Death is Not Ultimate

Death is Not Ultimate

What I Learned Last Sunday

“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” – 1 Corinthians 15:19-20

How does one functionally deny the resurrection of Jesus? As Pastor Mike shared last Sunday in 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, it is done as we, “Make this life ultimate and the after life an afterthought.”

Making This Life Ultimate.

Imagine with me for a moment. 

Say you are a young person with a clean bill of health. You view Life as one of infinite potential. Perhaps you are starting into a college career. Maybe you are ending your college career and looking forward to that new job opportunity. Or, perhaps you are recently married and everything seems to be moving in the right direction. 

All your present circumstances, your health, your success, and your comforts, are lining up perfectly. Life is good. Of course, you have had ups and downs through the years, but the downs never last long. In the back of your mind there are the beliefs, “I still have a lot of time.” and, “I have control of my future.” 

Then COVID. 

Then your job market dried up. 

Then civil unrest over accusations of injustice. 

Then your parents start speaking of the potential end of America as we know it on November 3rd. 

Then you lose a friend in the prime of their life. 

Many of these troubles, you avoid or rationalize. “I’m a healthy person and won’t get that sick.” “It’s just an election, and I will be fine.” “Things will get back to normal soon.” “It happened to them, but it won’t happen to me.” 

Then you see a headline in the news like, “If You’ve Just Had Covid, Exercise Might Not Be Good for You.” You read of potential cardiovascular problems that could arise if you contract the disease. Regardless of the truth of those claims, the thought is planted and doubts arise. If not COVID, it could be any thought or fear that questions your health, comfort, and freedom.

Anxiety starts to creep in. The comfort of youth and freedom are challenged. 

“What if COVID steals my health?” 

“What if things don’t get better in my country but worse?” 

“What if I die?”

But in Fact Christ has been Raised

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” – 1 Corinthians 15:20a

Fear, anxiety, and worry about the “what ifs” of life are obliterated in the truth of the resurrection. As shared on Sunday, Christ’s resurrection establishes four truths for the Christian:

  1. When we speak the gospel, we celebrate our present hope in Christ. Christ has brought us from death to life.
  1. Death is not ultimate (Not fearful). Death is the doorway to a realized inheritance of eternity with God.
  1. We are no longer in our sins. The fear of condemnation is gone. Christ has defeated the penalty of sin (death) in His resurrection.
  1. We are not to be pitied. Because death is not the end but the beginning of great joy for a Christian, there can be no pity for our death.

If anxiety is your response to the troubles of life, let the truth of Christ’s resurrection build hope in your heart!

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Last three lines

“Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.”

Standing in the Gospel

Standing in the Gospel

What I Learned Last Sunday

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

On Sunday Pastor Mike shared from 1 Corinthians 15 the three-fold work of the gospel in a Christian. First, Paul reminds us of the work of God in us to save us in the past (whether five minutes ago or 50 years ago). Second, and vital, is that we do not merely look back to that moment of God’s work, but we stand now in the gospel, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1. Mike said, “One massive evidence of your conversion is that today your hope for life and everything is Jesus.” And, “We will never be defeated so long as we stand in the gospel.” Finally, the gospel has future hope in that we are “being saved” as Paul says. God saved us in a moment in time (five minutes ago or 50 years ago), God is saving us (presently), and God will save us.

Question: What does it look like to stand in the gospel and look confidently to God for hope? Should a Christian life be filled with doubt, anxiety, and fear? What response should the past, present, and future understanding of Paul’s gospel awaken in a Christian?

Martin Luther’s Anfechtungen

In his biographical work* on the great reformer, Martin Luther, Eric Metaxas noted a time between July-September in 1527 when Luther was plagued with physical illness but an even more spiritual crisis or tribulation which he referred to as “anfechtungen”. 

During one of these physical and spiritual crises, Luther believed he was about to die and responded accordingly:

He prayed out loud the Lord’s Prayer and then two penitential Psalms. He was not only physically ill but also clearly tormented in his spirit feeling guilty of past sins and generally unworthy…He asked everyone around him to pray for him, quite sure he was now dying. He lamented not having been counted worthy to shed his blood for the sake of the gospel as others had done. Luther was inconsolable, slipping away.

Luther later described this suffering more vividly to his close friend, Philipp Melanchthon, in a letter.

For more than a whole week I have been tossed to and fro in death and in hell, so that I am still drained from all strength in my body and am trembling in all my limbs.

I have lost Christ completely and have been shaken by the floods and storms of despair and blasphemy. However, as moved by the prayers of the saints, God has begun to have mercy on me and to snatch my soul from deepest hell.

Should we stand in the gospel like Luther in his hour of anfechtungen?

In Luther’s hour of anfechtungen, his focus was more on his insufficiency before God (which is true), but he did not move from his insufficiency to the overwhelming sufficiency of Christ!

A Christian’s present stand in the gospel takes into account two massive truths which John Newton articulated as:

  1. I am a great sinner (insufficient and damned before God).
  2. Christ is a great Savior (totally sufficient taking on my sin before God).

Question: What does it look like to stand in the gospel and look confidently to God for hope? 

Answer: Standing in the gospel involves a clear conviction of Newton’s two statements. “Yes, I am unworthy.” AND, “Yes, Christ alone makes me worthy.”

Question: Should a Christian life be filled with doubt, anxiety, and fear? 

Answer: See below

Question: What response should the past, present, and future understanding of Paul’s gospel awaken in a Christian?

Answer: For a moment of Martin Luther’s life, he suffered a lapse into doubt and unbelief that he was still in Christ. The idea of standing before God knowing he was a sinner brought immense dread to the point of believing, “I have lost Christ completely…”

Praise God, our hope in the gospel is not in any way dependent on our goodness but on God’s mercy.

“[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…” – Titus 3:5

Praise God that he brought Martin Luther from the pit of anfechtungen, reminding him of his hope in Christ.

Stand in the gospel today. Stand in the truth that you are not worthy and only worthy in Christ. 

Christ is a great Savior!

*”Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World”, by Eric Metaxas (Viking, 2017)

Learning from Job and his God

Learning from Job and his God

What I Learned Last Sunday

“Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” – James 5:11

Last week we finished a summer-long study through Job. As we close this chapter, meditate on the applications Pastor Mike called us to. I encourage you to return to the messages on our site any time to reflect on suffering and the working of God through all things.

Seven Examples of Job’s Patience

1. Job worshiped God in his suffering.

Death. Loss. Suffering. Worship.

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” – Job 1:20-21

2. Job suffered in his health, but defended God before his wife.

God allows Satan to strike Job’s health on top of all the pain and loss. 

“Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”- Job 2:9-10

3. Job lamented instead of grumbled

Biblical lament acknowledges the suffering, cries to God for relief, and fights any bitterness that would accuse God of wrong. As Pastor Mike said Sunday, “Lament is turning to God in all of your pain and hurt.”

“I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes.” – Job 3:26

[Job speaking of God] “Though he slay me, I will hope in him;” – Job 13:15

4. Job spoke well of God.

A reflection of Job’s perseverance was his unwillingness to reject God despite the suffering.

[Following the first round of Job’s suffering] “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” – Job 1:22

“After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” – Job 42:7

5. Job knew he had a Redeemer who would advocate for him.

Rather than looking inward to himself, Job knew his only hope was in a redeemer to step in on his behalf. Job found no hope in himself. 

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”- Job 19:25

6. When Job saw God, he confessed his ignorance.

Rather than defiance, Job confessed his ignorance upon hearing the word of God.

“‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” – Job 42:3

7. Job repented of his wrong thinking and words.

Job turns to God from sin for hope. 

[Job’s response upon seeing the greatness of God] “therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” – Job 42:6

Seven Examples of God’s Mercy and Compassion

1. God was kind and blessed Job.

God extended many undeserved blessings to Job. The only thing God owes us is to be God along with all that entails.

“…The Lord gave…” – Job 1:22b

2. God spared Job’s life.

God spared Job’s life and that is mercy and compassion.

“And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”- Job 2:6

3. God was compassionate by revealing Himself to Job.

Job saw more of God in his suffering than he had before, and that is great news for us to hope for in our moment of suffering. “God will you show yourself to me in this trial?”

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;”- Job 42:5

4. God accepted Job’s repentance.

The implication of the passage following Job 42:6 is that God accepted Job’s repentance. God considers Job worthy to be the intermediary between his friends. Do not take this lightly, when the sovereign King of all creation stoops down to extend forgiveness to a sinful man.

5. God provided a way for Job’s three friends to be justified.

God did not deal with the three friends according to their folly. 

“After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.” – Job 42:7-9

6. God restored Job’s fortunes.

God gave. God took. God gave again. God often gives what we do not deserve. What grace, mercy and compassion!

“And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. ”- Job 42:10

7. God took.

If God’s taking is leading you to a clearer vision of God, then it is God’s grace!

In Suffering

If in this suffering you will be,

More real and true and clearly seen,

Though pain will beg me cry, “Take this cup!”

In mercy use this trial and fill me up

More with you

Our Greatest Need in Suffering

Our Greatest Need in Suffering

What I Learned Last Sunday

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted …I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…” – Job 42:1-2, 5

Pastor Mike shared with us last Sunday that the greatest need of every human being is to see God for who He truly is. More than that, in our suffering, our greatest need is to see who God is (leading to greater trust in God) rather than to seek answers to why suffering is happening.

How can that be true when in our suffering, our first response is often to ask, “Why am I suffering?”

Our Greatest Need in Suffering is God…

…Because of who God is.

God is all-knowing (Psalm 94:11). He is intimately aware of every thought, fear, need, and desire in your mind and heart. He is so aware that the secrets of human hearts will be exposed by God when he judges (Romans 2:16).

God has power over all things. There is nothing that is too far out of His reach. He spoke the world into existence and breathed humanity out of dust.

“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” – Jeremiah 32:27

God is all-wise and all-good. God is revealed in His Word as the absolute, irrevocable standard of rightness. Words used to describe God include righteous, holy (utterly set apart from all else), and good.

“Of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice. – [Elihu speaking to Job about God.] – Job 34:12

God is gracious, loving, and kind. The absolute sovereign over all things does not owe His created things the smallest crumb. But, in the tenderness and kindness of God’s nature, He has given us a feast. God has revealed Himself to God-dishonoring fleas. God revealed Himself to Job–great grace. God reveals Himself to us–great kindness.

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” [Paul speaking to Titus about the state of every human before Christ and those in Christ.] – Titus 3:3-7

Because of who God is…

…When suffering comes our only hope is to see God.

If God is everything we just read and more, then seeing Him is our greatest good no matter the circumstances.

You are being crushed by the weight of depression. Pressure is on every side. He is God. He is great. Look to Him for hope in your depression. 

When your child dies, the only rock to cling is the God who holds all things. He will hold you. Run to him.

Your body is wasting away from disease. If God is who He has revealed Himself to be, then disease and trouble is our call to find Him as an everlasting refuge and strength.

Our only hope is to see God and trust…

…Because if God is everything He claims to be, no human reasoning or worldly answer to our suffering will satisfy in comparison to the God who knows your every need.

Do not allow the bitterness of the world, steal your hope and joy in God.

Do not turn to temporary relief the world provides and forfeit your soul to the God who judges.

Prayer

God, please help me see you so clearly that no pain, suffering, or loss turns my eyes away from you to the deceitfulness of sinful things.

Humble Yourself Before God

Humble Yourself Before God

What I Learned Last Sunday

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you. I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” Job 40:3-5

The past three Sundays, we have studied allusions to God’s reply to Job (Elihu in chapters 32-37) and then God’s actual reply in the form of His voice in a whirlwind. Pastor Mike mentioned last Sunday how God’s answer to Job should invoke three reactions in us.

  1. God’s answer to Job should humble us.
  2. God’s answer to Job should warn us against self-confidence.
  3. God’s answer should give us great confidence in God.

Let’s meditate for a moment on humility for a moment.

Humble yourself before the Lord

What do we know about Job’s condition before God throughout the entire book? 

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. […] His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.” Job 1:1, 4-5

We know from Job 1:1-5 that Job’s attitude of his life was submission to God. Job feared God. Satan noticed it. God saw it. Job would offer sacrifices to God on behalf of his children. He knew that he and his family answered to and were under God. Job had a healthy fear of God we would say. He was humble before God.

What about Job’s response when suffering arose? First, we know from chapter 1:20 that Job worshipped God as a first response to the terrible loss that happened. Later on as well we see Job’s continual understanding that God is over him and his three friends. Look at what Job says in response to his friends’ foolish words in chapter 13.

Will it be well with you when he searches you out? Or can you deceive him, as one deceives a man? He will surely rebuke you if in secret you show partiality. Will not his majesty terrify you, and the dread of him fall upon you? Job 13:9-11

Job’s God is BIG throughout the entire book. He knows God is in control. He knows God has the answers which is why he continually seeks an audience with God. 

It is  interesting then that we see Job’s first words in reply to God in chapter 40:3-5. 

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” Job 40:3-5

Why do we foolishly measure up the righteousness of Job and forget that he too, like all of us is, “…of small account” before the almighty God of the universe? Job’s righteousness did not earn him the right to puff up his chest in front of his boss and speak his mind. He was utterly and totally silenced. All of us should be utterly and totally silenced before God in humility now, for one day every human will recognize the greatness of God.

O that we would humble ourselves before God and realize in every breathing moment that he is over us! It is better to be a beggar and humble before God than a king with selfish pride.

Ask Yourself

Question: Does my response to the bad things that happen in life reflect a conviction that God is over me and over all things?

Question: Do I recognize I am under God while life is easy (the money is coming in, I am healthy…)?

Question: Do I give my day to the Lord for Him to be exalted in it, or am I more concerned about exalting myself?

Question: When God convicts me of my pride, will I respond in prayerful humility asking that He transform my heart to live under Him every moment of life?

God, Suffering, and Endurance

God, Suffering, and Endurance

What I Learned Last Sunday

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. – Job 2:10b

Let’s think through three questions to meditate on what we learned from last Sunday’s message.

Question #1:

How is God’s desire to display His own glory not in competition with His love for mankind? 

Answer:

If God is everything He claims to be (the very being for whom all creation was made), then revealing His glory for us to see and worship is a revelation of the ultimate purpose for all mankind. It would be better for us to see God and worship Him than to spend a lifetime gaining temporary things in the world apart from seeing and worshipping God (See. Mark 8:36). 

Question #2:

How is God’s glory magnified when I suffer?

Answer:

God is shown to be glorious when temporary things in my world are shown to be exactly what they are—temporary gifts from the Giver of all things. When God is the means and the end, the circumstances He wills for me (suffering or worldly success) are opportunities to worship. Give me wealth—Glory to and trust in God. Give me cancer—Glory to and trust in God. 

Though God does care for His children with temporary gifts, Scripture is overwhelmingly weighted toward preparing the Christian to suffer when the comforts of this life are found to be fleeting. Nearly every New Testament author alludes to some form of suffering that Christians will endure. We see the same pattern of suffering for proclaiming the truth in the Old Testament from Joseph in Genesis to the prophets.

God is my greatest need in this life whether the Lord gives or takes away.

How is God’s glory magnified when I suffer? He is magnified because suffering has the ability to remove potential idols from our lives that could replace God.

Question #3:

If suffering is ordained by God as a test (as shown in Job’s life) to prove a Christian’s faith, how can I have confidence that my faith will not fail when suffering comes?

Answer:

The faith with which one surrenders to Christ to be saved, is the faith that will keep the Christian to the end. You will not walk away in suffering, because the Keeper will keep you. You can trust Him to keep you in suffering as you trusted him to save you. The work He begins in you He will complete

(See Philippians 1:6). He is able to keep you from stumbling and falling away (See Jude 24). He was the one who made you new, and He is guarding you for salvation (See 1 Peter 1:3-5).

 

Words Are Always Necessary

Words Are Always Necessary

What I Learned Last Sunday

[When an outsider hears you prophesy] …he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. I Corinthians 14:25b [brackets adding my paraphrase]

Let’s reflect for a moment on the recent messages going through 1 Corinthians 14 the past two weeks .

Question: From 1 Corinthians 14, what is our goal both when we gather as Christians?

Answer: The goal for every Christian is two-fold. First, we are to live and speak in such a way that other Christians around us are built up and encouraged (1 Corinthians 14:12). Second, we are to live and speak in such a way that non-Christians are led to worship God (1 Corinthians 14:25). The combination of both points is that God is glorified in our lives—the ultimate goal in all we do.

Supplemental Question: If those are truly the goals of a Christian, what could distract us from that pursuit of God’s glory?

Answer: Placing a higher value on the “act” than the “outcome”.

If you reread 1 Corinthians 12-14 (I strongly encourage you to do this!) you see a common thread that Paul is addressing. Paul really seems to want Corinth to love the outcome (the glory of God in building up believers and saving the lost) over the act (perceived benefit of the gift or method of expression). In other words, Pauls begins with the question, “What will build up and lead to worship?”, before he acts. Corinth seems to have begun with the question, “What is the greatest act I can accomplish?”, which led to Paul’s corresponding correction in chapters 12-14. Just Like children who forget that cars are meant to be driven, spending too much time focusing on the colorful paint job of their flashy toy camaro, we too can fall prey to believe that any program (regardless of how clearly it presents the gospel) is sufficient as long as it has that flashy exterior that will make the masses say, “Wow!”. That, of course, is not a great analogy, but I believe Corinth had a similar tendency to prioritize certain gifts based on their perceived flair. It also seems that certain people in the church may have used these gifts to elevate themselves above others (“I’m better than you because I have a higher gift.”).
Christians, rather, should put their focus on the engine, on the real means that God uses to bring the dead to life and give the shaky Christian a foundation—the proclamation (and living out) of the Word of God.

Intelligible Words, Words, Words.

Paul says himself, “…in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Corinthians 14:19b). God has designed miraculously, to make the proclamation of the Word of God expressed through simple, humbling words. The gospel we proclaim in word and deed, though foolish to the world, is the power of God to the one who is being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18). If someone will see God for who He is and respond in worship, it will be expressed through intelligible words from another person (including their actions) or God’s Word written down.
This should humble any Christian, for our great God uses simple people with simple words to do the supernatural.

Let us stop acting in a way that may elevate ourselves while muddying the proclaimed Word of God. May we act as we were encouraged on Sunday, “…to be thoughtful about how our actions and words as a church affect the upbuilding of the congregation, the eternity of the lost, and the glory of God.”

Words Are Always Necessary
Jesus is King over everything,
Simple words yet so sweet.
Ten thousand lines in unintelligible phrasing,
Will lead no sinner to the Savior’s feet.

How to Manifest the Spirit

How to Manifest the Spirit

What I Learned Last Sunday

So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. – 1 Corinthians 14:12

What quality is at the heart of a person that strives to excel in building up the church? Love! Just as 1 Corinthians 14 is built upon its preceding chapter focusing on self-sacrificing love (1 Corinthians 13), so it is love that is the foundation of any person that prioritizes attitudes and actions that build up God’s Church. We know love is at the center of the desire to build up the church because the selfless qualities of love (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7) are essential in the life of a person who seeks the good of the church rather than their own needs. You can’t truly seek to build up God’s church lovelessly. And, it is the love beaming out from the cross of Christ that is foundational to any love any Christian will ever show. So, building up the church happens when love is present, and love leading to building up is present in one who has tasted the love of Christ for them.

Now let’s go deeper. Notice that Paul doesn’t simply say that we should build up the church. He clarifies it with the eye-opening truth that certain gifts of the Spirit (things like speaking in tongues) may not be helpful depending on the setting in which they are used. Wow! Gifts from God (God wrought and God glorifying) may not be helpful depending on the situation. Rather, we are to focus on the upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation of the church. 

Question: What does that mean for us practically? If good things from God can be rendered unhelpful depending on the situation, what does that imply for the Christian desperately seeking to see God work in them?

Answer: We need to readjust our spiritual standards and focus in order to properly pursue the manifestation of the Spirit.

Adjusting the Spiritual Measuring Stick.

So Corinth comes to Paul and says, “Do you think if we speak in tongues, we will reach the highest heights of spiritual maturity? After all they are one of the greater gifts.” The question seems to be rooted in identifying the type of gift that they can accomplish in order to manifest the Spirit most vividly.

Corinth’s sure-fire process to manifest the Spirit: 

Christian >> Exercise Higher Gifts = Spirit is Manifest

Paul flips the script, however, and from a 1 Corinthians 13 mindset draws us to see the true “sure-fire” method for manifesting the Spirit.

Paul’s Proper Method for Christian’s to Manifest the Spirit:

Christian >> Seek to Build Up the Church (love) >> Exercise gifts that Build Up = Spirit is Manifest!

Paul exchanges the Corinthian’s “Spirit-Manifestation” measuring stick. Where their focus used to be on the type of gift itself, Paul gives them a new measuring stick focusing away from the higher gift they desire to express and toward the effect that the gift has on the church. He says, “Since you want to see the Spirit work in you, try setting your focus on building up others for a change!” We must do the same! We don’t just do things because we feel they will have some spiritual value. Strive to build up the church, and the love of Christ will be shown in you. Make building up your focus, and the corresponding gifts will follow in the wake of that passion for seeing Christ glorified as others see and worship Him. 

Question: How would my ministry to others change if my first question was not, “Is this something true?”, but rather, “Does this build up the church?”

Loveless Christian? It’s a Contradiction

Loveless Christian? It’s a Contradiction

What I Learned Last Sunday

If I [achieve in my life the greatest outward expressions of the Christian life], but have not love, I gain nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (brackets adding my paraphrase)

The message in 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 of the greater call to love that Pastor Mike shared Sunday shoots straight to the heart of the deepest sin issues in a church and its members. Our expression of love to one another and the world is the best indicator of a Christ follower. Jesus Himself said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). In the moments we are unloving, Christ does not shine. Rather, we look just like the world groveling over our own selfish ambitions.

And how we need this, right? We can be just like Corinth as we place such higher value on outward performance or investment in a project that love is lost along the way.

In fact, I think we at times excuse our lack of love when we think of all the “good” we are doing! How backwards is that?

Below are four examples I pray help us reflect and repent.

1. You are totally invested in a project for the church (This can apply to any project or task), You justify being unloving to your spouse when you imagine all the benefit your hard work is leading to. You justify cruelty or shortness with the excuse, “But, I’m working on this for our church.” You claim to want the project to be beneficial and God honoring. Therefore, you convince yourself that you have an excuse to be short with your spouse. “Can’t they realize all the good I am trying to accomplish?” 

In those attitudes and actions, the call to love has become less valuable than the “great” church project you are working on. But, God calls you higher! You are nothing when you accomplish things without love. Your loveless attempt to honor God is counterproductive. For, God is honored most in our love expressed to others for the praise of His glory, not our great projects.

2. Think about your expression of love in daily life. The neighbor asks you for help on their house project for the 1,000th time. You roll your eyes when you get the text. You complain to your spouse about how needy your neighbor is. You slip on your shoes and walk out the door, only making sure to put on your smile just before knocking at your neighbors door.

Outwardly, you look good to your neighbor, but God is not fooled by your loveless heart! 

3. You have a rough day at work. Nothing goes right. Your boss reprimanded you, and that big project you have been working on is not going to meet the deadline. Those circumstances then justify your actions at home. You go around spreading discouragement and impatience. The kids see it. Your spouse sees it, but you label your actions as “stress-related” and now have a free pass to spread your lovelessness through each word, cupboard slam, and glare.

Though, you are truly under the pressures of life, God has not exempted His call for you to love.

4. Finally, say there is a global pandemic. But rather than fearing it, you are irritated by those (especially Christians) who focus “all” their attention on safety and isolation. To remedy and help them, you blast off on social media reminding your circles that cautionary measures are signs of a lack of faith in God. You call cautious people cowards. You proclaim that anyone who does not hold your specific view on the nature of the pandemic is giving in to fear mongering. And you boldly scoff, “I will not wear a mask!” 

There may be some truth in the things you said in your post, but God was not fooled by your unloving expression.

God, help us be truly, genuinely loving!

I pray that this message and meditation on the higher call of love in 1 Corinthians 13 will cause deep, enduring clinging to Christ. Let us not be defiant if there is unloving behavior that only sweet Gospel can transform.

Scrubbing Toilets by Divine Design?

Scrubbing Toilets by Divine Design?

What I Learned Last Sunday

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way. – 1 Corinthians 12:27-31

What if God has not designed me for a leadership role?” Asking a question like that should never be an excuse to remove yourself from potential responsibility. That sort of question must come from a heartfelt and earnest desire to be used by God to serve in the body of Christ.

To a non-Christian that thought would likely cause head scratching. They might even deem you unmotivated and lacking in passion. The main reason for such a response is tied to the world we live in where self-improvement, elevation, and making moves financially and in our responsibilities is seen as a good and natural progression for everyone. The world loves visible success!

As followers of Christ, we fight the inclination to usurp and for selfish gain elevate ourselves (See Paul’s instructions to bondservants in Titus 2:9-10). We are part of the body of Christ, and we know our part has been orchestrated by the God of the universe (1 Corinthians 12:28). Our parts change and transform at times. God gives us good desires/talents that help us identify how to help. He even uses other Christians to affirm and encourage a certain role for us as we use our giftings. But, at the end of the day, we should seek to please God in our role rather than self—a thought diametrically opposed to our culture.

O how helped we would be if we stopped looking at “church” as we do a business in corporate America full of its ladders, self-serving hierarchy, and throat-stepping. That mindset will lead the Christian astray as they chase after their best piece of the dream that many mistakenly believe can be achieved by everyone with a little hard work.

God, in wisdom, has given us unique roles. We are not called to the same task, and that is divinely good. For, He tells us that unique parts, joined in unity, make up the body of Christ.

Question: Does the problem I have with my given role in the body of Christ have anything to do with a desire to elevate myself?

The Least of These
I am no apostle, nor a prophet,
They went to Christ long ago.
And I am not a teacher,
Unless God calls me to be so.
Neither have I the gift of tongues or miracles extraordinary.
I exercise my gift with pumice in hand,
Unworldly joy within my heart.

My God-given part I desire to play,
A single member in Christ’s diverse body.
Perfect in His design.
God, never let me stray to right or left,
Comparing others gifts to mine!

Discovered as I surrendered in humility.
To Him I exclaimed, “Use me!”
And as I sought to serve this Christ community,
A need was found that could be met…

…Scrubbing toilets by divine design.