2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NKJV)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
What was Paul talking about when he says if we are in Christ we are a new creation? Paul was telling us that we are not just forgiven of our sins, we are changed. This transformation of heart is necessary if we are to move from simply believing and into people of action.
Think back for a moment to when your relationship with Jesus first began. If you were raised in church, you may not even remember the first time you heard about Jesus. He was always a part of your life. At some point, though, we who are called Christians come into a personal relationship with Christ. We receive that wonderful free gift called salvation and whether we are a child, a teen or adult, we realize our life will never be the same.
But, sometimes the newness of being a Christian wears off. Where we started out reading the Bible every day we become distracted and might go several days at a time without reading even a brief devotional. We might miss church services, and the more we miss, the less we miss being there. It is vital that we progress from being believing Christians to active intentional disciples.
When we read the Acts of the Apostles, we get the idea that the first churches were on fire for God with no problems whatsoever. And they were. After all, they added up to 5000 people to their numbers daily. And we think oh, if we could only model ourselves after these first disciples everything would be great. But Paul didn’t write letters to the Corinthians to tell them how great they were doing. No, he wrote to correct the errors that had developed.
The church at Corinth was in the middle of a pagan culture, and the new converts didn’t go from having no religion to Christianity. They had been worshipping gods, but just not the one true and living God. Many of them saw no problem with continuing their pagan worship while worshipping the God of the Bible, but to Paul that would have been a compromise that the church could not tolerate. Other problems became apparent. Factions developed in the church regarding leadership. False teaching became a problem. The church was a mess.
So Paul reminds the Corinthians of the importance of living as a new creation. When God reconciled us through Jesus’ death on the cross, He brought us back to Him, so that we could be in relationship with Him. We can only be in relationship with God when we turn away from sin. Does this mean we will never sin again? No, but it does mean we won’t seek sin. We will begin to make right choices. We cannot keep one foot in a muddy puddle of sin, while trying to plant our other foot on the solid rock. It doesn’t work that way.
You see, God wants us to respond to His love by choosing good over evil, light over dark, and service to others over self. But we cannot do this by ourselves. We must allow Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to accomplish every good thing to do His will.
When I was a new Christian, I was so young that I thought now that Jesus was my Savior I should be perfect. So each time I did not act as I thought Christians should behave, I questioned my salvation. After all, if Jesus was in my heart, why would I respond to someone in anger, why would I feel jealousy? No one explained to me that Christian living is a growth process. As we commit to God, it is God alone who creates in us this newness of life and heart, and each morning when we commit our day to God we can know that God has already committed to enable us to live according to His nature and not our own.
As we walk with God daily we begin to grow into His image. The Scripture informs us of the way God wants us to live, and grace transforms us, so that we move from being childish to child-like, we grow from being selfish to selfless, and God replaces that which was dead in us with that which is alive in Christ.
When we become intentional in our discipleship, God becomes supreme in our lives, and just we have been reconciled back to God, we need to share with others that they, too, can be reconciled to God. We are called to become Ambassadors for Christ in the world. We are not perfect, but we are perfectly redeemed. We are not perfect in mind, soul or body, but we are perfected in love. We are not perfect, but God equips us with all we need for doing His perfect will (Heb 13:21).
As Ambassadors we do not deliver our own message, but instead we relay the message of the one we represent. Truly the love of Christ compels us to carry not just God’s word as ambassadors of the faith, but we, through organizations such as the United Methodist Women, continue to perform acts of mercy to those at home and abroad.
Willingness to serve begins with the realization that each Christian has been uniquely gifted for a special role in His church which no other person can satisfactorily fill. If we do not serve in our God-given role we will leave a deficiency in our church and in our community. It is when we allow God to work through us and use us according to His good will that service becomes not a burden or a responsibility but a joy.
Paul says that God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus’ work on the Cross is not just about saving us from eternal damnation, it is about what we do with our salvation. Do we take off our salvation like a coat that is too large for us and put it in our closet, and only take it out on Sundays, or do we grow into our salvation, learning to be not just Sunday Christians, but everyday Christians?
Salvation is not only a gift, it is a responsibility. We need to live into our salvation each and every day, with joy, with hope, with anticipation, remembering, that since our savior came, our lives should not be the same, old things have passed away, all things are new. May we embrace and celebrate this newness of life today and every day, and may we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, become ambassadors for Christ. In the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit.
Find Us Faithful
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
At Asbury UMC in Little Rock, we have what I refer to as our Wall of Witnesses. It is a wall with portraits of all of the senior pastors at Asbury dating back 125 years. I never pass by that wall without thinking of this verse in Hebrews and being reminded of what these men have sacrificed so that we can worship at Asbury today. But the great cloud of witnesses referred to in this scripture is not merely a wall of photos in one church. No, it is all of the saints who have gone before us.
I have seen the Pittsburgh Steelers play at Heinz Field a couple of times, and to see 65,000 people, the majority of whom are cheering for the Steelers, even rivals the Razorbacks. Imagine that number multiplied by hundreds of thousands of saints whose only goal at that moment is to see you press on.
Hebrews was written to Jews who were probably in what is now Turkey. There had been an earthquake, Christians were under attack, and even the faithful were losing heart because Jesus had not yet returned.
Let’s read verses 1-3
The metaphor of a race is perfect to describe the life of a Christian.
Throw off encumbrances
Wear lightweight clothes, shoes Get rid of baggage
Sin, regret, hurts, disappointments
Keep your eyes on the markers showing you the way
Do not take detours Keep your eyes on Jesus
Do not allow the world’s distractions to prevent you from finishing the race
Run with perseverance—drink fluids, eat the right foods Be filled with the word and strengthened by prayer
These scriptures are filled with action.
- Throw off what hinders
a. Discouragement—throwing cold water on. You have a fire of passion for something and someone throws cold water on it.
b. Despondency—goes beyond discouragement—a heaviness of heart
c. Distractions—anything that keeps you from reaching your goal.
- Keep your eyes on the prize—You cannot run full speed ahead while looking backwards
- Run with perseverance—Do not give up
In running the Christian race, how do we prepare?
- Put away the self-help books and pick up the Bible—Wesley said there was no other book that leads to salvation
- Be faithful in church attendance—just like a runner who depends on the bystander to hand him/her some water, we need Christian support
- Be faithful in prayer
- Practice—your faith
How do we accomplish the tasks before us? We must develop a godly discipline.
How does discipline serve to help us?
- We find ourselves in a routine
- We begin to see the fruits of our efforts
- We become strong in the Lord and strong in standing against opposition
When David angered God by taking a census, God asked from whom did David want to receive punishment. David said, you, I will take my punishment from you because then I will know it will be just and I might just receive mercy.
There’s something wonderful about today
Today we are quarantined from a virus
We are not living our normal days
Yet we can still lift our eyes to the King of all Kings
We can still lift high our praise.
We witness anger and chaos
It chills us to our bones
Yet because Jesus said, “I will never leave you,”
We can be assured we are not alone.
Today is unlike any other,
do not let it slip away.
Rejoice in the minutes and the hours,
There is something wonderful about today.
©2020 Carol J. Grace
I had to fill out some medical forms not long ago, and I was asked how I identified—male, female, binary or other. I recognize this is the new, politically correct way to view things. But, I am old.
Being politically correct holds no sway over me. Instead, I choose to remain in a right relationship with God.
I am female, not because I identify with being female, but because God created me as female. I am white because my parents and most of my ancestors were white. However, according to 23 and Me, I have African ancestry many centuries in my past along with Native American.
I am a Christ follower, not because I was born into a Christian nation, but because Jesus Christ gave Himself for me, the perfect sacrifice for my sins, the only way I, a sinner, could be reconciled to a holy God. I am intentional in my discipleship, and as Ray vander Laan says, I have chosen to follow so closely behind Jesus that the dust from His feet will cover my feet.
I am a pastor because God called me to preach the gospel, to minister to His people, to show the love of Christ as only a pastor called by God can show. I am a woman and yet I was called by God to minister as only a woman can minister.
I am pro-life, not because I am a far right conservative but because God’s word has convinced me that we have a human heartbeat and a human soul before we take our first breath outside our mother’s womb.
“Before I formed you in your mother’s body I chose you. Before you were born I set you apart to serve me. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.”
How many children, chosen by God for a certain work, never saw the light of day because they were not recognized to be human beings and they were discarded as medical waste?
How many could have been doctors bringing cures for some of our worst diseases, artists bringing love and light and enrichment to our hearts, but instead were sacrificed on the altar of convenience?
I am pro-life because I know, believe and understand that the three children I lost through miscarriage are in heaven because they had souls, placed within them by the Living God.
Ps 139:13 For you created my inmost being;(A)
you knit me together(B) in my mother’s womb.(C)
14 I praise you(D) because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,(E)
I know that full well.
I am these things and more, not because I identify as these things, but because the life I have walked with Jesus Christ, my Savior and my Lord, has formed me into the person I am.
What about you?
Are you pro choice because you believe a woman’s body is her own and it is only she who can make decisions about her body? If you believe a fetus is not human until it is born, then how do you account for the unborn baby reacting to certain foods, or sounds or activities of the mother? When you first cradle that newly born infant to your breast do you still believe just moments earlier it was nothing more than a mass of cells and only when it took its first breath outside of the protection of its mother’s body it became a life?
Are you Christian because you were confirmed at age 12 or because you have faithfully attended church services most of your life? Or are you Christian because God brought a change to your heart and your life and as the hymn says, “I must needs go home by the way of the cross, there’s no other way but this.”
I write this not to stir up controversy nor to pit one group of people against another. Instead, I believe it is time for true Christ followers to stand up and proclaim their faith, their beliefs, and be silenced no more because we are afraid we will offend someone or lose family or friends.
Stand up, stand firm, and if I have not told you lately, Jesus is coming soon!
when I was young, I visited nursing homes every Saturday for 3 ½ years, and I do not think we ever missed singing “I Come to the Garden Alone.” I grew weary of that song, and it occurs to me that sometimes we need the perspective of age to appreciate certain things.
Meeting Jesus early in the morning and in solitude can set the stage for the rest of our day. When we are still enough that we can hear the voice of God, then we can achieve the joy we need to meet any circumstance.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13 (NRSV) 1 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness….11 These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
We can have joy in spite of life’s circumstances, but living in joy is a choice. Today I would like to address a half-truth about the scripture I just read. Basically, people interpret this scripture as saying that God will never give us more than we can bear. Really? Has this been true in your life? It certainly has not been true in mine.
When we struggle with life’s hardships, to the point where we are crippled by fear and filled with anger at the unfairness of it all, thinking that God has told us He will not give us more than we can bear is not reassuring, but instead, it makes us doubt and question God.
There are two truths I would like to point out to you:
First, Paul was not telling the Corinthians that God would not give them more hardship than they could bear. Instead, he was speaking to them about the culture in which they lived, and he was giving them encouragement about how they could live a Christian lifestyle even in the midst of sin all around them.
Remember, Corinth was in the middle of a metropolis filled with pagan idolatry and immorality, and so Paul was talking not about hardships, but instead overcoming the temptation to live as people who existed only for themselves, and not for God. Paul reminds the church at Corinth that not only are their temptations not any different than for anyone else, but that if they will rely on God, He will help them endure and overpower and be stronger for what they have undergone.
Secondly, we make a mistake when we adhere to the belief system that everything bad that comes upon us is directed by God. Remember the scripture from Hebrew 12 that says God is the author and finisher of our faith? Nowhere in the Scripture do we find that God is the author and finisher of our confusion, or hurt, or pain. Does God use our adversities to help strengthen us and shape our character? Absolutely, when we look at Gen. 50:19-20 (NRSV) 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good…”
God did not put the thought into Joseph’s brothers’ minds to throw their brother into a pit and sell him. But God gave Joseph the strength he needed to bear up under these hardships, and he will do the same for me and you.
I end with one of my favorite scriptures, Isaiah 40:31(NRSV) but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
Remember, whatever befalls us, whether it be trials or temptations, when we choose joy, suffering does not get the last word.
Hear now this blessing: God is the giver joy. Receive this gift and know that His joy will bring completeness to your heart and to your life. Take the name of Jesus with you and share Him with all you meet.