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.

Day 19: Discipleship and Service

Recently, I’ve been growing more interested in the process of discipleship. I was listening to a podcast (How Discipling Men Changes Everything (feat. Man in the Mirror)) when one of the speakers casually dropped this thought before continuing on to his point.

We don’t make disciples and pray for workers. We make workers and pray for disciples.

As a youth leader/intern/director, I was regularly faced with the challenges of finding more leaders to help with the students. Too often, I’m sorry to admit, I looked for people who were willing to help with the youth, not really paying attention to an individuals spiritual maturity. And then I found myself up a creek as I had set up spiritually immature leaders as role models for the youth they served.

Jesus commands us to “Go and make disciples…” (Matt 28:19), but his encouragement is to pray for workers (Matt 9:37-38). Somewhere along the line, we got these two things mixed up.

Day 17: Pot and Performance

I often listen to Dave Ramsey, which is a personal finance podcast. But personal finance touches all of our lives, so sometimes he ends up talking about something else entirely.

That’s when this article came up. Apparently, there was a city in the Netherlands that put restrictions on the purchase of recreational marijuana, and noticed an increase in performance at the college level. 4,000 students were observed, and on average they performed 5% better when access to legal marijuana was revoked. More interestingly, there was an even greater increase in grade performance among the “low performers”, i.e. those students who were in danger of failing out of school.

We’re in the midst of a cultural change where tolerance and acceptance are trumpeted as the highest good. But what if that means we’re accepting things into our nation, our schools, and our homes that aren’t good for us? Where do we draw the line, and, more importantly, how do we manage to hold to that line in a respectful and honorable manner?

Day 14: 5% More

This isn't some earth-shattering "blow your mind" kind of lesson (but if I'm honest, that's how most of my posts are). However, I know that this principle has a ridiculous ROI if applied consistently.
The magic principle? Do 5% more. Some call this "Never walk past a problem." Others call this ownership.
Every day you and I have countless opportunities to do a little more. The dishes are dried in the rack? Put them away before you wet them again with your own dishes. There's a piece of trash next to you? Pick it up and throw it away. A coworker's having a rough week? Grab him/her a coffee when you stop for yours. Leave a thank you note. Top off the gas tank. Now your neighbor's lawn. And don't draw attention to your deed.
None of these are gargantuan tasks. Most of them require very little additional effort on our part. Yet the effect is profound. We slowly become the sort of person that others like to have around. We craft in ourselves a spirit of generosity. We develop an attitude of service. And others will be grateful. It's not hard, but the extra step will do wonders in strengthening a relationship, in building rapport. Not that we do these things for that specific goal. That's just gravy. The real meat and potatoes is the character development that is occurring within our own hearts and minds.