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Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Three Months of God's Plan at Work

This Sunday will mark three months of marriage for Jeanille and myself. In such a relatively short space of time I have learnt so much more about God and what a relationship between Him and us should be so I wanted to share some of the parallels I have learnt. Ultimately, marriage so far is the most rewarding challenge I have ever undertaken as it both connects me to two rocks in my world in new and crazier ways.

With so much talk about 'changing the definition of marriage' here in Australia it is interesting to me to turn to sources of wisdom to find out more about what marriage is supposed to represent. Aside from learning to pray together for all sorts of things (houses, jobs, our families) and seeking advice from married couples around us, Jeanille and I have begun reading through Timothy Keller's The Meaning of Marriage. In his introduction Keller writes the following words:

"The Bible begins with a wedding (of Adam and Eve) and ends in the book of Revelation with a wedding (of Christ and the Church). Marriage is God's idea. It is certainly also a human institution, and it reflects the character of the particular human culture in which it is embedded..."

In short, what I want to talk about is what marriage so far in a short time has shown me about God's plans - not about whatever particular changes people may wish to make to the human institution. Humanity can 'redefine' marriage, but they can never truly capture God's heart for marriage unless they stick to a Biblical definition. After all even the most 'perfect' marriages break down in our modern society (look at Brangelina as of yesterday for a sad example).

Timothy Keller also points out the following two ideas
1. "It is possible to see marriage as merely a social transaction, a way of doing your duty to family, tribe and society. Traditional societies made the family the ultimate value in life, and so marriage was a mere transaction that helped your family's interest. By contrast, contemporary Western societies make the individual's happiness the ultimate value, and so marriage becomes primarily an experience of romantic fulfillment. But the Bible sees GOD as the supreme good - not the individual or the family - and that gives us a view of marriage that intimately unites feelings AND duty, passion AND promise. That is because at the heart of the Biblical idea of marriage is the covenant.”
2. "Through the gospel we get both the power and the pattern for the journey of marriage."

In the following video, Terry Crews shares his thoughts on being a Christian in Hollywood. One line he mentions stands out to me.

"If you get rid of the concept of father who are you getting rid of? You are getting rid of the concept of God." The same thing goes for marriage. If you get rid of the concept of a Biblical marriage as a standard - you are getting rid of a relationship with God as the standard. And that is a choice that individuals are free to make. The discussion just needs to be made that ultimately in the end marriage is meant to be a reflection of what a relationship between God and ourselves should be.

So with that long preamble I simply wanted to state what Biblical marriage is coming to mean to me both physically and spiritually, This is regardless of what our society places as the highest good (the love and satisfaction of the individual, the family etc.) as Biblically, marriage places the gospel as the highest priority. And here are some lessons I have learnt about the gospel as a result of the past three months.

1. Patience
Patience cuts both ways, yet we often can only see it from our perspective. How often do we look at any other person and think 'How many times have I been patient on that subject or towards your frustrating habits.' This goes for friends, as well as our other halves. Yet one thing that learning to be patient, and seeing Jeanille be patient in regards towards me, has revealed is this: God is infinitely patient towards us. How many times a day do we stumble from perfection? God is patient regardless and his patience is infinite - unlike the patience of a husband or wife. 

2. Selflessness
I am a stubborn individual - we all are at times when we do not get things our way. Now of course there are some issues of integrity we can never release but that is not what I am referencing here. I am referencing those minor selfish qualities that do not really matter in the end. Like the difference between where we want to store various collectables or which house we love. Marriage is meant to be a partnership and one thing I am trying to learn and will continue to learn is when to let go of something that is a silly little desire of my own and not a necessity, after all what is mine is hers now. The same thing works out with God - why should we squabble over giving a little tithe to God (it's all His anyway) or going out and speaking a word of Faith or encouragement to someone when prompted. As I need to put my wife first (after God) so I need to put God first over myself. 

3. Maturity and our identity
At one point when Jeanille was frustrated I found myself comforting her by reminding her that she was 'not normally like this.' She has numerously done the same thing over my own minor frustrations - reminding me of my true identity. And as a result, helping me to abandon childish habits or aspects in favour of maturity. God too does the same work in our lives spiritually - He is constantly exhorting us and reminding us of our spiritual inheritance and leading us to maturity as Christians.

4. God's unconditional love for 'strangers'
Timothy Keller points out that we never truly know the person we marry and that has been exciting for me. Every day I discover something about Jeanille that I never knew before and I learn to love her more for it. He states that, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” The two of us learning to love the aspects of the other that we did not know about, or never realised ran so deep, is a true example of how much God must love the deeply flawed aspects of our own persona. 

5. You are never alone
The biggest adjustment that Jeanille and I have been making is getting used to the idea that we are always around each other. That is both an incredible gift of intimacy, but it is also something which creates tension in any person. If we as humans squabble with siblings simply because of their little annoying habits how much more is that exacerbated with 'annoyances' in our spouses. And sometimes this can lead us to hold back thoughts or ideas for fear of the consequences of 'will this make her mad for the next hour and I will not be able to go anywhere in this house?' Yet that is something that we can forget as Christians - God is always there with us as well. We are in essence 'married' to Him and so often we fail to acknowledge Him, talk to Him or reveal our hearts to Him. This is something that I am slowly being made more aware of as I continue to lovingly adjust to the mystery and beauty of married life.

6.  Finally...the mystery
The Bible refers to marriage as a mystery, and everyday I realise more and more what this means in different ways. I am sure when I reach one year I will look back and realise how mysterious the whole process has been. And when I reach another year the past years will be more mysterious again...and so on and so on. Yet, that is exactly the same process of the gospel's saving power inside of me. 

Some might read this and think 'he is only young in this, this won't stay the same.' I am neither naive enough to believe that everything will stay the same and indeed why should it, or to listen to the excuse that I am too young. After all Paul's exhortation to Timothy was "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." (1 Timothy 4:12)

And I take that as an example to learn from those who are older and wiser, to learn from those who are younger and to live out my own life (and now marriage) as an example to others around us. The road ahead is long and windy, and the gate is narrow, but the destination and the journey with Christ is going to be worth it all. For to paraphrase 1 John 4:4 greater is He who lives in me, than he who is in the world. So I want to step out in faith, believing that I can share what I am learning now and that I will learn even more in the future through the good times and the bad.

Monday, 12 September 2016

God's Way or the Highway

I started this blog almost two years ago now, to tackle some of the thoughts about daily life that God has and had impressed upon my spirit. For those who know me well in person you will know all about how God has lead me on a journey from: being the son of two pastors (during childhood), to leaving them behind to stay on at one church while they left, finding a wife at this church, and then now having been lead to leave Melbourne and move to Swan Hill. Throughout this journey God has been teaching me many things and I am a huge believer that 1) I need to seek God first in everything for his will (easier said than done), 2) that God draws us to places that we need to be, 3) God speaks to me through repetition of words, ideas and occurrences and 4) that God has given me gifts to teach and write for a purpose. Part of my blogging here has always been to follow this purpose.

With that long preamble out of the way I want to discuss something that God has brought to my heart - awoken by a series of excellent messages at my new church here in Swan Hill. It is a challenge for me at times to really go out and express these thoughts, because God's ideas always completely challenge the social normalities of any era. Therefore it is a struggle for me to talk about in some ways the truths I have been reminded of across these messages.

'The Bloke 2.0' has been an incredible series of messages about what it is to be a Godly man who is bold, courageous and possesses a strength and integrity not in and of himself. The first message reminded me that ultimately it is a truth that Christians must fight against that we are to build a Godly culture which is separate from any simple or normal Earth culture. The message on Sunday then emphasised that Jesus was a perfect example of being a man: a man of steel and a man of velvet.

Christian, as it has often been pointed out, stems from a word meaning 'little Christ.' The Bible often refers to us as sons and daughters, and having Skyped friends last night in the Philippines who have a young baby son, never was the idea about being a 'little Christ' more evident. We are to mimic Christ, in the same way that parents' children will mimic them consciously and unconsciously. Therefore we must become men of steel and men of velvet: men who have a hard moral center grounded in Christ but yet have the emotional sensitivity to humble themselves before God.

Modern culture loves to confuse the concept of what a man is, or what a woman is. However, the Bible - God's word - does not have that same confusion. Modern society is confused about what a marriage is - yet again the Bible is not confused on the issue. For every single modern problem that society has invented, the solution can be found in the Bible. There may not be a specific verse about modern ethical quandaries, yet there are so many clear instructions for the Christian about how to live life to a Godly standard.

And yet of course we all 'stuff up,' as the Bible reminds: Romans 3:23-24 "23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,24 and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." 

In Australia today, in the world today, there are so many convoluted issues. Having been studying the concept of identity with my students in Year 9 it scares and confronts me that this world can be so confused about the idea of what an identity is meant to look like. And yet the only solution many can offer is to scream insults at each other with little clarity about how life truly is meant to be lived.

The Bible, the Christian lifestyle, is not one lived in opposition to scientific facts or the reality of the world. But it is a life lived to honour God first. It is a life which holds to a Biblical definition of identity. It is a life which recognises that there exists a true Biblical definition of marriage: that God officiated the first marriage in the beginning and will officiate the last marriage between Himself and His bride the church.

It is a life which offers solutions to the growing problems of terrorism, bullying, addiction, abortion etc. It is not a life which throws around sayings such as 'love is love' or 'it is my body'. It is a life which holds to a set definition of love (1 Corinthians 13) and which explains that my body is not my own but the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It is a life in which there exists true equality as in Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Many argue that the church is regressive, but if it is it is not because it is following a Biblical lifestyle - but because it holds a form of Godliness and denies its power. In relation to Biblical marriage Timothy Keller points out in his book The Meaning of Marriage: "In other words, the Biblical authors' constantly challenge their own cultures' beliefs - they were not simple a product of ancient mores and practices. We cannot, therefore write off the Biblical view of marriage as one-dimensionally regressive or culturally obsolete." Rather, more than ever, the world needs a true revelation of the fact that the Christian life is not one of backwards thinking but of radical social difference.

Jesus never held to the status quo, he challenged cultural presuppositions. He told teachers of the law to give their taxes to Caesar if it belonged to Caesar - but not to hold back from God what belonged to Him. He told rich men to give all they had to the poor in order to follow Him. He made the lame walk, the mute talk, the blind see and he healed leapers and cast out demons. No one else at the time even dared to defy their culture like that and that is the man, that is the God-Man I want to emulate.

I saw on the news this morning some more news about the Plebiscite. Bill Shorten was expressing his disappointment that both the 'Yes' and 'No' sides would get funding because he was concerned that young people might commit suicide as a result. Immediately my heart was drawn to the issue because for me, to hear that I wonder at the deeper root of such an issue in our culture of death and destruction. I need, We as Christians need, to be the solution to such loss of life. We need to offer God's love and hope to a hopeless world.

That does not mean that we release all Biblical standards. It means we need to hold to the standards to a far greater level. Maybe the world is the way it is because we are not walking in the power that we should. Maybe life is the way it is because we are not being the culture-defining, groundbreaking little Christs that we need to be. My heart breaks for this broken world, but I know there is something I can do to make a difference. My gifts may be small compared to some, my capacity to give limited but I am striving more and more to get closer every day to becoming like Christ.

I showed my students the following poem as a great example of the power of words. I believe it is also an example of the belief we need to have in Christ - that we are not defined by the world and the issues in it. We are the world definers. We are not changed by the world. We are world changers.

Recently, Jeanille and I have been looking for houses. Modern wisdom states that if you find a house (or anything) that you like you get it if you can afford it. However, despite finding some houses that we potentially would like we have instead prayed about the issue and made offers we feel are at a God-provided level. Because in the end we do not want to live in the most wonderful house if God is not the one providing - we do not want to live in a neighbourhood surrounded by the nicest and most polite neighbours if God does not want us to be there and would rather have us in a reasonable house, surrounded by neighbours who need Him to work in their lives.

That is why I titled this blog post 'God's Way or the Highway,' because I truly believe we need to stop listening to modern wisdom and learn to live like Jesus did. Of course I struggle with this and I am far from perfect, so I am writing this as much for myself as for anyone else. But I believe this is what God wants me to say - that in the end we do have a choice, because God is a loving God. He has given us the free will to reject his decisions, yet like any loving parent, not choosing His way means that we are likely to be running along the Highway of Life at a leisurely pace and dodging cars as they come hurtling past, rather than taking the Fast Paced Way.

As Jesus Himself said in Matthew 11:28-30 "28Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” And while many might read this passage and decide that Christianity has a 'yoke' and a 'burden' and therefore it is 'not for me,' the reality is all of us have yokes and burdens in life regardless. The true choice, therefore, is whether we choose the easy yoke and the light burden or do it Frank Sinatra's way alone. I know what I would rather do, how about you?

Jay Mitchell: “Build their faith”

Anyone who is a Christian and into learning about discipleship and following Christ should go and read one of the men who has been a mentor to me. His blog over here is incredible way of looking at how God wants us to live life with people step by step:

Jay Mitchell: “Build their faith”: I learnt an amazing lesson the other week about how God likes to build people’s faith. Believers or not. The Holy Spirit has been keepi...