Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Gratitude: An Upward Basketball Halftime Devotion

It is my joy to provide halftime devotions as our church hosts nearly a thousand people each weekend for our Upward Basketball league (K-9th). The brevity of time (5 minutes) and diversity of those gathered create a challenging opportunity. Over the course of our eight week season, how will I make Christ known to those who do not yet know Him?  How will I edify the faith of those who do? Here's our devotion from this past weekend on Gratitude:

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”

In life we can either be “humbly grateful,” or else we’ll likely become “grumbly hateful.” And the difference between these two attitudes is often more related to our perspective than it is reality. Think about it! There are some people who have so much—so much to be thankful for—but rather than being grateful, they are, instead, dissatisfied and discontent. And they don’t mind letting others know about it, either. 

The problem here may be an inflated sense of entitlement—that attitude which says “I’m owed so much more than I’m getting!” A sense of self-entitlement is at odds with an attitude of gratitude.

You see, gratitude is not a measurement of how much we have, but rather how thankful we are for all we have received. Gratitude flows from recognizing that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). When we understand that ‘everything we are’ and ‘everything we have’ is a gracious gift and blessing from God, our perspective can change. After all, what exactly do we deserve?

The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 3:23, 6:23). That’s what we deserve; that’s what we are owed! So, if we receive anything better than that, we are, as Dave Ramsey might say, “doing better than we deserve.”

Perspective changes things, doesn't it? Think about small children at Christmas time. So many of us have laughed over the years as we’ve watched children enjoying the empty boxes as much as the toys that came in them. But where we see “empty boxes,” they see “open possibilities.” That’s perspective!

If we view our lives from the perspective of entitlement, we’ll complain about how empty the box is. But if we view our lives from the perspective of gratitude for all of God’s blessings, we’ll see how truly full that box is and how open it is to possibilities.

Through Upward Sports, we hope to help our children develop this kind of perspective. But, our examples as adults and our choices as parents will either encourage this attitude of gratitude, or else enable a spoiled sense of entitlement.

Paul asked the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor 4:7).

Today, perhaps your box looks awfully empty. But, there is a gift you can receive that will not only change your perspective, but will change everything. To understand how blessed we really are, we first need to receive the greatest blessing of all—Christ. The Bible does indeed say “the wages of sin is death,” however, it doesn't stop there. It goes on to say, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). Christ is able to reconcile us forever with God, forgiving our sin and promising everlasting life.

If you try to fill your box with mere religion or good works, or if you try to fill it with mere pleasure or possessions, you’ll still just have an empty box. But if you truly repent of your sin and turn in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who died for sin and rose again, then He Himself can fill it.

John the Baptist once said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven“ (John 3:27). If you have already received this greatest of all blessings, then realize how rich you are in Christ Jesus! You can be humbly grateful rather than grumbly hateful.

But if you have not received this good and perfect gift, I pray Heaven comes calling, maybe even today,  and God may grant [you] repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim 2:25). What have you received? Are you truly grateful?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A One-Another Church


(al-LAY-lone, allélón, one another)

The Christian life was intended to be experienced in community with other disciples. We were never meant to soldier through life alone, but rather to band together as believers within a covenant of church fellowship. The ekklésia or “church” (lit. the ‘called-out’) is commissioned to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).

How we love and relate to God and each other as a community of believers ought to serve as a living display of the glory of God, an embodiment of the gospel itself. Our testimony before the world is either adorned or marred by how we share life together as a church. What a sobering thought!

No church this side of glory is perfect, but we can have a shared vision of what church life ought to be and strive together to fulfill that vision. One helpful resource in this pursuit is an examination of the many “one another” passages in the New Testament which describe how we are to live, love, and labor together within the church.

Most of these passages use the word allélón and are listed in this survey. However, there are a few other select passages that express the same “one another” idea through heautoú (*marked with an asterisk below). My own examination of the "one-another" passages was stimulated by a similar study over at The Overview Bible Project.  I appreciate Jeffrey Kranz's permission to utilize and modify some of his artwork in displaying the results of this study.

These “one anothers” should guide, challenge, and encourage us to share life together to the glory of God.

Over one-fourth of the “one another” passages deal with how the church gets along in unity.

  1. Be at peace with one another (Mk 9:50)
  2. Don’t grumble at one another (Jn 6:43)
  3. Recognize we are members of one another (Rom 12:5; Eph. 4:25)
  4. Be of the same mind with one another (Rom 12:16, 15:5)
  5. Accept one another (Rom 15:7)
  6. Don’t bite, devour, and consume one another (Gal 5:15)
  7. Don’t boastfully challenge or envy one another (Gal 5:26)
  8. Gently, patiently tolerate one another (Eph 4:2)
  9. Be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving to one another (Eph 4:32)
  10. Bear with and forgive one another (Col 3:13)
  11. *Live in peace with one another (1 Th 5:13)
  12. Seek good for one another, and don’t repay evil for evil (1 Th 5:15)
  13. Do not speak evil against one another (Jas 4:11)
  14. Don’t complain against one another (Jas 5:9)
  15. Be hospitable to one another without complaint (1 Pet 4:9)
  16. Walk in the light, fellowshipping with one another and being cleansed by the blood of Christ (1 Jn 1:7)

Nearly 30% of these passages instruct members how to love one another.

  1. Love one another (Jn 13:34, 35; 15:12, 17; Rom 13:8; 1 Th 3:12, 4:9; 2 Th 1:3; 1 Pet 1:22; 1 Jn 3:11, 3:23, 4:7, 11, 12; 2 Jn 5)
  2. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love (Rom 12:10)
  3. Through love, serve one another (Gal 5:13)
  4. Tolerate one another in love (Eph 4:2)
  5. *Keep fervent in your love for one another,  covering a multitude of sins (1 Pet 4:8)
  6. Greet one another with a kiss of love (1 Pet 5:14)

About 10% stress an attitude of humility and deference among believers.
  1. Wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14)
  2. Give preference to one another in honor (Rom 12:10)
  3. Be of the same mind toward one another and not haughty toward the lowly (Rom 12:16)
  4. Serve one another (Gal 5:13)
  5. Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Eph 5:21)
  6. Regard one another as more important than yourselves (Phil 2:3) 
  7. Clothe yourselves in humility toward one another (1 Pet 5:5)
About 16% shed light on the nature of NT worship and what we should practice corporately.

  1. Instruct one another (Rom. 15:14)
  2. Greet one another with a kiss (Rom 16:16;   1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12)
  3. Wait for one another before beginning the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:33)
  4. *Teach and admonish one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col 3:16, Eph 5:19)
  5. Comfort one another concerning the resurrection and return of Christ (1 Th 4:18)
  6. Stimulate one another to love and good deeds and do not forsake assembling together but rather encourage one another (Heb 10:24-25)
  7. Confess sins to one another (Jas 5:16)

About 16% demonstrate how we serve one another.

  1. Do not judge one another or put a stumbling block in a brother’s way (Rom 14:13)
  2. Build up one another (Rom. 14:19)
  3. Husbands and wives: don’t deprive one another of physical intimacy (1 Cor 7:5)
  4. Have the same care for one another (1 Cor 12:25)
  5. Bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2)
  6. Speak truth to one another (Eph 4:25)
  7. Don’t lie to one another (Col 3:9)
  8. Encourage & build up one another (1 Th 5:11)
  9. *Encourage one another daily (Heb 3:13)
  10. Pray for one another (Jas 5:16)
  11. *Use your spiritual gifts in serving one another (1 Pet 4:10) 
A helpful brochure presentation (.pdf) of this study can be found HERE.