That which defiles us

Daily Readings: Judges 1-2, Mark 7, Proverbs 12

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Mark 7:14-15, 20-23

In the Jewish world, being defiled was a big deal. So much effort went into remaining “ceremonially clean”. By the time Jesus arrives on the scene the Jewish establishment spent far more time worrying about a handful of regulations than actually following the will of God.

Jesus wasn’t having it.

I love Jesus.

I love Jesus not only because he was the perfect son of God who came down willingly to lay down his life for us so that we might have an eternal relationship with his father in Heaven; but also because he was unafraid of speaking the truth boldly and calling out hypocrisy.

Jesus gets angry a handful of times throughout the Bible and it was never directed at “sinners”. It was always directed at those that would claim to be followers of God and yet lead others astray by focusing on the wrong things.

The religious leaders of the day were more concerned with appearing ceremonially clean than with truly seeking after the will of God and bringing that to life in a broken and fallen world.

Over and over again throughout the scripture Jesus goes after our hearts. He wants us to truly understand this.

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

It got me thinking today about the American Church and what Jesus would say if he arrived on the scene now. If the Jewish leaders of the day were obsessed with being ceremonially unclean and seemed to miss the bigger picture, what would Jesus say we are obsessed with today that may be clouding our thought process and keeping us from truly striving to do the will of God?

It seems to me that there are two separate Christian universes in America today. There is the Sunday morning church service itself, where I see all sorts of amazing truth being preached. I see church leaders preaching fruits of the spirit, helping those in need, leaning on God, having courage in the face of adversity, etc. If we walked out of those doors and, as the body of Christ, were motivated to go live out what we had just heard, the world would be changed in a generation!

Then you jump on social media. Here we find a different universe entirely.

Social media does a great job of highlighting what people find important enough to share with the world. There is this beautiful platform where we can, quite literally, say anything we want to the entire world that is willing to listen!

How do we use it as a body of Christ?

Then you can click over to the news and see “Christian Leaders” on talking head shows that have been given an even larger platform to reach even more people for Jesus.

What message do we see there?

The overwhelming message Jesus would see people, who claim to follow him, putting out into the world today would be salute the American Flag, racism is a thing of the past and doesn’t need to be talked about so much, assault weapons are an absolute right that cannot be taken away, abortion is wrong, and homosexuality is ruining the country.

I am not trying to make a statement on any one of these issues. I am simply stating that 90-95% of the content that I see put out into the world from self-proclaimed Christ followers typically falls into one of those buckets.

In Matthew 7 Jesus told us, Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” 

In John 8 he said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

And today he challenges us saying, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Before God sent Gideon to take on the Midianites he told him to first get his own house in order. I think Jesus would say the same to us today.

What would the world look like if Christians first looked internally and challenged ourselves, our families, members of our church, and our self-proclaimed Christians leaders to live out what Jesus spoke of here?

What would it look like if we hated greed with the same passion that we hated abortion?

What would happen if Christians used their platform to speak out against arrogance, slander, lewdness, and deceit with as much passion as they speak out against gun control?

Jesus came with a message of love and forgiveness. He came with a message of caring for your neighbor and loving God with all of your heart. He came with a message of first looking inwardly before trying to change the minds of the world.

What would it look like if we took that message to heart?

In Proverbs 12:18, 20 today we also read that, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” and “Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy.”

The world is in desperate need of Christians who call out reckless words when they see them and instead strive for words of peace and healing.

God sent his son so that none might perish. We are his advocates in a broken and divided world. The world needs an army of Christians who strive to bring more people to Jesus, not push them away through hateful rhetoric. The world needs Christians who first seek transformation personally, then in their own family and church community, and then in the greater church as a whole.

When people see that level of peace in our lives, the authenticity of our relationships, and our commitment to helping those in need, it is amazing how there is a tendency for people to want to find out more about that Jesus character.

Now life change can happen. Now people can be saved.

If we first seek to remove the collective plank from our own eyes, remember how much time Jesus spent preaching that we should take care of the forgotten and vulnerable, and spread a message of love and peace; the world could be truly changed!

Thought to ponder

If I was to compare myself to Jewish leaders of the time that were too fixated on being ceremonially clean and missed the bigger picture, what Christian hot-button issue has a tendency to dominate my thoughts and may keep me from thinking about the bigger picture?

Are we the angry mob?

Daily Readings: Joshua 9-10, 2 Corinthians 13

Frequently when I get to the portion of Paul’s letters that serve as his final greeting, I find myself reading it quickly and not really taking it in. This morning I actually read it.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2 Corinthians 13:11-14

Whenever I write, I want to end with a bang! I want to end with the main takeaway that I hope the reader will hold onto from what they just read. And yet, with Paul’s letters, I have always treated these final few verses in the final chapter of his lengthy letters as simply a form of “good bye”.

There was so much internal turmoil going on in the church at Corinth at this time. In fighting was rampant, debates robust, and they were anything but “of one mind living in peace”. What was Paul’s final charge to them?

Rejoice!

Encourage!

We live in a society that currently does very little rejoicing and even less encouraging.

With Easter rapidly approaching, it struck me this morning how far the American church has gotten away from the vision that God had for us as a collection of believers. We have so much to rejoice about!

And yet, when we look around, it becomes increasingly evident that we spend far more time complaining, arguing on Facebook, etc. than we do rejoicing or encouraging. We have become like Corinth.

If God’s people made the decision that we would collectively be a group that never ceases to rejoice in the amazing gifts of the father and never stops encouraging one another, what an amazing change our world would see!

However, there will always be those who claim to be followers of Christ that seek to divide. There will always be those who seek to manipulate, control, and advance their own agenda to maintain power. The story of Easter is incomplete without remembering that most of God’s people blindly followed the religious leaders of the day to the point of becoming an angry mob crying out for the death of the very Messiah they had been waiting for.

All throughout the Bible there are stories of those who would seek to deceive and divide God’s people. We continuously see the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, and more often than not, we fall for it. Today in Joshua we read another of these stories.

However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgaland said to him and the Israelites, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.”

Joshua 9:3-6 

We frequently walk right into these traps because it is often more convenient to believe the deceiver. We want to believe that this person, or group of people, is on our side. When it seems like there are so many enemies seeking to destroy, it is an attractive thought to have an ally!

In Joshua we continue on and read that, “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.” 

When we decide to “sample their provisions” without inquiring of the Lord, bad things tend to happen. When we simply listen to talking heads, political figures, or outspoken religious leaders of the day without consulting God’s word; it is a dangerous game we play.

So, as Easter approaches, are we comfortable being the angry mob? Are we comfortable being riled up through those that would use fear and anger to divide and conquer? Or are we going to get back focused on Jesus and worship the only person in human history who has been truly worthy of worship?

Will we take to heart Paul’s final words to us in Corinthians when he said:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Read that one last time slowly and really let it sink in.

Let’s go live that out this week. This Easter season Christians have the ability to have a massive impact on the world that lasts for an eternity.

Let’s make it count!

Thought to ponder

How can I spend more time rejoicing, encouraging, and acting in such a way that helps expose people to the grace and love of God?

 

“My grace is sufficient”

Daily Readings: Joshua 7-8, 2 Corinthians 12, Psalm 60

But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

My grace I sufficient for you.

On Sunday February 11th at 7 PM our family had just wrapped up a birthday party celebrating our amazing daughter Sophie turning 4 years old. Sophie is a cancer survivor that was diagnosed at just 2 months old with a rare form of cancer and, at this moment, is nearing 3 years cancer free.

Praise God!

It wasn’t more than 30 minutes after the last guest left that my wife called me upstairs and said we needed to go to the hospital. At the time we were 7 months pregnant and she had started bleeding significantly. We quickly called my parents, who only live a mile away, to come stay with our other three kids as we rushed to the hospital. The bleeding stopped by the time we got their, but the doctors told us they would be needing to keep Naomi there for observation for 5-7 days, because if it started again Naomi’s life and our unborn son’s life would be at risk at that point, and they would do an emergency cesarean section.

After being their several hours, they told me to go home, but to leave my phone on just in case. 90 minutes later, shortly after I had fallen asleep, the phone call came that I was desperately hoping to avoid, and I was driving as fast as I could back to the hospital, running inside, putting on scrubs, nervously waiting in the hallway, and finally entering the operating room with my wife.

Needless to say, it was an emotional several hours. That second drive to the hospital at 1:30 AM was the most scared I have ever been.

I threw out a group text at 8:08 PM when we were first heading to the hospital to a group of men that I do life with. Christian brothers in arms ready to go to battle with me and for me. The prayers began.

These are the moments earlier in my life where I would have waited until I knew more before sharing what was happening with anyone in my life.

“No point in worrying everyone. What if it is nothing? How will I look if I am just scared over something minor? Besides, they are busy, and I don’t want to burden them with something that might ultimately be no big deal.”

Lies crafted by an enemy with centuries of practice.

Satan wants us to do life alone. He wants you to believe that you are a burden to others, that no one really cares, that you are strong enough in your own power, and the power of prayer isn’t real anyway.

It isn’t until those moments in life where you have a child diagnosed with cancer, a wife being rushed into an emergency surgery, an infant taken up to the NICU, or any other extreme life event completely out of your control; that you realize what a complete illusion “control” is.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

God has blessed our family with a fair amount of worldly success. We have an amazing family, I run a successful company, we have incredible friends, and by lots of worldly standards, we are a success story.

Rarely has any of our worldly success given us the ability to minister to others and speak about God’s glory in the same way we have been able to because of Sophie’s cancer. Already, in just a short week and a half, I believe that the experience spanning February 11th-12th has already allowed us to give glory to God more than any career accomplishment ever could.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Naomi is recovering well from her surgery. Andrew, as of Feb 23rd, is still in the NICU and will most likely remain there for another week or two, but is moving in the right direction faster than we could have hoped for.

God is good.

However, God is not just good because of this individual result. When I sat outside the operating room while they prepped Naomi my prayer over and over again was, “You are a good God. You are a good good father. Regardless of the outcome, I know this to be true.” I prayed that same prayer when we first got the news with Sophie.

God already knows this. This prayer was necessary for my own heart.

In a perfect world, I would rather not have our newborn need to spend the first 3-4 weeks of his life in the NICU. I would rather that his sisters (who are super excited to meet their baby brother!) not have to wait a month to meet the newest addition to our family because kids under 18 are not allowed in the NICU. I would rather everything had gone beautifully according to plan.

Our plan.

However, Paul said it perfectly today:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  

We have always said as a family that we want to live out James 1:2-4 when James wrote, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

We decided about five months ago that our son’s middle name would be James in honor of this book in the Bible. We never expected he would live into his name so quickly!

However, we are considering it pure joy.

I know this trial will be far from the last we will face as a family as we journey through life, and this one is still not yet over, but his grace is sufficient and his power is made perfect in our weakness.

Culture wars or radical generosity?

Daily Readings: Joshua 1-2, 2 Corinthians 9, Psalm 57

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.

Psalm 57:9-11

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 

Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 

2 Corinthians 9:6-7, 13-15

As a collective whole, the American church has gotten a pretty bad name in society today. The unfortunate reality in today’s world, where we have immediate access to information and where anyone who wants to speak out has a platform, is that the most sensational and polarizing voices have a tendency to rise to the top. Our society naturally gravitates towards the controversial. This results in more clicks on stories that enrage us than those that inspire us, longer viewing time on news segments that shock us than those that lift us up.

The overall effect is that we live in a world where Christianity would appear to only be a religion of hypocritical leaders of mega churches rushing to the defense of the indefensible, simultaneously condemning large groups of people for sins that they just finished defending when it was one of their own, engaging in truly divisive rhetoric and making statements that run counter to the message of Jesus; and lots of self proclaimed Christians blindly following along like sheep to the slaughter.

All of this is causing non-believers and agnostics throughout America to say, “Christians are so hypocritical! If that is Christianity, thanks but no thanks!”

This is not the message Jesus came to advance in his time here on earth. It is simply the image portrayed in the news because controversy sells. Outrage and division is a business model that has proven profitable and there will always be false profits seeking to capitalize on this dark side of our inherent human nature. The truth is, this is not most Christians. This is not the majority of pastors.

Unfortunately, it is not the incredibly small minority either, which leaves us a lot of work to do as Christians who truly want to embrace the truth that Jesus uttered when he said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” It leaves a large credibility gap that needs filling by Christ followers who have truly turned over their lives to Jesus and have been transformed.

We are all human and, therefore, we will all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Christ showed nothing but grace for those moments of human weakness throughout his entire time on earth. However, nothing aroused his anger more than hypocrisy. Momentary lapses in self-control that lead to sin are going to happen. Jesus was always there to say, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone & First remove the plank from your own eye.” However, when people began preaching or following a false doctrine that leads others astray and keeps them for finding a relationship with God; for this Jesus had no tolerance.

So how do we counter this image of Christ followers that other’s see on their televisions, talk about over water coolers, and observe on social media? How do we make the name of God exalted throughout the earth as we read about in Psalm 57 today, so that God’s glory shines throughout the earth?

Radical generosity.

Far too often we feel completely incapable of winning that debate, if we were to engage in it, and decide to simply sit on the sidelines. The power of Christ lies in his people going out to the world and helping those in need. The power lies in the American church meeting the needs of those who are struggling in this world.

It doesn’t have to be simply physical needs of the poor that are being met, although they are many and this is a great place to start! It can also be the emotional needs of those who are well off in the material sense, but struggling with demons that they cannot conquer alone.

In 2 Corinthians today Paul tells us that, “Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” 

If you notice, he spoke of the service and generosity provided along with our confession of the gospel. It takes both.

If we are extremely generous with our time and money, and no one knows we are Christian, they are incredibly thankful for our generosity, but don’t link that to Jesus in their minds. If we simply want to share the gospel, but don’t accompany that with acts of kindness, assistance and tangible help with whatever they are struggling with in their current life; more often than not we simply end up in a spiritual debate with a skeptic. We have not yet proven to them that we believe the gospel through our actions. It is still just words.

There is so much power in generosity. There is so much power in unconditional love. There is so much power in the gospel when it is truly lived out on a daily basis and not simply preached.

Jesus did not simply preach. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, brought a message of forgiveness instead of condemnation, and was a living example of radical love and grace for others.

His disciples did the same in the midst of incredible persecution. In today’s world, there is a tendency for us to feel attacked by the media and society, retreat to our corners, and complain about how they are all out to get us.

It is far more comfortable inside of our Christian circles.

The magic happens on the outside. The magic happens when we know that nothing the world says about us can impact our true identity and cannot shake our faith in who God says that we are. The magic happens when we are willing to step out boldly…to serve. Not to boldly rage against culture, not to boldly engage in the debate on social media, not to boldly condemn everyone who doesn’t already know saving faith in Christ; to boldly serve.

The magic happens when we are joyful givers to those who would speak out against us, who clearly do not deserve our generosity by the world’s standards.

We are called to give this undeserved, radical grace and love because it was first given to us. Jesus gave it all. He wants us to be willing and cheerful givers as well.

And when we do, the results can be incredible.

Debates don’t bring people to Jesus. Unexpected acts of grace, kindness, and generosity do.

And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Generosity is capable of changing hearts and the impact is eternal.

Thought to ponder

Where is God calling me to demonstrate the type of generosity with my time and resources that would truly exalt him to those who do not yet know him?

Speaking truth in love

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 31-32, 2 Corinthians 7, Psalm 55

I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

2 Corinthians 7:4, 8-11

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he did not pull any punches. He was extremely blunt in telling the church at Corinth the ways in which their actions were counter to their proclaimed faith in Christ.

Reading this passage today made me start to think through my life and consider the times where I might have had the opportunity to be Paul writing back to the church at Corinth, but chickened out. I started to think about people in my life right now that could use some truth spoken into their lives, where I have the strength of relationship and credibility with them necessary to deliver the message in love, but where I am just more comfortable sitting on the sidelines, praying for change, but not wanting to rock the boat.

I have always strived throughout my life to be someone who is unafraid of speaking truth in love, but there are always people in my life, at any given time, where I feel myself pulling back. I don’t want to cause strife in the relationship. I rationalize that they are not at a point where they would be willing to hear the truth. I don’t want to cause sorrow.

…yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

So true!

True friends tell you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear. I want people in my life that are willing to be Paul and challenge me if they see me living a part of my life that is out of step with the life God has called me to live. And I want the courage to be Paul when necessary.

Being Paul starts with forming strong relationships. Paul spent significant time with the church at Corinth pouring into them. He built the church from the ground up. He knew the people and they knew him. There was a bond.

If we desire to be marketplace missionaries, in whatever profession God has called us, it starts with building genuine relationships and not just surface level ones. If we desire to have an impact for the Kingdom, it takes time and effort to build the type of relationship where you can grab coffee with someone and say, “Listen, I love you, and because I love you I have to tell you…”

Then we have to be unafraid to speak the truth in love even if it causes temporary sorrow, knowing that this temporary sorrow is frequently needed to bring long-term repentance.

Eternity is worth it.

In our moment-to-moment, fast paced world, not only is eternity impossible to comprehend, but it is frequently hard to even conceptualize five years from now! And yet, truth spoken in love can have a massive impact on that person’s life here on earth for the next 5, 10, 20, 50 years, as well for an eternity. And yet I occasionally find myself pulling back, unwilling to cause sorrow for a week, month, or six month period, in order to help a true friend gain lasting freedom.

Freedom is worth it. Freedom from the lies Satan tells us. Freedom from the bondage of the sin issue that we have fallen into and believed we are unable to kick. Freedom from the rationalizations we have told ourselves in order to believe that maybe, just maybe, God wasn’t all that serious in his word when he said _________.

I want to be surrounded by Pauls in my life and I want to be unafraid to be one as well. Without the willingness to speak truth in love, we also lack the ability to experience the overwhelming joy that comes from walking with a brother or sister in Christ as they come out the other side changed, free, and back walking the path they were designed to walk. While afraid to speak the truth, we lack the ability to have the full impact we were built to have here on earth for God’s Kingdom.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.

I want no regrets, when thinking back on conversations that could have been had, when this life ends.

It is worth it.

Thought to ponder

What is one courageous conversation I have been conveniently avoiding with a friend that I can have this week? Do I value their friendship enough to have it?

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