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?

Through what lens should Christians view Trump?

Daily Readings: Joshua 11-12, Proverbs 11

If you love Trump and have even gotten this far to click on a link you saw, thank you! Before you read on, please take a few minutes to pray that God would allow you to spend the next three minutes reading with an open mind. Not an open mind towards what I have to say, but towards what scripture has to say. This isn’t a long read. If you aren’t going to take the full three minutes, feel free to just stop here. No worries!

We are in a world where not enough Christians spend time going back to the Bible for wisdom. We have a tendency to lean on cable news, talk radio and podcasts, social media, etc. As Christians, we have already been given the ultimate lens that we are called to return to over and over again to seek wisdom.

As a side note, I have voted for more Republicans over the last 18 years I have been able to vote than Democrats. I have some views aligned with each. This is not about that. This is not about tax policy, use of the military, health care, gun control, etc. You can be the most conservative person politically in the country. As a Christian, that does not mean you should blindly follow anyone who claims to be conservative as well. That does not mean that we should extol the virtues of anyone we feel is carrying the flag we align with.

I first wanted to write this post through a softer lens. I wanted to water everything down and not mention anyone by name in the spirit of not being seen as bias. I realized quickly that it would be far better to simply go to the Bible and let it speak for itself.

I am not going to tell you what to think of Donald Trump. I am simply imploring people to view Trump through the lens of what the Bible says and not through the lens of what Fox News, talk radio, or conservative social media says.

Let’s just look at a handful of passages from today’s readings alone. I will simply pose a question I would ask you to seriously consider instead of just brushing off after each verse. Come to your own conclusions.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2

I simply ask you to ignore all commentary from any other source than the President’s own words. Go scroll through the last 4 months of his Twitter feed and ask yourself if our leader is leading with humility.

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” Proverbs 11:3

Again, ignore all commentary and simply scroll through the last 18 months of his Twitter and see if this appears to be a man who leads his life with integrity as the cornerstone.

“Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.” Proverbs 11:12

Again, no commentary. Just Twitter.

“The Lord detests those whose hearts are perverse, but he delights in those whose ways are blameless.” Proverbs 11:20

Simply put, Trump cheated on a former wife with his current wife and then cheated on her with an adult film star while she was pregnant. Trump himself denies none of this. I am not saying we do not all have failings in our lives. We have all fallen short of the glory of God and that is why Christ came in the first place. However, if you are a Christian Trump advocator, I would simply ask you if you have ever heard him give the interview, read the quote in the magazine, etc. where he showed genuine remorse for these actions. Have you seen him express his brokenness and how thankful he is for a God that gives second chances?

No. In fact he brags about these things.

If you are a Trump supporter and a Christian, I have a serious question I beg for you to consider: If Barack Obama had been discovered to have had multiple affairs, a tape came out with him talking in his own voice about how he just starts kissing women without even asking, how you can simply “grab them by their…”, and how he paid hush money to an adult film star to keep their affair quiet during an election; would major evangelical leaders rush to Obama’s defense and say, “We have all fallen short! These attacks on Barack’s character are completely out of bounds?!”

“For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” Proverbs 11:14

Here is a complete list of all of the advisors who Trump has either fired or who have resigned:

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/list-officials-left-trump-administration/story?id=49334453

If you are still reading, thank you. Sincerely, thank you.

We live in a society where we tend to ignore any opinions that do not mirror our own or we simply read them with a closed mind and allow ourselves to be sent into a righteous fury over “how wrong this is!” I really appreciate you sticking with me.

It is ok to be conservative. Lots of my views are conservative as well.

That is not what this is about.

I will close with this:

“Hopes placed in mortals die with them; all the promise of their power comes to nothing.” Proverbs 11:6

The only man we should place our hope in is the man who went to the cross to pay the price for our sins.

In our time here on earth, political parties will rise and fall. Leaders will be exalted and then torn down. Our ability to reach others for Christ is so much more important than a single election cycle. Our allegiance to Christ is far more critical than throwing our allegiance behind a certain political figure.

Let’s not ruin our testimony.

Let’s spend less time with cable news and hearing what they have to say and more time with the Word of God seeking after true wisdom.

Thank you for reading today. This one was scary to write.

Thought to ponder

What have I allowed to shape my views recently other than the Bible and Christian community?

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?

 

What will I allow to shape me in 2018?

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 29-30, 2 Corinthians 6, Proverbs 10

The wise in heart accept commands,
but a chattering fool comes to ruin.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.

Whoever winks maliciously causes grief,
and a chattering fool comes to ruin.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Hatred stirs up conflict,
but love covers over all wrongs.
 

Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning,
but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense.

The wise store up knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.

Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life,
but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.

Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips
and spreads slander is a fool.
 

Sin is not ended by multiplying words,
but the prudent hold their tongues.

Proverbs 10: 8-14, 17-19

I once read a quote from Charlie “Tremendous” Jones 15 years ago that “you will be the same person in five years except the people you meet and the books you read”. I thought this made a lot of sense and I could see some real truth in that within my own life. Fast forward to 2018 with the incredible rise of the information age and our easy access to the internet, television news, radio & podcasts, social media, etc. and I think we would have to edit that statement to say that “you will be the same person in five years except the people you meet and the media you consume”.

I have seen so many people I love and care about over the last 10 years that I lost touch with for a year or two and then can hardly believe the things I see them saying in person or on social media when we reconnect. It breaks my heart when I see people, that I truly believe to be good people at their core, parroting things that they heard over and over again but go against so many things I know they once believed.

We truly are shaped by the people we surround ourselves with and the media we consume. So what are we to do as Christians?

I love the wisdom in Proverbs today.

Here is my challenge for Christians throughout America in 2018, let’s all strive together to be discerning. Let’s all strive to consume less and think more. Let’s have more in depth conversations and not stray away from important topics. Let’s collectively increase each other’s wisdom. I want to grow and I hope everyone reading this would like to grow in 2018 as well.

In 2018 when you are watching TV, reading an article, listening to a radio or podcast, or consuming information in some other way; run it through God’s filter. Run it through the lens of Proverbs above. Is this person I am listening to spreading hate, lacking integrity, refusing to listen, causing grief consistently, and ultimately behaving like a “chattering fool” as described in Proverbs?

In 2018, as Christians, let’s stop following these people. Let’s stop giving a platform to leaders in churches, politics, and the media that will profess to be Christian and yet behave the opposite.

We are going to be the same person as we are today when we are about to enter 2019, a year from now, other than the people we surround ourselves with this year and the media we consume. It is time to turn the page and get back to wisdom. It is time we lean on God’s word again and not what television or radio personalities tell us to believe as Christians.

Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life,
but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.

Let’s not collectively allow others to lead us astray this year that refuse correction, sew hate and discord, and use their power and platform to simply build themselves up. Let’s be a collective body of Christ that embodies the correct side of Proverbs in 2018 and seek after wisdom.

When 2019 rolls around in a year I want to look back at what I allowed to shape my personal growth over the last 12 months and see God’s fingerprints all over it!

Thought to ponder

If I have been subconsciously shaped over the last year by what I have consumed, what subtle ways might I have changed that are counter to the person I want to be and how can I rectify that in 2018?

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?

Who do you throw your lot in with?

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 17-18, 1 Corinthians 16, Psalm 50

But to the wicked person, God says:

“What right have you to recite my laws
or take my covenant on your lips?
You hate my instruction
and cast my words behind you.
When you see a thief, you join with him;
you throw in your lot with adulterers.
You use your mouth for evil
and harness your tongue to deceit.
You sit and testify against your brother
and slander your own mother’s son.
When you did these things and I kept silent,
you thought I was exactly like you.
But I now arraign you
and set my accusations before you.

Psalm 50:16-21

In the last post we explored the dangers of tribalism and how it can lead to a society of mockers on both sides of the aisle politically and not a society of people seeking to first understand before being understood, desiring to increase their own learning, and ultimately chasing after wisdom instead of simply attempting to win a debate.

Today our reading in Psalm 50 points to a deeper problem with tribalism that we see in today’s culture. In America today we are so prone to going to our own political corner and defending any candidate that will vote the way we want. If they say that they are Christian as well; all the better! We desperately want to believe that the people we are backing are not all that bad, are they?

In Psalm 50 God warns us of people that “recite his laws and take God’s covenant on their lips” and yet do the opposite. For as long as mankind has existed there have been con artists who will say they believe in God to curry favor with believers, even if all the evidence points to the opposite story. In today’s world we see so many politicians that seek to appeal to Christians and yet, see if this sounds familiar, “hate God’s instruction, join with thieves, throw in their lot with adulterers, use their mouth for evil, harness their tongue for deceit…”

This happens on both sides of the aisle and the damage can be eternal. By defending someone to a friend, colleague, or neighbor and minimizing some truly terrible things that someone has done, said, etc. we minimize our opportunity to have an eternal impact on their life. It is so easy for people to say, “If that is what being Christian looks like, defending that person, no thanks.”

Here is the reality, only Democrats can hold Democrats accountable and only Republicans can hold Republicans accountable effectively. When we rush to our corners to defend the immoral actions of people that fit our political beliefs, we ruin our own testimony.

In some cases, there are two terrible choices, and you have to vote for one of them. However, you never need to say that you actually support that person. You never need to defend actions that are indefensible. And once an election is over, you can use your voice to help positive change occur by holding your own side accountable to a higher standard of personal conduct.

Also, you don’t need to vote for either. You really don’t. If your party keeps nominating candidates that are morally bankrupt, you deserve better. You will never force your party to bring better candidates to the table if you vote for terrible ones. Every party needs a wake up call from time to time.

If you can find the passage in the Bible where Jesus talks about “choosing the lesser of two evils” or saying “the ends justify the means”, send it my way. So far I have been unable to find it.

In addition, if you ever hear a pundit, radio host, or news anchor defending the indefensible, turn it off. God has told us clearly that there are people who will claim his name, suggest that they are Christian, recite his laws, and yet in reality, “hate God’s instruction, join with thieves, throw in their lot with adulterers, use their mouth for evil, harness their tongue for deceit…”

As Christians we are called to remember that this is not our ultimate home. Our ability to minister to others and share the gospel has eternal implications. Let’s not throw it away with half the population by defending the indefensible, backing the flagrantly immoral, and throwing in our lot with thieves, adulterers, and folks that use their words to harness evil and deceit.

The world needs Christians that stand up and fight for what is right, not just for our own political positions. There is a difference between begrudgingly voting for someone when you feel like both choices are awful and then holding that person you voted for accountable by frequently speaking out and making sure your voice is heard; and actively defending indefensible actions.

At the end of my life, when I stand before the throne, I don’t want God to say, “You threw your lot in with them? What right did you have to recite my laws and have your covenant on your lips if that is who you defended with your words and actions?”

This world will eventually fade away, but our choices while here echo for eternity.

Thought to ponder

When was the last time I caught myself wanting to retreat to my own political corner and defend the indefensible? How can I be more aware when I am falling into this trap and remember that ultimately this is not our home and my testimony to others is far more important than a single election cycle.

The world has enough mockers

Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 15-16, 1 Corinthians 15, Proverbs 9

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
rebuke the wise and they will love you.
Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.

Proverbs 9:7-9

For most of my life I viewed this passage in Proverbs purely the way it was written, through the lens of how I should deal with others. I would read this passage and think to myself, “There is so much truth in this! There are just some people who are pointless to correct. If only they were open minded to wisdom! They are the epitome of the mocker described in Proverbs! They are so closed minded!” The fundamental flaw in this view is that it automatically assumes that I am wise and have all of the correct answers. By viewing this passage simply through the lens of how to deal with others, we miss the opportunity for self-reflection that we are offered as well.

This passage applies to every area in life, but I think it is safe to say that it manifests itself in today’s world most prominently through politics. There are very few people that have much of an interest in hearing what the other side has to say on an issue. We view most conversations as nothing more than a debate. Even the most patient of us typically only listen and attempt to appear open minded as a tactic to open the mind of the person we are with, find holes in their argument, and eventually attempt to “win them over to our side”. Very little listening is done with a genuine attempt to understand the position of the other person. Very rarely do we take down our own walls and ask, “Is there some wisdom in what they are saying?”

Frequently the answer very well might be no. On some issues, the answer is a pretty obvious and incredibly definitive no, and that is only hammered home more and more the longer we listen! However, by not being willing to actually engage, listen, and consider the thoughts of others, we become a mocker and lose the chance to “add to our learning and become wiser still.” And in cases where we come away feeling like we are on the right side of the argument after listening further, we have lost the opportunity to have any impact on the other person’s views as well. No one is going to take kindly to being called an idiot who doesn’t actually understand how the world works. No one who is mocked or insulted based on their views ends up opening their mind and coming away wiser because of the interaction.

This was absolutely my default throughout high school, college, and in my early to mid 20’s. I knew how the world worked, the correct sides to all arguments, and felt confident in making my case in such a way that would be hard to counter.

This all changed leading up to the 2008 election. (Wow that seems like a lifetime ago currently!) I was 26 at the time and decided to do an intellectual exercise for myself. I took 8-10 political hot button topics and actually asked myself, “What if I am wrong on this issue? Do I actually believe this because I have truly considered every aspect of the topic, listened to people from both sides with an open mind, looked at actual research and facts presented by each, and thought through the philosophical ramifications of the position I currently support? Or have I just always believed it and sought out sources of information that worked to confirm my already existing bias?”

Wow, that was challenging! For about 6 months I wrestled with quite a few topics. I spent time on just about every hot button topic imaginable and really tried to be open minded to the possibility that I was either completely wrong on my stance or that it might be more complicated than I originally thought and that a more nuanced approach was necessary than I wanted to admit.

I came away changing my stance almost completely on about 30-40% of topics and having a far more nuanced view on most of the others. At this point I am pretty confident I would get crushed if I ever ran for office, by both sides, because there are simply too many issues on both sides of the aisle that I support. We demand that every person get in line with 100% of the party platform or we call you ignorant! It is incredibly natural to choose a side that seems to fit more of our beliefs and then embrace what we are told to think by that side on all topics, instead of deciding what we believe and accepting the fact that “our party” might not agree with us on everything.

One of the biggest revelations I had in doing this exercise was the realization that politics, and our country as a whole, would be far better off if more people only agreed with 70% of what their party told them to support. Our country would be far better off if people looked into individual issues on their own, heard arguments from both sides, and made their own personal decision about how they feel on the topic.

I now listen with a far more open mind to people that I disagree with. I really want to understand where they are coming from. I want to know why they believe what they believe and if there is any truth in their position. Sometimes I am surprised by how well thought out their position truly is, even if I disagree. Sometimes, I find myself being swayed slightly or even quite a bit towards a portion of their argument, and am thankful I took the time to ask the question and listen. At a bare minimum, I am at least thankful for better understanding the psychology of why they believe what they believe instead of simply pigeon holing them because “I already know why they think the way they do”.

Virtually every single person you talk to today will say that the world is completely divided right now and do not like the polarized and toxic nature of our country. On this point, virtually everyone on both sides agree! (Other than those who actively seek to continue this divide for their own purposes) However, most of us prefer to shake our heads and say, “It is too bad the other side is so full of mockers and not people willing to seek wisdom.”

This past year has caused me to revert back into this tribal feeling more and more. I have found myself slipping back into a mindset where I view this passage in Proverbs 9 as advice for me on how to deal with others and not advice directed to me, encouraging me to not be a mocker, but to instead seek wisdom.

The world has plenty of mockers.

This morning I am making a decision to go back to being willing to learn.

In the words of Jerry Maguire: Who’s coming with me?

Thought to ponder

If I am being honest with myself, have I spent the last 12 months as a mocker or willing to learn?

The greatest of these is love

Daily Readings Deuteronomy 11-12, 1 Corinthians 13

This is only a 3-4 minute read and it is a post I would request you only read if you will read it all the way to the end. Thank you!

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13

We have all read these verses in Corinthians quite a few times if we have been Christians for a while. We have all probably heard them at almost every wedding we have ever attended. A lot of us can probably hear the first half a sentence and already say to ourselves, “Ah yes! 1 Corinthians 13.” Occasionally with verses like this we can hear them so many times that they begin to lose their punch until we stop and choose to read them again slowly, truly internalize the message, and appreciate them for the profound truth that they contain.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

My heart breaks for our world today. The hard part for me, as a Christian, is partially the chaos that exists in the world and terrible events that we see happening. However, there is something that breaks my heart even more; the way a large percentage of Christians are choosing to respond.

As Christians we are called to love. We are called to speak truth into the darkness. Instead I see so many Christians, that I truly believe have amazing hearts, allow themselves to be brainwashed by the media they consume. I see people listen to radio shows, watch television programs, and surf websites that pedal in fear mongering and vitriol. I watch the love of Christ that should exist in their hearts be replaced by hate and paranoia.

Christian brothers and sisters, I know this is going make some of you really mad and think that I have gone over to the dark side, but please stop watching FoxNews, listening to Rush Limbaugh, and going to sites like Breitbart or InfoWars. They are poison. They are the opposite of everything Jesus preached here on earth and everything written in 1 Corinthians 13.

Answer this honestly: When you tune in to any of these sources, that claim to have a Christian faith at their core, would you say the messages you hear are rooted in the truth that, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”

This is not about conservative vs. liberal. You can be pro-life, support small government, believe in a strong national defense, believe more issues should be handled at the state level, be wary of gun control laws, etc. On some of those issues I probably agree with you and on others I might not. I have voted for Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians in different elections depending on the candidates, but in more positions that not, I lean conservative.

This is not about that. We can discuss the issues in a healthy, respectful, intellectually honest way. We can talk about the role of government in an open dialogue and then vote accordingly. That is not what is happening on the sources listed above in today’s world and it is poisoning the minds of Christians.

I think both Jesus and Paul would suggest to us in America today that either side could enact all of their political agenda, but if they did not have love, they gain nothing.

As Christians we are called to start with love.

The single biggest thing we can do as Christians is stop tuning in to TV and Radio and start picking up a newspaper or magazine. TV and Radio are mediums where sensationalism and outrage are currency. There is no nuance, very little honest debate, and ratings are determined by shock value.

Read.

There are plenty of conservative newspapers, magazines, and websites that don’t pedal in fear and hate as a business model but still lean to the right.

And here is another thing; it is totally ok to listen to views from both sides. Our society would be better off if more people did. Perhaps we would have more open dialogue and honest conversations.

I fear that this is the type of post that has people who already agree with me nodding their heads vigorously and people who don’t agree instantly outraged, defensive, and thinking that I am way off base and have been brainwashed by the mainstream media. I am sincerely praying that this is not the case.

I am sincerely praying that there are at least a few people that take a step back, as Christians, and ask themselves if the messages they are choosing to fill their minds with on a daily basis are messages of love or messages of fear and hate.

I have a suggestion for all of my Christian brothers and sisters on both sides of the political spectrum. Try a fast from TV News and Radio and spend more time in God’s word until Christmas. Feel free to read more and stay in tune with the happenings of the world, but stop listening to talking heads that use divisiveness as a business model.

See what happens when you start consuming less of the world and more of God’s truth.

I think you will find your life with far more faith, hope, and love.

And the greatest of these is love.

Thought to ponder

What content I currently consume could I cut out of my life that is filled with fear and hate?

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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