In the Face of the Bad, Practice the Better

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 12:Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.  8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

O (Observation):  Paul was said to have had a physical ailment that kept him from ever being fully healthy, physically.   I’d have to do more research on this, but regardless of the ailment, Paul makes a theological point.

Paul understands his physical ailment, or weakness, to be reminded that he is not whole…not without Christ.  Paul understands that even though he is weak, that simply makes room for Christ to show up and make him whole.  

What does it look like for Christ to make Paul whole?  Jesus’ grace, filling in where Paul is weak. 

A (Application):  When Christians throw around knowledge or Scripture to publicly condemn Christians or non-Christians, I get more than a little irked.   Maybe I get irked because I have a hard time with rebuttals.  I need time to think something through, and to consider all the angles before I respond.  When I respond too hastily, I find that I get too emotional in my responses, or too narrow-minded.   

We can all serve as Jesus did, sharing the Gospel, bringing healing and forgiveness, even bringing new life where there is none.   But when others criticize you for it, don’t feel like you need a rebuttal.   If you are doing something in Christ’s name that is giving life to something or someone else, fear not.  Embrace the apparent weakness, that Jesus’ grace might be sufficient to satisfy you.    

As we take the example of Jesus, we might simply turn from the negative attitudes around us, and do something GOOD in response.  Richard Rohr shares the core values of the Center for Action and Contemplation on their website.  One core principle is this:

“the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better”

As Christians and non-Christians alike try to knock you down when you serve or speak in the name of Jesus…let them…for in your weakness, Jesus’ grace will fill you.  Practice the better. Let this be Jesus’ way of filling you with grace.  

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us filled with your grace, that we might practice the better in the face of the bad.  Amen.  

Who Sould Boast?


(Photo credit: here)

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.  

Giving – a Spiritual Gift


(Photo credit: PreachersInstitute.com)

S (Scripture): 2 Corinthinas 8:1 We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4 begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5 and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6 so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. 7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

O (Observation):   Paul urges good stewardship amongst ALL followers of Jesus.   He encourages all to take on the example of Christ:  to deny one’s self and riches for the sake of the other.   

The church in Macedonia has shown great generosity, EVEN IN THE MIDST OF THEIR “extreme poverty.”    The challenge wasn’t accepted until their bank accounts were filled, with some to spare.  No!  In the midst of their poverty, God saw fit to have the Macedonian church give DESPITE its general poverty.  And an abundance flowed forth…and all “voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means.”  This was God’s going, indeed.  

A (Application):  This kind of story strikes us as Americans.   We are a nation built on good, old-fashioned hard work.   And every penny saved is a penny earned.  Where we pull ourselves up by our own boot straps. 

Until – as individuals or families – we can’t…because of illness or old age or because we are alone and have no one by our side.  

I’m no advocate for laziness, I’m just an advocate for generosity.  Maybe you’ve been privileged enough to not need help…and if that is you, then that isolates you from about 99% of the world.  Good for you.  As for the 99%…we need help and assistance from time to time.   

I have received a LOT of help in my life – financially, and in other ways – and my wife and I are more and more incorporating into our budget ways to be generous to others.   We are not necessarily “paying back” those who have helped us.  Instead, we are paying forward to help others in need.  

Our generosity comes not from our own doing, though we have worked hard in our lives to contribute to society, but rather, our generosity comes as a gift of the Spirit.  

When our world tells us to look out for our own, we don’t stop there.  We look for our neighbor, as well.  

When our world says to hold back, we give.  

And with this generosity comes a deep satisfaction that is repaid not always in dollars, but in peace that surpasses understanding.  

P (Prayer): Lord, give us glad and generous hearts!  Amen.  I 

The Wounded Healer (or, The Gift of Affliction)


S (Scripture): 2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. 6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.

8 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, 11 as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

O (Observation): What Paul has received in terms of consolation from The Lord, he feels he has received in order to console others.   He knows what defeat and failure look and feel like.   He’s been down in the duldrums before…and only God carried him through (sometimes directly, sometimes through his peers).   

Most importantly for Paul, he sees each failure and each need for consolation as a training of sorts.  He will receive consolation, so that when he sees others who need consolation, he will recognize their need and give consolation freely and with heart.  His example of a need for consolation while doing ministry in Asia is a great example of his need for such consolation.  

His kairos (a calling to do mission work in Asia) had a cross (afflictions).   

A (Application):  Wounded Healer is a book written by Henri Nouwen.   In this book, he describes the connection between a healer and the wounded person to which the healer tends.  

The connecting point between wounded and healer is the wounds each person brings into the relationship.   The healer is one who has also been wounded, but has had time to heal.   The wounded has a fresh wound.  The wounds need not be similar in type or nature, but the simple fact that one is wounded is enough of a connecting point.  

One can help another heal only when the healer has been wounded and healed.  (Yes, being healed is a lifelong process.   But one must have been through some life experience of being wounded and healed to be helpful to another who has fresh wounds.)  Over time, the healer will realize that the breadth of life experience (or lack thereof) is not a restraining factor.   The healer must meditate on the times and places in which they have been wounded and to meditate on who or what brought healing.   

As one is healed, just as with Paul, you can tap into that gift of the affliction…indeed, it is now a gift, because you have been graced through the wound, and you can now share your journey with the wounded, not necessarily to heal them, but to walk alongside them, and let God heal them.   

I wish for no one to be afflicted, and yet, this side of the Kingdom…we will receive wounds.  So, the work of healing is the gift we receive.  And we receive this because we will all have been afflicted at some point, as Paul points out.  And while we don’t celebrate the affliction, we see the usefulness of being brought through the affliction, so that we can pass on the gift of consolation with others who are afflicted…rather than judging them for their affliction.  

This whole devotion points to the fact that pastoral care is and can be done by any believer in Christ.   We have all been healed and are being healed every day.   While a pastor receives training for pastoral care…the care can be given by anyone.  

Is a member in the hospital?  Go and visit with them for about 10-15 minutes.  Let them know you’re thinking about them.  Or at least send a card or an email.   Console them.  

Is a member going through a family transition?   Let them know that you are there to listen or take them out to lunch or for some coffee.  Console them.  

Is your child or spouse going through a difficult time?   Don’t offer to solve their problems.  Sit with them.   Console them.   

Afflictions are not caused by God, but God can and does redeem afflictions that we might know what it means to be consoled.  Jesus bore our afflictions and received new life from God.   Jesus, our healer and consoled knows what it means to be wounded…and to be healed.  

See what new life God might bring through you as you console someone around you who is wounded.  
P (Prayer): Lord, heal us from our wounds, that we might be a vessel of new life for the wounded around us.  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.   

Women: Quiet Please…(not really :)

silent

S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 14:26 What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church. 14:27 If someone speaks in a tongue, it should be two, or at the most three, one after the other, and someone must interpret. 14:28 But if there is no interpreter, he should be silent in the church. Let him speak to himself and to God. 14:29 Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said. 14:30 And if someone sitting down receives a revelation, the person who is speaking should conclude. 14:31 For you can all prophesy one after another, so all can learn and be encouraged. 14:32 Indeed, the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, 14:33 for God is not characterized by disorder but by peace.

As in all the churches of the saints,   14:34 the women   should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak.   Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. 14:35 If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church.

O (Observation):  In 1 Corinthians 11:5, 10; 14:3-5, Paul makes it clear that women are indeed encouraged to be a part of public prayer and prophecy.  In this text, however, some difficulty exist in figuring out how to deal with Paul’s words about women keeping quiet in the church.

The disruptions that might occur in worship seem to be the only real problem that Paul has.   In Paul’s times, it was morally indiscreet for a wife to publically question her husband.  To keep the peace during a time of worship, Paul encourages these women to keep the silence and perhaps inquire more discreetly.  (Note, however, that Paul does encourage all to participate in v. 26.)

A (Application):  I see a big divide in Christianity, which comes down to the interpretation of Scripture.  We can’t deal with the issue of women having to keep silent in church, unless we first deal the interpretation of Scripture.

One school of thought is that the Scriptures are inerrant…that we must take, word for word, the instruction and admonition and invitations in Scripture.   I have trouble with this way of interpretation.  Taking Jesus at his word is fine.  But the further we move away from Jesus, the muddier things get.  What about creation?  Was it 7 literal days?  Perhaps.  But I won’t teach that as doctrine.  Instead, I see that God created and rested at the end of it.   What about Revelation?  I do not see a literal battle coming, but rather, this is a story of how Jesus wins in the end.

Those who see the Scriptures as inerrant also see verses like those I selected today to make it rather clear that women should be silent in church.   The inerrant viewpoint has problems, then, because Paul clearly invites women to be involved in other areas of faith development and worship, including names of women in his greetings and salutations in several of his letters.

The inerrant view also does not allow for context to be included in interpretation.   Including context seems a sinful way of interpreting the Scriptures (from an inerrant viewpoint).  Paul lived in a very different time and culture than that in which we live, though.   Separating a cultural matter from a doctrinal matter should be given quite some discernment.   Speaking about Christ as the body of which we are the members is very important doctrinally.  But women speaking in church seems to be more of a contextual issue that should allow for interpretation.

Seeing the Scriptures through the lens of Christ is the key for me and many others.   How would Jesus encourage us to see women in the church?   In Jesus we are one…men and women.  We are no longer slave or free, male and female… Oh, wait…Paul said that, right? (Galatians 3:27-28).  How would an inerrant viewpoint allow these two opposing views?

I’ll hang out here in the tension…in the Scriptures being the source and norm of our faith.  And I’ll enjoy the many female leaders in the church that have shaped my life and my faith these 38 years…

P (Prayer):  Lord, thank you for the many female church leaders you have sent into my life.  Amen.

 

The Hardest Part About Being Christian…


S (Scripture): 1 Corinthians 12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 

O (Observation):  Paul encourages Jesus’ followers to acknowledge the work of the Spirit in their midst.   Everyone has a gift of the Spiritnti share for the common good.   Gifts of the Spirit are not made for the individual, but for the whole community.   And no one should be jealous of another’s gift, for we are all working towards the common good.  

The one Spirit gives these gifts for God’s people (and thus, for the benefit of the whole world).   

A (Application):  The hardest part about being a Christian…is other Christians : )

We are one church, one body, despite our differences and despite our theologies: we are on in Jesus Christ.    We don’t want to acknowledge this, quite often, especially when our political leanings take control of our frontal cortex : )

We want our religion to fit into our boxes that we have constructed.   And if anything is outside of that, we dislike it or dismiss it.  

When we see others using a spiritual gift that we don’t have, instead of celebrating, we typically wonder why we don’t have that gift? Or why that other person is “showing off.”  (I don’t think people are showing off when they use their gifts, that’s just our perception, quite often.)

So, let us celebrate our ONEness in Christ Jesus.  

May you own and use that gift of the Spirit for the common good.  

May you celebrate when others use theirs.  

P (Prayer): Lord, what is up with these spiritual gifts and all the division?   Help us, O Lord, to be one in practice and spirit.  Amen.