Constructive Criticism

I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:4-9 NLT

Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth in order to correct and instruct them in some areas where they needed additional guidance. But he doesn’t just start out immediately rebuking and condemning them, calling them fake Christians, crushing their hope – he first  offers them encouragement for the things that they can hold onto as assurance of their salvation.

It isn’t that hard to find faults in other people. It isn’t hard to find faults in the people you will find in churches. We are very familiar with those faults c we find in others because we ought to recognize them from our own lives. This is the great danger in judging others, because we forget that we too need that undeserved gift of grace to make us right with God. In fact,  many people have been hurt by those who are inside the church buildings participating in religious activities,  sounding religious,  acting religious,  but having no true love for their brothers and sisters. Some would say that the number one reason for atheists today is the hypocrisy of those who call themselves Christians – and they are probably right.

Loving. Forgiving. Merciful. Righteous. Faithful. True. Patient. Peaceful. Meek. Bold. Gentle. Wise. Humble.

Yes,  these are words about you,  child of God. More specifically,  they are words about who you have been given the power to be, due to Christ who lives in you. And I commend you in some of these. And I recognize in myself that I have grown in some of these. But now,  I urge you to press on,  and to press in towards God who is drawing you near to Him. Do not become complacent in your confidence that you are His,  but let it store in you a hunger to be even closer to Him in your walk. Let it urge you to. Walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh.

For if we are growing,  we can know that we are alive, and we can enjoy this relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. But unfortunately,  how many of us are seeking a relationship with God,  versus how many just want Him “on our side” like a genie or a spare tire when we need the help that only He can provide? And I applaud you for not being like this,  friends of Christ, but for loving and seeking the Lord with your hearts.

But there are some who act like a pimp, perverting and pimping out the gospel truths and twisting them into nothing less than a feel good, self help guide for manipulating others for their own personal gain,  prosperity, and as an excuse / license for their remaining trapped deep in sin and darkness.

I am thankful that this is not you, child of God. But we must continue to press in further, to love one another with even more passion, to seek God with even more dedication and fervor, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in even a wider reach, to prepare ourselves for His return.

And why do we do this? It isn’t because we consider ourselves perfect – no,  that is that liar of pride distracting you from the truth, sinner. It isn’t because we are striving to earn treasures – do you not know that He is your portion and prize – have many blind guides not yet claimed the only inheritance worth having? It is because how can we accept such a gift,  such an undeserved gift, and not be grateful,  and not respond to His love in kind?

And how does He tells us to demonstrate our grattitude? How does He tell us to demonstrate our love for Him in return?

“If you love me, obey my commandments.
John 14:15 NLT

Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.  Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.
John 14:23-24 NLT

1 John 4:11 ESV
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.
1 John 4:20-21 NLT

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God.
1 John 3:17-19 NLT

Matthew 22:36-40 ESV
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.
Galatians 5:1, 4-5, 13, 16-17, 19-26 NLT

Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. So I want to remind you, though you already know these things, that Jesus first rescued the nation of Israel from Egypt, but later he destroyed those who did not remain faithful.
And I remind you of the angels who did not stay within the limits of authority God gave them but left the place where they belonged. God has kept them securely chained in prisons of darkness, waiting for the great day of judgment. And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment.
In the same way, these people—who claim authority from their dreams—live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings.  But even Michael, one of the mightiest of the angels, did not dare accuse the devil of blasphemy, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (This took place when Michael was arguing with the devil about Moses’ body.) But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction.
What sorrow awaits them! For they follow in the footsteps of Cain, who killed his brother. Like Balaam, they deceive people for money. And like Korah, they perish in their rebellion. When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness.
Enoch, who lived in the seventh generation after Adam, prophesied about these people. He said, “Listen! The Lord is coming with countless thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment on the people of the world. He will convict every person of all the ungodly things they have done and for all the insults that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
These people are grumblers and complainers, living only to satisfy their desires. They brag loudly about themselves, and they flatter others to get what they want.
Jude 1:3-16 NLT

But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.
But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit,  and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.
And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.
Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.
Jude 1:17-25 NLT

Where can safety be found?

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit,  and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.
Jude 1:20-21 NLT

Some of us are friends – not even because we know each other,  but because we know Christ. Once we know that our enemies are not flesh and blood, the world begins to be filled with the opportunity of friends – because even those imperfect people doing things we might not agree with, or even those that we find opposing us are just in need of the same rescue,  the same grace,  the same deliverance that we ourselves accept daily.

Continue reading “Where can safety be found?”

Why study?

If being a follower of Jesus is a heart change and not just head knowledge, then why do we focus our time on studying scripture?

Joshua 1:8 ESV
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

Psalm 119:11 ESV
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:105 ESV
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

2 Timothy 2:15 ESV
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

The Word of God is a valuable tool for the Christ follower.

Hebrews 4:12 ESV
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

We who follow Christ are seeking to discern what choices are good and acceptable and perfect. We are c sering to examine our own thoughts and desires and take control of them.

Romans 12:2 ESV
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

This understanding of the difference between our carnal desires and the right will of God grows as we renew our minds with the Word of God and the things of heaven – and as we apply these instructions within our lives when the opportunities come to prove our faith (trials). That is why we set our thoughts on the things of heaven,  not just the things of this world.

Colossians 3:2 ESV
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

We are putting on Christ,  learning to rightly divide the Word of God, learning to walk in the Spirit not in the flesh,  we are training and competing in a race for a prize.

Christ did not say, “Claim me in name once and you will receive all the rewards of heaven.” No, He said, “Follow in my footsteps” and “Bear the burdens of one another” and “if you turn back you are not fit for the kingdom of God”.

You see,  He wants us to be fit for the Kingdom of God,  focused and unwavering in our faith and in our dedication to a life following His example. He sets the bar so high,  telling us that even to be angry with someone to the point of hatred is committing murder in our heart, telling us that to look at a woman with lust in our heart is the same as committing adultery. He is wanting us to reach higher than where we are today, He wants to make us fit,  He wants to refine us and grow our strength through trials.

Yes, this is the point of Christianity – not to raise your hand once,  or pray a sinners prayer once, or to get dunked in water once, or to have an emotional reaction to the Word of God once – only to realize later that you had only become a “religious convert” and not truly a follower of Christ. The point is to decide today whether or not you will serve the Lord – and to mean it, to Believe. And when we believe, it changes us. It changes our desires and our motivations, not just for a season, but for eternity. An emotional reaction to the Word of God can cause someone to spring up and chase after the promises of freedom from consequences. But belief results in a life chasing after freedom from sin,  following in the footsteps of Christ.

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.  Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil,  but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.  Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.  Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  He who has ears, let him hear.”  Then the disciples came and said to him,

“Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.  For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:  “
‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,  and you will indeed see but never perceive.”   For this people’s heart has grown dull,  and with their ears  they can barely hear,  and  their eyes they have closed,  lest they should see with their eyes  and hear with their ears  and  understand with their heart  and  turn, and I would heal them.’   But  blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.  For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.  

“Hear then the parable of the sower:  When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.  As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy,  yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.  As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.  As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Matthew 13:3-23 ESV

October 30, 2015 – Dinner on Fridays

How do I know if I am being encouraging and helping someone with accountability or if I am being judgemental,  Grumbling, or gossiping?

Encouragement – building each other up

1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing


Accountability – Equipping one another for spiritual warfare

Luke 17:3 ESV
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,

James 5:16 ESV
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
Galatians 6:1-3 ESV

Judgmental – Spiritual pride of measuring another’s imperfections

So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
James 2:12-13 ESV

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned;  forgive, and you will be forgiven;  give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” 
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
Luke 6:37-38, 41-42 ESV

Grumbling – Complaining about the circumstance that God has you in

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
James 5:7-9 ESV

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Philippians 2:14-16 ESV

Gossip – Corrupting talk about others

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:29-32 ESV

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him:  haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,  a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil,  a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV

Here is the pearl – it matters which way we are looking. We are to be looking forward, not looking back. Focused on hope and commitment for now and the future, nor dwelling on the past.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Philippians 3:12-14 NLT

He said to another person, “Come, follow me.” The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.” Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Luke 9:59-62 NLT

But Lot’s wife looked back as she was following behind him, and she turned into a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:26 NLT

We have to stop looking back. Forgive for the past – and encourage and hold accountable going forward. If we slip up, we confess to our accountability partner(s) and pray together for forgiveness and that we will repent and build each other up in that area of weakness – that we will see His strength come to bear and overcome those chains.

If we are harping on something a person has done in the past – we need to forgive and make it right between ourselves and that brother or sister – looking for a fully restored relationship encouraging one another starting now. We are to be peacemakers.

If we are complaining about something,  we are allowing the Spirit of offense to build up bitterness in our hearts over the past,  instead of focusing on what can’t be changed,  we should focus on what we can do now and for the future to improve the situation.  We are to be overcomes – challenge minded,  not problem minded.

If we are talking about what someone did in the past, instead of about the hope we have for their future – we are both participating in gossip and we are not holding out hope and faith that the Lord will answer our prayers for them to be alive and growing in Christ.

Words have power,  and they are important.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad,  for the tree is known by its fruit.  You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.  I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,  for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Matthew 12:33-37 ESV

Do I train like my dad, the Ironman?

And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.
Luke 5:11 NLT

My dad, Jim Ballinger, is 64, and he is an Ironman. In fact,  he is training for Ironman Florida right now. We talked yesterday and he shared with me that the training that he does is tougher mentally than it is physically. He explained that he has no one training with him this time and the long sessions can feel lonely at times. I asked if he ever tries listening to something in one ear while he trains,  but he explained that the distraction is too dangerous since there are situations that come up that you must be prepared for our you could be caught up in an accident. Other people aren’t very mindful or aware enough to look out for someone riding a bike 100 miles or running a long distance as they train for an event that seems foreign or impossible to most of the world.

A few hours earlier, my wife and I had run into, Mark Foster, a great friend, pastor, and fellow child of the One True God in the produce section at Ingles as we gathered our groceries for the week. Our discussion was on the focus and dedication that it takes to successfully walk in the Spirit and to “Go and sin no more.” But our conversation was about that it is possible with great focus and dedication and training,  that we are not yet perfect,  but our goal is to strive after perfection – to live our lives as a sacrifice,  making Christ our addiction,  seeking first the Kingdom of God.

The parallels between training for an Ironman and training for our final destination to be proven before Christ as a good and faithful servant have never been so clear to me as now. As I study this Word of God and learn to recognize those things in my own life that are tricks of the enemy,  I become equipped with the tools to battle and overcome those temptations in my life. And for most temptations, they flee from me once I am equipped in that area. But some return. And some return with stronger friends,  and I must continue to learn and grow and equip myself for battle.

Some would say, but your salvation is complete,  the battle is already won, Christ has completed the work – to which I would say,  “Yes, I am His and He is mine. That work is done and He is faithful and true. My salvation is complete. But my testimony is not.” You see, if I make it only about my own salvation, if I take this heaven ticket,  place it in my back pocket for the day I die,  and do nothing for the Kingdom of God,  if I turn back from the plow and try to use have as an excuse to remain in sin,  not battling to see sin overcome in my life, not sharing this gospel with others who are lost,  not making disciples and baptizing in His name, then how can I say that I’ve “left everything and followed Jesus”?

And as we train and as we grow in discernment, being equipped with more understanding of how to recognize and battle the tricks and traps of the enemy, those areas of our lives that need correction – unfortunately  this healing to our spiritual eyes also comes with the ability to see it in others. And while we are called to use it to strive for righteousness ourselves and do battle against those things in our lives that would spill our garments,  our testimony to the Lord – it can create division and separation and isolation from the world. We can find ourselves on a long,  narrow road, seemingly running forever,  with no brothers or sisters running beside us to the end – but Christ is always with us.

You see,  we are not just meant to look at our own salvation and celebrate when so many of our brothers and sisters are either lost in the darkness or are still soiling their garments. If we only use the grace that we’ve received to remain the same as the world in every other aspect of our lives other than a once a week praise and worship and a check to someone else who is serving the Lord,  then how precious and valuable can we say that the Lord is to us? Are we not like Israel, turning back to our idols in this world? Loving wealth,  comfort,  pleasure,  sports,  hobbies, loved ones,  more than we love God who died for us and offers us His hand in eternity?

So let’s lay down everything. Let’s set our sights on serving the Lord. Let’s count the cost and realize that Christ is the ONLY thing of value that we can cling to. Let’s get addicted to Christ.

And let’s train radically, to the world as if we were racing for the impossible. Let’s set our eyes upon striving for the righteousness of a life where we “go and sin no more”. But let’s remember even when we slip that He will catch us.

Today,  I ask you,  are your eyes set firmly upon your Lord and Savior? Are you training to show yourself approved? Or are you caught up in the distraction?




Be diligent.

Strive for perfection,  not so that you may be found perfect (because you are not), but so that the Lord may be honored in your continued effort,  and so that your life shines as a living and undeniable testimony to others that the Lord has touched you,  has changed you,  and is doing a mighty work in you and through you. Do not worry about the stumbles,  even when visible to others – let the discipline you receive even be a testimony and a warning for others. Better that the Lord be honored as faithful and true than for me to shrink back from running the race to my best.

Prepare for the Sneak Attack

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.
Luke 4:13 NLT


Temptation is opportunistic. Once we resist evil,  it will flee from us to hide in the shadows until another opportunity arises. Just because we have resisted something in the past doesn’t mean that we won’t face a similar attack again in the future.

Continue reading “Prepare for the Sneak Attack”