Love: Going All The Way

After a message about sex earlier that evening at camp, a high school boy begins a conversation with a camp counselor:

“Well, it’s a little late for me to hear that message.” said the boy. The counselor says, “Why’s that?” “Well, Sharon and I have already…you know…” The counselor says, “You know…what?” “We, uh, you know–we went all the way.” “What do you mean, ‘all the way’?” asks the counselor.

The boy thought to himself, how could this counselor be so dense? Then he said: “You know ALL THE WAY!” as he said it with emphasis as if to clarify the meaning. But the counselor didn’t let him off the hook: “No, I don’t know what you mean. What are you talking about?” “We had sex!” the boy blurted out. “Ohhhhh, that’s what you mean when you say ‘Going all the way’ ”, the counselor said with a show of surprise. “And you think that’s going all the way?” And the boy said, “Well, yes…”

“That’s not going all the way AT ALL…” the counselor explained. “I’ll tell you what going all the way is. There’s a guy in my neighborhood who has five kids, and his wife is now in a wheelchair and severely handicapped. He gets the kids off to school each morning, sells insurance all day to make a living, then comes home, greets his children home from school, makes dinner for the family, and at the end of the evening, he looks his wife in her eyes and tells her he loves her. I know he means it, too, because he tells me he’s the luckiest guy in the world to have been blessed with her. That’s what going all the way is.”

Going all the way looks different than most of us know…Any weak, unloving person can “go all the way” and think that’s love! Sexual contact and immature decisions don’t classify love or “going all the way! In our culture today, we have a weak, impotent understanding of what love is. Our cultural definition of love is a fleeting, moody, temperamental, selfish love that does’t stay long enough to experience the fullness of true love.

This advent season, what we need is a renewed vision of love, of a kind of love that is strong and will “go all the way” with the one it’s affections are directed towards. We need a love that can shape us into true lovers of God and people. After all, love is our identity. So allow me to attempt to offer a potential outlines that may be able to help us get to a strong, all the way kn f of love (I am indebted to Dan Allender’s book, Bold Love (1996) in regards to this outline and topic).

1. Lose Your Life: Love Jesus and His kingdom more than yourself. John 12:24-25: 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

To begin to lay a foundation of understanding of what this “strong, going all the way kind of love” looks like, we must go counter culture in our belief here. Modern counsel would tell us that to truly love others, one must learn to love ourselves first. This approach argues that the first priority to love, is yourself, your esteem, acceptance of yourself, your contentment & happiness, then you can esteem, accept & love others.

Although the gospel leads you to accept yourself in Christ, and indeed calls you to love people as you love yourself, this approach to love couldn’t be more opposite of what we read in Scriptures. The “me-first” mentality is destroyed in the gospels where we learn of a radical “others-centeredness”. To be a healthy person who cares for themselves is to be someone who has learned the art of caring for others.

The “take care of yourself” mentality has led many people to justify self-centeredness which definitely does not lead to the “strong, all the way” kind of love, and it has also made a nation of political Christians who love their own needs before the needs of those who are suffering around her. In America, it is common for people to spend more money on themselves during Christmas time than they do for family gifts of others. We are addicted to making ourselves feel better.

The “me-centered” approach actually promotes shallow love in such a way to where one is led to do things out of what’s comfortable for them, or out of fear of what others think, or out of guilt from their conscious of trying to be acceptable to themselves.

The gospel says that you are justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus! If that is not enough to move you us out of our self-contempt, poor self-esteem, self-protection mode, or lack of contentment in life, then there are deeper issues that needs to be addressed, not self-acceptance or more work!

Strong, all the way kind of love, as Dan Allender puts it in his book Bold Love, “is courageously setting aside our personal agenda to move humbly into the world of others with their well-being in view, willing to risk further pain in our souls, in order to be an aroma of life to some, and an aroma of death to others.” (19)

2. Courage: A willingness to sacrifice for a better day. Romans 8:18: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. // 2 Corinthians 4:17: For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

Paul is saying that our suffering will be outweighed by future glory, and that our present suffering is preparing for us future glory! So not only is our suffering not compared to what Christ has for us, but it is also apart of achieving the fullness that Christ desires for us. The gospel of Jesus swallows up suffering and uses it as a means to the end!

Again, Allender says in Bold Love: “…we will not be free to love until the cliche ‘this is not our home’ becomes real.” (139). We were created by God to defend that which is most precious to us. If something has value and worth to us, then we will courageously throw ourselves into danger to protect or preserve it.

A mother will heroically save her children from a wild animal, and a husband will fight a man with a gun who broke into his home to protect his family. Whatever your heart treasures, you will have the courage to sacrifice for it.

So the question you have to answer if you want to be a courageous lover is:

“Do you live for heaven?” or “Do you live demanding that life be like heaven?”

The root problem behind our desire to find concrete, manageable steps to live this Christian life often comes right down to the fact that we demand the right to find order, predictability, comfort and consistency in and from a world where there is little to none.

We spend most of our lives trying to change reality; the fact that life is awful and the truth that this world is not our home. “If we do not anticipate the regularity and tragedy of sin, we unavoidably come to believe that this world is our home.” (139)

This belief and understanding will never help us be rid of the lie that says, “This is your home. You deserve life, love, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We will never choose the path of courageous, sacrificial love as long as we believe that this life is all there is or is at least as good as the next. I can say this is also true for those who are spiritually stuck in addiction, anger towards God, compulsive habits, unforgiveness & living a justified life because of their strict obedience to all the rules.

We are far too easily satisfied if we truly think that life would be good (better) if I just had this, or if it was just like that, etc…

This is why Jesus says in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” To the degree that this life holds the possibility of “getting something”, we will forever labor and toil and destroy ourselves over things that only heaven can offer (Hebrews 11).

3. Calling: Living out the offense of the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27: 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak… to shame the strong;

The calling of every Christian is to courageously live out a disruptive goodness that embraces the foolishness of the Gospel; the foolish confound the wise and the weak confound the strong. God’s kingdom is an upside down kingdom compared to our impotent kingdoms we set up here on earth.

Our mission is to confound (astonish) the world through being the aroma of weakness and foolishness. Try that on for your mission statement. We appear foolish because our weapons are immaterial (Eph. 6:10-19). We appear weak because our strength comes through humility and submission to Jesus (Matt. 11:28-30; James 4:7).

We can live this way because in the Gospel, we believe and understand our utter helplessness without Christ, and we know our complete acceptance because of Christ.

This Gospel of Jesus produces complete humility before others and rids our hearts and lives of self-righteousness…especially in marriage. But it also give us a profound boldness and security knowing that the God of the universe loves us, accepts us and calls us sons and daughters of His. Thanks be to God!

In 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, Paul is saying that the way of the gospel is death leading to resurrection, weakness resulting in divine strength and power, and humility resulting in a triumphant exaltation, just like Jesus. Paul knows that his death will lead him to a greater life. Life comes out of death. Redemption comes out of devastation. The tomb of Christ became a womb of life. This is the gospel and we are called to live in light of this news. Don’t trade in your suffering and weakness for earthly power. Press into that which brings you low and ask Jesus for eyes to see his kingdom through the lens of foolishness.

4. Conviction: Joining God’s hatred of sin. Romans 8:12-13: 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

We often hear the phrase “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.” This sounds good, but the problem is that it is not completely biblically true. The problem comes because sin cannot be removed from the sinner without faith in Jesus.

Go with me here: Without the blood of Christ covering the sin of the sinner (you and I), what is sent to hell; the sin or the sinner? Hell is not a place that houses abstract concepts, sinful desires, and the like. It is a place that was created for Satan and his demons and those who follow suit. God loves shalom, therefore He hates those who willfully and continuously break shalom.

Consider Psalm 5:5-6: 5 “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. 6 You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” Or perhaps consider Proverbs 6:16-19: 16 “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”

As an old Puritan writer once said, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you!” Our hatred of evil in ourselves and others will deepen the wonder of the cross & the depths of his forgiveness of our sinful hearts. It will also help us have strong, all the way kind of love.

5. Craftiness: The wisdom of a snake, the innocence of a dove. Matthew 10:16: Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

1) Losing your life centers everything around Jesus, His Gospel, and His power. 2) Courage prompts us to face the inevitability of the fight; 3) Calling compels us to actually fight the good fight; 4) Conviction shows us the enemy who we should be fighting with passion and intensity; and 5) Craftiness enables us to get close enough to the enemy to destroy his power and offer the opportunity for surrender.

Only Jesus could make the kind of statement He did in Matthew 10. If anyone else said it, their motive would be questioned. But since we know Jesus is God, and He is good, perfect, loving and just, we now have insight into His intentions in saying this.

Frontal attacks are often expected, and easily guarded against, but surprise attacks often find the enemy on his heels, shocked, with his heart broken down by fear, wonder or amazement by which you have exposed him. This is actually spoken of directly and illustrated in Scripture quite a bit:

Proverbs 25:21-22: 21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, 22 for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

Romans 12:21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Our craftiness at its core shows itself by choosing to do good to those who have done us harm. This can’t just happen if Jesus is not the center, and we have not courageously entered the battle, accepted our calling and live with conviction.

All this can’t happen until “the cliche ‘this is not our home’ becomes real.” (139). Whatever our heart treasures, we will have the courage to sacrifice for it.

“Do you live for heaven?” or “Do you live demanding that life be like heaven now?”

As the advent season comes to a close this week, may we all be compelled to explore the love of Christ, the fact that he came as a humble and weak baby, a human. That he entrusted himself to be born to an unmarried teen mom who became a refugee in Egypt, only to move back to Nazareth on the wrong side the tracks, and to live in such a way that he lost his life, was crucified outside the gates of the city, on the margins, because Jesus’ love is that way; humble, sacrificial, and accessible to all (on the margins, the weak and the powerful alike have access). Jesus’ coming and his life and death do much more than offer forgiveness of sin, they are our model for life and godliness and serves as a type of resistance to cultural norms that have clouded the true gospel.

This is the story we must enter, this kind of strong, all the way kind of love. This is the story of love that we must explore, and then allow it to shape us. We must look under every rock and cross every river in this story. We may be moved to sacrifice all we have when we find what it is we are to show love towards. We must live within the story of love and let our imaginations create new ways to live love. We must love when faced with grave injustices, indeed this love will be costly. This is where Jesus camps out…where he does his greatest work. This is where we encounter Jesus…it’s how others encounter Jesus. This is how Jesus is displayed, because Jesus is love. Yet this kind of love will cost our lives, our reputations, and will render us foolish.

Merry Christmas!

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Redeeming the Graveyard

At the end of the Old Testament, the prophets of Israel were saying that God is going to send a savior, a Messiah to redeem Israel and restore Jerusalem… then God remains silent for 400 years. When the silence breaks… at least in our canon of Scripture, we are given the book of Matthew, and as he begins to tell the good news about Jesus, he starts with dead people. As Ray Bakke says, “he takes us on a cemetery tour.”

You ever noticed that? The beginning of the gospel of Jesus according to Matthew starts with a genealogy… a remembrance of those who are in Jesus’ family tree. What in the world is Matthew doing by doing with this? Well for starters, the first century church sure did celebrate the resurrection well, but totally missed the birth of Jesus. They celebrated Jesus’ death and resurrection (rightly so!), and celebrated the fact that Jesus is the King of kings, and Lord of Lords, but in many ways neglected to celebrate His birth, the moment this great King became one of us pitiful humans, left glory and became a helpless (may I say powerless) baby totally dependent on adult care. Matthew here is reminding us of the importance of the birth of Jesus, and seems to be exposing the “skeletons in the closet” of Jesus’ family tree.

As one would read Matthew 1:1-16, you would realize many things, one being, this seems totally boring! But if you were forced to study this passage (as I was) because you went to school to study Scripture, you spend a little more time pondering the names in this genealogy of Jesus. The first thing that stood out was that there were five women referenced in this list. Why are they there?

The fourth century theologian Jerome say that these women are all here to show that sinners are a part of Jesus’ genealogy, but that interpretation immediately breaks down, because all of the men in the genealogy were sinners too. According to Ray Bakke, Martin Luther was the first theologian to notice that they were all foreigners, except for Mary. This is a significant thought. Let’s try to unpack that a little bot more.

The four moms (not counting Mary) in Jesus’ genealogy appear in verse 3-6: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. What’s Matthew doing by putting these women in this genealogy? What do all these ladies have in common? Here’s a brief summary of these ladies lives as is found in the Old Testament:

Tamar: a Canaanite (Gen. 38); married to a son of Judah named Er, who died because he was wicked. Judah’s second son was supposed to take his brothers wife to give her a heritage (children), but on his way to take care of business, Onan spilled his sperm on the road before he went to “lay” with Tamar. Judah’s third son, Shelah, was not given to her because he was too young, but was promised to Tamar once he grew up. When Tamar realized Shelah had grown up and was not given to her, she took matters into her own hands (remember, no sons for a woman in these days meant there was no inheritance in heaven for her; this was equal to salvation in their minds).

So she went into town after Judah’s wife had died, took off her widow clothes and put on prostitute clothes, and sat at the entrance of the town. When Judah arrived, she welcomed his “business” and she asked him for his credit card (his signet ring, a bracelet, and his staff) to “make sure he comes back to pay”. She gets pregnant that day, and when Judah finds out a few months later that she’s pregnant, the hypocrite Judah said, bring her forth, she must be burned. “As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, ‘By the man to whom these belong (the credit card!), I am pregnant.’ And she said, ‘Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.’ Then Judah identified them and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.’ ” (Gen. 38:25-26).

Rahab: a Canaanite as well (Josh. 2); Again, according to Bakke, she ran a hotel where the lights were dim and the charge was by the hour, not the night. She lived on the wall of Jericho. Her name means “wide”; she didn’t miss a man who came into town. So when the spies from Israel came to scout out the city, she brought them in and hid the Israelite spies because she feared the Israelites God. Her and her family were the only ones spared in the battle of Jericho. She ended up marrying a good Jewish man named Salmon, in the line of Judah, and they bore a son together, and named him Boaz.

Ruth: a Moabite (Ruth 1; Gen. 19), from the country of Moab which was started by an incestuous relationship. Lot (Abraham’s nephew) was spared from Sodom, his wife died, and Lot left the city life and ran to the suburbs, but in doing so, he neglected to find husbands for his daughters, which again, was a duty of a father. So the daughters, seeing that their dad had brought them to the suburbs where there was no hubby to be found, had a plan to gain an inheritance of children from their dad. On two consecutive nights, they got their dad drunk and each slept with him, each conceiving and eventually gave birth to two sons, Moab (father of the Moabites) and Ben-ammi (father of the Ammonites).

So here’s the Moabite Ruth, meets the family of Elimelech (names means “My God is King”) in Moab, because he took his family and left Bethlehem (name means “city of bread”) because there was “no bread” in Bethlehem (oh the irony!). His wife Naomi (name means “pleasant”) and their two sons Mahlon (names means “sick”) and Chilion (name means “dying”) arrive in Moab, and “My God is King” dies. So “Pleasant” has her two sons, “sick” and “dying” take Moabite wives. “Sick” marries Ruth (name means “friendship”) and “Dying” marries Orpah (name means “gazelle” or “fleeing”). To no ones surprise, “Sick” and “Dying” die, and “Pleasant”, “Friendship”, and “Fleeing” are left in Moab, during the time of the judges (everyone did what was right in their own eyes; wicked days) with no men, no hope, no safety.

You can tell by the daughters-in-law names what happens next: “Friendship” stays with Ruth to return to “The City of Bread” because bread is there once again, and “Fleeing goes back home to her family in Moab. Long story short, Ruth becomes noticed by the most eligible bachelor Boaz (son of the prostitute Rahab), who’s wealthy and next in line to redeem (marry) Ruth as her kinsman redeemer (giving Naomi’s family a heritage). Naomi spices Ruth up one night, tells her to shower, shave and put on some perfume and go down and sleep next to Boaz in the middle of the night (as if that’s not creepy or anything!). She obviously does a great job, and the story ends with Boaz marrying Ruth, redeems Naomi’s family, and they had a son named Obed. Obed had a son named Jesse. Jesse had a son named David (later to become the “King David”).

Bathsheba: a Hittite from the region of modern day Turkey (2 Sam. 11). Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, the best soldier for king David. Uriah is out at war in the spring and David should have been with his soldiers, but he’s wasn’t, he stayed back at home, hadn’t written any poetry in a while nor killed any men, so on a leisurely afternoon in the palace he sees Bathsheba bathing because she’s menstruating, and sees that she’s beautiful and calls her into his palace and has an affair with her. Lo and behold, she gets pregnant (surprise, surprise!), so David calls Uriah home to cover this terrible thing up. Uriah, being a good dude that he is, denies to sleep with his wife because his men were in the battle field fighting. Even after Uriah gets drunk by David’s decree and still honors his troops, so David sends Uriah to the front lines of the war to die. Then David conveniently marries the grieving widow, and the whole kingdom sees David as a hero. Bathsheba’s son dies, but then gives birth to King Solomon.

Mary: a Jew (Matthew 1) and a teenage girl who is engaged, but gets pregnant by the Holy Spirit and carries the Savior of the world, a story everyone would believe, right? Teen mom, is supported only by her soon to be husband who was persuaded to stay with her because an angel visited him and told him the whole story. They had to leave their home town before she gives birth to Jesus and are on the road as refugees as she gives birth to Jesus, the King of the world, in the line of David.

What’s similar with all of these women? First of all, all of them had question marks and irregularities in their marriages or in the way they conceived a child, or struggled to conceive a child, which could be a way that Matthew is making room for the irregularity of Jesus’ virgin birth that is unique in and of itself, from an unmarried mother. Maybe Matthew is saying, “Mary, I know you’ve struggled with your role in carrying the Christ and being blamed and accused of many horrible things, so here’s some history for you and some mentors who can bring you comfort in your distress.”

We see that four out of five of these moms were foreigners from a Jewish point of view, as Luther has pointed out. Maybe in our context it would be right to call them immigrants. All the nations that these women were from could very well represent all the major regions of the known world at that time. Either way, we know Jesus’ family tree has international blood. Jesus is born with the blood of all the nations, not just Jewish blood. Jesus the Jew, and the Jewish Messiah, had Gentile blood from every part of the world! His plan for all time was all nations (Gen. 12:1-3), after all, they were all created by Him.

This is an urban text that ought to speak to the urban realities that we all face in our city, Christ our savior not only has Gentile blood, but he came out of a dysfunctional family, and he made sure these women who have suffered were honored and remembered, and he died to redeem their pain and loss.

Jesus is the mixed-racial (mestizo) Savior of the world! Jesus’ family is Middle Eastern, Asian, European, and African (and likely more), nations that many Americans love to hate, but the gospel won’t allow this. This genealogy of Jesus crushes racism. It wasn’t only my sin that was atoned for, but the sins of every ethnic and racial class in the world.

Jesus’ arrival marks a new beginning with the very reason of His existence to restore shalom (the way things were supposed to be). Matt. 1:1 says: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ” The word “genealogy” in Greek is the word “genéseōs” (genesis; beginnings, origin) which the reader would have been immediately reminded of Gen. 2:4 and 5:1, where the exact same expression was used in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint; LXX). With this echo from the book of Genesis we were meant to hear and realize that the arrival of Jesus as the Messiah marks a new beginning, a new creation, a new way to be human. This is good news indeed, especially coming from a cemetery tour.

And finally, at the end of this genealogy, we learn that Jesus is the end of the time of preparation (Israel waited and prepared for the Messiah to come, and Jesus fulfills the end of their wait). Here’s verse 17: “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.”

Let me explain this to you. 3’s and 7’s were considered to be marks of completion and perfection in Hebrew and Greek cultures. 7 days of creation (complete creation); Jesus died and rose again 3 days later (perfect Savior), etc…

When you double three 3’s and seven 7’s, you make a statement of being “as perfect as you could ever get; the end of the line.” Matthew gives us three spans of time, and then he tells us there are 14 generations in between each span of time (in case Math isn’t your gift, that’s double three’s and double seven’s; pretty perfect and complete!).

Maybe Matthew is trying to tell us that “Jesus is the end of the line.” As far as the OT story goes, it has run its completed course in preparation, and now its goal and climax is found in Jesus. Jesus, the Savor with Gentile blood from all the nations, dies to give us His blood for all the nations. This is not just a good Christmas text, but an Easter one as well. And because this Jesus offered this for us, He has freed us to move into other people’s family trees (their pain and agony and loss) with equal intention and love, and be the presence of Jesus to those who are suffering and broken. And all this from a boring genealogy!

From Addiction to Absolution

At the core, the drug addict isn’t running to drugs because he made a series of bad decisions. He runs to them because they have become the one thing that can provide relief from pain, pleasure, and an escape. At the core, the porn addict doesn’t run to the computer screen or the bookstore because he has let his mind go too far. He runs to it because it is giving him something that relieves him from the lack of intimacy, acceptance, and pleasure. At the core, the workaholic doesn’t work all the time because he is so in love with what he does. He works all the time because it gives him a sense of significance, acceptance, or the right kind of living. The same can be said about the shopaholic, the Facebook addict, and the one who controls their eating. At the heart of all of these addictions is a deep idol that drives us to satisfy it, a desire that has convinced us that “this” is the one thing that can fill our deep, empty well.

For instance, a woman who has become promiscuous with men and has not cared for her own protection or body, is not in love with the thought of being with men. Rather, her deep idol of being wanted, accepted, or worth something (even if for a moment), drives her to do whatever she can to fulfill that need or to get a temporary relief for the night. She doesn’t care for her body because the deep idol of wanting to be loved is controlling her. She will labor to serve this deep idol and make it happy at any cost. The sad thing is, many of us (men especially) don’t see this inner struggle and think that many of these women really want us to take advantage of their physical beauty and please ourselves by using them. That is a different blog for a different day.

To counsel this woman to stop her destructive behavior would be useless. The deep idol knows that even if she stops this behavior for a while, it is still in control  because it has become the ultimate thing in her life. She will just move on to another behavior (that may or may not be as outwardly destructive), but she will be mastered by her deep idol that is driving her to be loved.

So here’s the deal, it is not wrong to want to be loved. We were made with this desire. The desire to want to be loved is God given and is a longing of everyone’s heart. But when we sell ourselves to any and everything so that we can attain “being loved”, we become slaves to “being loved” and will never be satisfied. This is why worship of anything other than God is so destructive, because everything except God can be taken from us. Idols fail 100% of the time. This is why God hates idolatry, not because He’s some angry deity who is always looking to smite the disobedient, but because He knows He is the only “slave master” who can deliver exactly what His slaves need. He’s the only”idol” who will never fail and cannot be taken from us. So when He sees His kids running to things that only bring a moment of satisfaction and ultimate destruction, He hates it!

We see His hatred for it in Deuteronomy 29:16-19 when Moses speaks to the Israelites about their time in the wilderness, just before they enter the promised land: “You know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed. And you have seen their detestable things, their idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold, which were among them. Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’

Detestable. Beware. Poisonous. Bitter. Stubborn. These are just a few words that stuck out to me when reading this passage. When we serve created things over the Creator, it is detestable to God. We must beware of letting our hearts be drawn to temporary relief, because if we want relief over God Himself, the words poisonous and bitter become words that describe us, and this isn’t what we want. We are just wanting to be loved, accepted, worth something; we just want some pleasure and joy. So behavior change is “out” (not an viable option at this point) because what’s driving our behavior is not God. Affection change is “in” (the only viable option at this point) because God must be our new and first affection so that our behavior can change for good, which is what will actually give us what we want; joy, pleasure, acceptance, love. How? Because when our affections are changed and we desire God, we get God.

This is called absolution or redemption. Not the redemption of our souls, but the kind of absolution I’m talking about is the rehab that needs to take place because of our lives of temporary and selfish pleasures and our misplaced longings of acceptance from created things. Our misplaced affections which has led us to all kinds of addictions has brought alongside of us a trail of pain, destruction, habits, wounds, friends, family and thoughts that all need to redeemed. Remade. Redone. Reprioritized. Redefined.

This work is slow and painful and not for the faint of heart, but it is for everyone. This work is not instant, so if you’re still wanting a quick fix, you’re still serving your deep idol, not Jesus. This work is the kind of work that is done by those who know they need Jesus more than oxygen. This work leads to a life of fruitfulness for God’s kingdom. This work leads to a life that is truly free, and freed to be loved and receive love. This work leads to God looking beautiful, magnificent, powerful and awesome in the life of those who trust Him. Make Jesus look good. Do the work, but don’t go at it alone.

What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas

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Las Vegas is famous for many ‘riskay’ things, and this phrase has become the trademark of the city’s gambling sector: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. This is implying that what you do here in Vegas won’t hurt your wife, husband or loved ones, as long as they never find out what you do here. Worse yet, there is a belief that illicit behavior won’t even hurt the person doing it.

This same thinking is wrapped up into the old adage that goes like this: “What we don’t know, won’t hurt us.” When I was a kid, I used to talk about things like, “What if the fast food worker spit in your hamburger?” or “What if your hamburger was dipped in the toilet?” You know… things that everybody worries about, right? I remember talking and thinking about this every now and then when we would eat out. The conversation always ended, in my mind at least, “As long as I don’t know, I’ll be fine.” I was a garbage disposal as a kid.

I was thinking about all of this when my brother showed me this picture of a McDonald’s sign in California. Some of McD’s food is hazardous to your health, so much so, that California McD’s, by law, must post this warning in their stores. My brother told me that even though this sign has been posted, sales have not been hindered. This made me rethink the old adage and I began wondering what it takes to change people, even though they know something will cause harm to them.

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Eating a McD’s big mac that has so many preservatives bugs or mold won’t even eat it, or going to Vegas and giving your soul away to someone who is there just to pay rent and cover their bills, have caused so much damage to our bodies, but we still do them. Seems strange that this belief of what we don’t know won’t hurt us is still allowing us to ignore dangers and toxins in our lives.

We didn’t know so many toys were made with lead, but they hurt many people. We didn’t know certain foods were infected with salmonella, but it got us sick. We didn’t know building products with asbestos were bad, but they’ve been very toxic. We didn’t know that porn was destroying our minds (it’s scientifically proven that sex addicts destroy their brains, literally), but now we have a sexually addicted culture that consumes and marginalizes predominantly children and women.

What we don’t know can and has hurt us, but what’s even more disturbing is that this McD’s picture reveals to me is that even though we know things hurts us, even destroy us and others, we still do them; we still offer them to others. Not only that, they are some of the most profitable industries in our ‘sophisticated’ culture (fast food, porn, and cheap consumable products). What we desire, we get. So the problem is that we have desire issues.

What we desire, we get. So merely saying, “I want to act differently” or “I want to stop doing those things” isn’t enough to get people to stop the foolishness. We are still eating cancer causing food, we are still performing sexually illicit, brain damaging acts, and big industries are still producing cheap consumable products for a profit only to waste our resources and environment, because we consumers buy them.

Our desires are what need to be challenged and changed, and this doesn’t happen by mere will power or behavior modification. It happens by realizing and owning that we’re all part of the problem, and as hard as humanity tries, as ‘sophisticated’ as we get, we can’t solve the problem of evil and illicit human desires.

What we need is to desire something or someone who is not corrupt, and will not corrupt. What we need is people who are willing to submit and surrender, not to their desires, but to the only One who is not corrupt, and will never corrupt.

Going All The Way!

I was a Young Life leader (a mentor to high school students) for 10 years, and during that time, I overheard many conversations of young boys who would talk about “Going all the way” with their girlfriends, or some “chick from the party”. As someone now who’s been married for almost 15 years and have gone through quite a bit of suffering with my wife, that phrase “Going all the way” in regards to some sexual feat sounds cheap and dismissive of the real work of love, and the cost of “going all the way”.

This is Calvin Matthews. He has “gone all the way”.

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In 1976, he was out of town for work during the last week of July. On July 31st, his wife Gloria and his fourteen year old son George were home during the great flood that came out of Estes Park, and they both died that day. This drove him to “hit the bottle”, and he began to drink… a lot. In his words, “By a miracle of the great Lord”, he met Thelma at the bar, she had just lost her mother, and was there to have a drink to distract herself from the pain. She wasn’t medicating with alcohol, but Calvin was. Needless to say, they fell in love and she introduced Calvin to the best medicine ever, Jesus.

Calvin said, “The dear Lord used Thelma to save my life.” Years later, after 30 years of marriage, in 2007, Thelma had a stroke and after a series of procedures, she was bound to the hospital and eventually was placed in a nursing home because Calvin couldn’t care for her at home. Since 2007, Calvin spends most of his waking hours their with Thelma, helping her eat, reading to her, singing for her, and making her laugh; he has also become a friend to many others who are bound to their new home.

Calvin is the pastor at that nursing home. He’s also an awesome model of “going all the way” with a woman. We need more Calvin’s in this world. More men who are called to “go all the way” when it costs them everything. This, in my opinion is the remedy for our over sexualized culture that abuses and emasculates men and women.

I pray that I can “go all the way” with my wife one day. Thanks for the example Calvin!

An ‘Exploitative-Image-Free’ reading of Sinead O’Connor’s Open Letter to Miley Cyrus

This morning there are a lot of websites circulating an open letter to Miley Cyrus from 47 year old pop star, Sinead O’Connor, regarding Miley’s recent publicity moves and videos. In this letter (which is very raw and explicit), Sinead is painfully honest to Miley, and in pop culture’s own way, was trying to love her and other women (girls) who are looking up to Miley and want to follow in her footsteps.

The unfortunate part of the websites that are circulating the letter, which is found on all kinds of news, music, and entertainment websites, is that they are showing more exploitative images of Miley and others trying to get more people to read the letter from their website ‘prostituting’ women’s bodies for money and more hits on their site. The very websites who are praising Sinead for her calling out Miley (in love), are hypocritically using Miley’s naked images to get more hits on their site.

I think we all could learn a thing or two from Sinead’s letter (which I am not endorsing every part of it), so I posted it here on my site just in case there’s anyone who wants to read it without all the other degrading images of Miley and other women who were created in God’s image:

Dear Miley,

I wasn’t going to write this letter, but today i’ve been dodging phone calls from various newspapers who wished me to remark upon your having said in Rolling Stone your “Wrecking Ball” video was designed to be similar to the one for “Nothing Compares” … So this is what I need to say … And it is said in the spirit of motherliness and with love.

I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way “cool” to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether it’s the music business or yourself doing the pimping.

Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.

I am happy to hear I am somewhat of a role model for you and I hope that because of that you will pay close attention to what I am telling you.

The music business doesn’t give a sh– about you, or any of us. They will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think its what YOU wanted.. and when you end up in rehab as a result of being prostituted, “they” will be sunning themselves on their yachts in Antigua, which they bought by selling your body and you will find yourself very alone.

None of the men oggling you give a sh– about you either, do not be fooled. Many’s the woman mistook lust for love. If they want you sexually that doesn’t mean they give a f— about you. All the more true when you unwittingly give the impression you don’t give much of a f— about yourself. And when you employ people who give the impression they don’t give much of a f— about you either. No one who cares about you could support your being pimped.. and that includes you yourself.

Yes, I’m suggesting you don’t care for yourself. That has to change. You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them prey for animals and less than animals, a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and its associated media.

You are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal. The world of showbiz doesn’t see things that way, they like things to be seen the other way, whether they are magazines who want you on their cover, or whatever.. Don’t be under any illusions.. ALL of them want you because they’re making money off your youth and your beauty.. which they could not do except for the fact your youth makes you blind to the evils of show business. If you have an innocent heart you can’t recognise those who do not.

I repeat, you have enough talent that you don’t need to let the music business make a prostitute of you. You shouldn’t let them make a fool of you either. Don’t think for a moment that any of them give a flying f— about you. They’re there for the money.. we’re there for the music. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The sooner a young lady gets to know that, the sooner she can be REALLY in control.

You also said in Rolling Stone that your look is based on mine. The look I chose, I chose on purpose at a time when my record company were encouraging me to do what you have done. I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks. I am happy that I made that choice, not least because I do not find myself on the proverbial rag heap now that I am almost 47 yrs of age.. which unfortunately many female artists who have based their image around their sexuality, end up on when they reach middle age.

Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you. I needn’t even ask the question.. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that men are making more money than you are from you getting naked. It’s really not at all cool. And it’s sending dangerous signals to other young women. Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself. Your body is for you and your boyfriend. It isn’t for every spunk-spewing dirtbag on the net, or every greedy record company executive to buy his mistresses diamonds with.

As for the shedding of the Hannah Montana image.. whoever is telling you getting naked is the way to do that does absolutely NOT respect your talent, or you as a young lady. Your records are good enough for you not to need any shedding of Hannah Montana. She’s waaaaaaay gone by now.. Not because you got naked but because you make great records.

Whether we like it or not, us females in the industry are role models and as such we have to be extremely careful what messages we send to other women. The message you keep sending is that it’s somehow cool to be prostituted.. it’s so not cool Miley.. it’s dangerous. Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. we aren’t merely objects of desire. I would be encouraging you to send healthier messages to your peers.. that they and you are worth more than what is currently going on in your career. Kindly fire any motherf—er who hasn’t expressed alarm, because they don’t care about you.

My Thoughts About the Same-Sex Issue: To My Jesus-Following, Gospel-Loving Friends

This is my small attempt to respond not to the Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriages, but an attempt to respond to the “Christian” divide over this issue. So let me be clear, this is not to anyone who doesn’t call themselves a follower of Jesus. This post is to those who claim to love and follow Jesus as Lord.

I think the main issue at hand here is this: Is same-sex activity a sin, or not? This seems, to me, to be the main issue that’s at hand for most of my friends who are Jesus-following, gospel-loving people. If you disagree with me, that fine, just allow me the internet space to share some of my thoughts. Let me break up some of my Jesus-following friends into different corners for a moment.

One corner is saying: “God is love, and it’s not unloving for two faithful women to commit themselves to each other in marriage and share their lives together. I couldn’t imagine Jesus ever getting angry at those women and ask them to not share their lives together in that way.”

The other corner is saying: “God is love, and therefore we should love the homosexual community in the same way we should love anyone else who is human and sinful. But God is love and He gets to define what love is and who can share their lives together. It’s only a man and a woman who can do that, and same-sex sexual activity is a sin and should not be accepted.”

Still, there could also be another corner that says: “God hates homosexuality and it’s gross and should not be allowed in the church at all.” In my opinion, this is not a biblical stance and does not portray the love of God in Scripture and should be avoided by anyone who calls themselves a Jesus-person.

What I want to add to this discussion among my friends in various corners is this: Same-sex marriage and our support of it or not is not the main issue; “love” is the main issue.

[On a side note though, I am in support of same-sex unions, not because I think it’s okay, but we can’t make it illegal in the same way we can’t make adultery illegal in our context. I am also in support of giving certain rights to same-sex unions that doesn’t keep them from living with the rights of other families. But I do not agree that marriage is up for debate as to what it means. God ordained marriage between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24), and woe is me if I am going to say it’s anything else than what God says it is.]

Okay, the issue of love. A biblical definition of love could begin with this verse from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I like that definition, maybe because I’m biased to God’s word, the Bible is a good starting place for this discussion, because the definition and implications of “love” has been radically skewed. So in the case of love between two men or two women, the Bible never condemns that. Take for instance, David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1), Naomi and Ruth (Ruth 1:16-17), Jesus and John (John 13:23), or Paul and Timothy (2 Timothy 1:2).

I give you these examples of same-sex love and commitment from Scripture, but not one of these love relationships involved sexual union. Parents love their children with deep affection. God loves us deeply and intimately. But parents’ love for a child and God’s love for people is not love defined by sexual union. God is certainly pro-love. God is love (1 John 4:8)!

In my opinion, the argument about homosexuality isn’t whether love is okay between different groups of people. Of course love is okay, indeed it is mandated to love all peoples, tribes, and nations. Love is always God’s will. So what is the argument? The argument, I think, is whether or not sexual relations in the above referenced biblical example is what God intended.

The Bible clearly speaks against adult children and their parents or siblings engaging in sexual relationships. Parents and adult children are consenting groups who could certainly love each other deeply and have a strong connection, but the Bible rejects sexual relationship between these groups.

God is love, and love is “always” right between “all” people, but sex is not the same as love and shouldn’t be represented as if it is. The Bible’s definition of love is very different than our culture’s definition of love. Love isn’t defined as attraction, sex, or intimate passions (I am not saying that same-sex relationships are only made up of attraction, sex, or passions). What I am saying is that attraction, sex, or intimate passions are not the definition of love.

The gospel of Jesus demands love between all (Mark 12:30-31), but not sex or marriage between all (Mark 10:6-7). I think it is beautiful for two women or two men to share their lives together intimately. Ruth left her country and her people to devote herself to Naomi. Listen to what she says to Naomi: “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17).

This is a beautiful picture of self sacrifice, life-long commitment, and love between two women. This is the type of love the Bible speaks of when it says love never fails; love always hopes; always perseveres. This is the kind of love that is displayed in Jesus dying for those who didn’t deserve it, you and I (1 John 4:9-10)!

Love is seeking another’s good while putting aside our own desires, sacrifice, and restraint. This is what Jesus modeled on the cross for us. His death means we live.
My overall point is this: Love is “always” right, but adding sex to love isn’t always right. To illustrate this point, nobody has a problem with a brother loving his sister, but every normal person I know is put off at the two of them engaging in sexual activity. Why? What if they were careful not to get pregnant? What if it was just sexual foreplay, but not “intercourse”?

If biblical teachings are disregarded or are freely interpreted however ones cultural lenses see it, then on what grounds would we be able to object to an adult son and his mother marrying one another? When we toss out the Bible (or freely and unaccountable interpret it; and I mean this for both sides of the issue) because it’s teachings aren’t what the “majority knows to be true”, then we are left with a morality that says anything is right if it feels right to me at the time. This is relativism at it’s finest and it’s dangerous.

This is the same kind of thinking that certain fundamentalists have used with church history and their view of women, or slaves, or the neglect of the poor. Just because the majority believes something to be true, doesn’t mean we say, “The ship has sailed and we better get on it.” I say, “Stay off that ship because it doesn’t float, or at least won’t float for very long.”

So if you object to a mother and a consenting adult son marrying and joining one another is sexual matrimony, I must ask, why? Because it is non-traditional? Because it’s gross? Because it’s illegal in our country? Should we lobby towards making it legal for those parent child relationships who want the same marriage rights?

Dale Kuehne mentions that Aristotle lived in a culture where same-sex relationships were acceptable and common, but Aristotle claimed that marriage is to be only between a man and a woman. Why? Because sexualizing a relationship brings slavery into the friendship, where each person is trying to get something off of the other. Sexualizing friendships will always undermine the friendship; this is true in every relationship.

Kuehne goes on to say, “Do you know anyone who has been married for 7 years, and after those 7 years, their sex life is what holds that marriage together?” The answer is no, but our culture has made sexuality the penultimate in a relationship. What is it that fulfills us? Is sex really the answer? Is being married to the person I’m attracted to most? There’s nothing (person, place, or thing) we can imagine, that if we get it we won’t become bored with, and there’s always going to be someone or something more attractive to you.

This is why it’s so important as believers that we truly believe that if we are in Christ, then mysteriously we are seated in the heavenly realms with the Lord at the same time we are here in the flesh, and that the relationship we have with the Divine, God Himself, is the only relationship that won’t terminate on itself because He’s perfectly loving and eternal.

When we are connected to the Divine in this way, we will not live and think that “in order to live the best and most fulfilling life, we have to be in a sexual relationship with the person whom we are most attracted to.” No… actually we will be able to be more committed people to our family, friends, children, bosses, and co-workers. Being in a love relationship with Jesus is so utterly satisfying; so much so that we are free to live our lives never fully being able to gratify the desires of our flesh.

We must, as Jesus-following, gospel-loving people, think through this issue better and biblically. Let’s be better students of the word, and better lovers of people. The times and the gospel demands it!