Think of What to Do, Not What Not to Do

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Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand, you’re aware of the racial tensions that culminated in a recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. (You can read about it here and here.) Granted, there are a number of arguments and angles presenting themselves since the event transpired. Yet, regardless of what is true and false, there is something that we all can be healthily reminded of: We may face intimidation in various ways during our journey on earth, but it’s what we do that proves our convictions. But the important thing is to face intimidation with a focus on obligation. We are obligated to love God (Matthew 22:34-38) and to love our neighbors (Luke 10:25-37). If we are focusing on what we should do (namely, love God and our neighbors), then we won’t be intimidated by what we shouldn’t do.

Blessings,

Joe

A Thought on Proximity

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Proximity–We should all dwell in proximity to what—or who—we believe will keep us the most safe, healthy, and happy. For example, children dwell in PROXIMITY to their parents. Spouses (should) create an environment in which they feel safe to dwell in PROXIMITY to each other.

In like fashion, Christians should dwell in PROXIMITY to the Father—in prayer, in meditation and thought, in the Word, and in fellowship with others who are dwelling in PROXIMITY to Him, too. “Stay close” isn’t only a word our parents used to say when we were children playing in the park. “Stay close” is also a Word from our Heavenly Father while we’re living in the world!

Why is this important? Practically speaking, it’s important because dwelling in PROXIMITY to the Father brings us close to His holiness, His wisdom, His forgiveness, His love and daily grace. We can’t dwell close to God and simultaneously continue to harbor those things that God has redeemed us from. The closer we are to God, the further we are from our past!

Yet, how many people do we know, people who claim to know and love God, dwelling in proximity to jealousy instead of Jesus, greed instead of God, unforgiveness instead of the Father, laziness instead of the Lord? We have too many soldiers in the Kingdom who are living like distracted civilians.

We should all dwell in PROXIMITY to what—or who—we believe will keep us the most safe, healthy, and happy. What are you in proximity to today?

Blessings,

Joe

20 Things Worth Praying For

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Here’s a list of 20 things worth praying for!

  1. God’s fame and glory
  2. Forgiveness of sins
  3. Success in your career
  4. Health to serve Him and others
  5. Happiness and Joy in what matters most
  6. Spiritual maturity
  7. Discernment
  8. Salvation for the lost
  9. Personal maturity
  10. Love
  11. Guidance and Direction
  12. The Holy Spirit’s Power
  13. Wisdom
  14. The confidence to share the faith regularly
  15. Your church leaders
  16. Your church membership
  17. Your country
  18. Your country’s leaders
  19. Widows and Widowers
  20. Children without parents

Care to add to the list?

Blessings,

Joe

Are We Losing Our Convictions?

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Have you sensed a shift in Christian convictions? It seems to be happening widely across the moral scale. On the one hand, we have President Trump supporters who, in their fervor to be pro-American, have accepted language from the president that they themselves would never tolerate if it were being aimed at one of their family members. On the other hand, we have author and The Message’s translator, Eugene Peterson, discussing homosexuality and same-sex marriage, saying that his position (that of Biblical-Traditional Christianity) has shifted, so that now he finds them acceptable. To me, it almost looks as if the tolerance worldview, popularized by secular society, has crept into the Church’s worldview, and basically amounted to Christians who have convictions only on agreeable topics and issues. I’m certain that this isn’t how convictions are supposed to work!

Today, convictions are almost entirely unpopular, inconvenient, and frowned upon. Why? Because we (and when I say we, I’m speaking to those of us who claim the name of Christ) are told to be loving, accepting, receiving, just as Jesus was and is. True, Jesus was all of those things, if by loving you mean that He loved God’s truth (John 17:17); and by accepting you mean that he accepted God’s judgment (John 5:30); and by receiving you mean that He was willing to receive severe punishment for sin that He didn’t own (John 12:24). There is an entire aspect to Christ’s Person that gets ignored sometimes by those who are proponents of convictions that accept everything without distinction. (In truth, they accept everything but those who don’t accept it!) I think that is unwise and unbiblical.


Our preferences should play no part in our convictions.


This sliding moral scale can even be seen in church leadership. It’s honorable and praiseworthy that many pastors and Christians want to reach as many people as possible. Amen! We all should. But what isn’t praiseworthy is how they leave convictions to do it. (Tragically, it may be these leaders Christ is referring to when He says that apparent ministry successful doesn’t imply personal knowledge [Matthew 7:21-23].) Our preferences should play no part in our convictions. When Jesus ministered to people, He never did so by abolishing what the Law taught (Matthew 5:17). Instead, He met people with convictions, convictions that included love. That is what gave Him the ground on which to say, “Go in peace and sin no more” (Luke 7:50; John 8:11). The “go and sin no more” motif has almost entirely lost its place, because what used to be considered sin is, today, considered acceptable with the “understanding” that Jesus’ culture was different from ours. It is, after all, 2017…they say. Today, the great sin, according to those of this position, is that we are unloving and unaccepting, so they say. True, we should love, accept, and receive people for Jesus. But if these words imply a complete disregard for change, growth, and conviction, the discipleship, worship and glory that is due to Him, then we’ve lost what it means to repent, believe, and be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In a word, we’ve lost the identity of Christianity.

At this point, some may argue that these stricter positions are motivated by an absence of love. Let’s be clear: Convictions don’t imply the absence of love. On the contrary, to love ought to be a primary conviction for every Christian (John 13:35; Romans 12:9). But in the oft-quoted 1 Corinthians 13, for example, we don’t read of love being ignorant or accepting or tolerant. On the contrary, love “refuses to rejoice at wrongdoing” and instead “rejoices with the truth.” Yes, we should love and be loving. But love demands convictions, as the boundary in which it finds its meaning and purpose and motivation.


Convictions don’t imply the absence of love…to love ought to be a primary conviction.


To close, I’d like to encourage you to find your convictions in God’s Word, to grow in your understanding and comprehension of them, and to consider how you can respectfully discuss differences with others, without degrading them. Our greatest conviction should be to lovingly communicate the Gospel to the lost and Christians alike.

Blessings,

Joe

 

 

4 Things I’ve Learned About Forgiveness

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Recently, I’ve been working on a project that’s required me to look into forgiveness, not only as a topic, theoretical and aloof, but also as an action, practical and personal. As you might suspect, it hasn’t been a simple task. As I’ve reflected on it, and considered what the Bible teaches (both in theory and in practice), I thought I’d jot a few things down, in the hopes that it’ll help you along your way, too.

Forgiveness is almost unbelievable

When I consider forgiveness, something so tantamount to Christianity, I honestly find it unbelievable. Every world religion has some form of forgiveness, but the weight of perspectives leans on merit. In other words, world religions are founded on a person’s ability to earn for themselves the very thing that Christianity admits no person could ever earn–namely, God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. That’s why the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf is so potent: because He didn’t need to do it for Himself, but voluntarily did it for us, so that we might enjoy a relationship with the Father as He does. In other words, the forgiveness that we could never earn for all of our moral failings is freely available to us in Christ. That, my friends, is almost unbelievable. As the apostle John so famously wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Forgiveness is harder than I thought

I’m sure that when the apostle Peter asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” he thought he was presenting a really sound theological question. As Jesus answered, however, forgiveness isn’t quantifiable. It can’t be measured or gauged, like mileage on the heart and soul.  In other words, you are either forgiving or you aren’t. This makes the issue of forgiveness harder than I thought. When a person has been forgiven, the Bible teaches them to, in turn, be forgiving (e.g., here and here). This is harder than I thought. It’s hard, because 1) we like to hoard the feeling that we’re right, and 2) we like to remind people they’ve been wrong. Forgiveness is, at least in part, a release of these 2 things.

Forgiveness is costly

There are some things that simply cost you…I don’t mean your finances or your time…I mean YOU, as a person, as a soul. Forgiveness is one of those things. It’s costs your soul. It costs your soul, because it’s personal, intimate, and, whether we like it or not, includes our emotions, our pride, and how we feel about something or someone. Forgiveness leaves you, well–to look at Jesus on the cross–wounded. When I think of Jesus on the cross, I understand the costliness of forgiveness. It’s a painful, gut-wrenching, self-swallowing, ego-denying process that should hurt, because in forgiveness we choose to accept God’s grace for a situation rather than the universe’s insistence on a downward spiral (Col. 3:13). And every time we choose God’s way while here, we feel the tension behind, “Thy Kingdom come… They will be done.”

Forgiveness opens possibilities again

In the end, regardless of whether or not forgiveness is believable, harder than we think, or even costly, the truth is, without forgiveness the future is closed to us. Forgiveness opens possibilities. Forgiveness builds bridges. Forgiveness paves routes that otherwise would remain grown over by the weeds of resentment, bitterness, and insincerity. If you want a future, if you want to live a life of joy and peace in Christ, regardless of the outcome here on earth, then you have to forgive. Forgiveness is God’s door to a future of possibilities–with Him, with ourselves, and with others.

Forgiveness is simple to study. It’s difficult to practice. But in view of God’s mercy (Romans 12:1-2), we have been called and commanded to exercise the very graces that have been bestowed upon us, one of which is forgiveness.

Blessings,

Joe

Bible Study: The Holy Spirit Feeds and Leads

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If you read Ephesians chapter 1, particularly verses 11-14, you’ll learn that Christians are…

FED by the Spirit

There are 3 things in particular the the Spirit “feeds” Christians. As you read Ephesians 1, you can see the independence and the intersection within the Trinity in regards to salvation. Thus, Christians are “fed”:

  • Salvation: All 3 Persons of the Trinity are involved in our salvation!
  • Security: “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13).
  • Inheritance: The Spirit of God is a “down payment” or “guarantee” of our inheritance.

LED by the Spirit

There are at least 2 ways in which Christians are led by the Spirit. This is seen early in Ephesians 1:3-5. They’re led:

  • In godliness: Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-14).
  • In holiness: Peter reminds the church, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passion of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14-16).

Whether it’s used for personal growth and maturity, or for a home Bible study, I hope that this brief outline is helpful to you.

Blessings,

Joe

Balance vs Seasons

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Today, William Vanderbloemen, writing for Forbes.com, put out an article titled “There is No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance.” I felt vindicated. I felt satisfied. This is something that I’ve been proposing for a long, long time. In fact, I share the thought fairly regularly at New City Church, where I pastor. Whereas balance is based on an Eastern mysticism type of thinking, seasons, on the other hand, are biblical and an experiential reality. (Just read Ecclesiastes 3:1). There will inevitably be times in our lives when we’re working more (or less), when we’re playing more (or less), when we’re saving more (or less), when we’re spending more (or less), but these facts don’t necessarily mean we’re individuals who are out of balance. We are, in truth, just experiencing different seasons in our lives. There are a number of things that can lead to changes in season: marriage, parenthood, a career change, an injury or illness, even spiritual growth! The important this is this: in each and every season, God has a purpose for us…and it is for His glory and our ultimate good.

Anyway, I wanted to share the above article with you. I hope you find it interesting and helpful.

PS–Care to share what season you’re in???

Blessings,
Joe