Yes, Monogamy is ‘Unnatural’

Friday is my husband and I’s five year anniversary. On that day, my husband and I stood before God, family, and friends and took vows of commitment to one another. I’m not here to hand out marriage advice. Five years feels like a big milestone, but I know it’s not much compared to people like my parents and grandparents, who have been going strong for 30, 60 plus years. Like any marriage, we have had and have our difficulties.

I recently read that, after splitting from her second husband, actress Scarlett Johannson called monogamy “unnatural” and “a lot of work.” This is an opinion I’ve heard from other celebrities and many people in general. I’m not here to condemn her for view. Actually, to some extent, I’m here to agree with her.

We feel that there is something unnatural about monogamy because there is. What comes naturally is what comes easily and what comes easily is self-love. Commitment, the promise to love another more than ourselves, to stick with it when things gets hard, flies in the face of all of our natural instincts. But if our only standard for living is what feels natural, we have reduced our lives to virtual meaninglessness. Nearly everything worth attaining takes work and sacrifice. The student spends hours studying despite the fact that he would naturally rather not. The marathon runner trains, pushing himself through pain and straining against every natural instinct which begs him to stop. If we only do what feels natural, we may have comfort and ease, but we have very little actually worth having. 

In our society, we are both idealists and cynics. We want to believe in a love so powerful, so consuming that it is always easy to give, that never demands something we don’t naturally feel like doing. We want the sensation of falling in love, but we don’t ever want to hit the hard ground of reality, where things become mundane and difficult, where feelings dissipate. The problem though is that we inevitably do hit the ground and when we do, we feel that love has failed us somehow, that if it was real love, it wouldn’t be so hard. Falling in love is effortless and only takes a moment, but choosing to love for a lifetime takes a lifetime of work.

Real love is made of weightier stuff than feelings. It finds its form and substance in difficulty. It is refined in pain and trials like silver in the fire. It is not simply felt, but forged. It matters more when it is given in spite of and not because of natural instinct. Loving in moments of ease might make us feel good, but it means very little.  We all love that which makes us feel good and no one needs vows to do what is natural. Real love, however, is very unnatural and costly, but then by definition, it is very precious. If we only strive for that which costs us little, we will only attain that which is not worth very much.

I write this not to hold my own marriage up self-righteously or to condemn anyone who has gone through divorce, but rather to dispel the notion that love should come easily. Five years is very short in the long run and I know that we will yet encounter greater difficulties than we have so far. There may come a time when one or both of us will want to throw in the towel, but like a runner who runs to win a prize, I set my face toward the goal with the expectation of difficulty, a prayer for endurance, and the hope of reward. I am determined to keep my vow, to strive for the essence of love that God has given me, the love which promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Indeed, we find this love perfected in Jesus Himself. Being fully God, there was nothing natural about Him condescending to come to earth and certainly nothing natural about Him dying on a cross. Leaving us in our sin and self-wrought misery would have been natural, easy, and just. Being fully human as well, we know there was nothing easy about Him doing it. Indeed, he sweat with blood and prayed with tears that the cup should pass from Him. Showering us with mercy and grace came with great pain and at a very high cost. And yet, because of His love for His bride, the Church, He laid down His life in order to make her His own. This is real love, love which has supernatural power precisely because it pushes us beyond our nature to imbue our lives with beauty, hope, and purpose. 

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Holiness Made Its Home Among The Cursed

At Easter, it is natural to reflect upon the death and resurrection of Christ. This year, I find myself also thinking upon the broader scope of His life and its meaning for us. What does it mean that He was Emmanuel? What does it mean that God not only forgave our sins, but came to dwell among us, the sinners? It means God was not merely after forgiveness, but restoration. Restoration of the world in its entirety. Restoration of the human condition in its entirety.

You don’t have to look far to see that we live in a broken world. There is pain. There is injustice and evil and grief. We can find that even our greatest joys can be tinged with sadness as if we know things are still not what they should be. We can be haunted by the dauntless specter of death, our one shared and final fate though something tells us it shouldn’t end that way. Why? Why is the world fraught with sorrow? Why does life end in death? Because we are fallen. We bear the curse of our sin and every square inch of creation bears it with us (Romans 8).

Yet in the life of Christ, we see mercy dawning. We see God retracing the steps of the Fall. We see the Holy One enter the cursed womb and set into motion our ransom, our rescue. The first place He sent sin’s curse was the first place He sent sin’s cure. And there is nowhere else He has commissioned His curse that He has not also commissioned His grace, no scars of His judgment that He has not also touched with the healing of His redemption.

The incarnation means that Holiness made its home among the Cursed. Yahweh, a name too sacred to be spoken by our tainted lips, became Emmanuel, God With Us. How astounding that the holy, eternal God entered into the wasteland of our transgressions. How astonishing to see Him be born of a sinful woman, labor among the thorns and thistles of our cursed ground, touch and heal the sick and perishing, and finally, die the shameful death of a common sinner.

Christ, the God-man, our lamb and conqueror, subjected Himself to our curse that He might defeat our curse. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Who could but falter under such an unfathomable burden? Yet, He never did. He carried it to completion and finally, cast it off, hurling our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and with them, our condemnation. Now we find the wrath of God is quenched, spent, satisfied like a fire which finds nothing left to burn. Its cup is emptied. Not a drop remains for He drank it all for thee.

What, then, remains for us to fear? What part of our curse shall hold terror for us still? Shall we fear the womb, be it emptied or filled or aching with the pain of loss? No, for our Lord has been there. Shall we live in dread of sickness? Jesus has taken up our infirmities (Isaiah 53:4). Shall we falter under the burdens of loneliness, grief, persecution? He has been well acquainted with them all (Isaiah 53:3). Shall we tremble as we face our final breaths? No, for Christ has breathed them before us.

He has lived and hurt and died, not merely pardoning us from afar, but entering fully into our human experience and leaving grace for all and in all in His wake. Yes, this ground we tread is cursed still, but now Holiness has been here, sowing the seeds of redemption. For now, they may seem to lie dormant as in winter, or barely shooting up, as in the first, fledgling moments of spring, but someday…someday, they will burst into full bloom. They will chase away the curse forever. All will be made new. It will. It will.

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy….” Isaiiah 35:1,2

“But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter into Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Isaiah 35:10

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Rob Bell, Jesus Wasn’t “Relevant” and His Church Shouldn’t Be Either

Today, I happened upon an article about Rob Bell and his recent remarks to Oprah that the Church will become irrelevant if it continues to cling to the teachings of the Bible. From what I know about this man, he has renounced the doctrine of hell and obviously, doesn’t see the scriptures as authoritative. Without the Bible, I’m not sure Christianity can be called Christianity, but nonetheless, this is nothing new. The church has always been tempted to give way to the culture in the desperate hope that it can influence the culture.

However, this is completely counter to who Jesus Christ was. Jesus wasn’t “relevant” in His day and He never will be today, not in the sense we want. He wasn’t the Savior anyone hoped for or looked for. He didn’t tell anyone what their itching ears wanted to hear.

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:2-3

A “stumbling block” and “rock of offense,” Jesus came to love, yes, but to love and lead people out of their sin. Never once did he amend His message in order to make it more palatable, more popular, or more “relevant.”

The great irony is, that if he had, He would’ve been irrelevant. 

Can you imagine if He had told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and keep on doing as you please.” Or to the tax collector, “Continue in your greed and thievery.” Or to the Pharisee, “Stay in the comfort of your self-righteousness.” These messages would have been well-received, no doubt, but they would have had no impact. If this had been Jesus’s message, the Cross itself would be not only pointless, but laughable and certainly, irrelevant.

A drop of rain which falls in a stream becomes indistinguishable from it. It has no power or influence over the stream, for it is simply carried along by its tide. It is the rock which stands staunchly immovable against the tide that has the power to influence the course of the stream. The more the Church adjusts its views to appease the culture, the more it will look like the culture. And a Church which looks just like the culture will have nothing notable to say to the culture.

Those who suggest we “update” Christianity’s teachings say they are motivated by love, but love without truth, love which points out no wrongs and accepts all is a love which renders itself meaningless and powerless. Jesus loved people enough to tell them they were wrong. He loved them enough to tell them they needed something they couldn’t obtain on their own. And He loved them enough to die to give it to them.

Yes, Mr. Bell, love has, indeed, won, but without a battle, there is nothing to win.  As Tim Keller said, “We’re far worse than we ever imagined, and far more loved than we could ever dream.”  Through the cross, Jesus both showed us our greatest problem and satisfied our greatest need. This is the the Good News which Jesus came to bring and the most relevant message Christians have to offer the world.

Election 2016. I Shall Not Fear.

  This election is drawing to a close and I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go. Perhaps, that is the only thing most of us can agree on. It has certainly been the most tumultuous, divisive, and, might I say, ridiculous election I have seen. It hasn’t been pretty to witness what’s happening to this country on either side of the political spectrum.

Though, I can’t help but feel that this election is not so much doing something to this nation as it is simply revealing what we have done to ourselves. We are merely reaping what we have sown: strife, envy, malice, greed, immorality. 

It can produce in us a deeply rooted anxiety at what might lie ahead.  As a mother of children who are growing up in this mess, I am no stranger to this feeling. It rises up and whispers perniciously that I should be afraid. And sometimes I am.

Yet, we are a people of faith and not a people of fear. We trust in what is unseen. Hopelessness is not befitting the children of God who, every day, are being drawn closer to a living hope, an imperishable inheritance, a better country ( Peter 1:3,4, Hebrews 11-16). Therefore, we must combat our fears with truth. When our hearts whisper despair, we must shout back words of hope, for our hope is great indeed. 

Our God is mighty, sovereign, ruler over all. To him, the nations are like a drop in a bucket. He is transcendent and yet, imminent. Both King and Shepherd, He is sovereign over this mess and with us in this mess. He will not falter or fail to achieve His will. “For he spoke and it came to be; he commanded and it stood firm. The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalms 33:9-11).

Therefore, “it is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes” (Psalms 118:8-9). For we know “the earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it” (Psalms 24:1). “He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing” (Isaiah 40:23). 

Whoever rises to “power,” Trump, Clinton, is as nothing before Him. Their heart will be in His hand. Like a stream, He will direct it wherever He pleases (Proverbs 21:1).

So, we “do not put our trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground, on that very day their plans come to nothing” (Psalms 146:3-4).

Nations may be in uproar. Kingdoms may fall (Psalms 46:6), but “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalms 46:1-2). Though corrupt and evil men rise to power, though troubles come our way, though darkness and madness seem to rule the day, we shall not fear.

For “the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love…We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you” (Psalms 33:18-22).

The Mirror of Motherhood

I remember sitting in my living room with my small group leader, my infant son napping peacefully and angelically in his crib. “Believe it or not,” she told me. “Someday it will be hard to love him.” I knew she was right, but it was definitely difficult to imagine at the time. Today, as I spend my days with my now two year old son and my three month old daughter, I can tell you that love is a choice and it’s often a difficult one to make. I can also tell you that the love that is the most difficult to give is the most meaningful to give.

In many ways, parenting is a picture of salvation. Through Jesus, God causes us to live (Ephesians 2:5). He meets us in our greatest need (Romans 5:6). He spoon feeds us when we are weak and helpless. He chooses to love us when we are unlovable and gives us new mercies every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 103:8), He patiently cares for us, disciplines us, teaches us so that we may become mature and complete, lacking no good thing (Hebrews 12:10, James 1:4).

Being a mom is both a joy and a struggle. It is evidence that I am made in the image of God as well as a reminder of how far I have fallen from it. I find such joy in my children. I delight to meet their needs, to care for and protect them daily. I love seeing them grow and learn new things. There are so many wonderful moments, but there are also very hard moments, moments when it is difficult to love.

My son is whiney and selfish. He cries if he doesn’t get his way. He is foolish and short-sighted. He wants  things that will harm him and is angry with me when I won’t let him have them. He doesn’t trust that I know what’s best for him. He is so very helpless and needy. He is just like me.

As adults, we (hopefully) learn not to have fits when we don’t get our way. We learn to cover up our inherent selfishness, but it’s always there. We are not so different from a two year old child.  Growing up can modify our behavior, but only the power of God can really change our hearts.

I’ve found that motherhood is a mirror. I see myself reflected in my children, their great weakness and need, their foolish desires. And when it is hard to choose love and patience over a sharp word or anger, I find myself amazed at how longsuffering God has been with me and convicted of how short I fall of loving as He does.

If motherhood is a mirror, it is a two way mirror. Through my children, God is giving me a picture of what I am like and how greatly He has loved me in Jesus. And through me, though they don’t even know it yet, He is daily giving them a picture of what He is like. I am His messenger,  through word and deed, of love to them. This picture I give them is marred no doubt, but in the day to day sacrificing and serving of motherhood, He is refining and clarifying and sharpening His image  in me so that it might be better reflected to these little ones whose greatest need is to know His perfect, transforming love.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust…from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.”   -Psalm 103:13-14,17

Good Friday Was Bad

The older I get, the more I become aware of life’s fragility, of our precarious position in this world. We are not promised tomorrow, nor even tonight. What’s more, neither are our loved ones. Living is risky and loving is even riskier. Motherhood has made me all too aware of this. From ISIS and the zika virus and just basic human error the endless list of what if‘s could bring a mother to the brink of insanity. I think with each pregnancy, I will confront fear again and again. I can be haunted by the words of Job, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me…”

The question then, is what is the answer to the problem of our fears? Is it a blind, unfounded belief that bad things won’t happen to us? Do we just tell ourselves God wouldn’t do that? I don’t think so because we can plainly see that bad things do happen to people. As scripture tells us, God not only lets them happen, but He ordains all that will come to pass. How then can we know that this God, this sovereign God is really good? How may we look our fears in the face, knowing that they might all come true and yet believe that God is trustworthy?

Whenever I wrestle with the sovereignty of God and the existence of evil and suffering, a profound mystery, God always leads me to the surer, solid ground before the cross. We celebrate today, the day Jesus died, and we call it good, but the truth is, it wasn’t really good. Good Friday was bad. Nothing could have been more disastrous, more terrible for followers of Jesus than the death of the one on whom they had pinned all their hopes.

But it wasn’t even just that it seemed bad at the time. It was really wrong. It was really evil and unjust that Jesus, who had committed no wrong, was crucified at the hands of those who had. Jesus himself, when they came to arrest him, said, “But this is your hour when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53). What a startling statement for the light of the world to make. God purposed that darkness, evil, should reign–but only for a time. For we know that the real injustice wrought by man was, at the same time, mysteriously coinciding with God’s perfect justice against sin and amazing grace to sinners. You see, the cross tells us that God always re-purposes or rather, “supra-purposes” evil and suffering. What man intends for evil, God intends to work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Genesis 50:20, Romans 828).

So my answer to my fears and worries is not some wishful belief that they will not happen, that they could not happen. As they happened to Job, they could happen to me. All that I fear might come to pass and it might be truly bad, truly wrong. Yet if I follow the logic of Romans 8, the logic of the cross, I find the freedom to walk in faith instead of fear. Good Friday was bad, but now it is so very, completely good. Through His resurrection, Christ redeemed His own death and if He can redeem such a great wrong, He can and will redeem all the pains and sorrows of those He suffered so greatly to purchase. If He can redeem the cross, He can redeem anything and if He can redeem anything, we have nothing to fear. That is not trite, vain hope, but plain, solid truth to which our souls can firmly hold.