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Blessings

Image source: LumoProject

In today’s Bible reading, John tells us about Jesus’ first miracle. Jesus and His disciples have been invited to attend a multi-day wedding (as was common). Mary, Jesus’ mother tells Him that they ran out of wine. She doesn’t tell Him what to do. John doesn’t tell us what she expected Jesus to do. Jesus responds that this shouldn’t concern Him. He isn’t the groom. It isn’t His party. Today, He might respond, “Not my circus. Not my monkeys!”

Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. Jesus doesn’t “do” anything. He doesn’t say anything except to dip water out of the jars and take it to the master of the feast. The master of the feast calls aside the bridegroom and asks why the best wine wasn’t used first. John highlights the fact that the better wine is normally served first and then the cheaper wine is served later. But in this case, Jesus has turned water into the better wine.

Just this past Sunday, I preached on the Parable of the New Wine needs New Wineskins and I included a reference to today’s chapter. I pointed out the fact that until Louis Pasteur discovered Pasteurization in the 1800s, all grape juice was alcoholic. You couldn’t pick up a bottle of Welch’s Grape Juice at the grocery store because they didn’t have a way to keep the juice from fermenting. The implication is clear: Jesus didn’t turn water into juice. He turned water into the “good stuff”. And note: Each of the six jars contained 20-30 gallons of water. That’s 120-180 gallons of good wine!

Application

Why would I highlight this today? Look at the context: Jesus is celebrating marriage with His family and friends. A need arises. And Jesus supplies above and beyond the need.

Just like He always does!

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Several months ago, we read through Paul’s letters to the Church at Corinth. We saw that one of the Corinthians’ biggest problems was their focus on themselves. They were consummate narcissists. As a result, the Corinthian church was extremely dysfunctional in the way it ministered to itself. In today’s Bible reading, Peter echos Paul’s concerns about the proper use of spiritual gifts.

A spiritual gift isn’t for the individual who has the gift. Instead, the individual who has the gift should use the gift in the strength that God provides so that God alone is glorified. (1 Peter 4:10–11) That’s it. And it applies to all individuals and all of the gifts.

And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Ephesians 4:11–13 (CSB)

God has blessed me with a primary spiritual gift of teaching. Clustered around that central gift, He has also given me gifts of shepherd, exhortation, wisdom, and intercession. My task is to use these gifts — in the power of the Holy Spirit — to work together along with my personality mix to build up the church I pastor so that our people can do the work of ministry.

Did you catch that? I’m not supposed to do all the work. Neither is anyone else! But unfortunately, I have seen many pastors and their families abused by churches who think the pastor is responsible for everything. And when things don’t get done, guess who is blamed? It’s shameful.

I have been very blessed to serve in churches whose members have rolled up their shirtsleeves to do God’s work. Right now, the church where I have served for over three years (Fellowship Baptist Church in Weatherford, Texas) is in the process of merging with a sister church (Heritage Baptist Church) right across the road from our church. Both churches prayed about how God is moving among us and “it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 15:28a) to combine our church bodies. We sensed that we can do more together as one than we can do separately. And now, God is bringing out the gifts and personality I haven’t needed to draw from in the past. In some ways, I’m intimidated. But I’m also encouraged that God is entrusting to me as pastor, the task of uniting these two bodies into one.

I’m sure that as we move forward, there will be challenges. But like Peter says, everyone should use their gift for the good of the church body. We should all, use our gifts “to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10 CSB) with the primary goal of bringing glory to the Giver of those gifts. (1 Peter 4:11)

Application

Every believer has at least one spiritual gift. What’s yours? If you are a Believer and don’t know, just ask God. He’ll show you that you may not know what it is, but you use it every day. That is, if you are actively involved in your local church, and actively pursuing God, you probably use your gift(s) all the time. Ask your church friends what they think your gift(s) is/are.

There are also resources available that can help you and your church to evaluate your spiritual gift(s). But when it comes down to it, all those resources do is reveal how you have functioned in the past and recently. Don’t obsess over discovering your gift(s). Instead, obsess over loving God! And obsess over actively using your gift(s) and yourself to glorify Him.

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Nero
Image source: Wikimedia

Peter continues addressing his persecuted, exiled readers (1 Peter 2:11) in today’s Bible reading. Last month, I commented on the historical context around the middle of the First Century. I mentioned Nero was the Roman Emporer at the time. Under Nero’s reign, Christians were persecuted far beyond what many of us can imagine today. “Pure evil” is the only way I can describe it without going into the ugly details.

And yet… Peter tells his readers to submit to every human authority. And lest there be any confusion, Peter says clearly that his command includes the “emperor [Nero] as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good.” (1 Peter 2:13–14 CSB)

So what does “submit” mean? Submit was a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.[1]

Submission is not a bad word. In fact, no military unit can properly function without it. No marriage can properly function without it. No church can properly function without it. And no country can properly function without it. There has to be a chain of command. The pastor who married Amy and me said, “Anything with more than one head is a monster.”

Peter gives his rationale for his command in verses 12 and 15. “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.” 1 Peter 2:12, 15 (CSB)

Did you catch that? Peter says the reason Believers should submit even to the evil Emperor Nero was so that God would be glorified. He adds that silencing foolish ignorance by doing good is God’s will. Well, you can’t argue with that!

Application

Most of my readers live in the United States and do not have first-hand knowledge of real religious persecution. However, readers in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes may know people who have experienced persecution. They may have even had to alter their way of doing life — especially church life — in order to coexist in a restrictive environment. I have friends who live in one of those restrictive countries and they have to be very careful in the way they communicate prayer needs back to churches in the US. In fact, they don’t even use the words “pray”, “church”, or “Jesus Christ” in their email correspondence.

But regardless of where you live, Peter’s instructions are clear: Submit to every human authority. Every human authority. You may or may not like your President. You may or may not like your Chancellor. You may or may not like your Prime Minister. But regardless of how you feel about your leaders, if you are a Believer, you are obligated to submit to those authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14) and to pray for them. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

[1] Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.

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The Gospel Comes with a House Key - Rosaria Butterfield

In today’s Bible reading, continues to talk about the importance of walking in both Truth and Love.

Next, John talks about the importance of hospitality toward other Believers. (3 John 1:5-8) People don’t talk much about hospitality these days. But it’s a very important character trait. Back in the First Century, especially as Roman religious persecution grew, it was crucial that Believers support each other as John says above. He concludes his thoughts, urging that Believers should financially support itenerant missionaries. By supporting these people, they actually become a coworker with them in God’s work.

I haven’t read it yet, but Rosaria Butterfield wrote an award-winning book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World. In it, she talks about how she became a Christian in a large part because some Christian neighbors extended “radically ordinary” hospitality to her.

Application

Think about that. By simply being hospitable, you can have an eternal impact on the lives of lost people. Maybe it’s gladly giving a neighbor a cup of sugar. Maybe it’s loaning a fan to a new neighbor who’s painting some rooms before they move. Definitely, it’s praying for your neighbors. Definitely, it’s being ready to share a “fresh word” of encouragement with them. Definitely, it’s giving a Bible to the coworker who doesn’t have one and is beginning their spiritual walk.

The saying, “Always share your faith and use words when necessary” forgets the fact that unless you use words, people will not know the Gospel. Sure, they may think, “Wow, what a nice gesture.” but they won’t know why you did what you did when you were hospitable. Peter urged his readers to always be ready to gently and respectfully explain your hope. (1 Peter 3:15)

And that requires that we use words.

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Transformation from what you are

In today’s Bible reading, John says that our relationship with God doesn’t exist in a vacuum. How we live affects our relationship with God. And how we live with others affects our relationship with God.

Coming into a relationship with God is a free offer. There are no demands on us. We don’t have to (as if we could!) clean up before we come to Christ. God’s offer is to come as we are!

So we come as we are. But God doesn’t want us to stay as we are!

Application

God wants to transform us from the inside-out, in ways we can’t change ourselves — ways that run far deeper than mere behavior change. But behavior change is part of the change He wants to work into our lives. And behavior change demonstrates the deeper, inward change. One of those behavior changes is the way we relate to other people.

How do you feel about other people? Is there anyone who you do everything you can to avoid being around? It’s understandable to want to avoid someone who has mistreated you. But I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about avoiding someone simply because of the way they look, the way they smell, the way they behave, where they live, their job (or their lack of a job), the language they speak, or the country they’re from. Is there anyone you wouldn’t want to spend eternity in heaven with? Anyone?

You are no more deserving of eternity in heaven than anyone else who ever walked on this planet. Anyone. Ever.

And no one is less deserving of spending eternity in heaven than you are. No one. We all come based on Jesus’ atoning sacrifice … alone.

If that’s true, why would you not want to tell someone — anyone — about the greatest news ever heard?

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