The Limits of God
(I Corinthians 10:1-13)
It seems that spiritual pride was one of the major problems faced by the church at Corinth. Several times Paul has confronted these Corinthian Christians with this issue. In this text, the apostle to the Gentiles reminds his readers that, no matter what their spiritual heritage, they will still face judgment for sin if they ignore God’s will–and God will allow them to do that.
I. God Limits Himself in the Trials We Bear
The little boy watching television said to his mother, “I wish God was as strong as Superman.” The shocked mother tried to correct him, but the child reasserted his point: “Superman makes people be good, God only wants them to be good.”
In order for mankind to have freedom God must place some limits on His own power. This self-limitation is often a source of great difficulty when we suffer the circumstances of life, which often arises from our own actions.
When a parent flies with children the instructions of the steward or stewardess are clear. “Should we suffer a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead compartments. Please extend the tube to its full length and place the mask over your face as demonstrated. Parents, please place your oxygen mask over your face first, then another over your child’s face.” Why not cover your child first? It is possible to faint because of oxygen starvation, and a parent could not help a child if the parent passed out while struggling to put an oxygen mask on the child.
If God took care of all our needs for us–managed all of our actions–we would no longer be free, and He would no longer be the God we know in Scripture.
II. God Also Limits the Trials We Bear
It may not seem so when life is tumbling in on us, but God limits the burdens of the day according to the capacity of our relationship with Him. That last qualifier is important, because we cannot say God will not allow us to be pushed beyond our limits; we all know those who reached the edge and resorted to suicide or lost the capacity to function normally. The truth of the Gospel is that the burdens of life are shared with God and with the body of Christ as we struggle.
That is the undefeatable strength: the everlasting love of God and the care exhibited in and by His church. (SNW)
(II Corinthians 5:16-21)
Sometimes we have trouble with other people. “I love humanity; it’s just people I can’t stand” is the cry of more than one of us! The Gospel call is for people to enlarge their vision of life and include the rest of God’s family in their relationships. The problem is: the difficulties we are experiencing may hide the problems of others from us.
I. Our Experience Can Hide Others From Our View
Robert Baker, in his book, Tell the Generations Following, told the story of the difficult early years of Southwestern Baptist Seminary. Money was scarce and there were months that professors were not paid. B. H. Carroll, founder and first president, wrote letters to several pastors and friends. The letter was to the point: “I’m up a tree. Can your fine men help me?” Frank Gomer, pastor of First Baptist Church, Stamford, Texas, replied: “I’m in a hole. I must call my fine men together to raise $14,000 to pay a pressing debt on our building. How can a man in a hole help a man up a tree?” With characteristic humor and insight, Carroll write back: “When you come up the tree to help me down, you will be out of your hole.”
Sometimes we allow our own problems to obscure a world in need all around us.
II. The Task of the Church is to Care
One of the seven deadly sins identified by the church was sloth. The danger of this sin is simply not to care. That is also one of the greatest problems in our churches today–we are too busy, too unaware, too involved to care.
Churches have developed identities according to the tasks they have focused on. Some are strong in evangelism, others in education and so on. Yet what people judge first about a church is the way it cares. They put it in terms of temperature: it is a “cold” church or a “warm” church. The indelible impression we leave on the world is how we care.
III. In Order to Care We Must Risk
There are several instances when Jesus ministered to people with leprosy. It was a frightening disease then, and was so as late as the 1960’s in the U.S. Chaplain Ray McPhearson told of working with patients at the U.S. Public Hospital in Carrville, LA, a hospital specializing in treatment of Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy. The disease can be arrested for life and is not nearly as contagious as once thought, but vestiges of the fear surrounding leprosy still linger. Shopkeepers have been known to refuse to take money from patients.
One man, his fingers gnarled and twisted from the disease, refused to shake hands with the chaplain. When pressed for a reason, he told of an experience from his past. The patient traveled home for a visit, went to visit one of his best friends and offered his hand to say hello. This friend reluctantly shook hands, then took out a handkerchief and wiped his hands. Said the patient, “I swore I would never experience that again.”
The amazing thing about Jesus is that he touched the lepers. He cared enough to risk, and we must be willing to risk as well if we are to show His love. (SNW)
Pressing: Toward What?
Paul must have been familiar with athletics. He spoke of the effort involved in the struggle of life. The question we face in our complex lives today is, “What are we striving for?”
I. Evaluation is a Natural Part of Covenant Life
Unless there is a time of evaluation–close inspection and openness to an objective look at our lives–we can live in the closed, subjective realm of self and never come close to understanding where we are going in life.
Tom Conley tells of times that his family sets aside for self-assessment. “We write family covenants. Several times a year we sit down and see if our needs are being met and if the covenant needs to be rewritten. This time has been significant for us all and has given us a discipline for caring for one another. Most of us need a reminder that we have agreed to do something and how we need to fulfill that covenant.” (from “A Time for Assessment.” 3/20/83)
II. Evaluation Reminds Us of the Hidden Forces in Our Lives
We are often driven by the unconscious behaviors learned in our past. They become so ingrained that we are seldom aware of them. Carlyle Marney said, “There are a cellar set of drives from behind us. The unconscious is relevant, some days dominant, and most days determinative.” We can do things that have no real meaning except that they are part of our past.
A young bride was to cook a ham dinner for her husband. Before baking the ham, she cut off both ends. He asked why and she answered, “I don’t know; Mom always did it that way.” He asked his mother-in-law about this strange practice, and she likewise replied, “Well, I don’t know. I just remember mother did it like that.” Finally he contacted his bride’s grandmother and asked her why she cut off both ends of the ham before baking. “Well, it’s simple,” she answered. “My baking pan is too small for a full-size ham, so I cut off the ends so it will fit!”
Mature Christian living invites us to evaluate our progress in the Christian life and calls us to consider why we do things as we do. Are we pressing toward the high calling of Christ-likeness? (SNW)
Why Did He Come?
One question we must ask every Palm Sunday is, “Why did He come?” Part of the tragedy of Holy Week is the incredible turn of the emotions of the people who hailed Jesus as the Messiah in the beginning and cried for His crucifixion in the end.
I. We Are Frustrated by Failed Expectations of God
We are often like the folks on the road to Jerusalem; we expect God to act according to our wishes. Our demand for “most-favored” treatment is crushed when we suffer tragedies. Many times as Christians we wonder why we experience difficulties.
We must focus on the fact that the way of Jesus is the way of the cross. A Chinese tale told of a woman whose only son died. She went to the holy man and asked that the son be restored to life or, if not, that she be given the strength to bear the burden of his loss. The holy man did not give her a philosophy but a task. He told her to travel the land looking for a mustard seed from a home that had never experienced sorrow. Instead, at each house she learned of their sorrows. Asking herself, “Who can better help these people through their sorrow than I?,” she stayed until they were comforted. As she journeyed and found place after place with hurting people, she stayed and helped. She soon forgot her original task, for she found she no longer was consumed by her own sorrow. Her self-giving had helped bring healing to her own life.
II. We Are Frustrated by Failed Expectations of Self
If you could ask people on the street, “If you had the power to change anything about yourself, would you?,” you’d likely hear long discourses of self-degradation. We have expectations for ourselves that border on perfection. Being able to accept ourselves, warts and all, is one of life’s greatest tasks. Jesus was able to face the final hours of his life because He had nothing to prove to Himself; He had committed His life to the Father’s business.
Bernard of Clairvaux set forth four stages of Christian maturity, the first is “love of self for self’s sake.” This is the infantile, self-centered stage we have all experienced. The second is “love of God for self’s sake.” This is the place where we expect of God what we think is best for us. The third stage is “love of God for God’s sake.” This is the goal of all praise and worship: that God will be glorified for His own pleasure. This is seen by many as the ultimate in religious expression, but Bernard offered a fourth stage that surprises those of us who have thought self-degradation is part of piety. The last stage is “love of self for God’s sake.” This radical insight from the 13th century could replace all the self-serving self-help books in the land. To understand that we are the Father’s and it is His pleasure that we love ourselves and become all that He would desire for us is a high goal.
Jesus did not know all that lay before Him as he entered Jerusalem. He was willing to go in the confidence that this was His hour, that He was capable of fulfilling it, and that His life was to be a sacrifice for us. It is that self-giving that makes Holy Week special for each of us. (SNW)
March 30–Easter Sunday
Does It Matter?
(I Corinthians 14:12-26)
Easter is a time of great joy in the Christian community, as we celebrate the resurrection of Christ from the grave. Yet does it really matter? Does it make a difference in your life and mine? Paul answers with a ringing “Yes!”
I. It Matters Because It Validates Our Faith (v. 14)
Paul was dealing with some in Corinth who denied any after-life or resurrection. Paul insisted that if Christ was not raised our faith is in vain. Why is it so essential?
1. Because it proves that truth is stronger than falsehood. Jesus’ enemies sought his death to silence His teaching of God’s truth. If they had succeeded in silencing Him, falsehood would have triumphed over truth.
When Andrew Melville was called before the Scottish authorities and threatened with hanging because of his preaching, he replied: “It is the same to me whether I rot in the air or in the ground, yet it does not lie in your power to hang or exile truth!”
2. Because it proves that good is stronger than evil. Jesus’ resurrection shows that, no matter how much evil battles against good, it can never ultimately triumph.
3. Because it proves that life is stronger than death. If Jesus had remained within the grave, it would have proven that death can take the best of life and finally break it.
During the Second World War, a London church was preparing to celebrate the harvest season, and at the center of a display was a sheaf of corn. The celebration was never held, for that night an air raid laid the church in ruins. Months went by, and in the spring people noticed shoots of green in the rubble. They grew through the summer, and that fall a flourishing patch of corn stood where the church once had. Not even the bombs could destroy all the life in that place. So the resurrection shows that life is stronger than death.
II. It Matters Because It Assures Forgiveness of Sin (v. 17)
As Christians, our assurance of salvation and forgiveness of sin is staked on the resurrection of Jesus. Without it, there is no effective remedy for dealing with sin. (Romans 4:24-25)
Mental health officials tell us that guilt is a plague that affects millions. People can’t deal with it, and it destroys countless lives. Yet through the death and resurrection of Christ, God dealt with sin and guilt once and for all. Through Him we can be justified–set right before God. What greater Easter gift could there be than to know that you have been forgiven, set right with God?
III. It Matters Because It Assures Us of Life to Come (v. 18-22)
It is likely that many of the Christian converts in Corinth had been influenced by Stoic or Epicurean philosophies, which rejected any notion of life after death. Paul countered that, if this be true, then those who suffered and died for their faith had died in vain.
Because Christ arose, we know that we too can be with God for eternity. Apart from Christ, any idea of life beyond the grave is mere speculation. Our hope is based on the historical event of His resurrection.
IV. It Matters Because It Calls Us to Decision
If Christ did rise, if He has been exalted to the right hand of the Father, then His claims on our lives call us to decision. Forgiveness and eternal life are possible only if we accept them. It does matter that Christ arose. It matters also how you and I respond to Him today. (JMD)
The Result of the Resurrection
Have you ever seen a “before and after” advertisement? We see a photograph of some poor soul before they began using product X, then see a picture of the same person after using the product: alive, dynamic, ready to conquer the world.
That’s what happened to Jesus’ disciples as a result of His resurrection. Just see them on Good Friday–fearful, scattering, even denying their involvement with Jesus–and compare that with the days following the resurrection. They would boldly proclaim their Lord, endure beatings, prison, even death. What made the difference?
I. They Were Filled With Power
As Jesus appeared to them that evening in the upper room, He filled them with the Holy Spirit, foreshadowing the power they would experience on Pentecost.
You may hand me a copy of Hamlet and tell me to write a play just like Shakespeare, but it would be useless. I can’t do that. It is just as useless to hand me a New Testament and tell me to live like Jesus–I can’t do it in my own power. But if somehow you could bring the spirit and mind of Shakespeare to live in me, then I could write like him. So it is with Christ coming to live in you and me through the Holy Spirit; He lives His life through us. Because of His resurrection, He is able to live in us if we will yield our lives to Him.
II. They Were Forgiven
There is tremendous power and freedom in forgiveness. One of the great gifts of God through Christ is the ability to have our sin lifted through His forgiveness.
All of their fears and betrayal were forgiven as Christ reclaimed these disciples for His service. Even Thomas’ doubts were forgiven. There was room in the Kingdom work for all of them, no matter what they had said and done.
It can be that way for you and me as well. All the guilt and shame can be washed away in His forgiving love, replaced with God’s power and purpose in our lives. That’s the miraculous result of the resurrection. (JMD)
The Reluctant Witness
I have always been intrigued by the name Ken Chafin used to describe the character Ananias in his book, The Reluctant Witness. In the story of Paul’s conversion, he stands out as an unsung hero. Without his faithfulness and willingness to obey God despite the risk, the story of the church might have been much different.
Ananias was a man with good reason for reluctance. Saul had come to Damascus to attack people just like him; now God was telling him to go help a man who came to town to put him in prison-or worse. Little did Ananias know the channel of blessing he would be to centuries of God’s people.
I. People Need to Know Jesus
Paul was religious, educated … and lost. He sought to please God through his own actions, until Jesus stopped him on the road to Damascus. There comes a time when each of us must stop and, instead of saying “What do I want to do?” or even “What do I want to do for God?,” start saying, “What does God want me to do?” That’s what salvation means: claiming Christ as Lord, giving Him control of our lives.
Just as Paul needed to know Christ, so do people all around us today. Since that is true …
II. We Must Tell Them
God gave Ananias a task: “go be my witness to Saul.” He had good reason to avoid the task–“You may not know this, Lord, but that Saul is out to get us. It might not be too healthy to go see him, if you know what I mean. How about letting me just pass out a few tracts or something?”–but when God told him to go, he went. Despite his fears, he trusted God and obeyed.
God also calls on us to share a witness for Him with a world in need. God does not hold you responsible for all of the more than two billion people around the globe who do not know Him as Lord and Savior–but He does hold you and I responsible for those who are around us. People need to know Christ, and we must tell them, because …
III. When We Do, Great Things Happen
When we are willing to surrender to God’s will and become an instrument of His work, He can do tremendous things in and through us–no matter how reluctant we may have been.
Ananias put his fears behind him and went to Saul. Verse 20 tells the exciting result: right away Paul became a proclaimer of the Gospel. Paul would become the apostle to the Gentiles, going through the ancient world to reach people for Christ. And his spiritual pilgrimage began with an ordinary Christian who was willing to do something extraordinary for God.
One day two men were walking through Boston during a period when Dwight L. Moody’s crusades were reaching thousands. One pointed to a man on the street and told his companion: “That man is responsible for more people coming to Christ than Dwight L. Moody.” The second man said it was impossible, but the first went on. “It’s true,” he said. “You see, he’s the man who led Moody to the Lord.” What a glory it is to be used to lead another person to Christ, for you never know what God is going to do through your faithfulness. (JMD)
A Man After God’s Heart
(Acts 13:15-33; focus, v. 22)
As Paul preaches in the synagogue in Antioch, he begins reciting from the history of Israel. When he comes to David, he describes the great king with a unique phrase: God calls him “a man after my own heart.”
What a great goal for the Christian: to become a man or woman after God’s heart, like David. But do we have the “right stuff” like the hero of Israel? In I Samuel 16, we read that no one else seemed to think David was special; his own father nearly forgot about him out in the fields. Ever felt like that–like you’ve been forgotten? You’re in good company.
But God didn’t forget David–and He hasn’t forgotten you. God is looking for folks like David who have the right stuff inside-who will give themselves to His service–men and women after God’s heart. What was it that made David that kind of person?
I. He Was Sensitive to the Things of God
David sought to live his life in harmony with God. He didn’t always succeed, but the desire of his heart was to serve God. II Chronicles 16:9 says God is looking for people whose hearts belong to Him. Are you at that point in your life–willing to let God direct you, instead of trying to direct Him; willing to bring changes in lifestyle that will honor Him.
II. He Had a Servant Mentality
David was willing to be a servant before he was allowed to be a king. (Psalm 89:20; 78:70) He willingly, faithfully carried out the most menial, least desirable job in the household–that of shepherd–because he was willing to serve.
We aren’t too much into service in the 80’s. We’re more into conspicuous consumption, and finding excellence at work and at home. Even within the church there are usually more volunteers for deacon or elder than for teaching (and cleaning up after) a class of four-year-olds.
How strange to us, then, are the words of Jesus, who said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” To be a man or woman after God’s own heart, we must be willing to adopt a servant mentality.
III. He Was a Person of Integrity
Psalm 78:72 tells us of David’s integrity in carrying out his responsibilities. Integrity is what you are when nobody’s looking. It’s how you do when you’re all alone in the fields, and no one is there to check up on you or know if you take the lazy way out.
All alone in the fields, what difference does it make? It makes a difference to God, because it reflects what we really are inside. In the obscurity of the flocks God was preparing David to be king of Israel. That’s where God trains us for the big jobs–in the quiet, out-of-the-way places where we think no one notices or cares. (JMD)
Right, Yet Wrong
John tells us that the proof of Christian discipleship is love; as the chorus says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” In other words, the quality of our Christian life is shaped by the quality of our relationships.
I. We Must Have Right Relationships With Others
We can’t be antagonistic or apathetic toward others and be right in our relationship with God. If God offered you a contract pledging to treat you throughout eternity the way you treat your worst enemy right now, would you want to sign?
II. We Must Have Right Relationships With Fellow Christians
The first-century church was a tightly-knit group of believers. They were like a family–supporting, sharing, giving to assist one another.
It is meaningless to have correct doctrine yet have wrong attitudes toward fellow Christians. That combination creates a bitter, narrow spirit that dishonors Christ. The badge of the Christian is not perfect attendance or contribution levels or a heaven-sent theology; it is love for one another.
III. Our Relationship to God Is the Key
If we are in a wrong relationship with God, we cannot be right with others inside or outside of the church.
In II Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul tells us that God comforts us that we might comfort others in the same way. If it seems that God is not blessing your life as He once did, or as you know He can, could it be that you have stopped sharing that blessing with others? Have you become like a pool of water with no place for the water to flow out: stagnant, dead?
There can be no right relationship with God until we are willing to give of ourselves in loving service to others. (JMD)