Unity of the Differents

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Ephesians 4:3 NIV

DEVOTIONAL

While writing to a church divided along racial lines (Jew & Gentile), Paul could have easily counseled the Christians to get along on a surface level, but worship separately since their customs and world views were just too different.

But Paul didn’t do that.

Instead, he reminds them of where their source of unity comes from instead. Their unity isn’t found in their ethnicity, or identical worship styles, or political views, or socioeconomic status. Their unity comes through their shared faith. Paul goes on to remind us that even though we are very different in some ways, we are ultimately the same in what God has done for us.

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV

Just because we may be from different places doesn’t mean our baptism was different. Just because we may not look the same doesn’t mean we serve a different Lord. Just because we vote differently doesn’t mean we have a different hope.

Because we place God first and above all, we share all of this in common. And it is here in our undivided commonality of faith that we find our unity.

PRAYER

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Help us remember that our baptism was an act of surrender, and allegiance to you alone. Help us listen to the unifying voice and guidance of the Spirit every day, for when we all listen to you, we will be one. Help us love one another, and truly be your children by showing the world your peace. Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.

Identity Crisis

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Galatians 3:26-29 NIV

DEVOTIONAL

“I’m a mechanic.”

“I’m a Texan.”

“I’m a parent.”

When we meet someone new, we tend to introduce ourselves this way. We identify ourselves through the labels our society gives us.

Right now there are many in our world going through identity crises.

“I’m trans-sexual.”

“I’m trans-gender.”

“I don’t choose those pronouns.”

And while I can understand the desire not to be labeled by other people, I can’t in good conscience choose labels for myself either.

That’s the problem in Galatia. For Paul, we don’t derive our identity through the labels of others, and we are not free to supply our own labels. Rather, Paul wants followers of Christ to view themselves and others through the identity that Christ has given them.

Someone had convinced the Galatians to go back to old ways, and divide over their old worldly identities.

“Jew.”

“Gentile.”

“Circumcised.”

“Uncircumcised.”

Paul wants them to understand that in Christ we are not divided, rather we are one. Paul even had to call Peter and Barnabas out on this because they were once again refusing table fellowship based on old labels. Dividing this way is “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.” (Gal. 2:14 NIV)

Instead Paul writes:

“Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

Galatians 3:7-9 NIV

We don’t find our identity in the world’s labels, nor within ourselves. Our identity is firmly rooted in our faith. We have placed our faith in Christ, so we are children of Abraham, which means we are God’s children.Christ died for all of us who have placed our faith in him.

That is where we find our identity, and find our unity with our brothers and sisters.

PRAYER

Lord, help us to remove the barriers and labels the world uses to divide us. Help us rise above the categories of his world, and simply find our identity and our unity in the fact that we are your children through our faith in Christ Jesus. Help us to see that even though the world wants us to divide us through giving us other labels, help us see ourselves, as well as our brothers and sisters as joint heirs of your promise, and dearly loved by you. Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.

Blessed are the Peacemakers


“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”

Matthew 5:9 NET

DEVOTIONAL

This past week has shown clearly that many who claim allegiance to Christ have forgotten the way our King taught us, and instead have become like the power hungry, godless masses.

Matthew’s Gospel is clear on this. The way to true “power” is not through violence, or authoritarian means, but through service to others.

“But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28 NET

Christ offers a better way. Not an easier way, but a better way.

Followers of Christ don’t seek to grow in earthly power through earthly means. Rather, we become the peacemakers in our nation, and use our means to humbly serve others.

Nowhere does Jesus teach his disciples to grasp power at all costs. Rather, we crucify the wants of our lives for the sake of Christ in order to reach our neighbors through humble service.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not about earthly power. It is about fulfilling the commission Christ has given his Church.

Preach the Gospel. Make disciples. Serve humbly. Be a peacemaker.

PRAYER 

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Help us remember that our baptism was an act of surrender, and allegiance to you alone. Help us remember that we were not purchased by the power of the donkey or the elephant, but by the blood of the Lamb. Help us love one another, and be one as you are One. Help us to truly be your children by showing the world your peace. Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual Gifts are some of the greatest tools Christ has given his followers, and sadly one of the most misunderstood topics in the Church today.

The Debate

Of all the discussions, sermons, and Bible classes I’ve encountered, there seems to be one main focus: the ability of the gifted. These “studies” often devolve into the mechanics/prohibitions of Gifts, or cessation/continuation discussions. “Is it possible for someone to have the gift of _____ today? If not, which gifts do we have today?” This always seems to be the driving force behind these discussions, with great argument given as to why they have or have not ceased to exist in the church.

The Purpose

This completely misses the Biblical point of Spiritual Gifts. Spiritual Gifts are never about the person with the Gift, but always about how that Gift can bless the Body of Christ. This is the discussion we need to be having.

Let’s consider two different passages by Paul to two different churches related to this topic.

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.

Romas 1:11-12 NIV

Notice that in verse 12, the purpose of Gifts are clearly defined by Paul. It doesn’t matter what specific Gift Paul wants to impart, the purpose is mutual encouragement by faith.

In another passage, Paul discusses the gifts that Christ has given to the Church, his Body.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…

Ephesians 4:11-12 NIV

Notice again that the purpose of these “gifts” are the building up of the Church.

Gifts in community

Gathering with a Body of believers is incredibly important. Spiritual Gifts aren’t for isolated personal use, but serve the purpose of building up others. To put it another way, Spiritual Gifts require interdependence among believers. There may be instances where a Spiritual Gift could be exercised in private and bring blessing to that individual, but this is like receiving a beautiful Ferrari only to keep it a garage. The purpose of the car is not to be admired in private, but rather driven in order to enjoy the journey, and get you to your intended destination.

To illustrate the need Paul places on interdependence when it comes to Spiritual Gifts, I want to look at the first two Gifts mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,

1 Corinthians 12:7-8 NIV

Notice again that the point is not to bless an individual, but “the common good.” This is to bless the community.

Notice also that the gifts mentioned have to be shared. The Corinthians highly valued wisdom and knowledge. These qualities, so it was believed, were only held by the elite. The pursuit of wisdom and knowledge, therefore, was one of the noblest endeavors. Paul knows they value the Corinthians place here, and reminds them that this only puffs up (1 Cor. 8:1).

Instead, the Gifts Paul mentions here are not wisdom and knowledge themselves, rather it’s the sharing of this wisdom and knowledge that make the Spiritual Gift. That is to say, the gift is not wisdom, but rather the “utterance” (ESV) of wisdom. The gift is not knowledge, but rather the “utterance” of knowledge. Wisdom and knowledge kept within ourselves is not beneficial. Applying and sharing these, however, is a Spiritual Gift in the mind of Paul.

This is why it is so crucial for believers to gather together. In the age of COVID this “gathering” may look significantly different from in ages past, but we must gather nonetheless. The communal benefit/blessing of Spiritual Gifts is negated when we attempt to pursue a relationship with Christ in isolation.

Members of the Body

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:12 NIV

Together we make up the Body of Christ. If we are no longer connected to the other members, how can we be part of the Body? If my finger is detached from my body, it no longer serves my body. It is no longer part of my body. Yet many Christians feel that this is completely appropriate when it comes to their relationship with other Christians. I have met many who profess belief in Christ, but have not gathered to worship with other believers in years, even decades.

I really have to ask, is this really how Christ intended his Body to work? Is this really how Paul envisioned many parts being formed together into one body?

Lots of reasons, legitimate and not, can be given for not gathering together. But even from my couch in quarantine this week I was able to “gather” with saints at my own congregation, one in a different time zone, and one on the other side of the planet. Is this ideal? No. But it keeps me plugged into the Body until I can be there in person.

The purpose of Spiritual Gifts are to build up the Body. And even though it doesn’t feel the same coming through a computer screen, it doesn’t cannot happen at all if I separate myself from the rest of the Body.

Final Thoughts

To those in quarantine (like me), stay connected. To those who are part of the Body, search for those who have fallen away. And if you’re reading this thinking you can pursue your faith alone, in isolation, you’ve just proved my point by reading this article. It took someone else (me in this particular case) to write what you just read. For you, that required another part of the Body. For me, I receive a blessing when you read this.

The Church (which in Greek simply means “gathering/assembly”) isn’t possible in isolation. And it may just be the case that you are missing a Spiritual Gift you deeply need, and may or may not realize it.

Online or in person, it’s time to gather. It’s also time to share what God has given you with others. Satan loves to tell us we aren’t good enough to use our Gifts to bless others. Again, Spiritual Gifts are never about the person with the Gift, but always about how that Gift can bless the Body of Christ. Your song (no matter how out of tune) can cheer another. Your offering (no matter how small) can bless another. Your words (no matter how few) can encourage another.

Spiritual Gifts are never about the person with the Gift, but always about how that Gift can bless the Body of Christ. So go and bless the Body.

Warmth and Light

As I observe human nature, it’s noticeable how the cold and the dark propel us to the warmth and the light. It’s like an involuntary obedience to an ancient command found in our DNA. The pain of being cold and the fear of being in the dark send us searching for even the smallest portion of warmth and light.

On a cold winter’s night, we do what we can to survive until morning breaks and the glorious sun appears to fill the world with warmth and light.

“In the beginning, … the Spirit of the Lord hovered over the waters. The Earth was dark and empty.”

(My adaptation of the opening lines of Genesis.)

How dark a place it must have been. How empty and cold…until the warmth of His breath brought forth light.

He spoke the words, “Appear, Light!” And light appeared, just as it was commanded.

Centuries later, after generations of cyclical battles between light and dark, the warmth of His breath brought forth The One True Light to this dark, cold world.

He spoke these words to an unwed Jewish teenager, “Light will appear unto you.” After further confirmation, Mary spoke the echo which must have resounded through the atmosphere all those centuries ago, “Let it be as You have said!” And The Light of the world appeared, just as He had been commanded.

How dark the night but how bright the Star!

How cold the stable but how warm was His glorious presence!

The star. The stable. The Savior!

Even now, all things are held together by the power of His mighty command (Hebrews 1:3). Gravity. Phases of the moon. Seasons changing. Seeds growing. Sunrise over a dark horizon. Babies being born. A beating heart. The breath of life. It’s all under Jesus’ command.

Centuries ago, creation obeyed His command and brought forth light. 2000 years ago, an unwed Jewish girl obeyed His command and brought forth The Light of the world.

What about you? Have you obeyed His command? Have you been out in the cold, dark world, hovering with no sense of purpose or direction – formless and empty just as the Earth was before our Creator spoke to it? Have you been doing whatever it takes to survive out there on your own, in the darkness?

Let the pain of being cold and the fear of being in darkness propel you to the warmth of the One True Light.

Obey the command resounding through the atmosphere and even in your DNA right now – “Let it be as You have said. Jesus, I come to You. Jesus, I bow down to You. Jesus, I give up all my pretensions of making myself warm or creating my own light. I can’t do that anymore. It’s not enough to sustain me. It doesn’t last. I end up right back where I started, cold and dark. Jesus, fill me with Your light! Fill me with Your warmth! You are the everlasting, the never ending, the eternal One. You never slumber or sleep. YOUR LIGHT NEVER GOES OUT. Fill me with THAT light, dear God, and I will never be dark or cold again. By the mighty command of Jesus’ power, let it be.”

Today’s article is written by my wonderful wife, Jennifer Stidham. Jennifer is a graduate student at Hardin-Simmons University in the Clinical Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy program, pursuing her LPC and LMFT certifications. Jennifer is the mother to three beautiful children, and caretaker to a host of cantankerous pets. She is a homeschool teacher, and ministers to our church and our community in many ways.

Christ: The King

“I have issued an edict that throughout all the dominion of my kingdom people are to revere and fear the God of Daniel. “For he is the living God;he endures forever.His kingdom will not be destroyed;his authority is forever.He rescues and delivers and performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth.He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions!”

Daniel 6:26-27 NET

DEVOTIONAL

Yesterday, the first Sunday of Advent, was Christ the King Sunday. One of the themes in Daniel is the unreliability on political powers, especially in chapter 6. Here the narrator informs us 122 political leaders are conspiring to have Daniel killed by the king.

The king, who is basically Barney Fife with a crown, is so inept he cannot detect his subordinates manipulating him. Once he does discover what is happening, he is powerless to go against his own edict. There is no hope found here.

Darius is hopeful that Daniel’s God has the power to save Daniel, a power that Darius only wishes he had. When Darius discovers that the living God has rescued Daniel, he immediately executes 122 political leaders, their wives, and their children. This is not a stable king that anyone should place hope in.

The concluding edict shows us that even Darius sees the need for his kingdom to place their hope in “…the God of Daniel. For he is the living God; he endures forever.”

Nebuchadnezzar didn’t last as king.

Belshazzar didn’t last as king.

Darius won’t last as king.

But God has an eternal kingdom.

This leads nicely into Daniel 7, which tells us of the “son of man”, a human who is able to ascend to the presence of “the Ancient of Days”, and be given all authority over every nation. This is the imagery Jesus activates in the hearts and minds of the listener every time he refers to himself as the Son of Man.

Our hope is found nowhere else, but in the true King and his eternal Kingdom.

PRAYER

Father, forgive us when we place our hope in anything other than you.

Too often we turn to political powers and authorities, to the god of financial security, the god of entertainment, the god of sex, or the god of pharmaceutical companies… Lord, we place our hope in so many things other than you.

But as the story of Daniel reminds us, it is only you, the living God, who has ultimate authority.

It is only you who rescues and delivers.

It is only you who performs signs and wonders.

It is only you who has an eternal kingdom.

All these other things will pass away, but it is you, the living God, who endures forever.

Father, help us to worship you with our time, our energy, our finances, and not these other gods. Help us seek after you, and your glory, not our own. And in doing so, Father, please bring us the unity we long for, where we all walk together hand in hand to praise and serve you and your Son.

Through our Savior, Jesus. Amen.

You Don’t Deserve This!

But then one of the seraphs flew toward me. In his hand was a hot coal he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Look, this coal has touched your lips. Your evil is removed; your sin is forgiven.”I heard the voice of the sovereign master say, “Whom will I send? Who will go on our behalf?” I answered, “Here I am, send me!”

Isaiah 6:6-8 NET

DEVOTIONAL

Isaiah quickly realizes that his sin should not allow him to be in the presence of God. Yet as Isaiah comes to this realization that there is nothing he can do, his “evil is removed” and his “sin is forgiven,” not because of what Isaiah did, but by what God is doing. God has a mission of proclamation, and Isaiah is forgiven to do that work.

The majority of sermons I have heard over the years focus heavily on the idea that Jesus died to set us free from our sins so that we can one day live with him. While this is true, it ignores the “now what” question. I’m saved now, and later I’ll get to enjoy being in the presence of God, but what now?

Just as Isaiah has a role to fulfill for God, Paul reminds us of the same thing (Ephesians 2:10, 4:11-13). We play an important role in God’s mission in the world (Matthew 28:18-20), but that isn’t by our own power or our own righteousness. The abilities we have are gifts from God, the mission we have is a mission created by God.

We humans like to rank ourselves higher than others based on our own merits. But we must never forget that in the Kingdom of God, there is only one king, and we are not it. Our goodness is not a crown we get to wear, rather our mission is to point to the only One worthy of being called good.

PRAYER

Father, forgive us when we think more highly of ourselves than we ought. The story of Isaiah reminds us that we do nothing to earn our forgiveness. We do nothing to deserve the removal of our sins. Forgiveness of sins is something you, and you alone do for undeserving sinners.

Lord, please help me realize that I stand no more deserving in your presence than anyone else. Though I like to think my sin isn’t as bad as others, my sin deserves death, and you are the only one who can remove the death penalty.

Help me remember that Jesus died for all people, even those nailing him to the cross. So help me to show the same love and mercy to my sisters and brothers as you have shown for me.

Help us realize that we have not simply been saved from something, but rather you have saved us for something. So use us as instruments of your truth and grace to everyone we meet.

Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.

My Father’s House?

Luke is a master when it comes to dropping subtle clues in his writings. From the beginning of his Gospel, Luke wants you to know that Jesus isn’t just an ordinary man. He is human, yes, but he is also God in human form. And Luke shares this with us in many ways throughout the early chapters of his Gospel.

In Chapter 2 we get a story that no other Gospel writer tells. I believe Luke must have gotten this from Mary herself, especially since he relays Mary’s inner thoughts (see 1:3, 2:51). Jesus disappears from the family caravan at Passover. Mary and Joseph cannot find him anywhere, so they return to the city of Jerusalem and find Jesus in the temple courts discussing Scripture with the teachers.

What really stands out to me is the way Jesus responds to the question from his mother.

When his parents saw him, they were overwhelmed. His mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” But he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005), Lk 2:48–49.

Did you notice Jesus’ words here? Compare the words of Mary to those of Jesus. Who is the “father” of Jesus? According to Jesus, he was exactly where he was supposed to be…in his Father’s house.

The word play here isn’t accidental. This is just one small example of how Luke fills his Gospel with subtle (and some not so subtle) ways of reminding us of the true identity of Jesus. Next time we’ll look at the words of Elizabeth and what they tell us about Jesus.

(I’ll be dropping some of these every week since I will be reading this Gospel a lot between now and the time I start preaching through it in December. If you’re looking for a reading plan that will drill down on Luke’s Gospel before the end of the year, you can join me. Here’s a reading plan for Luke that my Small Group is going through, and here’s what I’m reading in addition to that.)

Peace and Quiet in the Chaos

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

1 Timothy 2:1-4 NIV

Paul writes Timothy in Ephesus who is ministering to a church that seems to be divided around ethnic and cultural lines. Men are fighting instead of praying. Women are one-upping each other in dress and allegiance. One woman is violently lashing out in some sort of teaching scenario. It’s chaotic to say the least.

Paul reminds everyone that we are to live “quiet” (ἡσύχιος) lives. Paul uses this word three times in this chapter alone. All throughout the chapter, as well as the chapters that follow, Paul advocates for peace and quiet in our lives…not silence…the Gospel is never silenced, but our attitudes towards others and towards the world is one of peacefulness and quietness in all godliness and holiness.

We don’t fight to get our way, we pray so Christ’s church can be an example of radical unity, and of godliness and holiness in the noisy and chaotic world around us.

Prayer

Father, our world is in turmoil and our nation is divided. Sadly, Father, our churches seem divided too. But Lord, you have called us to live peaceful and quiet lives, not lives of bickering and name calling. You have called us to be one as you are one.

So Father, teach us to pray for everyone in authority- our presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the leaders of other nations, our congress, our senate, our governors, our state representatives, our mayors, our city councils, our HOA boards…not so our will is done, but so that “we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Help us not divide among party lines, but rather show the world a radical unity founded in our commitment to one another because of your son Jesus. And Father, when we live this way help us to reach those lost souls around us whom you want to be saved as well. Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.

Unity in a Divided World

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Ephesians 4:2-6 NIV

Devotional

Paul writes Ephesians to a church that seems to be divided around ethnic and cultural lines. Gentiles coming into the faith along with Jews makes for difficult church potlucks. Paul reminds us that no matter our background, ethnicity, social status, etc., we are all saved in the same way by the same Savior sent by the same God.

For three chapters Paul reminds his readers that all the barriers that once divided these two diverse groups have been destroyed through Jesus. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” (2:14) Paul was adamant about this diverse group of believers being unified in Christ.

Today Christ’s church finds itself divided by politics, polity, worship practice, ethnicity, and a multitude of other issues. If Paul were writing to the church in the U.S. today (or any other nation for that matter), what would he say about our unity? I believe it would sound very much like Ephesians. May we seek a unity within the body of Christ that amazes the world around us and glorifies our Father in heaven.

Prayer

Father, our world is full of proud and boastful people. Our national leaders seem to do nothing but provoke division and slander one another. Lord, help us to remember that you have called us to be different. Your Spirit inside of us should unite us above and beyond whatever could divide us. I pray that your Church will truly be one body, divided only by physical location, but never divided in purpose, mission, and fellowship. May we base our unity as one body in the common Spirit, Lord, Faith, and Baptism we share. And may our unity be a witness of your salvation to the world around us. Through the name and power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.