Left Out: The Benefits of Exclusion

Left Out

Exclusion is a part of life. It is unavoidable. Not only that, it is good.

Isn’t it good that the whole school doesn’t get to have a say in your child’s education? That the whole church isn’t governed by the whim of the congregation each week but by a group of trusted elders? That only those who are trained doctors can make decisions about your healthcare?

Exclusion is a good thing. It is a protection.

But to many, exclusion is a great evil. The LGBT movement sees exclusion as evil. How can we exclude individuals from the benefits of marriage simply because they are of the same gender? Many hate Christianity because it is exclusive: “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the light. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6) How could it be possible that God could exclude some from heaven simply because they don’t believe in Jesus? If God is good, how could He ever be exclusive, so goes the reasoning.

It can be easy for us, as followers of Jesus, to absorb this attitude and apply it to our own contexts of church and ministry. Being left out is usually seen as a great evil, one in which we should avoid at all costs. Isn’t the Church the place where all feel included all the time?

No. I don’t think it’s that black and white. Jesus Himself makes this a troublesome issue for us by being decisively exclusive on several occasions:

  • Jesus chose 12 disciples from the larger group. There were many He didn’t choose to invite into that circle. “He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.” (Matt 4:18-22, Luke 6:13-16)
  • On many occasions, He invited the same 3 from the twelve to join Him for special occasions. Here we see not just an inner circle, but an inner circle within the circle. (Matt 17:1-9, Mark 14:32-35, Luke 8:49-51)
  • He told others that He didn’t come for them. To the Canaanite woman He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt 15:22-28)
  • He upset seemingly good inner circles, like blood family. He denied the request of His own family, using it as an opportunity to say His real family are those who do the will of God. (Mark 3:31-35)

Knowing Jesus is without sin and is the embodiment of love, going as far as the cross for unworthy sinners, forces us to create a new category: exclusion motivated by love. Though we can’t know all of God’s purposes in exclusion, one benefit it carries is what it exposes.

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God is Unfair.

God's Not Fair

God is unfair.

Matthew 20 forces this hard reality down our throats. Though an equitable God who treats everyone with the same grace and favor would be easier to swallow, that’s not our God. Jesus makes this clear as He tells this parable:

For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’
And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.
~Matt 20:1-16
If you’re like many people, you probably read this passage and think to yourself… “Well, that’s uncomfortable, so I’ll keep reading until I get to something I understand and makes me feel good.” But we do ourselves a great disservice by skipping over challenging parts of the Bible.
God is revealing Himself to us, giving us an opportunity to draw closer to Him. To learn about Him. To get to know who He is and what makes Him tick. What a privilege! So what can we learn about God from this passage? The most obvious is this: God is unfair. His generosity isn’t equitable; it doesn’t coincide with work load or hours. He is more generous to some than to others. And if we’re all honest, this makes us a little uncomfortable.
So let’s ask the question that those morning workers asked, “Why didn’t those who worked more get paid more?” Here are some things we can learn from God’s response.

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Do You Despise Him?

Do you despise him?

When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom.

But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.”

Esau said “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?”

And Jacob said,”First swear it to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Genesis 25:29-34

Above we have a snapshot of the lives of Jacob and Esau, Isaac’s twin sons. Esau, the elder, sells his birthright to Jacob at the cost of a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. The final assessment of the situation: Esau despised his birthright.

So what does despise mean in this context? I used to assume the word was very emotive, in the same camp as disgust, hate, or loathe. But the Bible doesn’t use it that way. Here there is no argument breaking out, no punches thrown, no harsh words. After Esau sells his birthright, he goes on his way. He doesn’t seem to care either way about whether he has it or not. And that is the essence of this Biblical word, despise: to treat as insignificant, expendable, and of little value.

We see this word show up in the New Testament as Jesus is said to have “endured the cross, despising the shame.” (Heb 12:2) It’s not that he was angry at or disgusted by the shame of being nailed to the cross. He just didn’t give much importance to the shame he would endure. It was a negligible side-effect of the cross when compared to the immense joy and salvation it would bring.


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What To Do With Self-Pity

what to do with self-pity

Self-pity is simply the grief that I have nothing to brag about in myself.

Ever have those days when you feel like a failure at everything? The closer I walk with God, the more my sin, my deep-rooted self-love, comes into high-definition focus. And honestly, I’d really love to be the most put together person in the room, the most spiritual, the most holy, the most fill-in-the-blank woman I know. Why? [Honest confession time] Because I love boasting in myself!

And if we are all honest, who doesn’t? Who doesn’t love feeling like they are awesome? Like they are the bomb-dot-com, as Jimmy would say.

1 corin 10So today, while feeling sorry for my sin-sick self, I am reminded that those “woe-is-me” thoughts are anything but godly. They might seem spiritual and masquerade like noble desires to “be better” for God, but I am only mourning the loss of my own greatness. I am still, in my pride, just focused on myself.

But here is the occasion for the mental guerrilla warfare described in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6.  By taking captive my thoughts, this grieving of my own destroyed goodness might lead me to a proper boasting.


1 Corinthians 1 is the best cure I know for a low self-esteem. Read it with me here, and if you dare, read it out loud to let it settle on you:

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let Him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

The truth is, the Bible actually encourages a low self-esteem. Did you catch what we were just commanded to do in this passage? We are to consider, meditate, think on the fact that we are:

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The Forceful Compassion of God

the forceful compassion of god

Today, the Spirit of God captivated my attention with a phrase in a very familiar passage of Scripture. I have read about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah many times in chapter 19 of Genesis and usually the same main points keep my attention:

  • the wickedness of the men of Sodom who demand Lot’s guests be released so they can sexually abuse them
  • the power of the angels who caused all those men to become blind instantly
  • Lot’s wife turning into salt because she turns to look at the city as it is destroyed

But for the first time as I read, a different point became painstakingly clear to me: God’s compassion is often forceful. And I am so thankful that it is!

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying “Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.” But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the Lord was up on him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city. – Genesis 19:15-16


Leave, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.

DANGER DANGER! Lot is clearly warned that he is standing in the direct path of the impending doom. God is about to pour out His wrath on these wicked cities, and in His great kindness (and due to the prayers of Lot’s uncle Abraham, Gen 18:22-33) He warns Lot to leave immediately before He is swept away with the rest of the city.

Likewise, God has warned us as well of impending doom. Through His Word He makes clear the wrath stored up for all. “The wages of sin is death.”  And then in His kindness tells us the way out. “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:23)

I think of the way Jesus sought to convince us of how dangerous sin is: “If your right eye makes you sin, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you sin, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matt 5:29-30. It’s better to lose parts of our body than to continue in sin. This is a warning of the dangers of sin for the human soul.

The warning given to us isn’t once and for all either. Even for the adopted children of God, those who have trusted in Jesus to pay the penalty of sin, there is still a warning not to continue in sin. True, for those who believe there is no more wrath left from God and we safe in the grace of God. But we live in the already and not yet. Our sins already covered, yet their presence not entirely gone. There is still a warning for us.

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The Art of Noticing

art of noticing

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” Psalm 34:1

Continual worship of God is in the art of noticing.

The way a leaf looks when held up to the sun, its intricate map of veins exposed by the light seeping through. Not one leaf is identical to another and yet each one contributing to the whole look of the tree itself. The way each tree differs in its silhouette depending on the type of leaves it bears. How ingenious a Creator!

The overwhelming diversity of flowers, in size, shape, color, smell, feel, and growth. The velvety feel of a petal, softer than the best silk made by human hands. The subtle opening of each bud to surprise the world with the creative beauty that lies within. What limitless creativity our God has! When I think I have seen every kind of flower imaginable, I discover yet another unforeseen combination.

The way light cascades onto our hardwood floor in the afternoon highlighting a completely new set of tones in the wood. The slow movement of thousand specs of dust, previously unnoticed, now center stage seen dancing in the sun beams. The joy of a two year old discovering that perfectly defined square on the floor is nothing more than sunlight. Watching her walk along the edge of the sunlit floor as if it were a tight rope. How beautiful a world!

It’s just so easy not to notice these things. With an overload of alerts from our phones and the hypnotic pull of the screen, we drown our minds in a sea of cheap information and forgo the rich and refreshing moments of simple wonder. Noticing doesn’t come naturally. It takes energy and purposeful effort to slow down and appreciate the vibrant smell of an orange the moment you break into the skin.


But, the smell of an orange isn’t anything new. Here’s the problem: somehow new and undiscovered tends to trump timeless beauty. I feel this tug in my own life.

While laying on a picnic blanket with my daughters there are 2 things vying for my attention: the blue sky, littered with cotton candy clouds and laced by the silhouette of the tree we lay under or the latest stream of photos from my friends in instagram. One is a beauty that I have seen before. It’s nothing new. The other boasts of pictures and comment conversations that are unknown to me. The new and undiscovered often presents the stronger pull in the moment. The fear of “missing out” seems to endanger my joy.

Yet quite the opposite is true. Being bound to “not missing out” causes me to miss the deepest beauty.  In scarfing down all those bits of new information, I fill my mind with cheap “snacks” and forsake the satisfying richness of timeless beauty. I miss out on a moment of worship.

A sunset is nothing new to most of us. Neither is a starry sky. But both, when properly observed and studied, become an occasion for worshipping Our Creator! Don’t miss out on the profound joys of life and worship around you today.

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” Psalm 34:1

An Exercise in Repentance

proactive repentance

Repentance is the act of agreeing with God about our sin, turning from it and rejoicing in what God has done for us in Jesus. Most of our repentance is reactive. We repent primarily for the sins that are staring us in the face or the ones that others point out. And honestly, even then, sometimes we delay dealing with our sin.

But what if we weren’t just reactive in dealing with our sin, but proactive? This is a trait we see in many of the godly men and women of the Bible: Josiah (2 Chron. 34), Daniel (Dan 9), and David (Psalm 139:23-24) to name a few.

Why Should Repentance Be Proactive?

But why should we be proactive in repentance? Don’t we only need to repent when God shows us something we’ve done wrong? Why in the world, when everything seems good, would it be beneficial to proactively search for sin to repent of?

John the Baptist said: “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” (Luke 3:8) Consider also 1 John 1:8-10: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”

The goal is not to be perfect and sinless… only Jesus fits in that category. But rather to live a lifestyle of repentance, facing our sinful hearts with boldness, confessing the sin that’s there, and believing the Gospel again and again for those areas of brokenness. It is in that broken place of repentance were the Spirit of God begins to change us. And God LOVES brokenness! He prefers to be with those who are lowly and contrite in spirit and broken over their sin. (Ps 51:16-17, Ps 138:6, Pr 16:9, Is 57:15, Is 66:2, Matt 5:3).
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Why Am I Still So Discontent?

Why am I still so discontent

I recently got this message from someone: “I’m trying really hard right now to embrace singleness as a gift, as you mentioned in your post “Theology of Singleness.” I think it would help ease my mind to know more about the things I will experience in my relationship with God that I would not experience elsewhere, as well as the things that maybe a romantic relationship has that a relationship with God doesn’t (for example, sexual intimacy) and why these things are relatively unimportant or unnecessary when compared to knowing God.”

This reader expresses what many single people feel (or really any person who is longing for a good thing that God continues to say no to): I desperately want to believe God is enough for me, but I am still not convinced that knowing Him is better than marriage.

Why is this? How is it possible to believe that you don’t need marriage or children to be complete, that knowing God is really enough, that in His presence is the fullness of joy, and yet still feel so horrifyingly empty and unsatisfied?

After mulling over this question for a while, I’ve come to one likely conclusion: a low view of sin and therefore a low view of salvation.

My joy in God is directly correlated to how I view my sin. The smaller my sin seems, the less joyful. The greater my sin, the greater my joy.

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A Jesus-Heart for Children, Part 2

a jesus heart for children

In the last post, we looked at how Jesus responded to children and how we can do the same. Whether or not we have children of our own, we need to cultivate a Biblical response to children.

But what would Jesus have to say to moms? Being a mother entails a whole other level of interaction with children. What can we learn from Jesus to apply to the day-in-day-out routine of motherhood?


“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “ Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

Like no other generation before us, moms today have access to more information and parenting helps than ever. But I’m not sure if that has helped or hindered us. In fact, access to more information has probably created more Marthas, anxious and troubled about many things.

  • What sleep training method should I be doing?
  • What kind of baby food is the best?
  • Is my child getting enough sensory play time?
  • What kind of discipline should I be doing?
  • Are my kid’s friends good influences?
  • Homeschool or public school?
  • Music lessons or dance class?
  • Breast feeding or formula?

These are all good questions to ask, but too often they create anxiety and trouble in our hearts and frantic researching. But Jesus told us Marthas, there is one thing that is necessary. ONE THING.

What is that one thing? Sitting still with Jesus. Cultivating intimacy with Jesus, and a listening heart.

Isn’t this also the one thing we hope to pass on to our children? A desire to know and love Jesus above all else? That one day they would be strong men and women of faith, people who love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, who delight to do His will, and who are serving Him with their whole heart and their whole lives?

But how can we cultivate that if we don’t model it ourselves? We cannot give what we do not have. Let us not be like Martha, frantic and worried with good things and forgetting the best thing. This is the hard part, the things that distract us from Jesus usually aren’t bad. Martha was distracted by “much serving.” Serving is a good thing. But it distracted her from the BEST thing: Knowing Jesus. Being a good parent is a good thing and it can easily distract us from the best thing.

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A Wife After God’s Own Heart, Part 2

a wife after God's own heart

As man’s power over woman is restrained by love, woman’s power over man is restrained by submission. Any woman knows that she has ways of getting her own way. These must be restrained. The kind of restraint God asks of her is submission. -Elisabeth Elliot

As wives, we have influence over our husbands but too often we use that power in self-centered ways, manipulating to get what we want when we want it. But to be a woman after God’s own heart is to think first and foremost about God and His Kingdom, then about others, and lastly about ourselves. So how can we grow to have that heart within our marriages? By learning to walk in the 3 clear commands God has given us to refine our influence in our marriages: help, submit, and respect.

In part 1, we discussed what it means to be a helper to our husbands. Please go back and read it if you haven’t yet as it sets the tone for the other two commands.

So now let’s move on to submission.


Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Ephesians 5:22-24

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.  1 Pet 3:1-2

Submission Defined

Submission is not just for wives. The concept to subjecting yourself to an authority is showcased in many arenas throughout the Bible: young men submit to elders, servants to masters, children to parents, and everyone is to submit to government, rulers and authorities, and to one another.

Submission simply means to operate under authority and have a disposition to yield to that authority. John Piper defines submission “not in terms of specific behaviors, but as a disposition to yield to the husband’s authority and an inclination to follow his leadership. It is a disposition rather than a set of behaviors or roles because mature femininity will express itself in so many different ways depending on the situation.” I agree with Piper that submission is much more an attitude than a set of behaviors.

Biblically, your husband holds a position and a rank over you. This is not due to his merit, his skill, or his personality. It is simply because God ordained men to be the authority in a marriage. A refusal to submit to a husband is a refusal to submit to God, since it was He who gave the command.

The mature woman acknowledges that submission is the will of God for her, and obedience to this will is no more a sign of weakness in her than it was in the Son of Man when He said, “Not my will but yours be done.” – Elisabeth Elliot

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