Who We Are

In the evangelical Christian world, we often treat “witnessing” as something on our to-do list. It’s what we are supposed to do (but very few of us do it…). Never mind that non-Christians aren’t tasks to be checked off but human beings to be loved. That’s an entirely different post. Or maybe it isn’t. We’ll just have to find out together where this thing is going…

It struck me today that this approaching evangelism as a verb might be incomplete, if not totally wrong.

The other day I sat with a woman who expressed frustration with evangelical Christians who have approached her to see if they could witness to her and then immediately moved on when it became clear to them they couldn’t. As an evangelical Christian myself, I more than shared her frustration.

More specifically, I welled up with anger and wanted to take this woman by the hands, look her in the eyes, and say, “I am so sorry people have treated you that way.” I wanted to assure her that Christians who treat witnessing as a task to be completed are not pleasing Jesus nor representing Him accurately.

That’s a pretty strong statement. And I stand by it. Because Jesus never treated people like projects. On the contrary, He treated them with dignity and love and respect and concern.

[The only people He got a little brash with were the self-proclaimed religious big-wigs who were too big for their britches and also completely wrong about who He was and what God wanted from people (ans: hearts that loved Him more than themselves instead of vice versa). In other words, people who needed to be knocked down a few pegs.]

In the first chapter of Acts, the resurrected Jesus spends over FORTY DAYS with His disciples. (Let that sink in…the 11 disciples didn’t all mass hallucinate the exact same thing for nearly 6 weeks, I don’t care how high quality the LSD was back then. I digress.)

[Was that too far? I feel like maybe the drug reference was a little too far…don’t send me emails.]

Throughout the 40+ days, Jesus tells His disciples about the kingdom of God. In verses 6-8 He gives them some final instructions. Verse 8 reads, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Aside from the improper use of a semicolon and/or conjunction, something significant stands out to me in this verse. Jesus says they will be His witnesses.

“Witness” is an identity. It is who they are, not what they do.  

Jesus did not tell them they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on them and then they will go witness in Jerusalem, etc. Rather, for better or for worse, those disciples would be Jesus’ witnesses.

When non-believers around them learned the disciples were close, personal friends of that Jesus character who caused a lot of brouhaha and wound up dead and somehow managed to amass a small following, those non-believers would associate everything else the disciples did and said with Jesus.

If the disciples loved well and verbally shared the gospel and teachings of Jesus, they would be positive witnesses of Jesus. Those they encountered would wonder if being a follower of Christ had something to do with the disciples’ abnormally selfless, peaceful, joyful dispositions, especially in the face of terrifying circumstances (to promote Jesus as the Messiah was to literally risk being killed by the Jewish elite).

If the disciples ran for their lives, however, and never spoke of Christ again, they would be negative witnesses of Jesus. People would think, “Jesus must not have been anything special if even His best friends don’t think He is worth talking about or obeying anymore.”

One way or another, those disciples would be Jesus’ witnesses all right.

And, of course, the same is true of us believers today. We are Jesus’ witnesses, whether we know it or not.

If we identify ourselves as Christ followers, every thing we say and do is associated with Him in the eyes of the non-believers around us. 

Now, don’t worry, that does not mean we have to be perfect or we will mar Jesus’ rep so badly no one will ever become a Christian again. We aren’t that powerful, thank goodness.

What it does mean is we need to be more mindful of how we are representing Jesus. Just like the original disciples, Christians today can be positive or negative witnesses of Jesus.

If people know we claim to be Christians but we never talk about Jesus or His working in our lives, and if we prop ourselves up on our achievements, hiding our need for Him, and if we harbor self-righteous pride in our relationships, and if we fail to rely on the power of the Spirit to help us live consistently with scripture (which is the only way we can live consistently with scripture, by the way), those we encounter will be inclined to think there is nothing special or different about “Christians”.

On the other hand, if people know we claim to be Christians and we love well and verbally share the gospel and teachings of Jesus, and if we admit when we screw up and ask for forgiveness from people we hurt, and if we make it plain that we are totally indebted to God’s grace, and if we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us live how scripture tells us to when we know full well we can’t in our own strength, those we encounter might wonder if being a follower of Christ has something to do with our abnormally selfless, peaceful, joyful dispositions, especially in the face of terrifying circumstances (like all the fun things life has to offer–sickness, death, adultery, job loss, broken relationships, etc.).

Witnessing is not something we do; witnesses are what we are. We get to decide what kind of witnesses of Jesus we want to be.

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How to Struggle

This morning I read Romans 15, and I became fixated on one verse in particular. Verse 30 says, “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”

Paul is wrapping up a long letter to the Christians in Rome, and in chapter 15 he is explaining his future plans. He is going to run an offering from the Christians in Macedonia and Achaia (think Greece) east to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Then he is going back west to drop by Rome on his way further west to Spain. Why he didn’t just wire the money I’ll never know. I digress.

Paul is a bit apprehensive about returning to Jerusalem because, well, Paul’s “betraying” Judaism and becoming a Christ-follower was generally frowned upon by the Jewish establishment, and, thus, the general Jewish population in the region. Paul petitions the Romans to, “Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed,” (Romans 15:31-32).

I am struck by Paul’s vulnerability in his prayer request. Here is the greatest missionary of all time asking those he has discipled in the faith to pray for him because he is SCARED. He knows he is walking into a volatile situation in which he could quite literally be murdered if he falls into the wrong hands. But the poor Christians in Jerusalem need help, and he has the ability to help them. So he really does not think twice about going to aide them.

However, he still “urges” fellow believers to pray for his safety. “Dangerous conditions” won’t stop Paul from doing what God wants him to do, but the reality of the danger is still enough for him to plead for prayer. It’s like Paul thinks prayer really works or something… … …

I’m also struck by the verbiage Paul uses in his request. His “urging” the Roman Christians to pray for him communicates…urgency. He has a serious task before him and doesn’t take it lightly.

But beyond that, Paul describes a) the mechanisms by which he is urging the brothers to join him, or b) the mechanisms by which he and the Roman Christians are brothers. And those mechanisms are “our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Spirit.” Since there were no commas in the original language, it’s hard to say which possibility Paul meant.

Maybe all Paul means is he and the Roman Christians are brothers because they all were saved by God’s love exhibited through the Holy Spirit’s drawing each of them to Jesus (option b). And as spiritual brothers, they can and ought to join in each others’ struggles.

On the other hand, if the commas are right (option a), Paul is urging the brothers to join him in his struggle via Jesus and the love of the Spirit. It would seem these are the avenues of their joining together.

Perhaps, then, Paul means that their being Christians and their possession of the love of the Spirit make it possible for the Romans to truly unite with him in his struggle. Without the commonality of being believers, maybe it wouldn’t be possible for the Romans to join Paul in his struggle? Can non-believers reallyfully join in believers’ struggles when non-believers lack the correct perspective of prayer and God?

And/Or, without the love of the Spirit working through them, maybe it wouldn’t be possible for the Romans to have the motivation to join Paul in his struggle? I mean, how fun does that sound, anyway? If the decision is left up to us selfish humans, I’m thinking most of the time we won’t be chomping at the bit to join anyone in struggles…Paul is essentially saying, “Hey, you guys? Wanna  feel this incredible fear and anxiety I’m currently experiencing? It sucks big time! You’re gonna hate it. There’s a heavy weight on my chest, I toss and turn all night, and the panic attacks are coming every hour or so… but come on over and suffer with me! I’ll put on a pot of coffee, and you bring cookies.”

At any rate. Paul tells the Romans they can join together with him in his struggle by doing one thing: “praying to God for me.” 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t pray enough. I hardly pray at all, really. I’d never say this out loud (yeah, I would; I have no shame/filter/verbal boundaries), but I feel like prayer is pretty boring and is more of a chore than a privilege. I don’t like feeling this way; I know it is wrong. But prayer is a pretty passive thing to me most the time. I rattle off some thanks and some requests while God sits by trying not to yawn in my face.

But there have been a few times in my life where a friend desperately needed prayer, and I fervently prayed for him. About a year and a half ago, for example, a friend of mine was in a car wreck. He was airlifted, had emergency surgery, was in a medically induced coma in a trauma ICU unit for 6 weeks, etc. Things were broken, breathing was inconsistent, infections arose. He almost died numerous times. Due to the emotion of the circumstances, it was easy for me to “pray without ceasing.” I “joined” this friend and his family in their struggle for life. And there was nothing passive about it. Praying for him and them consumed my thoughts most of every day. Worship songs about depending on God and trusting God came alive to me in a whole new way. I actively worshiped God as I learned how to live what those songs say I believe. I grew spiritually, my friend eventually recovered, his family made it through the worst couple of months of their lives, and God was glorified.

It kind of blows me away that we believers have this ability to actually enter into someone else’s struggle. We can actively join together with them, experiencing at least some level of the pain they are experiencing. We can suffer along with them. And, yes, at first glance, this seems sadistic. Why would anyone purposefully subject themselves to suffering, esp. on someone else’s behalf? Hmm…I don’t know, why don’t we ask Jesus?

Jesus chose to enter our world and our lives to suffer on our behalves. In salvation He takes all the suffering for us. But in daily living He enters our lives and suffers alongside us when we are hurting or scared or anxious or depressed because we still live in a fallen world. He is with us always (Matthew 28:20), even when we’re broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). We may forget He is there most of the time, but that doesn’t change the fact that He is, and He is feeling all the same emotions of the moment we are (Hebrews 4:15). And just knowing that makes our suffering a little more bearable.

There is something beautiful about us humans loving someone else like this. When we willingly volunteer to walk so closely with someone who is struggling that we actually feel their pain ourselves, we’re showing Jesus to them. A holy communion of sorts takes place, and we come to see that joining them in their struggle is actually a privilege. And the chief way we do this is by praying for them.

  When we struggle, we are to struggle together.

What to do when You’re Sinning

A lot of times when I am going through a time of not caring about much, having a “meh” attitude about life, I slip into some pretty comfortable sins. Perhaps my favorite one is not doing the good I know I ought to do, per James 4:17. I don’t use my time for His purposes…I don’t intentionally invest in people in order to encourage them toward Him…I don’t think of others more highly than myself and act accordingly (Philippians 2:3). I don’t discipline my thoughts or my mouth to think and speak things that honor God.

After a lengthy spell of this self-centeredness, the Holy Spirit breaks through and convicts my hard heart of my wrongdoing. My stubborn self probably won’t admit to other humans that I’ve been sinning, but, I know the Spirit has nailed me…

Usually, what ensues next is an internal debate about how I need to stop myself and do right, but also that I don’t really want to stop and/or I don’t have the will power to stop on my own. Sometimes the excuses win and I stay stuck in my pattern of sin for a while longer. Other times, I respond to the Spirit.

It occurred to me while studying 1 Samuel that I’m probably Jewish. Not nationality-wise, of course. Blond hair and blue eyes are not what you think of when you hear “of middle-eastern descent.” What really occurred to me is I am just like the Israelites in behavior.

In 1 Samuel the Israelites start out as a theocracy. That is, they are governed by God Himself. They have judges/leaders in place to help them through civil affairs and military strategies and whatnot, but, ultimately, those leaders are not leading Israel: God is. The prophets tell the judges what God wants them to do, and the Israelites decide whether or not to do it.

After some pretty amazing military battles in which Leader God miraculously delivers Israel from enemies and grants peace between Israel and rowdy neighbors for the first time in forever, the Israelites decide they don’t want a theocracy anymore. Rather, they want a king–i.e., a human–to lead them (1 Samuel 8:20).

Why? Because they want to keep up with the Joneses. “All the other nations get to have kings, why can’t we?” they whine (1 Samuel 8:5, 19-20, Kelly Levatino Translation).

Now, Samuel knows this is a stupid request. So you know what he does? He prays. If that ain’t a lesson in leadership, I don’t know what is. But I digress.

And when Samuel prays, God tells him what to do. Crazy right? Maybe if you and I thought that could still happen today when we pray, we’d pray more often and with more anticipation. But probably not. I digress.

Sam tells the Israelites, “Look, I talked to God, and He says if you guys want a king, you need to know that man is going to oppress the daylights out of you. It’s not going to be good, you guys,” (1 Samuel 8:11-17).

“We don’t care!” the stupid people reply, “We want a king!” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

Samuel just shakes his head. He does’t argue with them or call them names or pull his judge card and “overrule” their decision. Instead, you know what he does? That guy prays again! He goes back to God and tells Him what happened (as if He didn’t already know), and God says, “Give them the king they want,” (1 Samuel 8:21-22).

Samuel installs Saul as king, effectively ending his own rule as judge. And as he steps down, Samuel says, “Let me tell you people something. You all have a long history of doing whatever you want, getting yourselves into desperate situations, realizing you’re in those situations because you’ve been sinning, and then running back to God crying, ‘Mea culpa!’ And you know what? Every time you’ve sincerely repented, God has been faithful to forgive you and deliver you from your circumstances,” (1 Samuel 12:6-11).

Samuel continues, “This time your sin is that you said, ‘We want a king to rule over us’–even though the Lord your God was your king,”(1 Samuel 12:12 NIV).

And so it finally dawns on the Israelites how their demanding a king has been sin all this time. When this reality hits them between the eyes, they respond to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king,” (1 Samuel 12:19).

Instead of going to God themselves in the midst of their guiltiness, the Israelites ask the “senior pastor”, as it were, to pray for them while they keep their distance from the Lord they think will kill them for their disobedience (and for good reason; He does have a track record of that…).

But Samuel tells them, “Do not be afraid. You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart,” (1 Samuel 12:20).

In other words, RUN TO GOD! This is when you need Him the most! When you’re being convicted of your sin and need to make things right with Him, GO TO HIM!

Samuel goes on to advise, “Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless,” (1 Samuel 8:21).

So, not only do the Israelites need to go to God in their sinful state, they also need to stop turning to useless idols in their sinful state.

When we are caught up in sinful patterns and are convicted to repent, we have the same two choices Israel had: we can run to God and deal with it, or we can run to useless idols.

Our “useless idols” may look a little different than Israel’s Baals and Ashteroths, but, essentially, they are the same. Today we run to Netflix or Facebook or ice cream or adult beverages or our spouses’ approval or overworking or helicopter parenting or spending too much time on hobbies or a million other things in an effort to not have to deal with our sin, our guilt. We indulge in distractions and/or surround ourselves with people who will tell us we aren’t that bad, hoping God will agree and the Spirit will leave us alone.

But those useless idols cannot rescue us.

There is only One rescuer.

Jesus took our sin upon Himself, in part, so that when we screw up, we can go to God WITHOUT FEAR of punishment. The only thing God gives us when we come to Him with repentant hearts is grace. He graciously forgives us and repairs our brokenness that results from our sinning. He puts us back together.

Samuel goes on to tell the Israelites, “For the sake of His great name the Lord will not reject His people, because the Lord was pleased to make you His own,” (1 Samuel 12:22).

When we go to Him, He WILL NOT reject us; He chose us–we are His.

In the midst of our sin, do not turn away from the Lord. Go to Him. The sooner the better.

How to be Ineffective and Unproductive

(If you read the title of this post and thought, “I can be ineffective and unproductive right now by reading this blog instead of doing ______,” then we’re going to be great friends. Sarcasm is my spiritual gift, and I salute your wittiness.)

Now, in Peter’s second letter to believers in Rome (presumably), Peter opens by correcting a false doctrine that had splintered off of Christianity called Gnosticism. (Don’t worry, there won’t be a test.)

The Gnostics taught that salvation came through the attaining of a mysterious “higher knowledge,” which is in contrast to the true gospel that says salvation comes by grace through faith in Christ.

So Peter opens chapter 1 with 4 verses that all emphasize the gospel vs. Gnostic garbage. Peter is reminding the believers in Rome that you are saved because of your faith–not because you have some special knowledge. And you have that faith because Jesus is righteous–not because you have attained some sort of enlightenment others haven’t (v. 1).

Further, Peter says God’s power has given us every thing we need for life and godliness (v. 3). In other words, believers wouldn’t even need some special knowledge, even if it did exist, because their abilities to live in a way that both fulfills them and pleases God don’t depend on what they know; their abilities depend on the power of Who they know.

In verse 5, Peter seems to get out his megaphone and yell, “FOR THIS VERY REASON, make every effort to do what I’m about to tell you to do.”

I had to read this 45 times before I could nail down what the exact reason is (because I’m sharp like that). I’m sure you’re much more astute and don’t need me to point out the reason, but for the sake of clarity (and so when I forget later I’ll have something to remind me), here’s the reason: in order to actually live out the fulfilling life that sits there for the taking.

Life, godliness, relationship with God (i.e., “participation in the divine nature,”), and no longer being a slave to sin (i.e, engulfed by “the corruption in the world caused by evil desires,”) all await each believer (v. 4).

Peter is imploring the Roman believers to make every effort to do the following because their wholeness and God’s being glorified hang in the balance.

If that’s what we want–to be spiritually healthy people who thrive in our relationships with Jesus and who regularly resist the seduction of sin (characteristics that all bring God glory)–here is what we need to do:

…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love (v. 5-7).

And this is the point in reading where I set the Bible down and say, “Nope. Can’t do it.”

This is a tall order. Like, Empire State Building tall. Or Everest tall. Not only do I lack most of these things, the thing I lack the most is the very effort needed to gain more of them!

Peter says make every effort. Why can’t I just make some effort, like maybe when I’m having a good day and there’s nothing on TV?

“Lord!” I whine, “I can’t make ‘every effort.’ It’s too haaaaaaaaaaaaard.” And He smiles and says, “I know.”

Well. Now that we’re all in agreement…

Peter’s very point is it is by God’s power–not by human effort–that any of this growing in godliness stuff actually happens anyway.

HOWEVER.

We have a cooperative role to play. We put forth effort toward a goal we can’t achieve, and God miraculously infuses said effort with His power to bring forth His desired outcome: godliness in His children. And on account of His power being put on display in our lives, His glory is revealed.

It’s like if I were to run into someone from my freshman year of high school. To say I wasn’t a believer back then would be an understatement. I didn’t worship Satan, but I was a pretty smug atheist, and I wasn’t afraid to let my peers in the Bible belt know it. If there had been a superlative for “Least Likely to Believe in God,” I’d have won it.

Enter God.

I became a Christian at 16, started attending church at 17, became FASCINATED with the Bible, earned a Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies and Theology, taught and wrote about the Bible for years, earned a Master’s in Christian Ministry, and now I build websites. Just kidding. But, seriously. I do. But I ALSO continue to teach and write about this Jesus guy.

If someone I knew B.C. ran into me on the streets today and learned all this about me, they’d have little choice but to say, “Wow, there really must be a God because there is NO WAY she would have transformed like this on her own. Not possible.”

Well, Peter and I have news for you: nothing has changed. I still have no capability to transform myself into a person who has measurable amounts of faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.

And neither do you.

So when we increase in any of these areas, it is clearly God transforming us, which brings Him glory. We bring God our meager offerings (i.e., our “every efforts,”), and He multiplies what we give Him into an abundance of fruit.

Peter puts it this way: “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (v. 8).

There aren’t many things more terrifying to me than the thought of being ineffective and unproductive in my knowledge of Jesus. The seminary degrees are nice and all, but what am I doing with the knowledge rolling around in my brain? If it stays in there, it only benefits me.

And the same is true for you, whether you have “more” knowledge than me or “less” (can we even quantify that?). Knowledge un-shared, at best, only improves one life.

But if our knowledge manifests itself in our actions–like in our self-control and brotherly kindness and love–it benefits others. What we know about God should motivate us to try to live like God.

And when our motivation collides with His power, we are anything but ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of Christ. In fact, we are the opposite: effective and productive.

If that’s not what you’re after, by all means, make no effort to add any of the qualities Peter speaks of to the knowledge you have of Jesus. And, whatever you do, never share whatever knowledge you have with anyone else. In little to no time at all, you will surely be ineffective and unproductive!

 

Overflow

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Paul wrote this to the Christians in Rome as a blessing after exhorting them to be unified and accepting of one another.

Not unlike the Romans, God is attempting to teach me about the power and freedom of acceptance and trusting Him with the question marks in my life.

This preposition-laden verse catches my eye because Paul is saying a lot of important things in one poorly crafted sentence.

(Can I say that? Can I say his grammar was awful and the English translators need some lessons on when to use commas? I digress.)

It strikes me that God has a job–to fill us–and we have a job–to trust in Him. As we trust, He fills. The two actions are meant to occur simultaneously.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that if we don’t trust, He won’t fill. However, I’m willing to bet that more often than not we have to get the ball rolling by trusting Him first.

Why?

Because of what God is filling us with: all joy and peace.

Dare I say it is probably impossible for us to experience all joy and peace while not trusting Him?

I do.

I dare.

So we start trusting Him, and He fills us, and we skip off into the sunset, hand in hand, in this beautiful unending bliss of simultaneously trusting and filling forever and ever, amen.

At least that’s how it is supposed to be.

I find it interesting that God doesn’t only fill us with joy or peace but with both. Again, perhaps we can’t have one without the other.

I also find it interesting Paul asks God to fill the Romans with all joy and peace. Not some; not a lotAll.

In the same vein, God fills us with these things. He doesn’t just offer a little of each; He gives us as much as we can take.

Paul isn’t shy about praying for an abundance of awesomeness. Maybe I shouldn’t be either…

So we trust God; God fills us with all joy and peace.

But why does Paul want this for the Romans?

Well, the obvious human answer is because joy and peace feel good. Paul must want the Romans to live their best lives now…or then, as the case is.

Maybe. But the scripture says more.

We trust God; God fills us with all joy and peace, “so that you may overflow with hope…”

Ahhhh.

Paul wants the Romans to overflow with hope, and their trusting God is the first step on the path to get there.

When God fills us, on account of our trusting in Him, we overflow with hope. He fills us with all joy and peace, and then we flat spill over with hope.

Wow.

I can’t remember the last time I brimmed with hope. I have to admit it sounds appealing.

Why would Paul want the Romans to overflow with hope?

Maybe because it’s a privilege Christ-followers have that is worth taking advantage of…non-believers don’t have access to the True Source of hope.

And/or maybe because when we reflect hopefulness to the world, they are attracted to Christ in us. Our overflowing with hope is an evangelism tool, if you will, which sounds like a win-win to me.

What’s interesting is the cooperation between God (the Father) and the Holy Spirit in this process. God does the filling with joy and peace, and the Spirit empowers the overflowing of hope. I don’t really know what to do with that observation, but I’m sure Paul stuck it in there for a reason.

All this to say, trusting God sounds like a pretty good idea.

I know, anti-climactic.

How God Uses Our Stupid, Sinful Choices

I don’t know why, but it struck me this morning how comforting it is that God uses our sins for good.

I’m not saying our sins are good, obviously. I’m saying He takes our stupid decisions and eventually uses the results for good purposes.

Of course, the go-to verse on the subject is Romans 8:28. Paul is going on and on about how the Spirit prays on our behalf, and then Paul writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

And what, pray tell, is “the good” to which Paul is referring? Next verse, “…to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.”

God works ALL THINGS–including our sinful choices!–to make us more like Jesus. 

I kind of want to jump up and down and celebrate this. Because I sin a lot. But God is too good to waste my disobedience.

That’s about all I had to say on this subject until I went to Bible study this morning, and God brought the topic up again. (Yes, God attends my Bible study.)

We are studying Ruth, and it turns out her story is the prime example of God working sin for good. 

Back in the day God was very clear to the Israelites that they were not to marry non-Israelites. He knew if they did those foreigners would draw the Israelites into idolatry.

God was trying to protect the Israelites from the gravest sin of all–worshiping something other than Him–by saying, “Hey, you guys? We’re gonna go ahead and call ‘intermarrying with Gentiles who don’t worship me and me alone’ sin because it will hurt you if you do it, and, also, it will dishonor Me.”

[Side note: these are the two reasons God labels anything sin. He’s not trying to ruin our fun or pull rank for the sake of pulling rank. He’s trying to PROTECT US and ensure He is properly glorified. If we could only get that through our ridiculously thick heads…]

All that to say, the book of Ruth opens with an Israelite family moving to a foreign land and the sons of the family immediately marrying foreign women. In other words, SIN (we have no evidence Ruth was a Yahweh follower). Mahlon’s decision to marry Ruth, a non-Israelite was a direct violation of God’s law.

Fast forward to the end of the book and we see that Ruth, who has since become a Yahweh follower (1:16), births a son named Obed via her second husband, an Israelite man named Boaz. Obed grows up and has a son named Jesse, and Jesse grows up and has a son named David. As in King David, the greatest Israelite King of all time, and the ancestor from whom Mary and, subsequently, Jesus would come.

DO YOU SEE WHAT JUST HAPPENED HERE?!

God used one man’s sin not just for “good” but to PROVIDE A WAY FOR ALL OF HUMANITY TO BE REDEEMED.

Are you kidding me, God?!

really want to jump up and down and celebrate this one!

There’s more.

Ruth had Gentile blood. Boaz had Israelite blood. Their son, Obed, had a bit of both. And all the descendants after Obed–including Mary and JESUS–had mixed blood as well.

Why should we even care about Jesus’ blood type?

I think it is PROFOUND (clearly, given the amount of all caps I’m using in this post) because Christ didn’t just come to save the Israelites; He came to save Gentiles and Israelites.

God has always been for all people groups (this is a theme throughout the Bible, starting with the Abrahamic Covenant back in Genesis 12), even though He had a “chosen nation” in Israel. He has always wanted to redeem any person of any race who wanted to follow Him.

And you know how He did that?

Not via a pure Israelite Messiah. Nope. By a Savior who had blood ties to Gentiles and Jews alike!

If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is. (Actually, the latter is not related to the former in any way.)

Anywho, reeling myself back in, my point is TAKE HEART; God can and will use all of our sins for good purposes.

Regret your sin.

Acknowledge the wrongness of your sin.

Seek forgiveness from God and the person(s) whom your sin hurt.

BUT DON’T STOP THERE!

See the silver lining, and trust God to use the results of your sin for eternal good–the formation of your soul (and the souls around you) to look a little more like Christ than you did before you sinned.

Above All

I have a love-hate relationship with relationships.

I love them when they’re going well, but I hate them when they’re going poorly. I love them when they are well-established and comfortable, but I hate them when they are new and awkward. I love them when they fulfill me and make me happy, but I hate them when they hurt me and leave me empty.

You, too?

Fortunately/Unfortunately, people are made for relationships…with each other and with God. Even us more introverted folks are made for relationships, and we cannot be well emotionally without participating in a few.

God knows this, which is why He “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6) and makes relationships the fabric of His Church.

As much as I wish it was the case sometimes, relationships are not optional. 

And given that relationships between two people are always relationships between two broken relaters, we’re going to find ourselves in relationships that are hard and messy and make us want to quit and move to the beach alone forever and ever, amen, far more often than we’d like.

Which is probably why the subtitle of the New Testament letters could be “How to Get Along with People in Ways that Make God Happy.”

Every one of Paul’s and Peter’s letters is brimming with instructions on how Christians are to relate to themselves, non-Christians, other Christians, and God, in a variety of different circumstances.

I’m not excited to report that I am currently in the middle of a great friendship that is going through a very not great rough patch. As I prayed about the situation this morning, I didn’t get any direction from God on what needs to occur next in this relationship. So I opened my Bible to read it in preparation for a Sunday School lesson my teacher would be leading me in a couple hours later.

We’ve been going through the whole book of 1 Peter, and it “just so happened” that we were going to be on chapter 4 today. And it “just so happened” that this morning I couldn’t remember which portion of chapter 4 we’d be learning about, so I decided to go ahead and read the whole thing.

In the letter Peter is encouraging believers who are experiencing severe persecution to live godly lives in the midst of their suffering. And in verse 8 Peter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

My eyes stopped and re-read that verse three or four times.

I pretended to not know how this instruction I “just so happened” to read had anything to do with my prayer for direction in a difficult friendship I had literally prayed 1 minute and 28 seconds prior to reading this verse.

I put on my best pensive face and said, “Lord, what do you mean? How does this verse apply to me right now?”

He didn’t even dignify those questions with a response.

I went to church and successfully avoided thinking about the verse 98% of the morning. But this afternoon I started praying about my struggling relationship again, and the verse popped right back in my mind. So I grit my teeth a little and said, “Ok, Lord, let’s look at this again.”

I opened my Bible and started reading 1 Peter 4 again. But this time verse 7 stood out to me in addition to verse 8. Verse 7 reads, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.”

I paused.

I had never considered that when we are not clear-minded and are out of control that we really can’t pray. But I think it’s true.

I was just telling the Lord prior to reading this verse that my friend and I are both out of control. We’re both very passionate people who have big emotions that can cloud our minds and blow our judgment out of the water.

And when I am in that kind of heightened emotional state, my prayers are hindered. I still pray…but my prayers are not usually efforts to understand what God is doing so much as they are efforts to tell God I want things to go differently than they are going.

And pushing my agenda on God is not an effective way to pray. Mostly because I am a moron who can’t discern a “good” plan from a “bad” one, meaning my agendas are usually not what’s best for me or anyone around me.

I need the Spirit to override the stupidity that comes with being fallen and to lead me into truth…the truth about what’s best for me and for others. That’s the purpose of prayer: to allow the Spirit to align my heart with God’s heart. And I just can’t go to God in prayer with a level-headed aim like that when I am not clear-minded and self-controlled.

I prayed verse 7 for my friend and me, and then I went on to verse 8.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

Above all.

Above all.

Loving each other deeply is more important than being clear-minded and more important than being self-controlled.

Hmm.

On the one hand, that sounds like good news for those of us who struggle with being clear-minded and self-controlled in the heat of emotions. If we can’t master those two things, maybe we can put all our energy into this most important thing and still come out all right…

But it’s really hard to love other fallen humans deeply without first having gained God’s heart for them through prayer. 

That Peter.

He’s not giving me a pass on the clear-mindedness and self-control. He’s not saying loving each other deeply trumps having clear-mindedness and self-control, so don’t worry about those last two.

He’s saying we have to be clear-minded and self-controlled so we can be strengthened by the Spirit through prayer to love each other deeply, the most important thing of all in relationships. 

Why?

Because love covers over a multitude of sins.

When we love each other deeply, we will still sin against one another. We will still blow it. We will still hurt each other. And when that happens, those things will still need to be addressed. But our deep love for one another will enable us to forgive quicker and get on with the business of loving one another all the more.

And when a watching world sees Christians who live this out–even and especially when we love/forgive/love over and over and over again–they see a picture of Christ. They see a picture of grace and mercy and redemption and unconditional love.

And isn’t that what we’re supposed to be known for?

Didn’t Jesus say, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” (John 13:34-35)?

Loving is hard. Relationships are hard. I have yet to ever be in any relationship of any value that didn’t have its rough patches…but when both parties commit to persevering through the hard times, both parties become better and better at loving one another deeply, above all.