We know that “an idol has no real existence” (1 Corinthians 8:4). Paul, while addressing an immediate problem related to Christian liberty, simultaneously addresses a vital overarching point regarding idolatry. Idols are nothing; they are not just false gods, they are no gods at all. Of course the material, physical stuff from which the idol is made is real, but the god it represents does not exist. There is no need to fear idol gods, and there is certainly no reason to worship them.
What does the church of Jesus Christ really look like? Of course, I am not talking about the architectural style of the building in which it meets, but what a local body of believers looks like. We know the church should be sound in doctrine and zealous in proclaiming the gospel. But how does a sound church really function?
In Ephesians 3:14-19, Paul gives us four specific prayer requests he had for the people of God. And all of them center around the person and work of Jesus Christ: that Christ’s Spirit give you strength, as Christ lives in you by faith, giving you an ever-deepening, familiar knowledge of Christ-love, that you may enjoy the very best, the fullness, of what God has to offer: Jesus!
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me“ (Psalm 23:4). We too often talk about God, without talking to God. We can give mental assent to certain Bible teaching – Jesus is Lord, Jesus is a Shepherd, Jesus is awesome – but not say to Jesus, “Rule my life as my Lord, be my Shepherd, help me to walk in awe of you!”
Worshiping God is both our duty and our privilege, no matter who we are. Jesus responded to Satan’s temptation with the biblical command, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10). If Jesus would quote this command even to Satan, surely there is no one exempt from the force of its demands. This is because, as Psalm 95:6 reminds us, the call to worship our Lord God arises from the reality that he is “our maker.” Every creature owes the one Creator their worship.
We sometimes make the mistake of thinking we must choose between knowledge and passion; but in fact the two feed each other, especially in relation to Jesus (2 Peter 3:11-18). The more we learn about Jesus, the more we will love and trust him; on the other hand, it is impossible to genuinely love or truly trust someone you don’t even know (Matthew 11:28-29; Romans 10:14). This is why knowledge is so important. And this is why every Christian should be a dedicated, life-time learner. A heart cannot be renewed by knowledge that the head never took in.
“As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!“ (Psalm 40:17). I am poor and needy. Is that your self-description today? It is the reality, whether we recognize it or not. No matter how strong, healthy, or financially secure we may feel at the moment, we are poor and needy because we have nothing in ourselves. But at times we feel it much more keenly than at other seasons, don’t we? There are times when we might read this and wonder
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not 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). Such were some of you. On one hand, what sweet words these are to believers! The church is not for perfect people but for sin-scarred, once-blind, still struggling people.
“Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you“ (2 Thessalonians 3:1). In this single verse Paul reminds of the importance of two of the chief things God has given us to do in the world: prayer and proclaiming God’s Word, both for the glory of God. Pray! Pray for us as ministers of the gospel; but even your prayers for us are ultimately prayers for the advancement of the Word of God.
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:6). We are in desperate need of revival. Our marriages, our families, our churches, our nation (no matter what nation we hail from)—in every arena of life and society and religion we need the omnipotent, renewing visitation of the Holy Spirit. Yet many of us as Christians do not know what “revival” even means precisely.
It is important to recognize that the Christian life can be a series of ups and downs, confidence and doubts. However, the faith that God gives us in Jesus Christ is (praise God!) not based on our feelings or even on our faithfulness. Neither is God’s love toward us. This is important to remember, because discouragement is one of the most effective tools in Satan’s bag of tricks. In times, however, when I find myself (or at least feel to be) spiritually cold, it helps when I get back to the basics Lombardi-style (“Gentleman, this is a football”).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and a participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism. He was involved in plots planned by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He was arrested in March 1943, imprisoned and eventually hanged, just before the end of the Second World War in Europe. I have lately been enjoying Bonhoeffer’s classic work The Cost of Discipleship, written at the height of his conflict with Nazi ideology and with the compromising German church.
Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity (1 Corinthians 16:12). Even our very best plans often meet with significant snags. Many variables can conspire to derail our plans, but one in particular often proves a great help or hindrance in our efforts: people. Planning would be so easy if it weren’t for other people with other opinions! Pastoring, marriage, child-rearing, and evangelism would all be a cinch if you just didn’t have to
We live in a mobile, global society. I am reminded of this as a pastor, with people who constantly move into our city for school or work, and simultaneously others who move away for the same reasons. Yet, as a pastor, I feel an obligation to help those who are leaving our church in Ohio to find a healthy home for their soul in whatever new place they may be landing. Just in the past year, I have tried to help people transition to Japan, California, China, Florida, Texas, Germany, and South Korea.
A recent survey from Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life concluded that “most Americans say they are absolutely sure about standards of right and wrong – and are just as sure that no one religion holds an exclusive franchise on the truth,” according to an article by the Dallas Morning News. It goes one to say, Overwhelming majorities of Americans say they believe in God (or a “universal spirit”). But substantial majorities from all major religious categories also say they believe their religion is not the only path to eternal life, and that there’s not just one correct version