Monthly Archives: October 2014

God is Not Your Girlfriend (or Boyfriend)

We’ve likely all heard it (and many of us who teach and preach have done it). It usually goes something like this.

“Imagine if you had a girlfriend (or boyfriend if you’re a girl). What if – over the course of a few months – you never spoke to them, listened to them, or did anything to serve them and show you care about them. Is that girlfriend/boyfriend likely to feel loved? Is that relationship a healthy relationship? No! When we’re in a relationship with someone we want to spend time with them, communicate with them, serve them, and make sure they know how much we care. Isn’t that also true of our relationship with Christ?”

Mid section closeup image of a young couple holding hands, outdoors

These sorts of illustrations aren’t without value to some degree. I’ll grant them that. But I tend to think that they leave us with bad ideas in our thinking. Just like avocado on the taste buds. It’s the culinary trend of the year, or something. Yeah, it can be said to be healthy, apparently. But blech.

I think these sorts of illustrations are less and less helpful as time rolls on because we, as a church, are moving away from a high view of God. In our thinking, we don’t err on the side of Him being too transcendent – meaning we need strongly-relatable illustrations from real life in order to understand Him better. Rather, I think we err on the side of making Him too relatable, too much like the things we already know and understand. Instead, we need a good round of chewing on the bitter cud of His “otherness,” His transcendence, and His sovereignty.

This shift shows up most blatantly to me in how we see our relationship with God. We feel like we’re not allowed to be in a relationship with Him that we can’t fully understand. So we try to make that relationship smaller and simpler so we understand it. We avoid theologically heavy passages that make the Christian life seem complicated, or too deep. (Passages like Phil. 2:12-13 that say both to work hard at growing in your salvation, and that only God can work in you to want to do His will.) We don’t like complicated. We don’t have time or energy for complicated. So, we make Him, and “us” smaller and easier. But smaller and simpler isn’t always satisfying.

If we’re honest, we live with a constant awareness that something is not ‘right’ in our relationship with Christ. Don’t you feel it? To me, it feels unsatisfying, incomplete, or even lacking – even when I’ve been walking most closely with Him. In fact, sometimes this feeling is strongest when I’ve been walking most closely with Him. “Heresy!” Right? I used to think so. It’s the sort of thing you don’t share in a testimony time at bible camp as a christian teen.

“Yeah, I’ve been feeling lately like there’s something lacking in my relationship with Christ. I don’t think it’s me because I’m working on it faithfully, and I know it’s not Him because He’s God. But there’s still something that doesn’t seem complete about it all. It’s hard to explain…”

So, walk through this with me; it’s what God has been teaching me. His design for our relational interaction with Him was supposed to take place through our observable senses, originally. We were created to enjoy Him through our eyes, our ears, and through personal interaction. When we sinned in Adam (our representative), all of that changed. Now, instead of being considered normal, personal interaction with God through the observable senses is a high privilege reserved for a few during their earthly lives. Sin has created a huge degree of separation – even for Christians! In other words, in this life, no matter how holy, no matter how godly, no matter how righteously you live in Christ, you will not experience what Adam and Eve had before their sin. We are taught that we have perfect fellowship with Christ once we’re saved. And we do. But we can’t forget the distinction between positional and practical. Legally, we enjoy perfect fellowship with God through Christ’s righteousness in our account. But practically, there will still be something lacking in this life. The type of interaction you crave to have with God will not be possible…yet.

The craving of this closeness doesn’t always feel pleasant. And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Paul likened it to a runner who isn’t satisfied until he wins first place. I have had to learn two things: 1) dissatisfaction with my Christian life isn’t inherently wrong, and 2) how to discern between a healthy and an unhealthy discontentment in my walk with Christ.

Lest we slip into a state of frustration, be reminded that this relational closeness is coming and it’s guaranteed because Christ purchased a full restoration for us! It will be like it was! And not only that, our relationship with Him (and our daily righteousness in Him) is a process that He promises to gradually grow in us until the day we are given the full prize. So not only will we get to interact with Him in that fully-satisfying way in which we were designed to live, but our daily interactions with Him in this life will grow more and more like that final prize as time rolls on (see Phil. 1:6).

As Christians, Christ has all of us and we have all of Him. You can’t be any closer than to be “in.” And Paul teaches us numerous times that we are in Him and He is in us. But practically speaking, we have so much more to look forward to. Our positional standing in Christ is, as the hymn writer put it, “a foretaste of glory divine.” Paul expressed it this way:

“For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better….I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live…” (Phil. 1:21-14 NLT).

Feel the tension of the dissatisfaction. It’s okay. In fact, it’s a sign of a growing, healthy understanding. It’s a lot better than bringing God down to the level of high school sweetheart.


The Cross

Made of wood and nails

and roughly built to stand

a place to nail the feet

and a place to nail the hands.


No finely-sanded surfaces,

no molding work or trim,

just two rough beams of lumber

cut to do their duty grim.


No cool, secluded corner

there to suffer in some peace.

The crosses lined the busy roads

outside the city gates.


Hours and hours of burning sun

on skin already torn,

the sting of sweat in open wounds

would add to how it burned.


But first, the beatings, whippings,

so the subject would be weak.

the torture and the mocking

meant to bring them to their knees.


A bleeding, stripe-marked back,

His beard torn from it’s roots,

His brow marked, not by gold or jewels

but by a crown of thorns.


The all-powerful Son of God

reached the somber end

of what His body could endure

because He bore our sins.


The cross was laid there on the hill

and Christ was stripped down bare,

His shredded back was laid upon

the splinters without care.


The soldiers fought and cast their lots

to win His seamless robes,

perhaps the garment of a famous

prisoner could be sold.


They laughed and joked while working

binding hands to hold them firm,

while raising hammers to the sky

to drive each nail in turn.


When all was ready

with their victim firmly nailed in place

they drug the cross to where a hole was dug,

and then they braced,


They worked together raising it

to slide down in the hole.

And as it slammed down into place

His wounds were torn some more.


Their work was done.

The Son of God was hanging on display,

treated just as if He’d lived

our lives in every way.


The wrath of God was rushing

from His throne of justice high,

was heading straight for us

to judge our sin and selfish pride.


But Christ absorbed the fiery blast

while hanging on that tree.

His Father’s separation

was His greatest agony.


The nails were painful

and the mocking scorn of enemies,

but there was a greater pain

He suffered over these.


To look to His Father

whom He loved in perfect unity,

both members of the Triune Godhead,

the Holy Trinity,


where never once in times unmeasured

had there ever been

a break in fellowship,

an inter-relational split,

or any cause to be displeased.


As the Father looked down

on His Son upon that cross,

He chose to see us there instead,

our sins and all they cost.


This weight of the removal

of His Father’s fellowship,

Caused Christ to cry out

in vuln’rability and fear.


Then, the final breath

as He yielded up His life.

He took the penalty of death

for all our sin-filled lives.


This is the cross.


The cross – where Jesus put our death to death,

where He breathed in what should have been

our fleeting, final breath.


With Him, and in Him, we have been crucified,

buried, and then raised to live again,

a life that’s pure and new,

a life designed to always bring His glory into view.


When I believed by grace,

Christ and I were unified,

He in me, my hope of glory,

I in Him, my living Head.


His new life now lives through me.

A startling truth of joy and peace.


I am not mine now anymore,

It’s here I’ll daily come restore

my thinking and my heart.


We have not now been left alone

to make these truths work on our own,

His Spirit lives within,

turning us from sin,

to walk in this new life,

To walk in this reality,

to claim this new identity,

and give our all to Christ.


reflections on Christ - crucifixion

Leaks, Feet, and iPhones: Are We Losing Something?

We’re slowly losing something.


I came to this realization while preaching to my youth group last night (it’s a risky thing to have such a weighty thought nagging on your mind while you’re trying to preach on a completely different subject). In fact, this post is the result of me sorting through it mentally this morning.


Last night, we were talking about being ready to meet Christ face to face. And I asked the teens to imagine Jesus coming into the room and taking over the lesson. My application was about readiness – were they ready to be presented to Christ, by Christ some day. But in my head, I got to thinking about how different the whole lesson might have been if Jesus had taught it instead of me. What would it be like if my group of teens could be taken back in time to sit on the hillside over the Sea of Galilee and we all sat in the grass while Christ sat on a large stone and taught us God’s will for our lives. What if we could have walked with him and lived with him for a few weeks and then come back to our lives today? How would it change us?


From the times of Jesus’ earthly ministry, through the first few decades of church planting under the apostles, people from various cultures had a sense of need for a master teacher and an intense desire to learn – yes, even teenagers! Knowledge was hard to come by, learning was expensive, and access to both was limited. So when a travelling teacher would come to town and begin teaching in public, people would stop what they were doing and crowd around him eager to learn. Whether the teacher was a false teacher or Christ Himself, people had a general thirst for learning. This cultural mindset – the high value of learning from a teacher – spans the centuries of old testament prophets in Israel all of the way up to the early 1900’s in the western church and most everywhere and every time in between, with some varying degrees of variation.


But then came the personal computer in the late 1970’s to early 80’s. The change wasn’t instant, but as the popularity and accessibility of computers spread, the internet of the 90’s was almost a foregone conclusion – of course all of these computers should be connected in some way to allow people to communicate with them and share information. Fast forward 20 more years and here we are, about to step into 2015 with our new iPhone 6’s or Samsung Galaxies in hand. We’ve gone from sitting at the feet of a master, to a quick question to Siri. And the pace of change is accelerating quickly.


It’s this easy access to information that is changing us, and most of us aren’t really aware that it’s happening.


Before you roll your eyes, let me quickly and clearly state that this post is NOT intended to bash the internet, access to information, or new technology. I’m not an old man shaking my finger at anything new. I love my iPhone, my Facebook newsfeed, and my Bible study apps. I’ve just been struck with how much things have changed how we learn, and I’m asking myself what parts of that are good and what parts are negative.




So, weighing the pros and cons, sitting at the feet of a master teacher was only as promising as the master teacher. And any of us who’ve been called of God into vocational ministry know that we teachers are far from perfect folk. The primary weakness of the master-teacher model of learning was the limits of information, and especially an ability to cross-reference what was taught to make sure it was accurate. There was a strong thirst to learn that necessitated a high level of trust. And sometimes men took advantage of people’s trust. The era of the Catholic Church, and its bad habit of hoarding knowledge away from commoners comes to mind. (They resisted an English translation, and insisted on church authority as being equal to biblical authority. Many people gave their lives merely for their desire to have and read an English translation of the Bible).


The information age has brought us the ability to access the results of the learning of a dozen highly skilled Ph.d.-level Bible scholars in a matter of seconds to use as a cross-reference for what our pastor just said in his sermon. The degree of accountability this brings to the pulpit can be a good thing. Curious about a controversial Bible issue? Just scan Grace to You, John MacArthur’s blog of literally thousands of Bible sermons, articles, topical essays, videos, and more. Or take a scroll through John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries website, the Ligonier Ministries website, Al Mohler’s Daily Briefing blog, Mark Dever’s 9 Marks ministry site, The Gospel Coalition’s online blogs and resources, Sermon Audio’s hundreds of thousands of sermons from pastors and scholars around the globe, and more!


How could this kind of access to Bible knowledge be a bad thing?


That brings us back to the opening statement of this post. We’re slowly losing something.


Human nature tends to value what it can’t have more highly than what it has. Any nursery worker had this one figured out already.


We have begun the slow process of letting go of the value of the knowledge of God. Why? Because it’s so easy to come by. Learning and understanding the God of the Bible has become so easy that it has started to become boring. I feel this pull in my own life too. Scripture memory? Why? I have a smart phone in my pocket constantly with 5 or 6 different English versions of the Bible on it. If I need something, I can just look it up in 15 seconds. That’s my go-to excuse. But I forget that scripture is a living word that, if hidden in my heart, will have a steering, cleansing effect on my daily habits and mindsets. The Christian life is more than knowing lots of stuff. But we’ve made the pursuit of the information side of the equation so easy, that the corresponding pursuit of developing character seems to be suffering. At least it is in my own life. Maybe it’s just me. But methinks not.


Is it possible, that in gaining so much, we’ve lost something of critical value and we don’t even realize it?


We’ve talked about the disadvantages of a master-teacher learning style. But what were the advantages?


Students sat at their master’s feet. I’m not referring to the exalting of a master – unless it’s Christ. It has always been a bad thing when people have exalted a human teacher. I’m referring to the organic, life-touching-life relationship between master and student that often existed back then. As the students spent time with their master and the learning unfolded slowly, they got a chance to observe how the master lived out the very truths he was teaching. The knowledge and the application to daily life came together along with the development of the character necessary to use the knowledge skillfully. We’ve even lost this educational dynamic in our “mass-production” school systems. But that’s another topic altogether.


No one disputes the gradual effects social-media and digital friendships are having on how we relate to one another. I see consistent articles on this topic on various news sites. The effects of an altered concept of relationships is starting to show up in the workplace, marriages, etc. And again, there are good and bad aspects to the changes.


But how central and critical to our Christian lives is our learning?


And how much are we losing if we let go of the master-teacher style of relationship-based learning? Ironic that I would ask these questions and express these thoughts through a blog post, I know. Perhaps I will use these thoughts as the seeds for a teaching session with my teens. I don’t know yet. There is the risk of it coming across to them as a slam on their love of technology, and I don’t want that because I want them to benefit from the hundreds of terabytes of info available to them.


But, as a teacher and a learner who feels the increasingly stale atmosphere in the North American church and the pressure to “compete” with what is available online instantly, I needed this reminder that this method of life-touching-life teaching that Christ practiced will always have an organic value that Siri can’t compete with. Not to pick on “her,” but she’s programmed to handle it. Siri isn’t indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Neither is the iPhone 6, despite what Apple’s marketing department might like to think. But God-ordained teachers and disciplers are!


And so I need to remember that the value in my ministry is not the information alone – if that were the case, I’d be losing the race quickly. What I have to offer is what has been offered to me – Christ in me, the hope of glory, and Christ through me organically impacting the hearts and opinions of those I interact with. The most important aspect of my teaching ministry is what happens privately in my learning from Christ. I can’t spread a fire horizontally if my vertical relationship with Christ is ice cold.


It seems to me that it would be better if Christ did enter the room and take over the lesson. But in that thought, I was forgetting something. Christ is in me, and is living through me, and has called me to shepherd those young lives on the basis of that reality. So in a very real and organic sense, Christ was in the room. That’s a humbling thought considering my sinful, self-focused heart. But it’s also an encouraging thought to those of us called to impact others for Christ. Which, by the way, we are all called to do.