21-Day Challenge: Day 15

Blinded

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

"How I long to gather you in my arms..."

“How I long to gather you in my arms…”

I do not relish writing this Catch. I have been staring at the blank page on my screen for a while now, trying to figure out how to go about this. There is no easy way. I wish the Bible weren’t so clear about heaven and hell so we could maybe explain hell away somehow. But Paul talks about those who are saved and those who are perishing, about vessels made for honor and vessels made for dishonor, and Jesus talks about dividing people into sheep and goats, wheat and tares, and branches that are lifted up, and those that are pruned out and thrown into the fire. Kind of hard to get around all of that.

There’s no way you can make this pretty; but there is a way you can make sure everyone knows there is a way clear through to the Father.  That the arms of Christ — as represented by that famous statue over Rio de Janeiro we saw time and time again during the World Cup — are still open wide to the whole world, and will stay open right up to the end of this age.

And if, when you try, some people don’t get it, there just isn’t much you can do about that except to keep setting forth the truth plainly, because you never know when the veil that is disabling someone from seeing and understanding the truth might come down. The veil here sounds final, but it is not. It is not irrevocable. “When anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” is still true. If it’s true for the children of Israel, it’s true for everyone. That’s all it takes to undo what Satan has done in blinding the minds of some. Turn to the Lord.

The new covenant ministry is unique in that it doesn’t demand results from us. Not everyone will get it, but choosing those who see and those who don’t is out of our hands. It’s not who can set forth the truth in the most compelling way; it’s the fact that the results are in a spiritual realm that is beyond us. This is where the forces of God and the forces of Satan clash over the souls of men and women. This is the mystery.

This is also the power of the Gospel of Welcome. The arms of God are wide open to receive. So open wide your heart to everyone. Set forth the truth plainly. Whatever you do, don’t give up on anybody. Pray. It’s still good news. It will always be good news.

Day 15 Challenge:
Paul is responding to a question, “If this is all true (setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God), why don’t more people come to the truth?”

People are perishing because they do not believe; and they do not believe because they are blinded by the devil. That is what he is saying. The god of this age has brainwashed them. They cannot understand what the good news is saying; they do not believe it.

As before, the veil is the delusion that we are adequate to handle life by ourselves. It is that independent sense of pride that says, “I can handle it by myself; I do not need God.”

The veil that lies over the minds of people is to keep them from seeing their inadequacy up against the law, which is fading into death; their death.

Action items:

  1. Who is responsible for unbelief?
  2. If it is Satan who has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, do we give up on them?
  3. Why then do we not grow discouraged if in our offering no one responds to the plain truth of the gospel?
  4. Do we know who is being saved and who is perishing?
  5. How do we know what to tell people if we don’t know whether they are being saved or they are perishing?
  6. So what hope is there that anybody who has been blinded by the devil will ever believe the good news?

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Can you believe what happened to Thousand Oaks, California? Watch this..

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21-Day Challenge: Day 14

By way of introduction

Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2)

“Hi, my name is (your name here), what’s yours?”th-3

According to Paul, author of 2 Corinthians and architect of the new covenant, this is how God is going to further His work in the world. It’s how He is going to spread His gospel around. He is going to indwell us, and then connect us up to people who need Him (which is everybody, so you can start anywhere).

I’m going to stop for a moment before we go any farther, and make sure you know who Paul is talking about in these words of instruction and encouragement. It’s important that you get the fact that you and I are the ministers of the new covenant he is referring to. “This ministry” we talked about last Friday is our ministry. This might have started out being about Paul re-establishing his credentials as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Corinthian Christians, but he is taking time to detail this ministry, because it’s not about Paul anymore; it’s about the Corinthians Christians he’s writing to, and by way of translation, you and me.

But don’t panic, because even though the ministry is ours, the power is not. The “stuff” of this ministry — what we deliver — doesn’t come from us, so there is no need for any of theses underhanded tactics, because they are all related to covering up human limitations. They are mechanisms of inadequacy.

Because it is “this ministry” — the one that relies on the Spirit of God shining in and through the lives of all of us — we are all qualified for it on the strength that the Spirit provides. And since it is a ministry totally based on that Spirit in us, it becomes no longer necessary to hide, deceive, distort or in any way tamper with, or alter the word of God — things that would be necessary in order to compensate for our fears, weaknesses and inadequacies were we relying on ourselves.

All these are coping mechanisms that are necessary when we have to produce the changes ourselves. But this isn’t our ministry, it’s the ministry of the Spirit of God in us. We are not even aware of it all the time; we just show up, knowing that the Spirit of God shows up when we do, because He is in us, and He will show us what to do and give us the strength to do it.

So therefore, that’s why Paul can finally say that the ministry is all about commending ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. Nothing to hide, no tricks, nothing underhanded, just you and me, in the middle of whatever we are going through, counting on the fact that the Spirit of God shows up when we do. The word “commend” here means to introduce. Thus the introduction, “Hi, my name is (your name here), what’s yours?”

This is, pure and simple, the way the Gospel of Welcome goes forward. Since the Holy Spirit is living in us, we have merely to introduce ourselves to people, open wide our hearts to them, and God will take it from there. Can you do that? I think we can all do that.

Day 14 Challenge:
In 2 Corinthians 4:1, Paul spoke about not losing heart. But what is losing heart? Quite simply, it is a description of discouragement and a form of non-clinical depression. We experience depression and discouragement when we wear our veils because these veils keep us from the freedom found in His Spirit, and we lose heart.

Rather, Paul says to prevent us from losing heart, we renounce depending on ourselves, attempting to help God out, trying to earn frequent flyer miles from God toward eternity, considering our sin not as dirty as our filthy neighbor, or rationalizing that God is ‘helping us’ make ourselves into better people.

We are servants of Christ, with our eyes fixed on Him. What He tells us to say is what we are to say, and what He tells us not to do is where our limits are. That, unlike other ministries that try to win the approval of, or please others, is the new covenant ministry. We are servants of this ministry, which is Christ in us.

Action Items:

  1. Paul says, we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
  2. Tell us what it means to commend yourself?
  3. Can you tell us a time when you introduced yourself to someone and the Spirit took it from there?
  4. Consider a time when your mind or emotions were fighting with something, but God reached you through your conscience?  (Example: when considering a sexual affair?)
  5. Have you ever gotten lockjaw when trying to share the truth with someone? Good. Long conversations and/or arguments rarely work. Just tell the person the simple truth, trusting that there is a voice inside each person, including the one you are speaking to. That voice was put there by God. Its called a conscience. The conscience inside can be saying,”Yes” even though outwardly, the head is shaking, “No.” Create and post a selfie with your conscience saying,“Yes” but your head is shaking, “No.”

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21-Day Challenge, Day 13

Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. (2 Corinthians 4:1-2)

th-1On our BlogTalkRadio show last week, we had two guests Marti and I have known since we first got married. Ralph and Sherrie Buffa were technically our first neighbors, and they both ended up being in our discipleship groups studying the new covenant together — Sherrie in Marti’s group, and Ralph in mine. I thought it would be great, since it has now been almost 40 years since they had first been exposed to the teaching of the new covenant, to have them talk about how significant this teaching has been in their lives, looking back on all those years. What I had forgotten was the fact that they were both brand new Christians when they started with us, so, in effect, this was the first Bible teaching they experienced as believers.

I found this unique because most people who come to the new covenant have been Christians for some time, and, as is typical for most, their early experiences of Christianity are in somewhat legalistic settings. The new covenant, set against most people’s church experience, is markedly liberating. Yet for Ralph and Sherrie, the new covenant was the first thing they received as new believers. In fact, it was the reality of this teaching that cemented their faith right from the start. They didn’t have to unlearn what so many Christians get wrong the first time.

The other thing that was surprising about our interview with these friends was how freely they talked about the content of their lives. We were a little concerned, going into this, that Ralph, being a relatively mild-mannered man, might not have much to talk about. As it turned out, he really had quite a bit to say. And the theme of what he and Sherrie talked about — how Ralph would sum up the new covenant in one word if he had to — was the word “confidence.”

I had never thought of confidence as central to this teaching, but he is right. In fact, the word “confidence” comes up at least three times, depending on what translation of the Bible you are using, and another related phrase that Paul uses is in our verse today means almost the same thing: “we do not lose heart.”

Why, I wonder? Why is confidence the natural result of taking the new covenant seriously in our lives? Because it uses God-confidence, not self-confidence.

Paul says we don’t lose heart because of this ministry. What is this ministry?

It’s God’s ministry, not ours. He is carrying out His plan in and through us. We don’t have to come up with this; we are just available to God to be used as a part of what He is doing in the world.

We receive it; we don’t create it. We don’t drum it up, dress it up, manipulate it, sell it, hock it or make it up. It’s His ministry and we receive it through Christ.

It’s based on the fragrance of Christ in our lives. We don’t create that; we have nothing to do with that. It’s not even for us or for others; it’s primarily for God. Others are the beneficiaries of what is going between Christ in us and God in heaven. Or as Jesus taught us to pray: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And where that happens is in us. We are the proving ground for the kingdom of God.

It goes on in spite of us, not because of us. Even our mistakes and human limitations (e.g., Paul’s missed opportunity due to his own anxiety) are woven into the plan of what God is doing in the world so we can always say we are being led in triumph.

It uses the worst life can throw at us, to bring out the best in us. (This part is coming up later in this chapter; stay tuned for this.)

We are not adequate in ourselves for any of this, but God has made us adequate in His Spirit. It’s actually in and through our own inadequacy that we experience His adequacy.

So, you see, we can have confidence because this ministry is all coming from God. Everything from God; nothing from us.

Therefore, since we have THIS ministry — not ours, but His: operating in Him, through Him, by Him and because of Him in and through us, conforming to His ultimate plan to make us more like Christ — we do not lose heart. That’s confidence — God-confidence — because it depends on God and not me.

Day 13 Challenge:
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. (2 Corinthians 4:1-2)

  • What comes to mind when you think of a Minister of Christ?
  • A mild-mannered man standing before a mild-mannered group of people, exhorting them to be more mild-mannered.
  • A tall, good-looking and well-spoken presenter in a designer suit.
  • A man who knows the right way to conduct the Christian life and is going to dedicate his life to showing you what you need to do to be like him.
  • Someone authorized to marry and bury and other odds and ends.
  • You and me.

Action item:
Take and post a selfie of a Minister of Christ.

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21-Day Challenge: Day 12

Freedom in the Spirit

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17, 18)

thWhen we turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away and we are stripped down to our bare, naked selves. We are who we are, but we are not alone. The Spirit of God is there, too.

This is where the message of the new covenant starts to soar up and over everything else. This is where the new covenant does for us what none of us can do for ourselves. It sets us free. No more beating on ourselves to try to change or conform to our — or anyone else’s — idea of who we should be. We are being changed already. The change has begun, and all the elements necessary to complete that change are already in place. This is you and me, unveiled, with the Spirit of the Lord in us, and transformation happens as we constantly keep our eyes focused on Christ.

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” And just where is the Spirit of the Lord in the context of what Paul is discussing in these verses? In us. So, therefore, liberty is in us, too.

This is the best news ever. What does this liberty look like?

Freedom from having to be something we are not. No more trying to conform to what anyone, including the church, says we are supposed to be. This includes spoken and unspoken levels of conformity.

Freedom from having to produce righteousness on our own. Righteousness is, and has always been, out of our reach. There are none righteous; no, not one. The old covenant was made to be broken so we could be introduced to the new one. Things are going along as planned.

Freedom from the guilt and condemnation that comes when we can’t produce righteousness. Guilt and condemnation are attributes of the old covenant. They are the result of our failure to follow the law. They are not to be even in the vocabulary of a new covenant Christian.

Freedom from hiding. Hiding is the result of our inability to follow the law. Our failure forces us to hide it. All of these things — failure, guilt, condemnation, hiding —are all related to bondage to the law. Each one of these is like a heavy weight laid on us, one on top of the other, until our backs break under the load. The new covenant removes them all. Throws them all off. This is the liberty Paul is talking about here, and it is a complete and total liberty which comes from an entirely different orientation to life — a reorientation from having to change ourselves, to being changed by God.

Look to the Lord; stay open and vulnerable; stop striving; trust in His power to change you. This is the power, glory and liberty of the new covenant. Do you know it? I’ve known it for years, and never needed it like I do right now. This is why the new covenant is always new; it never gets old. If it’s old, it’s the wrong one.

“Oh how different life can be, when all the changes don’t depend on me.”
from “Ways and Means,” a song from “The New Covenant” musical, written by John Fischer, available free by clicking HERE.

Day 12 Challenge:
16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
The veil is over our minds, but the Lord is in our hearts.

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Freedom comes from this great fact: the one who is within us is God himself.

When you start looking at the One who is doing this in your life, the Lord Jesus, and beholding Him with all your veils taken away so you are not afraid to look at your own evil capacity, then a wonderful thing happens: 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

You can finally be you, and you recognize God wants you to be you. You are already pleasing to Him. God’s basis of deliverance is to give you the gift of full acceptance and righteousness. You do not have to earn it at all, and your performance is not going to affect it. You already have it.

Action items:

Take a minute and recognize for yourself how futile it is to try to be good, but how wonderful it is to realize that, by the gift of God, you already are good in His sight.

  1. What do you suppose is the “ever-increasing glory” in v. 18, and how does it manifest in you?
  2. What will result at last in love which fulfills the Law?
  3. Breathe in and then slowly breathe out and say, “The Lord Jesus Christ loves me. He wants me to be me. His gift of full acceptance and righteousness is given to me with no strings attached. He loves me!”

Thanks be to God who always leads us in His triumph!

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21-Day Challenge: Day 11

‘Losing my religion’

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:16)

th-7Veil: Whatever I hide behind that allows me to keep my fears, insecurities, sins, judgments and rationalizations to myself while at the same time giving off an impression of great spiritual depth and insight. It is necessary because I am trusting in myself and my own manipulations for my good standing among other Christians, and I cannot let anyone know the truth about me because it would ruin that good reputation I have been nursing for some time now. What compounds this charade is being in a group of people (some people call this: “church”) who are all doing the same thing, so that we all believe the veils we wear instead of the truth. The line from the song, “What Has Gone Wrong” says it all: “Is everyone here as good as they seem, or like me, are they faking it too?” Who would know? No one, unless someone tells, but that’s unlikely, because that would break the unwritten code that we don’t tell, so as to protect each other.

It’s heinous. It’s a lie. It’s a bad smell in the nostrils of God — so bad that it masks the fragrance of Christ that He is longing to smell in me and smell in the world. And how do you suppose I know so much about this wearing of veils and all the slight subtleties surrounding it? Because I am so good at it. I am one of the best — certainly the best I know, since I don’t know the real truth about anyone else.

There is a line in the 21-Day Challenge for today that Marti wrote (below) that cuts me to the quick. It certainly put me on my knees when I first read it last night. “There is no way you can show yourself how self-righteous you are.” Isn’t that the truth. We become so good at these veils that we can’t see them. Even if someone showed us, we wouldn’t believe it. I honestly think that when it comes to seeing and removing veils, we are the last to know.

“John, something stinks about you; can’t you smell that?” No, because I am the main one I have fooled, and I’m used to me. That’s why no one can take his or her own veil off. You can’t even see your own veil, much less remove it.

There’s only one way out of this mess. Turn to the Lord. “Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” Only the Lord can take it away, and He does it when we turn to Him.

But what does that mean? How do you turn to the Lord? What do you do when you turn to the Lord? I’m not so sure I know, except that I know you can’t fool the Lord. He sees everything and He sees through everything. You can’t hide anything from Him.

Here’s what I know about facing the Lord:

  • It’s humbling.
  • It’s frightening.
  • It’s revealing.

Do you feel that? Are you there?

And once you are in that place where you are conscious of the Lord, and you are humbled, frightened and revealed, then stay that way. When you get up off your knees, don’t stand up and walk away in your heart. Stay right with Him because He’s right there with you.

Stay humbled. Stay frightened. Stay vulnerable. Keep facing the Lord, especially when facing someone else.

Day 11 Challenge:
Paul is very clear that the nature of the darkness, the blindness that lays over the minds of the Jews of his day, which he calls a “veil,” is the same veil that Moses put over his face.

What the veil did on Moses’ face was to hide the end of the fading glory. It hid the terrible end of self-effort and the death that would result. It is deceitful, and in that deceit lays its sinfulness.

The great problem is that we are blind to these as sins. If we saw ourselves, we would see that we are wretchedly self-righteous. But we really think God approves of us. (We are just like the Pharisees whom Jesus would scorch with his words because they were so wretched in their self-righteousness.) And since we do not see these as sins, we never turn to the Lord about them. We think of them as minor indiscretions that might be a little troublesome, but they are not really sins. We believe that God is not very concerned about them because of the great self-righteous record we have in our eyes. So we never confess them; we never acknowledge them as wrong to ourselves or anybody else; we never turn to the Lord.

Therefore, the blindness is never removed. In verse 16 it says, “but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” You cannot take it off any other way; there is no way you can show yourself how self-righteous you are. You have to turn to the Lord. That is the only way it is possible. But because we do not do this, we go on year after year hurting ourselves, hurting others, and enjoying the momentary pleasure and sense of excitement we get from indulging in these attitudes. We are unaware that gradually there is coming into our lives the end of the fading glory, the death, the darkness, the emptiness, the sense of futility, the boredom, the dullness of that kind of Christianity.

Action item:
Answer this question: Is there hope for us? Why or why not? Post a selfie of you before the Lord.

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