I’ve never really bought into the fear of old age that’s rampant in our culture today. I don’t exactly love the idea of a slower metabolism or bad knees, but I figured it is balanced with an increase in knowledge and wisdom.
If in20years.com is to be believed, I won’t go grey! But my face will become increasingly greasy and leathery.
But here’s the problem, that increase in knowledge and wisdom is not what I expected. There is this strange dichotomy, and I’m not sure how to handle it. For every one thing I learn, I seem to encounter one hundred new things that I don’t understand!
In a single day, even in a single minute, I can feel both a growing sense of confidence in my newfound abilities and an overwhelming despair at my lack of abilities. This happens to me in all spheres of life: knowledge of God, relationships, business, politics, hobbies, marriage, and the list goes on.
I remember a mentor of mine, Drew, once showed me a pinecone. He said, “you’re a smart guy, you understand things well. But you need to realize something, your understanding is limited to this pinecone. Someday you’ll realize that this pinecone is actually part of a tree, and that tree is part of a forest, and that forest is part of this whole earth.”
I’m just now starting to see what he meant, and it’s a little terrifying. The world used to have simple problems and simple solutions, but now they seem more complex than ever. There are billions of people on Earth, each with a heart that is more complex than I can imagine. As Jeremiah puts it, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
I’m 29 years old right now, to some that’s young and to others that is old, but supposing good health I’m about a third of the way through life (give or take a few years). If, at 29, I’ve grown this much aware of how small I am in this huge world, where will I stand when I’m 40? 64? 78?
Perhaps I’m getting too philosophical right now (it happens sometimes). But here are two thoughts that have given me comfort this morning:
2 Corinthians 12:9-10But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Isaiah 40:28Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
Perhaps growing older isn’t such a bad thing. If an increase in knowledge means I will grow to understand my weakness more, then it will only drive me to God more, For His power is made perfect in my weakness.
There is a multitude of verses that discuss the vastness of God’s knowledge, grace, and mercy. As a kid, I used to think we might get bored in Heaven. But now that I am increasingly aware of the vastness of this universe, and the exponentially larger vastness of the God who made it all, I’m quite looking forward to eternity. God simply has so much to offer that we will never come close to boredom.
Your turn: Does anyone else ever experience this collision with their inadequacies?
My wife Morgan told me about a quote she once read as a teenager. Her dad made her read it when she lost the plot* because of a door ding on her car. She didn’t appreciate it at the time, but has since grown to really appreciate its truth:
“The longer I love, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church….a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.” – Charles R. Swindoll
There isn’t much to add to that really, I think the idea speaks for itself. I would, however, like to add this one little nugget.
I’ve always been amazed at the attitude of the apostles throughout the books of Acts. Acts 5:40-41 is where their impressive attitudes are first described: “they beat [the apostles] and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.“
I always read this and thought, “who does that?! Who rejoices when they get beaten?!” The apostles showed an attitude that is far beyond my abilities in such a situation.
And perhaps that is the key. In order to have an attitude that rejoices, even in times of challenge and darkness, we need God’s strength. I don’t have the ability, but God does. When I seek Him out, He changes my heart. And it is from this heart that our attitudes reach the surface.
We live in a broken world, but it still carries the echoes of Eden. You will experience disappointment, heartache, pain, and sorrow. You will also experience joy, success, friendship. As humans, our tendency is to look inward when both bad or good things happen. “How could this terrible thing happen to me?” or “It is so awesome that I am successful.”
Instead, in both the good times and the bad, we should turn our hearts to worship God. He is the Author of life, and developing an attitude of worship for Him will ensure we experience the most fulfilling life possible.
*Lost the Plot is a commonly used phrase in New Zealand that means “To cease to behave in a consistent and/or rational manner.”
Over the last year I’ve been taking an improv course. If you don’t know what improv is, then I suggest you watch this excellent example:
Essentially, an improvised performance is one you make up on the spot. There is no script! In order to be successful, I’ve had to learn a lot about effective storytelling. Perhaps the most helpful lesson has been the importance of good characters.
You simply cannot have good stories without good characters. They drive the story forward, their decisions and actions make things happen. They may find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, but the way characters handle those circumstances is what makes a story interesting.
Next time you watch a movie or read a novel or attend a play, pay attention to the characters. You will find that they act according to their nature. We expect Jim to prank Dwight, we expect Sam to help Frodo, we expect Mr. Darcy to pursue Elizabeth. We expect these things because they are true to the character, and yet, those expected actions often find ways to surprise us.
If you did not enjoy a story, I’d bet a primary reason was the lack of good characters. I have experienced this firsthand during improv performances. When I walk onto the stage and jump too quickly into a character that has nothing special or interesting, the scenes drag on and are torturous for myself and the audience. If, however, I spend a little more time developing an interesting character, then the story practically tells itself and is always engaging.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our lives are basically stories, and each one of us is a main character in our respective story. If you want your story to be interesting, then you must recognize the importance of actually being a good character.
Performing an Improv scene
At different times, life will send you challenges and conveniences, pain and joy, trials and blessings. In the book, How People Change, the authors describe how us humans often blame external factors for the way we behave. The reality, however, is that we respond to those external situations in a way that is true to our character.
For instance, I often blame the traffic when it causes me to erupt in anger and swearing. But the cause of that irate behavior is actually in my own heart, not on the road.
The key, then, to being a great character and living an excellent story is a changed heart. This cannot be done in our own power, but only through the work of the Gospel and Holy Spirit.
And so, if you truly want to live a story worth remembering, if you want to live fully, then it starts by spending time at the feet of Jesus. Allow God to work in your heart, to change you and make you more like Him. He is the great potter, the author of life, and His hands will ensure that your story is one worth telling.
Your turn: who is your favorite character in a famous story?
Now I need to make a couple of confessions. First, Morgan did not drag me to see the film. It was my suggestion. Yes I know it’s a princess movie. But I’m a bit of a film fanatic, I love Disney, and enjoy Director Kenneth Branagh‘s work. So sue me.
Secondly, I actually enjoyed it. Granted, Cinderella does more dress twirling than I thought necessary and it isn’t a perfect film, but it features the right amount of charm and Disney magic that can make even the most cynical people smile. Even better, I haven’t seen a movie with so much Gospel truth in a long time. I highly recommend you (and your kids) watch it.
While many moments stick out to me, I’m going to focus on just a few of them. Things might get a bit spoilery here, so consider reading this after watching the movie. That being said, most people know the Cinderella story and so the things below shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
The film introduces us to a young girl, named Ella. Like many Disney films, she loses both her parents. She is then left with her cruel Stepmother and two Stepsisters. They change her name from Ella to “Cinderella” because of the ashes on her face from all the serving work they force her to do.
Img source: Rotten Tomatoes
Throughout the entire story, her stepmother feeds her this identity, “the ragged servant girl is what you are, and that is what you will always be.” It is no coincidence that her stepmother’s cat is named “Lucifer.”
This identity stays with Cinderella throughout the movie. She frequently questions whether or not a prince could actually love her because she has so little to offer.
“And I’m just a lizard”
The scene that resonated with me the most comes when Cinderella arrives at the ball. She says something to her coachman (who is actually a lizard transformed by the fairy godmother), that goes something like this:
“I’m scared Mr. Lizard, I’m just a girl, not a princess.”
Mr. Lizard responds, “And I am just a lizard, not a coachman. But we can enjoy it while it lasts.”
This exchange works for Ella, who embraces her new identity as a princess, even if it is for just a few hours.
As she walked up the stairs with a huge smile, I was struck by something. We are all just people, unworthy of the glories of God’s Kingdom because of our sin. Despite this, God chose to adopt us all as children, making us heirs in His Kingdom.
Img source: Rotten Tomatoes
But we are not limited to enjoying our new identity as royalty for a few hours. Because of Christ’s work we can enjoy and embrace our new identity for all eternity. Romans 8:14-18 describes it this way, ”
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.“
Take me as I am
When the clock strikes midnight, Ella runs for it. She is afraid that when the prince learns who she truly is, he will reject her. But this is not the case. Instead, the Prince searches the Kingdom to find the woman he loves.
When he finally does, she identifies herself as “Cinderella” She tells him, “I have nothing to offer you, no land or ruling advantage, no dowry or riches. Will you take me as I am?”
The prince is not deterred. He loves Cinderella for who she is and asks for her hand in marriage.
And this is how Christ accepts us. We are tempted to believe that we need to offer God something special before he will accept us. We think “If I were a bit more holy” or “if I do more good works” or “once I start going to church more” then God will accept us into His Kingdom.
But Jesus doesn’t ask us for good works or religious performance. He doesn’t require or money or our land. All he asks is for our heart. No matter where you are or what you’ve done, all you need to do is repent (turn towards Jesus) and believe (that Jesus loves you and can save you).
Happily Ever After
Almost all fairy tales end with the words, “And they lived happily ever after.”
If you’re a believer in Jesus, then those words are not just make believe. There is a Kingdom waiting for us all, and together we shall live with the King and truly know what it means to live happily ever after.
Your turn: Did you see Cinderella? What did you think? Is it ok for a grown adult man without a daughter to enjoy this movie?
I’ve had conversations with many non-believers that go something like this: “I just can’t believe in an all-powerful God with all the bad stuff happening in the world. Disease, murder, hunger; if He is real then why does God allow suffering?”
I would imagine that everyone has asked themselves this question at some point in their lives. Despite feeling incredibly inadequate to answer this question, I am going to attempt to do so in the best way I can. It’s not a simple answer, in fact, I think it requires several answers. The five answers below do not necessarily stand alone, but I believe they can work together to give us peace and understanding about the suffering in this world.
The Killing Fields in Phnom Penh – a site of tremendous pain and suffering
1) God created a world without suffering
Genesis 1:31 says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
God is powerful enough to create a perfect world without pain and suffering. But He also desired for His people to love Him, and love is a choice. If mankind had no choice to love or reject God, then we could not truly love Him. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve chose to reject God’s love and His way.
As a direct result of our rejection of God’s good ways, we inherited all the bad things. Some of these are a direct result of people’s actions: stealing, murder, and so on. But Genesis says the very ground is cursed because of our sin. Natural disasters, diseases, and death were not part of the original plan, but because of sin they are a regular occurrence.
2) Suffering reminds us that we need God
A couple years ago I met Laura Story, the singer/songwriter behind Blessings. Laura’s husband, Martin, had a terrible brain tumor. They were able to successfully remove the tumor, but unfortunately, there was some lasting damage. He lost his peripheral vision and has a memory deficit.
It was a very challenging event, and it presents new challenges every day. The song Laura wrote is a powerful exploration of the pain and trials in our life. One line that always sticks out to me is this: What if my greatest disappointments, Or the aching of this life, Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy.
CS Lewis once said, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” This, then, is one of the reasons we still have pain: it grabs our attention and reminds us that true satisfaction can only come from God.
This, then, is one of the reasons we still have suffering: it grabs our attention and reminds us that true satisfaction can only come from God.
3) Suffering works for our good
An entire book could be written about Romans 8:28-30. Most people are familiar with verse 28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It is both frightening and encouraging to know that, for the Christian, all things work together for good.
But I’m not sure we always understand what “good” means. The good that God promises in our life isn’t a better job, attractive spouse, larger bank account, or awesome vacation. When bad things happen, I think our hope is far too often in a tangible gift from God. But God promises something better, and He does so in verses 29 and 30:
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.“
What is the good that God has called us to? To be conformed to the image of his Son, and like Jesus, to ultimately bring us into glory. That means God uses all things in our life, including the trials, pain, and suffering, to make us more like Jesus.
4) Jesus can identify with us in suffering
We often forget that God himself has experienced tremendous suffering. It can be easy to get angry with Him when He gets to enjoy Heaven and we have to suffer here. But Jesus took on flesh and experienced all the pain and suffering a human can imagine. He was sick, he lost loved ones, and his death was torturous.
A few verses in Hebrews 2 explains this rather vividly. Verse 9 says, “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Continuing in verse 14, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
I find it remarkably comforting to know that we have a God who knows exactly what I am going through. He himself has suffered, and He can offer help and comfort in ways we cannot even comprehend.
5) God will put an end to all suffering
This is the kicker. Without this point, I think I would still struggle to understand why a good God could allow so much suffering. People want to know, why doesn’t God fix everything? The answer is this: God will fix everything. He will bring justice to the people of the world who cause suffering, and He will put an end to all future suffering.
Revelation 21:3-5 says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
It was this hope that kept Paul going through his many trials. The guy was beaten, stoned, flogged, shipwrecked, snake bitten, and more. But despite all these suffering, he had this to say in Romans 8:13, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Like Paul, we must also cling to this hope. Our present suffering is a blip compared to the eternity we can enjoy with God. If you are experiencing suffering now, please understand that I have no intention of minimizing your pain. Suffering can be unbearable and long lasting, but ultimately, the glory God has planned for us is so vast that our present suffering is simply “not worth comparing.”
To #LiveFully does not mean you will never suffer. But rather, when you suffer, it means you will seek after the Lord and His peace. It means God will use your suffering to change you into His image. It means you will trust the God who identifies with our suffering. And it means we can hope in the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Your turn: How do you cope with suffering when it occurs in your life?
Ask the average 16-29 year old how they would describe Christians, and one of their first words would be “judgmental.” To say this bothers me is an understatement. Being judgmental is completely contrary to the very essence gospel, and yet Christians have acted in such a way that it is core to our modern identity.
First, let’s describe what people typically mean when they describe someone as judgmental. Essentially, if you are overly critical of everyone else, then you are being judgmental. This is especially true when you criticize others in order to look better yourself. A classic judgmental statement is something like, “I’m better than you because you ____________, but I ___________.
The Gospel Truth
But the Gospel has no room for this type of behavior. Christianity is unique in its message: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10) and “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
That means it doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or Pagan, gay or straight, black or white, Western or Eastern, vegan or carnivore, sober or drunk, all of us have fallen short. None of us are good enough for God’s glory, we cannot meet His standard.
If this was the end of the story, it would be rather depressing. But it is not the end, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
We were not good enough, but Jesus is. He died in our place, and we can rest in his work to receive eternal life. Therefore, when God looks at those who believe, He no longer sees the things we’ve done, but rather the work Christ has done on our behalf. It is a marvelous thing, a beautiful gift, and the greatest act of love all time.
Understanding the Gospel
Which brings us to the problem of judgmentalism. If you look down on someone and believe you are better than them because you don’t drink, cuss, or steal, then you have failed to recognize two essential truths of the gospel:
1) You cannot earn your salvation (you’re not good enough)
2) Jesus loves you and earned 100% of your salvation for you
Judgmental behavior is rooted in our desperate need for righteousness. Deep down, we know we cannot measure up to God’s standards. Therefore, we do everything we can to earn His approval and look good. One way we attempt this is to criticize others so that we look better. The only problem is, judging others to make ourselves appear better only leads to self-righteousness.
The truth is, God won’t give you or me His approval based on our self-earned-righteousness. Comparing yourself to others won’t help your chances, in fact, it will hurt them. The only way to receive God’s favor is by depending on the work of Christ. When you do that, you will receive righteousness and salvation as free gifts. You don’t need to prove your value by judging others!
Responding to the Gospel
So instead of being judgmental, Christians should be the most compassionate and caring people in the world. We know we are sinners, but we also know that Jesus is the only thing that has changed us.
Instead of saying, “I’m better than you because _________,” we should be saying, “I get it! Life is hard and you want satisfaction and joy and peace. I’ve tried many of the things you’re trying, but I’m here to tell you, nothing will work as well as Jesus. I’ve experienced his love and his goodness, and there is nothing else like it in the world! He is far more satisfying than drink and sex and money and power. Won’t you let me introduce you to him?”
So let’s start breaking the stereotype. If you want the world to stop viewing Christians as judgmental and hateful, then it starts with you. Preach the gospel to yourself regularly, remind yourself of the truth constantly to avoid the trappings of self-righteousness.
Despite your inadequacies and failures, God loves you more than you can imagine. If you truly believe that, you can’t help but love others.
I recently had the opportunity to help tell the story of two of my friends named Jeremy and Nicole.
I won’t write their whole story here, because you can and should watch them tell it in the video below. But just to convince you to press play, I’ll get things started. To say Jeremy and Nicole have had a challenging few years would be an understatement. When their first son, Toby, was born, they discovered he had something called GRACILE syndrome. He struggled to survive, and sadly they lost him at two months of age.
They also discovered that, because GRACILE was a genetic disorder (an extremely rare one at that), each of the rest of their children would have a 25% chance of having GRACILE. In the video they share about their decision making process to try again, giving birth to a healthy child named Levi. Once more they decided to try, but their third son, Lucas, was also diagnosed with GRACILE syndrome. Despite knowing this 3 months into pregnancy, they chose to carry Lucas to term and give birth so they could meet him, if even for a short time.
It’s a tragic story, but one filled with God’s grace. How they can trust and love God through times like this is beyond me, but perhaps they can help you understand in this video:
It is a great reminder that no matter what you go through, God can grant you peace and offer you His presence. Jeremy put it this way,
“We started out the journey just wanting God to heal Toby. That was it pretty much, that’s who God was in that situation to us. He has to come in and heal. By the end of the journey, we felt like we could see God completely clearly, being right there with us, standing with us as Toby died. We came to know that God was there and that God is good, even in a situation like that.”
In John 8:12, Jesus says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
There are three things I want to point out in that verse:
1) People are walking in darkness
2) Jesus is the light of the world
3) By following Jesus, we can also have the light of life
One of the most exciting things about Christianity is that Jesus calls us to join in his work of redemption and restoration. We can do this is by bringing light to the darkness. Let’s talk about how that works.
When you think about darkness, what words come to mind? I recently asked some friends this, and we came up with a list: fear, danger, despair, blindness, sadness, sin.
Nighttime can be a scary thing, but in modern times we often feel safe because of electric lights. Imagine, however, going out at night during the time of Jesus. There were no street lights, no police, and danger awaited around every corner. Historian Peter Baldwin described nighttime before electricity as “downright perilous.” There were at least three dangers to the night:
1) No guidance or clear paths: Have you ever walked through your house at night with no lights on? There is a reasonable chance you kicked the bed, tripped over a toy, or worse. Roman cities had tight walkways covered in garbage, stonework, and wild animals. You risked serious injury simply because of the many obstacles!
2) Night was the realm of the criminal: Vandals, thieves, murderers. These were the type of people you might encounter if you left your home in the darkness. Not exactly ideal companionship.
3) People who had something to hide: John Henley described the situation this way: “Those fearful of arrest could move safely under cover of darkness. Lovers could connect, adulterers could couple, prostitutes could work, homosexuals could meet.” In other words, people hid everything they could in darkness.
Photograph by THIERRY COHEN (click photo for more)
Jesus is the Light
The light of Jesus conquers darkness in every way:
1) It gives us guidance and a clear path: Psalms 119:105 says, “Your word is a light to my feet and a light unto my path.”
2) Sin and danger are overcome: John 1:4-5 says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Thanks to Jesus, the murderers and thieves are defeated.
3) The hidden ways of darkness are exposed: Ephesians 5:11-13 says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible.”
Most people will be pretty happy about number 1 and 2, we want clear paths and conquered criminals! But what about part 3? All of us have areas of our lives that we would rather not have exposed. It can actually be terrifying to know that Jesus sees everything and exposes everything.
But this fear is good, because it gives us no other option but to run to Jesus. When we do that, he redeems us! Ephesians 5:8-9 says, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” There is hope here for everyone, even murderers, thieves, and vandals.
How to walk as children of the Light
Not only does Jesus proclaim himself to be the light of the world, but he also calls us to be light to the world. He did it in John 8:12, Ephesians 5:9, and also Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
If we want to be the light, then we must start by understanding how to shine the light. Imagine a lightbulb: Its purpose is to shine light, but no matter how hard it tries it cannot generate light on it’s own power. The lightbulb cannot fulfill its purpose until it is plugged into a power source. Once connected properly, however, the lightbulb will automatically shine – it cannot help it.
In the same way, we cannot shine light unless we are connected to Christ. We must seek after him and live in his presence. When we allow the Spirit to work in us while we do things like listening to the Word or praying, we won’t be able to help but shine His light.
From there, it is simple. You must do what light does – overcome darkness.
Bring courage to those with fear.
Protect those in danger.
Kindle hope for those in despair.
Offer guidance to the blind.
Give joy to the sad.
Show grace to the sinful.
The list could go on and on, but it starts with Jesus. Being the light of the world is not a matter of performance, but rather a matter of position. When you place yourself at the feet of Jesus, you will bring hope to dark places like never before.
1) God is an angry old man who wants to judge you and give you smallpox as punishment for your sins.
2) God is a loving dude who just wants you to be happy and live your life the way you want!
Jesus presents something different, something better.
Img source: Hans Splinter
In John 8:10-11 he demonstrates his perfect balance. A woman had just been accused of adultery. When Christ calls for someone without sin to cast the first stone, no one steps forward.
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
We see a God who shows incredible mercy, but at the same time he calls us to leave our life of sin.
Our culture has become confused about this. Identifying someone else’s sin has become “hateful.” People who do not condemn sin are labelled as lacking conviction.
Jesus however, calls for balance. He is not hateful, nor does he lack conviction.
I love Tim Keller’s definition of the gospel, “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.”
Jesus does not overlook our sin. He encountered many people who were clearly sinners. He does not excuse our sin, but rather he identifies it, meets us in it, and redeems us from it. He looks directly at our sin and chooses to love us because of his great love. Through his very own blood he purchased us from slavery to sin. Because of his sacrifice, he will not condemn us when we choose to follow him. He will, however, call us to leave our life of sin. Why? Because he knows our sin will never bring life.
It didn’t matter if Jesus was speaking to the sexually immoral, the swindlers, the greedy, or the profane. His message was the same, and it is the same today for you and me: This life of sin you are living will not satisfy, in fact, it will hurt you. Repent from your sins, believe the good news, and come to me. I will not condemn you, I will forgive you and wash you and make you righteous.
Nobody else in history has offered such balance.
So don’t try to hide or justify your own sin. Don’t trust in your own self-righteousness, and don’t fear running to Christ. Instead, embrace the unique balance that only Jesus offers and encourage others to do the same.
Last year, Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling went semi-viral. I recently started taking an improv class where we learned and practiced rule #4 – it outlines a story spine that goes something like this:
Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. But one day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. And ever since that day_____.
Pixar didn’t invent this spine, it’s been around for a long time. Kenn Adams receives credit for identifying the spine, but the truth is, this has been guiding good stories for thousands of years.
In fact, this can be applied rather easily to the story of the Gospel:
1. Once upon a time…Mankind was placed together in the Garden of Eden.
2. Every day…they experienced beauty and freedom and a harmony with God
3. But one day…Adam and Eve sinned against God, severing their relationship with Him.
4. Because of that…Pain and sorrow entered the world
5. Because of that…mankind began attempting to solve the broken things in the world. They tried to become like God, greater than God, or creators of God. But nothing worked.
6. Because of that…Mankind grew more distant from God, hurting each other in their quest for satisfaction.
7. Until finally…Jesus was born. He lived a perfect life, and he did what no one else could do. He paid for our sins, and gave us freedom.
8. And ever since that day…We can Live Fully as we await the final return of Jesus, who will finish putting all broken things together.
Why story matters
1) Our need for redemption: There is a reason we love stories that follow this structure – we want people to achieve redemption. We all face trials, many of them because of our own flaws, and we need to see that people can be saved from them. Why? Because we need to know that we ourselves can be saved.
2) Inciting incidents are kairos moments: Stories always include an “inciting incident.” This is the “but one day” section of the story, where normal life gets interrupted. Many times things are going perfectly well for the characters, but the inciting incident changes that. Buzz Lightyear replaces Woody, Carl loses Ellie, or Nemo gets fishnapped. But sometimes, the story can begin with poor conditions – like Mr. Incredible having to work in insurance instead of as a superhero. Either way, the inciting incident produces a challenge and an opportunity, and the way a character responds can dictate the rest of their life. We have these moments in our own life, and I like to call them kairos moments. It is a defining moment in time, when God intervenes and our response can affect our future.
3) It’s fulfilled in Jesus: A few weeks ago we talked about how the best stories are all true because of Jesus. He is the ultimate “until finally” and we need to remember that. Not just for his first coming, but also for his second coming. When we face trials and tribulations (we will), we need to remember that the story is not over until the King returns.
4) It can guide our own story: Life doesn’t need to be boring. Trials do not need to destroy us. Ultimately, every good story involves someone becoming a better person so they can overcome a challenge. When you look at your life like a story, it can enable and encourage you to keep fighting. You don’t need to give up or quit, but recognize that God uses the adversity in our lives to make us more like Him. As our character changes and we trust in Him, we can overcome those challenges and live lives that are worthy of telling.