourselves and love one another Biblically, we will never be aware when our friends are selfish in their marriages or fail to love others well.  We must learn Spiritual maturity from those who have gone before us, apply it in our own lives, and pass it on to our community and others.  Paul shows such an example:

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

– 2 Tim 2.2

Our goal in learning is to apply truth to our own lives, and to teach it to others in such a way that they will be able to apply and also teach the truth.  We must have a multi-generational worldview in our Spiritual maturity and accountability.  We must recognize the signs of the sin, ask the right diagnostic questions and then set up a treatment plan to fight it and eradicate it from our lives.

This requires vulnerability.  It requires true community.  It requires transparency.  And it requires a varied level of maturity.  Unfortunately, many of our churches are creating pockets of like-minded and Spiritual peers.  Small groups are popping up all around the country that are full of really solid and mature Christians, or young and immature Christians.  We like people who are like us, and therefore the young adults have their own thing going while the seniors have theirs.  The youth are led by those adults who want to relive their glory years of High School or even worse – we train the youth to lead the youth.  Yes, there are spiritually adept 16 year olds, but a baby Christian will learn infinitely more from an adult who was successfully fought sin and developed a relationship with God after navigating High School than someone who is in the throws of the same temptations and struggles.  This is why older women who have already raised their children are commanded to speak into the lives of women with children.  Men who are addicted to porn will find more help with a man who has overcome the same sin than a man who is struggling with the same sin.

So let’s get real.  Let’s find those who are further down the path than we and learn from them.  Let’s also find those who are just starting down the path and utilize the skills we are learning to teach them.  Let’s learn to diagnose our own sin, teach others how to diagnose their sin as well, and walk in community in a way that recognizes the subtle signs of it – because we understand the consequences of it.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

– John Owen

Just worry about yourself.

Image result for life is not fair

We live in a relatively narcissistic society.  Everyone is typically out for himself, we work our circumstances for our own best interest and call it human nature.  We naturally focus on ourselves, right?  I was watching a show this weekend with my husband and the narrator joking stated that when a friend has good news we celebrate that good news for a moment and immediately begin evaluating our own circumstances in light of that good news. How will their change affect us?  How do we line up against their newfound success or change?  We can even find ourselves bemoaning their good fortune because we desire the same for ourselves and would prefer others to not experience it before us.

The Bible has much to say about how we should interact with one another.  God has purposefully and intentionally created us for community.  Much has been written and observed about this community:  We as Christians are the body of Christ, we each have specific gifts and abilities that were given for the sake of serving the church (1 Cor 12.12-27), and we should consider one another regularly – putting each other before ourselves and pushing one another on to good deeds (Phil 2.3, Heb 10.24).

In response to our natural bent towards comparison and self-righteousness, however, Jesus commands what seems to be the opposite.  Jesus called twelve men to follow after Him.  One of those men denied Him and hung himself, and the remaining eleven plus Paul were those by which God built the Church.  Of these men, there were three with whom Jesus was the closest – they are often referred to as the “inner circle”.  These were Peter, James and John.  Peter is often known as the vocal one and John, who wrote the Gospel of John, is referred to as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13.23-25).  During Jesus’ final night before the crucifixion Peter declared his unwavering commitment to Jesus and yet Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the sun rose the next morning.  And Peter did exactly that (Matt 26.34).

Peter felt extremely guilty for denying Christ.  However, unlike Judas, he did not kill himself and was restored by Jesus.  Jesus met the disciples on the beach and had a one-on-one conversation with Peter to restore and forgive him.  Three times Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?” and Peter stated that he did.  Jesus commanded Peter to feed and care for the Church (John 21.15-17).  He then prophesied that Peter would die a martyr’s death.  In the very same breath, Peter turned around and saw John walking behind them on the beach and asked Jesus “What about him?”  Jesus’ response was simple and profound:

“Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me!’”

– John 21.22

Jesus actually said, “What is that to you?”  Peter, do not waste your time or energy worrying about John.  You just follow me.  Do what I have told you to do, focus on what I have taught you, and let me worry about John.

It sounds very much like a father disciplining a child, does it not?  “I will take care of your sister, you just do what I have told you”.  And when does this chastisement typically come?  When the child has cried out “That’s not fair!”  or “Why do I have to and she does not?”  A parent never has to discipline a child to focus on his own task and forget a sibling’s when the child feels he has been shown favor, it is when he feels he has been slighted and the sibling is receiving an extra benefit.

And even as adults we do that with God.  We compare ourselves to one another.  We wonder why so-and-so got the promotion, was born into a wealthy family, was given extra comforts or abilities that we were not.  We tell God that it is not fair and we gripe about our lowly circumstances when we feel slighted.  And Jesus simply says to us, worry about yourself.  He has a purpose and a plan for so-and-so, just like He has for each one of us and we need only to trust Him in His plan for us.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

Each one of us has a unique personality, and unique personal disposition and unique Spiritual abilities and gifts.  God has purposefully and perfectly established a plan that will bring about our Spiritual maturity and Spiritual best in His timing and in His way.  He does place us in in community so that we can push one another on to maturity and to know and love God, but He also teaches us not to compare ourselves to one another.

Life is not fair.  God never intended it to be.  He intends for us to trust Him and His perfect plan for our own lives, and to rejoice with one another in successes, blessings and abilities.  So, in the words of all of our mothers, “you just worry about you” when you are concerned that you are being overworked or given the short straw.  God has a plan.  God is in control.  He is working your circumstances out for your best and His glory.  He is working my circumstances out for my best and my glory.  And while it may appear that so-and-so is getting special treatment, remember that we do not know the full story and God’s plan is bigger than anything we can imagine.

What is the answer?

Image result for Jesus is the answer

This past weekend has left the United States in a tiff.  Ok, maybe more like a blood feud.  A video was released of presidential hopeful Donald Trump demeaning women at best, condoning sexual assault at worst; the presidential debate was a joke; and completely ignored by mainstream news coverage is the report that eleven Christians were murdered by ISIS in Syria because they had converted from Islam and refused to denounce Christ.  Included in this number was a 12 year old boy whom the terrorists tortured by cutting off his fingertips in front of his father with the hopes of convincing them to convert, and two women who were publicly raped and tortured.  Many of those who have heard of this tragedy return to the conversation about the election chanting, “We must stop ISIS” and then proclaim their presidential choice as the answer.  Trump will squash ISIS.  Hillary has more experience and a real plan for our foreign affairs.  But you know what folks?  The president of the United States is not the answer.

Jesus is the answer.

I know it sounds cliche.  I grew up singing the song, “Jesus is the answer for the world today, above Him there’s no other, Jesus is the way!”  And while it sounds so simple and childlike, it is the profound truth.  No governmental leadership will provide a solution by which every worldview will be appeased.  No amount of force or murder will eradicate evil from the Middle East or the United States.  Even if we could convince our general population that love is the answer, we would all have different opinions about what love is and what love means.  Should we openly accept, condone and affirm every decision and worldview, or should we seek one another’s best by helping each other make wise decisions, even if that means we encourage change?

Our politicians, ISIS, and each of us individually, however, simply need Jesus.  We are wicked.  We are sinners.  Yes, Donald Trump tried to get a married woman to sleep with him and bragged about his ability to do whatever he wants to with women because he is “a star”.  Yes, ISIS beheaded, tortured and crucified eleven Christians.  Yes, we have treated one another with disrespect and hatred because of our individual political affiliations and choices.  And all of that is nothing more than wicked people doing wicked things – to various extents.  The Bible teaches us that we were born in iniquity (Ps 51.5), and that we are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2.3).  This means that apart from Jesus, all we can do is sin.  We are destined and doomed to evil deeds.

Along these lines, the Bible teaches us some pretty hard truths.  Apart from Jesus we are:
Dead in sin (Eph 2.3).
Lovers of darkness (John 3.19-20)
Haters of light (John 3.19-20)
Hard like stone (Ez 36.26, Eph 4.18)
Unable to love or submit to God (Rom 8.7-8)

What does all of that mean?  We might look pretty on the outside – like white washed tombs (Matt 23.27-28).  We might put on a good, moralistic act, but it is with wicked and selfish motives.  We all sin, and we will all continue to sin because it is our nature (1 John 1.8).

We all need Jesus.  I need Jesus.  You need Jesus.  Trump and Hillary need Jesus.  ISIS needs Jesus.  The answer is not to go in and wipe “them” out.  There is always someone else who is wicked to replace “them”.  But to see “them” fundamentally changed will save their souls and change their impact on their worlds.

Jesus found Paul – the foremost persecutor (read:  murderer) of the Church and changed him from the core, making him into the world’s most dynamic missionary and teacher.  If God can change and use Paul, He can change and use ISIS.  He can change and use Hillary.  He can change and use Trump.  He can change and use you and me.  There are, in fact, fairly regular reports of Muslims and radical extremists coming to faith and proclaiming Jesus.  Such are those who were murdered this weekend.

We spend so much time trying to separate our church and state, but the reality is that Jesus is the only hope for the state.  Even if we solve immigration, balance out our taxes and health care, and live at peace with the world, we are all still sinners and headed to an eternity of judgment and damnation.  If we, however, confess our sins and turn to God for salvation through Jesus, we will be saved eternally and enabled to die to our sins and our love one another.  We will be able to put one another first and see true and real peace.  We will be able to love.  Jesus is the answer.

Testing Your Purity

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Purity is a hot topic in youth groups and at men’s retreats.  We often associate purity with the conversation about sexuality.  “How far is too far“, the youth ask, and we set up accountability to stay off pornography and faithful to our wives at men’s retreats.  Sexual purity is indeed an important topic and God cares about it greatly.  It is the only sin, in fact, by which a person sins “against his own body”:

“Flee immorality.  Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”

– 1 Cor 6.18

Being free from sexual sin, however, is not the standard by which God measures our purity.  It is only one small facet, in fact, and we do ourselves a great disservice to not consider the full picture.  Paul gives us a much broader consideration:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.  But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.  For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

– Eph 5.1-5

In short, we are commanded to be imitators of God.  We do that by walking in love the same way that Jesus walked in love.  How did Jesus walk in love?  By dying for sinners and giving Himself as a sacrifice to God.  The application of that example is difficult.  How do I love sinners and offer myself fully to God in my daily grind?  Going to work, cooking meals, meeting with friends and colleagues, serving Church or enjoying my hobbies?  Thankfully he boils it down a bit more for us.

“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”

The word Paul uses for immorality here is the same word he uses elsewhere to refer to premarital sex and fornication (fooling around and/or causing sexual desires to be engaged).  Impurity is the same word that he uses elsewhere to refer to other types of sexual sin like homosexuality (Rom 1.24) and adultery.  So here Paul does draw in sexuality to refer to our overall purity, but he goes much further to bring up greed and also filthiness, silly talk and course jesting.  Do you consider your greed to tainting of your purity?  Because in the next verse Paul lumps the one who utilizes “filthiness, silly talk and course jesting” as impure.  And how often do we consider those innocent jokes (and dirty ones) to be things by which we are disqualified from eternity in Heaven?

“For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

Striking, isn’t it?  No silly talk.  But what does Paul say to do or be instead?  We should replace our sexual sin, our greed and our joking around with thanksgiving.  Say what?  It seems pretty natural to recognize the opposite of greed as thankfulness for what we already have, but sexual sin and flippancy?  Consider this:  sexual sin is lust at the core – longing for something that we should not have sexually.  Sexual drive for our spouse is God-given and good, but to lust after someone to whom we are not married or to partake in perverse or forbidden sexual acts is to give in to ungodly desires that replace God on the throne.  So yes, if we are thankful for our spouse and partake in Godly sexuality then we are pure.  If we are unmarried and are thankful for our sexual drive and pursue purity in chastity then we are pure.  So thankfulness is the appropriate replacement.

Silly talk, jesting and filthiness are also removing God from His throne and placing worldly entertainment (either overtly wicked or not) above God.  It is a form of idolatry, a form of self-pleasure that can be dethroned with thankfulness.  When we turn our attention to God and praise Him for our salvation, for the mighty works He is doing in the world and in our lives, when we focus on Him instead of frivolity and silliness, then those jokes just fade away.  That silliness and worldliness never enters our mind.  When was the last time you sought meaningless pleasure when you were overwhelmed with gratitude?

Notice also that Paul does not bring up commandments to push us on, but he does bring up eternity.  Our primary method of fighting these sins should be to focus on God and replacing them with thankfulness, not duty.  God wants our hearts.  He wants us to love Him and to be driven to love Him by thankfulness, not duty.  He does, however, allow us to be warned by future consequences – like any good father does.

So today, let us remember to be “of sober spirit” and turning to God in thankfulness for everything He is and everything He has done (1 Peter 5.8).  Let us put off the big sins of sexual misconduct – fornication, pornography, adultery – but let us also put off those creeping sins of greed, filthiness, silliness and distraction.  Let us remember that our purity is not simply sexual but of our whole mind and body.  And it is not simply refraining from sin but turning to God.  And most importantly, let us remember that our eternity is at stake!

Does God bring you pleasure?

Image result for love

There are three ways in which human beings fundamentally respond to our primary problem in the world:  sin.  We either feel shame, guilt or fear.  Some might argue that there are those who enjoy sin or who feel nothing in response to it, and while we understand that sin is indeed pleasurable in the moment, Scripture teaches us that God has given us each a conscience to convict us of sin such that we are without excuse before Him and therefore we know that it is a learned callousness which keeps us from one of those three basic responses (Rom 2.14-16).

We often mirror our response to God with these responses to sin.  God is the judge of sin, after all.  He hates sin and apart from Him we are slaves to sin, therefore we regularly direct our shame, guilt or fear directly at Him.  And this is not a fully bad thing.  Jesus Himself commanded us to fear God (Matt 10.28), and Paul teaches us that it is Godly sorrow that leads us to repentance (2 Cor 7.10).  We should be very concerned if we become hardened and/or oblivious to sin such that it no longer affects our hearts – especially as we approach God in His holiness.

However, it is not God’s primary desire that we fear or are ashamed before Him.  The entire foundation of the Old Testament Law was built on this single commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.5

Jesus affirmed that this is indeed the greatest and first commandment and carried it through to the New Covenant of grace.  Obedience, service, morality, or any form of holiness is are all worthless if we do not love God.

Sometimes, however, it is difficult to understand what exactly it is to love God.  He is not physically present that we would spend time talking back and forth with Him.  We cannot interact with Him in the same way that we interact with and develop relationship with anyone else.  Is our love for God, then, comparable to our love for a person?

We can indeed get to know Him – that is why He has given us His Word.  We can know the heart and mind of God by reading the Scripture.  When we understand and believe the Gospel and repent of our sins, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us so that we can experience the presence of God as well.  We can talk to God through prayer and experience His beauty in creation.  And as we develop these disciplines of getting to know Him, we will find that His Spirit within us establishes the emotion of love and joy.  This is why Scripture actually commands us to enjoy God.

“Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.”

– Ps 37.4

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”

– Phil 4.4

In what do you find pleasure?  Television?  Friends?  Adventures?

Do you take pleasure in Bible study, prayer and worship?  If not, we should examine our hearts.  God is the author of pleasure.  He created our very nature which desires pleasure, He gave us the things or the ability to create the things which give us pleasure, and He desires that we find our joy and satisfaction in Him.  If He is the author of pleasure, He can offer us the truest and most satisfying fulfillment of it.  Have you taken the time to get to know Him and fall in love with Him?  Do you delight in Him?  Do you rejoice in Him?  Or is He just something you do on Sunday mornings…is He just eternal fire insurance?

Spend some time with Him today, and let your soul be enriched.  Delight in Him today.

‘He loves Thee too little, who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.’

– Augustine