Does God Expect You to Be Perfect?

“God doesn’t expect you to be perfect.”

Many Christians say this, but is it true? Their intentions are good. We want to encourage fellow saints who are waging war with sin. We want to acknowledge sin’s reality rather than hiding behind a carefully curated façade. We also want to defuse tension as we talk to unbelievers about our faith, nuancing our approach to avoid a legalistic message.

But when we lower God’s expectations for his people, and de-emphasize the seriousness of his command for holiness, we actually cheapen his grace and lose sight of his spectacular promise.

A Serious Command

In his first letter, Peter writes to believers suffering persecution for following Jesus. He addresses them as “elect exiles of the dispersion,” emphasizing how their temporary world, along with all its trials, will give way to an “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4).

He details the magnificence of God’s mercy in regenerating them (v. 3), and the protection of God’s power to guard them (v. 5). His words overflow with the reality of divine grace.

But then, rather than assuring us that this gracious God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, Peter challenges us:

As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (vv. 15–16)

This is serious. Peter allows no wiggle-room here. We can’t interpret the verse in a halfhearted way. Holiness defines God’s essence, and since God calls his people to be like him, holiness isn’t optional for us. The Holy One commands his chosen ones to be holy. No exceptions.

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Don’t Be Introspective. Examine Yourself.

There’s a fine line between self-examination and introspection.

Self-examination is good. Scripture exhorts us to examine and test ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). So how might this important spiritual discipline take a turn for the worse? Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains:

What’s the difference between examining oneself and becoming introspective? I suggest that we cross the line from self-examination to introspection when, in a sense, we do nothing but examine ourselves, and when such self-examination becomes the main and chief end in our life.

Though self-examination can be rewarding for Christian growth, I’ve often crossed the line—and learned how detrimental introspection can be. It’s unprofitable because it’s an end in itself; it leaves us navel-gazing and discouraged. I’ve hung my head many times in its defeat. Nevertheless, we can look to God’s Word and see how self-examination, rightly deployed, is healthy and effective.

A look at Psalm 139 will help us grasp the power of self-examination as a tool in God’s hands for our growth.

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The Secret to Strong Friendships

What makes a friendship? Is it personalities? Or context? Or proximity? Yes. These areas where two people’s experiences overlap are usually good starting places for close friendship. But I’d argue that the strength of a friendship over the long haul depends not primarily on personality or context or proximity, but on prayer.

Personalities change because people do. Contexts change as people become interested in new hobbies and pursuits (and less interested in old ones). Proximity changes as people move, whether a town or state away, or across the ocean. But when all these factors change, we can still pray, trusting God to use the means he has given to strengthen our friendships with other Christians—and to change us.

The Privilege of Prayer

My longest friendship has lasted 11 years through overseas moves, marriages and funerals, joys and sorrows. Another close friendship began in a season of shared suffering and has continued through many others. Yet another started on a casual neighborhood stroll and has become a deep and intentional sharing of hearts.

What has bonded such unlikely people, kept us going through changing times, and made it such a joy to be friends? The friendship of Christ that we share––the privilege of being united to one another because we’re first united to him.

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When a Good God Encounters a Gay Girl

I saw them as I drove up our street. Both girls had beautiful, long hair and were about 16 years old. Then I noticed they were holding hands and sharing intimate embraces. Just friends? Maybe. But probably not.

This scene is common nowadays. Christians can’t ignore the subject of homosexuality, as it’s so interwoven with our culture. We need to know how to engage with it, following the example of our Lord Jesus who was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And this requires us to pull up a chair and listen well to those who’ve walked its road.

Full of Worship

Jackie Hill Perry is one such woman. Growing up in a broken home, she had an absent father and suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a friend’s older brother. Her first book, Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been, recounts these circumstances that shaped her gay identity, but in Perry’s words, “Sexual abuse is not what made me gay. Nor did fatherlessness. They only exaggerated and helped direct the path for what was already there––which is sin” (37).

818h+uu5khlHaving struggled with same-sex attraction (SSA) for as long as she can remember, Perry recounts her story with humility, pointing us ultimately to her good God. From the beginning, she tells us that’s her agenda:

Leaving this word-filled place with a developed understanding of me and a shallow revelation of God would make all of my efforts worthless. . . . This work is my worship unto God that, with prayer, I hope will leave you saying, “God is so good!” (3–4)

And it does that. I know Perry better, and have a better understanding of SSA, because of this book; but more importantly, I know our good God better. It caused me to revel in the miraculous––that God awakens the dead and opens blind eyes to the truth that’s in Jesus, that he’s gracious to relentlessly pursue those who’ve rejected him, and that he does the impossible in saving rebels.

I’m worshiping, and for that reason I’d say Perry did what she set out to do.

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The Gaping Hole in ‘This Is Us’

There’s a reason we love This Is Us. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking, capturing the many facets of family life and the ripple effects of loss. We laugh. We cry. We resonate and see ourselves in the characters.

We applaud it—but as much as we do, This Is Us should give us pause.

Millions of Americans, my husband and I included, have tuned in to watch the smash hit. We’ve recommended the show to friends, enjoying its compelling storyline and relatively clean content. Yet, for all the values the show explores, This Is Us is strikingly devoid of religion.

Christians shouldn’t be surprised by this. It’s a secular show created for an American culture where the primary “religion” is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, interwoven with relativism and moralism. But we should take careful note of the gaping, godless hole in This Is Us. We can enjoy the show and be thankful for its themes, while still recognizing the absence of ultimate truth.

When Family Is Everything

Rebecca and Jack Pearson (Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia), along with their three kids, Kevin, Randall, and Kate, are the picture of an all-American family. They love, they fight, they strive for harmony, and they deal with the disappointment of dreams deferred. Jack is portrayed as a model father-figure, involved and nurturing, yet tough as nails. He’s a humble guy-next-door who owns up to his mistakes while attempting to lead his family in what’s right.

While we should applaud the unique way This Is Us upholds family values (a rarity on television these days), we should be concerned about the degree to which it does. Jack’s family is his saving grace, his identity. “You are the love of my life,” he says to his wife, “and our kids are our everything.”

But what happens when a man puts his wife and kids on a pedestal, elevating them to the height of gods? We see the repercussions mainly in Kevin, Randall, and Kate in their adult years: At the root, their hardest battles revolve around their dad, the one who practically worshipped them, and the one they worshipped. Their identities are wrapped up in their father. And (spoiler alert!), as we see after Jack’s unexpected death, to lose the person you worship is to lose some part of yourself.

No human being can be or supply what only God can in Christ; to expect our family to fulfill us is a dead-end road. While family is a wonderful gift and can be a place of safety and security, it was never intended to be our “everything.” It simply can’t be.

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The Holy Spirit Is Not Pixie Dust

The following is a book review of Supernatural Power for Everyday People: Experiencing God’s Extraordinary Spirit in Your Ordinary Life by Jared Wilson. (Thomas Nelson (2018). 207 pp. $16.99.)

Jared Wilson always seems to get me.

Whenever I read his books, I feel like he’s in the room, responding to my questions and thoughts. His writing is that accessible and enjoyable, and his latest book, Supernatural Power for Everyday People: Experiencing God’s Extraordinary Spirit in Your Ordinary Life, is no exception.

Life-Altering Reality

jared-wilson-supernatural-power-everday-peopleWilson’s 10-chapter book on the Holy Spirit focuses on the many ways the third person of the Trinity works in believers, changing us and ultimately pointing us to Jesus Christ. Wilson—director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and TGC blogger—begins by introducing us to Bill, a fictional, everyday guy with a normal routine. But Bill’s issue—and ours—is that he feels as though “there must be something more to life, but he’s not sure what that could be” (xiii). His life lacks power.

Wilson returns to Bill as the book progresses, using his fictional life as an illustration for ours. Bill desperately needs supernatural power—the Spirit’s presence, guidance, strength, counsel, and comfort—as do we. Wilson is “firmly convinced that too many Christians spend most of their lives trying to carry out their everyday routines in their own strength” (xv).

I couldn’t agree more. How many of us are trying to live our days—today, even—in our own power? How many of us need “a peek behind the curtain to the reality of [our] inner lives” (xvi)? Wilson draws back the proverbial curtain, revealing our need for the Holy Spirit and exposing our oft-mistaken understanding of what his power looks like in practice.

Spiritual Reality Explained

Wilson clears away unnecessary mysticism as he explains spiritual realities. He does this in The Imperfect Disciple with the concept of discipleship, and he does it in Supernatural Power for Everyday People with the person and work of the Holy Spirit:

The bottom line is this: the Holy Spirit can’t be pumped and scooped. He can’t be slung around, gathered up, or dispensed. He’s not pixie dust. There’s no such thing as the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is not a thing at all, but the very presence of the personal God himself—with us, in us, and around us. (29)

I’ve often wondered what it looks like to walk by the Spirit, as God’s Word commands. Does it mean heeding God’s promptings, or a “still, small voice,” as Christians often say? Does it mean recognizing my sin, confessing it, and walking in holiness? Maybe. But Wilson’s explanation was profoundly simple: “‘Walking by the Spirit’ must entail fixation on Christ” (44). To walk by the Spirit is to keep my eyes on Jesus, which can only happen by his supernatural power.

Mysterious? Yes. Mystical? Not at all.

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Four Creative Ways to Be Generous

Perhaps, like me, you wonder if it’s possible to be generous when finances are tight.

I’ve wrestled with this question, since it can feel like my family doesn’t have “wiggle room” for spontaneous financial gifts. I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of needs around us—an ailing saint, a new baby, a financial crisis—and in my discouragement over finances, pride has taken root.

It’s a pride that says, “It has to be us who meet such-and-such a need.” Pride that doubts God’s goodness and ability to provide for all our needs. Pride that asserts my natural desire for independence and control, rather than a humble submission to what he’s allotted for us.

Grace-Fueled Generosity

The Lord has humbled me with a simple reminder: Generosity comes in many shapes and sizes.

Generosity is the overflow of a humble heart—an attitude, not a one-size-fits-all act. If it were only about money, many of us would be disqualified from exercising it. But since God has called all his people to generosity of spirit, there’s more to it than meets the eye:

God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. . . . They will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them . . . because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. (2 Corinthians 9:8, 13–14, emphases mine)

Paul is exhorting the church at Corinth to give cheerfully to their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. He encourages them that no gift ultimately comes from their striving or efforts or resources, but rather from their sufficient God, the Creator and Provider of all. He alone “is able to make all grace abound” to them for the purpose of generosity. And Paul says this grace fuels “every good work”—not only monetary giving, but works of many shapes and sizes.

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The Power of Confession in Your Small Group

Our small group is unlike any other group I’ve known. It’s not because we all get along (though we do), nor because we’re like-minded (though we are). And it’s certainly not because we have it all together.

Actually, the fact that we don’t have it all together is the reason I love our small group. Confession marks our time together, and it has changed at least three things: the way we interact, the way we pray, and the way we pursue godliness.

1. Confession changes relationships.

In a small-group setting, walls come down when everyone walks in the light. But this doesn’t just happen. We must choose to set aside our pride and talk openly about sin. Initially this talk feels uncomfortable, but the sooner we confess to one another, the sooner grace-fueled relationships characterize the group.

Honest confession melts away the mirage that certain people are “better Christians.” It enables us to live on the level ground of the cross, rather than in the false worlds of comparison, guilt, pride, and condemnation. Confession—or a lack thereof—also flows from each person’s walk with Christ. If we walk in the light before him, we’ll feel more comfortable walking in the light before others.

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The Secret to Preparing for Suffering

“It feels like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

I sat on the edge of our bed with tears in my eyes, attempting to describe to my husband the silent, simmering fear that had been plaguing me. I was in perpetual dread of the possibility of getting re-injured and of the new pains that so easily come to those recovering from chronic Lyme disease. After my body had been weakened for years upon years, it would now be left vulnerable to even the slightest stressors. When would the next ache come? When would the other shoe drop?

As physical discomfort seems to be my constant companion, I wrestle with what it looks like to be ready for it, rather than worry about what the next pain will be. So I’ve wondered, What makes the difference between preparing for suffering and anxiously fearing it?

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Four Keys to Living Faithfully in Exile

We have all known seasons of exile, in one form or another.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself stuck in a geographical location, and every circumstance — no matter how hard you’ve tried to escape — seemed to hold you there. Maybe you’ve seen all your hopes, dreams, and plans go terribly awry.

Perhaps you’ve endured a season (or multiple seasons) of pain and suffering, whether in your body or from outside afflictions. Or possibly your exile has come in the form of watching material and circumstantial blessings slip from your hands like sand carried away by the wind. Whatever the nature and intensity of your storm, seasons of exile are characteristically similar in several ways. They are grueling, unwelcome, confusing, and often test our faith.

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