Do you want to remove all doubt about your sincerity?

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” -Colossians 2:15

It seems that God likes removing doubt about sincerity. From Noah, to Job, to Abraham and Isaac, to Moses, to Jesus and the apostles, God brings people into situations that cannot be faked. Anyone without faith would give up. But when someone does not give up, then their value is made known. No one can call them insincere.

Some people think Christians are insincere. Since our faith is unbelievably good news, our motives have to be unbelievably sincere. That simultaneously puts us in a vulnerable and a powerful position. Vulnerable because anything we do that might be, or appear, insincere will draw flack. Powerful because, if we are able to remove all doubt about our sincerity, we have a hope and a joy that nothing can rival and that everyone wants. Showing our sincerity beyond all doubt is perhaps the most powerful way to bring people to belief.

We should not chase persecution, I think. But we should, absolutely, live according to the standards of justice and mercy found in the Bible without regard for negative consequences to ourselves. Rather, when we see something bad coming, we should rejoice, because God will be glorified in our suffering.

Twice this year, the choir I’m in has sung a song called “In Christ Alone” by Koch and Craig. One of the stanzas goes like this:

And now I seek no greater honor
Than just to know Him more
And to count my gains but losses
To the glory of my Lord

The last two lines have been running through my head a lot recently: “To count my gains but losses to the glory of my Lord.”

Have you ever thought that your gains–your successes, your comforts, the extended length of your life–might actually be losses to the glory of the Lord? I love that Adventists are healthy enough to live on average 10 years longer than the rest of the U.S. population. Our health can be a testament to God’s power and righteousness. But I wonder if the fact that we actually do live longer–that we take our gift of health and stay in safe places, instead of using our health to go work in the hardest places where we might die sooner–I wonder if the fact that we actually do live 10 years longer is a greater testament to God, or to human security.

Would you rather live a life without problems, or would you rather take every opportunity you can to show people that God is worth everything to you?

Jesus made a spectacle of the powers and authorities by revealing his allegiance beyond a doubt. He came in order to do that.

As Christians, why have we come? Why have you come? What will you do?

 

You’re a sinner, and God doesn’t hold that against you.

“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” -2 Corinthians 5:19a

Sometimes the gospel of the kingdom is not good news to people.

Not everyone shares my worldview from a Christian upbringing, and one of the pillars of that worldview is my sinfulness: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23,24)

And without that fundamental recognition of personal sin, the gospel is not necessarily good news.

But if you just don’t see the need for the gospel–or if you want it to be good news, but just don’t understand why–I have something for you to try, from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”

Previously, I wrote that obedience builds a connection between you and God, because it gives you the ability to understand things from God’s perspective. One thing God sees is the great sinfulness of sin, and the power of love to overcome it.

You’re a sinner, and God doesn’t hold that against you.

Did Jesus even care?

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” -Mark 10:42-45

What do we get when God becomes a man?

Hercules? King Solomon? President George Washington?

One of the most incredible things, to me, about Jesus’ life on earth, is how limited his impact was. He focused on just twelve people. Knowing his time was short, he didn’t even start teaching until he was thirty years old. He didn’t travel far or organize a campaign. He didn’t specifically target the change agents–the powerful or wealthy–in his society.

It’s almost as if he didn’t care.

But he cared. He cared so much he died.

When God becomes a man–or when God inspires a person–he is free to become a servant. Instead of focusing on impact, he focuses on people. Because heaven is really close–because the end is basically already here–the means are what matter. Since the results are already decided, the way of life takes precedent.

And so Jesus came and loved the people around him. He gave everything for them and lived a good life until he died. He is coming back soon, and because of that, we can be free now to live the way Jesus lived.

How to ask so it will be done.

“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” -Matthew 18:19

It is, perhaps, no longer profound to say “God answers prayer.” Most Christians would agree with that, and many would subsequently note that the answer could be “Yes”, “No”, or “Wait.”

And it seems like, in these situations, people feel that it is “No” or “Wait” most of the time.

But Jesus told us how to get a “Yes”: “if two of you on earth agree…”

Perhaps we need to be more intentional about coming to agreement before we pray.

Immediately following Jesus’ instructions on church discipline, this verse is in a context of loving confrontation. But how often do we confront a brother or a sister about their prayer request? Have you ever disagreed with someone else’s prayer without saying anything? Have you even prayed for it yourself, maybe trying to put a more theologically sound spin on it, without voicing your concern to them first?

Other times, we may not have the chance to agree, because the request is a “Silent” request or it’s just very vague. How can we agree about something that we can’t share with each other?

Prayer is intimate. It requires openness and trust. And if we can articulate our desires, work through the disagreements, and pray through as brothers and sisters in Christ, I am sure that God will have a lot more prayers to which He will not just answer, but will answer “Yes.”

How to live your best life without even trying.

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” -Matthew 3:8

After telling people to repent, John made sure to clarify that repentance (metanoia) is not a one-time act. You need to keep going with it.

Perhaps the Pharisees and Sadducees he was talking to had started out with repentance, but had given up on it. Maybe they thought they could produce fruit more effectively their own way. Or maybe, as John alludes to in verse 9, they had begun feeling justified by their heritage, and no longer felt their need for forgiveness.

Metanoia is not often a comfortable place to be. Living according to your faith instead of your immediate circumstances might put you in some scary situations. But worse than that, metanoia never lets you justify yourself. It is always accompanied by clear recognition of your sinfulness, and the resolution to do better.

But the great part is that the fruit we bear is not dependent on how justified we feel. Our fruit depends on how we depend on God. It depends on us “keeping with repentance.”

So don’t give up on it. Don’t harden your heart. Resist the urge to justify yourself. Never settle for a shallow answer to your hardest questions. Keep breaking down and building back up. Keep asking for forgiveness and being re-baptized by the Holy Spirit.

And your repentant life, even when you can’t understand it, will produce the fruit of better life–in you and the people around you.

What about worship justice?

“In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth… ‘I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.'” -Isaiah 42:3b, 4a, 8

I’ve spent some time thinking, praying, and working for justice of various kinds–social, political, economic–and I’ve spent time trying to introduce people to Jesus. But I’m just starting to realize that these two sectors–justice and evangelism–can merge. They aren’t disconnected.

This might not sound special. Of course justice and faith are connected. The Bible teaches that we should care for the oppressed. Actions speak louder than words. Hundreds of Christian NGOs use the Bible to back-up their mission statements.

But that’s not what I’m talking about. Our faith informs our justice. But our faith also is justice.

It is just for the Created to worship the Creator.

And so I would like to add one more category to the many existing existing categories of justice work: worship justice.

Bringing people to worship their Creator is justice work, like advocating the rights of trafficked people, or providing shelter to refugees, or bringing education and work opportunities to people on the frayed edges of global empires.

Just like people deserve life, health, safety, and dignity, God deserves worship.

And as we know,

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is your day to level the paths.

“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” -Hebrews 12:12-15

Some of you might remember my encounter with a not-so-level path. My scars aren’t so obvious now, and that beautiful bike I used was stolen four months ago, so I have very little to remind me of the incident nowadays.

But every time I think of going back, I remember that hole. I remember I’ll drive more carefully. I hope someone will have filled it in.

Today is your chance to level the paths. You can remove the bitter roots. If you don’t take advantage of it, people will be disabled–or at least scarred. The bitter roots will trip them up.

By the grace of God, you can exhibit holiness today. Jesus is the strength for your feeble arms and weak knees, and He gives you strength to act.

Love–love into baptism.

Two understandings for this year:

“And the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.'” -Mark 12:32-33

  1. Loving God and loving the people around you is much more than any offering or sacrifice. Not only is it the greatest commandment–it is the greatest joy.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” -1 Corinthians 13:1-3

2. Love is the underlying value in every spiritual gift and righteous act. Check if you have it, and if you do, let it be your motivation.

With this in mind, my 2016 resolution is to engage as many people with the Good News as needed until one person decides to be baptized.

Would you like to try, too?

Please pray about this, for both of us.

We should spend at least as much of our time getting to the heart as we do getting to the mind.

Preface: I think prophecy is important. And please forgive my unclear use of the word “theology”. Some kinds of theology are better than others, and here I’m referring to the worse kind; the light kind.

Five and a half years ago I was just finishing my student missions term in Thailand. My flight home included a layover in Korea, where I met an elderly Chinese evangelist. At the time, I was feeling confident in my faith, and I thought I’d get into a friendly conversation with him. After hearing he had just finished an evangelism program, I told him what I’d been doing, and asked “So, what are the differences between our beliefs?”

He, as I remember, just walked away. Maybe he just didn’t speak English, but I don’t think so. I took it as a reprimand. I don’t think this man was interested in light conversation about faith.

As such studious people, Adventists may be especially vulnerable to talking too lightly–too theoretically, too academically, too impersonally–about our faith.

We have lots of information. With our emphasis on prophecy, current events can be really interesting. Or maybe we just like to theorize about very specific passages in the Bible (maybe like I do on here sometimes…).

But how often does our post-lunch, Sabbath afternoon conversation begin with prayer? And how often do we care to dwell on the simple beauty of Christ instead of the latest Daniel 11 interpretation? When was the last time we spent that time holding each other accountable for our own witness during the week, or sympathized with each other over our deepest struggles? Some do it. But do we?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” -Matthew 22:37

Faith requires heart, in addition to mind, and soul in addition to strength. Faith is deep, thick, painful, and open. It’s joyful and honest. It won’t accept a counterfeit.

All the prophetic knowledge in the world will avail us nothing without a living relationship with our Creator, and we should spend at least as much of our community time getting to the heart of the matter as we do in theology and prophecy. Probably more.

Do good because it’s good.

A few weeks ago I flew from Myanmar back to Cambodia. On my layover in Bangkok, I got to talking with a girl from Brazil, living in France but spending 6 months of each year traveling Asia. She had just spent 11 days meditating, in silence, at a Buddhist monastery in India.

She described to me how she really liked Buddhism because it was about doing good, for goodness’ sake, instead of for a future reward, like heaven. Whether or not that’s an accurate description of Buddhism, I’m not sure. But it got me thinking.

Today I read this:

“‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin… So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'” -John 8:31b-36

If there is one thing that pushes us to justify our sins, it is fear of judgment over sins we have so far been unable to stop. There can be no other reason for someone who loves the God for who’s identity the law is an expression. The person that loves God, loves his law as an image of him, as a path to meeting him in everyday life. The person that loves God would not honestly and knowledgeably try to change his law unless that person had given up believing it was possible to obey, and had started depending on themselves, rather than Christ, for their justification.

So if we love God, as expressed in his law, but we find ourselves excusing our sin for fear of judgment, it’s time to think further about Christ. It’s time to investigate if he really is love. Because doubt in his love is the root of our fear. If he is love, we have no reason to fear judgment, and therefore no reason to change the law.

So removing our doubts, we can recognize, fearlessly, that we are saved from sin. We can stop quelling our deepest hope–our knowledge, in fact–that even that sin can be overcome. And we can start fighting for good, against sin, with the Spirit. Not in order to win Jesus’ approval. Not in order to avoid judgment. Not because we’re supposed to.

But because we want to. Good is good. We know it, we love it, and when the Son sets us free, we can be free to do it, indeed.