You’re doing it all wrong

Galatians 2:7-8 On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.

Take a fairly simple task, give it to three people, and you will find that they likely will do it differently.  Let’s take a puzzle for example.  I am a border first kind of guy.  Other people like to create groupings of objects or colors first.  Other people start with a section and work left to right or top to bottom.  So what happens when an border first person watches a objects first person do a puzzle.  “You’re doing it all wrong,” would be a natural response.

What’s wrong?  What’s right for that matter?  It really comes down to the way we work.  It comes down to the way God made us.  And there are some things that come down to the calling that God has placed on us.  Newsflash: all Christians don’t have the exact same calling. Now don’t get all technical on me.  I realize we are all called to make disciples of all nations etc. etc.  But I am talking about a specific calling – kind of like Paul’s and Peter’s.

What if every Christian was called to the same people group, the same country, state, county, and city?  It would get crowded and non-Christians would either get saved or really, really annoyed.  Or possibly both.  That’s not how God works, though.  He calls us to different places and this is a good thing.  He has an agenda far greater than we can see with our own two eyes.  He wants to save – get this – the ENTIRE world.  Doing so will take a Paul going to the Gentiles and a Peter going to the Jews, and so on.

It drives me crazy really, when some people try to put their calling on others.  Not everyone should be pastors or missionaries or evangelists or IRS auditors.  (I just threw that last one in there to see if you were paying attention.)  We all have a different calling.  The question really is, are you pursuing it?  Are you seeking God to discover it?  Paul knew who and what he was called to.  Peter knew who and what he was called to.  If you can’t say the same for yourself, I encourage you to spend some time with the Lord and start asking.

Be afraid, be very afraid. On second thought – don’t.

Galatians 1:10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

I am fully aware that I have recently wrote about our approval being in God alone, not men.  Here’s the thing: I am just reflecting on what I am reading each day and this topic has come up again.  But I will take a different angle on it today.  I want to write about something called the “fear of man.”  Paul clearly did not have the fear of man present in his life, but many people do.  It is something I have had to overcome in my life and I hope that others will overcome it too.

But this overcoming doesn’t just happen by way of trying really hard.  It happens by a removal and a replacement.  In other words, the “fear of man” needs to be removed and the “approval of God” needs to replace it.  This is something that we need to deal with.  Paul even goes as far to say that if he was trying to please man, he would not be a servant of Christ.  Those are some strong words.

Here’s what the fear of man looks like on someone:

  • Can’t say no without feeling guilty
  • Afraid of confrontation
  • Intimidated easily by others
  • Tends to over work and over commit
  • Is a name-dropper to enhance personal value

This list really goes on and on.  And I really want people to be free from this.  Proverbs 29:25 says, Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe. The irony here is that people who struggle with this issue feel “safer” by making everyone happy at all costs.  In reality, those who trust in the Lord are the ones who are kept safe.  Man will let you down every time.  Putting your trust there ends up being a snare, a trap. It keeps you from moving forward in the calling God has placed on your life. Why?  Because people’s opinions and approval of you matter too much.   I am not talking about cutting everyone off from your life.  There is a biblical basis for Godly authority, mutual submission, and involvement in the Body of Christ.  We need others; they just can’t be our approval.  God must be.

Hebrews 13:6 says, So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” I encourage you to tackle this issue today.  Ask the Lord, do I struggle with the fear of man?  If so, seek the Lord in prayer.  Meet with someone you trust and pray together.  Ask the Lord to set you free from this stranglehold on your life and start living free in Him today.

Let’s take a test, yay.

2 Corinthians 13:5 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?

Ew, I hate tests.  Those were never my favorite days in school, test days.  The worst though were the AP exam and the SAT.  I would definitely not want to take those over again.  I am so glad I am over tests; it is so nice to not have to face them anymore.  And I was just starting to relish in this fact – that I don’t have to take tests anymore – when I came across this horrible passage in 2 Corinthians 13.  Okay, it’s not really horrible – just challenging.  Let’s break it down.

Paul says here to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith; “test yourselves”, he says.  (At least it is a take home exam.  Those were always a little easier.)  What does that really look like, examining ourselves?  I think it means to take a good, honest look on the inside.  We so easily look at what is coming out of our lives and try to fix those things.  But those are just symptoms of what is really going on inside.  For example, a really angry person might be dealing with a hurt inside.  A depressed person might be unsure of their identity.  It could be a number of things really.  We’ve got to take a good look on the inside.

That examination starts by realizing that Christ Jesus is in us, Paul says.  Unless of course He isn’t in which you get an F on the test. If you are going to call yourself a Christian, Christ in you is probably a good prerequisite. And if Christ is in you, does your life show that He is in you?  These are the questions on the test.  Start digging around on the inside and see what is in there.  Are you holding onto unforgiveness?  Is there bitterness hanging out?  Is there past hurt in there stealing all your joy?  Put these things to the test.  Make them own up to what’s really going on IN you.  It might be the hardest test you ever take, but it will be the most beneficial one too.

Christ is my spinach

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Remember Popeye the sailor man?  That poor guy just couldn’t get a break.  I mean Bruno was always trying to steal his girl and beat the living daylights out of him.  And Popeye was really a bit of a coward.  He was weak and didn’t stand a chance against that bully; that guy was a monster.  That’s where the spinach came in.  If he could just get his hands on a can of spinach, everything would be different.  He would gulp that stuff down and bam – those muscles started bulging out.  Superhuman strength came over him and he was unstoppable.  He was fierce.  He was heroic.  All because of the spinach.

Apparently the apostle Paul had spinach too.  But his spinach had a name – Jesus Christ.  Jesus said to Paul, “my power is made perfect in weakness.”  I wonder why we go around trying to act so strong and so together?  In reality, we would have perfect power if we were just real about our weakness.  Paul didn’t try to cover it up.  He said, “bring on the weakness.”  He was like Popeye in that way.  He reveled in the challenge, the insult, the hardship, and the persecution.  That sounds nuts, doesn’t it?  It isn’t nuts though.  Paul had something those hardships didn’t know he had: spinach.  I mean, Christ.

When Christ is my spinach, hardship doesn’t seem to weigh as much.  When Christ is my spinach, insults don’t seem to sting as much.  When Christ is my spinach, obstacles look easy to overcome.  He has overcome the world for goodness sakes!  There is no reason He can’t overcome what I am facing.  But I’ve got to eat the spinach. I have to realize that I am a weak, cowardly Popeye of a man and that in my weakness His power is made perfect.  And when I eat my spinach, who is Christ, the craziest thing happens – my spiritual muscles start bulging out.  And it is in that moment I start to believe, like Popeye did, that nothing will stand in my way!

Jesus Freak

2 Corinthians 11:1 I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that.

In 1995, D.C. Talk released their fourth album titled “Jesus Freak.”  It had the highest first week sales for a Christian album ever.  It went double platinum.  I bought it and it was a great album – probably the best one they ever made.  It was more than just an album, however.  It became the resurrection of the Jesus Freak movement.  The term was taken from the 70’s, a derogatory term used to criticize Christians.  But Toby Mac turned the phrase on it’s head.  He proudly declared, “I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak, there ain’t no disguising the truth.”

This, in essence, is what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 11:1.  The dude was a total Jesus freak.  He had extreme faith and a reckless abandon to his Lord.  He counted everything that the world holds dear as garbage for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord.  He was absolutely foolish and was okay with it.  Conventional living wasn’t all that important to him.  He says in this chapter of 2 Corinthians that he has been beat, whipped, stoned, and shipwrecked.  He was absolutely stark raving mad!  Nothing was going to stop this foolishness that was the absolute pursuit of the calling on his life.  The world’s wisdom was worthless to him.

I love this about Paul: his absolute confidence in his total foolishness. I want to be a Jesus freak too.  I want to forget  about all the worldly wisdom and put all my stock in the words of the Lord.  I want to live my life sold out completely for Jesus.  I want to pursue His calling and that alone.  Jesus said that the world and it’s things will all pass away, but the word of the Lord will last forever.  So I hope that you will put up with a little of my foolishness.  Because each day I am becoming more and more of a freak…  a Jesus Freak.

I’m the next American Idol!

2 Corinthians 10:18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could walk into a bank and tell them, “I am applying for a loan and I am approving that loan, so hand over the money.”  Well, I guess bank robbers do this sort of thing, but they probably don’t have plans to pay it back.  But what an impossible thought, really, to approve your own loan.  I am sure that bankers have been fired over such things.  Nobody gets to approve their own loan.

But we try to make it happen in other areas of life, don’t we?  We try to be our own approval.  We pat ourselves on the back and congratulate on a job well done.  It backfires though.  There’s the teenage girl who’s fashion statement is a hit in her own mind and a train wreck in reality.  There is the boy who is an all star baseball player in his head but he can’t catch a ball to save his life.  This is what happens to us – a jaded view of reality based on our own self confidence.

Or what about American Idol?  Why do tone deaf kids believe that they are the next American Idol?  They really believe it too.  “I am the next American Idol,” they proudly proclaim.  But when they open their mouths, you hear the sound of a cat screeching or a sick cow dying a slow painful death.  It’s unfortunate really that no one in their life has ever told them the truth.  We can’t just go around commending ourselves without the goods to back it up.

That’s essentially what I think Paul is getting at.  The Lord alone is the one who commends us.  He is to be our approval.  Patting yourself on the back for all the good things you’ve done doesn’t translate into approval.  God is the one who approves.  You need to go to Him for that approval.  Because his commendation is the only one that has real approval wrapped up in it.  Us telling ourselves that we aren’t that bad isn’t going to cut it.  Spending time with Him and hearing His heart for us is.  It is in those moments with Him that you will hear Him say, “well done.”  Now that’s real approval.

I forgot the wedding gift

2 Corinthians 9:5  So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.

You have really got to read 2 Corinthians 9 today.  Blogging on just a verse or two is painful for me, because this is such a rich passage.  Paul covers the heart of giving – from sowing and reaping, to generosity, to heart attitudes, to provision.  I think I have changed my topic 5 times!

When you go to a wedding, you get to see a couple of people start a new life together.  It is an exciting time for them and you are excited that they invited you to come witness it with them.  That is, of course, unless they asked you to be in it, costing you hundreds of  dollars.  Some things I should probably not say out loud, but that’s the honest to goodness truth. Anyway, back to the wedding.  There is this thing we do at weddings: we bring gifts for the bride and the groom.  This is an opportunity to help them get a good start.  Now there are two different ways to approach this.  Some people are thrilled to go shopping and find something special for the newlyweds.  Others are thinking, geesh, what’s the cheapest thing on the registry?  Either way, you probably arrive with a gift.  I haven’t ever seen someone show up to a wedding and say, “I was supposed to bring a gift?”   It’s something you think about beforehand.  I mean you probably don’t just quickly write them a check on the way to the wedding.  I would never do that… ya.

Quickly moving on before I lose my point more than I already have.  Paul was writing the church in Corinth and telling them to put some thought into giving.  He was asking them to make a decision in their heart  to be generous.  He was reminding them of what God does with generosity.  He was pointing them to the heart attitudes, not just the act of giving.  You see, Paul didn’t want to just show up and have people feel all weird and obligated to reach into their pockets and hand him some cash.  But when we don’t make giving and generosity intentional in our lives, this is precisely what will happen.

It happens in the church too.  That offering plate goes around and we think there is some kind of social obligation.  If we don’t put anything in it, we feel a little guilty.  If we put something in, we feel like we were pressured.  It’s like walking by the homeless guy with the cardboard sign.  It’s easy to feel either obligated or guilty.  But here’s the thing – God is not a homeless guy with a cardboard sign.  And giving to the Lord is not some weird kind of social obligation.  It is a heart attitude.  It is a life decision of generosity.  It is an act of worship and praise to our God.  When we have the issue straightened out in our hearts, we can show up and give with confidence.  We have to make up our minds beforehand.  We shouldn’t be scrambling through our pockets for loose change.  That isn’t giving to the Lord, that is feeling obligated to make a deposit.  Let’s get giving right in our hearts so that we can make arrangements to give in advance, no matter what the occasion.  Then it will be a generous gift, not one grudgingly given.