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3 Lessons Every Role Model Needs to Learn


Have you ever seen yourself as a model? Not a magazine model but a role model.

  • Fathers know they are role models.

  • Mothers, too, and grandparents. 

  • Teachers and coaches have a sense of their influence in the lives of their students and players.

What we discover in our passage is that every Christian is a role model in how we represent Jesus to the world.

In this sense, we are all missionaries, sent by God to live in our own sphere of influence, making a difference by how we live our ordinary lives.

We are all missionaries, sent by God to live in our own sphere of influence, making a difference by how we live our ordinary lives.

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One way we missionally reflect Jesus is by living a life that seeks to do good to others--to bless them. To help them. To make their lives better. Often, the call is to show mercy to them by sacrificing ourselves.

Some call this “deed” evangelism. What we do testifies to what Jesus has done.

This is much easier said than done.

Because the principle of living for the good of others is totally counter-intuitive—backwards to the way we naturally function (unless you are a mother!).

If you are like me, then you tend to be the one seeking to be the recipient of good.

I prefer to get a good deal rather than give a good deal.

In our passage, Paul makes a big deal about this “role model” principle.

His primary concern is missional. Paul knows that, if you are a disciple of Jesus, people are watching to see what you will say and how you will act in all kinds of circumstances. Our neighbors are watching. Our children are watching.

Paul’s concern is not that we live with an aura of holier than thou-ness. He concern is that we accurately represent the truth of the gospel as we live as recipients of grace from the King of glory.

In 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 we learn three lessons about how receiving grace results in doing good by showing mercy.

The first lesson is that...

1. Just because I can do something doesn't mean that I should do it. 

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 

Paul is addressing Christians who are using grace to excuse what we might call unwise behavior.

If challenged, they would be quick to claim that in Christ they are free from the condemnation of the law. No one can judge them because they are under grace.

Paul would heartily agree! They are under grace and free from judgement. No doubt.

But that doesn’t mean that actions do not have consequences.

I can stay up playing video games until 3:00 am every night and still be saved, right? But that doesn’t mean that is good for me. Not everything is equally beneficial and constructive.

There are lots of things that are legal that are harmful.

Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should do it.

This is not only true for how it affects me but for how my actions affect others, which leads to the second lesson for being a role model.

2. I should consider how my actions may affect other people.

Look at verse 24, where Paul begins with a general principle.

24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. 25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”  27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 

You may remember from a previous study in our series that practically all meat sold in public markets in ancient Corinth previously had been sacrificed in the context of a pagan religious ceremony.

Paul had previously stated, and reaffirms his position, that a believer is free to eat meat purchased in the market, even if it had been part of a pagan religious ceremony.

In other words, meat is just meat. It was not contaminated nor was it indwelt by or to be associated with a false god.

Yet for the sake of mission--for the sake of how our actions affect others--Paul notes an exception to the rule starting in verse 28.

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28 However, if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience?30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

Can you see what Paul is doing here?

The issue is not the meat itself. The issue is how an unbeliever would interpret the believer’s actions.

The Christian is free to eat the meat. But in this context, the unbeliever very well may get the wrong impression, thinking that to be a follower of Jesus is no different than worshipping the pantheon of Roman gods.

By the Christian’s consumption of sacrificed meat, the believer may be communicating to his host that Jesus is just one of many options, not an exclusive Savior and Lord. Not the only way to be reconciled with God.

The application here isn’t about eating meat. It is about what my life is communicating about Jesus.

As Jesus was willing to sacrifice for my good, am I willing to sacrifice for someone else’s good--even if it means sacrificing my own freedom?

How else can we justify turning down a juicy filet.

Remember the principle:  “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

This really is counter-intuitive.

For example, after our services on Sundays, it is so easy for me to gravitate to my comfort zone--to people I already know well. It is not a natural thing for an introvert like myself to seek out those standing alone.

In that moment, what would it look like for me to not seek my own good but the good of someone else on a Sunday morning?

I don’t have to speak to a newcomer after a service on a Sunday morning in order to be justified. I can huddle with my comfort zone.

But just like Jesus was willing to leave his comfort zone of heaven to us good on earth, grace moves us out of our comfort zones to do good--with intentionality, on purpose.

Just like Jesus was willing to leave his comfort zone of heaven to us good on earth, grace moves us out of our comfort zones to do good in the lives of others.

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But in order to be propelled by the grace of God...

3. I must become captivated with the glory of God.

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please [bless?] everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

What does it mean to “do it all for the glory of God?”

A clue may be found in the Old Testament Hebrew word for glory, kabod, which conveys a sense of weightiness, as in heaviness.

Kabod even sounds heavy!

Other words used to describe the concept of glory include grandeur, majesty, and honor.

Therefore, to do something for the “glory of God,” is to do whatever it is with reference the greatness of God and the grace of God.

Donald Barnhouse, the long-time pastor for 10th Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, was know to say that “God’s greatest glory is his grace.” In a similar way, we could say that to glorify God is to magnify his mercy.

This magnification of mercy is not only what we need, it is what our children need and what the folks at our workplace need. Mercy is what liberals need and what conservatives need. Mercy is what abortionists need and what Pharisees need. Mercy is what I need.

When I really believe that, it will turn me into a genuine gospel role model--a role model of mercy for a sphere of influence that desperately needs mercy, not the least of which live in our own homes.

The Glory of Creation and Redemption

During the total solar eclipse that swept across the United States on August 21, 2017, footage of WGN Chicago's Lead Meteorologist, Tom Skilling, went viral around the internet because of the 65-year-old’s emotional response to the event.

Watching the eclipse from a lakefront in Illinois that was in the heart of  “the path of totality,” his camera crew focused one camera on the moon passing in front of the sun, but had a second camera on Tom Skilling. Overcome with tearful emotion, with hands raised in awe, he repeated over and over, "Look at that. Look at that. Wow."

When asked about his response, Skilling said, “It (just) snuck up on me… I was overwhelmed by the enormity of it.”

If a weatherman can be emotionally undone by the enormity of a solar eclipse, how much more a sinner by the magnitude of the cross?

God’s creation is a glory. But his redemption is an even greater glory where Jesus, magnifying the mercy of God, puts himself in the path of judgment’s totality, experiencing the fullness of sin so that we can receive the fullness of grace.

It is only when I receive the fullness of this grace that I will be empowered as a role model of mercy.

I can’t give what I don’t have.

So, how to I get it? How to I receive God’s mercy?

Ask. Just ask.

Jesus told a story about a sinner who goes to the Temple and becomes overwhelmed by his sinfulness. He cries out to heaven in prayer, asking, “Have mercy on me, O God, the sinner!”

He just asks.

What does Jesus say about that man? That he went home justified. Forgiven. Clean. Righteous.

You see, grace flows downhill. Not to those who deserve it or can earn it, but to those who can’t. To those who need it and know they need it.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by your need for mercy, just ask, and then be overwhelmed by God’s gift of mercy.

This is how we begin to be role models of mercy who do good to those, who like us, don’t deserve it. Because mercy is not deserved. It is the grace that changes everything. 


If this article helped you, maybe it will help someone else, too. 

Have you ever seen yourself as a model? Not a magazine model but a role model. Fathers know they are role models. Mothers, too, and grandparents.  Teachers and coaches have a sense of their influence in the lives of their students and players. What we discover in our passage is that every Christian is a … Continue reading 3 Lessons Every Role Model Needs to Learn

5 Essential Truths for Getting Love Right

Before I officiate a wedding ceremony, I require the engaged couple to participate with me in a series of pre-marriage counseling sessions. In the very first session, there is one question that I always ask.

It is the foundational question everyone must ask and understand before getting married.

“What is love?”

What a softball, right? Wrong.

I have never had a prospective bride or groom answer the question correctly. Never. Not even one.

Truth be told, I didn’t answer it correctly either in my own premarital counseling course in December of 1991.

“What is love?”

Going into marriage and getting this wrong is like preparing to make spaghetti sauce without tomatoes. In our ignorance, we are leaving out the essential ingredient!

Over the years, I have enjoyed the cheap thrill of watching couples attempt to answer that most basic question.

Responses range from the famous stuttering “umm” to “love is, well, it is when you love someone. You know, it is the feeling… an attraction… you know… love.”

My next step is to have them answer the question without using the word love in the definition of love. After watching them sit and squirm in their chairs looking at the floor for an answer written in the carpet, at some point I come to their rescue. After all, I am a pastor and am supposed to show some degree of compassion. 

Are you ready for the correct answer to the question?

“What is love?”

Let’s start with a formal definition. “Love is an action that brings blessing to the recipient.”

We can say it like this: to love is to bless.

To bless is to do someone good.

Did you notice the verb? Do. This is active, not passive. 

1. Love is Active, not Passive.

Let’s pause here for just a minute, because this definition of love runs utterly contrary to our contemporary culture’s understanding of love.

Hollywood describes love as a virus – something that we catch. But given time and the right circumstances, we can get over it. Thus, when the love feelings are not present, we can say, “I am not in love with you anymore. I have recovered from the virus.”

This Hollywood brand of love as a virus is a wholly passive thing. If we can fall into it, we can fall out of it. The entire process is haphazard and uncontrollable. Well, like falling. From this perspective, love is something that happens to us rather than something we do to someone else.

To use our viral metaphor, when the symptoms are gone, so is the disease.

But love is active, not passive. It is not accidental. It is not a disease that can be cured.

Love is a choice.

This means that my wife will not know that I love her by some mystical feeling but by objective actions. I can say whatever I want, repeating "I love you" over and over. But if my actions are not loving, then I may love her, but I am not loving her. 

Does that make sense?

But love is active, not passive. It is not accidental. It is not a disease that can be cured. Love is a choice.

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2. Love is not Primarily an Emotion.

But biblical love is not passive. It is active. It is not driven by changing emotion. It is rigorously volitional. It is not a virus that we catch or a hole into which we fall when not looking.

Love is a choice.

Some have described the volitional, active dynamic of love like the engine on a train versus the caboose. While cultural depictions of love often put emotion as the driving force, biblical depictions of love put volition in the driver's seat with emotion following behind as the caboose. 

Let me be clear, emotion is not unimportant. Love without emotion is like a firework with just a boom and no sparkle. But love with only emotion is like buying a car without an engine. 

Love without emotion is like a firework with just a boom and no sparkle. But love with only emotion is like buying a car without an engine. 

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3. True Love is Costly.

In order to grasp the concept of love as an action that intends to bless—as a choice—we need to understand two ancient words: hesed and agape.

In the Old Testament of the Bible, hesed is the Hebrew word used of God’s initiating, covenantal, and even sacrificial kindness to the nation of Israel. What we discover is that true love is costly love.

Without going into unnecessary detail, Israel was a mess, completely undeserving of the rescue they received over and over again. But hesed love does not bless the deserving or those who can earn someone’s blessing by their good behavior or by returning a favor.

  • Hesed initiates blessing to the undeserving. Regardless.
  • Hesed keeps it promises to bless. Period.
  • Hesed is willing to do whatever it takes to bless. Whatever.

Even if it “whatever” means making the ultimate sacrifice of self to bring good to someone else. In other words, we should expect love to be costly, requiring extraordinary sacrifice for someone who doesn't deserve it and can't pay you back. 

In the original Greek text of the New Testament, agape is the word used for God’s love expressed in the redemptive actions of Jesus. It is very much like hesed love.

Notice I said the redemptive actions of Jesus. The gospel, or good news from God in the Bible, is not that God has merely said “I love you,” but that he has demonstrated his love. He has proven his love. He has confirmed it through a voluntary sacrifice of self.

This is why the cross is the ultimate expression of love. It is active. It is covenantal. It is a costly, sacrificial choice. It is the practical display of what it looks like to bring blessing into someone's life.

In other words, love is a tangible expression of grace. It is a gift. Undeserved. It asks for nothing in return. It is pure gift.

Here is what this looks like for my wife and me.

For example, we are invited to attend a wedding.

She is the extrovert. Therefore, for me to love her in that context means going to the wedding and staying to the very end of the reception, dancing and everything. For her to love me well, there will be times when we forgo the reception all together, or leave early. Yep, I am the introvert. 

Love is not a reward. It is a tangible expression of grace. It is undeserved and unearned. It is pure gift.

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4. Love is a Gift, not a Reward.

This may be the most marriage-altering principle that could ever be discovered.

Why?  Think about it.

Usually, what we call love is merely a response to beauty or behavior.

  • We “give” someone our attention if they are attractive. 
  • We “give” someone an encouraging word after they have performed successfully.
  • We “give” gifts when someone accomplishes a task that is noteworthy.

However, these responses are not gifts. They are rewards.

But reward is not love. Reward is not grace. Reward is a wage, not a gift.

Maybe we should emphasize something. Love is never, never deserved.

This kind of “love” runs counter to the kind of agape love that God reveals in the Bible through Jesus. Agape love is grace. It is undeserved. Unearned. It really is a gift. 

Agape love is the kind of love that has the power to transform the most broken relationship. What could be more broken than a sinner's relationship with a holy God? But God's agape love has restored the brokenness through the act of sacrifice.

When we choose to bless a spouse, regardless of whether they deserve blessing, we are on the road to relationship renewal. We are on the road to a healthy marriage.

And it may be that the most significant application of the "love is a gift not reward" principle is for how parents engage with their children.

Am I loving them or rewarding them? 

It's an important question that just might make all the difference in the world for them to know what it is to be the recipient of a parent's agape love in the same way that we receive the agape love of the Father.. 

Love is never, never deserved.

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5. Love Must be Received Before it Can be Given.

Yet the only way that I will choose to love in this way is if I have been loved in this way.

This is why a personal, conscious faith in the active, sacrificial, practical love of Jesus for me is so crucial. It is being the recipient of choosing love that empowers me to be a giver of love. A doer of love.

Because love is a choice.

Even though Hollywood, Disney, and the like tend to operate from a love is a feeling paradigm, they just can't help telling stories that echo the internal wiring of the human story--a story that knows that true love really is about ultimate sacrifice. The kind of sacrifice that transforms those who are the recipients of such a costly gift. 

Even though Hollywood, Disney, and the like tend to operate from a love is a feeling paradigm, they just can't help telling stories that echo the internal wiring of the human story--a story that knows that true love really is about ultimate sacrifice.

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Inside Out in one such story.

The unlikely hero is a character named Bing Bong, a fluffy pink creature from young Riley's imagination who, by his own admission, is comprised of cat, elephant, and dolphin (with a body made of sticky-sweet cotton candy).

When we first meet Bing Bong, he's rummaging through Riley's memories, hoarding his favorites in a make believe bag. He is a wandering vagabond who wanted nothing more than to take Riley to the moon. 

Riley is the little girl who is in danger of losing her ability to feel joy, represented by the blue-haired emotion, appropriately named Joy, who becomes stuck with Bing Bong in the realm of discarded memories, a desolate abyss of gloom and darkness.

Riley was on the brink of eternal sadness.

Joy and Bing Bong are desperate to escape the hell of their abyss. Joy for obvious reasons. Bing Bong, because of his dream to take Riley to the moon. 

The only way out of the dungeon is by singing a magical rhyme together that empowered a rainbow powered rocket wagon to blast from the place of forgotten memories to a ledge above that would lead them back to Riley, who again would regain a conscious awareness of both Joy... and all the childhood memories she has of her favorite imaginary friend, Bing Bong

Their first attempt out seems like a success, until just before the ledge, the power gives out and the tumble back into the abyss. 

With even greater determination they try again, only to fall short.

Picking themselves up, Bing Bong tells Joy, "C'mon, Joy, one more time. I got a feeling about this one." 

As they are riding in the toy wagon singing their song as quickly and loudly as they are able, with extreme desperation, Bing Bong tells Joy to "sing louder, sing louder!" and then, unexpectedly, bails out of the wagon, falling alone into the depths of the cavernous darkness.

Without his weight to hold them down, Joy is able to ascend to the ledge. 

But Bing Bong is not on the ledge. As she goes back and peers over, Joy sees and hears a far-a-way Bing Bong celebrating with dancing and shouts, "Wha ha, ha, ha! You made it! Now go and save Riley! Ha, ha ha!"

Then, as the reality sets in, his exuberance turns to reflection.

"Take her to the moon for me. Okay?" And smiling, with a wave, he dissolves into a forgotten memory.

That is love. Because love is a choice. 

Thank you, Bing Bong. 

But even more, thank you, Jesus.

We rejoice that in your sacrifice you did not dissolve but arose. We will see you again... and forever sing as those who have been saved by your sacrificial, costly, I-will-never-let-you-go love. 

If this post was helpful to you, will you consider sharing it with others?

Before I officiate a wedding ceremony, I require the engaged couple to participate with me in a series of pre-marriage counseling sessions. In the very first session, there is one question that I always ask.It is the foundational question everyone must ask and understand before getting married.“What is love?”What a softball, right? Wrong.I have never … Continue reading 5 Essential Truths for Getting Love Right

How to Forgive: 4 Things to Know About Burying the Hatchet

The concept of burying the hatchet is a helpful image of of forgiveness. 

I can imagine an Indian chief and a Colonel in the U.S. Cavalry meeting upon a hill on the southern plains. The Indian wielding his tomahawk and the officer, his pistol. 

Both parties represent warring factions that have been inflicting wounds upon the other for years. But the moment has come for peace.

This is why the ceremony upon the hill would be such a critical factor in the process. After all, simply shouting I forgive you across the valley would accomplish little.

Words tend to be cheap and easily spoken.

But actions.

We even have a saying, “Actions speak more loudly than words.”

This is why the burying of the hatchet is such a visually appropriate image forgiveness. The Indian chief buries what he could use against his rival and the officer buries his own instrument of death which could be used against the tribe.

The power of forgiveness that leads to peace does not merely rest in the words “I forgive you,” but with in the actual burial of the offense.

But this burial business is easier said than done.

The temptation for the chief would be to bury his hatchet with the handle exposed above the earth, still within reach. Just in case. The same would be true for the officer.

It isn't difficult to see how risky the proposition of forgiveness is. If I put my weapon down, it leaves me exposed and vulnerable to attack.

Consider how this plays out in ordinary, everyday relationships. With tomahawks and pistols as metaphors, a husband and a wife wield similar weapons with their words--words that go deep, inflicting pain and damage not just on the surface but down to the soul.

Few weapons are more deadly to a relationship than the hateful barbs of a well-aimed word of condemnation, reminding the perpetrator of their offense. The deepest damage is done when the words strike at the very identity of the guilty.

It is not that the deed was bad, but you are bad. You are to be despised and detested. You. You are the object of my most severe contempt. The words may not include “hate,” they they communicate it, nonetheless.

If arguments, whether physical or verbal, continue to be fueled by my past resentments and offenses, I can be sure that genuine forgiveness has yet to be extended or experienced because the hatchets and pistols have never been buried. Or they have only been buried halfway, with the handle sticking out of the ground.

But halfway forgiveness is half-baked forgiveness. It is worthless and powerless.

Thankfully, this is not how God forgives.

He buries the hatchet completely.

In 1 John 4:9-11, the apostle says, 

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

In this passage we discover four aspects of forgiveness that are essential to grasp if we are going to express forgiveness to others as it has been given to us--the kind of forgiveness that has the power to reconcile and restore the most broken of relationships.

1) Forgiveness is an expression of love. 

While it is common to consider love primarily as an emotion, biblically speaking, love primarily is an action. It is not something we feel as much as it is something we do. Yes, there is emotion associated with love. Of course. Love is both a noun and a verb.

Love as a noun is the disposition of the heart to bless someone by doing good to them. Love as a verb is the expression of that act of blessing. Sometimes there is intense emotion associated with both.

But not always the emotion we’d expect. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, I’m not sure he is demanding we feel affection but that we engage is some action of blessing: feeding, clothing, praying for… and forgiving, which is exactly what he did for us in the great act of blessing in the cross.

This is why John says, “God showed his love.” He didn’t just use words. He did something to bless us. He forgve us. But how? By sending his son to die so that we could live. It was an atoning death, covering our sin, guilt, and shame so that we can be reconciled to God as Father without fear.

In his forgiveness, he buries our sin like a hatchet and promises never to dig it up and use it against us again. This is how forgiveness is an expression of love.

2) Forgiveness requires initiative. 

Forgiveness doesn't just happen. If I wait for the forgiveness feeling to rise up within me in order to genuinely forgive someone, then I will be waiting a long long time. I will be waiting forever. Most relationships don't have that long.

In 1 John 4, we see god the father taking the initiative to do what was necessary in order to secure our forgiveness. A debt existed. As a just god, he cannot just turn a blind eye to the offense. The law demands justice.  The debt must be paid and the sentence served.

Rather than waiting for us to either earn forgiveness or deserve it, god took action, intervening on our behalf to do something that would pay the debt and serve the sentence.

He buried the hatchet in the cross. We didn't deserve it, couldn't earn it, but God did it. He took the initiative to express big love of forgiveness.

3) Forgiveness is costly. 

Remember, words are cheap and easily spoken. It may be difficult to say I forgive you, but genuine, hatchet burying forgiveness is profoundly costly. After all, the debt had to be paid my someone. In forgiveness, it is the offended not the offender who pays the debt.

So how do we pay the debt? We give up our right to use a former offense against the person who committed the offense. In other words, we bury the hatchet completely, refusing ourselves access to the handle ever again.

It is buried. It is over. The offender is now safe.

This is how God forgives us, which also is the model of how we are to forgive one another. Has john wrote, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Because of the great cost involved in forgiveness, it is my opinion that those who are offended should not be too quick with their words. If I am going to forgive someone, I need to be prepared to take my shovel and dig a hole so deep that when I bury the sin and cover it up, I will not be able to go dig it back up.

After I have done the hard, costly work of burying the hatchet, I need to make sure the person who has sinned against me nose that it has been buried and will not be brought back up again against them.

This confirmation of forgiveness may begin with the words, “You are fully forgiven. I have buried the hatchet.” However, I suggest, from personal experience and in light of how God confirms to us the objective status of forgiveness, that we go beyond words to some kind of objective affirmation of relational restoration.

This may be done with a hug or by spending time together (rather than the non-forgiveness of the silent treatment). Whatever it is that would show the offender they really are, existentially forgiven, make it clear that the offense has been buried. It is in the coffin.

Just like ours was nailed to a cross.

4) Forgiveness brings life and restores joy. 

This is the best part about forgiveness, where the difficult process of burial leads to new life and restores joy to the relationship.

Isn’t this the way of the gospel? Like a seed planted in the ground , death brings life. The burial of sin germinates into renewal. The dark night of sorrow is met with a morning of joy.

What if this could happen in your marriage? With your kids? A friend?

First it needs to happen to me with God in Jesus through the cross, where I become the one who is forgiven. Fully. Without limit.

Only when I become the recipient of such love and mercy will I be able to express it to someone else. But when I see myself as the object of extravagant grace, I begin to see the opportunity of forgiveness as gloriously evangelistic. As a primary way I can share the gospel to by giving God’s grace with someone else.

Rather than seeing the process of forgiveness as something to avoid, it becomes something to pursue!

The concept of burying the hatchet is a helpful image of of forgiveness. I can imagine an Indian chief and a Colonel in the U.S. Cavalry meeting upon a hill on the southern plains. The Indian wielding his tomahawk and the officer, his pistol. Both parties represent warring factions that have been inflicting wounds upon the other … Continue reading How to Forgive: 4 Things to Know About Burying the Hatchet

How to Take Communion with Three Simple Words


At Creekstone Church, we celebrate communion (or the Lord's Supper) on the second Sunday of each month.

We call the sacrament communion because the eating and drinking of physical elements (bread and juice) provides a context in which we are able to personally as well as communally commune with Jesus in such a way that our souls are not only refreshed with grace and strengthened by the indwelling presence of the Spirit.

The English word communion comes from two Latin words, cum, which means with, and unitas, which means unity. Therefore, to "commune" is to experience a deep sense of unity with someone—an inseparable bond, like super glue.

This is what the sacrament of communion is to accomplish—an existential refreshing and strengthening of the soul as we consciously abide in Jesus as our sin-bearer and righteousness provider.

But I have a confession to make. While I have partaken of the communion elements countless times, I very rarely have sensed anything powerful taking place in my soul.

Participating in communion has been confusing. Maybe you have been confused, too.  I often wondered: what am I doing wrong?

As I reflected upon my own experience with communion, especially in view of this message, I have had a eureka moment… and I want to share it with you from 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.

The eureka moment may not be immediately clear as we walk through this passage. But by the end, I assure you that three small but substantive and ultimately life-changing words will emerge to change how you participate in communion this morning.[1]

Let’ start in verse 14.

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.

If we go back to the first part of chapter 10, we find that Paul had revealed the dangers of idolatry. By an idol, we do not mean a statue of wood or stone. In the simplest terms, an idol is anything to which we look for salvation apart from Jesus.


For example:

  • Money can be an idol for those who use
    it to make a name for themselves, where success becomes my gospel.
  • A relationship can be an idol for
    someone who is so insecure they’d rather be abused than be alone. In this case,
    just not being alone is my gospel.
  • Alcohol can be an idol for those of us
    who can’t cope with the stress and sadness of living in such a broken world. My
    gospel becomes emotional relief through substance dependency.[2]
  • Religion can be an idol for those
    trying to overcome a sense of guilt with a sense of moral superiority, where my
    goodness is my gospel.

Paul tells us to flee from these things in their idolatrous forms. Not because they will steal your salvation (which is 100% grace through the finished work of Christ) but because they will steal your joy and dilute your
loyalty to Jesus.

For the professing Christian, an idol functions like ice in a Coke. Eventually, the ice melts and dilutes the soft-drink.  If you’ve ever had a
badly diluted Coke you know that it is gross. Water, yes. Coke, yes. Watered down Coke. No thank you.  

This is what was taking place among the believers in Corinth.  They were diluting their commitment to Jesus with idolatry. For them, this idolatry was manifested by their participation in pagan worship ceremonies and is the background for what Paul says in verses 15-18.

15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.

This is an appeal to logic. If idolatry is like ice that ruins coke, shouldn’t we take idolatry seriously for what it may be doing, even if slowly and
unnoticeably—like melting ice—to our relationship with God in Christ?

16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we
break a participation in the body of
Christ?  17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.  18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate
in the altar?

Did you notice a word that was repeated three times in those verses? In the Greek, the word is koinonia, which means relational intimacy
and oneness—communion.
[3]

When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we are being invited to experience intimacy and union with Jesus as we re-encounter
the practical implications of the cross.

But how do we do that? This is the eureka moment that I will explain in just a bit.

For now, we need to know that in Greco-Roman culture, pagan worship included sacrifices in much the same way that Christian communion looked to the sacrifice of Jesus.

In the same way that Communion is like the Israelite feasts that foreshadowed the sacrifice of Jesus, participants in Roman paganism would eat the meat of the animals sacrificed to their cultural gods.

Pagan worship practices were as cultural as they were truly spiritual. Everybody did it. Even if you didn’t believe it. It was like being patriotic to the Greco-Roman culture.[4]

Here is the danger. The Corinthians’ exposure to cultural pagan worship was not as innocuous as they thought. It was far more subversive, diluting the loyalty of the church to Jesus.

And that really was the issue. Full and complete surrender to the saving grace and sovereign Lordship of Jesus.

Paul makes this point clear and presses the issue in verse 19.

19 Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.

There is that word again, participants. And yes, the Greek form of the word is a derivative of koinonia—fellowship, oneness, union.

21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.

Paul is showing us that behind any idol or the worship of an imposter god is a demon seeking to dilute our commitment
to Jesus as Lord.

  • So, yes. Religions like Islam and Hinduism are demonic.
  • But so is materialism, racism, and all forms of self-righteous pride, with Christian legalism the most demonic of them all, because it is the most deceptive—making adherents think they are Christians when, in reality, they are just self-righteous moralists who don’t really need Jesus. Some of us need deliverance from that idol more than any other.

Whether it is a rival religion or a rival salvation strategy where we find our identity in some kind of self-righteousness, all rivals to Jesus as an all-sufficient Savior are intended by the demonic to distract us from God’s saving grace and to dilute with cultural compromises our commitment to following Jesus as Lord.

But we are the beloved of God, those for whom Jesus demonstrated the greatest loyalty and commitment. To betray Jesus with a diluted form of Christianity would cause him, like any spouse, to become covenantally jealous for the restoration of the intimacy that he desires with his blood bought people.

Which leads Paul to ask in verse 22

22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy?
Are we stronger than he?

With these two questions, Paul cuts to the chase.

Idolatry is the problem. It is the chasm that is keeping me from experiencing the peace, the contentment, the hope, and the fullness of joy that is available for those who are fully surrendered to the saving grace of God.

It was April 8, 1865. After a long night and day of marching, Robert E. Lee
and the exhausted Army of Northern Virginia made camp just east of Appomattox Courthouse. The day prior, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had sent him a letter asking Lee to surrender. Lee refused.

After the next morning’s battle, Lee conceded, "There is
nothing left for me to do but go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths."  Meeting General Grant, Lee said "We are pressed and are ready to surrender. What are your terms?"

Due to the heinous treatment of slaves for generations, we can imagine quite a severe term of surrender. However, and surprisingly, the
terms did not include judgment, arrest, or retribution. The terms were to stop fighting and to start living. Lee’s soldiers, who hadn't eaten in days,
were given meal rations, including horses with which to take back home so that they could plow their fields and plant their crops. [5]

Rather than surrender being the end. It represented a new beginning.

This is what full and unconditional surrender to
Jesus looks like. It is not the end but a new beginning.

Some of us could use a new beginning today.

The law tells us that we deserved judgment and retribution.

But the gospel proclaims in no uncertain terms that Jesus received judgement for us so that we could be free to live… by grace… because Jesus, the ultimate General, was willing to die the thousand deaths in his one death upon a cross, demonstrating full and unconditional surrender to the will of the Father.

This is why communion becomes the moment of truth.

Will I remained entrenched in hard-heartedness or will I come forward to surrender my life to Jesus—the one who surrendered his for me?

But how do we do it? How do we surrender?

Here is the eureka moment. Surrender takes place with three simple but life-transforming words.  

“Thank you, Jesus.”

In communion, as we take the bread and eat, we simply say, “Thank you, Jesus.”

We take the cup and drink, saying, “Thank you, Jesus.”

After all, what does Paul call the communion cup? The cup of thanksgiving!

Thankfulness is the posture of surrender.

  • Thank you, Jesus, for the cross.
  • Thank you for saving me from my sin and idolatry.
  • Thank you for setting me free from condemnation.
  • Thank you for loving me… for loving me.

“Thank you, Jesus.”

“Thank you, Jesus.”

“Thank you, Jesus.”


[1] How can eating a wafer and drinking a small amount of juice be a means of grace that strengthens the soul? Some Christian traditions have answered that question differently. For example, the
Roman Catholic Church teaches that merely ingesting the elements infuses the soul with grace. Others view participation in the supper as just a memorial to Jesus, where we intellectually remember the life, death, resurrection, and promised return of Jesus. I think both of these views miss the point of why God has given us spiritual, existential signs, whereby we have to take something with our hands and then consciously eat and drink. The elements are not magical nor are they merely memorial. They are invitational, welcoming us to engage personally and communally with the very practical implications of the cross.

[2] I am speaking of those prone to abuse alcohol and become dependent. Alcohol itself is a neutral thing that can be enjoyed in moderation or abused in excess.

[3] This is why we named our home fellowship groups K-Groups, after the concept of koinonia.

[4] Just like many Romans were “cultural pagans,” many professing Christians today are “cultural Christians.”  I’m not a Muslim or an atheist. So, I must be a Christian by default.

[5] Brian Kohout, Rolesville, North Carolina: source: Harold Holzer, Gabor S.Boritt and Mark E. Neely Jr., "Appomattox Courthouse," HistoryNet

At Creekstone Church, we celebrate communion (or the Lord's Supper) on the second Sunday of each month.We call the sacrament communion because the eating and drinking of physical elements (bread and juice) provides a context in which we are able to personally as well as communally commune with Jesus in such a way that our … Continue reading How to Take Communion with Three Simple Words

The Grace of Adoption

We must not leave our gospel introduction before we see how union with Jesus by faith is not merely a legal issue. We are not merely given a new status as fully forgiven, perfectly righteous humans.

We are engrafted into a new relationship with God as adopted sons and daughters. The gospel is not merely about being given a new grade, but a new life—a new status and a new family. Not to mention a new hope, a new purpose, and a new… well, everything.

In Galatians 4:4-6, the apostle Paul tells us,

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

If you think about it, the concept of adoption is such a perfect way to describe the fullness of God’s grace. After all, adopted children are always wanted. They are chosen. Not just tolerated, but treasured!

The challenge for the new believer is to embrace the love of the Father who has chosen us in love unto adoption, believing that he really has given us his name, an eternal inheritance of joy, and that his smile is always upon us.

We are his delight! 

The concept of adoption is such a perfect way to describe the fullness of God’s grace.

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Something else to note. Children are not adopted because of what they can contribute to the family or because they earn their way in. They are recipients of grace. Period. It is a grace that will never let us go because of what Jesus has done for us. It is resting and abiding in what he has done for us now empowers what he does in us.

As a well-known contemporary song by Chris Tomlin reminds us: “You are a good, good Father. That’s who you are. And I am loved by you. It’s who I am.”

Amen and amen. 

We must not leave our gospel introduction before we see how union with Jesus by faith is not merely a legal issue. We are not merely given a new status as fully forgiven, perfectly righteous humans. We are engrafted into a new relationship with God as adopted sons and daughters. The gospel is not merely … Continue reading The Grace of Adoption