Old friends…

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1 Corinthians 3:10 (The apostle Paul writes) According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.

The church in Corinth, like most churches in the first century, was under duress. Paul uses a metaphor of “fire” to describe the season of struggle and adversity. He also uses the metaphor of “builder” to describe the leaders of the church. V.13 is particularly interesting to me:

13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.

Paul is saying we learn what we have when we’re under pressure, particularly when it comes to relationships. Relationships that endure are fairly rare, but when they do they are a great gift.

There are very few people in my life with whom I share long relationships aside from family members. For me “fire” hasn’t been conflict but mobility. I’ve moved around quite a bit in my adult life, much more than I wanted to. But there are a handful of people with whom the bonds of love and friendship have endured. And so today I’m thanking God for these precious few. Don’t know what I’d do without them.

Lord, give us grace to stay connected to one another when challenges emerge. Amen.

Milk and solid food…

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1 Corinthians 3:1 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? 

I’m drawn to Paul’s use of the terms of “milk” and “solid food”. Milk is the dimension of faith that’s easy to digest – we are given everlasting life by faith in Jesus and received as children of God. Awesome! But there’s more to faith than simple salvation. As followers of Jesus we are called to bring our lives into alignment with the will and ways of God. We are called to serve others, to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. That’s the solid food part.

This week one of our church members named Brad organized an Easter egg hunt/Easter party for a group of families living in poverty. It took a lot of work from Brad and many others from our church to make this happen. Brad didn’t do this alone by any means, but it would not have happened without his leadership. To me Brad is a great example of someone who is demonstrating readiness for “solid food”. He is sharing the love of Jesus Christ first given to him by grace – and leading others in our church community to do the same.

I want to be more like Brad. Lord let it be so. Amen.

It just doesn’t make sense…

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Job 21: 7 Why do the wicked live on, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? 8 Their children are established in their presence, and their offspring before their eyes. 9 Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them. 

Job has suffered greatly so his three buddies are convinced he must have sinned greatly. Why? Because that’s the way it works with God. At least that’s what they’ve all been taught. Good things happen to the righteous, bad things to the wicked. If Job will just confess maybe the Lord would be merciful – but Job’s not having it. Our passage above is part of his long rebuttal. The “rule” doesn’t always apply. Wicked people prosper sometimes while good people suffer. He refuses to confess sins he didn’t commit.

Like Job and his buddies I want a set of rules that apply in every situation with God. I don’t want surprises or circumstances that defy my theology. I don’t want exceptions or life circumstances that are difficult to interpret. I want life with God to always make sense, always square with my expectations, always be predictable.

Nope.

This is a sticking point for a lot of Christians, myself included. So often it seems that violence, injustice, wickedness run rampant. Death and destruction win the day. Lord Jesus come and save us from this world of sin and brokenness. Amen.

Jesus is my wisdom…

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1 Corinthians 1:26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human 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, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 

We know that many of the early Christians came from the margins of society – outcasts, the physically impaired, slaves, people living in poverty, and so on. If you have so little to lose, why not give the church a try? After all, church people held their material possessions in common (at least in some cases) so it could be a pretty good deal for someone with nothing. Here Paul is writing to those who came from the wrong side of the tracks. I’m particularly struck by v.30-31:

 “(God) is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

First there’s the list of what Christ has become for us believers: wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Wow. That’s quite a list, don’t you think? To comment on all four of these would take too long so I’ll just say a few words about the first item on the list… wisdom.

The teachings of Jesus, explaining how things work with God, fly in the face of everything considered wise in secular culture. In the Kingdom of God one must die in order to live? The first are last and the last are first? Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you? To be great in the Kingdom is to be servant of all? Are ya kidding me?! Nope. Not kidding. Interestingly it was the unsophisticated who were able to receive Jesus’ teaching while the educated scoffed. Poor Christians had little formal training or education or worldly sense – but they had Jesus. And if they had Jesus they had wisdom.

We’re in the midst of Holy Week in the church year. It’s the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. A group of us from our church are fasting for the week. I don’t mean we’re not eating or drinking anything, but we’re eating and drinking considerably less than usual. And while we’re fasting, we’re asking for the Lord to give us greater clarity on a particular question or issue.

I’m personally asking the Lord to reveal the places in my life where I’ve been leaning on the wisdom of the world rather than the wisdom of God. You might think a pastor has this down by now, but you’d be wrong. I’m continually faced with the temptation to do what seems right in my own eyes rather than God’s eyes. And while it’s true that God’s ways are not always obvious, sometimes they are. And so I’m spending this week in a posture of humility and repentance. I know I’m off track in parts of my life and I need the power of Jesus to bring me back.

Lord Jesus, let it be so. Amen.

 

 

 

 

There is power in the cross of Jesus…

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1 Corinthians 1:10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 

There is a lot in this passage, but this morning I’m focusing on the final verse:

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 

Apparently there were divisions in the Roman church with certain factions affiliating with particular leaders of the church – Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and so on. So Paul reminds the people that he did few baptisms, but instead chose to focus on proclamation of the gospel. Other leaders were fully capable of baptizing people, but none were anointed for preaching as Paul was. And then v.17 adds what appears to be an incidental detail. Paul could easily have ended at “…but to proclaim the gospel” but he didn’t. He went on describe the manner in which he proclaimed the gospel. This is the interesting part for me today.

“not with eloquent wisdom”

Roman culture was heavily influenced by Greek culture and so polished rhetoric was highly valued in Rome. Practiced speakers had certain ways of turning a phrase, using sophisticated terminology, elegantly building a case for their point, trying to be as persuasive as possible to influence the thinking of the audience. Apparently Paul’s speaking about Jesus didn’t bother to follow these conventions. Those listening for great oratory technique would likely have been disappointed with Paul’s approach.

“…so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”

There’s nothing persuasive about describing Jesus as the son of God who… died on a cross?! What?! Gods don’t die like common criminals! What an absurd idea. Frankly, as soon as Paul started talking about Jesus dying on the cross I would guess many people walked away. They just couldn’t get on board with the notion that the God of the universe was willing to suffer and die for the sake of ordinary human beings. Even today that’s a difficult idea for many people. It’s only by the prompting of the Holy Spirit at work in us that we can believe this ourselves. Faith is a gift of grace, like everything else in the Kingdom of God.

The cross has not lost its power, even today. The message of Jesus isn’t dependent on the skill of the speaker, but on the power of the Spirit to do a work in the hearer. That’s an important thing for us to remember when we’re feeling insecure about our ability to proclaim the good news of Jesus in word and/or deed. The effectiveness of the message was not dependent on Paul, nor is it dependent on you and me. If we will open our mouths and give witness to Jesus, however awkwardly, the Spirit will do its job. As Holy Week is underway, knowing I’ll be preaching several times this week, this is good word for me.

Lord give me grace to trust the cross and the power of the Spirit to do its work. Amen.

Their graves are their homes forever…

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Psalm 49: 10 When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others. 11 Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they named lands their own. 

In these verses the psalmist is making a sobering observation. Everybody dies. Doesn’t matter if you’re wise or a fool, your days are numbered. And because this is true, all the material wealth people strive for, spend our lives accumulating, comes to nothing. We don’t get to keep it because our ultimate home is a grave. Jesus says something similar in Matthew 6:19:

““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal…”

I wrote in my blog post yesterday of my desire to savor life as it passes by more quickly these days. I’m realizing it’s important to be present today, enjoy simple blessings today, relish the gift of life today. Frankly I’m not sure how many more tomorrows I have left. The psalmist’s teaching  for today is a good accompaniment to yesterday’s idea. Understanding my desire to focus on today the question remains – to what end? What exactly am I focused on today? It is something that matters?

This week I attended a monthly luncheon for pastors serving churches in my little suburb of Dallas. Our host was a young pastor (early 30s) who, after we’d finished eating, posed a question for discussion. Why are you still a pastor? As I looked around I realized the rest of us are older. I’ve been a pastor almost 21 years now. The others gathered around the table have served at least that long, mostly 30 years or more. I appreciated the young man’s question as it made me think.

When it was my turn to respond I said that I’m a pastor because I believe God called me to be one. Secondly I’m still a pastor because, as flawed as it may be, the Christian church remains an important vehicle through which God transforms persons and families via Jesus Christ. It transforms the Christian and potentially his/her entire family tree. It’s a work that lives on. Literally forever. This is very important to me.

But let me say you don’t have to be a pastor for this to be true. Our Lord needs people living out their Christian faith in everyday life far more than the Lord needs clergy. Clergy are few, but Christians are numerous. They imbed within every nook and cranny of our world, taking with them the power of the risen Jesus. In short, whatever you happen to do for a living, earning a living isn’t your primary purpose for being there – whether you realize this or not. The Lord has placed you there to bear witness to the power of Jesus to make all things new. Including you. Including your co-workers. Think about it.

Where does the time go?

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Job 14:1 “A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble, 2 comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow and does not last.”

Job continues his lament to God after having suffered horrible grief and loss. This verse really got my attention this morning. I agree with Job here, not with his sense of despair but in his awareness of the brevity of human life.

It was some time in my 40s when a shift happened in my thinking. Up to that point I had always been looking ahead. The present wasn’t as much to be enjoyed as to be endured for the sake of something better around the next corner. It’s the thinking of a younger man, I believe. Always waiting for real life to begin.

But then my oldest child Victoria graduated high school (pictured above as a HS senior) and – bam! It was a wonderful, but jarring moment for me. A “kairos” for sure. Some of you will know what I mean by that. Anyway, it was then I realized that life was passing me by very quickly. I mean, I actually had a kid graduating high school! Where had all the time gone?!

“A mortal, born of woman, few of days… comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow…”

These days I’m trying to be present in the now. I want time to slow down a bit. I want to enjoy my days while I still have them. Lord Jesus let it be so. Amen.