Investing in the Primary Mission of the Church

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20, NIV)

All my life this passage has been thrown at my face. This very section is what we call The Primary Mission of the Church. Sunday School has taught me that I need to spread the Good News: that while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us, paying our debts, washing away our sins, and we may be born again in the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:8, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:4-10, 2 Corinthians 4:16,..the list can go on). The problem with this lesson was that I wasn’t really taught how. I am not saying that my Sunday School teachers didn’t teach me well, they are actually people that I look up to spiritually. The true problem is that we allow fear to come inside and we hesitate and draw a blank when it comes to speaking to anyone who doesn’t know the Lord. How do we take on this task? What do we say? How will they respond?

This has been on my heart for a long time now. There is someone that I deeply care about who doesn’t know the Lord and I regret each time I see this person because I am afraid to speak my mind. I am afraid that this will affect our relationship not in a good way and that they will respond in disgust. I shouldn’t let Satan tempt me with fear, for that is not the way we should respond to what God calls us to do. I have prayed about this time and time again and I know now that I need to stop dancing around this and face it straight on.

“Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)

A good example of being a witness of what Jesus has done in us and for us is none other than the book of Philemon. You’re probably thinking, ‘Philemon? You mean the smallest book in the Bible? What does that have to do with your point?’ Trust me, we will get to the point I am trying to make.

First off, let me give you a little background on the story of Philemon. Philemon is a man of strong faith and is a well respected Christian leader, according to the apostle Paul. Philemon was also a master of a slave named Onesimus. Slavery was widespread in the Roman world at this time. If a runaway slave was captured, they had to be returned and given severe punishment as an example to other slaves. At this time, apostle Paul is writing this letter under house arrest in Rome being always monitored, but he was allowed visitors. Well, Onesimus ran away from Philemon, possibly stole a few items, and stumbled upon Paul. Paul has Onesimus return back to his master and writes this letter to Philemon encouraging him to not punish him and to instead welcome Onesimus as a beloved brother in Christ. Even though Paul needs Onesimus more than Philemon because the runaway slave has been helpful in spreading the Gospel, Paul’s desire of reconciling Philemon and Onesimus was more important to him.

One of Paul’s missions was to see people’s hearts changed by the gospel of Christ. And this letter to Philemon illustrates how attitudes and relationships are transformed in Christ. Notice also here in this letter in Philemon that Paul wanted the relationships between master and slave to be transcended to brother and brother in Christ. Regardless of economic class, societal reputation, race, ethnicity, or gender, we must show Christ’s gracious love to EVERYONE. So, what are the themes in this letter? Forgiveness: Philemon forgiving Onesimus for running away (Colossians 3:11, 13-14), Transformation: Onesimus was born again with the help of Paul (2 Corinthians 5:17), and Sacrifice: Paul giving up Onesimus’s help and also mentioning paying any debts of Onesimus’s former wrongdoings.

I see Paul’s letter to Philemon as an analogy to reveal how far God will go to set any captive in the slavery of sin free. Paul’s investment in Onesimus encouraged and strengthened Onesimus’s faith in Jesus Christ. If we put that much investment like Paul did in someone’s life to open their eyes to the grace of God, imagine the results of changed lives. Think of something valuable to you that you put a lot of time. Now imagine putting that time in fellowship, in the lives of people who don’t know Jesus.

My grandfather is a man of extreme faith. The wisest and strongest man I know. He truly is a man of prayer and dedication to Jesus Christ. He walks up and down the streets with a life-size cross and a crown of thorns, spreading the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness for us, changing the lives of everyone around him. Because of his great love for God, the Holy Spirit works in his life for good works (Ephesians 2:10).

I will not be giving you an exact answer to how you should spread the news to Jesus Christ. But I will say this: take baby steps. Don’t jump to it right away and scare people away, put time and effort into these new relationships. But make sure they know right away that you are a Christian. When you share and summarize the Gospel, I encourage you to use these keywords I learned from the Bible and Gospel class: Need, Grace, Sacrifice, Union, Transfer, Restoration.

I now challenge you to read Philemon all the way through. Don’t worry, it will only take you a minute to read it. But I also want you to highlight anything that Paul says or does that remind you acts of Christ. Think about the meaning of this letter and how you should be a light and an example to others. Think about the steps you are going to take when spreading the love of Christ to others. I leave you with this:

“People pay attention when they see that God actually changes persons and sets them free. When a new Christian stands up and tells how God has revolutionized his or her life, no one dozes off. When someone is healed or released from a life-controlling bondage, everyone takes notice.” – Jim Cymbala

“His voice leads us not into timid discipleship but into bold witness.” – Charles Stanley

Convictions – What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

 

two man and two woman standing on green grass field
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Basically, convictions are your personally-held beliefs that guide the way you live. 

In the Bible, there are definite rights, ie. love God, love your neighbors, treat others the way you want to be treated.

And there are definite wrongs, ie. don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t be jealous of what other people have.

The Bible is 100% accurate and perfect in every way and is the ultimate guide to life. But it does not always spell out exactly what to do in every situation.

It’s like the U.S. Constitution. Everything in it is true and relevant, but it requires interpretation in cases not specifically covered in the law.

Sometimes church denominations will hold certain convictions that they expect their members to follow, like abstaining from alcohol or requiring women to wear dresses and have long hair.

But I truly believe that convictions are personal.

The ultimate purpose of convictions are to keep yourself in a place where you are best able to worship God.

Convictions can help you set boundaries to keep you from situations where you would be more likely to make wrong choices.

For example, let’s say Bob gambled for many years. He lost his wife and family because of his addiction and ended up deep in debt. Eventually, he gave his life to Jesus and decided he wanted to leave gambling behind him.

So Bob decided to quit going to casinos and playing card games all together. It’s not that he thinks Solitaire is a sin, but he knows that being around cards could trigger his former desire for gambling. His choice to stay away from cards is helping him focus on living for God, and not dwelling on his past.

Now, Bob doesn’t expect everyone to quit card games and he doesn’t judge anyone that plays them. He just personally chooses not to.

Growing up, my family had 2 major convictions: 1) we didn’t go to movies and 2) we didn’t go to restaurants that served alcohol.

The movie conviction actually used to be part of the Nazarene church’s member covenant. My grandma never went to movies growing up, nor did my mom, nor did my brother and I. It’s not that the movies themselves are inherently evil, but rather the fact that there was no control over what commercials would play and no way to skip over objectionable content.

We usually watch movies on Netflix or Prime, or get DVDs from the library. So while I’m not always current on the latest movies, I end up seeing them eventually. 🙂

I personally am apathetic on this issue. I don’t feel strongly about NOT going to movies, but I don’t really desire to go either. In all honesty, I’m not a movie person. Give me five billion episodes over a movie any day (unless it’s Marvel). Movies are long, expensive, and some theaters have bed bug issues (no thanks!). And, I want to respect my family’s convictions.

However, I do agree with my parents’ conviction about not going to restaurants that serve alcohol. This comes from a very personal place. My dad’s biological father was an abusive alcoholic. My dad and his nine brothers and sisters were placed in foster homes from a young age and there have been so many health and mental problems among my aunts and uncles that came from his drinking.

Alcohol is literally in my family’s blood and one drink could lead to a lifetime addiction. So my parents always felt strongly about staying away from it as much as possible. There are still several excellent restaurants that don’t sell alcohol and we’d prefer to go there than be exposed to something that destroyed my family.

But here’s the thing: not everyone has to agree.

Growing up, I always thought that we didn’t go to movies or restaurants that served alcohol because that was the “Christian” thing to do.

I always wondered how people at church and school could be Christians if they went to those restaurants and theaters. I didn’t understand what convictions were at all.

And then, I read Romans 14. I highly encourage that everyone reads this chapter. It completely changed the way I viewed convictions.

The Apostle Paul wrote Romans during a time of major change for the church. After Jesus died and rose again, salvation became possible for Jews and Gentiles. The Jews were still used to the law and their traditional customs. Gentiles didn’t have these same customs.

There became major debates as to what was necessary for faith and what didn’t really matter in the long run.

One huge issue was food. Under the Jewish law, there were many foods considered “unclean”. It was also common that meat was sacrificed to idols in those days.

So some believers only ate vegetables. They knew it was kosher and there was no idolatry connected to it. Others argued that God made all food and it was fine to eat whatever.

Paul basically tells the Romans to not condemn others for their beliefs. In verse 6 (NLT), Paul says, “…Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.”

Paul goes on to say that we shouldn’t condemn other believers.

“Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.”
~ Romans 14: 12-13 (NLT)

Another important part of convictions is sometimes doing or avoiding certain things to help other believers. Let’s say you invite Bob (in the example above) over to your house to hang out one evening. Instead of playing Hearts, you could opt for Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. You are 100% free to play Hearts any time, but choosing another game that night out of respect for Bob would help him stay true to his convictions.

Ultimately, here’s what Paul has to say about convictions:

“…Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.”
~ Romans 14:22b-23

What are your thoughts on convictions?

What convictions do you personally live by?

Thanks so much for reading,

RaeAnn

Why Your Testimony Matters

 

The purpose of a testimony is essentially to tell others how you made the decision to follow Jesus.

Chances are, if you’ve grown up in the church, you’ve heard these a lot.

Over the course of my 19 years, I’ve heard a fair share of testimonies.

I remember going to see Candace Cameron Bure at a women’s conference when I was ten. I was so impressed with her story and how her faith impacted her career. Hollywood and Christian morals don’t often align, so it’s been interesting to see how she’s staying true to God and making a difference in Hollywood at the same time.

In the back of my mind that day, I wanted to run away from home, “live”, and come back so I could have an incredible testimony too. I thought my testimony was too boring and insignificant.

Maybe you’ve felt that way too?

I was raised in a Christian home. I attended a Christian school from Pre-school through 8th grade. I was saved when I was four years old. I don’t even remember the exact date.

I’ve heard so many people in church talking about how their lives were so radically changed when they became a Christian.

I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. There was nothing radical about my faith. I don’t remember who I was before then.

One night in youth group, there was a lesson on testimonies. I initially rolled my eyes. It wouldn’t apply to me at all. Who would care about my boring testimony?

But the lesson basically explained that everyone’s testimony matters. Being a Christian is a lifelong process. It doesn’t stop when you ask Jesus into your heart. It’s a commitment to follow Jesus all the way. We’re all prone to sin and being “saved” doesn’t mean we’re perfect or exempt from temptations.

From a human perspective, we often try to rate sins. We may try to justify our actions by saying, “A little white lie isn’t so bad, but murder, well that’s just wrong!”

But that’s not the way God looks at sin. All sin separates us from God. All sin is wrong. No matter how harmful or innocent it seems to us, sin is sin.

As a four year old, I had sinned. I had fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). The wages of my sins were death, but through Jesus, I now had access to eternal life (Romans 6:23).

It can be easy to take salvation for granted sometimes, but think how incredible it truly is! Whether you were 4 or 94, the moment you chose to follow Jesus and accept forgiveness of sins, you were saved from eternal death. You now have hope of living with Jesus forever!

You were no longer defined by your mistakes, but by God’s grace.

Growing up, I was far from perfect. I would lie and manipulate to get my own way. I would hide the truth from my parents, wait a couple of years and then tell them. That way, the punishment wouldn’t be quite as bad.

I also back-talked quite a lot. I always felt compelled to give my two cents, even when it was obviously the wrong time to do so.

From the ages of 4 to 8, I probably asked Jesus into my heart at least 20 times. I wanted to make sure that Jesus would forgive me every time I sinned. I hated being in trouble, but I still loved lying and talking back. When it was less painful to lie than tell the truth, I usually did. On the outside, I was always a “good kid” at school, but very stubborn and strong-willed on the inside.

I guess you could say the perk to being saved from a young age is growing in Jesus as you grow in age. By seventh grade, I finally understood what a relationship with Jesus was all about. He wasn’t just someone we learned about in Bible class, but someone who genuinely wanted to know us personally. It wasn’t about how well I kept the rules. It was about how much I loved Him.

When my goal was to love Jesus, doing the right thing became easier. I wasn’t as much concerned with “getting in trouble” as I was with disappointing God.

Everyday is still a journey. I try to do what’s right, but inevitably mess up from time to time. That’s what makes following Jesus a lifelong process that is so worth it.

Every Christian has their own daily strengths and struggles. We can be encouraged to keep running the race (Hebrews 12:2) by hearing stories of what others have overcome with God’s help.

That’s why your testimony matters.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on testimonies.

How did you come to know Jesus? Have anyone else’s stories of salvation impacted your life?

Thanks for reading,

RaeAnn

It’s OK to Mess Up – Romans 7 Devotional

Are you a perfectionist?

There’s nothing wrong with aiming for a 4.0 GPA or perfect attendance or any other accomplishment. But sometimes aiming for perfection can leave us feeling miserable if we don’t quite reach the bar we set.

It’s discouraging to give 120% on an assignment only to receive a lower-than-expected grade. Then I end up with a “Why bother trying?” mentality which is definitely not good.

When it comes to faith, I think every Christian desires to honor God. But once we become a Christian, our sinful nature doesn’t automatically disappear. There’s a daily struggle between choosing to live for our sinful nature or for the Spirit.

I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect Christian life, at least in the sense that we will never sin. God doesn’t love us based on our perfection or goodness. He loves us regardless of what we do, but is right there to help us stay on the right path. Even the Apostle Paul struggled with sin.

I absolutely love Paul’s honesty in Romans 7:15-25 (NLT):

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart.23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.”

This passage doesn’t mean that sin is inevitable. For our human nature, it is.

But since Jesus has freed us from sin and death, sin loses its power over us.

In Romans 8, Paul explains that when we live in the Spirit and focus on what God desires, we don’t have to be bound to sin. Through the Holy Spirit, we are free.

That doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect, but we no longer have to be enslaved to our sinful natures. When our full focus is on living for Christ, that frees our mind from sinful thoughts. Through Jesus, we have forgiveness from chance and peace in life.

It’s freeing to not have to strive for perfection.

It’s freeing to let the Holy Spirit control our lives.

It’s freeing to know that God still loves us when we mess up.

It’s freeing to live fully for God.

Dead Bones Come to Life – Ezekiel 37:5-6 Devotional

Video Credits: “Dead Come to Life” by Jonathan Thulin (feat. Charmaine)

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.'”

-Ezekiel 37:5-6 (NLT)

Ezekiel 37 accounts one of the strangest stories in the Bible, yet nonetheless fascinating.

God brought Ezekiel to a field of dry bones. God gave Ezekiel a prophetic message to speak over the bones – that the Lord would give them flesh and breath again.

And they did! The bones were scattered everywhere, but started coming together to make complete skeletons.

Muscles and flesh began to form on them, but they still had no breath. They were sort of like the Walking Dead.

Then, Ezekiel prophesied again and God brought  the breath of life to the bones.

Alive, they stood to their feet and become a vast army.

I can’t imagine how scary, yet cool that would have been. I live pretty close to a cemetery. There’s always this one tombstone that’s lit up and I swear it looks like there’s a party going on over there. I probably watched too much Scooby-Doo as a kid, but cemeteries still creep me out.

How crazy would it be to see skeletons come out of tombstones and become alive?!

I wonder if the bones in Ezekiel’s story were people he knew from his past or semi-recent ancestors? Or had they decomposed multiple lifetimes before?

While the Bible doesn’t say who the bones belonged to exactly, there were so many people brought back to life that they were as big as an army.

God allowed this to happen as a sign for Israel. They felt like dead, dry bones because they were exiled from their land and had lost hope. God promised that He would bring them back from the graves of captivity, put His Spirit in them, and bring them back to life in their land.

This passage is a reminder that we serve the Creator of life. No matter how “dead” you feel from depression, sickness, stress, or day-to-day life, God can revive you.

In the music video, Jonathan Thulin presents an allegory of the gospel message. This is the ultimate way God brings us back to life. When we choose to accept His free gift of salvation, we don’t have to wander in darkness and die aimlessly.

As we get closer to Easter, this is a great way to reflect on Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection. Through Jesus, we who were once dead in sins are made alive in Christ! (Ephesians 2:4-5)

He gives us purpose and life. He renews us and breathes life into our dry bones.

What a mighty life-giving God we serve!