Eternal Love

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 13

I WANT TO LIVE LIKE THIS…

I wish I was fluent in another language. I wish I could understand and be understood. But even if I could walk around an Olympic stadium and have conversations with every athlete in their first language, the words coming from my mouth would be a loud, raucous noise if I didn’t have love in my heart.

There have been a few moments in my life when the Lord gave me a word for someone else, but I have often wondered what it would be like to have the gift of prophecy. To be able to shed light on someone’s situation or give them a promise to hold onto through difficulties and struggles – this would be great! If I was so wise that I could discern God’s will, His plan for me and for others, and if I had a faith that was so strong that I could move mountains, oh what an incredible life that would be! Yet, if I didn’t have the love for others, it would all be for nothing.

If I could conjure up enough human love to sell everything I have and give it to the poor, and if I would sacrifice my physical strength and health for others – wow, would I have something to boast about. But if I didn’t have the love of God pouring into my heart and out through my actions to others, it would all be for nothing! I do not want love that is man-made or of human effort. I want to love others the way God intended love to look.

I WANT LOVE TO LOOK LIKE THIS…

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
– 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)

This is the kind of love I want. This is the kind of crazy love I want my life to look like. But I cannot live like this. Just like I do not have the kind of brain to speak multiple languages, or the mind to speak prophetically, or the faith strong enough to move mountains, I cannot produce this kind of love. I try but I fail over and over again. It is the same as the fruit of the Spirit – I cannot produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It’s not who I am…but it is who God is. Praise God, He knows I need his help.

“We have access to the Holy Spirit welling up in us like a spring. Tapping into Him requires deliberation and cooperation so God can love through us. Like me, you’ve probably asked Him to love through you, then fizzled out within the hour. But here’s the catch: we cannot love when we perceive ourselves as unloved. We cannot offer to others what we don’t possess.” – Beth Moore, Children of the Day

“The world is not moved by love or actions that are of human creation. And the church is not empowered to live differently from any other gathering of people without the Holy Spirit. But when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.” ― Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit

I WANT A LOVE THAT LASTS FOREVER!

Father, fill me with your patience and kindness. When the familiar enemy of jealousy rears its ugly head, GIVE ME YOUR LOVE. When pride, sarcasm and arrogance come naturally to my mind, erase them with your humble spirit. Lord, forgive me for all the moments when I am irritable or in a pouty mood. Give me a heart that cries out for justice for others, but not for myself. When I remember how someone has wronged me, remind me that I have forgiven them and that I am looking forward and not back. Heal my wounds and erase my memories so that ONLY LOVE LASTS FOREVER. Give me the kind of love that never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Amen.

All of the skills and strengths that make us well-known or well-liked here on earth will someday be useless. But LOVE LASTS FOREVER. Our understanding of God’s plan is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only a small portion of the grand picture of life. When the time of perfection comes, all of our partially completed goals will be useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:11-13

Harmonious Love

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 11 & 12

Paul continues the topic of relationships in the Church in 1 Corinthians chapter 11. He speaks of the roles men and women play within the Church – how the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (1 Corinthians 11:3). But he clarifies that we ALL are dependent on each other and should recognize our need for one another. Our relationships should be described as harmonious.

WE NEED EACH OTHER!

But among the Lord’s people, women are not independent of men, and men are not independent of women. For although the first woman came from man, every other man was born from a woman, and everything comes from God. – 1 Corinthians 11:11-12

So, if love and concern for others is what strengthens the church, and if we all need each other, then Paul goes on to ask a very valid question: Why are there divisions among you when you meet as a church? Why is there more harm than good coming out of your time together? (1 Corin. 11:17-18)

WE ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST.

The Holy Spirit gives each one of us special abilities or spiritual gifts. These spiritual gifts are given so that we can help each other, not to divide us or for one of us to think we are more or less important than someone else in the body of Christ.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to speak to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have. – 1 Corinthians 12:7-11

EACH OF US HAS BEEN GIVEN A GIFT.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ…Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary…This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad…

You should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts. But now let me show you a way of life (LOVE) that is best of all. – 1 Corinthians 12:12,14-22,25-26,31

Lord, forgive us for the divisions that creep into the church and the quarreling that distracts us from what you have called us to do. Lord fill our hearts with Your love so that we may love each other unselfishly. Help us to see that we need each other and that You are glorified when we all function together as the body of Christ. Show us the way of life that is best of all – to love each other with the kind of love that will last forever (1 Corinthians 13:8).

MAY LOVE BE OUR HIGHEST GOAL TODAY!

Missional Love

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 8-10

“…it is LOVE that strengthens the church” – 1 Corinthians 8:1. What a powerful statement!!! The context of this statement was Paul’s answer to the question of whether or not Christians should eat meat that has been offered to idols, which was a practice in those days. So each believer is faced with the question:

DO YOU LOVE OTHERS ENOUGH TO GIVE SOMETHING UP IF IT IS CAUSING THEM TO STUMBLE?

It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it and we don’t gain anything if we do. But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble…And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat as long as I live – for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. – 1 Corinthians 8:8-9,12-13

Paul spent a lot of time on this topic so it must have been a big concern for the Church in their letter to him. Paul’s answer is summed up in the concept of LOVE – loving someone else enough to abstain from something we have no personal conviction about.

DO YOU LOVE OTHERS ENOUGH TO ABSTAIN?

You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others. – 1 Corinthians 10:23-24

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. – 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

Wow! I find those verses SO powerful! Paul’s words in some ways convict me and in some ways inspire me. Reread those last two passages if you do not know what I am talking about.

IT’S MISSIONAL! SOMETIMES YOU MAKE A DECISION BASED ON SOMEONE ELSE’S SALVATION.

Sometimes you make a decision in order to prevent someone else from following in your footsteps and consuming something that could potentially destroy them or alter the course of their life. Paul gives each of us a decision to make. What is more important – your freedom to do as you please or someone else’s salvation? He encourages his readers to live a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. He challenges them to aim for harmony among believers, building each other up and never tearing each other down.

When I am with those who are weak, I share in their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. – 1 Corinthians 9:22

GOD CALLS US TO ACT IN LOVE, NOT CONDEMNATION.

So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning. – Romans 14:13-23

Please fill us with your Spirit this morning, Heavenly Father. We want our lives to glorify you! Nudge us if something we are consuming or something we are doing or something we are saying would hurt someone else this morning. Guide our words and our actions so that we can be used by you to build someone else up today. Lord, there are many different points of disagreement between believers in the church right now. Help us to get our hearts focused on you so that we can always live in harmony with each other? We love you! Amen.

Intentional Love

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 7

LOVE EACH OTHER THE WAY GOD INTENDED

Paul continues to warn the church to run from sexual sin, only he brings his advice in chapter 7 into the context of the marriage relationship. God created sex for the marriage relationship but Paul makes it clear that we can also sin within that relationship if we do not love each other the way God intended.

The Church in Corinth writes Paul a letter with their questions and he answers those questions first based on what He knows God has commanded and second based on the wisdom the Lord has given him. Let’s look at Paul’s advice based on direct commands from the Lord:

Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations. But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.

Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.

So I say to those who aren’t married and to widows – it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am. But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust. But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife. – 1 Corinthians 7:1b-11

Paul goes on to speak from the wisdom God has given him. He instructs those who are believers but whose spouse is an unbeliever to remain in the marriage relationship. If the unbeliever insists on leaving, let them go, but perhaps it is through your love for your spouse they will find salvation in Christ (7:12-16).

LOVE EACH OTHER INTENTIONALLY

Paul speaks to those who are married and to those who are single and says – God has given you a special gift (7:7). To those who are married, God has given you the gift of your spouse. To those who are single, God has given you the gift of freedom from many of the earthly responsibilities that come in a marriage. His advice for everyone is to live in such a way that we are able to serve the Lord with our best, with as few distractions as possible (v.35). So if you are single, God has given you the ability to give yourself wholly to Him. If you are married, live in that relationship the way God intended (sexual relationship included) so that you do not create distractions for each other but that you enhance your spouse’s ability to serve God and they do the same for you (7:32-35).

We have talked about sexual sin for three days now. It is not the most comfortable subject to discuss, but I believe necessary. The enemy tries to destroy the meaning and purpose of sex, perverting what God intended for good. When we mess up in this area, we are missing out on God’s perfect plan for our lives. It is how reputations are stained, expectations are misaligned and marriages are destroyed. Paul has spent several chapters teaching on this subject and so here we are in our chronological journey through the Bible in 1st Corinthians talking once more about sex. It is one of those things we have to understand in order to avoid Satan’s attempts to let it destroy us and break apart what God has joined together.

SO WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT SEX? Not the most comfortable discussion to have, but if we do not know what we BELIEVE, it will be the very thing that pulls us away from God.

I believe Paul’s best advice for all of our relationships is found in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. If we define love for each other the way God defines it, we will build each other up and make each other better servants of Christ. If we let selfishness and quarreling into our relationships with each other, we become a distraction from God’s purpose for our life and for the lives of those around us, spouses included.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no records of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance…

Three things will last forever – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7,13

Let’s pray right now for that kind of INTENTIONAL LOVE…

Run From Sexual Sin

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 6

DON’T YOU REALIZE THAT THOSE WHO DO WRONG WILL NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD?

Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive or cheat people – none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that.
But you were cleansed;
you were made holy;
you were made right with God
by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
– 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Society condemns teen pregnancies while Hollywood romanticizes sexual promiscuity. Stigmas are placed on individuals with sexually transmitted diseases but expectations push teenagers and adults toward sexual activity through all forms of media. No wonder abortion rates are so high and chlamydia is the largest breakout of any infection in the history of our nation.

Society punishes those who commit a crime against another person but ratings show that Americans love to sit and watch programming that glorifies violent crimes. Each show tries to outdo their competitors by creating a more horrible and shocking crime scene than the week before.

Our society is no different than ancient societies who were entertained by death and by the perversion of sex. Paul addressed issues of sexual sin within the church as well as many other sins that would keep them from experiencing ALL that God had planned for them.

OUR BODIES WERE NOT MADE FOR SEXUAL IMMORALITY.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead.

Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.

RUN FROM SEXUAL SIN!

No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

How many times have I agreed that sexual sin is wrong but then spent hours “entertained” by movies or television shows that use topics of sexual immorality or drunkenness in an attempt to make me laugh? I can argue that I would never be tempted to follow the examples of the actors or characters, but it is more about the slow fade or breakdown of our society’s moral standards – sadly both inside and outside of the church.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? – 1 Corinthians 3:16

Paul says, “Run away from sexual sin!” May we, as the body of Christ, heed Paul’s warning and start eliminating what the enemy intends to use to harm us. May we, as the temple of God, protect our minds from all that glorifies sin and fill our minds with what glorifies God. May we go back to what we learned at the beginning of 1 Corinthians and allow the Holy Spirit to make us who God created us to be. May holiness be a result of the seed God is growing.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9

The Temptation of Pride

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 4 & 5

The Lord detests the proud; they will surely be punished…Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:5,18

One of the saddest things to watch is when someone in leadership messes up. Whether it is politician or a pastor or simply a highly respected individual in the church or community. So often we watch someone, who has been blessed in SO many ways, start thinking SO highly of themselves that they have an affair or are caught in some kind of ungodly or illegal behavior.

Pride is so dangerous and Satan loves to convince us that we are invincible and that we deserve what we want – “no one will know, you can do anything, you are powerful and can make your own choices.” The lies of the enemy take hold and our own arrogance causes us to fall into the trap.

What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift? – 1 Corinthians 4:7b

You think you already have everything you need. You think you are already rich. You have begun to reign in God’s kingdom without us! – 1 Corinthians 4:8a

…you claim to be so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed. – 1 Corinthians 4:10b

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE SINFUL PRIDE OF THE CHURCH

Paul warned the church of how destructive their arrogance and pride was becoming. He cared about these believers and he wanted them to serve God and not their own selfish ambitions. He knew they needed accountability in order to stay focused on the gospel and not on themselves. Paul’s words of instruction and warning to the Church in Corinth are helpful for all of us to listen to as well.

Some of you have become arrogant, thinking I will not visit you again. But I will come – and soon – if the Lord lets us, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people just give pretentious speeches or whether they really have God’s power. For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. Which do you choose? Should I come with a rod to punish you, or should I come with love and a gentle spirit. – 1 Corinthians 4:18-21

I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you – something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother. You are so PROUD of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship…

Your BOASTING about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? – 1 Corinthians 5:1-2,6

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE SINFUL PRIDE OF A BELIEVER

When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.

It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9-13

This is difficult to read. Where is grace and forgiveness within the family of God? I think it takes wisdom from God to handle a situation when a member of our church family continues to sin. It takes both love and strength to protect the congregation while also doing what we can to extend grace as we help a brother or sister turn from their sinful ways or addictions. We cannot use Paul’s words as permission to push someone away in disgust but instead to allow leadership to lovingly handle a situation. Remember, it was also Paul who said: “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should GENTLY and HUMBLY help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” – Galatians 6:1

A verse we studied when we looked at the book of Genesis comes to mind this morning. This verse warns us of Satan’s schemes to pull us away from God’s plan for our lives.

You will be accepted if you do right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master. – Genesis 4:7

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR THE SINFUL PRIDE OF OUR NATION

There is a famous recording of another Paul – Paul Harvey. In this 1964 recording, Mr. Harvey is warning America that sin is crouching at the door. If Satan could have our ear, he could convince us to live a life of generational sin that would change America as we know it. Sadly, what Paul Harvey described in 1965 is what we are experiencing today, whether you are listening to the original recording or the more recent edited version that is being passed around social media.

Lord, forgive us for thinking too much of ourselves instead of depending on you – as individuals, as the Church, and as a nation. Lord, heal our land and bring our eyes back in focus on you. Help us to recognize pride and arrogance in our own hearts. Give us wisdom in the Church to handle those inside the church who are continuing in sin – in love and in strength, protecting your congregation while doing what we can to turn a brother or sister from their sinful ways. We worship you in confidence, knowing that you are more powerful than the attempts of the enemy and you have equipped us with your Spirit for any battle that comes our way. We love you, Lord. Amen.

The Growth of the Seed

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:6 – 3:23

But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.

When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. – 1 Corinthians 2:10-13

If we long to know God and grow in our relationship with Him, we spend time with Him. He fills us with His Spirit and by His Spirit we begin to understand Him and the wonderful things He has for us. God opens our minds and increases our knowledge and wisdom. God also uses those whom He has called to teach us through their writings and preaching, just as the Corinthians were learning from Paul and from other teachers.

We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building. – 1 Corinthians 3:5b-9

WHO PLANTED THE SEED AND WHO IS WATERING IT?

Paul uses two different examples of how we grow in our relationship with God. The first follows the style of Jesus, using the example of seeds being planted and growing (Matthew 13:3-9). Someone introduced us to Christ – they planted the seed in our hearts; perhaps someone else discipled us, watering the seed that had previously been planted when we accepted Christ. Still others come into our lives and continue to teach us God’s ways and we grow.

WHO LAID THE FOUNDATION AND WHO IS BUILDING ON IT?

Paul’s second example is of building a house, another comparison similar to one Jesus made (Matthew 7:24-27). Someone laid a foundation of faith for us when we first heard the message of the cross. Others have taught us along the way using a variety of materials or teaching methods. For most of us, our life has been influenced by many different teachers, preachers and writers over the years in addition to our own personal study of God’s word.

I first accepted Christ as a little girl while attending the First Church of the Nazarene in Bloomington, Indiana. I remember my Sunday School teachers, those who taught our worship time and my Caravan teachers. This was the time in my life when I learned songs like “If I were a butterfly” and “Jesus loves the little children.” I remember how proud I was to finally be able to fold my hands just right to say, “This is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, see all the people.”

The Lord called my Dad into full-time ministry and we moved to Lanett, Alabama and then to Rock Island, Illinois. A long list of teachers influenced me as I continued to grow in my understanding of the Bible. Over the years, I have grown through the preaching of Mark Barnes, David Felter, Don Tyler, Larry Fortado (my Daddy), Stephen Manley, John Bowling, Jack McCormick, Rob McDonald, D.L. Huffman, Jim Kraemer, Scott Sherwood, Crawford Howe, Lloyd Brock, Todd Keller and many more. I have read books, listened to radio programs, and learned songs with spiritual truths. So a foundation of faith was laid in my heart as a little girl and many have invested in my spiritual growth and built upon that foundation.

Human leaders, teachers and preachers have drawn close to God in an effort to spread the message of Christ. Chances are I have heard some wrong information mixed in with all the right. There have been times when I misunderstood Scripture or read ideas that missed the mark. Well-meaning followers of Christ (including myself) have at some time or another taught something they believed to be right that was not right at all. Here is what Paul has to say about this kind of building or growth.

But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have – Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials – gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames…

So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you – whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life or death, or the present or the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. – 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, 21-23

GOD MAKES THE SEED GROW AND JESUS CHRIST IS OUR FOUNDATION.

As we learn and grow in our understanding of God, it is vital to take all of that new information directly to God in our quiet times. By drawing near to Him and spending time in His presence, His Spirit can help us sort through all we have learned. He promises to give us wisdom and understanding as we seek His truth. All that we have heard, all that we have read, all that we struggle to understand – He wants us to come to Him with all of it and then live by His power.

Dear God, thank you for being the source of all wisdom and all power for us!

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. – 1 Corinthians 4:20

The Message of the Cross

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1 – 2:5

The next letter that Paul wrote was to the church in Corinth. In this letter, Paul takes the gospel that they have received beforehand and applies it, making it a very useful letter for us to study today. The letter is built on this foundational idea – now that you have a relationship with Christ, this is what your life should look like. This is NOT a new set of rules or a new law to oppress the people but holy living born out of a marriage with Christ and an outflowing of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

HOLINESS IS A GIFT FROM GOD

I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be HIS own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours…

I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you BELONG to Christ Jesus. Through him, God has enriched your church in every way – with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 1:2-7

OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST CHANGES US

We belong to the Christ who died on a cross so that we can be forgiven of our sins and freed from our sinful nature. This is THE MESSAGE OF THE CROSS that Paul preached and the message we believe. Our faith in Christ and the forgiveness of our sins brings us into a relationship with Him that forever changes our lives. We now belong to Christ, we have been united with Him.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. – 1 Corin. 1:30

So, since I belong to Christ and am united with Him, and you belong to Christ and are united with Him, it is not too much for God to ask us to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose (1 Corin. 1:10). How do we do this? We rely on the power of the Holy Spirit (2:4).

THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT ENABLES US TO LIVE IN UNITY

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. – 1 Corin. 1:18

United in Christ, we know with confidence that He was crucified and raised to life and that He now reigns in our hearts, but the world around us does not understand our faith. They call it a “crutch” and see it as a weakness or craziness. Those who call our faith in Christ foolish do not see that they are the ones who are foolish. We know the message of the cross is the definition of the power of God!

It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it is nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength…

God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose the things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. – 1 Corinthians 1:22-25,27

WE HAVE THE POWER OF GOD LIVING INSIDE US

So why do we feel inadequate? Why do we pull back and wait for someone else to do the work of God? We buy into the criticisms of the enemy and the world. We think of ourselves as incapable of doing anything great for God. But that is not what Paul is saying in his letter to the church of Corinth. It is not about how simple we are but about how committed we are. It is not about how strong a vessel we are for God to fill, but about how strong He is and how capable He is to do something great even in and through us!

My message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. – 1 Corin. 2:4-5

Father God, thank you for THE MESSAGE OF THE CROSS – the message that frees us from our bondage to sin and gives us new life in You, Lord. Please shut out all of the discouragement of the world around us and of the enemy so that we can hear only you today, cheering us on and calling us to do great things. Remind us that we only need to rely on the power of the Spirit and not on our own wisdom or abilities. Remind us that you have equipped us with every spiritual gift we need and graciously poured out your Spirit on us. As we are united in you, help us to be united with each other, living in harmony – being of one mind, united in thought and purpose. Amen.

Third Time’s the Charm

Today’s Reading: Acts 19-20

Paul did not spend much time in Antioch before he set out on his third missionary trip going back to many of the areas he had visited before. This gave him the chance to check in on those who had come to believe in Jesus on his previous trips. His purpose was to encourage and strengthen them. On this journey, Paul found many believers who had repented of their sins and been baptized with John’s kind of baptism of water, but they had not yet been baptized by or received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The first thing he said was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?”

“We’ve never even heard of that – a Holy Spirit? God within us?” – Acts 19:2 (The Message)

Paul laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. They began praising God and telling others about the actions of a God who would love them enough to live in them.

Paul traveled through the country we now know as Turkey, stopping in Ephesus on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. He stayed there for two years teaching both Jews and Greeks. It is possible that Paul wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth during this time in Ephesus.

God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled…Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect. – Acts 19:11-12,18-20

Paul was wrapping up his ministry in Ephesus and making plans to go to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem and then Rome. But before he could carry out those plans, trouble began to brew for Paul. Those who made their money from the worship of false gods were losing business and creating accusations against Paul. God rescued Paul from an intense situation, allowing Paul to leave and go to Macedonia and then to Greece, where he wrote the second letter to the Corinthian Church.

Paul made many more stops as he hurried to make his way back to Jerusalem for the Festival of Pentecost. Rather than go into Ephesus, Paul sent for the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him in Miletus, where he said these words of farewell:

“You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now, I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. I have one message for Jews and Greeks alike – the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.

“And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it to finish the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

“And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again. I declare today that I HAVE BEEN FAITHFUL. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know…

“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” – Acts 20:18-27, 35

What a wonderful testimony – one I hope to have as I feel my time on earth coming towards an end.

– To be able to say I served humbly and opened my heart up to others.

– To be able to say I survived hard times or opposition, not because I shrank back and avoided, but because I stayed true and committed regardless of the situation.

– To have no feelings of regret – regret that I didn’t say enough or that I wasn’t bold enough in my faith, that I loved others enough to have tough conversations.

– I want to work hard in order that those in need can be helped – to live a life that echoes Jesus’ words – “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” – (Acts 20:35)

Paul knew that jail and suffering were in his future, and he was right. Yet Paul said, “My life is worth nothing to me unless I use it to finish the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” – (Acts 20:24)

Lord, give us that kind of passion and determination. Help us to keep our eyes focused on you and your calling, knowing in confidence that you will be with us – even when suffering is ahead. And Lord, we pray this morning for all who live in Turkey, Iraq and the surrounding areas. Lord, we pray your protection on the innocent and we pray for those who are daily giving their lives to protect others from terrorists. We pray for all the refugees as they struggle to protect their families. Help them to reach their destinations safely and provide for their needs, we pray. Amen.

The Grip of Our Hope

Today’s Reading: 2 Thessalonians

FAITH, HOPE and LOVE – Paul opens up his letter to the church in Thessalonica praising God and commending the church on their faithful work, their loving deeds and their enduring hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3). So far we have looked at the faithful work and loving deeds. Today, let’s consider the enduring hope we have in Christ.

In the midst of suffering and persecution, believers are to stay strong in their faith and continue living a life characterized by loving deeds. We are to hang on to the hope that keeps us looking forward to the coming of God’s Son – Jesus, whom God raised from the dead (1 Thess. 1:10). Paul’s prayer for the church is that God continues to make their love grow and overflow, making their hearts strong, blameless, and holy as they stand before God when Jesus comes again with all his holy people (3:12-13). Paul is referring to those believers who have already died.

HOPE THAT BELIEVES WE WILL SEE OUR LOVED ONES AGAIN

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

For centuries, we have been encouraging each other with these words, finding hope in the midst of our grief and goodbyes when we lose a loved one. We find hope we will see them again, and also hope we will be together with the Lord forever. Spending eternity with Christ Jesus – now that produces hope! Paul goes on to describe to them how this will happen.

HOPE THAT BELIEVES CHRIST WILL RETURN AGAIN

…the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains. And there will be no escape.

…So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and clearheaded. Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

So what our hope goes back to is love – the love of a God who chose to save us instead of pouring out his anger on us; and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us. It gets better. His plan is for us to live with Him FOREVER! So…

FAITH, HOPE and LOVE

Remain strong in your FAITH even in the midst of persecution, criticism and suffering. When suffering takes you to the edge of your faith, allow the circumstances to help you grow in grace rather than anger and bitterness.

Take the Master by the hand and allow Him to lead you along the path of His LOVE as He performs loving deeds through you.

Endure with a HOPE that knows what our tomorrow holds and who holds our tomorrow. Let’s choose hope. Being a believer does not mean we are immune to troubles and difficulties in life, to sorrow and grief. But we can choose to hang on tight to the hope we have in Christ – not just hang on, but tightly grip onto this hope that endures.

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – my Savior and my God! – Psalm 43:5

“The incredible grace of our Master, Jesus Christ, be with all of you.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:18 (The Message)