Let’s Redefine Marriage… the Right Way

In America, we come at marriage the wrong way. We assume that marriage legitimacy depends upon a sheet of paper. This sheet of paper, which often gets tucked away in a drawer, serves as proof that we have, in fact, said some vows.

But at the first wedding, there was no paper. There was God, a man, and a woman. No one signed a sheet of paper, got a notary stamp, or surrendered money to a clerk. And when Isaac married Rebekah, there was also no solemn, sealed piece of parchment necessary. (There wasn’t even a cake.)

You see, the biblical view of marriage dispenses with paper altogether. And that’s not because it’s somehow lesser than government-sanctioned unions. In fact, this lack of paper means that God intended more.

A marriage the Bible way is about covenant, a promise that only ends when hearts stop beating. Paper marriages can get tossed out by the same legal machinations that set them up. Covenants are serious. So serious that God gets involved.

We too often get this backward. When we think of marriage, we think ceremony and paper and tax benefits. But God’s intention for marriage is a three-fold cord—with a man and a woman joined together in Christ.

When we say that the government is destroying the sanctity of marriage, this isn’t completely accurate. Civil marriages are not God-marriages. They’re legally recognized unions. An “evolving view” of civil marriage simply means the government is altering what it does and does not accept for tax purposes. They’re changing forms and paper.

But no government can change what God made. A true covenant marriage has nothing to do with taxes, and everything to do with God revealing Christ through us, through the joining of the husband and wife. Covenant marriage points to Jesus like this: husband + wife = Christ + Church. It’s a big deal.

Let’s be blunt here. The governments of this world have long condoned marriages that had nothing to do with covenant, nothing to do with what God meant. When two unbelievers marry, for example, they’re not revealing the mystery of Christ and His Church. The supposed “redefining” of marriage isn’t new; it’s old. Since Noah’s day, according to Jesus.

Things called marriage have existed for thousands of years. But not all things called marriage are true covenants with God involved.

We need to put this in the right perspective. Covenant marriages have nothing to do with a government. The justification is higher—way higher. Governments like to get involved so that they can gather the profits and regulate such unions, but they can’t change what God intended.

So, no matter what presidents (or even priests) say marriage must be, they’re only commenting on civil, temporary, and earthly matters. They’re changing what can be allowed on a piece of paper. Paper that may one day be shredded or burned or stuck in a birdcage.

But God’s definition for the covenant of marriage never stops being the same. It’s continued through floods and towers and rising-to-fall empires. It’ll stand through “tolerance and equality” just the same. We’d do well to remember that.

Marriage doesn’t start with paper. True covenant marriage starts with God.

4 Surprising Reasons You Need Church (and Church Needs You)

This isn’t that article that simply tells you what the Bible says about going to church and then expects you to run to the nearest pew. Sure, God’s got a bunch to say about why you should join with other believers on a regular basis, and they’re all solid reasons. Read those articles first.

But let’s take a look at some purely practical reasons that gathered worship makes so much sense. You didn’t think God would make such a big deal out of something if He didn’t intend it to be beneficial, right?

Here are 4 reasons you need church (and the church needs you):

1. You’d probably just end up wasting that time anyway.

Let’s just be honest here. When people skip church (or don’t go at all), Sunday morning doesn’t magically morph into a productivity bonanza or a God-focused retreat. We laze around, read, cut grass, watch Netflix, rush our kids to fifty different sporting events that we let them sign up for, or just sleep in. Maybe we throw some Bible in there, but that’s only if we feel super guilty.

Sure, we have lots of plans of what we’ll do with this “freed up” time that we’re not spending in church, but that rarely ever happens. Usually, we just veg out or stress out.

That’s not to say that going to a bad church won’t waste your time; it would. But when you put yourself in the company of other real worshippers, you’ve focused your mind on something far grander than your binge watching session:

“The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.” Psalm 99:1

Earth-shaking, world-changing God? Yes, please.

Worship with others pushes us out of the continuity of regular life and our mundane plans and brings us face to face with our Creator. We worship best together.

2. You need to know that other people struggle just like you.

On our own, we humans have a tendency to assume that no one is suffering or struggling in the same way we are: “This job is the worst thing ever.” “No one else gets completely derailed by these ads on the Internet that keep popping up.” “My life has to be the lamest ever.”

We get trapped in our myopic view of the world because suffering and shame bend us inwards (the Elijah syndrome, 1 Kings 18:22). The more we struggle, the more we just want to hold it in and hide it away.

Church puts you face to face with other sinners just like you. Sure, you may look around at first and think that these people don’t struggle like you, but they do. They’re liars, misfits, and hypocrites—all in the process of being transformed.

You need close proximity with other believers (both mature and newbies) to pull your focus outward, away from your own struggles. That’s the point where you realize you weren’t meant to carry all this weight alone:

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

You can go it alone, but that’s an awful lot of baggage to lug around yourself—especially when you don’t have to.

3. You need the mess (because you’re part of it).

Most of the time, people like to say they don’t need more drama in their lives. And if there’s one thing you can say for certain, it’s that church has drama. There’s loads of it.

But don’t be so quick to brush it off simply because of that. After all, there’s lots drama in your house, too. Why? Because people are there, and the equation is pretty simple: people = drama. You can’t escape the messiness of life simply by avoiding church. Since drama is pretty much a guarantee, the real difference is in what we do with it.

Honestly, you need some sanctified mess.

Not all churches are healthy when it comes to dealing with “junk.” This is true. But what happens when messy people get thrown together under the transforming power of Christ is something amazing:

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

When it comes to the mess being put right, “we” always works better than “me.” On your own, you rarely have the courage and endurance to do what needs to be done. Just be honest. You get tripped up along the way. You don’t follow through with that “sure-fire goal” you had to change. You’ve got no one to spot for you.

Together, though, we messy people can push each other toward being more like Jesus.

4. You stink at some stuff.

Not all of us are naturally gifted at sharing what we’re passionate about. Not all of us can teach and explain difficult concepts. Not all of us know how to organize something. We’ve got skills, yes, but we’ve got weak areas, too.

For that reason, you’ll never see a big company like Google plug a master accountant into the app development team or a marketing guru in with the code crunchers. You can pretty much bet that the results would be less than awesome because people had been placed where they just don’t fit.

We Christians have skills, too. Yours are solid, but not the same as mine or anyone else’s. When we try to go all solo-warrior in our Christian walk, we’ve pretty much said we can handle the whole Great Commission ourselves. All of it. We’ve got everything we need to reach the whole world for Christ—no church required.

Then again, you’ve got to admit that some Christians just have a way with sharing truth from the Bible. Some can pray like nobody’s business. Some have no qualms about spouting their faith even to hardened atheists. And others write songs that just get it. These are messy, awesome Christians. And we go great together.

By yourself, though, you’re just an eyeball:

“If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (2 Corinthians 12:17–18)

The Wonderful Gift of… Suffering?

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1:29-30)

Philippians 1:29 is one of those verses that makes me stop and shake my head in disbelief. Paul tells the readers of this letter that suffering has been granted to them. Granted? Really? As in, “Here you go. Here’s a big ol’ heaping helping of suffering”?

If you dig into the Greek behind that phrase, you’ll uncover the word charizomai. This word usually implies something that’s freely given for someone else’s benefit. In fact, Paul uses this same word to talk about how God forgave our sins (Colossians 2:13; Ephesians 4:32); how we are to forgive others freely (2 Corinthians 2:7, 10); and how God bestows gifts or titles because of His love and power (as in Philippians 2:9). In Luke 7:21, the same word shows how Jesus gave sight to the blind. Free, beneficial gifts.

All those are well and good. So, why would Paul add something crazy like suffering to these other good things? Surely, he has to see that suffering doesn’t fit in the same category as healing the blind and forgiving sin. They don’t even share the same zip code. Right?

Well, Paul’s example shows us that they do. Right near the end of Acts (chapter 27), Paul gets stuck with a stubborn centurion who can’t wait to get to Rome and a ship’s pilot who’s happy to oblige. Paul warns that such a trip will end badly. They ignore him (word to the wise: never ignore Paul). When they run into a storm, things look really, really bad. People are throwing supplies overboard, faces are green, and hope goes buh-bye.

About that time, Paul gets to give his “I told you so” speech, and in that speech, he uses our old friend charizomai. An angel had appeared to Paul and told him, “God has granted you all those who are sailing with you” (Acts 27:24). God had granted him seasick sailors (who wanted to kill the prisoners, mind you) and a stubborn centurion who refused to listen to sense. What kind of gift is that? God could have granted him a miraculous trip to a nearby island—perhaps somewhere warm and not so stormy.

But if that had been the case, Paul wouldn’t have done the other part of this verse: “you must stand before Caesar.” If Paul had been whisked away, in fact, we wouldn’t have the books of Acts or Luke (that chapter is filled with “we” from our good doctor friend who also survived the storm); the sailors and centurion wouldn’t have seen God’s mighty act to save every single one of them; and Paul wouldn’t have taken the gospel to the most important city in the Roman Empire. God gave Paul the gift of their lives so that the gospel would bulldoze on.

And that brings up back to Paul’s suggestion that suffering is granted—a gift. Quite likely, Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians not long after being smashed into the rocks. Despite the messy trip (or perhaps precisely because of it), the message of Christ spread throughout the royal guard and people all over Rome. Other Christians got some backbone to speak more boldly (Philippians 1:13-14). Things went boom all over.

The gift of suffering, for Paul and for us, doesn’t seem much like a gift—at first. But the vantage point makes all the difference. Suffering that comes for the sake of Christ always produces a harvest of awesome. That’s because, in addition to the suffering, God also grants us the strength to endure and the chance to see the gospel take root.

And that’s why Paul can truthfully say, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (Philippians 3:8). That’s not empty boasting from a beaten down man. That’s the triumphant cry of someone who sees what lies ahead.

Open Letter: No, Mr. Cook, Being Gay Isn’t a Gift from God—But Something Much Greater Is

Mr. Tim Cook
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA  95014

You don’t know me. I’m not a CEO, a tech guy, an actor, or a politician. I’m a writer with a blog (not many of those around, eh?). But I’ve been following your work for a while. Back in the late ‘90s, I’d finally had enough blue screens of death and driver incompatibility issues from Microsoft Windows. So, when a certain Bondi blue gumdrop of a computer came out (you guys called it the iMac), I plunged in headfirst. (I’m even one of the few who loved the hockey puck mouse.)

My house looks something like an Apple Store at this point. MacBook Airs and Pros, iPads, iPods, and iPhones are pretty much members of the family. I’m even typing this on a much newer iMac.

You could say that I’m an Apple guy.

Let me just say that when Steve Jobs passed away, I wasn’t really worried about the company. I’d seen your work, and you’ve got a gift for keeping things on track. You know how to get the right people in the right place at the right time.

Recently, you did a very brave thing. You finally confessed to being gay. I have to admit that I wasn’t surprised. Your avid support for the LGBTQ community and concern for those who suffer from fear-based attacks has been a big giveaway. You could say that it was about as well kept of a secret as was your last iPad.

But still, confessing the truth is brave. We often have roadblocks of fear and potential rejection that keep us from admitting such hidden parts of our lives. Add to that the pressure of being the CEO of a company beloved by people all over the spectrum, and it’s obvious you took a tough step.

Now, I want to urge you to not stop there. Confession should only be the beginning; you also need surrender. You see, you claimed that being gay was a “gift from God.” But I have to tell you, even if it’s hard, that what you said just isn’t the truth.

I can’t say I completely blame you, especially in this country right now. We Americans have our ideas about God really mixed up, and the pull of these false ideas is seductive. The god that many Americans worship has a pretty hands-off approach, lays out infinite paths to heaven, and generally just wants us all to be happy with any decision we make. For many, this god (if he is the one who gave us the Bible) didn’t really condemn much of anything because he didn’t foresee how well we moderns would figure things out.

The problem with these notions is that a god who doesn’t know everything—past and future—is no god at all. A god who allows anything and everything cannot also be loving. And a god without standards and expectations is a god who cannot bring justice. Really, this American god is something we’ve created to feel better about the choices we make. But if we’re honest, he’s also a jumbled, powerless mess.

You say that you’re proud to be gay, and I certainly believe you. But—and here’s the hard truth—pride has a way of making us not deal with our problems. We cling tightly to the treasures that our world tells us are important: self-identity and passions mostly. Mr. Cook, you need to understand that those things put us on a broad road that leads not to victory, but destruction.

Is that harsh? Yes, it may seem so. But just as a smartphone maker sets certain parameters for how the operating system works and what the apps can and can’t do, God—the true God, not the American one—does the same. He created a world with certain standards of right and wrong, certain boundaries for what His greatest creation (that’s us) can do.

If that’s so, then why do you have the desires that you do, the ones that are so strong they seem like part of who you are? That’s because our world isn’t like it was meant to be. We’ve fallen so far from what God intended that sometimes the things He doesn’t want us to do seem good to us.

That gets us to the whole gift thing. You mentioned God’s gifts, and I want to tell you that God (not the American god but the real One) has given us a truly amazing gift. We’re fallen; we’re so mixed up we can’t tell up from down. But our Creator, Jesus, came to this earth on a special rescue mission. He took on our skin and bones and then took on our sin on the cross. He did that to yank us out of the confusion we’re in. Grace, Mr. Cook—grace is the greatest gift we’ve been given. And it’s big enough for this former atheist and for a gay CEO.

Realizing and accepting God’s grace in Jesus won’t suddenly make everything easy. You’ll still have your passions and failings, your urges and problems. But you’ll also have God’s leading to see what is right, even against the flawed views of culture.

If you need help, please visit the website LivingOut.org. You’ll find inspirational stories of brave men just like you who are fighting the battle against same-sex attraction and winning in Jesus’ name. They deny themselves (their fallen, broken selves) to take up their Jesus-changed selves.

I pray you find God’s true and greatest gift.

In Christian love,
John UpChurch

Freedom: A Poem

Freedom (Romans 6)


“I’m tired of hiding who I

Really am,” he says. And runs in,

Arms flailing, head down, free

Way down in his mind. They clap,

Who stand along the bars. Their

Ebullient words echo off

The cage—dampened by metal.


He clanks and scrapes the chain snaked

Around his ankle. “Now, I’m



Still, even while he courses

Around the cage, that same Voice

That’s always called, calls still.

Sermon: Keep Your Motor Running

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven.” Hebrews 12:1–2


  • According to surveys, January is a tough month for many people: holidays over, weather, New Year’s resolutions
  • Treadmill gathers dust, diets fade away, Bible reading plans slip
  • If it’s hard to keep goals for physical things, how can we keep our motors running in our Christian life?
  • This passage gives us the tools we need to keep running the race day to day.

I. Understand Where You Are

  • First, need to understand where we are. Writer has given us an image that’s familiar even to us.
  • Great crowd/cloud of witnesses – refers to the rows upon rows spectators watching a sporting event, like clouds billowing up in the stands.
  • Who are they? Hebrews 11 those who lived on purpose through faith in the coming Savior; not just passively watching but give us proof that imperfect people can make it (not really moral examples, but examples of living from faith)
  • Scripture encourages us, but also helps us understand our true, in-our-face spiritual condition

II. Throw off What Holds Back

  • Strip off every weight, especially the sin that holds us back – back then ran in a much more “natural” way.
  • Sin makes us uncomfortable because our society teaches us not to admit our moral failure (improper relationships, misspoke). But Jesus gave a moral imperative to “sin no more.”
  • Living on purpose for Christ means calling sin what it is—sin. That is, confessing it. Daily, if need be.
  • “Why are you so angry?” the LORD asked [Cain]. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you respond in the right way. But if you refuse to respond correctly, then watch out! Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you, and you must subdue it.” Genesis 4:6–7
  • “For the honor of your name, O LORD, forgive my many, many sins. Who are those who fear the LORD? He will show them the path they should choose.” Psalm 25:11–12

III. Follow the Path God Made

  • Run the race with endurance – it’s a long-distance race, not a sprint
  • Running the mile in middle school (show off, then walk and complain) vs. high school (grade depended on it, ran smart).
  • Mindset matters for runners (won’t meet a champion marathoner who complains every step), and even more so for following Jesus
  • When we get rid of hindrances, we’re running in the path God laid out for us. (Ephesians 2:10)
  • You don’t have to figure it all out. Just go with the running lane that God opens up. (Blockers in football)

IV. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

  • Keeping our eyes on Jesus on whom our faith depends – He set the example for us to follow (do God’s will, help the helpless, receive the prize)
  • Think about why you’re following Jesus each day, your motivation:
  • Your own efforts won’t sustain you.
  • Approval from others won’t keep your motor running.
  • Our faith is meant to be a day-by-day realization of God’s love for us and ours for Him—a deeper and deeper understanding of the gospel and a steady transformation. Progress in the Christian life is a road paved with passion.
  • “And all of us have had that veil removed so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more.” 2 Corinthians 3:18


  • The word for witnesses in Greek is “martyr.” All followers of Jesus are called to die—die to self.
  • Jesus said following Him is like picking up a cross, a symbol of death, and going after Him each day.
  • Not easy. But He’s made a path for us, He shows us the way.
  • You can keep going. In this race, God intends for us to win as He molds us each day.
  • “I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” Philippians 3:14

Fill ‘er Up

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.” Colossians 1:24-26

Right after I got married, I gave up computer software updates and PC troubleshooting for something a bit more… down to earth, you could say. I needed work in my new hometown, and since employers weren’t tracking me down and forcing jobs on me, I gravitated toward the only available option: construction. With a booming housing market at the time, finding enough to do wasn’t a problem.

But finding motivation was a problem. Going from a specialized, higher paying job in computers, where I mostly sat at my desk all day, to cleaning up cinder blocks, wrestling with insulation, and scrubbing windows—that was quite the humbling thing. Honestly, I’d never had to do any real manual labor in my life before that. (Yes, I was coddled.) The heat and pain and bloodied hands were all new to me.

The first few weeks, after a particularly arduous day of gophering around the jobsites, I’d come home and crash on the living room floor. My muscles weren’t used to the beating they took, and they made sure I knew about it.

Slowly, however, with all the wood slinging and nail pounding and putty slapping, things changed. The nights of carpet collapses became less frequent, and my hands didn’t split open nearly as often (unless you count the numerous times I stabbed myself with a chisel). In fact, I came to enjoy the process of seeing something come together, seeing a house take shape.

My spiritual growth has come in a similar fashion—just without the splinters. At first, the failures dragged me down and beat me up. The rejections when I tried to share my newfound faith stung. The transformation cut deep. But as I grew and as God worked in me, something changed. The pain still stings and the transformation still cuts (that never stops), yet I began to see the pain as an important part of the overall process. Christ is building something in me—and in His Church.

As humans, we all suffer. But as Christians, we fill up on suffering. Sounds bad, but the point is that instead of us letting the suffering go to waste, God uses it for the good of other believers (and our own). He takes the pain and makes it passion, passion that spills out as love for our brothers and sisters.

We each serve as a breathing example of the gospel played out in real life. Our pain and restoration make us a family like nothing else can.