Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Weddings, Groomsmen, and the Gospel

This past weekend, I had the honor of being the best man at two of my best friends' wedding. It was truly a privilege to be able to stand beside my good buddy Michael and be present for his marriage to my good friend, AmberLynn.
Photo credit to Terra Stopher

I'll be honest.

We looked good. Vera Wang makes a dapper looking man.

The ceremony and reception were both held on Mount Charleston at the resort, and it was gorgeous. Even powerful gusts of wind and a wandering ring-bearer could not ruin a day that perfect.

Both Michael and AmberLynn were both ecstatic and so happy all day at a wedding that ran late into the night with dancing and laughter.

Good times.

And of course I was taking notes for my own wedding. That is coming up pretty quickly.

Well.. like a year, but still.

One May wedding down, two to go. On May 26th, I have a wedding in Phoenix, Arizona for another two beloved friends of mine, Paul and Marie, whom for which I have been asked to be a groomsman. Later that week, in Indiana, I have a wedding on the 31st for my close friends, Chuck and Abbey who asked me to officiate their wedding.

I've never officiated a wedding before, so that should be a very exciting day for all of us.

Despite all the tuxes and planning and craziness, I love weddings. A wedding is a sacred ceremony binding a man and a woman together in a holy covenant that will last a lifetime. The relationship a man has with his wife is the highest form of human relationship.

A few months ago, I read a book that was informative and frustratingly correct in so many ways. The book was called Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Heistand and Jay Thomas. I don't want to go too much into the book, suffice to say that it was eye opening, convicting, and correct in ways that made me sigh deeply and groan while sitting in Starbucks. The baristas thought there was something wrong with me.


The authors refer to the Apostle Paul's description of the model for marriage in Ephesians 5, saying;

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 
                                                                                 (Ephesians 5:25-32)

Heistand and Thomas go on to explain that the "profound mystery" is not a biblical conundrum without answers to be pondered and thrown away. To the contrary! According to the authors, the answer to the mystery lies within the same verse that states, "it refers to Christ and the church." Paul is saying that the model of a Godly husband is Jesus Christ, whose entire life was dedicated to growing and blessing and protecting the church, even to the point of painful death.

In that way, marriage is a beautiful illustration of the gospel. To be married is to proclaim the gospel.

Multiple times in scripture, the church is referred to as the bride of Christ, and He is the groom. When the church finally is united with Christ in heaven, we will forever be His treasure and love, cherished in purity and eternal love.

Kinda rad, right?

One man in the bible who understood the metaphor as well as the role of a groomsman was the revolutionary and famed John the Baptist.

In the beginning of Jesus' ministry, He began gathering thousands of followers, many of whom were former disciples of Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist. 

One day, a conversation arose between some of John's followers over Jesus, saying that Jesus was stealing John's followers and growing more famous than John. John responds.

"The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease."

   (John 3:29-30)

John understands that the Christ is the groom and the church is His bride. John understands that being a minister of the gospel, a follower of Christ, puts him in the role of the groom's friend, a supporter and helper of the wedding, one whom is dedicated to seeing the bride and groom be unified in love and rejoices in that union. John the Baptist is the best man in Jesus' wedding to the Church.
Photo credit to Abbey Torkelson

And he finishes the illustration with a phrase that would change ministry forever: "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Looking back, the day of Michael and AmberLynn's wedding was not to magnify how snazzily dapper I looked in an $800 tuxedo. I was there to support and help the unification of Michael to his beautiful bride. I was there to help promote the gospel.

Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Dunn.

Nate T B

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Saul, Forgiveness, and Identity

Last night was the first lesson in the beginning of a new series that I've titled The Call of the Gospel.

Pretty legendary, right?

Working on this one lesson has shown me a few things about myself:
     1. I need to do less historical context when telling the events.
     2. I love Paul.

Paul's accomplishments forever changed the world as we know it, revolutionizing international evangelism and spreading the gospel to corners of the Eastern hemisphere that were all but unreachable purely by the power and grace of God.

Without a doubt, Paul changed the Earth forever, and his accomplishments are an invaluable victory for the growing church.

What intrigues me as much as his later life is his early life.

Paul, born Saul, was raised in education and learning, studying at the feet of Gamaliel from a very young age. He was brought up in the ways of the Mosaic Law, studying night and day to understand the intricacies and details of the books of Moses.

After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the remaining apostles begin spreading the gospel, and the church begins to expand faster than the Sanhedrin can handle.

Enter Saul, a learned and passionate young Jewish leader whose task is to apprehend the followers of The Way and bring them to justice to pay for their heresy.

Saul's reputation spreads quickly through the cities of Israel, and Christians everywhere flee for their lives.

It baffles me how someone could spend so much time in the Word of God and not accept the divinity of Jesus Christ.

For years, Saul ravages the growing church, bringing hundreds of disciples, bound and shackled, to the feet of the Sanhedrin.

With warrants in hand, Saul is on the road to Damascus with a caravan of other Christian-hunting enforcers when Behold!  A blinding light explodes from the sky with a booming voice of the resurrected Christ. Saul's horse rears up, throwing him from his saddle on to the ground.

The voice calls out him by name, asking "Saul, Saul; why are you persecuting me?"
                         "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked, shielding his eyes from the light, shaking in fear.
           "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." Jesus replied.

It wasn't just men and women that Saul was hunting and murdering; it was Jesus Christ. Our Lord suffers with us, hurts with us, identifies with us, sympathizes with us. Like a husband with his wife, the church and Christ are one.

When the light fades, Saul is blind...

More than the shock of his divine encounter, Saul is confronted with the paralyzing reality that his life has been a lie. Years and years spent with his nose in scrolls and at the feet of wise godly men, and he missed the point.

Imagine the heart shattering weight upon his realization of his crimes against his God whom he had vowed his life to serve. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the internal conflict that Saul is experiencing in this moment.

The bible gives us an illustration of Saul's internal struggle:

And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 
                           Acts 9:9

For three days, he sat in a house in Damascus, no food or water, only prayer. 

For three days, he considered his sin and the grace of God that had chosen to spare him and use him. 

Saul had come to a full realization of his sin and an understanding of the holiness and greatness of Jesus Christ.

And then the gospel arrived in the form of Ananias. 

Ananias was a well-thought of disciple who lived and ministered in Damascus. 

Before Saul had encountered Jesus on the road, Saul was on a mission to arrest Ananias.

Receiving a vision about Saul, Ananias comes to Saul, call him brother, and heals his blindness.

What an amazing illustration of the gospel.

Saul, a sinful man, encounters God, realizes the evil of his life, and, purely out of undeserved grace and love, his eyes are opened to greatness and holiness of God and the beauty of reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

Those who have a greater understanding of the gospel impact and forgiveness are those who have seen the effects of Christ's forgiveness in their own lives.

I can't think of another person whose life was more obviously affected by the gospel than Saul. Looking where Saul started, murderous and hateful, and then transformed in to the author of two-thirds of the New Testament. 

Paul's life is a beautiful reminder that God loves sinners, passionately and eternally. He pursues them and works in them.

You don't have to be a sinless, perfect bible scholar to be used by God. God uses our flaws and brokenness to bring glory to Himself. 
Before Christ, I lived in sin and nothingness, full of shame, regret, and selfishness. 

Because of Christ, I have received forgiveness and a new identity.

Saul's identity was completely defined by the work of the gospel in his life. The gospel gives me purpose and a new identity. My past sin no longer defines me or controls me; to the contrary! My past sin ultimately brings glory to the one who forgives my sins. 

I see Paul's story, and I can't but relate to Paul. 

Can you? 

Nate T B