Partners in the blessing

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

I assume most of us consider the gospel to be a blessing.

The good news of Jesus Christ has saved us, set us free and redeemed us. There is rich language we use when we talk about the gospel’s work. It all incorporates how we experience the presence of God. So, considering God’s willingness to offer the gospel to us, of course we are blessed. We have received a most gracious gift.

The blessing, then, is what we receive. That idea is easy for us to consider. For example, we accept a new job as a blessing. A gift from a friend is a blessing. Having the opportunity to do something you love counts as a blessing.

Of course, we do receive more and more blessings. But we also take part in them.

More specifically, considering the gift of the gospel, we share in its blessing. The apostle Paul reminds us of this. His ministry mindset is to be a “slave to all” (1 Corinthians 9:19). That is, to share the gospel, he has become all things to all people. To do so requires to let go of your ego. You have to put behind some of your assumptions about what is proper or even ideal. You might even be uncomfortable at times.

Sometimes Christians carry the notion that we meet people where they are to bring them up where we are. That’s pretty presumptuous. We meet people where they are to share what we have learned about the goodness of God. The blessing is not that they start going to your church or start singing your songs. The blessing is the gospel has shown one more person the great love of God.

Now, there are many Christians, many churches that don’t even meet people. Do they know they’re missing half the blessing of the gospel? Paul says, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:23). Other translations draw our attention to the partnership language Paul understood. and used.

That part of the blessing of the gospel is our willingness to join its mission. Not just to receive it for our benefit. Not just to talk about it. But to submit our lives to its purpose. We are partners with God, and that is part of the blessing!

Stay blessed…john

Knowing what to say

Acts 4:1-12

Jesus knew his followers would defend themselves “before synagogues, rulers and authorities” (Luke 12:11). Not to worry because the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say (Luke 12:12).

In Acts 4 we see that happen.

Peter and John healed a man at the temple gate and people were “utterly astonished” (Acts 3:11). This gave Peter a chance to address the crowd, and he began to teach them about Jesus. Annoyed by the “resurrection of the dead” talk, religious authorities arrested the two (Acts 4:2). After a night in jail, they questioned Peter and John. Luke says Peter gave a Spirit-filled response.

Did Peter recognize what was happening at that moment? That the Holy Spirit was doing what Jesus had promised?

Peter had already preached a sermon and had thousands of people respond. He and John had looked a man in the eyes and told him to get up and walk. And he did! How many stories about blundering disciples line the gospels? They don’t know how to respond to Jesus. They can’t keep from focusing on themselves. Now, their focus has shifted and the change is noticeable.

The Holy Spirit has emboldened them to begin a new phase of ministry.

Anything new can be scary. Add to the newness an assurance of persecution, and that intensifies. But the disciples continue in ministry. They know what to say now, even if they didn’t know what they would say a second ago. Their words before the councils and authorities were a witness to all who first heard them. All these generations later, they witness to us as well.

To be sure, we’re reflecting on a promise of God, not a skill of ours. This isn’t about being witty or fast talking. It’s not about working a crowd or having the ability to get out of a tight spot. Rather, it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit.

As we communion with God, the Holy Spirit continues to mold our hearts. We learn to listen to the Spirit. As we do, in times when the world needs a witness, you know exactly what to say.

Stay blessed…john

Never forget

Romans 8:31-39

I hope I never forget her face.

A woman came to me with a piercing question. “Why is God doing this to me?” She had prayed for forgiveness. Her life that day was different than it had been before because she decided God deserved a better life from her.

And yet, cancer.

Of course, the question is not new. Why do bad things happen to good people? Or, in light of a good and gracious God, why do evil and suffering seem to prevail?

I’m leery of anyone who is overconfident in their responses to such questions. I have a response I’ve mulled over time and time again. At this point, I’m only somewhat comfortable with it. And that’s only because I know Christian history has struggled with it more than me.

With as much as I’m not sure about, I take great comfort in one thing. Nothing “in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). That was the distress that filled my office that one day. A cruel diagnosis must’ve meant God had abandoned her. Unfortunately, her religious upbringing led her to that conclusion.

I hoped to offer another viewpoint she could learn to affirm.

Romans 8 also speaks of Christians being victorious. I’ve seen that taken in directions the apostle Paul did not intend. The Christian heart is victorious because Christ has given us life through his Spirit (Romans 8:11). With such a victory, we can dispel the fear of condemnation. We can say with confidence our cancer is not God’s judgement. Our struggles may sometimes be the outcome of our choices. They may also just be a part of being alive. But they do not sway God’s love for us.

What I don’t know or understand about theodicy or evil, I leave to God. What I do know or understand I leave to God as well. I hope I never forget that woman’s face as she feared what would be the worst of all. It reminds me how much we need to know and be reminded of God’s love for us. And I trust I’ll never forget the promise I offered to her that nothing could ever make her worse fear possible.

Stay blessed…john