Starting with milk

Daily Readings: Numbers 25-26, 1 Corinthians 3

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?

1 Corinthians 3:1-3

This is such a perfect analogy for our spiritual journey as Christians. There are times in our journey when we need nothing more than milk in terms of our spiritual development. Until we have come to fully internalize the truth that Jesus chose to come to earth in fully human form, paid a price for us that we were unable to ever pay on our own by giving up his life willingly, and that we have the ability to welcome Christ into our lives to dwell within us and guide us through our time here on earth; spending time reading about his will for our life carries so much less weight.

If you give an infant solid food, it will wreak havoc on the poor baby’s digestive system. If you attempt to help a non-believer see how they might potentially be out of step with the life God had planned for them before they have even come to know and accept Jesus, it wreaks havoc as well.

This is the fundamental problem with street corner evangelism where you simply shout that people are going to hell and holding up signs about certain sin issues, declaring why people are not living the way God intended.

On a more normal level, it is also the problem with the judgmental brand of Christianity that exists in the marketplace today amongst some believers who really do want to be marketplace missionaries, but have a tendency to turn people away more than draw them in. If you lead with telling people why they are not living in accordance with God’s design, you are shoving meat down the throat of an infant.

Paul encourages us to first come with milk.

For folks who have no relationship with Christ, we must first introduce them to amazing, unearned, unconditional grace. We must share with them the incredible truth of a God who loves us in all of our messiness. We need to share the gospel message.

There are times where God certainly uses us to confront people in our lives who have professed faith in Christ, but may not be living it out. I am thankful he has used others in my life in this way from time to time when needed!

However, before they believe, we are called to lead with love, patience, and the same grace that God showed us.

During his time on earth Jesus was extremely tough in his language when it came to people who already believed in God and said they wanted to serve him faithfully. He was not shy in calling out hypocrites!

However, he came with nothing but grace, forgiveness, and acceptance for those who did not yet know him. He came with patience and love.

He came with milk.

Thought to ponder

Who are individuals or groups of people in my life where I tend to lead with meat instead of milk? Do I need additional milk myself in my walk with Christ and have I sought that out recently?

Am I being conned?

Daily Readings: Numbers 15-16, Romans 16

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

Romans 16:17-19

Early on in church history there were all kinds of false prophets popping up teaching a twisted version of the gospel. Paul addresses these preachers head on at the tail end of his letter to the Romans in today’s reading. This is a warning that rings true all the way up to this day.

As marketplace missionaries one of the most critical things we need to be effective reaching others for the Kingdom is God is having our own feet on solid ground when it comes to what Jesus actually taught. If we are off chasing false images of Christ given to us by these conmen that Paul describes, then the Jesus we are introducing others to will be not be Jesus at all.

So how can we tell if we are being deceived?

An unfortunately popular phrase commonly uttered when it comes to certain celebrity pastors in our society is, “Only God can judge the heart. Who am I to say that they are leading people astray for their own profit?” While I completely agree with the statement that we will never know for sure what is in the heart of another person and it is not our place to judge them, it is absolutely our duty to make sure that we are following a gospel message that is based on what Jesus actually taught.

To that end it is our moral imperative to look carefully at the version of the gospel that smooth, charismatic, likable preachers are giving to us and ask if it is in line with the overall gospel message.

One of the most common popular messages taught from the pulpit today is the health and wealth gospel. Believe in Jesus and he is going to make you rich, healthy, and without a care in the world! You just have to believe strongly enough!

There were many points throughout Jesus’ time on earth where he encouraged his followers to not stress so much about meeting their basic needs because God would provide. However, turning that message into, “God is going to pour out financial blessing over your life if you follow him to the point where you can get that car you always dreamed of, that house you have been picturing, etc.” is simply not what Jesus spoke of. In fact, he spent a great deal of time talking about how people that have been blessed financially should be turning around and giving it all away.

This does not mean that God will never bless some people financially that are following his will for their lives. I think oftentimes he does. However, when he does, it is in hopes that they will turn around and be an incredible blessing to others. When it comes to celebrity preachers, or pastors in general, I try not to spend time judging what they do with their money because I do not have the full picture of their motives or their entire checkbook. They might appear to have a massive house, larger than they need, but when you dig deeper they give away over half their income to help those in need and they go out of their way to use their house as a blessing to others in different ways.

Without seeing the full picture, judging lifestyle is dangerous.

However, judging the message they preach is an absolute necessity.

Paul warns us to be careful. There will always be people who look to profit personally instead of seeking to serve others. Their will always be leaders who seek to lead their flock astray. Sometimes they might genuinely believe that what they are saying is actually true. In my estimation that makes them even more dangerous. We have all told ourselves some type of lie in our lives long enough that we began to believe it. Whether intentionally leading their followers astray or merely by accident, the result is the same.

To be a marketplace missionary begins with putting our own personal faith in the correct place. It begins with seeking out the genuine nature of Christ and ensuring that we are personally living out the commands that Jesus laid out for us. It starts with following Paul’s advice and desperately seeking after wisdom of what is good!

Thought to ponder

How well do I feel that I know the message that Jesus gave to his followers in his time on earth? Do I feel like I have spent enough time with the words of Jesus to detect false teachers who may sound appealing to follow, but would ultimately lead me astray?

What stumbling blocks are we creating?

Daily Readings: Numbers 6-8, Romans 14

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

Romans 14:13-21

This passage today really spoke to me and to my role as a marketplace missionary. It is so natural as a Christian, when contemplating specific issues, to spend the majority of the time debating whether or not God would consider something right or wrong. It is easy to fall into a very “me centered” view on these topics. Does God approve of alcohol? How much? What about R rated movies? What about TV shows that are not exactly God honoring in their content? What about dancing? Is cursing wrong? Which words specifically? What about specific foods? What about…?

Paul tells us today to stop thinking so much about ourselves.

It is clear from this letter that there is a robust debate taking place in the young church in Rome about whether or not Christians were still called to abide by the Jewish laws on what to consume or if the new covenant that Jesus ushered in did away with those restrictions. I imagine this dispute probably got fairly heated between the folks that grew up in the Jewish tradition who believed that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for, and these “new Gentile Christians” that they perceived as running around acting completely against the teachings they grew up with. I imagine these traditionalists were probably even more upset with their fellow Jews who also supported the doing away with their traditional Jewish customs.

In today’s world it might sound silly to think about this early church being at each other’s throats over whether or not it was permissible to eat certain types of meat, but are we all that different? How many churches have ended up completely divided in our modern day with a large chunk ultimately leaving the church because of a small issue that is not central to the overall teaching of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?

Paul tells us today that we have kind of missed the point.

It is not about what we are “allowed to do now” because of our new found faith. As a Christian our chief mission in life is to share the good news and help others come to saving faith in Jesus as well. To this end Paul challenges us to not put stumbling blocks in front of others. He challenges us to stop thinking about ourselves so much when it comes to these issues and rather to ask ourselves whether our actions are going to act as a catalyst to bring someone to faith or potentially push them away.

As an example, lets say you are sharing the gospel with someone who grew up in a home with an alcoholic and abusive father. Alcohol destroyed their family. This person you are sharing the gospel with also struggled throughout his teenage years and early adulthood with alcoholism but has been sober for a year and half now. He firmly believes that alcohol ruins lives and is no way God honoring. He can’t understand why any Christian would possibly think it is ok to have even a single beer knowing the path it could potentially lead them down if it turns to addiction.

Do we debate this person who is still young in their faith? Is it our duty to set him straight and preach moderation and point out the multitude of examples in the Bible where wine was part of the celebration? Do we cite certain passages that to point to the fact that the only thing we are cautioned against Biblically is drinking to excess and drunkenness?

For this young Christian, just now developing in their faith and figuring out what they believe, Paul would argue our entire focus should be on removing any obstacles that keep this person from diving into a relationship with Jesus.

Many times, as marketplace missionaries, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to “help reshape someone’s perspective on an issue” so that we don’t have to change our habits around them, instead of doing every single possible thing in our power to remove any potential stumbling blocks that might be holding them back from giving their lives over fully to Christ.

The gospel is this: God loved us so much that he sent his only son to pay the ultimate price on our behalf so that we could have a relationship with him. We are all incapable of living a perfect life and earning salvation, so Jesus came down willingly and sacrificed himself paying the price for our sins that we could never fully pay ourselves. God loves us desperately and wants a relationship with us. He wants to dwell in us and help transform our lives if we would just turn our lives over to him and seek to discover his good, pleasing, and perfect will for our lives.

If there is someone you are helping learn about Christianity or someone you are currently discipling in their walk with Christ, helping them understand the full depth of the gospel message should be the primary focus. If you keep your heart and mind focused on them and know that there are actions on your part that could drive a wedge between you, set those actions aside for the time being. Even if you are convinced that, Biblically, your actions are in no way counter to God’s will in your life, remember that it is not about you. It is about them. It is about your ability to influence them for the Kingdom.

There may be a time in their walk with Christ where the conversation surrounding this topic may be appropriate to bring up, but Paul would argue we should always err on the side of not creating a stumbling block for a brother or sister instead of erring on the side of spending our energy justifying our actions, even if we feel strongly that God’s word is on our side of that moral debate.

This is so challenging and not at all where my mind naturally goes. I would much rather have that intellectual, biblically based, conversation about the issue, even if the person may not be at a place in their walk with Christ where they are ready to hear it. I don’t want to change my actions on issues where I feel that the Bible is on my side of the argument. I would prefer to dig my heels in and be stubborn on my position. I would rather think of this person in my sphere of influence in the way Paul wrote about as “having too little faith”.

But it is not about me. It is about having an eternal impact on the lives of others.

Thought to ponder

What are potential stumbling blocks that I may be unintentionally putting in front of people I currently disciple or have the ability to reach for Christ in my sphere of influence?

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