Tuesday, June 30, 2009
We can be such a foolish people at times with very short-term memories. We forget who we are all the time and we forget what people do for us. We quickly let go of the positive events of the past to grab hold of the negative things of today. We are like the Israelites who, after being rescued via the Red Sea promptly started complaining about the lack of food. It is like God healing us of cancer but we forget about that and start complaining about our cold, as if he could not take care of that as well. Paul writes:
"What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Why do we pray, receive answered prayer, don't thank Dad for it and then start complaining about something else? Why do we recognize the Father as the giver of all good things and then turn around and ignore our many blessings? It's like we have one hand out to Dad to receive while at the same time giving him the finger with the other hand. Ever wonder why we seem to be so shallow in our experience and relationship with God? Let me take us back to the first chapter again:
'Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." ' (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
We forget who made us, who changed us, who blessed us. We look at the house that has no electricity for the moment and we curse the blessing of the house he has given us. We look at the car that seems to need constant repair and we forget the lack we had before. We look at the clothes that are a year behind in fashion and forget how we received them. We look at our misbehaving children and forget what is was like without those blessings. We look in the mirror at all our imperfections and we forget where we would be without Jesus.
Some of us have made complaining an art form. Sure Dad is willing to listen to our complaints, he is really good that way, but expect him to set you straight on the matter. I remember what an arrogant ingrate I had become as a teenager. My parents were upset with my recent behaviour and were "discussing" the matter with me. An ugliness welled up in me as my mom started pointing out all the blessings they had showered on me out of love. Suddenly I heard myself saying "Then take it all back; I don't need it." I know how that affected my dad but do we ever consider how it effects our heavenly Father when we ignore or forget everything he has done for us?
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
With thanksgiving! Earlier in this same letter Paul stated that we need to do everything without complaining. The truth is our negative attitude is killing us. We are no different than anyone else on this planet. We will face pain and hardship. Relationships will begin and end. We will have moments of joy and sorrow. It is life. But yet we are different from those who are without Christ because in the midst of the hard times we have his Spirit who reminds us of God's goodness. As we face bleak chapters in our life we can remember how many good things we possess because of our God. We know that these unpleasant things are fading away as God's blessings increase:
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Now there is an attitude changer for you. There is absolutely no need to enter this day with any cloud over us. We have no justification for any complaints. If you do not feel thankful then I want you to take out a piece of paper or open Word Pad on your computer and start listing all the good and positive things you have right now. Then realize their source. Also remember this:
"What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:31-32)
In fact, if you can't shake this feeling then turn to Romans 8 and read it out loud. See how it changes your attitude. I challenge you to start keeping a blessing journal. Start writing down all the good things you receive and that happen to you. Then when you feel tempted to complain and become negative about things take out your journal and begin to read.
Remember that old song that mothers used to sing to their little children, "Let the Son Shine in"? (The world has changed it to sunshine but look at the original lyrics below.) What was that line? "Smilers never lose and frowners never win." Let us enter into this day with the boldness of a thankful heart. God is good, all the time!
Mommy told me something
A little kid should know,
It's all about the devil
And I've learned to hate him so!
She said he causes trouble
When you let him in the room,
He will never ever leave you
If your heart is filled with gloom
So let the Son shine in,
Face it with a grin.
Smilers never lose,
And frowners never win.
So let the Son shine in,
Face it with a grin.
Open up your heart and
Let the Son shine in!
When you are unhappy,
The devil wears a grin.
But oh, he starts to running,
When The Light comes pouring in.
I know he'll be unhappy
'Cause I'll never wear a frown;
Maybe if we keep on smiling,
He'll get tired of hanging 'round.
If I forget to say my prayers,
The devil jumps with glee.
But he feels so awful, awful,
When he sees me on my knees.
So if you're full of trouble
And you never seem to win,
Just open up your heart and
Let the Son shine in!
So let the Son shine in,
Face it with a grin.
Smilers never lose,
And frowners never win.
So let the Son shine in,
Face it with a grin.
Open up your heart and
Let the Son shine in!
Monday, June 29, 2009
Paul reveals a pleasant attitude that we would all do well to emulate:
So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. vv. 1-5
Faithfulness is a fantastic and impressive characteristic of Jesus and with the receiving of the Holy Spirit it should be ours as well. It is the thing that Paul indicates that we will be judged on. The thing that destroys faithfulness more than anything else is selfishness. Yet, if we have an attitude of a servant we all know that a servant cannot serve from a selfish position. A servant sets aside everything to do with himself in order to give himself fully. Paul put forward this thought throughout his letters. I remind you of this portion again:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness. (Philippians 2:5-7)
This attitude is not an easy one to maintain in a self-centered society and if you do manage to maintain it people seem to suck servant-hearted people dry. There are many reasons why people find it hard to remain a faithful servant. I think it makes a great difference when we realize we are not the servants of the world or of people; we are the servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, the name above all names. To him we are called to be faithful which is not so hard to do when we keep reminding ourselves what he did for us.
Paul speaks of judging others. He spoke of that to the Romans as well, warning people not to judge another man's servant, meaning the Lord's servant. Paul goes as far to say that he would not even judge himself. Is this because we cannot trust that we understand our own motivation or is it simply because he had that high of a respect for the place of judgement? Whatever the reason Paul gives this instruction:
It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
It doesn't get any clearer than that. We cannot judge because we cannot know another person's heart. Paul illudes to the fact that we have a tough time even understanding our own heart. Even when it comes to sin we are not to judge but we are suppose to work toward healing and restoration. Sometimes we walk around with this attitude that we have been appointed as judges, fault-finders, inspectors, and so on. Yet, the instructions of Jesus indicate that we are doctors, nurses and emergency workers. We are not here to destroy one another but instead to complete one another so that we can all remain faithful to the task of restoration.
In many of Paul's writings he refers to "the Day". This is the day of judgement. There is one day that has been reserved for judgement and there is one judge. According to the Word that one judge may appoint others to sit in judgement with him but that time has not come. Now is not the day of judgement but instead the day of salvation. So let's stop being so self-occupied and let's stop worrying about the actions and motivations of others. Be satisfied (or terrified) that all the hidden things will be revealed on that Day. Look to your own actions. Consider your own faithfulness.
May the Spirit strengthen you and provoke you to good works today. May he strengthen you to be strong and faithful in our work of nursing this world back to health. May the words "Never give up" ring through your heart all day long. How can we do it? How can we remain faithful? As far as I know there is only one way. I leave you with this:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)
Saturday, June 27, 2009
It seems for Paul the work of the five-fold was precise; one person lays the foundation and then the others build on that foundation. However, it is not just teh five-fold involved in this work; everyone contributes to what is being built on that foundation. But Paul gives a stern warning concerning the seriousness of it:
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. vv. 10-15
Along with those who are authentically called to the work of discipling there exist a lot of pretenders. Actually, I have worded that wrong. We have all been called to "build up one another" which means that we all contribute to each others building. However, there are some who try to do this in their own knowledge and opinion instead of the will of the Spirit. Often times they are busy bodies, sticking their nose in where it doesn't belong; gossipers who do far more wrong than good; know-it-alls who spend more time tearing down the work of others than contributing anything of their own.
Some people are also wrecking crews. Out of ignorance they try attacking the foundation so that they can lay a new one. These are the people who twist Scripture to make it say what they want. They are the promoters of one isolated verse insread of considering teh entire Word of God. They are the ones who promote their own doctrine, or the doctrine of their sect or denomination. They sow seeds of confusion born from lies, half-truths and manipulations of the heart.
Paul's warning to the builders is clear. Any house looks great in the sunshine. The real test is in the storm. In this case the storm will be the testing by fire:
If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.
Paul states that any material can be used to build on that foundation. Sometimes in can be a testimony, a worship song, a prayer, a simple Bible Study, a deep teaching and so on. Gold and hay can be used in the same structure. It will all face that same test. Our work for the Lord will be tested. I hope that is sinking in. It will all be tested to see if it is a true work, to see the quality of our workmanship. No one is going to get away with an half effort. It will be revealed on the Day:
If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
This is a sobering thought that should make us all sit up and take notice. We do not often talk about the rewards waiting for us. We are like many High School kids who just want to graduate and do not care what marks they get as long as the complete school. But we are told throughout the Word that we should do everything to our very best ability. We should not be coasting along, we should be striving to honour our God with our best. We should desire to receive the very best rewards, perhaps not for ourselves but so that we would receive the pleasure of our Father.
This is a serious work we are about; it is our Father's work. Our attitude should be the same as Jesus, giving our very best one hundred percent of the time. Let's check our doctrine, let's stand on the Word of God, let's sow seeds of unity and let's give our very best to each other.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Previously Paul started dealing with the division that had come into the Corinthian church because of people trying to promote one leader over another. Paul now returns to this:
For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. (vv. 4-9)
Things takes a measure of maturity to understand; "So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." Paul had an excellent understanding of the Church, of how everything fits together and is dependent on each other. Paul was an apostle and it was his calling to lay foundations. Although Paul had some pastoring skills he was not called to pastor. Apollos on the other hand had a different calling.
If you recall from Acts Apollos was from Alexandria and had made his way to Ephesus to preach. It was there he encountered Priscilla and Aquila. This couple took Apollos in and discipled him until he had a fuller revelation of Jesus. Apollos was a man of great intelligence and went to Corinth to debate the philosophers. If you remember Paul said he refrained from such a thing and only spoke of the cross and allowed God to speak through signs and miracles. Paul had one purpose and Apollos another and for Paul both were equally important.
Those who are not pastors, prophets, evangelists, apostles and teachers need to consider this:
The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.
No matter their calling, those who work among us in the five-fold ministries all have the same purpose. They have the responsibility for the training of God's people. Allow me to remind you of Ephesians 4 again:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. vv. 11-13
I only wanted to use one part of this but it is difficult for me to divide it because it fits together like a puzzle, giving us a complete picture. But note the specific role of the five-fold: to prepare God's people for works of service. My purpose along with the others is training. So whether we lay the foundation or build upon it we have the same purpose. There is only one purpose. You need all of us.
I realize that everyone takes a great deal of pride in their pastor because they love their pastor. However, you need more than your pastor. This is the reason so many pastors bring in evangelists, prohets, and teachers. This is like the circulation of the blood in the body. Without such ciculation we grow stagnant spiritually. You cannot hold one of these servant's as greater than another because they all have one purpose and we need them all.
Just a foot note to this: these five-fold ministries are ministries. They are not the only ministries and they are not the only calling in the Church. Later we will read:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
The Body is made up of many parts and you are one of them. We need you to function in that place. The five-hold have one purpose but the gifts of the Spirit also play a vital role. They bring life and vibrance to the Body:
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. v.7
So, for the common good, take your place.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Many who consider themselves mature are not mature. We mistakenly equate time and experience with maturity. We figure if someone has lived a certain length of time and has had a lot of experience with life, they must be mature. We sometimes foolishly believe that because a person has been a Christian for 40 years that are spiritually mature enough for greater responsibilities in the Body of Christ. We are often wrong in our assumptions:
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? vv.1-3
Paul took as a sign of immaturity the fact that the believers were acting out of jealousy and causing fights among the believers. The cause of their jealousy? Their promoting one leader over another:
For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men? v. 4
Paul's use of the term "mere men" often strikes me as significant. What is he saying by using it? That being believers and being possessed by the Spirit of God we are a new creation, no longer simply men and women. I know we know the theory of this but I do not think we understand it enough to be living it. We are no longer "mere men" because we have been re-born as a new creation, different from the old. But do we live like a new creation or do we live according to the old attitudes and actions?
Consider what Paul would say to us if he was the one who had spiritual authority over us? What would he see in us? If it is not jealousy would he discover something else that belongs to "mere men"? What about envy, malice or even pride? Would he discover hatred and forgiveness in us? These things do not belong to believers let alone those who are mature believers. We should never find quarrels among the believers. There can be disagreements and misunderstandings that get worked out but never quarrels that result from jealousy or any of the other maturity busting attitudes. Recognize that wisdom is found among the mature:
Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"; and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile." vv. 18-20
We have to be aware of believers who use the standards of the world as their measuring rod. We also have to guard against falling into that practice as well. Our only standard is Jesus Christ. Against him and him alone do we measure our progress. If you want to know how well you are doing in your spiritual walk and development look to the example that Jesus gave us. Don't compare yourself to other believers or the society around us. It is not too difficult to measure wisdom in the standards of our society, but if you want to know if you truly possess wisdom look to Jesus. An example? Just look at the text we are using.
These believers were quarreling over which leader was the most important. They had developed different camps for different leaders and they were battling it out. Paul put forward a simple thought based on the wisdom he had gained from desiring to be like Jesus:
So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. vv. 21-22
As the Father's children everything is for our benefit. One child is no more important than another thus everything is given for the benefit of everyone. Use the relationship you have with Jesus to understand this and so many other things. Set aside the old and put on the new. As a new creation you have some excellent benefits you have yet to claim; you also have some awesome responsibilities. Paul put this whole understanding in a neat little package of thought in Ephesians 4. Let us understand the purpose of all leaders, and let us understand the journey and process we are going through:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
"To prepare", "so that", "until we", "and become", "attaining to". It is a process we are going through which has the final outcome of us obtaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. This is a very good reason to shift the standards by which we live and get moving on this road to maturity.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I hope we all understand that the Kingdom does not follow the rules and restraints of the physical world we see. It is hard for us to live here and yet be governed by a law that is greater than this place. We are constantly putting our own limitations on the Father. We say "He could never love anyone like me," because we could never love anyone like us. We refuse to forgive because we don't really trust that we are forgiven. These are only a couple of attitudes that we judge God with but really they only apply to us. There is more than just this place, these circumstances and a life of limitations. Allow me to remind you again that our God is far greater than us:
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
This is from a passage where God is calling to those who are "thirsty" to come and he would satisfy their "thirst". I remind you of this because we are trying to live the Christian life without the one ingredient that makes us different than everything else around us. Paul tells the Corinthians that we cannot live life according to the wisdom of man:
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:
"No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him" — but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:6-10)
We are trying to function as Christians without the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who convicts us of our wrong doing, who helps us repent, who grows us into spiritual maturity, who teaches us, who empowers us to overcome evil in us. The Spirit leads us beyond the cross into a rich fellowship, knowledge, truth and love. This is the incredible truth of what we received when we received the Spirit of God:
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.c]"> vv. 10-13
c]">Without the Spirit we are like anyone else believing only what we see, living a life of limitations and shades of grey. The Spirit gives us understanding; understanding of God, the Kingdom and the colourful spiritual world around us. We define everything we experience by the knowledge of God that the Spirit gives to us. Without the Spirit the Word of God is a collection of history, stories and rules. Listen:
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. v. 14
Now understand that just because you have received the Spirit does not mean you are living by the Spirit. You can have the Spirit for the purpose of God guranteeing you the salvation he has promised you, but it does not mean you will get to move past the cross. It is like the difference of John's baptism, which represents repentance, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which represents life in Jesus. In the Spirit we live by his wisdom. But if we try to live without him we live according to the foolish wisdom of this world. We were intended for better:
The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:
"For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. vv. 15-16
As a result of living by the Spirit we have the mind of Christ. It means that our perspective is no longer according to this place but according the Kingdom. Suddenly everything makes sense, the Word is clear and we begin to see the Father's hand in everything around us. Without the Spirit we are blind. Discouragement comes easy. Depression overtakes us. Everything seems completely futile. Life makes no sense at all. Who wants to live in a world of greys when there is so much more offered to us by the Spirit? So, I encourage you with the words Paul used to encourage the Galatian believers:
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25)
Monday, June 22, 2009
This is actually a continuation from Saturday where we were talking about how we must remain humble in our attitude. We ourselves are not much but with the power of the resurrection pumping through us we can be awesome in God's work. Paul uses himself as a personal example:
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. v. 1
Remember that Corinth was in lower Greece, a society that was compose of thinkers, philosophers. Paul is saying that he came in humility, not trying to match their eloquence of words. He says:
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. v. 2
Some people today have taken this up as an anthem, as if Paul was saying this was his approach to ministry to everyone. That is not what he was saying here. In context he is saying that they did not have the humility or the maturity for him to go any further than the evangelical message of the cross. He could not go beyond the teaching of salvation. That is not a positive thing. That is where a lot of people are in the Church today, not understanding that the cross is the beginning. There is so much more. And because they do not let their roots go deeper they can easily fall away. We have to go deeper with Jesus, to mature past the cross.
I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. vv. 3-5
This was a unique approach by Paul. He was a scholar coming to speak to philosophers about something that was hard for people of earthly wisdom to understand and accept. It is no different today. Isn't it interesting how the Father will approach everyone differently. Some people are called in great meetings where thousands come to know Jesus. With others it is in small groups. And with others he approaches them when they are alone. With some it is by someone's testimony. With others it is by great preaching. Still others it is a quiet voice. There are as many methods as there are people.
Paul could not use words to win the hearts of these people, it had to be signs, wonders and miracles. They had so much philosophy that they needed to have a demonstration of this resurrection power. Their faith could not depend on a fine sounding argument because their faith would disappear with the next fine sounding argument that came along.
As I read this I realize the importance of getting people to mature, to move on beyond the cross. It is not any of us who cause this maturing, although we can be used in the process. The work belongs to the Spirit. But like salvation people will not seek it if they are not aware of it. We must all grow in the Spirit, moving into the deeper things of Jesus. If you want to know where you are in that process take a look at Jesus. Then ask, am I like him? Can I do the things he did? Can I pray over the sick and see them healed. Can I forgive sins. Can I love the unlovable? Is the Kingdom center in all my thinking? In obedience am I willing to put others first while trusting the Father to look after me? Am I gripped by fear or do I have the peace of Christ? Do I madly love the Father?
I encourage you, get to know Jesus more and more every day. Then be open to being used by him in a variety of ways to introduce the gospel. Are you prepared to do miracles? I hope so. Let's be aware of who our audience is and let us allow the Holy Spirit to determine the method. Let's be used for Jesus today.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
It’s hard to talk on Father’s Day. It isn’t because there is not a lot to talk about because there is. It is hard because the dad’s role has been shifting so much in society. Now it seems that society wants to mix things up, having women act like men and men like women. Don’t misunderstand me. This is not an issue of women working or staying at home or if men should take a more active role in the raising of their children. Whether our society recognizes it or not there are distinctions between male and female.
So it isn’t easy being a dad with so many conflicting messages and changing expectations. So we turn to God’s Word for help. But it is difficult to find any example there of a good dad. Most men in the Word are dysfunctional Father’s. Most examples we have are the kings and they certainly were not great examples of wonderful fathers. Even the great king David was a royal mess up when we look at his kids. And let’s face it, we judge most Father’s according to their kids.
Now it is not fair to judge a man according to his children when they are small and still being training, but when they are adults we begin to see the same character in the sons as in the father. That is a frightening reality for us dad’s. The same can be said about moms and daughters but this is father’s day. How many times have you dads heard your father’s voice as speak to your kids? Sometimes it is even the same words. You may never have intended it but this is who you have become under the influence of your dad. It is not like you walked around with a note pad taking notes but you did absorb the lessons your dad taught you by what he said and did.
I don’t know about the rest of you dads but that really scares me. So often we are not great communicators of our hearts. We don’t use a lot of words to explain how we feel or about what we think. So all our sons and daughters have to go on is what we say and do. This shapes them and moulds them and becomes part of who they are. They will deny it but they can’t stop it and either can you. Every angry word, every messed up action gets absorbed by them. This is great if you are a great dad but most of us are like those guys in the Bible, mess ups.
If you don’t believe this to be true then I want you to consider the best father and son relationship in the Word of God. Here is an example of a great dad and a loving son. And this is what he had to say about his dad:
"I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.” (John 5:19-20)
And consider how the son represents the father in the character that he has:
Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."
Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."
Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?” (John 14:5-9)
You can know a dad without ever meeting him by getting to know his son. I don’t know about the rest of you dads but that really frightens me, that I have such a huge impact on who my children become. I am such an imperfect man. I know each of my imperfections really well and I would never want my children to have them. So what do I do?
The best thing I can do is live to gain the character of the best dad that has ever been. But the problem is I can’t spend any physical time with my heavenly Father. If I can’t spend time with him how can I gain his great character? Well, by turning to the Son. This is what Jesus said:
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. (John 14:11-13)
We know that the character we have gained from the false father of this world is a thing of destruction. He is an illegitimate father who destroys and twists everything he touches. Without Jesus we take father him and we destroy and twist everything we touch. But if we understand that Jesus has the character of the true Father then we know to seek to be like Jesus. If we set our hearts desire on becoming like him then we have set our hearts on being like our heavenly Father. If this is our hearts desire then the Spirit will work on us to transform us into what we desire. Consider this Psalm:
Do not fret because of evil men
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. (Psalm 37:1-6)
The question is what is the desire of our hearts? We possess no greater treasure than our children. We have the responsibility of setting the best example we can set and then praying a lot of grace over them for where we fail. Fatherhood is such an awesome and incredible responsibility we should be spending hours in prayer, asking our Father to change us for the sake of our children. As we realize our weaknesses we should be taking them to our Father and asking for help with it.
The thing is we only get one shot at this. In golf there is a thing called a mulligan, which is a do-ever. It is when you make a bad shot in a friendly game, you can call a mulligan and retake the shot. With our kids we do not get to call a mulligan. We do have something better called God’s grace. I don’t know about you but I need to rely on that grace a lot.
I am going to end this by borrowing something that Paul had written to his student Timothy. I am borrowing this because it is a good list and dad’s work best with clear expectations. He writes to Timothy, a spiritual leader:
Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
As dad’s we are all ministers to our kids. It is a good place to start, to realize that we are setting the example for our children in our speech, they way we interact with people, in the way we love, in our trust in God’s promises and in the way we avoid things that pollute and contaminate our body, mind and spirit. As I have said before, an awesome responsibility.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." vv. 18-19
The cross and the empty grave continue to be a barrier to people who want to follow Jesus' teachings. They would rather not deal with the weird stuff and take away the practical things they can use, such as "love one another". For them it is hard to understand how the cross can become a symbol of love. The fact is:
For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. v. 25
God does not think like we do. We are limited in our viewpoint and our calculations. God has no such limits. So often we try to limit him according to our own limitations. It is the reason we fail to trust what he is doing and the promises he gave us. It is also why the world is not flocking to the Kingdom because it all seems so foolish. Paul reminds us that this is actually a thing that should keep us all humble:
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. vv. 26-29
It is how he continues to operate. You may not agree with some of his choices in the area of leadership or many other things. You may be thinking that these people could not be called, that they just took the calling on themselves. But be careful in your thinking. You do not stand in a great place to judge God or his servant. Remember this:
It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." v. 30-31
There is no room for pride, boasting or any other thing that promotes self. God has done everything for us and we have done nothing for ourselves. If we find ourselves blessed, promoted, doing well in life, successful, in great positions we are those things or have those things by God's choosing, by his grace. Remember these things are not for us but for the sake of the Kingdom. They have been given so we can be better servants. Humility must be the word of the day, every day in the Kingdom.
Remember this next time you start to allow yourself to feel self-made, self-important, self-reliant, better than others. Without Jesus Christ we are nothing. So, if we want to boast let us boast about what Jesus has done in us and through us, always giving him the praise and the credit.
Friday, June 19, 2009
This morning we are looking at 1 Corinthians 1:10-19 and with this I stand and applaud Apostle Paul or give him props or whatever it is that we do these days to show our agreement and appreciation. There was a problem in Corinth. Well there were several problems but this was the first:
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." vv. 10-12
I can almost hear the pain Paul felt as he wrote this. Of all the silly things people can use to divide themselves and cause problems, fighting over ministers has to be the silliest. This is point on in the Word of God because it is still a silly problem today.
There is no doubt that our nature causes us to be attracted by complimentary personality types. There are some people who we will be better friends with than others. But this does not de-value our other friends and it is only pure laziness on our part if we do not put in an equal amount of effort on all of our friendships. Now apply this same thought to ministers, pastors, leaders in our life.
There are certain people of authority that we will respond to better because their personality clicks with us but we would be foolish to de-value the importance of the other authorities in our life. God blesses us with a variety because each person brings into our life something that we need. Remember this passage from Ephesians 4:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. vv. 11-13
Isn't it ironic that the instruments that Jesus gave to us to bring us into a mature unity would be used by us to bring in division. All because we find some leaders more likable than others. We are such a vulgar bunch of children. I wonder if we will ever get going on this road of maturity? It certainly upset Paul:
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:13-17)
What are leaders? They are nothing more than messengers, agents, workers of the King. They do not deserve any glory or recognition other than the respect deserving one in service to the King. One is not greater or more important than another. Each has something unique to be added to your life, knowledge, experience. It is the King who is important. It is the King who we lift up. It is the King who we follow. It is the King who we love. And if this is not true then we will see it in our lack of unity.
If you cannot understand this then reflect on what Paul asked, "Was Paul crucified for you?" Insert the name of any one leader that you have alligned yourself with. Was he or she crucified for you? You see, we do not need any kings, especially such limited ones as we see people setting up in their churches. We already have a King and he is incredible. There is no other that can be compared to him.
I am not saying we do not need leaders, pastors, evangelists and such and I am not saying we throw off the authority Jesus has given to them. The Word is clear in saying that we need them. But we cannot afford to miss out on what Jesus has given us just because we are more attracted to one than to the others. We need it all. However, don't boast about any of them. What they are and what they have is only by the grace of the Father. They are only servants of our Servant King. Honour them but do not glorify them. And please, do not allow this to be a source of division in the Body of Christ.
We will return to this later but for now, for today, praise the Lord for the variety of servants he has surrounded you with and show all of them your appreciation for their faithfulness in their service to Jesus.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
This morning we leave Romans behind and we are going to jump over to 1 Corinthians. This is a difficult letter Paul had to write but sometimes leaders have to face difficult tasks. When everyone is growing spiritually and doing what they are suppose to do it is a joy to lead but often this is not the case. Later in the letter we will see that although Paul did what he had to do it weighed heavy on him. But before the difficulties Paul exposes his heart and shows how much he appreciates his brothers and sisters in Corinth:
I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. vv. 4-9
If there are fellow believers in your life that seem to drive you crazy, take your example from Paul. You do not need any other reason to be thankful for them other than the fact that they are recipients of the same grace you have received. God has poured out into their lives the same things he has given you which means that he loves them just as he loves you. Surely you can find it in you to be thankful for them for no other reason than they demonstrate God's grace and love for the world to see.
Once you acknowledge this about your brothers and sisters then you actually begin to see them differently. The negative things that rub us wrong grow less and we begin to see the positive things about the person. Look at the words Paul used: "For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge." He continues, "you do not lack any spiritual gift". Every member of the Body of Christ has value, even if your personalities clash. But clashing personalities is no excuse for not recognizing a person's value. If we are able to take ourselves out of the picture long enough, we see their strengths, the grace God has given, the wonderful gifts they have received. When we realize their value our appreciation for them deepens.
We are told to speak words of encouragement to one another. It was Paul who the Holy Spirit inspired to speak those words to us and it is Paul who demonstrated it to us. Look at Paul's encouragement:
He will keep you strong to the end
so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ
who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord
God is faithful.
Do you notice something here? Paul doesn't puff them up to encourage them. He doesn't even really talk about them and their abilities at all. Paul encourages them by reminding them of God's promises and with God's character. If you try to encourage someone by pointing out their limited abilities and when you try to get them to believe in themselves they will eventually fail themselves. But when you encourage people with the promises of Jesus, that is a solid thing for them to stand on. When you encourage them by reminding them who God is then that encouragement will be there even in their failings. No, I am convinced the worse thing we can do is try to build a person up with themself. We need to build up their understanding and trust in God. That is the only way they will overcome.
I appreciate and love you because of what God is revealing in you.
He has gifted you with incredible gifts through the Spirit.
He will always keep you strong and will help you overcome every obstacle in your life.
He will keep you blameless (you can't but he will) on the Day of the Lord. He forgives everything you seek to have forgiven. Everything!
You are privileged to have an incredible relationship with Jesus. Yours is a rich fellowship. Don't listen to the enemy. Jesus loves you and wants to spend every day in rich fellowship with you.
One thing you can be absolutely sure about, God is faithful.
So now. let us stop looking to each others deficits and lift up each others strengths. Let us encourage one another. Allow me to give you three last references and I end with these:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13)
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Today also marks the end of our devotional walk through Romans. It has been an interesting journey. As we end with chapter 16 we find that Paul does a reflection as well, remembering all those people who have partnered with him in ministry. This is where we can see that Paul was not a loner as some imagine that he was. He knew he belonged to the members of the Church; he needed them and they needed him. Paul was also accountable to the Church. After every mission trip he would head home to Antioch to give a report to those who had sent him out. It was only on his last journey that he did not head home because he was interrupted from his routine by his arrest.
As much fun as it is to research these various people it is the warning contained here that draws my attention today. Paul names all these great people in a form of a greeting but I wonder if, during this reflection, he also remembered some not so great people. The Church was not without its problems even in the early days:
I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. v. 17
Time after time Paul was encountering Jews as well as Christian Jews who entered the Church or confronted the Church with a contrary gospel, teaching people they had to be circumcised and follow the Jewish traditions. On top of this, Scripture gives us evidence that other leaders stepped forward with a bent on Scripture that caused some to leave the Church and set them up as a leader. There was plenty of false teaching going around but especially those of the circumcision group. Paul warns:
For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. v. 18
Things have not changed much. It is sad to see so many people deceived by people who are only out to line their own pockets. Like the enemy they use Scripture to validate their teaching, feeding on people who are like minded, in wanting to find a way to make an easy dollar. Then there are others who are after the feeling of control, power, authority. They twist the Word to convince people because they need followers to feed into their need. These type of people don't care about Jesus or the lost, they are only trying to feed their own appetites. Now notice how Paul encourages the believers:
Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. v. 19
Paul lifts up the positive character of these people of Rome; their obedience. Their obedience to the leadership? No, it is their obedience to the Word and to the Holy Spirit. Obedience to the Holy Spirit spurs in believers the understanding of their need to submit to the authorities God has placed over them. When God's people are obedient to the Spirit it causes much joy in the leadership of the Body. It makes the burden of such leadership all that much lighter.
We can tolerate a lot in the Church. We have to because each person is so different, so unique and such uniqueness can cause friction from time to time. There are also the various levels of maturity which can cause frustration. But the love of Christ, which unites us, empowers us to have patience with one another. But a person of division is different from all of this. A divider is like a disease that attacks the Body, separating one member from another, destroying unity, and causes dysfunction. As much as we never want to turn our back on anyone Paul says this is the one person we cannot tolerate. He tells us not to entertain them, to have nothing to do with them. They are a real danger to the Body.
I pray that all of us are workers of unity, that our desire is to see a united and Spirit empowered Body of Christ. I pray we are careful of the words we use to express ourselves and that we spend our days building up and not tearing down. It is not always easy. We are often quick to complain or to criticize before God can reveal what he is doing. I pray none of us would be agents of division in the Body of Christ. Let us ask the Lord to put a guard over our mind, heart and mouth, that we would be agents of encouragement and not division.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Today we conclude much of Romans as we look at chapter 15, verses 23 to 32. Paul is expressing his hope to be able to visit the church in Rome at some point in the near future. He either has not yet heard from the Spirit as to what awaits him in Jerusalem or he does not care to share this with the church in Rome.
There is one thing that really stands out for me in these few verses. It is the one thing he asks from the church in Rome. He does not request any help other than this:
I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. v. 30
The greatest privilege we have is to intercede, to petition for each other. He did not ask for money or for them to send a gift, or even for more workers to join in the endeavour to win souls. Paul asked that they would join in his struggle by praying through Jesus and in the love of the Spirit. Prayer is the easiest weapon we have in this struggle. It should be the most natural for us to use. The only cost is time and some effort.
I was curious about our attitude toward prayer so I looked for some statistics but the only study I could find was from ten years ago and it was from the States. It is here if you are curious: prayer study. However, my opinion is that people lie in statistics and we have also seen a decline in the Church over the last decade. Just by the spiritual doldrums that we see we should be able to know the truth of the matter. When people are truly interceding there is a passion that is awakened in them, an eagerness, and anticipation of answered prayer.
Paul also did not ask for general prayer. He was specific in his needs:
Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, v. 31
Specific prayer is the best in petition and if it is the wrong thing to be praying, if it is not the Father's will then the Spirit will check us and perhaps give us a Word for the person for whom we are praying. Paul had two concerns here. He knew he had many enemies in Judea as the Jews believed him to be a heritic and perverter of Judaism. But he also had enemies among the saints. The political situation had changed in the church in Jerusalm as more of the priests and Pharisees were becoming followers but they were also bringing with them the teaching that the law still had to be followed. This meant they saw no credibility in what Paul was doing. My personal opinion is that Paul was set up in Jerusalem but that will have to wait for another time. Right now it is enough to know that Paul knew what he was heading to and he was asking for specific prayer.
At our Tuesday evening prayer meeting we have been praying for specific things for people and we have been watching the Lord answer these one after another. We have been encouraging people to testify about these answered prayers and to give praise and thanksgiving to the Father as Jesus told us to do. Prayer is important but so is praise and testimony for answered prayer. We encourage each other through this as we give witness to the faithfulness of our Father.
Understand that as we ask for prayer if should not be for selfish gain. Everything we do should be for the glory of the Father, for the building up of the Church. Why did Paul ask for intercession?
so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. v. 32
Paul was asking for these two things so that he would be able to come to Rome, that both he and the church there would experience a refreshing in the Lord. Paul was not asking simply so that he would be kept safe but instead that he would be able to continue his ministry. As we pray we should always try to have the mind of Christ that we would know the Father's will as we pray. When I pray for people's healing I usually ask that it would be done to encourage the person, to remind them that our Father loves them and is occupied with them. We want healing for people so they will not suffer; that is the compassionate part of us. But the greater desire is that they would grow spiritually from the experience. We need to understand not only the specifics but the benefits of answred prayer.
Prayer should be as natural to us as breathing. Petition should be our first response. We need to discipline ourselves in this because we are lazy by nature. Too often our first response is a physical response; how can I take care of this need? But the greater response is asking the Father to take care of the need because then there will be spiritual fruit. So let us be specific in our prayers. Let us have expectation of answered prayer. And may we see the spiritual benefit in our intercessions.
Allow me to give the last word to James:
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (5:16)
Monday, June 15, 2009
Without a doubt the Apostle Paul accomplished much in his life time. Although many of the churches he helped to plant have long since disappeared Paul's great revelation of Christ continues to shape the Church today. He was a unique man called to a unique ministry at a unique time. Yet this is what he had to say about it:
I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. vv. 18-19
Perhaps the reason Paul met with such success and was used so mightily by God was because of his attitude and how he trusted the words of Jesus. Did he really do anything more than what you and I could accomplish if we had the same mindset? If we isolate just a section of these two verses we see that Paul understood that he was not just a worshiper of God but he was a worker as well:
by what I have said and done
Paul could have been satisfied with going to the synagogue and taking part in worship, then the next day returning to his tent making and enjoying life as a worshiper of Jesus. But there is more to being a follower of Jesus Christ than worship. Paul recognized his part in the work by what he said and done but he also realized it was only a part of the work. He was an instrument used by God to bring salvation to the Gentiles. The real work was being accomplished by God, through the Holy Spirit:
what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God ... through the power of the Spirit.
Paul had no illusions of grandeur here. He saw what Christ was accomplishing and he constantly acknowledged that what he did he was only able to do through the power of the Spirit. Without the Spirit he was just another preacher, teacher, user of words, philosopher. Without the Spirit there was no conviction behind his words that grabbed at the listener's heart. Without the Spirit there was no understanding or purpose. Without the Spirit there were no signs and miracles.
Paul recognized he was only a worker in a greater plan, empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the Father's bidding. Because of this much was accomplished through Paul. The question begs to be asked, if he accomplished so much by being empowered by the Spirit, why are we attempting so much without the Spirit? Are we honestly operating in the Spirit or are we doing our own thing for God?
What I mean by our own thing is, are we deciding for ourselves what we can and can't do for God and are we decideing it on our own time and terms? Paul did not choose any of this for himself. He was specifically called by God and set aside for this ministry. He was empowered by the Spirit to work signs and miracles as he worked among the Gentiles. He was called and he embraced that calling with all his energy but he remained captivated by the Spirit, always obeying the Spirit. Because of this obedience the Spirit took Paul beyond the ordinary.
I wonder how much of what we do is our own work and not that of God? I wonder how much would change if we stopped telling God what to do and started asking questions? I am convinced that we have all been called to the extraordinary in every ministry and service imaginable but we simply are not listening. We need to lose control of everything in our lives including work and finances. We need to turn complete control and guidance in our lives over to Jesus. We need to surrender to the Spirit. We need to allow him to possess us. And, we need to learn to obey. Then perhaps we will say with Paul:
I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.