Loving God and Loving People

I opened my Twitter Friday morning as my plane landed at LaGuardia in New York and witnessed my newsfeed blow up with the news of the SCOTUS decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. Simply put (in case you’ve lived in a hole the last few days) the Court ruled marriage as a fundamental right for all couples, regardless of orientation, gender, or state residence.

On one end, people cheered and applauded the decision as a step of progress for human liberty. On the other end, some Christians bemoaned the decay of morals and our country’s supposed religious foundations. Many just didn’t know what to say.

The ruling should really come as no surprise. The culture has been shifting for quite a while now, and we’re probably at the beginning of a post-Christian America. For better or worse, this is the cultural milieu we are in.

I don’t want to debate about whether homosexual practice is a sin or not. If you believe the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, then there is no escaping the fact that it prohibits homosexual activity, unless you do some hermeneutical gymnastics. Scripture tells us that when Adam and Eve rebelled against God, sin began its destructive ripple, wreaking havoc through all of creation, including a fallen sexual condition. The temptation to be sexually promiscuous for the heterosexual is every bit an evidence of the fall as is the sexual attraction between people of the same sex. God didn’t “make” anyone gay, it is just one of the many ways sin presents itself. But just as the Bible instructs me that obedience to God means sex is to be enjoyed in the confines of marriage with one woman, it instructs us that obedience to God means not engaging in same sex intercourse. It promises us that Jesus offers healing for all of our sexual brokenness and that living in obedience to Him gives us our greatest joy and His ultimate glory. Our sexual ethic is defined by our King Jesus, not our desires or what culture endorses. (Important to note here is that same-sex attraction isn’t anymore sinful than it is sinful for me to be attracted to women. The act is what is sinful, whether it be in the mind (lust) or body, because it is a distortion of the image of God and the union of Christ and the Church. More resources and information will be provided at the end of this article.)

Christians are faced with two challenges in this, the first being that God, in his Word, has expressly forbidden homosexual practice in the Old and New Testaments. This is not a case of us being inconsistent with the commands of the Bible, and contrary to rising popular opinion, the teachings aren’t as ambiguous as proponents of same-sex marriage advocate.

The second is that most of us have friends and loved ones who experience same-sex attraction and struggle through it in a way most of us will never understand. They’ve experienced deep hurt and pain and betrayal and rejection because of their orientation, and it is heartbreaking. They are real people who didn’t just “choose” to be gay.

Most Christians, when faced with these realities, tend to drift toward one of two extremes, both of which are wrong. The first is expressing anger and hatred toward the LGBT community. Bible verses are spit out without love, condemnation is cast, and verbal/physical abuse may occur. There is an insensitivity toward the LGBT community because of a lack of understanding and a gag-reflex because it seems so abnormal. People on this end tend to view homosexual behavior as very high in the hierarchy on the totem pole of sin. They believe they’re being faithful to God and the Bible in calling out sin, but they usually respond without the grace, love, and compassion we’re called to, remembering our own inherent depravity and sinfulness.

The other extreme is being so pulled by compassion that you decide homosexual activity really isn’t that big of a deal. Bible passages are reinterpreted or ignored because they seem outdated. People on this end irresponsibly make the charge that the Old Testament forbids things like eating shrimp and wearing clothes of two materials, which we do, so homosexual practice also must be okay since we’re “ignoring” those other laws. They say Jesus never explicitly taught on homosexuality, so how do we know he wouldn’t approve of it? It is the original trick the serpent used in deceiving Adam and Eve: “Did God really say…?” They begin viewing conservative Christians as bigots and hypocrites, and they do all this because they believe they’re being faithful to a Jesus who does not condemn but calls us to love all people.

Sometimes it seems like you have to pick one extreme and go with that, but I think the tension is actually a good thing! Jesus tells us that all of the law is summed up into these two commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. We’re called to live in the tension! We love God and what He has revealed to his through His Word, and in light of that, we love His image bearers, however broken they are. Love does not mean we approve everything someone does. It is not loving for my brother to not tell me if something I am doing is hurting me or others.

So what does this look like? It means to stay faithful to the biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage because God created both and ultimately defines them; they are not merely sociological terms. It means to love the LGBT community in a sacrificial way, listening to them, caring for them. It means that we don’t separate truth and love, but speak the truth in love and in a compassionate, gracious way. It means that our churches should be lights shining in the darkness. Russell Moore may have said it best:

We must stand with conviction and with kindness, with truth and with grace. We must hold to our views and love those who hate us for them. We must not only speak Christian truths; we must speak with a Christian accent. We must say what Jesus has revealed, and we must say those things the way Jesus does — with mercy and with an invitation to new life.

This is what I think Jesus would say to the person caught engaging in homosexual behavior: I think Jesus would look into their eyes in love and compassion and say, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.”

Christians, let us be the church. Let us be identified as those who love God and love His people.

Here are some further resources:

Why the Church Should Neither Cave nor Panic About the Decision on Gay Marriage – Russell Moore

Reaction to the Supreme Court Ruling – ERLC

5 Biblical Responses to Homosexuality – Sam Allberry (Sam is a minster who experiences sam-sex attraction, but because of his love for Jesus, remains celibate.)

Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency – Tim Keller

Is God Anti-Gay? – Sam Allberry (book)

Is Same Sex Attraction a Sin? – Sermon

Something Greater Than Marriage – Rosario Butterfield and Christopher Yuan

40 Questions for Christians Now Waving the Rainbow Flag – TGC

Review of “God and the Gay Christian” – Tim Keller

Stuck Trying to Find God’s Will

Restaurants with huge menus make me nervous because I always take the longest to order. There are usually several options that look pretty good, and I worry that I’ll regret my food selection. I’ll ask the waiter what they recommend, and then when they describe their favorites, I realize they have terrible taste buds and I’m no closer to making a decision. A restaurant with one delicious item on its menu? Now there’s something I can get on board with.

We all make many decisions every day, most of them without thinking too hard on them. What do I wear today? Which route should I take? White or wheat? But we sometimes face decisions that cause us to pause and think it through. What major should I choose? Do I accept this job or that one, or go to grad school? How much of my income should I give away? Do I marry this person?

We tend to agonize over these questions, and one of the things I hear the most is, “I wish God would just show me what I’m supposed to do! God, what’s your will in this?”

God, what’s your will for my life?

It sounds like a legitimate question! Who doesn’t want to walk in the will of God? But if we were truly honest, most of us ask the question because we have deep anxieties about the future. We fear we have one shot at every decision, and if we make the wrong one, we’ll live in regret the rest of our lives. That we will somehow be removed from the will and plan of God.

What most of us hear growing up is to seek the will of the Lord. Find out what he wants you to do, and then do it. We pray for God to open our eyes and hearts to His will. We pray for a sign to show us what decision to make, or that God would speak audibly and just tell us what He wants from us.

We believe the idea that if it is God’s will, everything will magically work out perfectly. Without resistance. The problem is, this isn’t necessarily what we find in the Bible. For the saints in Scripture, walking in obedience often meant resistance, trouble, sometimes even death. Often, the path that leads to sin and death is the one with the least resistance.

Not to say we should look for the path with the most obstacles! The truth is, sometimes God closes all doors except one. And sometimes, God leaves several doors open.

But why? Doesn’t He want me to live in his will? If He wants what’s best for me, why doesn’t He just clearly show me what’s best for me? We don’t want a God who asks us to have faith, we want an oracle, a fortune-teller to tell us exactly what to do. Right now.

God has given us the Bible as a way to know Him and what He desires of us, and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tell us that He has given us, in Scripture, what we need to be equipped for every good work. For every good decision. There are truths in the Word of God that we can apply to our lives. The Bible doesn’t tell us explicitly who to marry, or what profession to choose, or what car to drive, or where to live, but there are commands from the Lord, and wisdom and guidelines in its pages.

The will of God for every believer is to ultimately glorify Him. It is to seek His face, to obey Him, and to look more and more like Jesus. It is to be transformed and renewed in our minds and hearts by the Spirit of God. It’s not to guess about what we’re supposed to do, but to make informed, guided decisions that flow from our love of God and his glory.

As small and finite beings, we won’t understand the plan and purposes of a big and infinite God. But it seems that God is less concerned with us being informed and more concerned with us being transformed.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing, you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

I’ve often found that difficult decisions tend to reveal what my affections are set on, whether it’s on the temporary things of the world or on the eternal things of God. If we knew what we were supposed to do, we wouldn’t do it out of love or a transformed heart. But our hearts are what God is after.

When we’ve been transformed with a renewed mind, we love more and more what Jesus loves. Our minds are set on things that honor God, and our affections (heart) are drawn toward Him. We’re able to make decisions for the glory of God, whether it’s the career path we choose, where we live, or who we marry. And so, as Christians, our difficult decisions are meant to show us where our hearts are set. Through these “testings,” we’re able to make decisions and know the will of God. Notice Paul says that by testing, we’re able to discern what the will of God is. What is good and acceptable and perfect.

His priority isn’t that we know the future, but that we trust Him in the now. And we trust him by being obedient to His word and asking Him to transform and renew our hearts. By actually doing something and obeying. Sometimes by taking risks.

We’re free to not know the future because we know the One who holds the future. Who is already in the future. God, who feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, commands us to not be anxious about tomorrow, but to trust his goodness today. We’re free to live confidently, take risks, and make decisions knowing that God is always on His throne.

And we can rest in the knowledge that our sovereign God who directs our steps is always in control.

Worship Leader, You Are a Theology Teacher

I visited a church recently, one that is fairly prominent in the city it’s in. There were people from all different walks of life, of many different ethnic backgrounds, and the musicians were good. People were raising hands and singing at the top of their lungs and everyone seemed into it.

And then toward the end of the third song, something dawned on me. Not once during the three songs was Jesus mentioned. The cross wasn’t brought up. Sin and redemption and the love of Christ were nowhere to be found. We sang two more songs before the message, and the theme of every song was, “I’m going to get through this. God is going to lift me up.” God was a coach, someone to help walk you through the difficult times in life. And you know what? You can do it! 

Jesus was nowhere to be found.

Worship through music is a big part of most church services, whether it be through a pipe organ or a rock band. Music moves us in certain ways; scientists have done many studies and tests to try to figure out why music affects our emotions so, without any definitive answers. Every known human culture uses music and song to communicate, and it can’t be by accident! We’re wired to enjoy music, and it’s one of the many ways we offer worship to God.

I’m no stranger to worship music: I led the worship team at my home church all through high school, was heavily involved in leading with our college ministry, and was the worship director at a church for a year and a half after college. I come from a church tradition that highly values and emphasizes worship through song and music, and so that scene is a very familiar world.

Early on in my worship leading, I would pick any song that someone could describe as a “worship song.” Songs I liked, songs someone else liked, the latest songs by the best worship bands, songs that really got the church hyped. Songs that tickled peoples’ ears. Songs that tickled peoples’ hearts. I was teaching my people a weak theology with minimal Biblical support. There was a lot of, “This is what I’m going to do, God!” and not much, “God, this is what YOU’VE done!”

I’m picky now when it comes to worship music. Someone once complained that I didn’t do enough new or different songs, that my song database was too small. When it comes to leading congregations, I think worship leaders must use discretion when choosing songs.

Think about your church service last Sunday. Can you remember the preacher’s main points? What Bible passage was he expounding on? It’s a bit difficult, isn’t it? Now think about what songs you sang. Can you remember one or two of those?

The reality is, at the end of the week, people will be more likely to hum a song they sang at church than to ponder sermon points. I found myself just this morning singing the worship songs my church sang the last two weeks. When you put anything to music, you’re bound to commit it to memory. My 6th grade math teacher taught us about fractions and percentages through several songs he wrote, and I still remember them to this day. I’m sure when you’re going through your ABC’s, you sing the tune in your head.

Melodies and lyrics stick with people, and so it is important that when we pick songs to lead our congregations with, we pick songs that clearly point to the gospel and are supported by Scripture. They need to be songs that are doctrinally sound. What we think and believe and sing about God is of utmost importance, and so which songs we sing in our services is of utmost importance.

So how do we do this?

First, worship leaders should be in the Bible daily. Saturating yourself with the Word of God enables you to lead people to God and the full richness of the gospel. It also helps you see when songs aren’t biblically sound and enables you to teach people where the truths in your song come from.

Worship leaders should be excellent theologians. Leading people into worship is more than being able to play the guitar and sing! You have an immense responsibility and calling to shepherd the people God has entrusted to you. It’s not a call for every aspiring musician.  Go buy a book on Christian doctrine or systematic theology and study it. Things like the Trinity, the doctrine of man, and eschatology are rich biblical truths that will inform you when choosing a worship song. Knowing theology helps you see why the line, “you took the fall and thought of me above all” in the song “Above All” is inaccurate and faulty. It puts man at the center of God’s purpose, as opposed to the glory of God being at the center of God’s purpose.

Worship leaders should pick songs carefully. (If you haven’t gotten it yet, this is kind of the point of my post.) People are often quick to include a song in their set list because Hillsong or Bethel or Passion does it. But God has called you to be faithful to Him and your people. Go through the lyrics. All of them. Do they have biblical support? Are they doctrinally sound? Is it a song your pastor would approve of? What truths do your want your people to cherish? Would people know that you’re singing to, about, and for God? Remember “In the Secret?” It sounds like you’re asking someone (probably Jesus) to sneak around the corner and make out with you. Awkward. Same with “Draw me Close to You.”

It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of prayer. And this is before you even get to the practicing part! It decreases the amount of songs in your song bank. It may sound like too much, but as worship leaders, you’ve been entrusted with much! Be diligent and faithful, friends. It is not an entitlement to anyone with with a decent voice. It is a calling by God.

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Why the ‘Indian Church’ Should Not Die

Several weeks ago, my friend Charles Samuel wrote a thought-provoking article with the provocative title, “The ‘Indian Church’ Must Die,” and the response was nothing short of incredible. People whole-heartedly agreed, vehemently disagreed, or sat somewhere in the middle. Some were just upset with the title. This post is not a rebuttal to Charles’ post because as a product of the “Indian Church,” I agree with most of the sentiments in what he conveyed. This is about recasting the vision of the local Indian church for the glory of Christ.

The main idea behind Charles’ article was this: there is something dangerous and unhealthy about an ethnocentric church that solely exists to promote an ethnic ideal. Here’s what we mean by “ethnocentrism”: it is when an ethnic identity, heritage, values, or even church, sees other ethnic identities, cultures, or churches as inferior to their own. It is when there is more talk about traditions and the way forefathers did something than about what Christ has done and the implications of the gospel.

For our purposes, ethnocentrism is when a church’s identity and purpose is primarily found in its ethnic culture, and Christ and what he has done in his death and resurrection is secondary.

The gospel, the good news of Jesus, was given in a cultural context, and it will always be so, but it was never confined to a cultural identity. Whenever we present the gospel to someone, it will always be within the medium of the context of culture, whether it be Indian or American or hipster or conservative or urban or affluent culture. Culture isn’t a bad thing: it’s what you naturally get when you have multiple people together who share some characteristics.

The gospel was also given in an ethnic context, but it was never confined to an ethnic identity. In fact, the Bible promises a day when every ethnos (Greek word for ethnic people groups) will worship Christ as King. The book of Revelation has a glorious vision of this:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number,from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:9-10

 

Revelation tells us that a day is coming when every believer of Jesus, regardless of where or when they were born, will worship Christ together. Until then, we continue to meet in ethnic and multi-ethnic congregations, working to continue making disciples of all nations. Ethnic churches aren’t bad! But ethnocentric churches are dangerous and a distortion of what the gospel calls us to.

We can argue about how insular Indian churches can be, but instead I want to talk about how they can be used to accomplish the picture we see in Revelation 7.

The Indian church in America is uniquely equipped to reach immigrants from India in a way that other churches aren’t. Indian churches know the language, customs, and traditions that new immigrants from India are familiar with. They eat a lot of the same food, hold many of the same values, and can identify with Indian immigrants in a  way that most other organizations can’t. South Asian Christians in America know what it’s like to move to a new country full of promises, and to feel a little lost and overwhelmed. They know how reassuring it is to find comfort in befriending other Indian immigrants because they’ve done it too.

To my Malayalee churches: there are lost Malayalees in America that don’t know Jesus! Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, apathetic. Malayalees that understand the Malayalam spoken and sung in Keralite churches. Malayalees that enjoy eating South Indian food offered at weekly home meetings. Malayalees that are looking for community and recognizable culture in a culture that is far different than the one they know. Lost Malaylees that, apart from the grace of God in saving them, will be eternally separated from God. And this is true of all the Indian cultural groups. Of every culture and ethnos.

What if we reached out to our immigrant neighbor or coworker or friend? What if we invited them into our homes and lives? What if our Indian churches didn’t lose their ethnic identity or traditions or language, but used them to actively pursue the growing Indian immigrant community? What if we realized that God has sovereignly placed us in our city and around the people we know, not to be an inward-focused holy huddle, but to be an outward-focused catalyst of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

What if we realized that the Church exists primarily to glorify Christ and spread the gospel?

The Indian church in America should live because she is uniquely equipped to reach immigrants from India in a way that other churches aren’t.

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In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compares the church to the body of Christ, and individuals as members of the body. In a very real way, the whole Church universal is the body of Christ as well, and different congregations are members of this body. If one member suffers, the whole body suffers. If one part hurts, everyone hurts.

The Indian church, for all her flaws, is part of this body of Christ, and there are parts that aren’t functioning well. But what if, instead of cutting this dysfunctional part off, Christ redeemed it and made it new and whole and functioning?

What we need is not amputation. We need healing, and thankfully, Jesus is pretty good at that.

 

 

Photo courtesy of ©Sten Dueland under the Creative Commons License 2.0

the people of the cross: how we respond

On Sunday, a video purporting to show ISIS beheading 21 Egyptian Christian men, “people of the cross,” was released by groups claiming loyalty to the Islamic State. In it, the men are dressed in orange jumpsuits as they’re led along a beach, each with a masked militant in tow. After a message by one of the militants, the Coptic Christian men are beheaded simultaneously, face down.

Murder is heartbreaking and wrong, but there is something gut-wrenching about being a Christian and hearing of the murder of 21 fellow Christians. Fellow brothers in Christ. Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross and in his resurrection, we who have put our faith in him are, in a very real way, part of the family of God, adopted as children of God, and co-heirs of the kingdom. We are literally family.

The names of the 21 men (via @spulliam):

21

There are many emotions Christians are feeling right now: righteous anger, sadness, and confusion. These are all appropriate responses to such a heinous crime, and now is a time to mourn for our departed brothers and their families. But even more so, now is a time to pray. When we pray, we remember and acknowledge our helplessness and need for our great God to intervene.

Pray for their families, that they may experience the great grace of God.

Pray for the persecuted Church, for their safety and that they may persevere. There are many who face the threat of torture and death every day.

Pray that our faith would be emboldened to live as these men, sacrificing everything for the name of Jesus. Oh that we would see that Jesus is better!

 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”

Jesus, John 15:18-21

Pray for those who murdered our brothers, that the Lord would save even among them! The apostle Paul, before he became a follower of Jesus, was one who stood by and approved the execution of Stephen, the very first Christian martyr. Saul (as he was known) went on to ravage the Church, dragging men and women into prison, intent on destroying the Christian movement. He was so feared, that even when he became a believer of Jesus, many Christians were wary and still afraid. And it was this terrorist that Jesus found and saved. It was this Saul who went on to become one of the greatest missionaries the world has ever seen. Oh that this would be a modern story! Would you pray with me that God would radically save a Saul from this evil group to radically transform the Arab world!

Our response as Christians is not violence against Muslims or mosques. Ours is not a struggle against flesh and blood and people. The members of ISIS are not our enemy. We war against cosmic powers over this present darkness and spiritual forces of evil. (Ephesians 6:12) This is spiritual warfare and the enemy is the devil.

Amid this tragedy, we have hope. The book of Revelation isn’t a sci-fi map of the future, but tells the reality of how the war is already won. This is not a cosmic tug-of-war where the victor is still unknown. The enemy is defeated. What Jesus began in his death and resurrection, he will finish when he comes back and puts the enemy under his feet and restores all things. There will judgement upon all wickedness and unrighteousness. The dragon, the serpent from the Garden of Eden, is still writhing, trying to take down people with him because he knows his time is coming up.

In Revelation 6:11 and 20:4, we see a picture of those who lost their lives for the sake of Jesus, including those who lost their heads in chapter 20. The end of Hebrews 11 mentions those who suffered great injustice, torture, and death for the sake of the gospel, “of whom the world was not worthy.” (v. 38)

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

Revelation 12:11

Conquerors. Overcomers by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. They loved not their lives, even unto death.

Jesus puts heads back on and restores all things. We look forward to the day King Jesus returns to restore creation and make all things new. Until then, we pray and push back the powers of darkness.

One of the greatest ironies is that, historically, the killing of Christians has never slowed down the Church; it has fueled her growth. What’s meant as a deterrent and attempt to dissuade “people of the cross” has done the opposite.

We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.

-Tertullian

Let us mourn, brothers and sisters, and let us pray. May the Church grow and the name of Jesus be advanced! May the justice of the Lord come quickly.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

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Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image…

Revelation 20:4

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When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Revelation 6:9-11

Fifty Shades of Abuse

It wasn’t too long ago when I first began hearing about the newest book to captivate women. I remembered the Twilight craze and how women pined after the sullen, sparkling Edward Cullen.

Fifty Shades of Grey  by E. L. James seemed to be another book in that genre, offering a love story for women to relish and long for. This book was different, in that the central male loved BDSM, a topic I admittedly know near to nothing about. But as more and more people began speaking out about it, and with  the movie premiering this weekend, I thought I would take a look and read through it. I’m a fan of literature, and I gave Twilight a shot, so I figured I would give Fifty Shades a chance too. I will admit, I have not finished reading it, partly because I think it reads like a 7th grader wrote it. But the real reason I didn’t finish it was because of some of the content disturbed me — a lot.

The story centers around Anastasia Steele, a girl about to graduate college, and Christian Grey, a young and enigmatic business magnate. They meet coincindentally, and the rest of the story involves the relationship between the two. What caught me off guard was when Grey begins stalking her — but I figured this could potentially be viewed as a sign of endearment or pursuit. But then came intimidation and humiliation. Nevermind the kinky stuff that this book attempts to explore; there are multiple cases of sexual aggression. When she doesn’t want to do something, he threatens to tie her up and gag her. He is frequently described as controlling, one of the reasons Ana doesn’t want to get involved with him, and yet he makes her submit. He forces her to do things she doesn’t want to do.

I’m not the first person to say this, but Fifty Shades glorifies abuse and harmed identity. Studies show that nearly every interaction between the two main protagonists (if you will) is emotionally abusive, and Grey displays classic signs of being emotionally distant and sexually abusive. Most of the sexual encounters between the two read frighteningly a bit like rape; she doesn’t give consent, and even when she says their “safe word,” Grey continues. In real life, this is called rape. A recent study, although limited, has possibly linked reading the book to unhealthy behaviors in its readers, including eating disorders or having a verbally abusive partner. This isn’t to say that if you read the book or watch the movie you’ll develop bulimia or suddenly find yourself a victim of abuse, but the statistics are worrisome and shouldn’t be ignored.

There has been so much outcry, especially recently on the treatment of women, and I’m glad we’re speaking out on when women are abused! It is never okay. However, this book perpetuates the abuse of women by calling it love — and the majority of readers have bought into the lie. If we saw this described anywhere outside of an erotic novel, we would reject it readily. My fear is that female readers of the book, or watchers of the movie, will come away longing for a Christian Grey to spice up their love life. The sad reality is that there are already an overabundance of arrogant, emotionally distant, and abusive men out there. The sad reality is that women who have been sexually and emotionally abused are in no shortage and are very clear that there is nothing exciting and romantic and satisfying in the experience. The sad reality is that the victims of domestic abuse are all too aware that “Christian Grey the hero” doesn’t exist. Most of the men who exhibit such a disregard for consent and abuse of power turn out to be those we warn women to stay away from. I worry that readers will think that this is the kind of man they have been waiting for. That a lack of consent in the marriage bed (not that Grey and Steele were married, mind you) is okay, and maybe even desired.

This image of domination has also been perpetuated by the pornography industry. Most of porn is men doing whatever they want to women — even if it’s against their will. The women are depicted as appreciating the degradation and wanting more of it, when this is never the case. Pornography is a massive problem for men (and women for that matter), and it is sending the message to men that whatever you want is okay, and she will always be okay with it — in fact she wants it. Not only is this clearly unhealthy and wrong, my fear is that guys, already bombarded with this skewed view of sex from porn, will look at this book, this movie, and be more convinced than ever that women want someone to assert themselves on them, especially power. That it is okay to do whatever you want to women. That the sexual experience you lust for is greater than any fear or trepidation she may have. That you take what you want if you’re a “real man.”

What’s interesting is that this book has been lauded as being progressively empowering to women, especially by those who demonize the Bible as being repressive. And yet where Grey prides himself on his physical and emotional domination of Steele, the Bible tells husbands to love their wives by laying down their lives for their wives, as Christ laid himself down for the Church. (Ephesians 5:25) The Bible calls the man to protect and love and serve — something you don’t see in Fifty Shades.

I implore you, readers, don’t go watch Fifty Shades of Grey this Valentines weekend, a weekend our country uses to celebrate love. Don’t watch it any weekend. Don’t encourage others to watch it. Spread the word. This is not just harmless fun — this is perpetuating unhealthy emotional, physical, and sexual behaviors in men AND women. This book and movie is giving us a false notion of love. It is a twisted, insidious lie.

And I hope you remember the example of love that Christ gave us: not abusing his unfaithful bride, but of loving, pursuing, and serving her. By laying down his life.  That is love. That is romance.

the grace of God that wounds

I was a good kid. I made high A’s all through school and the extent of my rebellion to my parents was how low I would grow my sideburns. I led worship at my church throughout high school, and then again with our student ministry in college, and I would often speak/preach when given an opportunity. I learned how to be socially adept and maintain friendships with many people, so that my friends would jokingly use terms like “social butterfly” and “friend whore” to describe me. And I had a relationship with Jesus that seemed earnest, and I knew that I needed Jesus.

But I didn’t really need Jesus.

I knew that God sent Jesus to save sinners like me, and I knew I was a sinner, but I really didn’t think I was that much of a sinner. I didn’t do that many sinful things. I knew about the grace of God, but grace seemed more to me like good things I deserved because I was good. I was a good kid! Why wouldn’t Jesus save me? Grace was just for those few times I slipped up and looked at pornography or lied to my parents about being in my dorm when I was really at my friends’ place.

I knew that the gospel was good news, but honestly, the bad news didn’t seem that bad, at least for me. School was going great, my parents bragged about me, my church family loved me, my friendships were great, and I did all the things a good Christian leader was supposed to do.

But then I felt God calling me to vocational ministry, and I switched my life about. And in fear of the consequences, I wasn’t so forthright about it. My parents and extended family eventually found out and didn’t take this so well, because it had seemed clear that God was actually calling me to be a doctor or some other prestigious vocation.

There were many tears shed and hurtful words shared. We went from talking almost daily to me talking to my mom maybe once a week. I hardly talked to my dad at all. My grandparents didn’t know what to say to me except to look at me in sadness and my church family just didn’t talk about it. School seemed to take a turn for the worse. I ended up hurting close friends, and I was hurt by close friends. I was in a relationship that ended suddenly, and for the first time, it wasn’t amicable. I was hurting and cowering in the darkest shadows of my life, and I didn’t know who to reach out to. I tried to portray cool confidence and trust in God, but I was floundering. I was confused and depressed and heartbroken and angry and anxious. There were even several times where I thought that the best way to deal with it all was by ending everything. And several times where I almost did.

And all this brought me to a place of deep introspection and crying out to the God I claimed to love and serve.

Slowly, layer by layer, relationship by relationship, God began showing me things I had never seen before. I realized that I was selfish and hurtful and greedy and arrogant and sexually immoral and wicked — all without having to do any specific actions. That was just how my mind and heart was bent! God showed me how silly it was that I prided myself in my “humility” and self-deference. He humbled me by unveiling the fact that I was capable of causing so much destructive damage in my relationships with people. He exposed a heart that sought comfort in temporal things rather than on eternal things. He revealed that self-approval was the idol I worshiped at, and my identity wasn’t really found in Christ, but ultimately in how people perceived me.

It felt like life was beating me up, but when I thought upon the sovereignty of God, it dawned on me that my world wasn’t rocked upside-down by chance, but by the grace of God. He had brought me to this place! And it was one of the greatest displays of love I had encountered personally. It was a gift of the grace of God. 

In love, he had brought me to that point to show me my brokenness. I had always been broken, I just refused to see it. In love, he had wounded me so that he could reveal his goodness. So that he could reveal his love in binding me up. He had knocked my legs out from under me, so that I could be on my knees before him. He bruised me to show me why the Son of God was bruised. To show me why the gospel was such good news.

The depravity of man (the fallen nature we’ve all inherited ever since our ancestor Adam felt like rejecting God was a good idea) began to be a real thing I knew not only in theory, but in experience. Sin wasn’t just things I did, but the posture of my heart. As I began to see myself for who I am, I began to see why I so desperately needed Jesus! I was a mess, and no amount of self-help would ultimately fix my heart. I turned to the only One I knew to turn to.

I was spiritually dead, and Christ came into my dead-ness and caused me to be un-dead, to have life, and new life in him! He had saved me from sin, from death, from myself. And by the grace of God, he has healed my brokenness — and my relationships.

I am thankful for the grace of God displayed in the perfect life, sin-absorbing death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that this same Jesus is coming again! It is the gospel that changes everything!

But I’m also thankful for the gift of the grace of God that sometimes, He wounds us in love.

“Let me hear gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” – Psalm 51:8
“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down , and he will bind us up.” – Hosea 6:1
Image Credit: Courtney Celley