The stories are seemingly endless. Many have turned away from the church, not because of disagreements over doctrine but out of their pain—a hurtful comment here and unreasonable expectation there. Before you know it, they believe the best thing for them to do is walk away.
I’ve seen this many times in my life, and perhaps you have as well. A typical response for many Christians is to assign motives to the ones who left. “If they really loved God, they would still be here.” Or, “They just want to be able to live however they want; they don’t care about the truth.” All the while, these comments further illustrate the reason some have left. Pain. Real pain.
I wrote When Church Hurts in an attempt to minister to those who have or are currently walking on a lonely road. They know that they love God and love the church. But their painful experiences are keeping them at arm’s length away. They need to know that they aren’t alone in their hurt. They need to know that Jesus is just as upset about their pain as they are. They need to know that there is a healthy way forward. They don’t need to leave the church. They do, however, need to help us be more like Jesus.
It is also my hope that we, as the church, can learn from the pain that others have felt from us. Even if the pain was unintentional, it still cuts deep. I hope and pray that God will use this book and the stories within to bring healing to those who are hurting and encourage the church to represent our Lord better.
The book is now available in Paperback and will be released on kindle in the next day or two. If you know someone you feel could benefit from this book, please share this with them. May you all have a blessed holiday season!
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” are some of the most profound/beautiful words ever to be sung within our churches! Do you believe them? Do you believe, as Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus that we are saved by grace (Eph 2:5)? It is so disheartening when some of us forget this precious truth.
Wrestling With Grace
I have struggled with understanding God’s grace for much of my life. I have difficulty in pinpointing exactly why that is. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that it is due, at least in part, to the fact that nearly every time I have heard a sermon (or preached a sermon for that matter) concerning the grace of God, it is almost immediately followed up with the clarifying words, “But you still have to be obedient!” Somewhere along the way, many have become afraid of grace. They have determined that if grace is preached, then christians will just start living lives of debauchery and claiming that “God’s grace will save them anyways.” After all, that seems to be what some attempted to say in the early church and Paul addressed that very clearly.
Romans 6:1–2 ESV
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
Does Jesus expect us to be obedient? Absolutely, He does! He stated in Matthew 7:21 that those who “do the will of the father” as opposed to those who offer only lip service will enter the kingdom. Jesus stated that if the disciples loved Him, they would keep His commandments John 14:15. These statements are true, and we should regard them as such. The problem comes in when we develop a “performance based/obedience based” view of salvation. “If I work hard enough, sacrifice more, and perfectly keep all the commandments of God, then and only then, will I be saved.”
This type of a mindset is damaging to the Christian, it causes them to live in constant fear of not being perfect. More serious than that, it minimizes what our God has done. Consider these words written by Peter.
1 Peter 1:13 ESV
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.“
Take note of what the Christian was supposed to set their hope fully on. Was it their obedience? The Christian hope was to be set fully upon the grace of their Lord, Jesus. Church, this should make us stand up and celebrate! My hope is in the grace of God! It must be, because I cannot earn my salvation. I will not be saved if I have checked all the right boxes. I can check every item off the list, but without God’s grace, it is meaningless.
Scripture seems so clear in this regard, which leads to the question, “Why do so many Christians live in constant fear concerning their salvation?” The answer to this question, likely varies from person to person. However, I think for me, I know the answer. At its root, are a few verses that I have misunderstood for a long time. I’ll share one with you here.
Acts 17:30 ESV
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,“
The perceived need to be perfect
For the longest time, I understood this text to teach that God “used to” overlook ignorance, but now He has no tolerance for ignorance. Therefore, if you and I misunderstand something, anything, we are lost. If we fail to do everything in the exact manner in which God wants, we are lost. Even if we don’t know that we are wrong, because, God no longer tolerates ignorance. This understanding caused me, (and maybe you) to tremble with fear. What if I am wrong about something? What if I do my best to understand something, but I am still not exactly right? Is that it for me? Is God looking at me from His throne, knowing that my heart belongs to Him, but sees me (in my ignorance) mess something up/get something wrong, and now, I have no hope?
A straightforward, out- of- context reading of this verse would lead us to draw these conclusions. As with all passages of scripture, context is everything.
In this text, Paul is walking the streets of Athens. He looks around at all of the idols that the city was filled with. He even found an idol that was dedicated to “the unknown God”. Paul used this opportunity to preach in the midst of the Areopagus. He wanted to let them know about the God that they didn’t know. Paul proclaimed that God was the creator, and the sustainer. He even quoted from their own poets who believed that they were “offspring of God”. Paul then makes a logical argument to try to show these men the error in their thinking. Acts 17:29
Acts 17:29 ESV
“Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.”
Here is Paul’s argument, “Since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that God is something we have created with our own hands.” Pretty solid argument, is it not? Then we arrive at the verse in question, V.30. What is the ignorance that God overlooked, but no longer has patience for? Keeping in mind, that when Paul spoke those words, the NT had not yet been written. Men did not have access to all the writings of scripture. Therefore, we know that Paul was not saying that God had no tolerance for ignorance of any kind. So what was Paul saying that God’s tolerance had run out on?
Acts 17:30 (NIV)
30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
Acts 17:30 (KJV 1900)
30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
Acts 17:30 (NKJV)
30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,
The NIV, KJV, and NKJV do a good job of highlighting that there was a specific ignorance that God was done with overlooking. What was the ignorance that God used to overlook, but now was not going to continue to overlook? The very thing that Paul was addressing! This ignorance was the thinking that God was a divine being that was crafted from the imagination of man. This is what men were being called to repent of in this text.
There are many Christians today who I believe do not leave any room for grace. What I mean by that is that they believe in God’s grace, they quote Ephesians 2, and if you ask them if they believe that they will be saved by God’s grace they will respond, “Yes!” However, if you really get down to asking them what the grace of God will cover… The answer in their mind is… not much. They make God’s grace so small. Far from setting their hope on it, they turn inwards and place their hope in their knowledge and their “near-perfect” obedience. After all, we can’t rely on grace. We can’t be ignorant about anything. We need perfect obedience. Have you ever felt this way?
We see that Paul was not saying that all men, everywhere, had to repent of ALL ignorance. Rather, there was a specific ignorance that Paul was addressing in this text. Let’s take a look at one example where we see how God deals with ignorance within His people.
Consider with me one example where God shows His grace. Do you remember the account of King Hezekiah? He was the king who tried to restore the nation back to God. In his restoration efforts we read of him bringing the people together to observe the passover feast. Let’s see what the word of God had to say.
2 Chronicles 30:18–20 (ESV)
“For a majority of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, “May the good Lord pardon everyone 19 who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” 20And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.“
Let’s make sure the stage is set. We see the people coming together to partake of the passover. However, they did so unlawfully. They did not cleanse themselves according to the Law. Therefore they ate the feast in a manner that was not prescribed. Hezekiah offered a prayer. This prayer was that God would pardon everyone who had set their heart on God. In other words, Hezekiah asked God to pardon those whose hearts were trying to please God, even though they had done something that was unlawful. Don’t miss the next part! What did God do? He heard that prayer, and he healed the people!
There is some clarification that is needed. We do not have an indication that these people could have continued doing what they now knew to be wrong forever and ever, and saying, “God’s grace will cover it.” What we do see, is that the Lord looks at the heart. We are reminded of this when God chose David to be king, (1 Samuel 16:7). Make no mistake about it, we have been ignorant many times in our lives. We are probably missing the mark in some ways that we are not even aware of right now. Does that mean that there is no hope for our souls? Absolutely not! It means, that God’s grace truly is amazing. I choose to set my hope fully upon it.
It is my hope that you will continue to “set your heart to seek God,” and pursue Him with your entire being, all the days of your life. Do your best to follow His will. Set your hope on His grace. Unlike your ability to fully understand, and be perfect in your obedience, His grace will not fail.
***This is the 3rd article in a series. The series is meant to be read in order. If you have not yet read the earlier articles, please stop and do so and then come back here. The first article can be found here. The second article can be found here.***
We discussed in our last article that when sin came into the world it brought with it tremendous damage and destruction. Nothing was safe from sin’s affects. Included in this, was God’s design for marriage. Satan went right to work on attacking what God intended. He did his best to distort it and break it apart. In many ways, he succeeded.
We see countless examples of polygamy, abuse, and even divorce in the OT. When Moses wrote the law (which came from God) he was not “instituting” divorce, as if he was bringing about a way for people to get out of their marriages. Rather, he was attempting to regulate/limit the divorce that was already happening. He attempted to stop people from divorcing rashly by stating that if you divorced your spouse and they married again, even if they got a second divorce, or if their second spouse died, you could not take them back (Deut 24:1-4). The divorce certificate was always a part of Israelite divorce. It was a way to protect the woman from her former spouse and free her to marry again.
God, through Moses, made sure that there were laws in place to protect women from abuse of their husbands. Not only do we read about this in Deuteronomy 24, but in other places as well. In Exodus 21:7-11 we read of God’s protection of the slave/wives. If a man neglected her by diminishing her food, clothing, and marital rights in favor of a new wife that he had chosen to take, the slave/wife was to be released. She was not to be bound and kept in that awful situation. In Deuteronomy 21:10-14 we read that if a man married a foreign woman and then he no longer found delight in her, he was to release her. What was happening in these situations is that if a man decided later that he didn’t really delight in his wife any longer, he would treat her as a slave. God steps in and protects these women. He could not sell her, or treat her as a slave, he had to release her.
We read of many examples and laws concerning divorce in the OT. So, since we see God instituting laws designed to protect the abused, and release them from their marriages and we even read of God divorcing Israel because of their unfaithfulness (Jeremiah 3), does that then mean that God is “ok” with divorce?
God Hates Divorce
Hate is such a strong word. We generally don’t like to use it, nor do we allow our children to throw that word around haphazardly. The word brings about a certain kind of darkness that is uncomfortable, and our natural response is to flee from hate. However, there is no way around the fact that there are some things (several, in fact) that the Bible tells us that God hates.
16 There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
In this well-known and often quoted text we read of many things that God hates. If you and I love the Lord and want to serve Him, we would do well to make sure we are not doing any of these things. I cannot tell lies and think God is ok with that. I cannot shed innocent blood and think God is ok with that. I cannot stir up trouble within the brotherhood and think God is ok with that. As a child of God, our desire should always be to do what makes God happy, and avoid what He hates.
This list in Proverbs is not an exhaustive list of things that God hates. In Malachi 2 we read about another.
16 “For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel…”
In context, Malachi is speaking about Israel dealing treacherously or “faithlessly” with the wife of their youth. What was taking place is that Israelite men were divorcing their Israelite wives in order to marry foreign wives who worshipped other gods. Malachi points out that God’s desire for them was to produce Godly offspring with their Israelite wives (Mal 2:15). Instead, these men were divorcing their wives in order to marry other women. God refers to this as dealing treacherously. “Treacherously” comes from the Hebrew word- מָעַל(mā·ʿǎl) which literally means- “unfaithfully, break faith, commit a violation”. These men who divorced their wives for the purpose of marrying another (foreign) woman, had not been faithful, they broke faith with their first wife by breaking the covenant that they had made with her. As God looked at what was happening, He hated it.
God had a plan for marriage. This was not it. What was supposed to be a beautiful union between two people for life had been distorted and abused in just about every conceivable way. God put in place laws to limit divorce, as well as laws to free women who were being abused from their marriages. However, the fact that something was allowed does not mean that it pleased God. It didn’t. We will see Jesus address this very point when we enter the NT in this series. God was not pleased, in fact, He hated what men were doing.
Just a casual observance of the damage that divorce can bring to the lives of people still today helps us to understand why God hates divorce. People break faith in their covenants. Unspeakable pain is brought into the lives of those involved. Not just for the two who are no longer married, but also to their children, friends, and family. All of that pain, all of that damage, was never part of God’s plan.
To this point, we have examined God’s plan for marriage and it’s beautiful design. We have looked at how sin corrupted all that was once pure and good, and that included marriage. We have examined various laws that were put in place to both limit divorce and protect women from abuse. We have also seen where God’s heart was on the issue, He hated what was happening.
Where does that leave us today? What does God expect today? How can we do what we need to do in order to make God happy? These are some of the questions we will begin examining in coming articles.
**This will be the first in a series of articles covering a very important topic from scripture. I would like to make a request to those who read it. The request is simply this… read it all. Do not just read one article, as it can leave you with an incomplete/invalid view of the teachings of scripture. For those who are willing to commit to reading a series, let’s dive in!**
As we consider the design of marriage, one thing that should be abundantly clear to all of us is that we cannot allow society to tell us what marriage is supposed to be. Like most things, in our frailty and sinfulness we have distorted what God’s design is. In order to see the design, we need to go to the beginning.
In the creation story in the book of Genesis we read that as God looked upon His creation He saw all that He had made was good.
I often pause to close my eyes and try to imagine what creation would have been like in the beginning. What the clean air would smell like/feel like in your lungs as you breathed it deeply in. What would it be like to be able to be surrounded by all of the animals without fear? I try to fathom what it must have been like for Adam to live each day without any weight of sin/shame. Total union with God and creation. This is truly an awe-inspiring thought. Everything was good… Well, almost everything.
Genesis 2:18 ESV
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.”
The one thing in all of creation that was not good is that man was alone. God’s solution to this situation was not to create more animals for Adam to tend to, or give him more work to do to keep him busy, or even to create someone else who was just like him. God created Eve.
The text says that God made a “helper” for Adam. Some bristle at that terminology and reject it. They view that language as somehow being demeaning to women, or speaking as if a woman’s only purpose in life is to be an assistant to a man. This is far from what is actually being said here in the text.
The Hebrew word translated as “helper” is עָזַר (ʿā·zǎr) which can mean- “one who helps, a support, an aid.” What is important to notice is that this worddoes not denote inferiority as we might apply to it when we hear “helper”. We know this because Exodus 18:4,Psalm 70:5, and several other passages use this same word to describe God. God is an ʿā·zǎr to his people. God certainly is not inferior to His creation.
The thrust of what is being said in the text is NOT that Adam (the man) is the “important one” and that Eve (the woman) is simply his assistant in life. Rather, the picture of scripture is that just as God helps His creation in ways that they cannot help themselves, Eve was able to do for Adam what he could not do for himself.
Anyone who has been married to a good spouse understands this principle first hand. You compliment one another, have different strengths, and you need one another. I sometimes wonder if my wife needs me half as much as I need her. I am confident that without my savior, I would be lost. I am also confident that in a different sense (but a very real one) without my wife, I would be lost.
In Genesis 2:21-22, we read that God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam and took one of his ribs and formed Eve. Upon seeing Eve, Adam recognized that she was “bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh”. She was like him, but different. She wasn’t inferior to him, she wasn’t superior to him. She came from his side. She was an equal part of God’s crowning jewel of creation, and she came to be for Adam what he could not be for himself.
In writing the creation account, Moses here adds the words of Genesis 2:24:
Genesis 2:24 ESV
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Moses ends this section of scripture with a point of application. He writes, “therefore”, most of us were taught to always remember that “therefore” is there – for – a – reason. It is connecting the previous thought. Moses is saying, “since it is not good for man to be alone” and “since God has created women to be what man cannot be” and “since woman is an equal part of creation” – a man shall leave father and mother, hold fast to his wife, the two shall become one flesh.
Moses is writing centuries after the creation event unfolded. He is drawing our minds back to the beginning to teach about marriage. Since God created the perfect partner for man, men should leave their family unit behind, and form a new family.
Man is not just to leave father and mother and get married. Rather he is to, “hold fast” to his wife. Literally meaning, “fasten himself to her”, forming a one flesh union. Just as one would “fasten their seatbelts” to make sure they don’t fall out of a rollercoaster through all of it’s ups and downs, twists and turns, husbands and wives are to fasten themselves together. They are in this relationship for the rollercoaster of life. They are to be together in the twists and turns, the ups and the downs. The two, have now become one.
From the time I was a little boy I have longed for a life without limits. How cool would it be to have the ability to fly? No, not in an airplane, but just be able to fly? How awesome would it be to be able to run forever and not get tired? Can you imagine being able to lift more than anyone else? We love the idea of being able to do incredible things that defy the odds and what most would claim to be impossible. Perhaps you have even been asked the question, “What would you do if you had unlimited money?” We are enamored by the thought of having unlimited abilities, resources, and talents. It allows us to dream big and smile.
I wonder if we dream way too small of dreams when it comes to the church that Jesus built? Do we dream that one day our congregation would have to add on to our building to accommodate new Christians? Do we then remind ourselves that numbers don’t really matter? Do we dream about God using us as His people to shine a light so bright in our community that the world would have no choice but to see that city on a hill? Only to remind ourselves, that people are busy and they probably wouldn’t notice if we did some grand work. Do we pray for that person who has left the faith, in hopes that their heart will turn back to the Lord? Only to add the phrase “if it be your will” to our prayer. We know that we should pray in keeping with God’s will, and allow for God’s will to be different than ours. Jesus did it, we should too. However, if we are really honest with ourselves, we might admit that at least occasionally when we say those words, it is due, in part, to our doubt that God can or will answer what we have asked of Him.
What is the biggest limit to the church being who we were meant to be? What is the biggest hinderance to the borders of the kingdom expanding? What is the biggest reason that our prayers seem to not yield what we hope for? There may be a variety of answers to these questions, and I do not pretend to speak for them all. Allow me to offer one possible answer to these questions.
OUR FAITH IS TOO SMALL:
When you study the Gospel of Matthew, this stands out in a pretty major way. Think with me regarding a few passages of scripture…
A man with leprosy approached Jesus and simply said, “If you will, you can make me clean”. Notice what this leper believed about Jesus, if it was Jesus’ will for him to be healed, he would be healed. He was healed.
We read of a roman centurion who had obviously heard a lot about Jesus and His abilities. He came to Jesus asking Him to heal a servant. However, he had such faith in Jesus, that he said- “Only say the word and my servant will be healed”. This man believed that if Jesus would simply speak the words, his servant would be healed. Do you remember what happened? Jesus spoke the words and the servant was healed.
We see two amazing miracles. One is a woman who had a medical issue that no one could fix, and she believed that if she could only touch the garment of Jesus she would be healed. The other, was a synagogue ruler’s daughter who had died. The father believed that if Jesus could lay his hands on her, she would live again (talk about faith!) What do we see happen? The woman touched the garment of Jesus and she was healed. Jesus grabbed the hand of the ruler’s daughter and raised her back to life!
– We see that crowds had gathered around jesus and they believed that if they could just touch His garment, they would be healed. Do you know what happened to every single person who touched His garment? Yep, they were healed.
What is the point of looking back on these incredible accounts of these miracles? There are two main takeaways I want to ask you to think on and consider.
Every person was healed to the point that they believed they would be.
If someone thought that Jesus just had to desire to heal them, then that is what Jesus did. If someone thought they would be healed by the touching His garment, that is what happened. If someone thought that they would be healed by Jesus speaking the word, then Jesus spoke the word. If someone thought that Jesus would heal them by touching them, then Jesus touched them. What is the point? The point is, Jesus always worked in their lives in proportion to their faith. Is it possible that we don’t “see God working” like we wish that we did, because our faith is too small? Because we don’t believe He really will? Because we doubt when we pray? Which leads us to the second big takeaway.
2. We serve that very same God.
We serve the same God who heals the sick, raises the dead, preaches the truth, and saves the world. When you pray today, remember who you are talking to. You are not speaking to an unknown being. You are not speaking a “wish into the air”. You are bringing your requests before the God of heaven. What do you believe God can do through you? Pray big prayers. Pray impossible prayers. Don’t limit the working of God with your small faith.
You may not be able to jump off a building and fly (you can’t, don’t try), you may not be able to lift more than the incredible hulk, or run forever without getting tired. But you have something more incredible than any of those things, a God who wants to hear from you.