Monday, October 20, 2014

Can You Pass the Jesus Test?

By Allen White

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?
2 Corinthians 13:5

When I was 16-years-old, I became a member of my home church in Topeka, Kansas. The membership application asked the expected questions about my salvation experience and whether I had been baptized. Then, it asked about whether I participated in the following:

1. Do you smoke or drink alcohol?
2. Do you go to movies?
3. Do you play cards or dice?

There might have been some other questions along those lines, but those are the ones that stand out to me. I happily responded that I did not participate in any of these evil activities. Fortunately, they didn’t ask about spiritual pride or self-righteousness. I wouldn’t have qualified for membership.

Most religious institutions are harder to join than God’s family. God isn’t so concerned with quality control. God is not worried about being embarrassed by us. God just loves us. His ace in the hole is grace. Grace keeps us. Grace helps us. Grace grows us. If salvation depended on human effort, then God would have plenty to worry about. Fortunately, He’s taken much of that out of the equation.

So, here’s the question: why did Paul challenge the Corinthians to examine themselves and determine whether they were in the faith? What is that test?

Here’s a possible test:

1. Am I depending on Christ for my salvation? (Ephesians 2:8-9)

2. Is the faith I profess based on the Word of God, the Bible? (Romans 10:17)

3. What evidence does my life give for my faith in Christ? (James 2:17-18)

If we feel that we pass that short test, then we should celebrate what we’ve received in Christ. We should embrace the fact that “Christ is in us.” The power that created the universe in a spoke word, the power that raised Christ from the dead, lives in you and me. What could stand in our way? What couldn’t be accomplished? What is God calling you to? Don’t be intimidated. Ask God to reveal His power in your life to fulfill His calling.

If you’re not sure that you passed the test, but you want to follow Christ, the solution is simple: ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and surrender the control of your life to Him. If you’re not sure how, then just pray the words from the last sentence: “Jesus, forgive me of my sins and take control of my life.” It’s as easy as that, yet profoundly radical.


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Sunday, October 19, 2014

We Should Worry If We’re Not Suffering

By Allen White

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12

“We should be worried if we’re not suffering,” according to Francis Chan, the author of Crazy Love and The Forgotten God. If we fit into our culture so well that there is no friction between the way we live and the way the world lives, this is cause for concern. Have we been squeezed into the world’s mold? (Romans 12:2)

In my single days, I watched a lot of television…a lot. I didn’t realize how much television influenced me until after I got married and stopped watching as much television. Suddenly, television didn’t have the same appeal. After time passed, I went back and watched a few shows that I hadn’t seen for years. I was surprised by the language they used and the things they poked fun at. I was disturbed by what these programs portrayed. But, I was even more disturbed by the fact that I used to watch these programs and think nothing of it. I was the frog in the kettle. I was sliding down the slippery slope. Unaware.

Now this is not an effort to become some sort of goodie two shoes, holier-than-thou jerk. We don’t need any more of those. The point is that we were made for another place far from this world (Philippians 3:18-20). If we work hard to fit in with the world, then we have lost our reason for being.

The prophets of old followed God’s calling for their lives, and they suffered for it. Most of us would say, “Great. I thought that living in obedience to God would make our lives easier.” Here’s the news: following Christ is a harder path, but it’s a better path. It’s the path of salvation. At times, it’s not comfortable. At times, we suffer because of it. But, in the end, we become more like Christ.

Peter told us, “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:12-13). This is the part that we’d rather skip. These are the pages of our Bibles that we would prefer to have left stuck together. But, it’s also a bit of a relief, because some of us are going through some stuff, and it’s good to know that God hasn’t forgotten us and that our pain has a purpose.

No one’s life is easy. My life isn’t easy. Neither is yours. Our purpose on earth is not to have an easy and comfortable life. But, finding and fulfilling our life’s purpose is more satisfying than comfort or ease.

As I was walking over the Liberty Bridge this morning on my way to write, I spotted a plant growing in a difficult circumstance over the Reedy River Falls. It’s a non-native plant. A gardener didn’t plant it here. It just began to fulfill its purpose: to grow roots for nourishment and to reach out to the sun. There would be much easier places to grow, but this was the spot where this plant grew. It didn’t really have a choice.

We are not called to live someone else’s life. We are not given a life that is problem-free. We are blessed.

How is your life blessed despite your circumstances? How has God given you joy and peace in the middle of trouble? Thank God for His blessings in your life.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Persecuted for Being a Jerk

By Allen White

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Matthew 5:11

I knew a woman years ago who was a chronic complainer. She didn’t feel like anything in her life ever went right. Even her tone of voice betrayed this attitude.

If you’ve ever watched the movie Monsters, Inc. (you’ve either never seen it or you’ve seen it 5,000 times), there is a character named Roz, who was the clerk of the company. She would say in a drowl tone, “You didn’t turn in your paperwork.” This chronic complainer that I’m talking about sounded just like Roz. For the sake of this devotional, we’ll call her “Roz.” I wouldn’t want to give her something else to complain about.

Roz complained about her kids, her church, her life, her health and her job (substitute teacher) – things were going nowhere good. She didn’t seem to ever have a good day.

One day in a class at church, she launched into complaining about the school district and how they were against her because she was a Christian. They didn’t call her to sub as much as she would like. They treated her poorly. They acted like they didn’t even like her. She felt that she was being persecuted because of Christ. She asked if the class would please pray for the spiritual battle she was facing.

Then, someone in the class suggested that maybe she was being “persecuted” for being a jerk. The amazing thing was that she took those words to heart and immediately changed her ways. She saw herself as the source of many of her problems and accepted responsibility for her actions. Roz suddenly became a delight to be around. People couldn’t get enough of her. Okay, that didn’t happen.

So now, she was being “persecuted” by her own church. Roz eventually left the church and joined another church where she could celebrate her glass being half-full with other persecuted jerks.

Who are you? Is there spiritual warfare happening around you because of Christ (Ephesians 6:12)? Or are you in a tough spot because your actions and attitudes have created a tough spot? I must admit that I have been Roz more than I’ve been like Christ.

The blessing doesn’t come from receiving the consequences that we deserve. Blessing comes from belonging to Christ.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The High Cost of Being Normal

By Allen White

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:10

Most of us are very comfortable living in the norm. Granted, we would all consider ourselves to be slightly better than the average Joe, but we prefer to not be extremely ahead or extremely behind. Slightly ahead of the middle is where we like to live.
No one wants to be considered extreme.

But, then we pick up a book like Crazy Love by Francis Chan, and we wonder, “Am I even a Christian at all?” Then, we put that book down and go back to reading something that feels a little more average. Now, we feel much better…a little Chicken Soup for our Souls. We’ll just keep a safe distance from the Tabasco for our souls.

But, here’s where we make the mistake. Jesus said we are blessed when we are persecuted because of righteousness, not self-righteousness. I believe that the self-righteous should be persecuted, but they aren’t blessed. That system needs to break down. Self-righteousness stands in the way of God’s grace, His blessing, and His presence in our lives.

Now, in this age of tolerance, Christians are to be tolerated for their faith as long as they keep it to themselves. Once your deal begins to interfere with my deal, the gloves come off. Don’t go trying to help people. Get back in the middle. It’s safer. It’s cozy in here. Don’t get all “Francis Chan” on us. That line could make us laugh, but what if the sentence was “Don’t get all ‘Jesus Christ’ on us”? Ouch. This is why the middle is safer.

No one wants to be persecuted. We don’t. In America, there’s not much persecution going on anyway. I know that there have been lawsuits over displaying the Ten Commandments. But, what if instead of displaying the tablets on our lawns, we displayed them in our lives? Organized prayer has been removed from schools. I prayed in school all of the time. And, it wasn’t lead by a non-Christian faculty member. But, these are merely token things.

Is anyone in prison because of their faith like Paul was? Not that I know of. I’m not saying that I want to go to prison like Paul. If I did, I would not be like Joseph, that’s for sure.
The reward for persecution because of righteousness is the kingdom of heaven. The reward for living in the middle of the pack is mediocrity.

Now, please don’t take this as a license to be a jerk. You’re on your own with the persecution that comes from that. But, where do you need to take a stand? When do you need to redirect a conversation, even among God’s people?

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church

By Allen White

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. 1 Corinthians 4:3-5

Several years ago, Dean Merrill wrote a book called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church.” He spoke about the evangelical culture and its presumed mission to condemn the wrongs of an ungodly world rather than to share the Good News. His point was that the battle was not in the political arena or over the airwaves, but rather the battle was in the hearts and minds of men and women in a lost world.

Ungodly people act in ungodly ways because they don’t have God in their lives. If a sinner sins, then he has done his job. We would be right there with them if we didn’t have God in our lives.

Paul points out that believers are ill-equipped to judge others. In fact, believers aren’t adequately suited even to judge themselves. We don’t have all of the information. We don’t understand others’ motives. Often, we don’t understand our own motives. Paul certainly didn’t have a grasp on his (Romans 7:14-16).

We may never understand why people do what they do. Sometimes they don’t even understand themselves. But, what we don’t understand shouldn’t keep us from being understanding toward them. We don’t have to agree with them. We don’t have to change them. God calls us to love them. The judgment is left up to God.

God is the only one who understands why we do what we do. God knows our hearts. We don’t (Psalm 139:23). God knows our motives. We’re not even clear on that sometimes. God loves us, and He would much rather reconcile with us than judge us.

Who are you tempted to judge? It’s not our place to pronounce final judgment on anyone. “But, they will never change.” We don’t know that, but what we do know is that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37; ESV).

Let this be our prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart;test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24, NLT).

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Can You Live in Peace with Everyone? Really?

By Allen White

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

Live at peace with everyone – as far as it depends on you. For some people, we might wonder “How far do we need to be away from some people? A thousand miles?”

No one wants to embrace difficult people. They’re just so…difficult. We all have them. God has puts difficult people in our lives for us to learn to love. God has also put them there to do a little work on us. Now, if you’re thinking, “I don’t really have any difficult people in my life.” Well, guess what? It’s probably you!

When we encounter difficult people, the temptation is for us to be difficult in return. While we might feel justified by the situation, we can easily see that this will lead to no place good. Think about this: what if the people who bring out the worst in us are God’s tools for refining our character. Our problems and problem people are our teachers. Our impulse is that often we want to skip school.

If you’re still reading, you understand that these are not popular thoughts. Our prayers for difficult people, typically, are either that God would change them or remove them. Be honest. It’s true. But, our goal is not to be comfortable. God’s job is not to insulate us from the problems of the world. Jesus predicted trouble (John 16:33). Jesus’ life involved many difficult people: Judas, Herod, Pharisees, Sadducees, and the High Priest to name a few. He had some pretty despicable and powerful enemies. Jesus’ heart was always toward reconciliation.

Who is the difficult person who stands out in your life right now? What thoughts, attitudes and actions does this relationship evoke in you? You are being squeezed. What’s coming out? Rather than focusing on the difficulty of the difficult person, ask God how He plans to use this circumstance to refine your character.

If your difficult person is abusive or is threatening your safety, do not stay in that situation. Contact your church or a safe friend. Get help. Get out. Then, work from there.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

God’s Heart Toward You

By Allen White

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

God’s will for you and for me is reconciliation. God wants us to be reconciled to Him. He wants us to be reconciled to each other. Ultimately, God wants all of creation to be reconciled and restored (Romans 8:22-23).

God’s heart is not toward judgment, although that is a tool to move us toward reconciliation. As long as we have breath in our bodies, God doesn’t give up on anybody.

Reconciliation is not just God’s work, however. He has given believers the “ministry of reconciliation.” So, let me ask you this: how’s your ministry going? How much reconciliation are you seeing these days?

The key to reconciliation is found in God’s actions: “not counting men’s sins against them.” Don’t get me wrong. Sin is costly. Our sin cost Jesus His life. So, here’s the tension – you can’t count someone’s sins against them and be reconciled to them. Remember, “love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5).

When we are upset with someone, what do we think about? We usually go to every bad thing that they’ve ever done. Sometimes we think that they’ve messed up so many times that maybe they can’t do anything right. But, let’s be realistic, the only “person” who has never done anything good and only does evil all of the time is the devil. (Now you might be thinking – “Yes, and that’s who I’m dealing with.” No, you’re not.)

As a step toward reconciliation, we need to force ourselves to go to a place where our minds don’t typically go when we’re upset: what has this person done right? What is good about them? What do we love about them? Come on, even a broken clock is right twice a day. There’s got to be something. Start here: they’ve never killed a guy (that we know of)…

Deal with the matter at hand. Don’t blow the dust off of two days or 20 years worth of woes. Start with the latest one, and then go from there.

God values reconciliation above being right. If we want our lives to please God, then we need to become ambassadors of His peace through reconciliation with others.


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