Affliction and consolation…

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2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.

You probably know that Paul and the other leaders of the early church often suffered persecution for their faith. Paul himself was beaten and left for dead at least once, maybe more. We also know that the church itself was persecuted from time to time, as Paul made reference in this passage. Paul made no promises that Jesus would spare Christians from suffering – quite the opposite. That said, he mentioned repeatedly that “affliction” (suffering/persecution) would be accompanied by “consolation” (relief and/or comfort) in equal measure.

Lately I’ve encountered a large number of people who are in very difficult circumstances. They’re struggling financially, relationally, in their health, and more. Like a typical “guy” my mind often goes to “How do we fix this?” While I’m listening I’m thinking of solutions to the problems I’m hearing. But then I remember that often times people aren’t expecting me to be the source of a solution, but as a source of comfort, encouragement, hope in the Lord. I’ll bet that’s true for you too. And because the Lord has sustained me through some very difficult times, I have support to share with others – just like the passage says.

Lord thank you for the grace you pour out to sustain us through the worst of times. Amen.

With many advisers plans succeed…

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Proverbs 15: 22 Without counsel, plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed.

I’ll admit it’s not always my instinct to solicit the opinions of others before acting. As the writer points out in this verse, this can be a problem. With age I’ve gotten better about inviting input from people I trust. Their questions aren’t a form of opposition, but rather an opportunity to think more clearly about my plans. Questions have helped me avoid mistakes and anticipate problems before things blow up in my face. I’ve learned this… the hard way.

Wide doors… and adversaries…

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1 Corinthians 16:But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

Paul was writing to the church in Corinth letting them know he intended to visit them, but he would be delayed a bit. v.8 tells us the reason for the delay. The ministry in Ephesus was too fruitful to walk away from. Then he adds, “and there are many adversaries”.

When the Kingdom of God sees breakthrough there is pushback from the forces that defy God. 

I’ve seen this enough times to know it’s true. God uses us to advance the Kingdom (a wide door for effective work) and then problems emerge: division and arguments commence, sickness/illness knocks us down, temptations to sin multiply, obstacles appear from nowhere. My temptation is to back off of praying when things are going well, which is a mistake. It may be the time when we most need prayer is right after seeing the hand of God move among us.

The sting of death remains…

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1 Corinthians 15: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

I need to remember that when the bible says “Death has been swallowed up in victory”, it doesn’t mean we no longer suffer the effects of mortality or endure the pain and loss at the death of a loved-one. From my perspective death still stings.

But Jesus’ resurrection from the dead means that death no longer has the last word. We will be raised on the last day along with our loved ones. We may lose them for a while, but it is only for a while. There is hope in that.

Generosity and scarcity…

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Proverbs 11:24 Those who give generously receive more, but those who are stingy with what is appropriate will grow needy.

When we give freely to God we don’t have to worry about going into a financial hole, even if it appears we don’t have the money to give. The promise is that we will “receive more”. In other words God will make sure we have what we need. That which we give will come back to us. 

The converse is true as well. When we hold tightly to what God has first given to us we are much more likely to find ourselves coming up short. Scarcity will take up residence in our lives, which brings about stress and worry. That’s no way to live.

The best way I know to break free from the stress of scarcity is to follow what the bible teaches us. When we return a tithe (10% of our income) to the Lord scarcity flees and abundance takes root. It just does. If you haven’t done so already, you should try it.

Lord give us grace to give freely from what you have first given to us. In this way we bless others as we are blessed by you. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Least of the apostles…

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1 Corinthians 15:3 For I (Paul) handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.

Compared to the 12 apostles who accompanied Jesus during his earthly ministry, Paul is “least of the apostles”. He didn’t spend a single day with Jesus prior to his resurrection, a fact I expect some people used as a criticism. Paul doesn’t deny this, but also points out that despite his diminished pedigree in the eyes of some, Jesus did in fact appear to him and call him to be an apostle to the Gentiles.

v.10 “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain”.

I understand Paul’s way of thinking here. My first year of seminary I remember feeling terribly inferior to my classmates. I knew so little about the church, about the teachings of the faith, about being a pastor. All I knew for sure was that I had been called by Jesus to be a minister of the gospel. And I prayed that would be enough, that the Lord would somehow make up for my many deficiencies. The Lord has been faithful to me in this regard and I pray “his grace toward me has not been in vain”. Lord let it be so. Amen.

Prophesy and the gift of tongues…

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1 Corinthians 14:39 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. 

Paul spent quite a bit of time in this letter discussing the use of the gift of tongues and prophesy in the church body. I’m a Lutheran pastor and I can tell you that tongues and prophecy aren’t typically part of our tradition. It’s rare to encounter a Lutheran who is well versed in the application of these gifts – at least the supernatural dimensions of them. For instance many in our tradition speak out against injustice in the world, which is a function of the prophetic. However, few people willingly share prophetic visions and dreams or words of knowledge from the lord. And tongues? Um, I don’t think so.

That said these are important gifts for the church and, as Paul says in v.39, we should “be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues”. I’ve been fortunate to lead a church that was quite free with these gifts and used them well. I realize there are places where spiritual gifts are abused or used improperly, but that doesn’t mean the gifts themselves aren’t useful, legitimate, and entrusted to the church for God’s purposes. My hope is that the church I now lead in suburban Dallas will grow in our openness to the supernatural gifts of God. That we will be a people eager to claim and use them “decently and in order”.

Lord, give us grace to be open to receive and use ALL of the gifts of the spirit, even the weird ones. Amen.