Thursday, December 27, 2007
John wrote three epistles and one Gospel that all bear his name. He is also the author of the book of Revelation.
Though John was willing to be martyred, the best evidence suggests that after he was imprisoned and exiled for his testimony to the Gospel, he was eventually released and died a natural death in Ephesus. Thus he is known as “a martyr in will but not in deed"—a type of martyrdom which, perhaps, we will more likely be called to emulate.
The familiar themes of our need to love one another, to walk in the light by keeping God’s commandments, and the sure identity of Jesus as God’s son who gives eternal life to those who believe in him are both found in today’s reading from 1 John. These are themes which should mark our lives as well, and be readily apparent to all who know or observe us.
Finally, I leave you this day with the appointed prayer for the day:
Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light; that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Prosperity certainly is a blessing, but it can also be a curse. Receiving a blessing from God is a glorious and beautiful thing. However, today's reading is telling us that prosperity can lead to moral and spiritual decline. Prosperous people can be tempted to become proud and a bit full of themselves. Prosperous people can forget that the very blessings that made them prosperous came from God. God gives us blessings and all he asks in return is that we remember from where the blessing came and give him thanks.
Yes, prosperity can be a blessing and a curse. Let's let today's reading remind us that we are not to take blessings for granted. We must always remember that they are gifts from God and they belong to God. God wants us to enjoy the blessings he gives us but also to use them, be they a talent or gift, to further his kingdom. On this day after Christmas, let's all remember the blessings God has given us, give him thanks for them, and evaluate how we are using them - for his good or for our own?
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Friday, December 21, 2007
< This passage from Revelation seems more than a bit out of sync with the season we are in. But we do tend to overlook the dark part of Christmas, don't we? In that spirit I humbly offer a new poem. A Dangerous Christmas? It was no silent night. The displaced stable
Creatures crew and chewed and mooed and snorted.
A maiden moaned and gasped, strained to deliver
A crying baby, shrieking in the straw.
The little town was too spun up to sleep
As travellers swarmed the streets and filled the inn
Three to a bed, or bellies at the bar
That flowed with wine to make the landlord rich.
There were no kings, no little drummer boy
Only the scorned and leprous refugees
Of an empire backwater, pressed to pay the tax
Without a voice or vote--without a hope.
If there were heralds in the teeming streets
At midnight, their cry would be "Danger!
Mothers, hide your suckling sons!" as soldiers
Roamed and rousted, put them to the sword.
The truly dangerous One lay hid in straw
No gentle infant, not a friend to power,
Nor born to comfort, riches, life of ease.
Dare we let Christmas be dangerous again?
Exchange our safe, entitled holidays
For risk and sacrifice, for costly love?
Unlearn the sentimental tales of yule,
Learn new the Christmas mission meant for us?
This passage from Revelation seems more than a bit out of sync with the season we are in. But we do tend to overlook the dark part of Christmas, don't we?
In that spirit I humbly offer a new poem.
A Dangerous Christmas?
It was no silent night. The displaced stable
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Only Jesus can open the book, the slaughtered Lamb. This, to me, shows once again that Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only life. If you follow anyone or anything else, you will never see what is in the book, that is, you will never gain access to eternal life.
In the same way, Jesus in only to be worshipped and glorified. I cannot even imagine what it would look like to see “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing…” I know what it is like when the whole congregation really gets into a song. It is pretty breathtaking to be part of such homage.
In this season of Christmas, we must remain mindful of the significance of the birth of Christ. That he only was born for the purpose of dying for our sins. His lowly birth was part and parcel of what Jesus was, what he stood for and the tremendous glory that followed such a humble man.
We cannot open the book. We don’t have to open the book, though, to follow the Lamb into eternity. We can follow the example of the only one who can break the seals, and live humbly during this time when excess is the story of the day.
I wish for you a humble Christmas, feeling the joy of Christ’s simple and beautiful peace.
Today’s reading talks about worship. It does so as a multisensory experience that is anything but tedious and dreary.
Sight is engaged as our eyes are captured by the “living creatures”. Special effects in movies these days provide some pretty impressive “eye candy”, but the creatures we find here are even more riveting.
Our ears are engaged by compelling sounds. The living animals apparently have some sort of voice (is their worship spoken with the authority of a lion's roar; does it resonate with bellow of an ox; does it pierce like the cry of an eagle?). The elders sing and chant.
Our bodies are engaged by action and posture and position. People “fall down”. They throw things—namely their crowns, at the feet of God’s throne. A food fight isn’t exactly a similar image—it’s more like the antithesis of what is pictured here—but people don’t sit in a food fight unengaged. The throwing speaks of active participation.
This is not meant to be taken as a literal description of what we’ll experience in heaven. Does God toss the crowns back to the living creatures so they can throw them back to the throne? Or do they take a break from worship to go pick them up themselves so they can toss them again and repeat over and over again? Do they regrow new crowns? The details are not what is important. What is important is the scope and scale of the grand drama taking place, so that we too find ourselves standing in awe before God’s throne.
So here is the question: How is our worship going these days? Do we catch something of what it means to enter into the presence of the living God, and that this is not something we do casually and lightly? Do we begin to perceive that worship is about beholding that which God is doing in the world and wholeheartedly taking our place in it?
Too often we approach worship tired, disinterested, without focus or expectation.. I hope today’s reading will give us all a renewed realization of how our worship can be—should be—so much more than it often is.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
In today’s reading John describes the throne room to us as best he can with his human limitations. John says God has “the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.” (v. 3) Perhaps John is contrasting God’s throne to that of Caesar’s. Caesar’s pomp and splendor were nothing compared to John’s description of God’s throne room.
John goes on to say, “In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.’”(v. 6-8) Why are these four earthly creatures represented in heaven? No one knows for sure and there are many theories out there, but one that I like is that these creatures symbolize the following: the lion symbolizes majesty and power, the ox symbolizes faithfulness, the human symbolizes intelligence, and the eagle symbolizes sovereignty.
Today’s reading is full of symbolism. The meaning of all the symbolism is not totally clear but the majesty of heaven is very clear. We may not be able to comprehend heaven with our pea sized brains, but I certainly look forward to getting there and seeing it for myself.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Friday, December 14, 2007
For the book of Revelation, Peterson writes that it is about worship, and if we keep reading through all the imagery, we can pick up the rhythms of the book and partake in its worship. (And just like these days we are looking forward to celebrating Christ’s first advent, Christmas, Revelation teaches us about His second advent, and about how everyone will worship Christ).
This passage is written to the church in Thyatira. The members have done many things right; love, faith, service, and patient endurance.
Although the congregation at Thyatira has persevered in some ways, they are here reminded by John, in a vivid way, that they are tolerating a woman in their midst who is leading many into sin. By the language John uses he is clearly angry that this is happening. He calls the woman one who practices fornication and those she lead astray he describes as “adulterers”.
Why the anger? John here shows his pastoral heart; like a shepherd guarding his sheep he is looking out for the church. He knows what is best for the church and they are not experiencing it. He wants the church to be united in worship, not split by sin.
Let us likewise look out for each other and for our church; by praying, and caring, and leading worshipful lives. When we are united to serve Christ many will benefit. I realize that we can’t take any of this for granted. Satan does not want us to succeed in our acts of worship. Let us pray for our church.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
That is the subject of today’s verses from the book of Revelation. In them, we see two basic expectations Christ has of the church that is faithful to him. First, it will be willing to suffer. And second, it will hold fast to the Truth. The two are not unrelated.
To embrace that Truth is to embrace suffering. Because to embrace Truth is not just to believe it, it is also to live it. It is not just to see what should be done, it is to do it. It is not just to see what needs to be sacrificed, it is to sacrifice it. It is not just to see what must be changed—in ourselves most of all—it is to change it.
Where is God calling you and me to suffer for the sake of the Gospel? Perhaps we are called to suffer financially, as the Truth leads us to see what really matters and give with a generosity we once would never even have thought possible (and certainly not desirable!). Perhaps we are called to suffer physically, as the Truth of our identity as servants calls us to help others in ways that are uncomfortable for us, require hard work, or entail giving up time that we would rather have spent on our selves. Perhaps we are called to suffer mentally as the Truth calls us to see the world in new ways, to think in new ways, to trust in new ways. Perhaps we are called to suffer relationally as the Truth calls us live honestly in love, learning to forgive, to be vulnerable, to forsake familiar patterns of behavior.
Wherever it is, you can be sure if we are not suffering somewhere for the sake of the Gospel, we have not sufficiently beheld or grasped the Truth it so dangerously and boldly proclaims.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Is it possible in the battle to maintain sound teaching and good morals to lose the loving spirit?
Of course, and today the same accusation can be leveled at some churches. Sure there is an eagerness for truth, there is continuous and persevering labor; but the intimate love for Jesus Christ is sometimes lacking. A church, a community, or a Christian can set an example with good deeds but still not have the love for Jesus Christ that must grow in the core of the being. Without growing love, these activities are in vain.
This concept of growing love is troubling. I mean think of a new relationship or your spouse. When you first meet the thrill is very high. The excitement is very high. You think about the other person all the time. However, when the relationship or marriage gets older, there is a tendency for these items to fade. In the same way, when we became new Christians we were excited and "fired up" to do God's work. We longed to find ways to show our love of Christ. But as our relationship with Christ has matured, there could be a tendency to let that excitement fade just a bit. Our love is not growing, it is stagnate at best.
The best way I know to grow this love is to be intimate again. Intimate with your spouse. Intimate with Christ. Recite the Jesus Creed, make a point of praying every day. Growing the love in our heart for Jesus will bring us closer to his will and help each of us understand his plan for us.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Don't make me sad
chase the bad out, your days get better,
Remember to keep Christ sure in your heart
faith he'll impart,
And fulfill this letter.
In these last days, we hear scoffers, we see divisions
Look forward, God's mercy calls us to life
Keeps us from strife
And their derision.
He's reaching out, please let him in, says Jude, begin
The prayer that you need is in the Spirit...
Saint Jude, you make me glad
'Cause your last words tell how this debtor
Is freed from turning back to his sin
As we begin
To live forever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ah!
na, na, na, na-na-na-nah, la la la la, Saint Jude....
Amen amen amen amen amen amen...
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Jude writes to his audience (and from what I can find out, no one is quite sure who his audience was) not only to rejoice in the salvation that comes through Jesus, but to beware of those around them who could turn them against the true Christian way. This reminds me of folks I know who don’t go to church. They like to make plans for Sunday mornings and invite us to come. It is as if they would feel so much better about their decision if they could get me to change mine. They seek validation. I’m sure all of you have people in their lives, even peripherally, who do not support the Christian way of life.
These are not evil people. It is hard to look at them and think to myself “Ah ha! I must steer clear of these people as they represent the devil!” No, it’s not that easy. I love the imagery that Jude uses to describe these people – “They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved for ever.” Yes, I know some folks that fit that description.
But, I have a counter to Jude that I would suggest. We should not shun these folks. While we need to beware the temptations that come through such channels, we also need to be on our “Christian-best” behavior with them. For without learning about Christ through us, how else will they be saved?
Some have wondered if this is not, perhaps, a self fulfilling prophecy, distorting the Biblical picture of God’s purpose for us and supporting politics of polarization, violence, and extremism. This has lead to an alternative view, which states that Jesus came “to save the earth and all it contains from its ongoing destruction because of human evil. Through his life and teaching, through his suffering, death, and resurrection, he inserted into human history a seed of grace, truth, and hope that can never be defeated. This seed will, against all opposition and odds, prevail over the evil and injustice of humanity and lead to the world’s ongoing transformation into the world God dreams of” (Brian McClaren, Everything Must Change, pp. 81-2).
How one decides on this issue will determine how they interpret the first couple verses of today's Scripture passage. Is it a literal description of God destroying the earth (nuclear apocalypse?) or apocalyptic language with its characteristic outlandish imagery referring to a radical transformation from one state to another?
Personally, I find myself increasingly inclined to the latter these days. I think that best fits this passage, because then the moral character of our lives described in the following verses is an essential aspect of the “ongoing transformation” that God is doing and that will one day bring about the glorious future “where righteousness dwells.”
These verses teach us, then, that we are those who have something to look forward to, and that is the reason we are to "make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him (Jesus)."
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
In verses 8 and 9 of today's reading is a favorite line of mine. "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." Peter's comments in these verses answered the question the addressees were contemplating, why was the Lord delaying the second coming, the judgment day, so long? Peter offered us two reasons in these verses.
The first reason is God does not count time as people do. God is above and outside the sphere of time. Time truly is relative, and God sees all of eternity - past and future. God may have been seen as slow to act to the believers Peter is addressing as they faced persecution every day and longed to be delivered. But remember, God is not slow to act, he just does not operate under our, human, timetable.
The second reason Peter gives was God's patience. He wants as many people to come to faith as possible so he does not have to see souls die. Thus, God is not slow at all, he is acting out of love for us by giving us time to repent.
None of us know when we will meet Jesus. The thought of it can be very exciting yet very frightening at the same time. Compared to eternity, none of us has very much time in this life. What can I do, what can you do, to less the frightening feeling and elevate the exciting feeling?
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Friday, November 30, 2007
As in yesterday’s reading, in today’s reading Peter talks about how we can bring peace to others, specifically those who ask us about our faith. Be gentle and show respect, Peter urges. I like his use of the word respect which denotes that we shouldn’t speak down to others, but treat them as equals, even those with whom we disagree. In this way we can bring peace, like a warm blanket, to a potentially tense situation.
Peter also discusses peace in the midst of suffering. We can feel peace, he says, in this way, “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” (v 15). I picture my heart as large room, and sitting in the center is Christ, and I am worshipping at his feet. I picture the room as empty except for Christ; empty of other distractions. When we suffer for doing good, Peter says, remember the cross of Christ.
Finally Peter offers encouragement for those suffering at the hands of those who deride those who follow God’s way instead of “plunging”, as Peter says, into the flood of misdeeds. Be faithful, Peter says, as we will be judged for our actions.
May we today, bring peace and feel peace as we set apart Christ as Lord.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
As we move into the holiday season, we will not doubt spend time with people who do not believe as deeply as we do, and perhaps who do not believe at all. For them, the holidays may simply be about shopping, eating, drinking, and a chance to take a nice trip to warmer climates or maybe get in some skiing out west.
Running into these folks at work, parties, our neighborhoods, on the roads, in the stores, and so on means that we will have ample occasions to put this principle into practice. I’d suggest that we commit ourselves right now to putting this principle into practice and make the most of the opportunities that will no doubt be given us.
As the passage goes on, it tells us how we can do this by living with courtesy, honor, and respect for authority. I expect we’ll have plenty of chances to be gracious, well-mannered, and appropriately submissive (not insisting on our own way might be one way of thinking about that) in our dealings with one another.
The passage closes with a reflection on all God has done for us in Christ Jesus. I hope that all of us will take time today to reflect on that, and to appropriately and intentionally express how grateful we are for God’s love and all the blessings that flow from it. It also gives us one last image of how we are meant to live in Christ: we will not retaliate when people hurt us. We’ll probably have a chance to put that into practice over the holidays too, won’t we?
Finally, I love the last image, of Christ as the “shepherd and guardian of our souls”. It is the image of a God who wants the best for us, who we can trust to care for us even when we don’t know how to care for ourselves. It is a God we would do well to spend time with and learn from and love.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of this holiday season, may we make time to do just that.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The first verse in today's reading list five sins that we must rid ourselves of if we are to grow spiritually. And after all, we need to grow, we are called to grow, in order to move closer to Christ. It is easy to overlook these items in the first verse, but I found them insightful and worthy of discussion.
The sins Peter lists are:
Malice - which is an attitude similar to hatred. This is an attitude of revenge.
Deceit - or deliberate dishonesty. Anything less than full and honest truth.
Hypocrisy - acting in a way to conceal ones true motives.
Envy - resentful discontent in ones, or with ones, status or possessions.
Slander - speech that assaults the character of another.
This list, I find, is a great list. None of these sins will allow us to become the person God wishes us to become. Now I am not naive enough to think that it is easy, or even humanly possible, to completely rid ourselves of these five sins. However, Christians should yearn to grow spiritually; yearn to grow closer to God. By moving away from these sins is an enabler to that growth. And a powerful way to grow!
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
My father was a very good basketball player. I remember reading through his high school and college yearbooks and seeing box scores from some of his games. I found that the most points he scored in a game was 33. I made it a goal of mine to beat his
This attitude and motivation is one of the points that I saw in today’s reading:
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." (1 Peter 1:15-16)
I can hear Christ saying in the last part of this passage, “I am holy; you be holy”. This touches the part of me that helped me be a better basketball player as I tried to imitate my dad. I can relate to this message and understand the part that I play in imitating Christ.
While it is true that we have a responsibility in “being holy”, this is only part of the picture and in reality it is the smallest part. Far more important is the holiness of Christ. This is the second point that I saw in today’s reading. Only because of the holiness of Christ, through Christ residing in our hearts and us allowing Christ to live in our actions is there any way for us to be holy. I can hear Christ saying, "Because I am holy, you can be holy."
Thursday, November 22, 2007
This year in northern Virginia we continue to experience a terrible drought. We’ve had a little rainfall lately, but not nearly enough to replenish reservoirs or even soil moisture levels. Serious concerns are being raised about having enough drinking water for entire communities. Clearly without water, a community can’t survive.
In sum, light and water are needed for life. And it is for that reason that they are picked up here in this passage as symbols of God’s power not just to sustain life but to cause it to blossom and flourish. The point is that the way of Jesus is the way of Life, life in abundance, life to the full.
We are, of course, confronted with a variety ways to do life each and every day. Many of these ways compete with the way of Jesus and seek to replace it. Many of these ways of destroy or denigrate life rather than cherish and encourage it.
A good exercise might be to make a list of ways that compete with the way of Jesus, and then think of how they entice us to follow them. Some examples might be the way of perfectionism, the pursuit of bigger and better and more and more, the way of impersonalizing others for own ends, or demonizing those with whom we disagree, and so on. None of these are the way of Jesus, and none promote the life he died to bring.
Will you and I choose this day to walk in the way of Jesus, to be people who bring light to a world that often lives in darkness, and refreshment to a dry and weary land where there is no water?
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
To me, today's reading can be summarized as follows. Heaven is a real place!!! It is a place of glory and beauty. It is a place that houses a peace beyond our understanding. It is a place where the "glory of God" will be the only light needed in heaven.
I like the phrase, "glory of God". It has appeared in different places throughout history. God's glory dwelt in the tabernacle and then in the temple. Today, His glory dwells in believers and in His church. For all eternity, the glory of God will be seen in His holy city, a.k.a. heaven.
The final item I wish to discuss from today's reading is the city's description. The description follows the pattern of cities with which John would have been familiar. It had foundations, walls, and gates (of course pearly gates). However, I think these familiarities are also symbolic. The foundations symbolize permanence. The walls and gates symbolize protection. God's new city is permanent and its inhabitants will never have to fear any enemy - after all angels are the sentries at the gates.
What a wonderful place heaven must be. It is very reassuring and worthy of thanksgiving to know that this place awaits all who acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. What a loving God!!!
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
My wife likes to tell the story of what I said when I saw her in her wedding dress on our wedding day - I said that she looks VERY Nice (emphasis mine).
On one of the most important days of a woman’s life, a day that culminates months perhaps years of planning and dreaming, a day that formalizes a covenant relationship – “you look nice” or even “you look very nice” falls way short of the appropriate way to recognize a bride. I won’t try to explain myself – just confess that these were not the correct words to say to a bride on her wedding day.
I wish that I had read today’s reading just prior to our wedding. I really could have taken a queue from these verses. The New Jerusalem is described as a bride being presented to her husband. The verses go on to describe the wonderful promises that will be fulfilled in that day:
"Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Rev 21:3-4)
I can imagine the rejoicing, exultation, and praise that will take place as the saints join with God to live for eternity with him in this new place.
I am looking forward to the wedding described in these verses. I can almost picture myself there with my wife now. If you are there with us, you'll probably hear me saying, “This is nice.”
Friday, November 16, 2007
Our civilization now is more refined. We have more difficulty accepting the images used in Revelation, even in today’s reading. These verses are supposed to show the glory of God as he rides from heaven down to earth to save the faithful. Yet, these passages say that he comes to judge and make war. “His eyes are like blazing fire…” “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood…” “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.” Wow. The God I imagine simply wouldn’t look like that. The picture in my mind looks more like the paintings I have seen of the gentle Jesus with a lamb over his shoulders. I believe that God will triumph over evil by His goodness and love, not because he has the bigger sword or army.
The fact of the matter, and what I think this reading is really about, is that Jesus is coming again in glory to take the faithful from the horrible place that earth will (and has already to a certain extent) become. There will be a stark difference between those who have chosen salvation and those who have not. We all have a choice to make every day in that regard. We can be saved, and by being saved live the life of love that Jesus showed to us, or we can wait for a violent and torturous end.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
His point was that all of us know that Studio Wresting isn’t “real”. We understand from the very start that this is different than, say, Olympic Wrestling, and we interpret what is happening in the ring accordingly.
He then likened that to Apocalyptic literature, of which the book of Revelation is an example. Everyone in Jesus day would’ve known that Apocalyptic is interpreted differently than, say, historical writings (such as the Gospels).
This means that in Revelation, John uses bold and graphic images to remind us of the essential truths. In today’s reading, for instance, John doesn’t mean for us to read of “the great whore” and think that at the end of time Jesus is going to be judging some massive prostitute.
No, his point is that there are always going to be people and forces that will seek to entice us away from worshipping God and being faithful to him. We’d do well to remember that on some level at least whores have to be attractive, or they’d go out of business. Evil doesn’t look bad, or most of us wouldn’t do it. It looks good—pretty darn good, in fact! But what a whore promises—the pleasure of intimacy—is not what she really offers. Beyond the physical connection, there is no intimacy in what is in essence a business transaction with a whore.
In contrast to the whore is the bride who has stayed true to the one she loves and thus is “bright and pure.” Whereas the way of the whore will be exposed for the corruption it is, the way of the faithful bride will bring such great joy that it results in the festal shout, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"
Fans of Studio Wrestling know that they have to make a choice between the good guy and the bad guy. Wise readers of the book of Revelation know the same thing: we are going to have to choose between God and the great whore, and our eternal destinies depend on that choice.
It’s a choice you’ll have to make today as you will every day. Who will you choose? Who will I?
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
The reading begins when an angel “picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea”. This symbolized the conclusion of the judgments and the disappearance of the great final city of the antichrist. The city will sink into oblivion just as the unsinkable Titanic sank into the Atlantic Ocean.
The reading then goes into a poem about what will never be heard in that city again. I would like to call your attention to the line near the end of verse 23, “Your merchants were the world's great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.” Babylon’s business men and women were very influential. They could have used their talents, abilities, and influential skills for good; however, they “led nations astray.” They led them into that false religion that security and happiness can be found in the multitude of possessions. They led them into worshiping money instead of God. As Jesus said, you cannot serve two masters – money and God. The worship of money and possessions led them to their doom.
Today’s reading tells us that God will destroy this great wicked city because it enticed people away from true religion and holiness and into false religion and impurity. This is a very good reminder to me to keep focused on, and to put my trust in, God. Only God will save us. Chasing earthly idols will ultimately lead to our downfall.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
When I was in High School, my best friend Rippy suffered a house fire. The house was not totally destroyed but Rippy lost everything from his room. The fire had a huge impact on Rippy’s family but he was personally devastated by the loss of his 8-track collection. For any young people reading this, 8-tracks were a precursor to cassette tapes. Rippy probably had 100 or more albums, all of which were destroyed by the heat of the fire. Music was important to Rippy and he had invested a lot of time and money into acquiring his collection – losing his collection hurt him deeply.
Today’s reading from Revelation paints a descriptive picture of people mourning over their material losses. The passage reminds us of the transient nature of possessions and it caused me to recall this incident from my youth.
It wouldn’t be fair to Rippy, if I didn’t tell you what happened in the months after the fire. He quickly got over the loss of his 8-track collection. I remember visiting the motel room where Rippy and his family stayed for the three months while their house was being repaired. There was a spirit of thankfulness and joy in spite of their loss and their difficult circumstances. I know that for Rippy, the fire that summer caused him to re-examine what was important to him. Family and faith won out over personal possessions.
As Paul Harvey would say, “And that’s the rest of the story.”
Saturday, November 10, 2007
The woman is beautiful, resplendent in regal robes and jewelry, and her "ride" would turn heads on any road, but she is drunk, intoxicated not with wine but with the pressings of murder. Innocent lives, those who bear the testimony of Jesus, have been sacrificed on her altar, and she could not care less. The powers of the earth are allied with her. But their power will pass in the span of a single hour, as they make war upon the Lamb. What Lamb is it that can contend with the seven-headed, ten-horned beast? The Lamb who is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, the Lamb who calls those whose name is written in the eternal book of Life to contend against the beast.
I suggest we take the scene--and the larger drama in which it is set--seriously though not literally. Is the woman symbolic of a revitalized Babylonian Empire, or the Rome which persecuted John in the first century, or the corrupt later church, or the newly unified Europe of the Left Behind series? She may be some, all, or none of the above. Should we assimilate the ghastly terror of this nightmare? Should we leave the scene in the way in which we might awaken in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, pulse racing yet finding comfort in repeating "it was only a dream, it was only a dream..." Not quite. The horrible battlefield remains our battlefield. We contend now and will continue to contend against things that are powerful, wealthy, possessed of a sort of attractiveness, yet ultimately unspeakably ugly, finally ferociously filthy. We shall be saved only through the Lamb.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
I don’t find either of those explanations convincing. First, they do not honor the fact that this is apocalyptic literature, a form of writing that uses images and numbers as symbols of a greater truth. When John wrote this book, neither he nor the Holy Spirit who was inspiring him meant for them to be taken literally.
Second, if they are only future events that will occur someday, they really don’t have a lot to do with me now. I can skip this portion of Scripture, leaving it for the day when the mark of the beast really is a problem.
Third, notice the contrast between verse 1 and verse 9. The 144,000 (again, a number not meant to be taken literally but as statement of God’s perfection and ability to save) also have a mark on their forehead; the name of God.
This seems like a pretty big clue to understanding what is going on here. These are people who are faithful to God, who live according to his purpose and calling.
With these things in mind, it seems to me that the mark of the beast is the life that fails to worship God. It is on the forehead because it represents thoughts that run counter to God’s thoughts; it is on the back of the hands because it represents works counter to God’s works. It is the life that is lived in such a way that it brings a little bit of hell to earth rather God’s kingdom (heaven).
When we understand the mark of the beast in this way, we understand it was something the people of John’s day struggled with just like its something you and I struggle with. In a sense, it is the struggle of our lives –and not just a reference to some obscure future event that was as irrelevant to John’s readers as such a reference would be to us.
To win this struggle will require endurance. It will require us to keep God’s commandments. It will require us to hold fast to the faith of Jesus. It is the faith of Jesus that will define our lives, not the world around us.
The good news is that for those who persevere, one day their labor will be over, and it will not be in vain. As The Message puts it, those who stay faithful to Jesus receive “blessed rest from their hard, hard work. None of what they've done is wasted; God blesses them for it all in the end."
I can’t wait.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Let me begin by offering my thoughts on the symbolism in these verses. First, who or what is the woman symbolizing? Some say it is the Virgin Mary - which seems obvious on a first reading. However, I am in the camp of another school of thought which describes the woman as the faithful people of God. The twelve stars on her head represent the twelve tribes of Israel.
Second, the red, seven headed, ten horned dragon symbolizes Satan. The dragon's tail knocking one-third of the stars from the sky symbolizes the angles that fell with Satan and became his demons. Remember when Satan was expelled from Heaven he took his followers, one-third of the angles, with him.
Third, the baby symbolizes Jesus Christ who, after his time on earth, was taken to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God.
Now let's get the message of these verses. When Jesus was born in the small town of Bethlehem, it was not big, global news. Sure three wise men came because they knew Jesus was the Messiah, but that was about it. However, today's reading tells us that this relative non-event on earthly terms had, and has, tremendous spiritual significance. From the time of Jesus' birth, Satan has been trying to destroy him because he knew the ultimate outcome was his demise if Jesus succeeded. A few examples include, Satan influencing King Herod to attempt to kill the infant Jesus. Satan tempting Jesus with immediate riches and power. Satan doing everything he could to convince Jesus not to be the sacrificial lamb for all the sins of mankind.
None of Satan's tricks worked and Jesus successfully completed his mission as a human being. And as a result, as today's verses tell us, the child was "snatched up to God and to his throne" before he could be devoured by the dragon.
These verses are just the opening act in the story that unfolds through Revelation 14:20. I cannot wait to see how it turns out. It opens great for our side!
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Friday, November 02, 2007
When I have written about verses in Revelation before in these devotionals, I have admitted to my difficulty in explaining something that, frankly, I have trouble understanding. There is a reason that I prefer reading books that are fairly straightforward, as opposed to fantasy books. These verses are no different for me. I don’t pretend to know about the symbolism. But, I want to be one of the 144,000.
My paranoid human side worries about that number. Gee, that’s not very many. Certainly those who call themselves “Christians” number in the millions. How will I know if there will be a spot for me? Answer: You won’t. Although we all want to be one of those souls who are part of Jesus’ second coming, that really isn’t the goal, is it? The goal is to accept Christ – heart, soul and mind – and by doing so, become as Christ-like as humanly possible. At that point, you will have been fully restored to the promise of God. Death has no more meaning anyway. There is no more human paranoia because yours is a life of love.
So, when I study the book of Revelation, I realize that one of my questions to God when I see him will be – What was that all about?
Thursday, November 01, 2007
In the biblical sense of the word, a saint is a “holy one”. Holiness is not a reference to behavior that is so out of the ordinary that it is either unattainable or undesirable. The idea behind it is the idea of being set apart for a sacred purpose. What is meant to set us apart is God’s call upon our lives; we have been “called out” to follow him.
Holiness, then, is lived out in ordinary, everyday life by ordinary, everyday people just like you and just like me. It is lived out when we answer God’s call in our lives and faithfully live in harmony with his purposes for us. Anyone who does this is, in the New Testament sense of the word, a “saint”
Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us how we can be faithful to God’s call upon us and live as saints.
First, we remember this isn’t something we do alone. We are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses”; vast numbers of people down through the ages who have stepped out in faith to boldly follow God’s call. They bear witness to God’s faithfulness to them, reminding us that God will be faithful to us as well. We can trust him as they did; He will not let us down or lead us astray.
Second, we remember we’re not perfect. Believe it or not, the saints weren’t perfect either. They had their flaws and so do we. You do. I do too.
So we take a good hard look at our lives, asking God to help us see all those things that hold us back or tie us down and so keep us from being fully faithful to Him. Then we cast these things off and run hard the race that is set before us, enjoying the perfect freedom in so doing that God alone can give.
And finally, we remember who is perfect: Jesus. We look to him not only for our example, but for the power to follow it. We look to Jesus as “the author and finisher of our faith”, the “pioneer and perfecter” of our faith that he surely is.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
In today’s reading we are given a portrait that is only used this one time in the Bible, but has much symbolism. Today’s reading is the only passage in which the lion symbol for Jesus and the lamb symbol for Jesus are used together. In today’s reading Jesus is referred to as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and the “Lamb looking as if it had been slain”. Of course these two descriptions of Jesus are symbols of Jesus at different times. The lion symbolizes the way Jesus will return to earth and destroy Satin. The lamb symbolizes Jesus offering himself as a perfect sacrifice for all of our sins. The former will bring heaven to earth. The latter assures us of an eternal life with God.
Another part of today’s reading is the scroll with the seven seals. The reading says only Jesus can break the seals and reveal the writing on the scroll. Only Jesus is worthy to do this because He conquered sin, death, hell, and Satin by living a perfect life, dying on the cross, and rising from the dead. Only Jesus can break the seals and set in motion the forces that will bring about the final destruction of evil (if you want to see how this happens, read the rest of Revelation).
Today’s reading reminds us the wonderful act Jesus did for us and the future act he will do. Today’s reading reminds us to be grateful and say THANKS!
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Being in the Lord changes everything. It changes relationships--the hierarchy of the larger society does not force its way into the midst of our community. Being in the Lord may take away what we formerly considered entitlements--though it does not relieve us of obligations. Wherever we are, we are called upon to be useful, to forgive the debts and sins of others, out of reverence for the One who has paid everything on our behalf.
Lord, today let us be reconciled among ourselves. Restore the runaway to your presence. Renew our strength as we come to your hospitality. Refresh our hearts always in Christ. Amen.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Going through Paul’s writings, I have really come to appreciate his love for God’s people and how Paul can put his heart on the written page. Here at the end of the book of I Corinthians he labors over details of church organization. Then he is compelled to issue some admonitions in verse 13-14 and they stand out boldly in the middle of organizational details. The admonitions are a few sentences, but they could be written on an index card and be titled, “briefly, how to be a Christian.”
“Be on your guard.” Against materialism, discouragement…anything which Satan could dish out. “Stand firm in the faith.” “Be men of courage; be strong.” Then finally Paul’s hope for all of us, “Do everything in love.”
That last sentence I breath in and I hope love comes out when I exhale. I thank God for Paul and may we do all in love. Let our hands, voices, and thoughts be gentle for the kingdom of God.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
It was vital to Paul that people put their faith into practice. One of the ways he encouraged people to do this was through generous giving. Here we learn several governing principles for sharing what we have as an essential part of faithfully following Jesus.
1. Giving should be systematic. Paul writes that on the “first day of every week” the Corinthians should set aside a portion of their income as an offering to God.
2. Giving is for everyone. Notice that Paul addresses his instructions to “each of you.” Anyone who had an income also had the privilege of sharing in giving to God’s work.
3. Giving is relative to earnings. Those who make more should give more (“you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income” is how the TNIV puts it. The Message is more succinct: “Be as generous as you can.”)
Clearly, these principles apply to us as well. Duty goes with doctrine. May we be those who give as freely to others as God has given to us.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Verse 58 says, "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."
Paul reinforces the message, with verse 58, that since Christ earned our eternal lives, we should be very grateful and show our gratitude via our deeds. No Christ honoring deed is done in vain. I like this message as I feel that sometimes we hesitate to do a good deed because we do not think we will see any concrete results or receive recognition. However, I submit, that if we truly believe that Christ died and was resurrected, thus assuring us of freedom from death, that belief should affect the way we live our lives. We should not let discouragement over an apparent lack of results, or lack of earthly thanks, keep us from doing what we are called to do. If our work is good and genuine, then our work with glorify Christ and his sacrifice for us; and will have eternal rewards. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Saturday, October 20, 2007
There are a lot of things in this life that don’t make sense to me. Wonderful things happen to people that don’t seem to deserve them and tragic things happen to really good people. It’s difficult to deal with this reality. I prefer when things make sense; when they happen in a logical manner (my definition of course).
In today’s reading, Paul’s argument is logical. If we believe that Jesus died and was raised up, then we can believe that we will also be resurrected with Him. Without this belief, there is no hope or grace; no forgiveness of our sins.
But Paul assures us that Christ has been raised from the dead. In the Bible, God provides us with prophecies and testimonies that bring us this great news and give us something to hold on to. He continually reminds us that, through Christ, we do have hope and our sins have been forgiven. We will, one day, be with Him in Heaven.
Thanks be to God!skr
Friday, October 19, 2007
In today’s reading, Paul is reminding the Corinthians of the basic gospel: That Christ died for our sins and was raised in three days. He did this, through grace, for every person – even the sinners like Saul, the person Paul was before he converted.
Throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul is giving specific instruction to the new church on how to create this new community in Christ, something which had never been done before. These new Christians were likely somewhat outcasts already and not just a little revolutionary in their thinking. It may have even been easy to get them all fired up about leaving behind those old Jewish rules and laws. But, those instructions are not what Paul’s mission was about. It was about spreading the basic gospel which is repeated in these verses.
It’s one thing to hear this reminder. But I find if I say “Christ died for me” a few times, the true meaning comes to me like a lightening bolt. When I allow those words to sink down into my core, that’s when I start to feel Jesus’ presence in my heart. So, I commend to you today (and every day, for that matter) to remind yourself of the basic gospel. Say it several times, slowly. Allow its meaning to reach into your soul. As it has done for me, it will give you peace. Not a bad way to start your day.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
So I’ll keep it simple. “Let all things be done for building up.” The reference is to “good order in worship”; it is to what is done in church services. But given Paul’s earlier in statement in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that “knowledge puffs up but love builds up”, I think we can apply this principle in the larger context of our lives in general.
It is a principle that really hits home with me. I do things for a lot of different reasons, and some of those reasons don’t square very well the idea of building one another up in love. In fact, sometimes the things I say and do have exactly the opposite effect.
When I get hurt, I sometimes seek to hurt others in return. When I get angry, all too often I go on the attack. When I want my way, sometimes it is my own ego that I serve, and not the good of others. It is not a very pretty picture.
I would ask you to consider how you are doing in making sure that all the things you are doing are being done to build others up. But on this one, I think I have to start with me before I ask anyone anything.
God, please help me to serve you as my heart desires. In so doing, may all that I say and do be done to build others up in love. Amen.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Now I can certainly relate to verse 19, "But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue." Again, from my perspective, listening to someone speak a language I cannot understand seems less effective then listening to words I can understand. As examples, when I travel to a country whose native language is not English, I cannot understand people who speak to me in their native language - no matter how loud they speak or how many words they speak. Likewise, in the early Church, when the prayers at worship services were given in Latin as opposed to the native language, I can imagine that this would not be conducive to attracting people to the Church. In the second millennium AD, when the Bible and worship services where translated into local languages this was, in my opinion, an enhancement which brought more people to the Church and to Christ. Having said all of this, I would agree with Paul's comment in verse 19 - understanding the message is critical to it being properly received and accepted.
Paul begins today's reading by saying those that speak in tongues should pray for the gift of interpretation. I fully agree and this, to me, seems obvious. To bring more people to Christ, the calling for all of us, people must understand our message. Delivering this message in a way that is understood by the receiver is critical. This goes beyond speaking a commonly understood language. This means speaking to a young person in language they understand, speaking to a seeker using examples to which they can relate, or speaking to a non-believer with respect and courtesy so we do not put them off from the message we are giving.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Today’s passage read like a sandwich to me. It begins and ends with an exhortation; stuffed in between is a lot of meat. I have to confess that my hunger might have had a little to do with the observation, but here’s what I read:
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, ..., try to excel in those that build up the church.
I thought of several people when I read these words.
I thought of the young dad that is taking time every Sunday evening to hang out and share his life with the youth of our Church; mentoring them and demonstrating to them how to walk in the way of love.
I thought of the middle-age mom that in the midst of juggling family and career is choosing to exercise her gifts of administration and leadership for our church; helping us to navigate the difficult and complicated path of ministry in our community.
I though of the youth that is sharing their gift of music and helping us glorify God through song; allowing us to catch a small glimpse of heavenly praise.
Building up the church sounds like a daunting task because it is a daunting task. That’s why God gifts each of us in specific ways and then gives us opportunities to use and exercise those gifts. When we choose to exercise those gifts and let God work through us we can help build up that piece of the church that we touch.
Now, that’s a sandwich that I can sink my teeth into!
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
I put the flowers in a vase and propped up the red zinnia against the stronger stems of the other flowers. Now, days later, the red zinnia looks beautiful and healthy, nestled in the center of the bouquet. Its stem is held up by straight by the other flowers.
To me today’s reading about the body of Christ, the church, can be summed up in three words, “we are one.” Paul likens the church to a physical body in which each part is important. Each part has its part to play and supports the other parts. We may feel weak, but we are needed. We may be damaged, but we are held up by those who surround us.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Today’s reading raises the topic of spiritual gifts. That this is a very important subject is made clear by Paul’s injunction that we would not be ignorant of them.
Several things become immediately clear:
1. Everyone has at least one gift.
2. Our giftedness comes from God, and is therefore to be used according to the purposes of God.
3. Our gifts, and the behavior they produce (forms of service, activities in which we engage) will vary from person to person.
4. Though our gifts will be varied, they are meant to work together in such a way that our sense of community is deepened
5. The harmonious interworking of these gifts will enable us to accomplish more together than we could on our own (the common good).
The questions that proceed from the above seem equally clear:
1. What are our spiritual gifts?
2. How are we using them?
3. Do we appreciate our differences in giftedness or do we feel resentful, superior, or try to remake others in our image?
4. How are we doing at working with others? In the church, how we do our work is every bit as important as what we do. In today’s language, the idea would be of working in teams united by love, not lone rangers doing their own thing.
5. How is the larger community (including, I think, the community beyond the four walls of the church building) benefitting?
Where the answers to these questions are as clear as the questions themselves, let’s celebrate that fact. Let us be encouraged in the gifts that we offer, the camaraderie that comes in offering them together, and in the good work we see being done.
Where we do not know the answers, may we be diligent in seeking them until we do.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
A section of the Confirmation class I get to teach is about Holy Communion. Today's reading will help me in that task.
The first few verses of the reading are what Father Rob says during Holy Communion. "and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.'" (verses 24 & 25, NIV).
These verses are very important but they are not what I want to concentrate on today. I feel verse 28 is a key message, "A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup." In reality, no one is worthy to take Holy Communion. We are all sinners saved by grace. This is why we should prepare ourselves for Holy Communion through healthy, honest introspection, confession of sin, and resolution of differences with others. By doing this we remove barriers in our relationship with Christ. So many times during Holy Communion I find myself just going through the motions. How about you? We need to prepare ourselves for what we are about to participate in. We need to examine our hearts and get things right with God. We need to remember what Jesus did for our sins, long for his return, and grow spiritually.
Remember, Paul did not say that we had to be worthy to partake in Holy Communion; but we should partake in a worthy manner. So the next time you participate in Holy Communion remember to examine your heart and repent of your sins. When I have prepared properly for Holy Communion I have been amazed by the power of God to help heal me. I am sure His power will help you too.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
- specific personal physical features are off limits (general family features like big lips however are fair game)
- teasing should always produce laughter not hurt feelings
I’m sure that some of the folks in Corinth were really put off by Paul’s comments; but I like to think that others heard the love and concern of a brother and then worked to correct the problem within their community.
That is the other side of the teasing in our family. We have learned to listen with a humorous ear and the knowledge that we are being teased because we are loved. We can choose to laugh at ourselves and embrace the teasing. I guess that is the lesson that I got from today’s reading.
Sometimes, we are going to get a word of correction or be told something that is hard to hear. We have the choice to become defensive and react against it; or we can listen with an open heart and embrace it.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Today’s reading tells Christians that they don’t have that choice. They cannot be lazy when it comes to proclaiming the gospel. In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that you must punish your body and enslave it. He also advises us not to run aimlessly, meaning to be deliberate about the effort and the prize, using self control to win. And to do all this of your own will.
That’s a tall order. But what is at stake is much more than a few extra pounds of belly fat. For me, the hardest thing about a regular physical work out routine is actually starting one. Once you get through the first few weeks of regular exercise, it’s routine and doable. Those folks who jump out of the gate with extremely high expectations (i.e., I’m going to lose 20 pounds this month) tend not to reach their goal and end up getting discouraged.
Perhaps, then, establishing our personal spiritual work out should be approached the same way. Make it regular and start with achievable goals. Increase the output and the expectation to just beyond what you are capable of doing. After a while, you are likely to be surprised by the headway you have made and how far you have come in your journey. Buoyed by your success, you push yourself on to higher heights. I think this is exactly the kind of thing Paul was talking about in this reading.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
I was playing Halo 3 the other day with my youngest daughter. It is a story of war between good guys and bad guys. As with every war, it takes its toll. There is a scene where one of the characters we had fought beside from the very first game dies. And you just get the sense that he has lost so much, he appreciates the mercy granted in his passing.
I think Paul could relate to that. He fought the good fight that came along with keeping the faith, and it took its on him too. But the surprising thing is that it was not the world which is causing him so much grief here. It is the church.
I am fortunate in that I serve a church that does a great job expressing love, support, and appreciation. But even so, ministry still has its painful moments and tough times. Yes, ministry brings with it some of the greatest blessings life has to offer. But it is important to realize that it will bring grief and sorrow and some of life’s greatest challenges as well.
That’s why we don’t let our ministry or service to God rise and fall on the opinions of others. Like Paul, it needs to be rooted in our understanding of God’s call upon us. I think Paul asks the initial questions in verses one and two as much of himself as does of the Corinthians. He is asking himself these questions not to call the answers in doubt, but to remind himself of the answers. Yes, he is an apostle. Yes, he has seen the Lord. Yes, the Corinthians are his work in the Lord. Everything else flows from there.
God has called us as well. He has called us to serve him. He has called us to continue to love his people. And so, no matter what comes down the pike, good or bad, we do.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Verse 8 says, "But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do." Food is neither good nor evil, regardless of whether or not is has been sacrificed to an idol. Paul indicates that Christians have the freedom to eat such meat. However, we should not let our "freedom" cause others to stray. Remember everything is not about "me". Helping others grow in their faith is much more important.
So what is Paul telling us? I think what Paul is telling us is that mature Christians (Christians strong in their faith) can participate in things that would cause other, less mature (less strong in their faith), Christians to fall into sin. Thus, mature Christians are called to act in a way that will not lead less mature Christians to stray. In other words, even if a Christian could do something, he/she should not do it if it would lead others astray. For example, a mature Christian can play cards with his/her friends. But this mature Christian should not invite someone battling a gambling problem to play. A mature Christian should be willing to "sacrifice" their freedom for love of another.
Mature Christians are to act in love. A mature Christian realizes that if Christ willingly gave up his life for us, we should be willing to give up an occasional freedom so as not to harm another.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Saturday, September 29, 2007
That's how and what the call is.
Not that The Call doesn't invite or urge me to change. Not that The Call doesn't ask everything of me. Not that sacrifice isn't central to answering The Call.
If I'm working when The Call comes, I'm not automatically expected to quit my job. If my wardrobe runs to t-shirts and jeans, I'm not obliged to trade them in for polos and khakis (or vice versa). I can remain vegetarian or vegan or a steak-and-potatoes guy. I can keep my ear/nose/tongue/navel/whatever ring, my tatoos, my dreadlocks. I can vote for whoever I was going to vote for in November of this year or next. The Call is about none of those things.
If I'm committed, legally, to another person, that commitment is still binding on me. I have been set Free in a sense that no earthly king or court can change. But I'm still obliged to my significant other. If he or she leaves me because I have answered The Call, so be it. But I should not seek that separation.
Let the change come from within me. Let my heart be changed so that those who truly know me will know that I have changed, my priorities are different, but I am not ashamed of the identity that I had and still have. God put me in this place to be an ambassador for him. I'm on a mission now, deployed as part of a global network. I need to be about that mission, a mission that is not about outward branding.
It's all about the things that are eternal.
Today, let me think on those things, and I will truly be answering The Call.
Friday, September 28, 2007
One thing that strikes me about this passage is that it’s about sharing. (Although, the first thing that I thought was, “Why me?,” since it discusses intimate relations in marriage).
I thought of kindness, and how we are called to show kindness to the people we are married to, or others in our household. We are even called to share our bodies. It’s obvious that Paul is talking about intimate relations in marriage, but we share our bodies in other ways too. We are called to share ourself, even when we are tired, to go the extra mile, to do our chores cheerfully, to take the time and energy to help our families, to take a breath and respond cheerfully or at least calmly when we don’t feel like it, in our own homes.
On my fridge I have posted a quote from an old devotional by F.W.Robertson which begins, “Let the weakest, let the humblest remember, that in his daily course he can, if he will, shed around him almost a heaven.” As I have journeyed with Christ He has made me aware of how I can be kinder to those I live with. It is humbling to see how far I have to go, after having been a Christian for so long, but it’s exciting that I still can learn.
As it happens, this week is my spouse’s birthday. So, I’d like to thank him for the kindnesses he has shown to me; for going with me to the dentist when I was afraid to have teeth pulled, for holding my hand while snorkeling, for teaching our kids to draw, for making dinner.
May we all be sharers in our homes, and shed a heaven around us.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
It’s a big deal because sex is intended by God to be more than just physical coupling, an animal act serving biological drives or physiological necessity. As verse 16 notes, in sex “two shall become one flesh.” In other words, while eating only involves the stomach (vs 13), sex involves one’s whole being. To take sex so casually that it is a mere matter of ends justifying the means is to violate the Christian view of what it means to be a person.
Second, it’s a big deal because of the kind of relationships to which Christians are called. As Christians, we have established a union with Christ which is deep and profound and touches every area of our life. To establish a union with another that is meant to be shallow and superficial in the interest of pursuing only physical pleasure is not consistent with our union with Christ. There is a lack of alignment which promotes death (death of the heart, spirit, soul) rather than life (which in its fullest sense is far more than mere material existence.)
As Christians, then, we are committed to sex only with the context a marriage, a life long union where two people become one not just in body but in heart and mind and soul, and where they don’t just treat one another as a means to an end, but love each other deeply and profoundly for the precious people they are.
It’s a high calling, to be sure. But God is surely worthy of the diligence and effort such faithfulness requires—and so is our spouse.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
In the verses of chapter 5 in today’s reading, I feel Paul makes it clear that we should not disassociate ourselves from unbelievers. As in so doing we could not carry out Christ’s command to tell them about salvation (remember Matthew 28:19-20, “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”) In addition, Paul tells us we should not judge and condemn those outside the faith as God will take care of that. But Paul says we are to distance ourselves from the person who claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sins. “But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)
When I first read it, verse 11 was very troubling to me. I mean Paul telling us not to associate with anyone seems strange to me at first glance. But when I look at it on a deeper level, I think how could someone call themselves a Christian and indulge in these types of sins? The only explanation I can think of is that this person has rationalized their actions. By rationalizing their sin, these persons who call themselves Christians harm others for whom Christ died. In today’s reading Paul calls on other believers to call out the believers who live like non-believers. This certainly is not easy or popular but it is important. If it is done properly God can use it to convict and restore an erring believer.
I am humbled by today's reading.
Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Monday, September 24, 2007
How easy it is for us to feel we have arrived! I do not refer to physical travel. I refer to our sense of self and place in life. Whether we think it explicitly or simply act as if it were true, we often feel we have arrived in life. We believe and act as if we have no more to learn; we need not or cannot change anymore; we are what we have become, and it is good enough! In short, we have reached the pinnacle of our knowledge, abilities, personality, and character. From now on we will just dwell on the plateau of who and what we are!
Many in the church in Corinth must have felt like this. Paul – when he lived and taught there around 52-53 A.D. – had first given them the good news of Jesus. They welcomed Paul and his ministry on their behalf. However, after Paul left, various factions among the Corinthian Christians came to favor other teachers and leaders. Many began to disparage Paul. In their enthusiasms for this or that teacher or leader, they felt they had grown beyond Paul and what he taught. They had arrived – they thought – at a place of spiritual maturity, with attendant honor and blessing. They no longer needed to pay regard to Paul and his concerns about their faith and life.
Paul, disturbed and pained by their attitudes and behaviors, saw arrogance and complacence rife among them. He reminded them of their spiritual debt to him. He had been their “father in the faith.” They were, in a sense, his children in Jesus. Because of this relationship, in love and humility they ought to hear and heed his instruction, correction, and encouragement.
Yet more, they should hear and heed because the true nature of a follower of Jesus excludes all arrogance and complacence about faith and life. Compare Paul’s description of his life. To the world he appeared foolish, weak, and dishonorable. He endured hunger, poverty, maltreatment, homelessness, hard work, curses, slander, and persecution. And compare this vivid image Paul invoked: “God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle….” The image came from the practice of Roman generals leading their vanquished enemies in triumphant procession through Rome, to enslavement or death. What room is there for arrogance or complacence in this picture?
What about you and me? Do we, explicitly or implicitly, feel and act as if we have arrived spiritually? Does arrogance or complacence characterize our faith and life? Do we think or act as if we have no more to learn, no more to change, no more to become? May we ponder these questions, may we ponder our faith and life, with prayerful humility and passionate desire to grow into the fullness of Christ, in this life and the next!
Friday, September 21, 2007
First is the statement “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” I think that many of us who are parents need reassurance that we are doing a good job. But, there is no standard, no job description. So, instead we compare notes with other parents and sometimes we silently (or perhaps sometimes not so silently) pat ourselves on the back for doing what we believe is a better job than the parent with whom the comparison is made. This is particularly true with a new mother talking with mothers of older children. It strikes me how, under the excuse of sharing wisdom, mothers can sound so pompous to new mothers.
Second, is the behavior of Paul himself in the words throughout 1 Corinthians. Even though he was likely frustrated and even angry with the new Christians in Corinth, he remains calm and restrained yet firm. As a parent, there have been so many times I have regretted not acting this way to my children and thinking that I cannot take back my anger and frustration. Those moments are lost forever.
Frankly, I’m not sure that any parent has the right to think of themselves as truly wise. Certainly, based upon these instructions from Paul, whether a parent or not, we should not get wrapped up in the wisdom of this world as it is “foolishness in God’s sight.” Parents in particular need to model to their children the type of person Paul is asking the Corinthians to be – humble servants of God.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
I don’t think so, but I hope that opening paragraph got your attention like this passage of Scripture got mine. Because it does seem to me that although spiritual immaturity may not adequately or entirely explain our divisions, this passage teaches it does factor in there somewhere.
Let’s face it. If we were talking about a divorce, rarely if ever would we say the split was entirely the fault of one party or the other. We realize both parties have played a part in the demise of the marriage—not always equally, to be sure, but each has played a role in it none-the-less.
Perhaps it is worth considering if this is analogous to divisions in the church, and whether this might be at least some of what Paul is getting at in this passage. It might also recall the words of Jesus that his followers should take care of the massive plank in their own eye before they try and attend to the speck in somebody else’s.
I am not comfortable with the implications of these words for my own life, and I’m not sure that anyone else who reads will be comfortable with them either. They cut very close to the bone.
Please please please know that I in no way mean this to be a not- so- subtle attack on any one or any certain position. Perhaps this word is strictly for me, speaking only to my own immaturities and the divisive quarrels they continue to cause. Or maybe I am just plain wrong in my understanding of what Paul is saying here; it won’t be the first time I’ve been wrong, or the last.
But maybe, just maybe, in the divisions in which we are all embroiled, we should first look to ourselves, to our own immaturity, rather than needing to take the fight somewhere else.