Conclusion Jumping is not a sport

2 Timothy 1:5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

jump-to-conclusionsIf conclusion jumping was an Olympic sport, I’d be a gold medalist. You know what I’m talking about: someone says something vague to you and you immediately began a thorough investigation into what made them say that. “Why are they telling me what to do? Maybe they don’t like me. They obviously think I’m a terrible person.” You’ve probably had thoughts like these go through your head. Like me, you’ve made some impression jumps to conclusions. You could win a medal for it. Here’s the problem: conclusion jumping isn’t a sport that we ought to be participating in.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul gives an instruction. Then he immediately follows up the instruction with this statement: “I am saying this out of love and my heart is pure in it.” Why would Paul need to say that? Well, maybe there was a chance people thought he was just being a bossy jerk. I mean, have you read any of his other letters? He was man who was large and in charge. But here, he reveals his heart – because hearts can’t be read. They can’t be seen. They don’t always come through well with words or tone. And so they get misinterpreted and misunderstood.

The lesson here is that we can’t just make assumptions about Paul’s tone and then transfer those assumptions to intention of his heart. And if we shouldn’t make those assumptions about the Apostle Paul, then we shouldn’t make them about each other. If we truly love one another, qualifying statements shouldn’t be necessary. There’s only one true reader of hearts, and it isn’t you or me. So let’s get out of the conclusion jumping competition and start assuming the best in one another. If we do, we may discover a heart of gold in the most unexpected places.

Oh no you di’int!

Acts 16:35-40 35 When daylight came, the chief magistrates sent the police to say, “Release those men! ” 36 The jailer reported these words to Paul: “The magistrates have sent orders for you to be released. So come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now are they going to smuggle us out secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary, let them come themselves and escort us out! ”38 Then the police reported these words to the magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them, and escorting them out, they urged them to leave town. 40 After leaving the jail, they came to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers, and departed.

no you di'intJesus taught us to turn the other cheek.  What exactly does that mean?  We are to endure persecution and not strike back when someone lashes out at us.  We are to be a people of peace and not stir up conflict.  We are to be lovers not fighters.  But somehow, we have the idea that we are to just lay down and get trampled on; let the world walk all over us.  We should just keep quiet and let injustice happen.  After all, we want to be like Christ.  But is that what he really meant?  Are we supposed to be silent lambs to the slaughter?  I don’t think so.

Paul didn’t think so either.  Here’s how it played out:  Paul and Silas were preaching when some jealous morons made some accusations which led  to public flogging.  Yes, they convinced the officials to strip their clothes off and beat them.  After a good humiliating beating, Paul and Silas were thrown in jail.  After a miraculous night in prison, there comes a surprising order: release them.  Now most of us would be happy that we were let out.  We might turn the other cheek and consider this trial as pure joy.  But Paul… he was ticked.

He said something to the effect of, “Excuse me?  You think you can just get away with beating and imprisoning innocent people?  And now you want us to just leave quietly? Oh no you di’int!  I’m not leaving until you come down here and personally escort us out of here.  While you are at it, you owe us an apology!”  So the officials came and escorted them out and apologized.  With their tails between their legs, they then told Paul he needed to leave town.  Instead he said, “we’re gonna have some church up in here!”  Then after church, he left.

So how do we reconcile this bold stand for justice with turning the other cheek?  I think that Jesus was speaking to humility and love.  Paul was acting out of confidence.  We think for some reason that humility and confidence can’t go together, but they most certainly can.  In fact, they should.  Just because we are called to be people of peace and love doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stand up for what’s right.  What happened to Paul and Silas was not right, and something needed to be said.  Friends, as Christians we are not called to be doormats.  We are called to be a people who contend for the kingdom of God here on earth.  We need to put our foot down on injustice.  We need to be a voice for what is right.  And there will be times when your cheeks take some slapping, but your aren’t called to lay down and be walked on.

*In what places have you become timid about your faith because you are trying to turn the other cheek or are afraid of getting slapped altogether? 

I don’t agree

Acts 15:36-41  36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

disagreeIt’s nice to agree on things.  Everyone feels good about decisions and we can all start moving in the same direction.  Sometimes people don’t agree.  And because we are good Christian people, we do our best to come to some sort of resolution.  There’s a little give and take and everyone will be happy.  After all, we want unity.  Right?  But what happens when you just can’t agree?  Certainly one of you must be right and the other one wrong.  They just need to see it your way and get on with it.  Or maybe neither one of you is wrong.  You just don’t agree.  How do you reconcile that?  How do you move on and agree to disagree?

We see in Acts 15 that Paul and Barnabas encountered this very issue.  Barnabas wanted to bring his cousin Mark along but Paul didn’t feel good about that.  Paul didn’t want any extra baggage and saw Mark as a potential problem.  Barnabas, however, saw it differently.  Now remember that Barnabas was the very guy who took a chance on Paul.  He had the gift of seeing potential in someone when no one else did.  He must have seen something in Mark, too.  Because later on in Paul’s letters he wrote kind things about Mark.  It appears that he eventually came around and saw that Mark wasn’t so bad after all.  But that is not how he felt on this particular day.  Today, he refused to add Mark to the team.  It wasn’t going to happen.

So what do you do when you have a stand still?  Barnabas wouldn’t budge on adding Mark to the team and Paul wouldn’t budge on not adding him.  This wasn’t a doctrinal issue or even a spiritual one.  It was a practical one.  So they agreed to disagree.  And as they disagreed, Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways.  As a result, two young men (Silas and Mark) had an opportunity to step up to the plate and be mentored.  Even though they disagreed, God used the situation to advance His kingdom. 

I guess the takeaway for me today is that sometimes we just aren’t all going to agree.  I strive to have peace in my life both with God and with my relationships.  I don’t want someone mad at me and I don’t want to be mad at them.  I want us to all get along.  I want every situation to be a win-win.  But what I am finding in today’s scripture is that my idealized outcome won’t always happen.  Sometimes we will have to part ways.  Sometimes I won’t agree.  And I’ll have to be okay with that.  God can work with it if my heart is in the right place.

*Do you have places in your life where disagreement is discouraging you?  Give your disagreement to God and ask Him what to do with it. 

Dude. Paul got stoned, too!

Acts 14:19-20 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.  But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.

stonesOkay, I know what you are thinking.  Paul got stoned? Yes, but not like that.  He wasn’t out getting high and advocating for legalized marijuana.  He literally got stoned.  Like… with stones.  Do you know what stoning was?  It was when people threw rocks at you until you died.  They probably tied you to a pole or a wall or something and starting hucking big rocks in your general direction.  They rocks would cause enough external and internal injuries that a person would die.  This was a slow and torturous way to go.  It involved constant pain and agony.  And Paul got stoned.

He got stoned because he was preaching the gospel.  He was bringing the hope of Jesus Christ to them and it made them mad.  He messed with their view of God and religion and they didn’t want to listen.  They didn’t want their lives messed with.  So they tried to kill him.  I don’t know about you, but if someone were to try and kill me, I’d probably decide that they aren’t going to receive what I am trying to deliver.  If they are trying to kill me, it’s probably best to move on to someone who doesn’t.  I want to help people who want help.  I want to preach to people who want to hear.  I want to go where I am accepted and welcomed, not rejected and stoned.

But Paul got up and went back.  He went back!  Are you kidding me?  He went back!  These people didn’t want to hear it; they wanted him dead.  Yet he knew that regardless of their response, they needed to hear the truth.  Regardless of the abuse he took – and it was alot – they needed to be rescued.  Impending death didn’t shake him because his mind was set on eternity.  And because his mind was set on eternity, he was desperate to change theirs.

I wonder if I would be willing to go back into the city?  I wonder if the danger would be worth it?  I would have to have God’s heart and perspective.  I would have to see God’s undying and relentless love for a people who are pushing Him away.  I would have to see my life as belonging to Him, for His cause and not my own.  It’s only then that I would be willing to live the uncomfortable.  It’s only then that I might just take a chance on reaching those who reject both Him and me.  But isn’t that who needs to hear it the most?

*What places is God calling you to that you’d prefer not to go? 

The Biggest Loser

Philippians 3:7-9 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

I’m a sucker for watching people’s lives be transformed. It’s one of my favorite things to do.  That’s probably why I enjoy shows like The Biggest Loser.  I haven’t watched the show much before this season, but as I watch, I see this physical transformation taking place in these people.  They are not only dealing with the weight, however.  They are also dealing with the emotional stuff that got them there.  It’s a brilliant concept for a show – one that I mocked when it first came out.  The Biggest Loser?  Sounds lame.  But the paradox of the person who loses the most ends up being the winner is really a good idea.

Now this concept of losing is somewhat anti-cultural, except in the case of weight loss.  Society tells me that I should strive to be a self-made man.  Winning has become everything.  In fact it has gone so far that now we tell everybody they are a winner – even when it’s not true.  Win win win win win win win win win!  The problem is that it all depends on my striving.  It depends on my ability to pull it off.

Paul took a different route to victory.  He was truly the biggest loser.  In Philippians 3, he tells us that he has every reason to be the greatest man among men. He has all of the qualifications necessary.  He’s got Hebrew nationality combined with Roman citizenship.  He has tradition, religious upbringing, and even the life to show for it.  Instead of putting all of his stock in his qualifications, he chose instead to lose them.  He considered them a loss, garbage, junk, worthless stuff.  Because when you stack all of our qualifications next to the immeasurable greatness of Jesus, it just looks silly.

So Paul made the decision to be found in Jesus rather than being found in all the stuff he had going for him.  It was so much more worth it to know Jesus fully than to hang onto the worldly ideals that would advance him.  I think we are faced with a similar choice.  We can put our confidence in ourselves and what we have going for us or we can put our confidence in Christ.  We can either rely on ourselves to get our lives straight or we can count on the righteousness of Jesus to handle it.  The clear choice for me is to be found in Jesus.  I want to be found in Him, known by Him, defined by Him.  But I’ve got to be willing to lose in order to win. So today I will strive, like Paul, to become the Biggest Loser.

I don’t like you anymore

Galatians 4:15-16 15 What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

Okay Paul, now this is just weird.  I have pulled out some weird sermon illustrations on the fly, but this one is just plain bizarre.  Torn out your eyes?  Really?  Couldn’t he have just said something more normal like, “you would have given me the shirt off your back” or something like that?  Someone should have let him know that once eyes are torn out of one’s head, that they don’t really work that well.  And what kind of apostle would even ask that?  “Okay, if you really trust me, give me your eye.”  Ewww.

As gross as this all sounds, Paul was trying to make the point that when he first came to them, they absolutely loved him.  They would have done anything for him.  (Maybe they should have sung the Meatloaf song, I’d do anything for love, but I won’t do that.)  Paul thinks that if he would have asked them to cut off an arm or pluck out an eyeball, they would’ve been okay with it.  They really liked him.  He was a hero.  Not anymore, I guess.  Now that Paul was confronting them on some sin issues, they weren’t really feeling it anymore.  Now that he was presenting them with truth that they didn’t want to hear, their eyeballs would be staying in their faces.

Do you have any relationships like this one?  You may have a friend, a relative, a pastor who you love and trust.  They are a great friend and you have given them permission to speak into your life.  They encourage you and spur you on to be a better person.  You really do love them and would do almost anything for them.  But then one day, they tell you some truth that you don’t like too much.  The truth hits you like correction.  Their words intersect your choices or behavior in a way that says, “shape up friend.”  And it doesn’t feel the same as the loving relationship that you have always had.

Here’s the thing, did you give them permission to speak into your life or not?  When you gave them that place in your life, was it only so they could tell you all the good stuff?  Was it simply to build you up or was it also to grow you up?  Because we need both.  We need to be able to receive correction and guidance as well as encouragement. So often though, when a friend tells us something hard, our response is: “I don’t like you anymore.”  What we should realize is that if that person is coming to us in love, it was probably painful for them to do.  They don’t want to see us hurting, they just want to help.  We desperately need those kind of people in our life, but I am afraid those are the very people we push away.  Do you have any people in your life that are more than just cheerleaders?  Because, whether we like it or not, we need ’em.