Irrevocable

Read: Genesis 29-30, Matthew 10:1-23

A story came out in the news this week about a pastor of a large church. He, like many of us, has a past. And, like many of us, he dealt with it and left it where it belonged. Until recently, he had been enjoying the success of marriage and family and ministering to his congregation.

Before I go further, let me clarify that the situation in question happened when he was a young man working in a church. The actions were of a sexual nature and involved a 17-year-old girl. By all accounts, he was immediately remorseful and admitted his transgression to those to whom he was accountable in the church. He apologized to all involved and was removed from his position. Nothing has been brought forward to say that such actions took place on any other occasion.

Now, with the #MeToo movement bringing all sorts of people out of the woodwork, this pastor is having to relive his shame. I in no way condone his actions, nor do I belittle what happened to the woman involved. There is no place in society for any sort of sexual misconduct. But, with all of the very public accusations and shaming, what seems to be missing is the greatest component of all: grace.

When Jesus began his public ministry, the people he brought alongside him were far from what society would call blameless. He called the blue collar workers. He called the tax collectors. He called the sinners. And then he walked with them. He ate with them. He taught them. Then he empowered them and sent them off into ministry.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

Matthew 10:8 (NIV)

Some scholars believe that Jesus’ instructions here did not only reference the physical needs of the people, but were also representative of their need to be healed and revived spiritually. The men Jesus called had all been healed and brought to life in one way or another. The greater their sin, the greater the grace they received. And who better to extend grace than the one who has already received it?

If we demand that this pastor, because of his past sin, is no longer fit for ministry, then we must throw away the entire Bible. We can no longer sing our worship songs. We must seclude ourselves for fear of being infected by the sin that runs rampant in our churches.

Paul’s sole purpose in life was to kill Christians. Matthew was a tax collector (the very worst kind of evil). David, the man after God’s own heart, was a sexual predator and a murderer. Yet all of these men, and more, made invaluable contributions to the Book that we hold so closely to our hearts.

Romans 11:29

Who are we to stand in judgement of someone who has asked for, and received, forgiveness? Who are we to say who is and is not fit for ministry? David was guilty of far worse than most of us and yet we still sing his songs in church every Sunday, thousands of years after they were written. Paul himself should have been put to death for his crimes against Christianity, yet he made some of the the greatest contributions to our faith.

If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.

John 8:7b (NIV)

Without grace, we are all guilty. None of us should be fit for ministry. But if we do as Jesus told the woman described in John 8 and leave our life of sin, there is no condemnation. But for the grace of God we should all be buried under a landslide of stones.

For I am the least of all the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

1 Corinthians 15:9-10 (NIV)

God has called us all. No one, not even He, can revoke that calling. And it is only through His grace that any of us are able to walk in the purpose He has set out before us. What I give should be only from that which God has given through me. Judgement is not a gift from God. Grace is.

 

Let the well alone

Read: Genesis 25-26, Matthew 9:1-17

Every year on Christmas Eve, my mother and I watch White Christmas. We’ve seen it so many times that we can pretty much quote the entire movie and sing along to every musical number, which is why today’s reading reminded me of a song from this classic film.

I know of a doctor

Sad to say, one day he fell
Right into a great big well

He should have attended to the sick
And let the well alone

The Minstrel Show

Like the song, it’s sad to say, but many Christians have unknowingly found themselves at the bottom of a deep pit. Instead of attending to the sick, they stayed too close to the well.

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:12-13 (NIV)

In 2005, John Burke published a book called No Perfect People Allowed. Since then, many churches, including my own, have adopted and promoted this phrase. In no way are we discounting that, though Jesus’ sacrifice, we are being made perfect, but we are tending to the spiritually sick by letting them know that they are welcome as they are. For too long, the church in general has acted like a quarantine for the spiritually “healthy”. And, in doing so, we have become just like the Pharisees who scorned Jesus for breaking bread with the tax collectors and sinners.

C.T. Studd

If we want to avoid the bottom of the well, we need to stay away from it. Though we need the fellowship of other believers, we are not called to close our ranks, but rather to go out and find those who most need what we have. Like Jesus, we are the doctors and nurses who need to go out onto the battlefield and pull in those who are sick and dying. It’s time for us to attend to the sick and let the well alone to do the same.

More important

Every Sunday before church starts, we encourage our volunteers to join in corporate prayer. I sometimes feel like a broken record calling people to stop what they’re doing and come and pray. I’d rather our hearts and spirits be joined together in prayer than have every technical aspect of the service perfect.

Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him! Then he will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.

Hosea 6:3 (NLT)

Oh, that we might know the Lord! Is there any better or more significant that we can strive toward in this life? Is there anything more important than knowing the very One who created us?

Anyone who has spent a long time serving in church may find themselves in a circle of service. Your spiritual life may be lacking and yet you try to convince yourself that what you do in the church makes up for it. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. We must all find a balance between service and relationship. I believe we all need both. But service without the relationship is empty.

I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.

Hosea 6:6 (NLT)

More important than our offerings is knowing God. And not just knowing about Him. Truly knowing Him. Understanding His love and grace. Passionately pursuing Him. Serving is an important part of our Christian walk. But it is more important to know Him whom we serve.

Daily Bible reading: Hosea 5-8, Revelation 1

Snatch

There are times when our focus as the Church can be so outward as we try to seek out and save the lost, that those within our own numbers can be lost. We may not notice that one person who keeps moving further and further to the back of the auditorium, disengaging themselves from the daily life of the church. We cannot assume that, because a person attends church most Sundays, that all is well. It is our responsibility to go out into the world and increase our numbers, but it is also our responsibility to maintain the numbers within our own body. We must be watchful so that our own family members are not lost while still ensuring that we ourselves to do not fall away.

Live in such a way that God’s love can bless you as you wait for the eternal life that our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy is going to give you. Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgement. There are still others to whom you need to show mercy, but be careful that you aren’t contaminated by their sins.

Jude 21-23 (NLT)

Like throwing a lifeline to someone who has gone overboard from a ship at sea, the rope is only so long and you can only go so far before you begin to risk your own safety. That is why it is important to remain watchful so that we can rescue people before they drift too far.

It is the reason why relationships within the family of God are so vitally important—no matter how big or small a church is. If a personal has made no personal connections within the local church, they are far more likely to be set adrift and lost. We must be secure in our faith and secure in our place within the local body.

But you, dear friends, must continue to build your lives on the foundation of your holy faith. And continue to pray as you are directed by the Holy Spirit.

Jude 20 (NLT)

If we do not fight to maintain our faith, the battle will be forfeit and we will find ourselves in a place we never planned to be. Jude writes that we must contend for the faith (verse 3). If you find yourself in a place where you are not fighting to keep the faith, you have most likely already drifted away. It takes time and effort to keep faith. Maintaining it takes effort and determination on our part. Anything less and we allow ourselves to be drawn away to places where there are no longer brothers and sisters in the faith ready to snatch us from the flames of judgement.

It’s better to be the one who does the snatching than the one who needs to be snatched.

Daily Bible reading: Hosea 1-4, Jude

The fellowship

I have heard many Christians who have walked away from one church, or the church altogether, blame other Christians for their spiritual state. The church didn’t do enough for them. The other members didn’t include them enough. No place was made for them. May excuses are given, but no responsibility is taken. Their cold spiritual climate is blamed on everyone but themselves.

This is the message he has given us to announce to you: God is light and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness. We are not living in the truth. But if we are living in the light of God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin.

1 John 1:5-7 (NLT)

This passage puts the responsibility on the individual to be a part of the body, not the body to make the individual a part of them. If we are living in the light… then we have fellowship with each other. Fellowship with the rest of the church is a natural part of a healthy relationship with Christ. Expecting that the church tend to your personal relationship with Jesus is backwards. Jesus first. Church second.

It is ignorant of us to put thing in the wrong order and then try to pass the blame around without ever accepting the responsibility we have to keep ourselves in the light. No one else can do that for you.

Instead of spending so much time looking for someone or something you can blame, why not use all that energy and put it toward your relationship with God? If we all put as much effort into our spiritual lives as we do placing blame, the church would be a much happier place and we wouldn’t have to worry about where the blame goes because there would be no reason for it.

Get into the light. Then get into fellowship. In that order. The church can help you, but they can’t do it all for you.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 47-48, 1 John 1

Pick me!

Do you remember being a kid on the playground just waiting and hoping that a team captain would pick you? Of course all the best players got picked first. Then the best friends (that is, if they weren’t the very best players). And last, the kids who weren’t really friends with anyone and would rather be sitting inside with a book than out on the dusty field with a kick ball.

If you were one of the kids who wanted to get picked, but weren’t fortunate enough to be friends with a captain or talented enough to be in the top five, chances are that you played your hardest that first time in hopes that you’d get picked higher up in the draft the next time the teacher hauled you all out to the diamond. You wanted to prove your worth. Contribute. Be a productive member of the team. You wanted to be on the winning side.

As cliché as it may sound, you’ve been picked. And at the top of the draft no less. But that’s the easy part.

So make every effort to apply the benefits of these promises to your life. Then your faith will produce a life of moral excellence. A life of moral excellence leads to knowing God better. Knowing God leads to self-control. Self-control leads to patient endurance, and patient endurance leads to godliness. Godliness leads to love for other Christians, and finally you will grow to have genuine love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more you will become productive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-8 (NLT)

Even if you were the kid who got picked last, you didn’t want to let your team down. The only thing worse than being the last one chosen is being the last one chosen who loses the game for the rest of the team.

The team we’ve been chosen to join is the Church. The body of Christ. And no one has been called to the sidelines. There is no such thing as a benchwarmer.

So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you are really among those God has called and chosen. Doing this, you will never stumble or fall away.

2 Peter 1:10 (NLT)

First, be proud that you’ve been picked. Put on the jersey, so to speak. Let everyone know that you’re on the team. Second, be worthy of wearing the team logo. If you’re going to call yourself a Christian, act like one. Make your other team members, your brothers and sisters in Christ, look good because of what you do and say. Third, be a team player. Be a part of what God has called you to. Be active. Be productive. Do all that you can to make your team—your church—as successful as you can. Prove that you are on the team and worthy of it. If you do all of this, not only will you be less likely to quit, but you’ll draw others in to be a part of the team.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 41-42, 2 Peter1

Silence the fools

It is God’s will that your good lives should silence those who make foolish accusations against you. You are not slaves; you are free. But your freedom is not an excuse to do evil. You are free to live as God’s slaves.

1 Peter 2:15-16 (NLT)

The best way to prove a fool wrong is by your actions—not with malicious intent, but by simply living contrary to their foolish accusations.

The church is one of the most accused groups out there. It’s full of hypocrites. They just preach that prosperity stuff. The preachers all holler and spit. It’s only a place where weak people go.

The best way around all of those things is to live the exact opposite. Live with integrity. Preach a balanced message. Whisper and try not to drool. Be strong. Let the way you live exceed the expectations of others.

Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world.

1 Peter 2:12 (NLT)

If you’ve ever tried to argue your point with a fool, you know that it is a fruitless waste of time.

Doing wrong is fun for a fool, but living wisely brings pleasure to the sensible.

Proverbs 10:23 (NLT)

The best response to a foolish accusation is to live a life above reproach. In living wisely, not only can we find pleasure and honor, but we silence the fools.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 34-35, 1 Peter 2