Transformational Inclusion (Not Affirmational Inclusion)

“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And 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. 6:9-11

The writings in chapter 5 & 6 contain a particularly strong instruction on sexual immorality, because Paul’s letter was written to the church in Corinth.  It was the vilest of the vile, and sexual immorality must’ve been rampant.  However, among them, people came to faith in Christ!  But the emphasis Paul gives was that they “were”, “formerly”, sexually immoral but washed, sanctified, and justified by Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of God!  They passed from death to newness of life!  Now, followers of Jesus Christ are called from the former sexual dispositions and immorality, to a new, holy disposition.

We must be careful as the church in making affirmation statements such as “God just loves you as you are.”, especially in matters of sexual immorality.  Jesus, and apostle Paul, emphasizes not affirmation inclusion, but transformational inclusion to the body of Christ.  We are received as we are, for the purposes of transformation from our old, sinful dispositions and tendencies to that of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The cost to include us in this transformational was heavy, and as followers of Christ, must also count the cost to become the very nature of Jesus Himself.    

A Special Gift from Spiritual Parents - 1 Corinthians 4

Thoughts from the Sycomore’s weekly reading of Romans…

14 I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.

Which one of us is qualified to call ourselves “fathers” of those we lead? No one. Not even the Apostle Paul. How then does Paul, who has never been a father call himself as such? He goes as far as to tell the Corinthian church to be” imitators of me.” What a bold statement! He is not being arrogant or shaming though—he literally says this in verse 14. It is not his position as a leader or how skilled he is or how well versed he is in Jesus (though he is better at these things than anyone else!) that qualifies him to be called a “father” of others. It is, as Paul says—“for in Christ Jesus,” he became a father of many through the gospel. It is only Jesus and Jesus alone who qualifies Paul and who qualifies us. Anyone can be called a “tutor” of the things of Jesus—they don’t even have to be Christian for that role.

This is why the role of spiritual fathers is never to be taken lightly and something that is never lorded over those we lead. In fact, I think that one of the true measuring sticks of how well we’ve embraced this role as spiritual fathers is when we admonish our “children.” It’s very easy to call our “children” beloved when they’re doing well. Encouragement and empowerment are aplenty in those wonderful circumstances. However, it is a completely different story when things aren’t that wonderful. The willingness, temperament, and skill to have those hard conversations are great indicators of how healthy we are as spiritual parents. I’m not sure if anyone likes to have hard conversations. However, I think that it may be one of the most precious gifts that any parent can give to their beloved—just as Jesus did for us.

Love, Sam

Word vs. Power - 1 Corinthians 4

Thoughts from the Sycomore’s weekly reading of Romans…

1 Corinthians 4:18 Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.

Something really cool happened to me yesterday. I was at Panera waiting to meet a Pastor John. While I was waiting, I noticed a man with a cane sitting down right behind me. I wanted to pray for him, but started to wrestle with whether I should or not. My excuse was—what if he didn’t speak English (so ridiculous when I think about it now!). As I was still wrestling with this, Pastor John came in. I accidently greeted him as Pastor Paul. I thought that that was weird and I apologized. When he went to get a cup of coffee, I turned around and struck up a conversation with the man with the cane. I introduced myself and when I asked his name, he said his name was, guess what… PAUL! I was so taken aback. I told him the story and he was really shocked. I asked if I can pray for him and he said absolutely and that he was a Christian. You know what, Paul wasn’t healed physically, but after saying bye to me, when he walked out, he sure looked different—a little less weary, a little more skip in his step, as if he had encountered the Living God.

We are about to start a series at our church on the subject of evangelism. There’s a stigma that’s been consistent in the church regarding evangelism—that it’s only meant for pastors, leaders, or how about this one—“those with the gift of evangelism.” Most of this stigma’s basically derived from the fact that we’re just terrified of talking to perfect strangers about Jesus or that we just do not have the ability or words to share. I don’t know about you, but these sure sounds more like our own fears and insecurities speaking rather than a lack of skill or “giftedness” thing. The truth is that not everyone does have the gift of evangelism. However, the other part of this truth is that though not everyone has the gift of evangelism, everyone has been called to evangelize. We always think of evangelism as—having someone give their lives to Jesus. And though that is the ultimate goal, we forget that there is a whole process and a journey that goes along with that. If we approach evangelism as each of us being a PART of the process rather than being the ENTIRE process, I think that we would be relieved of so much of the pressure of evangelism.

Today’s text talks about those who “talk” a good game. Their words (or literally “word”—it’s fascinating that however much those who are arrogant may say, all those many fancy or convincing words are simply clumped together as one meaningless word!), no matter how good and maybe even truthful they may be, cannot compare to the power that demonstrates this truth. You see, fancy words, no matter how truthful they may be, always seem to point back to the one speaking them. We on the other hand, couldn’t possibly take credit for the power that only comes from God. It’s a matter of “presents” (giftedness) vs. “presence” (as in the presence of our Holy God). With this said, maybe we’ve approached evangelism incorrectly. I’m not saying that spoken truths have no place in evangelism. They do—as in the case with Paul at the Panera. However, no matter how amazing our words may be, without us realizing that it is actually the “presentation” of God’s power or the representation of His glorious presence that is the greatest form of evangelism. There’s nothing fancy about presenting His power (His power is glorious, our presentation is not!). It’s actually His gift to us and to those we are speaking to. We simply take the step of faith that God is going to show up and let Him do the rest.

Love, Sam

Giftings of God vs The Gift of God - 1 Cor 1:4-7

"I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ." - 1 Corinthians 1:4-7.

The church in Corinth had acknowledged and received the gift of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ.  They had much spiritual giftings of knowledge, and eloquence in speech.  Yet, there was still so much more to be taught, and a maturity of heart that was required.  Despite receiving great blessings from God, they were divisions, and a need to separate themselves from the immoral attraction from their culture, and their former lives.  Paul will go on to instruct in that well know chapter on love, that all the spiritual giftings given by God, all the good moral conduct, all the faith, martyrdom, etc, will be nothing without nurturing the love (not primarily an emotional thing, but of doing what, and being who, God prefers) of God in our hearts.

Sycomore, let us focus not on our new worship location, nor in all our spiritual blessings and giftings, for the next phase of the church.  But let us look to God, the gift of God Himself, and love Him, with everything we got, and be excellent in the ordinary to the extraordinary.  

To Bear is to Endure and Persevere - Romans 15

Thoughts from the Sycomore’s weekly reading of Romans…

15:1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. 2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME.” 4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

A while back someone had said (Rob Reimer or Mike Plunket – can’t remember in my old age!) that the area of our greatest strengths is also potentially the area of greatest weakness as well. I concur. God’s righteousness reigns in me—when I see the weak getting abused or exploited, it moves me to the core. And while it usually moves me to respond at the very least in prayer, I sometimes find myself “drifting” from Christ’s righteousness to self-righteousness. I find there to be, like in so many other things, a very fine line between the two. At least I am conscious of this self-righteous, judgmental, and holier-than-though part of me and I wrestle to put it to death. However, I’ll confess to you that I find myself repenting of it more often than I’d like to admit.

Today’s text reminds us to “bear the weaknesses of those without strength.” What’s eye-opening is what comes next—“and not just PLEASE ourselves” (emphasis mine). That’s exactly what we do when we cast judgment onto others isn’t it? We may do it in the name of Jesus, but at its core, it’s really about a heraldic proclamation of how pleased we are that we’re not like “those other people” who are “weaker” than us. Unfortunately, this kind of self-indulgent self-righteous proclamation spills over onto the most defenseless of all—children. Each time we yell at our kids for spilling milk or crying over them, if we look deeply into our hearts, what we’re really doing is saying—“why can’t you be more like wonderful and perfect me?!” The truth is that we’re actually just like them—before our Heavenly Father. We admonish and correct—“to please our neighbor for his good” and “to his edification.” This should shift our perception of discipline to a whole new paradigm—we truly do disciple for their own good and not simply because we’re angry at them. This is the Christ model. What we’re called to do, is to endure and persevere—throwing ourselves into the Word of God so that we may find our hope in Him. That’s exactly what Jesus did for us. #desiringGod2017

Love, Sam

Easier to Surrender - Romans 13

Thoughts from the Sycomore’s weekly reading of Romans…

13:1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive

12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 13—What a TREMENDOUSLY challenging chapter to read! Chapter 13 smacks of authoritarianism—as if it was something right out of the times of kings and queens (actually, that’s exactly what that time was!). Maybe it’s most challenging because of the times that WE’RE living in—when everything is about entitlement and rights. But that this chapter is in Scripture tells us that these are words for us to embrace just as we embrace John 3:16. It’s important for us to remind ourselves that not everything in Scripture is easy to embrace—but embrace we must. In fact, if we don’t read chapter 13 within the context of 12:2, we will not only be impossibly challenged to embrace today’s chapter, we will completely miss its point.

Chapter 13 doesn’t tell us to blindly or passively subject ourselves to the governing authorities. In fact, the text is more about the way we conduct our lives than the way that the governing authorities conduct theirs. As we live and subject ourselves to the authority of this world, we must always remind ourselves of the ultimate authority that we have surrendered to. Surrendering what I cherish—those things that I feel I am entitled to, the rights that I feel are mine, the right to remain angry and hurt, are at least to me, far easier to do than subjecting myself to the governing authorities. But in having surrendered to God and as our minds are being transformed by the renewing of our minds under such surrender and intimacy of relationship, we will then and only then be able to hear His voice and have the peace in our heart and soul as we “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” It is only through this process, that chapter 13 and many other challenging texts like it are actually to be embraced. #desiringGod2017

Love, Sam

Worship - Romans 10

Thoughts from the Sycomore’s weekly reading of Romans…

10:1Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

I found out very early in my journey with Jesus that we have a very narrow context of worship.  Though I enjoyed worship so much, it was often relegated to a single day of the week—Sunday.  As I grew in my faith, I realized that like much of life, worship is often driven by convenience and comfort.  As much as we may enjoy our time of corporate worship on Sundays—even ecstatically so, we just don’t seem to find it “ecstatic” enough to come together for a single hour and a half to worship together again during another time of the week.  It’s one thing if we have such a schedule that makes it practically impossible to do so (and I’m talking about things like being parents of infants and toddlers or working during that time, etc.), but even then, worship isn’t necessarily very high on our list of priorities. 

The reason for “skimping” on worship, at least for me, is that much of worship is driven by me—as in, “what brings me joy, what makes me feel good, what I get out of it.”  Feeling good after a time of worship isn’t bad.  The problem, is that all of these byproducts of worship have become the primary focus during out praise of God.  Today’s text tells us that worship actually involves a “living and holy sacrifice.”  Sacrifice is not self-focused.  It actually has a singular focus—our Heavenly Father.  We may have a preference of worship music or be at work or school or at a bus stop, but because of our singular focus, we can worship anywhere and at any time.  That’s what it means for worship to be “holy”—it’s acceptable or pleasing to God. Worship is also described as “living,”—meaning that it is a dynamic (involving) physical, emotional, and spiritual) act carried out at every moment of our lives (the word “present” grammatically is implied to be a constant or continuous act and not a onetime occurrence)—and not just on Sundays for a few hours.  Worship then all of a sudden become less about us and more about desiring God.  #desiringGod2017

Love,
Sam

The Witness Life - Romans 10:14, 15

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” - Romans 10:14, 15

It is in our core being to want to eat delicious food.  It is in our core being to love our spouse/family.  And when we came to faith in Christ, it became our core being to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Sycomore, it is time for us to express our God-given DNA.  We are here on earth on assignment: to be a part of, and express, God’s great story of Rescue throughout human history.  Yes, we are to PRAY for God to open doors.  Yes, we are to CARE for the lost.  (And all that is SAFE to do).  However, we are called to SHARE this great salvation.  (from the book ImPossible, by Lon Allison).  And when it is time to share by speaking, there is always a sense of fear.  That’s when you know you are on the right track!   It is why Paul asked that the church pray for him, that words may be given him, and that he would speak it fearlessly (Ephesians 6:19,20).  Sycomore, let us work with God in what He is already doing in people’s lives, even before we speak of God’s good news to that person.  Let us not do this primarily so that the person will avoid going to hell.  Let us not do this primarily so that the person will be happy.  Let us do this, so that the Lamb that was slain will receive the reward of His suffering!

The Church: The Ground & Pillar of Truth - Romans 10:9

Romans 10:9, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

With an increasingly immoral society, where “everything goes”, God has left the church right smack dab in the middle of it all.  What is worse, society seems to be moving from an immoral to an amoral society.  Throughout history, people groups seemed to have a sense that there was a god, and a need to perform acts to a god to be blessed or cursed, damned or saved.  But now, it seems that more of the world has no conscience, no desire to seek God, and no need of salvation.  In the book, “ImPossible” by Lon Allison, he quotes someone saying this to the church, “For God so loved the world, that He left us here.”  The church is to valiantly be the ground and pillar of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).

Along with sharing the message of the love of Christ, the church must also dig our feet into the ground and speak Truth.  The world is crying out for Truth.  Sycomore, we must become the mouthpiece of God, and blow the trumpet of the resurrection, not only because we know it is right, but because it is done out of a life with God.  We must proclaim this great salvation.  Not with a sense of superiority, but with the same grace and mercy that we have received from God, The Father.

Sonship - Romans 8

Thoughts from the Sycomore’s weekly reading of Romans…

8:15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”

During a time when there is an ever increasing pressure to be politically correct, we must be even more vigilant to hold fast to the word of God. When we look a text like the one from Romans 8:15, it is very tempting to read the text as—“but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons and daughters by which we cry out, Abba Father!” It makes so much sense to be “inclusive” in such a way. The problem is that the text is actually NOT referring to sons and daughters. It’s actually talking about “sonship.” Sonship is the term that we use for those (men and women) who have embraced Jesus Christ as Savior AND Lord. It is talking about a condition or position of those who have made such a glorious decision. I do admit that inclusiveness has a place in Scripture. It’s just not everywhere we feel the need or pressure to make it so. #desiringGod2017

Love, Sam

The Right Time - Romans 5

Thoughts from the Sycomore’s weekly reading of Romans…

5:6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

So many of life’s decisions seem to hinge upon us choosing just the “right time” to act.  In fact, if we took a good hard look into our heat and soul, I wonder if this is something that preoccupies our thought-life way more than we would probably like to admit.  In one sense, maybe this is because we can actually calculate when that right time may be.  The problem is that this control that we seem to be enjoying is probably more of an illusion than we realize—because ultimately, we’re not the ones who are really in control.  God is. 

Everything about today’s verse makes “sense” to me, except those 3 words—“the right time.”  I found myself asking, what on earth was it about that time that God chose for His Son to die for us on the cross—“the right time?”  Did something happen that triggered these events?  Did it involve some linear timeframe?  Was there some formula or “algorithm” that God used?  It doesn’t make sense to me why that was the right time?  What a mystery.  Mystery.  Then I had this thought.  This is all a mystery to us because our lives revolve around time—in fact, we’re bound by time.  But God is not.  It’s a question that we ask because, well, at the end of the day, we just need to know.  And when God doesn’t give us an answer to our “timing” issues or for that matter, anything else—leaving it mysterious, we need to remind ourselves that we’re probably asking the wrong question.  Rather than asking the “why” or “how” or “when,” we can help ourselves by asking the “WHO” question—as in WHO is God?  And then, WHO am I?  The reality is, that knowing why or when or how doesn’t give us the kind of peace that we long for—if anything, it’ll probably further fuel our anxiousness to know.  Only when we continue to get to know Him and His character and who we are in Him and how He is forever for us and not against us in the intimacy of relationship with Him, will we find any semblance of peace and joy in our hearts as we approach all of life before us.  Rather than seeking out the right time, lets remind ourselves and each other to ask the right “who” question instead.  #desiringGod2017

Love,
Sam      

Depth of Salvation -Romans 6

Thoughts from the Sycomore’s weekly reading of Romans…

8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to the hard realization that I am going to saying good-bye (or see you on the other side!) to more and more people in my life. It’s a sad and at the same time, glorious truth. Death, however, isn’t something that should be unfamiliar to us—and not simply because we see those around us dying, but because it’s much more a part of our lives than we realize. You see, as followers of Jesus Christ, death—not the actual death of life, but the kind of “death to self” is an absolutely integral part of our journey with Him.

Today’s text tells us that if we die with Christ, we shall also live with Him. What we have to understand is that though—vs. 9, “Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again,” we will—but not only the death that comes after we take our final breath (one which is most often completely out of our hands), but the death that we willing choose to embrace every day, every moment. What Jesus did on the cross paid our debt for our sin and death—that’s called justification. Once we embrace that truth of Jesus Christ as our Savior, our journey of life and faith doesn’t end there. In fact, it’s only the beginning. We actually begin a NEW journey—one that involves what God does as well as what His expectations of us are as well. His part is called sanctification. It is the work that only the Holy Spirit can do and we cannot do it. It involves His awesome power that allows us to overcome the power of our canceled sins. Our part (which He will not do—it’s a choice that we have to make) is the willingness to surrender and allow the Holy Spirit to do that great work in us. There’s another part of this equation though. It’s called transformation and this brings us back to the beginning of today’s thoughts—because it involves, once again, death. Transformation entails the continuous choosing to put to death our old self (or our sin nature), followed by the rebirth of our new self (the one that has been made “alive to God in Christ Jesus”). This is important for us to know because too often we think that our journey ends with a choice that we make at an event some time ago in the past. In one sense it does—but only for those who continue to as the Apostle Paul says—“work out our salvation.” However, I’m not sure if this is the case for those who pretty much choose to “end” their journey of faith right before it’s about to begin. There is so much more to what we call salvation than we realize—and I thank God for that. #desiringGod2017

Love, Sam

Christ Died For Us! - Romans 5:8

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” - Romans 5:8

As professed followers of Christ, if these words stated by Apostle Paul no longer shakes and stirs us to the core every time we hear them, I believe we have become cold, or lukewarm.  This is the foundation of our faith in Jesus Christ.  An old hymnal helps describe this love so amazing, so divine:

“But drops of grief can ne’er repay

The debt of love I owe;

Here Lord, I give myself away:

’Tis all that I can do.”

Our faith in Jesus Christ:

  1. Saves us from God’s wrath.
  2. Justifies and reconciles us to God through the death of his Son (though we were once God’s enemies)
  3. Makes peace (made whole) with God once again
  4. Gains us access to God’s grace, His covenant love
  5. Moves us to glory in our sufferings

May The Sycomore never grow cold, never become passive, and never find ordinary - this great salvation!

God's Promise of Salvation Rests On His Grace - Romans 4:16

“That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,” - Romans 4:16

There have been very concerning blurring lines between Christianity and the world’s religions and moral trends.  The body of Christ’s understanding of the foundations of our faith has been trivialized, and become mixed with lack of discernment.  I have been reading the book of Romans as critical to our understanding the foundations of our Christian faith in The Sycomore, how our faith in Jesus Christ differs from all religions and counters an increasing trend that all religion is the same, and what we are to share of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  

Apostle Paul emphasizes that to be a follower of Christ depends on faith in God and His promises, using Abraham as a key example.  The emphasis of Abraham’s faith was not in his works of moral goodness, nor in his ability to follow God’s laws.  The emphasis of Abraham’s faith in God’s promises was completely dependent on God’s grace.  The english term closest to the term “God’s grace” could be “God’s covenantal love.”

Abraham hoped against hope (God’s promise was for Abraham’s offspring, but he was nearly 100 years old and his wife was barren - no logical, reasonable evidence that God’s promise will ever come to pass!) and believed God gives life to the dead (God tested Abraham to sacrifice his one and only Son!) and is The Creator of all.  No unbelief made him waver, and his faith grew stronger (means he may even have harbored doubt at times, but chose to let it go!).  

This faith of Abraham was “counted to him as righteousness”, divinely approved, what was deemed right in God’s eyes.  And if we hold on to the same features of Abraham’s faith, it will be counted to us as righteousness also, who believe that God gave His One and Only Son for our sins, and raised Jesus, our Lord for our justification.

In Process - Romans 1

Thoughts from the Sycomore’s weekly reading of Romans…

 1:1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God

 A couple of years ago, I was standing with a bunch of people listening to my mentor Dr. Martin Sanders (that’s what usually happens when we’re in his company!) talk about emerging leaders.  It was a good and insightful conversation.  And yet, there was something “strange” about the whole conversation as well.  Then it hit me.  I wasn’t actually part of the conversation.  The subject matter was emerging leaders and I realized that I am no longer one of them.  It’s not a knock on myself.  In fact, it’s just a point of reality.  However, though I am no longer an emerging leader, I am now considered one who has emerged—or at least one who should have emerged as a leader.  Being called an emerging leader is so much easier.  We can always default to the “in the process” excuse for some of the developmental things that we’re “slacking” on.  I understand grace and how we’re always “in process.”  However, this “emerged” status forces us to take a good hard look at the current state of our process and assess its progress.  If you’re like me, I’m my worst critic.  And some of it is viable.  Others are not.  It’s always important to have people in our lives to offer us life-giving perspective (though no matter how life-giving it may be, hard conversations are always hard!).          

Yesterday, I talked about the Apostle Paul’s description of himself as a bond-servant.  In that same line he writes of himself—“called as an apostle,” as well.  As he burst onto the scene as this superstar apostle of God, it’s important that we’re reminded that he too was “in process” and remained in process until the end of his days.  After his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, it wasn’t actually until 13-14 years had passed that he fully embraced his call to apostleship.  During that entire time, I’m sure that there was plenty of work that was being done in his life as an emerging leader.  Even when he “emerged, I can’t help but wonder how he processed his mistakes—he’s not Jesus!  There most definitely was repentance.  But I think even the Apostle Paul had good people (though only a handful of them) to offer him perspective and to remind him that he is IN PROCESS no matter what stage of life and leadership that he may be in.  But most of all, I think it’s the Spirit of God Himself who reminds us of the amazingly faithful journey that we’ve been on and His assurance of the even more amazing journey that lay ahead as we remain faithfully steadfast in Him.  It is this reminder and assurance that will always help us to contend and to press on.  So contend… and press on. #desiringGod2017

 Love,
Sam

Choosing Slavery - Romans 1

Thoughts from the Sycomore’s weekly reading of Romans…

1:1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God

It’s astounding tome that slavery still exists in this world. As I think about it some more and read through the rest of this chapter 1, however, it’s not that surprising is it? We live in such a depraved world. Everything seems to revolve around monetary gain. That’s at the core of slavery isn’t it? It’s a business. That’s what makes it so horrifying to me—someone’s life for financial gain. I couldn’t even imagine what life must be like for someone who is a slave. Then I read today’s text.

The Apostle Paul calls himself a BOND-SERVANT of Christ Jesus. A bond-servant is a slave who has actually been set free, and yet, chooses to remain with the master. That choice is binding. Meaning, that once someone who has been set free chooses to essentially become a slave again, will never again be set free. Who would choose something like that?! Well, the Apostle Paul calls himself such a bond-servant. And the only reason that he or anyone else would describe themselves as bond-servants is not because of who they are. It’s because of who his Master is—Jesus Christ Himself. Paul realized that once he was set free, he wanted to remain with the one who had set him free. He saw that there was nothing that this world could offer that could compare to the freedom offered to him as a bondservant of Jesus Christ. I concur. I desire nothing more an nothing less than to serve He who has set us free. #desiringGod2017

Love, Sam

Seat of Repentance - Romans 2

Thoughts from the Sycomore’s weekly reading of Romans…

Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

Why did I just do that? I don’t know how many times I’ve said these words after casting judgment on someone—which is an implication of how often I find myself sitting on that throne of judgment. Just the thought of this makes me feel like puking. It’s not the judgment that I cast or the judgment that I myself will experience that make me sick to my stomach (thought it gets me pretty close to it!). It’s actually the reality of how “lightly” I think of the “riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience” that does. In fact, to describe what I feel as being sick to my stomach doesn’t do it justice. I often feel as if my heart is being torn into pieces.

It begins with guilt and pretty soon passes over into shame. The way that I learned the difference between guilt and shame is this. Guilt is feeling bad about something that we did. What we feel guilty about is true and we actually need it to be a part of our lives. Shame, on the other hand tells me that I AM BAD and this is when it can become paralyzing—even destructive. What we may choose to do may be bad. But we’re not. I’ll be honest with you. I go through the gamut of guilt and shame—often dwelling on shame for too long. However, as lightly as I may have considered the riches of His kindness when I tried to squeeze myself into that judgment seat (which when I think about it seems so ridiculous—even comical!), it’s His gentle and kind reminder of who this seat belongs to that brings me back to repentance—or the seat of repentance. This seat of repentance is not a bad place to be. It’s a restorative seat—a remembrance seat. It reminds us in gentleness and kindness who we are, but more important who Jesus is as well. Thank goodness He is seated on that throne! #desiringGod2017

Love, Sam

In His Grasp - Romans 1

Thoughts from the Sycomore’s weekly reading of Romans…

1:28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind

I read an article several months ago (on CNN or MSN) proclaiming South Korea to be the “best” protesters in the world (yes, there is such a category). South Koreas are said to be the best at rallying over a million people in such an organized and peaceful fashion. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I guess to be the best at something is worth noting (South Korea was also voted the highest alcohol consuming nation, per populous in the world!), though it also points to the fact that this may be the epitome of passive aggressiveness as well—something that we should not be proud of at all! South Korea isn’t the only country whose people rally for their rights. It’s rampant around the world. But this desire to express the dissatisfaction in our lives as well as our demand for change hits a lot closer to home than we realize. We may not necessarily participate in an outright rally or protest like the ones that we see in this world and in our own country, but we are more than innocent bystanders when it comes to the expression of our gripes and complaints against what we see as God’s overly tight grasp of our lives. What we see as oppression, we don’t realize, that it is actually His loving refusal to “let us go” that keep our lives from unraveling into depravity.

Today’s verse shows us the horrifying reality of what happens when God is not acknowledged for who He is—and not just in word, but in action. It says that He gives them over… to a depraved mind. The rest of the text goes on to describe what that depravity is—it’s horrible. I wonder if this generation’s incessant demand for its rights—driven by what I think is the highest level of entitlement of all the generation’s past, will ultimately lead to God choosing to open His hands and “giving them over” to their depraved minds. I’m not sure if He hasn’t already done so. At the very least, it sure looks like He’s already in the process of doing so. As for those of us who choose to remains steadfast, it isn’t simply the fact that we’re holding fast to Him that keeps us from losing our own minds to this world. Let us never forget that it is actually His firm grasp of His sons and daughters that does. #desiringGod2017, #whatwouldYouhavemedoLord

Love, Sam

With All Boldness - Acts 28:31

“He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” - Acts 28:31

As The Sycomore ends the reading of the book of Acts together, the last verse seems fitting for us.  I believe that it is time that we prepare ourselves to proclaim the kingdom of God to those around us.  I believe that we are to learn AND teach about the Lord Jesus Christ more than ever.  Everything with all boldness and without hindrance, just as the Apostle Paul.  Throughout the book of Acts, the proclaiming and teaching was done in the power of the Holy Spirit, a life bathed in prayer, and with great boldness.  Let us seek and prepare ourselves for the next assignment that God has for us and carry it out faithfully - together.

Bringer Of Hope When All Is Lost

"When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved." - Acts 27:20

The morale of everyone on the ship hit rock bottom.  For 14 days, they couldn't overcome the deadly storm.  The elements were greater than human craft or ability.  The people on the ship tried everything, but nothing worked.  All hope was lost to be saved.  They gave up.

But there was Apostle Paul, who I believe with my whole heart was in prayer during the storm.  In prayer, there was an intense exchange.  Paul's fears in exchange for God's courage (Why do I believe that Paul was scared?  Because the angel told Paul, "Do not be afraid.").  Weakness, for His strength.  Despair, for His hope.  And Paul received from God.  However, his prayers led to intense intercession for the situation and the lives of the people.  Paul got through to God.  And God sent an angel of the Lord to bring a message of hope for everyone on the ship.  Paul shared about His God, his faith in His God and what He promises.  Everyone will live.  

Sycomore, let us be a body of Christ who will pray, intercede, and bring hope for that someone whose hope is all lost.  And when hope is given, let us be a church that will share about our faith in the Giver of that hope, Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.