Lighting the Way

kingdom(1).png

In my line of work, a strong flashlight is a handy tool to have available to light up a scene.  Nowadays, most of us use our phones when we’re in a pinch for some extra light but it’s just not quite the same as a faithful sturdy flashlight.  Think about all the times you’ve wished you had a strong flashlight at your disposal.  And where would you most likely use such a thing? 

Do you really think it would be of much use in a clearly lit place?

In the passage we are studying as a church this week, Paul is charging the Christians at Corinth to be faithful in their call to Christ.  Like many today, some at Corinth were misinterpreting their call as something other than the life they were already a part of.  Paul is reminding them to be faithful to Christ in their current relationships and livelihoods.  While they have been called out of walking in darkness, they are not called out of the dark places - because they will be the light of Christ among the people and places where they’ve been planted by God. 

There is still a misconception for some in the church today that when they experience saving faith in Christ Jesus they will leave their former lives for shinier opportunities and shinier relationships.  And while it is certainly true that followers of Christ will experience greater things as we walk with Jesus by His Word and Spirit, this does not usually mean that we are called to leave our current roles and relationships that God has placed us in.  As Christians, we are called out of walking in darkness in the futility of selfish thinking and acting out on sinful impulses.  Simultaneously, we are called to be led by Jesus into His marvelous light that guides us in all truth and the grace to transform our desire to be for His desires. 

In a very real sense, the church is to be like a faithful sturdy flashlight at the ready to a world in spiritual darkness.  We do this by knowing Jesus and making Him known in the places we’ve been planted. And we do this by remembering that God promises to be with us in it all.

While we are called to gather and encourage each other in the faith, we are just as much called to dispatch into the world for God’s good purposes to be served outside the church.  Think about it, would you likely need to use a flashlight in a clearly lit room?  So how do you think God might want to place His people in the world?  His plan is for His people to be light in the dark places. 

May we walk in the light as He is in the light.  May we so let our lights shine before others that they would come to know the light of Christ for themselves.  May we corporately encourage each other in our personal callings for the glory of God and His Kingdom through Jesus!

Grateful and hopeful in Christ,

Jon


Check Mate

kingdom.png

“Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out.” (From 1 Corinthians 7 The Message translation)

My husband loves the game of chess. He plays with people from all over the world daily on an app on his phone. I’ve tried to play with him here at home, but I just can’t quite get the hang of it. The crucial thing is being able to see the board and strategize in such a way that you’ve anticipated 3 or more steps in the future for both you and your opponent. You’re hoping they’ll fall into a trap you set and that you’ll avoid the traps they set. You exchange pieces back and forth and play until one person can play no longer and must accept defeat. There is a clear winner and loser. In a game of chess - this is good and actually a great way to intellectually stimulate the brain. But in life, especially in marriage, it’s not the way we should be living.

Marriage is not about strategizing what your next move will be or thinking ahead 3-5 moves to figure out how to get your partner to fall into a trap. It’s not about I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. It’s not about competition. It’s not about winning and losing. Marriage is not about you on one side of the table and me on the other plotting a win.

It’s easy to see this is true, but how often is that the way people live out their marriage relationship? Marriage is a place where we choose to serve one another...in fact delight in it. We don’t keep score. In fact, we realize we are on the same team with the same goals and vision. Instead of competition, it’s about cooperation.

Not everyone is going to get married and Paul addresses this in this chapter, too. From his perspective it’s easier to be single, which shows me his humanness. We tend to view the world through our own set of circumstances. Either way...whether you’re single or married...it’s pure gift.

Delight in serving one another. Discover new ways to show your love to one another. Never lose the spark. Marriage is not a chess game - it’s a double’s tennis match or a canoe trip, it requires us working together, helping one another, encouraging each other on. Marriage requires us to recognize that we win together and we lose together, and as long as we’re together...it will be alright.

Ruth Spencer

HIS

kingdom.png

A pigtailed girl, barely six years old, sits in a hard-backed pew with avocado green seats. Her feet don’t quite reach the floor, and she doodles on the offering envelope while the preacher talks long. 

Then Jesus knocks on the door of her heart. 

When she hears His voice, she says “come in”, but doesn’t yet know He won’t be content to dwell in the little compartment of her heart she has reserved for Him, but instead wants all of her. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)

Through the years, whether explicitly taught or tacitly implied, the lesson caught is that she must work hard to be pure and holy, a place worthy for the Spirit of God to dwell. Yet, the siren song of sin beckons, and holiness seems an unattainable goal. It’s hard to live as a princess, when a pauper is all you have been. 

The striving and the trying were only a dead end. She could never work hard enough to create a temple worthy of Him. Defeated and dejected, she surrendered to her sin.

But Jesus is the lover who won’t let go. His kindness leads to repentance. And so, it was, the pigtailed girl grew up, and came back to the One who had set His love upon her before the beginning of time. 

Washed in His Word, the Spirit showed her what was true all along. She was not an object of (His) wrath, but a vessel intended for righteousness. She was not dressed in pauper’s rags, begging and stealing for clothes to make her worthy of the King. Yes, the Prince had found her destitute, but it was He who had clothed her shame. He brought her to His table and gave her a new name. When the Father looked at her, He did not see who she had been. He did not demand for her to try harder to be worthy of the Son. He only saw the beauty granted through her union with Him. 

Beloved believers in Christ, our bodies are not meant for sexual immorality. All of our heart, every bit of strength, and each thought of our mind is intended for His glory. Our bodies, they belong to Him. We are HIS body. Would the bride of a Prince disgrace Him by using her body for prostitution, defiling both herself and Him? Never! And why? Because she knows whose she is.

Believer, you were bought with a price, that precious blood of Christ. As He breathed His last breath, the temple curtain was rent in two from top to bottom. No longer would the presence of God dwell in anything built by human hands, but His Holy Spirit now lives in His ransomed children. Beloved, you are not your own. You are His. You were made for Him, so now glorify God in your body.

Natalie Runyon

What Do I Believe?

kingdom.png

 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)

What do I believe? 

Do I believe each of these is a sin?  Do I believe Paul made a mistake?  Do I believe I must not understand properly?  Do I believe this doesn’t apply to me today?   Do I believe this is just the way I am?  Do I believe I’m better than them?  Do I believe there is no hope?  Do I believe my sin is not sin?  Do I believe I cannot change? 

Do I believe I’m a hopeless sinner?  Do I believe in a loving creator?  Do I believe the bible is the inerrant word of God?  Do I believe the Son of God died for my sin?  Do I believe in the resurrection power of Jesus?  Do I believe there is hope?  Do I believe I can be changed?  Do I believe I should change?

What do I believe? 

Todd

Grace is Power, Not Just Pardon

kingdom.png

“You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord."

1 Corinthians 5:5 (ESV)

Do what now?  The church is supposed to deliver someone to Satan?  How is this loving one another? 

The instruction to deliver someone to Satan means to expel that person from the church body.  This sounds like the Pharisees; aren’t we supposed to welcome sinners into the church?  Absolutely, all are invited to come and meet the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  This church discipline is not meant for all sinners, but for professing believers committing ongoing and unrepentant acts of immorality.  Church discipline is to be administered by church leaders by the authority and power of Jesus Christ and His word.  This discipline is to be a solemn and heartbroken response to the sinner’s broken relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.  Putting the sinner out of the fellowship makes them more vulnerable and more likely to have to deal with their sinful nature, with the hope that they will repent and be restored.  Paul warns that unaddressed sin can permeate and destroy the church body like a small amount of yeast leavens a whole batch of dough.

“Judge not, that you be not judged.”  Matthew 7:1 (ESV)

Who are we to judge?  In chapter 4 Paul tells us he doesn’t judge himself and then in chapter 5 he writes, “I have already pronounced judgement on the one who did such a thing.”  The key to this seeming contradiction is competency.  There are some areas the church has no competency to judge.  The church has no right to judge a person’s motives or service (1 Corinthians 4), but the church is competent and has a responsibility to judge sin within the church body (1 Corinthians 5).

“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. “

1 Corinthians 5:11 (ESV)

Don’t even eat with them?  This seems too harsh.  At Passover a lamb was sacrificed so others might live.  The relationship with the professing unrepentant believer is being sacrificed so that the church body might live.  This serves as a reminder that the Lamb of God has died in our place so that we might live a life of obedience and gratitude to Him.

“And you are proud!  Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of the fellowship the man who has been doing this?”                                

1 Corinthians 5:2 (NIV)

How can the Corinthian church possibly be proud?  They take pride in their ability to tolerate this man’s sin. They have an improper understanding of grace and unconditional love.   John Piper sums up a proper view of grace this way: “Grace is not simply leniency when we have sinned. Grace is the enabling gift and power of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.”  The Corinthians are solely focused on the pardon while ignoring the power of the cross.  In the safety of unconditional tolerance and love, this man will never feel his sin is wrong.

By the pardon of grace, I get to write this message. By the power of grace, I want to.

Todd

Motivated by Love

kingdom(1).png

Motivated by Love (1 Corinthians 4:14-21)

Paul has some hard truths that he is preparing to convey to the church at Corinth.  In our text this week, he continues setting the tone for the 1st century audience to understand that his motives are guided by the love he has for them as a spiritual father.

I’ve been blessed with a daughter and son that I love dearly.  I’ve known them since their infancy and bonded closely with each of them.  Over the years, I’ve sought to train them up in the way that they should go.  That process required me to admonish them at times when it was not easy for me to do or for them to receive.  But my love for them required me to take action that would serve their growth.   Sometimes, the correction I offered was unwanted and seemingly redundant, yet I gave it with the big picture of God’s kingdom in mind. I’ve taken my role as their father seriously because their very lives depend on it.  By the grace of God, I’ve watched as they’ve matured into adulthood, and although I really doubt that my paternal instinct for them will ever subside, I am most comforted in knowing that their Heavenly Father is faithfully caring for their souls.

Paul loved the Christians at Corinth.  He’d taught them the mysteries of God through the Gospel of Christ and Him crucified.  Paul observed them when they responded as infants in their Christian faith.  He felt deeply committed to their spiritual growth as he’d been a part of their spiritual birth through the Gospel.   He writes this letter because he cares deeply about them as disciples of his Savior and Lord, Christ Jesus.  He addresses them as “beloved children”.  His tone is important to note because Paul is about to unleash a wide arch of correction on them.  He loved them too much to leave them alone in their sinful patterns, and so he sent Timothy to remind them of the way in Christ.  Paul often described Timothy as being like a dear son or child to him in the faith.  It was a gracious act for Paul to share Timothy with the Christians at Corinth, and to offer his admonishment in this letter.  He was acting on their behalf.

Today, we have a heavenly Father that loves us too much to leave us alone in our sin and so he graciously shared His dear Son, Jesus, with us to show us His way and will for our lives.  John 3:17-18 tells us “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

The words of Paul’s letter and John’s Gospel are also for us today as a church family.  Like then, we still need to remember the heart of God behind His inspired Word—God loves you and me too deeply to let us wallow in our sin.  God’s love is not silent.  He still speaks to us through His Word and Spirit.   He has acted on our behalf through Jesus!  And this is the power of God - to transform our life and actions to serve His kingdom for His glory.  How will you receive His Word and correction in your life today?  God invites us to turn from our sin and trust in Jesus.  In Christ, there is no condemnation, but because of His love there will always be corrective admonishment.  This is a reminder of God’s steadfast love and care for the souls of His children.

May we be a people that revere our Heavenly Father and live for His kingdom and His glory!

May we be a people that speak the truth in love in our God given relationships!

May we remember that God loves us too much to leave us alone in our sin and has made a better way through the power of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ!

Grateful and hopeful in Christ,

Jon

Stewarding the Mysteries of God

kingdom.png

“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” 1 Corinthians 4:1

How do you want people to regard you? Smart, athletic, pretty, wise, humble, rich, influential, powerful, kind?  

We spend a lot of time thinking about our image. Why do we do this? We are "created in the image of God" (Genesis 1:26) and we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). But often we think being created in the image of God is not enough. Sometimes we want to be the Creator. Sometimes we want to be the Master and not the servant. Sometimes we want to be the owner and not the steward.

The Corinthians Paul addresses in this passage struggled with this also. They have self-appointed themselves into positions of leadership and influence, and the power has begun to go to their heads. Paul lovingly, and with a bit of sarcasm (ok, maybe a lot of sarcasm), asks them a rhetorical question, "What do you have that you did not receive?" (1 Corinthians 4:7).

What if every gift, every skill, every talent, every dollar, every breath we have is something we receive? It is not ours. We do not own it.

All we have, all we own, has been given to us by our Father in Heaven. He hands it to us, invites us, calls us, and commands us to serve Him by stewarding all He has given us for His Kingdom. 

May we be those who delight in being servants.  May we rejoice in stewarding the mysteries of God. 

See you Sunday,

Steven

Building the Temple of God's Holy Spirit

Building the temple.png

Have you ever traveled past a building plot and imagined an amazing structure in that place?  How would you feel if someone came along to build something there that was unworthy of the site or the foundation?  That is a point of concern for the first century church at Corinth.

To the Church at Corinth, Paul reminds them that they have a perfect foundation already laid in Christ Jesus.  But the Apostle follows with a stern warning that the church must build on it properly, with great concern for their spiritual legacy, and how it will impact the rest of God’s people.  This is still a point of concern for all of the Church today that demands us to walk in God’s spirit rather than our own selfish ambitions.

Paul offers another reminder,

Let no one deceive himself.  If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.                              1 Corinthians 3:18

Then, as now, it was hard to stay gospel centered.  But Paul has reminded the church of their foundation, and now they are to build on it with materials that fit the quality of the foundation.  These materials will be provided from God through the power of His Spirit.  Those first Christians were told to resist building on the world’s wisdom, and instead seek the will of God in all things which were revealed through Christ and His crucifixion.

The concerns for the 1st century church at Corinth are much the same for us today.  The concern is not about physical structures, but about spiritual people called to follow Christ together. The church was made up of broken, sinful people then and still today.  The good news in Christ Jesus is that then and now, we are not left to our brokenness, but are redeemed in Christ, His cross, and through the Spirit of God indwelling us; we are being restored daily to God’s will and purposes!

Do you know that you need God’s wisdom to live for Him?  Do you know that you have everything you need to live for Him by the power and indwelling work of His Spirit in your life individually and the church collectively? 

In this week’s passage, Paul goes on to say that he, Apollos, Cephas, life, death, the world, the present, and the future are all for the benefit of the church.  The Apostle wants the church to hold onto the truth of Romans 8:28 and remember that God will use everything in the church, world, life, death, present, and future to restore His people - His building - to perfect completion in Christ Jesus.  Everything for the Christian and the Church family starts with Jesus.  We must continue to abide in Him.

Let us remember today…If we build on shoddy materials, the tests of life will reveal their shoddiness.  If we build with materials fitting to God’s Holy temple, then the tests of life will reveal their quality. 

As we follow Jesus together, may we live with our trust CENTERED on the Gospel of Christ.

May we ask God to give us wisdom so that we will be about His Kingdom.

May we surrender to the work of His Spirit to equip us to honor Jesus and live for Him.

I thank God today for the people that He has used to build my life as a Christ follower, and I look forward to how He will do the same through us going forward!

Grateful and hopeful in Christ,

Jon


Milk & Hope

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.  Indeed, you are still not ready. 
1 Corinthians 3:1-2 (NIV)

Often when I read a passage, like the one above, I almost immediately place myself into one group or the other.  Many times the thought is something similar to, “at least I’m not one of those milk people.”   The reference to milk catches my attention and triggers a vague memory of another passage which I later locate in Hebrews chapter five.

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.  You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Hebrews 5:11-14 (ESV)

Dull of hearing describes my recent condition.  Not a problem of hearing with my ears, but rather a problem hearing with my heart.  How did I arrive in my dull of hearing need for milk state?  I believe the dullness is a gradual erosion of my heart.  Like the Corinthians chasing after and quarreling over Paul and Apollos, I too chase after and quarrel over my leader.  But unlike the Corinthians my leaders are many.  My leaders include desires to perform acts of service, to improve my fitness and eat better, to complete household tasks, to relax and watch sports, and to read a good book.  To catch up on the latest news, to pray more, to spend time with my family, to spend time reading the Bible, to do something more important, to find a better solution, and a desire to do less.

None of these “leaders” is bad in itself, but I allow the totality of these competing desires to weigh me down creating within me a joyless spirit of impatience and frustration.  My effort to try to follow all of these leaders causes me to unknowingly take my eyes off of the one true Lord.  

I receive a text asking me if I’m willing and able to facilitate a Tuesday morning men’s Bible study in two weeks.  My impatient spirit wants to immediately decline this invitation, but I reply back that I need to check my work calendar secretly hoping for a conflict.  Seven hours later, out of an obligation to help a friend, I reluctantly agree to facilitate 1 Corinthians 3:1-9.  A few days later I’m sitting in Sunday worship, not because I want to be there, but because I feel I need to be there for my family.  Hymn after hymn and word after word bounces of off my unhearing heart.  I think these specific songs and words don’t really apply to me now and I should be out doing things rather than sitting here.  And then Pastor Steven drops the bomb on me when he says, “If the cross itself is not central to everything that you do in life, if Jesus dying on the cross for you doesn’t equate some kind of emotion of thankfulness and gratitude, you need to ask God, God restore to me the joy of my salvation, I need help.”

A shockwave hits me and I feel tears well up in the corners of my eyes.  I immediately begin praying: “God restore to me the joy of my salvation, I need help; I believe in the Holy Spirit; God restore to me the joy of my salvation, I need help; help me to hear from the Holy Spirit.”  

It was like the proverbial weight had been lifted off of me and I no longer labored under the dullness of hearing.  Oddly struggles can increase hope and faith.  Hope doesn’t come from understanding why God allows a struggle to occur.  Hope doesn’t result from toughing our way through.  True hope only comes from the presence of God. God is with us, for us, and in us; even when we do not deserve Him.  Now that’s a reason for hope. 

Todd

"Adults don't change..."

kingdom.png

But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. – Acts 7:55-58

During a conversation earlier this week, someone said to me – quite confidently – “Adults don’t actually change.” 

Adults don’t change.

This phrase has haunted me ever since. Though I knew it to be untrue as soon as she said it, I wonder how often we act as though it’s true. How often do we hopelessly look in the mirror and think, “This or that thing about me will never change. I’ll never experience freedom from that sin. This is just who I am.” How often do we look at others and make the same judgments? 

In Acts 7, a young man named Saul witnessed the stoning of Stephen. He was there in full support of the violent murder of this Spirit-filled Christ follower who would not stop preaching and teaching the Gospel. 

One can only imagine the mocking, angry, confused faces of those who watched Stephen – full of the Holy Spirit, face aglow – in his final breath say, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” It must have seemed so foolish! To die for the sake of a man named Jesus who had claimed to be the Savior of mankind!

Through the power of the Spirit of God, Stephen understood the wisdom of God. 

Saul did not.

Yet.

Over the next two years, Saul ravaged the church in Jerusalem, persecuting Christian after Christian, hating the Gospel and believing it was foolish, in the name of a God he thought he knew.

And then, on the road to Damascus, Saul was changed forever.

A murderous, zealous adult…changed forever by the Holy Spirit. 

I have to wonder if Stephen’s glowing, peaceful face flashed through Paul’s mind as he was writing parts of 1 Corinthians. 

…we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  However, as it is written:
What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him — these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. - 1 Corinthians 2:7-10

Do you see how miraculous this is? Paul came to understand that which Stephen knew to be true – that God’s eternal reality was infinitely better than anything his mind could conceive!

The entirety of Scripture – and the story of the Gospel at work in the world since the Bible was written – tells us that adults DO change.

The Spirit of God changes us! When we receive the Spirit of God through faith in Jesus, He transforms us through renewing our minds to make us more and more like Christ.

When we, as Christians, struggle with sin, it’s often because we lack faith. We fail to believe that God truly has prepared something extraordinary for us. We think something right in front of our faces might be better. Or we believe the lie that adults can’t actually change.

But we serve a God who – even in our sin – pursues us and uses our failures for our good and His glory. (Thank God for this truth!) Stephen’s death and Saul’s persecution of the church resulted in Christians fleeing Jerusalem and taking the message of the Gospel to people and places far away from home. Even in the looming darkness of that time, God was building His kingdom, and in the process, lovingly took Stephen home and adopted Paul as a son, filling him with His Spirit.

It seems fitting to end with this message Paul wrote to Timothy: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason, I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Adults do change, because we serve a never-changing God who changes us through the power of His Spirit. We are not merely human. We have the mind of Christ. This is the impossibly good truth of the Gospel.

Hallelujah!

Knowing Jesus

Screen Shot 2019-06-15 at 8.32.01 PM.png

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

1 Corinthians 2:2-5

After walking the Christians in Corinth through the nature of God’s kingdom – in which the wisdom of the wise is destroyed, the intelligence of the intelligent is frustrated, the weak things are used to shame the strong, and the lowly and despised things are raised up – Paul says something that I pray would be our anthem.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Paul longed for the believers at Corinth to know Jesus as He knew Jesus.

He yearned for their faith to rest on God’s power, and God’s power alone.

You know what I realized this week as I sat with this passage?

I have a tendency to overcomplicate the Gospel.

Often I do so out of a desire to make myself seem wiser, more intelligent, or more acceptable in the eyes of man. Sometimes I do so out of fear. Sometimes I do so out of a lack of faith that the Spirit of God opens people’s minds and hearts to His truth…and I think deep down that I have to convince them!

Guess what?

We need only to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The Spirit of God changes hearts and minds. After all, He changed mine.

Do you know Jesus? If so, take a moment to think back to when you first believed the Gospel was true…when your heart was overjoyed that God loved you in the midst of your sin and shame! Or think back to a time when you found yourself in awe of His grace. Remember when you loved His Word and couldn’t get enough of it? Remember when all you wanted to do was worship? 

This part of 1 Corinthians invites us to go back…not to immaturity or a lack of knowledge…but to the simplicity of the moment when we first believed. To know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified through His Word and the Holy Spirit. To stand amazed by His grace. To remember His faithfulness.

Tomorrow morning at 10 AM, we’ll gather together to be reminded of the beauty of the Gospel. We’ll sing and pray and open His Word so the name of Jesus Christ will be lifted high, and God’s power – not ours – is magnified. I hope you’ll join us. 

Whose Kingdom Are You Building?

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 6.34.33 PM.png

Whose kingdom are you building?

This question was posed to me a few years ago, and it was one of the most challenging questions I’ve ever been asked. 

 In this week’s passage, Paul appeals to the church at Corinth to drop their loyalties to church leaders and be unified by Christ alone. They were divided because they were paying homage and forming tribes based on human leadership, rather than the Gospel itself. They were boasting and fighting over who had been baptized by whom!  

Then Paul explains why he chose to baptize only a few – because he didn’t want to take the focus away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ or give them an opportunity to align with him above Christ. 

Paul isn’t downplaying the need for baptism here, but rather the way the focus has shifted from the Gospel to people. He’s frustrated because the Corinthian Christians have lost sight of the main thing, and their focus has shifted from building God’s kingdom to building their own, or building those of Apollos or Cephas! 

Oh how easy it is to lose sight of the kingdom of God and build our own kingdoms…to hold what we’ve been given with white-knuckled fists and attempt to construct a life we deem acceptable by our own standards or those of the world around us. 

How easy it is to lose sight of the kingdom of God and build the kingdom of those we follow – political leaders, celebrities, or even pastors…to devote ourselves to their causes and passions…to make secondary things the main thing.

It happens all the time in the church today. And it still causes division.

 Paul is interested in one thing – preaching the Gospel, not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

At The Bridge, we often use the phrase, “Let’s make much of Jesus.” This is Paul’s plea to the church in Corinth. 

He was interested in building the kingdom of God on earth – the upside-down kingdom of God, where the weak are made strong, the last made first, and the intelligent frustrated by that which seems foolish to them – a kingdom marked by righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit which cannot be shaken

When we seek this kingdom – launched, deployed, and transformed by Jesus – we taste the goodness and faithfulness of God. We experience life as He intended. It’s not always easy, and it often requires great sacrifice, but it leads to life. And the unity we experience when we’re all serving Christ alone and building His kingdom shows the world the glory of the Gospel. 

So, friends, let’s make much of Jesus.

Becoming One in Christ

Unity is a word that gets tossed around a lot – not just in the church, but in society at large. In our divided world, it seems to be something we all want, but how? And why?

In John 17, even Jesus pleaded with the Father for unity among His followers! 

 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 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 that you have sent me. 

He prayed – and continues to pray – that we would be one. 

How? Through common belief in Jesus.  

Why? So that the world may believe that God sent Jesus.

This is at the heart of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. 

He is writing to a divided, broken church struggling with a number of besetting sins, which we’ll read about in the coming months, urging them to work toward unity for the sake of the Gospel.

 This messy church probably would’ve caused many of the more prideful among us to begin our letter with, “HEY CORINTH. GUYS, GET YOUR STUFF TOGETHER. YOU’RE EMBARRASSING CHRISTIANS EVERYWHERE. SERIOUSLY, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???” 

But interestingly, Paul does NOT begin the letter in this way at all! He doesn’t begin by listing their many struggles with sin. He doesn’t open with their brokenness. He doesn’t initially identify them by their divisions.

Instead, he reminds them who they are, why they exist, and most importantly, who God is.

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours…

Sanctified!  

Called to be His holy people!

Part of the global family of God!

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.

Prayed for!

Recipients of great grace! 

For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you.

 Enriched in every way!

 Confirming Christ!

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

 Not lacking anything!

He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Secure!

Blameless!

God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

God is faithful!

And He has invited you into fellowship with Jesus.

This is how Paul opens his letter to these struggling believers in Corinth. Make no mistake —in the next paragraph he dives into areas of sin, and calls for repentance and changed hearts. He does not avoid truth, or hard things, as we’ll read together.

But this truth is steeped in and sandwiched by grace. 

If you, like many Corinthian Christians, find yourself struggling with a sin that won’t seem to go away – or find it challenging to love others in the family of God, leading to divisions in your community – read the first nine verses of this letter this week.

If you are a Christian, these words Paul addressed to the church at Corinth are also true of you! Do you believe them? Do you believe God’s grace is sufficient for you? It’s this belief that draws us to repentance, to intimacy, and ultimately to unity!

This is where unity begins. This is where mission begins. 

May we become one in Christ so that the world may know Him.

May we be unified – not for the sake of unity itself – but for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

See you Sunday!

This Coming Sunday

Screen Shot 2019-05-24 at 2.44.34 PM.png

This coming Sunday we have the privilege of hearing our elders exhort and encourage us with the Word of God.  I have known these men for at least the past six years (a few of them much longer) and their deep love for the Lord and for our church is a constant encouragement.  I am so excited that we will be able to hear them share the Word and share their hearts with us!

Some of you may be wondering, "What is an elder?" Simply put, an elder in a church is an overseer - one called by God and commissioned by the church to watch over the souls and spiritual welfare of those in a specific local church.  In our elder meeting last night, one of our elders shared, "We seek by God's grace to love and care for the people of the church well."  So - sometimes seen and often unseen - these men pray for you and for me and continually seek to make much of Jesus and rejoice as we watch Him connect us all to God's indelible grace.

And their confidence does not come from their ability to do that well, but their confidence is in the great Shepherd of the sheep to equip ALL of us to do His will.

"May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."  Hebrews 13:20-21

See you Sunday,
Steven

Coming in June!

Trust the Weaver

Corrie ten Boom, the youngest child of a jeweler and watchmaker, became the first woman to be licensed as a watchmaker in the Netherlands in 1922. Corrie, a devout Christian, also started a youth club for teenage girls, where she would teach Bible, sewing, and other creative skills. 

Exactly 79 years ago, in May of 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. One of the first gatherings they banned was Corrie’s youth club. Over the next few years, Corrie’s family became active in the Dutch underground, hiding and providing safe refuge for Jews and vulnerable members of the Dutch Resistance, driven by their faith. The Gestapo raided their home, known as The Hiding Place, in 1944, and Corrie and her family were taken to concentration camps, where she continued to lead Bible studies and worship in the midst of the worst conditions. Even after she was miraculously released, she continued to care for those who had been deemed “less than human” by the Nazis. There isn’t time or space here to tell the rest of her story, but this is the common thread: no matter how dark her future seemed, she trusted in the God she knew so well. She testified to His goodness in the storm. 

Later in life, when she told her story around the world, she would hold up this tapestry, showing her audience only the back of the fabric.  

Corrie-Ten-Boom-tapestry1.png

From this perspective, it makes little sense. It looks chaotic. It looks like a random mess!

This is similar to how we view the circumstances in our lives and world much of the time. From our limited perspective, sometimes we question God’s plan. We wonder about His goodness.

Then she would slowly turn the tapestry over to reveal this beautiful, bejeweled crown.

screenshot.jpg

“This is what God sees…from His perspective…a masterpiece!”

The book of Ruth – especially the concluding chapter – is a gift from God that allows us to catch a beautiful glimpse of the front of the tapestry. 

In the beginning of Ruth, Naomi sees only the back of the fabric – and questions God in the midst of it. 

But by the end of the story, the women who have witnessed the redemption of Naomi and Ruth by Boaz speak this truth over Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

What looked like a tangled mess of disconnected threads at the beginning of the story, turned out to be the most beautiful of tapestries. This story results in Ruth giving birth to a son, Obed, whose grandson David would become King of Israel. And then – generations later – the same line would produce the King of Kings, Jesus.

Today, if you find yourself looking at your life, dismayed by a tangled mess of strings, remember this: the underside of the tapestry can be deceiving and confusing. Generations of believers have bore witness to the glory and beauty of the story He is weaving. Believe He is faithful, and hope in Him for the future.

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. – Corrie ten Boom

Who are you?

Who are you?

When I was in Ethiopia a few years ago, one of the boys in our ministry asked this very question. I responded with, “I am Erika.” He looked at his friends, giggling, and responded with, “I Ethiopia.”  To him, “I am Erika,” sounded like, “I America.” We laughed and laughed! 

In chapter 3, upon waking up from sleep and finding Ruth at his feet, Boaz asks Ruth the same common question. 

Who are you? 

Ruth’s response, though, isn’t simply, “I am Ruth.”

She says, “I am Ruth, your servantSpread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” 

It calls to mind the way Paul introduces himself in his letters in the New Testament. In Romans, for example, Paul begins with, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…” 

In Ruth’s response to Boaz – and Paul’s understanding of His identity in Christ – there is an undeniable focus on the Redeemer. 

It’s as though they cannot say their own names without also worshipping the one who is saving them. After all, Ruth could have said, “I am Ruth, a Moabite, a former pagan,” focusing on her past identity. Or she could have said, “I am Ruth, loyal, steadfast, faithful to the end,” focusing on her own attributes. Paul could have done the same.

But instead, both focus on who they are in light of who their savior is. 

Boaz’ immediate response to Ruth’s answer is, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. Later he also says, “Do not fear. I will do for you all you ask…”

When you hear the question, “Who are you?” what is your heart response? Are you tempted to look backward and define yourself by your sin? Or are you tempted to lean on your own attributes and gifts? Or do you immediately think, “I am ______, a servant of Christ Jesus?”

In Matthew 16, Jesus flips this question on its head and asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, Son of the Living God.”

Jesus’ response to Simon Peter is reminiscent of Boaz’ response to Ruth, albeit even more extravagant: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven...”

We cannot answer the question, “Who are you?” without first answering Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” 

Once we answer this question, our identity is forever transformed, and when we forget who we are…when it becomes muddled…instead of looking in the mirror, we gaze upon our Redeemer, who promises to remind us who our God in heaven is through His Word and His Spirit. Only in this, do we learn who we are: servants, blessed, secure, beloved, set apart for good works He has prepared for us, and forever His.

Stay Current: Upcoming Events

Copy of stay current-3.png

On Tuesday evening, May 14th, we'll gather at Glazebrook Park for our first Party in the Park of 2019! Join us from 6-8! Pizza will be provided, but please bring chips, fruit, and/or brownies/cookies. Hope to see you there! If you have any questions, please reply to this email or comment on our Facebook event.

Your Visual Travel Guide-4.png

Here is a community opportunity from The Faithful Family Project shared with us by Melissa Bland: 

"The summer can be such a special time for our families and us personally, but it also brings certain challenges and frustrations along with it. Before your summer begins, take some time to think and reflect with other mothers about how to make it a fun and peaceful time for everyone. 

You're invited to join The Faithful Family Project for a morning workshop on May 18th at LuciAnna's Pastries in Alton, from 9:30-11am. We will listen to a short talk by Liz Rolwes, our Family Mission speaker from the Wine and Wisdom conference, and then have a conversation over coffee and delicious pastries.

Space is limited to 20 people, so reserve your spot now!"

mom workshop.png

Haskell.png

As a reminder, on the first Sunday evening of each month, we meet in the sanctuary to pray. We would love for you to join us.

Prayer Mtg-6.png

Empowered by Grace

Copy of RUTH-2.png

Ruth, who found herself in an extremely vulnerable position before Boaz, understood her need before him. Hungry and desperate, she humbly approached this man – her kinsman-redeemer, this relative whom she hoped would save her and Naomi from their plight. 

Boaz saw Ruth, a Moabite – a foreigner, who’d spent the whole day picking up scraps behind his workers and whose story of faithfulness had preceded her arrival, and he offered her shelter, water, and food. He truly saw her. He saw her need, and he had the means to not only meet her need, but to exceed her wildest expectations. 

After acknowledging the astonishing favor she had received from Boaz, she says one of the most beautiful phrases in Scripture: “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant – though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.” The ESV says, “…you have comforted me.”

Just after this moment, Boaz invited her to sit with his harvesters and feast on bread, wine, and roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. She was fully satisfied.

In the span of a day, Ruth (and by extension, Naomi) went from hunger to fullness, with leftovers. She went from a sense of unease to ease. She went from being a foreigner in new land to being seen and welcomed into refuge.

She was shown grace.

 Today, we buried my beloved Grandma Jackie. Over the last week, we have been inspired and challenged by the notes scrawled in cursive in her well worn Bibles and journals. In the front of all of her Bibles, she wrote this phrase, “Grace: God’s power enabling us to do what we ourselves are not able to do. Grace is an unearned blessing given by God to an unworthy recipient.”

Like Ruth before Boaz, my grandma intimately understood and experienced God’s kindness and grace. In her life – and in her death – she found favor in His eyes through Christ, and she was put at ease – comforted – by His kindness toward her. This poured out onto all who knew her, including me.

Romans 2:4 says, “…do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

Boaz’ kindness toward Ruth – though generous – pales in comparison to God’s kindness toward us. His kindness leads us to repentance, and gives our hearts deep rest.

My grandma also constantly meditated on and wrote out Psalm 4, especially verse 8.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4:6-8

As we continue to study Ruth, may we be overcome by God’s kindness to us, as shown – albeit only in part – by Boaz to Ruth. May His kindness lead us to repentance, and as we more fully experience His peace and rest – as we are fully satisfied – may we extend His kindness to all we encounter, empowered by grace. 

Redeeming Love

This is how a pastor once introduced a sermon series on Ruth: “It's a story that shows how ‘God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform.’ It's a story for people who wonder where God is when there are no dreams or visions or prophets. It's for people who wonder where God is when one tragedy after another attacks their faith. It's a story for people who wonder whether a life of integrity in tough times is worth it. And it's a story for people who can't imagine that anything great could ever come of their ordinary lives of faith. It's a refreshing and encouraging book, and I want you to be refreshed and encouraged…”

There isn’t much that appears to be refreshing or encouraging when we first enter the Book of Ruth. 

“In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” This is the environment in which we meet Naomi and Ruth. It is a pretty brutal time in the history of Israel, and yet God – as always – is moving…even when His people don’t have eyes to see Him.

In chapter 1, we see the extensiveness of Naomi’s suffering and misery. Famine, her husband’s death, followed ten years later by her two sons’ deaths…the blows just keep coming. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, all react to this suffering in different ways. 

Naomi decides God’s hand is against her, and she can’t see beyond her circumstances. Hopelessness overtakes her.

Orpah cuts and runs. She returns to her old gods and her old way of life.

Ruth trusts in God’s goodness in the midst of destitution. She tells Naomi, “May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” We see a willingness to forsake temporary gain in favor of obedience. We see sacrifice for the sake of faith. She is in it for the long haul. This is a woman who isn’t going anywhere, though the road may be hard. 

But ultimately, this story isn’t about Ruth’s faithfulness or love for Naomi.

This story is about God’s faithfulness and redeeming love for mankind. 

Perhaps the most important verse in the first chapter of Ruth is the last one: “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.”

God’s mercy is dripping all over Naomi’s situation, but she so blinded by bitterness, she can’t yet see it. He has given her Ruth, a woman from a pagan culture who has placed her faith in the God of Israel, and in the midst of famine, He leads them to Bethlehem, where a harvest is beginning! And this is only the beginning of the story. 

The Book of Ruth is refreshing and encouraging because it invites us to see God’s hand in the midst of tragedy and in the day to day of the mundane. 

In The Remarkable Ordinary, Frederick Buechner writes, “It’s so easy to look and see what we pass through in this world, but we don’t. If you’re like me, you see so little. You see what you expect to see rather than what’s there…It seems to me…the Bible…is saying how important it is to be alive and to pay attention to being alive, pay attention to each other, pay attention to God as he moves and as he speaks. Pay attention to where…God has tried to take you.”

Wherever you find yourself today, look out the window at the spring blossoms and be reminded that the same God who holds the universe in his hands and brings pink flowering trees out of the winter snow, loves us with an everlasting, redeeming love. No matter how severe his mercies may be, He is still moving. This is freedom, and this truth is at the heart of the story of Naomi and Ruth.

Beyond Imagination

Easter-4.png

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:7-9

The last two weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions. My grandma, a woman I have loved, confided in, and admired for my entire life, has a body that is weakening daily. Our conversations are getting softer and shorter, and it is only a matter of time before the Lord takes her home. The frailty of the human body has been on full display. 

In the midst of this, God has been tangibly present. He has continued to use my grandma – in this weakened state – to show me what kindness and Christlikeness looks like even unto death. As she has peacefully mouthed the words of Psalm 23 and Great Is Thy Faithfulness, even while her body rages against her, I have witnessed this, “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” 

In the midst of this awareness of His beauty and loving care, God has brought the nations to Alton. In the last week, we’ve had visits from a Canadian friend who spends half of the year in Rwanda and Kenyan friends from African Christian Outreach. There isn’t time or space here to tell you all of the conversations that have been had through these visits – or all of the lives God has impacted through them – but they are vast. Because of my Canadian friend, Glenda’s, willingness to follow the Spirit’s leading nearly everywhere we went, I had the privilege of entering into so many people’s lives and stories – and thus, to see God move – in ways I couldn’t have imagined. 

One tiny example? In the shadow of the Arch, we met a Rwandese family who live in South St. Louis. Glenda knows the pastor who married them in Kigali. They invited me for dinner at their home in a few weeks, and we were able to mutually encourage one another as Christians. Think for a moment about the odds of this encounter even happening. A Canadian, an American, a Rwandese family…all followers of Jesus…mutual friends…in St. Louis, Missouri. 

As we told some of these stories around the dinner table on Tuesday, one friend remarked, “Wow. You couldn’t even write that!” And we couldn’t. 

This is our God. 

Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ, fully divine and fully man, came to earth, lovingly died on a Roman cross for you and for me, and miraculously rose again three days later. 

If God truly did this – and He did – what might He have planned for you this week as you trust in Him? What thing which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of imagined” might He have prepared for you?

Yes, He has a place prepared for us in eternity with Him. This is why my grandma – and why Kurt Weaver – have been able to say farewell to this world with such extraordinary grace and peace. 

But Jesus didn’t just talk about some kingdom in the future. When Jesus taught His followers to pray, He instructed them to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

The beauty of Easter is Jesus’ invitation to you and to me to play an active role in this kingdom that has broken into the present for the purpose of eternity – an invitation, that when accepted, leads to worship.

There is no greater story. There is no greater purpose. 

What would happen this week if you loved as though this were true? What would happen if your trip to the grocery store were viewed as a divine opportunity? What would happen if your life were lived with confidence that the kingdom has broken into the present?

Honestly, we can’t even imagine.

For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. – C.S. Lewis