You Can’t Catch Sin Like a Cold

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It’s my favorite time of year. That time when we send our children off to slap five, share books, and suck on the same water fountains as hundreds of other little germ carriers at the Petri dish we call “school.” Every time one of my daughters comes home and says a classmate went home sick or missed school my wife wants to boil her in bleach, wrap her in Clorox wipes, and lock her in a hyperbaric chamber. If only we could quarantine them to keep them safe from all those nasty germs.

Sadly school is a necessary evil so we have to expose them to the ills and ailments. This is much the way many Christians think of “the world” – that necessary evil that we must be exposed to full of evil and vices and insidious temptations. If only we could quarantine ourselves from that too.

And many Christians do live in cultural quarantine, shutting themselves off from what they see as sinful influences. They avoid “bad” people and even places. They talk about those people and places like they are disease carriers – “We can’t have them around” or “We couldn’t go there.” They act like someone can sneeze sin onto them, that they will catch the bad decisions and guilt of another through physical proximity. What does his shunning communicate to those we have labeled “unclean”? Exactly that, Christians think they are unclean. Not the ideal way to draw people to Jesus. But sin is not an infectious disease

We don’t “catch” sin. It’s in us from birth. We are sin carriers. It’s only by the grace of God that we can become immune to the virus that lives in us, that we can live a life without its symptoms oozing and coughing and exhaling out of us onto others. Because of the work of Christ we are able to choose whether or not to sin. It is a decision, one that we often have a very hard time making, but a decision nonetheless. Sin is a theology too. It is a belief, or lack thereof, in the goodness and work of Jesus. It is this theology, this belief that informs our decision and drives us.

So, when we are around obvious sin, those people and places, we can’t catch their sin. We can choose their sin, but that is a matter of decision, of belief, of theology. If we hold fast to Jesus there is no risk of that sin invisibly taking hold of us like a flu bug might. How freeing! We no longer have to keep our distance or live in cultural quarantine. We can engage those people with grace and freedom without fear. Because we are near Jesus we can be near to anyone without fear that they will make us more like them than like Him.

But it would be nice if they used Purel and covered their mouths when they sneeze.

What Do Unbelievers Really Need To Hear When They First Enter Your Church?

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It’s Sunday morning. You’re standing near the front doors, greeting people as they arrive. Then you notice a new couple walking in, a single child in tow. It’s obvious this is their first time. They don’t greet anyone by name. They stand out of the flow of traffic, hesitantly, with a touch of awkwardness, unsure what to do next. A great chance to welcome a new family! you think. So you go up, introduce yourself, and ask how they found out about your church. “We read about your parenting class on your website,” they tell you. “We could use some parenting help! We don’t believe in traditional marriage, but ever since we decided to live together four years ago we’ve committed to be the best parents we can be for our son.” They smile. You cringe. What do you say? “We do believe in traditional marriages” or, “You need to speak with our pastor”? Or maybe the time-honored, “Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom”?

We could rewind this little visitor introduction scenario and substitute a whole host of first-conversation-bombshells. The guy who needs four swear words including the Lord’s name to introduce himself. The person who still reeks of alcohol and smoke from the cigarette and the shot  they just downed outside the door. The gay couple. Maybe the conversation doesn’t happen at church, but in your neighborhood or your college dorm. You’re a believer. They’re not. Their lifestyle choices are glaringly non-Christian, and they’re right there in front of you. What does that person need to hear from you?

Here’s the short answer. They need to hear the same thing you need to hear, day after day: the gospel of Jesus Christ. But let’s press that a little deeper. They don’t need to hear – not yet, at least – that cohabitation, swearing, drinking, or homosexuality are prohibited in Scripture. Why? Because those external lifestyle choices – and yes, those are sinful in God’s sight – are not the deepest place that the message of the gospel will confront them. When the live-together couple or the profane swearer first enters your church or your life, you don’t know them well enough to know where Jesus wants to ultimately confront them. Getting to that point is going to take genuine love and good listening, over a period of time. The man who swears probably doesn’t even know his language is offensive. It’s all he’s ever known. Confront him over that and you risk portraying Jesus as a bar-of-soap-toting savior whose sole concern is, like your grandmother, to make sure our language is G-rated. But underneath those surface sins you’ll find a deeper issue, the ruling idol of the man’s heart. It might be an absolute sense of self-sufficiency and independence, or slavery to material possessions, or a craving for the approval of others. It’s the thing the man can’t live without. (Think Gollum with the ring: “My precioussss….”) That is the point where the gospel first confronts the man and calls for repentance. When that idol of the heart is toppled and King Jesus rules in its place, the surface sins will begin to change. Some of them will even disappear overnight. But in most cases those sins – whether swearing or immorality or substance abuse – were not the thing keeping this person from submitting to Jesus. That issue lies deeper, hidden beneath the surface, probably unknown even to the person.

So when you’re confronted with that person whose lifestyle screams “sin” to you, slow down. Don’t rush in with a Bible verse in hand. Take your time. Listen. Ask questions. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom so that, through you, the risen Jesus can confront this person with the message they must hear, at the point they must hear it. That’s what they need to hear from you.

Photo by evilboarder.

It’s Time to Interrupt Someone

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“Don’t interrupt!” Remember hearing that as a child? If memory serves me correctly, my siblings and I were chronic offenders. Of course like any kid I learned that you didn’t have to use words to interrupt – standing silently at Mom or Dad’s side, staring up at them and giving an occasional tug on the pants leg worked just as well. After all, if you don’t say anything it’s not interrupting, right?

Eventually I came to agree that interrupting conversations is poor manners. But what about a different kind of interruption: interrupting lives? Have you ever thought about how many times God does just that? Consider Paul’s life. Paul, at the time Saul, was perfectly happy with his zealous persecution of the church – and then God interrupted him on a dusty Palestinian road, turned his life upside down, saved him, and gave him a completely new mission in life. The gospels tell the same story about the disciples. Here you have a bunch of fishermen in the midst of their daily routine, and suddenly a man shows up, interrupts the monotony of the mundane, and calls them to leave everything and follow him – and nothing was ever the same. The woman at the well, Lydia on a Philippian river bank, a Roman jailer and his household, even the thief on the cross – all people interrupted by the God who saves.

Your story is probably similar. You were going your own way, perhaps in blatant rebellion against God or perhaps simply avoiding God by superficial “morality” – and then God interrupted you. It has happened, and is happening, over and over again. God is the great interrupter.

But there’s something remarkable about the way in which God’s conducts his glorious interruptions. Most often God interrupts people through other people. A spoken word, a listening ear, a quick prayer together – these become ways in which God invades the ordinary and brings his saving and sanctifying power into human lives.

Because of the pervasive effects of sin, every one of us needs to be interrupted. As believers we still lose our way. Earthly things become too important to us, cares blind us to the character of God, and struggles with sin make us withdraw from the fellowship of the saints. When that happens, the kindest thing God can do to us is interrupt us. And usually God will do it through another person. This is even truer of unbelievers. They are completely alienated from God, and – to varying degrees – from other people. Sin loves the darkness. No matter how gregarious and outgoing a lost person seems to be, over time their rebellion against God will make them increasingly alone. God wants to interrupt them with the glorious good news about Jesus – and he wants to use us to do it.

God is the great interrupter. He invades lives, breaking through the isolation and aloneness to bring his presence and power. And he uses us. So go, open your eyes, pray for the Spirit’s prompting – and interrupt someone.

Photot by Istolethetv.

The Light Shines in the Darkness

 

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If you pay attention to the headlines or the Twitter and Facebook buzz, you’ve probably picked up on something: we Americans disagree with one another. A lot. And about some very fundamental issues. Whether it’s the Duck Dynasty kerfuffle, struggles between pro-life and abortion advocates, the legalization of marijuana, or wedding cakes and religious liberty issues, our debates become heated and the divide between positions often appears to be an unbridgeable chasm. While there is room for Christian disagreement over some of these issues, and complexity in every specific debate, there still often remains a stark choice for believers: faithfulness to Scripture, or acceptance by popular culture. One comes only at the expense of the other.

It seems that, for 21st century American Christians, facing this choice is disorienting and maddening. What happened to “America, America, God shed his grace on thee?” What ever happened to being a “Christian nation?” And so we react with anger and confusion. We rally behind candidates we think will support our values. We write lengthy Facebook posts, make our case in the comment threads, and start petitions. We lay the blame for this decline at the feet of specific politicians or specific historical moments, like removing the Ten Commandments and prayer from the schools. Our reactions are intense and emotional because we feel something of great value is being threatened. But I want to challenge us to reconsider that mindset, and to see our country’s cultural climate as we enter 2014 as not a threat, but as an opportunity. How so, you ask?

Before talking about the church’s opportunity, however, we should acknowledge that the feeling of being threatened is, at least in part, an accurate one. There are movements and mindsets in America that do represent threats to religious liberty or to the dignity and sanctity of human life. Christians should be involved in resisting those influences for the basic reason that failure to do so is a failure of love of our neighbors. All of us have some part to play, and some of us – especially those called to legal or political vocations – have a large part to play.

But having said that, our hope is not that we will “win” the cultural war (whatever that means). And the opportunity before us is not an opportunity to reclaim America as a Christian nation – after all, that’s something God never promised us. The church, not America or any other nation, is God’s treasured possession.

No, the opportunity before us is this: to live lives that reflect the glorious light of Jesus in a darkening society. Our current cultural confusion is not something to celebrate – but it is something God can use. When a society cannot agree on such basic things as what it means to be human, or what it means to be male and female, chaotic darkness will inevitably follow. But in the midst of that darkness, there is an opportunity for the light of the gospel to shine brightly. Our obedience to Christ, though it may appear increasingly strange to our neighbors and coworkers, can provide opportunities to give reason for the hope that is within us. And I’m not talking some sort of “super-Christian” lifestyle, but simple, ordinary Christian lives: marriages that remain faithful over the long haul. Parents who love and value their children instead of regarding them as shackles on their independence. Singles who relate to one another in purity. Churches where people of different races and different income brackets love and serve one another, where senior saints are honored instead of marginalized in favor of the young and beautiful. Simple acts of faithful obedience, but by God’s grace a testimony to a radically different way of living than anything a secular mindset can produce.

The New Testament defines our identity for us: we are those who have been brought from darkness into God’s marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9), a new humanity united in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:15). That identity is something no political system or nationality can produce – it is the work of the triune, redeeming God. It is an identity that will often receive the world’s scorn. And yet, at the same time, in a society that is losing all eternal reference points our identity as children of God is a quiet and constant testimony to the reality of the gospel. May the Lord give us grace in 2014 to live lives that shine brightly amidst the darkness, that many might come to know Jesus, the true light of the world.

I am indebted to Peter Hubbard’s excellent book Love into Light for the idea of seeing the issue of homosexuality as an opportunity, not a threat – I’ve simply taken his thought and broadened it.

Photo by JAaron.

Hey! This is the Holy Spirit Speaking!

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Does the Holy Spirit speak to Christians today? In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit is quite active and talkative. Should that be our expectation now?

I know that’s a loaded question. Discussions about the ministry of the Holy Spirit often are. (But that’s nothing new in the history of the church.) It’s still worth asking: should you expect the Holy Spirit to communicate with you as he did, say, for Philip in the eighth chapter of Acts?

To refresh your memory, Acts 8:26-40 is Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. It begins with an angel of the Lord telling Philip “Rise and go!” to a certain road. Philip “rose and went” (what else could you do when an angel of the Lord appears?). He then has what must be one of the easiest evangelism experiences in the history of the church. A traveling Ethiopian, who “happens” to be returning from worshipping in Jerusalem, is on the road in his chariot. It just so “happens” that this man is reading the prophet Isaiah (aloud, as was the custom in ancient times), specifically Isaiah 53:7-8. All this is unbeknownst to Philip until, in v.29, the Holy Spirit explicitly says to him, “Go over and join this chariot.” He overhears the Ethiopian reading Isaiah 53 (talk about a softball!), asks if he understands what he is reading, and then begins to preach Christ. Result? A roadside baptism – and the gospel claims yet another people group for the risen Lord Jesus.

So is v.29 something we should expect? The Holy Spirit said to me, “_______________?” At least two other places in Acts, 10:19 and 13:2, record the Holy Spirit speaking to individuals. Does the Holy Spirit still speak to us today? I believe the answer is yes – but with a qualification.

If you started to get uncomfortable when I talked about the Holy Spirit speaking to someone today, I can probably guess why. You’ve heard someone begin a sentence with, “The Holy Spirit told me,” and then launch into something totally off-the-wall but, in this person’s mind, totally unquestionable because, after all, the Spirit told them. Are you going to question the Spirit? I’ve had those conversations, too. And the result of that kind of “Spirit-listening” has, in my experience, never been spiritual fruitfulness or maturity but rather the opposite: confusion, emotional ups and downs, and spiritual immaturity.

So here’s my qualification: from the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost until the return of our Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit is at work to exalt Jesus, edify the church, and evangelize the world. Those three categories – exalting, edifying, and evangelizing – are the biblical parameters in which we can and should expect the Spirit’s ministry. (See John 16:14, 1 Cor. 12:7, and Acts 1:8.) When someone tells me “The Spirit said ___________,” those are the criteria by which I evaluate what is said (assuming, of course, that the statement isn’t clearly unscriptural in some other way, such as “the Spirit told me to leave my wife”). But within those parameters, I believe we are to expect, long for, and seek the active ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The argument often raised against this position is that Acts presents a unique moment in the history of redemption. It is the birth of the church, the inspired record of the fulfillment of Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” I am in complete agreement with that statement. Acts does present unique moments in redemptive history as the gospel spreads to each of the areas Jesus promises. Paul’s proclamation of the kingdom in Rome in Acts 28:31 represents the gospel reaching the limits of the known ancient world. But let’s not forget: the gospel still must spread to the ends of the earth! 2000 years later, Acts 1:8 is still being fulfilled. The earth is not yet covered with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the seas (Hab. 2:14). People from every tribe and language and people and nation do not yet worship the risen Jesus (Rev. 5:9). Until the gospel is proclaimed to every people group, until the Lord calls the full number of the saints into the kingdom, until the whole work of salvation through Christ to the glory of the Father in the power of the Spirit is complete – there is still work to be done. And we can expect the ongoing ministry of the Spirit as we participate in this glorious mission.

photo by Sparetomato

Does God Want Me To Move To Africa?

When I was a young Christian, I was convinced God was going to send me to Africa. I’m not sure why. I think it had something to do with viewing missionaries as a model of what a “real” Christian looked like, and feeling guilty that I wasn’t that sold out for Jesus. And for some reason Africa – not a country in Africa, mind you, just the whole continent of Africa – was the place God sent reluctant missionaries like me. Usefulness to God = moving to Africa. It’s not a very mature or intelligent formula, but I was convinced that’s the way God worked.

Hopefully you’re more mature than I was in my early years. But I think a more subtle version of my “usefulness = Africa” equation can lurk in our thinking. It goes something like this: my life is very ordinary. I don’t preach on street corners, do door-to-door evangelism, or have a full-time ministry job. So I’m basically irrelevant to the kingdom of God. Really being sold out for Jesus would look like______ (fill in your version of Africa). Our life doesn’t look like what we imagine the model for “real” Christianity looks like, and so we make usefulness equal to “some other lifestyle besides mine.”  We feel like we’re sitting on the sidelines, watching the first-stringers play in a game we’ll never participate in.

Now before I go on, let me be clear: foreign missions are a vital part of the mission God has given to His people. I want to see many, many called and qualified people going overseas with the gospel. The nations need to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. What I’m after is the idea that only foreign missionaries (or full-time vocational ministers) are serving God.

Let’s do an experiment. Take out your phone. (Go on, do it.) Look at your address book or contact list. Begin at the top and scroll down. How long does it take before you reach a name of someone who doesn’t know Jesus? And if you keep going, how many non-Christians would you find in your list? You could do the same thing with a day or two of emails in your “Sent” folder. Whether the people are from your neighborhood, your job, your gym, or your pick-up basketball game, I’m willing to bet you have non-Christian contacts. And the people whose names you just looked at are your mission field.

My mistake as a young Christian was to believe that God would only be involved in major life decisions like relocating to another continent but absent from the “smaller” decisions (which are really just as significant): where I went to school, what job I had, who my friends were. The truth is God is providentially involved in every part of our lives. Where he has placed you, right now, in the job or neighborhood you’re in at this moment, is the perfect place for you to bear fruit for him. Ask God to open your eyes to see who he’s placed in your path to love and reach out to with the gospel. For most of us (though not all of us!) our mission field isn’t in a foreign country. It’s the family that just moved in across the street, the new co-worker in the office across the hall.

Serving God in your mission field is not complicated. It’s not easy, either! But it’s not complicated. Love the people God has placed in your path. Gospel love moves towards people. It moves in a thousand different ways: a meal, an invitation to a football game, practical help with a need. But love always moves.

So don’t feel like you’re sitting on the sidelines if you’re not overseas or doing something that appears hard-core-sold-out for Jesus. Serve him where you’re at by loving the people he’s placed in your life. If we will lift up our eyes, the gospel fields are ripe for the harvest!

Photo by Sudhamshu

Walking The Line Between Westboro Baptist and Rob Bell

Westboro Baptist Church has made a name for itself by protesting funerals, naming their website godhatesfags.com, and telling lots of different people that God hates them and is going to send them to hell. Rob Bell has made a name for a himself by taking the traditional doctrine of hell and making it more palatable. In his highly controversial book Love Wins, Bell essentially said that everyone will end up in heaven, even those who reject Jesus Christ during this life. According to Bell, God’s love will win over everything else.

Westboro Baptist commits the error of saying everybody and everything is wrong, evil, and doomed to hell. Rob Bell makes the error of taking hard truth and bending it so it becomes more palatable. And the reality is, we too can fall into both errors. When we see something in our culture that we don’t like, such as homosexuality or cohabitation or Hollywood or the music industry or declining education standards, we can simply rail against it, declaring it to be evil and from the devil. Or we can fall off the other side of the horse and apologize for what the Bible has to say regarding a particular subject. Neither approach is helpful and neither approach will effectively win people to the Lord.

In his book Center Church Tim Keller says:

…we must both enter the culture sympathetically and respectfully (similar to [mining] drilling) and confront the culture where it contradicts biblical truth (similar to blasting). If we simply “blast” away – railing against the evils of culture – we are unlikely to gain a hearing among those we seek. Nothing we say to them will gain traction; we will be written off and dismissed. We may feel virtuous for being bold, but we will have failed to honor the gospel by putting it in its most compelling form. On the other hand, if we simply “drill” – affirming and reflecting the culture and saying thing that people find acceptable – we will rarely see anyone converted. In both cases we will fail to “move the boulder”. We may feel virtuous for being sensitive and open-minded, but we will have failed to honor the gospel by letting it speak pointedly and prophetically.

This is SO important. If we want to reach people we must first relate to them sympathetically and respectfully. We must understand what makes them tick. What drives them. What motivates them to engage in a particular lifestyle. What resonates with them. It is only when we truly understand people and their deepest desires that we can present the gospel in its most compelling form. A gospel presentation to a skater should look different from a gospel presentation to an artist, actor, accountant, or CEO. Each person sees life differently and yet the gospel addresses the deepest fears and desires of each person.

The most effective gospel presentations are those that are simultaneously respectful and confrontational. We should be respectful of the good things we see in a person. Skaters often value independence and freedom, which in its best form can be a reflection of God’s independence. Homosexuals often value community, which in its best form can be a reflection of our relational God. Artists value creativity, which in its best form reflects our creative God. We should be respectful when we see these things in other people.

But we must also be confrontational. The gospel confronts our independence, self-suffiency, and idol worship. The gospel confronts us at the deepest levels. The gospel tells us that we desperately need a savior. If we are going to share the gospel effectively it isn’t enough to just affirm people. We must also confront them.

By God’s grace, let’s grow in “drilling” and “blasting”. Let’s grow in our respect for others and our boldness in proclaiming the gospel. Let’s pray that God would help us to share the gospel in its most compelling form.

+original photo by Roel Wijnants

The Passion Of Gutenberg

Gutenberg, Johannes (c.1400–February 3, 1468), was the German inventor of the moveable-type printing press, which helped revolutionize the western world. This invention prepared Europe for the rapid spread of ideas, making the Reformation possible. The first book of significance ever printed was the 42–line Gutenberg Bible, known as the Mazarin Bible, 1455.

Johannes Gutenberg wrote:

God suffers in the multitude of souls whom His word can not reach. Religious truth is imprisoned in a small number of manuscript books which confine instead of spread the public treasure.

Let us break the seal which seals up holy things and give wings to Truth in order that she may win every soul that comes into the world by her word no longer written at great expense by hands easily palsied, but multiplied like the wind by an untiring machine.

Yes, it is a press, certainly, but a press from which shall flow in inexhaustible streams the most abundant and most marvelous liquor that has ever flowed to relieve the thirst of men.

Through it, God will spread His word; a spring of pure truth shall flow from it; like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance, and cause a light hithertofore unknown to shine among men.” (Great Quotations)

I had never known that Gutenberg’s dream for his moveable-type printing press was the spread of the gospel. In his words I can hear his heart for sharing the good news of Jesus with multitudes in darkness and ignorance.

Gutenberg’s passion stirs me. I want to increase in a burden to spread the gospel to more and more who have never heard of Jesus in whatever ways I can.  David Sacks, a friend of mine and fantastic professional photographer, used his gifts to spread the gospel and help poor children by taking regular trips to Africa and once a year donating beautiful photographs to Covenant Mercies, who would have a show and silently auction to raise funds. When David went home to be with the Lord a few months ago, I know Jesus welcomed him with “Well done, good and faithful servant!” for using his talents this way in addition to all the other the other ways David glorified Jesus.

Recently some folks in our church put together a luncheon, pie sale and pie eating contest to support a team going to serve an orphanage in Uganda. People donated all the food, including lots of pies, and gave of their time and energy and gave all the proceeds so orphans can be rescued from the streets of Kampala, Uganda, be cared for and hear the gospel as well.

Obviously, we can do all for the glory of God, whether eating a burger or changing a diaper. But can we become even more intentional? Here are a few ideas:

Pray for opportunities and boldness to share the gospel

When a neighbor, co-worker or non-Christian friend shares a challenge they are facing, offer to pray for them

Consider doing something occasionally to give the proceeds to the poor, like giving all or a portion of your yard sale profits to Compassion, World Vision or another charitable organization. Give anything you make working overtime some week to your church building fund.

Think of ways to use Facebook, tweeting, blogs and other social media to promote the gospel or encourage people.

If you’re an artist or photographer, think of ways you can occasionally raise money to give to the poor and to the advance of the gospel.

If you own a business, consider ways you can give extra from your profits to the kingdom.

If you are an inventor, geek or techno-savvy person, how can you use your invention/ideas/gifts to promote the gospel?

Thank you, Mr. Gutenberg, for inspiring me today!

Really? ALL THINGS Without Grumbling? Really?

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, Php 2:14-15

Are you kidding? All things? All things without grumbling?

You don’t know my boss. You don’t know the ridiculous burdens he straps on our backs every day. All things? You don’t know what a slob my husband is and how I have to constantly pick up after him.  You don’t have to work in a cubicle next to Mr. “I’m wearing cologne you can smell in 3 states.”

All things without grumbling? Did Paul have a two-year-old? I don’t think so. Paul wouldn’t survive one morning at my house with my kids. He’d be revising Philippians by 10:30 a.m.  Do all things without grumbling? I don’t think Paul had to pay the kind of taxes I have to pay. He didn’t have to jump through the hoops and forms I have to jump through and fill out. 

The “all things” Paul tells us to do without grumbling aren’t the fun things.  Nobody grumbles about having to do something fun or pleasant.  It’s the miserable things.  The hard tasks.  The unreasonable assignments.  The ridiculous chore that you’ll just have to do again tomorrow anyway.  The unexpected tasks.  The interruptions.  The things you’d rather not do.  Cleaning up after that person.  Serving that ungrateful customer.

Paul – actually, God – tells us we’re to do ALL things without grumbling or disputing. We may think this is impossible given where we work, our boss, our coworkers.  As I wrote this I thought about Christians suffering for their faith in North Korean labor camps. Even there God requires his servants to do all things without grumbling or disputing. Wow.  What grace that would take.  We have it easy, yet how quickly we slide into complaining.

Why does God give us this command? Isn’t it enough to be morally pure? Isn’t it enough not to curse and punch holes in the wall when required to do something unpleasant? What’s so bad about complaining or grumbling a little bit? Everybody does it.

That’s just it – everybody does it.

We complain about everything. We complain about the weather and the traffic and the government. We complain about being stuck working inside when the weather’s nice. We bellyache about our boss. About our co-workers. About the customers. We grumble about our teens and our toddlers.  It’s our way of life.

That’s why God wants us to be different. He wants us to stand out against the dark backdrop of the world as his witnesses.

When we go about that ridiculous assignment cheerfully, we stand out as “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation”.  The world is watching us. The world wants to assure itself that Christians aren’t any different from them.  If we act just like them, then our faith hasn’t done anything for us. It hasn’t changed us.  Why should they cry out to a Savior if it doesn’t matter? Why should they repent and turn from sin?

Most unbelievers don’t commit adultery. Most don’t steal. Most are decent, upright citizens. But everyone complains. Everybody grumbles. So Paul says that when we do all things without grumbling we stand out.  It demonstrates the reality of our faith. There’s nothing to accuse us of – we’re blameless and innocent not only in God’s eyes but in the world’s eyes.  We “shine as lights in the world” –  we’re blazing beacons in a dark world. We’re powerful witnesses for Jesus.

How do we get there? The best way is by practicing thankfulness. Thank God for anything and everything.  Thank him for your unreasonable boss. Thank him for that unpleasant assignment. For your co-worker and that cologne he wears that makes you gag.

Oh, by the way, don’t thank him for your co-worker’s cologne in the next cubicle out loud.

How Do I Love THOSE Weirdos??


Some people are hard to love.

Wait a minute…can you actually say that?

I’ll say it again. Some people are hard to love. You know who I’m talking about: the ones who are different than you in every area. They vote Democrat, you vote Republican. They’re conservative, you’re liberal. They come from a wealthy family, you come from a poor family. They’re city-slickers, you’re from a farm in God’s country. They’re uncultured and can’t even spell art, you watch Downton Abbey and own a Van Gogh. They say tomato…just kidding.

But let’s be honest. There are people out there who are totally unlike us, and it makes them a lot harder to love. If “they” (whoever “they” is for you) show up at your church, it’s easier to let somebody else reach out to them. We wouldn’t have anything in common. Better leave them to Hospitality Joe over there who gave the “You Are Invited” card to a mannequin that one time. And when it comes to evangelism, “they” are the last people you’d feel ready to go to.

So what do we do with the unsaved “them’s,” the ones who are so different from us? Leave them to somebody else to evangelize? Hold our breath, speak quickly, and try not to stay too long? Assume they’re unreachable?

In a previous post we discussed the image of God as the lens through which God calls us to view every person around us. We said that every single human being is more like God than any other being in creation. Now let’s take that truth and apply it to evangelizing the “thems.”  How do we actually love lost people who are greatly different than us? There are unsaved people who we still find much in common with. We share the same hobbies, like the same football teams, work at the same jobs. And those people should receive our love, witness the gospel in our lives and hear the gospel from our lips. But what about the ones who look so uninterested in God and different in every area you hold dear?

Here’s where the image of God comes in. Because humans are made in God’s image, every person is capable of communion with God. Let me say that again: even the “them’s,” whether that’s a skinny-jean-clad hipster or a tobacco-chewing hillbilly, are capable of communion with God. That tattooed drug dealer, because he is made in the image of God, could one day be a passionate worship leader in your church. That woman who seems so stridently political might one day be the leader of a fruitful women’s ministry. And every single member of the “them’s” is created by God capable of loving him, praying to him, worshiping him, and receiving all the benefits of the gospel.

So here’s my challenge: next time you pass one of “them,” tell yourself, “That person is made in God’s image. They are created capable of knowing God and loving him.” Resist the temptation to divide humans into “save-able” and “unsave-able.” Ask God for an open door to share the Word with “them.” Because there’s a whole world of lost image-bearers out there in desperate need of the gospel of Jesus Christ – even the “them’s.”