Tag: Bible Reading Challenge

Why Our Marriages Need the Gospel

You know it’s going to be a good day when the first messages your phone dings with is a group text from your two neighbor friends who are already deep into their Bible reading for #samepagesummer.  While I’d been dilly-dallying with muffins and coffee they were asking questions about John 13 and I was seriously late to the real feast. But the conversation that ensued really got me thinking why the gospel is so key to understanding passages like John 13, why our marriages need the gospel, and why things like the Bible Reading Challenge are so important today.

I’ve heard lots of sermons on Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.  People pushing the “servant-leadership” narrative love to use foot washing as an example of showing real humility to people they see as beneath them. I’ve even been to weddings that included a foot-washing ceremony to symbolize how husbands and wives ought to serve each other. This is all fine and good. But friends, our marriages are starving for substance not symbolism and no amount of servant leadership methodology will suffice to put an ounce of humility in a self-righteous heart. And yet Christ tells His disciples in verse 14, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

What precipitated this stunning display of humility?  Look back at verse 3. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist.” So Jesus, having in mind all of His Divine Authority, His exalted seat at the right hand of the Father which He had vacated, and the glorious truth that He would soon occupy His rightful place once more, knowing all this, the Creator took on the form of a servant, stooped, and washed His creatures’ feet. And then He told them to do the same.

I’ve read lists. I’ve read books. I’ve heard messages detailing the practical ways this is to be done within the home, within the church, within the community, across racial/social/economic/language/cultural barriers.  And almost every time I see one of those lists it’s still dripping wet from the hands who made it made it. Hands that are doing nothing more than trying to wash themselves clean. Hands that unlike Jesus’s, have not been given all things into them by the Father. Hands with not an ounce of Divine authority to make even the outside of a cup clean, let alone the inside. Hands who when they hold out their righteous acts of service to spouse and community are only full of filthy rags. These hands are very familiar to me because they have been my own.

Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” This friends is the gospel that cleanses. The gospel that transforms marriages and communities. The gospel that enables prideful, arrogant, self-absorbed men and women to serve the one-anothers and the least-of-these. How does it do that? Philippians 2:1-11 gives us some insight and it does so in a way that the reader can’t help but hear echos of John 13. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant.” If Christ has washed you, has by His perfect atoning sacrifice on the cross made you clean, then you are as Philippians 2:1 says, now in participation with the Holy Spirit, which works in the believer both to will and to do.

When Jesus stoops to wash the disciples feet, He does so with His own Divine Authority over all things in mind. He does so with His own exalted position at the right hand of the Father in mind. And when Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves,” he then goes on to describe the person of Christ, who has all authority in heaven and on earth, who didn’t have to achieve equality with God by performing any works because He already was God to begin with. Too often when we set out to do the foot washing in our homes and communities, we do so with the mindset that we are being like Christ. And that we are the ones stooping to those beneath us. And that even though we are in some position of privilege or authority, we are going to show how humble we consider ourselves by performing these lowly tasks that really belong to the station of the person or set of people we have been placed above. Instead of looking to Christ and letting that very act change us as surely and miraculously as it saves us, we look to ourselves and see how well we resemble the exalted one we seek to emulate.

Friends, our marriages, our churches and our communities need the gospel everyday because therein we see Christ. We cannot have the mind of Christ among us unless we are actually thinking His thoughts after Him. And the only way to know His thoughts is through the pages of Scripture where the Holy Spirit so clearly reveals them to our hearts! Isn’t it glorious that when Paul says in Ephesians 5:22 “Wives, submit to your own husbands,” he doesn’t follow it up with qualifiers or practical exceptions to the rule so we know exactly what that should look like? No! He follows it up with the example of Christ! And 3 verses later Paul says, “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” he doesn’t continue by giving a list of practical ways this is to be accomplished in the home. No! Instead he goes straight to the mindset, or reason Christ gave Himself up. “So that He might sanctify her having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”

Paul is saying, “Husbands, wives, look to Christ! Look how your marriage is a reflection of the beautiful union of Christ and His bride, the church! Look what He did to redeem that bride! Look how it was all done to present her holy and blameless and without spot to Himself!” Look at the means He uses to wash her! He uses the word! The gospel doesn’t just save, it sanctifies! Have we forgotten that the same power that healed the serpent-stricken Israelites when they were commanded simply to LOOK is still at work, not just to save but to change? Why do we think a list of practical how-tos will have more of an impact on our marriages than the God-breathed, Spirit-empowered, Christ-exalting Word of God? Why do we think empty apologies, the applause of lawlessness and social-media campaigns are going to heal our broken country more than the Gospel!  We must look to Christ to be saved and we must look to Christ to be sanctified!

This is where the Bible Reading Challenge comes in. On June 1 thousands of people around the world opened their Bibles to John 1 and began a three month journey through the New Testament, the revelation of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ. Something miraculous happens when the people of God start reading His Word. They change. They stop looking at themselves as little Christ figures stooping down to serve others and see themselves as they really are without Him. Nothing more than little Judas’s, lifting up our heal against the God of the universe. But Christ stoops, and He takes that filthy, rebellious heal, and He washes it with His own blood. And He gives us His Spirit within us and His transforming Word and sends us out to others with the gospel so that they too can become clean.

If you are overwhelmed by what you are seeing out in the world, if you are overwhelmed by what you are experiencing within the walls of your own home, the best thing you can do this summer is take your eyes off your circumstances and look to Christ.  We’ll be looking there with you. We’re all on the same page.      same page summer plan

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Word and Spirit

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If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time you know how much I love the opening chapters of the Bible. Every school year starts with reading Genesis 1. So naturally I was pretty excited that the Bible Reading Challenge #samepagesummer started today with John 1-4. No one can read the opening verses of John’s Gospel without hearing echoes of the creation account.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

In verse 14 we read that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” So we know that that Word is Jesus Christ Himself. He is the light of Genesis 1 and John 1 and John 8 and 2 Corinthians 4:6. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our own hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

All these passages resonate with tones from the creation narrative–beginnings, creation, life, darkness, and light. All these passages bring us face to face with the Triune God–Father, Son and Spirit. And how could it be otherwise? Jesus is the Word–the same Word that was used to speak the universe into existence, the same Word that is revealed in the pages of Scripture. The God of Genesis 1 is the same God of John 1, so of course we are going to see nothing but consistency of character within the pages of Scripture from beginning to end. As the creation narrative unfolds, we are bound to see hints of God’s redemptive purposes, which according to 1 Peter 1:20 and Ephesians 1:4, were ordained before the foundation of the world. And as the gospel narrative unfolds, we are likewise going to see the back drop of creation, the stage upon which the great drama of redemption plays out.

So when in John 1:6 we are introduced to this new player I couldn’t help but see hints of a similar character in Genesis 1 as well. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” In verse 15 we read “John bore witness about Him and cried out, ‘This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me.” He continues by affirming that he was not the Christ, nor a prophet but rather “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.” Verses 24-34 give us even more insight into John’s person and role. We read there that John came baptizing with water for the purpose “that He might be revealed in Israel.” Again we have John bearing witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him. I myself did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

When you consider the role of the Holy Spirit as the Supreme Witness–the one sent to testify to the glory of the Son, the member of the Trinity always at work exalting the person of Jesus Christ–doesn’t it make sense that our first introduction to both He and John are with the backdrop of wilderness, darkness, water and then glorious Light!

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

Think about the fact that we get “without form and void” from the Hebrew tohu wabohu, meaning an empty, unformed, chaotic wildernessAnd then consider that the description of the Holy Spirit’s movement over the waters comes from the Hebrew rachaph, which is to brood, like a bird over her nest of eggs. So when you have John, the voice of one crying from the wilderness, baptizing with water for the purpose of revealing the Son of God, testifying to the Light come into the world, and this same John sees with his own eyes the Spirit of God descend like a dove over the waters of Jesus’ baptism, well I just have to assume this John the Baptist guy ain’t your average witness.

In fact Jesus Himself said that “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11).” What made John so great? Luke 7:28 seems to indicate that it was his becoming the least that made him so great and indeed his words in John 3:22-36 bear evidence to his role as the lesser bearing witness to the greater. Indeed, John’s assertion “He must increase, but I must decrease” should be the believer’s mantra each and every day.

We often hear of Christ figures, and we read of types and shadows in the Old Testament that point us to the Messiah in the New. John the Baptist is indeed an Old Testament figure in that he appears to us before the coming of Christ. But his role as witness, testifying to the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world, seems to be couched in terms that point us to none other than the Holy Spirit. When we read of John’s humility, we should be overwhelmed by the Spirit’s humility.  The Spirit who is God Himself, and yet seeks not His own glory, but rather testifies and bears witness to the glory of another.

It is this same Spirit that breathed out Scripture, giving us the glory filled revelation of God in the face of Christ Jesus. It is His testimony IN HIS OWN WORDS! Won’t you listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say concerning the person of Jesus Christ? Just for 5-10 minutes a day? You can do so and be on the same page as thousands of other Christians each day through the Bible Reading Challenge. By reading 4 chapters a day, 5 or 6 days a week, you can finish the entire New Testament but the end of the summer!

To whet your appetite for the book of John and every page that follows here are a couple links to some messages worth every minute of listening to.

Click here and here for an excellent 2-part series by Christopher Ash called “Word and Spirit in John.” And click here for a stunning message by John Piper about John the Baptist called “He Must Increase, I Must Decrease.”

 

Exposed

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What do the Bible Reading Challenge, the Sheologians Book Club reading of “(A)Typical Woman“, the Grace Church of the Valley womens study of “A Gospel Primer“, and ongoing discussions with several of my friends all have in common?  They all had me rethinking this week what went on in Eden and what certain occurrences there mean for women today. Come take a stroll with me down the garden path of Genesis 3. I’m taking stops at nearly every verse so pardon the halting pace. Verse 1:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.”

This has not changed. Can we all just keep that in mind? The serpent is still crafty but he’s not infinitely creative in his craft, which means he’s mostly always up to the same old tricks.

“He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

Ladies, something should happen when you hear words like “the Bible never says…” or “the Bible doesn’t explicitly forbid…” There should be an instant red flag. This should cause us to spring into action, pull out our concordances and do a little fact checking. We may find that it’s true — that the Bible truly says no such thing. Or we may find that the Bible actually does say the very thing we’re being told it doesn’t say. Or we may find that the Bible says something similar but we’re not sure if it’s the same thing, in which case we better do a little research till we are sure. But in every case we should be sure about what the Bible actually does and doesn’t say, NOT BECAUSE SOMEONE TOLD US SO, BUT BECAUSE WE’VE ACTUALLY READ IT THERE. Which brings me to my next point.

2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Poor Eve. She was so close to getting it right. But this passage shows how being off just a little bit can open the door to some really big error. Of course, talking to snakes in general can open that door pretty wide, too. But notice her little added phrase, “neither shall you touch it,” which was absent from God’s original command.  One could say that adding not to touch a thing would only rightly reinforce the command not to eat it. And indeed that is the reasoning behind much of the legalistic “X is forbidden, Y could lead to X, therefore Y is forbidden as well” mentality.   It’s not just legalists who error in this regard.  There are other ways to be just a little bit off when it comes to wielding God’s Word.

Think of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. Satan used a similar tactic with Him in Matthew 4:1-11. The twist here was instead of questioning God’s law, he abuses God’s promises. Didn’t God say, “He will command his angels concerning you?” Didn’t God say, “On their hands they will bear you up?” Do you really think Satan is beyond using those same tactics today? “God promised X to this person. You are a person. Therefore you should demand God do X for you as well.” If this tactic doesn’t sound familiar to you go watch “American Gospel” now on Netflix.

Whether it’s something we’re told the Bible says not to do, or something we’re told the Bible says God will do, the consequences for not getting it absolutely right can be disastrous. This is why Bible translations matter. This is why the content of our worship matters.  This is why the books and the podcasts and the conferences that we ingest matter.  This is why the cute little Christian sounding memes we repost matter. A little error can have enormous consequences.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 

Now this one doesn’t seem that subtle but for some reason it works on us women anyway. In Genesis 2:17 God says “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” In Genesis 3:4 Satan says, “You shall not surely die.” This seems to be a pretty obvious contradiction of the law of God.  The average Christian woman should be able to see right through that kind of tactic, right? Yet on any given day I can scroll through my social media feed and see a whole lot of messages that should come with a little red flag warning Christian women that the following statements should definitely be checked against scripture. Instead they are being reposted with little praise hands. “Love yourself” “You are enough” “Believe all women” “Divorce doesn’t disqualify you from anything” “Woman can be pastors too” “You deserve to feel great” “This drink will solve all your problems” “Yoga is just stretching” “Exposing all your ugly stuff is actually beautiful and real” “It’s wrong to judge” “We don’t have to obey. We’re not under the law” “God’s not angry about sin.” Maybe you don’t think any of those statements are lies. Maybe you think all of them are. Maybe you think some are and some aren’t. The question I have for you is, can you show me in your Bible what makes them true or false?  Are you letting Scripture determine what is true? Or are you, like Eve, allowing your own desires and appetites to govern your decisions?

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 

Here’s the thing about most women’s ministries. They seek to indulge our appetites rather than change them. “Women want to hear this and they want to eat that and they want it to look like this and they want to experience that and they want to leave feeling like this.” And voila, the publishing companies, and the conferences, and the Etsy shops deliver all of the above.  It’s interesting to me that when the Israelites needed to be fed in the wilderness, God didn’t just rain down the cucumbers and leeks they were craving from Egypt. He gave them a brand new diet of manna meant to whet their appetite for the true Bread of Life. I’m not saying that the books and Bible studies and conference themes shouldn’t be beautiful and appealing or that austerity is somehow more holy in nature. But I am saying that if the focus of your ministry to women is giving them what they want, maybe you should stop taking your cues from Eve.

It’s not that her desires were overtly corrupt either. She just wanted organically grown fruit which I’m sure was packed with gut cleansing probiotics, and it just happened to have all the right filters to make it glow and all she was really going for was an authentic growth experience in self awareness and personal truth… so “she took of its fruit and ate.” Oh and then because she happened to be extremely influential with her husband she was somehow able to convince him to do the same. Don’t know how. Who ever heard of a woman being able to change her husband’s mind about anything?

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

The original bikini bottom right there. And even with just her hubby around Eve knew it was a little unsubstantial. As soon as God shows up they hide themselves and their beachwear out of fear of exposure.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 

Ladies, what’s changed? Why is exposing our bodies, our sins, our sexual history, our conflicts with others, our messy homes, TO EVERYONE IN THE WORLD suddenly an act of bravery cleverly captioned as “authentic” or “vulnerable”? Have we forgotten that God’s solution for His scantily clad creatures was not to remove their sense of shame or or analyze their guilt complex or take a picture and post it for all the fallen angels to relate to? No! His solution is right there in verse 21 of the same chapter. “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” God lovingly, mercifully, compassionately stooped and covered them properly.

No, I don’t think we should all pretend to be something we’re not. And yes, true confession born out of repentance of sin has it’s rightful place. I’m just suggesting that FB and IG and Twitter and the blogosphere and your women’s Bible study group and the conference podium are NOT that place. As brave as exposing one’s self to the world might seem, I can’t help but wonder what other fears our exposure is covering up.

With that, I’d like to invite you to a different kind of exposure that takes a different kind of bravery. I’d like to invite you to a feast with no forbidden fruit. It starts June 1 and it’s called Same Page Summer and you can find out more by clicking here. For about 4 chapters a day, 5 or 6 days a week, you can join thousands of other women all over the world as we read through the New Testament together, with our families, with our Bible study groups, on-line, and in many languages.  Come, take and eat.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:12,13