Author Archives: Mark O'Connor

Reach • Devotion #5: It is Not About Us

It is not about me. It is not about you. In my short time in ministry, I have had the opportunity to be a part of many baptisms. The natural next step after coming to understand Jesus as your Savior is to decide to let the world know that you are a new creation and your life is going to look different from here on out. While I am appreciative that I was able to be a part of that experience, it was in no way about me. Mark did not lead them to be baptized, it was the Holy Spirit. Mark did not have any part of their salvation; it was Jesus alone who gets the recognition and glory. My word had nothing to do with the process at all, it was the Holy Spirit that took care of everything. 

We see in 1 Corinthians chapter one that Paul is addressing the same issue in the church in Corinth. In verses 11-12, Paul mentions that he is hearing of factions in the church, “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’” The church has lost sight of what is truly important and Paul calls them out on it. He questions in verse 13, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

Paul goes on to say that he was glad that he was not involved in more baptisms so that his name could not be lifted over the name of Jesus. Then he comes in with a haymaker. I am going to do something a little out of character for me. I want to give you the next verse in two different readings of this passage. One will be the ESV, which is the translation we use for most teaching. The second is called The Message. It is a highly paraphrased Bible translation that I rarely teach from but I like how it reflects this verse. The verse is 1 Corinthians 1:17. In the ESV, we read, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” The Message records, “God didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him. And he didn’t send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center – Christ on the Cross – be trivialized into mere words.”

Paul was making it clear that it was not about him. As much as you want to make it about you, I am sorry, but it is not about you. We are not meant to make a following for ourselves. We are called to create a following for Him. It is for Jesus. If you still find your faith tied to a person outside of Jesus, it is time to stop looking in and start looking out or up.

We who know the Lord need to get the word out about Him. Our cliques and groups that are always showing the world our backs need to stand up and turn around. You need to show the world your face, your open arms welcoming those who need to hear the Gospel. It is not about our “Christianese” or fancy words. It is plain and simple about what Jesus did for us on the cross. Nothing less will suffice in our message and if our message is not about the need for Jesus that the world needs so desperately, we are missing the mark. 

1 John 5 • Devotion #4: Lifting up a Brother

“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.” 1 John 5:16-17

This has been a very difficult passage for me to break down. I like answers. Knowing exactly what something means is important to understand what to do with it fully. It is like working on a car and not having the right tool for the job. I like to tinker with working on a car in that if it is not an emergency and something that needs to be done immediately, I enjoy it. Say my main form of transportation breaks down and needs to be done today, I get stressed. You work quickly to get a job done, and when you do not have exactly the right tool, you make it work. I have done this, and so far, it has worked out okay. However, when I have the chance, a stop at Auto Zone is not far away, so I do not find myself in that position in the future.

I have studied commentaries and books looking for the answer to what John is referring to when he talks of a sin leading to death in verse 16. I have ideas, so do many scholars, but no one seems to want to say for sure. This assures me further that we will never be able to fully comprehend the magnitude of who God is and what the Bible says without the help of the Holy Spirit. One day, I will learn. 

In the meantime, I will look at this passage for the very clear part of what it says. I will pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ, who everyday struggle with sin. Knowing that, I and we will always fall short of the perfect mark of Jesus. John lays out that we should be praying for those falling into sin. We should not pray in a gossipy prayer circle kind of way when we pray together, but on our knees behind a closed door where no one will see us kind of way. We should be petitioning God on behalf of that person that they are convicted by the Holy Spirit to repentance and restoration.

When was the last time you saw a fellow believer struggling and went home, or right then and there, prayed for them to be delivered from that sin? I believe the honest answer to that question would be sad if we surveyed the entire body of Christ.

Church • Devotion #1: Elders

“I don’t envy you guys.” It is a statement I have made to most of the elders of The River Church more than once over the last year. From navigating both dramatic and traumatic changes in the leadership of the church, to dealing with the financial fallout of those events, it has been no picnic. As I write this, we are facing a disease, COVID-19 that presents a whole new set of challenges that current generations have never had to encounter.

There was a time in my life I did not love authority. When we are young or immature, we do not want anybody telling us what to do or how to live. Come to think of it, I still do not all the time. That being said, I am thankful that the Lord showed me the need for such authority. 

One of the things I am forever teaching my students is the importance of learning not only from their experiences but the experiences of others. History gives us a clear picture of what leadership and what role our elders play in the church in both good and bad ways. 

The Lord has placed the leaders and elders of the church in their roles for very specific reasons. Like much of God’s plan, I wish I could figure out exactly why and what that meant for me, but then I guess it would not be much to do with having faith. 

When I learned to trust that those who are placed in authority over me were there for a reason, whether I liked it or not, things started to become a little clearer for me. Falling into submission and recognizing that we all have a part to play in this big thing God has laid out brought peace.

The book of 1 Timothy starts off by telling us that those who are leaders in the church aspire to a noble task. Not all of us are in, or will ever be in, that place. What we are called to do is trust that the Lord has led us to a place where the leaders in the church are constantly seeking God’s wisdom and guidance the same way that we are called to do in our own lives.If you find that place where God is moving, the church is moving in the same direction, and the leaders are seeking and trusting the Lord, put down those roots and buckle up as you are in for quite a ride because you will begin to see God move in some pretty incredible ways.

Back to Reach • Devotion #1: Open the Gift

Sometimes it is difficult for me to remember the days when I used to walk into a church, listen to a sermon, and go back to the week to live as I wanted. I used to be the guy who would walk in half an hour late because I did not like the worship experience. In my defense, I also did not know how important worship was and is to our relationship with Jesus. “Just give me the meat and potatoes,” I used to say to my wife.

I was young and immature in my faith. I was young and immature in life as well. As I continued to grow in my walk with the Lord, I began to realize that it was less and less about me and more and more about Jesus. It was not until I was directed to take a spiritual gifts test. I did not know that there was such a thing. I wish I still had that test because I am sure that public speaking was not on it. God will definitely put you where He wants you to be. You will find He has a reason for every situation.

You have all been given gifts. They are talents and abilities that we are called to use to glorify Christ. Learn from my experience. God will use you. He will use your talents. He will use you in ways you cannot imagine if you let Him. 

In 1 Peter 4:10 (CSB), we read, Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God.”

As we wrap up this edition of Reach, Gather, and Grow, I encourage you all to evaluate the gifts that you have. You can be in a Growth Community, and that will definitely play a big part in your growth. Your real growth will be stunted if you do not realize that we have to serve others the way that Jesus served us. It is uncomfortable to put yourself out there. Trust me, I understand your thoughts. I am about as introverted as a person gets. By the time I wrap up my day on Sunday evening, I am mentally and emotionally spent.

God has given me gifts and it my duty to use them. He will carry me through despite myself, and the same is true for you. Making the commitment to serve others and in the church is the thing that finally took me to a place where I truly felt that I was in the relationship that Jesus wants to have with me. If you are not already, find a place to serve. If you do not know what that looks like for you, try as many different ministries as you need until you find the right fit.

God’s Will

Burning Bush | Devotion 2: God’s Will
Mark O’Connor

Would it not be great if God would show up in front of us and tell us what He wants us to do? I have spent a lot of time pondering that over the years. I have spent so much time in prayer and study, asking the Holy Spirit to point me in the right direction. From minor decisions about a situation in my family to His call for me to do ministry, I have spent time waiting, struggling, and seeking God’s will.

I am sometimes envious of our Old Testament counterparts. I recently taught a series about Moses in our Wednesday night student program. We talked about God doing amazing things in messy situations. Moses’ life was indeed a messy one. From birth to death, Moses faced many obstacles and challenges. He ran from God and ran to God. He tried to escape and figure things out for himself only to find God chasing after him.

Picture yourself out in the middle of nowhere, and you come across this amazing spectacle. There is a bush set ablaze, but not burning. I may question my mental faculties at that point. Just as you may be coming to grips with what you are seeing, it speaks to you. These are the things that land you in somebody’s office talking about your well being today. Yet, there you are, hearing the voice of the Lord, giving you some precise instructions. Coming to understand the gravity of the situation, you begin to realize you were destined for more than what you are currently doing.

If you take some time and read Exodus chapter 3, and I encourage you to do so, there is a lot more to the story. Moses refused to believe that God would call him in all of his mess and brokenness to do the incredible things that were in his future. However, it is not Moses all along. Moses is a vessel. The Lord could have picked anybody, but He chose Moses.

I do not know what God has in store for you. I do not even know what God has in store for me. Yet, I have come to realize in the last several years that whatever it is that God lined up for me, He could do the same thing through any guy or girl off the street. So we can fight God’s plan, or we can seek it. Incredible works will be done. Lives will be changed. The Gospel will advance either because of you or despite you. I chose to be a part of this incredible journey. I fought it for a while, a long while, and I still do from time to time. However, I am thankful that, while I am pretty sure I will not see a burning bush speaking to me anytime soon, I have the Holy Spirit guiding me and pointing me in the right direction. That is how it works. It may take some time, or it may hit you very suddenly, but always be seeking to fulfill His plan.

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