Moments of Growth

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 8:7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

O (Observation): Paul is continuing to attempt to build up community amongst the body of Christ located in Corinth. Some folks have reached a point in their faith in which eating food dedicated to idols is not an issue, since they are mature enough to understand that the idols don’t exist, so it’s not really eating to an idol, thus not an issue of wrongdoing.

Yet for those for whom eating food to idols still seems sinful or wrong, because it is dedicated to an idol, Paul suggests avoiding that behavior – don’t eat the food!

…at least, don’t eat the food in the temple of the idol. Just order it “to-go.”

A (Application): As a pastor, I feel like Paul is talking directly to me. I am constantly wondering what other people might think of my actions. Do they know I’m a pastor? Do they think I should be avoiding something? Or I should be showing up somewhere else?

I used to ask myself these questions a lot more a decade ago. I have found over time that my actions do have an impact on those I hope to lead. And in my life, I have done well and I have erred.

I engage in multiple communities: family, friends, church, retreat groups, colleague groups, and more. As I gather together for worship or fellowship or just hangout time, I have come to be more and more true to myself, checking in with my groups as I live my life.

If I have found that I have caused others to fall into doubt, I explain why I was doing what I was doing. In cases where I caused others to trip, I humbly seek forgiveness. I try not to live looking over my shoulder, but I do wish for those who might stumble to be safe, as well. Perhaps those moments of others’ tripping (or mine) are actually moments in which we dive deeper into a relationship of mutual upbuilding.

P (Prayer): Lord, help my actions (and faults) to be moments of growth. Amen.

Speaking a Different Language

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 2:12 We haven’t received the world’s spirit but God’s Spirit so that we can know the things given to us by God. 13 These are the things we are talking about—not with words taught by human wisdom but with words taught by the Spirit—we are interpreting spiritual things to spiritual people. 14 But people who are unspiritual don’t accept the things from God’s Spirit. They are foolishness to them and can’t be understood, because they can only be comprehended in a spiritual way. 15 Spiritual people comprehend everything, but they themselves aren’t understood by anyone. 16 Who has known the mind of the Lord, who will advise him? But we have the mind of Christ.

O (Observation): Paul teases apart the ways of speaking with people who have been transformed by the Spirit compared to those who have not been changed by the Spirit. To speak in ways that call on people to share with one another and to give is not normal. That does not compute for someone not transformed by the Spirit.

Having the mind of Christ makes a difference!

A (Application): So much of what we argue about these days generates from our differences in our spiritual lives (or lack thereof). We can not argue for social justice policies with people who have a spiritual background different from ours (if they even have a spiritual background).

And a spiritual background causes us to have a spiritual vocabulary.

So what do we discuss when we use different vocabulary and language?

How about human life?!

The value of each human life. The potential for goodness and health and well-being. The potential for damage when we insist upon our spiritual vocabulary over and against someone else’s vocabulary.

In America, we are a people who claim that every person here has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Maybe we can find a common language…a spiritual Rosetta Stone, if you will. I believe that was what Paul was striving to be. A living stone. A loving Rosetta Stone…so that spiritual and non-spiritual alike can converse.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us listen. Help us speak. Amen.

Playing Politics

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S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 1:10 Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose. 11 My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. 12 What I mean is this: that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name? 14 Thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name! 16 Oh, I baptized the house of Stephanas too. Otherwise, I don’t know if I baptized anyone else. 17 Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning.

O (Observation): Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians) is all about how to help the different factions of the followers of Christ to get along and to be of the “same mind and same purpose.”

They tend to identify with the one who baptized each of them: Apollos, Paul, Cephas, etc.”. Yet the one doing the baptizing is NOT the focus. Paul reminds them of this. Paul reminds them that in Christ we are baptized. And that is enough. No one else need be identified in baptism.

A (Application): Everything is political. I’m not just talking about parties or independents… I’m talking about “lowercase ‘p’ politics.”

We all struggle with three main desires: Identity (Who am I?), Belonging (Where do I fit in?), and Purpose (Why do I matter?).

Unfortunately, we want to “play politics” and to shape these desires by pointing people to ourselves. We want to define who people are (by what they don’t have). We want to define where they belong (by telling them you don’t want to be “one of those”). We want to define someone’s purpose (by what they can do for “me”).

This is exactly backwards. And Paul knows it.

Paul wants them all to be identified as being “in Christ”.

Who am I? You are God’s child.

Where do I belong? You belong to God, in the body of Christ.

Why do I matter? God will do great things through you, just like Jesus taught the apostles.

Do you believe this?

P (Prayer): Gracious God, define our identity, belonging, and purpose. Thank you. Amen.

Fear Not, For I am With You

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S (Scripture): Acts 18:9 One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Don’t be afraid. Continue speaking. Don’t be silent. 10 I’m with you and no one who attacks you will harm you, for I have many people in this city.” 11 So he stayed there [in Corinth] for eighteen months, teaching God’s word among them.

O (Observation): Paul listened. God said, “Fear not, for I am with you.” Well, pretty close to that. These words gave Paul encouragement to stay. He dug in some roots, enough to really help develop a base of disciples equipped with the Good News, and how to share it.

Paul did this because God said God would be with him.

A (Application): When is the last time you listened for God? What did God sound like? A voice? A sign? Peaceful and purposeful silence? Did God come to you through support of a loved one – or even a stranger?

Our ventures are never solo adventures. God journeys with us. And gives us confidence.

Trust in God’s promise. Listen out for God.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me see my path. Amen.

Who Sould Boast?

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S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 10:15 [Paul writes:] We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may proclaim the good news in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in someone else’s sphere of action. 17 “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.

O (Observation):  Paul is looking (as always) to move the sphere of influence further and further outward for the sake of mission.  He is not afraid to boast, up to a point, because he is not really boasting in himself…but boasting in the Lord.   

Does Paul want to be known?  Yes.  But only insofar has this helps him to share the Gospel abroad.   

A (Application):  A follower of Christ wants to share the influence of the Gospel.  If reputation helps this, then boast in that reputation!  And when you do boast…boast not in yourself, but boast in the Lord!  After all, the Lord chooses how and when to lift you up.  

For what purpose?  For the purpose of sharing the love and mercy of God in further spheres of influence.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, lift us up not for our glory, but for yours!  Amen.  

We Are Clay Jars – imperfect, yet living examples

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

O (Observation):  By “we” Paul may mean the group to which Paul belongs, that is, he and those disciples carrying the Gospel to Corinth and helping to settle new locations in which the Gospel can be read and heard and lived out.  I suggest this, because in v. 12, he suggests that this work causes a death in Paul and his disciples, FOR THE SAKE OF “you” (those in the church in Corinth).  

Paul makes clear that the carriers of the Gospel message are not the central factor.  Paul declares that he and his disciples are but clay jars – imperfect containers for that which is life-giving.  The nature of the Gospel is not tarnished, even though the carriers are.   

A (Application):  As one who supports making disciples who make disciples, I have to keep one very important thing in mind:  calling people to follow me is not about following me, but following the One, Jesus Christ himself.  

Have you ever made a copy of a copy of a copy, etc?   What happens to the content being copied?  Yes!  It diminishes in quality.  The letters and images become more and more fuzzy.  If you make copies from the original, you get a clearer picture.  

The same would happen if we called others to follow us for the sake of following US, and not following Jesus.  So the tricky part (really, the part of us that must die) is that when we share the Gospel and call people to follow, we point to the Gospel and to Jesus and NOT just to us.  

The hard part is that calling people to follow is a combination of the message and the messenger.   We who carry the Gospel (clay jars) are thus called to be living examples (not perfect examples).   We need to give folks something to imitate before they can innovate their own way of carrying the Gospel.   

The dying part of this imitation piece is that we have to let go of our way of being a clay jar when our followers (really Jesus’ followers) start to create their own way of being a clay jar.  

Remember: we are not in the clay jar-making business…we are about the work of carrying a life-giving Message.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to lead, and then to get out of the way.  Amen. 

A Wide Door Awaits

S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 16:5 I will visit you after passing through Macedonia—for I intend to pass through Macedonia— 6 and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way, wherever I go. 7 I do not want to see you now just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

O (Observation): Paul trusts the Spirit to guide him.   He has a clear purpose: share the Good News.   But the strategy and the implementation of that strategy are guided almost completely by the Holy Spirit.   

Paul is listing out his travel plans to his brothers and sisters in Christ in Corinth.  He points out that a “wide door for effective work” has opened up for him in Ephesus.  The Spirit is opening the pathway for him to walk along.  He serves the purpose he has been given, and he does this most effectively when he follows the grace poured out for him by the Spirit.  

A (Application):  While we do the “hands and feet” Kingdom work, the Spirit is also constantly at work, preparing folks’ hearts and minds to receive the Good News.   No speech or tactic is in and of itself the factor that causes people to believe.  Rather, the Spirit guides this process.  The Spirit prepares people’s hearts and minds. 

The Spirit lays out a pathway for us, a roadway lined with vision and grace…and the Spirit has all the time in the world.   So the Spirit will wait for us.   

This pathway is a gift from God.   The pathway may lead where our hearts are already going; or where our minds are going; or where both heart and mind are headed.   And sometimes we get off that path.  Sometimes we are WAY off that path.   Or maybe we only recently took a wrong turn.  

This pathway is where our spiritual gifts lie in wait, ready to be used for the good of the Kingdom.  We need only to take the abiding time necessary to discern what gifts we are to use, when to use them, how to use them, where to use them.   

In all of this, the Spirit is busy guiding us and giving us hope that – no matter the circumstances – a wide door for effective work awaits us.  

P (Prayer):  Spirit, guide us.  Grace us all the way back to the path.  Amen.  

Shout it?  Live it? Both?

S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 15:8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

O (Observation): Paul reminds the church in Corinth that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was resurrected, and appeared to the disciples and to Paul himself.  He wants to pass on what was handed over to him: the knowledge of the death and resurrection of Christ for our benefit.   

And while he strives for excellence and compliance with Jesus, Paul recognizes his own faults and isn’t afraid to own his goofs. 

And in the end, regardless of whether or not it is Paul who helped them to know Christ, or fellow disciples, he makes clear that “we proclaim.”   For when we do, someone may come to believe.  

A (Application):  We so want our side to win.  When we engage in conversations online, we start with our position.    Jesus Christ is Lord!  Ok.  That might work.   However, another approach might be just as effective, if not more effective.  

What if you started with a question?   Not a loaded one, like “Is Jesus Your Lord and Savior?” Instead, how about: What did you think of the service project? What did you think about the President’s  speech?   How do you feel about the school shooting?

We can try to be sly and clever in our arguments, but that only tends to aggravate and push people away.   Being mature in Christ is great.  Lording that over someone else is not so helpful.   Let us give grace when we want to condemn.  Let us be loving examples (notice I didn’t say perfect examples), so that others may come to believe.   

Don’t just proclaim the love of the Lord.  Live love.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help me to live out the love you’ve shown me. Amen.   

One Great Big Happy

S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 3:18 Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,

“He catches the wise in their craftiness,”

20 and again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”

21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

O (Observation):  Paul recognizes that worldly wisdom has no part in knowing the Lord.   Those who claim to know God through wisdom are sorely misguided.  

Instead of human leaders, Paul urges the followers in Corinth to work together, because collectively – through faith – they belong to each other.  And if they belong to each other, they belong to Christ, and thus, to God.   

Paul urges a great coming together for mutual upbuiding in the faith.  All on the same level plain.  

A (Application):  Denominations.  Pastors. Church Leaders.  We can all make a pretty big mess of things.   We all have our ways, our nuances, our theologies.  After a few years of tradition, one gets stuck in that transition, that ideology.   And being a part of a denomination that goes back roughly 500 years…it’s so easy to slip into our “ways.”   

My hope is that we can do more to follow Paul’s advice:  don’t boast about human leaders…belong to one another…for we all belong to God.  

I love our traditions of worship and upholding the sanctity of the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Holy Baptism.  I won’t let those things go.  But I will amend my approach to how these are handled.  I will listen for how the Spirit is calling me/us to come together around these means of grace.   We can ask questions about who can access these means of grace.  We can ask who can preside over these means of grace.  We can welcome the challenges that face us as a denomination, and make ourselves vulnerable to all of these questions, as they arise from other Christ-followers and God-fearers. 

We Christians are part of one great big family of believers.  Let us act like it.  Let us be humble enough to become vulnerable and open our hearts and minds to conversation.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, help me in my lack of humility.  Amen.  

“Have You Heard That Song By…”


S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 2:3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. 4 My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.

O (Observation):  Paul is telling the church in Corinth that his “street cred” was not from his intellect, but from a demonstration of the Spirit of God.  Had he convinced these new followers with intellect, then perhaps being a disciple could come down to simply intellectual assent and agreement with Paul.  This is not what Paul wants for followers of Christ.   The Spirit is to call them…

Just like in the resurrection experience of the two Mary’s at the tomb in Matthew 28.   Matthew 28 describes this episode of an earthquake and an angel appearing like a flash of lightning, with the empty tomb.   The two Mary’s are witness to the fact that Jesus is no longer in the tomb.   They can try to explain this all to the disciples, but instead they run to the disciples and say, “Come and see!”  They can try to explain it, but they must see for themselves.  And once they “come and see,” the two Mary’s (and indeed, you and I) are called upon to “Go and Tell!”

A (Application):  I was listening to the Rob Bell podcast yesterday (Episode 10, I believe).   He talks about the experience of trying to describe a song.   You can compare it all you want to other songs or musicians, but until that person hears the song for themselves, they won’t fully understand the sound of that song.   Experiencing a song lies beyond the realm of intellect.   You have to “feel” it, experience it.

Becoming a follower of Christ is not just listening to a description of Jesus being fully God and fully human.  A follower does not simply recite a Creed in order to fully understand the life of a disciple.   Becoming a follower of Christ lies beyond the realm of intellect.  Paul knows this, and chooses instead to let the Spirit do it’s thing in order to create and sustain the church in Corinth.

Martin Luther, in The Small Catechism, explains what we believe the Spirit is up to when we recite the words of third article of the Creed:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

Only the Spirit can move us to believe.  And as such, I cannot know exactly who believes and who doesn’t.

My job is to “come and see” and then “go and tell,” just like the two Mary’s at the tomb in Matthew 28, just like Paul to the church in Corinth.

We are God’s hands and feet, but the Spirit leads the way.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to “come and see,” and then “go and tell,” so that your mighty works may be made known through us.  Amen.