Holding perspectives in tension…

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1 Corinthians 14:26 What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, 33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. (As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?) 37 Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. 38 Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized. 39 So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; 40 but all things should be done decently and in order.

The apostle Paul is addressing another source of conflict in the Corinthian church – disorderly worship practices. He mentions the use of tongues, prophetic words, and the role of women in the assembly. The question which arises for me is whether these verses represent a word from God which should be applied universally, in every time and place? Or is this a word from Paul speaking to a contextual issue limited to a particular time and place?

Some Christians insist that every word of scripture is to be followed exactly as it is written. They are often referred to as “fundamentalist” Christians. In their view a passage like this should be applied here and now – no matter how contrary to contemporary culture (particularly in regards to the appropriate role of women). Other Christians suggest that much of scripture does not apply to current practice and so we choose which parts of the bible we follow and which we do not.

In my view there is value in both perspectives. Much of scripture is timeless and is intended to be received and applied as it is written. On the other hand some parts of scripture appear to be written for the purpose of addressing specific circumstances in particular places – as is the case in our passage from today. We hold these two perspectives in tension, doing our best to know when to hold to the letter of scripture and when to allow for modern interpretations which make sense in our day. We don’t always get it right, but we do our best – trusting the Lord to lead and guide us in the way we should go.

Lord let it be so. Amen.

Just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you…

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Psalm 64:1-4

1      Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; 
preserve my life from the dread enemy. 
2      Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, 
from the scheming of evildoers, 
3      who whet their tongues like swords, 
who aim bitter words like arrows, 
4      shooting from ambush at the blameless; 
they shoot suddenly and without fear. 

David is a king and I suppose kings were often paranoid. Why? Because they were often the target of plots to overthrow them or usurp their power. Not targets from outside, but from the inside – from among those who were supposed to be friends and allies.

One response to perceived threats was to simply execute anyone suspected of treason. Josef Stalin, the famously paranoid dictator of the communist Soviet Union during WW2, is a relatively recent example. In the 1930s he “purged” most of the senior commanders in the Soviet army by having them sent to the gulag or simply hanged or shot. This led to weak leadership in the first years of the war against Nazi Germany.

But David could not simply do away with those he suspected of plotting against him because he risked shedding innocent blood – which would have brought judgment on all Israel. And so in these verses David hands the burden of rooting out treachery to God.

Lord teach us to cast our burdens upon you. Amen.

Just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you…

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Psalm 64:1-4 Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from the dread enemy. Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the scheming of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless; they shoot suddenly and without fear. 

David is a king and I suppose kings were often paranoid. Why? Because they were often the target of plots to overthrow them or usurp their power. Not targets from outside, but from the inside – from among those who were supposed to be friends and allies.

One response to perceived threats was to simply execute anyone suspected of treason. Josef Stalin, the famously paranoid dictator of the communist Soviet Union during WW2, is a relatively recent example. In the 1930s he “purged” most of the senior commanders in the Soviet army by having them sent to the gulag or simply hanged or shot. This led to weak leadership in the first years of the war against Nazi Germany.

But David could not simply do away with those he suspected of plotting against him because he risked shedding innocent blood – which would have brought judgment on all Israel. And so in these verses David hands the burden of rooting out treachery to God.

Lord teach us to cast our burdens upon you. Amen.

The highest calling of all…

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1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

13 1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

One of the key themes of this letter is Paul’s desire to teach regarding the apparent division in the church. We’ve already read about several ways the people of Corinth have split – favoring Paul or Apollos as their leader, the ethnic diversity of a church with both Jews and Greeks, slaves and slave-owners, men and women, rich and poor, and so on. Our passage above suggests spiritual gifting was another point of division. It sounds as though people were placing greater value on some forms of leadership, or some spiritual gifts, than on others. That is what the first paragraph appears to be about. But Paul essentially ends the argument by explaining that the greatest form of leadership, the greatest spiritual calling – is to love.

Love isn’t as impressive as miracles or healing or speaking in tongues. Crowds don’t gather to watch someone love another. Love is boring. It doesn’t make headlines. Anyone can do it, no special gifting or training needed. And yet it is the thing we humans need in life more than anything. We need to love others and to be loved by others. Jesus said it this way in John 15, “As the Father has loved me so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

Christians aren’t generally known for “love” in the secular culture around us. We’re more known for judging others – confessing other peoples’ sins. Look at v.4-7 above. Love isn’t about telling other people where they have it wrong. Love is patient, kind, and so on. It’s embracing people with whom we disagree. Love seeks to understand and then be understood. It’s about extending grace to others as Christ did to us.

The church I lead as pastor states that our mission is to become a people who: love God, love each other, and love the world. This morning I’m compelled to think again what those forms of love look like in the context of Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians. It’s not complicated, but it’s not easy.

Lord Jesus teach us to love others as you first loved us. Amen.

We really do need each other…

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1 Corinthians 12:14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would 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 the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 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 members, 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.”

Our human tendency is to value those like us and reject those who are not. Christians are often no better. I’ve had opportunity to share community with many branches of the American church – Roman Catholic, evangelical, mainline, charismatic, house church, and more. I find that Paul’s words are true. Each “member” of the body brings things often lacking in the others. We need them all. But we often miss out because we don’t trust one another.

Lord Jesus make us one as you Father/Son/Spirit are one. Amen.

Knowledge and wisdom…

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1 Corinthians 12:Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit…

This is an interesting passage. The word “utterance” is a strange translation into English of the Greek word “logos” which is most often translated into English as “word”. You’re more likely to hear people talk about a “word of knowledge” or a “word of wisdom” – which I like much better than “utterance”. Anyway, these terms are used in the context of a discussion regarding gifts of the Spirit. They refer to insights given by the Spirit rather than the intellect.

I like the way Paul uses the two words together. It’s one thing to have knowledge. It’s another to apply that knowledge in appropriate ways (wisdom). In essence without wisdom, knowledge is far less useful.

Lord teach me to be wise, for sin seeks to make me a knowledgeable fool. Amen.

The Church – a third way in an either/or world

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Job 40: Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 7 “Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me. 8 Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified? 

In the theology of his day Job and his contemporaries expected bad things to happen to bad/unrighteous people and good things to happen to the righteous. Job is declared by God in Job chapter 1 to be a righteous man – yet Job experiences incredible tragedy. How can this be? If Job is righteous, which we are told by the author in the first chapter of the book, then God must be unjust. If God is in the right bringing tragedy to Job, then Job must be in the wrong. They can’t both be right. Right?

But what if they are?

This is the crux of the tension in the book of Job. The truth is that Job is indeed righteous and God is indeed just. It is Satan, not God, who has brought this calamity upon Job. It’s an option that Job and his friends cannot conceive in the binary either/or thinking of the day.

At its best the church represents a third way in an either/or culture. As the church we are able to embrace people with very different political/social beliefs because we have a core identity which the secular world lacks. We understand that we are all (progressive and conservative) in need of new life in Jesus. Our highest priority then is to embrace a life in which we love God, love each other, and love the world – and then share that life with others. Even those with whom we disagree.

In the church we can think differently and yet be one in Jesus Christ. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Faith when your back’s against the wall…

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Psalm 57: 1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by. 2 I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. 3 He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me. God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness. 

What strikes me most about this passage is the preface that my bible version gives as a setting for this psalm. It says, “Of David… when he fled from Saul in the cave”. In other words David is believed to have written these words when he was in a cave hiding from King Saul who wanted to kill him. In 1 Samuel chapter 24 we’re told Saul when into the cave where David and his men were hiding. While Saul was relieving himself in the cave, David had a chance to kill the king but did not. Why not kill when David had the chance? This psalm tells us why.

“I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.”

The Lord had directed the prophet Samuel to anoint David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, to one day be king. Though a number of years had past at the time of this psalm David held on to the promise spoken over him as a boy – and trusted God to remove Saul rather than taking matters into his own hands. God would fulfill David’s purpose for him.

This sort of faith, spoken in the midst of genuine life-threatening danger, inspires me this morning. Lord, give me faith in the midst of the struggle. Amen.

In God I trust, I am not afraid…

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Psalm 56: 8 You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record? 9 Then my enemies will retreat in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. 10 In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, 11 in God I trust; I am not afraid.

There’s an interest contrast which emerges from this passage written by David. On the one hand David writes of his “tossings” which suggests he is unsettled on the inside, unable to relax or be at peace. Yet in v.9 he writes, “This I know, that God is for me”. And later “in God I trust; I am not afraid”.

David is at once trusting in his mind, but unsettled in his heart.

It may seem to us that David is contradicting himself, but I don’t think so. There are times when my mind knows the truth but my heart has not yet caught up to my head. Like now when the church I lead is preparing to finally return to activity in our building, a return which was delayed because of water damage from the deep freeze of February. There are many details to work out for this to go well. And I know things will work out just fine, but sometimes I too become unsettled.

There remain many unknowns. The church that is emerging after 14 months of disruption is in many ways the same as the former church and yet different as well. What does that mean? I don’t know yet. Frankly, only the Lord knows. Which is unsettling. Yet, like David, I declare in my mind “in God I trust; I am not afraid”.

Lord send your peace to those of us who are unsettled on the inside. You have never failed us and you won’t start now. Help our hearts to catch up with our heads. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Betrayal…

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Psalm 55:20 My companion laid hands on a friend and violated a covenant with me 21 with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war; with words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords. 22 Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. 

First – apologies for missing a few days. Each day I wrote about half a reflection and then got distracted so never finished. But today, I’m back! And now, today’s reflection:

Two things get my attention. First there is the pain of being betrayed by someone close, one who smiles in David’s face then sticks a knife in his back. If this has ever happened to you, you can empathize with David. It can be devastating. The second thing I notice is v.22:

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”

The promise of this verse is that the Lord will not allow the righteous “to be moved” – to fall, to be struck down, to be laid low. It’s a promise of protection from the Lord. Yet today we also read a passage from the book of Job which tells the story of one whom God calls righteous (Job) and yet suffers terrible loss anyway. I expect the book of Job was written to try to help believers explore the experience of perceived “betrayal” from God.

Heavenly Father give us understanding. And where we cannot find understanding give us peace. Amen.