Tag Archives: Church

What’s your superpower?

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As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.  1 Peter 4:10-11

 

This little passage is about spiritual gifting, which is the empowerment by God to do things for the kingdom. There is a difference between doing things that we are naturally good at and doing something by gifting, leading and enabling power of the Holy Spirit.  I have been naturally good at sports and music, and in my younger years would do much of both without much need of the courage and gifting of the Holy Spirit.  But there is a supernatural gifting that comes from God, by His Holy Spirit, that has been called your “spiritual gift.”

There are many varieties of this spiritual gifting, with lists in Ephesians 4:11-12, Romans 12:2-7 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.  They are things like teaching, giving, hospitality, wisdom and discernment, preaching, evangelism, administration and showing mercy.   When Jesus comes into your life, He gives you abilities from His Spirit so that you can serve Him and build up the church.  And He expects you to use it for His glory.

No Christian can then say, “I’m not good at anything; I have nothing to offer.”  That is a lie from Satan, or a ploy of your flesh to be a slug.  As sure as you have the Holy Spirit in your life, you surely have a gifting of some sort.  

There are two ways of looking at this gifting:

That every believer has at least one of the listed gifts.  Your task would be to discover what that gifting is.  One way of discovering this is to get out and try things.  And, just like someone who shoots baskets in his driveway was meant to take those skills and be a part of a basketball team, your gifts are meant to be fleshed out in the church.  

 When there are opportunities to serve and you do something, you may find that some things are in your wheelhouse, and others just aren’t.  And, you may do something like help out with Sunday School or take part in the worship team, and people may tell you how that really touched them.  You may feel the working of the Holy Spirit when you tell others about Jesus, and you know those words didn’t come from your own head.  A pattern will soon follow of things you are drawn to doing, and of seeing God work through that.

That the gifting of the Holy Spirit in your life is varied, depending on the need of the moment.  If I am filled by the Spirit and am walking in the Spirit, being led to do something and I do it, the Holy Spirit’s power will work through me.  There are times when God has led me to do something that is totally out of character for me, but I know I must obey and do it, and God works.  

Here is an example of this:  One time I was at a prayer meeting with several other churches in our area.  The pastor leading it urged us to think about someone we could share the love of Jesus with, and to ask God how to do that.  As soon as he said this, a mom from school came to my mind.  As we bowed to pray, I had a flash of an image of me standing at her door with two bags of groceries in my hands.  She had been having some troubles with drugs and getting caught.  It would have been more comfortable to me to have her in my jail Bible study, but to walk up to her door with groceries was not in my comfort zone.

After work the next day, I knew that this was when I should do this.  Her house was right across the street, so it was easy to know if she was home or not.  There were cars in the driveway, so this was the time.  As I stopped at the stop sign, the choice was there: if I turned right I would go home, left to the grocery store.

“Okay God, I’ll just drive to the grocery store…okay God, I’ll go in, but I don’t know what to buy for them.”  I sensed God tell me, “Just buy what you would buy.”  So I went my usual route, but got double of what I would get.  As I got to the check out, I told the clerk, “I need paper bags, and all of this has to fit in two bags.”  That’s what in my  “mini vision.”   So I fit them snugly in and set off for her house.  I prayed that God would give the words to say why I was there.  I didn’t have a script prepared.

When I got to the door with the bags in my arms, she came to the door and said, “What are you doing?”  Her living room had several people in it, so we walked into the kitchen and said, “I just wanted to let you know that God loves you.”  She gave me a hug, I talked with her and the guests for a few minutes and I left.  I am still waiting for the opportunity to tell her more about Jesus, and I have this gut feeling that one day it will come.

This was a one time working like that.  I was obeying  the leading of the Spirit, and trust that God worked through it.  If God is leading you to do something, just do it with the courage and the strength that He provides.  

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:10


What does it look like to be a Christian?

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If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  James 1:26-27

James gets straight to the point of what it means to be doers of the Word and not just hearers.  He uses the words ‘religious’ and ‘religion.’  Those are words we try to avoid as Christians.  We want to emphasize that we are resting in what God has “done” for us via Jesus and the cross, not what we “do” to be acceptable to God.  But James dives in, using the words and then telling us three things that  true ‘religion’ should include:

  1. Our tongues must be bridled.  In James 3:8 he writes, “no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  But God can tame our tongue, through the power of His Holy Spirit.  A Christian, then, is someone who “walks by the Spirit and does not gratify the desires of the flesh,” (Galatians 5:16).  If we name the name of Jesus, our speech must be controlled by the Holy Spirit as a pattern.  If we aren’t marked by walking in the Spirit, then we are fooling ourselves about our true relationship with Jesus.  James calls our faith ‘worthless.’    In fact, so do the people around us.   Ouch.
  2. Our time is spent visiting orphans, widows and those afflicted.  Doing those things doesn’t ‘save’ us.  But going out of our way to help those who can’t help themselves is a byproduct of our salvation.   Because I belong to Jesus, my heart should break with what breaks His heart.  Orphans and widows must be at the top of the list for James to specifically mention them.  Many other places include the poor and the oppressed on God’s list for us to care about, including Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25:31-46.
  3. Our lives are marked by being unstained from the world.  The Amish use this as their proof text for living in a cloister without lights and machinery.  Are we supposed to become Amish?  In John 17:15-16 Jesus prayed, “I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”  The question is how to really be ‘in’ the world but not ‘of’ the world.  In James 4:4 James called us adulterous people, saying “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  

Lord, bridle my tongue and control me with Your Holy Spirit.  Put Your agenda on my heart so that I go out of my way to bleed for widows, orphans and the afflicted.  Show me where I am standing on the wrong side with my affections.  I do not want to be an adulterer, nor do I want my faith to be worthless, shallow and self centered.  Move me by Your love and Your power today.

 


Don’t Miss Grace

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See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.  Hebrews 12:15

Hebrews 12 begins by talking about setting aside sin and fixing our eyes on Jesus.  In 12:4 it says, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”  It continues by explaining that if we are disciplined by the Lord, it means we are His children.  Verse 11 declares that if we submit to God’s discipline we will “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness, for those who have been trained by it.”

If we don’t  set aside our sins and weights, resisting to the point of great pain, and if we don’t submit to God’s warning lights, a few things could result.  One is that we continue to run, but we are so weighed down that the Christian life is a burden and a chore.  Another is that we experience God’s spankings over and over until we learn our lesson.  God will discipline His children until they are trained by it.  A third option is that we fail to obtain the grace of God, which sounds awful.

“Failing to obtain the grace of God” could mean that those who never submit to the commands and path to holiness that God gives us really are not believers.  They could be called “professing Christians,” who think they are secure because they go to church or because of some past spiritual experience or good work.  Hebrews is written to those people, urging them to not be presumptuous about their standing with God.

“The root of bitterness” really isn’t about not taking care of resentment and festering bitterness in your heart, though that’s a good thing to do.  It is a reference to Deuteronomy 29:18 that states: “Beware lest there be among you a man…whose heart turns away from this day from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations; lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit.”

How can this root of bitterness and unbelief spring up in a body of believers and defile many?  Deut. 29:10 answers this by describing “one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’”

You could be pressing into God, yearning to be set free from the ugly consequences of sin that has wreaked havoc in your life, coming to church with an attitude of worship and desperacy.  And then you sit by a person who is rarely moved to sing or worship, that never really has read the Bible, doesn’t bear fruit in keeping with repentance, and who kind of communicates to you to ‘knock it off.’

Don’t let their stubborn and unbelieving heart deter or defile you.  Grab a hold of the grace of God by setting aside your sins and weights, resisting sin to the point of great personal pain and loss, and submitting to God’s hand of discipline.  Pursue holiness so that you may enjoy God’s grace, yielding a peaceful fruit of righteousness.

*Image from Mick Holt


Consider this…

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Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Hebrews 10:24-25

Consider:  To think about carefully, with regard to taking some action; to take into account; to regard or treat in an attentive or kindly way; to gaze on steadily or reflectively  (From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

What if we got up everyday and considered how to encourage others and to stir them up to love and good deeds?  I am usually thinking and praying about everything that’s on my plate and planning about how I am going to get it all done.  I’m not really considering all of the people I’m going to see that day and how I can encourage them, just thinking about myself.

Philippians 2:3-4 tells us that we should “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but to consider others better than ourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  There’s that word ‘consider’ again.  So what if I got up praying for the key people I live  and work with and asked God to show me how to encourage them and move them to do the same thing with the people they come in contact with?  My day might be others centered instead of self centered.   I might get less grumpy with interruptions.  It could be kind of a game to see the ripple effect, like in the movie “Pay it Forward”

How can we do that?  Pray for people that God puts on your heart, or ask Him to put people on your heart.    Ask Him to show you how to pray for them, and  to show you what to say to speak into their circumstances, and how to encourage them.  The root of the word ‘encourage’ is courage.  Hebrews 10:25 says that we should get together with the purpose of encouraging, or giving courage to, one another.  It takes courage for widows to face another lonely day,  for parents to set godly boundaries for their kids,  for bosses to make necessary decisions, or for people that are at change points to move to the unknown.

According to these verses, that’s a main reason for Christians to get together–to stir (or spur) one another on to love and good deeds, to meet together, and to encourage one another.  When you go to church, go with the mission of speaking into others’ lives.  Or have people over to your house, or meet them for coffee or actually call someone instead of just shooting texts to them.

“And all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  ‘The Day’ is the time that Jesus comes back. Before that happens, Matthew 24 and 2 Timothy 3-4 tell us that things will get rough, when people’s love grows cold and lawlessness abounds.  The worse it gets, the more we need our Christian brothers and sisters to speak encouragement to each other.

So consider how to stir up some love and good works!  And give courage to those around you today.


Troublemakers

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As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice,  have nothing more to do with him.  Titus 3:10

There are verses here and there that tell us what God thinks about people who stir up drama and division.  Here are a few of them:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid.  For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.  Romans 16:17

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to Him; haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.  Proverbs 16:19

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.  Proverbs 10:12

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

Are you starting to get the picture?  Being divisive is driven by bitterness and hatred and it needs to be kept in check.  Otherwise, it is like a cancer that spreads and takes others down.  It must be dealt with.  Paul tells how to handle someone who is a spreader of drama and contention: warn them twice and then, if it continues, have nothing to do with that person.

Actually, Paul tells about a few different types that we are to have nothing to do with.  In 2 Timothy 3:5 he wrote to avoid people that hold to the form of godliness but deny its power.  In Ephesians 5:3-7 Paul lists a bunch of things, including foolish talk and crude joking, along with greed and sexual immorality, that if believers exhibit them to stay away from.

Peace and purity in the body of Christ are big deals.  It might seem radical to have nothing to do with people that spread strife, and some might call it unloving.  But creating and maintaining an atmosphere of peace honors God and promotes spiritual growth.  

Think about your own handling of something that doesn’t go your way, or of trying to work together in a group.  Are you the one who resorts to ‘taking your ball and going home?’  Do you back stab, manipulate or undermine decisions?   Do you have unresolved bitterness that you need to take care of so you can sow peace and not drama?  Do you have a “friend” who is constantly stirring up trouble that you need to have a critical conversation with?

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.”  Colossians 3:15

 


Itching Ears

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  2 Timothy 4:3-4

The last days.  Have you heard of them?    Those are the times before Jesus returns to the earth.  It sure feels like the last days, doesn’t it? The last days are what Paul described in 2 Timothy 3-4.  In Matthew 24, Jesus talked about wars and rumors of war, lawlessness increasing and peoples’ love growing cold.  He said that was just the beginning of birth pangs.  In other words, this could go on for awhile and get much worse.

George Barna, a Christian researcher and pastor, published a book in Sept. of 2016 called America at the Crossroads.  In it he explained the difference between fads and trends.  A fad is something that comes and goes in popularity, like leg warmers or Cabbage Patch Dolls.  A trend is something that impacts the culture and causes a shift that lasts.  I would say a recent cultural trend, or shift, came about when Bruce Jenner launched the headline, “Call Me Kaitlyn.”  That was an event that swung many other cultural pieces into motion.

itching2.jpgMoving away from God and toward evil is a trend that will only continue. It is interesting that the reason Paul gave for this trend is because people will have itching ears and will act to suit their passions.   It’s already happening.  People with itching ears don’t want to hear Biblical truth because it might pinpoint a sin habit that they either haven’t come face to face with, or one that they are currently engaged in and don’t want to quit.  They find a different place to go that suits their passions.  Or, as statistics show us, they stop going to church all together.

Part of our itching ears has to do with short attention spans, a consumer based view of what people want in a church, and a make-your-own-sundae approach to belief systems. Barna wrote about how people aren’t just picking and choosing from Biblical truths to form their worldview, but they are gleaning things from the Koran, some from Buddhism, others from New Age principles.  That’s called syncretism.

At least we’ve been warned, so as to not be surprised by any of it.   That’s one of the reasons why Paul wrote what he did to Timothy and to us.  Another purpose is so that we stand firm and not water down the truth to make it easier to handle.  Stand firm in what you firmly believe and have been taught, and don’t let your ears itch.  In the next verses in 2 Timothy 4, Paul admonishes: “Be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

We may or may not be in the last days.  But we can be in our own last days, recognizing that our own lifespan is just a vapor and a mist.  Make the most of them.


Let peace be your umpire

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  umpire safe.jpgAnd be thankful.  Colossians 3:15

The first thing to notice here is that it reads that the peace of Christ should rule in your hearts. That suggests that the peace of Christ should be the ruler collectively in the body of Christ, not just in our own lives individually.  When there is a dispute in the body then, the prevailing rule of the thumb should be figuring out what will benefit peace and not cause strife, conflict, or division.  Sometimes it is so easy to get fired up about what truth is at stake that peace loses out.  Ephesians 4:3 backs this up.  Paul writes, “(be) eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. “

The word for “rule” is the only time it is used in the New Testament. What it refers to is an Olympic judge; the guy that would award a medal or disqualify an athlete from his prize. This guy was the umpire. You can argue all you want but the umpire is the one that gets to make the call.  (cited from http://www.mikeleake.net)  Peace is the umpire.  If peace is sacrificed, then drop it.

You may think important things might get diminished, or compromised.  But yet, it seems like most rifts aren’t about whether or not Jesus is the only way to God or other crucial doctrinal tenants.  Most conflicts are over hurt feelings, pride, jealousy or matters of preference.   If I am growing in the Lord and able to look beyond my own interests, then I should be able to let someone else’s opinion or preference win out.  Keeping peace is so much more important than me being right or getting my way.  That’s the more mature option.

It is easier to take that option if you have learned to let the peace of Christ rule in your own life.  James 3:14-18 reads, But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

There are some Christians that have chaos ruling their lives, not peace.  It could stem from having jealousy and selfish ambition that are not surrendered to God.  There is most likely bitterness and pride that needs to get renounced.  Those people are difficult to be around because they aren’t  aware that the real problem isn’t what everyone is doing to them, but what their own bitterness and jealousy is doing.  Disorder results.

And be thankful!  Thankful people are hard to bring down.  They are quick to point out the things we have in common, rather than to focus on the dividing points in the body.  Thankful people are the opposite of those who have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. Are you thankful?

Take a look inside and see if you have surrendered all of your bitter jealousy and selfish ambition to the Lord so that the peace of Christ can be the umpire in your heart.

 


Living a Life Worthy of the Gospel

live worthyOnly let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.  Philippians 1:27

What does living a life worthy of the gospel look like?  In 2 Corinthians 4:4 Paul writes that Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers, “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  The glory of Jesus is our gospel, for in Him we find the good news that God sent Jesus to come to die for our sins.  In coming to Him, we find forgiveness, purpose and eternal life.

As recipients of this marvelous grace, our lives must look different.  Paul tells us to live a life worthy of the gospel, one that puts the spotlight on the glory of Jesus, not our own glory or agenda.  There are at least three ways to do this contained in Philippians 1:27-28:

  1. Standing firm in one spirit.  In Ephesians 6:10-18 we saw that  to stand firm and not be dashed about by the troubles of this life, we must be dressed in the armor of God.  But here Paul adds, “in one spirit.”  That means that we stand with others who are fellow believers, finding common ground in Jesus, and battling alongside of them during the tough times.  And rejoicing with them in the good times.
  2. Striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.  Our standing together isn’t just to cheer each other on during the tough times, it is to spread the gospel.  It is so easy to be self absorbed and preoccupied with the things of this world, rather than to be about our Father’s business.  We are to be kingdom minded, understanding that we are in service of the King.  We must not be so busy sitting in bleachers at kid’s games or vacationing, or just working to pay the bills that we miss the grander purpose that God has for our lives.  And if you’re not in church, you won’t be able to do this!
  3. Not frightened in anything by your opponents.  Jesus said it over and over that because the world hates Him, they will hate us.  He warned  of persecution for His name’s sake and of how things will get worse and worse (check out 2 Timothy 3:1-5).  In the middle of this opposition, His word is “do not fear.”  Don’t let the haters wear you down.  It is tempting to want to become a “bubble boy” and withdraw because of the threats to our well being.   But the call here is to not retreat, but to advance the gospel.

To live a life worthy of the gospel we are to stand together, strive together, and to sing songs of faith and courage to one another.  When we sing hymns and worship songs, we aren’t just singing to God, but we are affirming what we believe and will die for to each other.  We are singing to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, the church words like “I’ll never, no never, no never forsake” from the hymn “How Firm a Foundation.”

So stand, strive and sing to live a life worthy of the gospel.

 


Why Do We Go to Church?

Hebrews 10:24-15 “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

That’s like a command to go to church, and one of the main reasons it gives is so we can motivate and encourage one another to live the Christian life.  The question occasionally comes up about whether or not someone is ‘being fed’ by what takes place, or why a person or a family doesn’t attend much or at all anymore.

I have been in the habit of attending church and being involved on a weekly basis for decades.  But in the last few years, perhaps just the older I get, I have this tug of war about staying home and just spending some quality time alone with God as opposed to the face time, assembly line routine that may or may not be significant.

So then the question that popped up in my mind as I sit home on a Sunday morning, ‘What feeds me?’  I know what doesn’t feed me, and I have come up with a few things that do.  Maybe I’m different than anyone else, maybe not.  But here’s my little list.

  • What feeds me is to learn and to apply truths of Scripture to what’s going on in my life and in life in general.  My head swims with work stuff, of grinding out a tough winter, of US and world news and events, wanting my life to count, and intersecting with happenings of the people around me.  It takes time to process those things as a group, but sitting in a bigger Sunday school room with people coming in and out and watching a video or having one person face the rest of the class doesn’t get to those things.  That set up doesn’t help to really hash through the topic, the Scripture or life stuff.  You see people but there’s not much past that.  If we’re supposed to encourage one another and spur one another on to love and good deeds, we need a format to do that.
  • What feeds me is getting into the Word and letting the Word get into me.  I don’t like three points picked out of a passage of Scripture, sprinkled with Internet stories.  I do like digging into God’s story and letting the Spirit apply it to our story.  I like pastors and teachers who have been grabbed and gripped by God’s truths and then is helping us to be grabbed and gripped too.  The Word is living and active and it pierces to our motives and intentions.  Spread the word!
  • What feeds me is praying and asking for God’s working power to show up and change us.  It says in Acts 13:2 “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said ‘set apart Barnabus and Saul for the work I have called them.'” True worship is listening to the voice of God, not programming out a set number of songs. Worship is singing songs of praise, but it also involves praying, more than just the offertory prayer, waiting on God and doing what He says.  We’re so American, and it’s hard to avoid that.

So what would my church look like?  Maybe Sunday School being more of an intentional small group, led by people who know how to teach, listen, pray and guide.  Maybe all the groups study the same Scripture together, like working through the New Testament and then we get together and share what we learned, facilitated by the Pastor who then has a teaching time.  Maybe we sing and pray at tables in the sanctuary, and not rows of chairs to enable that small and large group praying.  Whatever it is, it would be aimed at teaching, encouraging, applying, equipping and listening to God and to others more.