Living as a Christian is not “safe”…


2 Corinthians 4:(The apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth) But we have this treasure (the gospel of Jesus) in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. 

By the time Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth he was in poor physical condition. He and his coworkers in the gospel had suffered greatly as described in v.8-9, but their apostolic mission continued to bear fruit.

This passage reminds me of an important truth for us Christians. The gospel of Jesus does not include an expectation that we will be spared from physical harm in this life. To the contrary, the more deeply we live into our gospel mission the more likely we are to suffer for our faith. If that sounds strange to you consider the fates of the key persons of the New Testament: Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, Philip, and so on. All the key leaders of the early church, faithful and effective in their ministries, died violent deaths.

Our passage for today reminds me that living as a disciple of Jesus is not “safe”. It is blessed, rewarding, fruitful, but not safe. Lord Jesus, give us courage to live as your disciples, especially when there is risk involved in serving you. Amen.

Slow to anger…


Proverbs 19:11 Those with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense. 

This is a good word for me. It reminds me that, by God’s grace, I can choose not to react to someone else’s negativity with negativity. That said, there are some particular people who know how to push my buttons. Lord have mercy!

Looking past the insults and anger…


Proverbs 12:16 Fools show their anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult. 

I was recently watching a movie called “A Man Called Otto” starring Tom Hanks (currently streaming on Netflix). In the movie he plays a man who is in the midst of deep personal grief and expresses his grief via an angry, harsh countenance. He is insulting and grumpy to just about everyone. However he then meets a couple who move in across the street. What fascinates me is how the couple refuse to respond to Otto’s insulting manner, continue to reach out to him, and get to know him. Otto’s defenses are eventually breached and a touching relationship emerges.

I write all of this because there are times when I find it difficult to do what I saw in the movie, and what I read in this verse from the book of Proverbs. I have a hard time looking past insults and anger. I realize the movie is a work of fiction, but I have known people like this in real life. They refuse to get angry or match a person’s prickly disposition. I am always in awe when I see it. This morning I’m asking the Lord to help me “ignore an insult”. I would be much better for it. Lord let it be so. Amen.

The gift of tongues…


1 Corinthians 14:Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I speak to you in some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?…12 So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church. 13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret… 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you; 19 nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 

One of the key challenges in the ancient Corinthian church was division – people splitting up into various groups or factions and then arguing with one another. Here we have another source of division – those who “speak in tongues” and those who don’t. If you’ve ever heard someone speaking in tongues, or perhaps “praying in the Spirit” as some call it, then you know it can sound strange and basically unintelligible both to the one praying and to those hearing the prayer. However, scripture is clear that God’s Spirit understands. In fact, it is speech originating from the Spirit within us speaking to the Spirit of God outside of us.

I think I’ve mentioned before speaking in tongues has its uses. For instance, when I’m praying for someone but am not sure what to pray I’ll (silently) pray in the Spirit, trusting that that Spirit within me knows what to pray even if my mind doesn’t. Sometimes when I’m praying alone I’ll pray in the Spirit, particularly if I’m offering prayers of praise. Why? Because there are blessings God brings to me I’m not even aware of, so praying in the Spirit allows me to offer thanks for those blessings as well. It’s a wonderful gift to be able to pray this way.

However, in some churches this gift of tongues divides people – usually because some teach that one is not really a born again Christian unless they pray in tongues. So those who do not have this spiritual gift are made to feel inferior. Remember spiritual gifts are just that – gifts that are given by the Spirit of God. You don’t get to choose which gifts you have. The apostle Paul, author of this letter, spent much of chapter 12 teaching on this topic.

Lord Jesus, the gifts of the Spirit are given to build up the body of the church, not to sow conflict. Give us grace to see our differences as a blessing, not a curse. Amen.

Who can I love on today?


1 Corinthians 13: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. 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. 

Paul is writing to a community of believers in conflict. One aspect of this conflict is their creation of a hierarchy according to spiritual gifts. The more impressive gifts are more important and so some people are more important than others. In this chapter Paul pushes back on this way of thinking, writing that “love” is more important than any of the spiritual gifts in the community. It’s also something everyone can do, not just the select few. To think otherwise is to think like a child. Two thoughts come to mind for me here:

First, this passage reminds me of Jesus’ disciples who debated among themselves who was the greatest. This too was childish thinking, but it’s pretty normal. People have a propensity to create hierarchies, especially when we get to occupy the top rather than the bottom. But the invitation of Jesus is an invitation to the bottom rather than the top, to serve rather than to be served.

Second, a book I’m reading suggests one reason younger people (in general) are resistant to the church is because what they see the church doing and what they hear the church saying often doesn’t look or sound like “love”. Instead it sounds like condemnation and judgment. While this is not true of all churches, and secular media tends to reinforce this image of the church, it’s not completely wrong either.

Finally, in light of this passage I’m praying about love (from the Greek word “agape” = acting on behalf of another expecting nothing in return). Who can I “agape” on today? Lord show me the way. Amen.

Everyone can love…


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 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. 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. 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. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 

The apostle Paul names some gifts of the Spirit asking a series of questions. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? And so on. The implicit answer is “no”. Not everyone has the same gifting or calling, but together we become the “body of Christ” to the world. But then Paul writes in v.12, “I will show you a still more excellent way”. What does he mean by that?

Greater than even the working of miracles is… love, which is patient, kind, not boastful or rude, and so on. What I believe makes love greater than the other things mentioned is the fact that EVERYONE can be loving. It doesn’t require special powers or gifting or experience. As a mentor of mine used to say, “Everybody can play!”.

Lord teach us to love others as you have loved us. This morning I’m particularly thinking of some people in my life who aren’t easy to love. Sometimes I’m tempted to give up on them, on me. Do a work in us we cannot do for ourselves. Amen.

We’re not all the same – and that’s okay…


1 Corinthians 13: 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit… God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

A key theme in 1 Corinthians is unity. Why? Because there was dissension within the church. Some people considered themselves superior to others because they came from a Jewish background, as did Jesus. Some were wealthy, others poor. Some had more impressive spiritual gifts than others. Some were free while others were slaves. And while those distinctions meant a great deal in the world outside of the church, Paul (author of this letter) is having none of it inside the church. In the Christian community people were obviously different, but none better than another or more important than another. It’s hard for us to understand what a radical idea this was at the time – and, frankly, in our day as well.

The first Lutheran church I ever belonged to was First Lutheran Church in San Marcos, Texas. I was in my early 20s and felt like a fish out of water for a while. Fortunately, having grown up Catholic, there were enough similarities to make it feel a little familiar, but I still felt very much like a “newb”. So imagine my surprise when I was invited to serve on the church council. Me?! You sure?! It changed the way I understood my place in the church. A few years later, it was that invitation to leadership that opened my heart to being called as a pastor of the church – which I have now done for 25 years.

Today I am always looking for ways to invite young people, or people relatively new to our church, to serve in leadership. Sometimes they propose things that make us established folks a bit uncomfortable. They push us to think differently about our church and our world. I don’t always agree with them, but whenever possible I choose to trust them. They represent the future of the church. Lord let it be so. Amen.

The mystical side of Christianity…


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, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 

It’s interesting that the gifts Paul mentions here are mostly what we might call the “charismatic” gifts – supernatural. Healing, miracles, discernment of spirits, and so on. I’m pastor of a church that, like most Lutheran congregations, doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on the mystical side of Christianity. Perhaps that should change.

Lord, the gifts of the Spirit are just that – gifts. Stir us in me, and those reading this blog post, a greater hunger for the supernatural dimension of faith. Show us the way, O Lord. Amen.

I cry to God…who fulfills his purpose for me…


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. 

We are told this psalm was written by King David before he was king – when he was running for his life from his predecessor, King Saul. This morning it’s v.2 that gets my attention. God had a purpose for David, which he revealed to David when the prophet Samuel found David as a young teen. Samuel, under direction of God, anointed David and told him that God would one day make him king of Israel. Years later, when David was 30 years old, God indeed made him king.

But there were many times along the way when it seemed God’s promise would never come true.

This psalm was written during one of these times when God’s plans appeared to be for naught. King Saul was jealous of David and tried many times to have him killed. Yet God protected David and ultimately made good on the promise. Saul was killed and David was crowned.

Some of you reading this blog post feel a bit like David. It seems that God’s purpose for you keeps getting derailed, delayed, detoured. It’s tempting to just give up. I know because I’ve been there. It’s. Taking. So. Long…… Maybe this time of testing is exactly what you need to grow in perseverance so that you can actually succeed in your calling and not fail. God does that, you know. God will delay things until you are ready to be who God created you to be. Don’t give up dear sister/brother.

Lord, give us faith to follow after you and not fail. Amen.

Faith that is “on-demand”…


1 Corinthians 9:19 For though I (the apostle Paul) am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so 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 I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. 

Paul understood his calling to proclaim the gospel to those outside of Israel where the population was mostly Gentile (those outside the law) – not Jewish. As such he adapted his approach to suit the community he was trying to reach. His is an example we would do well to imitate.

This past weekend I attended our Lutheran regional (synod) gathering. There was a young clergy couple (church planters from Arkansas) who offered some very interesting observations about trends they are seeing in the church. One trend that particularly got my attention was the growth of “on-demand” faith. Just as people stream shows/movies when they want, they are increasingly engaging faith “on demand” – via podcasts, recorded streaming worship, YouTube, TikTok, and so on. The numbers of people committed to being at a particular church location at a particular worship time is decreasing as Sunday is no longer considered “sacred”. Many other things are scheduled for Sundays and, given a choice, people are increasingly choosing to do something else on Sunday mornings.

Many younger people are also wanting the freedom and flexibility to engage faith when it makes sense for their schedule, their family situation, and so on. By and large our churches are not designed to function in a way that connects well with this expectation. So I’m thinking about our passage for today. How might the apostle Paul encourage us to respond to these fundamental cultural shifts.

Dear Lord Jesus, our world is changing. Rapidly. Help your Church to engage people where they are rather than where we’d like them to be. Amen.