The Emptiness of Cultural Kindness

Kindness seems to be everywhere these days. It’s posted on yard signs and granola bars, t-shirts, and posters for your home. Though kindness is not new, BE KIND! has become a warm greeting in a culture that prides itself on tolerance, acceptance, and affirmation.

A few months ago, Ellen Degeneres fell from her two-decade-long reign as the queen of kindness for apparently, well, being very unkind. Kindness was her motto, encouraging everyone to “Be kind to one another” as the parting message of every episode. But for someone who has made millions selling the idea of kindness, her brand of kindness has proved to be empty after her show was canceled due to reports of the toxic, racist, and abusive work culture she set. 

When our national face of kindness proves to be deeply unkind, we have to wonder, does the kindness that our culture celebrates have any value? Or is it lacking, pretending to do and be good while unable to produce any good or loving changes in our world? In a culture that is hungry for kindness but often finding cultural kindness to be empty, we must look to scripture and the author of kindness to teach us what kindness truly is. 

True kindness is always rooted in love. 

Cultural kindness is more about tolerance, enduring differences without complaining, and being nice than it is about love. It asks us only to be pleasant to those whom we are different from, but it does not call us to love them. When kindness is without love, it can quickly become insincere, something we do because we are supposed to. But kindness without love is not kindness at all, but rather an imitation, a fake that supposes love for another, but is merely an act.  

This is the problem with cultural kindness. I can be nice and tolerate someone while hating them at the same time, and this is what we see in the case of Ellen. Her public persona of kindness turned out to be mere niceness. She played at being kind, but in reality, was unkind, and the fruits of her labor were abuse, division, and hurt. Though cultural kindness puts on the facade of love, at best it a bland tolerance of other people, at worst, it is hatred with a smile. 

In contrast, biblical kindness, real kindness, is always rooted in the steadfast and self-sacrificing love of God. He is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works (Ps 145:17), He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness towards his people (Neh 9:17), with everlasting kindness, I will have compassion to you (Is 54:8). In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word chesed, which means loving-kindness, is used to describe how God relates to his people. It is also this loving-kindness that he desires from his people in response to his own. As he says in Hos 6:6, For I desire steadfast love (kindness), not sacrifices, the knowledge of God and not burnt offerings. God makes it clear that niceness—burnt offerings and sacrifices that go through the motions of devotion without love, do not delight him. Rather, he desires earnest love and knowledge of who He is. 

Unlike cultural kindness, chesed captures the steadfast and sacrificial love of God who does not abandon a people who are radically different than he is, who anger him, who test and fail him again and again. True kindness, therefore, must be rooted in this kind of covenantal love that endures at all costs. Our kind God does not merely tolerate us. He does not endure us with distaste. He loves us with a fierce kindness that is more committed to our own well-being than we are. 

True kindness is not always agreeable.  

Godly kindness is rooted in the covenantal love of God who pursues the flourishing of his creation. But real human flourishing comes when humanity lives in accordance with what we were created for: submission to and obedience of our Creator. Because God’s covenantal love always has the aim of changing a sinful people into a holy nation, godly kindness is not always agreeable. 

To be kind in our culture means that we rarely disagree. It has been argued that our culture is rapidly losing its ability to disagree with others and maintain friendship. We live in a nation in which outrage trumps listening and understanding, and disagreement means dismissal. When the January 6 attack on the capital occurred, my Facebook page was flooded with statements saying something along the lines of, “If you don’t condemn what happened today, we are no longer friends.” While the condemnation of the events was valid and the comments were intended to declare their disapproval, they demonstrated how culture responds to disagreement: we cancel. 

When cultural kindness meets disagreement or injustice, it responds with cancellation. Cancel culture is cultural kindness’s attempt at justice. Though there is goodness in the desire to make right what has gone wrong, kindness without love leads to justice without love. We are content to settle for dismissal because our kindness was never more than niceness; it was never motivated by wanting to know another or be known, never fierce enough to engage in hard conversations, to call something wrong or work towards restoring a broken person. 

Not so for the biblical kindness— God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Rom 2:4). Godly kindness confronts in love so that we might be conformed into his image. Because he loves us and wants us to flourish, God’s steadfast loving-kindness will challenge us, tell us when we are wrong, and change us. This is why the Psalmist says let a righteous man rebuke me, it is a kindness (Ps 141:5). It is in kindness when he corrects, rebukes, and convicts us because he loves us enough to see that we might become mature and complete, lacking in nothing (Jas 1:4) and receiving the our inheritance as his children. The people of God should never be marked by mere agreeableness, but rather embrace the kindness that is not content to allow us to stay in sin, that permits suffering so that we might depend on him more, and that speaks the truth in love (Eph 4:15).

Moreover, where cultural kindness leads to cancel-culture “justice”, godly kindness that is rooted in love leads us to restorative justice through truth-telling, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. This is the fruit of the kindness of God and what Paul is getting at when he says, behold, the kindness and severity of God (Rom 11:22). He is not interested in niceness, he is interested in bringing many sons to glory, and in his kindness, he will surely do it. 

God’s ultimate kindness in Christ.

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life (Tit 3:4-7). 

In his eternal kindness, the Father sent Christ to extend the ultimate kindness: our salvation. But in Christ he also enables us to be transformed into his likeness through the Spirit who produces godly fruit in our lives like kindness (Gal 5:22). This is the calling that is placed on his followers, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, and meekness (Col 3:12). To clothe ourselves in kindness means that we care about knowing another person rather than being superficial. That we care about their well-being, are willing to endure with them when things get tough, to sacrifice for them, and disagree to speak the truth in love for their sake. 

In John 8 a woman is caught in adultery. It was a crime deserving death and he community was ready to stone her. But Jesus showed her kindness. He showed her love and mercy thought they could not have been more different. He didn’t reject or condemn her for her choices or beliefs. He knelt beside her and protected her. He reminded the crowd that they too were sinners. But he also didn’t say that her actions didn’t matter. He called her into repentance and obedience when he said, Go and sin no more (8:11).

May we grow in this kind of godly kindness in a world that desperately needs the kindness of our Savior.

Instead of giving the benefit of the doubt, extend the benefit of grace

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 the benefit 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. 

We want “me and Jesus,” but God calls us to “you, me, and Jesus.”

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.

Disenchanted believers

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?

But we are not made to look for transcendence through consumption, we are made to be consumed by the transcendence of Christ.

Consumer transcendence

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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).

Body Worship

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.

The cultural narratives that tell us what our bodies are for are robust but empty; scripture tells a better story. 

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.

Eat the book

A few years ago a friend of mine who is not a Christian criticized Christians for not embodying their faith. Their faith was mostly about knowing a set of rules, but they didn’t seem very joyful or alive. While this critique was harsh, it also felt true. It is all to easy for Christians to know things about God without ever digesting that knowledge, getting the teaching of Christ into our bellies where it might course through our bodies and make us different. When we settle for training our minds and neglect bringing our whole bodies into alignment with the knowledge we profess, we find ourselves living an undernourished faith. But this is not the way it is supposed to be.

In Revelation 10, John listens to an angel in heaven read about the mysteries of God from a scroll. His voice is like a lion’s roar, thundering across the land. Intuitively, John moves to write down what he hears, but the angel forbids him from writing down the words and rather invites him to eat the scroll. Though Revelation may seem to be full of bizarre snippets such as this, Revelation is all about worship. Here, John is being instructed about what true worship is—it is not simply knowledge, writing down information so our minds might absorb it, worship is about our bodies. 

In response to this passage, Eugene Peterson says, Why, that [writing the words down] would be like taking the wind or breath out of the words and flattening them soundless on paper…It’s as if the heavenly voice said, “No, I want those words out there, creating sound waves, entering ears, entering lives. I want those words preached, sung, taught, prayed—lived. Get this book into your gut; get the words of this book moving through your bloodstream; chew on these words and swallow them so they can be turned into muscle and gristle and bone.” And John did it; he ate the book.

Most of us are in danger of living a life flattened on soundless paper. Christians can fall into a way of life that exists primarily in the mind, the place of knowing and thinking, but fail to fully digest our knowledge. This has always been a religious person’s problem; Jesus criticized the relgious people of his day for this very thing because knowing and believing something that does not produce congruent actions is called hypocrisy. Those pharisees knew the law and the traditions, but their religion was like a fine table set at a party at which no one feasted; they were missing the point of all that knowledge. Their concepts never nourished their heart; they hadn’t eaten the book. And unfortunately, this is the modern churches’ problem too. We are an undernourished people, hungry for intimacy with Christ and settling for knowledge of him. We need to be people who eat the book. 

An undernourished people

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. -Ezekiel 3:1-5

The prophet Ezekiel receives his call from God to be a prophet to Israel, but rather than filling Ezekiel’s mind with perfect theology or knowledge of God’s law, God goes for his gut. He wants to fill Ezekiel, get his word inside his body, coursing through his bloodstream and sustaining his muscles for the task ahead of him. 

His task to is prophesy to Israel, God’s own people. These people knew God. They had the law to instruct them and their story of God freeing them from Egypt so that they might dwell in his presence and worship him. And yet, Israel had not gotten the law into their hearts, they had not come to hunger for the ways of God. Later God and Ezekiel would have a conversation about Israel in which God calls them dry bones, dead and wasted away. The question of the conversation is can they come alive again? Is God able to raise them back to life, to put muscle on their bones, give them breath and empower them to walk in the ways of God?  

The same question goes for us. When our faith is predominately an intellectual faith or a faith situated in our minds, we are on the path to becoming dry bones, bodies that are unnourished and wasting away. It is not because our minds are unimportant—- on the contrary, they are critical to our faith and we are commanded to used them (Mt 22:37)— but a faith that is only about knowledge will always trend towards hypocrisy. We must put what we know into action, we must be people who don’t just read the book but eat it. We need to hunger for more than knowledge about Jesus, we must hunger for him—his presence, love, and peace in our lives. And fortunately, this is exactly what God wants for us. 

The nourishment we need

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. – John 6:53, 55 

Though Ezekiel and John were invited to eat the written word of God, we are invited to something much stranger—to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ. It is no coincidence that Jesus chooses food to be the way his people remember him and participate in his covenant. He knows that humans trend towards anemic lives that lack the fullness we were made for. So he chooses food. 

My sister is a naturopathic doctor who says that food is the fastest way to teach people to connect with their bodies. When we eat wholesome, nourishing foods, our bodies are fueled and empowered to do what they are made to do. Food changes us from the inside out, repairing our cells, giving us energy, and teaching us to hunger after the right things. Just as the word of God nourished Ezekiel to fulfill his calling as a prophet to Israel, to speak against their ways and call them to repentance, Jesus, the incarnated word of God, offers himself as our spiritual nourishment so that we might live sacrificial lives and fulfill our calling as Christians to follow him. God is not interested in only teaching our minds, he is first and foremost interested in getting into our hearts and guts. As we feast on Jesus, the true word of God, he softens our hearts, strengthens our limbs for his work, and empowers our bodies to move through the world like he did. 

How to eat the book

Prioritize intimacy with Christ over knowledge about him. It is much easier to learn things about God than to get to know him. We need to know him, and knowing God comes from spending time in his presence, listening to him, and loving him for who he is rather than what he can do for us. He is more than worthy of our time, let’s give it to him.

Don’t be a hypocrite. Be hearers and doers of the word (Jas 1:22-25). Ask yourself where and why you aren’t taking God’s word seriously. Repent and ask the Spirit to make you hungry. Jesus says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt 6). Make this your prayer: that you would hunger after the ways of God, not your ways, not the ways that are comfortable, but the ways of God. 

Remember that our God wants to nourish us. In Christ, the incarnated word, God has revealed himself to us and given us the same spirit that gave breath and put sinew and muscle back on those dry bones. He is able and he wants to nourish us. Let’s ask him to do so.

The Sin of Growing Up

Theology for the Pandemic

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. – GK Chesterton

Again has been the theme of the pandemic for me. Another day dawns and I do it all again. Get to work, take the girls to the park, squeeze a run in during lunch, cook meals, clean the house, work some more. Again, and again, and again. Time is trudging along, but each morning I wake up and hear the word, again. Do it all again today. 

But this again hasn’t been the delighted shriek that my girls emit on the swingset as they ask to “go to the moon” again, it has been an exhausted sigh. A friend of mine was lamenting how mundane life feels right now; it’s enough to make one feel depressed, or at least apathetic. I often dread the morning again as I wake to my daughters crying and know that today will be tight with work meetings and cleaning up crushed goldfish and wondering “is that pee or water?”

But again is a fundamental reality of being human and the pandemic has only heightened our experience of repetition. We will eat meals, brush our teeth, clean the house, buy groceries, get in fights, and go to sleep again and again until the day we die. We are creatures of again, we are made for again. So why does again feel like a curse instead of a blessing?

GK Chesterton chastises adults in their inability to withstand monotony, arguing that children understand the heart of God, and the heart of being human, in a more thorough way than adults. He calls our weariness of repetition weakness, a diminished capacity that ought to draw us closer to our creator God who delights in each sunrise and sunset, every single daisy. 

The Christian faith is built around repetition, agains that produce meaning as we faithfully run the course. Like practicing a free throw or scales on the piano, Christian formation occurs as we accumulate agains. Time in scripture slowly accrues a breadth of knowledge. The habit of prayer tends to draw our eyes off of ourselves. Christian life celebrates agains because to do it again is to be human. God has made us to need agains so that we might know ourselves and know him better. 

But as Chesterton points out, the beauty of again can become warped in adulthood. Not unlike the curse over humanity as Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden, again will rule over us, making us bitter and unfeeling, darkening our eyes, and stealing our joy rather than giving it.  Even giving again a spiritual dimension does not exempt our lives from monotony or suffering in repetition. I have struggled more than ever with my current list of agains, as a mother to young children in the midst of a really difficult year. And yet this is my life, and my life is happening in the agains. We must be willing to accept and celebrate that we are made for repetition and look to our Father, and our children, to rediscover the beauty of again

Recovering a fierce and free spirit 

One of the reasons children are fierce and free is because they are unencumbered by the cares of the world. Though part of growing up and reaching maturity is navigating the brokenness and suffering of our world, Jesus exhorts us to retain a childlike heart; a heart that trusts completely in the goodness and provision of the Father. Just like my children trust me to care for them and give them what they need, we must take seriously Jesus’s words to not worry about tomorrow because our Father in Heaven loves us and promises to provide for us (Mt 6:34). It is easy to read Jesus’ words about caring for the birds of the air or asking us to lay our burdens at his feet and only consider them to be a nice sentiment (Mt 11:28). Jesus wasn’t kidding, and there is no virtue in bitterness or cynicism when it comes to the words of our Savior. If we ever hope to recover a childlike heart, a fierce and free spirit, we must learn to trust our Father like our children trust us. We must learn to have a childlike faith without closing our eyes to the world around us. 

The cure for monotony

Creativity kills monotony. Though I will likely be doing my current routine of again for many more months, it does not need to be monotonous. Each morning, we can choose to reflect our creator as creative people. Though many people do not consider themselves to be creative, they are wrong. Every person is creative. Every person has the capacity for imagination. It is part of what it means to be created in the image of our creator God. Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when he grows up.” Picasso and Chesterton are in agreement that maturing into adulthood most often strips us of something that we were meant to be. We must recover our ability to be creative in the ways we approach our children, our work, and our tasks with new eyes. We must ask our Father to enliven our imaginations to see our world bursting with life and full of hope.

Being the child

Perhaps the best way for adults to recover childlikeness is to remember that we are God’s children. Though my husband and I grow weary of our daughters cries of again, our Father does not. He is not annoyed when we confess the same sins and pray the same prayers. Our Heavenly Father says, “Again!” He wants us to come to him again, to delight in his goodness again, to cry out for help again, and to have our imaginations set ablaze with the hope of the gospel again. As children of God may we learn to exult in the Again of the Father, finding joy in our repetition just like our Father does. Again and again.

Running the Paths of the Lord

Theology for the Pandemic

Like many people, I haven’t set foot in a gym for seven months. I had gotten into the habit of going to the gym rather than running outside largely because pushing a double stroller on a run is miserable. But where Covid has taken away, it has also given. Leaving the blaring TVs and machines at the gym behind, running outdoors has reawakened a love for the Lord that going to the gym had dulled.

At some point in college I stumbled across Psalm 119:32; “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” Running the bluffs in Iowa, this verse became a mantra that would come to mind when my breath got short and legs wore out. 

I run the path of your commands for you have set me free. With a literal path unfolding before my feet, running became a place of worship and prayer, a time to be quiet in the woods, soaking in the beauty of trees and streams and limestone bluffs. Running felt like freedom for me, and the Lord was meeting me on those trails, reminding me of his presence and promises, and becoming a faithful friend as I poured out my heart to him. Two years into raising twins, I was beginning to forget the joy of running and opportunity for intimacy with Christ that time on a trail produced. 

But as I have gotten back into running, these words have challenged me in a new way. A literal translation is, Whenever you widened my heart, the way of your commandments I ran.”   What does a widened or free heart look like? What does it mean to run in the path of God’s commandments? Though running makes me feel free, obeying commandments can often feel like the opposite of freedom. Our culture tells us that to be a free individual, perfectly authentic to your true self, we must cast off any rules that might inhibit us. But on the other hand, most Christians will find themselves at some point thinking that their freedom comes from how good they are or how well they keep the rules. But this verse rings in my ears asking me to consider more deeply the widened heart that God gives and the freedom that God gives his people as they run the path of his commandments.

A Widened Heart 

The concept of a widened or expanded heart occurs in a few other places that help us to understand what it means. Isaiah says that Israel’s hearts will be widened when they see God’s glory revealed and every nation proclaims Yahweh as Lord (Is 60:5). When Solomon became King of Israel he asked God for wisdom and God gave Solomon “wisdom and very great insight and a breadth of understanding (the same language as a widened-heart)” so that he could rule Israel in a godly way (1 Kgs 4:29). Paul says that his heart is wide open because of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in him, and he desires that the Lord would widen the hearts of the Corinthian church as well (2 Cor 6:1-13). God opens our hearts so that we can love him more and do his will.

One of my favorite things about running is being outdoors and seeing the splendor of God’s creation: vast skies, mountain vistas, dense woods. Running provides the quickest entry point for me to stand in awe of God’s glory. But running and spending time in prayer while I run also propels me back into my day with a deeper resolve to follow the Lord. I find myself back at home, stretching and thanking the Lord for his goodness and also that he has once again reoriented my heart to desire him and know him. This is what it means to have a widened heart; a heart that God has broadened to love him more and compelled to act in his ways (run in his commandments). But God does not widen our hearts just once, he widens it again and again. This is why the literal translation is whenever you widened my heart, the way of your commandments I ran. Our God desires to widen our love for him whenever we need it, sending us out to be people who bear the image of Christ to our nieghbors.

Running with purpose

Whenever you widened my heart, the way of your commandments I ran. Running in God’s commandments is the response to a widened heart. In 1 Corinthians, Paul exhorts the church to run with purpose. 

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly…But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. – 1 Cor 9:24-27

Just as a serious athlete trains with the goal of winning their race, Paul argues that Christians must purposely pursue the ways of God. Jesus says that if we love him we will keep his commandments (Jn 14:15). With hearts widened to love God, we should run in the way that God says is good. Our running should be disciplined and self-controlled as we take his commands to heart, earnestly desiring to make his ways our ways.

But command-keeping can become a religion in itself. God gives us commandments so that we might know what a holy God is like, and so that we might begin to look like him as we obey his commands. But all too often, we can interpret commands and obedience as the ways that we earn God’s love. Though Paul charges us to run, to not sit back in our faith, but to pursue the things of God with discipline and zeal, our running is always in response to the widened heart that our God has given us. And more than that, we run in response to our running Father.

A Running Father

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. – Luke 15:20

In the story of the prodigal son, after the son has abandoned his father, spent his inheritance, and insulted him in the worst possible way, the son returns home hoping he might become a servant in his father’s house. But rather than shaming his son because of his disobedience, instead of being disappointed by his failures, the father ran. The father of a disobedient, small-hearted son, ran towards his child extending him the grace and forgiveness he did not deserve. In this action, this running father widened his son’s heart; he showed him love and grace. This is the heart of our Heavenly Father. A gracious God who runs towards us so that we might run the path of his commands, hearts free, knowing that we are loved. 

Surviving vs. Beholding

Theology for the Pandemic

If I’m not careful, I can get through a whole day without really looking at my kids. Sure, I see them running down the hall and throwing blueberries at one another, but I can be so busy and preoccupied with whatever else I am doing, that I don’t really see them. I don’t gaze upon them. I don’t enjoy their triumph of climbing the rock wall or notice the deep empathy of one comforting the other. Especially in this season, I can approach motherhood with a survival mindset, just trying to make it through another day.

This same phenomenon happens with God. I can go a whole day, a whole week even, without gazing upon the beauty of Christ, being struck by his majesty or humbled by his power and grace. I can get through another day, doing the things that need to be done but drifting on the surface of a relationship that wants to shake me awake, pull my eyes upward and command my heart’s attention.

In the Bible, this kind of attention is called beholding. “And behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). “Behold, the kindness and the severity of the Lord” (Rom 11:22). “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). 

Behold means to look and learn; to pay close attention to; to gaze upon. God has created us to be beholders, but we often find ourselves keeping our heads down just trying to get through. This past year has caused unique stress and suffering and it might seem like the easiest way to cope is to merely survive until the pandemic is history.

But this bucks against the very fabric of how we are created. We are created to be present in our lives and the lives of others especially when it is painful and uncomfortable. We are created to stand at attention to our God in every season of our lives, so now more than ever we need to learn how to lift our heads and behold.  

Made to behold

When our daughters were first born older mothers kept telling me, “Enjoy every second; it goes so fast.” Though it became so familiar that I barely even registered the advice, after a few months of sleepless nights and spending all day feeding two newborns, this advice started to bother me.

Am I truly supposed to enjoy this? All of this? Not every second of motherhood is enjoyable. Not every second of life is enjoyable. Enjoy was the wrong word, what the mothers were trying to say was, “Behold every second with them, it goes so fast.” Behold. Pay attention, gaze upon the beauty of your child, watch them closely, this season will turn before you know it. 

But we are not simply made to behold our children, we are first and foremost made to behold our God. As the church we should be like older mothers whispering to one another, “Behold the goodness of the Lord this week. Behold his power and his grace. Behold your risen King who loves you. This day, this week, this year will go quickly. Pay attention to what the Lord wants to show you.” Our God reveals himself to us and we must remember that he has made us to see him, gaze upon him, and as we do so, to love him.

Beholding takes discipline  

When was the last time you were surprised or caught off guard by something beautiful? Awe and wonder strike without warning–the way a sunset lights up the clouds, a perfect fall day, a child exuberantly shouting, “I did it, Mama!” Though awe has an element of surprise in its nature, beholding is something we must cultivate, and learning to behold begins with deciding what is important. 

My husband and I clean the house on Thursdays and I love to get a jump-start on the process. I wipe down counters while the girls eat lunch, do dishes while they play in the living room, and even vacuum in spite of knowing their sheer terror of the machine. Calls of “Mama, come look” and “Mama, NOOO” (regarding the vacuum) produce an uncomfortable tension in my mind–what is most important right now? I may want to sit down at 6:30 pm with a clean home and be done for the week, but right now my daughters want my attention, want to show me the chalk drawings they made and how fast they can run. I must choose what I will do: vacuum that floor, or turn my gaze upon them and pay attention. 

Likewise, each day the creator of the universe wants to catch and hold your attention. He wants to draw your eyes to his majesty, his goodness, his mercy, and his grace. Maybe it is less obvious than a child crying out for attention, but all of creation witnesses to the love and greatness of our God. We must train our ears to hear the invitation of the Lord to come and look and train our our eyes to see glimpses of God’s glory in the midst of dailiness. We must learn how to walk away from distractions and behold the everlasting God today. 

The lifter of our heads

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. – Psalm 3:3-5

Our god is the lifter of our heads. We don’t have to live these days in survival mode or just keep our heads down. He lifts our heads, he hears our cries, and he sustains us so that we might behold him. Today, allow the Lord to lift your head so that you might behold his glory. Today, allow the Lord to lift your head so that you might behold his sovereignty and love. Today, allow the Lord to lift your head so that you might gaze upon the beauty of Jesus. 

Getting Disney+ and entering the Frozen story

Theology for the Pandemic

Three months into shelter-at-home, Andrew and I got Disney+. The first movie our daughter’s watched was Frozen, which turned out to be more than a hit as they cried, “SISTERS!” Each of our girls identified more with one of the sisters–Abigail insisting on being Anna, Evangeline only talking about Elsa. AnnaElsa or ElsaAnna (depending on who you are hearing from) quickly became one of the phrases emerging from our daughters mouths as they attempted to tell us what happened in the movie, who was singing in their favorite song, or explain why one was upset. 

On a rainy day, I ventured to Target with them and was immediately overtaken by shouts of AnnaElsa! AnnaElsa pajamas, water bottles, hats, dolls, toys. They were everywhere. Every turn brought a shriek of joy as one discovered sheets featuring Anna and Olaf or a figurine of Elsa. 

Our world has become saturated with the Frozen story. Our daughters want to watch it every single night. Their whole world is being shaped by Frozen and everything connects back to the story. The horses at the farm are Svens (the name of the reindeer), girls with brown hair are Anna, and girls with blonde hair are Elsa. They want to listen to the music in the car, during meals and are learning all the words. They ask for AnnaElsa tattoos. Truly, Anna and Elsa are a way of life. 

Andrew and I were laughing about how crazed they are, but then it hit me–seeing the story everywhere, in everything, and wanting to talk about someone all the time is the same kind of transformation that should happen in the life of a Christian after discovering the beauty of the gospel. I can laugh at their profound commitment to Frozen, but perhaps they understand something that I do not–our lives should be saturated and overwhelmed by the story we love. For Christians, this is the story of God. And if you find yourself underwhelmed by the story of the gospel, the promises of Jesus, and the ongoing work of the Spirit, we must ask ourselves what story are we living in most. 

Not living in the story of our circumstances. This year has provided a unique set of circumstances. We moved in early March. January and February were filled with lots of goodbyes and lots of packing. Within two weeks of moving, we received the shelter at home orders. No exploring a new city, no childcare while we transitioned into two new jobs, no getting to know new people, just hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. Our lives have probably never been more dictated by outside forces than this year and it is easy to find myself thinking my moments of hopelessness or anger or despair are simply because of our circumstances. 

It is easy to live in a narrative that is based on our circumstances. But the story of God supercedes circumstances. Take Paul. Though his circumstances were grim during imprisonment, he chose to live in the story of the gospel and give thanks, encourage his brothers and sisters, share the gospel in the prison, and fully believe that to live was Christ and to die was gain (Phil 1). This is a man whose joy and hope was not dictated by his circumstances. His hope was in the gospel, which is unwavering, unchanging, and unfailing. 

Not living in the story of our emotions. Every single day of the pandemic has been a rollercoaster. I have cycled through enjoying sweet time with family, raging over having to vaccuum again, missing family, feeling isolated. I can be completely run by how I feel on any given day, and it is a dangerous way to live. 

The story of God not only allows for our emotions but validates them as part of our human existence. Our emotions are God-given. They are road signs to how we are actually doing and part of our spiritual maturity is learning how to interpret them. The Psalms are devoted to faithful followers crying out to God, asking for help, questioning what he is doing, or how long they might feel a certain way. The story of God accounts for our emotions but warns us not to live by them. So join in the story of the saints by bringing your joy, sorrow, grief, and despair to your Father who hears and desires to comfort you.

Not living in the story of our culture. When Andrew and I were watching Frozen 2 for the first time, we were struck by one of the songs that sounded like a worship song. In it Elsa sings, 

“Show yourself, I’m no longer trembling. Here I am, I’ve come so far. You are the answer I’ve waited for all of my life. Oh, show yourself, let me see who you are. Show yourself, step into the power, grow yourself into something new. You are the one you’ve been waiting for all of your life.”

In her journey of self-discovery, Elsa finds that she is in fact the one she has been waiting for all of her life. She is the one who will uncover her power, who will transform herself, and who will bring herself into full self-actualization. Though I might find myself singing along unquestioningly, the story Elsa is telling is the story of our culture. But more than that, it is not the story of God. 

The story of God is better than any story culture can tell us. Do you believe this? Largely, I get the sense (and sometimes believe myself) that Christians are mildly ashamed of the story they inhabit. Though Elsa’s story might seem innocuous enough, the narrative of individuality and self-discovery apart from our loving creator who made us to worship him leads us into a never-ending trail of self-centered living. The Christian life is a life that is distinctly not about me; it is about God. And this is good news. I get to uncover my identity in Christ— he promises to sanctify and grow me. He tells me I am made with purpose, for good works, and to bring him glory. My story is wrapped up first and foremost in the story God tells about me. And this is the good story I want to choose to walk in each day. 

What story are you living in today? Ask the Lord to move in your heart in such a way that you would delight in His story, the story of your salvation, and the promise of your imperishable inheritance in heaven. 

Reading the news and knowing vs. believing

Theology for the Pandemic

Reading the news has become a torturous practice. I ride the fire tornado of the struggling economy and the presidential race, get swept into the hurricane of COVID numbers, and dragged through protests and police brutality all in a few flicks of a finger. These are anxious times. But undergirding the troubling events of this year is the challenge of questioning what I know and what I believe. 

We find ourselves in an era of fake news and alternative facts. Each day brings new knowledge, understanding, and questions. But how are we supposed to sift and sort through the competing truths? Who am I supposed to believe? And what do I really know? 

In Jesus’ day, people wrestled with the same questions of knowledge and belief. But the controversy was not over protests or the environment, it was over the identity and teaching of this man from Galilee, Jesus, the son of Joseph. One day he is a carpenter, the next he is performing miracles and claiming God as his Father. Who is he? And should I believe him? 

Centuries later the question is still alive in the hearts and minds of Christians and non-Christians alike, but knowing facts about Jesus does not mean we believe. In a cosmic Venn diagram, Christians must find themselves in the overlapping edge of knowing and believing in Jesus. You may have heard about Jesus, but do you believe him? The answer to this question is the most important thing about us.

And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  And they told him, John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” -Mark 8:27-29

Who do you say that I am? Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ requires knowledge. Though knowledge and belief will always be connected– one rarely says they know something without putting some trust in that knowledge–Peter’s knowledge of Jesus’ identity is based on what he has seen. The disciples have seen Jesus casting out demons, opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf– all actions that hearken back to the promised and prophesied Messiah (Isaiah 35:5, 42:7). Peter and the disciples knew these prophecies, held tightly to them with expectation, and now before their very eyes, they watch Jesus fulfilling them. Though opinions are tossed around, Peter knew something; he knew that Jesus was the Christ. 

But knowledge and belief form a complicated relationship. I might say I know that God loves me, but do I believe it? For most Christians, there is a gap between what we know and what we believe. This distance between knowing and believing is the distance between abundant life in Christ and faithlessness. We are, after all, believers. So what are we if we claim to know Jesus but do not believe the things he says? 

To know in Greek (ginōskō) means to gain knowledge of or to become acquainted with. To believe in Greek (pisteuō) means to think to be true, to be persuaded of, or to place confidence in. I may be acquainted with the person of Jesus, familiar with some of his sayings and the miracles he performed. But knowing the facts about him does not mean that I am persuaded that what he says is true. I often find myself living in ways that reveal my belief to be less than full confidence and trust. I know in my head the teachings of scripture– my sins are forgiven, I am reconciled to God, I am loved, and yet my heart fails to believe and internalize them. This is the place of discipleship. This is the place that God wants to work in my (and your) life to bring the truths I know about God into alignment with the truths I believe.

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:66-69

Knowing and believing. We have believed and have come to know. When Jesus starts saying some weird things about being the bread of life and that people will need to feast on his body and drink his blood, he starts to lose some of his followers. But Peter demonstrates his belief through his words (you are the Holy One of Israel- a proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah), but also through his actions: he stays. He keeps following Jesus. He continues to walk by his side because he knows the character of Jesus and he believes that only Jesus can bring them into eternal life and true fellowship with God. When we believe Jesus is who he says he is, we start acting like it. James says that faith without works (action) is dead (Jas 2:17)–it is no faith at all. So if our faith does not lead us into actions that reflect what we believe, we need to ask ourselves why. 

Closing the gap. What is it you need to know and believe about Jesus today? Peter’s life is a rollercoaster of knowing and confusion, doubt and belief, and this ought to encourage us. Life is not a linear line of continuous growth, but a rolling path with unexpected valleys and turns. But as we walk with Jesus, we accumulate experience with God and his promises. The longer we walk with him, the more experience and trust we build. This trust shapes what we expect from him in the future, and it is this faith that we must put into action.

Today, what is it you need to know and believe about Jesus? Where are you not believing in the work of Christ or the promised and ongoing work of his Spirit? Has your hope faded? Have your prayers stopped? Today, ask yourself how and why are you living like you don’t believe. Ask the Lord to “strengthen you with the power of his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith– that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3:16-19