Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Jesus Outside the Lines BOOK CLUB

Jesus Outside the LinesJesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls

This is a book I’ve been wanting – and not wanting – to read for a while. I’ve wanted to read it because I enjoy Scott Sauls’ blog posts and I’ve heard a lot of good things about the book. He’s a pastor in the same denomination I serve in, he served with Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, graduated from Covenant Seminary and is a St. Louis Cardinals fan. What’s not to like about the guy?
I’ve not wanted to read the book because I think it’s going to challenge me to get out of my comfortable box. How about reading along with Tammy and I? We start this week with the some highlights from the Introduction to the book:

  • I decided to write this book because I am tired. Tired of taking sides, that is.
  • [It is] outrage porn, selected specifically to pander to our impulse to judge and punish, to get us off on righteous indignation.[1] The commitment to feeling 1) right and 2) wronged is a fairly common phenomenon.
  • Tim Keller writes, “Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.”
  • When the grace of Jesus sinks in, we will be among the least offended and most loving people in the world. Having received such grace, Christians have a compelling reason to be remarkably gracious, inviting, and endearing toward others, including and especially those who disagree with us.
  • Are we known by what we are for instead of what we are against?
  • The more we move outside the lines of our own traditions and cultures, the more we will also be moving toward Jesus.
  • Christians from differing perspectives can learn and mature as they listen humbly and carefully to one another.
  • As St. Augustine reputedly said, “In nonessentials, liberty.” To this we might add, “In nonessentials, open-minded receptivity.”
  • We Christians must allow ourselves to be shaped by other believers. The more we move outside the lines of our own traditions and cultures, the more we will also be moving toward Jesus.
  • Is it possible for those who believe and those who do not believe in Jesus to disagree with each other on sensitive subjects and still maintain meaningful and even loving friendships with one another?
  • As a follower of Jesus, I believe it is not only possible but that it is an essential part of Christian life.
  • Disagreeing about sensitive subjects can reveal pain, sorrow, and complexity. It is with this truth in mind that Christians must navigate the complex and often paradoxical waters of conviction and love.
  • Is it possible to profoundly disagree with someone and love that person deeply at the same time? Is it possible to hold deep convictions and simultaneously embrace those who reject your deep convictions? Jesus tells us the answer is yes. And he shows us the answer is yes.
  • What matters more to us—that we successfully put others in their place, or that we are known to love well? That we win culture wars with carefully constructed arguments and political power plays, or that we win hearts with humility, truth, and love?

Next time we’ll look at Chapter One of the book. Won’t you read along with us?

Chapter 1: Red State or Blue State?

  • For us preachers, Tim (Keller) said, the longer it takes people to figure out where we stand on politics, in all likelihood the more faithfully we are preaching Jesus.
  • The first thing I want to say about government is that God is in favor of it. This should encourage anyone with a career in public service.
  • The Bible identifies three institutions that God has established to resist decay in society and promote its flourishing. These are the nuclear family, the church, and the government. The focus of this chapter is to consider specifically what the Bible says about government.
  • The apostle Paul encouraged submission to the governing authorities, who are “ministers of God” and to whom taxes, respect, and honor are owed.
  • When it comes to politics, the Bible gives us no reason to believe that Jesus would side completely with one political viewpoint over another. Rather, when it comes to kings and kingdoms, Jesus sides with himself.
  • The question, then, is not whether Jesus is on our side but whether we are on his. This is the appropriate question not only for politics and government but also every other concern.
  • Our loyalty to Jesus and his Kingdom must always exceed our loyalty to an earthly agenda, whether political or otherwise. We should feel “at home” with people who share our faith but not our politics even more than we do with people who share our politics but not our faith.
  • To the degree that Christians follow the teachings of Jesus, they will actually be perceived as the most refreshing and cooperative citizens of any earthly kingdom.
  • Partisans inflate the best features of their party while inflating the worst features, real or contrived, of the other party. They ignore the weaknesses of their own party while dismissing the other party’s strengths.
  • Christians have liberty in things that are nonessential, including politics.
  • It is wrong to question someone’s faith because they don’t vote like you do. Yes, wrong.
  • Jesus is neither conservative nor liberal, yet he is also both.
  • Kingdom politics reject the world’s methods of misusing power and manipulating the truth. What does it look like for Christians to live out Jesus’ Kingdom vision in our daily lives? It looks like taking care of widows and orphans, advocating for the poor, improving economies, paying taxes, honoring those in authority, loving our neighbors, pursuing excellence at work, and blessing those who persecute us.
  • Christians, as citizens first and foremost of God’s Kingdom, value leaving the world in better shape than we found it.
  • Christianity always flourishes most as a life-giving minority, not as a powerful majority. It is through subversive, countercultural acts of love, justice, and service for the common good that Christianity has always gained the most ground.
  • The Kingdom of Jesus does not advance through spin, political maneuvering, manipulation of power, or “taking a stand” for what we believe (do we ever see Jesus, or for that matter Paul or any of the apostles, taking a stand against secular society or government?). Rather, the Kingdom of Jesus advances through subversive acts of love—acts that flow from conservative and progressive values. This is the beauty of the Christian movement. It embraces the very best of both points of view, while pushing back on the flaws, shortcomings, and injustices inherent in both. How does this work?
  • Christians became known for taking up the cause of orphans.
  • Here we have the conservative virtue of protecting the unborn plus the progressive virtues of championing female equality and social justice.
  • In Christian communities the poor were treated with dignity and honor. There was a spirit of compassion and generosity among Christians, which manifested in the sharing of wealth to narrow the income gap—a progressive value. But generosity was voluntary, not forced—a conservative value.
  • It is the job of Christians to help certain parts of government become unnecessary.
  • Less need for government in those areas that Scripture entrusts to the church’s care. God gave us government to restrain evil and uphold the peace in society. He gave us the church to (among other things) champion the cause of the weak, heal the sick, feed the hungry, and show hospitality to people on the margins.
  • Public faith enriches the world not by grasping for earthly power, but through self-donation.

Chapter Two: For the Unborn or for the Poor?

  • Both sides claim that they are upholding the sanctity of human life. Both sides claim that their utmost concern is for “the least of these.” Both sides believe without a doubt that Jesus is on their side. And both sides, believing that they possess the moral high ground, launch verbal and digital grenades at the other for having such a low regard for human dignity.
  • According to Jesus, every single person ever born is a carrier of the divine imprint. To be human is to be created in the image of God.
  • It is an awareness of the image of God in every person—not merely some—that will enable us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Embracing every person’s God-given dignity also enables us to declare a cease and desist on a posture that is prone to taking sides and looking for something or someone to be offended by.
  • It is people, even more than places and things, who manifest the glory and beauty and magnificence of God. We are made in his image. We are created in his likeness. We are carriers of his imprint.
  • And the more the light of God shines in us and through us as we behold the face of Christ, the more like Christ we will become. The more like Christ we become, the more his fractured image in us will be restored. The more his fractured image in us is restored, the less we will want to medicate our fractured egos by putting others down and diminishing others’ dignity through gossip, slander, prejudice, and exclusion. And the less we diminish others’ dignity, the more we will want to uphold and affirm and celebrate others’ dignity as Jesus does. And the more we uphold and affirm and celebrate others’ dignity as Jesus does, the less prone we will be to take sides in ways that Jesus does not.
  • We are not only to love those who are like us. We are even—no, especially—to love those who are not like us. This, in fact, is the true measure of whether love resides in the heart. This is the true measure that the light that shines out of darkness is also shining in and through us.
  • Jesus went out of his way to affirm the dignity of every type of person. The way that he came into the world and lived his life is proof positive of this.
  • To Jesus, everybody mattered.
  • While Jesus affirmed the dignity of every type of person, there were two particular types to whom he gave special attention and for whom he had a glaring soft spot. These were, to a political conservative’s delight, little children and, to a political liberal’s delight, the poor.
  • Jesus is eager to speak on behalf of all kinds of people, but especially those who are not able to speak for themselves.
  • Perhaps there is no greater way for Jesus to uphold the dignity of the poor than by choosing to be poor himself.
  • Besides choosing to be poor himself, Jesus upheld the dignity of the poor and gave special attention to those who had nothing.
  • But his listeners weren’t sick. They were not sick or desperately poor. Their desire was to keep themselves clean from all the messiness involved in moving toward the sick, the poor, and those on the margins. Their desire was to keep themselves free from the costs and inconveniences of love.
  • Privileged people can have a hard time sympathizing with those who have no idea what it feels like to be privileged. We can be incredibly naive about the plight of the poor and the unique pressures that the poor encounter every single day.
  • Poor conditions often breed poor choices.
  • The conditions in which the poor must live, including the shortage of resources and opportunities to improve their situations, are what make them poor and keep them poor.
  • Why is it more blessed to give? Because God is by nature a giver, and every person carries his imprint and is made in his likeness.
  • From the cross where Jesus, the pure image of God, was deconstructed and dismantled, Jesus secured the reconstruction of God’s image in us. Now Jesus, the resurrected and returning King, sees the ruins in us and envisions a conduit for God’s glory and wholeness.

Chapter Three: Personal Faith or Institutional Church?

  • They have left not to get away from God but in search of a richer, more authentic experience of God that for some reason they have been unable to find within the institutional church.
  • As a church, are we living out the biblical vision for worship, community, and mission?
  • The “revolutionary” phenomenon is not a fringe movement. The number of Christians opting out of church is on the rise.
  • The local church was God’s idea. The Bible knows nothing of Christians who relate to God as isolated individuals or who see the local church as optional to their faith experience.
  • Even when the local church has become less than it should be, the biblical vision is to reform the church, not to abandon it.
  • Church is family.
  • Membership in a local church means joining your imperfect self to many other imperfect selves to form an imperfect community that, through Jesus, embarks on a journey toward a better future . . . together.
  • Though they are messed up now, Jesus has a plan to transform them into people who are glorious and guiltless.
  • Part of the Christian experience is learning to love difficult people just as Jesus loves us when we are difficult. This includes actively moving toward people we don’t naturally like or enjoy. For churchless Christians, this central emphasis of Christian discipleship is rare. Why? Because, as Rick Warren says, The local church is the classroom for learning how to get along in God’s family. It is a lab for practicing unselfish, sympathetic love. As a participating member you learn to care about others and share the experiences of others. . . . Only fellowship and experience the New Testament truth of being connected and dependent on each other.
  • But is retreat really an option? Can we be in relationship with God while opting out of relationship with people—even difficult people—whom he loves?
  • We don’t get to choose our family. Our family is chosen for us, and we make the very best of it
  • As troubling as it may be to the individualist in each of us, God and the church come to us as a package deal.
  • When he calls us to himself, he calls us into community.
  • Family is the chief metaphor that the Bible uses when it talks about the church.
  • Community will happen when people come together with varying perspectives, personalities, cultures, and experiences.
  • The local church functions as God’s fertile soil for growing us beyond mere tolerance toward true expressions of love and unity.
  • Having been united with Jesus, we have also been united to one another through him.
  • God has this magnificent way of working through our differences to bring out the best in each of us.
  • What I am suggesting is that it would be beautiful, if not truly revolutionary, if the revolutionaries would consider joining Jesus in his mission to love Corinth back to life, versus the alternative of writing Corinth off.

Chapter Four: Money Guilt or Money Greed?

  • God gives us money to steward and share in order to promote the common good, not to hoard and spend solely on ourselves.
  • Jesus is more passionate than anyone about giving to the poor and about the dangers of affluence.
  • With all the many warnings in the Bible about the potential snares of wealth, there are also many passages that speak positively about prosperity.
  • Jesus became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich, and he promises to share with us his eternal inheritance that will never spoil or fade away.
  • So which is it? Is Jesus in favor of wealth or is he opposed to it? Furthermore, how should we be thinking about wealth?
  • The chief concern for the rich and for the poor is whether our hearts are content with what God has given to us. The Bible helps us understand that this kind of contentment—the kind that stays intact during prosperous times as well as during times of scarcity—is reachable only for those who see God himself as their true wealth.
  • Contentment grows as we live from the truth that God is our ultimate portion, our ultimate share, and our ultimate inheritance.
  • The chief concern for the rich and for the poor is whether our hearts are content with what God has given to us.
  • Material wealth in a fallen world is surrounded by paradox. Wealth provides for our needs, yet it can become poison if we become obsessed with it. It promises to fulfill us, yet it can leave us empty. It promises to satisfy, yet it can leave us hungry for more. It is morally neutral, yet it can be harmful. It is a gift to enjoy, yet it should be given away freely.
  • Our greed can usually be traced back to dissatisfaction about what we have in comparison to others.
  • When we are sick with greed, we usually cannot see the sickness in ourselves. How do we identify it? What are its symptoms? I believe that there are chiefly two: hoarding money for ourselves and spending money almost exclusively on ourselves.
  • Our greed can usually be traced back to dissatisfaction about what we have in comparison to others.
  • It is not money that the Bible says is a root of evil, but the love of money.
  • How do we know we are at risk of being materialistic? We are at risk when we find ourselves hoarding money in order to feel safe. We are equally at risk when we find ourselves in a pattern of spending money almost exclusively on ourselves . . . especially when we spend it on things we do not need to impress the people around us.
  • Have we moved from having wealth to placing our hope in wealth?
  • The problem does not lie in having or spending money as much as it does with how our hearts relate to it.
  • Jesus, not money, is the answer to our quest for safety and validation.
  • When a healthy relationship with money turns into a love for money, when wealth turns into greed, when enjoyment of material things turns into materialism, our souls become more impoverished and empty, not less.
  • Because our souls are crafted in the image of a great and magnificent God, they can never be filled with such a small thing as money. Only Jesus can fill an empty soul.
  • When our souls derive safety and validation from Jesus, we tend to take on the attributes of his generous, self-giving love. When this happens, we also experience joy.
  • Before Jesus invites us to participate in his generosity, he first invites us to receive and enjoy his generosity toward us.
  • He identifies the root causes of greed, which are anxiety and fear.
  • Jesus invites us to be generous because God is generous, and because our money was never our money in the first place. God is the owner of wealth, and we are the managers. He invites us to use and unleash and share his wealth according to what matters most to him.
  • These priorities include, but are not limited to, providing for the needs of those who depend on us, saving for the future, and giving generously to God’s Kingdom causes, especially to the church and the poor.
  • But when it comes to giving, what is the right amount? How much are the followers of Jesus supposed to give? How much is too little and how much is too much? These questions are important, but there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Our level of giving depends on our situation.
  • According to a recent study reported in Relevant magazine, only 10 to 25 percent of the typical American congregation tithes (that is, gives the biblical starting point of 10 percent) to the church, the poor, and Kingdom causes.
  • Put starkly, this means that 75 to 90 percent of American Christians—those who collectively represent the wealthiest Christians in the world—are money-sick.
  • The clear message of Scripture is that when our net worth gets below our comfort level, whether through tithing or through circumstances that God decides are best for us, we, too, are given an opportunity, counterintuitive though it may be, to find joy in needing Jesus more. A shrinking net worth can be one of God’s greatest hidden blessings.
  • True freedom is found in the realization that “everything minus Jesus equals nothing” and “Jesus plus nothing equals everything.”
  • Trusting God to care for us frees us to give to others and enjoy what he has given.

Chapter Five: Affirmation or Critique?

* Jesus was offensive to smug, judgmental, religious people. He was a breath of fresh air to broken, nonreligious people. Can the same things be said about his followers today?

* But if people are going to get upset with us, let’s at least make sure they are the same types of people who got upset with Jesus.

* What is it about the human heart that makes us so sensitive to criticism? Why are we so undone by it? Why does it unravel us as it does?

* Christians should be the most affirming people in the world.

* Jesus, the author of all truth, beauty, and goodness, was quick to affirm expressions of truth, beauty, and goodness wherever he saw them.

* If we want to follow Jesus, we have no choice but to follow him into the world and into affirming friendships with as many people as we can, including people who do not believe or behave as we do.

* The closer we are to Jesus, the further we will be from sin. Likewise, the closer we are to Jesus, the closer we will be to sinners.

* Have we grown accustomed to relationally including and excluding others based on a list of spoken or unspoken “clean laws” that have no basis in Scripture? Have we grown accustomed to scolding others for certain sins while exempting ourselves from judgment over other sins that we commit daily?

* Maybe the problem with the world isn’t other people. Maybe the problem with the world is us.

* An affirming critique always comes from the motive of restoring and building up, unlike criticism, which aims to harm and tear down.

* Affirming critics stand for and on behalf of one another, not against one another. They have high hopes for one another, not disdain toward one another. They are committed, covenanted allies for one another’s good, not proponents for one another’s harm.

* That’s what Christians do when they are in their right minds. They start with themselves. They examine and address the flaws in themselves before they examine and address the flaws in others.

* They critique when called for, but as they critique they are careful not to criticize.

* As Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, used to say, we are able to speak truth to people once we have earned the right to be heard. One of the ways we do this is by realizing that it is not, it never has been, and it never will be a Christian’s job to judge non-Christians.

* Instead, we must affirm wherever we can and critique when we must—while never being critical.

* Critique when you must. Human flourishing and redemption depend on it. Affirm whenever and wherever you can.

Chapter 6: Accountability or Compassion? 

* The subject of judgment can be uncomfortable and disorienting. Additionally, damage can be done when well-intentioned but deeply misguided Christians hold forth on judgment, leaving others afraid to discuss this subject in any context at all.

* Jesus taught more about hell than he did other, more popular subjects such as heaven and love.  He warned repeatedly that this judgment awaits everyone who refuses his free offer of salvation by grace through faith.

* We feel threatened when we are under the scrutiny, real or perceived, of others.

* Success can work like an addiction—the more successes we have, the more successes we feel we must accumulate in order to keep feeling valuable—that we are, in Madonna’s words, “a Somebody.”

* We are always one breath away from failure in our own eyes.

* As part of our human nature, we act and feel as if we must convince the world and ourselves that there is nothing in us that deserves condemning.

* Our human craving to be free from scrutiny, criticism, and judgment is really an echo of where history began and where history will eventually end. Both the origin of all humanity and the destiny of redeemed humanity are worlds in which there is no judgment because there is no imperfection in them.

* All of us are quick to embrace the biblical doctrine of heaven but are inclined to damn the biblical doctrine of damnation. It is difficult biblical teachings like judgment that help us discern the degree to which we really do (or do not) stand with Jesus. But damn anything that Jesus said is to damn ourselves.

* If a judging God were removed from the universe, it would create more problems than it would solve.

* To accept that God is a lover but not a judge is a luxury that only the privileged and protected can enjoy.

* We need a God who gets angry.

* Jesus said so much about hell and judgment for two main reasons that I can surmise. First, he wants us to remember that God is holy and that even the most lovely, kindhearted people among us will never measure up to that holiness.

* For those who believe in Jesus, the Cross moves their Judgment Day from the future to the past. How? Jesus already died the death that they deserved to die.

* The second reason why Jesus said so much about hell and judgment is that he is eager to spare us from both.

* Are there times in which it is not only appropriate, but also right and good, for Christians to tell others about the judgment of God? We must conclude that it is not the least compassionate, but the most compassionate Christians who will do so.

* The more distanced a friend is from God, the more direct a loving Christian will be in conversations about eternal realities.

Chapter Seven: Hypocrite or Work in Progress?

  • “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ”. According to Gandhi, his way of life was inspired first and foremost by the life and teachings of Jesus. Yet Gandhi never seriously considered becoming a Christian. Not because of Christ, but because of Christians. Gandhi saw very little of Christ in the lives of Christians.
  • The Bible itself says that we all fall short, we all do things that our inmost selves don’t want to do, and even our best deeds are as filthy rags in comparison to the goodness of God.The people of Jesus are woefully unable to represent Christ as Christ represents himself.
  • It’s not just modern people who struggle to live consistently with what they believe. The Bible reveals again and again the timeless tension of humanity grappling with hypocrisy.
  • As strange as it may sound, it is the hypocrisy of Christians in the Bible that sometimes encourages me more than anything else. It reminds me that God’s relentless grip on me, not my relentless grip on God, keeps me in his love. It reminds me that if there is hope for prostitutes and crooks and adulterers and racists and elitists and murderers and terrible husbands and coveters, then there is hope for somebody like me.
  • Another thing I appreciate about Christianity is that it gives me freedom to be honest about my sins, shortcomings, and inconsistencies.
  • The more I recognize that because of Jesus I will never have to face God’s judgment, the more I can allow my hypocrisy to be brought into the light by God and others.
  • Shouldn’t we evaluate Jesus on his own merits rather than the flaws of his followers?
  • There are many other Christians like David who, though inconsistent and hypocritical in certain areas and seasons of their lives, have brought unparalleled goodness and beauty into the world in response to the grace and love of Christ.
  • No other religion, philosophy, or person has inspired self-donating love and sacrificial service more than a vital, living faith in Jesus Christ and the power of his death and resurrection.
  • It is through imperfect Christians that scores of life-giving contributions have left the world better, not worse—and about which even Gandhi might be inspired.
  • Christians are, by and large, significantly different from many of the negative caricatures sometimes portrayed in media, comedy, and film.
  • Most of us, when we act out of sync with the life, teachings, and mission of Jesus, are actually not proud of it but grieved by it.
  • I am eager for the Christian story to put a spotlight on the same thing that the biblical story does—that Jesus is quite fond of humbled hypocrites, and he loves to save humbled hypocrites from themselves.
  • Though we are all hypocrites, through Christ and with Christ and because of Christ we are never hopelessly and terminally stuck in our hypocrisy. A central focus of the vision of Jesus is to save us from sin—and in the process, to save us from ourselves.
  • But in saving us from ourselves, Jesus also aims to transform us, over time, into his own likeness.
  • It is when we become tired of ourselves, weary of our own failed efforts, that Jesus meets us with hope.
  • How do we Christians, become the kind of people who make others want to know more about Jesus? The Bible helps us see how: it is the loveliness of Jesus, and only the loveliness of Jesus, that can make hypocrites lovely.
  • How do hypocrites become like Jesus? It starts by belonging to Jesus, by being washed, sanctified, and justified by Jesus, and especially by being with Jesus.
  • It is in being with Jesus that hypocrites start to become like Jesus. We must preoccupy ourselves less with trying to be like him and more with simply being with him.  It is not fruit we should be seeking; it is Jesus.
  • Loveliness and holiness and fruit will not grow when we try to make them grow. Rather, these will grow as by-products of being in the presence of, considering the excellencies of, and marinating in the truth and beauty of the one who loves us and gave himself for us and in whom there is never a shred of hypocrisy.

Chapter Eight: Chastity or Sexual Freedom?

  • Sex can be incredibly life giving, comforting, and healing when handled with care. It is among the most delightful of all human activities. It is also among the most dangerous.
  • When sex is taken outside its natural and created boundaries, it becomes destructive, leaving burn marks and scars. That’s why God is in favor of chastity, or sexual abstinence, for those living outside the covenant of marriage.
  • Biblically, the most interesting and attractive women and men are those whose hearts are at rest because they know that God loves them. Their beauty is from inside and is not fixated on cosmetic perfection, but on substantive character, driven by a reciprocal love for God that also frees them to love their neighbor.
  • A strong case can be made that casual sex and objectification—self-centered lust for people in general versus self-giving love for one person in particular—are chief contributors to unparalleled divorce rates, sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancies, body-image depression, teen suicides, terminations of life in the womb, and little girls being trafficked and sold into prostitution. Our culture of casual sex has led to outcomes that are anything but casual.
  • Until we learn to see people as people instead of things, as image bearers to be loved instead of objects to be used, sexuality will only become more confused and broken.
  • Some people are surprised when they find out that the Bible promotes and even commands sexual pleasure. God is in favor of sexual freedom—within the bounds of marriage.
  • Anyone who thinks the Bible is stuffy about sex either hasn’t read the Bible or hasn’t been paying attention to what it says.
  • Sex between a husband and wife points to this ultimate union: the union between Christ and his bride, the church. It also points to the wedding feast promised to believers in the new heaven and new earth as well as the “happily ever after” we will enjoy with Jesus the Bridegroom.
  • As a Christian I am bound to yield my personal feelings and wishes to the sacred words of Jesus, who affirmed that in the beginning, God made them male and female, and the man was united to the woman, and the two became one flesh.
  • If I am going to have anything meaningful to contribute to this discussion, it must begin with a recognition that temporary celibacy pales in comparison with what many same-sex-attracted people feel is a lifelong prison sentence of suppressing libido and romantic feelings. For those who are not same-sex attracted, this conversation needs to begin with compassion and maintain compassion as its foundation. We must never presume to understand what it is like to walk in shoes we will never wear.
  • “The Bible says it; that settles it” is a lazy and unthoughtful approach that alienates people who long for companionship yet bear the burden of unwanted singleness and celibacy.
  • We must ask the radical question of what it will take to ensure that every unmarried person has access to friendships as deep and lasting as marriage and as meaningful as sex. We must also ask what it will take for our communities to effectively cultivate such friendships.
  • What if the church were the place where being unmarried was not only accepted, but seen as a high and noble calling as it was for Jesus and Paul?
  • The first and fundamental goal in marriage is for a husband and wife to prepare each other for an everlasting marriage to Jesus.
  • The only marriage that will remain in the new heaven and new earth is the marriage between Jesus and his bride, the church.
  • It means that whether married, unmarried, divorced, or widowed now, every believer in Jesus is and will be united with him forever in the marriage that will fulfill every unsatisfied longing, every unfulfilled attraction, every missed opportunity for companionship, love, and intimacy.
  • Whether gay, straight, single, divorced, painfully married, or happily married, may we find strength, resolve, and hope as we remember that God created us ultimately for an everlasting marriage to Jesus—a marriage that can already be ours now and that will enjoy an intimacy even deeper than the marriage bed in the world to come.

Chapter Nine: Hope or Realism?

  • The problem of pain and suffering is one of the biggest reasons why people keep their distance from God.
  • When suffering invades the human experience, people usually respond in one of three ways. Some assume a “pie in the sky” perspective, clinging to superficial “Bible Band-Aids.”
  • Others become cynical, maybe even dismissing the idea of God because they can’t believe that a good, all-powerful God would allow horrific things to happen.
  • Still others are hopeful realists. These are the ones who continue to believe that God is good even through suffering, and that the painful realities of life can lead to the development of perseverance, character, and hope. But hopeful realists are also deeply honest about the difficult circumstances of life.
  • The Job account presses us to ask, “Are there clear answers on this side of heaven for why a good God would allow suffering in his world?”
  • If Christianity has something significant to contribute to the question of suffering and evil, it is that Christianity is incredibly realistic about how messed up the world is.
  • Paradise demonstrates not only fallen humanity’s past but also a redeemed humanity’s future.
  • Our equilibrium is thrown off by suffering. It disorients us, makes us restless, and creates longing for restoration and renewal.
  • What would you say if I told you that God invites you to be honest and raw and realistic about suffering instead of being phony about it and sweeping it under the rug?
  • He would speak Lazarus the dead man back to life. But before he did any of this, Jesus stopped, got angry, and wept. Before he fixed a broken situation, he entered into it and shared it. He entered in. He shared and felt their sorrows before mending their sorrows. He does the same for us.
  • He wants to fix everything that’s broken about us and everything that’s broken around us. But before he does this, he wants us to know that he is with us and for us in what’s broken about us and around us.
  • This is not the end of the story for those whose hope is anchored in Jesus. In the future world, those who suffered in this life but who anchored their hope in the next will look back on death, mourning, crying, and pain as if they were part of a nightmare, a suspension of reality versus reality itself. Everything sad will come untrue. Their capacity to enjoy life will be even greater than it would be had they never lived through a nightmare in the first place.
  • Jesus has already begun his renovation project of making all things new.
  • Why did Jesus bring Lazarus back? Because Jesus came to bring God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven, not only to imagine God’s future into the present but to bring glimpses and foretastes of God’s future into the present. In a world in which God’s reality is suspended for a time, Jesus zealously refuses to allow death, mourning, crying, and pain to dictate the story line.
  • We, too, must wage war against conditions that threaten the flourishing of the people and world that God has made.
  • A great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.
  • In the end, hope will win. In the end, life will overcome death, joy will overcome sorrow, freedom will overcome bondage, and triumph will overcome loss.
  • God has set a place for me at the wedding feast of Jesus, and I will be part of the church, his bride, forever.
  • He will never leave or forsake me. The long-term, worst-case scenario is that I will never be alone, that I will always be known, loved, and received.
  • Whether I live in poverty or wealth, I will always be able to say with the Puritan who was stripped to nothing but a piece of bread and a glass of water, “What? All of this and Jesus Christ, too?”
  • God’s long-term promises are infinitely more real than any present, broken reality.

Chapter Ten SELF-ESTEEM OR GOD-ESTEEM?

  • Nobody likes to be around a self-absorbed person, but we must admit that in many ways we are this person. Craving affirmation, investing extraordinary amounts of time, resources, and energy to control what others think about us.
  • Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind. Pride is essentially competitive. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.
  • Once we’ve chosen a side, we can’t acknowledge anything good about the other side. We have to win outright.
  • By belittling others and rehearsing his own achievements, he is trying to build up his self-esteem.
  • We create caricatures for the very same reasons. To caricature is to exaggerate the less flattering features of other people.
  • We start to divide the world between “us” and “them,” between those who matter and those who don’t, between those who are competent and those who struggle, between those who are enlightened and those who aren’t, between the good people and the bad people.
  • Interestingly, the Bible tells us that the root cause of pride and an unhealthy rivalry spirit is not self-love but self-loathing.
  • In Philippians 2:3, Paul warns of two toxic ingredients that make up the deadly sin of pride. These two ingredients are selfish ambition and vain conceit.
  • Selfish ambition makes us see virtually every situation and interaction as a competition. Selfish ambition leads us into the habit of comparing ourselves to others.
  • When selfish ambition resides in us, we become threatened by the good fortune of others. Their blessings become our curses.
  • Selfish ambition can ignite in us a secret enjoyment of the misfortune and failures of others.
  • The need to compare ourselves with others does not always come from a place of bravado and arrogance. Sometimes it comes from a frightened, lonely, shame-filled place.
  • The second impulse Paul warns against is what he calls vain conceit. Vain conceit is the driver behind our craving for attention and approval—our insatiable appetite to be recognized, appreciated, praised, and adored by other people.
  • We want to be praised and noticed. But things go south when an appropriate desire for praise morphs into a misplaced hunger for approval. This vain conceit, or insatiable approval-hunger, can lead us to depend deeply or even exclusively on the attention and applause of others. If we lose the applause, we feel worthless.
  • Why do we feel insignificant? Why do we feel we have to compete? Why do we have to take sides?
  • Do we try to bolster our own sense of righteousness by treating others with contempt? Because winning makes us feel like we are somebody. But there’s good news for us. It doesn’t have to be this way.
  • The Bible’s answer to the “problem of self-esteem” is the virtue of humility. According to the Bible, two things are true. First, we are sinners in the sight of God. We fall woefully short of being the people that he created us to be. We are not perfect, and we fail to abide by even our own standards. Second, in Christ and because of Christ we are not only forgiven but have received an irrevocable mark of favor. We are God’s adopted daughters and sons, fearfully and wonderfully made, the apples of his eye, who cannot be separated from his love or snatched out of his hand. Through Christ we are highly esteemed by our Judge and Maker, who also calls himself our Father.
  • “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
  • The humble are a breath of fresh air. They treat others as being more significant than themselves. Best of all, you never sense that humble people want to be your rivals.  They aren’t the type to put you in your place. Even when they disagree with you, you sense that they are in your corner.
  • Through Jesus, we are credited with his perfection and beauty. Through Jesus we are highly esteemed.
  • It means we have been brought into something that no other religion, philosophy, or worldview can offer: a full welcome into the family of God, whereby we are fully known and fully loved, completely exposed and not rejected, temporally broken and everlastingly significant, small in comparison to the Creation and magnificent in the Creator’s eyes.
  • In the sight of God, it is as if—and it will forever be as if—the perfect validating record of Jesus Christ was accomplished by us.
  • To be esteemed by Jesus is to be free. In his eyes we are, and forever will be, invaluable.