Thursday, April 28, 2011

prejudiced prayer

Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!
Jonah 2:8-9

Not every prayer is a good prayer. Jonah's prayer from the belly of the fish is just such an example of "bad" prayer. Verse 1 is really the heart of the prayer: "I called out to the LORD out of my distress and he answered me." There really is no more spiritual movement in Jonah beyond this. Really. He does not repent of his sin. In fact, he seems to blame his situation on God (Jonah 2:4) claiming that God has "driven" him away, when Jonah himself had been doing the running! So this is one really self-warped prayer!

Jonah thinks that just because he is turning to God, he is entitled to get something from God. Really?! The end of the prayer contains one of the most arrogant kinds of praying we can ever come across. Jonah begins by recognizing his own weakness: "I was fainting away" (Jonah 2:7). Then he smugly admits that he remembered God at that time. He had no other options left. And he dares to pray this! Is it proper? No. Is it spiritual? Well... sort of... but it is not humble or repentant.

Jonah's petulance continues when he ends the prayer with a comparison that makes him seem holier (in his own sight) than the pagan sailors he had been with. The prophet's prejudice remains. He rails against those outside the Jewish faith while smugly seeing himself as "holy". And the pagan sailors wound up having more honest faith than he did in this sanctimonious prayer! They offered sacrifices and paid vows (Jonah 1:16) while Jonah only promised to do so. The irony is plain for us to notice. Jonah has no idea what the sailors did after he became fish food. But we know the story. His prayer is more evidence that his prejudiced religiosity is ignorant, uninformed, and displeasing to God.

Sanctimonious prayer that only exalts my own sense of righteousness is not the kind of prayer God wants to hear. Jonah gets relief from his oceanic ordeal only by the good grace of God. He has not repented and has only felt bad. He still holds tightly to his hatred and disrespect for the call of God to proclaim His message to a gentile nation. God will have to keep getting his attention on this matter, and really we get to learn the lesson that Jonah never seemed to understand.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

conversion despite a reluctant prophet

So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.
Jonah 1:15-16

The story of Jonah is the story of God's sovereign revelation of Himself to the world. And He will make Himself known through His people in one way or another. Jonah was called to Ninevah to preach a message of repentance and judgment. He literally ran the other direction, hoping to escape from God's sovereign plan. But even in Jonah's disobedience, God worked graciously and sovereignly.

The first pagans that Jonah encountered were in this Tarshish bound ship. Jews were not sailors. Other nations around them sailed the Mediterranean and traded with Israel. And it was one of these pagan ships that received Jonah as passenger. When God brings a storm on the sea, the sailors begin to call out to the host of pagan gods, with no relief. When they finally force Jonah's story from him (and he tells them everything), they know that the maritime mercies of God are the only thing that could save them. When Jonah suggests they toss him overboard, they reluctantly obey the reluctant prophet. The immediate resolution of the storm brings awe and wonder to their hearts, and they worship the God of Israel. God uses Jonah in spite of himself... and not for the final time!

The message of Jonah is one of God's love for the world. And it is the lesson he tries to teach a self-righteous witness, but Jonah never seems to get it. As I read it, it is my hope that the insights will illumine my own tendencies to miss the call of God by running my own way. Certainly God is in control, and His grace will make the difference. He longs for His people to be conduits of that grace, and He will pour that grace through us, sometimes when we don't really want it!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

great power in prayer

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
James 5:16

I think of what this verse is teaching and I realize it is so paradoxical. Prayer does not always "feel" like it is powerful. We even have a phrase: "simply pray". But James is convinced that there is nothing simple about prayer. It is our human tendency to want to take control and do something for ourselves that makes us think that prayer is not as effective as our own work on our own behalf.

This truth comes in a corporate context. It involves a degree of accountability and transparency in which the Body of Christ acknowledges and confesses sin. The church prays for one another. This is powerful because what we tend to want to do is talk about our sins, judge others, and turn that into an opportunity to exalt our own sense of righteousness. But truly confessing sin and praying for one another is powerful because together we acknowledge our great need for God. And in that direction lie healing, forgiveness, strength, and renewal!

Prayer has great power because it is surrendering to God. It is not about a magical incantation. It is not about a mystical process. It is about turning to God, confessing our own inability and brokenness, and finding that He meets us with forgiving grace and overwhelming ability not only to meet our need but to exceed it! That is a wonderful experience almost beyond my ability to describe it.

I will guard my soul from thinking little thoughts of prayer. To do so is to deny God the glory He deserves. I will make much of God by making much of my prayer. This involves a confession of my sin, accountability with others, and commitment to seeing God do great work in my life in the context of mutual reliance upon Him.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, April 25, 2011

grace for the humble

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
James 4:6

My pride gets in the way
of everything God wants to do in me
I take credit for my day
and draw attention to what I see

My self is in the spotlight
and I think I am infinitely cool
but that picture is not right
without God I'm a fool

I need to step down
away from my foolish proud heart
The way to come around
is to relinquish the lead part

When I turn away
wipe the smug pride from my face
then a brand new day
can be changed by God's grace

The only sure thing
that will not make me stumble
is bowing to Jesus the King
May He make me humble

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, April 21, 2011

untamed bleepin' tongue

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
James 3:10

This passage (James 3:1-12) is one of the most challenging passages in all of the New Testament. It is not challenging because it is hard to understand. There really are not any textual issues either. It is hard because it is so direct on a vital problem. The speech we use often shows where our heart is. That is why James appeals to a spiritual and civil set of values to drive the way we talk.

His description of the human tongue highlights the dangers of not learning to practice these controls. The tongue is small, yet speaks great things (James 3:5). It can burn with a fire from hell itself (James 3:5-6). It can set in course events that can ruin an entire life (James 3:6). It is untamable by human effort, stronger than even wild animals (James 3:7-8). It is a restless evil (James 3:8). It is poisonous (James 3:8). It is unreliable, inconsistent, and unstable (James 3:9-12).

This has me concerned about my own speech, because the initial warning about the tongue comes to those in the church who are teachers (James 3:1). Those of us who teach and work with people personally for their spiritual benefit run the risk of letting loose a lot of destruction with our words. Speaking is a risk, because the opportunity to sin in what I say is very real. I deal with people every day and we talk about some of the most serious matters in their lives. I often gain their trust, and I don't want my words to be twisted by my own selfish or pride-filled concerns. It is like walking a tightrope over hell. And I often get just that one chance to say it right.

It issue for me is inconsistency. That is where James ends in his discussion on the believer's speech. We cannot both curse and bless. We could talk about the hot button topic of "contextualization". Recently some younger evangelicals have used that idea to promote cursing in the pulpit. The resulting "R"-rated sermons may stir up drama and controversy. I am not really sure they fit the biblical criteria for sound speech that James asks us to hold to, warning us about the vivid consequences for failure.

It would seem to me that the issue of cursing has to do with the attitude behind the use of our tongue. Resorting to common vulgarities in the pulpit or in our common speech may be a twisted form of pride... we want to look cool, hip, and acceptable. But what is so cool about a humiliated man suffering abuse and dying on a Roman cross? What is hip about admitting you are a sinner and trusting in Christ alone for salvation? Will the world really accept that God calls us to humbly walk before Him and let Christ rule in our lives? Is it hip to be a slave of Christ? Maybe we ought to re-think motivations here and simply let our "yes be yes" and our "no be no". Any word I use that is not motivated by the love of Christ and my walk before a holy, sovereign God is suspect. The motives behind the words are as crucial as the words themselves.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

ugly favoritism

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
James 2:8-9

Favoritism and partiality are not elements of Christian love. It is a form of prejudice that is highly distasteful. God is no respecter of persons. Christ draws all people to Himself at the cross. He offered Himself for the sins of the entire world. And James confronts a sinful prejudice in the early church: courting the wealthy and singling them out for preferential treatment.

James uses an extreme example to make a point. In his example (James 2:2-4), a rich man is given a seat of honor in the church gathering, while a poor man is literally dishonored by being forced to sit on the floor at the feet of another person... a position reserved for the lowest and most disrespectful of slaves. The point is that if we are not careful, in our zeal of certain types of people, we will miss the totality of the gospel. And such favoritism is ugly when it exists in the Body of Christ.

Unfortunately, if we are not careful, we can foster this mentality today. I am not comfortable thinking of church members in terms of "giving capacity". I think it is wrong to name church projects and buildings after key donors. I do think that it is perfectly fine to encourage all the gifts within the church, along with the gift of giving, because we are stewards of our lives including our finances. And I don't think it is wrong to encourage those with the gift of giving individually. I would thank a great teacher for their service in the body. Why would I not thank a giver for their love for Christ as well? The issue is not acknowledgement and encouragement, but exclusion of other people and gifts at the expense of the entire Body of Christ.

I feel a strong tug to stretch beyond my current suburban confides. Mill Creek partners with several urban ministries where a more realistic mix of human story exists. It is time to be careful for myself not to show favoritism to suburbanites alone and miss the blessings of loving all people as Christ loves them and intends His church to love them. It also means I don't demean suburbanites in favor of those in the inner-city. That is how insidious favoritism can be. It must always be challenged within my heart.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

hearing the truth & living it out

But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
James 1:25

The New Testament epistle of James is rich in application. There is a lot of encouragement, and a lot of shocking application packed into the pages of this book. James' main thrust is a practical Christian faith that lives out the content of its faith. James balances clear doctrine with real life commitment. It is not enough to just say what one believes. A person must live it if Christ is truly Lord over them.

This verse in particular shows that a necessary consequence of knowing what the scriptures teach is a lifestyle of persevering obedience to that teaching. It is not just about looking in the book, or hearing it taught. It is about acting on it and finding your life blessed in the outcome of that new life that comes upon that commitment. So many times in the church we are guilty of only making another occasion for the "hearing" of the truth, and not the required action accountability for Christians to "do" what they say they believe.

Do I long for God's blessing on my life? It must come through doing what the Word teaches. I am blessed by obedience, not just by knowledge. I am thrilled to understand the Word of God, but I have not truly understood it if I look into it, forget its application, and then live like it makes no difference. Instead, it is in the application and obedience to the Word of God that truth makes a change in me that blesses my life. And it is that active change that gets the attention of others around me.

The reality is that truth makes me radical. I get out of my comfort zone. It is not about trivia, but testing the truth. It is not about facts, but the steps and activities that follow from belief in the facts. It is not only about doctrine, but also about delighting in dutiful obedience. That is change. Jesus wants to transform us, not just rename us. He makes no apathetic new creation. He puts us into an active relationship with Him as we follow where He leads. I must hear and understand the truth. The proof of that understanding is living it out for His glory and praise!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, April 18, 2011

five attitudes of peace

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
2 Corinthians 13:11

This short final admonition to the Corinthian church shows five components that make for peace in the church. The first is a spirit of rejoicing. This comes as we worship God together. We rejoice in Christ, in the truth that God gives, and in the life that we share together in Him. Rejoicing in God is vital to our worship together. God works in us and it should produce real joy and celebration among us.

The second component is the goal of restoration. In the case of the Corinthian church it had to do with their past tolerance of immorality among them. Now that there was a move toward repentance, the church needed to receive back the repentant. Attitudes of "holier-than-thou" will sink the unity and the essential nature of the church more than any other attitude. When we aim for restoration, the grace of God rules us in everything, and that makes the church a place of redemption and renewal.

The third attitude is one of being a place of comfort. Christians should comfort one another. We should comfort each other as we mourn over sin. We ought to comfort one another as we grieve over the losses we sometimes experience as a result of living in a fallen world. Jesus offers the only true comfort to all people, and we ought to live that out as His living Body in the experience of the church.

We are told to agree with one another. That is a command. It means that we may defer to another brother or sister's personal preference when such deference is not sinful. There are a wide variety of opinions in the Body of Christ. People differ. We have different personalities, experiences, abilities, dreams, and goals. But when we unite under obedience to the Lordship of Christ, none of that matters when we are consumed with the one overarching goal of following Jesus. We thus agree under the Lordship of Christ. And that unity makes the gathering of believers a unique and heart-changing place.

The final component is that we live in peace. That is what we are called to experience in the church. It is not a place to fight and quarrel. It is a place where the peace of God rules our hearts. We don't meet together to quarrel over our differences. We meet together to celebrate our faith and our great God! And when we do so, His peace rules our hearts, and our gathering together shows God's peace and love with us. And in that sense, God is with us when we honor Him with these five attitudes of peace.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, April 14, 2011

powerful paradox: the "gift" of weakness

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

These are more than words of encouragement and comfort. They were the daily reality of the life of the apostle Paul. He was given a unique "gift" from God to keep him close to God. It was the "gift" of weakness. And it was in this daily trust in God that Paul found strength despite his circumstances.

We don't know all the details of this circumstance. Paul deliberately keeps us from getting too many details. Probably out of humility and obedience to His Lord, Paul keeps things deliberately vague. But he does share just enough for us to identify with his experience. He was given some kind of disability by God. Yes... God gave him the disability. That is not the kind of thing we like to say, but Paul was cool with it. It was enough of a disability that his description of it is that it is "a messenger of Satan to harass me" (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul does not explain away the tension of his experience. He just accepts it as something that God was using to extend His grace into Paul's life. Wow!

My goal is not to wrestle with the theology of how something could simultaneously be "given" by God, yet be a harassing "messenger of Satan". I think the key to understanding it all is in verse nine. It is the understanding that God's grace is sufficient in our weaknesses. No matter what may afflict us or strike at us, God's grace is bigger and can sustain us. Paul concluded that he'd rather have that kind of weakness with God's grace resting upon him than any other experience.

This is counter-cultural. Americans demand an easy life. And that is not what Jesus ever promised us. In fact, He said that in the world you will have trouble, but that our hearts can be encouraged because He has overcome the world. And when we live like He has overcome the world, it will show through His grace pouring over our weaknesses. In that power, our lives are changed.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

disguise of deception

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
2 Corinthians 11:14-15

Paul wrote these words about men who claimed to be teaching the truth and were received by Christians as gifted "super-apostles" (Paul's own word in 2 Corinthians 11:5). The result in Corinth was that they were turning to a different Jesus, a different Spirit, and a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). These teachers were not sent by Christ. They were false teachers.

It is Satan's strategy to mask his efforts in what looks a lot like a good thing. Some of his most stunning work is done by people who claim to know Jesus. And they destroy the very name that they claim to follow. It is really quite devious when you think about it. But the real test is their deeds. If their work is filled with self-promotion, detracts from the saving gospel of Jesus, or turns from or adds to the teaching of the scriptures, they are false.

Discernment is the key, and Paul was working with a church that had very little such discernment when he wrote to the Corinthians in this letter. He is laying out the case for returning to the pure gospel. He is not defending himself for his own sake, but rather for the sake of the gospel, so that Jesus might be followed by His church once again.

I am concerned that the church is losing the ability to discern in the way that Paul describes it. In fact, I think in large segments, it already has. Evangelicals don't expect the average church-goer to learn basic Bible doctrine. We instead exalt powerful personalities, even if they question biblical teaching that undermines the heart of the gospel (i.e. Rob Bell, Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Brian MacLaren and a host of bestselling authors). I wonder if we haven't settled instead for a mask of deception rather than the face of Christ.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

bragging on God

"Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
2 Corinthians 10:17

A very simple principle drives Paul's view of his own ministry. God is the person who gets the attention drawn to Him for all that gets done. Paul spent time with the Corinthians. They knew him. And he was constantly defending his ministry to them in his absence from them. But he chose not to take this defense personally. Instead, he deflected the attention off himself and onto Christ.

This was humility in action (2 Corinthians 10:1). It did not by any means make Paul a weak pushover. In fact, he was filled with boldness when he reproved the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 10:2). He appealed to his authority as an apostle (2 Corinthians 10:7-9). He was a ministry adventurer when he came to Corinth preaching the gospel (2 Corinthians 10:14). Paul had a driving ministry passion with intense personal vision to take the gospel even further than it had been. He was constantly driving forward into new and dangerous territory in his ministry with a bold assurance that he was following the unique call of Christ for him (2 Corinthians 10:16). Paul was not wimping out when he deflected attention from himself. He boldly boasted in the Lord in action first, speech second.

Ministry can be a celebrity machine. And spiritual leadership is such that people hungry for Christ will inevitably be drawn to those who preach the truth and help build authentic followers of Jesus. But the issue is that human personality can get confused with the power of God to change lives. That is where Paul draws the line. He refused to let his personality be the issue. It was all about God. And the call is always for Christians to keep that thought before us, to live our lives accordingly, and to make much out of Jesus, and not any persons's gifts or personality alone... even our own.

So the simple mantra for talking about ministry successes stays the same: "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord".

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, April 11, 2011

can't out-give God.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:8

One of the motives of a generous lifestyle is that God is Himself generous to us. We ought to be willing to give and share what we have as a result. God is gracious and holds nothing back from us in that grace. He gave His Son for our sin. He freely shares all that we need in that love. God is generous and that kind of giving love is supposed to mark His people.

Paul's point in this short verse is that God pours His grace on us so that we might have the means to be His grace. His grace does not just give us a little of what we need, but rather, His grace creates an all-sufficiency in all things at all times. The result is an overflowing abundance of good work in us. God's overflowing grace in our lives should give us the means to share what we have generously in the work of the gospel and the needs of others.

This is the theology that ought to drive our thoughts as we think about the way we give. It ought to be what is in our hearts when the offering plate is passed. But more than that, it ought to be the kind of thankfulness that flows into our daily interactions. Generosity is a lifestyle of grace. It is a way in which we live like God. It is a way in which God uses us as a means of His grace to reach others and help overflow His grace into their lives. And we are always learning to give like God. We can never match His gift, but we can learn to give in His grace.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, April 7, 2011

gracious giving

But as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you-see that you excel in this act of grace also.
2 Corinthians 8:7

In the context of this passage the "act of grace" referred to is the special project Paul had taken in ministering to the poor in the Jerusalem church (see chapter 9 for more detail). He has made this a personal ministry hallmark. He has collected from all the Gentile churches where he has preached the gospel. And Corinth had been working for nearly a year now in this particular ministry project (2 Corinthians 8:10-11). The time had come to finish the collection.

Paul had no reservations about talking directly about this sort of thing. He expected that Christians would be generous. His main example comes from the Macedonian church. The believers there were going through persecution, yet managed to give very generously through their poverty with great joy and excitement for the ministry work. The Corinthian church seemed to be in relative peace, and they had an opportunity to really add to the gift that would be brought to Jerusalem. This was going to be a chance for them to pour God's grace out in a tangible form.

The same is true today. Giving is about God's grace. It is not about my pleasure or desire to give. It is not about the generous giver being courted and cajoled and pampered by the leadership of any ministry. It is about the chance for God's grace to pour out in our giving. We often applaud the generous donation, but the amount is not the evidence of grace. It is the commitment, love, and sacrifice that come with the gift that bring grace.

I read this and am challenged to make sure my heart is in the right place. And the real check on that is when the plate is passed. Am I participating in the unrestrained grace of God with my gift? Am I giving reluctantly in an ungracious manner? Am I ready to see God glorified, not caring for any credit (be it tax incentive or my name on the project) in my gift? Those are the kinds of questions that help me define gracious giving in my own heart.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

good grief

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
2 Corinthians 7:9

Often the design God has for us is that feeling bad is a good thing. It is the right response. It produces something we really need at the time. Such was the case with the Corinthian church. Upon reception of Paul's first letter, the church was upset and hurt and grieving. It was not over the attitude of Paul or because unkindness was shown them. It was because of recognition of their own sin. This was a grief over sin that led to repentance from sin. In the specifics of the Corinthian church, it meant that they began to confront the immorality they had been tolerating in their midst (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 for the details). They had become a divisive, bickering, immoral bunch. And after careful and loving confrontation, they recognized their wrongness and turned back to Christ. There they found forgiveness. Their grieve over their sins led them to a good place again.

One of the consequences of living in a "feel good" culture today is that it short circuits the beautiful work of repentance. It works against this kind of godly sorrow. We medicate, adjudicate, pay for therapy, or just plain ignore any difficult feelings that emerge from our sinful choices, attitudes, or actions. Having trouble sleeping, tossing and turning over the pain in your relationships? Take Ambien. That's better... Are those relationships getting strained? Just end them. A Facebook "defriending" is just a mouse click away... we are not far from doing that in real life. Worried about your mountain of debt? Go buy the latest and greatest on credit... retail therapy will pull you back. Consumed with an anxiety over the out of control issues in your life? At $150 an hour, your therapist will listen to you... or there is always Oprah's book of the month.

We seldom look at these issues as necessary consequences meant to bring us back. We treat the turmoil in our hearts as the problem. We medicate the symptom rather than get at the root problem. And in so doing, we are missing out on the process God designed to help us change and grow. We should feel where we are hurting and let the Word of God and the Holy Spirit of God probe into our hearts to determine why that pain is so strong. God calls us to get to the heart of the matter, the root of our wrongs, and there to repent and turn to what He shows us is the right way.

Godly sorrow can be good thing because it can get us to the heart of our real issues. And we can emerge from the other side of just such a struggle as a better person, a more Christ-like example, and an example that God can use to help others who need to do the same thing. That is what happened to the Corinthian church. Their repentance serves as a vivid model for what I need to always be ready to do in my own heart when the sorrow and pains of life get my attention.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

wide open ministry love

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open.
2 Corinthians 6:11

Paul had invested a lot of time and effort in his ministry to the church at Corinth. For some reason this investment in years and energy was not always well received. Of all the churches we know of that had contact with Paul, the Corinthian church seemed to struggle the most. They struggled with the authority of the message. They struggled with the authority of the messenger. They struggled with reverting back to sinful behaviors.

Paul reminded him of the kind of efforts he had made among them. 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 are a profound list of the difficulties Paul endured in order to keep the gospel central in the Corinthian church. And in that list is a massive amount of paradox: honor and dishonor, slander and praise, imposters yet the real deal, unknown and known, dying yet alive, dying but not dead, sorrowful yet rejoicing still, poor yet enriching, and as possessionless yet having everything in Christ. Paul poured out his heart and life with these people.

That is where the appeal of verses 11-13 comes into play. Paul says that he has spoken freely despite the church's struggle to hear him. He has been transparent in his love and ministry. His heart is wide open. There is nothing hidden. All the good and the bad, the glory and the gory are there on display in the outcome of his ministry in Corinth. This is not a statement with even an ounce of regret in it. It is a statement of passion. It is what ministry ought to look like in the real world. It is messy, yet it is messy because it is the love of Christ at work in us.

Such is the call to serve. If we really care for people, we will risk a lot. With that risk will come misunderstandings and REALLY HARD WORK! There is no other way around it. But we cannot give up. A passion for the gospel and love for our Lord compel us to run wide open with hearts wide open. And in the difficult collision of emotion, passion, and service, we find the ever present love of Christ for the world. Christianity is not a narrow little corner of our lives. It is all that we are about! And that purpose gives us a passion that plays loud and hard, cranked to 11 for the world to see in us.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, April 4, 2011

what I'm living for

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Christianity is about a new and a different life. And it has radical consequences. There is a change. It is all good, but it puts the Christian in a different lifestyle than the non-Christian. And you can't really want to be a Christian and then not want to be controlled by the love of Christ. That is the implicit principle in this teaching.

The love of Christ controls us. It is the moving power behind all that we do and who we are as Christians. It is demonstrated at one unique focal point: Jesus' sacrificial death that atoned for our sin. From there it follows that His resurrection backs up everything that His death accomplished. And in Christ's death, the death my sins deserve is taken away. When I trust this, it fundamentally changes who I am in relationship with God. It is true that my sin issues are dealt with. But it is not just a guilt eraser. It changes my life. There is a new direction in Christ.

The love of Christ sets this new direction under His terms and not my own. I am no longer to live my life on my own terms. I get a better set of directives and a change of ownership. I was the slave of sin. Now I am the slave of Christ. I no longer live for myself. I now live for my Savior Who died and rose again for me. It is truly a new life.

That is why Paul says that every Christian who truly comes to accept and follow Christ in this way is a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Old things associated with an old kind of life are gone. A new life is before us in Christ. And this new creation under new ownership gives us a new responsibility: we represent Jesus to the world around us (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). So as a Christian, in every category, I am living for Jesus. He creates in me the capacity to do so. He lives with me to make it happen as I live for Him. It is what I'm living for!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13