Climbing Mount Trashmore

Today’s Reading: Romans 1:18 – 3:26

Paul starts out his letter to the Romans saying – this is MY identity and this is MY purpose. He goes on to say – this is YOUR identity and YOUR purpose. You have been called! You belong to Jesus! You are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people – set apart and consecrated for His purposes. Your identity isn’t about who YOU are but about who HE is. Your purpose in life isn’t about YOU but about HIM. So, when He makes YOU right, it’s not about how right YOU are but about how right HE is.

This, however, is not an excuse to sin in hopes that HIS righteousness will cover us. Some choose to do their own thing and walk away from the sovereignty of God, from HIS purpose for their life. Paul spoke of the unrighteous who know what they are doing is wrong, yet they do it anyhow. He used homosexuality as an example but spoke of all who abandon God to do their own thing. God gives them the freedom to make that decision and allows them to walk away from Him and into the life they choose with its painful consequences (1:18-32).

They know the truth about God because he has made it known to them…Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks…So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired…Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done…They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them also. – Romans 1:19,21,24,28,32

He goes on to warn the church to not judge the unrighteous too quickly. He challenges his readers to see the ways in which we in the church also deny the sovereignty of God and do what we want to do instead of what God calls us to do. Are we in complete submission to God? We may not blatantly walk away from God but we still choose to do and say what we want instead of submitting to God’s ways and His Spirit. Jesus did not die on a cross to save us from our sins so that we could keep on sinning – He called us to a much higher purpose!

He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. – Romans 2:7-8

Paul warned the church about unrighteousness but he also warned them of the dangers of self-righteousness –the danger of seeing all of the good things we are doing and making our salvation about what WE have done right in light of how wrong others are, forgetting that it is by HIS righteousness that we are saved and not our own.

You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness…You are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:17-19, 28-29

We can do all the right things and obey all the laws set forth by God and still miss out on His purpose for our life because it is not about US but about HIM. It is not by our own good works that we are saved or made right with God.

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are…We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned, we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as a sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood…God did this to demonstrate HIS righteousness, for he himself is fair and just and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:20,22-26

What can I take from these words of Paul to the church in Rome? When I make a mess of my life, God can take all of what I have done wrong and make something right out of it. He can take my life, totally surrendered to Him, and make me right in His sight. But I cannot start looking at the unrighteousness of others and think too highly of the new me. I am not SO righteous that I am better than them or acceptable to God. It is about how righteous HE is and how HE has made me right with Him. I am called not to judge the sins of others and not to continue in my own sin, but to submit to His sovereignty in my life. It is by placing my faith in Jesus that I am made right with God – not faith in myself. It is by believing in HIM that I am made right with God.

In 2014, we spent a week in Williamsburg, Virginia for a conference. During some free time, we chose to drive over to Virginia Beach for a few hours. On the way there, we passed Mount Trashmore Park. This 165-acre park is a trash landfill made into a park. There are two mountains of trash, covered in soil and grass, now complete with a playground, two lakes, a skate park and lots of walking paths. This park is just a few short miles from the beautiful sandy beaches of the Atlantic Ocean.

Unrighteousness is like living in a big pile of stinky trash. Self-righteousness is like covering the trash pile with a beautiful park and considering myself renewed, only the trash remains just under the surface. I know that God’s best for me is to move away from the landfill, whether the trash is still exposed or hidden neatly under the surface. His plan is to do more than hide or cover the sin in my life, but to wash me in the ocean of His righteousness so I can fully experience what it means to be made right by Him.

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:4-7

What Defines You?

Today’s Reading: Romans 1:1-17

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes – the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how GOD MAKES US RIGHT IN HIS SIGHT. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Romans 1:16-17

GOD MAKES US RIGHT IN HIS SIGHT

Just as God can make THINGS right when all is going wrong, He can also make US right in His sight. This is the theme of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. Throughout his ministry, Paul wrote 13 letters. We started out reading about Paul’s ministry in Acts, taking breaks to study his letters as they may have occurred chronologically within Luke’s story of Paul’s ministry. So far we have looked at his letters to the churches in Galatia, Thessalonica and Corinth. Now let’s look at his letter to the Christians in Rome.

As we saw in Acts and see again in Romans 1:8-15, Paul had a strong desire to go to Rome. He knew the gospel had reached Rome (probably when the Jewish believers were scattered following Pentecost), but he longed to go to Rome to explain the gospel to those who were new to the faith.

One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours…I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit…I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News. – Romans 1:10-15

God knew of Paul’s desire, probably placed that desire in Paul’s heart, and promised Paul he would make it to Rome. Paul was finishing up his third missionary journey and had already sent off this letter to the believers in Rome. His intention was to head for Rome but he had one more stop to make along the way. This is when I want to yell – No, Paul, don’t go to Jerusalem! Go straight to Rome!

You see, during his third missionary journey, Paul had received offerings or gifts from the Gentiles to take to the believers in Jerusalem. He needed to deliver those gifts to them before he could head to Rome. What Paul did not know when he wrote this letter is that he would be arrested in Jerusalem and personally escorted to Rome…in chains. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the letter Paul sent the Romans before he arrived.

The believers in Rome had come to faith in Jesus Christ, which had set them free from their sin. But now what? Paul’s role was to explain the gospel to them so that they would know how to live now that they had been given eternal life in Christ Jesus. Paul starts his letter by introducing himself – not for the sake of them knowing him but for the purpose of the Romans seeing who THEY are in Christ.

GOD GIVES US IDENTITY & PURPOSE

This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News…Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name.

And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people. – Romans 1:1,5-7

Paul starts out saying – this is MY identity and this is MY purpose. He goes on to say – this is YOUR identity and YOUR purpose. You have been called! You belong to Jesus! You are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people – set apart and consecrated for His purposes. Your identity isn’t about who YOU are but about who HE is. Your purpose in life isn’t about YOU but about HIM.

NOT ABOUT OUR UNRIGHTEOUSNESS OR SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS, BUT ABOUT GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS

The world around us wants to identify us by our messes and mistakes, by our storms and shipwrecks, but when we encounter Jesus, when we come to accept Him by faith, our identity changes. It is no longer about our unrighteousness, nor is it about our self-righteousness – it is now about HIS righteousness. When God makes us right in His sight, our identity changes and our purpose changes and our destiny changes – Praise God.

Matthew West shares the story of a young man who went from being a pastor’s son and star athlete to a drug addict. His story of recovery and redemption is a story of victory. He used to introduce himself, “Hello. My name is Jordan and I’m a drug addict.” Now he introduces himself, “Hello. My name is Jordan and I’m a child of the one true King!” Matthew wrote an incredible song from this young man’s testimony, one of my favorite songs of all time. [http://matthewwest.com/media/]

WHAT ARE YOU LETTING DEFINE YOU?

In what ways have we allowed the world to identify us? Do we look at ourselves and find our self-worth in all of the mistakes we have made, defining ourselves by the trail of debris left by the storms in our past? If so, God is calling us to find our identity and our purpose in Him. It is not about our unrighteousness or about our own attempts to be self-righteous, but about HIS righteousness. God makes us right in His sight! “Hello. My name is Sherry and I’m a child of the one true King!”

God of Strength

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 10-13

Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet each other with Christian love. – 2 Corinthians 13:11b-12

This is how Paul ends his second letter to the Church in Corinth. It is a pretty soft ending for what was a very strong letter. In humility, Paul highlighted what could be seen as weaknesses to his ministry. But in strength, Paul came down hard on the church for continuing to live a life of sin instead of holiness. He was tired of the attitude of Christians that they are too weak to overcome their sinful tendencies. He wanted them instead to rely on Christ’s strength to be all he was calling them to be.

STOP FOCUSING ON YOUR OWN WEAKNESSES AND RELY ON CHRIST’S STRENGTHS.

Paul compares weakness with strength over and over again in the letter. Christ may have seemed weak by submitting to the cross but His resurrection showed just how powerful He was! We, too, experience difficult situations that show our human weakness but, in that weakness, the strength of God can be evident and God can be glorified.

Christ is not weak when he deals with you; he is powerful among you. Although he was crucified in weakness, he now lives by the power of God. We, too, are weak, just as Christ was, but when we deal with you we will be alive with him and will have God’s power…We are glad to seem weak if it helps show that you are actually strong. We pray that you will become mature…For I want to use the authority the Lord has given me to strengthen you, not to tear you down. – 2 Corinthians 13:3b-4,9,10b

Even when Paul is showing the strength of his ministry in this letter, he is showing how that strength came from God and His weapons. His strength is in regards to spiritual warfare, not human abilities or man-made weapons.

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. – 2 Corinthians 11:30

Paul went on to boast of the many things that have made him appear weak in the eyes of the church: He was imprisoned and whipped, facing death again and again.
He received 39 lashes at 5 different times from the Jewish leaders,
3 times he was beaten with rods and once he was stoned.
3 times he was shipwrecked.
Once he spent a whole night and day adrift at sea.
He faced danger from rivers and from robbers.
He faced danger from both the Jews and the Gentiles.
He faced danger in cities, deserts, and on the sea.
He faced danger, worked hard and long, and endured sleepless nights,
He experienced hunger, thirst and cold.

If I want to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:6-10

GOD TAKES OUR WEAKNESSES AND DEMONSTRATES HIS STRENGTH.

Paul was faithfully serving God yet he experienced more hard times than any of us will ever know. Had God abandoned Paul? Did these hardships lessen his ability to serve God or weaken his testimony? No, for it showed the strength of the God who rescued him over and over again. The power of God was demonstrated each time Paul got up again and continued to do what God had called him to do instead of giving up or avoiding the possibility of another persecution down the road.

Paul stated that everything he had gone through was to show the strength of God so that the believers could be strengthened, so they could choose righteousness instead of sin. Paul showed them they serve a strong God who is able to help believers overcome temptations and the urgings of the sinful nature, yet he continued to hear of the Church’s “quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior” (2 Corinthians 12:20).

Now we understand why Paul was telling them to grow to maturity – to live in harmony and peace with each other, encouraging each other and loving each other. We serve an awesome God who is able to take our weaknesses and demonstrate strength! When we submit to God and let Him do a work in our hearts, His power is displayed.

“MY GRACE IS ALL YOU NEED. MY POWER WORKS BEST IN WEAKNESS.”

Grace is not an excuse to keep on sinning but rather the only way we can overcome our sinful nature and demonstrate the power of God to help us not to sin.

Paul had one last thing to say to the Church – a reminder that people should look at our lives and look into the Church and see the evidence of the Trinity at work in our lives instead of arrogance and sin.

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

Lord, that is my prayer today. May others look at us and see your power at work in our lives. May they see maturity instead of sinful attitudes, harmony instead of quarreling, grace instead of gossip. May they see the evidence of the grace of Jesus, the love of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Amen.

God of Encouragement

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 7 – 9

GOD ENCOURAGES US THROUGH THE PRESENCE OF OTHER BELIEVERS.

When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside. But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you. – 2 Corinthians 7:5-7a

I love how God uses our brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage us when we are going through difficult times! Our God is the God of encouragement. God is the one who knows when we are discouraged and who sends people into our lives to bring us joy, good news and encouragement. Sometimes the encouragement is more in the form of someone encouraging us to do something. In his letter, Titus has gone to the Church to encourage them to be as generous with others as they were when they first believed.

GOD ENCOURAGES US THROUGH THE GENEROSITY OF OTHER BELIEVERS.

For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped for, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.

So we have urged Titus, who encouraged your giving in the first place, to return to you and encourage you to finish this ministry of giving. Since you excel in so many ways – in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us – I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving.

I am not commanding you to do this. But I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of other churches.

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. – 2 Corinthians 8:3-9

Since 2013, Living Alternatives has opened two new pregnancy centers (Pekin and Coal City) and completed a building project in order to open a residential facility, Merci’s Refuge. So many people have given of their time and money to make a difference in the lives of others. What a blessing it has been to serve alongside these faithful supporters. But we are not done. There is still so much to do in order to make a difference in the lives of women considering abortion. This Scripture encourages me and challenges me this morning.

Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. – 2 Corinthians 8:11

GOD ENCOURAGES US TO BE PRESENT FOR AND GENEROUS TOWARDS OTHERS.

The third form of encouragement Paul gives is to remind the Church of God’s provision for our needs, as well as His generosity in giving us enough to share with others. God is the One who supplies what we need and He will supply what He is asking us to give. The result of God’s provision and my response is that God will be glorified! God’s gifts are indescribable!

Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But he one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say,

“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.

Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. So two good things will result from this ministry of giving – the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.

As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you. Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words! – 2 Corinthians 9:6-14

GOD PROVIDES US WITH WHAT WE NEED TO BE GENEROUS TOWARD OTHERS.

God is the One who supplies what we need and He will supply what He is asking us to give. The result of God’s provision and my response is that God will be glorified! God’s gifts are indescribable! Amen!

A New Life Has Begun

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:16 – 6:18

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17

When we come to believe in Christ, when we repent of our sins, God does a work in our lives changing us from who we used to be into a new person. He does this not just for our sake but because He has a plan for our lives and He wants to make us into exactly who He needs us to be for His purposes. And what is His purpose for our lives?

And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him…So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corin. 5:18b, 20-21

As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. – 2 Corin. 6:1

Wow! Take a second to read that verse again. Paul is begging those who have accepted God’s gift of salvation to not be guilty of receiving of God’s kindness without being willing to extend God’s gift of salvation to others. We have been saved to serve! We have been given an incredible gift meant to be passed on to those around us and around the world.

Paul goes on to speak of how our lives can be an example of God’s ability to take away the old life and make someone into a new person. Others can witness the change in our lives and our devotion for God and be drawn to God through our lives.

We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food.

We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us.

We are honest, but they call us imposters.
We are ignored, even though we are well known.
We live close to death, but we are still alive.
We have been beaten, but we have not been killed.
Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.
We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others.
We own nothing, and yet we have everything.
– 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

Wow, Paul’s testimony is written here to encourage the Church in Corinth but it is very much encouraging me today. I want to be all of these things! Today this is my prayer. If it is yours, please pray along with me.

Heavenly Father, my desire is to live in such a way that others will be drawn to you and that no one will stumble because of me. I want to live above reproach, a life of excellence that no one can find fault in. In everything I do, I want to be a TRUE minister of yours. When troubles, hardship and calamities of every kind come my way, please give me the strength to patiently endure them. When I face accusations, when I am persecuted, when my heart is so burdened that I have difficulty sleeping at night, may others still find in me purity, understanding, patience, kindness and sincere love – not by my own human effort but as a result of the Holy Spirit living in me.

Lord, may my life be more than just an example for others to see but may I also be bold with my words, faithfully preaching the truth. I accept your task of reconciling others to you. I long to be your ambassador so that you can make your appeal to the lost through me. Fill me with Your Spirit and give me the boldness to speak for you – “Come back to God!”

Oh, awesome and mighty God, work your power in me. Place weapons of righteousness in my right hand to proactively go to battle for you and for your lost children. Place weapons of righteousness in my left hand so that I may defend the truth and defend those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8). Whether people honor me or despise me, whether they slander me or praise me, even if they falsely accuse or ignore me, I want to live boldly for you today.

Lord, I own nothing. It’s all yours. I trade all that I have for all that you have to give me. You are my everything and I love you. Amen.

We Never Give Up!

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 2:1-5:15

WE ARE CHILDREN OF THE NEW COVENANT.

“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord.

“But this is a new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” – Jeremiah 31:31-33

Paul described himself as being a minister of this new covenant – a covenant not of written laws as was etched in stone long ago, but a covenant of the Holy Spirit living within us. The old way brought death by defining two choices – obey these laws and live or disobey and die. The new way brings life as the Spirit lives within us and He, himself, changes us, making us right with God (2 Corinthians 3:6-9).

When Moses saw the glory of God, his face shone so bright that the people were unable to look at him. But this brightness soon faded away. With the new covenant, God places a light in our heart that shines for all to see the glory of God.

WE FOCUS ON THIS LIGHT WHEN THINGS GET DIFFICULT.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

We are not like Moses who had to put a veil over his face so the people would not see God’s glory. When we believe in Christ, when we turn to the Lord, the veil is lifted and we can boldly show the light of God for all to see (3:12, 14). When things get difficult, we do not focus on the darkness around us but on the light burning bright within us. His Spirit reminds us of God’s presence and gives us the strength to overcome our troubles – a power not from ourselves but of God (4:7).

Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. – 2 Corin. 4:1

WE NEVER GIVE UP!

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. – 2 Corin. 4:8-9

And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory. This is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produced for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:15-18

OUR PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCES ARE TEMPORARY.

Paul describes even our physical bodies as earthly tents that will be taken down and replaced by a house in heaven – an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands (5:1). When we grow weary of our present situation, God’s Spirit within us reminds us that He is preparing us for our home with Him. He has made a new covenant with us, we are not alone. When we believe in Him, we walk away from our old self and allow a new light to live within us, bringing glory to the Creator Himself. I now live for him so everything I do and everything I say today is for Him, so that I can reflect His glory for the world to see.

Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others…Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. – 2 Corinthians 5:11, 14b-15

We are children of the new covenant.
We are fragile clay jars that contain a great treasure.
We have this light shining in our hearts.
We focus on this light when things get difficult.
We are pressed, but not crushed.
We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.
We are NEVER abandoned by God.
We may get knocked down by life’s circumstances, but we are not destroyed.
These troubles are temporary.
Therefore, we never give up.

Today’s Confidence

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:12-24

It is believed that Paul wrote three letters to the Church in Corinth – that there was a letter between what we know as 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. The manuscript of this letter has been lost but it is believed to have been a harsh or severe letter.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was not well received by everyone in the church. Opposition grew against him and he was spoken of negatively while he was away. His authority was challenged and he was forced to defend himself. He left Ephesus in order to talk with the church face to face, but the visit did not go well. Paul refers to this visit in 2 Corinthians 2:1 as a “painful visit”.

Knowing this helps us to understand the tone of 2 Corinthians 1:12-24. Paul is defending himself in hopes that the Church will have confidence in him and trust his authority. Consider how painful it must have been for Paul to be rejected by a church full of people that he had led to the Lord. He loved them and considered them his children.

As we read yesterday in the first half of chapter one, Paul was suffering for Christ. How much more painful for us when we are suffering because of another believer within the church?! Oh how it hurts when we feel the need to defend ourselves to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Listen to Paul’s defense in the following verses:

We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world and especially towards you. Our letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand. – 2 Corinthians 1:12-13

GOD-GIVEN HOLINESS

Oh the peace that comes with confidence and a clear conscience. At the end of the day if my concern is whether or not I have lived a good life or if I represented Christ well, I will fall asleep worrying. BUT, if I look closely at this verse and focus on the word “God-given” then I know that I do not have to produce holiness and sincerity on my own. I can depend on God and HIS holiness, I can trust in HIS grace to lead me rather than any human wisdom I could possibly come up with on my own.

Humanity. None of us is perfect and neither was Paul, yet he goes on to defend his intentions. He stated he wanted to come for a second visit but was unable to come when he had originally planned to. So did he lie or deceive the church in Corinth? Should they question his word? Should they wonder if his “yes” really means yes or his “no” really means no? If they can doubt Paul’s word, will they doubt God’s word? This appears to be part of the issue of concern for the church. Thankfully, Paul knew that it was in Christ that he stands firm. He is called by God and must respond to God in obedience, even if it changes his earthly plans.

It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us. I call God as my witness – and I stake my life on it – that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. – 2 Corinthians 1:21-24

SPIRIT-FILLED CONFIDENCE

Because of God, I can stand firm in Christ. He has called me and He will equip me. I am HIS child and it is HIS Spirit living within me that leads me and fills me. When I have confidence I have done the right thing or when I have a clear conscience, I can ask God to protect me from false guilt or unnecessary anxiety.

But what about us? Are we quick to believe the worst about another believer? Do we jump to conclusions or make false accusations? Or do we use the principles in Matthew 18 and take new information directly to our brother or sister in Christ and allow them to clear up any misconceptions or lies?

Thank you, Lord, for whatever lies ahead. Fill me with Your Spirit and remind me over and over again of Your presence in my life today. When the enemy tries to accuse me and attack me with false guilt, may I stand firm in you! When Satan tries to engage me in conflict with another person, may your Spirit guide me in wisdom and grace. Amen.

Tomorrow’s Bread

Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:1-11

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you also share in the comfort God gives us. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

TOMORROW’S BREAD

Former Nazarene General Superintendent, Jesse Middendorf, wrote a Sunday School lesson for the Nazarene curriculum in which he started out with an illustration from World War II. Hitler had forced many 12 and 13-year-old boys into military service during the war. These boys were treated harshly and made to do some extremely inhumane jobs for their country. When the war was over, these young boys were left homeless and without food.

An aid program came to their rescue by setting up tent cities to house the boys. Doctors and psychologists cared enough about these young men to work hard to restore them physically and mentally. They found that many of the boys would wake up in the middle of the night screaming out in terror. So they tried something unusual. Each night they would feed the boys a large meal and then send them to bed with a piece of bread to hold in their hands, instructing them to save it until morning. The boys began to sleep peacefully through the night. Why? Because after years of hunger, these boys held in their hands the assurance that there would be food for them the next day.

Do you ever go to bed with a heavy heart or with anxiety about a specific situation? Do you ever struggle to get a good night’s sleep the day before a big event in your life due to a combination of excitement and nerves? Tomorrow’s unknowns can overwhelm us at times.

TOMORROW’S UNKNOWNS

When I have a big decision to make and I go to bed knowing that God has provided an answer for me, I sleep more peacefully. When I know how the bills at work are going to be paid and I know with confidence we are going to make payroll this week, I sleep more peacefully. But what about those times when tomorrow is uncertain, when I do NOT hold in my hand the “bread” for tomorrow? Paul has a great answer to this question as we read on in his second letter to the Church of Corinth.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And HE DID rescue us from mortal danger, and HE WILL rescue us AGAIN. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

It is in those moments when I do not have tomorrow’s bread to hold on to, that my hands are free to hold on to the God of my tomorrows. I stop listening to my fears. I learn how to trust God, which strengthens my faith. I stop relying on my own wisdom, I stop relying on what I have in the bank, and I start relying on God to provide.

TOMORROW’S HOPE, JOY & PEACE

Please allow me to again quote Pastor Ed Heck. His words of faith as he faced his fight against cancer continue to inspire me: “…every single day when I open my eyes and every single night when I close my eyes I’m doing so with this thought and prayer, ‘God, search my heart; keep it clear and clean. Wash me; cleanse me, keep me at the point of brokenness where You are the source of my only hope – today, tomorrow, for as long as you give me life.’

“I know I’ve said this before, but I want to make sure I say it often because it really is true: This – everything happening to and around me – is not about me! It’s really not. It’s about God and what He will choose to do in me, through me and around me.” – Pastor Ed Heck, https://shardsofgraceblog.wordpress.com

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember the Lord is coming soon. – Philippians 4:4-5

I cannot be full of joy if I am worrying about tomorrow. The NIV version says “let your gentleness be evident to all.” If I am worried, grumbling, complaining or pretty much freaking out over what is ahead of me, I am not full of the joy of the Lord for others to see.

Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7

Father God, may each one of us rely on YOU for today’s answer and for tomorrow’s provision. May we rest in knowing that you are all we need. Take away from us the worrying and grumbling and fill our hearts with the peace of knowing we can rely on you. Oh God of all comfort, shower us with your joy today. Amen.

Strengthening the Church

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 14-16

We are always looking to see how we can do things better at work. Over and over again, we ask the question, “Are we meeting our mission?” We focus on organizational health and the importance of having cohesive teams. Paul spent some time doing the same thing for the Church in Corinth. He gave them lots of great advice on how to have a healthy church and how to be the body of Christ. So, as we finish our study of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, here is Paul’s advice for the Church:

You must show your appreciation to all who serve so well. – 1 Corinthians 16:18b

APPRECIATE YOUR LEADERS

The Church should take care of the financial needs of those called into full-time ministry but those called should not serve for any kind of earthly reward or favor, but should do it for God and for the eternal prize.

The Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it…Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News! If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment. But I have no choice, for God has given me this sacred trust. What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. – 1 Corinthians 9:14-18a

SERVE WITH PURPOSE

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So RUN TO WIN! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

How easy it would be for us to take our eyes off the One who has called us and focus on ourselves or the Church or those around us who disappoint. What a great reminder this morning – I do what God has called me to do because I am compelled by God to do it. If God has called me, He will equip me. God, forgive me when I start simply going through the motions and ministry becomes routine. Lord, I want to run to win, run with purpose, run with my eyes focused on you.

STAND STRONG AGAINST TEMPTATION

I want to drink from the spiritual rock who is Christ. Paul used the example of the people of Israel to encourage the Church to not be tempted by sexual immorality or be tempted to grumble. No matter what comes our way, we can stand strong – not of our own strength but on the solid rock of Jesus.

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. – 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. – 1 Corinthians 15:58

USE YOUR WORDS TO STRENGTHEN OTHERS

Paul takes time in Chapter 14 to address the difference between speaking in tongues and prophesying, knowing this would be an opportunity for conflict and disagreement in the church. All of his explanation is based on the idea of making love our highest goal (14:1) – that everything done in the Church be done to strengthen everyone (14:26).

A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally, but one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire church. I wish you could all speak in tongues, but even more I wish you could all prophesy. For prophecy is greater than speaking in tongues, unless someone interprets what you are saying so that the whole church will be strengthened. – 1 Corinthians 14:4-5

If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying?…
For if I pray in tongues, my spirit is praying, but I don’t understand what I am saying…
But in a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language.
– 1 Corinthians 14:9,14,19

I would never want my words to cause confusion or distract others from the worship of God taking place in the sanctuary. Lord, let the words of my mouth come only from YOU, building others up and encouraging them as they walk with you.

Here is some more advice from Paul as he closes his first letter to the Church in Corinth:

TITHE

On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. – 1 Corinthians 16:2a

LET LOVE STRENGTHEN THE CHURCH

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love. – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Greet each other with Christian love. – 1 Corinthians 16:20b

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