Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Judges 1-3: The Pattern

Judges 2 describes a sad pattern we'll see repeated throughout the book of Judges, a pattern we've already seen in 1 and 2 Kings, a pattern we see repeated in our own lives. 

First, the people disobey God, then reject him, and then serve other gods.  Next, they experience misery and suffering.  Finally they cry out to God, and he sends someone to save them.  They rejoice.  And then become complacent and disobey God.  

We can look at these people and ask, why don't they get it?  

A better question is, why don't we get it?  Why don't we obey God in everything?  Why do we become complacent?  

We experience God and his power, we tell the stories of his glory, and then the stories get old, and we begin to forget.  We stop doing the little things he's asked us to do, and then bigger things.  And then we begin to wander. 
Incidentally, wandering can look like a lot of things--it can even be imperceptible to the people around us.

Maybe I'm telling my own story.  

The thing is, our experiences get stale.  We must continually seek God.  And we see that we are wandering, that our desire for him has decreased, when we realize that fear and anxiety threaten to crowd out faith and hope, we must cry out to him for mercy, for a touch of his spirit.  

We need new stories of God's love and faithfulness.  Ours and those of our spiritual community.
Or we will repeat the pattern of the book of Judges.

Judges 1-3: The Children

After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, 
who neither knew the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 
 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Babals. 
 They forsook the Lord . . . They followed and worshiped various gods . . . 
Joshua 2:10-12

The children of the Israelites walked away from God because they never experienced his power or his glory themselves. All they had were stories of God's greatness, and the stories seemed distant and irrelevant. Why serve such a demanding God when other gods let them do as they pleased?

I read this story, and it is more than a commentary on the Israelites for me; it's personal.

With our kids, we like to think in terms of guarantees. If we take our children to church, pray with them, teach them about God's Word, discipline them appropriately, then they'll serve God, live productive lives, have happy marriages, etc.

I think I attended more than a few seminars and read more than a few books that claimed if I did all those things AND home schooled my kids, we would positively avoid the struggles that public schooled church kids experienced.

When my son rejected God and walked away from the church, I felt shortchanged. Had all those speakers and authors lied? They certainly seemed sincere.

No, I must have done something wrong. In fact, I'm sure I did so many things wrong. I could tell you what those things were if you wanted, but that's not the point.

The point is, if our children do not experience God and his glory and his power themselves, if all they have are distant stories of God's greatness, at some point they will wander away.

I know some people will disagree with me, but I don't believe we have any guarantees with our children. We introduce them to God's truths.  We model our own spiritual growth and walk humbly before them. We pray for them.

But ultimately, it is God who works in their hearts.  And they make their own choices to follow God or to walk away.

And then we continue praying as our hearts are breaking.  And we trust God to continue working.

Monday, June 28, 2010

2 Peter 1-3: Faith By Itself . . .

If you've been in church for a while, you're probably familiar with the saying "Faith without works is dead."

It's from the book of James. Basically, James is saying that genuine faith DOES something.

Peter's saying the same thing in 2 Peter 1:5-7.

He says, because you are given everything you need for life and godliness because you know Jesus, you need to make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control, and to self-control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness, and to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love.

Because faith by itself is basically useless.

Okay, he didn't say that exactly.

He said if you have all these other things, in increasing measure, they will keep you from being

And he said, ". . . if you don't add all those things, if you only have faith without those things, you are like a nearsighted person who can't see anything."

You can't see what's coming. You can't interpret anything correctly. Trees look like people.
Deer look like bears.

You're driving around, running into other cars and killing people.

Okay. But you get the idea.

Faith by itself is worthless and ineffective. We need goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.

We need love.

1 Peter 4-5: The End is Near!

Remember those cartoons, the one where the guy is carrying around a sign saying, "The End is Near"?

There's always some kind of joke. Like the guy is standing at the end of a pier. Or the guy with the sign is visiting the doctor, who tells him not to worry he just has a cold. Or there's a foreclosure sign on the church building.

And then there are the people who really do carry around signs saying the end is near. Sometimes the sign also says "Repent."

The thing is, people have been saying that the end was near for pretty much forever. I remember The Thief in the Night movie series that came out when I was about 13. I was sure that the rapture was happening any way, and I was kind of bummed. I really wanted to get married first. After that I hoped that God would wait so I could have kids. And then I hoped God would wait so I could see them grow up.

After a while we stopped looking for Jesus to come back because, well, he didn't. And then the Left Behind books came out and people started looking for him again. There's nothing new under the sun.

Here is Peter, two thousand years ago, announcing in his letter: The end is near.

And I'm not making fun of him, really I'm not. The thing is, we have a way different sense of time than God.

And I want to affirm Peter's admonition that we need to be watchful. We need to be clear minded and self-controlled so that we can be pray. I know when I was stuck in the caves, I really had a hard time praying.

We need to love deeply.
To offer hospitality without grumbling.
To use our spiritual gifts.
To serve with God's strength.

We need to make the most of every opportunity.
I know, that was from Colossians 4:2-6. And Ephesians 5:15-16.

Don't you love the way the Bible opens up as we read more and more of it?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

1 Peter 1-3: Trials

I had lunch with Ashley on Friday. We've known each other for nearly five years, since I started a college-age small group with Ros in January 2006. We hadn't seen each other since December so we had a lot of catching up to do.

Eventually we got to the part about my job ending.

"Wow," she said. "God's really up to something in your life."

Jill said the same thing when we spoke on Friday night.
I need to hear that.

Otherwise the fear and the questions threaten to overtake my heart, to paralyze me so that I can't do anything, and they crowd out God's truth.

And here's what's true. It's found in 1 Peter 1.

God's mercy brings great hope, living hope, of new birth into Jesus' life. This life is short, and life with God is long. We struggle now, but our struggles strengthen our faith, which is worth more than any job, any relationship, any success, may be proved genuine and result in "praise, glory, and honor" to God.

Ashley observed that, as long as she has known me, God has kept pushing me to new things, new challenges, and that I seem to experience new fears along the way.

She's right, and I needed to hear her say that.
I need spiritual community. I need these awesome women of faith to remind me of what's true in Christ, while at the same time listening to my fears and acknowledging my fears and loving me through them. I need women who have known me a long time--they remind me of past struggles. I need to keep myself open to new avenues of spiritual community. They see new things.

I need them. And they need me. We challenge each other to keep our eyes on Jesus.

As Peter writes, and I paraphrase: Although we haven't seen Jesus with our eyes, we love him and believe everything he says. He fills us with inexpressible and glorious joy in spite of our troubles, our questions, our doubts--because we know that these troubles, these questions, and these doubts increase our faith. (1:8-9)

And so we prepare our minds for action (13), we obey God's directions (14), we choose God's purposes over our own (holiness,15-16), and love one another (22), and we get rid of anger, malice, deceit, and hypocrisy.

We are chosen by God, we serve together as a royal priesthood (9).


Colossians 4: Living as a Follower of Jesus Christ

I love the way Paul sums things up so simply at the end of his epistles. This passage in particular speaks to me, challenges me to live a certain way:

I want to devote myself to prayer, to set aside time for prayer and to have random conversations with God as I go about my day.

I want to be watchful of things God is doing. God's always up to something, but most of the time I don't even see it.

I want to thank him for what he's doing.

I need to pray for my spiritual leaders, that God will open doors for them and that they will proclaim the mystery of Christ clearly.

That doesn't negate my own role in proclaiming Christ, and so I want to live wisely toward outsiders, those who don't know Christ. I want to represent him in everything I do so that they see God's love in me, that they are drawn to the Holy Spirit in me. I want to recognize the opportunities God gives me to share my faith stories. Part of being watchful.

Likewise, I want to welcome people who are new to our faith community and value them and include them, so that they experience God's love and acceptance.

I want my conversations to be full of grace, sprinkled with biblical truth. Not in the way that I'm cramming my opinions down people's throats, but that the Holy Spirit speaks to them long after I'm gone.

This is Paul's challenge to the Colossians and to each of us.

Colossians 1: Living with God's Energy

I looked forward to writing about Colossians, and I thought a lot about which parts I would blog about. But I decided to read it again anyways and let the Holy Spirit speak to me through this book. There's a danger, I think, with skimming over familiar sections of the Bible, not opening my heart to hear God's voice in fresh ways.

This has been a difficult week. I've been facing fears, not really understanding them, and definitely not allowing God to give me strength to venture into new territories.

And so as I read Colossians 1:28-29, I saw something new. Paul says, "To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy . . ."

And I thought, am I struggling with God's energy? Or am I struggling with my own?

When my fears govern me, I have no strength, no energy. When I surrender my fears to God, he gives me new energy and strength.

I need to add, this is not the main point of the passage; however, it does remind me of God's truth.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Colossians 1: A Worthy Life

A few years ago, if someone had asked me what it meant to live a "life worthy of the Lord," or a life that would "please him in every way," I would have said being a good Christian.

That has meant many things over the years.

As a teen, that meant no sex, drugs, or alcohol, no cigarettes, going to church, and not swearing.

As a young wife, that meant no drugs or alcohol, no cigarettes, going to church, not swearing, and being a Sunday school teacher (or serving in some other way).

As a young mom, that meant no drugs or alcohol, no cigarettes, going to church, not swearing, being a Sunday school teacher (or serving in some other way), and raising well-behaved kids.

I didn't read the Bible much in those days, at least not its entirety. I didn't even realize there was a New Testament passage that addresses this topic directly.

Colossians 1 lists four things that constitute a life that pleases God.

First, a worthy life bears fruit in every good work.

What is fruit? And what are good works?
First, I would say that good works could be defined as things we say we are doing for God or to serve or benefit others.

A lot of passages address the topic of fruit.
In John 15, Jesus says, "I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you remain in me, you will produce fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing."
* Here, fruit appears to be growth. New life. Change.
* Similarly, in Colossians 1:5 says the gospel is "bearing fruit and growing."

What is produced through my acts of service, to God or to others? Are lives changed? Are people drawn to God?

Fruit can also be used to represent our own changed lives. Galatians 5:22-23 describes the fruit of the spirit. You know, the love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faith, patience stuff. The stuff that's so hard to maintain in my own life.

The thing with fruit is, we can't manufacture it on our own. God does the producing, through his Spirit, by remaining in Christ.

Second, a person living worthy life grows in the knowledge of God. Knowledge of God is more complex than learning a lot of things. This knowledge comes through study of God's word and also through experience his presence and through worship. We do not know God unless we

Third, a person living worthy life is strengthened with all power according to God's glorious might so that he or she has great endurance and patience.

It would be nice if Paul could have just stopped with strength and might. I don't necessarily want strength so that I can endure and so that I will have patience. That pretty much implies that I will need endurance and patience, and I don't want to have to need them.

Finally, a person living a worthy life gives thanks to the Father, who has qualified him or her to share in the kingdom of light. Why because we have been delivered from the dominion of darkness.

I like the phrase "dominion of darkness." However, I don't like to think about needing to be rescued from that realm. I don't like to picture myself as having been "alienated from God," or being an "enemy in my mind because of my evil behavior" (1:21).

But it's true. I live in a kingdom of light, I share in the inheritance of the saints, I am a child of God, because of Jesus' sacrifice, because I am delivered from the "dominion of darkness."

I must remember this and give thanks.

I want to live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way. It just doesn't look the way I thought it would when I was younger. It's much harder. It requires "spiritual wisdom and understanding," which come from God.

This post is long, and yet it seems incomplete.
I want to include something about how to do this, not just what it is.

The thing is, I must be completely dependent on God to please him. Maybe that's the point.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Moving Forward, Cautiously

Little messages haunt me as I live my life, like:

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.
That's not quite good enough.
You're not quite good enough.
You're not ready yet.
Do it right the first time.

Perfection, or near perfection, is possible.

Unfortunately, those messages are lies; they paralyze me and keep me from doing all kinds of things.
I anguished over my grad school application and the GRE.
I anguished over the TA application.
I anguished over the abstract for the Columbia conference and nearly quit writing the conference paper.

I still anguish over every single first paper I write for class.

They're not what they could be, I think.
And fear takes over.

Kiki asked me, "What are you afraid of?"
Honestly, I don't know.

I got into school.
I did reasonably well on the GRE.
I was accepted as a TA.
My abstract was accepted.
And the presentation wasn't terrible.
So far I've gotten A's on every paper.

I wish I could live by the Nike saying, "Just do it."
Put forth my best effort. Finish in a reasonable length of time without panicking.
Trust God with the results.

A few years ago I sensed God telling me, "Move. Just move." (Hence the title of the blog.)
"Move forward toward your dreams, the dreams I gave you."

Today I have new fears as I move forward.
This time I'm not moving voluntarily; God is pushing me toward something--I don't know what yet.
I'm filling out job applications and writing cover letters and writing resumes.
This time I know my fears. What if I don't get a job?

Still, it's always the same.
Just do it. Write the cover letters. Send them out.
Trust God.

One more fear as I move forward. I'm writing a letter to a pastor of, asking him to allow me to interview people who attend the church. It should be fine, but at the back of my head I think: I have to write the perfect letter. What if he says no?


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Philippians 3-4: The Difference Between "Knowing" and "Knowing"

I've been mulling over Philippians 3 and 4 since Saturday when I completed my last post. Philippians is one of my favorite books so I considered carefully which section to write about. Should I write about Philippians 4?

Rejoice in the Lord always. That section is profound and difficult.
Or how about not being anxious about anything? Those verses with their instructions comfort me at night or when I'm spinning out about things.
Or how about the section on being contact in all things, whether I have a lot or very little. This section is very personal as I continue my search for a new job.

Or I can go back to chapter 3 and the section about pressing on toward the goal for which Christ called me, not looking book. That seems to fit with the theme of this blog--learning to move.

And yet I keep coming back to the passage in Philippians 3, where Paul says that nothing matters more than knowing Christ.

Everything else, no matter how valuable, is like rubbish.

Rubbish. Not really a word we use these days.
I had an elementary school teacher who referred to the trash can as the rubbish can. That's where we put broken pencils and paper scraps.

The KJV uses the word "dung." Also not a common word, but a lot more descriptive--and smelly--than "rubbish."

I looked up the word in a concordance and the Greek refers to "any refuse, as the excrement of animals, offscourings, rubbish, dregs."

But I digress. The point is, I've been mulling over this passage because it is the heart of the Gospel. Knowing Christ. Putting that first.

Knowing Christ, really knowing him, changes me.
Knowing Christ is the foundation of all the other things I wanted to write about--
--not being anxious, praying, and peace
--contentment in all circumstances
--pressing on toward the goal to which Christ called me

And I wonder--is knowing Christ the most important thing in my life?
Or have I gotten bogged down in other things?
Have I placed other things ahead of knowing the One who loves me, rescued me, gives me life?

And then I wonder--how can I know Him?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I have caught up.

It doesn't matter to anyone but me, I think.
But I have caught up with From Garden to City.

I am going to celebrate with another cup of coffee.
I'm going to pack up my books.
And I'm going to check out of the hotel.


I also learned to embed a link in my blog posts.
Wow. What a great day.

Philippians 1-2: One in Spirit

I think Paul's letter to the Philippians was the first book in the Bible I fell in love with. Even now, as I read the familiar words, they speak to me. And more than that, I remember how they have spoken to me in the past.

Some years ago, when I was about 20, Duane and I joined a Friday night prayer group with some young men and women in our church. We worshiped, we prayed, we interceded, we shared Scripture. We grew as followers of Jesus Christ.

And then we had a silly disagreement. Some of us were going camping in the desert, leaving on Friday afternoon. Everyone in our prayer group was invited on the camping trip, but not all of them were going to go. The ones who decided to stay in San Diego thought the campers should leave after the prayer group; of course those of us who were going thought that was silly. You can't set up a tent in the dark, and who wants to lose a whole day?

We argued. People took sides.

I "discovered" Philippians 2:1-4.

If you have any encouragement from being united in Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

How I wished we would have embraced this passage, honored each other, submitted to one another. I don't remember what we ended up doing. I just remember that the prayer group members drifted apart. We continued meeting for about another month, but it wasn't the same.

I turn to this passage often. It speaks to me, to my desire to be right, to my desire for logical discussions. It speaks to me about how I should look at other people in my faith community.

One love.
One spirit.
One purpose.
In humility submitting to one another.
Looking out for the interests of others.

We follow the example of Jesus, who humbled himself, came to earth, made himself nothing, became a servant, and died for us.

We can only do this by God's power.

Ephesians 5: Submit to one another

I wrote something for work. The project took about two hours, but when I was done, I was pretty happy with it. I didn't hear anything for a couple of days, and when I finally got it back, the project was completely rewritten. Brand new message. The introduction was mine.

At first I was annoyed. For all kinds of reasons that really don't matter. My job now was to proof and edit the new project and distribute it.

And that bugged me. I told myself it didn't matter. I said, "I'm over it." And then I got honest with God. It did matter. It bugged me. A lot.

"Jesus," I said, "this really bothers me, and I don't know why. Of course, I'll do as I'm supposed to. I can submit. I'm good at submission."

And I immediately felt the Holy Spirit's conviction. "No you're not."

I responded with indignation. Really? I'm not good at submission?
I had been walking back to my car, and I stopped. I realized that what I'm good at is doing smiling while I do what I'm told even when I don't want to. That is not the same thing as submission.

This realization was little disturbing since the Bible tells us repeatedly to submit.

And so I began thinking and praying about the differences between submission, which apparently I'm not good at, and obedience, which apparently I am good at.

Basically, obedience is external. When I obey, I do as I'm told. My obedience doesn't necessarily reflect what's in my heart. I can cling to pride, thinking I'm right and whoever told me to do this crazy thing is wrong. I can obey rudely, or I can obey and pretend to be fine with it. Either way, God sees my heart, and he knows what I'm thinking. He knows if I'm obeying with a submissive heart, or if I'm just doing as I'm told.

Submission means to defer power or authority to another person or authority. Submission is humble. Submission allows another person's goals to take precedence over my own. Submission involves trust.

I do this sometimes, but not always. Sometimes I just obey.

Submission and obedience may look the same on the outside, but God sees the difference.
Submission includes servanthood; legalistic obedience does not.

This conversation with God started because of a work project, which I immediately began praying about. I want to submit to God, and that means that I must submit to leadership established by God.

And then I started thinking about the passage on submission in Ephesians 5, where Paul writes that we should means submit to "one another out of reference for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21). I began thinking about what it means to submit to my husband (Ephesians 5:22), and what it means to submit to God (James 4:7).

I'm still thinking about that.

Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians: Paul's Essential Prayers

Paul fills his epistles with prayers.

The first one I ever found was in Ephesians 3. I don't remember how old I was, somewhere in my teens, but it spoke to me, to areas of my faith that I knew were lacking, to areas that never really got addressed in church.

Here's Paul's prayer:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that your hearts, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:15-19)

I meditated on this passage, and I prayed it for myself. And then I got distracted and moved on.

God's love was assumed in the churches I attended at the time.
I didn't want to admit that I wasn't really experiencing power, love, or the fullness of God.
I was afraid what other people would say if they found out I was lacking.

I didn't understand that power, love, and fullness grow over time as I surrender my life increasingly to Jesus.
I didn't understand it's a process.
I didn't understand that we're all in process, that no one has "arrived."

Later on, I began exploring Scripture more seriously and came across this prayer again.
It's God who strengthens me; I can't strengthen myself.
Love is the root, the foundation.
Paul prays that we begin to grasp the immensity of God's love.
That means we don't. (Not just me--all of us.)
Even when we do, there's more. God's love is infinite. I'll never fully understand it.
God's love is better than knowledge.
I long to filled with the fullness of God.

And so I memorized this passage so that I could pray this prayer--for myself and others.

And then I discovered Ephesians 1:15-19, where Paul prays that the eyes of our hearts would be opened so that we could know God, that we would receive wisdom and revelation, and that we would experience the same kind of power that raised Jesus from the dead. And I added that to my list of prayer templates, models for prayer.

And then Philippians 1:9-11. Paul pray again that we grow in love, which gives insight, which leads to discernment.

And Colossians 1:9-12, where Paul prays for us to be filled with knowledge of God's will through spiritual wisdom and understanding so that we can live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.

These prayers are worth memorizing. They are worth meditating upon, journaling about, and worth praying.

Lazy morning. What should I do first?

Duane is attending a class at the AG District Office in Irvine, and I came along for the ride. I like doing this because it gives me time to do things I probably wouldn't have done if I stayed at home.

And so I'm sitting in a hotel room, listening to classical music, courtesy of, surrounded by more books than I could possibly open in the next few hours.

I have a copy of the Newbreak 101, with notes for editing.
I have books for my thesis.
I have books for the class I'll teach in the fall.
I have my Bible and journal, so I can write random things and write a few entries for this blog.

And I have internet and am trying not to check FB too often.
I have a cup of coffee, not in the styrofoam mug they provide here, but in a ceramic mug I brought from home.

What a wonderful, lovely morning.
What should I do first?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ephesians 1-3: Before and After

I really love those HGTV shows where a designer comes and changes a room. Sometimes the ideas the designers come up with sound absolutely crazy, the colors seem a little extreme, and they do things with rooms that I would NEVER in a million years think up. And at the end of the show, they contrast the "before" room, which generally looks pretty awful, with the "after" room, which almost always looks incredible. It turns out their random ideas weren't so random after all. After all, they are designers.

I think I watch for that moment when the producers show the before and after shots, juxtaposed, one on top of the other, and I can see what the designer had in mind.

I was reading Ephesians this morning, and I realized that's sort of what Paul is doing right here, showing us what the master designer had in mind when he sent Jesus to earth to die for our sin. We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Paul gives us a picture of who we are BEFORE Christ:
We are dead in our sin
We are objects of wrath
We are excluded from citizenship-aliens
We are without hope and without God
We are darkness

And then he gives us a picture of the AFTER, when when we are in Christ:
We are alive
We are loved by God
We are fellow citizens of God's people and members of God's household
We may approach God with freedom and confidence
We are light

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ!

2 Corinthians 13: Examine Yourself

One of my favorite prayers is from Psalm 139:

Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me. And lead me in the way everlasting."

Unless I slow down and ask, I don't always know that I'm off base, that I've strayed from following God.

And I don't always see the danger coming toward me, whether from circumstances or from sin patterns in my own life.

And I find these ideas reiterated at the close of 2 Corinthians, where Paul writes, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves."

I need to look closely.
I need to ask God for help.
I do not want to fail the test.

2 Corinthians 8-9: To Tithe or Not to Tithe OR Generosity

When we talk about giving, especially giving to a church, we generally talk about tithing, or giving one-tenth of our income. I've heard and read the arguments FOR tithing (Abraham, Melchizedek, Malachi 3) and I've read the arguments AGAINST tithing (Old Testament law is passed away, we live by grace). If I had to, I could support either position using Scripture. Yes, that's what they teach us in rhetoric classes.

Regardless, my favorite discussion on this topic is found in An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind, by Erwin McManus:

I was sitting on the hearth of the fireplace with an individual who was considering becoming part of Mosaic. He turned to me and asked if Mosaic was a law church or grace church.
It was pretty obvious to me that he was setting a trap, so I thought I would go ahead and jump in. I said, “Well, of course we’re a grace church.”

“I thought so,” he replied. “I was concerned that you were one of those law churches that told people they had to tithe.”

“Oh, no,” I said. We’re a grace church.

The law says, ‘Do not murder.’ Grace says you don’t even have to have hatred in your heart; you can love your enemy.
The law says, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but grace says you don’t even have to have lust in your heart for another woman.
The laws says, ‘Give 10 percent,’ but grace always takes us beyond the law. You can give 20, 30, or 40 percent. We would never stop you from living by grace.”

He looked at me and said, “Oh” – a profoundly theological response.

For the record, Duane and I have chosen to tithe and then give more as God leads and God enables. The traditional tithe gives us a guideline, and we find guidelines are useful and keep us accountable.

Nevertheless, Paul doesn't really address tithing/not tithing. He speaks to the topic of generosity and commends the Macedonian churches, who "gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability" despite extreme poverty. This isn't about dollar amount, or whatever they gave in first-century Roman Empire. It's about heart.

He urges the Corinthians to participate in the grace of giving. He writes, ". . . just as you excel in everything, in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us, see that you also excel in this grace of giving." (8:7)

Paul emphasizes that giving is not a command; rather, it's an outward sign of what's in the heart.

Years ago, before coming to Newbreak, Duane and I were very sporadic in our giving. The guideline of tithing seemed like a good idea, but honestly, we didn't have enough money to live on and we didn't think God wanted us to go hungry. When we began giving regularly, it was an act of faith and a sign of trust. By giving, we were acknowledging that everything we had belonged to God, that we believed he would take care of us. And he did.

Giving in this passage isn't really about tithing; it's about generosity, giving out of a desire to see God's kingdom grow.

We counted on the promises found in 2 Corinthians 9, where Paul writes, "And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every good work." (verse 8)

I've heard pastors on television (not at Newbreak!) promise that God will reward us generously when we give generously (to their ministries), that if we give hundreds of dollars, God will reward us with thousands. They base that on 2 Corinthians 9:6, which says, "Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously."

I struggle with this type of prosperity preaching, mostly because it urges giving for a monetary return. And because I see the preachers get rich while poor people struggle. And it doesn't focus on giving out of desire to see the kingdom of God grow.

This I know. God has taken care of us when it didn't make sense, and he has always met our needs. Sometimes at the very last minute. Pastor Mike calls it "God math."

I wish I had more time to delve into this incredibly difficult topic. Nevertheless, I want to close with by quoting Paul. Rather than focusing on a distinct amount, Paul says, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Every one of us needs to take our concerns about giving (and tithing) and give them to God. Talk to him about them. And then listen to God's leading in this very important area of our lives.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

2 Corinthians 7: Godly Sorrow

We all sin.
Every one of us falls short of living as God planned.
We don't necessarily like people to point it out.

I avoided accountability relationships for a long time.
I was well aware of my own failings and didn't need anyone else to point them out.
I grieved over my failings. I cried. I mourned.

The thing is, the awareness of sin in our lives should produce sadness.
We have disappointed God, and we want to please him.

There are two types of sadness about sin.
The kind that produces guilt and shame, that keeps us from turning to God and receiving his grace.

That was the kind I specialized in.
Let's just say that this type of sadness kept me from developing true spiritual community.
It kept me from accepting God's love.
It kept me from receiving his grace.

The second type of sadness is what Paul calls "godly sorrow."

Paul says, "Godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to salvation . . . worldly sorrow leads to death." (7:10)

Godly sorrow changes our hearts.
Worldly sorrow separates us from God.

Paul boldly speaks out against sin in order to produce godly sorrow, which does not harm, but which draws people to God.

He speaks with love.
His motives are clear.

When we speak out against sin, we must be sure we do not condemn them. We must be sure we do not produce shame, worldly sorrow.

2 Corinthians 5: Represent!

No matter where I go, whether I am teaching or taking classes at San Diego State, worshiping at the Santee Campus, or ordering coffee at Starbucks, I represent Jesus.

My prayer is that people will see him in me.
His light.
His love.
His gentleness.

Like Paul, we are Christ's ambassadors, given the ministry of reconciliation.

We were once enemies of God, alienated from him by our sin.
And now we are new creations.
We are his children.

And our mission is reconcile others to God, just as we have been reconciled to him.

We don't do that through persuasive speech, although we should always be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have.

We do that by serving, by loving, by living so that people see Jesus in our lives.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

2 Corinthians 5: Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

I don't know who wrote this song, but it's on one of David Crowder's CDs. It's short. I think less than a minute, and I think that's all there is to it. Sometimes lyrics don't need to be long or complicated to be profound.

We all want perfect lives. No pain. No disappointment. No struggle.

Anything less, and we end up frustrated.
Basically, we want heavenly lives here on earth.
And that's just not possible.

Once we come to terms with that, once we choose to make Jesus the centerpiece of our lives, we experience a new frustration.

We realize that no matter how hard we try, we always come up short.

Paul explains this in Romans 7:14-25.
He writes, ". . . I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carr it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do . . . For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in . . . my body, waging war against the law of my mind . . . What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"

We worship, and then we get distracted.
We set out to serve, and our motives get all mixed up.
We develop spiritual community, but then someone hurts us and we get mad. Or we hurt someone else, and they get mad.

But there is hope.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul compares our earthly bodies to a tent and says that tent is destroyed, when we die, we will receive a new building from God. In other words, a new body.

But "meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked."

Okay, I'm going to try and get around all these metaphors. No matter how hard we try, our earthly dwelling, the tent, just isn't that great. It's a tent.

Did you ever have that dream, the one where you were in front of class doing a presentation, or sitting in a pew at church, and then you realized you were naked and then you panicked because people could see you? You're trying to figure out how to cover up or get out of the building without anyone noticing?

Okay, I know I'm not the only one who has had this dream.
I used to have this fear that if people could really see me, all my weaknesses, all my faults, all my sin, then they would be horrified.

I didn't realize. We're all messed up. We're all wearing tents when we wish we were wearing our heavenly garments.

We think we want heavenly lives on earth.
What we really want, when we focus on Jesus, is to be with him.

So we "make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it."

Monday, June 14, 2010

2 Corinthians 4: Light and Momentary Troubles

I'm trying to get caught up, but verses keep standing out to me, and I don't want to miss a chance to reflect on them.

Sometimes I get super bogged down in circumstances.
Sometimes I feel like nothing will ever change.
That I will be stuck in sadness.
That God wants me to grow through adversity for the rest of my life.

I mean, I forget that life is short, God is love, and "all things work together for good."

I forget to consider my trials as "pure joy" because they develop perseverance, maturity, and completeness. (James 1)

I forget that these refine my faith and bring glory to God. (1 Peter 1)

I want to say, with Paul, that I do not lose heart.

I want to say with confidence that although I am outwardly "wasting away," inwardly I am "being renewed day by day."

I want to remember that my problems are "light and momentary troubles" that "are achieving . . . an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (4:16-17)

Don't you love that? Light and momentary troubles.
Life is short. Eternity is long.

I want to fix my eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
"For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

2 Corinthians 3-4: Jars of Clay

Because of Christ, we have a glorious hope.
Because of Christ, we have freedom.
Because of Christ, the Holy Spirit lives inside us.

When Christ lives in us, we reflect his glory; we are being transformed into his likeness, with increasing glory.


I just want to think about that for a minute.
After Moses' encounter with the All-Mighty, he had to veil his face because the glory was too intense for the people. After a while the visible glory started to fade. And then he wore the veil so that people wouldn't know.

On the other hand, the more we spend time with Jesus, the more people can see God's glory reflected in our lives. We don't need veils.


Okay, I'm not hearing harps. I don't have a halo. I still need glasses, and I'd like to lose a few pounds. I'm still a little rough around the edges.

Paul says we "have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." (4:7)

I don't really know what a jar of clay looks like, but I'm thinking it's pretty rough. Like me. Not exactly perfect.

The same God who said, ". . . let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts. . ."

It's better that way.
God's light.
God's glory.
Not mine.

When I let people see my weakness, then they can see God's strength, his light, his glory.
And so when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Reading, Writing, and Rules

I looked at the From Garden to City reading plan today. It turns out that I during my cave days, I not only missed missed writing/reading most of the book of Acts, I also missed Galatians and the two epistles to the Thessalonians.

It really bugs me.

Basically, I feel like I broke the rules.
Except that writing every day is a rule I made up to benefit myself.
Kind of like committing to follow a diet or to exercise every day.

I struggle with these kinds of rules, these "shoulds" and "oughts" that I set up for myself.

And what I really want to do is go back and get caught up, to do everything I'm supposed to do.

I know what that would look like, though. I wouldn't be reading carefully, listening for the Holy Spirit to speak to me. Instead, I would be skimming through the passages in order to find something to write.

Sigh. There's a difference between seeking God through Scripture and studying Scripture in order to have something to say.

One fills me with joy; the other satisfies my desire to follow the rules.
I love writing in this blog.
I love Jesus more.

2 Corinthians 3: Letters of Recommendation

I love it when I see new things in Scripture.

Here's a new thing that stood out to me this evening:
In chapter 3, Paul asks, ". . . do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?"

In other words, do we need someone to write you a letter providing reasons why we are qualified to say the things we say? Or do we need you to write a letter to someone else?

No, he says, "You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody."

When people see you, the Corinthians, they will know that what we say is true.
To use a more familiar metaphor, you are the fruit of our ministry, produced by Christ.

Letters of recommendation are good, but they can be forged, and they can be "fudged."
How much better to have a letter from Christ, "written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."

I want to live my life in such a way as to produce such letters in the lives of the people I encounter.

How sad to think I often put other goals ahead of this one.

Comforting Others

Steve Nakagawa disagreed when I said I was an introvert.

I mean, I talk to people I don't know every weekend at church.
I meet them. I get to know them.
I guess that's what an extrovert looks like.

The thing is, I can only do that by the power of God.
When I am disconnected from God, or when I am struggling with emotional baggage, I walk into large gatherings and just want to sit in a corner by myself.

That's where I was a few weekends ago at church.
I thought about entering into some conversations with people I knew, but honestly I just wanted to sit alone. If I had a shield of invisibility, I would have used it.

Patty saw me and came up and talked to me about this blog. She thanked me for my vulnerability, for sharing struggles that were similar to her own.

I dissolved into tears, and she hugged me. For a long time. And I was grateful. And I worshiped with new strength and prayed with new hope.

That is comfort.
That is love.

Sometimes comfort is a hug.
Sometimes it is crying with someone.
Sometimes it is listening.
Sometimes it is meeting physical needs.

I am so grateful for people in my life, people who comfort me with the comfort God has given them.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

2 Corinthians 1-2: The God of Comfort

May has been a difficult month.
And I've struggled.

I've cried and shut down and grumbled a little more than is healthy. (Is there any healthy grumbling?)

I've questioned God. I have a lot of uncertainty in my future, and I wonder. . . Will God take care of the details?

So I've prayed. A lot.
Mostly questions.

But last Friday we went to Overflow at Newbreak Church in Santee, and I was more than ready to "turn my mourning into dancing" (Psalm 30:11), and worship God.

As I stood, feeling a little lost and alone, surrendering my fear of change and the unknown, with all my insecurities, I heard God whisper comfort in my ear:

You are not alone.
You are not the only one who is losing a job.
You are not the only one who has to get out there and find a new one.
You are not the only one who doesn't know what will happen next.
You are not the only one with a child who has wandered from Me.
You are not the only one who has to venture into new territory and wonders if I will
take care of the details.

You are not the only one.

And I looked around the room, and I know little pieces of stories. Disappointments. Lost jobs. Broken relationships. And I remembered. We are all together on the journey of life. And the journey of life is filled with uncertainty.

And I heard God say this:

Know my life.
Know my peace.
Know my joy.

Know me.

And I responded in worship.

2 Corinthians 1 tells us, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in ALL our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."

We need each other, and we need Jesus.
We share our sorrows. We share our comfort.
We share Jesus, and comfort overflows.

1 Corinthians 16: To Sum Things Up . . .

In my first semester of grad school, I took a class in ancient Greek and Roman rhetoric. No, I will not wax on and on about Aristotle, Plato, or Cicero. It is enough to say that I surprised myself by actually liking the study of ancient persuasion. Actually, I was really excited about the class and bored my family members by quoting from the ancients periodically. Sigh. I am such a nerd.

You're wondering why this is relevant, and here's the deal.

I discovered, as I was reading about rhetorical strategies, that Paul, the author of at least half the New Testament, used most of Aristotle's best techniques. As an aside, all truth is God's truth.

But back to the point, we see some of those here in this letter.
In particular, Paul has introduced several main points in his letter, and now he concludes it by summarizing.

"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage, be strong. Do everything in love."

And I've blogged on all these topics.

Watch out.
Don't get lax in your faith.
Take it seriously. Make it a priority.
Live a life of love. All the time.

If Paul thinks these things are repeating, who am I to think differently?
Now if only I could just do all those things all the time.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

1 Corinthians 15: Dead is dead. Or not.

Please pardon my reference to a line from Lost. Yes, we did watch the entire five years of the show. And yes, this is a great line. And no, I don't intend to talk about Lost.

Except for this. When John Locke appeared to come back to life, Ben wasn't fooled. Because he knew. Dead is dead.

I was willing to suspend disbelief. Maybe death isn't final on the island. I mean, I believe in the resurrection. Jesus raised Jairus' daughter from the dead. He raised Lazarus from the dead. God raised him from the dead. I believe we will all experience eternal life.

Dead is not dead for me.
It's not final.
I think sometimes I take the resurrection for granted, and that's a dangerous state of mind.

Taking the resurrection for granted minimizes the terrifying sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Taking the resurrection for granted trivializes the responses of the disciples after the crucifixion.

Taking the resurrection for granted keeps me from realizing the awesomeness of what God did.

Taking the resurrection for granted keeps me from truly celebrating God's amazing victory over death.

Dead is dead.
It's final.
Any other alternative is impossible.
Except when the power of God overturns the laws of nature.

"I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering, becoming like him in his death." (Philippians 3)

I want to know Jesus.
I want to know his power.
I want to celebrate the impossibility of the resurrection and live in awe of the One who raised Jesus of the dead.

1 Corinthians 14: Desire Spiritual Gifts

Honestly, I didn't actually want to post anything on this topic. As it stands, I plan to avoid talking about anything that's difficult. At least that's the plan. Sometimes I know exactly what I want to say when I start writing, and other times, I don't.

Today is one of those times when I don't know what I want to say. I just keep reading, "Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy" (14:1), and I can't walk away.

Paul has linked these two commands, and they are commands.
First, we should follow the way of love.
Second, we should eagerly desire spiritual gifts.

And so I began asking myself, in what way do these two commands link together? In way way do they complement each other?

Love gives. (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9)
Love sacrifices. (Ephesians 5:1; 1 John 4:10)
Love builds up. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

God gives spiritual gifts "for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:7)
God gives spiritual gifts to build unity and maturity in the church as well as to strengthen our knowledge of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13)

It's not too big a leap to say that God gifts spiritual so that we can show God's love.

Paul continues, saying ". . . everyone who prophecies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort." (1 Corinthians 14:3)

I don't like to ask God to give me anything. Normally my prayers for myself include peace and understanding, ability to cope with circumstances.

And yet, Paul says I should desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. Why? So that I can strengthen, encourage, and comfort people around me. So that I can love them.

I think I have things backward.

I do want to love others.
I do want to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the people around me.
I can't do those things in my own power.

I must ask for spiritual gifts.
We must all ask for spiritual gifts.

What Pets Can Teach Us About Marriage (from the NY Times)

I saw this blog from the New York Times a few weeks ago. It totally connects to the previous post so I thought I would include it.

Do you greet each other with excitement, overlook each other’s flaws and easily forgive bad behavior? If it’s your pet, the answer is probably yes. But your spouse? Probably not.

In an article on PsychCentral, clinical psychologist Suzanne B. Phillips of Long Island University explores what our relationships with pets can teach us about our relationship with a spouse or romantic partner.

“What is interesting in my work with couples is that although couples may vehemently disagree on most topics, they usually both soften in manner and tone to agree that the dog, cat, bird or horse is great,” Dr. Phillips writes.

She argues that we all have much to learn from the way we love our pets. People often describe pets as undemanding and giving unconditional love, when the reality is that pets require a lot of time and attention, special foods and care. They throw up on rugs, pee in the house and steal food from countertops. Yet we accept their flaws because we love them so much.

Dr. Phillips suggests we can all learn how to improve our human relationships by focusing on how we interact with our pets. Among her suggestions:

Greetings: Even on bad days, we greet our pets with a happy, animated hello, and usually a pat on the head or a hug. Do you greet your spouse that way?

Holding grudges: Even when our pets annoy us by wrecking the furniture or soiling the floor, we don’t stay mad at them.

Assuming the best: When our pets make mistakes, we don’t take it personally and are quick to forgive. We give them the benefit of the doubt. Yet when our spouse does something wrong, we often react with anger and blame.

“The old expression ‘you get what you give’ may apply here,” writes Dr. Phillips. “Maybe you give something very positive to your pet that invites the unconditional love and connection that makes you feel so good. Maybe it has potential to enhance your relationship.”

To learn more lessons from pets to improve your relationship, read the full column, “Can Pets Improve Your Relationship?”

1 Corinthians 13: LOVE

Where is the love?
What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
All you need is love.

Ah, love.

We sing about it.
We write poems about it.
We long for it.
We fear we will never experience it.

The thing is, we rarely define "love" in a meaningful way.
And so "love" becomes a tingly feeling or an emotional pull towards something or someone.

Part of the problem is the English language, which on last count, had more words in its lexicon than any other language, but clings to the broadly defined word "love," which can describe the way we feel about cars, frozen yogurt, family members, hobbies, and romantic attachments.

We use the same word, but we mean different things when we say it or write it or sing it.

And so Paul does us a favor when he defines "love" in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
Love it is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It isn't easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It doesn't delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Whew. I used to avoid this passage when I was mad at Duane.

Yes, the Holy Spirit would convict me of this passage as I hung on to hurt and anger, feeling like Duane didn't understand me, wasn't listening, or was being totally unfair. And I have to admit, many times I ignored the conviction, clung to my anger, and ended up regretting it.

According to this passage, it's more important to love than to be "right," to be "smart," to know stuff.

Whew. I really like being right, and I really like knowing stuff.

This is the way we should love.
This is the way we should love God.
This is the way we should love the family of God, the people in our churches, the people who follow Jesus along with us.
This is the way we should love our neighbor, those who don't yet follow Jesus.

No boasting.
No gloating when we're proven right.
No jealousy when someone has something we don't have.
No rudeness when the barista gets our order wrong or the waitress forgets to put the salad dressing on the side.
No anger when someone cuts us off on the freeway.

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I don't even know how to do that--when I'm hurt and want to protect myself from more hurt.

But this is the most excellent way.
In our marriages.
In our friendships.
In our churches.
In the world.

Friday, June 11, 2010

1 Corinthians 12: The Body of Christ

"Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" (Romans 11:33)

No matter how hard we try, we will never fully understand or explain God. He is infinite; we are finite.

And so we try to express concepts in words, which have limits, but those limits draw boundaries that do not actually exist.

And the best we can do is draw word pictures, create comparisons.

And so Paul introduces the concept of spiritual gifts and their use in the church through an analogy. He describes the church as the body of Christ.

Now we know from experience that we need every part of our body, but we don't normally think about it.

When I was a kid, and I can't imagine why we talked about this, but we did, we used to speculate on which of our five senses we would most hate to lose. We generally focused on sight and hearing, but someone always points out how much we need touch, taste, and smell. I know people who have lost those senses, and it's true. We need all our senses.

We know how much we need our legs, our arms, but most of us don't think much about our abdominal muscles. Until we pull our backs. We don't think about our shoulders, until we hurt one and find no sleeping positions are comfortable. Imagine your life without thumbs.

Every part plays a role. We just don't think about all the parts. And that's okay.

The thing is, in the body of Christ, we do need to think about them and remember them and value them.

It's not okay to dismiss the big toe or the thumbs or the abdominal muscles. It's not okay to dismiss the sense of touch or taste.

When we talk about the body of Christ and the various parts, we're talking about people.

People who are valuable. People who are essential if the body of Christ is to function properly.

And yet we do it all the time. We make legs and arms and tongues more valuable than fingers and toes, and that's not right.

"If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, ever part rejoices with it." (12:26)

Any time we make value judgments, deciding which parts important and which parts aren't, we violate the second greatest commandment.

All our spiritual gifts are given "for the common good" (12:7). Every gift, every role, is essential.

When God gives us a role to play, when he gives us a spiritual gift, it is not so that we will be honored or appreciated, but in order to glorify His name, to strengthen the church body.

And so Paul introduces "the most excellent way."


1 Corinthians 10-11: Warnings

When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, he didn't divide his letter into chapters or verses, and he didn't include chapter headings.

Those things are useful for helping us find sections, but they can get in the way of understanding.

In my last post, focusing on chapter 9, I wrote about running a race. Simple enough.

I ignored the last couple of verses because they really didn't really add to anything I said:

"I do not run like a man running aimlessly. I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

In other words, I focus on the training and the race, setting everything else aside because I don't want to get sidetracked, lose focus, and then miss crossing the finish line altogether.

Here's where it get tricky, for me at least. In chapter 10, Paul adds an illustration that describes this idea of losing out altogether.

If you've been following the readings in From Garden to City, going through Numbers, Joshua, and the books of Kings, the promise of Israel, and the failure of the people to cling to God's law, their tendency to get distracted, you'll get what Paul says immediately.

Paul says, ". . . our forefathers were all under the cloud and . . . they all passed through the sea. . . . They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink . . . Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert." (10:1-3)

These children of Abraham all experienced the same miracles, the cloud led them in the day, the fire at night, they ate manna and quail, and they saw water come out of rocks. They all danced and sang praises to the Lord, celebrating his power, sure of his promises.

But most died without ever seeing the Promised Land.

They lost sight of the promise.
They became idolaters, putting other gods before the Lord. They indulged in pagan revelry, sexual immorality, and grumbling. (Yes, Paul groups all these things together. All are equally distracting!)

And then Paul ties it together.
He says, "These things happened as an example for us and were written down to warn us not to be like them."

So--if you think you are "standing firm," if you think you will never be shaken, never lose sight of the glory of the Lord or his Truth, be careful or you may fall even as they did.

By the same token, don't get freaked about by this warning because "no temptation has seized you except what is common to man." We all are tempted by the same distractions, and God is faithful. When we're tempted, God will provide a way out of the temptation.

Be careful.
Train yourself.
Keep your eyes on God, on the prize.
Run the race.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

1 Corinthians 9-10: Competition

Honestly, I will never get caught up on the readings if I keep writing multiple blogs for the same reading.


After an entire debate season talking about whether "competition or cooperation is a superior means of achieving excellence," I can't pass up this passage.

Generally speaking, while I am not opposed to competition, I think the Bible favors cooperation.
(Think of all the passages about sharing, about self-sacrifice, about laying our lives down for one another.)

And here we come across this passage about running a race.

Paul writes, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize."

Okay, this does not mean that if I win the prize, you don't. Or vice-verse.

It merely means that in the world, if we're running a race, we make winning the race a priority. We train for it. We sacrifice to make our bodies ready to run. We give up foods that get in the way of maximum body performance. We set aside anything that gets in the way of our training. That gets in the way of running the race.

And we keep my eye on the prize.
Our efforts in training and in running are focused on the goal.

First: What is the prize?
A crown that will last forever. Fellowship with God. Sharing the joy of the Lord with others. A life of significance.

Nothing is more important than Jesus.
Nothing is more important than following him and serving Him.

"For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many, so that they may be saved." (1 Corinthians 10:33b)

1 Corinthians 9: I am compelled . . .

It's not easy being an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul lays it out in 2 Corinthians 11:25.

He's beaten, thrown into prison, stoned, and shipwrecked.
He's constantly on the move.
He's in danger from rivers, bandits, his own countrymen, and his enemies.
He works without pay and goes without sleep or food.
He has been cold and naked.

On top of that, he is constantly judged.
Does he eat food offered to idols? What does that mean?
Does he refuse it? What does that mean?

He raises offerings for churches in need, but often churches fail to meed his needs.
He could insist on being treated with respect, but he that might get in the way of spreading the Gospel, and he would rather die than do that.

Paul says, "When I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel." (9:16)

He must preach. He cannot do otherwise.

Sometimes I get stuck thinking about how hard things are.
How much easier they would be if I made other choices.
I was looking at job offerings the other day, jobs that I would qualify for, jobs that would pay me far more than I am currently making.

But God has compelled me to do certain things.
I must teach.
I must write.
I must finish my schooling.
I must study the Word, seek understanding, and then share it.

I am compelled to do these things, and "woe to me" if I do not do them.
This is no sacrifice.
God is faithful.

This journey has taken me out of my role as a pastoral assistant and placed me in the middle of a university, in the middle of people who do not know Jesus.

I don't really know where I'm going, but I have to keep going.
I am compelled to follow this path, and "woe to me" if I don't keep going.

I will do whatever it takes to obey God's directions.

Paul says, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessing."

What are you compelled to do?

Incidentally, when I don't spend time worshiping God, when I don't spend time in God's word, when I avoid fellowship with other followers of Jesus, I tend to lose sight of the passions God has placed inside my heart.

1 Corinthians 8-9: Love and Knowledge and Laws

God makes laws.
And people make more laws.

Strangely enough, we often care more about man-made laws than the ones God instituted.

And Paul speaks directly to these man-made laws when he says, "Now about food sacrificed to
idols . . ."

I don't believe he is addressing food sacrificed to idols as much as he is addressing traditions we cling to, traditions with a degree of wisdom, but not established by Scripture.

He says, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God."

In other words, "You think you know all about what God likes, what he doesn't like. But instead of focusing on God, on knowing Him, you are focusing on what you know--and what other people don't know."

In other words, it's not about the laws or the traditions; it's about knowing God and loving people.

It's also not about freedom from laws or traditions; it's about knowing God and loving people.

Nothing else matters.

1 Corinthians 7: Marriage

I met Duane when I was 16 years old. Barely.
When I was 16 and 11 months, he asked me to marry him.

Well, technically, he asked, "What would you say if I asked you to marry me?"
And I answered, "I would say we were too young."

And then I flew home to Colorado with a ring on my finger.
I'm not really sure what happened.

We got married two months after I turned 18, one month after I graduated from high school, and we have been married for nearly 32 years.

It's a happily ever after story, except for the parts that weren't so happy.
Every marriage has them, and we learned to work through those parts.

I have never regretted saying "I do."

But I used to have dreams, nightmares, really, that I was on my way to France, and for some reason, some reason related to Duane, I couldn't get on the plane.

One time he couldn't find a parking place.
Another time he dropped me off, but I couldn't find him in the airport, and I wanted to say goodbye.

You see, when I got married, I planned on becoming a French teacher.
I wanted to travel in France.
I wanted to write books.

And when I got married, I set aside most of those dreams.
It took me nine years to finish college.
And then I had two children I adored and wanted to spend time with them.

It's been a good life, it's the life I would choose again, but it wasn't the life I dreamed of when I was growing up.

You see, when I said, "I do," life wasn't about "me" anymore, about what "I" wanted, about what would benefit "me."

It was about "us," about what "we" wanted, about what would benefit "us."

And when I got really serious about following Jesus, about serving in ministry, I couldn't just run off and be a missionary, or leave my kids to serve at the church, or be out every single night and not spend time with Duane.

And when Duane got really serious about following Jesus and serving in ministry, I got grumpy when he was busy all the time.

I kind of get Paul's advice about men and women not getting married so that they can freely serve the body of Christ.

You see, Duane and I belong to each other. In order for our marriage to work, to honor God, we serve each other. It's not a sacrifice. It's a joy.

And I get the part where Paul says that we must live understanding the time is short because the world in its present form is passing away.

This part is a little harder though--
"From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something as if it were not their to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them."

As I've read this over and over, I think I am starting to understand.

Sometimes I would rather hang out with Duane than read the Bible and pray.
Sometimes I would rather sit with him and watch TV than spend time hanging out with other people--Christians and non-Christians God has asked me to hang out with.

Similarly, sometimes I'm sad and choose to be sad over being obedient to God's instructions.
Sometimes I am excited about my homework and neglect to study God's word.
Sometimes I am so caught up in me and what I'm doing that I forget what God's doing.

Nothing, nothing, nothing, is more important than Jesus.
Nothing, nothing, nothing is more important than God's mission on earth.

When we choose to follow Jesus, life isn't about Duane and me anymore, about what we want, or about what benefits us.

It has to be about Him, what he wants, about his purposes.
It's not a sacrifice. It's a joy!

1 Corinthians 5-7: Expel the Immoral Brother!

I was sitting on my bed, trying to think of how to introduce the next two chapters and saw the heading in my NIV Study Bible. Yeah, that pretty much sums up this discussion on church discipline, a discussion that I hesitate to even talk about. That's why I didn't blog yesterday. I was thinking about how to approach the topic.

Do I talk about the judgmental attitudes of the 70s and 80s? In those days, pastors and church leaders never confessed any sin because, well, if you were a good Christian, you basically had no sin, I guess. Our youth pastor had an affair, and the lead pastor allowed him to transfer to another church. Very few people in the church knew about it, and his wife didn't find out until fifteen years later when he strayed again.

Do I talk about hypocrisy? How we point fingers at certain sins, especially sexual sins, but ignore others, like unethical business decisions? Several years ago I watched a small group blow up because of inconsistency, because some members felt that other members should be basically excommunicated from the group because of sin, even as they were participating in serious sin.

Do I talk about how we sometimes ignore sin altogether because we want to be loving and tolerant, and because we don't want to be guilty of the above?

Paul is very clear, we are not to "associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat."


Sometimes Christians use this concept to avoid spending time with non-Christians, but Paul makes it clear that's not the case. He says he does not mean people of the world, "in which case you would have to leave this world," but people who confess to be followers of Jesus, but don't live like it.

No, this passage is about people in our fellowships, people who continue in sin, who boast that there is no law, that they can do whatever they want because they are free in Christ, who says, "everything is permissible for me!" (6:12)

So what do we do with that?
What do we do when we have spoken to that person, like instructed in Matthew 18, and he or she continues to live in serious sin and actually leads others to sin?

I know what this passage says, but I hesitate. I understand the concept of "turning him over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed," but at what point do we make that decision.
And who makes that decision?

And where is grace? forgiveness? love?

No answers. Only questions.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

1 Corinthians 3-4: Plants and Buildings and More Wisdom

I want to be significant. I want to do something that matters for eternity.
I want to know that my life matters. That it is significant.

Oddly enough, what I hear most often is I smiled. Or I said hi.
Honestly, that doesn't sound significant.

I think I am not so different than most other people. We want to know that our lives make a difference.

Especially when it comes to church ministry, something we hear about all the time.

Some years ago my friend Brenda felt like all she did is make coffee, and that wasn't really ministry. Oddly enough, because she made coffee, people felt comfortable hanging around so I could say hi. And because I said hi, people felt welcomed into the church and relaxed when Ron led worship. And when Pastor Mike spoke.

Some of us throw seeds, some of us water, some of us weed, some of us harvest. But only God makes the seed grow so that it becomes mature and bears fruit. And only God produces that fruit.

As for a building, when the foundation isn't solid, the building crumbles. And so some lay bricks, some work on the electrical, and some arrange furniture, but Jesus Christ is the foundation.

And it doesn't matter whether we dig holes for seeds, walk around with watering cans, paint walls, make coffee, or smile.

Our significance is in Christ.
And that's wisdom.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

1 Corinthians 2: More Wisdom--Just Enough

Eve's sin was wanting to know everything.
She wanted wisdom and Truth so that she could be like God.

I hesitate to confess to Eve's sin, but it's sort of true. I want to know truth and Truth, wisdom and Wisdom. I want to know it all. Understand it all.

The difference between Eve and me is that I'm not willing to do ANYTHING to obtain that kind of knowledge.

Through God's Word, and through God's Spirit, I have a little bit of wisdom that Eve didn't possess. I know that I can never plumb the depth of God's wisdom and knowledge. (Check out Romans 11:33-36.) I know that I can never figure him out. I know that any understanding I may gain is a gift from Him.

1 Corinthians 2:10-16 tells us,

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:
"For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?"
But we have the mind of Christ.

When I submit myself to God, when I surrender to his will, God's Spirit will give me wisdom when I need it.

Again, I need to test everything against God's Word, to his laws, especially the law of love.

1 Corinthians 1-2: Wisdom and Truth

I've been reading a lot of philosophy books and articles since I started grad school and learned a lot of new vocabulary.



I have learned about multiple literacies.
I have learned that writing is a technology.
I have learned about the theory of fallibility.

I have read Popper, Winner, Derrida, Foucault, Heidegger, Soros, Postman, Aristotle, Cicero, Plato, Kristeva . . .

There are some truths in their writings, but as far as I know, none of those people knew Jesus.
Some of them mocked Christianity.

In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul reminds us that "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

There is truth, and there is Truth.
The problem is, sometimes it's hard to know the difference.

And it's not enough to say that all Wisdom and all Truth is contained in the Bible, which I believe it is.

We have to figure it out what it means.
And not everyone agrees on the meaning.

So how do we determine wisdom? How do we determine Truth?
I hesitate to attempt an answer. After all, I've just laid out an impossible task.

God never changes.
We change, but God never does.

So we seek God first.
We love him.
We study Scripture.
We test everything against God's Word.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?
No matter how many truths they discover, their wisdom is incomplete.
The foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom.

And even if we'll never figure it all out--God's ways are beyond finding out--it's more important to seek God's wisdom than any other brand.

On to 1 Corinthians

From Garden to City moved on from the book of Acts about a week ago, and I am going to admit that I never finished the book. I've read it before, and I wanted to blog about the whole book, but it's easier for me right now to start a new book.

Even so, I think they're done with 1 Corinthians tomorrow. I'll get caught up by the time they finish 2 Corinthians.

Writing helps me feel normal.


When I was in sixth grade, my math teacher saw my binder, with all the papers stuffed in, falling out, not filed, and he expressed surprise. Apparently I give off an organization vibe.

I'm much better at putting together binders now, but that's in large part because my professors don't assign books as much as ask us to print out journal articles. And if I don't insert them in a binder, I'll have papers all over the house. More than I do now.

Not much has changed. I am not a scheduled, organized person. I work best with deadlines.
I also am not very disciplined.

And yet self-discipline is essential if I want to move forward.
In writing.
In teaching.
In pursuing old dreams, nearly forgotten, nearly lost.

And so I've been moving forward. Sometimes with certainty. Sometimes cautiously. Sometimes fearfully.

I've developed disciplines. Patterns that keep me moving even when I don't want to.
Like putting things into binders and labeling them.
Like writing in this blog.

Sometimes I want to stop because it's difficult to move into new territory. But I have made myself continue because. . .

Well, honestly, I can't quite remember why.
At this point I'm moving forward because I don't have any choice but to move forward.
I'm just not sure I have the courage to take the necessary steps.
And I'm tired.

The end of the school semester is always a little disorienting for me. So that's part of it.

And then my Bible slipped under the front seat of the car and I couldn't find it for a week. Also disorienting. I have lots of Bibles in the house, but for some reason it's not the same.

And I have things I have to do, but there are no deadlines, and I don't want to do them because I have never done them before. But if I don't do them . . .

And I have to trust God to work some miracles and I don't know what will happen.

One by one my disciplines have fallen to the wayside, and I'm not even sure how to get back on track.

I need to face my fears and give them to God, trusting him to take care of the details.
I need to let go of my disappointment and my hurt.
I need to present my requests to God, with prayer and thanksgiving.
I need to set deadlines and enlist friends who will hold me accountable.
I need to step forward.

And I need to start blogging again.