Monday, July 31, 2017

Selfless Striving...

I Corinthians 14:12 So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
I can hear it now; a song I first heard years ago by Dallas Holm: "What is this striving for?"  It described the repeated striving by the disciples of Jesus over who was the greatest.  It broke Jesus' heart to have his followers arguing and divided by such childish selfishness.  In the midst of this chapter, Paul is telling this church that they are focusing on the wrong thing: who has the showiest gift. They wanted to be seen, heard, and idolized.  Instead, they were rubbing each other the wrong way, and turning off those who were outside of the church.  Here Paul tells us what we should be striving for: building each other up, and in the process, building up the body as a whole.  We need to turn our eyes off of ourselves and focus on what we can do to encourage each other, and to clearly speak and show the love of Christ to a watching world. Not to impress, but to impact, for Him.  What are we striving for? Self-centered things? Or those things that show the selflessness of our Savior?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Great Unifier...

I Corinthians 13:8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Paul was addressing this church body riddled with strife.  Their primary problem was pride: they thought they had everything going for them, including great theology and worship. But these are not enough to hold together a church.  After giving a long list of Christ-like characteristics of love - doing what is best for the others, no matter what it costs me - Paul gets down to the nitty-gritty. Even if we have great faith in God's power, and even if the hope of eternity with God energizies us to endure, if we do not exercise His love, we will fail in our calling as His church.  It is the glue that will hold us together, so that we will carry out His designed purpose for us.  It is the daily exercise of our faith and hope.  Don't tell me about a great sermon or even worship celebration; tell me about the love demonstrated one to another.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Unity is in the Eye of the beholder...

I Corinthians 11:16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
How do you view the body of Chirst?  Paul used this imagery often, and here is one of the places he does so in detail.  In particular, he mentiones the "eye" more than once.  Someone cannot say "I am not an eye, so I'm not important." But the eye also cannot say "I don't need you" to any part of the body. These are the two sides of pride - focusing on oneself. We either have a pity party, thinking we are not good enough, so we walk away. Or, we think too highly of ourselves and drive other people away.  It's all in how we use our eyes: is with with envy? A haughty Spirit? Neither is the eye of Christ.  Rather than looking at another with envy at what we do not have, we should thank God that they have it to share with us (and let God do the convincing for them to do so. Rather than looking down on another who is struggling, we need to weep with them and share in their suffering.  This is the body of Christ.  Be a good part of it. May we clean the infection out of our eyes...

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Selfish Supper...

I Corinthians 11:17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.
The Lord's Supper, Communion - a regular part of the Christian life, whether one does it weekly, monthly, or twice a year.  It looks back to Christ's selfless sacrifice on our behalf to bring us together with God and one another. It can and should be a precious time of fellowship and a common reminder of our faith. But it is not always so.  It can be for show - not only in the sense of "going through the motions," but also in a "look at me and what I have" kind of way. It can even be selfish if one can afford to bring something to the table, but it too lazy or cheap to do so.  If there is any holding back on sharing freely and fully, we are totally missing the point.  The next time you prepare (and if you're not going to for any reason - that's an issue too!), step back,  look at your heart, your motives, your words and actions.  It is all in honor and memory of Christ? Is there any way He would look, shake His head and say: "Not what I had in mind..."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Learning our Lessons...

I Corinthians 10:8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
The Wilderness wanderings... that's what life feels like sometimes. It was a bad situation caused by disobedience.  Rather than realize the mess we have gotten ourselves into, and living in repentance, we add sin to sin, grumble and complain, and create more of a disturbance among God's people.  And we point fingers at others.  Beware.  Sometimes it will be us who fall and fail. Temptation will come.  How will we deal with it? Fall to it? Complain and make excuses for it? Give up and live with it?  These three words stand out: God is Faithful! He is always there with the escape plan, the right path.  Will we follow? Will we learn our lessons and trust in Him?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Not Demanding Our Rights...

I Corinthians 9:19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Earlier in this chapter, Paul goes to great lengths to review his spiritual history, and the "rights" he had as an apostle, and as a servant of God to receive both support to live on, and to be heard as an authoritative voice.  But he was not demanding his rights, and often did not ask for what he was due. Why? Because what was most important to him was The Gospel.  We need the same spirit. Much of the division and strife between Christians and church members is due to people demanding their rights, and if they do not get what they think they deserve, they will make a stink, make a disturbance, and walk away.  We value the Gouspel too little.  When we value the Gospel more than our rights, we realize the big word in the Gospel is Grace - God giving what we do NOT deserve, and we realize that the Person of the Gospel is Christ, not ourselves. Listen to yourself today.  Are you saying, doing, or even thinking things that are all about demanding your "rights", (or desiring your wants) instead of furthering the Gospel toward those around you?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What really rips us apart: selfish living.

 I Corinthians 8:But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothersand wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
The Corinthian church seemed to be masters of division: if there was a way they could offend one another, they would find it.  The simple truth is that Satan will use the most available weapon possible to assail the church: our own selfishness. In our selfish society we are all about individual rights.  Paul tells us earlier in this chapter that eating food offered to idols is in and of itself not sin, because if we see idols for what they really are - not gods at all, then worship of them is empty.  But all of us have backgrounds, baggage, and ways we need to grow.  And the Body cares about each other.  If we live (or WHEN we live) as if our own individual happiness is king, we will hurt each other repeatedly and deeply. Eventually hurt turns to bitterness and anger and more misunderstanding, with which we build walls of division. People go away hurt and angry not only at others, but at God, and build their own churches of me, where they will not be hurt.  Wrong response to be sure, but we don't want to be the one who sparked the fire of hatred and division.  So, let's stop sparking the fires by putting out our personal little fires of self-fulfillment, looking out for one another in love.

Monday, July 24, 2017

What NOT to change about you...

I Corinthians 7:17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservantwhen called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
Paul was calling upon the believers at Corinth to make a lot of changes. They were living too much by the standards of the wicked world around them. God is in the business of transforming lives for His glory.  But there are some things we are called on not to seek to change, but rather allow Him to use us how we are, where we are.  He may choose to change these things about us: our jobs, our marital status, etc.  We are to seek to improve our situations through training and deepening relationships, but we cannot make ourselves look more like "successful" Christians.  We must simply view ourselves as servants of Christ, and allow Him to take the lead on any changes He deems necessary.  We must, at all cost, avoid conflicts we create when we compare ourselves to the lives fellow brothers and sisters are called to lead.  It's not a competition. Just like marriage, it is complimenting one another as the body of Christ.  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Saints Settle Strife

I Corinthians 6 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!
Selfishness. If there is one word to describe the atmosphere at Corinth in Paul's day, that would be it.  When most people are living selfishly, their interests clash.  When no one is willing to resolve or defer the issue, people either go away or make life so miserable others do. That's why the church at Corinth was also known for their division. It sounds much too much like churches in America. It is not living like saints, to whom have been given the wisdom and power of God in Christ, and the ever present Holy Spirit who will guide us into all truth.  Paul's question is piercing: "Is there no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute?"  Sometimes it seems that way.  Division is defeat by the Devil.  Do we really always have to be "right" and get our own way? Hopefully not today. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

An important Clarification Christians need to hear...

I Corinthians 5:9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.
Sometimes we just get it backwards.  We compare ourselves to others who have no clue that they are in bondage to sin.  Obviously, we turn out looking "better" or holier than they do.  All such comparison does is promote self-righteousness, and have us throwing stones from glass houses.  But God does expect believers to change.  Here is where we often miss the point.  Hiding behind "you have no right to JUDGE me!", we miss the point of Paul's challenge. We do need to challenge one another in our spiritual growth. We are accountable to each other - not to self-righteously judge, but help each other mature.  When we ignore those blatant sins that still ensnare one another, we are not showing love or grace; we are missing the point completely.  God loves us and shows us Grace in Christ Jesus to transform us, together, into one new man.  We need each other; we need each other in each other's business; we need to be changing. To reject such a process is to refuse the full picture of God's plan for us. To leave the body for so many petty reasons, as if we are not needed or do not need them demonstrates immaturity and ignorance of God's marvelous plan in Christ. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Big Talkers

I Corinthians 4:18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
Paul was frustrated. He had invested heavily in the people of the church at Corinth, but was receiving reports that they were living selfishly and carnally. Some even bragged about it.  He had been a spiritual father to them, and in that sense was now saying "don't make me come in there!"  They needed a spiritual whack on the side of the head, or maybe even in front of the head!  He preferred to be able to address them with gentleness, but was not sure what would be an option.  There have been times I have encountered loud-mouthed arrogant people in church disputes.  Gladly, some, as soon as approached with their divisive and sinful behavior have softened and backed down, even being a part of the resolution.  But I have seen others harden, become defensive, and even offensive towards anyone who addresses them. They often go away and infect others with their unbridled anger and self-righteous arrogance.  Lord, may we be approachable through a spirit of gentleness, so that we hear and respond over the loudness of our brash speech.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

unhardened minds...

II Corinthians 3:12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
We saw in chapter 2 that one of the big reasons church members have a hard time with one another is that some do not have "the mind of Christ." Paul goes on to say here that their minds are hardened; they cannot think-see spiritually, because they are not allowing the Spirit to soften their minds.  The last verse is the key: "we all" - not as individuals, but everyone having softened hearts and unhardened minds - together we are transformed.  When any of us hold back from this, we not only hinder our individual spiritual transformation, but that of the body as well.  Have you had a hard heart and mean mind toward others?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Piece of HIS Mind...

I Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
As Paul writes to this church riddled with division, He begins with an emphasis on the Wisdom of God as being the core of his teaching, and what these people needed to return to.  Somehow strong personalities had come into the church and swayed people away, changing their minds, their way of thinking.  As I have sat in meetings with leaders at other churches going through problems, asking questions and listening to responses, it amazes me how often I encounter those who do not have the Mind of Christ. They think, talk and act like corporate leaders, volunteer committees, and extended clans, but have no ability to see how their words and actions are so unlike Christ.  If they don't get their way, they go away and do the same thing elsewhere.  May we as His people have the humility and wisdom to seek the Mind of Chirst. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Prescription for Division #2

I Corinthians 1:26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
When we stand before Him, how many excuses, how much finger-pointing, how much justifying our reasons for leaving will really work?