Lead with Thanksgiving and Faith

When you’re dealing with the people in your life, do you lead with gratitude? Do you begin with faith?

The people in the church at Corinth had huge issues. And we’ll be delving in detail into those issues over the next few weeks. But Paul, the apostle, does not come out of the gate with frustration, anger, directives and discipline.

Given the volume and the size of the spiritual struggles that this congregation faced, I don’t think anyone would have faulted Paul had he led out with a bit of negativity. But he doesn’t. And by taking a positive, encouraging, grateful and faith-filled approach, Paul teaches us a ton about how to deal with difficult relationships.

Be grateful for all people, no matter how much they might test you at times. And when you find it really, really tough to put your faith in a person, or extend respect to them, then turn to God, pray for that person, and put your faith in God.

The reasons for this are obvious, aren’t they? People are sinful, weak and untrustworthy. God, on the other hand, is pure, strong and completely trustworthy at all times.

Even more, by dealing with the Corinthians like this, Paul is truly a reflection of the love of Christ — God’s mercy and grace. He shows us how Jesus deals with us.

Because all of us are “difficult people” at times, aren’t we? All of us require a little extra grace on some days.

That’s just what Paul extends to the Corinthians. And that’s just what Jesus still extends to us every day! Grace, after all, is what truly changes hearts and lives.

So, in our relationships with one another, how about we make this commitment? We will lead with thanksgiving and faith!

“I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge — God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:4-9, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, August 4, is 1 Chronicles 16:37 – 18:17, 1 Corinthians 1:1-17 and Proverbs 19:3-12.

Lord, thank you for all the spiritual blessings you have given me, starting with your mercy, grace and forgiveness. Thank you for the people you have placed in my life too. Help me to be grace-filled and faith-filled as I relate to the people around me.

Header image based on "Gratitude changes the way we look at the world" by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

Together!

Paul has a theme that comes up in many of his epistles, and the theme is unity. Because Paul mentions it so much, it’s clear to us that the early church must have had some fairly momentous struggles hanging together and staying unified.

Paul writes to the Romans to encourage them toward unity. But if you like interesting facts, he most likely writes this letter to them from the Greek city of Corinth.

Why is that so interesting? Simply because Corinth too had its own huge problems with cliques, contesting parties and deeply divided loyalties. The divisions ran deep in this congregation, and frequently there was no love lost between Corinthian Christians on either side of the dividing lines.

Paul writes, in other words, from one divided church to another divided church. And he pleads with the Romans to do everything in their power to bring about peace. He asks them to focus on building one another up, not tearing each other apart.

He reminds them that this will mean being patient with the weaknesses of others. It will require endurance. It will mean encouraging one another.

He assures them there’s a reason behind all this. A purpose.

As Christ-followers, we want to bring honor to God’s name. And we want to do that with one mind and one voice. We want to come together and shout out loud as one that God, our Creator, is real. That Jesus, our Savior, has forgiven the sins of the entire world. And that the Holy Spirit has the power and the authority to bring us to faith, and keep us strong in faith.

We want people to know the love and forgiveness of Christ. We want them to know the mercy and grace of God. We want them to know the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives.

So let’s hang together — with God’s help — and make it happen!

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification… We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up… May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. ” (Romans 14:19, 15:1-2, 15:5-6, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Saturday, August 1, is 1 Chronicles 11:1 – 12:22, Romans 14:19 – 15:13 and Psalm 89:46-52.

Lord, send us your Holy Spirit. We need his power and his help to hold our church together. We want to be a unified force in this world to carry out our glorious purpose: to share the name of Jesus Christ with as many as we can!

Header image based on "together" by Zuerichs Strassen, CC By 2.0

One in Heart and Mind

Jesus is a uniting force. A powerful uniting force.

The believers at this time were going through a lot of tough things that could have quickly ripped them apart.

Who would lead them now that Jesus was gone? There easily could have been a battle for leadership of the apostles. Remember James and John asking to sit on Jesus’ right and left in his heavenly kingdom?

What about the heavy persecution and stress on the apostles from the Jewish religious leaders? They were constantly threatening to have them arrested and barred from speaking about Jesus. The martyrdom of Stephen is not far in the future.

The rapid growth in the number of believers is creating stress and strain on the infrastructure, and on the apostles themselves. An argument is brewing between the Greek and Hebrew speaking widows about the level of care they’re being afforded.

Ananias and Sapphira are about to undergo God’s judgment for lying about their gift to the Lord. I wonder how the members of the church felt about God’s response to their dishonesty. Did some leave in fear?

Today also, there are many reasons for sinful members of an imperfect church to splinter into a hundred different factions. CrossWalk is no exception. We too have our challenges.

Should we purchase land and build a building?

How will we personally be part of God’s solution to our operating budget shortfall?

What about that person on my ministry team that wasn’t so kind or “Christian” to me recently?

How come my growth group can’t seem to stick together in tough times and help out where needed?

But our God is a more powerful unifying force than any of these issues are a dividing force. When we’re studying and meditating on God’s word together, then we can trust that the Holy Spirit will keep us bonded. When we’re enjoying the blessings of the sacraments together, the peace of Jesus will guide us through the divisive issues. Our Father has the love and the power that’s necessary when sinners like us try to pull together in one direction.

And our God is not just a unifying force! He is also a “sharing force.” He loves to help us share — our time, our talents, our treasures — so that all can enjoy his care, and be one in heart and mind.

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, June 8, is 2 Samuel 13:1-39, Acts 4:23 – 5:11 and Psalm 71:9-18.

Father, you sent your Son Jesus to make all believers one in heart and mind. I thank and praise you for community, for my Christian family, for my CrossWalk family. It is an amazing blessing to have so many brothers and sisters in Christ. Help me to work wholeheartedly and sacrificially to preserve community, to honor what your Son Jesus did to establish it in the first place!

Header image based on "Share!" by Juli Crockett, CC By 2.0

The Gift of Others: We Call It Church

I went whale-watching today. It’s our last day of vacation here in the Canary Islands, a little archipelago of islands clustered off of the coast of North Africa, and apparently this is whale-watching paradise.

I have to admit, we did see a lot of whales! And it was intriguing to notice that they — at least the “pilot whales” we were most watching — were social animals. They were usually seen in groups of two or three. Not only that, but those groups of two or three were hanging out with other groups of two or three.

Science tells us that pilot whales often gather in numbers of 30 or so, but that their groups can number as high as 100. These whales also stay together in smaller, family groups called “pods”. The pods are apparently quite stable and feature close family ties, where the whales care for each other. They also hunt and feed together.

The pilot whales even seemed to want to be social with us on the catamaran. Once we spotted them (were we spotting them, or were they spotting us?), they followed our catamaran for quite some distance. They also seemed playful when they encountered a much larger killer whale that we encountered. Apparently, they didn’t know — or didn’t care — who they were messing with!

The reason I bring this up is that God himself is a social being. Think of the Trinity, for instance. Or consider how many times in the past few days of reading Jesus has emphasized that he loves to please his Father — actually lives to please his Father. Talk about a family bond!

God has clearly designed us to be the same. We are social beings. We’re just plain healthier when we are together with others. Professor Lisa Berkman of Harvard University has investigated social connectedness and longevity, for instance. She looked at the impact of marital status, ties with friends and relatives, club membership, and levels of volunteerism on how well older people aged. Over a nine-year period of study, she found that those with the most social connectedness lived longer.

Which is why one of the greatest gifts of the gospel of Jesus Christ is community. When Jesus died and rose again for us, he won forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. He also won us a new family of brothers and sister who look after us. And we look after them. Christianity creates a family. We call it “church” or “fellowship”. Maybe we could call it “pods” as well!

“Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one” (John 11:49-52, NIV).

So, maybe it’s time to ask the question: Who from your church family are you going to connect with this week? Remember, Jesus has already given you many connections with brothers and sisters in Christ! Now, you have the opportunity to enjoy it!

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, May 20, is 1 Samuel 5:1 – 7:17, John 11:45 – 12:11 and Proverbs 12:18-27.

Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me a family I can rely on. Thank you for all the love, the support, and the teamwork that we are able to enjoy because we have our own little “pod” called the church.

Header image based on "Photo of the Week - Long-finned Pilot Whales (RI)" by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CC By 2.0

Rock Solid

I don’t know about you, but I wish I could stop being so shaky. I don’t always make good decisions. I sometimes choose my next steps based on fear and avoidance of pain, rather than faith and fulfillment of my life’s purpose. And when it comes to my faith, I find it far more convenient to rely on myself than depend on Jesus. It’s just easier that way. Or so my sinful mind tells me. I wish I could be rock solid. I want to feel confident in my mind, my heart and my actions. I want to be a man of faith and courage. I want to be fully dependent on my all-powerful and always-loving God for every good thing. And Jesus shows me the way to grow and mature into that man. It starts with listening to his word. Reading and meditating on my Bible. Attending church. Participating in a growth group. Subscribing to my church’s podcast. But it certainly doesn’t end there. Did you realize that there is only one difference between the wise and foolish builders in Jesus’ parable at the conclusion of his Sermon on the Mount? Both builders listened to the words of Jesus, but only the wise builder actually put Jesus’ words into practice. Maturity as a man or woman of God comes when we listen to Jesus’ words and then actually live the way he instructs us to. But to build our house on the rock, we must begin by building our house on the Rock. We will build, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, when we eat and drink from the spiritual rock that accompanies us, and that Rock is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4, NIV). When we build our faith on this Rock, we discover that there is massive good news for us. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has given us a new identity, a new destiny, a new purpose, a new community, and new possibilities. And therein lies the motivation to change our lives. In this good news is the “Why?” for listening to Jesus, and for putting his words into practice in our lives, so that we too become rock solid. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24, NIV). Lord Jesus, my Savior, thank you for living and dying for me to give me so many rich spiritual blessings. Help me by your Spirit’s power to become rock solid, by depending fully on you, listening to your words, and putting them into practice in my life. Our reading for Friday, January 9, is Genesis 19:1 – 20:18, Matthew 7:24 – 8:22 and Psalm 7:1-9.

Header image based on "The Rock Harbor Light House" by Ross, CC by 2.0