Posts in "This Invitational Life" category

Day 37 | Stuck in the Familiar

TIL37

The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”

(Deuteronomy 1:6–8)   

I don’t know what you think about when you hear the word “evangelism,” but I share this story of the Israelites at Horeb because I think they were stuck there just like we are stuck in distorted notions of what evangelism is. Here’s what I mean: there seem to be two common ways to share the gospel—one focuses on sin and eternal life; the other focuses on grace and life now. One is sold as an insurance policy against hell and the other seeks to save the world from oppression and injustice. One proclaims the fall and redemption. One focuses on creation and restoration. Neither is the whole story. I want us to step out of these old molds and into a new land where creation, fall, struggle, redemption, and restoration is the story we tell.

Reflection Questions

What memories or images does the word “evangelism” conjure for you? How would you define that word if someone unfamiliar with it asked you what it meant?

Reflect on an experience you’ve had with the type of evangelism that focuses primarily on sin and avoiding hell. How did that experience make you feel? What questions did it leave you asking? Reflect on an experience you’ve had with the type of evangelism that focuses primarily on grace and life now. How did that experience make you feel? What questions did it leave you asking?

Now that you’ve made your way through This Invitational Life and come to the end of this devotional, using your own words, how would you share the elements of God’s story—creation, fall, struggle, redemption, and restoration—with someone with whom you’ve built a relationship? (If it’s helpful, start by simply defining each of the elements as you understand them).

Prayer

God, help me to internalize your full story, from creation to restoration. I don’t want to be someone who shies away from certain parts out of fear or because I lack knowledge. I want to walk in the fullness of your truth so that what I share brings the power and weight of the good news. Show me where I need a fuller understanding and lead me on the right path. Redeem my evangelistic efforts for your glory and to further your purposes in this world. Amen.

Day 36 | Hearing God’s Whispers

TIL36

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

(John 4:27–42)

Over the years, I have found myself in places and stories I never could have orchestrated myself. I am there only because of a whisper from God to go. My own concerns for safety and comfort can so often trump my willingness to go to the fringes to pursue others. But when God prompts me, I am willing to take whatever risk is necessary—even when I feel unprepared and unqualified—because what God has shown me time and time again is that the people he leads me to are always worth the risk. Usually, when God pursues one person, he actually has many more in mind. We see this with the Samaritan woman. Once her life was changed, she couldn’t help but share with her family and the whole town. And within two days, many of the Samaritans came to have life in Jesus. 

Reflection Questions

Read the story of the Samaritan woman in full again (yesterday and today’s reading). As you reflect on the various characters in the story—the woman, her family, the townspeople, the disciples—who do you identify with the most? How so? What does that identification reveal to you about the state of your heart?

What practices or disciplines increase your ability to hear God’s whispers to you? How regular have you been recently with those practices? What adjustments do you need to make to get back to engaging in those practices?

As you think about God sending you to a place you wouldn’t normally go to share the good news, what is your biggest hesitation or fear? What would you need go to that place if he asked you? (courage, words, money, prayer, hope, etc.) Ask God to give you what you need for whatever he asks you to do.

Prayer

God, the thought of you sending me to pursue someone or even a group of people is thrilling and terrifying all at once. I want to go and yet I’m afraid. Please give me a vision for a people and a place and send me. Give me the courage and provision to do as you ask and fill me with the faith I will need to obey. May I be an instrument of your hope, love, and grace. Amen.

Day 35 | Relentless Pursuit

TIL35

Now [Jesus] had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

(John 4:4–26)

In this story, we see Jesus model what it means to be in relentless pursuit of people on the fringes. During Jesus’ day, Jews didn’t go to Samaria—it was a place to be avoided at all costs. But Jesus had to go. There were people in Samaria thirsty for the life only he could give. In fact, he trusted a woman with a scandalous past with his true identity. Not even with his closest disciples had he yet disclosed himself as the Messiah. Jesus’ life was marked by his willingness to go to the places no one else would—to the fringes, to the sinners, to the forgotten. He was willing to (and did) risk everything to deliver hope, truth, and love.

Reflection Questions

Imagine yourself in the Samaritan woman’s position as best you can—she has a scandalous past and is probably ashamed of the choices she’s made; she is considered an untouchable by the Jewish people, someone to be avoided; she is collecting water in the middle of a hot day for her family. What do you think she daydreamed about? What do you imagine she longed for? What feelings do you guess were triggered in her when Jesus arrived, offered her living water, and disclosed his identity to her?

Reflect on your life story and notice where you can now see that God was pursuing your heart either through circumstances or people. Who did God use along the way? How did he use each person you are able to see as part of his pursuit?

Who is God calling you to pursue? Who would it be scandalous to reach out to and build a relationship with in our culture? Pray for God’s guidance about how he wants to use you in his relentless pursuit of human hearts.

Prayer

God, thank you for pursuing me, for every single person you placed in my path that pointed to you, whether I saw it at the time or not. Thank you for softening my heart over time to what you wanted to show me about who you are and how you love me. I want to be part of your pursuit for others. Use me. Show me where to go, what to say, how to enter the places on the fringes so the lost, lonely, and untouchables know they are not forgotten. Amen.

Day 33 | Engage the Disruption

TIL33

“And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

(Luke 10:29–37)

Just before the scene we read about in this passage occurred, an expert in Jewish law asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. In typical rabbinical fashion, Jesus responded with a question, “What is written in the Law… How do you read it?” Jesus told the expert he was correct when he answered that the two greatest commandments were to love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself. But there was still some uncertainty so the expert asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Or, perhaps stated another way, “how far is my love supposed to extend?” Jesus’ story of the Samaritan, a people group hated by the Jewish people at that time, not only answered the question the expert asked, but also depicted what love looks like—stopping, engaging, and showing compassion through action no matter who it is that’s in need, even an enemy, and no matter the cost or the amount of disruption.

Reflection Question

What stands out to you most in this story of the Good Samaritan? Why?

Reflect on a time someone who needed help was on your path to work, an appointment, or a lunch or dinner date. Who was it? What was their need? What was your response?

What hesitations, fears, or questions come to mind as you think about engaging with someone in need the way the Samaritan engaged with the man on the side of the road? Present whatever arises in you to God and ask him to help you understand and process what you’re feeling.

Prayer

God, I want to be someone who acts with compassion in every circumstance and who will stop to help anyone in need whatever the cost or time commitment. Forgive me for the times I have walked by, absorbed in my own agenda, tasks, and responsibilities. Open my eyes to see the hurting and needy along my path and engage with them in love and with sacrificial compassion. Give me an opportunity to love my neighbor as I love myself. Amen.

Day 32 |Love One Another

TIL32

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

(John 13:34–35)

Jesus’ command seems simple and achievable at first: “love one another.” But then, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Well, that’s a little different. Jesus left the riches of heaven to be draw near to us and taste what we experience—the suffering, the limits, the fears, and unmet desires. And then he was betrayed, beaten, and crucified though he was innocent. He loved so much that he endured wrongful punishment, faced false accusations, and ultimately gave his life. So, what makes Christ followers different is that instead of going with the flow and avoiding pain as much as possible, we are called to be the ones who dive headfirst into the pain and the hard stories of the people we encounter. We can declare that we won’t stand and watch humanity be swallowed by pain and suffering, but will take a risk to reach out in love.

Reflection Questions

Who has been a consistent presence for you in the midst of your seasons of pain or difficulty? How have they shown up? Consider reaching out to that person to thank them for loving you well in those seasons.

Who comes to mind when you think about God calling you to love like Jesus? What resistance or fear do you sense in yourself as you think about reaching out to that person or people group?

What do you need God to transform in you to allow you to step out and dive into the pain or story of another person? What do you sense is your role in that transformation?

Prayer

God, thank you for loving me. Thank you for coming in the flesh through Jesus to experience all that it means to be here on earth. I want to enter into life like you did. I want a heart that doesn’t fear the pain and suffering of others, but that is open and willing to dive in because of your Spirit and presence within me. Help me to love like you, to reach out and take a risk for the sake of others. Amen.

Day 31 | Choose Life

TIL31

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

(Deuteronomy 30:15–20)

In our culture, we avoid pain, anything that might be a struggle, and situations that cause discomfort. We are constantly making internal assessments about whether the risk associated with a particular decision will cause too much hardship. And often we do this even when it comes to people: will engaging with this person lead to any discomfort or inconvenience? The problem is that this isn’t the way of Jesus. He calls us to showcase to the world what God is actually like. But, as Moses told the Israelites, we get to choose. We can choose safety, comfort, and seclusion—things that lead to spiritual death. Or we can choose to take a risk and step into life, hope, and faith.

Reflection Questions

Review today’s passage again, and this time pay attention to what words or phrases stand out to you. What did you notice? How do those words or phrases seem to apply to your life right now?

Reflect on a time you took a risk by reaching out to someone knowing it might cause you discomfort or inconvenience. What happened? How did you experience God in the midst of that risk?

Who in your life is crying out for help? How is God inviting you to engage with that person? What’s holding you back?

Prayer

God, thank you for the gift of free will. I choose life. Help me to choose life. Give me courage to take risks so I can show the world your goodness, love, and grace. Release me from the fear and selfishness that holds me in safety and comfort. Use me to bring light and life into darkness and despair. Amen.

Day 30 | Accepting One Another

TIL30

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

(Romans 15:5–7)

On our faith journey, we can move pretty quickly from being stunned that God could accept someone like us—with our past, mistakes, and bad decisions—to people who apply certain criteria before we’re willing to accept others or consider them worthy of being invited into our homes, the church, or our community. When we do this, we are far from the gospel. Paul reminded the Romans—and he reminds us today—that they were to look at others the way Jesus looked at them, accept others the way Jesus accepted them. When we accept others as we were accepted, we are imitating Jesus and our lives become invitational.

Reflection Questions

Read today’s Scripture passage again and this time do so slowly, paying attention to what words or phrases stand out to you. Where do you feel resistance? Where do you feel conviction? Where do you feel gratitude?

Reflect on the people you encounter frequently who are not followers of Jesus (maybe it’s people at work, in your neighborhood, friends, or family members). Thinking back on your last dozen interactions with them, is there anything in your words or attitude toward them or even around them (think about your social media posts) that might make them feel unacceptable to God or that his grace might not be able to reach quite where they are? What comes to mind? What adjustments do you need to make to ensure they know they are invited as they are?

Often we don’t see ourselves clearly or know how we come across. What trusted family member, friend, or mentor could you talk with about whether you come across as judgmental or invitational to those you encounter? What questions might you ask that person?

Prayer

God, you know every part of me—every dark thought, decision, and deed that lurks in my past or in my heart. And yet, you accept me, love me, and have lavished your grace upon me. Thank you! Thank you! Why is it hard for me to extend this same invitation to others? Forgive me for the ways I have communicated that you are anything but accepting and loving, standing ready to forgive and heal. Transform me so my words, attitudes, and actions convey this truth about you. Amen.

Day 29 | Seeking Balance

TIL29

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

(Romans 14:13–19)

God’s invitation to new life through Christ is open to everyone. As a result, faith in Christ joins people who probably wouldn’t otherwise spend time together. Our tendency is to choose communities that act like us, look like us, believe like us, and vote like us. But the body of Christ is made up of all kinds of people. This was true in Paul’s day too. The church in Rome saw Jews who were steeped in strong customs, history, and traditions come into relationship (for the first time) with Gentiles who had their own customs, history, and traditions. What typically happens when such diverse groups come together? Conflict, judgment, a desire to be right, and segregation. What does God desire to happen? Unity, understanding, compassion, and submission to one another in love. Diverse community gives us a glimpse of heaven and grows us in Christlikeness, but we’ll never experience it unless we step into diversity.

Reflection Questions

Reflect on your circles of community (at church, at work, in your neighborhood, at school). How much diversity (think looks, beliefs, voting preferences, actions, income) exists in those circles? What do you think gets missed in a homogeneous community?

What people or people group do you most often get riled up about or judge? Why? What underlies your judgments? (Fear, lack of knowledge or understanding, insecurity, a desire to be right, something else?)

What questions might you ask of someone who holds convictions and preferences with which you strongly disagree? How would you seek to understand with an open and compassionate heart?

Prayer

God, please expand my heart and my view of the world. I can be narrow-minded and judgmental. Forgive me for the ways I have judged people who are different than me. Fill me anew with your Spirit and allow me to ask questions, be curious, and seek to understand. Keep transforming me and continue breaking me open for the sake of gospel and this world. Amen.

Day 28 | Convictions and Preferences

TIL28

If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!

(1 Corinthians 6:1–6)

Disputes and lawsuits between believers over what Paul found to be trivial broke out within the Corinthian church and he spent a good portion of his first letter to that church rebuking and correcting them about how to handle conflict. For one thing, Paul was concerned that disputes and lawsuits would lessen the church’s ability to share the gospel in a convincing way because non-believers would be put off by the internal squabbles. And secondly, Paul saw that the disputes were distracting the church from what was essential—Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—and thus inhibiting their commitment to keeping Christ at the center of their lives and community. In other words, the convictions and preferences of the individual believers, instead of creating a pathway to Jesus, were creating barriers for people inside and outside the church.

Reflection Questions

Convictions are the strong beliefs we hold about how we ought to live based on our understanding and interpretation of Scripture, our internal wiring, and our life experiences. What are your strongest convictions about living as a follower of Jesus in our world today? Where did those convictions come from? How did they come to be convictions?

Preferences are the beliefs we give advantage to over other beliefs. How would you describe your key preferences? How did they come to be your preferences?

Take a few minutes in silence and ask God to show you whether you are allowing your convictions or preferences to act as barriers to people inside or outside the church. What did God reveal to you?

Prayer

God, thank you for the convictions and preferences you’ve planted in me through your guidance and my experiences. I pray that if there are any convictions or preferences that I hold or express that distract from or fail to point people to Jesus, you would show me. Help me release, for the love of others, anything that might act as a barrier. May I always, only be someone whose posture and spirit is invitational and centered on Jesus. Amen.

Day 26 | Stepping Out

TIL26

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

(Acts 9:10–19)

What a story! God awakened Ananias and assigned him a task no one in his or her right mind would do. That is, unless they could release their fear and desire for security in favor of faith and trust in God. Ananias had every reason to be afraid of Saul. After all, he’d been roaming the cities and villages just looking to arrest, beat, imprison, and even kill followers of Jesus. But Ananias made a choice. He decided to trust God and obey the prompting he’d received, reaching out to Paul and calling him brother. The result? A life transformed and used by God as the most influential voice for the gospel of all time.

Reflection Questions

Reflect on a time in your life when you chose faith over fear. What were the circumstances? What do you think accounted for your ability to make that choice?

Who are the people God has called you to engage or build a relationship with, but whom you’ve chosen to stay away from because of fear (maybe it’s a people group, a neighbor, someone whose choices or lifestyle you don’t agree with)? What is the fear? What would one step of faith look like for you?

Who are your faith-builders—the people who encourage you to trust God and overcome fear, who stretch you to relate to those you might otherwise pass by, and who challenge you when you let fear dictate your life? Reach out to those people and set up time to be with them.

Prayer

God, thank you for the way you use ordinary people to reach the lost and the broken. I want to be someone you use. Forgive me for the ways fear has held me back and kept me apart from those you long to draw near to you. Increase my faith and fill me with the courage I need to act in faith and turn away from fear. Speak to me and I will obey. Amen.

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