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?

 

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?

Throwing out your mismatched socks

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 27-28, 2 Corinthians 5, Psalm 54

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 

I am sure I am not alone in the challenge that lay before me this past Sunday night. It was a monster a didn’t want to face, a personal challenge I had been putting off tackling, an ever present stress that resurfaced once or twice a week that I simply didn’t want to ever deal with…

It was our mismatched sock box.

At the point of writing this I have 3 daughters that are 9, 7 and 3 years old. Over the last nine years we have had lots of growing feet, fun patterned socks purchased, and mysterious disappearances. I need someone who lives on the conspiracy theory fringes of the Internet to prove for me definitively that this is undeniable proof that aliens exist and that they feast on socks. I frankly have no idea how else this happens!

In any case, every time we do laundry and a new sock exists without a match, into the box it goes. In theory there will be a day where we tackle this monster. Unfortunately, like most challenges we put off facing in life, the longer you put it off, the larger it grows.

Sunday I decided it was time to tackle it. After getting 100% of the laundry done, scouring the girls’ bedrooms for any strays that were tucked under dressers, lost in a corner, etc. I was confident I had 99% of the socks I would ever find ready to be matched. Then I went to battle.

By the end I had found an additional 45 matches between the five of us. Success!

And there were 91 socks left over…

What?!

First of all, how did we ever get to the point over nine years where we accumulated 91 unique socks between our entire family? Secondly, how could we possibly have lost 91 socks? Mind-boggling.

I gathered them up and finally did what I should have done a long time ago; I threw them out.

I started to think Sunday about how much less annoyance I would have experienced over the last nine years if I had been comfortable throwing away one sock a month when the pair came up missing as opposed to clinging to the lone remaining sock. Instead, every time a new sock was added to the box, I grew frustrated. I watched it grow and grow and felt like an idiot. How does this keep happening? And why am I hoarding these?

As I was lying in bed Sunday night I began to smile thinking about the fact that we tend to do that with almost everything in life as Christians.

In 2 Corinthians today, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 

Whatever struggles have existed in our lives, Jesus wants to wipe the slate clean and make us into a new creation. Whether these be self inflicted challenges and sin issues that we struggle with, or circumstances that occurred in our lives that we had no control over, Jesus wants to give us freedom. He wants to release us from the bondage. He wants us to walk out of that prison cell into freedom. He wants us to truly be a new creation and not just pay lip service to that notion. He wants us to genuinely turn these things over to him.

So much easier said than done, but worth fighting for!

I know that I personally find it hard to find that perfect balance in life when it comes to processing the things that have happened, considering why I am wired the way I am, and digging into these issues to understand myself better; and letting certain things go so that I can really embrace that the old is has gone and the new is here.

I think there is a healthy balance that can be struck.

I wish over the last nine years our sock box had a one-week limit. Throw it in the box temporarily and if the missing sock turns up over the next week as we do the rest of the laundry, great! If not, throw it out. Don’t be a slave to the thought that, “Maybe one day, the partner will return!”

I think the same general principle applies to giving things over to Christ. I believe it is critical to really process events that have happened in our lives, ask God to show us what lies we believe because of these events, what negative thought patterns arose because of them, and what habits we have formed as a result that keep us from living full lives with him. However, there are times where I think I have processed these things to death and it is just time to give it over to God and let it go.

It is time to throw out the socks. It is time to believe Jesus and trust that we really are capable of being a new creation. We don’t need to remain in bondage. We don’t need to fall into the same old habit pattern. There is freedom. The prison cell door is standing wide open. We really do have the ability to just walk out at any time if we choose to fully submit to him.

Again, easier said than done. However, I believe that one of the weapons of the enemy is telling you to hoard the socks. “Don’t let go of that event just yet. Don’t fully forgive that person for what they did. Don’t fully release yourself from the guilt and shame you feel over that decision you made and trust that the blood of Christ is enough to cover it. Plus, do you really believe you are a new creation? Save the socks. There might be a day where the other one shows up. Just tuck them away where you won’t see them all of the time.”

Unfortunately, when we refuse to turn things over to God, every time we lose another sock, we once again find ourselves confronting the entire box all over again. Every negative emotion, self destructive pattern, forgiveness we have been refusing to give, guilt, shame, frustration, anxiety, etc. comes flooding back immediately. They were just sitting there waiting in the closet waiting to remind us that, “we really aren’t a new creation”. They are sitting there telling us that we will never be enough.

Throw out the socks.

Jesus paid it all and freedom is waiting there.

If you have one more load of laundry to do in your life and you really need to dig into some issues that you have refused to deal with for the longest time, do the load. Don’t be afraid of what might come out of it. Get with a trusted friend, a counselor, a pastor, etc. and dig in. Let’s find whatever matches we can so that healing can take place and we can accept the free gift that Christ has given to us.

Then throw it away. Stop letting whatever it is control your life. You really are a new creation! Freedom has been waiting there all along. We just need to stop believing the lies that we still have a little more to fix in our lives before we can fully experience it.

Thought to ponder

What socks have I been hoarding? What laundry is there to still do in my life so that I can find some matches and then let it go?

“All of this is for your benefit”

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 25-26, 2 Corinthians 4, Psalm 53

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:8-18

There is power in our adversity.

Paul went through amazing hardships while sharing the gospel and yet his faith was never shaken. In fact he said to the Corinthians, “all this is for your benefit.” Paul knew the impact of fixing his eyes on the eternal was not just the power to survive these trials, but that it also had a massive impact on those who were in his sphere of influence as well.

When we see other people going through trials that we feel might cripple us, and yet they remain spirit filled, Christ focused, and optimistic throughout; we cannot help but stop and say, “I want whatever they have!”

“All of this is for your benefit.”

I am incredibly thankful to have seen this modeled throughout my life on so many occasions by some truly amazing individuals. The most impactful of these have been my father and mother. They did a fantastic job of modeling this mindset in general throughout our lives, but one particular story stands out above the rest for me.

Several years ago my Dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. His faith and optimistic attitude that God would see him through it never wavered. He went into brain surgery with a smile and his same fun loving attitude. When he had a hard time speaking clearly and one side of his face could barely move because of the surgery for the next several months, his smile stayed firm. When his two-year-old granddaughter that used to run full speed towards her grandfather whenever she saw him now approached nervously because Grandpa looked different, his attitude didn’t falter. He was focused on the eternal.

So was my mom. She was an absolute rock of support. At the time she was probably just trying to survive the emotions of this event. At the time, neither of them may have realized, or perhaps they did, but the example they set had power.

“All of this is for your benefit.”

My Dad has been cancer free for several years now, his speech is 100% recovered, the movement in his face is completely back to normal, and he is still the same fun loving father and grandfather he was prior to this encounter. The challenges have faded over time. The example he set, however, has not faded. The example he set will last a lifetime for me.

Three years later my wife and I needed that example when my daughter Sophie was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood cancer at two months old. We needed to be able to look back at the optimism of my parents and their belief that God was ultimately in control. We needed to pull from what we saw modeled for us and fix our eyes on the eternal and remember what Paul said, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Like Paul’s trials, my Dad’s cancer had the ability to bring others to Christ as well as deepen the strength of conviction of folks who already professed faith in Jesus. His faith had power. Not only for himself, but also for others.

So did Sophie’s cancer.

So does your sickness.

So does your messy divorce.

So does your accident.

So does your time spent in jail.

So does your loss of a job.

Our relentless optimism in the face of adversity has the ability to point others to a father in heaven that is faithful. It has the ability to help others remember that these troubles truly are momentary, but our faith is eternal.

This can be so challenging. I am not trying to say that this type of faith Paul speaks of is easy, but all things are possible through Christ. And if you are struggling to grapple with the challenges you find yourself in currently, remember that this is the true value of community. Reach out to others in your church family who may have experienced something similar. If you don’t know any, ask your pastor or other Christian friends.

Sometimes before we can be the models for others, we need to see relentless faith modeled for us. There is no shame in this. Though we already know that the ultimate war has been won, the battle still rages.

There will be days where we do a better job of keeping our eyes fixed firmly on him, and on those days we will provide a powerful example for others. And there will be some days where we need to desperately look around for the “Paul” in our lives that is facing challenges with bravery from who we can borrow strength.

That is the power of community.

Some days we are Paul and some days we are the church at Corinth. This is a journey. None of us are capable of having our eyes perfectly fixed on Christ. If we were capable of perfection in our own strength, Jesus would not have had to come in the first place. However, when we live authentically with others, in our moments of strength and in our moments of weakness, there is power.

“All of this is for your benefit.”

Thought to ponder

Are there areas in my life where I have faced challenges that I could share more openly with others so that they might draw strength from my example? Are there any challenges in my life currently where I need to find a “Paul” to be a battle partner for me that can help me refocused my eyes on the eternal?

Mind dulled or Spirit filled?

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

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

2 Corinthians 3:12-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thought to ponder

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

You have a voice

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 14:13-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t be afraid to use it.

Thought to ponder

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

The power of your story

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 3-4, 1 Corinthians 9

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

1 Corinthians 9:19-22

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

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

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

Paul knew this.

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

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

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

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

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

Thought to ponder

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

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?

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