Saturday, August 31, 2019

Isaiah 12

Isaiah 12:1-2 (ESV)
You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O LORD,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.
“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”

“Though you were angry with me, your anger turned away.” What an incredible statement of forgiveness. The six verses of Isaiah 12 are so rich. The chapter starts with this statement of forgiveness and salvation. It then goes on to describe how God’s people respond to his forgiveness. Forgiveness and salvation result in thanksgiving, trust, lack of fear, strength, singing, and joy. And then he starts all over again with thanks, testimony, singing, and joy.

These are not things one ought to do if one is saved. They are the things one does when salvation is realized. We naturally respond to salvation with thanksgiving, and joy. We naturally trust and find peace and strength in the presence of the one who has saved us. We naturally sing and shout for joy when we have been saved from great danger. We naturally talk to people about the one who saved us. If these things are not in our lives it is likely that we do not have a clear and present sense of the depth of our sin, the height of our salvation, nor an awareness of the very real presence of God our savior in our lives. Bottom line? We don’t believe what God says. It is that simple.

Peter wrote that if the believer’s life is not increasingly characterized by faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, it is because the believer, “is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Pet 1:9). It leaves us ineffective and unfruitful. Notice that there are two things we have forgotten in that verse. We have forgotten that we were sinners. We have forgotten that we have been cleansed. We must hold both of those truths together.

Isaiah 12:3 says, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” When we forget the reality of our salvation we lose our joy, we struggle in our walk with God, and we end up ineffective and unfruitful. We need to remember every day that we are saved. We need to remember every day that we are saved from God’s anger. We need to remember every day why God was angry with us. We need to remember every day that he is no longer angry. His anger is turned away. He is the God of our salvation. In him we can trust and not be afraid. We need to remember every day that Creator God loves us. We need to remind ourselves of this every day. How easily we forget.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Isaiah 11

Isaiah 11:1-3 (ESV)
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,

These verses are a prophecy of Jesus. The chapter goes on to talk about his coming reign. There are three characteristics of Jesus’ reign that stand out. First, unbiased justice characterizes Jesus reign. “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Is 11:3b-4a). Perhaps this is where the idea of Justice being blindfolded came from. Jesus judgment is a judgement of righteousness and equity. Wealth, beauty, or appearance does not influence it. It is not justice for the privileged. It is justice for all.

The justice found in Jesus’ kingdom will include swift judgment. “He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (Is 11:4b). One of the difficulties in our own judicial system is that we give lip service to the right to a speedy trial, but the system is often bogged down in legalities that seem to drag on forever. In Jesus’ kingdom, there will be swift justice. Not just swift judgment, but swift judgment that is just.

Second, earthly peace characterizes his reign. The order of creation appears to be restored. “The wolf will dwell with the lamb” (Is 11:6). “The cow and the bear shall graze” (Is 11:7). “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Is 11:9). This full knowledge of the LORD seems to extend beyond people, to all creation. The world is restored to its proper order.

Third, the restoration of Israel characterized Jesus reign. “He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Is 11:12). God has not forsaken, nor forgotten his people. They will one day be restored. We cannot excuse bad behavior on Israel’s part. Neither must we forget that God has chosen and blessed Israel as his special possession. He will draw them back to himself.

If these are three characteristics of Jesus’ coming kingdom, then shouldn’t they also be something that we, as his people with the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18), are working toward? What that means and how that looks will take some consideration, but certainly justice, creation care, and a concern for the Jews ought to characterize the life of the believer. There is much more in Isaiah 11, but perhaps this is enough for us to start with. Father, open my eyes to see where I need to be more proactive in these areas that will ultimately characterize your Son’s kingdom.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Isaiah 10

Isaiah 10:5, 6a, 12 (ESV)
Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger;
the staff in their hands is my fury!
Against a godless nation I send him,
and against the people of my wrath I command him,

When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes.

Assyria thought they were accomplishing great things. They were conquering nations. Their gods appeared to be greater than the gods of Jerusalem and Samaria. What they failed to understand was that the God of Jerusalem had called them, and was enabling them to gain the victories they had. They were simply a pawn in his hands. God was using them to judge his people. Assyria gained no victory that the God of Jerusalem had not allowed them to have. When God was done, a remnant of Israel would be preserved, but Assyria would be destroyed.

How many arrogant politicians have believed that they achieved their position and power by their own might, right, or connections? They fail to understand that God may have put them there to help a country, or judge a country, but they are there by the hand of God. They will answer to him for how they lead. How many arrogant preachers and church leaders have made the same mistake? They assume that their church growth, effective leadership, or positive impact on lives is the result of their greatness as a leader, the quality of their leadership plan, or their excellent training that prepared them for effective ministry. In politics, power and connections certainly play a part. In ministry, training, gifting, and good planning are all valuable. But the leader must never forget that ultimately, they have been placed in leadership by the sovereign hand of God. They may be a tool of judgement or blessing in God’s hands, but they are a tool in God’s hands.

It is easy to bash leaders. What about the rest of us? We do the same thing. How often do we go through life failing to recognize that our blessings are from God, our opportunities are from God, and our accomplishments are from God? The believer walks in the humility of recognizing that all we have is a gift from our Heavenly Father. We can choose to respond in two ways. We can look to ourselves, or we can look to God. Do we have a joyful accomplishment? Are we proud of our self and our accomplishment, or grateful for God’s blessing? Do we have a failure or disaster in life? Do we sit in abject misery looking for someone to blame, or do we cast ourselves at the feet of Jesus and ask for counsel and comfort? Whether in good or in bad, blessing or disaster, God is God.

We can choose arrogant self-reliance. It is an illusion, but we can choose to believe it. We can elect to live in our own self-centered delusions of grandeur and greatness. We can live as though everything depended on us. Ultimately, we will answer to God for how we have lived, but like the Assyrians, we can choose to ignore that truth. Or, we can choose humble reliance. Whether God is disciplining or blessing, we can recognize our dependence on him, and trust him. He is faithfully working his purpose in our lives. How will you respond? How will I respond?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Isaiah 9

Isaiah 9:2 (ESV)
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

This chapter ends with judgment, but it begins with promise. This chapter reminds me of Peter’s words, “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Pet 4:17a). But Peter adds three other thoughts to this idea. The verse goes on to say that the judgment of those who do not believe will be worse. He precedes this statement of judgement with a challenge, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Pet 4:16). He concludes in verse 19, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

This, I think, is the message God is trying to send to Judah through Isaiah. They have not been listening to God. He will necessarily judge his people because of their sin. Their response has been to try and fix things rather than learning from his judgment. Isn’t that just like us? We make bad decisions. Rather than acknowledge our sin to God we run around trying to cover and fix the consequences. What God wants us to do is let go of self and draw near to him. He has a higher purpose in our pain than we can ever imagine, but we cannot enter into his blessing until he brings us to the end of ourselves.

Both Peter and Isaiah talk about judgment and discipline. Both of them, however, speak of it in the context of hope. Peter wants his readers to remember “If [they] are insulted for the name of Christ, [they] are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon [them]” (1Pet 4:14). Isaiah wants his readers to understand that God has broken “the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor.” (Is 9:4).

God never abandons his children. There will be pain and sorrow. Sometimes it is the consequence of not listening to God. Sometimes it is the result of living in a broken world. Sometimes is simply because we are faithful to God and we have an Enemy. But, God never abandons his children. In the darkest times there is the promise that God sees, he knows, he is present with us in the darkness, and he has something better planned for us in the future. In the meantime, don’t fight his discipline, and don’t try to fix it with manmade solutions. Trust him to work his purpose in you, or as Peter wrote, “Entrust [your soul] to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Pet 4:19b). If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then hear his voice and follow closely after him because “The Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet 4:14).

Monday, August 26, 2019

Isaiah 8

Isaiah 8:11 (ESV)
For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying:

What does it mean to “walk in the way of this people?” It means four things in this chapter. First the people are ignoring the truth that God will judge his people. There is an accountability involved in being the people of God. We answer to God for what we do and how we live. Romans reminds us that we do not judge each other because we will each eventually give account to God himself.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”So then each of us will give an account of himself to God (Rom 14:10-12).

Second, walking in the way of this people means forgetting that God will protect his people. We will certainly give account to God, but we are also under the protection of God. Sometimes it feels like God is hiding from us. Sometimes we experience his discipline in our lives. Yet he never abandons his people. We have an enemy who seeks to destroy us and our faith, but even in the depths and the darkness God is there. To our enemy we can say, “Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us” (Is 8:10).

The people of the world forget both these truths. We will all give account to God, but God is with us and will never abandon us. Third, the world lives in fear. To “walk in the way of this people” means fearing what the rest of the world fears. Too often the church has adapted a mentality of fear. We lost our hope and our faith. We have, instead, circled the wagons and hope to hold out until the cavalry comes to rescue us. In our case the means the rapture or the return of the King. But that is not what God has called us to do. He told Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). I’m not sure we believe that. As the people of God, we have been called to infiltrate the territory of the enemy and spoil him. That is what the Great Commission is all about. As we are going into all the world, we are to be making disciples, and the Gates of Hell will not be able to stand against us.

We act as though we are the fortress and Hell is banging at the gates. We only hope that Jesus comes back before the gates give way. But that is exactly the opposite of Jesus words. Hell is not banging at the gates of the church. The church is banging at the gates of Hell and “Hell shall not prevail.” God has not called us to fear, but to “power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7). The world lives in fear. They are afraid of change. They are afraid of people that are different from them. They are afraid of foreigners. They are afraid of financial collapse. They are afraid of growing old. They are afraid of losing control of their lives. When the barbarians sacked Rome it would have appeared to be a time for appropriate fear. Yet the church used that opportunity to convert Europe. We can live in fear, or we can trust the hand of God.

Fourth, the World ignores the Word and the testimony of God’s people. Isaiah writes in Isaiah 8:16, “Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples.” Four verses later he cries out, “To the teaching and to the testimony.” It is the Word of God and the testimony of his people that help to keep us focused on Him. It is the Word of God and the testimony of his people that remind us that even in his discipline he never abandons his people. It is in the Word of God and the testimony of his people that we are reminded to trust him and not allow fear to take control. When we focus our eyes on the threats and difficulties of life we are filled with fear. When we listen to the Word and recall the testimony of God’s people, faith grows.

Isaiah warns us not to walk in the way of the people. We must never forget that we will one day give account to God. We must never forget that even in the darkest times of life, he has never abandoned us. We must not buy in to the fear of the world. We must never ignore the Word and the testimony. That is how the world lives. God has called us to something higher. We are his. He is Immanuel, God with us. Let us keep our eyes on Him. To the Enemy we can ever say, “Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us” (Is 8:10).

Saturday, August 24, 2019

1 Corinthians 3 (Pt 6)

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (ESV)
[16] Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? [17] If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

When I hear 1 Corinthians 6:19 quoted, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” the application is often “Take care of your body.” But when 1 Corinthians 3:16 says “you are God’s temple,” it is not talking about your physical body. It is talking about the church, the Body of Christ. The application is almost the same. Instead of “take care of your body,” the application is “take care of Christ’s body.”

We read, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him” (1 Cor 3:17), and we think of those we would call enemies of God. Unfortunately the enemies of the church rarely have to do much. We are too busy destroying his Body ourselves. We divide. We attack. We criticize. We complain. Then we talk about the dangers of “them” out there who are out to destroy our country, the biblical roots of our country, and the Christian faith, all the while missing the fact that we are our own worst enemy.   

When Paul wrote that “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him” (1 Cor 3:17), I wonder if he was thinking about enemies of the cross, or members of the church. Looking at the context around verse 17, I think he had in mind members of the Corinthian church. I wonder what he would say about our churches. How are we building in our local church? Are we building with that which will burn up or that which will last for eternity? Are we busy tearing down, or building up? How are you building today?

Friday, August 23, 2019

1 Corinthians 3 (Pt 5)

1 Corinthians 3:21-23 (ESV)
[21] So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, [22] whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, [23] and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

Paul began this chapter by accusing the Corinthian believers of being “people of flesh” (1 Cor 3:1) and “merely human” (1 Cor 3:4). He ended the chapter by reminding them that in Christ they are so much more. Understanding those two truths are critical. In Christ all things were theirs. They were divided over who followed the best preacher. They were divided over who had the best gift. They were divided over who was the most blessed. All of that is “merely human.” That is not the Spirit of God. That is the flesh, but the truth is that no matter how fleshly they acted, as believers they were so much more. They were in Christ.

When we make cleaning up the flesh the focus of our Christian life we will always fail. When we make guilt and confession the basis of what it means to follow God, we miss the whole point of the gospel. That Good News is that in Christ we are new creations. The Good News is that as believers we are in the Spirit of God and the Spirit of God is in us. The Good News is that we are victors in Christ, but we will never live out our victory until we believe it. As long as we believe that we cannot help ourselves, we have already made room for the flesh. In Christ I am crucified, buried, and risen as a new person (see Romans 6 and Galatians 2:20). If you are a believer then you are in Christ. Believe it. We don’t boast in ourselves. We boast in the fact that we “are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor 3:23). I am in Christ and Christ is in me. Believe it. Rest in it. Walk in it. I am Christ’s and Christ is mine. That is Good News.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

1 Corinthians 3 (Pt 4)

1 Corinthians 3:11-13 (ESV)
[11] For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. [12] Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straweach one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.
Spiritual intimidation is an ugly thing. The Apostle Paul wrote about the complimentary ministries of Paul and Apollos. They had different giftings—different callings, but both of their ministries were valid and effective. Paul was not intimidated by Apollos. Neither did Paul attempt to intimidate Apollos. Paul recognized that they each had an important part to play in the spiritual journey of the Corinthian believers. Paul wrote, “Like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it” (1 Cor 3:10). He was not concerned about who was doing the building, or who got the credit. He was concerned about how they built.

It is easy for pastors to become frustrated and even jealous when members of the congregation speak highly of former pastors but never affirm their current pastor. It is disheartening when a pastor pours his heart into his ministry only to hear his congregation quoting some television or internet pastor that they listen to every day. But that is our own insecurities as pastors. Congregations can help encourage their pastors, but pastors need to learn to celebrate the builders that God uses in the lives of those they serve. Sometimes that is hard to do.

But that brings us to the real issue of the text. As believers in Jesus Christ a foundation has been laid. Jesus is the foundation. We are God’s field, God’s building, God’s temple (see 1 Cor 3:9, 16). How that temple is being built is more important than who is doing the building. Spiritual intimidation is an ugly thing, but there is something even more ugly. A straw house built on the foundation of a mansion is just not right. Yet too often that is what we are doing. As believers we have this incredible foundation upon which to build. How do we build on it? How do we grow? Or do we? 

There is a day when all of that will come to light. I fear that too often we are satisfied to whitewash a straw house and call it a mansion. We build with that which will not last and pretend that it is eternal. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ then someone laid a solid foundation for you upon which you can build. How you build will one day be exposed. Spiritual intimidation is ugly, but failing to build a mansion on the incredible foundation of Christ is inexcusable and has eternal consequences.  How are you building today?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

1 Corinthians 3 (Pt 3)

1 Corinthians 3:5-6 (ESV)
[5] What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. [6] I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

Apollos was a young, well educated, gifted preacher who only needed his theology tweaked a bit by Priscilla and Aquila (see Acts 18:24-26). Paul was described in this way, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Cor 10:10). Yet God used both of these men in the lives of the Corinthian believers.

I think of those described in Hebrews 11. They “suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb 11:36-38). Others were described as having “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection” (Heb 11:33-34). Could these have been serving the same God? And yet they were. Some experienced great victories and some suffered great loss, but their faithfulness spoke volumes about their faith.

I think of Gordon Hanson who traveled by snowshoe and cross-country skis to take the gospel to a small, backwoods community in northern Minnesota and plant a church. Later in his life he was faithfully preaching the gospel in area nursing homes. And then I think of Charles Spurgeon who was called the Prince of Preachers. He was already preaching to 10,000 people by the time he was 22 years old. His sermons are still read to this day. And yet he battled with depression most of his life that was so bad he sometimes could not get out of bed. Which of these men were greater in the eyes of God? I’m not sure God thinks like that at all. These men were heroes of the faith because they faithfully did what God called them to do. But they never thought of themselves as heroes. They were simply preachers of Good News.

We are a celebrity centered society. We celebrate celebrity encounters. But the encounters that I really value are those with men like Gordon Hanson, Jim Schreiber, Walter Duff, Bob Page, and Art Anderson. Many have never heard of these men, and yet they modeled biblical ministry for me. They were not out to gain a following. They just faithfully served God and left behind a legacy of faith. Each had a different gift. Each had a different role. Each had a different personality. But God used them in my life and the lives of many others. Yet each of these men would say that they simply served as God called them. Ministry wasn’t about them. It was about Him. Our world needs a few more men and women like that in these days.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

1 Corinthians 3 (Pt 2)

1 Corinthians 3:3-4 (ESV)
[3] for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? [4] For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
Yesterday I addressed the issue of jealousy and strife. In 1 Corinthians 3:4 the Apostle Paul accused the Corinthian believers of living out “of the flesh and behaving only in a human way.” One of the evidences of that was jealousy and strife. The second evidence of that was their division over who they should follow. “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’” Paul wrote, “are you not being merely human” (1 Cor 3:4)?

The world sees this division in our denominations. More than once have I heard the accusation, “If Christianity is really from God then why are there so many denomination?” There is, I believe, a valid answer for that. And, there are some denominations and some local churches that have moved away from biblical Christianity. But I fear this division shows up in two ways that are more insidious than denominationalism.

First, too many churches act as though only their people are going to heaven. Yes, there are some theological differences between tribes (think denominations and theological streams), but there ought to be respect for one another despite our differences. If I am going to worship with you in heaven then I ought to be able to get along with you on earth. That doesn’t mean that we throw away our theological identity, but it does mean that we learn to love and respect one another in our differences. It means that we stop acting as though we are in competition.

Second, we act as though we can only learn from people we like. I find it distressing that there is no loyalty to a local church. I understand that in our culture brand loyalty has all but disappeared. We tend to be people who follow our favorite sports players rather than our favorite team. That has carried over into the church. I think it is wrong when people come to a church because they like the pastor and then leave to find another pastor they like when they are either offended or their favorite pastor leaves the church for another ministry.

Paul wrote that some of the Corinthians were saying that they followed Paul while others followed Apollos. Today some follow Kay Arthur while others follow John McArthur. Some follow Pastor Peterson while others follow Pastor Pete. This is wrong. Yes, I know that we connect better with some pastors than with others. I know that we prefer one’s preaching over another’s. But, since when has church been about you? I thought it was about God. We have even gone so far as to idealize certain pastors from our past so that every pastor is judged by that one “perfect” pastor we remember. This is wrong.  

This division and divisiveness not only dishonors God, but causes him to be disrespected in the eyes of the community. How can they see the God of love when his people fail to live out his love for one another. How can they be expected to believe the Good News when they fail to see anything good lived out in those who claim to know God. I fear that in our theological passion and our desire for a pastor that we connect with, we have sometimes undermined the very reason God has called us to be the church. This is, to use the Apostle Paul’s words, fleshly and human. It is not of the Spirit.

Monday, August 19, 2019

1 Corinthians 3 (Pt 1)

1 Corinthians 3:1-4 (ESV)
[1] But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. [2] I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, [3] for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? [4] For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

Writing to the Corinthians believers, Paul is a little harsh here. He just explained to them, in chapter 2, that as believers they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. Now he calls them “people of flesh” and “infants in Christ.” He tells them that when he planted their church he only gave them what he calls “milk, not solid food.” The sad thing is that they still do not appear ready for “solid food.” How he distinguishes between milk and solid food is not clear, but what is clear are his reasons for calling them infants.

Paul points out two reasons in particular for calling these Corinthian believers “people of flesh.” The first is their jealousy and strife. “While there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way” (1 Cor 3:3)? This topic could easily become a dissertation in itself. We seem to live in a world where dissatisfaction is the common experience of our day. We are jealous of the newest technology. We are jealous of someone with a nicer car, a bigger salary, or more prestige in the community. We do not embrace the old caste system of Hinduism, but we sometimes live as though we do. Cliques don’t just occur in middle school. They exist in our churches.

Church leadership is not exempt either. Pastors are too often jealous of other ministries. Another pastor makes more money. Another church has a better building. Another ministry seems to have the funds for the latest technology. The church across town is stealing all the good people. Like people on Facebook, pastors too often share only their best stories, leaving their brothers in ministry wishing they had as fruitful a ministry. Additionally pastors seem to be easily intimidated by pastors of bigger churches, pastors with more education, or pastors who simply drive newer cars. Pastors are not immune to the “grass is greener” mentality.

Paul points out two reasons, in these verses, for calling the Corinthians fleshly babies. I will attempt to address the second reason in a following blog, but the first is reason enough. Spiritual maturity is not determined by how much education you have, how big your church is, how much money you make, how well liked you are, or what spiritual experiences you have had. The mature believe finds identity in Christ and is able to celebrate the victories of others without jealousy or strife.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (Pt 6)

1 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV)
[14] The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. [15] The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. [16] “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

God’s wisdom has been revealed to believers by his Spirit. But how should that affect how we live? First, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:14). To the natural man, the gospel is foolishness. To the natural man, the things of God make no sense. So how should we respond?  If you see someone that is blind do you criticize them for not being able to see, or do you help them understand the world they cannot see? Whether we are talking about the drunk on the street corner, the unbelieving neighbor, or the passionate purveyor of another religion, we need to remind ourselves that they are blind. You don’t blame a blind person for being blind. Pray for unbelievers. Don’t criticize them, attack them, fear them, or belittle them. Pray for them.

Second, we must learn to find your security in Christ. “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one” (1 Cor 2:15). That does not mean that we have the right to go around pointing fingers and attacking people who disagree with us. It means the we, of all people, should have a clear understanding of who they are and who we are. We, of all people, should understand that they are blind. We, of all people, should be secure enough in our faith that we don’t need to defend ourselves, our faith, or our God. We just live and speak the truth in love. Some will believe, some will ignore, and some will attack, but we need to understand that we see something the world is blind to. God’s wisdom is something the world is unable to comprehend. So rest in your identity in Christ.

Third, we need to keep our mind on Christ. Even as believers it is easy to live and think as the world does (see 1 Cor 3:1). It is easy to embrace the values of the world and the tactics of the world. We need to remember that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but . . . cosmic powers . . . [and] spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). People are not our enemy. Using their tactics will never win. Our tactic is to keep our eyes on Christ, live our faith, trust him, and pray. It doesn’t make sense to the world. It doesn’t make sense to the natural man, but it is God’s way of doing battle. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God . . . . but we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 14-16), so keep your eyes fixed on him.

Friday, August 16, 2019

1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (Pt 5)

1 Corinthians 2:12-13 (ESV)

There are three truths in these verses that we need to dwell on. First, “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God” (1 Cor 2:12a). We should see our world differently than the world. When the values of believers is no different from the values of unbelievers it makes me wonder which spirit they are listening to. When believers are driven more by fear than by faith it makes me wonder which spirit they are influenced by. When believers are leading the charge in promoting what the world holds as most valuable it makes me wonder. Which spirit are we really listening to? We have the Spirit who is from God.

Second, “. . .  that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor 2:12b). Understanding a biblical world view is not complicated. Understanding the purpose of God is not hidden from us. Understanding the Word of God is not reserved for the experts. It is the Spirit of God who gives us understanding. He gives us insight into all that we possess in God. He gives us insight into the power and direction that God freely dispenses to those who believe. Following God is not simply for the experts or for those with exceptional discernment skills. The Holy Spirit dwells within every believer teaching, guiding, and giving understanding.

Third, “We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor 2:13). Teaching, preaching, evangelism, and any other means of communicating God’s truths to people is absolutely dependent on the Spirit. God spoke to Balaam through a donkey. He can speak through anyone. Communicating God’s truth is not about being a phenomenal presenter. I have heard outstanding communicators who were a pleasure to listen to, but who actually said nothing of substance. I have also heard uneducated, untrained believers who know God share a deep understanding of God’s word. It’s not about us. It is about God. That’s why preparation is important, but more important is prayerperation. Sorry, that’s a word I just made up, but it emphasizes our absolute dependence on God. Being studied up is important, but being prayed up is more important. We are taught not “by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor 2:13).

Thursday, August 15, 2019

1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (Pt 4)

1 Corinthians 2:10-12 (ESV)
[10] these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. [11] For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. [12] Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
Greek mystery religions were popular in the first century and an important part of the religious scene in Corinth and across the Roman empire. The mystery cults involved a special initiation to join. They were exclusive. Only the initiated got in. Only the initiated understood the secrets of the cult. The cult leader knew the deep secrets that would be partially revealed over time to the initiates. The cults were exclusive, elitist, and secret. Not so Christianity.

The early Christian church held no secrets. Knowledge of God was “freely given” (1 Cor 2:12). Initiation was simply faith and baptism. The secrets of the church were not held by an elite leader. They were revealed by the Spirit to every believer. Someone said that before God we all stand on level ground. A Native American pastor once shared with me that when he came to faith in Christ he had a vision in which everyone in the church was floating with their feet off the ground and their heads all at the same level. His point was that there is no elite in the church of God.

Certainly some are more fully trained in the scriptures than others. Clearly some are more mature. But biblical maturity is not a matter of elitism. It is available to all. The indwelling Spirit of God in every believer empowers, equips, reveals, and directs. If you want to know God you don’t have to attend a secret initiation. You simply believe. If you want to know the deep things of God you don’t have to be taught by a leader who possesses the secret knowledge of God. When you find a Bible teacher in the church that holds the “truth” that all others have missed, that’s a red flag. The secrets of God are simple, clear, and available to all through his Word and his indwelling Spirit. God has no secrets. “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (Pt 3)

1 Corinthians 2:9-10 (ESV)
[9] But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
[10] these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.

In verse nine above Paul quotes from Isaiah 64. Two thoughts come to mind as I reflect on these two verses. The first is that what is being written in this letter to the Corinthian church by Paul is not Paul’s thoughts or ideas. It seems common today to hear about Paul’s theology or Paul’s gospel in contrast to Jesus’s gospel and theology like they are two different things. But Jesus said, “whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (Jn 5:19), “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me” (Jn 8:28), and “what I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me" (Jn 12:50). Jesus also said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak (Jn 16:13). So Jesus said what the Father told him to say and the Spirit speaks what he hears from the Father and the Son. What Paul wrote is sourced in the Old Testament scriptures and the revelation of the Spirit. How can there be any distinction or disagreement then between Jesus and Paul? It is one gospel and one theology whether you are reading Jesus’s words or Paul’s. These are not Paul’s ideas. They are God's.

Second, what God promises to those who love him is something even beyond our imagination. We live in an incredible world, and yet it is a world tainted by sin. What God has planned for us is something beyond our imagination. As a child I remember being taught that heaven was a place where we were going to be singing all the time. I imagined us standing on the gold paved streets singing forever. To be honest, that didn’t seem like a lot of fun. Of course when I raised that objection I was told that when I got there I would really like it, but that didn’t help a lot. Biblically, that could not be further from the truth. Heaven is so much more. It is a very real place where we will live, serve, work, and worship in ways that are yet beyond our imagination. To be honest, the reply I got when I was a child was right, only in a much bigger way than I understood. When I get there I will really, really like it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (Pt 2)

1 Corinthians 2:7-8 (ESV)

There are two mind boggling truths in the two verses above. First, the wisdom dispensed by the Spirit into the hearts of believers is a wisdom that precedes creation. “which God decreed before the ages” (1 Cor 2:7). Ephesians 1:4 says that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Not only does this wisdom precede creation, but it is for our glory. We often talk about doing everything to the glory of God, and that is as it should be. But what God did was planned from the beginning for our glory. In 1926 Robert Harkness wrote the hymn entitled Why Should He Love Me So? That is the question of the ages and yet God not only loved us, he planned our deliverance from before the foundation of the earth for our glory.

The second truth is found in verse eight. “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). I think of chess games I have played where I thought I was making a good move only to discover that my move set me up for checkmate. Had I seen the danger I never would have made the move, but my folly set me up for sure defeat. Whether the rulers of this age are the Jewish and Roman leaders (this is likely what Paul had in mind), or whether they are Satan’s legions (another possibility), they eagerly sent Christ to the cross only to discover that his death led to his victorious resurrection. Checkmate. Had they only known.

God’s wisdom put in place a plan that is still working its purpose to this day. Conventional wisdom says that the church is irrelevant and dead. God has other plans. Conventional wisdom says that we need to adapt and change our teaching to become relevant. Methods change, but the message stays the same. It is grounded in the wisdom of God from before the ages. Conventional wisdom says that our beliefs are old, outdated, and confusing. God’s wisdom is a simple truth revealed by his Spirit and his Word to accomplish his purpose for our good. It never changes. Conventional wisdom is not all that wise. If the rulers of this age had only known.

Monday, August 12, 2019

1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (Pt 1)

1 Corinthians 2:6-7 (ESV)
[6] Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. [7] But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

The secret, hidden wisdom of God is not hard to find. It is not a secret revealed only to an elite group who have gone through the initiation of a secret society. The secret, hidden wisdom of God is there for all to see and hear. It is secret, not because God has hidden it from us, but because we hear it but fail to understand. The secret, hidden wisdom of God is found in the simple truth that God came as a man to die in order to restore humanity. It is secret because it makes no sense to the natural mind.

God is not hiding from us. He has not made it difficult to find him. He has revealed himself in nature, in Jesus, and in the scriptures (see Rom 1 and Jn 14:9). Yet the wisdom of God remains hidden in plain sight because of our unwillingness to humbly believe. The wisdom of God is a secret that has been shouted from the rooftops and beamed to every continent via radio, television, internet, and the simple voice of friends sharing truth with friends. Yet it remains a secret hidden in plain sight.

Not only has God not hidden it, but he decreed it “for our glory” (1 Cor 2:7). The hidden truth of God is no secret. It just makes no sense to the natural mind. The hidden truth of God is not something God has locked away for himself. It is a truth for our benefit. God loves us so much that he sent his son to die on our behalf. It is in his death that we find life. That is the secret, hidden wisdom of God. Can you believe it?

Saturday, August 10, 2019

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (Pt 6)

Acts 18:9-10
Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you.

Paul said, “When I came to Corinth I was discouraged. I had tried fancy preaching but it didn’t accomplish much. I had tried to establish and build churches everywhere I went but I kept getting chased off. When I came to Corinth God assured me that he had a work there for me to do so I decided to just go back to the basics of the gospel message and leave the results to him” (my understanding of what Paul is experiencing and expressing in 1 Cor 2:1-5).

What Paul learned was that in his failure God’s success shone the brightest. It is in our weaknesses that God’s power is most clearly demonstrated. It is in our fear that God’s fullness is most abundantly experienced. It is in our inability that God’s total ability is most clearly seen. Acts 18 records a night vision in which God spoke to Paul. He said, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you." (Acts 18:9-10 NAS)

To us God is saying, “Don’t be afraid, just get back to the basics. Keep on doing what I have called you to do. I have placed you here for a purpose and my purpose will be accomplished through your weakness. It is not dependent on your pastor. It is not dependent on your size. It is not dependent on your IQ, your education, your resources, or your abilities. My purpose will be accomplished in your weakness.” So, trust God, pray, watch, listen, and be ready. God is at work.

Friday, August 9, 2019

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (Pt 5)

We know, from 1 Corinthians 2:1-3, that Paul was fearful and discouraged when he came to Corinth. We also know that God had an ultimate purpose in that Paul’s weakness demonstrated more clearly the power of God. We know that Paul determined to get back to the basics in his preaching of the gospel. But what does that mean? What are the basics? What does he mean by “Jesus Christ and Him crucified?”

Jesus means savior. In Matthew 1:21 an angel was talking to Joseph about the fact that Mary was with child. The angel told Joseph, “she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). Jesus, which is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua, means “Jehovah (YHWH) is salvation.” Jesus means savior.

But what does Christ mean? Christ is the Greek word for the Old Testament word Messiah. Both words mean, “anointed one.” To be anointed means to be appointed by God to a position or responsibility. The Messiah is both priest and king. As priest he is the one who stands between people and God bringing the two together. When we sinned in the Garden of Eden a great wall came between God and us; a wall that was described in an old spiritual as, “So high you can’t get over it; so low you can’t get under it; so wide you can’t get around it; you gotta come in by the door.” Jesus is that door. He is the priest through whom we come to God.

Messiah also means king. It is Messiah, the Old Testament prophets said, who would one day return to rule. It is Messiah that Israel has been looking for all these centuries. It was Messiah they sent to the cross and Messiah who raised from the dead by the power of his own glory. It was Messiah’s kingdom offered to them on the day of Pentecost that they rejected. It is Messiah who will one day return to reign for 1000 years over the whole earth as the prophets predicted. And it is Messiah who gave us a down payment on Heaven when he placed his Holy Spirit within every believer. Messiah, our king; before whom we bow; for whom we wait, and to whom we yield in service and obedience.

Jesus is savior, he is priest, and he is king because he was crucified. Paul declares, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” There is the heart of the matter. Sin had cut us off from God because God is holy. As savior Jesus took our sin upon himself. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).  Jesus, taking our sin upon himself, experienced the wages of our sin in spite of the fact that he was absolutely pure. As priest Jesus approached the Father with the perfect sacrifice that only needed to be offered “once for all” (Heb 10:10). He offered himself and then he stands as the resurrected priest to offer us his forgiveness and to intercede for us at the right hand of the Father’s throne. As King Messiah the cross brings us back into his kingdom and rule. It is through the cross that we, by faith, belong to him.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (Pt 4)

1 Corinthians 2:4-5 (ESV)
[4] and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [5] so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Paul wrote, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.” In an earlier blog I addressed the question, “What was it that caused Paul to come in fear and trembling? But there is a second part to this passage. “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom” (1 Cor 2:4) Paul wrote. So what was his message?  In 1 Corinthians 2:2 he wrote, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

Why nothing except? Does that mean it is wrong to preach on anything besides the crucifixion; anything other than the “pure” gospel? One summer I preached a series of sermons based on a church’s statement of faith. Is that wrong? I’ve heard teaching on worship, work, marriage and family, and a variety of other topics. Is that wrong? Should we be preaching only from the gospels? Should every message be about the cross? What does Paul mean when he says that he determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified?

Remember that Paul came to Corinth from Athens. In Athens he argued powerfully for the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and creatively communicated the gospel—with very few positive responses. When he came to Corinth he decided that he was not going to try anything fancy or creative. For him, it was time to get back to the basics. Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Understand that Paul is not instructing preachers, in this passage, about what they should preach. Rather he is reminding the Corinthian church of how he came to them and what his original message was to them. In his discouragement and fear he understood the necessity of getting back to the basics in his ministry.
I love the Vince Lombardi quote, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” It is about getting back to the basics. I’m not a very good golfer, but I enjoy the game. I can occasionally hit a pretty decent drive. Unfortunately after a couple of good hits my game has a tendency to fall apart. In fact, the more I play the worse I get. What happens is that I begin thinking, “Why can’t I hit it that way every time?” I start fiddling with my grip, playing with my stance, swinging a little harder. Pretty soon my balls are all over the place, mostly out of bounds. When that happens there is only one thing to do. Get back to the basics. Go back to a simple grip; relax; keep my eye on the ball; quit trying drive the length of the fairway; just an easy swing. All athletes occasionally need to remind themselves to go back to the basics. We get so caught up in the nuances of some small aspect of the game that we lose what the game is about.

That’s what I think Paul is saying here. He’s saying, “I tried all the creative outreach concepts, but it’s time to get back to the basics.” In Athens he has used Athenian altars, quotes from Greek poets, and persuasive arguments with little results. It was time for him to get back to the basics. In our day we have some incredible resources for communicating to gospel. We have video, the Internet, art and drama, television, multimedia, multiple styles of music, and on and on it goes. None of these things are bad. All of these means and methods have their place. But we need to be careful that the methods do not replace the message. Occasionally the church needs to go back to its roots and ask the question, “Why are we here and what are we doing?” Why do we meet every week? Why do we have the services and meetings we do? What are we about as a church? Sometimes we need to go back to the basics.
Paul says, “[When I came to Corinth] I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” That doesn’t mean that a series of sermons on marriage is wrong. It doesn’t mean that the scriptures do not speak to any issue other than the gospel. It does not mean that there is no place for intellectual arguments for the existence of God. But it does mean that we must never lose sight of why we exist. We must never forget that the good news of forgiveness based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation and focal point of all that we are and all that we do as a church. Sometimes we just need to go back to the basics.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (Pt 3)

1 Corinthians 2:4-5 (ESV)
[4] and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [5] so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

In my previous blog I wrote about the first reason Paul came to Corinth “in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3). His experience in Macedonia had discouraged him. But there is a second, more subtle, but more important reason for his discouragement. It is revealed in verses 4 & 5 of 1Corinthians 2. “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” The second reason for Paul’s discouragement is that it was all a part of God’s plan. God allowed Paul to go through failure, discouragement and fear in order to do a work in Corinth that was unmistakably a work of God.

“My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” No one could possibly argue that the church in Corinth was started by the genius of Paul. No one would look back with fond memories to the eloquent preaching of Paul. Remember that one of the problems that Paul is addressing is a division within the church at Corinth over which preacher to follow. Some claimed Paul, some Apollos, some Peter, and some Christ. Paul challenged them here to remember how the church began. It didn’t have anything to do with people. It was all a work of God.

There have been Sundays where I have stood up to preaching thinking, “Wow! What an outstanding message I have. This message is so incredible people are going to just be blown away.” And I put everybody to sleep. There are other Sundays where I have stood up in fear and trembling, feeling totally unprepared, totally inadequate, and I fully expected the church to call an emergency meeting afterwards to look for another preacher. Afterwards I hear people quoting from that message for weeks and I wonder, “God what are you trying to tell me? Am I not supposed to prepare?” I don’t think that is the point, but there are those times when I am just amazed realizing that what just happened was totally a “God thing.”

That’s what Paul is saying here.  The results didn’t have anything to do with Paul. They had everything to do with God. People didn’t respond to the gospel because Paul has such carefully crafted arguments for the truth. People didn’t trust Christ because Paul has learned and practiced the latest techniques for getting people to come forward in evangelistic meetings. People’s lives were not transformed because Paul was such a charismatic personality. They came to faith in the transforming gospel of Christ because the Spirit of Christ drew them, wooed them, convicted them and persuaded them in spite of the messenger, not because of the messenger, so that their faith would rest, not on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. God allowed Paul to go through failure, discouragement and fear in order to do a work in Corinth that was unmistakably a work of God. May we see God move in such a way today.

That is frustrating to experience. It is humbling and often humiliating. But that is the way God often works because it’s not about us. It is always about him. May we keep that central to all we are and do, resting in Christ and celebrating his power and grace.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (Pt 2)

1 Corinthians 2:3 (ESV)
And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,

When I think about discouragement I never think about Paul. I think of Elijah sitting under a juniper tree crying out to God, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers,” (I Kings 19:4 NAS) or Job, who cursed the day of his birth, but not Paul; not the Apostle who declared, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” (Phil 4:11 NAS); not Paul who wrote of the other apostles, “Those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.” (Gal 2:6 NAS); not the one who put these words on paper, “In no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles.” (2 Cor 12:11 NAS) Surely Paul was never discouraged! And yet here it is, “I was with you” he be reminds the Corinthians, “ in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.”

Why weakness, fear and trembling? There are at least two reasons. I will write about the second reason in my next blog. The first is the most obvious. Nothing about this second missionary trip of Paul had gone according to plan. It wasn’t even so much that He had been beaten and jailed. That had happened on his first trip. It was more than that. He had seen new believers on this trip, but he had not had time anywhere to establish a church. Everywhere he went he had to flee for his life as the work was just beginning. His greatest oratory, by all human evaluation, had fallen on curious but largely un-responsive ears in Athens. He had sensed a clear calling by God to this ministry but the fruit just wasn’t there. He felt like a failure, but he didn’t feel free to quit.

Every Pastor I have ever known has felt like that at times. Sometimes whole churches feel that way. Everything they try fails. Their resources are slim to none. Their energy is slacking. Their expectations have fizzled and their hope has almost burned out. And to top it all off, there are no night visions saying, “Hang in there! This time it’s going to work.” The first reason for Paul’s discouragement was his experience. He was looking at circumstances and they didn’t add up to great encouragement. That is why we must always go back to the Word of God and his call on our lives. Faithfulness is more important than success. Sometimes God uses apparent failure to get us where he wants us to be, and sometimes he uses it to grow in us what he wants to grow. Circumstances never define success. In a success oriented world it is hard for us to understand that faithfulness is success.

Monday, August 5, 2019

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (Pt 1)

1 Corinthians 2:1 (ESV)
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.

Paul wrote that when he came to Corinth he, “did not come . . . with lofty speech or wisdom. For” he said, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,”  (1Cor 2:1-2 ESV)

What was it that prompted Paul to come to Corinth in fear and trembling? Paul started his 2nd missionary journey by revisiting some of the first churches he had established at Derbe and Lystra. His goal was to continue on in the areas Asia adjacent to where he had begun preaching, but the Holy Spirit would not give him freedom to preach in that area. Rather, he received a vision in which he was called to cross the Aegean Sea over to Macedonia.

The gospel was exported from Asia to Europe and in Philippi Lydia became the first European believer. After casting a demon out of a slave girl Paul and Silas ended up in jail, in Philippi, where the jailer became a believer. When they were released from jail the officials begged them to leave the city without giving them time to really establish the church.

From there Paul moved to Thessalonica where a riot broke out in response to his preaching. Several new believers were beaten and jailed for their conversion and Paul had to slip out of town after dark. He traveled to Berea where there was an outstanding response to the gospel until Jews from Thessalonica showed up and again Paul had to flee. Again he was unable to effectively establish and ground the church.

From there he traveled to Athens where he clearly and powerfully argued the truth of the gospel to the Areopagus, a gathering of philosophers, teachers and intellectuals. It is there that he used what he would call, “plausible words of wisdom,” The kind of teaching that he did not use in Corinth. Unfortunately, in response to his preaching at the Areopagus in Athens there was curiosity regarding his teaching, but very little real positive response. Few people were saved.

By the time Paul arrived in Corinth he has been hounded by antagonistic Jews from Thessalonica; he had been beaten and jailed for his testimony; he had argued strongly for the gospel with little results. He was beginning to question the wisdom of this trip to Macedonia. He was fearful of again being chased out of town. He was beginning to lose confidence in his ability to persuade people of the truth of the gospel. He had, in fact, become so insecure in his ministry and so unsure of what to do next that the Lord finally spoke to him in a night vision and said, "Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city." (Acts 18:9-10 NAS)

Ministry can be discouraging. It is easy to lose sight of the call of God in view of the frustrations of what appears to be failure. It is easy to begin thinking that there is no point to our work, no value in our ministry, and no one really cares. It is easy to begin thinking that maybe even God doesn’t really care. But that is the Enemy talking, not our Lord. When that kind of thinking invades our minds we need to go back to our calling by God. That’s why Paul started this first letter to the Corinthians with these words. “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 1:1 (ESV), and then he went on to remind the Corinthian believers that they too were called (1 Cor 1:2). In fact, Paul emphasized God’s calling on his people more in this letter than in any other.

Are you discouraged? Remember, you are called. It is that call of God that will sustain you in your darkest times, for those God calls he never abandons. He is there in the darkness. He has a purpose, and you are part of his plan.

Friday, August 2, 2019

1 Corinthians 1:10-31 (Pt 5)

The Corinthian church had much to brag about. They were a wealthy church. They were a gifted church. They had experienced the preaching of several significant leaders in their history as a church. They had influential people in their congregation. They were the church in the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire. They were something.

Small, rural churches often think and act as though their real problem is that they do not have the resources of the big city churches. They don’t have the musical talent of those big churches. They don’t have the finances of those big churches. They don’t have the people of those big churches. They can easily fall into a mindset of, “If only…” If only we had the money those big churches have, then we could . . .  If only we had the musical talent those big churches have, then we could . . .  If only we had . . .  But the if only game is built on a false concept. It assumes that the strength, power, and influence of a church is dependent on gifts and resources. That is the very thing that 1 Corinthians is arguing against.

The Corinthian church had money, but they were not to brag about their wealth. The Corinthian church was extremely gifted, but their power was not in their gifting. The Corinthian church had access to Paul, Peter, Apollos, and other well know teachers, but that did not guarantee their holiness. They were, in fact, an wealthy, gifted church filled with immorality and division.

When we play the if only game we miss the point. Our power, our strength, our impact, and our influence are dependent not on wealth, giftedness, resources, or important people, but on the grace of God. Our boast is in the Lord or we have nothing to boast about. We may not be the biggest church on the block. We may not put on the best show. We may not have a big name preacher, but we know the Lord. He is our life, our strength, and our power. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

Thursday, August 1, 2019

1 Corinthians 1:10-31 (PT 4)

1 Corinthians 1:28-31 (ESV)
[28] God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, [29] so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. [30] And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, [31] so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

As believers, our boasting in not in our wisdom. It is not is our spiritual power. Nor do we boast in who we follow, who has taught us, or who we know. Any boast we have is a boast about the grace of God who chose us in spite of who we are and what we have to offer, not because of who we are. “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1Cor 1:28). Any boast we have is a boast about the grace of God.

1 Corinthians 1:26 reveals that not many wise or powerful, and not many of nobility are called to faith in Christ. The wise tend to rely on their natural wisdom. The powerful depend on their position, power, and authority. In American culture, when we think nobility, think of families we hold in high esteem, i.e. television and movie stars, as well as those from politically powerful families. Those of nobility tend to rely on their name and their money. But in Christ, none of those things mean anything. We often say, “It’s all in who you know.” Well, yes, it is all in who you know, and as believers, we know God.

Knowing God starts with humility. It starts with admitting that we come empty handed, with nothing to offer God. It starts with recognizing our spiritual poverty. Jesus said, ““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). We are not talking here about a poor self-image. As believers, we find our identity in Christ. There is nothing poor about that image. But it is not about us.

The Good News is rooted in two simple truths. First, we are broken, bent toward sin, and helpless to reach or know God. Second, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are offered the free gift of life, wholeness, forgiveness, and intimacy with God. That is called grace, and it is a gift received through faith. The old hymn, Rock of Ages, says it well when it starts verse three with these words, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”[1] Our salvation is not about us, it is about the great grace of the God we serve.

[1] Written by Augustus Montague Toplady in 1763, and first published in 1775.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...