August 21 – Unstoppable – Accepted and being transformed

Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-22

By grace, we are accepted the way we are.  With truth, we are transformed to be like Christ.

Just ask the Corinthians.  They had come to faith in Jesus.  But, even though they were indwelt by the Spirit, Paul could not speak to them as spiritual people.  In many ways, their behavior was much like that of people who had not been touched by salvation.  They were like spiritual infants, still unable to consume a diet of deeper doctrine and truth.  Their relational tendencies reflected that immaturity as well.  Jealousy and strife characterized their tense relationships.  They even formed factions around their favorite spiritual leader.  Nevertheless, God, in His grace had accepted them.

Even though we are accepted by grace, we are transformed with truth (Jn. 17:17).  In the church at Corinth, God was still in the process of this metamorphosis.  He wanted to see those natural tendencies replaced by supernatural ones.  He wanted to see joy take the place of jealousy and peace supplant quarreling.  He wanted people to orient themselves around Christ rather than around different men.  He wanted to see their spiritual diet incorporate more complex truths.  He was all about bringing change into the lives of his kids.

The truth of His word is one of the primary means, by which He accomplishes change like that.  In fact, 2 Timothy 3:16 reminds us that it is by the truth of the Scriptures that we are taught the desires and will of God.  Through that truth, we are rebuked for wayward living.  Through the truths of the Bible, we are shown how to correct our ways.  Through the truth of the word of God, we are trained in righteousness.  It is through that truth that we are equipped to best serve Christ.  Biblical truth, you see, is an essential part of that transformation process.

Because grace and truth play such integral parts in the lives of individual followers of Jesus, the church of Jesus must, therefore, also be a place characterized by grace and truth.  It is through grace that we are accepted as children of God.  It is through truth that we are transformed to reflect the image of Christ.

Steve Kern

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August 20 – Unstoppable – A woman in need of grace and truth

Read John 8:1-11

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  (v. 11)

While there is some question as to whether this section of John was a part of the originally inspired writing of John, one must admit that the content is consistent with the ministry of Jesus.  In fact, the final words of this section cited above depict what we discovered yesterday from John 1:  Jesus is “full of grace and truth.”  But let’s go back in the story as we allow our appreciation for grace and truth to grow.

It was early morning in Jerusalem.  Not too early, however, that people were not up and about.  In fact, a crowd had already gathered in the temple.  They were assembled to listen to Jesus as He taught.

Earlier still, scribes and Pharisees had been busily scheming.  Imagine the embarrassment as they brought in a woman caught in the very act of adultery!  Their scheme was to bring the woman to Jesus . . . not so much out of their own uncertainty of what they should do, but in order to test Jesus.  How would He weigh in on the teaching of the Old Testament law?

The law clearly gave them the freedom to initiate a stoning.  The woman could be put to death for her activity.  Most likely, the scribes and Pharisees thought they had Jesus trapped.  If He said to stone her, the crowds that had become accustomed to His grace-filled teaching would flee.  If He said to let her go, they would accuse Him of being no friend of the law.

As you know, He gave permission to stone her with the qualifier that the first to throw was to be without sin.  No one qualified.  All of the accusers left.  The only ones left center stage were Jesus and the woman.  She stood perhaps head down in her shame.  He stood as the only sinless person . . . as the One who, according to His own qualifier, had the right to initiate the stoning.  Instead, He extended grace – “Neither do I condemn you” – and truth – “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

That tender balance and those twin realities are to be part of the message and the experience of Christ’s unstoppable church.

Steve Kern

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August 19 – Unstoppable – grace AND truth

Read Romans 5:18-6:23

It’s grace and truth, not grace or truth.  It’s forgiveness for my past and a call to righteousness for my present.  I cannot revel in grace and disregard the truth.

But Paul seemed to anticipate our tendency to do just that.

It is true that grace is super-abounding.  It now plays a dominant role in our lives.  In spite of the depths of sin we may have reached in our past, grace can reach deeper still.  Even though the awareness of our sin may increase with our growing understanding of God’s expectations for us, grace is bigger and more powerful.  “Grace” is now the huge and powerful banner under which we live.  We no longer live under “law.”

But an exaggerated awareness of grace can cause us to miss out on the truth of God’s call on us to live righteously.  In every facet.  Without excuse.

We dare not rationalize that by sinning we just multiply grace in our lives (vv. 6:1-14).  To intentionally sin because we know that God’s grace can cover it . . . that is not what God intended.  No.  With our conversion, a death took place.  Our old self was crucified with Christ.  We died to sin.  We are now alive to Christ.  We must understand that truth and operate according to it.

Similarly, we dare not reason that we live under grace and are no longer subject to God’s call to righteous living (vv. 6:15-23).  With our conversion, there was a change in masters.  Having once been a slave to sin, it is no surprise that our past may have included a life without restraint.  But as Jesus followers, we are now slaves to righteousness and slaves to God.  Our life path is to lead towards greater holiness.

You see, grace and truth are to be important parts of our experience.  Our life is to be characterized by forgiveness for our past and increased righteousness into the future.  We cannot revel in the one and disregard the other.  We are called to righteous living and holiness.  So, let us pursue that as people who have been raised to a new life with a new master!

Steve Kern

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August 18 – Unstoppable – Grace and Truth

Read John 1:1-18

If you are part of Grace Church in Wooster, OH, you probably know that members of our congregation sponsor orphans in an orphanage in Cambodia, which we have affectionately named “Grace Place.”  Meanwhile, our son is a children’s pastor in a local church in Oklahoma City.  Any guesses what the name of the church is?  It’s “Grace Place Baptist Church.”

More than the “what are the chances of that?” aspect of the names, I want to draw attention to the name itself.  “Grace Place” is a fitting name for a ministry seeking to honor and to reflect the character of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps you noticed in today’s reading that Jesus is “full of grace and truth” (v. 14) and that “grace and truth came through” Him (v. 17).  In similar manner, His church should be a place where both “grace and truth” abound.

“. . . the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  (v. 17)

There is something distinct but also complementary about the two phrases of that verse.  The law conveyed the holy requirements of God.  Its emphasis on purity and performance communicated an unattainable standard.  God’s purpose in giving it through Moses was to point out the impossibility of living a life pleasing to God.  It communicated the inadequacy of the individual and the necessity of Someone greater.

That Someone was Jesus Himself.  He perfectly fulfilled all the requirements of God.  He was the missing ingredient . . . the very One to whom Moses and countless other Old Testament characters had pointed.  Through His “grace and truth,” He made connection with the Father possible.

It is true, the church must use the law properly.  We must use it to help people understand their inability.

It is true, the church must be a place where the truth of God is spoken.  We saw last week that the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:14-16).

But we dare not forget that the church is also to be a place where the grace of God also abounds.

Are you full of grace and truth?  Does the pendulum swing farther towards one than the other?

Steve Kern

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August 17 – Unstoppable – Tools for Building an Unstoppable Church (Part 2)

Read Romans 12:1-21

Yesterday, we discovered that Christ, as the builder of His unstoppable church, uses human “tools” in His construction project.  Those tools work best when they are used in the way that they were designed.  Some of those tools include gifted church leaders (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers).  While these leaders have unique abilities, they share a common purpose of equipping others in the body of Christ to mutually serve one another so that the “church construction” continues to progress upward.

But church leaders are not the only “gifted” individuals in Christ’s construction project.  The truth is that every genuine Christ follower has at least one special ability.  The Holy Spirit gives to each one of God’s children a unique gift.  Do you know what yours is?  Romans 12:6-8 lists a small sampling of them:  prophecy, serving, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership, and mercy.  Meanwhile, the Bible is clear that there are others.  You can perhaps discover yours by observing those things that you especially enjoy doing and are fruitful at.  The input of others can also be a great help in identifying your “gift.”  Other brothers and sisters in Christ often have a better perspective of how God uses you than you do!  If you don’t know your gift, seek to discover it.

Once you identify it, be careful how you feel about yourself and your ability.  Don’t think too highly of yourself in pride!  Don’t think too lowly of yourself in disappointment!  Don’t look at others and their gifts with jealousy!  Don’t look at yourself and your gift in superiority!  The Holy Spirit distributes gifts as He sees fit.  You had no say in what gift you received.  There is neither room for pride nor for jealousy.

There is, however, a need to use your gift.  The Spirit of God has designed you to be used as a tool in the construction of Christ’s church.  He has planned that you serve as a part of the “body” of Christ.  Every body part is essential.  Others need what you have to offer, just as you are dependent upon the gifts that others have.

Humbly identify your gift and put it to use!

Steve Kern

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August 16 – Unstoppable – Tools for Building an Unstoppable Church (Part 1)

Read Ephesians 4:1-16

You have probably done it too . . . you have used a tool for something other than its intended purpose.  The other day, I found myself in need of a hammer, but I only had a wrench within reaching distance.  So, guess what I did?  That’s right, I pounded with a wrench.  Sometimes, you can “get by” with such improvisation, but it isn’t nearly as easy.  Things seem to go much better when you use tools for their intended purpose.

Christ, the architect and builder of the unstoppable church, also has tools at His disposal.  His tools are people.  Rather than “getting by” and using people for purposes other than He intended, He has given us insight to the proper function of His people within His church.  Today, let’s consider the leadership of the church.  Ephesians 4:11 tells us that Christ uses five different types of gifted leaders in the building of His church.  By the way, it is important to note that these may or may not be paid “staff members” in a local church.  These include:

  • Apostles – Initially these were the 12 who were specially selected.  Their present-day parallel is best observed in those who establish churches.
  • Prophets – These proclaimers boldly speak timely and sometimes uncomfortable words of Truth to God’s people.
  • Evangelists – These are gifted individuals who share the gospel without fear and often with great fruitfulness.
  • Pastors – Shepherding the flock of God with gentle care is their forte.
  • Teachers – The Spirit of God uses these people to clearly convey the meaning and the application of God’s word.

While these gifted individuals are like tools with diverse functions, they have one thing in common.  They contribute to the building up of the body of Christ.  And they do this by equipping God’s people for works of service (v. 12).  Did you catch that?  In other words, they do not do everything, but they do call the rest of the church from the stadium out onto the field.  They delegate, point to opportunities, model, and train so that everyone in the church contributes and grows.

Are you in the stadium or out on the field?

Steve Kern

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August 15 – Unstoppable – Household Code?

Read 1 Timothy 2:1-155:1-25

“. . . I am writing you these instructions so that . . . you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household . . .” (1 Tim. 3:14, 15)

In this first letter to his spiritual son, Timothy, the apostle Paul makes his purposes clear.  He had left Timothy in Ephesus and now chose to write these words to help the Ephesian church know what proper church conduct looks like.  Bible commentators have come to call these and similar passages Paul’s “Haustafel” or “Household Code.”  When we first hear terms like this, we may conjure up images of signs posted on the wall of the church outlining things like:

  • No running in the hallways!
  • No food or drink in the worship center!
  • No shorts allowed!

A closer look at the contents of the letter, however, reveals something different.

This “Household Code” has more to do with relationships, roles, and responsibilities within the unstoppable body of Christ rather than with actions within a facility.  Paul’s instruction, then, include such things as:

  • The priority of prayer (2:1-7
  • The role of men and women (2:8-15)
  • The qualifications of church leaders (3:1-16)
  • The care for widows (5:1-16)
  • The responsibilities towards church leaders (5:17-22)

Further iterations of the “Household Code” for the church are found in other New Testament letters  like Ephesians, Colossians, Titus, and 1 Peter.  Many of these passages, draw attention to important topics such as how Christian husbands and wives, parents and children, slaves and masters, men and women, citizens and government relate to one another.

We could spend days focusing on each one of these relationships, roles, and responsibilities.  Instead, we are only highlighting its content for your further consideration and inviting you now to ask whether your conduct is in keeping with God’s expectations.  How about it?

Steve Kern

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