Confessing & Confronting

Leviticus 3-4

Yesterday, we looked at the seriousness of sin and the reason why the Israelites were expected to offer sacrifices for those sins. Before we continue on, I want to offer some helpful advice for reading the first few chapters of this book, so that you don’t become overwhelmed. There are only five sacrifices listed here: the burnt offering (ch. 1), the grain/cereal offering (ch. 2), the peace/fellowship offering (ch. 3), the sin offering (ch. 4-5), and the guilt offering (ch. 5-6). Each of these sacrifices are included for different purposes, not always for sin, and all of them have their own process of being offered. Usually a good study Bible will point this out, but just in case you don’t have one, I wanted to offer this to help you along the way.

Have you ever considered how your sins have affected someone else, whether in your family or in your church? When you act out in a sinful way, you are not only affecting yourself, but are infecting the entire community that you are involved in. Leviticus is very strong in chapter 4 on this point, and calls out the leaders and the congregation in the same breath. For those leading churches, homes, or any other area of life, you are responsible for those whom God has put under your care, and when you sin, you are affecting everyone. In Leviticus 4:3, it states that when the anointed priest (i.e. the leader) sins, he brings guilt on the entire congregation. What a responsibility! Maybe that is why the New Testament is so strong on the moral qualifications of those who want to be leaders in the church (see 1 Timothy 3).

It is not just the leader who affects the whole congregation, but the people that are being led also. Leviticus 4:13-21 discusses how the whole congregation is responsible for the sin that takes place within their midst. This truth still carries on today; whatever you do in sin affects those within your community. From “minor” sins like lying and gossipping, to “major” sins like being sexually immoral; these all have results and those results are deadly. The whole congregation of people has an obligation to confront the sin in their midst (in a loving way) and remove that practice from their group (see 1 Corinthians 5).

Church, we need to do better about both confessing sin and confronting it within our midst. When we allow sin to continue unchecked in our churches and homes, we are allowing a deadly cancer to affect everyone within. Leaders, you are responsible for making sure that the people you are leading are taken care of and being as holy as possible for God’s presence. Those of you who are being led, you have a responsibility for keeping your leaders accountable and for doing everything you can to personally confess and deal with your sin. We can all improve in this area, as difficult and awkward as it can be to admit to our faults. However, there is much peace and healing that comes from confessing and confronting the sins in our lives (James 5:16).

-Talon Paul

Links to today’s Bible reading – Leviticus 3-4 and Psalm 7-9

Sin is Serious – And So is Mercy

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 35 & 36 and Matthew 18

I have watched just enough mobster movies to know the awful fate of those who anger the mafia boss and receive the “cement shoes” treatment. That is the vision that always comes to mind when I read of the seriousness of leading a child to sin. “And whoever receives one such child in My name, receives Me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5,6 NASB) Jesus was giving a pretty heavy answer to the disciples who had asked who would be greatest in the kingdom. He answered that instead of trying to be great, they should focus on being childlike instead – not immature (we see enough of that), but humble, knowing that they don’t know everything and they need a Father and a Savior. And while the child is standing in their midst – Jesus commends those who welcome a child and blasts those who recklessly (or accidentally?) lead a child to sin. As a parent and a Christian this is a strong warning that I will be judged based on how I am spiritually leading and guiding God’s children. I do not know where the line will be drawn. We might be able to safely point out some cases that would definitely receive Jesus’ condemnation (those who exploit children and youth for sex trafficking, pornography, cults or gangs). But what of the parent who signs their child up for the youth sports, campouts and Sunday morning jobs knowing it will take them away from opportunities for God’s little children to grow closer to Him? I don’t know. But it seems wise to do my best to err on the side of caution. What else can I be doing to spiritually guide His children away from sin? Life is easier when you don’t feel the weight of a millstone around your neck or cement hardening in your shoes.

And, if that isn’t scary enough – Jesus broadens the picture next – to all people and sinners and the extreme measures that need to be taken to keep oneself from falling into sin. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7 NIV). And then comes the gruesome cutting off of body parts that causes you to sin. This gives a strong mental picture of doing whatever it takes to hold oneself accountable and keep oneself from sin. If your eye causes you to sin, cut it out, to save yourself from judgment and hell. This is definitely true in a metaphorical sense. We need to do all we can, even what would be considered extreme measures, to keep ourselves from sin. And, sometimes that will mean cutting off the influence some people hold over us – cutting off a friend or family member or social media/entertainment who entices us to sin. It’s a hard thing to do, just like cutting off your hand – but it could save your eternal life. And, we must watch ourselves to make sure we are not the ones enticing others to sin!

While I love the parable of the lost sheep and it hurts to skip over it…I am going to skip ahead to the next two passages in Matthew 18 which both deal with the brother who sins against you. Having just established the seriousness of sin, the consequences for those who lead others to sin and the extreme measures we are to employ to keep us from sin – it is easy to assume that the best course of action is to shun all sin and sinners. But, wait, what kind of cut off, silent, lonely, bitter world would that be? While we are all sinners – God gave us a way to be forgiven and to restore relationships. Jesus begins to explain it here.

First, if a brother sins against you – go and talk to him. Matthew 18: 15-17 goes through an important series of steps to work towards either resolution or healthy distance and cutting off -and it starts with talking to the “offender”. Too often when we feel someone has sinned against us we talk to others about it. I know I am guilty of this and need to do a better job of lovingly confronting the person I have an issue with – first. So the steps Jesus laid out are: talk privately to the person, if he doesn’t listen take 1-2 witnesses and try again, if he doesn’t listen tell the church, if he still doesn’t listen cut him off. The goal is always to win him back to ‘God’s saving side’, not to humiliate, point fingers or feel better about ourselves or peace at any cost. But, sometimes repentance doesn’t happen, and then we must be willing to cut the ties that would bring others down to sin as well.

So, let’s assume we correctly followed the steps Jesus left. Peter asked how many times he needed to forgive a brother who sinned against him. He thought 7 sounded like a lot. But Jesus said no – 77 or 70 x 7 or whatever number you want to use to remind yourself to keep forgiving – the same way you want others to forgive you. And the same way God has forgiven you. I think we can safely assume this is not the brother who was unrepentant and cast out of the church, but a brother who was repentant and seeking to live a godly life – but still tripped up – like you and me. And so Jesus lays out the powerful Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (make sure you read it again). Now the harsh words and judgment are not for the sinner who tripped up, or even the one who caused him to sin, but for the one who didn’t forgive. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” (Matthew 18:32-34).

It isn’t that sin is nothing – and easily forgiven. Sin (of all kinds) is something huge and serious and able to block us from eternal life. If we could see how much our sin hurts others, handicaps ourself and damages our relationship with God we might more readily run from it. But we don’t always, and God in His mercy still lays out a way for us to restore a relationship with Him, ultimately it would cost Him the death of His Son Jesus. To accept the forgiveness offered to you, but not extend it to others puts you again in grave danger. Sin is a big deal – and so is mercy.

-Marcia Railton

“That’ll do, Pig.”

Daily reading: 1 Peter 1-5

When Jesus told Peter to ‘Feed my sheep,’ he was commissioning him as a shepherd. And in the book of First Peter, we see a part of the fulfillment of that commission.

There are believers (the Lord’s sheep) scattered throughout Roman provinces in Asia Minor, and Peter is writing a letter to be routed amongst them.

There was a movie out in the 90’s about a pig that herded sheep. When the sheep dogs on the farm did their job, they demeaned and scared the sheep into submission. But sweet little Babe the piglet just asked them nicely and off they marched in lines for him.

Sheep of a different flock, however, didn’t know this sweet pig, and saw no reason to listen to him. That is, until, Babe received word from his pasture back home of the secret words to tell these new sheep that he was on their side. ‘Baa, Ram, Ewe’

We are an individualistic bunch of sheep, I think. 

Maybe it’s just me. Reading the book of First Peter with the eyes of a flock, a group, instead of reading it just for me, I see it somewhat differently.  There’s a definite theme coming through it all that it seems Peter wanted these sheep in his scattered pasture to remember:

There’s more than this.

  • Seek the holiness of sincere love for each other, because you’re like perishing blades of grass and God’s ways endure. There’s more than this way of loving.
  • You might feel rejected, but you are chosen. There’s more than this world’s acceptance.
  • Live to please God not the society you live in. There’s more than this wisdom.
  • God cares about how you treat your family. There’s more than your own perspective.
  • Compassion and humility never go out of style. There’s more to be gained through suffering than we can often see.
  • Wake up, pay attention, Jesus is coming back and you need to be ready. There’s literally more than this world coming one day.

Peter may not have needed to say ‘Baa, Ram, Ewe’ to unite the scattered sheep of his day, but perhaps we need a reminder that we, too, are a scattered flock.

Friends, there’s more than this.

Do you feel the sincere love of the body of Christ? No? Don’t wait for someone else to ‘do something’ about it. Everyone else is a perishing blade of grass just like you. Authentic love doesn’t start with a social media campaign; and it doesn’t start with the whole church, it starts with a few individuals. Be those few.

There’s more than this way of loving.

Have you felt rejected? Alone? Broken? Empty? Peter’s response to the scattered flock on this issue was to remind them about Jesus, and of this: “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

It seems that acceptance begins with mercy. Mercy comes after repentance. Repentance comes after we own up to our sin. This world tells us to own our sin. Big difference.

There’s more than this world’s acceptance.

Along those lines, if the wisdom of this world affirms all of your choices, you might want to question if God would. Living to please God rarely aligns with the wisdom of this world.

There’s more than this wisdom.

Perspective is a powerful influencer, and seeing our family solely from the lens of our own perspective is not only selfish, but dangerous. We can fall into the trap of living for ourselves even while fooling ourself into thinking we are part of a team. How lonely. How unfulfilling. And definitely not God’s best for us.

There’s more than your own perspective.

Suffering is difficult and hard and it stinks. Anyone who says to say ‘Praise God!’ for suffering is a liar or a robot (or a lying robot, perhaps?). Jesus didn’t even want to suffer, he asked his Father if he could avoid it if possible.

Finding peace in the midst of suffering, finding joy in God’s provision during times of suffering, and praising God during suffering are all very different than praising him FOR the suffering.

There’s more to be gained through suffering than we can often see.

Peter quotes a Psalm and tells these scattered sheep that they must seek peace and pursue it.”  Compassion, humility, gentleness, sympathy, blessing… these are all active. A person who is actively pursuing peace, especially when suffering abounds, will stand out. Maybe that’s why Peter suggests it?

People loving differently, repenting of sin, showing mercy, treating their families differently, being the most kind, compassionate, gentle, humble, easy to get along with group of people anyone ever met…yet not compromising God’s standards, not backing down, standing strong against the roar of evil around them, refusing to be devoured — Those people would garner attention.

There’s literally more than this world coming one day.

Wake up, pay attention, Jesus is coming back and we need to be ready.

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Peter

Tomorrow we begin the book of Hebrews (chapters 1-6)

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear”

Daily reading: 1 Timothy 1-6

In the movie Elf, Buddy the Elf is taught the Code of the Elves, which the elves all recite and know by heart. Number three on the list is about spreading Christmas cheer, and by the end of the movie, Buddy has spread that message to lots of people.

In the book of 1 Timothy, Paul explicitly tells us his purpose when he says, I am writing you these instructions so that…you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church.”

So, in essence, Paul’s giving us the Code of the Church. And what are some of the things in that code?

  1. Remember you’re a big fat sinner (ie: Grace)

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1:15)

Before we say a word to anyone else, our perspective on ourself needs to be right.

Unfortunately, there seem to be an awful lot of believers out there who don’t seem to see themselves as Paul did. They might rephrase this verse to say, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—praise the Lord I’m not like them” or if we’re really honest, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—thankfully I’m not as bad as the worst of them.”

And although I don’t really believe most Christians would actually rephrase Paul’s writing in those ways, our attitudes do it for us. Brennan Manning, one of my favorite authors said, “Jesus came not only for those who skip morning mediations, but also for real sinners–thieves, adulterers and terrorists, for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams.”

The lyrics to the song, “Come to the Table” are a lovely picture of recognizing that we are all sinners redeemed, and that our unworthiness does not exempt us from a seat at the table of mercy.

Must sin be called out? Of course. With a heaping side of grace.

Grace first. Grace always.

More on that later in the code.

2. Pray for your leaders

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  (2:1-2)

Pray for them (ARROW) THAT…

The code dictates that we’re praying for leaders that will enable us to live out a Biblical faith.

Here’s a resource that can help you do that if you’d like.

3. Take church leadership seriously.

If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church? (3:5)

Chapter three is almost entirely devoted to this piece of the church code, laying out indicators of what believers should look for in church leaders. This much real estate in Paul’s letter should tell us that it’s something that he found important, and should therefore garner our attention as well.

4. Train yourself to be godly…because it doesn’t come naturally

..train yourself to be godly.  (4:7)

Training involves work, often times painful work.

As we alluded to in step one of the code, identifying sin is a part of responsibility of the believer. Both in our own life and for one another.

Paul writes in other places of ‘walking in the Spirit’ vs. ‘walking in the flesh’. Walking in the flesh could be described as doing what comes naturally to us, and that is frequently (almost always) not the same as what God would call us to.

This is why we need to train ourselves in it. Despite all the Chuck Norris jokes to the contrary…Chuck Norris wasn’t born all ‘Chuck Norris-y’. He has trained and worked hard physically to attain the physical strength and skills he has.

While we do want to train hard and push ourselves and one another to greatness, the underlying foundation must always be love. It must always be grace. (See #1 of the Code)

5. The church takes care of its own

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers,older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters (5:1-2)

Much of chapter 5 centers on the care of widows in the church, something we may deem a waste of Paul’s time. However, it shows a real care and elevation of women. A woman whose husband had died could become desolate very rapidly, and this was to ensure that this not happen to believers.

Although the specific issue of widowhood may not be as relevant to us today, the idea that God expects believers to provide for their family has not changed. Also unchanged is the notion of the church family stepping in for believers without blood-family to support them.

Good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever. (5:25)

Our church code of conduct may not be quite as catchy as the one Buddy the Elf learned in the North Pole, but ours has a far more lasting impact…and no tights required!

-Susan Landry

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Timothy

Tomorrow we will read Titus 1-3.

“We are Church”

Daily Reading: Ephesians 1-6

The tagline might read: This motley crew of misfits does nothing but bicker and fight amongst themselves…is it Guardians of the Galaxy–or us?

In both cases, establishing a sense of identity leads to unity and purpose, and some big winning.

Ephesians 1-3

If Ephesians were an epic movie experience, the first half would establish how God sees us, our true identity. We’d hear our characters use words like chosen and included, forgiven, grace and saved. We would watch them go through a transformation from dead in transgressions to alive in Christ.

Somewhere in this segment, God would find an intensely personal way to show one of our characters “the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus,” … and I would definitely cry.

Ephesians 4-6:

As we prepared for act two, our characters (and we, ourselves) would recognize the real meaning of it all, and we might finally “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.”

Taking hold of the fullness of the love that Jesus has for us. Really understanding this love that goes beyond how much we know. Big stuff. That’s why this flick is such an epic.

Knowing who we are changes how we live and how we treat others, and that’s where the second half of the story leads.

When we are able to see ourselves through the lens of this all surpassing love, we can be humble, gentle, patient, speak and act in love; and things like bitterness, anger and rage take a back seat to kindness and compassion.

There’s a scene at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (that I always rewind and watch a second time if I’m alone). It’s just a short conversation between Rocket and Peter.

Rocket : He didn’t chase them away…Even though he yelled at them, and was always mean… And he stole batteries he didn’t need. 

Peter [Realizes Rocket’s talking about himself, not Yondu]: Well, of course not.

{Gulp} {Tear} This team of individuals, unable to get along at the start, becomes not only a team but a family. And this moment of tenderness makes me cry every single time. Every time!

When the struggle is no longer against one another, we can fight the real battle…together, perhaps?… and win.

The true enemy is the darkness of evil, not each other. But we can only truly realize that, truly embrace that, when we are able to see ourselves in the light of our true identity, as God sees us. Until then, we’ll keep losing ground and wondering why.

Ephesians has no talking Racoons or Trees with attitude, but there are definitely supernatural powers and epic battles.  And like any good superhero movie, the heroes sometimes need little reminders now and then to live up to their potential. That just might be how this lesson will fade out…

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

– Susan Landry

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ephesians 1-6.

Tomorrow we will read the book of Philippians.