I Corinthians 11-16

I Corinthians 11-16

I’m not sure where this week went–I knew yesterday was Thursday, because I had prep work to do for our Thursday-before-Resurrection-Day dinner…but that it should have been a blogging day totally escaped me.

It’s been that kind of week. 😉

Anyway! As we’re here in the midst of Holy Week, that means I’m wrapping up the 40 Days of Jesus reading challenge and will be back to normal blogging next week. This week’s readings took us through how we’re to behave in church, communion, spiritual gifts, the famous Love Chapter, speaking in tongues, and the resurrection. All such important things!
This year I’ve been reading from The Message and then pulling out my trusty NKJV just to compare. I used to be wary of The Message–I like literal translations–until I read the intro and realized that the translator’s goal was not to create a new, exclusive version, but for it to be a companion to other, literal translations–that he merely wanted his version to breathe new life into passages that may have grown stale over the years, to show something in a new way.
In passages as familiar as these, that was a real blessing to me, and I found myself quoting bits and pieces of it to the Facebook group on several days. But I was especially grateful for the fresh perspective in chapter 13, which I have read so many times in so many places that sometimes my eyes glaze over when I see it on yet another wedding program, and I mutter something along the lines of, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” (When I catch myself doing this with any passage, I try really hard to find something new in it!)

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

First off, it’s worth noting what word is used for love here. It’s not eros–the romantic, sensual love. It’s not philos–deep friendship that is used many times in the new testament. It’s not ludos–the playful or even flirtatious affection between children or in a new relationship. It’s not even pragma–the longstanding and lasting love associated with established married couples, which involves sacrifice and reason (same root as pragmatic). It’s certainly not philautia–self-love. (There’s a really good article on the types of love here.)
This love is, of course, agape–a radical kind of love to talk about at the time. And still radical today, despite our familiarity with the word. This is selfless, unconditional love. The kind of love God has for us, yes, but the kind we’re also called to have for everyone else.
Now I’m pausing to ask myself–do I have a “me first” attitude? Do I
care for myself more than others? Am I pushy? Do I trust God always? 
If my answers aren’t right, then I’m bankrupt.
And what happens when we relate it back to the spiritual gifts, which is where the conversation comes from? We can seek all those gifts–both the flashy and the quiet. We can speak in the tongues of men and angels. We can prophesy. We can heal. We can do miracles. But those are all subject to this one base command: love. Without reserve. Without judgment. Without you and what you get from it being factored in. 
But we live in a society of me. Right? I read a really intriguing article recently about how society–and especially faith and the church–has changed as mirrors grew better. When Paul wrote this letter, mirrors were made of polished bronze and could give only a hazy reflection–the result being that people didn’t really know what they looked like. What they knew was what everyone else looked like, and so their focus tended to remain on others–what they could see clearly–and on community. Self-identity in the early church was built around community-identity, which is why being excommunicated was the worst thing imaginable. But as mirrors became clearer, as people saw themselves clearly for the first time in history, there was a directly parallel change to where their emphasis turned–on themselves. 
Imagine what Paul would say now, when we not only look in a mirror and see ourselves clearly, we have phones where we can spend half our day taking selfies. Our emphasis has turned fully on ourselves, and with it, agape love has suffered a severe decline in the society as a whole. Community doesn’t matter, in that if we get kicked out of one church, we can just go find another. The Church doesn’t have one body (in Protestantism anyway) it has thousands. And how do we pick the one we belong to? The one that suits us. Where we feel we belong.
It always goes back to us. Me.
But that’s all wrong. I also love how The Message translates verse 13, the last verse of this chapter. It says:

We have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

Why? Because that’s who God is. And it’s who He calls us to be–all of us, whether we’re a pastor or a teacher or an evangelist; whether we have wise counsel or can heal or distinguish between spirits. No matter our gift, no matter our function in the church body, this is–or should be–the undergirding.
We should be putting others before ourselves, and loving them with an all-out, selfless, indefatigable love. Because in that love, we find union with each other, and with God. And through that, we build a Church. We claim a resurrection body. And our faith has found completion.
I hope everyone has a blessed Resurrection Day, and that God whispers love into your hearts as you reflect on the ultimate expression of it.
I Corinthians 6-10

I Corinthians 6-10

There were some hard-hitting chapters this week! And, can I just say, some that are rather, er, difficult to read to your kids during homeschool? There were a few sections I just skimmed right over with them, I admit it. Because while I’m all for training a child up right from the get-go, I’m also not for introducing subjects to my little ones when they really don’t need to know about them quite yet. Another couple years…

Anyway. Chapter 7 in particular is one of those that is difficult to tackle in this day and age, isn’t it? Granted, most of it Paul particularly says is his wisdom, not a direct command from God. Except this part:

10 Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife. (NKJV)

This is hard to even talk about in the church today, where the divorce rate is just as high as it is in the world. Why? That, I think, should be our first question. What has gone wrong in the modern understanding of what marriage is, that it’s so easily broken by believers?

Not easily for all, I know. I’m not saying that. But is it the case most of the time that one of the spouses isn’t true in their faith? Maybe. But where does that leave the other, who has been left? Well, according to this scripture it’s pretty clear.

But in practice? Does it remain so clear? I know very, very few people who have gone through a divorce and opted to remain single thereafter, focusing solely on God. I’ve heard, from people I love and trust, that God has told them it’s okay to remarry–that he doesn’t want us to be alone.

What do you think of that? Is this a case of a best and better way? A case where God would love it if He were enough for us, but that He’s willing to grant us human companionship if we require it to stay above sin? Where do you come down on the whole issue? And more to the point, how do you translate ideology into practice? I know what I would do–but how should I treat those who believe differently? Do we shake our heads at people who choose to remain unmarried, telling them they’re not moving on? If we believe remarriage is wrong, do we use it as a means of bludgeoning and scorning those who disagree with us?

I think what it ultimately comes down to is this: if we seek God first, do all we do for Him and not ourselves, His Spirit will make the way clear. But not if we’re trying to twist God and Christ into our own image.

The verse that jumped out at me quite strongly in chapter 10 is verse 9. The Message version states it this way:

We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him; they tried it, and God launched an epidemic of poisonous snakes.

NKJV translates it as “never tempt Christ,” which is no doubt a more literal word-for-word translation, but I think The Message sheds light on what that might mean. Paul is likening it to the Israelites in the wilderness, who were trying to force God to act as they wanted Him to do. I love how he uses this example, since it’s the very one Christ used to explain his purpose–that he’s the salvation that comes in the aftermath of that epidemic of poison.

It’s still true today. We live in a world that’s writhing with poisoning snakes–sin. Too many people today in the church are twisting their ideas of God around until He looks like they want Him to–a nice, loving, forgiving god who doesn’t hold them to too high a standard.

But God’s pretty clear on what happens when we do that. We’ve turned Him into an idol when we do–we’ve made a golden calf. When the truth is that He demands far more of us. He calls us to difficult life. A high standard. It is, and is supposed to be, hard. Because the best things in life are worth the effort.

So what standard are we living by?

I Corinthians 1-5

I Corinthians 1-5

This week’s readings contain what is one of my favorite illustrations from the epistles, in chapter 3. Paul is talking about the foundation of our faith–and what we build upon it. I’m fascinated by the fact that even though this was the early early church and we’re nearly 2,000 years later, we all deal with the same problems.
One of them is division. And once you have division, you have false claims and foolish work and people who no doubt think they’re getting along just fine, but they’re really building their faith-house with rubble rather than the materials that last. But when the fires come–trials, God’s judgment, whatever that might be–anything inferior’s going to be found out. Burned up. We‘ll be saved, but as if through the fire. And all that labor–gone.
What does this look like in life? I think in part it’s when we deliberately cheap out in our faith-walk. Who hasn’t been a spot at one point or another where we know what we should do, but we’re just too busy or tired or [fill in the blank]? And so we do less. We only give a little. We don’t get involved in a project or cause even though we feel that tug on our spirits. Or we do spearhead a project or cause, even though God didn’t tell us to and had something else He wanted us doing instead.
I think it’s also when we cling to a sin. How can that help but put the whole building in danger? The foundation is still steady, but if we use a warped girder, it puts in danger everything around it. This goes along, I think, with chapter 5 as well, where Paul is calling out sexual sin in the church.
How many Christians today ought to be saying ouch to that one? Not with the particular example he gives, but with the heart of the matter: that there’s sexual impurity in the church, being practiced by the believers who claim to be of Him, and no one cares.
How many ought to be saying it . . . and how many really are?
We are a society these days that not only tolerates sex out of marriage, we embrace it. We rejoice in it. We expect it–and that all too often is true within the church, not just in the world. I was recently talking to a friend about this, and about how it’s caused a cynicism in the millennial generation–too many of us aren’t willing to buy the concept of “true love” anymore. Our fairy tales have begun to be more funny and sarcastic and less sweet and romantic. We call it “realistic,” but it’s largely a reflection of what a generation’s view of sex has done to their concept of marriage and love. It’s cheapened it. It’s substituted sub-standard materials for what ought to be strong ones. And we’re left with a shaky faith that doesn’t quite know what to do. On the one hand, it does still have that foundation of Christ, and some solid boards have been used in other places. But then there’s that rotten part. The millennial Christian might have a hard time reconciling what they know deep in their spirit–what His Spirit has breathed into them–with the actions they see all around them, and so which they mirror.
The people will be saved. But barely.
Is that what we want to see happen to our brothers and sisters? Of course not. But do we call them out? That’s Paul’s admonition in chapter 5. Don’t just accept it! Save them from the judgment–that’s our job. Call them out, hold them accountable, and don’t let it spread within the church. That’s what love does. It doesn’t turn a blind eye–love heals.
What parts of I Corinthians 1-5 jump out at you?
John 16-21

John 16-21

This week’s readings in the 40 Days of Jesus devotional were certainly action-packed! As I read these words that I’ve read so many times before, a few things struck me.

First, that though I’ve heard many a Christian say something to the effect of, “Don’t you wish you’d been there? That you’d gotten to sit at His feet and hear Him speak?” I found it so interesting that Jesus indicates we’re the lucky ones–because we have the Spirit to guide us through our faith.

Ever pause to think about that? That we’re blessed because we haven’t seen Him face to face, yet we believe. And despite never seeing Him with our eyes, we have from the start the indwelling of the Spirit to guide us, to make His teachings clear and understandable–how many times in the Gospels do the disciples not understand a lesson that’s perfectly plain to us, right? That’s why. Which is pretty cool when you think about it.

Then Jesus goes on to pray for us. Us. The believers who come after. The night before His death, when He knows very well what’s coming in the next few hours, the Son of God takes the time to pray for you and me.

But not just some abstract prayer. What He prays for is UNITY in the church.

Ouch, right?

Because how unified are we today? We bicker and we snap at each other and we disagree on everything under the sun. And while differences in style and interpretation are in a way unavoidable–even those early apostles had them!–when it interferes with the message of Jesus going out into the world…when it hinders our witness to that world…then we’re doing it wrong.

There are countless other things to talk about in these rich chapters. If you’ve been reading along–or just love the book of John and want to share your favorite insight or thought before the study moves into I Corinthians next week, do share!

John 5-9

John 5-9

In this week’s readings, I’ve been doing a lot of pondering about the things Jesus said. Not so much the philosophical parts, but the nitty gritty, let’s call it.

The fact that in chapter 6 he spent a lot of time demanding cannibalism, though the Christian church has interpreted it metaphorically. Why did he insist to this crowd that, yes, they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood, if he really meant bread and wine?

The fact that, in chapter 7, he told his brothers he wouldn’t go to the feast, that it wasn’t his time, but then he went. I find it hard to believe he changed his mind . . . but is the alternative that he lied to his brothers and told them he wasn’t going when he knew all along he would?

And several times (chapter 8 is one example) when he heals or forgives he tells the recipient to “go and sin no more.” But isn’t that impossible?

If I’m operating on the assumption first and foremost that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life–and therefore not deliberately deceiving people–then that leaves me with one thing to do with these passages: assume I’m missing something, LOL. That my “easy” understanding is, apparently, wrong.

The eat his flesh and drink his blood part, for example. Saying he’s talking here about his later institution of communion is easy. But over and again in chapter 6, he quite deliberately makes this hard. So hard that most of the people following him leave, because it’s too difficult for them to accept.

And let’s face it. If some teacher we’d been following started insisting that we had to literally eat him . . . hmm. Would you stick around, or would you declare him a wacko? I can kinda see where the crowds were coming from when they shook their heads and wandered off.

But even if we do assume a metaphorical meaning–it’s honestly even harder then, isn’t it? Because that would (and I believe does) mean that we’re to consume him and his teachings. He’s to be our life, our sustenance, our craving. Everything that we take into ourselves should be him. Not just when we take communion (and let’s not get into transubstantiation right now), but always. He stresses the eternal quality of this Bread and Blood.

This, too, makes people wander away. Because while most of us like a little bit of faith, that all-consuming, every-moment, nothing-but-Him kind, where we spend all day every day at his feet, learning . . . that’s difficult.

Kind of like being perfect and sinning no more. But if we’re again operating on the assumption that Jesus means what he says, how can we dismiss this command as impossible?

think this ties in with Paul’s teachings in the epistles, that once we
have put our faith in Him, and as long as we’re walking in it, the law
and sin no longer have dominion over us. We can and should and are
called to live in perfection.

A friend of mine once
pointed out that Jesus’s forgiveness exists outside of the constraints
of time. If that one action of his could forgive every person who came
after him, then it also applies to every sin in that person’s life, even
the ones that come after the initial acceptance of his forgiveness. So
if I’m walking in my faith, though I may stumble, it’s already forgiven.
Now, it becomes different when people CHOOSE to disobey him. There’s
plenty of talk in the epistles about how bad that is for the person too. But if our hearts remain his, our sins are all forgiven.

I’ve long felt it’s dangerous to give ourselves an excuse right out of the gate–to claim that we can’t cease to sin. Isn’t that just the easy way? I choose to believe here that Jesus means what he says. That he’s telling us not to sin in the same breath that he declares us healed and forgiven. And Jesus doesn’t tell us to do what he doesn’t want us to do.

It’s difficult. But you know . . . I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be.

Thoughtful About . . . John 1-4

Thoughtful About . . . John 1-4

As I’ve begun this year’s 40 Days of Jesus reading for Lent, it’s been fun to begin with some of the most famous passages in the New Testament. The Gospel of John begins with that well known “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” and moved right forward to the first verse many of us memorized: “For God so loved the word that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Sometimes it’s a challenge to see new things in a book you’ve read so many times. But especially surrounding that well-known verse in chapter 3, I love sitting back and reminding myself of what it really means in context.

A few years ago we read John in church and went back and read the account of Moses and the Israelites that chapter 3 is referring to. The story is from when God had sent poisonous snakes into the camp as punishment, and the people were dying. They cried out to Moses for deliverance, and he put a bronze snake on a staff. “God will save you,” he told the people, “if you just look upon this staff and believe it.”

From Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel, we see a scene with the brazen serpent or Nehushtan

As many as looked, were saved.

But not all looked. Many would rather die in their bitterness and anger toward God, or calling out to false idols, than to trust Him. To humble themselves before Him.

This is what Jesus said He was. Salvation to all who look and believe. So simple–so difficult for stubborn humanity to accept.

But we’re already bitten by that snake of sin. We’re already dying. It isn’t that He’s condemning us if we don’t accept Him–it’s that nature will simply take it’s course. The ball’s in our court. He already came and died and rose again for us. All we need to do is believe . . . but if we don’t, then that poison of sin will overtake us. We’ll die.

This is the simplicity and the complexity of the salvation story. Striking, every time we read it.

If you’ve been reading along, has anything from the first four chapters of John jumped out at you?