The Best Construction Project

1 Corinthians 3

1 Corinthians 3 19 a

For the Corinthians and Greek culture in general, wisdom and knowledge were extremely important.  This is why Paul spends 1 Corinthians 1 emphasizing that it is through faith in Christ that we are saved, not through the wisdom they have worked towards their whole lives.  Then in 1 Corinthians 2 Paul says that wisdom is important for the Christian, but it is Godly wisdom that is very different from what they have learned, and it cannot be taught, but is given by the holy spirit.  Now in chapter 3 Paul is clearing up any last confusion in case they were not understanding up until now. He very clearly says that they need this Godly wisdom, but do not have it at all. They have been seeking an elevated status in their congregation because of their high learning and deep understandings.  Paul wants to set the record straight, living a Christian life is not about sitting in your plush study and writing treatises and books and musings, and becoming revered for your knowledge. It is about getting your hands dirty. He likens the Christians to farmers and builders who have work to do, and he is a worker right there with them.  This would have been a very shocking thing to the aristocratically minded members of the Corinthian Church who would have read this.

 

So let me be as clear as Paul was.  If you decide to follow Jesus and serve him, then you will be a servant.  Your life will not be a vacation, but a construction project. It will take work, but in the end you will hopefully do something valuable with your life and “the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.  If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.” 1 Corinthians 3:13-14.  That reward is everlasting life in God’s kingdom, and is worth so much more than a high position in society, or being revered for your earthly wisdom.

 

Your fellow servant

Chris Mattison

Which Wisdom is Not Truly Wise

1 Corinthians 2

1 Corinthians 2 14.png

Hey guys, it’s Chris again and today we are looking at 1 Corinthians 2.

 

After deemphasizing the role of wisdom in salvation in the first chapter of first Corinthians Paul clarifies in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 that having wisdom is very important for Christians.  This wisdom is not gained through learning at schools, as was common in their culture, but was given and revealed through the holy spirit, and was completely different from the conventional wisdom of the day.  It was important to make this distinction between Godly wisdom and the conventional wisdom of the day, because many of the believers that had been taught courses in philosophy and rhetoric of the day were holding onto those old ways of thinking, which was causing the issues that Paul was writing about in this letter.  This is an important reminder that we need to completely die to ourselves when we accept Christ into our lives. We need to leave behind our old sins as well as our old ways of thinking about the world. Worldly wisdom is incompatible with Godly wisdom, and if we hold onto it then we will be divided and confused, and it will pull us away from God.

 

Peace in Christ,

Chris Mattison

Who Deserves Our Faith & Following

1 Corinthians 1

1 Corinthians 1 18 (1)

Hey guys this is Chris and I’m excited to go through 1 Corinthians 1-7 with you this week.  I hope you enjoy this book as much as I do.

 

In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 Paul chastises the people in the Church at Corinth for being divided based on the person they were baptized by or whose teachings they followed.  I think that this is a very good message for us today. Many Christians are drawn to a well spoken pastor, or an impassioned speaker, and these are good people to follow, but too often people place too much of their faith in that person.  I have seen it many times, these types of leaders will move away from their church or they will have a scandal, and the faith of the people will be shaken and many will stop going to that church. Hebrews 4:14 says “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”  We need to follow Jesus as the head of the Church because he will not fail us, and he is the only one who deserves our faith. Also, in this age of social justice people can get caught up in a certain movement or behind a certain leader and let those ideas influence them, and we need to remember that Christ’s teachings come first. Those other movements may be good things, but we need to check what they are saying against what Christ teaches.

 

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 tells us that salvation is not attained through wisdom or knowledge that you can gain if you study long enough.  That was the teaching of the Greeks such as Plato and Aristotle, that seeking wisdom was the highest goal. Salvation comes through faith.  In the Church of God we can be very focused on the Word of God and the truth, which is a good thing, but we need to make sure that we do not take pride in our knowledge and somehow think that we are any better than other Christians. We are saved by our faith, not our knowledge or wisdom.  Knowledge and wisdom will come as we seek God and grow, but we should not have pride in our knowledge, only in Christ and his works.

 

Have a blessed day.

Chris Mattison

Looking for the Living Christ

Philippians 3 10
John 20
Acts 1
Acts 9
Church Tradition
Revelation 1
All these places point to a living Christ, if we take the Bible even slightly seriously.
But it doesn’t mean much if you don’t believe.
Today, we are going to do something different. When you are done reading this blog, turn off your phone, close your Bibles and listen to the Spirit of God. Jesus said he would give us the Spirit, and the Spirit of Truth will guide us into all truth. So listen to the spirit.
That’s a hard ask, but what I mean is pray. That prayer may be sitting quietly at your powered-off laptop, or it may be on a run in your neighborhood, or on a nature hike in the nearby park, or it may be as you weed your garden, or as you pick up your room at college. Wherever you find yourself, in whatever it is that connects you to the Lord, ask the question I have asked you over and over again.
Do you believe that Jesus is alive?
That is the central question, not merely of the Christian faith, but of the human condition.
If Christ be not raised, life is, to quote MacBeth, “A tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.”
And one more Bible study, one more daily reading will not fix that bleak picture of existence if you do not believe Christ is really and truly alive.
Today, pray for conviction that Christ is raised. Pray for the knowledge that he lives. Pray that Christ would live within you and be made real to you. Whatever it takes.
I have had my doubts. There are times when I felt the crushing weight of loneliness, as if we are the only beings in the universe. But now, having experienced the saving grace of God in my life, I am convinced. I know that Christ lives, and I have written every day with the desire that you too are convinced.
May you, my brothers and sisters, feel the wind of the spirit as Christ breathes on you.
May you dive into the waters of life and swim to the shore where Christ prepares a meal and forgives your sins.
May you see him rise up from the mount of olives to prepare a place and may you trust he will descend to that mount again.
May you find yourself knocked from your horse with the voice of Christ resounding in your ears.
May you stand firm, no matter the course of life, no matter the beast or demon that stand in your way and persevere in his calling.
May you have all this and more because Christ, the savior and redeemer, is alive through the Power of God.
So, I ask one more time, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard

Turning to See Jesus

Free Theme Days – Evidence of the Risen Jesus

Revelation 1

Revelation 1 5 6
The last book of the Bible is a strange book. When one reads through it, one is accost with a number of images: dead lambs and dragons, beasts and battlegrounds, angelic armies and satanic hordes, a woman wearing starry crowns and a harlot mounted atop a beast. With these fascinating images along with many others, and a host of interpretations through the years for each image (it’s the Pope, no it’s Russia, no it’s China…) one easily can get lost in those conversations. However, I want to focus on Revelation Chapter 1. Go read it.
READ REVELATION 1!
Think about that description. Who are we talking about?
Jesus.
The one who was dead but is now alive forever and ever. Every day this week, we discussed how Jesus was believed to be alive. Revelation at the following chapters is a testament, a revealing on the work Jesus is still doing to John.
First, John looks and he sees Jesus. His eyes are open to the possibility that Jesus is alive, because he has heard the message as it was told to him or as he experienced it (whether John on Patmos is the same John of Zebedee is too big a discussion for today). And when John has the faith that maybe, just maybe, a man can rise from the dead, Jesus shows up. Jesus is ready to appear and teach.
Second, this Jesus is mighty. He wears a gold sash, with flaming eyes, bronze feet, white hair, with a voice of many waters. Shining like the sun, he has swords in his mouth and holds stars. He now holds the keys of death and hades, and is the First and the Last. John recognizes that Jesus, being raised is more than just a man with breath in his lungs again, like Lazarus or Eutychus who died again. He was alive in a way that made our life pale in comparison.
Third, and this where were the work of Jesus comes into play. What is Christ doing? He is walking among some lampstands. In an act of compassion for our brains, Jesus tells John “The seven lampstands are the seven churches.” What is Jesus doing? He walks among the churches. He is not far away and distance but close beside where his people are.
What do we gain from reading Revelation 1? We gain a few truths. Jesus walks close beside his people, especially when gathered together as the church. If we are gathered together Christ walks among us. If we want to see him, we should go where he wants to be found, among his people. We should also take very seriously that we aren’t looking for a soft cuddly Jesus who will tell us everything we want to hear. He may give comfort (Rev. 2:8-11), but he may also call you out on your terrible behavior (Rev. 3:14-22). But we only see Jesus when we turn and look. He is not hiding, but so often we hear the call of his voice and assume that he is not really there.
John believed that Jesus could still be alive. He turned, and to his joy he saw the risen Christ. The same can be said about us, if we are willing to turn and look, because we believe he is alive.
So, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard

Deaths of the Apostles

Free Theme Days – Evidence for the Risen Jesus

Acts 2 24

Earlier in the week (two days ago, in fact) we talked about how the apostles were telling the truth about Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. We noted how, out of their many faults, they weren’t all crazy. We also noted how along with Paul, they weren’t gaining much from teaching this tale.
But COULD they have been lying? I assume, knowing their other faults, there is always the possibility that they COULD have been lying, enjoying the privilege of being leaders in a new religious movement. Some people just like power, after all. But there is a large difference between “they could have been lying” and “they lied”. What does the record of their lives show?
Church tradition is normally frowned upon in the Church of God. There are some very valid points to be made for why that is the case. Revelation and tradition have conflicted in the past, and even in many churches today, and we think that what God said is correct and a person’s interpretation of God’s words are not on the same playing field. But there are places where Church Tradition doesn’t conflict with scripture, and it is at least interesting to think about what a majority of Christians have said about the 12 men who followed the founder.
Twelve men followed Jesus from the get-go, and they were called disciples in the gospels and apostles in Acts. We’ve talked about them already, but today I want to touch briefly on how each one of them died. Each of these stories come from church tradition. There is little evidence for some, and undeniable evidence for others. Let’s see their deaths and then comment on them all together.
  1. Peter was crucified upside down, saying that he did not die in a way similar to his Lord.
  2. Andrew, like his brother Peter, was also crucified.
  3. James, the Son of Zebedee, was put to death with the sword by King Herod in Judea. (Acts 12:1-2)
  4. John, the Son of Zebedee, dies in exile, but of natural causes at an older age.
  5. Philip was put to death by a Roman Proconsul in Asia Minor after converting the Proconsul’s wife.
  6. Thomas traveled to India and was killed by four soldiers with spears.
  7. Matthew was stabbed to death in Ethiopia after bringing the faith to the people.
  8. James of Alphaeus was crucified while preaching in the southern parts of Egypt.
  9. Jude/Thaddeus was beheaded in Beirut.
  10. Simon the Zealot was killed after refusing to offer a sacrifice to an idol in Beirut.
  11. Bartholomew was flayed alive and beheaded.
  12. Matthias was burned to death.
  13. Paul, (this is a bit of a cheat, as he wasn’t one of “the Twelve,” but go with me) after appealing to Caesar and traveling to Rome, was killed by the Emperor by beheading.
That’s a pretty grim and dire list. Why bring it up? With the exception of John, every other Apostle of Jesus died in faith, and usually because they were preaching faith, after living a harsh life. Peter was crucified upside down. Do you believe that a man who stole a body would have allowed himself to be crucified upside down if he could produce a body and say “I MADE IT ALL UP! It was a hoax!”? No! Peter didn’t downplay his testimony because he was speaking the truth. Considering that Bartholomew and Matthias both died in places outside of Israel, only one of the twelve apostles died in their homeland.
They didn’t live high on the hog, off the fat of the land. They traveled to places they didn’t know, to people to whom they were sent (apostle means “one who was sent”) because they believed Jesus was alive and that message was important enough to seek out the lost.
John was in exile because he believed Jesus was alive. James, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Jude, Simon the Zealot, Bartholomew, Matthias and Paul were all killed in various ways because they believed Jesus was alive. Andrew, James the Lesser and Peter were all CRUCIFIED because they believed… no, they KNEW… Jesus is alive. 
So, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard

Paul is Proof

Free Theme Days – Evidence for the Risen Jesus

Acts 9

Acts 9 5 (2)

Much of what we believe in the Christian faith is taken, understandably, on faith. However, if I had to give one story that almost shuts down the need for faith and instead have PROOF about  Jesus and the Resurrection, it would be the story of Saul/Paul and his conversion in Acts 9.

Up until the point in Acts 9, Saul has been persecuting the Christian faith. They were most likely being stoned or thrown in prison for trumped up charges. Stephen was accused of blasphemy and he was stoned to death. We all know he spoke no words of blasphemy, because the truth is not blasphemous, but that is where the Jewish leaders were.

But in Acts 9, something amazing happens, Saul gets knocked off a horse, goes down, hears the voice of a man who claimed to be Jesus, goes blind, and wanders into Damascus blind and healed by a Christian, one of the very people who he had just been persecuting.

Why does this count as proof for me?

1. Because it’s clear that Paul is not crazy. In a day and age where scholars doubt everything from the historical Moses to the historical Jesus, one would assume that when they agree on a traditional understanding, that counts for something. No scholar doubts that Paul wrote Romans. Ask for yourself, is Romans the work of a man out of his mind with guilt, that turned to follow Christ because he was driven to the small band he once hated out of a plagued conscience? There are parts of certain letters where we see Paul’s expressed sorrow (1 Corinthians 15:9, for example), and one could point to that as a case. But Romans! It’s a theological magnum opus! He is a man still gifted with all his intellect and faculties.

2. Could Paul be lying, hoping to gain wealth or fame off this new movement? We will go into this kind of theory even more in depth tomorrow, but Paul lost everything by getting on board this Jesus movement. He was persecuted, beaten, battered, and abused (2 Corinthians 11), and this after he had everything he ever wanted. He was the top dog of Judaism (Philippians 3) but he turned away from all those things so that he may follow Christ.

I encourage you to consider the persecutor-turned-evangelist Paul. What could cause a man rabidly dedicated to defending the faith of his ancestor and the honor of his God to so drastically change his tune and agree with those whom he persecuted?

For my part, it convinces me there is something going on with this Jesus movement, particularly that the leader must still be alive.

 

So, do you believe Jesus is alive?

 

-Jake Ballard

Do You Believe Jesus is Alive?

FREE THEME DAYS: Evidence for the Risen Jesus

Acts 1

Acts 1 3

Over the next few days, I have been given free reign to focus on any portion of scripture. However, I am going to hop around a bit, focusing on a theme: evidence for the risen Jesus.   (And on Sunday our devotions will continue our chapter-by-chapter walk through the New Testament with the book of 1st Corinthians.)
We just celebrated Easter/Resurrection Sunday. This is the most important, most key and most crucial story to what it means to be a believer in Jesus. If Jesus is not raised from the dead: Christmas is little more than a nice story, his teachings are little more than nice words, and his death is little more than a sad story of injustice. BUT, if Jesus was raised to life, never more to die, it means that God put his seal of approval on Christ. Christmas becomes the birth of the Savior, his teachings are divinely given mandates from the best of all possible prophets, and his death is a sacrifice for sin and a ransom from evil/Evil.
Many people in our world today doubt all sorts of miracles. They question the Exodus story due to the “outlandish” claims about the Nile turning to blood or the parting of the sea. They question the stories of creation: was the Earth created in six literal 24 hour days six thousand years ago or through a gradual process involving billions of years? Did Jesus REALLY feed 5,000 people with some fish and some bread, or did they share with one another and no one was left hungry? All of these are interesting questions, and different theological beliefs and convictions lead to various answers.* However, as noted above, CHRIST’S RESURRECTION  is not incidental to the story of the Bible; the Bible IS THE STORY OF THE LIFE, DEATH AND NEW LIFE OF CHRIST. That is God’s Central theme in the pages of Scripture. It gets us to Jesus or points back to him. Jesus, then, connects us to God. Therefore, whatever we believe about other miracles, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is essential.
Which is why Acts 1 was included in Scripture.
READ ACTS 1!
What is so interesting about it is that Christ doesn’t appear to one guy in a room with the door closed (we could chalk that up to lying or insanity). He doesn’t even appear to just the twelve. There are anywhere from 120 (Acts 1:15) to 500 (1 Cor. 15:6) witnesses who saw Jesus resurrected, walking around preaching and teaching and convincing them that He was real and not a figment of their imagination.
Were the disciples crazy? Scripture shows their flaws but none of them would have been delusional.
Were the disciples lying? That could have been refuted easily and wouldn’t they have quickly given up the story and admitted the lie. (We are getting ahead of ourselves, stay tuned.)
The important point to make is pretty clear. Jesus began a movement. The movement didn’t end with his death, but continued on far afterwards, presumably with him coming back to life. Over and over, this has been confirmed in the pages of Scripture and in the lives of believers. When I ask, “Do you believe Jesus is alive?” I am really asking three question.
Is scripture trustworthy about its claims? If yes, then we must believe Jesus is alive.
Are believers trustworthy about their claims? If yes, then we should trust scripture, and should believe that Jesus is alive.
Have you experienced Jesus? If yes, then tell others that Jesus is alive.
So, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard
_____________________________________________________________________________
*For my part, I think when the Bible tells a narrative, we should trust the narrative to be historically accurate, and when it tells poetry and myths, we don’t hold poetry and myths to that same standard. That discussion takes a lot to unpack… if you are intrigued, be on the lookout for a Young Adult Class coming to FUEL this Summer!

Epilogue of John

John 21

John 21 17 b

The twenty first chapter of the Gospel of John is a fascinating chapter.

Far be it from me to correct the story-telling ability of the author, but why end here? It feels like the story was wrapped up with a nice bow when the author wrote the words we looked at yesterday. Then, almost as if the author forgot a couple stories, he tags on these last couple bits. My fascination with the narration, however, does not diminish what it teaches. Of course, there is both an author and an Author, and so much is given to us in this last chapter.

What I want to focus in on, though, is what happens with Peter? Peter, Peter, Peter. He walks on water, but he doubts. He asks Jesus to wash his whole body when he only needs his feet taken care of. He says “I’ll die for you” but denies him three times. What are we gonna do with Peter?

Of course, you and I are JUST LIKE Peter.

I’ve denied Jesus.

Haven’t you?

I had my doubts after a huge moment of success, when I “walked on water.”

Haven’t you?

I put my foot so far in my mouth my toe tickled by tonsils.

Haven’t you?

So the question is not, “What are we gonna do with Peter?” The question is, “What is Jesus gonna do with Peter?” because that will let us know what Jesus is gonna do with us.

And the answer is exciting.

He makes us better.

He finds Peter and the other disciples fishing, and after helping them perform a miracle, Peter swims to shore. While ashore, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”

Every time, Peter says “Yes!”

And Jesus responds with “Feed my lambs.” “Shepherd my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”

When a person fails to live up to the standard Jesus sets, Jesus forgives and works with us. We look at one of the most flawed characters in the New Testament and see, time and again, his failures, his misunderstandings, his sins. But because Peter trusted Jesus and wanted to follow him, Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter. Jesus lets him know that he will be with him, even in the difficult days ahead. He gives him the power and ability to lead, and Peter becomes one of the leaders in the church. He expands the mission of the church beyond Jews and to the Gentiles. He trains other Pastors/Shepherds in how to care for the people of God. (See 1 Peter 5.)

The next time you wonder “Am I useless? What can God do with me?” look to the life of Peter. Take encouragement in the beautiful truth that, if we trust and love Jesus, or even WANT to trust and love him, he will not let us go. He will fight for us, care for us, and ultimately, he will change us into the kind of person God wants us to be.

-Jake Ballard

He is RISEN! He is RISEN INDEED!

John 20

John 20 8

In John 20, we see Christ has been raised. He is no longer in the tomb. The stone was rolled away and he lives.
The Darkness is over!
The LIGHT HAS DAWNED!
The Light who gives light to every person is ALIVE.
Praise the God who gives life to the Light who shines forth in the Darkness. The Darkness COULD NOT overcome the Light.
However, in this metaphorical language, taken straight from the mouth of John, I don’t want to lose sight of the amazing couple of statements made at the end of the chapter.
John specifically says exactly why he wrote the book.
“These [things] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
You have read through the entire book of John. You have read the prologue of chapter one. You have read the “book of signs”, from chapter 2 to 12, and the seven signs Christ performed. You have read the “book of teachings”, from chapter 13 to 17 and all the things that Christ tells us there. Finally, you have read the “book of glory”, from chapter 18 to 20, all about how he receives his exaltation in the crucifixion and the greatest exaltation of the resurrection.
The reason for each “book”, for every chapter, for every phrase, for indeed EVERY WORD, all of it was for you to at the end say “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Do you believe? Do you believe that Jesus, the one performing miracles, the one speaking truth, the one who died, is the Son of God? Do you have life in his name?
If you don’t, don’t wait. On this day, as we celebrate Christ raised to life, I want to celebrate that YOU have been raised to life. Talk to your mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, legal guardian, your pastor or youth worker, your best bud who believes… talk to ANYONE about giving your life to Jesus, about getting baptized, about believing in the name of Jesus and experiencing life and life abundantly.
If you believe, remember, that today we speak of Jesus and we say
“He is Risen indeed.”
In the future, Christ will say of you, believer,
“My Brother, my sister, the children of my Father, they are all risen. They are RISEN INDEED!”
Amen,
Come Lord Jesus.
-Jake Ballard