a proselyte’s progress

The reading plan I’m working through has me in Exodus right now, and a week or two ago I was in Exodus 18.

I’ve read this passage before, but this most recent review made me think of it in a new way. The chapter begins with Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) and Moses’ family reuniting with Moses (and the Israelites).

Moses testifies to Jethro about the things God has done (v. 8) and we see, what I believe, is Jethro’s conversion!

Jethro believes in the one true God because his heart is convinced and then he confesses his faith (vv. 9-11). The next thing he does is praise and worship God with offerings and sacrifices (v. 12).

Shortly after that, Jethro gets involved in ministry (vv. 14-23). Then he returns to his homeland. I ASSUME he continued proclaiming the truth about the Lord from then on, and we know he was in community with those around him already!

I just thought this was a cool snapshot of the progression that happens in the lives of those who are saved by God. I know the order of things might come a little differently post-conversion, but many key elements are present: conversion, worship, community, service and proclamation!

If Exodus 18 had only included Jethro sitting down for a Bible study, we could package this system as “Jethro’s Journey: What To Do Now That You’re Saved!” Heh

“How’s that cross feel?”

I was having a conversation with some fellow seminarians recently that got me thinking (believe it or not). This group of classmates was a mix of vocational ministers and laypeople and we were all discussing a recent trip to one of Houston’s megachurches.

During our trip to this megachurch, the senior pastor led some sessions on how and why they do church the way they do. Many of his points were discussion worthy, but the one that I want to address here is his statement(s) about small groups in homes. He, if I understood him correctly, basically said that studying the Bible in homes does not work on a big scale.

I think the heart of his argument was that it’s difficult to provide quality Bible teaching in an environment that is conducive to learning on a convenient schedule that fits the lives of SEVERAL families. (Enough qualifiers there?)

What seemed to stand out to me and some of my classmates was the idea that groups in homes are hard, so they “don’t work” and we shouldn’t pursue them. At least one of my classmates echoed the “megapastor’s” sentiments that home groups pose too many problems logistically to be very effective.

This made me wonder, “What about Acts 2?” and “When did anyone ever say discipleship would be easy?” The message of Scripture, and especially of Jesus was that following Him would be difficult, painful and most likely inconvenient. Where did we lose that along the way? (Maybe I should remember from Church History…)

It’s as if we’ve become tailors fitting Christians for the crosses they’re to bear, “How’s that feel? Nice and snug, but not too tight? Let me know if it’s uncomfortable and we’ll change it. We want you to feel the support and comfort of the cross, but not the suffering or persecution.”

Hear me, I’m not arguing for self inflicted pain or asceticism. But it seems like a lot of church “strategy” is focused on making discipleship easier for people to embrace and fit into their lives. I know that we need to find ways to engage the culture, but I also know that we’re not called to easy street in Luke 9:23.

Hear me again when I say I’m guilty of the very thing I’m indicting here. I just sense a dangerous trajectory in ministry that I’m sure has been around for years.

And I don’t want people to lose sight of the fact that ministry and discipleship will probably be messy and will often be hard.

Jesus warned us:

Luke 14:25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

I know I haven’t experienced a fraction of the persecution that I’ve read and heard about, so I hope to not offend those who have from where I sit. I simply wanted to put out a reminder and a caution.

When Jesus said “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30), I believe He’s referring to our Spiritual efforts. The work there is finished (John 19:30)! Hallelujah! Jesus has done the heavy lifting for us!

But following Him while on Earth isn’t an effortless piggy-back ride as we seek to proclaim His great gospel with our lives. The commandments to love God with all that we are and our neighbors as ourselves aren’t just mental exercises (Luke 10:27).

love is a choice, but it’s not an option

I’ve had a lot of thoughts about love recently, because of several factors. Namely because I’m engaged to be married in March, I’m taking a seminary class that is covering marriage and family, and Valentine’s Day just passed. With this “perfect storm” of love-related activities, my sensitivities to “love” in the world around me have been heightened!

For instance, I heard a brief portion of a song on the radio the other day that was celebrating the frivolous escapades of youth and it made me laugh at (and probably self-righteously judge) what many people label as “love.” The relationships I am talking about are not lasting. There is no real substance to them and definitely not any real commitment. And yet, the parties involved feel that their emotions are so strong and real that it must be true love!

I know that when I decided to propose it was because I had a peace and strong conviction that I was ready to commit my life to my now fiancée. It’s a choice, but it’s also a commitment (meaning the choice is a final say, not to be rescinded). I believe this mentality is lacking from most of the world today. Not that I’ve cornered the market on covenant-keeping, but I understand the theory of the responsibility.

In the class I’m taking that deals with marriage and family, an idea from Gary Thomas’ Sacred Marriage really stood out to me. Thomas writes that if a person ever says they cannot love their spouse any more, they are basically choosing disobedience to God’s commandments. In Scripture we read that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25, 28, 33) and we read how wives are to love their husbands. In addition to these direct remarks on marriage, my wise professor pointed out that ALL believers are called to love one another (1 John 4:7), their neighbors as themselves (Mark 12:31) and, even if the marriage is really in trouble, their enemies (Luke 6:35).

So love, for the Christian, is not an option. It’s a command. Even, or dare I say especially, in the marriage relationship, because it’s a vow made in the name of God Himself.

I hope I’m not talking out of turn because I’m inexperienced, but I hate to see broken marriages. I know that God is a God of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19), and He demonstrates this in His great plan of redemption for sinners. His love is not conditional (Psalm 100:5 & Romans 5:8). He is committed to loving us and desires that we commit to love others. He loves us when we don’t deserve it and we should love others in the same way.

I’ve heard of real-life couples where one spouse suffers a great tragedy and the other spouse chooses to either stay in or leave the relationship. In fact the recently released movie and preceding book, The Vow, are based on a real-life couple like that. You can see in the trailers that the husband commits to trying to save the relationship even though his wife doesn’t remember him. He commits to woo her again because he vowed to provide for and support her and love her. Apparently the real-life couple was really disappointed that their faith wasn’t highlighted or even mentioned in the film (WARNING, there are spoilers in this article).

There are other very strong examples on both sides of this. I know of people who have stood by their disabled spouses and some who have chosen not to. I can’t imagine being in their situations, but I am always encouraged by those who remain and disheartened by those who do not. I think those that stay very powerfully demonstrate the faithfulness of God by living out faithfulness on earth.

On a different note, too many people try to justify breaking their vows because they “fall out of love” or “drift apart.” But wedding vows shouldn’t be subject to those kinds of emotions or felt needs. They should be cemented in a commitment to love others because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).

It’s that overarching principle that supersedes the marriage relationship. Consider your “ability” to love others. Is there anyone in your life that you think you can’t love? Scripture doesn’t give us that option. This is particularly true within the Church (Galatians 6:10).

Think about this (and I know I’ve written this before):

If the Holy Spirit of God indwells every believer, how can He NOT get along with Himself? God has given us a spirit of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). If we find ourselves “incapable” of love, then, it’s because we’re lacking that spirit or just being disobedient.

Like I said, I don’t have this down pat, but I am SO thankful that God’s love for me is unconditional and eternal, and I hope that I can become a more consistent reflection of that love toward others.

sleeping with the enemy

in 1 Samuel 27, david is on the run from saul (again) and decides to take refuge in the land of his (and God’s) enemy, the philistines. he cozies up to them and finds favor with them.

now, david does some scheming against the philistines while there, but the fact that he sought refuge (protection, comfort, etc.) in the land of the philistines got me thinking about what believers do when we fear earthly threats and stop trusting God.

we run into the arms of our (and God’s) “enemy.” we run to sin. and sin is desirable. it’s pleasurable. to an extent, it’s comforting. that’s one of the reasons that it “so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1).

it’s comforting because our flesh has been trained by our sinful nature. our flesh takes comfort in sin. paul rants about this in Romans 7:16-25. he says that he keeps doing the thing he hates, but that it’s not him that does it. how can this be? well, i believe he’s referring to the truth that, in Christ, he’s a new creation. he has a new nature. his sinful nature is gone. so it’s not really “him” that is desiring sin, because the real him is a new creation in Christ. his flesh is the sin “in him” that he refers to. it’s the flesh, conditioned by our old nature, that desires the things contrary to righteousness.

this is the constant battle of the Christian walk, denying the flesh and submitting to the Spirit. paul prescribes that for us clearly in Galatians 5:16-17.

so when we are in need of protection and comfort we should rely on the promises of Deuteronomy 33:27 and Psalm 46 where we read that God is our refuge. this is where our comfort and protection truly exist.

(un)great expectations

i’m currently reading gary thomas’ sacred marriage. i had hopes of reading it because of my impending marriage, but it is also required reading for a class i’m taking in seminary!

my fiancée and i often joke about my constant “warnings” for her to lower her expectations about our marriage, so i thought it was funny when i went to tell her what i’ve found the main theme of the book to be, early on.

thomas sets the foundation for the book in the idea that we shouldn’t seek fulfillment in our spouses, because only God can ultimately fulfill us. the gist, you see, is to lower your expectations of your spouse, ha! (in the godliest sense, of course.)

in all sincerity, i am simultaneously excited and marked by what i hope is a healthy fear. i am super excited to be marrying danielle, but i don’t want to enter this commitment lightly.

going from living alone for the last 10 years to marrying someone is gonna turn my “fortress of solitude” lifestyle upside down! i am definitely excited for the changes and trust that the Lord will give us both the necessary patience as He uses us to sanctify each other for the rest of our lifetimes! (whenever i do something stupid, i just remind danielle that i’m aiding in her sanctification! i kid, i kid.)

just like salvation and my calling to ministry, i do not feel worthy of the blessing i’ve received in danielle. alas, i proceed with great expectations!

plus, just think of all the sermon illustrations i’ll get out of this!