When Grumbling Dims Your Light


I’ve always wondered what happened between Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2). Maybe Euodia’s daughter turned down Syntyche’s son for the Philippi prom. Maybe Syntyche wanted the floor mosaics to be red and Euodia wanted blue. Maybe they both wanted to call the shots. Maybe one wanted to offer grace and the other wanted to challenge people to holiness and neither could see that both  were right and both were needed. Whatever was going on, there was a conflict between them big enough that Paul not only heard about it in his Roman prison but also felt the need to call them out in a letter that would have been read publicly before the entire congregation. Being mentioned in the Bible? Awesome. Only being mentioned because you couldn’t get along with another member of your congregation? Not so much.

My hunch is Euodia and Syntyche were not the only ones having trouble getting along in the church at Philippi. I suspect this because Paul goes out of his way to call the church to unity:

Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philppians 2:2-4).

The real threat to unity is selfishness, not disagreement. When our goal is to honor God and others we can disagree–even vigorously–and still love each other when we’re done. When we act out of selfishness, even small issues mushroom into divisive conflicts. Other people look like threats when my goal is my own self-interest. Instead of seeing people as co-laborers, I see them as competition. They are there to hog my share of the glory, stop me from getting my own way, or prevent me from advancing my agenda. Instead of encouraging one another as we pursue a common goal, we retreat to our corners and take potshots at one another while we defend our own turf. When we believe honor is a limited quantity there’s never enough to go around.

Do everything

The danger of all this is that grumbling against one another tarnishes our witness and and can cause us to miss out on our inheritance. Take look at what Paul says starting in verse fourteen:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain (Philippians 2:14-17) .

That word Paul uses for “grumbling” in verse fourteen is an interesting choice. It’s not the normal word used for grumbling or complaining in the New Testament. Instead, it’s the word Greek translations of the Old Testament used to describe the complaints of Israel as they wandered in the desert during the Exodus. They complained they didn’t have any food. So God gave them manna. They complained they didn’t have meat. God sent them quail. They complained Moses wasn’t a good leader. They complained they didn’t have water. And though God repeatedly showed that they could trust him, they continued to complain and grumble that what God had provided wasn’t good enough. When the Israelites finally came to the edge of Canaan, they refused to trust God’s promise that he would help them take the land. They grumbled against Moses, said that God had only brought them to Canaan to kill them, and decided it would be better to go back to Egypt. And so an entire generation missed their inheritance (Numbers 14:1-4, 20-25).

We face the same risk. We are called to inherit a greater kingdom–not just keeping it to ourselves but inviting others to join in. When we live in unity and honor, we shine like lights in the world. Grumbling and complaining dims that light. The world gets it when we honor people who have something to offer us–entertainment; power; the promise of a better life; the dream that we can one day be like them. Honoring people not because of what we gain but because of their worth as children of God; honoring even when it costs us something, when we disagree, when it raises their status instead of our own–that looks different. Recognizing that honor is something to be shared rather then held on to? Yeah, that looks like Jesus.

Let’s resolve to love one another well. Speak well of one another. Listen. Make that mind shift where we’re not just thinking about what’s best for me–we’re seeking out what’s best for us. Seniors considering the needs of young families. Parents of preschoolers trying to see through the eyes of parents of teens. Teenagers honoring those who have gone before them in  the faith, and all of us looking out for one another in an attitude of service and love. Do that well, and the world takes notice. Do it well, and we shine like stars.

And we look like Jesus.

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On the Refugees: Fear Shouldn’t Keep Us From Compassion

fear compassion

This wasn’t the post I’d planned to put up today. But yesterday I was flabbergasted to see that our governor had refused to accept Syrian refugees into our state. Then I saw that twenty other state governors agreed with him–and so do a lot of people on Facebook.

I disagree. Strongly. Y’all, these are scary times. The events in Paris last weekend reminded us of how vulnerable we are. The threat is real. There are real concerns, and I’m not judging anyone or calling their faith into question. But fear shouldn’t keep us from compassion. I want to address some of the questions I’ve been hearing. I apologize for this being so link heavy–I wanted to be sure I provided sources for my information:

Q: Refugees? Don’t you mean terrorists?

No. Refugees. After five years of civil war, Syria is coming apart at the seams. Refugees are fleeing the violence. They are fleeing a regime that abducts and rapes children. They are fleeing a regime that wants to exterminate Christian minorities. They are fleeing a place where women are held captive and the opposition is beheaded. Refugees are not terrorists; they are victims.

Q: Why are so many of the refugees men?

There seems to be a misconception on social media that most of the refugees are men. Some are throwing around a 70 percent statistic. Others base it on the pictures they see–some of which aren’t even of Syrian refugees. UN data shows that less than 25 percent of the refugees are men over the age of seventeen. Half are women. Almost 4o percent are under the age of twelve. Now yes, more of those coming across the Mediterranean are men–possibly because it’s a very dangerous and risky journey. Over 3,000 people have died trying to make that journey this year. Seventy-seven of them were children. But even though most of the latest wave of refugees have been men, women and children still out number them in the big picture.

Q: What if ISIS sends terrorists to hide among the refugees?

We know now that one of the Paris bombers came through Greece in a wave of refugees on an emergency passport. However, we should note that most of the Paris terrorists were citizens of France or Belgium. Also, what we are looking at in the United States is a much different prospect than what they are dealing with in Europe. Europe is trying to cope with a wave of people who are already there. We are talking about admitting people in who have already been through a rigorous screening process–one of the most rigorous immigration paths our nation has. If ISIS wants to get people across our borders, there are easier ways. One of the 9/11 hijackers was on a student visa. The rest were on tourist or business visas–none of which are screened as thoroughly as refugees. I’m more concerned about homegrown extremists than refugees.

Q: But can we really screen these people?

The unrest makes it challenging. But challenging doesn’t mean impossible. Again, being admitted to the U.S. as a refugee comes at the end of an arduous process. First, refugees have to be designated as such by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Refugees can only apply for asylum in the U.S. after the UNHCR deems them eligible–and only about one percent of all refugees are deemed eligible for resettlement. Applicants are then screened in a process that involves the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, and the FBI. Applicants also undergo interviews, medical screenings, and background checks using biographical and biometric data. The process takes between twelve and eighteen months on average, but for Syrian refugees it can take much longer. Some estimates say up to three years. Once being approved, there is a cultural orientation process. Finally, refugee resettlement centers help refugees find housing, jobs, learn English, and get their children in school. Again, refugees are screened more thoroughly than any other group attempting to enter the United States.

Q: What about homeless veterans? Or homeless children? Don’t we need to take care of our own first?

Compassion doesn’t force us to choose among needs. Yes, we need to be taking care of our veterans. Yes, we need to care for our own citizens who are hungry and homeless. But we can say yes to those things and say yes to refugees. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

Q: Does the Bible say anything about all this?

Let’s see:

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 20:21)

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'” (Matthew 25:40).

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.“Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matthew 2:13-15).

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

I don’t believe that we have to choose between security and compassion. We can and should screen all those coming into our country, but lets find a way to keep the door open instead of slamming it shut. Fear shouldn’t keep us from compassion. I wrote our governor yesterday. If you feel the same way, please let your elected officials know.

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Book Review: Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Last week I was browsing my library’s newest e-books when I ran across a copy of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s latest book, Accidental Saints.  And I thought, Hey, it’s that book Tim Challies didn’t likeSo of course I checked it out. Note to authors: bad reviews sell books too. Stop freaking out.

I enjoyed reading the book. It’s not that I agree with Bolz on all points–in fact there are some points on which we differ sharply. She’s not that into the idea of the substitutionary atonement. It’s not the only model of the atonement, but I’d still say that the idea that Jesus took the punishment for our sins is up there as a pretty important doctrine. She’s affirming of homosexuality. And of course, she swears like a sailor. I personally choose not to curse but I’m not going to run away crying if other people do. When it comes to writing, however, I see traditional swear words like exclamation points: you’re allotted three to use in your lifetime, so use them wisely. A writer as skilled as Bolz could certainly make her point without the language if she choose to do so, but she seems to have adopted the swearing as part of her persona. Not the choice I’d make, but I’m not writing the book.

So would I recommend Accidental Saints for your next Bible study or suggest it take up shelf space at your church library? Probably not. But I’d love to sit down with Nadia Bolz-Weber over coffee and talk about where she sees Jesus working in her church. Because that’s one thing she is good at in this book: showing how God sometimes speaks to us and reveals himself to us through surprising people. She is time-and-time again right on with observations like how sometimes the things that annoy us most in other people are the same things we want to keep hidden in ourselves. Or how sometimes receiving grace is the thing we most need and the thing we most want to run from.

Theology matters. Holiness matters. And there are things in this book I’d like to tweak, like seeing calls for repentance alongside those forthright confessions. It’s not enough just to name our sins and be honest about them–we also have to turn from them. But Bolz’s church is drawing in people who would probably cross the sidewalk to avoid walking in front of mine. People who are broken and beaten and weary but who are finding in that community life something that heals them and draws them closer to Jesus. That’s a good thing.


As I was reading this book, I started thinking about Challies’ review and about Paul’s commitment to rejoice in the preaching of the gospel no matter what the motives behind the preaching. As Paul tells it in Philippians, while he was in jail in Rome different groups started preaching the gospel. Some preached out of love and goodwill, wanting to make sure that Paul’s message wasn’t silenced by his imprisonment. Others preached out of “envy and rivalry” and “selfish ambition.” Maybe some of them saw Paul’s forced imprisonment as an opportunity to build their own brands. Maybe they were jealous of Paul’s success and wanted to draw attention to the shame of his imprisonment (being in jail was highly shameful in the Roman world), or take advantage of the opportunity to make sure their converts outnumbered his. We don’t know. But Paul’s response was basically this: You’re preaching Jesus? Who cares if you’re trying to make me look bad? Preach on.

Preach on. Again, theology matters. And it’s important for us to have these discussions because theology shapes practice. What we believe will inform and direct what we do, and yes–poor theology puts people’s eternal destinies at stake. But I don’t want to dismiss or denigrate someone else’s ministry when all I know of them is a two-hundred page book. Despite all our arguing about brick walls and picket fences, sometimes I think God is less concerned about the lines we draw than we are. Two great preachers of the 18th century, George Whitfield and John Wesley, had some major theological differences. Whitfield was Calvinist. Wesley was Arminian. But God used both for revival. God uses pre, post, and amilleniallists. He uses cessationists and charismatics. He uses both female preachers and those who say female preachers aren’t real preachers at all. If you look at the pages of Scripture and of history, God specializes in using people who don’t have it all together–people who despite their brilliance and insight still have glaring blind spots that we would think disqualify them today. Maybe instead of building walls and fences we should be building bigger tables, because sometimes it seems where we would shove people to the margins, God tells them to preach on.

I think it’s healthy to read books by people who aren’t part of your tribe. Reading and talking to people you disagree with keeps you honest, and being in relationship keeps you from unfairly labeling or characterizing the opposition. What we like to do is say, “Oh, she swears. She has tattoos. She’s wrong on this or that, so I don’t have to listen to her.” Labeling and fence building becomes an excuse to stop listening to those who might stretch us, expose our own complexities, or challenge our points of view. And that’s where we need to be careful, because as Bolz-Weber points out so well, sometimes God speaks to us in all the wrong people. When he does, we need to be listening.


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Being a Work in Progress

being a work in progress

I’m what they call a monogamous knitter: I only knit one project at a time. I restrict myself to one work in progress because otherwise I’ll wind up with unfinished projects stuck in nooks and crannies all over my house. As it is, my craft cabinet is stuffed full with the detritus of half-completed projects. There’s the cross stitch project I started six Christmases ago, the throw pillows I never got around to covering, the skirt pattern I was convinced would help me overcome my deep-seated hatred of sewing and actually produce something wearable, and the scrapbook supplies that are gathering dust. My craft habit comes with baggage.

The good news is that Christ doesn’t treat us that way. Listen to what Paul says: “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:4-6).

he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus

Christ does not abandon his work in us. He doesn’t get bored and move on to something else. He does’t get distracted and leave us in a closet gathering dust. He doesn’t get fed up with the difficulty of the project and unravel all his work so he can use the raw materials for something else. What Christ begins in us, he will carry on to completion.

And what is it that Christ is forming in us? Christ is working so that “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Through the Spirit of God, Christ is at work in us transforming us into his likeness. He is growing us up into maturity through faith and knowledge of him so that when people see us they realize we look a lot like Jesus.

Remembering this helps me give others grace. It helps me give myself grace too. Sometimes the people around me blow it. Sometimes I do. When I mess up  or I’m troubled by someone else’s mistake, it helps to remember that we are all works in progress. Christ is still working on us, transforming, refining, and redeeming. The mess I see now is not the finished work. Remembering Christ’s work in me is helpful when I start tripping over the comparison trap. I start comparing my weaknesses to other people’s strengths or hold my fledgling attempts up to their thirty-years of experience. It doesn’t do any of us any good. But in those moments when I feel less-than, not-welcome, or not-enough, I can remember that Christ is still at work in me.

Today, be encouraged that Christ will not give up on you. If he calls you to repent, do so. If he calls you to submit, change, risk, try, listen, or speak, do it. He is at work in you to transform you and shape you for his glory, and our God will not give up on you. Don’t be the one who gives up on you either.

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Being God’s Holy People

being God's holy people

Paul never did things quietly. It’s been said wherever Paul went he either started a riot or a revival and sometimes both. Philippi was no exception.

Paul’s usual first step on arriving in a new town was to preach in the synagogue. Philippi apparently didn’t have a synagogue, but Paul did find a small group of women worshiping by the river on the Sabbath day. One of these women was Lydia, a seller of purple from Thyatira. Acts calls her a “worshiper of God”–a term often used to describe Gentiles who had embraced the God of Israel but who had not formally converted to Judaism. She was wealthy. Purple cloth was expensive to produce, and Lydia’s home was large enough to host Paul and his team during their stay in Philippi. She listened to Paul as he spoke, and Lydia became the first convert in Macedonia.

Paul’s next convert came from the opposite end of the social spectrum. As Paul and his group went to the place of prayer, they met a young slave girl who was possessed by a demon. Because this demon allowed the girl to tell the future, she made a great deal of money for her masters. The girl began to follow along behind Paul, loudly crying out that he and his team were servants of the Most High God. This went on for days until  Paul finally turned and cast the demon out of her. The girls’ masters were angry when they saw that their cash flow had dried up, and they dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities. The city officials had Paul and Silas flogged and thrown into jail without a trial. The jailer put them in the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Around midnight that night Paul and Silas were singing and praising God, and all the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake. All the prison doors flew open and the prisoners’ chains fell off. Believing that all the prisoners had escaped, the jailer drew his sword to kill himself. Paul cried out for him to stop. None of the prisoners had fled. The jailer begged Paul to tell him how to be saved, Paul shared the gospel, and the jailer and his family were baptized that very night. The next day the magistrates came to release Paul and became fearful after Paul informed them that he was a Roman citizen. The city leaders apologized and begged Paul to leave the city. Paul made a quick stop at Lydia’s house and did as they had asked.

And so this was the nucleus of the church at Philippi: a wealthy Gentile woman, a formerly demon-possessed slave girl, and a Roman jailer. They had nothing in common except Christ, and yet the church birthed out of these humble beginnings became one the most faithful supporters of Paul’s ministry. Businesswoman. Jailer. Slave. How did Paul address them in his letters? He called them saints:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:1-2)

That phrase the NIV translates as “God’s holy people” is rendered in many other translations as “saints.” It’s the same meaning. Saints. The set-apart ones. Those belonging to God. Those whom God has declared holy; those whom God has claimed as his own by the blood of Jesus. Those fledgling saints at Philippi were not identified by the deeds of their past but by a destiny determined by the God they served in the present. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). They old had passed away and the new had come. They weren’t sinners, they weren’t rejects, they weren’t has-beens. They were saints.

Isn’t it good news that the same is true of us? We are saints. In Christ, our past no longer defines us. We have a divine destiny determined by the great God who claimed us and bought us for his own. We are made new. We share in Christ’s holiness and are set apart for God’s kingdom purposes. And though we may sometimes look at one another and think all we have in common is Jesus, He is enough to unite us. He always has been.

Today, sister, remember who you are. Chosen. Beloved. Made new. Let the labels of the past fall behind you and claim the  name Christ has given you: His.


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Living Faithful in a Faithless World, Part 2

lessons from Daniel

Daniel lived in faithful obedience to God even in the heart of Babylon. Following God wasn’t always easy for Daniel, but he remained faithful. Last week we saw that Daniel  knew his boundaries and committed to speaking truth. What else can we learn from Daniel about living faithfully in a faithless world?

Key #3: Pursue Faithfulness

Daniel eventually became one of King Darius’s top advisers. Other court officials became jealous of Daniel’s favor and began to look for an accusation they could bring against him. The only thing they could find to charge Daniel with was that Daniel was faithful to his God.

Sisters, let’s let faithfulness be the only accusation the world can throw at us. The world loves watching Christians stumble. And we do. Watch the headlines as leaders stumble or open their mouths and say things that make us want to throw something at the T.V. We blow it sometimes. We know we’re only human, that we mess up sometimes. But when those who have publicly called for morality and truth are exposed in their own sinfulness, it invalidates everything they’ve said in the eyes of the watching world. Look, he’s just another hypocrite. Can’t believe anything he says. Acts so holier-than-thou, but he’s just like the rest of us. At least I’m honest about who I am. 

Yeah, the world’s watching. And no, there’s not one of us who is perfect. But let’s cultivate faithfulness. Show that we value our marriages and our families. Speak well of one another. Live with integrity. Practice hospitality. Be honest about our struggles and always, always, testify about the great redeeming grace of our Lord. If they’re going to accuse us of anything, let it be that we have loved Jesus well.

Key #4: Be prepared for the cost.

Being faithful cost Daniel and his friends. Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den. His friends were thrown into a fiery furnace. God saved them. One of my favorite lines from Daniel was spoken by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego as the king ordered them to worship his statue or be burned alive:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

The God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us . . . But even if he does not, we will not serve your gods. Even if he does not. That line sticks with me. We can read the news and watch the headlines and know that yes–God is able to save us. But sometimes people still suffer. We don’t know the end of our own stories until they are written. Faithfulness sometimes proves costly. Are we prepared for it if it does? God’s faithfulness put Jesus on the cross. Will we be faithful to him?

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Living Faithful in a Faithless World, Part 1.

lessons from Daniel

Ethics aren’t always easy. We can watch the latest “Christian-in-the-hot-seat” story on the news and think we know what we’d do if we were in their shoes. We don’t. But we do need to face the realities of living in a culture that no longer views our faith in a positive light. That doesn’t mean we need to panic or develop a persecution complex, but we do need to grapple with the real challenges of living faithful to God in a world that is not.

The good news is that we are not the first generation to try to live faithfully in a faithless world. Faith has always been costly. Ask Paul. Ask Peter. Ask Jesus. We can learn from those who have gone before us–those who shone like stars in the midst of a darkened world. And when I think of those, the first name that comes to my mind is Daniel. Daniel–Jewish exile, lion’s den survivor, faithful to God even in the very heart of Babylon.

What can we learn from Daniel about being faithful?

Key #1: Know where your boundaries lie.

Daniel was probably among the young men taken to Babylon from Jerusalem in the first wave of Jewish exiles around 605 B.C. The king ordered his officials to choose young men from among the Jewish exiles who had potential for serving in his court. These young men were given Babylonian names, issued  rations from the king’s table, and educated in the language and literature of the Chaldeans. Daniel was one of those young men. His name was changed from Daniel, “God is my judge,” to Belteshazzar, “Bel, protect his life!” The Babylonians didn’t just change Daniel’s location. Their goal was to transform Daniel’s identity and loyalty.

Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the food from the king’s table. Jewish food laws were probably part of the issue, but there was more at stake. Daniel’s ultimate loyalty was not to the law but to the Lawgiver. Eating from the king’s table would have meant eating foods that had been offered to idols. It also would have meant accepting the king’s patronage. Daniel was willing to serve the king, but he was not willing to compromise his identity or his convictions. Daniel didn’t run around trying to change the king’s practices or force his convictions on the other exiles, but he did insist on remaining true to the core of who he was. It wasn’t just about keeping the law–it was about being faithful to the God who had always been faithful to him.

We can follow Daniel’s example by knowing where our boundaries lie. We live in a complex, rapidly changing world. We need to resolve in our own minds what it means for us to be faithful to Scripture in our circumstances. At what point do we become active participants in sin? Where do we begin to compromise our integrity and identity as people of God? We need to know where our boundaries lie and resolve not to cross them.

Key #2: Speak Truth.

Daniel was a speaker of uncomfortable truths. Three times the kings Daniel served had dreams that Daniel interpreted. None of those dreams were particularly favorable to the king. Who wants to tell the king that his empire will fall and eventually be replaced by the kingdom of a God he believes he has conquered? That the king is going to go mad and live like a wild animal until he humbles himself before the One True God? Or that the king is going do die that very night and his kingdom will be taken by another?

These are not the messages to deliver if you want to gain popularity and power. Daniel refused to play the games of court intrigue. He made no attempt to be a yes-man or tell the king what he wanted to hear. Daniel served well and faithfully, but he also spoke the truth–even when proclaiming the truth was risky.

As believers, we need to be speakers of truth. We are called to speak the truth and speak it in love (Ephesians 4:15, 29). Truth spoken without love can cut deep. Love spoken without truth is only a placebo, making you feel better but offering no real cure. We need both. We are called to use our words to build up, not tear down. We are called to speak truth–even uncomfortable truths–but we are also called to speak in love. It’s our challenge and also our hope.

Know your boundaries. Speak truth. Neither are easy, but both are rewarding. Daniel was able to live faithfully in the midst of Babylon. We can too. Next week we’ll look at two more lessons from the life of Daniel.


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Sex, Intimacy, and Theology


It’s greatly ironic that our sex-obsessed culture likes to proclaim sex as an inalienable right while at the same time denying sex its meaning and power. When Christians talk about sex, it’s not that we want to control people or restore the patriarchy. Rather, it’s that we need to remind ourselves that sex is a God-given gift endowed by the Creator with purpose and meaning. Our Christian sexual ethic must be grounded in an understanding of biblical theology.

1. Sex reminds us that we were meant to be known.

When Adam lay with Eve and she gave birth to a son, the Bible says that he yada her. In Hebrew, yada means “to know.” Sex is meant to be an expression of knowing. As Dannah Gresh writers, “Yada is a word of intimacy that transcends the physical. It describes the whole knowing of a person. It portrays an uncovering and an embrace of the nakedness of another. There are no secrets and nothing is held back” (What Are You Waiting For?, 24).

God designed sex to be a meeting of souls, not a meeting of parts. We’ve lost some of that today. Men talk about how their roommates remember their sexual partners better than they do. Only half of the portrayals of sexual intimacy on television depict sex between partners in an existing relationship. Ten percent of those portrayals depict sex between people who have just met. God intended us for more.

God intended us to know and to be known. That same yada word that describes God’s good gift of sex also describes God’s intimate and wonderful knowledge of his people. “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me” (Psalm 139:1). “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). “I know you by name” (Exodus 33:17). We are designed by God to know him and to be known by him. Our intimate, emotional, and personal relationship with our spouses is meant to be a portrait of God’s intimate, personal, and emotional knowledge of us.

2. Sex is meant for a covenant context.

When God made Eve and brought her to Adam, Adam recognized her as the God-designed companion of his heart:

This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:23-24)

Jesus and Paul both refer to Genesis 2:24 when they talk about the one-flesh union of marriage. In marriage, husband and wife covenant together to form a new unit. They are no longer two separate individuals; they are one. They mutually give themselves to one another to become a new family. Sex is the covenant renewal ceremony for marriage. As Francie Winslow has written:

Our bodies speak. As Christopher West, a well-known Catholic teacher on The Theology of the Body, so beautifully articulates, regular sex is like a regular renewing of wedding vows. When a married couple has sex, they are communicating with the language of their bodies the promise to fully give themselves to one another in all seasons of life. To regularly engage in sex is to regularly recommit yourselves to one another.

Covenant creates an environment where true intimacy can flourish. Sex is not just about individual pleasure; it is an act of giving yourself fully to one who has covenanted to love you completely and without condition. What do we say in our wedding vows? “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, I give you my life.” Marriage is a joining of lives. We share our names, homes, lives, families, schedules, and bank accounts. We are no longer two separate individuals; we are one. Sex is both a reminder of and a celebration of the oneness of husband and wife in marriage.

3. Marriage, and sex within marriage, are a symbol of the church’s relationship with Christ.

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body.  ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32)

Marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church. Our exclusive, intimate communion between husband and wife is a portrait of the communion between our souls and Christ. The joy, intimacy, and ecstasy we find in our marriage relationship is meant to point us to the spiritual reality we were intended for from the beginning–to be one with God, fully knowing and fully known, given to God in love for ever.

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Honor God with Your Body

honor God

In his new book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Russell Moore tells the story of a conversation he had with a lesbian activist. Although she was an atheist, she was interested in the sociological aspects of evangelical Christianity and engaged Moore in a conversation about Christian beliefs–particularly sexual ethics. As the conversation went on, she laughed and told Moore that he was the first person she had ever talked to who believed sexual expression should only take place within marriage or who believed marriage could only exist between a man and woman. “Do you see how strange what you’re saying sounds to those of us out here in normal America?” she asked.

“Yes, I do,” Moore said. “It sounds strange to me too. But what you should know is, we believe even stranger things than that. We believe a previously dead man is going to show up in the sky, on a horse.”

Our Christian sexual ethic sounds strange to the outside world. We might as well own that. To the culture around us, our sexual boundaries sound quaint, archaic, and downright weird. That’s why we need to know not just what the Bible teaches about sex, but what the principles are that support those boundaries. One of the foundational principles that undergirds our sexual ethic is the truth that we are called to honor God with our bodies.

Let’s take a look at 1 Corinthians 6.

I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.Therefore honor God with your bodies (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

In 1 Corinthians Paul was writing to a church that had issues. They were dividing into factions, battling over spiritual gifts, and hauling each other into court. They were boasting about the fact that a man was sleeping with his father’s wife, and they were apparently using slogans to justify men in the church visiting prostitutes.

Paul pushed back against their bumper-sticker theology with four main points:

  • We are meant for more than sexual immorality. We sometimes talk as if the important thing about faith is that our souls are destined for heaven. That’s true. But God didn’t just redeem our souls–he redeemed all of us. We are whole people: body, mind, and soul. Our physical and spiritual health are inexorably linked. We know that anger, grief, and depression can cause physical symptoms, and we also know that physical problems can lead to spiritual struggles. We cannot sin with our bodies and pretend it doesn’t affect our spirits. Our bodies are not destined for corruption but resurrection.
  • Members of Christ should not become partners with sin. I think that’s what Paul is getting at when he says that sexual sin is a sin against our own bodies. When we accepted Christ, we became members of the body of Christ. Sexual sin removes us from that unity with Christ and makes us physical partners with sin–something that should never be. We are meant to be one with God in our spirits, not separated from God by sin.
  • We were bought with a price. Christ’s blood bought us body and soul. Following Jesus as Lord means that he has to be Lord. It’s not just lip service. We don’t get to pick and choose: “Okay God, you can have my kitchen, den, and Sunday morning. I’m keeping my T.V., bedroom, and Saturday night.” Following Jesus as Lord means submitting to his leadership in every area of our lives–including our sexuality.
  • Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We’ve all got stories about obnoxious cell phone users. Yet even as oblivious as we can all sometimes be about our phones, most people recognize that there are places where phones need to be set aside. A Pew Research study found that 96% of Americans agree that cell phones should not be used in church or worship services. Most mature Christians recognize that church is the people, not the buildings. Yet we still understand our sanctuaries are special places and are meant to be treated with honor because that is where people go to meet with God. If we treat our church buildings with honor and set boundaries around who can use them and for what purpose, how much more should we honor our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit? The Spirit of Christ indwells those who follow Jesus as Lord. As temples of the Spirit, our bodies are intended for worship. We are meant to honor God with our bodies.

Our God who designed and redeemed our bodies meant us for more than sexual immorality. We are created by God, bought by Christ’s blood, indwelled by the Spirit, and destined for resurrection. Let’s not cheapen that by becoming partners with sin.

Q: What do you think it means to honor God with your body? 

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Invitation to a Conversation


It’s been a crazy year, y’all.

Fifty Shades.



Ashley Madison.

We’ve known that our culture’s attitudes toward marriage, sex, and intimacy have shifted, but this year has shown us how far we’ve come–and how devastating the fallout from our anything goes sexual culture can be. Though people like to talk about how “it’s just sex,” we know better. Broken bones and broken hearts both hurt. If Christians talk too much about sex, it’s not because we’re obsessed. It’s because the world around us is, and we would spare people heartache if we can.

I’d like to invite you to a conversation. Not a “what’s okay in the bedroom” kind of conversation, and hopefully not a condemning or accusatory one. I want us to look at intimacy and sexuality from a theological point of view. What is God’s plan for and purpose for sex? How do we honor God with our sexuality? What hope is there when we struggle in these areas? What are the values and presuppositions that drive our views of sexuality? I want to move beyond purity pledges and 30 day sex challenges to talk about the big picture question of what God intended for this good and precious gift.

It’s a conversation we need to have. It’s not enough just to tell our kids to wait. We need to tell them why. Our culture is overwhelmed with the world’s version of sex. Two out of three television shows include sexual content, and one out of ten depict or strongly imply sexual intercourse. Of those depictions of intercourse, only half involved couples who were in an established relationship with one another. Ten percent involved couples who had just met. And that’s just television.

What our media reveals is that our culture has accepted two contradicting beliefs about sex. We now see sex as an inalienable human right. Two consenting adults can have sex with whomever however and whenever they please, and anyone who suggests putting boundaries around acceptable forms of sexual expression is a prude or bigot or worse. And yet, we also adamantly hold that sex is just like going for a jog. It’s just sex. Just about the endorphins–it doesn’t mean anything. Though it’s hard to see how sex can be both sacred and meaningless at the same time, those are the dominant messages coming from our culture.

Scripture has a different story. The Bible speaks of a God who asks us to glorify him with our bodies and to live before him with holiness, dignity, and purpose. Sex is a great, powerful, beautiful gift, and  an expression of love between husband and wife. Used rightly, sex bonds us together. Used wrongly, it tears us apart. The world screams its message about sex. As the community of faith, we need to be able to articulate a different story. We need to be able to tell this story clearly and tell it well not just to keep our children from harm, but so we can also offer hope and healing for those who have been left wounded and betrayed from the sexual turmoil of our culture.

So this is what I want us to talk about the next couple weeks. Let’s take a step back and look at what God’s good and loving intentions are for us in this area of our lives. Let’s be thoughtful. Let’s be loving. And let’s remember that God always writes the best stories.

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