The Encouragement Challenge

Discouragement happens.  It comes into all of our lives.  Discouragement steals our joy.  It robs us of peace.  Discouragement is not always defeat; but the fear of it.  The sense that things not only are not going well, but will not go well.

Discouragement is the loss or lack of confidence.  It is the losing of courage.  When confidence and courage are lost they can be very difficult to find.  For the Christ-follower, the idea of courage is closely related to that of faith.  Faith is something that leads us to do the extraordinary – like move mountains or walk on water or see people healed.  Faith is the courage to believe God – not in word but in deed.

Encouragement, unfortunately, does not happen often enough.  Did you know, follower of Jesus, that you are commanded to encourage?  “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  (Hebrews 3:13)

Yet, encouragement is something I believe is lacking too often from and in the life of the believer.  I wonder what would your church would look like a year from now if everyone in your church took seriously the command to encourage one another?  What would your marriage look like if you and your spouse became each other’s greatest encouragers?  How differently would your children live out their faith if you became their greatest encourager?

Encouragement, Biblically, is much more than a pat on the back and an “atta boy.”  Encouragement means to exhort – to give instructive encouragement.  We are called to speak the “truth in love” to one another to build one another up toward maturity in Christ.

What would happen if the believers around you began to speak courage into your life about doing anything and everything God gifted you and commanded you to do?  What would happen if you did this for others?

6 Tips for becoming an encourager:
1.  Say what you need to say.
When you feel lead to share something with someone, speak up.
2.  Say things with a right spirit.
Sarcasm has become an unfortunate enemy of encouragement.  Use it sparingly and wisely.
3.  Say things that are true.
You will never encourage faithfulness from a place of faithlessness.
4.  Encourage with what you encourage to.
Truth encourages truth.  Hope encourages hope.  Joy encourages joy.  You get the picture.
5.  Put your trust in God that is working in people, not just in the people.
Considering one another God’s workmanship helps us not give up on His work.
6.  Encouragement is best face to face.

Who needs you to encourage them today? Who do you need to speak some truth in love to today? Who needs you to show up in person today?

THE ENCOURAGEMENT CHALLENGE –
Will you commit to a week of encouragement?  A month?  A year?
Here is the challenge – choose one person you will encourage this week.
If they need to be brought back to truth bring truth in love to them.
If they need faithfulness appreciated, appreciate them.
Be personal…Be specific…Be encouraging.
If you do it for one week, why not try a month?
If for a month, why not a year?
If a year, why not for life?

Four Signs You’re Not Ready For That Hard Conversation (And What You Can Do About It)

Prepared

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  (Ephesians 4:31-32, ESV)

We’ve all been there before.  There is a difficult conversation- perhaps we’d even call it an outright confrontation– that needs to be had.  Someone is in the wrong, and it has to be addressed.  We know it, and perhaps have known it for some time.  But for all that knowing, we just can’t bring ourselves to start talking; the thought alone is enough to make us sick with awkward discomfort.  And the closer our relationship with the other party in question, the more intense our aversion becomes.

Much like you, I’ve been here before- in marriage, in friendship, in work relationships, and even in relationships within the local church.  And keeping it real, I often haven’t handled such situations very well.  I typically fall into one of two “ditches”- one, the ditch of chronic procrastination, followed by the release of an explosive flood of emotion (i.e. a fancy description for a temper tantrum), and two, the ditch of cowardly equivocation, the proverbial “halfway conversation” that seems easier in the moment, but in the end represented a massively wasted opportunity.  Can you relate?

Very few of us enjoy hard conversations (if you do, you may have your own set of issues to deal with!), but the reality is, sometimes they are necessary.  Sometimes they are even better than necessary; they represent incredible opportunities for healing and growth in maturity.  According to God’s Word, we must make the most of our opportunities to engage them, especially when God’s glory, the health of relationships, and the effectiveness of the church’s mission are at stake.  But what are the signs that you may not be fully prepared to initiate such a conversation- and what you can do about it, presuming that an indefinite delay is neither healthy nor possible?  Read on, and allow the words of Ephesians 4:31-32 guide you…

1- You aren’t ready to forgive.  I’ve long contended that forgiveness- particularly the extreme variety modeled by God in the Gospel, and commanded for His followers- is among the most difficult things that God demands in His Word.  It’s a process, no doubt- and often one that must be repeated over and over (and over) again.  It is, however, a non-negotiable if we’re going to handle confrontation in a God-exalting, life-giving away.  So first step, before we go to someone else, is to put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger” from our hearts, positioning ourselves to offer others the gift which God has lavished on us- undeserved grace.

2- You aren’t ready to be kind.  Just speaking from personal experience, I can’t think of a single instance when someone yelling at me, demeaning me, or humiliating me gave birth to deep, long lasting, Jesus honoring transformation.  Especially in difficult conversations, basic kindness goes a long, long way.  So as you put away that first set of barriers to forgiveness, take a cue from Paul’s words in Ephesians and set aside “clamor and slander and all malice” as well.

3- You’re not certain of your convictions.  To use a sports analogy, confrontation is an offensive– not defensive– action.  In other words, it isn’t reactive, but is instead strategic and well planned.  Often, I think our unrestrained emotionalism in tough conversations is a result of a lack of clarity in our own convictions.  The firmer we are in what we want to communicate- and the more that communication is anchored in the timeless, authoritative Word of God- the less prone we will be to slipping into counterproductive, insecurity driven words and actions.

4- You don’t have a clear end game.  Before engaging someone in a hard conversation, always ask yourself this- What’s the point of this?  What do I hope to accomplish here?  Like, if this thing went perfectly, what would be the result?  If the answer to that question isn’t more glory for Jesus, more maturity for the party in question, more healing in relationships, and more health for the church, then settle those things in your heart before opening your mouth.  Obviously you can’t control, or make yourself responsible for, others’ responses to you, but you sure can set everyone up to win by having a well-defined plan for success on the front end.

So let’s say one or more of these “four signs” describe you right now.  You’re not unusual; I’ve found myself in all four of these places before.  But what can we do about it when we do?  Paul answers that question as well, by pointing us back to our “roots” in Jesus Christ.  Look again at the end of Ephesians 4:32, into 5:1-2-

“…Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:32b-5:2, ESV)

Notice what Paul is doing here?  He is tying our relationships with others to our relationship with God in the Gospel.  The New Testament does this all the time, communicating to us constantly, “Remember how God has treated you in Christ?  That’s how you’re to treat one another, even (especially!) when they struggle and stumble and fail and fall.”  That being the case, the single best thing you can do to get ready for a hard conversation is to reflect deeply on the Gospel of God’s amazing grace.  When is that last time you did that?  I challenge you to search the Scriptures this week for all of the (many) texts which address this very thing.

Remember this one thing- God gave you His best, even when you gave Him your worst.  That truth should impact and transform us to the core of our being, and color every single other relationship we have.  How is it impacting you today, and how will it inform the hard conversation that you need to have?

Eye Damage

Yesterday was a solar eclipse.  Experts put much time and effort into warning people about viewing the eclipse.  Yet, last night at 8:20 PM google saw a peak in the search for “my eyes hurt.”  People began seeking google to help the figure out if they had unwisely damaged their eyes.  Experts say it may take several days or up to a week before you would know if you damaged your eyes.  In the end, the only way to really know is to have an examination by an expert.  No matter how many times you google the question you will be unable to truly examine the health of your own eye.

Jesus taught us a pointed and practical truth about ourselves when he said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  Matthew 7:1-5

Currently, we are teaching on the Biblical command of encouragement.  Encouragement is the great privilege that followers of Christ have to “put courage into” others.  We have the command to speak life into others in the name of and in the power of the One who gives life – the Lord Jesus Christ.  Encouragement is a command – not a suggestion.  We are called to encourage one another.

The hard part about encouragement is that it requires truth speaking.  We are admonished in Scripture to “speak truth in love.”  Many excuse themselves from such commands in the idea “well, it’s the truth.”  And it is the truth, or at least, their version of it.  I believe one of the most important elements to be a truth speaker is being willing to be a truth hearer.  Not just a hearer, but a doer of the truth.  To hear how truth applies to you first before you ever have the audacity to speak how it applies to someone else.

According to the teachings of Jesus recorded Matthew 7, we are completely incapable of being used by the Lord to help a brother or sister deal with a problem in their life until we have been willing to deal with that problem in our own life. I do not believe this means we have completely overcome a sin or a struggle.  I believe these words mean that we must live in humble and open honesty about those issues.  We must be willing to deal with the truth of our own sin before God can use us to speak into someone else’s.

Often this passage is grossly and horribly misused to mean that you should never have opinion about right and wrong in another’s life.  No, Jesus teaches you – START WITH YOU.  As we experience God’s gracious work in our own lives we can be used by God to be a part of that work of grace in the lives of others.  These two realities work in cooperation not in opposition to each other.

If we are not careful we sell the love of God very short.  It can end up simply mean being nice and accepted towards people no matter wrong and sin.  We should be kind.  We should be able to accept others as they are, but if we think kindness and acceptance means that we should not speak truth into sin, then we dishonor everything about the death and resurrection of Christ and forfeit the very Gospel itself.  Love is not that easy.  God’s love was not that he said – you are all good.  He said “none of you are good” but there is “One who is good.”  The “One who is good” will himself take upon himself your bad (or unrighteousness) so that you can become good (or righteous).  That righteous is not of you, it is the righteousness of the Good One – Jesus Christ.  That is good news.  But it is news that you will never share if all you think you should do is accept everyone and everything as good.

Yet, we must always START WITH SELF.  Always.  If you do not, God cannot and will not use you in the life of others.  Be like Paul and never see anyone else as the chief of sinners.  For you, that must always be you.

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I want to share a very practical application of this spiritual reality that is currently needs to be heard in our country and culture.

The issue is racism.

Racism is sin.  Racism is real from all sides and all races – in some way from almost all people.  I am not only guilty of racism in my lifetime – both intentional and unintentional – I am also the recipient of racism in my life – both intentional and unintentional.

My call to the Christian is stop saying everyone needs to point out everything or nothing.  It is right for me – as a white man – to speak into white racism.  I am calling me out.  I am dealing with the speck in my eye and in our collective eye.  It is right for a denomination such as the Southern Baptist Convention – that is historically and predominantly white -to call out white nationalism and the alt-right.

This is us admitting and dealing with the speck in our eye.  If God is ever going to use any of us in this great work that should be the automatic result of the Gospel – that there is no race in Christ but that Christ is one and we are all one in Christ – then we have to start with self.

God has to start with you.  When you reject this what you reject is the very truth you need to deal with so that you can be changed by the Holy Spirit.  You are literally saying leaving my speck alone until you acknowledge the plank in others’ eyes.  I can’t do that and obey Jesus.  I would literally have to disobey the Lord to address this issue in that order and with that priority.

This summer the SBC wrote a wonderful resolution concerning racism.  In it they clearly state that all forms of racism are wrong and sin.  Then they call out what is the predominate form of in their own midst.  This sounds very much like what Jesus commanded of us.  It is dealing with this speck.

I realize that means that Christians of every race ought to call out racism in their midst (and some do), but guess what, until I have fully dealt within my own – that is not my job to do.  Now, the further I move into allowing God to fully change me and change His church the more we can be that voice.

If you are rejecting the call to face racism in your own race, be aware you have speck in your eye problem – no matter your race.  Allow God to convict you and change you – then see how he will use you to change others.

Pray for God to bring a unity that has never existed in this country.  Pray that God would start in the Church – the church of all races.  Pray that God would start in your church.  Pray that God would start in you – because you should never expect your church to become collectively what you are not becoming individually.

God move…and move me first.

Off My Bookshelf- “Crazy Busy” by Kevin DeYoung

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“It’s not wrong to be tired.  It’s not wrong to feel overwhelmed.  It’s not wrong to go through seasons of complete chaos.  What is wrong- and heartbreakingly foolish and wonderfully avoidable- is to live a life with more craziness than we want because we have less Jesus than we need”…Kevin DeYoung

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an avid reader.  Being completely honest, most of the books I enjoy probably wouldn’t interest you- and as a result, I regularly incur the (loving) mockery of my wife for my choices in “leisure reading.”  True story- I once chose a book called “Death By Meeting” by Patrick Lencioni for my beach reading on a family vacation. Still haven’t lived that one down.  But, to be fair, I am much better than I used to be at running meetings!

That being the case, though, I read what I like, and what I think will most benefit me in my calling as a Jesus follower, husband, father, pastor, and leader in God’s church.  And every now and again, I’ll finish off a book that I think to myself, Man, this one would be great to share.  Crazy Busy, by Kevin DeYoung, is one such work.  The subtitle of the book describes it well- “a (mercifully) short book about a (really) big problem.”  And what is that problem, according to DeYoung?  Unrestrained, out of control busyness that is robbing too many of us of the joy and vibrancy God intends for us in our lives, relationships, and faith.

With giving away the entirety of the work (because I’d love for you to read it yourself- in fact, I’ll loan my copy to the first person who asks me for it!), here are a few nuggets that I found especially helpful, encouraging, and challenging…

“Busyness can ruin our joy…rob our hearts…and cover up the rot in our souls” (26-30).  DeYoung makes clear from the jump that having a full calendar, inbox, or to do list isn’t inherently wrong.  There is much good to do in this world as we follow Jesus and love and serve others!  That said, often we “default” into unrestrained busyness simply because we haven’t taken the time or made the effort to order our lives with any purpose or intentionality.  We’re all busy, but we have no idea why or how.  And the results of this endless, thoughtless hurry are most often destructive to our souls and our relationships.

“Our understanding of busyness must start with the one sin that begets so many of our other sins- pride” (34).  This was my favorite- and if I’m keeping it real, least favorite- chapter in the book.  DeYoung masterfully uncovers the many manifestations of pride that often fuels our busyness.  He calls them “the killer P’s”- people pleasing, pats on the back, possessions, proving ourselves, pity, poor planning, power, perfectionism, position, prestige, and posting (i.e. social media).  And in light of all these, he asks a penetrating question- In all our busyness, are we trying to do good, or are we trying to look good?  So often, the operating principle of our lives is not to do the right thing, but to project the right image of ourselves to others.  I know I’m often guilty as charged on this point.  We must put this sinful compulsion to death.

“It’s taken me several years, a lot of reflection, and a bunch of unnecessary busyness to understand that when it comes to good causes and good deeds, ‘do more or disobey’ is not the best thing we can say” (47).  This quote comes from DeYoung’s chapter on what he calls the “terror of total obligation”- in other words, that creeping feeling that no matter how hard we work (even to the point of physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion), we are never “enough” for God or others.  I love his reminder “there is good news” for the weary- We are not the Christ, and were never intended to be.  We can rest in His finished work on our behalf and find freedom to pursue the unique gifts, callings, and opportunities He has placed before each of us.  After all, we were never made to “hold the whole world in our hands!”  God’s already got that!

“Sometimes I wonder if I’m so busy because I’ve come to believe the lie that busyness is the point.  And nothing allows you to be busy- all the time, with anyone anywhere- like having the whole world in a little black rectangle in your pocket” (83).  The book takes a refreshingly balanced approach to its evaluation of technology and its effects on our everyday lives.  It notes the good, but also recognizes the danger inherent to living in an “always on” world.  DeYoung notes wisely that the advent of modern, mobile technology has shrunk our collective attention spans to a dangerously low level; we demonstrate all the characteristics of an addict yearning for his next “hit” as we anxiously, constantly check our screens for the next digital “fix.”  If this tendency is left unquestioned and unchecked, it will invariably leave us everywhere but right here– i.e. fully present with the real people sitting across from us.

“There must be times when I don’t work; otherwise I won’t rest.  And there must be times to sleep, or I will keep borrowing what I can’t repay.  I’m not so important in God’s universe that I can’t afford to rest.  But my God-given limitations are so real that I can’t afford not to” (99).  This was personally very convicting.  I haven’t been getting enough sleep for some time now- and I know it, and I know it’s not good for me (or others who have to be around me!), but I’ve continued to perpetuate the pattern.  I know sleep doesn’t seem very “spiritual,” but the reality is that God made us physical beings with physical limitations, and to persistently deny those limitations is actually a form of God-denying, self-exalting idolatry.  After all, according to Psalm 127:2, God “gives to His beloved sleep.”

“We won’t say no to more craziness until we can say yes to more Jesus.  We will keep choosing dinner rolls over the Bread of Life.  We will choose the fanfare of the world over the feet of Jesus.  We will choose busyness over blessing (118).  DeYoung closes the book with a simple chapter called “The One Thing You Must Do.”  He doesn’t have a ten step plan, or even one particularly profound or remarkable suggestion for overcoming sinful busyness.  He simply calls us- and himself as the author- to place a non-negotiable priority on spending time every day at the feet of Jesus in His Word and prayer.  In a spiritual environment where “habits” often get a bad rap for being too routine or inauthentic, this is an important reminder that the truth is, for most of us, we do what we make time to do.  And of all the thousand things in this world we can make time for, is there anything of a more crucial priority than dedicated time with our Savior and Lord?  The Bible says no, there isn’t.  We would do well to live according to this conviction.

This is obviously only a snapshot of what’s available in this easy-to-read-but-difficult-to-apply little book.  I hope it’s as helpful, encouraging, and challenging for you as it was for me.  And remember, if you want to read more, send me an email at tblount@fellowshipchurch.cc or a personal message on Facebook, and I’ll be glad to share the book, on one condition- that you’ll actually “slow down” enough to take the time to read it! 

I’ll close with a promise from Jesus Himself- one that has long been quite meaningful to me as I seek His rest in a world that constantly tries to rob it…

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  (Matthew 11:28-29, ESV)

Right, Wrong, and Wise

Right or Wrong?  Wouldn’t life be easier if everything were a simple “yes or no”?  Life’s choices would be easier if we right and wrong was always crystal clear.  That, however, is not how life works.

James 4:17 says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

Even this verse, which gives a high standard for sin, opens up a discussion that can people can intelligently disagree about.  What does the phrase “knows the right thing” mean?  What are we liable for in our actions and what are we not?

This verse is not actually intended to be the Scriptures total definition of sin (right or wrong).  This passage intended to be a guide.  In other words, when you know the right thing – whether by clear instruction, wisdom given, or leading of the Spirit – and you do not do it, you sin.

Right and wrong are easier to define on certain issues.  Other issues require some thought, discussion, study, and consideration.  The main goal of this blog is to encourage you to seek that wisdom.  This Sunday I am preaching on the topic “who is wise?”  My key text will be Proverbs 14:8, 15.  The idea in this passage is that a wise person “consider his ways.”  The wise person does not just do, they consider.  They consider further than the fork in the road they stand at or the crossroads they find themselves considering.  They consider not just the decision at hand, but where it leads.  They consider their “way.”

The book of Proverbs is a must for a believer.  You need to read and re-read it.  You need to study it and memorize it.  Here is why.

Honoring the Lord requires more than simple right and wrong decisions, it requires wise decisions.

Wisdom is the ability to see beyond simple right and wrong and see better and best.  It is the ability to apply knowledge to a situation.  It is the capacity for a person to consider who they are and who someone else is and make a decision about a situation not based on a universally known right or wrong, but the ability to apply knowledge to a particular situation.

The Proverbs help us learn how to do this.  I hope to share some insight in how to use wisdom.

  1. You must want wisdom to have it. You need to love it and desire to learn it.  (Prov. 19:8)
  2. You must want what is beneficial not just what is permissible. (1 Cor. 10:23) Some applicable examples of this from Probers are the teachings on gluttony, laziness, or alcohol.  Wisdom calls you to consider more than what is wrong to consider what is wise. How does one apply the truth “beer is a brawler and wine a mocker” into your life?  Well you consider the benefit of the drink.  Do I really want to pour some liquid brawler or mocker in me right before I spend time with my spouse that I am already aggravated with?  NO.  Consider the way not just the wrong.  (Prov. 20:1)  Or how does one consider the idea that gluttony and being lazy go together in Scripture?  (Prov. 26:15)  If I have a lot of work to do this afternoon, should I go to the all you can eat Chinese buffet for lunch?  NO – not because of simple wrong, but because of wisdom. 
  3. You must want to honor others above have for yourself.  (Prov. 31:4-5) This is especially true for anyone who leads.  The King should not drink because he has too much responsibility and power to end up foolish.  It is not the right or wrong of the drink but the wisdom to not allow drink to have influence over great power or authority that must be considered.  Consider wisdom not just right and wrong.

I challenge you to become a student of wisdom in Scripture.  So many of life’s decisions are addressed in the wisdom writings.  You must, however, not read them for simple yes/no commands.  God is teaching you wise ways to decide right and wrong along your way.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.  Proverbs 4:7

Keeping Up Appearances

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“Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil”…Proverbs 3:7 (ESV)

It’s been a summer of wisdom at Fellowship Church as we’ve spent the months of June and July exploring the Old Testament’s “wisdom books,” namely Psalms and Proverbs.  As we’ve made the turn to Proverbs this week, we’re zeroing in on the stark contrast at the core of this collection of pithy, memorable sayings- that between (godly) wisdom and (worldly) foolishness.

I think most of us, myself included, really like the idea of wisdom.  Certainly, if given the choice, most of us would rather be described as wise than foolish.  The problem is, though, that God’s brand of wisdom- in reality, the only true wisdom- often seems quite upside down in our world ruined and wrecked by the deception of sin.  Walking in godly wisdom can be costly in the short term- and indeed, all too ironically, may actually earn us to label “fool” from those bought in and caught up in sin’s web of lies.  Given that as the case, here’s the challenging question I want us to consider as we pursue godly wisdom this month and beyond…

Would you rather look foolish for a while, or live foolish forever?

Don’t be too quick to answer now, because while it seems like a softball of a question, our day to day life in this world often betrays the obvious.  Here are a few examples…

  • It looks foolish to many to walk according to God’s high standard of sexual purity, but in the end, the Bible makes clear that destruction awaits those who indulge their every desire for momentary pleasure.
  • It looks foolish to many to be both disciplined and generous with money and material possessions, but in the end, the Bible teaches us that freedom and joy are found not when we hoard, but instead when we give.
  • It looks foolish to many to humbly “consider others better than yourself,” but in the end, that’s how thriving relationships- be it in marriage, in friendship, in the church (or beyond)- are built and sustained.
  • It looks foolish to take risks for the sake of the advance of the Gospel- for example, in places and among people groups that are hostile to it- but in the end, God gets glory and others are set free to follow Jesus through such “dangerous” obedience.

The truth is, we live in a world that regularly runs hard down paths that the Bible calls “foolish”- and in doing so, actually considers themselves to be “wise…enlightened…and progressive.”  I’m more and more convinced that the most significant problem we face isn’t even the specific choices we make, but the deep rooted spirit of pride that underlies them.  C.S. Lewis wrote about this very thing in his classic work, The Screwtape Letters (written from the perspective of an experienced demon seeking to draw humans away from God)…

“The Enemy (in Screwtape’s language, this refers to God) loves platitudes.  Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; Is it righteous?  Is it prudent?  Is it possible?  Now if we can keep men asking, ‘Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time?  Is it progressive or reactionary?  Is this the way that history is going?’ they will neglect the relevant questions. 

And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them make.  As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on.  And great work has already been done…For the descriptive adjective “unchanged,” we have substituted the emotional adjective “stagnant.” (138-39)

Is this not a striking depiction of the age in which we live, and the kind of thinking in which we often find ourselves caught up?  Rather than asking the “simple” questions presented by God in the Bible, we expend our energies navel-gazing and analyzing how our choices- be they about sex, money, family, politics, authority, or anything else- will appear to the observing world around us.  We so desperately want to be perceived as “wise…enlightened…and progressive” that we will often forfeit the ability to actually be these things in the eternal reality of God.

I want to examine yourself humbly and honestly this week, and ask God to show you how many of your words and actions in a given day are subject to what pastor and author John Ortberg terms “impression management.”  Take a long, hard look at your conversations, at your social media posts, and at the choices you make as an individual or as a family.  Ask yourself, “Now where did I get the idea to say or do that?”  And if the honest answer is that it came from anywhere other than God or a trusted, godly source, ask yourself if you’re really walking in wisdom there, or if you are simply acting out of the fear of looking foolish in front of others.

I like the way pastor and author Mark Batterson talks about this- “If you aren’t willing (as a Jesus follower) to look foolish, you’re foolish.  Faith requires a willingness to look foolish.”  I don’t know the specifics of your situation, and where and how God may be leading you to “look foolish” in the world’s eyes to follow Him in trust and obedience.  But I do know this- It would be the pinnacle of foolishness to turn aside from His voice and “go with the flow” of competing voices instead.  The question is- Are you willing to trust, and act in accordance with, the conviction that God’s ways really are the best ways…even when that’s difficult to see in the temporary?

So back to the question we began with- Would you rather look foolish for a while, or live foolish forever?  I challenge you today to abandon the exhausting effort of “keeping up appearances,” and simply listen to the voice of the Father, trusting Him to lead you into wisdom and its benefits.  He may take you some places you never thought you’d go, but in the end, it’s a road- indeed, the only road- that leads to real life.

 

Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death!

Breaking chain

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”…Galatians 6:1 (ESV)

“Give me liberty, or give me death!”  What comes to mind when you read or hear this declaration?  Is it not the rallying cry of the American Revolution, expressed famously by Patrick Henry in response to the tyranny of the British crown?  200+ years after the winds of revolution blew through the thirteen colonies to bring about the birth of a nation, there is still something about freedom– not just as a political theory, but as a lived experience- that stirs the spirit, doesn’t it?

As tremendous a thing as it is to celebrate the blessing of American independence today, though, what we find when we read the Bible’s New Testament is that liberty is an idea that far transcends- and long pre-dates- the story of a single nation-state, American or otherwise.  The Apostle Paul’s letters, in particular, contend with stubborn intensity for the primacy of the unique, unmatched freedom that is found only in a right relationship with Jesus Christ.  And nowhere is this argument advanced more forcefully than in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

To provide a bit of backstory, Paul had launched the church at Galatia on one of his missionary journeys across Asia Minor, or what we now know as the Mediterranean rim stretching from the northern Middle East into far eastern Europe.  In the time that lapsed between the church’s birth and the time of Paul’s writing, a group of false teachers known as the “Judaizers” had risen to prominence and began to lead the new Jesus followers astray.

Specifically, they argued that repentance from sin and faith in Jesus weren’t sufficient to make someone right with God, but that instead there must be additional works performed to complete one’s salvation.  These works found their roots in the Old Testament Jewish law, and included ritualistic cleansing laws, strict dietary restrictions, and circumcision (!).  There began to be an “insider/outsider” division in the church between those who submitted to such laws and those who did not.  As you might expect, this led to two major problems- deep seated disunity between supposed Jesus followers along ethnic lines, and doctrinal doubts that threatened to undermine the Galatians’ confidence in the Gospel message itself.

In light of this, Paul goes to great lengths to fight for this church’s freedom in Jesus Christ.  Recognizing that works-based religion is the “default mode” of the human heart (a thought that reformer Martin Luther would revisit over 1500 years later), Paul takes his readers back time and again to the Gospel reality that our standing before God is not- and can never be– based on any work of our own, but solely on the perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus.  As Paul explains, this isn’t just an empty theory, but something meant to be a lived experience each and every day.  So what are some of the practical ways that we experience Gospel freedom in the “ins and outs” of life in this world…

  • Gospel freedom means hope in the face of your struggles. Because Jesus has set us free from the power of sin, we no longer have to resign ourselves to a life void of deep level transformation.  Whatever your unique sin struggle, the power of Jesus Christ within you affords you the ability to overcome it and walk in righteousness.
  • Gospel freedom means grace in the face of your failures. Because of the finished work of Jesus, your failures no longer define you; His victory does!  This means that even when you fall short of God’s standard (and don’t we all?), His grace is available and sufficient to restore you into right fellowship with Him to keep you moving forward.  To experience this, of course, requires honesty, humility, and repentance.
  • Gospel freedom means humility in the face of your successes. We often don’t think of this as much, but it is no less powerful- and no less important.  Pride is such a vicious prison; it requires you to constantly “keep up appearances” to manage the image you want to project to the world around you.  Christ-centered humility frees us from such compulsive impression management and enables to serve God and others without obsessing over what they think of us.
  • Gospel freedom means courage in the face of uncertainty, and even danger. There are times when God will call you, as a part of His family, to say and do things that are well outside your proverbial “comfort zone.”  So how can you muster the courage to trust and obey in these moments?  By recognizing that your calling is not based on your qualifications, but on His; that your obedience is not made possible by your ability, but by His; and that your success is not defined by your visible results, but by your faithfulness to His

So what’s the alternative to Gospel freedom?  As Paul puts it, a “yoke of slavery.”  “Slavery” trades in the hope of the Gospel for a “try harder, do better” message that put all the focus not on Jesus, but on self.  The net effect of this is not a growing love for God and delight in righteousness, but a begrudging spirit that never can seem to measure up.  God quickly becomes a cruel taskmaster to appease, rather than a kind, compassionate Father to love.

On this Independence Day, my hope and prayer for you is that you’ll live in the freedom that Jesus has made possible for you through the Gospel- and that the result will be ever increasing joy for you, and ever increasing glory for God in and through your life!