June 17, 2019

Christian Unity?

As previously mentioned, we are drive around our vacation spot and cannot help but notice there is a church building every few blocks in the cities and about every couple miles in the country. I don’t know the history of why this is but cannot help wondering if this is a sign of division. Even the same denomination might have two churches within shouting distance of each other. Are these congregations like the ancient church in Corinth?

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:11–12)

The book I am using for devotions says this is a problem of authority in the church. They were divided by religious loyalties. Some considered Paul as their leader, the one who stressed justification by faith and Christian liberty from the bondage of law. Others sided with Apollos who was a teacher filled with knowledge of Scripture. Still others followed Peter, an original disciple with a great love for Christ and a concern for the principles of the law. Also, some looked at the rest and announced that they simply followed Christ as if they were above the rest and were keeping Christ all to themselves.

Throughout church history, disputes have divided God’s people. Some of them were far less important than theological differences. Sad as this is, it happens and Paul’s answer to the Corinthians is the same for all:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:1–7)

It does not matter what the arguments are about. What matters is that they come from our selfish, sinful old nature. The cure for this is first recognizing and confessing our sin. After that, we need to reconcile our differences. This is not about compromise or ‘agreeing to disagree’ but about finding and restoring the unity we have in Christ. People who are filled with the Spirit of God cannot behave in divisive ways.

Jesus gave the disciples one criteria by which the outside world could judge them. He said,

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35)

While I realize a revival would fill and overflow all of these church buildings, seeing so many churches still troubles me somewhat and makes me wonder what those outside the church think. Do they assume that most of their neighbors are Christian people, or do they wonder why they cannot worship together? Is this a God-thing? Or is it a human, fleshy thing?

Lord, my questions are not likely to be answered, but I realize I need to give them to You and pray for Your will to be done. Forgive us for all our silly spats and differences. Restore those who argue, whatever it takes. Sometimes churches come together in times of disaster. That is a good thing and shows that the divisions and differences are not important. It’s just sad that unity needs that kind of pressure before it appears so we get along and are able to glorify You with the unity You have given us.

June 16, 2019

No one needs to feel beyond the love of God

I’ve heard that some people think their sin is too great that even God could not possibly forgive them. I’ve no personal experience with anyone who thinks that way, but I do understand their hopelessness — I’ve felt that way myself, not just before I was saved, but after!

One would think that once Jesus made His forgiveness known and real in a Christian’s life, that would be the end of feeling unforgiveable, but it isn’t necessarily so. For one thing, the accuser of God’s people, Satan himself, will try to convince us that we are not forgiven or that we have done things too awful for God to forgive.

Another cause for hopelessness is that Christians sometimes slide into terrible sin. We use the word “backslide” and if it happens, the sense of loss and separation from God can be so great that there seems no way back to the fellowship and freedom once known. The weight of our sin is too heavy.

This happened to David. As king of Israel, he should have been out with his army during battles, but one time he stayed home. He was on his palace rooftop and saw a beautiful woman bathing. He sent for her and slept with her. She became pregnant. He schemed to make this seem like the child of her husband, but that man would not cooperate, so David had him killed and took the woman as his wife. After this, David became deeply convicted of his sin. He said,

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:1–12)

Even though David’s words show concern and fearfulness and a deep sense of his guilt, he knew that God was merciful. He, unlike many, refused to walk away from God after what he had done. He was not going to give in to the sense that all was lost and his relationship with God was forever broken.

In the church in Corinth, there were some who had been deeply involved in sin. They may have felt hopeless. They may have thought there was no use in changing their habits. Whatever they were thinking about their sin, they needed to realize that God takes care of it as part of His saving grace. He inspired Paul to write this:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11)

No matter what they had done, their sin was taken care of as God forgave them, cleansed them, set them apart for Himself and considered them just and His children. He did this in the name of Jesus and by His powerful Holy Spirit. They were once a mess, but now they were considered by God as His people. This change in their standing before God was remarkable and enables all sinners to live a new life.

Lord Jesus, I’ve always loved this line: “And such were some of you but . . . .” because no matter what anyone has done, Your salvation covers it. Your grace and mercy are deeper than any sin and Your forgiveness covers all of it. What a wonderful God! You care for even those who feel the most hopeless. No one can sin beyond Your ability to forgive and to transform our lives!

June 15, 2019

Body = Temple

As we drive around the countryside and through a few cities, I notice the extremes in buildings. Some are brand new and many older places are well kept. The other extreme is run-down, needs paint, and a few are almost over-grown with a weed-like vine that looks pretty but is highly invasive. Those houses are being reclaimed by nature.

Human bodies have extremes too. I notice those in great shape, particularly athletes and many young people. However, the opposites are noticeable too, everything from anorexic-thin to extreme obesity. Some hobble and struggle to move easily. Others are limber and active.

The Bible talks about Christians being a building and as I read the following verses, I imagine the extremes . . .

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16–17)

This is such an incredible reality that it seems to me no Christian would want to have a temple that was run-down or out of shape. Illness happens, but abuse of our bodies does not make sense. Don’t we care? Another passage indicates caring for our body is normal . . .

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:28–30)

This indicates we ought to naturally nourish and care for our bodies, particularly because they are the dwelling place of God! Yet as logical as that seems, I also know the difficulties.

In the early church in Corinth, the body issue was sexual immorality. This city was noted for that so when a person living there became a Christian, this was a sin some of them must overcome. Paul wrote to them this reminder:

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:18–20)

Belonging to God is amazing enough, yet being His temple, His dwelling place is an awesome truth. If I really believe it, I should not struggle with taking care of my body. Yet I do at times. I don’t have the same problem as the Corinthians did, but . . .  

Lord Jesus, I do like sweets and can easily eat too much of just about everything else. Thankfully, You have used my heart problem as a blessing; it helps me watch what I eat, but it is still a struggle. Also, I am lazy and taking care of this body requires exercise. I like to walk but not much else. You pushed me to make myself accountable to a personal trainer, for which I am also thankful. Being on holidays means eating in restaurants — too much salt. That is also a challenge. Help me remember what this body is and that You are glorified when I take care of it, Your temple.