It’s just not relative.

What time to be alive. Things change so fast, culture can swing around a hinge point and into something new so fast now. The institutions that people used to count on aren’t guaranteed to exist next year and legacies come crumbling down because of sins long buried. So many things seem fragile, and still people want to subdivide and claim truths and rights apart from those others might claim, railing against traditional values and long-held beliefs. The phrase ‘That’s your truth” has become passé from overuse, but its still a drumbeat that so many move to every single day.

IMG_3E9144B79363-1.jpegI saw an article yesterday that said the CEO of Twitter had to apologize for eating at ChickFilA during Pride month. If a chicken sandwich company can get you outed for offending people, then just about anything is possible. We walk on pins and needles, so many of us unsure about what we can or cannot say. SNL did a skit earlier in the year that hit this nail on the head.

(Warning, this is SNL, there are sensitive topics discussed here with some language, and I don’t endorse the show itself.)

As Christians we just have to understand and accept that what we have to say about Jesus, morality, sexual conduct, lifestyle choices, parenting, fiscal policy and pretty much anything else you can think of, will be at odds with the opinions of people who walk according to other, worldly standards. We will offend people. We shouldn’t seek to be offensive in our presentation, being tactful and sensitive is always good. Building relationships with people so we can have difficult conversations with them is also very important. We have to earn a degree of personal credibility with them. But we cannot apologize or be fearful because of the hope that we have in Jesus.

Listen to Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. They were very much a divided culture, and Christians stood apart (or were supposed to, at least) from what society endorsed and expected.

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 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; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1

Paul goes on to say that our pride must be sourced in God, and not in ourselves anyway. We trust in God for our worth, purpose, identity and voice. We reject the things of this world, and we stick with Jesus. Human beings and our institutions cannot ever serve as a replacement for what we should receive and expect from God. They will never be our voice. They will never represent us. We belong to Christ and His Church. We are children of God, residents of another kingdom. We do not share a common values system, ethical foundation or set of expectations with this world.

Even if we need to be reminded of it every day, and often we do, it is still gloriously true. We find our peace with Him. Truth is not and cannot be relative. If it could be, it would no longer be truth. We must learn to have bold, definitive conversations with people, but take them from the love of God for His wayward children. God’s truth never changes, and because we can be steady in Him, we can be steady in anything. Let’s show that peace, steadiness and faithfulness to the morally ambiguous, shifting and unsteady world around us. May His love compel us to do so.

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Dangerous Personality

There are so many celebrities in our culture. I have never been good at keeping them all straight. As a person who legitimately struggles with names, I have kind of lived under the assumption that they don’t keep track of my life, so I don’t have any need to keep track of theirs. So, don’t come talk to me about celebrity gossip, expecting me to know who is into who, who got married/divorced/had a baby. I simply will not know. If you’re into that stuff, then I will do my best to engage with you but I wanted to warn you ahead of time.
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I also operate under the policy (and living in California, I think this is probably best) that if I see them in public, I ‘m just going to leave them alone. If they’re eating dinner with their friends/family/crew/whatever, I was not invited to that meal. I will happily give them their space.

There have been so many stories of people who take things to the opposite extreme. They stalk celebrities, hang on their every word, know everything about their lives and some even begin doing dangerous/illegal stuff to try to get their attention. They develop an unhealthy obsession with that person. They go beyond fandom and into idolatry, aggressively defending that person, and caring far too much for someone that doesn’t even know they exist.

I also grew up in the ear of the televangelist. These people almost did everything possible to make my generation cynical in regards to fame & ministry. The Robertsons & Swaggarts of the world built up such a cult of personality around themselves that their inevitable human failings made their falling from public grace all the more devastating. We cannot invest ourselves, devoting the whole of our lives, to a single human person like this. People are broken. Celebrities and preachers will let us down. No one is perfect.

Paul recognizes this danger in the church of Corinth. This church had encounters with several powerful leaders within the early church and people were beginning to take sides:

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
1 Corinthians 1

When we follow Jesus, we cannot spend our time espousing the benefits of any human individual. We simply need to focus our efforts on Him. It’s not about Paul, Peter or Apollos. It’s not about Joel, Steven, Judah, Kyle or Francis. It’s all about Jesus, 24/7/365. All of the rest of us are simply His servants, brothers born of His blood, recipients of grace, standard bearers for His kingdom. We don’t need to waste our short time on this earth and in this life to build up a little kingdom of our own. We all belong to Jesus. His Lordship does not get sub-divided, His sovereignty cannot be shared.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
Luke 17

Jesus is our concern. He is our solitary celebrity. If we want to devote ourselves to knowing all the details about someone’s life, then may it be His.

Relentless Faithfulness

We worry too much, don’t we? Every day has a million components, thousands of moving pieces and so many things that could go wrong, fall short or come up empty. And so we worry. We lack a feeling of control, a perception of peace, and so we worry. We worry about finances, about things at home and different things at work. We worry about our kids, our family members and about things in the national news. We worry about people and situations that we have absolutely no say over, or influence around, and so we become accustomed to worry. It becomes a pattern for life. It becomes acceptable, and we weave it into our worldview and understanding.

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But that’s not God desire for us.

That’s not what He has in store for His children. And so if we follow Christ, if we claim to be in Him and simultaneously experience these weighty worries that distract us from His plans for us, then we have to ask if the promises of God in Jesus are really that effective. Does He care? Why do I feel this way? Why don’t I feel happy more often? Why do I feel so insecure? Where is God?

And these are natural questions that we struggle with as we learn to transition from walking outside of Christ into the new life we have been gifted in Him. There’s an incongruity between what we say we believe and what we actually do in practice. And so we add guilt for worrying to our worry. Again, we make this our life.

But Paul reminds us of something different, something that God intends for us as he begins his first letter to the church in Corinth. He was getting ready to hit them with some tough love, because they had been doing things in their own way, rather than in God’s, but because of the love & grace & mercy of God, he wanted to remind them of what they needed to hear. They needed to be reminded of God’s love, His plan and His provision. Rather than worrying about trying to balance their new walk with Christ with their old life, He begins to set the stage for them and reminds them that God’s gift for them is sufficient. It is better than what they might manufacture.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:4-9

Paul reminds them that God’s covering over them in Christ is sufficient for everything. He reminds Tham that this was something confirmed in them, they’ve already borne witness to Him, and that God has a good, guilt-free life laid out for them in preparation of out final realization of His love when Jesus returns. There is so much goodness that there is no need to be wrapped up in what used to be, in old identities, old cultures and in old pathways. God has so much more for us, something so much better.

So why worry? Why waste your time in those old ways, those dead ways? We don’t hang out in cemeteries looking for lively conversation. Why would we expect to get anything worth anything from our old, dead selves?

His faithfulness is relentless. Trust Him with your today, and then trust Him with your tomorrow & watch Him reveal Christ at work in you through His Holy Spirit.

Speaking From Authority

We all want to be a little authoritative don’t we? We like when we say something and it sticks, when people pay attention or when our particular expertise is recognized, taken into account and decisions are made from whatever we have to say. It’s an ego thing, right? We all like to feel good about ourselves and to know that we are ‘right’ in any particular situation.

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When you start a new job or position, and you suddenly find yourself in charge of people who used to be your peers, it can feel a little odd to become that voice of authority. You might feel like they’re looking at you and thinking “Who does they think they are now? One day they’re joking around in the break room with us, and today they’re giving us orders and polishing their new name tag.” There can be that dose of intimidation that comes from people that you’re now supposed to lead. This can lead to frustration on both sides and even conflict.

This is human nature, right? We see it over and over again throughout human history. We see it in our workplaces. We see it at home. Oddly enough, we see it in our church families, too. There are occasions where people get ‘too big for their britches’ and the swagger kicks in with an attitude to match. That’s not cool, and everybody knows it. Even if you’ve worked hard and earned the position fairly, people still expect you to be…well…you. They may fight against the ‘authoritative you.’

In 1 Corinthians 1, Paul begins his letter (a letter of correction, mind you) to the church that gathers there. They know him well. He helped plant the church, trained the leaders, discipled the first gatherings and then left them to go and do it again elsewhere. But now he’s having to come back with his ‘dad’ hat on, to speak in a very fatherly/authoritative way. He has always held this position with them, but even then, we can come to resent those in authority over us if our attitudes are wrong.

In the first three verses, we see this coming through pretty strong, but laced with love and concern from the onset: (emphasis mine)

Paul, called / by the will of God / tobe an apostleof Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus,/ called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace / from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do you see & hear these different references to authority? Paul points out calling, Lordship, Whose they are and that there are things that flow from God to them as gifts, not as privilege or from demand. They are owned more than they might claim ownership or to be in the lead position. Paul wants to establish the hierarchy here, not to promote himself above what was right, but to speak into the role that God had called him to in Christ. More importantly, he wants them to recognize and remember the authority & supremacy of God.

When we speak truth in love to our friends, family, coworkers and neighbors, we need to follow Paul’s lead. In our world today, we are likely overly cautious, almost fearful of speaking from a perceived point of authority. That is part of our culture today, everyone has their truth that they own, and voices of external authority can be perceived as oppressive or even cruel. This relativistic mindset makes us hesitant to speak with the authority that Jesus has given to us (Matthew 28:18-20) in the Great Commission and that we see Paul moving in here in 1 Corinthians 1.

Speaking from authority is a gift. It is a point of peace for us. It’s not meant to stroke our ego or to inflate a false self-importance. It is meant to give us confidence to bring people into an understanding of the things of God and His true authority over us and in every aspect of our lives.

The danger here, with speaking in relativistic terms, is that we wind up creating God as a god in our own image. And that’s what Paul is going to have to talk about with the church in Corinth. We need authority, as Christians, we should be open about the benefits of authority. And when rightly used, authority is meant to benefit those it is held over. It is not a tool for manipulation or pressure, but for freedom and life. Paul is getting ready to walk through a letter, in love, that is meant to point the church in this crazy city back toward freedom and away from the oppression of sin & human vice. He means to reissue what he originally laid out for them in the Gospel.

So, when we speak from our God-given authority in Christ, we need to keep that same mindset. We speak from love, we speak from concern and we do not speak to lift ourselves up. The only one lifted up is God Himself, this was the way & attitude of Jesus, too. So may it be with us.

Day Nine – God’s Kindness & Our Sin

Day Nine – God’s Deeds of Kindness Testify to the Gravity of Our Sin
from Johann Gerhard’s “Meditation on Divine Mercy”

Get your copy here.

Read by Benjamin Hedgspeth
All Scripture readings come from the ESV

Day Eight – Contrition Convinces Us of the Seriousness of Sin

Day Eight – Contrition Convinces Us of the Seriousness of Sin
from Johann Gerhard’s “Meditation on Divine Mercy”

Get your copy here.

Read by Benjamin Hedgspeth
All Scripture readings come from the ESV

Day Seven – All Creation Convicts Us of Sin

Like a sidewalk card shark, the sin at work in us wants to distract us from what should be the point of focus. Rather than see the sin that entangles us, it points toward others, outlying situations and draws us to play the victim. Instead of this quick trick of the heart, we should see that the pain, sin and struggle in the world around us (and in those we might blame for our own problems) points toward that same sin struggle within ourselves.

There is only one answer for that hurt: the mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Day Seven – All Creation Convicts Us of Sin
from Johann Gerhard’s “Meditation on Divine Mercy”

Get your copy here.

Read by Benjamin Hedgspeth
All Scripture readings come from the ESV