UNTIMELY BIRTH

1 Cor.15:8-10 – Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Paul’s life is a contrast of a human controlled by his natural passions and the mess that leads to, and then someone filled and consumed by the Spirit. This supernatural transformation is the definition of God’s grace. Paul’s out of control life was not one controlled by immorality or drunkenness, but it was another version of depravity. We may tend to think someone addicted to opioids or alcohol is a great candidate for God’s grace (and they are) but there are other versions of sinful behavior that need God’s intervention.

Paul was an extremely ambitious man before his conversion. You know the drill, anything goes to get to the top, and get to the top he did. He had risen to the ranks of power in Israel calling himself, “a Pharisee of Pharisees”. His allegiance to his view of Judaism and his lust for power blinded his eyes resulting in someone literally “breathing out” profanity against the followers of Christ. He lived in an atmosphere of hate leading the persecution against the Christians. Paul had become a great candidate for the display of God’s grace. Here is what the early Lutheran theologian, Hesshus, said about Paul and the phrase “untimely birth” in today’s passage.

“Untimely born – ektroma – miscarriage or abortion

I was like an untimely birth – a disgusting mass of flesh, without life and without light. I was not reborn by the Spirit, I was not made new in Christ; I was destitute of all life and righteousness; I was a most disgusting mass of flesh in the sight of God- in fact, I was persecuting the church of God.”

That is a great description of fallen man. Paul called himself an abortion or a miscarriage, a disgusting mass of flesh. Without Christ that’s what we are, absolutely disgusting. That’s why the contrast is so amazing. The grace of God is a work of metamorphosis, making us into something beautiful. One moment Paul was a disgusting mass of flesh, the next moment he was changed into a powerful man of God. No wonder grace is called amazing.

I AM WHAT I AM

1 Cor. 15:10 – But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Paul was the prototype in the New Testament of a person effected by the grace of God. To understand Paul you have to have an understanding of grace. What is grace? The most common answer you will get when you pose that question is this, “unmerited favor”. That is not really an accurate answer. “Unmerited favor” seems to imply that grace is getting good things from the Lord that our behavior doesn’t warrant. That is not grace. Bible grace is so much more than that. Grace is the influence of God on our souls that makes spiritual things attractive to us. In other words, grace transcends the things and blessings of this world and brings us into a place where “only God” will do for us. We begin to follow the Lord with all of our might because we delight in Him and in doing His work. Here is how Albert Barnes describes this verse.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am – By the “favor” or mercy of God. What I have is to be traced to him, and not to any native tendency to goodness, or any native inclination to his service, or to any merit of my own. All my hopes of heaven; all my zeal; all my success; all my piety; all my apostolic endowments, are to be traced to him. Nothing is more common in the writings of Paul, than a disposition to trace all that he had to the mere mercy and grace of God. And nothing is a more certain indication of true piety than such a disposition… He had been enabled by the grace of God, to labor more than all the rest, and he had thus shown that he had not been insensible of his obligations.”

So not only does grace cleanse me of my sin, it also frees me from the power of sin. It works in the most unexpected way, it works through our enjoyment or pleasures. We used to love sin and now we love Him and His kingdom. That’s what happened to Paul at his conversion. Grace arrested him, grace forgave him, and grace consumed him with a new passion. From the day of his conversion onward, Paul was consumed and transformed by grace. That’s why he said, “by the grace of God I am what I am”.

THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE

1 Cor. 15:51,52 – Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

I am currently studying the book of Revelations again preparing for my Bible College class. It is bringing me back to the early days of my conversion and memories from the Jesus movement. Before my conversion I had found a discarded copy of a Christian newspaper called the Jungle Express. The particular issue that I found, crumpled up in a garden, was filled with articles about the end of the age. It spoke of topics such as the rapture, the antichrist, and the great tribulation. I remember feeling excitement and fear intertwined as I begin to soak in all the information I could about the last days. That was one of the key factors that lead to my conversion, I didn’t want to be “left behind” if the rapture came.

One of the voices in those days was Dick Mills who ultimately became a spiritual mentor to me. He would often speak of the return of Christ and would use the phrase “an atomic second”. He said the return of Christ would happen so suddenly that everyone would be caught by surprise. Here are some of Brother Mills thoughts on today’s verse.

“moment, atomos : Uncut, indivisible, undissected, infinitely small. The word is a compound of a, “un,” and temnos, “to cut in two.” When used of time, it represents an extremely short unit of time, a flash, an instant, a unit of time that cannot be divided. A second can be calibrated to one-tenth, one one-hundredth, and one one-thousandth of a second. But how do you calibrate an atomic second? Christ’s return will be in an atomic second.”

If that is true, if Jesus will return suddenly and unexpectedly an atomic second will give no one a moment to get prepared. Are you ready for the coming of Christ. How do you get ready? It’s not your doctrinal beliefs or even your position on when Christ will return that will get you ready for that atomic second. The only thing that will prepare you is to be born again. Jesus said it Himself, “You must be born again or you will never see the kingdom of God”. So why not get ready today? Invite Christ into your life to be your Lord and Savior.

CLOAKED IN WEAKNESS

1 Cor.15:42,43 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.

All of mankind, all of creation for that matter, has been waiting. There is an anticipation everywhere for the restoration of this fallen universe at the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even those that are not aware, we are all still waiting for His unveiling. The truth is that when He came in such an unexpected way most everyone missed Him. He was covered in humility from His birth in an animal stable to His death on a cross. When He stood before the Governor Pontius Pilate, Pilate mouthed the words everyone was thinking, “Are you a king?” In others words, “You don’t look like a king to me”. That was the point of His humility. He is only recognizable to those whose eyes are opened by grace through faith. He came in weakness and is reining now in power. He was buried in weakness and raised up by the power of God. Most missed Him because He came in a very unexpected way. Here is my Christmas poem for 2017 about this waiting for Christ to appear.

CREATION IS WAITING

CREATION IS WAITING

SINCE TIME FIRST BEGAN

FOR THE UNVEILING OF GLORY

WHEN GOD BECOMES MAN

THE ZEBRAS AND ROEBUCKS

THE LION AND THE LAMB

HAVE LONGED FOR THE MOMENT

WHEN GOD BECOMES MAN

HOW WOULD IT LOOK

IN WHAT COUNTRY OR LAND

HOW WOULD IT HAPPEN

WHEN GOD BECOMES MAN

NO ONE COULD IMAGINE

OR DEVISE SUCH A PLAN

BORN AMONG HIS CREATURES

WHEN GOD BECOMES MAN

BORN OF A VIRGIN

IN A STABLE LIKE A LAMB

THE WAIT WAS FINALLY OVER

WHEN GOD BECAME MAN

Today the waiting continues, but the dilemma remains. He is still a King, but not the kind the world imagines. His kingdom is not about houses, cars, vacations, careers, or anything we tend to place importance on. His kingdom is about people. Paul said the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Righteousness because we have been forgiven. We have been justified by the Lord by grace through faith in the work of Jesus in His death and resurrection. Peace, because being justified by faith we have peace with God. This peace comes because our sins are now gone. We also experience joy in this kingdom. Joy is what happens in your heart when you are loved. When we are loved by God, infinite joy is the response. The beauty for Christians is that in one sense the wait is over, in another sense it is just beginning. Christ is here now but His physical return will be greater than we can even hope. Maranatha !!!!

CHEAP GRACE

1Cor. 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

 

It’s funny as much as things seem to change they stay pretty much the same. Jonathan Edwards spent much of his time dealing with modernists in his day consumed with “freedom of the will”. To him, it was just another form of modernism trying to throw off the shackles of orthodox Christianity. In our arena, many modern Christians want to cloak their belief in  so called inclusiveness with the label of grace. It sounds strangely similar to what Bonhoeffer dealt with in the church in Germany in WWII. The so called proponents of grace want to soft peddle on some of the sticky issues of our day such as abortion, sex outside of marriage, drinking, homosexuality; you know the drill. Their version of a loving God ‘accepts’ all of us like we are. In their version, the church looks just like the world with no power to change. Here is a quote from Chelsen Vicari dealing with the hipster version of church we find all too often today.

 

“Popular liberal evangelical writers and preachers tell young evangelicals that if they accept abortion and same-sex marriage, then the media, academia and Hollywood will finally accept Christians. Out of fear of being falsely dubbed “intolerant” or “uncompassionate,” many young Christians are buying into theological falsehoods. Instead of standing up as a voice for the innocent unborn or marriage as God intended, millennials are forgoing the authority of Scripture and embracing a couch potato, cafeteria-style Christianity all in the name of tolerance.

This contemporary mindset is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian whose Christian convictions put him at odds with the Nazis and cost him his life, called “cheap grace.” In his book The Cost of Discipleship Bonhoeffer wrote: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Right now cheap grace theology is proliferating around evangelical Bible colleges, seminaries and Christian ministries.”

 

How can you improve on what Bonhoeffer said, “cheap grace is grace without discipleship…grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ…” Don’t settle for the new spin on an old heresy, let’s return to the unpopular path of primitive Christianity.

DOUBLE GRACE

“But by the grace of God I am what I am,

and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than

all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

1 COR. 15:10

Grace has become a popular message recently. Actually the so called “grace message” has been used as a free pass from living a godly life. The Pauline message of grace does exactly the opposite. It not only reveals Christ to our hearts and His incredible love for sinners, it also delivers us from the shackles of a sinful lifestyle that has kept so many from living a holy life. I recently read a devotion from A. B. Simpson that spoke about this grace, here is a small sample.

“The word grace may be used in two senses. First, it points to the free and undeserved blessings bestowed on us by God, upon which we can always reckon and for which we should thank Him daily. Second, the word may be used of the divine power with which this compassionate love works within us. Grace is not merely an attribute of God, but a life power which works in us every day and every hour, giving us the power to do God’s will.

Paul speaks of the goodness of God that made him, all undeserving, what he was. The grace that God bestowed on Paul was not in vain, because Paul worked “harder than all of them” in the service of the Lord. The divine power within him enabled him to do the work.”

The common definition of grace is the undeserved favor of God. That is true but doesn’t go near far enough. The second part of the definition should include the supernatural influence of God on our souls. Grace is amazing because it opens our eyes to the reality of God working toward us, in us, and through us. It is grace that delivers us from sin. How does that happen? Grace makes Christ attractive and irresistible to us. This strange attractiveness deepens as we draw near to God. It actually brings us into a place of joy that flows out of this life of intimacy with God. It is this indescribable joy that delivers us from the foolish joys of this present life. Rather than giving us a free pass to sin, grace reveals sin for what it is; disgusting. So if you have been struggling with compromise don’t buy in to the cheap version of grace that has no power to liberate, it actually makes you more vulnerable to sin. Drink from the historic cup of amazing grace, sin will quickly lose its power over you.

EFFECTED BY RESURRECTION

But now is Christ risen from the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:20

One of my first struggles of faith was dealing with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I can remember my first Easter as a Christian searching the various accounts of the resurrection described in the four gospels. Then one day I saw it. It was the personal encounter with the resurrected Christ that changed His followers so dramatically. They were changed from cowards into courageous men and women of God. Yep, the testimony of these first Christians bares witness to the veracity of the resurrection. His resurrection became the very cornerstone of their faith and preaching. Charles Spurgeon spoke of this truth in one of his devotionals, here is an excerpt.

“Again, our justification, that choice blessing of the covenant, is linked with Christ’s triumphant victory over death and the grave; for He was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification. Nay, more, our very regeneration is connected with his resurrection, for we are Begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And most certainly our ultimate resurrection rests here, for, If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you. If Christ be not risen, then shall we not rise; but if he be risen then they who are asleep in Christ have not perished, but in their flesh shall surely behold their God. Thus, the silver thread of resurrection runs through all the believer’s blessings, from his regeneration onwards to his eternal glory, and binds them together. How important then will this glorious fact be in his estimation, and how will he rejoice that beyond a doubt it is established, that now is Christ risen from the dead.

The promise is fulfill’d,

Redemption’s work is done,

Justice with mercy’s reconciled,

For God has raised his Son.”

He mentioned that the Resurrection effects us in many ways. One of those effects it has guarantees our justification. The very fact that Christ was raised from the dead declares that His sacrificial death was acceptable to God. This means my sins have been forgiven, the price for sin was paid, I stand justified before God. Next, my new birth becomes available. When Christ was risen, He appeared to His disciples. He breathed into their hearts the breath of life. This life is resurrection life. These disciples were born again that day. They were no longer slaves to their past, their sins were forgiven and they had received new life into their spirits. Finally, His resurrection guaranteed my resurrection. Jesus is actually the first fruit of a brand new race of men. When He returns, our bodies will immediately be made like His body. We will experience this glorious transformation in a twinkling of an eye. Since Christ is risen, my resurrection is assured.

PUT DOWN THE PRAYER LIST

1Cor. 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and  his grace  toward me was not in vain. No, I worked harder than any of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

One of the funniest Christian bumper stickers I have seen is “God is my co-pilot”. Now I know the intentions are good, but co-pilot? Really? Not only does He not want a second role, He wants the only role. He wants to do more than even direct our life, He wants to be our life. He wants to be all all. As Sarah Edwards often said, “I want to be swallowed up in God”. Here is how Andrew Murray describes this aspect of our relationship with The Lord.

“Ah, the blessedness of saying, “God and I!” What a privilege that I have such a partner! God first, and then I! And yet there might be secret self-exaltation in associating God with myself. And I find in the Bible a more precious word still. It is, “God and not I.” It is not, “God first, and I second; “God is all, and I am nothing”. Paul said, “I labored more abundantly than they all; though I be nothing.” Let us try to give God His place—begin in our closet, in our worship, in our prayer. The power of prayer depends almost entirely upon our apprehension of who it is with whom I speak. It is of the greatest consequence, if we have but half an hour in which to pray, that we take time to get a sight of this great God, in His power, in His love, in His nearness, just waiting to bless us. This is of far more consequence than spending the whole half hour in pouring out numberless petitions, and pleading numberless promises. The great thing is to feel that we are putting our supplications into the bosom of omnipotent Love.”

This is exactly what the outpouring of the Spirit has done in my life. For years as a pastor I sort of viewed God as the guide and source of power to succeed in my ministry. Of course I was doing it for The Lord; that was not what He was after. He was after me. It was as if the ministry was an after thought for Him, He was after my love. He wanted my life to be swallowed up in God, not swallowed up in God’s work.
So if you think about it, it is the love of God personified in the Holy Spirit that does this in our lives. He comes upon us, communicates God’s great love to us, and then the adventure begins. From that point we have tasted the only thing that our human hearts really crave, it’s the love of God. His love is a bottomless, shoreless ocean. Before you know it you are totally swallowed up. So maybe it’s time to put down the prayer list and just open your heart to the Father’s love.

ALL IN ALL

Image result for great awakening“1 Corinthians 15:28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him, that God may be all in all.”

Paul coined some unusual and powerful phrases. “That God would be all and all” touches on the eternity and self sufficiency of our God. These characteristicsof God are impossible to comprehend, we catch glimpses of them by the revelation of the Holy Spirit. The incredible thing about these eternal characteristics of God is this, we are created in His image and nothing less than these immutable attributes can satisfy our hungry hearts. Here is how Andrew Murray saw this all in all aspect of The Lord.

“…if this is what fills the heart of Christ; if this expresses the one end of the work of Christ, then, if I want to have the spirit of Christ in me, the motto of my life must be: Everything made subject, and swallowed up in Him, “that God may be all in all.” What a triumph it would be if the Church were fighting really with that banner floating over her! What a life ours could be if that were really our banner! To serve God fully, wholly, only, to have Him all in all! How it would ennoble, and enlarge, and stimulate our whole being! I am working, I am fighting, “that God may be all in all;” that the day of glory may be hastened. I am praying, and the Holy Spirit makes His wrestling in me with unutterable longing, “that God may be all in all.” Would that we Christians realized in connection with what a grand cause we are working and praying; that we had some conception of what a Kingdom we are partakers of, and what a manifestation of God we are preparing for.”

David Brainerd was a missionary to the Native Americans during the Great Awakening. His diary has inspired thousands of young men and women to follow his example in a life dedicated to missionary work. Here is a snippet from his diary. In it, you can see what sustained him in his incredibly difficult calling.

“Monday, July 7. My spirits were considerably refreshed and raised in the morning. There is no comfort, I find, in any enjoyment without enjoying God and being engaged in his service. In the evening, had the most agreeable conversation that ever I remember in all my life, upon God’s being “all in all” parenthetical, and all enjoyments being just that to us which God makes them, and no more. ‘Tis good to begin and end with God. Oh, how does a sweet solemnity lay a foundation for true pleasure and happiness!”

Yes, it is good to begin and end with God. Tasting this “all in all” characteristic of God will take you a long way in your struggles in this life. Start today, start now. Lord you are my all in all. In you I find joy and satisfaction, you are my source of life.

POPEYE’S GRACE

POPEYE’S GRACE

1Co. 15:10
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Today’s verse reminds me of the cartoon character Popeye I used to watch as a kid. “I am whats I am and thats all what I am” Popeye used to say. He took pride in just being the small, ordinary sailor, at least until he ate his spinach. The spinach seemed to have an almost supernatural effect on him. Popeye’s spinach is like our infusion of the supernatural grace of God. We are whats we are by the grace of God. I love Paul’s combination of humility and confidence expressed in this verse. He recognized the weakness and shortcomings of his humanness and at the same time was confident in Christ who was working mightily within him. All of us face the same dilemma, we are weak and unable to stand up in the midst of the crazy onslaught we experience daily in this life. At the same time, we are strong enough for any challenge, empowered by Christ within us. Kathryn Kuhlman expressed the beauty of God’s grace in these words.

“Where would any man or any woman be this very hour were it not for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ? Grace greater than all our sins – grace greater than all our shortcomings.

I am reminded of God’s grace when someone confides, “I wasn’t worthy of this healing or of God’s blessings. I am not worthy to be called an heir of God and a joint-heir with Christ Jesus.”

It isn’t a matter of being worthy, for no man is worthy! It isn’t our perfection or our penitence, or a matter of our labors to reach the place of perfection or worthiness. It is God’s grace alone!”

Popeye would often face impossible circumstances normally brought about by his foe Bluto. He would always thwart his foe by the strange effect the spinach would have on him. You and I face an adversary that opposes us at every turn. The good news is that our sufficiency is not in our gifts, resources, or talents, our help comes from the Lord. If the Bible is true, we are sufficient for any challenge that comes our way. What can separate us from the love of God? Is there any trial, any sickness, any financial need, or any demon that can defeat us? Impossible!!! We are literally more than conquerors through Christ. Like Popeye and the Apostle Paul, I am what I am and that’s all what I am. Maybe being empowered by spinach is a stretch but we have more than spinach working for us. We have Christ Himself working within us by the grace of God. Regardless of what kind of battle you are facing today you are more than a match for the battle. Remember, you are what you are by the grace of God.