A Different Monday

Mark 2 14

Mark 2:13-14

“Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth.

“Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.”

It’s Monday.

For many of us, that means going back to work, which can be hard after a normal week, but this is the first Monday after a week of camp. A lot of times it can be depressing coming home after Fuel. We have to jump back into the same old routine, same old habits, same old life.

But you know what’s crazy, we don’t have to go back to the same old routine. We have been called out of the mundane, from simply going through the motions.

We are called to be different.

Because of Jesus, we can live in a completely different way than the world around us. You see, when people think of Monday as the beginning of a long, tiresome, annoying, difficult, boring, frustrating, week, we as Christians can have a different approach. Mondays are the start of a NEW week, full of incredible opportunities and blessings. You have a brand new set of 168 hours for God to work through you. Think of all the people you can meet, how much time you have to get to know God better, and all the opportunities to spread His love!

Last week we learned that being different will cause you to stand out in this world. If you go around without grumbling about Monday, or even better, being joyful that it’s Monday; people are going to notice, and ask questions, and possibly even look down on you because of it. But how blessed we are to be able to be different. We are lights in this dark world. Something as simple as Monday can spark life-changing conversations. How crazy cool is that?

In the second chapter of Mark, we find Levi simply doing his job. Same old stuff he does everyday. But then Jesus entered the picture. Jesus called him out of just going through the motions and into something life-changing.

You are called out.

Now most of us can’t just drop everything and follow Jesus as Levi did, but we can follow his example in the everyday experiences. The people around you are your platform. Your life right now is your ministry. You are different. And you are a difference-maker.

So in closing, I want to challenge each of you to this: Make this Monday different.

Have a blessed week friends,

Katelyn Hawkins

Temptation

Mark Chapter 1

Mark 1 13a

This week we begin a journey into the Gospel of Mark, reading just one chapter a day.  Jesus has much to teach us about being different.  Instead of hearing from just one writer this week – we get to hear from 7 young people as they inspire us to follow Jesus.  

“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,  and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Mark 1:9-13 (NIV)

In these verses, we see God having favor with Jesus as well as Jesus being tempted. We just came back from Fuel and it’s so easy to go back to life as we know it and to maintain the same habits. We will be tempted both now and throughout the year. However, the theme this year was different and regardless of a Fuel theme, we should strive each year to become a better version of ourselves upon going home.

Let us pray:

“God, we praise you for such a powerful week at Fuel. We’re grateful for the things you’ve laid on our hearts and for the Godly relationships that have been created and strengthened through fellowship. We ask that you would help us act in accordance with your will and help us fulfill the commitment that we made to be different in our personal lives as well as in our communities.”

Until next year, brothers and sisters in Christ.

~Caitie Wood

Same

2 Peter 2 21

For many of you, you have safely arrived at your post-FUEL destination.  If you didn’t or haven’t ever attend FUEL, chances are that you too, at some point this week, pulled into a familiar drive after a long day of school, work, a different camp, a workout, or a much needed break. You picked up food from the same spot you always do.  Enjoyed the same TV program you always watch. Laid on your bed in the same position as you scrolled through the same apps on your phone. Greeted by the same problems that you had hoped would find a way to disappear while you were gone. No matter how different we want to become, in just a matter of hours, days, or weeks, if the same things fill your life, or if they don’t have a new or confirmed purpose, it will not be long until you find yourself back to the same old, same old.

Wake up! STOP BEING THE SAME!  For the change to take hold that you have heard about, read about, thought about, or talked about, you have to IMMEDIATELY begin the transition from the old to something new because if you remain complacent, if you remain idle, if you remain THE SAME, you will continue to get THE SAME results.  Peter states it better than I ever could about those who are stirred by the Gospel message – its beautiful story, unexplainable joy, and its all-consuming hope – and then let the wake come to rest.

“If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.” – 2 Peter 2:21,22

Stop wallowing in the mud.  Stop returning to the vomit.  Start moving NOW and it is more likely that you will continue to move.  It’s straight up science – Newton’s First Law of Motion – An object at rest tends to stay at rest, but an object in motion tends to stay in motion.  This is also sometimes called the Law of Inertia, literally meaning “in”-not, “ert”- doing/being, “ia” – the state of – the state of not doing or being anything.  This means in the vacuum of space, a planet will continue on the same orbit, light will find its way across the universe, and an asteroid will continue on the same crash course unless acted upon by an opposing, stronger force.  Thank God he is working on us; that he is the opposing, ALMIGHTY force.

Put your b-u-t-t in gear.  If it means not finishing these last few sentences, so be it.  Stop wasting your time reading my words on how not to waste your time. Change your presets on your radio.  Set some boundaries. Apologize. Delete your bookmarks and browsing history. Give away or throw away the junk.  Grab your Bible. Call someone to pick you up for church. Set a date to be baptized. Host a Bible study. Invest in someone else.  Tell your testimony. God has provided the resistance, so don’t postpone change. It won’t happen if you delay, and you’ll be worse-off than ever before. An object at rest tends to stay at rest.  If there ever was a day not to do the same thing, it is today. Let today be different.

-Aaron Winner

Departure

2 Timothy 4 8

Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”  Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” – John 13:36-37

“It’s time to go!” says a voice calling from the driver’s seat indicating you might be left behind if you don’t leave now.  A friend or a family member receives your last look, a last hug, a last “see you later”, and maybe a tear or two.  It never gets any easier to say goodbye to people we love, yet such is the nature of life.  To move in the direction of God, often means to experience seasons of friends and family being at varying distances. I would imagine it was difficult for Jesus to say goodbye to his friends like Lazarus, his mother, Mary, and the eleven remaining apostles whom He spent a great deal of time with on this earth. But He was called to be somewhere else, to mediate between us and God (1 Tim 2:5) and to prepare us for a time when He can be with us all who love Him and keep His will.

In Revelation 19, we are given a picture of the marriage supper of the Lamb.  This is an event where the church will be reunited to celebrate with Christ – altogether, simultaneously, fulfilling the promise in Hebrews that no one would be left out but “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” – Hebrews 11:40 – Not only will we be reunited with our loved ones from our present, but also those who departed from us along the way, that fell asleep in Christ (1 Thes 4:14). We have been told this, so we don’t give up.   We fight the good fight .  We have the endurance to be different.

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:” 2 Timothy 4: 7,8

“If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love. I have told you these things so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”  John 15:11

But for most of us, and potentially all of us reading this blog, today is not our last day of breath, but a day we leave behind someone we love, either through proximity or heaven forbid, through physical death.  So how can we make sure we don’t forget about this promise to be reunited with the ones we love?

1. Seek His word in your life. First, this means reading your Bible.  It is not an instrument to be used solely on Sundays and Wednesdays and at church camp.  We are told that the word of God in the scripture is alive and actively ready to convict and confirm on thoughts, motives, and actions (Hebrews 4:2).  You are called to live out every day for Christ, so this means the Word of God must be present.  Reading and subscribing to this blog is a great start, but so is a Bible reading plan, or verse of the day bookmarks.  Also, spending time in prayer is a way to monitor your spiritual life and receive direction and confirmation from God.  As we seek to become more spiritually mature, we begin to thank God for a lot more, recognizing the blessings in our life that change the way we pray for the things we desire.  We can pray for God’s will, or in His will, as we wait because we recognize that we are already truly blessed.  This is a discipline, an exercise program.  If you have been a spiritual couch potato, don’t expect to run a Bible marathon or become a prayer warrior overnight.  Even introducing the smallest of these disciplines will begin to make a dramatic difference into your spiritual health.

2. Find a ministry. Do the ministry.  When we become idle, when we don’t have anything to do, that is when sin gets a jump on us (Proverbs 16:27-29).  We consume junk on screens, we find people to talk about, and we become open to other forms of ungodly entertainment.  The devil can be just as busy binge-watching Netflix (that should step on some toes) or scrolling through social media (and the ones I missed the first time) as it is in those who are actively seeking out ways to do evil in this world.  This quote by Edmund Burke addressed to another statesman rings true in the Christian life too, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  It is time to find and actively participate in a ministry.  To move from the milk to the meat.  To not simply believe but to act.  Don’t know where to start?  Look at the list provided by Jesus in Matthew 25 as he separates the sheep and the goats.  Ministry is truly a win-win. When you are busy fulfilling the Word of God, there is simply less time to get caught up in the stuff that doesn’t matter.

3. Be a part of the church. We are not called to do the above mentioned things solely in isolation.  When we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we become part of a greater entity: the church.  It is not simply a building, in fact, it has nothing to do with the structure you meet in at all.  The church is full of people who are trying to do the same as you: live better for Christ.  There is a small caveat.  Like you, they are not perfect yet.  However, everyone in the church has their own unique gifting, function, and strengths.  You don’t have to do this alone.  So what if they don’t have the style of music you want at the church.  So what if there isn’t a large group of people your age in the church.  So what if your friends and family live far away from your church.  Inside your community of believers you still have a function, can be held and hold people accountable, and find ways to strengthen and edify one another for the purpose in which you’re called. It is also important to understand the church is connected beyond the group you meet with on Sundays.  Your friends at camp, your bestie from college, a group of people at a break table or lunch table can talk about and worship God together.  Find a way to connect with other believers, and you will be further shored up against evil.

4. Let the grace of God do the rest. Often times when we come back from a fulfilling spiritual experience, we are immediately presented with our greatest challenges.  The trajectory up of spiritual life will not be a perfect, upward-moving diagonal line.  Inevitably, we will always find a spiritual low after a spiritual high. Don’t let the waves of doubt and defeat toss you and capsize the great life, truth, and hope you have.  You will mess up.  You will know the good you should do and not do it sometimes (Rom 7:15-20).  You may go several days without reading your Bible, become stagnant in your ministry,  or remove yourself from the church because you feel guilty you have committed an unforgivable sin.  Don’t give up. Let God take control and understand that He gives grace to all generously.  This is a free gift, so don’t waste your time “feeling bad” or “not worthy.”  Take heart. Get back up. Seek God. Renew your commitment to His commandments because each day is a new day.  Do everything not to depart from God, and He too, will do everything it takes to ensure you will never have to depart from Him or the ones you love that have fulfilled the same call, together united at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

-Aaron Winner

Peculiar

Phil 2 15.png
If someone were to describe your behavior as “peculiar”, you would most likely not take it as a compliment.  Peculiar’s origin as a word stems from particular, singling out an item or idea from the rest, but over time the definition, and more importantly, the connotation has shifted.  To be peculiar is not simply to be different, but to be strange, funny, odd, specifically to a way we act or think seemingly with rational or reasonable explanation behind the behavior.  Peculiar could be someone who wears different styles, colors, and heights of socks simultaneously (me), or someone who doesn’t like the food on their plate to touch (my wife), or someone who would turn down all the wealth of this world to serve the will of God (Jesus, Matt 4).

There is truly something odd about the Christian life.  We are constantly denying our instinct in order to fulfill our call.  Many times Jesus uses radical, hyperbolic language to teach the most important disciplines of the strange Christian life.  These words are meant to shock, encourage whispers, and dramatically shift the way we act and think.  Those who want complacent faith? To have miracles without the mindset? To have salvation without giving up their reputation or station?  They walked and will continue to walk away.  They don’t want to be perceived as peculiar, and more accurately, don’t want to be forever changed – a holy-first mindset.

In keeping with today’s theme, here is a shortlist of six of the most odd and convicting teachings of Jesus.  If you’re not different or weird because you do these things, then you are doing them wrong.  As you devote time to reading this list, use this as an opportunity for a gut check – are you only a listless spectator watching and critiquing without any action or any sacrifice or are you actively working on becoming a sold-out slave to the Savior’s summoning?

1. You must be baptized for forgiveness and to receive the Spirit – Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 – Jesus has an eye-opening conversation with Nicodemus about the way God uses this symbolic gesture that had become a part of Jewish religious culture.  John the Baptist, like others before him, uses immersion in water as a means of symbolically cleansing us from our sins, but Jesus sets the example (Matt 3) that this also symbolizes a changing of our mindset.  The death and burial of our old self, and the rebirth of someone who is ready to receive the Spirit, the dwelling of God’s power in us.  There are theological nuances that we will leave to the scholars to debate, but this symbolic act is clearly exampled and talked about by Jesus, and practiced and talked about some more by his disciples.  This is the beginning.  If you haven’t been baptized, but you see the compelling case for Christ in your life, now is the time.  This symbol marks the launching point, not the precipice to our walk in Him.

2. You must be willing to live and die for Christ – “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Matt 16:24,25 – Obviously the apostles saw something happen that dramatically shifted the trajectory of their lives forever.  After the resurrection of Jesus, they were accused of moving His body to perpetuate the story that He had risen.  But would every single one of these men be ready and willing to travel so far and literally give up their lives for Christ? While a single man might die to protect a lie, I find it very hard to believe a whole group of men would do so. All of them, save John who was exiled, were put to death, each one receiving their punishment, not simply for their beliefs, but for their pursuit of evangelism and sharing the good news.  They each daily sacrificed their life, and even used their death, as testimony of the life-altering Gospel message.

3. You must live out communion  – “For My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will live because of me“ – John 6:56 – Here we have another physical gesture that is symbolic of Christian life.  While it is not too difficult to eat a piece of bread or crackers, or knock back a cup of wine or grape juice, the conviction of these symbols is terrifying – we must always remember that we are striving to be one with Christ.  Anything we put in our body, use our body for (i.e. sex, 1 Cor 6:18), or anything that happens between our two ears, has to be reconciled by or repented to Christ for Him to remain in us.  This means the act of communion, whether done formally or figurative as a daily discipline, should be convicting and purging us from the things that tear us away from Christ.

4. You must find joy in persecution and dejection – “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Matthew 5:11 – Our natural instinct when we are attacked is to strike back.  If you hit me, I will return the blow.  If you hurl insults at me, I will use my wit and tongue to put you in your place.  Even when we gratify ourselves with revenge, there is no joy in it.  In Acts 5, Peter and the apostles receive a verbal and physical lashings.  What is their response?  Jubilation.  They found great joy in suffering for Christ because it meant they were becoming more like Him, and they were living out the Great Commission.  We should be ready and willing to be challenged, made fun of, and even receive physical abuse because we have taken a stand for Christ.  When we take a stand and our joy grows, but so does our testimony and resolve (James 1:2,3), compelling others to seek out the reason for our peculiar perseverance.

5. You must be willing to count anything as loss – “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” – Matthew 18:8 – The example Jesus uses is a challenge to control our carnal nature using figurative language. If someone had the resolve to literally cut off the hand or foot, they definitely have a resolve to control other behaviors in the life.  But are we willing to literally cut out other things?  Are you willing to give up comfort? Opportunities? Sports? Friends? Family members?  Would you be willing to be thought of as dumb, ignorant, a fool, and even pitied?  Would you be willing to part with all of your money, all of your possessions, and all of your time?  It is better to lose your identity in this world or  to have no home, than to be thrown alongside your pride and identity in the fire.  It is better to throw away a coveted scholarship than for you to be thrown alongside your degree to be thrown in the fire. It is better to find new friends and family, or even have no friends and family, than to be thrown alongside them in the fire.  Now each of these things are placed in the proper perspective; pride, a degree, friends, family can all be great God-filled things, just like hands and feet, but if they are moving you away from Christ, they are not beneficial.  We have to remove them.

6. You can’t stop loving others. Ever. – “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:39 – It would be so much easier if Jesus never said this.  The most radical, the most challenging, the hardest-lived statement is in these five words.  Loving God is truly easy – He deserves honor and praise, He loved us first, and He has established things in past, present, and future for us that are greater than we can ever imagine.  I would even dare say I am loving God more than myself on my greatest days of faith (which is not nearly enough).  But loving my neighbor. C’mon.  What have they done to deserve my love?  My neighbor could bash my faith on social media.  My neighbor could be making such poor choices with their money.  My neighbor could be abusing their family.  My neighbor could be lying to me, stealing from me, and badmouthing me all over town. My neighbor could physically spit in my face, beat me to the point of death, and hang me on a cross.  And that’s when we realize, we are Christ’s neighbor.  He have power to change our lives forever by living out the love of God.  He was so purposeful in His love in God that He saved us all from eternal separation.  By doing this, He has given us the power to peculiarly love people we don’t know, but even more so, people we know well.  We have the same opportunity as Christ.  We can do everything possible to love our neighbor into conviction and submission that comes from seeing, hearing, and feeling the Gospel message coming from God through us.  Yes, this is the most peculiar of all, but as strange, odd and weird as it is, it’s the most beautiful, the most attractive, and the most fulfilling thing we could ever do on behalf of our Father in heaven who so much loves His peculiar people.

-Aaron Winner

Transformed

Ephesians 4 24
My guilty pleasure shows, the ones I watch on those rare occasions when I am home by myself and have nothing to do (or at least would like to put off what I am suppose to do), are restaurant makeover shows.  It doesn’t matter the title, the host, or the characters.  I am sucked into the identical plot over and over again. A failing entrepreneur invites a celebrity chef into their restaurant to help them become more successful.  Initially, they admit that minor changes are in order, but don’t see any major cause for concern.  The business owner’s management is flawless. The food is great.  The decor could be updated. Just a tweak here and there and efforts will move from futile to flourishing.  And then celebrity chef gives the reality check (in a varyingly dramatic way).  He/she tells them the decor is dismal, the food is frightful, and by far the most monstrous piece that brings each element together is the mismanagement.  Yet the owners who willingly invited the chef into their restaurant, who have seen this play out on different channels, seasons, and time slots, express shock.  They shake their heads and fingers.  “Not us!” they say. “We are different!” they say. “We only invited you here because we thought we only needed small changes!” they say.

It is hard to accept the jarring reality that we’re terrible. That the entirety of everything we have accomplished for ourselves is considered a heap of filthy rags (Isa 64:6).  Our corrupted (Eph 4:22) business-as-usual model is rubbish, garbage, doo doo.  You don’t need to drop a couple items off the menu; you need a new menu.  You don’t need to gloss over the interior with a new color; you need some serious demolition work.  Most of all, you are not one or two adjustments away from being an excellent entrepreneur; you need a new manager. A major overhaul is in order, not a minor adjustment.  In order to do this Christian life, you must face there is a thread that tethers most of your issues:  you making the decisions.  Conversely, there is a simple solution to overcome challenges and have meaningful and lasting change: follow the model of Christ.  Less us, more Christ until we are gone, and there is only Christ.

“I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” – Galatians 2:20

The Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18). Man, oh man – it is so hard to read his story because it hits so close to home. He invited Christ into his life to look at what He had accomplished because he had a pretty good thing going.  He thought he only needed a quick makeover. Then Jesus delivered some nauseating news to this guy: “You still lack one thing: Sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”  “Not me!” he thought. “I am different!” he thought. “I only invited you here because we thought we only needed small changes!” he sadly thought and walked away from Christ.  Had he not heard this requirement from Jesus already?  Matt 6:19-24 Luke 12:23; Or read about them in the law he kept? Deuteronomy 8:8-10; Psalm 62:10; Proverbs 11:28

Christ doesn’t call us to a simple makeover or even a renovation.  Our response cannot be accomplished by purchasing a new Bible, hitting up church camp, signing up for a mission trip, going to a Bible college, following commandments, or doing good works.  All of those things are beneficial, but they will not lead to lasting, permanent change – said by someone who has done ALL of those things.  TRANSFORMATION is literally changing (trans-) our very form (uh, form).  Tearing down the structure, ripping the very foundation from the earth, and then replacing it with a new foundation – our Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. THEN we seek our Chef, Architect, and Father for the new plan for our life.  For some of us, God may have used His infinite plan to provide us with the tools to build with for His glory or repurpose some pieces from the rubble, but more likely than not, we may be called to do something completely new, difficult, and can only be accomplished with a new creation.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here! Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” 1 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 12:2

TRANSFORMATION is not ours in a single day.  It begins with the decision to demo, but is a lifelong, day-by-day challenge to change not only the way we act, but our very mindset that allows us to test and approve what God’s will is for our lives. When we transform our thinking, health, sickness, wealth, poverty, where we live, what college we attend, our occupation, our family, persecution, what we eat or drink, and even death are not our simple circumstance but tools at the disposal of our God.  Every moment, every action becomes an opportunity to spread His good news of a coming Kingdom to begin the radical change in the hearts of others.  Ultimately, we have a great hope in the struggle of living a transformed life now.  Our lives will be transformed once-and-for-all, not over the course of a lifetime, but in a single instance – In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (1 Cor 15:52,53).  It all begins today with listening and looking to the one who has already accomplished it.

-Aaron Winner

Alien

John 15 19 (1)

As a bearded, green-eyed, 6’ 2” white male, it was hard to lose me in a crowd when I was doing mission work in Peru.  I dare say it was apparent to everyone that I was not a local.  Now we could spend a lot of time being politically correct, especially with the hotbed of controversy that currently exists around race, ethnicity, and nationality –  I PROMISE I understand more than most how tall you are, what color your hair, eyes, or skin are, or even how bearded you are doesn’t necessarily make you a foreigner. You’re right. I very well could have grown up in the streets of Huanchaco, in fact, my Memaw (that’s a grandma in the South) who looks a lot like me, spent the majority of her childhood in Peru’s capital, Lima – HOWEVER, shocking as it may be, I didn’t run across anyone that remotely looked like me.  This left most people with the right conclusion –  I was obviously a foreigner.  In fact, Mackenzie, another girl on the mission team who happens to be pretty tall too, and I posed for more than one set of pictures with complete strangers while we were out and about because we were in fact so strange ourselves (if only they really knew).  I can only imagine the conversations that took place later – “You will never believe what we saw today” – as a phone is being pulled out to show the photo – “They were so TALL.  And WHITE.  And HAIRY.” Well maybe more true of me, but Mackenzie does have pretty long hair.  What is true of me in Peru is true for me in Michigan, and Ireland, and even North Carolina (which is the state above my own that defiles their barbecue with vinegar) – as much as I try to conform to the people and surroundings, there is still a part of home that shows.

As Christians, we rightfully spend a great deal of time being inclusive. According to Paul, in one of my favorite passages, any identity we bring to the table – nationality, status, or gender – is superseded by belonging to Christ (Gal 3:28). This is consistent with the message of Jesus – “Who is my neighbor?” – anyone. Jesus drives home the point that love crosses cultures as he tells the familiar parable of “The Good Samaritan.”  Make a note: this story is NOT simply called “The Good Child of God.”  This is not a politically or socially correct tale.  However, the moral of this tale from Jesus is not “See – Samaritans can be nice too,” but lies in the emphatic removing of the barriers of race, class, and status to place the sole importance of your identity coming from following the will of God alone – all that other crap: doesn’t matter.

This means that the lines we draw are simple.  We don’t have to use family trees, tax brackets, brown bags, diets, or circumcision to prove that we are followers of Christ.  Our status comes from following the example of Christ as we live out our faith. In so doing this, you are part of the promises of God, or you’re not.  You’re in his will or you’re not.  You’re a sheep, or you’re a goat (Matt 25:31-45).  This is divisive.  Some would have you believe there are many paths to salvation.  No, there is only one (John 14:6).  Some would have you believe that other religions worship the same God.  No, they don’t (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Some would have you believe that since God is love, everyone will be in His kingdom.  No, see the aforementioned sheep and goats.  At this point, you might be shaking your head. Is it moving left to right? Or it is moving up and down?  I get it.  I can feel the reflexive wince kick in from the “you do you” age we live in, but if you submit to today’s wisdom and not the teachings of Jesus, your home is here and now.

We are called to be aliens of this world which means we must, we HAVE TO! be different.  When so many are clamoring that truth and identity are relative, Christians must stand-out like a 6’ 2”, greened-eyed, bearded white man in small-town Peru or more so like a 33 year-old radical priest flipping over tables in the tabernacle, and say, “This isn’t so! Children of God, don’t give up your inheritance!”  We have to say IT IS NOT OKAY to sling mud or resort to physical violence just because someone has wronged you.  IT IS NOT OKAY to steal from someone even if you think you are deserving of what they have. IT IS NOT OKAY to live with someone before you’re married or divorce them simply because you decided not to be with them.  IT IS NOT OKAY to fail to actively teach your children the Word of God.  IT IS NOT OKAY that multiple sexuality and gender fluidity are glorified and thought of as superior to God’s design.  AND MOST OF ALL, IT IS NOT OKAY TO WITHHOLD THE LOVE OF CHRIST FROM ANYONE WHO STRUGGLES WITH ANY OF THESE THINGS OR MORE, NO MATTER WHAT TITLE IS PLACED UPON THEM OR THEY PLACE UPON THEMSELVES.  The Good Samaritan is the The Excellent Jihadist is The Great Transexual is the The Awesome Deadbeat Dad.  “That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:11)”’ This is the transition that is the definition of our hope.

The time of exclusion on this earth is temporary because our awaited time is soon coming; I don’t say this with triumph as much as I do with a sense of urgency.  It is worth the persecution, the name-calling, or moments of being looked upon as a fool or insensitive in order to lead someone to the true knowledge and the fullness of knowing their identity as a stranger of this world but more importantly, a child of God.  He has foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified us, not even withholding His own Son for us all.  It is time to make some waves because of your faith.  Maybe become the object of ridicule because you speak and act so differently.  But most importantly, it is time to stand as an example of how God changes the hearts of His children in this world, and moves them into the precious citizenship of His Kingdom.

“They are so JOYFUL. And LOVING. And GIVING.”…”Why?”

Aaron Winner

Apart

Luke 5 16

I was almost two weeks into vacation with my wife, my  in-laws, and my friends in a foreign country. We had shared hotel rooms, meals, car rides, tours, every story we knew, and so much more.  We collectively saw more of each other in those two weeks than we saw of each other the year before. We had spent a lot of enjoyable time together, but I could sense my idiosyncrasies were wearing on them just as much as theirs began to wear on me. So what did I do? Just a little past lunch I told my family and friends that I would see them later that evening; I had decided it was time for me to  literally “take a hike.” The area we were in, Cinque Terre, Italy, is a group of small coastal mountain towns connected by some tame (and some treacherous) walking paths. With no cell phone service or any other way to stay connected, I turned and started walking in the other direction. As much as I loved them all, I needed time apart. At first, it felt a bit selfish, abandoning everyone I loved to do my own thing for a bit, but it was absolutely important to take a breather, to come back refreshed (although terribly sweaty and tired), so I would be ready to enjoy the rest of the vacation and our once-in-a-lifetime experience time together.

 

Often times, ministry plays out the same way.  Imagine you are with the same group for a long period of time, say the same twelve dudes for three years, or you’ve been in the same church for most of your life, or you work alongside the same people at the same event from year to year.  You’re going to fight (Matt 16:23; Matt 20:21) People are going to say some stupid stuff (John 14:9; Matt 15:16). But until Jesus comes back to restore this earth, there is nothing better we can do together with our time than to share and live out the Kingdom of God with other people.  Yes, we will have to share space, deal with failures, live with the smells, and even call each other out. This is the toll of doing ministry with imperfect people. This means every so often, when our spiritual and emotional bank is depleted, we need to take a hike.

 

In the scriptures, I see several reasons why God momentarily pulls away men and women from ministry. This isn’t necessarily an all-inclusive list, but these are five places or reasons God has called me to withdraw, take a hike, and spend some alone time with Him:

 

1. To refresh – God doesn’t suggest that you rest; he demands it “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me by still waters” (Ps 23:2) implies that you don’t get a choice.  Additionally Jesus doesn’t say, “I can give you rest”, but he “will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) Ministry is exhausting. Speaking out against injustice, finding provisions for those without them, or caring for someone on his/her deathbed are some taxing circumstances.  Momentarily withdraw and let the Comforter come in and refresh you, so God who called you once, can rely upon you to do His will again.

 

2. To repair –  Sometimes we’re just doing it wrong or have the wrong perspective.  We’re cynical; we’re cranky; we’re at a loss, and soon enough we’re like the Church of Ephesus (Rev 2) abandoning our “first love.”  During these times, God pulls us away to repair our perspective, sometimes harshly. Jonah was supposed to go to Nineveh (Jon 1). He didn’t go.  The rest is a whale of a tale. Sorry. BUT absence really does make the heart grow fonder. With the right heading and the correct motivation, God uses this time to rekindle what has been lost through disappointment or sin.

 

3. To protect –  Have you ever broken up a fight?  I have. The easiest way to get two people to stop fighting is to pull them away from each other.  You can’t hit someone who is not in reach. Adrenaline dies down. Breathing becomes slower. We become a bit more level-headed and rational.  Jacob and Esau (Gen 25), Peter and Paul (Gal 2), Jew and Gentile Christians (Acts 15) didn’t always get along. Sometimes God puts breathing room between us and our fellow believers.  Ultimately, we all want to do what is best for the Lord. Once we go to our corners and seek Him, we may find ourselves more agreeable, and maintain the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).

 

4. To speak –  Sometimes we are lost.  Sometimes we feel abandoned.  Sometimes we are afraid and tuck tail and run into a cave (well, at least Elijah [1 Kings 19]).  In these literal, or most likely metaphorical cave moments, God is speaking to us. He is not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, or any other noise. He is in the stillness, speaking His promises.  Sometimes the change of scenery gives us the reminder of what He has already done and of the many blessings he has already placed in our lives, removing fear and restoring faith.

 

5.  To prepare – Jesus spends time alone in the desert praying and fasting before His ministry begins (Matt 4).  He also prays alone in Gethsemane before His arrest and crucifixion (Luke 22). These are possibly the two most crucial points in the life of Jesus, and He spends them alone speaking with God.  There has to be something to this, right? When God is preparing us to do the big things, we have to eliminate distraction and must turn our attention to fully seeking Him. Our relationships and ministry take a backseat. By doing this, we will not do what we think is best for the ministry to thrive.  We will not do what we think is best for us. We will be prepared to do or speak His will in a mighty way.

 

So this begs the question…is it time for you to take a hike?  Does God want some one-on-one time to assure you continue to minister to others? Sometimes it’s okay to be apart from ministry for a while if you are present with God and letting Him minister to you.  Let him provide what you need so you can come back to continue in the joy of ministry in this once-in-a-lifetime experience with those you love.

Aaron Winner

Different

2 Peter 2 9

Hello GROW devotion readers!  We are changing directions with our daily devotions this week, writing directly to the daily theme of FUEL which begins at Manchester University today.  If you are a faithful follower of this blog, you might already know that is was three years ago this blog began as a means of connecting “FUELers” to daily discipleship. While I won’t be attending FUEL this year,  I am excited to be participating once again in spirit by having the privilege to share my take on the important topics being discussed daily. No matter the journey ahead for us, whether it be FUEL, work, school, or ministry, there is still plenty for us all to examine together.

 

Little known fact about me: I failed biology my senior year in high school. My captivation with knowledge of the natural world that existed with The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye: The Science Guy regrettably never reared its head in Mr. Amato’s AP Biology classroom. I didn’t need the course to graduate; I enjoyed doodling a whole lot more than taking notes; and I stayed up in the wee hours of the night on messenger (AOL, not FB) keeping in touch with friends. I was truly indifferent to my studies. Consequently, I walked away from this class unchanged and with some rather large gaps in my knowledge concerning the constructs of life and the environment.

 

17 years later, I’m a teacher <plot twist> with the luxury of a summer off.  This is when I do the vast majority of my reading for the entire year – like a bear gorging prior to hibernation.  The past week or so I have spent a chunk of the day reading about the human body. My fascination for this topic may lie in a newly-acquired Jeopardy addiction, or the intrigue of watching a set of twins grow inside my wife’s belly (uterus that is – see, I read stuff), but I believe the main source of my interest comes through worship revering and connecting with God I love and serve. The information that once wasn’t worthy of my head being lifted from my latest sketch is now the information that makes for awesome contemplation in my free time.  Needless to say, a half-of-a-lifetime away from high school, I’m different.

 

Genetics and DNA are by far the most fascinating to me.  Even at the smallest of levels, only microns long, God is doing tremendous work.  While I’m sure David spoke figuratively when he states God “knits us together in our mother’s womb”, (Psalm 139) He, in fact, literally stitches together genetic material from our parents, and even previous generations, for our physical makeup, making us who we are.  According to one of the sources from which I’m reading there are over 70 quadrillion (yes, that’s a real number), current combinations of the human genome. To put that number into some type of digestible format – If the world remained at its current population for the next 200,000 years and there were no mutations, it would be statistically possible there would be no two humans who were identical during this time frame – and yes, this includes identical twins, who share DNA, but have some dissimilarity in gene expressions.  We ALL are truly different from one another, having been physically set apart from every other person who has existed on this planet. Fear, marvel, and wonder all strike at once; I’m a part of something great, and I don’t want to miss it. And this is God working in the space that is a thousandth of the thickness of your hair. For a greater example see: Universe. Wow. So Amazing.

 

As much as God has given incomprehensible diversity to the beginnings of life, this should be only outweighed  by the contrast of our lives when compared to those who don’t yet know God’s wonderful promises. Peter says that the people who carry this hope should be identifiable. Our good deeds not only protect us from accusations of wrongdoing, but tell of our Heavenly Father and glorify Him (1 Pet 2).  This means rather than being known by the manner of our genetic makeup, such as the balding bearded burly brunette, I would much rather be known as the one who feeds the hungry, the man who looks after orphans, and the singer of praises to God. Our works, not our lip service, declare our outlook. Yet it is not a single or a handful of aspects God wants to be glorified in, but the entirety of our expressions.  We should talk differently, love differently, use our money differently, dress differently, forgive differently, pursue relationships differently, and even do tragedy differently. Every moment is meant to glorify the Father so that he might show His grace and mercy, calling each one who sees us (and including us) out of darkness into the marvelous light of knowing Him.  Yes, we were made unique, but even more so, our faith, if we let it, ignites the very purpose for which we are uniquely made. Let us stick out. Let us shine. Let us live as people who are different.

-Aaron Winner