Thursday, December 30, 2010
You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.
What evidence is there of God's work in and through me as a minister of Jesus Christ? Many Christians point to certain habits such as church attendance or membership, Scripture reading and memory, serving, giving or even evangelism. According to verse one, Paul may have been asked for some type of letter of commendation that would legitimize his ministry and identify him with the Christian church of Jerusalem. These things may all be good but none are sufficient evidence for the presence of the Holy Spirit and His work. Instead, Paul points to changed lives. The believers in Corinth couldn't deny that their lives, families and community were changed by the Spirit of the living God through Paul's ministry. They were his epistle.
Who are my epistles? Whose lives have been changed by the Spirit of the living God through me? I spend a lot of time at church and work hard to create exciting and engaging programs but these are not evidences of the Spirit's work, only my own. I can point to times in the past where I have the privilege of leading someone to Christ or helping someone grow however such evidence should be current and continuous. Who have I touched lately? What evidence is there today that I have fully submitted my life and agenda to Jesus Christ and that His Spirit is working through me? When people look at my family, my kids, do they see a continuous testimony of growth and maturity in Christ? Do my children reflect a father fully submitted to God and listening to His Holy Spirit? How can I prepare myself today to be the pen that God uses to write His name on the hearts of my family, friends and fellow man today?
Heavenly Father, use me today to touch someone's life. Let me be the pen You use to write a testimony of love and truth on the heart of someone I connect with. Let the evidence of my faith not be my own work, but Your work; the work the of the Holy Spirit through me. Give me words to say, tender mercies, patience, understanding and love. Don't let my inkwell run dry but fill me today with Your Spirit. Amen.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.
How aware am I of the schemes and devices of the Devil? Nobody likes to dwell on evil or give Satan too much publicity or credit, but ignoring his presence and practices is not wise.
Paul understood that bitterness, self-righteousness, self-justification and grudges were not merely bad human habits similar to biting nails, eating too many sweets or ignoring a phone call from your mother-in-law. Instead, these are traps laid by Satan to outwit and wear out the believer.
C.S. Lewis wrote of this in his famous work The Screwtape Letters, a series of letters between the young demon Wormwood and his wise uncle Screwtape. Screwtape wrote,
“And while he thinks that, we do not have to contend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognised, sin, but only with his vague, though uneasy, feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately. This dim uneasiness needs careful handling. If it gets too strong it may wake him up and spoil the whole game. On the other hand, if you suppress it entirely – which, by the by, the Enemy will probably not allow you to do – we lose an element in the situation which can be turned to good account. If such a feeling is allowed to live, but not allowed to become irresistible and flower into real repentance, it has one invaluable tendency. It increases the patient’s reluctance to think about the Enemy.”
To suppress such spiritual warfare is dangerous and is exactly the sort of danger the Devil likes to promote. To acknowledge the inherent spiritual nature of such tendencies is to become acutely aware of the spiritual nature of life and the reality that is even more real than the physical world around us. We are spiritual beings engaged in a spiritual battle within a spiritual world where spirituality is most often repressed.
So how aware am I of the Devil's schemes and devices? Is there bitterness or self-righteousness in me? Have I held a grudge or refused to forgive? Do I justify my attitude toward those whom I find difficult? Have I clung to laziness or grown apathetic about serving others or being generous? Do I take pride in my spirituality or my habits of piety? Do I avoid taking inventory of my life, my thoughts, my habits and my emotions? Do I fail to acknowledge the spiritual nature of life and the reality of the enemy?
Father - make me more spiritually aware. Sharpen my spiritual sensitivity and help me to acknowledge where I have been duped or tricked by the enemy. Strengthen me and save me from apathy and laziness. Humble me and save me from pride and arrogance. Empower me to resist the Devil's schemes and grant me the victory in Christ (2 Cor. 2:14). Amen.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.
The God of all comfort can sympathize with our struggles, weaknesses and loss because He too suffered. "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet is without sin," (Hebrews 4:14). Furthermore, "though He (Christ) was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered," (Hebrews 5:8). God set out on a journey two thousand years ago to fully sympathize with and bear our pain that He may provide mercy and comfort to meet us in our time of need, (Heb. 4:16). We are not alone in our pain.
The loss, pain, struggles and trials that we face bind us together with Christ and in Christ. In other words, I am one with Jesus and I am one with my fellow man. And in these trials, I can find comfort from the one who also sought comfort (Matt. 26:39 & 27:46). I can find mercy and peace from the One who has overcome the world (John 16:33). I am ministered to by the truths of Christ's suffering and the purpose for which He suffered, my salvation.
Furthermore, in these trials, I can find purpose and meaning through a personal ministry of comfort toward others who are struggling as well. By extending the truths of Christ and His suffering I can bring meaning to my loss and purpose to my pain; the salvation of my brother or sister. Yet, when I refuse to use my circumstances and situations as a ministry to others, I refuse the great meaning which God intended for my pain. My pain becomes pointless.
May God grant us all a ministry of comfort this season as we remember the journey of Jesus Christ to fully identify with our pain and bring us so great a salvation. Amen
Friday, December 17, 2010
1 Corinthians 16:8-9
"But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries."Whenever God is behind something, there is opposition. Whenever there is an opportunity to advance the kingdom and cause of Christ, there is an enemy at work opposing it. Anything worth while will have opponents (spiritual and physical) and those causes without any opponents are probably not worth much.
At times we recognize the open door. Other times we recognize the adversaries. Adversaries should not dissuade us from the opportunities God provides. Instead, they should be a sign that God is at work and persuade us toward greater obedience and effort.
Where are the open doors in my life? Where is there obvious opposition?
How have I responded to both?
Father, help me to recognize open doors and strengthen me to endure opposition and adversaries. Amen.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.
The new NIV puts it this way, "Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults."
Isn't it interesting that our rating system for things that are evil, immoral and which lead to debauchery are based on age. The drinking age is 21. Movies are segmented by 13 years and 17 years. We interpret appropriate TV shows through the filter of the bed times of children; after 8:00 or 9:00 things get dicey. Even video game ratings are divided by categories of "Everyone," "Youth," and "Mature."
According to Paul, age has nothing to do with liberty. Simply because we are older or stronger or wiser with time does not mean that we have a right to entertain ourselves with darker content. Instead, the older and wiser we get the more innocent we should strive to be. Isn't it youth that back the horror films, purchase most of the indecent music and drink themselves into dropout and college shipwrecks? Yet, as we age, we come to understand the value of purity, innocence, sobriety, decency. As we have kids this lesson kicks into high gear. We recognize the innocence of a baby and are reminded of God's desire for each of us.
In wisdom and understanding we should strive for maturity but this process does not demand or require familiarity with evil. We don't need to experience darkness to know what happens there. We don't need to taste poison to know its effect. We don't need to walk a mile in anyone's shoes to know they are headed in the wrong direction. God's Word is clean and clearly defines what is good and bring life and what is and does not.
Lord, may I always strive toward maturity in understanding and innocence in evil. Make me wise to recognize the darkness and poison and paths that would lead to my downfall and strong to avoid them. Amen.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
What are the childish things that Paul put away when he matured in his faith? I have a hunch that childish ways look a lot like what love is not, described in the previous verses. Love is not impatient, impulsive, selfish, proud, self-centered, rude, self-promoting, amoral, ignorant of truth, skeptical or apathetic.
These are characteristic of children who have not come to understand the fullness of a parents love. If you consider it, you can hear them shout, "it's not fair!" "but I want..." "he got the seat last time!" "I don't care!" "you never ____ for me." Kids have a tendency to express unlove with remarkable accuracy. These are typical due to the short-sightedness that comes with youth.
These are unavoidable by those who have not yet come to understand the depths of God's love demonstrated through the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Those in the world calculate and keep tabs on rights and wrongs; often avoiding forgiveness. Those who are perishing live for the moment, chasing temporary pleasures rather than eternal values. And for those led by the flesh, life is all about the self; comfort, promotion, pride and reputation.
Yet, when I came into the light and began to receive the unconditional and extravagant love of God through Jesus Christ and the gift of His Holy Spirit, I matured and put these childish ways behind me. At times I still demonstrate childishness, but it's less and less common as I pursue Christ. It's less and less common as I parent my children and see the devastating effects of immaturity. It's less and less common as I come to value more the things of God.
Daily, I must choose to put away childish things and pursue maturity in Christ.
Lord, guide me to maturity in You. Strengthen me to put away childish, self-centered ways and teach me to live like Your Son who did not consider His divinity something to be flaunted but instead humbled Himself and demonstrated unconditional, undeserved love for me. Teach me to live and love like Jesus. Amen.
Monday, December 13, 2010
1 Corinthians 12:13
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
When we come to Christ we are uniting with Him. But simultaneously, we also unite with one another. Our baptism makes us one. We are one body, brought to life by one Spirit. This bond between us goes beyond race, language, social status and calling. If we choose to disconnect from the body or any part of it, we bleed that life blood and lose the Spirit's power and flow in our lives. Yet, if we trust the flow of the Spirit and choose to remain connected and faithful even in times of trial, disagreement or confusion, we are strengthened by our unity and the Spirit can work at healing and wholeness.
Why then should there be disagreement, division or discord in the body of Christ? Why should the body lack forgiveness or patience or mercy or the more excellent way... love (1 Cor. 12:31). When I feel discord, disagreement or division I must turn to and trust the Holy Spirit to bring back to life a connection that is dying.
Holy Spirit, flow though me and empower me to be a connected and vital member of this body of Christ. Empower me for forgiveness, patience, mercy and love. Amen.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.
If we spent time regularly in introspection, self examination, confession and repentance, we would not need for the Lord to correct us. However, since prayers of confession and repentance are not on our favorite prayer lists, this discipline often evades us. Because we lack this discipline, we face discipline. Confession and repentance lead us to life change and invite the gracious hand of God into our lives rather than the hand of correction.
Communion is a celebration that should drive us toward these disciplines. To partake in the body and blood of Christ without such humility is to eat and drink the very judgment of God.
So when was the last time I sat down for a focused time of confession and repentance?... no requests, no asks, no excuses?
Father, forgive me.
Monday, December 6, 2010
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.
As a believer in Christ I have been set free from the law of sin and death. I now live under the law of the life which brings freedom (Rom. 8:1-3). There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I have a freedom to speak and act as one not under the law. However, to do so may not be most beneficial. As Paul states in the early verses of 1 Corinthians 10, I may be inviting the fellowship of demons. Therefore, I allow my conscience to be my guide and I am also sensitive to the consciences of others. If my freedom would cause my brother to stumble, I should refrain from my liberty. If my freedom should call into question my sincerity of faith, then I should think twice before my demonstration of liberty. If my liberty should cause division or doubt or even debate within the church, I should ask myself about the benefits of such a decision.
My liberty has not been granted for my sake, but for the sake of others, that I may draw many to Christ, His forgiveness and this very freedom.
Therefore, whenever I have a choice to make concerning my freedom I must ask myself these two questions. Will this decision bring glory to Christ? Will this decision draw others closer to Christ or drive them farther from Christ?
And the true blessing found in this freedom is that I have been set free from even a guilty conscience so that no matter how difficult my choice, I may live guilt free and confident that I have done what is right (Heb 10:22).
Father, strengthen my conscience toward others. Let me life for the benefit of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Remove arrogant license from me and humbly allow me to serve others in what I choose. Keep me from liberties that would make my students stumble or cause their parents to question You, Your church or my loyalty to You. Let my life be an example of the law of the Spirit of Life that brings others new life. Amen.