Friday, February 29, 2008

I Corinthians 9: 16-27

Discipline is a word we often use in association with athletic training. We think of athletes spending hours hitting innumerable tennis balls or baseballs, swimming laps, or (often for we older persons), spending money to torture ourselves as such things as the Stairmaster. For many years I have thought of I Cor. 9:24-27 in this regard. Paul talks about athletes training for games by showing such discipline.

When I reread this entire passage this week, the connection of verses 24-27, about discipline, to the preceding verses struck me. What is Paul advocating we be disciplined about? Verses 16-23 are about how Paul accommodates himself to others in order to share the gospel. For the sake of the gospel Paul says he “becomes all things to all men.” (verse 22). So Paul, as much as he is able, disciplines himself to, for example, become weak to the weak (verse 22). To have his own way, he doesn’t insist on his own way, for what Paul wants above all is to advance the Gospel.

I pray that I would advance the Gospel by coming alongside, trying to understand others, and be a peacemaker.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

1 Corinthians 9:1-15

Passages like this really endear me both to the Bible and to the Apostle Paul. There is no sugar coating this one or making it look better than it really is. Paul is hurt, angry, and defensive. In other words, a real flesh and blood person like you and like me.

I especially love that last line—“Indeed, I would rather die than that—no one will deprive me of my ground for boasting!” Notice the personal pronoun—“my… boasting”. Paul has come a long way in his walk with Jesus Christ, but he’s still got further to go. At his best, Paul considers all earthly reasons for boasting “rubbish” compared with the great joy of knowing Jesus Christ (see Philippians 3:1-14). But like the rest of us, Paul is not always at his best.

There’s a tragedy here, played out over and over again in the church today as it was back then. Christians don’t always bring out the best in each other. We don’t always appreciate one another or encourage one another or affirm the things we are doing right in our obsession with what “others” are doing wrong. And that is always a sad, sad thing.

But there it is, right on the pages of Holy Scripture, set stark and unadorned before us.

The good news is that imperfect though Paul may be, God is still using him. The point of his words—that he has made sacrifices for the cause of the Gospel and so should we—rings just as true today as they did then.

Yes, on one hand this passage saddens me. But on the other hand I’m encouraged by it as well. There may still be hope for me yet.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

When I first saw today's reading, I thought to myself, what could possibly be the message from a passage about eating or not eating food sacrificed to idols. Come on, this may have had relevance two thousand years ago, but it certainly does not have relevance today. I mean when was the last time you had to decide to eat or not eat food that had been sacrificed to an idol? Exactly my point. However, as a read today's passage a several times, I began to realize that it did have a relevant message for us in the twenty first century. Let's have a look.

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,
Richard Leach

Friday, February 22, 2008

1 Corinthians 7:1-9

In today’s world, things can be so confusing. We as Christians look to the Bible for definitive help on social and sexual issues. Is it really okay to divorce? Is being gay a sin? I’m not trying to answer those questions, but I merely point them out as examples of questions about which we look for guidance from the Bible.

It is fascinating to me that the early Christians in Corinth were dealing with the same issues then. At that point they did not have the Bible as we know it to guide them. They had the Torah. They had the customs of the day. And they had the letters from Paul, such as today’s reading.

This reading is particularly interesting to me as it is not often that, in an epistle, it appears to be a response to a previous writing. Today’s reading starts out “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’” Someone was apparently asking Paul for guidance in the sexual nuances of their time vis-à-vis the new Christianity.

Paul’s response is straight forward – if you are married, exercise self control and be faithful. If you are not married, practice self-control. It’s pretty clear that his point is to practice self-control no matter what your circumstance. Basic stuff, but difficult nonetheless.

Are things so different today? I don’t think so. Paul’s words are so basic that they apply timelessly. This is certainly something we have tried to instill in our two boys as they move into early adulthood. What a difficult time to practice self-control! We are no longer able to control their lives as we could when they were younger. However, we can continue to provide a model for them to follow. And we can provide them with a safe place to come for questions and advice, even if they don’t always ask when we think they should.

Self control is something we must always practice. We must always keep our guard up against evil and the havoc it would raise in our lives. That is the timeless lesson of Paul’s words.

Vicki Nelson

Thursday, February 21, 2008

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

In our day we say things like, “God helps those who help themselves,” or “Just do it.” As you probably know, in verses 12 and 13 Paul is quoting popular sayings of his time, identifiable by—you guessed it—the quotation marks around them. As you might expect, Paul doesn’t always buy into the popular wisdom of his day, and he invites his readers to consider the folly of the statements he quotes in order to make his larger point in verse 18:

Flee from sexual immorality (TNIV)

Run from sexual sin! (NLT)

Have nothing to do with sex sins! (NLV)

It’s interesting to me that Paul addresses this issue by first acknowledging the danger and destructiveness of letting anything “master” us. Paul clearly understands the addictive nature of sexual sin.

Sexual sin in our day applies to more than just sexual intercourse outside of a lifelong monogamous marriage. It includes such things as viewing pornography and fantasizing (both of which hardwires our brain to view people like meat and predisposes us towards inappropriate action).

A lot of people struggle with these things, and most do secretly. If that is you, I’d strongly encourage you to confide in someone you trust. Ask them to pray with you and hold you accountable.

It is hard to stay pure in an often impure world that is so obsessed with sex. But just like we value purity in our food, water, and even or air because these all promote health and well being, we should value purity of heart, mind and soul as well.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

1 Corinthians 5:9-6:8

Today’s reading has two parts. The second part (the verses in chapter 6) has to do with lawsuits and Paul’s guidance that believers should not sue each other. As important as this part of today’s reading is, and perhaps as relevant to today in the USA, I would like to concentrate on the first part of the reading. The first part of the reading has to do with whom Christians should associate.

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,
Richard Leach

Saturday, February 16, 2008

1 Corinthians 4:1-7

Servants of Christ. Stewards of the Mysteries of God. That's what Paul and his co-worker Apollos claimed to be. By God's grace, that will be what we today become. Something beyond worth was entrusted to the apostles. Something beyond comprehension was working in them. Shall we be found ultimately fit for the position?

Paul was being subjected to severe scrutiny, and more than that, by the Corinthians. He knew however, as we too ought to know, that only God ultimately judges. And by what standard? "Nothing beyond what is written." Paul doesn't say where written, but it is clear what he can only mean--written in the Scriptures. Only the Scriptures define what the true measure of a person is. To claim worth beyond what the Scriptures say is truly worthy is to inflate ("puff up") one's merits. But the measure is being applied to a lowly servant; to one who is trusted with taking care while the master is away.

Lord, guard us from making judgments of others. Keep us from accounting credit to ourselves for what we have done--especially if that "accomplishment" is reckoned by human terms alone. Make us mindful of the many ways in which we are entrusted to care for what you have given us. Bring us to a fuller comprehension of the mysteries of the life and love with which you have blessed us, and continue to bless us every day. Amen.

Friday, February 15, 2008

I Cor.3: 16-23 Humble

One of my favorite childhood memories involves metal folding chairs. Sometimes they were arranged in rows, and sometimes in a circle. The chairs were at church. We attended a small church (we knew every single person at Sunday service). The chairs in rows, of course, were in the sanctuary, which was the living room of a house which we used for services. The Wednesday evening program for adults was a prayer meeting so the chairs were arranged in a circle. The program consisted of people on their knees in front of the metal chairs, praying together. I have a vivid memory of seeing the men of the church praying.

This all seems so humble to me now; the small church, the family men on their knees, the plain chairs. In the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 Jesus says, Blessed are the poor in spirit and the meek. But I never pray to be meek, poor in spirit. I don’t pray to be humble. Too often I want what the world wants; status, to stand out. In contrast, Paul says, in this chapter, “don’t think you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times. Be God’s fool-that’s the path to true wisdom.” (v. 18). I think the key here is to be God’s, to belong to God and not care what that looks like to other people.

Humility is something I will have to think about. It involves desiring to serve other people, to reach out to all kinds of people, I know that. My eye is often caught by the shiny things, whether they are material goods or people I’d put on a pedestal. But here Paul is saying , God is not fooled by shiny. I will try to see the world through God’s eyes. Each Sunday in church, we start the week on our knees. That’s a good beginning.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15

Sometimes I look at the church today and wonder how we ever got to be where we are. For instance, Jesus died without a penny to his name. How did the church, and the people in them, ever come to care so much for material things and money in particular (with buildings and property not a far behind)?

Jesus made a point of reaching out to those who were shunned by society and culture around them. How did the church, and the people in them, ever come to be a collection of “the right kind of people” with hearts so far from the people they seek to exclude?

Jesus clearly had no use or desire for earthly power, telling Pilate in no uncertain terms “his kingdom was not of this world.” How did the church, and the people in them, ever come to be so concerned with obtaining, keeping, and yielding power?

Jesus so clearly prayed that his church would be one, and taught that in fact this unworldly love for each other would be how people would know that God really did sent Jesus. How did the church ever come to be so splintered and divided, and how does it continue to divide today and think it is being faithful to Jesus?

This, I think, is the question Paul is asking. We live in a day when so many people have come to see choice as their right and privilege, another form our society’s larger sense of entitlement. Perhaps it music—there are so many choices in music now. Classic hymns, new hymns, older praise music, newer praise music, folk music, organ music, a full band, and the list just goes on and on. Many people come to expect the music that is just right for them. Perhaps it is styles of worship; wearing a suit and tie to church, wearing shorts and a t-shirt to church, using a formal liturgy, using informal liturgy, again, people expect the service style to be a perfect fit. Perhaps it is church size, or location, programs offered.

Perhaps it is theologies. There are so many different theologies out there right now; instead of realizing none of us are ever going to agree on everything, people look for the theology that best fits their individual outlook. If we expected our spouse to agree with us on everything, very few of us would stay married. I think theology is probably the number one reason churches split.

When we get to heaven, we're going to find we are worshipping with many of the same people we would not worship with on earth. There is, and only ever will be, one Church with one foundation. That foundation is Jesus Christ the Lord. That we who claim to be his followers have done such a poor job of living that basic truth must surely break the heart of God, causing him inestimable grief and sorrow.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

1 Corinthians 2:1-13

What a wonderful message / vision in today's reading. Paul's description of heaven is inspiring. It is very helpful to me to remember this vision as I carry on with this life. Of course I am referring to verse 9 where Paul states, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"

I started out by saying what a wonderful and lovely vision Paul lays out for us about heaven. But, of course, it is unimaginable. The glory of heaven cannot be envisioned by the human brain. It is beyond our ability to comprehend. It will have a beauty and peace that is beyond our understanding. Who wouldn't want to go to a place like that?

This knowledge about heaven that God has shared with us is the carrot at the end of the stick. It is meant to inspire us. This knowledge should help us press on in this life, to endure hardship and to resist temptation.

As I have told many of you before, if any of us truly belief that heaven is such a place, what wouldn't any of us do, what price wouldn't any of us pay, to obtain all eternity in such a place? Fortunately all we have to do is accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. If we honestly and completely do this, not only will we be saved, but our life will be changed forever.

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Friday, February 08, 2008

Philippians 4:1-9

Ever since I was a little girl, growing up in the Episcopal Church, I marveled at the concept of the peace of God. I first learned it as part of the blessing, at the end of Communion, in Rite I of the Prayer Book. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep you hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son, Jesus Christ…” These words were virtually taken from today’s reading.

I cannot get my very-human mind around the notion of God’s peace – and of course that is because it is unfathomable as the passage says. But imagine if you were in the midst of that peace. This is where I have always wanted to be – smack dab in the middle of God’s loving peace. What would it feel like? Would it be so overwhelming that I would be unable to appreciate it? Would it look like I was in the middle of the clouds, with angels singing all around? Can you imagine having no worries of any kind, no anxiety, even about what clothes you will wear, or what the weather will be like, or what you’ll make for dinner that night, or whether or not you will lose everything in the stock market that day?

The notion of God’s peace is all the more potent to me during the season of Lent. I always get pretty emotional during Lent, particularly the first week. I become overwhelmed by my humanity and I marvel at the very thought that God, the maker of the universe, could actually love me. I become acutely aware of my failures and I come up with a whole list of reasons why God would never love me.

But, not only does he love me, he offers me his peace. Complete and total peace. There is no price tag. It’s there, waiting for me. It reminds me of Da Vinci’s painting in the Sistine Chapel, of God reaching for man, offering peace beyond understanding, and the man, lounging on a cloud, looking away from God, barely trying to grasp God’s outstretched hand, as if it would take far too much time and energy. Why doesn’t the man just reach a little further to get the very thing that his soul is longing for? Indeed, why don’t we?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Philippians 3:12-21

Today’s reading from Philippians begins with Paul using athletics as a metaphor for the Christian life. And if there is one thing that is true about athletes that excel, it’s that they are crystal clear about their goals, what they need to do to reach them, and when they expect to achieve them.

I know that is true, for example, from my experience with lifting weights. Not a workout goes by that I don’t have specific goals that I am pushing hard to accomplish. The same is true for runners, who are very clear about just how far they want to run and the amount of time they hope it will take them to do so. It is only in the context of setting and achieving goals that athletes are able to perform at their very best.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Paul speaks repeatedly of pressing on, of straining ahead, to achieve the goal to win the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. He speaks of having laser like focus on what it is we are pursuing.

Do we have that kind of clarity about what lies before us? Are we zeroed in on what we are pursuing as the focal point of our time and energy? Very specifically, in concrete terms, in a specified period of time, what will you do to run your race well? What will I?

If we can’t answer that question, then we are not living by faith. We are simply reacting to whatever life brings our way, heading towards wherever it is that life will --or will not--take us.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Hebrews 12:1-14

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. On this day we should all prepare ourselves for Lent.

Now, on to today's reading.

Today's reading has some famous verses that I would bet you all have heard before. "Endure hardship as discipline... For what son is not disciplined by his father? (verse 7)
"God disciplines us for our good,..." (verse 10)

What do these verses mean? God disciplines us? Do we worship a mean God? These verses have prompted these type of questions for a long time. People who wish to discredit Christianity and the Bible point to these verses indicating that God does not love us. I respectfully disagree with those who point to these verses with that motive. Let me explain why.

When I was growing up I played many sports, basketball, baseball, football. I remember a particular basketball coach who would scream at some of us and not other. I remember a football coach who would grab my face mask and shake my head while screaming at me. Why did these coaches do these things? At the time I thought it was because they hated me, or were evil in some way. One thing I noticed is that these coaches behaved this way to some of the players but not to all of them. Did these coaches just hate us and liked the others? It sure seemed that way.

One day I had the opportunity to discuss something with one of these coaches in his office. As our discussion was drawing to a close I summoned the nerve to ask him why he did what he did. He responded that he only spends his energy on the players that had potential. The players that could be good. He did not want to expend energy, time, and effort on those that would not improve. On players that did not care.

This coach's explanation, I feel, is fully in line with today's reading. Like these coaches, God only disciplines the ones in which he sees potential. The ones he wants to make better. The ones in his circle.

The next time you feel God is grabbing your facemask and shaking your head while screaming at you, remember "God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness." (verse 10)

Wishing you the best in your walk with Christ,
Richard Leach

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Hebrews 10:26-39

Four weeks ago I fell off a ladder and suffered a compression fracture of the 2nd lumbar vertebra. Two weeks ago I had acute bronchitis and was coughing hard enough to make my lower back hurt even more. Today I still have some residual back pain and chest congestion. But oh how much worse it might have been! I am basically back to my normal routines, including the morning run.

Thank God for sparing me worse injury. Thank God for healing my broken body. But Thank God also for getting my attention and reminding me of how very dependent I am on His daily grace.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Hebrews 10:11-25

We are often reminded of how our world changes. I am reading a book about Manhattan, written by a man who has wandered it over 70 years. It’s hard to imagine New York City as a land of dense forests surrounding small Dutch settlements, isolated in the wilderness. I think of the fields surrounding my hometown neighborhood where my brother and I roamed with our little dog. The fields are gone now, like the dairy cows in my husband’s hometown.

The author of Hebrews starts this passage pointing out that in the past priests would have to make sacrifices over and over. The work that the sacrifices did wasn’t permanent and the effect of forgiveness would vanish like fields and forests of old. But, one very important thing is permanent, and that is the work that Jesus did for us, in the ultimate sacrifice of His life. He hit a home run the first time and the record still stands. I like the image in verse 12 of Jesus sitting down when His work was done, just like we do. But He didn’t have to get up again.

We are engulfed by change but this is our lifeline.

Since we have this lifeline, the passage goes on, we can approach God, clean in His eyes. We have this assurance, and God, who promised this to us, is faithful. Once again, we are reminded of God’s work for us.