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Thanksgiving for Racial Reconciliation

two person hugging photograph

I am thankful for the blood of Jesus who cleanses me from the sins of my past and the sins of my ancestors. I am thankful I do not carry their guilt before God.

I am thankful, but I am still sorry. I am still sad.

I am thankful for the hand of fellowship offered to me by African American friends when they could have turned me away for the sins of my ancestors or those who look like me. As for me and my house, I hope you know that these who call you names and shoot you without cause are not my people, I do not know them, or align with their politics, or defend their unrighteous acts, in public or private. And when I hear racist talk I call it out for the evil it is.

I am sorry that the Christian school my daughter attends was started as a white only school in response to segregation. I am sorry for the damage they did and for the defunding that subsequently happened when the numbers went down at your public school with white flight.

I am sorry that the school my husband teaches for had racism as a part of their history and that it still is a draw for families looking for a safe haven for racism and prejudice. We are trying to fight that from the inside.

I’m sorry that we have no idea how to repent as a nation or how to fix the problems that exist now. You are invited to help me understand what I do not. I will listen.

I am sorry for how I didn’t understand what the government was doing to keep black and minority people in ghettos and urban areas by redlining, only to ignore the very problems they created.

I am sorry that even now I do not know how to keep you from getting hurt over and over again.

I am sorry I do not know you well enough to know how you identify ethnically.

You are more than a color to me.

You are more than “diversity” to me, more than a “platform” or a “photo op.”

You are my brothers and sisters in Christ and I hope you feel honored by me.

I would like to think I would have stopped the racist legislation and stood between you and those who beat you for the color of your skin.

Even still, the thought haunts me that ignorance, distance, and fear would have kept me from doing that.

That it keeps me from doing that now…may God forbid.

Please tell me how I can help,

I want to hear your laments.

And it makes me cry because, instead of curses,

I hear you leading me in worship, into the presence of God,

Without demanding an apology, without condemnation.

Simply an invitation to come with you and be one, side by side, in the presence of God.

For any way I have unintentionally personally or publicly shamed you, please forgive me.

I’m thankful that I am your sister and partner in the gospel.

****

I am thankful for the hand of fellowship offered to me by Native friends when they could have turned me away for the sins of my ancestors.

I am thankful for the people who cry out and speak and dance blessings over me as their neighbor when they could have cursed me.

I am sorry that the land I sleep on at night was yours and you were brutally forced to leave it to make way for my family.

I mourn it almost daily. I would have loved to be your neighbor.

If I knew how to pay you for it I would.

If I knew how to make it right, I would.

I’m sorry that I wasn’t there to walk with you when you were marched off your land.

I am sorry that the government made your children learn English instead of your native tongues and did not see the beauty of your artistry.

I am sorry for the culture loss caused by well-meaning, but ignorant missionaries who were supposed to be modeling the kingdom of God, the incarnation, and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit but instead modeled colonialism, carnage, and manifest destiny. Not just here but the world over.

As your sister in Christ I acknowledge my people’s sin against yours.

Even now, I sometimes still ignore you or put you on the back burner as an “issue for another day.”

And a day is like a thousand years. And you are miles away.

Time flies and you are still hurting.

But you are more than a mission field to me.

You are more than a target audience for the gospel.

You are worthy of new clothes and fresh food and fertile land.

I would like to think I would have stopped the racist legislation and stood between you and those who murdered you and labeled you savage for being angry at the fact that all you had was being stolen.

Even still, the thought haunts me that ignorance, distance, and fear would have kept me from doing that.

That it keeps me from doing that now…may God forbid.

Please tell me how I can help.

I want to hear your laments.

And it makes me cry, because instead of curses,

I hear you blessing me at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

I hear you praying the way you know how, through dance, for my family and yours to be neighbors.

I hear your heart to reconcile, and may God help us if my heart is not broken by my peoples’ sin to refuse to admit that we need it.

You, the ones we injured are not simply forgiving me, you are blessing me and dancing over me like my Father in heaven does.

Maybe He dances your dance over me. The dance of forgiveness. It is beautiful.

I am thankful for forgiveness and mercy today between brothers and sisters.

And isn’t this what Jesus said, that it would be like hot coals.

May He touch it to the mouth of our nation and cleanse us from all forms of degrading talk

Consuming sacrifices of new wine and grain and lives laid down in humility and worship of the

True and Living God who sent His son, Jesus, forgave us our debts and set us free.

Making us pure and able to come up higher

To see rightly.

Your kindness draws us to repentance.

May God help us know how.

How does a nation repent these days?

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“It Was Not This Way From the Beginning:” God’s Heart on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

two gold colored wedding bands on book page

*I’m writing this as a post that encourages people to stay married. It’s a simple strategy that has allowed for the healing of many broken relationships that I have watched God heal over the years. However, if you or your children are being physically abused or threatened with violence, get help now from a local Christian service and do not stay in harm’s way. There is also a national hotline that will help you make arrangements (1-800-799-SAFE). Leaving a dangerous situation is difficult but necessary, and when physical violence is the issue, temporary separation may be the healthiest thing for your marriage.

Look at the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and you will find them no different than the religious leaders of our time, engaging in debate, taking stances on legal positions and politics, and totally neglecting the actual plight of the poor and widowed, sick, and foreigner. The questions they asked Jesus were, strangely, often about relationships, specifically about marriage. Why were they concerned about marriage? Because, like today, there were differing views about what was allowable. Was it ok to divorce for any reason, or only for certain allowable instances like abuse, neglect, or cheating? What if my ex-spouse committed adultery and I don’t want to forgive him; can I remarry, or is that adultery?

Who does not have someone you love who has been in this situation and asked these questions? Who has not been affected by the terrible pain of one becoming two again. We have all been traumatized by divorce, because it shakes our worlds. What we thought was sure and safe is no longer solid ground. So the questions come, and we cannot ignore them.

And there are answers out there. In fact, if you are looking for it, you can find a “Christian” who will support you in almost any decision you make. After all, you have to “decide what is right for yourself,” right? This is so dangerous. Not only on this subject but on any moral issue. The Bible is what gives us our moral compass and it is to the Bible we must look for our answers, not out of a legalistic desire to make the right ruling on a marriage and divorce decision, but so that we can understand God’s heart and encourage others to stay married, staying strong in their love for one another. Let’s jump in.

Is Divorce for Any Reason Lawful?

If you are asking this question, you are not alone. But it is the wrong question. Anytime you have someone asking about the lawfulness of something, you have already missed the mark. It means your desires are not aligned with God’s best. If they were, the question would be “what does God desire?” If we desire only not to sin, but lack an actual yielded, love-driven, relationship with God, then we have entered into the mindset of the Pharisee. (This legalistic mindset ironically comes from not accepting the call to repent (Luke 7:29-30)).

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Matthew 19

Some interesting things to note here. Jesus does not answer this question directly, instead He goes straight to what God DESIRES marriage to be. Marriage is between one man and one woman. They are fused together and made one and are no longer two. And this arrangement is not to be separated.

Then the pharisees say something completely unbiblical in order to trick Jesus. They imply that Moses GAVE A COMMAND to give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away. But Moses never gave a blanket command like this, nor does he ever sanction divorce, as we will see later in this post. Jesus corrects them and then Jesus gives a ruling, alright. But it’s about the heart of the issue; that God intends a husband and wife not to separate at all, since they are no longer two but one, and then He offers a clarification of whether a person would be judged by God for committing adultery (breaking the law) in all cases of remarriage. But certainly as followers of Jesus, our desire for God’s desires exceed the Pharisees. We long to know God. We desire to understand Him. And we need to let his law permeate our hearts so we are not looking for rulings, but mercy. Because that’s what He desires. If you want to know what I am talking about, let me tell you a story, grounded in Torah, that spans thousands of years.

THE STORY OF A BROKEN MARRIAGE HEALED

Go back before Christ, before Babylon, before the Kings, to Moses, the judge. The one who seeks the face of God. Ten commandments should be simple to keep right? But it gets tricky. Do not commit adultery. Do not covet your neighbors wife. But what if these sins are committed? What then? What is allowable for the victim to do—stone the unfaithful partner or divorce them or remarry someone who will hopefully prove more faithful? What if they return? Should we forgive them or is it not in keeping with purity codes of the temple to allow the unfaithful one back into your marriage bed? What if you have two wives and one has fallen out of favor? What if you want a woman who is technically a prisoner of war? (umm….😳 wow guys) These are all questions Moses was answering in response to this ONE commandment, not to commit adultery.

No, the people could not keep even ten simple commandments (and we are no better than they…but wow, they invent new ways of breaking God’s law). They bring their Egyptian gods into the desert. There is no stopping their lust. They covet and must be told not to have sexual relations with animals, their mothers, and their mother-in-laws! Read the sorts of laws Moses gave and and sense the ridiculousness of the level of sin we are dealing with.

Regarding men with multiple wives (since Abraham they have multiple wives–not technically a sin, but not God’s ideal): “If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money. (Exodus 21:10-11)

Note there is no mention of a certificate of a divorce here. This is simply a case of a ruling of woman being able to physically leave her husband without paying for her freedom if she is neglected. Some have used this verse as rationalization for divorce based on uncaring behavior, but there is no mention of divorce here, and unless they have multiple wives, this verse is really irrelevant to monogamous marriages.

Regarding marrying a captive woman: “When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.” Deuteronomy 21:10-14

Again, this scripture is often used as rationalization for divorce if not “delighting in a person,” but rather it is God protecting the woman. He is saying to the men, that they are not to rape the women they take as prisoners of war in passion-filled adrenaline and leave them desolate, you are to take them on as your responsibility, treat them respectfully giving them time to mourn, and then take them as wives, and if you do send them out afterwards, you must let them go free (as a part of society, not foreigners or slaves); and you cannot sell them as property.

Then we have directions for not taking back a woman who you have divorced for purity purposes: “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency (shame, uncleanness) in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)

A man who divorced and sent his wife out (for her unclean or shameful behavior) may not accept her back if she creates a new covenant by remarrying. This brings sin into the land because she has been defiled by another man. In other words, this is limiting the mercy a man is to extend to an unfaithful wife because she is causing the people to not be able to enter the presence of God, literally because she is defiled and dirty. Here is the basis many people use to support divorce on the premise of adultery. But look closely and see that Moses does not give outright permission to divorce based on adultery, it is saying what a man should do if he has divorced his wife for adultery. And it certainly is not saying that the man should divorce his wife for adultery. So, in the above passage, we finally have mention of a certificate of divorce, but not a command or even permission to divorce. It is discussing what a man should do when he has given a certificate of divorce and the wife wants to return. It never commands or sanctions this action.

And NOW congratulations🥳, you have just read all the commands of Moses regarding divorce and remarriage.

This is important to wrap our minds around. The Bible, including the commandments of Moses, never commands or sanctions human divorce. Moses simply does not shut it down…it’s something God’s people are doing that God hates (Malachi 2), and Moses must issue purity and humanitarian regulations for the people who are divorcing their wives already.

If the Bible never commands or sanctions divorce, we shouldn’t either.

I understand that this position may seem unmerciful to some. But knowing that God is merciful, we must reconcile ourselves to His desires. What this means is that God may intend our suffering so that reconciliation is still on the table. In other words, He always desires reconciliation and healing as a couple more than He desires you to heal individually through marital separation from your spouse. How do we know this? Because He said the two become one and are no longer two but one. He is even willing to sanctify an unbeliever through the belief of their spouse! (1 Corinthians 7:17)

God can restore and heal a lot of things. But He can not heal and restore a broken marriage if one of the people goes and makes a new covenant with someone else. If adultery has taken place, that new covenant is already made in Biblical terms. And that is why a person will not be judged as an adulterer if they remarry after their spouse commits adultery. But God does not desire this scenario. He desires the healing of the first marriage, even if it takes a lifetime. How do we know this? Because 1) the biblical narrative is completely consistent; 2) the nature of the covenant: two become one and are no longer two and are not to be separated by men; and 3) the actions of God demonstrate this kind of long-term, radical, faithfulness, even when being treated terribly, even after He divorces His people. Wait! What? How could God something he hated? Because the covenant was broken in adultery.

GOD DIVORCES HIS PEOPLE

God’s people began falling over and over again into sin and idolatry. After the sins of the desert, the people forgot God even one generation after going into the promised land as well! (Judges 2:10) The kings had harems and, surprisingly, it was not in this that they sinned, although it was not what God intended marriage to be, but sin occurred when David desired in his heart to take the wife of a covenanted woman for himself, killing the man to get him out of the way. It was a coveting (unfaithfulness to God and neighbor), that led to adultery (unfaithfulness to God and neighbor), that led to murder (unfaithfulness to God and neighbor). It all started when David’s heart lost sight of faithfulness to the command of God. After he was confronted by Nathan the prophet, we see David write Psalm 51, a Psalm of brokenhearted repentance in which he acknowledges that he sinned against God and how God desires “truth (faithfulness) in the inmost parts.” David had lied to himself, and was unfaithful to his brother Uriah, even murdering him, because He was unrepentant. Solomon also had a lust for women that went unchecked and led God’s people deeper into idolatry.

THE UNFAITHFUL WIFE METAPHOR

God was about to bring judgment against Israel (the Northern tribes) and ushers a warning through the prophet Hosea. Despite His great mercy to forgive His people from their repeated idolatry, they never truly repented. Out of the mouths of God’s prophets begin to come a metaphor which likens God’s people to an adulterous woman, worthy of death, because of their detestable idolatry and subsequent uncleanliness. God’s people are now collectively being portrayed as an adulterous wife, and adulterers are put to death at worst (or maybe given a certificate of divorce and cast out as beggars if allowed to live).

To demonstrate His love for His people, He tells a man named Hosea to take a prostitute for a wife. He does. Then she leaves him and he has to buy her back. He has to buy back the woman who was already his (notice the foreshadowing to Jesus). Surely the people would be moved to see the heart of God in this way. He is offering to take her back, polluted as she is. He wants her still. He is making an provision for adultery to not mean the end of relationship. Instead, he will make her clean. He will make it difficult for her to be unfaithful.

“But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—
    for she is no longer my wife,
    and I am no longer her husband. [God’s DIVORCING of the Northern tribes]
Tell her to remove the prostitute’s makeup from her face
    and the clothing that exposes her breasts.
Otherwise, I will strip her as naked
    as she was on the day she was born.
I will leave her to die of thirst,
    as in a dry and barren wilderness.
And I will not love her children,
    for they were conceived in prostitution.
Their mother is a shameless prostitute
    and became pregnant in a shameful way.
She said, ‘I’ll run after other lovers
    and sell myself to them for food and water,
for clothing of wool and linen,
    and for olive oil and drinks.’

“For this reason I will fence her in with thornbushes.
    I will block her path with a wall
    to make her lose her way.
When she runs after her lovers,
    she won’t be able to catch them.
She will search for them
    but not find them.
Then she will think,
‘I might as well return to my husband,
    for I was better off with him than I am now.’

14 “But then I will win her back once again.
    I will lead her into the desert
    and speak tenderly to her there.
15 I will return her vineyards to her
    and transform the Valley of Troubleinto a gateway of hope.
She will give herself to me there,
    as she did long ago when she was young,
    when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.
16 When that day comes,” says the Lord,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’
    instead of ‘my master.’

19 I will make you my wife forever,
    showing you righteousness and justice,
    unfailing love and compassion.
20 I will be faithful to you and make you mine,
    and you will finally know me as the Lord.’”
Hosea 2:2-23 (selected)

So God desires to show mercy, even still. He will lead His people through a heart journey of missing him and repentance. Love will emerge miraculously victorious. He will fulfill His original covenant and stay faithful to His entire Bride. This is impossible love. He will put a block in the road and thornbushes to block her way to her lovers. He will make it difficult for her to leave him. He will punish and discipline her and then…

Then. Then he will love her tenderly again.

He will marry this harlot. And He announces this through the true-life prophetic drama of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, the harlot. This woman not only is a harlot to begin with, she returns to her life of harlotry and Hosea must go buy her back again! How insulting. How ridiculous this love. How impossible this devotion.

“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant. 60 Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you62 and you will know that I am the Lord. 63 Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” (Ezekiel 16:59-63)

But Israel does not repent.

So the Assyrians attack Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and those 10 tribes almost vanish (so much so that they are often called the Lost Tribes of Israel), but there is a remnant. They are not lost completely.

In the book of Chronicles chapters 30-31, you can read about King Hezekiah inviting all the remnant to come back and resettle the cities. They come to celebrate the feasts in Jerusalem and then go out to their own lands to resettle. There was great joy as all the idols were destroyed, but the faithfulness to God did not last. They did not repent in their hearts, and God decides He will punish Judah for pretending to repent but not actually repenting (Jeremiah 5:1-5). The people of God do not repent. His judgment is executed. His anger burns against the remnant from the North (who now lives in Judah) and the Kingdom of Judah (in the South).

I remember how eager you were to please me
    as a young bride long ago,
how you loved me and followed me
    even through the barren wilderness.
In those days Israel was holy to the Lord,
    the first of his children. Jeremiah 2:2-3

If a man divorces a woman
    and she goes and belongs to someone else,
he will not take her back again,
    for that would surely corrupt the land.
But you have prostituted yourself with many lovers,
    so why are you trying to come back to me?”
    says the Lord…

I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery. But that treacherous sister Judah had no fear, and now she, too, has left me and given herself to prostitution. Israel treated it all so lightly—she thought nothing of committing adultery by worshiping idols made of wood and stone. So now the land has been polluted. 10 But despite all this, her faithless sister Judah has never sincerely returned to me. She has only pretended to be sorry. I, the Lord, have spoken! Jeremiah 3:1, 8-10

Throughout the book of Jeremiah, you see God looking for one honest person who will admit that they have been falsely repenting. You think you see honesty in Jeremiah 4, but chapter 5 says it was a false repentance, that Israel was only pretending to be sorry. He also says they could repent if they wanted to (4:1). God knows the heart. The word has been given. The judgment is death and exile on the basis of adultery, a sin that never had been truly and permanently eradicated since the generation after Joshua. Now Judah is taken away to Babylon, a divorced adulterous woman. Even when brought back, God’s people never experience the glory of God’s presence. There is a rift, a distance. He brought them back, but as a shadow of what was to come.

So this is the heart of God. He longs for a mutual love and for a true circumcision of the heart in faithfulness to Him. Finally, through Malachi, God brings these charges against His people. They are holding back money from the temple, and they are divorcing their wives. God says  He is not receiving their worship because their lack of love for their wife, culminating in these divorces, is committing violence against these women. They are charged to remain faithful to the wives of their youth.

13 Here is another thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. 14 You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. 15 Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. 16 For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” Malachi 2:13-16

His charge is that the people are not faithful to their spouses. That is why He is not receiving their worship. He describes divorce as violent cruelty against which you must guard your heart. He asserts that He made them one. In body and spirit you are His as one. And he wants to multiply and bless that union with children. But His desire is rejected.

God’s promises of thriving life, of Him teaching us Himself, of rivers flowing from the desert. None of that had come to pass. It looked like all His promises had been conditional upon the obedience of His people. And the people had failed at faithfulness, to God and to their spouses. Can you imagine the regret that the people felt to know they had been faithless, that if they had wanted to return, they could have. They were a forgotten, enslaved people once again, Babylon fell to Persia and Persia to Greece and Greece to Rome. None of the captives had been set free, not really, and all of God’s people looked for a Messiah. The promised one. Because clearly, he had no come yet. Oh sure, there was Solomon who built a temple, and Zechariah and Nehemiah, but their lives prophecies, even as they fulfilled promises, prophesied someone else. Another descendant. Son of God and Son of Man. Someone who would be able to bring the promises of God to pass and write the law of God on our hearts, into flesh, not stone.

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:32-34

JESUS, GOD’S PROVISION FOR FORGIVENESS AND RECONCILIATION

Then Jesus comes. The hope of the world, the light of all humankind. Finally, the Messiah who has come to save all people from their sin. The second Adam. But He is also a teacher and a law-bringer. The second Moses. So He gives an explanation of the law that does not abolish the first law written on stones, but fulfills it, in His blood, and by writing it onto our hearts by the Holy Spirit who would be given after He left (John 14-16).

Clearly He is merciful. But He is also intolerant of sin. One day, “the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:3-11

Jesus somehow demonstrated mercy, but without downplaying the devastating consequences of sin. For Him, they coexist. It may look like He is easy on the sinner, but He does not lower his expectations for righteous living. He tells her to go and leave her life of sin. On the sermon on the mount, Jesus explains that He came to not to abolish the rulings of Moses and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. He wanted to deepen the law of God from the surface level to the heart, to allow our righteousness (by His Spirit’s power) to exceed the Scribe’s and Pharisees’ behavior-based religious righteousness. The disciples soon realize that He is not making it easier to obey the law, He is making it more intense. Now it is not simply possible to avoid sin by limiting your actions, but Jesus is saying we will be judged even on the level of our thoughts and inner motivations! This is near-to-impossible obedience.

Jesus said,

You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot,you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell…

You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart…

You have heard the law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife by merely giving her a written notice of divorce.’32 But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, CAUSES HER to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.” (Matthew 5)

The adultery is here is related to violating the covenant of a married person—they are off limits. Jesus is not redefining what adultery is, He is redefining what faithfulness is—what love is. A woman being divorced in those days would almost certainly have to remarry to provide for herself. Therefore she would have been forced to commit adultery. If she is unfaithful, she has already committed it.

Right here Jesus took three commandments and drove them from the action to the motivation. Murder happens in the heart before it happens in the body. Adultery happens in the mind before the bed, and divorce for reasons other than adultery is unforgiveness and hardness of the heart toward the person you are about to make an adulterer of—because they will be tempted /forced to remarry, causing defilement and ending all hope of reconciliation.

How can we live this kind of level of obedience? We were not even able to obey the Law of Moses which governed behavior? Jesus says (specifically regarding money), “With man it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God, but with God all things are possible!” He said this about the Holy Spirit who they did not know would come to indwell everyone who believed and was truly baptized into Christ, not just with a baptism of repentance but with consuming fire that would burn up the desires of our flesh and open us up to the Living Water of life. Jesus continued to teach toward the heart of the matter, worship will happen in spirit and truth, not in the temple made with human hands. The Sabbath was given as a gift for men to rest, not to be constrained by laws that make it a burden.

But Jesus’ emphasis on obedience from the heart and the clarification of the heart of God put frustrated the Rabbinical leaders judgments, their love of books and manuscripts, and their convoluted interpretations of the law of Moses. Here’s Mark’s version of the same story we read in Matthew:

So then we get to a place where the religious leaders approach him again about this topic of divorce. “Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?” Jesus answered them with a question: “What did Moses say in the law about divorce?” “Well, he permitted it,” they replied. “He said a man can give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away.”But Jesus responded,

“He wrote this commandment only as a concession to your hard hearts. But ‘God made them male and female’ from the beginning of creation. ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife,and the two are united into one.’Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”

10 Later, when he was alone with his disciples in the house, they brought up the subject again. 11 He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. 12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.” Mark 10

Observe how the leaders are looking for the legal ruling and interpretation here. Can a man divorce his wife for any reason? And look how Jesus exposes either their bad reading of scripture or their intent to trick Him, and tries to show them the heart of the issue. The issue for Jesus is not whether or not a person is allowed to divorce based on certain circumstances. The issue is that the one who truly understands the love of God would have a softness of heart that would not end in their divorcing their spouse, but hold out hope for reconciliation like a lighthouse. Matthew’s version adds adultery as an exception here and this is important, because God did divorce Israel and Judah. He will not hold you to a standard he is not holding himself to. But He is inviting you to do what He did, remain faithful in the face of someone else’s faithlessness and even after a relationship has been seemingly ruined by unfaithfulness. In essence, Jesus said you missed the point again. Let me show you the fulfillment of this law…the issue is not whether or not it’s ok, the issue is that you don’t understand what marriage is. You are no longer two but one and my ruling is the same it has always been since the first marriage. Let it not be separated. That is the “ruling” of God on the matter. The covenant of marriage has no end but death. The two are made one flesh. And this ruling is completely consistent throughout scripture.

The disciples could not let that stand and so we get a very clear reiteration of His point. Notice how he focuses, not on divorce, but on remarriage:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.”

In other words, the divorce is a human certificate. It has no bearing on the spiritual reality, that you are still one in the sight of God. OK, your heart is too hard to be together and you choose to separate. God will not constrain your free will. But to God, this connection is not severed until death except in the case of adultery, and even then, the story is not over. How do we know? He divorced His adulterous people and eventually married them again. He loved His people who were unfaithful to Him and made a way back to relationship. Ideally, those who go through with divorce should remarry…their first spouse. That is the biblically-supported intent of God when people choose to divorce. A hurt spouse, especially who has experienced the pain of rejection, may not even be able to entertain that possibility and that’s ok. It’s enough to just not leave. It’s enough to just not divorce them. It’s enough to just wait.

Jesus is asking the same of His people. It is the freedom and encouragement to hope for salvation, healing, and restoration. You do not have to divorce because someone was unfaithful to you. You can legally do it and the church will not stop you. And you might choose to remarry if adultery was committed against you or if your spouse has already remarried and you burn with lust (these decisions should be made within your close circles of Biblical accountability), but Jesus clearly advises not to remarry in Mark 10:10-12. In fact, He endorses not marrying at all in some cases.

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” Matthew 19:10-12

Jesus is calling some to bear a special cross of celibacy–those who have been divorced (for non-adultery related causes), and those born Eunuchs (may refer to those born sexually atypical), those made Eunuchs by others (slaves and servants were sometimes castrated), or those who live in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom (this should never be a rule imposed on priests or on a whole order of people, but individually lived out in obedience to Christ in engaging the world with the gospel). His invitation on these things is not given to us, to be cruel or demanding to confine divorced people (or eunuchs) to a life of loneliness. In the case of divorce, Jesus gives this command to keep both parties AVAILABLE for reconciliation once hearts soften. In other words, leave room for resurrection.

But above all His teachings on marriage, adultery, and remarriage, the greatest statement Jesus made on divorce was in the first communion. Jesus ended His time before His death on the cross by instituting a new marriage covenant in His blood. As He said He would do through the prophets, God betrothed Himself to His people once again.

Once again, He offers Himself. To a harlot. He is still in love with His people, the Jews, and the whole world reaps those benefits when we come into faith in Christ. Because His desire was so great, He loved us even when we were His enemies. He paid the price for what He already owned, like Hosea did when He bought back His wife again. And because of this New Covenant, we can be forgiven for our own idolatry. We can know God. We can be with Him. We can extend radical mercy and forgiveness, because we were idolaters and harlots to God and He showed us mercy. And we can stay with our spouses for life. Because He redeemed us. He bought us back. We give mercy because we were shown such mercy.

Bringing it Home

The reality is that our hearts get hard. And that is the truth that our hearts need to hear. A person’s contempt for their husband or wife begins much earlier than the act of divorce. It is an anger that is not dealt with. The sun is allowed to go down over and over, and before you know it, resentment has led to a feeling of separation of the heart and mind. But God says two have become one. So you yield. To one another, but also to God. You submit. And this is how the two stay as one. And our refusal to do this yielding, makes our hearts hard. We must repent. Change our mind toward our spouse often, to stay soft, even when you don’t want to.

Paul, who is, like Moses and Jesus, asked to give rulings about marriage problems, also takes this approach to a spouse leaving. He says not to,

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

[this makes it possible for both parties to remain free for reconciliation–the wife should remain unmarried and the husband should not divorce her and again, there is no other “view or opinion” in scripture that contradicts]

12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? 1 Corinthians 7:10-16

[Note that there is no permission to divorce given here…only to let an unbeliever separate if they desire to.]

You have the power and strength to remain faithful to one another until death parts you. It is this deep-rooted nature of God, His faithfulness that He is inviting you into. He is not cruel or harsh in expecting anything of you that HE has not done. This is not cross He is asking you to carry that He has not carried. You can do this kind of love because He is inside you. You can live years alone and not really be alone, and there will definitely be times when the loneliness is earth-shatteringly terrible. But God puts the lonely in families. You will be ok. You can pursue your unfaithful spouse even when you do not have a shred of self-dignity left. They belong to you. You can also be unmarried and be full of joy. You can wait and hope for God to work miracles and potentially have a story of resurrection in your marriage. How great our need for a Savior! Even the teachers of the law cannot manage this! But by His Spirit, we can! God makes it possible for His faithfulness to be our story, for His faithfulness to empower our faithfulness. I have seen God breathe life back into dead marriages, even when the husband and wife have been unfaithful. I have seen the dead come to life again. You have to get past desire for the legal ruling and get to the heart. It’s about the heart of God, two-made-one for life, inseparable by man, no matter what.

Everyone who comes into Christ is asked to carry His yoke of obedience. If this is your cross, being faithful to a difficult spouse, or staying unmarried in obedience to Jesus (when adultery is not the issue), or not marrying a divorced person you desire to marry, it is not an easy thing you are doing, but it is a glorious and good thing and in that sense, it is easy and light. You are doing it willingly, not because someone told you to but because you are choosing to love and trust that God’s way leads to life. You will feel Jesus bear this with you. No one should make light of it. You may even be persecuted for taking this approach. But it is the only Biblical approach and it all fits together perfectly. It may seem unfair that you are obeying God while others do whatever they want, but you are not the first to carry this cross in obedient love to Jesus. The purpose of this life is not to be happy, but to know Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death and so attaining to the resurrection of the dead. In this trial, you will come to know Him better by walking out His experience of a faithful spouse to an unfaithful spouse. After all, our God is a God who marries harlots and buys them back when they leave Him again. I am one of those harlots. I’m glad He waited for me.  

If you have already been divorced and remarried, this post is not to condemn you, but if you have sinned against a spouse or against God in that journey, I invite you to repent, seek forgiveness, and leave sin behind (if sin remains) so you can experience God’s mercy. May God give grace to everyone who reads this, as He gave grace to me writing this, because I am a chief sinner saved by His love and constantly made aware of His “forgetting” forgiveness; that because of Jesus, when I honestly confess my sin, He chooses does not remember it from that day forward. May you experience that same honesty in confession and that same wild and faithful love today and every day. It cannot be overemphasized that this study of marriage, adultery, and remarriage is not meant to judge or condemn. It was done in an effort to expose false teaching on this subject and promote healthy, biblical understanding, so we can teach our family and community what God intends in marriage and how to responsibly and Biblically advise those in difficult marriage/remarriage situations. If this post is ever turned to legalistic ruling, then it is better for it to be burned, but if it is to be used to understand the heart of God, so that we as the followers of Jesus can extend the way of life in loving mercy to others, then let it stand.

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Jesus on Leadership: Do Not Call One Another Teacher or Father or Instructor…You Are All Siblings

unrecognizable little boys holding hands and walking on sandy seashore

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23:8-12

I have heard sermons and songs about the “greatest among you being the servant of all,” but I have never heard a single sermon on the command about letting go of titles. Not saying there’s not one out there, but this verse has actually been so transformative to me that if you were to ask me my leadership philosophy for the church, I would quote this verse first. Why have we not obeyed Jesus in this? It’s not just that it’s counter-cultural for Euro-American societies, it’s also completely counter-intuitive. It seems inefficient to perceive a community as growing together side by side. Who will make the decisions to move things along? Should we not consider some people as “higher” or “honorable” because they are better educated, better qualified, have worked their way up, or deserve it solely because of age and rank? After all, our whole lives are based on being under authority, of bosses, or parents, or governments, and Jesus supports our obedience to authority as long as it does not conflict with obedience to the Father. As products of the industrial revolution we have a mentality largely based on the ideals of efficiency, productivity, individual ingenuity, and top-down authority. But here Jesus takes those positions that one might aspire to, or strive to be able to reach (teacher, father), and He says, no titles. You must all come to ME as your one teacher, your one Father. And you must come to me together.

He calls us to side-by-side discipleship. Sibling discipleship. This is a mutual love that says, “I will not demand your respect. I will allow it to be a gift.” and “I will not give my respect out of obligation, but because I love you.”

Picture This

Surprisingly, most people are not comfortable with side-by-side discipleship. This is because they are used to a church organizational model of discipleship and power based on top-down authority, corporate/business models. Like this–

Notice the similarities to this…

But Jesus taught a leadership model that was very different. There is no man at the top. God is the top. He leads us. We know what He wants because of His word. He sent Jesus to branch out to build His temple by living in us, through the Holy Spirit, both individually and corporately. I’ve written about Jesus as the branch here, so I won’t focus too much on that, except to say that this is how God chose to build His church. So we purpose to live accordingly. Now what does that mean for our concept of church leadership? Let’s look at a branch.

Notice it grows up and out. Growing up refers to the fact that just as branches are drawn to the sun, we are drawn upward together to reach our fullness in Christ.

But Jesus, He is the seed. He is the shoot of Jesse. He is the main branch, the trunk, the vine. We, our church communities and the individuals therein, are the branches of the vine in this metaphor, and Jesus moves His life through us, expanding in us and moving us toward his concept of fullness, like a branch grows to make a tree full and fruitful. Let’s turn the top down model on it’s side. Literally. So we can start to think of ourselves more like this.

In other words, one may have been a part of the branch earlier in the development of the branch but is no less at the top than the other. You are a part of one another, on the same level, moving in the same direction. This is side-by-side discipleship and it’s not as unnatural as it feels at first. When it works, it’s the most life-giving thing in the world. It’s just that most people don’t get it or they’re too prideful, doubtful, or afraid to try it. Chaos would ensue if you let God lead, right?! And how would we know what He wants? We would all have to love His word (Psalm 119) and eagerly desire the prophetic gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1) and be committed to one another in love to reach the unity of the Spirit.

And most churches are completely untrained in this. House church systems, which I have talked about as well, are not exempt from the temptations of top-down organization and structure. The tendency when things feel out of hand or something difficult needs to be handled is to take control of the situation–to manage it. And if that is not done efficiently and to certain personal expectations/preferences, well you have “poor leadership.” And the tendency when there is a disagreement in a church is to go to the one “in authority” to give a ruling rather than coming together in unity according to how the Holy Spirit leads us in accordance with the Word of God given in Scripture. Now let’s unpack this commandment of Jesus.

“Father or Mother” vs “Brother or Sister”?

A father and mother have God-given authority over you because they are responsible for you as a child. You are under their care and then, as you marry, you leave their care and are under the care of your spouse, forming a new family extension of the old. We honor our fathers and mothers both naturally and in the faith because we love them and God tells us to, but also so that we will be blessed with a long life and to a thousand generations! But our humanity means we also tend to idolize those we honor. If our honor and obedience to a person is connected to their title and position or legalistic rule-following, rather than our genuine love for God and others, then we have missed the boat. Similarly, if the authority you have over another believer is simply due to your title or age, then you are not obeying Christ.

But if we are all brothers and sisters, we have a problem. How will we choose one person qualified to make the decisions or lead? Well, you don’t. You have a team of different gifted people called elders who function as a team (or body) to pray and discern in the Spirit how God is leading the community. The older ones IN THE FAITH have more responsibility than the younger because they need to warn, they have more time dealing with sin, they have experienced the grace of God in enduring the cross and its shame, they have fought temptation with success. That’s why it is elders who are called upon to help their bodies function well (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5). They simply were part of the branch earlier on and they continue to meet the qualifications of elders in their moral behavior. They have the experience, the time, the love for the family of God, an understanding of the community’s culture, the exposure to the elements. But they are still JUST part of the branch, just brothers and sisters in this journey. And they are often not at the forefront of activity or fruitfulness. The younger ones are. Why is this important? Because as soon as a person comes to trust Jesus for forgiveness and is filled with the Holy Spirit, they are to start making disciples, teaching what they are taught by the the elders in the faith, to neighbors and nations, in obedience to Christ (Matthew 28:19-20).

If you are young in age, fan into flame the gift of God! How is God calling you to step up and shepherd, teach, or prophesy alongside the older ones? Stop waiting for an invitation. Stop waiting for a platform. You have permission to speak, to speak according to the leadership of the Spirit in your life. Come on and let’s hear what God is teaching you. It’s safe. We will hold one another accountable. If you have the Holy Spirit and a Bible, I want to hear it. If you are worried your theology is shaky, invite a mature believer to listen to what you have to say first and test it. Then SPEAK LIFE to this sleeping giant we call the church. Wake us up! You do not need a platform. Just start discipling everyone! Let’s gooooo new little branches, soon to be full of fruit! Fear and insecurity have no place in love.

Releasing one another from the titles of Father/Mother in the faith releases us to love one another and respect each other without patriarchal/matriarchal authority, power, or pride being the reason. You may consider someone as a father or mother based on the fact that you came into Christ through them, but their message was nothing unique to them; it was simply Christ’s message. No one is of YOUR spiritual lineage. You may see someone as a father or mother because they cared for you or discipled you, and in a sense, like Paul tells Timothy, there is a parent-like role there, but at the end of the day, it is mutuality. Even-standing. You are still simply brother or sisters and you must discipline your heart to see one another as such. You are not to call one another by those titles and you are to try to see one another as a sister or brother, because it is dangerous to both be on a pedestal and to put others on a pedestal. You are capable of discipling those older than you the way they discipled you as long as you are in Christ. You need no other status or qualification but the Holy Spirit and a love for and continued hunger for rightly dividing the Word of truth. It’s one message. One Word. One Christ. One Spirit. One body moving together.

Teacher/Instructor/Mentor vs. Brother/Sister

Similarly, Jesus also said not to call anyone Rabbi (a spiritual teacher/mentor/guru) or Instructor. Instead, Jesus was to be considered our teacher through the Holy Spirit in prophecy and by being led through the scriptures, exploring them together in community as equally-paced learners, yoked together. That means the older ones who know how to walk by the Spirit set the pace in community gatherings, and the new ones catch on, learning quickly and willingly to move by the Spirit, in deference to one another, out of love for God and one another. We are yoked together with Christ as one.

Think of the difference in teaching or advising your brother or sister about something as opposed to being taught by or teaching like a teacher or instructor. In a healthy sibling relationship you teach from a place of empathy. There is a sense of, “I’ve been there–let me tell you from my own experience.” There is a sense of “I am with you in this and I will be by your side until we get through this together.” You are not a guru who has all the answers as people thought of the rabbis. No one sits at your feet to take on YOUR yoke of discipleship. No one is of YOUR spiritual version or intellectual lineage. We are all simply teaching the message of Christ. We are all under His direct yoke. We need no mediators to get to Him. You are also not simply a teacher who has students who pass through unattached to you. You are laying that down and doing life with these people as brothers and sisters. On the flip side of this, you are not a student who passes through a classroom taking in information and moving on with your life. You are transformed by relationship. Both of you mutually. In the same way as you can have a role of spiritual fatherhood or motherhood, someone can have the gifting and role of teaching, but still, at the core, we consider one another brothers and sister, so we do not call one another teacher or instructor.

Not calling one another teacher/guru/instructor releases us to love one another and respect each other without institutional or intellectual authority, power, or pride/insecurity being an issue. It keeps us humble and aware of the danger of these power dynamics if not kept in check. It also allows us all to wear the responsibility of discipling others and building them up, not relying on only a few “well-educated” people to teach or disciple.

It is dangerous to both be on a pedestal and to put others on a pedestal.

So since it is dangerous to both be on a pedestal and to put others on a pedestal, who do you need to take down off a pedestal? Who have you been idolizing as a spiritual father or mother or spiritual leader? How has that been putting undue pressure on that person or your relationship. On the other hand, how have you put yourself in these positions in peoples’ lives either intentionally or not? What needs to be undone, clarified, restructured, renegotiated in your spiritual relationships with people?

Side By Side Discipleship: Mutuality, Empathy, and Belonging

Obeying Christ by following these commands leads us to mutuality, belonging, and empathy. Mutuality means that our devotion to Christ is what links us together and makes us family. Blood (the community of faith) is thicker than water (of natural birth). Mutuality means that we minister to one another as we would minister to Jesus. It means that you are not always simply a recipient of my teaching and sacrifice and I am not always the giver of teaching and sacrifice. I am not always the recipient of your sacrifice and teaching and you are not always the giver of sacrifice and teaching. Rather, we sacrifice for one another, serve one another, and love one another in the gifts God has given us, none more special than the other, all equally necessary and vital to the life of the body.

I can also relate genuinely to you from a place of compassion. I can be empathetic. Empathy is the ability to relate to someone and participate in their suffering by listening with love and then together going to prayer and God’s word for healing. Empathy does not see the person as a problem, or as a patient. It sees them as a part of our own body, a family member that I love. It gives space to emotion and also calls for return to truth. Empathy and truth are beautiful together. It is not like when you empathize with someone you simply give them space to talk. That’s a part of it, but empathy also says, “if I were in your shoes I would need Jesus right now.” And you take them to the Lord in prayer.

Empathy does not see the person as a problem, or as a patient. It sees them as a part of our own body, a family member that I love.

Empathy is only possible when you are not overwhelmed by hundreds of people. You will become numb and deaf; a problem solver with no personal investment. But in real Christian community we are a body, your pain is my pain, your struggle is my struggle. We fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens and loving fiercely, the way we were loved by Jesus. Empathy is when we consider others as “belonging” to us in community; it allows relationship between generations (both natural and spiritual) without looking down at the younger as lesser-than or lower-than.

“Side-by-side discipleship” is something most of us have not seen modeled in leadership. It’s not even an official term. As one of my friends asked me the other day, “How do we become the leaders we never had?”

There is a meekness here that does not pretend to be better or more intelligent than the other, because we remember our own struggle and our own rescue. There is a grace in calling the brother or sister to follow Jesus in unyielding faithfulness, in mutually desired accountability, in mutual embrace, welcoming them close to cry, to laugh, to eat, to worship and pray together. This is mutuality. This is belonging. It says,

“My home is always open to you. My house is your house. Come and go as family. You belong to me and I belong to you in covenant with Jesus. And I will hold you in love to your covenant you made with Him. I will show you empathy but I will also not ignore your sin, and you should do the same for me. I will not be satisfied with your enslavement to addictions and lies of the enemy but I will fight for and beside you in the Spirit. I will try my best to go after you if you go missing, literally, or spiritually.”

Belonging to one another is what it means to be brothers and sisters. It is a deep, intentional knowing of one another through doing life together in a lifestyle of prayer and discipleship–praying for and listening to God on one another’s behalf and speaking the truth in love. You know all my good and bad traits. You might know my past sin, my past and current temptations. You know what I am good at and horrible at. You know how to push my buttons. Being known is scary, but trusting, Godly sibling relationships are not. They have this deep empathetic quality that comes from really knowing one another and loving one another anyway, which leads one another to healing, salvation, renouncing sin, mutual love, and belonging.

Isn’t this what we long for in Christian community? Is this what we have? What keeps us from it? It is sin and pride and rebellion and maybe apathy or ignorance, and definitely Satan. Who among us teaches this radical kind of obedience, not in the letter of the law, but in the Spirit of the law? Jesus intended us to obey His commands fully, and at the heart level.

What Obedience Looks Like

(These are not how-tos or laws, but descriptions of what this might look and feel like when it’s working):

Mutual Humility is where EVERYONE goes lower and deeper into humility so we see a loss of titles and human honorifics. Leaders need to be able to lead like Moses, the most humble man on earth, who was a leader- not by being a a political genius, a military leader, or a spiritual guru, but who was a simple man who knew His own weakness, who knew the power and purposes of God, and who found that out by coming into consistent fellowship with the Lord in the Tent of Meeting. He led by seeking the face of God in His presence. How much better if we come into God’s presence together. No pride or hatred can stand in the presence of God.

Mutual humility says, “As a spiritual mother, I am your sister. As a spiritual father, I am your brother. I am not your spiritual teacher or guru, I am your sister. Call me simply, by my given name. I don’t need a title in order to feel respected because you do respect me. You do not need a title from me because you will know by my words and actions that I respect you and honor you. I do not seek to be honored above you. I consider you more often than I consider myself, and I consider you worthy of my attention and God’s gifts, I think of you as higher than I am. This is not a competition. I do not seek a higher position than wiping Jesus’ feet with my hair and wiping yours with a towel.”

I do not seek a higher position than wiping Jesus’ feet with my hair and wiping yours with a towel.

Mutual service in humility says, “We serve this community as a team. We help make sure the people practicing hospitality by hosting community/prayer/worship gatherings and those in need are covered and we don’t leave them to handle things alone. We help those who need help. We look for those who may be lonely and ask God to show us how He wants to “set them in families.” We solve problems through prayer, not debate or votes, and not on the basis of one person in power making the final decision. We pray until we are unified in the decision. All who are in Christ have God as our teacher and Father, and He does not show favoritism. All are qualified to speak. We are not complete without you being with us in communion. We notice when you are not here. We are not complete without your spiritual gifts at the table, though we will not use you or view you as a commodity. You are a treasure to us, just you, as you are, even without your gifts; a much needed part of the body, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit and moving in obedience to Christ. You matter to me personally and collectively.”

Mutual Love is continued between brothers and sisters who submit to one another willingly and serve joyfully, giving not out of compulsion but out of joy, cheerfully. We try to show one another love in ways that are meaningful. We check on one another, give to one another, and serve one another too—and we tell one another if we think this is ever out of balance, where one is expecting too much or not reciprocating. We don’t wait to be checked on just to see if someone will.  If we need something or miss one another, we reach out, trusting the bond of love that we have and knowing people cannot read our minds. We invite one another into our homes and real life even if it’s hard or uncomfortable to do so, and we look for ways to include one another. We pray for one another, giving quality time to pray for each person, not just when there is a crisis. Not all problems carry the same weight, but each heart is important, even in their (relatively) small concerns. We love sincerely, from the heart, and without fear of rejection. We are one in covenant with Jesus and this bond of the body is unbreakable because we are in Him. Your heart matters to me.

Mutual Respect is shared between sub-cultural groups of different ethnicities, ages, affinities, political persuasions, wealth classes, social classes, educational backgrounds, or regional origins. We listen thoughtfully and engagingly and actually take time to process what one another says (show respect in culturally appropriate ways, for example, remembering the plans we make, trying to be on time in time-oriented cultures, being thoughtful for one another’s feelings and preferences when possible, not interrupting in cultures where this is important). We won’t assume we are obligated to always help each other or be immediately available—God may have tasked us to other things in that moment or we may have prior obligations that He is saying to follow through with. We encourage bravery and space for the younger to teach and train the older without fear, even if pride wells up in the older one for being corrected by a younger brother or sister, and even if fear wells up in the younger one for confronting an elder. Push through it and obey God in saying what the Holy Spirit is telling you to say. Mutual respect says “your perspective matters to me and we will resolve this in love and prayer.” Our relationship is not fragile.

Mutual Desire for Accountability means you all agree that you want to grow spiritually and you will yield in love to the truth of God’s word in correction. It says, “You will find me a true friend who is impartial and sincere and is willing to tell you the truth about your sin (gently, ideally), even if it hurts your feelings.” More than that, it says, “I expect accountability. If you don’t point out my sin to me, and I remain unaware of it, you are doing me a disservice.”

We listen to the Lord alongside and on behalf of one another in intercession. We share what we see or hear from the Lord (as He leads), as good correction and encouragement without doubting our love for one another or our high opinion of one another as a person and child of God. Our relationship is to be Spirit-led, not based on appearances, but on the heart. We keep one another accountable at the heart level and the behavioral level. We agree that repentance is not just confessing that you are disobeying the Word of God, but it is changing your heart and behavior to align with God’s Word and His heart (the Spirit of the law, the law of the Spirit). We are patient with one another, but not patient with sin. We encourage repentance and righteous living fervently. We listen for what God has for one another as we pray for each other. We are careful not to judge one another but only say what the Lord is saying when correcting. We try to communicate gently, with humility, but also leave room for emotions. We try to be gentle and kind with one another. Mutual desire for accountability says, “Because we are one in Christ, please pay attention to my life and tell me if you see anything that is not like Christ. In return, I will also pay attention to your life and gently warn you if I see a sin pattern, not so I can judge you (that is not my job), but because I love you and I will not see you shrink back and become a slave to sin again on my watch. Your obedience matters to me. We mutually agree not to teach or lead while unrepentant. And we give one another permission to urge one another toward quick, full repentance and right standing with God.

Mutual trust. This means that I am going to take you at your word. Your yes is yes, your no is no. (Matthew 5:37). I can trust you to be honest with me and defend me against slander, gossip, and against the enemy (Satan). I will be honest with you and defend you against slander, gossip, and against the enemy. We don’t entertain gossip about one another in the community. We don’t “process” our hurt feelings with others in a way that could lead to disunity but go directly to the person to discuss the issue. We forgive before we confront. If we do not understand, we ask for clarity. We try to not debate through issues. We pray instead, even if it is awkward to do so. When we share personal, sensitive information we will ask one another before we share it with others unless prayerfully considered. We take responsibility for our own emotions—we process our own stuff with God but tell each other if we feel stuck. Then we go to prayer ASAP. We tell one another if trust has been broken and we make it right. Mutual trust says “our relationship matters to me.” Which leads to…

Mutual forgiveness without mandating apologies or special treatment due to position. You will be hurt by your brothers and sisters. But as equal recipients of the grace of God, we will train ourselves to release those who hurt us from our judgment, separating the faithful wounds of a friend from unrighteous hurt, knowing Jesus has paid for their sin against us. This means we may get an apology and we may not, but it doesn’t matter to us. We have already forgiven. If we are unable to honestly let it go, then we address it quickly and to the point. We process our complaints with God in prayer first, forgive ahead of time, and ask Him how to reconcile/move forward. Most of the time this takes care of the issue. If we still need help understanding why someone did something or need to ask them to stop a certain behavior, we go to the person directly and quickly. We do not draw things out. We are honest with one another by expressing your concern in a culturally appropriate way, trying to be gentle.

“When you did this _________, it made me feel this way ________”

or

“Help me understand this situation because I understood it this way.”

Then we must let it go. Love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5). I learned this from a pastor who I greatly admire who is a master of conflict resolution (though he’s too humble to admit this). In his opinion, if we are not unified, we are in sin. Unity has to be that important to us. We keep “short accounts” with one another so we never become bitter or hold grudges. We do not let the sun go down on our anger. We agree to yield to biblical truth and make every effort to keep the bond of peace. Mutual forgiveness says, “Our relationship matters to me.”

Mutual Waiting for One Another. Move together. Though the American church is still largely individualistic in our approach to spiritual growth, we look for examples from other communities that have solidarity as an ideal, that know how to walk together. This may mean ministry plans go slower or even backpedal for a while because God is refining your team to truly love Him and one another in unity of the Spirit. We pay attention to people’s hearts and do not simply use them as commodities for ministry. If they are not ok, it’s ok to take a break. We follow up with them and offer to pray with them, especially if they are stepping away to heal or learning to fight sin. We find out what they need and try to help them, not to rush them along, but to make sure they are living completely free. We are mutually responsible for one another, not for one another’s behavior or emotions, which would make you a scapegoat with a martyr syndrome, but responsible for the care of one another. We make sure no one is falling between the cracks and ask God to bring to mind those who need special attention in each season. Mutual waiting says, “Our coordination and health as a body matters to me.”

“In [Jesus] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:21-22

Regarding Communion: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, when you gather for the Lord’s Supper, wait for each other. 1 Corinthians 11:33

We emphasize and teach this command of Jesus intentionally as a principle to both new and old members of our communities. We encourage one another to “Consider one-another as brothers/sisters” (as someone committed to walk with you but also in process alongside you, each with our own issues—we don’t put one another on a pedestal. We especially encourage this command when we hurt and disappoint one another) so that we can be patient with one-another’s shortcomings. This is a two-way relationship (we minister to each other, teach each other, fill in each other’s gaps). Remember we want to resist the human tendency toward efficiency, speed of growth, and controlling/manipulative leadership. The model of the branch is that it moves slowly but surely, genuinely, and honestly joined together toward maturity. Which leads us to a final point…pruning.

Mutual View of Pruning as Empathy. It may be difficult in our day of tolerance to imagine bold correction in the church without associating it with bad stereotypes of all we do not wish to be (judgmental, harshness, uninviting, and uncaring), but the Bible clearly teaches us to discern and discipline those who persist in false teaching or sinful and immoral behavior. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together, “Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”

If a person has sinned and is not repentant, according to the teachings of Jesus, you need to warn them personally. If unrepentant, then bring it before the church elders in a modest way, and if it is still an issue, you need to prune them from the community, and hope that they will return. Sometimes decisions will need to be made about church discipline–but this is not slander, but can become that if not handled carefully. Be patient with one another. Those in the community that brought the warning and brought it to the church and those who did the pruning will stay soft, forgive, reject bitterness, and prepare their hearts to gently restore them when they return. We agree that pruning happens on the behavioral level of unrepentant sin, not the heart level of temptation. For example, we cannot prune someone for a temptation, but only if that temptation is yielded to and a sinful act is committed and not followed by repentance.

Jesus gave us a picture of a branch being pruned or protecting a batch of flour from yeast that spreads. Sin will infect your community and spread through like wildfire, destroying everyone. So you have to prune the people in your community that are false guides, divisive, or unrepentant or ask God to remove them in His way until they repent and can be restored (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Titus 3:10, Matthew 18: 15ff, 1 Timothy 1:20, Romans 16:17, Galatians 6:1).

Remember, repentance is not just confessing that you are disobeying the Word of God, but it is changing your heart and behavior to align with God’s heart (the Spirit of the law, the law of the Spirit). In the case of addictions and mental illness, we realize change can be more complicated, but most of the time, it’s not. A truly repentant heart does not make excuses for how hard it is to change behavior, but puts sin to death by the power of the Spirit and real action. It cuts off the hand, which means, whatever makes it possible for you have access to sin, we cut that off (installing an internet filter on our home may be a way to cut off the hand, for example). A repentant person will pursue these avenues of “cutting off” willingly and will desire accountability. They cannot be forced, but should be encouraged to obey God and disciplined appropriately if unwilling to repent. If forced to do this cutting off under duress and compulsion, it is not their free will choosing obedience. It won’t be permanent and could push them further from God. But if the person is unrepentant, allow the Father to prune them in obedience to Christ.

As one last word of encouragement, just in case you think my community is like this now, let me assure you, we are not there yet, and I am the worst offender in many of these areas (not on purpose). But we ARE moving in that direction with hope as many church communities are. It requires a joint commitment to love as brothers and sisters. What that means to you may mean different things, so we need to be careful not to hold people to things which are not in God’s word and are simply personal preferences of how we LIKE to be treated. We do not want to add weight to the easy yoke of Jesus. All we are talking about here is simply brotherly love, which is nothing new in concept to Christians, except you so rarely see it in real life, so I tried to flesh it out for you. If we are all thinking we want this, why not try? Isn’t becoming all God desired for the church to be worth the risk?

I will warn you, the point most people will not want is mutual accountability, and you cannot have true Christian community without voluntary Christian accountability. And as a final warning, it is tempting to become very self-focused as a community and take our attention off of the face of God and the very basic command to love Him and people. Do not become narcissistic and idolize your community. God will not let it stand. Focus outside of yourselves on Christ and the world in need of Him. I’ll leave you with one quote that reminds us of this.

“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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WHY MORALITY MATTERS

I have had SO many conversations lately about what makes something right and wrong and who defines it. You might think it’s an easy answer but many people are doubting scripture as an actual basis for understanding sin and morality, thinking it portrays God as unmerciful and harsh. Until we yield our own definitions of good and evil and release that burden back to God, we will be completely confused. What we find when we do that is that our issues are not with other people’s morality, it is with our own sin.

Morality means we have a clear understanding of what constitutes sin.

Which we don’t. Not anymore.

It also means we can understand grace.

Which we don’t. Not anymore.

Because love given without an acknowledgement and repentance of sin is not grace. It is just mercy, which is beautiful, it’s just not the same thing. It takes a heart fully aware of their sinfulness to fully be ready to receive mercy and forgiveness (baptism of repentance) along with empowering grace through the Holy Spirit (baptism of fire and Living Water), which makes you love Jesus and want to obey God’s moral law which gives life! A “baptism of repentance” (Acts 19:1-5) without a “baptism of fire” results in weak Christians who have no power over sin. They have a form of godliness but deny its power. You’re not really receiving anything but forgiveness, and you may keep making excuses for your sin to continue-you begin to abuse God’s grace. But an experience of fire without a baptism of true repentance is even harder to bear. These are Christians that know the power of worship but have not entered through the door of repentance. Mercy allows us as sinners to be forgiven and to stand in the presence of God because of Jesus. But grace will not allow sin to continue because it is the love of God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Grace empowers us to obey the moral law of God from a place of love and gratefulness.

“You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:44-47

I can tell you this. Before God rescued me, I loved Him as a little child loves a parent; because you were given so much, sacrificed for, provided for. But I was not childlike in my trust. I argued with Him a lot. I debated scripture in my heart. I doubted His sovereignty. I questioned His love. If I really thought about it, I did not think it was that important to follow the Ten Commandments or obey Christ’s teachings because I thought Jesus “covered me” and released me from following “the law” which I thought was bad (after all it was the law of sin and death). But I always wondered about those rarely-preached statements of Jesus about my righteousness needing to surpass that of the Pharisees. How not one letter of the law would disappear until all had been fulfilled. These things confused me. But the reality was that Jesus was teaching the moral law! Surely the law of the Spirit is not contrary to the moral law of God or Jesus would not have taught it! To obey Christ means to obey the law of Moses; not the ceremonial law, for Jesus broke the temple and we (the church) are now the dwelling place of God; and not the judicial law, for that was finished in the the theocratic nation of Israel (which is no longer in existence), but we are called to obey God’s moral law and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so.

I did not come upon this truth by theological debate or sermon. I came across this truth by encountering my own rebellion in my own heart, which my bad theology had kept hidden until about the Fall of 2016. Until then, I was a very capable, very Jesus-loving, Christian wife, mother, and professor.

Many of you know my story. Panic attacks and anxiety took me to a place where I had never been…completely out of options to fix things myself. It was then that God showed me my sin and what I needed to be rescued from. And once I saw my sin for what it was, then I knew I needed a savior.

Try to teach a good girl who is raised loving and serving Jesus that she needs a savior. She will agree with you all day long, but never experience it because she’s been living LIKE a Christian but still caught up in concern for reputation and earning approval (which is nothing more than self-love). Tell a young lady who sins quietly behind closed doors in “privacy” that God desires holiness from her and she will flop down in a puddle of tears and cry and tell you she knows but she can’t kick this habit (which is nothing more than demonic self-pity). Jesus isn’t enough for her? No. It is that she has not come to the realization of the depth of her sin and she has not renounced it to the place of putting it to death by the power of the Spirit. She thinks what she is doing is just not that bad. It’s not hurting anyone but her. Tell a young man that he is to obey Jesus and disciple the nations, teaching them to obey Christ and do what He commanded. What makes Him choose obedience over idleness and apathy? It is love for God empowered by grace, given upon the baptism of repentance and fire, and the confidence that God’s moral law still stands to be obeyed.

Our will is not enough to break our bad habits and make us obey God.

But love is. And here is the kicker…

Love is generated by grace. And grace is generated by living according the to Spirit in a lived out repentance that puts sin to death. Repentance is needed to really experience grace. And what I mean by that is that you must see your sin clearly enough, your rebellion against God with such striking clarity, in order to see see the exorbitant kindness of God in the gift of Christ so that that you genuinely repent and choose to live by the Spirit, obeying the moral law of God, which has not changed. Your gratefulness for your rescue drives your love for God, which drives your obedience, which is empowered by walking aligned with the Spirit/Word of God. This is not a “how-to” article. This is a description of how one comes into a life of grace. You must be rescued first.

Read this passage:

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:15-16

The irony of this passage is that the Pharisees were completely oblivious to their own need for rescue, so much so that they called others “sinners.” Jesus came to heal and save all people and no one would come to the father except through Him. They were too close to righteousness to see their need for rescue.

That’s where many Christians are today. They have been eased into church with a true message of the love and acceptance of God but they have been done a disservice because the power of righteous living is not being preached. Some have come in through the gate of Christ’s blood as a payment for their sin, but they have not mourned their sin, not really. They have not hated it to the point of putting it to death by the power of the Spirit. Or do you think you can live in the presence of God while He tolerates your apathy? Nope. You will not be close to Him. You may have spiritual experiences, but you will always wonder why some other people have this thing you do not have.

You will resent them.

You will think them fanatics or self-righteous.

Let me tell you this, friend.

No one who has truly encountered the grace of God in rescuing them can ever be self-righteous. Self-righteousness belongs to those trying to live a life of grace without being rescued first. But we who remember our rescue will not judge you. We may warn you, but we know our own hearts are only judged clean by the grace of God, not our own behavior. Nevertheless we do begin to live righteously, not for the sake of justification before God or being better than others, but as an extension of God’s rescue for others.

What has Jesus rescued you from? If you’re racking your brain to find it then just consider that your sin is hiding from you and is still there. If you feel far from God as a believer in Christ, it is your need to repent that has you in that place.

Be honest with yourself for a minute.

Ask God to show you your rebellion.

Stop blaming God for having you in a season of darkness and separation from His voice. That is a lie of the enemy. You were meant to live as a child of the light in conversational fellowship with the Father. You may mourn, and that is for a season. That’s not what I am talking about. I am talking about those who walk in a convinced state that their soul darkness and distance from God is permanent and allowed by God or just a drawback of their personality. No.

You were meant to know God. To walk with Him. To hear His voice. If that is not what you are experiencing you have missed out and you need to be healed (spiritually, I mean, physical healing may come later). And your spiritual healing will come when you acknowledge your sin.

Be honest. On what points have you been arguing with God? In what ways have you been challenging His sovereignty and His word? In what ways have you made allowances for your prejudices and private sins? Don’t you know He sees and judges at the heart level? I do not say this to condemn you but to save you! Take an honest assessment of your heart. Stop lying to yourself.

I have been a lot of places in the world. The most “lost” people I have ever met are “churched” Christians. Do you think because you prayed a prayer once that you are fine and forgiven and all your sin is allowable? Do you ever wonder what killed your love for God? It is trying to hold sin and the presence of God in the same body. Not only will you become spiritual and mentally ill, but you will be almost completely desensitized to the beauty of the gospel.

In what ways are you protecting evil-doers and immoral people in your heart, justifying them by sympathetic rationales that Jesus never would? Call them out like Jesus did. Be brave, church. Warn your friends. Be willing to be hated, cancelled, unfriended, etc. In showing them their sin, you may save them from death!

And you “churched” Christians who do hold to high personal morality, are you any better? Do you not ignore the injustice in our land? The racial hurt? The poor? The hurt being expressed from the LGBTQ community? Do you curse the ones that need compassion the most? Don’t you know it is the sick who need a doctor? Don’t you know that you can warn of sin and still be compassionate?

Some of you should be ashamed of yourselves, because you have spurred your children and your churches into a political war with far more fervor than you ever discipled anyone to Christ and with far more fire than you ever sent those entrusted to you out to preach Christ to the nations. In what quiet ways are you sitting in self-righteous judgment of your brothers and sisters, blind to your own sin? Wake up, Bride of Christ!

Have you been caught up in politics more than His presence? Did Jesus ever emphasize politics in His ministry? Stop getting entangled in civilian affairs and instead, seek to please the Father and join me in suffering for the actual gospel of Jesus (2 Timothy 2:4). Can someone please take personal responsibility for teaching about the Kingdom of God the way Jesus taught it? It is not complicated, it’s just extremely unpopular. But it’s fine. You will be offering real salvation and freedom to people who are missing it all around you every single day. You will be hated for it but you will save some.

Are you going to spend your time telling your children to take a stand for a political candidate, or masks, or vaccines? None of those things have eternal importance. There are people dying a terrible spiritual death. Right in front of you. And you are talking about masks? Put a mask on for the person who wants you to and stop complaining. Instead preach Christ. We are not to see ourselves entitled to civil and social or even basic human rights. We are of those who have been killed, enslaved, and imprisoned for Christ! Come under that heritage brothers and sisters and fight the right battles! We are in a war for the soul of humanity, not the outcome of a single nation. Nations will rise and fall. We are of another citizenship. Fight the battle on the ground, on the front lines. It is fought at a micro level. What is God saying about your heart–stay pure before Him? What does He want to say and do today? Where is He moving? Go there. The person in front of you…what is God saying to them today? That will take all your attention. Just these things.

Offer a return to Jesus, a return to trust. Actual salvation. Teach morality according to the fulfillment of the moral law that Jesus taught. It is the law of Moses taken to the heart level. It has not been changed or thrown away because of Christ. It has been fulfilled in Him! And we can live righteous lives empowered by His Spirit! Anything less than this is not real Christianity. And this is not the kind of righteousness that sits apart and removed from the lost, judging them from afar. This is the kind that pursues the lost, not to condemn but to make their sin known to them, confirm their guilt (which they already suspect), and offer a lifeline of repentance through the blood of Jesus.

You may lose all your friends. They may think you are a religious nutcase.

Who cares?! You will save some.

Some will be rescued. Jesus says the gate is narrow and few find it.

Those who follow Jesus from this place of being rescued are not normal, but we do not care anymore. We post the Ten Commandments on the doorposts of our houses and start teaching those to our children the way Jesus taught them (in Matthew 5-7). They may not do them all but they know what they are and that means when they sin, they know it! These are not our rules, they are God’s rules! We reject every idol of media and do not seek platform or the approval of man, but God. We love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. We keep Sabbath as if it were a gift made for humankind to rest. We stop lying to our self and others. We stop coveting other peoples things or their people, even in our hearts. We do not murder or injure with our hands, or with words of hatred. We turn the other cheek. We speak words of life and unveil sin with grace and truth. We cut and loose chains by the Sword of the Spirit which is the very Word of God. We bind principalities and powers.

So we who love Jesus from this place of being rescued also live by a moral law. This is what we teach to our children. A moral law we can actually obey empowered by the Spirit of God. Each of my children will have to walk out their road of salvation for themselves. I cannot give that to them, but I can model it and talk about it and apologize when I fall short. So they see that I need rescuing too. Almost daily.

The moral law is not to just be on the walls of our houses (though we did literally put the ten commandments by our door), but in our hearts, in our friendships, in our marriages, at such a deep level that you are the righteousness of Christ from the inside out–out of love for God. And that love will not coexist with sin. We ask God to search our hearts for sin and we read the law and the prophets to realign ourselves with God’s nature and character.

If you are not experiencing the love of God AND operating out of love for God, ask God to show you your sin. Because HE is not withholding from you. You are withholding from Him. Maybe it is as simple as you withholding trust or control or understanding. Maybe it is withholding your repentance because you are (in some weird way) still enjoying sin. Maybe it is withholding your personality or career because it is too precious to you. Jesus said:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. Matthew 16:25

When is the last time you heard THAT preached. He will reward you according to what you have done, according to the life you have lost.

How many stay in their sin because they have no idea they are withholding these things from Him. Get some good friends around you who will warn you and love you enough to tell you the truth. Are you staying in sin or rationalizing it? Be careful. You will become blind to it and calloused to the gentle reminders of God. You’re not fine. You are in need of help. Acknowledge your need and your sinfulness and you will be rescued.

Those who see themselves as “fine” have no need for a rescuer.

Only those who fully experienced grace can fully offer mercy. Mercy is offered to the sinner, but grace is what the sinner finds when they are honest with their sin. If mercy is offered, but fear of rejection remains, then you do not know the power of forgiveness yet. Where God is there is no fear because perfect love casts out all fear and enables us to obey the moral law of God.

And now for a quote from a much better writer than I am that probably sums up this very long post in only a few words, as great writers are known to do:

There is nothing more fatal than to regard holiness and sanctification as experiences to be received. No; holiness means being righteous, and being righteous means keeping the law. Therefore, if your so-called grace {which you say you have received) does not make you keep the law, you have not received grace. You may have received a psychological experience, but you have never received the grace of God.

What is grace? It is that marvelous gift of God, which, having delivered a man from the curse of the law, enables him to keep it. And to be righteous as Christ was righteous, for he kept the law perfectly. Grace is that which brings me to love God; and if I love God, I long to keep His commands. “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, Christ said, “He it is that loveth me.”

We must never separate these two things. Grace is not sentimental: holiness is not an experience. We must have this new mind and disposition which leads us to love the law and to desire to keep it; and by His power He enables us to fulfill the law. That is why our Lrod goes on to say in verse 19 “whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” That was not spoken only to the disciples, for the three short years they were to be with Christ until He died; it is permanent and everlasting. He enforces it again in Matthew 7, where He says, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he who doeth the will of my Father in heaven.”

What is the will of the Father? The Ten Commandments and the moral law. They have never been abrogated. He “gave Himself for us” says Paul to Titus, “that he might: purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works…Yea, except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Studies on the Sermon on the Mount, Martin Lloyd-Jones

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FIVE UNPOPULAR TEACHINGS OF JESUS

God purposed us to be His. He loves you! Nothing terribly unpopular here (everyone likes to be loved), but for everyone who has believed in Jesus for their justification before God, by the blood of Christ, He desires you to now be set apart. This is where the rubber meets the road. You are His now. You are dead to sin, alive in Christ. What does this even mean? You live differently. It’s like we are engaged to Him. He sets Himself apart for us (in the New Covenant) and we are set apart for Him alone. He has the right to be jealous for our attention, for our love, for our loyalty. Here are five unpopular (uncomfortable) teachings of Jesus that will wreck your life and lead you to life all at once.

REPENT

The entry point into life with Christ. It was the message of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2), the message that prepared the way for Christ’s coming. And it was the first message Jesus preached (Matthew 4:17). A simple word which declares both our guilt, the coming judgment, and the opportunity for forgiveness. Repent. If it was good enough for John the Baptist and Jesus, is it not still good for us? We admit that God defines right and wrong and that it is clearly given in scripture—we do not need to define sin or redefine it and nor do we have the right to—not us, not our culture.  

Jesus did not come to judge the world but to save it (John 3:17). And yet, it will be judged. We work in a harvest about to be reaped, where good and evil dwell together, but it will not always be that way. The Day of the Lord will be terrible. He will send angels to harvest the earth and separate wheat from chaff, goats from sheep, and there will be some who think they are safe and ready for Jesus, but are not. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven but only those who do the will of my Father” (Matthew 7:21). That should make us think.

Repentance was a continual cry of the prophets. It was not a pronouncement of judgment. That was something separate. It was a cry of a merciful God who was waiting for us to come close again so the relationship could be fixed. It was a warning and a plea from the heart of God to not force Him to judgment. Come back. Turn around before it’s too late. And those who return have always found mercy from God, not judgment. Harshness is not what you will find. You have to face your fear of punishment and believe Christ covers you, then you can return because what waits for you is mercy and acceptance. But you have to leave your sin behind you. Choose sin or God. They cannot coexist.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Ritual washing for the Jews, in a baptism of repentance (mikvah), was a sign that a person had renounced and rejected their sin and were returning to God. It was also an an outward prophetic act of the purity that was to come, the baptism of fire and the Living Water, the Holy Spirit, who would write Gods law on our hearts. Same law, just deeper, new motivation (genuine, compassionate love for God and others, not fear of punishment). The fear of the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom, not the end goal. God desires you to come close to Him (in reverence, but also in confidence), and to experience Him as a tender, loving, approachable father.

BE  PERFECT

You must be perfect as your Father is perfect (Matthew 5:45), so says the Word of God. But perfect does not mean holy. We are called to be perfect in the sense of completeness and integrity. To be perfect means our heart and our outer actions are consistently and honestly aligned, and aligned with God’s. We are not Pharisees. We are clean to the core, not only on the outside. His law is written on our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit and we are softhearted toward God and people.

Being perfect means we can be mature/complete in love and purity as our Father is mature/complete in love and purity. Specifically, Jesus is referring to our hearts, filled with the Spirit, will motivate our obedient behavior as shown in how we love others, even in how we greet our enemies. If God allows rain to fall on those who love Him and those who don’t, can we not extend greeting and love to those who are our enemies? We are loving not only in our actions, but in our heart. In fact, it is the heart of the Father that allows His love to be given to the righteous and evil, so He can draw those outside the family to repentance and inclusion in our joint obedience and submission to Christ

BE HOLY

Holy does not mean “sinless,” holiness means means “set apart.” Am I saying sin is ok? No. But I am saying holiness goes deeper than sinful behavior. Holiness is a continual posture of purity and single-mindedness in the heart and mind that makes sin obvious, disgusting, and unattractive. Read these verses with that in mind.

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy (set apart), for I the Lord your God am holy (set apart). Leviticus 19:2

Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy (set apart), for I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 20:7

You shall be holy (set apart) to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. Leviticus 20:26

You shall sanctify him, for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy (set apart)  to you, for I, the Lord, who sanctify you, am holy (set apart). Leviticus 21:8

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy (set apart) nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:6

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy (set apart), so be holy (set apart) in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy (set apart), because I am holy (set apart).” 1 Peter 1:16

For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness (set apart).  1 Thessalonians 4:7

One is made holy when they make the decision to come out from the world and be separate and they keep making that decision day after day. Sanctification is not a process of being more sinless as you go; it is a lifestyle of repentance. We are set apart now for the work of God that requires the Holy Spirit’s power. His power in us is enough to stand firm against sin. If not, then Christ died in vain and we make Him a liar. We don’t stop sinning just because something has happened “to us.” We stop sinning because we choose to live by what is “in us”–we genuinely love God and our neighbors and choose love over our own desires by the power of His Spirit.  

What most people call “sanctification” is simply a lifestyle of repentance and complete integrity. I have found the idea of continuing sanctification which ends up in some idea of “sinlessness” largely unhelpful and inaccurate. For one to say they have reached a state where they have no ability or temptation to sin is not only arrogant, but dangerous because it causes “holy” people to let down their guard and then feel the need to hide or deny when they do fall or struggle. But understood simply as a “setting apart,” the concept of sanctification is helpful. We are asked to set ourselves apart for Christ–to consider ourselves righteous and to act accordingly. And that should happen upon our repentance and turning to Christ. To say that one believes in Christ but is sanctified at a later date leads us to be complacent with sin in our lives and in the lives of our brothers and sisters.

Oh, that person is not yet sanctified, they are still not free from sin, but that’s ok. Just come to church and you’ll get better eventually. Ridiculous. Be honest with people. If you are sinning as a Christian, you need to stop. Repent. And if you are an addict, beg for help until someone helps you. It’s that important. Do not be patient with sin.

Someone who has really chosen Christ has set themselves apart and they have also been set apart by God in covenant with Jesus (like a bride and groom). The renouncing of sin is not just a one time decision, but a new lifestyle. They may still have sinful tendencies and may face great temptation, but they are not tolerant of it anymore, nor do they expect anyone else to be. They separate themselves from sin by their will, because they want to, and as they do, trust and obedience opens their ears to hear the Holy Spirit, and God takes them through a longer process in which they willingly yield everything God tells them to give up (which will probably be more than they knew at first), as He makes it clear to them, for the rest of their lives—from personality, to dreams, to fear of mean, to loss of reputation, to money, to loss of life for the sake of the gospel. And all of this they yield with a willing heart of greater and quicker obedience. This is not the process of being set apart. It is the setting apart that gives the strength to say no to sin. We are tempted, but we respond out of our identity as a set apart, holy, righteous person in Christ. It is out of this identity of righteous sons and daughters that we respond this way:

I am not that person who sins. I love God. I must say no, because I have sold everything to buy the kingdom. I have counted the cost. And the cost of choosing sin in this moment is too high. I would not hurt Jesus and I would not hurt the people I love. I put this desire to death in the name of Jesus and renounce the enemy.

COUNT THE COST

No one who has counted the cost (Luke 14:28) and fully chosen Christ can knowingly stay in recurring sin. Not that we are perfect, or sinless, because we will fail, but we will be discontent with anything less than full commitment to Christ. Jesus requires our obedience, our allegiance, our money, our attention, our service. For those who have issues being told by brothers and sisters that they must obey Christ and renounce sin, I would wager they never truthfully and fully surrendered their lives to Him in the first place; either that or something has come in to take Christ’s place, usually selfish desires. But here’s the simple fact. No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is worthy of the kingdom. And that is why we need our brothers and sisters in Christ. Because when something replaces Christ we open the door to the enemy in our hearts and minds and we cannot trust our conscience anymore. We cannot even trust that we are hearing from the Holy Spirit if we have allowed sin into our lives.

We need brothers and sisters to say, “Look, friend, that is not obedience to Christ. Repent and return. Be perfect (complete). Be holy (set apart). Keep your hand to this plow and don’t look back. Don’t trust the voice of temptation of the enemy. He is a liar.”

And this is not judgment. This is an invitation to mercy, given in mercy…before the judgment.

This is Christianity. You are filled with the Spirit to empower you to obey Christ and do the Father’s work in the world in unity with others who are empowered in the same way. So we do not expect perfection from ourselves or from our brothers and sisters, but we do expect radical obedience to Christ and His teachings out of love for Him and we do expect a lifestyle of repentance, because anyone who loves God more than sin has the power within them (the Holy Spirit) to choose not to sin. And anything less than this is not really Christianity.

You are to be set free from addiction and sinful patterns. Would you insult the Holy Spirit by disagreeing? This is something you renounce when you count the cost and come to Christ and then you learn to fight, with the help of the Spirit and your brothers and sisters in the Lord. In this life, you will sin occasionally, and even unintentionally, but you don’t have to. In moments of weakness, you may fail, but you do not have to. You stay low to the ground in honesty, humility, and service (but with great power), asking God to see you and show you your heart often, so the enemy will not have a foothold, and sin will not master you ever again.

But if you make ONLY sinlessness your goal, your righteousness has not surpassed the Pharisees. You have simply made behavior modification your goal. But God is looking for righteously MOTIVATED set apart people, knowing their identity as sons and daughters of God, mature and complete in the love of Christ, resting in the justification that comes from the cross, recognizing the power of the Holy Spirit to help us obey the law of God that He has written on our hearts.  

We are the ones who are set apart and yielded in love-driven obedience to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yielded, in love—to warn, encourage, and love one another as brothers and sisters in this fight.

Being set apart, sanctified, is not some magical thing that happens when you are a Christian for a long time. It is an immediate status you enter into in covenant with Christ in which you set yourself apart for Him and He sets you apart for Himself. Everything flows from that place of being in covenant. We promised ourselves to Him in love, and He promised Himself to us in love, and empowers us right away to learn and align with righteous living by the Holy Spirit.

If you resist this truth, you will have lost the battle against sin before it even knocks on your door. If the Holy Spirit is not strong enough to help you fight your sin, then you have not really repented in your heart; you have only pretended to repent as Jeremiah spoke about (Jeremiah 1-6). Your desires still master you, rather than being mastered by your love for Christ and His love for you. God says, if you really wanted to repent, you could. If Christians have a problem with telling others this, I would wager they have not yet become ok with being hated, which leads us to our last point.

YOU WILL BE HATED

Yes, Jesus said you will be hated by people, by family, by religious leaders, and by all nations for doing what He asked you to do (Matthew 24, John 14-16). This will be the defining separating characteristic of the true followers of Jesus in the last days. Will you accept this hard word? Because it means instead of seeking the approval of people, you now seek the approval of Christ. You may live at peace with all men, being all things to all people as long as they will tolerate you, but when they ask something of you that requires you to lose your moral integrity, be quiet about your faith, or build their kingdoms instead of God’s, who will you choose? Will you choose to preserve your own life of relative peacefulness and comfort, doing anything to keep the peace, your friends, jobs, or will you choose to be different and hated and follow Jesus in that moment?

“Lord, we have given up everything to follow you.” We repent and consider ourselves holy and perfect by the blood of Christ, filled with power to renounce sin by walking like He did. Add to that the surrendering of homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions. (Mark 10:25-31) That’s the cost and the joy set before us. Choose this day who you will serve. But remember this, you cannot serve both man and God.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

And these choices to choose sin and idolatry will be offered to you by people who claim to love and know Jesus. Do not be deceived. Those who know Jesus will be repentant, perfect (complete), holy (set apart), surrendered, and hated, even as we radically love. That’s how you will know the true followers of Jesus in the last days. They accept and cling to these “old school” hard teachings of Jesus because they were meant to be life to us. We cling to these things not because we are religious fanatics, but because we belong to Jesus at our core level and anything less would not be who we are.

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Literally Obeying Jesus: And How it Will Change Your Life

You might think the narrow way is belief in who Jesus is, that He died for our sins, and that He is coming back to take us to heaven, but Jesus said many will call Him Lord, but will not enter into the wedding feast. In other words, many think they are on this narrow road but they are actually not. That’s because the “narrow way” is referring to the way of those who chose absolute surrender and literal obedience to the way of Jesus, whose hearts are “known by Jesus” in a way that means they desire to be disciplined, corrected, and made utterly righteous by His Spirit. It is an actual way of life. It is a road to travel…and you’re invited.

To have Jesus know you is a terrible thing. It means there is no room for anything not pleasing to Him. It has to go. True repentance is the choosing of Jesus over anything keeping us from obedience to the law of God. For a long time I lived very confused, feeling like there were two gospels (which there are not):

  1. The gospel or good news of grace (John 3:16 and the Romans` Road) which teaches that salvation came through Jesus’ death on the cross, which is true and right.
  2. The gospel or good news of the Kingdom which Jesus and His disciples taught throughout His earthly ministry (found succinctly in the Sermon on the Mount), which is also true and right, the kind where Jesus saw Zaccheus give his money away and declared “Today salvation has come to this house!” (Luke 19:8-9)

But if I am honest, I rarely saw this gospel modeled in its entirety. In fact, most Christians I knew did not follow these practical commands of Jesus and made complicated arguments to get them out of them as if they were some difficult, unpleasant thing to avoid. I rarely saw Christians whose lives seemed to line up with not worrying, not sitting in judgment of others, not serving and indulging in money and what it could buy, committed to nonviolence, loving and serving the poor. I rarely heard any encouragement to pursue meekness, to be poor in spirit, to be blessed in mourning, and to be trained for accepting persecution. The way I understood the gospel was that no one was expected to actually be good at loving God. It was normal for Christians to be bad at it in fact. Most Christians I knew were enslaved to some fear or sin. In fact, some sin or guilt seemed sort of necessary to maintain an ongoing gratefulness for the cross! I knew Jesus said I had to be perfect as God was perfect; that my righteousness would have to surpass that of the Pharisees. But I was taught somewhere along the way that Jesus preached that sermon to just show us how IMPOSSIBLE righteousness was. That interpretation of what Jesus said about righteousness and perfection leads to deep frustration, bondage, apathy, and guilt.

Actually, righteousness is possible. It is possible to literally be and do what Jesus said and I would go further and say, if you do not believe this, you probably are not a Christian, or you are missing something pretty huge. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. In His book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes that, “My immediate reaction to these beatitudes proclaims exactly what I am. If I feel they are harsh and hard, if I feel that they are against the grain and depict a character of life which I dislike, I am afraid it just means that I am not a Christian.” But if we eagerly desire them, we are indeed sons of God! He also reminds us that a Christian and non-Christian belong to two different realms and there is a distinct difference in what they admire, what they seek, what they do, and what they can do.

It is in fact the same gospel, but only if you accept it ALL and move into a life of radical obedience, which will, in time, lead to persecution if you are doing it right. Then you will understand the sermon on the mount at a very core level, for nothing makes religious and worldly people alike more angry than the conviction of seeing someone living righteously, not out of pride, but boldness. And there’s nothing like persecution and being falsely accused for creating true poverty of spirit and meekness and mourning.

Thank God, He used a massive war with anxiety and panic attacks to bring me to utter reliance and dependence on Him. To be honest, there was a time not too long ago that poverty of spirit, meekness, and mourning was revolting to me. My culture values independence, strength, and optimism. To my people, dependence, reliance, and poverty is considered weak-minded, lazy, and undisciplined. But I was corrected as I read, Andrew Murray’s Absolute Surrender,

“Why is a Lamb always gentle? Because that is it’s nature. Does it cost the lamb any trouble to be gentle? Why Not? A lamb is so beautiful and gentle? [Does it] study to be gentle? No. Why does it come that easy? It is it’s nature. And a wolf-why does it cause the wolf no trouble to be cruel, and to put its fangs into the poor sheep? It is it’s nature. [It does not have to] summon up the courage. The wolf-nature is there.”

I had to face the harsh reality that after 30 years of following Jesus, my nature was not like Christ’s but more resembled what I admired, what I thought was good, what I desired to be, what others desired for me to be. My testimony was selfish in nature because I had tried to sharpen my natural gifts and interests so I could be so useful to God, but I had not been focusing on being on the front lines of the kingdom. I had been building a house of sand, building my life on the foundation of my “talents” and my desires for how I thought I could serve God instead of just simply following Jesus and going and making disciples. Thank God He had better plans for me, which included my death to self.

God came to redeem us from the self-life and give us His nature by His Spirit, and all this without education, without striving, without working for it, just resting and receiving the love of God poured into our hearts and emptying out to overflow only His Living Water (John 7:38-39). We become willing to exchange our nature for His, yielding to Him, learning from Him and His light load. Some call this sanctification but in reality it is just the permanent way of salvation/healing of our hearts, constantly renouncing sin, which was born out of distrust, fear, and rebellion, and receiving the Holy Spirit, restfully and joyfully pursuing the qualities God admires by obeying Jesus literally and seeking the kingdom first.

ANCIENT MAGIC

We know that according to what C.S. Lewis called the “ancient magic,” sin demands death, blood must atone for sin, and so the blood of Jesus, poured out from God’s provided sacrificial Lamb, washes us and cleanses us from all sin and makes us legally righteous before God, able to receive the Holy Spirit (Rom. 3:21-28; 1 John 1:7-2:2). We also know that Paul was writing by the Holy Spirit when He wrote, “you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14),” so now we can live by the law of the Spirit and pursue the kingdom and temple of God taking over the hearts of people, not by might or power, but by the Holy Spirit! Amen!

…But what about this righteousness that was required of me when Jesus said he was not removing the requirement of God’s law, but fulfilling it, and “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees you cannot enter the Kingdom.” (Matthew 5:19-20) You might say, “Well thank goodness I have Jesus, because now the weight of the law is not held against me!” Not legally, yes. You are declared righteous upon your faith in Christ. But what do we do then? Keep sinning and repenting so grace can increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2) So what if Jesus meant it, that your righteousness as a follower of Jesus should be actually greater than the Pharisees in order to really enter the kingdom of God both on earth and in heaven (meaning Christ’s commands were even MORE demanding than the law of Moses which the Pharisees worked so hard to keep)? How does that make you feel?

Are you suddenly very aware of the sin you have allowed to remain in your life as a follower of Jesus? Guess why…because it’s not supposed to stay there as a follower of Jesus!

I can actually expect to live free from the bondage of sin and the law of sin and death! That is the gospel of Jesus! I can cut off temptation by the Sword of the Spirit. I can let the law of love take root and take over my heart. As Paul writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery!” Paul is rightly saying here that God has always wanted a circumcision of the hearts, not simply the body. And herein lies the point. The law of God and the gospel of the Kingdom can only be fulfilled by someone whose heart has been radically circumcised by the power of the Holy Spirit, the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, which pierces the heart, the old cleanly cut away. It is the New Covenant in His blood by His Spirit, which is an absolute fulfillment of the Old Covenant–hearts of stone for hearts of flesh. And this is the starting point for all that follows. We must have the Holy Spirit. We must live by the Spirit.

Jesus did not come to remove one tiny bit of the law but to fulfill it in us by giving us His righteousness so we could become the children of GOD, receive the love of God, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And Jesus was not giving some kind of new ethical code Christians should strive for in the beatitudes or when He says not to worry about tomorrow or to turn the other cheek. It is not about being righteous by your own good works. Jesus is describing the life of someone who lives in the kingdom of God now, by the overflowing power of the Spirit of God. He is describing the personality of the Lamb of God, Himself, who is meek, poor in spirit, persecuted, and hungers and thirsts for righteousness. He is describing His nature and making it available for us to crave and be filled. That means walking the straight path and making the right choices in life even when it’s not easy. Righteousness is from Christ, only by His blood, but it seeps into and pervades every inch of our lives as God removes our hearts of stones and gives us a heart of flesh. He almost literally takes the law from the stone tablets given to Moses and writes it on our hearts by changing our stubborn and selfish desires when we are filled with the Spirit of God and yield in obedient surrender to the will of God as He teaches us from His word and by the power of the Spirit! So obedience softens us to yield to God’s Fatherhood and receive His love, and His love drives us to radical obedience.

“…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5b

“If/when you love me, you will keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you…21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.23 …Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” John 14:15-24

When the love of God is poured into our hearts, I stop trying to change myself and I just am changed by receiving love. The Holy Spirit is what allows God to fulfill the law in us by aligning our will with the will of the Father in absolute and complete mutual love so that we willingly obey Him out of love, not because we have to, but because we love the things He loves. We hunger and thirst for righteousness! HE satisfies us as we obey Him and align our will with His! When we love Him, choosing His way even when it goes against all human logic, emotion, and instinct, He comes and makes His home with us. God is at home with us! That is the reward. It’s His presence! That is the kingdom. That is the treasure worth selling everything for! Understanding that the Holy Spirit moves us to obedience by changing our hearts to desire God changes everything. Look at the ten commandments with fresh eyes now.

THE COMMANDMENTS REVISITED

Love the Lord your God and have no other Gods before Him? Of course I want to do that! I do not need another image to worship because I have the power of the one true God inside me! Neither would I ever dream of misusing His name because He is so holy and beautiful and now I have seen it for myself! It brings me joy to honor God and worship Him and be in His presence! I do not hide from Him!

Of course I want to honor the Sabbath! I understand the heart of God was that the Sabbath was made for people’s good, not for legalism! For me to rest and enjoy life and take a much needed break is a blessing! It is a joy to obey Him because it benefits me and honors His plan for my life’s rhythm and priority of rested living (Isaiah 30:15)!

Of course I want to honor and take care of my mother and father, because I love them with the love of Jesus! My heart is thankful because God has entrusted them to me as family. And the same with my spouse! I would never want to divorce them because God gave them to me as a gift. He keeps my heart soft toward them out of love HE has poured into my heart. I want to love and cherish my spouse because it gives me great joy! We are miraculously promised a deep unity mirroring Jesus’ love for the church and our love for Him! And my neighbors? It makes me happy to see how God blesses them! Why would I kill, steal, or give false testimony against them? It gives me joy to bless their family in my prayers, to speak highly of them as God shows me His heart for their family to be blessed!

Now, I’m not saying I’m always 100% there yet, but this is how my heart is changing as I live by the Spirit. The law ceases to be burdensome and starts seeming very, very good and sweet. With our hearts motivated by the very Spirit of Jesus Christ, we begin to take on His personality, His desires, His will. And it’s a joyful surrender of our autonomy because God loves us, takes care of us, and made us uniquely capable to give what He wants us to offer the world, Himself! So we have nothing to lose except pride, vanity, and a lot of extra baggage that keeps us thinking it’s better to be rich in spirit than poor, rejoicing rather than mourning, strong-willed rather than meek, apathetic rather than hungering and thirsting for righteousness, judging others by a high standard of behavior and performance rather than being merciful, wanting to be relatable rather than pure, fighters rather than peacemakers, and safe rather than persecuted!

No, friends. We are not of this kind. We are the ones who are choosing to be remade into the image of Jesus. And we hold nothing of our own dearer than this one thing–absolute and complete fellowship with Jesus and taking up our own cross and His sufferings so that we may experience the resurrection from the dead. We become like Him, not as some unattainable ethical model for behavior, but by His Spirit, we are miraculously and naturally recreated by remaining in Him and Him in us, trying at all cost to keep that bond tight through prayer and rejecting the things that try to pull us away from Christ (namely sin, fear, worry, the enemy, etc).!

I want you to try to read Matthew 5-7 with new eyes. Imagine this is describing your life. Which parts of you push back against it? Which parts do you find yourself caveating? These are the places God is calling you to surrender your ideas of good and evil and yield to the narrow way of radical and literal obedience to God. And your righteousness will surpass those of the Pharisee because you will not be doing these things out of obligation. Instead, because your heart is not hard anymore, you will obey from love, and as you start to obey and literally practice these commands of Jesus, you will find it will come to be the most natural choice in the world for you, even the ones that seem the most impossible. For nothing is impossible with God. I’ll insert some questions in red for you to consider:

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

(Is this my personality? Is this what I long for with all my heart? Or is there anything above that makes me want to fight back or resist? Where is that coming from? Can I lay that down now and receive the will of God for my life, that I take on the personality of the Lamb of God? Am I being bold enough and walking in the Spirit’s power enough to be persecuted?)

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

(Am I being bold in letting the light of the Holy Spirit shine in power from my life or do I stifle it in certain places? Why do I do that? Have I lost my excitement for Jesus? Where did that start? How could I walk unashamed of the gospel and in constant proclamation of the freedom, life, and joy Jesus gives? What fears would have to die? What would that “uncovering” feel like?)

The Fulfillment of the Law

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

(How have I heard this preached before? Am I guilty of downplaying the law of God in my life or in the lives of others in my efforts to make the gospel seem more atractive or easy? Is my righteousness surpassing those of the Pharisees, who only looked like they were Godly if you looked at their behavior, not their hearts? Is the law of God written on my heart or does it still feel like something “outside” of me that I am being forced to try to live up to? What does God really desire for me in terms of righteousness? How does He want me to think about righteousness as REALITY for me through the gift of Jesus on the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit?)

Murder

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

(If God is not looking at the outside but the heart, then the action of murder is actually prevented by a complete heart change so that anger and bitterness is not compliant with who I am anymore. It gets quickly eradicated as the poison it is. Who in my life have I thought of as foolish or murdered in my heart by anger and unforgiveness? Can I release them today from my judgment through radical forgiveness, leavinig them in God’s hands? Who have I not reconciled with who may be angry at me? Who has legitimate issues to accuse me of? Can I settle those accounts and promote peace?)

Adultery

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

(If, like murder, adultery is simply a physical response that follows a heart posture, then I must discipline my heart to a finer point. Is my heart absolutely faithful to my spouse and to those around me, even in my thoughts and fantasies? Am I jealous or covetous? Do I need to add distance between myself and those things that make me feel a deep lack or insatiable desire? Can I trust God to fill my cup and provide good gifts for me too? Do I trust Him enough to wait for what He wants to give me? What needs to be cut off or put to death in order for me to remain pure? How can I train myself to see each human as an undefiled and holy child of God, worthy of protection, respect, and love?)

Divorce

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

(God allowed Moses to allow divorces because hearts were hard. Now our hearts can be softened because we have a heart of flesh by your Spirit. How can I keep my heart absolutely soft regarding my spouse no matter what? How can I live openly and honestly without fear even when I want to walk away? How have we allowed hardness and contempt to enter into our home? What does it look like for me to live out of the sacrificial love of Jesus for my spouse even if it’s not reciprocated? How can I honestly communicate my needs to my spouse so I feel loved and known? Can I trust God to lead us into true unity of spirit and flesh again and again, even if I cannot even imagine what that would be like when things are hard?)

Oaths

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

(How do I misuse the Lord’s name or use my own reputation or manipulative words to secure peoples trust? Can I live from a place of simplicity and truth, so that when I say “yes or no” it can always be trusted?)

Eye for Eye

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

(Do I train myself to respond in love even if attacked? Do I defend myself or do I leave vengeance to God? Do I teach these values to my children even though they will be hurt by following Jesus in this radical way of love? Is there any possession or person so dear to me that God could not require it/them of me in a moment of crisis? Am I prepared in season or out of season to give whenever someone asks of me so that they do not experience rejection from my hand?)

Love for Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(Following the model of Jesus who died for me while I was still an enemy, can I genuinely bring my heart to submission to this law of Christ and genuinely love those who hate me because of my boldness in Christ? Can I greet them and even strangers with genuine love and sincerity and bless them and their families in prayer, even if they slander me and say false things about me?)

Giving to the Needy

6 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

(Is there any pridefulness in how I serve God and others? How can I be careful to not try to earn approval or advancement by doing good in public. How can I discipline my heart to only focus on loving the person right in front of me with the love of Jesus instead of worrying about what others think or enjoying how others may see me in a positive light? Can I go out of the way to give secretly so only God gets the honor?)

Prayer

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

(Do I follow the model of the prayer Jesus taught us, building it out to be specific with what I want to say to my Father? Do I make the effort to go regularly to a quiet, private space and enter into God’s presence declaring His praise, asking His kingdom to come, asking for daily manna, for forgiveness, and for protection from the enemy? What is keeping me from this? Am I being blocked in prayer by any lies or distrust or unforgiveness or sin? )

Fasting

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

(Do I fast as part of my normal relationship with God? Do I understand and use this spiritual discipline God has given us? Am I only fasting to seem spiritual or take part in something socially or ritually?)

Treasures in Heaven

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

(Do I store up money and assets for my own security or do I release it to the kingdom purposes for which they are needed today? Am I fearful of the future? Do I doubt God will provide for me and so take it on as my own responsibility? How can my work and income be stored in heaven instead of earth? What will buy what God wants in this world-people coming to know Him from all nations? How can I invest in the kingdom of God? What dreams of God’s heart could I help finance?)

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

(What do I focus my attention on? Is it Jesus? Is it good and pure things? Or do I take in evil with my eyes? Do I seek out material things, experiences, and comforts that take my attention from seeking the kingdom first? How can I refocus my attention on healthy things?)

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

(How have I served money and how has fear played a role in this? How does the following statement of Jesus give me courage to choose God as my master, not money?)

Do Not Worry

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(What would it feel like to not worry about tomorrow or my future? How would I be free to build the kingdom? How would I be free to enjoy God and receive gifts from Him and build up the body of Christ? How have I strived for financing my own success or dreams instead of God’s dreams? How am I actively fighting the temptation to be anxious by focusing undividedly only on Jesus?)

Judging Others

7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

(How have I sat in judgment over my brother’s sin instead of being brave enough to prayerfully bring it before Him in love? Have I checked my motivations and my own heart for sin before trying to surgically help someone with their own sin? How have I wasted time trying to help someone who doesn’t care or want help? How can I follow the Holy Spirit into the strategic work of God instead of spending my energy on people who are not receptive and who are very content to stay in their sin?)

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

(Do I ask God for what I need or do I just complain to and about Him? Do I knock on the door of heaven with the confidence of a child asking something from their Father? Am I approaching God with expectancy that He will give me good gifts? Have I let disappointment or passing of time keep me from continuing to ask boldly and hopefully? Am I living with the generosity, lavishness, and compassion that I hope God pours out on me?)

The Narrow and Wide Gates

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

(Am I walking the narrow path and am I entering only by Jesus? Have I allowed any lies or false doctrine to enter my life? Do I have accountability to help me stay on the right path?)

True and False Prophets

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

(Am I dwelling in the vine and abiding daily with Jesus? Can I recognize the fruit of a person’s heart? Am I keeping watch over my heart, my family, and church body for false teachings or false motives or fruit or teaching among us? Am I confronting those who seem detached from the vine of Jesus, warning them of the dangers of not being connected to Him through listening prayer and scripture?)

True and False Disciples

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

(Am I truly known by God or am I hiding? Am I doing the will of my Father which is only known to me by the Word of God and by discernment that comes from laying myself down as a sacrifice and discerning His will?)

The Wise and Foolish Builders

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

(Am I recognizing the authority of the person and message of Jesus? Or are there parts of Him and His message I would rather not obey or that I buck against? Where are those places? How can I literally obey Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit and therefore not only be considered righteous by the blood of Jesus, but be moved to righteous living that pleases my Father, and therefore pleases me?)

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On Praying in the Face of Unfulfilled Promises

What do you do when you feel disappointed by God? Maybe you keep praying for the same healing or salvation of a loved one, or an unfulfilled promise over and over? Maybe some of those people have died, even. Some of those promises seem so far off or impossible now. If you’re anything like me, I know I should not blame God, but my hearts sometimes leans in that direction, if I’m honest. Do you feel your sense of trust wavering like I do sometimes?

This is why we need to be firmly convinced of God as the very definition of goodness. I KNOW this, but I have to intentionally pay attention to my heart and make myself yield to this truth a lot more than it looks like I do. My pride and doubt in thinking (even subconsciously) that I know better than God is real and it’s frustrating. But realizing that’s where I’m at is a necessary part of my honest, faith-filled, steadfast walk with my Father.

God is good. Everything He does is good. So if something does not seem good to us, what then? I yield to the fact that God defines goodness (not me) and He is completely capable of healing, rescuing, and saving us. Herein lies the issue. If God is good and capable, then why doesn’t He fix everything? Why all this pain and suffering? Why all this disappointment? We can be religious and doubt God’s goodness while still preaching leading worship and a million other things that look good to others, but I’m convinced we can’t really know Him and hear Him well until we make our peace with the mysterious ways of God and stop sitting in judgment of Him.

Sometimes, like yesterday, I feel Him whisper to my heart, “Can I disappoint you without losing your trust?” And the truth is that I am often disappointed. I have high hopes for this big God. I pray in faith. I pray according to His will (as much as is revealed to me in His word and by the Holy Spirit). And I expect Him to come through for me. I try to pray that way every time. So yes, my good Father, who defines goodness disappoints me by His decisions and I have to find a way to live with that quite a bit. In a similar way, I do not give my children everything they ask for. I disappoint them when they ask for desert every day and I only allow them to have it a couple times a week. They think I should do things certain ways They would never want to admit it (because they love me and really do try to respect me), but the reality as they grow older is that they think they know as much as I do about what’s right and what’s good. And boy do I get an earful of complaints if something looks unfair or unjust, even though I calmly (most of the time) explain my rationale and do not show favoritism.

The reality is that we, like my young children, cannot completely understand the ways of God. Even if He explains it, and reveals His love and His mercy for us-even if we have prophecy still active among us, and the Holy Spirit inside of us, many of the specifics about His ideas, motivations, and workings are hidden from us (though we can often see them in hindsight). But this we know.

God’s love is unending, so He does not forget us or neglect us.

God’s goodness is unquestionable, so He does not do anything wrong.

God’s capacity is unlimited, so He can do whatever He desires.

So if I experience pain, delayed healing, or even death, I can know that it is not because He does not love me, not because He is not good, and not because He is not capable. If I have asked Him for restoration and healing, and death comes instead, I don’t need to worry. If resurrection is delayed, or if the promise He promised to me specifically has not come yet, I do not need to doubt the promise. I need to quiet my heart in trust. I need perspective. If God has promised you something that you have not received, maybe you are waiting on God, maybe He’s waiting on you, or maybe you’re both waiting on someone else:

If You are Waiting on God

The delay is somehow for His glory, as when Lazarus died because Jesus took His time getting there, so that He would be good and dead and prepped for coming back to life “for the glory of God.” Because He’s doing something timing related and working in ways beyond your understanding, or there is some spiritual hindrance you cannot perceive (like with Daniel’s vision). Comfort yourself with the truth that He does not enjoy watching you suffer, but He is with you. If you are waiting on God, He is not punishing you. He does not enjoy watching people die. He mourns with you. He hates death. And He is with us even as we experience death. He chooses to resurrect instead of heal the body sometimes, even though He is able to, and we don’t need to understand why. We need to be at peace. People who God has brought to this place can say, “We don’t understand and that’s ok, because we believe He is good.” It doesn’t mean you are praying wrongly. He is not punishing you. He wants to be close to you. No one like waiting. But try to posture yourself as a child. Find joy in little assignments and life moments as you wait. Take the pressure off yourself. It’s not your thing to fix. He’s coming.

O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:27-31


If He’s Waiting on You

Maybe you are accepting and believing lies the enemy has put before you, or you are simply experiencing the consequences of your own sin, maybe you are experiencing the consequences of a sin of your forefathers. The truth is that it does not please God to see you suffer even if He disciplines you. He wants you to choose obedience so you can be close to Him and He genuinely desires your healing and wholeness. Sometimes His promises are conditional, meaning they are waiting on your action or the action of others (usually repentance or alignment with His truth.) The truth is that He is not withholding this crucial information from you. That is not His character. God is delaying the coming of Jesus, so that you will repent.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

Ask Him to show you the lie or area of disobedience and He will. If you are having trouble figuring out what it is but you feel like there is something there, ask a friend to help you pray and listen to the Holy Spirit for the right diagnosis of the issue. As soon as you know your sin, repent. If you keep on sinning, you will grow calloused and deaf to the light of the Holy Spirit’s voice. You will hear only the lies that led you astray, and so today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts and doubt God (Exodus 17, Hebrews 3:15) . Return to trust.


If You are Both Waiting on Someone Else

The decisions of leaders, churches, people in your life may be delaying the outcome God has promised. These promises are going to be done, but maybe not as soon as they could have (for example the entrance into Canaan). And His promises are sometimes conditional, as when God told His people through Isaiah,

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”But you were unwilling, and you said,“No! We will flee upon horses”; therefore you shall flee away;and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”; therefore your pursuers shall be swift. Isaiah 30:15-16


You can ask God if the promise is simply delayed or was conditional on someone else’s obedience, though sometimes this is hard to discern, almost as if it’s not our business. Either way, we pray for a softening of their heart and intercede for them, and we don’t internalize bitterness or disappointment. Moses, Joshua and Caleb had to suffer a forty year delay in entering the promised land in the desert because of the disobedience and distrust His people had toward God. May our people not be so stubborn. Moses never even got to walk into Canaan! While this may seem discouraging, you need to know that God rewarded Moses, Joshua, and Caleb (the radically obedient and steadfastly trusting ones). So you will be restored and rewarded for your faithfulness. Stand your ground and walk in love as you wait. Ask God for His strategy for breakthrough and if you have a role to play in it. Do you have specialized instructions while you wait? Or do you just enjoy the ride? You can ask the Lord these things.

But let me encourage your heart. He is your vindication. He sees your readiness and bravery. But you can’t take a whole territory without your tribe. If Joshua and Caleb had entered Canaan without the rest of the people, they would have been destroyed, and the people would have missed out on a God-fearing leader among them. Be patient and faithful while God works out the rebellion from the rest of the clans! They will either circumcise their hearts (stop being stubborn) or die in the desert and you will go in as a new, faith-filled, tested generation of obedient, reliant children, teaching your children to follow God wholeheartedly! You will receive an inheritance, in this life and in the next. It’s only a matter of time if you do not shrink back and give up. And we are not of those who shrink back.

Also, remember that He rescues individuals who walk in faith (like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednigo, Rehab, Hagar, Ruth, Daniel), even if the whole community is about to experience the wrath and punishment of God. So even if a faithful follower of God suffers because of their leader’s disobedience or their group disobedience, we can be confident and patient in the Lord’s goodness. You may experience and have to endure the discipline and consequences of other’s actions as God disciplines your people, but the Lord sees your heart individually. He sees and will rescue you and allow you experience His goodness, even then, because He is the definition of love and goodness, and He is able to make all things abound to you so you can be content.

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:8-11

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 1 Timothy 6:6-8

A PRAYER for the disappointed

So this is for the people who can’t even pray right now because they are so disappointed. I’m just going to pray and type it out now. It’s not so you can see it and be impressed (because Jesus says not to do that), but I want you to see how someone who currently struggles with disappointment and lack of faith talks these things out with God. We all need to be taught to pray. You’ll notice this prayer follows the same “road-map” as Jesus when He taught us to pray. Your prayer will be different from mine. Remember prayer is simply a two-way conversation with God. So the words aren’t important but the process is.

Notice the fact that you can reorient your heart toward hope anytime you want. You can pray in faith because the work has been accomplished in heavenly places. And you can receive healing now (even if you don’t feel it yet) because He has already dealt with the issue. Often I pray these kinds of prayers and nothing seems to have changed, except that I am brought to peace and my faith is renewed. I am yielding my heart to the will and timing of God believing that I am an “already-not yet” inheritor of the promises and gifts that He has for me to receive (especially if He speaks it to you on a very personal level, you can believe it!) I also believe that things have changed (for myself and other people) even though I have not seen them change.

Father, I come to you through Jesus as your child. Thank you for making me your daughter and an inheritor of your great and precious promises, both generally for your bride, and specifically for me. I know by faith, by the Word of God, and by experiencing your love, that you are real and live in heaven. You are holy and different and set apart from all other deities and spirits that are worshiped in the earth. You are so deeply good I can’t even grasp it, but I believe it. Lord, help my unbelief. Your gifts are way more than I can recount. But I want you to discipline my heart to remember… (elaborate here and come into His presence acknowledging His goodness.) God, I thank you that I stand in your presence, face to face, in your courts. You are not far from me. You are beautiful. I ask you to let me hear you clearly and right now I shut the door to every other distraction and every voice besides yours, even my own. It is done in Jesus name. I am confident that you speak to me because you said I would hear a voice behind me saying “this is the way, walk in it” and that “every person would be taught by God.” God, my heart, even on a good day, is deceptive. I am only righteous because of Jesus. Only you are good by nature. I want you to speak your wisdom to my life and teach me. I humbly acknowledge that I am human and you know things that I have no idea about.

(If I’m having trouble connecting to the Lord in Spirit and Truth I ask the Holy Spirit to show me the beauty of God so I can soak in His beauty here. I usually pray in the Spirit [pray in tongues, it’s like a shortcut to His presence] and sometimes if I’m tired when I pray I fall asleep right here, just being with Him, and that’s ok!).

May your kingdom come on earth soon Jesus. We long for you. Come quickly. And may your will be done here on earth as it is done in heaven even as we wait. Father send your workers out to the harvest as we know you are delaying because you want ALL people to come to repentance. You are not slow, and forgive me for accusing you of slowness in keeping your promises. I align myself with this project of proclaiming the good news of Jesus to every nation, tribe and language. Send me. Send my husband and children. Send my friends and family. Send us all out in deep, passionate, obedient love for Jesus. Soften the hearts of the lost ones that your Spirit and Bride are inviting into your kingdom today, even as sin, hatred, and all sorts of terrible things make the love of many grow cold. Show us the keys to their freedom. Keep your bride pure.

Father, what is your will in my area of influence today? What are you doing in the world today and how can I be a part of it?

(Be quiet and listen/see/perceive/sense)

I feel well provided for, Lord, because you give me the food and clothing I need each day and so much more. We have a house and…cars and hot, fresh water. I thank you that as your follower, I can be confident and carefree like a bird that you feed and like a flower that you clothe. Help me resist the materialism, greed, and discontentment of my age and culture. We ask you for your provision, just what we need is enough. We trust you.

Lord, I have a question. So this is a question about this promise ____________

I know you are not slow to fulfill your promises, but sometime you wait out of mercy, with plans to bring something greater. Father, regarding your will for my healing and wholeness, am I just waiting on you to fulfill your promise in your timing or is it being held up by sin?

(Be quiet and listen)

If it’s sin, is it my sin?

Do I need to forgive anyone? Pray for anyone? Am I walking in disobedience or unforgiveness in any way? Am I holding a debt against someone? Are there any lies I am believing that are keeping me from experiencing your freedom and healing and restoration? Are you waiting on me to repent before you fulfill your promise? If yes, can you show me a way out (because you always give a way out)?

(Be quiet and listen/see/perceive/sense)

I renounce ____________(anything that needs to go! bitterness, unforgiveness, jealousy, comparison, the enemy, the lie that _____)

God how much of what I am experiencing is a consequence of other’s sin against me or against you? If so, what is your will and how can I pray for them?

(Be quiet and listen/see/perceive/sense and then break and bind the enemy and lose captives in spiritual places in the authority of Jesus.)

God is there anything else you want to tell me?

(Be quiet and listen/see/perceive/sense…sometimes the best stuff happens here because your mind and heart has been brought to peace and you can just listen to His heart for you and others without your own concerns.)

I thank you that according to the hope I have in the resurrection that you have healed me and that I am whole in Jesus, by His blood, by His authority. I agree with that truth and command my body, mind, and emotions to come into alignment with your intentions for me, which is my healing and freedom. If I do not yet feel healed, I still am because I will be, either in this life or the next. God has spoken it and Jesus has paid the price for my healing. If things are broken, You are moving them toward wholeness. If land is desolate and dry, you desire fresh life there and you will do it, because you are zealous for your name. I want to be a part of that springing up! I thank you that my people from my land and family are already worshiping before your throne in eternity and that you are ruler over everything and every knee bows to you. I thank you that the enemy is beaten and utterly destroyed, even now. I thank you that death is actually only sleeping, even now, because of the resurrection of the dead of which you were the firstborn, Jesus. I thank you that your victory is complete and final. God, I commend you for your good and perfect new creation and agree with you that it is totally good. I agree with your decisions because, by your grace, I will never stand in rebellion against you. You are God. And you are Holy and I am yours completely all my days. I will dwell here in the house of the Lord forever and I will see and acknowledge and proclaim your goodness in this land.

Let it be so. I love being with you. Thank you that you never leave me and I never leave you.

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Making your money work

Jesus talked about money a lot, not simply to make theological points but as practical advice for entering the Kingdom of God. I believe that this fact is way more important than anyone really wants to admit. In fact, by leaving the financial commandments of Jesus out of Christian teaching and discipleship, we are damaging the gospel, our understanding of the scriptures, and the impact that the church is meant to have on the world.

I am not suggesting that we “are saved” from hell by anything except faith in Jesus Christ. I am suggesting that the salvation Jesus wants to bring to the world through us directly involves our wallets. And He wants you to understand what He wants your money to do for Him.

Point #1: We have the right to own property and be blessed by God in wealth…But WEALTH IS DECEPTIVE

Jesus never says nothing belongs to you. He acknowledges peoples’ wealth and receives money from people without complaint or criticism, it seems (Luke 8:3). But then He says wealth is deceptive. Uh-oh. Here He goes. Jesus discusses the inherent deceitfulness of wealth, desire for riches and for things, and love of money as a dangerous and capable of strangling the life out of the message of kingdom (Mark 4:19). Money is necessary, and not inherently evil, but it CAN keep us from entering the kingdom of God.

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24

Jesus said that with no caveats. Can we stop and listen to that and let it exist there for a second for what it plainly says. There is, for Jesus, a type of “entering in” to the kingdom of God made possible by divesting ourselves of wealth. You cannot in good conscience argue against that fact. It’s right there in scripture.

So, if God loves to bless us, what is it about wealth that deceives us and makes it nearly impossible for the wealthy (which is almost anyone reading this post) to enter the kingdom of God? These are questions worth asking ourselves.

Go ahead…think for a second. Why is wealth dangerous in Jesus’ eyes if, in the Old Testament, wealth was seen as the blessing of God? Why does Jesus say effectively that NOT having stored up wealth makes it easier to enter the kingdom of God?

The answer I believe is tied up in two things 1) God wants our daily dependence, attention, trust, reliance, and worship (love). He wants to be our source of security and provision. Wealth makes us complacent in our love and need for God; 2) He desires mercy, not sacrifice (more on this in a second).

Accumulating wealth is dangerous…want proof?

but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Mark 4:19

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have reserved and accumulated wealth in the last days. James 5:1-3

“For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”Revelation 3:17

Point #2: Jesus says do not store up money.

He said to not save it. Your Bible may say not to “store up treasures,” but I’m coming to terms with the fact that the Greek work there means simply to save up or reserve or accumulate valuable assets-it simply says do not save money, jewelry, or land on earth but store up treasures in heaven.

“Don’t save, accumulate, reserve, store up valuables here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your valuables in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your assets are, there the desires of your heart will also be. Matthew 6:19-21

This is a difficult teaching of the kingdom of God because it goes directly against all human wisdom regarding finances, namely, that you save in order to create security for you and your family and to enjoy the things money can buy with money that’s yours because you earned it or have been blessed by God. But what if? What if Jesus was literally meaning not to save money? What does that mean to me? It would mean I take what I need for daily bread and everything else is given away like a vessel overflowing. It would mean I give out of the abundance of my current desire and ability to give, without concern for tomorrow. It would mean manna-only take what you can eat for the day so the extra doesn’t spoil. It would mean that I would not live on bread alone but every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. It would mean less people in need right around me. I have the right to own it, but I have the invitation to invest it in the kingdom, to store it elsewhere, to invest it (think parable of the silver talents–Jesus wants us to invest His money and make it work for a return toward His values, desires, and purposes in the world). If He has told you to save for a particular project, or in preparation for a time of famine, that’s one thing, but unless you have specific instructions from the Lord, your general instructions from Jesus are to give your money away and not store up.

Point #3: Jesus ACTUALLY WANTS & IS STILL OFFERING FOR you to give Everything YOU HAVE AND FOLLOW HIM IN The full-time task of Expanding His kingdom in the hearts of people. That Impresses Him.

Jesus never forces people to do this, but He regularly encourages us through parables and encounters with people to give EVERYTHING up and follow Him, not worrying about the future. Um…everything? Pretty drastic. Yes, Jesus is impressed by those who count the cost and then give everything they have. He promises you will receive a return on what you have given up for His sake. Want proof?

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is[a] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”Mark 10:33-31

Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. Luke 14:31-33

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. Matthew 13:44-46

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21-26

I really want to impress Jesus, not to earn His love or earn my salvation from hell, but because I love Him, He was clear about what He likes, and I and genuinely want to see His salvation transform and heal every heart of every people group of the earth. I want to do grand gestures that equate to buying Him something He really loves. NO ONE would give everything unless they loved Jesus to the point of great faith and had conquered their fear of man and fear of the future. Giving everything away in love is one way I prove my love for Him. He is easily impressed by two types of people 1) those who have great faith, and 2) those who give up everything. Right now, I am neither, not enough at least. But may His strength be made perfect in my weakness and may He increase my faith and my love for my brothers and sisters. God help me.

Point #4: “Good money/RESOURCE management” for Jesus is (At least in part) giving As Much as you can to THE Poor and those who need it to spread the gospel to the nations.

We know this not only because of all the talk of giving to the poor and selling everything to buy the treasure, but because Zacchaeus responded to the presence and message of Jesus by giving away half His money to the poor (Luke 19:1-9), Jesus said selling everything and giving the money to the poor would “perfect” even a righteous, religious, rich young ruler who kept the law (Matthew 19:21), and Jesus disciples expected Mary to get in trouble by bringing an expensive jar of oil and “wasting it” on Jesus feet instead of selling it and giving the money to the poor (showing they had picked up on a pattern in Jesus encounters with opulence) (John 12:23). Interestingly Jesus spurns their desire to make love into legalism. Here we see that love-driven generosity as worship to God is what Jesus is looking for, not simply the act of making a donation to a “worthy cause.” Jesus does not desire fancy buildings-they are monuments to men, not God (case in point,”Solomon’s temple”). Stop building these massive buildings for God! He has a place to dwell. With us—every time we gather as two or more! Immanuel! When we give to serve people, and to get the good news of the gospel to all nations, we bring God great joy because we are obeying His Son and making His name great. He does not indulge the idea of wealthy benefactors, which draws attention to the giver more than God. Instead you are giving because you are compelled to love and obey Jesus by staying low in human status (a servant) and being a servant by the ideally anonymous overflow of your money–as much as you can bring yourself to part with cheerfully. This also means that when you need it, your brothers and sisters will cheerfully give to you. This was how the early church worked and how we are still meant to work! Believers held everything in common. What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine, not in some Utopian idealistic way, but in the most practical way you can possibly imagine. If you of ask me, I will obey Jesus and gladly give it to you (Luke 6:30-36).

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15

Point #5: Giving away money is How the Receptive rich will ACCEPT THE OFFER OF JESUS TO FOLLOW HIM and enter the Kingdom of God.

I am not talking about your faith in the cross or person of Jesus. I am talking about the broader salvation (healing, forgiveness, snatching out of the fire, and wholeness) Jesus was talking about when He told Zaccheaus “today salvation has come to this house!” in response to the tax collector giving half his wealth to the poor and making amends for his financial schemes. I’m talking about the kind of salvation when it says about the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price, that the men sold EVERYTHING they had to buy it. Strangely, the kingdom can be “bought” by renouncing our fear of the future, getting rid of their possessions, following Jesus, and giving our extra money and possessions to the ones who need it right now. Maybe God will use you to pay off the debt of a college student who wants to go be a missionary (often people are willing to go, but kept home by debt). Maybe God wants you to support a full-time couple in inner city ministry. Maybe there’s a couple with medical bills that are drowning in distress. Your generosity will cause he gospel of the kingdom to spread in the hearts of others. Freedom and great praise and thanksgiving will well up among both believers and unbelievers. Here’s why: people literally cannot serve both God and money. You will need to divest yourselves of your first master and leave it in order to allow God to be your master and provision instead of money dictating their decisions and being used as a rod to measure and establish your stability and renown. This is a practical and therefore actionable step. The question is how brave are you and how yielded are you to trust and obey your Father and start giving with no thought to tomorrow?

Point #6: radical, joyful obedience in GIVING helps us learn how He desires mercy, not sacrifice.

What did the people of Jesus’ time think righteous giving was? They gave tithe, ten percent, and they paid for their sacrifices, so many sacrifices. Jesus, the final and perfect sacrifice ended this model. We are not in the temple model anymore, but we are a kingdom of priests! Our inheritance is the Lord! All God has is ours. So guess what? We don’t stop at ten percent because God doesn’t need our sacrifice anymore. We give radically and generously because we want to be a blessing as the people of God to all nations and to the needy in our communities–those right in front of us who need actual help and relief that our money can bring. People can actually be BOUGHT for the kingdom by our generosity because they see that as LOVE. This is obviously not the same as paying people to convert; that is unethical. This is about giving radically and joyfully to genuinely show the love of God for people who need help. We will finance the spread of the kingdom in the hearts of people. We will send out missionaries, support local pastors, feed the poor, tend to the sick, minister to the emotionally and physically broken. Why? Because that’s what Jesus said we should be doing, and also because it actually makes sense in the kingdom economy.

Jesus not only broke the temple as a religious system, He broke the temple as an economic system. It’s ok. We can adjust. Jesus wrecked the money changer tables in the temple. The newly reconstructed temple made with human hands was a farce. We know that God does not need our sacrifice to build him nice buildings overlaid with gold. He wants mercy, not sacrifice. (Matthew 9:13, Hosea 6:6) This is how Jesus understood the prophets-as critique against empty, loveless, merciless, complacent religion.

The presence of God was the place where mercy was to be found. The mercy seat was the lid of the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle of God. It is symbolic of the atoning “covering” of the sacrifice, making communion with God possible by God’s mercy. What are we are willing to part with out of love for Jesus and our neighbor. As we part with it, not under compulsion, but out of love, we are “covering others” financially in mercy and compassion and move into the kingdom economy, where we become a part of the blessing and covering of the nations (thereby fulfilling the original intent for God’s people (Genesis 12:2)) one radical act of generosity at a time, empowering the gospel to go forth in love and practical care, therefore causing great thankfulness to God in the recipient.

Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses, ripped the veil, condemned the physical temple, and started building a new one within and uniting the bodies of His followers, not by might, not by power, but by the Holy Spirit, bringing us to this present reality: the temple and kingdom of God is in our hearts, where we make the decision of what and how much mercy to give. Will we give as freely as we have received? Or maybe we do not think we have received enough mercy and provision, so we tend to withhold it from others as if holding onto mercy is even possible?

Some of us will sense the invitation goes deeper, to get rid of everything and live in complete reliance and dependence on what God provides, like a bird of the air or a lily of the field (Matthew 6:26-34). We will become ministers of the gospel that are supported by other generous members of the body and bride of Jesus, the true church, living and flowing with crazy generosity, which will be terrifying and also wildly exciting. If you are considering this at all, let me encourage you—do it! Obey Jesus as radically as you can. From what I know of this way of living so far, it’s right and good, and I have not yet found the end of God’s provision and blessing.

Here’s my question to all of us, me included. Do we find ourselves rationalizing the saving up of our wealth? Do we allow Jesus teaching to clarify and update our understanding of other Old Testament laws like forgiveness and adultery, but resist His very clear teaching on not stockpiling our assets? When we worry about money, where do we find relief, in remembering God’s faithfulness or in remembering our savings or assets we have in reserve? Why do we need that if God really is faithful to provide what we need for our lives? Are we living in a way that wealth has deceived us?

Jesus offered one very practical way out–start giving, not just what you can afford, but overflowing joyful generosity. I’ve been asking God to rewrite my inner understanding of ownership and transfer all financial decisions to God. It all belongs to Him now. I simply need to find out where to invest it. It is very, very difficult to do this. I have not attained it yet but I press on.

Now pardon me as I go try to finish getting this plank out of my eye so I can actually disciple others in how to practically do this. Because right now I know that it’s what I want to do, give everything, but it is harder than going through the eye of a needle, just as Jesus said. I just have a feeling that it’s not supposed as complicated as we’d like it to be. What if the rich young ruler had just said yes? He could have just said yes. I want to say yes.

Lord, my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak. I am so grateful for your mercy. You are the only one able to move me to this kind of radical obedience. I will do it. I will obey you. My will is aligned with yours. But you have to teach me how, Jesus. Yoke me to you.

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In Dependence Day

July fourth is a special day for most Americans. Many of my family members have served in battle protecting and defending our nation and the cause of freedom. I’ll never forget meeting a French man who grew up in a village in Normandy. He was there when the Americans rolled in after WWII during the French liberation from the Nazis. He told me about how he would always love America, no matter how the tides of global sentiment rise and fall, because they were the agents of his town’s liberation. He remembers a man from his village telling him, “Jean, the Americans are here, your daddy is coming home now.” For all of America’s shortcomings, I find in my heart the same love for my country’s history and priority we have placed on freedom.

However, despite my love for my country of birth and the men and women who serve to make my life possible, I’m finding myself viscerally responding much differently about the Fourth of July in recent years and the idea of “independence” in general, mostly because God has brought me to the realization that He does not desire my independence but my complete dependence on Him. How much does the ideal of independence penetrate the American heart as this “good thing”? Our children are raised to be “independent.” A person is hailed and celebrated if they are an “independent thinker.” A person who is “independently wealthy” is thought to have achieved a great thing. Americans (and other countries that celebrate independence) are deeply formed by this ideal of freedom from “sovreignty,” from having anyone rule over us.

What does this mean as I stare at the life and sit in the presence of Jesus and I see him modeling the radical laying down his independence and one “inalienable right” after another?

inalienable rights

An “inalienable right” refers to rights that cannot be surrendered, sold or transferred to someone else, especially a natural right. However, these rights can be transferred with the consent of the person possessing those rights. Inalienable is defined as incapable of being surrendered or transferred; at least without one’s consent.[Morrison v. State, 252 S.W.2d 97, 101 (Mo. Ct. App. 1952)]. A person can surrender, sell or transfer inalienable rights by actual or constructive consent.

The idea of having “natural rights” is an ancient and fascinating concept, which was revived during the enlightenment. It has to do with control and sovereignty. The founding fathers named these for example: life, love, pursuit of happiness, right to hold property, right to religious expression, right to bear arms (self defense), the right to human equality.

Jesus never denied that people have rights—in fact he often defended these rights in acts of protection, social critique, healing, and justice, but He DID radically invite people to lay their rights down as He did—to return to a sovereignty. To return to a Kingdom that is in but not of this world. Look how he laid down His rights.

THE Right to love

Jesus said he would be hated and he invited His followers to be hated with him.

“You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:18-19

Our choice of who we want to love is also laid down. Jesus said you are to love everyone as a neighbor, as yourself-even your enemies.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:43-48

Right to Liberty

Jesus gave up personal freedom to do the will of God.

“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” John 5:19

His followers gave up their freedom to proclaim the gospel.

And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. Philippians 1:14

Right to Freedom of Speech

Jesus gave this up to say only what the Father said.

For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. John 12:49

Paul even gave up his right to speak in debate which was a strong point of his. He knew his strength did not lie in the power of his arguments, but in a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s work. We give up our right to impress people with our ideas. We trade those in for the power of God.

And my speech and my preaching were not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” 1 Corinthians 2:4

Right to Pursuit of happiness

Jesus did not pursue his personal happiness except the joy that could be gotten by obeying His Father. His joy was doing the Fathers will.

For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. John 6:38

Right to hold property

Jesus didn’t hold property. He also advised His followers to sell theirs to buy the Kingdom. He warned people who wanted to be disciples that birds have nests and foxes have holes but the Son of Man had no where to lay His head (Luke 9:58). He advised us not to store up, save, reserve, or accumulate money (Greek word thēsaurízō), but to invest ALL our actual wealth and assets (which is rightfully ours) in the Kingdom of God as if you were trading it all in for something precious, like a treasure. He doesn’t force us, but those who love Him and desire to follow Him will obey Him. We will wrestle with the hard truth of this command and trade our ideas about future security for a future of trust and reliance on the provision of God (which can come through a variety of ways-through salary of a job/service placement, through gifts, through monthly ministry support, through inheritances, etc.)

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19-20

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭13:44-46

Right to Bear Arms and Take Revenge

Jesus said you have the right to live by the sword if you want to die by it (Matthew 26:52), but He invited us to obey Him radically by laying down our right to physical self-defense and vengeance. Instead of an eye for an eye, Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek. If someone steals from us or sues us or asks to have or borrow, we’re supposed to give them not only what they ask for or stole, but more!

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:38-42

We are invited to forgive radically, not just to be generous in forgiveness, but to the extent of our vegeance, we forgive til vengeance is no longer our concern.

Then Peter came up and said to Him, “Lord, how many times shall my brother sin against me and I still forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22 (this is a direct undoing of Genesis 4:24 where Lamech demanded vengeance seventy-seven times)

Right to a Fair Trial

Jesus was falsely accused of deriving power from Satan (Matthew 12:22-45), he was unfairly tried and beaten by cowards who were more concerned with their religious and political career than justice. He laid down His right to seek justice for himself and operated in an opposite spirit of love and forgiveness.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…7He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth… By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Isaiah 53:4-9

We are invited to suffer for Him and endure hardship even if falsely accused or beaten.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12

Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. 2 Timothy 2:3-4

Right to Life

Jesus laid down his life willingly for the forgiveness of our sins and to give us access to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it back. This commandment I received from My Father.” John 10:18

Just as Jesus laid down his life on his own will, God gives us the decision to retain our right to our life or lay it down. We are invited to take up our crosses and follow Jesus and experience our very own death to self. To be buried with Him and to rise with Him.

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-12

In Dependence

So, I find for the last couple years these thoughts run through my heart and head on July 4th. A day of freedom for my country of birth has actually become a day where I do not think much about the United States of America at all. I celebrate as an alien here, as a foreigner, as a citizen of a different country, as one liberated into a different freedom.

I don’t celebrate my independence anymore. I celebrate dependence. I have, by my own free will, returned to God the rights He gave me. And the great irony is, that as a bond-slave to Christ, I am completely free. I celebrate freedom from crushing anxiety. Freedom from sin. Freedom from fear. I celebrate the day I realized God was inviting me to become a child again. Fully dependent. Fully reliant. Fully surrendered. Fully devoid of my natural inalienable rights—not because He took them from me, but because His Kingship is so much better.

The reason I laid my rights down is because He loves me. He loves you too. In fact, His infallible and unchanging nature is the definition of “Love.” You can trust Him. He’s a good King. Has it occurred to you that the King that Christians serve laid all his rights down for you. This kingdom will be different. He is different than any other “good person” you have met because he has no flaws. He has no agenda. He has no room for greed or arrogance because everything belongs to Him. He is generous and empathetic and kind and good. He won’t take lightly what you are giving up.

Do you know what it feels like to be led by a humble king-One who is willing to extend to you the authority He has been given? Then you get to walk as a resurrected (baptized) Holy Spirit-filled delegate and ambassador of the Kingdom of God. You get to be a son or daughter of the Most High God, completely forgiven of every wrong. Completely released from even your unintentional sins. Completely deputized with the authority and rights that Jesus had by the power of His Holy Spirit. And those rights are way better than your natural ones. You have the right to walk in the power and life of the Spirit, to be free from mastery of sin and the law of religious ritual and cycles of guilt and sham, to worship anywhere in Spirit and Truth (John 4), to bind and lose spiritual powers (Matthew 18:18-19), to forgive sins (John 20:23), to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons (Matthew 10:8), to walk free from cycles of shame and guilt (Hebrews 8-12). You have the right to discern the will of God (Romans 12: 1-5), you have the authority and privilege of telling everyone everywhere about this freedom in Jesus and to extend the love and grace of God to the whole world, every person and every people group (Matthew 28: 17-20). It’s a beautiful trade-off, your independence and inalienable rights for a Kingdom of righteousness and peace and justice that has no end.

Will you yield your independence?

Be brave and deny your right to independence—and you’ll experience true freedom.

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father. John 8:17-18

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Entering Into His Rest

When I was pregnant with my fourth child just over five years ago, I had a doctor tell me I needed rest. I laughed. I told him I couldn’t stop—that I had asked for help but I had none. I remember that feeling of helplessness as I tried to rest but didn’t know how. I also remember how quickly that prescription of rest expired for me and gave way to panic attacks and anxiety after we nearly lost our daughter in the delivery room. She was born blue, the cord that was supposed to give her life entangling her neck, choking her. But she breathed and came to life that Easter weekend. And we celebrated and gave thanks for God’s salvation!

Still, I was back to work two weeks later on my own volition because there was no one to take my place (true in one sense, but also, not really). Few people knew the level of overwhelm or the traumatic memories that haunted me for the next year and a half. Not one really saw the way noise from my children, lots of questions, feeling rushed, or just being in a crowded room would start my heart racing and make me feel like I couldn’t breathe. I used to thrive in those high-stress adrenaline moments, but now, they were debilitating for me.

Then came my rescue in the late fall. One thing necessary. Sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what He said (Luke 10:38-42). He took me to peace, not like the world gives, but true, deep peace of the soul. He taught me to be still like soil and let Him work the message of Jesus into the soil of my heart which was riddled with sin, greed, pride, fear, and anxiety. I started learning to live at His pace—to try to do what I see Him doing and say what I hear Him saying. He healed me over the course of 18 months. The panic attacks and anxiety were completely gone.

But something has been bothering me even after all this healing. I still get very overwhelmed at loud moments, or with lots of people, when presented with too many choices to make, when I have not had a minute to myself in three days. When I feel overwhelmed, the first thing I notice is that my emotions heighten and then turn off. I don’t get panic attacks anymore (thank God), but I still feel this emotional rise and shut-off like a switch (like a surge protector). My frustration and overwhelm is compartmentalized (put in a box and closed!) and I am functional but not genuinely there as a whole person. It is a self-protective measure my body developed and if you know me well, you’ve probably heard me try to put words around it. It’s called disassociation. And it’s terrible. Not only do you feel nothing emotionally about anything, but you feel guilty for not feeling anything and so you have to fight the temptation to be fake as you just hope for everything to go away, and you heroically continue to speak truth that you know is real (even though you can’t feel it) so as not to hurt the feelings of those you love. But you don’t feel it. You are too overwhelmed.

About a month ago, God invited me into a Sabbath season. He said, “Enter into my rest.” And something is happening to me. Something really good. And if you think this is just something you don’t know how to do or seems too complicated, just read a little more because if I can do it, trust me, so can you.

Hear me, friend. There is a Sabbath for you.

God stopped on the seventh day and rested. He stopped because the work was finished. There was a clean break between work and not working. Every week, there is a time set for us to rest from all our works. To consider them finished for now, even if just for a day. To be done. To think that when God rested, it was the sigh of His pleasure that all creation heard. It is finished.

This used to stress me out because I thought of it as needing to get everything done before Sunday so I could “rest” but it never felt restful because resting was an obligation. So I couldn’t enjoy it. Also, everyone still needed me and that felt like hard word. Sabbath became a heavy requirement I couldn’t figure out how to meet.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Sabbath and it has come up in a lot of conversations with friends this month. Sabbath is a time to feel, to think, to enjoy our families and friends, and drink deeply from the river of delights God has given us. To enter into that rest is when we sigh in pleasure and contentment at God’s provision, in Christ, in the Holy Spirit, in community, in life abundant forever. Is my life abundant? Sabbath is a chance to ask that question and confirm it by letting our brains and minds and hearts unwind and unpack enough to see and assess and process what we have felt, thought, and perceived.

About my relationship with the Father. Do I still perceive Him as good and kind or do I assess that He has left me unprotected, unprovided for, or unloved? Do I delight in Him and believe that HE delights in me? If not, what’s blocking that and how does God want to heal my view of Him?

About my relationship with my friends and family, especially my husband and children. Are their hearts ok? Can I invite them to let some heaviness from the week go and really be known by me? Do I understand them and what they think about their life journey this week? Can I share my heart and be fully known? If not, what’s creating that distance between us and how does God want to bring us close again?

About my relationship with people at my work, and the work itself. Was my attention on making disciples and building the kingdom of God in the hearts of people and in my interaction with the world? Or was I distracted building kingdoms for myself or other people? Is my work on the “front lines” of the kingdom? If not, what needs to realign

If I look at my life as a whole, can I sigh in contentment? Are these things “good”? Sabbath gives us a minute to ask this question and let Him work us all the way back to peace and rest, a place from which we might learn to live all the time.

Do we need to reprocess painful and hurtful things so that we can see the goodness and beauty in them? All of this heart-work, this soul-care (which is different than self-care), can happen in Sabbath. When we rest on one day and set it apart as special, God begins to show us His beauty and goodness and His desire for us to be a peaceful, quieted (but still exuberant), rested, renewed people.

I want to explore the idea of relationship and its connection to Sabbath rest. What is it that keeps us from taking the freedom to rest and enjoy life together as family and friends one day a week? Is it not the pressure and exhaustion of not feeling we are ABLE to stop? Somehow we thought we could stomach the hurt, turn the other cheek, and forgive our way through things so we wouldn’t ever need to stop the family and ask for help to understand things. But some of our families (mine included, sometimes) are so dysfunctional we barely look one another in the eye anymore we’re so busy, much less really pray and work through things that well if we are honest. What if we did a full-stop once a week and did soul-care for our spouse and kids? Somewhere our hearts and minds got so wound up that we think the world will fall apart if we stop moving with it. Some of us even think it’s admirable to never stop. Well. That’s just not true. You can take a break and sit down. Jesus models this for us (Mark 1:35, Mark 16:19). This does not make you lazy or irresponsible (even if others might make you feel that way). The world will not fall apart if you take a break. It just won’t.

What if we just stop trying to rationalize our busy life or “season” of life. Let me tell you what my doctor told me. You need rest or you will get sick. Your body, your mind, your soul were not made for constant production and service to others. God does not find us valuable based on a desire to “use” us the way humans use talented people, but He finds us valuable because He loves us—just because we are His. He wants to know us, let us experience His love, and let it pour out naturally through us as He places us strategically. It is not your job to get promoted to a position or platform of influence or to conquer the world “for Him.” He does not abuse our devotion to Him so that we end up exhausted and burned out. That is not who He is. Yield to God’s truth.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.”

Isaiah 30:15

Most of us don’t know how to rest well. We only know how to zone out. But I am talking about how to rest in a restorative way that allows thoughts to unwind, feelings to come to the surface and be dealt with in the love and power and presence of God and our family (both natural families and faith families), conversation to flow, experiences of the week to be assessed and surrendered to the grace and healing power of God.

We must ask God to teach us this. If you want to “feel” again, you have to take my doctor’s advice (also, and more importantly, obey God’s commandment) and learn to rest restoratively for one whole day of the week. Sometimes this means your projects are not finished and your time feels “sacrificed.” But guess what? Jesus said the Sabbath was created for you (Mark 2:27)! Isn’t that really amazing? He wants you to stop, breathe a sigh, and look around you and be able to assess things around you as “good” just like God did after creation. Stop seeing this as an obligation and instead see it as an invitation.

It’s not legalistic rules and regulations. Think about what is genuinely restful for you in a way that does not make you zone out or detached (detaching is not helpful). What lets your heart and body and mind run free, get perspective, and come back to the peace of knowing you are completely known and loved by your creator and your friends and family? Regardless of your personality, isn’t genuine soul rest found in some strange mixture of solitude and community-quality, healing, joyful time in the presence of God, sometimes alone, sometimes together? Pursue that.

We are able to rest from our striving, from our “good works” because they cannot save us or earn us the pleasure of God (Hebrews 4). Jesus has paid the price for our forgiveness and fellowship with the Father and qualifies us as righteous by His blood covenant. It is finished. He sat down at the right hand of the Father and rested because the work is done! Now, from that seated place of confident rest, He intercedes for us as our priest and waits with baited breath to come bring us to be with Him! We feast in remembrance of Him. We feast in a deep, restorative peace that looks at life, with all of its pain, sickness, heartbreak, and loss through the eyes of genuine forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation. We return to trust. We return to a confidence in knowing that God is redeeming this lost world somehow. And it is Him who leads us to still waters and makes us rest in a soft, life-giving space (Psalm 23).

From that place of trust, we become whole again. Integrated again. De-compartmentalized-no more boxes off limits. The overwhelm subsides in this act of obedience to stop and rest. No more disassociation. Our emotions have been worked through and aligned with God’s word. Our thoughts have had an audience and been reigned in by truth. Our pain has been recognized and heard by God and family and our wounds have been bandaged. Our bodies have rested and feasted on food and fellowship. Our cup runs over and we find ourselves exclaiming surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will live in the house of the Lord forever!

It is from this place of Sabbath rest we lock eyes with our Father and we follow His gaze. We see the world how He sees it. As sinful, deranged, twisted, and worn out as it is, somehow, maybe even miraculously, we sense Him saying “It is good.” He is not in denial of our pain. He is not ignoring the injustice or the dying and suffering. He is with us, right in the middle of it-weeping with us, walking with us, fighting for us. And so, it is good. Even now, with all the concerns in your life and in the world abroad, He is not worried or anxious or hurried. He is perfectly in control. And I am happily not. I can take a minute to heal with God and the ones I love and the world will not fall apart. From this place of total trust, we sigh and say, “It is good.” From that place we can still paint and write and sing and play like children inheriting a kingdom-ready to be surprised by joy at any moment.

I think that’s Sabbath.

I think we might be invited to live from that place all the time. Enter His rest?