May 23 – When Bad Things Happen

Acts 28:1-16; 1 Samuel 4; 1 Samuel 5; Psalm 52
Dr. Albert Mehrabian did a research study that showed that when feelings were communicated, only 7% of the communication was through words, 38% through tone of voice, and 55% through body language. Then, people jumped to the wrong conclusion that this applied not just to feelings, but to all of communication. As a result, you may hear people say that 55% of communication is body language. People make a living reading body language in meetings where facts are being conveyed and everyone takes what these body language readers say as absolute truth. By jumping to conclusions, people extended the study from one part of communication to all of communication and they often make mistakes reading the situation.

When you begin a conversation with a foregone conclusion, it’s easy to make mistakes in understanding what the other person is trying to say. There’s an old joke about wives holding up two dresses and asking the husband which one he likes better. When the husband replies that he likes the one on the left, the wife gets upset because he thinks she looks bad in the one on the right. The people on the island of Malta had a belief that when bad things happened, God was (or in their case, the gods were) punishing the person. When a snake came out of a pile of wood that Paul had gathered and bit him, they were sure he was bad news. “When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.'” (Acts 28:4)

It’s an easy conclusion to draw. Something bad happens and it must be that God is punishing that person. The people of Malta jumped to that conclusion when they saw the snake bite Paul. Then, things changed. Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. When the people of Malta saw that nothing bad happened to him, they decided that he must be one of the gods. When Paul started sharing the healing power of Jesus with them, they honored them. It’s interesting that when their first conclusion jump was shown to be wrong, they immediately jumped to the opposite conclusion – which was also wrong. Paul didn’t let either wrong conclusion bother him; he just preached Christ and healed the people on the island.

We shake our heads at the conclusions of those on the island of Malta, but how often do we engage in the same thing? Someone goes through a difficult time, and we let them know that God’s punishing them. We wonder what they did wrong. Worse, we may use some kind of variation of telling people that “karma” will exact revenge. Just for the record, “karma” is not a Christian principle. It comes from Buddhist and Hindu thought and relates to your actions in all of your various lives. It’s not true that “what goes around, comes around.” What’s true is that while there are often consequences for our actions, sometimes the things that happen to us just happen. When we do wrong, there is always the opportunity for forgiveness from God.We don’t serve an eternal revenge seeking God who tries to get back at us for every perceived slight; we serve a loving God who seeks to bring us into a loving relationship with Him and He forgives us when we do wrong so that we can enjoy His love.

Lord, help me to seek Your grace in my dealings with others. When they are going through difficult times, don’t let me rub salt in their wounds, instead, let me share Your mercy.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts

July 21 – Surrendering Freedoms

1 Corinthians 8; 1 Kings 22; Amos 6

A quote from Benjamin Franklin surfaced about fifteen years ago and people post it to social media quite often. “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” It is a quote meant to remind people that even in perilous times, such as the US has been dealing with since 9/11/01 giving up freedom, even a small part of it, to gain security leads to a situation where not only is that freedom lost, no security is gained. People may be worse off than before they tried to gain that security. The meaning behind what Franklin said was that we should never surrender any of our freedoms or we will end up worse than before.

Freedom is important our world. As followers of Christ, we have been freed from the Law and base our lives on our freedom in Christ. We don’t answer to anyone but God for our actions. We serve a loving, merciful God who forgives us when we do wrong. Only, some of us have been rescued from a particular sin and need to avoid being around that activity, because the temptation is too great. Others, using their freedom, engage in that activity which had kept us ensnared may embolden us to fall into that same trap again. Or perhaps, people trapped in that sin, considering giving it up to follow Christ, see strong Christians engaged in that behavior and stop worrying about their sin. Paul told the Corinthians that they needed to be ready to give up that freedom. “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8:11)

The major issue Paul was dealing with was meat offered to idols. The Corinthians, in the freedom, had gone beyond what the Jerusalem Council had ordained and were willing to buy meat at the pagan temple markets. Sure, they may have been part of a sacrifice offered at that temple, but they didn’t believe in that pagan foolishness. Pagan gods and goddesses were nothing. It seemed like a win – win situation for the early Christians. They got the best meat, because people only sacrificed the best, at cheap prices, because the temple got the meat in a sacrifice, and they didn’t have to worship the pagan gods or goddesses. But, there was a problem. Many of the Corinthian Christians had come out of that kind of lifestyle – where they worshiped these pagan deities and the meat had been offered to idols. In fact, things were so bad for some of them that they assumed that any meat had been offered to an idol and thus, became vegetarians. When their brothers ate meat, it caused problems for them. While Paul here reminded the Corinthians that they had the freedom to eat such meat, he himself would surrender his freedom to eat meat so that he might prevent a brother from falling back into sin.

The lesson here is far greater than helping Christians understand how to deal with dietary choices. It is a declaration that we should think of others before ourselves at all times. Meat today hasn’t usually been sacrificed to idols. Most of us don’t have to face that dilemma. But, there are still things that may have entrapped followers of Christ that others might not see as sin. We, as people called to think of other first, must be careful not to lead fellow believers back into that sin. For me, a major problem is alcohol. For most Christians, that isn’t a problem. I have a problem with it. I can deal with my brothers and sisters drinking, but there are times when it’s easy to get tempted. Sometimes I struggle when I see others drinking or go out to a restaurant and see people drinking wine. I can deal with that, just don’t try to make me join you if you do drink. And give others the same type of courtesy when they decline your offers in any area. You don’t know the struggle they’re dealing with.

Lord, I am weak. Grant me strength to overcome my sinful desires and compassion for fellow believers.

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July 20 – Focus

1 Corinthians 7:25-40; 1 Kings 21; Amos 5

We love distractions. Sometimes they help get our minds off of our problems. Executives measure their value to a company by the size and location of their offices – the bigger the better, the higher the better, and corner offices are the tops! The windows from high up, corner offices can provide amazing views. When work is intense, it’s good to take a few minutes and look at the beauty of God’s creation. On the other hand, we get distracted by some things that take us away from our work completely. One friend talked about how much longer his phone battery lasted since he got a watch. He used to check the time on his phone. When he checked the time on his phone, he would see that he had some texts to respond to. Then, he saw that a good friend had posted on Facebook and he wanted to see that. He might reply to that post, or notice that 13 other new posts had gone online since he last checked, so all of them need to be checked out. Then, he would look at the time again and it was ten o fifteen minutes later. Now, he takes five seconds to glance at his watch without any of the distractions.

Good things can distract from more important things. It’s easy to get so distracted with work that we spend extra time there, and forget that families need attention. As Paul dealt with the Corinthians, he warned them not to get distracted by anything in their quest to proclaim the gospel. “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

The Corinthian Church had a lot of problems. One of them seemed to be that they were losing focus. They were letting other things get in the way of proclaiming the gospel instead of using them as ways to proclaim the love and grace of Jesus. “Oh, I can’t be involved in God’s work now, I just got married.” “My loss is too great, I can’t show faith in my time of mourning.” “I’m so excited and happy! Why bring in that downer message that all have sinned right now?” “I can’t make it to church tomorrow, I’m going to be shining my brand-new chariot and grooming the horses.” Those may or may not have been the kinds of things being said, but it’s typical of the kinds of distractions that take us away from sharing the love of Jesus with others. The reminder from Paul is that we are called to keep the most important things important. The Corinthians had found “shiny things” to distract them from the most important thing and rather than proclaiming the gospel, knowing that time was short, they focused on the wrong things.

My wife and I work to proclaim the gospel together. Our marriage hasn’t distracted us from telling others about Jesus, it has allowed us to work together in new and different ways. The circumstances and the needs of life become opportunities to share the story of Jesus. Standing in line at a coffee shop discussing coffee can become an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus. If Jesus has made a difference in our lives, it should be apparent to others. It’s easy to get distracted by all the things that are available in society today. We can talk about sports, about kids – or better yet – grandkids, about cars or jobs or hundreds of other things, but we should never get so distracted by all those “shiny things” that we forget to use them as ways to share the love of God with others. For those in society, all roads lead to Rome. For Christians, all roads should lead to the Cross.

O Lord, help me to keep first things first and let that which is most important lead my heart in working with others.

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July 19 – Mutual Respect

1 Corinthians 7:1-24; 1 Kings 20; Amos 4:4-13

If you get married in Scotland, there is a tradition that’s designed to make sure that the husband and the wife will endure just about anything. The prospective bride and groom are pelted with food trash including rotten eggs and fish. If you can endure that, you can endure just about anything – at least according to the tradition. While I was in Rwanda recently, I learned about dowries. The prospective groom is supposed to negotiate with his future father in law by providing cows as payment for his wife. The purpose of this dowry is to prove that a man is able to provide for his bride. When children are born and they visit the father of the bride, a cow is returned for each child.

Marriage customs from other parts of the world can be interesting because people have developed different ways to show that they’re ready for marriage. Customs that seem outlandish, such as pelting someone with food garbage, have a deeper meaning than might be seen by an outsider. It seems, though, that marriages can often be controversial. In the Corinthian Church, some were apparently saying that men and women shouldn’t even have sexual relations if they were married, in part because the coming of Christ was expected so soon. As Paul dealt with that heresy, he shared a statement on equality that would have shook the Roman world. “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:4)

In ancient Rome, men were in charge. Marriages were arranged, usually to help families grow in power. A bride would pass from the power of the father to the power of the husband. While Rome recognized monogamy, there were higher expectations from women regarding faithfulness than from men. A woman could be divorced for adultery, but it was not recognized among men. It was definitely a man’s world in Rome. While women had some rights, and were not treated completely as property in Rome, as some cultures saw women, they still didn’t have equal rights with men. And so Paul’s comment dealing with sexual relationships in marriage was revolutionary, and he saw this equality, based on his other teachings, as extending to all areas of marriage. Let’s face it, how we deal with marriage situations is how we see the world in a microcosm.

How can men say, for example, that women have an equal place in society if they are not seen as equals in marriage? How can we say that women should be treated with respect in our world if husbands fail to respect their wives and we allow that to happen? We see a lot of dysfunctional marriages today inside the church. In most cases, it’s because of a lack of respect from one partner towards the other that leads to a breakdown in that respect both ways. That lack of respect may turn physical and we have seen a rise in cases of women, especially, who have been physically assaulted by their husbands. In other cases, the abuse is emotional and women are made to feel like they’re unimportant. As we continue to look at Christian marriage in a society that is changing a lot of views about marriage, we must strive for a world where husbands and wives respect each other, and love each other enough to submit to each other mutually. We must show mutual respect in marriage and that attitude must spill out of our marriages and into all of our relationships. Our witness to the world begins with our marriages, because that’s how most people see how we deal with others best, and continues as we love and respect others, seeing others as people created by a God who loves them.

O Lord, strengthen my marriage in You. Let me treat my wife with respect, and learn to respect others.

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July 18 – As You Were….

1 Corinthians 6; 1 Kings 19; Amos 3:3-4:3

The Sexual Revolution began in the 1960’s. Attitudes changed so that Christian values relating to sexuality and marriage gave way to more permissive attitudes. Fears of the consequences that came from a more sexualized community disappeared as different birth control methods, developed by science, made it less likely for women to get pregnant and antibiotics could take care of any disease that might result. Books and movies reflected this new era and Hugh Hefner’s magazine spurred the charge. Society as a whole changed from the understanding that sex was to be between one man and one woman who were married to the understanding that sexual relations could occur at practically any time with anyone.

In short, we became as free with our sexual attitudes as ancient Greece. Some of their sexual activity related to worship of various gods and goddesses. Brothels were available for young men to deal with sexual issues, and the public cheered their creation as being good for the common order. As Paul looked at how this played out in Corinthian life, he noted that those who continue in sin have no place in God’s Kingdom. There are some who might lose hope and figure that it wasn’t worth trying to get better. Paul had words for them, and for us today. “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

There are two wrong paths it would have been easy to take back in ancient Corinth, and many followed those paths. The first one was that the body was unimportant, only spirit was important. This is why the Greeks were so astonished by the message of the Resurrection. Why would God come in a human body, and why, once shed of that body, would He come back to life in a body? Many Greeks, because of this belief, had wild lifestyles and many new followers of Christ lived that way. What they did with the body was unimportant because spirit was important and one of the ways they indulged themselves was sex. Paul reminded them that those who indulge in sexual immorality did not have lives changed by Christ and thus would not inherit the kingdom of Heaven. The other side of that coin was that many who had lived such lives in the past may have thought that they were beyond hope. If there was no hope, why not continue. Paul reminds them that they were washed and sanctified by the Spirit of God. That things were right between them and God because Jesus forgave them and made them holy.

We deal with similar problems today. In spite of the clear teaching of the Bible regarding sex and marriage, many, even who would claim to be part of the church, feel free to interpret God’s word in their own way to satisfy their own desires. Paul would remind these people that a lifestyle of sexual immorality, like a lifestyle of self-indulgence in other ways is not for those who are in the kingdom of God. For those who recognize this and regret their past, Paul’s message is one of hope. The grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ is so great that you can look back on your life and put the past behind you. God will wash, sanctify, and justify you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. You can live not in fear of falling short of God’s Kingdom, not in regret for your sins, but in a spirit of joy and peace because of what God has done in your life. There is hope, promise, and strength for a life of joy when you’re walking in the grace of Jesus Christ.

Oh Lord, it would be so easy to fall into the patterns of this world. Temptations abound, and sometimes they seem to appeal to me. Keep me in Your grace and keep me from sin.

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July 17 – Who Gets the Grace?

1 Corinthians 5; 1 Kings 18; Amos 2:1-3:2

I had an interesting experience while traveling in Rwanda. I was able to post my devotionals using a mobile app, but I wasn’t able to go to the site while there. Since I only posted links to the blog on FB, members of my team were not able to see either the devotionals or the daily updates I made. Perhaps, like the shirt that says, “This shirt is illegal in 53 countries” the stream that would have landed my blog in Rwanda passed through one of those 53 countries. Those countries do have a right to make their own laws, and while my blog may be illegal in 53 countries, they can’t stop me from publishing here.

As the Church, we can get strict with rules and regulations. It’s easy to get caught up in what we can and can’t do. There is a place for that, but as Paul talks about that, he reminds the Corinthians that we shouldn’t start judging those outside the Church by Church rules. “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11)

This section of 1 Corinthians has a couple of interesting revelations. The easy one to see is that this wasn’t Paul’s first letter to the church, in spite of the title we’ve given it. The second revelation comes from the beginning of the chapter. In the desire to be broadminded and accepting of everyone, the Corinthians celebrated the fact that they welcomed a believer who was engaged in an act so immoral that even pagans don’t accept it. When you read about the wild lifestyles of Corinth, that had to be pretty bad: one who claimed to be a believer was sleeping with his father’s wife. (Presumably his step mother.) In today’s world, some might call Paul judgmental, but he was livid about this. The church wasn’t hiding this or hoping they’d stay in the background, they were proud that they were so accepting and open-minded. Meanwhile, many of them were probably avoiding pagans who had other issues, not as bad if you can believe the reaction to this one, because of their sin. Paul made it clear that following Christ is not a license to commit grievous sin. The Corinthians were holding the pagans to a higher standard of living than they themselves followed. It was outrageous!

As members of the church, we’re concerned about the reputation of the church. We fight in society for laws that support our beliefs. When someone outside of our church family fights against those laws we support, we’re ready to go at ‘em. When someone outside our church engages in “grossly sinful behavior” we avoid them or fight them. Maybe there’s a better way. Maybe, if we’re going to judge anyone, we ought to judge those who have agreed to live the same way we do when they committed their lives to Christ. Maybe when we deal with others outside the church, we ought to treat them as God does: with love and respect. If all people get when they talk with “church people” is hate and judgment, they aren’t likely to consider the claims of a loving and merciful God. How will people know of grace if we don’t show them God’s grace? At the same time, how will they know the need to repent if we accept any behavior because God forgives? The Corinthians had it backwards – overlooking the sin of a Christian while attacking the non-believers. We attack both groups today. What we need to do is draw the Christians back into God’s way, while letting non-believers discover the amazing grace of God.

Oh Lord, remind me that I am called to love all people and show them Your grace.

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July 16 – Success

1 Corinthians 4; 1 Kings 17; Amos 1

We all want to be “successful.” We really want our children to be “successful” and we hear stories of parents who have made great sacrifices so that their children can get the education or training they need so that “success” will be within their grasp. More often we see kids work hard to overcome circumstances so that they can become “successful.” For most of us, success looks like new cars, big houses, power, or prestige in society. Many of those who have become “successful” in that sense have major family problems. They get to the top of their field, and have no one to share their success with.

Paul had to deal with a misguided sense of success in the Corinthian Church. The Christian definition of success goes far beyond the definition of success that the world has. Paul had to point out that success for the Christian was found in becoming and staying faithful to God’s call, not in emulating the world. “We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.” (1 Corinthians 4:10-13)

As Paul mentions becoming fools for Christ, the previous three chapters must have been ringing in the ears of the Corinthians. In those chapters, Paul reminds the Corinthians that God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise and here he talks about being a fool while they are considered wise. In this section Paul outlines the ways that people in the world might track success: strength, honor, sustenance, clothing, treatment by others, home status, work type, and responses to troubles. In each of these measures, Paul and his companions fail miserably according to the world’s standards and yet, Paul understood that in God’s eyes, he had been faithful. For the Christian, that should be considered success. Later in the passage he mentioned that he was successful in bringing the gospel to the people of Corinth. One of the activities that we should engage in when reading Corinthians is “What concern was Paul answering?” In this case. the concern was obvious. “If Paul and Apollos are such great servants of God, why aren’t they successful like us?” (or something like that.)

We sometimes have a distorted view of success in the church today. Some look at finances and give extreme honor to those proclaiming a “gospel” of health and wealth, while looking up to people who gain prestige and honor in business as well. We honor numbers and go to conferences run by people who have built large churches and/or Sunday Schools and eagerly soak in all that they say, because they have shown the power of their success. We use all kinds of worldly measures for success and fail to look for God’s measures for success. Is God as concerned about your wealth as He is your relationship with Him? Health may be important, but God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh so that he would have to depend upon God. The key to success for the Christian is not found in our achievement of wealth, health, prestige, or numbers, or anything else that the world considers a marker of success. True success for the Christian is found in our faithfulness to Him. God will take the “scum of the earth” and turn us into the jewels of heaven – and that is our ultimate success.

Lord, remind me what You look for in my life. Help me to ignore the trappings of the world and be faithful to You. Let me be successful in Your eyes.

Thought I’d add this video link from Don Francisco:

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July 15 – The Perfect Church

1 Corinthians 3; 1 Kings 15:33-16:34; Joel 3

In ancient Israel, the building of the Temple was important. It was the center of all life, not just religious life, for the Israelites. Then the two kingdoms split and Jereboam set up other places for the people of Israel to worship and trouble began between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Later, the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians as they ransacked and destroyed Jerusalem. The people were deported and scattered around the Babylonian empire. After a number of years, the people of Israel returned and one of their tasks was to rebuild the Temple, which they did under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. The Greeks took over the land and while they didn’t destroy the Temple, they desecrated it. Then the Jews rebelled and threw out the Greeks. They performed a ceremony to cleanse the Temple, and while they didn’t have enough oil for the lamps, God made the oil last – a feat celebrated at Hanukkah. After the Romans took over, Herod began a rebuilding project on the Temple that seemed to last forever. Jesus cleared out the Temple because the people had made it a place of commerce and focused on making it a house of prayer. When the Jews rebelled against Rome, though, the Temple was destroyed and today, nothing lasts except for a remnant of the Western Wall.

As you might guess from that long explanation, the Temple has been an important part of Jewish life since it was built, and rebuilt, and rebuilt. Many are looking forward to the Temple being rebuilt once again, although some major political hurdles would have to be cleared. Paul, an observant Jew, understood the importance of the Temple building, but also the meaning. That makes this statement startling: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)

As you look back over the history of the Temple, God used the Temple as a place for His Spirit to dwell. Ezekiel’s dramatic picture of God’s Spirit leaving the Temple because of the unfaithfulness of Israel helps us to understand that the Temple was more than a building. The Temple was where God’s Spirit dwelt and where God interacted with man. It was in the Temple where God let Zechariah know that he would become the father of John. When Jesus was dedicated in the Temple, great prophecies were spoken of Him. And it was in the Temple that Jesus amazed the teachers of the Law with His questions. Still, Paul threw all that history and tradition out the window by comparing the followers of Christ, the Church, with the Temple. While the building was still standing in Jerusalem, Paul changed the rules.

In the Greek, the word “you” is plural. I believe this means that Paul is talking about the Church as opposed to individual believers. What a high opinion of the Church. Even more than the Church universal, Paul is talking to the Corinthian Church and making that same claim. The Corinthian Church was riddled with sin, but Paul described it as the place where the Spirit dwells. So I ask, does the Spirit dwell in your church? Sure, your church may have problems and issues; what church doesn’t. Paul would come out and say, the Spirit dwells in your church. Paul would remind those people that they can worship God in other places, which is true, that they are missing out on communion with the Spirit of God when they fail to worship in church. It’s easy to dismiss the importance of the church in our individualistic society. We believe that the Spirit works in each of us individually. God has ordained your church, though, as a place where His Spirit will dwell. Perhaps we need to recognize this truth and approach our churches with more awe and willingness to serve.

Lord, thank You for my church. It’s imperfect because I’m there, but it’s perfect because You dwell there.

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July 14 – Human Wisdom or the Power of God?

1 Corinthians 2; 1 Kings 15:1-32; Joel 2:12-32

There is a popular Christian teaching floating around the theological world these days. I saw it bought up by a friend of mine, Chris DeLuna, pastor at Church of Grace in Robstown. The teaching is that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman and won’t force Himself or His ways upon anyone. Now, Pastor Chris has been bringing this idea up while looking at Jonah and Paul and asking the question, “Really?” The Holy Spirit sent Jonah to Ninevah, and when Jonah went the other way, well, you know the rest of the story. Paul was on his way to Damascus when the Holy Spirit broke into his life as a blinding light. He left Paul blind until Ananias prayed for him. He changed the direction of Paul’s life from persecutor to persecuted. The Holy Spirit didn’t sit back and wait for permission to do His work in Paul’s and Jonah’s lives.

What this teaching fails to understand is that The Holy Spirit is the third person in the Trinity: He is God. While the teaching sounds wonderful to our ears, it is human wisdom that doesn’t play well in a godly arena. Jesus talked about the movement of the Spirit and compared Him to the wind, moving wherever He wills. God will work. God’s will shall prevail. As Paul continued his message to the Corinthian Church, he brought up the work of The Holy Spirit. “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

Perhaps Paul was dealing with a faction in the Corinthian Church that sought to portray him as weak and ineffective. He wasn’t one of the original apostles, so Peter had him beat there; according to tradition, Apollos was a gifted orator who outclassed Paul in eloquence. They may have been wondering what Paul had to offer, perhaps forgetting that he brought the gospel to Corinth in the first place. This whole chapter focuses on the work and the person of the Holy Spirit. There is a divide between those who have the Spirit and those who don’t have the Spirit. Those without the Spirit see His work as foolishness, much like we talked about yesterday. Those with the Spirit have an understanding, small though it may be, of the mind of God. Paul doesn’t say any of this to attack Apollos or Peter, he’s pointing out the truth about the Spirit so that those who fallen under the influence of human wisdom will seek God’s wisdom.

Let’s be honest – we can make the gospel all about human wisdom and understanding. We can look at the historical record and get into discussions that we can win using apologetics. We can look at how we believe God SHOULD act and define God and His behavior in that way. C. S. Lewis used the example of the theologian who was working on the hypothesis of all the good that Jesus could have done if only he hadn’t died at such a young age in the book The Great Divorce. Limitations on God and His work are not new. What we need to overcome this world, though, is godly wisdom. What we need is the Spirit moving in our lives, not waiting for us to give Him permission or seeking His action, but moving in His own timing. We need the mind of Christ, which Paul points out comes not from human wisdom but by the Spirit of God. So here’s the challenge for today: don’t seek to give God limited permission as to what you will let Him do in your life – that’s human wisdom; open your heart to understanding God’s will for you and then jump into that with your whole being. In other words, as Henry Blackaby has said, find out what God is doing and jump into action with Him.

Oh Lord, how easily I seek to limit You.  I look at situations and wonder what I can do rather than realizing that there’s nothing You can’t do. Help me to see You working in this world and get involved with Your plan instead of trying to get You to work according to my plan.

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July 13 – Foolishness or Power?

1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 1 Kings 14; Joel 2:1-11

I remember messing up as a child. I would do something foolish, and my dad or my mom would punish me. No matter how severe the punishment may have been, the hardest part was looking at them after they told me “you should know better.” Of course I should have known better, most of the time. We all do some pretty foolish things at times. Maybe not to the level of “Hold my beer and watch this!” like you could see on YouTube, but we still do things that make reasonable people scratch their heads and wonder about our intelligence. I think the explanatory phrase is “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

My parents didn’t accept that excuse. My wife doesn’t either. Still, I try to explain away my foolishness with that tried and true evasive answer. The Bible talks about men who are fools. In Proverbs it describes a fool who says in his heart that God doesn’t exist. Given all the anecdotal evidence of who God is, it really is foolish not to believe that God exists. Of course, many would say that it’s foolish to believe in a God who exists and cares about His creation. Even more so is the belief that God would send His only son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

To be honest, the story of the cross and the resurrection seems like complete foolishness when you first hear it. God created this world and all the galaxies in the universe and He still worries about someone like me? And that worry includes the fact that even though I keep breaking His rules, He loves me? And that same message applies to all people? Can you blame the wise Greeks for laughing at Paul when he shared this message? How can you believe that God’s plan for the redemption of every person in this world was sending His son to be born of a virgin, to live on earth, to suffer the indignity of death on a cross – an amazingly cruel form of torture/death, and to rise from the dead after paying the penalty for sin? How do you believe that God’s plan to establish a relationship with Him depended solely on this sacrifice which is how He shows us His grace? If God had an entrepreneurial spirit, like most Americans, He’d have found a way to put a price tag on His grace, but He gives it freely to any who believe this foolishness; to any who will accept His grace.

It all gets down to the resurrection. A bodily resurrection was definitely not in the plans the Greeks made. But it was God’s plan. In the resurrection, God showed His power over life and death. Foolishness? Not really – because it happened. I have found no reasonable explanation for what happened during this time than the story of the resurrection. While it may seem foolish to many, the death on the cross was God’s plan, as was the resurrection. And so, to those who reject the cross, to those who reject God’s grace, this message is foolishness. Those who see the message of the cross as foolishness often try to find a way to get in tight with God that involves a lot of sacrifice and they never can seem to satisfy their desires. They are perishing; they are lost in their sins. Those of us who have accepted the folly of the cross have realized it’s amazing power. God’s power, as shown in the story of the cross, brings mercy and grace. We can have a relationship with Him that’s based on His goodness and His work. Our relationship with Him will never fade because He has done the work. It is the power of God that changes lives and leads people to lives of sacrifice for and mercy towards others.

Oh Lord, remind me of the power of the cross today. Let me show others the same mercy and grace that you’ve shown me. Let people recognize Your power in me as I live by the “foolishness” of the cross.

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July 12 – Becoming One

1 Corinthians 1:1-17; 1 Kings 12:32-13:34; Joel 1

It’s a meme that never grows old. This is the one that reminds us that, “You had one job” and the picture accompanying the meme is something done wrong. It could be a shirt with a picture of Africa on it, labeled “Asia.” Perhaps it’s a “Batman” backpack with a picture of Superman on it. One of my favorites is the package labeled “Hot Dog Buns” that’s filled with Hamburger buns. If you look up images under that phrase, you’ll find a lot of other mistakes. Misspellings on the road are favorites too. We laugh at these mistakes because we believe, rightly, that people who are supposed to be focused on one thing, should be able to do that one thing and do it correctly.

Paul reminded the Corinthians that they had one job, which was to be the body of Christ, united in sharing the good news of Jesus. What had happened instead was that people began aligning with the leaders who had been important to them. I can imagine some of the conversations: “I heard you came to Christ and Lucius baptized you. That’s great…but I was baptized by Paul.” “Oh, you’re a Christian now. A group of us are gathering around to listen to Apollos. Want to join us?” Some might talk of their allegiance to Peter, while others would turn their noses up while claiming to follow Christ. Paul knew that he had one job: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” (1 Corinthians 1:17)

Paul remembered baptizing a few of the Corinthians when they began following Jesus. His goal, his one job, though, was to proclaim the gospel to the people in Corinth. The fact that the Athenians had called the gospel he preached foolishness at the Areopagus compelled him to proclaim it with even more vigor. He wasn’t trying to sway people with amazing words or logical arguments, he preached the simple gospel of Jesus Christ where he talked about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Greeks tended to think the body was evil, so this idea of the resurrection didn’t make sense in their philosophy, but Paul, rather than trying to sugar coat it, proclaimed the bodily resurrection of Jesus as fact. And many came to Christ. Once people came to Christ, he expected them to do their one job as the body of Christ. Since they weren’t doing that and there were divisions in the church, Paul reminded them of their job.

I wonder what Paul would say if he could see the current state of unity in the Church today. Without making digs at any denomination, we have different governing structures, we have different methods of baptism, and different understandings of the meaning of baptism, we have different understandings of the bread and the wine, we have different understandings of how we should serve God, and in all those differences, each one of us is wont to say, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” I didn’t even get into worship and music styles either! The key to walking with Christ is that none of us are right on everything, so we need to give grace to others. When it comes to unresolvable differences, we need to remember these words: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” It doesn’t matter which group we align ourselves with if we don’t identify ourselves first as “followers of Christ.” (And, I don’t care how you phrase that.) There are people in all denominations who are following that denomination and not Christ. I will ha

 

ve charity towards them, but I will seek, with that charity, or grace, to show them the need to align with Jesus first. My faith is built on the truth that Jesus was born of a virgin, walked on earth as fully God and fully man, was crucified to pay the penalty for our sins, and rose from the dead. Believe that with me and we can work together to proclaim Christ.

Oh Lord, You prayed that we would be one. Let Your Church be one in proclaiming the gospel.


            

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