Mind dulled or Spirit filled?

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 23-24, 2 Corinthians 3, Psalm 52

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:12-18

In this passage in Corinthians today Paul speaks directly to the trap of religious activity. It is so easy as a Christian in today’s world to fall into religion instead of relationship. It is easy to show up to church, maybe occasionally crack open the Bible, check those boxes, and then move on with the rest of our day without any real relationship with our father in heaven. It was not only Paul that warned against this mindset throughout his ministry here on earth, but heard this directly from Jesus as well.

In Matthew 7 Jesus absolutely eviscerates the religious leaders of that day:

Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Don’t get me wrong; this is not anti-church. I adore the church I am a part of. I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of a church that focuses on relationship with God, outreach to the community, and discipleship instead of simply religious tradition.

I would submit, however, that there are very few things that made Jesus angrier in his time on earth than religious hypocrites. You can commit a whole laundry list of sins, but if you are willing to admit them, repent, and turn your life over to Christ; Jesus is right there in your corner, arm around you, fending off your accusers and saying, “You who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

However, if you pretend to be righteous, are unwilling to admit to sins in your own life, adopt a religious persona, and lead other’s astray; that is a different story. Now Jesus is ready to walk into the temple and start turning over some tables.

So, the question becomes, are we “being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” or are we allowing our minds to be dulled? Do we stand up boldly, speak truth in the face of obvious wrongs, and follow leaders that are chasing after God and clearly spirit filled? Or do we allow ourselves to fall for the counterfeit, with veils over our faces and not truly going after the transformation that can only come through a genuine relationship with our father in heaven?

As we watch some of the events taking place in our world today, I think there is very little doubt what God would have to say on the matter. When we see leaders in the public eye wrapping themselves in the cloak of Christianity and yet behaving quite the opposite, how will we respond as Christians?

Will we be “very bold” as Paul describes today in 2 Corinthians? Or will we be on the other end of Paul’s message, minds dulled, faces veiled, and blindly following along any charismatic leader willing to claim Christ with their lips?

We see a similar message from David today in our readings in Psalm 52. I think this applies quite directly to several prominent political figures in today’s world that would claim to be Christian but look to use Christ as nothing more than a sales tactic. On both sides of the aisle.

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero?
Why do you boast all day long,
you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?
You who practice deceit,
your tongue plots destruction;
it is like a sharpened razor.
You love evil rather than good,
falsehood rather than speaking the truth.
You love every harmful word,
you deceitful tongue!

Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin:
He will snatch you up and pluck you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living.
The righteous will see and fear;
they will laugh at you, saying,
“Here now is the man
who did not make God his stronghold
but trusted in his great wealth
and grew strong by destroying others!”

But I am like an olive tree
flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
forever and ever.
For what you have done I will always praise you
in the presence of your faithful people.
And I will hope in your name,
for your name is good.
 

My sincere hope is that Christians throughout our country would stand up boldly, filled with the spirit, face unveiled, walking in true relationship with our heavenly father, and push back against any leaders in this world that would boast all day long, practice deceit, grow strong by destroying others, etc.

I want to live in a world where Christians claim Christ boldly, hope only in his name and not in a political party, and are like the olive tree flourishing in the house of God.

Let’s not allow our minds to be dulled. The stakes are eternal.

Thought to ponder

In the last year have I claimed Christ and stood up for what is right boldly? Have I been walking spirit filled and in a true relationship with Christ or have I allowed my mind to be dulled as Paul described?

Sharing our sin

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 21-22, 2 Corinthians 2, Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

Psalm 51:1-15

David had a long and hard fall. He went from being the shepherd boy chosen to be king, the savior of his people who slay the giant, and “a man after God’s own heart”, to an adulterer and murderer. It is hard to picture a fall from grace more pronounced than David’s.

We all fall short of the glory of God throughout our life. We may never commit adultery or murder, but Jesus told us in his sermon on the mount that, You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” And also, I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

The question is not whether or not we sin and fall short of the glory of God. The question is; how will we respond?

Throughout large chunks of my life I wanted to run and hide. I wanted to avoid time with God. I didn’t want the shame and guilt that I knew would accompany time with my father in Heaven because of my unrepented sin. This was a common path for me to walk. Sin, feel the weight of guilt and shame, withdraw from God, repeat.

At other times I would go down a different path in relation to sin issues in my life. Often I would just want nothing more than to minimize the sin in my own life as not that big of a deal. “I mean, look at that guy! I am in pretty good shape compared to him!”

I know I am not alone in this.

Having spent a large chunk of my life in careers where I am mentoring others, I will often ask the question of fellow Christians, “What has your heart captive right now? What sin issue have you been struggling with recently?”

One of the most common answers I hear is pride.

I always want to smile. I can relate. For the longest time, that would have been what I said as well. Pride is a nice, simple, relatable, and comfortable sin to confess. No risk of people viewing me differently because of struggling with pride! In fact they might appreciate my spiritual maturity for realizing my own weaknesses!

We all nod understandingly as Christians when someone says they struggle with pride. “Me too brother, me too.”

It is far more difficult for most of us to say:

“I am unbelievably materialistic. I compare myself to other people constantly and never feel that I will have enough. I will never have the house I desire, drive the car I want to drive, have the body I want to have, etc. I have spent far more time looking at Black Friday ads than time in God’s word over the last week.”

or

“I have been addicted to porn for as long as I can remember and it causes me to view women as objects and I hate myself for it. I lust constantly and I don’t know what to do about it. I have repented of it and sworn it off forever more times than I can count.”

or

“I am constantly gossiping about others. I don’t know why I can’t stop or why I do it, but I find myself frequently speaking negatively about other people when I am unwilling to bring up those same items to that person.”

or

“I can’t stop eating. I know that I am in a self-destructive pattern that is not God honoring in any way shape or form, but when I am stressed, felling down, or struggling with anxiety, I turn to food instead of God. I struggle treating my body like the temple God created it to be and I know it is slowly killing me.”

or

“I think I might be an alcoholic. I might not get black out drunk, but it is hard to remember a week where I didn’t have several beers 4-5 nights or the week or more. I certainly turn to alcohol as an escape instead of turning to God. I worry what path I might be on and where it might lead eventually.”

There is an endless list.

Far easier to tell that Christian friend, “I am struggling with pride.”

I love David’s response today.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

David says, Lord use me. Give me strength, joy and a willing spirit. I want to use this fall to help others. I want to teach others your ways and declare your praise!

An amazing thing happened for me when I started being comfortable calling out every sin in my life, even if they seemed small or insignificant. God was faithful.

The battle was so much easier to fight when embracing the truth that the Holy Spirit truly does reside within us and wants to help if we will simply acknowledge the errors in our ways and ask for help.

I also realized quickly that we all struggle with the same things and that all of the condemnation I feared from other brothers in Christ was not coming. I lived for so long thinking that I wasn’t worthy of love, because I couldn’t seem to form good enough habits! I couldn’t seem to achieve Christ-like perfection! What was wrong with me that I would try and try and try again and year after year I struggled with the same stupid things?

“Don’t worry God, I will figure this out eventually.”

But there was no way I was going to confess what was going on in my life to others. What would they think? I am supposed to have it all together. I have worked hard at being a respected leader and mentor for others. How would people respond?

What I have found over and over again is that there is freedom in living authentically with other brothers and sisters in Christ. I have repeatedly found my fears to be unfounded and simply an attack from the enemy. In fact, when other people see your willingness to kick shame in the teeth and lay your struggles out there, you will find many people immediately want to follow suit. We all desperately want to be known fully and loved fully, baggage and all.

God can do amazing good through us when we are willing to live authentically with others and open up about what is happening in our lives, regardless of whether they are obvious sins like David’s or if they are quiet sins of heart that we would prefer to minimize as small and insignificant. God wants to use our falls to demonstrate his glory and bring freedom to others that have not yet experienced it fully.

David understood this.

So what will your prayer be today about areas you are currently struggling with? Will it be, “Lord, help me overcome this thorn in my side?” Will you be focused on somehow conquering this on your own?

Or will it be like David? Instead of hiding from your sin, will you write Psalms about it? Will you use it help others struggling with the same battle? Will you use it to bring glory to God and sing his praises because of the work he is doing in your life, how far he has brought you, and how he loves you unconditionally even in your sin?

We will all fall short. There is freedom in embracing David’s approach when we do!

Thought to ponder

If a brother or sister in Christ asked you what your current battle is, how would you respond?

 

 

 

The God of all comfort

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 19-20, 2 Corinthians 1

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1:3-11

There is so much power in these 9 verses.

When we read Paul’s encouraging words to the church at Corinth, who were clearly going through some hardships at the time, the first thing that pops out to me is how powerful our stories are for encouraging others. There are few things that can give someone more strength in their current battle than a brother or sister in Christ coming alongside them and saying, “I have walked this same path you are on.”

There is power in our story.

However, something struck me towards the end of the passage this morning in a different light.

For a lot of us it takes years or even decades to get to a point where we are able to come to terms with the challenges that have occurred in our lives. Some of these are things that happened to us, and some are self-inflicted challenges. Once we are willing to share these experiences with others, we have a huge opportunity to comfort and assist people facing the same life challenges. We can relate!

This is not what struck me this morning.

Towards the end Paul says, “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”

Paul was not just speaking to them about the time he was imprisoned 10 years ago and telling them to hang in there because it eventually gets better. He wasn’t saying, “Listen, in a different life, I struggled with that too. I can relate!” Paul was saying that this is an ongoing battle. We are still facing the exact same challenges that you are facing today, and we will most likely continue to face them. We have full expectation that God will continue to be faithful and the fact that we are still in the midst of our struggle will be a testimony to God’s unfailing love and others can then see the manifestation of the power of their prayers as they lift us up in our battle!

Wow.

This changes the game. I know for me personally, no matter what I am struggling with during any season life, it is always helpful to have people in my life that can relate and say, “I went through that also. Here is how God helped me deal with it.”

It is even more powerful when someone is able to say, “I am right there in that battle with you…still. Today. This is a fight I am currently fighting and God is going to continue to deliver us. On him we can set our hope, together.”

There is serious power in battle partners that you go to war with against an enemy who is cunning and knows exactly how to attack each and every one of us.

Just because your battle may be lessened from where it was at it’s peak, there is still serious power in your willingness to be open about it. You don’t have to still be stuck in, what seemed like, a bottomless pit of shame and self-defeat. Friends of yours that are still early on in their particular battle are able to take extreme comfort knowing that they are not alone.

We have all struggled with any number of things, anger, jealousy, alcoholism, pornography, gluttony, pride, drug addiction, adultery, lying, or coveting; and we are still tempted in some form or fashion every day. Being able to tell a brother or sister in Christ about your still present struggles instead of talking about them in an academic, past tense way, gives so much more comfort.

That doesn’t mean you have to be losing the battle to be of comfort to another. It just means that there is power in admitting a battle still rages. When people see us as perfect, having it all together, never struggling with anything, and having conquered all of our past demons; it sets a false standard that no one can live up to and creates hopelessness. None of us can achieve perfection, which is why Christ had to come in the first place.

What do you struggle with? It doesn’t mean that you need to have lost that fight recently. Maybe you have been abiding firmly in Christ, and when those temptations have come recently, you have reminded yourself of your true identity and allowed God to strengthen you. That is fantastic!

But it doesn’t mean the temptation isn’t still there.

Maybe you are still in the midst of a battle that you have been losing more times than not in recent weeks and months. God loves you like crazy exactly where you are. He is a God of comfort and a God of compassion. He wants to rescue you each and every day if you will allow him.

As Paul wrote today, God not only desires to rescue us, but he also wants to use our past, present, and future struggles to comfort and encourage others. He wants to show others, through our unending faith in God’s rescue, the hope that exists in him.

So share your story. Not just of the past and God’s powerful redemptive work, but also be open with the present battles you are fighting today.

Our God is “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 

Let him use you, along with your troubles, to be a source of comfort to others this week!

Thought to ponder

What are my current struggles? Am I willing to lay them out there for others so that they can comfort me and so that I can be a source of encouragement for others who then realize they are not alone as well?

Who do you throw your lot in with?

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 17-18, 1 Corinthians 16, Psalm 50

But to the wicked person, God says:

“What right have you to recite my laws
or take my covenant on your lips?
You hate my instruction
and cast my words behind you.
When you see a thief, you join with him;
you throw in your lot with adulterers.
You use your mouth for evil
and harness your tongue to deceit.
You sit and testify against your brother
and slander your own mother’s son.
When you did these things and I kept silent,
you thought I was exactly like you.
But I now arraign you
and set my accusations before you.

Psalm 50:16-21

In the last post we explored the dangers of tribalism and how it can lead to a society of mockers on both sides of the aisle politically and not a society of people seeking to first understand before being understood, desiring to increase their own learning, and ultimately chasing after wisdom instead of simply attempting to win a debate.

Today our reading in Psalm 50 points to a deeper problem with tribalism that we see in today’s culture. In America today we are so prone to going to our own political corner and defending any candidate that will vote the way we want. If they say that they are Christian as well; all the better! We desperately want to believe that the people we are backing are not all that bad, are they?

In Psalm 50 God warns us of people that “recite his laws and take God’s covenant on their lips” and yet do the opposite. For as long as mankind has existed there have been con artists who will say they believe in God to curry favor with believers, even if all the evidence points to the opposite story. In today’s world we see so many politicians that seek to appeal to Christians and yet, see if this sounds familiar, “hate God’s instruction, join with thieves, throw in their lot with adulterers, use their mouth for evil, harness their tongue for deceit…”

This happens on both sides of the aisle and the damage can be eternal. By defending someone to a friend, colleague, or neighbor and minimizing some truly terrible things that someone has done, said, etc. we minimize our opportunity to have an eternal impact on their life. It is so easy for people to say, “If that is what being Christian looks like, defending that person, no thanks.”

Here is the reality, only Democrats can hold Democrats accountable and only Republicans can hold Republicans accountable effectively. When we rush to our corners to defend the immoral actions of people that fit our political beliefs, we ruin our own testimony.

In some cases, there are two terrible choices, and you have to vote for one of them. However, you never need to say that you actually support that person. You never need to defend actions that are indefensible. And once an election is over, you can use your voice to help positive change occur by holding your own side accountable to a higher standard of personal conduct.

Also, you don’t need to vote for either. You really don’t. If your party keeps nominating candidates that are morally bankrupt, you deserve better. You will never force your party to bring better candidates to the table if you vote for terrible ones. Every party needs a wake up call from time to time.

If you can find the passage in the Bible where Jesus talks about “choosing the lesser of two evils” or saying “the ends justify the means”, send it my way. So far I have been unable to find it.

In addition, if you ever hear a pundit, radio host, or news anchor defending the indefensible, turn it off. God has told us clearly that there are people who will claim his name, suggest that they are Christian, recite his laws, and yet in reality, “hate God’s instruction, join with thieves, throw in their lot with adulterers, use their mouth for evil, harness their tongue for deceit…”

As Christians we are called to remember that this is not our ultimate home. Our ability to minister to others and share the gospel has eternal implications. Let’s not throw it away with half the population by defending the indefensible, backing the flagrantly immoral, and throwing in our lot with thieves, adulterers, and folks that use their words to harness evil and deceit.

The world needs Christians that stand up and fight for what is right, not just for our own political positions. There is a difference between begrudgingly voting for someone when you feel like both choices are awful and then holding that person you voted for accountable by frequently speaking out and making sure your voice is heard; and actively defending indefensible actions.

At the end of my life, when I stand before the throne, I don’t want God to say, “You threw your lot in with them? What right did you have to recite my laws and have your covenant on your lips if that is who you defended with your words and actions?”

This world will eventually fade away, but our choices while here echo for eternity.

Thought to ponder

When was the last time I caught myself wanting to retreat to my own political corner and defend the indefensible? How can I be more aware when I am falling into this trap and remember that ultimately this is not our home and my testimony to others is far more important than a single election cycle.

The world has enough mockers

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 15-16, 1 Corinthians 15, Proverbs 9

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
rebuke the wise and they will love you.
Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.

Proverbs 9:7-9

For most of my life I viewed this passage in Proverbs purely the way it was written, through the lens of how I should deal with others. I would read this passage and think to myself, “There is so much truth in this! There are just some people who are pointless to correct. If only they were open minded to wisdom! They are the epitome of the mocker described in Proverbs! They are so closed minded!” The fundamental flaw in this view is that it automatically assumes that I am wise and have all of the correct answers. By viewing this passage simply through the lens of how to deal with others, we miss the opportunity for self-reflection that we are offered as well.

This passage applies to every area in life, but I think it is safe to say that it manifests itself in today’s world most prominently through politics. There are very few people that have much of an interest in hearing what the other side has to say on an issue. We view most conversations as nothing more than a debate. Even the most patient of us typically only listen and attempt to appear open minded as a tactic to open the mind of the person we are with, find holes in their argument, and eventually attempt to “win them over to our side”. Very little listening is done with a genuine attempt to understand the position of the other person. Very rarely do we take down our own walls and ask, “Is there some wisdom in what they are saying?”

Frequently the answer very well might be no. On some issues, the answer is a pretty obvious and incredibly definitive no, and that is only hammered home more and more the longer we listen! However, by not being willing to actually engage, listen, and consider the thoughts of others, we become a mocker and lose the chance to “add to our learning and become wiser still.” And in cases where we come away feeling like we are on the right side of the argument after listening further, we have lost the opportunity to have any impact on the other person’s views as well. No one is going to take kindly to being called an idiot who doesn’t actually understand how the world works. No one who is mocked or insulted based on their views ends up opening their mind and coming away wiser because of the interaction.

This was absolutely my default throughout high school, college, and in my early to mid 20’s. I knew how the world worked, the correct sides to all arguments, and felt confident in making my case in such a way that would be hard to counter.

This all changed leading up to the 2008 election. (Wow that seems like a lifetime ago currently!) I was 26 at the time and decided to do an intellectual exercise for myself. I took 8-10 political hot button topics and actually asked myself, “What if I am wrong on this issue? Do I actually believe this because I have truly considered every aspect of the topic, listened to people from both sides with an open mind, looked at actual research and facts presented by each, and thought through the philosophical ramifications of the position I currently support? Or have I just always believed it and sought out sources of information that worked to confirm my already existing bias?”

Wow, that was challenging! For about 6 months I wrestled with quite a few topics. I spent time on just about every hot button topic imaginable and really tried to be open minded to the possibility that I was either completely wrong on my stance or that it might be more complicated than I originally thought and that a more nuanced approach was necessary than I wanted to admit.

I came away changing my stance almost completely on about 30-40% of topics and having a far more nuanced view on most of the others. At this point I am pretty confident I would get crushed if I ever ran for office, by both sides, because there are simply too many issues on both sides of the aisle that I support. We demand that every person get in line with 100% of the party platform or we call you ignorant! It is incredibly natural to choose a side that seems to fit more of our beliefs and then embrace what we are told to think by that side on all topics, instead of deciding what we believe and accepting the fact that “our party” might not agree with us on everything.

One of the biggest revelations I had in doing this exercise was the realization that politics, and our country as a whole, would be far better off if more people only agreed with 70% of what their party told them to support. Our country would be far better off if people looked into individual issues on their own, heard arguments from both sides, and made their own personal decision about how they feel on the topic.

I now listen with a far more open mind to people that I disagree with. I really want to understand where they are coming from. I want to know why they believe what they believe and if there is any truth in their position. Sometimes I am surprised by how well thought out their position truly is, even if I disagree. Sometimes, I find myself being swayed slightly or even quite a bit towards a portion of their argument, and am thankful I took the time to ask the question and listen. At a bare minimum, I am at least thankful for better understanding the psychology of why they believe what they believe instead of simply pigeon holing them because “I already know why they think the way they do”.

Virtually every single person you talk to today will say that the world is completely divided right now and do not like the polarized and toxic nature of our country. On this point, virtually everyone on both sides agree! (Other than those who actively seek to continue this divide for their own purposes) However, most of us prefer to shake our heads and say, “It is too bad the other side is so full of mockers and not people willing to seek wisdom.”

This past year has caused me to revert back into this tribal feeling more and more. I have found myself slipping back into a mindset where I view this passage in Proverbs 9 as advice for me on how to deal with others and not advice directed to me, encouraging me to not be a mocker, but to instead seek wisdom.

The world has plenty of mockers.

This morning I am making a decision to go back to being willing to learn.

In the words of Jerry Maguire: Who’s coming with me?

Thought to ponder

If I am being honest with myself, have I spent the last 12 months as a mocker or willing to learn?

You have a voice

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 13-14, 1 Corinthians 14, Psalm 49

For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

1 Corinthians 14:13-19

Truth be told, I have always spent much more time throughout my life as a Christian with 1 Corinthians 12 talking about different gifts and how they are all valuable along with 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul says they are all of them are worthless without love. These tend to be far more focused on as sermon topics. It feels good to hear the statement that we are all valuable contributors to the kingdom in our different strengths and nobody would ever disagree with the power of love.

However, 1 Corinthians 14, that is a different story. I tended to skim over that one.

For the longest time, in my walk with Christ, I would hear other people talk about their gifting and say things along the lines of, “I don’t really have the gift of evangelism or discipleship. I feel that God has called me more to…” followed by all sorts of gifts that don’t involve actively sharing our faith with others. Many people would reference praying for others (but silently because I have never been good at praying out loud), generating financial resources that can be used for kingdom building purposes, just living my life in a God honoring way that will rub off on others, etc.

I bought into this quickly, because it was always far more comfortable for me to pray silently on occasion, make money and donate, “lead a good Christian life”, etc. Leave evangelism to those who have that gift! Maybe I am just not a mouth in the body of Christ, but more of a hand. All parts are necessary, right?

In first Corinthians 14 today we see Paul address this head on.

He doesn’t say, “Stop speaking in tongues because that is not a valuable gift.” He says, “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.”

Whatever spiritual gifts you feel you have been blessed with, lean into those! Do those with extreme consistency and conviction. However, Paul suggests today that we should also be intentional about praying out loud, encouraging people, and sharing our faith with others in a way that they can actually internalize.

It is wonderful to pray every morning for your brother-in-law that God would open his heart, but you should also talk to him about the love of Christ.

It is great to be constantly lifting up that co-worker in prayer and asking that their heart would be open, but you should also invite them over for dinner, make a sincere effort to build a deeper relationship with them, and eventually invite them to visit a small group, church, or event where they could be exposed to Christianity in a tangible way.

Donating money to help overseas missionaries and praying for them constantly is fantastic! I have no doubt that they appreciate your support financially and through prayer. However, it is also important to take any opportunity possible to communicate with them how much you value the work they are doing whether and asking if there are any other ways you can support them. These interactions might be through Skype, email, letters, or however possible depending on the region of the world they are in. Whatever the method, words of encouragement are powerful!

Praying silently for a brother or sister in Christ to receive mental, emotional, or physical healing is a great thing to do, but don’t be afraid to lay hands on them as well and pray out loud. You have no idea what God might stir up in their heart as a result of your willingness to step out there and take a risk for the Kingdom of God.

I spent a large percentage of my life avoiding these types of activities. It was simply far more comfortable for me to pray silently, donate money, and go about my life without putting myself in a situation where I could feel the sting of rejection or perceived failure.

This doesn’t mean that you now go stand on a street corner with a sign, but rather that you are willing to put yourself out there for Jesus. Sometimes this might be a longer process. It might take a long time pursuing a genuine relationship with that co-worker that eventually gets to the point where you are able to share the gospel with them.

The problem with the concepts of evangelism, discipleship, and building genuine relationships, is we want them all to look like a single scene in a movie. We want the type of evangelism where someone goes from not believing in God all the way over to giving his or her life over to Christ in the midst of a 5-minute conversation where the gospel is shared. We want the scene to be set perfectly, the mood to be right, and the transformation to be obvious and complete!

Then we immediately discount ourselves as not having the ability to pull that off.

Real evangelism can take time. True discipleship is hard. Walking with fellow believers in an authentic, vulnerable, and spirit led way, is scary. Building stronger relationships to the point where you are able to go deeper in your faith together and be where you can be a tangible source of support and encouragement along their walk, is a process.

This isn’t Hollywood. We are not filming an hour and thirty-minute feel good movie targeted at Christians about a conversion story. This is life. It is ok if it takes time. Simply be willing and open to how the Spirit moves you to advance the plot.

Never allow yourself to believe the lie that you were simply not created to share with others. Don’t ever accept the attack that your voice will not be heard and that you will lack the right words to say. Reject the notion that you are not qualified, ill equipped, the wrong messenger, etc.

In the body of Christ, some of us are an eye, some an ear, some a foot or a hand…but we are all called to be a mouth from time to time. We are all called to use our voice for the good of others. This may take vastly different forms with all of us, but you were given a voice for the Kingdom.

Don’t be afraid to use it.

Thought to ponder

When was the last time I had the opportunity to pray over someone or with someone, be a source of encouragement, or share the gospel; but allowed fear and insecurity to cause me to hold back? Who is one person in my life that God is calling me to actively pursue for him?

The greatest of these is love

Daily Readings Deuteronomy 11-12, 1 Corinthians 13

This is only a 3-4 minute read and it is a post I would request you only read if you will read it all the way to the end. Thank you!

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

We have all read these verses in Corinthians quite a few times if we have been Christians for a while. We have all probably heard them at almost every wedding we have ever attended. A lot of us can probably hear the first half a sentence and already say to ourselves, “Ah yes! 1 Corinthians 13.” Occasionally with verses like this we can hear them so many times that they begin to lose their punch until we stop and choose to read them again slowly, truly internalize the message, and appreciate them for the profound truth that they contain.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

My heart breaks for our world today. The hard part for me, as a Christian, is partially the chaos that exists in the world and terrible events that we see happening. However, there is something that breaks my heart even more; the way a large percentage of Christians are choosing to respond.

As Christians we are called to love. We are called to speak truth into the darkness. Instead I see so many Christians, that I truly believe have amazing hearts, allow themselves to be brainwashed by the media they consume. I see people listen to radio shows, watch television programs, and surf websites that pedal in fear mongering and vitriol. I watch the love of Christ that should exist in their hearts be replaced by hate and paranoia.

Christian brothers and sisters, I know this is going make some of you really mad and think that I have gone over to the dark side, but please stop watching FoxNews, listening to Rush Limbaugh, and going to sites like Breitbart or InfoWars. They are poison. They are the opposite of everything Jesus preached here on earth and everything written in 1 Corinthians 13.

Answer this honestly: When you tune in to any of these sources, that claim to have a Christian faith at their core, would you say the messages you hear are rooted in the truth that, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”

This is not about conservative vs. liberal. You can be pro-life, support small government, believe in a strong national defense, believe more issues should be handled at the state level, be wary of gun control laws, etc. On some of those issues I probably agree with you and on others I might not. I have voted for Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians in different elections depending on the candidates, but in more positions that not, I lean conservative.

This is not about that. We can discuss the issues in a healthy, respectful, intellectually honest way. We can talk about the role of government in an open dialogue and then vote accordingly. That is not what is happening on the sources listed above in today’s world and it is poisoning the minds of Christians.

I think both Jesus and Paul would suggest to us in America today that either side could enact all of their political agenda, but if they did not have love, they gain nothing.

As Christians we are called to start with love.

The single biggest thing we can do as Christians is stop tuning in to TV and Radio and start picking up a newspaper or magazine. TV and Radio are mediums where sensationalism and outrage are currency. There is no nuance, very little honest debate, and ratings are determined by shock value.

Read.

There are plenty of conservative newspapers, magazines, and websites that don’t pedal in fear and hate as a business model but still lean to the right.

And here is another thing; it is totally ok to listen to views from both sides. Our society would be better off if more people did. Perhaps we would have more open dialogue and honest conversations.

I fear that this is the type of post that has people who already agree with me nodding their heads vigorously and people who don’t agree instantly outraged, defensive, and thinking that I am way off base and have been brainwashed by the mainstream media. I am sincerely praying that this is not the case.

I am sincerely praying that there are at least a few people that take a step back, as Christians, and ask themselves if the messages they are choosing to fill their minds with on a daily basis are messages of love or messages of fear and hate.

I have a suggestion for all of my Christian brothers and sisters on both sides of the political spectrum. Try a fast from TV News and Radio and spend more time in God’s word until Christmas. Feel free to read more and stay in tune with the happenings of the world, but stop listening to talking heads that use divisiveness as a business model.

See what happens when you start consuming less of the world and more of God’s truth.

I think you will find your life with far more faith, hope, and love.

And the greatest of these is love.

Thought to ponder

What content I currently consume could I cut out of my life that is filled with fear and hate?

“Physical healing, prophecy, hearing from God…really?”

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 9-10, 1 Corinthians 12

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

1 Corinthians 12:7-20

When I read this passage this morning I was struck by the fact that I have discounted most of these gifts of the Spirit for my entire life up until the last 6 months. Whenever I have breezed through this passage in Corinthians in the past I have always lumped it together in my mind with Romans 12 where Paul said:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

In fact, embarrassingly enough, I always pictured these two verses together and didn’t fully internalize, until this morning, that they occur in two separate letters from Paul to two different churches. I always just skimmed through this verse in Corinthians, assumed that I had grasped the main point that we all have different gifts and should use those for the kingdom, and moved on.

This morning I realized why.

Throughout my life I have always been far more comfortable with the concept of people being gifted in serving, teaching, encouragement, giving, or leadership. These are easy to observe. Telling someone that they should focus on maximizing those particular gifts listed in Romans could just as easily be advice read in a secular personal development book on helping people utilize their strengths.

However if I ever turned my mind towards unexplainable physical healing, hearing the voice of God, speaking in tongues, or other miracles…now the skeptical side of my brain started began operating at full power!

Did that person actually get healing or are they just caught up in the moment?

Did he really hear that from God?

Did she actually speak in tongues or is there an explanation for that?

Did that miracle really occur or is this just a story that has grown over time like a spiritual telephone game?

It is far more intellectually comfortable for me to shrug my shoulders and think “maybe, maybe not, but I guess I will never really know”, and to turn back to appreciating the person who is using their gift of leadership, serving, giving, etc.

For the longest time these gifts scared me. I didn’t want to acknowledge the possibility that I could ever hear from God, receive physical healing, etc. What if I decided it was truly possible, put myself out there to God, and believed completely that God had given me a spiritual gift beyond things like leadership, teaching, or service…and then it didn’t happen? What if I prayed with all of my heart to hear from God…and was met by silence? What if I prayed over someone for healing…and it didn’t happen?

Now don’t get me wrong, gifts like leadership, service, teaching, etc. are absolutely spiritual gifts! The problem for me has always been the fact that these are the only gifts I was willing to accept in myself personally or truly recognize in others. Simply put, these gifts are far more comfortable to acknowledge in ourselves and in others, and can occasionally cause us to not be willing to ask the question, “Have I also been gifted in any of these other, less comfortable, areas?”

Throughout me life I “believed” that these spiritual gifts existed in theory and that God gave these gifts to some people in the abstract, just not anyone I could actually observe. Every time I heard about unexplainable miracles from someone I actually knew the enemy swooped in immediately and made sure that my mind went immediately to, “Really, though?”

Even Jesus said that, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” 

We all like believing in miracles, just not at the hands of the guy in the cubicle next to us, the teacher in the next room, the nurse that we work with, etc.

Miracles are far more comfortable in the abstract.

It wasn’t until a night several months back that I accepted that God might actually want to do the miraculous for me personally and not just in theory. It wasn’t until that night that I accepted that God might want to speak through me to others and not just in a far away church plant in a foreign country.

Since then I have had multiple instances of people in times of worship come up to me unsolicited, not knowing what I was praying about, and say something along the lines of, “I really feel like God wants me to tell you that…”

They have spoken such incredible words that went straight to what I was wrestling with at that moment, and that probably made no sense to them whatsoever. And they were anything but generic.

I have had God put on my heart several times in the last few months that I should go up to someone I barely knew, and in some cases didn’t even know the name of, lays hands on them, pray for them, and speak to them incredibly specific things that he wanted to tell them. I have seen men weep for joy that God would speak to them in this way and tell me afterwards that it was exactly what they needed to hear at that exact moment. Truth be told, my first thought on multiple occasions when the Holy Spirit leading was, “Really? Why that? What if I am wrong? What if this is not from God? What if I tell them this and it falls flat?”

There have also been several times where I felt God telling me to go lay hands on someone and pray for someone; and nothing specific came to me. However, I had no doubt that I was meant to be praying for them even if that prayer was simply a silent, “Father, you already know what they need. Wrap them up in your arms and let them know that you are here and that there are other people lifting them up to you.”

Going after the Holy Spirit is scary.

I am so much more comfortable writing, speaking, or mentoring.

Opening up to the possibility of the miraculous is not comfortable.

And like Paul wrote today, we all have different spiritual gifts. I have prayed over many people for physical healing in these last several months as well and, as far as I know, none of them have received it. That may not be my gift. However, I will keep on praying for healing for others with complete conviction. This spiritual gift may surface for me at some time in the future or it may not. However, I know others who absolutely have this gift and I no longer say that with the internal caveat of, “…maybe.”

Discovering whether God designed you to be an eye, a hand, a foot, or an arm starts with truly believing that these parts exist in the first place. It starts with accepting that our God is still a God of the miraculous, not just in theory in a far off land, but in today’s world with people you actually know.

I prayed desperately with tears streaming down my cheeks several months ago that God would heal my unbelief.

God is faithful. Gifts of the Spirit are real. We are all parts of the same body, simply with different gifts. Don’t be afraid to ask the question and really seek after all of the gifts God might have given you!

Thought to ponder

What is my default thought process when I hear about miraculous happenings close to home? Have I been open to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life and willing to truly seek out what Spiritual gifts I may have been given?

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