“Becoming Great”

Mark 10:41-43  Now when the other ten disciples heard about this, they became angry with James and John. Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the ones who are considered the rulers by the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant.

There have been may times that something I have said has made another person, or even a group of people, angry or upset. I have gotten upset over words from another person (hearing a voice or via written message). We can easily allow what people say to upset us and let our emotions determine how we act.

This is how I imagine the disciples mindset at this point in time. I cannot blame them for feeling the way do at this point. It is easy to understand what might be going through their minds at this point. If they would have taken time to talk with James and John, would they have gotten angry? Would they be able to understand the brothers’ background and meet them where they were? Did the other ten disciples want to have the same position of greatness and were angry because they did not ask first?

I wonder if James and John understood why the other disciples were angry.

Jesus teaches his disciples about true greatness. He tells them that earthly position and authority are fragile. We should not strive to gain earthly recognition, but to strive for the glory of God.

To live for the glory of God means we live our life for something bigger than we are. When we do this, we become more humble. Becoming more humble means we begin to be a servant rather than a master. It seems backwards. Becoming a servant to become great. I think this makes good sense when we think about it. We cannot just jump to becoming an owner, we have to work for it. We have to be able to do the lowliest tasks in order to become ready for the bigger tasks.

“Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant.”

Get ‘Em

James 5:19-20 “My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”

James has been a great series to be in for this month. The ending is not what we might consider “normal.” After all, what has James been doing the entire letter up until these verses? Getting the community of faith to live their lives in the manner they speak and worship.

There have been ups and downs, as with all aspects of human life. Living to a higher standard, is difficult. It is possible to try and live a decent life through good works; but it is because of our faith and living out our faith are the works we do elevated to give God glory.

Prayer is a communication between man and God and God and man. This is one of the most powerful things we can do in our lives. When people get together as a community and pray, souls are aligned. This is one reason I believe Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” (Matthew 18:20). There is just something special and powerful when we get together as a community.

There are times when there is a rift, a division within the community of faith and a person has abandoned the faith. People will run off and do there own things. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that he handed people over to Satan for their benefit so they would come back to God anew. When someone decides to walk away, James says to go get them!

Now, we do not go bring them back so numbers will be higher, or giving will increase. We go because God desires all people to have a saving knowledge of Him. We grow in our faith because of the community of faith we are part of. If a person walks away, it becomes easy to hold on to the parts of our life we are ashamed of. We miss out on the opportunity to take the burden off our hearts and confess sins, confess wrong doings.

Confession, repentance and forgiveness is something powerful that we cannot ignore. Going to get people who walk away, or who have never known the faith helps us maintain relationships and walk with people through their hurts, their joys, their life.

Who do you believe God is leading you to go get?

Individual yet Collective

Romans 12:4 In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. 

Being part of a group, yet retaining our identity is important to us. We all would like to leave our mark in the world, yet remain part of a group fellowship. From the beginning of Romans 12, the Apostle Paul is helping his readers understand it is important to be different from the world but remain in the world and use the gifts that God has given to make a difference around us.

If we read this verse in the context of the passage we’re looking at this week, we can get a broader sense of how we can work together even with our different gifts and show the love and glory of God.

Romans 12:3-8 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.

So, what stands out to you? I think it is incredible how we can and do have different gifts and talents; but we are still part of the same body. The piece that holds us together is God. We all have been given different gifts, but we are hopefully working toward the same goal, bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ.

I love this about the writing of Paul in this passage. Basically I hear that we have the opportunity to be in relationship with many types of people and work toward a common goal. We have the chance to show the mighty power of God in our individual lives, and in our lives in community.

God works in and through people. There is most likely something that God is leading you to do right now, but you are not alone. It may feel lonely at times but there is a whole faith community in Christ praying and working in other areas to show the good news of Jesus Christ and to bring his message to a world in desperate need of his love and grace.

It is because of our faith in Christ that we belong to each other. We are a family. This means that we are connected. I am not sure about you, but “In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.” is a huge challenge. We will want to work by ourselves, sometimes; but we have a responsibility to bring others in and work with them to share the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Who do you believe would make a good ministry partner for you? What gifts do they bring? What gifts should you personally nurture?

Cookie Cutters?

Romans 12:4 “We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us had the same function, same mindset, same gifts and talents as each other? Wouldn’t that make life easier? I know we say (and hopefully tease), “If only [insert name or group] would think (or act) just like me, then everything would be right.” After all, I am the one that is always right, correct?

Sometimes I believe we slip into the mindset and attitudes that it would be so much better if everyone else acted and thought just like we do. One of the beauties of the creativeness of God is how much diversity is out there for us to enjoy. Let’s be honest, we like diversity and can get a little bored of the same thing over and over. We like to make choices.

We are not all “cut out of the same mold.” We are all created individually with specific gifts, talents, interests, preferences, etc. This is one of the beautiful parts of our world – how much diversity there is. Yes, we all have differing gifts and talents. Yes, we live in different communities and countries. But I believe this shows the creativity of God.

What this tells me is that we are all part of the same “body.” I also think of this as community of faith or universal church. The body of Christ is the church here on earth. Each part of the body has different functions, and this is what makes the body work.

The challenge I think we have today is to think about the diversity there is around us and how we are really all (hopefully) working toward the same goal. There are people we do not agree with; but this is an opportunity to be thankful and praise God for their gifts and talents being used to build the Kingdom of God here on earth. You and I have a great part to play, even though we may have different functions.

God should be praised daily for the diversity.

Strengthened in Christ

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Colossians 1:9-14 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; and by giving thanks with joy to the Father. He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people. He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. He set us free through the Son and forgave our sins. 

Yesterday, we looked at the prayers that Paul was praying for people while he was in prison. He was filled with joy how God was working in the lives of the congregations he formed. As we continue with Colossians 1, we get to see more of Paul’s prayers for the people. He prays for those reading this letter to be strengthened by God. Who do you think is praying for you to be strengthened in your faith? Who should you pray for to increase in strength in their faith in God?

Why should we pray this? If we trust that God is working in people, we will be more attentive to their faith life and can be more encouraging in their walk with Jesus Christ. As we do this, we get to be the ones to walk with God alongside them to help them grow the seeds of God’s grace that will produce a fruit. This fruit will allow the person to do even more good works for the Kingdom of God.

Paul also makes a statement that, if just read quickly, can be missed. He says “so that you endure everything and have patience.” In this statement, Paul is saying that life is not going to be easy, but we can be strengthened by God to endure anything we go through. It will hurt at the time, but in the end we will be able to develop patience through life. What a great promise to hold on to. Imagine how much different the world would be if we allowed patience to develop in each of us and this fruit of the spirit takes over our lives!

For us to be strengthened in Christ means that we look to the light to guide our path. We seem to be more comfortable walking in the dark (doing things and traveling paths that actually lead away from Christ) than we are walking in the light (moving with and toward Jesus Christ with our lives). Why are we this way? It can be painful for our weaknesses and sins to be exposed to the light, but this is how God takes care of our sins. God brings them into the light so we can see what we need to do and how we should live a life that is worthy of Him.

We are set free from the paths that try to keep us in the dark; the paths that lead us away from Christ. The darkness creeps in and can make us believe lies and dark things about us. Letting the light in and moving toward the light really gives us the freedom to believe the best things about us because that is what God believes about you and I.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Praying in Confidence

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Ephesians 6:18-20 Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers. As for me, pray that when I open my mouth, I’ll get a message that confidently makes this secret plan of the gospel known. I’m an ambassador in chains for the sake of the gospel. Pray so that the Lord will give me the confidence to say what I have to say. 

Now we are getting toward the end of the book of Ephesians and Paul is shifting his focus on teaching the people to asking for prayers for himself and his ministry. Normally when we ask prayers for ourselves, we will ask about physical healing and for circumstances to improve. This was not the case for Paul. Not once does he ask to be free from the prison he’s been placed in or asking for people to pray for any physical limitation or condition he may have or may be going through. All he says is “Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time.”

Our lives should be constant prayer. We should have lives that reflect constant communication with God. What kinds of things should we pray for? We should pray for our situation and for God to be known through the situation. We should pray for healing: physical, emotional, spiritual, relational. We should pray for other people, our leaders, our family, our friends. We should pray for and about anything. Praying keeps our focus and attention on Christ and we are better able to see the world through His eyes than solely through our own eyes.

Paul asks for something unique, in a way, that he would like people to pray for. He doesn’t ask for his situation to be improved in the way that we might. He asks for the confidence to speak the message of Jesus Christ to any and all people he encounters – especially the guards. His life is in prison, at this point, and he is asking to be able to speak the peace of Christ to those who are guarding him and all those he is able to encounter.

So, who is it around you that needs to hear the message of Jesus Christ? Who is it that you will encounter that you will need the courage and confidence to speak the truth about Christ? The truth is all people need Christ. Many people just don’t know that’s who they need. Maybe there is a part of you that doesn’t feel confident enough in the gospel. This may be God reaching out to you right now to show you that He is with you and is giving you the confidence and the words to speak when they are necessary. The only “magic formula” for presenting the gospel to others is trusting in the power of Jesus Christ to help give you the words and equip you at the time you need it.

The power of the gospel is that is changes everything about us, especially about what and who we pray for.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Guarding

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Ephesians 6:10-17 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. 

As Paul is wrapping up his letter, he teaches about the most important thing we need to do in our lives.He has already talked about the relationships we have with those around us, and those in our families; now he is talking about our relationship with God. So in this, Paul is showing what it means to keep God as our guide and power of strength to live this life in a manner that is worthy.

How can we keep our hearts and minds focused on the power of God as we go through the day ahead? We have the opportunity to put on the tools and “armor” that will protect us, save our hearts, and guard our minds against those things and attitude that take our focus away from God. What is really fascinating, to me, is the manner in which Paul describes how we can allow God’s power to be our guiding force in our lives. We simply “put on the full armor of God.”

This imagery may conjure up negative images for some people, but this is really an important thing for us to do each day. When we get up for the day, we put our clothes on to protect our physical being, so why not put on the clothing that God provides to protect us emotionally and spiritually? So, Paul goes into the items that we should “put on” to help us allow God’s power to work in us and around us. There are so many forces around us that we are battling and that are fighting for control of our minds, emotions, spirit, relationships; but God provides a way to protect us from those things that are trying to pull us down and go against God.

We should put on the “belt of truth.” This means that we are allowing God’s truth to be wrapped around us so we constantly are reminded it is God’s truth that is holding us together and keeping us intact. Over our hearts, we wear the “breastplate of justice/righteousness” to guard our hearts from following those situations and ideals that culture can and does embrace but is not as God intends. Then we always have to have the “shoes” on our feet. This is what allows our feet to move so that we can travel to those who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. We can pick up the “shield of faith” to block those attacks that attempt to destroy us. The “helmet of salvation” protects our minds and allows us to meditate on God’s word and presence around us. The “sword of the Spirit” means we have the word of God ready within us so we can speak truth to people in love.

Putting on this “armor/clothing” is us allowing God to transform our lives and to be the light in the world. Since we are to be the light of the world and reflect God’s image and grace to those around us, why not put on shiny armor that reflects light. The Gospel of Jesus Christ protects us and changes our lives from the inside out.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Light

Light

Ephesians 5:6-14 Nobody should deceive you with stupid ideas. God’s anger comes down on those who are disobedient because of this kind of thing. So you shouldn’t have anything to do with them. You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. Everything that is revealed by the light is light. Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. 

Have you ever felt like you were just going through the motions in life and did not really know where you were going? That is kind of like what Paul is talking about here. He is writing this letter to show people the life in Christ that is waiting for everyone. We can all live in such a way that would embarrass other people and even fill us with guilt. Paul is reminding the readers that Christ came to extinguish the former way of life and move us into this new life that looks so different from how everyone else in the world wants us to live.

Light and darkness are a key theme throughout the New Testament, and one of the things I have thought about is how much of a difference light makes. When the light shines, we can see the path we should be on and see obstacles that are in the path that are trying to trip us up and cause us to change course. But when we trust that Christ is guiding us, our entire life is different and has a different purpose – life has an incredible purpose!

I love how Paul brings to light the life that is dark, that is going away from Christ. This kind of dark life leads us astray and we only think about ourselves and what we want and how we’re going to get it. But Christ, invites us to a new way of life that encompasses the entirety of humanity and desires us to bring more people into the light. This kind of life, where we embrace the life Christ gives, produces more fruit (lasting rewards) than anything we could do solely by living for ourselves.

When we walk in ways of darkness (see the end of Ephesians 4 and the beginning of chapter 5), it is like our soul is dead and sleeping and we cannot see or experience the life that Christ has to offer. But Christ comes along and shouts to our sleeping souls, “Wake up sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” This life is not always easy, but it is definitely rewarding and worth everything to have Christ shine his light on us so we can reflect his glory where ever we are and whatever we do.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Old vs New Part 2

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Ephesians 4:20-24 But you didn’t learn that sort of thing from Christ. Since you really listened to him and you were taught how the truth is in Jesus, change the former way of life that was part of the person you once were, corrupted by deceitful desires. Instead, renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit and clothe yourself with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness. 

Since we are in the section of discussing “old” way of life versus “new” way of life, we have to ask, “how do we learn how to live in a new way?” Paul shows the answer is Jesus Christ. He is the source of life and the focal point. His example of living and his presence among us today still guides and empowers people to be who they need to be.

We often allow culture and those around us to try to shape us without asking “why?” or “how is this really going to help me live life?” We do this because we like to fit in and feel a need to be part of a crowd. But, what if, the crowd is actually leading us astray? What if the crowd we want to belong to is the loudest voice and the most influential, but it is actually a path that leads us away from true joy and peace?

Instead of following the crowd and living a life that turns people away from Christ, Paul is showing that it is Christ that we should be learning from. It is Christ who can and does renew our minds. When we allow Christ is renew and transform us, we are “clothed” in a new way. Colossians 3 says it well, “Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” This is what it would look like to renew our minds. People would notice we are different from everyone else.

The “new person” we would become would also produce more fruit in life. We would be able to develop and grow fruit that is sustainable and more powerful than anything; but we need Christ to help the fruit grow. What kind of fruit are we talking about? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, self-control. Imagine the possibilities and impact that would be made to transform the world if these were the qualities we were striving for.

Christ is our teacher. We should spend time with him daily. The Gospel message of Jesus Christ is so powerful that it changes who we are.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Old vs. New Part 1

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Ephesians 4:17-19 So I’m telling you this, and I insist on it in the Lord: you shouldn’t live your life like the Gentiles anymore. They base their lives on pointless thinking, and they are in the dark in their reasoning. They are disconnected from God’s life because of their ignorance and their closed hearts. They are people who lack all sense of right and wrong, and who have turned themselves over to doing whatever feels good and to practicing every sort of corruption along with greed. 

The rest of chapter 4, Paul is talking about attitudes and lifestyles that cause division among believers. Today, we look at the first thing that Paul wants to address: pointless thinking. How many times do we go through our day and look back only to realize we spent the majority of our time thinking about things that really did not matter or had no consequential effect to what went on throughout the day? Where does your mind go when you want to be right? Where does my mind go when I think that my way is not wrong?

We can keep this mindset; but what will happen is that we end up allowing these thoughts, these paradigms to control, not only our thinking, but our actions and attitudes about other people. Paul is addressing the difference life can make in Jesus Christ. As I read through Galatians, last month, it dawned on me that we are completely free in Jesus Christ and we do not have to let our minds and other people control how we act and what we think. We are free to be the people God calls us to be. We are free to love, free to give, free to serve, free to forgive, free to empower people, and the list goes on and on.

This is the difference between the “old way of life” and the “new way of life.” We do not need to allow pointless thinking, which actually drives us away from loving God and loving other people, to control our lives. When we keep our eyes and heart on Jesus Christ, we can see the true beauty and the redemption that God is doing today, in and through us.

Pointless thinking means that we spend so much time thinking about things that are wrong that we can forget to look at the things that are good. We do not need to live in any kind of fear or control, except through the control of love, which actually gives us even more freedom. Disconnection happens when we forget to see how God is moving in other people’s lives.

How can you, how can I, allow the Gospel of Jesus Christ is change and shape us to live a life that is “worthy” of our calling and bring people to faith in Christ because of our actions and words?

#TheGospelChangesUs