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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

 

Visions Of Grace 

2 Corinthians 12:9
My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Every few years someone writes a book about how they died, went to heaven, and returned to tell about their experiences. The story usually includes something about radiant light, warm feelings, and the awareness of all their loved ones awaiting their arrival. The authors are heralded as experts on the subject of the after-life and their books often become best sellers. Two thousand years ago Paul had an experience where he was “caught up” into heaven. As he reluctantly relates his story, two things stand out to me.

2 Corinthians 12:4 “. . . how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”

Rather than giving a detailed description of heaven, Paul explains that it would be unlawful to attempt to express even the sounds that he heard. Imagine your favorite song, let the sweetness of the singer’s voice enter your mind, then imagine what that song sounds like if we had church Karaoke night, and I was singing. You might say “he is murdering that song, that should be against the law.” Any attempt by Paul to relate heaven to earth would not do it justice.

Scarcely any of Heaven’s glories can be compared to earthly experiences. However, we do find a few. We read of streets of gold, gates of pearl, glorious thrones and a glassy sea. We are also told, heaven will be a place without sorrow, pain, death, sin, or the need of a sun, because the glory of God will be enough to illuminate the skies. Additionally, Scripture describes the inhabitants of heaven. The saints will be in their glorified bodies, and angelic beings, beyond any earthly comparison, will be there, and the central focus of eternity is a throne where God sits as King and Judge. It interests me, when people write of their supposed experiences of visiting heaven, they never seem to mention that God is sitting on a throne as judge. Perhaps what validates Paul’s vision more than anything else, is his unwillingness to talk about it.

2 Corinthians 12:7 “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”

When the revelation ended, Paul found he was afflicted with some sort of physical infirmity. What exactly it was he does not say. For two thousand years Bible students have been trying to piece together the puzzle and uncover to what he referred. While I do not pretend to know what he did not tell us, it is clear he is speaking of a physical infirmity that made life difficult for him. The suffering he experienced was so great he pleaded with the Lord to remove it, and he pleaded with persistence. Imagine the apostle on his knees crying out to the Lord to remove the infirmity which slowed down his progress in sharing the Gospel with a dying world. Then imagine as the silence of heaven is broken as God says,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Instead of receiving healing, Paul was given grace. He went on to describe how, in suffering, Jesus shows up to provide strength. For Paul, it became a common experience to be weaker than the task required, and to experience the grace of God, which would give him more than was necessary to accomplish what he was called to do. He uses two words that we do not usually associate with suffering. The first is boasting and the second is pleasure. It was not that Paul was a masochist who loved suffering, but he had found that in his weakness, he would experience God’s strength.

Perhaps it is not a vision of heaven that we need, but a realization that in our weakness God wants to show His strength.

Pastor Jim

 

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

 

Achilles Hill 

2 Chronicles 18:31
“So it was, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, ‘It is the king of Israel!’ Therefore they surrounded him to attack; but Jehoshaphat cried out, and the Lord helped him, and God diverted them from him.”

Greek mythology tells the story of the great warrior, Achilles, who survived many battles. As a baby, the legend foretold he would die young. To prevent his death, his mother took him to the River Styx, and dipped his body into the water. She held Achilles by the heel, so his heel was not washed over by the magical waters. Later in battle a poisonous arrow struck him in his heel killing him.

It seems that Jehoshaphat had an Achilles’ Heel of his own. We know him to have been a very godly man, who walked in the footsteps of the godly kings who reigned before him. We also know he was responsible for bringing spiritual reforms to Judah, and for sending teachers throughout the land to instruct the people in the ways of God. With all that, Jehoshaphat thought it was a good idea to befriend wicked king Ahab of Israel. A relationship that almost cost him his life. It wasn’t until he was surrounded by an enemy army, and face-to-face with his own death, that he realized the folly of this union and cried out to the Lord.

We need to be very careful. An ungodly relationship, or a compromise with sin, can undo years of walking with the Lord. It is not enough to wear some of the armor of God, we must wear all of it. If you have made steps toward walking with the Lord, but you are leaving one or two doors open to your old life, they will ultimately be your demise. Paul exhorted us to leave no provision for the flesh.

Perhaps it is time to reconsider some of your relationship choices. Are you being led away from the Lord by the company you are keeping? If so, make a break before you find yourself under a barrage of attacks too great to overcome.

Pastor Jim

 

Boxed In

Exodus 14:13
“And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today…’”

IMG_1409There can be little question that the children of Israel were following the leading of the Lord. They had a miraculous door open; freeing them from slavery. They began to march, carrying gifts from Egypt, and being led by a pillar fire and a cloud. What was hard for them to understand was, the Lord had led them into a very difficult place. With Baal Zephon on one side, Migdol on the other, and the Red Sea before them, Israel was boxed in, with no where to turn. As the Egyptian army approached, the Israelites were the proverbial sitting ducks. With fear gripping their hearts, they cried out to Moses, declaring life was better in slavery than in the wilderness. It was with this backdrop, Moses gave one of the most beautiful promises of God.

“Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today…”

No matter how bleak the situation, Moses promised that God would deliver His people to safety. He promised it will be done in a uniquely divine way. Although no one in Israel or Egypt could imagine what would happen next, God had a plan to rescue His people. The plan would create a situation allowing God the latitude to do something amazing.

It seems to me, we do all we can to ensure we never find ourselves boxed in, with no way out. We save, plan, and even manipulate, to guarantee we will not have to rely upon the Lord. I think it is vital we keep in mind, that God wants to bring us to places where we have to rely upon Him, so He can do great things in our lives.

Whatever your circumstances, be sure you are allowing God the latitude to work in your life. If you are facing obstacles that are too big for you to handle, then seek the Lord to move them. If you are facing challenges that are too big for you to accomplish, then ask the Lord to transform you. After all, He is the God who turned a shepherd boy into a giant killer.

Pastor Jim