REFRESH – Living a life you enjoy!

God’s purpose also includes our joy. Yes, I believe God wants you to be happy! God’s glory and our joy are not dichotomous. Rather they go hand in hand. God’s glory does not contradict our joy. God’s glory is our joy because we were made by God, for God.

Advertisements

A number of years ago I hit a wall. My mind began to fracture and my body began to break down. I hit a critical point in my life that forced me to explore the way I was living. I won’t be going into specific contributing factors in my situation, rather I want to explore 6 principles that I have applied in my journey towards living a life I enjoy. I hope this series encourages you to consider how you are living your life and whether it is sustainable in producing long-term joy.

Let me explain the two big ideas behind this series.

1. God wants you to be happy!

I would fall into a Christian worldview category known as Christian hedonism. What the heck does that mean? Hedonism is the belief that pleasure, joy and satisfaction is the good and proper goal of human life. It’s the pursuit of pleasure. Christian hedonism, therefore, has a specific clarification of what it is that brings the human soul most pleasure. Let me unpack my understanding of God and joy.

It is my conviction that God created life. He did so with a purpose. One that is eternal and bigger than we could ever imagine or understand. This purpose includes, but is not limited to, his own glory. God’s purpose also includes our joy. Yes, I believe God wants you to be happy! God’s glory and our joy are not dichotomous. Rather they go hand in hand. God’s glory does not contradict our joy. God’s glory is our joy because we were made by God, for God. The human soul was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) in order to experience and relate with God. Additionally, the one who created us created us in such a way that our ultimate satisfaction would be him. While we may be immanent; we were made for the transcendent. While we may be created beings; we were made for the creator God. Likewise, in the words of John Piper, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him…Not only is God the supreme source of satisfaction for the human soul, but God himself is glorified by our being satisfied in him.” Therefore Christian hedonism is the conviction that God’s ultimate goal of his own glory and our deepest human desire for deep lasting joy are intrinsically linked. Some would go even so far as to say they are one and the same thing.

For some, this may come as a surprise to you, particularly if you are not a Christian. Maybe you always thought Christianity was all about denying oneself of joy, living a spiritually disciplined life and making sure you keep God happy. To consider God as one who cares about your joy might even be good news for you. It has been for me.

 

2. God knows what will make you happy!

Learning that God’s glory and our joy are not at odds is freeing. It can reshape our entire worldview and approach to how we live out our human experience. Again, this is true for me. In the Christian hedonist view, the Christian life should be one of a pursuit of joy, ultimate joy. We are free to pursue happiness. This is not only a good thing but even a God thing. He designed us this way, with these desires. The exhortation needed therefore is to ask ‘what will make us truly happy?’. This is where the Christian worldview would claim that not only does God want us to be happy, but he also knows what will make us happy. As the master craftsmen, God has designed us in such a way that ultimate joy can only be experienced in Him and living according to His good design. In addition to this, sin has distorted our desires to seek shallow, temporal and short-term joy that ultimately leaves us dissatisfied, unfulfilled only to seek more of the same.

 

God wants you to be happy and he knows how you can experience true joy. Over the next 6 posts, we will explore how we can live according to his good design and begin living a life we enjoy!

1. Review – Where am I?

2. Rethink – Who am I?

3. Re-calibrate – What really matters?

4. Reduce – What’s really necessary?

5. Rest – Who’s am I?

6. Refuel – What energises me?

Tag along and let me know your thoughts as you go!

Stand Firm! What I Learnt From Acts29 2018 Australia and New Zealand Conference

Therefore we should live now as God’s kids fully convinced of his sovereign plan for our future. Yes, persecution will come. Yes, times will be difficult. And yes Jesus is our king and all the citizens of his kingdom win in the end.

Stand Firm! What I learnt from Acts 29 2018 Australia and New Zealand Conference.

The 2018 Conference was once again a huge encouragement to me, my wife and our church family. This year’s conference speakers included Ray and Jani Ortlund from the U.S, Mark Sayers from Red Church in Melbourne, Adam Ramsey from Liberti Church on the Gold Coast and we also had the privilege of Austin Stone Worship. It was challenging, encouraging, inspiring and as always God-glorifying.

Here’s what I learnt.

1. Standing Firm Requires a Long-Term View

Pastor Adam Ramsey finished the conference with an impressionable send-off, exhorting us from 2 Timothy 4 to remember that we know how the story ends. Paul is at the end of his ministry and his life. Yet he fears nothing. In fact because of his absolute confidence in God’s promises he is able to say,

18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 2 Tim 4:18

Pastor Adam used Paul’s end to encourage us to live not only for that end but from it. This was not only how Paul finished but how he lived. In faith knowing that the story has already been written and no amount of opposition could thwart God’s promise to bring him safely into his eternal kingdom.

Therefore we should live now as God’s kids fully convinced of his sovereign plan for our future. Yes, persecution will come. Yes, times will be difficult. And yes Jesus is our king and all the citizens of his kingdom win in the end.

2. Standing Firm Requires Us To Expect the Cost and Remember The Reward.

Preaching from 2 Timothy 4:1-8 Ray Ortlund not only reminded us to be prepared for a big cost in following Jesus but also that the reward is worth it. Paul charged Timothy to endure suffering, reminding Timothy that he also had been “poured out as a drink offering”. Serving Jesus can be tough. There is a cost to be counted. Yet at the same time, as with anything meaningful and worthwhile, the reward is greater than the cost. Therefore we must not only count the cost we must remember the promise. What is the promise? That Jesus has for us a “crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Tim. 4:8

Ray simply reminded us of how great a reward this is. He used it, as Paul did to Timothy, to encourage us forward in the mission of God in order that we could also say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. It’s not just the counting the cost that helps us move forward, it’s remembering the rewards.

3. Standing Firm Requires Us To Understand The Space In Which We Live.

Mark Sayers is a pastor and cultural missiologist, meaning he is essentially a specialist who studies and is trained in the science of missions and cultural engagement. Mark is a gift to the church and he blessed us greatly by helping us to understand the context in which we currently live. The more we understand the history of the western culture, the better equipped we will be to bring the gospel to bear on our current culture and consider more effective means with regard to equipping the church for the future culture.

4. Standing Firm Requires Prioritising And Working on Your Marriage/Family

As a husband and Father, I was very encouraged by Ray and Jani Ortlund. There is simply something motivating in seeing a couple in their 60’s deeply in love and experiencing genuine friendship. For me, it was a huge motivator to see what is possible in my marriage and family. Yet they made it clear it takes consistent work. It’s a never-ending commitment to love and serve our spouse and children and to trust God in his good design. I left identifying areas I need to continue to work on in order to love and serve my wife better. Yet I also left with a great hope of what could be in another 30 years. I am more motivated than ever to get to the end and not only run the race of faith, but also the race of life with my wife and kids.

Thank you Ortlunds for your faithful and encouraging example.

5. Standing Firm Requires Community

This year Life Centre Church had a team of 33 people attend the conference. Without a doubt, this is my favourite part of conference every year. I get to do this journey with a bunch of incredible people that are humble, faithful, generous and genuine friends. I love seeing so many of our team pray for each other, eat and drink together, worship together and simply enjoy God and his people. I walk away every year shaking my head at the thought that I am leading a church with such amazing people. I don’t feel worthy. I don’t feel capable. I just feel blessed.

Thank you, LCC. You encourage me more than you know.

5C’s To The Best Marriage Ever – #5 Community

God’s desire is for you to enjoy your marriage not endure it. He wants your marriage to excel. It is designed for his glory and your joy. While it may take work, it can be joyful work and fruitful work. One of the great keys to a joyful marriage is having a joyful community. People you love and enjoy that edify both you and your spouse. Find this community. Do all you can to plug into it and benefit from it. It’ll do your marriage the world of good. 

“You are who you hang with,” said my Dad after drilling my brother and me for about 30 minutes with regard to smoking marijuana. A number of our friends had been caught smoking weed and word had spread that my brother had also participated in these extracurricular activities. While Dad believed us and had our backs he also had our future. My Dad in his wisdom laid out some strong encouragement about the importance of community in your life. Good community. What I learnt from one late night grilling would not only shape my immediate life but also my future marriage.

The Power of Community

While my brother and I were not smoking with our friends my father could see that our friendships were shaping us, and not in a good way. Dad didn’t discipline us for something we didn’t do. But he did warn us to be wise in who we decided to build friendships with. Communities shape us. The family, the society and culture we grow up in shapes us immensely. It is supposed to. We are relational beings that are shaped by those relationships, for good or for worse. We become who we hang around. The same is true for your marriage. While marriage is great, it’s not easy. It takes work. Yet that work is made easier when you share life with others that shape who you are as a person and your marriage for good. If you are going to have a great marriage it is imperative you have a great community.

Community is stronger than the individual. Don’t fight the crowd, pick the right crowd.

2.The Purpose of Community

Friends are supposed to add value to your life. Do you have friends like this? People that encourage you, believe in you, speak into your life and when times get tough they help you? You need a community that grows who you are simply by being in relationship to them. Over the past few years, I’ve had numerous friends support and help me, my marriage and my family. I am indebted to friends that have stood by us and encouraged us through the hard times. The community around us has literally helped bear burdens that were at times too difficult to lift on our own.

 

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Gal. 6:1-2

You need people in your life that are willing to tell you what you need to hear not just what you want to hear. Friends that won’t let you whinge and complain during tough times. Friends that will call you out when you’re lying to yourself. Friends that will encourage you to not quit on your marriage when times get tough. Rather they lift you up, strengthen you and then send you back to your spouse infused with new life. True friends speak the truth, but they do it in love.

 

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Prov. 27:6

3.The Presence of Community

Because community has so much power you have to intentionally build the right community into your life. This can be friends. This can be extended family. This can be a church. But you are responsible to invest in those relationships in order for them to be present. I have seen multiple families move interstate due to a job relocation or career opportunity. The difference between one family and another settling and succeeding in their new environment is often down to how quickly they are able to build a new community around them.

As a married couple, you have to determine together who your community will be. What people will you hang around and build into your life that will influence your marriage for good? I encourage you to consider mingling with people that are further along the road than you. Whether that’s in age, maturity, experience, or simply a quality of life. Find people that are where you want to be in your near future and invest in those relationships. Ask older married couples if you can eat regularly with their family. And offer to bring dinner. Ask married couples that you look up to if you can take them out for dinner. Do whatever you can to get in and around the good soil. And let whatever it is they have, rub off on your marriage. Don’t wait for someone to offer to speak into your life and marriage, go get it. It’s out there.

4.The Pleasure of Community

Invest in relationships that you enjoy. Due to the power of community, it is important to build with people that you actually like. The simple reality is that if you don’t like the people you hang with you won’t learn from them and you’ll probably isolate yourself eventually from them. God has designed life in such a way that we would experience the joy of true friendship and community. Therefore as individuals, you need friends you enjoy. That one friend that you can go to the movies with or out for a coffee and just feel refreshed and uplifted. You need people that just fill your emotional tank up. You want that friend that your spouse enjoys you going out with because they see the positive impact they have on you. You also want friends you enjoy as a couple. A small community you both enjoy being around. People that make you laugh, don’t take life to serious and genuinely lift your spirits.

My wife and I have some friends that we see once or twice a year. Every time we catch up as families we are uplifted by the simplicity of the friendship and the genuine joy of just being together as friends. We live in different parts of our city. Have kids in different life stages. Attend different churches. Yet when my wife and I get together with them for a meal and a few drinks our souls experience life-giving friendship. You just can’t beat having this in your life. Don’t let life get too busy that you can’t make time for community. It is essential to the health of your marriage.

God’s desire is for you to enjoy your marriage not endure it. He wants your marriage to excel. It is designed for his glory and your joy. While it may take work, it can be joyful work and fruitful work. One of the great keys to a joyful marriage is having a joyful community. People you love and enjoy that edify both you and your spouse. Find this community. Do all you can to plug into it and benefit from it. It’ll do your marriage the world of good.

With all this said, go build the best marriage ever!!!

5 C’s To The Best Marriage Ever – #4 Companionship

The deep desire of the human soul is intimacy “in-to-me-see”. We want to be fully known, yet fully loved. To be seen inside with all our hopes, our fears, our dreams, our fractures, yet still loved. It is what we long for. It is what we fear we will never have. So how do we cultivate it?

Happy Valentines Day Lovers!!!

 

Regardless of your view of marriage what is undeniably clear is that the human soul longs for companionship. Everyone wants to love and be loved. And this is exactly how God made us. The Biblical narrative opens with God as the great creator king. Whether the 7 days of the account are literal 24-hour periods or something more analogical (I prefer the latter personally) is debatable. What is clear however is that the entirety of God’s creation is intricately designed with a specific purpose and according to the narrative, in joyful approval as each day God declared his creation to be “good”. The only time this is not deemed the case is when the man is without a companion.

“18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Gen. 2:18

A man without woman would not enable humanity to image God well as previously designed (Gen. 1:26). As culturally insensitive as it may be, in the Christian worldview, men and women are different. We are designed to be different. The distinction between a man and woman is a good thing because through our unique differences we are able to get a greater glimpse of the God in which we image. Additionally it would not allow the man to experience what it meant to be fully human. God designed the human soul to express and experience love. Therefore God made Adam a ‘helper’, a companion named Eve. With an irresistible cocktail of chemicals of adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin, Adam rejoiced in song upon seeing Eve. And thus the origins of human companionship are deemed by God to not only be good but to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Not only is God pleased but likewise the two companions enjoy the beauty of being both naked and without shame.

 

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Gen. 2:24

 

This is a picture true intimacy of two souls, bound together physically, emotionally and spiritually. Another way to think of it is that they were ‘fully known, yet fully loved’. The deep desire of the human soul is intimacy “in-to-me-see”. We want to be fully known, yet fully loved. To be seen inside with all our hopes, our fears, our dreams, our fractures, yet still loved. It is what we long for. It is what we fear we will never have. So how do we cultivate it?

 

1. Be Vulnerable and Be Trustworthy

You will never be fully loved if you’re never fully known. This is a big risk. To let someone all the way in where they see it all. God designed marriage to be the place where this level of vulnerability is possible. You can’t, nor should you be vulnerable with everyone. But you can and should be with your spouse. In fact, this is most likely why you married in the first place. Not only did you find your spouse physically attractive, you most likely found them to be someone you could be vulnerable with. Vulnerability requires trust, but trust can only be ascertained through initial vulnerability. A relationship essentially continues to develop as we open up and share and then see what the other does with it. As trust grows so does the vulnerability and vice versa.

 

2. Make Time

When couples begin dating all they want to do is be together. Young couples can be so enamoured with each other that they end up excluding all their friends and isolating themselves from the pack. It’s foolish and can have long-term implications. However, couples are often tempted to go in the other direction once married. DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN!!! Find what works for your relationship but make time to be alone, together. Time to talk. Time to enjoy each other’s company and time to be vulnerable. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to take up large amounts of time. It doesn’t have to tick all the boxes every time. It just needs to happen, and happen regularly and be effective. So make it happen.

“If there were more courting in marriage there would be fewer marriages in court”

If you have kids, don’t allow yourself to use them as an excuse. In fact, the quality of your marriage dictates the quality of your family. So do it for them. I’m yet to hear the young person who complains their parents love each other too much. Find a way. Swap babysitting duties with other couples. They babysit your kids one week and you sit their kids the following. Find a way to make time to look at each other, talk and listen.

Two great questions – How are you doing? How am I doing for you?

 

3. Read and Grow

This may sound odd but hear me out. I have been married 15 years. That’s 5475 days my wife and I have been together. How much do you think we don’t know about each other? How easy would it be to become bored with each other? In order to grow in our relationship, we need to grow as individuals. Every time my wife learns and grows as a woman, the more I see it and it intrigues me. It makes me lean in again because I realise I don’t fully know her. There is something new. There is something more. In my opinion, this is one of the great secrets to marriage. Countless times I have heard couples excuse away not executing the previous point because they simply don’t know what to talk about anymore. They’ve talked every day for the past 5475 days and there’s simply nothing new under the sun. This is a real problem for many couples but it is an uncomplicated problem. Learn. Grow. Read.

Learn about health. Learn about nature. Learn about history. Learn about God. Just get learning so that you keep growing and continue to be interesting to one another.

 

4. Sex

Two bodies merging together does not equate to true intimacy. But it is a significant aspect of it. I talk about sex in pre-marital as both a thermometer and thermostat. As a thermometer sex can give a gauge of the temperature of our marriage. It’s one of many indicators of marital health. Men, please read that last sentence again. As a thermostat sex regulates the temperature. It unites us chemically, physically and spiritually. Ladies, please read that last sentence again. Now there is no absolute prescription with regard to quality and quantity, therefore, each couple being must work this out in a way that meets both their needs.

 

5. Serve and Be Available

Do things that the other person enjoys or needs. My wife hates washing up. So guess what my job is? I love basketball. So guess what my wife pretends to enjoy hearing about? What cultivates companionship is showing interest in the other person. To show interest you have to be available. Stop scrolling through Instagram, put the phone down and give your attention. Value what the other person values. If it’s a clean bench, then help keep the bench clean. If it’s camping, then camp. If it’s romantic comedies, watch it with her. If its time with the boys, help make it happen for him. Whatever your jam, make it your priority to keep each other’s love and value tanks full. Work together, be available for each other and continue to serve each other. Do it, repeat it and don’t stop. It’s really difficult to fall out of love with each other when you continue to cultivate a life of love.

 

Happy Valentines Day!!!

5C’s To The Best Marriage Ever – #3 Communication

“Words are moving in either one of two directions. Either our words are moving towards life (grace, mercy, encouragement, love and peace, edification) or death (anger, vengeance, condemnation, malice, slander and gossip).”

Communication! How could it not be on the list of 5C’s? Everyone knows how important communication is to any relationship, yet it seems to be something most relationships struggle to do well. Why is that? Why is communication so uncomplicated in one sense, yet so difficult to master? There are numerous answers to this but one I believe to be fundamental is the concept of self-projection. That is the attribution of one’s own attitudes, feelings, desires, and suppositions onto another. This is particularly true with regard to communication. We tend to communicate in a way that fits our personality, gender and upbringing without considering the audience to which we are communicating.

In his book, ‘Don’t Die With The Music In You’ NRL Super Coach Wayne Bennett writes about the importance of tailoring your communication to your audience. Wayne highlights the changes he had to make as a coach as new generations of players came through the team. In effect what he taught in the book is that effective communication is not as much about what is said but what is heard. Just because you’ve spoken something doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve communicated it.

Take for example consider cross-cultural communication. If an English speaking person wishes to communicate something to a Chinese speaking person, a translator will be required. Without a translator all that will occur is speaking, but not necessarily communication. Another situation a translator is required is in marriage counselling. A counsellor is often significantly helpful through interpretation. They mediate between couples in the same way a bilingual translator would. I know with my marriage it took the best part of ten years before my wife I really began to communicate and understand each other well. We had to learn to speak in a way in which the other could understand

 

In pre-marital counselling, I like to walk couples through a three-step process to effective communication.

  • Speak the right things
  • In the right way
  • At the right time

All three must be accomplished to experience effective communication. Let’s explore each one.

 

 

SPEAK THE RIGHT THINGS

Effective communication requires knowing what to say and what not to say. This blog is an example of that. More words are deleted than posted. Every time I write I’m weighing up what needs to be written and what doesn’t.

When it comes to issues you have to pick your battles carefully. If you nit-pick, your spouse will eventually tune you out. And that’s not what you want. You want to be able to speak about what is important to you and to have their ear when you do. So choose carefully what issues are worth discussing and what isn’t. Proverbs often speaks of it in this way.

13 A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain. Prov. 19:13

It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife. Prov. 21:9

The indictment here is not on being a wife but on being quarrelsome. In my marriage, it was me that had this unfortunate ability. I couldn’t let anything go. Every little thing had to be dealt with in my way and on my watch. I was a quarrelsome husband, which led to either not having my wife’s ear or even worse, not having her heart.

A spouse can likewise tune out due to oversharing or simply too much talking. Just ask my wife. I talk her ear off. They may be genuinely interested in your day but it just takes too long and they get lost amongst all the details and detours. Therefore it’s important to consider your use of words. This can be particularly hard if you are a big talker and a stay at home parent. When you’ve been with children all day nothing can be as exciting as knowing that your spouse will be home any minute and you can finally have an adult conversation. Therefore couples need to consider each other’s needs here. The worker needs to prepare himself or herself for a spouse that needs to communicate with an adult. And the spouse that has been couped up in the home needs to consider not bombarding their spouse with a million pieces of information immediately upon arrival. Consider what is or isn’t the right thing to communicate.

 

 

IN THE RIGHT WAY

The way in which something is spoken has a great impact on how it is heard. Proverbs puts it this way.

18     There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Prov 12:18

4     A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. Prov. 15:4

Successful communication is not only about speaking the right things; it’s about speaking them in the right way. In my experience, nothing influences my communication more than my emotional state. Just ask my kids? When I’m tired, stressed or frustrated the tone is completely different.

Notice Proverbs 15:4 said, ‘a gentle tongue is a tree of life’. The way of life is gentleness. Additionally, writer of Proverbs says

21    Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Prov. 18:21

Paul Tripp says of this verse that,

“Words are moving in either one of two directions. Either our words are moving towards life (grace, mercy, encouragement, love and peace, edification) or death (anger, vengeance, condemnation, malice, slander and gossip).”

A marriage that uses words to move towards life will experience just that – life. So consider both your words and the use of those words to build your marriage up and encourage your spouse because ‘the tongue of the wise brings healing’ (Prov. 12:18)

Check out Paul Tripp’s book and videos on ‘War of Words’. Simply brilliant (https://www.paultripp.com/war-of-words)

 

 

AT THE RIGHT TIME

Timing is everything. You can speak about the right thing, in the right way, but if the timing is wrong it still won’t be heard. This can be a difficult one particularly in the context of dual-income families, or couples with both work and study occurring simultaneously. In my context my wife and I have four children, I work full-time, study part-time and she works part-time. This increases the need for good rhythms. It’s a busy household and we can’t afford to slip into bad habits when it comes to communication.

Two common pitfalls of communication are nagging and stonewalling. Both are extremely ineffective and unhelpful. Stereotypically a man does one and a woman does the other, but it is not always the case. Following the key to cooperation from the previous post, it is important ‘to judge your spouse by their intention not just their action’. A spouse doesn’t wake up one day and decide to either nag or stonewall. There’s something within the context that moves them in that direction. This is most commonly the timing and context of communication. That is to say that nagging, while ineffective and even annoying is often the choice of communication because the spouse feels their partner isn’t listening. So they keep talking. Stonewalling is the opposite. It is generally done in an attempt to control the tongue from saying something hurtful. Timing and context make all the difference in avoiding these ditches. Each couple has to consider what works for their rhythm and relationship.

Some couples prefer to have a check-in night. One night a week where they sit down with a glass of wine, calendars out and just check-in with each other. This allows one spouse to know they have a set time ahead that is specifically designed for talking. It helps them to avoid nagging and keep their words until the right time following the wisdom of Prov. 21:23

23      Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. Prov. 21:23

For the other spouse, it helps them prepare their ears, as they know this is the time to check-in. They have time to prepare themselves to listen and respond. Therefore avoiding withdrawing or stonewalling.

Other couples prefer to talk on the run. It’s a constant conversation. Before work, while cooking dinner or cleaning up, or just plain old pillow talk. They don’t have a specific check-in time rather they are constantly checking in. Whatever suits your relationship, the important thing is to be creating clear space for effective communication.

 

Words drive the direction of your life. What you say, how you say it and when you say it matters. So choose life. 

5C’s To The Best Marriage Ever #2 – Cooperation

Weddings. Who doesn’t love a good old fashion wedding? They’re the best. Love is in the air, great people. great food, great drink. And the dance floor. Come on. It’s the greatest. But let’s be honest, the wedding is the easy part. Once you’ve made the exciting choice to marry, then you’ve got to learn how to do the dance. This is the idea of cooperation. A great marriage is one that is able to move from being all about ‘me to being about ‘we’. It is two individual people working together to become one. This is the view the Bible portrays of marriage. Before the first-ever marriage in Genesis 2, God outlined marriage in this way.

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Gen. 2:24-25

Jesus likewise confirmed this view

and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matt. 19:5-6

The word ‘one flesh’ Hebrew אֶחָד (echad) and Greek εἷς (Heis) are used to describe God in Deuteronomy 6:4 which says “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The picture is of one unit. A word you may be more familiar with is ‘shalom’, meaning peace and harmony. As God, Father, Son and Spirit is one, a husband and wife are to be so united to one another that it’s like they are one. Working in perfect harmony. What an incredible privilege we have as men and women to reflect the image of God through our marriages. Now for God ‘echad’ comes naturally, it’,s simply who God is. For us, it’s not so natural. Our natural disposition is to compete against each other rather than cooperate with each other.

Marriage is a covenant, not a contract. These two are very different from one another. A contract is built upon mutual distrust whereas a covenant is built upon mutual commitment. A commitment to cooperate. We commit work together to make each other more beautiful, more wonderful, more glorious and more holy. It is a daily choice to keep that commitment. As a wise person once said, ‘In the beginning, opposites attract but later opposites attack’. What often intrigued us in the beginning about our spouse can actually become something that leads to conflict later. It is important to identify and clarify these differences and learn how to make compliment each other rather than compete.

 

Below are 4 common areas of difference

 

HOW WE ARE ENERGIZED

Every person is energized differently and energy levels matter. When your emotional tank is low it has a significant impact on the way you communicate. Nothing affects your ability to cooperate more than energy. When you are well rested and your emotional tank is full, you are kinder, more patient and less selfish. You consider your words more carefully and are less tempted to respond out of frustration. Therefore understanding how each other is energized helps to create an environment where we are running on a full tank rather than on fumes.

 

HOW WE GIVE AND RECEIVE LOVE

Gary Chapman wrote a helpful book called “The 5 Love Languages – The Secret to Love That Lasts”. Its practical, filled with humour and stories to convey with clarity the simple idea that everyone gives and receives love differently (check out 5lovelanguages.com). In it, Gary highlights what he labels the five most common love languages – words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. Our natural tendency is to love others how we ourselves receive love. This is not a bad thing, Jesus told us to love our neighbour as ourselves. What separates a good marriage from a great marriage is the ability for a couple to give love in the way the other receives love. This is much harder than it seems. It’s unnatural and goes against our instinct. But it matters. In fact, this is one key to keeping those emotional energy tanks full. Life is so much more enjoyable and easy when you feel loved, respected and valued by your spouse. And it takes two to tango. Both spouses need to find ways to love the other in a way that actually hits the mark. Additionally, you need to learn how to receive love in the way your spouse naturally gives it. Because it will be more natural to them it will be a joy to love you in their own special way. So learn to accept it, rather than demand to be loved a certain way. Great marriages learn this dance.

 

HOW WE USE WORDS AND PROCESS INFORMATION AND EXPERIENCES

Some people are expanders. Others are condensers. An expander is self-explanatory, they expand … everything. They talk. A lot. And then talk some more. Expanders dominate a conversation. Provide all the unnecessary detail you don’t even care about. While you’re telling your story, they’re not listening. They’re thinking up a better story to trump your story. Expanders believe words are powerful and unlimited. So they use them. All of them. They tend to process verbally and need to talk things out

A condenser is straight to the point. No fluff. No bubbles. Just the point. Condensers believe words are powerful but limited. So they ration them. Just in case they run out. They tend to process internally and need to think things through.

One word really matters here. TIMING. You have to learn the skill of knowing when to use words and when not to. More on this in our next post.

 

HOW WE APPROACH CONFLICT

Nobody likes conflict. It’s the worst. But to have a great marriage you have to learn how you and your spouse will approach it. Two approaches are most common. The engager and the withdrawer. An engager is someone who always wants to fix everything and make sure everybody is ok. One of my favourite leadership axioms by Bill Hybels is, “when something smells funky, engage.” The big idea is to not let stuff fester. Unresolved issues can poison a relationship. Therefore they engage and go head on in, even if it’s the most inappropriate time. The engager wants to move toward their spouse in order to quickly resolve the conflict in which they hate. A withdrawer is someone who also wants the problem resolved but is fearful that engaging will only make it worse. Talking about it is like pouring fuel on the fire. Therefore they withdraw in an attempt to let things settle. The withdrawer wants to move away from their spouse in order to avoid increasing the conflict unnecessarily.

By now you’ve probably identified some of your relational differences. So what’s the secret sauce to cooperating? How do we cooperate when we are so different? It makes no difference knowing these differences if you don’t apply this last principle. This is the key to cooperation. This is the key to experiencing echad.

 

JUDGE YOU SPOUSE ACCORDING TO THEIR INTENTION, NOT THEIR ACTION.

 

Due to our differences, we instinctively judge each other by actions not intentions. Yet the intentions of the heart make all the difference in the world. When we understand the reasons and motivations behind the behaviour of our spouse it helps us to not only extend grace but also to receive those actions for what they really are – love.

Go ahead. Why don’t you sit down with each other and talk some of these differences through and ask the question, ‘when you do this what is your intention?’ Then listen and seek to understand and receive their love. Decide to begin to cooperate with each rather than compete against each other and experience God’s joyful design for your marriage to be echad and experience shalom.

5C’s To The Best Marriage Ever – #1 CHOICES

Too many people are looking for “the one”. This is very common, but not limited to the Christian context. The concept is that there is one perfectly designed soul mate out there somewhere. Find them, marry them and live the happily-ever-after you always desired. Thank you, Jerry Maguire and every other romantic comedy ever produced.

In a couple of weeks, I kick off a new series at Life Centre Church called “Citizens – Living as God’s Kingdom People”, based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. I’m really excited to preach through it, as Jesus’ teaching is exceptionally relevant for today. As it relates to this topic Jesus had a few things to say about marriage, lust, anger, promises and divorce (Matt. 5:21-48). These are very practical and challenging. At the time of Jesus’ sermon, a large controversy about divorce and marriage was being conducted between two popular rabbinic schools of Hillel and Shammai. It was into that context in which Jesus spoke. What has been reinforced to me through my study is that God is far more for marriage than he is against divorce. God created marriage for our joy and God wants to elevate the blessedness of marriage in our eyes and to help a culture that is divorcing and separating left, right and centre how to experience joyful and fulfilling marriages.

So with this in mind I thought I’d do a short series called the 5 C’s To The Best Marriage Ever.

 

#1 – CHOICES.

The first principle to experiencing a great marriage is simply to make good choices. God has given us the means within our faculties to make choices. So choose well, before marriage and after marriage. Choose well.

Choices Before Marriage.

I often make the somewhat controversial statement that “It is not who you marry it is what you marry!” This may seem somewhat simplistic and even redundant yet it is such an important piece. Much of what leads to a great marriage exists well before the wedding day. Consequently, if you marry well, you immediately alleviate half the obstacles. A great marriage takes a great amount of work. It requires all sorts of compromises and adjustments that are not always easy. This highlights even more reason why choosing well before you marry is of such importance.

Too many people are looking for “the one”. This is very common, but not limited to the Christian context. The concept is that there is one perfectly designed soul mate out there somewhere. Find them, marry them and live the happily-ever-after you always desired. Thank you, Jerry Maguire and every other romantic comedy ever produced. While I do not wish to discount some couples experiences or the notion of compatibility altogether, I do find the concept of “the one” fraught with problems.

The first is a shaky foundation. Beneath the concept of “the one” is a subtle selfish agenda. That is, you are looking to get from someone rather than give to someone. Whether it is meaning, security, affirmation, identity, respect or love. You have an expectation that when you find this person these are things you will receive from them. Now, none of these things is wrong. In fact, they are all necessary in some sense to have any sort of meaningful relationship. The issue comes with only seeking to receive these things rather than giving these things. Many a couple got married, expecting their spouse would humbly serve them, only to find out that their spouse was expecting the same thing. If this is the foundation of a relationship then when times get tough, which they will, the relationship will collapse and you’ll be tempted to believe that maybe they just weren’t the one after all. It just wasn’t the right fit. But the problem isn’t the fit the problem is the foundation.

A great marriage requires both. Both parties need to feel valued, understood, loved and respected by the other. In order for that to be a reality, both have to prioritise the giving of these not just the receiving of them. If two people seek to receive, no one receives. If two people seek to give, both give and both receive. It’s beautiful and it is joyful.

The second is a misguided focus. The focus becomes to find someone and then marry someone. These are the ultimate goal. To be sure, no relationship exists without finding someone. Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord.” You have to go looking, whether physically or digitally, in order to find a spouse. You have to take some risks, put yourself out there, and give it a go. But marriage is more than just finding someone; it’s about finding a spouse. Someone you will unite and covenant with for the rest of your life. And marriage is more than just about a wedding day. It’s about building a life together.

Now I hate to inform you of this truth, but the unfortunate reality is that the external fades over time. I turn 40 this year and my body is only moving in one direction and that’s south. So yes find a person you are physically attracted to. That’s legitimately important. But it’s really easy to get caught up by someone’s highlight reel without examining their behind the scenes. What are they like behind closed doors? The attraction needs to be both externally and internally. A great example of this can be seen in Genesis 24 where Abraham’s servant is sent to find a wife for his son Isaac (thank goodness I didn’t grow up in those days). The servant notices two things about a woman named Rebekah. 1) She was very attractive in appearance (Gen. 24:16) and she had a servant heart (Gen 24:20). Not only did Rebekah offer Abraham’s servant water, which she had to draw herself from a well. She also drew water for the servant’s camels. She was generous. She was kind. She was beautiful inside and out.

Sure he might be a really cool guy, or she might be a hottie but are they secure or insecure? Are they givers or takers? Do they use words to build others up or pull people down? Are they humble or arrogant? Are they personally growing or stagnant? Do they have the same faith as you or a completely different worldview? These things matter. It’s not just who you marry, it’s what you marry.

You need to like more than what you just see on the outside. As part of our church pre-marital counselling, I often say to young couples, “you’re going to talk a lot more than you are going to have sex. So make sure you actually like each other.” I don’t say it to be provocative. I say it because it’s true. You need to like the person you marry. You need to be attracted to the whole person, inside and out, including their mind and their heart. I can honestly say that I am far more attracted to my wife now, 15 years in, 4 children later, than on the day I married her. We are better friends than ever Why? Her character has continued to blossom. Her internal beauty shines brighter and brighter each and every day. In my view, I married a hottie not just externally but internally. And one day if God grants us the time we’ll be in our 80’s not looking like we did in our twenties but we will be far more satisfied, fulfilled, complete and joyful than even on our wedding day.

Choices in Marriage

The choices before you marry are important and the choices in your marriage are important. While a happy marriage may begin when we marry the one we love, a happy marriage blossoms when we love the one we marry. A great marriage is a result of thousands of little choices each and every day, week, month and year to love one another and do all you can to make the other even better than they would be on their own. Therefore make choices that not only benefit you but benefit the other and coincide with God’s plan for their life.

Tim Keller sums up a Christian vision of marriage.

Within this Christian vision of marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of what God is creating, and to say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!”  Tim Keller

As you reflect on the quote above consider the choices you can make in your marriage to make it the best marriage ever.

4 Ways To Make 2018 Great

Happy New Year!!! 2017 has been and gone and 2018 is here. I don’t know how you approach a new year. I love it. I reflect. I dream. I imagine. I plan. I pray. And then I go about life hoping some of those dreams and plans become a reality and that the year is great.

Here are four ways to make 2018 a great year.

 

1. MAKE DECISIONS RATHER THAN GOALS

We all love a fresh start. Sometimes I think God created time just so we could have the possibility to say goodbye to the past and anticipate the future. 2018 is simply that. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life… wait that’s Michael Buble’. Sorry, I’m still in Christmas mode. You get the point. 2018 is a fresh start. Take advantage of it. It’s a gift. Say goodbye to 2017 with all its joys and sorrows and begin to dream about 2018. As you reflect on the past and dream of the future proceed to make some decisions. Dreaming is good. It gets the good vibes flowing. We feel inspired and energised. But in order to capitalise you’ve got to crystalize. (I literally just made that up). But you get the point. You’ve got to do more than just dream and set goals. You have to make decisions.

Goals tend to be generic, something out there and afar off. Decisions are here, now and specific. Goals refer to what I want to achieve at the end. Decisions designate want I will do right now. Goals are about desire; decisions are about discipline. Goals are about dreaming; decisions are about achieving.

For example: Rather than setting the generic goal of eating healthier, make a decision as to what you will cut from your diet and what you will add, RIGHT NOW. Rather than setting the generic goal of taking a holiday with friends or family this year, make the decision. Pick the place. Pick the time and pay the deposit. Make the decision now.

 

2. BUILD YOUR RELATIONAL NETWORK

This sounds so formal, ‘Relational Network.’ Eww! What even is that? By relational network, I mean a diverse community of both encouragers and equippers.

Encouragers are our friends. We all need friends. We need people that we do life shoulder to shoulder with. We laugh with friends. We share experiences together. We help each other and enjoy being in each other’s pockets. We rub off on each other. Make each other better.

17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Prov. 27:17

In 2018 you need friends. Good friends. But friendship is a two-way street. Having good friends is a result of being a good friend. So commit this year to build friendship around you by being a great friend to others.

 

Equippers are our mentors. We need those that are out in front of us. People that we may not have a whole lot in common with but are vital to helping us learn and grow. These are the people that speak into our lives. These people are ahead of us in the game. They have insight. They have wisdom. They have experience. Learning from personal experience is the slowest and most painful way to learn. Life is far more enjoyable when you are able to avoid slipping into ditches along the way. So pursue specific growth relationships. Ask certain people if you can buy them lunch and pick their brain about something. Invite yourself around for dinner at their house. Oh and a little secret… you pay for everything. Pay for the coffee, pay for the food. Pay the time and do the drive to them. Pay the cost and reorganise your schedule to suit them. The best way to get the most out of a mentor is to make it as low a cost to them as possible. This reveals to them that you value them. The more a mentor feels valued by you, the more likely they will add value to you.

 

3. EXPAND YOUR CAPACITY

Personal growth is one of the most satisfying accomplishments. There’s just something about being able to look in the mirror, figuratively or literally, and see that progress has been made. But it takes effort. Everybody lives life with a lid or a ceiling. This is your capacity or competency in any area of your life. You have a knowledge lid. A limit of what you know. You have a skill lid. A limit of what you can do and how well you can do it. You have a character lid. A limit of what type of person you are. Unlike God we have limitations. We have capacities and competencies that exist with a lid. Yet at the same time, because we’re not God we can grow. We can improve. We can expand.

 

Three important principles to consider:

Pace Yourself – Don’t go crazy and overdo it. Life’s a marathon so pace yourself. Be patient. Give yourself grace and go for the long-term result, not the short term. A few years ago I decided I wanted to expand my knowledge capacity. So I committed to reading one hour a day from 10 pm – 11 pm. I loved the first few months. I really grew and enjoyed it. By the end of the year, I read 40 books. The problem was I fried my brain. Instead of increasing my lid for knowledge, I lowered it. The next year I struggled to read at all. Since then I’ve found my pace of a book a month.

Narrow The Focus– Don’t try to improve every area of your life all at once. Pick a few things to work on, not everything to work on. We’ve all got areas we need to grow in. Sometimes we don’t grow at the rate we hope for is because we’re trying to grow everything at the same time. But what if you just grow by 5% every year. I’ve taken this approach to building my character. My focus every year is two of the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). I figure if I focus on two I should be able to grow in at least one. So narrow your focus. Pick a couple of things this year that you want to grow in and make those your focus.

Work on your strengths – Often when we consider personal growth we begin with weaknesses. This is ok. But God has also given you strengths and it’s probably your strengths that have got you to where you are today. You can’t be all things, to all people. You can’t be good at everything but you can be great at something. So get at it. Look at your gifts, your skills your personality and character and keep expanding in those areas.

 

4. INVEST IN PEOPLE

I am asked constantly how I remain so passionate about God and church. My simple answer is I do something with what God has given me. If you want to see personal growth on steroids, just look at new parents. Becoming a parent forces you to grow up in a really unique way. Why? You are forced to invest in someone other than yourself. You are forced to give away what you have for the benefit of another. You are forced to sacrifice and serve in a way you have never done before. And you’re all the better for it. You don’t lose your life, you increase it.

Isolation and stagnation poison the soul. If you don’t do something with what God has given you, your soul becomes stale, stagnant and even callus. It’s just how life works. When your life remains about you, it shrivels. When your life is about others it grows and blossoms. God’s made it this way. As we give, we receive. As we sow, we reap. As we bless, we are blessed.

So live a blessed 2018 and use whatever God has placed in your hand. Whether it be money, possessions, time, words of encouragement, opportunity, whatever it is. Use it to invest in someone else and I guarantee you, the reward is worth it.

 

Now go get it!!!

#7 Saint Vs Sinner – Should Christians Identity as sinners or saints?

As Christians, we are those that are in Christ. We are no longer slaves of sin and darkness, but SONS AND DAUGHTERS of the living God. That’s who we are. So when we sin the gospel calls us to repent and turn away from it. Additionally, it calls us to turn to Jesus in faith, not just for mercy, though it is needed, but also for affirmation of our identity. That we are who he says we are. That we remain God’s child and he loves us and adopted us as his kids. A choice he made long before we ever stuffed up.

This is the last post in this series. I’m excited. Not because it’s the last post but because the best has been saved till last. In this post, I will seek to explore the concept of Christian identity. This clear sense of identity is fundamental to all human experience and without it, we feel lost. Some would say that our desperate need to ‘find ourselves’ and secure that clear apprehension of who we are as being sinful. That it is the ego looking at itself, trying to define itself and to some degree even worshipping itself. There may be some truth to this. However, could it be possible that our longing for identity is not necessarily sinful; rather it reveals the reality and effect of sin? In other words, the search and the deep longing of the human soul to secure a true sense of identity exists because sin has separated us from God, each other and even to some degree our own self. Maybe we had something, lost it and our souls are seeking for it. Therefore the search and the deep need isn’t what is sinful, it’s a result of sin; how we go about finding it is what could be sinful.

So let’s explore the final question in this series.

 

Should Christians Identity as sinners or saints?

Identity always dictates activity. In the story in Luke 18, the tax collector identified himself as a sinner while the Pharisee a righteous person. Due to the self-identification of both men, it was the tax collector that received God’s mercy.

“… the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Lk. 18:13 ESV)

While the tax collector rightly identifies as a sinner in need of God’s mercy, the question follows of whether or not he continued to identify himself as a sinner after he received God’s mercy? Or did it change? For Christians that have received God’s mercy, how are we to identify ourselves – Saints or Sinners?

Let’s kick off by looking at the dangers of over-emphasising one over the other and then see if we can land somewhere that is helpful.

 

  • Over-Emphasised Sainthood

The New Testament time and again describes believing Christians as saints. And oh what a name we have received. This is not to be confused with the Roman Catholic view of a saint that separates Christians into three categories of ordinary believers, priests and saints. Rather it simply suggests any and all persons that are ‘in Christ’. All believing Christians are described as saints, not those super holy, miracle-working believers. Scripture tells us that those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and are faithful to him are saints (Eph. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:2) The Apostle Paul continually addressed his Christian audience describing them as saints (Phil. 1:1; Col 1:2) And scripture calls us to live out our ‘sainthood’ (1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 2:1; 1 Pet. 1:15-16) over and over again reminding us of who we once were but are no longer because we are made new (Eph. 2:5; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal 6:15). It is within this new identity in Christ, that one finds joy and peace in God’s holiness and desires to be conformed to Christ and live like Christ. It is God who grants us this identity as a saint and by it, we are comforted knowing that in his calling us saints we are in his hands secure because of Christ’s person and work.

Yet when this aspect is overemphasized, we can lose sight of our need for ongoing grace and mercy for the ongoing sins we do commit and hurt others by. We can forget our need for ongoing repentance. That constant turning away from sin and turning to Christ our gracious saviour. We can also forget our need to ask each other for forgiveness acknowledging that our sin is not only against God but also each other. An over-emphasis of the Christian identity as a saint can lead into idolatry which leads us away from reality and away from our deep need for Christ, his Word, his people and his grace and mercy.

 

  • Over-Emphasised Sinfulness

Likewise, our acknowledgment of our sinfulness serves others and us greatly. As we have seen while the power and dominion of sin are broken by Christ’s work, the presence of sin in our lives remains and we battle and fight seeking to kill the deeds of the flesh every day. This is a good thing. A necessary thing. Realising the battle is won but not complete helps us to continually look to Jesus (Heb. 12:1-3) and run to his abounding fountain of grace. We are reminded again and again of our daily need of his mercy and his daily giving of it. It humbles us. It softens us. It changes us in how we relate to God, to others and even ourselves.

Yet in the same way, some Christians idolise their sainthood others idolise their sinfulness. I remember once saying, “hello you great people” to some Christians at an event this past year. The reply I got was somewhat unexpected. They responded, “We’re not great. We’re totally depraved”. To which I sarcastically responded with a cheesy grin and a sneaky wink of the eye, “Well not anymore if you’re in Christ Jesus hey”. They had over-emphasised their sinfulness. We are to acknowledge our sin not be defined by it or live under the dominion of it.

 

So how are we to identify ourselves as Christians?

Martin Luther wrestled with this question and eventually landed on the formula “Simul Justus et Peccator”. What does it mean?

Simul is the word from which we get the English word simultaneously, ‘at the same time.’ Justus is Latin for just or righteous and Peccator means sinner. So Luther in trying to distinguish the Christian identity landed upon the idea that we are ‘simultaneously just and sinner’. R.C Sproul in his teaching on Luther and the Reformation notes that Luther,

“…was saying from one perspective, in one sense, we are just. In another sense, from another perspective, we are sinners; and how he defines this is simple. In and of ourselves, under the analysis of God’s scrutiny, we still have sin; we’re still sinners. But, by imputation and by faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is now transferred to our account, then we are considered just or righteous. This is the very heart of the gospel.”

(For more go to http://www.ligonier.org/blog/simul-justus-et-peccator/)

Martin Luther sought to hold these two realities in tension, not over-emphasising one at the expense of the other. So this can be helpful. Now for some, this may be sacrilegious, but I tend to push back a little on the identity of a sinner. When I consider the writings of the Apostle Paul he tends to use the language of past tense when referring to sin. (Rom. 6:17; Gal 1:23; Eph. 2:1-3; Eph. 2:13; Col. 1:21; 1 Pet. 2:10)

Ephesians 2:1 comes to mind where Paul outlines the absolute depravity of human sinfulness yet he begins by using the past tense of

‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.’ Eph. 2:1

And one of my favourite scriptures in all the New Testament,

11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor. 6:11

Paul consistently reminded Christians of their new identity in Christ and called them to live out of it. “That’s not you any more Christian. You are made new”. Paul had no problem calling sin out in the Church. But he also reminded Christians time and again of their new identity and called people to believe and recognise who they now are in Christ as one of the great means of overcoming sin. In fact that most common description of Christians in the New Testament is those that are ‘In Christ’. It is used over 200 times.

While sin may still describe some of our activity, ‘sinner’ does not have to define our identity. Yes, we must acknowledge our sin. Yes, we must repent of it, seek forgiveness and trust the Spirit to transform us. We are not free from sins existence but we are free from its penalty, it’s power, its tyranny and mastery. We are made new and, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:13-14)

 

Pastor Rick Warren has a saying I’ve always resonated with

“To know who we are we must know who’s we are”

Like every abandoned child that longs to know their true biological parents in order to know themselves, we too need to know who’s we are in order to know who we are. And as Christians, we are those that are in Christ. We are no longer slaves of sin and darkness, but SONS AND DAUGHTERS of the living God. That’s who we are. So when we sin the gospel calls us to repent and turn away from it. Additionally, it calls us to turn to Jesus in faith, not just for mercy, though it is needed, but also for affirmation of our identity. That we are who he says we are. That we remain God’s child and he loves us and adopted us as his kids. A choice he made long before we ever stuffed up.

he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will Eph. 1:5

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers Rom. 8:29

Longing for a sense of identity is not wrong, nor sinful, it is necessary. But our true identity can only be found in the one who made us. Our true identity can not and does not come from our self. We do not find who we are by looking within. No! We find who we are by looking down. We look down into the scriptures through which God screams ‘MINE’! And we look up to the heavens and thank God for making us his.

Spurgeon recounts a story from Augustine

In his pre-Christian life, St. Augustine was ensnared by sexual lust, but after he surrendered his life to God, he gave himself single-mindedly to the work of Christ’s kingdom. One day an old mistress of his approached him on the street, seductively suggesting he follow her home. Augustine was cordial but turned her down. It occurred to her, “Maybe he forgets who I am,” and she said to him, “Augustine, it is I!” “Yes, I know,” Augustine replied, “but it is not I.”

 

In summary, much of this debate has centred around sin and answering the question ‘Are we saved sinners or sinning saints?’ It is here that I affirm that the ‘Saints by Nature’ movement get many things right. I hope I explained my disagreements clearly, thoroughly and with grace and kindness. Yet I also hope that I highlight where I agree. I agree that we have a new identity in Christ. That we are God’s children, forgiven, loved and secure in him. I agree that we should therefore identify ourselves as such, even when we sin. And probably even more so when we sin because sin brings with it its cousins, shame and guilt, which cause us to hide from God rather than run to God receiving assurance of his love and grace towards us as his kids. We may be sons and daughters that struggle. We may be God’s kids that sin. But we are his kids. That’s who we are and who we will always be for in the words of the Apostle Paul,

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:38-39

God bless.

#6 – Saint Vs Sinner – Should Christians continue to repent of sin?

Repentance brings us out from behind the proverbial tree of shameful hiding and sits us in the Father’s arms that remind us of his unrelenting love and endless fountain of mercy. And thereby our conscious is cleansed; our souls washed clean once again. We feel free.

In this post, I want to explore the second of three questions previously raised from a story in Luke 18:9-14. Jesus told a parable, ‘to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous…’ (Lk. 18:9). Jesus’ purpose in telling the story was to contrast a Pharisee boasting in his self-righteousness and a tax collector confessing his sins and acknowledging his need for God’s mercy.

In the previous post we explored the first questions, ‘should Christians struggle with and be convicted of sin? In this post will explore the question,

Should Christians continue to repent of sin?

Short Answer: Yes

Medium: Yes. Yet we need to clarify what is meant by repentance. I suspect much of the pushback to ongoing repentance for the believer is due to a misunderstanding of understanding of what is meant by repentance.

Long Answer: Let’s read some words from Martin Luther, Spurgeon, Jesus, Paul, John and James.

It must be stated at the outset that we should absolutely celebrate and rejoice in the victory Christ has won for us with regard to sin. As Christians, we are forgiven and this is a reality we experience here and now. If you are not a Christian, you can experience this incredible gift of being forgiven by a holy God and living with a completely free conscience. All that is required is for you to repent, like that of the Tax Collector, and ask God for mercy and he will give it.

Martin Luther

While God’s mercy is sufficient to forgive all past, present and future sin, the Bible teaches that Christians are to continue to live with a lifestyle of repentance. Martin Luther put it this way in the first of his 95 theses nailed to the Wittenberg Castle Church door,

  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Martin Luther was obviously responding to the sacrament of penance taught by the Roman Catholic Church. Yet his conviction was based on what scripture taught. That is, to be a Christian, one must repent and believe, and to live as a Christian and experience all the benefits of Christ’s work, one must continue to repent of sin and place their faith in Christ. For Luther repentance and faith were two sides of the same coin. When we repent we turn away from sin and we turn to Christ. Repentance and faith go hand in hand. Faith in Jesus is not a one-off moment. It is an ongoing turning to Jesus, trusting and believing in him. And therefore it is a constant turning away from, no longer trusting in or believing in something else. Luther reference made reference to Matt. 4:17

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matt. 4:17

Mark’s account states it slightly different adding, ‘repent and believe’.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:5

God’s kingdom is entered into through repentance and faith and God’s people live a life filled with repentance and faith.

Spurgeon

I have been reading through Charles Spurgeon preaching library again recently. If you’re not familiar with Charles Spurgeon, you need to be. The Spurge, known as the Prince of Preachers, was an incredible gift. In light of this current topic, I thought I’d read what he had to say on repentance. And boy did he have much to say. What is interesting is that Spurgeon was engaged in a somewhat similar conversation with the Wesleyans. Many within the denomination believed it to be possible to be sinless in this life and that ongoing repentance was unnecessary for the forgiven Christian. Spurgeon knew that many who held to these views did so with a genuine desire for holiness and because of the negative view of repentance they had heard taught. Therefore in many of his sermons, he sought to clarify a biblical view of repentance.

In his sermon (sermon 2743) preached on April 20th 1879 title ‘Mistaken Notions About Repentance’ Spurgeon says this,

“Many persons have MISTAKEN IDEAS OF WHAT REPENTANCE IS. Some confuse it with morbid self-accusation… Do not call yourself, “the chief of sinners,” if you are not. And do not suppose that repentance means the exaggeration of your evil life into something more evil than it really was. It is enough for you to go and confess the truth and to be sorrowful that you have once forgotten your God—that your thoughts have been turned away from the true center—that you have lived for yourself and hence have been an enemy of the Most High. Go and confess that to the Lord, but do not bring against yourself a morbid self-accusation which is not true in God’s sight…But a sense of God’s wrath against sin is not repentance! It generally goes with it, it frequently attends it—but repentance is a change of mind with regard to sin—with regard to everything and it is a consciousness that sin is sin—that you have committed it. It is a sorrow to you that you have committed it and a resolve, in God’s strength, that you will escape from it—a holy desire and longing to be rid of sin which has done you so much mischief. In the words of the child’s hymn— “Repentance is to leave The sins we loved before, And show that we in earnest grieve By doing so no more.” And there is very much of real repentance which is not accompanied by a dread of hell at all. It is sweetened by a sense of love rather than embittered by a dread of vengeance.”

 He continued…

“Do not, therefore, confuse things that differ. A very gross mistake is made by some who imagine that unbelief, despondency and despair are repentance. These things are wide as the poles asunder! No doubt there are many who ultimately come to Christ who, for a time, think they are too great sinners to be saved. Do I commend them for thinking so? Far from it! They imagine a lie! And how can it be right for us to believe that which is untrue? No doubt many who come to Christ do, for a while, despair of ever being saved—but is it necessary that you and I should do so? By no means, for to despair of being saved is to give the lie to God’s own truth—and that can never be the right thing for anyone to do! God is true and He has declared that whoever will trust His Son shall be saved. If I turn round and say, “I cannot be saved and I cannot trust Christ,” I do, as far as in me lies, pour indignity upon God! I insult Him, for I doubt His Word and I distrust His Son, who is worthy of all confidence! That sort of thing cannot be repentance—on the contrary, it is something that needs to be repented of! If you have no such doubts and no such despair, be glad you have not, for they are not of God—they are evil! To come like a little child and say, “I know that I have done wrong, and I am very sorry for it, and I wish to be set right. I find that Christ can set me right, and I trust Him to do it”—that is the way to repent of sin and trust the Savior! And he who does so is accepted of the Father.”

Stop and just read that again. No I’m serious. Read it again.

There is so much that is helpful here. Notice that Spurgeon likewise views repentance and faith as two sides of the same coin. Repentance is not battering your self with guilt and shame. It is not dwelling on your sin all day long. God does not want to rub our noses in our mess; he wants to free us from it. Repentance is an acceptance that sin is sin, which we have committed but as Spurgeon said, ‘It is sweetened by a sense of love rather than embittered by a dread of vengeance.’

In other words repentance is simply turning from our sin and turning to our saviour in faith. And this is a good thing

Jesus

 In what is often labelledThe Lord’s Prayer’, Jesus taught his disciples, the first Christians, a model of daily prayer. One important aspect of this model of prayer is seeking forgiveness of sin. To be sure, repentance is more than asking for forgiveness, but it is not less than. Jesus anticipated that believing Christians would at times sin. He modelled to us what to do with that sin – repent and ask for forgiveness – DAILY!

Matthew 6:12 – Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

While it is true that at the point of faith, we receive forgiveness from all our sin, , Jesus tells us to continue to seek forgiveness. Why? Because divine forgiveness has two main aspects. The first is judicial. That is, God is a judge, and as the judge, he grants us a pardon. The penalty for our wrong is dealt with. There no longer remains a threat of eternal punishment, condemnation or penalty. The judge gas declared his verdict – NOT GUILTY. We are free, forever. The second is parental. Jesus taught that God was not only a judge but also a Father. When we sin we grieve him as our Father and we hurt ourselves further through hiding and cowering in shame and guilt like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:8-10).

As a dad of four children, I sometimes have to discipline my kids. I don’t enjoy it but its necessary and I do my best to discipline appropriately in love. What I have learnt and continue to learn is that one of the most important elements of correction is affection. My kids need to know they are forgiven and that I love them despite their behaviour. They need to feel it. They need me to hold them and reassure them of my love and affection for them.

Sin stains. It brings shame and guilt to our conscience. It is why the Bible ties being cleansed so closely to confession and forgiveness (Jms. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:8). Repentance, for the believing Christian, is less about ‘being’ forgiven and more about feeling it. Repentance brings us out from behind the proverbial tree of shameful hiding and sits us in the Father’s arms that remind us of his unrelenting love and endless fountain of mercy. And thereby our conscious is cleansed; our souls washed clean once again. We feel free. The judicial aspect of God’s forgiveness deals with sins penalty, whereas the parental deals with the consequences, namely our shame and guilt. Repentance is turning, not only from our sin but also from our hiding in shame and guilt and turning to our great Father in order to be reassured of his love, goodness, grace and mercy towards us, which are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). Jesus calls us to repent (Matt. 6:12; Rev. 2:5) not to heap shame upon us, but in order that we can be free from it. REPENTANCE IS A GIFT.

Paul

In 2 Corinthians 7 Paul rejoices over the church at Corinth because they are repenting.

2 Corinthians 7:9 – As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

Paul had previously written strongly to them about sin in their midst and knew that it would strike hard (grieve them 2 Cor 7:8). Yet he desired that they would be convicted of this sin and deal with it (repent). In verse 9 here he is encouraging them that they are on the right track. But again I want you to notice the motivation for repentance.

Chapter 7 is one big fat encouragement to ‘KEEP REPENTING!!! Keep it up this is good for you’. At the beginning of the chapter, he states

2 Corinthians 7:1 – Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

He is encouraging them to continue to pursue holiness but notice he started with, ‘Since we have these promises’. What are God’s promises? You have to go to the end of chapter 6. There you will see that God has promised to “make my dwelling among them and walk with them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people” (6:16) and “I will be a father to you and you shall be sons and daughters to me” (6:18). Paul exhorts the church at Corinth, ‘in light of God’s promises to you, pursue holiness and rid sin from your midst through continual repentance.’ Again we see this connection between our relationship with God our Father and repentance.

John

The Apostle John wrote 1 John to Christians across Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) with the backdrop of gnostic false teachers spreading false doctrine about Jesus and sin.

John addresses numerous aspects related to sin throughout.

  • First of all he addresses professing Christians that make a habit on ongoing unrepentant sin.

1 John 1:6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 1 Jn. 3:9-10

Key Point: a genuine regenerate Christian practices righteousness not sinfulness. If you continue to walk in sin, love sin and live under the dominion of sin then you should check to make sure you are genuinely saved (2 Cor. 13:5; 2Pet. 1:10) because it is possible you may not be.

  • Second he addresses the professing Christians that believe they no longer sin.

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Many of the Gnostic false teachers were teaching Christians that redemption is found through affirming the divine light already in the human soul. They taught that through spiritual enlightenment, special revelatory knowledge and pious effort, they had rid themselves of sin. Repentance was unnecessary for the Gnostics because they no longer struggled. People were simply buying into this teaching and were being deceived about having no sin.

Therefore John addressed this belief head on. It’s important to note that that every single verb in this verse is written in the present tense, including to claim to ‘have no sin’. Simply put this is Gnosticism and John calls the person who believes this to be deceived. John states that rather than denying their sin they should ‘confess their sin remembering that God is faithful to forgive to cleanse, (Greek: katharizó), which is also in the present tense, them from all unrighteousness. Notice again the connection between confession, forgiveness and cleansing.

Key Point: As Christians, knowing God’s faithfulness, we confess our sins, Jesus forgives and cleanses us, not to restore salvation, but to restore intimacy and joy (see Psalm 51:10-12).

  • Third he addresses the professing Christians that believe they have never sinned.

10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

‘Have not sinned’ is past tense. Again Gnosticism sought to point people to the divine light within. The false teachers believed that every person was inherently good and righteous. Unlike the previous claim of Verse 8, some even extrapolated that there was no such thing as guilt before God. John calls this person a liar. What I find interesting is that John says that he is challenging these false doctrines in order that the Christian ‘may not sin’. In other words, those who are deceived by these falsities, actually sin even more. The way out of sin, the way to sin less, and to practice truth and walk in the light (1:6-7), is not to downplay sin, not to deny sin, but to freely confess is and repent of it, knowing that Jesus is our advocate with the Father (2:1).

Key Point: Christians are called to live a life of repentance and faith. While sin no longer has dominion over the Christian, sin is still real and present. While the judge has pardoned us, our Father is wanting us to turn away from our sin (repent) and turn to him (faith), knowing his grace is sufficient, his love is secure and his work in us is ongoing.

Or as James put it,

James 5:16 – Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

Healing does not come from a denial of sin, but through confession and repentance of sin.

With all this in mind how should a Christian identify? As a sinner? Or a saint? That’s up next.