Our Week of Unity

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I’ve enjoyed writing this week’s devotions and sharing with you Paul’s words on unity. Today I want to recap what we’ve learned and encourage you to start living out these ideas in your own life.

 

 

I began this week talking about the conflict-ridden times we are living in and the fact that the Church is not immune to divisiveness. The church has struggled with unity since its inception, but this isn’t how it should be. Paul wanted unity for the church in Philippi—he said this would make his joy complete. Unity is also what is needed in every church today. This is why we should pursue it.

 

 

On Monday, I said that to be unified we must be striving towards the same idea—to be of same mind. And the idea around which we should be unified is living out the Gospel. This should be our singular purpose in life and everything else should pale in comparison to it.

 

The next day we moved to Paul’s advice on the way towards unity. Humility, the lowering of one’s self and self-interests, is how he says we should go about achieving unity. Our agendas should be subject to God’s. Paul pointed to Christ as the prime example of living in humility and subjecting oneself to God’s will. We must follow Christ’s pattern of humility if we are to have unity in our churches.

 

On Wednesday, we learned about four enemies of unity and why they’re so destructive to churches. The first is pride, which promotes self-interest instead of the Gospel. The second is gossip, which divides people by pointing out others shortcomings without trying to help them. The third enemy is complaining. When we complain, we are saying that we think something is wrong, but we don’t care enough about the body to address the issue in the proper way. The fourth enemy to unity we see is argument, but not just simple disagreement. Arguments that are fueled by a desire to be proved right and arguments that are filled with bitterness instead of love drive churches apart. All four of these enemies are real dangers that we should fight against with love and humility.

 

On Thursday I spoke about our union with Christ and how essential it is to church unity. Union with Christ has two aspects: knowing him and being like him. In knowing him we must truly understand what he did, why he did it, and what that means for us. In being like him, we must strive to live as he lived, in subjection to the will of God and in the service of others. Christ is the head of the body; if we want unity in the body, we must be united with him.

 

Yesterday I spoke about Paul’s final advice for the Philippians on unity and four principles we can take from it. The first is of reconciliation. When two or more people in the church are divided, the church should work together to bring everyone back into unity. The second principle is about exercising gentleness. Just as Jesus was gentle when caring for those who were weak and needed special attention, the Church today needs that same gentleness in its ministry. The next principle is that we should live our lives worry free from the troubles that plague this age and that, when we do face struggles, we should bring them to God in prayer. The final principle we see is that we should fill our minds with things that are good instead of the rot that is a hallmark of this world. These four principles will go a long way towards promoting unity in our churches.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these devotions this week, along with the words of Paul to the Philippians. But we are not called to simply be hearers (or readers) of the word—we must also be doers. The words of Paul to the Philippians are challenging, but the results from following them would be life changing and paradigm shifting for the Church. If we want to see unity in the Church, we must start by applying these ideas in our own lives as individuals—living in humility, having the Gospel be our primary focus, and not gossiping, complaining, or arguing.

 

– Joel Fletcher

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Paul’s Final Exhortation for Unity

Philippians 4

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Yesterday we took a break from our discussion on unity in the body to talk about our union with Christ—the head of the body. Today we’re back to the theme of unity in the Church and looking at Philippians 4, where Paul offers the Philippians some final exhortations for unity. From Paul’s advice to the church at Philippi in this passage, we can see four principles that, if applied, will help promote unity in our own churches.

 

The first principle we see here is reconciliation. In verse 2 Paul calls attention to an apparent disagreement that was causing strife among two of the woman in the church. He urged them to “be of the same mind in the Lord.” These women had been workers, alongside Paul, for the Gospel and this disagreement between them was hindering their ministry. Personal differences should never get in the way of our commitment to the Gospel. When disagreements arise, the church should work together towards reconciliation so that it can get back to its primary focus.

 

The second principle we can take from this passage is to live gently. Paul says in verse 5 (NRSV) to “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” Gentleness is one of the Fruit of the Spirit, but one that I think is often overlooked. This comes from a misunderstanding of what gentleness is all about. Many people equate gentleness to weakness, but it is actually a sign of strength. A weak person is one who lacks strength but a gentle person is one who appears weak for the benefit of others. Gentleness allows us to care for those who are weak and need special attention. Jesus was gentle—this aided him greatly in his ministry to sick and inflicted. If we want to have inclusive churches that minister to the needs of those who are weak, we must promote gentleness.

 

 

Living worry free is another principle Paul pushes in this passage that can aide our goal of church unity. In verses 6 and 7 (NRSV) he says “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Worry and anxiety are enemies of the Gospel. Worry is a prison; the Gospel is freedom. Worry keeps us focused on the evils of the age we live in—all the bad things that come about from our sinful nature. It takes our minds off the hope we have in the future Kingdom of God, where everything will be made right and worry rendered obsolete. When bad things do happen in our lives, we shouldn’t spend time thinking about how much worse they could get or why it is happening to us. We should instead bring our concerns before a God who can offer us peace that we won’t find anywhere else, and that can get us through this evil age until we dwell with him in His kingdom. A church at peace and without worry is one that is focused on the future and making a difference in the present.

 

 

The final unity principle Paul offers in Philippians 4 is filling our minds with that which is good. In verse (NRSV) he says, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” There are a lot of things in this world that try to grab our attention and many of them are not beneficial. Our minds our shaped by what we take in, just as our bodies are by the food we eat. This is why what we think about is so important. If we want to get good out, we must put good in. If we want to be unified in our purpose, we must be unified in our thinking, and that thinking should be on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and excellent.

 

While they are not always easy to follow, these four principles will go a long way towards promoting unity within the Church.

 

– Joel Fletcher

Union with Christ

Philippians 3

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The last few days we’ve been talking about unity in the body. Today I want to spend some time discussing unity (or union) with the head of the body. Our connection with Jesus affects every relationship in our lives. If we are to achieve unity in our local church, we must maintain union with our Lord.

 

Union with Christ has two important aspects. The first is knowing him. This does not mean to know who he is or to know some things about him. It is to understand what he went through and why he endured it. It is to realize that without him we are hopeless. It means communicating with him. It means recognizing that our own efforts count as nothing towards our salvation and that only through him can we be saved and that this is a good thing. Paul says that everything he could boast about in himself is garbage compared to the worth of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8), and in John 17:3 Jesus says that eternal life is to know the only true God and His son. Knowing Christ is essential for salvation and for being united with him.

 

The second aspect of our union with Christ is being like him. Earlier in Philippians, Paul tells readers to have the same mind as Christ (2:5).  Just as Jesus lived to serve the will of God, we should. Just as he was willing to give up his life for others, we should. He lived perfectly and we should strive to do the same. In Galatians 2:20 (ESV) Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Union with Christ is about emptying ourselves of the muck that comes from our sinful nature and replacing it with the holiness that comes from Christ—out with the old, in with the new.

 

“Therefore, if anyone is in [union] Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (1 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

 

In this life, we will never achieve perfect union with Jesus. We will not fully know him or be totally like him until we can be with him—without the presence of sin. Paul recognized this and writes that despite his shortcoming he would “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14, NRSV). We, too, should press on towards the goal to have union with Jesus. It won’t be perfect, but it will go a long way in furthering our own spiritual development and the unity of the Church.

– Joel Fletcher

Transformation!

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

2 Corinthians 5-17

Weekly Introduction by Nathaniel Johnson

If any of you have known me for very long, you know just how awful of a child I was. I was a little fireball of emotion. I would kick and scream when I didn’t get my way and I would hurt anyone that got in my way. Thank God for the transformation that occurred when I decided to be baptized! However, baptism wasn’t the only thing that changed me. A life filled with Bible study and prayer is what changed me. Paul described my situation perfectly in his letter to the Corinthians when he said, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

 

Our memory verse for the week will be one that I have always felt very close to, 2 Corinthians 5:17. Throughout the rest of the week, I look forward to spending some time talking about prayer and how it is intimately related to this verse in 2 Corinthians.

Who Are You Walking With?

Proverbs 13

He who walkswith the wisegrows wise,but a companionof foolssuffers harm.Proverbs 13-20

The recurring promise of Proverbs is that generally the wise (the righteous who obey God) live longer (9:11), prosper (2:20–22), experience joy (3:13–18) and the goodness of God temporally (12:21), while fools suffer shame (3:35) and death (10:21). On the other hand, it must be remembered that this general principle is balanced by the reality that the wicked sometimes prosper (Ps. 73:312), though only temporarily (Ps. 73:17–19). Job illustrates that there are occasions when the godly wise are struck with disaster and suffering.
So if the two major themes which are interwoven and overlapping throughout Proverbs are wisdom and folly. Wisdom, which includes knowledge, understanding, instruction, discretion, and obedience, is built on the fear of the Lord and the Word of God. Then folly is everything opposite to wisdom.

The portrait of the fool emerges as a contrast to the one who seeks the wisdom of YHWH.

  • In everything the prudent acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly. 13.16

The fool is an undisciplined scoffer of God and His wisdom. The fool in his folly is reckless in his anger — worse than a Momma bear on the prowl for her cubs! Even worse, he is proud of his foolishness, wearing it as a badge of honor, unaware that the cycle of folly is destroying him each time he returns to it.

Contrast this with the 60+ references to “the wise” in Proverbs alone. Again, this is far from an exhaustive list, but the character of the wise emerges with even a quick look from Proverbs 13.  When you read Proverbs 13 you will see fools and wise in the context of money, parenting, friends, the list goes on like a warning sign or a blaring horn warning you of danger.  Take a look at some of the examples:

  • 11 Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles,
    But the one who gathers by labor increases it.
  • A wise son accepts his father’s discipline,
    But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.
  • 20 He who walks with wise men will be wise,
    But the companion of fools will suffer harm.
  • 14 The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life,
    To turn aside from the snares of death.
    15 Good understanding produces favor,
    But the way of the treacherous is hard.

The wise man exercises discernment and self-control, a distinct alternative to the reckless behavior of the fool. Wisdom is also the measured way of life, guarding against impulsiveness by counting the cost of one’s actions. He who is wise seeks counsel, is quick to listen, and is thoughful in his speech.

Which one are you?

Read Proverbs 13 and decide for yourself who you are walking with.

-Andy Cisneros

Scripture: Our Corrective Lens – Proverbs 12

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Today brings our weeks study of Proverbs 6-12 to a close.  Chapter 12 is a continuation of the antithetical Proverbs and there are some real beauties in here and they range through quite a spectrum of wise and unwise behaviors.

It leads off with a really good set of contrasts: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.”  It doesn’t get much plainer than this:  A wise person willingly accepts discipline, but if you hate to be corrected by another you are stupid.

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Everybody makes mistakes.  I’m a big baseball fan.  I’ve always enjoyed playing and watching baseball.  The amazing thing about baseball is that the BEST baseball players fail between 60 and 70% of the time.  That’s right!  The best hitters usually have batting averages around .300, sometimes .350 and very rarely (like Ted Williams was the last one who did it and that was more than 70 years ago) someone will bat .400.  But even if you’re the greatest hitter of all time, you still FAIL to hit the ball 6 out of 10 times.  What is it that sets great hitters apart from the rest of us?  They learn from their mistakes.  They study film of their mistakes.  And they listen to their coaches who help them to correct what would appear to us to be very minor mistakes.  You get to be a great hitter by accepting correction, from learning from your mistakes.  That requires a lot of humility.

The same is true in the rest of our lives.  We all make mistakes.  Often we catch our own mistakes and take steps to correct them.  But sometimes we don’t even see our own mistakes.  Sometimes someone else sees our mistake and offers a word of correction.  A wise person willingly listens to correction and attempts to change their behavior… a foolish person refuses to receive or learn from the correction of others and so they fail to improve their actions.

The whole foundation of the gospel message in the Bible is a openness to correction and a willingness to change.  Jesus himself began his ministry by calling people to “repent, and believe the good news.”  To repent means to change your direction.

As you read through the Bible, God will use His word to bring to your mind and heart his corrective word.  You will see areas where you need to change.  You’ll see a passage like “Diligent hands will rule but laziness ends in forced labor.”  You might read that passage and realize, deep down, that this is an issue in your life.  You might blame other people for some of your problems, you might make excuses for why you do or don’t do certain things, but the fact is, you might actually be lazy.  I’m not saying you are lazy because, well, I don’t even know you.  You might be a diligent, hard working person and that’s great.  But then again, you might be lazy.  Your laziness may cause you to procrastinate and put off doing things that you need to do but don’t enjoy.  Your laziness may be costing you good grades in school, or a promotion at work.  Your laziness may because causing conflict in your marriage as your spouse resents that they have to work harder to make up for your laziness.  Your laziness might be keeping you from going to Church on Sundays or serving in a ministry at your Church where you might be very gifted and very helpful.  I don’t know if you’re lazy or not, but you need to at least take a hard look and ask yourself “does this Proverb apply to me?”  If you’re not sure, ask someone important in your life who really knows you and isn’t afraid to speak truth into your life and ask them “Do you every observe laziness in me?”  And if they say, yes, then you might want to consider that you may be lazy and you might want to become more aware of ways that laziness manifests itself in your daily life.  And you might begin asking God to help you change, understanding that it won’t happen overnight.

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But know this, no positive change can happen in any area of your life until you are ready to receive correction.  God’s Word, the Bible is powerful.  In one place the Bible refers to itself as a double-edged sword.  It’s able to dig deep inside of you.  It is able to help you change if you allow it to do it’s work in your life.  II Timothy 3:16 says it very well: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (New Living Translation).

Almost exactly a year ago I had surgery to remove cancer from my body.  I let a surgeon cut through my skin and muscle to get to where the cancer was and very carefully cut it out.  Why?  Because I don’t want to die from cancer any sooner than necessary.  As I think about it today,  I gave that surgeon an awesome responsibility.  And to be honest, before the surgery I was afraid.  Who is this man with a knife that I’m entrusting with my body, my life?  I’m glad I did it, because here I am a year later and I’m still alive and I have a whole lot less cancer in my body then I did then and I’ve got a whole lot better chance of living longer now because I trusted him to perform surgery on my life.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of Wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding”. (Proverbs 9:10).  I trust my awesome God to use His word to go to work removing all the bad stuff in my life and bringing me to wholeness and salvation.  God does this through his word and through Jesus Christ, who was pierced for our transgressions.  It takes some cutting and some bleeding to bring us life, and to bring us eternal life.  I trust God my awesome God, do you?

~ Jeff Fletcher

Don’t give in to Temptation! – Prov. 5

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Hello, Everyone! I hope your week has gone well; can you believe it is Friday already?!

Today’s passage is Proverbs, chapter 5. This chapter is about one topic, and this topic is a piece of wisdom in itself. Again, thank you for joining us today, and I encourage you to go ahead a read this chapter on your own as well.

Proverbs 5, is full of warnings; warnings against disobeying, warnings about temptation, warnings about not realizing the good of what you have already been given.

The beginning of chapter five, tells us to listen and heed the wisdom being given. Verses 1-3 “My son, pay attention to my wisdom, turn your ear to my words of insight, that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.” This specific example speaks about giving in to adultery, however, it can be applied to any temptation we have. At any point in your life, someone might not have your best interest in mind, and they are only seeking to please themselves, and they might drag them down with you if you let them. This is later depicted in verses 11-14: “At the end of your life, you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, ‘How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or turn my ear to my instructors. And I was soon in serious trouble in the assembly of God’s people.” The person who gave in to their temptation later realize their mistake, and they regret that they did not listen to what many were trying to tell them.

The end of this chapter reads, “Why, my son be intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman? For your ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all your paths. The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast. For lack of discipline, they will die, led astray by their own great folly.” Proverbs 5:20-23

While these verses specifically talk about adultery, it can be applied to many other temptations in our lives. Why would we envy something someone else has when we have our own house, or our own life, our own family, our own job? God gives us what we need, and sometimes what we want, especially if both align with his will for us. Our God is an awesome God, who loves us so much, that he sent his only son to die for us, that we might live with him, forever. He knows our every need, he knows our every desire, and he likes to give gifts to those who are faithful.

We should not give in to temptations set in front of us because God can and does give us so much more. We should listen to the wisdom our elders, parents, friends, and peers give us because so often God has placed them in our lives to be a part of our journey.

Thank you for reading today, and I hope you have a great rest of your day and a great weekend. Don’t forget to memorize the verse this week, Proverbs 3:5-6. & Check in with us tomorrow for the last post this week.

~ Jana Swanson