The Blessing of Marriage

Stephane and I were married ten years ago tomorrow – July 26th, 2008. It has been an amazing journey and I am grateful to God for my wife. Here are just a few of the things I have learned from our decade-long marriage:

 

  1. The importance of praying together. Steph and I pray together every day. As the saying goes, “couples that pray together, stay together.” Praying together is a constant reminder of our need for the Lord. Only Christ can supply the grace and wisdom we need day by day.
  2. How much God loves us. Marriage is to be a reflection of the type of love and intimacy we can have with God. Just like the marital relationship, our Lord desires that we enjoy a deep knowledge of Him, not just a superficial knowledge. In this sense, it is amazing to me how instructive marriage can be when it comes to our relationship with the Lord.
  3. I am a sinner. Ok, ok, I guess I knew that before.  But marriage has a way of exposing all those warts and ugly character traits that we used to be able to hide. After ten years of marriage, I am much more aware of my own selfishness, pride, anger and sinfulness in general than ever before. As a side note, forgiveness in marriage is really powerful. You probably sin more against your spouse than you do anyone else, but the gospel reminds us that we can “forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
  4. As head of our home, I have a lot more responsibilities.  It used to be that I only had to look out for myself and my own interests.  Now I have a family that I am responsible for. Obviously, this is a huge change from my pre-marriage days, but at the same time it is a good change. And even though I am the head of our home (1 Corinthians 11:3), there have been many times where the Lord has told me – LISTEN TO HER – SHE IS MY GOOD GIFT TO YOU! These are the moments where I must submit (Ephesians 5:21) and listen to my wife.  All honest husbands will affirm the need for this.
  5. The Lord takes care of us. Just like any couple, there have been many issues that we have had to work through and deal with in our relationship. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In anything and everything, the Lord has taken care of us and has brought us to a new level of faith we could have never imagined when we first got married. Glory be to God!
  6. Our love keeps growing over time. Before we got married, it was hard to imagine loving Stephane any more than I already did. But after ten years of marriage, I can honestly say our love for one another continues to grow. In the same way, our love for the Lord should also keep growing and multiplying. I like how Peter puts it at the end of his second letter: But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. (2 Peter 3:18)

To summarize, marriage is an amazing gift from God and is truly fulfilling. That’s not to say there won’t be trials and difficulties along the way, but a Christ-centered couple can always know that God will supply an abundance of grace in your time of need.

Was Christ’s Death Just an Inspiring Example?

John Stott: “the death of Jesus is more than an inspiring example. If this was all there is to it, much of what we find in the Gospels would make no sense. There are those strange sayings, for instance, in which Jesus said he would ‘give his life as a ransom for many’ and shed his blood….. ‘for the forgiveness of sins’. There is no redemption in an example. A pattern cannot secure our pardon.

Besides, why was he weighed down with such heavy and anxious apprehension as the cross approached? How shall we explain the dreadful agony in the garden, his tears and cries and bloody sweat? ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Again, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’ Was the ‘cup’ that he hesitated to drink from the symbol of death by crucifixion? Was he then afraid of pain and death? If so, his example may have been one of submission and patience, but it was hardly one of courage. Plato tells us that Socrates drank his cup of hemlock in the prison cell in Athens ‘quite readily and cheerfully.’ Was Socrates braver than Jesus? Or is it that their cups contained different poisons? And what is the meaning of the darkness, and the cry of abandonment, and the tearing from top to bottom of the Temple curtain in front of the Holy of Holies? There is no way of understanding these things if Jesus died only as an example. Indeed some of them would seem to make his example less commendable.

Not only would much in the Gospels remain mysterious if Christ’s death were purely an example, but our human need would remain unsatisfied. We need more than an example; we need a Savior. An example can stir our imagination, kindle our idealism and strengthen our resolve, but it cannot remove the stains of our past sins, bring peace to our troubled conscience or restore our relationship with God.

In any case, the apostles leave us in no doubt about the matter. They repeatedly associate Christ’s coming and death with our sins:

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18).

You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins (1 John 3:5).

Here are the three great writers of the New Testament, the apostles Paul, Peter and John unanimous in linking his death with our sins.”

Quoted from pages 109-110 of John Stott’s classic Basic Christianity, (2008).

Have you met the Man who does all things well?

“He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 6:37

 

I have never met a man who does “all things well.” We have a lot of men in our church that could be classified as “Jack of all trades” because they are gifted in so many different ways, but I have never met a man or woman who did all things well. That is, until I met Jesus. The man Jesus Christ is unique in all of world history. There is no one else like him. He is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all things and He wants to rescue your life from the pit.

 

Friend, have you met this man who does all things well? Let me tell you right now that when you meet this man, you won’t be able to stop blabbing about him. You will be like the people in Mark 7 – you won’t be able to shut up. You will be telling all your friends and neighbors and family about Jesus. Like the woman at the well in John 4, you will say, “come meet a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4:29). He is the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world.

 

Our greatest need as human beings is to be forgiven of our sin. I guess you could say that goes along with knowing Jesus. Until we meet this Man who does all things well, we tend to think highly of ourselves. We tend to compare ourselves with others and when we do that we end up looking pretty good. But when we encounter the Light, as He is in the light, we are exposed. We end up seeing how wretched and sinful we really are, as we stand before a just and holy God.

 

But let me tell you what Jesus will do for you. He will take your wretchedness and your sinfulness and cover you with the garments of salvation. He will take your ugly, messed up life and make you beautiful. How? By giving you His own righteousness. “Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) This is the most amazing transaction in the world, and God will do it for you.

 

So what must you do to be saved? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31), repent of your sins and trust Him for your salvation. Then, having met this Man, you too will say, “He has done all things well.”

Finding the Gospel in the Story of David and Goliath

When we read a bible story such as David and Goliath, we want to think of ourselves as being like David, don’t we? We like to think of ourselves as underdogs in this big bad world who have the courage and ingenuity to defeat anyone that comes against us. In our family library, we have dozens of children’s bible books and they all seem to feature this story. After all, it is a classic and kids love it. Even our 3-year-old daughter Elizabeth was reading the story of David and Goliath to her “baby” just the other day. But most of these children’s books end up having the wrong application. Most of them end up saying – you can do anything you want if you just set your mind to it – you can beat the giants of this world. That’s the kind of message that the reader is left with and it’s the same message kids get in the public school system. The problem is, it’s a message void of the gospel.

 

Some time ago, it was refreshing to encounter something different as I was reading the Gospel Story Bible to our kids. The author, Marty Machowski, suggested that we are more like the Israelite soldiers than we are like David. If you remember near the beginning of the story, Goliath said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man that we may fight together. When Saul and all Israel heard these words, they were dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Samuel 17:10-11). Isn’t it true that when our enemies and the storms of life come our way, more often than not we are fearful, dismayed, and anything but courageous? It would be great if we could all say we were like David and met the enemies of life head on but that’s usually not true.

 

What we need to hear is that there is a Hero who has come to save and rescue us from our plight. The enemies of life (namely, sin) are far too big for us to face alone. The Bible tells us that, “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Left to ourselves, we would be like the Israelite soldiers without David – hopeless and afraid. Thankfully, however, we have not been left to ourselves.

 

The shepherd boy David was actually what is often called a “type” of Christ. He wasn’t “the Christ” but he was a type of the One to come. Without David’s courage and faith, eventually Saul and the Israelite army would have succumbed to Goliath and the Philistines. But in their weakness and in their time of need, God used David in an incredible way. What is interesting is that as 1 and 2 Samuel unfold, we come to see that David was weak and sinful too, and was in need of the grace of God every bit as much as we are. And no matter what the circumstance – whether it be the highest high (defeating Goliath, military victories, his coronation as King, etc.) – or the lowest low (on the run from Saul, committing adultery with Bathsheba, murdering a Uriah, taking the census, etc.) David was in desperate need for the rescuing grace of God and for the most part, he knew this (see Psalm 51).

 

Friends, it’s not about us being like David. It’s not about us taking on a savior mentality and thinking we can defeat the enemy of sin and the other giants in our lives. We can’t! Therefore, we must look to the One who can. We must look to Christ. True faith forces us to look away from self, and unto God. Two thousand years ago Jesus died on the cross and He paid the price for our sins. He bore the wrath of God (1 Peter 2:24) and the Scripture tells us that by His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). Apart from Christ, we would just be like those Israelite soldiers – fearful, afraid, hopeless, purposeless, and weak. Maybe for some of you, that’s where you are at today and you need to humble yourself before God. But the gospel tells us that if you have Christ in your life, all of that changes. The weak become strong, the lost are found, the blind can see, the orphans are adopted, the timid become courageous, and those who are weeping shout for joy! That’s what God does for the humble at heart – for those who admit their need for Christ. You see, it’s only when we have Christ in our lives that we can be like David, courageously facing the giants of life.

 

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

The Shame of the Gospel

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16

Let’s make an assumption here. The apostle Paul would not have said these words if he didn’t feel there was reason to be ashamed. If there were nothing shameful about the gospel, then it would be pointless to make such a statement. In all reality, the gospel will always be considered “shameful” by the world. Why do I say that?

1. The Gospel tells me I am a sinner.

No one wants to be told they are a sinner, but that’s what the Bible tells us (Romans 3). If we don’t understand that we are sinners who have broken God’s law, we will never come to see our need for Christ.

2. The Gospel tells us there is only one way to heaven.

Postmodernism has taught us quite the opposite – that there are many ways to heaven and many ways to God – you just have to pick your vehicle to heaven.

It’s tough to respond to that, isn’t it? I can remember sharing the gospel with a friend of mine several years ago. After I was done, he told me – “that’s great Dan that Christianity works for you, but it doesn’t work for me.” That kind of response is quite common today. To affirm the exclusivity of Christ does not sit well with most people.

3. The Gospel tells us that a man was and is God.

For 2000 years, scores of people have found it shameful to say that Jesus was God incarnate – God in the flesh.  But that’s what the Bible tells us – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). As Christians, we affirm that Jesus was fully God and fully man. It is precisely because of that that Jesus could be Redeemer.

4. The Gospel tells us that one day we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

This is another tough one for modern man to accept. We have come to believe that we are not accountable to anyone and no one has a right to judge us – even God. But the bible teaches that everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ where we will give an account for everything we have ever done. Our only hope will be the mediating work of Jesus Christ. If you can’t say the blood of Jesus has covered your sin, God will hold you to account.

5. The Gospel tells us that we can’t work our way to heaven.

It is only natural to think that we should be rewarded for our efforts. For example, if we have worked for many years at our job, we expect that eventually we should be rewarded with an adequate pension or retirement plan. We have paid our dues and now it’s only fair that we are rewarded accordingly. Once again, however, the Gospel message is opposed to such thinking.  No matter how hard we work and how much good we think we’ve done, it’s never enough (Isaiah 64:6). The only way we can be saved is by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and by trusting in the finished work of Christ. We must accept that the infinite merit of Christ is enough to satisfy the demands of God’s justice. And we must realize that our own performance could never be enough before that same just and holy God.

6. The Gospel teaches us that the wisdom of man is foolishness to God and that the strength of man is weakness to God.

We want to be seen as wise. We want to put our knowledge and learning on display. We want to be strong. We want to be successful. And on and on it goes. But the Bible teaches that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor. 1:25) Sinful man does not want to admit that all his wisdom and understanding is foolishness to God. In our prideful hearts, we find that shameful.

7. The Gospel tells us that we need to repent of our sins and believe in Christ for our salvation.

Modern man would like to think he is autonomous – that we don’t need anyone, much less God. We’d like to sing along with Simon and Garfunkel, “I am a rock; I am an island.” So when we hear a message that demands humility and surrender, you can bet that that message will viewed as shameful and foolish and ultimately rejected. But the Gospel tells us that we need Jesus Christ. There is no other way to be saved from our sin. God made provision for our need through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So….. “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  (1 Cor. 1:18) We might as well accept that the world views the Gospel message as sheer foolish. However, if you are a true believer, you will glory in the message of the cross. You will glory and rejoice in the gift of God, which is eternal life (Romans 6:23). The solution is not to downplay the shame of the gospel, but to preach it faithfully and pray that God would own the eyes of the blind and rescue the souls of those who are perishing.

Pastoral Envy

The tenth commandment reads as follows: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). This is simple enough to understand – don’t envy your neighbor for what God has given him – but it can be hard to follow. Our daughter Elizabeth really struggles with this one. Elizabeth will be playing away, happy as can be, but as soon as her sister Anna grabs a new toy, Elizabeth quickly decides she wants that same toy. Elizabeth makes her wishes known very clearly to Anna (and to all) and is not satisfied until she has that toy. Perhaps you have toddler like our precious Elizabeth who struggles with envy. This doesn’t surprise us when it comes from a child, but how often do we “grown up” Christians struggle with this same sin? Even pastors, if we were honest, would admit that we too struggle with envy at times. As we encounter fellow pastors with larger churches, the sin of envy is always lurking nearby.

This past Sunday, while preaching on 1 Peter 5:1-4 and “Shepherding the flock of God”, I reminded our congregation to pray for the elders. After all, we are fallen sinful men right in the middle of our own sanctification. Just because God has appointed us to lead and shepherd does not mean we do not still struggle sin, including envy. As John Brown (1830-1922) said to one of his ministerial pupils who was newly ordained over a small congregation: “I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will be mortified that your congregation is very small in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment seat, you will think you have had enough.” (Taken from Mark Dever’s book – The Church)

Small church pastors (like myself) can be prone to this, but I have also learned that larger church pastors also struggle with envy and covetousness. There is always someone with a bigger or more fruitful church that we compare ourselves to. Where Brown’s words are particularly helpful is in his reminder that we will all give an account to the Lord. The writer of Hebrews tells us “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). One day, each pastor-shepherd will stand and give an account before God as to how he led, fed, cared for, and protected the flock God entrusted to him. Whether your church is 50, or 500, or 5000, the responsibility is monumental. This is why the small church – big church measuring stick is not always helpful. The business of soul-care has eternal ramifications and this is what makes pastoral ministry so challenging but at the same time very rewarding.

Rather than focusing on how big our friend’s church is (and how small our church is), may we commit ourselves to pray for our brethren in the ministry. Rejoice in how God is blessing and working in your friend’s church and remember that he desperately needs your prayers. He will stand before God to give an account. Along with that, commit yourself to caring for the flock of God entrusted to you. This is a stewardship like no other stewardship, and only the deepest commitment to God’s people in your midst will do.

The Destructiveness of Sin

Do you remember the Old Testament story of Amnon and Tamar? I figured. It is one of those often overlooked Bible stories even though it is intensely practical. Rather than summarizing the story for you, I thought I would give you the text from 2 Samuel 13:1-15:

Now Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David’s son, loved her. And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother. And Jonadab was a very crafty man. And he said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill. And when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Let my sister Tamar come and give me bread to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat it from her hand.’” So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. And when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.”

Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go to your brother Amnon’s house and prepare food for him.” So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, where he was lying down. And she took dough and kneaded it and made cakes in his sight and baked the cakes. And she took the pan and emptied it out before him, but he refused to eat. And Amnon said, “Send out everyone from me.” So everyone went out from him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the chamber, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes she had made and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. 11 But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” 12 She answered him, “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. 13 As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” 14 But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her. 15 Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!”

Much could be said about this story. Much could be said about the destructiveness of sin and specifically, lust, but let me offer just a few thoughts. In the time leading up to Amnon raping his sister, he was flat out miserable. She consumed his thoughts and emotions and the text even says he was “tormented” and, “he made himself ill (verse 2).” This was his sad condition before the rape. No joy, no contentment, just lust. Amnon believed that the only way he could find fulfillment was by acting on his passion. His desire would be met; his lust satisfied.

But notice his condition after the rape. “Amnon hated her with a very great hatred.” Everything he thought he would gain – joy, fulfillment, pleasure – was nowhere to be found. Whatever satisfaction he gained through this horrific crime was quickly usurped by hatred for his sister.

Sin always promises what it can’t deliver. There might be an element of short-term pleasure, but there is never lasting satisfaction. Anyone who has ever struggled with pornography can testify to the truth of this. The enemy always tries to tell us that sin’s reward is greater than its consequences, but it’s just a lie. That’s why Jesus called the devil “the father of lies” in John 8:44.

The bottom line is this – sin is destructive, it is toxic, and ultimately it kills us (Romans 3:23, 5:12). The sad footnote to the life of Amnon is that a couple years later his half-brother Absalom murdered him. Tamar was the immediate victim of this crime, but it also negatively affected David’s whole family.

One last thought. Beware of thinking this “little sin,” whatever it might be, won’t hurt anyone. First of all, it will hurt you, and secondly, there’s a good chance it will hurt others too. Worst of all, I can guarantee you it will negatively affect your walk with the Lord. So please don’t ever try to rationalize sin in your mind. Find your joy in God (Psalm 37:4) and flee from sin.