Category: 1 Corinthians (Page 1 of 17)

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

Prayer of Our Lord

It’s striking to me that in the very last recorded conversation between Jesus and his Father in the Gospel of John, just hours before his hands and feet would be nailed to the tree, Jesus is talking about our unity as his followers. These are some of the very last words of our Lord. And they carry so much weight.

“I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All the ones I have are yours, and all the ones you have are mine. And glory has come to me through them… Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one… My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world… I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe… May they be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” ~John 17:9-23

This prayer of Jesus is very familiar to us. Maybe a bit too familiar, like maybe we’ve heard it so often and read it so much and NOT made it the priority that Christ does, we’ve NOT pursued it and practiced it or been willing to die for it like Christ is. Maybe it’s lost its punch. Verse ten has really jumped out at me the past couple of weeks. Maybe the message of verse ten can revive the punch in our Lord’s prayer.

“All the ones I have are yours and all the ones you have are mine.”

All those who belong to God belong to Christ and all those who belong to Christ belong to God, which means all those who confess Jesus as Lord — “all who will believe in me” — all belong to each other. We’re not promoting Christian unity here, we’re practicing it. Christian unity is not something we chase or pursue, it’s not something we must generate or create; it’s already the reality! Christian unity is the gift we’ve all been given by God in Christ.

Scripture tells us we all form one body, that this is the way it is in Christ.

“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink… In fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” ~1 Corinthians 12:13, 18, 27

We don’t try hard to be a part of the body. We don’t do our best to share in the blessings of belonging to God’s one universal and united people. No! Listen to the Bible! You. It’s plural, actually, so, you all. Y’all ARE the body of Christ. So act like it.

“You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3:26-28

Because of our fallen, sinful nature as humans and because of the broken systems and structures of the fallen, sinful world, we don’t see each other enough. We don’t listen enough to each other’s stories. We don’t know each other well enough to practice and live this unity that’s already there if we’ll just pay attention to it. If we’ll just look each other in the eye. If we’ll really listen to each other well. If we’ll commit to loving all believers in Jesus as the brothers and sisters in Christ they are.

“In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” ~Romans 12:5

What does it mean for all Christians to belong to each other? It means we love each other. We forgive each other. We help carry each other’s burdens. We look out for each other and take care of each other. It means offering grace to people we’d rather punch in the throat. It means standing alongside those whose politics we might detest.

This is what Jesus prayed. This is who Jesus is. The way Jesus lived his life, the things he taught and the stories he told — he erase all the labels we attach to others. He obliterated the ways we draw lines and build walls between us and others. He lived and taught the complete unity of all God’s people.

When you see the hungry and thirsty — listen to the words of Jesus — when you see the alien, the naked and the sick, when you see the prisoner, you’re looking at me.

The Samaritan? Yeah, he’s your neighbor. That’s right, the guy who doesn’t look like you, his skin’s a different color than yours, he lives in a different part of the city, he doesn’t smell like you, he doesn’t vote like you, he believes and practices his Christianity a little differently than you — he’s yours. You are responsible for each other.

Jesus completely turned upside down the whole economy of the way the world operates. The first are last! The poor are blessed! The oppressed are kings! We love our enemies and pray for those who treat us wrong! Why would we ever stand by and ignore or go along with the world’s status quo when our Lord Jesus prayed that it would all be changed?

Each member belongs to all the others. All the ones I have are yours and all the ones you have are mine. Taking care of each other. Uniting as one. That’s the prayer of our Lord. It’s what he asked for the night before he died.

Peace,

Allan

Almost Easter

This is the video message we posted for our Central church family last night.

The church building might be empty on Sunday, but so is the tomb!

Peace,

Allan

Preaching: Act of Faith

“God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” ~1 Corinthians 1:21-25

Preaching is an act of faith because on the surface it doesn’t make sense. What’s preached is foolishness. It takes faith.

Think about it. We take ordinary everyday water and we speak God’s Word. We tell the story of how God has used the water at creation, at the Red Sea, in the womb of a virgin, at the crossing of the Jordan, in the rescue of Noah’s family — and we get baptism, a sacrament for how God saves us.

We take ordinary table bread — just a loaf of bread — and we speak God’s Word. We tell the stories about God feeding his children in the wilderness and Jesus breaking bread with sinners and feeding multitudes on the mountain and God preparing a meal to share with all the saved on that day of glory — and we get the Lord’s Supper, a sacrament for how God takes care of us.

We’ve heard the Word of God preached so much it’s easy for us to forget the power, the wonder, the holiness of that moment when the preacher climbs the steps to the pulpit, opens his Bible, clears his throat, takes a deep breath, and dares to speak for God. It’s not a cat video or an epic fail or an advertisement for another new and improved, faster-acting, better-smelling, lifetime-guaranteed product you’ve just gotta have. Preaching is the Word of God, proclaimed to the people of God, as an act of faith in God. It’s a miracle.

I believe it works like the sacraments. Not exactly, but kinda. You know, during the communion meal, the bread is still a plain cracker and the grape juice is still Welch’s grape juice. Or Great Value, I really don’t know. Even after the prayers, it remains crackers and juice. But by faith, God uses the meal to convey to us the reality of our unity and acceptance and fellowship with him and each other.

In the same way, I think that human words spoken by human, sinful, fallen preachers are still human words, even after all the prayer and study and meditation. But by faith, God uses the words to communicate the realities of his eternal love and grace for us. It’s divine speech. It’s an act of faith.

Preaching is not a lecture, it’s not a book report, it’s not somebody telling you what to do, and it’s not new information — after two-thousand years of preaching, what’s new? No, it’s an exercise in faith.

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my Word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” ~Isaiah 55:10-11

I’ve been preaching full time for almost thirteen years. When I first started, my sermons were not very good. My preaching was not great. Those poor people in Marble Falls and the mid-cities of northeast Tarrant County burned off years of purgatory listening to those sermons. Those folks are going to be escorted straight to heaven!

But, let me tell you, even today, the sermons are hardly ever as good as I want them to be. I’m almost always disappointed. Almost always. I take comfort in the words of Augustine. He’s one of the greatest preachers in the history of the Church. And he wrote this over 1,600 years ago:

“My own way of expressing myself almost always disappoints me. I am anxious for the best possible, as I feel it in me before I start bringing it into the open in plain words; and when I see that it is less impressive than I had felt it to be, I am saddened that my tongue cannot live up to my heart.”

I don’t think I’m committing homiletical homicide every week. I’m just not as good as I want to be at finding the right words and putting them in the right order to communicate the powerful things the Lord puts in my heart. It’s disappointing. But I believe with all my soul God is using every single word I say — the best ones and the ones I’d like to have back — to do exactly what he wants done.

I know what you want. You want inspiring sermons, sermons that soar, sermons that rise to the lofty heights of our God and his eternal love and his matchless grace; you want sermons that challenge and convict and compel you to action. I do, too. I really, really do. And sometimes it happens. Sometimes it works. The preaching sometimes gives you something you need to hear, it comforts you or encourages you at exactly the right moment, it opens your eyes to an everlasting truth that changes everything for you. We go to church wanting that, expecting that. And when it happens, we know it’s the Lord. That’s our God at work.

Our Father is in charge of our sermons, not our preachers. He alone inspires, he alone speaks, he alone puts his Word exactly where it needs to go, when it needs to go there, and he alone causes it to grow and bear Kingdom fruit to his eternal glory and praise.

I have no idea what’s happening in our preaching. And no control. I don’t know where the words are going, but they are going somewhere. I trust that. I know that. Our God will never allow his words to return to him empty. If I didn’t trust that God was in charge of the preaching, I wouldn’t do it. And you wouldn’t sit through it. Preaching is an act of faith for all of us.

Peace,

Allan

Preaching: Gift of Grace

Most preachers are neurotic. And deeply flawed. And most of the Church knows it. Of course, we preachers know it, too. And we’re capable of making fun of ourselves. I was at a preacher’s convention in Dallas last year and they were giving out door prizes and the most popular one was this T-shirt: Help! I’m preaching and I can’t shut up!” I wanted it so badly.

This series of posts is not about preachers. It’s about preaching.

I want to post this week about preaching as one of the many things that’s right with Church. Not the preachers — the preachers are one of the things that’s wrong with church. I’ll do that series someday: “What’s Wrong with Church.” Budget sermons, cold casseroles, Friends Day, and preachers.

“I became a servant of this Gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Ephesians 3:7-11

Grace here is not about Paul’s salvation or anybody’s forgiveness. This is about Paul’s preaching. It’s a gift of God and this gift obligates Paul to use it.

You know when you give someone a gift you expect him or her to use it. If you give somebody a new shirt for Christmas, you can’t wait to see him again and you’re hoping he’s wearing that shirt. If you give someone a book, you hope she reads it and enjoys it and the next time you see each other you want to talk to her about the book. If somebody gives you something to put up in your house and it’s really awful — some ugly vase or some hideous painting — you can’t throw it away! You have to keep it! You keep it in the back of a closet somewhere and when those people come over you hold your nose and pull that thing out of the closet and hang it on the wall until they leave!

Preaching is a gift of God’s grace to Paul and Paul is obligated to exercise it. He knew he had this great gift from the Lord, but he also had a good handle on it. He calls himself less than the least of all God’s people. And he really believed it. He put no stock in his own abilities, he didn’t feel like he outranked anybody or was important in any way. It’s all a gift from God. Deep down, Paul felt like he should have been rejected by God, but he was chosen instead.

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service… I was shown mercy… The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus… I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” ~1 Timothy 1:12-17

Preaching is a gift of God’s grace and it obligates the preacher. God puts that inside of a preacher and he can’t shake it. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul says, “I can’t boast when I preach the Gospel because I’m compelled to preach. I’m forced by God. Woe to me if I don’t preach the Gospel!”

Somebody asked Mick Jagger one time what it takes to make good rock and roll. He said, “Three chords and a fire.” I think what makes good preaching is like that. Maybe three points and a fire. Something God himself puts inside the preacher.

I don’t always preach what our people want to hear. I preach what’s burning inside my bones, the stuff I can’t shake, what I feel like God is almost forcing me to say. And I’m always terrified. I’m always scared when I’m preaching. I don’t feel worthy. I don’t feel qualified. I know myself too well. I know myself and my sins. Who am I to stand up here in front of all these faithful men and women, these giants, and speak for God? That song right before the sermon? I’m praying the whole time. My heart’s racing, my hands get super cold, and I’m praying.

God help me. Thank you for this blessing, for this great privilege and honor, but you’ve got to help me. Holy Spirit, help me. Help me to remember everything you and I have worked on together this week. Help me say it exactly the way you want me to.

And then when Kevin starts that last verse?

It’s you and me, Jesus. Let’s get up there and see what happens. And I hope my sermon is better received than yours was.

Preaching is a gift of grace, to proclaim Christ, to explain and make plain the good news of the Gospel. And as a result of that preaching, the church participates in God’s plan. Sometimes I might say despite the preaching. And that’s the grace, right? Somehow the preaching causes what God is doing to be revealed through the church to all the powers and authorities throughout the whole universe. Preaching leads to unity and love and sacrifice and service and worship in the church and, by God’s grace, that reveals God’s power and wisdom and proves what he’s already accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It’s grace. Only by the grace of God does preaching accomplish anything.

Peace,

Allan

« Older posts