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?

I think of you through the watches of the night

Daily Readings: Joshua 17-18, Mark 3, Psalm 63

Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.

Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
your right hand upholds me.

Psalm 63:3-8 

Even since I left college, I have never been a good sleeper. I always marvel at the concept of sleeping through the entire night. I cannot remember the last time I didn’t wake up at least 3-4 times throughout the night and then roll around attempting to get comfortable.

If this last more than 20-30 minutes, now my mind starts wandering, responsibilities start flooding in, the to-do list for the day, week, or month begin to keep me up, and falling back to sleep seems an insurmountable task.

In the middle of last October God did a wonderful thing for me and asked me to stop fighting it. He asked me to just abide in him in these moments. He asked me to use that time in bed to spend time with him, thank him, lift others up, and just enjoy the presence of my heavenly father in the comfort of my bed.

There have been some nights since then where I have completely forgotten this prompting from God and failed miserably at this, but there have been many other nights where I have chosen to turn those seemingly frustrating moments of not being able to fall back asleep because of a sore back and active mind into beautiful time with my father.

I have imagined being curled up in his lap the way my children snuggle up to me around bedtime when we are reading books on the couch. I have imagined his smile as he puts his arm around me and enjoys the time we have together with no agenda other than being with his treasured child.

I don’t always fall back to sleep immediately when I shift the posture of my heart to one of abiding in these moments, but I wake up refreshed.

Psalm 63 was a great reminder this morning to choose to abide more often. It was a great re-centering of my heart on praising him on my bed and not just with my waking moments.

When I embrace that his love truly is better than life, as David writes today, and use those quiet moments to allow my heart to sing his praise, glorify his name, and cling to him; I leave fully satisfied.

Thought to ponder

When are moments throughout the day or night when I allow my mind to be cluttered and heart to stray from God, where I can actively choose to imagine this physical manifestation of God right there with me as a loving father looking down on his treasured child?

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?

 

True Humility

Daily Readings: Joshua 3-4, 2 Corinthians 10, Psalm 58

By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

 You are judging by appearances.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

2 Corinthians 10:1-5, 7, 13-17

One of the biggest fears that hold most people back from fully living out the calling God has for all Christ followers is the fear of rejection. The fear of being judged, talked about, smirked at and dismissed. The fear of not being enough.

In 2 Corinthians today we see Paul dealing with this fear actually manifesting itself amongst the church he planted in Corinth. It is obvious from reading this portion of Paul’s letter that there has been some grumbling amongst the church about Paul. Certain people have been stirring up anti-Paul sentiments.

“Who does this Paul guy think he is anyway? His teaching is really pretty weak and timid. I didn’t find him all that compelling while he was here and now he is trying to be the ultimate authority? He sure is talking a big game now that he is gone!”

I know personally, this would be one of my greatest insecurities realized.

“This guy sure thinks highly of himself!”

It is a pretty tough critique to just shrug off, even for the most mature, grounded and centered follower of Jesus. None of us likes to feel judged and having our intentions be the very thing that is being picked apart is one of the worst feelings there is.

I don’t mind if someone wants to critique my knowledge, delivery, presence, etc. However, having my motives and integrity questioned, that stings…

I think we can all relate to how Paul probably felt when putting pen to paper at this moment. We have all been there at some point in our lives. In today’s world, the fear of coming off wrong in a world that is quick to label Christians as hypocrites, bigots, judgmental, etc. can be a bit overpowering.

“Maybe it is just safer to focus on my own relationship with Jesus, going deeper with friends who already know Christ, and just leave it at that!”

I love Paul’s response today.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

I can almost see him shaking his head with a smile and saying, “Look, as you are all focused on my delivery, I am going to be over here absolutely DEMOLISHING STRONGHOLDS of the enemy. I am just going to continue helping people find freedom from the things that have held them captive through saving faith in Jesus. You keep worrying about worldly concerns, I am going to keep breaking chains and setting captives free!”

The way he closed this section of his letter really spoke to me as well.

But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

People in today’s world are always going to question motives.

“Are they just trying to build their own brand? Are they just trying to get their own following? Are they just using ‘Jesus’ to advance their own agenda?”

Sadly, there are many times where the answer is yes. However, even Christians with the purest of hearts will have their motives questioned if they are confidently speaking about their faith long enough. It is inevitable.

We can’t control the thoughts that others are going to have about us, but how we choose to respond is up to us.

Paul says, “This really isn’t about me.”

Paul wasn’t out there trying to build “Paul’s brand”. He wasn’t basking in his fame and notoriety. He was focused on continually building the kingdom. He was focused on the harvest.

If we let the opinions of other people build our confidence too much, it is easy to make sharing the good news all about us. And on the opposite side, if we care too much about those opinions, we frequently never even get started.

C.S. Lewis said that, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”

Striking that balance where we are unafraid to share about Jesus confidently, but not fall into the trap of making it all about ourselves is tough. However, true humility is not something we can obtain by chasing after it. In fact, if we are thinking about whether or not we are demonstrating enough confidence or enough humility, we should stop for a moment and laugh, realizing that we are still thinking too much about ourselves!

Both pride and under confidence are from the enemy. And he is incredibly good at his job!

We need to turn all of it back over to Christ, get out of our own heads, and just be in the present moment. The moment we are in is where the magic happens.

True peace comes from true humility, which only comes from completely turning our ego over to Jesus and focusing on his will instead of our own.

Paul demonstrates that for us today.

This is so incredibly challenging, but being self-aware enough to recognize when we are straying down the path of under confidence or pride, is the first step. When we are self aware, we can catch ourselves and immediately ask for God’s help at the moment it is happening, instead of asking for forgiveness later.

This true humility Paul models for us, and which C.S. Lewis so articulately describes, has immense power to impact others. An army of Christians demonstrating this true humility has the power to change the world.

Thought to ponder

What are warning signs I can be self-aware of that could signal to me that I am heading down the path of making things all about me? Knowing our typical triggers and what the first step down that path usually looks like has a huge impact on our ability to turn back to God in the moment when the enemy first starts to attack and tempt us to focus on ourselves!

…but your will be done.

Thank you to everyone who has continued to comment on these posts. It is a great source of encouragement! And if you have ever wondered if people actually take the time to click over when you share a post, the site averages over 20 hits per share on Facebook. So if a post speaks to you and you think it is worth sharing, some of your friends actually do take the time to come and read it! Thank you again for your support. It means a lot.

Daily Readings: Matthew 26

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

-Matthew 26:36-44

Jesus did not want to die on the cross. He wasn’t eagerly anticipating the day he was going to fulfill all of the prophesies. He wasn’t immune to the pain and suffering that he was about to endure. In garden of Gethsemane he asked not once, but three times, if there was any other way. Was this how it had to go? Could God the Father accomplish his mission in any other way?

I can’t imagine the heartbreak God the Father must have felt as his son fell face down onto the ground in anguish and prayed to him, “My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” As a dad, this thought just wrecks me.

It is easy to skim over this part of the story and minimize the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. After all, he was fully God walking on earth. Surely this whole ordeal wouldn’t be as bad for his as for “a normal man”, right?

Jesus was fully God, but he was also fully human. In that moment, when he was about to be arrested and the climax of his time on earth was about to commence, Jesus asked if there was any other way.

When we don’t spend enough time contemplating this fact, we cheapen the sacrifice that was made.

Jesus prayed this prayer three separate times in Matthew 26. However, even more powerfully, at the end of each of these prayers he concluded with, “…but your will be done.”

Wow.

He returned to his disciple in Matthew 26:40-41 and had the following exchange:

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The disciples didn’t realize that he was talking about himself as well. Jesus, in the flesh, had no interest in going to the cross. However, the spirit is willing. And Jesus, just like the rest of us, needed prayer to avoid falling into temptation. He needed to turn to God the Father for help. He needed strength that he did not possess on his own to bring him through this trial.

And he was fully God…

How much more do we need to watch and pray as Jesus commanded? How much more critical is it that we are constantly turning our lives over to God repeatedly throughout the day? Over and over and over again…

Jesus went and prayed that prayer three times in a row. It wasn’t a quick, one and done, “Thanks Dad, I got it from here.” type of prayer.

Ultimately, Jesus was more concerned with his Father’s will being accomplished through his life than the concerns of his flesh.

“Your will be done…”

I want to pray this at the end of every prayer. I want the posture of my heart to be focused entirely on submission to God’s will. God wants us praying to him with full expectation of our prayers being answered. Jesus wants us having faith the size of a mustard seed that he spoke about earlier in his time here on earth. However, he also wants that faith to be accompanied by complete trust that the answer to our prayers may come in a different form or fashion than we expect. It will come according to God’s will and his larger master plan.

Jesus understood this, even when his flesh was weak.

So today, whatever you have been praying for in your own life most recently, remember Gethsemane. Remember to end your prayer with a sincere, “…but your will be done.” When we do this, the spirit is truly willing. God is ready to flood your life with blessings, even if they do not always take the exact form that you expect.

…your will be done.

Thought to ponder

What prayers have I prayed recently where I have been unwilling to tack on a “but your will be done.” to the end? How can I turn this over to God fully and trust in his divine plan for my life?

He leads me beside quiet waters

Daily Readings: Exodus 13-14, Psalm 23, Matthew 22

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

-Psalm 23

Wow. So good.

Read that entire Psalm again but this time slow down. Let God truly lead you beside quiet waters as you read these beautiful words. Pause after each sentence to really let it sink in.

Psalm 23, for me, perfectly summarizes how I feel in my relationship with God when my heart is focused on him and when my eyes are on heaven and not on the daily moments of strife, worry, stress, frustration, or anger that this world can bring.

When my heart is aligned with God, even when “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” or “in the presence of my enemies”, he guides me. He gives me peace. He comforts me.

I love the imagery of leading me beside quiet waters because there is nothing more relaxing for me in this entire world than being alone with God on the water. There is something inherently peaceful about sitting quietly next to a large body of water and taking it all in. In those moments I am in awe of God’s majesty and all of his creation.

Today, actually choose to go live out Psalm 23. Let God lead you beside quiet waters. Let him make you to lie down in green pastures. The beauty of this Psalm is that David refers to our ability to let God give us this rest even when we are in the midst of trial and turmoil. We do not need to be physically resting and actually sitting alone next to quiet waters to have our souls refreshed. The Holy Spirit is ready and willing each and every day, regardless of what that day brings, to anoint our heads with oil and follow us with love and goodness. He is ready to help us dwell in the house of the Lord.

Today, let him.

Thought to ponder

What is the most peaceful and relaxed I ever feel? If I was writing Psalm 23, what would I replace, “He leads me beside quiet waters” with? That peace is available for you today regardless of what the world brings!

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