Before the pandemic, I would anticipate coming home from work, changing into comfy clothes, and resting, knowing that my day was done. Home and rest have always been connected. Until now.
My rhythm of work and rest has been shattered. Although I’m home all day, I find myself exhausted and restless, wanting to find rest but not knowing how. It turns out that home itself is not the source of rest. Home isn’t even a specific place.
In his book On the Road with Saint Augustine, James K. A. Smith examines all of life through the lens of travelers pursuing a home. The non-Christian travels looking for home—desiring to belong, to find meaning and rest, but being disappointed by every place that promises this home-ness.
The Christian, on the other hand, knows where her home is. Christians know that their home is not a place, a job, a relationship, or money, but their home is in God. The Christian places her hope in someday arriving at her ultimate home in his presence while finding a home for today through union with Christ.
But perhaps more important than knowing where home is, the Christian is able to find rest—rest for her soul in the midst of the journey that will enable her to keep on traveling.
Have you ever heard something good that happened to a friend but rather than being excited and celebrating with her, you compare your success or want what she has? It seems pretty common, and unfortunately, it was my mindset this week. It is an ugly place to be. Not much love for a sister. Not much willingness to be for her. Not much thinking about anyone but myself.
Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Christian friendships should be marked by the fullness of life — climbing into the pit of despair with one another and delighting together when there is good news. These relationships are for-each-other relationships. When my sister hurts, I hurt. When she rejoices, my heart is gladdened. Christian friendships bear the beauty mark of other-centeredness, and this other-centeredness is always the result of finding an identity that isn’t in what you have, accomplish, or do.
It’s been a publicly bad year for pastors. It’s not only Ravi Zacharias and Hillsong New York pastor Carl Lentz, it’s regular, everyday ministers who are not doing well; caught up in spiritual abuse, dabbling in sin where they know they shouldn’t, and walking (or being asked to walk) away from ministry.
The hammering reports of the moral failure of public leaders are disheartening, but it’s even more disappointing when pastors and leaders in your own church suddenly resign. In the age of social justice, our first response is to try to remedy the situation by calling for punishment and removal. We want to know the pastor is sorry and repentant and the hurt people receive care. We want to feel like we have done the right thing in response to the pain that their sin has caused.
Though I cannot stress how important these actions of justice are, having watched a few churches reel and recover after their pastor’s sins were exposed, I wonder where the gospel fits into the moral failure of our pastors. Though forgiveness and reconciliation is a long and bumpy road that cannot be rushed, Jesus is the friend to sinners, the gracious king who draws near to us in our ugliest state. But it seems that when our spiritual leaders fail us, the church begins to act like Jesus is not a friend to sinful pastors.
Culturally, justice has never been in higher demand, but as Micah 6:8 teaches us, we are called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Doing justice is not enough in the kingdom of God; it must always be accompanied with mercy and humility. We must move beyond our culture’s focus on justice that punishes and toward a Godly justice that seeks to restore the broken-hearted.
Cultural vs Kingdom justice
Our culture responds to moral failure by canceling; mistakes are something from which we do not recover. Their ministry is over; that church is finished; their books are no longer being published. Justice always requires rectification—setting things right, but our culture almost exclusively associates justice with punishment. Punitive justice is swift, harsh and the easiest response, even when it is wrong. It is tidy to lock up a perpetrator or ask a pastor to resign, but it does nothing to heal the wounds of those perpetrated. While punishment is a necessary component of justice, it is not the whole picture of biblical justice. Setting right what has gone wrong in the kingdom of God goes beyond the execution of the law and endeavors the work of restoration: to repair what was broken.
Restorative justice is a kingdom-bringing justice. It does not merely punish but pursues and anticipates redemption and reconciliation. Where our culture cries for punishment, Christians must cry for restoration. Punitive justice leaves those who have been hurt wanting for something that is lacking; we must aim to restore the personhood of those wronged as well as the wrong-doer. In a new creation kingdom, the people of God live under new creation principles—life coming out of death, sins removed as far as the east is from the west, relationships reconciled, abundant and scandalous grace. We are messengers of the gospel and ministers of reconciliation in God’s new creation kingdom that forgives the murderer has mercy on the repentant. Our gospel, our Kingdom and King, cannot be so small that we settle for our culture’s punitive system and stop our pursuit of justice at punishment. As Micah directs us, our justice should be marked by a love of mercy and deep humility, not merely pursue justice that punishes.
The mercy of the gospel
In the gospel, we are given a vastly different set of resources in which we can expect sin, failure, brokenness, and also respond to it with more than a dismissal from service. What makes the church the church is not perfection, it is mercy: the willingness to pardon sin no matter how grievous or offensive. Our failures are the location for magnifying the beauty and strength of the gospel. Therefore, how Christians respond to moral failure reveals what gospel we truly believe: is it one of hope and mercy or is it one of shame and judgment?
Jonathan Edwards argues that “God has no pleasure in the destruction or calamity of persons or people. He had rather they should turn and continue in peace. He is well-pleased if they forsake their evil ways, that he may not have occasion to execute his wrath upon them. He is a God that delights in mercy, and judgment is his strange work.” But more often than not, mercy is not at the center of my heart. I want to know the pastor is sorry for what they have done, want them to prove their repentance, tell them the depths of their wrongs. While truth-telling and repentance are essential, I wonder at what point truth-telling becomes shaming, driving in an unnecessary knife. Our God is rich in mercy, and as his people, it is imperative that we cultivate hearts that are willing to move past punishment towards what our Savior cherishes most.
When a pastor disappointed their people, many people are caught with the realization that they have been expecting perfection from them. We want our pastors to be super-Christians living out the gospel in the fullest possible terms and giving us the hope and inspiration to do so too. But pastors are just people, which is why approaching their fatal flaws with humility is so important. We often begin to believe our leaders to be impenetrable to sin as if they have matured out of it. But we know that they have not. They are human beings, no different from you or me but tasked with the incredible challenge of leading other sinners. But our biblical and church history is full of these sinners who lead God’s people— sinners who are actually the saints of God, not because of their perfection but because of how they returned to the Lord after their failures.
David would have been finished in today’s culture, not celebrated as one of the great kings of Israel. Paul never would have been allowed to preach after murdering believers who went before him. The church has always been messy and sinful, but in the face of failure, God’s mercy and grace become more tangible, strange, and beautiful than ever. We see in Adam and Eve, our first failing leaders who were punished for their sin, the heart of God for fallen leaders; he sends them on with a covenant of grace, not a covenant of works that depended on their ongoing perfection. We too participate in a covenant of grace through Christ, and in it, we must be willing to embody a kingdom that is not only just, but merciful and compassionate and humble as well. If these promises throughout scripture stop in the name of pastoral failure, our faith is nothing, our gospel powerless, the risen Christ defeated.
The way through our disappointment with our leaders today is to practice the gospel—this is what it means to be a saint. Though that might sound simple or trite, our gospel is simple: to show grace to the sinner, to love the outcast, to care for the weak. Pastors are sinful people too, and they need grace. Grace is not saying, “it’s ok” or minimizing the wrong they committed. Justice is not dismissive of wrongs and pain. Grace says, you hurt me, but I forgive you. The gospel is big enough for you to not be perfect. In our disappointment, we can find comfort that though we are grieved and hurting, we do not lose hope. Our God is a god who bring beauty out of ashes.
Following Jesus when he calls us to different things
At some point, most of us have looked at someone else and thought, why does their life seem so much easier than mine? Whether they have more money or their kids are super-achievers or they love their job, we tend to glance side-to-side and wonder, why did God give them that and not give it to me? But underneath this seemingly innocuous question is the basic belief that God is supposed to give us all some measure of fairness; we all have our own blessings and struggles, but God should ultimately distribute suffering, success, happiness, and trials evenly.
My mom used to say, “Life isn’t fair,” but perhaps it is God who isn’t fair. God isn’t in the business of democracy, doling out equal portions of joy and suffering to his creation. He is always just—never letting evil overcome good, but when it comes to his children, He does not apportion us the same lots in life. And unless we address this tough reality, our expectations for God and how our life should look will continue to be marked by disappointment.
In the final chapter of John, Jesus calls Peter to found his Church and warns him that he will suffer the same fate as his savior: death by crucifixion. I think most of us would respond to Jesus in the same way that Peter did—he asks, but what about John? Is he going to be crucified too?! Why do I have to be crucified!? Peter’s immediate reaction to his master calling him to a life of ministry, sacrifice, and ultimately dying for the glory of God is to look at the guy next to him and ask about what God has planned for him.
Because we all have this tendency inside of us, we must hear what Jesus has to say about it. Jesus tells Peter,If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me (Jn 21:22).Jesus doesn’t entertain this kind of comparative thinking, but challenges Peter by telling him that it doesn’t matter what his plans are for John, whether he live until Christ’s second coming or not doesn’t change the call he has placed on Peter’s life—“You follow me.”
Just like Peter, God calls us to certain works and specific suffering. He allows exactly what we need for both our flourishing and refinement, whispering, “Follow me” as he permits enough friction to keep striving after him and enough comfort to delight in his perfect provision. We must learn from Peter and John how to stop questioning his will for our lives and embrace the lot he has given us for our good and his glory.
Following Jesus in our work; a call to cultivatewhat we have been given
Through Peter and John, we see how God assigns unique work within a larger calling. All humans have two callings; a primary calling and a secondary calling. Primary calling is the same for everyone: to glorify God and enjoy him forever (Westminster Catechism). But our secondary callings are unique and localized to our lives: it is the place that we live out our primary calling.
But God does not appoint us all to the same work, he gives us a lot, a patch of ground, and says this is where I want you to work. Cultivate your love for me and bring me glory through what you do here. In Psalm 16, David declares, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Your lot might be as a stay-at-home mom, a fitness instructor, or lawyer, but whatever it is, God calls us to work out our primary calling to glorify and enjoy him in the context of that everyday work, creatively pursuing him in what he has given us.
Both Peter and John were disciples, but the callings Jesus placed on their lives were different. Peter would preach sermons, establish churches, and travel through the Ancient Near East as a missionary to the Jews. John too would work in the local church, but from the cross, Jesus asked John to take care of his widowed mother since he would not be there to do it (Jn 19:27). John’s calling took him into exile and to continue in ministry while Peter and Paul were crucified.
Peter and John’s secondary callings were to work out how to love and glorify God in these places, grappling with how to glorify God when they were isolated in exile, sharing the gospel with people who didn’t want to hear it, when they were caring for an elderly widow. These men fought the same doubts as us wondering, why did God call me here, to this lot?
I find myself asking, why did God give me twins?Why did he call me to marry a pastor and be in ministry?Why did God call me to this life and not theirs? When I find myself thinking these things, I must remember Jesus’ words, what is their calling to you? You follow me! We need to stop asking why this lot and start asking how do I follow Jesus here, cultivating the lot he has given me for his glory?
Following Jesus in suffering; the call to submit
Every Christian is called to suffer as a fundamental part of following Jesus. If we love him, we start doing the kinds of things he did—like putting other’s needs ahead of our own, giving up our rights for them, bearing their burdens, and submitting willingly to the will of the Father that sometimes leads us into places we would rather not go.
But suffering is never a waste. Not only does suffering provide an opportunity to know our weakness and draw from the infinite well of God’s strength (2 Cor 12:10), suffering is the currency of our sanctification, refining us so we might grow in humility, patience, perseverance, and joy in spite of our circumstances. When God calls us to suffer, he is accomplishing his purposes of transforming us into the likeness of Christ.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). For Peter, following Jesus would literally lead him to the cross. Though we will likely never face crucifixion, our response to suffering is the same as Peter’s as we cry, unfair! We believe suffering is a hindrance in our lives to be avoided. And like Peter, when we compare the suffering in our lives to others, we walk ourselves into a place of anger and entitlement before the Lord; we don’t deserve to suffer. This kind of thinking, however, is unbiblical and unrealistic. Suffering is a friend, not a foe, and we must learn to submit to the suffering God has for us in the same way that Jesus did. This too is part of following him.
Jesus suffered the cross out of love for his Father and joy in knowing that his submission would glorify his Father. But more than that, he submitted to the suffering he was called to so that we too might follow him, submitting to his will for us. This is what Jesus calls Peter into—submitting to his will out of love. Peter had just told Jesus three times that he loved him. The only reason Peter would continue to follow Jesus after hearing of his fate is because he loved Jesus and believed that Jesus was worth dying for, that Jesus truly was Lord. And this is the exact same reason why we follow him today through our own suffering; because he is our suffering, good, faithful King, and we love him. And as we do God strengthens, confirms, and establishes us in our suffering (1 Pt 5:10), we experience the power of the resurrection (Phil 3:10), we are glorified with Christ (Rom 8:17), and we learn contentment in our weakness and dependence on Christ (2 Cor 12:10). When we submit to the suffering that God calls us to, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus who also submitted to the suffering that the father called him to out of love for the Father.
How we follow
Willingly. “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you” (Ps 32:9). When comparison, jealousy, or suffering arrive, we must choose to stay near Jesus. Unlike an untamed animal who requires restraints, submitting to Jesus means we choose to stay near him in all circumstances. With our eyes fixed on Him. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:2). The best way to keep us from looking at others and growing angry with the Lord is to keep our eyes fixed on Him. He is our mark, our measure, our King, and the one whom we serve. Fix your eyes on him.
What is the best advice someone has given you lately? As a working mother of twins, I hear a lot of advice; take walks, make sure you have “me” time, get enough sleep, don’t forget to make time for your husband. While these are all good suggestions, I have found one activity to be the most important re-focuser, mood-booster, and practical tool in the midst of a wild, wild year: singing.
Scripture tells us again and again to sing; O come let us sing a joyful song to the Lord (Ps 95:1); address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Eph 5:19); But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning (Ps 59:16). God himself sings when he rejoices over us (Zeph 3:17), and as those who are made in his image, who are filled with his very breath of life, we too are made to sing, having our lungs filled with words of praise, supplication, and longing.
Singing is not just for Sunday mornings, it is a means of discipleship—a way we follow the Lord in our day-to-day lives by choosing to lift our voices in all circumstances to worship. Singing forms us as followers of Jesus, engaging our bodies, helping us process our emotions and experiences, and connecting us to our Heavenly Father who sings over us. Singing is one of the most powerful tools we have, let me show you why.
Singing literallychanges our bodies. Singing releases endorphins and oxytocin which make you feel relaxed and happier, lowers stress, and reduces anxiety and loneliness. It also changes your emotional and physical state as musical vibrations move through your body helping you to breathe more deeply and effectively. As the kids might say, singing is a body hack, but as Christians, we know that this is not by accident, it is by design. Our God quite literally hardwired us to be able to change our bodies and emotions through singing—through worship, so we might be comforted when we are in trouble.
So when the Psalmist says, O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done wonderful things (Ps 98:1), he is inviting us to bring our whole bodies into worship. By lifting our voices, we are changed, our breath united to the life-breathed Spirit that God has given us, our bodies engaged in attention to the God who knit us together, knows us, and speaks to us so that we might worship him with our whole beings.
Singing brings us out of ourselves. I was reading my girls one of their favorite books while they ate dinner. I was exhausted and annoyed at how much of their food was on their laps and the floor. I wasn’t in a great mood. But we came to a page of the book about which I had made up a silly melody and would sing every time I read it. This time I didn’t. I wasn’t in a singing kind of mood. But, of course, they shout, “sing it, Mommy!” Begrudgingly, I sang it; a few lines in a rhyming story about a farm. But I noticed something immediately: it’s hard to stay angry when you are singing.
In the middle of three conversion stories, Paul and Silas get thrown in prison. They were in stocks, very uncomfortable, and on top of that, wrongly imprisoned. And yet, we read that around midnight, they were praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were listening (Acts 16:25). The saints that went before us turned to singing, but there is more to singing than heritage; singing is an embodied discipline, something we do on the way as we wait and walk with Jesus the reorients us towards his promises and provision.
When we think of singing as only a joyful response or something we do in congregational worship, we limit the gift God has given us. Paul and Silas show us how to sing and worship in all circumstances, not simply when we feel like it or are supposed to. Just like singing for my daughters changes my disposition to lean towards them in love, singing to the Lord when we are angry, confused or upset reorients our hearts and minds to make space for the Lord in our circumstances. Singing draws us out of our emotions so that we might situate ourselves in God’s story, remembering his promises and anticipating his faithfulness when we can’t see what he is doing.
Singing is a physical act of defiance that says, I can and choose to worship in any and every circumstance, not just when I feel like it.
Singing helps us process our emotions. Sometimes when I start singing, I start crying. It seems that singing has a unique way of allowing hidden emotions to surface and helping me bring them to the Lord. We often struggle to put into words how we feel, opting to feel nothing rather than be honest about how we are doing. But ignoring emotions is an attempt to remove ourselves from reality. When we deny our experience and the emotions they produce, we are effectively saying that God has nothing to say or do here. But God does not make us his children to remain emotionally distant from him; He wants us to come to him with our hurts and brokenness, trusting that he will comfort and encourage. Singing is one way we can do that.
As an embodied spiritual discipline, singing helps us connect our mental, emotional, and spiritual reality to our physical experience. We typically think of singing as a response to joy, but singing in despair, hopelessness, and sorrow has a long and valuable tradition we should remember. It’s no surprise that in the midst of oppression slaves turned to singing; acknowledging their pain and suffering while steadfastly hoping in a just God who was bigger than their circumstances. Likewise, the majority of the Psalter are not songs of joy, they are songs that express confusion, doubt, and lament. The songbook of the covenant people of God gives language to the full human experience— How long O Lord is the anguished refrain we hear again and again.
Singing is a tool for all of life; the small hopelessness of a child crying at 3 am and the large hopelessness of grief or depression. And singing in spite of how we feel actually changes us, unearths our emotions, engages our bodies, and tunes us to something that is beyond our present moment. This is how God made us—to sing to him, have our hearts softened and comforted, our anger quelled, and our hopes levied as we remember that even in our tough moments, he is with us, he is for us, and he sings over us in return.
Singing forms us. A few years ago on a retreat with college students, we spent time in small groups encouraging one another. What struck me most was how the students quoted song lyrics to one another more than they quoted scripture as a means of encouragement. While this opens the door to another conversation about why the songs we sing are important, these students spoke the things of God over one another as they had learned through singing.
Songs have a way of sticking with us in a way that other mediums don’t. We connect the melody and rhythm to words that have value and they become part of us, beating in our hearts and springing to mind unexpectedly, giving us language when we don’t know what to say or how to pray. No bride forgets her first dance song, no teen forgets the song that got them through a breakup; music stays inside of our bodies. But even more, songs that give language to our faith have the ability to shape our theology, the very things we think and believe about God and ourselves. As we sing these words, we speak into being the truths that God has spoken over us; we are loved, justified, forgiven, Spirit-filled children of God. Singing about our Good King is a way of testifying to ourselves the news of grace again and again.
So today, sing. Sing when your children frustrate you, when you are tired or disappointed, when you are delighted by something. But sing. Sing a new song to the Lord today knowing that as you do, he hears you, forms you, lifts your head, and sings over you in return.
After years of navigating a relationship that was hurtful and frustrating, my friend said, “I just wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt.” She had been hoping that their hurtful actions and words were not as they seemed; hoping that there were more love and grace than shown. In trying to understand how she had been hurt, a mentor said, “you had been giving them the benefit of the doubt, but you should have been giving them thebenefit of grace.” She should have addressed their actions, asked questions to know the truth, and moved towards them, towards understanding, reconciliation, and a deeper experience of God’s grace for both of them.
I always thought giving someone the benefit of the doubt was a kindness. Trusting other’s motives and expecting honesty in spite of words or actions that might indicate otherwise felt honorable. I thought I was playing the trusting and loyal friend, but for such a noble position to take, I found myself surprised by the fruit that this cultural idiom began to bear: sin ignored, others getting hurt, bitterness hardening my heart—all in the name of giving the benefit of the doubt. I thought I was being gracious, but I was acting in a self-protective way, not wanting to endure the discomfort of confrontation or move toward a friend in love. Believers do not extend the benefit of the doubt hoping that a brother or sister in Christ will turn out to be the best version of themselves, we confront one another to extend the benefit of grace.
Messengers of reconciliation
Grace is the currency of the gospel, and yet, there are mockeries of gospel grace that exist all around us. Be kind. You do you. Give them the benefit of the doubt. But none of these sayings do anything to move us towards another in the way that the grace of God compels us to. To extend the benefit of grace to another believer means rather than overlooking concerning behavior, comments, or situations with the assumption that your brother or sister in Christ probably didn’t mean what they said or did, we move towards them in the confidence of the gospel and with the promise of grace.
Reconciliation is what the Bible is all about—it tells the story of humans being made in God’s image to be in relationship with Him, sin entering the world and that relationship becoming estranged, and God’s promise to restore harmony with himself being fulfilled in Jesus, who reconciles humanity to God.
But we are not simply receivers of reconciliation, in Christ we become messengers of reconciliation, extending the benefit of the grace to those around us (2 Cor 5:19). Through the work of Christ, we have been reconciled to God—our sins are no longer held against us and we are counted friends of God. As reconciled ones we become reconcilers, bringing that which was separated back together. To be in Christ means that we participate in the fullness of His life and take up the mantle of His ministry so that his grace might extend to others through His Spirit (2 Cor 4:10, Eph 4:32). Jesus, the reconciler, who desired our holiness and righteousness so much that he died so we could have it, makes his appeal through us, inviting others into his abounding grace and propelling fellow believers onward in his upward call.
Dealing with sin and conflict is part of living in a not-yet-fully-restored world. But rather than shying away from confrontation, believers are ambassadors of the gospel, equipped with the resources and power we need to move towards others with grace. But we also have the responsibility to do so. Jesus tells us explicitly that if your brother has sinned against you, go to him and tell him his fault. Don’t talk about it with other people or let it fester, go to him in the confidence of the gospel and be reconciled to him (Matt 18:15-20). Though this should always be done in humility, it must be done.
When I worked in campus ministry, I watched friend groups slowly deteriorate over unnamed transgressions. Students would tell me that someone had hurt them, but they didn’t want to bring it up because they weren’t perfect either. They would often think they should “remove the plank from their own eye before attempting to remove the speck from a friend’s,” invoking it as a reason for not going to their sister in Christ to pursue reconciliation (Matt 7:1-5). But in that passage Jesus is teaching us about judgment—we should not be haughty, judgmental people when we pursue the holiness of our brother or sister. What Jesus desires is that both the speck in your eye and the plank in mine would be removed in humility so that we might see Him clearly, be restored to one another, and be a witness to our community of how the gospel empowers reconciliation.
But more often than not, we retreat into cultural norms extending the benefit of the doubt rather than moving towards one another in love. This not only divides us from our brothers and sisters but witnesses to a watching world that we are no different than them when it comes to how we handle conflict. Our individualistic culture calls for toleration, but we are not called to “tolerate” the sin of others, we are called to reconcile. We have experienced reconciliation in Christ, and we must be people who embody the beautiful gift of grace for others.
Me, You, and Jesus
David is renowned as one of the great Kings of Israel, a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14), but David’s life was interrupted and changed by his friend’s call to repent and receive the grace of God (2 Sam 12). After raping Bethsheba and having her husband killed, Nathan goes to David to confront him about his sin, demonstrating to us the power and necessity of extending the benefit of grace.
Firstly, God sent Nathan to David. This shows us that God chooses to use other believers in our lives to speak the truth in love, call out sin, and extend grace and forgiveness. As ambassadors of the gospel, we actually have the power to represent Christ to our brothers and sisters in Christ (Jas 5:16) and it is God’s will to use us (2 Cor 5:20). Moving toward one another with the gospel is what it means to be messengers of reconciliation.
But for much of the western church, this feels far too personal and much too exposing for our individualistic faith. We want “me and Jesus,” but God calls us to “you, me, and Jesus.” There is no going it alone in Christ. We are part of Christ’s body, and we have a responsibility to one another to call each other out in love and with the full hope and assurance of the gospel. When we are tempted to butt out and extend the benefit of the doubt, hoping that our sister will just “figure it out,” we are going against what God teaches us in his word. Abel actually was his brother’s keeper (Gen 4:9), we are commanded to restore our brothers and sisters in Christ with gentleness and humility (Gal 6:1-2), it is our calling to build up the body out of love and reverence for Christ (Eph 5). God uses us, his messengers of reconciliation, to join him in his supernatural work of leading his children to repentance. Let’s say yes to our calling and choose to address our concerns for our brother or sister rather than ignoring them.
After David sees and comprehends his sin, as a minister of reconciliation, Nathan immediately reminds him of past grace that God already showed him but also promises him present and future grace because David is part of the covenant family of God. Nathan reminds David of who he is; chosen by God, forgiven, and loved in spite of his sin. When we confront someone in grace, we do not call out sin for the purpose of guilt , we extend grace and challenge them to be who they already are in Christ—redeemed, holy saints who are empowered to walk in righteousness (Rom 6:16-18).
Finally, it is Nathan’s extending of grace that inspires Psalm 51, the most foundational and beautiful Psalm on repentance we have. In it, David earnestly repents for his sin, but he also leads Israel and every future believer in how to respond to sin saying that through his experience he will teach other transgressors God’s ways and sinners will return to him (Ps 51:13). David gives language to corporate confession, leading the people of God into repentance with the beautiful assurance of grace.
Imagine that Nathan had left David alone thinking, what I heard probably isn’t true, or at least it’s not the whole truth. David loves the Lord, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Nathan’s willingness to be a minister of reconciliation not only grew him in obedience to God but led David to repentance and a deeper understanding of God’s wonderful grace. This is the power of extending grace to one another. In Christ, we have the promises of the gospel, the power of the Spirit, and the assurance that God extends the benefit of grace to every single sin.
We live in a disenchanted world. We are pandemic worn, disillusioned with the government, and wary of good news. Disenchanted people have come to believe that our world is composed only of what we can see, and what we see will largely disappoint us. We have matured out of the idea that there is magic or mystery, no sparkle of hope that there is more to the world, to us, than meets the eye.
But if you’re a Christian, this reasoning is lacking. The world we read about in Scripture is in fact an enchanted world— a world of angels and demons, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego alive in the fiery furnace, prophets who foretell the future, God himself walking among men, raising people from the dead and weaving the most spectacular happy ending ever imagined. As my daughter’s favorite children’s book says, “The world is awake, it’s a wonderful place, alive with God’s power and glad with his grace.”
God’s world is an enchanted place; not only is there more to our surroundings, our earth, and our bodies than what we can simply see, our world is a place of delight and mystery. As Paul says, we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). The whole of scripture testifies to a world beyond what is observable and filled with spiritual forces. It’s why some of the most famous modern Christian writers tell stories of Narnia, Middle earth, wizards, and magic rings—these tales more accurately describe our world than we tend to think. Our world is alive with beauty and wonder and he has made us to pay attention to him—to be enchanted by him—anticipating his next move with expectation and delight. To be enchanted with our God means we can’t look away from him, marveling at his light in the midst of the brokenness around us. Christians are an enchanted people, believers in much more than simply what we see, but could it be that we too have become disenchanted?
Disenchanted believers, disenchanted world
Are we really believers if we are disenchanted? To be a Christian who does not actively believe in a God who breaks the bounds of our scientific world, who speaks supernaturally to his people through his word and uses his Body, the Church, to reveal his grace today is to not be a Christian at all. And yet this is the position that many Christians find themselves today; disillusioned with the Church, disappointed with the voice of God, and settling into a faith that doesn’t ask or expect much from the one they claim as Savior.
In Christ, we are invited into relationship with the author of life. Christians should be enchanted with Jesus, delighted with his beauty, curious after his will for our lives, and hungering for his presence, but more often than not, we end up looking much like our non-believing neighbors and enchanted with other things. In a recent article regarding the misconduct of a famous Hillsong Church pastor, a non-Christian writer said, “It looks very much like [Christians] want to become like me.” Though this is a sad and very public example of Christians not looking like the one they worship, it raises the question: am I so enchanted with Jesus that I look different from my non-believing friends? And if Jesus has not captured my heart completely, what has?
Though our world is largely a disenchanted place, the hunger for enchantment remains. It’s why new age spirituality is popular today: crystals and tarot cards offer a gateway into the divine. James KA Smith talks about this hunger for enchantment in terms of transcendent consumption. We want a taste of the transcendent, the sacred and spiritual in the midst of our mundane reality. In his book, Desiring the Kingdom, he describes the spiritual liturgies that we create in activities like shopping. Transcendence is wired into our hearts, but apart from God we go looking for that enchantment elsewhere, and as we do so, we turn transcendence into something that we can consume, a commodity to be found or purchased.
We see the same hunger for enchantment in Athens when Paul addresses the Areopagus. After seeing an altar with the inscription “To the unknown god” he says,
Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything…“‘In him we live and move and have our being’. —Acts 17:22-28
Paul speaks to their desire for the divine saying, the transcendence you long for is found in Jesus, the one whom we were made to be enchanted by. “To the unknown god” still captures our society’s hunger today as we turn to objects and spiritual rituals hoping our consumption will give us a taste of the transcendent. But we are not made to look for transcendence through consumption, we are made to be consumed by the transcendence of Christ.
Enchantment, disenchantment, re-enchantment
One helpful lens of understanding our experience of the world is through the dialectic “orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.” We are oriented to the world as it is, then something coming along that causes us to feel disoriented. It might be going to college, having a baby, or the death of a loved one, but our lives are rattled and we find ourselves disoriented, unsure of who we are or our direction. Disorientation is something we must work through, slowly moving into reorientation, where we learn how to navigate the new circumstances that were once disorienting. This cycle repeats again and again throughout our entire lives.
But this cycle also helps make sense of enchantment and disenchantment. Perhaps the trials we encounter that drive us to disenchantment are a temporary place where the Lord invites us to become re-enchanted with him, uncovering deeper depths of his provision and grace when we need it most. Disenchantment, then, becomes a stepping stone toward re-enchantment. We don’t need to be afraid of disenchantment as a faith-ending experience, but rather learn to expect it as a natural rhythm of human life.
Today, if you find yourself feeling disenchanted, know that disenchantment doesn’t have to last forever, but can be a place of uncovering new dimensions of the heart of God and kingdom. Here are ways forward from disenchantment to re-enchantment:
Identify the root. Ask yourself when was the last time you were enchanted with the Lord? What circumstances (active or passive) changed in your life to bring you to your current disillusioned state? Are you frustrated that the Lord didn’t answer a prayer? Does scripture seem confusing, harsh, or unapproachable? Did something happen in your church that has made you question whether God is really at work? Do you wish there was more to your relationship with God? Identify how you got here.
Uncover the false narratives. Romans 12:2 says, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. When we find ourselves disenchanted, it is easy to fall into non-gospel ways of thinking. We turn to things to make us feel better rather than seeking the Lord, feel hopeless, doubt God’s goodness, or think he doesn’t love us. Rather than simply drifting into these ways of thinking, Paul charges believers to not be conformed to the ways of the unbelieveing and disenchanted world around us.
Cultivate habits that help you abide in God’s story. Mike Cosper in his book Recapturing the Wonder says, “If we want to leave behind our disenchantment, we have to find ways to immerse ourselves in these stories. We have to counter the stories of our disenchanted world.” Especially when you feel disillusioned with the Lord or the church, talking to other believers and staying connected to community is essential. The church is God’s hands and feet in our lives today, so turning to other believers for encouragement and prayer is a great first step forward. Secondly, draw near. Scripture invites us to draw near to God (Heb 7:19) through his Word and prayer, asking for his presence to soften our hearts, assured that he draws near to us as we draw near to him (Jas 4:8).
Read James Chapter 2; secondary text Romans 6:5-23
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. – James 2:18
The second chapter of James is about how our faith must translate into actions that reflect what we believe. James begins with the concrete example of the sin of partiality—when we honor or respect certain people more than others for superficial reasons. When we show partiality our actions reveal what our hearts truly believe; that some people are more valuable or important than others. While we might never say it out loud, our actions demonstrate our beliefs. James uses the sin of partiality to show the outermost symptom of a heart that is out of step in loving Jesus. Like tracing the symptoms down to their origins, James digs in to uncover why our actions would be out of line with what we say we believe.
What leads us into the sin of partiality is not taking Jesus’ words to love your neighbor as yourself seriously (2:8-9). Jesus calls this the royal law because the whole law can be summed up in this one command. If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we will honor our parents, we won’t commit adultery or rob or murder or oppress others because we wouldn’t want to be treated that way ourselves.
But what might seem strange is that James is talking about the law at all. In 1:8-13, James says that we are doing well if we keep the royal law, but if we show partiality we are convicted by the law as transgressors. It is easy to think when we are in Christ the law no longer matters, but this is not true. Israel was given the law to enter into relationship with a holy God, but the law only highlighted their sin and their enslavement to it. On the cross, Jesus broke the power of sin over us (it no longer is our master) and the penalty of sin (the wages of sin is death) so that we might become obedient from our hearts to Christ (Rom 6:16-19). Our relationship to the law now is as Spirit-empowered children of God who obey his law because we love him. Jesus says if you love me you will keep my commandments (Jn 14:15), so while the law no longer condemns us, it is still our instructor, teaching us how we grow in Christlikeness and revealing our sin. When James says that if we keep the law of Christ we are doing well, he is saying that if we love others as ourselves we are demonstrating our love through our actions, actions that cherish the word and commands of our Savior.
But James goes deeper still. If the sin of partiality is the outermost symptom and underneath it lies a disregard for the law of God, the root of the problem is thinking that we can have faith without works. If I say that I love the Boston Red Sox and am a huge fan, but have never watched the games, don’t know the players, or care about their record, it would seem like I am actually not a big fan. The same goes for our faith. Many claim to be big fans of Jesus but do not read his word, follow his commands, or grow in our love for him.
James closes with two examples of people who demonstrated their faith through their actions, Abraham and Rahab, and interestingly their actions both involve sacrifice. To put our faith into action means being sacrificial with ourselves and things. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his home and even his own son because he believed in God and trusted him. Rahab sacrificed her safety betting that Yahweh was the true God, she was willing to sacrifice her life to be proved wrong. Sacrifice is a great litmus test for determining if we are living out what we believe in concrete ways because Jesus was the sacrificial one who gave up his life so that we might know him and become like him. When we are living a sacrificial faith, we are living out a faith that works.
What kind of people do you find yourself showing partiality towards?
How seriously do you take putting your faith into action? What kinds of things do you prefer to show your faith through? Where do you generally shy away from following God even though he commands it?
In what ways can you grow in imitating Jesus through sacrificial love and practicing the royal law?
It’s mid-January and social media is relentlessly reminding me that I am supposed to be on a new diet and fitness regime. Apparently, after a few months of treating our bodies like garbage cans, it’s time to clean up. Our culture has a body problem. More accurately, it has a worship problem. We worship bodies. It is why we spend so much time thinking about how we look, dieting, and exercising to recraft our bodies into the right kind of image. And as we do, we put faith in the promise that we can reach perfection. Our bodies can be healthier, more beautiful, more stylish; perfect bodies garner better dates and achieve the perfectly stylized Instagram feed. When our bodies are perfect, we will love ourselves more, and most importantly, others will love us more—adore us even.
As we pursue body perfection, we join other worshippers in procession to our chosen chapels where our transformation will occur. Be it Whole Foods or SoulCycle, Crossfit or Keto, we join a family of other believers on a journey to self-betterment. We are our own gods and our bodies shrines to our perfection and worth. So when we fail, gain weight, or simply don’t end up looking like our idealized version of ourselves, we are lost. Our object of hope has failed us, telling us to try harder and leaving us miserable. Our culture has created an entire religion around perfecting bodies, but this religion has nothing to do with the gospel.
The gospel is news, but it is also a story, and the decisions we make and actions we take reveal which stories we believe most. When we participate in the cultural story that our bodies are made to be worshipped, we start embodying that story, putting our hope in its promise of salvation and moving our bodies in accordance with its discipleship. But scripture teaches us that our bodies are of infinite worth not because of how they look or if others deem them beautiful, but because they bear the image of God (1:27), belong to Him as instruments for worship (Rom 12:1-2), and house the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Our bodies are ground zero for God’s redemption in our lives, and the gospel teaches us that our hope in Christ frees us from our obsession with self to worship the one for whom our bodies were made to worship. Our bodies are very good and made for good works, but oftentimes, Christians find themselves in a different story. The cultural narratives that tell us what our bodies are for are robust but empty; scripture tells a better story.
Today, the question we shouldn’t be asking is how am I going to lose 10 pounds. The question we should be asking is what is my body for? Is it made for an endless pursuit of perfection? Is it made to be starved and run into submission so that it might finally have value? Is it made to be worshipped? Until we can answer what our bodies are for, we will never know what we are supposed to do with them.
A better story
The first time I heard someone teach about body image and the Bible was in 9th grade at a high school retreat. I remember the breakout session only because of the overwhelming emotion that I felt while I was listening: disappointment. Was there anything in the Bible that could stand against the mental, emotional and spiritual battle over our bodies? Does the gospel extend to my body—how I think about it and how I experience it today?
After a year or two of marriage, I was feeling down for some reason about my appearance. My husband had been a steady voice of truth regarding how I viewed my body, but in this conversation, I bitterly told him that it didn’t matter if he thought I was beautiful, I often did not. This is one of the stories our culture tells us, that our bodies only have value if we love ourselves; we can’t be loved until we learn how to love ourselves first. But this is not the story God tells us, and my husband challenged me with biblical truth. We are loved by God before we love ourselves and in spite of ourselves. He doesn’t love us because we deserve it, he loves us because we are his children.
Most of us live as if what God says about us is untrue, or at best unimportant. We might say his words matters, but our actions prove that we are living in a different narrative. Does it matter what God says about us? If it does, we have to allow that voice to penetrate our hearts and minds, fighting to believe that voice over others that tell us our value comes from our clothing size or how well we kept a diet.
But the story we believe about our bodies doesn’t just impact our own lives, it directly impacts the people around us. In Ephesians 5 Paul says that a husband and wife are one flesh and should treat one another’s bodies as if they were their own. So often we think of sin as between me and God, or perhaps me sinning against someone else. But the reality is that all sin impacts the body of Christ. According to scripture, when I hate my body, I hate my husband. God gives us other people to keep us accountable to his word so that we don’t allow ourselves to fall away from his truth.
But this isn’t a principle that only applies to married couples. Before marriage, I found myself learning to fight the cultural narrative about our bodies with my girlfriends in seminary. One of them would vehemently say, “That is NOT the gospel,” when one of us was bemoaning how unattractive we felt, that we had gained weight, or that we felt insecure not wearing makeup. We started fighting for one another with the truth, creating a culture in our friend group of relearning and abiding in God’s story for our bodies. This is why God has given us the church: to exhort one another when we are believing something less than a story of grace and redemption about our bodies. The church is, after all, called the body of Christ, we depend on one another like a hand depends on its fingers to teach one another the truth and uphold one another as we learn to believe it in our bones, not just our minds.
Our bodies do not belong to us.
One of the most prominent narratives about our bodies is that my body is my own. I do whatever is best for it, don’t tell me what to do or how to use it, I am in charge. The Christian faith could be boiled down to simply this: it’s not about me, it’s about God; my life is not about what I want, it’s about what God wants. If we are in Christ, all of us belongs to Jesus, not just our mind or our hearts, our bodies belong to God.
When I was pregnant with twins, I was very aware of how much my body would change. I feared the expected 50-70lbs weight gain that most mothers of twins endure, wondered how this new phase of life might impact the mental battles that I had gotten used to winning regarding how I thought about my body. I was surprised in my first trimester when I started feeling a new responsibility to take care of my body because it was home to two tiny humans as well. I didn’t stay out late with college students I worked with, I didn’t eat unhealthy food—I wanted them to thrive and their life was just as valuable as mine. For the first time, I physically understood that my body was not my own. Everything I did, I did with them in mind. My body was no longer just about me.
But if we are in Christ, Paul says, You are not your own, but you have been bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:20). Although Paul is addressing the Corinthian church exhorting them to honor God with their bodies in terms of their sexuality, his reasoning extends beyond that. In Colossians, Paul touches on the same idea, that when we are united with Christ we participate in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension (2:9-15). All of our life becomes hidden in Christ. All of our actions must reflect our allegiance to him. How I use my body reflects my identity as one who is in communion and union with Jesus, and how I think about my body, the story I believe, will directly impact my actions. Just like my body belonged to my children more than it did to me while I was pregnant, in Christ, our bodies belong firstly to him to bring him glory.
A better object of worship
Jesus’ whole life was lived in this reality, his body belonged not just to him, but to his Father and to the people that his body would ransom. On the cross, he died not so that our lives could be about us, but so our lives could be about him. The good news of the gospel is that my life is no longer about me. And the same goes for my body. My life is not about how I look, how in shape I am, what I wear, or what I eat. My life is about God. The gospel draws our eyes off of ourselves and fixes them firmly on the only one worthy of the worship. Where our culture upholds physical beauty and fitness as perfection, we know better. Our bodies are not worthy of our worship, only Christ is.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. -James 1:1-8
When was the last time you needed to be steadfast? Perhaps it was endurance in an athletic endeavor or emotional strength in a relationship, mental focus to complete exams, or getting through another night of taking care of an infant. James begins his letter by holding up the virtue of steadfastness. To be steadfast is to endure, to wait patiently, to be constant, to have cheerful endurance.
Lately, my daughters have been waking up at 5:30 am. Though hopefully, this is a short-lived trend, I have not rejoiced in the predawn rooster cries emerging from their room. In fact, if I really examine my response to trials, I often see the benefits of spiritual growth in hindsight, after the ordeal is over, but I rarely am thanking God and rejoicing for whatever difficulty he has allowed my way. So why is it so important that we rejoice while we face trials, not just after? And more than that, what is it about the Christian faith that enables not only endurance but joyful endurance?
Testing. James says that we can rejoice in testing because it produces steadfastness. Testing is what sharpens and refines us. Testing can sound negative as if God is throwing curveballs at you, trying to trip you up. Largely, tests are not popular. Testing brings back memories of algebra and physics, right and wrong answers. But testing can also provide an opportunity for what psychologists call eustress—a kind of stress that provides opportunities for positive growth. Even though the circumstance is still challenging or difficult, when you are working towards something good, the stress associated with it becomes a necessary part of human growth and development. The same goes for spiritual maturity. Jesus endured testing in the desert before his ministry began. Spiritual testing is a positive activity that teaches us to depend on God, rely on his word, and prove our faith genuine through endurance.
An opportunity for joy. Biblical joy is contentment in Christ in spite of circumstances. Happiness is always connected to circumstances, but joy is a fruit of the spirit, something that grows out of participating with Christ, and the byproduct of faith. It is rooted in knowing that God is at work in all things and his promises are all true. This is why Paul in Philippians rejoices in his suffering and imprisonment. He knows that the Lord is using his imprisonment for his glory and purposes, and he is confident that even if the worst happens (he dies) he will be with Christ which is his heart’s truest yearning. When you desire to grow in Jesus, you can find joy in trials because God promises they will develop your love fo him and deepen your intimacy with him.
When James says to count it all joy when you face trials because the testing of your faith will produce steadfastness, he is saying that the foundation of Christian discipleship is growing in steadfastness, pursuing Christ in all circumstances, finding joy in Him in all seasons so that we might be transformed more and more into his likeness. So that we will be complete and lacking nothing. So that we will one day look just like Jesus. In your circumstances today, remember that the Lord tests and refines us to draw us to himself and change us into people that know and love him more and more.