The Law of the Letter or of Life

Thursday, August 5th, 2021

Job 3-4, 2 Corinthians 3

The Olympics are going on in full steam with the final days approaching this week. Though I’ve never been one to follow gymnastics, swimming, track, or fencing, when the Olympics comes around, I’m glued to the screen watching people strain towards earthly glory in the form of a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Today, I was watching the morning news, and Caleb Dressel was doing an interview. When asked about how he took care of his mental health, he said that the first thing he did when he got back home from a big event was to not think about swimming for at least two weeks. When he got home, he wasn’t a medal winning athlete; he was just himself. He said if he didn’t do this, the pressure would be too much. He would start to go after an unattainable goal that would ultimately lead him down a dark path. 

Though we can pursue earthly achievements in our careers, finances, homes, sports, hobbies, etc., we are called to live with eternity in mind as Christians. A gold medal, large retirement account, promotion, or degree is not the pinnacle of our life. The way that we live now is working towards that final goal which will come when the trumpet sounds. As I talked about earlier this week, we can rest in assurance that this goal has already been achieved. The victory is won, and we wait for Jesus to come. 

I can say that… but in my heart of hearts, sometimes it’s hard to live like that is actually true. I like to be in control, and for the things that I’m actually good at (which is not sports), I like to be one of the best. I will go all out. And, so in my Christian walk, I can fluctuate from being distracted and worried about the cares of the world and being so legalistic that I stifle the relationship that I’m trying to work towards. When I make it about me, I can go down a wrong path – just like Caleb Dressel. I can’t do anything to add to the accomplishments of Christ, and so all of my actions where I am trying to be the ‘best’ Christian ultimately burn me out and leave me empty – and they can actually leave me further away from Christ (like the Pharisees). 

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Paul writes, “17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

We don’t have to live by the law of the letter anymore. We can live in the freedom that comes from living in the Holy Spirit. We are not changing ourselves on our own power; we are relying on the power of God. And, God can do so much more than any man – Olympic medal winning or not. When we rely on him, we have the victory! Whose power are you living in?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 3-4 and 2 Corinthians 3 .

The Early Church : The Message

John 20


I love the book of John, and I am so glad I get to lead us in this week, because John 20 is one of my favorite chapters. 


This week we are discussing the early church. We will be ending John and moving into Acts. While Luke shows us the crucifixion, resurrection, and later the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost as the beginning of the church, John shows us the beginning of the church here in chapter 20. 


In the opening verses, Jesus is RISEN! Jesus, in John, clearly laid down his life of his own accord, and clearly takes it up again. There is no doubt in the mind of Jesus or the author about what he was doing. Jesus was saving humanity! Jesus was giving the final sign that he is the Messiah, and 8th sign, signifying that he is creating something new. The disciples sprint to see the empty tomb but go away. Mary stays. Jesus sends her to let them know that his words were true, he had been raised, just as he said. He sends her out.


This sending of Mary is mirrored in what Jesus does to the apostles is verse 19. They are sitting in fear, but Jesus shows up and gives them his peace. Then in verse 22-23 we get a weird picture. Jesus breathes on his disciples, post-CoViD, masks, and social distancing, we may feel like Jesus was in their personal space. But he says, “Receive the spirit”. The Holy Spirit, the power, presence, and promise of God to those who would believe in the Messiah, is the very breath of Jesus. What John is showing is that this powerful spirit that shows up in Acts and shakes the city and changes the world, is the breath of Christ. He gives his disciples spirit for power, for forgiveness, for judgement. This is John showing us the birth of the church. 


However, the verses I want us to really see are the last three of the chapter. “Doubting” Thomas gets an unfair, if earned, nickname. Yes he doubted. But no one has ever brushed off a crucifixion before. No one gets executed and wakes up a couple days later. Jesus is the exception to the rule. But when Jesus shows up, Thomas believes, declaring “My Lord and My God.” Jesus recognizes the belief of Thomas and says “Because you have seen me, you believe. Blessed are those who did not see, and yet believed.”


My brothers and sisters, that is you. Jesus spoke of how YOU are blessed for having faith without sight. Jesus knows that it is a difficult thing to believe, to be the church. But, like Mary, like Peter, like Thomas, like John, we are called, in faith, to tell others the message of the early church, the message that is still true today. “These things (the book of John) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) If you believe, have faith without sight, that Jesus is the Christ, as John has been showing, as Peter and Paul declared, as Jesus himself testified to for 40 days on earth, then YOU have life in his name. That is the message of the early church, it is the message of the medieval church, it is the message of the contemporary church, and it will be the message of the church until the end of the age. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and we have life in his name. 


Let us, his breath-filled, Spirit-empowered followers, be his witnesses to the world. 

-Jake Ballard

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at Bible Gateway here 1 Samuel 9-10 and John 20

The Spirit Speaking Through Us

Mark 13

            There are a lot of things going on in Mark 13, but I want to focus on verses 9-11 which say, “But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.”

            There are two things that really stick out to me in these verses. The first being the word testimony. In Greek, the word is marturion, and it simply means witness, testimony, evidence or proof. To me, this is very exciting. Why does this excite me? Because it means that we can become proof that Jesus really is the son of God! When we are questioned about our faith we get the opportunity to become living and breathing evidence for Jesus! That, to me, sounds like the best thing I could ever be. Wouldn’t you want a chance to prove that Jesus is real? As an interesting side note, the word marturion is also tied to the word martyr, someone who dies for their faith. When someone dies for their faith, it is the greatest act of proof that someone can give. There is no greater sacrifice someone can make to prove their belief is real. Remember, whether you are talking to a friend, speaking in front of people or sacrificing your life, you will have an opportunity to be a witness for Jesus at some point.

            The second thing that really sticks out to me in these verses is the mention of the Holy Spirit. I recently finished doing a study on the Spirit and it blew my mind in how many ways it works in our lives. Giving us words to speak and teaching us what to say is just one of its functions. The good news is, with the Spirit working in our lives, we don’t have to rely on our own knowledge or ability to speak because the Spirit will help us when the time comes. This may bring you some relief. It brings me peace knowing that I don’t have to rely on my limited abilities to tell someone about Jesus. I just have to be sensitive to the moving of the Spirit in my life. This should really take the pressure off us as Christians knowing that God, through the power of His Spirit, will help us get His work done.

-Josiah Cain

Links to today’s Bible reading – Exodus 31-32 and Mark 13

Isaiah 35-36

Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.

The book of Isaiah holds many judgments against Israel, Judah, and all the nations surrounding them. Page after page contains descriptions of how God will deal with these people, because of the sin that they commit. In the midst of this, there are glimpses of a wondrous hope to come and worship God in his future kingdom. We see the beautiful future that God has prepared for all those who love him despite the brokenness of our current realities. 

Isaiah 35 describes this future in a continuation of the prophecy beginning in Isaiah 34. In Isaiah 34, Edom’s eventual punishment and destruction is described: “Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her soil into sulfur” (v. 9). In this place, jackals, hyenas, goats, birds of prey, and snakes will gather – all symbols of destruction and brokenness (v. 14-15). The very land has turned bitter and worthless under the consequence of sin. In contrast to this, Isaiah 35 describes the land of the Israelites as a desert that blossoms like a rose (v. 1). In this place, “the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy, for water will gush in the wilderness and streams in the desert; the parched ground will become a pool of water and the thirsty land springs of water” (v. 5-7). Unlike the land of Edom, in the redeemed land, “There will be no vicious beast, but the redeemed will walk on it” (v. 9). In fact, the places where the vicious beasts resided, like the lairs of jackals, will be turned into a meadow of grass, reeds, and papyrus (v. 7). A road will go through this land called the Holy Way; “the unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for the one who walks the path. Even the fool will not go astray” (v. 8). This path will lead up to the mountain of God where the people will come to worship God. 

We live in an incredibly broken world that seems like it is full of vicious beasts and people bent on destroying themselves and others. We can see the consequences of sin in the hurt that is being done so carelessly to everyone, including our most vulnerable. We can rest in the hope that this will not always be the way the world will be. Those that would be overlooked by society and viewed as less than are the very people that God includes in the description of his future kingdom: the blind, deaf, lame, and mute. These are the people who lead the way for praising God’s redemption of the land. We will not always live in these broken times. We can trust that one day streams of water will flow through the desert and the whole world will blossom like a rose. In fact, through the Holy Spirit, we can begin to redeem our time here for God and be his hands and feet in this broken world. How can you bring the living water to those around you? 

~ Cayce Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway – Isaiah 35-36.

Tomorrow, we continue reading about the history of Judah and Israel in Isaiah 37-39 & Psalm 76 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Clarification of the Christ

Colossians 1:15-20

colossians 1 15 NIV

I love to look deeper into these verses in Colossians to fully understand what Paul was writing and why. Paul was poetic in his language and using wording that the Israelites used to describe the personification of wisdom. If you look through the Old Testament it is not likely that you will find the phrase “Holy Spirit”. You will however find the term “Spirit of God” which we discover is the same thing, God’s power within us. Likewise “word of God” is not seen in the Old Testament. Once there is a reference to the “word of the LORD” but the majority of the references toward the Word of God are seen describing this personification of wisdom. A different way of saying the same thing. Jesus is the living embodiment of the Word of God.

“He is the image of the invisible God” – Jesus is called the image of God in these verses and in 2 Corinthians 4:4. In Hebrews 1:3 he is described as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”. Two truths are revealed through the first half of this verse: God has remained unseen “no one has ever seen God” John 4:18 and second, Jesus reveals the nature and character of God for he is the image of God in which humanity was originally created in Genesis 1:26. It is the image that we as the faithful will be transformed into upon Jesus’ return.

“The firstborn over all creation” – Paul borrowed from his Jewish upbringing; firstborn was a Hebrew way of saying someone was especially honored. The nation of Israel was called firstborn (Exodus 4:22), as was David (Psalm 89:27). The word, in these instances, did not refer to their physical birth but to their place of honor before God. So here Paul is saying that Jesus has a place of honor over all creation.

“By him all things were created” seven times in these verses Paul mentions “all creation”, “all things”, and “everything” stressing that the Christ is supreme over all through the power God granted him. The tense at the end of this verse was not translated correctly in the NIV, it says “all things were” however the original language was not past-tense “were” rather present “are”.

“Before all things” like with firstborn this does not speak of time but importance. The Christ is before all things in importance for it is only through him that all things will be restored.

“All things hold together” he will usher in a new age in which sinful man will be redeemed and united with our holy God.

This passage speaks of the importance of the Christ, the place of honor over all things that he holds. Additionally it points to both Jesus’ place of honor over the church and those who will be resurrected to eternal life as well as a chronological order. Jesus was the beginning of the church as we know it. And he was the first, and only one to this point, which God raised to new life. We the faithful will follow suit once Jesus returns.

“All (his) fullness dwell” (his) was added to many translations which adds to the confusion and skepticism that people may have concerning these verses. Before moving forward think about what happens to those who come to God through Jesus. We are filled with God’s spirit, His power and character, at least to a point. But Jesus was filled with the fullness of God, all power and authority were given to him. He also displayed the nature, character, and attributes of God. Paul also had another reason for his choice of words, “fullness” was a popular term among the Gnostics who used it to refer to the combination of all supernatural influences. So Paul used their own word to elevate the Christ above all other religious ideas and systems.

“To reconcile to himself all things” Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection set the stage for not only the faithful to be made new but also all of creation. Unfortunately it does not mean that everyone will be saved from sin and ultimately death. We have free will and we make our own choices. But God does not give up on us. I believe that even those He has already seen reject Him are given daily opportunities for redemption.

It is important that we have a clear understanding of who Jesus is and the reason that we need a Christ, Messiah.

To be continued… (by someone else)

Jeff Ransom

 

(Editor’s Note – Thank you Jeff for finishing off the book of Proverbs with us this week, and giving us two free theme days to think on!  Tomorrow we will begin looking at the book of Revelation – one chapter a day through the month of November.  And in December we will finish off the New Testament with the book of Luke.  So many precious things in God’s Word!  Keep taking it in.)

What Counts

1 Corinthians 7

Keeping God’s commands is what counts.

I hope you have enjoyed working through 1 Corinthians this week.  I’m going to finish with chapter 7 today.

 

Up until now Paul has been telling them about all of the changes that they need to make.  He has told them to set aside the worldly wisdom, and the associated status that comes with gaining it, for God’s wisdom.  He has told them to seek purity because they are members of the Body of Christ, and they cannot do things anymore just because their conscience says it isn’t bad, they need to listen to the Holy Spirit.   He has also instructed them to seek unity in the Body of Christ instead of handling their issues in the courts in order to “win” the argument. Several times in these instructions Paul has shifted tone between one of condemnation and rebuke, to one of conciliation and support.  Again here in chapter 7 Paul is lightening the blow from all of the changes he has asked of them in these previous chapters.

 

Paul does not want to overwhelm them with the changes he is asking for, so in chapter 7 he clarifies about the things that he is not asking them to change, but they may have thought he wanted them to change.  They do not need to get a divorce if they are married to an unbeliever, but are to do everything in their power to maintain a healthy relationship. If they are a slave then they do not need to attain freedom, although if they can that is nice, but it is not required. Contrary to what some of the Jews in the early Church were saying they do not need to be circumcised. Paul understands that these life changes would be a roadblock to some new believers and that they are not what God really wants, he says “Keeping God’s commands is what counts.”  God wants them to change their hearts. And maybe some of the life changes would be wise, but those things can come later as you grow in God’s wisdom. The most important thing to work on is obeying God’s commands and following the leading of the Holy Spirit.

 

Thanks again for reading along.  I hope some of this has helped you.

Until next time,

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

Quid est veritas?

John 18

John 18 37 38

There is a phrase floating around in culture. “My truth.”
Being a philosophy nerd, the phrase “my truth” hurts my brain. What does it mean for YOU to have truth that is yours? Is it yours alone? Can other people share your truth? If you share your truth and I disagree, am I disagreeing with reality, or with what you think about reality? What is “my truth?”
I was thinking about these questions and many more beside them, because of what Pilate asks Jesus.
Jesus has just been arrested, drug around the city of Jerusalem, falsely accused, and more. He is speaking to Pilate and declares “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” (John 18:37)
After hearing this, Pilate asks what I am asking…”What is truth?” (vs. 38)
But there is a different heart here. Jesus says his followers will know the truth. All through the teachings we have just read (chapters 13-17) we see Jesus telling his disciples that the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls the Spirit of Truth, will be with them. We are also told by Jesus this famous passage: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No person comes to the father but through me.”(John 14:6) Jesus makes this bold claim because he knew that he is exclusively the gate to the Father and to eternal life.
In our world, we may look around us and see many people selling us their version of the truth. Whether it is “fake news” or biased media on either side of the political spectrum, whether it is communities of people denying biology or denying differences between men and women, or whether it is hate-filled people implying those differences make men or women better than the other, or that there are racial differences that make certain races better or worse, whatever the messages are that we are given, we MUST run all claims to truth through the filter of Truth, the Spirit of God and the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus prays that God would sanctify us, his followers in His Truth, and says “Your word is truth.”(John 17:17) The Logos of God (John 1:1) is truth, and we know that the Logos has put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood in Jesus Christ. When someone says “I am speaking my truth”, we should be asking “is this the truth of Jesus?”
He is not a way, one path among many, with all leading to God or salvation.
Jesus is THE way.
He is not a truth, one truth among many, with all being equally valid and connected to the world.
Jesus is THE truth.
He is not a life, one life among many, with all being filled to overflowing.
Jesus is THE life.
Pilate, you asked “What is truth?”
Truth was standing right in front of you. His name is Jesus.
-Jake Ballard

The Spirit of God

JOHN 14

John 14 16

Today, we will continue what we started yesterday, what scholars call “The Upper Room Discourse.” Many people believe that the teaching of Jesus from John 13-17 were all taught to the disciples the night before he died. (They were in the upper room of a house, hence the name.) When Jesus speaks, he encourages the disciples to not be troubled. Though he will not be with them in person, he promises something else. What does he promise?
A counselor. (v16) The Spirit of Truth. (v. 17)
Jesus says that the Spirit will come, who will counsel the disciples and guide them into all truth.
What is the Holy Spirit?
This is a question that has perplexed theologians in Churches around the world for quite some time. Jesus says here that he will send the Spirit, and that he will come to be with his disciples. Is he the Spirit? No, because it’s clear in John that there is a difference between Jesus and the Spirit. And that same difference is found in verse 26 in regards to the Spirit and the Father. So the Spirit is something other than the Father and the Son. This have led some to conclude that the Spirit is a distinct person, being, or entity, but this is problematic, because in many ways the Spirit is described in non-personal terms. (Spirit comes from the Greek word πνευμα, meaning wind, breath or spirit.) It is poured out, given, and we are baptized into it. However, at the same time, the Book of Acts, and here in John, Jesus and his early followers listen to the Spirit deciding things and guiding and teaching.
So what is the Spirit? Another name for God or Jesus, or the power of God in action, or even a Person?
I don’t know.
For a long time, the words “I don’t know” made me terribly uncomfortable. They made me feel weak, like I wasn’t living up to my potential. (In truth, being a nerd AND a member of the CoG, I was getting social AND theological pressure to know everything.) However, I’ve come to know that I CAN’T know completely; the language about the Spirit is not about knowing and controlling but about submitting, relating and embracing. When the Spirit guides the disciples in the book of Acts, they submit, not ask what is guiding them. When Paul is encouraging his brothers and sisters to love in Corinth he writes “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” When the Spirit comes, the Spirit is coming from God and in the name of Jesus. Do I trust Jesus enough to allow whatever the Spirit is to effect me in such a way that the Spirit changes me?
As you read this language in John about Spirit and what the Spirit will do, don’t get lost in the weeds asking questions about what the Spirit is. At some point, there can be a time and place for that discussion. But today, right here and now, ask God to send that Spirit in the name of Christ into your life. When Jesus breathed on his disciples (John 20:22) and gave them his Spirit, when fire fell in Acts 2 and they were refilled in Acts 4, those disciples were more concerned about how God was going to help them live tomorrow. If you need the power of God on a Monday morning (or evening or night) what you need is to say with me…
“Lord I don’t know everything, but I know that I need your Spirit.”
And that is a prayer God will answer in the name of Jesus.
-Jake Ballard

Worship as an Identity

John 4 24

Free theme week: Worship
Chapter reading of the day: John 4

There are many names and titles that the church is given. We’re called the bride of
Christ, saints, children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, the body of Christ,
disciples of Jesus, and so on. However, there is another reference to the church in
John 4. In this chapter, Jesus and the Samaritan woman are speaking at the well. During their conversation Jesus makes this remark about worship: “But an hour is coming and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be his worshippers. God is spirit and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth” – John 4.23-24. Biblical worship is worship that is so integrated into our life and weaved in through every aspect of our being that worship becomes our identity. We worship. That is who we are. And with being a worshipper we worship God in “spirit and truth”. The phrase “spirit and truth” has perplexed me for a long time. The last few years God has shown me what it means to worship him specifically “in spirit”. We are to worship God by the empowerment of the holy spirit. We worship God in and through and by means of the holy spirit. There is a spiritual aspect of worship that we can gain access to by the spirit. This could be prophetic utterances, words of knowledge, and having a very real sense of the presence of God near you during worship. At the same time we should worship God “in truth”. We should be careful not to let our experiences 100% determine what we believe about God. We should check our experiences with what the Bible says. We should engage our mind and reasoning faculties with God and the Bible. I believe that holistic worship is worship that is executed in “spirit and truth”. Jesus says that God desires true worshippers to worship him in spirit and truth. God doesn’t want a church-goer or someone who is defined by what they do in church. God desires a worshipper to worship him in spirit and truth. God wants worshippers. You are called to be a worshipper. Your identity is to be a worshipper. I pray that God moves on your heart and mine and calls us and teaches us to go deeper in worship. As I said in the beginning, living the best possible life God has for us in this world is inextricably tied to worship. You were created to worship with your whole being at all times in all seasons.
-Jacob Rohrer