The Trail We Blaze: 4 Convictions for 2020 (Part 2)

After unlocking my first two convictions in ‘part 1‘, I want to conclude this mini-series with two more (despite the fact they are three months overdue – my apologies).

In the spirit of ‘better now than never’…let’s dive in!

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  1. Know you are known.

One of my biggest vices is wanting to be understood…

…the thought that if people just gave me time, be it quality time, time to speak or time to adjust, they’d like what’d they see.

However, as I’ve recently rediscovered: The problem with this mindset is it sets unfair expectations, fuels ego, and fixes identity on satisfied love languages. 

As Scripture attests, a pure desire to be known strays once it seeks to self-satisfy (Romans 8:5-8; Galatians 5-6 MSG). Like a stealthy narcissism, a warped desire to be known is not only egocentric but often can’t function without pride or manipulation. Even if the pride is silent, it can still hinder relationships through the anticipation of self-preservation and withdrawal. Consequently, if we cater to this type of insecurity, it shouldn’t surprise us to find ourselves sealed in cynicism and complacency.

As for the corollary, one of the best ways we invest in others is not preemptively burdening them with a want to be understood. Take it from one who has failed at this time and time again:

If there’s ever a way to trust God as more than enough, it’s through our ‘loved by God’ identity and our ‘love one another’ commission.

Don’t ever put yourself behind the ‘8 ball’ in fear others will set you there first. Instead, cast all fears and anxieties (Psalm 55:22, 1 Peter 5:7 ESV) before they take root knowing God gets you, what you’re going through, and what’s best for you. Trust the Lord will provide the social desires of your heart and focus your mind on loving Christ through serving His people. Surely the arm of the Lord will be with you and enlighten the right minds at the right time along the way.

Bottom line: The human heart wasn’t just made to be known and loved; it was made known and already loved.¹

After all, we were known before we were formed (Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13-16 ESV) and created for intimacy in a way only God could understand (1 Corinthians 14:2 MSG). ²

As the Psalmist declares…

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Yet, even there, “you desired faithfulness…and taught me wisdom in that secret place.” ~ Psalm 139:13, Psalm 51:6 (ESV)

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  1. Discern the Why’s and the Ways of God

Whoever said Stephen King has been writing ‘2020’ couldn’t have been more accurate.

In a year featuring a global epidemic, killer tornadoes, police brutality riots, and economic recessions, the narrative has been turbulent to say the least.

Yet, despite the political and social unrest, there have been silver linings: Families coming together, spouses maturing in awareness, enterprise and liturgy finding new creative ways to connect and serve. Honestly, the list is longer than you think.

Hence, I’ve been wondering if part of God’s plan for 2020 is to start healing our land from the inside-out. Yeah, yeah, I get why some might think God is wanting to make us more uncomfortable. Like many, I’ve heard the ‘shake, not break’ sermons. But the way I see it, to stop there would be deceiving.

‘Cause truth is: While God may be exposing our privileged mentalities and independencies, His end goal is to perfect our hearts in the abidings of His love and draw us closer to glory. Accordingly, if you’ve felt the divine pruning or sensed the Spirit shaping your reliance, by all means, rejoice and receive God’s work in your life. Don’t waste time focusing on what you lack, but rather in faith, inquire without expectation the ways and why’s of God.

As John 14-16 reminds us…

…to ask of Him is not to be entitled, but to know you’re entrusted.

Even though you may feel pigeon-holed in this time, remember whenever you’re stuck in the corners of life, the only way to go – the only place to look – is up. In every journey, there are fires, conflicts, and forks in the road. But ultimately, the same God who fashioned you is the same God in the thick of your tribulations and decision-making. All the more reason to cherish 2020 knowing God as author, answer, and strength is in it.

Bottom line(s): 1) Know where your help and healing come from. 2) Pursue the bonus opportunities God is directing you to. 3) Embrace the burn as you yearn, the unseen in quarantine. 4) Remember that “God entrusts [you] with a bit of His extraordinary.” ~ Lana Christian

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” ~ John 16:13-15 (ESV)

“‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear. This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.” ~ Haggai 2:5-7 (ESV)

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Per David, it’s interesting to note how godly sorrow and godly happiness points back to our ‘loved by God’ identity. If we’re to learn anything about the man after God’s own heart, it’s how to center faith, hope, and love through the emotion of our worship.
  2. Put another way, we were made by love with love for love.
Cover photo creds: DesiringGod.com

The Road Less Traveled By: A SOAP Study on John 4

Written 2/15/14; revised 6/1/20

Back when I was a young buck studying the Word, I had a bad habit of downplaying settings. Geography, time, historical backdrops…I figured by skimming the peripherals, I’d discern the passage more quickly without distraction.

However, as I now know, when we consider the Scriptures, we find every word, pronoun, and article carrying strategic purpose and placement.

Take John 4 for instance…

In this chapter, not only do we find Jesus ministering to a woman at a well but [literally] going the extra yard in finding her.

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Yet, before the encounter takes place, we’re given important context retroactive to John 3:22-23:

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized.” 

This in mind, let’s flash-forward to John 4:1-5:

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.”

In these two passages, we’re given three regions as backstory to John 4: Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. With Galilee and Samaria, we’re given specifics; with Judea, the reference is less clear. Still, we have enough detail to discern the relationship between the communities.

Note the maps below as they will come in handy in a minute…

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Going back to v. 2, we find Jesus leaving Judea for Galilee from a somewhat debatable departure point. Assuming Jesus started where John was baptizing, we can deduce Sychar not only as a sensible midpoint but a contrast to how Jews traveled given the cultural climate between them and the Samaritans (see black/white graphic above). While traveling through Sychar made sense in terms of mileage, it’s only fair to wonder:

Why Jesus did go there in the first place?

To answer this, we’ll need to examine two more components…

  1. Relational dynamics

  2. The timeline

Relational Dynamics: Back in Jesus’ time,  it was culturally unacceptable for a Jew to enter a Samaritan town. As we see in the Good Samaritan parable, Samaritans were widely considered half-breeds (half-Gentile, half-Jew). If a Jew was departing Jerusalem on route to Galilee, he likely would have traveled east of the Jordan to avert Samaria (a difference of a marathon give or take); however, in Jesus’ case, he took the road less traveled by for two reasons:

1) To shatter the mold of social norms through his message of unity.

2) To share the Good News and preview the Spirit as part of an emerging worship culture (more on this in a future post).

The Timeline: Additionally, we must consider the timing of this passage as v. 6 indicates:

 “Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.”

Again, it’s worth wondering why John would emphasize a topical detail like the “sixth hour”. At first glance, one would think the “sixth hour” to be 6:00 am; however, according to the Jewish clock, the “sixth hour” would have, in fact, been 12:00 pm. Like the location, the ramifications of this observation is significant. If Jesus arrived at noon, then he would have appeared during ‘peak heat’ – a time when many were indoors. With well activity peaking during dawn hours, had Jesus wanted to preach, he would have needed to arrive in the morning or evening. Accordingly, one must wonder: Did Jesus arrive at random or did he time his journey to Sychar? 

In short, ‘yes’, Jesus had every intention of meeting the woman exactly when he did; however, the longer answer integrates the ‘why‘, specifically why Jesus came to inspire this particular woman at this particular time in light of her history (v. 16-19).

Based on these verses, I submit the ‘why‘ is as follows…

Jesus came to change a woman’s life through the revelation of his divinity so she could inspire a town through the revelation of his compassion.

As the Spoken Word attests, Christ so loved this woman at the well, he couldn’t help but transform her from an ostracized outcast to a victorious vessel. From the very beginning, this woman had been tapped to speak life into a cultural revolution. And now here she was – once an adulteress, now a mouthpiece with testimony and a message to share. If that’s not the Kingdom, I don’t know what is.

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Bottom line 1: When we consider Christ’s intentionality, his strategy to free this woman from bondage and ignite her hope through his identity, how can we not get excited? Like Jesus, we should want to restore life amidst the broken hearts and dreams we encounter. We should want to ignite change in those who doubt their worth. But above all, we should want to accept the call to lead others to a greater understanding of who God is. Because at the end of the day, God’s love is contagious and captures why we’re here: To encourage the discouraged, to be salt and light, to be unity in community, and stir love as the root of faith.

As the story concludes, the woman accepts Christ, his prophetic declaration (v. 21-24), and fearlessly saves many Samaritans as a result:

“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.‘ After the two days he departed for Galilee.” ~ John 4:39-43 (ESV)

Not bad for an ex-social leper who wasted years trying to find her identity in relationships and social status.

Bottom line 2: Scenic and demographic details are valuable in studying the ministry of Christ. As this chapter reminds us, God can use the lowliest of men to sow the highest good for His glory and in bringing communities closer to Jesus. As for being that catalyst of change in your arenas of influence/expertise, dare to seek God like no one else so you can live intentionally like no one else. By believing God has established your steps, you can trust him to help you get to where you need to be even if it’s mean a few extra minutes or miles along the way.

Selah.

Looking ahead, I will look to build upon this post by examining the worship culture aspect of John 4. I’ll also break down what the ‘radical middle’ (i.e. living in Spirit and in Truth) looks like as present-day Kingdom agents in the marketplace.

‘Til then, you got this.

~ Cameron

Cover photo creds: Million-Wallspaper.com

 

Wading for God: A SOAP Study on Romans 15:1-7

Note: Usually I separate the observations and applications when writing these SOAP Bible studies; however, I believe the following observations are better attached to their respective applications in light of the content. While normally I  flesh out marketplace implications, due to word count, I’m allowing the pod above (and future pods) to cover this piece.

Scripture: Romans 15:1-7 (MSG)

Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’ That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!

Observations/Applications:

1. I like how the Message captures Paul’s heart in v. 1:Strength is for service, not status.” For one thing, it quickly defines what strength is designed for while contrasting it to the contrary. I might even add ‘skill’ to the ‘not list’ given our culture’s way of synonymizing strength to societal contributions. Still, it’s imperative we grasp what Paul is stating: We are strong in Christ meaning we’re strong in faith and in our conviction to persevere in weakness. Internally, this can mean accepting God’s grace without debate; externally, this can mean patiently enduring with shortcomings outside of our control. Regardless of how this looks, we must be thorough in translating faith to action since many practice truth in theory without it correlating to tangible care. For instance, some forgive without saying the words while others are easily content being willing to help without actually helping. Perhaps this is why in v. 2, Paul is straight-up straightforward: “Let each one of us [make it a practice to] please his neighbor for his good, to build him up spiritually.”

2. If there’s one main concern I have about the church (and the Christians in them), it’s how we have programs to reach people, yet avoid people’s troubles in fear of not being able to handle them. One could say we want to win souls for the Kingdom without having to address their warts and worries along the way.

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Yet, as Paul emphatically states, in v. 3, “That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.” Put another way, He took on the troubles of the troubled and that in a nutshell is how we should approach the communal aspect of our evangelism and discipleship.

Galatians 6:1-3 (MSG) captures this beautifully:

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”

3. The dance between the Message and Amplified translations in v. 4 is fascinating:

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope and overflow with confidence in His promises.

Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next.”

For starters, we don’t just endure through the Word; we encourage through it. Likewise, we don’t just read the Word to stay alert; we study the Word to inspire diligence and vigilance. After all, for counsel to exist, there must be a community of ‘two or more’ gathered (Matthew 18:20) where confidence and trust can be shared maturing in God’s promises. Furthermore, while it’s important to be ready for the ‘next’, we can’t get there if we’re not loving in the now with apparent hope. This is why trust isn’t an individual exercise, but a corporate pursuit. To be on mission with Christ is to co-mission with each other. All the more reason we should embrace weakness as our endurance, encouragement, and counsel strengthen and builds up the body.

4. Finally, in v. 5-7, we see the purpose of endurance and encouragement captured in one word: Harmony. To have harmony is to have unity. And like the early church in Acts, God desires these gifts to help us be of one mind and one heart…according to Christ Jesus. But how do we achieve this in a way the words resonate at our core? In short, Paul gives us a template in these verses:

May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as  Jesus gets along with us all…so reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory.” 

Again, it’s interesting to note how many facets of God’s nature can’t exist in a vacuum or isolation. Case and point: “glory” – the very last word of this passage reminding us why all of this matters. As for how we experience glory, many would say righteousness, walking the walk, living out the truth we declare and believe, etc. But honestly, this is more how we posture ourselves to glory. To encounter it, we must seek the Lord as we reach out and welcome one another to where He is. Doing this implies love and as we know from 1 Peter 4:8, love covers a multitude of sins and seeks the best for others. Accordingly, as we’re inviting people to glory one step at a time, let’s embrace weakness as pressing into Jesus regardless of our circumstances. If we’re actively pursuing freedom and healing from strongholds and helping others do the same, no question we’ll inspire Scripture to come alive in people.

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Prayer:

Lord, we thank you for your goodness, your grace, your capacity to redeem and restore. We thank you for the golden opportunities and divine appointments you’ve been setting up around the world in recent months. We declare our joy and satisfaction in your ways and purposes. But now, Lord, we ask you to forgive us for not taking our faith seriously, specifically in the areas of relying on your strength and for helping others as we see fit, not as you see fit. We say it is you, God, who makes us fit, who equips us for good works and establishes our steps for them to happen. I know in my case I have hidden behind the quarantine at times and avoided being available to lick wounds from past resentments. I admit there have been times I’ve prioritized my perception of healing, basing it in distance from people and the absence of personal errors and wrongdoings toward me. But I’m gripped, oh God, by how you pursue us regardless of the trouble we’re in. I’m amazed how you’ve orchestrated the Scriptures through the passage of time for our benefit. As such, we choose to wait for you as you wade in for us and choose to lean on you as the rock of ages who never forsakes us. Even though we may not see the evidence of maturity and growth in every place in our lives, we ask God you help us rely on your steady counsel as our source, our refuge, and our strength. We choose to make peace with our brothers and sisters, with those who disagree with your ways and who criticize without compassion. We choose to not be disheartened by the evidence of disunity. Instead, show us the way to harmony and maturity in dealing with those who are lost, whether by faith, in character or in their understanding of you. After all, at every point in our lives, we are lost without you one way or another. Why not be warm in our correspondences with one another as we humbly seek your heart, your strategies, and your invitations? Why not say ‘yes’ to your unfathomable joy as we hand out those invitations to those who really need them for such a time as this? Be with us as we go forth from this moment and this place. To yours be all the glory, forever and always. Amen.”

Selah.

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Cover photos creds: wallpapercrafter.com

 

 

 

What Keeps Us From Being Addicted to Jesus?

Shout-out to my colleague, Karen Hall, for bringing this question up during our latest Messenger Fellowship Zoom call…

What keeps us from being addicted to Jesus?

Scripture references: Ephesians 1:19-20; Colossians 3:1

In fewer words, not living the full Gospel…in the fullness of hope. One could say the answer to what compromises our hope is also the answer to this question.

Yet, digging deeper, I believe a good chunk of this comes down to entitled expectations concerning the new life we have. For some of us, we think like Martha through the lens of ‘becoming’, not ‘it is finished’; for others, the concept of a ‘new thing’ may be a ‘new way’ tied to an ‘old thing’ in disguise.

Whatever the case, to be addicted to Jesus, it’s important we give into God as our default, not just as a ‘go-to’ option. For instance, we may want to help more people in more situations ‘Christ in us’; however, if we deny our help as anything without helplessness, are we really capturing the love and life of Jesus? Are we really capturing the power of Cross in our arenas of influence? Or are we content letting worldly systems (and our proximity to them) get in the way?

I know for me, independence has a way of exposing my attitude towards Jesus. To the extent I shy away from weakness, to that extent I yield to self-preservation and self-effort. At times, it’s almost as I’d rather embrace defeats I can understand than total sufficiency I can’t. Perhaps some are like me wondering what might happen if they have too much of Jesus? As if there’s an imaginary cutoff…or overdose limit?

Either way, the problems with independence are many, but if I had to pick some common themes, I’d say…

1. It hinders daily abiding.
2. It chains us to ‘old creation’ thinking/keeps us from celebrating our 100% helplessness in light of God’s 100% sufficiency
3. It distracts us from Jesus/wanting to be like him.
4. It separates Christ and Cross as the source of our new creation.

No wonder so many feel dead where they’re alive, alive where they’re dead, and thirsty to cope to bridge the divide.

Selah.

Looking ahead, if there is a follow-up to this bonus post, I’ll look to discuss the following…

  1. How we, as business leaders, can rest in victory and be released in confidence knowing our future is guaranteed.
  2. How intercession is an expression of our certainty in Christ’s power to save.
  3. How God guarantees outcomes is core to his sovereignty.

Stay blessed and healthy, my friends…

~ Cameron

Cover photo creds: HipWallpaper

Corona Fight: Why We’re to Be Unshaken, Not Stirred

So recently, I was reading a blog post about how God is using this COVID-19 crisis to help believers see what is still shakable in their own lives (Haggai 2:5-7, Hebrews 12:22-29).

And by all means, my heart resonates with this truth.

Until something is unshakable, there’s always room for greater stability and strength.

Yet, while much focus is on how God is shaking out our co-dependencies¹ (and rightfully so), I can’t help but wonder if we’re forgetting the grander scheme unfolding.

‘Cause truth is: Yes, God wants to prune our dependencies and purify our securities. But I also believe He wants to use this time to train the body to be hope in the face of age-defining uncertainty.

Not to suggest we be insensitive to personal conviction or how God is shaking the nations. Certainly, now is a perfect time to take inventory and ask the Lord to awaken us in this season of chaos.

However, in our quests for enlightenment, let’s not forget the bigger picture either – specifically, how the church must show the way amidst the dismay through love-distance (a.k.a. long-distance) relationship².

As for the days ahead, I wish I knew more. For now, what I can say is a super creative God is illuminating new creative outlets for those He loves. And as the evidence pours in, let’s keep one thing in mind:

The same God who is shaking global foundations is the same God fixing your eyes on what He intends to remain unshaken.

Even though there’s much change to behold, there’s still plenty of life in you purposed for consistency (be it joy, faithfulness, endurance, etc). Accordingly, let’s not lose sight of what God has done as we lean into what He’s about to do.

As for any of you feeling displaced or out of rhythm, be encouraged: God is not one to run out of ideas. If anything, He’s working out a temporary solution with lasting repercussions you can’t see yet.

As for you with spiritual gifts centered on direct services, like giving, compassion or hospitality, be discerning and disciplined, but don’t vacation from your calling either. Rather, research, network, build your technological awareness (To be fair, this goes for all of us 😉)…and dare to see where God’s bridges of benevolence take you.

In closing, I charge you, my friends, to calibrate to God’s character/Word (see verses below) and consider what He’s anchored within you. After all, even when life seems to fall apart, He never stops refining your part in helping others find Jesus.

Selah.

Stay tuned next time when I’ll finally unveil ‘part 2’ to my ‘4 convictions for 2020‘ series. Until then, may God’s hedge of protection cover and calm you in these turbulent days.

“Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you.” ~ Exodus 23:25 (NIV)

“For the LORD protects the bones of the righteous; not one of them is broken!”  ~ Psalm 34:20 (NIV)

“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good thing, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” ~ Psalm 103:1-5 (NIV)

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”  ~ Proverbs 16:24 (NIV)

Footnotes

  1. For some, you may feel God is sifting your heart Amos 9 style as opposed to shaking it (see video above).
  2. More on this term in a future post; for now, view it as a love that stays in bounds because it knows no bounds.

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Cover photo creds: Action News Now