Leaven

1 Corinthians 5:1
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!”

God designed sexual intimacy as part of the marriage relationship. It is the most intimate of all acts and plays an important role in the love relationship between man and wife. In the book of Hebrews we are told, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled.”(Hebrews 13:4)

However, like so much of what God designed, men have distorted sex into sin. Today, a person that waits until marriage to be sexually active is ridiculed, women are treated as something to be conquered, and men revel in their vast number of sexual partners. Pornography is a multi-billion dollar enterprise, and with the advances in technology, is available at the touch of a button.

While we should expect the world to distort the ways of God, Paul is shocked to hear that the same sexual sins are happening within the church. We find the same problem today, the sexual misconduct that is rampant in the world is also running rampant within the church. Dating couples are involved sexually, married men are developing relationships with other women, rather than investing in their wives, a high percentage of people registered in singles dating sites are actually married, and pornographic sites are one of the most common searches on smart phones and other hand-held devices. Again, we should expect this behavior out of those who don’t know Christ, but tragically, it is almost as common among professing Christians as it is among the unbeliever. What has happened to us? Paul explains, a little leaven has leavened the whole lump.

Leaven is a form of yeast used to cause bread to rise. A small piece of old dough was set aside and used on the next loaf, this rotting dough, when mixed with the new, would corrupt the whole lump causing it to rise. Sin is like that. When we let a little into our lives, it will not remain dormant, it will grow, until it affects every area of our lives. While this is true of all sin, it is particularly true of sexual sin. Once the line is crossed, sin seems to almost have a power of its own, which drives us. If you have started investing in a relationship with someone who is not your spouse, or begun looking at things that you shouldn’t, or become physical with your boyfriend, girlfriend, or fiancé; it is time to STOP! Paul gave a radical remedy to the sin problem that the Corinthians were having, he told them to remove this man from fellowship until he repents. Radical sin must lead to radical repentance. It is time to confess what you are doing, both to God, and to someone who will hold you accountable. It is also time to put walls around your life, making it difficult to fail. Your life, marriage, and Christian witness are at stake.

One of the most encouraging things to me is that Paul writes again to the Corinthians regarding this man, who was involved in such grievous sin. After confronting him and removing him from the fellowship, he realized the folly of his ways and turned his life back to the Lord. No matter how strong a grip sin may have on your life, if you will confess, and take steps towards repentance, God will give you victory. Don’t run this race alone, and don’t wait another minute to alter the path that has led you to failure.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Esther 5- Request
Esther 6- Insomnia 

Puffed Up

1 Corinthians 4:6-7
“. . . that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

Paul warns of the danger of pride. He refers to it as being puffed up; a term that has withstood the test of time, and is still used today. When we see someone who is filled with pride, we might say they are filled with self, puffed up, or even that they have a big head. Paul reminds us of the folly of elevating ourselves above one another, by exhorting us that what we have, we received from the Lord.

This passage reminds me of the story of Absalom, the son of King David, whose life was marked with pride and whose death was fitting. We are told, in the heat of battle, while fleeing from Joab, he rode under a low hanging tree branch and his head was stuck. Moments later, Joab arrived and slew Absalom. He literally died because his head was too big. Absalom was a man born into privilege. He was the son of the king, raised in the palace, given the best education and upbringing available at the time. His palace life would afford him connections with the most prominent people of the day, and provide him with a life of influence. In addition, the Bible describes him as an extremely good-looking man. He was praised throughout the nation for his looks. No doubt women were wooed by him, and men envious of him. But rather than looking at these as gifts from the Lord, and opportunities to be useful for the kingdom of heaven, Absalom was filled with pride. We are told, he was so in love with himself, that at the end of every year he would get a haircut, weigh his hair and publish the results. Of all the things we take pride in, that has to be one of the most ridiculous.

What have you done to determine the amount of hair that you have? The answer is nothing, it is hereditary. If you are bald or if you have a flowing mane, it is not because of something you accomplished, it is like being proud that you are tall. Paul reminds us, “what do you have that you did not receive? Now, if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” Everything we have is an evidence of the grace of God. Rather than thinking of ourselves as better than another, we should use the gifts, privileges and opportunities we have been given, to serve one another, and to further the kingdom of heaven.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Esther 3- Living Differently
Esther 4- Platforms 

Growth

1 Corinthians 3:1
“I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.

Paul mentions four types of people in the opening verses of this chapter. He refers to mere men (some versions read natural man), babes in Christ, carnal men, and finally spiritual men. These terms represent a natural development in the spiritual life of an individual. Natural man refers to a person before they place their faith in Christ. The natural man is living, breathing, walking, talking, perhaps even loving, giving, sharing and caring, but the natural man is separated from God, and living in sin. It is when the natural man hears the message of the cross, recognizes his need for a savior, and places his faith in Christ, that his sin is forgiven and he is born again into the family of God. At that point, he becomes a babe in Christ. Like all babies, the new Christian must be cared for. He needs constant companionship, encouragement, example, and a diet of the simple teachings of the Word of God.

Hebrews 6 gives a list of the foundational truths every young Christian must understand: “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, the doctrine of baptisms, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”

When the young Christian ingests a healthy diet of the Word of God, he will begin to grow. Thoughts, words, and actions change, and many of the practices from the old life, are replaced with practices that are pleasing to God. Soon, the young believer is growing in Christ, and impacting others for the kingdom of God. They are no longer controlled by emotions, or by the influences of the world around them, but are now controlled by the Spirit of God. They begin to live a life that sets an example on earth, and stores up treasures in heaven. Paul refers to that individual as spiritual. Sadly however, this is not the route for every Christian. Some, after placing faith in Christ for salvation, never seem to grow out of infancy. Even years after coming to Christ, they are still struggling with the same doubts, fears and sins. Their Christian life is more like a swinging pendulum, than a walk with God. They “feel” close to Him at moments, and far away other times, they let the influences of the world influence them, and are constantly falling into sin. Sometimes, because of the guilt of constant failure, they seclude themselves from other Christians, and may even accuse the church of wrong doing. It is not uncommon to hear them use phrases like, “Christians are judgmental” to help justify the sins they have not outgrown.

Paul minces no words, he refers to that person as carnal, a word meaning worldly. While it is expected, and even cute, to see a baby act like a baby, it is sad to see someone still acting childish as a an adult. Now would be a good time to evaluate your walk with God. Are you growing? If you have been a Christian for only weeks, you should be seeking to surround yourself with godly influences and get to know the Word of God. If you have been a Christian for many years, you should see a dramatic and constant change in your life, because of the daily investment of the Word of God. The Christian life is a life of growth; like a tree, we only stop growing when we are dead.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Esther 1- Love And Respect
Esther 2- Chosen

Hide And Seek

1 Corinthians 2:9
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

The things God has planned for each of us are better than anything we could ever imagine. Rather than leaving us to our imagination, Paul declares these things are revealed to us by the Spirit of God. It is the desire of God that we know Him, and we understand the things He has planned for each of us.

When my oldest son was a toddler, I introduced him to one of my favorite childhood games, hide and seek. While he loved to play, he did not quite grasp the concept. I would hide in an obvious spot, where he could easily find me. When he did, I would act surprised, then he would turn excitedly and say, “I am going to hide under my bed and you try to find me.” For him the exciting thing about the game was not hiding, but rather being found. The same is true of God, He wants us to know who He is, and to understand the things He has planned for our lives. Paul declares that the hidden mysteries of God are revealed to us by the Spirit. In other words, we can know God because the Spirit of God makes Him known. “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:11

At times we hide things from others, not because we do not want them to know, but because we do not know how to express them. This is especially true in relationships. Experts say, one of the most common factors that lead to marriage problems is failed communication. Thankfully, God is not limited in His ability to communicate to us. Paul explains that the Spirit reveals God through both the person of Christ, and His written Word.

One of the terms used in Scripture for Jesus is, “The Word”. This term is used because Jesus is the perfect expression of God. If we want to know what God is like, and what He desires from us, we must look carefully at Christ. Every encounter He had with others reveals something about the way God feels about us, and the things He desires out of us. The more familiar we become with Jesus, the better we will understand who God is, and what He desires from us. In addition to the person of Christ, God has also given us His written Word. Page, after page, reveals the unknowable. The hidden things of God are made known in His Word. Had God left creation alone to reveal His nature, we would have a skewed and limited understanding of Him. We would understand His power, but be very limited in knowing about His love. Since it is the desire of God for us to know Him, He reveals Himself in the Word. It is as if God said, “I am going to hide in My Word and you try to find me.”

Will you take Him up on the challenge? Or will the mysteries of God remain a hidden enigma to you, as you wander about, attempting to discover God with imagination and personal experience.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Nehemiah 13- Take A Stand

Weakness

1 Corinthians 1:26
“For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.”

images-2.jpegPaul reminded Timothy that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. That was His purpose, His passion, and what He labored diligently towards. After the resurrection, Jesus called His church to be involved in this same purpose. He commissioned men to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” This is the greatest of all vocations and carries with it the highest honor. Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “If God has called you to preach do not stoop along the way to become a king.”

God intends for the work that began with Christ, and was carried out by the Apostles, to continue today through His church. Jesus is still commissioning men to go into the world and preach the Gospel, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”John 17:18

But who are these men? What is Jesus looking for in those He selects to take the Gospel to the world? Paul wrote, “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called”(1 Corinthians 1:26). In order to reach the world, God is not looking for the most gifted of people, but is simply looking for those who will be faithful to Him, and respond to the call.

One of the struggles every Christian faces, is the reality of our own limitations. The moment we surrender ourselves completely to Christ, He begins to call us to serve Him; often calling us into service that makes us quite uncomfortable, and causes us to realize our weakness. Paul reminds the Corinthians this is on purpose. God is not looking for the mighty, or noble, but for the weak, base and foolish. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is, God can. What I mean is, our weaknesses do not weaken God, nor do our limitations, limit Him. You may have heard the phrase, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” That may be true of a chain, and even of human organization, but it is not true of the Kingdom of God. He is not weakened by our weakness, but is able to provide His strength and power, to whatever He calls us to do. I have found, whenever God calls me to something, I am immediately aware of all the reasons I can’t do it. I usually begin to tell Him that choosing me is a really bad idea; He should look for someone more qualified. Often, I even have a list of people who would do a better job than I could. It is then that I must make a decision. Will I choose to focus on my weakness, or on His strength? While it is true I am too weak, it is also true that He is too strong. My mind begins to recall story after story, within the pages of His Word, where the weak were used to accomplish great exploits for the Kingdom of God, because His strength overcame their weakness. Rather than focusing on all the reasons that we can’t, we should focus upon all the He can.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Nehemiah 11- Costs

Honor

Romans 16:3b
“. . . my fellow workers in Christ Jesus

Years ago, I received a letter; I had been selected to be awarded for my accomplishments as a teacher. Upon reading the first paragraph, I was honored and somewhat humbled. My ego was stroked, as I was being told of the great responsibility I was fulfilling by teaching others. However, as I continued to read, I discovered any teacher who was willing to purchase the hundred-dollar, leather-bound book, would have their name listed in it. Even though I knew it was a scam, I was still slightly tempted to have my name in a book honoring me for my accomplishments.

We all love to be honored. We love when our accomplishments are recognized and applauded. We will even sit back and watch as others are honored for their acheivements. It is interesting to me, the things for which men are honored. When a person writes or sings a song… Honor. When a person entertains us with their acting, directing or producing skills… Honor. When a person accomplishes extraordinary feats with a ball… believe it or not, Honor. Like the trophies they receive, that honor will fade away and soon be forgotten. What of our accomplishments for the kingdom of God? Jesus told us they are stored away in heaven, where they will never decay.

Here in Romans 16, we are reminded of what is honored in Heaven’s Kingdom. We read of men and woman who we will never find in a list of who’s who among men. If you Google “Famous People”, their names will never show up, nor will their accomplishments be regarded as great. Yet, their names are listed in the eternal Word of God, and their accomplishments remind us of how we can store up treasures that will last into eternity. Some of the things listed include: serving within the church, opening our houses up for a home fellowship, working alongside those who are preaching the Gospel, or teaching the Word, treating our place of business as a means to effect other for the Kingdom of God, sharing Christ, and passing the test that trials place upon us. As I read this list of men and women, I am encouraged by how important the “little” things are to God, and to the Apostle. What joy must have filled Paul’s heart, knowing the church in Rome was filled with people who were dedicating their time and energies to further the Kingdom. The work of ministry was not left to a few, but was supported by the faithful labor of many.

Rather than spending our time trying to gain the fleeting honor of men, let’s determine to live for an honor that will never fade away. Malachi writes of a book in heaven that includes the accomplishments of the saints. (Malachi 3:16) Allow me two final points of application.

First, I believe we would be amiss in our reading of the chapter, if we did not take a moment to give honor where honor is due.The following is a list of people who you will meet in heaven, who are recorded here for their impact upon the world. Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila, Epaenetus, Mary, Andronicus, Junia, Amplias, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, the household of Aristobulus, Herodion, the household of Narcissus, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus, and his mother, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.

Second, Paul ends this section by saying, “Greet one another.” It is not just those, who in times past, faithfully served Jesus who deserve honor, but those who are currently involved in impacting the world for Jesus. We should be looking for ways to serve the Lord today, as well as giving the proper place of honor to that service. Rather than looking at serving the Lord as a chore, we should look at it with the honor the Word of God places upon it. What will you do for Heaven’s Kingdom today?

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Nehemiah 9- Needs Met
Nehemiah 10- Neglect

One Mind

Romans 15:5-6
“Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

imageThis chapter contains many prayers of which this is the first. Paul is praying that the church might be like-minded, or rather, have one mind. As we look at the church today we see it is anything but one-minded. Worship styles vary from rock bands to congregational hymns; some churches meet in traditional buildings, while others meet in schools, parks or store fronts. Doctrinally, some churches are Calvinistic, Arminian, or somewhere in between. We have pre-, post- and mid-tribulation teachings, and there are even different views on how to perform a baptism.

Individual Christians, within the same church, also have a wide variety of opinions. From week to week, one thinks the worship or sermon was excellent, while another complains about the length, delivery or content. Who is right? If Paul is exhorting us to have the same mind, which mind should we have? I suggest to you, Paul is not instructing every Christian to have my mind or yours, but to have the mind of Christ. Writing to the Philippian church Paul said,

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, . . .” Philippians 2:5

The mind we must develop is the mind that was in Christ; a mind-set that sought above all else, to be pleasing to the Father. “For even Christ did not please Himself…” (Romans 15:3). Practically, this was worked out as He lived for the things that please God, and exalted others above Himself. As we follow the life of Christ, we read of the needs of others being placed above His own. We know of times where He was hungry and tired, but that never stopped Him from investing in the lives of those around Him. The sick, weak, hurting, and unloved, all found a place of honor when they came into contact with Christ.

When I filter my thinking toward God and others, with the way Christ lived, I will find I am developing His mind. It is seen in laying aside the sinful things in life, placing the needs of others above my own, and seeking to please God above all else. Notice this is a commission given to every believer. It is not for a select few. Every Christian must live life by thinking of God and others, the way Christ did.

Pastor Jim

Old Testament:
Nehemiah 7- Build Your House
Nehemiah 8- Celebration