One definition of fruit is “the sweet and fleshy product of a tree or other plant that contains seed and can be eaten as food.” This is a wonderful way to describe the effect of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the lives and hearts of Christians who are serious about following Jesus.
In fact, Paul tells us that we have the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23); that Jesus was “the firstfruit” of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20) as we await His return to become His firstfruits of the resurrection along with everyone else that belong to Him (1 Corinthians 15:23). In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul tells his audience that “God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” James echoes this insight as well in James 1:18 as he describes us as “a kind of firstfruits of all He created.”
ALREADY…BUT NOT YET LIFESTYLE
This ‘Already…But Not Yet’ Lifestyle is both fruitful evidence of the Spirit’s work in our lives and it the vehicle through which the Gospel’s seed is planted in the hearts of others to reproduce itself. So, it should not be surprising that when Paul talks about “the fruits of the Spirit” he is talking about the evidence of God’s working in our lives that is easily digestible and seed bearing.
Even as the Spirit begins to manifest itself in our own lives, it does so with a view to one-day bringing us out of the world of flesh, death and decay. At the same time, the fruit of our lives is an appeal to others to eat, enjoy and to multiply.
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Heaven can seem to be so far away when we think of floating around on pillowy clouds, strumming our harps and lost in thoughts of eternity. Not really too appealing.
This is because it is not an accurate picture.
HEAVEN STARTS HERE AND NOW
What we know about heaven begins now.
When we express our faith in Christ and devote ourselves to following Him and imitating Him, we are ushered into the presence of God as His children. More than that, we experience his presence every day as He welcomes us into His kingdom.
Furthermore, when we face difficulty and hardship, suffering and pain, God gives us the strength to endure with joy because of the hope he has planted in our hearts.
Colossians 3:1-17, our reading for today, addresses our past, present and future in Christ and how God begins transforming us to be more like Him. It means discontinuing living by the values of this world and growing in the virtues of God that match His qualities and characteristics.
Our present reality and our future hope give us meaning and purpose that transcends the grave and reaches out to eternity. The changes that occur in our lives over time assure us of His continuing work to bring us home.
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Eternal Life is not only a future hope. The New Testament assures us that, for those who believe in Jesus, eternal life is a present reality. This is what Jesus’ resurrection assures us (remember 1 Corinthians 15!) and it is what keeps us changing, transforming and growing into His likeness day by day.
The power of 1 John 5 is the beauty of how John brings together Jesus’ humanity and his divinity, His relationship with His Father, and how our belief in Christ brings us into God’s family. As family members, of course, our desire is to obey His command to love because we want to be like our Father and His Son. We are not burdened by this desire for it is our desire to be like our Daddy that challenges us.
There are those who pay lip service to God; but, their lifestyles speak with more volume than mere words. Caught up in the world their claim of love is betrayed by their hatred and distain of their brothers and sisters. Their destiny is death and salvation is an illusion.
Why would anyone want to settle for anything else that would threaten the fulfillment of the deepest longings of our hearts for eternal life and total satisfaction in the God Who created us and welcomes us home?
“Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, NLT).
Paul makes it clear that this message 1) was welcomed by them, 2) was that in which they took their stand, and 3) it is the message that saved them. He is so confident in this message to assert that Jesus’ resurrection was predicted by the Scriptures, verified by Paul and the other apostles and by more than 500 witnesses.
What more could be asserted to verify that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection? On the one hand is the internally consistent testimony of the scriptures that were fulfilled. On the other hand is the externally consistent, historical testimony of eyewitnesses from Jesus’ closest associates to more than 500 people.
Having anchored our belief in this certainty (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), it is now time for Paul to turn to those who would challenge whether or not Jesus’ resurrection was true (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Suffering for the Gospel makes no sense if this were to be true. Fortunately, Paul does not spend much time here.
VICTORY IS OURS!
The conclusion of 1 Corinthians 15 is a rousing affirmation of confidence about how God is going to finally transform us into heavenly beings that will live forever. The resurrection is certain to Paul and those who put their trust in Christ. There is no other historical event that is more validated and verified. It’s centrality to our faith provides power to transform lives, the strength to go on and to provide hope in the most challenging of human circumstances.
This is our focus in this morning’s worship with prayer by Mike Plouhar, reading by Pam Pylkas, singing by Harold and Ashley Jackson and final reflections and observations by our shepherd, Dean Wolf. Join us by clicking the link below.
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Harassed by a demon, falsely accused, judged without trial, beaten, imprisoned and chained. Just another day in the life of the apostle Paul. Only, this time, he waited until the end to ask why they would beat a Roman citizen without the benefit of a trial. For the local officials, this was inviting disaster and probable execution from the Roman authorities.
If Paul would have mentioned his Roman citizenship at the first, he probably could have avoided the sufferings of beatings and imprisonment. He and Silas might have lived under house arrest until the trial in which they would have likely been found innocent. Then they would have either continued their work in Philippi or moved on.
On the other hand, as we see in Acts 16, if he had not been imprisoned he and Silas would not have had an opportunity to sing and pray out loud. Their captive audience of prisoners and jailers might never have heard the gospel. The Philippian jailer may never have saved himself and his household.
By choosing to endure the unjust suffering, Paul and Silas let go and let God use this opportunity for His purposes.
In a culture in which we believe that all suffering is bad suffering, it is important to pause between our prayers for relief. During those moments of silence it is good to ask the Lord for opportunities to allow Him to redeem our suffering for His purposes. How can God use our time to accomplish His will?
Click the image below to join us we dig into Acts 16:16-40 for the details about Paul’s missionary work in Philippi.
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Times like this often lead us to feel powerless, helpless and alone. James 1:2-8 talks about enduring suffering with joy because the testing of our faith leads to a greater good: perseverance.
A double-minded man has faith in God, and prays for God to make the suffering stop. When his prayer is not answered as he desires, he becomes angry and resentful. He concludes: If God was truly God he would have answered my prayer.
POWER IN DEPENDENCE UPON GOD
On the other hand, the believer may still ask for the suffering to end; but, they know that this is not the most important thing from God’s perspective. For the person who is truly dependent upon God, he or she knows that God uses those troubles in our lives–when we feel weak and powerless—for His purposes.
POWER IN BROKENNESS
Paul said, ‘when I’m weak, then I am strong.’ Perhaps it is something we can grow through in our personal walk with Him. Or, perhaps, it is for someone else’s benefit as they watch and listen to us in the midst of our struggles. When we are truly dependent upon God, it is God’s power that works in us to accomplish His will.
Jesus claimed the authority to both lay His life down and to take it back up again (John 10:17-18).
Who does this kind of thing?
Only God–a Being that resides outside of our limitations–can choose to do this. So, of course, this is what Jesus did.
Why? What difference does this make on how we live our lives?
QUESTIONS WITH ANSWERS
During the Corona Virus “stay-in-place” we can ask these kinds of questions with the assurance that Jesus has already answered them by actually doing what He said He would do!
The purpose of today’s lesson is to ask a question that will chart the course of this series. What does it mean for us to know that God has shown us the way to His source of joy by His Son’s death, burial and resurrection.
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A lot has been written about Friday. A great deal has been written about Sunday: i.e., Easter Sunday. How much thought have we given to Saturday?
Of course, Jesus had been crucified Friday before noon when darkness fell across the land (Matthew 27:45). He died around 3 pm (Matthew 27:46). Shortly afterwards His body was taken down and hurriedly buried in the tomb before 6 pm (John 19:31, 38-40), the beginning of the Sabbath day of rest.
Looking back through the eyes of faith, the hope of Christians is anchored in the fact that Jesus arose from the dead. In fact, the apostle Paul makes the assertion that if it is not true, Christians should be among the most pitied (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).
To come closer to realizing how important Jesus’ resurrection was to His followers, it is worth considering the darkness of Saturday. In fact, it is John who tells us that when Jesus appeared to His disciples after His passion they were in a room with locked doors (John 20:19, 26).
This makes perfect sense. Likely they were afraid of suffering the same fate of their Master. Indeed, Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus admits, “we had hoped” to the disguised, resurrected Jesus (Luke 24:21).
COVED-19 AND SATURDAY
The truth is that we know how they were feeling on that Saturday between despair and rejoicing. At some point in life everyone has their Saturdays when it is hard to fight off the cratering feeling of hopelessness and hold onto the last strands of hope.
These type of Saturdays include those late night phone calls, doctor visits, pink slips and stay-in-place orders that lead us to wonder about the future. Just listen closely to the present debate between those who promote enduring the isolation for multiple months and those who are ready to get back to work. No doubt it will be a life-and-death decision for some. Others fear that going much longer will risk jumping off of the cliff of economic disaster. In the meantime…it’s Saturday.
A great thing about the Saturdays of life is that we know that Sunday is coming. Had the disciples truly believed that Friday’s tragedy was going to result in Sunday’s exuberance they might have been less afraid. Just as they were certain that Jesus was dead and buried, so also their excited anticipation of Sunday may have led them to live differently on Saturday. Me? I’d have been camping out in front of the tomb, waiting to see how Jesus was going to do it!
And so, we endure our Saturdays with hope because we know that resurrection day is coming one day. How is this realization of a wondrous future is leading us to live differently today?
We continue to encourage everyone to practice communion around the dinner table as a part of a meal. But, if you would prefer our more traditional order of worship we will continue to post our YouTube communion. You may follow our link by clicking HERE or on the image below.
Jesus instituted ‘The Lord’s Supper’ with His disciples around the dinner table. This meal was familiar to them all at this specific time of the year. It was a family meal in every Jewish household to which every member of the family was invited to participate. Indeed, the Passover meal tapped into a tradition that reached all of the way back to Moses and the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 12).
COME TO THE TABLE
So, the Lord’s Supper, as instituted by Jesus, was part of a family meal around a table. Here, the entire Jewish family was welcome (Exodus 12:47).
Today, however, when we gather around ‘the Lord’s Table’ we may think of a wooden table with “Do This In Remembrance of Me” engraved across the front. We may also think of communion trays for the bread and trays for thimble-sized cups for the grape juice. In many congregations we may also have collection trays beside them, making the point that this part of the service is not a part of the Lord’s Supper; it is a separate act of worship.
These are not the kind of tables that a person would find in an average home. These are almost exclusively found in church buildings. Neither would we likely find the ‘utensils’ in any of our homes. These would only be found in church supply catalogues for these special tables in these special buildings with special rooms that we sometimes call, “sanctuaries”. *
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
Throughout the first century the church enjoyed these “Agape Feasts” or, as we might say, “Love Pot Lucks”. Over time, however, the Lord’s Supper became more formal and ceremonial. It continued to be about sharing in the body and blood of Christ. What was different is that it evolved into a ritual that each person did without regard to the person sitting next to them or the people around them. Somewhere along the way, the social aspect of the meal was lost.
This is not to say, necessarily, that there is a right and a wrong way to remember Christ’s sacrifice except for the example Paul gives us of what was happening in the church in Corinth. There, some were gorging themselves during the meal without regard to others who would have to walk away from the meal hungry because the food was gone. The very idea of excluding anyone from the table was horrifying to Paul! Instead, it would be better for them to eat at home, he would tell them, rather than eat and drink God’s judgement upon themselves (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)!
COVID-19 AND COMMUNION?
This time of self-isolation and social distancing during the Covid-19 crisis means that almost all of what we do in public is now only allowed at home. What a perfect time to return to the night Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, duplicating the practice of the early church! Here is a simple outline of how we can ‘return to our roots’ of our Christ-centered faith:
Gather the entire family around the dinner table for a meal.
The head of the family takes a loaf of bread or cracker or unleavened bread and prays a blessing over it as a reminder of the body of Christ–the bread of life–that was broken for us.
The bread is then passed around the table for everyone else to ‘break’ for themselves. This includes everyone, not just baptized believers. And there is no rule about the size of the portion except to make sure that everyone is able to take what they wish.
At this point the meal begins. While eating the meal it would be a great time to ask everyone to share what Jesus means to them and how He has changed their lives. To talk about the hope that Jesus’ sacrifice has planted in their hearts and how important God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy is to them. Reading portions of Psalms 115-118 may be a great way to relive that Passover meal.
As the meal concludes and everyone is satisfied, now pray a blessing over ‘the fruit of the vine’ as a symbol of the blood of Christ that was poured out for everyone. Pour the grape juice into each individual’s glasses. As everyone drinks, have each person share the importance of forgiveness and cleansing.
Close the meal with a prayer that God will empower His Holy Spirit in our lives to help us live like God’s kingdom people, holy and acceptable before His throne.
And so, we realize that the entire process of the Lord’s Supper is a social one that brings people together as the body of Christ. This happens at so many levels. Our lesson today is broken into three parts.
Part 1 is our welcome and focus upon today’s emphasis as we consider The Lord’s Supper.
Part 2 is a sharpening of our focus upon the importance of the social aspect as we gather around the table. We conclude with a commission to all to take this time to integrate the Lord’s Supper with a table meal of the day.
Part 3 is a simple communion service that is similarly conducted every Sunday morning in our worship assemblies.
May God bless us as we realize new and different ways to worship our Savior and our God by revisiting the core of our example: Jesus Christ.
* Much research has been done on the evolution of the Lord’s Supper meal transitioning to the formal ritual we now do in our church buildings. Among Churches of Christ a recent author is John Mark Hicks who wrote a book entitled Come To The Table. Click HERE for a Biblical Archaeology article that summarizes the discussion and offers other references for further study.