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.

 

All I really want

What do you want in life? A nice car? A big house? A good-looking spouse with a good job? Do you want to be happy? Feel settled? What do you spend your time pursuing?

Then I pray to you, O Lord.
I say, “You are my place of refuge.
You are all I really want in life.”

Psalm 142:5 (NLT)

Can any of us say, like David did, that the Lord is all we really want in life? Do we look to God for direction in everything? Do we trust Him with our lives—our entire lives?

Let me hear of your unfailing love to me in the morning,
for I am trusting in you.
Show me where to walk,
for I have come to you in prayer.

Psalm 143:8 (NLT)

While I believe that our spirits long for God completely, the rest of us often struggle to catch up. In our heads we can say that God is all we want, but our attitudes and actions may not quite fall into line.

That is where the asking comes in.

David had no trouble at all bringing his complaints and concerns to God. Did he do absolutely everything the way God wanted him to? No. But he was still the man who, despite his downfalls and shortcomings, chased after the heart of God.

Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.
May your gracious Spirit lead me forward
on a firm footing.

Psalm 143:10 (NLT)

We have to keep reminding ourselves that, even if the spirit is willing and the flesh weak, that God, in His infinite loving kindness is still faithful. When we call out to Him, He will answer. If we allow Him to, He will lead us. If we open our eyes, He will show us the way.

If we endeavor to truly make God all we want in life, He will meet us where we are and fill as much space in our lives that we make available to Him.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 142-144, 1 Corinthians 10:14-33

A way out

Do you can do whatever you want to do. You can say whatever you want to say. You can feel whatever you want to feel. You can be whatever you want to be.

These are all ideas that are being thrust at as all the time. At first glance, they seem great. Yeah, I can do what I want to do! But what about what we are called to do?

Just because a feeling pops up or you want to say something or you want to be something doesn’t meant those are things that you should feel, say, or be. Our sinful, selfish natures will lead us to do things that are completely contrary to God’s will and plan for our lives. While the world would have us cater to ourselves, God would have us fight against those temptations.

But remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT)

You mean I don’t get to do or say what I want? No, you don’t have to do or say what you want. Look at the people who live completely for themselves. Are they truly happy? Are they completely fulfilled? Or are they chasing one temptation after another looking for something they’ll never find as long as they pursue that path?

There is something to be said for restraint and resistance. Paul talks about it in 1 Corinthians and David addressed it in the Psalms.

Take control of what I say, O Lord,
and keep my lips sealed.
Don’t let me lust for evil things;
don’t let me participate in acts of wickedness.
Don’t let me share in the delicacies of those who do evil.

Psalm 141:3-4 (NLT)

Giving up control, even a little, is something we naturally want to fight against. We want things our own way! We all fight to gain control, but what does that truly get us?

We can pursue our own selfish whims or we can pursue God. We cannot do both. But giving up selfish desires isn’t resigning ourselves to a life of passionless boredom. By turning away from the endless pursuit of worldly pleasures, we enable ourselves to walk a path that was laid out for each of us as individuals before we were even born. We don’t have to go on a search to find ourselves. We are found in Christ. He has a plan and a purpose for us.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God!
They are innumerable!
I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up in the morning,
you are still with me!

Psalm 139:17-18 (NLT)

We can wander aimlessly through life looking for the next bit of pleasure, never quite being fulfilled, or we can give up that search and find lasting, eternal fulfillment with the One who has already planned our days for us.

You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

Psalm 139:16 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 139-141, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Aim higher

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. And other people will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

Romans 14:17-19 (NLT)

Inclusion is the chant, but division is the outcome. We see it in the news every day. One side yelling at another side, each one believing they’re right. But if you would ask the individuals, most everyone says they want the same thing—peace and harmony. So why are the results the opposite? Why are we tearing each other down instead of building each other up?

I believe it all begins with the individual. Luke said that, whatever is in your heart determines what you say (Luke 6:45b). When one side is screaming at another, one must wonder what is really in their hearts? Is it the peace and justice they claim to want or is it hate and division?

Our aim, like Paul tells us, should be for harmony in the church and [to] try to build each other up. So how do we do that? I think David’s thoughts can start us down the right track.

Praise the Lord, I tell myself;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, I tell myself,
and never forget the good things he does for me.

Psalm 103:1-2 (NLT)

If what is in our hearts will determine what we say, let’s get good things in our hearts. Here in Psalm 103, David speaks to himself, reminding his spirit of the good things God has done. He’s putting good things into his heart so that good things will come out of his mouth.

Getting the good stuff to stick is hard when we’re constantly being bombarded with noise and negativity, but if David could do it, if Paul could do it, we can, too.

For we are not our own masters when we live or when we die. While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:7-8 (NLT)

Start with reminding yourself who you belong to, whom you serve. Then remind yourself of all He has done for you and for those who have gone before you. Fill your heart and your mind with goodness and peace and joy. Then your aim for harmony won’t seem to lofty.

Try a daily confession. Write your own from verses that speak to you or find one (like this) that lines up with the Word of God. Speak to yourself like David did. Tell yourself who you are and what God has done for you. You may be surprised by what you start to say. When those good things start to pour out from your spirit, the natural effect will be the building up of those around you.

Let us, as the Church, aim higher.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 103-104, Romans 14

My place of safety

If you should ever find yourself in danger, what is your first response? Do you stand still calling out hoping for help? Do you wait and complain if help doesn’t come right away? Do you sit down and resign yourself to the situation? I hope not!

If you should ever find yourself in danger, your instinct would be to run. Find a safe place. Look for a refuge. Go there! Now!

Yet how often do we hear Christians say things like, I’ve been waiting on God, but nothing has happened. I guess He doesn’t want to help me. I have yet to discover scripture to back up any sort of statement that says God doesn’t want to help us. In Psalms, David writes over and over again of God’s unfailing love and the fact that He is a shelter, a refuge, a safe place.

You are my strength; I wait for you to rescue me,
for you, O God, are my place of safety.

Psalm 59:9 (NLT)

O my Strength, to you I sing praises,
for you, O God, are my refuge,
the God who shows me unfailing love.

Psalm 59:17 (NLT)

Though David waits on God, that doesn’t mean he’s inactive. Look back at the times when he was in trouble, surrounded by his enemies. Never once did David just stand there in the middle of a battle field claiming to wait on God. There were times when he went into hiding for his own protection and there were times when he suited up and marched into battle. God was with him in hiding and fighting for him in the battle.

When you feel as though you’re surrounded by an enemy, that is not the time to sit down and give up on God. That is the time to look for your safe place. Your refuge.

REFUGE: Shelter or protection from danger or distress; a stronghold which protects by its strength or a sanctuary which secures safety by its sacredness; any place inaccessible to an enemy.

A refuge is not a moment in time. It’s a place. A place doesn’t come to you. You need to go to a place. Our safety and refuge is found in God. He has promised never to leave us, so when the enemy comes, we must go to Him. Don’t stand and wait. Run. Go to the place that is inaccessible to your enemy—God, your place of safety.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 59-61, Acts 28:16-31

His purpose

I am surrounded by fierce lions
who greedily devour human prey—
whose teeth piece like spears and arrows,
and whose tongues cut like swords.

Psalm 57:4 (NLT)

What would your response be in this situation? Sounds like a great time to break out into praise and worship, doesn’t it? Hardly, but that’s what David does.

Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens!
May your glory shine over all the earth.

Psalm 57:5 (NLT)

If not everything is going perfectly, if there is a hint of trouble, most of us would tend to believe that we are not within God’s purpose. Surely something has gone wrong, we’ve fallen out of grace and are bound for destruction. But think about this, if we were never in a position to get into trouble, would grace still exist? If everything were always perfect all the time, could God deliver us?

David is crying out to God for protection and, in the middle of it all, bursts out in worship. Even when his enemies have set a trap for him, he praises God with confidence.

My heart is confident in you, O God;
no wonder I can sing your praises!

Psalm 57:7 (NLT)

When we are confident in our God—the God we have a personal relationship with—we can, like David, worship even in the difficult times.

I cry out to God Most High,
to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.

Psalm 57:2 (NLT)

David had such a close relationship with God that, centuries before Jesus had a chance to speak the words, David had a great revelation of them.

The thief’s purpose is to steam and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.

John 10:10 (NLT)

David knew that, while the enemy was not of God, God would fulfill His purpose. And that purpose included good things, not bad.

He will send help from heaven to save me,
rescuing me from those who are out to get me.
My God will send forth his unfailing love and faithfulness.

Psalm 57:3 (NLT)

If you’re in the middle of a violent storm like David was, hold on to your confidence. Trust in your God and His plans and purposes for you. Work up the courage to worship when you’re surrounded by trouble. Remind yourself of God’s unfailing love and faithfulness.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 56-58, Acts 28:1-15

A word of encouragement

Who doesn’t need or want a little encouragement every once in a while (or all the time)? We feel good when someone gives us a pat on the back, tells us we’re doing a good job, or sends a text just to say they’re thinking about us. But what about those days when those things don’t happen? What about the days when we could really use that encouraging word and it doesn’t come? What then?

It sure would be nice if our frame of mind wasn’t so dependant on outside reassurance.

I will praise the Lord at all times.
I will constantly speak his praises.
I will boast only in the Lord;
let all who are discouraged take heart.
Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness;
let us exalt his name together.

Psalm 34:1-3 (NLT)

It’s interesting that, in all these lines about praising God, David inserts something about the discouraged. He saw a relationship between praising God and a happy heart.

What if, when we’re feeling a little down and tend to focus more inwardly, we turned it around? What if we took the focus completely off of ourselves? Think about this, when you’re worshipping God, praising Him, speaking about His greatness, what’s your mental state like? Do you feel burdened, in need of a pick-me-up? No. It’s pretty difficult to stay down when you’re lifting God up.

When we turn our focus on to God and His greatness, first of all, our troubles become very small. Second, we allow our spirits to commune with His Spirit—our helper and comforter. Our affirmation doesn’t need to come from outside sources—it shouldn’t come from outside sources. We have the ability to lift ourselves out of the gloom and into the glorious light of God.

How can we be anything but encouraged when we shift our focus from our inward troubles and outwardly praise the Lord, speak His praises, boast in Him, tell of His greatness, and exalt His name?

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 34-35, Acts 22