The Pull For Control

In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul is talking about the things that have control over us. He starts off by saying “Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is helpful, everything is permissible, but I will not be brought under the control of anything.” This sounds at first like a sin free-for all, but what Paul is communicating is that the condition of the heart is what causes sin. When a desire becomes more than a desire it will lead us. This becomes problematic because we are following Jesus, but when we have an unchecked desire, that desire will pull for control and lead us. We are no longer being led by Jesus because we have allowed something else in and that thing is now leading us. This is dangerous ground because it can lead us far enough away that we don’t come back. We have all seen this happen in the big things like drug and alcohol abuse, and in this chapter, Paul uses food as the topic because that was a big deal with the Jews because of all their forbidden food laws. The point is anything that has enough pull on us can be harmful. Even the act or desire for control itself is a powerful thing because we are no longer being led by Jesus. We have taken the wheel and are attempting to control what cannot be controlled. It’s an illusion in our minds to think we can control other people or situations, or our circumstances and yet, this is one of the most controlling forces we will ever fight against. In fact, I think the desire to control is one of the most universal struggles that we all share. This is why we have to keep an eye on anything that pulls us and submit it to Jesus immediately, before it gains too much ground. The deeper we allow it to pull us, the harder it is to get out. Paul takes this further when he gets into sexual immorality. He explains how our sexuality joins us to the person we are involved with because sex was designed for marriage, and it joins us to the person we marry. If we are immoral with our sexuality, we are joining ourselves with that immorality and when we are in Christ and we try to sin in this way Paul raises the question: “Don’t you know that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit?” If we are joined in marriage with Christ, our dabbling into sexual immorality brings prostitution into our marriage relationship with Jesus. Not only do we sin against God, but we violate our own body when we sin sexually. Paul distinguishes a firm point that anything else we do is outside of our body, but sexual sin is a violation against both God and ourselves.

Judgment Starts With Ourselves

In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul clarifies the topic of judgment in the church, and to me, his message couldn’t be more clear. He was hearing reports of sexual immorality within the church. The church at Corinth was proud of their lack of judgment while this man’s willful sin continued on unaddressed.  Paul is frustrated that instead of being filled with grief over this man’s condition, they were actually prideful and boasting instead. Paul used an analogy of yeast when he warned them that sin spreads like yeast within the dough, and by allowing this man to continue among them would cause a culture of more sin to spread within the church. Paul advises them that they need to address this man and “turn him over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his spirit may be saved”. This sounds so harsh and unloving, but Paul is actually concerned for the soul of this man who is willfully living in continued sin. He knows that if this man is removed from the church to go live out his sin, he will suffer some consequences that will change his heart and bring him into repentance. Paul continues in his clarification that when he was talking about not associating with people who are living in sin, he wasn’t talking about the world He was talking about the believers who claimed to be followers of Christ who were a part of the church but were living their lives in a duplicitous way. He was calling out the Christians within the church who were living out life together claiming to be Christ followers, but were also living without a conscience to their sin. Not just those in sexual sin but Paul was also calling out all of those within the church who those were living a regular lifestyle of being greedy, or abusive, drunk, or dishonest. Paul is warning them that they shouldn’t associate with believers that were acting this way. He further clarifies that he is not talking about the sinners of the world, and he says “what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? This is such an important point because the church seems to have things very backwards. Christians in our American culture are trying to treat our country as a whole, like it is the body of Christ, but this fight to change our country and judge the unsaved people in it should be happening within the actual church. Change is supposed to be with us and among us. We aren’t here to cleanse our country of sin. We are here to follow Christ and bring lost and broken people in with us so they can be reconciled to the father who loves them and is trying to reach out to them.  We can’t do this if we are tied up in our own sin issues. Our own sin makes us ineffective and completely unfruitful.  This is why judgment and accountability for sin belongs in the church, not in the world. If we can get this right as the body of Christ it would literally change the world because the world would actually see us living and loving our lives in full surrender to a God who loves and pursues people.

Wake Up The Sleepers

In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul was trying writing to the church at Corinth because after he had established their church they started chasing after other leaders who were not living out the gospel. They were prideful and full of their own worldly wisdom so much to the point that they were living well and were not suffering any persecution. Their success boosted their pride because it gave them the impression that they were living well. In fact, Paul even commented kind of sarcastically that they looked like they were living so well that it would almost seem that Christ had returned, and they were already reigning together. Paul uses this as a pause moment as if to say “I sure wish that were the case for the sake of all of us” but he returns to his point. The truth was that the church at Corinth had strayed after some clever sounding teachers who had led them into humanistic ideas that sounded pretty truthful and logical from a carnal and logical mind. Because of this teaching they seemed to have thought they figured out how to live and fit into the world and be successful, while their pride caused them to believe they were somehow still walking out their lives for Jesus. In fact. They were so convinced of it that they were teaching these ways to other people and feeling pretty proud of their success and their so-called “wisdom.” So much so that they were spreading this way through the church. Paul was trying to remind them that when he established them as a church, he came to them as a father and wanted them to imitate Him. He reminded them that while they were off looking successful, the real apostles were out in the thick of things being treated like trash by the world because the gospel they were preaching was the one of surrender and servanthood. None of which appeals to the world or the carnal mind. The real apostles were humble men who were out preaching the pure gospel while also working hard with their hands as tent makers in order to support themselves so they wouldn’t be a financial burden to the church. Paul was appealing to the church he started at Corinth to remember that he had come to them as a father, and that he desperately wanted them to see that his fatherly care for them was for their good. He was sending this message through Timothy warning them that he would be coming to see them soon and he hoped that they would repent because he could either come to them with a disciplinary father’s heart, or he could come to them with a spirit of gentleness knowing they had repented. He concludes this with a “how do you want this to go?” kind of ultimatum, but from the attitude of a loving father because he still very much saw himself as their spiritual father who recognized that his kids were following the wrong crowd. This really hit home as I read because I see so much of this in the current Christian church. So many people are living their lives in a duplicitous way. They will tell you they are Christians, and they will quote little sayings and scriptures, but they are not at all surrendered over. Like the church at Corinth, they believe they have figured out a successful way to function and fit into the world by adopting some of the world’s “values”, while also still believing that they are faithfully serving God because they simply say they believe. Somehow, we equate “belief” with things we agree with even if we don’t do them. If I know it takes hard work and discipline to work out and eat well to get in shape, I can say that I believe it to be true, but I would be a liar to say that my “belief” equates to my actually living it out. We can say we believe anything, but the proof of our integrity is in what we do with that belief in our actual daily life. We violate our own conscience every time we say we believe something that we don’t actually do. There is a psychology term defined as “cognitive dissonance” that has actually been proven by neuroscientists to show that when we live in this state, it actually causes damage to our brains. I’m not trying to get scientific, nor psychological. My point is that science is just now catching up and figuring out the truths that God has established from the beginning of time. The world puts down the truth of the gospel because it sounds like utter foolishness to them. They don’t have the spiritual eyes to see it, but Christians in America need to wake up and return back to the foundational truth written in the Word of God and stop chasing after the American Dream. Jesus is coming and His word warns us that we are in danger of being found asleep with our lamp wicks unlit. Those of us who are awake and living this daily life need to wake up the sleepers and provoke them to serve God with all their hearts. Their salvation depends on it!

Wise In Our Own Minds

In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul was telling the church at Corinth that he was unable to speak to them with the kind of spiritual depth that they should be ready for because they were too immature and fleshly-minded. He continued to talk about their envy and their strife with each other, and the pride and rivalry that they carried by idolizing their leaders as proof of that immaturity. He reminded them that we are all just servants of Christ and that the foundation that Paul laid when he initially presented them with the gospel, was watered by Apollos, who was known to be a very eloquent speaker and teacher. This would have been viewed competitively to the contrary of Paul, who by his own admission commented that his public speaking was not very impressive. Paul is reminding them that none of this is supposed to be about the servant who is sharing the message because it is God’s wisdom, and it is God who provides the growth. The immaturity in taking pride in whom they were being taught by as a superior source to another was evidence that they were focused on the wrong things and missing the point of it all. And if they were using the fancy, eloquent words of wisdom they were hearing from Apollos to share with others so they could look and sound impressive and wise, they were also missing the point. The recognition for a thriving and growing church was not supposed to be given to any man at all because the whole point of it all is that we are all following Christ. Paul talks about the importance that the foundation we lay when we share the gospel with others and reminds us that we are accountable for the integrity of what that is. It will either stand up to the test or it will fail and reveal our motives. He cautions them that as they go and teach others, if they think they are wise, but are just sharing out of their own minds, or from the ideas they were hearing from others, rather than simply communicating the gospel of truth, the foundation that they lay will be revealed and tested. If it is their own human “wisdom” that they are sharing, it won’t stand up to the tests of life. Their “wisdom” and advice to those they are teaching won’t stand up to the tests of life unless they are teaching them God’s ways. This is something we all really have to be really careful about. If we are counseling and advising people based upon our own experiences, emotions, and ideas we will lead them with our own foolishness, emotions and flesh and the council we give them will not go well for them. But if we are reading God’s word daily and are in prayer, we will pull wisdom from the truth of God’s word and council them with Scripture instead of our own ideas, we will be laying a firm foundation and it will stand up to the tests of life.

Hidden Treasure

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul is explaining the difference between those who have spiritual eyes to see and those who do not. What I really pulled from this is that the gospel is like a hidden treasure that has to be desired to be seen. The Jews had (and still have) all kinds of prophesy pointing directly to the Messiah but because their focus was natural and not spiritual, they were unable to see all of the pointed signs and God allowed them to embrace their spiritual blindness in order to pursue the Gentiles and bring salvation to the rest of the world. We are living in a culture of spiritual blindness, but our culture believes themselves to be the most enlightened and “woke” generation because they pride themselves on a humanistic level to be the source and the way. They mock, defy and they shame anyone who does not agree or accept their views as intolerable and wrong. Unfortunately, Christians who are not following the gospel completely are hung up in some sort of category of their own that doesn’t fit the gospel, and it doesn’t gel with the humanistic thought of the world either. If Christians actually followed the gospel in it’s purity, the fact that every single human being was created in the image of God would drive everything we say and do toward the love of God in reconciling people to Him instead of telling them why they are not accepted by Him. If we as Christians put away worldly ideas and rejected the culture that wants so much to influence us, we would see God’s actual truth with spiritual eyes and allow His love to reconcile hearts to a Father who loves them and is waiting for their arrival. This is the beautiful hidden treasure of the gospel, and if we are looking with natural eyes we will miss it!

The Foolishness of Wisdom

In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul addresses some divisions within the church because he was hearing reports about rivalry between them over whom they were following. Some would say they were with Apollos, and some would say Cephas, or some would say “I’m with Christ.” Paul challenges this by asking “Is Christ divided?” He reminds them that this is one gospel and not about the leaders or the people who preach the gospel or baptize people into the church. Paul restores the emphasis that the gospel is not supposed to change. It should be spoken the same by all because it was given by Christ Jesus who is not divided and does not change. From here he reminds us that the gospel looks foolish to those who believe they are wise, but it’s God’s power to those of us who are saved. Everything we believe and do in life hangs from the gospel of Christ and if we are not all in, we miss the point completely and the things that we do just become religious activity. Paul requotes from the law and old prophetic scripture that says “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts” This continues to be true today, as most people try to pick apart the gospel with worldly views and humanistic opinions of our current culture. Even Christians who have bought into the culture pull back from parts of the gospel calling it “outdated” or “old fashioned”. It’s unpopular and completely rejected by those who believe their human wisdom is superior, but to those of us who are Jesus followers, the gospel is the full truth and it is what guides our entire lives.

Divisions

Reading in Romans 16 Paul started off by acknowledging some women of the church who had served and worked. Then he acknowledged some couples and gave greetings to a long list of people before cautioning the church about divisive people and warning them to watch out for the dissensions they cause and the obstacles that they try to promote that were contrary to the gospel they had been taught by Paul. He firmly warned them to avoid them all together and Paul wasn’t shy at all in going as far as to say that they don’t serve Jesus Christ because they serve their own appetites. This is warning is a very small section, but I felt it held a lot of weight. We tend to want to debate with people who disagree with us or somehow attempt to educate people in their doctrine, but truthfully, we have to be very careful because when we do this, we are also entering the conversation from a level of the mind and not necessarily being led by the Holy Spirit. We have so much more opportunity to find ourselves in these kinds of conversations because of social media. There are things we will never be able to convince with the intellectual mind and when we try to do this we become arrogant in our approach. We need to pray for people who are misled before trying to counsel them out of it. The Holy Spirit can reach the heart in ways we can’t. Sometimes the dissensions that are contrary to the gospel are about other people. People who are talking about other people and rushing to judgment about their lives, their motives, and their private business. This should not be happening in the church, but unfortunately where there are people gathered, there are all levels of maturity and immaturity all together. When people get together, they talk, and if they are immature in their faith they will talk about people and their private family situations and out of their immaturity they pronounce their judgment on them. Paul is boldly calling out that people who are doing this are not serving God. They are serving their own appetite for gossip and judgment. Paul sternly warns us to stay away from people like this. I personally shut down anyone who would try to gossip to me about someone else’s life situation and I firmly remind them that the person they are talking about is accountable under a leader who is guiding them. My go-to is stop them right away and pray for a spirit of unity. There is no place for gossip or dissension in the church and it should be the responsibility of each one of us to shut down any that comes in our direction, but I love that Paul ended this warning on a strong and powerful note by saying “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” People will talk, but ultimately, God has the final word.

Stay On Mission

Reading Paul’s letter to the church in Romans 15 reminds me today that those of us who are strong in the word and in our walk with Jesus have an obligation to set aside our own desires and our own pleasures so we can use our influence and our energy to build up those around us who are weaker in their faith. This means our time, our resources, our patience, and our instruction. Paul stresses that this is what brings unity to the body of Christ and then he makes a giant statement analogy of how the Messiah (Jesus Himself) actually did this for Israel and for the Gentiles when he said in verse 8 “The Messiah became a servant of the uncircumcised on behalf of God’s truth so that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy” Jesus was insulted and questioned at literally every word He spoke during His ministry on earth before He was crucified and this was all done by His own chosen people who didn’t recognize Him even with all they knew about scripture. But Jesus continued to lay aside His own will, He was never prideful or offended, but He did know how to turn them on their ear with their attempts to mince words with Him. So, what does the mean for us? It means that we don’t have the right to get offended or impatient when people don’t understand the truth right away. Our job is to help other Christ followers walk out truth with kindness, love and compassion and so much encouragement. It means that sometimes we have to speak the truth about hard or unpopular situations that other Christ-followers find themselves in, and love and care for them without getting our own feelings in the way if they don’t receive it. This is not easy to do but this is exactly what strong leaders are called to do. This is not about us. This is about reaching lost and broken people, so if our own feelings are in the way we will get in the way of the message and keep people from seeing Jesus. If we are willing to lay aside our own feelings and desires, the way God will be able to use us to reach people will be limitless. This only works when we lay our “rights” aside just like Jesus did. He could have set them all straight if He wanted to, but He was there for a purpose, and that purpose was to fulfill the will of the Father to provide salvation to the world. This is why Jesus didn’t just go and do whatever other people wanted Him to do. He was on mission. He let His friend Lazarus die for a few days because He was obedient to God on His mission. He delayed in going to heal a little girl with a fever because He was listening to the Father’s voice and staying on His mission. He only did what the Father told Him to do because He was there for a reason, and He was completely focused on that mission only. Salvation was provided to the entire world because Jesus stayed on mission. Now our mission is to share that truth with the world even of they reject it. Even if they hate us and insult us. Even if they hurt our feelings or God forbid, offend us. Jesus finished His mission and then gave us ours. Our mission is the Great Commission, and it is to “Go and make disciples.” If we stay on mission without being distracted by the responses of people, we will fulfill our purpose and there will be unity in the body of Christ that will actually attract people in the world. We have to get this right in the body of Christ if we really want to reach a lost world. Their salvation depends on it.

Personal Convictions

Reading in Romans 14 Paul was cautioning the church that we need to be careful about how we manage our own personal convictions. Both for the sake of ourselves and for the sake of others. Because the gospel is about denying ourselves, and preferring others, the focus here is really about being careful not to offend someone who is newer or weaker in their faith by doing things in front of them that they see as wrong. Paul used foods as an example because abstaining from certain foods was such a big deal in the Jewish culture. Dietary restrictions really aren’t a source of contention for the average Christian because most of us are “Gentile” born and have never had to follow a Jewish kosher diet in our entire lives. Christians today tend to squabble over other things like secular music, movies, or whether or not it’s wrong to drink alcohol or go to certain places, or use certain words. These are all personal convictions, and we all have them and we all need them. Convictions are really important because they guide our moral compass, and they help keep us focused and grounded in Christ. People who have struggled in certain areas of their lives may have a personal conviction to not associate with certain environments because for them it represents something that had a past hold on them. Maybe for one person, going to a bar leads them back into a place where they had a weakness of loneliness and going to bars to them meant that they would inevitably meet someone and go home with them. For them, going to a bar, or maybe even listening to certain type of music causes a draw on their hearts that have the potential to pull them back into that loneliness where a sin temptation arises.  For the person who knows they struggle that way, it is wisdom for them to stay away from bars so that the risk of temptation doesn’t pull them back into past sin. The decision to never enter a bar would be a wise personal conviction to them and because of their past struggle with sin, it would literally be wrong for them to go to a bar because it would violate their own personal conviction that they set for themselves.  Another person who has never struggled in this area may not understand this conviction because it has never been an issue for them. They can sit in a bar and enjoy a drink with friends and go home without any loneliness or temptation to go home with someone they met. They have no pull or struggle of any kind. If that friend flaunted his freedom and ability to go to a bar in front of his friend, or worse, made fun of his friend who has chosen to stay away from bars, he would be incredibly unloving and he would be guilty of trying to pull his friend back into sin temptation. We don’t all have the same struggles, so we don’t all have the same personal convictions. Paul makes it clear that if we have a guilt conscience about doing certain things, then these things are convictions to us and if we violate our own conscience by doing them anyway it becomes sin to us. We don’t have to share the same convictions as others, but we are absolutely responsible for respecting other people in their own convictions without trying to talk them out of them. If you talk someone out of their personal conviction you are guilty of causing them to stumble and sin. God holds us accountable for that. What I really pulled from this today was that sometimes we don’t realize when we do this to people. Sometimes people tell us their convictions and if those things are not a pull in our own lives personally, sometimes we have the tendency to downplay the fact that their conviction about it makes it wrong for them. We may feel a different kind of freedom, and our freedom is not wrong, but it becomes wrong if we flaunt our freedom to them or try to talk them out of their conviction.

Honor & Authority

Reading Romans 13 today reminds me that we are all that we are all under authority, both spiritually and under the laws of the land. God said that he set authorities in place for our good and the authorities are intended to act as servants. Obviously, we all understand how badly this can go awry, but when we are submitted to God by submitting ourselves to authorities even if they are not using their authority properly, we are under the will of God and we can fully trust Him that he will use situations, give us favor and even work on our behalf if we choose to honor and choose to trust God. I once heard someone speak on authority that also really changed my view forever. She gave a simple illustration, but the point was this. If someone above us is abusing their God-given authority we have not only the right, but the responsibility to appeal to their higher authority. We all have authority over us, so the chain stops nowhere including all the way up to God Himself.  Our attitude toward people of whom we are under authority really reflects our own attitude towards God. This one convicts my heart a lot because I have definitely done way more than my share of complaining about authorities in my life! We see the flaws of those who lead us, and we are affected directly by the decisions they make. It’s so tempting to tear them down and to complain and get other people on board with our complaints and even our wrong speculations about situations. I’m a sarcastic person by nature. I usually keep it on the funny side, but I really do like to joke and say sarcastic things when I process through hard things. When I’m frustrated this is my go-to mind escape and as I run my mouth, I usually start off funny, but I know when I’m riding the line of complete disrespect. This one is especially a challenge to me in the workplace, but I’m also mindful of how devastatingly easy this is to abuse in more familiar situations like home and family. We’re comfortable there and we are so much worse there because we live with each other and are so very aware of each other’s flaws and shortcomings that it’s so easy to dismiss our attitudes and we are so much quicker to say something rude, disrespectful, and dishonoring and we are also less sorry for it in the moment because of our familiarity. As I read through Romans 13, I was mindful not only of the authorities in my life, but also of the roles where I carry some authority. This is a great responsibility because if God Himself says that he puts authority in place then I am accountable not only to my leaders but to God for how I manage people that I lead in any kind of capacity. I have a responsibility to honor the value of anyone who serves under my leadership and to make sure they are equipped, encouraged, and sometimes respectfully corrected. This is something I take very seriously because I have deep convictions that every single person created was created in the image of God and to treat them with any kind of disrespect is to dishonor God Himself.

Invited & Welcomed

Reading through Leviticus chapter 16 initially brought an interesting sorrow for me as I read a completely opposite message from what I am used to reading in the New Testament. The sorrow didn’t last long, and it actually turned into a complete reversal of joy and elation as I examined the stark contrast between what we read in the Old Testament and what we are invited to in the New covenant. We are constantly reading in New Testament scripture that we are to boldly come to the throne of grace. We can come at any time and come as we are, and we have complete freedom to see Jesus, face to face at the mercy seat. We are completely unhinged, unlimited and unmasked from the presence of God. We have total and complete access because of Jesus. Nothing to be sad about here, right? But as I read Leviticus 16 the complete opposite message was being conveyed because it was the old covenant. Aaron’s two sons had gone into the tent of meeting unauthorized and offered God a “strange and unauthorized fire” in their firepans, so they died instantly. The scripture doesn’t tell us why these two brothers decided to go off and do this thing on their own, but the tent of meeting was a very serious place. In chapter 16 God was revisiting this incident with Moses and sternly warning Aaron that he could not just enter the tent of meeting whenever he wanted. In fact, there was a very long set of prescribed procedures he had to follow because he was responsible for the entire community of Israel and if he did just one of the hundreds of steps wrong, he could and would die instantly. Just like his two sons had. He literally carried the weight, the sin, and the risk of the entire community of Israel every time he went in to the tent of meeting to make these sacrifices. There were bells and ropes attached to his ankles just in case he made a mistake and dropped dead while he was in there so they would be able to drag his body out of there without being at risk themselves. As I continued reading, I noticed there was a whole procedure for him to complete the appropriate sacrifices for the community’s sin, and then release a live goat that represented all of their sin and rebellion and it was released in a remote location to wander. The person that released the goat had clean up procedures for after handling the live goat, and then Aaron had other procedures after handling and releasing the goat as well. Then he had to perform more sacrifices and things afterward as part of his purification process. This is a lot! Aaron literally carried the weight, sin, and responsibility of the entire community every time he had to perform these rituals and sacrifices. It really put a huge perspective on the fact that when Jesus came to pay the ultimate sacrifice it literally changed everything. He not only washed away our sin and our guilt, but he went much further than that because he also provided us complete and total access to himself and to the father. Because of his perfection we are allowed to look face to face with God and enter the throne room any time we want or need. We are welcomed, we are wanted, and we are so loved in this place! What a beautiful thing we have in salvation! This inspires my heart to worship because of the beautiful place of freedom we have, and it fills my heart with so much gratitude that my savior wants me in his presence. How can we not be so excited to meet him in this place of worship!

Live Life With Passion

Reading in Romans 11 Paul reminds us as Gentiles that the hearts of the Jews were only temporarily hardened by God because of their disobedience, and God is using it as an opportunity to bring in the Gentiles in while also allowing the Jews to become jealous. Paul is warning us as Gentiles not to become proud over it. Since God is using this opportunity to bring us in while they are in their state of blindness and unbelief and their return will come when the full number of Gentiles come in. Paul uses an analogy of cutting off wild olive branches and grafting in other branches that are unnatural to the tree. He uses this analogy to also warns us not to take for granted or become prideful over the fact that we were brought in because if he was willing to cut off the Jews, which were his chosen people, we as the unnatural branches can just as easily be removed again. To me this is not only a relief and a hope for the restoration of the Jews, but it’s also a reminder that we can’t live loosely under grace. We need to live fully for God and chase after Him with all that we are. We need to pursue God with passion and purpose and not live life with mediocrity. It’s more than a privilege that we were brought in. We were literally saved from death to life so our lives should match that intensity in our gratefulness to serve God with everything in us.

Blind By Choice

Reading in Romans 10 was a very different shift focus from the emotions that Paul had expressed in chapter 9. Although he was obviously still very passionate about salvation for the Jews, he was now pointing toward all of the prophetic Scripture that they all should have known and recognized. He was not allowing them any room for excuse because all of the prophets that the Jews claimed to deeply respect had prophesied things ahead about the future of the Jews and if they really wanted to see it, the scriptures all pointed directly to Jesus. Even Jesus himself had been quoting many of these old prophetic scriptures to the people during his time on the earth when he ministered and healed. He was literally pulling these old prophesies out and reminding them of them so that later on they would remember what he had said and think about it and hopefully realize that these old prophesies were coming to pass right in front of them as fulfilled prophesy. Ironically, the Jews had been so completely preoccupied with trying to find fault with Jesus that instead of seeking out the actual truth, they were trying their hardest to catch Jesus saying something that contradicted the old prophets that they claimed to respect so much. Jesus often called them out on their hypocrisy because the religious leaders claimed to value the prophets so much, but they were famous for twisting and using the words of these respected prophets to manipulate the people they led and to give themselves little perks and privileges. They had a lot to gain in the ways of power and authority, so their focus was very politically minded. They worked with the government and made legal arrangements that gave them perks, power and position. They craved honor and respect so to staying in control was their supreme motive for everything they did. These religious leaders knew the scriptures very well because they were well educated in them, but since they didn’t have the heart behind it they abused people and held expectations of the people that they weren’t willing to do themselves. They taught the law with arrogance and came off with and attitude of superiority, but they were actually doing shady things on the inside while pretending to be holy and righteous. They put guilt on the people they were supposed to be leading and they completely manipulated the common people to bring offerings and money and follow rules that they themselves were actually breaking. Jesus was contently calling them out for this stuff in front of the crowds and he told the people to honor them because of their position but not to act like them. This obviously angered them because Jesus was completely exposing them and all of their hypocrisy in front of everyone so they just kept sending people to come in and try to trip Jesus up hoping he would say something that contradicted one of the respected prophets. The irony of it all is that many of these prophesies were actually very accurately telling them that they were going to see all of the signs and yet still ignore them. The ancient prophesies were very accurately predicting that they would see all kinds of signs and wonders pointing right to Jesus but that they would miss it all because they would choose religion and power instead. What I really pulled out of all of this is that our spiritual blindness is a choice. God has spoken all that we need to know, but if our focus is on our appearance, we will spend our days trying to look good and convince others that we are good when what God is really after is heart change. Our desire for growth has to come from a place of honesty if we really want to see real change in our lives. God is much less interested in a perfect track record. He is looking for us to come to him with our hearts wide open and surrendered so he can speak to us and show us who he is. This is where the real stuff gets done and this is how we are able to feel at peace knowing that God sees our honest heart and loves us exactly where we are.

Blinded By Tradition

Reading in Romans 9 this morning I could feel the anguish in Paul as he desperately grieved for the salvation of the Jews. After all, he himself was a Jew and he grew up with so much passion and fire for the law. He was extremely educated from childhood in all the traditional Jewish ways, and he was so devout that he was widely feared because of his intense persecution of the early church called “The Way” before Jesus literally knocked him off his horse and changed his life forever. Paul loved the Jews with all his heart, and for him to express such an emotionally driven statement to say he would almost be willing to give up his own salvation for the sake of theirs is a big deal. He wanted so badly for them to see what God had done so powerfully in his own life so that they could choose it too. He was torn and grieved over their rejection of Jesus because he was so aware that the Jews were God’s original chosen, favored people full of purpose, promise and provision just for them. But they just refused be pulled from their traditions and all that they ever knew. Paul even requoted a scripture from the prophet Isaiah that said “Look! I am putting in Zion a stone in Zion to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame” Paul recognized that Jesus was the stone they were tripping over because of their lack of faith. In fact, Jesus himself had also quoted this same prophetic scripture directly to the Jews in the book of Matthew. As I read this, I thought about all of the people in the world who are also “tripping over the stone” because they grew up in religions that were built around their families and their ethnic heritages. For some, the cost of turning to Jesus means being completely cut off from their families and for others, it’s matter of spiritual blindness because the family tradition is built so deeply into their belief systems that to reject what their families have taught them feels like complete and total disrespect. Reading this today provokes me to pray for people in my life who are stuck in mindsets of family tradition. Those who haven’t yet responded to the gospel because they are either complacent, fearful of the rejection consequences or those who have just been blinded by tradition. We all have people around us that are in these categories and our hearts should grieve and desire for their salvation like Paul did for the Jews. They have been put in our paths so we can pray for Holy Spirit to reach them where they are, and so we can present the gospel to them in our daily interactions with them. We aren’t responsible for the outcome of their decision, but we should definitely be pursuing them. We are all called to be waterers and cultivators, but Holy Spirit ultimately does the drawing and leading.

Spirit Lead Me

Reading in Romans 8 Paul spends a lot of time talking about our mindset between walking in the spirit versus walking in the flesh. Naturally, when we are interacting with people our flesh is constantly there interpreting thoughts, motives, attitudes and offenses so this has the opportunity to keep our minds operating in a fleshly mindset, but Paul encourages us to reach past the flesh and strive to live in a spirit-minded way. This sounds super-spiritual, but what does this mean practically? It means that when we are tempted to get offended, or when we try to take control of things, or of other people that are not our responsibility, or when we try to manipulate situations and we allow our fleshly emotions start to speaking nonsense to us, we have to stop ourselves and ask Holy Spirit to show us truth about each situation and change our mindset. We can’t respond appropriately until we first address our mindset by asking Holy Spirit to show us what we need to see about a situation. This might mean that we stop for a moment and pray with or for the person who is just having a bad day and might be taking it out on us. This might mean that we give ourselves a little heart-check because we got offended by something someone said or did. Then there is the reality that sometimes people really do come against us and it’s not our imagination. God still expects us to respond in obedience to Him. This is where we lay out the problem before Him and ask Him to give us the wisdom and the power to respond with integrity so that God can then move on our behalf. As I was reading this, I was struck with the very real truth that the believers that Paul was talking to were going through very real persecution for simply being Jesus-followers. We live in America where we are free to worship Jesus and we demand our rights to do so but this is not the experience that the early church had. They were faced with the possibility of beatings, imprisonment and even death just for being part of this church move that they called “The Way”. I don’t want to get into comparisons because we shouldn’t feel guilt that we are not being persecuted this way. We are so blessed to live in the country that we do. We just have to remind ourselves that when we face opposition that we are not supposed to fight those battles with our own fleshly thoughts, ideas and emotions. We need to take each and every battle to Jesus and ask Him what he wants us to do with it. Walking in the spirit simply means that we surrender our “rights” (which goes completely against the grain of American culture) and we place ourselves in complete surrender to Jesus, not people. When we are completely surrendered to Jesus, He is able to do through us and in us, what we can’t do on our own. I love that Paul ended this chapter with these powerful words. “For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

The War Within Us

Reading In Romans 7 this morning Paul used the covenant of marriage as the Jews knew and understood according to the law, as an analogy to explain how a marriage dissolved by death freed a woman to marry another without becoming an adulteress or making the new husband an adulterer. In this analogy, the law would represent the old husband and old relationship requirements in their relationship with the law. Now that former “husband” (AKA the law) was dead and gone, they were freed from that commitment and were now “married” to Jesus and the old ways of the old marriage were gone. They were free from their previous commitment of having to walk out the physical steps they had to do for each of their individual sins, because now they were in a new marriage covenant with Jesus where they are now under his grace.  Instead of submitting burnt offerings they are now submitting their hearts to Jesus and allowing his grace to actually change them (and us) instead of just forgiving them from the trespass so they wouldn’t die. This is huge!! Paul credits the law for giving him the awareness of sin, because as he put it, “How else would I have known what it is to covet if the law had not saiddo not covet’?” But then he gets real and addresses the problem that we all have. We are still prone to sin. Our flesh is flesh and it’s at constant war with us to take over and be selfish. Paul is so relatable as he describes what we all know so well. We want to do what’s right, and the spiritual part of us longs to please God but then we’re also still very selfish and immature in our walk so when we’re weak or emotional, or tired or angry or just plain woke up on the wrong side of the bed we struggle hard to do the right thing even when we know what the right thing is. Paul says “I do what I don’t want to do, and I don’t do the things I do want to do!”  We all relate to this because this is our daily relationship with sin and growth. We’re going to fail. It’s just going to happen, but our goal is to grow and mature from it and not get caught up in shame and obsess with our failures.  I love that Paul ends this chapter so dramatically with “What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord!”

Sweet Surrender

Reading In Romans 6 this morning Paul was explaining the relationship we have between sin and grace under the new covenant. There was (and still is) a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation commonly made among believers that just because our sin is covered under grace through Jesus that we aren’t supposed to “work out our sin” because we read in scripture that we can’t “work” to “earn” salvation. While this is absolutely true, Paul was explaining that under salvation through Jesus we are literally trading our lifetime relationship of bondage to sin, for a lifetime of servanthood to becoming like Christ. What I really pulled from this is that our obsession with our own selfishness is what keeps us in sin bondage, but when we really and truly understand the gift of salvation, our focus should shift from an attitude of trying our hardest not to screw up, to an attitude of, “what can I do today to become more like Jesus?” A heart of surrender to Jesus is what breaks the power of sin in our lives. When our focus is on ourselves, we are sure to trip up because we are looking at the wrong thing. When we look at Jesus with a mindset of “I want to be like Him” the focus shifts in a positive direction and the Holy Spirit empowers us to do what we struggle so hard and fail to do on our own. This is a daily surrender and because our interactions involve other people, and our responses and emotions get tangled up in the mix of it all, we have to be very careful to remind ourselves that we are all ultimately responsible to God alone in what he is requiring of us as individuals to step up to higher levels. I can’t be distracted by someone else’s response or someone else’s walk. I have to be held accountable by God for my own responses even if someone else behaves offensively toward me. I am accountable for growing in my own maturity toward Christ-likeness no matter what anyone else says or does. The beauty in this is that when we own our accountability and choose to be Christ-like in the face of opposition, we also get to stand in full and complete confidence that whatever wrong someone might try to inflict on me, God will absolutely take care of me, and I do not have to fight that battle myself. I only need to bring that concern to God and allow him to work out the details on my behalf. That is the benefit and the peace of mind that comes with being in complete surrender to Jesus.

Run Toward God

In Romans 5 Paul explains how sin came into the world for all of us through one man, Adam. And he contrasts that our freedom from that sin came to the world for all of us through one, Jesus. This sounds like complete simplicity, and it really is, but our own minds get in the way of this understanding when we throw complicating factors in the mix. Our freedom and our redemption has already been paid for and it is completely ours through our complete surrender to Christ. But since we still find ourselves tied up in within the very real battles of our sin and our flesh motivated by our selfish desires, we get caught up in a mind game of “how saved am I”, or did I lose what was given to me when I tripped up and knowlingly or even unknowlingly allowed my flesh to overcome me? How we respond in these moments is absolutely critical! We can either run from God in our shame, or run toward God in repentance. Our undisciplined and natural tendency is always going to want to run from God first, which is what Adam tried to do when he “hid” from God in the garden and covered himself with fig leaves. Obviously, he wasn’t even capable of hiding from a God who sees all, and neither are we, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. Sometimes we would rather beat ourselves up for having the struggle than bring that struggle to the feet of Jesus and ask Him to help us overcome it, and this is where we get ourselves stuck. Sometimes for a few hours, or just for the day, but some of our issues have such a hold on us that we live in a long-term internal battle with them in our minds because we are just too ashamed to look at Jesus face to face and ask him for his help. If we only knew just how deeply he loves us even when we are deep in our sin struggles, this would so drastically change our response. But our minds lie to us and pull us in the direction of shame. Unfortunately, When we go the shame route, we allow the shame of failure to dominate our thoughts and drive us away from God by disconnecting us from our peace with God and this disrupts our confidence in our salvation. We think God is mad at us and we are also mad at us so we either self-inflect punishments on ourselves and imagine them coming from God, or we deflect our sin issue by comparing ourselves to someone else who we think might be worse off than us so we don’t have to feel so bad. Either way, when we let guilt and shame in, we are on the run in the complete opposite direction from God and we will not feel at peace again until we come back to God and repent and reconcile with Him so we can be healed.

The healthy response to our sin is so beautifully represented by King David in the story of his adulterous sin with Bathsheba (not in today’s reading, just in my thoughts as I write this) because in the middle of his complete guilt of adultery which even led to murder, King David was seen as a “man after God’s own heart” because of his response when he was confronted by that sin.  When Nathan the prophet confronted King David, his immediate response was repentance. He acknowledged his sin and accepted God’s correction knowing that the correction was for his good and would bring reconciliation between himself and God. When the child conceived in their adulterous sin died, King David grieved and accepted that consequence, but he did not stay in a state of guilt or shame. He was now reconciled back to God because of his repentant response, so he was no longer looking back at that failure. He was now also properly and honestly married to Bathsheba so now he was in a place where he could comfort his wife in their pain together, and because they moved forward after the failure instead of consuming their minds with looking back, they were rewarded by God’s favor and blessing when they conceived and gave birth to a son who would grow up to be King Solomon, the most wise king that Israel ever had. If that is not a beautiful picture of redemption, I just don’t know what is!

The main point I want to pull out of all of this is that the nature of the sin issues themselves are not what define us when we are found in sin. It is our REPONSE to our sin that determines whether we run from God and hide when we fail, or whether we run toward God in reconciliation. This is so critically important, and it changes everything! We can’t afford to wait when we identify we have an issue. Every day we need to clear the slate and make sure that we can look to Jesus face to face without a veil of shame knowing that he deeply loves us, approves of us and is with us to walk out the process of our struggles. When we stay connected to him this way and don’t allow anything to separate us from Him, we no longer have to doubt his complete favor and blessing for our lives.

Faith is Full Surrender

In Romans 4 Paul gives several examples where God considered people righteous simply because of their faith. He showed that in Abraham’s case, he was considered righteous before circumcision even existed. This was an important point because the Jews were struggling with the Gentiles. They wanted them to be circumcised because the law had always required that anyone who lived among the Jews had to be circumcised and by law, the Jews were not supposed to associate with people who were uncircumcised. The Jews were pushing the Gentiles to be circumcised and Paul was trying to show them that this was not necessary for the Gentiles. He used Abraham as an example of being credited as righteous for simply believing in God. He used King David as an example of faith because he celebrated the fact that when he openly sinned and after he repented that he knew by faith that he was forgiven. He used Abraham in another example because he believed and trusted God when he was over 100 years old, and God told him he would be the father of all nations. What I really pulled from this was that faith comes in lots of forms. I love the fact that it takes the same faith to believe for a beautiful promise as it takes to believe that we are forgiven. Putting those two things side by side are such a powerful contrast. For some reason we tend to get hung up in our own minds and we somehow disqualify ourselves because we think God has some hidden or disqualifying rules that apply to us differently. The truth is, our faith has really nothing to do with us at all. It is all about God and if we would grasp the fact that God’s heart toward us is full of generosity and full of desire for our good, and for our healing and for our wholeness, we would not hesitate to surrender ourselves wholly and completely to Him. For some reason we hang onto stupid things of this world instead and we grip tightly to things that are not meant for our good as if God is trying to withhold something from us. Why in the world do we do this? My challenge to myself today is to evaluate the things in my life that I am afraid to trust God in and ask Holy Spirit to reveal to me why that is so I can be finally free to surrender my thoughts, desires, my obedience, and my strong will that wants to take control and exchange that all in for the peace of knowing God has the best plans for me, I can trust Him completely with absolutely anything and everything because He is for me and for my good. This is what real faith is but it can’t be partially done. It is all or nothing. It’s full and complete surrender no matter the cost.

Peel Off the Layers

Romans can feel so turbulent to read as Paul goes back and forth about the law of the Jews vs the covenant of the New Testament Christian Gentiles. Obviously, Paul had grown up studying the law. He was extremely educated in it and and his previous passion for the law had pushed him to persecute the early church so severely that he also carried a deep passion and understanding of the Jews and he desired so deeply for their salvation after his own conversion to Jesus. In Romans he is fighting hard to show them that the law that they grew up in had not been invalidated by salvation. In fact, the complete opposite is true. Paul explains that the law of God still exists because the law is God’s actual nature. God cannot turn from the law, nor can he ignore it’s violations. God Himself IS the law. Because of this, His complete and total justice is completely required at the full extent so God’s dismissal to any part of the law would be a lie and a contradiction against Himself. Paul acknowledges that our sin emphasizes these unmet requirements and puts a wall and an offense between us and God. Knowing this, Paul brings up the fact that not one of us is capable of fulfilling this law perfectly. Neither the Jews who grew up walking it out nor the Gentiles who were added into the kingdom of Jesus were ever going to be capable of fulfilling this. It is completely required but simply not possible because literally the only way to fulfill this law would be for us to become God ourselves. This is why the sacrifice of Jesus was necessary to fulfill this. As Jesus followers, we have this understanding that our sin was covered by Jesus in our inability to do so for ourselves, but that also comes with the tension of responsibility to pursue righteousness to the fullest degree in our lives. Not because we’re trying to earn something that was already given to us, but because our obedience to pursue righteousness honors the sacrifice that was given to us out of our inability. Jesus gave to us freely what we couldn’t pay for ourselves, and in return we have given ourselves to Him so that we can spend the rest of our lives discovering his nature so that we can be like Him. When we are able to see the beauty of the law as our pursuit to becoming more like Jesus, I think it removes the resentful and obligational attitude of hating ourselves for what we are not. There should always be a tension inside of us that understands that we will never make the mark, but our lives are a daily, living sacrifice of shedding the layers of our selfishness so that every day we peel off another layer and every day we look just a little bit more like Jesus.