Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Should Christians Compromise?

I heard a parable once about a hunter who was tracking a bear. When he finally came upon the animal, the bear noticed and starting walking towards the hunter. The hunter raised his gun and took aim. But, before he could shoot, the bear surprisingly said, “Wait! Why do you want to shoot me?” “Because I am cold,” said the hunter. “But I am hungry,” replied the bear. After a short hesitation, the bear said, “Maybe we can reach a compromise.” In the end, the hunter was well enveloped within the bear’s fur and the bear had eaten his dinner. This is a great illustration of what happens when we compromise with something deadly. And, like the hunter, Christians always lose when we try to compromise with sin. Like the bear, sin is also consuming.

I hear so many in our churches today boldly preaching a new form of compromise with the world. They say, “In order to be relevant, you have to compromise.” In other words, if you fail to compromise on Biblical standards, you will not be relevant.  Therefore, if you are not relevant, you won’t reach people with the gospel. But, is that true? Sure, we all agree that legalism is probably not going to be effective. But, legalism is not what Jesus called us to reflect. And, neither is sin. In fact, did Jesus compromise His standards while He was physically here? And, is Jesus relevant? Jesus never compromised and is relevant to every man, woman and child. Therefore, relevance doesn't require compromise.

For those attempting relevance through compromise, who are you trying to be relevant to? It is admirable to attempt to optimally relate to your fellow man. But, if you are relevant to God, then by default, you are relevant to man. God created man and designed every fiber of man’s being. Therefore, shouldn’t the Creator know best what is relevant to His creation? And, therefore, by being most relevant to Godliness, aren’t we by default being most relevant to man? If we become less relevant to Godliness is it even possible to be beneficially relevant to man?  Are we worshipping relevance (as man defines) or are we worshipping God?

Yes, it is vitally important that our message is relevant to those to whom God sent us. But, what could be more relevant to man than lovingly sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and praying blessings over those He died for? The gospel of Jesus defines who man is, describes man’s condition, meet’s man’s every need, and gives man the opportunity for forgiveness, immortality and a royal identity. Is there anything more relevant to mankind than that? The gospel message does not need sinful wrapping to relate.

I have observed some Christians counter with Paul’s words when he said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” But, Paul was not including sin in that discussion. In fact, the entire context of the passage reveals precisely what Paul meant. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 says, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

Before we leave the subject, God clarified this even further elsewhere in the New Testament. Let’s look at just a few of the many examples:

Romans 12:1-2 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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 13:14 says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

James 4:4 goes even further, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

The argument towards compromising Biblical standards for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus is a lie that is meant by the enemy to distract us from the very goal that it claims to support. I have yet to meet effective Christians who gain souls by proclamation of the gospel using compromise with the world as their means. In contrast, I have met many “Christians” who have lost their influence and have been consumed by what they approve. Speaking of what we approve, 1 Thessalonians 2:4 says, “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” 

God has singular authority to define relevance, not man. And, God also has singular authority to tell us what tasks we must execute in order to be relevant. And, those tasks that we must execute are spelled out by Jesus Himself in His final and parting command to us all as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” As a Christian, and someone who calls Jesus “God,” “Lord,” and “King,” do you have something more relevant to do than obey His final command … without compromise?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Confusing Grace with License

I have led several small group Bible studies over the years for the purpose of mentoring young men. Inevitably with every group, I eventually hear someone offer some version of the same startling quote, “If someone experiences God’s saving grace and later rebels against Him in a life of sin and dies, they will still go to Heaven.” I agree with the truths that grace radically covers all of the sin of those who receive God’s forgiveness, and that we can’t lose our salvation. Scripture clearly supports both of these truths. But, this quote and what it advocates goes much further than scripture iterates.

Many Christians lean too heavily on Romans 5:20-21 which says, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” But, quoting just those two verses which close chapter 5 without reading the following two verses which open chapter 6 totally misses the point. The next two verses in Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Unfortunately, for too many Christians, these latter verses are ignored and God’s grace is seemingly reduced to a license to sin. To God this is spiritually grotesque.

First of all, pondering hypothetical situations about hypothetical people experiencing saving grace and dying in sinful lifestyles is fruitless. In every one of these hypothetical arguments there are one or more “ifs.” Each one of those “ifs” represents a hypothetical that we are unable to know or prove. Only God fully knows who has and who has not experienced His saving grace. 

A more illuminating hypothetical is that of the “Parable of the Sower” shared by Jesus in Matthew 13. In this parable at least three of the four soils/people receive the Word and accept it. But, do all three go to Heaven? Sadly, the parable implies the answer is “no.” What this passage illuminates is the significant difference between “believing” something and living something. In fact, you live what you truly believe.

On that point James 2:19-26 put it best when it says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? … You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. … For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” Demons don’t just believe but know God is God. However, they live in rebellion. And, while this passage is not advocating earning your salvation, it is advocating that grace, when properly sown, bears fruit (or works) in keeping with repentance.

Jesus even says in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” In this passage Jesus describes what happens to those who say they believe God is Lord, but deny God with their lives. If people who cast out demons in Jesus’ name will be cast by Jesus into Hell, what does that say of one who lives and dies spitting in Jesus' face?

Jesus also said in Matthew 7:15-20, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” This is not a passage that is meant to encourage us to judge others. But, it is a passage that testifies that someone who embraces God’s grace will live like they have.

Some Christians might read this and feel defeated because who among us does not sin? Remember Romans 6:1-2 quoted earlier as asking “How can we who died to sin still live in it.” The Matthew 7 passage is clarified with the Romans 6 passage. There is a difference between sinning and living in sin. All Christians sin. But, when they do they realize it, feel convicted about it and then attempt to repent from it. Repentance is the Christian byproduct of sin. But someone who consciously lives in sin usually ignores it, defends it, makes excuses for it and/or sees nothing wrong with it. Even some go as far as building biblical arguments that they distort to give them license for it. This is the exact opposite of repentance. Grace does not inspire sin. Grace inspires repentance (Romans 2:4). The “Prodigal Son” repented. In contrast, they who are “lukewarm” God will “spit out.”

This is why God continually referred to David as a man after God’s own heart. Yes, David sinned in very large ways. But, David also repented without defending his sin. David’s heart was broken by what broke God’s heart. This is the attitude of a someone after God’s own heart.

Finally, probably the most direct and succinct scripture on such hypotheticals is Hebrews 6:4-6 which says, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” One can interpret this passage in several ways. I believe the most accurate interpretation is that this passage is describing people who might first appear to be Christians externally, but were never true believers. After all, our lives, and nothing else, truly display exactly what we believe.

So let’s revisit the opening quote, “If someone experiences God’s saving grace and later rebels against Him in a life of sin and dies, they will still go to Heaven.” Would Jesus ever make such a quote? No. In fact, when Jesus dispensed grace during his earthly life, He was famous for saying (John 5 and John 8), “Go and sin no more.” Jesus would never make a statement that remotely encourages sin to any degree. Neither should we.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Convenient Truths on Climate Change

“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a widely-loved story written by Hans Christian Andersen. The main character is a vain Emperor who cares mostly about wearing and displaying fine clothes. He unknowingly hires two con artists who promise him the finest suit of clothes made from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or "hopelessly stupid." The swindlers finish the suit and pretend to dress the Emperor. The Emperor's staff cannot see the clothing themselves, but pretend that they can for fear of appearing unfit. The Emperor does the same and he marches in procession before his subjects. The townsfolk play along with the pretense not wanting to appear unfit or stupid. Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all. The child’s cry is eventually taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but continues the procession…naked.

This parable has some eerily familiar themes to the present day dogma so often preached regarding “man-made climate change” or “man-made global warming.” Man-made climate change, with every passing year looks more like intrusive religion parading as science albeit naked of conclusive or compelling data. In fact, the prophets of man-made climate change sound no different than zealots who walk our streets decrying the impending apocalypse on cardboard cutouts. The main difference is that for decades climate prophets have prophesied doom within a few years of their predictions, but are never held accountable when their prophecies don’t become reality. These prophets may be "scientists" but their false prophesying is not science.

Science is comprised primarily of suggestions based upon conclusive and compelling data. That definition forces two truths. First, where there is no conclusive data, there is no compelling science. Second, where the data repeatedly suggests a contradictory conclusion, the tested hypothesis should be rejected. Sadly, neither truth is honored in the debate regarding man-made climate change. Rather, in this debate, the lack of confirming data coupled with mounting opposing data are ignored and the original hypothesis is worshipped with reckless abandon, all at the expense of the assets, privacy, freedom and livelihoods of others.

There are two central tenets commonly preached by climate prophets. The first is that climate change is advancing to a level that will destroy most if not all human life and/or the planet in short order. The second tenet is that this apocalyptic climate change can be averted because it is being caused primarily by mankind, especially those in developed nations. Both tenets remain largely unsupported by conclusive data, especially the second tenet. This in essence resembles faith not science. Such “faith” parading as science without conclusive data is no less naked than the vain Emperor.

The journal, Nature Climate Change, recently published a report that compared 117 climate predictions (prophecies) to the actual amount of warming that occurred in the years predicted. Out of 117 prophecies, the study found that 3 were roughly accurate and 114 overestimated the amount of warming. On average, the prophecies forecasted two times more global warming than actually occurred. For example, in 1989, the Associate Press reported this prophecy: "Using computer models, researchers concluded that global warming would raise average annual temperatures nationwide 2 degrees by 2010." But according to NASA, global temperature has increased by less than half that (about 0.7 degrees Fahrenheit). And in 1972, the Christian Science Monitor reported this prophecy: "Arctic specialist Bernt Balchen says a general warming trend over the North Pole is melting the polar ice cap and may produce an ice-free Arctic Ocean by the year 2000." That prophecy was also proven false by actual outcomes. Then, in 2006, Vice President Al Gore narrated the famous documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” about which he prophesied, with the approval of the scientific community at large, that the world had ten years or less to avert imminent destruction (i.e. climate Armageddon by early 2016). As I write this post just 2 years from the apocalypse, the Emperor seems naked to me.

Before we get to the religious agenda of today’s climate prophets, let’s examine the currently mounting scientific data that proves them false. In August 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its “State of the Climate in 2012” report, which states that “worldwide, 2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record.” But the report fails to mention that 2012 was one of the coolest of the decade. That data also suggests a cooling trend. Further, the NOAA report noted that the Antarctica (South Pole) sea ice “reached a record high of 7.51 million square miles” in September, 2012. What does that data suggest? And the latest figures for this year show that there’s been a slowdown of melting this past summer as well, with temperatures at the North Pole well below normal for this time of year. Meteorologist Joe Bastardi calls it “the coldest ever recorded.” Is there any good reason this conclusive opposing data is being ignored?

A 2007 BBC report prophesied that the Arctic could be ice free in 2013 -- a theory NASA and Al Gore still echo today. However, Arctic sea ice averaged 2.35 million square miles in August 2013, as compared to 1.32 million square miles recorded in September, 2012, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. About a million more square miles of ocean are covered in ice in 2013 than in 2012, a whopping 60 percent increase -- and a dramatic deviation from prophecies of an "ice-free Arctic.”

A leaked copy of the world’s most authoritative climate study reveals scientific prophecies of imminent doom were drastically wrong. The final draft of a report is to be published by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the ultimate watchdog who’s massive, six-yearly “assessments” are accepted by environmentalists, politicians and experts as the “gospel” of climate science. The report makes the extraordinary concession that over the past 15 years, recorded world temperatures have increased at only a quarter of the rate of IPCC prophesied when it published its last assessment in 2007. In addition, a prophecy in the 2007 report that hurricanes would become more intense has simply been removed, without update. This omission is probably because 2013 has been one of the quietest hurricane seasons in history and the US is currently enjoying its longest-ever period – almost eight years – without a single hurricane of Category 3 or above making landfall. What does that suggest?

With regards to whether mankind is causing climate change, the IPCC report also admits that large parts of the world (the parts we can measure) were as warm as they are now for decades between 950 and 1250 AD – centuries before the Industrial Revolution, and when the population and carbon dioxide levels were both much lower. We all admit that data exists that supports climate change to some degree. However, the data suggests that the changes we have experienced are no different from what we should expect from recurring historic solar-driven climate cycles. And, there is practically no data supporting the hypothesis that mankind is to any significant degree responsible for it. Despite the many scientific uncertainties disclosed by the report, it nonetheless draws familiar, apocalyptic conclusions as falsely prophesied before. Their agenda of world control has not been slowed by the facts.

You may be asking, “How is man-made climate change like religion?” First of all, due to the obvious failures of its prophets and prophecies, the central tenets of man-made climate change are therefore based upon faith and not the preponderance of facts. Second, man-made climate change dictates a way of life that others must follow or they are judged as deniers without care for killing their fellow man. Third, man-made climate change is the most activist religion of all as its prophets lobby governments to intrude on the privacy, freedom and lifestyles of others, judge others' individual behaviors as immoral and punish them through taxes and fees for their climate-affecting ways. Man-made climate change by every measure is probably one of the worst of all faiths by seeking to control the lives of everyone. Ironically, those preaching man-made climate change also typically support abortion on demand citing rights to privacy, opposing government intrusion, and avoiding legislation of morality. This is one of the worst examples of a double standard.

Speaking of faith, for Christians wrestling with this issue, God has actually weighed in. Genesis 8:22 clearly says, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” We should all think twice before believing false prophets over God. Regarding man’s responsibility for the Earth, in Genesis 1:28 God commanded mankind to be stewards of the planet. But, there is no conclusive data that suggests that our carbon dioxide emissions are resulting in poor stewardship. Further, we should never allow environmentalism to become a form of idolatry, where the “rights” of an inanimate planet and its non-human creatures are held in higher esteem than God (Romans 1:25) and man (created in God’s image). Colossians 2:8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” In contrast, some Christians have argued that Revelation 16:8 speaks of an apocalyptic solar event, “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire.” However, this is not describing a man-induced event. The book of Revelation is describing an angel-induced event. In fact, isn’t it arrogant of man to think we are able to cause the sun to destroy our planet?

A very informative book on this subject is “The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World’s Top Climate Scientists” by Roy W. Spencer. This book reports more scientific evidence that exposes as naked the conventional dogma on man-made climate change. In fact, this book reshapes the man-made climate change debate as we know it. Spencer, a former senior NASA climatologist, reveals how climate researchers have mistaken cause and effect when analyzing cloud behavior, solar irradiation, oceans and volcanoes. In fact, volcanoes have long been known as the single greatest cause of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. That is an assertion for which there is more than enough data. In essence the false climate prophets have been duped into believing the Earth’s climate system is far more sensitive to human activities and carbon dioxide than it truly is. And, they in turn are attempting to dupe the rest of us.

On that note, I have many young nephews and nieces. Whenever we adults discuss man-made climate change around them, they look at us and laugh with incredulity. It is as if they can’t believe adults are buying this rubbish. And, adults like me side with them yet for more educated reasons. The climate prophets are quick to judge deniers like me with insults and name-calling. But, if man-made climate change were told through the analogy of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” who is truly playing the part of the naked Emperor and who is truly playing the part of the child extoling common sense?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Greatest Question Ever Asked

In 2003, Dan Brown’s famous novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” was published. And, in 2004, it was the second highest selling book in publication for that year. This fictional novel was primarily centered on a loose-knit conspiracy theory that Jesus was not who the Bible said He was. A storm of controversy ensued over the true identity of the most famous person that ever lived. Many churches were outraged over the discussions and questions regarding Jesus’ identity. But, to certain Christians, these discussions and questions were a collective gift.

Speaking of questions, what do you suppose is the greatest question that has ever been asked? Is it, “What is the meaning of life?” Is it, “Who am I?” Is it, “Why am I here?” Or, how about, “Is there a God?” No, none of these, in my opinion, is the greatest question ever asked. The greatest question ever asked had to come from the greatest person. And, the greatest person is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus asked the greatest question which was recorded in the books of Matthew and Mark. 

Matthew 16:13-19 records, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’”

Did you catch it? What was the greatest question ever asked? The greatest question ever asked was in verse 15 of that passage when Jesus asked his disciples, “who do you say that I am?” This is the single greatest question that has ever been asked. If you disagree, can you think of any greater question than that? To illustrate this question’s importance, let’s clarify exactly what Jesus was asking by way of personalizing the question to each of us. After all, today's Christians are His disciples as well. Since this is the greatest question ever asked, surely it has to apply to us. Jesus is not asking “Who do you believe that I am?” He is not asking, “Who do you think that I am?” He is asking, “Who do you say that I am?”

I taught this lesson many years ago before a group comprised of a couple hundred high school youth. At the beginning of the lesson, I placed an easel with a blank sheet of paper at the front of the room. I took a marker and surveyed the audience by asking the group a similar yet different question, “How do you describe Jesus in conversations with other people?” The answers remarkably included “savior,” “son of God,” “prophet,” “great teacher,” etc. This was remarkable because something very significant was missing from all of their answers? They never referred to Jesus as “God” or “The Christ.” Why is it that so many Christians are afraid and/or hesitant to refer to Jesus as God? Is this a problem?

Jesus was not hesitant to refer to Himself as God. When pressed by certain Jews regarding His identity, in John 8:58, Jesus is recorded as answering them, "'Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.'" The name “I AM” is reserved for God. It is the name of God given to Moses so he could tell Pharaoh who sent him. Therefore, Jesus declared Himself to be God in John 8:58, as well as other well-known passages. For this, the Jews immediately attempted to stone Him. They failed in their attempt, but they would later succeed at the cross. Jesus was prepared to call out His identity for what it was and is, and pay for that with His life. The question is, are you? When pressed to declare the identity of Jesus, are your answers flimsy, indirect or hesitant? Or are you more like Peter?

To further illustrate the importance of answering this question correctly, Romans 10:8-13 says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” We must confess (say) that Jesus is God. This confession is a calling card of anyone who truly knows who Jesus is.

I referred earlier to the publishing of “The Da Vinci Code” as a gift to certain Christians. I say that because I was one of those Christians who used it for God’s benefit. There was no other time in my life when more people were openly discussing who Jesus truly was. It was a perfect invitation to enter numerous conversations with the truth that Jesus is God. 

Are you waiting for an invitation? By reading this post consider yourself invited. I invite you to tell others who Jesus is and how much they are loved by the God who died to give them life abundantly and eternally.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Marriage

This week I will be giving my daughter’s hand away in marriage to the love of her life. Forgive me if I dedicate a post to this landmark in my journey with God. An event like this causes me to reflect upon what life with God is all about. Everything originates from God. Therefore, everything is meant to point back to Him. Marriage is no different. Marriage is God's invention and an earthly reflection of the divine and glorious union between God and His Bride, the Church. In fact, this is what life is all about. The entire story of existence of all things revolves around this eternal marriage. From Genesis to Revelation, we are participants in the most amazing and glorious wedding that will ever be. Marriage is a clear picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it gives us a perfect portal through which to understand many things.

In that vein, my daughter and her future husband have asked my wife and me for advice as they approach this union. After 25 years of marriage, my first piece of advice to them is to focus on the meaning of “covenant.” Marriage is not just a relationship. It is a covenant relationship. And, a covenant is so much more than just a contract. A contract allows either side to exit if the other side breaches. A covenant gives no such exit, but is unconditionally binding. This is why God hates divorce and other distortions of marriage. The central purpose of marriage is to point to God’s covenant with us.

In order to understand God’s covenant we must study Biblical covenants. In Biblical times, a covenant was reached and evidenced through the killing of lambs and other animals. Each animal's carcass would then be divided in half. Each half would be laid on the ground on either side of a path. Then the covenant parties would walk together through the path evidencing that only death can remove them from each other’s covenant obligations. One of the most famous examples of such a ceremony was between God and Abram (later renamed Abraham) as recorded in Genesis 15. But, when God made His covenant with Abraham, he first made Abraham fall asleep. Then God proceeded down the path alone. This was God’s way of making a one-way covenant with Abraham. And, this was a prophetic foretaste of God’s final, broad-sweeping covenant with His Church at the cross. And, earthly marriage is another one of those prophetic foretastes of God’s gracious covenant.

God at the cross made a one-way marriage covenant with His creation. He paid 100% and demanded nothing in return. This was the greatest dowry ever paid for a bride for all time. He paid Himself. This is the singular pinnacle of true unconditional love. This is covenant marriage. The beauty of God's covenant marriage with us is that there is nothing you or I can do to break it. God is obligated by the blood of His one and only Son, the Lamb of God. Those who freely receive God’s forgiveness are betrothed in a royal wedding like no other. That makes God our eternal marriage partner. And, this is what earthly marriages should reflect at all cost. This is what marriage is all about. Marriage is not about two people in a 50%-50% relationship. Marriage is a covenant where each party gives 100% to the other without conditions or strings attached, under the inspiration of He who invented and modeled it best.

My second piece of advice is this: Always look to the cross. The cross is the greatest symbol of our covenant marriage with God. It is the single symbol of hope in the Gospel which meets man’s every need. And, that need is to be reunited or reconciled with their Creator unconditionally. The cross is the picture of what earthly marriage should look like. It is our sole inspiration in marriage. As you suffer every valley and as you enjoy every mountain top, always meditate on the cross. Such meditations will bring clarity to every situation. At the cross you will find that God truly meets your every need. You will also find that you need not want for more except to see more people taste of His goodness, mercy, forgiveness and love.

When you gaze at the cross, is there any trouble you can’t face or that God does not ultimately resolve? When you gaze at the cross is there any victory that God has not paid with His blood to give to you? In a world of so much inequity, unfairness, evil and want, the cross is the only great equalizer. And, likewise, in marriage, meditation on the cross can solve every issue a couple may face. If we offer our spouses the type of radical forgiveness that Jesus offered us there, imagine what our marriages would look like.

To my future son-in-law, please understand that you don’t deserve my daughter. And, you don’t deserve God’s daughter, either. She is a beautiful and magnificent Princess. She is a gift of God’s grace that He is investing into your life. He will use her to grow you into a mightier man of God than you presently are. Read Ephesians 5 as often as you can. She will be your muse to unconditionally love as Christ loved us and gave everything up for us. You are thereby inspired to do the same for her. And, as you do, you will shine as a glorious symbol of our radiant Groom, Jesus Christ.

To my daughter, please understand that you don’t deserve your husband. He is a son of God and a gift of God’s grace that He is investing into your life. Your husband will symbolize for you the headship of Christ over His Church. God will use your husband to sharpen every edge of your life to make you holier and holier with every passing day. You too should read Ephesians 5 as often as you can. As a symbol of God’s Church, you are inspired to show your husband unconditional respect. The more you respect him, the more you glow as a surpassing, radiant beauty, which is hard for this father to presently imagine.

I may or may not get the opportunity to propose a toast at your wedding. But, if I do, I will reserve my toast for the one who deserves all glory and recognition. As I challenge you to always look to the cross, so will I as I toast. As we proverbially raise our glasses, here’s to Jesus, who is love, and is He who inspired you to love each other. Here’s to husband and wife being wonderfully created by Jesus in His very image with all of your talents and abilities by His hand personally crafted. Here’s to His gift of His Holy Spirit deposited into your lives to empower you and guide you on your merged path. Here’s to a Kingdom destiny planned by Jesus that is so personal to each husband and wife yet so much larger than the two becoming one. Here’s to the marital foretaste of eternal union with our God, Creator, Savior, Lover, King and Friend made possible by the sacrifice paid by Jesus on the cross. Here’s to our Groom! Here’s to Jesus!