Tag Archives: Jesus

John 8: Face To Face With Jesus

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I’m with R.C. Sproul on this one; I believe the story of the woman caught in adultery is a true event based on eyewitness accounts, which is why scribes tried several times to place it into various texts. Somehow it landed in John 8, and I’m glad it did. I love the mystery behind it. What did Jesus write in the sand? What sins ran through the people’s minds as they surrendered their stones?

As the only human in the universe who is without sin, Jesus had the right to cast the first stone, for this woman was guilty, actually CAUGHT in adultery. But when Jesus was “left alone with the woman standing before him,” he spoke these sweet words: “Neither do I condemn you.” Words that have comforted me time and again, especially in those moments following fresh repentance.

Jesus is the only person we can face with the full extent of our sin and not be utterly condemned. His life and death prove he deals gently with sinners who know their need for him. What a joy for this woman to be left face to face with Jesus!

I love how Dane Ortlund puts it in his wonderful book, Gentle and Lowly: “For all his resplendent glory and dazzling holiness, his supreme uniqueness and otherness, no one in human history has ever been more approachable than Jesus Christ.”

John 7: The Polarizing Christ

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What a polarizing figure Jesus is! One group wanted to crown him king, another wanted to kill him. His own siblings, who for years slept under the same roof, didn’t recognize him as the Messiah. Questions arose about his trustworthiness, his education, his morality. At best, people thought he was unstudied; at worst, demon-possessed. All this during a feast to commemorate the faithfulness of God — yet God himself dwelt among them and they didn’t know it.

Jesus was the perfect human, the most loving friend, the most learned teacher. He did everything right, but there were still many who hated and disbelieved. This is strangely comforting in my Christian walk, as I seek to live in step with God’s Word, but people mock and misconstrue. Of course, I do the wrong things very often, too. But Jesus never did. He was “God with us” and yet his own people did not receive him (John 1:11).

But by the end of John 7, there are a glorious few who say, “This is the Christ.” At this point in John’s gospel, people are taking sides. Eternal life and death hinge on what they believe about Jesus — as it does today. Truly, as A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

John 5: A Question Of Desire

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“Do you want to be healed?” (v. 6)

This Jesus asked the paralyzed man outside the pool of Bethesda — a man who suffered for nearly four decades, without a friend to carry him to the water. He certainly had a need to be healed. But the question posed here is one of DESIRE, and the answer reveals the stark difference between belief and unbelief.

Already at this point in John’s gospel there’s a division between those who desire healing and salvation, and those who don’t. Elsewhere in the gospels, when the Pharisees criticize Jesus for spending time with sinners, Jesus reminds them that only those who are sick need a physician. Those who are “well,” who don’t acknowledge their need, don’t desire a savior.

But for those who do, Jesus satisfies that desire with his own desire to heal and to save. That’s the relationship Jesus has with his people; our desires and his are fulfilled in the wondrous work of salvation.

If the marks of true belief are NEED and DESIRE, then may my answer to Jesus’ question ever and always be “Yes!”

Review: Marriage And The Mystery Of The Gospel

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I’m pro-marriage. Coming from someone who’s been single for 33 years, that might sound a bit weird, but it’s true! I’m passionate about marriage because I’ve learned, through the teaching of the Bible and the wise men who expound it, the real meaning of marriage: it’s a metaphor for Christ and his people. A living picture of the gospel. That’s something to get excited about! But sadly, it’s also something many people have forgotten — not only in the world, but also in the Church. We’ve dwindled marriage down to companionship, lovemaking, and childrearing. Of course, marriage is all of those things, but it MEANS so much more. God designed it and gave it to mankind as the most vivid way to proclaim the gospel and live out its principles.

Ray Ortlund wrote Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel in hopes of recovering “joyful confidence in marriage as God originally gave it to us.” Although this book can be read in one sitting, it’s not “theology lite.” Ortlund’s writing is serious and poetic, with tightly packed truths that demand our attention. The book is divided into four sections that paint a sweeping portrait of marriage from Genesis to Revelation.

Marriage in Genesis

The first book of the Bible reveals both “the glory of marriage and the brokenness of marriage.” Eden was the scene of the world’s first wedding, where the crown jewels of God’s creation became “one flesh.” Ortlund spends a good chunk of time talking about the beauty of complementarity, which is not only a major theme in the creation account, but also a necessity in marriage. Knowing our modern sensibilities when it comes to gender issues, Ortlund wants us to recognize and rediscover the “stroke of divine genius” in God’s design for husband as head and wife as helper — the framework for marriage that remains to this day. He also stresses how the fall in Genesis 3 wrecked the dynamics of this first marriage (and all marriages after it) with man seeking to dominate his wife, and woman seeking to subvert her husband. But Genesis 3 also comes with a promise of restoration, not only between sinners and God, but also between husbands and wives.

Marriage in the Law, Wisdom, and Prophets

Ortlund first discusses how the Mosaic Law sought to repair the damage done to marriage after the fall. Some of the laws that seem odd or downright unethical to modern readers (think levirate marriage) were actually quite civilized, especially compared to other Near Eastern cultures. He’s also quick to note that stories of polygamy and other deviations of marriage in the Bible are descriptive, not prescriptive; the original design of marriage still stood, even when God’s people got it wrong. But despite the struggles that come with marriage post-fall, the biblical writers want us to remember its original glory. Proverbs and the Song of Solomon celebrate marital love and sex, and offer warnings to protect marriage from sexual sin, which further proves how important the metaphor is to God. Ortlund then touches on the prophets, where the true meaning of marriage begins to unfold. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea “retell the whole of Israel’s history in a new way — as a tragic romance,” with God as loyal husband and Israel as unfaithful bride. Human marriage points us to a “super-reality,” as Ortlund says; that is, God’s faithfulness to his people, and his resolve to see this divine marriage through to eternity.

Marriage in the New Testament

Enter Jesus, our bridegroom. Seeing as he’s the ultimate reality to which all marriages point, what did he think about marriage? When asked about divorce, Jesus went retro, reaching back to Eden to affirm the original design of marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Although Jesus fulfilled the law, eliminating civil and ceremonial customs, one thing that remained unchanged is marriage: one man, one woman, for life. The apostle Paul, too, used Genesis 2:24 as the standard for marriage: once in 1 Corinthians 6:16, and more famously in Ephesians 5 (a passage often recited at weddings), where he explains how marriage reflects Christ and the Church. Paul reiterates the “dance of complementarity,” as Ortlund calls it, between husband as head and wife as helper that was first established in Genesis. Finally, Ortlund takes us to Revelation, where the institute of human marriage comes to an end and the better reality to which it pointed all along begins: the marriage supper of the Lamb, where Christ and his people are united forever. Ortlund notes that God made the heavens and earth for the marriage of Adam and Eve, but he will soon make a new heaven and new earth for the ultimate marriage of Jesus and his bride, the Church.

Marriage in the World Today

Ortlund ends with a sober reminder from Scripture: “Let marriage be held in honor among all” (Hebrews 13:4). Especially now, in a culture where people “don’t believe in marriage” or seek to redefine it, we need to “build a pro-marriage counterculture, where faithfulness and beauty and lasting love point the way not only to a better human society but also, and far more, to the eternal love of Christ.” Because the one-flesh union of man and woman is such a vital and vivid representation of the gospel, Christians have every reason to protect marriage, both their own and in general. Every departure from God’s design for marriage is a departure from the gospel; thus, Ortlund encourages Christians to defend God’s vision for marriage and sexuality with confidence and humility.

If I may have the final word: Marriage is not the gospel, but it is God’s chosen metaphor for the gospel, a motif that runs through the veins of Scripture from the very heart of God, giving us insight to his fierce love and devotion toward his people. That’s why I love marriage! And that’s why I recommend this book. I hope it will encourage married couples to take seriously their role in displaying God’s love to the world, and inspire single people to cherish marriage, knowing it holds the mystery of the gospel for them as well.

Advent: Treasure And Ponder

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It’s been quiet at The Happy Alternative, and I feel like I owe my humble crew of readers and handful of new followers an explanation for the “deafening silence,” as one friend called it. Slightly dramatic, I know. I don’t think anyone is checking every day for updates, but here are my thoughts… just in case.

Some people have asked whether I’m going through a hard time, which is understandable given my post in October regarding storms. I’ve had a few stormy days since then, but these dark winter days actually feel much sunnier. I’m starting to feel like my old self — that is, the new self. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I attribute these brighter days entirely to being more immersed in God’s Word, which causes me to talk to God more, which causes me to love him more, which causes me to worship more. So, no, the trickle of blog posts here isn’t due to storms. I’ll write my way through those any day!

Laziness and lack of creativity are partly to blame, but I think the silence is mostly due to what I’ll call The Mary Factor.

This Advent, you’re likely to come across one of my favorite verses during your readings. In Luke 2, when the shepherds come to see Jesus, they tell Mary and Joseph what they saw in the field: an army of angels shouting, “Glory to God in the highest!” Everyone is amazed, undoubtedly talking to one another about what happened in the hills of Bethlehem. “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” There’s the verse! When faced with the weight and wonder of these things, Mary didn’t blog about her thoughts and feelings; she treasured and pondered.

That’s something I do a lot. Which is why launching a website has always felt like a weird move for me. I’m pretty private. I don’t feel specially qualified to write about theology, sexuality, or anything else. I don’t like the pressure of deadlines, however self-imposed. And if I didn’t feel called by God to speak up about singleness and same-sex attraction, I probably wouldn’t. (I’m sort of the Jonah of blogging.) But I do feel called, so I write. Draft after blasted draft, I write. And when I’m not — in those long stretches of silence — I’m usually treasuring. Pondering things in my heart.

Advent only increases my desire to take in rather than spew forth. But because I have a guilty conscience about being the blogger who doesn’t blog, and because the internal nagging is actually intruding on my Christmas bliss, I want to make an exception, pull back the curtain, and tell you what I’m pondering this holiday season.

Namely, Jesus.

Every day I’m reading several chapters of Isaiah, which anticipates his first coming (or advent). I’m also reading the gospel of Luke, which boasts the longest account of his birth. Finally, I’m reading Hebrews, which explains and expands on his coming, with a plea to persevere in faith until he comes again. Taking in such truth and beauty in preparation for Christmas has truly rekindled my love, adoration, and affection for Jesus. And I do want to talk about him! We’re supposed to. But there are times when, like Mary, I need to first let things settle in my heart awhile. I think that’s what Advent is for. But we’re so busy buying, wrapping, cleaning, cooking, performing, and DOING, that we forget to treasure and ponder.

So that’s what’s happening here. Maybe in the New Year I’ll be a little less like Mary and a bit more like Paul, at least in terms of output. But for now, I’ve got a lot to treasure in my heart. I hope this Christmas season you’ll find lots to treasure, too.

Death Redeemed And Reimagined

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Today I spent a couple hours walking through the wreckage that is autumn. In the spring, my afternoon walks are ripe with resurrection imagery — buds, blossoms, butterflies. Everything whispers “new life” and I’m emboldened to hope in the risen Christ. It’s like a sermon: “Behold, I make all things new.” But today, smack in the middle of October, nature clearly pointed to death: bare branches, bone-dry plants (with a few clinging to dear life), tiny animals scrounging for scraps. (I imagined them prepping for the winter apocalypse.) As much as I love spring and the signs of life that come with it, the fall imagery was beautiful, too — just in a different way.

Which got me thinking, how can death be beautiful?

death2In Scripture, death is ugly — the costly wages of sin (Romans 6:23). But the death of Jesus gave death new meaning — even hope. Jesus, the best man to ever live — the only man who TRULY lived in the way we ought to, fiercely devoted to God and neighbor — this man who really lived, REALLY died. Like the beautiful, blood-red leaf that floats and spirals and plummets to the ground, severed from its source, the Son of God was slain. His corpse entombed for three days — a short season, but enough for the reality to set in. The tomb was sealed. The disciples mourned. The women blended burial spices together and knew where to find the grave. This was the real deal.

And yet Christians believe, somehow, this death is beautiful. Because this wasn’t ordinary — not like all other deaths that came before it. This particular death marked “the death of death” for all who believe. On the cross, every last drop of God’s wrath was poured out on the Son, who died in our place, and every bit of Christ’s righteousness was given to us, in what theologians call “the great exchange.” This death secured eternal LIFE for those who love Jesus — the one person whom death could never touch, because he was without sin, yet he submitted to it willingly. Yes, this death proved something: not only Christ’s love for the Father, but also his love for us.

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My second thought, as I crunched my way along the trail, was of dying to self — something all Christians are called to do. A few verses came to mind. Like when Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Another time, he said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). Then there’s Paul, who said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). To die is gain. 

In all these passages, death for the Christian is redeemed, reimagined. I think that’s why today, despite my affinity for spring, I was able to see something beyond death — something more like beauty — in the images that pervaded the landscape. At the end of the trail (right after my phone died), I spotted a caterpillar on the pavement. I picked him up with a twig and watched another sermon crawl before my very eyes:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Regarding Storms

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Tonight I sat on the porch and watched the storm roll through. The lightning was beautiful, the way it struck in silence, for a nanosecond brightening the drenched landscape, then disappearing again into the black. I did the thing where you count the seconds between the lightning and thunder to see how many miles away it is — how long before I get struck in my rocking chair, sipping a cup of tea. 

I needed something beautiful tonight. Life has been a bit of a storm lately. Cliché, I know, but a storm just makes sense right now. I’m OK saying this on a blog called The Happy Alternative — a blog about happiness — because I give myself permission to be sad, to FEEL my way through a valley. And lately I’ve been fighting for happiness, the same way I fight for holiness. Scripture calls it a “good fight,” and that’s what I believe. That’s why I exhaust myself trying to punch and kick and head-butt my way to happiness. I know we’re made for it. We’re headed for it. 

So I watched the lightning and listened to the thunder. It sounded less like thunder and more like a waterfall — three of which I’ve seen and touched in the past month, so it sounded familiar — mixed with aircraft zooming over. It lasted longer than the typical bolt, and seemed more like the “rolling thunder” we sing about on those rare occasions when we crack open our hymnals and belt out “How Great Thou Art.” His power throughout the universe displayed.  And in that moment I really did think of how great he is. 

I’m teaching Sunday school tomorrow, on the topic of Heaven and Hell. Tonight, in the storm, I sensed the God of both Heaven and Hell making something known. His power? His wrath? His stunning creativity? I’m too tired to figure it out, but it’s nice to feel something other than 1) nothing, because I’m always too busy THINKING, or 2) guilt and shame — two things I’ve been wrestling with lately and two things, until recently, I’ve rarely ever faced in my Christian walk.

This is just a season, I’m sure — a storm that blows over, clears the air, makes everything feel new. Tomorrow is Sunday — a new day, a new week — and, as always, I look forward to the new mercies that come with it. That’s a promise I’ve always held on to: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Such a ray of hope… in a book called Lamentations. God is full of surprises.

Hope and lamentation. That about sums it up, I think. Especially tonight, as I “word vomit” this stream of consciousness onto the computer screen (and the perfectionist in me pleas for me not to press “publish” because it’s not pretty and polished). I’m thankful to serve a sovereign God who not only allows the storms to roll through, but sometimes calms them too. Either way, I know he’s with me. For me.

Now my tea is cold. But I think the storm has blown over. 

Why Can’t You Just Be Gay?

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If anyone has a reason to search Scripture for an “out,” a way to be in a gay relationship and yet remain within the bounds of God’s will for sexuality, it’s me — the Christian who experiences ongoing same-sex attraction. Trust me, I’ve heard arguments from Matthew Vines, Justin Lee, and others who try to make a case for gay marriage in the Church. I’ve read books, watched debates, and had long talks with friends who urge me to pursue a sexual relationship with a man. I’ve listened to and reasoned through every attempt to justify gay marriage, but nothing has convinced me — the guy who, in theory, should be the easiest person to convince.

Why?

The simple answer is “Because God said so.” It’s true, only six verses in the Bible explicitly mention homosexual practice. All of them, of course, forbid it. The most quoted are Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1, which, admittedly, come with a fair share of controversy regarding civil and ceremonial laws, cultural context, and so forth. (Although it’s not as if theologians throughout time haven’t already explained why the ban on homosexual practice is different from the ban on shellfish or mixed fabrics.) These verses, complicated though they seem to some, are enough to prove to me that pursuing a gay romance would dishonor God. But let’s say I didn’t have those six verses. I still couldn’t “just be gay,” because there’s still the big picture of marriage in Scripture to consider. Which is good, because I’m a big picture kind of guy.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, marriage is a symbol for God and his people. God is always the bridegroom; his people are the bride. Jeremiah compares Israel to a bride devoted to her husband, the Lord (Jeremiah 2:2). Ezekiel portrays Israel as an unfaithful wife, while God remains the faithful husband (Ezekiel 16). Hosea’s marriage to his adulterous wife parallels the relationship between God and Israel throughout the Book of Hosea. In the New Testament, John the Baptist calls Jesus the bridegroom, whose bride, his followers, delights to hear his voice (John 3:29). Jesus calls himself the bridegroom, while the disciples represent his bride (Matthew 9:15). Clearest of all is Paul, who says the act of man and woman becoming one flesh “refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). God designed marriage between husband and wife, sexual complements, for a very specific purpose: to be a living picture of the gospel. This metaphor matters to God. And it matters to me, too.

If there’d been a huge paradigm shift on marriage and sex, it would’ve happened in early Church history, not the early 21st century. With something as important as sexual purity, Jesus and the New Testament writers would’ve made it 100 percent clear that the ban on homosexual practice had been repealed, the way God did for Peter regarding dietary restrictions, with a vision of formerly unclean animals and a voice from heaven saying “eat” (Acts 10:9-16). We don’t have that with marriage; we only have reconfirmation from Christ that marriage remains as he established it in the garden: a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6). A beautiful picture of the truth of the gospel.

People might ask, “Why can’t two men or two women reflect that same truth?” Well, gender and biological sex are realities created by God, and he uses them in creation and within marriage for his purposes — both for the flourishing of mankind and to tell a story. If you’re looking for a why beyond the why, I can’t help you. To me, that’s like a child asking “Why?” after the parent has already explained— as if additional answers will ever satisfy. (If you’ve spent time with a toddler, you know what I mean.) But there is a WHO beyond the why, and I can tell you he’s good, wise, loving, and he withholds no good thing from those who walk in his ways (Psalm 84:11). This is the God I love, trust, and seek to obey. And I’m OK with the reason he’s given. That’s enough.

At the heart of this question is a plea for me to be happy, which I appreciate. It’s nice to know I have family and friends who desire my happiness. But what I need people to understand is that following Jesus REALLY DOES make me happy! It’s not the kind of happiness a sex-obsessed world expects; it’s the happiness that comes with being given a new heart and new desires. That includes obeying God’s commands for marriage and sexuality — those boundaries set for my joy and sanctification. Violating God’s Word (and my own conscience) actually works AGAINST my ultimate happiness. I have no doubt that a sexual relationship with a man would bring some temporary pleasures, but that’s not the kind of pleasure I’m looking for. I want the kind that lasts forever, which only comes through a relationship with my God (Psalm 16:11).

Yes, I’m still attracted to the same sex, and I imagine I always will be. But I choose to remain celibate and pursue a life of joyful singleness because I believe God and his purpose for marriage. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). I really do love that man, and I want to keep his commandments without people telling me I’d be happier if I didn’t.