Forever Yours

Not many people intentionally lie during their wedding vows. When they say “til death do us part” or some variation, many are honestly hoping that’s how long the marriage lasts…and that their spouse’s death is more than just three weeks away. Ah, but there’s the operative word: hoping. A few may go in with a commitment that, come what may, the marriage will last, yet so many are going in with a quid pro quo hope, a commitment that lasts only as long as their needs are being met.

Leah and I have had something of a trying time in Houston. Jobs that I thought I nailed the interview for seem to have fallen through. She’s missing her family, friends, and the two little boys she used to nanny. Fears that this was a bad decision or that God won’t come through have clouded our minds and brought with them, for me anyway, a lot of regret over past decisions.

Our relationship with each other has remained strong throughout all this. We haven’t fought, haven’t regretted marrying each other, haven’t tried to push the other one away. If anything, our marriage has grown stronger. We know that, even should we end up on the streets (which we don’t believe we will), we will stay together because of our commitment to and love for each other. Our marriage isn’t dependent on circumstances.

Why then is it so easy to let our relationship with God, which is far more eternal than any marriage and with a love far greater, at least on His end, than any we have for each other, be dependent on what’s going on in our lives? Are we not forever His? During this struggle, both of us have questioned why God brought us here. We still don’t know. We feel like for what we’ve given up and for following His will that He somehow owes us something, which makes our love and our obedience conditional.

I have absolutely no fear that Leah will leave me, cheat on me, or recklessly spend all our money. It would go against everything I know about her. Why should I have any fear that God will let me down when He’s perfect and she’s not? He cannot let me down because He’s promised to work out all things for the good of those who love Him and He cannot deny Himself.

Usually, I don’t post until I have some sort of answer to the question I’m posing, but this time, I am. I think part of it is that my top love language is physical touch, which I can’t do with God but can with Leah, so it’s easier for me to have a deep love for Leah. Yet I think there must be more to it. I’m open to any suggestions or thoughts here.

Waiting for My King

When Leah and I first started dating, there was naturally a lot of excitement on both ends. It was the first serious relationship for both of us and we were always eager for the next time we’d see each other. Why? Because we had not just a hope, but a joyful expectation, of each other’s smile, laughter, and kisses.

The three months between when I proposed and when we got married were far more difficult. The eagerness for the benefits of marriage, for that unity, was so strong that it was a challenge for us to not partake of them early.

One of the reasons we were so happy in these cases was that we regarded these things practically as certainties. We were waiting for them to come to pass rather than merely hoping they would.

The problem is that we still have a tendency to hope that God comes through rather than wait expectantly for Him. He has promised not to fail us and loves us more than we love each other. Yet we’ve been stressing about me finding a job, where we’ll live when our lease runs out, and other things.

Leah likens the wait to a magic show: you don’t know what’s going to happen, but you’re waiting for your mind to be blown. You don’t have to understand it – most people don’t really even want to – you just want to be there when it happens. You have trust in the magician to pull off a trick that seems impossible, and that’s how we should be with God. I’m not saying that every blessing God gives has to be a miracle, but rather that we should be expecting Him to come through for us if we’re following Him. When it gets down to the wire, that should almost increase our excitement because the more impossible the situation seems, the more glory He will get.

It’s time for us to recognize the things in our lives we’re merely hoping to get, and then replace them with a joyful expectation, not necessarily of getting exactly what we want, but of God taking care of us. We really have no reason to worry if the King of the Universe is passionately in love with us and we’re doing our best to follow Him.

The Nature of Sin, Part 2

So why does it matter that your sins are almost entirely against God, regardless of what you’ve done to yourself or someone else?

There are two reasons:

1. When we sin against someone else or ourselves, we need to remember to repent to God as well. Too often, it seems we apologize to the person we wronged or, worse, “let it all blow over.” While it’s good and necessary to apologize when you’re wrong, if only 1% of your sin is against the other person, you’re missing an apology to God. It is His law that you transgressed, much more so than any infringement on someone else’s rights and you’ve harmed someone He cares about enough to die for. If you’ve sinned, go to that person, apologize, and try to make restitution, but don’t forget to ask God for forgiveness as well.

2. If God is willing to forgive everything other people have done to us and everything we have done, we have no reason to hold on to our grudges against others. There’s the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18. He owed 10,000 talents to his king (I saw online that someone calculated this to be roughly $2.25 billion, assuming an $8/hr wage), way more than any normal person could ever hope to pay off. His king forgave the debt, but then this servant grabbed his debtor by the throat and threw him in prison when the debtor couldn’t pay the 100 denarii (roughly $2,000) he owed. This unforgiving servant had just been forgiven of a debt over a million times as large, yet held this pittance against the poor debtor. When the king found out, he was furious and threw the unforgiving servant in jail until every last penny was repaid (assumedly for the rest of his life). 

If sins against you are really 99% against God and He’s willing to forgive the person who wronged you, who are you to refuse to forgive the other 1%? It is God’s judgment on their sin that matters, so your refusal to forgive won’t really harm them. And it’s arrogant to put yourself above God, saying that your judgment on them is not satisfied when He claims it is.

Also, if you’ve been forgiven of such a heavy debt that there’s no way you could every pay it back, what right have you to hold the tiniest little debts that other people owe you against them? There can never be anything done to you that’s worse than what you do to God every time you sin, so there’s never any reason to withhold forgiveness.

Both of these are reasons we should forgive, but there’s a reason we must forgive that goes beyond even these…

An Extraordinary Secret

Your value is one of the least talked about things in church; at least, it has rarely been talked about in any church I’ve ever attended and I’ve been to at least a dozen different ones over the years. This astonishes me, as it is not just one of the best parts of the Gospel message, but arguably the second most important. 

Jesus didn’t just die to set us free from our sins and save us from the eternal damnation that awaited us. That would have been enough. But since when does God stop at just enough?

If you offered to take someone’s place on death row, with the provision that you lived one year to see what they did with their lives, would you want the person you saved to struggle through life, with a few successes sprinkled in among many failures? Would you want them to be miserable? No, you’d want them to make the absolute most of your gift, being thrilled every day at having a new chance at life. 

Likewise, God didn’t just set you free and leave you in the same situation otherwise as you previously found yourself. He made you His child and heir, with constant access to Him, taking you into His care. As your Father, it is His responsibility to provide for you so long as you are in His will. Just as a child is under the protection of his parents while he lives with them, so God will watch over you while you are with Him. That doesn’t mean a perfect life by any means, but it means God will bring you through and always provide you with what you truly need, even if you think you need something different. For a child to take advantage of that situation, however, requires them to know about who his parents are.

Your identity is not something that should be kept a secret, least of all from yourself. Find out who you are in Christ and start believing it. You’re far more valuable than your talents, accomplishments, possessions, relationships, or looks could ever make you, but you need to realize this for yourself before it can change your life.

To the Least of These

Matthew 25 makes a very powerful statement that seems to often go unnoticed: Jesus equates what we do for others – particularly those who are homeless, imprisoned, sick, or hungry – with what we do for Him. 

Think about that the next time you see someone in need. Try to imagine that it’s Jesus on the street corner, wondering where His next meal will come from. Jesus whose parents can’t afford school supplies, much less doctor and dentist visits. Jesus who has languished in prison with no visitors. Jesus who simply needs a hug because He’s had a rough day and could use a friend.

When someone is nice to Leah, I’m willing to return the favor to them. Why? Because I love Leah so much that a favor done to her is nearly the same as one done to me. God is like that with us; because He loves us, He takes it as a personal favor when we’re nice to those He loves.

And He loves everybody.

Even those you don’t particularly like.

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted a specific challenge on here, but I think this post calls for one. Today, when you see someone in need (and you will see someone if you are looking at all), meet that need for them if you possibly can. Doesn’t matter whether it’s giving a homeless person a sandwich or calling someone who’s sick and asking if you can drop something off for them. Just find someone, preferably someone you don’t already love, and choose to love them like Jesus loves them. In doing so, you’ll be acting like He does and loving Him, too.

Behold the Power of Doughnuts!

I had friends in college who were servers in restaurants. Their income depended on tips, which in turn depended on their service, their smile, and a few things outside their control, like the quality of the food and the patrons on which they waited. As to that last one, all of my server friends hated the Sunday lunch shift because that was when the Christians would get out of church, go to lunch and leave the tiniest tips my friends got all week. Some left nothing at all.

My wife has babysat for Christians who didn’t pay her enough to cover the cost of her gas. I’ve seen church events where volunteers spend all day doing manual labor, but the church doesn’t even give them doughnuts. 

When did the church become so stingy? And more importantly, why?

God was not stingy with us. He’s been the God of too much for us ever since we were created. Adam and Eve were put in paradise. God made covenants time and again with the Biblical patriarchs that if they would just follow Him, He would bless them richly. They should serve Him regardless, even for nothing, but He rewards them generously for all they do for Him. Then, despite all the times the Israelites walked away, He restored them when they returned to Him. As if it wasn’t enough, He sent Jesus, His own Son, to die for us. We could earn no gift from God, yet He gave us one greater than we could ever ask.

Are we not called to live like God? If He is so generous, doesn’t that mean we are to be? 

I have heard a few different excuses for Christians being so parsimonious. The first is that other people are working for the Lord when they do things for a Christian or Christian ministry, so God will reward them. God will, but He may want to work through you to do it. The Bible says the workman is worthy of his hire (1 Timothy 5:18) and “Woe to him who…uses his neighbor’s service without wages and gives him nothing for his work.” (Jeremiah 22:13). Those who serve us are to be dealt with as God would deal with them, and He deals very generously with people.

Second, some have said that they already pay tithes and so shouldn’t have to pay others. God says in Matthew 25:40 that even as you do unto the least of His people, you do to Him. God loves everybody, even those who aren’t Christians, simply because He is love. You can’t have a duty to God without having a duty to those He loves; to say you love and serve Him without treating others as He commands shows that your love for Him is a hollow shell.

Lastly, some have claimed they would love to give, but can’t afford to after tithes. Perhaps it might be a more loving idea to skip lunch then and save the money for next week, so you can give both a decent tip and have a meal. To want the meal without paying the person fairly for their efforts is to put yourself over them, which does not show Christ’s love well. Also, the money is not yours and never really has been. It’s always been God’s because He has given you charge over it and He can add to it or take it away as He sees fit.

The overall point is that God wants you to treat others as He treats them: generously. When you do, God blesses both them through you and you for your obedience to His will. “There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty.” Proverbs 11:24. 

Author and Finisher, Part 2

The other lesson I need to learn is what Hebrews 12:2 means when it calls Him the author and finisher of our faith. I hadn’t considered the word “author” before.

As a writer, I’m given the chance to become something of a god over the worlds I create. I can have characters do whatever I want them to do at any point and for whatever reason. Though they have this annoying habit of taking on a life of their own (if you have ever written stories, you probably know what I mean), they are still in my hands. They don’t even exist unless I will them to.

God has given you free will to decide what you want to do with your life. That said, He is the author of you. Without you, He would still be God; without Him, you would be non-existent. He is also the author of your faith, meaning that you couldn’t believe in Him unless He gave you that ability.

Just as I know my characters and what will happen to them better than they do, so God knows you and what will happen in your future better than you do. His being on our side in this is a wonderful thing because He won’t just randomly decide to make something terrible happen to us to move the story along. There’s a plan for everything that happens and, whether it’s good or bad in the short term, it’s always good long term. 

With your faith, God knows how to best develop that in you. He knows when to begin it, how to grow it, what challenges you’ll need to face to test it, when you’ll fail, and how to use these failures to bring you closer to Him. He’s the author of our faith; we’re just the characters waiting to see how He’ll develop it.