Category: How We Grow

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:4)

Paul is addressing the Corinthian church here. If you read this verse out of context it seems like he is describing a thriving church.  And when you see the weaknesses and failings of today’s churches, not to mention our own shortcomings, you might ask “Why can’t our church be like one of those flourishing, victorious early New Testament churches where everyone is doing so well?”

But after his kind opening, we see that Paul was painfully aware of the imperfections of the Corinthian church. Paul’s opening thanks for these early believers in Christ is followed by a sharp reprimand.

After continuing in Chapter 1 for several more verses of thanks, Paul shifts hugely: by the time we get to 3:3, he is on an angry rant.  You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?  

Paul was not being self-righteous or holier-than-thou here. After all, he frequently referred to himself as the chief of sinners!  Yet, these believers were falling far short of what Christ was calling them to be and so they did need a rebuke.

And the purpose of this rebuke was to bring them to repentance, so they’d return to the path to maturity that Christ has for them:

 Brothers and sisters stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20)

Chapter 16 is the grand finale of this book. Hear Paul’s closing words: The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen. (1 Corinthians 16:23-24)

What a kind way to talk to his people after having given them such a thorough scolding! Here, love and mercy triumph over judgment. I am glad that happens when God deals with our own imperfect but loving churches today. He still uses rebukes and correction — not to fill us with shame and guilt but rather to grow us and our churches so we can have more of Christ!

Replacing the Slop

As I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah
    along with their neighboring towns,”
declares the Lord,
“so no one will live there;
    no people will dwell in it. (Jeremiah 50:40)

This verse in Jeremiah was part of my  recent daily Bible study. The context : the Jews had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians, but now not only were they going to be allowed to return to their homeland, but their captors  were going to suffer retribution. The destruction that’s awaiting the Babylonians is like the judgment and disaster that already befell Sodom and Gomorrah.

This prophetic word was great news for the original Jewish readers. But how does it connect for us in 2019 ?

God still does overthrows today.

Today’s example : Smoking.

Using my own best efforts, I had quit smoking (and relapsed!) many, many times before. But  God engineered my final successful quitting. Was it a mystical deliverance ? Not quite. Here’s what happened : we were washing the smoke stained walls in the kitchen of 2 heavy smokers. Filling bucket after bucket as each turned black ! I had a vivid picture of my own lungs turning black. God used this incident plus being around some supportive non-smokers to free me, after 13 years of smoking bondage.  So there was not a sudden supernatural miracle, but God was in control of each of the steps that set me free,  starting with how it was no coincidence that I was assigned to visit the kitchen of the heavy smokers.

The main reason that quitting was finally successful was that it no longer depended only on my own willpower. Sure, my will was involved, but what God did was far more important. And it’s by God’s grace that there has been no relapse since I was set free of smokes over 30 years ago.

God is still freeing me from bondages. Now he is working on some stinky, self-centered attitudes in my heart —-which are less visible than having smoke pour out of me like a human chimney.  But changing these crummy attitudes is at least as important.

But why even bother ?

Because we are putting off slop and putting on more of Jesus.

Jesus says that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Are you troubled by an area of your life that is in captivity ?  God wants to set you free from bondage and give more of Christ’s abundant life to you.

Can I make Jesus Lord ?

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:9-11)

What happens when someone tells us “You need to make Jesus Lord” ?

First, we feel guilty because we know how far we fall short of obeying Jesus in all things. But then the preacher tries to get us all pumped up with the feeling that yes, we can do it if we decide to surrender to Jesus. We might even be invited to come forward while “I Surrender All” plays. We feel euphoria coming over us and get on a spiritual high, feeling that, this time, we can do it.

I remember one service where, before internet porn, the pastor put a dumpster up front, told the men to go out to  their vehicles, bring in their dirty magazines and throw them in the dumpster.

But I’m afraid that attempt, even if done with good intentions, didn’t really get to the heart of why the guys had the magazines in the first place. So after the spiritual high wore off the guys would buy replacement magazines and then feel more guilty than ever. This gloomy pattern of failure occurs because it all basically revolves around what we think we have the power to achieve.  Thinking we can, on our own, make Jesus Lord of any area of our life is trying to do the impossible.

Is there any way out of this mess ? Yes there is ! Here’s the secret : Jesus already is Lord. He’s a member of  the Trinity:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God the Father has appointed him Lord !

When I bow my knee, I don’t make him Lord, I simply acknowledge that he is Lord.

I don’t need to worry and  obsess about my own efforts falling short anymore. Instead I can do what Paul commands when he says to

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12b-13)

Since the Lord God is already working in me,  I simply want to line up with what he is doing.

So the answer to whether I can make Jesus Lord is “NO.”

But can I have ever-increasing fruitfulness because he IS alive and IS working in me and IS my Lord? The answer is “YES!”

Not Worth Praying About ?

whirlpool

 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

My prayer life was geared to saving up praying for the Big Stuff. Like, it would be silly to pray for a parking spot. But this past winter the Spirit started to prompt me to  pray for small things.

Let me give you two examples that kicked this off.

First was a computer fix, my wife’s laptop looked like it was dead in the water. Instead of taking it right to the repair shop, I felt led to pray for  an easy solution…so I Googled and found out  that sticking a paper clip into  a little hole on the back of her computer might work…then…answered small prayer… the computer came back to life !

Second was buying the right Christmas tree. I was pretty sure the little trees at our nearby Acme  would be all sold out, so I was already asking my wife  “Where will we look next?” But then came a leading to pray for a tree anyway…….and lo and behold there just happened to be one left….

Praying for the computer and the tree was fine but these little prayers pointed to something more important as they showed that I needed to pray about something else that I thought was little.  I am talking about a bad attitude.

My worst attitude is when my thoughts get filled with vague grumbling,  murmuring, or complaining. Before, I had not viewed that kind of low-key whining as even worth praying about, since at first glance it seems like no big deal. But God takes grumbling seriously, and complaining leads to falling into a vortex of negative thoughts— thoughts that revolve around me and what I deserve and how I should be treated….then I become like the little critter being sucked into the whirlpool in the picture.

But praying for the Lord to change my whining thoughts reverses the whirlpool…I head up and away from it being all about me and increasingly towards — loving God and people !

What do you think is not important enough to pray about ?

Me, A Righteous Man ? Are You Kidding ?

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.(Hebrews 11:7)

A number of years ago our church leadership said I was godly enough to be put on the list of those who were allowed to serve communion.  I was puzzled by it. Why did they think I was godly ? I was so aware of my many  shortcomings …. and figured that being godly was to be on a spiritual plane higher than I was on.

Well, over the following  years I have gotten a better idea about what it really means to be godly. Ironically, to understand what it means to be godly I needed a better understanding of what it means to be an idiot.

To explain how I can be both an idiot and godly, let me throw a Latin term at you : Simul justus et peccator. This means simultaneously righteous and a sinner.

Noah was called an heir of righteousness — even though he got drunk as a skunk.
And David was called a man after God’s own heart —- despite committing murder.

In today’s scripture verse, notice how Noah had faith first, and then righteousness was added. We go nuts if we try to do it backwards, and try to be righteous  without first moving in faith. No wonder I struggled to see myself as godly as long as I was thinking it depended on my own futile efforts !

Now let’s look at a command from Paul :
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Ephesians  4:1)

Paul welcomes us to one of those wonderful Christian impossibilities :
On my own, no way I  can obey the command to live worthily. But propelled  by faith, I can now  begin to live worthy of Christ. And then  it’s not that I am Mr. Righteousness, but rather it is the righteousness of Jesus living in me !

Do you realize you need to live by faith instead of  your own efforts ? Then — by the power of Jesus working in you — you are worthy of being called godly.

Revenge or Grace ?

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
 Jesus wept.
 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”( John 11:33-36)

Lazarus was dead.

Mary was weeping because Jesus did not heal Lazarus in time to  prevent his death. When Jesus saw Mary’s  weeping, he was deeply moved and troubled. And the Bible’s shortest verse follows : Jesus wept.

I’ve known that Jesus experiences our weeping and sadness at what goes wrong in this fallen world.  But in this post, I wonder : Does he feel all of our emotions along with us ? Here’s what I mean: Say someone wrongs me and I am filled with rage, bitterness, and a desire for revenge. Now, Jesus does care very much about how I react, but I  don’t think he feels it with me when my emotions lead me to feeling that someone needs to have their face punched in !

I reflected on how Jesus reacted  to Judas. Surely Jesus mourned at what Judas did but here’s a temptation he probably had but did not give in to —- he did  not get all miffed  and say, “How dare Judas do this to me…after all,  I am the son of God.—I’ll fix him !”

This insight into Jesus’ compassion has helped me  with  my disappointment at a recent miserable ministry mess. Some individuals behaved in a very divisive manner. While knowing I should be forgiving , I felt  resentment, bitterness, and anger.

But then I started  to understand  how Jesus was looking at my situation. Yes, he shared my sadness and sorrow at the disunity in our group. But  he  did not share my  spiteful feelings and  he asked me to turn from my sinful resentment.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb 4:16)

So I know that as I struggle with harsh feelings, I am able to approach Jesus in the midst of it to receive grace instead of seeking revenge.

And what a wonderful overflow comes when this happens : I now have a surplus of the Lord’s grace to pass on to you !

Heart or Brain ?

Heart or Brain Cut

Today’s blog post was inspired after a recent vibrant and lively meeting of  our men’s small group. We talk about serious truths of the Lord — but we also joke and tease each other as love grows amongst us as brothers .

Heart or brain ?  Love or truth ? Which one  drives you ?

Here’s how I  lean : I appreciate how much the gospel contains good ideas and concepts and doctrine. It’s truth. But I face a danger : even though truth is the most important part of what the gospel is,  it’s easy for me to slide into making  truth expand into  being all that the gospel is. Then, the gospel is reduced to being only a list of propositions to believe  or a set of rules governing  behavior. That’s rather cold, isn’t it ?

Other folks lean the opposite way. They are awed by and overwhelmed by God’s love, and filled with enormous compassion. They say, “The only law is the law of love.” But then they can slide into making love all that the gospel is. When this happens, just about any action is OK if it “feels like” love.

So, how can we join heart and mind, truth and love, together properly ? I think Isaiah gives us an idea.

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

In this passage Isaiah volunteers after seeing a vision of God and his holiness. I don’t think you would ask Isaiah whether he was  driven by his head or his heart. No, his experience of God had both ; it was a call on Isaiah’s total being.

Isaiah received coal  on his  lips to symbolize his purification from sin ; and for us Jesus’ death on the cross purifies us. Due to this cleansing, we are able to push forward on Jesus’ mission :  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians  4:13).

See how Jesus blends truth and love together ? We humans like to organize everything in life into little compartments —including the Lord himself ! But our God is not compartmentalized. We can’t split out either love or truth from the grand totality of who God is.  Our powerful encounter with the Lord Jesus drives us to serve him fully with heart and brain !