Monday, 31 March 2008

A change of perspective

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4v16-18

I remember many years ago hearing a preacher give some very practical Bible study advice – “Whenever you see the word ‘therefore’ you need to see that it is there for.” Here it is obvious. In the lengthy section of this letter preceding Paul has talked about the struggles he is going through and then looked at all that counterbalances to those struggles. He then laid it on the line – “Therefore in the light of all that, we are not going to lose heart.”

Why not just quit Paul? “Because our inward man is being renewed every day.” Trials are doing a work on the inner man, the real me. There are making me the man I need to be. “Our light troubles are only fleeting, and they don’t even compare to the glories that await us at the end..

How do you do that Paul? “I chose not to focus on the temporary, visible stuff. It is only going to be here a little while. One day it is going to be gone.”

What do you look at Paul? “I have learned to focus on the things I can’t even see yet, for they are the only things that are going to last for eternity.

It really is not easy to explain, but enduring through trials requires action on our part. We need to choose to change our focus. When we get bogged down in all the “stuff” that is going on we need to stop and readjust our focus and choose to focus on the blessings and promises in His word.

The question is, are we willing to exercise the faith required to look on the invisible?

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Grace, thanksgiving, the glory of God

For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. – 2 Corinthians 4v15

The more I read of 2 Corinthians this time through and the more I get to know Paul the more I love him. I am seeing a man with the same battles, struggles, fears, and anxieties that I have. Plus he had something else – his life was constantly in danger. The mobs opposed him and the authorities were looking for an excuse to kill him.

I know that the Holy Spirit is the Divine Author of the scriptures, but He used men and their struggles and personalities to do so. In these first few chapters of 2nd Corinthians he seems to be speaking as much to himself as the Corinthians. So often when I preach the message is for me as much as much as anyone. These daily mediations are not meant to preach, but are often to record what God is doing in my own heart. Here Paul almost seems to be giving himself a half time pep talk. As he does so we can almost sense his confidence growing.

He tells the Corinthians and himself here – “Everything we are doing is for your sake, so that grace may spread to many, and that the result would be thanksgiving which will glorify God.” I really like the way Paul thinks – he lays it on in a logical fashion. “We are doing the right thing. It is worth it all, because at the end of the day God will be glorified.”

Let’s lay it on the line. Where is my focus? Is it on trials, discouragement, and fear? Or is it on grace, thanksgiving, and the glory of God?

Saturday, 29 March 2008

That His life may be seen in us

…always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. – 2 Corinthians 4v10

As I read through this section of scripture I have some questions. Not criticisms I hope, but questions. I read about Paul “always carrying about the dying of the Lord Jesus” and yet I see Christians today who seem to have no concept of what that means. I realise that suffering can exist even is the midst of wealth and prosperity, but I have a hard time reconciled the prosperity of the church today with carrying about the dying Jesus. In some parts of the world Christians drive to multi-million dollar megaplexes in SUV’s equipped with DVD players and Playstation games to entertain the kids on the way in. When they get to church they join the other SUV’s in the car park and head into church for a latte and croissant on their way to the Family Life Centre where they talk about sports and the struggles of raising children in their two income families. Plush carpets and padded pews along with six figure sound systems await them in the worship centre to celebrate a pop star home boy Jesus.

How does this all work out? Try as I might I can’t reconcile that to the words in 2 Corinthians 4v10. As I read about the Christian life I read about fiery trials, testings, and battles. I read about attacks and persecution. I read about being beaten down. I read about discouraged servants of God. I read about carrying about Jesus, not the contemporary media star, but His dying body. Maybe I am missing something here.

This passage is clear in my mind though. How do we manifest the life of Jesus in our bodies? By carrying with us His dying, brutalised, suffering body.

More questions than answers today. .

Friday, 28 March 2008

Light in earthen vessels

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. – 2 Corinthians 4v6-7

Have you ever seen a light fixture where the fixture gets the attention and the light is secondary? I think of chandeliers that I have that are spectacular whether they are lit or not. For our 25th anniversary one of our children gave us a pair of Waterford Crystal candle holders. We don’t even light the candles in them. As I look at them now they are beautiful and capture my attention without being lit.

On the other hand have you ever noticed the most functional lights? Whenever a task needs to be done and light is required a simple device is used to carry a powerful light. I remember crawling under houses dragging a beaten, battered, and dirty drop light with me – but the light shone on the task at hand and let it be accomplished. I think of mechanics lights that are cheap, covered with grease, and battered, but they do their job and the light is clear.

Paul uses a similar illustration to teach a marvellous lesson for us today. “God commanded the light to shine in darkness. He shines in our hearts and we are to give out that light. But He uses cheap, common, every day clay jars to shine that light so that the excellency of His power might be seen instead of us.

We are more like the lights I used to drag under houses than the crystal candlesticks. When I was back in the corner of a dirty crawlspace hanging ductwork I really didn’t care what the light holder looked like – all I wanted was the light. The excellency of the moment was in the light, not the holder.

May I be content to be that old, beaten, and battered cheap drop light instead of the expensive crystal candlesticks safely put away on the fireplace so that the excellency might be in His power, not mine.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Being transformed

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 3v18

I wrote some time back about the transformers and I think I mentioned how they are “more than meets the eye.” My mind goes back to those toys again this morning (you can tell we have five sons).

When these toys were changed from cars or trucks into robots there was a process that took place. With a few twists and a few turns the whole thing was transformed. Let me take this just a little further. Imagine that these toys were alive and sensed pain. Don’t you imaging that it would to go from one shape to the other?

This passage makes it clear that our Christian life is one of transformation. When we were saved we were positionally transformed into God’s children. As far as our position in Christ we cannot be any more transformed. One day we will be totally transformed into His perfect image, but that won’t happen until we are in His presence.

In the mean time there is still a changing or transformation taking place. As we look at the unveiled face of Christ we are in the process of being transformed into His image. The AV says “we are changed” but the verb is present, active, indicative meaning that it is going on now.

We are all in the process of transformation. It may well be uncomfortable at times. It may even be painful, but the end result is worth it all. We are being transformed from glory to glory. We might well say that we are transformed to glory after glory by the power of the Holy Spirit.

As we focus on His perfect reflection we are being transformed into that perfect reflection by glory after glory empowered by His Holy Spirit.

Praise God for allowing me to be transformed into His image! May I have the patience to be transformed.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The veil is removed

But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. – 2 Corinthians 3v14-16

God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness are so incompatible that in the Old Testament a veil was used to separate them. Moses had to veil his face. A huge veil in the Temple separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies where God dwelt. God was always “there” but was not always accessible.

But all that changed on the cross. The massive veil that separated the people from God in the Temple was torn asunder from top to bottom. Now the physical veil was gone, but for most people a veil still covered their hearts and kept them from truly knowing God.

Even that veil is set for removal however. When a person turns to the Lord that veil is taken away and the person has full access to God. The Holy One who could once only be sensed or glimpsed can now be seen face to face. For those who turn to Christ the door is open to walk with full confidence into God’s presence. The Holy One becomes our Abba, our Daddy, and we can come to Him with nothing between us.

All praise to the Unveiled Holy One! All praise to my unveiled Daddy!

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Our sufficiency is from God

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, - 2 Corinthians 3v5

There are a lot of benefits to suffering and troubles. No wonder we are told to rejoice in them. I love what Paul says here, “I don’t have the capacity to understand anything on my own.” How many times I have stood around in amazement and said, “Man, I haven’t a clue.” Trials, temptations, tears, and testings all play in to bringing us to the point where we lose all semblance of self-sufficiency. The world stresses the importance of it, and the word of God teaches that there really is no suchthing for the child of God.

There is a blessing to be had. Paul said, “Our sufficiency is from God.” God, the All Sufficient I AM is my sufficiency! That is almost beyond my ken. . Why would I EVER depend on my lack of sufficiency when He who defines sufficiency is my heavenly Father?

I have no sufficiency. But wait, I have ALL sufficiency because I have Him!

Monday, 24 March 2008

You are an epistle of Christ

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. – 2 Corinthians 3v2-3

Part of Paul’s problem at the beginning of the letter was the fact that he was being attacked, accused, and belittled by the religious and community leaders in Corinth. He didn’t have the right paperwork and credentials to be taken seriously by many there. Paul had one thing though to back him up. The transformed lives of the believers there were testimony to him. They were all the paperwork he needed.

Paul takes it a step further though. The believers were not only letters of commendation for Paul, but they were also the letters of commendation for the reality of Christ in the lives of people. They were proof of what Christ can do. People can argue about our doctrine, our theology, and our Christian practice. One thing that no one can argue with is a transformed life. There is no argument, there is no debate. When Christ changes a life it is irrefutable proof. People may never open a Bible where words are in ink on paper. What they can read is the change of Christ written on our hearts.

Is my life a clear epistle of the transforming work of Christ? When people see me what kind of letter do they read?

Sunday, 23 March 2008

The fragrance of Christ

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. – 2 Corinthians 2v14-15

I think we have all noticed how certain smells can bring certain moments and events back to our memory. Certain smells remind us of special places or special people. I read someplace that the smell receptor is most closely connected to memory. I don’t really know if that is true or not, but I do know that smells do stir up memories.

Here Paul uses smell to place a mental image in the minds of the Corinthians. The custom in the Roman Empire was to hold a great parade called The Triumph when generals and their troops returned from a successful military campaign. The city would be prepared. Incense would be lit, sacrifices were made, and flowers would line the streets. On the pavement itself flower petals were strewn and as the horses, soldiers, and chariots moved through the streets the flower petals would be crushed and sweet aromas released. When Paul wrote these words of The Triumph and its associated fragrances the readers’ memories released thoughts of victory.

Now my mind is drawn to that first Easter. As the women approached the tomb they were carrying spices and fragrances for Jesus’ body. Up until now these were scents associated with death in their minds. As they approached the tomb they saw the stone rolled away and heard those marvellous words, “He is risen!” Praise God for that marvellous truth, my God and my Redeemer is alive today. Are we stretching things too far to imagine that the smells of the spices the women carried evoked a different memory from this time forward?

How do these two tie together? Paul’s words remind us that we are to portray the fragrance of His knowledge to all around us. Even more than that we are the fragrance of Christ to the saved and the lost.

Saying that, what do people “smell” when they are around us? Do they sense the stench of defeat and death as we walk in the flesh? Or do they sense the glorious scents of joy, celebration, and victory that comes with the risen Christ? What memories do people have of me? When they hear my name what “smells” come to mind? I am a fragrance either way. May I always be that fragrance of the victorious risen Christ!

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Always led in triumph

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. – 2 Corinthians 2v14

I think one of the questions I want to ask Paul when I get to heaven is this, “What happened after you went to Troas that turned your heart around?” His despair seems to be deepening. He went to Troas to preach, found the door wide open, but left in discouragement because Titus was not there. That’s pretty much rock bottom. Paul missed a chance to minister because he was discouraged.

But something happens between verses 13 and 14. All of a sudden his “raw faith” seems to awaken. He catches a glimpse of the victory that he already has. He wrote about it in his first letter, but even he got discouraged afterwards. Now, there is a complete change of spirit – “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ!”

Wow! Where did that come from? From the depths of despair Paul proclaims victory won! I think of that as we are right in the middle of Easter weekend. As a friend said this week, I really don’t care if Jesus dies Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. Either way, there was a time period when His followers were discouraged and defeat seemed real. Satan and his forces must have thought that their victory was assured. Jesus laid silently in the tomb on Saturday.

Far too often we spend days of our Christian lives on Saturday. It seems that in the first part of 2 Corinthians Paul was living on Saturday.

What happened to wake Paul up? I don’t know. Possibly he simply chose to change his focus. Maybe he took his own words to heart. Maybe he grabbed on to that raw faith and claimed the victory that was assured and let God lead him in that victory.

As someone once said, “Sunday is coming!” Things are not what they seem in eternity. Our daily walk should be like the soldiers in the mighty Triumph Parade following our victorious Commander!

No matter what the circumstances – we are on the victory side.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Lest Satan should take advantage

…lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices. – 2 Corinthians 2v11

I don’t know exactly how God worked out all the details of the Holy Spirit moving human writers to give us His perfect divine word, but He did.

Saying that, when we read this section of the second letter to Corinth it almost seems that he is searching for the right words to express himself. He got to the point that he knows needs to be addressed so that it does not add to his sorrow.

Back in 1 Corinthians we read of a man who was involved in an incestuous relationship. They had not dealt with his sin, so Paul chastened them for not dealing with the sin. Apparently they had dealt with the sin, but now the sin was dealt with and they were still holding the sin over him, they would not forgive him and restore him to fellowship. In verse seven Paul says, “so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.” Enough was enough, in other words. Since he has repented, restore him.

He then gives just a glimpse to the source of the trouble – “lest Satan should take advantage.” Paul knew that the situation was fragile and that Satan would jump at the chance to take advantage of the situation. “We are not ignorant of his devices.” Satan will do all he can to destroy God’s work. If he can defeat us in spirit he may well defeat us in body.

We have a God, we also have an enemy. We need to be very, very careful that we don’t give him any chance to sneak in and take advantage of the situation. A familiar word pops out in verse eight – ‘Affirm your love to him.”

There cannot be too much love – it is the one thing we can do that Satan cannot answer.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

By the grace of God

For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you.
– 2 Corinthians 1v12

I suppose I am more or less dragging through 2 Corinthians 1 because it is just so practical and so applicable to where reality hits. Paul had just mentioned the truth of learning not to trust ourselves, but God. Now he makes it even clearer – “Our conduct here in this life has been of a simple life with godly sincerity. We don’t live with any kind of fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God.”

What was Paul saying here? Sometimes our lives just don’t make any sense. Sometimes fleshly wisdom tells us that this is all wrong. The problem is that fleshly wisdom where we try to figure it all out with our human minds, just doesn’t work. Our fleshly wisdom always complicates the simplicity and sincerity of our conduct in this world.

A remember a preacher using the term “raw faith” one time. Raw faith strips away all of our fleshly wisdom and complications and says, “I live my life here by the grace of God alone. All the props need to be taken away. All the human reasoning needs to be eliminated.”

May I learn to live this life of simplicity and godly sincerity based on His grace and not on me always trying to figure it out.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Helping in prayer

…you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many. – 2 Corinthians 1v11

Just a short, put I think pertinent thought today. Sometimes we can almost feel guilty if a friend or some one we know is going through a trial or serious affliction. I told some one recently, “I wish I could help.” In my mind I thought, “All I can do is pray.”

Yet today, right after Paul tells the Corinthians about the struggles he is in says, “You helping together in prayer for us…”

Prayer is more than just something we do. It is more than just an appendage. It is not just something we say. It is not just a routine. It is not just nice words of comfort. Praying for another is a help at least as important as finances or physical support.

There is no greater way to help some one in trouble than to pray, and we can all do that.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Who to trust

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, - 2 Corinthians 1v8-10

Last night I watched (again) the brilliant film “Facing the Giants.” As the film opens the coach of an American football crashes to an ignominious defeat it yet another match. Another losing season. We then discover that life is tough for Christian coach Grant Taylor is having a rough time. His car barely runs, he loses his star player to another team, his house stinks (literally), there is a leak, the oven doesn’t work. his wife can’t get pregnant (and it is his “fault”), he loses the first three games of the next season, and there is a plot to get rid of him as coach. I am sure there was more, but we get the point. He is in despair.

I think we get, perhaps just a glimpse of how Paul felt in the beginning of 2 Corinthians. He was weighed down beyond measure, his strength was gone. He did not see a way out. He felt like he was under a life sentence.

Coach Taylor was not the only one to feel that way. Paul was not the only one to feel that way. The psalmist wrote in Psalm 77, “I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I have considered the days of old, The years of ancient times. I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, And my spirit makes diligent search. Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Selah”

Despair is nothing new for God’s people. In the film Coach Taylor gets alone with God and chooses to trust Him, no matter the result. In Psalm 77 the psalmist wrote that he would choose to remember God and His works and to talk of His deeds.

Here Paul keys us in about why he had to go through trouble and despair,.“That we should not trust in ourselves, but in the God who raises the dead and delivers us.” He then reaches out in faith, “We trust that He will still deliver us.”

The rest of the film goes on to tell how Coach Taylor and his team learn to trust God. At the end of the film he breaks down and says, “O God, I am overwhelmed.” Yes, its only a movie. Things don’t always turn around in real life like they did in the movie, but one phrase rings out,”When we win we will glorify Him and when we lose we will glorify Him.” Coach Grant and his wife decided to trust God no matter what they saw, because they knew He could still deliver.

I have run on too long, but the words of a Christian song ring in my head, in spite of the opposition and giants there is a voice calling out to me, it is the voice of truth, and it tells me, “Do not be afraid, this is for My glory. I will choose to listen and believe the word of truth.”

Pressure and consolation

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 1v3-5

God’s timing is amazing. As I sat down to do my devotions this morning I had looked at the news. I saw that the dollar had fallen in value yet again and am sitting here with a heaviness in my chest, in fact, a pressure. As I started 2 Corinthians I read about the God of comfort who comforts is in our afflictions.

Now I realise that a weak dollar is hardly an affliction or a tribulation to compare with being persecuted, beaten, arrested, and being threatened with my very life. It is hardly like the attack on a missionary centre is America where a worker was shot and killed last year (as I am hearing on the radio at the moment). I just heard that the girl who was shot, before she died said, “We are doing this for Jesus guys, right?”

I know all that, and maybe my thoughts are a bit petty and self centred, but the fact is for me right now the weak dollar is a pressure. That is one of the things Paul is talking about here. The word for “tribulation” refers to a “pressure.”

It is during these times of pressure – no matter how petty or severe that the God of all comfort comforts us so that we can comfort others. We should indeed be doing all we do for Jesus. When we are the tribulations and pressure will be there, but we can turn to Him for comfort. Then we can share that comfort with others.

It my petty pressures today I need to rely on the God of all comfort so that my consolation may abound through Christ. Also, I need to use my struggles and afflictions to help others through theirs.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Archaicus

I urge you, brethren you know the household of Stephanas…and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints that you also submit to such,…I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus… For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men. – 1 Corinthians 16v15-18

There is plenty in the word of God that talks about humility, being nothing, being base, foolish, and weak. There is plenty about not seeking recognition of self glory. There is plenty about being equal and on a level playing pitch.

I think that I may have missed something here. In seeing the abuse of glorifying men I have missed the fact that sometimes we are called upon to acknowledge, recognise, and mark some men.

Here we meet Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Archaicus. These men, according to all indications, had delivered the letter from Corinth mentioned in chapter sever and filled in any gaps for Paul. Stephanas was one of the few that Paul had baptised. He was one of the first people saved in Corinth. Clearly there was a connexion between Paul and Stephanas.

Paul says a couple of things about these men. First, they had given their lives for the service of the Lord. Second, they had refreshed Paul’s heart (like “news from a far land”), and third, they had refreshed the hearts of the people in Corinth. Sounds like a nice bunch of guys and the kind of guys we can learn from. You can’t go wrong by serving the Lord and refreshing the saints.

One thing though that I have been missing. There is room for recognising such servants. In fact, it is to be done. We don’t need to puff them up. We don’t need to give them exaltation. We don’t need to give them honourary doctorates. We are however to recognise that service and mark those servants out. The key, once again, is finding a Bible balance.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

A balance

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love. – 1 Corinthians 16v13-14

I watched a video yesterday from Kenneth Branagh’s “Henry V.” In his St Crispin’s Day speech he brilliantly charges his men to face the out numbered troops. Shakespeare’s words ring out –

“Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.”

You cannot help but be motivated by words like this, and as Paul is about to wrap up his marvellous letter to the Christians at Corinth. Toward the end he gives them some final instructions. The list sounds almost like a clarion call for battle:


Stand fast

Be brave

Be strong

The Christian life is not for wimps, it is not for sissies, it is for real soldiers.

But wait, how are we to watch, stand fast, be brave, and be strong? “Let all you do be done with love.” I have known many Christian fighters in my life. I have known men whose militancy cannot be questioned. The word of God is clear, we must earnestly contend. We must be on watch. We must stand fast. We must be brave. We must be strong. But we must do it all in love.

What motivates our fight? What motives our battle? It is love.

Does that make any sense? I am more accustomed to doing these things out of anger, pride, and arrogance. I have fought because I wanted others to think well of me.

Am not sure in my own mind how to balance all this, but God’s word is clear. What is my motivation? Is it love, or something else?

Friday, 14 March 2008

Many adversaries

But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. – 1 Corinthians 16v8-9

I think it is a testimony to the veracity of the scriptures that the letters Paul wrote are personal. After preaching to the Christians in Corinth for several pages he told them what was going on in his life and ministry.

Here he mentions his ministry in Ephesus. Paul was not perfect, there were times his will seemed to get in the way and there was at least once where he left a ministry because he felt alone and missed his friends (more later) but here we see a case where Paul saw the open door as primary and the opposition as secondary.

Ephesus was a place of great idolatry. Not only was it a place of the worship of false gods, but it was a place where the opposition was real and open. The crowds opposed them and there were even riots in opposition to their work. However, Paul said, “I need to stay there till Pentecost because the door is wide open.”

We have seen a lot of opposition the last couple of weeks. The dollar is at record lows and falling, all kinds of personal situations are going on, and there is a spirit of heaviness and oppression. We had our lowest number of children in years at Kids Klub yesterday. I even broke my little toe last week and I still can’t really spend any time on my feet. The adversity is here in a very real and dynamic way.

However, one thing is true. The door is still open. No one is stopping us from sharing the gospel. People may not be listening much, but the door is still open.

Adversity is nothing new. The New Testament, church history, and missionary and other Christian biographies attest to that. We are not the first ones to face adversity, this is not the first time we will face, nor will it be the last.

One thing doesn’t change – God is just as faithful for us as He was for Paul’s missionary team in Ephesus.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Always abounding

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 15v58

As I look back over the last 8-10 years of ministry I have to say that I have not always abounded in the work. The last couple of weeks had been one of those occasions where “abounding” was not the descriptive word.

I have to say that, by God’s grace alone, I can find the strength in Him to plod along and stay steadfast. I am stubborn and sometimes foolish enough that I can be unmoveable. It is the “abounding” bit that gets me.

Why is that? I think there are many answers, but just a couple some to mind this morning. 1) Sometimes I am so busy with Roger’s work and even Roger’s play that I am not even doing God’s work, much less abounding in it. (Ouch, that was hard to type) 2) Sometimes, and I hope and trust most of the times when I am not abounding, I forget the very end of the passage – “knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

I can get to the point where I am not trusting God’s promise that our work for Him is not in vain. It is always going to accomplish His purpose. When am not abounding in the work of the Lord I am failing to honour Him and trust His word.

I am not so sure now that the trench is where God wants us for the long run. We may have to dig in, get some rest, meet with the Commander, check on the battle plans, and encourage of fellow soldiers. But at the end of the day, we need to move forward, go over the top, and always be abounding in His work. It will never be in vain.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

The victory

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15v57

Believe it or not, there are times in the Christian life when it does not feel like a victory. Sometimes it seems like we are hiding in a World War I trench, knee deep in muck, the skin on our feet rotting away, always wet, sleeping on wooden slats cut into the dirt, rats running over us while we sleep, cannon shots crashing around, machine gun fire buzzing over our heads, and no sign of an end.

Imagine with me for just a moment the same scenario with at slight difference. Imagine that you are in that trench, but you are a British soldier who has some how knows the future. Imagine that you know already that your side is going to be victorious and that you will soon be back home in Surrey reunited with your family and friends. Do you think you could handle that trench just a little bit better? It would be a little easier to say, “Just hold on a little longer, the end is in sight.”

Today the Christian life may look like the trenches. Today we are the image of the man of dust. Today we live in corruptible bodies prone to all the aches and pains and miseries and disappointments of that flesh. But one day it is all going to be different. One day the 11th of November will be here. We will be changed, in an instant the command to “cease fire” will be heard and we will be on our way home. The slat in the trenchside will be replaced with a bed and duvet. Our rotting flesh with be replaced with a clean and purified body. The enemy fire overhead will be replaced with love and compassion. No man’s land will be gone.

Why? How? Because the victory has been won. In God’s timeline it is already the 12th of November is already here. God has given is the victory through His Son Jesus Christ! Thanks be to God for our victory!!!

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Evil company

Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits." Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. – 1 Corinthians 15v33-34

For many this passage has one simple meaning – “Apart from witnessing to lost people don’t have anything to do with them. They are going to corrupt you if you do.” That seals it, easy way out, the deal is done.

I don’t think that is what Paul is saying at all. Evil company will indeed corrupt good manners. That’s obvious. But that is no excuse to ignore lost people. Instead our solution is “awake to righteousness and sin not.” A simple knock on the door or chance encounter on the street may indeed see some one saved, God can do anything. Yet people are going to believe the gospel as they see it in us. It is not our job to ignore the lost and their corrupting influence, our job is to live righteously and not join in their sin.

Some don’t know God, that’s why they act the way they do. I am not sure what Paul meant by “I speak this to your shame.” Maybe he meant they should be ashamed because they had their lifestyles corrupted by the lost. Maybe it was because they should have been witnessed to. Either way the principle is clear. Live righteously and do not sin in the midst of this “crooked and perverse generation.”

Monday, 10 March 2008

But now Christ is risen from the dead

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. – 1 Corinthians 15v19-20

Last week was a bit of a tough week. We had a lot of battles on a lot of fronts. The oppression and opposition was very real and very dark. Sometimes we ask ourselves why we go through all of this. Is it really worth is all?

That’s a good contingent on one thing – “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” If he did not, then our preaching is vain, our faith is futile, we are still in our sins, all the Christians who have died have totally perished, and we have a pitiable life. We might as well eat, drink, and be merry for this miserable life is as good as it is going to get.

Can you imagine a life with no hope? Can you imagine knowing that this is as good as it gets? If that was the case, rather than putting up with weeks like last week we might as well just chunk it all and party till the end to try and cover up the pain of a life with no hope.

But our life is not pitiable and it is not miserable. We do have hope, we do have assurance, and we do have a life to look forward to. Why? Because Christ is risen from the dead! All things are under His feet. After all the final enemy, death, has been defeated.

How do we get through those tough times? We remember that Christ is risen indeed! He has already won. We may see setbacks, we may lose a few battles, but Christ is risen from the dead and the ultimate victory is assured!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Empty faith?

And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. – 1 Corinthians 15v4

We have talked a lot about the focus of the cross over the last couple of weeks. “The foolishness of the cross,” and “Jesus and Him crucified,” have been the focus as Paul calls the Corinthian church to unity. If we look to the cross then we cannot help be unified.

Yet, what would have happened if the cross had been it? What if Jesus had died and lain in the tomb as His body slowly decayed faded into dust. Would his death alone have been enough? Would the sacrifice have sufficed?

Clearly not. Many people have given their lives for others through the years. What made Jesus different is that He not only gave His life and paid the price on the cross, He then went on to conquer death itself. If Christ did not rise then everything we preach and proclaim is empty. If Christ did not rise from the dead our faith would have only been in decent man who sought to die for His people.

But He did rise! In a fortnight’s time we will meet in our churches all over the world to remember and commemorate Jesus’ resurrection as the thing that makes our faith different. We call it “Easter,” but in reality it is “Resurrection Day!” Our faith is not empty. Our faith is in the King of kings and Lord of lords whose power is so great that He conquered death itself!

How petty my daily frustrations are in the light of the cross and the empty tomb.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

By the grace of God I am what I am

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. – 1 Corinthians 15v10-11

Most of us look back and see Paul as some kind of great hero of the faith, and in some ways he was. Yet, Paul saw himself one way only. Back early in the chapter Paul said, “We are nothing.” Here, though God was using him in a mighty way, he admitted that all he was and anything he accomplished was only by the grace of God.

We endure hard times and trials by the grace of God. We have successes and victories only by the grace of God. When we realise that all of all are all we are by God’s grace we see us all as equal. There is no room for competition in the body. As Paul says, “whether it is them or us, the gospel is preached and the work is done.”

Praise God for His marvellous grace that carries us through and praise God for when His grace works in us to see His work accomplished.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Hier stehe ich

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you unless you believed in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15v1-2

Last weekend I spent the evening with some friends watching a film based on the life of Martin Luther. My heart was challenged several times. One of those times was the part of his life where on the 16th of April 1521 he was called before the Council of Worms and commanded to retract his statements where he rejected tradition and called on people to simply accept the gospel. After saying that he would recant and reject anything that he had said that was not accord with scriptures Luther said this, "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe."

He then uttered, according to records that go back nearly to that day, these words – “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen” (Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen)

Luther stood – putting everything on the line. He knew that his life was in danger, yet he stood.

What gave him that confidence? We only need go back to Paul’s words to the Corinthians. Paul had preached it, they had received it, they could stand on the gospel, and those who held fast proved they were saved by it.

How far are we willing to go to stand on the gospel? Could we follow Luther’s example? We may differ on all kinds of petty issues. We may not all stand on the same place when it comes to eschatology or ecclesiology, our views on styles of worship and personal standards may differ, we may all dot our “i”s or cross our “t”s exactly the same way, but there is a place where all true Christians stand – we must stand on the gospel, we can do no other, God help us.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Decently and in order

Let all things be done decently and in order. – 1 Corinthians 14v40

It sounds like things were a mess in the church at Corinth. It only makes sense in the context of this church. They were carnal, they were divided, and they were schismatic. Can you imagine what it was like when they came together? I think Paul gives us some idea. It sounds like there was no order – some were speaking in tongues, some were preaching and prophesying, and others were praying. Even worse it looks like they were all doing this at the same time!

I am not going to deal with the subject of tongues here, but of the mess that was going on. Paul lets then know the error of their ways by telling them that, “God is not the author of confusion,” and later, “Let everything be done decently and in order.”

When we come together it only makes sense that humility and love lead us to respect each other enough to take turns in the service. No matter what our style of worship it must be decent and orderly. It cannot lead to disorder and confusion. It is clear that several people can minister in a service, but one at a time. If I am busy with my own part of the service, how can God use my brother to speak to my heart?

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Love never fails

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. - 1 Corinthians 13v8

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13v13

I think I may have used the words of an Andrew Peterson song a few months ago, but now is an especially suitable time to remember a particular part of the song.

“Cause after the last plan fails
After the last siren wails
After the last young husband sails off to join the war
After the last "this marriage is over"
After the last young girl's innocence is stolen
After the last years of silence that won't let a heart open

There is love
Love, love, love
There is love”

Even the secular world recognises 1 Corinthians 13 as the greatest summary of love ever written. It only makes sense, since God is love, that His word would have the greatest picture of love.

I only want to focus on two phrases today.

Love never fails

The greatest of these is love

As the poet Andrew Peterson expresses in the lyrics above, at the very end of it all, love will still be there. Everything else that we encounter or deal with will eventually pass away, only love will remain. God is love and if He cannot die love can’t die. His love will continue on for all eternity. Faith will one day be fulfilled and complete. One day our eternal hope will become reality and be accomplished, but love will just go on and on and on.

Some music is criticised because it is perceived by some as being repetitious and just going over the same thing again. An older song captured the essence with

Yes Jesus loves me,

Yes Jesus loves me,

Yes Jesus loves me,

The Bible tells me so

Peterson captures it with

There is love,

Love, love, love,

There is love

Both capture the essence of a love that goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on.

At the end of the day, when it is all said and done, when God’s plan has been fulfilled and completed, love will still be there.

Maybe we ought to be practicing up for eternity.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

If I don’t have love

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels… I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains… And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. - 1Corinthians 13v1-3

I have grown through most of my Christian life in a group of believers where Christian manliness and spirituality was measured by toughness, militancy, and contention. “Fighting” has been a key word for much of my experience. Every so often the topic of “love” came up, but generally we left that the liberals and the softies. A real man is marked by his ability to fight.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that we are told to earnestly contend for the faith. I know that we are called to expose false teachers, and I know that we are not to allow sin to go unchecked in the body. Yet, the question is what motivates us to do those things?

I may be rare, or possibly even unique, but far too often I did the things expected of me, well, because they were expected of me. I wanted the acclaim of being a contender and a fighter. I liked being known as “militant” in my faith. I never wanted to be seen as soft, because softness meant I was a liberal, and in my mind there was nothing worse than being a liberal.

How then do we deal with 1 Corinthians 12? If I speak with eloquence, have the gift of preaching, understand all the deep mysteries of the Christianity, have the faith to move mountains, give all I have to feed the poor, and sacrifice by life for the Lord without the motivation of love what is it worth.?

Paul makes is clear – I am only making noise, I am nothing, and there is no profit to my life and ministry. In this light I have to ask myself, “How much of my life and ministry has been profitless?”

I would not presume to judge any man’s heart, perhaps many of the fighters, contenders, and militants truly are motivated by love and love alone. As we saw a couple of days ago, I need to examine my own heart to see what motivates me. If I don’t have love, I am only spinning my wheels.

Monday, 3 March 2008

All together now

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. – 1 Corinthians 12v26

We have mentioned in the past that, “No man is an island,” in the body of Christ. We are all in this together. Therefore divisions and schism make no sense. Paul makes this abundantly clear – “If one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. If one part of the body is honoured the whole body rejoices with that one part.”

It only makes sense. If you don’t think so, take your hand, pick up a hammer, and smash your little toe. Nothing major, nothing important, just one of your little toes. How is the rest of body going to respond? “Oh, its just that little toe, it doesn’t affect me.” Your hand has attacked your little toe, and the whole body suffers together. In the same way, if we are praised the entire body takes great joy in that praise. The body is one unit; therefore the whole body is affected when any part is affected.

Lets go back to the hammer scenario. Does the hand that yielded that hammer feel any better for smashing the toe? No, of course not. The same hand the hit the toe is going to drop the hammer and grab the toe it just crushed.

Now, what happens when instead of a hand and hammer one part of the body of Christ used his words to crush another part of the body? Sure, he may realise what he has done and switch to a comforting role, but the pain is still there.

When we see it in this light we see the foolishness and the inconsistency of causing another part of the body to suffer. It makes no more sense to smash another member of the body of Christ with my words than it does to smash my toe with a hammer in my hand.

I wish I could say “Amen,” but I am afraid I have to say, “Oh my.”

Sunday, 2 March 2008

No schism

And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness…That there should be no schism in the body – 1 Corinthians 12v23-25

There is a scene in the film “A Night at the Museum” where the living was figure of Teddy Roosevelt has been cut in half by a wagon. He is lying in the snow with his upper and lower torsos separated. Through most of the film he is a vibrant, heroic figure, but in this scene he lays there helpless because his body has been cut in half.

To my mind this is a perfect illustration of what it means for there to be a schism in the body of Christ. The normal practice is that we give honour to the most visible parts of the body. Everyone knows that the eyes are important. Everyone knows that the ears are important. But how often do we think about the nose as being important? Everyone knows the hands are vital. To the Corinthian readers there was no more shameful part of the body than the foot. But what can the rest of the body do without the feet. All we have to do is to look at a person who has lost the function of the part of the body to see how important every part is. Folks who have lost the function of some part of their body learn to function, in some cases in amazing ways, but they never can function as well as a person who has all the parts working properly.

In the body of Christ we see the same truth. We focus on the preachers and teachers, the singers and musicians, and other visible roles. But how would the body function is no one made the encouraging phone call or send the encouraging note? How could the body function if no one took a meal to those who needed them? What would happen if no one set up the chairs or tidied up the meeting pace? What if that person who is always there with a hug was gone? When part of the body is missing the body does not function properly.

Back to the Teddy Roosevelt illustration. He could still lay there in the snow and give words of encouragement. But he could not go and rally the troops. Because of the “schism” his body was not as effective.

No wonder Paul says, “there should be no schism in the body.” And yet, it seems far to often that in what might be an honest effort at purity, that we cut off every suspect part. Whereas in medicine amputation is a last resort, in the body of Christ it is often the first option. “Don’t treat it, cut it off!”

Every single part of the body is important. May we ever be mindful of the words – “There should be no schism in the body.”

Saturday, 1 March 2008

We are all baptised into one body

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12v12-13

I really love 1 Corinthians 12. To my mind it may very well be the centre and focus of the entire letter. Paul really makes an amazing illustration which equates the body of Christ to a physical body. I can’t wait to read about the parts, but for the moment I want to focus in the unity aspect.

Here Paul, sent out by the far off church at Antioch, in modern terms he would be a member of the church at Antioch reaches out to the assembly at Corinth and says, “We are all baptised into one body, as unified as Christ is. All of us - Jews, Greeks, slaves, and free - are all baptised into the same body which is as unified as Christ’s body. There are local assemblies, but there are not thousands of little bodies running around. One body, with all its diversity, is made up of many parts which all have their own functions.

I really like this. I really, really do. One of the greatest blessings of serving the Lord where we do is that we get to meet members of the body from all over the world. I know Christians from the US, the UK, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, South Africa, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, well, you get the idea. We have several nationalities in our church at the moment, and it is always fun, exciting, and moving when other parts of the body visit us. We are not all the same. I have a Polish Christian friend, a fellow member of the body, who wears dreadlocks; but he also wears the sweetest appearance of the joy of the Lord in his face.

Praise God for the diversity in the body. Praise God we are not all toes, or eyes, or…oh wait, that’s for later.