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Fix Your Eyes on the Unseen

Article by Matthew Holmes

It is that time of year where images of romantic gestures are all around and we are reminded of the cliche.  Those who are married or in a relationship sift through cultural expectations.  Those who are single are reminded of their singleness, for better or worse. 

Our culture preaches a different idea of love than how our Savior Jesus Christ defines it.  Culture’s definition of love is one well known to all and very attractive.  We will simplify it here to three words, “happily-ever-after”.  You will find completion and fulfillment in a companion.  Relationships are to look polished, perfect, free of problems.  But we know that relationships are messy.  Marriages are the joining of two sinners.  Therefore, do not overly romanticize romance.  The end of relationships isn’t happiness, though that is a wonderful byproduct.   But marriage points us to an eternal joy that has been ushered in and also awaits us.  The love of our Saviour isn’t a self-seeking, fleeting love.  Christ’s love for us, his bride, is a selfless, covenantal love that is eternal.  

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

This season let’s be reminded of how Christ defines love.  This season let’s lose sight of what is seen and fix our eyes upon the unseen.   Let’s seek the One who has truly defined love and freely given it to us.  Let’s fix our eyes not on what is temporal, presented to us by culture, but what is eternal.

Look at marriage in perspective of eternity.  Look at your significant other in perspective of eternity.  Look at your relationships in perspective of eternity.  

Here are some ways that we can fix our eyes on the unseen:

For the married.  

“…and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” – Ephesians 5:27

Remind yourself that the end isn’t marital bliss.  God is doing a work in your marriage, using the good and bad.  God’s use for your marriage is carried out into future glory for both you and your spouse.  Renew yourself this season to seeing your wife the way Jesus sees the Church, holy and blameless.  Love her not with your own love but with Christ’s love so that she will be encouraged to run to Him in all things.  Cherish her in a way that she will cherish Christ more.  Allow your marriage to give you a glimpse into the sweet glory that is being united with Christ.  

For the dating.

Dating is not about pursuing a finished product that fits all of your needs.

I have found that a central verse for me in my season of dating has been 2 Corinthians 5:17.  

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

The more you get to know someone, the more you see their sin and struggles.  It is important when dating someone to preach the gospel to one another, speaking new creation into any past struggles and being excited about the new creation that the Lord is bringing about in that person.  Relationships are about trajectory.  Are you excited of where they are going and who Christ is making them to be?  

In Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage, he puts it this way: “I see who God is making you, and it excites me!  I want to be part of that.  I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to His throne.  And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this.  I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!’”

For the single.  

“And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

Look to and delight in Christ’s redeeming work in your life and the lives of those whom God has placed around you.  Relationships are an incredible vessel for sanctification.  God will use them to humble us, discipline us, teach us.  But romantic relationships are not the only way that God does this.  God often uses those closest to us to do this.  Roommates frequently play this role, assisting in the work of sanctification.  Cherish whatever relationships that God has placed in your life in this season.  Cherish the means in which God uses to expose sin and conform you more closely into the image of Christ.  

Brothers, be reminded of the Gospel of Jesus Christ this season.  If you are married, fix your eyes on Christ.  Renew yourself to loving your wife with the love of Christ and seeing her as holy and blameless.  If you are dating, fix your eyes on Christ.  Honor God by honoring His daughter by asking, are you excited about who Christ is making her to be, so much so that you will lay your life down for her?  If you are single, fix your eyes on Christ.  Are you pouring into relationships and allowing God to use those closest to you to continue to bring about His sanctifying work until completion?  

Fix your eyes on the unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen, hidden with Christ, is eternal.  

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The Mind of Christ

Article by Lance Steiger

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately…

We live in a remarkable age.  We really do.  The phone in my pocket can access almost all of the collective knowledge of the human race. Google even brags about the speed at which it fetches this information… “About 24,500,000 results (0.59 seconds)”…not bad.  Want to learn about the “history of the fuel injection system”?…About 2,560,000 results (0.71 seconds).  Boom, there it is!  …read some articles …look at a few diagrams …and I can now speak eloquently about the inner workings of the internal combustion engine throughout its history.  Some might even think I’m an expert on the topic when they hear me speak.  But in reality, I gained that knowledge through an iPhone screen and about 10-12 sips of coffee.  Don’t let me work on your car.

How much does this “Google” approach to knowledge affect my knowledge of Christ?

I’m thoroughly conditioned to avoid thinking, praying, meditating and reasoning when faced with the complexities of life.  When faced with a new challenge, it seems that my instinct is to search first for answers in books, webpages, sermons and the knowledge of other people.  Why should I contemplate and ask God for answers when I can get the answers in 0.71 seconds?  Is it wrong to seek knowledge from other places? NO!  Does God speak to us through books, blogs, sermons and other people? YES!  But what if I were to start each quest with complete dependence on Christ, knowing that he is the source of all wisdom and knowledge? (Proverbs 9:10)  Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God at the same time.  He created me and relates to me on a personal level. I have access to God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  I have a relationship with him and his spirit lives in me.  I can go directly to the source of all wisdom and knowledge.

Paul asks us in Ephesians 4:23 to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind”

What is the “spirit of our minds”?  (if any theologians are reading this, please add your thoughts in the comments section!) I would guess it means that our minds are not simply data processing machines.  Our minds must be tied with with our being, our souls and our hearts.  If this is true, they must be fallen as well…hostile towards God.  I’m going to let John Piper weigh in here.  In his blog post titled “The Renewed Mind and How to Have it” he says:

“The mind has a “spirit.” In other words, our mind has what we call a “mindset.” It doesn’t just have a view, it has a viewpoint. It doesn’t just have the power to perceive and detect; it also has a posture, a demeanor, a bearing, an attitude, a bent.”

This makes sense to me, thanks John.  My fallen mind doesn’t want to rely on Christ.  It can’t instinctively acknowledge Christ as the source of all wisdom and knowledge.  Its fallen viewpoint looks for wisdom and knowledge apart from God.  Thankfully, 1 Corinthians 2:16 says that I “have the mind of Christ”.  My fallen mind has been renewed by the spirit of God that lives in me. The Holy Spirit changes my mindset and enables my mind to trust Christ for the truth.

When I’m anxiously searching for answers, I can focus on Christ and trust that he will provide the wisdom and knowledge that I need (James 1:5).  I can trust that the Holy Spirit will expose me to Christ-centered truth and, at the same time, break down the stubbornness in my mind that doesn’t want to believe God.  

When I set the posture of my mind toward Christ, he might lead me to a pastor, a blog post, a book or a trusted believer.  Or, he might overwhelm me with peace and understanding (Phil 4:7) No matter how he responds, I can be sure that I’m receiving wisdom that comes from God.  

 

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The Importance of the Imago Dei

One of the most influential sermon series I’ve listened to is “A Beautiful Design” by Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Texas.

Focused on God’s design for men and women, the series left a profound mark on me when I first listened in 2014, several months before I married my wife, Lisa. Today, I’m revisiting these sermons with Lisa and a couple we’re close to, and I’m reminded of how these messages began to transform me in a number of ways.

The first – and most important – way came by introducing me to a concept I had never before thought critically about: the “Imago Dei,” a theological term that means “image of God” and signifies God creating humans in His image.

Chandler defines the Imago Dei as “God’s investment in humanity of God-like glory and moral capacity to reign and rule the earth as His representatives.”

This definition is supported in Scripture. In fact, if you were to open your Bible and begin reading at Genesis 1, you’d read only 26 verses before the Imago Dei would pop up: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Genesis 1:27-28)

For most Christians, this comes across as Sunday school material. Basic stuff.

But do we truly know this? Do we live our day-to-day lives as if we know the Imago Dei is true?

The Imago Dei has wide-ranging implications (which is the focus of one of Chandler’s sermons). But the one ramification that resonates loudest is this:

Because I am made in God’s image, I have an intrinsic value, given to me by God, that is higher than the rest of creation. So do you. And so does every other human being.

Let me repeat that: So does every other human being.

Understanding the Imago Dei means understanding that every human being has an inherent, unwavering God-given dignity.

Put another way, the Imago Dei is a defining principle of our humanity. It signifies our high value and dignity, given as a gift from God, as creatures made in the image of our Creator.

Yet in today’s culture, defining each other by other standards – by seemingly any standard other than the Imago Dei – is what we often do best. It’s how we as a society determine people’s value and dignity.

Disagree? Read the following statements, and take note of whether you begin to make judgments — positive or negative — about each person.

She’s black. He’s white.

He’s a Democrat. She’s a Republican.

She’s stylish. He wears sweatpants all the time.

He’s rich. She’s poor.

She’s Jewish. He’s Muslim.

He has an associate’s degree. She has a Ph.D.

She’s a VP of Marketing. He’s a custodian.

He’s an ISTJ. She’s an ENFP.

She’s gay. He’s straight.

He’s vegan. She’s gluten-intolerant.

She’s slim. He’s overweight.

He’s a newlywed. She’s divorced.

Did you find yourself making value judgments about each person? (Don’t worry – I won’t tell anyone.) For most of us, the answer is yes.

Too often, we let society tell us who has value and who doesn’t. Too often, we place too high of a premium on differentiation and forget what we all have in common.

This is not to say that diversity isn’t beautiful. God made us diverse (in a multitude of ways), in His image, for a reason. In my opinion, a more diverse world is a better one.

But before we can get there, we need to begin by defining ourselves and treating one another as if we’re all created in the image of the Creator. We need to stop allowing our culture to tell us how we stand out and we need to begin focusing on how God tells us we fit in.

We can start with the Imago Dei, which shows us that societal definitions, stereotypes and judgments pale in comparison to God’s truth.

Consider: The Imago Dei tell us that the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and the homeless person asking for a few spare dollars near the highway share the same inherent God-given dignity. It tells us that my 15-month-old niece and LeBron James share the same God-given dignity. It tells us that you and the coworker you cannot get along with share the same God-given dignity. It tells us that Hillary supporters and Trump supporters share the same God-given dignity.

It tells us that Christians and non-Christians share the same God-given dignity.

Picture what our relationships with one another might be like if we were to recognize the intrinsic value that God has gifted to humans in every person we come across.

I’m serious. Think about that. What might our households, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our cities look like? What might Hope Community Church look like?

I believe that understanding the Imago Dei and acting on it is our imperative as Christians. My worry is that, although we know this in theory, we will continue to let society tell us who has value and who doesn’t, instead of treating every person with the God-given dignity they deserve.

We must not fall for the lie.

“But oh,” as Chandler puts it so fittingly to end his sermon, “if we understood the image of God. Can you imagine?”

Let’s not imagine. Let’s live like we understand the image of God in ourselves and everyone else around us.

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Social Justice, Racial Reconciliation, and the Gospel Part 3: How Do We Move Forward?

Note: This is part three of a series of blog posts dealing with racial reconciliation, social justice, and the gospel. I highly encourage you to read the other two, dealing with social justice and the cross, and false unity and gospel unity. The last two posts in this series were written specifically in response to the racial violence manifesting largely apart from the election, and they were written before Donald Trump was elected on November 8th. Upon rereading them, however, I found myself thinking that the categories and arguments that I set up in those posts were very much how I was thinking about the election itself. This post will be focused on the thread I set out to write before, but will bring into the discussion the scope of argument we now find ourselves in. We’ve now not just isolated ourselves along normal partisan or racial dividing lines, which is what my last post was about; we’re largely separated by gulfs of conflict centered on if you voted for one Donald J. Trump or not. -Joel Stegman

By now, the dust has somewhat settled, and dramatic responses on either sides, at least on my Facebook feed, seem to be dissipating. This doesn’t mean that the storm is over, but it does mean that the reality that Donald Trump will be our next president has started to sink in for people.

My concern in this post isn’t necessarily for the America. If you aren’t a Christian, this post will likely sound like foolishness to you. My concern isn’t for the guy on Facebook who is unfriending everyone who voted for the candidate they hate. My concern here is for the church, the united body that I talked about in my second post who are created by the work of justice performed on the cross, which I discussed in my first post.

In Ephesians 3:10 Paul states that it is the church that will be through whom the “manifold wisdom of God” comes to the world. N.T. Wright talks about how Paul saw the church as part of God’s “solution” to the problem of the fall, to be different, a “new kind of philosophical school, teaching and modelling a new worldview, inculcating a new understanding, a new way of thinking.” 1 How often, however, have we seen the church simply be polarized to either side, spouting the same lines as partisan voices originating from cultural depths rather than biblical ones? I fear that many reading this may find how little has been contributed by them that is different to this discussion.

We’re supposed to be something different!

But have we been? Have we looked different than the other voices in this conflict, this deep divide we find ourselves in? Not often. But we can be. I’m going to walk through several ways we can be different, modelling the One whose image we’re being conformed to, offering a way forward. Those ways are 1) Stopping the cycle of hostility, 2) Repentance, 3) Forgiveness, and 4) Embracing the changing nature of who the church in the world is.

  1. Stopping the Cycle of Hostility

Miroslav Volf speaks about how

“We choose evil; but evil also ‘chooses’ us and exerts its terrible power over us…Carl Gustav Jung wrote, ‘It is a fact that cannot be denied: the wickedness of others becomes our own wickedness because it kindles something evil in our own hearts.’ Evil engenders evil.” 2

The truth is that there is an evil that lurks in our hearts. Think about how the Dallas shooting, an unqualified evil, sprung from other unqualified racist evil. The shooter responded to evil with the same form of evil done to African Americans. We desire to lash out, to respond in the language of which we’ve been wronged. This is because

“In addition to inflicting harm, the practice of evil keeps re-creating a world without innocence. Evil generates new evil as evildoers fashion victims in their own ugly image…The more attentive we are, the more accurate the portrait the Apostle Paul paints of humanity – of “all” from which “no one” is exempt (Rom 3:9, 20) – strikes us.” 3

This is why and how we’ve ended up in the hostile place we are, where people are quick to lash out at each other, why we all feel like as a nation we’re on a knife’s edge. We, as the church, need to step into the gap.

I recently watched Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, and I was reminded of a great scene where Indy and his dad are on a motorcycle. The Nazi’s are chasing them on their own motorcycles, and one gets right next to the Joneses and the rider pulls his Luger on them. Indy grabs a pole and sticks it into the spokes of the motorcycle and the whole bike goes flying in the air. This is a great analogy for stopping this cycle of hostility, because when we don’t respond in the way of the evil coming against us, we throw the whole violent system off. We’re called to do this in the midst of these political/racial reconciliation conversations – as we act differently, as we act like the solution. But how do we do it? By following Christ’s teaching, the bedrock of the church.

  1. Jesus, Repentance, and Forgiveness

Jesus made much of his ministry about throwing off these violent discourses through challenging the terms of engagement in two distinct ways: calling for repentance (from everyone!) and for calling for forgiveness of the those in the wrong.

Everyone knows Jesus spent most of his time with the disenfranchised, the lowest of society. They were the ones who were taken advantage of by the Roman leaders, and the Jewish ruling class, political and religious leaders – the “false shepherds” of God’s people (Ezekiel 34 and John 10:1-13). No one could dispute that they were the ones Jesus was focusing on, the ones who he sought out as the first recipients of his gospel. Yet, he still called them to belief and repentance (e.g., Mark 1:15 and Luke 5:32), all the while claiming that “theirs was the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). Jesus called all to repentance, the poorest and mightiest.

We’re a culture that has a hard time repenting of anything, as we’re told from a young age that doing what feels best is what is right. How could we ever be wrong about anything? So we have an especially hard time repenting when we’ve felt we’ve been wronged.

I know it’s one thing for me – a white male who has largely been a beneficiary of a system that is geared for my success – to say this. But that’s the thing about the gospel: it’s supposed to be a challenge to the commonly accepted norms. What do we repent from? I, the white male, have to repent from the fact that I am oftentimes all too glad to reap the benefits of the system we live in, all the while knowing many people don’t have the luxury of doing so.

But what about the person who has been legitimately wronged? Where does repentance come in for the person who has been the victim or racism, in small and large ways? First, we must grapple with the reality of ‘original sin’, the subject of my first blog post. But second, we must reflect upon a deep truth about the nature of repentance. Again, Miroslav Volf is excellent here:

“Envy and enmity keep the disprivileged and weak chained to the dominant order – even when they succeed in toppling it! All too often, of course, they do not want to topple the dominant order…they “demand the reshuffling of cards, not another game”…The dominant values and practices can be transformed only if their hold on those who suffer under them is broken. This is where repentance comes in. To repent means to resist the seductiveness of the sinful values and practices and let the new order of God’s reign be established in one’s heart…For a victim to repent means to not allow the oppressors to determine the terms under which social conflict is carried out, the values around which the conflict is raging, and the means by which it is fought. Repentance thus empowers victims and disempowers the oppressors…Victims need to repent of the fact that all too often they mimic the behavior of the oppressors, let themselves be shaped in the mirror image of the enemy…Far from being an acquiescence to the dominant order, repentance creates a haven of God’s new world in the midst of the old and so makes the transformation of the old possible.” 4

Repentance frees the disenfranchised from the violent cycle. It keeps their hearts from the desire to not see the “dominant order” of oppression done away with, but worm to turn; for them to be on top for a change. Repentance by the people is proof that God is with a group: that they can lay aside the sin inside them that they know if, left unchecked, would create a system that was just the same as the one they find themselves on the bottom of. I’m calling for my black brothers and sisters in Christ to do this as a show that they won’t be a part of the system that my white ancestors set up; it’s a chance for them to be better than we were and have been.

Which brings us to forgiveness. One may not imagine that forgiveness is possible (or right!) when so much evil has been done. How can forgiveness really be enough, when so much justice is needed? The answer is again a big flashing sign pointed at the Christ. The most unjust sufferer in history, the one truly innocent human to ever walk the planet, begged God to forgive his oppressors: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). That statement is a fierce challenge to all who would follow him, and a threat to the modus operandi of normal, worldly culture. The Lord’s prayer calls for us to “forgive us of our debts, as we’ve forgiven those who’ve trespassed against us.” (Matthew 6:12) We need the power that animated Christ to forgive on the cross to also animate us now as we forgive those who’ve wronged us – the power of God’s own Holy Spirit.

Once again, this is difficult for all involved, and may seem like an acquiescence, a tacit approval for the oppressors. And once again, Christ and his desires for his followers cut through the ‘normal’ way of thinking about such things:

“In the framework of strict restorative justice, no reconciliation is possible. On the contrary, the pursuit of such justice will deepen the conflict and reinstate the ‘compulsion to evil deeds.’ Hence the need for forgiveness…Only those who are forgiven [by God] and who are willing to forgive will be capable of relentlessly pursuing justice [and reconciliation] without falling into the temptation to pervert it into injustice…For the followers of the crucified Messiah…rage belongs before God…Hidden in the dark chambers of our hearts and nourished by the system of darkness, hate grows and seeks to infest everything with its hellish will to exclusion. In the light of the justice and love of God, however, hate recedes and the seed is planted for the miracle of forgiveness…In the presence of God our rage over injustice may give way to forgiveness, which in turn will make the search for justice for all possible.” 5

When we forgive those who have committed evil to us, we break their power over us and the trenches of evil dug within our own hearts. It forbids us from going the route of vengeance, the will to avenge evil done to us and to wrestle away justice from God (Rom 12:19). God will be the one to bring about justice on earth, whether that is through justice systems or in the final judgment. Until then, we can live in Christ’s example and forgive as we’ve been forgiven.

  1. Embracing the Changing Nature of the Church

The landscape of the church is shifting beneath our feet. All across the world, the church is becoming less and less white, even here in America. Russell Moore, writing in The New York Times, says that

The center of gravity for both orthodoxy and evangelism is not among Anglo suburban evangelicals but among African Anglicans and Asian Calvinists and Latin American Pentecostals. The vital core of American evangelicalism today can be found in churches that are multiethnic and increasingly dominated by immigrant communities…The next Billy Graham probably will speak only Spanish or Arabic or Persian or Mandarin…The thriving churches of American Christianity are multigenerational, theologically robust, ethnically diverse and connected to the global church. If Jesus is alive — and I believe that he is — he will keep his promise and build his church. But he never promises to do that solely with white, suburban institutional evangelicalism…The question is whether evangelicals will be on the right side of Jesus. That will mean standing up for the church’s future leaders, and for our mission, especially when they are politically powerless.4 (emphasis mine)

The church is changing. Those who assume the church must remain as it largely has been through its history – dominated by white men – will alienate themselves from the places that the Holy Spirit is moving. Tim Keller speaks about how white America is becoming increasingly secular, yet minority Christian groups are exploding in number. Basically, leadership in the church will also begin to look less and less white. And it’s time for us to start anticipating that.

Traditionally, in America, the evangelical, orthodox church has taken its cues from white theologians and leaders (e.g., Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, A.W. Tozer, C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham, John Piper, Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, to name but a few). This is a reflection of a largely white evangelicalism, or at least a perceived one. Yet, if this trend is going to continue in America (and it is), we need to reposition ourselves so that minority brothers and sisters are in positions to lead, so that the church can adjust to the changing demographic and be representative of the people in the actual pews. If not, we’ll ask for a racial oligarchy to be formed, where we expect white leaders to lead in the church and for those who are to remain orthodox to follow them, regardless if most of them are of a different skin color.

What I’m actually calling for is nothing other than to be willing to expose yourself to leaders that are black, Hispanic or Asian, and to be willing to let them share the spiritual authority of those white spiritual leaders you look to. I could – and maybe will – write more on this, but for now, begin to embody Paul’s words and truly allow for there to be ‘one new humanity where there was once two, thus making peace’ (Eph 2:15).

***

In the movie Hacksaw Ridge, a young soldier named Desmond Doss, motivated by his Christian convictions, refuses to even hold a gun as he tries to serve his country in the Pacific theater of World War II as a combat medic – saving lives while others are taking them. As he’s pressed by his superiors – who fear he’ll be a liability – to be willing to fight, he makes a statement that has lodged itself in my brain as being highly relevant to us today.

He says that “With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together.”

As we circle back around to the idea that the church is supposed to, in some strange way, be the “solution” in the world as it carries the message of the gospel, I can think of no better mission statement than the one given by Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge. The world is intent on tearing itself apart. It has been since the fall of Adam and Eve.

The goal of God in sending Christ was to reconcile the world back to himself and to undo the fall through the God-man. The goal of Christ was to create in himself a people who be a “city on a hill”, inviting the world to ‘come and see’ what the gospel is all about.

Those inside the church, living in a way that is different, stopping the cycle of hostility, repenting before God and forgiving as we’ve been forgiven, along with being willing to live in a way consistent with the gospel by accepting that the Spirit is moving in all over the world outside of the traditional white church, we can do as Doss seeks to do: put the world back together a little bit, piece by piece.

 

Footnotes:

1 N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God

2 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace

3 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace

4 Russell Moore, A White Church No More, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/06/opinion/a-white-church-no-more.html?_r=0

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The Foundation of Motivation for our Productivity

Article by Miles Trump

This is not a blog post about how to improve your workflow in 2017.

Nor will it give you zero-inbox, SMART-goal and decluttering techniques.

That’s all good stuff. But this is a blog post about the foundation of and motivation for our productivity – a topic I find much more important than any efficiency technique.

Our productivity matters to God. But in our schedule-driven, workaholic, calendar-invite culture, we sometimes (often?) confuse productivity as an end instead of a means. We glorify “busyness” as if our jam-packed schedules determine our value as people.

That’s a backward approach to productivity.

The foundation of our productivity must be our faith in Christ. We must feel compelled to be productive because God loves us and has been more productive for our sake than anyone in the history of mankind. And we must be productive in ways that glorify Him, not in ways that glorify ourselves.

If our hearts and minds are not positioned in this way, we will face an uphill battle.

To a degree, I have experienced this battle.

In an effort to live with intent and purpose, a close friend and I created a long list of individual goals last year that would push us to become better men.

I drew up spiritual goals, financial goals, physical goals and mental goals. Marriage goals, leisure goals, stewardship goals. Goals, goals, goals – about 35 total. I inputted them into one of those trendy mobile apps that, with a tap or swipe, could track and report my progress back to me instantly.

The goals were “good.” The motivation and enthusiasm was there. Everything was great

But by spring, I grew tired and stopped feeling like these “SMART Goals” were all that smart. They grew heavier and began to feel more frivolous in comparison to day-to-day life.

Was it truly necessary for me to memorize three new words each week? Did God care if I read 12 books or became a better cook? Were these achievements glorifying Him?

I now realize I didn’t grasp the true foundation and purpose for productivity. While many of my goals were rooted in my faith in Christ, others were rooted in my faith in myself.

As a result, I believe I’d fallen into several – avoidable – traps that wore me down.

 

  • Turning productivity into an idol. I turned “busyness” into an idol. Progress on my goals made me feel more and more important. A real mover and shaker. A truly good person.

 

    • Believing my good works helped me earn my salvation. This was less noticeable in the moment. But it’s clear that I began creeping into this Pharisaical area of trying to earn my salvation – and God’s favor – through my “good works” rather than feeling compelled to do good works because of God’s immeasurable grace in my life.

 

  • Failing and growing dejected. I realized I had bit off more than I could chew, but, because of the two points above, my pride wouldn’t let me give up. I dropped a few of my goals and (with middling success) tried to salvage what I could. But with time, most of my plan fizzled away.

So, what now? As I write this, I’m working on setting my goals for 2017. But this time, I’m explicitly asking the question, “Why and how does God want me to be productive in 2017?”

Below are three overarching Biblical principles, which I chose based on my own experience and a few helpful articles (shoutout Google!), that I’m using to serve as the inspiration for my productivity in 2017.*

To do good works for God’s glory.

James declares that faith without good deeds is dead. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save them?” (James 2:14). James is not saying that our good works will save us, but rather, that our salvation through God’s grace must compel us to do good work.

Matt Perman, author of “What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done,” says productivity is about learning how to do good works in the most effective way possible. He writes on the What’s Best Next blog: “Everything we learn about productivity (and at all levels — work, life, organizations, and society), every productivity practice we might implement, and every productivity tool we might use, ultimately exists for the purpose of helping to amplify our effectiveness in good works, for the glory of God.”

To act out of love for others.

When I think about productivity, or getting things done, I rarely think of other people. Our culture often tells us productivity is about work efficiency, self-improvement, personal gain, career advancement, etc.

The Gospel tells us differently. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). We are to let our light shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify God (Matthew 5:16). We are to do everything in love (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Shouldn’t our checklists and planners focus on fulfilling commands such as these – rather than clearing our email inboxes each night – with the best of our effort?

Perman says yes. In another blog post, he writes that “the guiding principle in all the things we get done should be the good of others. … In the end, love is to be our supreme motive in all that we get done.”

To purposefully steward the resources God has given us.

I’m not talking about money only. Resources, in my view, can be anything God gives to us. And yes, that means finances, but also time, expertise, energy, relationships, opportunities and much more. If it’s a resource to us, then it’s a resource we can look after (or steward) for God’s glory.

Productivity can – and should – manifest itself in the form of biblical stewardship. We’ve seen the importance God places on biblical stewardship and productivity in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14), in which a noble man gives bags of silver to his servants, according to their abilities, before leaving for a long journey. When he returns, he celebrates the servants who have been good stewards of the silver and punishes the servant who has not.

Later in the New Testament, Paul writes that we must make the most of every opportunity and understand what the Lord wants us to do (Ephesians 5:16-17), and that we must work willingly at whatever we do, as though we are working for God instead of people (Colossians 3:23).

These passages show us that our productivity in stewarding our resources matters to God. And so it should matter to us. We should be productive in managing our money, taking care of our families, doing our jobs, volunteering our time, growing in our faith and much, much more.

As many of us look ahead into 2017, we will be swept up by New Year’s resolutions and plans to improve ourselves. We will get organized, get our lives together and get things done.

But let us always remember to be productive for the right reasons.

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* I am not a biblical scholar, by any stretch of the imagination. These are three simple Biblical principles for productivity, and undoubtedly many more exist. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. My hope is that this blog post will help you consider productivity in light of the Gospel.

 

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Life with a Bun in the Oven

My wife is pregnant.  It’s kind of the worst.  

It’s not that we weren’t trying.  We were.  But we were completely unprepared for how pregnancy would affect us.  It has been incredibly difficult for my wife, and those difficulties have impacted me as well.  

It started with some unexpected emotional responses.  We were on vacation in the early stages of our pregnancy, and during that vacation, we had a hard time connecting on a number of levels.  When we arrived home, the first thing Shannon wanted to do was take a pregnancy test.  And there it was.  First try.  We were so excited!  But on some level it didn’t feel real.  

As time went on the anxiety crept up.  What does this cramping mean?  All perfectly normal for the first trimester, but when you’re making a tiny human, you just really want everything to go well.  Your first doctor’s appointment is around 8 weeks, which seems like an eternity to find out what’s going on.  

Somewhere in there the morning sickness started.  It was really more evening sickness.  Along with that came fatigue.  My wife would wake up feeling mediocre at best, eat, try to work, and fall asleep for a bit in the afternoon exhausted.  Then she’d wake up, eat, start feeling nauseous again, and retire early.  

As you can imagine, that doesn’t leave a lot of time to spend on your marriage.  I did my best to support her and help her with anything she needed while she was up, but it’s hard to have any sort of physical intimacy when your wife feels like she’s going to throw up all the time.  When she was asleep I just tried to go about my life normally.  

At our first appointment, we heard our baby’s heartbeat.  It was amazing!  Our baby was alive and healthy and we had proof of that in that moment.  But when we got home, we did not have proof of that anymore.  But we held out hope for the magic of the second trimester.  We heard that the nausea and fatigue went away and it was supposed to be the “honeymoon phase” of pregnancy.  It hasn’t been for us.  

It’s been amazing to see the baby, find out its gender, and all of those things that come along with the second trimester, but Shannon started spotting in the second trimester.  The nausea and the fatigue were slow to subside, and are still not completely gone.  The worst was the anxiety.  That blood has to come from somewhere right?  The doctors couldn’t figure out what it was, but they told us it wasn’t any of the 3 scary things that we should be worried about, so we just shouldn’t worry about it.  But it’s blood.  That’s not normal.  Shannon was constantly in fear for our baby’s life.  She knew logically that the doctors said it was fine and every other time she panicked it worked out, but anxiety took a hold and made it really difficult for her to go on in her daily life.  Even now when we can feel the baby moving, it’s still easy to get nervous when the baby doesn’t move for a couple hours.  Can’t the poor kid take a nap?  

I think this experience has taught me that I buy a lot more into the stereotypical “bottle up your emotions like a man” category than I thought I did.  I didn’t want to let Shannon see how much this was impacting me as well.  I figured she had enough to worry about.  But the moment you stop communicating and being open and honest in your marriage is the moment you stop moving towards each other.  I think that is a tendency that we have in a lot of our relationships, not only with our spouses, but also with God.  And that’s not okay.  We can’t just strengthen relationships when it’s easy to do so and leave them hanging when it’s not.  

I thought that preparing to be a dad would draw Shannon and I closer together, but I allowed the difficulty of the situation to drive a wedge between us in all areas of our relationship.  I thought it would be fun and exciting, and while there have certainly been moments like that, I’d say it’s much more often been difficult, painful, and discouraging for me.  

I don’t want this entire story to be doom and gloom.  I’m having a kid!  Let’s have a cigar or something!  And while there has been a lot of strain on my relationship with Shannon, it is by no means on the rocks.  We still love each other very much, and we desire to move toward one another.  

But that is the difficulty.  For the past few years, we’ve grown accustomed to moving towards each other in specific ways, whether they are building physical, spiritual, emotional or intellectual intimacy, or all of the above.  Suddenly, those ways don’t work.  Everything is different for her, and I’m wondering how to pursue her well.  

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from this entire situation is that I’ve been a sort of fair weather fan of my own marriage.  When things are easy, pursuing my wife is easy.  Loving her is easy, and building our intimacy is easy.  When we face difficulties and strain is placed on our marriage, suddenly it’s hard.  Suddenly I have to be much more creative and tenacious when determining the best way to move toward and care for my wife.  

And the truth is that I don’t know the best ways to do that.  I try.  I try to care for her well.  I try to pick up stuff around the house so that she doesn’t have to.  I try to remember to refill the humidifier or get her a fresh ice pack when she’s got a killer headache.  I try to reassure her when she says she feels like a terrible wife because she is unable to care for me in certain ways because of her pregnancy.  I try to remind her that God is in control when she feels anxiety, and no matter the outcome, we will be okay.  Jesus is bigger than anxiety.  He’s bigger than the object of your anxiety, which, in our case, is losing our baby.  He’s bigger than the life changes that don’t look the way you expect them to.  

As Shannon and I continue moving through this difficult time period, it is my responsibility to continue to pursue her and love her as Christ loved the church.  It is my responsibility to remind her of the gospel.  The gospel is not an abstract ethereal message that gives you good feelings.  It is real.  It is practical.  It applies to whatever difficult situation you may face.  This is just the first of many times I will need to remember that as I become a father in addition to a husband.  

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Humble Hearts & Jesus

Article written: Aaron Robertson

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,

who will prepare your way,

the voice of one crying in the wilderness;

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.’”

I have always thought that John the Baptist got a pretty raw deal in the whole “prepare the way of the Lord” thing.

Now, he is rightly remembered as a hero of the faith, someone whom all believers can point to as a wonderful servant of God. In fact he is an absolutely amazing figure that plays into all four gospel accounts of Jesus. The story of Jesus isn’t told without mention of John, which reveals the esteem with which God holds him.

John was promised centuries before in prophecy as one who would help point to the promised Messiah. As much as anything else, John himself and his ministry was the sign for Israel that indeed the Messiah was coming. Truly a remarkable calling and ministry.

John spends years living a hippie life of homemade clothing and scavenged food. He preaches repentance and baptism and urges Israel to follow God. He is zealous to the extreme wearing rough clothes and eating locusts and honey. There isn’t a bad word said about him in scripture, which is rare when you look at the rest of Israel’s “heroes”.

And then Jesus shows up on the scene. He visits John to be baptized before going on to start his own ministry. John, in all of his significance, is seemingly left in Jesus’ dust.

Jesus begins calling disciples to his side and none of them really seems that great or logical a choice. Certainly, John had to be wondering “when is my turn”. By calling and the empowering of God, John seems a natural choice as the number one draft pick. Instead Jesus picks bumbling idiots like Peter, James, John and the rest. It was a draft day slide of epic proportions. Pretty raw deal for John, right?

If I were Jesus putting together my team of kingdom builders, John the Baptist would have been at the top of my list. He was a ready-made #2 with years of experience and a clear track record of deep commitment (locusts? really?). He is recognized in his own time and by his own people as a prophet and man of God (which rarely happens with prophets). He can preach, lead, draw crowds, and point towards Jesus better than any of the disciples.

But God’s ways are not our own.

There is something profound to be learned in looking at John the Baptist. You see, John was never motivated by pride or place of privilege. He wasn’t concerned (like the other disciples) about who would be greatest. He simply wanted to make Jesus known. A desire for significance or recognition or praise is never mentioned in relation to John.

In John 3:28-30 we see the fullness of John’s humility and his joy in making Jesus known:

“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Oh that I would be so humble in my life and so selfless in being faithful with making God known as I go through life.

When Jesus shows up in life to do what only he can do, I pray that I am not clamoring for position but instead simply rejoicing that Jesus has shown up. At the end of the day (and of all time) it’s not about us.

Too often we have a “pick me” attitude when it comes to opportunity for praise or recognition. We like titles and degrees and certain lifestyles or luxuries. Or when God is doing something in our life, family, neighborhood, etc., our hearts want to add addendums to God’s agenda to make sure that others know we were a part of the change. Even if it is never verbalized there seems to always be a part of our heart that is wanting a piece of the praise.

John gives such a beautiful picture of a humble heart. He isn’t clamoring for attention, seeking to climb Jesus’ leadership ladder, or boasting of his work in “preparing the way”.

He simply says “Behold the Lamb!”

“Pay attention to Him!”

“Look to Jesus!”

“He takes away the sins of the world!”

No pretense or posturing. No hidden agenda. Just uninhibited joy in making Jesus known even when it means his own position, ministry, and even life are threatened.

As we go through life and we check our busy calendars, our long to-do lists, and deal with our often unrestful hearts I pray that we will be humbled enough to celebrate that Jesus has indeed shown up. In our friendships, with our family, in school, or at work and in all of our good and godly striving may we say in our hearts: “he must increase, I must decrease.”

Follow John’s example and make much of Him and get out of the way. He alone deserves glory, honor, dominion, and power. A humble heart is a beautiful gift to God.

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Fault Lines

Article written by Aaron Robertson

We all have them, those cracks in the foundation that we come into the world with (Psalm 51:5). We carry our fault lines with us everywhere we go in spite of our best attempts to project another image. Sin just has a way of sticking to our hearts and souls and lives even when we try to hide it.

The image we project on social media usually doesn’t amount to much more than putting lipstick on a pig. The funny thing is that we can easily buy into the “pretty” pigs we see around us. ‘Of course other people have better looks, better kids, better homes, better lives. Facebook shows me so.’

I think there is an additional temptation for believers. As followers of Christ we sometimes feel like we, of all people, ought to have things together. With God at work in our lives, with such deep promises of joy, peace, holiness, and everything else the Spirit gives us, we make the mistake of thinking this means we need to look good to others.

Can we be honest for a second and drop the pretension?

Each of us carries hurts and brokenness that we would prefer the world not see. The fault lines run deep enough that we can rest assured there is no earthly fix for them. Only Jesus can bring that kind of healing.

The watching world doesn’t need for us to look good. It needs for Jesus to look good. Our pretending our lives are better than they are gets in the way of that.

I’ve come face to face with the reality that I, and most others, walk around trying to hide or minimize both our finite-ness and our fallen-ness. On top of our sinfulness we are limited by time, space, energy, and many other things.

When we should ask for help we instead feel shame as if our burdens were our own choosing.

Instead of feeling sorrow over the ways sin (our own and others) has caused us pain we carry guilt, feeling like damaged goods.

Fear of being exposed as something other than what we want others to think about us prevents us from ever showing up with our whole selves.

I don’t want to advocate for a bare-it-all, just let your sin hang out kind of lifestyle. There is a measure of discernment needed in our disclosure and in the ways our brokenness gets dealt with.

Still, what I want, what I truly long for is for follower’s of Christ to live out 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 in a fresh way.

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness.” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

The passage begins with a reminder of Genesis 1: “let light shine out of darkness.” The Genesis account of God’s creation of everything displays that he holds the all the power. This puts us clearly in the category of being created and finite.

The ‘jars of clay’ phrase that comes next is a reiteration of the same thought that God holds all the power. He creates and he fills and he uses as he sees fit. It is about him and his ability to bring light out of darkness.

The miracle of bringing light out of darkness in Genesis 1 is mirrored in the second bringing of light into darkness that happens in the hearts and lives of those who have seen Christ’s glory.

When we hide our fault lines, when we pretend we have it more together than we really do we are robbing God of his glory. We are trying to take the miracle of his light-in-the-darkness creativity and make it our own.

There is healing to be found in being broken and in being a jar of clay. The saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” means we leave working things alone. It also means that if we can’t admit something is broken we can’t seek the healing we need.

Let those fault lines and failures be seen and known. Not proudly, nor in celebration, but in humility because they are what God will use to shine light in the darkness.

Charges of hypocrisy ring true when Christians hide or deny those failings. When we can live with them, confess them, repent of them, and bear one another’s burdens with them we allow “the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” to be seen in our lives.

We get no glory but God gets praise and just maybe our fault lines will begin to be healed. That should be enough for our hearts.

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Climb Down

Article Written by Michael Bolland

In great calm, the Lord God was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, while a hidden pair of subjects cowered in the trees. A scared man answers God’s call with the admission of his fear being rooted in his nakedness. And God’s response is a question: “Who told you that you were naked?”

This question has rung in my ears in many different forms. I’ve taken it as God’s wisdom, God’s heartbreak, God’s patient investigation, and I’ve realized I cannot offer a helpful answer for God’s aim or even a specific prevailing character trait that is playing out here. What I can offer is the unbearable feeling that wells up inside of me as those words are spoken. I can completely empathize with the man. To be found by a holy God exposed makes me tremble. The pleas, the paranoia, the excuses, the despair, the thought of being cast out—it feels all too conclusive. This isn’t going to end well for me.

To be naked before someone, in any sense, and then no longer kept or no longer safe is one of the most heartbreaking things we can experience. So, it doesn’t take long for us to collectively connect to what the man is experiencing before God. There was deep vulnerability woven into creation that reveals itself with sinful disobedience.

As an exercise with this Genesis passage, I’ve taken on this question: when I’m found in my tree of disobedience, what is seen? The sin I’ve been scared of lately has been thoughts of superiority that prevail in my life. It is so hard for me to believe that piece of me will to remain anything but untouched, unloved, and isolated. I don’t even feel I have the freedom of liking myself when I consider my sin. My head is hung low as God masterfully unveils his just rulings.

…And then He clothed me. I saw the innocent slain and my shameful nakedness was tended to by the coverings of animal skin. In the same way, the epitome of innocence took on flesh and has now shed it through His death and resurrection for us that we might take it on and climb down from our trees of disobedience. For our treason, God sent His son to die on a tree.

I still offer little aside from connecting to those who feel a similar trembling sentiment: the unbearable reality of having done wrong in the eyes of a holy God and the consequences. I humbly and with great gratitude only additionally lend the loving abundance of the mysterious testimony of God’s grace, and implore us all, through faith in Jesus, to climb down from our trees of disobedience. May divine grace become our common ground and Jesus be our safe adorning.

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

(1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

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Inadequacy and the “Line of Best Fit”

Article written by Adam Wolf

When asked to join the team of writers for this blog my response was a resounding “yes!” However when it came to moving forward and creating a product, that carefree “yes” began to take on some weight. I began thinking about the difficult responsibility of mindfully engaging a topic with an audience.

This coupled with a feeling of inadequacy because I know my audience (you all reading this!), and I am starkly underqualified in regard to my age, experience, and “Christian resume.” All of this wrapped into the fact that I am just inherently lazy, which is never a legitimate excuse. Now this experience is not unique to being on this blog team. I think this is something I commonly encounter in life and especially in ministry, and I bring it up because I feel that I can’t be the only one.

Maybe you’re someone who has never struggled in ministry and always hits the ground running, and does so well, but for those of you that feel there are times where the “rubber meets the road” is also where you find yourself brought to a screeching halt, please keep reading.

This post is as much about inadequacy as it is about the mindset that begets it. The process my heart and mind undergoes during the “screeching halt” impasse is one of comparison. Comparison gives birth to feelings of doubt and inadequacy when looking at those we feel are better than us. Comparison also brings about twisted feelings of superiority when we view others as lesser than ourselves. T

his is the first place where we must stop and let the gospel penetrate our thought processes, because Paul says that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9). Now I hope to present more practical application, but that is the gist of it all. The deep rooted understanding that salvation – our right-standing with God Almighty – is a gift that can by no means be merited by our qualities, talents, or abilities should be able to sufficiently combat any greater-than/less-than comparisons of ourselves to others that we may begin to create.

So what do we do when we forget that?

I tend to view prominent biblical figures as outliers on a graph of Fitness for God’s Kingdom. Whether they were prominent for the good thegraphy did and what God accomplished
through them; or for the wickedness they indulged and their refusal to honor God. These outliers then allow me to draw a line of best fit that says, “I can’t be like those guys up there, but I better not be like those guys down there.” From here it is easy to sneakily slip into righteousness based on works, and before you know it you are subconsciously attributing your ability to impact God’s kingdom to your ability to remain within this arbitrary line of best fit.

This mindset allows feelings of inadequacy to drive your personal desire and perceived potential straight into the ground. The inherent problem with this mindset: it’s wrong.

“… it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…”

Faith: belief in God, His power, His purpose, His love, and so much more. It is ascribing existence to the unseen. “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet still believe.” (John 20:29). “Faith is the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1). So this is faith, but what is God’s view on faith? As in to ask, what does God DO with faith?

“By faith we understand… By faith he was commended as righteous… By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family… By faith Abraham… obeyed and went… By faith Jacob, when he was dying… worshiped… By faith Moses… regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as greater value than the treasures of Egypt… By faith the people passed through the Red Sea on dry land… By faith the walls of Jericho fell… By faith the prostitute Rahab… was not killed with those who were disobedient… Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised… whose weakness was turned to strength… These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us…” (Hebrews 11).

By faith…

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, be glory in the church… forever and ever! Amen.” (Eph. 3:20)

If feelings of inadequacy are from a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s ability to use anyone to accomplish His will, then I think what is required of us is a posture of remembrance and faith knowing that God is in control. We are not. And He works all things out for His purposes and for the good of those who love Him. We must trust in God’s ability to use broken people to fulfill His perfect plan, and that WE GET TO BE those people.