Loved and Accepted

A love that left people alone in their guilt would not have real people as its object. So, in vicarious responsibility for people, and in His love for real human beings, Jesus becomes the one burdened by guilt.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. The stores are decorated with hearts and other symbols of love. Hearts made out of cheap chocolate are being purchased right and left for a loved one. We show affection to those we love on this special day.

However, whether we like Valentine’s Day or we celebrate Singles Awareness Day, aren’t there times we feel alone in a crowded room? Deep inside and behind the mask of loving another and receiving love resides something in us that says, “In reality, I do not know if I am love and accepted.”

In my own life, I have friends, a beautiful and loving wife… yet, I can feel like I am not loved and accepted. I look at my body shame and the struggles that resulted from those scarring events and deep inside a thought reminds me, “If only others knew, then they would be gone.”

We all have those thoughts. We want to be truly loved and truly accepted. If only people could see…

Yet, we keep our lives tucked away and accept cheap chocolate as a cheap replacement for the Truth.

You Are Loved

The truth is if people did see your true heart, then you may not be loved. The thoughts you think, and the words you have said, and the actions you stuff in the closet of your past would turn many people away. And, we know it. It is the door we hope no one will ever open.

However, when we open that door we feel like the woman caught in adultery. John 8:2-11 recounts the events of the religious leaders throwing before Jesus a woman caught in adultery. The religious leaders forcing her to stand in the center of the crowd in shame. Jesus stops teaching to look at her. She was caught in the act of adultery, and she may not have been fully dressed. She was feeling the weight of her sin. Yet, what does Jesus do? He does not condemn her. He shows her compassion. He shows her love, and tells her “Go, and sin no more.” Jesus had forgiven her, and now she could leave in order to sin no more.

Secretly, we know we are this woman. If people found out about us, then they would force us to stand in shame to receive our punishment. But, that is not the heart of God. Yes, God is holy and cannot be in the presence of sin. God’s true heart is that he does not want one anyone to perish in sin. No. Read II Peter 3:9.

God loves you. He knows what is in your closet. He knows your thoughts. He sees what you want no one else to see and he acted on it (John 3:16). Why would Jesus take on a human body, die, and rise again keeping his body?

God did not show his love with cheap chocolate. He body was broken and blood spilt. It was not a caramel center with a rush of sugar. His blood was spilt for your forgiveness out his love.

You are Accepted

Yet, we may feel love, but have you ever just wanted to be hugged and accepted? You didn’t want to jump through one more hoop. When we have been rejected so many times, we take actions in order to feel accepted. We secretly exchange anything for acceptance. And, if anyone opened our lives they would see a heart where the teeth of false acceptance have feasted.

We may say we believe that God has accepted us, but why do we keep going to buy something, or eat, or go online to find that relationship, or binge watch when we feel alone? It is because we do not feel accepted.

“I am saved. Here is the date in my Bible.” Why do we rely on a date in hope of sensing some acceptance of God?

We need to go to God’s Word. God calls you his beloved. He calls you his child, and that makes you his son or daughter (Romans 8:15). The only other person in the Bible he calls beloved and his son is Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17). To God you are accepted as his child and not a child seen in disappointment. You are his beloved child in whom he is well pleased. You are accepted.

We do not have to work in order to be accepted by God. It has been done through Christ (Romans 3:21-26). The gifts of love and acceptance may change as each Valentine’s Day pass, but God’s acceptance is constant.

But, Why Do I Not Feel Like It?

And, now we come to the real question. The truth can be preached. Verses of God’s love can be tattooed on our bodies, but yet we struggle with it because we do not feel it.

Yes, God has shown his love to us in Christ, and we are accepted because of Christ. But, did you know God has provided a genuine way this love can be felt?
The Church.

The Church is Christ’s body, and according to I Corinthians 12:12-26 this is the place where Christ’s love is felt. In fact, Paul commands the believers in Rome and in Corinth to greet each other with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; I Corinthians 16:20). A kiss is a physical touch of affection, love, and acceptance.

Now in our culture a kiss is reserved. Yet, what about a hug? Too often we dress up, shake hands with others in our churches, and it feels like the coldest action of love ever felt. We dare not show affection. Instead, we allow the pursuit of purity in the church, and having right biblical views over loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have lost the balance. We need both. Our churches are not cold buildings where we make sure people are believing the right things, and following the right rules. The church is to be a home where God’s adopted children gather to love each other and study the Scriptures. It is not an either/or. It is a necessity for it to be a both/and.

How many people in our churches have left because they did not feel loved? How many people in our churches say they are fine, but in reality they are dying inside? In the shadow of our own steeples, we have forgotten to see people, hear people, and love and accept people. It is through us that Christ’s love is felt.

So leave the candy aisle. Don’t get another person cheap chocolate or a card that will be thrown out. Are you willing to listen to a fellow brother’s pain? Are you willing to be called by a fellow sister late at night? Are you willing to hug your brother who just fell again? Are you willing to take a fellow sister to lunch and spend money in order to encourage her? Are you willing to be the person through whom the truth of God’s love and acceptance is felt?

We are loved and accepted by God. But, we are the way he has chosen to show it in the church. Right teaching will continue to feel cold unless we match it with our actions.

Burn It

“Leave the broken, irreversible past in God’s hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.” – Oswald Chambers

I grew up with dogs, and we enjoyed our times with our dogs. One thing I do remember is that sometimes we would put them on a line in the yard. It was a line staked into the ground, and had a length of about 20 feet. The dogs loved it.

However, one thing they did not love is when that 20 feet was felt. If we threw something, they would chase it. But, if it was beyond the line’s range, then our dogs would wine because they could not get to their toy. They could go a little ways, but their freedom was limited.

It is the same with us. When we start our new life with Christ, there are times where we know we are balancing between the old life and the new life. We feel the pull of our past, our struggles, and we give into the limits we have placed on ourselves.

Yet, that is not what Christ has called us to. He has called us to burn it.

Burn the Past

My past is filled with tear-stained stories. There are many things I look back at and feel sorrow. Somedays it is easier to wallow in the past, and respond from the past. It is comfortable, because it is how I used to live before the Spirit convicted me about living in my shame of the past. It is not what Jesus has called me to. My past is not apart of his future purpose. He will use it, but to live there is not living in the new life.

Philippians 3:13 can be considered one of Paul’s mottos in life. He knew his past. God knew his past. The people knew Paul’s past. Yet, Paul no longer was the same person, and neither are you. His goal was to leave behind the past, and walk in the calling of Christ.

We are a new person because of Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). We are adopted, loved, and accepted by God as his beloved children (Romans 8:15). God calls us his beloved son or daughter. The only other time God said those words were to Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17). You and I are loved and accepted by God, and he knows our pasts.

Therefore, my past of being bullied, and shamed is not me. That is my story to show God’s work. It is not who I am. My past is no longer my future destiny.

In order to do this, we need to burn the dog-lead of our past. Through the power and conviction of the Spirit, we no longer find comfort in our past (no matter how bad it may be for us).

Burn your past, and step into freedom with Christ. He already loves and accepts you. Isn’t it time we bring our pasts into the light and see God’s light burn it?

Burn Your Fears

Why did I wait for so long to reveal my story until I wrote it in my post Standing Against Shame? Fear. I was fearful of what people would think. I’m in seminary, and preparing for ministry. The pressure of coming across as the mature Christian and the “perfect Christian image” overtook me. However, I was suffocating in silence. Fear silenced me.

The fear of man, and what others will think of us keeps us from truly living with Christ (Proverbs 29:25). Our desire to keep up a “Christian image” becomes more important than truly living how God wants us to: with honesty and with openness. When we allow fear to control our Christian living, then we are only living for the approval of others. Trusting God with everything brings us into his safety.

Therefore, we need to burn our fears. We need to open up about our pasts. We need to be open about our struggles. We need to show the world who we are, and what miracle our lives are because of Jesus Christ.

However, we need to face our fears. We can no longer be tethered to fear like a dog. Our limited freedom will end up strangling us. I John 4:18 promises us that in God’s love there is no fear. In fact, when we really grasp and live in God’s love fear can not coexist. How can we do this? Not on our own. We can only do it because of what God has given us: a spirit of confidence and power (II Timothy 1:7).

Isn’t tiring allowing our fears to control us?

Light a Match, Burn the Ship

Last week I came across the song “Burn the Ships” by For King and Country. It beautiful paints the picture of our pasts like ships. We have left our old life for the new hope of our future with Christ, and yet we all have the tendency to go back to the ship for some comfort. We are fearful of falling again, not being good enough, or ashamed of our past. Yet, we need to light a match, burn the ship, and step into a new day.

Shame has been my ship. I struggle with shame over my body. Shame told me I was not a true man because I am disabled, and I was not loved by God, and I did not have a purpose. Yet, with my walking struggles and bathroom struggles, I am loved by God by being created as a disabled man for a specific purpose. Shame told me that having a past of being sexually taken advantage of was my fate of how I should be, and it led to other struggles. Yet, God says all things are made new for those who are in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17) and there is now no condemnation (Romans 8:1), and I have a new identity because of Christ. Christ is my destiny; shame is not. 

How did I respond? I literally got a wooden ship and burned it (video link). I no longer want my past and fear to be what I look back at. It is only Jesus and his leading into a new day, and a new future where my focus should be.

So what is your ship? If we want to speak with conviction as Christians, then we must learn to speak with vulnerability. It is not common to open up about our struggles. Instead, we would rather protect our image. Yet, is our image worth being strangled in silence?

So I challenge you. Burn your past. Burn your fears. Make a memorial to God. No longer are we tethered to them. We have a bright future from a God of hope, and nothing will ever separate us from him (Romans 8:31-39).

“Light a match leave the past
burn the ships,don’t you look back…
Step into a new day.”

– “Burn the Ships” For King and Country

Breathing in the Big Picture: (Reviewing The Jesus Bible – ESV)

“The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.”
– Martin Luther

As a seminary student, I am neck deep in Greek, theology classes, hermeneutics, exposition training, and other technical classes. Every week I am going back and forth with the biblical languages, thick commentaries, and technical works.

There are some days the Bible seems like any other textbook I open. Yet, I know it is more.

It is easy for me for to lose sight of the big picture of the Bible: Jesus.

It is good to step back, and open a Bible without all the technical notes. It is refreshing to breathe in the big picture of the Bible: Jesus.

The Jesus Bible

Starting our day in the Word and listening to God speak through his Word is critical. The Jesus Bible is a great resource to get back to that big picture.

Remember when you first received Christ as your savior? You were in love with your savior. However, as you went to church you began to lose sight of him among the “rules,” the doctrine training, and other good things for Christians.

The Jesus Bible guides us back to the big picture. Each book of the Bible comes with a title page revealing how Christ is seen in each book. Therefore, we are led back to the realization that Jesus is the central figure of all of Scripture.

Second, the side notes are devotional. Instead of deep study notes, The Jesus Bible notes how the reader can continually see Christ in the individual passages. There are not many notes, but I find that helpful. You do not become overwhelmed with too many notes. Also, the margins are nice and wide to journal and insert your own notes as you see Jesus throughout the Old and New Testaments. The Jesus Bible is set up to be a great guide as well as an interactive tool.

Third, throughout this Bible, the reader will engage with various articles. These articles encourage a deeper understanding of Christ in Scripture and the themes of Christ’s work, death, and resurrection which affect our lives. Technical language does not crowd out the messages of these articles. Practically, these encourage us to return to our salvation and see the richness in the work Jesus did for us in reconciling us to himself.

However, there is one set back. The font size of the Scripture text is smaller than the side notes. I would like to see the Scripture font increased in order to have ease in reading. But, it is not a reason I would not buy this Bible.

Breathing In

With all the studying I do as a seminary student, it is good to step back and breathe in the big picture of Jesus. This is the biggest aspect of The Jesus Bible I enjoy. We need to keep Jesus as the focus of our Bible study. When we lose the sight of him, we lose sight of the author of our faith and salvation.

The Bible is the cradle which displays the promise of Jesus, the incarnation of Jesus, and the majesty of his kingship. I am grateful for another tool I can use in my life to keep my focus on Jesus.

I recommend this Bible as a great devotional Bible to refocus.

Breathing in the big story of redemption leads us to see Christ as our center of everything we do.

Purchase The Jesus Bible Here

*I received a free copy of this study Bible from BibleGateway to review as I am a member of their Blogger Grid

Standing Against Shame

“The Lord is very ready to forgive: it is the church that is unmerciful sometimes, but not the Master: he is ever willing to receive us when we come to him, and to blot out our transgression. . . Just so does your heavenly Father wait to catch you up, and to press you to his bosom and say, ‘I have loved thee with an everlasting love.’” – Charles Spurgeon

Writing this post is different for me. Speaking of what I am about to share is not common. However, it is important…

I was in high school. I remember the night very well. That night left a knife wound in my soul. It was the night a group of high schoolers thought a disabled teen would make a good target for their prank. They took advantage of me. Shame washed over me, and I thought I was forever caged. Throughout that time I was shamed for being disabled. Mocked for walking with a limp. Jokes being made because my body did not work “normally.” I left high school battered, bruised, and cut deep. From those moments, I began to experience shame over my thoughts, and my body. I was the freak of the high school. “Freak” had been tattooed on my forehead.

Everyday I felt like I wasn’t walking with leg braces. No. Instead, I was walking with chains of shame. Shame drove me to distrust people, push people away, and wall up my soul.

In the silence, I was crying tears of shame.

We all experience shame for something or another…

And it is time to stand against shame.

Shame Over Our Bodies

In our culture today, we can be shamed for how our bodies are made. I have been there. Those who claim to be Christians make fun of how God created us. We feel our only purpose is to be the butt of a joke, and never fit in. And shame places its chain around our necks.

But, our eyes and minds deceive us. The sound of their laughter echoes in our ears, and the painful memories feel like ghosts on a stage. Yet, we need to remember our Creator.

Psalm 139:13-16 not only reveals a truth about us, but about our Creator. God took time putting our bodies together for a specific purpose that at times we cannot see. God knew I would limp. He knew I would not be able to have children. He knew my body would not function like a physiologically normal man. He made all those decisions for me. Yet, he has a purpose.

I remember not that long ago, I was walking to work and the pain in my back was so great that I began shedding tears. I could not make it up the stairs to my office. Yet, God saw my tears over the shame I felt with my physical body. Psalm 56:8 flashed through my mind. God records every tear we shed.

The only way to stand against the shame over our bodies is to remember the promises of God. Despite the pain, despite the jeering, and despite two-faced Christians… we stand on the promises of God. He never created us to be ashamed of what he created in our bodies. He loves us so much to give us a purpose of showing the love of Christ through our bodies. John 9 promises that it is not for evil we have been created with chronic pain, or the disability. Instead, Jesus comes to us and says, “I love you so much that I knew you would be weak so I could use your body for a special purpose.” Our bodies are never punishments. Our bodies are a promise of a Creator who has something planned. We may never see it, but we know God never lies and that promise will be fulfilled.

Shame Over Our Struggles

The incidents of high school changed me. It brought on many struggles I kept silent, because I was ashamed about my thoughts. I was ashamed that I thought I was just to be used by people. I was not loved. I would be the freak that could never belong. This shame brought the struggle that I would never be loved by a woman. I was the beast, and there was no hope of a beauty.

We all have those struggles. Those struggles we hide, yet they feel like a shadow of a serial killer following us. We suffocate in the silence. Our tears flow when we fall again, or we just can’t shake those thoughts. So eventually we becomes a walking mat for shame.

However, Romans 5 changes the game. Our salvation does not just get us a home in Heaven and eternal life. Don’t believe that is all faith in Jesus brings. Our Savior is greater. Our salvation brings us peace with God, it brings us confidence to face our struggles, because in Jesus there is triumph over sin. We no longer have to be stepped on by shame. We can stand against it through the power of Jesus. Psalm 56:8, again, promises God sees our tears. He knows what sin does. Even back in Genesis 3:15 our Creator promises a Savior. Jesus took our shameful struggles to the cross and bled to give us the triumph over them.

No longer do we have to be crying in silence. We can stand against shame. Our struggles do not define us. In fact, God sees us as his saints. Romans 3:26 shows that God makes us righteous before him. Satan is the accuser; not God. Because Romans 8:1 shouts loudly there is no condemnation for those of us who are in Jesus. We are set free and made into a new person (II Corinthians 5:17). No one can take away that love. Not a person, not a word of criticism, not a religious movement… Nothing. God loves us so much he took on a body, was crucified, resurrected, and kept that body because he did not want us separated from his love. Romans 8:31-39 is a seal for us. It is a promise that we can stand against the shame of our struggles because of Jesus our Incarnate Savior.

Jesus Standing Against Shame

There are so many days I feel so alone, and the tears of shame overwhelm. Yet, did you know Jesus faced shame and was alone?

Luke 22:39-46 shows Jesus going into the garden to pray. His heart is heavy with anguish over the shame he is about to face (Matthew 26:37-38). He knew what was coming, and the shame that would overwhelm him. And, Jesus was alone. The disciples were asleep. Yet though the tears dropped like blood to the ground, Jesus gave it to God, “Not my will, but your will be done.”

Jesus stood against the shame of the cross in order to give us victory over our shame (Hebrews 12:1-2). He paved the way as the author of our salvation. He gave us the legs to run against shame and run with endurance. He has been there. He has the scars of shame on his own body. Yet, he did it for you and me. No longer to be chained to shame, but to stand against it.

Step Into A New Day

When I think of my past, and the shame it brought I can feel those shadowy hands trying to take my breath. The tears come, and God knows them all. He sent Jesus to bring joy in our salvation.

Shame no longer has control over us. It is not because we have determined to do anything. Jesus Christ, our Savior, frees us from the bondage and we can stand against shame. We can step into a new day, because great is our God’s faithfulness; his mercy is new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-24). We can breathe with new lungs as the new creation God makes us in salvation.

Yes, I struggle with shame. It is a battle of learning to stand against it. Yet, it is learning to step into a new day receiving the new mercies of our faithful God each day. We are saved by the blood of Christ to stand, not in shame, but in confidence that we are cleansed, justified, and sanctified in the name, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

We can stand against shame, because Jesus faced it already and broke the chains of shame.

Are You Sure You’re Pro-Life?

“Your heart, mind, hands and feet are stamped with the imprint of the Creator. Little wonder that the Devil wants you to be ashamed of your body.” – Joni Eareckson Tada

Abortion.

This one word sparks heated debates, puts feet to marches, and hands to write petitions. It can split people, and rally people together at the same time.

As Christians, we fight to protect the unborn. We vote on the basis of if someone is pro-life. The pro-life/pro-choice issue has been the deciding factor for many Christians for their involvement in politics.

Yet, I want to propose to us a question:
Are you sure you’re pro-life?

Pro-Life and God’s Word

Many Christians quotes the Bible (as they should) to show that God values life. The first verse out of the gate is usually Psalm 139:13-14. This passage gives the mind of God. He forms each child in the womb and each one is fearfully and wonderfully made. God values each human, because he creates and forms each human from conception.

Another one I hear frequently in pro-life conversations is Jeremiah 1:5. God speaks directly to Jeremiah and comforts him with the fact that God formed him in the womb and set him apart for a specific purpose in life.

We may say,”Amen! God values the unborn!” But, hold on a moment. Read the entirety of Jeremiah 1:5 again, “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Read Psalm 139:13-16.

God does say he values the unborn and forms each child in the womb. But, we miss the next part. We quickly read over it and use the parts that speak for the unborn. Yet, there is more. God creates each person for a purpose in life. You and I were created in the womb to live out a purpose.

However, do we treat people who are born and living as those who have a God-ordained purpose?

Are we pro-life with the already born?

Pro-Life and the Disabled

My parents found out early on I was going to be born with spina bifida. The doctor told them I would never walk, or have a life, and be a burden to them. The doctor said, “Abort. Start over. He’s not worth living.” My parents were even offered a chance to have a beautiful room with a beautiful view, induce labor early, and then they could hold me until I died. My parents refused, trusted God, and gave me life.

Psalm 139:13-14 has always been a special passage to me. But, there have been times where it was challenged. In jr. high and high school, I was bullied because of my body. I was mocked because I walk with a limp. Many times guys would purposefully trip me in the hallway to get a laugh. My more personal needs turned into jokes and ways to degrade me. I felt like the freak. I began struggling with depression, and even had suicidal thoughts because I thought, “Was I created and formed only to be a butt of a joke?” The same people who mocked me were the same who preached a pro-life message. These people claimed to be Christians.

When we look at the disabled, what comes to mind? Is it a snicker over eating issues, walking issues, bathroom issues, or physical features that look strange? Do we view people with disabilities as those valuable in the womb, but in life we mock and get our comedy material from them? Is that being pro-life?

God tells Moses in Exodus 4:11 He forms man with seeing eyes or blind eyes. God is sovereign over each person’s formation in the womb. In John 9, Jesus states to his disciples that the man born blind has a purpose to sing the praises of God.

If we claim Jeremiah 1:5 as showing God is pro-life, then God is pro-life with bestowing each person with a purpose. This includes people with disabilities. They have issues because it is part of that purpose. When we snicker at someone with a disability, we are saying that the only reason God created them was for our own laughter.

Are you pro-life in how you treat those with disabilities?

Pro-Life and Racism

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was yesterday. He was a man who fought for the freedom of the African Americans. He fought for equality. He saw the oppression of a people group, and knew he had to speak up and fight for their freedom.

God created everyone. We all agree on this. Yet, do we see the racism around us? Do we see crime, poverty, and hate towards a people group and think, “They chose that,” or “If they would just stop playing the victim”?

Do we apply Jeremiah 1:5 to those with different skin color than us? Do we see that God has made them for a purpose too?

Therefore, if we are pro-life, then we need to speak up and do something when one people group is oppressed. Micah 6:8 is God’s command to us. Being pro-life means we fight for justice for people, because everyone is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

Are we pro-life when it comes to the oppression in our world today?

Are We Sure We’re Pro-Life?

From considering two situations, are we pro-life? Does our pro-life theology extend from the womb and into all of life? A pro-life theology is a theology that celebrates a biblical diversity because God has created that diversity for a purpose to bring him glory.

Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139:13-16 claim that God values life in the womb and out of the womb. He has created each person with a purpose. Yet, we tend to fight just for the unborn. It is good, because it is what God values. But, how are we treating those who are different than us? Do we fight for them? Or, do we make jokes about them? Or use them for our own political gains?

We may say, “Amen! Fight for the unborn! Life starts at conception!” But, do we have the same zeal and concern for the already born?

Are we sure we are pro-life?

Photoshopped Christianity

“We must never look at any sin in our past life in any way except that which leads us to praise God and to magnify His grace in Christ Jesus.” – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

One of our favorite date activities is to attend the theatre. Plays are fascinating to watch: the intricate story, the complicated characters, and the journey the actors take the audience on. What especially intrigues us is when we see a play featuring someone we know. They come on stage different than who they are. They may even look differently. Costumes, wigs, and makeup really do its job.

In our world today, we understand that makeup, wigs, and costumes can change a person’s appearance. Online, we see this through photoshop. An individual takes a picture and then begins to crop, edit, and filter the image to get a final look. We’ve all seen the youtube videos of how photoshop on fashion models work (example here).

When we log onto Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, we are marvel over how some people look so good in their pictures and their lives are just “picture-perfect.” Yet, we know that on our phones we can edit images in order to create a look and a perception to stun people with.

Even in our Christian lives and in our churches, we fall into the cultural trend to photoshop our lives.

Photoshopping our Past

It is interesting to hear testimonies in the church. “Before I was saved…” usually introduces the story. Throughout the beginning we may hear, “Remember, I was not saved then.” We all like to say similar remarks in regards to our past actions, sins, and other things that occurred before salvation. We see our story as a book, and we want our readers to jump the beginning chapters until they get to the salvation chapter.

However, in Acts 26:9:-11 and I Timothy 1:12-14 (and other places), Paul readily admits to his past. He does not hide it. Paul freely talks about his desire to persecute and to kill Christians. The purpose is to demonstrate God’s work in his life. He never excuses what he did, instead Paul testifies to the journey from hostile unbeliever to ministering believer. The story begins with his past.

Our stories begins with our past. My wife has shared her testimony many times. She does not cover up the rape she endured, and the anorexia she struggled with. Lately, I have learned that not photoshopping our pasts brings healing. I was sexually taken advantage of at a Christian school. This is a part of my past.

God gives us a past we might not see as glamorous. We crop our lives to reflect who are now. But, who we are now is because we had a past God gave us, and God used it to bring us to where we are now. Joseph had an awful past before he became second-in-command of Egypt. Yet, what does he say about it (Genesis 50:15-21)?

Our past is nothing to be ashamed of. Christ, through his death and resurrection, has forgiven us of everything and will use everything for his glory and our good. Do you believe that? I used to snicker at that. But, God uses us to spread the Gospel and bring light to a dark world. And, he uses our past.

Photoshopping our Struggles

“Yes, I have an unspoken request.” “Me too.” “And me.” Before we know it, several across the congregation raise their hands signifying they have an unspoken prayer request. “Pray for me as I do some spiritual battling.” Similar to the unspoken request, the general spiritual battling request is a popular one. Or, we hear the constant request as one wrestles with sin. However, it is not spoken of.

Struggles in the church are seen as “things which shall not be named.” We may not even mention struggling. We see struggling believers as weak believers. We may see mature believers and ones who do not struggle, and we want to be like them. So, we edit our image in order to hide our struggles. We compartmentalize our lives. Our public image usually does not match the inner thoughts we have. Aspiring to be a pastor or a leader in a church can be a temptation to photoshop our struggles. But what does that do to us?
We may not keep up with the Kardashians, but we do keep up with an image in our churches.

Romans 7:15-25 would hardly be spoken in a church today. Yet, Paul reveals he struggles with sin constantly and desires he has to give in to it. In II Corinthians 12:6-9, Paul opens the veil of his life revealing the thorn in the flesh and how he wrestled with God to removed it.

In my own life, I struggle with having a disability. It can be very discouraging to walk through life with a limp and people stare. It is discouraging when others think you have a mental disability just because I walk differently. It can be very disheartening being 28 years old, and having issues most men my age do not face.

Yet, for myself and Paul, we need to constantly learn the lesson that not cropping out our struggles allows the grace of God to work in our lives. Even our spiritual struggles when cropped out will always remain, and the silence will give Satan a victory. However, when we bring our physical, emotional, and spiritual struggles to the light of Christ, we find acceptance, forgiveness, healing, and the grace to continue walking. Our struggles may be a shame to us, but they are beautiful in God’s eyes as he uses them to shine the light of the Gospel brighter.

Photoshopping our Christian Life

It is easy in our world to want an image. It is easy in our churches to want an image. It is even easy to want an image while pursuing ministry. But, attaining a public perception perverts the image of Christ being formed in us.

When we photoshop and crop our lives we miss the ways God can use what we see as evil. Yes, God knows your sin past, and he knows your current struggles. Yet, he did not leave us in our shame or in defeat. There is no shame when Jesus enters the picture. There is no condemnation for your past or your present struggle, because we are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). God uses all things for our good in order to transform us into the image of God (Romans 8:28-29). Why are we afraid of God’s will when we look at the past He allowed to happen or our current struggles which he is bringing us through?

God does not want an Instagram perfect Christian (Mark 2:17). He does not want us to pretend we are perfect. The Christian life is not a career in acting. It is a daily journey giving our lives over to our Creator and seeing Him work all things for His glory and our good as the name of Jesus is preached to the ends of the earth through our lives.

When we stop with the editing, and cropping, and photoshopping, we will see God’s grace working through each other. We see the transformation of the Gospel in our lives as a community of believers.

Are we ashamed of the past God gave us? Do we believe He was not in control then? Then, why do we crop that part of our story out? Are we ashamed of our current struggles because of what others will think? Do we not believe that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ? Then why do we continue running after the perfect Facebook or Instagram image of the Christian life?

 “I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am.”
– John Newton

Without Suspicion

“Satan always hates Christian fellowship; it is his policy to keep Christians apart. Anything which can divide saints from one another he delights in.” – Charles Spurgeon

“Ten little soldier boys went out to dine. One choked his little self and then there were nine.”

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie revolves around this poem, and one by one each guest is killed off by the poem. An invitation by U.N. Owen brings each victim to a large house on a secluded island. When what appears to be an accidental death is announced to be murder, the search begins for the killer. However, there is no one on the island, but the ten. After more are murdered, a statement breathes fear into the scene, “Mr. Owen is one of us.” Eyes dart around the room, and suspicion shadows everyone’s thoughts.

Suspicion is a key element in mystery writing. It divides, and creates fear, and distrust between people.

In our churches, suspicion can easily creep in and divide. We need to recognize the situations where suspicion divides and breeds distrust among us as we strive for unity in the church as we make disciples of all nations.

Suspicion of New Believers

Kanye West. Many different thoughts come to mind when we hear his name. But what about his publicly stated conversion to Christianity and his Christian album, “Jesus is King”? When the album first came out, my Facebook page exploded with comments ranging from, “Praise the Lord,” to “We will see how long this lasts,” to “I am sure he is just wanting to make money; he is faking.” The last two comments were the major theme on my newsfeed.

What this reveals is suspicion. People were (and still are) suspicious over the conversion of Kanye West. Is there someone you personally had a hard time believing they trusted Christ as their savior? Was your inner thought, “how long is this going to last?”

Do these thoughts cultivate unity, growth, and trust in the body of Christ? Or are these thoughts ways to push people away and divide the body?

Colossians 1:9-12 instructs us on how to react to the news of new believers. First, Paul says he heard the news of the Colossians’ faith. He probably did not plant the church there, but he wrote to them when he heard of their faith in Jesus. The first thing he did was to not stop praying for them. Did he give them a theology test? Did he wait for obvious fruit? He was excited about their new faith, and he dedicated them to constant prayer.

Paul’s prayer was very specific. It was not just gratitude over their faith. He prayed for their advantage in three specific ways. First, the new believers would be filled with the knowledge of the will of God and with wisdom found in the sphere of God’s Word. Second, Paul prayed the new believers would walk worthy of the Lord. This walk for the new believers is to be seasoned with good works and a growing knowledge of Jesus Christ. Finally, Paul prayed the new believers would be filled with power and strength found in God, in order to live patiently while giving thanks to God.

These three points of Paul’s prayer is to the advantage of the Colossians. He was not waiting for them to mess up, or leave the faith, or have a bet with Timothy on how long the church would last. He heard of their faith, and began praying for their advantage of growth, knowledge, and good works for the glory of God. When was the last time we prayed this for new believers instead of betting how long their decision would last?

Suspicion of Struggling Believers

Sharing our struggles and burdens with each other is a wonderful thing to be done in the church (Galatians 6:1-2). It provides encouragement, accountability, and growth. However, have you heard someone’s struggle and your eyes widened? Was it a new member to your church who just came out of an immoral lifestyle? Was it someone who asked for prayers as they struggle with substance abuse? Was it hearing of the couple that is struggling through their marriage?

What was your first reaction to that confession of a struggle? Did you pull your kids closer? Did you text, “did you hear?” Did you begin putting space between you and that person with the only comment, “Praying for you”? Were you suspicious their struggles might rub off on you?

What do those thoughts do to the body of Christ? In I Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul gives a list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. The list is quite blunt and some of these things if mentioned today in our churches might cause one to blush. “And some of you were like this.” Paul gets to the point. There were people in the church that struggled and most likely continued to struggle with the things mentioned. Did he tell the Corinthians to avoid or be careful lest they catch that sin too? No. Throughout Paul’s epistles, there is a constant theme of fighting with and for each other. The goal is to see people repent, restored, and walking again with Christ together with the church. He knew everyone sinned. In fact, Paul talks bluntly about his struggles in Romans 7. Yet the primary goal is seeing people be reconciled to God and walk worthy of the Lord.

A baby doesn’t begin waltzing after the first steps. Then why do we expect any Christian to have it all together? Why are we suspicious of struggling believers? What makes their sin struggle any different than yours? Wouldn’t you want someone to fight alongside you? Suspicion of struggling believers only isolates them to suffocate in Satan’s silence. Instead of suspicion or gossiping, why not go up to that person and ask, “How can I encourage you? How can I keep you focused on Christ and his Word?”

Suspicion of Other Believers Outside our “Camp”

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorthy, Toto, Scarecrow, and Tin man are walking through the woods. Dorthy turns to the group and asks, “Do you think we will meet any wild animals?” After a quick exchange the group exclaims, “Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!”

Sometimes we say the same about other believers. We look outside our Christian circle or “camp,” and we ask what we might find there. “Calvinists, evangelicals, covenant theologians, and contemporary music, oh my!” While this may be a humorous illustration, it actually happens. When we come across believers who may not be from our background or our circles, we tend to “test” their views. We want to know what they really believe, and then try to correct them. We tend to hold those from another Christian circle in suspicion of do they really believe the Truth. Then, if they do not meet our standards, we tell others to avoid and be suspicious of certain people.

The disciples ran into a similar situation in Mark 9:38-41. John races to Jesus and says, “We met a man trying to cast out demons in your name. So we tried to stop him, because he was not apart of our group.” Jesus looks at the disciples and says, ““Don’t stop him, because there is no one who will perform a miracle in my name who can soon afterward speak evil of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

Have you ever looked at another believer with a different view on an issue and thought, “They do not quite know the truth like I do.” Then, you tend to avoid them or tell others about this person’s faulty views. A lot of the views we fight over do not matter in the long run. Ever heard of the dispensational and covenant theology debate? Guess what? These are both man-made systems for organizing Scripture. Both have their pros and cons. Even in regards to the church music issue. We get suspicious if a church uses drums or traditional music styles. What does that do for the unity of the body of Christ? Are we really going to divide the church because of music?

Paul does divide in Galatians 1:6-10. He states that no other Gospel should be preached. Implicitly he says to avoid it. In Romans 16:17-18, Paul warns the Romans to avoid and separate from those who cause division by their teachings which are contrary to the Gospel. We need to be suspicious when teachings in a church or Christian group goes against the Gospel and what God has revealed. We need to separate from false teaching. But, is using a drum or teaching a certain view contrary to the Gospel? II Timothy 1:13-14 charges Timothy to hold onto the doctrine that was taught. This applies to us by holding onto what is found in Scripture. Let’s not get over dogmatic about man-made books and traditions. What is most important to the church? The Gospel and the faithful teaching and preaching of the Gospel

And, how have we slandered the name of Christ due to suspicion of other believers outside “our camp”?

Leaving Behind our Suspicious Minds

In one of his songs, Elvis sings, “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds, and we can’t build our dreams on suspicious minds.”

When suspicion is apart of our Christian walk towards others there will not be unity. Our churches can go on in unity with this mindset. Most of the time we think of I Corinthians 13 as being an encouragement to couples on their wedding day. But, that is not the context of the passage. Paul is using this to describe the attitude and actions of the church when working together.

“[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” With new believers, we believe and hope for their growth and pray for their advantage. With struggling believers, bear all things and endure with them and alongside them in order to see God glorified through the disciple transformation into the image of Christ. With Christians outside our circles, we believe the best about them, and encourage them to pursue Christ. I Corinthians 13 is first for the church.

How are we doing with suspicion in our own lives and in our churches? Satan will do anything to keep Christian fellowship from happening, and that includes breeding a toxic, suspicious mindset in us and in the halls of our churches. When suspicion reigns as our mindset, we cannot go on together, and we cannot build on the purpose of the church. We need to go on together without suspicion to make disciples of all nations for the glory of God in Christ.

Who do we need to reconcile with because we have tainted our view of them because of suspicion?