Culture wars or radical generosity?

Daily Readings: Joshua 1-2, 2 Corinthians 9, Psalm 57

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.

Psalm 57:9-11

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 

Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 

2 Corinthians 9:6-7, 13-15

As a collective whole, the American church has gotten a pretty bad name in society today. The unfortunate reality in today’s world, where we have immediate access to information and where anyone who wants to speak out has a platform, is that the most sensational and polarizing voices have a tendency to rise to the top. Our society naturally gravitates towards the controversial. This results in more clicks on stories that enrage us than those that inspire us, longer viewing time on news segments that shock us than those that lift us up.

The overall effect is that we live in a world where Christianity would appear to only be a religion of hypocritical leaders of mega churches rushing to the defense of the indefensible, simultaneously condemning large groups of people for sins that they just finished defending when it was one of their own, engaging in truly divisive rhetoric and making statements that run counter to the message of Jesus; and lots of self proclaimed Christians blindly following along like sheep to the slaughter.

All of this is causing non-believers and agnostics throughout America to say, “Christians are so hypocritical! If that is Christianity, thanks but no thanks!”

This is not the message Jesus came to advance in his time here on earth. It is simply the image portrayed in the news because controversy sells. Outrage and division is a business model that has proven profitable and there will always be false profits seeking to capitalize on this dark side of our inherent human nature. The truth is, this is not most Christians. This is not the majority of pastors.

Unfortunately, it is not the incredibly small minority either, which leaves us a lot of work to do as Christians who truly want to embrace the truth that Jesus uttered when he said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” It leaves a large credibility gap that needs filling by Christ followers who have truly turned over their lives to Jesus and have been transformed.

We are all human and, therefore, we will all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Christ showed nothing but grace for those moments of human weakness throughout his entire time on earth. However, nothing aroused his anger more than hypocrisy. Momentary lapses in self-control that lead to sin are going to happen. Jesus was always there to say, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone & First remove the plank from your own eye.” However, when people began preaching or following a false doctrine that leads others astray and keeps them for finding a relationship with God; for this Jesus had no tolerance.

So how do we counter this image of Christ followers that other’s see on their televisions, talk about over water coolers, and observe on social media? How do we make the name of God exalted throughout the earth as we read about in Psalm 57 today, so that God’s glory shines throughout the earth?

Radical generosity.

Far too often we feel completely incapable of winning that debate, if we were to engage in it, and decide to simply sit on the sidelines. The power of Christ lies in his people going out to the world and helping those in need. The power lies in the American church meeting the needs of those who are struggling in this world.

It doesn’t have to be simply physical needs of the poor that are being met, although they are many and this is a great place to start! It can also be the emotional needs of those who are well off in the material sense, but struggling with demons that they cannot conquer alone.

In 2 Corinthians today Paul tells us that, “Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” 

If you notice, he spoke of the service and generosity provided along with our confession of the gospel. It takes both.

If we are extremely generous with our time and money, and no one knows we are Christian, they are incredibly thankful for our generosity, but don’t link that to Jesus in their minds. If we simply want to share the gospel, but don’t accompany that with acts of kindness, assistance and tangible help with whatever they are struggling with in their current life; more often than not we simply end up in a spiritual debate with a skeptic. We have not yet proven to them that we believe the gospel through our actions. It is still just words.

There is so much power in generosity. There is so much power in unconditional love. There is so much power in the gospel when it is truly lived out on a daily basis and not simply preached.

Jesus did not simply preach. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, brought a message of forgiveness instead of condemnation, and was a living example of radical love and grace for others.

His disciples did the same in the midst of incredible persecution. In today’s world, there is a tendency for us to feel attacked by the media and society, retreat to our corners, and complain about how they are all out to get us.

It is far more comfortable inside of our Christian circles.

The magic happens on the outside. The magic happens when we know that nothing the world says about us can impact our true identity and cannot shake our faith in who God says that we are. The magic happens when we are willing to step out boldly…to serve. Not to boldly rage against culture, not to boldly engage in the debate on social media, not to boldly condemn everyone who doesn’t already know saving faith in Christ; to boldly serve.

The magic happens when we are joyful givers to those who would speak out against us, who clearly do not deserve our generosity by the world’s standards.

We are called to give this undeserved, radical grace and love because it was first given to us. Jesus gave it all. He wants us to be willing and cheerful givers as well.

And when we do, the results can be incredible.

Debates don’t bring people to Jesus. Unexpected acts of grace, kindness, and generosity do.

And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Generosity is capable of changing hearts and the impact is eternal.

Thought to ponder

Where is God calling me to demonstrate the type of generosity with my time and resources that would truly exalt him to those who do not yet know him?

7 habits to form in 2018, 5 things to stop doing immediately, 10 ways to live a happier life, or something…

Daily Readings: Numbers 13-14, Romans 15

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:1-6

If you read any self help article online today entitled “5 things you need to stop doing to be happier” or “7 habits to kick in 2017” or “I stopped doing these 10 things and became so much happier!” one of the most common items I read is to stop spending time with people that drain you. Remove relationships from your life that seem to bring you down. Stop spending time with those people who are just hard to be around!

Every time I read that bit of advice I think to myself, “Man is there a lot of truth in that!” It is easy for every single one of us to think about relationships in our life that make us feel drained. At any given time I always have a handful of relationships that would absolutely make my life less stressful if I was to just walk away. My life would be so much easier without them.

The unfortunate reality with self-help articles is in their title.

Self Help.

If you go back and read the entire message of Jesus throughout the gospel, he doesn’t seem all that pre-occupied with how to help us advance our career, have less stress, make more money, grow our brand, or increase our social status. If Jesus were to create a section in a bookstore it would almost certainly have a very different title.

Help Others.

I love what Paul writes today. We are not called to please ourselves. We are called to view others the way Christ did. Jesus sought out the broken hearted. He sought out the people that others wanted nothing to do with and were all too willing to cast aside. Jesus commanded us to do the same.

And yes, sometimes dealing with difficult people can take a great deal of the endurance that Paul spoke of! We frequently have to turn to God and pray for the encouragement and endurance to lock arms with folks who are struggling.

It is hard to walk with someone in all of their messiness. It is challenging to watch them make the same self-sabotaging mistakes time after time. It is maddening to have them push you away in the middle of their low moments even though you are one of the few people willing to walk alongside them during these times, especially when you would love to walk away as well!

It is so easy to want to jump on Facebook, read an article about removing those relationships from your life, and say, “Sounds good to me! This year is my year!”

Jesus asks us to see people the way he sees them. When we are feeling strong, Jesus wants us to do what Paul suggests and help those who are currently feeling weak and vulnerable. He wants us to be a source of encouragement and endurance for them as the run their race. He wants us to focus on serving them first instead of ask ourselves the question, “How is serving them impacting me and my life?”

This isn’t the message that we typically hear today in our society. Then again, neither was most of what Jesus taught!

Here is the interesting thing though; when we stop asking ourselves whether or not this relationship is really benefitting us in any way and make serving others the singular focus, life ultimately becomes way more rewarding for us as well! Even though the title hanging above the section Jesus creates in the bookstore is “Help Others” and most of his advice runs counter to what you are going to read in the Self Help section, the result is a more fulfilled life for us as well.

They key is motive. If we are helping others simply to “please ourselves” and feel good about what a great thing we are doing and what a great Christian we are, ultimately we will eventually say, “Man this is draining and not worth it!” If we are helping others just for the sake of helping others because the harvest is truly plentiful and the workers are few, encouragement and endurance will flow naturally from our father in Heaven.

Thought to ponder

Who is someone in my life I could really encourage at this moment in their walk, but if I am truly honest with myself, would rather simply let go?

As always, thank you for your comments, shares, etc. They are a constant source of encouragement! If you enjoyed this post and think others would as well, feel free to share it!

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…no, seriously!

Daily Readings – Number 1-3, Romans 12

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1-2

This might be the single most important passage in the entire Bible when it comes to our role as marketplace missionaries.

There are so many people we have the opportunity to minister to in our normal day to day walk if we are willing to embrace God’s good, pleasing and perfect will in our lives. When we truly offer ourselves up as a living sacrifice, very quickly we see these opportunities pop up wherever we work, in our living rooms, at the coffee shop, etc. The harvest is plentiful!

But conforming to this world…that is a desire that is always there and powerful indeed! That is the age old question: How do we stay ‘in the world’ so that we can have a maximum impact without becoming ‘of the world’ and conforming to what society tells us we are supposed to chase after?

The idols are everywhere and they long to be worshipped. Being transformed by the renewing of our mind sounds fantastic, but how do we do it?

One of the reasons that I love Romans 12 is that Paul goes on to tackle the “how” in beautiful brevity. Paul is not long winded in his advice on what a transformed mind looks like. This entire passage is so good that I included all of it today. It is worth reading over and over again throughout the coming weeks to truly internalize it.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21

Our hearts and minds are transformed by love. They are transformed by focusing entirely on loving others, serving others, supporting others, and rejoicing with others. Conforming to this world pushes us in the opposite direction.

That passage contains so many simple and direct calls to action.

If you want to see true transformation in your life and a renewing of your spirit, try this simple action step for the next 30 days. Save this passage on your phone where you can access it with a single click. (If you are not positive how to do this ask a technologically savvy friend) Every time you grab your phone out of habit for any reason, read this passage first. Don’t go to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, E-mail, etc. Make a decision to replace your normal habit with a simple one minute beautiful reminder of what we are called to live out as Christ followers.

Ask God in that moment, which action step Paul laid out could you work on most today. For a lot of us, we will end up reading this passage 50+ times that first day!

If you form this habit of constantly reminding yourself, all day long, to live a life focused on loving God and loving others instead of worshipping the false idols our society places in front of us, you really will see a renewing of your mind and the type of transformation that God has promised us!

Thought to ponder

On top of the cell phone idea, what other consistent triggers throughout my day could I use to remind me to allow God to renew my mind throughout the day?

As always, thank your for all of your comments, shares, etc. They are a constant encouragement and mean a lot to me! Also, we see on average an additional 20 visits to a specific post per share on Facebook. So if you have ever wondered if any of your friends actually take the time to read what you post, they do! If you think this could be an encouragement to others, don’t be afraid to share!

Stop fixating on your sin!

Daily Readings: Exodus 39-40, Proverbs 6, Romans 6

We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Romans 6:2-4, 12-14

 The picture Paul paints in Romans 6 of us being buried with Christ and rising again with him to live a new life is so powerful. It is easy to forget this part of the gospel in today’s world and simply focus on salvation. When we hear the good news of the gospel preached, it is frequently focused on the fact that Jesus came down to earth and willing gave his life for us so that, upon our death, we could have an eternal life with God that we were incapable of earning on our own. This by itself is the best news ever shared! What we frequently overlook is what Paul shares with us today.

Jesus also dies so that we could be reborn and die to our previous sinful ways right now as well!

The mistake I find myself falling into when I think about this portion of God’s promise is continued self-condemnation. Why do I continue to sin? Why do I keep falling short? Have I not fully turned my life over? What more do I need to do to conquer this sin issue or that sin issue in my life? I want to be better!

The problem, when I am stuck in this mindset, is that I am entirely focused on me. When thinking like this I have a tendency to read, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness…” and immediately fall back into frustration towards my lack of ability to be perfect. I fall back into striving. I fall back into wanting to do it under my own power.

My focus immediately is so self-focused that I don’t allow myself to fully internalize the second part of that sentence, “…but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.”

 I have often heard that it is almost impossible to kick a bad habit without replacing it with a good one. If all you are doing is striving so hard to not sin, focusing on developing your will power more and more every day so that you can avoid that stumbling block, you inevitably trip over it again…and again…and again.

Paul tells us instead we should focus on offering every part of ourselves to God as an instrument of righteousness. He didn’t say a picture of righteousness merely to be looked at. He said instrument. Instruments are meant to be used.

This rang incredibly true for me this morning. The only times in my life where I barely struggle with sin are the times where I am entirely focused on serving others. When I am focused on making a difference in other people’s lives, providing for their earthly needs, being a listening ear, and sharing the love of Jesus. In these stretches of time sin has very little power at all over me. I am not really even thinking about it.

When I am focused on me? Oh man…Satan has a very easy foothold in my life at that point.

If we stop at the point in Romans where Paul talks about dying to our sins and just run after that, we end up striving. We end up fixating on sin and putting it on a pedestal. However, when we decide we want to rise again with Christ in a new life focused on serving others, grace comes flooding in.

Jesus came not only to give us eternal life and pay the price for our sins; he came to give us a new life here on earth as well. He came so that we could break free from bondage and walk out of that jail cell of our own creation. He came so that we could be righteous instruments for God to use here on earth.

So stop focusing on conquering your sin today. That work has been done for you already on the cross! Focus instead of being an instrument God can use all day long however he sees fit and watch what happens!

Thought to ponder

How can I be used as a righteous instrument by God today in my everyday walk?

 

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