Here Comes the Bride

A wedding day is such a special and magical celebration, one that is filled with love and anticipation.  For the bride, it’s an especially exciting time, a day that’s been dreamt about for years.  From a young age watching Disney princess movies and playing dress up, little girls long for the day when they too will be able to wear a beautiful, flowing gown and walk down that aisle on their perfect wedding day.

A bride spends a tremendous amount of time, even a year or two before, preparing everything for the ceremony.  She wants every detail to be just so.  She desires to walk down that aisle a picture of perfection for her husband.  Hair, makeup, dress, shoes, everything must be carefully attended to.

I paint this picture of a woman’s perfect wedding ceremony to prove a point.  There is a huge amount of time and effort getting ready for that big day.  How much more should we anticipate the day that we are joined together with our bridegroom Jesus?  Even though we don’t know the exact day of his return, we should prepare for that day nonetheless.  But how do we do that?  How do we get ready for our own special wedding day?

  • Purity- There’s a reason why brides wear white on their wedding day.  It’s a clean, pure color that is meant to represent the chastity and purity that a bride brings to the relationship.  Christians also have the responsibility to present ourselves in a holy, pure way before Go.  He made the ultimate sacrifice of his Son Jesus to cleanse us of our impurity (1 John 1:9), and it’s the least we can do to live a life worthy of that sacrifice (Ephesians 4:1).
  • Knowledge- When a man and woman are dating or engaged, they go to great lengths to spend time with one another and get to know each other better.  Their relationship becomes more intimate, not from a sexual union, but from quality time spent with each other.  Likewise, time spent with God helps us learn more about him, his character, his wisdom, and his love (John 15:1-5).  God desires a deep, personal relationship with his bride, but we have to put forth the effort to grow closer in that manner.
  • Clothing- Probably the biggest decision a bride faces is her choice of wedding dress.  My male brain simply cannot comprehend why a woman would need to try on a hundred different dresses just to find the right one, but she does so because she has to look just right on her big day.  While we won’t be worrying about physical clothing at our own spiritual wedding, we still must clothe ourselves in a proper manner.  The Bible tells us that our clothing will be our righteous acts (Revelation 19:7-8), and while some will teach that our works don’t matter to God, the truth is, they are very important (James 2:14-26).  What better way to thank God for the blessings he provides than to clothe ourselves with good deeds that come from a grateful heart.

There’s a great day coming, a day when Jesus will return to bring us home with him to Heaven.  He has already gone and prepared a place for us there (John 14:2-3), and all we have to do is be ready for when he comes.  What are you doing as the bride of Christ to be ready for your big wedding day?

-Joe

Monday Motivation: Real Discipleship

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

“34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 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. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:1-4)

Disciple: One who follows Christ and is a student of his teaching.

It’s common practice in the hiking community to take on a trail name while out on the trail. This practice originated with Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and is now somewhat of a tradition. With the help of some other hikers, I decided that if I ever thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, I would take the name “Disciple” as my trail name because it summarizes what I want my life to be about: following faithfully in the footsteps of Jesus.

So what does that really mean? It means I must pick up my cross daily to follow him. I must sacrifice self if I’m to serve Christ completely (Matthew 16:24-26). It also means I must love him with all my heart and love others as myself. Jesus exemplified love to the world, and as a disciple of his, I should do the same (John 13:34-35). Finally, it means that I must stay close to my Lord and Teacher. I must learn from his example and his word in order to be as fruitful as possible in my lifetime (John 15:1-4).

What are you doing today and in the week to come to be a disciple of Christ and to follow him to the best of your ability?

-Joe

Love Letter

I have two large shoeboxes in the top of my closet that, by all appearances, look old and worn out.  In fact, they are pretty old.  These two boxes hold all the letters and cards that my wife has given me over the years that we’ve known each other.  We met in our junior year of high school, and it’s pretty funny to go back and read of our innocent love for one another and how we longed to be in each other’s company.

Later, when I was in bootcamp with the United States Air Force, she would send me letters of love and encouragement that helped me get through our time of separation.  I keep those mementos to this day as a reminder of our feelings for one another and the bond of commitment that we share.  It reminds me to never take her for granted and to always recall the innocence and purity of when we first fell in love.

There’s another such love letter that we all have access to and its message has always stood the test of time.  The Bible is the most beautiful love letter ever written, and we have it preserved for us so that we may never forget that we are truly and wholly loved.  The story of God and his love for us is a remarkable one, one in which we see what real love and commitment look like.  All that he has done to redeem us to himself is, by far, the most amazing act of love of all time.  God himself, Christ in the flesh, bought us back, his adulterous bride, with his own blood, and the Bible is testament to that glorious gospel message.  We simply can’t miss it…God loves us more than we could ever imagine.

One of the best ways to understand this is by studying all of the analogies between human marriage and the marriage of Christ and the church that are spoken of in the Bible.  Books like Hosea and Ephesians tell of the sacrificial love that one should have for their spouse and it’s the same kind of love that Jesus has for us.  It’s a love that looks at the faults of the other and chooses to still love anyway.  It’s a love that strives for perfection for the one who is chosen.  And God tells us of this ideal union all throughout his word.  It’s a love letter that’s there for us to read and to relish every day.

God wants you to know him just as a husband and wife know each other physically (Ephesians 5:31-32).  But the intimacy of the sexual union between marriage partners pales in comparison to the closeness that God desires with each of his children.  He longs for you to fall into his arms, into his rest, into his grace and mercy.  He wishes for you to reciprocate that love and give yourself freely and completely to him.  He hopes that you will continually read his love letter to you and know, in the deepest part of your heart and soul, that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate you from his love (Romans 8:38-39).

-Joe

Monday Motivation: Calvary

“Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

(Isaiah 53:1-9)

Calvary.

Never forget the sacrifice that has saved you.

Never forget how gruesome and painful it was.

Never forget that it wasn’t forced or bought, but was freely given.

Never forget… Calvary is the real definition of love.

-Joe

Beauty on Parade

I went to a car show recently and boy, there were some beautiful rides.  Perfect paint jobs were shining, chrome was clean and polished, and high-horsepower engines were on display.  It was easy to walk around and gape at all those beautifully restored mid-century cruisers and 60’s and 70’s muscle cars.  But the cars weren’t the only things on display.

While my wife and I were taking a picture of a car, a very scantily-clad young woman and her husband walked in front of us and our mouths dropped open for entirely the wrong reason.  She was wearing cutoff jeans that exposed pretty much her entire backside and her breasts were completely spilling out of her top.  The two of them strutted on by, and it was obvious that the woman was enjoying all the attention she was generating.  Our first impression was that she was dressed like a prostitute, and while that may not have been true, there was no doubt that her choice of clothing was meant to garner sexual attention.

I guess what struck me the most was the fact that her husband couldn’t care less that people were staring at his wife in such a derogatory manner, most likely viewing her in some inappropriate, sexual way.  Basically, this woman put her beauty on parade and was very openly revealing what only her husband had the right to see.  And I had to ask myself, should a man who truly loves his wife encourage her to present herself in such a manner, to essentially encourage her to be objectified by what she wears?

I’m sure I may already be stoking the ire of some who view me as trying to step on your right to wear whatever you want.  Some may be thinking that it’s my responsibility not to look, and in that sense you would be right.  But believe it or not, it was my wife who noticed this situation first, and we found ourselves disheartened that this is not just some passing fad at a weekend car show.  In fact, it’s not just a problem with the world anymore, but also amongst some Christian women as well.  Women who are commanded by God to reserve their bodies for just their husbands to see are no longer seen as respectable, gentle spirits.  Instead, they are being seen for their sexuality and what they are revealing.

A very similar situation such as this is recorded for us in the Bible and it’s an example of how a dedicated wife should carry herself in a public setting.  King Xerxes had just finished a six month party displaying to his kingdom how awesome he was and he decided to hold a weeks long banquet, again in his own honor (Esther 1:4-5).  It was at the end of this banquet that he called for his wife, Queen Vashti, to come and parade herself in front of him and his drunk friends because she was apparently quite a looker (Esther 1:10-12).  It was the Queen’s response that showed the honor befitting of a respectable woman and the response that should be shown by any woman who claims to be a Christian.

The Queen knew full well that she was being paraded around for the sexual enjoyment of men who were not her husband.  She had enough respect for herself and enough bravery to deny the request, even though it would most assuredly anger the king.  This wasn’t some prudish act or a display of arrogance.  It was knowing how to respectfully present ourselves to those who are not our spouse.  For the Christian, it’s knowing that God calls us to a higher standard than the rest of the world wants to abide by.

Of course, in our society today, this problem is not only confined to women.  It has become acceptable to flaunt our bodies to feel proud or gain attention.  I live in Florida, so you can imagine I’ve seen my fair share of this out in public.  But this isn’t what God wants us to do.  First, we must remember who made us and who we belong to.  God has undoubtedly made creation very beautiful, and that definitely includes the human form.  But we Christians are the home of God, the Holy Spirit, and have been bought back from the slavery of sin at a very great price.  We should, therefore, honor God with the way we carry ourselves physically (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Finally, when we marry, we hand over the rights to our body to our spouse.  The two become one flesh (Genesis 2:24) and agree to fulfill their marital duties with only each other (1 Corinthians 7:3-4).  Our bodies are not meant to be put on display for the sexual satisfaction of others.  We are to present ourselves sexually to only our spouse lest we be led into temptation and possibly the sin of adultery.

To all the husbands and wives…by all means, be proud of who God made you to be.  Enjoy one another sexually, for God made you compatible for that very reason.  But keep those things sacred and private, within the confines of the marriage, so that one day you may not be judged harshly (Hebrews 13:4).

-Joe

Monday Motivation: Made One

“26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

(Galatians 3:26-28)

For all of the hatred, racism, and separation that are prevalent in our world today, we should be reminded that God wishes that not to be so. He has made us one through Christ Jesus. We must quit looking at how we are different as human beings and instead look for ways to stay unified.

-Joe

 

Grace Greater Than All Your Sin

Have you ever wondered how God could ever possibly forgive you?  How could he ever release you from the debt of your sins and guilt?  This kind of doubt is a universal problem, especially when we’re honest with ourselves and come to grips with the true disgusting nature of our mistakes.  When we face the realization that our sin has separated us from our perfect God and Creator, we should be completely humbled by that sobering truth.  It hurts, it disappoints, and most importantly, it has us questioning whether we’ll be accepted by God ever again.

I believe this is exactly what happened to the Samaritan woman at the well in John  chapter 4.  Here’s a woman, scorned and pushed away by her people for her sin of adultery.  You can imagine why she chooses to go to the well by herself during the hottest part of the day.  Wouldn’t you?  Wouldn’t you want to be left alone and not face the ugly stares and coarse remarks?  Like wearing a scarlet letter emblazoned across her chest, she’s well aware of how she’s viewed.  She’s heard the whispers, felt the evil stares, understood her station in life and knows that she has dug her own pit of despair and shame.

Then along comes Jesus.

Why on earth did Jesus have to travel through Samaria?  He could just as easily have gone around the area every other Jewish person avoided, but he chose to go through instead.  There’s a woman there who had an appointment with grace.

Now grace isn’t always as clean and pretty as we’d like it to be.  Sometimes it asks difficult questions and lays bare our thoughts and our sins.  Sometimes grace leaves us reeling when we’re left face to face with our mistakes.  That’s exactly what happens to this woman at the well.  Jesus exposes this woman’s sins to reveal the truth of what her life had become (John 4:16-18).  He doesn’t sugarcoat her choices in life or wish away the real sins that are keeping her away from God.  Jesus shows her how badly she needs the grace of God.

What would Jesus say to you at this moment if you were in the position of the Samaritan woman?  What accusations could be leveled against your life in regards to your lack of righteousness?  Could he say…

  • “You have an anger problem and it’s alienating you from friends and family.”
  • “Your alcohol abuse is getting out of control and it’s killing your marriage.”
  • “Your fascination with money and possessions is costing you your soul.”
  • “The pornography you secretly watch is completely destroying your view of a healthy relationship.”
  • “Your self-righteous and legalistic attitude is turning others away from me.”
  • “You are a judgmental gossip who appears clean on the outside, but is filthy on the inside.”

Sure, Jesus could raise any one of these objections or maybe many others, and there’s no way we could argue.  Like the Samaritan woman, we would simply have to hang our heads and acknowledge our own guilt.

But Jesus didn’t come to condemn this woman and he doesn’t wish to condemn us now.  He offers a grace greater than all your sins.  Like the time at the well, he reveals to us his true identity.  He is the Messiah, the Savior, the living water that we all need to survive (John 4: 10-13, 25-26).  He is the cure for your sickness, the calm amidst the storm of guilt and doubt.  Won’t you let him into your life and drink deeply from his well of love and forgiveness?

-Joe