1 Corinthians 13 Love

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always ‘me first,’
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love” (1 Corinthians 13, The Message).

This isn’t warm and fuzzy, Nicholas Sparks romantic love. This is agape unconditional love that’s impossible by strictly human standards.

It’s the love that Christ loved us with when He laid down His life for us when we were yet sinners.

It’s the “not I, but Christ in me” love that fills us up to overflowing and spills out to those around us.

It’s still the only love that can change the world.

I want that kind of love. I want to be that kind of love.

A Good Pastor is Hard to Find

I’m blessed to be able to sit under the teaching of one Aaron Bryant at The Church at Avenue South. He is most definitely God’s man for the role of campus pastor.

I’ve been to more than a few churches in my lifetime. I’ve sat under men who had a heart for people but weren’t the greatest expositors. I’ve also know a few that could alliterate with the best of them but weren’t that good with people outside the pulpit.

I remember I worked in a church office once where the pastor insisted that everyone address him as Doctor. I’m fairly certain that he didn’t pay for all that education only to boost his ego. Well, hopefully not. I’m sure he had his good qualities, but that onesn’t one of them.

But Mr. Bryant is the real deal. He’s a gifted communicator and a compassionate shepherd. He’s one of the main reasons that Ave South has flourished in just under 4 years of existence.

I seem to remember that while it’s good to have a good pastor, that doesn’t give me any excuse to opt out of ministry myself. If I read my Bible correctly, we’re all in the ministry, whether that’s what we do professionally or not. We’re all called to be evangelists at some point in our dealings with those with whom we live, work, and play.

As Dwight Moody put it, we just might be the only Bible some will ever read. We might be the only sermon some will ever listen to, and we might be the only Jesus that some will ever see. You might be the only gospel access to people who would never set foot in a church building.

That’s a sobering thought. Hopefully, that changes the way we live. Hopefully, it changes our conversations and helps us see that God has strategically placed these people in our lives for a reason.

 

4 Years Ago Today

My Timehop app reminded me that today’s a very important day. Not so much in the sense of a grand historical event or the birthday of someone famous.

No, on this day 4 years ago, The Church at Avenue South had its very first non-official worship service on Easter Sunday.

We had rows of the white plastic folding chairs set up in the area that is now home to the preschool and children’s ministry. I can’t remember now how many people turned up, but it was way more than anyone had expected.

We didn’t officially launch until that September, but even way back in April, we knew that all the prayers and dreams of a lot of people were becoming reality.

I suppose you don’t realize how fast the time goes by until you get a memory like that like cold water to the face. But this was a very good memory.

I still remember that after the service, the pastor invited us to take markers and write on the floor and the walls to commemorate the day. Most people wrote meaningful Bible verses or lyrics from hymns.

It’s neat to think that now when we have a worship service, we’re literally standing on the Word of God. It’s a memory that I’d let slip into the recesses of my mind that just came back.

I’m thankful for Aaron Bryant, Matthew Page, and the leadership team for making Ave South a church that I’m proud to call home. I’m aware that there are no perfect people or perfect churches, but I think we as a whole get it right a lot more than we get it wrong.

And God shows up every Sunday, without fail.

I can’t wait to see what the next four years will bring. God willing, I will get to be a small part of it.

There’s Always Something

Absolutely. There truly is always something to be thankful for.

Today, my list includes a good church service at The Church at Avenue South that saw the dedication of several parents and babies, a commissioning of missionaries for a short-term trip to Honduras, and another great sermon from Aaron Bryant from John 21:15-17.

The weather was anything but spring-like, but you can’t always have everything. Supposedly, all this April rain is bringing some May flowers, but I’m not sure what all the cold weather is supposed to bring.

I did have my old and trusty Jeep to get me everywhere I wanted to go today. I had a comfy jacket to keep out the drizzle and chill.

Plus, there’s all those little details that I routinely take for granted– good health, eyes to see, ears to hear, two legs to take me where I want to go, etc.

I’m learning to be grateful for every new day. It doesn’t always work. Some days I’m grumpy and feel entitled. Some days I choose to see the grey clouds instead of the sun peeking out behind them.

Yet on the days I choose gratitude, it’s always worth it.

Every single time.

A Needed Reminder

I don’t like to be corrected. I get defensive and angry. But just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean that I don’t need it from time to time.

Every one of us needs that one person who will always speak the truth to us in love. We don’t need yes people who will tell us only what we want to hear and who will always go along with us, no matter what.

Sometimes, we need that person who can gently rebuke and correct us and show us the error of our ways. What we need is that someone who will hold us accountable.

I know I need that. I also know that I can probably be that person for someone else.

The question from Sunday still haunts me: Who is pouring into your life and discipling you, and whose life are you pouring into and discipling?

In order to fully experience the abundant life that Jesus promised, you need the whole gospel. That starts with salvation but doesn’t end there. The whole gospel starts with justification, continues on with sanctification, and concludes with glorification.

Or maybe it never stops. You never ever get over how amazing this gospel is, even in heaven. Not for all eternity.

That whole gospel experience includes you being discipled and you discipling someone. It means not being satisfied with being saved but continually striving and reaching toward spiritual maturity every single day.

Again, the question: who is discipling you and who are you discipling? Whose life are you pouring into and who is pouring into you?

It all starts with the patience of God. Once you get that, you will be astonished at how patient and understanding you are with others, because you know what it feels like to expect condemnation and receive mercy instead.

 

 

The Whole Gospel for the Whole Person

This Sunday, my pastor Aaron Bryant touched briefly on the recent White Lives Matter rally in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro. Basically what he said was that any group that puts itself up as superior to others and treats anyone different as inferior is missing the heart of the Gospel and categorically rejecting those whom Jesus lived and died for.

I say that whenever you decide who is eligible or not eligible to receive the Gospel message of salvation in Jesus, you have in essence rejected the message of the Gospel. When you choose to define the people or people groups for whom Jesus died, then you reject what He did.

Starting in Genesis, the Bible teaches that all human beings are created in the image of God and bear the Imago Dei, the image of God. The Bible says that God so loved the world– every human being– so much that He sent His only Son.

That means that every single person is someone created in the image of God for whom Jesus died. Every single person has worth. Who are you and I to dismiss or degrade someone for whom Jesus bled and died for?

That goes for people you disagree with politically. That goes for Presidents you don’t like. That goes for both liberals and conservatives (and us independents, too). That goes for people who hold racist, sexist, and other despicable views, bearing in mind that the Gospel message is that even the worst of humanity can be redeemed and transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just ask the Apostle Paul.

Never think for a minute that I condone their beliefs or their actions. I’m saying that I believe that when you exempt anyone from the grace of God, you nullify the grace of God itself.

In the Kingdom of God, there’s room for everyone. Every single race, ethnicity, tribe, and language will be present in Heaven, all united in adoration and fixed on the beautiful face of Jesus.

 

 

 

Everybody Can Serve

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Today at The Church at Avenue South, Pastor Aaron referenced the old 20/80 rule. Basically, 20% of any given local church will end up doing 80% of the ministry.

He said that in sports, not everyone is allowed on the field. In football, only 11 people can be on the field for any one team. The rest must sit on the sidelines or in the stands and spectate.

Not so in the kingdom of God. There shouldn’t be anyone spectating when it comes to service and ministry. We’re all called to engage and to serve. In the Book of Revelation, we are called a kingdom and priests. That means that we don’t pay someone else to do the work of God on earth. We’re the ones who do the work.

There’s a word for those who sit on the sidelines and watch– disobedience.

It’s interesting that the ones who do most of the complaining and gossiping and divisive talk in churches are usually the ones who are sitting on the sidelines and not engaged in active ministry.

I also think it’s important to not get so caught up in doing for God to where your faith becomes a performance-based religion instead of a relationship. There’s always a balance. To me, that happy medium is where you serve out of a love-filled heart from spending time with God.

The happy medium is where we serve and are served, where we minister to each other and with each other to others.

Each of us has gifts and unique talents. Each of us has been called to serve in a way that no one else on the planet can serve.

Let’s get off the sidelines and into the work of the ministry.

Lessons from the Book of Judges

My church is currently going through a sermon series on the book of Judges. It’s not the kind of book when you want to feel good about yourself or the people of God. It’s a book where God’s people failed miserably and repeatedly, continuing a vicious cycle that involved them being hounded by a foreign people, crying out to God for deliverance, and God sending a judge to do just that.

I realized something today. In the book of Joshua, God commanded the people of Israel to utterly annihilate the enemies in the land they were claiming. At first, all went well, but further in, they fall into idolatry and are no longer able to drive out all the peoples in the lands they are taking.

These people are the very ones whose idols will enslave the people of God. These are the very ones whom Israel will serve as a result of that idolatry. Disobedience and sin always have consequences.

I also see that God never spurns the cry of His people. At some point, He probably would have been justified in bailing on them. After all, they did turn their backs on Him and run after other gods. They even forgot what He had done to bring them into this Promised Land.

God is faithful to His promises even when we’re not. God’s faithfulness often makes up for our lack of it. I’m thankful that God’s mercy isn’t dependent on my spiritual fervor or His grace dependent on my obedience.

All those judges that brought deliverance were pointing toward a coming Deliverer who would deliver His people once and for all. My pastor pointed out that while people may recoil from all the violence and bloodshed in the Old Testament, there is just as much of that in the New Testament. It was all directed at one man– the promised Messiah and Deliverer Jesus– who endured a very violent death on the cross for us.

That still doesn’t make for an easy read of Judges. I’m glad to be past it and into the book of 1 Samuel.

 

I Think It’s About Forgiveness

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I’ve been thinking about forgiveness quite a bit lately, particularly in the context of the story of Joseph and his brothers.

I imagine most of you are probably familiar with the story, but I’ll give a brief summary. Joseph has dreams as a teenager and (unwisely) decides to tell them to his family. That and being the favorite son doesn’t do him any favors.

His brothers end up selling him into slavery (making Joseph the first recorded victim of human trafficking). He winds up in Egypt, where he goes from a slave in Potiphar’s court to wrongful imprisonment to a high-ranking position in the government (thanks in large part to his God-given ability to interpret dreams.

One of the dreams he interprets predicts a coming famine to all the known world. He’s able to prepare by storing up large amounts of grain during a time of plenty, so that Egypt not only has enough to survive but also to sell to neighboring countries.

Some of the people who show up to buy food happen to be those very brothers who sold him in the first place. Joseph is able to see how God used their evil act for good to save a multitude of people, including his own family.

Joseph could have chosen bitterness. Or revenge. He was well within his rights to seek retribution against his brothers. He probably could have even had them killed if he wanted.

People will say that forgiveness is a cop out for the weak. I say forgiveness takes great strength. I will go so far as to say that true forgiveness is impossible without God’s help. As my pastor said recently, forgiveness is releasing the expectation that the other person or persons can fix what they did. That’s hard.

Joseph was able to forgive because of his perspective. He saw how God had been with him time and time again though every stage of his journey from home to Egypt, from son to slave to ruler. Joseph was able to see the bigger picture.

Forgiveness ultimately sees that there is nothing that you’ve done or that has been done to you that God can’t work for good and His glory.

Who do you need to forgive (including yourself)? Who do you need to seek forgiveness from?

I love the image that forgiveness is opening the door to a prison cell to release the prisoner only to discover that that prisoner was you all along.

Forgiveness is a beautiful thing.

 

Regret

Since this morning’s sermon at The Church at Avenue South from Aaron Bryant, I’ve been thinking about the story of Joseph in the Old Testament a lot today. More specifically, my thoughts have been centered on Joseph’s brothers.

I’ve always wondered why it was that when his brothers came to Egypt to buy food during the famine that Joseph recognized them but none of them knew who he was.

I realize that he was probably dressed in Egyptian garb and would  have had his hair and beard styled in the Egyptian fashions of that time.

I wonder if one of the reasons he was able to spot them was that they were still stuck in that moment when they made the horrible decision to sell him into slavery over 13 years ago.

Some of you reading this are still stuck in the past. You’re frozen in time in the moment when a relative hurt you or a friend betrayed you or a spouse deserted you. You haven’t been able to move past that moment in time.

Joseph had moved on, both literally and figuratively. By the time his brothers showed up, he had been though slavery, false accusations, imprisonment, and later exaltation. He had seen how God was with him through it all.

He was able to see at the end how God used what his brothers had meant for evil and turned it into something good. In fact, God used what was done to Joseph to set up the salvation of an entire nation in the making.

You come to the place where you release the hurt and pain done to you when you realize how God has redeemed it. When you’re able to forgive those who wounded you, you open the door to the prison and find out that it’s you that you’re setting free.

God still works all things together for good– even the bad and hard things– and that includes your story. That doesn’t excuse what people have done to you and it doesn’t lessen the pain, but it does mean that your wounds and scars are not the end of the story. God has a way of redeeming and restoring what was taken from you and giving you something so much better in return.