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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 27 | First Things First

TIL27

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

(1 Corinthians 15:1–8)

When it comes to beliefs, even among Christians, the differences often seem to be greater than the similarities. In this passage, Paul helped the Corinthian church to distinguish between the essential beliefs, and convictions about how to live in light of those beliefs and individual preferences as to how to prioritize those beliefs. The essentials are the matters of first importance. Paul said there are three essential beliefs of a follower of Jesus: Jesus lived on this earth, died for our sins, and rose from the dead. These beliefs are the foundation upon which everything else—our convictions and our preferences—are built. Understanding these essentials is key in relating to other Christians and people outside the church.

Reflection Questions

Before reading this passage, how would you have described the essentials of the Christian faith? How does your description compare with Paul’s?

Spend some time reflecting on the foundation of your faith. What beliefs ground your actual day-to-day faith?

Sit quietly for two or three minutes, remembering you are in God’s loving presence, and ask God to show you where you’ve mistaken your convictions or preferences for the essentials. What did God reveal?

Prayer

God, thank you for reminder to put first things first. I pray that I can stay focused on the essentials as I relate to others and seek to point them to Jesus. Allow me to remain firm in my convictions and yet able to explain the essential message of the gospel clearly. Let nothing in the way I live out my faith be a deterrent to others or inhibit the people I encounter from seeing Jesus in and through me. 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.

Day 25 | Holding Back

TIL25

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

(Acts 5:1–6)

A heart that is open to God and all he is doing in the world is a trusting heart. What we see in this story from the early days of the church is a man who wanted to be a part of God’s work, but just couldn’t bring himself to fully trust God. How often do we do this? We want to trust God; we want to give everything; we want to fully participate. But something in us causes us to hold back—fear, insecurity, distraction, selfishness, greed—and we miss out on all God wants to do in and through us. Our love is diminished, the image of God within us is squelched, and the invitational life is silenced.

Reflection Questions

Reflect on a time something you said or did diminished your ability to love a family member, friend, or neighbor well.  Examine whether there was a lack of trust in God’s love, provision, or presence underlying whatever you identified. What was it?

What parts of your life are you holding back from God, unwilling to trust his love and grace? What are you afraid of?

Imagine sitting down with Jesus and sharing the part of your life with him that to date you have held back. How do you imagine him responding? What would one step be to going ahead with that conversation and trusting him to respond with love?

Prayer

God, help me to trust you more. Forgive me for holding back and being afraid to let you reign in every area of my life and corner of my heart. Keep me focused on you and let me remember your faithfulness and trustworthiness. Prevent me from distraction and fear so that your love flows through me. Amen.

Day 24 | Out of Hiding

TIL24

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matthew 6:31–34)

To live your life to fullest expression of who God made you to be takes courage because doing so means allowing yourself to be really seen—warts and all. So many of us just can’t get there. It feels too vulnerable and we’re afraid. This is my story. For much of my life, I hid key parts of myself for fear that if people knew my struggles or weaknesses, they would avoid me. But when we let others see our weaknesses, it gives them permission to do the same. Once we’ve all stepped out of hiding, no longer worried about protecting and managing how we’re perceived, we can step into kingdom work and join with God in seeking those who are lost.

Reflection Questions

What parts of your story do you most often leave out when building a new relationship? What worries cause you to withhold those parts of your story?

Reflect on the first time you shared the hardest part of your story with someone. Who was it? How did it feel to allow that part of yourself to be seen?

Who do you know that seems to be hiding for fear of being judged or embarrassed? Ask God to show you what he is inviting you to share or to ask as a way to help whomever you identified feel safe and invited to be known.


Prayer

God, thank you for these words of Jesus. I worry about all kinds of things instead of focusing on your kingdom. Help me to release my worry and fear of how I might be perceived. Allow me to fully embrace my story, good and bad, and give me the courage to be known. Show me who needs encouragement to come out of hiding and may I be a safe place and a gracious presence where others can be seen and known. Amen.

Day 23 | Ambassadors of Heaven

TIL23

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

(2 Corinthians 5:17–21)

Because you have been reconciled to God through Christ and are now a citizen of heaven, you have been assigned an important job—to be an ambassador of heaven, someone who represents Christ in this world. What makes a good ambassador? A good ambassador is loyal to the king and to the kingdom he or she represents. But a good ambassador is also humble and relinquishes the need to judge others. When we embrace these two attributes, we begin to see with God’s eyes—we see people who are hurting, who need grace, and who long to be seen and loved. Once you see people that way, you have the ability to build authentic relationships and eventually, they will want to meet your king.

Reflection Questions

How does it feel to be an ambassador of heaven, a representative of Jesus Christ? How would your family and friends say you’re doing at your job? What would your everyday life look like if you lived into your ambassador title even more (think about your job, your family dynamics, standing in long lines, moments of crisis or conflict)?

Reflect on a time when you interacted with someone and came across as judgmental of their beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors. If you had that interaction to do over again, what would you change?

In what circumstances or settings does representing Christ come easily for you? In what circumstances or settings does it seem more difficult? What accounts for the difference?

Prayer

God, thank you for the reconciliation you brought through Jesus and for giving me the opportunity to say yes. Forgive me for the ways I have failed to represent you and your kingdom well. Show me the places I am falling short and by your grace and your Spirit, help me to grow in loyalty and humility. Allow me to see people through your eyes and to love them as you do by listening and getting to know their stories. Amen.

Day 22 | Citizens of Heaven

TIL22

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

(Philippians 3:17–20)

As a follower of Jesus, your identity first and foremost is as a citizen of heaven. And I don’t mean you will be a citizen of heaven one day; I mean, as Paul told the Philippians, you are a citizen of heaven now. It’s easy to forget this truth, living here in our world, obsessed as it is with money, power, fame, and sex. But what Paul reminds us is that because we are citizens of heaven, our allegiance belongs not to the powers or temptations of this world, but to the king of the heavenly realm, Jesus, and our calling is to bring the culture and values of heaven to earth.

Reflection Questions

What stands out to you most as you read this passage? Why do you think that is?

How would you describe the culture of the country in which you were born? What are the three or four key values of that country? How do the culture and values of heaven compare to those of your home country?

Bring to mind one small space that you frequent—maybe it’s your office, a coffee shop, your block, a classroom. Imagine what it would be like for you to bring the culture and values of heaven to the place you selected. What do you see? What’s different?

Prayer

God, thank you for my citizenship in heaven with Jesus as king. Help me to remember this every single day when I wake up. My allegiance is to you, to your values, to your kingdom. When I get distracted or tempted to go the way of the world, running after money, sex, fame, power, or whatever else pulls at me, intervene! Remind me where my citizenship lies. Remind me that I am yours. May I bring the culture and values of heaven to earth. Amen.

Day 21 |Invited

TIL21

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”

Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

(Acts 13:2–12)

When the Holy Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas out on their first trip to spread the gospel, Paul went by the name Saul. But then he met and shared the gospel with Sergius Paulus. After Sergius Paulus accepted the invitation to know Jesus Christ, Saul began to be known as Paul. Some scholars say that Saul took the name Paul in honor of the first person that accepted his invitation to know Christ. I wonder if the two guys—Dominic and Nathan—who took me under their wing and then introduced me to Jesus are using my name today. I’d be okay with that; my relationship with them and their invitation changed my life. In fact, my desire to live an invitational life can be traced back to them. They got to know me, asked me questions, and taught me how to live.

Reflection Questions

Who has shared the gospel with you over the course of your life? How did your relationship (or lack of relationship) impact your response?

Who was the first person you encountered that really sought to live like Jesus and follow his teachings? What particular details stand out to you about that person?

Sit quietly and ask God to show you who he’s calling you to relate with, ask questions about, and show an interest in. Who came to mind? What is one step you could take to begin a relationship with that person?

Prayer

God, thank you for the people I’ve known who took a risk and shared the gospel with me. Thank you for softening my heart toward you and opening my eyes to your grace and love. Allow my path to cross with people who are longing to be seen and known and help me to listen well, ask good questions, and be a light to them. Grant me the courage to take a risk when the time is right and extend them an invitation to know you. Amen.

Day 20 | Holy Expectancy

til20

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

(John 16:12–15)

We are tempted to think we have to spend hours and hours in quiet time to hear from God. Don’t get me wrong, regular times of silence and solitude are important for any Christ follower in this busy, crazy world. But in my life, the Holy Spirit has prompted me to action most often in conversations with other people and usually, I can only hear the Spirit when I’m really listening to the person across from me. I don’t understand exactly how this works, but I know when I enter into a conversation with someone with a holy expectancy, I am more likely to sense God’s presence and prompting. When I’m listening well, I grow in my ability to be guided by the Spirit and love others well, just as Jesus promised.

Reflection Questions

  • What stands out to you as you read the words that Jesus spoke about the Holy Spirit? What more do you know about the Spirit after reading Jesus’ words?
  • Do you sense any resistance in your mind or heart when you think about hearing from and responding to the Holy Spirit? What is the resistance? Where do you think it comes from?   
  • How well would your spouse, children, or closest friends say you listen to them? If you’re not a great listener, why do you think that is? What do you think would help you listen better?

Prayer

God, thank you for your guidance through the Holy Spirit. Help me to enter into every conversation with a holy expectancy, knowing you are present and working as I listen with compassion. Expand my heart so that I see the act of listening to others as an act of love and a way of showing up as a bearer of your presence and grace. Guide me in every way. Amen.

Day 19 | Be Led

til19

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

(Matthew 4:1; Acts 13:1–3)

Hearing from the Holy Spirit is one thing, but having the courage and willingness to actually respond can feel too scary. We have to be willing, as Jesus was, to be led by the Spirit to show up in the ways God is asking us. This can be uncomfortable. We might face rejection, feel awkward, or come off as strange. But God is faithful and present. He will meet his children wherever he sends them. So, you might be rejected, laughed at, or embarrassed. You might never know the impact of your words or actions from a kingdom perspective. Yet, in the midst of your response to the Holy Spirit, you will encounter the very presence of God.

Reflection Questions

  • Reflect on the last time the Holy Spirit prompted you and you said yes. How did you feel as you stepped out in faith to act? How did you experience God as you acted?
  • What most often gets in the way of you saying yes to a prompting from the Holy Spirit? Ask God to fill you with what you need to push through whatever holds you back and to help you trust you will encounter him wherever he sends you.
  • Is there anything the Holy Spirit has been nudging you about that you haven’t yet responded to as you’ve been prompted? What is it? What is one step you can take to respond and exercise your faith?

Prayer

God, thank you for the invitation to participate in your restoration of this world. Forgive me for the times you have prompted me to action and I’ve failed to respond because of fear or insecurity. Fill me with courage and send me out to share the good news, love the lonely, and extend grace and compassion into this hurting world. Amen.

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