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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Nothing is Certain but Death and Taxes…

“Nothing is certain but death and taxes” – Sometime after the fall of mankind Adam proclaimed this factual utterance. The consequence of sin is death and therefore the consequence of life is taxes. This quote has been around for a long time and it is difficult to track down its actual origins so I’ll just assume Adam said it.

We’re in the middle of the political season and the internet is being flooded with bloggers who are spilling out their factual opinions about the proper ways in which our country should be ran. Being the person with strong political interests that I am, I’d rather talk about something more important. Death.

I am currently in Wichita Falls, Tx where I gave the first 18 years of my life. Pretty much all of my family is here, living within a few miles of one another. We have had a lot of meals together and not just on holidays. We have come to another transition point in our family history. My Grandma Marjorie is coming to the end of her life.

While I’ll be sad that my precious Grandmother has passed from this life, I know that she will take hold of the promise that was given in the resurrection of Christ. As we looked at a few weeks ago in 1 Corinthians 15, if there is no resurrection of the dead then Christ didn’t raise either. The Gospel…the Good News…the Hope that we, as followers of Jesus, have…is that death, the consequence of sin, has been conquered on our behalf.

I was looking at my sweet Grandma and had 15:42-44 in mind. She is perishing. There is nothing honorable about the way she looks or what is going on in her body. She is incredibly weak and can’t really even open her eyes. This is the body she was born with. But! She will be raised imperishable, glorified, in power, with a spiritual body. She will be made new again, not with a body that any of us can conceive of, but with a body that has been glorified with Christ.

My Grandmother, who is weak and feeble, was clothed with Christ years ago. She has fought the good fight. She has finished the race. Being clothed with the imperishable, with immortality, “Death has been swallowed up in victory!” because of Christ. “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” “Thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

My beautiful Grandma is ready to be done with this life. She is a beautiful woman of God, warrior in prayer, and the embodiment of the servant Christ. Though she will be missed and this will be a difficult transition for our family, she has victory in Christ and in that we find peace.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Bible Blog, Hot Topics

 

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1 Corinthians 4 – Crumpled Envelopes

Jars of Clay

God took saw the darkness in the world that was blinding people to what He was doing.  They couldn’t see the Gospel because they were blinded by the “god of this age.”  And in our age, certainly there are other “gods” such as greed, self-reliance, denial of truth, immorality, and many others that blind many in our world.  But in that blinded world of darkness, God brought forth a light.  This light was good news because it responded to the darkness and stood against the bad news of the world.  I think it’s important that we always think of the “Gospel” or good news in this way.  While the good news is that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, the good news must also continually adapt to respond to the bad news that exists in every generation.  And God took this bright shining light, this great treasure of good news, and he placed it within each of us.

But don’t get too proud here.  The light is the treasure.  We are merely earthenware jars that the treasure is stored in.  In my office, there are three framed pieces of art and two diplomas.  The art was all shipped to me in cardboard tubes and the diplomas arrived in envelopes.  Today, all of these items hang around in decorative (and occasionally expensive) frames.  They hold a special place in my office because they are each special to me.  (The art includes a poster with all 150 psalms on it, a page out of a Vulgate Bible, and a replica of Van Gogh’s Still Life with Bible.)  However, the tubes and envelopes have long been disposed of.  Even though the envelopes were essential to protecting these items and getting them to me, they weren’t the treasure themselves.  It would be silly to have a framed envelope hanging on the wall.  In the same way, we are but jars of clay that hold a great and beautiful treasure, that is to say, God’s beautiful good news shining inside us.  But don’t get mixed up and think this is about us.  We are but crumpled envelopes with the privilege to carry the world’s most valuable treasure.

Psalm 116  

And yet, it’s not always fun feeling like a crumpled up envelope.  In verse 8-9 Paul talks about how we might be hard pressed but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed.  And yet, he did feel crushed, despairing and abandoned in chapter 1.  This chapter gives hope to people who feel as Paul did in chapter one.  We aren’t broken or crushed.  In fact, we are more like the psalmist in Psalm 116, which Paul quotes in vs 13.  He then goes to this psalm that tells us a person who feels completely beat up but finds that through faith they remain grateful for what God has done and what he will do.  And so with the same voice that the psalmist offers praise through great struggles, we too believe and therefore speak because we know the true blessing of the Resurrection.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2012 in 2 Corinthians, Pauline Epistles

 

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2 Corinthians 3 – Recommendation Letters and Unveiled Faces

Letters of recommendation are an important part of life today. As a minister, I’ve had many teens use me as a reference for jobs, scholarships, and college acceptance. It is important to have someone vouch for your character then you are unknown by those you are in contact with. A good reference can go a long way. Facebook, background checks, the Internet, etc. makes it easier to check someone’s credentials today.

In the ancient world, letters of recommendation were of high importance as people traveled with business. These letters let the church know that the person who has arrived are genuine and not just a random person showing up out of the blue, claiming to be servants of Jesus.

Imagine if you were an employer and got a strong recommendation for someone and found out later that it was a forgery. This seems to be what the church in Corinth is accusing Paul of. Looking back at the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians and chapter 9, they might have scoffed that he seemed to be writing a reference for himself in order to tell everyone how great he was. He defends himself against slander and opens himself again to possibly being charged again with writing another self-recommendation. He will come back to this charge a few more times. This hurtful accusation seems to be one of the main reasons for this letter.

The Spirit is the letter of recommendation for Paul that has been written on their hearts. How much greater is the Spirit than any other letter? Greater than letters on stone with Moses. Greater than any letter written with ink. The Spirit has surpassing glory that will last forever.

Moses was veiled because the glory was passing away. We have confidence to be bold because the glory of the Spirit does not pass away. Christ takes this veil away and gives us reason to be bold because we have found our freedom in Christ. We, who have unveiled faces, reveal the Lord’s glory and are being transformed into his image with “ever-increasing glory.”

How does this reality change the way you live? Does your life reflect the glory that has been placed upon you in Christ? If you stopped and shared the Gospel with someone, would they already know it by how you lived?

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel, and, if necessary, use words.”

– St. Francis of Assisi

 

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2 Corinthians 2 – Aw Man…(Forgive Them)

In his first letter to Corinth Paul discusses the protocol and rationale to excommunicating a member of the church who is blatantly living in sin.  The community of believers must take a stand against sin.  One of the challenges that always exists in Christian community is that we are set free from sin and death and yet we are bound to a new set of rules and standards.  As Christians, we are called to do everything we can to find God’s will and God’s standards and then bring our lives into alignment with his will.  When a member of the community  is willingly and intentionally disregarding God’s standards then the rest of the church must step up and remove them.  This isn’t done for the purpose of bring mean or judgmental, but with hopes that it will convict them into repentance.  It also ensures that the church doesn’t allow God’s standards to become blurred.

Anyhow, all of that is to say that in 2 Corinthians 2 Paul is writing about just such a situation.  The good news is that it worked!  The bad news is that the church has refused to bring the excommunicated brother back into the church.  Why withhold forgiveness from somebody who has repented?  Why not bring them back into the fold so that they can be encouraged, blessed and begin contributing to the church again?  Certainly God has forgiven them and Paul desires to do so himself.  The church must step up and gladly recognize that the difficult and painful process of excommunication was successful and begin the (often more difficult) process of forgiveness and reconciliation.

I had somebody in my office a few weeks ago telling me about a difficult relationship in their life.  Their family member had finally said something so horrific (and it really was) that he was telling me that he was now actually relieved.  “Now that they said that, I don’t have to care about them any more.  That relationship is over now, thank goodness.  Right?”  My response wasn’t what he expected.  After talking about the difficult circumstances surrounding this problem we came back to his question of whether or not he was justified in abandoning the relationship.  I asked, “When you stand before God and He asks you if you did everything you could to make the relationship right, can you say yes without getting a sick feeling in your stomach?”

“Aw man…”

His honest response is probably what most of us would say when we consider if we need to take the first steps in rebuilding the broken relationships in our life.  Especially if the estranged person has repented and desires a restored relationship.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in 2 Corinthians, Pauline Epistles

 

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2 Corinthians 1 – Yes in Christ!

Welcome to 2 Corinthians, which I like to jokingly call 3Corinthians because Paul says he has already written them in 1 Corinthians, but anyway…welcome to 2 Corinthians! We’ll be working through this book together for a few weeks and I look forward to the encouragement and challenges it will bring.

Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth takes on a completely different tone than his previous one. Something tragic has happened in the time that has passed between these two letters. Sometimes we read the Bible without hearing the emotion in the writing. Listen closely to the anguish and pain that is being communicated throughout the book and especially in the opening lines.

I want to be able to stand with Paul in his opening statements but I’m not sure if I’m quite there yet because I haven’t really been in any kind of danger. Paul begins this letter by talking about the comfort he has in God only to go on to talk about the great pressure and troubles they have experienced in the province of Asia. This is a pressure that he admits to not being able to endure but he has fully been able to rely on God, who raises the dead. I want to know this kind of faith that fully leans on the hope found in the resurrection.

Paul goes deeper into sorrow, hurt, and pain than any other letter he writes. Fortunately, he also demonstrates what to do about it and emerges with a deeper and clearer view of what it meant for Jesus to suffer for us and with us. Jesus didn’t just suffer for and with us but he rose again in triumph over the suffering.

As we journey through this letter together we will see it come through the darkness of tragedy and into the light of day again. There is a lot to be learned here about what to make of our journey together as we encounter tragedy and turmoil.

Change of Plans

I moved from North Carolina to Oklahoma City three years ago this month. Despite my desires and my greatest of intentions, I have not been back to visit. Some people understand and others do not. Some have ever cut ties with me and I have been deeply saddened by that. I have been able to keep up with a lot of people via Facebook and cell phone. These are luxuries that Paul did not have at his disposal and the church is saddened by his change of plans to come visit. I’m curious how Paul would have used Facebook and how it might have changed his ministry…but I digress.

Corinth is accusing Paul of being wishy-washy. He’s saying, “yes, yes” out of one side of his mouth while saying “no, no” out of the other. Paul explains to them that his answer to them has always been “Yes!” but it has been demonstrated in different ways. Paul has always lived, planned, and prayed on the basis of the gospel itself. There is a powerful statement here that I’ve read over for years without catching its power. Jesus is God’s “YES!!” to us. When God looks at us, He looks down from the cross and says, “YES!!”

God made promises to Israel for thousands of years and they were called to live on these promises. They had to trust that God would come through in the end on what he had planned and proposed. In the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, God’s “YES!!” echoed throughout creation.

Another “Yes” for those who believe in Christ is, “Amen.” At the end of times of prayer, all who would like to be associated with that prayer say, “Amen.” When we say “Amen” we are not only saying “Yes, we agree.” We are going a step further in that we are praying “Yes” through Jesus the Messiah, God’s “Yes” to us.

Finally, we enter into this “Yes” because the Spirit has been placed on us as a deposit for what it to fully come. To use the imagery of the Church being the Bride of Christ, the Holy Spirit being placed on us is the “Yes” that is found in the engagement ring shared between two people who are saying “Yes” to each other.

So often we live our lives in a way in hopes that someday God might look down and see all the good that we have done and say “Ok…I guess I’ll approve you.” This is a horrible way to go about living life and hard to find any comfort in times or turmoil. We need to remember that God has already looked at us through Christ and said, “YES!!” to us where we are and has brought us in. When times are tough and life is dark we remember that God has said “Yes” in Christ and we find our hope!

 

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Cliff’s of Moher and the Vastness of God

In March of 2011 I sat on top of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. If you’re familier with the Princess Bride, these are “The Cliffs of Insanity.” I was overwhelmed with their vastness and took time to reflect on God’s glory while I was there. In case you’re wondering…these are 700ft cliffs and I’m dangling my feet over. This is a self portrait and I’ll let you use your imagination as to how I took this picture.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2012 in Photos

 

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Hot water

20120824-230004.jpg

So today’s blog got bumped by an unexpected situation at my house, where last night our hot water tank retired. So I spent a good amount of last night learning how to install a new one and an even more significant amount of time today actually doing it.

At one point I planned to share this with a scripture about patience, or God being in control, but then I remembered that I still had to mow. Getting in a prayer with Carter was the extent of my spiritual life today.

So today’s point is that sometimes we have to be flexible and be grateful for a God who understands.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Hot Topics

 

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1 Corinthians 16 – “It Goes Without Saying”

“Of course, it goes without saying that…”  It’s a slightly ironic and completely self-contradicting statement.  If it doesn’t require saying, then why say it?  This is an idiom that is often used in conversation to imply that the statement to follow is so completely obvious that it shouldn’t have to be asked, but for some reason does.  That reason is most often, that somebody lacks confidence in either themselves or others that requires the obvious to be clearly stated.  This could be the title for 1 Corinthians 16.  On several matters, Paul must state the obvious because he is lacking in confidence in his own relationships or assumptions about the Corinthians, or he is worried that they will fall short.

So when it comes to taking up a collection for the Lord’s people upon his arrival, Paul wants to make sure that they are already setting money aside every week for the purpose of giving to those in need.  Around this time there was a serious famine in Israel and it is likely that Paul is travelling through the Greek churches collecting donations to help those who are struggling.  It certainly doesn’t hurt Gentile/Jewish relations in the church to have the Gentile churches giving to the Jewish Christians in need.  So Paul writes, it goes without saying, that you should already be setting aside some money for the Lord’s people.  This was most likely in addition to the money already being given to the Lord for the work of the church, care of its own needy, and other gifts to God.

Then Paul moves on to discuss the level of hospitality and cooperation that he expects them to show to Timothy and Apollos.  Essentially, “It goes without saying that you will treat my co-workers well and give them the help, resources and support that a preacher of the Gospel deserves.”  Paul’s statements also serve as a letter of commendation and introduction to those individuals.  Certainly, they will be treated well.  After all…it goes without saying, Corinth will do the right thing.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2012 in 1 Corinthians, Pauline Epistles

 

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1 Corinthians 15 – What Will Be Resurrected?

Paul’s intro to the last section of his letter is quite the attention grabber. “Let me remind you of the gospel I preached to you” would kind of perk up the ears a bit since there is an assumption that you have forgotten the gospel. This gospel saves. You take your stand on it. If you do not hold on to it firmly, you have believed in vain. So…what is this gospel?

Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day. Up to this point in the letter Paul has been focusing on the cross. He does mention the resurrection back in chapter 6 but it is far from being his focal point. It seems as though one of the major problems in Corinth is that they have stopped believing in the resurrection (v12). If you do not believe we will be resurrected, you have let go of the gospel. So…what is the problem they are having with the resurrection?

Everything in the Christian message hinges on Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If he didn’t resurrect then there is no gospel. If he didn’t resurrect then death has not been conquered and there is no hope. If he did not resurrect, then we will not be resurrected. If we do not resurrect from the dead then neither did Christ and we are left in our sins.

Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection. Death came through Adam. Life comes through Christ. Christ conquered death in the resurrection, it will be fully destroyed at the end of time, and therefore there is no need to fear death because you are in Christ. If there is no hope in the resurrection then you should live each day as though it is your last because there is nothing to look forward to.

To deny the resurrection is to deny the gospel. Christ didn’t just die for our sins. He was also resurrected so that death would be conquered. So the question remains…what is the resurrection? Paul gives an analogy to seeds. The kind of seed that is sown is the kind of seed that will grow. The body, as we know it, is just the seed of what is to come. We cannot fully understand what the resurrected body will be but it will be a body nonetheless. All things became broken in the fall of mankind and all things will be resurrected again, each to its own seed. Humans will resurrect as humans, but perfectly as God intended. Animals will be resurrected perfectly as God intended them to be. Birds. Fish. Heavenly bodies. Earthly bodies. Etc. All we be resurrected into the glory of God, perfectly as He intends for them to be.

The seed of your body that was sown perishable will be raised imperishable, in glory, in power, and spiritual. This spiritual body is not to be understood as your soul being resurrected and your body staying in the grave. This is not what happened to Jesus when he was resurrected.

Paul ends by saying that flesh and blood, as we know it, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. We must be resurrected! We will be clothed with the spiritual body and death will be swallowed up in victory. Because death has been swallowed up and we will be raised imperishable, we are to stand firm, unmoved, giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord because we know that all things will be made perfect, as our Lord is perfect. We do not labor in vein. We are victorious in Christ and death has no hold on us!

 

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1 Corinthians 14 – Don’t Be Confusing

What I don’t know

I have had people that I am close to and who I have a great deal of respect for explain to me in detail times that they have “spoken in tongues.”  They have described to me a very spiritual, almost other-worldly experience.  They didn’t know the words that were coming out of their mouths and others didn’t either.  I haven’t ever experienced anything like this myself and haven’t witnessed it in others.  I also am uncomfortable simply dismissing the genuine experiences of people who I know.  I have no explanation for this, but based on Paul’s instructions in this chapter, I think that’s okay.

What I do know

The church in Corinth has something like what I described above going on all the time and it’s causing chaos in the church.  Any time you have people speaking different languages in a single context you have problems and potentially division.  At the very least it’s hard to communicate and build relationships.  In fact, when humanity unified against God to build a tower to the heavens, God broke their alliance by bringing chaos and division into their community by scrambling their languages.  So why bring the curse of Babel into the blessing that is the church?

This question is at the heart of what Paul is communicating here in 1 Corinthians 14.  He doesn’t disavow speaking in tongues or deny that it happens.  In fact, it was a group of Apostles who spoke in the tongues/languages of Jews from around the world that first converted 3,000 at the Feast of Pentecost.  What Paul does though is insist that the church should be a place of unity and building up.  When people speak in foreign languages, confusing styles, or even just talking over other people they are bringing chaos and division into the community.  So if you find yourself with a foreigner who speaks another language, by all means bring forth the individuals gifted to speak in tongues to preach to them.  However, if you have a church of people speaking Aramaic, get the guy who knows Aramaic but is screaming in English to sit down and be quiet. He’s only causing problems and not benefiting anybody.

What I think I know

Towards the end of the chapter Paul gives the instruction that women should be quiet in the assembly and if they have questions should wait until they get home and ask their husband.  This is somewhat problematic even in the Biblical text itself.  First of all, we have examples of women who played important roles in the ministry of Jesus and in the early church.  How do we justify that with the instruction to remain silent?  And what about women who aren’t married or whose husbands aren’t Christians?  Who do they ask?

I think there is something going on in Corinth that requires Paul to deal with very emphatically.  Since we can assume that Paul is continuing his major theme of unity and order in worship, it appears that some of the women in Corinth have become disruptive.  Paul’s instruction to the church is perhaps the equivalent of “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  The problems have reached the point that it’s time to say nothing at all.

Remember, this is being written by the same guy who on another occasion wrote, “in Christ there is neither male nor female…” indicating a certain level of equality among believers.  I think that today’s passage is largely to a specific group of people in a specific situation.  (Another example of this is when Paul instructs Timothy to take a little wine each day to soothe his stomach problems.  We don’t then assume that we must all take a little win every day for a stomachs.)  And yet, from the very beginning God created people as man and woman, similar and yet unique.  He intended certain roles for men in the family and for women in the family.  When God chose to create his church much in the image of a family, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that there are times when the Bible indicates that men and women have some different roles in the church.  That being said, women never talking at church…isn’t one of those differences.

For more on this, keep reading when we get to some of Paul’s epistles in a few months.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2012 in 1 Corinthians, Pauline Epistles

 

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