Advertisements

Blog Archives

Letting grace move us

Father God, Lord of life, You provide us in every way & for every need. You keep us running, direct our hearts & sustain our souls, body & mind. You bring us life & a hope we can call on every single day. We come seeking You out in all these ways & more every day, because outside of You, we have nothing. On our own we have no hope, no strength, no provision, only empty promises we make to ourselves, but have no power to see through to the end. Forgive us our failings & pride, guiding us to completion in Jesus Christ instead. Empower us through Your Holy Spirit to walk with You today. We need to desperately & deeply. You are our rock & refuge. Restore us & bring glory to Yourself. We bless Your holy Name. Amen.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Do you feel called by God? Can you sense His will at work in your life? Have you ever felt sent by Him to do a particular work? Do you know what that connection feels like & what it is He compels you to accomplish?

Here’s what we find to help us answer those questions. Paul begins by acknowledging these callings in his own life. God has made them abundantly clear. He says that he is called to do these things & that the church in Corinth is called to be a gathering of saints that call upon the Name of Jesus Christ. He acknowledges the call of an individual & the call of the gathering of believers collectively. There are things that we must do on our own & there are activities that we participate in together. That’s not revolutionary or difficult to comprehend, but there are temptations to neglect one of them or both, from time to time.

We often make excuses & tell ourselves it’s okay that we aren’t doing something that God has called us to as an individual, or that it’s not a big deal that we aren’t serving corporately with the rest of the body. But when we look at the second part of the passage today, we find out just what we are missing when we stand apart from this work of God in us.

Paul begins talking about grace & peace that comes to us through Christ. He acknowledges that this same grace is a gift from Christ and how He enriches us in every way through that grace. He blesses our strength. He blesses our knowledge. He blesses our speech & fills us so we do not lack in any gift. This all comes from walking in His will & in being obedient to the call of grace on our lives.

Grace doesn’t call us to simply rest in Him, which it does provide. Grace doesn’t call us to simply know about itself, which is part of how peace works its way in us. Grace calls us to an active participation in the Gospel work in us, it leads us into a new way of living, a movement in the rhythms it provides us, and in those rhythms, we find a new cadence for our lives that brings fulfillment, hope, peace & joy that we can in turn share with others. None of this is passive. None of this is meant to belong only to us. We live this & share in this together. This is what grace does. We are called, provided for & encouraged by grace into a deeper love, a full life & a living hope.

Because of this grace, we can also stand guiltless before God, and that is the greatest gift of all. This is what Jesus has provided for us through His life, death, burial & resurrection. Grace makes the calling & the life of dedicated obedience possible & it brings us to God’s unending well of joy, peace & fulfillment. It’s a wonderful place to be & a deep joy to walk out day by day. Christ is revealed in us through it all. Let Him reveal Himself in your life today. Seek His leading. Walk in His rhythms.

Advertisements

Acts 19:1-10 // The Difference Between Pride & Hearing The Truth

“1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

“No,” they told him, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3 “Then what baptism were you baptized with?” he asked them.

“With John’s baptism,” they replied.

4 Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the One who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.”

5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began to speak in other languages and to prophesy. 7 Now there were about 12 men in all.

8 Then he entered the synagogue and spoke boldly over a period of three months, engaging in discussion and trying to persuade them about the things of the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd, he withdrew from them and met separately with the disciples, conducting discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 And this went on for two years, so that all the inhabitants of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the message about the Lord.”

Acts 19:1-10

==

Here we see two different receptions of truth in Paul’s ministry in one town. Now, Corinth was densely populated and there were a slew of cultural backgrounds milling aroundin the collective psyche of the town. It was a unique place in their time. Based on their central location in the Mediterranian region and the vast number of nations & religious groups that made their way through Corinth, you were bound to receive a variety of responses to the Gospel message. But, as is unfortunately expected, the people who should have been the most receptive were the least receptive. They were too set in their ways, their understandings and decided that they didn’t need to hear anymore & so they fought back against the truth. 

The Gentiles on the other hand? They listened to Paul preach and teach 8 times longer than the Jews there did. After three months, the Jews were done with him. The Gentiles listened to Him, considering the truth for two years and many nations came to hear the Gospel through their willingness. This is the difference between those who are prideful and those who her the truth.

When we are prideful, we automatically assume that we know it all, understand it all and that no one has anything new for us to see, hear, understand or learn.  We close ourselves off. We shut others down. Even if they are coming from our own background, like Paul was to the Jews in Corinth, we instantly imagine that they are wayward before they even open their mouths. This is pride. Pride says, “I am enough.” Pride says, “No one can help me.” Pride says, “My way is right, even if it is untested.” Pride says, “I am unique in this world and nobody knows me but me.” 

Pride says a lot of things that walls off our hearts, minds & spirit to that consinderation of information from another person. “Your house is on fire.” “No it’s not. I have a chimney & fireplace, meant to contain and control fire. My house is fine.” “Okay, but the fire started at the stove.” “Good. The stove is also meant to contain and control heat. My house is fine.” “Well, it was a grease fire, so the floor and walls are burning, too. I don’t think they’ll be much help for containing heat. You might want to do something about it.” “No, I trust my heat containment areas. They will do their job. My house is fine.” 

You get the idea. Pride does this. It refuses to listen. It refuses to move or be moved. 

We don’t want to be tossed around by every wind and wave and cultural opinion. But that’s where truth is so good. It doesn’t get tossed around. It stands firm. And anythign that doesn’t stand with truth is then pretty easily discerned. You can listen to someone, hear what they have to say and weigh it against the truth & God’s truth will always stand. This is, again, where knowing the Scriptures and having an intelligent faith is so important. We can discern what is truth and what is not by them, not from some source of truth that we formulate within ourselves. That pseudo-truth is the ‘truth’ of pride. The truth that God gives comes from outside of us and we have no influence on it or over it. We cannot change it, tweak it or make it our own. It simply is. It stands alone. 

The Gentiles in Corinth were used to weighing out ideas & so they heard the truth & believed. The Jews in Corinth were used to sealing themselves off from everyone, were resistant, and would not listen. 

As we GoLove people in Jesus’ Name, we will encounter people on both sides of the fence. The trick is knowing how much time to give them to listen. Paul knew. He gave the majority of his time to those who would listen and follow what was being said, those who would receive the truth of God. 

Final encouragement and grace // 2 Corinthians 13

“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
2 Corinthians 13:11, 12, 14 NIV

With as much direction and instruction as Paul gave the church in Corinth in these two letters, with as much direct language as he used and with all his pointed words, he still spoke to them in love.

We are usually good at letting people know when we are disappointed in them. When we feel the need to offer correction, we can be very good at pointing fingers and quoting chapter and verse at someone, but we lack an essential element for rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness: grace.

Yes, it is good and profitable to speak the truth to someone who has wandered from it, but if all you are is a wagging finger, a furrowed brow and an angry voice, then all they will become is defensive, resistant and angry. But if we communicate love and the desire for restoration from the beginning, if we make it obvious that we are working for complete restoration, simply because we love them in Christ, and then we offer correction and a rebuke, then our heart should shine through and the truth can be heard if they are willing to listen.

We must do everything in love, gentleness and respect. Harsh tones typically come off as self-righteousness, and leave the impression of a holier than thou personality. But calm, rational speech, pointed with love and compassion will go so much further toward bringing restoration around in their lives.

The only heart that cannot be touched by love, compassion and grace is the heart that is prideful and will not admit that it is in the wrong. The denial of the need for grace holds people back, and the love of those who are concerned for them, along with the work of the Spirit, is just about the only thing that will get through that darkness and blind-heartedness.

If people do not see Christ in us as we GoLove in His Name, and all they get is a taste of pride, vindictiveness and anger, their hearts will only be hardened further. But if we can communicate love, grace, mercy, compassion and speak the solid, uncompromising truth through it all, then that love we show will stand as the love of Christ in their life. And as much as we would like to find that switch in their head or heart that brings correction instantaneously, we must trust in God’s timing and the work of His Holy Spirit and His Word to bring restoration into their lives.

Pray and seek His glory in and through it all.
Pray that hearts would be softened and made ready for the truth.
Pray that His love is faithfully spoken and acted out through you.
Pray that their life and yours would reflect Christ Jesus.

The greatest gift given in love // 2 Corinthians 12

“Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”
2 Corinthians 12:14-15a ESV

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) And that is what Paul does for the church in Corinth and all the other churches He helped to plant and raise up. Slowly he died, little by little, pouring out his life in an effort to build them up. He dedicated years and years to them, his heart longing to see them grow and be fruitful in Christ.

He could have been doing other things, ‘safe’ things. Things that no one would have criticized him for, but instead, he laid down his life with every mile he traveled, with every letter he wrote, with every town he visited and with every church he helped plant. He invested himself in the Kingdom and in them, rather than focusing on this world and the temporary pleasures it could afford.

A man with Paul’s experience and intellect could have found a very lucrative position somewhere and made a nice living, relaxing and being served. But instead, because of the love of Christ in his heart, and because of his hope for redemption, he spent his life for the souls of others.

Church, this is not just a life pursuit for Paul, but a wake up call for all of us. If we want to claim to be in Christ, we must walk as He walked (1 John 2:6) and and the path He walked lead to Golgotha. Self-sacrifice is the theme of our life. Understanding that this life is temporary, and that it is to be spent in the care and upbringing of others for the sake of the Kingdom. This is what our Master taught us, and so this is what our life is to look like. Spending and being spent for others. So long as we have breath and time on this earth, lifting others up in Christ…this is what matters most, and this is our greatest outpouring of love.

Do you want to show the love of Christ to someone else? Then GoLove them by pouring your life out, investing in them, praying for them, loving on them, checking in on them, nurturing them, serving them and sharing Scripture with them for the building up of their hearts and for the building up of the body of Christ.

We must get our eyes off this world & focus on Christ. And we focus best on Christ when we serve others as He would, laying down our lives for our friends.

There is only one Gospel. It cannot be compromised. // 2 Corinthians 11

“And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”
2 Corinthians 11:12-15 ESV

James 3:1 warns those of us who presume to teach that we are going to be held to a higher standard, a stricter judgment. We who speak on behalf of Christ, who stand as ambassadors of His truth to His people and to those who are being drawn to Him. And there are plenty of examples of people who have shared Christ out of selfishness and out of a desire to draw the attention to themselves. But the Gospel of Christ is only about Christ and it is never about any single individual. We do not preach or teach for our own fame, but because we have been called to do so by our Master.

The preacher who does not know humility, who promotes himself and who stands above the church rather than alongside her is a deceiver and a manipulator. Using what rightly belongs to God, they prey on the poor and the widow. They spew doctrine that tickles the ear and lines their pockets. They do not stand for truth, but they compromise it easily in order to draw as many disciples as possible to themselves. Wearing fancy suits, and with loud proclamations, they make promises they cannot keep. They speak of ‘seed money’ and wealth for this life. They focus on works and not on grace, they are hucksters and shams, snake oil salesmen, who would skip town in a moment with their earnings if their ego would let them stop.

And it is no secret who their master is. They serve self, and are not in league with Christ. Check everything you hear spoken in the Name of Christ against the whole of Scripture. Test it by what our Master says, and do not take anything we say for granted. The Word is truth, and in it we see the call to share truth and to GoLove. This is only done in Jesus’ Name and never in our own. He is our Master, it is His Name we lift up.

Working your field and not neglecting // 2 Corinthians 10

“But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”
2 Corinthians 10:13-18 ESV

Paul knew he was a pioneer church planter. He was part of the team that was going where no one had gone before with the Gospel because that was the field he was given to work. And as Jesus said, he who has proven faithful with little will be given authority over more. Paul knew that he had to be responsible with what he had been given to do in Christ. Anything positive, any progress made is then attributed to The Lord, not selfishly and pridefully claimed for himself. He knew that his faithfulness would be acknowledged by God and that’s all that mattered.

If we ever wonder why it seems our influence for Christ seems small, maybe it is simply because we haven’t been working the little given to us. We push off having conversations that we know we need to have. We don’t speak up for our faith. We remain silent when we should be standing for truth. When we haven’t been faithful with a little, why would God entrust us with more?

If we want to have a life in Christ that is significant, that is measurable, then we need to trust in Him, do the work He has laid out for us, and let all our hope, strength and joy come from Him. If we want to, out of the love given to us, show that same love in return to Him and those He values, then we need to quit making excuses and do the work He has laid out for us to do.

Don’t trust in your own strength and abilities..you will always come up short. A life worth bragging about (doing all the bragging about God, of course) is a life that is lived out, not retreated from. Paul knew his field and he worked it. If we are going to follow our great commandment and commission to love and go, the we need to GoLove all day everyday and not just save it for special project weekends, or designated service times with out church family.

This is to be lived, and lived well for the sake of the Name. It’s not a requirement to fulfill to tick off boxes on our spiritual ‘to-do’ list, but a labor of love for the one who first loved us.

The forbidden topic and the tightly held fist // 2 Corinthians 9

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
2 Corinthians 9:6-9 ESV

Everybody loves talking about money, even more than that, we love talking about how each of us should use the money we have been given in a way that honors God. Sermons on giving are the most popular ones throughout the year, and congregants are always sending notes to the preacher asking him to talk even more about money and finances, giving and generosity, right? Right?

No. Money is a major contender in the hearts of most people for the place of first priority. It is an idol to beat out most idols and a worry that consumes many, weakening them in their service and willingness to walk with Christ. There is a greater sense of possession and a desire to control our money than most any other resource we have been given apart from our homes, which we must use that money to continue to possess and maintain. We place trust in money. We are Moore comfortable when our bank accounts have more in them, and we are more anxious and consumed with fear and/or worry when they begin to run low.

So, when Jesus or Paul or anyone else talks about money and generosity, there is a tendency to look at what they are saying as more of a suggestion rather than as a command or as an imperative. We will speak of moral issues with certainty, but of money with a half hearted sense of commitment. We will give most anything, but don’t ask us to give too much of our money.

And so again, Paul’s address to the church in Corinth, masterfully handled through the Spirit, is an encouragement to glorify God and build up others, both those who will receive the offering and those who will be encouraged to generosity through the giving of others. When we give cheerfully, the state of our hearts reflect God’s when He gives. When we give like we’re being robbed at gunpoint, no one is glorified and hearts are hardened and our own attitudes only worsen.

And if we are honest with God and with ourselves, we are only able to be generous because He has been generous with us first. Our witness to His generosity stands through the generosity we show in turn. How we show love to others is reflected in the generosity we show and the openness we exhibit from all the corners of our hearts. So GoLove God and others with a cheerful, giving heart. It encourages us to open up more, to be more generous and to have a deeper understanding of His great love and generosity. A heart that mirrors the generosity of God is a heart that draws more and more people to Him.

Proof of grace comes in the giving // 2 Corinthians 8

“But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
(2 Corinthians 8:7-9 ESV)

Simply said, a self absorbed life is not going to stand as a powerful witness for Christ. The proof of grace at work in us comes in the living. If we live generously, thinking first of others, then God’s handiwork in us is obvious. If we are constantly thinking of our own wants over the needs of others, then that heart and attitude will be obvious as well.

If Christ, as our example, gave everything up for us, then we should see the same mindset at work in our own lives. The closer we grow to Christ, walking in His footsteps, the less we identify with the world and its priorities.
The less we identify with the world, the less concern we have for material goods and temporary pleasures. Our eyes and hearts focused heavenward, we live today and every day understanding that there is no need to accumulate/hoard wealth for ourselves here. There is no harm in having a good paying job and saving your money in a responsible way. But the generosity of spirit that comes with our salvation does not coincide with the hoarding of wealth, and selfish stockpiling. If we have extra, we should use it to bless others through the church and through daily, individual ministry. If we do not have extra, give to God first and then use what else you have to meet your needs so that you do not put yourself above Him. Rich or poor, we still acknowledge God as the giver of everything we have in the brief moments of our life.

What good does a massive house and expensive car do for us if we do not take the call to GoLove others in the Name of Jesus seriously? What benefit is there to living extravagantly if we do not share the grace given to us.

We must see beyond this world and into eternity if we are going to live grace and generosity. This world is not our home and we do not invest in what will one day become so much dust. Instead, living out of tee grace given richly to us, we die to self and live as Christ. In doing so, we glorify God and draw others to Him.

Don’t ignore this grief // 2 Corinthians 7

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted.”
2 Corinthians 7:10-13a ESV

Often, we hesitate to do anything or say anything that will bother or offend others. Even if it means letting a sin or dark activity go unmentioned, we will stay quiet. We are encouraged to not rock the boat, and to just live and let live. But to allow people to continue on in darkness, willfully, because we just want to avoid a confrontation doesn’t show love and kindness to them, it shows a complete disregard and a level of apathy that wounds the soul.

If I was engaged in an activity or an attitude that was dragging my heart away from Christ, I would hope and pray that someone in my family or my church would speak up and say something to me. I would hope someone loved me enough to speak truth and light and life and wisdom into my heart and to open my eyes to the severity of my actions. Because it is in this conviction, in this grief, that my heart and mind are compelled to repentance. And so, in direct speech and with a heavy dose of love, I would hope that a brother or sister in Christ would help open my eyes and my heart to what I had rationalized and what I had lost so far.

Godly grief is not a bad thing. Conviction leads to sorrow and sorrow leads to repentance, and it is in this place of repentance that we find healing, wholeness and our joy is renewed. The grief we experience when we say, ‘I wish I would have said something.’ Comes with inaction and it comes at a time when it is irreversible. Godly grief comes at just the right time and it changes everything if we will allow it. A hardened heart doesn’t quickly turn, but the love of friends can help speed the task up.

We just speak from a place where our love shines through. We must communicate our concern in a way that leads to encouragement. A broken heart is a heart that can be reshaped into something beautiful. So, GoLove in the truth, in gentleness and respect, sharing honest concerns and being willing to listen when those concerns are about you. Honesty is a two way street, and friendly correction must be accepted as well as it is given.

Whatever happens, seek God’s direction before speaking, and prayerfully approach every situation with love.

The impossibility of cohabitation // 2 Corinthians 6

“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:16-18 ESV)

In the verses just before this, Paul warns the Christians in Corinth not to be ‘unequally yoked.’ There is no way to link together sin and righteousness, light and dark. A heart devoted to God cannot be also devoted to thoughts, attitudes and values that stand contrary to Him. We cannot live both in the world and in the Spirit and expect God to be okay with it. And yet that is our daily struggle. Every single day, we fight and stand on that line. Devoted to God, yet still dealing with the effects of sin on our heart. Constantly bombarded by the world and its influences, yet being drawn into the will of God.

These two landscapes stand in stark contrast to one another. There is no resemblance, no chance for merger. The people that God has redeemed are to ol live a life apart from the world, not a a life a part of the world. I don’t pretend for a moment that this is a cake walk, and that everyday isn’t going to have a struggle to be dealt with, but the truth of the he matter is that we cannot have a divided heart and honor God. Yes grace saves. Yes Hs mercies are a made new every moment. But we cannot have divided loyalties. We cannot claim Christ and still have a firm grip on the world and sinful condition that He died to save us from.

This is yet another reminder that we are in the world, but not of it. We live and walk and move here, but we do not do so according to this world’s template. We do not stand with it, we stand in Christ despite it. We do not live each day, ingesting its poisons willfully, we breathe in through the Spirit, filtering influences through Him. If a lifestyle or a television show or a goal or a song or a book or an industry or anything else, whether a thought, an activity or any other influence or pursuit, if it doesn’t sync and vibe and mesh with the truth and authority of Scripture and the example of Christ, then it has no business in our life.

And this is vital to understand: we cannot do this on our own. We do not have the strength to stand in but not be a part of, we are too small, too weak, too frail to withstand the onslaught of sin and death and decay that wreaks havoc on the world around us. It is only by the strength and power of Christ that we have hope to stand. It is in our daily devotion to Him, our moment by moment living in Him that this is ever remotely possible. It is in Christ that we gain perspective, that we can so see this world and its offerings for what they are, a diseased, bloated, corpse. Rotten and covered in filth, the death that we stand in the midst of should be repulsive and not fighting for our attention the way it still does.

Only in Christ do we have hope for redemption. Only in Him can we stand firmly separated, devoted to righteousness. He is our strength for walking the narrow road of life, and it is in this strength that we find our commission to GoLove others possible. A life lived for self is a life still consumed by the world. A life lived for others does so in His great love.

%d bloggers like this: