A New Creation

This article originally appeared on CHANGED Movement’s Love & Culture blog in April 2022. used with permission.

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Several years ago, I was part of a small group of men. We all struggled with issues around sexual purity and identity. We met weekly to encourage and support each other. During one of the meetings, after rejecting most of their encouragement regarding God’s love and view of me, one of the men confronted me.  He asked, “Are you so arrogant to believe everyone here is wrong and you are right?” The truth was, yes. In fact, I was that arrogant. In that moment, the Holy Spirit spoke to me clearly saying, “They see you like I see you, they see the real authentic you. Rodger, your vision is distorted by lies, you don’t see that you are a new creation.” See, I saw myself through the distortion of self-applied    labels and identities. I didn’t recognize the new man. No wonder walking in newness of life felt impossible.

The Old and New Testament speak of the hope that one day God would come and save His people. This salvation wouldn’t just be rescuing them from the evil surrounding them but it would be a salvation that completely changed the person who had faith in God. While this is fantastic, He promises to do even more. God said His Spirit would live in his followers, empowering them to live a righteous life, a righteousness that flows from the inside out1. The Prophet Ezekiel wrote, I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”2 The Old Testament hope has become the New Testament reality. Paul writes “the gospel is the power of God to save all who believe.”3 That is, when you believe this good news you encounter the power of God and it changes you, it changes everything!

Knowing and experiencing this power is central to Christianity. Paul asked God to give the Ephesians “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened so that you would know…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…” Paul continues, it’s the same power (his great might)  “that he (God) worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…”4  WOW, breathe that in a few times, it’s intoxicating in the best way!!! The very same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us. Because of this we are saved, born again, resurrected into new life, adopted as daughters or sons, and we’ve been released from slavery to sin and death and set free to live a righteous life. This power is so powerful that it has made each of us a new creation. And, the Holy Spirit lives in us!

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes about the ministry which he is, indeed, we are all called, the ministry of reconciliation. Paul states, “From now on we regard no one according to the flesh….”. He stopped assessing or judging people according to their appearance, what he could see with his eyes. He had initially done so with Jesus (and the fledgling church) and it didn’t work out well. Thankfully, this kind of vision problem can be healed by encountering the Risen Christ.

The effect of this change is we no longer see with distorted vision. Instead of seeing the distorted person, we see the authentic person who is in Christ; we see the new creation. Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”5 Again, this is a good time to stop for just a few seconds and think about this truth. When we came to Jesus we were made a new creation. The word he uses for “new” means “all things are new, previously non-existent, far different from what they were before.”6 This is outrageous; I am not the man I use to be! Christianity is not rehabilitation for those addicted to sin. It’s not therapy to piece together a fragmented psyche. No, the old Rodger died, he was buried. Now, by faith in God, His power has made me a new creation, born again, resurrected into new life. And, so are you.

I may not feel or behave like a new creation, but I am. As a new born baby, born again into this walk of faith, I will develop and mature. It is by faith that we are saved! And it is the fruit of this faith in his grace, love and power that we mature in him. With faith that I am who God says I am, I challenge other voices that identify me as something other than what God says in Scripture. I recognize that my appetites, desires, or lust don’t define. My body’s sexual response doesn’t define me. God defines me and I see myself through His eyes. I see that I am a new creation. And, with hope in Christ and the testimonies of others, I “run the race set before me.”7 

Now that you are a new creation, do you see through those new eyes? When you look at others, how do you see them?  When looking at followers of Jesus, do you see the new creation?  Many disciples continue with the labels they had prior to faith in Jesus. They continue with labels that are no longer true. No worries. These labels are like “yellow sticky notes” stuck on a woolly sweater. With just a breeze, those labels are blown away. You don’t need to try to rip off the labels or confront the person, but rather love the authentic person Christ made them to be. Jesus will bring a breeze at just the right time. I encourage you to see with new eyes. Look for the authentic in others. For believers, this is always their new creation. For those yet to come to faith in Jesus, ask the Father to see them as He does. Never label someone with a label the Father would not give them.8 Ask the Lord who they really are and interact with them from that perspective. Honor them and love them as the Father does.

I pray that you encounter the love and power of God so intimately that nothing causes you to look back but that you see everything as lost for the sake of the gospel. I pray you no longer see yourself or others “according to the flesh,’ but as God sees. I pray you see yourself as a new creation and engage how different you are. You are not who you were! You are a disciple, a follower of Jesus, a Christian. This is your authentic self. Nothing else identifies you. I pray you and others are able to see in you the fruit of intimacy with Jesus, His righteousness, peace and joy increasing in you and through you!!!

1 See Matthew 5 In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus “raises the bar” regarding righteousness. “You have heard it said…but I say….” The righteousness of the Kingdom of God flows for inside out; it is not measured only by action but by one’s heart, feelings, fantasies and attitudes. 

2 Ezekiel 36:25-27

3 Romans 1:16

4 Ephesians 1:17-19

5 2 Corinthians 5:17

6 The mean of “new” from the Strongs, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g2537/esv/mgnt/0-1/

7 Hebrews 12:1; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 4:7

8 Kris Vallotton, one of the senior leaders at Bethel Church, Redding, one day had an encounter with a young man who had shared the labels he had applied to himself. When Kris spoke to the Lord about the young man, the Lord said to Kris, “Never label people with labels I would not give them. See them as I do.”

Celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Bread of Life!

For the Bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. Jesus said to them, “I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst”

– John 6:33, 35 –

But in all the land of Egypt there was bread. ―Genesis 41:54, ESV

This may seem an odd passage for Christmas, but let’s take a closer look. Egypt often represented slavery and oppression in the Bible. However we also see that God repeatedly used Egypt to deliver or save His people, particularly from starvation. Abraham AND Jacob independently sought “salvation” in Egypt because God directed them to the provision that was there. This salvation, however, was limited to physical life. Thus, Israel would ultimately require a Deliverer to set them free because she had settled into complacent dependency upon Egypt, which eventually led to oppression.

Further, do you recall that Jesus Himself sought refuge in Egypt? An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13, ESV) Let’s not make too much of this theologically, as Jesus was a small child requiring 100% care, just like any other. So, Jesus, the Deliverer also entered into Egypt for deliverance at this time. This was prophesied in Hosea 11:1, “out of Egypt I called my son.” (See also Matthew 2:15.)

Jesus as our Deliverer came to do more than merely save our physical lives. He came to save us wholly: body, soul, and spirit. We are then empowered to live out our salvation in service to God and others. Who serves food to the poor? Most rescue missions are run by Christians. Who heals the sick? Many hospitals and medical missions are run by believers. Even the oppression by 18th century slave traders was ended largely by Christians declaring “Freedom!” to slaves. These are messianic (though limited) works that Jesus began, saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven…, not like the bread their fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51,58 ESV)

May you be fed and strengthened by the Bread of Life this Advent season!

Merry Christmas!

Dan P., Senior Pastor

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Give to the Max Day!

Give to the Max Day Logo with trees, hills and the state of MN.
https://www.givemn.org/

Dear Friends,

November is arriving, and with it comes chilly air, holiday gatherings, and our annual invitation for you to join us for Give to the Max Day. As many of you are aware, Give to the Max Day is specifically set aside in Minnesota for financially supporting local non-profit organizations, like Outpost/TCJHOP. In years past, we’ve asked our supporters to consider giving a little extra this month. This year, however, we are doing something different: inviting new people to contribute to our ministry. We have so many who regularly pray and give, but to do all the work before us, we need to bring more people into this community of support.

Inviting others to join in is inherently biblical. Consider the story of Andrew and Philip in John 1. These men were disciples of John the Baptist when he pointed them to Jesus and said “Look, the Lamb of God!” (v.36). Both men began following Jesus that day. Scripture tells us the first thing Andrew did was go and get his brother Peter, saying, “We have found the Messiah” (v.41). Likewise, Philip went and got his friend Nathanael, telling him to “Come and see” (v.46). What prompted Andrew and Philip’s actions? They had found the Messiah, and they couldn’t wait to bring others to Him.

Have you have been blessed by the ministry of Outpost? Then we encourage you to be bold like Andrew and Philip to say “come and see!” to a few friends or family members. What do we mean? Think about what God has done in your heart, your mind, and your life to bring you hope and healing. Consider who you know that would be blessed and encouraged by hearing your story. Tell them your story and ask if they would like to help us bring that same hope and healing to others.

Our goal is to welcome 50 new donors into our community through Give to the Max Day. Here’s how you can help:

  • Visit givemn.org and create an account.
  • Visit our organization page at givemn.org/organization/tcjhop and click the “Fundraise” button.
  • Create a fundraising page using the provided template.
  • Talk with people and invite them to give through your fundraising page from November 1 – 18.

Andrew and Philip boldly and speedily invited Peter and Nathanael to follow Jesus. This could not have been easy and, as we know, certainly cost them greatly. But it also brought them a great reward. Sharing your story of healing with others may feel daunting, but the reward is also great. Find one or two trusted people you can share with. Tell them what God has done and is doing in your life. Invite them to help us continue providing help and hope to others. And may the act of invitation bring you strength and encouragement to continue sharing your story so others can come and see the hope and healing of Jesus the Messiah for themselves.

Yours,

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Wendy

A Summer Ministry Update from Joshua Fellowship

Young men in a Bible Study group

Dear Friends and Family,

I think it’s safe to say summer is officially over. I know fall isn’t everyone’s favorite, but personally, I love this harvest season. Looking back, this has been a whirlwind of a summer for me. I graduated from seminary, celebrated my one-year wedding anniversary, and witnessed the birth of my daughter–becoming a new parent! Additionally, summer is typically the busiest time of year for Joshua Fellowship–Outpost’s young men’s group—as they have an annual summer curriculum called “Strive.” With my daughter coming a couple weeks before this curriculum started, I really had to trust my leaders to oversee this program while I was on leave for most of the summer. This trust became an overall theme for the summer and was made easier because I knew I could trust God to be working in and through these leaders.

Even before summer started, the leaders and I had been trusting and praying for God to bring in new people to Outpost, and He answered that prayer with some men being clearly Holy-Spirit-directed to our ministry. One changed his plans to move internationally to pursue what God was doing in him. One just happened to hear about the ministry through a cousin who had heard about us through a dance teacher (whom none of the current staff know). Still another, a “pre-believer” at the time, found us through a Facebook group and dove into the process. The Holy Spirit is the best marketing director we could have!

During this summer, God moved powerfully within the men of Strive. I wish everyone could see that transformation we leaders get the privilege of witnessing over the summer. We see the men break through strongholds of shame and passivity and embrace their identities as dearly beloved sons of God! We saw almost a dozen men as participants choosing to love God with their whole selves—sexuality included. From worship time to times of hard work and breakthrough, they chose love again and again. Throughout this process, there were moments of transformation in which these men experienced great freedom, especially to be their authentic selves. Every year I’m blown away by how God comes through!

Outpost also got to see God spreading the DNA of our ministry in this summer. We were blessed to have a director of a sister ministry visit to observe what we do in our final weekend intensive. What’s more, a couple of men on the leadership team are moving on to other ministries in this next season. Though we will miss them, I also know they are taking their skills to continue establishing “outposts of restoration” in their new ministry contexts as well.

Strive is just one great example of how Outpost is truly living out its threefold mission to love God, declare freedom, and establish outposts of restoration for the sexually and relationally broken. So, while we are ending a great season of harvest this summer, I believe we are just beginning to see how God is moving in and through this ministry. I pray the seeds we now sow will multiply both now and in the future.

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A Living Waters Update

Click to go to details page for our Living Waters Group.

Dear Friends and Family,

In John 4, Jesus interacts with a Samaritan woman and reveals Himself as the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus draws the woman into conversation by telling her about the “living water” He offers. “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” (John 4:13-14). The woman expresses her desire for this “living water,” and Jesus begins to minister to her regarding her sexual and relational brokenness. In a sense, Jesus is telling her that her brokenness points to what she is truly needing from Jesus. As Jesus reveals Himself to her, the Samaritan woman believes and starts witnessing to her village. Through her testimony, many encounter Jesus and come to believe in Him.

One thing that is striking is that Jesus offers the Samaritan woman the living water before she has everything pulled together. Jesus offers her healing and freedom, despite the fact that she is not morally perfect. The minute she receives Jesus as Messiah, she begins to overflow into the lives of others, calling them to encounter Jesus too. Before she is fully healed, she is already being the good gift she was made to be.

This passage, as well as John 7:37-39, gives name to the Living Waters program. Living Waters is a discipleship curriculum that seeks to bring members of the Body of Christ into deeper relationship with, and experience of, God. In this curriculum, a Christian is someone who is already fully accepted, fully loved, and fully valued by God through Jesus Christ. From that place, a Christian begins walking in the fullness of what is already true about them (set free from the law of sin and death, a new creation, a beloved son or daughter, etc.).

This is a stark contrast to how many Christians approach God and walk out sanctification, as I can personally attest to. So often we believe that God will only truly accept us or like us once we have gotten over sinful habits, or have healed from past hurts, or renounced lies and agreements we have made with the enemy. This is a bottom-up approach: we get cleaned up or fixed up, and only then can we believe God is really okay with us. Scripture, however, reveals that in Christ, Christians are already fully accepted, forgiven, and made new. From that place of a new identity, we walk out our healing journeys in order to experience more of the fullness of God than we already have access to through Christ. This is the top-down approach: we are already made whole in Christ. We now walk in Him, experiencing that reality of wholeness and agreeing with Him about who we are.

Jean M., who recently stepped down from the Living Waters Coordinator position, has counseled the Living Waters’ leadership team on this subject. We believe God has something new He is wanting to do, and we sense that this is tied to emphasizing the top-down approach. In this group, we don’t approach people by shaming them and focusing on their brokenness. Instead, we talk with participants about brokenness, wounding, and lies so they can see who they already are in Christ. We focus on what is true and help them learn to hear what God is saying to them in prayer and in the Bible. They are already filled with the living water. We come alongside to help them step into the reality of their adoption into God’s family, as well as work through anything that keeps them from experiencing this.

Living Waters will be meeting for 18 weeks on Thursday evenings starting September 9, running through January 27, 2022 (with breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas). The group will meet from 6:30pm to 9:00 pm. The format includes worship, teaching, time to process, and small groups. The cost is $220 and includes your book. Anyone who would like to dive deeper into their relationship with God is welcome to apply! If you have questions or are considering applying, please click here for more information and a link to the application. You can also email us with any questions. Applications and a small deposit are due August 29 so we have time to meet with each person prior to September 9. We don’t turn anyone away because of inability to pay, so if you are interested in a scholarship, let us know!

In Christ,

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A Joshua Fellowship Update

Joshua Fellowship Logo

Dear Friends and Family,

Do we really want what we say we want? The story of Joshua in the Old Testament seems to ask this question. He is introduced, alongside Caleb, as one who encouraged Israel to go and take the promised land—despite what looked like insurmountable danger. Yet, that generation of Israelites decided they didn’t want what they said they did. They said they wanted freedom, then they complained and wished they were back in Egypt. They said they wanted the promised land, then they allowed fear to make them complacent in the wilderness. This is why—as Joshua was finally about to lead a new generation across the Jordan into God’s inheritance—God said to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Like Joshua, the brave young men in Joshua Fellowship are choosing to trust God and His promises unto abundant life. This is why we call this group Joshua Fellowship. Often this trust comes little by little and with many reassurances from God. For example, Joshua hears God say, “Be bold and courageous,” many times in a short section of Joshua chapter one. Likewise, these men are certainly bold and courageous. In a world that says, “anything goes,” they are choosing to stand and fight for truth. I truly believe that these young men are future leaders in the Kingdom of God.

Many of these men face real struggles. Most (but not all) struggle with same-sex sexual attractions and behaviors, sexual addictions, shame, identity, and deep pain. However, I don’t see them as ones to be pitied for their struggles. Instead, I see them as part of God’s elite force that terrifies the kingdom of darkness! That’s because these men are real. They know what it means to suffer and yet still choose God. They have truly counted the cost and are not doing because it’s easy.

God has also been blessing Joshua Fellowship and drawing men from all over to Outpost. This is nothing special we’ve done—this newsletter is the closest thing we’ve ever done to marketing the group—but is truly God’s doing. I am very excited for what God is going to do in the lives of these men this summer, most of whom are new to Outpost. Please pray for these men to continue to stand firm and become faithful “warrior witnesses” for Jesus to this world.

When Temples Topple: God’s Unexpected Blueprint for Community

Open door with a glow of light through it from the outside

Back in January when we asked a friend (who lives in Wuhan) to officiate our wedding, we did not expect a virus outbreak to happen. We really didn’t expect this outbreak to affect the world the way it has, with some of us just now returning to limited church gatherings and others still waiting.

As we are navigating how, when—or if—to start gathering in-person for worship, many of us feel displaced. For those that have gone back, church looks a lot different than when we left it. The old normal seems like an increasingly distant memory.

The Israelites experienced something similar but to a much greater extent during their return from captivity. The temple that was supposed to be the center of worship for the God of the universe had been destroyed, and the Israelites were sent to Babylon. The books of Ezra & Nehemiah tell the story about their return to Israel. This return to normalcy was pretty anticlimactic, especially regarding temple worship.

But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.

—Ezra 3:12

Those that wept probably had in mind the stories of the temple’s dedication where God’s presence descended into the midst of Israel’s assembly. Yet, this didn’t happen for them. Yes, they were back in their land, and, yes, the temple was being rebuilt. But this seemed like a far cry from God’s promise of establishing His kingdom of perfect peace over all the nations. This shadow of the former glory prompted the question of whether that former glory would ever return! One thing was for sure: the pre-exile days were over, and there was no going back.

But God had something greater in mind. After all, His covenant was not with a building but with a community of people. A few hundred years later, Jesus—God Incarnate—was conceived and born into the world. He is the true Temple. After His death, resurrection, and ascension, this new group of believers are revealed to be the place where God’s Holy Spirit rests and dwells.  It is through this community that God sets up His temple, and it is to this community He entrusts His kingdom. God has always intended His creation to be His cosmic temple, and us humans to work as priests within this ultimate temple. [By the way, the people at the Bible Project can tell a lot of this with much cooler imagery, and it is worth looking up!]

So, why am I talking about all of this temple stuff? It’s because it helps us understand where we are in this season. I do not believe God allows things to happen arbitrarily. He knew this pandemic would happen and disrupt our old normal way of doing church. Instead of trying to go back to the “former glory” or mourning its loss like the repatriated Israelites, we should recognize that we are moving from one kind of glory to another. God has something greater in mind.

God has allowed what can be shaken to be shaken, so what is unshakable remains (Hebrews 12:26-28). We have the opportunity to ask ourselves: “What is the Church without a building? Do we see the Church continuing to live and thrive? Did we put more trust in our temples/buildings/programs than in the Living God?” The Church is ultimately a community of believers. All we need is two or three for Christ’s presence and authority to be in the midst of us. For me, this has been a sobering reminder that I have maybe put too much emphasis on our centralized gatherings. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to see believers together in groups, and I miss it! However, I fear I have leaned toward making the same mistakes the Israelites did. They focused too much on a physical center of worship and lost sight of the main mission, which was to be a light to the nations. The mission wasn’t to hoard God’s presence but to spread it far and wide!

A great irony for me is that being that light is what we try to emphasize at Outpost. Our groups are really meant to be a communitas (a temporary liminal gathering for the purpose of change) more than a permanent static community. Throughout Strive—our summer masculinity program for young men–we emphasize that the goal of healing is ultimately not for yourself, but so that you can return to your community as a good gift. And we have seen many men do just that. In fact, we have had four weddings of alumni this summer (my own included). Our mission is not to hoard what God is doing, but to multiply it.

Even as we think of more enduring communities, such as our local churches, we must realize that these are not meant to be permanent and static. Our Christian “temple worship” was never intended to be contained within four walls. Our churches—and our gatherings of even two or three—are ultimately transitional spaces leading into God’s Kingdom and the fullness of Jesus’ rule and reign over everything when He returns! We are the living Temple, and we are meant to grow and expand and see God’s presence spread across all creation and all spheres of society.

So when we think about community as Christians, let us not get discouraged by restrictions on how we meet or how long this will last. This is an opportunity to embrace a new kind of normal. A normal that truly realizes the priesthood of believers. A normal that fulfills our call to carry God’s presence to all people, all places, and all circumstances. That why we are called an Outpost. We stand at the farthest edges of the Kingdom, and we are seeking to expand that Kingdom into the hardest and darkest places of our world.

And Now a Word From Some of Our Volunteers!

Neon sign saying "Hello" on a metal wall

Editor’s Note:  In this issue, you’ll be hearing from one volunteer leader and two summer interns. We hope their stories encourage you and give you a little insight into the hearts of some of our volunteers here at Outpost.

From David G.

I came to Outpost knowing I needed help but thinking I had done the majority of the healing work myself. All I thought I needed were a few pointers and a little practice. What I found was a group of men who had the same vocabulary for the painful inner experiences that I thought I alone had to deal with. As a result, I was filled with hope that I was not alone or faulty in some fundamental way. There was an audacious idea that more healing than I ever thought possible was available. And it was all because these brave men had walked through the same things I had, and come through to greater healing than I had previously imagined. I found a community that labels me a son of God, nothing more and nothing less. When I forget, this community helps me remember who I am and where I am going. I encountered God in my heart here. Through my time with Outpost, I’ve seen my heart change from serving only my own selfish desires, to desiring to share God’s mercy with others. The song, “The Blessing,” by Kari Jobe, has a verse that reads “in the morning, in the evening / in your coming, and your going / in your weeping, and rejoicing / He is for you. He is for you.” I want to spend my life in such a way that everyone knows – He is for you. He is always for you.

From Jaimie M.

Hi friends, my name is Jaimie! I want to share a bit about my experience with Outpost Ministries! When I first came to Outpost, I was a new believer who was on a healing journey and trying to figure out who I was in God’s eyes. Before meeting Jesus, I identified as a lesbian. I was using self-harm as a way to cope with past sexual trauma, and I was lost in a whirlwind of terrible lies I believed about myself. At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect. but I knew God was telling me to go through the Living Waters program that Outpost offered. And let me tell you, that was where some of my biggest breakthroughs happened. I learned a lot about how my past wounds were affecting me and was able to invite Jesus into different situations and allow Him to heal my heart. My small group was a safe place where I was able to process heavy things and receive prayer and encouragement from others. For the first time, things were finally making sense and Jesus was revealing more and more to me who I was and who He has called me to be. After two times through the Living Waters program, I took a big step and joined the leadership team last fall. I have always had a heart to serve and share my story to inspire others. I think one of the most rewarding things for me personally has been watching Jesus move in people’s lives.

From Scott R.

My name is Scott, and I have been involved with Outpost for about a year-and-a-half. Being with Outpost has been a very valuable, though difficult, experience as I grow in walking out my masculinity with the Lord, as well as finding freedom and joy in Christ that I am able to pass on to others. In my time with Outpost, God has brought healing to my masculine identity and my acceptance that I am a man, as well as other deep healing. I have learned how to grieve my wounds with Him and trust Him to bring healing and transformation, to fight for me, and to bring renewal to my mind.

When I was asked by Pastor Jonathan to consider doing an internship with Outpost, I was thrilled! I have a heart to serve, and being able to contribute to an organization that means so much to me excites me. As part of my internship, I am writing a paper on Biblical gender and sexuality. My desire is to dig deeper into the Scriptural basis of what Outpost teaches so I can not only grow from this, but also be equipped to teach others about these topics. This is especially important in a culture that sends many mixed messages that make it difficult for Christians to focus on the biblical basis for what it means to be whole. I have enjoyed being able to serve so far this summer, and I trust God to use this internship to strengthen and produce eternal fruit in me.

As you can see, Outpost is so blessed to have volunteer leaders and interns who step out of the cultural mainstream and choose to walk in Biblical purity. We are grateful to have their hands to serve and their energy around the office as we serve Jesus and His body together.

WHY DOES GOD ALLOW THE CORONAVIRUS? 4 CHRISTIAN INSIGHTS

compassionate hand clasp

Dr. Sean McDowell is one of the keynote speakers at the Restored Hope Network HOPE2020 Conference in June. This year, they have moved the conference online and renamed it HOPE 2.0. Since that makes this conference more accessible, we hope this blog post will pique your interest to check out the conference.

School cancelled. The NBA season suspended. People sick. And most tragic, thousands of people are dead.

Why would God allow such a terrible disease to become a pandemic? If God has the power, why wouldn’t He stop it?

Don’t be afraid of the question

Given that I teach Bible and apologetics, a number of people have been asking me this question over the past few days. My guess is that it has crossed your mind as well.

As Christians, we should not be afraid of difficult questions like this. Jesus said to love God with our hearts, souls and minds (Mark 12:28-31). The Apostle Peter said to be ready with an answer for our hope (1 Peter 3:15). Christianity has a rich history of wrestling with all sorts of difficult questions, including the problem of natural evil.

Caring for people in need

Yet, before we probe this question any further, let me state something up front: I am not going to pretend to address this question entirely. I am not even sure it can be answered in its entirety. God does not answer Job’s plea with a reason for his pain. Rather, He helps Job understand that his perspective is limited, and that God can still be trusted amidst Job’s questions and pain.

Even attempting a question can feel insensitive and uncaring, especially because so many people have been affected by this disease. Thus, if you have suffered because of the coronavirus, please know that I am deeply sorry for your experience. If you are a Christian, and you see people suffering, the first response is to empathize with them. As the Apostle Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). And then, of course, we need to reach out and love our neighbors.

Four Christian insights about evil and suffering

Rather than attempting to answer specifically why God allows the coronavirus, please allow me to offer four general insights from the Christian worldview. For those who want to go further, I will suggest some books at the end. My hope is that these four points will be springboards for further discussion with your family, friends, and neighbors.

First, the world is deeply broken.

Although the Bible begins with the creation of the world, and of mankind being placed in a beautiful Garden, the world very quickly gets messed up. The entire world is affected when Adam and Even choose to disobey God. Not only does sin break the relationship between God and human beings, but the physical ground itself is cursed (Genesis 3:17-18). The Apostle Paul reminds us that creation “groans” and awaits restoration (Romans 8:19-20).

The extent of sin’s effect on creation is debated among theologians. In fact, some scientists have even observed that viruses are necessary for life on planet earth. Yet Christians should not be surprised by the brokenness of the world, including the existence and spread of deadly viruses. Quite literally, sin has ravaged everything.

Second, God allows suffering and evil to draw us to eternal things.

God does not cause evil. But He does allow it. One reason may be that God knows that life continues for eternity after this present age. It is easy to get distracted by the desires and needs of the moment. Yet if the afterlife is real, God may allow evil and suffering to stir us up to think about eternal life. He may allow us to suffer so we move beyond our momentary pleasures and focus on what lasts forever.

Third, Jesus understands our suffering.

It is only in the Christian faith that God actually experiences human suffering. While Scripture does not mention Jesus getting sick, we do know that he suffered immensely from hunger and stress (e.g., Matthew 26:36-46). The author of Hebrews writes, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).

The God of the Bible has not abandoned us to our suffering. He has entered into it. He understands when we suffer and empathizes with us. Where is God when we suffer? Part of the answer is that He is right there suffering with us.

Fourth, Jesus has conquered this world.

Sickness, evil, and death do not have the last word. Jesus does. The Apostle Paul suffered immensely. He was shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, and experienced deep hunger and thirst. And yet he refused to lose heart (see 2 Cor. 6:4-5). Why? Because he knew Jesus had already conquered this world. Paul believed in the resurrection of Jesus, and thus refused to grieve without hope (see 1 Thess. 4:13).

So much more could be said about why God allows suffering and natural evil. This post is not meant to offer a simple and tidy response, but to offer some insights about how Christians can think about such a difficult question.

Let’s have conversations with our unbelieving friends about why God allows suffering and evil. But remember, our first task it to empathize with and love them as our neighbors.

This article was originally published on SeanMcDowell.org. We hope you will check out the HOPE 2.0 conference and register to hear more from all the speakers, workshops and testimonies! There will even be a Q&A with the speakers! The cost is only $100. The speakers include Joe Dallas and Linda Seiler as well, both of whom have great testimonies and strong ministries that speak of God’s truth and healing power. This conference is for strugglers, family members, loved ones, friends, pastors, counselors and laypeople.

Reflecting the Father: the Challenge of Becoming Doers of the Word

Drawing of Little boy watching Father tie his tie in mirror

For New Year’s this year, I went to a formal dinner with friends. Normally I don’t wear ties when dressing up, but this time, I decided I would. I learned how to tie one several years ago and thought I would still remember, but I stood in front of the bathroom mirror for twenty minutes trying. Frustrated, close to running late for the event, and about to nix the tie altogether, I asked my roommate to help me out. He grabbed his own tie and stood next to me in front of the mirror. He tied his tie first as an example. Then he undid his work and began to tie it again–this time slowly so I could follow. Soon, I was out the door in a tie looking just as polished as his. 

This one-on-one, how-to-tie-a-tie tutorial has helped me put in context this passage from James 1:22-25: 

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

This passage is a one-on-one, how-to-look-more-like-God instruction manual. Inside is a warning, a command, a challenge, but also hope of a promise.

The Warning: 

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. . . For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”  

When we listen to the Word, we acknowledge the Father is speaking to us. Yet sometimes by choice or by becoming distracted, we stay stuck only listening. Taking no forward action, we are really taking a step back from becoming more Christ-like. We forget our fallen condition, and we move on with our life. We look into God’s Word that is confronting us and only think, that’s nice, that’s interesting, I will really think about that later. If we don’t return to this, it’s an action, not of obedience, but of pride. And if that is our mindset, we are only deceiving ourselves that we look like God. When we look like Him, we are representing Him to the world; but when we only think we look like Him, we are simply representing ourselves to the world. God receives no glory from us reflecting ourselves. 

The Command:

“Do what it says”

God’s Word does not compel us into action by obligation or threat of punishment. He is commanding us to take ahold of the abundant life He has given us through Jesus’ work on the cross. He always has our best interest in mind. If God’s Word is perfect, why don’t we simply do what it says? He is trustworthy. His Word is trustworthy. So why do we willingly put on blinders to what God shows us? It’s because this process hurts, and we want to avoid pain. Seeing the distance between our sinfulness and His holiness can be painful. If we chose to change, doing something about this distance is grueling, yet this is the command. We do not labor alone; the Holy Spirit is our helper. He is the only way to make any lasting change. 

The Challenge:

“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts. . . “

We are blessed as we stay in His Word, suffering through the process of looking into His Word and surrendering everything that does not look like Him. By His help we can cut away the things that God never intended us to carry around. This can be surrendering our fleshly desires; weeping at how many false things we have added to our own image; feeling the pain of parting with our old self in the mirror. This is also the joy of seeing again the face of the One who died for us. 

Earlier in James, we read, “Count it all joy my brothers when you encounter trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).”  Facing trials hurts, but each time you partner with the Holy Spirit to become more like Him, you grow in steadfastness and the ability to chisel bigger chunks off next time. This is perseverance. This is accepting the challenge and finding joy in the process.

Wanting to look like Jesus isn’t all boot-camp-during-a-rainstorm-on-an-empty-stomach. Yes, it’s hard work, but this Word–this “law”– that is shaping us isn’t a list of do’s and don’ts that weighs us down, making life miserable. James calls this the “law of liberty.” It frees us from the burdens we carry instead of adds to them; it gets us back to the basics. His yoke–His law–is easy and His burden is light. 

The Promise:

“Blessed in your doing.”

As we partner with God to reflect Him, He promises we will be blessed–not when we finish (though that will be its own blessing)–but as we labor toward holiness. Our efforts are rewarded. The process might be slow, but if we keep at it, we will see change. We will be different. We will look more like Him. As we dive into living out His Word, our words and our actions will more closely mirror His. Jesus told his disciples that He did only what He saw His Father do and said only what His Father said. So will we.

Those around us will also take note of our reflection. As Paul told Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:15 “Be diligent in these matters, give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” Acting upon God’s Word isn’t just for the goal of being like him one day. When we begin to act, even our progress–those tiny steps we’ll take–are something God will use to showcase Himself to our communities. 

At the end of the day, tying a Winsor is easy, and cleaning yourself up to look nice on the outside is a breeze. But allowing God to clean your life up is incredibly difficult. We all have areas in our lives that God has spoken into and said, “Let Me help you be set free.” We’ve told Him, “Thanks, but not right now.” We trust Him, but we don’t want to feel the pain of surrender. Yet He commands us to pursue life still. He knows best. So He challenges us to persevere and be honest with Him, ourselves, and those around us. He sees at the end there is blessing and reward–its His to give. He’ll stand back, take a good look at us, and say with a proud, fatherly grin, “looking good.”