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Encouraged to Grow

As Paul nears the end of his first letter to the Corinthian church, he gives a series of exhortations.  I think that we would do well to live by them.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.  Do everything in love.
1 Corinthians 16:13-14

These five simple statements are the foundation for a growing walk with the Lord.  If we would make it a point to see these activated in our lives, we’d be a lot better off.

Be on your guard.  This literally means to stay awake.  I think that too many Christians are spiritually asleep in this generation.  What do I mean by this?

When you’re asleep, you’re unaware of what’s happening around you.  Spiritual sleep is the same.  There are Christians who are totally unaware of the spiritual aspects of their life.

They think that everything revolves around what they see in the natural.  It’s all about satisfying their wants and desires.  They never ask, “What’s God’s will for my life?”

I need to seek what God has destined me for.  Then, with His strength, I can start heading in that direction.  I want my spiritual eyes to be open.

Stand firm in the faith.  This simply means that once you know what God’s Word says, you don’t waver or move from believing it.

Believing means taking action.  If I believe something is true, then I’ll act on it.  If I believe that a chair is strong enough to hold me, then I’ll sit on it.  If I believe that God’s my Provider, then I’ll move forward in what He’s called me to do.

Be men of courage.  This is the second step of faith.  If I believe that something’s true, then I won’t be afraid to let people know that I believe it.  I think that all too often, courage is the missing ingredient in many of our lives.

We are a part of a culture that tells us that it’s offensive to believe in Jesus Christ as a Savior.  So in order to accommodate them, we keep silent.  At the same time, every other belief is allowed to take center stage.

We need to be vocal about what we believe, while at the same time being sensitive to walk in love.

Be strong.  This actually means to be strengthened.  We shouldn’t be stagnant in our spiritual growth.  There are things we can be doing to build ourselves up.

Prayer in the spirit, meditation on the Word, and fasting are just a few ways to become stronger.  Just like in the physical, we can’t neglect our spiritual health.  If we do, then the consequences could be devastating.

Do everything in love.  This is the one that ties everything else together.  Our lives should reflect the love of Christ in all that we do.

This is the agape-love.  It’s the non-emotional desire to treat others as if you like them, no matter how you actually feel about them.  And also, whether you know them or not.

This love is a choice that we make to walk like Jesus did.  Our love is what will draw people to the cross.  That should be the goal of all that we do.

Question: How well is each of these characteristics visible in your life?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 

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Love and the Gifts

We’re continuing our study of love in First Corinthians, chapter 13.  Paul is now going to compare its lasting effects to that of some spiritual gifts.

Love never fails.  But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
1 Corinthians 13:8

This is a verse that has sparked a lot of debate over the years.  There are those who point to it and say that the Gifts of the Spirit had an expiration date.  They conclude that these gifts ceased to operate after the original 12 apostles died.

I don’t think that’s what Paul is trying to say.  He’s teaching us a more excellent way of walking in the gifts.  Love is a factor that brings greater results.

He starts by saying that love never fails.  This means that the effects of love are enduring.  An act of love will continue to touch someone’s life long after the event has passed.  With that in mind, look at some of the other gifts.

Paul says that prophecies will cease.  That word, cease, means to be rendered useless or idle.  It does NOT mean that people will stop prophesying.

The prophecies themselves are only temporary.  Once they’ve been fulfilled, they have no more purpose.  That’s because a prophecy will always point to something.  And once the focus of the prophecy arrives, we begin a new chapter.

He goes on to say that tongues will be stilled.  Again, this verse does NOT say that the gift of tongues will no longer be available.  The word, stilled, means to be paused or restrained.

This tells me that the gift of tongues will be paused or put on hold.  It also means that those who operate in this gift would be physically or legalistically retrained from using it.  A look at church history will prove the truth of this interpretation.

Finally, the apostle says that knowledge will pass away.  It’s actually the same Greek word he used when he said that prophecies would cease.  It simply means that the usefulness of the knowledge given will come to an end.

Why is Paul telling us all this?  Because he wants to take our supernatural gifts to a higher level.

The Gifts of the Spirit, all by themselves, are only temporary events.  People won’t remember that I gave a prophecy on a certain date in the past.  But they will remember if the prophecy was used to show love to them.

Prophecy, tongues, and word of knowledge – they all give temporary benefits.  But if they’re used to show love to others in a tangible way, they have a lasting effect.

The Corinthian church was boasting in their ability to “flow in the anointing.”  They had all the gifts evident in their meetings.  Unfortunately, it was all for show – “Look what I can do!”

They left out the most important ingredient – love for one another.  There were factions and divisions.  The poor within their congregation was being publically shamed.  Love was noticeably absent.

We need to learn their lesson.  Having a move of God with the Gifts of the Spirit is an awesome thing.  But we can’t leave out love for our brothers and sisters.

It’s not an either/or proposition.  We need both the Gifts of the Spirit and love if we’re going to minister as Christ did.

Question: How have you experienced the Gifts of the Spirit operated in love?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 

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Love Defined

In my last post, we saw that ministry without love, no matter how powerful, is not up to God’s standards.  Love must play a major role in all that we do.

But do we really understand what love is?  People have so many ideas.  Let’s see what God has to say.

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Think about what this verse says – patient, kind, not rude, and not easily angered.  Are there any times during which we have a better chance of doing this – times when it feels more natural?

Of course, it’s when we’re around people that we like; when we’re with our friends.  I was first able to grasp this concept while reading the book “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.

Remember, this type of love carries with it no emotional attachment.  It’s purely based on decision and will.  True love cannot be based on emotion, it must be my choice.

I find that it’s easiest for me to treat people I like in this way.  Sometimes I choose to treat them correctly even if I don’t feel like it, simply because I like them.  This brings us to the definition of love that I first heard from C.S. Lewis.

The way of love is to treat people as if you like them – whether you do or not.  Also, I would add, whether you know them or not and whether you’re in their presence or not.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I Corinthians 13:7

This is the atmosphere that should surround a ministry of excellence.  When you’re ministering to people, all these aspects should be evident in your work.  Too often, we’re guilty of loving our ministry more than the people we’re called to perfect.  This verse tells us that we’re to always protect, trust in, hope for and persevere for THE PEOPLE.

The ministry is a good thing.  But it’s still a thing.  Things can never be more important than people.  Excellence will never develop in an atmosphere where you love what you’re doing to the extent that you don’t care for the people.

You’re not their Lord, Jesus is.  Your ministry is never more important than God’s plan for their individual lives.  If you’re walking in excellence, in the way of love, you’ll be able to balance the two.

Love for people must start with your family.  Too many Christians think that it’s noble to give up their family for “God’s work.”

I even heard a guest minister once prove how devoted he was to the ministry by saying that his children were not walking with the Lord.  It was a sacrifice he had to make for the ministry.  I never let him preach at our church again.  God has never accepted child sacrifice.  The Bible is clear that ministry begins at home.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

It’s clear from the life of Christ (and we probably don’t want to hear it) that the way of love sees everyone as our friends.  Jesus even laid down His life for those who were His sworn enemies.

If so, then He included the whole race of mankind into His list of “friends.”  We cannot use this verse for an excuse not to love.  Christ’s example stops us from doing this.

He laid down His life for the Pharisee and the Atheist, as well as the disciples.  When you walk in the love of Christ, you exhibit the same evidence of love that He did.

Question: What is the evidence of the love that can be seen in your life and ministry?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

<Note – This post was an excerpt from my book, Breaking Free from the Pack – How to Develop a Spirit of Excellence available on Amazon>

 

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Useless Without Love

How do you rate churches or ministries?  What criteria do you use in determining their impact or effectiveness?  Let’s see what the Scripture uses as a standard.

In my last post, the Apostle Paul introduced what he called a more excellent way of ministry.  That brings us to First Corinthians, chapter 13 – the Love Chapter.

The word used for love, is the Greek word, agape.  This word is very significant.

Agape-love has no emotion attached to its definition.  It’s purely an act of your will.  It’s a choice that you make in how you treat others.

We know that Jesus Christ, Himself, commanded us to love each other.  If it were based upon feelings, then He could never make such a request.

Keep this in mind as we go through this chapter over the next few posts.  It’s up to you how you choose to treat people.  You’ll either walk in love or choose to follow the leading of your flesh.

The first thing we see in this chapter, are three things that human religion would point to as excellence in ministry.  Unfortunately, they’re not what God’s rating system includes.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
1 Corinthians 13:1

The first area is that of your preaching and teaching ministry.  What if I had the command of every language on earth?  I could preach the Gospel anywhere I wanted to.

I could stand before thousands and proclaim Christ.  I could be God’s messenger to the world.  After all, that’s what the word, angel, means (messenger).

According to this verse, without love, I’m not ministering.  I’m simply making a noise that gets people’s attention.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:2

What about the flow of supernatural power.  Certainly, that would mean my ministry is on track with God’s plan.  Not necessarily.

Signs, wonders, and miracles are things that we point to as indicators of success.

“Look at my ministry.  The miracles are proof that I’m in the center of God’s will.  Send me your offering.”

We think the supernatural move of God is an indication that we’re someone special.  On the contrary, it only proves that we serve a great God.  Paul makes it clear that no matter how many miracles in my ministry, without love I’m a nobody in God’s kingdom.

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:3

The third area is one we’d probably never think of.  Self-sacrifice for others.

The word for flames is actually the Greek word, glory.  In other words, I use up every ounce of my physical strength for the benefit of others.

We sometimes think that we’ll give to the poor because God wants us to.  Or maybe because we see it as sowing seeds for God’s blessing.

The problem is that if I don’t give out of love…a desire to see the recipient blessed by my giving, then I’ve gained nothing.  There’s no profit, physically or spiritually.

Love is the determining factor in how God rates a ministry.  Keep that in mind as you work for the Lord.

Question: How can you tell if love plays a role in what you do for Christ?

© 2019 Nick Zaccardi

 
 

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Showing True Love

When Jesus was asked about the greatest command of Scripture, He explained how to truly show your love for God.  In today’s post, we’ll look at what the Lord describes as the second greatest command.

“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:31

In order to understand this verse, you need to know what a neighbor is.  In another of the Gospels, Jesus is actually asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

It’s pretty simple.  The Greek word used in this verse literally means someone who is physically near you.  Even in the English word, neighbor, the “nei” part means “near”.

So we’re not talking about the community you live in, even though that could be included.  When Jesus talks about neighbors, He’s speaking about anybody you happen to be around during the day.  It doesn’t matter whether you know them or not.

Once we know who we’re supposed to show our love to, the next obvious question is; what is love?  This word has been so overused in our society, that when we read Scripture many people have no clue what it really means.

The first thing I see is that the Lord commands us to love whoever we find in our vicinity.  If it’s a command, then it has nothing to do with our emotions.  The Greek word, agape, used in this verse is a choice to love.

Because there is no emotion involved in this love, it’s simply a choice I have to make when I’m near someone.  It doesn’t matter whether or not I know them.  More importantly, it doesn’t even matter whether I like them or not.  The command stands for enemies as well as friends.

Then there are the excuses we like to make for ourselves.  I’ve heard people say, “I love everybody.”  They say this to justify themselves.  Usually, this statement is untrue.

Jesus tells us that we’re to love others in the same way that we love ourselves.  How do I love myself?  Healthy self-love is an active pursuit to make my life better.  This includes my position with my family, my job, my attitudes, my influence, my finances, my spirituality, and so much more.

So when you talk about loving someone else, it’s an action word.  It means that you are actively participating in their lives.  You want their life to be better because they met you.  That’s showing love to your neighbor.

It could be as simple as greeting someone with a smile in the check-out line.  It could be giving money to a person in need.  There are literally thousands of ways of positively impacting the lives of those around you.

I do realize that this is harder to do when it involves those that we don’t like.  But, with the help of the Holy Spirit, it’s not impossible.

We need to respond to God’s commands as the person in Scripture.

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Mark 12:32-34

We should make it our goal to let our lives show a true love for God and for others around us.  That will play a large role in attracting people to the Gospel of Christ.

Question: How has the love of others affected your life?

© 2018 Nick Zaccardi

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2018 in Ministry, Revival, Spiritual Walk

 

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The Spirit-Fruit: Love

Probably one of the most misunderstood concepts among Christians is love.  Of course, that’s to be expected in our society.  The media throws that word around with no clue as to what they’re talking about.

As I said in my last post, I want to talk about each of the Fruit of the Spirit in detail.  Today, I’ll start with love.  It’s the Greek word, agape, which has a very specific meaning.

As it turns out, the Greek language has a number of words that are translated as love in English.  In this post, I’m only going to be talking about the word Paul uses as one of the fruit.  As you’ll see, this is not something that you can just do by accident.  It has to be a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

Probably the best description given was by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13.  If you’re able, you should read through it before continuing with this blog.  Let me quote a small section for you.

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Think about what this passage is saying.  Especially in the light of what Jesus told us.  He commanded us, as His disciples to love one another (John 13:34-35).  That statement alone should show us the fallacy of the world’s view of love.

This kind of love has nothing at all to do with our emotions.  It’s purely a choice that we make in our treatment of others.  It also includes action.  It’s impossible to love this way by simply saying it or thinking it.  God’s kind of love has to be visible.

But what do I really have to do to show love to someone?  By looking at the above verse, it’s clear that there’s a group of people I actually want to treat like this.  They’re my friends.  I want to show them how much I like them.

There you have it; love means that you treat everyone as if you like them, whether you do or not.  After all, isn’t that the teaching that Jesus left us with?

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Luke 6:27-28

This is why we need the power of the Holy Spirit operating in us.  Loving our enemies is not natural to our human make-up.

“I love them, but I just don’t like them.”

Wait a minute.  I didn’t tell you the best part of all this.  Not only do you have to treat everyone as if you like them – even your enemies, there’s more.  You have to treat them this way whether they’re physically present or not.

After all, you wouldn’t gossip, slander, or speak evil about a friend of yours.  Love deals with the total package of how we treat others.  Whether they know about it or not isn’t the issue.  The God kind of love is a lifestyle.

That’s why Paul calls it one of the fruit.  It grows naturally from a life that spends time in the Father’s presence.  It’s one of the visible changes that we see as a life matures in Christ.

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
1 John 4:12

Spend time in the Father’s presence.  Let Him complete His love in you.

Question: What was a recent time that you saw God’s love operating through you?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2017 in Fellowship, Power of God, Spiritual Walk

 

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Why is the Love-Walk so Tough?

Snow HeartBefore the New Year, I was talking about the faith-love connection in my posts.  I want to continue along those lines.  Do you know why it’s so hard to walk in love sometimes?  The answer will become clear as we move forward.

If you remember, I was using the illustration of faith as the fuel and love as the generator for the power of God.  These are the two things that must be in place for us to see the blessing of God in our lives.  I want to go a little further with this concept.

One of the ways we run into problems is using the right fuel in the right device.  For instance, a candle produces light and heat.  But, I wouldn’t try to cook a steak with a candle.

Love is the key to using the power of God.  So we need to understand how it works.  This kind of love (Agape in Greek) that the Bible speaks about is not an emotion.  You have probably already heard many teachings on the subject.  It is taught that love is a decision.

That’s good as far as it goes, but love is much more than that.  To truly use the power of God, love must be a decision TO ACT.  Remember, love is the spiritual pressure, but what is also needed is a saved mind that acts in faith.  Without action there is no love and there is no power.  If I have truly decided to love you, then I will pray for you, encourage you, and bless you.

This is probably the biggest hindrance to power production in our lives.  We like holding on to the fuel to show everyone, “Look how much I have.”  We don’t want to actually use the generator.  We only want to impress people by our abundance of fuel.  What we really need is to learn the truth that faith by itself is not power.

We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Thessalonians 1:3

This verse gets right to the heart of the matter.  Work in this verse is the power that produces change.  This work is produced by faith operating through love.

But this verse also says that there is a labor associated with love.  This word labor in Greek means that which reduces strength.  To put it simply, the lamp burns oil to produce light.  The engine burns gasoline to move the car.  In the same way, love burns faith to produce spiritual power.

Why is it so hard to love others?  The reason is that love requires a constant supply of faith to fuel it.  Unless we’re willing to work at it, it’s easier to just ignore it.

Question: Do you notice the labor involved in loving someone?

© Nick Zaccardi 2013

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2013 in Faith, Power of God

 

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