Filter 

1 Corinthians 6:12
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”

There are certain things that God’s Word clearly encourages, and other things that are clearly condemned. Earlier in the chapter, Paul gave a list of actions that, if a person is practicing, they “will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.” Among the forbidden acts are fornication, adultery, homosexuality, drunkenness, and extortion. Clearly, Paul is not saying that unlawful things are lawful for him. Instead, he is saying, he is free to practice all things that are not forbidden, but is careful to add that he will not be controlled by them. Paul is giving us a principle by which he lived his life, a principle we would all do well to follow. Hebrews 12:1 warns us to,

“Lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us…

“Easily ensnaring sins” are sins we are more prone to fall into. For some it is lust, others covetousness, jealousy or envy, while others may struggle with pride or discouragement. We all know what our “easily besetting sins” are. While we all have the same freedoms in Christ, we know if we practice these freedoms, we will fall into sin again.

In order to guard against personal failure, Paul set up a system for success. That system included looking at the grey areas, the things Scripture is silent about, and putting them through a filter. He would ask, “although this is lawful, is it helpful?” When I was a young Christian, I began a practice of asking myself a simple question, “Will doing this help me get to heaven?” I understand we do not earn our way to heaven, but I also understand, there are many things that can trip us up along the way. So, I would examine what I was doing in light of where I was going. Before indulging in the activities so common to our culture, ask yourself if it will help your walk with God, or hinder it.

Some things are so dirty, they must be filtered more than once; so Paul added a second question, “Will practicing this put me under its control?” Jesus died to set us free from the power of sin. One of the great experiences, when a person receives Christ, is the realization that their sin is forgiven, and they no longer have to live under its dominion. That being said, there are many things which will lead us right back under sin’s control.

I once knew a man who had a drug problem, prior to coming to Christ. After months of freedom, he fell again into sin. I asked him what happened, to which he explained, he chose to take a shortcut home that led him by an area where he used to purchase drugs. Before he knew it, he was using again. As a Christian, he was free to drive down whatever road he wanted, but because of his ensnaring sins, if he wanted to succeed, he had to forever avoid that part of town. We all have things which will draw us back into sin. We all must honestly evaluate our lives, if we want to ensure we are not brought back under sin’s power.

What things do you need to remove from your life in order to ensure victory in Christ? Is it time to set aside certain music, TV shows, computer time, or even relationships? Keep in mind, although they may be lawful, they might not be helpful.

Pastor Jim

 

Come In 

1 Corinthians 16:9
“For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.”

As Paul comes to the conclusion of this letter, he writes to his friends in Corinth about his future plans. Notice, his plans all centered around serving the Lord and bringing the Gospel to others. He mentions a number of places that he will be traveling, including Ephesus, where he has “an open door.” This is a common phrase, both in our vernacular, and in the New Testament writings. We understand it to mean a way in, and use it with a wide variety of applications. We may refer to an open door for a new job, new house, or even a new relationship. When the term is used in the New Testament, it is restricted to speaking of opportunities for the furtherance of the Gospel. Paul explained this clearly when writing to the Colossians,

“. . . meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.” Colossians 4:3-4

The term “open” is used throughout the New Testament to refer to things that were closed until the Lord opened them. We read of eyes, ears, and graves being opened. We also read of the heavens being opened, and even the sealed scroll in Revelation was opened by the Lord. When Paul speaks of an open door in Ephesus, he is referring to an opportunity to minister where there was none before. Ministry is like that. There are people in your life who you have attempted to reach out to, and been rejected, but as you continue to walk with Jesus and pray for them, the Lord will open up a future opportunity to reach out to them.

One of the difficulties we face, is how to recognize when we have an open door. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas began their missionary campaigns. As we read the accounts, it was clear they had a wide open door to bring the Gospel to their world. Thousands of people were won to Christ, and dozens of churches were planted throughout Asia Minor and Europe.

But, how did they know it was the Lord who was sending them out? Two key elements in determining the will of God are revealed in their story. First, we are told, while they prayed and fasted, the Lord spoke to them. If we want to see doors open to minister to others, we need to seek the Lord. Jesus told us to ask, seek and knock. Perhaps now would be a good time to revisit your prayer list and add praying for an open door to share Christ with family and friends.

Second, Luke records, “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went” (Acts 13:4). Once they heard from the Lord, once they recognized they might have an open door, they began to walk through it. The only way to be sure we have an open door into someone’s life to bring them to Jesus, is to take steps in that direction. Make a call, text, email, tweet, IM or meet them face-to-face and simply invite them to come with you to church. Or meet for coffee and share the great things that the Lord has done for you.

Keep in mind that with an open door comes adversity, but the difficulties are more than worth the treasure of seeing our friends come to Christ.

Pastor Jim

 

What Happens Next?

1 Corinthians 15:20
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

When I was sixteen years old, driving to my first part-time job, a wild thought entered my mind. I thought, “I wonder what happens after we die?” I realized later I was grappling with one of the deepest philosophical questions man has ever attempted to answer, but at that time I had never considered anything like it before. As quickly as the question entered my mind, I came up with an answer, “When we die we go to heaven.” This was followed by the question, “What is heaven?” To which I answered, “Heaven is getting to do whatever you want for all of time.” I then asked a third question, “Who goes to heaven?” To which I replied,”Those who are good.” This of course brought me to a final question, “Who is good?” My final answer was a little more difficult to develop, but there on the way to work, I determined that I was good and anyone who lived up to my standard was also good and would be allowed into my heaven. In the few minutes that it took, I had asked and answered the most important questions that a person will ever be asked. I had also completely satisfied myself with my answers. Had anyone asked me what happens after we die, I would have spoken with authority, explaining the way to heaven and the purpose of life. As you can see, there was one obvious problem; it was all a product of my own imagination! My way of living, my heaven, even my god, were the product of my own imagination.

Philosophers have been grappling with these same questions since the beginning of time. Some have come up with very elaborate systems to explain what they think happens after death. The problem with all of these systems is the same, they are the product of the imagination of man. No one has died, gone to heaven, and come back to explain who God is, what heaven is like, and how to live in preparation for that time. No one, that is, except Jesus Christ. When speaking to a man named Nicodemus, Jesus explained that “no one has ascended to heaven except He who came down from heaven.” In other words, the only way to answer these questions is to listen to the One who came from heaven to prepare man for life after death.

According to the Word of God, the person who believes they are a sinner and Christ is the Savior, is prepared for life after death. That person will take a final breath in their earthly body and awake in the presence of the Lord, in a body prepared for eternity. Scripture refers to this as “the Resurrection”. The basis for our confidence in our future resurrection is the fact that Christ rose from the dead. How can we be certain that Christ rose from the dead? There are many avenues we could venture down to answer this question, not the least of which is to look at the lives of those who have trusted Christ and see how they have been transformed by Him.

Rather than imagining what we think life is about, or what happens after death, perhaps it would be better to listen to the One who knows. Take a few minutes to read through 1 Corinthians 15 in your Bible, paying special attention to the first few verse where Paul explains how we prepare for life after death.

If you have any questions contact me, I would love to help any way I can.
jg@ccvb.net
Pastor Jim

 

The Church’s Got Talent 

1 Corinthians 14:29
“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.”

Confusion broke out in the Corinthian church. Instead of meeting for the worship of God and the study of His word, the church had become a place for people to show off their spiritual gifts. Those with the gift of tongues saw the meetings as a time to speak or even sing in tongues. They thought the church existed to hear them sing. Others had the gift of prophecy, or at least they thought they did. To them the church existed as a place to share the things they thought were most relevant for the people to hear. I can imagine what the scene must have been like as the church gathered, opened in prayer, and then one by one, each louder than the last, the people began to share their thoughts and sing their songs. To the onlooker, it must have appeared to be a Christian version of “America’s Got Talent.”

Paul writes to correct their behavior and bring the fellowship back to something that honors God and impacts the community. In order to accomplish this, he reminds them of a responsibility that each Christian bears. He writes, “… let the others judge.” The standard of judgment that must lead the Christian, and shape the church, is the written Word of God. Paul is exhorting them not to accept everything done in the name of Jesus, as being from Jesus. This is a critical principle with much application, not the least of which has to do with the daily function of the local church. Scripture informs us, the purpose of the church is to glorify God, preach the Gospel, make disciples, and train up the next generation of leaders. To that end, the church is to teach the Word of God and provide an atmosphere where people can worship, pray, and develop godly relationships. Paul put it like this,

Ephesians 4:12-13 “. . . for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

We should view the church as a place where we are fed, instructed, built up, and equipped, in order that we might go out into the world, impacting our circle of influence for the Kingdom of Heaven. Sadly, today, many see the church as the Corinthians did. They think the church exists solely as a place where they can exercise their gifts, and when they are not allowed to, they become frustrated with the leadership and complain to others. In many cases, they leave their church and go to another one that will let them perform. While gifts are necessary for the church to function properly, the gifts are not given so we can showcase our talents. If you are not getting to do what you want at your church, don’t behave Corinthian. Instead, look at the fact that God may want to use you in a totally different way than He has in the past. Come to the fellowship looking to be built up and equipped for service, then ask God to set before you an open door to impact others for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Who knows, God may even want to use you in the children’s ministry…

Pastor Jim

 

Love 

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

“Love suffers long and is kind

Love does not envy

Love does not parade itself

Love is not puffed up

Love does not behave rudely

Love does not seek its own

Love is not provoked

Love thinks no evil

Love does not rejoice in iniquity

Love rejoices in the truth

Love bears all things

Love believes all things

Love hopes all things

Love endures all things

Love never fails.”

Rather than looking for others to love us like that, let’s express the love of Jesus by showing this love to our family, our friends, and our world.

Pastor Jim

 

Spiritual Gifts 

1 Corinthians 12:4-6
“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.”

Natural gifts, while given by God, are quite different from Spiritual gifts. If you have been given athletic, scholastic, or artistic gifts, you should use those for the glory of God and the furtherance of His Kingdom. However, spiritual gifts are an entirely different subject. Paul writes concerning the supernatural enabling God gives to the believer, for the furtherance of the Gospel, and the growth of the church. There is a great variety of these gifts, but they all serve the purpose of equipping the church to more effectively reach the world for the Christ. Before listing these gifts, Paul gives a few principles for how they work.

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.”

The word ‘diversity’ speaks of variety and reminds us that many different gifts are required for the church to function properly. Like setting up the Tabernacle in Old Testament times, the church functions properly when many gifts are in operation at the same time. Those with the gift of helps serve quietly behind the scenes, preparing the church for the people to arrive. They often stand in the back providing sound, video, worship screens, live streaming, etc. At the same time, those with the gift of hospitality greet people as they arrive, helping visitors find their place, and providing an element where fellowship is most conducive. The times of fellowship provide a way for Christians to exercise spiritual gifts and minister to each other. In those brief encounters over coffee and a snack, God often gives a word of wisdom or a word of knowledge that will help a Christian outgrow a particular sin, or be encouraged through a trying time. From the stage, spiritual gifts are essential. The worship team needs the gift of prophecy, so the heart of God is revealed to the people as they bring high praises to God and prepare themselves for the teaching of the Word. The pastor is perhaps the most dependent upon the gifts. If he is to effectively communicate God’s Word, he will need both the gift of teaching and evangelism. Fortunately, Paul reminds us, while there is much ministry, there are also many gifts.

“There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.”

Just as there are many gifts, so there are a variety of places to exercise those gifts. At our church, while the worship band is playing in the sanctuary, the youth band is leading worship, and the children’s ministers are leading in song. Three different ministries all in need of similar spiritual gifts. In the same way, as the pastor presents the Gospel on Sunday morning, the people are sharing it throughout the week. Just as he needs the gift of evangelism to preach on Sunday, the people need the gift in the break room, at the park, or on the phone with a friend or relative. The same gift is provided in a variety of ministry opportunities, all of which are of equal importance. Rather than complaining that we don’t get to do something we want at the church, let’s look for ways to be used by God throughout the week. Reading through the book of Acts, you will notice most of the Spiritual gifts were in operation out in the world, not behind the closed doors of the church building.

And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.”

The term ‘activities’ comes from a word that means energy. Paul explains, the same gift may be given to two different people at two different levels. Certainly, every pastor must have the gift of teaching, but not all have the same teaching gift. The same is true of all the gifts. None would question that Billy Graham has the gift of evangelism, nor would any who know Ron Keenan (one of the two men who led me to the Lord), question he has the same gift. But it is also clear, they have the gift at different levels. Ron, gifted for the ministry he has been called to, living within his community and within his circle of influence, and Billy Graham for his ministry of bringing the Gospel message to millions.

I think the right response to Paul’s instruction is to pray. We should pray for more gifts, more ministry, and a greater energy of those gifts, in order to more effectively minister to others, and further the Kingdom of God. As a pastor, I would certainly appreciate others joining me in praying that prayer for myself, and for all those who attend our fellowship.

Pastor Jim

 

Communion 

1 Corinthians 11:22
“What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God…”

Paul is addressing one of the most important practices of the church and the individual. He will instruct them regarding partaking in communion. Rather than seeing this ordinance as a necessary, and even holy part of their church life, the Corinthian Christians had turned it into a way to honor the wealthy, thus neglecting the poor. It was a common practice in the early church to feast together before communion. In Corinth, they invited the wealthy to eat first and only after they had their fill did the poor get in line. In some cases, the food was gone and the rich were drunk. Suffice it to say, this was not an acceptable practice. Paul is writing to correct their behavior and to instill within them a proper understanding of communion.

“What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God…”

First, Paul points out that coming to the communion table is different from coming to the dinner table. We must come looking for and expecting something different from when we gather to eat. The expectation is we are meeting with Jesus. Communion was not designed as a religious ritual, but as a means of experiencing fellowship with Christ. The last supper, when this ordinance was established, was a very intimate time. The disciples gathered around the table with Jesus as He spoke with them, and it was at that time, John laid his head in Jesus’ lap. Communion is primarily a time to draw near to Christ. It is through the cross we have access to the Throne of Grace, where we meet with God.

“Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

Second, communion is a time of reflection. Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of Me.” The word remember carries the idea of bringing thoughts together or recollecting. Throughout the day we have scattered thoughts about Jesus. Our time with Him is interrupted by responsibility or distraction, but at the communion table we bring our thoughts into the captivity of Christ, and we focus upon what he has done for us. There are five points that we are encouraged to focus upon. First, we should look in. Paul encourages us to examine ourselves. There, with the cross in view, we look at our life to see if our practices are acceptable to God. It is important that this be done in the shadow of the cross, so we do not leave condemned, but forgiven. Are there practices in your life that need to be set aside in light of Christ? Second, we should look back. Communion affords us the opportunity to examine the cross and reflect upon Christ’s great sacrifice. When we see the brutality of the cross, we can then begin to understand the depths of His love. Each time the whip strikes His back, or the nails are driven, it is a reflection of Heaven’s love. Third, we must look up. The cross is not the end, but rather the doorway to heaven’s throne. It is through the cross, we have access to God. We are encouraged to come boldly to the Throne of Grace, where, in daily fellowship, we can receive pardon for sin, and grace to continue on in Christ. We have not only been saved from sin, we are also saved to Christ. We should be experiencing His life flowing into ours. This happens as we access the Throne of Grace. Fourth, we must look forward. Paul spoke of us “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.” The great hope of the believer is that Jesus rose from the dead and will return one day for His church. He calls us His bride, and the marriage supper of the Lamb awaits the child of God. Communion should ever remind us, and prepare us, for the return of Jesus. Finally, we should look out. Again, Paul wrote that with communion we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Communion is the Gospel. Jesus bled and died to save sinners, any and all who receive Him will be forgiven. While communion is a practice for the Christian, it is done in a way to illustrate our need for a savior and to draw men to Christ. The broken bread reminds us of what our sin did to Christ, the cup reminds us of what His blood does for us.

Whenever your church partakes of communion, you should make it a habit to be there, and to bring your unsaved friends.

Pastor Jim