Posted in 1Corinthians, John, Matthew, Philippians

Assurance of Victory

“No temptation (test) has overtaken you but such as is common to man, and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (tested) beyond what you are able but with the temptation (test) will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” 1Corinthians 10:13

 You and I can win every day, but to do so, we must begin by agreeing with God’s definition of what victory as a Christian looks like.

 First what it doesn’t look like.  Winning does not mean having no troubles, struggles, or issues to deal with.  Jesus said the wind and the waves will crash against every life (Matthew 7:24-27) and promised His disciples that they would have troubles in this world. (John 16:33)  He even warned us ahead of time to not be offended by this. (John 16:1-2)

 So what is victory, and how can I walk every day with assurance?  Instead of delivering us from life’s troubles, God promises to walk with us through them.  The same Greek word, “peirasmos,” is translated as temptation and test.  Which is right?  The same set of circumstances can easily be described as both a temptation and a test – Satan tempts to bring us down; God allows tests to purify and strengthen us.  God won’t always prevent a temptation, but in His faithfulness He will limit them, so that we can walk through our troubles with Him.  Tests invite us to draw near, so we will know the way He has provided for our escape even though “escape” may mean strength to endure through instead of a deliverance from.

 In school we need to pass tests to advance to the next grade and I think it’s the same in the kingdom.  God’s beloved children don’t get an identity of failure when they give into temptation but will just keep retaking the same test until we pass it.  We decide how long the process lasts. (Three weeks could end up being 40 years!)  He ultimately wants to build in each of us an assurance of victory that is able to say: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

Posted in 1Corinthians, Genesis, John, Mark, Proverbs, Romans

The Power of Words

“Have faith in God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” Mark 11:22-23

 When God speaks everything changes!  There may be darkness and chaos, but when God speaks, light and order come in response to His word transforming the world. (See Genesis 1)  But what happens when we speak?  I don’t believe there is intrinsic power in our words, but I do believe that our words can be filled with power if we speak out loud what God has spoken to our hearts.

 Speaking expresses faith.  Romans 10:10 says we believe with our hearts and then speak with our mouths resulting in salvation.  What we believe about God and the world will affect what we speak and what we speak will then affect the world around us.  Proverbs 18:21 says, “life and death are in the power of the tongue.”

 So what is God speaking to this world?  May our hearts be filled with the truth of John 3:17: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”  We are not called to be positive in a negative world; we are called to be redemptive in a fallen world.  We don’t ever have to live in a bubble that denies the brokenness and darkness all around us; we only have to believe that God has a redemptive plan for everything and everyone who is broken and dark. 

 Moses allowed himself to become frustrated and hit the rock when God told him to speak to it.  The rock, which represented Christ (1Corinthians 10:4), had already been struck (a picture of Jesus dying on the cross), so God wanted Moses to have enough faith to just speak.  If he had spoken to the rock it would have flowed with water for all the people, for God was the One telling him to speak.

 Today He’s telling us to speak His redemption over our own lives, the lives of our loved ones, and over this nation.  What are you speaking?

Posted in 1Corinthians, Acts, John, Matthew

A Sign to Examine

“He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:31

Usually in church we are called to believe in our hearts something that we can’t see with our eyes. But there is one case where God encourages us to examine something we can see with the logic of our minds – the resurrection. God has “furnished proof” that Jesus is the judge of all mankind by raising Him from the dead.

In John 2 Jesus clears the temple and the religious leaders ask, “What sign do you show us as your authority for doing these things?” (John 2:18) The only person on earth that might have authority to move temple furniture around was the high priest. Outside of him, only God himself would have that kind of authority. “Who do you think you are?” is what they’re asking. Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) The sign He gave of His authority was the resurrection. In Matthew 12 again He is asked for a sign but replies that no sign will be given except the sign of His death and resurrection as prefigured in the story of Jonah. (Matthew 12:39-40)

Paul says that all of Christianity hinges on the actual, historical resurrection of Jesus. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins… if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1Corinthians 15:17-19) I’ve heard people say that they’d be a Christian “even if it wasn’t true.” Paul wouldn’t be. He’s only in if it’s true and to him it’s true because of a historical proof that God gave. Paul didn’t believe in Jesus because he was afraid he’d go to hell if he didn’t, and he didn’t ultimately believe because of the subjective encounter he had on the road to Damascus. He believed because it was the truth; not just his truth, but everyone’s. The evidence is the resurrection.

Posted in 1Corinthians, 2Corinthians

Idolizing Leaders

“For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” 1Corinthians 3:4-7

We are in danger of erring in two ways in our attitude toward those leading us. We can dishonor them and lose the benefit God wanted to bring through them, or we can idolize them and lose the benefit God wanted to bring through other leaders who are different from them. Let’s look at the second one today.

Paul says that when we identify with only one leader and set Christian leaders in some type of a contest against each other, we are acting like mere men. God has called us to the high calling of favored sons or daughters who are carriers of God’s own presence.  We are the very temple of God! (2Corinthians 6:16)  Yet when we reduce Christianity to our favorite speaker we have missed the whole point. 

To say you follow Paul instead of Apollos means that you are missing out on what God wanted to give you through Apollos. From God’s perspective, Paul, Apollos, and Cephas (Peter) belong to you; they were raised up and anointed for your benefit so you could come into fullness. To choose one over another or exalt one over another is to miss what the other one was supposed to bring to your life.

To idolize a leader is to set them up for a fall. A few years ago a man was set up as the greatest prophet in America so much so that it was thought he didn’t even need to be part of a local church. He would come from his place of being alone with God and tell us the word of the Lord and we honored his unique place; many times in an idolatrous way. He succumbed to an addiction to alcohol and also was found to be involved in sexual sin. Would this have happened if we had prayed for him more instead of idolizing him? I don’t know.

What I do know is that at the end of the day those who plant and water, however gifted they may be, are nothing, but only instruments that help you grow in the grace of God. Honor leaders, receive from leaders, but please don’t idolize them. It puts them at greater risk and it keeps you from seeing the reason for their existence.

Posted in 1Corinthians, Revelation

Passing God’s Tests

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10

This is kind of a disturbing passage. These are people God is pleased with, yet He is allowing a time of testing at the hands of the devil in which they will be put in prison. Do you feel like you are in some type of prison right now? A situation that you can’t change, an affliction that you can’t remove, or some type of thorn in your flesh that God doesn’t seem to be delivering you from? I want to encourage you, it’s just a test. God wanted the church at Smyrna to know that He, the One who loved them, was allowing it, and that He had rewards for those who passed it. How do you pass God’s tests?

  1. Know that God has limited them. Jesus said there would be a beginning and an end – it would last 10 days and then be over. When you are in a test it is tempting to despair because it feels like this will be the rest of your life. Don’t worry, this too will pass. We can’t shorten God’s tests but we can lengthen them by having a horrible attitude. (See Israelites in the desert for 40 years) 1Corinthians 10:13 promises that in all temptations (same Greek word as tests) “God is faithful; He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
  2. Don’t be afraid. Satan works through fear and God works to free us from fear. Trust God in your prison and don’t give into fear. Oftentimes the purpose of the test is to get us in a situation where we would normally be afraid, so that we can learn to walk in faith. 
  3. Be faithful. Keep doing what you know is right even if it doesn’t seem to be working. Keep praying, reading, loving, and obeying – God wants to see if we will be faithful when things are rough, or if we’re only fair weather Christians. What’s the worst that can happen – you dying? Jesus said to be faithful even to the point of death. What’s so bad about being home with Jesus forever in the eternal city where the streets are made of gold, and where we rule and reign with Him for all eternity?
Posted in 1Corinthians, Acts

To Speak or not to Speak?

“The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” 1Corinthians 14:34

Why would Paul, who insisted that we are free from the law in the New Covenant, reference the law as the reason why women should be silent in the church? The motivation of all his ministry is explained to us just a few chapters earlier: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those under the Law, … so that I might win those who are under the Law; … I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” (1Corinthians 9:19-23)

The church in Corinth is reaching out to Jewish unbelievers. It is already difficult for unbelieving Jews to have women sitting alongside men in the same meeting; but to have them speaking would be so offensive to them they would have no chance to respond to Christ. Because Paul is concerned about reaching these people who are under the law, he puts the churches reaching them under the law, even though they aren’t under the law, so that they might win those under the law.

Acts 2 is about the freedom God has brought to both men and women through the gospel. (Acts 2:17-18)  1Corinthians 14 is a reminder that we live in culture and we need to honor culture so that we can win people to Christ. A few years ago one of my daughters went to Oman on a missions trip. While there, she always wore a dress in public with a head covering. Why? It wouldn’t have been illegal in that country to wear whatever she wanted, but her team was trying to reach unbelievers for Christ. Dishonoring the Muslim culture in Oman would have made it very difficult for the team to share Jesus. Once you offend someone, it’s hard for them to hear anything else you are saying.

Paul goes on to say in 1Corinthians 9 by saying, “to those without the law I become like those who do not have the law… so that I may win some.”  Do you think Paul would allow women to speak in church if he lived in 21st century America?

Posted in 1Corinthians, 2Corinthians

The Gospel Guarantee

“For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” 2Corinthians 5:4-5

The gospel guarantee for our bodies is resurrection when Jesus comes back, not physical healing in this present age. While healing is available now and should be prayed and believed for, the bigger plan for our bodies is that they be raised at Christ’s coming.

Our current bodies are referred to as tents – they are temporary. God has a redeemed, perfect body for us who believe that is permanent. “Now we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven.” (2Corinthians 5:1)  All physical healing now is evidence of the resurrection power that will one day raise our earthly bodies (whether we’ve died or are still alive) and give us the redeemed body that can’t be worn down or worn out. (See 1Corinthians 15:52)

In Jesus first coming, He secured forgiveness for our sins and peace for our souls. At His second coming, He will reverse the curse that causes our bodies to “waste away” in this present age. (2Corinthians 4:16) We need to live in our tents until we die, so I thank God for His power for us to be healed now, but it’s really important that we don’t guarantee the wrong thing to people.

A dear friend at a former church was dying and on his deathbed started to doubt his salvation. He was such a brilliant, giving Christian, so I couldn’t understand why he was struggling at the time he most needed his faith. He explained: “If Jesus died for my sicknesses the same way He died for my sins, then how can I believe I’m forgiven if I’m not healed?”

Those of us who believe in healing need to be careful to not overreach in what we promise or we create confusion in those God loves. I told him that God loved him and Jesus died so that he could be forgiven and go to heaven whether he got physically healed or not. Physical healing now is available to be asked for but when it doesn’t happen, we thank God that a more complete healing is coming – our resurrection.

Posted in 1Corinthians, 1Thessalonians, 2Peter, John, Revelation

Two Very Different Judgments

“Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did good to a resurrection of life, those who committed evil to a resurrection of judgment.” John 5:28-29

Our souls go to heaven or hades when we die but our bodies are held by death until the second coming of Christ. Every human being that ever lived will receive a new body, of which their body on earth was a seed (it doesn’t matter if people were cremated or buried); and then will be judged by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The judgment of those who trusted Him as their Savior will be very different from those who rejected Him in three ways.

  1. The timing of the judgment. Those who trusted Christ will be raised first and that will begin at what is commonly known as the rapture of the church. Paul tells us that “..the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1Thessalonians 4:16-17) The second resurrection doesn’t happen until after the millennium: “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. (Revelation 20:13)
  2. In what is being judged. Those who trusted Christ will not be judged for their sins – that judgment happened already on the cross. Jesus, in the text above, says their resurrection is to life, not judgment. However, believers will be judged for their works and 1Corinthians 3 says that some will have all their works burned up in the fire of God’s judgment, even though their souls will still be saved. The righteous are only judged to determine their rewards, not their salvation. Those who reject Christ will be judged for all their sins. They chose to pay their own penalty, so they will. 
  3. The kind of body received. The righteous are raised immortal and their new bodies are imperishable. (1Corinthians 15:42) Those who reject Christ are given a new body but it is perishable like the one they had on earth. Jesus says they will perish – John 3:16; Paul says they will perish – 1Corinthians 1:18; and Peter says they will “perish like the beasts.” (2Peter 2:12)
Posted in 1Corinthians, John, Matthew

Knowing in Part

“Now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” 1Corinthians 13:12b

I’ve seen a great evil in the body of Christ that has plagued the church throughout the ages. Those who know in part often presume they know fully and so divide themselves from other Christians who don’t see things exactly their way.

Jesus prayed in John 17:17 that we would be sanctified (set apart) by the truth and then defined truth for us: “Your word is truth.” The word of God was given to set us apart from the corrupt value system, perspective, and ungodliness of this present age, so that we would reflect God and His ways in the darkness of this world.

Christians have taken the word that was given to separate or divide us from the world’s system, and instead used it to divide the body of Christ. In the very chapter that Jesus prayed we would be sanctified, He also prays that the Father would make us one. The result of this oneness, He said, would be that the world would believe in Jesus.

Instead of accepting each other, the body of Christ is often found rejecting each other on things that aren’t essential to the gospel. Pride makes us “strain at gnats and swallow camels.” (Matthew 23:24) There are essential truths that unite us and divide us from the world and these need to be embraced with a passion we are willing to die for: the authority of Scripture; Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world; the gospel calls all people to repent and put their trust in Christ for salvation; Christians are called to love God and love people; everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and go irreversibly to heaven or hell. Even these clear truths in the word of God are only known in part, yet Christians through all the ages have established these as essentials that define one as a Christian.

Matters like communion, baptism, how the second coming will unfold, how predestination is defined, spiritual gifts, the age of the earth, etc. are all examples of issues that sincere believers disagree as to how the Bible should be interpreted. You probably have an opinion on every one of these topics and you more than likely think you’re right. (If you didn’t it wouldn’t be your opinion) Yet, we need to hold these opinions with humility or our attitude can end up bringing division to the church instead of the unity that Jesus prayed for.

Posted in 1Corinthians

Spiritual Gifts

“Pursue love and earnestly desire spiritual gifts.” 1Corinthians 14:1

Part of God’s increased Presence among us is the manifestation of spiritual gifts. God wants us to love people so much that we want more for them than what is humanly possible.  He wants us to desire what only He can do for them.

In 2013, I was on a team that went to Belize and was in charge of a “Healing Service” we had announced. Before the service, a group of us were praying and earnestly desiring spiritual gifts. The only way it would actually be a healing service was if God did something beyond our preaching and praying. Only Jesus heals!

As we were worshiping, I had a dim picture in my mind’s eye of a woman holding an infant on her hip accompanied by a feeling of compassion. I asked for more, and somehow instantly knew two facts about this woman: she was a mom, but old enough to be a grandma, and she had a horrible back problem that made every day miserable.

At the end of the service I asked whoever this was to come forward, and it turned out to be our missionary, Linda. Her and her husband, Ron, had grandchildren but also had an infant they had adopted. Linda’s back was so bad she was afraid to sit down because she didn’t know when she’d be able to get up again. When we laid hands on her, Jesus instantly healed her so she gave testimony to the group. (She was still healed the rest of the week and three months later when she came to our mission’s conference!)

Then I asked our team if God was showing them anything. One of our leaders said he saw someone’s right arm in an x-ray and there was a crack in the bone. A young man named John came up and was instantly healed by the power of God. I found out his story from his mom a few days later when we were taking a bus to a region-wide prayer event.

John was 24 and had fallen away from God and the church. His mom kept begging him to come back to church, so he made a deal with her – “You stop nagging me and I will go back one time.” John had an ongoing problem with his right arm, so this was the service she chose.

I was stunned by her story of his healing and told her I’d love to talk to John himself about it. She said that would be easy because he was on the bus heading to the prayer meeting! God hadn’t just healed his arm; He had restored John’s faith.