He loves us as a bride.

wedding

Perhaps the most well known verse in the Bible is John 3:16, and rightfully so.  It is clear, it is succinct, it is full of hope and promise, it is beautiful:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

This verse gloriously exemplifies the general love that God has for the entire world, and what theologians identify as the “general call” to salvation.  God loved the fullness of humanity such that He offered His son to pay the penalty for our sin.  Anyone.  All.  Whosoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish, but will be saved.  It is tempting, and extremely dangerous, however, to bring our personal and cultural understanding of love to the Scripture, and to utilize such a glorious promise as John 3:16 to negate a much more profound type of love which God has for His children.

While God does indeed have a general love for the world, and while the offer of salvation includes, in part, a general calling for everyone, there is also the much more beautiful love which God has for His children which He equates to the love of His bride.  We are taught clearly in Scripture that the Church (everyone who believes, and everyone who was saved by faith from the people of Israel) is the bride of Christ.  Husbands love their brides in a unique way.  They love their friends, they love their sisters and mothers, they generally love the women in the church or community, but the love for a bride is specific, incomparably strong and special.

“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God’.”

– Rev 19:7-9

“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.”

– Eph 5.25-27

This special love that God has for the Church is also known as electing love.  I know, I know, it sounds so cold and impersonal.  If God chooses us and makes us able to love Him then it is not true love, right?  We are not robots, we choose and experience our love for Him personally.  But let’s set aside our offense and look at how Scripture defines it for us.

Before Christ came, God set apart the people of Israel to be His chosen people.  Abraham was a moon worshiper whom God set apart and declared to be the father of His people.  He chose Abraham and He chose the Jews for no other reason than His own prerogative:

“The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you.”

– Deut 7:6-8

It was God’s choice alone, and God chose Abraham and the Hebrews simply out of love:

“Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.”

– Deut 10.14-15

He did not have the same, choosing love for all of the other nations – it was special for Abraham and his descendants.  It was a choosing love.  It was as setting a bride in a special place of honor before all other women – never to be matched and never to be diminished.

Jesus gives us another analogy to help us grasp this fact:  He calls us His sheep.  After Jesus died on the cross and paid the punishment for sins, he broadened the call from the Hebrew people to the entire world.  It was God’s intention from the beginning to bring in people from every tribe, tongue and nation, but it was through the work of Jesus on the cross that the electing love was broadened by grace and no longer identified by Law.  Jesus says that there are “sheep” (believers) from other “folds” (nations) who need to be brought in (John 10.16).  Interestingly, however, Jesus says that His sheep hear His voice and know Him – stating clearly that belief comes only because one already belongs to Jesus:

“Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.  But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand’.”

– John 1-.27-28

Jesus stated that the men listening did not believe in Jesus because they were not His sheep.  Our natural inclination would lend us to believe that these men were not Jesus’ sheep because they did not believe, but Jesus reverses the order:  He chose first, and their belief was contingent upon their identity as sheep.

This is exemplified clearly in Jesus’ teaching of New Birth:  The Holy Spirit blows and gives life to whomever He pleases, and we can neither understand nor direct where it moves or to whom it gives birth:

“Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

– John 3.7-8

The Holy Spirit gives us Spiritual birth by His own choice, and based on that new birth we believe.  Yes, we are believing.  Yes, we have that responsibility.  But we cannot help but believe when we have been made alive in the Spirit.  The things of God are irresistibly beautiful and we long to love, know and serve Him.  We are His sheep.  We are His bride.  We are also His children!  Not everyone is a child of God:

“No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.  By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”

– 1 John 3.9-10

How, then, can it be that “whoever believes shall be saved”?  John himself goes on to explain in the following verses:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

– John 3.16-18

The one who does not believe is already judged, because he is not a sheep, he is not part of the bride, and he has not been given new birth. D.L. Moody gave a beautiful example of how we might understand this tension in our Spirits.  He used to teach regularly throughout his ministry that the pearly gates of Heaven could be imagined to have a sign overhead reading “Whosever will may come”, but upon entering into the gates if one were to look at the back side of the sign it would read, “Chosen before the foundation of the world” (John 3.16, Eph 1.4).

Jesus loves His bride with a special, choosing love.  It is not based on anything we have done, but on His providence and grace alone.  If we attempt to merit His love and choice, we greatly disgrace His love and work on the cross.  When He loves us, He gives us new birth and when we are awakened Spiritually we cannot help but turn to Him, cling to Him, and love Him.  Because we are His sheep and we hear His voice and we know Him.  We are His bride, and He teaches husbands to love their wives in the same way He loves us:  giving up everything for us, loving us lavishly, dying for us, and presenting us to God holy and blameless.  Let us rejoice in that great love today, and not diminish it by equating it with the general love that God has for the entire world.

Gender-Neutral Bathrooms in Schools.

restroom

I am sure by now you have seen the news that the Obama administration is preparing to “issue a sweeping directive telling every public school district in the country to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity” (New York Times).  The directive is planned to be issued today.

Can they do that?  Do they have the authority to do that?  While the Obama administration does not have the legal standing to enforce the new code, federally funded schools feel the pressure to acquiesce or else they risk losing their funding and could also face law suits.  We have come a long way from the days of mandatory scoliosis screening when all of us embarrassed 14 year olds were marched into the girls’ locker room, forced to remove our shirts and bend over in front of the school nurse and scoliosis screener.

So here we are again, facing the Target scandal anew, but with an added level of intensity.  It is no longer a cultural phenomenon at a major retailer which we can choose to avoid for any variety of reasons.  It is now a daily situation that our children will encounter.  One would hope that sex crimes and safety would be a lesser issue in schools, but with the early age of sexual exposure children have and their own history of abuse, it is to be expected that the bullying we see on the play ground will continue extend into bathrooms, and now with the added dynamic of gender confusion and unintentional cross-gender exposure.

We cannot get bullying under control, but yet we are opening Pandora’s Box of reasons for bullying and alienating children.  Being different is what gets kids beat up at school physically and psychologically.  But yet the Obama administration thinks that giving these rights will help gender-confused children feel more safe.  It will be very interesting to see the psychological ramifications and research that emerge from this policy implementation.

It is interesting that by offering a choice of gender-association, we are actually enforcing what many would call sexist generalizations.  As a young girl, I spent nearly all of my time outside – climbing trees, riding horses, hiking through the woods, building forts, playing with the dog and a myriad of other “boyish” activities.  At the time, they called me a tom boy and I was proud of it.  I hated wearing tights, dolls had little interest to me, and even though my long hair made me feel pretty, it was daily tied up in a ponytail.  Fifteen years ago, this was acceptable, and as I grew up I became much more “feminine” in my disposition (though I still prefer to spend my time outside and love a good game of ultimate frisbee).  Nowadays, however, such a little girl might be considered confused and even encouraged to explore her gender identity – just because she does not like the color pink or play with dolls.

Instead of encouraging children to express their personalities in gender appropriate ways, we are forcing them to alienate their God-given identity by forcing them into social confines that are neither Biblical or even truly gender definitive.

But that is another conversation for another day.

We must focus now on how we will respond.  This situation is quite different from the Target scandal.  With Target, we can choose to use the family bathroom and never interact with another person.  With Target, we can choose to use the bathroom before we visit the store and thus never have to use their facilities.  With Target, we can always be with our children and make sure that they are safe and teach them Biblical truths while interacting with the culture.  With Target, we can show, by example, how to love the lost.  And with Target, we can choose to not patron the store.

With the schools, however, there are no private bathrooms available.  With the schools, children will need to utilize the restroom sometime during the day, and cannot avoid it.  With the schools, we will not accompany our children to the bathrooms to guarantee their safety and will not be able to teach them Biblical truths while they interact with a gender-confused child or teacher.  With the schools, we leave our children under the authority of their teachers and school policy to teach them tolerance and acceptance, void of Biblical truth.  With the schools, most of us do not have the financial or timely freedom to homeschool or enroll our children in private schools which uphold our values.

Thus we must consider the art and discipline of child rearing.  It is the goal of raising a child to produce an educated, healthy and capable adult who can manage life decisions, provide for himself and be a valuable asset to society.  We are handed an infant who can do nothing for himself, and in eighteen years we need to teach him basic life, social and economic skills.  Thus the process is a gradual releasing of control and instruction while the child grasps and learns responsibility and maturity.  Parents cannot let go too quickly, and children must take hold as parents release.  Unfortunately, every child and every situation is different.  Thus there is no science or foolproof technique to this endeavor.

Research has shown that children who come from a healthy and balanced home will excel in most schooling and social situations, provided they are not abused or bullied in those situations.

Left with those realities, we must then decide:  will we send our children to schools where we know values contrary to our own will be taught, or seek an alternative route?  Some children will grasp their faith and believe what they learn at home and at church and be a bold and dynamic witness to their friends at school – even at a very young age.  Some children will be naturally timid and easily influenced until adulthood and event throughout life.  It is the nature of humanity, however to become desensitized to the culture and exposure that we experience daily – so it can be expected that few children will continue through 12 years of an educational system and still be bothered by gender confusion and convicted of Biblical manhood and womanhood when they are daily exposed to tolerance of diverse sexual expression.

We must be a witness to a lost, dark and dying world.  We must train our children to be a witness to a lost, dark and dying world.  We must also be keenly aware of their individual strengths and weaknesses and seek to put them in situations where they will grow and flourish.

But what about those who have no option but to send their children to public schools?  Because this is the reality for many Christian families in our society, we must utilize our voice to take a stand and seek a loving compromise.  We cannot and will never force a public school to teach Christianity or Christian values.  We can, however, expect our convictions to be protected in the same manner we are expected to protect and respect others’.  Therefore, there must be a compromise that protects both.  Perhaps we need to financially invest in every single school building to build single-room bathrooms so there is no sharing.  Yes, this will increase bathroom visitation time, but it would solve the problem.  Perhaps we no longer have gang showers, open rooms for locker rooms, and insist on privacy for every individual.  Most junior high students would enjoy this adjustment, as everyone is conscientious about their bodies and changing in front of others before gym class.

As we push for compromise and for our own rights, we must always act in love.  A person who is confused about his sexuality needs Jesus more than he needs to understand his body.  In fact, it is only Jesus who can help him truly and fully understand his body and sexuality.  We must remain in the world to be a light and a witness to the world, without compromising our beliefs and seeking the well being and Spiritual development of our children and those with whom they interact.

The Keys to a True Apology

apology

Most of us have learned – somewhere along life’s path – that a true apology always includes a few things:

  1. An expression of remorse (“I am sorry”)
  2. An acknowledgement of the wrong or offense  (Verbalizing how the offender wronged the offended utilizing empathy to acknowledge and validate the offended’s feelings)
  3. An acknowledgement of responsibility (“It was my fault”, or “I was wrong”)
  4. An expressed plan to change (I will not do this again, and this is how I will be held accountable)
  5. An offer of restitution (“I will make it up to you by…”)
  6. A request for forgiveness

Few of us follow the mental checklist when we are in the heart of a disagreement or are trying to make peace, but after learning how to restore a relationship in this healthy manner we are keenly aware when we receive (or give) a false apology.  It is like the stubborn toddler that the mother forces to “say sorry” when he steals a toy or hits his sister.  As we grow older, however, our false apologies become a bit more suave.  We “say sorry”, but assign the guilt to the offended:  “I’m sorry if I hurt you somehow…” and make excuses, “It was not my intention to offend you”.  While it may be true that it was not our intention to hurt or offend someone, true sorrow recognizes the pain of the other party and seeks to make it better, not justify himself.

It is possible for the offended party to hear true remorse and in spite of being validated in their feelings, offered restitution and asked for forgiveness to choose not to forgive.  And once bitterness has established a deep root it only becomes more difficult.  This is one reason we must be able to recognize broken relationships and make every effort to restore them quickly.  Bitterness and unforgiveness are also offenses, and thus it typically happens that when a confrontation or problem occurs, both parties need to practice the steps of an apology in order for the relationship to be restored.

Mature adults, and well socialized children have learned the interpersonal skill of a true apology.  Surprisingly, however, the skill is not as widely grasped as one would hope.  Many people skirt through life, floating from relationship to relationship and leaving behind any and all who have hurt them.  Some people and families have mastered the art of “moving on” – simply pretending the problem never occurred and “letting it go”.  (Yes, it is also a healthy skill to learn to forgive when an offense was clearly unintentional, or the value of the relationship is greater than the weight of the offense.)  Some people just verbalize “I’m sorry” without validating the other person’s hurt or offering restitution or a plan to change – and thus remain in a cycle of hurting one another.

This confession process, however, is also the pivotal point on which salvation hangs.  It is what Christians call “repentance”.  Scripture teaches us that there are two kinds of sorrow:  one that is a guilt rooted in pride – sorrow for having been caught in sin or sorrow for one’s reputation being tainted, and one that is rooted in humility – sorrow for having sinned against God and for being the cause of Jesus’ suffering.

“For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.  For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

– 2 Cor 7.8-10

Godly sorrow recognizes one’s wicked heart and is broken over it.  Worldly sorrow recognizes only the punishment or the ramifications to one’s reputation and just wants a get-out-of-jail-free card.  Godly sorrow leads to deep, profound change.  Worldly sorrow leads to escapism, self-justification, and tactics by which one can save face.  Godly sorrow leads to repentance, and repentance requires not only the apology, but the confession of guilt, the seeking to make restoration, and the earnest effort to change.  Simply saying “I’m sorry” or asking God to forgive us and accept us does not exemplify the heart that is broken in humility before God.

This is why Scripture teaches us that even though we are free in Christ, we cannot use our freedom as an opportunity to sin:

“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.”

– 1 Peter 2.16

In short, we cannot make up our minds to sin and expect God to forgive us.  We cannot decide to go rob a bank and think, “I will just repent later”.  We cannot look at pornography, cheat on our spouse or file for divorce and assume God’s forgiveness while we are continuing in that sin process.  True repentance recognizes personal guilt, seeks to make right what is wrong and takes responsibility to change.  God can forgive the bank robber or adulterer, but part of his repentance process will be returning the money or serving the jail time, and making amends to his spouse.

We also cannot come to God and make a blanket confession, “I am a sinner, please forgive me”, and expect that sinner’s prayer to cover our eternity.  From the moment we begin the repentance process, the Holy Spirit will take up residence in our lives and convict us of sin continually and consistently.  And this is a good thing!  Scripture also teaches us that it is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance.  It would be unkind of Him to allow us to remain in our sins and headed to Hell!

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”

– Rom 2.4

Thus we should check ourselves – is the Holy Spirit convicting us?  Have you walked through the steps of confession and repentance with God recently?  Have you walked through the steps of confession and restoration with a friend lately?  It is possible to go long periods of time without hurting or being hurt by a friend, but it is uncommon when we are living life in community the way God has commanded us.  That is just the nature of relationships.  It is not possible, however, with God.  Because none of us will reach full Spiritual maturity and perfection until we are free of our physical bodies.  God knows our every thought and feeling, and while we may not act out on those thoughts or feelings, He knows the sins within.

So let’s get real about our confession and interactions with God.  Even though we preach tolerance in our culture, God does not tolerate our sin.  He hates sin.  And He will not accept us if we just give him a fake “sorry” and continue acting however we want to act.  He must have authority over our actions and decisions, He must be the Lord of our lives and continually guiding us through repentance in order for us to be saved.  So let’s recognize our guilt, confess it, seek to make it right and seek to change.  Let’s also practice these interpersonal skills with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and with the outside world.  People know a true apology when they hear one, and this is just one more brick we can lay in the house of love we are building – by which we seek to be known.  And whenever someone confesses a wrong to us, let us be quick to forgive – for Jesus has always forgiven us of infinitely more than we could ever be asked to forgive.  And not only that, but He promises that God will not forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive others:

“But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.15

So let us be quick to love, quick to apologize, quick to listen and quick to confess.  Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit but follow His prompting when He convicts us, and let us also be quick to apologize if a friend or family member confronts us in a sin or grievance.  God desires that change, that we love well, and that we be known by our love.

They are not coming to us.

empty church

Did you know that church attendance is waning nationwide?  Did you know that even though the Baby Boomers still consider it the cultural norm, by in large, to go to church every week, but Gen Xers and Millennials may have not been raised in the church, and even if they were they see it as optional.  Even the most devout of us skip church for a myriad of reasons:  I’m too tired, it’s pretty outside, it’s raining outside, I want to go to brunch instead…

And while we are constantly encouraged as people to know ourselves, to verbalize our feelings, to go to therapy and counseling to get help and grow spiritually and emotionally, we are also encouraged to believe that we find strength and ability within ourselves and the control is ourselves.  We also keep those conversations to ourselves and rarely bring up those deep topics outside of assigned times where we pay someone to listen.

What this means, at least in part, is that the Church is no longer consider a place people go for emotional or spiritual help.  We still have a reputation for helping the poor, and those who need money or food will still call around looking for handouts.  But it is a rare occurrence that someone will be hurting, struggling or searching for truth and therefore choose to find a local church and go.

Many traditional churches, however, are still functioning with the mindset that people will wander in off the streets.  We update our buildings, we get fancy sound systems, we assign greeters at the doors and make pretty signs all with the hopes that the great un-reached masses will miraculously flood in our doors.  I personally know of a church that spent over a year updating their building and praying for people to come in the doors and utilized the motto “Company Is Coming” in order to pump up the congregation.

Guess what?

Company never came.

Why not?  Because humanity does not seek after God.  We are unrighteous, we are selfish, we are sinners and we are enemies of God, and fundamentally we are Spiritually dead:

“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

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

– Rom 5.10

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

– Eph 2.1-2

Spiritually dead people, unrighteous people, and people who are enemies of God do not come to the conclusion on their own that they need Spiritual life, that they need to repent and that God might be the answer.  It is possible that they would consider religion as an answer – as one of Satan’s greatest tactics is to assure people that they are ethically and morally upstanding and headed to Heaven in eternity.  But Satan’s tactic in false religions is to blind people to the Gospel and convince them that they can be good enough by their own efforts, leaving them still Spiritually dead and without hope.

Therefore, if your church boldly claims the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, Satan will not draw crowds into your sanctuary.  And Spiritually dead people – those people we want and need to reach will not be drawn to our buildings.

But you know what?  That is OK!

Never once did Jesus tell the disciples to sit around and wait for people to come to them.  He commanded them, and us, to go!  Our recent past has deceived us, slightly, in that the 18th to early 20th century culture was at least nominally Christian, there was minimal entertainment and community events were often held in the Church buildings.  Thus, there was a social pressure to attend, people were always there for events, and traveling evangelists drew a crowd for weekend or week long gatherings.  As we continue down the path of a post-Christian culture, we are finding ourselves in a situation much more similar to the early church, however, and we have to go to them.

God used a variety of strategies to get the Gospel out and to make believers.  He sent the disciples out, and they preached on the street corners, started local groups, preached to the governing authorities when they were arrested, and started churches.  He sent Paul and his various counterparts on missionary journeys to travel to the “known world”, where Paul entered religious centers and places of worship as well as city centers where he reasoned with people one-on-one and also preached to the crowds.  He started churches in almost every city he visited thus.  God also used persecution and the threat of death to scatter believers throughout the known world:  Christians were threatened of their lives so they ran for safety.  Wherever they settled, they would share with their new neighbors and friends and people would be saved and churches were established.

In short, God sends people out and it is through their intentional efforts in the streets, in the marketplace, in their relationships, that other people came to know Jesus and salvation.  The Gospel organically spread along natural relational lines.  Often times entire households would believe, and they would share with other households who would believe.  Other times, individuals would hear and believe and take it home with them to their friends and families.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.18-20

It has been researched that most people would attend church if they were invited.  But even still, the onus is squarely on the people of God to share the Gospel with people where they are.  Our Sunday worship services are intentional times for believers to come together to grow, to learn, to meet with and worship God.  Sunday services are not supposed to be evangelical in nature, targeting the non-believer.  A wise pastor always incorporates the Gospel so that those who are not yet saved might believe, but corporate worship is for worshiping God.  Not reaching the lost.  We have six other days of the week for that.

How do we do that?  We talk about Jesus.  We all know that you naturally talk about the things you love and enjoy.  If you love and enjoy Jesus, it will be natural to talk about it.  Practice with fellow believers so that it is more natural when you talk to non believers.  How did you come to faith?  What is God doing in your life today?  How do you fight sin?  What is God teaching you?  What most excites you about eternity?  Be natural.  Be real.  Preach the Gospel.  It does not have to be formal, in a gathering or Bible study.  Just talk about Jesus.  Wherever you all, whatever you are doing.  This is how we will reach the world, not by inviting them in but by going and telling.

“…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”

– 1 Peter 3.15-16

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”

– 1 Tim 4.1-2

They will not come to us.  Let’s go to them.

When you have been poisoned.

snake

There is a slightly obscure story from the Old Testament when the Hebrew people were roaming around in the wilderness which holds remarkable implications for us today.  It is the story of the bronze serpent:

“Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey.  The people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.’  The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.  So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.’  And Moses interceded for the people.  Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’  And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”

– Numbers 21.4-9

At first glance this story is strange and seems contradictory to the nature of God.  He had just delivered the ten commandments in which He belabored the point that man shall have no other gods and shall make no statues or images to worship.  Why, then, would He instruct Moses to form a snake out of bronze which looked like the very curse they were suffering, raise it on a stick and instruct the people to look at it for healing?

Thankfully, when Jesus and the apostles read the Old Testament, they had insight from God which revealed much of the imagery and foreshadowing of the stories therein.

“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.  As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”

– John 3.12-15

When Jesus was explaining salvation and Spiritual life to Nicodemus, He explained the imagery of the serpent:  Jesus is the serpent.  Now this is a strange imagery to be sure.  The devil used the form of a snake in Genesis when he tempted Eve, and God cursed the snake because of it.  There is enmity between humanity and the snake as part of the curse, and to this day people are terrified of and hate snakes – by in large.  They are venomous, they bite, they kill.  And yet Jesus is as the fiery serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness for salvation.

This speaks first and foremost to the nature of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  He not only offered Himself to take our place in punishment, He actually became sin – He became the curse – He was accursed, on our account.

“If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.”

– Deut 21.22-23

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’.”

– Gal 3.13

“[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

– 2 Cor 5.21

Therefore, the imagery of the snake – the very means by which the people were being bitten and poisoned unto death – being the means of their salvation was symbolic of Jesus taking our sin – the very means by which we are cursed to damnation – and saving us from it.  Jesus could only receive the wrath of God against sin by being made the fullness of sin so that God could pour out His wrath upon that sin and therefore declare us acceptable by means of having our punishment already paid.  God never pardons sin, He never overlooks sin.  His righteousness demands that every sin be punished fully, and thus He supernaturally transformed Jesus into that sin which we have committed and punished it in Him so that we do not have to be punished.

The snakes in the camp were sent from God as a punishment for despising the manna that God had sent for them to eat and for complaining.  We are under the curse from God because we sin.  God has provided a means of salvation, by becoming accursed Himself and taking our place, and all we must do in order to be saved is to look upon Jesus.  Note, also, that the serpent serves as a means of salvation for those people who are already bitten.  They are poisoned.  They are going to die.  We are all sinful and are cursed.  We are not poisoned in the sense that sin is not something outside of us that cases our death, but we already spiritually dead and headed straight for an eternity in Hell apart from looking upon Jesus and receiving Spiritual life.

“Look to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth;
For I am God, and there is no other.”

– Is 45.22

Salvation is so simple, yet so difficult.  We are either prepared to do a million acts of service to justify ourselves and earn merit with God, or we expect God to love us in spits of our sin and wickedness.  But God says “Look to Jesus” and “Believe” and you will be saved (Is 45.22, Acts 16.31, Rom 10.9).  The looking and believing recognizes that we are doomed, poisoned as it were, headed to Hell and in need of a Savior.  When we see Jesus crucified having taken on our sin, and believe in His work as our substitution, we are saved.  It is that simple, yet that difficult.  We must recognize that it is not of us, we cannot earn or merit God’s salvation and we cannot demand it.  We must simply accept it.

When we are poisoned, when we recognize our flesh coming out and our sinful tendencies merging into our hearts and minds, we must look to Jesus and be saved.  This is true at our initial conversion and it is an ongoing battle that we will fight until we are free of our flesh and sinful bodies (Gal 5).  Look to Jesus.  Remember His word.  Claim His promises.  Abide in Him.  Pray to communicate your heart and listen to hear His.  Fight sin with Scripture and replacement techniques.  Press into Jesus.

Motherhood is not the highest calling.

motherhood

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.  Flowers are being ordered, gifts are being bought, and tomorrow mothers across the nation will be pampered and treated to breakfast, lunch or some other special treat in their honor.  This tradition is a wonderful opportunity to say thank you and love on one of the greatest gifts God has given to us.  Throughout the generations and cultural dynamics of the day, however, it has been wrongly and detrimentally taught and believed within the church that motherhood is the highest calling for women.

I personally am a woman who has been involved in a denomination which historically has downplayed the role of women in the church and often (hopefully unintentionally) leads women to believe that it is their greatest calling to be a wife and a mother.  In seminary I took a class on Biblical manhood and womanhood, and the professor actually led the class (of almost all men) to question whether or not girls should play sports.  We, as a denomination, have several thousand fully funded missionaries on the mission field.  Women outnumber men at a rate of 2:1 on the field, but if a married couple is sent out the husband is deemed a missionary and the wife is federally unemployed and called a “missionary’s wife”.  We have tragically missed the boat.

On the most basic of levels, to define Biblical womanhood as being a wife and a mother, we cause great turmoil and doubt for those women who long so deeply do to married and/or to have children but are currently single or barren.  The church is full of women who desire to be married but there are very few godly men to love, pursue and marry them.  One glance around pretty much any sanctuary on a Sunday morning reveals the stark fact that many more women go to church and are serious about their faith than men.  There are also countless couples who long to be parents but are unable to reproduce, and do not have the finances or calling to adopt.  There are also those who simply do not have the desire to be parents.

And you know what?  That is OK!

Why?  Because God never said that every woman has to be a wife and mother.  God never said that every man has to be a husband and father.  What does God want most from us?  To know, love and abide in Him.  Why did Jesus come to the Earth?

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

– John 10.10

God is fundamentally concerned with our salvation and our relationship with Him.  The whole of Scripture writes redemption’s story from creation to the New Earth, and focuses on Jesus as the central and pivotal point.  He came to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19.10).  Every person – male and female – must be born a second time, born Spiritually, in order to inherit the Kingdom of God (John 3).  Then, once we are born Spiritually the Holy Spirit begins the work of Sanctification in our lives.  In Christ, there is no distinction by race or gender:

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”

– Gal 3.27-29

Thus, as transformed people who are now Spiritually alive, God desires to see in us the fruit of the Spirit and maturity.  These things, too, are for everyone and not gender specific:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.19-23

In regards to our salvation and our walk with God, Scripture continually and regularly addresses our heart and our attitudes.  God desires that we know Him, that we abide in His Word, that we draw our strength from the Holy Spirit and obey.  We kill sin, we die to our flesh and we live to glorify Him by making disciples of all nations.  That is the big picture.

So what about our gender roles?

It is clearly seen in nature that men are different than women.  Our bodies look different, we have different abilities and our differences compliment one another.  In order to reproduce, you must physiologically have a man and a woman.  A woman will carry and produce food for the baby, a man will not.  Scripture also teaches us how husbands and wives should interact with one another:  both putting the other before himself/herself.  This is a general teaching, for all of our relationships as well as specific instruction for married people:

Everyone should put all people before himself:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Phil 2.3-4

Spouses should put their spouses before themselves:

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.  But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”

– Eph 5.22-27

Wives are commanded here to respect their husbands.  Husbands are commanded here to love their wives.  It has been tested and proven that women desire love and men desire respect – and both interpret their marriages as most healthy and balanced when women receive love and men receive respect.  Men, however, are hardwired to give respect since that is what they want, and women are hardwired to give love since that is what they want.  Paul recognizes this fact and therefore commands us to put each other first by loving and serving our spouses in the way that they will feel most loved.

And while we are clearly instructed how to best love one another, Paul profoundly states that it is better for people to not get married.  We will be more focused on God and His kingdom and purposes if we do not get married and tie ourselves down:

“Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.  But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.  But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

– 1 Cor 7.7-9

“But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.  This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”

– 1 Cor 7.32-35

If the Bible teaches us that it is better to remain single than to get married, then marriage and motherhood is not only not the highest calling for women – it is a distraction that will tie us down for a season and make us less effective in the work of disciple-making.

Lastly, should we choose to ignore all of the social and Biblical realities already explained, the simple fact is that of a woman’s life, she will only have small children for a very small portion.  Even if we consider a woman an “active mother” with children in the house until they are 18, the average woman has 2.5 children, usually 2-4 years apart.  This means the average woman would be considered an active mother for 22 years.  If the average life span is 78.7 years, those years of child rearing make up for only 28% of a woman’s life.  Yes, she might help with grandchildren or other children in the church, but why would we confine a woman’s highest calling to something she will only do for a fraction of her life?  This is simply nonsensical, compounding the unbiblical factor.

So ladies.  What does this mean for us?  It means that God wants our hearts first and foremost.  Before we give them to our husbands, before we wrap them up in children, He wants our whole hearts.  He wants us to trust Him with our futures and our circumstances.  He wants us to submit our relationships and children to Him – because they are His and not ours!  Are you married?  Great!  Love and serve God first, your husband second.  Are you a mother?  Then you have been given a wonderful blessing and treasure from the Lord (Ps 127.3).  Your spouse and your children, however, are not your highest calling and if you expend all of your energy on them and find your value and worth in them, you will be left disappointed, hurt and empty – without vision or passion when they move out and move on.

Are you single?  Great!  God has clearly stated in Scripture that you are in the most opportune situation to serve Him – not being distracted by a relationship and trying to please your husband or care for children.  Does God want you to be married?  That is His sovereign plan for your life, and each situation is unique.  We cannot say Biblically yes or no.  However, you are not less of a woman or missing out on God’s plan for your life if you do not yet have a husband or children.  So take it to God and ask Him what He has for you.  It may be marriage, it may be singleness.

Do you want to be married but you are not?  Do you want to have children but are unable?  Take those passions and longings to God.  Many women throughout Scripture and throughout history have had those exact feelings.  God wants us to bring our hearts to Him.  He also wants us to be satisfied and content in Him.  Marriage and children are only a blessing when they are a gift from God.  If we are expecting them to fulfill us, we will be constantly yearning for more and unsatisfied because God alone can satisfy.  You are not missing the calling on your life.  God has a perfect plan, and He will work all things together for your greatest, Spiritual good and maturity as well as His glory.

I suppose Satan shall not love you…

opposition

Consider this fact:  Satan was created during the first week of creation.  He has been functioning in his role as the deceiver and accuser since the time of Adam and Eve.  He has a host of angels (commonly known as demons) who assist him in his efforts on Earth.  He is called in before God with all of the angels and heavenly principalities to give an account of their efforts on Earth:  he knows God, he knows God’s character and he knows the Bible.  Everything that we read in Scripture Satan not only knows from reading it, but he was present when the events happened and the words were written.

In short, he has much greater power than we do, he knows the Bible better than we do, he knows the prophecy of the End Times better than we do, and while his every action is governed by God, he is intentionally seeking to deceive and destroy believers as well as keeping others distracted from the Truth so as to not become believers.  He wants to make us ineffective as disciples and disciple makers and destroy as many as possible as he himself is headed to an eternity in Hell (Rev 20.10).

All of that being said, Satan is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent.  He does have demons who can keep account of things that are happening, but he himself cannot be everywhere at all times.  Therefore, the chances of us personally being attacked by him are slim.  The chances of us being attacked or influenced by demons, however, is not only high; it will happen.  Satan and his demons know the temptations, the desires and the tendencies of this world.  He knows that most Americans will not be affected by the supernatural but will be easily distracted by lusts and sin:  money, sex, reputation, success, entertainment, etc.  They also will learn our personal tendencies and be able to tempt us and draw us back into our sins of habit if we do not develop strategies for fighting these.

In the most clever of situations, the demonic forces will even utilize religion and the Bible to distract or tempt us.  When Satan encountered Jesus, he tempted Him utilizing Scripture.  Thankfully Jesus knew the Scripture better and was able to recognize the twisting and false interpretations of it – and respond with Truth (quoting other Scripture that exemplifies the heart of God!).  We will find this in false teachers throughout the world!  Thus Jesus warns us to beware of false teachers:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

– Matt 7.15

We must also be aware that Satan and his demons will not like efforts that we as the church and we as individuals make to make disciples of the world.  John Newton, the famous hymn writer, had an often simple yet profound way to communicate the Gospel and encourage people.  A man named Henry Martyn who was desiring to be a missionary and had been met with opposition.  People told him that he had an “insipid and inanimate manner in the pulpit”.  Newton, however, refuted each of the criticisms which he had been dealt with hope.  Most poignantly, when Martyn brought up the opposition that he might meet along the way, Newton simply said,

“I suppose Satan shall not love you for what you are about to do.”

Many had sought to oppose Martyn, but he was confident in God and his calling, and after being encouraged by Newton, he moved to India where he translated the entire New Testament into Urdu, Persian and Judaeo-Persic, as well as the Psalms and other books.

If we are about the things of the Lord, Satan and his demons will oppose our efforts.  This should not deter us, however.  He opposed and tempted Jesus – utilizing the most deceitful of methods:  pitting Scripture against Jesus!  We must know His tactics and we must know God.  We must have discernment and ability to rightly read and interpret Scripture.  And most importantly, we must remain strong in the face of opposition – because He will oppose us.  He will not love us for serving God.