Monday, March 27, 2017

God's Helpful Purpose For Marriage

Genesis 2:18-25
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
    because she was taken out of Man.”
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

From my teenage years and into young adulthood, I was on a passionate search to find “The One”. Every time I found myself attracted to a young woman I’d contemplate “is she the one? Could she be my soul-mate?”  Finding true love was a pursuit I committed myself to.  During that romantic chase I wrestled with all kinds of questions: What characteristics should I be looking for in a woman? How do I know if she’s the one? And so on. My goal was to find Mrs. Right, get married and live happily ever after. I know there are many who perhaps can relate to that or maybe that even describes where you are in life right now. Regardless, I want to share something that completely changed my perspective of what makes someone an ideal match for someone else and what the goal of marriage is.

While I was in college I remember talking to my older sister. I was at place where I was dealing with a lot of regret and wrestling with the questions of what I should be looking for in a woman as my calling in life toward vocational ministry was becoming clearer. I can’t say that I remember everything she said verbatim, but I remember she told me how she was praying for me.

She told me that she prayed that, if it was God’s will, He would provide a bride who would make me better at what I’m called to do in ways that I couldn’t be without her.  My sister’s ultimate goal for me wasn’t just for me to find a wife, but that I would fulfill God’s calling for my life.  That priority of desire was pretty revolutionary for me. My sister’s wise words helped to realize that I was ultimately placing my pursuit of a wife at a higher priority than faithfully pursuing God and what He was calling me to do.

For those of us who are Christians, who right now are passionately seeking for “the one”, we need to honestly examine ourselves. Are we seeking for a companion more than we are seeking God Himself and His will for our lives? Beyond that, my sister’s words were the first part of changing my perspective of marriage to be more biblical.  I started looking at passages of scripture relating to marriage like Genesis 2:18-25 in a new light. I began to see a purpose God had intended for marriage that I wasn’t aware of before.  Marriage was intended to help us accomplish the calling God has for each of us.  God created Eve to be a suitable “helper” or “help-mate” for Adam.

Notice, up until that point, Adam was just doing the work that God told Him to do. In Adam’s case, it was being the official caretaker of the Garden of Eden. God knew that, in order for Adam to carry out his calling in life, he was going to need someone to complement him. Someone who would support him and ultimately be a vessel of God’s encouragement, accountability and strength to fully equip Adam for the task God had given him. Someone who would make Adam better at what he was called to do in ways he otherwise would never be.

Typically, in our pursuit of romance or true love we are seeking a “soul-mate”. Someone who we think will ultimately fulfill the void in our hearts for intimacy, companionship, and love. Someone who will satisfy our core needs. So, we view marriage as being primarily about our satisfaction or happiness. That’s not what’s presented here. The ultimate purpose of marriage fits with the vision God has established for all of creation: to accomplish His will and glorify His Name. 

Marriage is one way that God equips us for the good works He’s prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Marriage is meant to help with the work of glorifying God and sanctifying or making us holy, which are two main objectives of the Christian life. Getting married was never meant to be our main focus, or our source of ultimate fulfillment. Nope, that spot is reserved for God Himself. When we align our priorities with that and understand God’s helpful purpose for marriage, is serves us in a number of ways.

1) It keeps our eyes on the ultimate prize: God Himself.

2)It prevents us from placing unrealistic expectations on our spouses

3) It pushes us to pursue God first and foremost, trusting that He will provide a spouse for us when having a “helper” is necessary for us to do the work God has for us.

I believe that God’s provision of a spouse and direction in life for those of us still searching for “the one” flows right out of His promise in Matthew 6:33:

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

If we focus on the Kingdom work God has for us, as the need arises, in His perfect timing, God will provide. Our task is to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

God: The Means and The End

For reasons beyond my understanding, my daughter Thea loves the ceiling fan in our kitchen. My daughter is aware that in order for her to get closer to the fan and be able to pull the chains, she requires some assistance. So, a common practice of Thea’s is to approach me, express that she wants to be held through a tug at my pants or by reaching up and grunting, but she has an agenda. First impressions would seem like she wants to be closer to “Dada”, but as she begins to look away from me and lean toward the fan it becomes clear that I was not what she was seeking after. In those moments I am merely the means to her desired end.  I am but a living, breathing elevator to her wanted destination.  One day as I was reflecting on this curious and reoccurring event, I was hit with the notion that it can serve as a spiritual analogy.

I think that if we are honest, we can be like my daughter in our interactions with God. We  draw close to him only when there’s something we want from him.  I know that it’s an unfortunate trend among those who identify as Christians. We tend to treat The Lord as the means to a desired end, instead of seeking God Himself.

We might only pray when asking for deliverance from trouble. Maybe we only go to Jesus for salvation from judgment. We may serve God only so that he’ll bless us in kind with health, finances, success etc. We function as God’s employees instead of as His children. We do things to collect a “paycheck”, instead of living in loving response to God's love toward us.

The crazy thing is, we end up only depriving ourselves of what we truly need when we do that. Despite how entertaining the fan may be to my daughter, these things cannot offer her the provision, protection and love that I offer her as her father. Of course anything I can offer her is only by God’s grace, but hopefully you get my point. This same concept is true of us. If we are treating God as a stepping stone to some other thing we ultimately want, we actually deprive ourselves from the true blessings God offers in Himself.

Isaiah 55:1-2
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

This passage and many others in scripture tell us that God Himself is the ultimate source of fulfillment. Anything other than Him can’t truly provide what our souls long for. We need to understand and trust that He’s not just the means to a different end; He is the means and the ultimate end. In Him we find our hope, peace, purpose, salvation, satisfaction, and everything else that we truly need. The more our hearts are set on God Himself, the more we will actually be satisfied.

Psalm 37:4

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Heart, Mind and Revelation

Going into this past Sunday at Journey, knowing we were going to be addressing the topic of discerning truth, I felt inspired one night to write a poem. Writing poetry has greatly helped me process and express the things I've learned or wrestled with throughout my life, especially since I started following Jesus. I hope that you will find this poem beneficial in some way as well. The poem is entitled "Heart, Mind and Revelation".

The heart and the mind
Two parts of us, meant to coincide
But it’s the times when they seem to divide
That reveal a subtle danger

Consider the rise of emotions
As a story touches us with empathetic notions
Calling to our longings or experience through narrative
Taking the back door of the mind, so it seems imperative
Heart-strings plucked and what we feel
Can shape our beliefs of what's true and real

So, the heart thwarts the mind’s discerning
As the flames of emotion begin their burning
Because it feels good in the embers’ light
Therefore, we think, our hearts must be right
That, my friends, I call mental mutiny
And it’s all too common for you and me

Beware the heart’s manipulation
We must thoughtfully fight for our emancipation
For we are otherwise slaves to futile thinking
If the wine of emotion is what our minds are drinking
We can so easily slip from wisdom and truth
If we let what we feel, take the wheel and rule

Our hearts must be anchored to the Word of God
Because every other “truth” is a cheap facade
Sometimes lies contain parts of the truth
That’s Satan’s tactic, which is so often used
So I urge my friends, to guard your souls
With the Lord’s revelation, through scripture, as a whole

Now, I want to address the needs of our hearts
There’s deep wounds and shame that tear us apart
We need comfort and hope, our soul’s are longing
For love, peace, answers, and a sense of belonging
Where can we find that? There are countless theories
But only one can truly give rest to us weary

His name is Jesus, and that’s not a cliché
He is the One and only way
To be rescued from wrath, delivered from sin
Revived, transformed and restored within
Our adoption as children of God is through Him
Trusting in Jesus is where soul-satisfaction begins

It’s the love of the Father, the encouragement of Christ
And the help of the Spirit that gives us true life
We need to receive Him, this God, three-in-one
In the fullness of the Father, the Spirit and the Son
Not as man attempts to mold him our way
‘Cause He is the potter, He’s not the clay
But His glory, through Scripture, is on display

And He’s all that we need each and every day

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Teaching Truth and Confronting Error

Teaching Truth and Confronting Error
(Steve Matson)

This weekend, the movie The Shack is being released and a controversy that was debated 10 years ago is once again a hot topic of discussion.  There are Christians that love The Shack and there are those who have accused it of teaching heresy. I plan to wade into this debate in the sermon on March 12th.  For now, I simply want to raise the importance of engaging in such a debate by noting the importance of truth and a pastor’s role in defending and advancing truth within a local church.

The church has always needed to guard against false teaching and false teachers, and one of the roles that I have as a pastor is to confront theological error.  This is a significant calling and responsibility as our faith is built on and advances on a correct understanding of the truth. When a pastor refuses to correct error he minimizes the importance of truth, may confuse the members of the church, and puts at jeopardy the testimony of the church. But sometimes when a pastor confronts error he is accused of being divisive or focusing on things that are not that important.  But, I believe that those who make such accusations fail to understand why pastors must confront error regardless of public opinion. John Calvin once said, “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.” Defending truth and confronting error has long been understood to be a primary responsibility of a pastor. Here are three reasons why pastors must confront error.

1- Confronting error is biblical.

Pastors are to instruct in sound doctrine and to confront error.

hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9 ESV)

The Bible is clear that it is the job of the pastor to protect his congregation from error by confronting error when it appears.

2- Confronting error offers protection to church members.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-30 ESV)

3- Confronting error provides an opportunity to teach true doctrine.

When error is confronted, the pastor then also has the opportunity to teach truth. The reason so many people are led astray is because of a lack of doctrinal teaching. Refusing to confront error promotes doctrinal ignorance.  Addressing error is also a pursuit of a better and clearer understanding of the truth.

Closing Thoughts

Doctrinal error is dangerous. In fact, more than just dangerous, it can be contagious. It must be dealt with. When a pastor is truly committed to the truth of God’s Word, he will be willing to confront error.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Parable Child and the Illusion of Independence

For those of you who do not know, I have a one year old daughter named Thea. Since she was born, the Lord has used her over and over again to show me things. To give me pictures of spiritual lessons that connect to Biblical truths, which God brings to my mind. I want to share with you the most recent occurrence of this.

To give a little background, Thea just started walking this past month, and in just a few weeks, she has gotten to the point where she takes what looks like drunken laps around our baby-gated kitchen and living room area.  At the start she would always rely on us to help her stand, or even to take a few steps, but now that she’s getting the hang of it, it seems like we’ve been demoted to just eating her dust. Sometimes when I’d try to go over and help her up she would recite one of the few words that she’s picked up, “No!”. With a furrowed brow, a frantic wave of an arm and that cursed two letter word, she would reject my assistance. And each time she’d do that, I saw how much more difficult it was for her.

One morning while I was in the kitchen fixing her bottle, she fell right next to me.  I looked, moved closer to her and she reached up toward me. I gave her my arm, helped her up and she proceeded with her morning stroll.  It was in that moment that the Lord seemed to say, “do you see the resemblance?” Mind you, I’ve never heard God speak to me in an audible voice, but sometimes the messages I feel from the Holy Spirit are just as clear as if they were spoken. In response, all I could do was consider how my daughter was a parable for my spiritual walk with Jesus.

At the beginning, everything was so new, and Jesus was so incredible to me that I wanted to hold on to him and take every step of my day with Him.  I’d fall into sin or get hit by difficult circumstances, but I knew He was so close that I could just reach up and he’d set me back on my feet.  As time goes on, the honey-moon phase wears off, the old lingering pride and the culture of self-sufficiency works its toxic influence.  It leads me to think I got this down. I know what to do, where to go, what to avoid, what words to say, how to play the part of a Christian, and even a leader among Christians. Just taking laps, drunk on my ego and the lies of the world that tell me I got it all under control. Meanwhile, I slowly and subtly forget my desperate inadequacy and need for God. Until, BAM! I fall flat on my face and the first thing I see when I look up is Jesus, looking at me and lovingly drawing near. Although He has every reason to be angry or disappointed, He just picks me up and doesn’t just set me on my feet, He says, “let me carry you”.

I was reminded that It’s only once I acknowledge my insufficiency that I am able. It’s only when I recognize my weakness that I find true strength.  I could fake it, sure; trying to do things on my own, even fool some folks into thinking I got it all together. But such an endeavor always ends the same way, on all-fours after colliding with the linoleum floors of life.

As human beings and especially I think, as Americans, our independence and self-sufficiency is such an idol. We have to prove that we don’t need anybody, whether we feel the need to prove it to the world around us, or just ourselves. We feel this burden to show that we can do it by our own strength and will-power, thinking that will give us a sense of sustainable self-worth. But, one failure, one manifestation of our inadequacy and all that comes crashing down. We culturally hate the idea of dependence, especially once we reach adulthood. So, when we come head to head with a passage of scripture like John 15:5, our souls tend to wince as we read:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

What?! Apart from God, we can do nothing? Some might say that such a worldview is just using Jesus as a crutch or religiously justified laziness. I will admit, Jesus is my crutch. But I also confess that my spiritual legs are broken. We all need a crutch, no, more than that, we all need a stretcher. I know that may seem offensive to some of you, but once you’ve experienced what it is to be carried through life by Jesus, you’ll understand. And let me clarify, it’s not some trip down a lazy river. It’s hard, but with each step I must acknowledge it’s the power of God willing my legs to move. Breath after breath, it’s God who makes it happen by His grace.  Every moment of every day that I live is empowered, sustained and orchestrated by God. And even though that takes a major shot to my ego, I’ve never felt freedom like what I found when I realized it wasn’t up to me.  When I finally submitted to the reality that I can’t do it alone, the burden of proving myself was lifted off my soul. Now, I witness the power of God working in, through and around me. It’s incredible as I get to see miracles, some big, some small every day (at least when I’m paying attention).

So, you see not only is our idea of independence an illusion, because whether we like it or not, nobody even breathes unless God allows it; but our dependence on God Himself is actually the key to true freedom and our ultimate potential.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Understanding and Embracing Identity In Conflict

This past week I watched a clip of Senator Marco Rubio addressing the Senate. He stated, “we are reaching a point in this republic where we’re not going to be able to solve the simplest of issues, because everyone is putting themselves in a corner where everyone hates everybody.” I believe he was absolutely right in his assessment of the divisive trends that are being displayed in our culture. If we do not figure out how to better relate to one another and defuse the conflicts that are moving to tear the nation apart, we will only experience continued destruction in our societies and who knows what catastrophes that may lead us to as a nation.

The reason why these issues and the debates surrounding them have become social war zones is because they are so close to our hearts. Some of the things we debate are issues we believe are intertwined with our very personhood or those who we care for. So these debates become deeply personal and then provoke very emotional, often times, impulsive responses.  There’s a fundamental belief that these issues define who we are and who others are, which make it seemingly impossible to discuss these topics without it becoming a personal matter. As long as this is the reality we hold to, civility is an impossibility. Now, how can we separate who we are from the issues we debate?

We need to fundamentally understand that we are not simply the sum total of our beliefs, our lifestyle choices, our occupations, our opinions, etc. Although we typically consider such things to be core aspects of who we are, that’s what puts us in “corners” doomed to conflict with others. But, where can we find a construct of personal identity that is separate from all those things and supplement our identity. The only solution I’ve found is Jesus.

There are two aspects of identity within the Christian faith that I want to call your attention to.

1) We are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26)

What that specifically means is a blog for another time, but I want to focus on how this can and should affect our conceptions of our own identity as well as our view of others. The value that God has given to you in creating you is not something that anyone or anything can take away. This truth is the ultimate source of human dignity. So, if some disagree with our opinion about politics for example, our self-worth isn’t being attacked, its secure. With an understanding of us being made in the image of God, with an imparted value from God, our worth is never threatened. Therefore, we can be at peace even in the midst of conflict. Worst case scenario is that we may not persuade or effectively defend our perspective as well as we had hoped, but that’s not the end of the world or the end of what gives us worth.

Also, ignoring this reality is why we tend to demean others in the midst of discussion.  We tend to reject the idea that “those people” are made in God’s image too.  We assume a difference in equality, imagining that we are in a position to look down on “them”. When we do that we are really demeaning the creative work of God Himself. We need to keep the universal value God has instilled into all humanity in mind as we debate. No matter what someone’s opinion is, or what they've done, that God-image is still there and demands respect. If we do not treat our fellow creations with dignified we disrespect the One who created all of us.

2) By grace through faith in Jesus, we are “in Christ”

The phrase “in Christ” is used seventy-six times in the new testament of the Bible. Attached to those “in Christ” statements are an amazing abundance of explanations concerning how that transforms our identity. “But I’m not a follower of Christ”, you may reply. Well, this issue of identity is one of the reasons why I pray daily that those who don’t know Jesus, would come to know and trust Him.  Jesus is the only source of untouchable significance and security. Being “in Christ”, with all the implications of that truth, equip us with an identity that enables us to truly engage in conflict peacefully because the longings we have for our identity can be satisfied. Shaky identities that can be compromised or lost just lead us to impulsive, emotionally driven, abusive behavior when conflict arises. 

I see examples of abusive and undignified engagement on both sides of every issue that has become a battleground. Every time I see such displays, my prayer has been that those who know Christ, would truly understand their identity and the identity God has given to others (even those apart from Christ). And I pray that those who don’t know Christ would be lead to receive Christ and take hold of the identity He provides. I’m convinced that Jesus is the only hope for peace. I know that many unfortunately will continue to reject Him, and I know that even those who profess to follow Him will fail to apply the identity they’ve received in Him. But, I strongly believe that the pursuit of peace is so closely intertwined with the pursuit of understanding and truly embracing the identity offered to all people by faith in Jesus Christ. So help us, God.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

On the morning of January 4th, 2017, as I was reflecting on the overwhelming displays of conflict that I had observed or had experienced, the Holy Spirit intervened. He began a work of reforming my perspective and attitude since I found myself growing increasingly discouraged due to what I had seen and gone through. As I witnessed the ugliness of humanity displayed through the news as well as social media and how similar aspects of ugliness had exposed itself in me, it was quite a heart-breaking realization. The Spirit opened the eyes of my heart to consider what now gives rise to compassion and hope in the place of frustration and despair. This change of heart began with two questions:
Why do we respond in such hostile ways toward others and our circumstances?

Why do Christians respond in the same ways, despite the contradictory nature of such practices and what scripture calls us to?
I've had to think about these questions a lot because I have been asked them in different ways. I've had to address the questions and concerns of non-Christian friends as well as those who are new to the Christian faith as they try to process the chaos around them. Why is everyone fighting? Why are people talking and acting so irrationally? Why are many who identify themselves as Christians acting just like the rest of the world? The conclusion I’ve come to leads us to examine our understanding of identity.
How we answer the question: “who am I?” in our hearts, determines so much. The identity we hold to guides what we value, what we despise and what we deem is an acceptable response in different situations. All of us construct identities often based on titles and categories we have been given or ascribe to ourselves. For example, my identity could easily be something like: Christian, husband, father, pastor, conservative, millennial, white, heterosexual, middle-class, American, male.
If we consider these things as the essential to who we are, then anytime we think they or the beliefs associated with them are being challenged, it feels like we’re being personally attacked. That's why we have in many ways lost the ability to engage in peaceful, civil discourse in our culture. At the core it's an identity issue. Despite our desire or at least professed value of “tolerance”, we don’t actually tolerate differences in opinion because we often cannot separate ourselves from the issues being discussed. Now, that’s very difficult because we so naturally integrate such things into our sense of person-hood, believing they give us significance, security and satisfaction in life. Due to how natural it is for us to do this, it is subtle, but destructive in our society and in inter-personal relationships.
Therefore, it is a common perspective that those who disagree with us are assumed to be against us. Such people are immediately demonized in some way either publicly or internally in our hearts and minds. As a result, we typically assume the worst possible conclusions in relation to those people shun them. If we refer to any person or group as "those people" it is a clear sign that we have separated them from ourselves, probably in a way that views them as inferior to us.Then we typically become islands of perspective who tend to only socialize with those who are just like us, creating a population littered with schisms and utterly segregated racially, politically, economically, generationally, etc.

In order to confront the reality that these same tendencies are occurring in the lives of those who proclaim Jesus as their Lord, I first want to establish that such a thing is contradictory. Christ has called us to be advocates and examples of what it means to bear with one another in love, in order to maintain peace, especially among fellow Christians (Ephesians 4:1-3). Now, hear me, such contradictory behaviors do not compromise the legitimacy of Christ and the truth He proclaims. When the followers of Christ fail to perfectly manifest the calling of Christ it just reveals the imperfection of Jesus’ followers, but does not mean the truth or perfection of Christ is corrupt. The reason why we as Christians can unfortunately fall into the traumatic trends that have gripped our nation is because deep down, we still hold to the same forms of identity that the rest of the world does. Sure, we might add the title of "Christian" to our list of identifiers, but it functions more like a bumper sticker on a car, with little transformative influence on certain aspects of our lives. However, the Bible tells us that trusting in Christ as our Lord and Savior completely transforms who we are, how we should view ourselves and how we relate to everyone else. In turn, that should transform the way we act, speak and respond in our world.
To sum it all up: the problems our society faces stem from an identity crisis. We either cling to identities that inevitably put us in conflict with others, or as Christians, we don't truly understand or live according to who we are in Christ.
“Okay, that's the problem, but what's the solution?” said the imaginary audience member in this blog.
Great question! I will begin to try and faithfully answer that in the next blog.
But for now, regardless of your political or spiritual views, I want to encourage you to individually work through four questions.
1) Who are you?
2) What about your identity do you feel has been challenged or attacked recently?
3) How has that affected you emotionally?
4) How have you reacted to those challenges?
By working through these questions we can begin to understand how this issue of identity causes so much of the hurt, hate and conflict that we have experienced and understand how we have perhaps caused or contributed to such things in the lives of others. This is a vital first step in our pursuit of social peace. We must swim against the currents that are carrying us toward increasing division as peers, families, churches and as a nation. So, take this first step with me, please.