What we missed in our sex lives

What we missed in our sex lives

sex livesI recently began a teaching series on sex at LifeCity Church by quoting an otherwise very unlikely verse – Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one!”

What in the world does that have to do with sex?! Glad you asked.

In Genesis 2:24-25, “…a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

One word. A Hebrew word – echad. It means “to be united in every way possible.” It’s the word the Bible uses in the Old Testament to describe the “oneness” of God. A word that supports Jesus’ teaching of the Trinity in the New Testament: that God is a united, “one” God. There is a Hebrew word for absolute one – yachid. Interestingly, yachid is never used to describe God, only echad. This makes perfect sense when Jesus came along and said things like, “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30) and, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” (John 14:9).

Again, what does any of that have to do with sex…

The same word describing the perfect, absolute union of the persons of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is the same word that God uses to describe the nature of sexual union between a husband and wife… echad – to be united in every way possible.

In other words, sex isn’t “just sex.” It’s far more than mere physical pleasure between two consenting adults. It’s oneness in every way possible. It’s physical, emotional, relational, and even spiritual.

I have this interesting decorative piece in my office (pictured above) from mine and Tiffany’s wedding day. It’s a mixture of sands and shells in a glass jar. We made this in place of the more traditional “unity candle”. On our wedding day, my wife poured one color of sand into this jar over the seashells, while I simultaneously added sand of a different color. Though I didn’t understand hardly any Greek or Hebrew at the time, I realize now that this was a perfect illustration of echad.

The sand is completely united. You could never separate the two again, and attempting to do so would be extremely messy, time-consuming, and more than likely useless. Though you can still see ribbons of both sands lacing their way through the glass, they might as well be shaken together – it wouldn’t be any more or less difficult to separate the sand either way.

I wondered this past week what would have happened if we attempted this demonstration of our lives coming together “in every way possible”, but without the benefit of the glass jar…

For one, we would have a huge mess. Secondly, it would be almost impossible to keep the mixed sands long-term. We would lose much of the sand in the process. We could vacuum it all up, and then try to put it in a jar. Of course that would doubtlessly leave bits of other stuff added to the sand – lint, dirt, and who-knows-what-else.

I’m glad we didn’t do it that way! And though the sand has been kept in the same delicate glass jar, we’ve seen to it’s safety our entire marriage. That sand has withstood 4 children, 9 moves, and nearly 11 years of marriage and ministry.

The worst thing imaginable for echad is that it would be separated. Because it is so definitively intimate, tearing echad apart, like the sand, is messy, and even painful. It was never meant to be undone.

God hates divorce… He hates what it does to families and to the two lives that were joined together, only to be torn apart. As we read the Bible it’s equally clear that God despises the frivolous means by which our culture treats sexuality – how we so simply create and tear echad apart. Hopping from one partner to the next the moment that person aggravates us, or a more attractive offer comes along.

According to Genesis 1:28, God blessed the marriage relationship. Like the glass jar, marriage is a safe place where echad can be freely expressed, enjoyed, and appreciated in all of it’s intimate implications. Outside of that jar, you lose it’s beauty and end up with a mess.

God doesn’t tell us to wait until marriage to express our sexuality because He’s trying to limit our pleasure, but because He’s trying to prevent our pain. It’s better to be a whole individual (yachid) than be echad and have it severed. You always lose part of yourself when echad is torn. Like the sand, it’s unavoidable.

A few realizations to consider based on this…

  • Sexual purity is not something to be mocked, but admired.
  • Sex is a gift from God. His view on it isn’t less than the world’s, but much greater.
  • If you’re single and sleeping around, you’re hurting people other than just yourself.
  • If you’re single but living with your “other half”, make echad safe in marriage.
  • If you’re married, you’ve got to protect echad. Like the jar, it’s delicate and precious.
  • If you have regrets, humbly bring them to the cross of Jesus and find healing.

Jesus did the most brutal thing imaginable when He died on that cross. He didn’t just get tortured and killed – He sacrificed echad with the Father (Matthew 27:46) to offer salvation to humanity. When you understand the true significance of that, you’ll never see Jesus’ death – or your sexuality – as something to be treated trivially again.

Blessings,
Pastor John

Five Confirmations of God’s Will

Five Confirmations of God’s Will

FIVE CONFIRM“They say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says’–when the LORD has not spoken.”
Ezekiel 22:28

We all want to know God’s will: for our lives, vocations, families, hardships, and relationships. Aside from what the Bible directly tells us though, how do we know what God’s will is for us? I mean, the Bible didn’t tell me which college to go to, that my wife’s name would be “Tiffany”, what to name my kids, or that I was suppose to plant a new church in Silicon Valley. How do you know for sure when God is telling you to do something? How do I know? How does anyone know? How can you know?!

Here are five quick principles to seeking confirmation regarding something you feel God is leading you toward:

  1. Consistent with Scripture. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My word shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35) God doesn’t contradict what He’s already said. If what you’re considering to be “God’s will” goes against the grain with what God’s word clearly says, reconsider your direction. God’s will is always according to His word.
  2. Affirmation from others. God’s will for your life may not be popular with everyone you know. That’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying, is that God strategically places people in our life to help us see our blind-spots. If all the people you trust spiritually are shaking their heads, there’s a strong chance you’re attempting to move outside of God’s will. In Matthew 18, while talking about confronting a brother or sister in Christ regarding a sin issue, Jesus adds, “..so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” God confirms His will through fellow Christ-followers. If there is an obvious lack of such, reconsider your direction.
  3. Clear direction. Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” God makes His will clear to us as we submit to His leadership. If your way seems very murky and unclear, it’s likely that God is not in it. And please note – there’s a substantial difference between clear and easy. Just because you know what God wants you to do, does not mean it won’t be a massive uphill battle.
  4. Motives in check. You must constantly be asking yourself the hard questions of understanding your own biases. I can convince myself that God has spoken or willed something over my life, when in reality “the Lord has not spoken” for me to pursue that. Much of the trouble we get ourselves into is for this very reason: we want something so bad that we convince ourselves that God wants it for us. This is why #2 is so important. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked – who can understand it?” This is why you can’t “follow your heart”… you must learn to “lead your heart.” Acknowledge your biases. Do what God actually wants you to do, and one day your heart will thank you.
  5. Faith is relationship-oriented, not task-oriented. Don’t you just wish sometimes, that God would drop a scroll from the Heavens containing specific, personal instructions for our individual lives and scenarios? I know I have. So why doesn’t God do that? From what I read in Scripture, God is far more interested in us knowing HIM, than in knowing His will. Don’t get me wrong – He wants us to know His will. But His much greater desire is that we draw closer to Him… and we find His will in the process. God is far more interested in who we are becoming than in what we are doing.

I’m going to say with a high degree of confidence that if you have none or few of these going for you, you’re out of God’s will. Or if you’re trying to manipulate the reality that you’re missing these five things, you should probably focus on #4 and #5.

However, if all five seem to be coming together in almost supernatural ways – you’ll know. You begin to realize that God seems to almost be doing it without you! You still have a part to play, and there may be a great deal of work to do on your part. But you realize that His will is sitting right in front of you. That’s when you know you’re on to something! May you find the pure and perfect will of God in your life – and may you more so find and know Him more personally and intimately than ever.

Blessings,
Pastor John

The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper

 Lord Supper23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. – 1 Cor. 11:23-26

This coming Sunday, October 19, we will participate in communion (aka “The Lord’s Supper) for the first time at LifeCity Church. While there has been some mistaken thoughts about communion, for me the spiritual exercise is extremely meaningful. As we get close to the day we do this as a church for the first time, I want the people who attend this Sunday to understand why this is such a big deal. Perhaps you’re nowhere near Santa Clara, but still wonder. Well, here’s a few thoughts on the subject:

  • Symbolic. Jesus handed freshly broken bread and said “Take, eat this is my body.” He was speaking figuratively just as he did when he offered them the cup of wine and said, “take, drink, this is my blood…” The point of communion is to serve as a…
  • Reminder. Jesus asked us to participate in the Lord’s Supper “in remembrance” of his sacrifice on the cross for the sin and brokenness of the world. When we do so we are remembering “the Lord’s death”. Because it is a reminder, communion is for those who have already placed their faith in Christ. Participating is completely meaningless for the person who has not put their faith in Jesus.
  • Hope. We’re not just remembering what Christ did for us by dying on the cross (and, yes, rising again) – we are proclaiming it “until He comes.” Because He is coming back! One day we’ll see Him face-to-face and He’ll set this world under His rule and justice.
  • Witness. By participating in communion together we are “proclaiming” via a symbolic demonstration of what Jesus did for the whole of humanity. The Lord’s Supper is a powerful testimony of what Jesus did for those who have yet to believe on Him.
  • Cleansing. We are commanded to purify ourselves for the taking of communion. This is done directly between each individual and God – because of the cross, Jesus is the only necessary intercessor. We are encouraged to confess to God the things that He calls as sin, and receive the forgiveness that Jesus offers through His sacrifice which we remember at communion.

In anticipation for this Sunday (or any communion service), ask yourself two things:

  1. Have I placed my faith and trust in Christ?
  2. Is there anything in my life that is separating my heart from the heart of God?

I look forward to sharing in the Lord’s Supper with you this Sunday, church!

Blessings,
Pastor John

Good Grief

Good Grief

Good grief

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.
– 1 Thessalonians 4:13

I get weary at nearly every funeral of the counsel people try to give to the family of the deceased. Many well-intentioned friends and relatives quote scriptures about Heaven and say things like “they’re in a better place.” It’s not that these quotes are incorrect, it’s that they are almost universally ill-delivered. I always know it’s grating on the grieving individual when they quietly but consistently respond to each new piece of advice with “I know.”

Translation to the “I know” response? Internally, that person is thinking something like, “Yes, I too have heard, quoted, and memorized every single verse you’re giving me now. I know that I’ll see my Dad/Mom/kid/friend/etc. in Heaven one day, and that right now they are in Jesus’ presence enjoying perfect rest. But I was just having lunch with them a week ago and now they’re gone… I can’t talk to them, laugh with them, or turn to them when I need them anymore. And all of your ‘advice’ feels a lot like you’re telling me to suck it up and get over the fact that my ______ just died and I feel like I’m burying a piece of my soul with them.”

I’ve even heard some suggest that we should not grieve at all for the loss of a loved one because they’re “in God’s hands now” and we’ll see them again.

This may be a revolutionary thought for some, but grief is a good thing.

Jesus grieved at the loss of a friend, Lazarus. Psalm 34 tells us that God is “near to the broken-hearted.” And even the above passage from 1 Thes. encourages us who are in Christ, that “we do not grieve like… those who have no hope.” But we do grieve. And grief is good.

Grief is accepting and acknowledging that we’ve suffered a loss.

It’s giving that loss it’s proper place of honor, and it is also an important piece to the healing process in our own hearts. Not grieving a loved one who’s passed is a lot like getting a serious wound and not treating it – healing is slow, if not unlikely, and infection of the wound is almost guaranteed.

I’ve seen many Christ-followers carry an infected heart because they were taught to “not grieve” and the hurt of losing someone has left them with an aching, wounded soul. They often turn that blame straight to God for taking their loved one instead of properly grieving and leaning on God’s grace for hope and healing.

Grief is also the price we all inevitably pay for love.

Every person you and I love (including ourselves) will one day face death. And the greater the love for that person, the greater the grief. Grieving that person’s loss is acknowledging how loved they were. In an unexpected way, grief is also a sort of celebration that a person was well loved, and greatly missed – even if Heaven is a future hope. It’s healthy to remember that.

So not grieving them is almost like denying that they were loved at all.

There comes a point when we must all move passed the grief, of course – accept a new normal without that loved one in our lives, remember and celebrate the life that we enjoyed with them, live the rest of our days in a way that person would be proud of us, and look expectantly to the day we are all reunited in God’s big family.

Yes, we should encourage people with the promises of God in His word.

But more than anything, a grieving person needs to see us live God’s word out to them in their loss, not just heard quoted at them from a safe distance. Instead of just quoting a verse at them, get close to them. Mourn with them. Be the promise that God gave to those who suffer loss. Be near the broken-hearted. Like Jesus did.

Blessings,
Pastor John

When Being Pruned

When Being Pruned

pruned“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:1, 2

  As a follower of Jesus, what do you do when hardship hits your life? What do you and I do when it feels like God is allowing, maybe even causing, pain to come into your life? There’s a fascinating observation we can make in John 15 where Jesus is comparing Himself to the vine of a grape plant that connects the branches to their source of strength and nutrients: the roots. There are two contrasted groups of people in this passage that Jesus talks about here in these few verses:

  • One group is “in Him” but not bearing fruit – i.e., spiritual fruit. In His illustration this would typically describe a branch that had grown longer than it’s strength could hold up, and thus was being weighed down by the leaves of the branch. And distinctly absent of fruit.
  • The other group of people are the ones “doing all the right things.” They’re faithful. They’re fruitful. They’re doing exactly what they were grown to do.

In the first case the “vinedresser” a.k.a. vintner, prunes the branch that has grown far from the vine (it’s source) and lacks the stability and strong connection to the vine to support it’s own weight. The vintner “takes away” or prunes (Greek: “airo” literally meaning “to lift up,” used to describing pruning) the branch back – cutting off length and leaves so that the branch can stay close to the root and concentrate more of it’s resources into doing what the vintner intended for it: to produce fruit.

God does this to us, when we allow the weight, sin, cares, and values of this world to weigh us down. We end up laying in the dirt. And no grapes grow where the branch touches the ground. We have to be lifted up. Pruned back. And that’s a painful thing. No one likes the pruning. But God’s desire in doing so is not to punish us. But to “lift” us up out of the dirt. God doesn’t rub our nose in our sin and brokenness. He wants to lift us up out of it so that we can grow and bear fruit. But that may require some pruning first.

But what of the second group? The “good” ones? The branches that bear fruit. Oh, well God just uh,… well God prunes those branches too…

Hey don’t get mad at me, that’s what Jesus said! The same Greek word (“airo“) is used to describe the vintner’s treatment of the fruitful branch also. And the motive is spelled out for us: “that it may bear more fruit.” On the surface, we tend to push back on what Jesus just told us here…

“Why would God prune the people who are doing the right things? How is that fair?”

But it’s not a question of fair. It’s a question of fruit. God’s desire for us is that we bear fruit, and then bear more fruit. His intentions for us are good! But sometimes God has to take good from us to give us better. And He gets to be the judge of what “better” looks like.

Maybe you’re not being pruned because you’re doing something wrong, but because you’re doing something right. Maybe you’re suppose to go through this pruning for your continued growth, and not because you’re being corrected.

Many of you who know God can accept what I’m saying, but you still have a frustrating question that is predictable, because we’ve all been there:

So how do I know the difference? How do I know when I’m being pruned because of sin in my life vs. when I’m doing the right things?

Are you ready for the answer..? You can’t. You don’t. Of course, if there’s something obvious that God is showing  you, you might know – but aside from that, there is no way to tell the difference. God treats the two nearly identical, and bot for the same reasons – He loves us and wants His glory and our good in our lives.

And though you can’t often identify the reason God is allowing the pruning into your life, you and I are given the proper response to have from Jesus: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch  cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:4)

When difficulty hits, when hard times come, when you feel the pruning – regardless of the source or reason – abide in Him. Remain in Christ. Maintain your faith. Draw near to the “Root” where the strength and nutrients are. Don’t leave God and don’t abandon your faith – “For apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

The only thing worse than disappointment with God, is disappointment without God.

Stay strong. Endure the pruning. Allow God’s strength to be made perfect in your weakness. Abide in Him.

Blessings,
Pastor John