Category: 1 Corinthians (Page 1 of 18)

We’re Not Volunteers

I think a lot of us have this idea that Church is a volunteer organization. We talk like the men and women in our congregations make their own decisions on whether to belong or not. It’s like you experience a personal relationship with God in Christ and then you join a church community that exists to promote your personal spiritual health. We act like people join a church based on common interests and likes and dislikes they share with other people and they can stay or leave depending on whether they feel like their needs are being met. Knowledge of God, understanding who God is and what God is doing, reshapes the way we see Christian community. This is all God’s work, not ours.

“In fact, God has arranged the parts in the Body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” ~1 Corinthians 12:18

In the Bible, whenever the Gospel is preached, when the power of what God has done for the world in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is proclaimed, these communities of faith just pop up. These churches are only defined by one thing: their joyful acceptance of the Good News of salvation from God in Christ. Nothing else. The churches in the Bible are made up of Jews and Gentiles together, rich and poor people together, free people and slaves together, men and women together, national citizens and foreigners and refugees together. People don’t choose that setup. Only God puts us in communities like that. Communities of faith.

We see it in the way our Lord built his community. He put together a group of people that nobody else ever would. A liberal tax collector and a right-wing Zealot, a couple of poor fishermen, a couple of guys with horrible anger issues, a couple of self-serving betrayers. None of them chose to be in this group. They were called.

That’s the way God puts people together. No screenings. No background checks. No qualifications or applications. It’s outrageous.

You know, before I go over to someone’s house or invite somebody over to our house, I want to make sure they’re mostly like us. Where do they live? What does he do? Where do their kids go to school? I want to see their voting record. I want to see the stickers on his truck. Are they OU fans? I want to know all these things before I commit to any kind of community with these people.

Our God most certainly does not build community that way. He calls us and gathers us together in Christ. He calls us and places us within a community of faith for his glorious purposes.

You should feel called by God to belong to the church where he’s placed you. If you don’t feel called to be there, in that place, with those people, for God’s purposes, then you probably should re-think why you’re there. The people in your church are not volunteers; we’re not here by choice. We are called and placed in our communities of faith by our Lord.

Peace,

Allan

Big Fat Zero

“Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” ~Philippians 3:7-9

 

 

The apostle Paul knows what it’s like to seek his own righteousness by his good works and his right beliefs. He knows firsthand about trusting in his heritage and his holy deeds. He tells the Philippians he has reasons for such confidence. He claims he has more reasons than anybody else to put his faith in his works.

I’ve been circumcised, Paul says. I know what that means. Not only that, my father is from the royal tribe of Benjamin. My dad named me after Israel’s first king. I speak both Hebrew and Aramaic. I’ve memorized the Holy Scriptures. I have diplomas from the highest rated synagogue schools. I studied under Gamaliel – he personally signed my dissertation. And I’m a Pharisee. You can’t find a more devout, more orthodox keeper of the Law than me. You can’t find anyone more enthusiastic, more on fire for our God and his commands and our traditions. I have no tolerance for commandment breakers. You want to talk about keeping every single letter of the Law? You want to compare legalistic righteousness according to doctrine and interpretation and teaching and practice? Buddy, I am it! Perfect! Blameless! Faultless! All the rituals! All the feasts! All the prayers! All the washings! I am righteous!

But Paul realized all that added up to a big fat zero. Nothing. He’s got nothing. All his life’s work, all his commandment-keeping, all it earned Paul was a righteousness of his own, not God’s righteousness. And God’s righteousness is the only righteousness that counts.

Like an auditor, like an accountant, Paul takes all his assets, all the good things, all the good works he’s done, who he is ethnically and nationally, where he lives, how he was raised – he takes all those good things and he transfers them into the liabilities column. The things he always assumed assured him of righteousness, the black ink on the left hand side of the books, he moved over to the right hand side in red. These are losses.

I’ve got a life ledger, too. I know about my good works and my right beliefs.

Raised by godly parents in the godly state of Texas. Third generation member of the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ, where I spent my childhood and formative years. My grandfathers and father, my uncles and cousins – almost all of them are elders and preachers and song leaders and deacons and teachers in God’s Church. Baptized into Christ, by immersion, for the forgiveness of sins, at the age of accountability, in church, on a Sunday morning – “Trust and Obey” was the invitation song. Dallas Christian. Oklahoma Christian University. Austin Graduate School of Theology. Two semesters of Greek! Deacon. Bible class teacher. Men’s ministry. Service projects. Communion to shut-ins. Hospital visits. Feeding the poor. Gospel preacher.

That’s my book. How much holiness does that earn me? How much righteousness do I have because of all that?

None. Nothing. A big fat zero.

Paul realized he had to lose his religion to gain the righteousness of God. And if we can’t do the same thing, we’re in trouble.

Our doctrine. Our traditions. Our practices. Our beliefs. Our good works. Our weekly Lord’s Supper. Our baptism rituals. Our food-packing and missions-giving. Our worship. The name on our sign. None of that makes you or me righteous. They’re all good things, wonderful things. But none of it makes us right with God.

I want to know Christ. This is more than a motto. This is our salvation. Christ Jesus has become for us our holiness, righteousness, and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). This is everything.

Now, Paul did not count his heritage or his good works as rubbish. He didn’t stop keeping God’s commands or renounce his schooling. He didn’t seek circumcision reversal surgery. Those things are not worthless. His FAITH in those things is worthless. Confidence in his own law-keeping and ritual following is rubbish. Faith in his heritage and his practices – that’s a loss, not a gain. Paul realized, as we all must, that his own righteousness cannot save him. He can only trust the righteousness that comes from God through faith in Christ. Us, too.

Peace,

Allan

Serve Like Jesus

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants.” ~1 Corinthians 3:5

Around the table on that last night, our Lord Jesus personally washed the feet of his disciples. Then he told them, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing” (John 14:12). Our model is the Lord. We serve others in the name and manner of our great high priest. We do our best to imitate Jesus, the Christ, who was always with people, always helping people, always serving people. In the crush of the crowd, in the middle of the multitude – healing, feeding, protecting, encouraging. In the quiet of the one-on-one conversations at night. Weeping at a funeral. Eating with a tax collector. Holding the kids. Dying on a cross.

The Church is not an end in itself. The Church does not exist to make rules, to pass laws, to be in charge, or to glorify itself. The Church does not seek its own power or privilege or comfort. And we’re not just a support group for people who have already been saved. Just like our Lord, the Church is sent into the world not to be served, but to serve. And to give itself up for others.

We know the words of our Savior who said it is more blessed to give than to receive. And we experience the truth of that, and the blessings, when we serve others in love.

Peace,

Allan

Making Arrangements

“God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”
~1 Corinthians 12:18

What a really wonderful day Sunday here at GCR Church. We were delighted to introduce eight new babies from six different families into our congregation and to lift them up to the Lord in prayer and blessing. We thanked God for these little bundles of his grace, we asked him to bless these babies richly with his love and protection and peace, and we asked God to equip the parents and give them strength and wisdom to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. And we charged our entire church with helping these families, with loving and raising these babies, and to support and encourage these new parents.

We also introduced eight people / families as brand new members at GCR – a total of 24 men, women, and children who are committing to everything God is doing in us and through us to his glory. These people are jumping in to the mission of this church – to be a Christ-centered family that loves like Jesus. They’re promising to worship and serve and live with us, together, to advance God’s Kingdom on this earth to his eternal praise. They’re bringing their gifts and their passions, their baggage and their personalies, their abilities and their joy! It was such a wild thing to introduce 24 brothers and sisters in Christ as new members during the same service – the congregation responded with a standing ovation!

We pledged publicly in that moment to belong to each other at GCR. We promised to love and support these new church members. We promised to encourage and challenge these new members and to always give them the benefit of the doubt. And we promised to roll up our sleeves and work hard together for everything God is wanting to do in Midland.

God is arranging the parts at GCR, every one of them, exactly as he wants them to be. He’s moving people to Midland from Dallas and Houston and from some of the smaller towns out here in West Texas to join us in what he’s doing with this church. He’s putting everything perfectly in place for his Kingdom plans.

And we don’t get to choose any of them. We don’t get to interview anybody, we don’t get a vote. God chooses the people and moves them in and smashes us together to achieve his purposes and to shape us more into his holy image. He puts us together in a place where we are forced to love each other, forced to sing each other’s songs, to listen to one another’s opinions, to pray over each other’s cares, to forgive one another’s wrongs, and to eat and drink a meal together every Sunday. It shapes us. It forms us. It blesses us with more energy and resources to better serve the people of our city in the name and manner of Jesus.

God is arranging the parts at GCR. He’s doing something big here, something significant; something that, by his grace, will impact this city and the whole world with his amazing love. And I feel so blessed by him to be one of those pieces he’s moving in and arranging. I feel so privileged to be right in the middle of whatever our Lord is cooking here in Midland, Texas.

This coming Sunday we’re introducing at least three or four more families as new members into our congregation. May we give God the glory and praise, may we pay close attention to these new folks and to what our Lord is wanting to do, and may his will be done in and through us at GCR, together, just as it is in heaven.

Peace,

Allan

Somebodies Out of Nobodies

The introduction to David in 1 Samuel – his anointing at his father Jesse’s house and his battle with Goliath – tells us something very important about our God. Our Lord takes nobodies and makes them somebodies. He does incredible mind-blowing things with people he finds at the back of the line or at the bottom of the pile.

Three people are described as “big” in 1 Samuel 16-17. Eliab, the first born son who was not anointed king; Saul, the king chosen by the people but rejected by God; and Goliath, the enemy of God’s people who was killed by David. David is the “little” one in this story. But he is beloved. Just like Israel. Little and small, but chosen and loved by God. This is how our God works. Think of what you were when you were called.

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth (he’s talking about us). But God chose the foolish things of this world… God chose the weak things of this world. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are…. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus who has become for us… our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.” ~1 Corinthians 1:26-30

David was not even a player. He’s got no potential in the opening scene. He was the youngest son and his dad completely forgot about him. But God chose him and made him king. God worked in and through David to bring salvation to his people. This is how God does things.

Through Jesus he takes a poor fisherman and makes him the foundation of his eternal Church. He takes a young man with anger issues and, through him, gives us the most beautiful words about love in the whole Bible. He takes a persecutor of the Church and a killer of Christians and makes him the greatest missionary and church planter in history. That’s exactly how our God works. Because when things happen that just don’t make sense, God gets all the glory and praise.

His power is made perfect in our weakness. And his matchless grace is received as a gift.

Peace,

Allan

Secure in the Midst of Suffering

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
~Psalm 125

Living as a child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ is not like walking a tightrope without a safety net. This is not a situation in which you’re 200-feet up, trying to keep your balance, and taking extra care with every movement and twitch. A fly landing on your nose is life-threatening. People are watching you, everybody’s paying attention, some are secretly hoping you’ll crash and burn. That’s not the Christian life. It’s not a tightrope where every single step you take is a life or death deal. It’s more like sitting safely and securely inside a fortress. If you’re a Christian, you’re protected. You’re safe.

Even in your sufferings. Even when bad things happen to you. When you lose something you think you can’t live without. When your loved ones suffer pain. When you’re the victim of an injustice.

Psalm 125 says you’ll be OK because you’re surrounded by God. He’s got you. As long as the Lord is your God, you’ll be fine.

Whoever wrote Psalm 125 did not have anesthesia at the hospital, he didn’t have Tylenol or antibiotics in his medicine cabinet, and he didn’t have a government spending hundreds of billions of dollars on national defense. The writer here endured pain and suffering and threat personally and with the people around him every day. Why did that not destroy his confidence in God?

“The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous.” ~Psalm 125:3

The wickedness won’t rest, it won’t last, it won’t stay with you permanently. The bad stuff is always temporary.

“…for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.” ~Psalm 125:3

If the evil is permanent, if there’s no hope for deliverance, even the most faithful and devout person will break. They’ll use their own hands to do evil — it’s too much. But God never allows that to happen. The pain and the suffering are never too much for our faith.

“God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” ~1 Corinthians 10:13

At some point, at just the right time, it goes away. The bad stuff is never too much for your faith. And it’s never too much for our God.

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Romans 8:31-39

Peace,

Allan

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