by Sara Littlejohn, MAC
Counselor, BCTM-East MS
It was eleven o’clock on a school night and my 7th grade daughter sat on the edge of my bed sobbing, “It is all just too much!” We were on day two of distance learning and day 20 of social distancing. I crawled up next to her and whispered, “I know, I know, it is all too much for me too!” I wrapped her up in a hug and told her I wanted her to go to bed and whatever had gone sideways with her day – with her school assignments, with her heart and mind – we were going to evaluate it under the light of a new day.
There is no prize being handed out to the set of parents who quarantine the best during COVID-19. Some families are genuinely enjoying the extra time with their children at a slower pace of life. Some families are really struggling, feel like they are drowning, and making it through each day is a complete victory. As thoughtful and compassionate believers, we would be wise to give each other an extra ounce of grace to run the full spectrum of parenting emotions during this quarantine.
Whether you are living your best quarantine life right now or just surviving this quarantine life, here are a few suggestions that might help your kids process what is going on around them. And if it all feels like it is just too much and you cannot handle one more suggestion, that’s ok! Hug those babies and keep moving forward.
Find the Heart
Right now our kids are experiencing a broad range of emotions: disappointment, fear, loneliness, exhaustion, confusion, relief, happiness, depression, anxiety and so many more. One helpful thing to do is find a healthy outlet for our kids to express what they are feeling and experiencing.
As parents, we do not like seeing our children anxious, disappointed or sad. But it is very important to invite our children to share with us what they are feeling and experiencing. They are real people, with real feelings and real experiences. And they are carrying all of it around in their tiny bodies. We might assume we know what they are feeling and experiencing, but until we give them the opportunity to tell us, we cannot be certain.
By inviting our children to share with us what they are feeling and experiencing we are directly reflecting how our Heavenly Father invites all of us to share with Him what we are feeling and experiencing.
Inviting our children to share with us what is going on inside of them will look differently for each. Some kids will love to journal their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Some kids will better be able to express their feelings through drawing you a picture, a Play-Doh sculpt or a Lego tower. Some kids will want to sing you a song or even put on a play about how they are feeling. Get creative here! Give them a simple prompt, “Journal, draw, sculpt, build with Legos, sing me a song, or put on a play about how you feel about the Coronavirus.” After they complete the prompt have them explain their project to you to the best of their ability. As a parent, this can be a rich time of uncovering what is going on in their little hearts and minds. Besides helping you understand your children, giving them this kind of opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings in healthy, constructive ways might also keep them from more unhealthy and destructive expressions later on.
Remember, after you invite your children to share their experiences and feelings with you, you want to respond by thanking them for sharing with you personal and important things. Don’t try to fix their feelings or minimize their feelings. Instead, ask them if there’s anything you can do to love and encourage them right now. Or even better, pray with your children after they share. You can teach them by example how to take those personal experiences and feelings they just shared with you to the Lord. Together, in word and deed, you can boldly approach the throne of grace knowing you serve a God who hears the prayers of his children.
Find a Rhythm
Many of us have undergone a major shift in our schedule and daily routine. We are all searching for something predictable and familiar. Finding a new rhythm will not look the same for every family, but it can be helpful to establish one while we all learn to wait well.
Some families will benefit from a daily schedule with activities designated for each hour. I would digress in my sanctification if I tried to implement this in our home, but many of my cherished friends and family are thriving in this approach. Some families (like mine) are benefiting from a list of things that need to be accomplished and then going about doing them throughout the day. Regardless of how you find your new rhythm, make it one that is fitting for both you and your children. Don’t try and be a superhero. Be reasonable and keep your expectations on yourself and your kids sane. Remember, no prizes are being handed out for the most beautiful, crafty and organized quarantine. Your new daily rhythm might look like keeping all the people under your roof alive, fed and clothed. Celebrate even these seemingly small accomplishments!
While the rearrangement of our days can be disillusioning, remember to point your heart and your children’s hearts to a rhythm and a foundation that never shifts beneath us: the God who is our sure foundation and our stability during this time (Isaiah 33:6). He is the God that supplies us every day with our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). He is the God who never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). We cannot promise our children or predict for our children how these next few days, months and years are going to unfold, but we absolutely can point them to the God who holds our every single day.
It is not a matter of if we are going to blow it as parents during quarantine, but really a matter of when (and how often) we are going to blow it. We are going to lose our patience, say unkind words, be selfish, get frustrated and lose our way. But what an opportunity to practice repentance and humility before our children. If you sin against your child, repent. If your child sins against you, forgive. Isaiah 40:11 reminds us that our Savior gently leads those that are with young. I don’t know about you, but I need a gentle Guide right now. We are with our young a lot right now, and Jesus never stops pouring out His grace and His kindness toward us as we navigate this new terrain. It’s alright to admit how confused, upset, irritated, or anxious you are right now – that’s exactly why you need a Savior! So put your hope in him, and point your kids toward him (not yourself) for hope as well.
A new day did come for my struggling 7th grade daughter. The sun came up and a new day dawned, and while our troubles did not disappear we were able approach them with new energy. A new day is also going to come for each of us. COVID-19 does not get to write the final chapter of our days and even our lives. Our hope, our children’s hope and the only hope for this broken world is found in the Living Hope that is Jesus Christ. May just an ounce of this hope sprinkle onto our everydays as we seek to gently lead our children as we are gently led by the Good Shepherd himself.
What hope do we have during this season of upheaval and uncertainty? Where is peace found when our normal sources of security – family, friends, money, jobs – are up in the air? The coffee shop barista who has lost a job, the high school senior who will miss prom, the restaurateur who is now considering bankruptcy – where can they find hope in the midst of their loss?
Coronavirus has made one thing obvious: hope and peace cannot be found in things that, to use the words of Jesus, “moth and rust destroy” and “thieves break in and steal.” To use more updated terms, things that Coronavirus can infect and affect. So then, to where or to whom do we go for hope? Jesus offers us a hope that is utterly immune to Coronavirus and that will outlast the collapse of civilization: his resurrection. With Easter Sunday being less than two weeks away, this is an especially appropriate time to reflect on this hope and how it applies to our current predicament.
Before Good Friday was Good
Before the resurrection occurred, the cross was everything but victorious. Friday was everything but Good Friday. What hopelessness must have been in the hearts of the two women as they watched the limp body of Jesus laid in the tomb! What panic must have peaked in the disciples as the stone was rolled in front of the tomb! They had placed every last ounce of hope in Christ and the kingdom that he promised to establish. They had entered into Jerusalem just five days ago with their heads held high as their Master was praised with palm branches as King. And now those same heads wagged with shame and grief over the complete humiliation of that King.
It is probably not too difficult for you to empathize with the overwhelming emotions of the disciples as you see COVID-19 threaten your security and take away things that are precious to you. The disciples had just witnessed the greatest tragedy in all of history. Of course they are panicking! Of course they’ve fallen into a black grief! Could there be anything worse than people putting to death God’s Beloved who came to save them? Creatures putting to death their own Creator?
The Dawn of Hope
But let’s continue to track with their emotions as hope enters into the Story. The Sunday morning after Jesus died, in the midst of their panic and grief, Mary Magdalene and her friends went to visit the tomb. And we know they didn’t have a clue what news awaited them there, because they were discussing on the way how they were going to get the tomb’s stone rolled out of the way so they could see his body and mourn.
When they got to the tomb, an angel delivered the news to the mourning women: “He has risen!” “What? No, there’s no way. Can’t be…can it?” A bewildered hope entered their hearts that perhaps Friday was not the end of the Story. A wild faith emerged that looked beyond the limp Body taken down from the Cross to the power and faithfulness of God. Matthew calls this mixture of emotion, “fear and great joy,” Mark calls it “trembling and astonishment.” However you describe it, Jesus’ disciples were blindsided by the hope of the resurrection. Akin to their Old Testament ancestors, they found the answer to the question, “Is anything too wonderful for God?”
But perhaps the most fearful, joyful news of that Sunday morning was that the cross of Friday was, after all, a good thing. The very thing that caused such grief was now a cause of joy. The very thing that had humiliated their King now exalted him. For his death was not the end of his kingdom, but its inauguration. Apart from the resurrection, Jesus was just another martyred prophet. But his resurrection declared his sacrifice an acceptable payment for the sins of his people. What a fearful, joyful thing that our God can take news as terrible as the crucifixion of the Son of God and turn it into the Good News that we know it to be today. This is why the cross has for so long been the defining symbol of Christianity.
The resurrection also serves, in this sense, as the basis of Christian hope in suffering. For if even the death of God’s Son can be made into such good news, what sorrow of ours will not undergo the same transformation? Let us not doubt God’s power and promise to apply the resurrection to our own sufferings, sooner or later. As CS Lewis once said, let us not say of a certain sorrow that no future bliss can make up for it, forgetting that heaven works backwards: God does not only promise to make up for our suffering with a consolation prize, but promises to transform our agonies into glories, just as he did the tragedy of the Cross. Christ, in his resurrected body, is the Living Hope that all who believe in him will share in the blessings of his resurrection. Some of those blessings we receive now (the “down payment”) and some we’ll receive in the age to come.
And as you consider your present circumstances, here in the midst of COVID-19, can you look beyond the limp body of our nation’s economy to the faithfulness of God? Can you see a future beyond the crucifixion of your career, a future that rests in the hands of a King who loves you enough to take a bullet for you? As you suffer, will you do so in hope, believing that whatever agonies await you in the next month can and will be transformed by the same God who transformed the agony of Jesus?
Suffering and Hope Go Hand in Hand
Now, that does not mean we are called to be stoics who do not feel any pain – not at all. Jesus himself was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” when sickness took the life of his friend Lazarus. And as Lazarus’ friends and family mourned their loss, Jesus himself wept over his world that had been infected by death.
What’s happened in China, Spain and Italy is awful. What’s unfolding now and in the next few weeks in the United States is very real and scary. In the past two weeks, I’ve talked with pastors who wept over the devastation of their flock, 12th graders who won’t walk at graduation, bosses overwhelmed at having to lay off half their employees, moms floundering to teach their children at home. My own (very social) child burst into tears at the thought of weeks (months?) without seeing his friends. Wherever you are in this mix, however you are suffering, take a moment and imagine with me the face of Jesus as he wept over the death of Lazarus. How does that face look to you? Did his eyes simply get moist or did the tears flow freely? Did he cry quietly to himself or sob aloud? Did he hide his face or did he let everyone see the pain on it, and see the heaving of his chest? Whatever it looked like, it was striking enough that the bystanders looked at him and said, “See how he loved him!” It was obvious to them that Jesus must have cared very deeply for Lazarus and his two sisters to have wept in that way. Do you know that in the same way he wept over the loss of Lazarus, he weeps with you, believer, over your losses? And the implication of his tears are the same for you as well: “See how he loves us!”
But for the sake of hope, we must remember the rest of Lazarus’ story. Jesus wept knowing that five minutes later, Lazarus would be alive and well again, resurrected from the dead. In other words, hope and suffering were not contradictory for Jesus, but could both be in his heart at the same time. Surely we, too, are allowed to grieve, to be deeply moved, to weep over suffering. And just as it was with Jesus, rather than deep distress and grief forcing hope out of our hearts, such suffering can go hand in hand with hope.
COVID-19 can infect our bodies. It can collapse the economy. It can disrupt our way of life. But it cannot infect our hope if it’s in Christ, who overcame the world; in Christ, who lovingly died for us; in Christ, who resurrected from the dead. For our fate is already secured, being wrapped up and joined to his fate. So take heart, you who are in Christ, you have a hope that is immune to all suffering, even the Coronavirus.
Responding to a Child’s Sin
When your child sins, how do you respond? Does your response invite and move them toward the God of grace? Or does your response unintentionally push your child in another direction, creating distance in their relationship with you and confusion in their relationship with the Lord?
In such challenging seasons of parenting one thing well-meaning Christians may be tempted to do is question their child’s standing with the Father. Implicitly, this may take the form of a long-term, understated disposition toward your child that questions their status as children of God. Whether this takes place in conversation between you and your spouse or simply in your own heart, either way your child will likely pick up on your doubt. Explicitly, in hard moments when egregious sin has been revealed, it may sound like, “How can you call yourself a Christian?” or “Are you even a believer?”
So, is this the best way to approach our children? Is it helpful for believing parents to question their child’s salvation, whether openly or inwardly? I ask these important questions specifically considering a child who verbally professes faith in Christ, whether or not they are producing visible fruit (for children who don’t believe, see the next blog). Before we answer, let’s ask the question behind the question – what do we think of the Christian who sins? What do we think of ourselves when we sin?
God’s Response to His Children
We get a glimpse of the way God responds to his sinful children in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. The Corinthian church is a wild and scandalous bunch! Although they have not abandoned the gospel, they are grossly abusing it. Rather than the godly fruit Paul had hoped to see in this church he planted, he hears that they are suing each other, sleeping with prostitutes, and even getting drunk at the Communion table! What you might expect Paul to say in response is, “Obviously you are not believers, or else you wouldn’t be so rebellious.” Or, “I see no fruit in your life, so you must not be truly saved.” But, in the counter-intuitive way that God’s Holy Spirit often works, Paul actually does the exact opposite. Listen to how he responds to their scandalous sin:
- To those engaged in lawsuits against one another, he asks, “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Cor 6:3)
- To those sleeping with prostitutes, he exhorts, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor 6:19)
- To those being divisive in the church, he graciously poses, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16)
In each question, there is an assumption of salvation, not a questioning of it. To those who have been sexually immoral, he assumes salvation when he says, “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” To those who are suing each other, he assumes salvation when he speaks of their future reign with Christ, saying, “Don’t you know you’ll judge angels?” Paul is still able to assume salvation in speaking with these people because he knows it does not depend on their own righteousness, but on Christ’s, in whom they believe. So even when we abuse grace by our sin, God’s response is not “Clearly you are no child of mine, depart from me.” But instead, we hear grace that is utterly shocking! His response is, “Don’t you know you are my child? Come back to me.” “Child, you know this isn’t who you are anymore. Be who I’ve already pronounced you to be.”
It’s not that God doesn’t care about holiness. Just the opposite! He is undoubtedly committed to sanctifying his sinful people. But, as we see in Paul’s example, God’s primary method of sanctifying us is not by threats of judgment, but by promises of grace. So even when he confronts sin, it is done in a way that invites and attracts us to the Savior.
So how does Paul’s example inform us as parents?
True vs. False Assurance
As we go further it’s worth reminding: we are writing with regard to children who profess faith in Christ, even if that is with a great deal of wrestling, doubt, apathy, or seeming lack of evidence. It is a different case if they reject Christ outright, and we must deal with such frightening and dangerous implications accordingly (see upcoming blog). But, if the child says he believes in Christ, who are we to judge salvation? Do we know the human heart or have the precise metric for measuring the fruit of salvation? As Paul says, “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Cor 4:5). And so, for now, if they profess faith in Christ, then that is how we are called to deal with them – as Christians.
At this point you may think, “But I don’t want to give my child a false assurance of salvation!” If so, I am thankful for your concern, but I also want to further consider and test the true legitimacy of such concern. What are we supposed to base our assurance on? It is not on our work, our fruit, or our obedience. Those things may be the evidence of salvation, but we would be setting ourselves up for no assurance at all if we put our confidence in something as fickle and unreliable as ourselves. Reader, can you confidently say that there is no “fruit” lacking in your life? Or can you say that there aren’t areas of your life or seasons in which the evidence of your salvation is dim? I surely can’t! Thank God that “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5)!
The assurance of our salvation must stand firmly and solely on the already finished work of Christ at the Cross. Period. There is no such thing as false assurance that is based on the Cross. Just the opposite, if in Christ’s work your child is assured of their salvation, they are children of God, indeed. Ironically, it is when we question their salvation in times of failure or disobedience that we are actually contributing to a false assurance, making them think that salvation waxes or wanes based on their behavior.
It is a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel that produces the fruit of his Holy Spirit and change in a person’s life. So if we do see sin or we do see major blind-spots, we must call them away from sin to a renewed belief in the gospel. And even as we do so, we do it not to them as unbelievers who need to be perfect to attain salvation, but as believers who are going through the ups and downs of progressive sanctification by the Spirit. The same ups and downs that we go through as Christians, even though circumstantial struggles are undoubtedly different. At no point will our righteousness ever be more than “filthy rags” in comparison to Christ’s perfect obedience done on our behalf, which is why we and our children must depend solely on the righteousness of Christ.
So, back to our original question, what then do we do when our children sin? If we don’t question salvation, then what do we do? By way of conclusion, here is a summary of three things to keep in mind as you attempt to shepherd your children:
1.We approach them as believers on the same difficult, lifelong journey of sanctification that we are on. You and your children are in the same category – pilgrims on the way. Imperfect, but being perfected by the Spirit. Sinners, yet justified in Christ. Broken, but redeemed and awaiting an even more glorious redemption.
2. We call them away from their sin. As sheep under the care of the Shepherd, we acknowledge the dangerous and foolish ways that they are straying from His care. They need discipline that is loving and restorative, discipline that is not in anger or judgment, but the kind of discipline that is a “rescue mission” (T. Tripp).
3. We call them to a renewed faith in the gospel. We aren’t calling them simply to different behavior, but to a deeper faith in the gospel, which is the root of real growth and lasting change. When our child’s egregious sin and failure is revealed, and our response is to question their salvation, we are implying that salvation depends on them, which will lead to either rejection of the faith (“I could never be good enough”) or legalism (“I’m saved as long as I am doing X, Y, and Z”). But when their egregious sin and failure is revealed, and instead our response is, “Aren’t you glad that salvation that doesn’t depend on our goodness?” then they will understand who this Jesus is and why he’s worth living for.
“Daddy, how can I possibly wait so long to open my Christmas presents?”
This was my four-year-old son’s question to me at 6:15 this morning, just a few minutes after he had gotten out of bed. He said it as he stared across the living room at two presents under the tree with his name on them. He has asked it several times in the last 24 hours. Now, he could be asking out of innocence, telling me that he does not know how to bear the feeling of wanting and not having, the act of waiting (especially on a surprise). But if he’s anything like his dad, he is also asking out of a heart best described by the song “Ill With Want” by the Avett Brothers:
“I am sick with wanting
And it’s evil and it’s daunting
How I let everything I cherish lay to waste…
The more I have, the more I think,
“I’m almost where I need to be,
if only I could get a little more.””
When my son asked the question, I was immediately struck with its importance and relevance for us all as we head toward Christmas morning. Because greed truly does make us sick: dissatisfied, always wanting more; ungrateful, thinking we aren’t getting what we deserve; anxious, always looking for the next fix. Greed perverts relationships – with God and people – into tools we use to feed our own gluttonous hunger for more.
In light of this, I decided to search the Scriptures for some help in preparing both my child’s heart and my own for this season. Here’s my working list of biblical ways to protect our families from greed and nurture a family after God’s own heart this Christmas. Make sure you read the Scriptures with the points!
1. Encourage your children to give their own gifts to the family (and if necessary, help them buy the gift and wrap it). Help them find pleasure in the anticipation of Mom’s face when she opens her gift from them.
- “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
2. Remember that sometimes our greed is not for luxury but for security (if I have a little more money, I’ll be secure). But whether for luxury or security, greed is idolatrous. Real security is found in the never-leaving, never-forsaking love of God.
- “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
3. Let your children see poverty first-hand and participate in mercy. Go visit the Burmese refugee family down the street, let your children play with theirs, and let them participate in showing them mercy in personal and material ways. Don’t just talk about how people in Yemen are starving; personalize poverty for them.
- “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (James 2:15-16).
4. Tell the story of Christmas as it really was – a poor, teenage mother who gave birth to a baby in the squalor of a stable, away from family and home, who was about to flee for her life as a refugee.
- “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
5. Each night in December, ask them to name three things they are thankful for. Help them to literally count their blessings, both physical and spiritual.
- “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (Psalm 103:2).
6. Teach them about the insatiable nature of greed in a way they’ll understand. I am thankful for the Berenstain Bears’ book The Green-Eyed Monster that has helped give our family words for the abstract idea of greed. “Don’t let the green-eyed monster in!” is more easily grasped by a child than “Don’t be greedy!” See also, The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies.
- “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Eccl. 5:10).
7. Toys break, Legos are lost, but the Word of our God remains forever. Let your children feel the transient nature of earthly treasures, that all things are cursed by the Fall. Don’t condemn toys as worthless (we are embodied creatures, after all), but model for them the superior and lasting joy of knowing Christ.
- “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
8. Tell them the Christmas story with an emphasis on how God’s people were waiting for the Advent of the Messiah. You could talk about how Mary waited and “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” You could talk about Elizabeth waiting for many years to become a mother (Luke 1). You could talk about Simeon waiting his whole life for “the consolation of Israel.” Your child is not the only one who has waited with great longing for Christmas Day!
- “For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:17).
9. Do an audit of your Christmas traditions to see if they are reinforcing materialism. Should Susie really write a letter to send to the North Pole, detailing her list of requests she earned by being a “good girl” this year? Are you going into debt each year to make Christmas bigger and better than the year before? Is Christmas morning a ravenous feast of children tearing into wrapping paper? Or is it the thoughtful giving of gifts to one another in honor of God’s gift to us?
- “And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions'” (Luke 12:15).
10. Help them long for and wait on the right thing: the Second Coming of Christ, when all the things that make them hurt and cry will be removed and replaced with a Joy that will never become boring, lost, or obsolete. A great way to help long for the right thing (and point #8) is with the practice of a family Advent each Sunday, leading up to Christmas Day.
- “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).
11. Asking God for help, search your own heart for any flavor of greed. Where have you let the green-eyed monster in? It could be greed for intangible things like success, power, approval, and control. It could be greed for tangible things like books, cars, clothes, houses. In an appropriate way, confess your own struggle with greed to your children, as well as your repentance. If you do all ten things listed above but still have the Gimmie Gimmies yourself, don’t expect your children to do otherwise.
- “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).
12. One final, very important point to conclude. While we are responsible as parents for the kinds of things on this list (a daunting thought!), we do not have the power to change the hearts of our children (much less our own heart). We must trust Him, both to forgive and to change the heart. If you think that it is up to you to change hearts, you will set yourself up for frustration and crush the spirits of your children. Why are you surprised that you children struggle with greed, like you? Be gracious with them, knowing your own desperate need for Rescue. And celebrate when you see the work of God in them.
- “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
What about you? Do you have any thoughts, practices, or traditions that keep you from being “ill with want” and help you cherish Christ during this season? If so, please send me an email with your thoughts – firstname.lastname@example.org. I need your help, too.
The classic tombstone epitaph is R.I.P., or Rest in Peace. Is that how you see death as you approach it? Or as someone you love approaches it? Do you look forward to it with a sense of rest or peace for what’s ahead? Or the opposite, a sense of despair and dread?
Realistically, each one of us is moving toward a physical death, though some of us tend to be much more aware of this reality. Such awareness can be very difficult to speak about, let alone embrace. So, how can our numbered days be peaceful when the brutal enemy of death is always approaching? How do we provide real help and lasting encouragement to those staring into the face of death? It doesn’t make sense to only consider the physical realm when we all agree that death comes to all men. Since we are built for eternity, we must give wise thought to the spiritual implications of death on this earth in order to prepare for the life to come: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature (physical body) is wasting away, our inner nature (spiritual soul) is being renewed day by day” (II Corinthians 4:16).
Knowing the truth definitely changes us, but knowing the truth does not make the process of change easy. Let’s face it, death’s approach can be scary. And, if you think that you are approaching the end of your physical existence all alone or are unsure of what happens when the final bell tolls, death is terrifying.
So, allow me to pose a couple of questions for believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior: is the cognitive knowledge of your Redeemer’s work – past, present and future – translating into heart knowledge? Do you find rest in his promise to never leave nor abandon you no matter what difficult circumstances you undoubtedly face? As we face mortality, there is no doubt that death is very real suffering, being Satan’s last attack on God’s people. But Jesus has already defeated the Evil One by conquering death, changing the nature of death for the believer, or as Paul puts it, taking out the “sting” of death. Rather than being the beginning of eternal condemnation, for the believer death is the first step into a Rest and Peace that we have just barely tasted in these mortal bodies. This is what Paul means when he says of our current suffering, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Have you met the peace that surpasses all understanding? Are you waiting well on the Father and resting securely in Christ who has already approached the final hour on your behalf? If so, are you being compelled towards a willingness to love others as Jesus first loved you?
I like The Eagles who wrote the song “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” but true and lasting peace is much bigger than an easy feeling. Peace is ushered in by the blood of Christ and it’s anything but easy and much more than feeling. Peace as a fruit of God’s Holy Spirit comes from the Hebrew word shalom which means all things made right again, the way they were meant to be. That is what the good news of Jesus Christ does, it makes all things right again. Learning to believe this reality in new and fresh ways encourages believers in Christ to rest well, or dare I say, rest easy. As we all press on towards death, may we do so with peace and hope in our hearts, because Christ Jesus has already made us his own.
My youngest child will soon be eleven. I remember when he used to look at me and say, “Dad, I want to be big like you.” I thought, “Why on earth would this kid want to be big like me when it is so hard the older I get?” But there was a problem with my thinking here: when my young child asked me a question, I only thought in earthly or “horizontal” terms. It wasn’t until the Lord allowed me to take these questions “vertically,” towards the Spiritual realm, that I could begin to consider them well.
After thoughtful wrestling, here is what I have deduced thus far as I’ve begun to think vertically about my age. Once, I longed for the youth of my day. Now, I celebrate grey hair as a mark of wisdom’s development. If you are fearing death or even nearing it, you have probably spent much more time than I considering this. What have you come up with? Do you bask in his glory as he prepares you for another World? Or do you hold on tightly to things that will pass away? Are your hands and fingers holding on to this “dear life?” Or are you singing “It is well with my soul” in celebration of the new and glorious body you are about to receive?
We’ve said quite a bit about Peace. Let’s finish by talking about Rest. As we are preparing to meet our Maker, how can we possibly rest? After all the bad we have done, and all the good we have left undone? We can only do so through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here is how the Gospel works. Quite simply, everything is fulfilled in Jesus. Please do not miss the Word “fulfilled.” The hard, difficult, brutal work of redemption was completed not by us, but by him. Redemption comes through his blood and righteousness – not ours. Everything that was required for our salvation, he accomplished already and offers it to us as a gift. We aim to live well, not to achieve this redemption for ourselves, but because it has already been achieved for us and given to us free of charge.
Please hear: this is not a “feel good” piece. No, this is a battle cry to lay down your sword and drop your weapon of offense and armor of defense, and gently embrace his armors of protection for you. He says, “Lay down your sword, little child, and celebrate my crown of glory as a helmet resting on your head, protecting you from the “sting” of death.” Your surrender cost you nothing – except your pride – because it cost him everything. The only way to Rest in Peace, both now and forever, is in the saving protection and provision of our Redeemer. So press on toward the Final Hour with hope, my friends.
What is Trust?
Trust is at the heart of all of our relationships, whether human or divine. There is no such thing as a healthy relationship without it. But trust can be hard to define. Its presence or absence is often felt, but rarely considered. So what is trust? Paul Tripp gives us this helpful definition: “Trust is being so convinced that you can rely on the integrity, strength, character, and faithfulness of another that you are willing to place yourself in his or her care.”
Four Examples of Broken Trust
Tripp’s definition is a great start. But to make it tangible, let’s illustrate the definition with four real-world (but fictional) examples of broken trust. Then we’ll consider how to mend it in each case.
- Jeffrey, a teenage boy, has been secretly looking at pornography for several years now, and after a recent YoungLife event, he has become deeply convicted about his addiction and decided that it’s time to quit. For several months he has been wrestling deeply, but the habit seems as bad as ever. He has not told anyone, worried that his YoungLife leader would find out or, even worse, that his parents would find out – something he is sure his parents would never forgive him for.
- Tom is a pastor at a small Baptist church in a rural town. Over the last twenty years, the church has never had a pastor for more than three years, but Tom has been there for five. The deacons, all life-long members of the church, have not allowed Tom to make any changes to the worship or community life of the church. They require him to submit a monthly log of how his time is spent and regularly question him about the necessity of the books and meals he has expensed. A deacon recently told him, “Your job is to preach, baptize, marry and bury. You leave the rest to us.” He is deeply discouraged, seeing so many things in the church that need to change but having no authority to work on them.
- A few years ago Eileen and her husband went out on a date and left their three year old son with a babysitter. While away on the date, her child had an allergic reaction to peanuts (which her husband was supposed to tell the babysitter about) and had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Eileen’s husband did not answer his phone when the babysitter called, so Eileen did not find out until hours later on their way home from their date. Their son was fine, but now, three years later, Eileen has a difficult time leaving her child with anyone but her mother (even her husband). Ever since the allergic reaction, she has wrestled daily with anxiety, and now, the summer before her son enters kindergarten, she has begun having panic attacks.
- Mary committed adultery with her husband’s friend twelve years ago, just a year after they had been married. She confessed to her husband, George, after a friend confronted her, deeply ashamed and repentant. Although they were separated for over a year, after several years of marriage counseling, they reconciled. Despite George’s clear statements of forgiveness, Mary often worries that her husband still holds her sin against her. In the last year she noticed that he was more withdrawn than usual and has begun regularly and secretly checking his phone calls and text messages, wondering if he is going to retaliate against her with an affair of his own.
The Problem of Trust
In each of these situations, a lack of trust is not the only issue at hand, but it is certainly central. The amount of problems that missing / broken trust can create is incalculable. Here are the problems as seen through the lens of broken trust:
- For Jeffrey, his unwillingness to trust others and allow them to see his addiction – what the Scriptures call “walking in the light” – is keeping his addiction in the dark, a place where growth and change cannot happen. He does not trust that his parents (or YoungLife leader) will remain faithful to him if he reveals his sin.
- Tom is a pastor in a system of leadership (the deacons) that has learned to operate in a vacuum of trust. But it makes sense – why trust a pastor when he’s just going to leave for a better job in a few years and hurt their people? Tom has proven that he isn’t going anywhere, but their pervasive mistrust of Tom doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and has led him into deep discouragement.
- To Eileen, the night of the allergic reaction showed her that no one could be trusted with her child – not a babysitter, not even her husband. She believes that only she, as the mother, can be trusted. But now this inordinate amount of trust in herself combined with the total lack of trust in others has led to a life dominated by fear and worry.
- Mary does not trust her husband’s forgiveness and faithfulness towards her, being haunted by guilt. As a result, ever since the affair, she’s been fearfully waiting for her punishment, wondering how and when it will come.
For these four friends, how can trust be built again?
The Beginning of a Solution: Who We Can’t Trust
In each situation, trust begins by realizing the truth – that no one on earth is ultimately trustworthy. It’s counter-intuitive, but true nonetheless. We believe in the fallenness of all humanity, meaning that people will fail you and let you down. Even Jesus himself, in his earthly ministry “did not entrust himself to them…for he himself knew what was in man” (Jn 2:24). So of course there is a lack of trust in these situations. Why should you trust people who are going to let you down?
So it must begin there, but the fallenness of humanity reaches further – it extends even to you. You will fail your own standards. You will let yourself down. You will break your own promises. All four situations are full of untrustworthy people, that is, people who at some point will break each other’s trust. Eileen, for instance, is right to have some measure of concern about others’ ability to care wisely for her child. But she is wrong to respond by placing her trust in herself instead. Because Eileen also lacks the wisdom and power to protect her child perfectly from a fallen world!
The True Solution: Who We Can Trust
So then, how do we build trust with untrustworthy people? We must begin with God himself, the only One who is worthy of our trust. You can go anywhere in the Scriptures and see his trustworthiness, but it is proven most clearly at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. If ever there was a time for Jesus to be unfaithful to his people, it was at the Cross, where we hammered the nails into his body and mocked him as a fraud and a fool, watching him weep and gasp his way to death under the curse of God and hatred of his people. And yet, even then, in our most evil and hateful moment, he chose not to forsake us, but to be forsaken for us.
Do you know anyone else who would still love you even if you nailed them naked to a tree and laughed as you watched them asphyxiate? Do you know anyone who would keep a promise even if it cost them everything they had? We see in Jesus the incarnation of Paul Tripp’s definition of trust: a Person whose integrity, strength, character, and faithfulness is so perfect that we can trust him with everything, completely, knowing he will not disappoint us.
Trusting God As a Way of Trusting People
So what does that mean for our four friends? First, they must trust the God of the Cross. And only then will they be able to build trust with other people in a way that is appropriate and wise:
- Jeffrey must trust in the unwavering faithfulness of God towards unfaithful sinners like him. Only then can he trust his parents enough to confess his sin to them, because even if they falter in their faithfulness to him, it will not be devastating, since he has a God who will never abandon him.
- Tom’s deacons must trust in the strength and integrity of the God who has promised to build his church and advance his kingdom. Trusting an infallible God first, they can trust fallible Tom as their pastor, knowing that even if Tom’s strength fails (it will at times) or his character has some holes (it does), there is a sovereign and mighty God still at work, who cares far more about the church than even they do.
- Eileen must trust in the character (goodness, wisdom, and love) of God. She must consider the nail-scarred Hands that hold her daughter and guide every day of her life, trusting that whatever happens goes through the filter of his faithful love. Then she can begin to trust her daughter in the hands of imperfect people, and find peace for herself.
- Mary must trust in the forgiveness of God. Her lack of trust in her husband’s forgiveness is a reflection of her lack of trust in God’s. She thinks her sin is too great to be forgiven, but she has not considered how great of a cost was paid to purchase that forgiveness. Only as she trusts God’s promise that he does not condemn her will she begin to trust her husband’s promise of forgiveness. Then she can begin to be motivated by grace rather than guilt, by love rather than fear.
“I Know I Should But I Can’t”
One last comment by way of conclusion. Trust is not easy. Our fears are often large and loud in our lives, and it can be hard to hear the whisper of God’s faithfulness. What do we do when we know we ought to trust God, but we simply can’t? How do we make ourselves trust him?
Two things. First, pray what someone once said to Jesus in his ministry, “I believe, help my unbelief!” God loves to answer that prayer. And second, behold Him. Don’t look at yourself. Don’t look at the person who has broken your trust. Look at Him. Look at how trustworthy he proves himself to be in the Scriptures. See his faithfulness to unfaithful people in biblical history. Listen to your pastor as he preaches about the promises of God and their fulfillment in Christ. Look at Him for a month, and then take a quick look at your trust. You will find that your trust has grown as you were beholding our trustworthy God.
Not long ago after an apology to my family we had a discussion over dinner about confession and repentance – not the ordinary dinner table topic at our house! But I’m very thankful for the redemptive opportunity. We spoke about how you must separate these two pillars of faith (confession and repentance) in order to understand how they are united in Christ.
We went around the table and let everyone have their voices heard and when finished we came away needing a bit more theology. My wife and I decided to model confession and repentance for our three children. Everyone agreed that I was quick to confess sin or wrongs and Martha was quick to change behavior. But, is repentance changing behavior only? Or is repentance confessing only?
Confession for whatever reason is easier for me and more of a challenge for my wife. But behavior change? That is much harder for me, but my wife can change behavior on a dime! It’s very impressive. If Martha feels out of shape, it’s very easy for her to transform her diet and add in regular exercise. But she doesn’t want to talk or think about the heart transformation (e.g. body as a temple, glory of God) that ought to undergird that behavior change. On the other hand, let’s say I have a problem with being messy (I do). I am quick to confess it as a problem, say I’m sorry, and think through why my car, desk, or bedroom is messy. But I am very slow to change my behavior and pick up the mess!
This also affects how we parent. If our kids have a messy room, Martha doesn’t want to know why it’s messy and doesn’t see a need to talk about it with the kids. The room needs to be cleaned – end of story. In other words, she wants behavior change. But I want to talk to my kids about why they keep leaving their rooms a wreck and why it’s a problem. In other words, I’m looking for confession and a change of heart. But sometimes it takes a long time to get to the behavior change, especially when I’m not Mr. Clean!
Back to our discussion around the table, my oldest daughter asked, “But Dad, is it true repentance without a change in behavior?” I explained, “Well, honey, yes and no. True repentance begins in the heart, before any behavior change happens. But if it is true repentance it will produce a changed life over time.” Since no one can see someone’s heart besides God’s Holy Spirit, we must give grace to the struggler even when we do not see the change that we believe needs to happen now! I explained further, “Your Mom may not confess as quickly as your Dad, but she is wonderful at changing behavior, which is great! But me? I may be quick to confess, but I long for a heart change often before my behavior changes.”
So what is true repentance? It takes both Martha and I together to model it well. True Repentance includes both confession of sin and change in behavior, but most importantly it’s a change of heart that produces Christ-like behavior over time.
Last month we introduced the idea of the need to RE-UP, or in other words, the need to renew your invitation to trusted friends and brothers to speak openly into your life. We were never meant to live the Christian life on our own. Hebrews 3:13 tells us why it is so important to RE-UP with one another: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” In other words, sin is deceitful and blinding by nature, so we need other people to lovingly point out where we have been deceived and blinded.
For church leaders this is especially important. As we begin, it’s important to define the true nature of an elder’s qualifications. Church leaders are called to be examples to their flock (1 Peter 5:3) and are required to be “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2). In thinking about these qualifications and others like them, it’s important that we interpret them using the lens of the gospel. When Peter says, for example, that elders should be examples to their flock, it does not mean they must never sin. But it does mean when they sin, they should be examples of repentant faith. When Paul says that elders should manage their household well, it does not mean that someone is disqualified or unworthy as an elder simply because he lost his temper at his children. But it does mean that the elder should lead his family in confession of sin and repentance when he does lose his temper. So the goal is not being a model of moral perfection, but a model of repentance; not an example in strength but an example in humility and awareness of personal sin and of grace.
Understanding the nature of these qualifications encourages leaders to invite others to speak into their lives. It encourages leaders because it means their calling is not at risk when someone sees their sin and weakness. It’s also a helpful reminder that leaders are just like the sheep they are leading, but called to a different position. The leader-sheep needs the same thing the follower-sheep needs. How will they be Christ-like examples if they don’t have someone helping them see where they aren’t living like Christ? And how can they be “above reproach” if they don’t have someone who knows their weakness and temptations and can wisely encourage them? So church leaders must RE-UP with one another regularly, renewing the invitation to others for help living as leaders.
If you are a ministry leader and have no one who truly knows you, ask yourself, “Why?” For pastors, is it a fear of job security? For elders, is it credibility among the flock? Remember, God’s qualification for an elder is not perfection, but humility born out of the gospel. Or does no one know you because you feel the need to protect your image among those you lead? There may be some wisdom there, but your sheep also may need to see a flaw or two so that they not mistake you for the Good Shepherd himself. Is it pride that keeps you from letting in your closest friends on your sin and weakness? There is no need to tell everyone everything about you, but there should be at least three people who know everything: your wife, a trusted elder, and a wise objective mentor outside of your local church.
The gospel simplifies the complexities of life. It is a simple thing to invite someone to speak openly into your life, but make no mistake, it is no easy task! It takes courage and humility, so if you have been invited, please don’t pass on the opportunity to speak the Truth with Love. This is a special gift of kingdom relationship. And when it comes time to speak, make sure your friend knows that you love them in Christ, and make sure that the invitation still stands (hence the need for the RE-UP). Also make sure your heart is in the right place – free of judgment, wanting the best for the person and for the kingdom. Above all, as you speak, remember that Truth and Love must go together, for as our brother Warren Wiersbe says, “truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.”
When you sin, what does God think? When you blow it, how does he see you? How does he respond?
We cannot answer these questions based on feelings, for as 1 John says our hearts will often condemn us when the Bible says otherwise. So setting aside our own feelings of guilt and shame for a moment, how do the Scriptures describe the way God responds to us in our sin?
Often the Bible gives us metaphors to understand the way God relates to us. He paints vivid pictures of things that are common and familiar to us to help us understand things that are otherwise unknown and intangible to us, finite creatures. So what metaphors do the Scriptures use for the way God relates to us in our sin? There are plenty to choose from. For those who are not part of God’s people, the language of the courtroom is used, with God as Judge and the sinner as law-breaker. But for those who believe in Christ and have been pardoned and justified, the metaphor of Judge no longer applies. I repeat, for the Christian, the metaphors of Judge and law-breaker no longer apply, since Christ was condemned for us, and we have been acquitted and justified by his righteousness.
The gospel changes the metaphor into something radically different. For one, it becomes familial, that of Father and child. This language clearly grows out of our adoption in Christ as sons and daughters. So, using these terms, how does he relate to us when we sin as children? As a loving Father, he disciplines the children he loves, out of concern for their well-being and maturity. Some of the most moving language of God’s relation to our sin is put in these terms. Hosea 11 envisions God as Father teaching us to walk as an infant, but then goes on to say that we use those legs to run away from him. Proverbs 3 speaks of God as a Father who disciplines us, but encourages us that his discipline is not proof of our rejection, but proof of his delight and of our legitimacy as sons and daughters. And how can we forget Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, where the Father graciously runs to and embraces his child “who was lost and now is found?”
But that is not the only metaphor the Bible uses to describe the way God relates to us as sinners, nor is it meant to be, for metaphors are always imperfect and incomplete when applied to a holy God. The Bible also uses another kind of language to speak from a different angle about God’s relation to us in our sin: the language of marriage.
Using the marital metaphor, God is Husband and his people are his bride. Even though we commonly hear this language from the pulpit and from the wedding altar, it is rarely applied to the relationship of God to his people when they sin. But the Scriptures do so frequently. So then, if God disciplines his children when they sin, what does he do when his bride sins against him? He jealously pursues her.
Perhaps this metaphor is not often used in this way because it has the possibility of making God look weak and needy. But God does not jealously pursue us because he needs us, but because he wants us. He is not trying to fill up a hole in his heart, but a hole in ours. And ultimately, it is his jealousy for seeing his glory displayed through his bride that propels him towards us. Still, the truth remains that God jealously pursues his people when they sin, like a husband pursues his wife whose heart is wandering away from him.
The Old Testament has an entire book on the subject: Hosea. As a whole, Hosea shows us that our sin is not simply the breaking of a Judge’s law, but the breaking of a Husband’s heart. In other words, our sin is far more personal in nature than the breaking of a law, which is why Hosea uses the metaphor of spiritual “adultery” rather than idolatry. Idolatry can be an elusive concept, being spiritual in nature, so God puts it in language we can understand: adultery.
Hosea displays God’s jealous pursuit of us through the prophet Hosea’s jealous pursuit of his wife Gomer, who is living with another lover. She clearly broke the marriage covenant. She has personally hurt Hosea and has publically humiliated him. And yet God says this to him, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods” (3:1). We see here not only the personal nature of our sin, but the personal nature of his grace. God is more than a Law-giver pardoning a criminal. He is even more than a Father disciplining a child. He is a Husband in pursuit of his bride, graciously calling her away from her lover’s arms. He is a Husband who pays whatever cost is necessary to buy back his wife from the brothel where her false lover has left her (3:2).
So what are the implications of this marital metaphor for us today? In adding this new language of husband and wife, we are rescued from some of the misunderstandings other imperfect metaphors might lead to, misunderstandings that strike at the heart of what we believe. I’ll give two examples.
First, ask yourself, “What is the purpose of the gospel?” Thinking in terms of Judge / law-breaker, we might think that the main purpose of the gospel is simply a cleansing of the guilty conscience, a “second chance” at life, or a means of keeping us from eternal punishment. But what is missing from that? God! Using the Husband / wife metaphor, the purpose of the gospel is that it restores you to your Husband! In other words, the point of the gospel is not simply the benefits of a clean conscience or a hopeful outlook on the future; the point is that it brings you to God and God to you!
John Piper, in his book God is the Gospel, gives the analogy of a husband who has made his wife angry. She has her back turned to him, hurt, distant. In that situation, what is the point of seeking forgiveness? Not so that the husband can feel better about what he did wrong. No! The man wants his wife’s forgiveness because he wants his wife back! He wants to see her face, talk to her, hold her. God’s purpose in forgiving us is the same: it’s not so that we feel better about our sin, it’s so that there is no longer anything separating us from knowing one another. Do you see how this metaphor makes the gospel more about Him, rather than only about us?
Likewise, ask yourself, “Why does God want us to be holy?” Using the Father / child metaphor, you may answer that our holiness is a way of honoring our Father whom we trust (which is right and good!). But unfortunately it is more often misunderstood as the exasperating demand of a Father whose love depends on our perfection. Protecting us from such a misunderstanding, in the Husband / wife metaphor, God calls us to holiness because he wants our hearts. He doesn’t just want your obedience, he wants you! And so our turning towards him in repentance becomes a way of expressing our heart’s desire for Him more than earthly treasures. Obedience becomes a way of showing our love for him, not a way of earning his love.
So in sum, as you find yourself aimlessly wandering away from God to false loves, remember God is not only the Father who lovingly disciplines you, but the Husband who jealously pursues you, saying, “Come back to me, my beloved. Come back to me.” In response, say with your repentance, “I’m on my way.” And say with your obedience, “There’s nothing on earth I desire but You.” In other words, respond to his grace, not by giving him reluctant obedience, but by giving him yourself.
Recently I spoke with a wise friend. I am thankful to have wise friends. I wanted to make sure this dear friend knew that he had not only earned the right to speak into my sinful heart, but I wanted him to know that I invited him to do so. He assured me that he had heard me invite him in, and also said thank you for the RE-UP on his invitation. Why did he say thank you for the RE-UP? He said it because he was grateful for the renewed permission to speak into my life. Have you RE-established, or RE-UPPED, your invitation to have your closest companions speak into your life?
First, make sure your closest confidants know they are invited and then continue to invite these people to speak the truth in love as your relationship develops. For example, if you are married, you should RE-UP with your spouse often. After 10 years of counseling ministry, there is clearly one problem that continuously gets in the way of relationships growing in grace: Thinking we know the other person. Thinking we know anyone, especially our spouse, is trouble. Ultimately, what are we communicating if we have someone “figured out?” One thing it communicates, and that our spouse hears clearly, is that the past is the indicator for future results. But where in that is the hope in the Lord’s power to change our spouse? Another thing it communicates is an abdication of our duty to be one of the Lord’s instruments in helping our spouse change. Allow me to walk this out in a real-life example.
I once met with a couple that had been married for nearly 50 years. We’ll call them Jon and Jan Jones. After building trust in relationship for some time together, I was invited to speak into their marriage. I posed this question: Are you still getting to know one another? They both audibly laughed at me. Longing to be in on the humor, I asked, what is so funny?! “We appreciate what you are trying to do young man, but we’ve been married longer than you have been alive!” Since I couldn’t argue this point, I agreed, and the Joneses attempted to RE-assure me that they already knew each other and desired to ‘move along’ in the counseling process. “Chase, get to something really helpful, please. Didn’t you hear us? My wife is mad at me ALL the time, and she nags me for checking out after getting home from such a difficult day at work. I’d like to see her work 10 hour days at 70 years old!” “Jon, I’ll bet I would get a lot more attention if my name were Budweiser or I was star in your favorite TV program!” I continued to ask many different questions, but the same theme continued to emerge. They were both convinced they knew each other, and if their spouse would hurry up and change, they could finally be happy.
Praise the Lord, Jon and Jan were still asking for help after 50 years of marriage and through the power and work of God’s Holy Spirit they were able to recognize that what they were doing was not working. They were attempting to change one another. Over time, we helped show the Joneses where they were asking for help and where they were assuming they had their spouse and their problems figured out. Obviously, trying to play the Holy Spirit by searching motives and changing behavior in our spouse does not go well.
Neither person knew how to help the other. They had stopped getting to know one another and certainly were not looking for the other to speak into their life. How could this marriage move towards Oneness without such help from one another? Thankfully the Joneses called after about one month to report their marriage was moving in a different direction. They celebrated with me. “Young man, we realized that we actually have not been ‘getting to know one another,’ so we’ve been working on learning about the other person.” Imagine that, after fifty years of marriage, the Joneses continue to grow in getting to know one another. It’s only when they committed to getting to know one another better rather than changing one another that they became truly helpful.
For those of you who are getting along or having slight disagreements in marriage, please let your spouse know that not only do they have permission, but you are inviting your husband or wife to speak directly in your life. If you are able to invite such directness, then you truly believe your spouse loves you. If you are growing a Kingdom-minded understanding of what Love truly is, you believe that your spouse has your interests above his or her own. Invite your spouse to speak the truth in love directly into your life today and remember to RE-UP as the years roll by and life continues to change. Without a doubt, your marriage will benefit as you continue to learn about your spouse.
We often speak of heaven as a place where our earthly suffering will end. And what a wonderful truth! No more dementia, no more cancer, no more broken relationships! Even better, no more of the thing which casts a shadow over every living creature on this fallen planet – death.
But there is even more wonder to it than that. In the new heavens and earth, our suffering on this side of eternity will not simply end, but it will be redeemed! It will be transformed! And the proof of that is the resurrection, where Jesus’ suffering did not simply come to an end, but was transformed into something good, even wonderful – the good news of salvation for all who believe. So as we live on this side of eternity, in which our bodies get sick and our minds break down and our souls are troubled, we can be sure that this suffering will not only come to an end, but will be redeemed in ways we cannot now imagine.
You can see this in Thomas’ experience after the resurrection. Thomas, the only disciple who hadn’t seen the resurrected Christ, said to the other disciples, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” In other words, “Prove it!” Thomas wanted undeniable proof. He could not comprehend how something as terrible as the crucifixion of Jesus – his Master, Friend, and Messiah – could actually be transformed into good news, as the other disciples were now claiming.
Eight days went by until Christ appeared again to the disciples, this time specifically to speak to the doubting Thomas. Knowing his request for proof, Jesus gives him exactly what he asks for. “Come, Thomas, see the wounds? Touch the holes from the nails, place your hand where the spear entered.” Thomas, of course, didn’t need to touch and feel. He fell on his face and cried in confession, “My Lord and my God!”
There is much in this story worthy of note, but perhaps the most unique thing about this scene is not so much to do with Thomas, but with the resurrected body of Jesus. The holes from the nails remained. The gash from the entrance of the spear remained. Isn’t that strange? You’d expect the resurrection body to be wholly unblemished and restored. So why is it that these wounds remain, wounds that are so reminiscent of the old life?
You might think it is something unique to Christ himself, but the resurrected body of Christ is meant to be the basis of our hope, the promise of the resurrected body we will receive, or as Paul puts it, the first-fruits of the rest of the crop. So we must ask: will our heavenly bodies be like Jesus’, having all the scars, and imperfections of this life? Even more, will our new minds and hearts still carry the wounds and grief of this life? In one sense, absolutely not. In another sense, yes, indeed.
Scripture sometimes refers to our present life in the body as a seed that must be buried in death (see 1 Cor 15, John 12:24). When the resurrection comes, everything that was invested in seed form will come to fruition. In the case of Christ, he sowed his crucifixion and reaped salvation for his people and glory for himself. The marks of the nails are no longer a cause for pain but joy. So the resurrection gives profound meaning and purpose to the lives we live in the present, since everything we do is a part of that seed that will come to fruition in the new creation. This is why David said in Psalm 56, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” David is trusting that God is taking account of his suffering so that one day He may redeem it – not simply ending it, but transforming it into good.
You probably cannot envision it now – how your cancer, your spouse’s dementia, your parent’s grief could be transformed into something good. But who would imagine, looking at an acorn, that it will one day be a giant oak tree? Likewise, who would have imagined that the disciples would, just three days after the crucifixion of Jesus, refer to his death as good news? The point is not for you to figure out how God will redeem your wounds, but to trust that he will, just as he did the wounds of his Son; and in that trust, that you find hope and courage to press on in the midst of this fallen world.
New Year’s Resolutions. What do you think – are they helpful? Biblical? Like much of life, it depends. As you consider making your New Year’s Resolutions over the next few days, here are seven pieces of wisdom from God’s Word to help you think and plan biblically for 2018:
1. Connect what you resolve to do to what He has already done. For example:
- “I want to work out three times per week because my body is a temple of the Lord and was bought by him with a price” (1 Cor 6:19-20).
2. Don’t do it alone. Tell a trusted friend or two about your resolutions and ask them to hold you accountable and pray for you.
- “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl 4:9-12).
3. You need the power of the Holy Spirit to follow through with these resolutions. Pray for strength and then trust that God will empower you (if your goals honor him).
- “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting…” (James 1:5-6; see also John 15:5).
4. Make goals that are not centered only on yourself, but on your marriage, family, and community.
- “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4).
5. Work from your salvation, not for it! Your completion or failure of these resolutions changes nothing about your standing before God, which is based on Christ’s righteousness, not yours.
- “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ…in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:7-9).
6. Make growth and change your aim, not perfection! Like Martin Luther said, “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise.”
- “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).
7. A thinner waistline, less anxiety, better organization – these are all good and worthy goals. But as you pursue and accomplish these things, keep in mind that your ultimate goal in this life is to glorify God. So think of your list of resolutions (get healthy, organized, etc) as a list of ways to honor Christ in the coming year.
- “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).
If in any of these things you need help from us at BCTM, we’d be glad to walk alongside you. May the Lord breathe life into our plans of clay in 2018!
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