Author Archives: JG

Disagreements | 2 Rules of Engagement

There’s a way to say something that prevents others from receiving it. If you’ve never experienced this, just consider how many times you’ve seen two people in an argument and witnessed the proverbial “ships passing in the night.”

In such moments, people don’t seek to understand each other’s point of view. Instead, their chief concern is sharing their perspective and scoring as many points for their side as possible.

Sadly, this is even true with followers of Jesus—those of us given the command to “love our enemies.” In my own life, I’ve been astonished at my own lack of love for someone who disagrees with me. As a result, I’ve developed two “Rules of Engagement” that have helped me navigate challenging conversations.

Rule #1: Be Faithful to Christian Character, not just Christian Truth.
I see this all too often—in my own life and in the lives of other believers: we so easily forsake Christian character in the name of Christian truth. Sure, we may “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3) and are “ready to give a defense for the hope with in us” (1 Peter 3:15). But we often do all this in a way that makes the truth look ugly, because we share it without any “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:16) for the other person.

In a stunning act irony, we loudly declare the Lordship of Jesus over such things as marriage, family, and education, but we fail to submit to His lordship when it comes to being compassionate, gentle, and respectful toward those who disagree with us.

We find ourselves more concerned with the rightness of our position than with how the truth could change someone’s life and lead them to experience God’s grace. In the name of conviction, we compromise compassion. One author captured the essence of this well when he wrote:

The chief reason for this is that in us men truth and love are seldom combined…Truth seduces us very easily into a kind of joy of possession: I have comprehended this and that, learned it, [and] understood it…[As a result] I am therefore more than the other man who does not know this or that. (Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, 16).   

While this is common, it is not acceptable for the follower of Jesus. Remember: it was our King who affiliated with and cared for the sinners of his day, reminding us that “it is not the righteous who need a doctor, but the sick” (Mark 2:13–17).

Did he preach to them? Absolutely, but he knew the appropriate time in place. Otherwise, he served people—those who were foolish, disagreed with him, and made bad decisions. This is what he did for us, what he did for you.

To be a follower of Jesus is to do likewise: to serve those who disagree with us (Mark 10:35–45). It does absolutely no good to contend for the truth of Christianity in way that makes it look ugly. Not only is this ineffective, but more importantly: it dishonors our great King who is a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).

Truth matters, but so does character. Without character, most people won’t give a rip about the truth we have to share with them. It’s an old saying, but it’s true: people just don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. 

Rule #2: Seek to be Wise, not Just Opinionated
Not everything we want to share needs to be shared. This is a basic truth we tell our kids while they grow up, yet I know that all too often I forget to exercise wisdom and self-control when it comes to sharing my opinion.

A few years ago, I came across a few passages in the Old Testament that really confronted this in me.

  • Proverbs 10:19—“When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is prudent.
  • Proverbs 18:2— “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions
  • Ecclesiastes 6:11—“For when there are many words, they increase futility.

We’ve all experienced this before, haven’t we? We’ve all been in conversations with someone who seemed to only care about sharing their opinion, winning the argument, and getting their point across. They weren’t concerned with our perspective, what we had to say, or entertaining the possibility that they were wrong. Even when they listened, they weren’t really listening. They were just gearing up for their response.

Honest confession: I have been this person. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say: we all have. I also don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Christians in general have a long history of being right in our convictions, but unwise in the way we communicate them to others.

The effect? Our words lack precision, accuracy, and insight. There’s no interest in what we have to say, because even though we may communicate a different message, we sound just like everyone else.

In the end, we find ourselves being a “noisy gong or a clanging symbol,” only adding noise to a culture in desperate need of wisdom and understanding. As carriers of Jesus’ gospel, we cannot afford to waste our words and add to the noise. We need to be wise, not just opinionated.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to dishonor Jesus by making His truth look ugly. Instead, I want to do everything I can to “adorn the teaching of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10) by walking in Godly wisdom that is “pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense” (James 3:16).

The need is too great, the gospel is too glorious, and people are too precious for us to settle for our opinions when what people really need is an encounter with Jesus Christ. We can facilitate that encounter by serving people and being wise toward them.

The question is: do we really love people?

Do we really care about their lives being transformed by the gospel? If we do, then we’ll do everything we can to serve them and speak to them with wisdom—even if it means keeping our opinions to ourselves.

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When God Seems Distant | 5 Things to Do

It’s something that happens for every believer: the wilderness seasons. You know, those seasons in your life when God seems distant. Very often, these seasons are characterized by a lack of joy in Christ.

Oh, we may be familiar with the truths of Scripture and aware of what we ought to be doing. But still: our hearts feel as dry as a wilderness and like the nation of Israel, we find ourselves wondering through life—waiting to see if God will fulfill His promise to fill our hearts with joy (John 15:11).

So, what can we do in these seasons? In my own experience, I’ve found the following steps to be helpful:

1.Listen to Music
Not just any music, but music that reminds you of the greatness of God and helps you cry out to him for relief. In my phone, I have a playlist entitled “In the Darkness.” This is the playlist I go to when I have seasons in which the light of God’s love doesn’t seem to be shining in my heart.

There’s just something about music that helps me connect with God. Not always, but very often: this playlist has been an instrument God used to bring His presence near when it felt so far away. Perhaps you know some songs that do this for you as well. If you don’t, ask someone for some suggestions. Some songs that do this for me are:

  • “The Way I Feel” by Tyler and Bailey Dodds
  • “Though You Slay Me” by Shane and Shane
  • “Fall Afresh” by Jeremy Riddle
  • “In Your Presence” by Jeremy Camp
  • “Presence Power Glory” by Citipointe Live

Either way: I would encourage you to make your own playlist and let God use it to communicate His presence to you during the dry seasons.

2. Read Scripture
Our tendency in these times is to check out from the work it takes to read the Bible. But this is a fatal mistake. The love of God in our hearts will often be fueled by the Word of God in our minds (Romans 12:1–2). Like gathering logs before making a fire, we must gather God’s Word into our hearts.

When the time is right, God will strike the match and re-ignite our passion for Him. The question is: will we have done the work of gathering the “logs” of Scripture into our hearts so that He has something to light when that time comes?

Some places I go to in such seasons of “log gathering” are:

  • Psalm 13
  • Psalm 23
  • Isaiah 40
  • Ephesians 1–3
  • Romans 5:1–10 

3. Go For A Walk
As simple as it sounds, sometimes we just need to get outside and feel the fresh air. In such moments, we need to be reminded of God’s majesty and one of the best places to do that is by taking a walk to gaze upon God’s creation, which constantly “declares the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1–2).

Not only does this give you a chance to look around and see the glory of God, but it also gives you a chance to be alone—not checking social media, away from your spouse and kids, and not consumed by the recent day or week at work. In the crazy-busy pace of my life, I need moments like this. I need moments to be alone with God, to sense His Spirit, and to not be in a constant state of hurry.

Maybe you need to calendar 30 minutes this week to go for a walk, or perhaps go for a drive, a run, or whatever you need. Either way: get alone with God in creation.

4. Read Good Books
I won’t labor this point, but three books I’ve found especially helpful during times of spiritual dryness are:

5. Ask People to Pray for You
During one season of spiritual dryness in my life, I tried to shoulder the burden on my own strength. “I can do this. I know the truth. I just need to be more disciplined and get my act together!” But, that ultimately proved to be an exercise in sanctified self-deception.

The truth is, I needed people to see my weakness so they could put their arm around me, pray for me, and let me know that I wasn’t fighting this battle alone.

During such seasons, you need the same. We all do. One of the greatest blessings of the local church is that God has given us people to bear us up during seasons of spiritual emptiness (Galatians 6:2). These need to be people you can trust to honor your struggle and walk with you through it—the sort of friends that stick closer than a sibling (Proverbs 18:24).

If you know who these people are, call them this week and ask to talk. If you don’t know who these people are for you, then pray for God to make that clear or to bring them into your life. Either way, we can’t do this alone.

Following Jesus, Believing the Gospel 
Even Jesus asked his disciples to pray for Him in His hour of need. And yes, they fell asleep on Him, but He still had the humility and courage to ask. In our effort to follow Jesus and be like Him, perhaps this is an area of our lives we need to put into practice.

Perhaps you have some other practices that are helpful to you during such seasons. I’d love to hear them. In the end, the struggle to know God’s presence is not a self-defeating endeavor. God is more willing to give than we are to receive. Even when we feel like God is distant, the gospel declares and reminds us that He is not (Hebrews 13:5).

In light of the gospel, then, let us make every effort to draw near to God—even when He seems distant. Because of what Christ has done, God only seems distant, but He’s actually not. He’s doing something; He’s at work—and He promises that if we will draw near to Him, He will draw near to us (James 4:8).

“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest”
(Matthew 11:28).

Which Jesus Do You Want?

By all appearances, you could call me a conservative Christian. I believe in the authority of Scripture and because of that, I try to align my personal beliefs about moral, social, and political issues (i.e. marriage and abortion) with the Bible. But sometimes I wonder if the Jesus I read about in the Bible isn’t the Jesus I think I’m following in my heart. Please let me explain.

I don’t know about you, but when I look at the apparent erosion of Christian values in the public and political square, sometimes I just want Jesus to swoop in and wake everyone up!

And if I’m being honest, there are times when I don’t want Him to do this because I’m concerned about people, but because life would just be more comfortable if there weren’t so much disunity and uproar in our nation. Things would be much easier if I could just turn on the news without hearing about the latest protest at a college university or the latest twitter bomb from our president.

Perhaps you know the feeling I experience often: you turn on the news only to hear about the latest group that doesn’t align with your personal values marching down the street, raising their signs, pushing forward legislation, and all we can think is, “Dear Jesus, will these people ever get a clue? How could they believe that?! Jesus, you can come back any time now.” Even if I don’t say it out loud, these are the thoughts I think quite often.

But the truth is: I really just want Jesus do follow me—my agenda, my plans, and my desires. Behind the unspoken thoughts of animosity toward those I disagree with is really a subtle infection of apathy that keeps me from loving these people through prayer, conversation, and understanding.

Thought: What if we were more specific when we think about following Jesus?

This came to my attention recently when I was reading a book by the profound British scholar, N.T. Wright. Wright says that for many modern Christians, when we think about God changing the world, what we really mean is that “we want is someone to implement the policies we already embrace, just as Jesus contemporaries did.” (Simply Jesus, 5)

In other words, we don’t really want Jesus to do His thing through us; we want to do our thing through Him. I’m not for a moment saying that we shouldn’t want moral, social, or political change to take place in our nation, but can we be honest enough to ask ourselves: how much of our motives for change are rooted in a genuine love for people instead of a love of comfort and preference? How often are our prayers for change motivated by disdain for people rather than a genuine compassion for them to know the Jesus we know?

Thought: Is there someone you can take to coffee this week who disagrees w/ you?

If you resonate with this, don’t be too hard on yourself. This fact has always been true of Jesus’ followers. Throughout the Gospels we read of Jesus’ disciples asking Him when He is going to set up His kingdom and how they could rule alongside them. Yet, Jesus consistently reminds them that He’s not trying to set up a political kingdom, but a spiritual kingdom of servants who love their enemies and pray for those who oppose them. To quote Jesus directly:

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. But it is not so among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” — Mark 10:42–45

While I believe in the validity and blessing of conservative Christian values, how often does my life reflect a mentality of serving others who don’t believe as I do? While Christians rightly condemn certain practices and values as evil and destructive to humanity, how often do we love, serve, and pray for the people who hold these values?

I would venture to say that Jesus isn’t going to bend to our political or social agendas any more than He did for His disciples. The question I find myself asking is: will I bend to His agenda? Instead of trying to get Him to follow me, will I truly follow Him by being a humble servant of people who disagree with me—even passionately?

Thankfully, this sacrifice is not without reward. When we submit our lives to the Kingship of Jesus, we are embracing the true and better vision for our lives He has in store. But this is something we can only realize through the sacrificial life of faith and obedience to Him. As Wright says regarding the first followers of Jesus:

“They were looking for a building to construct the home they thought they wanted, but he was the architect, coming with a new plan that would give them everything they needed, but within quite a new framework. They were looking for a singer to sing the song they had been humming for a long time, but he was the composer, bringing them a new song to which the old songs they knew would form, at best, the background music. He was the king, all right, but he had come to redefine kingship itself around his own work, his own mission, his own fate.” (ibid).

Perhaps this leaves you frustrated, or perhaps you find yourself re-motivated to get with His program. Either way, I think it is imperative that Christians embrace the fact that Jesus is King and because of that, He is going to change the world on His terms, with His agenda, and in His timing.

While we all want a Savior to take us to heaven, the real King Jesus is interested in changing our lives and making us His servant-missionaries long before heaven ever comes. Perhaps the frustration we often direct outwardly toward those who disagree with us should be re-directed inwardly toward ourselves when we disagree with Jesus.

Jesus makes it clear:

You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have?” — Matthew 5:43–46
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. — Matthew 16:24

Is this the Jesus you want?

How Does God Love Us?

I was recently having a conversation with someone who is trying to figure out what she believes about God, Jesus, and Christianity. In the course of our conversation, we began talking about relationships and what makes people happy.

I asked her, “Why do you think God cares about these things?” To paraphrase her response: “To me, God is love and that means he’s okay with people being happy in the way they choose.” Her answer, while genuine, represents a common misunderstanding about God’s love so prevalent in our culture today.

Another way she could have worded her response was by saying that God shows his love for us by letting us do what we feel is best us. Whatever we feel will make us happy, that’s what God wants us to do. Because God is love, “he’s okay with people being happy in the way they choose.”

Growing up, every American kid is taught about the American Dream. In the classroom, at home, and through our televisions, we are taught that happiness comes as we follow our hearts and achieve our dreams.

Many television preachers have become quite famous for teaching that God’s best for us is the accumulation of health, wealth, and personal success. In other words, God’s best for us is the American Dream.

But is this really true? In order for God to love us, must He really give us everything we want? Do our hearts and God’s heart always go in the same direction?

In order to answer these questions, I believe we must make critical distinction between what we feel is best for us and what God knows is best for us. Let’s look at each of these more closely.

What We Feel
In our most honest moments, we must admit that following our hearts has not always worked out so well. Sometimes we follow our hearts into a bad job, a bad career, or a bad relationship.

This doesn’t mean that our hearts are all bad (see Proverbs 4:23), but it does echo what the Bible tells us when it says, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else” (Jeremiah 17:9). In a culture that says, “follow your heart,” we desperately need the Biblical wisdom that tells us how badly that could go.

This is especially true when we confuse the desires of our hearts with God’s will for us. When we believe that God’s love is expressed by endorsing our own desires, we will inevitably experience the depression and confusion that come from un-met expectations.

“A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord” (Proverbs 19:3).

We rant and rave against God for not making us happy, when the truth is: it was our own false beliefs and wrong expectations that lead us to where we are. The heart is more deceitful than anything else…yes indeed.

This is why we must not confuse what we feel is best for us with God’s love for us. In reality, God’s love will often lead us the opposite of how we feel, because God’s love is so much more than the mere endorsement of our feelings.

What God Knows
Counter-intuitive as it often seems, the best way to find happiness is by surrendering our hearts to God. In our culture today, we don’t like the idea of surrender. We want to be in charge of our lives. We want to be the boss. We want to be in control.

And yet, the Bible consistently tells that true freedom and joy only come when we surrender plans to God and trust Him to direct our steps.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
in all your ways know him,
and he will make your paths straight
—Proverbs 3:5­–6

Notice what this passage assumes. In order for us to follow its instruction, we cannot follow our hearts. Instead, we must lead our hearts to trust the Lord. Jesus said something similar when he said, “Remain in me, and I in you…because you can do nothing without me” (John 15:4, 5).

To remain in Jesus literally meant to “make your home” in Jesus. In other words, it meant to find your security, your rest, and your shelter in Jesus and His ways. Jesus tells us that if we will do this, “my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

When we surrender our lives to follow Jesus, we are not recruiting Him to make our desires come true. Instead, we are trusting Him to make our joy complete in His timing, in His way, and with His provision (see Philippians 4:19). We do this knowing full well that He may lead us down a different path that is better for us than we originally believed.

So, How Does God Love Us?
To put it simply, God loves us by giving us what He knows is best for us. This will often mean He leads us to suffer, to change, and to surrender more of ourselves to Him—things we would never do if we simply followed our hearts.

To that end, we must ask: what is best for us? God’s answer: to become more and more like Jesus—more gentle, patient, and kind. More truthful, humble, and righteous. As cliche as it may sound, to become more like Jesus is to become more joyful and unified with God’s will for our lives

Thankfully, God has already begun this work in our lives and will bring it to it’s completion as He daily works in our lives to “conform us to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29 c.f. Philippians 1:6).

Only in Jesus do we find “life…in abundance” (John 10:10). Because God is more committed to our joy than we are, He will often change our desires, rather than endorse them.

This is one of the critical ways we can die to our selves and entrust ourselves to God’s wise and loving care over our lives. To do this, we must truly believe that God knows best and is worthy of our trust and surrender.

Is this what you believe? If it is not, then I would encourage you to use this article as a catalyst for prayer. Pray for God to help you trust Him with your life. Pray for the grace to believe that His desires for you are better than your own. Take the Scriptures referenced in this article and personalize them into your own words to God.

In the end, don’t be content with just knowing what you should do; spend some time with God and ask Him to do the work in your heart you are sensing needs to be done.

“You made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” — St. Augustine

When Your Love for God Dries Up

Have you ever had moments in your life when you knew what was true, but you just simply didn’t care? Or maybe you’re in a difficult season when closeness with Jesus seems impossible. If you’re like me, these moments can be very frustrating—especially when it comes to your spiritual life.

Someone once said that the longest distance to travel is the 13 inches between our head and our hearts, and I’ve especially found that to be true when it comes to my relationship with Jesus.

I’ve often found myself wondering why I don’t feel the wonder, awe, and affection for God that I did when I was first saved. Sometimes I do feel these things, but then there are seasons when I simply know the right things to believe, but am spiritually numb to them.

I’ve heard that familiarity can breed apathy, so perhaps its because I’ve been a Christian since I was 12, or because I’ve studied a good bit of the Bible, or because I’m familiar with the truths of the gospel. And yet…I thought these were suppose to help me have joy in Jesus, not hinder me from it

Maybe you can relate: you’ve grown up in church your whole life, perhaps got saved at a young age, even attended and served in Vacation Bible School. Whatever your religious involvement, the fact remains: when you think about Jesus and the gospel, your heart doesn’t feel the passion and love for him you wish it did.

I believe this spiritual numbness will one day be removed from us in heaven, but until then: what do we do in the meantime? How do we regain a sense of desire, love, and affection for Jesus? Well, to be honest: I’m not sure we are the ones who can do this. Let me explain:

Jonathan Edwards once observed a difference between knowing honey is sweet and actually experiencing the sweetness of honey in our mouths. Edwards used this point to illustrate the difference between knowing the truth about God verses experiencing that truth in our lives. There is a difference, Edwards pointed out, between knowing the right truths and loving the God of whom those truths speak of.

To see this practically, think about how many conversations you’ve had where someone says “God is good” or “God loves you” or “God is in control” and all you can think in response is, “I know…”

If you’re like me, this response is common. For some reason we simply don’t find the comfort and strength from certain truths that are meant to encourage us. In these moments we know a truth about God (“honey is sweet”), but we are not experiencing that truth as a living reality (i.e. tasting the honey).

So, what do we do? Here’s my thought:

We pray for the Holy Spirit to awaken our hearts to the beauty of the gospel.

I say beauty, because many of us don’t need another fact about Jesus. We have the right facts, we just don’t see how wonderful and amazing they are. Sure, we “know” they are amazing in some sense, but for some reason they don’t feel amazing to us in this season.

Moreover, I say we must ask for the Holy Spirit to do this work in us because Jesus said the Holy Spirit would come to glorify him (John 16:14). One of the ways He does this is by enabling us to see the wonder and greatness of the facts we already know (See Ephesians 1:17-20; 3:14-21).

Let this encourage you: God wants to awaken your heart to see the doctrines of your faith as life-giving truths to live by, not just abstract or impersonal concepts to merely acknowledge. He intends to awaken your affections, not just inform your mind.

The solution to our spiritual numbness is not, “Do more and try harder.” Rather it’s to behold the glory of the gospel in a way that enables us to “taste and see that Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

This will of course require us to do things (i.e. read the scriptures, pray, pursue community, etc.), but these are doorways to delighting in God, not the ultimate destination. The goal of the spiritual disciplines is not to become good at the disciplines, but to “lay aside every weight of hindrance” and “fix [our] eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

By the Spirit’s power, our love for God can be re-awakened and refreshed. I agree with J.D. Greear who said, “The fullness of the Spirit makes us feel the love of the gospel. Salvation goes from being a doctrine we believe to an embrace from our Father.”[1]

How can we pursue this practically? I think one way is by taking the petitions God has given us in His word and making them our own prayers. In doing so, we commit to ordinary obedience and pray for extraordinary affections.

For example, the Psalms are full of petitions for God to awaken the heart to see the greatness of who He is:

  • Psalm 27:4—One thing have I asked of the Lord,that will I seek after:that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.
  • Psalm 51:12—Restore to me the joy of your salvation,and uphold me with a willing spirit.
  • Psalm 119:18—Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.

In my own experience, taking these Psalms and making them into my own prayers has proved very fruitful. If we know that the Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus in our lives, then lets ask Him to do this by glorifying Jesus in our hearts.

For me, this meant pleading with the Lord for about two years. In this season, my heart had become so cold to the wonder of His grace. I found myself knowing the right truths, yet feeling nothing for the God they spoke of.

Slowly, as I began making these Psalms (and others) my personal requests, God broke into my spiritual drought and I was once again able to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.”

I don’t know if it will always take that long for everyone, but I do know that the overflow of God’s grace was worth all the moments of pleading with Him to remove my spiritual numbness.

I’m not sure where you’re at with God this week, but maybe you just need to stop for a moment and ask the Holy Spirit to re-awaken your heart to the beauty of the gospel.

Perhaps the good news of the gospel has become old news to your soul and you just need to askGod’s Spirit to refresh you with the good news of His love for you. I pray this article has encouraged you to do so.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive…
—John 7:37–39

Source:
[1] J.D. Greear, Jesus Continued…Why The Spirit Inside You is Better Than the Jesus Beside You (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 106

Homosexuality: A Question of True Joy and Flourishing

I’ve always felt like it would be much easier to support same-sex relationships if they looked more like what you see in modern television shows and movies. As a kid, I loved watching Will and Grace. I remember thinking that gay men like Will and Jack were artistic, funny, and had attractive personalities. I didn’t see anything wrong with the lifestyle they were living, even though it did seem a bit strange to me.

Through my involvement with theater and debate in high school, I spoke with several people who were gay (and gay-affirming), even became good friends with a few of them. Overall I didn’t see what the problem was. My friend’s relationships seemed different than my basic intuitions, but I figured this was something I needed to get over.

Yet, there was a nagging problem I couldn’t ignore: why was the Bible so critical of homosexual behavior and relationships?

It was only much later that I realized God’s prohibitions against certain behaviors and relationships were not arbitrary, but actually rooted in his love for humanity. I didn’t realize that God’s design for human relationships is an extension of his desire to see humanity flourish.

A New Starting Point
In my opinion, this question of design and flourishing is something we often don’t think about when we discuss the big question of homosexuality. Even worse, I don’t think this is something Christians have communicated effectively.

Instead, what our friends and culture often hear from the church is a group of people who are quick to call something a sin, but who forget the reason why we want someone to repent. We often forget that the goal isn’t merely to create a greater awareness of sin, but to help someone see the joy of walking in step with God’s design for them.

By this I don’t mean we tell people who have same-sex attraction that God’s design is for them to be in a heterosexual relationship. Instead, what I mean is that God’s design for all people is to enjoy a relationship with him that isn’t so hindered by a willful pursuit of sinful behaviors.

In other words, God’s design is for all people—gay and straight—to surrender themselves to the good authority of Jesus and live according to His ways, because only he will truly satisfy our souls.

Our ultimate goal then, is not simply to make someone aware of how much they’ve sinned before God, but to help them experience the freedom that comes from trusting in Christ. The reality of sin needs to be discussed, but it is a means to a greater end, not the end itself (see Colossians 1:28; 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:24–26; Titus 3:1–7).

Jesus Himself spoke most accurately about people’s sin and the righteousness of God’s judgment, but He also invited sinners to come close to Him no matter how rejected or lost they were. Jesus was the most accurate commentator on people’s sin, and yet sinners often felt welcome and comfortable around Him. Is the same thing true of us?

In light of this, I think we must look beyond the basic question of: is “X” a sin? More often than not, people living in sin know they are doing so, they just don’t care that much because thye believe their sin will result in their happiness. Repeating the obvious won’t help very much.

Instead, I think a question we must continually ask ourselves and put before others is: will our pursuit of sin deliver on it’s promise? Said differently, is it possible that God’s commands are intended to produce joy rather than remove it?  To be more specific, could it be that God’s sexual ethic is something that leads to joy and flourishing?

In other words, we must begin making the question about joy and fulfillment rather than judgment and condemnation. Not because these latter realities don’t exist, but because the former matters give us a better starting point that demonstrates both compassion for the person and the truth of what life is like outside of God’s design.

Moreover, when we lead with this sort of question, we are inviting the person to think more carefully about how self-defeating their pursuit of joy apart from God may (will) actually be. In doing so, we are inviting them to see for themselves how empty their pursuit of sin is, rather than just hearing us preach to them. In effect, we invite them to see how Jesus is the true and better joy they were meant to experience, because at His right hand “are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

The Goodness of God’s Design
Trusting in God’s design for us begins by recognizing God as the fountain of wisdom and love, submitting to Him in faith, and believing that His path will satisfy our hearts more than our own paths ever could. In other words, trusting God’s design means that we follow His heart, not our own.

As the Psalmist reminds us: “Blessed (happy, fulfilled) is the man who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods” (Psalm 40:4 NIV). Yet, if we choose to rebel against Him, even for things that promise instant gratification and make us feel good, the end result will be that our souls shrivel and our hearts are empty.

Indeed, “God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land” (Psalm 60:4 NLT). In other words, the heart that rebels against God is the heart that is empty, unsatisfied, and feels like a wasteland.

It’s interesting, yet tragic to note that this is not simply a biblical perspective on human flourishing, but is one that is increasingly  confirmed as researchers study the effects of same sex behavior and relationships. We could point for example to the 2009 study by the National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuality (NARTH) in which they found the following:

  • Despite knowing the AIDS risk, homosexuals repeatedly and pathologically continue to indulge in unsafe sex practices.
  • Homosexuals represent the highest number of STD cases.
  • Many homosexual sex practices are medically dangerous, with or without protection.
  • More than one-third of homosexual men are substance abusers.
  • Forty percent of homosexual adolescents report suicidal histories. Homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to have a mental health concern, such as eating disorders, personality disorders, paranoia, depression, and anxiety.
  • Homosexual relationships are more violent than heterosexual relationships.[1]

This particular study comes from a comprehensive review of 100 years worth of literature on the subject. The sad reality is that those who act on their desires for the same sex typically suffer drastic and personally damaging consequences that rob them of joy, separate them from God, and cause their hearts to live “in a sun-scorched land.” What these specific details provide is simply confirmation of what the Bible means when it says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that every same-sex relationship experiences these sort of realities—there are exceptions to every rule. But that’s just the point: the rule—or norm—for same-sex relationships is the sort of consequences reflected in the findings above.

Now, when I watch shows or movies that depict same-sex couples being happy, wholesome, and flourishing, my heart grieves for the false picture being placed in front of many who either struggle with same-sex attraction or who support the relationships of those who do.

If we truly love our gay friends and want them to flourish, we must lovingly and graciously help them see the better way of following Jesus. To be clear: this may not mean that they turn from a same-sex relationship and enter into a heterosexual relationship (although that does happen), but it does mean that when they embrace God through Jesus Christ, they will experience the one relationship designed to forever satisfy their souls more than any human relationship ever could.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 4:19

Sources
[1] Joseph E. Phelan, Neil Whitehead, and Phillip M. Sutton, “What Research Shows: NARTH’s Response to APA Claims on Homosexuality,” Journal of Human Sexuality 1 (2009), 87.

Some would say these side effects are really the consequences of a homophobic society in which homosexuals are rejected by their families, bullied as children, and ostracized by their community. Let me be transparent for a moment: I personally loathe the sort of behavior I’ve seen from professing Christians toward those who identify as homosexual. It’s true, homosexuals have been treated without the dignity, grace, and respect they deserve. But, there are a few things we need to point out:

First, many of the sexual practices and consequences of homosexual behavior cannot be attributed to homophobia, because these are realities that are because of sexual, not social, behavior. Secondly, the NARTH study researches concluded there is in fact no direct link between these side affects and one’s cultural upbringing: “Specific attempts to confirm this societal discrimination hypothesis have been unsuccessful… Societal bias and discrimination do not, in and of themselves contribute to the majority of increased health risks for homosexuals.”

My Review of God’s Not Dead 2

I’m always a bit skeptical of Christian movies. Being both a Christian and a pastor, my concern arises out of a deep desire for both Christians and non-Christians to see a compelling, winsome portrayal of whatever dimension of Christianity is shown in a movie.

Without sounding to harsh, most of the time Christian movies are plagued with bad acting, unrealistic portrayals of life, and awkward slogans the average person wouldn’t find compelling whatsoever—only cheesy, forced, and awkward.

But, every time a new movie comes out aiming to convey a part of the Christian message, I still find myself hopeful that many of these errors will be corrected. So, recently I went to see the new Christian movie: God’s Not Dead 2. I had seen the first, but was quite disappointed. Being someone very concerned with the apologetic witness of Christians, I found the movie to be very unrealistic.

The idea of a college philosophy professor being bested by the newly found arguments of a young freshman is disrespectful to our thoughtful atheist friends who are pretty familiar with the arguments brought up by young Josh Wheaton (the star of the first movie). Among many other reasons, this is one reason I found the movie to be a disappointment

However, I was aware that there were some bigger named actors who were going to be in the sequel (Ernie Hudson, Jesse Metcalfe, Melissa Joan Heart) and more important for me, some legitimate Christian thinkers who were going to make appearances in which they gave evidence for the Christian faith. These thinkers included Gary Habermas, J. Warner Wallace, and Lee Strobel, all of whom I’ve read and each of whom I’ve benefited from greatly.

A Few Problems that Need to Stop
As the movie got underway, there were a couple of moments  I wasn’t crazy about, but could handle: some bad acting here and there, a few moments of Christian cheese, and some generally unrealistic conversations. But some of these conversations were just too unrealistic for me not to be a little troubled by.

For example, one of the pivotal turning points for the young Brooke Thawley comes when she asks her teacher, Grace Wesley, how she doesn’t let anything in life get to her. At this point, the average Christian might let Brooke know that things do get to us. Being a Christian doesn’t mean we have received spiritual kevlar that keeps us from being affected by adversity in life.

It’s not that things don’t get to us, but rather when things do get to us, we look to Jesus and have the truth of the gospel to keep us going. Something along these lines would have been expected for such a question raised to the average Christian. But Grace’s response was simply, “Jesus”—an answer Brooke seemed to somehow understand and be satisfied with. Now, I don’t know about you, but just saying “Jesus” in response to a question doesn’t do anything to explain exactly how Jesus helps us or what Jesus has done that gives us strength.

Moreover, if this conversation were to take place in real life, any honestly searching person would have responded to Grace’s answer with, “What do you mean by that?” or “What does that mean, exactly?” But such a response was absent. I think if Christian movies are going to have any hope of connecting with people in any meaningful way, the first thing they must do is stop creating conversations and statements that simply don’t work in real life.

Secondly, anyone watching the movie would have left with a general sense that the American Civil Liberties Union is the enemy of Christianity in America. This was a fact a friend of mine pointed out after the movie—a fact I had conspicuously missed while watching it. I’ve personally been aware of court cases across the country in which the ACLU has argued against Christians in various domains, so I didn’t have a problem with the ACLU being the ones prosecuting.

But my friend pointed out that establishing a specific institution, one which is known in American society, as the chief protagonist of a movie creates a general impression that paints with too broad a brush. Especially when there are several examples in which the ACLU has fought for Christians in numerous cases—a fact that has been well documented.

If Christian movies are trying to achieve their goal of reaching the culture, then being fair and accurate to the facts in culture is an essential feature they must adopt. The apostle Paul calls us to be wise toward outsiders (Col. 4:5). Exaggeration, generalization, and over-simplification are not wise strategies for reaching the culture and further hinder the church from articulating a truthful witness of Christ to the world. If anything, they create the wrong impression in the mind of Christians and further separate us from the real-life conversations we need to have with those far from Christ.

The Best Part of the Movie
All that being said, there are some accurate moments in the movie that are not exaggerations. For example, the subpoena the local pastors received in the movie to submit all their sermons for the past three years is very similar to what happened last year in the city of Houston. Outlandish as it seems, this is something that has a historical precedent and is not a moment of exaggeration for the movie.

Further, the chief attorney for the ACLU in the movie began his opening remarks in the court case by referring to the importance of the separation of church and state, to which Grace’s defense attorney rightly pointed out that this is a misuse of the phrase as Thomas Jefferson intended it. Such incorrect use of the phrase occurs quite often, just refer to any recent YouTube video or social media post in which religion and politics were blended together and you’ll see what I mean.

In addition, there is a moment in the movie when young Martin, a student from Asia who becomes a Christian in the first movie, receives a visit from his father. In the course of their conversation, Martin’s father tells him that he is no longer his son, simply because he has embraced Christianity and in his words, thrown away everything they had planned for him. Again, this is a depiction of something that does happen and continues to happen on a regular basis.

But the best part of the movie, in my opinion, actually had nothing to do with the plot-line, ending, or anything of that sort. Rather, I think the best part of the movie was the awareness created for the legitimate work of men like Habermas, Wallace, and Strobel. The very fact that both Strobel and Wallace’s books were mentioned was a win in my book, because it will hopefully encourage curious Christians to check out these works for themselves, rather than settle for the cheesy slogans found in the movie.

If I’m honest, that’s really my hope for both Christians and non-Christians who see this movie: look past the cheesy, unrealistic moments and go purchase the works of Habermas, Strobel, Wallace and others who have done serious work in the field of Christian apologetics. Wallace actually maintains an incredible website with a treasure chest of useful information to anyone looking for serious answers to legitimate questions.

So, please—don’t settle for movies like this as the best Christianity has to offer in making the case for itself. If you take the lines and slogans from the movie into real life, you will not have a good chance of connecting with people and making a legitimate case for Christ. On the other hand, if you see this as an opportunity for us to do better, then I would encourage you to study your faith (2 Tim. 1:13), be ready to give an answer (1 Pet. 3:15), and put your self in positions to do so (Matt. 5:13–16). Build friendships with non-Christians, let them know you care, and within that environment, be ready to share the gospel and answer the questions that come your way.

In the end, I’m grateful for the attempt being made by believers genuinely concerned to reach the world with the truth of Christ, but until Christian movies improve in several areas, I cannot see them being an effective means of doing so. Unfortunately, I do not see God’s Not Dead 2 helping the cause very much.