Archive for June, 2015

1 Corinthians 5 — Do you love your children? I think that we all, unless we have some mental or emotional disorder, can say yes to this question. Because you love them does it mean that you allow them to do whatever they want when they want to do it? Of course not! We correct our children. We scold our children. At times, we spank them. As they grow older, we discipline them through the withdrawal of privileges. Do these actions toward our children mean that we do not love them? No it does not. We discipline our children because we do love them. If we did not love them, we would not care. Parents who truly love their children will instruct, discipline, and teach our children so that they will grow up to be responsible adults who are able to survive and thrive in the world once they leave our nest. It is this idea from which Paul writes about discipline within the church.

Usually our children are given warnings of impending punishment if the continue breaking the rules of the home. However, there are times when our children blatantly thumb their nose up at the rules. After repeated violations of house rules, we resort to punishment for these violations. The punishment is to teach a lesson in obedience. It is not to excommunicate from the family. It is to keep them from hurting themselves or others in the family. Sometimes the violation affects the family’s reputation in the community. And there are times in families where a child is so willful and make family life so uncomfortable for everyone that it rare cases a parent can often resort to asking the child to leave home until he or she learns to submit to their authority and not to harm the family. Often this drastic measure is taken to get the child to experience what the real world is like and to humble them into coming home in a repentant frame of mine. It is the same way in the church, Paul says.

To be a Christian is to submit ourselves to the authority of God. When we submit ourselves to God, we also submit ourselves to the authority of His Word, His instruction book to us. Since the Word comes from God, we must submit ourselves to the Word. However, there are times when we as Christians blatantly thumb our noses at the Word of God. In this case in 1 Corinthians 5, a man in the church was openly living in sin. He flaunted his sin. He was having an affair openly with his father’s wife, apparently his father was either widowed or had divorced the son’s mother and had remarried. The son was openly having an affair with his stepmom. Even though there was no blood relationship here, this was wrong on so many levels and not to mention just plain out weird. Even today, a son having a intimate relationship with his stepmom would just be considered out and out weird! Not only is it dishonoring to the son’s father, it is adultery. The fact that the son was flaunting the relationship before the whole congregation was completely unrepentant about it made it all the more sinister. Paul tells the Corinthians not to be proud of their tolerance but rather they needed to discipline this person. We must reach out to members of our flock not in negative, gossipy ways but point out the unrepented sin privately to them and ask them to repent of the sin that they are rationalizing as being OK. We must point to the authority of Scripture on the subject and ask them to prayerfully consider Scripture in comparison to their behavior. We should not ignore that a person is openly unrepentant of a behavior that is obviously sinful. If a person claims to be a Christian, then they are subject to such discipline.

If a person claims to be a Christian, then, they should accept Scripture as the guide to our lives. There are many today who openly violate God’s commands and they begin to widdle away parts of the Bible. They get rid of the Old Testament because they use the false logic that we are no longer under the law. The get rid of the epistles of the New Testament, except for the part where it says we are no longer under the law, of course. The get rid of the rest of the epistles because they say it is constructed theology and not the theology of Jesus. Now we are then left only with the red letter parts of the Bible – just what Jesus said and they then parce that down to only the love that Jesus spoke and not the judgment. They fail to remember that Jesus said He was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. He did not come to abolish anything that was written. Remember too Pauline theology teaches that we are free from the PENALTY of the law through Jesus not from the law itself. The law is necessary to point out how woefully sinful that we are and our need for Jesus. When we want to openly participate in our sin, we will throw away the Bible down to a couple verses that help support our seeking of our favorite sin. Those who call themselves Christians but openly sin can rationalize all we want but we have to rationalize away the majority of Scripture and rewrite what’s left. Paul is saying to us as Christians that we cannot allow a member of our fellowship to openly and willfully participate in that which is against Scripture without approaching them in love and pointing out the nature of their biblical offense. Without correction, it can divide the fellowship. Without correction, it can give young Christians the wrong idea about what is morally right and wrong according to Scripture. To be consistent with Scripture, we must approach these situations in love with the intention of restoration, with the intention of teaching, not with the intention of tearing down or setting ourselves up as elitist brokers of morality.

We must check ourselves before we do such discipline. We must examine our motives. If our motives are to lovingly reproach the person with the intention of helping them mature in Christ, then yes approach. If it is anything less than that, our intentions are self-serving. We must think of the person’s spiritual well being first, the spiritual well being of the congregation and never to gain vengeance or to exact revenge. We too must examine ourselves to determine if we are allowing an unrepented sin to fester in our own lives. We must seek the advice of people more spiritually mature than ourselves too and seek their assistance in dealing with the issue. However, none of this should lead us to inaction when someone in our flock is blatantly and flagrantly sinning and appears to have no intention or no inclination to stopping their participation in the sinful behavior.

Paul says that even after reproach a person CLAIMING to be Christian continues to flaunt their sin in front of the local body of Christ, then they must be asked to leave the fellowship until such time they have dealt with their flagrant disregard for the standards of Scripture. Yes, excommunication is sometimes necessary for us as believers to see the error of our judgment. Excommunication though should never be considered permanent rather only until a person has dealt with their flagrant disregard for Scripture. There is a difference here between flagrant disregard and a person who is seeking after God with his whole heart. Sure, we are all imperfect beings and we sin daily. But as we mature in Christ, we learn more and more about what is sinful behavior and we submit those things to the authority of Christ. We seek forgivenss for our sins. We turn from those things that are unholy. We repent. Just as there is a difference between a child to accidently violates a family rule and is remorseful for it and tries his best in the future not to go down that road again and a child who blatantly and willfully challenges the rules of the house just to piss his parents off. Paul is talking about the second child as it relates to openly and willfully participating in immoral behaviors.

Paul also warns us too that we are not to measure non-believers by the same standard that we measure those who claim to be Christ followers. Nonbelievers are to be met in their sin. They are to be loved and shown uncommon kindness. Sure, we are not to participate in their behaviors that are contrary to Scripture but we are to love them in their sin. We are to seek them out and share the good news of Jesus Christ with them right where they are. If we reject them for their sins without them knowing Jesus Christ personally, we have missed our opportunity to expand the kingdom. All of us were sinners not knowing how sinful we were until we met Jesus Christ. We did not know we even needed Jesus Christ before we encountered someone willing to walk with us where we were. However, Paul says that once we accept Christ as our Savior, we must live by the higher standard of God’s timeless Word. We must also be willing to subject ourselves to the authority of Scripture. We must be willing to see when our behavior is contrary to Scripture and repent. We must be willing to see when our behavior is dishonoring to Jesus Christ. We must be willing to see that Jesus died for our sins and we must be willing to honor him by repenting of our behaviors that are dishonoring to his sacrifice. We must be willing to submit to the Holy Spirit who guides us to revulsion over our sins that grieve the heart of God and help us to repent of them.

Oh Father, help me to see my sins as not something that I need to protect and rationalize. Help me to see my sins for what they are. Help me to see them as dishonoring to Jesus. Help me to see them as making you grieve. Help me to want to please You. Help me see my sins and repent. Hep me to be revolted by my own behaviors that are displeasing to you as laid out in your Holy Word. Help me to make you proud of me. Help me to come before you one day and for you to say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Amen.

1 Corinthians 4 — Today, we move into the fourth chapter of 1 Corinthians and Paul continues with the issues of divisions within the church. The way we must approach this passage for today’s church is from both the perspective of the staff of the church and from the that of the congregation. Divisions can arise within a church staff just as much as it can among the congregation of a church. When we strive to create kingdoms of our own, we are no longer effective gospel bearers.

For pastors and church staff, we must remember always that the position that we hold is a gift from God. When we begin to think that growth, both spiritually and in the numbers of people who attend our church, is because of us and our wonderful preaching and leadership skills, then we have lost focus and the message of the gospel can easily become perverted. We must remember that it is only by the grace of God that we hold the positions that we hold. God has placed us in the position that we hold to achieve a specific goal for the kingdom at this place in this era of time with these specific people. Within a church staff, we must not see our jobs as stepping stones to the next higher level of church position. We must not breed jealousies among the people of our church. We must not try to accrue a following within the following of the church. God has placed us in subservient roles under the leadership of a senior pastor for a reason.

Joseph did not complain while in prison that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He used his time in prison to speak and teach of the Almighty God to his fellow prisoners. God had placed him there for a specific purpose that comes to fruition when it allows him access to the pharaoh. His access to the pharaoh led him to become the man who saves Egypt from starvation. He became the second most powerful man in the Egyptian dynasty. All of that would have never happened if Joseph had not be a faithful servant while in prison. As pastors and staff, we often think we could do it better or that our vision is better and we begin to create division and distrust within the church staff. We try to create our own little silos of power within the church. When that happens, the church is sunk. We must realize as junior staff to the senior pastor God has placed us where we are at this moment in time to ready us for the next step in God’s plan for our lives and for our ministries. Let us learn to submit to those in authority over us and lead under their direction. Let us learn what we need to learn from our senior leadership. When we realize that God has us under the leadership we are under right now because of God’s sovereign plan for our ministries and our development, then unity comes. When we work with this idea in mind, it leads us to pray to God to teach us what we need to learn. It leads us to pray for our senior leadership. We are all here at this moment in time with these people at this place for the work that needs doing for the kingdom right now at this place. It is then a privilege not a burden to work for the senior leaders we work for.

For the flock of the church, we should not create divisions within a church so as to align ourselves with certain members of the church staff. We also should not try to create our own followings within a church just because we think we can do a better job at this church thing that the pastor and his staff can. We see this scenario play out so often in churches, often more so than a divided staff. We as church members can become arrogant in thinking that we have it all figured out. We think we know how to run a church. As church members, we can become arrogant and think we are pastors but yet have never had the commitment to follow the call but yet we will criticize in overt and covert ways that we are not being allowed to lead as we see fit. We can fail to see that it is our ego on display rather than seeking after God. For us as church members we must remember that, like a church staff, God in His sovereign wisdom has brought us together at this church at this time with these people in this place for a specific purpose in this era of time. All of us have made our way to the church that we are at now and planted our roots there at God’s sovereign design. He has orchestrated us being where we are. He has us at this church for a reason. We are being groomed and developed and we need to be at this church at this moment to be in step with God’s plan for our development as Christ followers. That means if I am placed in a position of cleaning the toilets at the church, I must do it with the understanding that God is teaching me what I need to know for the next step in my growth as a Christ follower. It does not mean that I complain that my talents are not being utilized as they should be and start creating my own following within the church, start creating this us vs. them mentality between us and the pastoral staff.

When we as pastors and we as church members remember that we are not here about us. God will bless those that humbly serve Him. God will bless the church that remembers that we all have been given a gift from God in being part of body of Christ. God will bless those churches that remember that we are here to be light in the darkness. God will bless those churches that remember that we are to be a city on a hill. God will bless those churches that demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ rather the ones who demonstrate the same strife, division and politics as the world around them. God will bless those churches where the staff and the church are humble servants who realize that the church is a precious thing and it is a gift through which the Savior of the world’s message is to be broadcast to the world. It is a privilege to be a part of the local body of which I am a part. Whatever I must do, ever how I am called to do it, at this moment in time is because of God’s sovereign plan. Who am I to dispute God’s plan. What if Joseph had rebelled against God’s plan for him to be in prison? Where would God’s people be if he decided not to be faithful because he thought he was placed in the wrong position? What if? Like Joseph, we must trust God and be faithful as preachers and as churchgoers in the positions that he places us within the body at this moment in time with these people at this place…

1 Corinthian 3 — Back in the late 1980’s, there was a song by a group called Living Colour entitled “Cult of Personality”. It was a song inspired by the common phrase. The phrase, in popular culture, means that an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized, heroic, and at times, worshipful image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. Paul warns of these dangers in the church, particularly among immature believers.

In today’s increasingly decentralized church, where denominations are generally weakening and independent non-denominational megachurches are on the rise, there is a danger for there to become cults of personality surrounding the lead pastors of megachurches. With books written, television appearances, mass influence over thousands of people, slick media campaigns for churches that rival the best of the secular world. Often we see the dangers of these cults of personality fulfilled. Today, we find there are many leaders of megachurches out there that have almost been accorded celebrity status. Some of these men are truly men of God but the danger is there for them to become more important than the man they are supposed to be representing – Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

We have seen the dangers of the celebrity status accorded them. It often creates a tendency to surround with only those who give flattery and praise which leads to a lack of accountability. Recently, we have seen examples where the lack of accountability have brought down men who I don’t think were out for celebrity but it just happens if we are not careful. Mark Driscoll’s demise at the church he founded, Mars Hill, is an example. The fallout from Perry Noble’s infamous rewrite of the ten commandments into the ten promises. We have Creflo Dollar believing in his heart that it is in the best interest of his flock for him to have a $65 million private jet. These are examples of how easily we can stray off the path of what we are here for. Although there are many things wrong with traditional church, as we in the new church movement call it. Most traditional churches have almost closed themselves off from society and a shrinking or standing still and have become social/political clubs but denominational church do have a level of accountability for pastors that we do not often see in this new movement toward the decentralized, non-denominational church. Paul is preaching the same message to the church at Corinth that we need to hear in the new church movement.

Paul is saying what are we here for? Are we here to follow Paul? Are we here to follow Apollos? Are we here to follow Peter? His answer is “Wake up, people! What we are here for is to give glory to our Savior Jesus Christ! What we are here for is to give glory to God!” Anything less and we can easily degenerate into a cult of personality. In a cult of personality, the leader can rationalize straying from the truth of the gospel just to reach a wider audience. Anything less and we fall into the danger of being about the number of butts in seats than it is about the salvation of the souls in those seats. It is about getting people in the door and not about there maturation as Christ followers. It is about how many satellite campuses we have rather than the quality of the biblical education that our people are given. It is about the number of books sold rather than the number of lives changed by the gospel. It is about making the gospel palatable to a culture that is increasingly about doing what makes itself feel good (and defining that as the new normal) rather than standing on the eternal truth of God. It is about going two inches deep into the Bible rather than diving into its depths and dealing with issues that are unpopular in today’s ever changing and lowering moral landscape. When we start to make the turn around that corner away from the sole reason that we are here, then, the cult of personality begins. We must always built the house of God on Jesus’ foundation and nothing less.

The foundation of the church – of all believers – is Jesus Christ. Nothing else will do, Paul says. A building with no foundation is one poorly constructed and can easily be destroyed. A house not built on the solid ground of Jesus Christ. All other ground is sinking sand as the old hymn goes. It will not last. If we are believers, then foundation of our lives must be Jesus Christ. He is our reason for being. Everything we do must fit into the pattern of and emulate the nature of Jesus Christ. Anything less will cause us to degenerate into hero worship, wealth seeking, search for fame, and financial security. Just look at our world today where people become celebrities whom we follow there every move just because they were on a reality show. They have no real talent but they were on TV! We are worshiping people and people disappoint. We can easily begin even among believers to worship and make celebrities out of our preachers. Paul is saying to us to keep our head in the game. Jesus is the reason we are here. We were brought together by our salvation through Jesus Christ and it is our job to teach the world that it is Jesus who brings reconciliation with God. It is through Him that we are reconciled to our Father in Heaven. It is through Him that we can spend eternity in the presence of God because the penalty of our sins has been washed away. Anything less is off the mark. Anything less shows a lack of maturity among believers. Anything less causes division. Anything less can degenerate into celebrity worship of preachers. Don’t get me wrong, I love my senior pastor. He is about the most awesome man of God I have ever met. Yet, he is the first to tell you that he would resign from the church that he had the Christ honoring privilege to found if the church ever became about him rather than reaching souls for Jesus Christ. That’s why you rarely see his picture plastered on anything LifeSong. May he continue to avoid the temptations that come with being the pastor of a church like ours, a church poised to be a megachurch one day.

Let us pray for my senior pastor! Let us pray for the popular megachurch leaders out there such as the ones that I have already mentioned and also including ones like Steve Furtick at Elevation in Charlotte, Andy Stanley at North Pointe Church in Atlanta, TD Jakes at The Potter’s House in Dallas, Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. Let us pray that they all keep Jesus front and center and themselves off to the side watching Jesus and imitating Him.

Let us pray that we as members of the new church movement that we remember that our churches are here to reach people that otherwise would not be reached with the gospel. Let us remember that it is about worshiping God, honoring God, and teaching the message of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. Let us remember to love our pastors but not make them celebrities. Let us always compare their actions and hold them accountable to Scripture. Let us remember that we are here because of our common bond of salvation through the Son of God and that it is that message that is more important that the number of butts in seats. Martin Luther coined the phrase “solo scriptura”….only Scripture. May everything we do be compared to Scripture. May everything we do be about spreading the gospel. Anything less and we can so easily become a cult of personality orbiting around preacher celebrities. It was a danger in Corinth. It is a danger now.

1 Corinthian 2:1-16 — To conclude our review of this passage today, let us consider that people who are not receptive to the Holy Spirit consider the truth of God as revealed in Scripture as foolishness. It all sounds foolish to them for they cannot understand. Something you consider foolish or fantastic, you will by nature will dismiss it.

Do you remember when you were a kid, you could not understand the concept of people living in other time zones. You could not understand why people all over the world did not go to sleep at the same time. It did not make sense to you because, as a child, you could only understand the world as it related to you. You could understand the world as it related to you but anything else beyond that, you dismissed it. It did not make sense that whole parts of the world worked and slept on a totally different schedule than you. It did not make sense that the universe was not within your realm of understanding. Did it make it any less true that the earth rotates on its axis as it rotates on a trajectory around the sun such that all parts of our planet have day and night? Just because we do not understand something and summarily dismiss it does not make it any less true. The truth of Scripture is the same way. It is dismissed as untrue by many because the Holy Spirit has not yet opened their eyes to the possibility that there is something greater than ourselves and that there is a plan in motion to redeem mankind through Jesus Christ. Does saying God does not exist make Him not exist. Just because I cannot see outside my field of vision does not make the world beyond my vision not exist. There are elements of the universe that we have just recently discovered but did their discovery mean that they did not previously exist?

We, as Christ followers, must keep this in mind that some will dismiss the gospel, will dismiss the existence of God because it all seems foolish to them. We must be able to tailor the unchanging story of God’s redemptive plan to the context in which they find their lives at the moment. In a world that is increasingly secular. In a world where we are entering second generations and maybe even third generations of people that have not darkened the door of a church ever. In a world where biblical literacy is decreasing. In a world where people right here in the United States have not read a single page of the Bible nor have had parents who did, the Bible and its story are just the thin veneer of things that they have seen on television or seen possibly in movies. How to do you express the message of God’s redemptive plan for mankind to a world that does not know Him. Do you start with Jesus on the cross? I do not think that we can start there any more. In decades past, when there was a significantly higher level of biblical literacy in the world, you could start at the cross because there was already pre-existing understanding of Jesus and why His death on the cross and His resurrection were significant. These are assumptions we cannot make today.

We must begin with the beginning. We must begin with the concept of how we all got here. We must begin with existence. We must grapple with the beginnings of the universe. We must seek to understand whether they believe that the universe was created by a random spark out of nothingness and work through the issue that the universe has forever been built on laws of action and reaction and catalysts that set of actions and reactions. How could a universe built on a set of laws based on such things just create itself. There must have been a catalyst. There has to have been an outside agent that caused the initial spark that created the universe. The Bible addresses the issue of creation and attributes it all to the existence of God who set all things in motion. That begins to frame the whole conversation. You have to start there. Without opening up with the question of creation in a world where the existence of God may not even be a consideration in a person’s mind, the discussion is pointless and rejected as foolishness. Does it make it any less true that God exists and was the Intelligent Designer of the universe if I say He does not exist? No. God will still exist even if I say He does not. However, you do not give solid food to a baby, you give them milk. In our conversations with those who reject what we believe, you must address this issue first. Go back to the very beginning.

Until you settle that issue, the need for Jesus Christ is indeed foolishness. How do I know I need Jesus until I know there is God. If I believe in a world that was randomly created out of nothing for no apparent reason, then, the whole world is random and the whole world is chance. And I must control it all myself. In a world randomly created out of nothing for apparent reason with no catalyst, I am therefore my own God. I define what is right and what is wrong. In a world without God, I am the definer of morality. Everything else is foolishness until you address the issue of the existence of God. With existence of God, there is a judge of what is universally right and universally wrong. With the existence of God there are unchanging truths. With the existence of God there is accountability. With the existence of God there is such a thing as sin. With the existence of God, there is a need for a redemptive plan for man who has royally screwed up God’s creation with his self-centered ways. With the existence of God, there is a need for a Savior. With the existence of God, there is a need for Jesus. With Jesus there is a hope for an eternity with God. With Jesus there an expectation and a hope that this crazy messed up world will be made right by Him in the end. Begin with the beginning. Unless you do that, it is all foolishness to a world that increasingly does not even know or cares to know that God exists. To them, it’s all foolishness until you address that issue.

May we pray for opportunities to have discussions about the purpose of existence and how it all began so that we address the issue of the existence of God and get the conversation started that leads us down the path to Jesus Christ. May we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide our words so that eyes are open to facts that were previously believed either to not exist or were considered untrue fictions. May we give the milk that leads to solid food. Amen.

1 Corinthians 2:1-16 — Have you ever had one of those friends, acquaintances, or co-workers that you feared having to ask a question because you knew that what would take you and I about 5 minutes to explain would take them 30 minutes to explain. These are the people that feel that they must give you ALL the background information on a situation rather than just the facts and the opinion that you need to know. These are the people that you don’t want leading you when it’s about 10 seconds before the bomb blows up and they take 30 seconds to tell the history of the situation. That is kind of the point of Paul’s passage today. When you read through this passage there seems to be two aspects to it and we will look at both, today and tomorrow. Today, we will look at Paul’s statement about how his message was presented to them.

There is an old saying in leadership circles, regardless of whether in the secular world or in the spiritual realm, that says that it is important to remember the KISS principle. KISS being an acronym for “keep it simple, stupid!” When we are trying to teach people new concepts, new procedures, new ways of thinking, you name it, we must break down the new thing into its simplest form. We must break down the overall complex thing into small chewable chunks that people can remember. When teaching a man how to operate a new piece of machinery at work, we do not teach him about all the engineering specifications of the machine as part of his initial training. We simply teach him what he needs to know to be successful in running the machine and not hurting himself in the process. It is the same way with preaching the gospel, particularly to those new in the faith and to people who have not yet accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

As we have discussed before Paul was a brilliant scholar. He knew the Scriptures well as he studied under the best biblical scholars and theologians that Israel had to offer. Paul could have overwhelmed his listeners with intellectual arguments. Instead, he shared the simple message of Jesus Christ by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide his words. As pastors and as anyone who shares their faith others, we must keep the message simple. It is the simple things that are the easiest to remember. Why do you think that you remember the lyrics to a song from 30 years ago word for word but yet you cannot remember what any of your textbooks from college or high school said? Simplicity. Popular music is popular because it is simple and easy to remember. We must remember that when we preach people are going to forget 80% of what we said within the first hour after hearing the sermon. Within the first 48 hours, they will have forgotten 95% of exactly what you said. Therefore, that 5% is what we are after. What they will retain must be simple and memorable. That is where we must remove ourselves and let the Holy Spirit guide. The Holy Spirit must guide our words. The Holy Spirit must be the one to captivate and burn that 5% that is retained in the brain. We must allow the Holy Spirit be the guide to us in what we write and what we speak. The same is true for those who are not full-time pastors. Christ followers are ministers in their daily lives and when we witness to others about Jesus, we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide our words. When we make it our job to save people, we will lose them.

Paul is saying basically that he has never saved anyone. What? Paul who is second only to Jesus in the impact that a person has had on our Christian faith through the centuries never saved anyone. That’s right and Paul himself would admit that. It is the Holy Spirit who saves. So, Paul is saying, let us get ourselves out of the way and the Holy Spirit do His work. The simpler the message the more it is remembered. If you try to load people down with all the theology of the Christian faith when they are not already a believer, you are going to lose them. When you do that, you are interjecting yourself into the fray. When we purposely try to show how much we know about our faith, we make the message complicated when it is not. There is plenty of time to teach a person the beauty and symmetry of the theology of the Christian faith. Those things come with maturity in the faith. As we mature in Christ, we hunger to know more about why we believe what we believe. It is natural through the leading of the Holy Spirit as a person matures in the faith. Do they need to know that on the day of salvation? Paul and anyone else would say that if you boil the entire Bible down to one thing to remember it would be found in John 3:16. For God so loved the world that gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. It’s that simple.

So, is Paul saying that we should not prepare as pastors or prepare as witnesses and that we do not have to do anything? Paul is not denying the importance of study and preparation both as preachers and witnesses. Effective preaching and effective witnessing comes from preparation. We must study and understand Scripture and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in its presentation. If we do not understand Scripture, we can mislead people even if the message is made simple. We can misrepresent the message of John 3:16, the simple message, if we do not know the story of which we are witnessing. In such situations, say as pastors, if we do not know Scripture and in our zeal to engage culture and get them in our doors, we may do a makeover on the Ten Commandments and make them into the Ten Suggestions. In our desire for simplicity and attractiveness, we cannot subvert the Bible. As daily witnesses, we must understand the story so that we can place it in the context of that person’s life to whom we are witnessing without abandoning the immutable truths of the Bible. When we do anything other than be witnesses to the simple, unchanging truth of the Bible as God’s Word, we get in the way of the Holy Spirit. We must know and trust the Word as is, place it in the context of a person’s life issues, and then watch the Holy Spirit do His work.

The message that we get from Paul today is this. The message is simple. Let us not overcomplicate it. All of the theology comes with maturity in Christ. What people really need to know is that God has a redemptive plan for all mankind, for us individually, through the person and work of Jesus Christ. The simpler the message the better. We must know and understand Scripture, sure. For it is in knowing Scripture well comes the ability to make it simple to others. For it is in knowing Scripture that we know that we do not save people but rather the Holy Spirit. For it is in knowing Scripture, that we learn humility before God and allow the Holy Spirit to guide our thinking, our actions, and our message to the world in its simplest, most understandable forms. The message is really as simple as the childhood vacation bible school song, “Jesus loves me! This, I know! For the Bible tells me so!”

Amen.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 — This passage brings to mind an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series called “Mirror, Mirror.” In this episode, when Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura are beaming back to the Enterprise something happens while they were in transport and they end up on the Enterprise but in some type of alternate universe where the Federation is evil rather than benevolent. Nothing is the same as it should be. Every person, place and thing seems to be the opposite, the antithesis, of what the away team knew to be reality. It was, indeed, bizarro world for them because the things that you count on as good are now evil and that which you knew as evil is now considered good. Opposite to the world they knew.

This concept of the opposites is what Paul is writing about in this passage. It is a theme that dominates his writings throughout the New Testament. The Christian faith is foolishness to those who consider themselves wise by human standards. Also, our faith is a gift so it gives us nothing to boast about in our achievements. God’s ways are not our ways. Therefore, we cannot apply our human standards that are based on the limited knowledge and understanding that we have onto a limitless and eternally wise Creator.

The Christian faith is foolishness to those who are wise by human standards. This crucified and risen Christ seems as foolish to those who have not encountered Him today as it did back in Paul’s day. Our society, today, worships power, influence, and wealth. Just watch television for a little and you will see that. Commercials, reality shows, the news, dramas, movies, all over you see the gathering of wealth as the ultimate end game for us all. But, here we have this Jesus. Jesus came as a humble, poor servant and He offers the kingdom of God to those who have faith, not to those who do all kinds of good deeds to try to earn salvation. To the Jews, they thought the Messiah would come as a conquering king and restore Israel to its former Davidic glory. Jesus had not restored the earthly kingdom of Israel and He was executed as a criminal. How could a criminal be a Savior? The Greeks, too, saw this whole Jesus thing as foolishness as well. They did not believe in bodily resurrection and they did not see the powerful characteristics of their mythological gods and they thought no reputable person would be crucified. To them, death was defeat, not victory. Today, people scoff at our faith because in their minds it flies in the face of reason. The message of Christ’s death is the opposite of what we think we know. Today, we think we are the smartest, most accomplished that mankind has ever been. All this Jesus stuff just seems foolish. Death is considered the end of the road by human wisdom. Death is the ultimate display of human weakness. Jesus’ resurrection shows the power of an almighty God. It demonstrates that God is greater than the things we know in our limited human knowledge to be true. The Christian faith is simple. It requires nothing but the willingness to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He died for our sins, and that He rose from the dead to give us victory over death and the hope of eternal life with His Father in heaven. Man would rather make it more complicated. We need to make it about achieving some oneness with the wisdom of the universe. We want to worship our own achievements. We want to worship our own logic. We want to worship our own freedoms to pursue that we ourselves define as what make me feel good. However, all of these pursuits will ultimately come up empty. They may satisfy for years and years but ultimately they do not give us the meaning that we are searching for. Many today try to debunk our foolish faith and they spend a great deal of time and energy hitting every website, chat room, blog or other social media that has a mention of Christian faith. They do all this hunting down the faith and spend great deals of time picking apart our faith, but yet what is it exactly they are offering in its place. Human wisdom? Worshiping man himself? Just look at the world today. Are we really going to say that worshiping ourselves has produced a better world? They call us foolish. Let me be a fool. Let me be the opposite of what this world desires. Let me believe in my Risen Lord. Let me believe in a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son to reconcile me unto Himself. Let me believe that there is a God who is patiently waiting for us to turn to Him and allowing us the free will to make this world what it is today. Let me believe in a God that will say at some point that time is up and that He will send His Son to set everything straight and make everything right again. It will be in that day that the wisdom of man will seem foolish. If I die before Christ returns, I have faith that there is something more after death. I believe that there is a heaven and hell. I believe that I will spend eternity in heaven with my God because of my faith in the person and work of His Son. When you consider that we know more now in the 21st century than we know in the 20th and the 19th before that, we must admit that we do not know it all. We must admit that our level of knowledge now will seem foolish to those 3 centuries ahead into the future. Why then do you dismiss God as foolishness? Why do you dismiss Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God? Are you willing to bet your eternity on your limited 21st century knowledge? That is the bigger foolishness than this foolish faith in Jesus Christ.

Finally, Paul talks about the fact that our faith is based on what Jesus did for us not on what we can do for ourselves. This seems foolish by human wisdom’s standard. This seems foolish here in America where we have the American Dream. We want our checklists. We want our merit badges. We want there to be 72 levels of achievement in our video games. We want to be able to differentiate ourselves from those around us. We want to stand on top of the heap. But here is this Christian faith that says our salvation is simply a gift because of the work that Jesus has already done on the cross. It does not require that you be an academic professor to get it. It does not require that you progress those stages of enlightenment to get it. It is simple. Come to the realization that you are a sinner destined for an eternity separated from God. Realize that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was a sacrifice to a just God for the sins of man. Believe that His death was atonement for your sins. Ask Him to come into your life and be your Savior and Lord. Believe that He was bodily resurrected from the dead to demonstrate His victory over your sin and your death. Know that you have eternal life through Him. No merit badges to earn. Nothing to do but accept the gift. Human wisdom will not get you into heaven. Human achievements will not get you into heaven. Simple faith does. No one can boast of what they did or continue to do to earn their salvation. It is a gift from God through His Son. We cannot therefore boast that my salvation is better than yours because I have been a Christ follower longer. We can only boast that boast of what Christ has done for us both. We are equal in the faith because we are both sinners saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. Sure, we can develop spiritual maturity at faster and slower rates than one another but none of it would happen without the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Since we cannot boast of achievements, we can easily be united by the thing that binds us, our common faith in Jesus Christ, our common bond of being sinners saved by grace. Seems pretty foolish by the world’s standards by which we want to measure ourselves one against another. But, when we are humbly submitted to God and thankful for the gift He has given us, we no longer have the need to glorify ourselves. There is unity when we work together humbly to give God glory rather than the division that always comes from seeking after our own desires. Let us forget what divides and remember what unites us, Jesus Christ. Let me have that kind of foolishness!

Father in Heaven, you who are almighty and eternally wise far beyond anything that we currently can know and understand, we praise your name for what you have done for us in Jesus Christ. We thank you for sending Him to us to give us eternal life through His sacrifice on the cross. Thank you for our simple faith so that none of us can boast of what we have personally achieved. No personal achievement can supersede that we are dead in sin without the saving grace of someone outside ourselves, Jesus Christ. He is the risen we are reconciled to you. Thank you for Jesus being the humble servant here on earth to show that glory comes to those who seek to do your will and not their own. Thank you for being God whose ways are higher than our ways and whose ways will make the humanly wise seem foolish in the end. Amen.

1 Corinthians 1:10-17 — After reminding the church at Corinth what they all have in common, Paul begins to address the issues that are dividing the church there. He reminds them what they are here for and that they are on the same team.

Have you ever wondered what made a championship team different from the rest of the teams. Some of us have had that opportunity before on some type of team. Some of us have had a chance to be part of championship team types of companies even if we have not had a chance to be on a championship sports or academic team. What makes them different? What makes them special? Championship teams are those that place the needs of the team or the company above their personal needs. To a man (and to a woman) within these teams or organizations, each one feels as though what is best for the team is more important than their personal feelings. When we play on championship teams, there is a sense of unity among the players or if a company among the employees. There is a common goal that binds them. To be the best at what they do is the goal. Every person on the team from the starting quarterback down to the waterboy is bought in to the team’s mission and goal. In companies, everyone from the president on down to the customer service rep that just started two weeks ago is committed to making the company the best at what it does. Everyone feels like they are part of the team. Everyone sees that their role is important to the overall success of the team or the corporation. Each one is willing to sacrifice egos to get the job done. Each one is willing to sacrifice the easy route for the hard one because the hard one is the one that builds character or success.

Have you ever seen what can destroy a team or a company? One sure-fire way for that to happen is for their to develop silos within the organization. When there are factions within a team, it fractures the team. When there are divided allegiances, people are pulled in opposing directions where there are differing agendas and differing goals. In a football team, for example, I have seen where a younger player, say a sophomore or a freshman, who is more talented and a better leader is given a starting position over a senior and the senior does not take it well and begins to create his own team within a team to make the starter look bad. When that happens the team is destroyed. Many of us have had the opportunity to be a part of those kinds of teams where there is no unity just several leaders trying to accumulate as many followers as they can. The team seems lost and forgotten in those situations. We have been part of companies that are that way too. Different parts or functions of the organization seem only out to protect their turf or to grab as much power and prestige within the organization as they can. The company becomes divided and moves nowhere and eventually such companies implode.

Paul reminds us that churches can be one or the other too. They can be championship churches or they can be the ones that destroy themselves from within. Paul reminds the church at Corinth, we should not be so concerned about what preacher we follow and but focused on the thing that unites us, Jesus Christ. God calls us together as Christ followers not to follow men but to follow Jesus Christ. When we become so concerned with whether we like this preacher or that preacher, when we try to rank ourselves by who we are aligned with within the church, then we are dead in the water. We should be less concerned about whether we agree with this preacher and not that one and more concerned about expanding the kingdom of God by spreading the good news of what Christ has done.

This concept is true for leaders as well as the flock of the church. For the flock of the church, we should not be focused on winning the favor of others. We should not be focused on creating power pockets within the church. We should not be focused on whether we are one of those hand picked favorites of the preacher. We should not let whether we like the preacher or not determine our level of commitment to the local body in which God has placed us. We should not leave churches over political struggles or whether we like the preacher’s sermons or the preacher’s actions. We should not get mad at the leaders of the church or leave a local church because you were not made a leader of something. For the flock of the church, we should realize that there is a reason that God has orchestrated us being at this church at this point in time for us to serve in the ways that He thinks we are ready for at this point in our spiritual maturity. We must be humble and see the needs of the body as greater than our own. We must serve where our talents are needed in whatever capacity that may be. Because the needs of the team are greater than the needs of our ego. We have a job to do as Christ’s church. There are lost souls who need to know of our Savior through what we do as a local body of Christ. That is the championship we need to win. We need to always have that picture in mind – that championship team in heaven filled with souls that found Christ through our local body. Think of that team picture. Think of them with Christ, the trophy, in that picture. It is not about us. It is indeed about Him! Championship churches are a collection of people who do not care if their names are in the papers. They simply care about the championship – people coming to Christ.

For leaders of churches, we must keep this in mind as well. We are not here to create kingdoms of our own. We are not here to have people say that they follow us. We are not here to create our own little kingdoms within our church bodies either. All areas of leadership must work together to lead the flock in the same direction. We must see that none of our leadership positions would be possible without the work and the inspiration of the other leaders on our leadership team. The quarterback cannot win a game without running backs and receivers and cannot win at all without an offensive line to protect him. Offense cannot win without defense either. Defense, too, must have the offense. The success of our church depends on our team of leaders working as integrated unit. Our success depends on all leaders working together. When we are out of for our own press clippings, the church becomes divided and stagnant because leadership is divided and stagnant. Tugs of war take a long time and wear people out and ultimately the rope does not really get moved very far. We as leaders must keep our eye on the prize as well. We are here not to gather followings unto ourselves. We are here to lead people to Christ. We are here to help them mature in Christ. We are here to make them disciples of Christ. We are here to make them leaders in Christ. We are here to send them out in the name of Christ. You notice that I used the name of Christ to end all five of the previous sentences. That is the case because He is what we are here for. If we lose sight of Jesus Christ, we have lost sight of the prize. We have lost sight of the goal. We have lost sight of the championship. We as leaders must work together toward the prize – glorify God through leading people to Jesus’ saving grace and maturing them in the grace gift they have been given. Nothing less than this unifying fact will win.

Father remind us all that we are to give you glory in everything we do, everything. Everything we do must be about you. Our goals should be about doing that with excellence. We should give you glory through striving for excellence and for unity. We must give you our all and for you to be it all. Help us to remember that when we get our ego bruised. Help us to remember that when we don’t get our way. Help us to remember that when we see someone cry out to Jesus Christ to be their Savior. Help us to remember that when we see someone become more and more mature in Christ. Help to remember that Jesus Christ is our prize and not whether we are gathering a following ourselves or following the right leader. None of that matters if we are not about working together to expand the kingdom of God by spreading the good news of what He has done through His Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

1 Corinthians 1:4-9 — Paul thanks God for the Corinthian believers. They belonged to Christ now. Therein lies his thanksgiving. Although Paul is about to address the many problems in the church at Corinth, he thanks God for the fact that they are believers and that through Christ, God has enriched them in every way. Through Jesus, God brought together many talents that would enable them to live Christian lives, to witness for Christ, and stand against the immorality and paganism of the day in Corinth. There is a lesson for us as the church of today in this opening to this letter. Sometimes, as churches wanting to be all that God has called us to be, we can become overly critical of ourselves and what we are not but yet we fail to see the gifts that God has given us.

As part of the leadership team at my church, I am aware of the shortcomings of our church, of where we are right now and where we want to be. I am aware of the fact that there are many who come to our church who fail to participate in ministry when I know there are many with gifts sitting in our seats. I am painfully aware that sometimes that reflects a lack of leadership on my part and on the parts of our entire leadership team. I am aware of what we are not and how we fall short of the mission at times. It is so much easier to believe the bad news. It is so much easier to say, yes, we fall short in this area. It is easier to believe that we are not where we want to be. It is easier to believe that we will never be what God called our church to be. It is easier to believe that achieving the goals set forth for us are not achievable.

But for all the things that we are not, for all the things we have not done, for all the things we try and fail at, we must be thankful for what God has done with our team. It is nothing short of a miracle that God has brought this team of leaders together at this time at this place with these people. I have never been a part of a group of Christ followers who are as passionate about the mission of our church as this team is. This team loves the Lord. Some churches have a few leaders that are passionate and the rest of the team gets pulled along, but at LifeSong, to the man (and the woman) each one is in love with the Lord in a way that is noticeable by others. From our senior pastor right down the line to the rest of the leadership team, you see the passion for Christ in each one. God brought that together. It may have seems like the paths of each leader to get to LifeSong was because of career and personal choices that led us to this town and this church. But God is all up in that. He orchestrated bringing this team together at this moment in time at this place to do the work that He has for us in this town, in this country, and this world right now. We may all eventually be scattered to the next phase of ministry with the next leadership team, but for this era of time, we are together by God’s divine providence.

Let us celebrate that. Let us be thankful for that. Let us be thankful for that as Paul was thankful for the group, imperfect as they were, at Corinth that God’s providence brought together. It is no accident. It is not random that God brought our leadership team together at LifeSong Church, imperfect as we are. We were brought together for this era of time to accomplish what God wants us to accomplish with the talents that this particular team has that will be required for the work that we have to do in this place at this time.

Earlier in this devotion, I stated that our leaders and me, myself, are painfully aware of what we are not, what we have tried and failed at, what our shortcomings are. We know what we want to be for our Savior and Lord, but yet we are not there yet. We know that. We are certainly aware of that. It is can be easy to give up when you can’t seem to engage people in the ministries of the church. It is easy to want to give up and say “ain’t nobody got time for that” and walk away. It is easy to see how other churches do it better than we do. It is easy to see that we are miles away from how we want to serve our Lord and how we desire to inspire others to do the same. Sure, there are procedural things and development of systems and processes things that we can do. Sure, there is the whole thing of making sure we have the right people in the right chairs (i.e., the right people with the right talents for specific jobs within the church). But, I think part of this self-examination of our shortcomings as a leadership team is the realization that we can do none of this under our own power. When we try to lead as Mark Bowling doing it or anyone else on our leadership team doing it, we will fail most assuredly. When it is about us struggling with the best of intentions and even in the most humble way, we will fail.

God is showing us through the revelation of our shortcomings as leaders that it is only through Him that we can do anything. What has happened at LifeSong over the past 7-8 years since its birth is nothing short of amazing. It is because of God. It is only through our thorough dependence on Him that these things have happened in the past 7-8 years. The only way that we will accomplish anything in the next 7-8 years is through total dependence on God. Our self-analysis reveals that we are not what we need to be, that’s where the humility comes in. That’s where the dependence comes in. That’s where the miracles happen. Let us forever realize that it is only through God that we accomplish anything at LifeSong. We are simply the stewards and the willing tools that He uses.

This is the message of Paul to the church at Corinth. Be thankful at the miracle of what God has brought together in this local body of Christ. Be thankful too that it God who orchestrates and it is simply we who participate. This is God’s message through Paul to us today at LifeSong. Be thankful for the team that God did not just randomly put together. There was intent and purpose to it for the job that He has given us to do in this time in this place with these people. Let us be thankful, too, that we see our shortcomings and do not think that we have got it made and have got it all figured out. Let us be thankful that we can see the areas where we need to improve because in seeing these shortcomings it raises our dependence on God. Total dependence on God is when the orchestration happens through our participation. Total dependence on God is when the miracles happen!

1 Corinthians 1:2-3 — This letter is written to God’s church in Corinth but that is mere location. It is could be written to God’s church anywhere. It is to you who have been called by God to be His own people. That certainly makes it applicable to all believers. It is like reading a letter out loud to a friend but a room full of people are listening who can learn from it as well.

Paul begins all of his letters in the ancient style where the greeting took up a good deal of space. The greeting reaffirms the relationship between the writer and the recipient. It is the nicety before the meat of or the reason for the letter. Certainly, in this letter, Paul pulls no punches with the church at Corinth, but in this first passage and the second one as well, he is establishing the good news, the common bond, that they share. It is kind of like your professor’s comments on the cover page of your research paper which gives you the positive overall view of your paper before you start turning the pages to see how he ripped your paper apart. Not necessarily the same thing, but it kind of helps you understand how Paul is setting up this letter. I usually like to give Paul a hard time for his very lengthy sentences in many of his writings. I often call him “The Master of the Run-On Sentence.” However, In these two short verses, Paul very succinctly states the basis of our faith.

Paul reminds them that they are God’s church. It is key for us to remind ourselves of that today as well. We may pay for the bricks and mortar or the steel and vinyl. We may pay for the glass and the wood. We may pay for the electricity and water but the church is God’s. Both the physical location and structure and the people who make up the church belong to God not to us. The structure is given to the Lord and dedicated to His service. It is not mine. It is not yours and we should treat our church as it is His and not hours. It should be treated with honor and respect. It should be maintained with the best that we have. The metaphorical church, the collection of people, also belong to God. There is no one of us better than another. The church is not our private political power trip. It is God’s church. He is the reason we are there not for you nor I to get some power trip that satisfies something that we are not getting in our life outside the physical building of the church. We are all there to serve not to rule. Yes, there are leaders in a church body, but leaders must lead in humble service to the God who called us to this body.

Paul reminds them that they are called by God to be His holy people. Remember, as we discussed day before yesterday, Corinth was a wide-open, morally loose, anything goes kind of city. It was the Sin City of its day. Paul is reminding them that they are to be set apart from the moral degradation of their surroundings. This message is applicable to God’s church in any century not just the first one. In our day, many churches are compromising the truths of the Bible just so they can attract people. We see this often as expressed in ways like the Ten Suggestions rather than Ten Commandments. We see it expressed in ways such as the Bible being rewritten, edited, and simply ignored on certain sexual issues that confront our society today. We see the church watering down the gospel by not talking about judgment and the justice of God but only of His love. I am certain the church at Corinth was trying to rationalize dabbling in the sins of its city while maintaining their appearance of being God’s church. Paul reminds them that we are to be a holy people, concerned with obeying God rather than our fleshly desires. He is reminding them that when we start compromising God’s Word we are no longer holy and set apart. We are called to be in the world making a difference but we are not to be of it. If we are not striving for holiness, if we are trying to fit into the world around us, how can they tell us apart from the rest of the world. It is like going to visit a local church where the opening sequence is a medley of 1990s secular hits because it is “We love the 90s” week at that church. Nope not the theme of the sermon series. They just wanted to play secular music in church to be seen as cool to the visitors to the church. Is that where we want to take our church? Ice Ice Baby? We are to be set apart. We are to be different. We are to be God’s holy people. We are to engage culture, yes, and we are to meet people where they are at but never at the expense of gospel truth and never at the expense of ascribing holiness to that which is not holy just so we can appear to be cool!

He reminds that we are made holy through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We can now exist in God’s presence through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are made holy through Jesus Christ. This fact is important for all of us to remember. We are not made holy through our own efforts. We are saved through grace by faith. We are made holy. We do not earn holy. Holiness is bestowed is not a series of merit badges earned on the way to being an Eagle Scout. We are made holy through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It is His covering over us that allows to be in the presence of a holy and perfect God. Jesus is of the same essence of the Father and thus is perfect. It is through Christ’s perfection that we are made holy. We are saved from our sin through Him. We cannot earn grace. Thus, there is no past so horrible that it cannot be redeemed by God through Jesus Christ. Let no one tell you that you do not deserve being a Christ follower! Your salvation is a gift given us by God through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross that makes even the foulest clean. It is through believing in Jesus as the Son of God that died for your sins that we are forgiven and it allows the Holy Spirit to come and abide in us to make us more and more like Jesus as each day progresses toward our reunion with Him in heaven. This is the wonder of the gospel. No merit badges. Just a gift of holiness through Jesus Christ.

Finally, Paul reminds them that though they are holy because they are now a part of the body of Christ that Jesus did what He did “for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” Paul reminds us that grace is for everyone. Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of the sins of everyone. The work is done already. All we must do is accept Jesus gift. Jesus has done the hard work already. The acceptance of the wrath of God for sin has already been done. All we must do is either accept Jesus as our Savior and live in His holiness or reject Him as your Savior and live in the results of that rejection at eternity’s door. The gospel therefore is not ours to keep wrapped tightly and kept to ourselves. It is for everyone. There is no one excluded from the gospel. It is for the murderer. It is for the thief. It is for the prostitute. It is for the liar. It is for the adulterer. It is for the homosexual. It is for greedy. It is for the covetous. It is for those who dishonor their parents. It is for all those who sin against our perfect and righteous God. It is for all of us who are condemned by our sin in the absence of Jesus Christ. The good news is that when we repent of our sins and beg Jesus Christ to be our Savior, He will send the Holy Spirit to live in us. In His covering, the Holy Spirit can dwell in us and convict us and make us more holy like our Father in heaven daily. No one is too far gone for Jesus’ sacrifice to make them clean before God. That’s the good news. Jesus has done the work. All can come before God as holy through accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior. No one’s excluded. We as Christ followers must not claim this right as our own exclusive membership. It is for everyone and we must share it and celebrate each new person in the faith. We must see those new in the faith as equal to us through the fact that we are no different than they – sinners saved by grace. Share the gospel. It is for everyone. It is ours to give away not ours to keep.

Wow, Paul in a short opening to his letter pretty much wraps up our faith in a few sentences. The church belongs to God and we should do well to remember that the next time we get the big ego and say this is MY church. We are His servants. We are God’s holy people and we should remember that we are to be of the world and for the world but we must stand on biblical truth as the basis for our lives. Finally, we must realize that our grace is a gift that we cannot earn and that very fact is the thing that we must share with the world around us. The gospel of grace is available to everyone who calls on Jesus’ name no matter what you’ve done, no matter your nationality, no matter your past, no matter your race. Jesus died for each and everyone of us. All we must do is accept His grace and be reconciled to God. Jesus did the work of accepting the wrath for your sins. Call on His name!

1 Corinthians 1:1 — This letter was written by Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, and he says that he was chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. Let us examine this one verse. It seems very simple and straightforward. It is a typical greeting to ancient letter in which the writer introduces himself and his dictationist to the recipient(s) of the letter. It is in that sense, yes, very simple and straightforward. But the sentence/verse is loaded with background and meaning. Paul says he was chosen by the will of God to be an apostle. This is the point that we should dwell on today.

Paul never knew Jesus personally. He was not one of the twelve disciples that were on the inside of the core of Jesus’ earthly ministry nor part of the early beginnings of the church. As a matter of fact, Paul was the opposite of that. He was not one of the rag tag band of fishermen, tax collector, or scribe that made up Jesus’ core team. He did not know hard labor like many of Jesus’ disciples. He grew up the son of Jewish man who became wealthy enough apparently to buy Roman citizenship for he and his family. When he was old enough, he was sent to Jerusalem to begin his formal biblical education. He was an educated man. He studied under one of the great biblical scholars of that age, Gamaliel. Paul was very much a scholar. He knew the Scriptures at a level in depth that probably many of Jesus’ own disciples did not. But, yet, he was not part of the inner circle of Jesus. He never met him prior Jesus’ ascension.

There is a lesson here for us. Jesus can call us at any time from any walk of life. You can be well-educated, like Paul, or you can be just an average joe worker like many of the disciples. Jesus in His Sovereignty can call any of us to ministry. Each of us has talents to offer Jesus and His church. Each Christian has a job to do, a role to play, or a contribution to make. It is not necessary for you to be hand picked by your preacher to play a role in Jesus’ continuing ministry on earth. You have to be willing to hear the call of the Lord and pursue it. The Holy Spirit will find your place and led you to where He wants you to offer your gifts. One assignment may seem more spectacular than another but all assignments within the church, the body of Christ, are necessary for the building up of the fellowship of believers and for the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world around us. We must, as my senior pastor says, be faithful, available and teachable. We must be willing to hear God call us. We must be willing to serve Him. We must be willing to be so in love with Jesus we will serve in whatever capacity that he sets in front of us at this time. We also must be willing to be so in love with Jesus that we will follow His call outside of our comfort zone. He certainly did that with Paul. Paul was used to a life of privilege and academia and God called him to a life that required living off the good graces of others while he preached the gospel in places that were often hostile to him. Let us be willing to hear God’s call on our lives and serve Him with humility in ways that He wants us to serve.

Another lesson that we learn from Paul’s calling is that when we give our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ and ask Him to save us from our sins, God will use us no matter what our past is. Prior to meeting the resurrected Lord on the Damascus road, Paul in his zealous defense of the Jewish faith had murdered, imprisoned, beaten, and ridiculed Christians. He killed Christians for believing that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. Talk about your unlikely candidates to be one of the biggest driving forces of Christianity outside of Jesus Himself. He was a murderer of believers. He hated anything to do with Jesus Christ. And, yet, Jesus on that road to Damascus called Paul to be an apostle. There is nothing that you and I have done in our pasts that is too heinous to be forgiven by Jesus Christ when we come to Him with repentant hearts. Jesus can redeem and use the worst of us. No one is too far gone. If you have run from the church because you have a past, guess what? We all do! Every last one of us are sinners redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ. If you think that the Christian life is not for you because of some checklist that you have had to keep all your life you’re wrong. That’s religion. Jesus wants a relationship with you. He can redeem you and make you new. He can change your dark heart from the inside out. He has more than enough grace to cover the sins of your past. Just look at Paul. He was a murderer of Christians for being Christian. Talk about your unlikely candidates to be a gospel bearer! He was redeemed from a life of direct persecution of believers into one of the greatest voices of Christianity in Christian history. He can redeem you. He redeemed me and uses me despite my checkered and ugly past and He can do the same with you.

Paul, a murderer of believers, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. Redemption. Restoration. Gospel Bearer. He did it with Paul. He can do it with you! There are those who will say there is no way that you can be a follower of Jesus. I knew when buddy! There’s no way that your faith is real. You were such a sinner. You’re too far gone! God is sovereign and can redeem any life no matter how bad it was previously. He can redeem it. He can make it new. He can use your past to be a real part of your testimony of redemption. He can use your talents that you used for evil and use them for good. That is the beauty of a relationship with Jesus Christ. He redeems. He makes new. He calls us to His ministry!