“Love is patient and kind;
love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong doing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things,
Hopes all things, endures all things.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Christian marriage was designed by God as a basic part of how men and women should relate to each other. We were created by God for relationships, and Christian marriage is at the center of this design. This enduring relationship was instituted by God before sin entered the world. It was put in place for our good and God’s glory. It was designed to press us toward godliness and to make society possible. I say Christian marriage to be specific in my biblical definition – marriage between one biological man and one biological woman. Any other definition departs from God’s intention and purpose. This will be the first in a series of articles reminding us of the foundations of a strong Christian marriage and practical ways that we can strengthen the joy and endurance of our marriages.

There are three basic foundations to a healthy, joyful, and life-giving Christian marriage. These foundations are love, service, and forgiveness. If you keep these fundamentals in focus, your marriage can maintain a strong even keel throughout the decades. But we all know that pressures, tragedy, and sin enter in to undermine our marriages. I strongly encourage you to return to fundamentals when you or your spouse know something has been lost in the joyful step of your marriage. Begin with these three fundamentals. This week I’ll start with love.

Love is the foundation of Christian marriage because love is the master virtue of the Christian life and the first fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We’ve all seen loveless marriages. Couples sitting at dinner on their phones, totally disengaged from each other. Couples that sit together with obvious distance from each other and seem to never touch each other. Couples that always make sure to have the kids between them when taking pictures. Couples that intentionally live separated lives by workplace or schedule. Couples that constantly take shots at each other to undermine and accuse. Marriages that have deteriorated into business relationships that revolve around raising children or preserving pensions. The love has gone out. Marriage without love is a tragedy, but sadly there are zombie marriages all around us – marriages that died long ago but go on in a state of active death.

If any of these things describe your marriage, the world will tell you that divorce is the answer. You should go find someone else that will better meet your needs. But God hates divorce and selfishness. Instead, there must be a return to the foundations of Christian marriage to assess what has gone wrong and labor by God’s grace to restore what has been lost. This is possible, will turn your heart toward the Lord, and result in joy the world cannot know.

Let’s begin with the origin of love. Love is the first and primary fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This means that in Christ the Holy Spirit gives us love. He teaches us how to love and by His sanctifying work strengthens us to love when we ordinarily would not. This means that you cannot love your spouse in the beautiful and life-giving way that you should without the work of the Holy Spirit. Foundationally, this means two things. First, if you have not put your faith and trust in Christ Jesus for salvation you are not a Christian and do not have the power of God’s Spirit indwelling your life. You are instead attempting to live the Christian life without the power of God to enable you. You will fail in this moralistic attempt. No man or woman can walk in the glorious and good ways of Jesus with out the strength of the Holy Spirit. Second, the path to love in marriage is not directly through action toward your spouse. The primary step is toward abiding in Christ (John 15). Only when you learn to love Jesus will you learn to love your spouse in the perfect way of Jesus.

The primary way that a husband and wife walk in love together is by going in the same direction. When husband and wife are both seeking hard after Jesus this aligns their lives. They are both pulling in the same direction under an authority higher than themselves. This is never an equal pull. One spouse or the other will seek harder after Jesus at various times over the years of marriage, but this is where two are better than one. This is where you pray for, encourage, and point each other toward Jesus. When one is weak the other will be strong, but together you seek Jesus and in seeking Jesus your hearts become united in love. Be humble before Jesus in His word. Be together in church more. Be in small group more often with your spouse. Simply walking in these habits consistently over years will do more for the love and joy of your marriage than intervention counseling. These are healthy habits that cultivate love through spiritual formation and togetherness.

After committing to these basic spiritual steps, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 gives the practical map for how you ought to demonstrate Christian love toward your spouse. These steps are self-sacrificing and will require you to call out to Jesus for change in your life, but we also know that these ways are good and beautiful. We know that Jesus is right to call us to these ways. God help us! I strongly urge you to look carefully at this passage and labor over how to practically act in these ways toward your spouse. By practically and authentically living these ways out toward your spouse you ARE loving your spouse.

Patient / not irritable: Bear with your spouse and do not lose your temper – no matter what! Pray for self-control to tame your impatient, angry, and irritable tongue.

Kindness: Whereas patience may be the absence of anger, kindness turns this to the positive. By kindness you actively work to bless your spouse through actions that show love. This is also directly spoken of as a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Does not envy: In love you rejoice in every success and advancement of your spouse. You genuinely want to see their life blossom and grow. You never ever want to advance yourself at their expense. Their success is as your own success. Instead of envy, you should be your spouse’s biggest fan!

Does not boast / is not arrogant: Boasting consists of exalting yourself at the expense of others. You raise up yourself by putting others down. This can never happen in marriage. In marriage you should instead be ever-praising your spouse. You should go out of your way to publicly and privately speak highly of your spouse.

Is not rude: When you are rude, you are not putting others first. Rudeness displays a lack of self-control and specifically demonstrates that you don’t care about embarrassing or offending your spouse.

Does not insist on its own way: It’s one thing to express your desire about an issue of taste or conviction, but in love you should never insist that such decisions go your way. This is selfishness and shows a lack of respect for your spouse and their preferences. In love, there should be a give and take that shows respectful deference to each spouse at different times.

Not resentful: Love does not bear grudges. In Christ we forgive sins. I’ll address that at length in a few weeks.

Rejoicing in truth: You should rejoice with your spouse in every victory, in every achievement, and in every step forward in their life. Look for ways to celebrate growth and progress in their life. Never relish failure or sin in their life, pressing them down further into the ditch when they are already low.

Bear, believe, hope, endure: When you vow “for better or worse” to love and honor your spouse, you are pledging yourself to this last section concerning love. Hard times will come. Storms will batter the house, but when your foundation is on Jesus the house will not fall. Always give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Believe what they tell you. Hope in the future, setting your hope fully on Christ Jesus (1 Peter 1:13). Endure hardship together with your spouse. Face the trouble of the day as the two of you against the world – not the two of you against each other.

If you are walking with Jesus and actively living these things out, the Holy Spirit will bear a beautiful love in your marriage. If you refuse these ways, and turn away from Christ, love will dry up in your marriage. Let’s focus this week on the fundamental of love in our marriages!

May the love of Christ overflow in your hearts,
Pastor Vic

Psalm 2

Psalm 2   

    Why do the nations rage
        and the peoples plot in vain? 
    The kings of the earth set themselves,
        and the rulers take counsel together,
        against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 
    “Let us burst their bonds apart
        and cast away their cords from us.”

    He who sits in the heavens laughs;
        the Lord holds them in derision. 
    Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
        and terrify them in his fury, saying, 
    “As for me, I have set my King
        on Zion, my holy hill.”

    I will tell of the decree:
    The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
        today I have begotten you. 
    Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
        and the ends of the earth your possession. 
    You shall break them with a rod of iron
        and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

    Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
        be warned, O rulers of the earth. 
    Serve the LORD with fear,
        and rejoice with trembling. 
    Kiss the Son,
        lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
        for his wrath is quickly kindled.
    Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

We are less than a week away from a major national mid-term election. I have spoken in past weeks to the Christian role in civic engagement. This week I would like to remind us, per Psalm 2, that the Lord still reigns from heaven and that proud, manipulating, and ungodly political rulers are nothing new. The picture of Almighty God laughing at those who plot against Him is powerful.

During this time of year, I believe we need to be reminded of a few things. First, above all things, we preach the gospel. We openly speak to others about the hope of eternal salvation by the forgiveness of sins through the grace of Jesus Christ. We believe that the kingdom of God is coming through the preaching of the gospel, and no scheming ruler of the past, present, or future can stop this plan. Second, we find our identity in Christ. Once we come to salvation in Jesus, our identity is firmly rooted in who we are and who we are becoming in Jesus. The central defining part of our person is that we are a disciple of Jesus Christ. Everything else is seen through this lens, and this lens casts a light of love, hope, and peace over our lives. We rest in our new relationship to Jesus.

Third, we find our primary community in our immediate family, then flowing into the local church. Instead of wanting to escape family, Christians want to lean into their spouse and children. Christians rightly desire the formation of marriages and want large families. These families then associate together in the local church. The local church is not just a traditional American past-time. The local Christian church is designed by God for His glory through gathered preaching, musical worship, and prayer. But the local church is also a powerful engine for community and deep relationships. The complementing spiritual and natural gifts that the Lord combines in the local church produce a joint strength.

Fourth, as Christians we live in obedience to God’s moral will. As Christians we do not self-define right and wrong. As Christians we do not allow loud groups in society to define moral right and wrong. We do not accept that civil government has the right to ultimately define moral right and wrong. As Christians we obey the moral will of God, expecting that it will put us greatly at odds with the world.

I believe it’s particularly important to keep these things in mind at this time of year. We participate in government to influence government. Voting is a fundamental part of this influence. However, our hope is not in government. Our identity is not tied into party affiliation. Political associations are not our primary community. Our hope is not tied to a candidate. Party platforms do not determine our moral values. This time of year, the pull of politics is strong. Many people in our day have been influenced by 24-hour news cycles to become obsessed with politics. This is an easy thing to identify. You’re obsessed with what you cannot stop thinking and talking about. If people know that you’re going to turn the conversation to politics if it lasts longer than five minutes – then you’re obsessed with politics. If this describes you, I urge you to revisit the four fundamentals above.

We must keep our eyes on Jesus, preach the gospel, bear one another’s burdens, care for widows and orphans, enjoy the goodness of God, obey His will and from this base participate in government. We should be people that may talk about politics, but are certain to talk about Jesus and His church. The watching world should squarely associate us with Christ and His purposes in the world.

Next Tuesday I urge you to pray, vote according to Christian virtue (if you need candidate position clarity, please visit The Family Foundation of Virginia), then go on preaching the gospel and loving your neighbor. Remember that the Lord reigns and the local church is God’s plan for reaching the nations with His good news!

Blessed are all who take refuge in Christ,
Pastor Vic

Travel to LA

“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Ephesians 4:29

I’ve been in Los Angeles all week. I go there a few times a year, and each trip shows more indication of moral and societal decline. There was a marked increase this trip in the homeless encamped under the over-passes and openly sleeping on mattresses sometimes hanging out into the streets. Homeless tents were lined up along many sidewalks and inoperable RVs parked in parallel spaces as permanent living quarters. I’ve experienced all this before in Portland, OR and many foreign countries, but seeing the obvious deterioration of Los Angeles hit home on a trip to Walmart.

Mid-way through the week I needed to make a Walmart run for a razor. I went to the toiletries area to buy my usual Walmart generic brand disposable razor and found all the razors behind sliding locked doors. After walking around to find an associate to open the locker it became clear items on nearly every isle were in similar lockers. After finding a store worker, I was told that only managers had access to the lockers, and one would have to be paged. I went back to the razor locker and waited. After a while an associate came and unlocked my generic disposable razor but would not give me the razor. I was told the $8 five-pack of razors could be picked up and purchased at customer service when I finished the rest of my shopping.

What I was facing is the reality of a city over-run with theft. Literally everything that wasn’t locked down was being stolen. This store was not in a “bad” section of town but had hired armed guards at multiple places in the lobby of the store and clearly didn’t even trust its own store associates to not steal from their employer. Walmart is in many ways a gauge for the general state of public society. This visit disturbed me. Where do you go from here? You can’t lock down everything in a store, or you don’t have a store anymore. Only so much can be written-off to theft, and off-set by raising prices before the store is not profitable and must be closed. Reports of such store closures are all over the news for cities like Los Angeles.

This was not an isolated situation. Even the Whole Foods Market I passed through to get a to-go dinner had an armed guard in the check-out area and homeless people wandering the isles pulling bags and suitcases behind them. People around me had clearly grown accustomed to this, like those living in a third-world country slowly declining by imperceptible degrees. At some point you ask yourself, “How did this city become like this, and what does the future hold?” Part of the answer relates to a return to basic law-enforcement principles that have been abandoned by the city at large, but this is not the foundational answer.

It’s obvious that LA is an intensely materialistic, sensual, and non-Christian place. It has descended into an every-man-for-himself place of isolation with more and more private walled-off yards, bars on the windows, locked and guarded lobby areas, and other overt signs of crime and community distrust. We must make the connection between intentionally rejecting Christian ethics and the decline of society. Los Angeles, California is one of the most taxed and government regulated cities in the world, but this has not resulted in it becoming a better place.

There are only two final authority options – God or government. Individuals will choose one or the other. Society will reflect the choices of the people. Those who believe in and submit themselves to the authority of Jesus Christ will experience a growing peace and provision in their lives, resulting in an outward stability in society as people live according to God’s will. Those who reject the gospel and the authority of Jesus over their lives will descend into personal, then societal, chaos and struggle.

The experience of this week relates to the culture of Los Angeles. It’s something that makes me want to leave the city, but it also stirs in me a sense of missional need. As Christians, we know that stealing and selfishness relates to the lost soul. For a person to instead put in an honest day of work, then hold by some to be generous to the poor is a thing of personal Christian virtue. What would it take for this to become an honest, virtuous, and personally generous city? No election can reverse this tide, only the reviving work of the Holy Spirit can convict and then save this city. As Christians, we must pray for cities like this, and develop a missional heart toward the people who live there.

We should not think that our community is immune to these same struggles. I was in Lowe’s last week in Fredericksburg and the associate helping me find a roll of wire was upset that his inventory system showed five rolls in stock, but not a single roll was on the shelf. He said that despite the cable-locks, people will climb the shelves, throw the wire off the upper shelves, and steal the unlocked rolls. We don’t have armed guards and in-store lockers in Fredericksburg yet, but they will be here soon if we don’t pick up our passion for preaching the gospel.

There is a God, the Bible is true, and salvation is only found by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We must not withdraw from the world and put our hope in government. We must speak up about the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. We must tell others about the cross and resurrection. We must never be ashamed of the cross or the ethic of Christ. We must openly associate ourselves with Jesus, raise our children in his ways, commit ourselves to the local church and understand the powerful force for good that Christians together play in our local societies.

May the Lord strengthen us to be salt and light in the world, bringing revival in His time.

I rejoice in the work of Jesus in our midst and pray for the gospel to go forth in power,
Pastor Vic

Moral Matters

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Psalm 20:7

Last week I spoke to the role of the Christian participating in a democratic government and to the importance of representing Christian moral matters. I would like to continue now with the unbroken connection between sexual sin and abortion. There is a clear reason why those who advocate for sexual sin also advocate for abortion. Advocates of one are advocates for the other. As I mentioned last week, God designed sex and marriage. He designed sex between a biological male and a biological female to produce children. Even with all of our technological and scientific advancement, human beings have been unable to re-engineer God’s design of childbearing through sex.

Be reminded that according to God’s plan this should be a beautiful process. A man pursues a woman, they build a relationship of love that honors the Lord remaining sexually pure. They plan a life together and are joined in Christian marriage. After marriage the union is consummated sexually and the possibility of children becomes real at any time. If the wife becomes pregnant, the child is born into a family and received with joy. When this process is repeated generation after generation, family is produced. Each generation becomes a platform of stability helping the subsequent generation. This is the way marriage, children, and family were designed to function. Many today call this repressive. I call it a path of blessing, stability, and joy.

When sex is turned into a recreational activity for personal pleasure, unwanted children are conceived. There are various ways to control conceiving, but all are imperfect. There are ways to sterilize men and women, but those processes cannot be reliably reversed. Concerning sterilization, even non-Christians realize there is something good about children. Most are uncomfortable being sterilized before having children, knowing that some day they may want a child – but only on their terms and when deemed convenient. As human beings we can bring death, but we cannot bring life. We can end the process of childbearing through sterilization, but cannot undo that process to recreate what God had made.

The result of this is millions upon millions of unwanted children being conceived in America every year. These children are not ‘accidents,’ these children (except in cases of rape or abuse) are products of willful choices people made with the hope that the sex act would not produce what God designed it to produce. Abortion at its base is an insurance policy to protect the right of Americans to be sexually active with anyone they want any time they want – with no consequences. People are willing to kill, repeatedly, to maintain their pursuit of sexual pleasure and affluence.

This is directly related to affluence because children are expensive. Pro-abortion advocates openly argue that it’s justified to kill a child to relieve the parent(s) of the future financial ‘burden’ of raising that child. They argue that it’s justified to kill an unborn child to keep one’s schooling on-track to protect future earnings. It’s even been argued recently that it’s justified to kill an unborn child to keep a sports season from being interrupted. In the end, abortion advocates in America are prepared to kill an unborn child for any reason, or no reason at all. I hope I don’t need to say much more to illustrate how far away from God’s will and design we have fallen in the hardness of our hearts.

Let me be plain. Christians cannot name the name of Christ and also advocate for the killing of the unborn. Our God is a God of life and declares children a blessing. Our God is a God who calls for self-sacrifice, not self-indulgence. Our God is a God who commands self-control for our own good. We must support candidates that work to move our country toward pro-life laws and regulations.

Lastly, we should seek limited government. Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-25 are very clear that God has ordained government to play an important roll in the ordering of society. We should be thankful for and submit to good governance that promotes peace and freedom. However, these passages are also clear that human government is not the highest or final authority, but is a delegated authority from God. The authority of civil rulers only goes as far as God allows. They have no authority to do what God has forbidden and they must not leave off what God requires. Civil government is not the final moral authority. Right and wrong flow from the character of the Lord our God and the moral order cannot be remade by voting or judicial decisions. In the end, human government will be submissive to the final authority of God.

We live in an increasingly atheistic day. Even if people are not open atheists, many are practical atheists – they live as if there is no God even if they say with their mouth there is a God. Atheists put human government in the place of God. Most importantly, any problem or difficulty too large for the individual atheist to handle is pressed into the hands of government. Great hope is placed in government to fix the struggles and brokenness of humanity. A hope that government will stop criminal unrest, will lift the poor out of their misery, will direct education into producing an age of peace and prosperity, and order society to some form of utopia.

However, just the opposite is always true. The more people turn away from God and put their faith in government, the more government increases and the influence of the local Christian church decreases. As the authority of government increases more resource and freedom is taken from the people that government is supposed to serve. Over time, the government becomes more of a self-serving bureaucracy and the corruption of the people running the government becomes more apparent. The more power is consolidated into the hands of that ruling elite, the more they feel they actually do have the power of God.

All Christians should understand the necessity of limited government, and that government begins with the moral restraint of the soul before God. Society cannot function without a fear of God and interior moral restraint. No amount of police or laws can restrain a populace that lacks inner moral restraint produced by a fear of God. The attempt to restrain a godless population leads to a radical increase in laws proportionally decreasing personal freedom. Whereas a God-fearing society needs far less laws due to their own personal moral restraint, which allows for much greater personal freedom. As Christians we should seek an increase of personal godliness and a limited civil government.

In closing, please remember the verse at the top of this devotional. As Christians we don’t put our faith and trust in implements of human government. Our hope is in our Savior Jesus Christ and in His coming kingdom. Our highest allegiance is to our Lord Jesus Christ, and we know that His purposes will prevail. We should also remember that elections are a reflection of the heart of a nation. Elections are not the primary cause of change in a nation, they are a result. I have committed my life to ministry in the church, because only God can change the heart. It is through the salvation of Jesus Christ that sins are forgiven, and people pass from death to life. It is only by revival of the soul through a renewed fear of God that any substantial change will occur in this country. We should seek this revival and this change.

Christians rightly want to get involved. People want to do something to help. I urge you friend, give a little time to politics if you feel you should, but devote your life to serving Christ Jesus in the local church. If you really want to make a difference, teach a children’s Bible class for years. Be a youth small group leader. Come to prayer meeting and plead with God to call lost sinners to repentance. Tell your co-worker about Jesus and invite him or her to church. It is in Christ alone we will find salvation!

We trust in the Lord our God,
Pastor Vic