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?

A Year Dedicated to Speaking

“If he have faith, the believer cannot be restrained. He betrays himself. He breaks out. He confesses and teaches this gospel to the people at the risk of life itself.”
– Martin Luther

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” – Ronald Reagan
“I have a dream!” – Martin Luther King Jr.
“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!” – Winston Churchill

These words are from some of the most famous speeches in history. These men used words to accomplish much. It is even said that Churchill got the English language to go to war. The great turn of events in history and in the lives of individuals happened because someone spoke. Someone opened their voice and used it for a purpose.

Moses, Isaiah, Esther, and Daniel are some of heroes of the Bible who raised their voices. The whole creation started because God spoke. Each event in the Bible is sparked by a voice.

A new year is about to begin. I am sure we all have our lists of resolutions. Usually these lists are kept silent and only the individual knows. However, what would happen in our new year if we got rid of our lists, and, instead, used our voices?

The voice is quite powerful. Yet, do we understand all that we can do with our voice?

Speaking God’s Word

How many of us have picked out our Bible reading plan for the year? Whatever it may be, it usually starts as a plan to read through the Bible in a year. It is a daily check sheet of making our way through the 66 books. Bible reading is of vital importance for Christians. Yet, have you ever thought of going further? Have you thought that it might not be that important to read through the entire Bible in a year?

What good is studying the Bible if you do not share it with others? When we keep our Bible study to ourselves, it is just like Scrooge hoarding his money. He kept getting and getting and accumulating. But, what happened when he gave what he had?

Colossians 3:16 states to let the Word of God dwell richly among you. The Greek used for “among you” is plural. It is referring to the sphere in which God’s Word should dwell: the church. Individually we study God’s Word deeply in order to know God and His will for our lives. Yet, the Word remains in our individual spheres. We check our list as we progress through the year, and not bother with the sphere of the church.

Instead, let this new year be the year we throw out a check list of Bible reading. Instead, plan to study God’s Word deeper. Use a Study Bible; even try your hand at learning New Testament Greek. It is ok to not read through the entire Bible in a year. Study the Bible in order to speak God’s Word. Speak it into our marriages, speak it into our families, speak it into our churches. The pastor should not be the only one speaking God’s Word into our hearts, our homes, and in our churches.

Our voice this year can speak God’s Word and what we are learning in our study.

Speaking Our Struggles

One of the most popular items on a New Year’s resolution is conquering a sin or a “vice” in our lives. For many Christians it is that struggle we think about when we cannot sleep. It is that burden we hide under stylish clothing at church and hide under a mask of contentment.

I John 1:8 clearly articulates everyone struggles with sin. When we claim to others that we have no struggle, then we are deceiving ourselves. Sin will no longer be a struggle only when we are face to face with Jesus. Until then, we all struggle with temptations, lusts, sinful desires, and sinful actions. Some are more visible than others. But, we all sin and struggle with our fight against sin (Romans 7:15-25).

However, we honestly believe we can fight sin on our own. We feel the pressure to keep an image in our churches. So, we remain silent, and in our silence we suffocate. Many churches, on paper, claim to promote transparency and openness. Yet, why is it when someone opens up, they are shamed by being removed from their work in the church, being talked about behind their backs, or being shunned? A closed voice is one Satan can keep trapped.

Galatians 6:1-2 instructs the church to bear each other’s burdens. When we know someone is struggling, we do not let them fight alone. Hebrew 10:24-25 urges us to provoke and encourage each other towards good works. How are we to encourage each other unless we know what is going on? We cannot remain silent in our struggles. We as believers and as a church need to be willing to hear people’s struggles (no matter how dark) and fight for them (Philippians 2:4). A church is never about its appearance in perfection A church admits to its many imperfections and relies on the perfection of Jesus.

So let this year be the year we use our voices to speak our struggles. We no longer remain in silence and emotionally and spiritual hang ourselves.
Romans 8:1 promises that those who are in Christ receive no condemnation. This needs to be the attitude and environment of the church. We condemn sin, and we fight against sin. But, we should never throw someone to the curb because of their struggle. Proverbs 29:25. When we fear man in our church regarding our struggles, it brings a snare. Yet, when we trust God there is safety.

This new year speak up about our struggles. Do not remain silent. Even if you are in a church where silence is golden, fight that fear off and find a place where Christ’s forgiveness is celebrated when we speak. What would happen in our churches if this year we spoke about our struggles, and let the world see the testimony of God’s grace transforming a struggling church into the image of Christ, our perfection?

Speaking into our Culture

Finally, many of us would like this new year to be a year we see change in the world around us. Abortion, racism, mass shootings, political corruption, and many other things plague our world because we live in a fallen world. Yet, many of us only voice a political opinion. We forget to voice a Biblical opinion.

The Gospel is our main concern, and in Matthew 28:19-20 Christ commands us to make disciples of all nations. Our citizenship is first found with and in Christ. The next time we see a political debate, or a church shooting let the Gospel be the first answer to the problem; not another policy. Romans 1:16 says we should never be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God to transform lives. Sinful hearts do not need a policy. Sinful hearts need a forgiving and life-giving Savior.

But, we also need to stand for truth in our culture. It is more than witty comments on social media. Injustice happens all around us. We see babies being aborted, racism oppressing people, and shooters extinguishing innocent lives. Isaiah 1:17 shows that God values work against injustice, and in Micah 6:8 God says this is to be a value for us as well. However, true justice will not happen until Christ returns. Yet, this is why the Gospel has to come first. The Gospel transforms the heart, the heart transforms the worldview, the worldview transforms the actions. Then, we live out our Gospel-transformed lives with God’s values. This means we fight against injustice. Advocating the pro-life movement is great, but what are we doing to help those who cannot have children? Are we advocating for them? Are we educating ourselves in how racism is played out today? Are we striving for a church that represents the scene in Heaven (Revelation 7:9-10)? There are many instances where we as Christians can speak out against injustice in our culture and act on God’s values. It is not about promoting one political party or another. God’s Kingdom is our citizenship. His rule and His values are more important. Vote in light of God’s values. But, witty comments on social media don’t do anything except blow steam.

This year, let’s speak up for God’s values in how they apply to all areas of life in our culture. Let’s show the love of Christ while speaking His truth.

The Power of Your Voice in God’s Hands

New year’s resolutions are great. However, speaking leads to change. From creation to the new earth, each event in the Bible is sparked by a voice. God uses our human voices to spark change, to kindle fire in the church, and ablaze the world with His Gospel.

But, what if…? Speaking can be scary (believe me, I teach public speaking). Yet, God does not allow our insecurity and fears to be an excuse. Watch this clip.

God used Moses. God used Daniel. God used Paul. God used Esther. They were used for such a time as God ordained. And you? God has ordained you for such a time as this. You were not born with a list of new year’s resolutions. You were born with a voice. When your voice is given over God and His way, think about what can be done! Think of Isaiah when he surrendered his voice and what God did through Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-8).

The new year is upon us. It can be a year of keeping a list. However, what difference would this year make if we stopped with our lists of our own making, and used our voices speaking God’s Word, speaking our struggles, and speaking into our culture?

Do you know the power of your voice? God does, and God gave you that voice. Let’s start the new year by dedicating to speaking and using our voices for God.

Lessons from Ohana

“For the church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities, but the Body of Christ, in which all members, however different, (and He rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.” – C.S Lewis

An alien crash lands on earth (in Hawaii of all places), confused by humans to be a stray dog who got run over, and then adopted into a family of two sisters. Lilo and Stitch, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated Disney movies.

Two sisters have lost their parents in a car accident. Lilo is on the verge of being taken by Child Services unless her sister can prove she is providing a stable home. After wishing for a friend, Lilo adopts Stitch (an alien). The movie then moves on to see how Stitch fits into this family.

However, throughout the film one word is repeated over and over, “Ohana.” Ohana means, “Family. Family means nobody gets left behind, or forgotten.”

As we examine our Christian life and our being in the church, there is are lessons we can learn from Ohana.

Means Family

Many of us look at our Christian walk with God and see where God has worked, and where we have fallen in sin. We see ups and downs. We struggle with knowing God in his Word; our goal would be more consistency. We struggle with resisting temptation; our goal is to listen and obey the Spirit even when it does not seem to make sense.

When the church service begins, we look around and see others testifying to God’s triumphant work in their lives. Our heads fill with how we are missing that, and we smile, but inside we feel like we want to run away. Our spiritual battles seem like a first-person shooter game: it is all of our enemies vs. us. Some how others around us in our churches are advanced leveled-up players; while we feel like we are on level 20, but only being a level 1 character. The end result is never pretty.

The “first-person shooter game” is a lie when it comes to our spiritual battles. Ephesians 6:10-18 describe our spiritual warfare. Paul outlines how we are to succeed in battle. Yet, why do many of us end of as casualties of our battles? We take up the shield of faith, we surround ourselves with truth, we pray… We do it alone.

At first glance at the passage, you see all these commands and references to “you.” It is for you, but it is also not just for you. Looking at the Greek text will help us see something. All commands are in the plural form. When you see “you,” it is in the plural like “y’all.” Therefore, spiritual warfare is not to be done alone. It is a group effort. It is the entire church who is involved. Spiritual warfare is not an individual’s mission and then come back to base. Wars are won by teams, and by groups of people.

Our spiritual warfare losses are because we are not battling together. The church is a family. “Ohana” first means family. It is a group of people brought together by God to do life together. The church does life together. When we forget that and go out on our own, there will always be disaster in our lives.

“Ohana” is another word we could use to describe the church – a family.

Nobody gets Left Behind

When Lilo is kidnapped by aliens, Stitch runs to her rescue. Lilo looks at Stitch and says, “You came back.” Stitch replies, “Nobody gets left behind.”

Have you ever experienced a moment where you felt forgotten or left behind? I am not talking about the “rapture scare” sometimes we have experienced as children. I am talking about a moment where you have sat alone on a couch, on your bed, and your thoughts overwhelm you. Your struggle has beaten you down again. Yet, you think, “When was the last time someone asked you about your life? When was the last time you felt like you could open up without being shamed?” You remember time after time attempting to connect with people to find that discipleship and accountability; only to be reject. So, you feel forgotten and left behind.

The church is to promote an environment of discipleship and accountability. Matthew 28:19 commands us to make disciples of all nations. This means the church is gathering around people to witness the disciple transformation. No one is ever going to achieve sinless perfect on earth, but we can cheer and cry throughout the process. But, do we?

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 declare Christians are all apart of the body of Christ. We are members of each other. Everyone has a purpose. We are to rejoice with each other, and cry with each other. Paul states in verses 24-26 we are to have the same concern for each other: nobody gets left behind.

I have been in a church where the pastor was told to choose a handful of individuals out of a group to disciple. I was not chosen, and I felt not valued in the group as a whole. I knew who was in the inner group doing Bible studies, and I knew my place. In my own mind, it started a journey of believing my spiritual growth did not matter because I was not apart of an accountability group or being mentored. If no one reached out to me, then I believed it was because no one saw any potential in me for God’s work or for me to succeed spiritually. And guess what… I am not the only who had or is still struggling with these thoughts. This is a silent normality.

A church should never be a place where accountability or mentoring is withheld from someone. No one is to be forgotten. Christ did not tell us to make disciples of those whom we see potential. We are to make disciples of all nations (and that means all people). We are to create an environment where everyone’s spiritual discipleship is valued.

Ohana means family… Family means no body gets left behind or forgotten.

Ohana Results in Fighting for Each Other

In the final scene of Lilo and Stitch, Stitch is arrested by the Intergalactic Federation. As Stitch is led away, Lilo remembers she adopted Stitch, and had a license for him. The piece of paper is whipped out and shown to the head alien. “Three days ago, I bought Stitch at the shelter. I paid two dollars for him. If you take him, you’re stealing.” Lilo fought for her Ohana.

Galatians 6:1-2 call us to fight for each other. We are to support one another. We should not allow sin to carry off one of our brothers and sisters. They are owned by Christ. If sin tries to take one, then sin is stealing. We fight to bring them back. The goal of bearing one another’s burden is to see restoration. The goal is not to find out dirt on each other or to kick out “the weeds.” In fact, kicking out the weeds is God’s job (Matthew 13:24-30). Instead, when a brother or sister is being taken by sin, we need to fight to see them restored. We should never just say, “I told you his/her conversion was false” or “I knew he would leave eventually.”

When we cultivate an environment of disciple transformation, we end up fighting for restoration. When we see our Christian lives as a solo act, we judge each other and will not get involved.

Ohana means family… Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten… Family fights for each other.

Who is Our Ohana?

Before you continue reading, please watch this clip.

“This is my family. I found it all own my own. It’s little and broken. But, still good. Yeah, still good.”

This is how Stitch describes his family. He came into a broken family while he himself was quite different. Yet, his family is good.

Our family (the family of God) has been ordained by God (Ephesians 2:16-19). Our “Ohana” is good, because it comes from God. He fought for us to be apart of his household. He brings people in from all walks of life. No one in the church is perfect and fits perfectly. We are all broken people who have been redeemed by Christ’s death and resurrection.

Look around your church. It is broken and made up of people of no significance (little). Yet, it is still good. It is good when we fulfill God’s calling of making disciples. It is good when we see lives transformed into the image of Christ; not transformed into a cultural expression. The power of the Gospel is that it transforms lives.

As a church we are not alone, everyone is valued and apart of the discipleship process, and we fight for each other.

Ohana means family… Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten. This is our Ohana – the church.

Dirty Feet and a Crown

“Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” – C.S. Lewis

I walked into my first ministerial class where every freshman to seminary student pursuing the ministry gathered. My nerves got to my throat and I swallowed. My seat was easy to find. Due to my last name, I was in the middle of a row. “What are you doing here, Stephen? You know there is no theatre class now.” I looked up to see a confused face. “I am here for this class. I am a ministry student now.”

My simple comment started a new path for me. It was a path I had no experience in. It was a path that felt odd, crooked, and unknown. The people who walked this path seemed to know exactly what they were doing, how to act, how to speak, and how to get from one part of the journey to another. Not so in my case. I am the son of a physician and a nurse. Being direct and straight to the point is the communication skill of the medical field. Being an ex-theatre major voicing opinions (even unpopular ones) were not welcomed on this new path. Many times I found myself sticking my foot, fist, and maybe a brick or two into my mouth. While others ran with leaps and bounds… scrapped knees, bruises, and stumbles marked my journey in ministry (and still does).

Quickly, I found myself on a path where the race was off, and I clearly was not welcomed. So I ran. But, I ran for the nearest exit.

Coming Back to God’s Calling

Psalm 139 has always been a special Psalm in my life (especially verses 13-16). Viewing yourself as being fearfully and wonderfully made with a purpose by God can be challenging for a normal person; let alone a person born with a disability. Believing God did not make a mistake by giving me Spina Bifida has been one of the hardest challenges to overcome. Growing up in a Christian school I was bullied, mocked, and even taken advantage of in physical ways. Seasons of depression marked my calendar like Fall and Winter. Yet, when the Holy Spirit breathed life into my dead soul, Jesus became more than a man in a story. He was the incarnate God who formed me and then became a man himself to die in my place to give me a new heart and a new purpose of living (John 1:14; II Corinthians 5:17).

A new and surprising purpose landed in my lap. Praying for a clear path of what to do with, Romans 10:14-15 hit me like a 2×4 to the head. “How beautiful are the feet of them that bring good news.” My feet are not beautiful to look at. They are crippled surrounded by plastic and metal leg braces. Yet, it was in this passage God spoke to be his beautiful feet.

And I found myself in the ministerial class. God sent a message, and I responded.

Dirty Feet

Yet, as the days, months, and years passed in formal ministerial training, I looked down and saw how dirty my feet were. My sin clung to them like heavy mud. It cracked my feet and sometimes infections oozed their way to the surface of my feet. My thought life and my speech did not belong. They created a dust cloud around me.

Others pointed out my dirty feet, and “encouraged” me to clean my feet up like their clean feet. Scrubbing and scrubbing I could get the dirt off, but the scars of the past criss-crossed my feet. When I tried to hide the past, it just kept coming to the surface. Others had no scars or had gotten the scars to go away. Mine lay bare like an embarrassing tattoo.

Therefore, I always walked around with tension of being in the ministry and pursuing that or running away; never wanting to be apart of it. I did not belong in this group. Being different with a physical disability was enough difference for me. I did not need my past and my struggles to be another witness to how different I am. People’s criticism and words showed me the exit.

I did not have beautiful feet. I had dirty feet. I did not belong there. After many years of feeling tension, it was not until Fall semester 0f 2019 that I was the closest to leaving formal ministry training and no longer pursuing it.

Dirty feet have no business in God’s ministry.

Yet, how wrong I was…

A Lineage of Dirty Feet

It is Christmas season and the majority of us read Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. We read the story of the incarnate birth of Christ. Before gifts are unwrapped, we read the stories and thank God for the greatest gift of all: Jesus.

But, back up. We usually start the story at Matthew 1:18. Before we talk about Mary and Joseph, go read Matthew 1:1-17. Most genealogies are skipped over due to not knowing names. But, we know plenty of names in this list.

This is the royal line of Christ. This is the line that God used through the seed of the woman to bring the death of the serpent as prophesied in Genesis 3:15. But, don’t set up masterpieces of art when you see these names. Don’t set up your flannel graph. It is a royal lineage of dirty feet ending with the one who washed their feet in his own blood.

Abraham lied. Jacob had deceiver on his resume. Judah fathered children by his own daughter-in-law when he thought she was a prostitute. Rahab was not even an Israelite. She did not belong in this group. Ruth was a Moabite. She also did not fit into the group. David had Solomon through an adulterous relationship with another man’s wife (Bathsheba). Rehoboam split the kingdom. Manasseh is considered one of the worst kings in the Old Testament.

There is dirt on all these people. Christ did not come from a line of mosaic saints with halos. Scars and dirt covered his ancestors. Yet, God used them to be in the line of the Messiah: the perfect, sinless Son of God.

No Reason to Run

It is easy to look at our own failures, sins, struggles, pasts and then at God’s calling on our lives. The two are the complete opposite from each other. There is no way we could fulfill what God is calling us to do. So, we run. We may pretend everything is alright, but we suppress the tension of staying or running.

Is there a reason to run? Only when we look at everyone else. When our eyes are not fixed on God’s Word and God’s calling we stumble in comparing ourselves to others. There is no reason to run when we see God using anyone to accomplish his will. We let the image of others choke out our voice and stumble our feet while we become a fulfillment of Proverbs 29:25.

Yet, when we trust in the Lord we will be safe. It is not just trusting God in the bad times or when things are not going our way. It is trusting God is leading us down the right path, even when people laugh at us or tell us to quit. We trust when we do not belong. We continue walking by faith and not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7). Scrapped knees and stumbles will happen because of sin. Yet, it is the merciful hand of God pulling us back onto our feet that prove he is not done with us yet.

There is no reason to run when we feel we do not belong or because our feet are scarred. God does not call the qualified. He will qualified his called.

Dirty Feet and a Crown

In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis ends the story with the crowning of the four Pevensie children. Yet, it is a curious sight to see Edmund crown king and then called “Edmund the Just.” He was the one who betrayed the others to the White Witch. He was the one for whom Aslan laid down his life. Edmund was a traitor. Yet, he is crowned king by Aslan. Edmund had dirty feet. However, Aslan knew who he was crowning. He gave Edmund a new life and purpose to live. This new life and purpose as a king in Narnia may have felt undeserved and overwhelming, but it was Aslan who crowned him.

And it is God who calls you. He calls you to pick up your crown of being an ambassador for Christ and to wear it with humble pride. It is a heavy weight to bear. But, it is God who gives you this title and this purpose. You cannot run away from who God made you or from what God has called you to do. Running only leads to heartache and stress.

My struggles may make me stick out as not fitting the “mold” some have created. But, can’t God still use me? Can’t I still follow this path? Being called into ministry does not mean I do not struggle. Instead, I admit I struggle. To some this would be considered a “position-kill,” but it is not in our perfections we glorify in. Instead, we glorify in our imperfections, because our perfection come from Christ.

So it is time to stop running. Accept the fact that God has called you. He knows your past, your struggles, and your faults. He still called you. Now, pick up your crown, and live like the king or queen God through Christ sealed by the Holy Spirit has called you to be.

“Christ has taken our nature into heaven
  to represent us, and has left us on earth
  with his nature to represent him.”

– John Newton

The Life Application Study Bible (3rd Edition): Answering the So What Question

“Faith is not an achievement, it is a gift. Yet it comes only through the hearing and study of the Word.” – Martin Luther

In teaching public speaking, I tend to reiterate one question to my students: “So why should we listen to you? So what about your topic?” This question gets to the heart of their speeches. It informs the audience why it is important to listen, to interact, and to use the information that is being presented.

Studying the Bible is exactly the same. We can listen to a sermon, read a devotional, and read the Bible, but our hearts ask one question: “So what?” Answering this question is key for growing as a Christian. We can know the “whats” of the Bible, but we go deeper when we know the “whys.”

This is where The Life Application Study Bible (3rd Edition) can help.

Clarity in Language

In dealing with the “why,” we need to be able to understand the Bible in order to answer that question. The Life Application Study Bible has taken on the task to make every verse, note, and application understandable. The theology is beautifully woven into simple notes. You do not need a theology degree to understand this study Bible. What you do need is an open heart to read the Bible and be changed by it.

Clarity for understanding and application can only come from when the language of the material is comprehensible. This study Bible (in all its aspects) makes that possible.

Guiding Us to the Heart

One of the best features of The Life Application Study Bible are the many opportunities to get to the heart of every passage. The notes and character sketches guide us to answering the “so what” that plagues our minds. It isn’t enough just to know a passage in-depth. There has to be application. These features point us in that direction.

Guidance in Bible study is beneficial as we wade the waters of life with the Word as our guide. The Life Application Study Bible is an excellent guide into knowing, interacting, and living out God’s Word.

Make Sure to Check the Back

One thing that sets this study Bible apart from the others, is what can be found in the back. Not only are the notes and other features inside the Bible helpful, but the items found in the back are a gem. We can study and apply the Bible to our lives; however, being a disciple of Jesus does not end there. We need to know how to make disciples of all nations; as Jesus commanded us in Matthew 28:19-20. If we did not make disciples, our faith and Christian life would be like the Dead Sea. It does not go anywhere. It does not pour into another body of water. A good body of water feeds into another.

The articles in the back of The Life Application Study Bible put us on a good course for fulfilling the Great Commission. “How to become a Christian,” “How to Follow Up with a New Believer,” and “So You’ve Been Asked to Speak…” are some of the articles found in the back. Each of these can develop the skills to make disciples. This does not say church and the fellowship of the believers are not important. But, these tools can help in this process.

Check the back. There are great articles and tools to help you individually, and help others know Jesus and grow in their relationship with Him.

So What’s the Difference?

There are many changes to The Life Application Study Bible. Has the Scripture itself changed? No. What has changed is the culture in which we live. The first edition came out in the 1980’s. Today, in 2019, there have been many changes culturally, linguistically, and societally. This study Bible has done a great job of updating the user friendliness of the Bible, as well as the notes to reflect a Biblically-based way of applying the Bible to our lives today. Some of the issues that we face are wrote about more and provide better answers to walk with.

Here is a short video to help you understand the changes in this edition:
The Life Application Study Bible – 3rd Edition Changes

Studying the Bible and Applying to Life

The Life Application Study Bible is one I have used for many years. I go back to it with every project, paper, sermon, or lesson I am working on. The third edition has helped me in applying the Bible to issues around us that were not around or as prevalent compared to ten years ago. This study Bible is a tool that should be on your shelf. Studying the Bible is how we grow in Christ. Living out the Bible is how faith is put into practice. The Life Application Study Bible helps us walk each step in that process as we navigate each issue from a Biblical worldview.

Purchase The Life Application Study Bible here

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

A Controversial Movement Benefiting the Church

“Our confidence in Christ does not make us lazy, negligent, or careless, but on the contrary it awakens us, urges us on, and makes us active in living righteous lives and doing good.” – Zwingli

Throughout history, there have always been movements. A movement can be defined as, “a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas.” In our own country of the United States, movements have been apart of our society since its beginning. The American Revolution started with a movement to separate from England. The Abolition Movement sought to end slavery. The Women’s Right Movement, which first started in 1848, sought for various rights for women. Currently, the Climate Change Movement and Black Lives Matter Movement have had significant impact on our culture.

When we step back and analyze these historical movements (and even current movements), we need to see if a movement is beneficial or hazardous to our culture. There are many that fit both the good and the bad. Something that is beneficial, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is defined as “producing good results or helpful effects.” When we see movements like the Hippie Movement, Black Lives Matter, and Abolition we can legitimately discover if that movement has benefited society (Abolition) or not (The Ku Klux Klan Movement).

As a church, we need to do the same with every social movement. As a new movement marches the streets, Christians are responsible to not react to these movements. Christians are to look to Scripture and see if there is any way this movement can help the church.

A movement benefiting the church would need to bring helpful effects. However, to clarify what this looks like, we need some criteria.

The Criteria

As Merriam-Webster defines, a movement that is beneficial needs to produce helpful affects.

Therefore…

A movement beneficial to the church would need to push us in our gospel-focused interactions with people.

A movement beneficial to the church would need to cultivate a deeper Biblical thinking and study of the Word.

A movement beneficial to the church would need to affirm our stance on God’s Word.

A movement beneficial to the church would need to assist us in our gospel proclamation.

We can all agree if a movement came along that fulfilled these criteria, that movement would beneficial to the church. For example, the Abolition Movement fulfills each of these criteria. We learned to study the Word deeper and cultivate a Biblical thinking on the issue of race and slavery. We were forced to push our gospel-focused interactions with people of different races. We were forced to stand on what God’s Word said about slavery and race rather than mans’ misguided teaching. We have been pushed to contextualize the Gospel to other people groups and not white-wash our churches and the Gospel.

Therefore…

The Proposition

The LGBT+ Movement benefits the church.

The LGBT+ Movement is dedicated to gaining rights and normalcy for those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and any other category in this group.

First, we need to remember that we do not bend where God’s Word stands on this issue. What God’s Word says about this lifestyle or this worldview or however we want frame it we do not compromise. What God’s Word says goes.

Second, this means there will be disagreement between Christians and the LGBT+ Movement over what is sin and what is not sin. As Christians, we stick with Scripture. However, it does not mean that the LGBT+ Movement can’t benefit the church. As we will see, the LGBT+ Movement fulfills our criteria; and therefore, is beneficial to the church.

Image of God Interactions

Genesis 1:26-27. God creates all human beings in His image. Men and women are created by God, personally, in His image. God did not make us like the animals. He did not make us like plants. We are the crowning glory of His creation.

Each human bears the image of God. Genesis 9:5-6 states that any murder of a human is heinous in God’s sight, because it is destroying someone who bears God’s image. We would agree that abortion is murder because it is destroying the image of God.

James 3:7-9 takes the destruction of God’s image bearers even further. Not only is murder destroying the image of God, but according to James the slandering and verbal degradation of another person is degrading the image of God.

Not only actions and words, but attitudes that degrade the image of God are condemned in James 2:1-13. We are not to show favoritism. We are all made in the image of God. Therefore, having an attitude that one is inferior than another is still degrading the image of God.

When we look at the LGBT+ Movement, what comes to mind? Do we call them the “alphabet soup”? Do we see them as freaks in society? Do we avoid having friends who identify with this group, because we see them as inferior to us? How do we see the sin of homosexuality? Is it a sin no one can be forgiven of? Is it a sin worst than any other? Or, is it a sin like stealing, lying, and idolatry? When the topic of the LGBT+ Movement came up in your life, how did you respond?

Romans 3:23 clearly states that all have sin (including us), and all have fallen short of the glory of God. I Corinthians 6:9-10 condemns all of us. We are all not without sin.

The LGBT+ Movement benefits the church, because it challenges how we view each other as fallen image bearers of God in need of a Savior. All of us are lost in sin. All are in need of Jesus Christ. We will continue to degrade the image of God in those who identify with the LGBT+ Movement until we see them as God sees us – Fallen image bearers in need of a Savior.

When we do not see them as image bearers, we assume the worst about their motives and interactions with the world around us. The American government did the same thing with Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pear Harbor. People did the same thing during the Red Scare with their trials. Lastly, Christians did the same thing during the Salem Witch Trials.

When we forget to see people as the image bearers of God, we treat them under suspicion. Everyone needs Jesus. The LGBT+ Movement benefits the church by challenging us to continue to see people as made in the image of God who are fallen and need a Savior just like we do.

A Deeper Bible Study

One of the most reoccurring themes in the pulpit today is that of Bible study. Pastors and teachers in the church continually challenge us to read and study our Bibles with depth in order to know God and to know how to live for Him.

Titus 1:9 is a forgotten reason for studying the Bible. We are to study the Bible with such a depth that we are able to answer those who try to contradict what the Bible says.

In recent news, we have seen many instances where the LGBT+ Movement contradicts Scripture. However, we tend to react to those things. We stiff arm and say, “that is wrong.” But, we do not have a reason. We have not studied the Bible in-depth in order to come to a Biblical response to the LGBT+ Movement.

The LGBT+ Movement challenges us to study the Word deeper and to come to a Biblical response to what is happening. This is a benefit to the church. Instead of reacting the this movement, have you seen it as a God-given opportunity to deepen your Scripture study? If we all claim II Timothy 3:16-17 as a promise of what God’s Word does in our lives, then do you not think it is sufficient to answer the questions and concerns of this movement? If you have been pushed to study your Bible deeper for God’s glory, then it is benefiting the church.

A Firmly Founded Stand

Sometimes there are ideas and movements in our culture which make our faith seem to wobble under pressure. We are unsure what to do. We think we know the truth, but we are scared to stand for the truth. The pressure comes, and we feel like cowards towards God’s truth. However, the issues of the LGBT+ Movement forces us and challenges us to stand firm on God’s Word.

Paul’s final exhortation, in I Corinthians 16:13, urges us to stand firm in the faith. He commands us to be courageous and strong. He would not give us this exhortation if it was going to be easy to stand on God’s Word in faith. In fact, throughout the New Testament we are urged to stand firm in our faith and to stand on God’s Word no matter what movement or government is sweeping society (Ephesians 6:10-18; Philippians 4:1; Colossians 4:12; II Thessalonians 2:15; I Peter 5:12)

Any person, movement, government, or anything that forces us to stand firm in our faith in beneficial. The reason is because we live by faith, and not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7).

Contextualizing our Outreach

As missionaries plant themselves in other countries to make disciples, they have to learn to contextualize the Gospel. Contextualizing the Gospel is not changing the message of the Gospel. It is adjusting the presentation of the Gospel in order for a people group to understand it. Paul clearly contextualizes his Gospel presentations throughout the book of Acts. In Acts 13:13-52 Paul preaches to a group of Jews. He uses a lot of Old Testament references in order to reach the Jews. However, in Acts 17:16-34 Paul takes a whole different approach to reaching Gentiles with the Gospel. He uses their own culture to reach them by using the altar to the unknown god as an illustration and expounds on a point using one of their poets.

Have you ever thought how you would share the Gospel with someone in the LGBT+ Movement? How would you share with them how to be reconciled with their Creator through the work of Jesus Christ in faith? The message of forgiveness of sin through Christ will not change, but how we present it will change.

The LGBT+ Movement benefits the church by challenging us to present the Gospel in a contextualized way that will make sense to those who identify with this group. If we all agree we are all created in God’s image who are fallen and in need of Jesus to save us, then we need to know how to present that to everyone so they can understand it and make their faith in Jesus personal.

Conclusion

Movements come and go throughout history. Our country has seen many. Our churches have seen and interacted with many. We have been benefited by many; like the Abolition Movement. However, some movements we react to and forget there might be a benefit in disguise. The LGBT+ Movement is one we tend to react and stiff arm. We forget to Biblically respond.

The LGBT+ Movement does benefit the church. We will disagree on the issue of sin. However, that does not excuse the church to write off this movement. We can learn and grow as Christians from things we Biblically disagree with. God brings things into our lives to grow us. Do you not think the LGBT+ Movement can be used to grow our faith and churches? God uses everything for His glory as He uses the church to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

The next time you come across the LGBT+ Movement or someone who identifies with this group, what are you going to think? How are you going to approach this group? Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). All nations mean all peoples. All people include those in the LGBT+ Movement. This movement does benefit the church as we seek to fulfill the mission of the church to make disciples of all peoples.

“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

And the Award Goes to…

“Man’s sanctification is never to the glory of a man, as though man could glory in any holiness of his own.” – Martin Luther

One of my favorite times of the year in the media are the award shows. The red carpet, the fashion, the nominees, the winner, it is all exciting to see. When you hear, “The winner is…” you can’t help but think how that person’s life has now been changed. Each actor, designer, and director have been striving for this one moment. The moment to win the award to show they have made it. They have joined the other greats who have made the mark.

Those in film, music, theatre, and the other performing arts train to become the best in their field. They want to stand out. Others who do not win the award go back the drawing boards. Emotions of disappointment are worked through, and more plans are constructed as a scaffold is built in order to reach the award.

Awards are an interesting phenomenon in our culture. The ceremony of giving awards can be seen as way back as the ancient Greeks. Everyone wants to be recognized. And, everyone wants to meet the benchmark.

As Christians, is there a lesson we can learn in our own practices?

The Christian Award Phenomenon

You have probably been in a Christian school, institution, or even a church that has recognized someone and presented an award for Christian Character, Christian Perseverance, or Christian Service. Names are chosen for who is best exemplifying Christ in their lives. Many of the reasons for these awards is to provide an example to others around us.

You might be surprised to know that when I researched a history of Christian awards, I could only go back to the 1960’s. There were no records further back. Christian awards are a modern phenomenon. In comparison, the Oscars first started in 1929. They came about with the film industry. Christianity has been around much longer. Yet, Christian awards are not seen throughout church history.

The question must be asked, “Why is this a thing in Christian culture? Is it biblical to give out awards such as a Christian Character Award? What are the potential blessings and dangers as we think about Christian awards?”

The Bible and Awards

When we first think about the Bible and awards, we think of Matthew 5:11-12 claiming our reward is in Heaven. Crowns of life tease our imagination as an award found in James 1:12. Awards connate honor, and the biblical phrase “Honor to those you owe honor (Romans 13:7)” rolls right off the tongue.

Before we open the envelope to unveil the next winner, let’s consider the contexts of these award-giving passages. There are others, but I would like to deal with these popular passages.

Matthew 5:11-12 falls at the start of the Sermon on the Mount in the section known as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). Jesus reveals what is meant by a blessed life. In the final two verses (vs. 11-12), He tells us that it is blessed to be persecuted. He says it is good to be glad and rejoice when we face persecution. Why? Because we have a great reward in Heaven. Notice the location of our reward: in Heaven.

James 1:12 is apart of a larger section in which James is writing about how to endure trials (James 1:2-18). Verse 12 is a promise for those who endure trials. God has promised a crown of life. Take note that it is God who is giving the award.

Finally, Romans 13:7 find itself in a discussion about the Christian and government (Romans 13:1-7). Paul is encouraging Christians to submit and respect their government. He even goes as a far as saying to pay taxes and give honor to whom honor is due. The context has nothing to do with awarding people. It has to do with our response to government and paying our taxes as one action in honoring our government.

When looking at two of these passages, we come to the conclusion that God is the giver of awards and they are not found on earth, but in heaven. In fact, Revelation shows us that everything we are and everything we gain can be cast back in honor of our Savior (Revelation 4:9-11).

Awards as a Benchmark

The unfortunate aspect of awards is that all do not receive an award. Yet, all Christians receive the award of eternal life with their Savior. So what are Christian Character awards? They are dedicated to those who display extraordinary Christian living. Recipients can be perceived as those who have reached a benchmark in their sanctification. It can almost be seen as having arrived at what true Christian living looks like.

Biblically speaking, benchmark sanctification is far from the truth. Paul (Romans 7:14-25) confesses his struggle with sin. He is a good example of one who could have said “he has made the mark” with his sanctification, but clearly confesses he is not perfect. He still has a long way to go.

This is a potential danger with Christian awards. We present them to the one who displays Christian character. However, for the recipient it sets up a potential pedestal of pride which can lead to a fall. There are many Christians nationally famous, and others who are not, which after a while of receiving an award for their Christian faith have walked away and led others astray. On the flip side, those observing can feel shame and frustration as they have prayed and fought sin, but still have not made the “award benchmark.” This may not happen in all situations, but it is a danger that can lead us astray in how we view sanctification. Our sanctification is about Christ’s work in us for the glory of God.

The Endeavoring Encouragement

As we have seen, awards come from God. Our Christian character is a working of the Spirit as we walk with Him, and not on benchmarking ourselves with each other.

What would happen if instead of awards, we gave the opportunity to give a testimony? Ephesians 4:19 outlines a way to encourage each other through song. Could we use the same principle and encourage each other through God’s working in our lives? Then we will be fulfilling Hebrews 10:24-25. Do awards really provoke us to love and good works? Or do awards spark a sanctification based on comparison?

Many people are famous in church history, not because they won an award, but because they died for Christ and proclaimed His Word. People to note in church history did not win an award, but voiced a Biblical response to bring Christians back to biblical thinking. It is not about winning an award that makes or breaks our sanctification or makes us famous. That is the world’s way of thinking. Christ is the one who makes our sanctification, and it is when we stick to the Word we can win the best award when we hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Sanctification and holiness is not for our own glory, but to give glory back to Jesus who saved us through an award-winning work where he receives the Kingdom and the title “King of kings.” Awards can be good, but it is better to hear “Well done” by our Savior than an applause of a crowd.