He gives us the victory

There are days in my life that don’t feel very victorious; how about you?

There are also days when I’m not feeling all that strong or confident in the future; maybe you have those days also.

I’ve lived life long enough to begin to recognize that there’s a pattern to those kinds of feelings and days, for you see those days are days in which I am focused on the things of this world.  OK, nothing crazy here, just ordinary things like the job, the newspaper, the bills, the kids, the leak in the roof, the weeds outside…  No, I don’t feel terribly victorious on those days.

There are other times though, times when the obvious victory causes me not even to notice that other stuff.  These are times when I actually handle the cares of this life better; I get more accomplished and do a better job of it… Maybe you’ve had this experience too.

Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

What are the problems of everyday life compared to eternal life?  What are life’s discouragements compared to relationship with the one who conquered death?  What is earthly life as a “slave to the system” compared to life on this earth as a servant of the Most High God?

It’s all a matter of perspective and focus isn’t it?  Where is my focus today, is it on problems or is it on Jesus?

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Even more amazing…

As I continue working on that class on spiritual gifts, I realize that there is more that we can learn about God’s character from this study than I spoke about in yesterday’s post.  Here are three more:

1. God values order and unity

2. God is trustworthy, and He trusts us.

3. God desires relationship with us.

Yesterday I spoke about how it strikes me as being sad that God has given us so many amazing gifts to build up the body of Christ, and yet so often we don’t use them, or at least that so many of us don’t.  Today, I want to take just a minute to look at how inspiring the gifts are.  Consider the first point, God places such a value on order and unity; who among us doesn’t want the same thing for the church?  None of us wants chaos, disorder and division!  Why do we keep these things going?

Consider the second point: We can trust God! Maybe this isn’t anything we aren’t already aware of, but how often do we think about the next part: God trusts us…?

He trusts us with His treasure; He gives us Himself so as to build us up into something we could never become on our own!  No wonder there are great Christians in the world who are working together to build the body of Christ!  No wonder there are churches in this world that are making such a fantastic difference for Christ!  For the rest of us, how is it that we aren’t all jumping on board to make a difference, that we are attracted by the allurements of this life, or caught up in silly arguments?  Come on gang, let’s get with it!

And finally, it all comes back to the place where we begin with the Gospel: God wants a relationship with us!

I think that when enough of us just come to realize what a powerful concept this is: Relationship with God… we will knock off with the distractions and squabbles and join into the work of building His Kingdom with boldness and enthusiasm, holding nothing back and accomplishing great things for the Gospel… so let’s get to work!

Gifts from God

I have been working on a class about spiritual gifts lately; it’s going to be a good one I think…

As I go through the texts and materials on the subject, I’ve been struck by something that I didn’t anticipate: Sadness.

When you carefully study the whole concept of spiritual gifts, the first thing you run into is controversy; I expected that.  The controversy is really sad, and by that I mean that it is altogether unnecessary.  How simple the subject becomes when we take notice of something that few advocates mention:

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

(1 Corinthians 12:7)

Maybe I’m way too simple-minded, but to me this short little verse will generally end all of the arguments, but nobody seems to mention it.

Yet, that really isn’t the saddest part.  As I go through these wonderful gifts that God gives to His people, I am struck by what they tell us about God Himself.  From what He has given to His people we can learn that:

1. God is generous

2. God is creative

3. God is industrious

God has given so much of Himself to His people, but what do His people do?

Do we use these gifts to build the body of Christ in unity and purpose?  Do we use the gifts at all?

More often than anything, we just argue about them, or avoid the subject entirely…

Now I realize that there are many great Christians out there who are doing amazing things for the body of Christ, and that in this God is being glorified.  I also know that there are great and wonderful churches where the body of Christ is being built up, people are coming to Christ and lives are being changed.  I also realize that these are often the exceptions, and this is truly sad.

May all of us renew our efforts to build up the body of Christ, to the glory of God, and may we rest on the sidelines no longer!

Who’s the fool?

I’ll bet you know somebody who will never put up with a slight or an insult.  I’ll bet this person will react strongly and immediately in this kind of a situation and give the other person a piece of their mind: You can’t talk to me that way!

The Lord Jesus Christ was on the receiving end of quite a few insults, and probably a number of slights as well.  I can’t recall that He was the sort to get into arguments and confrontations about such things.  The only confrontations that I can think of that He was involved with are confrontations with people who directly opposed God’s purposes, and these were normally along the lines of teaching and instructing, never trading insults.

It seems that in some quarters these days, rough talk it is vogue, but it isn’t God’s way of dealing with a situation.  I think God would have us look at it more like this:

A fool shows his annoyance at once, 
    but a prudent man overlooks an insult.

(Proverbs 12:16)

Welcome Home

There isn’t anything that’s more inviting than to return home after a long absence.  Even if the absence was caused by a wonderful adventure, there’s just something about being back at home where a person can relax in comfortable surroundings in the warm and loving glow of friends and family.

Of course, this is an optimistic view, for sometimes home isn’t nearly as attractive as it should be.  Many people don’t have a happy home life for any one of a number of possible reasons…

One of the greatest things that our churches can do is to provide a welcoming and inviting environment.  Not too long ago, we had a young guy visit who had experienced adversity in abundance in his life.  After visiting for a few weeks he told the pastor that our church was the first place he had encountered where he felt that he belonged, like he was with family.  Of course that was quite an encouragement to those of us who were involved with the leadership of that church!

You can’t fake being glad to see people; they will see right through you.  You can’t simulate a loving family environment for visitors, they’ll figure it out very quickly. If, on the other hand, we let the love of Jesus Christ shine through us, if we are genuinely filled with a sense of Christian service, we can’t hide His love; it will always shine through and ring true to those who come to visit.

Welcome Home!  Welcome to the body of Christ, welcome to a family of believers where you can and will find a place to fit in!

This should be our goal.

Sunday Class Notes: August 26

“Do You Love Me?”

 

Today’s Text               John 21

Introduction

 

Chapter 20 is John’s record of events concerning the risen Christ in Jerusalem; chapter 21 is John’s story from Galilee.  Why the disciples had traveled there isn’t given, but it makes sense that they wouldn’t be staying on in Jerusalem after all of the recent events.  I would imagine that the disciples weren’t entirely sure what to do with themselves after following Jesus for over three years…  The scene opens with a cast of seven disciples near the Sea of Galilee when Peter announces that he’s going fishing.

Points of Interest

 

21:1-5               Note that John refers to the “Sea of Tiberius”which is another name for the Sea of Galilee in those days.  Tiberius is the name of a large town, which in those days was a new Roman town located on the shore of the lake.  Today it is the largest city in the area.  The guys all joined Peter in the boat for a night of casting the fishing net, but their results were lacking entirely, and by early morning there was a man on the shore who noticed their bad luck.  John identifies this man as Jesus, although they could not yet recognize him from the boat.

21:6-9               From the beach, Jesus calls out to them and recommends that they cast their net on the other side of the boat.  A fishing boat of the time would normally remain close to shore and cast on the shore side to get the best catch of fish, so most likely Jesus was telling them to try the lake side instead, and what a payoff!  They caught so many fish that they couldn’t haul it into the boat.  John realizes that it was Jesus who was on the shore, and Peter grabs his clothes and jumps into the water swimming to shore leaving the others to tow the nets to land. When they arrive, it seems that Jesus had a campfire going and was cooking breakfast. It would seem that Jesus had a menu of bread and fish, something that we’ve seen Jesus do before, but this time, instead of the disciples rounding up fish and loaves that Jesus multiplied, Jesus has fish and loaves and the catch of the disciples will be the multiplier; Jesus has passed the torch, you might say.

21:10-14            John provides us with some eyewitness details in this portion of the text: there were 156 large fish in the net, Peter drags it ashore and Jesus is not only the cook, but the server.  Interesting isn’t it?  A guy who was executed, dead and buried is putting on a fish fry!  He is no ghost, for I can’t recall a single time when I’ve ever heard of a ghost eating fish:  Jesus had arisen from the grave bodily.

21:15-17            After their meal, Jesus walks off a distance with Peter and asks him three times if he loves Jesus.  Each time Peter assures Him that he does, but by the third time Peter’s feelings were hurt because Jesus kept asking.  Much has been made of the Greek used here, but it seems to me that Greek nuance isn’t the point that Jesus is making.  Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of His arrest, and Jesus asks him three times if he loves Him.  Could it be that that had dawned on Peter?  Could it be that Peter felt terrible guilt over his cowardly denial?  Let’s not forget that this is the first time that they had been off together since Jesus’ death, and Jesus has some business to settle with him.  Peter must learn to care for the other followers of Jesus, His “sheep” and this means taking the charge seriously and selflessly, a lesson that must not be lost on all leaders of the church today.

21:18-19            In v. 18 Jesus gives Peter some insight into the manner in which he would die as a martyr for the Gospel, as John points out in v. 19, and then says: “Follow me!”  This is the same imperative with which Jesus began His ministry in 1:43 and sets the tone for the conclusion.

21:20-22            At this point, Peter notices John following behind them and says “What about him?” Jesus is not having any of this!  It would have been better if Peter had said something more like, “Yes sir!” Jesus lets Peter know that whatever He has in mind for John is none of Peter’s business, for Peter’s call is to follow Jesus.  None of us is in a position to know what adventures we will experience in following Jesus, but we must know that our call is to follow Him, and not to question whether or not someone else might have an easier time of it, and Jesus makes this abundantly clear. Peter’s imperative was to “follow” Jesus, and so is ours.