While spending time this week thinking and praying over what to write, I was brought back to a conversation I’d had recently.
I was having a conversation with a friend, on a variety of things when they made a statement that stuck with me. We were talking about some recent decisions they’d made, and they said, “God already knows what I’m going to do and loves me anyways, so why does it matter?” This statement reminded me of another friend who made a similar statement that, “If God wants me to die from COVID, it doesn’t matter if I wear a mask or not.” I’ve actually had several conversations, over the past few weeks, where individuals are relinquishing accountability for their choices to God’s foreknowledge, (and in some cases believed fore-planning) of them. I want to share something with you today, that as I write, I pray it will be received in the spirit which it is intended.
God’s Omniscience does not affect our choices – our relationship with Him does.
Just because God knows us completely and knows all things, knows how we’ll react and respond, this does not excuse us from our accountability for the choices we make. God’s knowledge does not equate to His approval. We cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility on the basis that God knew we’d do it, and He let us do it anyway.
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Romans 6:1-2
God created us in His image, we chose another road. God sent Jesus to die, and redeem that decision, not so we could relinquish responsibility for our choices, bu so we could make better ones. Jesus showed us the way. He showed us how to live. As we read in Romans 6, God’s grace is not a license to drive off a cliff, it’s a get out of jail free card; for the mishaps of life – kind of like your auto insurance company’s accident forgiveness program. It’s there if you need it, but unnecessary if we practice good driving skills.
“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22-24
We all need accident forgiveness for the things that we’ve done. Here’s the rub, knowing that God knows we’ll do it, and knowing that God will forgive it, does not give us God’s permission for it.
Our choices can’t be ‘blamed’ on Gods foreknowledge and acceptance. That’s like saying it’s a parent’s fault that a child sneaks out of their bedroom at night to steal ice cream. The parent may expect it to happen, they’ve established rules and guidelines so the child knows they should not do it, but in the end the parent also knows that the stomach ache the child may feel in the morning may be the best way for them to learn. As a parent there are choices, I could prevent my child from making, but then how would they learn? Allowing them to make, and learn from their mistakes, does not mean I approve of them, it means I’m giving them the space to learn and grow.
The flip side of this coin however, is that my child’s relationship with me, and my relationship with God, can (and will) affect their choices. Demonstrating the way, reading the Bible and praying with them, teaching them how to make Godly choices, will help them make better choices.
How can we claim to know God, to know Christ and have a relationship with Him, if we don’t know His word? How can we claim to know God’s direction for our lives when we don’t go before Him in prayer? How can we claim to follow Christ when our words and actions degrade, demean and devalue ourselves and others?
Our relationship with God, and His son Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that can influence, affect and change our behaviors. Just like the single greatest influence on our children’s lives is their relationship with us. The single greatest influence on our Christian walk is our relationship with Christ.
We face down decisions every day, now more than ever our choices are so polarized that it seems almost impossible to chose wisely. The world is full of advice on what to do, what to think, how to act, who to believe, which side to chose and which side to hate. We keep looking to the world for answers, mostly because they are easy, plenty and familiar. When the stakes are highest and the decisions hardest we throw our hands in the air and claim, not my responsibility; God planned all this out, He knew what would happen, it’s His will, it’s His decision, doesn’t matter what I do.
Friends, it does matter what you do, you were given a will of your own, a chance to choose God or the World. God’s knowledge of you (like a parent who knows his child) does not absolve you from the responsibility to use the mind soul and strength that He gave you. Yes His grace is sufficient, but it is not an excuse.
Your relationship with Christ is the single largest influence on your choices; it can save, redeem, restore and complete you. Your choices, and the outcome of your life is a product of your relationship with Him. A relationship which is always present, unchanging and available when you decide to turn to Him.
Please help me share the good news of Jesus and how He can change our world!
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“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:21-26
Recently we did a lesson with our youth on spiritual gifts. We wrote them all out on pieces of paper. One side had the name of the gift and the other side had the definition of that gift. We taped them to the walls of our youth room, with only the name of the gift showing, and asked the youth to go and stand beside the one they feel best represents their gift.
I was not surprised that gifts like serving, helps, giving, mercy and hospitality remained vacant where those more well known and coveted gifts, wisdom, teaching, leading, evangelism, and apostleship each had one or two youth standing next to them.
In turn the youth would state why the felt they belonged with their identified gift, and then I asked them to turn the paper over, read the definition and then state if they still felt their choice to be true. In several cases we had a reshuffling of youth, however those seeming ‘less important’ gifts remained empty.
Paul is very clear when he shares with the Corinthian church that all gifts are from the same Spirit and all are from God. He goes on to say that all gifts are given for the common good (the church) and that we, together are one body. Each gift serving as a functioning piece of that body. Why then do we see some gifts as ‘better’ or ‘more important’ than other gifts?
Our church, like most if not all of yours, shuttered it’s doors for a time this spring due to COVID-19 and the subsequent public safety rules that were enacted. As churches around the world took a huge leap forward to provide virtual worship services, small groups, youth meetings and do whatever was possible to keep people connected, behind the scenes, church leaders were making plans for how to reopen.
Strangely enough, those plans did not rely heavily on the worship team performance, sermon topics or Sunday school teachings. Everything hinged on who would keep the church clean. Looking at the type and frequency of cleaning, what chemicals are best to use and what days it should take place; these discussions permeated church board meetings week after week. Who would step up to serve, to help and to give to support this ‘ministry’? The church reopening was hinged on those gifts that we consider ‘less important’.
We put out a call for help, and every Friday a small army of masked heroes arrived at the church to prepare it for Sunday services. They mopped, dusted, disinfected every surface. Their gifts made it so we could reopen.
Sunday morning another team of masked heroes arrived, those who would hold doors open, greet and seat the people of God. With smiling eyes and a joyful voice the welcomed people back to God’s house.
Early risers, sincere smiles, joyful hearts, strong backs, masked faces and gloved hands; their service, help, gifts and sacrifice made it possible for our church to not only gather, but to not invest large amounts of church funds into hiring a professional cleaning service.
Living through this pandemic has taught me many things, one of the more important lessons is that we are all one body. We all have God given gifts. Each gift is as important and valuable as another. The pandemic of 2020 has demonstrated, in no small way, that the gifts of service, helps, hospitality, giving and mercy are more needed now than ever. \
“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.”
I want to thank God for those people out there serving in their roles, in the medical field, education, transportation, law enforcement and fire prevention. Thank you to store clerks and mechanics and all those people who day after day get up, show up, give thanks and keep the Body moving forward. Without you, where would we be.
“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
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I want you to picture a plot of land. It’s tilled, clean, no weeds; as a gardener myself it’s a beautiful sight to behold. There is nothing so exciting and full of expectation as a ‘yet to be planted’ harvest. Imagine what God sees as He looks down at us. However, what God sees is not a perfect, clean, weedless, fertilized, field of soil.
“Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.'” Matthew 13:3-8
When God is sowing, He is throwing seed (His word) toward us, wherever we are. We may be on a lonely path, in a time of life where nothing is penetrating into our hearts. We may be in a rocky time of life, and because of the difficulties in life we are unable to maintain growth without the root. Perhaps the seed is sown while we are so focused on the things of this world, that we have no energy to focus on the things of God. Our desire for wealth, fame, position, choke out any desire we have for God. Then, sometimes, the Word is sown on good soil, where it will grow and flourish and produce abundant fruit.
The point being, God is always sowing. He is always calling out to us. He calls when we are not ready, kinda ready, think were ready and when we are actually ready. Any one of us have been every kind of soil at some point in our life. But God, (best words ever) keeps sowing. God never gives up, He never stops calling us, He is faithful in all He does.
“You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.” Psalm 139:1-6
God has also called us to be sowers. Christ called each of us who believe to reach out to all those who do not know Him. We are to reach out to ALL those who do not know Him. I have found that we have a tendency to reach out to those who we are most comfortable with. We reach out where we believe there will be the least resistance. We reach out to people like ourselves. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Matthew 5:46-47
What I found most inspiring in the parable of the sower; is that God continued to sow! He provided His word to everyone, everywhere no matter their condition, no matter their place in life. He didn’t discriminate in any way. Even knowing that some of the time the seed would not sprout, He continued to sow. God never gives up on us! He generously sends His Spirit to each of us, over and over and over again. He is constantly reaching out to bring us to Him.
Why then, are we stingy with our sowing? Are we worried about making people mad, offending someone, scaring them off, making a bad impression, losing a friend or just plain looking the fool? Everything that keeps us from walking like Jesus did, will fall away. We’ll look back one day and know all the times we stingily kept Christ to ourselves and the silly reasons we did it. We’ll also recognize that in the Kingdom, those reasons just don’t matter. How will we feel knowing that it was more important for us to be comfortable than to share Christ? We pick and chose who we think deserves our time as if we know better than God. We are called to sow not to judge.
We want to pick and chose where we sow the Word, we want to see growth, we want to stand proudly and say, “we did that.” But the truth is that God is the only reason any seed will grow, our job isn’t to identify the perfect place and time to plant, growth isn’t dependent upon us. Our job is to sow, and to sow generously. What happens to those seeds after that is up to Him. We may never see the results of the seeds we plant. We know that God’s word will always accomplish it’s purpose.
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
Sow generously, God will take care of the rest.
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We all know the rhyme, Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, all the kings horses, and all the kings men couldn’t put Humpty together again. The image of something so silly as an egg, sitting on a wall, falling down, and being smashed into an irreparable state, made us laugh as children, who would come up with such a sad silly story, without a happy ending?
Similarly, in Genesis we read a story about how all the people in the world spoke one language and how they came together to build a tower to ‘reach the heavens’ and ‘to make a name for themselves’. Like a silly round bottom egg sitting on a wall, their pride drove them to take actions which ultimately led to their being scattered across the world, unable to be unified as they once were. There was nothing that could bring them back together like that again, irreparably broken they went their separate ways.
“Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:1-9
God saw that the people, (all as a group), had great pride. Pride that drove them to believe themselves His equal. A pride that will continue to drive the human race to attempt feats that bring us renown, and make us feel godlike. “If as one people speaking the same language, they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” Throughout the Old Testament we find stories of the people of God, driven by pride, to take action in direct opposition to Him, serving only to glorify themselves.
Why would Humpty sit on the wall? To have the best view of the military parade passing by, to be seen as clever by attempting the impossible, balancing so precariously on a wall. We don’t know why he did it, we do know that he fell, and his pieces were so completely shattered that no one could repair the damage. Not even the people he sought so hard to impress.
This moment in Genesis, the people were of one mind, one language, working together for a common cause; the cause however was not God’s, it was their own. We as a race, instead of using our unity for good, wanted to use it to glorify ourselves and try to reach the heavens, we wanted to be god’s in our own right. Sound familiar, how many times in our history have we done something we thought was so smart, only to reap the horrible consequences of those actions? From that moment, we were scattered, never again to be so unified in purpose. “So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.” No longer able to communicate the people lost interest in their project and went their own separate ways.
What happens next you ask? Well, instead of working together we fought each other; for land, for money, for ‘love’, for every reason you can imagine. The unity we knew, the unity we were created to have, was destroyed by our pride.
God knew what we were capable of accomplishing together, we are, after all, made in His image. We have His capacity for love, compassion, joy, peace, hope, patience and kindness encoded into our very DNA. But pride won over.
Then one day everything changed. He provided a way for us to again be unified. Christ is our universal translator. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit demonstrated that when He came to indwell in the hearts of the Apostles and all those who would believe, we could again be unified in heart and purpose.
“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” Acts 2:2-4
From Babel to Pentecost, God did not provide us a way to reunite, doing so would only have led to the same outcome. Our lives being about us. But Christ’s selflessness and sacrifice brought us all together; Jews, Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free people. We are ALL united in Christ. The Holy Spirit speaks in and through all those who believe. God not only gave us the ability to be unified as His Church working together for one purpose, He also gave us the purpose.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
Babel to Pentecost; confusion to clarity, separation from God to unity in Christ. God’s plan reflects His character, He is Sovereign, loving and compassionate. His plans will never fade, fail or falter.
It was man’s choice to give into our pride, it was that pride that led to our confusion at Babel, it was God’s love and compassion that, through Christ’s sacrifice, we were again brought together and given a common purpose.
Yes, we all speak different languages, compounded exponentially by the number of people and cultures and countries that exist in our fragmented world today. But God (two of my FAVORITE words in the Bible) provided us a way, through belief in Christ, to come together. Will we use this blessing to serve His purpose, or our own.
I was driving to work this morning, on the rare occasion that I was not making multiple school drop stops. I was thinking through my day, and planning some upcoming events, praying and asking God for guidance and discernment. I pulled into my office parking lot about an hour earlier than normal and I got out of my car. To my surprise there was someone wrapped up in a sleeping bag lying on the sidewalk, blocking the door.
Complete transparency, I did not react the way I would have liked. My thoughts were uh oh, what now? They could be dangerous, they could be mean, they could yell at me if I disturb them…I could go around to the other door? Wait, I have to run to the store because I need to get flowers for one of my staff for their birthday. Ok God, I’ll go to the store and if they are still there when I get back, I’ll talk to them and see how I can help.
I went to the store, got the card and the flowers and returned to the office…yup they were still there. OK God, I’ll walk around to the other door and put all my stuff in my office, and come back down. If they are still there I’ll talk to them and see how I can help.
I went to my office and put my things down, and plugged in my computer. I grabbed my phone and my keys and walked down the stairs to the door…yup they were still there. OK God, I get it.
Trying to open the door, there was dead weight. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. I panicked, what if they were hurt, or sick or dead. “Excuse me, are you OK?” I Pushed the door a little more, “are you OK?” A man sat up, and began to apologize for being there.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to sleep that long, I’m so sorry it was just so cold last night.” He sat up and began to put on his shoes and continued to apologize. I noticed he didn’t have any socks as he put his shoes on. “Really I’m so sorry I’ll move, I was robbed and I have a job but they took my cell phone, I’m so sorry, really, I’ll go.”
I was so wrecked! “Please don’t be sorry, come inside and get warm the building is now open.”
“Really, thank you, my name is Tony.” He reached up his hand to shake mine, I took it.
Tony is down on his luck, he’d had a rough night and was cold. He just wanted to be warm and my response was fear, excuses and procrastination. I took a few minutes to talk with Tony, who was from Tucson and was coming home from California after his job had ended. He told me that each day since he got back things kept getting worse, the culmination was the previous day when he was robbed, loosing his lifeline to his job when his phone was taken. He was sober, articulate, appreciative and polite. After giving him some food, hot coffee and some money. He went on his way, to his job.
I’m not making any claims to the truth or validity of his story, but to mine. I was praying in the car for discernment on what youth curriculum to use, my parent’s upcoming anniversary party and whether to spend money on a new or used drum set for my son.
Tony slept in the cold, on the sidewalk out in the open, and had no socks. My response was not Jesus’, it was the worlds. As I began writing this, a Micah Tyler song came on. He sings:
How can we claim to be God’s hands and feet if we’re too afraid to step out of our own comfort zone? We pray for God to give us opportunities to reach people, to help in tangible ways, then when it happens we come up with every excuse.
God wouldn’t want me to do something dangerous. Didn’t God send Ananias to Saul, the self proclaimed destroyer of Jesus Disciples? (Acts 9:10-19)?
God wouldn’t ask me to jeopardize my standing at work. God was clear that all we do we should work as if for him not men. (Colossians 3:23)
God wanted me to meet Tony, to help him, but more than that to show me…yet again…that His will, His good and perfect will will never fall short of His glory. God loves all people, and not in an out there, for other people to act on, kind of way. Each and every person is precious to Him, so each and every person MUST be precious to us.
Regardless of what they’ve done, NO ONE is unredeemable! We are Jesus to this world, to every person we meet, it doesn’t matter if we like them or not, if they are rich, poor, clean, dirty, sick, healthy, young or old. That is who we are called to be, period!
The wold is full of Tony’s, full of people who need what we have, it’s time we shared with everyone.
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