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.

My Dear Wormwood

My Dear Wormwood

What I Learned Last Sunday

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  – 1 Corinthians 12:21

***Inspired by C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.***

The deception that church members can be autonomous

My Dear Wormwood,

I would warn you to not be overly obvious as you work to place the Patient and his church gathering fully in our grasp. You must subtly cause him to take his focus off of our Enemy’s Son. If he keeps that Crucified One at the center of his idea of church, you will lose any sway you once held.

I suggest slowly redirecting his focus, helping him remember the many flaws in the church (you will have many examples to choose from). Then move the Patient’s mind specifically to that member in his church who neglected to reach out when the Patient was in need. Then remind him of the church member who cut him off at the four-way stop last week. When he listens to gossip about his church, cause those false words planted by your coworkers to ring true. Cause him to think of the many differences he has with his local church and let them fester. Remind him of the music and how he doesn’t like its style. Remind him how irritating the pastor’s voice is. And above all else, keep in his mind the beliefs that there is no one in the church like him and that the church devalues him and ignores him.

Then remind the Patient how simple it is to gather information from the Enemy’s other children online. Let him feel how clean and refreshing it is to be alone as a follower of the Enemy. Yes, you can even twist the Enemy’s very words in His Book to draw your Patient away. If doubt creeps into his mind about missing church gatherings, remind him again of how messy church can be and how different your Patient is from them. Then, reinforce in the Patient’s mind a sense of self-worth and a heightened understanding of the Enemy’s ways. Remind him of that great line, “The Church isn’t a building” and reinforce that he does not need the fellowship and accountability of those Followers of the Enemy in his church.

The deception that views other church members as dispensable

If the Patient is unwilling to abandon the local church, you still have ample opportunity to cause catastrophe. You can cause much division if you again keep him from looking to the Enemy and His Son and erode your Patient’s relationships with other church members through delicious, savory comparison and sweet self-exultation

In his church, remind him how much better he serves than that other member. Have him tally up the number of Bible studies he has led. In comparing himself, the Patient will find all others below his level of devotion, tedious and less useful. Then encourage him to create a sense of separation in his mind from the most uninvolved members to view them with indifference. In thinking of those lesser members, let him add to that list those members who are poor and those who may cause rumors in the community about the church. Let the Patient also add that person who doesn’t hold to his views on the end times. Have him throw in the person who offended him and the one who was given recognition for the project the Patient did all the work on. Lastly have the Patient add any who he deems annoying, too charismatic, too bookish, too selfish, too different than him, and the mooch, and the one who is just an oddball. To any on this list, tempt him to feel a twinge of joy when they suffer loss. When they are humiliated, let your Patient feel vindication, even the slightest amount. Slowly he will create divisions in his heart between those he deems valuable and those viewed as unnecessary.

Dear Wormwood, you will reap full rewards and make the Enemy’s children unuseful in the current war if they feel they are autonomous and others, dispensable.

Your affectionate uncle, 

Screwtape

We Are Christ’s Church

We Are Christ’s Church

What I Learned Last Sunday

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  – 1 Corinthians 12:12

“…so it is with Christ.” I love that Paul solidifies our definition of  “church” from social club status to its infinitely greater, intimate connection to Jesus Christ. There are many parts of a body (head, hands, feet) just like Christ—Christ’s body, the church. Christians are a part of God’s body, so every action we take says something about Jesus. Any thought or desire or direction that the local church and its leaders and members make should be out of the understanding that we are a part of Christ’s body. What a high calling!

Let’s reflect on Sunday’s sermon application of 1 Corinthians 12:12-20. Spoiler alert, doing so will lead you closer to Jesus and further from selfish ambition.

1. If you are in Christ, you are a part of the body of Christ.

Think about the implications of that. I am a part of Christ’s body. This should lead to both ownership, investment and great humility. Owning that part, I should tremble at doing anything to make Christ less. Understanding the light of life found in Christ, I am propelled by the Spirit to invest in Christ’s body. “Christ, take all of me!” The same understanding can only mean great humility knowing the grace on which I now stand. It causes you to say, “Why me?” I am a part of Christ’s body (blood bought, no righteous standing on your own, filled with grace and mercy). What wonder! I am a part of Christ. Therefore, I must check all selfish desires for worldly gain at the door when I think about my part in this body. I should question my motives and weigh them against God’s Word. 

Question: Is my church a social club with a nice clubhouse dusted with a little Jesus? Or do I view the church as Christ and base all my desires for her and actions on that belief?

2. You have a God-ordained part to play in the body of Christ.

You are a part. Your part does not consist of the whole. You have a role and it interconnects with others who are also Christ’s. This is the foundation for a diverse body of believers.

And you really have a role to play. God does not ordain useless members. Your role may not include an official title (though there is nothing wrong with church offices). If the church is Christ, and you are a part of Christ’s body, the very unwillingness to invest in the body would be unChristian.

You are Christ’s. Playing your part in His body makes much of Him.

Question: Do I believe that God has gifted me in a way that would be honoring to Christ and helpful for His Church? What is false in me that is preventing me from seeking to surrender my talents to Christ for His body?

3. Every single member of the body is significant.

From wiping down toilet seats, to wiping away the tears of a brother or sister grieving loss, all members of the body have an essential role that the world cannot quantify. Don’t believe me? Open the Word and be awakened to the things that God values. God values those downtrodden who cling to Him. He values little children. He values the meek. God loves the widow who gives her two coins over the vast treasures of kings. He seeks for the one lost sheep out of the other 99 in the fold. He chases after the fools of the world. And God loves desperate sinners over righteous pharisees.

God does not love the things that the world loves!

We must stop using the world’s exchange rate to define the value of our investment and role in the body.

Question: Have I fallen prey to placing value on what only the world might find significant in the body of Christ?

4. We should show the world what the true body of Christ looks like.

If you are in Christ, you are a part of Christ’s body. For, you are no longer your own, bought at a great price.

You have a part in the body and must not neglect it for the glory of Christ among the nations. For, your investment in God’s Church says something to the world about your Jesus.

Your role should never be given a value based on that of the world. For, God values above all else the glory of His name. He is glorified if you are fulfilling your role. Therefore, your role is eternally significant more than you will ever know in this life.

To Action!

If we keep our focus on Christ and fight off any sinful thought of selfish entitlement to a building or group of people, we will make Christ great.

If we seek to invest in Christ (His body the church), Christ will be made great.

If we view each role in the body with a Spirit-empowered lens, the world will marvel at a people enraptured with Christ over worldly gain.

Just As He Said

Just As He Said

What I Learned Last Sunday

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  John 2:19

(Jesus speaking) Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Mark 13:31

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Matthew 28:5-6a

What an encouraging reminder from the Resurrection Sunday message that Jesus’ words are always tied to action. Jesus is never flippant or careless with His words. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And just as He said (Matthew 28:5-6a) Jesus accomplished His words that Sunday morning defeating the power of sin and death and leading to our belief and hope in this risen rock solid Christ (John 2:22).

How do I know that I can trust this Jesus, and what do I do with Him? 

First, trust him because he adamantly proclaims truths and makes those proclamations come to pass. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31). No human in existence could ever say that. Our words fall flat. We make promises and fail to keep them. Many of the “I’m sorry’s” expressed to my loved ones are due to that exact failure to keep my word. Our words along with every human, save one, will pass away. Jesus’ words are steadfast. His words will NEVER pass away. He is the holy Son of God who accomplishes the things He says He will do. And there is no  accomplishment greater than His bodily resurrection from the dead just as He foretold. 

Additionally, follow him! There is no compass pointing more directly to the risen Jesus than the statement, “My words will not pass away”. His words are rock solid because they are always fulfilled. We can boldly run to and rest on Jesus. Only Jesus. Not simply the moral principles of a 1st century crucified odd-ball. We don’t need to be simply good, moral people who try to appropriate the nice words of Jesus into our cultural moment. Jesus said we needed Him (John 14:6). We need Jesus to begin and to endure to the end. We run to and soak up Jesus. It is what He called us to. No one is more steadfast. 

The wonderful solution to whatever situation you presently find yourself in is to find your joy in Jesus. Trust and follow the Father glorifying; way, truth, life embodying; and yoke carrying Savior whose words will NEVER pass away.

What I Learned Last Sunday

What I Learned Last Sunday

What I Learned Last Sunday

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice, Pray, Thank, Repeat.

Rejoice
Rejoice in the Lord Always
Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS
Rejoice in trials
In sickness
In loss
Find your strength in Christ
For in Christ’s joy He went to the Cross (Hebrews 12:2)

Do not be bitter
Do not fear
Do not rejoice in your own strength
REJOICE! Your God is near

Pray
Pray without ceasing
To pray is to be dependent
Dependent on our granite God
Who never fails
He never fails so come boldly with every need and align your heart with His desires

Pray!
Do not be anxious
Pray!
Do not fear
Pray to our God who is the Lion
Pray!
You will find Him near

Pray without ceasing in COVID-19
Pray without ceasing in times of ease
Dependent prayer will be the difference
To pray means you are dependent
Thank
Be not thankful for medicine or savings in the bank
Thank our God for saving your soul
In everything Him should you thank

Thank our God
He is a foundation
Not like that of shifting sands
Thank our God
He is a shield and sword
A shelter in times like these
Thank our God
Who is our peace
He holds His own in unwavering hands

Repeat
Rejoice!
And the peace of God, surpassing understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus.
Pray!
And the peace of God, surpassing understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus.
Thank!
And God’s mind-boggling peace will protect you from anxiety because you are His blood bought child only in Christ Jesus