What is your response to who God is?

Those who have seen God are never the same.  The children of Israel asked to see the Lord of Moses, but when they saw the Lord they were afraid and ask Moses never to allow them to see God like that again [see Daniel 10:7-10, Luke 2:10, Acts 9:3-4].  In Revelation 1:9-18, John saw the awesomeness of Christ and fell as a dead man.  People who see God are left with an awesome, fearful, and unforgettable impression of who God is.

stop-drop-and-rollA response to seeing God is similar to one who is on fire.  What is the normal trained response or actions for someone who is on fire?  Stop, Drop and Roll. Just as that is a memorable way to deal with being on fire it is also a great way to respond to God.

STOP to take a long look at who you are and who God is. 

And I said:“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Isaiah sees that his spirit is on fire.  Hot!  Isaiah is deeply impacted by seeing God.  As he glimpses God’s holiness and glory he says, “Woe is me.”   This is not “whoa!” but “woe!”  In ancient times “Woe” was a pronouncement of judgment on those who dare disobey God’s Word (cf. 5:18-23).  It was a shot to the heart, a punch in the kisser, and a kick to the spiritual stomach.

As Isaiah gets a glimpse of God and he’s devastated.  He got a peak behind the curtain of the holy of holies and is found out. He’s caught. He’s ashamed. He’s afraid.  He speaks a judgment upon himself as if to say, “I’m toast!”  It’s not an understatement—Isaiah’s freaking out. He is no longer shocked by the sins of the king or Israel but by his own sin.  Before he pointed one finger at Israel but now points three back at himself.   He sees no ones sin but his own in the presence of God.  Isaiah thinks he’s toast.  He knows he deserves to be.  That he is still alive is a wonderful thing.

This is a good thing for us to see.  We are good at pointing of the sins in others, but bad dealing with our own.  We play the comparison game with other Christians and pride ourselves on not being as sinful as the other Christian.  Jesus said to the religious leaders who were shocked at the lifestyle of the prostitute, “Whoever is sinless throws the first stone.”

We are a people of “compare-ers.”  We compare our actions to those of others to see whether we are acting right.  And, quite honestly, compared to all the people in the world, Isaiah was probably one of the best people there was.  But when he saw the glory of God there was no comparison.  Although Isaiah was better than most people, he knew that he was filthy compared to God’s pure holiness.  Isaiah admitted that he was a sinner. He had no excuses for his sinfulness.  He had no one to blame.  He had no where to run and hide.

I believe there is a great need to reintroduce the word “woe” to our devotional vocabulary.   When you finally take a moment to look at who you really are and who God really is.  Our “Woe!” can lead to “Whoa!” which leads us to the next response.

DROP to your knees and receive God’s forgiveness.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said:“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)

There is something very interesting and weird going on here that is being illustrated.  In Isaiah’s day, their was a pagan practice called the “washing of the mouth.”  wash your mouth outSimilar to washing ones mouth out with soap it was a ritual that took an inanimate idol and made it inhabited by a god.  The image would be purified and cleansed to be ready for a god to dwell in it.  The cleansing ceremony Isaiah experiences is quite similar, but ironically God chooses Isaiah to cleanse and be His spokesmen to the pagan idolaters.

So what could Isaiah do about his sinful condition? Absolutely nothing!  What did God do?  Everything.  God’s messenger flew to Isaiah, took a burning coal from the altar, and touched his lips.  Fire is used in the Bible to purify things (Malachi 3:2-3).  This burning coal from God’s altar was a symbol that God was the One who made Isaiah pure.  Only God can save someone from his sins (Revelation 7:10).  God did not just cover up Isaiah’s sin. God took Isaiah’s sins away!  Isaiah’s sins would not be remembered or talked about ever again because God took them away!

I am so glad the story doesn’t end in verse 5.  Isaiah is not left feeling the heat of his sin.  He feels the forgiveness and restoration of God.  He is not left feeling afraid, guilty or shameful.  He feels true freedom.

When Adam sinned in the garden there were three consequences of sin that happened.  First, guilt.  He broke one of God’s rules.  Second, shame.  He want to hide from God and cover his nakedness.  Third, fear.  Adam was afraid for his life as death was introduced into the world.

You might know firsthand the the affects of shame, guilt and fear.  Maybe shame seeped into your life because of a hidden or naughty habit, a relationship crossed certain boundaries, or a detail about you if uncover you would haunt you forever.  Maybe guilt got the upper hand because you felt like you’d never measure up to the standards of someone or you just can’t quite quit that nagging guilty pleasure.  And guilt manifest itself in depression, self harm, eating disorder, or blame shifting.  Maybe fear trapped you because of various unknowns, via threats breathed down upon you, or someone holding dirt on you that if leaked could tarnish your reputation and future.

We often look at guilt, shame, and fear as bad, which they are if used as tools against someone or yourself.  However, God uses them for good as a tool to motivate you not to go there again and to seek rest in God’s forgiveness.

Notice how God’s pursues forgiveness in Isaiah.  He he does this with you too.  He pursues you through the work of Christ on the cross that shed His blood as your substitute so that you might be forgiven and free.  Have you known the forgiveness of God?

Just as God took away all of Isaiah’s sins, God wants to take away your sin also.  He sent His Son, Jesus, to become the holy sacrifice that takes away your sin. Just look at what the Bible says  God does with your sin.

  • God purifies your sins by the blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7).
  • God takes your sins from you as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
  • Your sins can never be found (Jeremiah 50:20).
  • God forgives you of your sin and cleans you from all wickedness (I John 1:9).
  • God will trample on your sins under His foot. Just imagine God stomping His foot on your sin! And God throws all your sins into the deepest part of the sea (Micah 7:19).
  • “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:6-9)

If you have not done so, it is time to drop your shame, guilt, and fear at the feet of Jesus who will forgive you today and forever.

ROLL up your sleeves and get going.

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go…” (Isaiah 6:8)

Again, the verses do not end after 6-7.  Isaiah is not immobilized or handicapped.  He is not out of commission and sidelined because he has blown it or because he is a sinner.  Interesting, after God took away Isaiah’s sin, he hears God speak!  So often he is silent because our sin is like putting in earplugs.

What does God say?  After God cleanses Isaiah He commissions him: see to it that My people know I am forgiving too.  It is no irony that Isaiah’s commission is similar to Jesus commission to his followers in Matthew 28:19-20.

Commonly, commissioning follows cleansing.  Cleaning is God’s path to making you ready, useful, and humble for the task he has you to do.  One who is forgiven is forgiving and goes and tells of God’s great forgiveness.  That’s the goodness—the gospel—in a nutshell.

God was looking for the person who would be His messenger.  Isaiah didn’t hesitate.  He wanted to be the one used by God.  Isaiah sees who God is.  He is wowed.  He says WOE!  And God wipes away the fear, guilt, and shame of his sin.  Isaiah is pure and clean in God’s eyes.   He is ready to be used by God.

Likewise, Jesus came into this world to rub shoulders with people harboring loads of shame, guilt, and fear.  He came to free you from it.  He died for the sinner so that the sin would no longer have any power.  So that you could know the greater power of forgiveness and be used by God as an example of what God does through Jesus.

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate (where atonement was made) in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured… Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:12-16)

Today you stand at the altar.  Will you stop and humble yourself before God and see him as he is?  Will you drop to your knees and enjoy his forgiveness?  Will you roll up your sleeves and let others know who God is?  How will you respond?  Let God touch your lips that you might taste his goodness and sweet forgiveness.

 

Coming up next: the result of responding to God in obedience

Previously in this series: God is

 

DOWNLOAD QUESTIONS:

In Isaiah 6:5. Isaiah responds to his vision of God.   What does Isaiah immediately become aware of?   In other words, when you see the holiness of God, what do you see in yourselves?  Have you every experienced that before?

Why is it important to learn about who God is?   Why is it important to see God not as you want to see Him, but as He truly is?

What does it mean to you STOP, DROP and ROLL as Isaiah explains it?  Why is this important to remember as a follower of God?

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the good God

good God

“How can you believe in three gods?”  asks my Muslim neighbor.  It’s then that I come face to face with a common misunderstanding about God as I understand him.

Recently, I was given the book, The Good God (Michael Reeves, Paternoster, UK, 2012) from a pastor friend in London, England.  It is a small book.  And after a brief thumbing, it appeared to be packed with theology and quotes from church fathers.  I shrugged it off as another colorless treatise on the Trinity.  However, as I began to delve into the pages they began to delve into me.  I gained a fresh veneration and love for my God in a book I’d dub as both practical and devotional.  The fog surrounding the Trinity vanished and what appeared was God’s incomparable beauty and love.

The thrust of the book is that God is love because God is Trinity.  It goes on to say that if God was not Father he would not be loving.  “It is only when you grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that you really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God.” (vii)  The love between the persons of God help one to understand the triune God better.

What was God doing before creation?

A Christians understanding of God is built on the Son who reveals him (4). God as Father helps you to know how he loves.  If you don’t start with Jesus the Son, you end up with a different God who is not Father.  Richard the Scot said, “If God was just one person, he could not be intrinsically loving, since for all eternity (before creation) he would have had nobody to love…being triune, God is a sharing God, a God who loves to include. His love is not for keeping but for spreading.” (14-15)  Luther said, “Only when God is known as a loving Father is he known aright.” (60) And John Owen said, “God is our most loving Father…The greatest unkindness you can do to him is to refuse to believe that he loves you.” (77)

Over the past few years, I have observed a culture of a single-person god among Muslims in North Africa.  I can echo Reeves observations when he says,

“Oneness for the single-person God would mean sameness. Alone for eternity without any beside him, why would he value others and their differences? Think how it works out for Allah: under his influence, the once-diverse cultures of Nigeria, Persia and Indonesia are made deliberately and increasingly, the same. Islam presents a complete way of life for individuals, nations, and cultures, binding them into one way of praying, one way of marrying, buying, fighting, relating—even, some would say, one way of eating and dressing.  Oneness for the triune God means unity. As the Father is absolutely one with his Son, and yet is not his Son, so Jesus prays that believers might be one, but not that they might all be the same.  Created male and female, in the image of God, and with many other good differences between us, we come together valuing the way the triune God has made us each unique.” (84; also see 1 Corinthians 12:4,17-20)

Single-person gods—having spent eternity alone—are inevitably self-centered beings.  If this is the kind of god one worships, they become like what they worship.  “If God is not triune it gets even worse: for if God is not triune, it becomes difficult, not only to account for the goodness of creation (as we have seen), but also to account for the existence of evil within it.” (39)  Thus how God the Father loves the Son helps one to understand how God loves creation, hates evil, and his love does something about it.

What is God’s work in salvation?

It is because God is triune that the cross is such good news.  Friedrich Nietzsche boldly said, “God is dead.”  By this he meant that belief in God is simply no longer viable and faith is no longer needed.  However, Reeves adds “‘God is dead’ is where true faith begins. For, on the cross, Christ the Glory puts to death all false ideas of God; and as he cries out to his Father and offers himself up by the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14), breathing out his last, he reveals a God beyond our dreams.” (105)  At the cross we see a God who is infinitely better: unconditionally loving, darkness hating, tremendously glorious.

Since God is a lover from before creation (of his Son), he created humans to be lovers too.  Created to love God, we turn to love ourselves and anything but God.  This is when sin entered the world.  Naturally, man is bent in on himself and takes hellish delight in his own supposed independence.  However, God as the supreme lover atones for sin himself via the Son. God gives himself.  What single-person god would do this? Especially when you think of the reckless and storied lives of the Greeks and Romans.

“Strip down God and make him lean and you must strip down his salvation and make it mean.  Instead of a life bursting with love, joy, and fellowship, all you will be left with is the watery gruel of religion. Instead of a loving Father, a distant potentate; instead of fellowship, contract. No security in the beloved Son, no heart-change, no joy in God could that spirit bring.” (82)

Without the Son, God cannot truly be a Father.  If God is alone, he is not truly loving. Thus he has no fellowship to share with us, no Son to bring us close, no Spirit through whom we might know him.

Reeves says, “My new life began when the Spirit first opened my eyes (light) and won my heart (heat) to Christ… And as he stirs me to think ever more on Christ, he makes me more and more God-like: less self-obsessed and more Christ-obsessed.” (73)  Again, we become like what we worship.

When I go and share the knowledge of God’s great love with others I reflect something very important about who God is.  I share the missional, generous, image of God.  As Reeves continues, “The mission (of God) comes from overflow of love, from the uncontainable enjoyment of fellowship (with himself and others).” (86) Who is to love?  What is my example to be loving to others?  It is found in God as Father.

I would highly recommend this book to a new believer, seminary student, small group, and missionary to Muslims.  It is a book that fosters love for God and greater appreciation for his love for us.  This truly speaks more to my Muslim neighbors than a powerful apologetic.  As I think of God as Father and relish in the love of the Son and the life with the Spirit, it sincerely affects my love for my neighbor.  My only caution is for those who desire a beefy book with slam-dunk comments to defeat opponents of the Trinity, it’s not that kind of book.  Neither is it an exhaustive book on the Trinity.  It is sufficient enough to give a good defense why God is triune.  It satisfies ones longing to know and love God better.

Note: The book also goes by the title Delighting in the Trinity for those who live on the US side of the pond.

daughters, daddy’s, and God’s glory

daughters

I have three little jewels. They came to me as blessed gifts from above.  Each jewel has unique facets and glimmer with unending beauty.  Their beauty rises from within and shines throughout, mixing the temporal and eternal.  I simply enjoy holding my jewels and can look at them for hours upon hours.  I cherish them.  I take time to let them know how much I adore them and do whatever it takes to help them keep their beauty.  For their beauty reflects a greater beauty to a beauty-stricken world.  My jewel are my daughters.

Dads and daughters. It’s a uniquely special relationship. I know, since I have three daughters. Truth be told, I wouldn’t trade my daughters for any son. My daughters are my pint-sized princesses. They were born with a natural ability to pirouette, a spirit bent on loveliness, and contagious giggles. I delight to watch my girls be girls and crush them with squeezes and douse them affectionate words like “Sweetheart,” “Snuggle Bums,” or “Beautiful one”. I even have special, silly songs for them that I like to sing only over them.

Where does the delight that daddy’s have for their daughters originate? It is eternal.  It came before time began.  It originated from another Father.  You see it first in his love for the eternal Son.  But it spreads to his creation which he lavishes with his embrace, pours out affectionate words, even sings overs.  There are many songs God has written for his children.  Zephaniah 3:14-17 is perhaps the most enchanting.

14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing

God has a daughter?

Did you know God had a daughter too?  Did you think God only had a Son?  It might come to you as a surprise, but God’s daughter is Israel (v.14).  God calls an entire nation his daughter.  He chose Israel from among all nations of the world and adopted her as his own.  He favors her, treasures her, sings to her, and loves her deeply.  Israel is the apple of his eye.  His heart melts for her, even when aa Zephaniah tells us how bad his daughter had become (see 3:1-5).

God is his daughter’s keeper

Daughters are precious jewels and there is within a good father a God-given inclination to protect her and keep her from evil (v.15).  Most daughters do not like this about their fathers at first or at all because some father tend to be either passive or overprotect.  However, good fathers are aware of the enemies that steal and destroy the hearts of daughters such as vanity, seductiveness, and self-image.

The enemy and the world are clever at redefining and distorting beauty and says, “This is what beauty looks like. Follow this way, and you will be known and liked and loved.”  Most daughters or women will tell you that  way is shallow and is an endless pursuit leading to much frustration and regret.  Therefore good fathers go to great lengths to remind their daughters where the well of beauty is found and strive to lead them there.

God warned Israel over and over, “Do not turn away from my voice and follow other gods (or faux-fathers).”  He is jealous for his daughter.  He delights in his daughter as the apple of his eye, but knows they were a surrounded by rotten apples.  Yet God assures them that though there was much to fear around them they had nothing to fear because God was with them.  God is his daughter’s keeper (vs.15-16; cf. Psalm 91:14ff; 59:1-2).

I remember when I first brought my girls to Chad, Justus in particular, was afraid and intimidated to talk to people. She was surrounded by many new faces she did not know.  There was so many new fears.  She would cling to her mom or me.  Sometimes when I would lead her outside the gate for a walk she would ask for me to hold her and she would hug my neck tight.  She thought is was safe to be near to me.

The safest place for you to be is with your Father.  Cling to him.  Hear his words.  Trust he is near.  Clasp onto his strong hands.  Do not fear.  He is your protector.  He will keep you.

Fathers, keep your daughters.  Teach them about the love of God.  Guard them from enemies and teach her his lies.  Stand in the line of attack so that your daughter sees how you fight against the enemy when the day comes when she doesn’t have you nearby to protect her.

No father wants to see their daughter fall or get hurt because they walked outside the umbrella of your counsel.  That’s when it becomes a temptation to overprotect, but an overprotective father is not a loving father.  Overprotection seeks control your daughter.  A father cannot control everything.  And when you do you play god, but don’t play god very well.  The intended result of overprotect is often the opposite.  Instead of your daughter running to you for counsel, they will be repelled by it.

Fathers, trust God to protect your daughters when they venture out on their own.  Pick them up when they fall and embrace them when they return to you.  Remember, even Israel became a harlot and shamed God, but she was still God’s daughter and he keeps all his promises to her and loves her deeply.  God is like the father of the prodigal, full of grace and love.

Daughters, maybe your view of God the Father is tainted because you’ve had an abusive or passive earthly father.  This happens.  But God the Father is not like this.  He is a good Father.  Yet if you have an earthly father, trust him as he seeks to protect you.  He might not always be the best at it.  He may have many holes in their armor.  He might miss an enemy or two, but God has called them to protect you.  If you step outside their protection the enemy has better aim at you.  For your own protection heed the words of your father and your God and learn how to fight the enemy from him.  There is nothing to fear.

God is his daughter’s warrior and songwriter

God often fought many battles for Israel, but sometimes he let her go out to battle alone.  This was a test to her faith and resolve.  Sometime Israel would fear and flee.  Sometimes she would call on the Father for help and he would rescue.  Sometimes she would make an alliance with the enemy and not listen to the Father’s words.  But always, God was there with her.  He was with her on good and bad and ugly days. Loving her, soothing her, holding her, rejoicing over her, and singing over her (v.17).

When are daughters most afraid?  I find that my daughter is most afraid when she feels alone or unsure or she has done wrong.  In those moments, my daughter is looking for a warrior, a fighter, someone to champion her fear.  It is then that I remind her that I love her (even if I must discipline her) and sing over her.

Fathers, rejoice over your children.  Sing praises over them.  For real!  Even if you sound silly or think you look stupid or sing severely out of tune.  As God sings over you with loud frivolous exultations, mirror that to your daughters.  Your daughter will remember this the rest of her life.  These will be her battle songs.

Daughters, encourage your father to be a strong warrior.  He needs to hear this from you.  Ask him to help you, pray with you, and advise you through your battles.  Also, don’t be embarrassed when he sings silly songs of praises over you.  He loves you because you are his jewel. the apple of his eye.  He cannot help but sing over you.

God quiets us with His singing, its a singing that drowns out all other competing noises of life that clamor for our attentions and do what they can do to distract us.  He is drowning out the noisy lies of the enemy and quieting our raging heart with his beautiful songs of praise.

What does God sing over us?  He sings songs of truth.  He sings his promises over us.  He reminds us of his faithfulness, that as we abide in Him, He abides in us and keeps us in his love.  He sings to remind us that as we draw near to him, he will draw near to us.  He is for us and not against us.  How wonderful it is that our good good Father sings over us.

Sons and daughters of God.  Run into your Daddies arms.  Listen for his songs of praise over you.  Know that you are his precious jewel…

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” – 1 John 3:1-3

6 lessons learned from 6 years of marriage

Sarah & Justin

A lot has happened in 6 years!  We’ve added 3 girls to our quiver, moved to a different country, and have lived half of our marriage in the bush of Africa. Our world is radically different from that day 2,190 days ago in Battle Ground, Indiana.

Marriage is school. It never stops. My subject of study is my wife Sarah (1 Peter 3:7). Here are some lessons I’ve learned the past 6-years with her.

1. My wife gets more beautiful each year.  I have rarely seen Sarah put on make-up.  She doesn’t need it. She is a natural beauty.  This is so mushy, but I simply like looking at her.

2. My wife has become my bestie.  I have had many good good friends, but Sarah is the best best friend I have. She knows my junk.  She is patient and loving with me.  She helps me become a better man.

3. Compliment the food even if it wasn’t a home run.  This has taken me a few years to learn.  My wife is a great cook.  In Chad, she doesn’t have a lot to work with, yet she finds a way to knock most out of the park.

4. It is loving to listen.

5. Praying together grows intimacy. Enough said.

6. It’s worth the wait. I was 29 years old when I married. I would wait another 29 if I knew it would be for a woman like Sarah.

build up

170_0020_construction

You will notice that building projects are going up all over your neighborhood, so it is in your church. Building up never stops, but this is how it starts…

Could you imagine getting a personal letter from the apostle Paul? That’s what we peer into when we read the letter to Philemon. By the time Philemon got this letter (58-60 AD) Paul would have had a reputation. I am sure when Philemon got this letter his adrenaline was pumping and heart fluttering.

Paul wrote the letter while in prison at Rome. It is also where he wrote Philippians, Colossians and Ephesians. In fact, Philemon, lived in Colossi, which is modern-day Turkey. We do not learn much about him. What we know is from this letter. There was a church that met in his home. His son was a minister. And he must have had some wealth as he had a slave and likely he had others.

The bulk of the letter is about Onesimus—a runaway slave. We do not know a lot about Onesimus either, but what is known is that he ran away from Philemon and went to Rome. For whatever reason he was not able to hide or blend into the crowd and was caught and thrown into prison. In prison, he connects with Paul who is in prison too. Paul is there for preaching about Jesus.  Paul’s ministry isn’t stifled by his circumstances, rather Paul continues to proclaim the good news to a captive audience. Onesimus hears and comes to faith. As Paul learns Onesimus’ story he encourages him to reconcile with his master.

Thus the thrust of the letter is Paul pleading to Philemon to receive back Onesimus, not as his slave but as a brother in Christ.  Paul is an inbetweener. He is in-between both Philemon and Onesimus. Have you ever had to be an inbetweener?  Can you think of two people not in a right relationship with each other, but you are in a right relationship with both of them?  May this letter encourage you as an inbetweener.

The beauty of this story is that it is true story. While there are many stories about forgiveness in the Bible this letter is a living example of the Prodigal Son (Lk.15:11) or Unforgiving Servant (Mt. 18:21ff). It is an incredibly personal letter. Yet it is a fitting letter in a series of letters that Paul writes to churches, in which he mainly addresses divisions and relationships within the church.  Paul is aware that the number one thing that destroys the church, its mission, and the reputation of Christ is two believers living in unforgiveness. On the flip, two believers walking in forgiveness magnifies Jesus.

There are two types of people in the church that Paul often addresses. The first type of person TEARS DOWN. These people look for ways to cutdown others. They speak words that are discouraging, critical, and are quick to point out faults and failures. They are the kind of people you love to avoid if you are needing encouragement, but love if you are needing someone to empathize with your own critical spirit. The second type of person BUILDS UP.  They are the kind of person who encourages, sees the good, speaks truth in love, and has the knack of pointing you back to Christ.

Can you think of someone close to you who tears down or builds up? How would others describe you? Paul is known for building up people. He is a disciple of Christ who makes disciples of Christ, which necessitates one who will build up the church and those within the church. Paul’s letter to Philemon helps us to see what building up one another that looks like.

1. Give thanks to God for people and circumstances (v.4)

To give thanks is ironic considering Paul’s circumstances. Where is Paul again? He is in prison. What would that be like? Notice Paul doesn’t mope. He doesn’t curse God. He knew this would be a result of his calling and following Christ (Acts 9). Instead, Paul is engaged in writing letters of encouragement to others from prison. Also he is taking the opportunity to share the gospel and is leading people to Christ in prison. In fact, the gospel is reaching the ears of those in Caesars household (Phil.4:22).

Thankfulness is a choice. Gratitude is the attitude that gives fortitude to your faith. Would others around you consider you a thankful person? Are you thankful for the cards you were dealt? You might not have had a choice in the kind of family you your born into. You have learned that you cannot control the actions or words of your parents, spouse, children or friend. Maybe you’ve experienced someone walking out on you or you have felt the wounds of neglect or abuse. It is most difficult to chose to be thankful when you don’t feel it, but rather feel pain, abandonment or bitterness.

I am the son of two unmarried teenage parents. They married to appease their parents but the marriage only lasted a few years. I lived with my mother and observed a revolving door of relationships. I felt I had to be the responsible one. I would stay up late waiting for her to come home from her outings. My mother failed lived up to my high expectations. I thought if she’d just change to what I wanted things would be better. I had much self-pity. Even when my mom and I came to Christ I was still unthankful. I thought if only the church could fix my family. When I went to college I chose a college far away from home.  However, my sour feelings still followed me. After I finished college, I couldn’t find any other job alternatives, but moving back home with my mom and working with her. It was a summer of irony. God in His providence was giving me an opportunity to forgive as if to say, ‘Justin, If I you do not reconcile with your own mother. you will not be an effective agent of reconciliation to the world.’ It was true. I was about to go to South Africa on mission that fall. Living in unforgiveness could have derailed the mission and my faith. As hard as it was I sat down with my mom and thanked for working three jobs to support me while I was young. I thanked her knowing it was not easy to raise a young boy being only a teenager herself. I thanked her for loving me.

Beware of self-pity and pitying others. Can you hear those close to Paul saying? “Poor Paul. Why would God let such a person be thrown into prison?” Others might have mailed him letters saying, “Dear Paul, you know you could have avoided imprisonment if you just kept your mouth shut,” “You can’t save the world,” “Maybe prison is just God’s way of saying, ‘Take a break.’” It is clear from Paul’s writings that certain people were aiming to tear down his apostleship and most of them came from within the church. Isn’t that a shame? It’s a shame it also happens today. It might even be happening in your church.

It takes a mature Christian to look at difficult people and circumstances and say, “God is using this. God is eternal and sovereign. Everything he does or allows is good.” Do you believe God is using every person or circumstance to make you more like Jesus? What about those harsh or hurtful words? What about that hard thing that occupies your thoughts? God comes to you through difficult circumstance or difficult people. God is at work in the things we see as bad, ugly, painful or hurtful. Remember, God is for you!

If you need proof just survey the Bible. You will see dozens of examples of men and women gripped with gratitude despite unideal circumstances. Joseph was abused by brothers and falsely accused by Potifar’s wife, but in the end sees how God used bad for good (Gen. 50:20). Jeremiah preaches for 50 years and sees no one turn back to God, rather they drag him through the ditches. This weeping prophet hopes in God (Lam. 3). Then there is Job. Everything is taken from him. To make matters worse he has friends who give him bad advice and his wife encourages him to curse God or die, but in the midst of it he sees how God was making him like gold (23:10). Jesus himself was rejected, abused, abandoned, betrayed, and disrespected, yet forgave those who did not understand what they we doing to him. Each bore sacred sorrow, yet praised God.

Joseph Scriven grew up in Ireland. He faced many difficult circumstances in his life namely losing two fiancés before he was to be marry. In the midst of the hardship he went to the One who was most faithful. He put pen to paper and wrote ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’.

Like these examples you and I are in God’s university. The problem is it’s not a 4-year degree and then you pass. For some of us it is lifelong. Each person and situation is a unique subject to learn how God uses all people and circumstance for his glory and purposes in you. Chose to be thankful.

2. Build up others by focusing on the work the Spirit of God (v.5)

Why is Paul so thankful for Philemon? He sees God’s work in Philemon. He has visible characteristics of God that are manifesting themselves. If you are a follower of Christ you too are showing the world the powerful work of what the Holy Spirit can do with someone. For Philemon, the visible characteristics were his love for people and his faith in Jesus.

What would the person sitting next to you say are the visible characteristics you are displaying right now? Can you imagine what an encouragement that would be to have someone point those things out to you?  This is what the apostle Paul is doing with Philemon. He is building him up in Christ by sharing with him the ways he is seeing Jesus in him.

Are you this kind of person? Or are you critical of others, especially of people in your church? There are many excuses one can create for being critical of others. Criticism is almost thought of as a spiritual gift or strength. One can spend more time finding faults in others or shooting holes in the pastors message than looking for ways to build up the Body.

Do you recognize the name William Wilberforce?  William Wilberforce made it his lifework to abolishment of slavery in Great Britain. It was a seemingly impossible work that brought him much discouragement. Wilberforce was at the beginning of his career, but John Wesley (who was nearing the end of his career) caught wind of Wilberforce’s discouragement and jotted him a note just 6-days before his death. He wrote, “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it… That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir, Your affectionate servant, John Wesley”  Wesley had the right words at the right time to help his brother continue on the right path.

Paul focuses on the good he sees in Philemon. Paul has the right words at the right time to help his brothers continue on the right path. He focuses on the character of Christ in Philemon, namely his “love for the saints,” which will be the very character needed when he reunites with Onesimus.

3. Affirm others through prayer and fellowship (vs.6-7)

Philemon’s faith had already been active; but now wants it to be ‘effective’ in relation to Onesimus. It’s as if Paul says, “I have seen how effective your faith is within your house church. Now extend that same faith to your brother Onesimus.”

The world would say to Philemon, “Onesimus owes you. Make him pay. Mark him as a runaway the rest of his life. Make him feel the weight of what he did to you. Pour on the punishment. Tighten his chains. Don’t forgive him.” Doesn’t that sound miserable? Yet that is where we often gravitate, but there is no personal or corporate benefit to unforgiveness. Unforgiveness imprisons you to the past. It clings onto the pain. It feeds the open wound with anger, bitterness, retribution and other ungodly characteristics. Unforgiveness gives Satan an open door. It is a welcome mat to the devil. Unforgiveness hinders your fellowship with God. It simply paralyzes your walk with God. In fact, unforgiveness angers Him because it is opposite his redemptive heart.

Yet on the flip-side, forgiveness makes you most like God. It frees you from the past and produces other godly characteristics. It removes the ugly graffiti from your spirit and lets God shine. Forgiveness is a most visible expression of the gospel. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32) “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.” (Col. 3:13)

Philemon is a treatise on Romans 12:17-21 “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Paul has been a recipient of Philemon’s faith and love, moreover, he has been a recipient of the love and forgiveness of Jesus. And he sees the image this would be to the world, the church in Colossi, and his brother Onesimus. Paul says, “Philemon, you’ve got all these great characteristics that God is working in you, continue in them bless ‘our brother’ Onesimus. Jesus has forgiven him and so must you. Whatever difficult emotions this fuels with you, remember that love and faith you have in Christ. Embrace Onesimus. He is coming your way soon.”

Paul’s letter to Philemon shares the basics or ABC’s of building one another up:

  • Affirm others through prayer and fellowship.
  • Build up others by focusing on the Holy Spirits work.
  • Chose to be thankful for people and circumstances.

The Spirit of God has likely brought to your mind a relationship that needs building up. Maybe, like Paul, you are an inbetweener. How do the examples of Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus bring healing on your own journey with Christ? Which of the three characteristic of one who is forgiven do you need to work on today?

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?

purpose of pain

thorns

The deepest pain we experience is often inflicted by people, especially those who we care for the most. The closer we are to people the more vulnerable we are to be hurt and wounded. Not just physically (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27), but emotionally (11:28-29). People can disappoint, reject, abuse, slander, fail, betray, or turn on you. These type of wounds go deep and hurt. Have you ever felt pain from someone close to you? A spouse? A parent? A child? A friend? A church?

Jonathan Edward, a pastor through America’s Great Awakening, was voted out of the church where he pastored for 22-years over a disagreement about who takes communion. The pain caused by this lead him to live meekly among Native Indians, a broken man until his death. Charles Haddon Spurgeon—some would say the greatest preacher the world has ever known—was voted out of the Baptist Union for standing strongly for the Scripture. He was crushed and his health was never the same.

Paul experienced this kind of pain too. He loved the church at Corinth immensely. He spent 18-months with them. He saw many come to Christ and he nurtured them. He invested his life to the church. He thought of himself as their father and them as his daughter. And yet he also experienced his greatest pain and heart-ache from this church. False teachers came into the church and spread lies about Paul cutting down his credibility as an apostle therein cutting down the credibility of the gospel. They called into question his integrity, character, leadership, wisdom, honesty, motives, love and loyalty. Many in the church bought into the lies of false teachers. And Paul was left assaulted, crushed and hurt deeply.

Pain is universal. Every human experiences pain at some point. It’s the problem of pain. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Pain is part of life. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when.

Pain is never pleasant, until we understand what God is accomplishing by it. Often the greatest times of spiritual development happen in times of great pain. Paul teaches us how to see the hand of God in the midst of pain. No text unfolds this in greater detail than 2 Corinthians 12. It is set in one of the most emotionally charged portions Paul had put pen (See Chapters 10-13). Paul lays his heart wide open and we see what God endeavors to accomplish in our pain and where we find strength in the deepest pain.

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” (v.7)

First, Paul described the pain was like “a thorn.” Have you ever got a thorn stuck in your foot? In Chad, there are thorns everywhere. Just yesterday I was raking our yard and I literally pulled out over 10 thorns from the bottom of my flip-flops. I was immediately decommissioned from any further work until I pulled each thorn out of my foot. The word “thorn” as Paul used it can refer to a small thorn or an object as big as a stake. Imagine that. It is as if he says “a stake was driven right through my flesh.” Ouch.

We understand the word “thorn” was used metaphorically, like when we say, “He is a real thorn in my side.” So what was Paul’s thorn? What was bothering Paul? There are dozens of speculation as to what the cause of the thorn could be (ex: headaches, lust, eye problem, malaria, epilepsy, loss of hair, hysteria, gastritis, leprosy, lice, deafness, stuttering, etc.). In all, these trivial speculations miss the what the text says itself about the thorn, they miss the debilitating and humiliating depth of Paul’s pain and it misses God’s purposes for the thorn.

Second, Paul said the thorn was “given” to him. Satan inflicted it, but ultimately God allowed it for he pleads with God to take it away (v.8; cf. Mark 14:32-41). In Greek, the phrase reads “a thorn for the flesh was given me.” What we know about the word “flesh” in Scripture is that more often it doesn’t refer to the physical flesh, but the home of human impulses and sinful tendencies. The thorn poked Paul deeper than the surface of his skin. Paul goes on to tell what the thorn is. It is a “messenger or Satan to harass me (torment, punch).” It is a messenger (angel); a demon sent to inflict Paul.

Now it is interesting because a demon would not want to humble Paul, but to exalt him. A demon would not want to drive a stake through his flesh, but his spirit. The context gives light to this messenger being false teachers who are controlled by a demon as they reject Paul’s authority, ministry and integrity (cf. 11:13-15; 1 Timothy 4:1-2). Like Satan, these false teachers are so close to truth that the people buy into it and it is crushing Paul because he can see the angel of light twisting the truth against him.

There is a question some would ask here. Why would God allow Paul to be tormented? Does God really allow pain? In short, yes. God has used demons, even Satan, and pain for his purposes in the lives of believers. Job is a great example. The moment God allowed Satan to test Job all hell broke loose. Everyone in Job’s family was killed except his wife. All his crops and animals were destroyed. His own body became ravaged by a skin disease. A Middle Eastern mogul was reduced to rubble. Job was in deep pain. And it was compounded by his wife and friends giving him bad advice. Notice, in the end, God never tells Job why all this happened. God never apologizes. God never blames Satan. God simply praises Job for his persevering faith.

In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus says to Peter, “Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” In other words, “Peter, you would make a good prospect for Satan. I think I will use him for my purposes in you.” You could hear Peter say, “Jesus, You said ‘no’ right?” Jesus knew this would be a defining moment for Peter. He would move from being a great denier to becoming the great defender.

While Paul’s thorn was a thing that his opposers used as a means of showing other that God was not with him. It had the opposite effect. The thorn was proof that God was with him. God was with him, keeping him humble when he could be the opposite because of all that God did through him.

Third, Paul said the thorn was to “keep [him] from becoming conceited.” Paul became a figure head. Everywhere he went two things started: a church and a riot. The work he accomplished in his lifespan is staggering. He had all the reasons in the world to be be proud: he had visions, wrote revelation, planted churches, brought the gospel to the gentile world, but this thorn was crushing him, inflicting pain to keep him humble.

Why was God allowing this mess at Corinth? Why was God allowing Paul to experience deep pain? God was teaching him and the church deep truths about Himself that they might not learn otherwise. God’s purposes for the Paul are made clear,

“But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (vs.9-10)

Like Paul, we learn much about God through pain. First, God uses pain reveals our spiritual character (vs.5-6). We are like a sponge and pain squeezes out what is really inside. Second, God uses pain to humble us (v.7). Third, God uses pain to draw us to Himself (v.8). Going to God is the right place to go. Fourth, God uses pain to display his grace (v.9). God answers is often “no” to removing the pain, but God gives the grace. We will have trouble, God never promises to remove it, but he promises enough grace to endure it. God increases grace to those who are broken. Fifth, God uses pain to perfect his power (v.10). When there is nothing left within us—no pride, no glory, no strength, no ability to fix it—then there is room for the power of God. This is power in our weakness.(Romans 8:18).

Paul was burdened beyond strength. He was left broken, beaten, battered. He could not fix the situation. He was at the end of his rope. He hurt deeply because of what others had done. Yet it was here that the power of God was displayed in his weakness (cf. 4:7-12; 6:4-10).

Power in weakness is most vividly seen in the cross of Christ. Jesus, the man of sorrows was the strongest man to ever live because at his weakest earthly moment he did not use all the power he had to stop the pain or avoid the pain, rather he embraced his own thorns so that the plans of God could be accomplished through him. In God’s plan of redemption, there had to be weakness (crucifixion) before there was power (resurrection). Paul came to understand and embrace the fact that his thorn in the flesh was essential to his ongoing weakness and the experience of Christ’s ongoing power. Through Christ’s temporary pain we have eternal gain.

If you are doing ministry in Jesus name you need to expect stakes to be driven through your flesh. Pain is a part of life as a follower of Christ (outside and inside the church). Christ in us! That is the reward of those who serve him with their weakness. As Isaac Watts wrote,

“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.”

backwards boasting

backwards boasting

The biggest problem in my life and ministry is me. And one of my biggest problem among many is my gravitation toward self-defense or self-justification. I have an inner defense attorney from the firm of Flesh & Associates who is always there challenging the case in my favor. Well, not exactly for my favor. I am grateful for the Spirits work in me in this area, but I still have a long way to go.

When was the last time you defended yourself? Why did you feel the need to do it? Often times one is feels the need to defend themselves when confronted or attempting to protect an opinion or reputation.

Ironically, in 2 Corinthians 10-11, Paul is in the middle of defending himself and his ministry. Why does Paul feel the need to defend himself? What could be such a big deal that he feels the need to protect his reputation? Well, some in Corinth are discrediting him as an apostle. They say he is tough on paper, but in person he appears weak and doesn’t speak quite like the pros. Paul not only defends his ministry, but in doing so he defends the gospel message. It’s a big deal because he is protecting the reputation of Christ.

To defend himself Paul does a little boasting (v.1). Doesn’t that sound backward for Paul? Shouldn’t he turn the other cheek or be more humble? Instead Paul sees it is necessary to exercise “a little foolishness.”

Why is boasting foolish? It is foolish because no one likes listening to a boaster. Boasters are so full of themselves (show Packer shirt). If we do like people who boast, how much does God like it?

  • “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches,” (Jeremiah 9:23)
  • “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” (Proverbs 27:1)
  • “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.” (Proverbs 25:14)
  • “These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.” (Jude 1:16)
  • “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” …For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:11-12, 14b)

God doesn’t like boasters. So why is Paul stooping to that level? Now to be fair, boasting was anathema to Paul too, but he engages in it to show the church just how foolish it is and how foolish his opponents are. Here are three justified boasts of Paul.

1.  As a father of the Bride, he is jealous for the church’s purity (vs.2-4).

What is the responsibility of the father of the bride? One of the most emotional moments for me when I married Sarah was the moment when the doors in the back of the church opened and my wife dressed in a white dressed walked down between our friends and family who were standing all looking at her. I was speechless. As so was her father. He was walking his daughter to me. For 27 years, he had been teaching her, giving her counsel and presented her to me as a pure bride.

How does Paul take his responsibility seriously as father of the church at Corinth? Paul, knew just how vulnerable the church was (vs.2-4). Like a faithful father he has boasted in his daughter and wants to keep the her pure and protect her from other lovers (deceivers) and present her not to just any man but the Son of Man, the Blessed Bride Groom.

Paul was properly jealous about this. He had paternal jealously handed down from another Father. It is said that “Human jealousy is a vice, but to share divine jealousy is a virtue.” Our God is a jealous God. He is jealous for the truth. He doesn’t like people adding or subtracting things from the message of Jesus, the work of the Spirit, or the Gospel. If God and Paul are jealous for these things, so must we.

2.  As a faithful apostle, he compares himself to the super-apostles (vs. 5-15).

Here Paul takes the opportunity to boast in his authority. Remember, it is not his own authority, but an authority given to him from Jesus. And some were challenging his authority. Paul sarcastically refers to them as Super-apostles (v.5) because they made themselves bigger than Paul. We don’t know much about these super-apostles other than that they were skilled speakers and were paid well for their skills. I am sure they also had capes and sidekicks too.

How does Paul compare himself to the super-apostles? (v.6) First, he admits he is not a skilled speak. He doesn’t wow the crowds like the Greco-Roman speakers who were suave, spoke with a swagger, yet were synthetic. Second, he admits he excels in knowledge. In other words he says the main criteria you need to be a good preacher is a knowledge of God. This knowledge made him a powerful and persuasive preacher.

Third, Paul explains that he came to Corinth free of charge (vs.7-11). Paul didn’t take speakers fees like the skilled speakers or professional philosophers. Not that this is wrong, but it can be a temptation. Paul instead says he received support from Philippi and other churches in Macedonia so he didn’t have to burden to the church in Corinth. People misinterpreted this as if Paul was not charging for his services as a self-admission that he was a low caliber speaker and his message wasn’t worth much. That he gave away the gospel because no one would pay to he it, when he gave it freely as proof he loved them.

Paul will switch his tone from sarcastic to serious as he now calls these super-apostles false prophets, deceitful workers (vs.12-15). Why would he use such harsh terms? These super-apostles are changing Jesus, the Spirits work and the gospel message for their profit. That gives Paul grounds to boast. What Paul boasts in is the faithful, self-sacrificing efforts made on behalf of the gospel ministry in Corinth to the degree that his example serves to expose false apostles as what they really are, ministers of Satan.

This passage challenges all who take money and serve the name of Jesus. I must ask myself the question, do I consider the financial gain before you consider the glory of the Name? This is a real temptation. Remember, “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” (cf. 8:9).

3.  As a follower of Christ, he has counted the cost and carries his cross (16-33)

Paul boasts to prove a point to boasters, “Look, isn’t boasting really foolish?” If Paul must be forced to boast, it will not be in the things that are impressive from a human standpoint. Rather, he will boast in those things that put him in such a vulnerable situation that he has to depend utterly upon God. He takes great lengths to share all that happened to him for the sake of the name of Christ (vs.16-33).

Paul answers the question, When is foolish boasting acceptable? “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (10:17; cf. Jer. 9:23-24). Nothing, absolutely nothing trumps the Lord. It doesn’t matter what I say about myself, it’s what I say about God. It’s the essence of backward boasting. I am nothing. God is everything. When the foolish boasting is in favor of Jesus and the gospel message it is sometimes acceptable.

How might this chapter be applicable to your life and ministry? Can you embrace your weaknesses? Will you boast in your weaknesses? The answer to that question has everything to do with the authenticity of the gospel and the church and its mission.

3 benefits of repentance

repent

Repentance. I’ll just come out and say it. It’s a word I don’t like to hear. It’s difficult to talk about. It’s often an awkward topic. It isn’t easy or comfortable or catchy or natural. However, I believe it is one of the biggest things that is lacking in my spiritual life and maybe even in yours.

The Bible is not shy when it comes to talking about repentance. We kind of know this already, right? In fact, it is the most common term and sermon topic in Scripture. “Repentance” or “return to the Lord” is mentioned over 1,000 times in Old Testament alone. The message of repentance was in the mouth of every prophet. Their sermon was like this, “(Clear throat) Good morning congregation. (Deep breath) REPENT! (Awkward silence) Okay. Let’s pray.” That was their message. It was all that needed to be said and heard.

In the New Testament, the message isn’t much different. John the Baptist’s message was: repent (Mark 1:4). The apostles first preached that people should: repent (Mark 6:11). Jesus tender, yet tough, said in his first sermon, “Repent and believe.” (Mark 1:15) Jesus shared the story of the prodigal son, the poster boy of repentance, that heaven rejoices over one sinner who: repents. In Revelation 2:5, Jesus says to the church: repent. As the church goes global in Acts, what was the apostle Peter’s message? “Repent.” (2:38; 3:19) God’s heart from the front cover to the back cover of Scripture that we would be tenderhearted, submissive, quick to respond to the Spirit’s conviction and repent of sin.

2 Corinthians 7, our text today, is the most concentrated teaching on the topic of repentance in the Bible. This is Paul’s listen-up-and-get-ahold-of-this sermon on repentance. The goal of this message is that you and I would repent. I will challenge you to do as God has challenged me to do throughout this text. I want to practice what I preach, but also preach what I practice. Will you join me?

Have you ever had to say a hard thing, confront sin, or call someone to repent? No one wants to do it, but there come times when you have to say hard things. As you come to 2 Corinthians 7, you see Paul had to write some hard things. In a previous, unknown letter, Paul, pleaded with the church to restore a sinful brother. The church rightfully disciplined a man for causing division in the church, but when the discipline worked and he repented, the church held it over the man and was not welcomed back into the fellowship. But now, Paul, in this letter, praises them for doing the hard thing, the right thing. What you and I discover from this text are three amazing benefits of repentance.

1. Repentance is good (vs.8-9).

While not easy, repentance is good. Even Paul had mixed feelings about his letter to Corinth (v.8). On one hand he had regrets (for the grief it caused) but on the other hand he did not have regrets (for the repentance it produced). While at times painful, repentance has its purpose. Just as parents do not enjoy disciplining their children, Paul did not enjoy the sorrow he brought to the church. He did not like seeing them in pain. Yet their pain was “only for a while.” And in this, Paul, rejoiced like a parent who sees their child experience small pain by his hand only to see them escape greater pain by their own hand (v.9).

Repentance is good because God uses the short-lived sorrow to protect you from greater sorrow and greater harm in the future (cf. Hebrews 12:7-11). If Corinth did not repent, the church could have been shattered by its sin and shortage of Christlikeness. Repentance is the funnel through which blessing flows. Lack of repentance brings misery, despair, and as we will see, death.

Repentance is good because it takes stubborn, callused, dull-hearted people and makes them tender towards God’s heart. Remember this: Repentance is a gift from God. The most dangerous thing you can say is, “I will repent when I am ready.” It’s dangerous because only God readies a heart for repentance (cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim.2:25). If you wait until you are ready you will only get hardhearted. Sin is the blockage that kills the heart, but repentance is bypass surgery that God does WITHIN you and it “leads to salvation without regrets” (v.10b). Repentance is that good.

2. Repentance is change (v.10a).

What is true repentance? By definition repentance means change of mind; a turning away from evil to God; a 180 from my hearts desires to God’s heart. Repentance without change is not repentance.

There are three common components of repentance as seen in Scripture. First, there is a recognition of sin. I must recognize that I have sinned. I must see that I have offended God. Yet recognition alone is not repentance. Repentance is not simply regret or remorse or feeling bad about something bad I did. I can feel sorry about something and immediately do it again. Thus Paul compares the difference between godly grief and worldly grief (v.10). Worldly grief is when I feel bad because I looked bad to others. Godly grief is sorrow is when I recognize I have offended God. Grief that leads to repentance is as Charlie Brown would say, “Good grief!” Yet I don’t have to sink into grief because I have received the forgiveness of Christ (1 John 1:9). The sin under all other sin is the lack of joy in Christ, but Jesus was the one who suffered and was miserable for my sin. Repentance is my pathway to joy.

Second, there is repentance of sin. I must admit that I am wrong or have been wrong. This is often the hardest thing to do. Repentance is not mere confession or saying what God says about sin as if that will make God happy with me. Repentance is not about keeping God happy. God is not a magic genie who grants wishes when on his good side. This makes repentance selfish. I don’t please God to get or to escape consequences of sin. I cannot manipulate him nor is he is not obligated to me.

Third, there is a returning to the Lord. I must leave my sin behind. I must come to God. I must make a clean break. I must come to him as I am. I can wallow in the sin-confess-sin-confess cycle trying to do it on my own or I can come to my Lord. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

This is illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son. When you repent, you are like the prodigal son. You don’t have it all together. You are living in the pig style. You come to your senses. You change your mind. You don’t want to think for yourself. You come to the end of yourself. You think about your father. You run back home to him still messy and smelling like the stench. You come as you are. You know you are unworthy to be your fathers son, but the father runs to you, gives you his best robe and throws you a party.

Biblical repentance is recognizing your sin, repenting to it and returning to the Lord. When was the last time you did that?

3. Repentance bears fruit (vs.9,11).

“The reach of our repentance should match the reach of our sin. Private sins demand private repentance. Sins that can be seen by many necessitate a repentance that can be seen by many. And while we ought to forgive each other seven times, and seventy times, and even seven times seventy times, looking for the fruit of repentance is not the same as being unforgiving. Ronald Reagan was right: trust, but verify.” – Keven DeYoung

The beauty of repentance is what it produces. It produces things on the inside that are reflected on the outside. Acts 26:11 says there are “deeds of repentance.” In other words, repentance produces fruit (Matthew 3:8). While the list in 2 Corinthians 7 is not sequential or exhaustive, it gives you a sense of the affects of repentance (vs.9-11).

First, repentance produces godly grief over sin (v.9). “Grief” is soul anguish, a heart wrenching and heart changing emotion. Its a grief that says you can never be the same again. Second, repentance produces revulsion towards sin (v.11) The word used is “earnestness.” What used to please (attracts) you now repulses (detracts) you. Sin sickens you. Third, it produces restitution towards others (v.11b) It produces a desire to “clear yourself,” to make it right, right away with those your sin has injured. Fourth, it produces revival toward God (v.11c) You have a “longing” to walk with God. Fifth, it turns your eyes forward, not backward (vs.8-9). Repentance sees “no loss” and is “without regret.” It walks into the future full of freedom.

Repentance happens both as a process and a crisis. It happens over time and it happens at a point in time. Repentance is not a place I visit or a place I go and get over it. It is the place I live. I must never get over it. I never want to leave it. Just like Disney World. Who wants to leave Disney? Give me a room at the castle! God desires a lifestyle of repentance.

Martin Luther launched the Reformation with hammer and nail, nailing “The Ninety-Five Theses” to the front door of Wittenberg Cathedral. Do you know what the first theses stated? It said, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” What Luther saw as he unpacked the Scripture is that repentance is the way we progress in the Christian life. Repentance is the fruit you are growing deep and strong and rapid in the character of Christ.

How do you respond when confronted? How do you respond when the Spirit convicts you? How do you respond when you know you are wrong? How do you respond when you have sinned against another person? When was the last time you had godly grief over sin that produced repentance? Don’t wait. Repent. Be free. It is good.

unashamed I stand

Hutts wheat field

My first “real” job was at Schmidt Sporting Goods in the Wausau Center Mall. It was the perfect job for a teenager into sports. I was fifteen, a new Christian and a bit awkward socially. There were many times during a shift at work when the crowds would dwindle and stocking was slow and the employees would gravitate together to chat. You can imagine the variety of conversations that would unfold between young adults. This was the first testing ground of my faith. At first I was shy. I didn’t want to reveal my identity as a Christian. I was ashamed. I learned to camouflage to my colleagues. At church, I was outspoken and on fire, always attending youth group, serving where I could, even going on missions trips, but outside of church I hid my light under a bushel basket. I will share more about my time at Schmidt’s later.

Oddly enough, I am now on mission in North Africa. I’d like to say that I have changed. That I share my faith like a wild fire burning through the bush in a windstorm. However, that is not always the case. I often resort to hiding the light. Why am I so ashamed? Chiefly, I think much of what others think of me and think little of what God has done for me.

I know I am not alone when it comes to timidity of faith. The Bible is chalked full of examples of people reluctant to bear the name of God. Moses tried every excuse in the book not to go back to Pharaoh and represent God. Jonah ran opposite Nineveh to the sea. Peter denied Jesus multiple times before the rooster crowed. If you were to ask each of these men to write Romans 1:16 it might have read, “For I am ashamed of the gospel for is it the weakness of man unto slavery to everyone who disbelieves.”

You and I both know that isn’t how that verse reads. I have rehearsed that verse ever since I started attending Sunday School. Instead the verse reads, “For I am unashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” According to this verse the gospel does two things: 1) it brings out shaming behavior in those who will not believe it and 2) it gives freedom from shame to those who do believe it. In other words, the gospel that causes shame also frees us from shame.

It is difficult to keep quiet about my faith in North Africa. When people see me or my beard their first question is, “Are you Muslim?” because most Muslim teachers have beards. I sport my beard on purpose. First, my wife digs it. Second, it’s a great conversation starter. Of course, I respond, “No. I follow the way of Jesus.” So I had this same interaction with a group of Islamic teachers and they responded, “Ah, we follow Jesus too and God’s other prophet, Mohammad. Do you follow Mohammad?” When I responded “No” the teacher with the biggest and whitest beard preached at me for 10 minutes trying to convince me of my error and foolishness. The way I was being belittled made me think about the religious guys during Jesus’ day. I left the interaction gut-checked and scarred, but like Paul’s words (see: Colossians 1:24), I was able to understand a smidgen the sufferings of Christ.

It would be great if this was a one-time interaction, in fact, it happens a lot. A few months ago, I arrived at our neighborhood corner store. There was an older woman arguing with the boy managing the store how there isn’t any coins to make change in this town. It is a true exaggeration. We sometimes make it our ministry to tape up crust old bills that are falling apart and return them to circulation. I tried sympathizing with the woman, but she turned at me and said, “You are white. You probably have lots of money and change.” Now, in this culture, it is not appropriate to talk much with woman publicly, so I didn’t make much of it. I just smiled awkwardly and said, “I just brought enough change to buy bread.” She then asked, “Are you Muslim?” When she learned that I only followed the way of Jesus she yelled, “Why are you here, you unbeliever.” I stepped back, blessed her and turned to walk back home. As I walked off she cried out, “Become a Muslim.” I thought she was just having a bad day, but the next day she had a similar interaction with a female colleague. We were bearing the shame for the name of Jesus and ouch, it hurt.

How did Paul or Jesus handle the shame heaped on them? Hebrews 12:2 says about Jesus: “For the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus did not let shame gain the upper hand, rather he set his heart towards joy in His future place with His Father. Jesus saw His temporary pain as eternal gain. Paul echoed this when he said, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) It’s a win-win when you are in Christ.

In Acts 5:41 when the disciples were beaten and charged not to speak about the name of Jesus. It says, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” They ‘despised the shame’ trading it for joy because they suffered with Jesus because no amount of earthly shame can erase the joy we will have when we’re with God. Jesus erases all shame. “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:16)

Coming back to Romans 1:16, Paul said he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is “the power of God unto salvation.” What makes the gospel so offensive is that it takes me, man, out of the salvation equation and it puts Jesus Christ front and center. I can do nothing to earn salvation. Jesus did everything. That offends people because people want some credit or merit points to put on my imaginary good deeds sash.

My friends and I have recently committed to memory Acts 4:12 into Arabic, which in English says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) When sharing this verse with my Muslim friends it causes a stir and bring upon me shame from those who do not believe, but for me, these words have freed me from shame.

Therefore, with Jesus and Paul, I say to you. Suffer, yes. Be misunderstood, you bet. Be shamed, absolutely. But do not be ashamed. You will be shamed, but you need not be ashamed. Because the message of God’s saving work in Christ is the only final triumphant message in the world. Temporary pain. Eternal gain.

Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” It wasn’t until after the Alca tribe slaughtered Jim Elliott, Nate Saint, and their three colleagues that they realized the men they killed had lived the words they had been taught to them about Jesus. They saw Jesus in the way they lived and died.

It was a slow shift at Schmidt Sporting Goods and I gathered near the cash register to chat with Nate and Brian who were working that night. The question came up, “Why don’t you like to work on Sundays or Wednesday night?” I told them that I went to church and met with my friends to learn about Jesus. In the minutes that followed they allowed me to share the gospel with them. Nate responded, “Justin, you really believe that nonsense? That God wrote a book? And that Jesus is really God?” He went on to shame me for my beliefs. To fast forward a few years, while in college, I got an email from Brian. He told me how that summer he had a life-altering boating accident in which he broke his neck. In his recovery God brought to mind our conversations years earlier and he began reading his Bible and attending an evangelical church. Soon after he gave his life to Christ. He thanked me for not being ashamed.

I praise God for His work in Brian, but usually I expect responses to the gospel like Nate. If the Bible says people will think of me as foolish it is what it is (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20-31). In 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Paul says that we are to expect afflictions and slander (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-26). Peter echoes Paul, in 1 Peter 3:13-18 when writing to group of believers under fire for their faith to expect suffering because Christ Himself suffered.

1 Peter 3:8-9 is a key verse in which Peter calls the you and I, the church, to stand under persecution, shame, ridicule, misunderstanding for the sake of the gospel. Would you make this verse a prayer for me? As I will make it a prayer for you and your church. “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (cf. Luke 6:28)

home

home

How would you describe your dream home? Maybe like you, I find myself dwelling on this question often, especially now that I am house hunting in Africa. I think about sitting in air conditioning, having a green garden with shade trees, actually staying in a place longer than 4-years, and a sizable list of other things. Until then my thinking is preoccupied with fixing our home, making it more comfortable and more like home. All these thoughts are normal and not bad in and of themselves, but they often become an end. I find myself getting stuck making earth my home, when as a Christian I’ve been secured another home beyond.

there is more beyond this world (2 Cor. 5:1)

There is more beyond, right? That is a heavenly reality. The Apostle Paul writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

And he continues, “For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (v. 1). Paul’s metaphor of the body being like a tent is fitting. First, Paul made tents. It was his side job. He knew tents well. He had good job security, since tents tore or wore out. Tents are both vulnerable and temporary dwelling places and therefore a fitting metaphor for the body. Second, “tent” is a biblical metaphor. When Paul switches metaphors from “tent” to “a building from God” he has in mind the tabernacle tent that was superseded by the temple building. Temporary became permanent, tent became Temple, thus earthly body will become resurrection body. We ought to pinch ourselves with exuberant joy for what awaits our bodies!

Paul talks a lot about a future body, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20, 21) And  “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

Why does Paul talk so much about the future body? Why does he have death on the mind? Is he morbid? Is he as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. says, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”?

Ironically, the problem is precisely the opposite. The issue is not that Christians think too much about heaven, but rather that we think too little about it. The apostle Paul said,  “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2). Some translations use the word “affections,” instead of “minds,” which gives it the feel of saying: “get fixated on heaven, not on earth!”

Paul thinks about death because he is aging. He isn’t getting any younger. Also, he bears the scars, wounds and bruises of years of persecution. Life has been difficult for this Jesus follower. Paul, like most bold Jesus followers, knows there is more beyond this world.

a longing for home always dwells within you (5:2-5)

Have you ever really longed for something? Like Christmas to come or your next vacation or to see a friend or loved one? What does it mean to long for something? To long is to desire something so deeply often there aren’t words for it. How does Paul express his longing? He uses the word “groan” (vs.2-4; cf. Rom. 8:23). Paul’s groans are echoed by creation (Rom. 8:19-22), Christians (8:23), and the Holy Spirit (8:26). All are groaning over the present worlds nakedness, longing for the day when our groans will transformed into praises and our nakedness will be robed in the righteousness of Christ, just as God clothed Adam and Eve’s nakedness covering their shame (Gen. 3:21).

From the beginning, God intended humans to have immortal bodies and live in constant fellowship with Him. Since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden we’ve been longing for home. We are most at home with God. While we wait for home we have been given a guarantee, the Holy Spirit, “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (v. 5; cf. Eph.1:13-14) Our guarantee is that the Holy Spirit sets up residence in us as His temple. That’s a pretty good guarantee as we wait for our eternal dwelling place—God dwells within us.

Do you groan in this body, longing for heaven? If so, you’re not alone. C. S. Lewis said,

“There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else… It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work.”

take courage even when you haven’t seen home yet (5:6-8)

Paul’s faith was not weakened by his present pain and persecution, rather it made his faith stronger. Therefore he encouraged the Corinthians,  “we are always of good courage” (v. 6a; cf. 4:18), or, more precisely, “we are courageous.” Paul faced his present reality with cheerful optimism. “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight” (vs. 6b-7). There is a day coming when we will not need faith anymore because we will see God face-to-face.

Paul has that in mind when he says,  “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v. 8). I remember, when I was a child, I would struggle the last few weeks of school before summer break because I knew I would soon go to my grandparents house on Alma Lake. I would drift away to that home and dream of it’s oaky smell, lakeside views through the birch trees, and familial comforts. Now think of what it must be like to be at home with the Lord. Paul has tasted a little bit of heaven and he hungers it more and more. Home is where God is and it is home sweet home.

home, here or there, the goal is the same (5:9-10)

Notice, the goal of “home” is not to escape this world or settle for a homecoming alone. The goal is to please God whether near or far from home. God is the goal. He is the main thing. This hope of imminent face-to-face communion with Christ naturally evokes an ongoing resolve to please Him. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (v. 9). And if that is not enough to effect your resolve, there is one other eschatological component, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (v.10)

Like I said, we are house hunting in Africa. There is no Century 21 or Remax. Options are limited. I often compare life here to camping. So house hunting is simply trying to find the smoothest plot of land. We have no running water other than a boy who runs to get the water from a well. We have no consistent electricity other than what we brought with us. We sleep under mosquito nets. We cook over a gas stove. Not only that, many people do not respond to the gospel, we’ve even had people call us names and throw rocks at our house. With all that said, I like living in Africa because it makes me desire home.

C. S. Lewis, said in his book Mere Christianity,

“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

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?

loving your brother while living in a messy world

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You just don’t let anyone in your fridge. Why is that? It could be that there is a mess in there or something you wouldn’t want just anybody to see. That might embarrass some. Yet for those privileged few you give permission to find something to drink or eat from your fridge you have reached a certain level of comfort. Even though there might be a mess, you are comfortable showing your mess because you have nothing to hide.

I’ve been walking through 1 Corinthians, a letter written to a messy church (and what church isn’t?). Looking at the church in Corinth is like looking into a messy fridge. It’s a little embarrassing. We see all the faults and fears.  Yet it is somewhat comforting looking at Corinth because it’s somewhat normal church.

The question I’ve been asking while reading 1 Corinthians is: How can I make much of Christ in a messy church in a messy world? There is no mistake that Paul brings every question and every concern of the church back to Christ (so important!). For Christ is the solution and the center of the church, and if not, the center becomes the mess not the Messiah. Christ has come to be the Messiah of the mess we have made.

As I enter 1 Corinthians 8, the question becomes specific: How do I follow Christ (or exercise my rights and freedoms in Christ) while living in a messy world without bringing more messes into the church? To this the Bible gives a mosaic of wisdom that when pieced together helps me to see how I am to live in a messy world.

First, seek His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:31-33). Jesus wants me to think of God’s kingdom and righteousness as two lanes of a oneway street. To seek God’s kingdom is to honor His authority, not usurp it. To usurp God is to veer off the left shoulder of the road. To seek God’s righteousness is to honor His standards, not disobey them. To disobey God is to veer off the right shoulder of the road. Together seeking both God’s kingdom and righteousness help me to walk the road of freedom in Christ when everyone else around me is abusing that freedom.

Second, be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus says I live in this world by default. I cannot escape it. Therefore since the world is my temporary home, I must choose to live purely (salt) and shine brightly (light). In the process, by God’s grace, I display the gospel of Christ to a messy and darkened world.

Now it is possible to seek God’s kingdom, to seek His righteousness, and to be salt and light, but there is still a missing piece of the mosaic, which is thirdly, love God and your [brother] as yourself (Luke 10:27). This piece is seen in 1 Corinthians 8, which in reality, is that Great Commandment made practical. Loving your brother or considering others in your community of Christ, makes much of Christ. Our text today gives three truths towards loving your brother while living in a messy world.

1) Love your brother, love not what you know (vs.1-3).

Paul introduces the issue, “Now concerning food offered to idols” (v.1a) but before dealing with the question of food sacrificed to idols, He comments on related matters: 1) the danger of knowledge about such things and 2) the primacy of love over knowledge as the guiding principle for Christ-like behavior.

Knowledge is good, but dangerous. Paul begins by quoting certain Corinthians who thought they were ‘in-the-know’ who said, “all of us possess knowledge” (v.1b) The ‘knowledge’ quoted here is a specific kind of knowledge related to the idols who they knew were nothing compared to the One True God (see: v.4). Their knowledge was theologically spot on. Paul had no disagreement, but what he did disagree with their application of that knowledge to those not in-the-know. Paul saw their knowledge or know-it-all-ness as a danger sign.

It is said, “knowledge is power.” Have you ever known someone who was really knowledgeable, knew it and flaunted it? Have you ever possessed a little bit of knowledge and felt it’s dangerous affect? Sometimes the most dangerous Christians are those who gain a little bit of knowledge and wield it with reckless tactlessness like a kid with an broadsword who’s just watch Braveheart. The Corinthians knew a few things about Christian theology, but they became so full of pride and they lost sight of more important teachings, such as loving and edifying others.

Love over knowledge is our guiding principle. Paul warns those in-the-know that “knowledge puffs up” (inflates), “but love builds up” (deflates). Knowledge makes us feel important, but it is love that strengthens the church. There is absolutely no room for arrogance in the Christian community. Paul will not put up with it. Not because he is anti-knowledge, but because he is anti-knowledge that is anti-loving. For a swollen head does not equal a swollen heart.

Recently, I met a grand marabou at a friends house. Once that he found out I was a Christian he railroaded our conversation by waxing eloquent his view of Islam and the Quran. He might have some good things to say, but it had no effect on me. For anytime I tried to ask a question he refused to answer and anytime I tried to insert a comment he interrupted. After 30 minutes of talking and chanting he finally asked my opinion. I said, “You love hearing yourself talk more than you love me or your God.” I told him I’d like to talk more later, but that I’d come to be with my friend.

True knowledge humbles those in-the-know because they realize how little they know. “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (v.2). Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.

After seminary, I was a know-it-all. I graduated from Bible College with a small piece of paper and a big fat head. Then I began to pastor and went to seminary. It was then that realized I really didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. When I compared my faint and fragment knowledge with the infinite knowledge of God, there was a humbling that went on within me that was good. I never really know enough until I recognize that God alone knows it all.

This text hits me hard because I love what people think of me more than I’d like to think that I love them. That is so anti Christ and it’s an extremely dangerous attitude in the community of Christ. Maybe, you, like me, need to take a moment to reflect upon the infinite knowledge of God and the incomprehensible love of Christ.

Love is redeeming. Paul illustrates this by saying, “If anyone loves God, he is known by God” (v.3). The expression “known by God” appears elsewhere in Paul’s writings (cf. Galatians 4:9) as a description of redemption. Paul meant that, unlike the prideful people who center their religious lives around knowledge, those who focus on love demonstrate that they have been redeemed. Christian love is always constructive. It builds up. It encourages. It shows people a picture of Christ who Himself possessed all knowledge yet loved his brothers to the death. He knew-it-all, yet He was the most humble man. // Love your brother, love not what you know.

2) Unite around what you know about God (vs.4-6).

Since Paul has laid a foundation for love over knowledge, he now returns to the main topic of concern: “eating food offered to idols” (v.4). He affirms to theological truths those in-the-know knew, first, “an idol has no real existence” (cf. Isaiah 40, Psalm 115) and second  “that there is no God but one.” With these statements he resolves the issue that there was no problem with eating idol meat since it had been offered to something that did not really exist.

Now Paul is not minimizing idols, rather he is magnifying the God of Israel. The One True God compared to every other god is a non-comparison (vs.5-6a). Moreover, there is but “one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (v.6b). These verses take the form of an early catechism or hymn of praise to God the Father and God the Son that all Christians could unite around.

How should theology unite us rather than divide us? For example, as we see how the Father and Son relate to one another, we also see how we in the church must relate to one another. That’s practical and applicable theology! It will get even more so next.

3) Be willing to sacrifice your rights for your brother (vs.7-13)

Next, Paul shares a case study (vs.7-13). He introduces us to someone “not” in-the-know (revealing a wrong assessment of the church; v.1). Likely a young Christian recently saved out of a life connected to the pagan temple. To this new Christian, eating idol meat poses a serious concern, if not sin. For him, every shopping trip to the market, every town festival, every dinner party or BBQ with the locals presented a quandary. And one day, he sees a strong and respected Christian at a local restaurant likely affixed to a pagan temple and he has a bigger quandary, “If it’s okay for him to eat idol meat, then it must be okay for me to sin too.” He then syncretizes his new found faith in Christ with his former lifestyle in idolatry.

In case you did not know, there are varying opinions and consciences within the Body of Christ. That’s okay. The church will always be filled with new, old, mature, immature, strong or weak believers. Even though we have great freedom in the gospel and our freedom grows as our understanding grows, we must be willing to sacrifice freedoms for the sake of one another. It is no trivial thing, for when we cause other brothers to sin, we ultimately sin against Christ.

Remember when God asked Cain where his brother Abel was and he responded, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Essentially, that is the type of attitude Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 8-10. Paul responds to the Cain’s who bring their offerings and worship to church, but do not love their fellow brothers rather they lead their brothers to destruction.

Notice the emphasis in this text isn’t on with the weaker brother who needs to know more about his unfound freedom. The emphasis is on the stronger brother who is thoughtless towards the weaker Christian (cf. Romans 14). By insisting their rights, even Christian rights, it is a sign that something else other than the One True God is being worshiped. The problem for the stronger brother is that his right to use freedom is more important than relinquishing it for his brother. He is not willing to sacrifice his rights for his brother. (How is this text applicable for us in Chad?)

Paul is willing to become a vegetarian to protect his brothers growth in Christ. He expresses in words how love trumps knowledge. Wouldn’t you be willing to give up going to dinner for your brother? Would you be willing to sacrifice your opinion of the style of worship service or social rights for your brother? Are you willing to follow the example of Christ who Himself gave up everything? Remember, it always comes back to making much of Christ.

Can you think of a church member or brother or sister in Christ you have a hard time loving? What about them is hard to love? How could you love them better? Would you take a moment to pray for them and a God-given love towards them?

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11)

Lord Jesus, we are delighted that you were so principled that you cared about the lost, the weak, and the worldly. We are so grateful for your tender mercy and unconditional love. Now, O Lord, give us the same love for others, that we may honor both you and them. In Jesus name, Amen.

Emily’s Journey

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She had a spark the first time I met her.

Emily Ristau was a young seventh grade girl when we first met. Our first encounter was in the church lobby. It was memorable mostly because I opened my mouth and out flew a Freudian Slip (and no, I won’t go into those details). So, I was introduced to Emily alongside her two older brothers and parents. Her family soon became a favorite. I heard somewhere that you’re not supposed to have favorites in the ministry. “Shh! Don’t tell.”

Emily’s dad would frequently say, “My girl is a walking miracle.” Indeed she was. Emily was born with half a heart, also known as HLHS. When I found out for the first time I thought of little Laura from Little House on the Prairie and modified it to fit Emily. From then, on I dubbed her “Half Tank.” She didn’t seem to mind.

If you did not know Emily, you would not know there was anything wrong with her inward parts for outwardly she appear to be a ordinary teenage girl with an extraordinary faith in God. Though she often struggled with her image and what others thought of her, she would wander back to the truth that she was crafted in God’s image.
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What impressed me most about Emily was her spunky and everyone’s-a-friend-attitude. It was a huge asset to our youth ministry at BGBC. I wish I could have cloned a few Emily’s, although the awkwardness factor would have certainly multiplied exponentially. Just thinking about Emily now makes me laugh. I can hear her say, “Sup?” with that cheeky grin and that faint bob of her head.

When Sarah and I began our courtship, Sarah stayed with Emily’s family. Following Sarah’s first visit, I sought Emily’s approval of Sarah. She said, “She’s a keeper, Justin.” That was enough. A few weeks later Emily help me to assemble a sock monkey for Sarah named Patch. He’s still held together by the Emily’s threads and needlework.

The spark she had was ignited by the Spirit of God.

Emily, left a mark on me. Though I wasn’t her youth pastor for a very long time,  she was used by God to shepherd my life by her example. Emily preached a sermon with her life. Emily may have had half a heart, but she really had more heart than most because her real heart was possessed with the One who gave her life and ordained her days.

Emily went to be with Jesus on May 14, 2014. She was 21.

Emily’s Journey is not over, it’s just begun. Emily is a hero in the faith and now with the champion of her faith! Lucky!

“God as you used Emily in this life to be a ginormous blessing to many, may you use her testimony and ‘new life’ as a continual testimony of Your fame. Until we meet again. In Jesus name.”

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18