Citizens of Two Worlds

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Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Romans 13:1-7

It is quite puzzling at first glance to see the New Testament writings on submission to authority are written by men who have been imprisoned by the same authorities they command we obey. Peter experienced multiple recorded instances of being broken free from prison and Paul has a long endured stint in prison from which he writes some of his letters.

This should not cast suspicion on the topic but grant context for our understanding. Much of the teaching we are given on how to conduct ourselves in scripture offers an asterisk, the asterisk of *unless God’s momentary design deviates from his natural order. God created everything with a natural order which can be seen in all of creation, but there are times he deviates.

This does not make God a liar or deceptive. Some instruction given by God, such as his instruction to flee from sin, is absolute. Other teaching offers us the natural way of things as a gift with an assumption we remain led by the Holy Spirit in all of our endeavors.

It is important we do not throw out our understanding of the way of Jesus because of a few moments when God’s plan required deviation from the norm. It is also important not to be so rigid we toss out a word from the Lord.

There are things such as what the Lord has labeled as sin God will never call us to do. But the orderly worship we are directed to in scripture might look different depending on the season, and there are times women will be called to eldership as Deborah was called to be judge. There is an order the Lord has created and we must know unless it goes against his nature or promise he can deviate from his created order.

If this were not possible there would be no miracles. How could God turn water into wine if he was contained to the order he created? This does not become our template for making wine but it was how it was for a moment when God chose to work in a different way.

So when Peter is thrown in jail for preaching the gospel, his preaching is not out of rebellion, but a moment in time when he is aware of the grace of God to preach the gospel publicly despite the rules set in place by local authorities. It doesn’t make him a hypocrite. He just understands the default is in all things to submit to authority in the land unless the Lord says otherwise.

Deviation from the instruction of God is not something to take lightly. In fact there should be great conviction and discernment of a word from the Lord before exploring acting in opposition to an authority over you. Paul and Peter both found such an exception in preaching the Gospel. Sharing the news of Jesus was not something the church could give up despite what any human authority might say.

You will note even Jesus acknowledges the authority of Pilate in John 19 but points out Pilate only has authority because of his Father in heaven. God is always the highest authority we submit to. Failure to submit to an earthly authority is only permitted as far as God steps in to overrule.

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

You will note Jesus claims highest authority in this scripture passage. Making disciples, baptism, and teaching the way of Jesus are instructions superseding any other. No earthly authority can claim higher than Jesus. You will note the New Testament church is persecuted for these acts. It was never rebellion against the government or speaking out against policy which turns believers into prisoners and martyrs.

This is why slaves and free men worshipped side by side. The slaves remained slaves under the authority of their masters while being free in Christ. Jesus didn’t spark the rebellion of slaves, although the Roman Empire did have a long slave rebellion. In fact there is a whole letter included in scripture which accompanied a former slave named Onesimus. Paul, after some discipling, sends Onesimus back to be a slave. In this letter Philemon, the slave owner who is also a follower of Jesus, is encouraged to free him as he is a brother.

The slave conversation is a conversation for another time, but the early church understood they were not a rebel group. They were not a political organization, but the people of God, a people who remain here not to tear down empires but out of the same compassion of Jesus to make disciples of those hostile to them. They were to focus on freedom in Christ and care for each other’s physical needs under the law of the land.

Democracy makes honoring authorities tricky. We are encouraged to speak up in a democracy. The questions we need to ask are: when should we speak, if at all? Does this scripture still hold up in a democracy? Is the government ever the chosen system to see people saved?

My conviction is scripture absolutely still holds up! I believe we should rarely speak up against the government except to warn of the consequences of actions. Like sending Jonah to Nineveh, God has compassion for the lost today and at times they need to be warned on a mass scale. It is not up to us to change the behaviour but to pray for repentance of the people. Forcing changes in policy does nothing to the hearts of the people. That would be the same approach the conquistadors took as they tore through the New World with violence and forced conversion to catholicism. You cannot force conversion of the heart.

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:13-17

An urge arises in me at times when I consume media content and news to gossip and critique those in government. Democracy has placed accountability in the hands of the voting public, but we must be sure not to dishonour those in power. Disrespect is the way of the world, and we must avoid being led into sin by the masses. We should think long on whether it is good (of God) to speak or dwell on any issues. I have had to repent numerous times of things I have said about certain people in power. Just because something is true, doesn’t mean I need to speak of it.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4

As an election draws near in Canada it is important to know how to act and vote. First off, pray for those who are currently in power and those who will step in. Pray for wisdom and for the Lord to use those who oppose him for his purposes as he did with Pharaoh in Egypt. Pray out of compassion for policies regarding the vulnerable and oppressed. Pray politicians would turn to the Lord. Ask the Lord if there is any warning needed to be given out of compassion rather than self-interest. Vote your conscience as you spend time with the Lord and in community. Know the Lord your God is the highest authority. Whom shall we fear when we remain in him?

What’s in Season?

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For everything there is a season. Some practices transcend seasons, such as prayer, reading Scripture and communion, but may become the primary focus in a specific season. Other practices such as mourning or feasting belong in a season. It is important to rightly assess what is required in a given season. If we miss the grace of God in a season we operate in opposition to what God is doing and are hindered in moving forward.

A season always gives way to another one. Just like the seasons in nature, each is required in their given ecosystem. Just as plants and animals respond to the changing of the seasons in the physical world, it is important we do the same spiritually.

One of the most important things that church elders (or leadership) can do is be aware of how to lead their congregation in the proper season. The Lord is gracious in making known the season and preparing us for it. God does this so we can walk in step with the good plans he has.

As churches come out of a time of adhering to governmental restrictions we should be asking, “Have we lost the practice of obeying the requirements of the Lord instead of the demands of man?” We have a tendency to first look to the world to understand how to be like Jesus in a season. We try to understand how to react to the world instead of being led by God. This assumes a defensive posture.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:6-9

Please don’t hear me say that following the Covid restrictions was an act of rebellion against God. What I am trying to clarify is that the Lord frequently calls us to calibrate our actions to the changing season as a community and individuals. Rather than just a new sermon series, there will be times when the whole life of the church is to focus on evangelism, prayer, generosity, repentance, thanksgiving or self control (to name a few) because of the season we are in, such as in Lent or Advent in Orthodox Church traditions.

It is not just the official church functions but the everyday life of believers which should be oriented on the God-given focus of a season. Our failure to be aware of the season frequently causes us to miss out on what God is doing. We can end up working at cross purposes despite our motive to serve the Lord.

It is often necessary to stop programs in order to focus on what is important. Jesus did this when he stopped what he was doing and focused on the need set before him. We too should be aware of how God is at work and be led by compassion as the church.

Just as God leads a local congregation through seasons, he will do the same with families and individuals.

I have found in my personal life God prepares me in one season for what is required in the next. Sometimes the season of preparation makes little sense until I experience something for which I was ill prepared before the growth God led me through.

God prepares the church in the same way as individuals. Elders should be bold in responding to the leading of the Lord, not act because of societal pressures but out of a fear of the Lord. How can we withstand the pressures awaiting us unless we are prepared for them?

Although Jesus did not need preparation, he modeled this through entering the wilderness to be tested following his baptism.

We need to develop the habit of asking the Lord what he is doing in the current or upcoming season and how by his grace we are to live in season. Like pulling out our winter coats for winter and shorts for the summer, we need to know how to address the coming season. This is best asked prior to planning lest we be caught making plans in vain. It is not wrong to make plans but we must loosely hold them as we seek to better understand what the will of God is. We should make plans with the added “God willing”.

Following someone else’s blueprint can be a great thing if it is what the Lord is currently requiring. There have been movements when there was training en masse for a season when God led entire denominations or regions through the same plan. An example of this is the Experiencing God study led by Henry Blackaby which was used powerfully amongst the Southern Baptists and others in the 1990s. It is good when the Lord does this, but there are times when we attempt to recreate success rather than obey God. This does not go well and we lose out not only on what God intended for that season but also the practice of being led by God through the season he has us in.

Just because someone else is experiencing a season we would prefer, it doesn’t mean we are able to create their season in our own life. It might not even be good for us to live that experience. If it is not of God for you it cannot be good. For as Jesus said, “Only God is good”. We should rejoice when we see people respond to a move of God and not covet it for ourselves. We should rejoice in what God has for others, and rejoice in the season he has us in because he knows what is good for all.

Solomon understood “there is a season for everything”. Beneficial actions require an understanding of what the season requires. If it is a time for mourning, we should mourn. If it is a time to fast, we are to fast. If it is a time of thanksgiving, we ought to give thanks. If it is a time of purification, we must purge. It is not complicated but it requires diligence and obedience.

We must not react to the push and pull of the outside world for, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). Our seasons are set by the Lord and not by man. How we respond to what is happening in the world around us ought not to be because of the demands of man, but because of the commands of God.

Jesus says in John 5:19 he can only do what he sees the Father doing. Our goal in desiring to be like Jesus is thus not imitating the actions of man but looking to God for our marching orders. Throughout the New Testament we see Jesus and then the church making waves through their actions. The way of the Lord will at times be met with great hostility. The response of the world does not dictate what is good for only God is good.

In Mark 5 Jesus is chased out of town for sending a demon out of a man and into some pigs. In Luke 7 Jesus is silently ridiculed for allowing a sinner to anoint his head. In Acts 19 Paul sparked a riot in Ephesus as the people clung to Artemis as their God. These are just a few examples of when obedience to God met great opposition. Can you imagine if instead Jesus and Paul had acted to appease the culture or reflect the world around them?

In many instances a new physical reality demands a response by the body of Christ. In poverty the people of God should care for the needy. Where there is sickness we should partner with God in seeing people made well. Just as Jesus acted through compassion, so should we. There will always be desperation and need in this world until Christ returns. It is the result of sin. It is not that we cannot determine acts that reflect the heart of God, it is that we have a tendency to act without him. We then remove God entirely from the process resulting in acts of charity that reflect his ways but have no eternal impact. It is vital we act out of conviction in obedience.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psalm 127:1-2

At times we act as though God has left us on our own to figure things out. We wrestle with decisions absent of searching the scriptures or hearing the Lord in prayer. Even the wayward kings of Israel sought out the Prophets for how to act in a given season but failed to follow the actions laid out.

Through the Holy Spirit and the word of God we have access to the Father’s will and the means to understand it. Building in vain is not something we should find ourselves doing. Bowing to other kings is not an option. We see in the accounts of Israel the results of such actions, and we know from church history it has gone the same way since the ascension of Christ. When we choose to look to other sources to set our path in a season we stray from the grace of God and find ourselves lost.

Remember the Lord our God is good and perfect in all he does. His ways and thoughts are higher than our own. What God has laid out before us in a season will always be good even when we do not feel it or understand it. His nature will never change. In every season his ways will forever be good and best.

Well done!

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There are a few places in scripture with lists of requirements for service in the kingdom of God. In each instance the balance of gift vs. character skews heavily to the side of character. The more elevated the position, the more important the character becomes. This exposes what is of import to the Lord. (Acts 6, 1 Timothy, Titus 1)

Whether it be the selection of an apostle to replace Judas or an elder in a local congregation, scripture prioritises holiness over the skill or gift of the individual. It is not that gifts do not matter. God gives gifts to individuals and to the church but many of these same gifts are held also by people in opposition to the kingdom of God. Gifts alone do not make one qualified to serve in the church.

What we celebrate is what we promote. I hear talk in many circles about creating a “culture of honour”. The fruit I see from this is the affirmation of gifts. While that isn’t inherently evil, it results in elevating individuals according to skill rather than holiness. Rather than celebrating a new area of repentance or someone’s nature becoming more like Christ, we tend to celebrate a sermon or singing skills, giving no thought to that person’s spiritual health.

I love the way God inspects what he has created and declares “it is good”. His nature is to inspect (or judge) in order to affirm, not just correct. Public affirmation should be given only for things God is affirming. If we create rules of our own and affirm people for following them, it can lead to a return to a form of the law or create a cult. This is what people like Luther and Bonhoeffer were correcting after a period of the church leaders forming their own rules.

For a person to be obedient in their pursuit of Christ, everything they do should be in service to God. All gifts have been given by God just as every breath in our lungs. As such, each breath and gift is in service to him. Our spiritual health requires understanding how we have uniquely been created to serve the Lord. Our gifts, however, are only a by-product of our discipleship, not the supreme focus.

The overemphasis on gifts sidelines the primary focus, the spiritual health of the individual, and often alienates certain gifts. The gifts a culture is comfortable with will be celebrated while the others cause shame in people. If the development of gifts becomes a by-product of discipleship, everyone serves and excels in their gift as they are called in season.

It is more difficult to focus on spiritual maturity than the presence of gifts. A test of someone’s vocals is easier than a testing of the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life. This is a more intimate and invasive process but is hopefully done out of love.

Issues can arise from public affirmation of the function of a gift. It can place a false import on the gift. Secondly, it may cause followers of Jesus to replace the affirmation of God with the affirmation of man.

Remember the reaction of the 72 (0r 70 depending on translation) upon returning to Jesus? (Luke 10:17-24) They celebrate because the demons were subject to them. Jesus responds with “celebrate that your names are written in the book of life.” It is not wrong to celebrate deliverance. What is harmful is the pride that arises from the celebration of a gift instead of gratitude in the grace of God.

Expressing gratitude for the work of God is the way we should affirm. To acknowledge the continued work of the cross in a person affirms who they are in Christ and their surrender to it. Praising the accomplishments of an individual lends itself to pride. Acknowledgement of a gift should be used in the attempt to encourage a person into greater obedience, not greater ego.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1

Public affirmation of righteous acts tends to enable direct disobedience to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:1. We often crave affirmation. We struggle to find satisfaction solely in pleasing the Lord. Thus, we seek opportunities to please people instead. Our desire to please people is often used to keep society in line. As a society we create a system of approved actions and affirm the people who accept them and cancel (or mute) those that disagree. A desire for affirmation can lead us to mirror those around us.

Dualism is created within a person when their public and private lives disagree, for example, righteousness in religious settings, and depravity in private. That is why a pursuit of holiness from within should be encouraged rather than just a set of actions to emulate.

Again, I say, public affirmation of actions or gifts is not inherently evil. But proceed with caution. It lends itself to creating a culture that elevates self rather than God and can lead us astray down the path of pride. Gifts are given by God, but we are not to celebrate the gift but appreciate the gift and honour the gift giver.

We all need the affirmation of our Creator. To hear the words “well done my good and faithful servant” is what we seek. An insecurity in this affirmation drives us to seek it from other sources. For believers, this other source is often just slightly off the mark as we look to our Christian leaders as the conduits for the Lord’s affirmation. 

We are running the race for that eventual prize. We look for confirmation we are on the right path and the affirmation of the Lord awaits us at the finish line. This promise is meant to be enough. While affirmation from each other can at times be good, it is not when it generates insecurity in the Lord’s affirmation.  

There is a big difference between joining the affirmation of the Lord and replacing it. But that difference can be blurry at times. Sometimes our created systems of “honour” may cause men and women to perform for affirmation rather than act out of obedience and compassion. The Lord is after the heart of a person not the picture of righteousness.

In many cases I have discovered public affirmation does not encourage the transformation of the heart but creates an increased hunger for people’s affirmation. Affirmation then becomes like a drug causing those who crave it to abandon the path of righteousness or get buried under a list of duties.

There is a reason why Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” Public displays of righteousness expose the insecurity in the affirmation of the Lord and ultimately point to who you serve. You are a slave of the one whose approval you need.

Do not withhold affirmation when you know the Lord is affirming someone. Be like Jesus affirming the disciples for their confession of who he is. Affirm people they are loved by Jesus as John so often does. Affirm the signs of freedom arising from a life of repentance. Ask God to reveal what he is affirming in those around you and join him in affirming it too. His affirmation is what we need just like all creation did when he inspected what he made and called it good.

A Call to Obey

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I woke up this morning thinking about all the instructions Jesus gives us. I thought about how I at times pick and choose what is important and what isn’t. How is it we can be so combative on certain theological views and at the same time glance over direct instructions?

The Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ response to the Pharisees in Matthew 15 come to mind concerning this issue. In Matthew 15, Jesus’ disciples are ridiculed by the Pharisees for not performing the ceremonial hand washing. Jesus in turn points out that the Pharisees are not honouring their parents, one of the 10 commandments.

I think we often skip over the commandments given and get caught up with cultural practices and heady theology. There are so many directives in the New Testament, both in the teachings of Jesus, and in the letters sent to the early church. I fall victim to glancing over these at times and going straight to deep theology. This is not ok!

These directives are given by the one we call Lord! That means we must obey. There is no picking and choosing what instructions to follow. We are to hear (or read) and obey. There are many deep truths in scripture to be discovered and ways in which we need to understand in greater depths. These are not the directives of which I speak.I am talking about all those do’s and don’ts. We shouldn’t deliberate these things. There is no room for debate.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells the listeners not to store up riches on earth where they fade away, but to store up riches in heaven where they are forever. So often we take away the underlying truth in this statement but do not adhere to the directive. We instead read “this earth is not forever, so be sure to prepare for life after death.” It even goes on to say that you can’t serve both God and money.

But there is a directive and not just a theological point here. “Don’t lay up for yourselves treasure on earth…lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.” This is so easy for us to miss. It might be partially because it is in written form. We are so used to treating things that are written as an academic pursuit rather than a place to receive instructions. We try and figure out deep meanings at the cost of obedience.

This isn’t a legalism issue. This is about learning the ways of the kingdom. This is about learning to be obedient. Disobedience to directives exposes we serve another master. We should be asking ourselves whether we are walking in obedience to God. Sometimes we should read these directives and hear the conviction of the Holy Spirit saying, “Why do you break God’s command because of your tradition?”

Let’s take storing up treasures on earth as an example. Does the security of finances keep us from the kingdom of God? Is our goal and ambition to be financially secure? Do we dream of our next purchase? Or do we pursue the things that are for eternal rewards, like saving people from certain death (life without Christ) through making disciples?

As I was sharing this revelation with a friend, I realized that written texts (like the bible) are almost exclusively used for academic purposes in most contexts today. We don’t treat it as instructional as it was intended to be. The teachings of Jesus are incredibly practical and instructive. The letters are very corrective and instructional. I am recognizing even when I read the instructions, I am quick to turn to academic pursuit as a natural starting place.

I think we should ask the question when we read scripture, “Is there a call to action in the text?” We should keep pursuing a deeper understanding of the heart of God, and how we can be changed into his likeness. We should keep pursuing the deep knowledge of who we are as children of God and how we are to act as the church. But none of these should be at the cost of obedience to the directives of God. Remember that obedience means reading and doing.

Where do Emotions Lead You?

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I was reading my bible the other day and a line from 1 Samuel 13 hit me like a ton of bricks. In this story, King Saul is once again at war with the Philistines. He is waiting for the prophet Samuel to show up to perform the sacrifices before beginning the battle. Saul has waited seven days and his troops are scattering because nothing is happening and they are intimidated by the Philistines. So, knowing he needs the Lord, and wanting to bring him glory, Saul performs the sacrifices himself.

As Saul is finishing up performing the sacrifices, Samuel shows up and scolds him. Saul responds to Samuel saying, “I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering myself before you came.” (1 Samuel 13:12)

I realized Saul is wanting to seek the favor of the Lord (not a bad thing), offering sacrifices (why is that bad?), acknowledging who God is (not a bad thing), and looking to lead his troops well (also a good thing). He even is feeling compelled to do it. Saul feels an emotional leading to do something that doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. So what is wrong with this?

I think we have a tendency to over-spiritualize the emotion we feel when difficulty or something unexpected arises. I’m not saying emotion is a bad thing. A little later in Samuel, David, who is called the man after God’s own heart, is so emotional!!! So where is the emotion leading astray rather than contributing to us being men and women after God’s own heart?

I see a couple of things we can learn from this story. Saul was instructed to wait for Samuel, and Samuel didn’t show up when he was supposed to. But Saul was instructed to wait, and there was no word of the Lord that changed this direction. Circumstances had changed and time had passed but there was no new word.So, we can say that Saul’s compulsion was against the direction of God.

Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19). We might say these things arise from the old self, and those of us in Christ are not that same person anymore. But don’t we still sometimes hand our hearts over to our old self? The heart seems to deceive us at times and direct us towards destruction.

What breaks my heart is that Saul has some blind spots, some insecurities that keep pulling him down. I often write off Saul as having fully turned away from God. But he is still trying to please God and gain his favor. Insecurity and fear of losing troops drive his decision. It is not obedience, it is not holding to the word of God, to what God said which determines his actions. It is out of his fearful heart that disobedience pours out. He sees no alternative. It is what he feels compelled to do, what he must do.

So how do we embrace emotion without being ruled by it? I think the first step is to not ignore or try and suppress emotions. Too often we see emotion as a sign of weakness or irrational thinking. I have noticed recently as I read scripture, how Jesus is often hit with compassion for people and it results in action, or he gets angry and flips some tables. Emotion is very much a part of who Jesus is. I have already mentioned David. Try and get through one of his psalms, or a story about him, without observing intense emotions.

Next, I think we need to check in with God: God is this you? Are these emotions good? What are you saying in the midst of this? What did you say before this happened? We could call this a quick discernment. I often say that emotions feel foreign to me. I have been on a journey of opening myself back up to emotions. There was a moment where I had to repent of saying I don’t feel emotions. I found out emotions area way God can speak and share things with us. How could I close myself off to that? What I have found since is emotions are a great prompter to check in with God. When I feel emotion I ask, “Is this you God? Am I trusting you? Am I picking up on something? Are you trying to tell me something?”

I remember a couple of years ago having an argument with my sister, Lisa, in the car. Things began to get heated. I suddenly realized I did not care about the thing we were arguing about, and said to myself, ”Hold on a minute, why am I mad?” It turned out there was a phrase and an assumption made that had very little to do with the conversation which caused righteous anger in me. Lisa showed so much grace as I told her what I was actually upset about. A great conversation ensued with both of us on the same side, with God, trying to figure out what was good and right. It turned out great, but my jumping on emotion instead of asking God those preliminary questions could have completely derailed us! The good news is God does show grace as we try and figure our emotions out.

I think another thing to ask God at this step in the process is whether to act on this emotion or not. Is it just a feeling that demands no action? I have been learning how pride can derail us. The urgency we feel at times is God-given and at times is our needing to fix everything because we don’t trust God as the hero in the story.

I feel compelled to say our Father in heaven is so gracious with us. As we learn and surrender, he covers our blunders and redeems our failures. As we learn to trust him with emotions, we become more healthy and trustworthy as his agents. Let us be quick to surrender to God, our solid foundation.

The Way of Wisdom

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How foolish I feel at times following the way of Jesus. Sometimes it seems foolish to say yes to his commands and follow what he says, what he does. There are many things I believe that I do not fully understand. Faith in the way of Jesus is both simple and complex. We will never in full understand all of who God is or why he has created everything as he has. Many times our attempts to be wise fail us.

Wisdom is a gift given by God. God wants us to love him with our minds, but there are many things we must first trust in faith before they make sense to us. Things like forgiveness. I have come to know the freedom which results from choosing to forgive. I now understand that it is good to forgive, that I was imprisoned in my unforgiveness by bitterness and hate and had separated myself from God. I chose to forgive because Jesus instructs us to do so. I now know the freedom that comes when I choose to obey.

Have you ever thought about the need for Jesus to die? Why did God require this particular act for redemption and restoration? God pointed to the necessity for this from the beginning, and there is no doubt in my mind that it was and is the answer. It is the good news. But it seemed foolish to me as it did to many at the time of Jesus who were waiting for a conquering king, not a sacrificial one… until I accepted it.

18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
(1 Corinthians 3:18-23)

Jesus told us to have faith like a child. This is an interesting phrase. Two things come to mind. Firstly, the quizzical nature of children. They are always asking why. But why? I also think of the way they believe anything we tell them, or stop asking when we tell them to. They believe something is good for them because someone they trust tells them it is good. Sure they might ask why, but even without an answer they trust.

In many ways we must do the same. Obey without understanding. Trust the part we know without understanding the whole. I had a conversation the other day with some people as we were hiking, and I realized how many times i said the words “I don’t fully understand, but it is what I read and the experience I have.” I love to make sound arguments for or against certain things. I love to strategize and teach fully the things of scripture. But I realize in many things it is simple understanding and testimony that I am left with. There is wisdom in it, but not my own. It will sound foolish to some (and even myself) but even the foolishness of God is wiser than man.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; (1 Corinthians 1:27)

Sometimes when I read scripture, a part of me doubts what I read. I think I can’t just take authority in Jesus name and see a person healed. I think I can’t just ask God a question and expect him to speak. I can’t just ask God for this person to accept Jesus and expect him to show up. I can’t tell the wind and the rain to depart and expect it to happen. I can’t just give God my painful experiences and expect him to remove the taint of sin. Can I? Sometimes I think I shouldn’t turn the other cheek if someone strikes me on one side. I shouldn’t love and do good to my enemy. I shouldn’t care for the people around me as if I were caring for myself. Should I?

Scripture informs me on all of these things, so I choose to believe. Even if the world sees it as foolish, even if I don’t see why it makes sense, this is how I know I am to live. The wisdom of God shames the wise of this world. There is so much in scripture that is plainly written and our attempts to make sense of it muddies the waters. Yes, there are truths that are deep and the more we study and spend time with God, the more we understand. But often understanding comes through acceptance and “foolish obedience” despite our mental objections.

Let us walk out in full obedience the part we know. Let us not wait on full understanding. Doubt is overcome by faith before knowledge. Our God is gracious, and gives wisdom to those who seek it. Let us walk in the simplicity of his invitation with joy, trusting that God is not deceiving us. Let us love our neighbours as he instructs. Let us trust that his sheep hear his voice and that we are the sheep of his pasture. Let us go and make disciples of all nations. Let us walk in the authority we have been commissioned in. Let us ask for the good gifts the Holy Spirit has for us. Let us repent and turn from the ways and wisdom of this world. Let us ever seek his voice, his word, and his way as we run the race set before us.

A Life Well Lived

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Success is something that drives many of us. We are prone to compare ourselves to others and strive to accomplish riches and accolades. There is something inside us that desires to be the best, and we kick ourselves when we don’t measure up.

This is a never ending pattern. If we define success by comparing ourselves to those around us, our drive will never be satisfied. We will never be content or at peace in this definition of success.

I was praying with someone recently, and with fresh revelation, discovered a new definition of success. Success is measured by our obedience to God in season. It is not based on our accomplishments. This is not to say there won’t be evident signs. Fruit is a result of our obedience. We will see the evidence of life and abundance in our areas of obedience as we walk in step with God. But fruit does not define the success. The voice of the father saying well done my good and faithful servant is how we define success.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Paul was acutely aware of what obedience looked like in his life, in a larger calling and in specific legs of the race. He understood there were weights and pressures pushing him to pursue other things. But Paul had his eyes set on Jesus. He allowed Jesus to define what success looks like.

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)

Paul gives us a glimpse into what obedience looks like for him. Knowing his call, Paul could look back and measure his success. He could ask,“Have I faithfully testified to the good news of grace?” Paul’s life, as we read in Acts, is defined by this. From the moment he is commissioned, his life is directed and focused on this obedience. He is not comparing himself to others. In fact, he chastises the people of Corinth for looking to him or Apollos rather than to Jesus.

As you have read in my posts to this point, I believe that studying the lives of both the heroes of the faith and our brothers and sisters today is transformative. The purpose in looking at them, however, is not to measure success, but rather to learn how to become obedient to the living God.

Although God does give a lifelong invitation, there is a more seasonal approach to our lives with God. I find that God often shares with me what he wants to teach me, and then refines me in that area.

I remember seasons of learning how to forgive, then having people from my past show up who I had harbored bitterness towards. At these times, my obedience looked like forgiving, and casting my wounds onto the cross, then living in freedom. I remember coming face to face with my doubts about the goodness of God before being given opportunity to trust God is good in a season of both difficulties and blessing.

As God reveals what he wants to teach us or invite us into, we must pay attention to the opportunities which arise. Success is defined by our obedience to his invitation. If he is telling us to stay, we must stay. If he is revealing our need to share the good news of Jesus, we must be vocal. If God is inviting us to learn how to pray, we must be spending time in prayer, discovering new ways to converse with the living God and hear his voice. If he is inviting us to live a life of thanksgiving, we must praise God and share our thankfulness with others.

Success in the world is not evil. Success in career, education, the arts, sports, or whatever you find yourself doing, is not bad. In fact, we should be doing all things as if unto the Lord. Our accomplishments, however, do not define our value or success. The standard we set our lives to is within the kingdom of God and not that of this world. Our pursuit of excellence is good, but we need to make sure that is not how we define success. Obedience does not always create success from the world’s perspective. Jesus tells his disciples, when he sends them out, that some towns will reject them. The disciples are still successful when this happens. It is their obedience and not their being welcomed that has our Lord saying well done.

Success is measured by our obedience to God in season. Our decision making, our focus, our goals should be defined by the invitation of God. The good news is, the grace of God always calls us back to obedience. There is no failure that is final. There is no point in which we cannot come back to the place where God says well done. It takes a moment of repentance and we can step back into a life of success. The weight of failure can be nailed to the cross, and we can continue in the race. We don’t start back at the beginning.

Like Paul, our aim should be to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given us. May we be aware of his invitation in season.