belonging together

Block by block God is building a house. He isn’t building it with ordinary stones. His stones are living and breathing and worshiping. His stones are people. He isn’t building a bunch of different buildings, but we are being built up together into one glorious building. We belong together.

God is a master architect. He has had a blueprint in mind since before creation. He has built everything resting on Jesus. Without Jesus everything crumbles. Jesus is the centerpiece—the cornerstone—of God’s plan. As the Cornerstone, Jesus is also a living stone. While living in the world, he was rejected by men. However, God honored and accepted his sacrifice (vs.4-5). This was part of the plan.

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:4-5, ESV

Today, we can have one of two responses toward Jesus: belief or unbelief (vs.6-8). Jesus is either your precious cornerstone or he is your stone of stumbling. Jesus either saves you from shame or he offends you. You trust in him or he trips you up.

“For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in  Zion a stone,a cornerstone chosen and precious,and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe,  but for those who do not believe,“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” – 1 Peter 2:6-8, ESV

Christians are unlike anything the world has ever seen. They are different. They stand out. In Christ, they have a new identity, which displays itself in four ways: 1) they are chosen by God (v.9a), 2) they are given a position of privilege with direct access to God (v.9b), 3) they are holy before God (v.9c), and 4) they are treasured by God (v.10).

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” – 1 Peter 1:9-10, ESV

Like Jesus, we live in the world. We are living stones. While living in the world we are to walk with a new integrity. No longer do we walk in darkness. We walk in the light. No longer do we live for ourselves. We live to glorify God. No longer do we want to live like the world. We live like we are sojourners (vs.11-12). We live within the new reality that this world is not our home. We live for the new home God is building for us.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is the meaning of “living stones of a spiritual house”? Who or what are these “living stones”? How does this illustration help you understand God’s plan?
  • What is a cornerstone? Why is Jesus described as the Cornerstone? What happens to your life if Jesus isn’t your cornerstone?
  • What does it mean that Jesus is a stumbling stone? What are some things Jesus said or did that offended people? Does it bother you that Jesus would be a stumbling block?
  • What titles are Christians given in this passage? (see v.9) What is the significance of each title? Which of those titles are most encouraging to you? Which title would you like to understand better?
  • What is the purpose of the priesthood? What is your ministry as a priest?
  • According to this passage, what is the expected response of people to the gospel?
  • Why is it important to maintain a good reputation with those who are not Christian? Why does worldliness damage our reputation? What is your reputation?
  • What darkness has Christ called you out of? What does the light look like in your life?
  • What passions of the flesh wage war with your soul? How does your new identity help or hinder your battle against these things?
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Grow Together

Have you ever met a hypocritical Christian? I have. Truth be known, I am one.

Let’s admit it. Us Christians are a community of hypocrites. We aren’t perfect. Far from it. We have an lofty standard God wants us to meet—holiness. That’s a really high bar. We sincerely want to meet that standard, but we fall short like a pole-vaulter trying to jump over Golden Gate Bridge. We sometimes act like we can make it on our own, but we often mask the truth that we struggle to be holy from our fellow Christians.

Why do we hide when we all struggle? Wouldn’t it be better if we admitted our mutual struggle and banded together to grow together? Of course! And Peter agrees too. He calls us to brotherly love from a pure heart and in the processes your display the good news to others around you (1:22-23).

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” – 1 Peter 1:22-23, ESV

The way we fight hypocrisy is through abiding in the Word of God. The Word of God is our mighty weapon against slaying hypocrisy.

The Word of God is powerful because it is the Word is Truth.

Hypocrisy is the opposite of truth. Hypocrisy lives a lie and masks the truth. When we read the Word it reads us. We see who we really are and what we need to become. While not easy to swallow it is the truth.

Jesus was the Word in the flesh—the living Truth—to set us free from sin and hypocrisy. If you look at the first Jesus followers they were a mess. Peter was the biggest mess of them all, yet Jesus loves to redeem messes. A hypocrite must first admit, “I am a mess. I am not what I am, but I want to be as He is. Help me to love truth. I love You and I want to love others too.”

The Word is living and enduring.

There is no other book like the Bible on earth. It is the very words of God. It’s alive. The Spirit of God still gives life through it. While man and generation come and go (1:24-25; cf. Isaiah 40:6-8), the Word of God stands the test of time impacting generation after generation. If the Word has the power to change so many lives he has power to change my life too, even hypocrisy.

“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” – 1 Peter 1:24-25

The Word is good and our source of growth.

The Word of God is like milk to a baby (2:2-3). A new Christian craves the Word. He can’t get enough. It is life-giving. No Christian is too old or mature to feast on the Word or drink its spiritual milk. It is the Word that gives him motivation and power to fight the hypocrisy he struggles to overcome (2:1). Remind one another of the tasty goodness therein and obey it.

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” – 1 Peter 2:1-3

Christianity isn’t a solo or personal walk. It is a arduous journey we take together with other Christians. There are many personal aspects to the journey like our salvation and daily choices, but it’s in those parts that walk with one another our faith is accentuated and amplified. We grow as Christians by growing together. We fight hypocrisy by walking in Truth together.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is hypocrisy? How is hypocrisy a temptation? What are some ways that Christians struggle with hypocrisy?
  • What are the implications of a life filled with 1 Peter 2:1?
  • How does a vulnerable and open faith within the church help us overcome hypocrisy?
  • What issues of hypocrisy do we need to deal with as a community?
  • How are you banding together with your brothers and sisters as you fight hypocrisy in your own life?
  • What is the purpose of loving one another? (see John 17) Why is love so important to Christianity? Where does true love come from? (1 John 4:8)
  • How does abiding in the Word of God help us to love one another? (see Psalm 34)
  • How can we encourage one another to renew a longing for “spiritual milk”?
  • How does Isaiah 40:6-8 speak to the issue of our brevity and the Words eternality? Why is this an important truth to dwell on as we encourage one another?
  • How does the way we treat other Christians (or non-Christians) reflect on our faith in Christ? How is the gospel preached in relationships?
  • How has your faith in Jesus changed the way you relate to people? Are there any attitudes you need to repent of?
  • What opportunities do you have to love one another in your community?
  • What does it mean that God is good? What ways in the Bible do you see that God is good? What are some ways God has been good to you or your family?

life together

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians.” A life with Christ is not meant to be lived alone, rather together with a community of Christ followers. This requires intentionality and vulnerability. Togetherness encourages focusing our eyes on what matters most—Jesus. Bonhoeffer continues, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this”

Here four actions to focus our minds and encourage togetherness.

Set your hope on future grace

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:13, ESV

The mind is a battle ground. While there are many pressures from outside, it is in the mind that one is most often tempted to fear, lose hope, or skirt holiness. Alone we are prone to distraction and disillusionment from the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ. If your hope is in anything, but Jesus you will be disappointed. It is a gift of God’s grace that we are together in this fight of faith and that we will be together around the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

Pursue holiness

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” – 1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV

Above any other attribute of God, his holiness is mentioned the most in the Bible. God is holy, meaning he is “set apart” and there is none like him. If God is holy he wants his children to be holy too. God is not a militant nor a mongrel demanding perfection, but he is a loving father who wants his children to pursue holiness everyday. Encourage one another to be holy in an unholy world.

Have a healthy fear of God

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,” – 1 Peter 1:17, ESV

Peter tells us that God is a Father and we should have a healthy fear of him because he judges his children fairly. While we aren’t perfect kids, he is a perfect daddy. Sometimes we are tempted to view God through the lens of what our earthly father was or is like. While this can be helpful, not everyone had a father who was loving, caring, or taught them right and wrong. God is a good Father.

Look to Christ our example

“knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” – 1 Peter 1:18-21, ESV

Christ came to earth. He lived a holy life and obeyed his Father in everything. He even obeyed God by going to the cross becoming the sacrificial lamb for our sins. Through Jesus we can have faith and hope because in Jesus we see what God looks like with skin on. Jesus also helps us to see what holiness looks like as a human. Follow in his steps.

Life together is primarily about keeping our minds on Jesus Christ until Jesus Christ comes again and makes us completely like him. Walking in grace, holiness, and a fear of God is impossible alone, but together it is a lot more encouraging and doable.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What does holiness mean? What does it look like to be holy? What is the opposite of holiness?
  • How does the illustration and reality that God is Father and you are his children encourage you? Why do God and parents ask their children to do good things not evil things?
  • What does it mean to obey? Are there any rules or standards from the Bible or your home that you don’t think are fair or right? Why? What rules or standards are difficult for you to obey? Why?
  • How is God a Judge? Why is it good that God judges?
  • How does the world make fun of Christians for being holy or different? How does knowing that at the end of our life God will reward us for holy life?
  • What is the meaning of the word redeem? How did Jesus redeem mankind?
  • How do thinking on these verses help guard your mind from temptation?

walking in obedience

What emotions stir up within you when you hear the words obedience, submission, and leadership? For many these words conger up anger, skepticism, disappointment, even rebellion. We live in a culture that bucks against authority, challenges leadership, and grumbles against submission.

Yet can you imagine a world without leadership? Homes without parents leading their children. Businesses without managers overseeing production. Nations without government protecting people. Churches without pastors caring for their flock. It may be delightful for a moment, but in the end it would be chaos.

On the flip-side, leadership can be a lonely responsibility because you have to do hard things, deal with difficult people, and lead by example. A leader has a great responsibility. Leadership is not a position with special perks and privileges. In the words of Scripture, a leader “watches over your soul.” (v.17a)

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.” – Hebrews 13:17-19, ESV

The shepherd terminology in this text is crucial to understanding leadership. The Bible often calls Christians sheep. Sheep are prone to wander. Jesus was known as the Great Shepherd knows all his sheep by name and brings them to himself (John 10:1-18). Jesus even cares to bring the one lost sheep home (Luke 15:1-7).

Pastors and leaders are essentially under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd. They, like Jesus, have the job of watching and protecting their flocks from harm. It is a job they will give an account to God (v.17b). So leaders submit to Jesus as Jesus submits to his Father. By obeying our leaders and submitting to them we are helping them to do their job with joy (v.17c). For a joyful follower makes a joyful leader.

The author of Hebrews gets personal. As a leader himself he asks prayer for a clear mind and honorable life (v.18). He feels the weight of his responsibility. He knows his weaknesses. He is is okay being vulnerable. He wishes he could be on the other end of the letter with the recipients, which shows his shepherd-heartedness (v.19).

It is wonderful when leaders seek the prayer of people they lead. Prayer is a huge ministry to leaders—entrusting them to God. This is the first step of walking in obedience.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • Why are leaders often under a lot of scrutiny and criticism? Why is our culture so anti-authority or submission? What is your response to leadership?
  • Why are leaders necessary for the church? How can you encourage the spiritual leaders in your life? How can you pray for your leaders?
  • How is the term shepherd a fitting term for a leader? How is the term flock a fitting term for the church? How do shepherds watch over your soul?

walking purely

I remember like it yesterday. The doors in the back of the church swung open wide and there walked in my bride. She was bright eyed and blazing in her white gown. It was, is and will be one of the most beautiful and purest images in my mind. There is no wonder God refers to the church as his bride.

Purity in the Church—the Bride of Christ—is just as important as purity for the individual. Continuing in the thread of Hebrews 13:1-3 the authors shares four rapid-fire characteristics for believers and the church to walk purely.

“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.” – Hebrews 13:3-9, ESV

First, honor your marriage (Hebrews 13:4). Today less than 50% of couples get married and the majority of couples are cohabiting rather than marrying. It is more common to test-driving marriage than to actually marry. This has led to a lower level of relational commitment and a greater distancing from moral purity. Yet this is just one aspect of purity. As purity is not just an idea before marriage but within marriage too. God expects the marriage bed to be pure from any form of casual or illicit immorality. In the mind of God, marriage pictures something big—Jesus’ love for the church. When marriages disintegrate so does the testimony of the church, but when marriages fight hard for purity so flourishes the church.

Second, love not money (v.5a). The only sure way to keep your heart pure from a love of money is by being content with what you have, especially in seasons of uncertainty (v.6). Why? Attached to this call for contentment is a mammoth promise—God will never abandon you (v.5b). Allow that truth penetrate your soul deeply. If you divorce yourself from this truth it lead to a lust for money, possessions, and discontentment. Ultimately everything, including money, career, health, security, comes from God.

Third, remember your spiritual leaders (v.7; cf. vs.17, 24). Leaders are to live pure and exemplary lives, and we are to imitate their faith and study their way of life. An issue can arises when we put too much faith in a spiritual leader to meet our spiritual needs. When a spiritual leader has failure or falls we can become disappointed and disillusioned. A good leader will point people to Jesus who never fails and will forever remain (v.8).

Fourth, guard your heart from strange teachings (v.9). Our hearts are easily distracted towards teachings what tickle our ears or stroke our ego. In the process we can commit adultery of the mind as we align ourselves with unbiblical teachings. It is important to weight all teachings against the Word and walk away from teachings contrary to it. If we build on this sturdy and stable ground we will walk purely.

Purity may seem old fashion, yet modern people would not think twice about drinking pure water, eating pure foods, or breathing pure air. When purity in marriage, money, spiritual leadership, or biblical teachings are abandoned the results are as grave on the soul as breathing smog, drinking poison and eating toxins. While purity is a gift from God that we cannot get back once given, it can be forgiven and made anew again.

Are you committed to walking purely? Then “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Ephesians 5:9-10) No matter where you are start today by walking in the light.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is the biblical picture of marriage? How does the word tarnish and diminish this image? How does Jesus and the church redeem the image? How can we help one another keep marriage pure?
  • What is something that you don’t have that you wish you did have? Are you content without it? What makes us want what we want when we want it? How is money a huge culprit to a lack of contentment?
  • How does God’s never abandoning promise encourage you? How is God your Helper? What are things we want God to help us with that he doesn’t promise to help with?
  • Who is a spiritual leader you look up to? How do they mimic Christ? How can you follow their lead?
  • What kind of teachings tickle peoples ears and stroke their egos? Why is it good to weigh all words you hear in church against the Word of God? How can you do this without being extremely critical of teachers and pastors?
  • Is there an area of impurity in marriage, finances, leadership or teaching that you need to ask God’s forgiveness? Which area of purity is your greatest struggle? How will you allow the church to help or encourage you?

walking with others

In our first year of marriage, my wife and I took a hiking trip together in the Rockies. We got new packs and packed light. We planned our trip well. When the day came to walk the 6 miles up the mountain we knew it would be a difficult climb. It was a good thing that we were together because it would have been much more difficult to walk alone. We were able to encourage each other steps and help carry ones pack when tired.

Walking with others in the church is both beautiful and arduous. Those two characteristics cannot be separated. As we struggle to do life with one another the old adage is true—it’s hard to live with them but we can’t live without them. The way we walk with one another demonstrates the beauty of Christ and the hard work of striving to make him famous.

There are three encouragements the author of Hebrews gives for walking with others. First, love like a brother. Brotherly love is a family-like intimacy (v.1). A family member shares blood and dirt. You know things about one another that most do not. In the community of faith, we have the blood of Jesus in common, we are adopted into the family of God, and we share a level of intimacy that is otherworldly. It is a relationship we will share into eternity. This is good reason to get along in the here and now.

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” – Hebrews 13:1-3, ESV

Second, show hospitality. Typically hospitality provides room and board to strangers, but it also demonstrates a willingness to place someones needs above your own. Jesus is our example of what hospitality looks like. He came to serve not to be served. Like Jesus we are all strangers in this world. Showing hospitality can surprise those we serve with a bountiful meal inside out and in the process we might even entertain angels (v.2).

Third, remember the persecuted (v.3). You may know brothers and sisters who are suffering for the Name of Jesus. By ministering to those who are mistreated you are pouring on them encouragement and strength (cf. 11:25,37). We will all suffer for the sake of Christ. That is a promise from the mouth of Jesus himself. It is our badge, but we’re in this together. It is a mutual blessing to carry your brothers burden, especially when he is facing mistreatment for the Name as he will likely carry yours one day too.

Walking with others is hard because walking with Jesus is hard. Yet walking through the fire together produces a beautiful Body that you are a member.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What makes people hard to love? What makes you hard to love sometimes? Who is someone that is hard for you to love? How can you demonstrate brotherly love to them?
  • How does Jesus demonstrate brotherly love? Who are some hard to love people he loved well? What do you learn from him about how to love well?
  • What do you think of the you think of hospitality? Does hospitality natural or unnatural for you? When is it hard for you to show hospitality? What is the battle to serve and be served like within you? Can you think of a time you were shown hospitality? How did that bless you inside out?
  • Do you know someone suffering right now for Christ? How are they being mistreated? How can you minister to them? We are a Body, so as they suffer how are you suffering with them?
  • As you walk with others this week, which of these characteristics do you want to grow in most? Why?

The Church’s Work in Faith

I once heard a church member say, “The church would be a lot more peaceful if there weren’t any people in it.” As true as that statement may sound, what would the church be without people? No church at all.

A church is a community of imperfect people striving for peace together (Hebrews 12:14). This is no easy task. Often it is exhausting, discouraging, heartbreaking and wrought with conflict. However, relationships, especially difficult ones take work, but the rewards of these relationships are rich and healthy to your faith (vs.12-13).

What is the goal of the church? A church can have many goals, but the author of Hebrews cues us into a common goal—to aim for peace with all and live holy before Christ (v.14). This is the pathway to growing a great church.

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” – Hebrews 12:14-15, ESV

The church that received the letter to of Hebrews was experiencing persecution from outside the church and conflict from inside the church too (v.15). How discouraging would that be? Who would want to visit that church? Yet this is what church is like for many around the world. Living in a fallen world with broken and imperfect people, the church often reflect the world. That is okay. It is no reason to dog the church. Church and relationships are messy. Yet the church working together in grace is light and example to the world of what grace looks like between imperfect people who love the Perfect Christ.

Work in the church begins with confession. There is great power and freedom in confessing our sins to one another and encouraging one another (James 5:16). The power in confession is that we admit we cannot fight alone. We need one another. We are weak, but together in Christ we are strong. A force hell cannot reckon with.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” – James 5:16, ESV

The example of Esau is a serious warning for the church (vs.16-17). In the story of Esau, he turned his back on grace. He sold his birthright for fast-food (see Gen. 25:29ff). He did not fight for holiness rather he was driven to bitterness. When Esau wanted to inherit the blessing from his father, he was rejected—it was too late to be reversed. He became a memorable example of someone who failed to appropriate God’s grace by wasting the opportunity. Likewise turning from Christ and failing to be one’s brothers keeper will lead to ruin and sorrow in the church.

Church relationships take work. It is a two-way street. Like a family, those within the church often know intimate things about one another. A church that loves Jesus and strives for peace and holiness will grow even more intimate together because they see that the grace of Jesus can fully heal brokenness and hurt caused by sin within the Body. May we be more like Jesus with one another.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does this passage encourage you? How is it meant to encourage you to strive for peace in the community of faith?
  • How do we reach the goal of peace with all people and live holy before the Lord, especially in the church? What happens when the community doesn’t aim for this goal with one another? How does this text help churches before of during conflict?
  • What makes relationships within the church difficult? Why is it worth the work to strive for peace and holiness? How have you benefited in your faith with the church? What would be the detriment to your faith if your were without the church?
  • What responsibility do we have to one another in the church? What is your role and responsibility to help your brothers and sisters? How will you strive for peace and holiness together with them?

Does church make a Christian?

Or in other words, can someone really be a “Christian” but never go to church? In short, “Yes” and “No” but before you roll your eyes because of a flip-flopped answer, let me explain.

Someone does not have to go to church to be a Christian. The Bible does not directly say, “Thou shalt go to church or thou art not Christian.” Yet to not go to church does not make Bible-sense. Its like a train saying, “I don’t need tracks,” or a fish saying “I don’t need the water.” The longer a “Christian” separates himself from the community the less like Jesus he becomes. Just like a train without tracks becomes derailed and fish without water becomes deadly.

My step-father is a carpenter. One day while on the job his table saw slipped and it sliced through his finger. That finger was dead, but at the hospital the doctor did surgery and reattached it to his hand. It healed and grew strong again. That is the miracle and power of being connected to the body.

You can’t take your finger off and on without consequences. Some might prefer to have a prosthesis that can be removed whenever, yet if you ask a person who has a prosthesis, like my friend Darrell, they will agree the real thing is so much better. To have real blood pumping through your veins connected wholly to the body is in our design (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

A Christian who doesn’t care to gather and connect with other Christians in the church is no different from a football fanatic who thinks his best view of the game is from the comfort of his couch. He will cheer for his favorite team or player though he is missing out on the amazing reality of rubbing shoulders with others other fans, even players on the team. As Kyle Idleman echoes in his radical book Not a Fan,

“The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.”

There is more to “encouraging one another” than saying kind words and cheering each other on. Encouraging means I will get off the bleacher and onto the field. I participate in the action. I will listen to the calls from the coach and the Playbook. I will hold a block or run a screen. I will cart an injured team mate to the locker room and help him rehabilitate. I will commit to being a team player and show up week in and week out, even bulk up between games.

I think I have overused that illustration, but I did so to make a point. That’s what followers of Christ do. Christians, church going Christians, are not passive or solitary. That makes the church wonderful and wonder-filled, especially when you got more fingers than toes and other complications that naturally come with a body. Being part of a community is more than just being a card carrier with benefits.

Yes, you can be a Christian and not go to church. However, a self-proclaimed Christian who does not belong to the church is not practicing biblical Christianity at all.

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2 Corinthians Study: Boast in Weakness

What does God want me to do with my money? How should I respond to someone who has wronged me? What is the purpose of suffering and hardships? Can’t I boast a little bit? These are some of the questions you will discover as you read through 2 Corinthians.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church has a different flavor than the first. It is more personal and pastoral. You see Paul roll up his sleeves and wear his emotions on them. Paul loves the church and so should we. How can we love the church despite all its people problems? Paul gives us practical insights. There is something for everyone. Just take a look at this 2 Corinthians Study: Boast in Weakness

Click to download 2 Corithians Study

1 Corinthians Study: making much of Christ in a messy church

Do you struggle getting along with others in church? You are not alone.

Paul’s first letter to Corinth is about dealing with relational differences, setting disputes, reinforcing God’s view of marriage and divorce, the essentials of public worship, the importance of Jesus’ resurrection, money issues, and so much more.

Are you looking for something to study from the Bible? With your family? With your small group? Click below to download a family worship guide 1 Corinthians: making much of Christ in a messy church.Click Here to Download

living and serving with others

serving with others

Living the others can be difficult. My first experience living with another person was in college. As a freshman, I was preselected a roommate and had no idea who he would be. I was going to share a fifteen foot by fifteen foot room with a stranger. It turned out my roommate was a dairy cow farmer from Ohio and a camping ministries major. I remember after a whitewater rafting class he got a bad sunburn. He bathed himself in vinegar and smelled like a pickle for a week. Although we were very different and butted heads on occasion our living arrangement worked out.

Sometimes living and serving with others doesn’t work out so easily. Sometimes it is work. Hard work. If you are doing life with members of a church or are serving on a team with other Christians you know just how hard it can be.

At the end of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes five rapid-fire imperatives and one promise to those who are living and serving together in the church. The five imperatives have one singular focus on bringing unity to the Corinthian church. Take note of how intentionally intrusive they are. Paul knows firsthand that ministry relationships are full of passion and opportunities for disunity are apparent. Unless you are a hermit, being intentionally intrusive with others is important, especially if you are living and serving with others.

“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11)

1. Rejoice.

There is no surprise that the first imperative is “rejoice”. Why? Paul longed for the Corinthians to be a cause for his own rejoicing (cf. 1:24; 2:3). He loved the church deeply. He knew there would be rejoicing in the church if all members listened to him, trusted his apostleship and walked in repentance. Paul had every reason to despise the Corinthians and to give up on them. So “rejoice” is an imperative full of faith and expectation that the Corinthians were on the verge of joyous unity. He was nowhere near giving up on them. They brought him that much joy!

How can you rejoice in the Lord giving you a church? How are your church members a cause for your own rejoicing?

2. Mend.

The second imperative, “Aim for restoration,” has the sense of putting back into place or mending or repairing. Living and serving with others is a group assignment and the more you are with each other the great the probability there will be friction and fraction. Paul lays the responsibility directly on the church—“Get it together”—work at restoring your unity in Christ (cf. 13:9; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:10). Paul echoes this when writing another church, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1b-3)

Are there any relationships within your church that need mending or repair?    What are the most prominent heart idols that you anticipate may get in the way of you allowing others from being intentionally intrusive into your life (i.e. fear of man, lover of pleasure, pride, wanting control, comparing yourself to others, failing to believe the best in another, etc.)? Are you working towards restoration rather than destruction? Explain.

3. Comfort.

The third imperative is to “comfort one another” or listen with tenderness (cf. 1:3-11). Paul was aware of the depth of the hurt among both those who were in the right and in the wrong. He himself needed comfort as his relationship with the Corinthian church was frayed.The situation then and now in Corinth demanded mutual tenderness and comfort. Comfort is the currency of unity and harmony. To comfort another means you spend your time and energies to reassure, relieve and repose another who is hurt or struggling.

Who is someone in your church who needs the tenderness of Christ right now? How will you comfort them?     If you were to be struggling with allowing someone to be intentionally intrusive into your life, what would be the manifestations of your struggle (i.e. not returning phone calls, short answers, no eye contact, easily irritable, blame shifting, etc.)?

4. Harmony.

The next imperative is to “agree with one another” or “be of one mind” or “live in harmony” (cf. 1:10). Every church needs this admonition, but no church needed it more than Corinth. The elitist, Corinthianized super-apostles had issues with everything Paul stood for. Harmony is sounds working together on different notes that make a pleasing sound. Paul did not ask the church to agree on everything, but they were called to agree with one another on the the main things like his role as an apostle and message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Are there secondary issues that are causing disunity among you and another church member (i.e. decision making style, not being understood, not liking what someone else is doing, etc.)? Have these secondary things become an idol in your heart? How can focusing on the main thing or the essentials help build harmony between you and others?

5. Peace.

Lastly, the imperative to “live in peace” flows out of such harmony, since being out of tune is not a peaceable sound; rather it’s discord. Peace doesn’t come passively. Nevertheless, living in peace requires intention and determination (cf. Mark 9:50; 33-37; 42-48).

How are you pursuing peace with church members? Would others describe you as a peacemaker? How can you actively live in peace?

God’s Promise

Now, if you step back and look at the whole, all five imperatives call the Corinthians to continuous action day in and day out. If the Corinthians heed them and walk in them they are given a resplendent promise: “and the God of love and peace will be with you” (v. 11b). God promises to give his children his love and peace as they actively do his work together.

What is it like to not experience the love and peace of God? How can the love and peace of God be with you when others do not seem to be at peace with you? In what ways are you being blessed by God’s love and peace with your church members?

Unity by living and serving with others in a team/church does not come easily. We must work at every facet at all times. Restoration is work, comfort is work, harmony is work, peace is work, and even rejoicing requires work. Paul called for continuous, specific focus for the church—and everything depends upon their response.

“Passion for the church involves diving into the community of the local church. It means ‘doing life’ with other Christians by pursuing relationships that extend beyond the church building and official church functions… ‘Fellowship is a uniquely Christian relational experience,’ writes pastor John Loftness. ‘Fellowship is participating together in the life and truth made possible by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. Fellowship is sharing something in common at the deepest possible level of human relationships – our experience of God Himself.’ Fellowship means belonging to each other” (Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church pg. 75).

Paul was so concerned about restoration and unity in Corinth that he became especially directive about demonstrating affection. First, he called them “brothers.” (v.11) Paul’s relationship to the church is not professional. The familial language assumes that Christians are family in meaningful spiritual relationship. Second, to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (v. 12) was a cultural expression of affection among family members. It is difficult to embrace another person with whom you have discord. Third, Paul shares a “Hello” from his companions in Ephesus, “All the saints greet you” (v. 13). The unity he desires to renew in Corinth is universal. Christian unity is true for the whole Body of Christ. Finally, in Paul’s final benediction he says, “The [amazing] grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the [extravagant] love of God and the [intimate] fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (v.14) The example of the Trinity is also a picture of unity. The promise was for everyone—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was Corinth’s hope. And today it is ours too!

Who is a person in your life whom you welcome to be intentionally intrusive who you know will love you in Christ, show you grace and provide intimate fellowship? How will you be more intentional involved in the fellowship of your church? How does the grace, love and fellowship of God encourage you to share the same with others?

forgiveness and ministry

pointing fingers

A relationship that his been vital to me has been to long-time missionary Marc Blackwell. I first met Marc during my year long church planting apprenticeship in South Africa. By the time I met him he had already been serving overseas for three decades and had been used by God to plant churches from Sarasota, Florida to Harare, Zimbabwe to Cape Town, South Africa. In the short time that I was with him he demonstrated how to plant churches, showed the innards of being a godly husband and father, and helped me “act like a man”. It was a high privilege.

Today we have the high privilege of hearing from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. By the time Paul wrote this letter he had just wrapped up his third missionary journey and for two decades he had planted churches around the northern Mediterranean coastline.

If you could describe Paul in one word, what word would you use? There are certainly many words one could choose, but I would choose the word “defender.” Paul was a defender of the faith, a defender of Christ, a defender of the resurrection, a defender of his own ministry, and today we will see him as a defender of the unforgiven. Today’s message is on forgiveness and ministry,

2 Corinthians has a different flavor than 1 Corinthians. Paul’s first letter has a zesty flavor as he addresses questions and concerns in the church, but his second letter has a sweet n’ salty flavor as he shares his heart as a pastor and defends his calling from Jesus.

We don’t know much about the explosive situation that happened at Corinth between letters, only that there was a man who opposed Paul and shredded his character and ministry. A mutiny arose and some in the church sided with the man. It was sticky enough to cause Paul to leave Corinth. It also caused him and the church much pain. Paul wrote another letter known as the “severe letter,” which is not included in the NT. It was clearly a difficult letter for him to write (v.5; cf. 2 Cor. 7:8-13a).

By the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians the majority of people in the church agreed with the apostle Paul, not the false teacher. The church grasped onto Paul’s guidance and disciplined the man from the church. The discipline proved to be effective for the man grew sorrowful and it led to his repentance. Isn’t it wonderful to see church discipline work? Yet there was still one problem at Corinth: some in the church had not forgiven the man nor did they restore him to the church. For whatever reason, whether some members of the Apostle Paul posse were offended more than Paul and wanted to inflict more punishment or some were skeptical if the man really had repented or if there was fear he would be a repeat offender, we are not sure. But what is sure, this type of situation can shipwreck a church and the reputation of Christ. This is why Paul takes time to address the situation.

When Paul used the title the Body of Christ to describe the church he wasn’t using it as a churchy slogan (cf. Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:12). It was a God-ordained image for a community of brothers and sisters with radically interconnected relationships. That’s why Paul said, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). The pain that Paul felt by this man’s personal attack was also felt by the church, but the joy Paul had for his repentance was not shared.

You are most like God when you forgive (vs.6-9)

One of the hardest thing to do in life is to forgive an offense, maybe it’s because of the pain and shame and embarrassment. Maybe it’s because our world elevates revenge and retribution, when forgiveness is viewed as weakness. I love superhero movies like Spiderman, Batman, and Captain America, but within each you will see a theme being “Revenge is mine. I will defend my pride.” Today, revenge is in and forgiveness is out.

Paul is a hero of a different kind. He felt the pain from being shamed. And most in his shoes would find a way to round house kick this man Chuck Norris style. Yet Paul walks a different road and he submits to another power. And he asks the church to forgive the man and restore him to fellowship (vs.6-8). What we see is Paul’s heart, a heart that Christ had freed and restored on the Damascus Road, where he—the chief of sinners—had come face-to-face with the grace of God. He was a man given much grace and becomes an agent of grace to others. Like Joseph, Paul understood the plan of God is to forgive and restore his brothers.

Paul praised Corinth for their obedience to discipline the man, but he poo-poo-ed their reluctance to welcome him back into the family. The offense bounced off Paul. The pain of his opposer didn’t rub him wrong. He already forgiven him. He thought their discipline was punishment enough, it worked, and the man didn’t need to suffer anymore. Enough was enough. Paul now saw the man was being swallowed up in his sorrow and if he wasn’t restored soon the man would drown in it. What the repentant disciplined man understood, many in the church do not understand—life apart from the Body of Christ is to be void of its benefits and securities and comforts and joys.

If forgiveness is of paramount importance for this man and the reputation of the church, so it is with us. Forgiveness is not optional, rather it is a matter of obedience (v.9). Our ministry is a ministry of forgiveness. We extend the forgiveness of God with those who hope God will forgive them someday. To forgive an offense is to act most like God, while withholding forgiveness is the most self-righteous act. God is a forgiving God. He forgets our offenses as far as the east is from the west. Jesus is forgiving even on the brink of death on the cross (Lk. 23:34, 43). What would a lack of forgiveness on our part say about our Christ or his church? Let us freely forgive because we have been forgiven much.

You are only able to forgive an offense because you were also forgiven (vs.10-11)

Paul makes his plea to the church to forgive by saying, “I, the offended, did it, and you can do it too.” (v.10a) And he adds that the forgiveness was for you—the Corinthians’ sake—“in the presence of Christ.” (v.10b) The fact was, if the Corinthian church refused to forgive this repentant sinner, a poison would choke the way of grace and their refusal to forgive could kill their church.

Jesus said that unwillingness to forgive is proof of not having experienced His forgiveness. Remember Jesus prayed, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Then He drives the truth home in the next sentence, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (6:14, 15). Jesus is serious about forgiveness. This “forgiven people forgive” teaching was so elementary to Jesus’ teaching that he devoted entire parables to it, “‘So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart’” (Matthew 18:35).

Your example to forgive an offense might be just the encouragement that a lost sinner or a young believer or a well-established church needs to see to help them when an opportunity to extend forgiveness comes their way. A few years ago, I met a elderly missionary couple who served on an international team in the jungles of Brazil. A small misunderstanding caused one couple to be offended and it grew to be so painful that the villagers could feel it. The team was on the verge of separation. They tried one last meeting to discuss the situation, but before they did they shared communion. As curious villages looked through windows at the three couples they saw them break bread and drink together. The meeting to follow never happened because in the image of communion the couples remembered who they united around first and foremost. The team wept, prayed and embraced one another. Decades later after a church was established in the village and the church began to have it’s own issues and the elders remembered the example of the missionaries who had broke bread and forgave one another as Christ had forgiven them.

What do you learn about forgiveness and ministry from this text? I have learned two vital truths: First, my ministry of forgiveness comes from Christ. I am challenged by how Paul minimizes the offense and maximizes the presence of Jesus. I see that the motivation to forgive was given to Paul “in the presence of Christ,” as He looks on in approval and empowerment.

Second, unforgiveness is Satan’s strategy. Paul concludes his plea by saying if you don’t forgive the man you have been duped by Satan — “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” (v. 11) The young church in Corinth could have collapsed if they refusing to obey God by forgiving the repentant sinner, even though he caused such pain. If they had let him stew in his sorrow, they would have cooked him and them. And Satan could then have put a fork in the church of Corinth.

Corrie ten Boom recalled in her book The Hiding Place a postwar meeting with a guard from the Ravensbrück concentration camp where her sister had died and where she herself had been subjected to horrible shame:

“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbrück. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there — the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness. As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.”

God’s Word says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). And again, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13). It is your ministry to forgive because you have been forgiven.

Is there unforgiveness in your heart today? Is there pain or embarrassment or shame caused by someone that you need to allow God to restore? Will you rejoice, today, in your own forgiveness?

making much of Christ in a messy church

messy church

What do all soap operas have in common? Soaps have a never aging cast. They are predictable, yet still leave their audience surprised. They are scandalous, yet acceptable to the masses. Soaps live up to the name “daytime drama” filling plots with family messes, immorality, and power trips. After a quick reading of 1 Corinthians, you’d think it was a script for an episode of “Days of Our Lives” or “Guiding Light”. Corinth is a church wracked by division, money problems, and immorality. Certain church members are visiting prostitutes while others are promoting celibacy. One leader is having an affair with his step-mom and rather than dealing with it the church accepts it. Corinth is a mess.

Does this church sound like any you know? If we were honest, the first century church of Corinth resembles the church of our century. That’s why Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is one of the most relevant books in the Bible for the current church (and church goer). It is for people struggling to live together inside the church and live for Christ outside the church. It’s a letter for Corinth and a letter for you.

History of Corinth: To understand Corinth, you need to understand its history. The city itself dates back to the Peloponnesian War (431 BC). It became a Greek city-state and the seat of the Achaean League under Alexander the Great. Later, Corinth was destroyed by the Romans (146 BC), but 100 years later it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar (44 BC). So in Paul’s day, Corinth was newly rebuilt and revitalized.

Life in Corinth: Corinth (pop. 700k) was a happening city. First, it was the hub of trade between Rome and Asia and probably the wealthiest city in Greece. Its three harbors and overland route through its isthmus nicknamed it “the bridge of the sea” and made it the shortcut and emporium of half the world. Second, Corinth was multicultural and multi-religious. Romans, Greeks and Jews mingled together. The city’s the most popular god was Aphrodite, the goddess of love. She supported the economy with a thousand “Corinthian girls” or temple prostitutes. Corinth was coined as the Vanity Fair of the Roman empire; alike to London, Paris, New York or Las Vegas today. The label “To act like a Corinthian” carries the same weight as “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

It is easy to see how the church and Christians at Corinth would be influenced by its community. Corinth was a messy town with a messy church. Yet what town or church isn’t messy? Corinth could be any town or any church. It could be your town and your church.

1) When moving to a place like Corinth, be driven by a love for Jesus and His church (1:1-9)

Paul grew to love the Corinthians with Christ-like affection, though he never had to deal with any church so inflated, so immoral, so indifferent to his sufferings, or so cheeky towards his teaching. To understand Paul’s unconditional love for the church you need to travel back in time a few years to the beginnings of his relationship with the city.

Origin of the Gospel in Corinth: Paul was driven to Corinth (50-51AD) after a difficult time in Thessalonica and Athens (Acts 17:1-34). He didn’t go alone, but was assisted by Priscilla and Aquila, his tent-making buddy. Soon after arrival Paul preached the gospel (Acts 18:1–18) and opposition grew fierce. Discouraged, Jesus spoke to Paul in a vision assuring him that He had ‘many people’ in the city (Acts 18:10). With this encouragement, Paul stayed for 18-months, ‘teaching them the word of God’ (Acts 18:11) and a new church was born.

Origin of the First Letter: A few years later (54-55 AD), while in Ephesus (vs.16:8-9; Acts 20:31) ‘Paul the Apostle’ (v.1) penned this letter the “church of God, which is at Corinth,” (v.2a) likely, many small groups meeting in homes. To Paul, a letter was better than a phone call, but not as good as a visit.

It is obvious, Paul’s love for Jesus and the church are intertwined and dripping over every word. Proof of his love is seen in the sizable greetings and thanks portion of his letter (vs.2b-9). What Paul also reveals is the theology behind his love for the church and how we should think about the church. First, it belongs to God (v.2a). Second, its members are sanctified in Christ and becoming holy (v.2b). Third, it is made up of all those everywhere who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (v.2c). Fourth, God is faithful to it. These are universal truths about any church anywhere at anytime. What’s not to love about the church when you look at it through these eyes? What do you love about the church? How do you express thanks for it?

2) When ministering in a messy church, claim Jesus as the undisputed center (1:10-17)

Paul’s original mission to Corinth was successful. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, was baptized, with all his house. He started meeting in a room near the synagogue, which was made available by Titus Justus. It was there Paul preached for many months. What did he teach them? He taught them from the Law and the Prophets about Jesus. What do you think he had wished he had taught them? Probably nothing different, knowing Corinth. This is a great lesson for us to make Jesus the central topic of our discussions and teachings.

Overview of 1 CorinthiansWhat happens when Jesus in not made center? Corinth becomes the case and point. Here begins one of three different segments of the letter to the Corinthians: divisions (v.10). Who is it that reports division to Paul? (v.11) Chloe’s house. What’s the reason for division? (v.12) Certain leaders had “groupies”. Christian celebrity worship is not just a 21st Century thing. The first century church had groupies too. At Corinth(ian Idol), the “groupies” rallied around either Paul (the founder), Apollos (the pastor), Cephas (the rock, Peter), or Jesus (the One and Only). It’s uncertain how the cliques formed, yet the text gives clues that is concerns the one who baptized them (v.13) or tickled their intellect (v.17). And what about the “Christ” groupies? Likely they were pious groupies. In either case, when Jesus is not the undisputed center of your life, ministry or church you flirt with idolatry.

How can we minimize groupie-ness? Notice how Paul does it (vs.13-16). He simply, yet emphatically points to Jesus. The thing for which to watch for is the way in which Paul consistently relates every subject and problem in Corinth to the centrality of the Person and work of Jesus Christ (v.17). Paul’s cure for division in the church is unifying around the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s has a “we’re not alone, we’re in this together” view of the church. To him, if the church would just acknowledge its ultimate allegiance—Jesus—then the church would have a much better probability of getting along. Later, Paul uses a beautiful image to describe the church as “one body, many parts.” (12:20) and Jesus as the “Head of the Body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). Regardless of our differences, indifferences, and messes, the church is still Jesus’ beautiful Bride (Ephesians 5:23). It’s a beautiful mess because Jesus is its center.

3) When making much of Christ, be prepare for the world to think it is feeble and foolish (1:18-31)

If Jesus is your undisputed center, people will think you are foolish (vs.18-21). Paul echoes this by saying there are two types of people in this world: 1) people think the cross is the idea of fools or 2) people who think it’s the wisdom of God. There isn’t much room in between. The gospel message doesn’t rest well with the populace. It’s just not cool to be Christian. Never was and never will be. Remember, before Paul came to Corinth he reasoned with the intellectuals and philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens? They thought he was a fool—a babbler—and mocked him. Paul could wax profundity with the best of them, but on his way to Corinth, he determined to shelve all “human” wisdom and eloquence, instead he preached the gospel in its uttermost and humblest simplicity (v.23; cf. 1:17; 2:1–5).

How is preaching of the gospel opposite of what the Jews and Greeks desire, yet exactly what they need? Concerning God’s redemptive plan the Jews think the cross is feeble and the Greeks think the cross is foolish (vs.22-23). The wise and strong of this world reject the cross, but it is the only means by which God will accept them. The plan of the cross for your neighbor is feeble and foolish. However, for those called by God, the cross is the greatest display power and wisdom of God’s (v.24). We must acknowledge the divide, but continue to bridge it with the simple, powerful, and truthful message of the cross of Jesus Christ. As John Stott said, “The gospel of the cross will never be a popular message because it humbles the pride of our intellect and character. Yet Christ crucified is both God’s wisdom and ours. It therefore manifests His power too, “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16)”

How do we begin to compare the power and wisdom of God to man? There is no comparison. “The foolishness of God is still far wiser than man’s most wisest thought and the weakness of God is still far more powerful than man’s most strongest feat” (v.25, my paraphrase). Is God “foolish” or “weak”? No. So why does Paul use the words “foolish” and “weak” to compare God and man? He is showing how polar opposite the power and wisdom of God and man really are. Comparing God to man is like comparing the power of gravity with a refrigerator magnet.

I felt like a fool this week. While walking through my neighborhood I saw a group of guys I’ve visited before sitting outside their gate. They greeted me from a distance and welcomed me over to them. There was a new man in the mix, a well-dressed older man with a whitening beard. He immediately asked me if I was Muslim, which is a common question since I speak a little Arabic and sport a beard too. I said, “No, I go the way of Jesus the Messiah.” He quickly responded, “So do I. I go the way of all the prophets. Do you go the way of the prophet Mohammad?” I said, “No, only the way of Jesus.” He then opened the gauntlet, “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? Do you believe in three gods? Can God be a baby? Can God die?” I was being shredded, gut-checked, and mocked. I felt so unloved, yet so calm. My only response was, “Can God can do the miraculous? (i.e. Create something from nothing, cause the sun to stand still, part the Red Sea, raise the dead, heal the sick) Have you read Jesus’ words in the Injil?” My questions and invitation seemed to rest on deaf ears. I said my goodbyes and left feeling like a fool, moreover, I was filled with sorrow for their souls.

The Corinthians forgot something important, which we often forget too. They thought they were somebodies, but forgot they were nobodies. They were proud and thought they arrived. They forgot they were weak, lowly, and despised (vs.26-29). The words “low” or “despised” are often used of slaves. Interestingly it is estimated that 400,000 of the 700,000 residents of Corinth were slaves. Not everyone in Corinth was the “cream of the crop.” Do not forget who you were before Christ. How do the words “low” and despised” remind you of Jesus’ own entrance into this world? Jesus was born in a manger, He worked as a carpenter, He hung out with sinners, He did not claim to be the returned King yet, and He suffered a criminals death rejected and despised. Jesus was the humblest, strongest and wisest man to ever live.

I’ve got nothing. When I stand before God at the end of my life, my brawn and brains will not be enough, my dollars and donations won’t amount to much, my good works or merciful acts won’t stack up. To boast in my little stack of stuff is silly. Nothing I boast in tops out Jesus Christ. He gives me serious grounds for boasting (vs.30-31). When I boast in Jesus, I boast in something God the Father and God the Spirit also boast in too. I want to make much of Jesus Christ.

No matter where you are or live the church is messy (like a soap opera), however, Jesus is still the founder and sustainer of it. It is His, He bought it with His blood, and it’s His living organism in the world today bringing people to Himself. May you serve the church of Jesus joyfully, especially, as you go to hard to reach places with hard to reach people who think your message is foolish and feeble, or disciple messy believers. Like Paul, you are in good company. Make much of Christ.

preach or heal?

Missionaries are often divided into one of two camps: preachers or healers.

Healers are known for their compassion and love (Col.1:27; Mt.22:36-40; Lk.10:29-37; Js.2:15-16; Lk.12:48; Mt.25:31-46), but they must remember to teach (Mt.28:19-20). They often heal to get to the heart. Preachers are often known as good news messengers (Mt.24:14; Rom.10:14, 17; 1:16b; 1 Cor.9:16; 1 Tim.4:13; 2 Tim.4:2), but they must remember the poor (Mk.14:7a). They often get to the heart to heal. Both are needed; both are called of God; both are on the same mission; both can be one.

Our engagement tactics are largely born out of our bias; preachers engaging with preaching tactics and healers engaging with healing tactics (13).

ONE COMMAND

Was Jesus a preacher or healer? (Lk.4:40-43; Mt. 9:35) He was both. He benefitted the needy as he preached (Mt.10:7-8; Mk.6:7, 12-13; Lk.9:2; 10:1, 9). The apostles in Acts continued to preach and heal. Jesus modeled the preach and heal tactic, He commanded it, and the disciples obeyed Him by using it as they went out (17; cf. Acts 3:6-8, 12-13, 19-20; 4:4, 9-10, 33-35; 5:16, 29-33). Jesus sent out all of His disciples to preach and heal. They were given one command, because the two ministries work together in God’s master strategy.

GO WITH WHAT WE KNOW

We need to leave our identity compartmentalization (or specialization or professionalization) at the door when we do the work of the gospel. You might be a doctor, farmer, engineer,tent-maker, homemaker, or pastor, but don’t let that become your total identity. The disciples were not Jedi Masters, they were fishermen, taxmen, politicians, doctor, and ordinary men commissioned to do something greater than their own identity. They took on a new identity in Christ. The problem with compartmentalization is that we often leave participation in the gospel at the door for the sake of our specialization or profession. As our engagement tactics are largely born out of our bias, our bias is largely born out of our educational background. The disciples all performed services as the Holy Spirit enabled them–not with in those realms for which they had been schooled. The identity of the disciples was being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Preaching and healing is a two-handed plow. Both handles must be held with equal pressure and commitment for the one plow blade to dig deep into the ground and transform the soil into a place best prepared for the seed. A hoe or one-handed tool is much less effective and requires more dependence.

IS STRATEGY A BAD WORD?

Most of Jesus’ disciples traveled widely and planted churches extensively: John Mark (Egypt, Libya, Rome), Peter (Jerusalem, Babylon, and more), Andrew (Georgia, Caspian Sea, Istanbul, Russia, Greece), John the son of Zebedee (Rome, Asia Minor, Ephesus, Turkey), Phillip (Asia Minor, maybe France), Bartholomew (Asia Minor, Armenia), Thomas (India, maybe iraq, Iran and China), Matthew (Palestine, Persia, Macedonia, Syria, Ethiopia), Jude (Armenia, Syria, Persia), Simon (Egypt, North Africa, Syria, Persia, Rome), Matthias (Armenia), and Paul (note:3 missionary journeys).

There are two kinds of people: strategy lovers and strategy leavers. It is always our prayer and expectation that our projects and programs will be hijacked by God and driven in His direction. Making disciples and church establishment are the work of God, not men (Acts 19:20). So strategy is simply a starting place that identifies where we are, where God says to go, and how to make intentional step froward, trusting Him for all the process and everything that we need. We cannot predict or control what God will do. But by positioning apostolic ministers and the peoples of unreached nations together, we do provide a venue for God to do something great (38).

What we see happening in Acts is a people movement towards Christ (i.e. church planting movement) or a multiplication of disciples and churches (cf. Mt.13:33; yeast). Indigenous movements of disciples and churches is not our measure of success; only obedience is. Our objective is indigenous movement of reproducing churches (42).

All strategies include two components: meeting the needs of hurting people, providing daily opportunities for preaching, and positioning the apostolic workers so that God can use His power to bring about a Christward movement (43).

Adapted from Preach and Heal by Charles Fielding

thumb licks [6.7.12]

Best graduation speeches.

What do introverts think of church?

How much do you owe mom since your birth?

Is Mormonism a cult? What about a Mormon president?

10 things you have to do if you want the next generation to listen.

It Is What It Is, But It Is Not What It Shall Be.

Why Bible study doesn’t transform us?

The Real Avenger.

The gospel for those who’ve grown up in church.

Muslim Unreached People Groups.