Are we able to have a conversation with someone outside of our “group”?

“This splintering and polarization of American culture has made it more difficult than ever to have a good conversation, especially about faith,” says David Kinnaman (President of the Barna Group).

I recently read the article quoted from above, and just had to write a post about it. Barna is a research powerhouse, and one of their recent studies found that evangelical Christians “have a particularly difficult time talking to those outside their group.” In fact, the research found that 9 in 10 (87%) would find it difficult to have a natural or normal conversation with someone from the LGBT community, while only 6 in 10 (58%) from the LGBT community felt the same way toward having a natural or normal conversation with someone from the evangelical community.

Reading this, it struck a chord in my heart. Jesus consistently, often, controversially spent much time with people outside of his “group.” He spent so much time with people outside the religious community that the religious community questioned him on the topic:

“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'” – Matthew 9:10-11 ESV

The Pharisees, the religious elite, could not understand why Jesus went outside of his “group” and hung out with them, ate with them, valued them and cared about them. Jesus had no difficulty having natural and normal conversations with people very different than Himself, and actually people outside of His group wanted to be in His group because of the way He treated them. He was contagious to be around. Why aren’t followers of Christ today contagious to be around? There are certainly many reasons, including because we believe and state emphatically that Jesus Christ is the only way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

However, I think one of the biggest reasons Christians are not contagious to be around is because we can be harsh. We can be off-putting and sometimes just downright mean. Truth without grace and love can simply be mean. We must balance truth with grace and love. We must extend love. We must allow people to belong before they believe. We must allow them to be in our community before the Holy Spirit convicts and they are converted from their old life of sin and death to a new life of freedom and life.

This post can by no means deal with all of the varying viewpoints and all the theological, social, political, and relational intricacies of what it means to love the lost, but it is something we must do. We cannot hold the world to the behavioral standards of a Christ-follower because they are not Christ-followers. The only way to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20) is to go into the brokenness, go into the lostness, with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Loving the world so much that we can’t help but proclaim with love and compassion the necessity of repentance of sin and belief in Jesus Christ, while at the same time journeying with them as they work to figure this out and understand the implications of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let’s be the light and the salt, not the judgment. Let’s bring Christ with us wherever we go, living out our faith and changing the world around us as we are known for Who we are for rather than what we are against.

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‘Round and ’round we go

There is a question that came up a few weeks ago that got me to thinking. Here’s the question: “How can I be okay with continued struggles and suffering?”

This question is a tough one. So you have a new relationship with Jesus, you are starting to read your Bible, you think maybe this is it, maybe you’re done with sin and you can move on, move forward in your life. Until temptation comes and you sin again. Ever been there?

Being a Christian, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, does not guarantee or even promise perfection while still living on this earth. Instead, there will be continued struggles, continued suffering, and continued failure in the face of temptation. How is that possible? Is that normal? How can I be okay with this?

Thinking back to Christmastime, do you realize that Jesus becoming a baby automatically put God’s seal of approval on a slow process? The angel announced salvation to the shepherds, but what they saw in the manger was a normal baby boy—a baby who needed time to grow up. It would take 30 years for Jesus to begin the earthly ministry that He came to do. When considering the life of a Christian, patience and process are not things we enjoy hearing about.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus Christ, in His forgiveness and grace and method, uses a patient process to make us new. We are transformed in an instant, into a new creation in Jesus Christ. We are reborn and receive the free gift of salvation. The Holy Spirit immediately comes to live in us, guiding and directing us. But, this is a new thing. It will take time to get used to, time to figure it out, and time to grow and heal and live out of the newness.

Wherever you are in your life, whether you have put your faith in Jesus or not, we are all in process. My prayer for you, if you haven’t put your faith in Jesus, is that as you move forward in the process of life, you are moving closer and closer to Jesus. I pray that you would come to know Him as your personal Lord and Savior. It is the most incredible thing you will ever experience, and the best and wisest decision you could ever make. If you already have put your faith in Jesus, I pray that you would be encouraged to know that the struggle is real, and doesn’t end until we reach heaven. Know that sin is temporary, God is forever. While on the earth, we will have trouble, we will face temptation, but God is good, God is full of forgiveness, and as time goes on, God continues to reform our hearts and minds, our desires and eventually our desire for sin decreases because of the increase in our desire for more of God.

Who is that?

Did you know that Jesus loves you? You have probably heard, or maybe sang way too often as a kid, the song, “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me…!” This is a great song, and so full of theological truth. Jesus does love you and me; we are weak and He is strong; the Bible does tell us so often of His love!

The Bible also says that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17, ESV). I think we could easily say that love by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. What I mean is this: if someone loves you in what he or she says, but does not love you in the way he or she acts toward you, is that really love? Is that love really alive or active? I don’t think so.

Yes, the Bible so often tells us that Jesus loves us, but it always goes a step beyond this. God’s Word constantly reveals the many ways Jesus acted out His love on people. One such example of His compassionate love is comforting the disciples when they are afraid in John 6:19-20:

When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

No big deal, Jesus is just walking on water. Then, as He’s walking on water toward them, the disciples see Him and are freaked out. They’re probably thinking, “Who is that??” With good reason! I would be too! But what is Jesus’ first response? “It is I”. Then, “do not be afraid.”

WebThere is comfort in knowing that Jesus is with you. There comes a peace that surpasses all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7). This comfort and peace is bound up in the experience of knowing Christ intimately. When we know Jesus Christ, have experienced Him, we can be free from fear because it is Christ who is with us. Don’t let fear have the upper hand; rest in your faith in Jesus Christ. When God is here, we don’t have to fear; and God never leaves us (Deuteronomy 31:8; Hebrews 13:5).

“Do not fear, for God…” (Exodus 20:20)

This verse comes right on the heels of God speaking the 10 Commandments to Moses and Aaron in Exodus 20. After God spoke the 10 Commandments, the people were freaked out, and with good reason!

After the 10 Commandments were spoken, the “people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking” and “the people were afraid and trembled…” (Exodus 20:18).

There are certain things we should fear, speaking of the fear of Lord (which is the beginning of knowledge! – Prov. 1:7). Moses even tells the people toward the end of Exodus 20:20 that they should fear God so that they may not sin. When we have things in proper perspective, when we fear the Lord, are in awe or who He is, and have a healthy reverence and respect for our God and Creator and Savior, it should lead us toward a life where the pull and draw of sin are outweighed by our awe and reverence for our awesome God and outweighed by the joyful, healing, full, satisfactory life available through Jesus Christ.

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One commentator writes about the fear of the Lord in this passage, saying this fear is the kind “which promotes and demonstrates the presence of an attitude of complete trust and belief in God” which then inspires believers to live a life in this complete trust and belief in God instead of living a life of sin and unrepentant hearts.

Fear is not always a healthy or good thing. But a healthy, right, understanding fear of the Lord is not just the beginning of knowledge, it can be a catalyst to helping us live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called as believers and followers of Jesus Christ.

The angel said, “Fear not…” (Luke 2:10)

So for me it is way too early for Christmas music, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet! But today’s “365 Days Free From Fear” post comes from the story of Christ’s birth. It may not yet be the season for Christmas music, but we can for sure dive into this story and see what it says about living free from fear!

Luke 2:10-11 says:

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord

Mary was understandably afraid when an angel appears to her. I think I would pee my pants if that happened. It is interesting to note though, that the angel doesn’t come to destroy, but he is there to bring good news, the good news, that the Messiah, the Chosen One, the Savior, is to come. Not only that, but Mary has been chosen as the virgin to carry Jesus Christ as her son.

Often when angels appear to a person in the Bible, the first thing they say is do not be afraid! It must be a pretty incredible sight to behold an angel with physical eyes, and tangibly see that angels are real, and then to realize there are thousands upon thousands of them at God’s command.

We have no reason to be afraid because when we have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, we become a part of His family. John 1:12 tells how we become children of God when we believe in Him and receive Him. As a part of God’s family, we don’t have to be afraid of anything, angel or enemy, because God is in control and God is our Protector, Healer, Guide, Savior, Lord, Messiah, Redeemer, and much more. We do not have to be afraid.

Why are you fearful? (Mark 4:40)

I’ve missed a few days, huh? Looks like the 365 days might stretch into more than 365 days :) but, we will get them all in, Lord willing!

 

Have you ever gone through something that was outside of your control? Have you been in a situation that was so uncomfortable because there were circumstances going on around you, but you couldn’t really influence them to reach a different outcome?

I think if you’re human, you have experienced you this before. If you’ve ever lived in the Midwest, or driven in the snow and ice in the Midwest, you probably know this feeling well. There are few things that make you feel less in control than driving on ice. When your car starts to slide on the ice, there is nothing you can do. It is beyond your control until the tires can regain some traction in order to steer and regain control.

The disciples in this passage of Mark, in 4:35-40, were following Jesus’ instruction. They were not “outside of God’s will” but were in fact doing exactly what He had asked of them. Sometimes we experience things not because we did something wrong, or sinned, but because we are living in the will of God. Sometimes we encounter storms and trials in life because those are the greatest moments through which we can meet Jesus and actually experience His provision, protection, and love.

Maybe you’re going through a storm right now. Maybe you’re coming out of a storm. Maybe you’re about to head into a storm. I’m not sure what your story is or where you are right now, but wherever you may be, the truth of the matter is this: We never have a reason to be fearful. Why? Because God is with us! Jesus’ name, Immanuel, literally means “God with us” (check out Matthew 1:23).

The way that we can live without fear is through our faith. When our faith is in God, we have no reason to fear. Jesus says in Mark 4:40, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (HCSB).

Faith in God can destroy any hint of fear of man or circumstance.

So go. Go in faith. Go and live free from fear.