Christ Includes Everyone

The Spirit leads where He wants, and it doesn’t always match our plans.

In Acts 6 we read about the Hellenistic Jewish widows being slighted in the distribution of food. The suggestion agreed upon by all was to appoint 7 Hellenists to carry out that ministry, men who were full of the Spirit and wisdom. Within the list of 7 we encounter Stephen and Philip in other portions of Luke’s story. Today we look at Philip’s missionary career, likely something he had never planned to do.

After the first century “meals on wheels” problem became known, the Twelve continued with their ministry of preaching and prayer. This was their calling. The Seven were called to distribute food. And yet, it’s only a few verses later that Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, is moved to preach about Jesus. The Spirit leads where He wants, and it doesn’t always match our plans. Stephen’s willingness to follow the Spirit leads to his death, and great persecution against the Church. But God used that persecution in order to spread the Gospel to other areas!

We next encounter Philip not distributing food, but preaching! The Spirit leads where He wants, and it doesn’t always match our plans. The persecution drove him into Samaria, and there, like Stephen and Jesus before him, began to perform signs such as casting out demons and healing the paralyzed and lame. Many men and women were baptized because Philip followed the leading of the Spirit to go wherever he was called. And wherever he went, he preached the Gospel of Jesus.

Next, we find the Spirit leading Philip to a road headed southwest out of Jerusalem. There Philip is told to talk to a man riding in a chariot. All we really know about this man is that he was an Ethiopian (likely a black-skinned man from what the Old Testament refers to as the region of Cush), he was the treasurer for the queen, and he was a eunuch.

There’s a lot to unpack here as we consider the theme of the disciples being “witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” This treasurer was likely a “God fearer,” similar to Cornelius. He had been to Jerusalem, but as a eunuch he would not have been allowed to enter the Temple. We could chase this rabbit a long way down the rabbit hole, but suffice it to say this was God’s way of telling Israel not to adopt the practice of castration in their communities. More on this in a moment.

For the treasurer to travel all the way to Jerusalem shows just how deep his faith is. I wonder how he felt being prohibited from entering the Temple upon arrival? Did he know he would be kept from joining the assembly before his journey, and traveled anyway? Or was this a surprise to him? For Luke, these details were not needed, and we are left to wonder.

What we do know is the treasurer had a copy (or partial copy) of the Isaiah scroll. Specifically, he was reading from the Greek translation of Isaiah 53:7-8.

This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”

Acts 8:32-33 NIV

Now we don’t know every detail about what Philip told this Ethiopian treasurer. We know that he started with Isaiah 53 and began to preach the Gospel of Jesus, and his message must have included baptism. But I would guess that Philip also had this Ethiopian foreigner, this eunuch, read Isaiah 56.

Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
“I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.” The Sovereign Lord declares—
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
besides those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56:3-8 NIV

This is the same passage Jesus referenced when he overturned the tables in the Temple. This very practice of excluding “differents” is what so offended Jesus that he pronounced condemnation and destruction upon the Temple. The words of God recorded in Isaiah 56 remind us of God’s plan all along. It was never about God blessing one people group, but rather bringing blessing and salvation to all nations by working through one nation. God is not in the exclusion business. He wants everyone to be saved! The Spirit leads where He wants, and it doesn’t always match our plans.

Whereas the Temple authorities would have prohibited the Ethiopian eunuch from joining their assembly, Philip lays no such barrier.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”

Acts 8:36 NIV

What can stand in the way of my being baptized? Absolutely nothing! All are welcome in Christ’s Kingdom! He died for all people! And his table is open for all!

So what are you waiting for? What’s keeping you on the outside? Most people I’ve met think that they will be excluded, or not welcomed because of their past. They believe that even though they want to follow Christ and join his family, they won’t be accepted. But that’s not how our God operates! Our Savior doesn’t just save good people (and none of us are good), he saves messed up people like you and me!

Jesus died to save those who struggle with sexual sins, idolatry, homosexuality, theft, greed, drunkenness, foul language, and every other imaginable sin. As a matter of fact, that list describes the makeup of the early church! The difference is they were washed and made clean through Christ. They didn’t stay in their sins because someone welcomed them and taught them about Christ. You’ll never look into the eyes of someone Christ didn’t die for. You’ll never find someone God doesn’t want to save. So why would we ever turn someone away?

If you haven’t joined a church family, why not? Become a member of a community of Christ today! Get plugged in and get about the business of welcoming others into the family!

And if you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and you haven’t committed your life to him, then the words of this Ethiopian eunuch apply to you. What can stand in the way of you being baptized? Absolutely nothing!

Join God’s family today!

God Has Left The Building

God works through a variety of people in a variety of places, including outside of the church building.

In his second volume (Acts), Luke tells us that his first volume (Gospel of Luke) recorded “…all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” The story of Acts, then, tells us all that Jesus continued to do and to teach by means of the Holy Spirit through his Church.

One of the first things we notice is what happened to Jesus in volume one happens to his Body in volume two. Jesus lives by the Spirit, and now Jesus sends his Spirit to his followers. Jesus preaches the Kingdom of God, and now his followers proclaim Jesus as King. Jesus healed the sick and lame, and now his followers do the same. Essentially, Luke is using these examples to call his readers to be like Jesus in their context.

One of the clearest examples of being like Jesus is the trial and martyrdom of Stephen. Just like Jesus, Stephen is a man full of the Spirit, full of grace and power, and performs great wonders and signs. And just like Jesus, Stephen faced opposition that sought to put him to death based on false charges and testimony. And just like Jesus, he refused to back down from his mission.

If you’ve never read Stephen’s sermon to the Sanhedrin, take a few minutes and read Acts 7. It’s a wonderful summary of how God’s presence and action has never been restricted to any one building, land, or people. Stephen reminds us that God has worked in many places and in many ways through many people.

We are reminded that God called Abraham out of the land of the Chaldeans to Harran, then to the promised land. He worked in and through Egypt during the famine under Joseph. He worked with and through Moses while in Egpyt, and in Midian. He dwelt on Sinai while Israel rebelled in idolatry at the base of the mountain. God dwelt in the Tabernacle throughout the wilderness, and even when Israel finally settled in the promised land. He then dwelt in the temple of Solomon.

What Stephen so skillfully does is point out from the Scriptures that God’s power and actions are not tied to one building. It never has been, and never will be. God works through a variety of people in a variety of places, including outside of the church building.

Finally, he gives us one last reminder from God’s own mouth that his presence and action isn’t limited to “houses made by human hands.” Stephen does all of this through Scripture, reminding the Sanhedrin that Moses predicted a prophet would come that would be like him. That “Righteous One” is the very Jesus they had condemned to death. He then calls this assembly out on their sinful resistance of the Holy Spirit and rejection of Jesus.

And they killed him.

It’s always a tragedy when people ignore the word of God, but even more so when it leads to violence. Stephen’s defense is nothing but quoted Scripture of how God has worked in the past, and a claim that he works the same way today. He points out the inconsistency of the Sanhedrin by denying the Holy Spirit’s working in the world, and how their ancestors ignored the Word of God as well.

The rejection of Stephen’s testimony was a rejection of God’s work in the world, just as it was when they rejected Jesus. God works through a variety of people in a variety of places, including outside of the church building. And that was a message that the Sannhedrin refused to hear.

Stephen’s death shouldn’t be looked at as just a tragedy (and indeed it was a tragedy.) When evil men intended to silence this movement of Jesus’ disciples through violence, God used their actions to bring salvation “to the ends of the earth,” just like he did through Jesus. In short, God chose to work through a variety of people in a variety of places, and this event put things into motion outside of the church building (Temple).

You see, the intense persecution that broke out because of Stephen’s Spirit-fueled sermon caused Christians to flee Jerusalem. And while we might think this is a bad thing, God again used it powerfully to take the Gospel into a variety of places!

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

Luke 8:4 NIV

Jesus had already told his disciples that they were to be witnesses in Jerusalem (which they were doing quite well), but also in Judea, Samaria, and everywhere else in the world (which they were not doing). This persecution that no one would want is the very thing God uses to spread the saving message of Jesus to non-Jews outside of Jersualem.

Essentially, we Gentiles are followers of Jesus today because this tiny Jesus movement faced persecution in the years following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, but continued to talk about Jesus wherever they went. God worked through a variety of people in a variety of places, including outside of the church building, and you and I are here as a result.

The seat of power in Jerusalem that ignored the workings of God were completely destroyed. Because the religious authorities in Jerusalem rejected the prophets of God, Jesus the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit amidst God’s people, the religious establishment was completely destroyed. But God’s mission and God’s people were not! They continued with the mission set before them, and we are here today as a testimony of their faithfulness!

We often forget that God’s mission all along was to create a people for himself that would lead all people to Him. When God called Abraham, he promised that this plan was to bless all nations. We forget that God wanted Israel to be a kingdom of priests to proclaim his goodness and glory before all nations in hopes of reaching them. We forget that the law called Israel to be a people who looked after the foreigner because God loved them too! We forget that through the Isaiah God ordained his Temple as a house of prayer for all nations, and through Jeremiah proclaimed that all nations would be present in his assemblies. We forget that the Great Commission of the New Testament was a command to carry out the Great Commission of the Old Testament.

God works through a variety of people in a variety of places, including outside of the church building.

If we’re honest, we would have to admit that we have largely lost the fire and the mission that Israel and the early church were called to. North American churches have enjoyed such a comfortable existence for so long that we have forgotten our mission. We really like things the way they are, and we’re quick to complain any time we are inconvenienced in the slightest with regard to our religious freedom. At the same time we’re painfully slow in spreading the Gospel of Jesus to the lost around us. This seems to be the opposite of what God has called his people to do!

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m thankful for our freedoms, and I deeply love our churches. I’m also keenly aware that our freedom has led to complacency and atrophy in the American Church, while intense persecution and violent oppression has simultaneously led to an explosion of faith and church growth in areas like China, Iran, and India.

I’m thankful for our freedom. I’m thankful for the peace we enjoy. But we must never equate our freedom of religion with the fulfillment of the mission God has set before us. God works through a variety of people in a variety of places, including outside of the church building. Therefore, we must be willing to get outside of our comfort zones and get about the mission God has called us to!

God has blessed us with the freedom to assemble, yet we often don’t.

God has blessed us with freedom of speech, yet we rarely use it to tell others about Jesus.

God has blessed us with peace, yet we forget that we are in the midst of a spiritual war.

In many ways, our freedoms have killed our mission.

Stephen’s sermon is true. God works through a variety of people in a variety of places, including outside of the church building. And every time God’s people get complacent and lose the mission God has set before them, his Spirit moves through his faithful people to work in a new way.

If we are not on fire for the mission of sharing the Gospel of Jesus with the lost, God’s mission will be carried out without us. God’s Spirit will move his faithful people outside of the walls and structures to carry out the mission regardless of the cost. And instead of wringing their hands at every inconvenience and setback, God’s faithful people will view these things as new opportunities to do God’s will in their community. God works through a variety of people in a variety of places, including outside of the church building. Are we willing to join Him in his work?

Acts 7-8 remind us that in a world that values complacency and comfort, we are called to be like Jesus. It will always seem easier to keep things the way they are and to ignore the leading of the Spirit. It will always seem easier to just assemble with our own people and ignore the lost around us. It will seem easier to define our own version of faithfulness and redefine the mission God has set before us. But when has God ever called us to do the easy thing?

The Open Table

The presence of Jesus is amplified and recognized when we most fully live like him in the world.

As Luke draws volume 1 of his Gospel to a close (Acts being volume 2), his focus shifts slightly from what Jesus does in the world (vol. 1) to what his disciples do in the world as his representatives (vol. 2). There are, however, a few stories between that overlap. Jesus has risen from the dead and appears to the disciples intermittently while his disciples learn to continue ministering without the constant physical presence of their Messiah. My favorite of these stories is the road to Emmaus.

As I work through this text in preparation for preaching it this Sunday, I’m struck by two major points. The first being that the disciples have lost all hope because of the crucifixion. They watched as their friend and Messiah was arrested, beaten, and executed, and now they are at a loss for what to do. The story is clear that these two disciples were leaving the rest of the group in Jerusalem, presumably to return to their pre-discipleship life. Listen to their words of despair and confusion. After asking this stranger (Jesus) about his knowledge of the previous week’s events, Jesus responds:

“What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

Luke 24:19-24 NIV (emphasis added)

Their confusion and hopelessness is clear. “We had hoped…” indicates that to them this is no longer a reality, and “…they did not see Jesus” leads us to the confusion and disbelief. Yes, the women saw it and told about it, yes, the men went there, but there was no Jesus.

The grief and dismay that surrounded this event is effecting these disciples deeply. They had been told repeatedly that Jesus would be crucified, but would rise again (Luke 9:21-27, 9:43-45, 18:31-34). This news, however, was so shocking and contrary to their own notions about Jesus’ ministry that they simply didn’t make sense. And now, at this moment on the road to Emmaus, the teaching they had received was absent from their minds and hearts.

The solution? Jesus points them back to Scripture!

“Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24:26-27 NIV

In the midst of grief, dismay, and hopelessness, Jesus points the disciples back to Scripture (read the Old Testament). This is of enormous significance. He could have simply revealed who he was to them and restored their faith through the physical sight of himself. Yet Jesus doesn’t operate this way. Instead, he points these disciples back to the timeless texts of their Bibles (Old Testament). These texts established their faith as children, and Jesus uses them to clarify what God was doing in the world through Jesus.

The second thing that stands out to me is how they recognize Jesus. Now that their hope and faith is restored through a message from Scripture, Jesus is going to continue down the road and leave the disciples. Instead, the disciples invite this man (who is still a stranger to them at this point) to stay and eat with them.

Table fellowship is a huge theme in Luke’s Gospel! Over and over again we read of Jesus eating with those marginalized by society. Most of his criticism from the religious establishment came as a direct result of who Jesus ate with. What we often miss is that eating with someone was a sign of acceptance of that person. When you eat with someone you now share a bond, a commitment to one another. This is why it’s all the more shocking that Judas betrayed Jesus on the same night that they dined together in the upper room.

On the way to Emmaus, the disciples renewed faith leads them to act like Jesus. Notice that they welcome the stranger and open their table to him. And it is at that moment, when they imitate Jesus through the open table that they recognize their Lord.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

Luke 24:30-31 NIV

When the disciples were hopeless and their faith almost gone, Jesus points them back to the Scriptures. And when the disciples act like Jesus in welcoming this stranger to their table, their eyes are opened, and they recognize the presence of their Lord.

Opening the Scriptures and gathering around the table with our Lord was vital to the faith of these disciples. It was in these events that the disciples encountered the risen Jesus. Why would it be any different for you and me?

So…what are you doing this Sunday?

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.