About jeremycouture

I am a husband, father, student, and pastor in Ashland, KY

Why I Pray for My Church Members and then Tell Them About It.

patrick-fore-26857-unsplash
As a pastor, I have the privilege of shepherding a flock of God’s people through prayer (1 Peter 5:2). Prayer is just one of many tools of a spiritual shepherd. While I have always prayed for the church that I serve, I have just recently started to pray for the members of my church systematically.
After I pray for them I stop and write a note to let them know I prayed for them. The note is not a request for a pat on the back, but a line of spiritual encouragement and communication. Handwritten notes are meaningful and welcome these days because they are so rare.
I pastor a “mid-sized church” which allows me to pray through our church directory about once or twice a year. A weekly and daily goal allows me to make consistent progress without feeling rushed. A family-by-family approach ensures that none is left out.
This practice has yielded benefits for me and the people I serve. Here is a list of the benefits in each category:
Benefits for me
  • It helps me pray consistently.
  • It helps me learn names and make connections between families.
  • It helps me stay connected to quieter “sheep.”
  • It helps me move people forward in their faith.
  • It helps me encourage those who are struggling and hurting.
  • It helps me update contact information.

Benefits for my church members

  • It reminds them they are not alone.
  • It gives them a personal connection to their pastor.
  • It allows them to focus on the positive side of their pain and problems.
  • It teaches them about the importance of prayer.
  • It encourages families to talk about spiritual issues and the church.
  • It highlights the care of the whole church.

Churches come in all shapes and sizes, but they all need prayer. Pastors have the unique responsibility and privilege to shepherd their people through prayer. I hope this guide helps you pray for your church members more effectively.

Are you a pastor or a church member?

How often do you pray for others in your church?

How do you highlight the importance of prayer in your church?

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Advertisements

A Blessing or a Curse

candle-2038736_640

Light can either be a blessing or a curse. The lamp beside your bed can help you find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but it will also annoy your spouse who is trying to sleep. A fire in a fireplace is warm and inviting, but a fire in the kitchen is terrifying.

In John 8, Jesus introduces himself as “The Light of the world.” In the next chapter, we see what happens when Jesus shines his light in the world. His light divides the world into two groups. Those who see Jesus as a curse and those who see Jesus as a blessing.

The Apostle John tells the same story about from the viewpoint of these two groups. First,   he shares the story from the view of a hopeless man who was blind from birth. Next, John shares the story from the view of the conceited Pharisees who were blind to their spiritual need.

From the view of helpless beggar blind from birth (John 8:1-41)

“Something amazing happened to me right after the Feast of Tabernacles. I was sitting beside the road begging for money when Jesus walked by with his disciples. My eyes didn’t work, but my ears worked just fine and I overheard Jesus and his disciples talking about me. One of his disciples asked whose fault it was that I was blind: me or my parents. I was relieved to hear that neither one of us were to blame, but that God wanted to show His mighty work in me. At that point, I heard Jesus spit on the ground and then I felt him wipe clay on my eyes. He told me to wash my eyes out in the nearby pool of Siloam, and so I did. As I washed my eyes in the cool water the most amazing thing happened – my eyes worked for the first time and I could see!”

“I was so excited about what had happened, I told everyone around me, but they didn’t believe me. People that had walked past me for years didn’t recognize me. It was if I had become a different person.”

“Then, I was called before the Pharisee for an interview. I explained what had happened to me, but they were upset because Jesus had violated some of their restrictions on the Sabbath. The Pharisees began to argue among themselves about Jesus. Some were saying, He can’t be from God because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.’ Others were asking, ‘How could he heal people and do all the other miracle he has done if he wasn’t from God?'”

“The Pharisees didn’t believe that I used to be blind so interviewed by parents too. My parents were terrified they would be thrown out of the synagogue. The Pharisee can do that, you know. They can just kick you out of the synagogue and the temple and then you have no way to make things right with God.”

“After that, the Pharisees called me in for another interview which felt more like an interrogation. They kept asking me about Jesus and all I could do was tell them what I knew: ‘I once was blind, but now I see.’ It was obvious to me where Jesus was from. He healed me and gave me hope after a lifetime of hopeless. Miracles like that don’t happen, they come from God. It was clear that they didn’t want to hear what I had to say because they threw me out the synagogue.

“Jesus came and found me after that. He asked me if I believed in the Messiah and that he was him. I was so excited I put my trust in him and bowed low in worship. Some of the Pharisees overheard our conversation and they weren’t pleased, but I knew right then and there I had found the hope I had been looking for.”

From the view of one of the Pharisees who excommunicated a troublemaker. (John 9:13-41)

“I am one of the Pharisees and I’m also a scribe too. We help preserve God’s law and teach it to the people. God continues to bless us because we go above and beyond in obeying His law. God is lucky to have us around. Otherwise, it would be like the ‘wild west.’

For example, there was a blind man recently who claimed he was healed by Jesus, that troublemaker from Nazareth. His story didn’t add up, however, because the people who knew him from the road outside of town didn’t think he was the same guy. We talked to his parents too, but I don’t think we can trust them. Jesus has been a threat to the establishment for a long time. He’s a good preacher, but I think he’s a trickster with all of those so-called ‘miracles’ that he pulls off. He claims to speak for God, but he doesn’t have any formal training and he doesn’t follow the rules.

He supposedly healed the blind man by making clay out of his spit and anointing his eyes – on a Sabbath. Everybody knows that you can’t do that on a Sabbath! The beggar was so sure that Jesus was a messenger from God, we had to excommunicate him from the synagogue. He even suggested that the Pharisee wanted to be followers of Jesus – how ignorant! We had to get rid of him; we couldn’t afford to have a Jesus-supporter like that spreading lies in God’s house.

“I’m glad we excommunicate him because later on one of the other Pharisee’s overheard that beggar talking to Jesus near the temple. The beggar was worshiping Jesus like He was a ‘god’ or something. Then, Jesus said he came into the world so that those who do not see may not see and those who see may become blind. I have never heard of something so preposterous and blasphemous. Jesus had the nerve to tell my friend, another Pharisee, that he was a sinner when everyone knows we always obey God.”

From the perspectives of these two men, we learn that Jesus helps the hopeless and condemns the conceited. The helpless are drawn to Jesus. You may not think of yourself as helpless or hopeless, but spiritually, we all are. God. Isaiah 53:6 says we are all like sheep who have gone astray. Thankfully, the Lord has caused our iniquity to fall on Jesus. 1 Peter 1:3 says that God has caused us to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Like a moth to a flame, the helpless are drawn to Jesus.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the conceited are driven from Jesus. We prefer labels ourselves “well-prepared” or “confident.” the Prophet Jeremiah warns us, however, not to trust in the wisdom, or physical strength but to trust in the Lord “who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.” (Jeremiah 9:23, 24a) Like a racoon running from the headlights, the conceited are driven from Jesus.

Are you more like the hopeless blind man or the Pharisee who was blind to his spiritual need? How you see yourself is an indication of how you see Jesus, “the Light of the world.” The choice is yours.

Five Kinds of People Who Don’t Believe

aaron-burden-307060-unsplash

The 7-day Feast of Tabernacles was one of the most popular Jewish festivals in Jesus’ day, and for good reason. The Feast was full of meaningful rituals and traditions. The people ate and slept in temporary shelters. Every morning they celebrated the water ceremony. Every evening they gathered near the temple for a time of music and dancing. Men with religious influence carried burning torches in their hands and danced with enthusiasm while the temple orchestra filled the night with music.

That’s what was going on in John 8 when Jesus announced: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the Light of life” (v. 12). Based on John’s thesis statement in John 20:30-31, we might expect to read how many people in the crowd believed in Jesus. Instead, we find the opposite; we see how many in the crowd rejected Jesus. As the chapter unfolds, we learn about five kinds of people who don’t believe in Jesus.

1. People who reject Jesus’ testimony about Himself (8:13).

The Pharisees dismissed Jesus’ announcement because they thought He was speaking on his own authority. Jesus reminded them that the Law only required two people to establish a testimony as true. Jesus spoke in concert with the Heavenly Father. The Pharisee didn’t recognize Jesus as God’s messenger because they didn’t know God (v. 19).

From 1985 to 1991, about two hundred mainline NT scholars gathered throughout the U.S. twice a year as the Jesus Seminar.[1] The goal of this group was to reconstruct the “real historical Jesus” apart from the “mythical Jesus” presented in the Bible. This group concluded, erroneously, that Jesus never said 82 percent of words attributed to Him in the Gospels. People still commit the same kind of error today when they pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to believe and obey.

2. People who are confused about Jesus’ death (8:22)

The crowd was confused when Jesus told them He would be going away. Jesus explained that they would know who He was when He was “lifted up.” This was a clear allusion to His death on a cross. When Jesus was lifted up on a cross, he became a sacrifice for the sin of the world. Those who refused this gift would die in their unbelief (v. 24).

Confusion over Jesus’ death still exists today. Those who think that Jesus was just a religious leader, or a moral example can’t help but see His death as a waste. Jesus was cut down in the prime of his life and his full potential was never filled. Those who believe that Jesus was both the Son of God and the Son of Man have a different perspective. They know that His death was a great gift as God bridged the gap between heaven and earth.

3. People who make a profession of faith without follow through (8:31)

Verse 30 says, “Many people came to believe in Him.” At first glance, this seems like a positive statement, it may not be so positive in this context. Jesus explained that genuine faith goes deeper than an outward statement. It takes obedience and consistency to show that you are really a follower of Jesus.

Genuine faith results in genuine freedom in the way a flashlight allows you to move through unfamiliar terrain without hurting yourself. Our community is full of people with a superficial understanding of faith. There are about 30k people who live within a 3-mile radius of our church.

4. People who are blind to their own sin (8:33).

The Jews claimed they had “never been enslaved to anyone.” This claim was historically inaccurate. At one time or another, the Jews have been enslaved or controlled by Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Media-Persia, Macedonia, Syria, and Rome. The Feast of Tabernacles was a reminder of their liberation from Egypt.[2] The Jews were as blind about their political situation they were about their spiritual situation.

Blindness can be dangerous when you are in denial. A 67-year-old woman went in for cataract surgery and received quite a shock. The woman had worn disposable contacts for 35 years. From time to time, she couldn’t find her lens in her right eye to remove it, so she figured she’d dropped it somewhere. When she went in for cataract surgery, the doctor found a “blue mass” made up of 27 contact lenses that had been left in her eye.

5. People who worship their religious traditions (8:53).

The Jews were offended at the idea that Jesus was greater than Abraham. They were proud of their ethnic and religious heritage. They were so fiercely protective of the rituals and traditions associated they couldn’t imagine anything different.

Jesus claimed to be the God who blessed Abraham. In Genesis. 12:1-3, God promised to bless the whole world through Abraham. Jesus claimed that promise had finally come true through Him.

Resistance to change is one indication of misplaced worship. Some people put their fain in faith and the outward observances of that faith. They worship Christianity instead of the Christ that makes Christianity possible.

John 8 serves as a warning. The people in this passage aren’t heathens, pagans, or atheists, they’re religious people gathered for a 7-day religious feast! They have faith, but it’s not saving faith because it’s not focused on the only One who can save.

[1]Wellum, Stephen J. (2016). God the Son Incarnate (p. 42) Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

[2]Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11(Vol. 25A, p. 303). Nashville: B & H Publishers.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

A Mother’s Struggles

shutterstock_404295412

Did you hit it out of the park this year with a nice Mother’s Day card or a thoughtful gift? Did you go to the next level by taking your mom out to lunch or somewhere else that she enjoys? Did you celebrate all the wonderful women in your life and remember those who’ve passed away?

Some moms struggle on Mother’s Day. Not because they have not been celebrated, but because they struggle with disappointment, regret, and worry. Genesis 18 tells us the story of a mom who struggled because her Mother’s Day had not come yet.

God called Abraham and Sarah into a new land, blessed them, and promised to give them a big family. At that point, they didn’t have any children yet, but Abraham and Sarah trusted God and His timing. As the years wore on, the couple grew more desperate and then finally gave up hope.  At the ages of 99 and 89 respectively,  they were clearly past the age of bearing children

But one day, Abraham and Sarah received three visitors. The visitors exposed the struggles that Sarah was having while waiting for God’s promises to come to pass in her life. The visit also proves that God cares about the secret struggles of motherhood

Sarah struggled in three ways in this story. At first, you might think she struggled with eavesdropping, but that’s not true. Abraham and Sarah were extraordinary hosts. Abraham prepared the curds and milk along with a choice calf for their guests while Sarah made fresh bread. Caring for others can be exhausting. Sarah’s first struggle with probably with fatigue. Are there any mothers out there who can relate?

Sarah also struggled with her faith. She endured a lot of heartache waiting for God’s promises. At this point, it was biologically impossible for her to have a child (v. 11). When she heard the mysterious visitor repeat God’s promise, she chuckled to herself in doubt. She couldn’t see how God’s promise could possibly come true in her circumstance.

Sarah’s third struggle in this story is with fear.  The mysterious visitor had supernatural knowledge. He knew that Sarah would have a baby within the year. He also knew that Sarah has laughed to herself inside the tent. When the mysterious visitor called her out she denied it because she was afraid.

God showed His care for struggling moms in three ways. First, God came near. The three guests turned out to be much more than ordinary. The spokesman for the trio was even referred to as “the Lord.” Bible students consider this to be one of several pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus Christ. Before God took in human flesh in the New Testament, He came to earth to show His care.

The second way that God showed His care was by listening. The Lord overheard Sarah’s comments and concerns even though she kept them to herself. He didn’t judge or condemn her, He just brought them to the surface.

Thirdly, God restated His promises. God shared His promises for Abraham and Sarah several times throughout their years. After exposing Sarah’s concerns, the Lord restated His promise of a child for Abraham and Sarah with added emphasis: Is anything too difficult for the Lord?

Motherhood was God’s idea and His interactions with Abraham and Sarah proves that He cares about the secret struggles of motherhood. God’s visit in the Old Testament also sets the stage for how He would visit in the New Testament. In the Gospels, we learn that God came near to you and me in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s ears are still open to all of those who call out to Him in prayer. And God graciously restates His promises for us over and over again in the Scriptures.

God cares for moms wherever they are – in a tent in the Middle East or in a house in the Midwest.  He gave the greatest Mother’s Day presents of all when He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to be your Savior. That allows us all to rest in the words of 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (NIV).”

Judgment​ and Mercy

shutterstock_613750124The story of Karla Faye Tucker is heartbreaking. Karla Faye dropped out of school at an early age and followed her mom into a life of prostitution and drugs. When she was in her 20’s she started dating an older man named Daniel Garrett. While searching for items to steal and sell for drug money, Karla Faye and Daniel broke into a nearby apartment and killed two victims with a hammer and pickax. Karla Faye and Daniel were eventually arrested and sentenced to death. Daniel died from liver disease on death row, but Karla Faye became a Christian. She “stole” a free Bible from a visiting ministry group and gave her life to Jesus after reading it in her cell. She became a model prisoner and showed great remorse for her actions. When a date finally set for her execution, a crowd of supporters urged the state to commute her. Their efforts fell short, and Karla Faye was executed by lethal injection in 1998 with a few close friends and family members by her side.

The story of Karla Faye Tucker’s life and death serves as a heartbreaking backdrop for an equally tragic story found in John 8:1-11. In this passage, a group of scribes and Pharisee urge Jesus to pronounce a death sentence on a woman caught in adultery. In the end, the religious leaders learn something that the woman caught in adultery already knew – Jesus is the Righteous Judge. 

As the Righteous Judge, Jesus declares judgment on the self-righteous (8:1-9).

Even though these religious leaders seemed interested in justice, they were really trying to trap Jesus. Stoning wasn’t very popular in Jesus’ day for obvious reasons, but it was called for in the Mosaic Law. If Jesus rejected the punishment outright, He would lose credibility as a teacher of the Law. If Jesus enforced the punishment, He would lose popularity with the people and might even get in trouble with the Roman authorities.

Instead of answering them, Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dirt with his finger. We don’t know what He wrote, but we know what He said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). This was a direct reference to Deuteronomy 13:9 and 17:7. Jesus was not saying they had to be perfect or free from sin to condemn the woman, but they did have to be sinless in this particular case.

The scribes and Pharisee were secure in their own self- righteousness. They were so secure they were willing to sacrifice this woman’s whole life to cover up their own sin and condemn Jesus. They held this woman to a higher standard of righteousness than they held themselves too.

As Jesus bent back to down to write in the dirt again, the religious leaders filed out one by one until they were all gone. Those who came to embarrass Jesus were themselves embarrassed. They snuck out of the temple one by one until they were all gone.

As the Righteous Judge, Jesus demonstrates mercy on the unrighteous (8:10-12).

Straightening up, Jesus asked the woman where her accusers had gone. She replied that they were all gone. Jesus did not imply that the woman was innocent, simply that she was not condemned. She experienced God’s mercy because she knew something the religious leaders did not know – we are all guilty and unrighteous before God.

A genuine encounter with Christ always results in a transformed life. Her past had been forgiven and her future was now wide open. Jesus sent the woman out to live a transformed life.

As the Righteous Judge, Jesus looks past outer appearances and judges the heart.

The problem is that too often, we storm the courtroom of life and take the responsibility of judging ourselves and judging others on ourselves. But as humans, we are not in a position to judge. Like it says in James 2:4, we judge with a double standard and become “judges with evil motives.”

You can respond to this story in two ways. One way is to show compassion on another “sinner” so that you can distance yourself from self-righteousness. Sin is still sin, but we should not rush to condemn someone who God has forgiven. We often judge other people harsher than we judge ourselves and “blowing out some else’s candle so our burns brighter.” The degree to which you can show compassion on someone who has wronged you is the degree to which you have cast off your own self-righteousness.

Another way to respond to this story is to give up one of your besetting sins as you glory in God’s great mercy towards you. We all struggle with a number of sins (1 John 1:8). Sexual sins are no worse than any other sin, but they can be harder to overcome because they are self-destructive (1 Corinthians 6:18). You cannot change the past, but with God’s help, you can change the future.

God wants to help you escape from the prison of your own self-righteousness. You can fool your family & friends, but you can’t fool God, because He is the Righteous Judge.

False Expectations and Faith

drops-of-water-578897_640

William Shakespeare said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache,” and he’s right.  When we go into a situation with unrealistic or unhealthy expectations, we set ourselves up for pain, disappointment, and failure. Expectations in themselves are not bad, but faulty expectations is a recipe for disaster.

The Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths, was a time of high expectation and hope in Jesus’s day. Jews from all over the Roman empire gathered in Jerusalem to lived in huts for seven days to recall how their ancestors lived in huts during their exodus from Egypt. One of the most special parts of this feast was the ceremony of water. Every morning, the High Priest would dip a golden pitcher into the pool of Siloam and carry it to the altar in the temple followed by a parade of people. Trumpets would blast their horns, the temple choir would sing, and the people would cry out their thanks to God before the water was poured out at the base of the altar. The water ceremony expressed the Jewish hope that God would pour out His Spirit in them and send them a Messiah.

In John 7 and 8, we learn about Jesus’ experience at the Feast of Tabernacles. We also learn about the false expectations that the people had the Messiah, These false expectations blinded them to Savior that was right in front of them. Unfortunate, these three false expectations are still preventing people from putting their faith in Christ today.

1. Jesus must make a dramatic announcement to be the Savior (7:1-13).

Jesus’ half brothers thought they knew all about his aspirations. They knew all about his public teaching and the miracles he had performed. It was clear to them that Jesus wanted to be a big-time rabbi or prophet, but He couldn’t do that out in the countryside. So they challenged Him to declare his intentions in front of the crowds in Jerusalem during the feast.

Jesus turned down their invitation because “His time had not yet come.” Jesus refused the expectations that over people had of him. He lived instead, according to the Heavenly Father’s expectations for his life. We would all do well to follow Jesus’ example here.

Unfortunately, some people expect God to make some dramatic announcement as if He has to earn their faith. They refuse to put their trust in God unless He helps them out of this crisis, answers all their questions, or performs some obscure miracle. Imagine someone being rescued from an area that has been ravaged by a hurricane. A Coast Guard helicopter hovers overhead as a rescue worker is lowered down. Now imagine how absurd it would be if the victim, surrounded by water, peppered the rescue worker with questions and demanding to see he credentials and a detailed plan of how he would be saved before he allowed himself to be rescued.

2. Jesus must tell us what we want to hear to be the Savior (7:14-36).

Jesus eventually went up to Feast by himself in the middle of the week. When He got there, He was met with stiff resistance.  The Jews doubted Him because He taught with authority without going through the proper education process. The residents of Jerusalem questioned Him because He taught openly and questioned their relationship with God. The Pharisees tied to arrest Him because He challenged the status quo.

People make the same mistake today when they expect God to tell them what they want to hear. They want to hear, “You are ok and everything is fine.” They want their religious leaders to affirm them and all the choices that they’ve made. They want to hear about God’s love and acceptance but reject the idea that the same God might judge them for their sin.

The Titanic sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912. In the event of an emergency, musicians on passenger ships at that time were expected to play light and airy songs to keep calm the passengers. As the Titanic took on water that fateful night, the band played on as if everything was ok. Some people might have been thankful for the distraction, but most of us would probably prefer the truth.

3. Jesus must come from a prominent place to be the Savior (7:37-53).

The religious leaders rejected Jesus because He was from Galilee. They ignored the fact that He has been born in Bethlehem and emphasized the fact the He grew up in the “back-woods, fishing country” around the Sea of Galilee. Like Jesus’ brothers, they couldn’t reconcile what they knew about Jesus with what they expected in Messiah.

Like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, some people expect God to come to them from a place of prominence. They want God in their life, but only if it enhances their image. They only want a church that is “big” and a preacher that is “popular.”

Jesus shared a meal with his disciples the night before he was betrayed. Even though He was most the important person in the room, he wrapped himself in a towel and poured water in a bowl to wash the disciples’ feet. He served His followers from a posture of humility rather than power or prominence.

Jesus made a startling declaration on the last day of the Feast to clear up the false expectations that were swirling around Him (7:37-39). He told the whole world that He is the Savior because He is the only one who can quench their spiritual thirst. He was and still is the source of spiritual life. He was and still the One who has come to save us.

In our day and age, people have gotten used to writing reviews for the good and services they use, especially when shopping online. They usually leave a rating from 1 to 5 stars as well as any comments you think might be helpful to future customers. In Psalm 34:8, King David wrote an amazing “review” of the Savior. He wrote, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8, NASB). If you can’t agree with this “review” God and His grace, you need to make sure your false expectations aren’t getting in the way.

Image by rony michaud from Pixabay

The Resurrection and the Gospel​​

shutterstock_256949359.jpg

Easter is a big deal. It’s a big deal because it’s the oldest festival celebrated by the Church. In our day and age, Easter has also become the heart of the spring season with warm weather, baby animals, and family gatherings. Experts expect that Americans will spend over 18 billion dollars in 2019 on Easter clothes, food, decorations, and candy which means Easter also has a huge impact on our economy.

Easter is an even bigger deal because it commemorates Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The resurrection itself is a big deal because it is central to the Gospel – the main message of Old and New Testaments. Well-know Pastor, John MacArthur, has said, “The truth of the resurrection gives life to every other area of gospel truth. The resurrection is the pivot on which all of Christianity turns and without which none of the other truths would much matter.” In other words, if you don’t have a resurrection, you can’t have the Gospel.

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, the Apostle Paul lists three ways that the resurrection is central to the Gospel. The resurrection of God’s Son is the biggest miracle in human history. As we explore the connection between the resurrection and the Gospel we will be better prepared to embrace the supernatural side of Easter.

1. The Resurrection Informs the Implications of the Gospel. (v. 1-2, 11)

The first implication of the Gospel is that if Christ was raised from the dead then you can be raised too. At least some of the people in the church at Corinth did not have a coherent grasp on the Gospel. They had received the Gospel. They stood in it and were saved by it, but they were at risk for believing in “vain.”

Jesus shares his resurrected life with everyone who comes to him by faith. One aspect of that resurrected life is a spiritual resurrection (I Peter 1:3). The other aspect of the resurrected life is a bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:42).

The second implication is that everyone who preaches the resurrection preaches the same message. The Apostle Paul preached a message that he received directly from God, along with a growing group of believers who shared their faith. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are the most important thing about the church. We can find great hope and solidarity in that message!

2. The Resurrection Supplies the Substance of the Gospel. (v. 3-8)

The Gospel message contains at least four parts. The first is that Christ died for our sins. Jesus died for other people’s sins, not his own. While presiding over the Last Supper, he said, “This is my body, which is for you” (1 Cor. 11:23-24). Christ’s sacrificial death was predicted in throughout whole Old Testament, not just one particular passage.

The second and third parts are that Christ was buried and that He was raised on the third day. Amazingly, Jesus predicted his death and his resurrection (Mark 8:31)  The third day was key because it provided that Jesus was really dead. In Jewish thinking, the spirit didn’t leave the body until the third day.

The fourth part of the Gospel is that Christ appeared to many. According to Paul, Jesus appeared to his disciples and his brother, James, He also appeared to 500 more people, many of whom were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing to give an eye witness account. Last, Jesus appeared to Paul making him an apostle as well.

3. The Resurrection Emphasizes the Effectiveness of the Gospel. (v. 9-10)

The gospel delivers us from death to life. In verse 8, Paul refers to himself as “one untimely born.” That phrase is refers to a baby who is stillborn. By using this phrase, Paul is pointing out his spiritual death and bankruptcy. Paul’s experience is our experience – that we are all born “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

The gospel also takes us from hurting to helping. Paul was so spiritually dense, he persecuted the church. By God’s grace, Paul began to build up instead of tear down the church. Like Paul, we can’t take any credit for “labor,” because it is all by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The resurrection is central to the Gospel – You can’t have one without the other.

We’ve explored these three connections between the resurrection and the Gospel so that you can embrace the supernatural side of Easter. Easter is a miracle we all need. Our lives are all more delicate than we want to admit, and our lives are passing quickly away.

You can embrace the supernatural side of Easter in two ways. First, analyze the content of the Gospel you believe. Does your Gospel include Jesus? Does it include His sacrificial death for sin? His resurrection from the dead on the third day?

Second, assess the effects of the Gospel in your life. How have you changed as a result of the Gospel? Are you experiencing a new life? Are you anticipating heaven? Are helping to build God’s kingdom here on earth?

 

The Foolishness of God

cross-671379_640Some people can’t make sense of a suffering Savior. They don’t understand why Jesus allowed himself to be humiliated and disgraced the way He did. They think they know what salvation looks like and Jesus doesn’t measure up.

Have you ever struggled with the events leading up to Easter? Have you ever wondered why Jesus had to suffer and die? Wasn’t there another way?

The Apostle Paul encountered those kinds of questions at the church at Corinth. The people in the church believed in Jesus but struggled with the crucifixion and the resurrection. To them, the crucifixion was foolishness.

As we read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, we find out that the “foolishness” of God is far better than the “wisdom” of man. We also discover two reasons why the gospel requires a crucifixion.

1. The Gospel is the story of a suffering Savior. (v. 18-19, 23)

In verse 18, the gospel is described as “the word of the cross.” Before the cross became a symbol of forgiveness and life, it was a symbol of death and shame. People weren’t just killed on a cross, they were humiliated. Imagine if we traded out the symbol of the cross for an electric chair or a hangman’s noose on our churches? The Gospel is so closely tied to the crucifixion that Paul says there is no preaching outside of preaching a crucified Christ. (1:23)

2. There are two basic responses to the Gospel. (v. 22-24)

Unfortunately, some people reject the gospel as foolishness. Many of the Jews in the first century thought Christ’s death was scandalous and absurd. They expected Jesus to perform a sign after miraculous sign to prove his power. In their minds, there was no way the Messiah would be crucified. Many of the Greeks through Christ’s death was foolish, but for different reasons. They were always looking for something sophisticated and complex. In their minds, Jesus was too basic and humble.

Thankfully, there are also those who accept the gospel as the wisdom of God. Those who believe the Good News about Jesus know that the gospel has to power to change lives. Romans 1:6 reads, “For I am notashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

When you come upon to an exit ramp on the highway you only have two choices: take the exit or stay on the highway. When someone calls you on the phone you also only have two choices: answer the phone, or let it ring. Those that hear the Gospel only have two ways to respond: accept it or reject.

In 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, we learn not only that Christ’s crucifixion is necessary, but that God’s “foolishness” is far better than anything we can come up with to save ourselves. As you respond to the Gospel for yourself, let me encourage you to embrace the paradox of the gospel. Through Jesus, we know that salvation comes through suffering, freedom comes through submission, and life comes through death.

What to Do When You Hit the Lowest Point in Your Life

pit-600x3691-300x184

You and I can be brought low by many things in life. We can be humbled by our own actions or hurt by the actions of others. We can be broken by what seems like a random series of events, but nothing in life is random. C.S. Lewis once said, “God allows us to experience the low points in life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way.

Jeremiah the Prophet spent his entire life and ministry moving from one low point to another. He proclaimed God’s Word in Judah for 40 years and no one ever listened to him. He was repeatedly rejected and plotted against. At one point, Jeremiah was even thrown in He was thrown into a muddy pit and left to die. No wonder Jeremiah is known as “The Weeping Prophet” (Jeremiah 9:1).

You may be able to identify with Jeremiah’s experience in the muddy pit. You feel like you are the lowest point in your life. You are confused, lonely, and afraid.

There’s hope! Jeremiah made it out his pit and you can too. If you read about Jeremiah’s life before and after the muddy pit, you can discover three ways of escape.

Jeremiah was thrown into a dried out well because he was encouraging the Jews to surrender to the Babylonians who had laid siege to the city of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 38). Some of the city officials were disturbed by Jeremiah’s messages and complained about him to the king. King Zedekiah was a weak leader and allowed the city officials to do whatever they wanted to Jeremiah. The officials were afraid to kill a prophet directly, so they lowered him into an unusable well and left him to die. When Ebed-Melech, another city official, heard about what happened to Jeremiah, he went to the king and pleaded for the prophet’s life. Ebed-Melech made a harness of worn-out rags and rescued Jeremiah from the well with the help of 30 other men. Jeremiah continued to deliver God’s Word even after he made it out of the lowest point in his life.

Jeremiah’s experience in the muddy pit reveals three ways of escaping your own low points in life. One way is obvious from the story itself and two more are implied from Jeremiah’s life.

1. Accept help from your friends.

If can feel pretty lonely struggling through a low point in your life, even if it’s not your fault. Even though you feel alone, you are probably not the only person who has ever dealt with your particular problem. Even if you are, you have people around you who care about you and want to help.

In my experience, those who really need help tend to resist it because of pride or privacy. Some people know how to give help others but don’t know how to receive it. Ecclesiastes  4:9-10 is helpful here: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (NASB).

2. Remember your calling (Jeremiah 1:1-19)

The first chapter of Jeremiah records his calling from God. Jeremiah was marked out at an early age for what seemed like an impossible ministry. Jeremiah was used by God to call the nation of Israel to repentance. Even though the Jews never responded, God never left Jeremiah’s side.

No matter who you are, God has a calling on your life too. First and foremost, you have been called to salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9, 4:1). If you are a follower of Jesus, you have also been called to spiritual growth and Christian service (1 Peter. 1:15). You may also be called to ministry leadership or specific ministry assignment (Luke 5:1-11). Jeff Iorg’s book, Is God Calling Me, is a great resource for assessing your calling. Jeff Iorg’s book, Is God Calling Me? is a great resource for assessing your calling.

3. Trust God’s plan (Jeremiah 29:10-14)

Later, God gave Jeremiah a message for the Jews who experienced their own low points while in exile in Babylon. Jeremiah told them to make the most of their lives because God is still in control. He encouraged them to rest easy knowing God still had a plan for their future. The prophet also urged them to anticipate a time when you would have a personal relationship with God.

God has a plan for your life just like He had a plan for Jeremiah and the Children of Israel. Your challenges and struggles may be unique to you, but they aren’t a surprise to God. Trusting God and his plan is one of the surest ways of escaping the low points of life.

Like Jeremiah, you or someone you know may be stuck in a muddy pit. Not only has God provided a way of escape, but He also wants to use the experience to teach you some lessons that you cannot learn on solid ground.

 

The Necessities of Life

bruno-thethe-1283657-unsplash

Disney released The Jungle Book movie in 1967. One of the most memorable moments in the film is when Baloo the bear teaches Mowgli about the “bare necessities of life” while they search for food together. Bagheera the black panther looks on in disapproval as the bear and boy bebop through the jungle.

The Jewish Passover is a festival built around gratitude to God for two of the necessities of life: food and water.  When the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt, they took their unleaved bread with them because they left in such a hurry (Exodus 12:33-34). Before God provided bread and water for them in the desert, He led them through a body of water – the Red Sea – and used that same body of water to destroy the Egyptian army (Exodus 14).

In John 6:1-25, we read about two of Jesus’ more famous miracles: the feeding of the 5,000 and walking on water. These two stories are recorded back to back in three out of the four Gospels because of their deep connection to the Jewish Passover. We have to adopt a Jewish mindset to appreciate what Jesus said and did in these passages because the control of water and the concept of eating are forever linked to the Passover in the mind of the Jews. 

JESUS FED THE HUNGRY (John 6:1-14)

Jesus traveled to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to a place called Tiberias. A large crowd of people followed Him because He was healing people. Like other rabbis in the first century, Jesus went up on a mountain to teach His disciples and all the other people who had followed Him.

When Jesus was finished teaching, He asked His disciples to organize a meal for the massive crowd of people. Philip said they didn’t have enough money to buy bread for the people. Andrew found a boy who had five barley loaves and two fish but wondered how that could ever be enough. Jesus asked his disciples for help, but already knew what He was going to do. He took the bread and the fish from the boy, blessed it, and began distributing it among the people.

John gives us two numbers to help us appreciate the magnitude of this miracle meal. John tells us that 5,000 men ate that day, plus their wives and children. When everyone was finished eating, the disciples collected twelve baskets of leftovers. This truly was a miracle meal!

JESUS RESCUED THE HELPLESS (6:15-25)

Some of the people in the crowd wanted to make Jesus king and who could blame them – he made food appear out of thin air! Jesus had other plans so He hid in the hills while His disciples traveled back to Capernaum through the Sea of Galilee.  When they were in the middle of the sea, his disciples encountered a fierce storm and became afraid for their lives. Suddenly, they saw Jesus towards them walking on water and they were even more frightened. Then Jesus got into the boat they were instantly at their destination on the other side of the water.

Jesus isn’t surprised by anything in these two Passover stories. In fact, he deliberately put his disciples in a situation where they were forced to find their sustenance and security in Him. These two miracles reverberate through history as God continues to put people in situations where they must find their spiritual sustenance and security in Him.

Sustenance is what it takes to sustaining life – it’s necessary nourishment. Bread sustains our physical life in the same way that obedience to Christ sustains our spiritual life. True spiritual sustenance only comes through a connection to Christ.

Security is freedom from danger, care, or anxiety. In the Exodus story and John 6, water isn’t a necessity of life, but a danger to life – the disciples were helpless and afraid. You and I can plan for the future, but true peace and security only come from God.

Jesus is more than a Rabbi, Prophet, or King, He is the Passover Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29).  When you find yourself spiritually hungry and helpless you can turn to Jesus. When you find yourself overcome and overwhelmed by the circumstances of life you can turn to Jesus. When you find yourself without a plan and without path you can turn to Jesus for your sustenance and security.

When you do, you will be able to pray two parallel prayers:

“You are enough for me Jesus.”

“I rest easy in you Jesus.”

If you can honestly pray these two prayers to God than you are well on your way to finding your sustenance and security in Jesus. If you cannot, then you need to reevaluate the true necessities of life.

Photo by Bruno Thethe on Unsplash