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Poor Contributions

Father, humble hearts are precious to You. Healthy perspective of the limitations of human effort & our brokenness, an understanding of our deep & unending dependence on You, & a faith that reflects both seem to go a long way in Your eyes. It isn’t big gestures that win You over, but the small daily obediences that come from this faith. Grant us eyes to see & hearts to comprehend this measure of faith. Give us the grace of Your strength to measure to the stature of the generous & faithful widow in Luke 21. We should all depend on You so freely, trust in You so deeply as we walk in these precious rhythms of grace in Your Spirit. Let us abide this deeply with You today. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 21:1-4
1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,
and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Self-promotion & humility rarely seem to go together, do they? When we see people who claim to honor God with their life constantly drawing attention to their piety, naming things after themselves, building stadiums and lavish homes for themselves, it can be difficult to take them seriously. I was blessed to grow up with a preacher who had an obvious God-given talent for drawing people to Jesus. His ministry flourished, the membership grew & the buildings did, too. But all the way through, he was also gifted by God to do something amazing, he remained humble. He refused a lavish salary. He stayed in the same unassuming house for years & he never bought himself a fancy car.

And God honored his humility & the primacy of the Gospel in His life. It was obvious. He was a wonderful example (and still is) of what it means to serve faithfully and humbly, despite the evidence to the contrary that said he should have had more attention & accolades.

This day in the temple, Jesus looked. He saw what people were doing as they came into the Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem. God notices who we are. He knows what we do & He has no issue discerning the intentions of our hearts. We come to Him with all manner of motivations, our hearts & minds crowded with thoughts, worries & concerns. We hurt for someone who is hurting. We are stressed over income. We long for a friend or family member to leave addiction behind, to find help in their struggle with drugs or pornography. We grieve with the weeping mother & father who lost their days-old infant. We carry guilt from our own sins. And with these burdens we come to God.

You would think that concerns like these would keep us on our knees, humble before God as we approach Him. The messes of our life, the lives of our friends & family, the brokenness we struggle within this world…these things should bring us to a place of open, honest reflection as we come before the King of Creation. He is holy, righteous & perfect. We are so obviously not. He needs nothing. Apart from Him, we are nothing. Humility & perspective shouldn’t be a problem.

But these rich people enter into the Temple complex with pomp & ceremony. They bring along their entourage, a porter to carry their gifts in front of them. They make a big show & blow horns as they give their ‘gift’ to God & draw more attention to their self than to Him. The show matters to them. They want to be seen. They want to be impressive. They want things their way. They want people to want to know them, to desire their company. They make idols of their own façade & shrines to their ego. They do not understand humility, at least not publicly, and so they over compensate with inglorious displays.

The offering box sat in the doorway of the Temple. It was there for ease of use as you came in & went out. It was placed in a location where you didn’t have to come in, walk up to the front & draw attention to yourself. Rich & poor, men & women, young & old would all pass by it & there was no preference, position or power honored above another as people came in to worship God. The focus was on Him.

So, in stark contrast, the widow drops in two very small, very thin copper coins. They would make no noise when they fell into the box. They would draw no attention to her status or income level. She had no entourage, no pomp. So, Jesus looked & saw her heart.

He had no words to praise the rich that day. But He stopped what He was doing to pay attention to & praise the heart of this nameless widow. No husband, no job, no family entering in with her. She comes to God, an impoverished, undervalued individual. But she knows her God. She understands His faithfulness. She has full confidence in His provision & His love over her & so she gives Him all she has. No reservation, no ego to block the intent. She loves God, trusts God & allows Him to be the one who cares for her even if no one else can or will. There is beauty in this humble love, this complete trust & Jesus cannot let this moment pass.

Giving from abundance is still acceptable. God blesses some people to have much in this life. They have been entrusted with a gift that spreads & blesses others. They can give to multiple charities, employ large numbers of people & surprise those in need with gifts from the Lord. Being rich is not a crime. Being rich does not constitute a lack of favor in God’s eyes. But Jesus did say it as easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Wealth isn’t all advantages. Stewardship does matter. Humility & an understanding of God’s place in what we have is an absolute imperative. Otherwise we fall into the traps of wealth, and the pits of arrogance.

Giving from poverty isn’t always a guarantee of God’s favor, either. You can be poor & have a terrible attitude toward God or generosity. You can make a big deal about the $2 you put in this month & talk to people about how proud you are that you remembered to give two weeks in a row. You can talk about the struggles of giving & generosity, drawing attention to your situation, seeking pity for yourself & admiration for being able to give anything at all.

I’ve seen both sides of both of these coins over the years and there is one thing that remains through every situation, every heart:

God loves a heart that gives cheerfully, freely & humbly.

Generosity that matters comes from faith & trust in Him. Generosity that makes an impact comes from trust in Him. Generosity that speaks to the heart of God is generosity that lays everything else aside & reveals an unfettered reliance on Him & a seeking of His glory as the first-fruits of our life. Time, talent & treasure all belong to Him. They are given to us by Him for His glory & we give them back as gifts & tithes & offerings for the exact same reason. John the Baptist has it right: He must become greater, I must become less. Humility matters. Generosity matters. The two go hand-in-hand every time.

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Love Brings Discipline

Father, it is right that You would discipline us in your love. It is right that You would discipline us according to Your laws & statutes. Father, it is good & right that You would press us toward holiness & righteousness, selflessness & servitude. Thank You for loving us enough to stop us in our tracks and to bring us to correction in You through the blood of Jesus Christ. Give us wisdom so we can see, a heart of humility so we can listen. Thank You for treating us as sons & daughters. Amen.

Hebrews 12:1-11
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.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

I have done things I should never have done. I have said things I never should have said. I have had thoughts that should never be entertained. I have harbored attitudes that I never should have allowed to foster in my heart. I am guilty. I am self-condemned.

I am so thankful for discipline. When I was a child, a toddler, my parents loved me enough to discipline me if I was doing something stupid. They had to discipline me not to run out in the road, not to stick things in electrical outlets, not to touch a hot stove. I am thankful that they loved me enough to discipline my actions. When I got older, I had to learn other disciplines so I could stay healthy and alive. I can remember being in Washington D.C. and on multiple, multiple occasions, one of my parents had to grab me by the collar to stop me from walking into traffic because I was too busy looking at everything around me to notice what was right in front of me. That lesson they began teaching me as a toddler they had to reinforce when I was 12 & 13 years old. I am still here today because someone loved me enough to discipline me, to correct me and to help me change my behavior, even though that meant I needed discipline over the long haul in the same areas.

Somewhere around age 18 (=+/- a few years) in America, we start to get defensive when people keep disciplining us. When people offer correction we begin to step over that line of it being helpful to it becoming insulting. We resist discipline, we fight it, and we cease to see its usefulness in our life. We figure that we have grown up now, and that we don’t need anyone to tell us what to do. And so we tend to ignore discipline. We see those who would correct us as being oppressive or overbearing. We want to do things our way & so we begin to view God as some kind of cosmic Principal who we only ever hear from when we’ve done something wrong.

But in Scripture, we see this teaching over and over again. Only a fool despises discipline and rejects it. When discipline comes, it comes from love, and God is a good Father to love us this way. He doesn’t just allow us to wander into the middle of moral issues. He offers guidance, correction & discipline when we wander. When we do things that are contrary to His desires for us, and that drag us away from walking in holiness, He lovingly corrects us, disciplining us as He sees fit. It is right & good that He would do this. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t be a very good Father. He’s not all cuddles & cupcakes. Sometimes God has to wield the ‘rod of correction’ in our life so that we find ourselves desiring to get back on track, but He isn’t some uncaring authority figure looming over us just waiting to hit us with a switch.

The author of Hebrews very clearly says that if we don’t receive discipline, then we should be worried, because that would mean that we weren’t His, that we weren’t a part of His family. And so we gladly endure His discipline, knowing that it comes from the deepest love we will ever experience. We endure it because we see that God intends His glory & our good to come from it. We endure it because we love Him in return, and because we want to look & act like Jesus, from the tops of our heads to the bottom of our feet. Our whole self being conformed to His image. There is a fruit of righteousness that comes form enduring His discipline, and if He loves us enough to do this work in us, we shouldn’t desire to miss a moment of it.

We should seek correction, walking in a mindset & heart of repentance. We should be ever mindful of thoughts and attitudes within us that do not honor God, working to take every thought captive. There is a degree to which we should exercise self-discipline & self-control, those are evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in us. But we should also be ready at any moment to receive this good discipline from God, our hearts ready and willing to submit to His good love. Learning from Him & being disciplined by Him teaches us, as disciplined disciples, to walk in His rhythms of grace & that is a very good thing.

Father, it is right that You would discipline us in your love. It is right that You would discipline us according to Your laws & statutes. Father, it is good & right that You would press us toward holiness & righteousness, selflessness & servitude. Thank You for loving us enough to stop us in our tracks and to bring us to correction in You through the blood of Jesus Christ. Give us wisdom so we can see, a heart of humility so we can listen. Thank You for treating us as sons & daughters. Amen.

He gives us something different

Lord, I do not know why we continue to seek cheap and temporary comfort from the world, vying  for its approval when the richness of Your presence is all sustaining, peaceful and brings us rest. Direct us in the oath of Your love today, away from the hate & fear filled ways of the world. May our hope rest in You alone. Amen.

John 15:12-27
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

Notice how Jesus gives us a command and then proceeds to fulfill it Himself? He shows us just how it is to be done. This attitude of self-sacrifice is precisely what Jesus prescribes for His followers, an attitude unlike anything we see in this world. Not seeking enlightenment for self in the process, not seeking personal gain or prestige, the admiration of other people. We die to self so that someone else might see what it means to truly live and do the same. This is a selfless act, a sacrificial act. It is what Jesus calls for and precisely what He does as our Master.

And it is in this act of dying that we plant seeds for a fruitful harvest. Western, commercial ‘Christianity’ that spends its time fostering an ideal of consumerism drags us away from this posture of self-denial. Programs that pander, Bible studies that give no real accountability for action, worship services bent around emotional responses and lacking in any resemblance to the life of Christ Himself…these reasons (and more) guide us to see that something more must be out there when we follow Christ. Fruitfulness is not gauged by personal happiness, or by the number of Sundays we attend. Fruitfulness is determined by obedience and by bringing the lost to Christ, and discipling them along the new road afterward. We must be a disciple worth reproducing, not a follower of the latest fad. Jesus challenges us to die to earthly expectations, to accept the help of the Holy Spirit, and to be His witnesses.

We must ask a few simple questions:

Does my life truly reflect the actions and heart of Christ?
Am I exhibiting signs of consistent fruitfulness?
Do I feel challenged in my walk?

There are more, of course, that we could ask ourselves, but this will serve for one day. Remember, when Jesus told us to abide in Him, to die to self, to walk in our Master’s steps, He did not leave us alone to do so, with an insurmountable task.

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

He sends us the Holy Spirit, to guide, convict and press us on toward a deeper ownership of His heart every single day. Listen. Be still. Wait for His voice…then do as He guides. He will likely speak in that still, small way, but His encouragement will lead us to the strength to follow through.

Lord, I do not know why we continue to seek cheap and temporary comfort from the world, vying  for its approval when the richness of Your presence is all sustaining, peaceful and brings us rest. Direct us in the oath of Your love today, away from the hate & fear filled ways of the world. May our hope rest in You alone. Amen.

Comfort does little when kept

empathy2
Sweet Holy Spirit, guide us today in the imprint of Christ’s footsteps to pursue justice, counting our neighbor’s welfare to be as important as our own. Amen.

Galatians 5:25-6:10
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Empathy is the feature of our own emotional health that allows us to resonate with another human being. It keeps them from being just a fixture in our own little world, and places them on equal footing with us. Empathy reinforces humanity, it directs our hearts toward the needs & suffering of others, and it guides us to action to see justice done for the oppressed. Empathy stirs our heart, it engages our mind, it motivates our spirit to do what it best for someone other than our self. It is a gift that keeps us alive, sane, and functioning as a member of a responsible, God-honoring culture & worldview.

Being emotional has often been viewed as a weakness. There have been people and cultures that have maintained that a strict anti-emotionalism will help you to be a better human being, that it helps you to ‘grow up’ and deal with the hardships of life better. For some, being detached emotionally is a sign that you have accepted reality and are now able to function as an adult. Emotionalism is for the weak.

This couldn’t be any farther from the truth, and we can look to Jesus for our example.
When meeting with people who were in need, hurting and broken, Jesus’ response was never cold and calculated, detached and solely observant. Listen:

Matthew 15:32 “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

Mathew 8:14-1514 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him.”

Matthew 9:1-3And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

Mark 10:14 “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

Luke 19:41 “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it,”

John 5:6 “When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?””

John 11:32-3532 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

The common thread between Jesus, the people, their situation and the emotional response that Jesus had comes down to two small words “He saw.” That’s it. He observed their suffering, their situation, and simply in the seeing, His heart was provoked by emotion. And in that ’emotional’ state, Jesus acted in the mercy and justice of God to do what was right. He related to those who suffered, and He helped them carry their burdens, and usually took them all together.

This is the example of Christ. This is empathy at work. God is not cold and detached. There is not maturity that results in dismissing the heart and hurt of people who suffer.

Can emotion be used to take advantage of others, can sob stories capture the heart of another and remove them from rational thought? Absolutely. But don’t let the possibility of feeling deeply keep you from feeling. Don’t ever let the possibility of someone’s dishonesty keep you from serving others as Christ already has served them. Empathy doesn’t just keep others human in our own hearts, it keeps us human, too. A lack of empathy, a lack of compassion kills our own heart, and allows us to focus solely on self, dehumanizing others and seeking comfort away from their suffering. It removes us from the sphere of the work of God.

Micah 6:8
He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Empathy & wisdom, paired together, help us walk in the path of the truth & mercy of God as we follow Christ.

Empathy without wisdom condones improper behavior and sinful struggles. Sometimes people hurt because of poor life choices and an improper worldview. These are the instances where empathy leads to compassion which leads to loving correction. It doesn’t keep us from meeting with them, but it guides us as we seek to guide them toward God, understanding their brokenness & our own.We are all responsible for our own choices & actions.

Knowledge without empathy is simply a cold observation of one’s perception of reality. It is cold and uncaring, even if we are right in regards to observing their moral transgressions. God’s mercy in the face of His own justice revealed grace for us & a glorification of Himself in the process. Had He simply observed, we would remain dead in our sin, damned by our own broken actions & motivations.

Pairing them together, we are kept responsible to God & others, seeing a need, and meeting a need while engaging the heart of the other as Christ has done, and drawing them toward Him. Mercy & justice, working together.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Sweet Holy Spirit, guide us today in the imprint of Christ’s footsteps to pursue justice, counting our neighbor’s welfare to be as important as our own. Amen.

Sourcing Your Fruit


Lord, keep our frailty before us, that we might set our hearts on You. Be our strength & be glorified in our sustaining. Amen.

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‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:16-26‬ ‭ESV‬‬
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

It’s kind of hard to ignore fruit on a tree. It is the symbol of the health of the tree, it identifies the type of tree, it indicates a zone or region where that type of fruit can be grown. There’s a lot to be said by just looking at a tree. About a year ago, we were out walking in the woods as a family, and coming to a trail head we encountered a persimmon tree. The kids have never tried persimmons, let alone wild persimmons. They. Were. Tart…and dry, dry, dry! I asked them if we had created a memory that day. Sometimes as a parent you have to create teachable moments.

When it comes to the fruit of our life, we have to realize that we are walking, talking teachable moments for other people. We are showing the fruit of our hearts and intentions on a regular basis. In how we interact with people, how we respond to difficult situations, how we talk about people when they aren’t around…our fruit is obvious. Is there selflessness coming from us, or self-centeredness? Do we build people up or tear people down? Are we driven by compassion & mercy or do we just look out for number one? Do we run with the whims and desires of our physical body, or do we exhibit restraint and self-control, knowing how to discipline our bodies?

1 Corinthians 9:27 No, I train my body and bring it under control. Then after I have preached to others, I myself will not break the rules. If I did break them, I would fail to win the prize. 

Hebrews 12:11 No training seems pleasant at the time. In fact, it seems painful. But later on it produces a harvest of godliness and peace. It does this for those who have been trained by it. 

Colossians 1:9-14 That’s why we have not stopped praying for you. We have been praying for you since the day we heard about you. We keep asking God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants. We pray he will give you the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. Then you will be able to lead a life that is worthy of the Lord. We pray that you will please him in every way. So we want you to bear fruit in every good thing you do. We pray that you will grow to know God better. We want you to be very strong, in keeping with his glorious power. We want you to be patient. We pray that you will never give up. We want you to give thanks with joy to the Father. He has made you fit to have what he will give to all his holy people. You will all receive a share in the kingdom of light. He has saved us from the kingdom of darkness. He has brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Because of what the Son has done, we have been set free. Because of him, all our sins have been forgiven. 

God desires fruit from us, & He has a right to see it come about in us, reaping a harvest for Him. Jesus told the parable of the wicked tenants, people who did not own the vineyard and would not recognize the authority of the one who did. The fruit they were intended to raise was usurped by their own selfishness & greed, and they wound up paying the price for their misdeeds.

If we bear the fruit that God requires, and if we live lives of fruitful multiplication, we can be assured that our Master will be pleased with our effort. We are ultimately accountable to Him for the fruit of our life, our choices and our desires. If we value good fruit, and pursue practices that encourage good fruit then we will produce good fruit. If we choose to do otherwise, our lives will exhibit those choices instead.

Fruit bearing requires submission & daily obedience, but we will never regret that choice.

Lord, keep our frailty before us, that we might set our hearts on You. Be our strength & be glorified in our sustaining. Amen.

Romans 1:18-25 // Why Feel Guilty?

“18 For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, 19 since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. 21 For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.

24 Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.”

Romans 1:18-25

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And so we enter the main thrust of Paul’s first point. When we are confronted with God, we find that there are two differemt reactions. The first is to honor and glorify Him, admitting our own shortcomings, or to be given over to our own pride, denying His righteousness and choosing to serve self instead. That may seem overly simplistic, but it is the truth. 

Every morning when I wake up, I am given a choice. Either I can live for God or I can live for myself, there is no in-bewteen. I can either look at the day and understand that God’s desire for me is best or I can seek to serve myself, following my own path. He has not presented us with an option that says that we can do both of those things, living according to His will and our own. Paul lays it out clearly, the Spirit speaking through him, that everyone is without excuse when we make this decision, as God has made Himself plainly known through creation itself. And when we choose to gratify our own desires, choosing self over service to Him, we have chosen depravity, idolatry and that our minds become darkened & foolish. 

And to an unbelieving world, that sounds harsh. But in reality, that’s what happens when we choose self, we exchange the truth for a lie. There isn’t some magical mid-point between truth & lies, no flex point or grey area. And that is where guilt comes in, and why we can see it as a blessing. If we didn’t feel guilty, if we weren’t convicted of our sin, we would never change. If God just patted us on the head and sent us off while silently shaling His own? That would be cruel & heartless. To see our sin, our shame and the mess we make of our life and to just quietly let us wander into the mire and quicksand of death? There couldn’t be love in His heart if He was to let that happen. And so Paul lets us see that God made Himself clear through creation, that He planted certain things in our hearts that draw us toward Him, even if we don’t know what to call Him or have access to His Word. Creation itself has His fingerprint all over it. And being allowed to experience this wandering, to be delivered over to our sinful cravings, we have the opportunity to experience guilt & conviction, the one thing that will point our hearts back to ward Him and away from self. 

Our hypersensitive society is repulsed by the idea of guilt and shame, thinking no one should ever feel bad for their choices. But in reality, that is the greatest cruelty they could offer their ‘fellow man.’ To refuse to say that something is wrong, is to willingly watch another person wander directly into death. To say ‘live and let live’ is to show an absolute lack of care or concern for the well being of another human life and the lives that are attached to it. It is a savage person who tells another person to let their sinful instincts have their way, to eat, drink and be merry, with no fear of consequence or repercussion. It isn’t love that perpetuates this attitude, it is disdain. It plainly says, “I don’t care about you, but I am going to tell myself I do so that I feel no guilt in what harms you.” In this way, ‘tolerance’ can be the greatest cruelty. 

Paul is warning the Roman Christians and everyone else who would read this letter about the dangers of sin. And why? Because he cared for them like God did. And when we care for people, we cannot let them continue to wander in their sin, or deny that their sin even exists. Love cannot turn a blind eye. Instead, it follows the command to GoLove others enough to let them see their sin, which is the example that Jesus set for us. He was lifted up, while offering Himself as the sacrifice for our sin, so that we might see just how serious the wandering of our heart is, and why we must turn our eyes toward God. To live in the rhythm of grace means to be plain and open about sin. Love doesn’t disguise sin, it reveals it for the poison that it is, and it speaks with the voice of the Father, a loving parent who disciplines thier child precisely because of His love for them. 

Proverbs 3:5-12
“5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
6 think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.
7 Dont consider yourself to be wise;
 fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
8 This will be healing for your body
and strengthening for your bones.
9 Honor the Lord with your possessions
and with the first produce of your entire harvest;
10 then your barns will be completely filled,
and your vats will overflow with new wine.
11 Do not despise the Lords instruction, my son,
and do not loathe His discipline;
12 for the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
just as a father, the son he delights in.”

Romans 1:1-7 // The Focus of a Disciple’s Heart

“1 Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news — 2 which He promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures — 3 concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh 4 and who has been declared to be the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness. 5 We have received grace and apostleship through Him to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name, 6 including yourselves who also belong to Jesus Christ by calling:

7 To all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints.

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

Romans 1:1-7

==

Paul’s primer on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ begins with a greeting that does everything he can to point the focus at Jesus Christ rather than at the reader. All in all, in just this way of saying ‘Hello, it’s me Paul,’ contains close to 20 references to God and only 6 to the reader. There is no doubt, from the first moment, that this letter has an agenda. That agenda is to direct believers, new and old, toward the undeniable truth that God is the center, Christ is the focus and the Spirit is the One who draws us there. 

There is such a relief, such a freedom, that comes from having the focus shifted off of us and onto Jesus Christ. The first steps of discipleship then echo that call to come and die to self, and to then, inturn, live to Christ. Even in saying hello, it is apparent that this new endeavor of the soul is going to create a rhythm that is based in Him, on Him and for Him. This life of being a disciple isn’t anything that might look like our old life, that might resemble whoever it was that we used to be. Instead, we begin in that first step to do what we will be doing in eternity, namely kneeling and confessing His Lordship over all. We begin by confessing Whose we are, as Paul does in the inaugural 6 words, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” and in being owned by Jesus, again, we find such freedom. The weight and responsibility of ownership shifts off of our insufficient shoulders and rests firmly on the shoulders of the One who carried the weight of humanity’s sins on His own shoulders. So, in our kneeling, He makes us able to stand. In confessing His Name, He gives us a new identity. In submitting to His Lordship, He makes us Hiis grace-covered ambassadors to the nations. 

All of this confirmed in a simple greeting by a man the readers haven’t even met yet. 

As we greet each new day, week, month, moment, opportunity or year, as Christians, we a compelled to remember our discipleship and where the focus of our life really rests. Each day is meant to be a practice of His presence and a rememberance of His grace-filled love. As disciples, we cannot look to self, but to our Master. This new life is a complete retooling of the entirety of our being. We are being reset, recast, into His image, His likeness. All of life then, has its lens adjusted, focused and dialed in to the heart of God by the blood of Christ and the direction of His Holy Spirit. We gain a new direction and in turn find contenment in Him. We give over the controls for the lens of our heart to Him, knowing that He knows better than we ever could what will bring richness, joy and purpose into our lives. 

Paul’s introduction echoes these senitments, and so much more. This is about Him, not about us. The rhythm of grace that compells us to GoLove others in His Name finds it foundation in the beating of His heart, not in the compulsions of our flesh. The struggle that ensues, between flesh and Spirit, will wind up being a major topic of conversation as this amazing letter progresses. But as for us, let us greet this day with the rememberance of Whose we are, and use these moments we have to draw the hearts of others around us to see what we have found when we come and die, finding life abundant in Jesus Christ. 

Acts 28:23-31 // Boldness & Authority

“23 After arranging a day with him, many came to him at his lodging. From dawn to dusk he expounded and witnessed about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. 24 Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe.

25 Disagreeing among themselves, they began to leave after Paul made one statement: ‘The Holy Spirit correctly spoke through the prophet Isaiah to your ancestors 26 when He said,

‘Go to these people and say:

You will listen and listen,

yet never understand;

and you will look and look,

yet never perceive.

27 For the hearts of these people

have grown callous,

their ears are hard of hearing,

and they have shut their eyes;

otherwise they might see with their eyes

and hear with their ears,

understand with their heart,

and be converted,

and I would heal them.’

28 Therefore, let it be known to you that this saving work of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen!’ [29 After he said these things, the Jews departed, while engaging in a prolonged debate among themselves.]

30 Then he stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with full boldness and without hindrance.”

Acts 28:23-31

==

When it comes down to it, there is only one choice to make: follow God or follow yourself. 

Paul spoke with boldness, unhindered, because he had discovered the joy that comes from walking in the freedom of God. He spoke with authority, because God was the one with authority, & Paul understoof his role within God’s kingdom. As an emmisary for Christ, he had been sent with the authority of Christ, and so he spoke with it, minstered with it and laid things out there that others might be timid to say. But truth is truth, facts are facts, and Paul knew that the authority of God that went with him as he spoke was only meant for being used in this way. God’s authority does not hem and haw, riding a fence, walking a line bewteen two topics, trying to please everyone. It is authoritative. It is final. It is bold. 

Paul cared for his people, he wanted to honor the heart and promises of God, so he always went to them first, to give them first priority, the first opportunity to hear about what God had done. It was the right thing to do as he traveled from town to town. But he also knew that so many of his own people had traded God’s authority out for their own. They wanted their own way, to do things for their own human ‘rightousness’ rather than resting in the promises of God. They had become consumers instead of producers, honoring self over God.  

And so, out of love, and in the authority of God, he told them so openly. He was not being mean or cruel. Instead, he was offering correction and trying to open their eyes one last time. He was showing mercy by quoting the Prophet’s words one more time, because it was something they just might hear. And we see that it did resonate with them to a degree, because they left engaged in debate. 

But here’s the thing, Paul knew his people and he knew his mission. He knew this would likely be the outcome, but he still had to try. His mission was for the Gentiles (the rest of us) and so he pressed forward with the mission of God in the authority that God has given His messengers to deliver the good news of the Gospel, and so he was able to do it with all boldness. Unhindered preaching, open-hearted witnessing, comes from this boldness and it continues when we step aside and leth His Holy Spirit move us. This type of boldness comes from the efforts of the human heart that has surrendered and submitted to Jesus Christ, coming under His authority. Living in petty, human ‘power’ produces weak preaching, a timid witness and a limited reach. Boldness comes from getting out of the way and letting God do His thing through us, wherever we are…

To GoLove people effectively, we need to set out pride and desires aside and trade them in for the authority and power that comes with bearing witness for Jesus Christ in His Name. The book of Acts ends on a ‘high note’ that is only a high note for the Christian. He has been rejected by his people, he sits imprisoned thousands of miles away from home, but Paul is joyful about finally arriving in Rome, and he is ready to preach the Gospel through whatever doors God opens for him. 

Paul is not magical, mystical or some kind of   better-than-the-rest-of-us super human. He is simply a man who surrendered his life to Christ Jesus to be used by Him to GoLove the world in His Name. You Go and do likewise. Be bold. See what God will do.

Acts 17:16-21 // Where Concern Leads

“16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him. Some said, ‘What is this pseudo- intellectual trying to say?’

Others replied, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities’ — because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection.

19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, ‘May we learn about this new teaching youre speaking of? 20 For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.’ 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.”

Acts 17:16-21

Verse 16 allows us a glimpse into the heart of Paul, and in turn into the heart of an evangelist. But not only that, we see the heart of a man who understands the heart of Christ and what his priority ought to be as He walks with Him. Paul is troubled in his spirit. And why? Because this great city, Athens, is full of people who are lost, wandering and who are spiritually bankrupt. Faith of any kind had first become an intellectual exercise for them, then it was part of their cultural identity, but it was lacking in their hearts. Add to that the fact that what faith they may have possessed was wasted on dead, stone idols and we see a picture painted of a city that is in the grip of moral and spiritual poverty.

Now, the Athenians would have still thought themselves to be something great, mayeb not at their peak anymore, but still they lived in Athens, and how many cities could contend with the grandeur of Athens? They were still riding the wave of where they had been before the Romans came through and thought themselves something important. This is pretty obvious when we look at how they respond to Paul, insulting him with the term “pseudo-intellectual.” But because what they heard from him was novel, they decided to grant him an audience. 

In Western culture today, there are many, many people who think that they are intellectually above faith of any kind. They look down on people to cling to their Bibles and gather each week in churches. They see faith as a crutch for the ignorant, maybe even something that preys on the poor and weak-minded. I’ve heard all the arguments and talking points. They want nothing to do with faith, because, in thier mind, it is an unreasonable dependence on something that has no emperical evidence. They can’t see it, quantify it, catalog it and examine it the way they want, and so it is pushed aside. 

Religious apathy, pride and a worship of self-intellectualization are at the center of this mindset. It’s all about what you know and how well you can express yourself, and faith cannot play a part in the process. Most of us know people who think themselves to be fairly intellegent, and they are always leaning on that faith in their intellegence to carry them through. As we GoLove them in the Name of Jesus, we are going to find hard packed soil and hardened hearts many times. But that is where our own preparedness to speak of Gospel things, and to present evidence of the truth of Christ is so important. We must pray before we engage with them (as we should with any opportunity to witness) and we should still have that heart that Paul had, the heart that had compassion on the lost. The heart that hurts for those who are so wrapped up in their own ideas and philospohies that they cannot see hope, who cannot know love (only ever examining it) and who don’t know the peace that faith offers when we come to God in Christ. These people are not impossible to talk with, and you don’t have to have your doctorate to do so (although a good dose of hard-headedness doesn’t hurt.) But we speak the truth in love, standing firm as we do so, and present the hope that only Christ can bring. The heart that hurts for them is the heart that will continue going back to present the hope of Christ.

  

Acts 5:33-42 // Honor in suffering

“33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men to be taken outside for a little while. 35 He said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what youre going to do to these men. 36 Not long ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his partisans were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. That man also perished, and all his partisans were scattered. 38 And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” So they were persuaded by him. 40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name. 42 Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”

Acts 5:33-42

To listen to some famous ‘preachers,’ you would think that they never read the book of Acts. To those who are always preaching a Gospel of prosperity, ease and giving empty encouragements to self-care, there is an obvious disconnect as to what constitutes the favor of God and what counts toward dishonor. Here we see the Apostles being jailed, flogged and discouraged by the leading court in the country, and they go away rejoicing that they were worthy to be dishonored in this way for the sake of Christ, and because of His Name. This idea of honor in suffering runs contrary to what Joel Osteen and others like him preach and teach. 

As we consider what it is we have been called to accomplish as disciples of Jesus Christ, we must remember some of the things that He said would identify us as belonging to Him. He told us that we would be known for the love that we have for one another. That sounds nice, but it is also a very difficult thing to live out. It’s not just a matter of loving people that we naturally like and get along with, but a matter of loving people that push all our buttons and that we would rather not be around. So, following Jesus continues to mean a death to self. Jesus also said that we could not be His disciples if we loved family, position or anything else more than Him. It must be like hate in comparison. Our priorities must be radically different. That means that sports schedules for children, hobbies, jobs and everything else you can think of must come in an infinitely distant second place in comparison to our devotion to Him. We must be unswerving in this, and that is not easily or lightly done, yet another difficulty. 

But even deeper than those, we see that Jesus told us that we must take up our cross daily if we are going to follow Him. The cross comes with scorn, derision, and a condemnation by the world that cannot be overlooked. Jesus told us that the world would hate us just like it hated Him. And if the world crucified Jesus, then we must also see that we are next in line behind Him. This isn’t comfortable. This isn’t easy. This isn’t marked by health, wealth or ‘your best life now.’ We are never promised those things, and they are never shown as being markers of the favor of God in Scripture. These charlitans who pretent to stand in line with the message of Jesus Christ, but who have no real allegiance to Him, must be called out and shown for what they are. It isn’t love and tolerance to allow false doctrine to pervade the minds and hearts of the people of God. We cannot pretend for a moment to have a part in Jesus Christ if we try to separate the things that Jesus Himself said would be part and parcel of our following of Him. 

These men and women to proclaim Jesus Christ while paying for luxury upon luxury that they ‘deserve’ from the donations of thier adherents, who have little to nothing in comparison, will be called to task one day by God Himself and they will be held responsible for their lies and their missteps. I cannot presume to stand in judgement over their souls, that is up to God. But I cannot imagine that He is pleased, nor holds them in favor, because of their actions and preying on people through a false gospel of prosperity. 

The markers of the favor of God come with a clean conscience, a life of fruitful evangelism and a peace that surpasses all understanding. It comes with a contendness in all things, in all circumstances, not a grasping for ‘more.’ It comes with a desire to give away everything, because nothing in this life is worth holding on to except Christ. It comes with an insatiable desire to GoLove others however God has gifted us to do so, and we find our fulfillment, not in small shallow thigns like possessions, wealth, land or houses, but in seeing the work of the Gospel done in the hearts and minds of those we encounter. It has nothing to do with wealth, and everything to do with the faithful following of a formerly dead slave brought to life again and made to be an heir of righteousness. Proper priorities show those who preach prosperity to be sad, hollow hucksters with snake-oil ‘cures’ ready to sell to the most willing buyers looking for a quick fix. Lasting change, real hope and a life overflowing with meaning comes only from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God in our hearts and minds, and that cannot be bought, sold or acquired through any means we can devise. 

If we are folowing Christ, He has promised ot be with us always, even to the very end of the age. If we are not satisfied in this life, then it is because we are not actually following Him, not because we still have ‘favors’ to claim from God. He does desire to bless His chidlren, but not in the way that the world or people like Joel Osteen call ‘blessing.’ Take every thought, every teaching, captive and hold it accountable to Scripture, weigh it out and see if it is what God desires for you, truly, as you carry your cross for Christ. 

  

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