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Protecting The Unity

June 10, 2014

It is your job to protect the unity of your church.  Unity in the church is so important that the New Testament gives more attention to it than it does to heaven or hell.  God earnestly desires that we experience oneness and harmony with each other. 

If you are a part of the family of God, it is your responsibility to protect the unity of your church. Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

But the question arises, “How do we do this?”  Below are 6 suggestions for protecting the unity in your church:

1. Focus On Our Commonalities. Romans 14:19 says, “Let us concentrate on the things which make for harmony, and on the growth of one another’s character.” 

2. Avoid Unrealistic Expectations.  People are going to disappoint you and let you down.  But remember, they are your family even when they don’t act like it.  Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” 

3. Be Encouraging.  Romans 14:10 says, “But why do you judge your brother?  Or why do you show contempt for your brother?  For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” Replace criticism with encouragement.  Even the worst critics respond to encouragement. 

4. Stay Away From Gossip.  People who gossip to you will also gossip about you.  They cannot be trusted.  Proverbs 20:19 says, “A gossip reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a babbler.”

5. Make Reconciliation A Priority. Often when conflict arises we complain to a third party rather than courageously speaking to the person we are upset with. Go directly to them.  Matthew 18:15-17.

6. Support Your Church Staff and Leaders. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” Pastors will one day stand before God and give an account of how well they watched over you.  But you will also give an account of how well you followed your leaders.

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My Place In The Body

May 21, 2014

If you are a follower of Christ, God has called you to serve Him and God has equipped you to serve Him.  The way that God has equipped you to serve Him is this: God has given to you a spiritual gift.  You are to take it, discover it, develop it, and deploy it for Christ. 

If we are going to be a healthy body growing, maturing, functioning and witnessing, then every member has a ministry that lends itself to the health of that body.  Your ministry is vital to the health of the church.  Your failure to serve, your unfaithfulness, carnality, selfishness, divisive spirit, and laziness spiritually are all non-functions.  Non-functions make the body sick, crippled, and stop our growth and maturity.  Three things to keep in mind when you think about your place in the body of Christ:

1. Spiritual Gift – You Have One. 

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.”(1 Corinthians 12:1)

These gifts are “gifts of grace” which means you do not earn them.  They are grace gifts. 

“I do not want you to be unaware.  You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led.  Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.”(1 Corinthians 12:1-3)

Evidently there was a lot of craziness going on in Corinth.  Corinth was a very carnal church.  As a result, Paul says, “Look, let’s get rid of this ignorance.  There are all kinds of strange things happening here.  Spiritual gifts are being distorted.” 

Any time you find worship that draws away from the Lord Jesus Christ, even worship that magnifies the Holy Spirit rather than the Lordship of Jesus Christ, that worship is false. 

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”(1 Corinthians 12:4)

In verse 4 you find the word “gifts.”  In verse 5 the word “ministries.”  And in verse 6 the word “effects.” The “gifts” speak of God’s provision.  God has given you a gift.  “Ministries” speak of God’s purpose.  He gave you a gift for a purpose. “Effects” speak of God’s power. He empowers 

God makes a provision.  He has a purpose for that provision.  God gives you power so that you might fulfill the purpose of that provision that God has given you.  If you are a child of God, you are gifted.

2. Spiritual Gifts – God Gives And Empowers.

“But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”(1 Corinthians 12:11)

A spiritual gift is a Spirit-given ability which acts as a channel through which the Holy Spirit ministers to the body. In other words, through those gifts, the Holy Spirit wants to minister through you to the body. We are plugged in to Him.  He gives and empowers.

3. Spiritual Gifts – You Must Discover and Deploy.

“For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:8-10)

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God Transforms Our Past

May 7, 2014

The Bible says in Isaiah 61:3, “To grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.”

In the Old Testament, if someone were to fall into sin or let God down or feel like they are letting other people down or letting themselves down, there was intense mourning and seriousness with God.  One of the ways they would show their shame and their repentance, they would take ashes and put those ashes over their head as a physical sign of mourning and grief. It was a physical sign that they have been hurt and they have made mistakes.

But God says, “I give you beauty for those ashes.” So many people live lives that are covered with ashes and covered with shame.  The Bible tells us, “Jesus Christ will give you a crown of beauty for those ashes.”

You may not be the one covered in ashes, but maybe you live with or work with or live next door to people, who every single day need to hear the message, “I can exchange the shame of my life for the crown of beauty that Jesus Christ gives.” He gives us beauty for ashes. 

He gives us the oil of gladness.” 

That oil symbolizes the spirit of God, the joy of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe the closer and closer you and I get to the heart of God and living for God, the more joy will be evident in your life and in my life. 

And then he says this, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” 

Picture it this way.  It’s like you have this backpack, big huge sack and it is loaded down with guilt. It is loaded down with shame. And it is heavy. He says, “God will take that guilt, and He will take that backpack of shame and He will give you a garment of praise.”

In the bible there is only one time where we get a full description of a female who would cover her head in ashes. That female was one of David’s daughters and her name was Tamar. Tamar had a half-brother by the name of Amnon.  Amnon would lust for his half-sister. He would trick her and manipulate her into his room and then he would rape his half-sister. And then out of guilt, I believe, the bible says, “He would hate her.”  He would have her thrown out.  And the Bible tells us that Tamar would forever live in desolation. 

After this occurs in the life of Tamar, the Bible tells us that Tamar covers her head with ashes and she rends her garment.” 

That is her royal robe. That royal robe was a testimony. It demonstrated her virginity or her purity. She would take those ashes and she would cover her head and her shame and her embarrassment and her desolation.  And that garment would be torn.

And you know what?  She lived with those ashes. She lived with that shame because it was something that was not her fault. She was a victim. But even in that victimization she still lived with this overwhelming sense of shame and embarrassment.  Tamar never experienced the truth of this passage.

Perhaps there’s something like that in your past. Were you the victim of something that wasn’t even your fault?  But along with that experience you carry around, not on the outside, but on the insides, a sense of shame and guilt and unworthiness for something that’s not your fault.

The Good News of the Gospel is this: Jesus Christ will give you a crown of beauty for those ashes. He will give you a garment of praise in exchange for that load of guilt that you have carried for something that’s not even your fault.  I think there is probably a whole bunch of people right where you live who need to hear that. God transforms our past.  I believe the same thing can be true in your life. And that is the Good News.

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Serving Him

May 1, 2014

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4)

I have found, in my short life, that there are basically 3 kinds of people in every church.  There are those who make things happen.  Then there are those who watch things happen.  And then there are those who don’t even know anything is happening.   And honestly, I think most of us are in that middle group.  We are watchers.  We are observers.  But we have never really gone to work.  And this is truly bothersome to me because the sad thing is that there is so much unconcern on the part of many of us who name the name of Christ.

We sit in our services and listen to messages, and we go out and we never, ever really get involved.    A wise man said, “The average church is like those people at a football game.  Down there on the field are 22 men desperately in need of rest.  And up in the stands are 50,000 people desperately in need of exercise.”

I think that is probably the way it is in most churches.  But God has called you to serve Him and God has equipped you to serve Him.  And the way that God has equipped you to serve Him is this:  God has given to you a spiritual gift.  And you are to take it, discover it, develop it, and deploy it for Christ.

We ought to be serving in an area that we are gifted in and passionate about.  How painful is it to watch the first few episodes of American Idol?  Don’t you feel like those people have been deceived and no one loves them?  Because we think, “Surely if someone loved them they would have said, “No way, son.  You are going to be on one of those first few shows!  For our sake, for the family name, please don’t go!”  Now, I can say that because I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.  I know that and I am ok with that!

But we see this all the time.  It is the same way in the church.  That is why we have to get everyone serving in their area of giftedness.  So ultimately you are being gifted by God.  I’m not saying that you don’t grow in your gifts.  I’m not saying that you don’t work on your gifts.

Now, some of you sit here and you say, “Well, I don’t know what my gifts are, Mark.  I have no idea where I’m gifted.  I think it may be this or that.  I think I might be the American Idol kid. Help me.”

Here is how you figure out your gifts.  Figuring out your gifts is a community project.  We find out our gifts by doing life together.  Because when we are doing life together, we can spot and say, “Hey, do you realize you are really good at this?”  As you interact with people, you’ll find yourself going, “Oh yeah, well the Bible says this about that,” and you begin to see that you might be a teacher.

The point is, you must discover your gift.  But it can’t stop there. You have to deploy your gift.  Put it to work.  Why?  Every one of the gifts that we have was complete and perfect in Christ and He gives us, as members, these various gifts that we might be built up to the fullness of Christ.  Every single gift given to the church was a characteristic of Jesus Christ.  And so, the only way you will ever be that full stature man in Christ, is when you have all those gifts being ministered to you.

That is why you must deploy your gifts.  That is why I must minister my gift to you, because as I minister my gift to you it builds you up in that area.  If I minister to you in the gift of preaching maybe you will never have the gift of preaching.  But you’ll learn just from my ministering to you how to communicate at a better level.  And so, I have built you up in that way.

And that is why 90% of my week is spent in preparation.  I don’t have all the gifts.  You don’t have all the gifts.  Maybe your gift is showing mercy and you minister that gift to me and I learn a little more how to show mercy.  And I’m built up in that area and pretty soon every member ministers to each other we’re all built up as individuals to be like Christ and show forth all his attributes and then collectively as a body we manifest a total person of Christ.

So you see that every spiritual gift was taken from the nature of Christ.  And I will be totally honest with you.  And this is why I want to take my gift very seriously and give my life to it.   Personally, I would not want the responsibility of being the crippler of the body of Christ.  No thank you.  I want to operate my gift.  And by your constant ministry to me, I will be built up in my weaker areas, my non-gift areas.

I may never have the gift that you have, but I’ll be built up in that area because of the ministry of your gift in that area to me.  So your ministry of gifts holds me up and builds me up.  And my ministry to you builds you up.  You may not have the gifts that I have, but my gifts can build you up in that area.  So we are both strong and healthy when we minister to each other. Let’s be the Body of Christ!

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A Word to Husbands

May 11, 2011

Ephesians 5:23 says, “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is savior of the body.”  As husbands, we are to be servants in our home.  We are to be leaders.  This does not mean that we are to be dictators, but we are to be responsible. 

 I am to love my wife as Christ loved the church.  And He gave His life for the church.  I am to love her sacrificially with a passionate, purifying, and protecting love.  All of this does not mean that she is inferior to me.  Men and women are created equal, but with different roles.  The man is to be the provider.  He is to provide for her emotional, physical, and spiritual needs.  The husband is responsible for his loyalty to his wife. 

 This entire chapter in Ephesians tells us that we are to be “filled with the Spirit.”  The only way that I can be that kind of husband is to be filled with the Spirit.  When I gave my heart to Jesus Christ and surrendered to Him, the Holy Spirit of God came into me and gave me the spirit of Jesus so I can love like Jesus.

 I think about the tragedy of “throw away” marriages today.  Today we have men who stand at the marriage altar and make a holy vow.  They make a covenant, not a contract, and then they walk out.  A lot of people today say, “Well, I owe it to myself to be happy.” Or “It would be better for the children.”  Or “I have prayed about it and God told me it was alright to get a divorce.”  But God has said no such thing. 

 The bible says, “God hates divorce.”  We owe it to God to keep our promise. We owe it to our spouses to keep our promise.  We are not to walk out on our wives.  If we are to love our wives as Jesus loves the church, when is Jesus going to walk out on the church?  Never. 

 We need to see, as fathers and as husbands, our responsibilities, not our rights.  Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman and God almighty.  And our wives have every right to look to us to meet their every need.

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Walk the Talk

April 28, 2011

Take a moment and read 1 John 2:3-11.  There are three little phrases that catch my attention right away.  In verse 4, “He who says, “I know Him…”  In verse 6, “He who says he abides in Him.”  And then in verse 9, “He who says he is in the light…” 

What John is saying is this: “some people are saying one thing and living another.”  They are not what they claim to be.  Their walk doesn’t match their talk.  We are to walk as Jesus walked.  I don’t walk as Jesus walked in order to be saved, but I walk as Jesus walked because I abide in Him and His life is in me. 

The Lord Jesus Christ is my example.  He is my pattern.  I am to walk in honesty, purity, and righteousness.  I am to love as Jesus loved.  The love of Jesus Christ is serving love.  He washed the smelly feet of those fishermen.  The love of Jesus Christ is sanctifying love.  He was washing their feet as a symbol that He was cleansing and forgiving their sin.  And Jesus loves with a steadfast love.  He never stopped loving them and He never stops loving me.  That is the kind of love that I am to demonstrate – unconditional love. 

This passage of Scripture forces us to examine our words and our actions.  Do they match?  Do they add up?  Are they contradictory?  I remind you that these are not legal commandments, they are love commandments.  The love of God is made rich and full and perfect in our lives because God is in our hearts and in our lives.  And the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. 

If I truly love the Lord Jesus Christ, then I am going to obey Him and serve Him.  I love Jesus and I want to keep His Word.  There are times that we fail.  There are times when we stumble.  There are times when our words don’t match our actions.  But we must guard those commandments and steer our lives by God’s Word to keep His commandments.

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Pride

January 5, 2011

Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”  Pride is an attitude of independence from God.  Pride is esteeming ourselves better than other people.  I love what C.S. Lewis wrote about Pride, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the other man.  We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good looking, but they are not! They are proud of being richer or more clever or better looking than others.  It is the comparison that makes you proud.  The pleasure of being above the rest.”  That is so true. 

Pride ruined the human race.  In the Garden of Eden, when Satan came to tempt Eve, the temptation wasn’t to taste a particular fruit.  The garden was full of fruit.  The temptation was, “take this and you will be as God.”  Pride.

 As I was thinking about pride this week, I began to think about the indicators of a person who is filled with Pride.  I found an interesting list and I can’t remember who gave it.  But it said this:           

-A proud person becomes irritated when corrected for mistakes. 

-A proud person accepts praise for things of which he or she has no control.  Things such as beauty, talent or     abilities. 

- Pride will not admit mistakes.  Pride says, when there is a disagreement, “Alright, I can get along without you.” 

- Pride refuses to take counsel and to learn from other people. 

- Pride has an ungrateful spirit for all that God has done. 

- Pride often shows itself in competition with other people. 

- Pride does not want more, pride wants more than somebody else. 

 As I was reading through this list, I realized how prideful I can be.  I think one of the biggest areas we all struggle in is that we find it hard to admit mistakes.  Every time we seem to have this prideful heart and attitude, it is amazing, and at the same time wonderful, that God has a way of bringing us back down to earth.  Although it is humiliating, we must be thankful for that.  To have a heavenly Father who loves us so much to correct us when we are heading down the path of destruction.

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