Unity in the Church

1 Corinthians 1:10: I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

The Apostle Paul founded many churches in major cities from the Holy Land across the Mediterranean world. He would arrive in a town, preach the gospel message, encourage and develop the faith of those who accepted Christ, and then he would move on to the next town. Paul didn’t abandon the churches that he helped to start. Instead, he communicated to them by writing letters. These letters from Paul comprise a significant part of our New Testament. Sometimes the letters were positive and affirming. And there were instances, when Paul had to correct or rebuke a church in practical matters or teachings.

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul is writing to the church because of a concern about potential divisions in their fellowship. Some of the people claim to only follow Paul; others say they follow only the teachings of Cephas (Peter), while several claim that Apollos is their leader. Apparently, Apollos is a gifted speaker and people are drawn to him. And there are some in the church who declare that they only follow Christ. 

Paul’s response is to the point: As followers of Christ, the church should be “united,” with “no divisions.” The church should be “perfectly united in mind and thought,” so that the gospel message can be truly proclaimed. Paul wants the church at Corinth to follow and obey Christ. As a believer and follower of Christ, your allegiance should be to Christ, not to earthly teachers or leaders. Paul wants the church at Corinth to understand that Christ should be the focal point of their devotion.

I have been in churches where disagreement and division were common. As I was growing up, I can remember many heated quarrels on matters that were simply not important to the mission of the church. So much time was wasted on these nonessential concerns that the work of being the body of Christ in the world suffered. The church failed to be a proper witness for Christ to those who didn’t know Christ.

The last fifteen years, I have been a member of a congregation that does not spend a lot of unnecessary time arguing over things that are not of eternal value. Sure, we get off track and waste time on matters that are trivial. However, at any committee or deacon meeting where there is disagreement, there is almost always unity or agreement when a contested issue is decided. Even the people who vote against the issue seem to leave the meeting “united” in the one purpose of the church – which is proclaiming the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul makes it clear that proclaiming this good news is his most important task. His desire is to bring people that are lost into a relationship with Jesus Christ. And even though Paul is a “preacher,” he is quick to say that the words he speaks should not be considered “eloquent wisdom” (1 Cor. 1: 17). Paul wants the focus and credit to belong solely to Christ, the head of the Church.

I often contemplate how more effective our churches would be today if, like Paul, we could check our egos and focus on doing the work that Christ has called us to do. When a church is united in its purpose it becomes a powerful witness to the outside world. Paul says, “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor. 1: 31).

Leaning on God

 

Tonight as I write this blog, I find myself needing to draw close to God. I am aware of just how holy and powerful God is. As believers, we serve a God that created this world that we live in and also each one of us. “The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it” (Psalm 89:11). “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:13-14).

When I feel that I am alone in my struggles, I turn to this passage, which serves to remind me that God is watching over me. “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord” (Psalm 139: 1-4). It encourages and strengthens me to know that God is aware of me and watching over me.

When you feel overwhelmed with anxiety and worry, turn to God who can give you peace. This world that we live in cannot offer the peace that flows freely from our heavenly father. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Allow the peace of Christ and the peace of God to wash away your worries and doubts.

Are you struggling with disappointment? Have things not worked out the way you have planned or hoped for? Sometimes God says no and we must understand that it is for our own good that it happened that way. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

We often think that our problems are impossible to solve and we allow this world that we live in to beat us down. Many times we attempt to solve our problems with our limited understanding and we end up making our situation even worse. Trust in God to solve your problems and to guide you in the direction that you should go. Proverbs 3: 5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Luke 18:27: Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

The Apostle Paul reminds us that nothing can separate us from God’s love. As I think about this passage from Romans, my strength and faith is continually renewed. Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

May the peace of Christ be with you!

God of the Impossible

Mark 9: 17-24
A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”

The Bible is filled with many accounts of God doing the impossible. Abraham and Sarah did not believe that it was possible for God to allow them to conceive a child in their old age. Moses could not imagine how God could use him, a man who was “slow of speech and tongue,” to become a leader and bring God’s people out of Egypt (Exodus 2:10). And when the angel Gabriel announced to the virgin Mary that she would give birth to Jesus, Mary asked, “How will this be?” The angel Gabriel replied, “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:34-37).

I know that some of you who read this are struggling with a situation in your life that feels impossible to solve. Worry, doubt, and fear prevent you from looking beyond your circumstances and believing that with God, all things are possible. Instead of trying to face this problem on you own, have faith in God and pray. Ask God for more faith to overcome your doubts. Confess to God that you can’t face your difficulties on your own power. Pray that God will show you a way out, and for the peace and comfort of God to sustain you, until your burdens are lifted.

The disciples of Jesus could not heal a boy that was possessed by a demon. They came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Jesus replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:19-21). Even the disciples, who saw Jesus perform many miracles, struggled with their faith. Be encouraged that you are not alone in your moments of doubt. Have faith and trust in God. Know that we serve a God who deals in possibilities not impossibilities. Nothing is impossible for God!

Ephesians 3:20: Now to him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

You Are What You Think

Romans 12: 1-2: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

1 Peter 1:13-16: Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Ephesians 4:22-24: You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

I find myself wanting more and more to control what my children are exposed to through the internet and television. My youngest daughter loves the game of basketball so we have been watching the NBA Finals this past week on television. I have been dismayed at the commercials that have been aired throughout these telecasts. Beer commercials are prevalent of course, along with those ads that promote sex, violence, and the constant glorification of the modern day athlete. I lost count of how many times I changed the channel during most every commercial break so that my daughter would not be exposed to these types of ads. As a parent, I certainly can’t control everything that she is exposed to but I most definitely can teach her how to fill her mind with things that are good.

Even churches today feel the pressure and give in to what society deems acceptable. They allow worldly obsessions and ideas to infiltrate the life of the church. They figure that it’s just too difficult a task to constantly fight against the culture of our day and so they give up. When the church, created to be set apart from the world, gives in to the desires of popular culture, it becomes an ineffective witness to living a good and holy Christian life.

The church today must strive to better communicate to believers, the battle that is being waged over the thoughts of the mind. We must live, as Paul would say, as “citizens of heaven,” instead of lovers of this world.” Satan is the ruler of this world and he will stop at nothing to pollute the minds of believers and divert their thoughts away from God. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:1-2).

Paul, in writing to the church at Ephesus, plainly tells them, as a believer and follower of Christ, your mind has been transformed. The thoughts and the impure desires of the “old self” are to be abandoned for the “new self,” that is being constantly being transformed and created to think pure thoughts. “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3).

I encourage you to actively work at changing the attitude of your mind, by keeping your thoughts and your mind fixed upon God, and those things which are pure. The Apostle Peter challenges us to “prepare our minds for action.” We must take responsibility for our impure thoughts and we must challenge ourselves to focus on the things of God which are good and worthwhile. Satan is waging a war for control of our minds. As followers of Christ, we must be aware of that and strive to overcome those forces of evil that desperately want to destroy both mind and body.

Colossians 3:1-4: Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

“Yes” to Christ, “No” to the World

Titus 2:11-14(NIV): For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

As followers of Christ, we live in a world that is constantly striving to shift our focus away from God to worldly things. Advertisements try to get us to believe that we are not successful if we don’t drive the latest model car or wear the most fashionable designer clothes. The society that we live in tells us that our self- worth is directly related to the size of our house or the impressive list of people that we know and socialize with. Many unbelievers and believers try to fit into the mold or image that society deems important. As followers of the risen Christ, we are warned about craving worldly pleasures or possessions that keep us from a growing relationship with Christ.

Are there things in your life that are preventing you from cultivating a deeper relationship with Christ? I’m not suggesting that you can’t enjoy fun things in life because you certainly can and should. I enjoy sports, especially University of Georgia football and basketball, and also Atlanta Braves baseball. Most mornings, I will usually check the box score of the Braves game the night before to see how my favorite players performed. 

The morning is my time of day when I enjoy reading the Bible as I am drinking my coffee and trying to wake up. However, some mornings as I am looking at the sports or news websites, time slips away. Before I realize it, it’s time to get ready to leave for work and I haven’t read my Bible as much as I would have liked. I constantly have to work at resisting the temptation to not open my Bible and spend that significant time on something else. Fortunately for me, spending quiet time with God, as I pray and read my Bible, is what gets me through most days. I realize that I can’t “do life” without God’s presence and guidance.

Jesus promised those of us who believe in him, the Holy Spirit, who will enable us to resist the temptations of this world, and draw us into a closer relationship with Christ. If you believe in Christ, you have the gift of the Holy Spirit within you, to guide you as you seek to remain in Christ every moment of every day.

As followers of Christ we should strive to live good, upright lives that reflect our faith and belief in God. We have a hope that is not of this world, for we look forward to the “appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Say “no” to the world and “yes” to following Christ.

God is with you!

 

Haggai 2:4-5: But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

The Jewish remnant returned to Judah from captivity in Babylon and they were attempting to rebuild the temple. Work on the temple had started but was delayed for sixteen years as the people failed to trust in God and struggled with disobedience. Finally the prophet Haggai spoke God’s word to the people and gave them a reassuring message from God. “Be strong, work, for I am with you, my Spirit remains among you, do not fear” (Haggai 2:4-5). God assured the people that He would provide for them and be with them as they worked to rebuild the temple. The people were afraid to take that first step of faith, and to trust that God would be with them, as they carried out His plan in the midst of those opposed to God.

Often, we allow fear to overcome us as we step into situations that attempt to control us or seem to overwhelm us. During times like these we must remember to call upon God – because He is with us in all circumstances. God is present with us as we come face to face with the trials and difficulties of life. Fear does not have a place in our life of faith if we trust that God is with us in all situations.

Whatever God is calling you to do in your walk of faith remember that God is with you. Be strong and rely on God’s Spirit to guide you in whatever God is prompting you to do. Trust in God’s presence and believe that He will give you whatever you lack so that you can follow His direction for your life. If God is calling you to do something for His kingdom, answer Him. Ask God to lead you and then follow Him. God is always with you, don’t doubt in His presence and glorious power.

Living a Holy Life

1 Peter 1:13-16(NIV): Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

1 Peter 2: 11-12(NIV): Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means for Christians to live “good lives.” How do we live out our life of faith in a world that does not glorify God? As believers, we have a decision to make. Will we lead lives that reflect our faith and God’s guidance in our lives? Or will we only give lip service to our beliefs and surrender ourselves to the desires of this world that we live in?

The apostle Peter tells us that our minds must be “alert and fully sober.” We must constantly be aware of the sinful lures of this world so that we can overcome enticing thoughts and actions before we act on them. We all have sinful desires that attempt to pull us away from God and prevent us from leading a life that is a witness to our faith. Overcoming these desires is crucial for our own soul but it is also important if we desire to be an effective witness for Christ. Our lives should reflect the degree to which God’s forgiveness and mercy has changed us. Our witness then, becomes living a life that demonstrates to unbelievers how our faith and belief in God has changed us.

An acquaintance of mine once told me that she had been observing how I led my life as a Christian. To be honest, that scared me. I immediately started thinking about the times that this lady has seen me act in a way that was not consistent with my faith. She told me that she was not a believer but she wanted to know more about my faith because she could sense just how important our faith was to our family. She passed away a few years later but not before coming to accept Christ as her Lord and Savior. This is precisely what Peter is referring to when he urges believers to lead holy lives because you never know who is watching. In this case, someone who didn’t know God was watching and she saw that my actions matched my words. There are times when my actions don’t correspond to my beliefs, so I constantly pray to God that he will strengthen me to lead a life that always reflects my faith.

The Apostle Peter writes, ‘But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”’ I don’t know about you but I am uncomfortable being called holy. It sounds like someone who never makes mistakes or is somehow above sin. Holy means to be set apart or to belong to God. Being holy is living in a unified relationship with Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

As followers of Christ today, we face many sinful desires which “wage war against your soul.” I believe that the forces of evil are constantly waging war against Christians so that our witness will be weakened or ineffective. It’s time that believers live out a life of faith that shows the world that we are set apart from the sin of this world. The way we live our lives will reflect who we are and who we truly follow. Our choice is this: Do we give in to the sinful desires of this world, or do we try to lead holy lives that reflect the love, mercy and forgiveness of our loving God and our Savior, Jesus Christ?