Remembering the desert in times of abundance

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 7-8, 1 Corinthians 11, Psalm 48

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. 

Deuteronomy 8:10-18

This passage rings true today more than ever. In our current world we value our own personal hard work, ingenuity, and ability to make something of ourselves above almost everything else. We preach the American Dream.

As a result, it is so easy as a follower of Christ, to look around when things are going well and say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 

There have been many phases in my life where God has humbled me in enough circumstances that I am able to step back and truly appreciate the blessings in my life and see his hand on all of it. I can say with confidence, “This was all because of God.”

However, if I were being honest, I must confess that more frequently throughout my life I would express that same spirit of thankfulness towards God out loud to others, while simultaneously trying to convince myself that it is true even as I am speaking the words and a large part of me feels like these successes in my life are mostly me.

We might not consciously think these thoughts, but subconsciously my brain frequently falls into the following pattern: ‘God certainly played a role, blessed me with certain talents and abilities, and brought opportunities into my life; but ultimately I worked really hard, took risks, constantly sought knowledge to improve personally, etc. God obviously played a role, but I deserve some credit too.’

It is extremely easy to fall into false humility. It is incredibly natural to embrace the type of humility that we see throughout our culture where people deflect praise somewhat disingenuously, but even from their delivery you can tell they think pretty highly of themselves.

On the other hand, it is so refreshing to see Christians not afraid of embracing the gifts that God has given to them, fearlessly seek to maximize those gifts, don’t feel the need to artificially deflect praise, but genuinely give all of the glory to God instead; not as a tactic to appear more Christian, but because that is the true posture of their heart.

So difficult…

When I find myself struggling in this area the question I naturally ask is, “Well how do I do that? What should I say in response to someone who is giving me praise for accomplishments or anything else?” I think these questions miss the mark. They are still focused on tactics. They are still worrying about how our response will come off to others. “What will they think when I say that? Will it seem genuine?”

Me, me, me, me, me.

It is akin to reading a self-improvement book on how to build better rapport with others, make others feel important, make people you lead feel more valued, help people feel heard, etc. without actually viewing them as more important, sincerely desiring to understand them better, truly wanting to hear them more, and ultimately having your focus on them instead of your own personal response to them.

It is about the heart, not tactics.

The exact same response of, “Thank you. I really appreciate that. It has been pretty amazing seeing God’s hand through all of it.” can sound very differently depending on how much we actually believe it. It can come off as genuinely understanding where all of our blessings flow from or it can seem like typical false humility from a posing Christian.

It is not about the words, it is about the heart.

Here is the other thing Christians need to embrace; you are not responsible for how they hear your response. You might sincerely believe what you are saying and there still might be jaded people that think you are just giving them a fake line because it is what you are “supposed to say as a Christian”. That is totally ok. If you are worrying about how they interpret your response, you are still thinking too much about yourself. You are still operating from a “me centered” posture instead of centered on Christ.

Give glory to God and trust the result.

For me, whenever I am feeling a bit too proud about any single thing in life that is going pretty well, I try to take a step back and remember how many times throughout my life things just about went off the rails. I take myself back to situations that went poorly or almost went poorly, but where I could see God’s hand redeeming the situation. Immediately my heart is back in a posture of extreme thankfulness.

That is the advice of Moses today to the Israelites. He knows they are on the verge of being the generation that experiences massive blessings at the hands of the Lord and the human nature that is about to set in. He encourages them to always look back. He encourages them to catch themselves in moments of pride and remember the moments of wandering through the desert.

He encourages them to intentionally cultivate a heart of gratitude.

It is advice that we could all use from time to time.

Thought to ponder

Where is my heart towards successes I have seen throughout my life? What are some ‘wandering in the desert’ moments that would be helpful for me to remember to keep my heart truly thankful to God during moments of abundant blessing?

America needs the Shema

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 5-6, 1 Corinthians 10

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Deuteronomy 5:21

I don’t think it would be a breaking news story to suggest that Americans have a problem with coveting. Don’t get me wrong, everyone does. This is not a uniquely American issue. However, you would be hard pressed to find a society in the world that does more to ACTIVELY PROMOTE coveting as something that is actually to be desired. We treat coveting as something to strive for and not something to be avoided.

In almost every self-improvement book you read today you will hear advice on the importance of visualizing what you want one day (almost always focused on the material things we desire), putting them onto a vision board, sharing these goals with others, and a whole host of other tactics designed to help you keep your goals in front of you.

I have promoted these things many times to people I mentor. Goal setting and visualization can be powerful tools to help us maintain our focus through challenges in our lives. The problem occurs when we point ourselves in the wrong direction. The error is when our vision board is full of our wants and desires as opposed to the big picture goals that God has impressed on our hearts.

If someone were to look at your vision board, whether it is an actual one you created or a metaphorical one that simply exists in your mind, what would they see on it? Would they see the impact you want to have in the lives of others, big picture goals God has put on your heart for your life to advance his Kingdom, the type of friend, parent, or spouse you want to be? Or would they see the lake house, fancy car, early retirement, and other worldly toys?

Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing inherently evil about any of these items. God occasionally blesses abundantly. I know quite a few people who are extremely well off that are incredibly intentional about using the material blessings they have had in their lives to be a blessing to others. They also give very generously. Having a boat and a lake house is not sinful, but they should never be the focus. If material goods are the ultimate goal, we are quite literally training our brain to covet. If those are a big part of the “why” we do what we do each and every day, we have missed the point of the gospel. We are making a conscious decision to covet as a lifestyle. We are embracing that coveting is how we will get what we want out of life and really isn’t that big of a deal.

And yet coveting made it onto God’s Top 10 list.

So many Christians in today’s society seem determined to fight various cultural wars. We feel like “the country is going to hell” and something needs to be done to stop it. There are so many battles that we choose to fight and almost all of them have to do with the actions of others. “We need to fight for our children and grandchildren by stopping those awful sinners corrupting our country!” We are incredibly eager to point out the sins of others and how those sins are glorified and promoted in our culture today. “Something needs to be done!”

And yet most of us would prefer to avoid looking inwardly.

Jesus said “first remove the plank from your own eye before helping a brother remove the spec from his”.

In America, the plank that is so large in all of our eyes that it is blinding us, is coveting. Myself included.

Avoiding coveting is so darn hard, but it is worth the fight. You cannot 100% conquer your human nature. There will always be moments where you covet. God knew we could never be perfect and that is why he sent his son to die for us in the first place. We may not be able to ever fully escape brief moments of coveting, but we can choose to avoid coveting as a lifestyle. We can choose to reject what our culture has told us about coveting being the way to eventually achieve YOUR goals. We can remember that we are ultimately here, not for our own goals, but for God’s.

In Deuteronomy 6:4-9 today we read what was the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book called the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

If we want to avoid a life devoted to coveting, it begins with embracing the Shema. It begins with striving each and every day to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, and strength. It begins with talking about these things with our children, friends, and neighbors. It begins with writing these on the doorframes of our houses, tying them as symbols on our hands, and binding them to our foreheads; instead of fixating on the bigger and better car, house, toy, or vacation.

Where will we devote our heart, soul, and strength this week?

This week I am going to start with praying the Shema.

Thought to ponder

What items have I allowed onto the vision board of my life that need to be taken off and what is God calling me to replace them with?

The power of your story

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 3-4, 1 Corinthians 9

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

1 Corinthians 9:19-22

This is the power of Christians who make a decision to be marketplace missionaries.

There are so many people out there in the world that are unaware that the God of all creation loves them individually and wants a relationship with them. So many people that do not fully understand the good news of the gospel that Jesus came to earth on our behalf and willingly paid a price that we could never pay so that we could be reconciled to our heavenly father.

The stumbling blocks in people’s lives that keep them from knowing God and embracing a relationship with him can come in many forms as Paul alluded to today. Just about any reason people have for feeling like “Jesus isn’t for them” gives us the opportunity to use our own testimony to bring people to Christ. There is power in relating on a human level and finding that you have more in common with another person than you originally realized. We all crave this connection and being understood.

Paul knew this.

Some people have too much guilt and shame in their life over actions from the past or actions they are currently engaged in. They cannot imagine a loving God would ever accept them. Fearlessly and authentically sharing challenges, mistakes, and sin issues you have also dealt with in your own life can have a powerful impact. We all crave authentic relationships and vulnerability but frequently don’t know we desire it until we see it modeled for us. This takes giving them the real version of your issues, and not just the polished up version that mainly deals with the saving grace with received from Jesus, but goes into very little depth on how far we had fallen. There is power in sharing the mess, in all of its messiness, and not just the “after picture”. Hearing how God worked in those areas can breathe new life into people who had previously believed the lie that they had already crossed too far over some imaginary line of no return.

Some people have overwhelming hurt in their life from a time where they felt that God abandoned them. It might have been something horrific that happened to them earlier in their life, a loss of a loved one, or something else that caused them say, “Why would a loving God…” This is such a tough place to be at, but one that most of us can relate to in some form or fashion. We have almost all been there at some point in our lives. One of the beautiful things that begins to happen when you live an openly Christian life is that you also begin to know the stories and testimonies of so many other people who also want to help others come to know Jesus. You may not personally be able to relate to someone’s specific story, but you can be there for them, truly listen and empathize, and get them connected to someone else who shares their story. There is power in realizing that other people have gone through what you are going through and that God helped them come out the other side.

Some people may have a distorted view of the gospel because of previous church experiences they had. They may have heard all forms of sermons about rules, regulations, and might have fallen into a belief system where all of your good works are on one side of that proverbial scale at the end of your life and every sin you have ever committed is stacked on the other. Hopefully your good outweighs the bad! Many have never heard the true message of grace. Many have never even heard the true gospel even though they grew up in church their entire lives. Again, many of us can relate to this and sharing your experience with someone else may just be the light bulb moment that they need.

As a marketplace missionary we have the amazing opportunity to be amongst people that have given up on “church” and also given up on Jesus without ever really knowing him. We have the opportunity to minister to people that would otherwise never be reached. So turn on your God radar today! For those that are filled with guilt and shame, share your guilt and shame. For those that hurt, share your hurts. For those that believe a warped version of faith, share with them the good news of the true gospel. Don’t be afraid to share every aspect of your life to reach someone.

If Christians collectively embraced the mindset that Paul had in 1 Corinthians 9:22 when he said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” imagine how many people would come to know Christ in our world!

Thought to ponder

What are powerful aspects of my own story that could relate to people who do not yet know Jesus? How can I look for more opportunities to “become all things to all people” so that I might introduce more people to Christ?

God is in the stream

Daily Readings – Deuteronomy 1-2, 1 Corinthians 8, Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Psalm 46:1-5

The waves of the ocean wreaking havoc as they crash repeatedly against the rocks of the soar; roaring, foaming, and surging, is such a perfect metaphor for our modern life mentally.

There are so many times in my life when it absolutely feels like the waters of life roar and foam and mountains quake at their surging. It seems like I am barely able to keep up with the responsibilities of life and it is a constant balancing act to juggle numerous career responsibilities, personal obligations, taking care of myself physically, and family time. It inevitably feels like one of those is on the verge of being dropped and it takes extremely dexterous juggling to keep them all in the air.

The waters surge. My mind is busy.

This morning at 1:30 AM was one of those mornings. Stress would not be the correct word for how I felt this morning when I couldn’t fall back to sleep. Just mentally cluttered. It was hard to turn my brain off as I tossed and turned. Finally I gave in and accepted the fact that I wasn’t falling back asleep any time soon and maybe I should get up and spend time with God.

So I went downstairs, grabbed a glass of water, and settled in to see what God had for me today. What truth did he want to uncover? Well, not exactly…

Before I did that, I looked over my schedule for the day, planned out next week, took care of a couple of logistical items so that they were off my plate, and then turned to God’s word.

I turned to Psalm 46 and had to laugh at myself.

“God is our refuge and strength.”

Strange how it wasn’t written: “Aaron’s ability to plan, attention to detail, willingness to knock out logistics at 1:30 AM is his refuge and strength…”

But man oh man, isn’t that what we want to do so often in life?

“God, I will be right back. I am really looking forward to my ‘refuge time’ after I handle everything else in my own strength. Let me knock out these 2-3 items and then I am all yours.”

When the waves surge and we could use God’s tranquility the most, we tend to want to lean on our own ingenuity, independence, and ability to handle whatever comes our way. In America we are coached into this independence and self-reliance being the highest form of existence. We aren’t supposed to need anybody! We pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and chase after the American Dream.

God says, “Let me be your refuge. Let me be your strength. You might have the same tight schedule tomorrow, the same responsibilities, the same balls you need to juggle, but the burden is so much lighter when you take my yoke upon your shoulders, when you allow me to walk with you throughout your entire day and not simply when you have carved out ‘God Time’.”

I love the picture that is painted in verses 4 and 5 of “a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.”

When I walk in my own strength it really does feel like swimming in the ocean when the red flags are up on the beach. I love swimming in the ocean on vacation and probably don’t heed warnings as much as I should. When the red flags are up, rip tides are in full force, waves are pounding the shores with vengeance, and it is probably not a time to be in the water; I sometimes can’t help myself. My wife rolls her eyes.

There is a certain amount of adventure swimming at these times if you have swam quite a bit throughout your life and comfortable in this chaos. There is adrenaline and excitement in feeling like you are waging war with nature. However, when I eventually get back to the shore I am beat up and exhausted.

That is exactly how I feel when trying to let me own strength be my refuge. It can be a daring adventure for a time and I convince myself that I am good at it, but then ultimately it is just tiring.

When I sit next to a slow moving stream in the woods, however, that is an entirely different experience. My soul is at peace. There is so much beauty and tranquility to appreciate in nature. I leave that experience with my tank full.

God is in the stream. God is in the quiet moments where we settle our mind, remind ourselves where our true refuge is, and allow God to quiet the surging seas.

Your responsibilities will still be there, but when you remind yourself that you can only accomplish one of them at a time, intentionally choose to be in the present moment, allow God into your everyday activities, and choose to view your life as a peaceful stream even if it feel like a chaotic ocean, God is ready to come alongside you.

So come out of the roaring waters today and take a seat by the stream running through the city of God, the holy place, where the Most High dwells!

It is 3:04 AM and I am going to resist the urge to “be productive” since I am already up and awake. I am going back to bed and regardless of whether I fall back asleep, I am going to spend time at the stream.

Thought to ponder

What aspects of my life have I recently allowed to consume me mentally to the point where they feel like a roaring sea?

Love making and marriage advice from a celibate single

Daily Readings: Numbers 35-36, 1 Corinthians 7

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. 

1 Corinthians 7:1-7

Oh, Paul…

The Bible is God’s word and full of truth, but it is also important to remember that God used human beings to write it and sometimes certain sections probably could have been phrased differently to convey God’s truth slightly better!

When reading this section of 1 Corinthians today, I had to laugh and shake my head a bit at Paul’s advice on sex and marriage. There is a great deal of truth in there, but, if we are not careful, it can be interpreted in a way that drastically misses the mark.

When using words like “duty” and “do not deprive”, Paul paints a picture of sex as nothing more than a physical release. In this moment Paul is basically a 23 year old with no kids looking at a parent on an airplane with a crying 3 year old and judgmentally shaking their head while saying, “Parents really should discipline their kids so that kids are more respectful.”

Of course. Yes. No one would deny parents should raise respectful kids. That statement is absolutely and obviously true. However, if you are a parent you also realize that non-parents can never fully realize the challenges of parenting and that the best kids in the world occasionally throw fits, misbehave, etc.

Paul is not married, a self proclaimed celibate, and wishes that the entire community in Corinth was capable of following his lead. That is the perspective he is coming with as he gives this advice. “Just meet each other’s physical needs and be done with it…”

God created sex to be a beautiful and intimate part of marriage. God created it to be so much more than a physical release. It is an emotional and spiritual connection with your spouse. There is no time that a married couple feels more connected and truly living out the truth that God gave us in Genesis about marriage when it was written, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

We were designed by God to make love with our spouse. Society, media, entertainment, porn, etc. has turned love making into nothing more than sex. This was no different in the time of Paul. Satan had already taken something that was meant to be beautiful, corrupted it, and used it as one of the primary tools to enslave men and women in sin.

Husbands and wives have the ability to do battle against that corruption and take back love making to what God originally intended. This battle must be fought together. It is not a battle that can be won individually. Spouses must be battle partners.

This is part of the reason why this passage frustrates me a bit. There are too many marriages where the husband or wife have read this passage in 1 Corinthians, truly desire to be a good husband or wife, want to follow the Bible’s advice on love making in marriage, and have sex out of “duty” and try to “not deprive their spouse”.

Obligation sex may be a step above not connecting physically at all, but it misses the mark. I tried to imagine what Paul might have said in his message to the Corinthians if he was a married man in an amazing marriage, where they went to battle for each other and for their marriage. What if Paul was in the type of marriage where both the husband and wife truly seek to pursue each other’s hearts, connect on an emotional level, and live a beautifully connected life?

If you are married, when was the last time you spoke with your spouse about what makes them feel most connected and fulfilled when it comes to making love? When was the last time you asked, “How can I make you feel more loved, respected, desired, and needed?”

Every person and every marriage is different. If you simply read a book about what men want out of sex and what women desire, it may be great advice, but it may miss the mark as well.

Have the conversation.

If it feels like your marriage is having 1 Corinthians 7 type of sex, driven by duty and obligation, there is a good chance that there is emotional connection lacking throughout your marriage as well. There is a reason that you are feeling disconnected and that making love has simply turned into sex. There is a reason that one or both of you is viewing it as simply a physical release needed by the other and not the beautiful, connected, essential part of marriage that God designed it to be.

The source of this emotional disconnection and lack of desire is is a conversation that should be had as well. In fact it is the more conversation because it gets to the illness instead of simply looking at the symptoms.

Marriage should be filled with emotional, physical, and spiritual desire.

Break away from the 1 Corinthians 7 duty and obligation mindset as articulated by an unmarried man that viewed sex as a nuisance! Remember that God also gave us these words in the Bible in Song of Songs 7:6-13

Husband

How beautiful you are and how pleasing,
my love, with your delights!
Your stature is like that of the palm,
and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
I said, “I will climb the palm tree;
I will take hold of its fruit.”
May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine,
the fragrance of your breath like apples,
and your mouth like the best wine.

Wife

May the wine go straight to my beloved,
flowing gently over lips and teeth.
I belong to my beloved,
and his desire is for me.
Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside,
let us spend the night in the villages.
Let us go early to the vineyards
to see if the vines have budded,
if their blossoms have opened,
and if the pomegranates are in bloom—
there I will give you my love.
The mandrakes send out their fragrance,
and at our door is every delicacy,
both new and old,
that I have stored up for you, my beloved.

Many people reading this probably have a marriage that is already more closely mirroring Song of Songs and not merely a marriage centered on duty and obligation. Diligently guard this! Never stop pursuing your spouse’s heart. Some may feel like their marriage is falling into “duty” mode. Fight for your spouse. They want to be pursued. They want to know they are loved and desired. We all crave this, even if we have forgotten that we crave it for a time.

Your marriage is not meant to be an obligation.

Your marriage is meant to be an epic love story.

Epic stories are worth fighting for.

Thought to ponder

How have I viewed love making in my marriage recently? Is there a disconnect between me and my spouse that has caused love making to turn into duty and routine?

A thorn in our side

Daily Readings – Numbers 33-34, Psalm 45

On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho the Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess. Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes.

“‘But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.’”

Number 33:50-56

As we will see throughout the Old Testament in coming months, the Israelites would have been well served to follow God’s command. Instead they did not clear out the lands that God had prepared for them and it ended quite poorly. The inhabitants in their land truly did become barbs in their eyes and thorns in their sides, ultimately leading to the Israelite’s exile.

It got me thinking this morning, how many times have there been in my life where I conveniently set aside a command of God’s and then dealt with the challenges for months and years to come?

It is easy to have a mindset that we will see throughout the Old Testament, where we want God to swoop in a remove any negative repercussions from previous decisions the moment we turn back to him. We want God’s grace to be accompanied by instant removal of any lingering consequences.

The truth is that God is a loving father who is waiting there with open arms ready to welcome us back home when we turn back to him. His love is infinite and the grace he gives us is all encompassing. However, like all loving fathers, that doesn’t mean that there is not still discipline required.

With virtually any sin issue in our lives, there are almost always self-inflicted challenges we have to deal with on the backend. These challenges may be with our health, finances, career, emotional health, trust with others, etc. Sin issues in our life almost always leave behind some “inhabitants” in our lives that we are forced to deal with as thorns in our side.

When we are out of line with God’s commands, but eventually choose to turn back to him, it typically takes patience and effort to fully remove the thorn. It takes truly accepting the grace we have been given through Christ on the cross and walking out of our new identity. It requires not allowing that identity to be shaken when we are pushing through these negative repercussions.

It takes remembering who God has said that we truly are. We are sons and daughters of God. We are loved more than we can ever imagine.

Fortunately, when we are walking closely with God, there is so much more peace in our lives, even when dealing with the negative repercussions of previous actions. God will be there every step of the way with us as we trudge through these challenges.

When my daughters misbehave and I can tell they truly are sorry, every ounce of me wants to immediately remove the consequences we have set for those actions. I want to immediately say, “Never mind! I know you are sorry! Let’s go back to playing games!” However, I know that it is important that actions have consequences. I tell them how much I love them, that I only want the best for them, and that I am really excited to go back to having fun soon, but there do have to be consequences.

How much more loving and wise is our Father in Heaven?

So when you are living out repercussions, remember that this is not God being mad at you. Once you have turned back and repented of this sin issue, God is overjoyed. That doesn’t mean the ramifications immediately evaporate, but if we walk through those challenges with Christ at our side, the yoke is easy and the burden is light.

Thought to ponder

What thorns in my side still exist from current or previous times where I was not walking in line with God’s will? Have I given that area of life fully over to God?

Awake Lord! Why do you sleep?

Daily Readings: Numbers 31-32, Psalm 44, 1 Corinthians 6

We have heard it with our ears, O God;
our ancestors have told us
what you did in their days,
in days long ago.
With your hand you drove out the nations
and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples
and made our ancestors flourish.
It was not by their sword that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them.

You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.
Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
I put no trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.

But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.
You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.
You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.
You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.

You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
the scorn and derision of those around us.
You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.
I live in disgrace all day long,

and my face is covered with shame
at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.

All this came upon us,

though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.
Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.
But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness.

If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,
would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?
Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?

We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.

Psalm 44

I think we have all been there.

I think we have all been where the author of this Psalm was at when he wrote, “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?”

The thing I love about this Psalm is that it points to the type of relationship that God wants to have with each and every one of us. God does not desire a bland, whitewashed, stereotypical relationship with you and I where we show up on Sunday, sing a couple of worship songs, pray occasionally thanking him for our blessings, and calling it a day.

God wants raw. God wants unfiltered. God is unafraid of our anger, frustration, and hurt. He wants us to lay it all before him, not just what we perceive as the good stuff. To God, it is all good stuff. He wants us to be authentic with him.

When we are feeling abandoned he wants us to cry out passionately.

God already knows our hearts, but he wants us to bring it to him anyway. When my wife is upset, nine times out of ten I already know, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want her to still tell me and talk with her about it. God knows us infinitely more.

This Psalm also reminds me that God’s timeline is often not our own and God’s perspective on our lives is far greater than mine. When we are caught up in the moment it is easy to say, “All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path.”

And yet if we are honest with ourselves, we are almost always straying from the path in some form or fashion. We are human.

There are times where God is working in our lives through the challenges and we rarely have the ability to see the fruit that will come from this time wandering in the desert. A year or two in our lives feeling distant from God can feel like an eternity. To God it is a blink of the eye and he has more in store for us on the other side of adversity if we choose to continue to follow his path and trust in his will.

Easier said than done, but always worth the fight.

Whatever you are facing currently in your life, don’t be afraid to lay that down before God…raw and unfiltered. You don’t need to polish it up for him. God knows your heart anyway. Let it rip.

The God of all creation loves you so much and wants a true relationship with you. Great relationships start with authenticity.

Thought to ponder

What anger, frustration, or hurt do I need to turn over to God?

Are my politics filled with Grace and Love?

Daily Readings: Numbers 29-30, Psalm 43, 1 Corinthians 5

In full transparency, I really didn’t want to write this blog. I delayed posting it because I am fearful that people will skim it, read only parts of it, read it through their own personal lens instead of with an open mind, and then jump to conclusions. This is a post where I would like to ask that you read start to finish if you read it at all and attempt to see the full message instead of focusing on any individual sentence.

Here we go…

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

This post is about folks outside of the church, but I feel compelled to write a quick reminder that we will all fall short of the glory of God and we will all sin. When Paul is referring to not even associating with people inside of the church living a lifestyle of sin he is talking about people that are unapologetically living a lifestyle of sin, have no interest in changing, justify what they are doing, preach a false doctrine, and are attempting to lead others astray as well. He is not talking about throwing people out of the church that are struggling with sin issues in their lives. If that was the case, we would all be thrown out! For more context on this, you can check out this post from a few weeks back: Tacking on verse 25

Let’s move on to today’s post.

One of the things that begins to happen when you are intentionally open about your faith in your normal day to day life and not merely when you are in a church context or purely when you are with other believers, is people start asking you about major cultural topics to get your take on them. For a combination of reasons (politicians on both sides stirring the pot, the media enjoying division, and some major religious leaders that find it an easy target) an “us vs them” debate that happens more frequently than others is about homosexuality.

As a marketplace missionary, people occasionally come to you ready to attack. There will always be some people waiting to pounce and put you on the defensive and make you come off as a bigot. This can be an incredibly challenging topic, and I would encourage all Christians to heed Paul’s advice that we see in 1 Corinthians today. When it comes to sin issues of any type, we are not called to judge those outside the church. If someone is not a believer in Christ yet, that is simply not what we are called to do. Jesus modeled this same behavior over and over again in the gospel when he would tell his followers, “You who are without sin, cast the first stone.” or “First remove the plank from your eye before trying to help a brother remove the speck from his.”

The Bible is not ambiguous about our role as Christ followers when it comes to sin in the lives of unbelievers.

But people are going to ask, so how do we answer?

I will tell you exactly what I say. You can feel free to critique it, pick it apart, and give me feedback. I am open-minded to articulating an answer better than I currently am! I think responding well to questions like this starts with remembering the message of the gospel and constantly keeping in mind how much we have all fallen short and the sin issues that we all still struggle with on a daily basis.

Again, if you are going to continue reading from here, I would ask that you read to the end and not simply skim.

My conversations typically go something like this:

“Aaron, you are Christian, what are your thoughts on gay marriage?”

“Quite frankly, I don’t understand why it is an issue the church feels the need to get involved in at the political level. I don’t think individual churches should be forced to have a marriage ceremony in a religious context that they don’t believe in, but I don’t understand why we are up in arms about the government giving out certificates of marriage.

The United States was specifically set up with a separation of church and state. If we pick this one issue to legislate, why not every other one? The Bible talks far more about greed and how we handle our money than homosexuality and yet we don’t put a cap on wealth a family can hoard. The Bible speaks out against drunkenness and I don’t hear Christians clamoring for a law putting a three-drink limit at all bars and restaurants. There are tons of other examples. I just think there are more important things Christians could put their energy towards and am not sure why we focus on this issue so much.”

“But what do YOU think? Aren’t people born that way? Why would a loving God create someone to be gay if that is a sin?”

“Listen, Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality a single time while on earth. It is mentioned other times throughout the Bible, but not anywhere close to as many times as greed, jealousy, lust in general, and other sins. So regardless of whether or not homosexuality is right or wrong, if Jesus was a politician, it certainly wasn’t the central issue he was here on earth campaigning against. One thing I know for sure, though, is that I have fallen woefully short in all of those other areas time and time again throughout my life. I sin constantly even though I don’t want to. There is a sinful nature in all of us. Jesus was extremely clear when he told us to worry about the sin in our own lives instead of condemning others.”

“But what would you tell someone who is gay and wants to know what you think and whether or not they are living against God’s will in their life?”

“Well, I would first ask them if they are Christian. If they are Christian, I would ask them more about their story, how they came to Christ, what their walk has been like, and if they have taken that issue to Jesus in prayer and dove into God’s word with an open mind and open heart. I would ask them if they are willing to follow whatever God says on the matter.

If they are not Christian, I would tell them that it is not my place to judge them and that my opinion on their lifestyle doesn’t matter and that I am sorry if other Christians have ever made them feel like they are inhuman in someway for the choices they make and life they live.

I would then ask them if anyone has ever shared with them who Jesus actually was and what his message actually was. If they were open to listening I would then tell them about Jesus and how he has worked in my life. I would start with the many areas in my life where I know I have not been in line with what God has for me. I would share that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God and that he loves us like crazy anyway. I would tell them about our perfect, loving father in Heaven that wants what is best for us even when we don’t see it ourselves and that I am constantly learning that lesson over and over again in my own life. I would share how Jesus came down from heaven and gave his life for us so that he could have a relationship with us.

I would tell them that, ultimately, it is not my job to tell them how to live, nor is it any other Christian’s job, but that there is a God in Heaven that is very real and loves them more than they can ever imagine. I would ask if they would be willing to get to know that God better. If they are, I would grab coffee with them another time, explain the gospel in even more detail and eventually invite them to church, help them get plugged in to a starting point type of class that helps them really explore what it is all about in even more depth, and ultimately I would and walk alongside them as they are making a decision whether or not to give their life over to Christ.

If they eventually did, I would encourage them to take the question of their lifestyle to God.

If they are not open to having that conversation about the gospel in the first place, I would simply tell that God still loves them and if they are ever willing to learn more, I would love to sit down with them, but in terms of their lifestyle, I don’t think it is my place to judge.”

Ultimately our job as Christians is to bring people to saving faith in Jesus. If people genuinely come to know Christ and give their life over to him, God is capable of transforming hearts and I believe that God’s will and ability to transform is better than mine!

As a church we do not do ourselves any favors by attempting to legislate individual choices unless they directly hurt or infringe on the rights of others. Drunk driving kills a huge number of people every single year. Drunk driving is already illegal, but if we really wanted to hone in on one sin that had the potential to harm others, it seems like drunkenness would be a good start since you can’t drive drunk if you can’t get drunk. Not only can drunkenness result in drunk driving, but it can also cause domestic abuse, ruin families, and have all sorts of other negative consequences. Last I checked Christians weren’t lining up at the ballot box to bring back prohibition.

Jesus spent a large chunk of his time talking about helping the poor and marginalized. If the Christian church was going to throw their collective political weight behind an issue, that one was talked about quite a bit more. How are we doing at that currently?

When we talk about these issues, a large percentage of the church all of a sudden become champions of individual freedom. A vast majority says that it is the role of the church to provide help to those that need it and not the role of the government.

To be clear, I am not arguing for or against either of these positions. I am merely stating that we have an interesting way, as a church, of being incredibly selective of which issues we decide truly outrage us and what issues we will throw our collective political weight behind. I would challenge anyone to go back and read the entire book of Matthew, every single word Jesus spoke while on earth, and see if you come to the conclusion that we are fighting the right cultural fights at this moment in time. Are our collective actions bringing others to Christ or pushing them away?

This all stems from fear of “others”. If you are not gay, there is not a lot of risk of you accidentally being gay on a given night. However, you might have one too many beers. You might slip back into your porn addiction. You might be consumed with jealousy for a week, month or year. You might covet your neighbor’s things. You might grow incredibly angry and overreact. You might not honor your mother or father. You might lie. You might steal. You will definitely have idols.

“But Aaron, those are individual sins! Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice!”

How are you at guarding the Sabbath as a lifestyle choice? That one was actually on God’s Top Ten list. Homosexuality didn’t even appear on there.

We meet all of these issues with grace because we can relate. We could see ourselves struggling in these areas next time and wanting others to meet us with grace, forgiveness, and love.

Jesus calls us to spread a message of love and grace.

Jesus and Paul are the two main teachers throughout the New Testament and both of them were crystal clear on our role when it comes to judging people outside of the church and how we should approach them.

I vote we listen.

Thought to ponder

What media have I been consuming, speakers have I been listening to, or authors have I been reading that have potentially been pushing me away from the message Jesus gave of love, grace, and forgiveness?

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