Three Ways to Balance the Tension Between Avoiding Bad Company and Living Like a Missionary

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This past Sunday I preached a sermon from Proverbs 1:8-19 on avoiding bad company, especially those who are fascinated by violence and greed. I focused the message around the corrosive character of trouble-makers as well as their ultimate destiny. I warned the young and the old in the congregation I serve to avoid violent people or you will become the victim of their own crime. I encouraged them to set their sights on living a God-honoring life and to distance themselves from anyone who might distract them from that goal.

But what about living as a missionary? Aren’t Christians called to live as “salt and light” among those who lost and spiritually separated from God (Mathew 5:13-16)? Didn’t Jesus spend at least some of his time with sinners and other “unsavory” people (Mark 2:14-17)? Didn’t Jesus commission his followers to live like missionaries in neighborhoods and nations around the world (Acts 1:8)?

At times, there is a tension between avoiding bad company and living like a missionary. Here are three questions to balance out that tension.

1. Is this a voluntary or involuntary association?

You can’t choose your family members, but you can choose your friends. This means you may have to make the most of an unpleasant relationship with a relative. You can’t (or shouldn’t) disown a family member just because he or she is not receptive to the gospel. You may want to rethink friendship, however, that is consistently pulling you away from the things of God.

2. Is this a short-term or long-term connection?

There is more at stake with a long-term partnership than a short-term acquaintance. You will have a much great opportunity to influence someone while you work on a work or school project together than by sitting beside them at a one-time social function. The longer timeframe will also give you an opportunity to assess the health of the situation.

3. Are you in a position to influence or be influenced?

Peer-to-peer relationships involve people who have the same level of influence, while superior-to-subordinate relationships involve two different levels of influence. Knowing where you stand in relation to those around you will help you assess your ability to persuade others. You may have a lot more control over a positive relationship with a co-worker than a negative relationship with your boss.

There are many other factors to consider in the tension between these two goals.  Is there any kind of abuse or criminal activity involved in the relationship? Are you actively praying for the spiritual wellbeing of the person or persons you are trying to reach? Are there any cultural or communication barriers that are obscuring relational goals?

What other questions would you ask in balancing out the tension between living like a missionary and avoiding bad company?

 

 

Wash Me and I Will Be Whiter Than Snow (Psalm 51:1-15)

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This is a guest post from my 15-year old daughter, Reese Couture. She wrote this devotion for a Kentucky WMU Acteens retreat that she helped lead.

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Sometimes the best feeling is to get clean. After a long day of hard work, whatever that work may be, it is satisfying to shower. Being greasy or sweaty or dirty probably isn’t one of your favorite things to be, but feeling fresh at the end of the day might be. No matter how gross or smelly you get, you are only a bath away from being comfortable again. In Psalm 51, we read David’s cry to God for a spiritual bath.

When you start reading these verses, you are in the heat of King David’s conversation with God. So much passion and intention are in these words, it seems like too much to unpack. In order to fully understand what is going on, we need to rewind. David was one of the most remembered kings of Israel. He was described as “a man after God’s own heart.” Unfortunately, he is remembered for both the good and the bad; Psalm 51 comes after the bad.

Long story short, King David saw a woman one day named Bathsheba and he instantly knew he wanted her. Bathsheba was a beautiful woman, but she was married to Uriah, an elite in Israel’s army. Since David had kingly powers, he decided to use them to get what he wanted. He was sexually immoral, he lied, he murdered, and he caused unnecessary pain. The prophet, Nathan, confronted David about what he did, which is where these verses pick up.

There are so many things that are asked of God here: to have mercy, to blot out transgressions, to wash away iniquity, and to cleanse from sin. The magnificent thing is that God can (and will) do all of those things for us, we just need to ask Him. His unfailing love will never run out, no matter how many times we come back to it and ask for it again. Have you been corrected by someone and all you want to do is just tell them all of the things they have done wrong? It is an unfair feeling for someone to seemingly place themselves above you when you are equal. The only person 100% justified in judging you and correcting you is God. He is 100% perfect. When you sin, you are sinning against God and His commandments. Being shown by Him what you are doing wrong can be a scary feeling that makes you feel small, but it is truly such a blessing.

Sin is a paralyzing feeling; it comes little by little until you are trapped. The scary thing is, Satan has been doing this for years and he knows the best way to get you. You come to this point where you can’t escape regret or guilt and it just feels like your sins are permanently hanging over you. You are absolutely devastated at yourself and it feels like you can’t do anything to shake the feeling. David was at this point. He was mourning and grieving, so clearly upset at what he had done. That’s not the end! We don’t just get left at this cliffhanger where our main character is at his all-time low. He asked God for forgiveness. He wanted to experience joy and gladness; he wanted to rejoice. David didn’t throw himself a sin pity party and wallow in his wrongdoings, he was able to have freedom when he gave his wrongdoings to God.

Renew and restore are some of the most beautiful words. They present a new outlook on life and create a new chapter. David asked God to renew a steadfast spirit within him and to not take His Spirit or presence away from David. Once we have God, He is with us forever. To be made new in Christ is something so spectacular; everytime we mess up, we can experience that over and over. It isn’t a one-time-only feeling. David also asks for his joy of salvation to be restored and to have a sustained, willing spirit. The encounters had with God cause great joy in Christians’ lives. It is the best feeling in the world to be filled with the Spirit. When we ask for our same old, boring interpretation of life to be transformed into a joyful outlook, things radically change. Having God’s restoration in your life will open up a pathway for you to be able to teach others how they can be restored as well.

In verse six, David talks about God’s desire for faithfulness. Life is busy, it’s just a fact. Every corner you turn there is something else competing for your time and attention. It gets so overwhelming. God wants us to give Him our schedules and focus. This is obviously so hard to do, but our Father really wants to be a part of every aspect of our lives. He wants not only the Church You, but the Work You, and the Social Life You, He even wants the Saturday Night Movie and Ice Cream You. When you give every part of your life to God, He becomes the most important thing in every part of your life. It is a full-circle moment because when God is at the center of attention in everything we do, we are using our energy to please Him. That in-turn lessens the tolerated sins that occur when we place God on the backburner in our lives.

Worshipping God when He once again helps us is so important. The reason we have the ability to praise God is so we can do just that. He gives us opportunities again and again to freely receive His compassion that we do not deserve whatsoever! Not only do we need forgiveness once, but we need everyday when we struggle on our path to righteousness. I think it is especially hard for a Christian to feel trapped in their sins because they have already been originally forgiven. It can feel like uncharted waters. You need to remember we all struggle and we will all always need God’s unfailing love and compassion. You can always turn around and be renewed and restored. Start a new chapter in your life where you are closer to God than you ever have been. Stop procrastinating and take a spiritual shower because you know you need one. He will wash you and make you whiter than snow.

 

 

Share Your Joy

person-110305_1280What brings you joy? Do you find joy in your achievements and accomplishments? Does your joy come from those around you?  Do your circumstances control your level of joy?

The Prophet Isaiah ministered during a stormy time in his nation’s history. The Assyrian Empire was growing in strength and taking over the many of the nations in Fertile Crescent. The Jewish nation and Isaiah’s personal situation was about to get worse.

Even though Isaiah’s circumstances looked bleak, he pointed his people to a time of intense joy and celebration. In Isaiah chapter 11, the prophet predicts the eventual the eventual redemption and restoration of his people, the Jews, through Jesus Christ the Messiah. In chapter 12, he describes the emotions and activities associated with the day of salvation. As the Jews rejoiced over their salvation, they were moved to share their joy with other people.

Even though our cultural and political situation in the church today is much different than in Isaiah’s day, we can learn from him. In Isaiah chapter 12, we learn that when a church is full of joy over the gospel something spills out and that something is evangelism. Evangelism is sharing the good news about Jesus Christ with those who don’t know him yet. If a church is full of joy over the good news about Jesus Christ, they will share it with others outside the church. If there is limited joy in a church, or it comes from the wrong things, then evangelism will disappear.

A brief reading of Isaiah 12 reveals three ways that all believers can find in Jesus Christ and express it to others. First, you can share your joy with others because is present everywhere you go (verse 6). God is always with his people. Second, you can share your joy through praise and worship (verse 5). Music and singing reveal what hidden in the human heart. Third, you can share your joy with all people (verse 4). True joy is contagious, spreading from person to person.

Let’s all take a lesson from the Prophet Isaiah. Enduring joy only comes from God, who sent Jesus to save us from ourselves. If believers and the churches they attend are full of joy it will not only change the atmosphere in the church, it will change their activity. If you’ve found your joy in God, then find someone to share that joy with this week.

Devotional Thoughts for Leaders: There’s Hope for a Withering Ministry

seedling 2Ministry is similar to gardening in that both activities require a lot of time and energy before anything develops.  It takes patience and dedication to prepare the soil, sow the seed, and water and fertilize the seed so it has a chance to grow.  The Apostle Paul made this comparison while warning the Corinthian believers against jealousy and strife.  As “fellow workers” in God’s field, we are responsible to plant and water as we have opportunity, even if we aren’t the ones who ultimately produce the harvest (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

Summer can be a tough for churches, like it is in the garden.  Most churches experience a dip in attendance, participation, and even giving as members celebrate holidays and travel with their families over the summer break.   Numbers of guests may dry up as they try to make the most of summer’s long days and warm weather.  In ministry, like gardening, water is especially important during the hot, dry summer months.  In ministry, watering could mean investing in a budding ministry relationship or it could involve some extra planning and preparation for the upcoming fall.  In addition, watering should include prayer remember that it is God, Himself, who brings the harvest.

What will you do this week to “water” your ministry?

What will you do this week to invite God’s provision and blessing?