Were

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Here’s a list of some of the people who don’t get to go to heaven. This is a tough, uncomfortable list, especially in 21st century America. Sure, we can agree that some of these people are evil and shouldn’t be in heaven. But banning gay people? And it seems like everyone is having sex, or having a few too many drinks. And when you look at some of Paul’s other lists, we see that he includes liars and people who are disrespectful to their parents. If we include those people, then no one’s getting to heaven. After all, who hasn’t given their parents a little lip, or told a little white lie?

But we’re missing something subtle here. Paul isn’t saying that anyone who has ever done any of these things is permabanned from heaven. He’s talking about identity. He doesn’t say “anyone who’s ever had sex outside of marriage,” he said the sexually immoral. He doesn’t say “anyone who’s had romantic thoughts about someone of the same sex,” he says men who practice (ongoing) homosexuality. He doesn’t say “anyone who’s ever stolen something,” he says thieves. You get the picture.

God isn’t demanding perfection. If he was, none of us would get into heaven. But he does require that we change our identities. Check out the next verse:

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:11

I love that line.

And such were some of you. Were.

Once we were defined by our greed, our lust, and our alcoholism. We were once defined by our rebellion, our lies, and our addictions.

But no longer. For Christians, yes, we were those people. But now, by the grace of God, we are changed. We are made new. We are found innocent of our sins and are gradually renewed, day by day.

God has made a way, through his son Jesus, for us to be new creations. We are no longer defined by the broken identities we once had. Instead we take on new identities as sons and daughters of God. How awesome is that?

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Affections

I have a confession: I love reading, but I don’t often take the time to. I’m also a pretty avid consumer of podcasts and blogs, so I come across a lot of authors and ideas. It’s not uncommon for me to find myself buying a book with all the best intentions, then realizing months (or years) later that I’ve completely forgotten about it.

Matt Chandler’s To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain is one such book. I vaguely remember buying it shortly after publication back in 2014, but never got around to reading it. Whoops.

Last weekend, as I settled into my airplane seat, I realized that I had left home in such a rush that I had forgotten to bring something for the flight. Thankfully, I remembered that I had downloaded this on the Kindle app on my phone, so I settled in and began reading Chandler’s exploration of Philippians.

As I was reading, Chandler addresses Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 2:12 to “work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” As he tries to shed light on this passage, he offers a pair of questions:

What stirs your affections for Jesus? What robs you of those affections for Christ? (p.101)

It’s so easy to read that and think, “Yeah, that’s good! I’m gonna highlight it. That was really good.” And then I move on, excited for the next thing that I’ll be challenged by.

But lately, God’s been convicting me about my obedience. I love learning, but if learning never changes my life, then what good is it? And although Chandler’s book is not Scripture, I felt the Holy Spirit stirring in me, encouraging me to stop and take a few moments to reflect on these two questions. So here goes.

What Stirs My Affections For Jesus?

Morning devotions. I’m one of those evil morning people. I love getting up in the quiet of the morning, early morning light filtering through my window, opening up my Bible, reading, and then journaling a short prayer. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m terrible at actually practicing this regularly. But when I do, I love it.

Pragmatic reading. I love thinking about Scripture practically. I really get a kick out of reading a passage and then reflecting on what it means for my life, how I should change my life.

Hearing about God’s work. I love talking to people about what God’s been doing in their lives. It’s exciting to me to hear what people are learning, how they’re being challenged, and how they’re growing. It’s inspiring to hear about how people are hearing from God and obeying him.

Discussing ________. I love talking about the Bible/theology/Christian living/stewardship/discipleship/the Church. Dialogue is stimulating, and I love fleshing out my thoughts and pushing them against the thoughts of others, especially if the result is more clarity in how God wants us to live our lives.

Nature. I love walking through the nature, breathing it in, and praising God for the world that he’s made.

Teaching. I love sharing the things that I’m learning with others, especially when they get excited about it, too. It brings so much joy to me to teach others and help them grow in maturity in their relationship with Jesus.

What Robs My Affections For Jesus?

I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty fun reflecting on the things that make me excited about Jesus. But, this one was harder to stomach. (Side note, Isn’t it weird how much easier it is to think about positive than it is to think about something negative? No lie, as I was starting to think about this section, I suddenly found myself scrolling through IG instead.)

Isolation. This is a tricky one, because I’m an introvert. I like being alone, and I regain my social energy by being alone. But I have also found that it’s when I’m isolated that I am most prone to straying from Jesus. When I’m by myself, that’s when I’m most vulnerable to Satan’s whispers, to the various temptations that may cross my mind.

Busyness. When I get busy, I become distracted. I become tired. I lack energy and motivation. And that’s when I become most vulnerable. This compounds with isolation, because when I’m feeling wiped, I want to be alone.

Distraction. I am an avid learner. I love to learn, and when something strikes my fancy, I pour myself into that thing. Sometimes my fascination only lasts a few minutes. Other times it can last for months. The tough thing about this is that most of the time, I’m not fascinated by something inherently bad. When Chandler writes, “[M]orally neutral temptations are far more apt to rob me of my affections for Jesus Christ… I can easily justify sinfully indulging in things that are non-sins because they are little things…” (p.99) I totally relate. There’s nothing wrong with learning how to manage my money well… until I realize that I’m dangerously close to idolizing money. There’s nothing wrong with exercising and training… until I realize that I’ve become fixated on how I look. There’s nothing wrong with playing video games or watching TV or following sports… until I realize that I can tell you all the item builds or plot lines or player stats, but can’t recall the last time that I’ve tried to memorize a Bible passage.

Perceived Self-Sustenance. I’ve noticed in my life where I begin doing something following God’s leading, and he works through me. Then I begin to think that I’m doing well, and stop leaning on God’s grace and mercy to continue the work that he’s begun. That’s usually when I crash and burn, causing a lot of harm to myself and the people that I was supposed to be serving.

This post has gotten a lot longer than I had intended (sorry!), so I’m going to wrap it up here. I really enjoyed this brief reflection exercise, and I encourage you to take some time and write down your own answers. I hope you find this exercise as enlightening and encouraging as I did.

A New Understanding of the Seed

4 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The Purpose of the Parables

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

“‘they may indeed see but not perceive,
    and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”

13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.[a] 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve read this passage (or its parallels in the other gospels), but I’ve always heard it explained in one way: the Word is the gospel, and this parable is about how different people respond to the gospel message.

I’m not saying that interpretation is wrong, but yesterday during my reading (actually, I was listening to an audio Bible on my way to work) I was struck by a new interpretation: The word is the word. I know, I know, this isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but hear me out.

The Bible tells us that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). This means that every word of Scripture has the power to provide growth in our lives, given the opportunity.

However, too often we read without reading, and the word does nothing, like seed on a path.

Or we get really excited about a passage for a time, but things return to normal quickly, like seed in the rocky soil.

Or we’re distracted because we forgot to set our alarm and overslept by an hour, so we’re only absentmindedly listening to our audio Bible on the way to work. We’re distracted by the cares of this world, and the thorn choke out the freshly sprouted seed.

But sometimes we sit and receive the Word. And sometimes that passage sits in our souls and it stirs something inside us. As the seed germinates, we begin to tell others about what we’ve learned, and we begin to make changes to our lives in response to the passage. And pretty soon, we find that, through thoughtful obedience to the Bible, we have changed for the better and that change is evident to those around us.

So tell me, what has God been showing you in Scripture lately? Drop it in the comments below!

Day 31: Truth in Love

Day 31: Truth in Love

You may have noticed that I didn’t post on August 31st to wrap up my Better Every Day Challenge. And you may have also noticed that this is that Day 31 post. Although some of my challenge posts were quite short, I felt like this last one came with a “Handle With Care” sticker. In an effort to make sure that I dealt with the topic well, I pushed back the post so that spend time over this extended weekend (Happy Labor Day!) to really think through this topic.

If you’re an American Christian who regularly uses social media, you’ve probably heard something of an incredibly divisive document (website?): The Nashville Statement. The Nashville Statement is a series of 14 articles (short statements, actually) that seek to clarify the Biblical perspective on human sexuality. If you haven’t heard about it, I’m sure that you can understand why it’s so divisive.

Continue reading “Day 31: Truth in Love”

Disciple-Making Disciple Makers

Disciple-Making Disciple Makers

For the past 3 weeks or so, I’ve really had discipleship on my mind. I knew my definitions well. A disciple is a person who is dedicated to becoming more like his master. So a disciple of Christ (i.e., a Christian) is a person who is dedicated to becoming more like Jesus.

Discipleship, therefore, is the process of becoming more like Jesus. I would have said that this process involves developing biblical literacy, prayer, community, and witness. I would have said that you learn these things by engaging in them, by being involved in Bible studies, by taking time to pray, by being involved at church, and by seeking to tell others about Jesus.

But all these things only answer the “What?” of discipleship. A few weeks ago, I started really questioning whether or not I understood the “How?” of discipleship.

  • How do I help others learn the story of the Bible? And furthermore, how do I help them to understand that reading comprehension is not the goal, but obedience is?
  • How do I help others learn to pray?
  • How do I help foster true, life-on-life community – one that encourages, rebukes, comforts, and directs people toward Christ?
  • How do I make sure that we not only know how to tell others about Jesus, but that we’re actually telling people about Jesus?

Continue reading “Disciple-Making Disciple Makers”