Tov Meod No More

Eden was a handcrafted dwelling place for both God and humans. In this perfect space, both the Creator and the created could exist together. Since God created everything tov meod (Hebrew for very good), this would include his creation of, and decision to place the tree of life and tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden. 

I have heard it taught humans should be ignorant of evil, that we should avoid knowledge of it. This seems contrary to God’s design, because he specifically put these trees in the Garden in proximity to humans. To take it a step further, Eve and Adam did have at least some knowledge of good and evil before eating from the tree. What I mean is they understood anything in the Garden was good to eat and enjoy, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So where did they get this basic knowledge of good and evil? From God! God never says they should have no knowlege of evil (afterall he told them what evil would be in this case). And there was nothing evil or sinful about the tree itself, after all, God deemed it tov meod. What God did, however, was govern the use and access to these trees. They are not evil, but interacting with them can only be done on God’s terms.

It seems to me that this illustration in the Garden teaches us that we should not seek to determine good and evil for ourselves. It seems God had a plan for the trees and the humans, but the desire of the humans to bypass God is the ultimate sin. Rather than submit to God’s wisdom and knowledge, functioning in their created role, they chose to usurp God by attempting to become like him. The saddest part is the humans were already like God, created in his image. Had they walked with God and obeyed him, perhaps those trees could have been used for their proper purpose. Unfortunately, we will never know this side of eternity.

It strikes me as spiritually significant that God has created tools that are useful for his purposes, and has placed these tools within our reach. But these tools can be catastrophic to us if we misuse them. Life is full of objects that can be simultaneously tov, but harmful.

Let’s use an oversimplified example. God created humans with speech abilities. God created this “tool” for humans because he wanted us to speak. But if misused, our speech can cause catastrophic damage to others and ourselves.

Scripture repeatedly calls us to gain wisdom! But wisdom by itself isn’t enough. Simply having wisdom can have catastrophic results (just look at the story of Solomon!) What is important is where we find our wisdom, and how we apply it. Sex is a beautiful gift from God, but when it occurs beyond God’s intended purpose, it no longer functions in a good way.

We must rely upon God’s wisdom and trust his leading in navigating life. If we rely on our own abilities, or lean on our own knowledge and reasoning, we too will fall victim to the sin of the Garden.

Identity Crisis

Old habits die hard.

Benjamin Franklin – London Chronicle, Dec. 1758

Franklin was right, you know? For some reason, no matter the effort put forth, our habits tend to creep back into the reality of our lives. Though we try to put them to death, they often resurrect themselves in new and ugly ways.

This is not a new phenomenon. A quick look at Genesis shows that we still struggle with the same sinful habits as our predecessors. We still want to be God rather than submit to him. We lie, we cheat, we steal, we mistreat others, we constantly fall into idolatry…the list goes on and on. And if we’re not careful, our “old habits” can become our identity. That, however, is a topic for another time.

One of the “old habits” that seemed to plague the early church was their identity, specifically how they viewed themselves and one another. For a very long time, membership in the family of God looked a certain way. But after Jesus and the Holy Spirit do their work, we find our identity in a different way. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. So how do we identify a member of the family of God? That will take a little unpacking.

This was easy for God’s people when their identity was marked by Torah observance, particularly the identity laws of the Torah. These were laws governing how you dressed, how you wear your hair, and the types of food you eat. Another one of these clearly identifying characteristics would be male circumcision. This act was started with Abraham, and passed down through Moses. Circumcision wasn’t expected of Gentiles, except when they wanted to join the Israelite community in the Passover celebration. To participate in Passover, one must identify themselves as part of the family of God through the circumcision of all males in the household.

This “old habit” of identifying others by way of these laws caused some problems for the earliest followers of Christ. Even after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, they continued to identify members of God’s family through these identity laws in addition to their shared faith in Jesus.

Fast forward to the coming of the Sprit at Pentecost. Though many were baptized, this group was made up of Jews from the family of Abraham that were in town for the Pentecost feast. Even though they were from very diverse areas, those hearing the Gospel and being baptized were Jews, or converts to Judaism. In short, these new followers of Jesus were identified by their faith, and they were all circumcised. It was still easy to identify these new believers.

The Holy Spirit makes it clear that he wants to include Gentiles in God’s family as well, so Peter baptizes an entire family Gentiles. We see the Holy Spirit moving to include Samaritans and an Ethiopian eunuch. It becomes very clear through the working of the Holy Spirit that everyone is welcome in the family of God!

The problem stems from how to identify these new believers in Jesus who were not already part of the family of God. What must they do to be included? Is faith in Jesus enough to get you into the family, or must they be circumcised and follow these identity laws of the Torah as well?

Acts 15 shows this identity struggle come to a head. Some Pharisees believed that in order for the Gentiles to be part of God’s family, they must also follow the identity laws of the Torah. In their mind, they weren’t part of the family of God through faith in Jesus alone. Paul and Peter, however, saw things differently. Just take a look at Peter’s speech before the gathering.

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Acts 15:6-11 NIV

For Peter, it is clear that keeping these identity laws and finding our identity in them is not what saves. Jew and Gentile alike are saved only by the grace of Jesus. This was their new identity!

Paul elaborates on this further when dealing with a similar issue in the Galatian churches. What identifies one as a member of God’s family?

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.

Galatians 3:26-27 NIV

For Paul and the rest of the New Testament authors, it is our faith in Jesus Christ, carried out through baptism, and marked with the transformation and empowerment of the Holy Spirit that identifies us as members of the family of God. Our identity as children of God is found through our faith and baptism in Christ, and the indwelling, empowerment, and transformation of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

We no longer wear our old identity when we become a new creation clothed in Christ and filled with his Spirit.

This is what our faith enacted through baptism does for us. This is what happens when the Holy Spirit enters into our lives. We gain a new identity in Christ as children of God. We become part of God’s family!

Don’t look for your identity anywhere other than your relationship with Christ. Don’t worry about how the world identifies you. Focus rather on how God identifies you. Are you one of his children? Have you clothed yourself with Christ through baptism? Are you living a Spirit-filled life? If not, then you really need to work on your identity.

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?

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.

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.

The Worst and Most Successful Prophet Ever

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Jonah 4:10-11 NIV

DEVOTIONAL

The short little book of Jonah is one of the most skillful literary masterpieces of the entire Bible. Every word it seems is a glowing hyperlink to another Biblical text. The more you explore, the more funny and pointed the story of Jonah becomes.

Jonah refuses to go to Nineveh because he doesn’t think they deserve being saved. The funny thing is that God has already given undeserved grace to Israel under the reign of Jeroboam by extending Israel’s borders to the largest they ever were. And he sent that message through none other than Jonah son of Amittai! (2 Kings 14:23-25).

The least godly person in the entire story is the prophet of God: he sleeps when he should be praying, the offers thanksgiving for his “death” inside the great fish, he preaches the shortest and most pitiful sermon in all of history (only 5 words in Hebrew), has the greatest repentance of any missionary ever, and then is angered by the fact that the people are doing exactly what God hoped they would do!

He’s the most upside down prophet that ever lived, and the sad thing is I can see a lot of myself in Jonah. If we’re honest, those of us who claim to follow Christ often wind up being the least Christ-like person in the room because we start acting like Jonah. This short little story deserves much reflection by all who claim to represent Christ in this world.

Prayer

Father, forgive us when we value stuff more than human life. Especially in this heated political climate we tend to value our stuff, our comfort, our ideas, our way more than other humans made in your image. Please forgive us of this sin.

Help us remember that you care for all people, regardless of what they think of you. Lord forgive us for having the spirit of Jonah, where we think of ourselves as better and more deserving of your mercy that those we meet.

Help us see this world as you see it. Help us love our neighbors as ourselves, and please remove the hatred, bigotry, racism, and sectarianism from our hearts.

Lord, have mercy on us for we are sinners.

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

Prayer: What is it Good For?

Have you ever struggled with how to pray? Have you ever felt like you are supposed to say nice things and be thankful, but you really don’t know how to do that? You’re not alone.

Jesus’ followers asked him to teach them how to pray. It was (and still is) very common in the Jewish world to have memorized prayers for different situations. There was a routine set of prayers that you used every day, and in every situation in which you find yourself. Acts shows us that the early church continued the practice of “the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, 3:1, etc.)

Because of this practice, it’s no wonder that Jesus’ followers wanted their Rabbi to teach them a prayer. Afterall, John had done that for his disciples. (Luke 11:1) And in Luke’s account, due to their request, Jesus gives them a prayer to recite.

 “When you pray, say: 

“ ‘Father, 

hallowed be your name, 

your kingdom come. 

Give us each day our daily bread. 

Forgive us our sins, 

for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. g 

And lead us not into temptation.’ ” 

 Lk 11:2–4 NIV

Notice that it’s Jesus’ expectation that his disciples will pray these exact words. For some reason in my past that rote prayers became akin to vain repetitions, but Jesus doesn’t see it that way at all! He expects his disciples to repeat these words over and over again. “When you pray, say…” The Greek word for “when” is hotan, which means “whenever.” Jesus wanted his disciples to pray this prayer over and over and over again until it became second nature to them.

Why? Because in this prayer we find the heart of Jesus revealed. What he prayed for is of first importance to him and his mission, as it should be for us today when we recite this prayer. In his book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, James K. A. Smith talks about the habitual practices we all encounter every day. Even your morning routine, or work routine, or shopping routine, or school routine program and shape you into a product of the world, not a product of the Kingdom. We need reprogramming, and Spiritual habits like prayer do just that!

“If our loves can be disordered by secular [routines], it’s also true that our loves need to be reordered (recalibrated) by [counterroutines]–embodied, communal practices that are ‘loaded’ with the gospel and indexed to God and his kingdom.”

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith, pgs. 57-58

This is exactly what prayer, and specifically the Lord’s Prayer, is designed to do in our life. Prayer isn’t so much moving God into our will, but being shaped into the mission and will of the Father.

I hope you’ll join us Sunday morning at 9:30 CST as we talk about Prayer: Grasping the Heart of God.

Morning Prayer for 7/13/2020

God of peace, teach us to live according to your will. May we learn your wisdom so that we may reach those dying in sin around us. May we receive your strength to build your Kingdom while living as foreigners in this land. And may we hear your voice above the noise of this world so that we may go wherever you call. Through Christ, our brother, Lord, and Savior. Amen.