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New Creations

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
2 Corinthians 5:17

Each new year brings with it the idea of a new start.

It’s why we make resolutions, look forward to the new year, and celebrate its arrival.

The new year brings hope.
Renewal of dreams.
The promise that things can be different. Better.

It doesn’t matter what happened the year before, the mistakes we made, the relationships we gave up on, the sins we committed.

The new year is a clean slate.
A do-over.

The same is true when we come to Christ.

In his letter to the Corinthian believers, Paul makes a startling observation:
Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.

Up until this point in the story of man, there was no newness.
No new creation.

When the Israelites sinned, when they messed up, their only hope was to sacrifice an animal to push off the consequences of their sin for one more year.

They were still who they always were.
Still messed up, depraved, disobedient children who could not get “it” right.

But when Christ came, all that changed.

Rather than the consequences of our sin being pushed off for another year, our sin was paid for. In full.

So when we come to Christ, when we give our lives to Him, we aren’t just the same people we used to be with new religious obligations added to our lives.

We are new creations.

Who we used to be is dead.
The labels we used to wear, removed.

We are no longer liars, cheats, adulterers, lusters, envious, jealous, greedy, insecure.

We may feel that way. We may still have the same thoughts, deal with the same sin, struggle with the same insecurities, but they are no longer our identity.

We are children of God.
Righteous in His sight.
And every other identity we used to hold onto is now dead.

When we fully embrace our newness in Christ, when we grab ahold of the truth that we are new creations, it changes the way we see ourselves. And our sin.

We are new.
We don’t have to claim those old feelings, mindsets, and struggles as part of our identity anymore.

So, my brothers and sisters, as we journey into this new year, may you be reminded that you are a new creation. May you embrace the truth that your old self, with its faults, failures, and sins is gone. Dead. And may you, as you disassociate with your old self and embrace your stance as a new creation, find the sins that used to hold you back are no longer part of your identity.

How has God shown you that you are indeed a new creation?

Be the Change

Photo Credit: Matthew Fern (Creative Commons)

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
1 Corinthians 12:27

It can be easy at times to point out the flaws in our church or ministry group.
It’s not too difficult to realize something is broken.

Attend a single church for long enough, be a part of a small group or college ministry, and you’re bound to find areas that need improvement.

Worship isn’t as passionate as it could be.
The discussions aren’t as lively.
The preaching isn’t as powerful.
The community isn’t as welcoming.
Offering could be done differently.
Followup with new believers could be better.
Inviting others to come could be built up more.
Prayer isn’t as powerful, outreach not working, and the giving – the giving is never where it could be.

All of us could easily point out something we’d like to see changed.
But most of us don’t want to do anything about it.

We each have a role to play in the body of Christ.
A responsibility to see God’s move happen.

When the worship isn’t passionate, when the prayer isn’t powerful, when attendance is down, outreach isn’t affective, giving is down, volunteering isn’t happening, followup and inviting is non-exsitent, we all have a responsibility to bring change.

We all are held accountable to God.
Not just the leaders.

God has given each of us a gift. A heart passion.
When we see something in the body of Christ that isn’t functioning the way it should, it’s our responsibility to bring change.

Not just point out the problem.

The body of Christ is built up and made better when we offer solutions instead of criticism, assistance instead of problems, and change instead of grumbling.

After all, Christ holds us all responsible for how well the body operates.

And so, my brothers and sisters, as you find notice areas in your church or college group that need improvement, may you hear the call to be the change. May you offer solutions instead of criticisms. And may you, as you step out to make the body better, begin to see God do amazing things in and through you and the body you find yourself in.

How can you make the body of believers you find yourself in even better?

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Turning Away from Sin

“Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me.'”
Jeremiah 15:19

Read through the book of Jeremiah, or really any of the Old Testament, and you might get the idea we serve a vengeful God.

Whenever the Israelites sinned, whenever they did wrong, whenever they made a mistake, didn’t sacrifice the correct animal, forgot to celebrate a feast, touched a dead body, reaped all of their field instead of leaving the edges for the poor, didn’t wash their cup or their hands or themselves correctly, or even just looked in the wrong direction, God would punish them.

It seemed they were always doing something wrong.
Even in this portion of Jeremiah’s story, the children of Israel had messed up again. They refused to follow God’s command, began neglecting the poor and the widow and the orphan, turned their back on God and started serving other gods.

So God promised to punish them.

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Facing the Darkness of Sin

Tomorrow starts the season of Lent, those 45 days before Easter where many Christians take time to reflect on the power of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection and prepare themselves to experience new life.

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Give Thanks

“Give thanks in all circumstances…”
1 Thessalonians 5:18

At the end of Paul’s letter to the believers in Thessalonica, we come across this very short, but very powerful, command:

Give thanks in all circumstances.

It’s easy to give thanks to God when things are going well in our lives. When there’s money in the bank account, when the family is healthy, when the job is going well, when all our prayers are being answered and our dream is coming true and we can feel and know God’s presence on a daily basis, it’s almost second nature to give thanks.

But when things are going bad? When there isn’t enough money to pay the bills and the family isn’t healthy and the job is difficult and it seems that God is ignoring you?

It’s not so easy to give thanks then.

But maybe the reason Paul challenges us to give thanks in all circumstances, to thank God no matter what is going on in our lives, is that he knew something deep down that we don’t fully believe.

Paul knew at the very core of his being that God was ultimately in control of every circumstance that happened to him – whether good or bad. When he saw peoples’ hearts changed and begin to follow God, he knew it was a gift from God. When he was able to speak before thousands and start churches and see people healed and set free and reaching their potential in Christ…he saw it all as a gift.

And when found himself locked away in prison for his faith, when he was shipwrecked on his way to do what he believed God wanted him to do, when he was persecuted, laughed at, mocked, tormented, went without food, rejected by those who should have accepted him…he knew that was a gift, too.

Because Paul believed that God worked everything, everything out for the good of those who love Him. He knew that God uses the trials, the hardships, the difficulties and struggles and desert experiences to develop something deep within us. He knew that when trouble comes, we cling to God more. And he trusted that God knew what the struggles would produce in us…and that if God allowed the struggle, the outcome would be better if we didn’t have the struggle at all.

And so, my brothers and sisters, as you sit around the Thanksgiving table this week, may you find yourself truly giving thanks to God. May you not limit your thanks to Him based on the good He has brought into your life. And may you, as you find the courage to thank Him for the trials, begin to see that He truly does work everything together for your ultimate good.

How can you thank God in all circumstances?

Be Still

“Be still, and know that I am God”
Psalm 46:10

Most of us don’t like being still.

We’re constantly on the go, filling our days with meetings, projects, practice, games, lunch and dinner appointments, writing, reading, watching TV, creeping on our friends’ Facebook walls, Tweeting anything and everything that pops into our head. We serve in our churches, join multiple student organizations, become part of work associations, even find ways to add one month more of work each year than people did 20 years ago. We work more, rest less and find ourselves disconnected from family, friends, ourselves, and God.

Being still isn’t part of our lifestyle.

We would rather be on the go, than stay home alone.
We would rather have music blaring, than sit in silence.
We would rather start a new project, write another blog post, cook another meal, visit another friend, play another video game, watch another movie, or do anything else than face the issues in our own heart.

Stillness isn’t easy. It doesn’t come naturally. We don’t find ourselves praying for more stillness, spending more time alone, and desiring to be quiet.

Stillness goes against everything we are and everything we’re taught.

The Sons of Korah, who penned the verse above, knew this first hand.

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Deeper: Set the Example

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”
1 Timothy 4:12

There seems to be a common theme among many churches and youth groups: young people can’t make a real difference.

Sure, we believe they can invite their friends to church, maybe go on a missions trip, serve on the worship team or help flip slides for the Sunday morning worship. We’re fine with young people cleaning the church building, greeting or mowing the church yard.

But when it comes to making a real difference, when it comes to leading their friends to Christ, or starting their own Bible study, or leading a group of their peers to drastically change the culture at their junior high, high school or college…that’s when we get a little hesitant.

Young people don’t know enough. They haven’t studied the Bible thoroughly, haven’t attended a good seminary. They don’t know the words to say, how to handle tough situations and we sure don’t want them representing our church if they do something wrong.

And so instead of equipping young people, instead of helping them reach their potential, instead of giving them a dream of truly making a difference…we play games, and have pizza parties, and try our hardest to teach them not to sin.

Because apparently following Christ is all about doing the right thing.

But Paul took a different approach with young people.
He told them to set the example.

Historians aren’t sure how old Timothy was when Paul penned these words to him. Some believe he might have been as young as 25. Others say he could have been as old as 40. What we do know, though, is that members of the church he was overseeing at the time thought he was too young, too inexperienced to be leading.

In Timothy’s culture, you weren’t considered learned enough to teach until you were at least 30 – the same age Jesus was when his ministry started. You had to go to be trained, disciple under an approved rabbi and have two rabbis accept and release you before you had the authority to speak on spiritual matters.

Timothy didn’t have that.

He wasn’t old enough. He was trained enough. He never went to seminary, didn’t have the life experience, and according to everyone but Paul, he was too young to lead them.

But making an impact for Christ, helping people grow deeper with Him, isn’t about how old you are or how experienced or how trained.

It’s something we’re all called to do.

Set the example. Be pure. Love unconditionally. Serve wholeheartedly. Share your story. Invite others into the story of Christ. Grow your faith.

And don’t worry how old, or young, you are.

Because God can still use you.

After all, He called twelve teenage and early twenties boys to follow Him, and they turned the world upside down.

And so, my brothers and sisters, as you journey through this thing called life, may you remember that you are never too young to make a difference for Christ. May you young people rise up in the gifts and potential God has given you. And my you set the example for other believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

How can you set the example of how a believer should live?

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Deeper: Overtaken by Weeds

“Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so they did not bear grain.”

Mark 4:7

Saturday was the first time in over two months that we’ve had any rain. Couple that with the fact that the last few years, I haven’t had the money to apply fertilizer and weed killer to my lawn, and that my neighbor’s yard is more crab grass than real grass, and I’m sure you can guess what has creeped into my lawn.

Weeds.
And lots of them.

They started taking up residence in my plush, always green, fertilized and sprayed with weed killer/grass grower twice a year lawn a few years back. I had just recently lost my full time job and didn’t have the money to give my lawn the tender loving care it needed to stay at its peak.

So one by one, the weeds in my neighbor’s yard made their way over.

It wasn’t much at first. A small clump of crab grass here, a little clover over there. Even a vine every now and then would try to push its way through. It was barely enough to even worry about. I knew I would have an even better paying full time job soon, and could then afford to blast those nasty weeds back to the pits of hell from whence they came.

The only problem was, the job never came.
Which meant the weed killer and grass grower was never applied.

So the weeds lived on.
They set up residence.
And started multiplying.

The weeds had overtaken my lawn.

I spent a good portion of my morning on Friday, crawling around on my hands and knees in dry, brittle grass, trying to pull out the weeds that were successful in choking out my grass. My mailman laughed, my neighbor said said it was futile, but I was determined to pull every bit of crab grass and every pesky weed out of my lawn.

But after a little over an hour, I hadn’t even made a dent.
The weeds had won.

And as I stood up in defeat, wiping the dirt from my legs and vowing to return next weekend to take out their friends, I was reminded of Christ’s words in Mark:

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain.

Weeds (and thorns) have one purpose – to choke out the plants around them. They push through the ground, begin stealing the water and nutrients from the ground, and attempt to wrap their roots around other plants. They seem harmless at first, but given time, they will overtake every bit of grass, flower, or plant in your yard and leave you with nothing but weeds. One weed easily becomes an epidemic.

The same is true of the weeds in our lives.

Allow that weed of anger to grow in your heart, and it will choke out your compassion. Harbor thoughts of bitterness, and they will choke out your joy. Continue to compare yourself to others, and that weed will choke out your self esteem. Allow the weeds of lust, jealousy or pride to remain and they will quickly leave you unhappy, depressed and pulling away from others.

Left unattended, the weeds of sin and doubt will overtake your life, choke out the good fruit and character you spent years trying to build, and leave you angry, full of hatred and pride, and stuck in the sin you never really wanted.

And so, my brothers and sisters, as you come face to face with the weeds in your life, may you remember how detrimental they can be. May you find the courage to face the hard work of pulling them out. And may you find grace and mercy to see the fruit in your life begin to grow.

Pulling out some weeds…
Jason