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?

 

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?

Rich generosity & overflowing joy

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 33-34, 2 Corinthians 8, Psalm 56

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 

2 Corinthians 8:1-4

When we are walking with God on a daily basis, truly seeking after his will in the world, asking him to open our eyes to the needs of those around us, and joyfully obeying promptings of the Spirit; it is impossible not to see the extreme need in our world that the Church is able to meet if we are willing!

When this is the default position of our heart, we realize that helping those in need brings infinitely more joy than the latest and greatest toy that our consumerist society has convinced us that we need.

Whether in a time of abundance or a time of poverty, we give joyfully.

As a Christian parent, I hope that this is instilled in our children as well. I am so proud of our oldest daughter Elizabeth for so many reasons. She is an amazing kid. I think one of the things I love most is her spirit of generosity. She has, unprompted by us, donated her last two of birthdays to different charities. Just last week she asked me if she could donate her 10th birthday to Able Eyes, a non-profit that works to provide a virtual accessibility tool for individuals with disabilities.

Her birthday isn’t for 8 more months. I love this. I gave her a giant hug and told her how much I appreciate the compassionate heart God has given her.

It got me thinking, when was the last time I got excited 8 months in advance for the opportunity to donate to a cause?

(Side note: If you feel compelled, go donate to Able Eyes! They are an amazing organization!)

I want to be more and more like Elizabeth in that way. I want to get more excited about the opportunity to donate to a cause 8 months from now than the vacation I would like to take, new technology I have been wanting, that new movie that is about to come out, etc. I want to have a spirit that overflows with joy to the point where this joy cannot help but spill over into rich generosity!

More than anything, I want to have a relationship with my heavenly father that is so deep, so rich, and so full; that it would be impossible for me to have anything other than this spirit of compassion and generosity towards his creations! I so deeply desire to chase after him daily and fully accept the unearned, over the top, never ending grace and love that he has offered freely!

If we fully accept and embrace this unearned grace and love that has been showered on us as followers of Jesus, the only natural response is radical generosity!

It is amazing to think how different our world would look if the American church today operating like the early church in Macedonia.

The world would truly be changed.

Thought to ponder

How can I be more like the church in Macedonia that Paul spoke about today?

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?

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?

Love making and marriage advice from a celibate single

Daily Readings: Numbers 35-36, 1 Corinthians 7

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

1 Corinthians 7:1-7

Oh, Paul…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have the conversation.

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

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

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

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

Husband

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

Wife

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

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

Your marriage is not meant to be an obligation.

Your marriage is meant to be an epic love story.

Epic stories are worth fighting for.

Thought to ponder

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

Are my politics filled with Grace and Love?

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

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

Here we go…

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

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

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

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

Let’s move on to today’s post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My conversations typically go something like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I vote we listen.

Thought to ponder

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

Our Heavenly Father

Daily Readings – Leviticus 21-22, Psalm 36, Romans 10

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 36:5-7

These brief verses beautifully summarize the many dimensions of our amazing God.

It is easy from time to time to fall into a very narrow view of God. I catch myself frequently thinking about God primarily through the lens of his love and faithfulness. I have seen repeatedly through my life the truth in what David writes; God’s love truly does reach to the heavens and his faithfulness to the skies. And yet I don’t spend as much time contemplating God’s righteousness and justice.

There are many other Christians that have a tendency to do the opposite. They obsess over God’s righteousness and his justice but forget that they also serve a loving and faithful God!

The truth is, conveniently forgetting either of these fundamental truths about God paints a very one-dimensional picture. We serve a God who is endlessly loving and abundant in his faithfulness, but also, whose righteousness is like the highest mountains and whose justice is like the great deep!

For me personally, I love to meditate upon God’s endless love and faithfulness. I try to walk through life with that as my focus. I think this is how God would want it. I believe he would want us to constantly remember his amazing love.

However, at times it is extremely healthy to recognize that God is just and any ramifications we face for choices we make in our lives are fully deserved. If God chooses to give me a free pass from time to time and I escape any serious repercussions for decisions I make that are out of line with his will in my life, I should be extremely thankful. The problem comes when we come to expect that things will always work out fine when we make repeated bad decisions.

I know that I have fallen into that trap previously in my life where I ask God, “Why would you allow this stress, pain, frustration in my life to happen?”

…conveniently forgetting individual decisions, series of decisions, or lifelong habits, that directly lead to these negative outcomes.

Remembering that God is our perfect heavenly Father always helps me to wrap my mind around the two sides of God. As a Father myself I love my kids like crazy. If I thought they would learn lessons without me having to dole out negative consequences, I would lean towards barely ever punishing anything. (Just ask my wife!) Infinite love and grace is more fun!

Being an amazing parent takes a huge amount of love, but also requires a fair amount of discipline. This can be so challenging! None of us here on earth are perfect parents. God is. He is our perfect heavenly Father that knows exactly what we need.

It can be maddening when my kids are in the middle of doing the exact same wrong thing that we have talked about over and over again. Why don’t they just listen?! Then I think about my own life…I can only imagine God’s reaction in Heaven!

I can’t imagine how mad I would be at my kids all day long if I knew every single thought and saw every single action! I am not sure I would be able to muster “love that reaches to the heavens”!

The truth is that we deserve far more justice and far less love, and yet God does the opposite. He loves us so much that he took on human form and sacrificed himself on our behalf. He forgives us and wants us to simply turn back to him. Sometimes that requires consequences in my life that I might not understand or appreciate in the moment.

There is so much beauty in God’s justice and righteousness, as well as his love and faithfulness.

I know that I personally need him for both!

Thought to ponder

Which side of God do I have a tendency to disregard? How can I get to know and appreciate that aspect of God more fully?

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: